Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Is IC falsifiable?

I happened upon the blog of one "professorsmith" in a Google search, and a couple of exhanges ensued here and here. Due to professorsmith's increasingly itchy trigger finger, it's probably wise to just post this here, where it won't be "disappeared", as has happened a couple times already. Here's my latest comment to William Bradford:

William Bradford,

You said:
The historic nature of the analysis does complicate things does it not? Let me note that ID critics do not hesitate to allege that ID is unscientific because of evidentiary difficulties. Let me return the favor in a way by pointing out that a legitimate position to take is that the answer to a specific question currently lies outside the boundaries of an empirical answer.
Yes, since we don’t have certainty, let’s just call it a solipsistic tie, shall we? I understand that’s a position many ID proponents would like to sue for, but there’s no legitimate expectation of certainty in any of this, especially in forensic questions. Instead, we depend on consilience, parsimony, predictions, and liability to falsification. That won’t produce the kind of satisfaction you’re demanding, but that’s the point: such demands are euphemisms for “unfalsifiable”. That is, the reason my researcher friend say “get outta here” with that suggestion (along the lines of what you demand) is that it’s not a practical expectation, even in principle.
And while science is all about “evidentiary difficulties”, the difficulties ID struggles with of a different kind. As I said, a century ago, we didn’t have the knowledge of DNA that led to the modern synthesis, and even when the modern synthesis was formulated, we had not uncovered the evidence that has given rise to the move towards evo-devo extensions of the model. The whole reason for engaging in the enterprise of science is because we have evidentiary difficulties, but as the evidence accumulates, positive hypotheses emerge that excel in terms of explanatory and predictive power, as well as rationalizing the evidence and surviving potent opportunities to be falsified. The problem is addressed in a positive way.

IC, as I was mention to professorsmith, is a negative argument applied evolutionary theory. It doesn’t have an “evidentiary problem” of the same sort mainstream science does. It is committed to “proving a negative” as a principle, asserting that X cannot be accounted for, as opposed to saying “here is the evidence that X happened, and if X were not true, this other evidence would be in view, but is absent”. It’s a negative model, which completely reverses the nature of the evidentiary problem.

Unless ID proponents are prepared to advance a positive hypothesis (”here is evidence of the Designer as a phenomenological entity, and here is the explanation of of how the Designer effected the phenomena we see…”), it simply must remain a “critique”, a sophisticated expression of incredulity.

I have no problem with that orientation for ID, so long as they are upfront about that orientation. The evidentiary challenges are fundamentally different for evolutionary theory and ID, though.

You said:
Indeed. Unsatisfactory as they are incapable (so far) of rendering definitive answers.

I think you misunderstood the objection. “Definitive” is an artificial hurdle criterion for science. It’s precisely when the complaint comes back that a given framework isn’t ‘definitive’ that the scientist shrugs and realizes he’s been pushed outside of the boundaries of science. It’s an illicit demand, scientifically speaking, when “definitive” becomes the bar to acceptance.

You said:
This is a revealing comment Touchstone, although one you probably have not thought through thoroughly. My comments about IC (and those of other IDists) are firmly grounded in what we know. When I point out that translation mechanisms needed to enable protein synthesis are dependent on the function of enzymes x, y, z… I’m making an observation backed by the evidence of effects of rare diseases brought about by the disablement of a single one of these enzymes. No suppositions needed. You and others may argue that we will someday find pathways to mechanisms needed for translation and you can label criticism of that contention critiques based on ignorance however you need to note that the belief that such non-telic pathways exist is one firmly rooted in a form a faith.
Sure, I don’t think that’s even controversial. Science doesn’t eschew axioms and epistemic presuppositions. I certainly haven’t claimed that, and do not encounter that position in scientific circles I travel in. It’s a method, and as such, begins with a set of givens it considers necessary to enable the enterprise — natural explanations as a requirement for natural phenomena, for example. That’s not a revelation to anyone.

There’s no “guarantee” that the world is intelligible in naturalistic terms. It may not be. But science proceeds on the “faith-based” assumptions that it is, as a means of enabling the acquisition of (natural) knowledge. There are plenty of other domains (e.g. religion) that do not need the constraints of methodological naturalism, as they are not organized around the development of natural knowledge, as science is.

Science may well “overlook” God, if he’s invisible on natural terms, and that’s a risk inherent in the model. But it’s a profitable risk, as MN provides essential protection from the conflation of supernatural ‘knowledge’ with natural knowledge. Epistemically, natural knowledge is fundamentally destabilized if supernatural “evidence” is mixed in.

You said:
Neither do worn out tread mill arguments aimed at straw men. Try dealing with what IDists are actually claiming.
I keep hearing that I’m offering strawmen, but I’ve yet to see what the strawman is. In this post, professorsmith states “IC is falsifiable”. So I think that quote is clearly what one IDist is “actually claiming”. As I took that statement up in the comments, I learned from professorsmith that IC was, after all, NOT falsified in the general sense, if the flagellum were falsified.

So that raises the question of what she means by “IC is falsifiable”. Does that mean IC is only put to rest if every single biological structure any ID proponent can imagine as IC is furnished with a documented fully detailed step-wise pathway? That’s an absurd and cynical use of the term “falsifiable”, if so, simply because ID proponents can keep scientists running in the hamster cage ad infinitum that way.

So, I’m still unclear what the falisification regime for IC is generally. Even if we were to agree on the specific tests for the flagellum, and it was falsified, IC would remain intact, from what professorsmith says. So what does “falsifiable” mean in that case?

If you want to show me where the straw man is in that, I’d be obliged. It may be useful point out that I have been responding to professorsmith’s post, and subsequent comments, as opposed to a post belonging to Gene, Behe, or Dembski. I’m happy to be directed to statements from them or others that professorsmith subscribes to as answers, but as it is, I don’t see what “falisifiable” means for IC as a general proposition.
I’m glad you mentioned DNA. DNA is an information rich molecule whose function is dependent on the sequential order of its nucleotides and an encoding convention by which sequences acquire biological significance. There is no atelic chemical process which generates systems like this.
That’s just a naked beg to the question, isn’t it? I might as well just say there is no telic process which generates system like this, so long as that kind of begging works.


As you can see, a torrent of vicious epithets there.


Friday, December 21, 2007

And this is a problem, how?

Bill Dembski just can't seem to manage his frustrations very well. Now, he's annoyed that the demon hordes are punishing all the positive reviews for his new book on Amazon. Here's how Dembski tries to sublimate his anger:

William Dembski:
While such behavior by Darwinists may seem unjust, there are two upsides:

(1) As the saying goes, there’s no negative publicity.

One word, Bill: Dover.

William Dembski:
(2) I’ve been talking with the producers of EXPELLED (www.expelledthemovie.com) about making this book a companion volume to Ben Stein’s film.* Thanks PZ Myers, Wesley Elsberry, Peter Irons, and others for strengthening my hand in these negotiations.

We'd have to ask them to be sure, but I'd say Myers, Elsberry et al would be happy to tie The Design of Life to Expelled. Does Dembski think the movie is going to add some gravitas to his book? Make it more scientific? It may add a little more "snide" factor, but how does that help? I'd say getting those together would be a good thing.

They deserve each other.


It's called "Fideism", Phil...

Phil Johnson is playing the part of an Orwell character over at TeamPyro. In this post, part of a series on the John MacArthur book "Truth War", Phil wonders how "vital" truth is, and has this to say:

Phil Johnson:
So give him a look like, "Huh?" and remind him that the position you are defending has historically been associated with a point of view that is known for its militant opposition to modernism. Then ask if he understands what "modernism" is.
The irony. What's that pre-modern position called Phil? What's the underlying epistemology you're espousing, here?

Phil goes on, and lets us know how clever he is by zooming right past modernity when talking to post-moderns, and scoffing at their assumptions about his "modern", foundational epistemology. Not so fast, pomos! Phil's not even reached a modern epistemology, something he's quite proud of, even as schedules his next flight on a modern jet, and posts on his modern laptop, relieved from his cold by modern medicine.

Phil Johnson:
He'll most likely respond with a condescending look and tell you in an exasperated tone that—while this all is probably far too complicated for you to understand—you have naively bought into foundationalist epistemology; your worldview has recently been totally discredited; and you need to acquire some epistemic humility.
I don't think there's any problem with complexity here, or mental horsepower. What's in play here is dishonesty and intransigence. Why not just be honest about your fideism, Phil? You eschew epistemology as a discipline. It isn't that you are epistemologically arrogant so much as that you think you are above the discussion of knowledge in the first place.

I'll skip down to the end -- it's just Phil, safe behind his administrative controls, dissembling about the problems of post-modern epistemology. Now post-modern epistemology is problematic; even post-moderns will tell you that. Modernism is fraught with tensions, too. But these are both advanced fighter jets compared to the trike Phil's peddling around, complaining about the comparative weakness of the others.

Here's his finish:
Phil Johnson:
I don't think there's a fancy name for the view of knowledge the Reformers and other biblically-oriented Protestants held, other than "basic Christianity." Call it "Calvinism" if you like. Or you can label it "the Proverbs 1:7 view" to be even more accurate.
"Fideism", Phil. Why not just call it what it is, epistemically?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hays Struggles Against the Concept of Freewill

Over here, Steve Hays has a little flare-up of his denialism of freedom of action. Let's take a look at the "metaphysics of free will":

Steve Hays:
Traditionally, libertarians cash out the freedom to do otherwise in terms of alternate possibilities. Although there’s an enormous literature attempting to either prove libertarian freewill or reconcile libertarianism with some other belief, such as God’s knowledge of the future (which, however, some libertarians deny), there’s no comparable literature on the metaphysics of freewill. (In this post I’m going to use freewill as a synonym for libertarian freedom.)

Instead, it’s taken for granted that a free agent can instantiate these alternate possibilities. Let’s pursue that assumption from a number of different angles.
The "granted" obtains from its self-evidence. Whether freedom of action or will truly exists or not, the appearance of agency is simply overwhelming.

Steve Hays:
1.This goes to the question of how the future eventuates, or how time (or segments thereof) comes into being. Do we will the future into being by our choices?
Humans have the ability to influence their surroundings. This ability isn't exhaustive, or even significant on a cosmic scale, but the combination of a desire to effect a particular outcome and the abilities and resources available to a human can produce a "future" that is in line with that choice.

Steve Hays:
How do we will the future into being by our choices? How do we access these abstract possibilities and realize one possibility over against another?
We expend energy in efforts to influence our surroundings. If we find pepperoni more appealing at the moment than sausage for the pizza we are ordering on the phone, we expend the energy in such a way as to give voice to this choice to the person taking the order on the other end of the line. Like all other living beings, we consume energy, and use what we can (there's always waste) to pursue our goals, from survival on down the chain.

Steve Hays
2.From a libertarian perspective, I suppose there must be a general metaphysical divide between one class of events that are willed into being by the choices of free agents, and another class of events that eventuate apart from our volition
No reason to think that. It's fine to make conceptual distinctions in our heads, if that proves to be useful for some purpose, but there's nothing metaphysically different between an impersonal cause->effect chain, and a personal (will-based) cause->effect chain. It's physics-constrained either way. My choices are limited (and enabled) by the physical dynamics of my existence. The physical laws and constraints govern the tumbling rock in the same way they constrain me. Gravity, for example, doesn't care if I have a will or not. I have mass, just like the rock at my foot. There's no "will-based" exceptions to physical laws for humans that I'm aware of.
Steve Hays:
For example, if it rains tomorrow, that future outcome is not the result of human volition. So, if libertarianism is true, then some patches of reality are realized by human volition while other patches of reality are realized apart from human volition. But somehow, these blend into a seamless, unified reality. The reality that it will rain tomorrow, and the reality that I will take an umbrella to work tomorrow, align in time even though these two events are causally independent. One occurs because I willed it while the other occurs without my willing it, or even in spite of my wishing that it would be fair and sunny tomorrow.
Yeah, and the "somehow" has a name: physics. Physics provides the model for how all this is integrated. If I have the determination to bring an umbrella to work, and the physical capabilities (owning or acquiring an umbrella, for example), then I may well realize that goal; it's plausibly within my physical abilities to accomplish. At the fundamental levels of physics, though, the "will" is an irrelevant abstraction. My choice may provide the teleology, but physics governs the reality of it happening, or not.
Steve Hays:
It would be interesting to hear a libertarian explain the metaphysical machinery by which this occurs.
No metaphysics needed, as a metaphysic, to account for this. The "nature of nature" is such that physical dynamics govern all physical interactions, whether attached to something we call a "will" or not. We can muse about why the laws of physics are as they are, but the "machinery" that translates present causes into future effects is just physics. No extra metaphysical machinery needed once the physics are set up and in place.
Steve Hays:
3.At the same time, not everything that human beings do is voluntary, in the sense of a conscious choice. I can deliberately blind my eyes. I can deliberately blink one eye rather than another. I can deliberately blink my eye a certain number of times. But, most of the time, this is involuntary. I give no thought to blinking my eyes. Same thing with breathing and other semiautonomic functions.
Uh, yeah.
Steve Hays:
So, it libertarianism is true, then some blinkings eventuate as a result of human volitions while other blinkings eventuate apart from human volition. Some human actions are realized voluntarily while other human actions realized involuntarily, even when the same type of action is in view. Voluntary blinkings and involuntary blinkings. Human agents will some of their semiautonomic futures into being, but not others. The futurition of some future blinkings is willed by us, while the futurition of other future blinkings is not.
Perfectly uncontroversial.
Steve Hays:
Does this mean, from a libertarian standpoint, that there’s a default possibility which instantiates itself unless that is overridden by the deliberate choice of an alternate possibility? That the future will automatically turn out a certain way unless human volition intervenes? What is the mechanism?
Um, physics! Really, it's an extraordinarily robust model for predicting what will happen, based on what's already happening. At the quantum level, the predictions are probabilistic, and not deterministic. Because of that, the future doesn't evolve in precisely the same way, even from the same starting configuration. The differences at macro-scales are statistically like to be so small as to be undetectable by us. We can predict with remarkable precision where the planet Mercury will be 30 days from now, however, despite the fluctuations at quantum scales.
Steve Hays:
4. On a related note, take habitual actions. Let’s say I learn to operate a stick shift because I like to drive sports cars. At first I have to think about shifting gears. But after a while, it becomes second nature. Yet there are times when I might consciously shift into overdrive if, say, I’m on a wide-open stretch of road, and I want to drive the car flat out.

I think it’s fair to say that, in operating a stick shift, there are degrees of conscious control. Sometimes I consciously shift gears. At other times my mind is elsewhere, and I do it through force of habit. And, at other times, I’m vaguely aware of shifting gears while l listen to music or take in the scenery.

From a libertarian standpoint, how are these alternate possibilities realized? Since they range along a continuum, from subconscious to conscious, what’s the threshold between an outcome that is voluntary and an outcome that is involuntary? What is causing these outcomes to eventuate?
Um, physics! Expressed as biology/physiology here, but physics all the same. In this example, shifting is a task we learn, and eventually learn to do with little to no conscious direction. That is, the tachometer needle and the whining RPM sound of the engine serve as cues that trigger a learned response -- something we have trained ourselves to accomplish with little or no active thought.

The mechanism, then, is our physical capabilities (our muscles, bones, nerve endings, etc. being activated by "macros" we have stored in our brain through learning, practice and repetition. Our memories serve as repositories not just for recognizing the stimuli for an indicated gear shift (tach in the red zone, for example), but for actuating the physical signals and processes to make the action happen (shift from 4th to 5th, for example).

The 'continuum' here is a reflection of the depth of our "automation" through learning, practice and repetition. Not all actions can be so automated, but a great many tasks can be delegated to "habit", requiring little or no CPU cycles from our active thoughts. Humans have a range of capabilities, then between the strictly autonomic (breathing, for example), and the purely directed (focused attention on the task). Physiology as physics.
Steve Hays:
5.How do we cause a possibility to become a reality? Is it simply by willing it into existence, like a Genie? Yet there are many things we cannot will into being.
Um, physics? We are constrained in our abilities to influence the world around us by physical law. We might well manage to locate an umbrella and manage to carry it along with us to work on a day that looks like rain -- well within the constraints of physics for many people. But we'd fail to if decided we desired to drag a 2,000lb boulder in our back yard along with us to work, as a prank. We would need some help, some tools or machinery beyond the strength of our arms, arms which were more than sufficient to tote along the umbrella in our closet.

If our goal is to get the boulder in the backyard to the parking lot at work, we might plausibly devise a way to realize that goal, to achieve the object of our desire. But we would have to interact with our environment -- other people and other things -- in such way as to produce the desired effect within the constraints of physics. We expend energy and resources to coordinate a physics-compliant process to make it happen. Some of our energy is perfecty preparatory; we invest the energy and time to call a neighbor with a Kubota front-loader, for example, and interact with them in such a way that we can bring his machine to bear on our goal ("Don, can I borrow the Kubota, please?").
Steve Hays:
Two young brothers fight over a toy. Both brothers will to have the toy, but the older brother wins the fight because he can overpower his younger brother.

So how is the outcome realized? By willing an alternate possibility? Or by brute force? What’s the relationship between superior strength and actualizing an alternate possibility? Do muscle men have more control over the future than 90-poundl weaklings?
I have twin one year old sons here at home, so this is not an abstract example at all. Physical strength is definitely a factor, but "strength of will" is one also. One of our twins is just a bit smaller and not quite as strong or heavy as the other. But often enough, he prevails, simply because he wants that too more than his slightly larger twin brother. Realizing an effect requires investment of energy and resources, and in many cases, the smaller, weaker twin is prepared to sacrifice more energy and resources than the larger, stronger twin in obtaining/keeping the toy.

Even when the "strength of will" is normalized, brute strength is not the only determining factor. Not by a long shot, as any good martial arts instructor can show you. The dynamics of cause and effect are as complex and diverse as physics itself, so the answer to the question of control would have to take a broad view of not just the determination of the parties involved, but the complete suite of resources and strategies for their use. My eight year old daughter regular "controls" her 11 year old brother without any physical display of strength or control at all, but by psychological and emotional strategies.
Steve Hays:
If it comes down to brute force, then an act of the will is not what instantiates this alternate possibility.
As above, there's a lot more to consider than just physical or muscular strength. But even if we allowed, for the sake of argument that muscular strength was the only determining factor in a contest of wills, then it would be what instantiates the result when there is a conflict. If my goal is to win an arm-wrestling match, the outcome will be determined by my determination and my strength compared to my opponent's. In some cases, the strength differential makes determination and resolve irrelevant -- one contestant is simply too strong, even if just trivially committed to winning the match for the other to prevail.
Steve Hays:
5.Or does it work like this: God causes our choices to eventuate. We choose, but it is God’s creative power that enacts that alternate possibility.
Why would we think that? And even if we imagined such a relationship, this kind of metaphysical subjectivity would be perfectly unfalsifiable, and thus no more 'true' than 'false', so far as we are concerned.
Steve Hays:
But if that’s the case, why does God defer to some choices, but not to others? Why did he defer to the big brother’s choice rather than the kid brother’s choice? Seems unfair to let the older brother win.
Um, yeah. And that doesn't even scratch the surface with respect to the logical problems and conundra this idea introduces.
Steve Hays:
6.And what about animals? Animals also seem to range along a continuum. Higher animals are apparently more intelligent than lower animals. When my dog chases a cat, and I summon my dog, does my dog deliberate over choosing to obey me or choosing to pursue the cat? Are dogs and other animals endowed with libertarian freedom?
Sure, they're part of the physical context too. Their brains aren't as large or well developed, and as far as we can tell, they don't have the same level of congnition, self-awareness and reasoning as (most) humans do. But their brains are organized along the same evolutionary lines -- synapses, neurons, pattern recognition, stimulus response wiring, etc. You can see the differen parts of a dog's brain light up on an fMRI in response to different interactions and stimuli, just like you can with humans (the responses and patterns are different, but the basic neurology is the same, if more primitive).

My dog is often visibly torn between the attraction of the neighbor dog (whom she likes to play with) barking next door, and my command to return to the house. Most of the time she comes at my command, but sometimes she struggles with obeying (visibly!), and runs off to the neighbor's house.
Steve Hays:
A dog is smarter than a crow. A crow is smarter than a clam. Indeed, the idea of an intelligent clam seems pretty absurd—although I’ve never been a clam, and—for all I know—clams have a very low opinion of human intelligence.
"Smarter" is something we can understand in an anthropocentric sense, for sure. Very few clams can read a book and recount its major themes, as far as I'm aware. But by the same measure, the human brain is evolutionarily very poorly suited for life as a clam. Clam brains are highly tuned to serving the needs of a clam, and are "smart" in the sense of utility and efficacy for survival in its ecological niche (it must be, or it would be an extinct species). A human brain would be totally "stupid" for a clam's purposes (survival, reproduction) -- way too large, outrageously expensive in terms of it energy demands.

The brains different animals have are a reflection of what is both a) practically achievable in terms of evolutionary development and b) maximally efficient for survival/reproduction in its environment.

At what point an action becomes "conscious" or "voluntary" is not a discrete boundary, so far as science is aware. If "consciousness" is simply "awareness of one's surroundings", -- and that's a very useful definition for many purposes -- then many forms of life are "conscious".
Steve Hays:
From a libertarian standpoint, are higher animals accessing alternate possibilities? And where’s the threshold below which some animals do not contribute to which possible outcome will, indeed, eventuate?
I don't see the basis for assuming there is a discrete "threshold". If the 'contributary curve' is smooth, then the point at which you would say "this is volitional" and "this is not" seems to be an arbitrary one.
Steve Hays:
Libertarianism presents a patchwork reality in which some pieces of the quilt are willed into being while other pieces come into being without our willing them. Isn’t this a very ad hoc ontological scheme?
It's anything but. The "ad-hockery" here comes from Hays' demand for a discrete threshold. For any given action ("should I open and eat this bag of chips?") there are numerous influences interacting. Some of them are involuntary (when you are hungry, you feel hungry whether you 'will' it or not), while others are more volitional ("I better eat these before my son shows up, or he'll take them and devour them").

The ontology is unified. Physics governs the interaction of physical entities. The "will" doesn't exist in a vacuum, and has complex interactions with other dynamics, dynamics which may be other desires and goals (and ones that may conflict), or which may be entirely "automatic", so far as the mind is concerned. All of that is normalized in our physical context, however. All choices, to the degree that they are choices and not just effects proceeding directly from a determining cause, are still subject to the physics that govern our reality.
Steve Hays:
By contrast, the ontology of Calvinism is far more economical. God has decreed just one unified reality. His decree is realized by means of creation, providence, and miracle.
You don't need Calvinism for a 'unified reality'. Got one without it, check it out. Moreover, the Calvinist use of 'unified' here is just a euphemism for metaphysical subjectivism here, which is unification of reality in the mind of God (what God wills to be real is real), but exhaustive "ad-hockery" for man. Reality isn't "unified" around structures and constraints in this model, but simply whatever the will of God is. Given that, reality is fundamentally as unknowable and as arbitrary as the mind of an impassible God.

But yes, problems notwithstanding, it does make things neat and tidy when struggling with the concept of agency, to just suppose there is none. That I'll grant.


Hays has responded in the comment stream:

Steve Hays:
T-stone is just confused, as usual. I wrote a critique of libertarianism. The version of libertarianism I'm reviewing is committed to possible world semantics.
Makes no difference. There's a good number of physicists who endorse the Many Worlds Interpretation - quantum decoherence instead of wave function collapse. Steve can protest that he's really picking on something completely detached from reality, and I'd agree; that's his milieu. But even if we suppose his object of critique is completely brain-dead, it doesn't matter. Since Steve insists what he is reviewing is committed to "possible world semantics" he's got a problem. If he is looking for a "mechanism" (his term) for how our reality is unified, it's useless to look for such a thing if he's only playing around with speculative philosophy. The "possible worlds" are purely conceptual -- no other "mechanism" obtains. If he's wondering what really happens, what the mechanism for unification would be in a reality-based many worlds scenario, the answer is that no unification is even happening -- the world we are "in" and calling the "actual world" is just one of many (hence the name!). Terribly confused, he is.

Steve Hays:
T-stone is substituting his own theory of the will. That's irrelevant to my critique of libertarianism.
What "libertarianism"? Steve's shadow-boxing, again. He doesn't provide any citations or source material to substantiate what he's, um, "critiquing".

Steve Hays:
He's also too obtuse even to accurately summarize libertarianism. No one said that my idea or concept *is* an abstract object (e.g. a possible world). The issue, rather, is how my idea corresponds to an accessible alternate possibility.
What does "accessible" mean here, Steve? If I have two options A and B, what's the "issue"? If I want to choose A, then what? There isn't even a coherent enough concept in his statement words to address beyond this.

Steve Hays:
Once again, this is not simply a case of how *I* (as an opponent of libertarianism) frame the issue. This is how many *libertarians* frame the issue. Just spend a little time with The Oxford Handbook of Free Will.
Steve doesn't supply anything that suggest he's read this or is conversant with the ideas it presents. How about a quote of the arguments you're critiquing, Steve? How about something you can be checked against?

Steve Hays:
T-stone is also assuming the truth of physicalism, despite many cogent objections to physicalism.
Not. Rather, I'm assuming the reality of physical law. That doesn't have to be all there is, but it's at least part of what is. And importantly, it's sufficient to provide substantial answers to Steve's questions. Physical law governs how all the various forces and actions around us coalesce into a unified reality.

Steve Hays:
Finally, if T-stone thinks that all future events are the effect of physical determinism, then that commits him to hard determinism. It's the polar opposite of libertarianism.
You can't be passingly familiar with modern physics and mistake it for a "deterministic model". At macro scales it's stable and predictable. At quantum scales, it's only predictable as a matter of probability (try "determining" just when the next atom in an amount of U-238 will decay, for example).


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Great Moments in Calvinist Apologetics #239

Paul Manata in the comment stream of this post:

God does what he pleases, correct... BUT he has a nature that constraines what he pleases.... SO you can't take that verse to imply that God could, say, sin...SINCE there's a limit set on what he can please to do...THUS it is true that God does what he pleases but this doesn't lead to arbitrainess as your enthymeme suggested.
So, who sets this "limit", Paul? Did God please to set his own limit, or has God submitted to external limits?



Does UD Have ODD?

I'm reminded by today's post on global warming by DaveScot over at Uncommon Descent today by a child I know who my wife says has "Oppositional Defiant Disorder", or "ODD" for short. Now, I'm NOT saying here that DaveScot is being childish in this post, or that UD is childish in some general sense -- that is an idea that has some things to recommend it, but it's not my point here.

The point of the connection I've made is that a child with ODD is not just at odds with a particular policy or decision, but has a basic antagonism to authority itself -- an 'oppositional orientation' as a means of approaching the world.

What's that got to do with DaveScot's latest post?
My answer would be to ask what global warming has to do with ID? The folks at Uncommon Descent aren't chained to any particular topic or argument than I am on this blog, but look at these entries from the past few weeks:

All of those were posted in the last six or seven weeks, and they all present arguments critical of the idea that anthropogenic contributions to the earth's climate are a problem. This is more than a note in passing from UD. What's the connection? It's hard to find a "design" connection, or even a religious connection, aside from the obvious affinities between right wing politics and evangelical Christians. What more cleanly explains the "anti-Global-Warmingism" is an oppositional orientation to mainstream science itself. Much of modern science so well attested in practice (you can go get lasik and be contact and glasses free in a couple days, for example) that there's not much to assail for much of the edifice. But global climatology is a big, complex domain -- not as big as the topic of biological origins, but large and intricate in its own right -- that affords the denialist a lot more "wiggle room" than other scientific subjects.

Let's assume that UD is right about global warming. Now what? How does that become interesting or useful to their agenda. How is that in their interest? Why, it's just a means of discrediting the scientific establishment, isn't it? I'd be surprised if this was a conscious rationale announced on the part of UD authors, either collectively or individually. But it's hard to avoid the sense that ID as a movement, and UD as a site, is much more about "anti-science" than it is "pro" anything.

That's not a complicated concept to arrive at, which is what makes me wonder. If global warming is just a stone that UD might heave at the scientific community for the purposes of bashing out a window or two, isn't that a kind of validation of their critics' objections? That ID is a "proxy" for discrediting and marginalizing that which provokes cognitive dissonance?

I'm no supporter of ID, but just separating for a moment for the matter, it seems to me that finding common cause with the global warming deniers would be a way to hand your critics a club to beat you with. UD's support may in some way help cast doubt on the scientific establishment, and that's a good thing from their point of view. But in the end, if ID wants to be taken seriously as a research program of some kind that can compete with and displace other more objectionable elements in the curricula used to teach science, this kind of reflexive opposition really helps substantiate the assertion that ID is an "oppositional defiant disorder" when it comes to science, doesn't it?

If so, isn't that a very poor return on their investment?


Monday, December 17, 2007

MikeGene on SETI and ID

This post over on TelicThoughts harkens back to a set of lively debates a couple years ago about how (dis)analogous SETI was to ID in terms of their basis for inquiry, their goals, and the filters that they each apply. MikeGene has apparently just recently become aware of some commentary on this from one of the SETI folks dating back aways.


Great Moments in Calvinist Apologetics #238

Not to be outdone by Manata's sexual aggression, Peter Pike opens up "The First Adam" with this:

Peter Pike:
As I’ve studied theology, I’ve come to the conclusion that God really knew what was best when He decided to reveal Himself through the Old Testament shadows before He revealed Himself fully in the person of Christ.
So, Peter here has come to the conclusion that God really knew what was best, after all... Follow this maverick philosopher right through the whole post, to end up with this bit of extra insight from him in the comment stream:
Peter Pike:
We do know that Adam's sin did not catch God off-guard. It was foreordained, yet in such a way that Adam freely sinned. These concepts are all clear from Scripture.
Yes, in such a way, indeed!


Great Moments in Calvinist Apologetics #237

Paul Manata has a long post up responding to me, but as so often happens there, the comment stream went off onto other topics. In this great moment, is waxing intellectual over the morality of Israelite enslavement of the virgins of conquered foes in the Old Testament:

Paul Manata:
Good, you're catcvhing on. I *want* you to keep coming back. I'm *banking* on your pride. it only allows me to rape your arguments in diffeent ways. (12/16/2007 6:51 PM)

This said in response to a poster named "Nikki".

Classic! Nikki put up a long response last night, too much for Manata, apparently. He deleted it, and announced the discussion closed. I guess his "rape your arguments" urge has passed.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Good ID Discussion at TelicThoughts

I hadn't checked back in a while, and found over the weekend that the comment stream for the post "The Other Movement" had registered more than 300 comments since I first read it a couple weeks ago. It's not got just a lot of comments, there are a lot of long comments.

Not only does this thread inform on several levels and provoke thought, it positively condemns the goings-on over at Uncommon Descent. Try reading a little of the TelicThoughts thread, then quick switch over to reading a post by Denyse O'Leary, and you'll see what I mean. And note the correlation: the points where the thread loses its positive momentum as thoughtful exchange are generally the points where the UD posters jump in (see 'angryoldfat''s comments here -- angryoldfatman at UD? Betcha!).

Too bad that TelicThoughts gets so little of the ID spotlight compared to Uncommon Descent. I don't think I agree with the basic claims of "Mike Gene" and the crew there any more than I do with the people running UD (although evolutionary basics like UCD seem much less controversial and offensive to the TelicThoughts team), but at least the debate there happens with some thought. Oh, and there is a debate there, which is a huge difference as well.