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 ( 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.


Dembksi on Comedy Central

Hat tip to Jon Curry for this - Bill Dembski talks creation and evolution with Jon Stewart, Ed Larson, and... someone else.

Fairly uncontroversial, but interesting if you've not seen Dembski on video before. Steward asks if the religious conversion preceded his scientific insights, and Dembski says that yes, his religious conversion came before his design discoveries[sic]. Stewart isn't at all surprised, to which Dembski responds that that's not a bad way to have it, Newton and all...


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Grumbling Under Dembski's Big Tent

Over on the "tracking thread" for Uncommon Descent at, "csadams" noticed this article, a recent interview with William Dembski geared at promoting Bill's new book. "csadams" highlighted a key statement in the interview:

I believe God created the world for a purpose. The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.
That comment was posted Thursday afternoon. By late evening, the folks at UncommonDescent had a post up, working the damage control buttons and levers over this quote. Clearly, someone at Uncommon Descent was monitoring the conversation at, and realized this was something to get out in front of.

Dembski's PR blunders and self-defeating attempts at satire are now something of a low-level legend in this debate, but while Dembski comes across as decidedly tone-deaf in the wider battle for "hearts and minds", Dembski's been a master of playing both sides of ID movement, internally. On one hand, when speaking to Christian groups, he's the faithful creationist, taking up the sword and spear of his two PhDs and charging forth to battle the demon hordes of Darwinism. On the other hand, when speaking "out in the open", in scientific circles or public fora, he's a mathematician philosopher, whose scientific genius has led him to the discover of emergent properties in nature that objectively implicate an Intelligent Designer.

While that has long seemed somewhat duplicitous, and transparently so, Dembski has made it work, and work well. Dembski continues to enjoy wide and growing support from creationist Christianity, and at the same time, he's been able to construct a "big tent" theme, a loose coalition of sorts committed not so much even to ID specifically, but to the destruction of "Darwinism". Just from looking at the regulars at UD, you can see an array of non-Christians congregating under the safe, challenge-free tent of the blog.

If you read the interview, it's puzzling that Dembski offered this quote up where he did, and in the way he did. Here's the wider quote:

4. Does your research conclude that God is the Intelligent Designer?

I believe God created the world for a purpose. The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.

The focus of my writings is not to try to understand the Christian doctrine of creation; it’s to try to develop intelligent design as a scientific program.

There’s a big question within the intelligent design community: “How did the design get in there?” We’re very early in this game in terms of understanding the history of how the design got implemented. I think a lot of this is because evolutionary theory has so misled us that we have to rethink things from the ground up. That's where we are. There are lots and lots of questions that are now open to re-examination in light of this new paradigm.

I note here as an aside that Dembski doesn't answer the question. The interviewer is asking about current conclusions as a matter of research, but Dembski isn't listening; he has something else he wants to say.

As has been noted both at and in the comment stream for UD's damage control post, Dembski doesn't qualify the second sentence there with an "I believe". As I read it it, it's fairly implied, and anyone who's read Bill on this subject before knows he's accustomed to making these distinctions. ID is science the proves the existence of an Intelligent Designer, but nothing more about Designer than simply he/she/it is capable of designing organic life. Dembski's identification of that Designer as the Christian God as just his personal belief, beyond any implications of ID.

And insofar as the ID supporters have understood this, it hasn't been a problem. But the implication has always been that this is about the science as science first and foremost, and as for the "who is the Designer?" question, Dembski's got a right to speculate outside of the confines of the Design Inference as anyone. But this quote here seems to go a little farther, and gives the sense that Dembski starts with the conclusion that God is the Designer, and ID is just so much "working the numbers backwards".

This has been the heart of much criticism level at the Intelligent Design movement. Science is supposed to go wherever the evidence leads. In contrast, ID, like creationist arguments before it, is something more like lawyering; given a conclusion, arguments are built up underneath it to support it.

Here's an example of the kind of grumbling Dembski's statement is likely to generate from "big tent ID supporters":

“The Designer of intelligent design, is, ultimately, the Christian God.”

Umm, that bothers me. This founder of the movement is not saying, “ID proves design, and in my opinion the designer is Jesus,” but, as a fact, the designer is Jesus. As you know, I’m a pagan ID supporter. Where does this leave people like me — as well as the scores of Jews, Muslims and atheists who support ID?

Here's another complaint:

Silly old me, I was always under the impression that ID was cold, hard science. ID had nothing to do with god. Time and time again Demski and others have denied religious motive. Oh well, guess I was wrong
That captures the basic objection. However, this particular complaint should be taken with a grain of salt here. I don't know this poster "dave557" to be a sockpuppet -- an ID critic posing as a (nominal, at least) ID supporter as a means of discrediting ID -- but my money's on the guess that he is. He continues by providing a long-ish quote from PZ Myers about Dembski's book. Not something you'd expect from anyone but the Banninated™.

Another poster sees a problem with this from a "textbook" angle:

The problem here is this. If dembski goes down as saying that the designer is the “christian” god then i dont see how this is going to get tought in any public school.
Dembski weighs in with his own comments:

William Dembski:
In the context of the review, I was saying that I — personally — believe the Christian God is ultimately the designer behind the world. I’ve also written elsewhere that the Christian God might use teleological organizing principles to implement his designs (e.g., that God does not need to specifically toggle the bacterial flagellum). And I’ve stressed throughout my writings that there are alternative philosophical frameworks for making sense of ID. None of these considerations undercuts the scientific core of ID.

Come on folks, it’s no secret that I’m a Christian and that I have various motivations for pursuing ID (if you want to put me on the couch, please do the same with Dawkins).

The reader can be the judge as to Dawkins' sincerity in this, but I'd bet Dawkins would disavow the idea that he has "various motivations" for assuming his conclusion -- that no god exists -- on an a priori basis, external to the scientific investigation of the matter. Isn't that quite different than what Dembski is admitting here for himself? It sounds like he's projecting his own worldview on to Dawkins, and everyone else: believe whatever you believe, for whatever reason, then work backwards toward a supporting case for it.

Dembski here seems close to openly owning up to his "working backwards". If so, I'd say that will continue to not only produce more grumbling the Big Tent of ID, but will give ID opponents some strong philosophical grounds to reject ID as not just "non-science", but "anti-science". Working backwards from an a priori conclusion towards a constrained supporting argument is polemic, the antithesis of scientific inquiry.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Dembski's "Symmetry Inference"

William Dembski asks today about the Chris Comer firing:

What if someone in the same position as Chris Comer forwarded an email about a forthcoming talk by Ken Ham at a “fundamentalist church” in which he would recommend teaching creationism in public schools?
First, the right answer is "nothing". As problematic as Ken Ham is, here, it's hard to come up with a reasonable basis for firing someone for forwarding a notification of an upcoming event. I will add the caveat that it's perfectly acceptable to fire an employee for violating a direct prohibition -- I've fired people for sending out perfectly acceptable messages to customers in terms of content; they got fired because they had no authority to speak for the company in said messages, and even though they said nothing wrong in those emails, the potential liability for us had they said the wrong thing was very large. They were repeatedly and clearly instructed not to engage in such communications, but did it anyway.

Insubordination, plain and simple.

To the extent that simple insubordination is at the heart of Comer's dismissal, I'm fantastically uninterested in this story. Too bad for her, if so. Lesson learned, hopefully. But Dembski isn't appealing to that idea here, and is instead apparently hoping to justify the ostensible injustice here by suggesting that if the tables were turned, the "Darwinists" would now be calling for Comer's dismissal.

But the apparent symmetry Dembski sees here, the "symmetry inference" he's making in imagining an email alert going out for a YEC event from someone in Comer's position, isn't a sound inference. These are not two sides of the same coin.

Say what you want about the Center for Inquiry in terms of their agenda. Dembski describes them as a "virulently atheistic organization", and from what little I know about them, there's not much to dispute in that, beyond Dembski's typically emotionally-loaded language ("virulently" has got to be bad, doncha know). In any case, I don't think any "virulence" matters, so long as they are willing to affirm the integrity and value of methodological naturalism -- the 'operating guidelines' for science as it is effectively practiced.

And that's the difference. Ken Ham doesn't have a different scientific view. He has an anti-scientific view. Dembski is hoping to impose a kind of "philosophical relativism" here, and the implication in his idea is that, ultimately, there is no method to science, and that it is all just so much politics and subjectivity. But I'd be willing to wager that for all of the Center for Inquiry's "virulence" in their metaphysical outlook (if they do indeed promote one), they would emphatically affirm the importance of methodological naturalism as essential to the succesful pursuit of scientific inquiry.

Ken Ham, on the other hand, sees methodological naturalism as the problem itself, rather than the solution, just as Dembski does. That's what fundamentally distinguishes the practical effects of an email alert about a Center for Inquiry event, and an email alert about an upcoming speech by Ken Ham. The former is broadly compatible with the existing practice of science itself, and the latter is not, not even nearly.

Remember, I wouldn't countenance the firing of a person in Comer's position even if they had forwarded an email alert concerning an upcoming Ken Ham speech, or a long series of YEC-friendly alerts and notes. Insubordination is good grounds for dismissal, but none of the email alerts we're considering here begin to rise to the level of a dismissal. But let's identify Dembski's equation of these two email alerts -- one about the Center for Inquiry, the other about Answers In Genesis for what it is: an attempt, again, and as always, to erode the practice of science itself.

Whatever "evangelizing" the Center for Inquiry might undertake, they can affirm and support the practice of science, as it occurs in the curriculum of the school textbooks for the district. The evangelizing of Ken Ham has a completely different agenda: to de-legitimize and marginalize science itself, and to assert their own authority (in the name of God, of course) over the scientific enterprise. Fortunately, things are so lopsided at this point in terms of evidence against Ken Ham that there is a diminishing threat, even in this. The only people who listen to Ken Ham aren't the least bit concerned about science qua science anyway. Anyone approaching this with their eyes open won't be buying any of it.

Ken Ham cannot affirm the science textbooks and curriculum of Comer's school district. And because of that, the "Ken Ham" alert from Comer would be more than "non-neutral", it would be actively subversive of the schools position on science and its practice. So, I know Dembski is asking his question rhetorically, but the real answer is: if it happened, Comer should not be dismissed, but we would reasonably wonder about her basic competency in the areas of science, were we to learn that she's promoting the ideas of Ken Ham. Not a firing offense, and maybe not an offense at all, but a signal that somewhere along the way, the system failed to locate a competent steward for its Director of Science position.

We'd be troubled to learn that the Attorney General didn't believe in civil rights for blacks or minorities. Or that a sitting judge on the bench neither knew the law or approved of the concept of American jurisprudence. A "Director of Science" promoting Ken Ham would signal the same kind of problem, a basic hostility to the enterprise they are trusted to promote and develop.


Dan Phillips Doubts the Value of Doubt

This morning's post over a TeamPyro is a little riff by Dan Phillips on doubt.

Dan Phillips:
Our unbelief has to be unfathomable to God, as was the disciples' to Christ.
To say that God knows and understands all things is not to say that God finds everything understandable, if you take my meaning.
The first sentence is absurd on its face; Dan believes in an omniscient God, right? Of course he does, and the second sentence provides the equivocation on that statement. God understands, he just doesn't like it or sympathize with it.

Pressed on this a bit in the comments section, Dan clarifies a bit:
Dan Phillips:
We generally use "understandable" in the sense of taking something as reasonable, to be expected, and thus worth acceptance. God knows and knows the meaning of everything. That is not to say (to say the least!) that God shares our view of everything, or finds our view reasonable, rational, and acceptable.

Here, the post-resurrection Jesus clearly finds their unbelief astonishing. It isn't that He doesn't know literally everything there is to know about it. Actually, it's that He does, and He knows it to be nuts.
This is thoroughly incoherent. It's double-speak. On the one hand, Jesus is supposed to know all things, and on the other, Dan has Jesus thinking doubts about him are "nuts" -- irrational, crazy, unfounded.

If Jesus knows all things, then he fully understands that from a reasoning standpoint, his resurrection, even preceded by preparatory miracles, is completely without precedent, and violates a set of basic understandings rational minds develop about the world. Jesus would understand that the people around him are thoroughly convinced that when a man dies, he's dead, that's it. It's permanent.

So it's perfectly rational for someone to be incredulous at the news that a person they had be killed at the hand of the Romans and buried in a tomb was once again alive, and making appearances to his friends and family. It's such an extraordinary event that it be would irrational to accept such reports at face value. That nullifies and jepoardies everything we know about human physiology, about life and death. Now, maybe something has happened that calls all that into question, but only a fool would simply abandons the witness of one's experiences, and the collected knowledge of those all around him, at first sign of a report that a dead man had come back to life after three days.

If that's not clear, imagine a colleague informing you over the water-cooler on Tuesday morning that your Jim, a colleague who had tragically died of masive heart attack last Friday, and who you had seen in his casket at a reviewal on Sunday, had come back to life! In fact, Jim was planning to be back in the office by mid-day Thursday.

Would you doubt such a report? What would you think about someone who simply smiled, and believed, and said "Wow, that's great news. I'll be happy to see him."?

We're deeply reliant -- necessarily dependent -- on our ability to observe, establish patterns, and expectations, and apply skepticism and credulity. And yet, Dan Phillips supposes that our basic rational processing of new claims and propositions -- doubt in the face of the extraordinary and fantastic is "nuts" -- irrational. He's arguing that our rational behavior is actually irrational.

But wait! Since Jesus knows the truth, doesn't all that doubt become "nuts" then, to Jesus, anyway? No, as per Dan, Jesus would understand the rational basis (proper function) of man's thinking about such matters, and would be fully aware of the limited information man has to go on, which, Jesus' miracles prior to his resurrection notwithstanding, points completely at the permanence of death. Jesus, understanding all this, should not be the least surprised at this -- it's rational behavior.

Commenter "StrongTower" helps make this point a little further down in the comments, if unwittingly:

In a court of law we must find quilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasoned doubt is based upon some finding of fact. Doubt that is based upon no precedent is unreasonable, and therefore without understanding.

There was no reason for those to whom Christ was speaking to doubt, "If you do not believe my word, believe for the sake of these works..." This then goes to the heart. Unreasoned doubt is bound in the darkness of understanding. Where there is no light there is no reason. They stumble but they do not know over what. Why do you doubt? Seeing as there is no reason to give light to your doubt, it is not understandable that you do.
In a court of law, a man's understanding that death was permanent would be held as perfectly reasonable, overwhelmingly indicated by precedent. StrongTower nicely demonstrate the "black is white" inversion that proceeds from Dan's double-speak.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Welcome to "Inspired Designs"

A couple days ago, I worked up a "Successories"-style spoof image to make a point on an email loop I'm on. I got enough positive feedback to work up a small set of "posters", and so here they are, just in time for Christmas: inspirational posters for the Intelligent Design community, from your friends at Inspired Designs Studios.

(I burned some credits at iStockPhoto for the images, so these are legal to pass around.)

UPDATE: Added a couple more. The Dembski photo's not a stock photo.

UPDATE 2: Blogger doesn't allow external access to local images, apparently, so if you want to link to these images, it won't work. I may move these over to a Photobucket or Flickr account, but for now, feel free to grab these and host 'em wherever you'd like. Attribution appreciated -- Touchstone @


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

O'Leary's Handy Uses For Creationism

In part four of Denyse O'Leary's appreciation of John Lennox's book God's Undertaker:Has Science Buried God?, Ms. O'Leary draws out the usefulness of creationist ideas for the development of science. Based on what O'Leary provides, I'm inclined to just pass on this book, which otherwise would have been one that intrigued me. She doesn't do much to distinguish Lennox's points from her own, though, and having read a fair amount of O'Leary in the past couple years, it's clear that she sees just what she wants to see in whatever she surveys; the posts in this series present quotes from Lennox of dubious value, which she then make a mess of with her own riffage on Lennox's quote.

Here's an example, starting with Lennox:

John Lennox:
" ... the rise of science would have been seriously retarded if one particular doctrine of theology, the doctrine of creation had not been present." (God's Undertaker, p.22)
My initial reaction to that is to roll my eyes, but with just this little bit presented, one would have to look at the larger treatment in the text to make a fair evaluation. I don't know how Lennox supports this statement, but here's O'Leary's expansion:

Denyse O'Leary:
Why is a doctrine of creation important? Lennox points out that it frees science from the idea that we ought to be able to deduce what is happening in the universe from fixed prior principles. If - in contradiction to such an idea - we assume that God is entitled to create what he likes (trilobites, giraffes, and whales, to name some examples), then our duty is to address what exists rather than to set rules for what can exist. Unfortunately, centuries ago, many scientists attempted to proceed by setting rules about what can exist, according to their theories. Many of their ideas were in conflict with reality, and unproductive conflicts were common.
I held off posting on this yesterday when going through the other two sections, as I was sure I just wasn't reading this part right. But having looked at it several times now, the unavoidable conclusion is that O'Leary finds creationism valuable because it keeps us from artificially limiting reality. The examples she gives are baffling. Do we suppose that with a 'creationist view' that we would dispute the reality of the trilobite, the giraffe, the whale? It's as if O'Leary thinks we'd be inclined to say one or more of those things "aren't real" if we can't deduce them from "fixed prior principles". The giraffe may be standing right in front of us, but we are inclined to deny it because we can't deduce if from physical law, and this is what creationism saves us from?

Science is anchored in observation. To the extent any of those three can be objectively observed, we're obligated to accomodate for them in our model of reality. O'Leary has things reversed, so far as I can see here, suggesting that science want to define what's real, then map our observations onto it. That's nuts. We observe, test, kick, scrape, measure, watch and use all empirical tools at our disposal to establish the phenomena, then we define our reality based on that.

I suspect a part of the confusion for O'Leary here is the equivocation of the term "rule" or "law" here. In the creationist model, rules for reality are prescriptive, due to Christianity's metaphysical subjectivism. Reality is realized, and constrained by the will of God.

In the scientific view, the rules are descriptive. There's no underlying prescription, and the 'rules' than are identify are rules only by virtue of their identifying symmetries and uniform dynamics. So, to a scientist, "[setting] up rules for what can exist" is a fantastically confused statement. We don't make up rules for what exists, we just do our best to describe what exists, and how it exists. Descriptive, not prescriptive. Maybe that's a key clue for O'Leary.
Denyse O'Leary:
Having taught sections of the Design or Chance? adult night school course at St. Michael's in the University of Toronto, I also have a clear sense of another issue: A doctrine of creation encourages people to believe that the universe is worth studying because it puts a limit on the things you would need to know in order to understand. For one thing, even by positing an actual beginning of time, it closes off an infinite past in which virtually anything could have, and has, happened.
Here, I believe we have O'Leary projecting her own confusions about the concept or reality on the general population. Even if we grant her premise -- that the masses need things "dumbed down" so as not to exasperate them -- this in no way retards science itself. If anything, creationism thwarts the advancement of science by positing "pedagogical falsehoods" on the syllabus. A concept may make things easier to understand, no doubt, but that is not, in and of itself, scientifically useful. It's only as useful as it is accurate, performative in predictions and explanations, and unfalsified by salient tests.

Denyse O'Leary:
Assume, for example, that our theory of the universe does not include a doctrine of creation. We might assert - as some cultures have - that the universe is supported on an infinite series of turtles who (in some greater infinity) are swimming in an endless sea. Why study it? The information gained from one turtle may be no use in interpreting another, and then - even if you could get to the end of the turtles (which you cannot, because the series is infinite) - you would then confront the endless sea. All the information you have accumulated is a mass of interesting sludge, really. The prospect of understanding the universe is actually impossible. Lennox aided my understanding of this question by noting that the Jesuit Fathers who visited the advanced kingdom of China in the early modern period had difficulty at first persuading the Chinese scholars that many features of the universe can be understood by simple equations. They had not expected to find the unverse comprehensible in that way.

I don't know of any cultures that suppose that "the universe is supported on an infinite series of turtles". This objection isn't material to O'Leary's point, but it's indicative of the kind of ... "whatever!" approach she brings to science and the philosophy of science. From what I can find (see here, for example and here), Hindu culture has imagined the earth (as opposed to O'Lery's use of 'universe' here) as borne on the back of an elephant, which stood on a single tortoise, and that's about as close as I can come to finding support for her statement here. The Wikipedia article on "Turtles All The Way Down" attributes the "infinite turtles" idea to a single person, someone sparring with Bertrand Russell after a lecture. I won't make a bigger issue of this than just to note: when you start looking at the "building blocks" O'Leary uses, even those often are imaginary, or widely mistaken.

But suppose we are presented with a "turtles all the way down" cosmology. Now what? Well, to the extent you could verify it, you'd have a most significant answer. There are fewer more profound answers to be had, if the theory checks out. Oddly, O'Leary claims this would all be "interesting sludge, really", in yet another example of her command of the language. "Sludge"? She then announces that this would render the prospect of understanding the universe "actually impossible". Yet, she's just posed the foundations for understanding the universe. If the reality is "turtles all the way down", something we can verify, or even just verify that these turtles really do extend a very, very, very long way down and that they do somehow "support the universe", then a significant level of understanding the universe has been "actually achieved".

I know, I know. O'Leary's paragraph here is more incoherent than it is wrong.

I'm just sayin'.

Just to really get things thoroughly confused, O'Leary points to mathematical principles as a useful means for modeling and describing our universe, an approach that apparently hadn't occurred to the Chinese before some Jesuits introduced the idea. But that's not creationism at all, and in fact is the very antithesis of creationism. In proposing math as a key resource in understanding the universe, the Jesuits were proposing a perfectly materialist model of the universe. There's nothing "creationist" about the inverse-square law. In fact, maths are the building blocks for the "non-created" model of the universe, a universe governed by impersonal physical dynamics, rather than the arbitrary will of God. I can't think what O'Leary imagined the pedagogical value of math to be in terms of creationism, but for now, I'm thinking she's as confused about what Lennox is really saying as she is on the cultural popularity of "turtles all the way down".

Denyse O'Leary:
So a doctrine of creation imposes limits on what we must understand in order to gain a picture of our universe. That is critical for science as we understand it. If we assume that if the Big Bang happened roughly 13.7 billion years ago (conventional dating), then anything that could not have taken place within that period by random movements alone either did not happen or happened because of exterior or prior guidance. Or something else? At any rate, we are justified in seeking an explanation.
I'll agree that creationism imposes limits on understanding. But this is positively perverse, epistemologically. And the example she gives demonstrate this. If we are to discover a process or phenomenon that exists and requires 20 billion years of running to reach the state it is in now, we'd have to revise our estimates of the age of the universe. QED, so long as we have reason to trust the calculations on the process timeline. The existing estimates are where they are based on the demands for a model that harmonizes all that we have to go on. If you change the evidence and facts in view, then the estimates might very well need to be changed to accomodate it.


More With Manata

In this post, Paul pursues the idea of the category that doesn't exist because it's not an instance. We've been talking about whether "secular morality exists", and Paul's now committed to the idea that it doesn't.

Here Paul again turns to Jeff Lowder:

Paul Manata:
The first thing to point out his title - interesting choice of words given that he's an expert on "secular morality." Touchpebble says, "Manata Mangles Secular Morality." Since there is no such thing as "secular morality" then how did I mangle it? For example, prominent up and coming atheologian Jeffery Jay Lowder states,

"On that basis, atheism alone is not enough to construct a worldview. Atheism does not entail any particular ethical theory; all that atheism entails is a rejection of theological ethical systems, such as divine command theory."

So, I have no idea how I "mangled" a non-existent category, viz. "secular morality."
Atheism itself is not an ethical framework. As Lowder points out, it's just the denial of theism -- and the frameworks that are based on it (DCT and Calvinism being examples). "Atheist" is just a qualifier in that sense, so that any ethical framework that eschews supernaturalism would qualify. Would it make sense to declare that there does not exist a such thing as "conservative tax policies"? To apply Manata's logic here, I'd be justified in asserting such because there is no one specific conservative tax policy implied by that term. Or, as Paul will tell us in just a bit, "conservative tax policies" is just an approach to tax policy, and therefore isn't meaningful as a concept in thinking about or evaluating tax policies.

Paul persists:

Paul Manata:
I don't "just think" that it doesn't, it doesn't. There is no such thing as "Secular ethics." Lowder corroborated.
Not. Paul, does the category "conservative tax policies" "exist"? Apparently, Paul is supposing that a group of instances of a class (ethical frameworks that are secular) somehow denies the instances. I'll confess, that's a novel way to dismiss dealing with the merits of any particular secular ethical framework. Haven't seen this maneuver before.

Paul then emphasizes this phrase from the Wikipedia article I references on secular morality:

Secular ethics can be seen as a wide variety of moral and ethical systems drawing heavily on humanism, secularism and freethinking.

Now, he's just again declared that secular ethics doesn't "exist", and has to badly mangle Lowder (maybe we'll have to see if Lowder wants to weigh in on Manata's reading skills here?) to avoid the completely non-controversial concept of secular morality as a grouping of any of a number of ethical frameworks. Here, the Wikipedia article states the concept quite plainly.

Paul's reaction: "Thus saith the Wiki." Srsly.

He then moves on to his objections concerning this category that doesn't exist.

Paul Manata:
ii) At best, this quote says that their is a secular way of approaching ethics. It doesn't support the idea that there is a secular ethic. This can be proved by pointing out that an ethical system is supposed to provide normative, action-guiding principles. If an ethical system didn't purport to tell us how we should act in given moral situations, then that system would be useless as an ethical system. This is to say that there needs to be both a formal and a material aspect to ones ethical theory (this point is made by many, for example, secularist Mark Timmons points this out in his book Moral Theory. Secularist James Rachels makes this point in The Elements of Moral Philosophy. etc). Since the above does not purport to give us action-guides, we haven't seen a "secular ethic."
Heh. The Wikipedia even throws out a couple examples of instances in this category (utilitarianism, ethical egoism). Paul can tell us that any particular ethical system is displeasing to his (theological) tastes, but that in no way disqualifies it as an ethical system. Utilitarianism, for example purports to "tell us how we should act in given moral situations", and provides its grounding for "good" in an actions overall utility (hence the name!). That is a secular ethic, the very thing Paul supposes doesn't exist. Would Paul suggest that utilitarianism is not an instance of a secular ethical system that provides "action-guides"?

Aware of the weakness of ii), Paul hedges:

Paul Manata:
iii) The above account is biased towards a realist conception of ethics. Notice, furthermore, that "culture" is not listed as one of the "basings" for a "secular ethic."
Well, lucky for Paul that this whole category just "doesn't exist", then, huh? Ok, I've noticed that culture is not listed as a "basing". Now what? Maybe it's time to throw in a red herring?

Paul Manata:
iv) There are secular ethicists who deny that anything has intrinsic value.
Totally irrevelant. Unless Paul supposes the existence of such ethicists somehow denies the existence of other secular ethicists who do affirm intrinsic moral worth, this is just a useless observation.

Paul Manata:
That's right, and that's all that I was saying. There is no such thing as "secular" morality. An approach to ethics isn't an ethic. There is no "secular morality" since a morality gives one normative prescriptions that serve as action guides. A "morality" has principles, guides to actions, rules, an axiological position, and, in some cases, aretaic ethics - which, not surprisingly, the Wiki quotes leaves out of the list of the myriad "basings."
Since Paul is having so much trouble with the concept of categories, maybe we can make headway by focusing on an instance. The category is important, as there are a number of competing ethical frameworks that are secular, and those provide a challenge for Paul. But for now, to avoid getting bogged down by incorrigibility, let's consider one of the instances mentioned above: utilitarianism. Even this "instance" is itself a category, or subcategory of secular ethics; under the broader perimeter of consequentialism, utilitarianism comes in multiple permutations -- classic utilitarianism, hedonistic utilitarianism, act/rule distinctions, etc. But, variations considered, utilitarianism provides action-guides, a grounding for moral worth (normativity), offers practical axiological/deontological distinctions.

Utilitarianism, then, would be an instance of secular morality, a member of the class. Does Paul suppose that utilitarianism somehow "doesn't exist" as an ethical framework, secular or otherwise? This ought to push Paul's spinner to red-line RPM levels, I think.

Moving on:

Paul Manata:
ii) I never said "atheism doesn't support ANY ethical system." That's Pebbles' (mis)characterization. I simply said that there is no such thing as "secular morality." Lowder would agree. But, "atheism" does not support any one theory (see (iii) below).
I have to remind the reader here that the context for this was the question of whether atheists can be moral (or as Paul is inclined to re-cast the question: Can atheists provide an account for objective morality?). Rather than face any single, official rendering of secular morality, Paul has an array of secular ethical frameworks to deal with on this question. "Simply" pointing out that secular morality is a category containing multiple instances that qualify (which is what Lowder was pointing to) is a bigger problem from Paul. Rather than having to defeat a single "champion", he's obligated to "run the table". If just one of those secular frameworks can establish grounds for moral value, and the prescriptions and guides that flow from it, then his presuppositional goose is cooked. This is, however, a nice example of Paul as "contortionist pedant". Paul, does an array of secular ethical frameworks make things better for your argument, or worse?

Paul Manata:
iii) I know that Lowder "leaves room open" for secular "ethical systemS." I never denied that there were secular ethical systemS (plural). But, that "atheism leaves room for ethical systems" does not entail that "atheism supports any one system." I might "leave room" for a slacker to get a good grade in my class, that doesn't logically entail that I support any one (or n) slacker/s!
Now we're into thoroughgoing pedantics. If it "leaves room" -- "is compatible with" for those systems, it "supports" them. My Mac "supports" FireWire devices. It "leaves room" for compatible devices to be integrated in to the overall platform. Paul is equivocating on the word "support" here, leaning on "logically compatible with" in one case, and pointing to "fanboyism" (the slacker in his class) in the other.

Atheism supports utilitarianism, for example. They are completely compatible.

Paul Manata:
iv) Pebbles is simply confusing being compatible with ethical system/s, and being an ethical system. There is no "atheistic" or "secular" ethic, though, "atheism" and "secularism" are compatible with numerous ethical systems."
As above, "atheist" is just a qualifier, seperating ethical systems into two categories: atheist ethical frameworks, and theistic ethical frameworks. Any ethical framework that does not rely on theistic concepts or principles is -- de facto -- an atheistic ethical framework. "Conservative" is not a synonym for "tax policy". "Conservative" provides a qualifier for distinguishing to sets of tax policies (conservative, not-conservative). This is not a difficult concept to grasp, Paul.

Paul Manata:
v) Lowder doesn't use the pejorative "magical" in his post. Why does pebbles? He professes to be a Christian yet he refers to a theistic ethical system as "magical." His "Jesus" teaches us of a "law," an "ethic," yet Pebbles disrespects his professed "savior" by spitting on, and mocking, his claims.
Use "supernatural" instead if you like, Paul. You're quibbling about the terms, but the concept is the same. In any case, none of that is relevant to whether or not secular moral frameworks can account for themselves, unless one just assumes, a priori, that they can't. Which, if I understand you correctly to be a presuppositionalist, is just such a commitment. Unencumbered by that intellectual handicap, though, an inquirer as to the merits of secular morality gets nothing out of your objection here.

Paul Manata:
i) No, this was my point. I'm the one who said that there is no such thing as a secular ethic. I cite Lowder as agreeing with me. My only point was that Pebbles' title was sloppy. I didn't mangle "secular morality" since there exists no such enterprise to mangle. That's it. Pebbles needs to make more to this then there is. He's trying to cover his tracks. Simply put, my point was that his title was misleading and ignorant. My point is correct. No amount of complaining and sophistry can change the fact.
Paul, I've sent off an email request to Lowder. I'll report back what he has to say about your interpretation of his words.

Paul Manata:
ii) I know there is no "theistic ethic." That's why I never claimed that there was! Pebbles is trying to put his mistakes on me. Anyway, there is a "theism" where "theism" is defined as "belief in a god." There is no secular ethic, no matter how you define it (speaking non-arbitrarily here). An ethic requires certain things that make it impossible to point and say, "Ah, look, there is the secular ethic." So, his argument from analogy isn't a good argument, and isn't analogous. Everyone agrees that there is an intelligible category which we can use in intelligent conversation called, "theism." This is not the case with "secular ethic." Pebbles is just confused here.
Ayiyi. It's no more possible to say "Ah, there is the theistic ethic" than "Ah, there is the secular ethic." They are both categories. I can say "Ah, utilitarianism, there is a secular ethical framework", and I can say "Ah, sweet Calvinism, there is a theistic ethical framework" (Calvinism, of course, is more than just an ethical framework, but it does provide one, for anyone scanning for ethical frameworks). Paul, the only reason I can see to deny the category "secular morality", is simply intransigence in correctly a poorly thought-out minor point in one of your posts. If you look around, plenty of intelligent people use the term, and the concept it points to, in useful and practical ways.

If you read Byrne here, this is not the basis for a "sense" -- however trivial and "not my argument" Paul now wants to claim it is -- that atheists CANNOT be moral. From just above Paul's quote in the SEP article:
Paul Manata:
That's not why I cited Byrne, Pebbbles. Perhaps if you calmed down before posting you'd be clear-headed enough to see through your emotional haze of T-blog envy and you'd actually be able to comprehend what your interlocutor is arguing. I had said that my point was something we could both agree on, but that wasn't the focus of my post. My argument was not that atheists CANNOT be moral. That wasn't what I was arguing in my post, Pebbles. I made some qualifications where THAT argument COULD be made, but that was the stated PURPOSE of my post. You picked on something that wasn't INTENDED to function as part of my RESPONSE to the Ethical Atheist.
My point was that those qualifications and "hypothetical" arguments were perfectly vacuous. If you want to affirm that, I'm happy to affirm that was not the sole, or even primary purpose of your post. I wasn't responding to your whole post, if you read my initial comments. I was noting that your "qualified, narrow sense" was so narrow as to be vacuous.

Paul proceeds to implicate me in his own errors:

Paul Manata:
Notice his "deep need" for "justice" and the "need" t provide "incentive" in order to be moral. His "need" of "psychological guardrails," etc. So, even though I didn't make the kind of argument Pebbles attributes to me, he does! Pebbles must ridicule himself now. He appeals to a "magic" after life. Boy did he ever "mangle" secular morality!
This in no way denies that atheistic moral frameworks can have a solid ground, Paul. I said in the quote above that secular morality appears quite plausible, but falls short of the virtues I'm looking for. That doesn't deny its existence as a moral framework, though. I affirm, at least in principle, and even nominally in practice, that secular ethical frameworks can provide accounts for their assertions and prescriptions.

So, I'm saying something quite opposite of what you're alleging here, Paul. A presuppositional claim to transcendental necessity for theism as the basis for morality is wholly unwarranted, a folly. If I can identify aspects of secular morality that I find deficient (or superior, by the same token), fine. But I grant that in principle, the atheist has all the basis he needs for providing justification for value judgments. The frameworks compete, rationally, and none are declared invalid prior to exercise and inspection by some artificial axiom I'm carrying around.

Later on:

Paul Manata:
No, I claimed that nothing interesting followed from emotivism or subjectivism. To make an argument that Christians are immoral on a realist account is something I asked you to flesh out since I don't see them being able to make that claim. At best, we'd have differences at the level of fact, not principle (am I assuming to much to think Pebbles grasps the distinction?).
I'm routinely informed that any theistic tolerances I have are inherently immoral, in and of themselves, by at least two fellow on an email loop I participate in. That is, in their view, entertaining theistic ideas, absent rational justification for same (in their view), I'm an immoral person. This stems from the proposition that we are obligated to be rational and skeptically inclined, in some utilitarian sense. You can't even talk about "being able to make that claim", as you are presuppositionally forbidden from considering it a possibility. But in the general sense, I would dispute the "moral imperative" for totally eschewing supernatural ideas and instincts, but that would be their "qualified, narrow sense" in which theists qua theists are immoral, and cannot provide an accounting for themselves morally.

Their "qualified, narrow sense" is just as much self-serving begging of the question as yours is.

Paul Manata:
"But, well, there's a large paragraph devoted in his original post to the theist side of the coind [sic]. Nothing of any interest proceeds from that, either. But Paul is unaware."

No, things of interest follow from my comments. The proper distinction that I'm making, though, is that my comments had nothing much at all to do with my argument and response to the Ethical Atheist. It was a side point of clarification. I mainly wrote it for fellow theists who might have broached that subject in the combox. But, as I made clear in my post, the subject for discussion was a different one. The apologetic literature doesn't contain arguments from the qualified sense, they press the: O --> G; O; :.G argument I mentioned in my last response to you. It is often claimed that theists are making arguments from the inability of atheists to be moral. To "refute" this argument is simply an exercise in futility since no one is making that claim. I thus made sure that the Ethical Atheist was dealing with the arguments that we do make, not ones he falsely imputes to us. I should think that a sensible fellow like you would have (a) grasped that and (b) agreed with it. Surely you're not for someone wasting their time beating up straw men, are you?
To put it in a nutshell, I believe your agument is: atheists cannot account for their moral judgments.

Do I have that right, for a nutshell?

If so, that's not an innovation in the conversation. That goes back to van Til and beyond. I've never supposed Christians -- the layman in the pew or the world-class apologist -- have contended that atheists cannot be moral/ethical in a nominal sense. It's demonstrably false, and not even interesting to entertain.

No, I'm focused on the intellectual poverty of the attempts I've seen from you and others to either a) declare "presuppositional" victory up front, or b) go into "hyper-sophist" mode in confusing, obfuscating, and simply dealing dishonestly with the analysis of the underpinning of moral frameworks, secular or otherwise, or both. That is, the integrity of thought you bring to this discussion -- not if an atheist can be moral, but if an atheistic ethic can acquit itself -- is just a disaster. But disaster or no, I do see the "justification" question as being the central one from you and other Christian apologists, as opposed to "performance" (i.e. "doing good things").

Paul Manata:
i) I don't use "the transcendental argument for Christian theism alone." I made this point a long time ago. I've pointed this out to Pebbles on numerous occasions. He continues to push bad information. Integrity is not something he holds in very high regard, as you can see.
It doesn't matter what else you use, Paul. Your presuppositionalism is problematic all by itself. It precludes the possibility -- not the demonstration, but the possibility -- of acknowledging secular grounds for concepts like "good" and "bad". It's a set of constraints you cannot get out of. This has nothing to do with your being otherwise willing to rationally consider a proposition on the merits. But you've embraced axioms that preclude that as an investigation. It's disingenuous to claim you can both maintain your presuppositionalist fancies, then also set them aside to consider things rationally.

Paul Manata:
ii) Many non-presuppositionalists make the exact same argument that I do. Once can see that by reading the works of Copan, Craig, Hare, Helm, Moreland, et al.
Completely irrelevant. This doesn't have any impact on anything at all here. Craig isn't bound by the commitments to presuppositionalism that you are, so he can, at least, in principle, claim to be pursuing these questions in earnest, rationally. You cannot.

Paul Manata:
iii) My "worldview" depends, at a basic level, on the information contained in the text of Scripture.
You are the picture of irrationality. If your views weren't yours, you'd despise them as the apotheosis of anti-reason. But you bless them because they're yours, and they make you feel cozy, and provide magic answers to hard questions. Oh, and they insulate you from liability from having to engage these questions on the merits. That's what your worldview depends on.

How do you know that scripture contains "information", Paul?

Why not just come clean, Paul? "I think what I think, at a basic level, because, well, just because."

Paul Manata:
iv) I used "normative" assertions, not "qualitative," in my post.
Which is just a cynical attempt to control the terms of the debate. Look, if God doesn't exist, then your notions of "normativity" are useless. So anytime you throw this word out, you aren't playing by the same rules are the other thinking adults in the conversation are -- it's just a beg to the question of God's existence any and every time you use the term. If God doesn't exist, then "normativity" obtains in a completely different fashion than theistic notions of "moral absolutes" as 'immaterial/cosmic/supernatural law".

So all this argument really signifies is that you cannot get your head around notions of "normativity" that aren't singularly tied to your theism. That's what presuppositionalism does to your brain.

Paul Manata:
v) Many secularists don't think that secularists (or anyone for that matter) can account for norms in morality.
Sure, and it's totally irrelevant. How does this observation attach at all? I might as well observe that some days the sky appears to be blue. Have I reached the point where I can try on Paul's triumphalist hat on, now?
Paul Manata:
Notice Pebbles stipulates to his audience what I "MUST" believe, he doesn't quote me, though. And, it is obvious that Pebbles doesn't know the first think about my ethical theory. It's not that "God must exist" for their to be a "basis for morality," though that it part of it. If I were Pebbles I' make sure I knew the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

Well, is it necessary, or not, Paul? Don't be coy. If it's necessary for God to exist, in order to justify an notions of morality, then no atheistic claims to moral distinctions need apply. They don't even need to be analyzed, and they are simply dismissed on a a priori basis.

If your theism is merely sufficient to account for moral distinctions, then the game's entirely different. Atheist frameworks can compete on the merits, at least in principle, and the inquirer can then evaluate between standing competitors. But that gores the presuppositionalist's ox -- it's "unfaithful" to subject your faith commitments to "worldly" standards of evaluation, to paraphrase van Til.

I am proceeding under the assumption that you are committed to the "necessity" of presuppositionalism here, based on what I've read from you. If you want quotes, I can go searching for them, but it doesn't matter if you'll just state it clearly here: It is possible for a non-theistic moral framework to account for itself, in principle, or not. If not, and I do think your answer must be "not" if you are presuppositionally committed to the transcendental truth of the God's existence and the Bible, then spare every one the con-job of telling us it doesn't measure up rationally or philosophically. It's just dishonest to proceed on those grounds.

If your theism is not a necessary predicate for moral distinctions, and is just "sufficient", then I would congratulate your emergence from the dark hole of presuppositionalism and proceed accordingly.

That's all I've time for for now. More later.