iSoul In the beginning is reality

# Approaching the unknown

We have some knowledge but it is not complete knowledge, not even arguably near complete. So what should we do about the areas where knowledge is lacking? We should certainly continue to investigate. But what do we say in the mean time? What can we justify saying about the unknown side of partial knowledge?

There are three basic approaches to the unknown: (a) assume as little as possible about the unknown and project that onto the unknown; (b) assume the unknown is exactly like the known and project the known onto the unknown; or (c) assume the unknown is like what is common or typical with what is known and project that onto the unknown.

Approach (a) uses the principle of indifference, maximum entropy, and a modest estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes a very cautious, anything-can-happen approach as the safest way to go.

Approach (b) uses the principle of the uniformity of nature, minimum entropy, and a confident estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes an intrepid, assertive, approach as the most knowledgeable way to go.

Approach (c) uses the law of large numbers, the central limit theorem, the normal distribution, averages, and a moderate estimate of the value of what is known to the unknown. It takes a middle way between overly cautious and overly confident approaches as the best way to go.

The three approaches are not mutually exclusive. All three may use the law of large numbers, the normal distribution, and averages. They all may sometimes use the principle of indifference or the uniformity of nature. So calling these three different approaches is a generalization about the direction that each one takes, knowing that their paths may cross or converge on occasion.

It is also more accurate to say there is a spectrum of approaches, with approaches (a) and (b) at the extremes and approach (c) in the middle. This corresponds to a spectrum of distributions with extremes of low and high variability and the normal distribution in the middle.

This suggests there is a statistic of a distribution that varies from, say, -1 to +1 for extremes of low and high variability that is zero for the normal distribution. So it would be a measure of normality, too. The inverse of the variability or standard deviation might do.

Compare the three approaches with an input-output exercise:

1. Given input 0 with output 10, what is output for input 1?
1. Could be anything
2. The same as for input 0, namely, 10
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 10
2. Also given input 1 with output 12, what is output for input 2?
1. Still could be anything
2. The linear extrapolation of the two points (10+2n), namely, 14
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 11
3. Also given input 2 with output 18, what is output for input 3?
1. Still could be anything
2. The quadratic extrapolation of the two points (10+2n+n^2), namely, 25
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 40/3
4. Now start over but with the additional information that the outputs are integers from 1 to 100.
1. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
2. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
3. The values 1 to 100 are equally likely
5. Given input 0 with output 0, what is output for input 1?
1. Bayesian updating
2. The same as for input 0, namely, 0
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 0
6. Also given input 1 with output 5, what is output for input 2?
1. Bayesian updating
2. The linear extrapolation of the two points (5n), namely, 10
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 2.5, so 2 or 3 are equally likely
7. Also given input 2 with output 9, what is output for input 3?
1. Bayesian updating
2. Since there are limits, extrapolate a logistic curve ((-15+30*(2^n) / (1+2^n)), namely, 12
3. The mean of the outputs, namely, 14/3, rounded to 5

2008

# Theory selection and time

There are several criteria commonly used to select the best scientific theory, including consistency, confirmation, and comprehensiveness.  We discuss two criteria in particular:

(1)  “Avoid metaphysics.”  Modern science has a long history of avoiding metaphysics.  Science was often contrasted with the wrangling of metaphysicians.  While some metaphysical assumptions/presuppositions may be inevitable, a theory is preferred that has fewer metaphysical assumptions.  “Don’t make metaphysical assumptions if possible, and if unavoidable, make them as benign as possible.”  This incorporates “Occam’s razor” which says that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

Naturalism or methodological naturalism is often considered a requirement for a scientific theory but the real requirement is the avoidance of metaphysics.  Naturalism does avoid some metaphysical assumptions but it has its own metaphysical assumptions.  A naturalistic theory should not be considered free of metaphysics, rather, its particular metaphysics should be considered along with everything else when selecting a theory.

(2)  “Take the metaphysical middle way.”  When the making of metaphysical assumptions cannot be avoided, a theory is preferred that has metaphysical assumptions in the middle of the range of metaphysical assumptions that have historically been employed.  “Avoid metaphysical extremes.”  Follow something like a golden mean or an intermediate metaphysical position.

Example:  historical time

• An ancient and primitive conception of time is that it is cyclic, that history repeats. As the seasons and celestial positions repeat so does history.  Cf. also Nietzsche’s Eternal Return.
• A modern and abstract conception of time is that of an open time line, that history is a linear sequence of events projected onto an open-ended geometric line. Such a line has no definite endpoints or is infinite.  Relativistic time lines may be curved but the idea of an open-ended sequence remains.
• An intermediate conception is that historical time is a closed time line, with beginning and ending points. This is the Judeo-Christian conception of time. It is like the cyclic conception in that it consists of one cycle and in some ways the ending recapitulates the beginning. It is also like the time line conception in that it is a linear sequence of events.2007
• That which is “natural” conforms to these two principles.  It has few metaphysical assumptions and what assumptions it has are middle-of-the-road so it is easy to accept.

2007

# Modes of science

There are three modes of science: descriptive, explanatory, and applied.  The descriptive mode consists of systematic observation of phenomena followed by discovery and empirical confirmation of general laws covering regularities in the observations.  The explanatory mode uses the observations and laws with assumptions that fill in gaps to tell a story of how and why a particular sequence of events happened or something came to be.  The applied mode uses the results of the descriptive and explanatory modes in developing a product or technique.

The descriptive mode of science consists of detailed descriptions of phenomena and heuristic rules that generalize descriptions of related phenomena.  In the descriptive mode one strives for objectivity with thoroughly empirical science methods unadulterated by personal beliefs, unobservable entities, or unconfirmed assumptions.  These scientific descriptions do not explain phenomena except in the minimal sense that they can replicate aspects of phenomena that are subsumed in generalizations.  For example, a generalization about planetary motions would show that their orbits are elliptical but not why the orbits are elliptical or how planets move.

The explanatory mode of science is built on the descriptive mode by taking descriptions and generalizations of phenomena as its starting point.  The scope of each generalization is taken to be as universal as possible within any limitations imposed by other generalizations.  For example, if there is a generalization about a certain fish population, in the explanatory mode it becomes a law about all fish populations unless there are other generalizations that limit the scope to some fish populations.

Explanations are developed in the explanatory mode that are consistent with the descriptions and generalizations of the descriptive mode with non-empirical matters kept to a minimum.

In the explanatory mode the beliefs of the person presenting or endorsing the explanation may affect the particulars of the explanation.

In the explanatory mode thoroughgoing empiricism is an ideal to strive for but compromises may be made by positing unobserved entities or making assumptions that enable general laws to be a sufficient basis for a story that makes the how and why clear.  The making of assumptions should be kept to a minimum but may be necessary to provide sufficient grounds for invoking a law.  For example, some boundary conditions may be unobserved but be required for substitution in the expression of a law.  While the highest standards of objectivity should be maintained, there remains a certain subjective element in whether or not a reasonable person will be satisfied with a particular explanation.  A reasonable person may be remain unsatisfied and object to an unobserved entity or assumption.  To continue the previous example, an explanation of planetary orbits that appeals to a force of gravity as the causal agent producing elliptical motions may be sufficient for most people but be unacceptable to some on the grounds that a force is an unobserved entity.

The applied mode takes the descriptions and explanations with perhaps non-scientific influences such as heuristics (rules of thumb) and aesthetics to design a product or technique with some purpose in mind.  Engineering is the systematic practice of the applied mode.  To continue the example once more, an engineer may use the law of gravity along with other laws such as aerodynamic laws to develop the path that a satellite launch must take to attain a particular orbit.

The explanatory mode has some of the characteristics of the descriptive mode and the applied mode.  It is descriptive in that it includes descriptions of phenomena to be explained and it is applied in that it applies laws to construct explanatory stories of phenomena.

There is no single method to confirm a proposed scientific law but the basic idea is to increase the weight of evidence for it, especially in contrast to other possible laws.  Experiments that challenge the law but lead to new observations consistent with the law increase the weight of evidence.  Explanations for events or artifacts that either lacked explanations or had unsatisfactory explanations because of the unobserved entities or assumptions increase the weight.  Useful applications developed using the law that would not likely have been developed without it increase the weight.  Thus we see all of the scientific modes at work in confirmation.

2005

The term “paradigm” shall be used to indicate what Imré Lakatos called “research programmes.”

For Lakatos, what we think of as a ‘theory’ may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called such changing collections ‘Research Programmes’. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imre_Lakatos].

The creation paradigm is presented here as the common idea of theories and histories around the concept of special creation. The core propositions of the creation paradigm are described.

# History and law

The main problem with evolution is not that it has the wrong history but that for evolution history is everything.  That’s everything including the laws of nature, philosophy, religion, God, literally everything.  The one law of evolution is that everything evolves.  There is no being, only becoming; there is nothing fixed, only change.

But surely they accept the laws of physics, don’t they?  Not really.  Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Presence of the Past” attempts to show that nature has “habits” rather than any fixed laws.  Like evolutionary species, the laws of physics are temporary and evolve, too.

So arguing about chronology and history is right up the evolutionary alley.  It doesn’t shift the debate to what evolutionists cannot accept: anything that does not change — laws or created/natural kinds.

Also, if the argument is about chronology and history, it is always possible to argue that God was involved and this is consistent with basic theology.  So the debate goes around in circles because chronology cannot be a basic doctrine of Christianity.

But law is a basic doctrine of Christianity.  If there is no law, there is no gospel: law and gospel go together.  And these are not just spiritual laws, but laws that include physical reality because resurrection is physical, too.

So the debate should be shifted to be about the existence of what does not change — laws, kinds, and the nature of God.

September 2014

# Science and extraordinary events

Auditors have discovered a million dollars missing in the accounts of the venerable First Bank. What is the explanation?

(1) There has been no impropriety; small rounding errors of a few pennies have occurred many times over many years, which happened to add up to a million dollars.

(2) There was an embezzlement of a million dollars.

This is the situation science faces. A large difference might be explained by a long series of small changes, but at what point does the long series of small changes become harder to believe than one extraordinary event?

Science follows the principle that what is easiest to believe should be believed. Hume and others have argued that it would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to establish that an extraordinary event occurred. One result is that a large number of ordinary events have been taken to be more believable than one extraordinary event.

Evolution requires a very long and particular series of events to occur in which small changes lead to larger and larger changes that ultimately result in the biological diversity observed today. This has the advantage of not requiring the belief in any extraordinary event. But the sheer number and variety of particular changes over an extremely long time that would have to take place are harder to believe than any one extraordinary event.

It is reasonable to expect science to minimize the number and extent of extraordinary events but if extraordinary events are thereby eliminated, the result is something harder to believe than an extraordinary event. That goes against the principle that science should believe what is easiest to believe.

July 2014

# Stages of a science

Based on the most developed sciences, physics and chemistry, I suggest each science eventually goes through the following five stages:

Stage 1. The Nascent Stage is characterized by monistic ideas such as ‘everything is a form of water’ (e.g., Thales).

Stage 2. The Classical Stage is characterized by unaided observation and commonplace ideas such as things are a combination of water, air, earth, and fire (the Bible* and Aristotle).  *I think this reflects the language used in the Bible, not the level of truth implicit in it.

Stage 3. The Pre-Modern Stage is characterized by unsystematic experiments and mystical ideas (e.g., alchemy).

Stage 4. The Modern Stage is characterized additionally by systematic experiments and inductive generalizations (e.g., Galileo, Newton).

Stage 5. The Post-Modern Stage is characterized additionally by thought experiments and grand syntheses (e.g., relativity, quantum mechanics).

I would place biology, geology, and cosmology in Stage 3. For example, as alchemists dreamed of transmuting base metals into gold, so Darwinists dream of transmuting lower species into humans. Stage 4 biology is just beginning.

Let me add that earlier stages are not necessarily wrong, only limited. Later stages show the limitations of previous stages.

November 2014

# What is creation science?

In their book “What is Creation Science?” Henry Morris and Gary Parker contrast the evolution and creation world views/models and state: “The second world view–creation–maintains that the universe is not self-contained, but that it must have been created by processes which are not continuing as natural processes in the present.”

They go on to say: “Scientific creationism” can be discussed quite independently of “religious creationism”…

So as I understand it, religion (specifically the Bible) may motivate scientific creationism but is not part of the discipline.  All arguments within creation science should be ones that could in principle convince any reasonable person.  In short they should be based on evidence and follow logical methods of argument.

The problem with this is, how can we say anything about “processes which are not continuing as natural processes in the present” without getting into religion?  Can we infer something about these creation processes from observing the present world?  We may be able to infer that design exists in creation (as Dembski argues) but that does not get us very far.

Perhaps the only way to approach this is via counterfactuals.  Recall that counterfactuals are subjunctive conditionals so they concern what would have or might have occurred.  We need to think about the kind of design problems solved by the designs we observe, taking into consideration that the designs may be obscured by natural processes over time.  As we know more about these design scenarios, we may be able to predict designs before we observe them.

September 2014

# Creation and separation

The word “creation” in theological and philosophical circles means (1) “creation from nothing”, that is, the transcendent and self-existing God producing other entities without starting from something pre-existing.  However, that is not the only meaning of “creation” in the Bible or common usage.  The other meaning is (2) making something from something, particularly, making something more differentiated from something less differentiated.  Think of a sculptor creating a statue from a marble block.

This ambiguity over the word “creation” leads to a lot of criticism of creationists for not being satisfied with the first definition.  We don’t need to coin a new word but we do need to emphasize that we are talking creation in both senses of the word as described in Genesis 1.

One could define evolutionists (particularly the “evolutionary creationists”) as those who accept the first definition but reject the second definition since they think God never directly changes the created world.  So our task is to convince people that God does directly separate creation — and will do so again in the last judgment.

This entails that the original creation from nothing was somewhat undifferentiated and that full creation is a two-step process of creation from nothing followed by direct creation/separation by God.

November 2014

# A science of biological kinds

There is an analogy between chemical kinds — elements — and biological kinds.  Both show that things have differences in kind, not just degree.  The development of the periodic table was not controversial but biological kinds are strongly opposed by mainstream science.  What happened?

John S. Wilkins wrote his dissertation and book on “Species: A History of the Idea”.  While he is an evolutionist, he is as knowledgeable as anyone on the history here.  His blog post “What makes special creationism special?” outlines the history – see http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2007/12/25/what-makes-special-creationism/

Basically, the focus turned to natural history and origins instead of natural science.  For chemical science the question “Which came first, hydrogen or oxygen?” is irrelevant.  Same for “What is the origin of water?”  The history of chemical elements or compounds is separate from the science of chemistry.  It should be the same for biology.  The natural history of organisms should be separate from the science of biological kinds.

The science of biological kinds does not depend on Genesis either, though it provides motivation.  Once biological kinds are established, the age of the earth is easier to determine.

September 2014