iSoul In the beginning is reality

Design resources

William Paley’s Natural Theology makes some important points:

Whatever is done, God could have done, without the intervention of instruments or means: but it is in the construction of instruments, in the choice and adaptation of means, that a creative intelligence is seen. It is this which constitutes the order and beauty of the universe. God, therefore, has been pleased to prescribe limits to his own power; and to work his ends within those limits. (p.27)

There is no design if there are no choices, means, and limits. As long as the universe exhibits limits and means, we can discern choices and therefore a chooser, a designer. But if there is an unlimited resource, then design is not needed.

Say, for example, that someone has a virtually unlimited budget to make a car that drives itself. Then they could throw money at almost any idea and expect that something might eventually work. When something is found that happens to work, people would see design in it but from the perspective of the wealthy buyer, it would be mere happenstance.

Something like this happened with the discovery (or invention) of deep time. Instead of time being confined to history, Bursting the Limits of Time by Martin Rudwick shows how time became a vast resource for scientific explanation. It was inevitable that the argument from design was replaced by chance operating with virtually unlimited time.

But all explanatory elements have limits and “costs”. A scientific explanation should optimize the use of resources for explanation. Otherwise, a virtually unlimited resource (e.g., time) will flood the market for explanations (cf. Gresham’s law).

Parsimony in science

Parsimony is considered a desirable or even necessary characteristic of a scientific theory but what this means is not clear. There are many types of parsimony (see the article on Simplicity in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a list). The most common kind of parsimony is qualitative parsimony, often called Ockham’s Razor, which says that new kinds of entities should not be posited if possible.

Qualitative parsimony privileges atomistic and evolutionary theories since they posit only one kind of atom (with many combinations) and one kind of life (with many variations). This seems arbitrary without further justification. Perhaps Thales has this in mind when he asserted that everything is water in some form. In terms of classification, “lumpers” dominate under qualitative parsimony.

Another kind of parsimony in science is quantitative parsimony, which says that the number of entities should be minimal. By itself this would privilege a theory that posited many classes of entities but few in each class. In short, “splitters” dominate under quantitative parsimony. But quantitative parsimony is rarely mentioned and sometimes even denied.

It would be most fair to accept both types of parsimony, which may be traded off against one another. If a new kind of entity requires many fewer entities, should it not be preferable to positing more entities? And if a small number of additional entities requires fewer kinds of entity, should this not be preferable to positing more kinds of entities?

One way to look at this is that entities, kinds of entities, etc., are explanatory resources that are not unlimited. The best explanation is one that optimally uses explanatory resources. Just as classifications are best that minimize within-class differences and maximize between-class differences, so an optimal approach to explanation is best.

What before how

One way to express realism is that it insists on knowing what before knowing how. Why is that? Because for a realist ontology precedes epistemology, which means being precedes knowing. Something is, whether we know it or not.

A question students are asked is, If a tree fell in the forest and no one knew it, would it still have fallen? The realist answers Yes. So if we come upon a tree on the ground in the forest, what happened? We are entitled to investigate how the tree got on the ground after we have ascertained that the tree is on the ground.

This is not obvious to anti-realists, who want to know how something got there before they will agree that it is there. Appearances after all can be deceiving. If we can trace a chain of events that leads from the tree growing up, dying, and then falling on the ground, then we can be sure that there is a tree on the ground. Otherwise, maybe not.

One reason anti-realists are attracted to evolutionary theories is that they (purportedly) tell us how things got here. Now exactly what it is that got here may still be fuzzy. After all, evolutionists haven’t figured out exactly what a species is, but they are certain that whatever a species is, it got here by evolution.

Realists on the other hand want to be confident that something called a species really exists before investigating how a species came to be. Before the 19th century it was widely understood that species were created and so had exactly the properties with which they were endowed by their Creator (to use the phrase of the Declaration of Independence, 1776). This is what motivated early modern science to explore the world the Creator had made.

After Darwin, the certainty about what things really are decreased even as the confidence about how things came to be increased. The identity crisis is an invention of the evolutionary mindset. Meanwhile realists are waiting for anti-realists to figure out who they are so a real dialogue is possible.

Repealing legislation

The Founders did “better than they knew” when writing the U.S. Constitution. They wisely separated the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. They also wisely made the legislature bicameral with an executive veto to make new laws difficult to enact. However, now that many, many laws have been passed, we can see that the difficulty in enacting legislation makes it difficult to repeal legislation, too.

A case in point is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. This was passed by a thin margin in March 2010 and immediately became an issue in the 2010 Congressional elections. In November the electorate spoke and many Representatives lost their seats. In January 2011 the newly-elected House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA. However, the Senate did not agree and the President would have vetoed it anyway.

But the fact remains that after the electorate changed the make-up of Congress, the ACA would not have been enacted. In short, the electorate was denied the opportunity to repeal a law once enacted. Why? Because a repeal of a law is treated as a law and laws are difficult to enact. One result of this is that laws accumulate on the books and are modified but rarely repealed.

The solution to this is to make repeal of a law less difficult than enacting a law in the first place. This is consistent with making new laws difficult to enact, so the status quo is privileged over change without a consensus for change. However, a law enacted years ago may have led to many things that would be impossible to undo so there should be a limit to how long a law may be repealed without passing a new law.

A simple amendment would be to allow either chamber of Congress to repeal a law by majority vote within two years of its enactment. That would allow one Congressional election cycle for the electorate to speak. New laws would effectively have a two-year probationary period, something that is often done in other situations such as new employment.

Toward a biblical YEC philosophy

A biblical young-earth creationist (BYEC) is someone who believes that the Bible shows the earth to be relatively young, that is, created within the last ten thousand years. As such there are BYECs in all the major branches of Christianity and so while they agree about the age of the earth, they do not agree about many other matters. Yet it is clear that among those actively concerned with origins, the typical BYEC is someone who considers the Bible to be the first and last authority in matters of faith and science. So we will accept that as our starting point.

Now why would a biblical young-earth creationist want to develop a philosophy? One reason is to justify to others inferences made from the Bible about the created world. That may seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the Bible? The answer is philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference from the Bible: Meditate on this biblical passage until you see the validity of the inference. That might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference. But it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the biblical passage but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from biblical passages in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

Another reason a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify inferences about the created world. That may also seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the created world? The answer is again that philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference about the created world: study these phenomena in light of the Bible until you see the validity of the inference. Again, that might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference but it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the phenomena in light of the Bible but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from phenomena in light of the Bible in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

A deeper reason why a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify the belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science. Here it is not unusual for creationists and others to say that belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science is part of their worldview and cannot be justified to those with different worldviews. That could end many conversations with those who are not biblical young-earth creationists. But if there were a philosophy that allowed the justification of biblical young-earth creationism, then there would be greater possibilities for conversations with those who did not agree with biblical young-earth creationism or did not understand how such a belief could possibly be justified in this day and age. So a philosophy would have an apologetic value for communicating and defending biblical young-earth creationism in general.

With that, let us see if we can at least begin to develop a biblical young-earth creationist philosophy. At this point, someone who knows something of various philosophies might very well tell us that we were embarking on an idealist philosophy. That is, they might well say that for us the Bible has provided true ideas of what reality is like and so reality for us is defined in terms of the true ideas in the Bible. We might reply, Not so fast — we’ve just begun this project. But this might make us a little more cautious about how we proceed.

At this point someone who knows philosophy might say, The Bible is a text so every word has to be interpreted; you must subscribe to the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in modern philosophy. We look this up and read,

“Where word breaks off no thing may be”: this is the line from a poem by Stefan George repeatedly cited by Martin Heidegger to indicate his version of the linguistic turn, which affected many philosophers in the early twentieth century …

They explain that our version of this is, “Where Bible breaks off no thing may be”. Since the Bible defines reality, the science of hermeneutics – interpretation – is the key to philosophy and theology, too. Our head may start to spin a little here. No, that is not what we mean. But now we have to be extra careful how to proceed.

We have begun with the Bible as the first and last authority in matters of faith and science but is that really all we have begun with? The Bible is a book which exists on paper or in other forms such as audio recordings or digital representations – so do we accept that books and other media are real? Do we have to go to the Bible to assure us that books and other media are real? Surely we know that books and other media are real without consulting the Bible. And what about the chair we are sitting on or the floor under our feet? Do we have to consult the Bible to know that they are real? Surely not.

So we can safely grant that the commonsense things of life are real without consulting the Bible. Books and chairs and people and things we deal with in everyday life are real and no Bible or philosophy is needed to know this.

At this point someone who knows something of various philosophies might well tell us that we have turned toward materialist philosophy. We acknowledge the existence of material objects and that the Bible is a book on paper or other media which are material entities so for us reality must be primarily material and only secondarily what we get from the Bible. We might again reply, Not so fast – we’re still trying to think this through. But this might make us a little more cautious about the world of material objects.

At this point someone who knows the Bible might start asking questions. They might say for example, What about Abraham in Genesis 18? In verse one it says: “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” Then in verse two it says, “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” In Genesis 18:1 it says the LORD appeared and in Genesis 18:2 it says three men appeared. Mere common sense would have seen three men but not the LORD. For that, Abraham needed revelation and we need the Bible.

Quite so. But note the fact that Abraham saw three men did not invalidate the revelation that the LORD appeared to him. The common sense perception of three men was perfectly compatible with the revelation that the LORD was there. So acknowledging the reality that common sense provides us is consistent with acknowledging the authority of the Bible.

Reason and Risk: An Account of Induction

We begin with a non-empty, finite set of propositions that have already been accepted and compiled and now reside in a database of accepted propositions (DAP). Assume there is some known risk (possible zero) associated with accepting these propositions. Let the level of risk of the nth proposition Pn be a non-negative number, R(Pn), which is recorded in the DAP.

The question is, Given this DAP, what other propositions might be accepted with no increase in risk? Certainly there are enumerative propositions about the DAP, such as All x’s are y’s in the DAP, or If x is a y, then x is a z in the DAP. Such enumeration is pre-inductive but sets the stage for the inductive step.

Some pre-inductive propositions may contain terms that function as fields in a database. Whether the DAP is actually structured this way is not of consequence here. Some of these fields may have references beyond the DAP. For example, if the DAP contains propositions about employees, then it is possible that there are employees that exist but are not included in the DAP.

The point is that enumerative propositions that are true about the DAP might be true if the DAP were enlarged to contain more propositions. It is acknowledged that there would be risk associated with accepting a proposition that refers beyond the DAP, but that risk can be accounted for and ameliorated to some degree.

The approach is ameliorating risk is the natural kind. A natural kind is a set of things which are homomorphic with a proper subset of itself. An example would be a natural kind such as copper in which the properties of one sample of copper are homomorphic with those of another sample.

There is a risk as to whether or not something in the DAP is actually a member of a natural kind or which kind it is a member of. There is also a risk whether or not a particular property of the natural kind is one of the properties that is natural.

These risks are ameliorated by two strategies: (1) increasing the measure of risk associated with a proposition that refers beyond the DAP so as to capture this risk lest anyone be misled, and (2) searching for limits to the natural kind, both as to what properties are held throughout the kind and as to what the limits of the kind itself are.

For example, we might find in the DAP that All employees are female in the DAP. We may consider females a natural kind so that other females have like properties and infer that All employees are female, whether they are mentioned in the DAP or not, but we would have to increase the risk of this statement and search for limits to the set of female employees.

Until the limits to a proposition are found, its risk is higher than a proposition only about the DAP. If, for example, an employee outside the DAP is found to be male, then a limit to the inferred proposition has been found. In that case, the inferred proposition should be restricted to remain within the limit, and the risk lowered.

So if a set of things is proposed as a natural kind, then there is some risk whether or not it is in actuality the proposed natural kind. There is also the risk whether or not a property of a sample of the kind is a property of the rest of the kind. Everything in the kind must have some properties in common but there will always be some properties that are unique to each sample, otherwise the sample could not even be distinguished.

Looking at this situation globally we may say that every entity is a member of some natural kind. After all, there can be only one truly unique entity in the universe, that is, the universal entity. All other entities have properties in common with other entities, and to that extent they are members of the same natural kind. The question then becomes, Which other properties do they have in common?

January 2015

Sex and marriage

Human beings certainly have a greater variation of behavior than other kinds of organisms but that should not obscure the existence of norms. The norm for human beings is monogamy: a marriage of one man and one woman. The existence of variations from that norm and failures to adhere to the norm do not invalidate the norm. Monogamy is rooted in biological, social, historical, legal, religious, and moral realities. There is nothing unfair or unjust about monogamy. It is fully justified, rational, and moral.

‘Sexual’ is a biological term that refers to the way a species reproduces. Sexual reproduction means reproduction by two members of a species who are of different types (called sexes), one male and one female. Other animal species also reproduce sexually. Some plants are asexual, meaning each member has the means to reproduce alone.

The term ‘heterosexual’ is a redundancy. ‘Hetero’ means ‘other’ or ‘different’ but that is just what sexual reproduction means so ‘heterosexual’ means the same as ‘sexual’. The term ‘homosexual’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Homo’ means ‘same’ so ‘homosexual’ would mean reproduction by two members of the same sex, which is not sexual reproduction. So it is self-contradictory or means something like ‘anti-sexual’.

Polygamy is a primitive form of marriage that allows more than one man and/or more than one woman in marriage. So-called same-sex marriage is thus a form of polygamy. This is not progress–it is a turn toward primitive ways. Since marriage is foundational for societies, this indicates that modern societies are betting the farm on sexual tomfoolery.

Apparent age

If someone from an isolated, technologically undeveloped culture sees an electronic gadget, they may think this took a long time to make.  Does the gadget have apparent age?  No, someone is merely ignorant of how it was made.

Similarly, Adam and the original creation did not have apparent age.  Some people may be ignorant of how Adam was created but that does not make him older than he is.  It is a question of knowledge vs. ignorance, not actual vs. apparent age.

Natural kinds

Natural science is based on the premise that natural kinds exist, that is, types of entities with common, fixed characteristics called natures.  The natural world is the combination and interaction of all natural kinds.  Philosophically, this is a form of essentialism.

Naturalism is the position that the natural world is all that natural science can acknowledge (or all that exists).  This would exclude the origin of natural kinds from scientific consideration.  Christians (should) believe that all natural kinds were created by God.

Elemental naturalism is the additional premise that all natural kinds are minimal elements such as atoms, forces, chemical elements, genes, etc.  Universal elemental naturalism is the additional premise that the only real natural kinds are the most elemental kinds and everything else is derivable from these.  Evolutionary naturalism is a form of universal elemental naturalism in which the most elemental kinds plus deep time result in the present natural world.

Relational mechanics

The book “Relational Mechanics and Implementation of Mach’s Principle with Weber’s Gravitational Force” (2014) is by Andre Koch Torres Assis.  A bound copy is available through Amazon and a pdf is online at http://www.ifi.unicamp.br/~assis/Relational-Mechanics-Mach-Weber.pdf. Recall “Mach’s Principle”: Newton’s concepts of absolute space and time were not accepted by all scientists and the call for a reformulation of mechanics in terms of purely relational quantities never stopped. Although Mach was not the first who insisted on such a reformulation, he was the most influential one and his critique of the Newtonian concepts of absolute space and time published in his “Mechanics” was later loosely termed “Mach’s principle” by Einstein. However, since Mach made only tentative proposals, there are various interpretations and formulations of this principle.

After a thorough review of classical and relativistic mechanics and their problems, the author introduces relational mechanics based on his formulation of Mach’s Principle. He says in the Preface: Relational mechanics is a quantitative implementation of the ideas of Leibniz, Berkeley and Mach utilizing Weber’s force for gravitation. It is based only on relational concepts such as the distance between material bodies, the relative radial velocity between them and the relative radial acceleration between them. Several scientists took part in its development, including Wilhelm Weber himself and Erwin Schrödinger. The goal of this book is to present the properties and characteristics of this new physics, together with the main aspects related to its historical development after Newton. In this way relational mechanics can be seen in a broad perspective. A great emphasis is given to Newton’s bucket experiment. When a bucket partially filled with water remains stationary in the ground, the water surface is observed to remain horizontal. When the bucket and the water rotate together relative to the ground around the bucket’s axis with a constant angular velocity, the surface of the water is observed to become concave, higher at the sides of the bucket than along the its axis. This is one of the simplest experiments ever performed in physics. Despite this fact no other experiment had so deep and influential consequences upon the foundations of mechanics. We place it at the same level Galileo’s experimental discovery that all bodies fall freely towards the ground with a constant acceleration, no matter their weights or chemical compositions. The explanation of these two facts without utilizing the concepts of absolute space or inertia, but taking into account the gravitational influence exerted by the distant galaxies in these two experiments, is one of the major achievements of relational mechanics.

He supports a universe in dynamical equilibrium without expansion but doesn’t go into that as much as other topics.

He notes in the Conclusion: We have found a complete equivalence between ptolemaic and copernican world systems. It is then equally valid to say that the Earth is spinning once a day relative to the stationary set of distant galaxies, or that the Earth is at rest while the set of distant galaxies is rotating once a day as a whole relative to the Earth. Both world views are now equivalent not only kinematically or visually, but also dynamically (yielding the same flattening of the Earth at the poles, the same precession of the plane of oscillation of Foucault’s pendulum relative to the ground, etc.) We have deduced the fact that all inertial forces of newtonian mechanics, like the centrifugal or Coriolis forces, are real forces acting on the test body and being exerted by the set of galaxies. These forces have a gravitational origin and appear when there is a relative rotation between the test body and the set of galaxies. This property explained the flattening of the Earth as being due to the relative rotation between the Earth and the set of galaxies. This property also justifies the fact that the plane of oscillation of Foucault’s pendulum at the North or South poles remains at rest relative to the set of galaxies, while the Earth is spinning relative to the galaxies. In the terrestrial frame of reference, on the other hand, the Coriolis force exerted gravitationally by the set of galaxies and acting on the mass connected to the pendulum rotates the plane of oscillation of the pendulum, relative to the ground. This Coriolis force causes a precession in the plane of oscillation of the pendulum, making it rotate together with the set of galaxies around the North-South axis of the Earth.