iSoul In the beginning is reality

Explanation anxiety

One thing I’ve noticed with evolutionists is the level of what I call “explanation anxiety” is high.  That is, they must have an explanation for everything.  If something is observed, they need an explanation for it and they need it now.  They can’t wait.  They must know.  A few minor things can be unexplained for a while but someone should be working on that, too.

The other side of this is the attitude that science already knows nearly everything.  Jason Rosenhouse said 99 percent.  There’s no sense of the enormity of what we don’t yet know.  And there’s no humility about our inability to know everything.

“The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.”  (said by GK Chesterton or JBS Haldane).

July 2014

What Jason Rosenhouse finds

Jason Rosenhouse’s “Among the Creationists” (Oxford, 2012) is a journalistic-style exploration of “creationist subculture” by a mathematician who claims to be open-minded but skeptical.  The reality is he’s an atheistic evolutionist looking for weaknesses in creationism while trying to understand these “insular” people.  It’s still a good read but what are the weaknesses he finds?

p51 “Even suggesting the concept of an infallible source of information about nature entails the abandonment of the scientific method.” In other words science must be primary.  This contradicts an earlier assertion (p37): “Scientists think of evolution as a useful theory, not as an all-encompassing worldview.”

p53 “Worse, creationists tend to be inconsistent.  First, they point to some complex adaptation and loudly proclaim it absurd to think it evolved gradually.  Then, when scientists dutifully uncover likely precursors and plausible gradualist scenarios, they say it is trivial to make up a story.”  Apart from the spin, there is something to this.  I think we underestimate the evolutionary imagination.  They really can imagine nature doing everything.  After all, Nature is their god.

p90 “At its core, creationism is a cultural and political rebellion against a scientific theory that is believed to menace religion and morality.”  There is something to this but it shows his unwillingness to treat creationism as a competing truth claim; it’s just “cultural and political”.

This is why he quotes Phillip Johnson (p118): “Victory in the creation-evolution dispute therefore belongs to the party with the cultural authority to establish the ground rules that govern the discourse. If creation is admitted as a serious possibility, Darwinism cannot win, and if it is excluded a priori Darwinism cannot lose.”  It’s a culture-war thing, not a debate about truth.

Interestingly, he does not promote methodological naturalism (MN) to demarcate science from non-science (p123): “Viewed as a convention of current scientific practice based on its long track record of success, MN seems entirely reasonable. Viewed as a fundamental ground rule to which science must always and everywhere adhere, MN seems dogmatic and unnecessary.”  He thinks creationism can be dispatched without MN.

He is impressed by scientific expertise but says (p124): “There are no experts on the ultimate nature of reality.”  Yet scientists are left as the default experts on everything.

He asks Michael Behe a long question about what difference ID makes and quotes his response in full but doesn’t accept Behe’s answer, which seems to me a good off-the-cuff answer (p.128): “So the similarities are really interesting, tracing lines of descent, that’s very interesting, but inferring from that that it was a Darwinian random process, that’s a whole lot trickier, and I think, like I say, people let their presumptions guide them more than they should.”  (p129) “Because in my view the more we know about, the more we watch actual evolution in nature without models that govern our presuppositions, the more and more I think we will see that Darwinian processes are, in fact, limited.”

Not surprisingly he reacts negatively to the Creation Museum (p137): “Though I am certain the museum’s directors would disagree, it is fair to say that many of the exhibits demonize science and scientists.”  p139: “The creationist view was said to rest on a foundation of ‘God’s Word.’ The foundation for the evolutionist view? ‘Human Reason.’ This surprised me, since it implied that human reason is in some way hostile to creationism.”  I happen to agree that creationists overdo the God vs. Reason contrast — we need to rediscover the Logos.

Occasionally he sees things clearly (p145): “However you imagine God’s creative activity, it is clear that He did some things supernaturally and allowed other things to unfold by natural laws. The only question is the balance He employed.”

I was surprised by his negativity toward the Flood (p154): “More than anything else, it is their literal understanding of Noah and the flood that makes young-Earth creationists seem foolish. … But the implausibility of the Noah story is striking upon even the most casual reading.”

He replies to accusations of evolutionary racism with counter-accusations about the “curse of Ham” (p157): “Creationism and racism have a long history of going hand in hand.”  We do need to qualify our charges here: evolutionary racists were not the first racists but were the first to think of exterminating whole classes of people.

In some ways he agrees with us (p167): “Nor should we pretend that the Bible’s scientific assertions can be cleanly separated from its theological teachings.” But he reaches an opposite conclusion (p169): “The Bible’s forays into science are frequently fallacious.”

He criticizes those who try to harmonize the Bible with evolution (p171): “We hardly heed Christianity to direct us towards the awesomeness of existence, or to the distance between what the world is and what it could be. Such observations are commonplaces of daily life.”  He rightly ridicules those who try to replace Adam and Eve (p174): “I think, though, that we are entitled to be suspicious of an interpretation that suddenly discovers in the text of Genesis 2 a previously unsuspected population of Neolithic farmers.”

He rejects dialogue between scientists and theologians because the thinks scientists have nothing to learn from theologians (p176): “Scientists, as scientists, are apparently expected to take an interest in what the theologians are up to. This presents a problem, because for the life of me I cannot see how theology intends to hold up its end of the conversation.”

Which leads to this (p177): “If you want to redefine original sin, or summon forth strained interpretations of Genesis to reconcile evolution with Adam and Eve, then go right ahead. But please do not pretend that this represents some convergence of ancient wisdom with modern understandings. This is not science and religion in conversation. This is science telling it like it is, and religion trying desperately to catch up.”

He is somewhat positive on the 2008 ICC (p188): “Since ID is vague to the point of vacuity, it is hard to imagine how ID folk could hold a conference of similar breadth or depth.”

He summarizes (p190): “We have previously discussed three of the main points of tension between evolution and Christianity: evolution at least potentially conflicts with the Bible, it exacerbates the problem of evil, and it seriously weakens the argument from design. A fourth point of tension [is] … whether evolution diminishes the role of humanity in God’s creation.”

He acknowledges his fair treatment (p215): “I am grateful to [creationists] for their general tolerance of my presence at their gatherings, even if they were not always pleased I was there.”

Another point of agreement (p217): “In the end [creationists] are opposed to evolution because they perceive, correctly in my view, that evolution severely challenges central tenets of Christianity.”

His bottom line? p219 “At a personal level I think very highly of many of the creationists I have met, but ultimately we are on opposite sides. They are wrong about important things, and their ideology must be vigorously opposed whenever it attempts, in even the slightest way, to influence public policy or education.”  In other word, evolutionists own the public square so creationists should keep quiet.  It won’t happen, Jason.

July 2014

What is the theory of evolution?

Philosophers of biology try to clarify what scientists are really doing. One answer to “what is the theory of evolution?” is given here excerpted from “Philosophy of Biology” by Thomas Pradeu (Paris-Sorbonne University).  http://thomaspradeu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Pradeu_Philo-bio_OUP_Final.pdf

“Philosophy of biology” refers to the critical examination of the conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations of today’s life sciences. … Important founders include David Hull (1935-2010), Michael Ruse (born in 1940), and Elliott Sober (born in 1948). …

In this presentation, I hope to show the diversity of the problems posed in philosophy of biology by drawing attention to seven of them. …

1. The status of the theory of evolution
The theory of evolution is generally considered to be the foundation to every proposition in biology, as well as the primary, if not unique, biological theory. What then, precisely, does “the theory of evolution” mean?

The aim of the theory of evolution is to explain modifications in species over time; their adaptations and their diversification. Darwin was not the first to put forward an explanation for this phenomenon, nor to speak of species evolution (this idea can be found in Lamarck, in Erasmus Darwin, etc.). Nonetheless, Darwin (1859) advanced two decisive theories: common descent (captured in a species tree), that is, the assertion that today’s organisms are descended from common ancestors; and natural selection, according to which there is a process of variation and then of differential survival and reproduction amongst organisms (the “struggle for existence” leading to the “survival of the fittest”, to use the expression Darwin would eventually borrow from Spencer). So what we call the “theory of evolution” is a set of propositions initially put forward by Darwin and then, between the 1920s and 1950s, solidified around the central ideas of common ancestry and natural selection by those active in the “Modern evolutionary synthesis” (Mayr and Provine, 1980). However, as much in Darwin’s case as in the case of the Modern Synthesis, speaking of the theory of evolution causes problems.

Firstly, can we truly speak of the theory of evolution? According to Mayr (1982), Darwin does not propose one but five theories: evolution as such, common descent, gradualism (the idea that species evolution occurs by means of cumulated minor modifications and not by “leaps”), population speciation (the idea of a continuity between population and species, a population of living creatures which undergoes variation being considered as a “nascent species”), and natural selection. Each of these theories met with a different fate. In particular, common ancestry was very quickly accepted by biologists following the publication of The Origin of the Species, while natural selection was neither well understood nor widely accepted in Darwin’s own lifetime. Even though Darwin held to each of them, taken together they did not constitute a unified theoretical structure (Mayr, 1982). Furthermore, precisely as a result of this plurality of ideas in Darwin, they were on the verge of being abandoned at the turning of the 20th century: following work which had rediscovered Mendel’s “laws” of heredity, a certain tension arose between gradualism and speciation (Bowler 1983; Gayon, 1998). Darwin was in the dark regarding the mechanism behind variation in individuals, contenting himself to simply observe the phenomenon. But, to his eyes, it was clear that the variations were gradual and not saltatory. The first “geneticists” found the mechanism of variation in what they called “mutations” but, according to them, mutations were quite precisely leaps and not gradual modifications: for de Vries, in particular, species appeared suddenly following one of these mutations (Allen 1969). The Darwinian theory of gradualism and natural selection thus found themselves strongly rejected (Bowler 1983; Gayon, 1998). The first step of the Modern Synthesis (corresponding roughly to a period between the 1920s and 1930s) was the unification of genetics and Darwinism, primarily under Fisher’s (1930) influence. Fisher showed that mutations, whose effects are generally limited, are perfectly compatible with Darwinian gradualism and in fact account for the variating mechanism so desperately sought since Darwin’s day. It would, however, be erroneous to think that the Modern Synthesis lead to a unified theory of evolution. The second step of the Modern Synthesis(roughly from the 1930s to the 1950s) involved the aggregation of various disciplines of biology (zoology, botany, systematics, etc.) around a “solid core” of hypotheses (Mayr and Provine, 1980). So the Modern Synthesis came about more as a result of a sociological convergence (the unification of practically all the branches of biology on the basis of principles relative to evolution) than by the formulation of one theory of evolution (Gayon 1998:xiv).

Nevertheless, can we take the common principles all biologists have accepted since the Modern Synthesis and use them to deduce propositions for the “theory of evolution”? This leads us to our second question: can we really speak of a theory of evolution? Concerning Darwin’s own ideas, we should perhaps speak not so much of a veritable theory as of a descriptive generalization which created a paradigm (in the sense of an exemplary model, widely imitated afterward) for understanding species evolution, at least in as far as common descent is concerned (Gayon, 1998). Nevertheless, it has often been emphasized (e.g., Ghiselin 1969; Lewens 2007a; Sober 2011) that Darwin had complied to the canons of theory construction of his time, and in particular to the views of Whewell and Herschel. Concerning the theory of evolution as it has been presented since the Modern Synthesis, philosophers of science have attempted to determine whether or not it constitutes a veritable theory. Many are the philosophers who have doubted its validity as a theory, their primary argument being that biology, since it is a “historical” science, cannot formulate laws, and hence cannot offer theories in a nomological sense (Smart, 1963; see also Beatty 1995). Most of Smart’s arguments are invalid and rely on a false understanding of biology (Ruse, 1973; Hull, 1969, 1977): contrary to his claims, biology deals not with such and such albino mouse but with processes of a much wider scope, like the conditions for the expression of recessive genes, crossing-overs, the notion of geographically isolated populations, etc. – which all are processes about which generalizations are possible. On the other hand, it is undeniable that biological entities are spatiotemporally situated within an evolutionary history: for example, a biological species is a historical entity, the product of an evolutionary history, and not a class of objects open to abstract generalization which disregards spatiotemporal conditions, as is standard in physics. Consequently, formulating laws of biology, that is, general abstract propositions, at the level of historical entities, seems impossible. But for Hull, for instance, biology can formulate laws about entities that are not defined genealogically, in particular at levels of organization higher than particular taxa (Hull 1978: 353-354). From this point of view, the claim that biology could not offer laws at all is misleading (Hull 1976, 1978).It is, however, difficult to assess the scope of the claim that laws cannot be formulated about historical entities: in the context of that debate, doesn’t physics run the risk of isolating itself from the majority of other empirical sciences, all “historical” in the sense we have defined, such as biology, geology, and the social sciences? If physics be the only science capable of formulating laws, should it remain a model for philosophy of science in general? Furthermore, certain branches of physics, like astronomy, also deal with historical entities. If the future reveals all empirical sciences to be “historical”, wouldn’t we have to soften our stipulation that a science must necessarily produce (spatiotemporally unrestricted) laws? Alternatively, we could suggest other, more “relaxed”, conceptions of what a “law” is. Finally, the implicit assertion stating that a science cannot advance any theories once it advances no laws, must be handled with caution, as it depends on one particular vision of theories which, we shall now show, is not only not well suited to biology, but is also not the only vision of scientific theories possible.

In the 1970s, philosophers of biology brought precision to the debate around the problem of the theory of evolution’s being a genuine theory or not by posing the following question: If the theory of evolution is a theory, is this in the “syntactic” or “semantic” sense of the term? According to the syntactic conception, best expressed by Hempel (1965), a theory is a hypothetico-deductive system in which, based on just a few axioms, one must be capable of deducing a large number of propositions. According to the semantic conception, defended in particular by van Fraassen (1972) and Suppe (see in particular Suppe 1977), a theory is a collection of models that must serve as the representation of empirical phenomena. In the semantic conception, to describe a theory is to present a class of models and to specify the manner in which those models reflect the phenomena. It quickly became apparent that the theory of evolution was not a theory in the syntactic sense of the term. Several biologists (M. B. Williams, 1970; Lewontin, 1970) and philosophers (Ruse, 1973) have attempted an axiomatization of the theory of evolution, but this has lead more to uncovering the theory of evolution’s “structural core” than it has to a veritable axiomatization: by means of a method exemplified by Lewontin (1970), they pushed themselves to defining the minimal conditions a population of individuals must meet to be said to evolve by natural selection (for a fresh look at these questions, see Godfrey-Smith, 2007 and 2009). The most enthusiastic advocates for an axiomatization of the theory of evolution finally ended up showing that this effort could only be partial (M. B. Williams, 1981). Several philosophers of biology have defended the view that if the theory of evolution is a “theory,” then it is so in the semantic rather than the syntactic sense of the term (e.g., Thompson 1983; Lloyd, 1988): it can be interpreted as a collection of models that must serve as the representation of empirical phenomena (important discussions of models in recent philosophy of biology, with a different perspective than that of Thompson or Lloyd, include Godfrey-Smith, 2006 and Weisberg 2006). Were a consensus to emerge regarding the semantic conception of scientific theories (but see Ereshefsky 1991), the oft repeated claim that the theory of evolution is not really a theory would have to be just as quickly flatly rejected. The work carried out by philosophers and biologists on the structure of the theory of evolution by natural selection since the end of the 1980s (e.g., Lloyd, 1988; Gould, 2002) sets its goal precisely as the clear definition of these models and the conditions for their testing.

July 2014

Time

For evolution time and change are critical.  If there is insufficient time for evolution, it fails.  If time and change don’t explain everything, evolution fails.  The backbone of evolution is its dating methods.  Time is the key to evolution.

But time is not a critical variable for creationists.  Creation is basically the same as it was in the beginning.  Variations and catastrophes are secondary to the constancy of creation.  After scientists understand what doesn’t change, then they can fit change into that framework.

Creationists should not follow evolutionists in thinking that time and chronology are the key to science.  They are not.  Invariance is the key to science and it always has been.  That’s why real science studies physical laws and their consequences.

June 2014

A model of the Creator

It sounds outrageous to attempt a model of the Creator but consider this:  there have been models in the past and evolutionists continue to argue against them.  Even atheists have a model of the Creator they reject.

Creationists are at a disadvantage without a better model of the Creator.  It does no good to say that models of the Creator are impossible because that’s equivalent to saying the Creator could do anything at any time and so is a wild card that has no place in science.

The model of the Creator that prevailed in the 19th century included the following:

1.  The Creator created a creation that included all possible forms of life.  This reflected the fullness and glory of God.

2.  The Creator sustains all forms of life so it is impossible for any form to become extinct.  This reflects the power and reliability of God.

3.  The Creator created a hierarchy of life forms with human beings at the top.  This reflects a hierarchical view of everything with God at the top.

4.  The Creator created and sustains every species so that what is observed today is the same as what always existed.  This reflects a static view of the universe.

This model of the Creator was superseded in the 19th century by the discovery of forms of life in the past that no longer exist and similarities between species that was understood as evidence of a common process at work. What is the new model of the Creator?

May 2014

On the Centrist Project

The Centrist Project proposes to break the gridlock in Washington by electing five independent Senators.  It’s an appealing strategy.  But their Centrist Principles show a moderate go with the flow attitude that eschews “ideology” for trendy politics.

For example, under Environmental responsibility it reads:

“I will act as a steward of the environment for future generations. I believe that climate change represents a potential threat to the United States and the international community. I will support international efforts to curtail carbon emissions, including policies that raise the cost of polluting behavior.”

There is no awareness of trade-offs here or of the extremes of environmental and anti-environmental politics.  Without an “ideology” of centrist philosophy this effort will drift into going with whatever direction the political winds are blowing.

Means and Extremes

Means and extremes in classical mathematics have to do with proportions.

If A is to B as C is to D, we write A : B :: C : D.  This is ordered so that A is greater than or equal to B and C is greater than or equal to D.  A and D are called the extremes; B and C are called the means.

By elementary arithmetic the product of the extremes equals the product of the means:

A x D = B x C.

If B = C, then B is the mean proportional or geometric mean of A and D.  In that case B is the positive square root of A x D.

This provides a basic principle for centrism: the means are between the extremes in a principles manner.

Centrism

In my usage, centrism is distinguished from moderation as follows:

The moderate seeks the relative middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the moderate moves in that direction to a moderate degree.  In contrast the centrist stakes out a position in the long-term middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the centrist leans against the wind.  The centrist may seem contrarian in two directions at the same time depending on the issue but their focus is always on maintaining a place between the extremes.

Centrists are aware there are always trade-offs and oppositions:  liberty vs. safety, property vs. equality, big business vs. big government, present generations vs. future generations, economic stability vs. economic growth, etc.  Centrists seek a middle way between these extremes, a compromise that is aware of the tension between these extremes and expects adjustments in the future.

Beyond species

Louis Agassiz wrote:
…if species do not exist at all, as the supporters of the transmutation theory maintain, how can they vary? And if individuals alone exist, how can differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of species?

Darwin responded to Asa Gray:
I am surprised that Agassiz did not succeed in writing something better. How absurd that logical quibble — “if species do not exist how can they vary?” As if anyone doubted their temporary existence.

The irony is that science works by finding invariants — things that don’t change.  If everything is always changing (and changing in ways that change), science is impossible.

There are many problems with the species concept but the main problem is that species are not even close to a concept of invariant/created kind.  For human beings we cannot accept any speciation; there is only one kind.  On the other extreme for microorganisms we can accept many speciations within a created kind.  Other organisms are in between — it’s something like the more complex organisms are, the fewer species there can be.

A concept of created kinds is not like species because kinds are permanent, like chemical elements.

January 2014

Science and history

Science and history should be complementary disciplines. Science should not dominate history but they should work together.

Science focuses on what does not change – what is conserved, what repeats, what is invariant. History focuses on what does change – the small details that turn out to make a big difference, the unique people and events that are most significant.

History is part of the humanities, not part of the sciences, because its methods are less methodical and more interpretive. History is diachronic – it looks through time, within time, as a participant. Science is synchronic – it looks across space and abstracts time as if observing from the outside (the “view from nowhere” Thomas Nagel called it).

When it comes to scientific matters – objective, unchanging, repetitive – historians should defer to scientists.  When it comes to historical matters – subjective, changing, unique – scientists should defer to historians. In short, when it comes to trans-spatial experience historians should defer to scientists, and when it comes to trans-temporal experience, scientists should defer to historians.

Since scientists find large distances of earth and space, historians should respect that and not confine themselves to small regions. Since historians find less than 10k years of history, science should respect that and not invent time beyond history, even if it makes their job easier.

January 2014