iSoul In the beginning is reality

Science and ideology

Isaac Newton was the first science “star” — someone who achieved great prestige as a result of their scientific investigations. His contemporary Alexander Pope famously wrote about him:

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

Newton himself was more modest of his own achievements, writing in a letter to Robert Hooke in February 1676:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

As with other eponymous words, “Newtonian” can be an adjective indicating a person, e.g., “Newtonian works” or something associated with a person, e.g., “Newtonian worldview”. Although Newton opposed the mechanistic philosophy of Descartes, in the 18th century a clockwork universe was sold as Newtonian. In short, Newton was co-opted for something he would have opposed.

We can describe this as Newton’s science vs. Newtonian ideology. It is the same today with Darwin. Although Darwin was a great scientist for his observational and rhetorical skills, his enthusiastic followers such as Huxley promoted an ideological Darwinism. Even today a one-two punch of Darwin and Darwinism makes people think they cannot question the ideology associated with Darwin.

Newton has fared well despite being superseded by later science. Perhaps the same will happen to Darwin but in the meantime the Darwinian ideologues will have done more damage than the mechanistic Newtonians.

Return of the God Hypothesis

I attended a seminar recently with Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute. He’s a good speaker who talked mostly about his book Darwin’s Doubt and anthropic fine tuning. Here are some highlights and things I hadn’t heard before from an ID speaker:

  • He spoke not only about design but also about “a designing mind”. There was a willingness to talk about the designer.
  • He contrasted Darwin’s modest rhetoric with his popular defenders, then and now, who engage in overstatement.
  • He emphasized that evolutionary biologists are questioning the mechanism for evolution (not just Darwin critics).
  • He critiqued the Artifact Hypothesis, which blames the Cambrian explosion on the incomplete preservation of fossils.
  • He emphasized that the Burgess Shale and other finds have, instead of filling in gaps, increased the number of gaps in the fossil record. The more we’ve looked, the more the discontinuities we find.
  • He said the discontinuities go down to about the family level. There is common ancestry only within limits.
  • He emphasized that the number of ways that mutations can go wrong is very much more than the number of ways they can go right. And mutations early in development are the most fatal.
  • He was favorable toward ‘natural genetic engineering’ — that mutations aren’t random.
  • He explained why he uses Inference to the Best Explanation and how Darwin used it, too (and called it vera causa).
  • He noted that Lyell’s principle of using only causes now in operation applies to intelligence as a cause.
  • His main argument is that intelligence is ‘causally adequate’ to explain the origin of biological information (and others aren’t).
  • He summarized the fine tuning argument, that ‘the fabric of the universe is designed (for life) from the beginning’. “Fine tuning implies a fine tuner.”
  • He pointed out that biological information is needed after the beginning of the universe, so deism is wrong. Since we know that created agents affect nature, there’s no reason to deny divine affects/miracles.
  • In response to questions, he said that the Cambrian explosion was a creation event.
  • I asked if he or his colleagues have addressed Sober’s likelihood argument and he said his ‘causal adequacy’ argument is immune to Bayesian attack and that others are addressing Bayesianism.
  • In response to a question about YEC, he noted that some IDers are YECers, but he said he starts from evidence instead of authority (the Bible) and has confidence that ultimately the books of nature and scripture will be seen to agree.

 

Trust and know

Augustine of Hippo wrote crede, ut intelligas, “believe so that you may understand” (Tract. Ev. Jo., 29.6), which contrasts with what many want to do, that is, understand so they may believe. Both of these have their place but the point of Christian faith is to trust that we may trust more.

Christian faith is in the first place trust in Christ. This trust is like the trust that people can have for each other. As one way this is expressed is by trusting the words of the other person, so Christian faith trusts the words of Christ. Christians trust that Christ came from God the Father and expresses God’s will so they trust the Word of God expressed by and in Christ.

How do we trust someone? Don’t we have to know them perfectly first in order to trust them? Some people are very suspicious of others and seemingly cannot trust anyone. For them trust may begin with very small steps. They can start by trusting someone on a very minor manner and find out if the person is worthy of a little trust. If the person is worthy of a small amount of trust, they can gradually increase their trust more and more.

This can be done with the words of Christ, too. One can start with a single sentence and trust it as one trusts the words of a faithful friend. This is a small step, not a leap. It should not be a leap in the dark or blind faith if one has at all heard the claims of Christ and how they have been defended.

Experience is a teacher though not the easiest teacher. It is best if one can trust the words of a teacher without trying to discover everything on one’s own. However, some experience is valuable in order to fully understand and remember a lesson. That is why teachers use exercises to get their point across.

It is sad that so many attack the Christian faith by attacking blind faith or a leap in the dark. They are wasting their time. Christian faith is never blind, never a leap, but always a step, and a step that is not alone but accompanied by the Spirit of God and the prayers of the faithful.

The result is knowledge, not of abstractions or practicalities but of a person, Jesus the Christ who presents the Father who sent him and the Spirit who is sent by him. This is a great mystery on the outside but a great friendship on the inside. Come join us.

Word to the wise

This is not intended to be a political blog, but sometimes a warning message needs to be given about where things are going. We don’t like to think our lives will be interrupted by national or international events, but that has happened to many if not most people in the past and there’s no reason why we should be exempt. I see three great dangers now and in the next several years:

1. Terrorism. In a way this is obvious since it gets much news but two aspects make it especially dangerous now: (a) The reluctance of political leaders to tackle the root causes, and (b) the continual morphing of the means of terrorism. These ensure that a half-hearted effort will fail, which is what we continue to see as politicians focus on their domestic agenda. Another 9-11 or worse is all but certain.

2. Dictatorship. We in America have thought we were immune from dictatorship but it is happening before our eyes. This is not a Left vs. Right or political party issue. It is a Constitutional government vs. Dictatorial government issue. It started with the judicial usurpation of politics which has been going on for decades. See here. Now we’re seeing the executive usurpation of politics with the Obama administration taking advantage of — and promoting — legislative stalemate in order to justify stepping in without legislative authorization. And they’re getting away with it.

3. Nuclear war. I grew up during the Cold War when it seemed that mutually assured destruction (MAD) was all that kept the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. from nuclear war. It didn’t happen that way and one reason was that the Communists were rational people, even though they were immoral. But the rise of Vladimir Putin is different: he has no ideology but only his own instincts and desire for power. If he thinks he can win a nuclear war with Europe or the U.S., he is the kind of man that might risk it. That and the proliferation of nuclear weapons makes the likelihood of nuclear war higher now than during the Cold War.

The prudent person sees trouble ahead and hides, but the naive continue on and suffer the consequences. Proverbs 2:23

You have been warned.

Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor are parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Capitalism and socialism

Wikipedia notes: The initial usage of the term capitalism in its modern sense has been attributed to Louis Blanc [a socialist] in 1850 and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon [an anarchist] in 1861. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels referred to the capitalistic system (kapitalistisches System) and to the capitalist mode of production (kapitalistische Produktionsform) in Das Kapital (1867). The use of the word “capitalism” in reference to an economic system appears twice in Volume I of Das Kapital, p. 124 (German edition), and in Theories of Surplus Value, tome II, p. 493 (German edition). Marx did not extensively use the form capitalism, but instead those of capitalist and capitalist mode of production, which appear more than 2600 times in the trilogy Das Kapital.

In short, socialists invented capitalism, which is to say, they invented an ideology as a foil for their ideology. Once we step outside the ideology of socialism we do not find the ideology capitalism but instead economic liberty and attempts to deny economic liberty. Socialism is an ideology which (among other things) attempts to deny economic liberty and in its place implement an ideology called socialism.

Ideologies are inherently idealist in the philosophical sense of asserting that reality is mental or immaterial. Most ideologues are idealists as the words would imply, but some – notably Karl Marx – claimed to be materialists. Either way, ideologies are inherently anti-realist.

Realists (at least as realists) do not promote ideologies but instead independent realities that are discovered, not invented. Economic liberty was gradually discovered and matured into modern markets and finance. Over time it is inevitable that some people will accumulate more wealth than others as long as economic liberty allows people to express their talents and inclinations. That can cause social problems which may legitimate state intervention.

That is not an endorsement of the ideology socialism but a recognition of the complementarity of liberty and equality in society. A realist response on how to reconcile these two priorities would follow a dialectic of complementarity to find a satisfactory mean between the extremes. Instead what many societies are dealing with is a dialectic of contradiction which tries for an extreme of liberty or (more often) equality alone. This is a prescription for instability, unsustainability, and worse.

History of science via Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer is a fascinating look at word usage since about 1800. For example, the story of how the term natural history declined and the terms biology and geology increased is told in a simple chart. Let’s look at the etymologies first, via the Online Etymology Dictionary:

biology (n.) 1819, from Greek bios “life” (see bio-) + -logy. Suggested 1802 by German naturalist Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (1776-1837), and introduced as a scientific term that year in French by Lamarck.

The usage of biology rises steadily from the mid-19th century to today, with a pause during the Depression.

geology (n.) 1795 as “science of the past and present condition of the Earth’s crust,” from Modern Latin geologia “the study of the earth,” from geo– “earth” + logia (see -logy). In Medieval Latin, geologia (14c.) meant “study of earthly things,” i.e. law, as distinguished from arts and sciences, which concern the works of God.

The modern usage of geology rises in the early 19th century and levels off.

As Wikipedia notes: The English term “natural history” is a translation of the Latin historia naturalis. Its meaning has narrowed progressively with time. Natural history has its heyday in the early 19th century and then declines and levels off since 1920.

The usage of evolution rises slowly in the early 19th century, and then quickly from 1860 to the 1890s, peaks around 1920, drops lower in the 1930s and has been rising since the 1950s. Perhaps the dip has to do with (American) textbooks in the 1930s avoiding the word evolution (see Textbook History).

Special creation never comes near the usage that biology and geology have, which reminds us that it was never a particular theory but only a general understanding of how the creation must be. Its usage peaked around 1890, which is not surprising as it was (and is) used as a foil for evolution.

Creationism was rare before the 1860s, then still uncommon even when its usage jumped in the 1980s and leveled off. Intelligent design is less common, with a modest peak in the 1880s and a rise since the 1990s. Its component word design bottomed out in the 1890s, when it rose until the 1990s and leveled off.

Consensus science

Michael Crichton, a well-known scientist and author, delivered the Caltech Michelin Lecture on January 17, 2003. He entitled it “Aliens Cause Global Warming” which criticized what is called “consensus science” starting with SETI. A few excerpts:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

He went on:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

He presented several examples of the record of consensus science, including the rejection of the infectious cause of puerperal fever for 125 years, the dietary cause of pellagra for years, the existence of continental drift for 50 years, and then states:

The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

His words get stronger:

Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.

He goes over the pseudo-consensus about “nuclear winter” promoted by Carl Sagan and others, then says:

I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired.

This happened with the campaign against “second-hand smoke” too:

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science—or non-science—is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” in quotation marks—suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nut-cases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done.

He continues:

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.” But now, large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world—increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs.

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

And then says:

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the model-makers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system—no one is sure—these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

He then points out:

What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this contentious area.

The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t.

He makes a suggestion:

Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations that all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research—or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore with what seriousness we must address this.

He concludes:

In recent years, much has been said about the post-modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct. We can take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press. The past president of the AAAS wondered aloud how Cambridge could have ever “published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review.” (But of course, the manuscript did pass peer review by three earth scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and all recommended publication.) But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new McCarthyism—coming from scientists?

Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not facts. The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.” It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.” Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we have come to?

 And finally:

Further attacks since, have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That’s why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That’s why the facts don’t matter. That’s why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He’s a heretic.

And:

Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively separate science from policy.

This is an important lecture — and things have only become worse since it was delivered in 2003. I could add a related example I know about when I worked for the Department of Energy: a 10-year study of acid rain concluded that the leaching ability of lakes and rivers was sufficient so its effects were small. But the study was irrelevant since the legislation regulating the “smokestack industries” had already been passed and politicians had “moved on”.

Paul Feyerabend called for the separation of science and state but science today is wedded to the state because the state provides the bulk of the funding (directly or indirectly) for science education, scientific facilities, and scientific research. The politicization of science follows that as a matter of course.

Also, this kind of demonization of scientific heretics continues with the demonization of critics of evolutionism. It’s really political heresy that is the key at this point but the scientific consensus fully supports and is supported by the political establishment (notwithstanding occasional Republican hedging).

Creationist argumentation

Petteri Nieminen et al. have written two similar papers analyzing creationist writings: Argumentation and fallacies in creationist writings against evolutionary theory (Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2014, 7:11) and Experiential Thinking in Creationism–A Textual Analysis (PLOS ONE, March 3, 2015). These are welcome additions to the literature that try to shed some light and reduce the heat of debate. They also show some reasons for the impasse today.

First, they are studies of creationists but do not try to engage their arguments despite the fact that some fully credentialed and experienced scientists in peer-reviewed journals are arguing for creationism. Second, the authors select a non-random sample of texts and then make generalized conclusions — a blatant case of sample bias. Third, the authors ignore the fact that many texts in the creation-evolution debate are written for a general audience and then criticize the texts for not being sufficiently scientific (they also criticize a few pro-evolution texts).

That said, the articles are helpful in illuminating some poor or weak arguments on all sides. The ad hominem arguments are much too common (and I’d say rarely persuade anyone not already persuaded). Other arguments may have a place in a public debate but are inappropriate for a narrow scientific context. The use of quotations is an example of this.

But the authors seem unaware that at those points where “normal science” (Thomas Kuhn’s phrase) is challenged, then “anything goes” (Paul Feyerabend’s phrase), that is, any method of argumentation that works is part of the scientist’s arsenal — Darwin’s “bulldog” Thomas Huxley being a notable example.

This is my greatest disappointment with defenders of evolution — they act as if all the opposing arguments have been duly considered in the past, when that is simply false as a matter of historical record. The 19th century had its peculiarities, which prevented many arguments about creation and intelligent design from being considered. Those arguments are finally being made and the debate is on, like it or not.

Remodern science

Remodernism is a growing movement of artists and filmmakers who oppose post-modernism and its cynical and ironic attitudes and seek to renew the vision of early modernism, emphasizing the spiritual and expressive dimensions of art. See their manifesto here. What is interesting is the rejection of late modernism and its denouement in post-modernism. Something similar may be happening in science.

In art, modernism began in the early 20th century. In culture generally, modernism goes back further, at least to the early 19th century, as with Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830. Modern science is often considered to begin with Galileo and Newton in the 17th century. Later, in the 19th century science separated from philosophy and the humanities, joined the practical arts, and became professionalized and institutionalized.

Science in the 20th century became an industry doing the bidding of the state and its political regime. As state secularism became more and more state-sponsored atheism, materialism, and evolutionism, so science became more and more meaningless. Instead of trying to understand nature, science focused on mere manipulation of nature and the technological imperative (“if it can be built, it must be built”).

People are more and more opposed to this dominant science as it carries water for the political class and promotes a post-modern view of life that makes knowledge worthless and the search for truth impossible. One answer is to return to the vision of early modernity with their authentic search for truth. Intelligent design and neo-creationism are part of this remodern approach which seeks to reconnect science with the humanities and with theology.