iSoul In the beginning is reality

Joshua’s long day and miracles

Joshua’s long day has a long history of debate but is often forgotten today. The book of Joshua 10:13 says:

So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,
Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.

It is often said that this contradicts heliocentric astronomy. Actually, it contradicts geocentric astronomy, too: the sun and moon are supposed to keep moving.

Joshua 10:13 is a piece of data, an observation; it is not a model or theory. Those who construct models or theories would certainly consider it an extreme outlier and no doubt delete it from consideration. But is this justified?

Science values larger extensions and Joshua’s long day would limit the scope of a theory if it were accepted. So scientists have an incentive to remove it and claim a theory with large extension. Furthermore, Hume and others argue that the more unusual the claim, the greater the evidence needed to justify it.

But this betrays an extensional bias. What if the extreme outlier is highly meaningful, highly intensive? To delete it would be a great loss of intension. A more balanced science would be reluctant to delete it without due consideration. The fact that this is preserved in the book with the greatest intension, the Bible, should lead us to be reluctant to delete it.

Meaningful miracles do happen. We have sufficient testimony to them and sufficient incentive to preserve them for their intensionality, even if it means losing some extensionality in our theories.

Biases of modern science

Mainstream modern science is biased…

  1. toward what it calls “primary qualities” (and against other qualities)
  2. toward greater and greater extension (and less intension or meaning)
  3. toward efficient and material causal factors (and against formal and final ones)
  4. toward repeatability (and against the unique)
  5. toward positive results (and against negative results)
  6. toward the current paradigm (and against alternate paradigms)
  7. toward greater abstraction (and away from concrete experience)
  8. toward greater specialization (and against general observations)
  9. toward naturalism (and against the supernatural)
  10. toward materialism (and against the immaterial)
  11. toward empiricism (and against other kinds of experience)
  12. toward positivism (and against other kinds of knowledge)
  13. toward scientism (and against the humanities)
  14. toward secularism (and against interaction with any theism)
  15. toward linearity (and against the ancient bias toward circularity)
  16. toward nominalism (and against metaphysical realism)
  17. toward minimal kinds of things (and against balancing things and kinds)
  18. toward more state funding for science (and against reduction of state funding).

Distinctions of Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless, and indistinct; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. The evening and the morning were the first day. So the first distinction was between Day and Night.

Then God said, Let there be a space in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. Thus God made the space, and divided the waters which were under the space from the waters which were above the space; and it was so. And God called the space Heaven. The evening and the morning were the second day. So the second distinction was between waters below and above Heaven.

Then God said, Let the waters under Heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the Earth; and it was so. And the Earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. The evening and the morning were the third day. So the third distinction was between the Earth and the Seas.

Then God said, Let there be lights in the space of Heaven to distinguish the Day from the Night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the space of Heaven to give light on the Earth; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the Day, and the lesser light to rule the Night–and also the stars. God set them in the space of Heaven to give light on the Earth, and to rule over the Day and over the Night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. The evening and the morning were the fourth day. So the Day was marked with the greater light and Night was marked with the lesser light.

Then God said, Let the Seas abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the space of the Heavens. So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the Seas, and let birds multiply on the Earth. The evening and the morning were the fifth day. So the Seas were marked with fish and Heaven was marked with birds.

Then God said, Let the Earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the Earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the Earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the Seas, over the birds of the Heaven, and over all the Earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the Earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the Earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the Seas, over the birds of Heaven, and over every living thing that moves on the Earth.

And God said, See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the Earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the Earth, to every bird of Heaven, and to everything that creeps on the Earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. The evening and the morning were the sixth day. So the Earth was marked with man.

Thus the Heaven and the Earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made. So the seventh day was marked with the Sabbath.

Virtue or righteousness

While Aristotle talks about virtue, the Bible talks about righteousness but there are similarities in what they say. Both take an “agent-centered” approach rather than an “action-centered” approach. The way to virtue or righteousness is not via doing virtuous or righteous actions. That doesn’t make us virtuous or righteous. These are qualities, not quantities, as one put it.

Being leads to doing, not the other way around. The virtuous do the right thing, the fine and excellent thing. The righteous do the right thing, the good and godly thing. But one can be virtuous only by a virtuous upbringing and education. One can be righteous only by repentance and faith in the Righteous One.

Moral education has almost been forgotten it seems but has its value in producing virtuous citizens. Children baptized, raised in a Christian family, and confirmed with a confession of faith are righteous in the Lord. Others who repent and believe as adults are, too. That is the foundation of a good and just society.


Repentance and faith

Acts 20:21 speaks of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” This first step of the Christian life is God’s doing. God grants repentance and faith. So while people say, “I repented” and “I believed,” it is only by God’s grace that they did.

This can be compared with an alarm clock going off while we’re sleeping. We woke up on account of the alarm clock. We could have resisted the alarm. But it was the alarm that woke us up. We didn’t wake ourselves up.

Repentance and faith is conversion (Latin conversio, Greek metanoia) and it is God’s work, not ours. Jesus said, (Mt 22.14) “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This may indicate that everyone receives a “wake-up call” at some point in their lives but not everyone responds to it.

So listen to the Gospel and when you perceive God calling you or tugging at your heart, respond as Samuel did, (1 Sam 3:10) “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And wake up!

Occam’s razor

Occam’s Razor (also called Ockham’s Razor) refers to a principle of parsimony or simplicity in modern science associated with the medieval monk William of Ockham. His principle states: “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”

The word “entities” is ambiguous here: what should be minimized, the total number of entities of any kind or the number of kinds of entity? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) article on “Simplicity” notes:

The default reading of Occam’s Razor in the bulk of the philosophical literature is as a principle of qualitative parsimony.

The distinction between qualitative and quantitative here is between the number of types (or kinds) of entities postulated and the number of individual entities postulated. So Occam’s Razor has no problem with a zillion atoms all alike but it does have a problem with two or more different kinds of atoms.

The SEP article notes:

It should be noted that interpreting Occam’s Razor in terms of kinds of entity brings with it some extra philosophical baggage of its own. In particular, judgments of parsimony become dependent on how the world is sliced up into kinds.

So Occam’s Razor prefers one kind of parsimony: qualitative parsimony. For science this means theories that posit fewer kinds of entity are preferred. This is as arbitrary as preferring theories positing fewer entities but more kinds of entity.

It is basically the standard classification problem: which is better, lumping or splitting? Occam’s Razor prefers lumping into fewer classes. But there is no necessary reason for this preference. It is arbitrary and biased.

This preference has direct implications for what kind of theories are selected in science. For example, an explanation in geology in terms of uniform processes is preferred over one that also includes global catastrophes. And an evolutionary theory which considers all life to be one kind of entity over a long time is preferred over any theory that posits multiple kinds of life over a shorter time.

This principle is biased and should be rejected or changed.

Falsification or limitation?

Karl Popper made falsification the key to scientific legitimacy. But as others have pointed out, scientists do not spend much time trying to falsify theories. Instead, they work to confirm and extend theories. Moreover, an observation that goes against a theory doesn’t falsify the whole theory; it creates an anomaly that can be dealt with in various ways–for example, search for hidden factors, modify the theory slightly, or discount the observation.

It is only when a superior theory arises that explains anomalies and everything else an older theory explained that scientists take note. So there can be a period of instability as some people question the theory and others try to defend it. This has happened many times in the history of science, from the geocentric-heliocentric debate, to the origins debate of today.

What I’d like to suggest is that falsification shouldn’t be the motivation regarding a theory which has some evidence for it. The question should be: What are the limits to the theory? The fact is that all theories have their validity limits (as Fritz Rohrlich calls them). Why? Because theories assume simplifications of reality, construct isolated systems, and are based on limited data.

While scientists posit theories that are nominally universal, that scope is merely a default in place of the unknown limits that will be discovered later. Science is both optimistic that its theories cover a wide number of cases and open to findings of the limits of theories. Promoters of science seize on the optimistic part and downplay or ignore the limitation part.

In the 18th century enthusiastic Newtonians were very influential in making a clockwork universe the common mindset. Their mistake was taking the word “universal” in universal gravity literally as if Newton’s theory had no problems. In recent years promoters of universal common descent have been very influential in taking the word “universal” literally in evolution, even as the limits of natural selection (and other mechanisms of change) are becoming more known.

Science should search for the limits of every theory. That can be done by finding out the conditions under which it is false, or it breaks down, or works poorly. This sets the stage for a superior theory, that is, one with a larger extension. It also puts all theories on the same level: they all can have their uses but they are always limited.

Scientific theories are not falsified; they are limited, and their limits become known over time.


Approval voting

When Benjamin Netanyahu “won” a recent Israeli election, his Likud party actually won 30 of 120 seats in Parliament. Because this was a plurality, they would have the first shot at forming a “government” (called an administration in the U.S.) by forming a coalition with other parties. So it was really a coalition that won the election, a coalition that is formed after the election.

Parliamentary systems often lead to governing coalitions. At least the principle of majority rule is preserved even though it was through a plurality that the majority was achieved.

In two-party systems, one party will inevitably win a majority outright. The U.S. has had a two-party system. But elections are usually by plurality. Gubernatorial elections for example are by plurality. That can easily lead to a candidate who is less acceptable to the majority being elected. That is apparently what happened in Maine in 2014.

How can this happen? Voters are allowed to vote for only one candidate, so they vote for the candidate the approve of the most. But with three or more candidates, the electorate can be split so that no candidate gets a majority. The candidate with the largest plurality wins. If the candidate who came in second was acceptable to many of the people who voted for the candidate who came in third, he or she might have had a majority of the votes.

The problem is not that voting is binary: we either approve or disapprove of the candidates. The problem is that voters can only approve of one candidate. They are forced to disapprove of all the other candidates. This is a flaw.

The solution is called “approval voting”. Each candidate is either approved or disapproved as before but voters can approve of any number of candidates and disapprove of any number of candidates. As always, the votes for each candidate are tallied and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Approval voting is a much superior system that avoids plurality elections when there are more than two candidates. It is simple and can easily be implemented now.


Return to federalism

When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, it established a federation of the independent states called the United States of America. But over time the national government has expanded and overshadowed the states. The Seventeenth Amendment changed Senate elections to a direct ballot, which took state governments out of the loop of federal decision-making. The development of a regulatory process since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal produced innumerable new rules for citizens and businesses. Since then a centralized national government in Washington has taken authority from state and local governments.

Today “Washington” refers to the central government and its power over the lives of American citizens. Many people are fed up with it and its interference in their affairs. Others look to it and its supply of dollars for financial deliverance. Either way, the central government has become more powerful than King George III whom the colonists rebelled against. And the American people have become more divided from each other and alienated from their national government.

We have forgotten that “United States” was originally plural. We have forgotten that “federal” means that state and local governments are not bypassed but are part of a tiered structure. We have left individuals to face the might of the national government rather than state governments who have more resources to stand up to it. We have let the national government ride roughshod over state and local governments so that it is “federal” in name only.

The solution to this situation is a return to a federal structure of government. The national government should be largely answerable to the states, not the other way around. The states should not be forced into a single mold and composition. Rural and urban states should not be treated the same. The laboratory of the states should be allowed to flourish.

New political leadership is needed and eventually a constitutional amendment to define the relationship between the states and the federal government. State governments must be in the loop, for example, by having at least one Senator appointed by the Governor and ratified by the state legislature. The Fourteenth Amendment must be applied in a balanced way to the states. Where the Constitution is silent, the federal government must not be empowered to act.

This return to federalism will not happen in one election cycle. It will take a long effort to bring about. People with different political views will have to work together to make it happen. But a federation of states can and should return to America.

Intensional science

The word intension is not as well-known as its homophone intention. The word intension denotes the intrinsic meaning of a word, also called the comprehension or connotation. It contrasts with the extension, which denotes the range of applicability or objects to which the word refers, also known as the denotation. For example, the intension of “boat” is “a small vehicle for mobility on water” but the extension is the particular boat or boats that are included such as canoes, kayaks, rowboats, etc.

In physical science the extension particularly refers to the primary qualities of size, shape, and number which belong to physical matter independently of an observer. Modern science focuses on the extensional side of things and is less interested in the intensions associated with them. This is the basic reason why modern science lacks meaningfulness; it has little to say about intensions.

Is there a kind of science that is interested in the intensional side of things? Yes, but it is considered primitive by modern science. This can be explained by the inverse relation between the intension and the extension of words: as the intension expands and becomes more specific, the extension gets smaller and as the intension contracts into one more general, the extension gets larger. For example, the extension of “boat” covers all the boats in the world but the extension of the more specific term “speed boat” covers only boats which are built for speed.

Extensional science privileges a theory with a larger extension over one with a smaller extension. But an intensional science would privilege a theory with a larger intension, which means a smaller extension. For example, a geocentric theory is considered primitive by extensional science but its small extension would not be a disadvantage to an intensional science. The value of a theory would depend more on how meaningful it is.

This makes intensional science very strange from the modern perspective which so values large extensions. It does however lead to a reevaluation of traditional theories or narratives, which may have deep intensional aspects. For example, consider cosmology in the ancient Near East:

Sumerian cosmology became the foundation of many Near Eastern concepts. The Sumerians speculated that the major components of the universe were heaven (a vaulted, hollow space) and earth (a flat disc) which existed, immovably, in a boundless sea from which the universe had come into being. Between heaven and earth was the atmosphere, from which the sun, moon and stars were fashioned. The separation of heaven and earth and the creation of the planets were followed by plant, animal and human life. Invisible, immortal gods guided and controlled this universe, according to prescribed rules. [A New Dictionary of Religions, edited by John R. Hinnells, Blackwell, 1995.]

Again, this is very primitive from the extensional perspective. It doesn’t mention the earth’s rotation about an axis, its orbit around the sun, the distance to the stars, etc. But it fits the everyday world we live in, which is not a world of light-years and large masses; it’s a world with the earth’s surface below and a curved space above. And it’s part of a narrative about who is behind the universe and why it exists. Extensional science has nothing to offer on that subject.

This leads to consideration of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. There certainly are similarities between the Genesis narrative and the Sumerian cosmology. Their extension is minimal but their intension is part of a narrative about the meaning of the universe. The Genesis narrative contains many subtleties noted by commentators over the centuries. It repays close study and meditation. It is part of the Bible, which is certainly a very profound book, and for a large portion of humanity is Holy Scripture.

A mature intensional theory would correspond to reality in its own way. All traditional narratives are not equally valid. Criteria need to be developed to privilege the better ones. Insofar as intensional and extensional theories overlap, they should be consistent with one another. Modifying an extensional theory for intensional reasons would no doubt be controversial.

Which is better, extensional or intensional science? Neither. They both have their places. Extensional science is well suited for studying the furthest stars, the possibility of interplanetary travel, and more mundane tasks such as building roads and bridges. Intensional science gives us a meaningful understanding of the universe, tells us who is behind it, why it exists, and why we’re here. We need both.