iSoul In the beginning is reality

Positive vs. negative authority

In constitutional republics the founding documents provide the positive basis for political authority. In the U.S. the Constitution delineates the authority of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Thus the President could do only what he (so far only he) is authorized by the Constitution to do: act as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, negotiate treaties “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate”, veto legislation, etc. Similarly, the judicial branch with its apex in the Supreme Court is authorized to hear actual cases and controversies only.

The Constitution incorporates “checks and balances” so that if a branch of government exceeded their authority, the other branches of government could stop them. The greatest authority is vested in the legislative branch, the Congress, but the process of passing bills is purposively challenging to prevent excessive use of that authority.

Thus stood the Republic for over two centuries. Now however that is ending. Congress is consistently divided on basic issues and members are reluctant to take a strong stand on any controversial matter. So Congressional inaction is the order of the day. The judicial and executive branches increasingly fill the gap and exceed their positive authority.

What we are seeing is that the executive and judicial branches can do anything that they can get away with. They are appropriating to themselves a negative authority: an authority that extends as far as the limits to what they can be prevented from doing.

The judicial branch “legislates from the bench” and invents rights out of thin air. The executive branch produces directives and regulations that are not based on authorizing legislation. The President wages war without the consent of the Senate and negotiates “agreements” instead of treaties so that the consent of the Senate is not needed; if the Congress cannot stop the President, the agreement is put into effect.

The Constitution is not working. The American people are deeply divided. A tyranny is developing and is even now here. It is a dark time. God help us.

Science and terminology

Science is knowledge (scientia) that is systematically gained and/or organized. That entails that the terminology of science be systematic, i.e, a nomenclature rather than a hodgepodge of terms. This can make discussions about science hard since people have to learn a body of nomenclature before understanding a science. This applies to all sciences, whether natural sciences, social sciences, historical sciences, or subjects with some systematization such as systematic theology.

But a more pressing challenge for discussions of science is the use of words that have both technical and non-technical meanings. Within a science only the technical usage should apply but discussions of a science inevitably use some of the same words from general usage as well. So terms with a precise meaning within a science are used along with the same term with an imprecise or ambiguous meaning.

If this were a problem that applied only to minor terms that would be a minor problem but it is a problem with major terms and terms whose meaning is disputed. The result is that people who disagree are talking past one another, misunderstanding one another, and fail to communicate. This happens especially in cases of controversy or strong disagreement. What can be done about it?

One solution is to qualify terms so it is clear what meaning is intended. For example, instead of saying “evolution” specify “unguided evolution”, “guided evolution” or “theistic evolution”. Instead of saying “design” specify “intelligent design”, “intentional design” or “divine design”. Instead of saying “creation” specify “transcendent creation”, “special creation” or “intelligent creation”. These qualified terms should be defined but the presence of a qualifier alerts people to the more specific meaning intended.

Alcoholism and homosexuality

Some people are born with alcoholism, that is, they are inclined toward alcohol dependence. Others acquire it over time or a combination of both is the cause. Alcoholism is a disease, also called alcohol dependence syndrome. It can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether alcoholism can be cured or only controlled is controversial. In any case alcoholics deserve our compassion.

Something very similar can be said about homosexuality, the desire and practice of sexual relations between members of the same sex. Some people are apparently born with such desire whereas others seem to acquire it. Homosexuality can cause people to behave in unhealthy ways such as engaging in risky behavior. Whether homosexuality can be changed or controlled is controversial. In any case homosexuals deserve our compassion.

Whereas alcoholism is classed as a disease, it has become controversial to categorize homosexuality as a disease, much less a sin. Those who promote extreme egalitarianism disparage any significant social distinction between the sexes or any ontological difference between the sexes. And yet many homosexuals today are proud of their condition, as if sexuality were a significant characteristic of one’s ontology.

We can’t have it both ways: either human sexuality is ontologically significant or is not. If it is not, then there is no need for approving of it or according it special status. If it is, then we need to ask what is the ontological status of sexuality.

The place to start is with language. Every human language has different references for male and female: he/she, him/her, his/hers, etc. This shows the deep-seated character of sexuality: our very personhood is bound up with our maleness or femaleness. No one is suggesting that we call people “it” so this gendered speech will continue.

Sex is ontologically significant and the roles for men and women that societies develop are something to defend rather than tear down. Changes, if any, should be incremental and carefully considered. Unfortunately, the global West is rushing headlong into a social experiment in sexual equality without due consideration of the consequences.

Two kinds of negation

This is a follow-up to the introductory post on Laws of Form here.

There are two kinds of negation: contraries and contradictories, and Laws of Form (LoF) represents both types. Furthermore both types apply to terms and propositions.

Contraries are two complete opposites; the negation of one is the other. The poles of a magnet for example are contraries: not South is North and not North is South. This negation is represented by the Law of Crossing.

Contradictories are partial opposites; the negation of one is different from the other but not necessarily the exact opposite. The negation of a proposition is a proposition that is inconsistent with it. This negation is represented by the Law of Calling.

Calling is a kind of negation but calling again doesn’t return to the original proposition; it reiterates the negation and remains in the same place.

If we negate North as a direction, do we get South? Not necessarily; we could get East or West which are different from North. As directions, North and East are contradictories.

It’s unusual to completely negate a proposition but it can be done. “The place is on North Main Street” is contradicted by “No, it’s on East Main Street.” The contrary proposition is “The place is on South Main Street” in the context of a north-south oriented Main Street.

To model both negations in ordinary arithmetic with 0 and 1, use the two operations: standard multiplication for calling and an alternate multiplication for crossing defined as:

x alt y = (x-1) * (y-1).

Then zero represents the marked state and one the unmarked state.

The beauty of LoF is that these two kinds of negation are combined into one symbol — as is the word “not”.


Laws of form

The remarkable book Laws of Form by George Spencer-Brown was published in 1969 and is almost forgotten today. The best expositors have been William Bricken with his boundary mathematics, Louis Kauffman with his knot theory, and Francisco Varela with his work on self-reference. Otherwise it has become something of an underground classic but otherwise forgotten. There are several reasons for the latter, including the exaggerated claims of the author and some enthusiasts. That said, I think it’s worth rehabilitating the Laws of Form (LoF) and rightly discerning its significance.

LoF is a work on diagrammatic reasoning in the tradition of Leibniz and CS Peirce. It is a calculus, complete with arithmetic and algebra, based on the act of making and indicating a distinction. Thus it is a work of mathematical realism, which begins to explain why it is not of interest to anti-realists. Its greatest accomplishment is the unified treatment of injunction and indication, of implication and negation via a single symbol, called a cross.

Here are the arithmetic axioms of the calculus of indications:


That’s it. The inverted “L” is the cross symbol. A cross next to another cross is equal to one cross; this is the Law of Calling. A cross inside another cross is equal to blank, that is, as if no cross had been written. This is the Law of Crossing, hence the name of the symbol, Cross.

This is a two-dimensional calculus, which gives it advantages that one-dimensional notation does not have. It also makes it hard to display typographically. The best alternative is simply to use parentheses or brackets:

( ) ( ) = ( ) and (( )) =  .

These arithmetic axioms can be used to derive two algebraic axioms:

((A) (B)) C = ((A C) (B C)) and ((A) A) =   .

From this a complete calculus can be constructed. It is isomorphic to Boolean algebra and other functionally-complete binary calculi, which is another reason LoF hasn’t stirred a lot of interest.

Things get more interesting as we review where this calculus comes from. Again this exhibits its realism; the standard approach for mathematics and symbolic logic is to begin with algebraic axioms or postulates without reference to any model or reality.

Let’s begin with a blank surface, say a blank page of paper. Now draw a distinction on this surface; that is, draw a closed curve or divide the page into two parts. Notice what has happened: part of the paper is distinguished from the rest of the paper by being to one side of the curve, say the inside. The curve separates the other side from the inside; call it the outside. But the original piece of paper is still there. We can still consider the whole piece of paper.

This process is symbolized by LoF as follows: what is outside the cross (or parentheses) can be seen inside the cross (or parentheses) if we change perspectives to the whole page. This is symbolized in a theorem:

(A) B = (A B) B.

So the distinction that is drawn is not between two contraries but within one space, represented by the whole page. It also shows the distinction can be undermined. This has been exploited to represent self-reference.

Much more could be said about LoF but that’s it for now.

Science in history

Scientific theories are in principle subject to underdetermination in that multiple theories could account for the data. In the natural sciences this possibility is strongly resisted. When Darwin proposed his theory in 1859, he could not show that a version of special creation would not account for the data. What he and Huxley did instead was to advance a new definition of science that was completely naturalistic so that special creation was no longer science, no matter what evidence it might have in its favor.

The late 19th century also showed the rise of agnosticism and secularism, which are tied to the new definition of science. William Dembski has a chapter on this in his book Intelligent Design, The Bridge Between Science & Theology (Chapter 3 on the Demise of British Natural Theology). Dembski is right to call naturalism idolatry.

Darwin’s strategy won the day so that few people now are even aware of the older definition of science that allowed special creation. One could say that creationists and intelligent design advocates have this in common: both reject the naturalistic definition of science. In that sense both want to return to a former definition of science, though it is not being stated as a return but as a better definition. Perhaps that reflects the anti-historical bias of our day — who cares about the past that has been superseded?

One could argue that the 19th century naturalistic and positivistic turn was a result of Enlightenment thinking in the 18th century. And one could argue that Enlightenment thinking arose as a result of mechanistic thinking in the 17th century. And one could even argue that that was a result of the nominalism that arose in the late medieval and renaissance periods. But even so there has been much continuity throughout this time of what natural science is.

Is it better to promote a post-naturalistic, post-secular science or focus on critiquing the mistakes of the past? Both are worth doing, though the latter has been neglected. Several points could be made by those who accept a form of special creation: (1) they are not scientific newcomers or rebels; (2) they are in continuity with a long past; (3) their opponents have broken from the historic mainstream of science.


Nature and what?

A recent meta-analysis on the old question of nature vs. nurture (Meta-Analysis of Twin Correlations and Heritability) concluded that overall the variation of human traits and disease is 49% due to genetic factors and 51% due to environmental factors. There is a similar question about nature vs. culture in anthropology and education.

Evolutionary theory is fraught with the combination of innate and environmental effects. The emphasis has been on the innate that is reproduced with the environment providing whatever is missing (as in the conditions that ensure the next step of evolution).

Naturalism throws a wrench in all of this because it says there is nothing outside of nature. The universe has no environment so ultimately it’s all nature. Nurture, culture, and the like must be reduced to nature.

I dispute naturalism but what exactly is the alternative? It is that the universe is an open system. We say it is open to God but that does not get to the heart of it. A closed system can be just as open to the transcendent God who creates and sustain it.

An open universe is open to more than God; it is open to spirit, mind, intellect (commonly called intelligence). If we want to be the most precise (and the least accurate), an open universe is open to information in the sense of Shannon (for example see Shannon and Weaver’s book, The Mathematical Theory of Communication).

Not coincidently the intelligent design and various creationist movements have been hammering home the necessity of intelligence and information for the fine tuning of the earth and the universe, the diversity of life-forms, and the basis for natural science. Not surprisingly those caught up in naturalism aren’t listening. They are living in a closed world, deaf to the larger reality.


Historical accuracy and precision

Accuracy refers to closeness of measurements to the true value. Precision refers to variation of measurements to each other. So precision is relative but accuracy is absolute.

Accuracy and precision can apply to statements as well as measurements. For example, if I say, “Today is Tuesday. This is the third day of the week.” but it is Thursday, the two statements are not very accurate, though they would be more accurate than saying it is Monday. Since the two statements are synonymous, they exhibit precision. A statement such as “It is early in the week.” is less precise than specifying a specific day because it contains ambiguity about exactly which day is specified.

There is something of a trade-off between precision and meaningfulness. A very precise statement such as “The dial reads 2.698” doesn’t say much. For some purposes, that’s all that’s desired. But as part of a larger conversation, much more could no doubt be said. What was the investigator hoping to accomplish, scientifically and professionally? Will this instrument reading make much difference? And so forth.

The definition of “information” by Shannon and others shows this trade-off. Statements that are more surprising, more unexpected have more information than other statements. But precise statements contain a lot of redundancy so they don’t have much information in this sense. On the other hand, a literary work will likely contain many surprises and multiple meanings that stir the heart and imagination.

We have come to expect historical accounts to include specifics such as dates that are tied to a solar-year calendar, places with widely-recognized names, people with specifics about place and time of birth, death, and other significant events, and contextual information about culture and political system.

A traditional account such as the Bible is less precise than histories written today because it lacks many of the specifics expected. However, it can be, and is accurate. It contains primarily qualitative rather than quantitative accounts so prized by science. By following Ockham’s razor science minimizes qualities and allows quantities to expand indefinitely. So Konrad Lorenz was right, “Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.”


Complementary Catholics and Evangelicals

There is a kind of complementarity between Catholics and Evangelicals today. Very briefly, accepting the authority of the Pope is the key to being a Catholic today. There seems to be little else that unites the bewildering variety of Catholics, from Latin mass hard-liners to Marxist liberation theologians and from the superstitious to the intellectuals.

Accepting the authority of the Bible is the key to being an Evangelical today. There seems to be little else that unites the bewildering variety of Evangelicals, from fundamentalist hard-liners to breezy popularizers and from stuffy traditionalists to laid-back gen-Xers.

Catholics justify the papacy by a hierarchical conception of the church and an emphasis on unity. Evangelicals justify a multiplicity of denominations by a bottom-up conception of the church and an emphasis on doctrinal purity.

Catholics criticize the sola scriptura of Evangelicals by pointing out that a church is needed to determine what is or is not scripture. Evangelicals defend the authority of the Bible by its holy authorship, self-referential integration, and miraculous quality.

Evangelicals criticize the papacy (and the devotion to saints) by pointing out that Christ is our only mediator. Catholics defend the authority of the papacy by its long-running preservation, doctrinal fidelity, and unifying position.

There are two other groups that aren’t part of this complementarity: the Orthodox and the Liberals. The Orthodox are the extreme traditionalists, trying to preserve the church of late antiquity. The Liberals are the extreme accomodationists, trying to be as consistent with larger social and intellectual trends as possible.

The real scientific method

The real scientific method is the inductive method invented by Socrates and elaborated by Aristotle, Bacon, and Whewell. It is different from the hypothetico-deductive method invented by JS Mill in the 19th century which is passed off as the method of modern science.

Consider Francis Bacon. He called immature concepts “notions”. Induction starts with notions from common experience and iteratively improves them using sense experience until the form or essence is identified. This form is the cause in the full sense of the word; the form is what something truly is — and so should be defined as such. Thus the induction is true by definition. Sound circular or trivial? It’s not because getting the concepts right is what inductive science is all about.

William Whewell described two complementary processes, the explication of conceptions and the colligation of facts: To explicate a conception is to clarify it by identifying what it contains, by unfolding it, for example by surveying and examining examples. The end result is a careful definition of the conception. Colligation is the complementary process of binding facts together by means of a precise conception. The result is an induction, which is the narrowing of a generalization until it is exact and universal.

Yes, induction leads to hypotheses and testing but this is for the purpose of finding the consilience of inductions, the confirmation of inductions in different and multiple ways. The key step takes place before hypotheses and testing: the discovery of a conception of the facts that binds them together.

This understanding of induction was lost in late antiquity until Francis Bacon restored it and laid a foundation for science that lasted two centuries. Then in the 19th century Richard Whately and JS Mill replaced it with a different method, one that came to be called the hypothetico-deductive method, which depends on uniformity and naturalism, and is conceptually confused and logically deficient.

John P. McCaskey and others have explained the history of Socratic induction in science. As examples he gives cholera, electrical resistance, and tides (see here).