iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Category Archives: Knowing

epistemology, science, kinds of knowledge, methodology

Explaining everything again

The key to explaining everything in a domain is to project the data onto an explanatory space that is intuitively clear.  So evolutionists project all life onto an axis defined by the extremes of law and chance.  If they are presented with evidence of design, they just analyze it onto law and chance and say that’s all there is to it.  Yes, this is science but poorly done.

What is a creationist axis of explanation?  If we look at Genesis 1, we find two forms of creation:  creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) and creation out of something (ex aliquot) as in the refinement of the earth and the forming of man out of dust.  In this context they are both supernatural.  After the creation week, living creatures reproduce by natural means as they were designed to do.  This is a natural analogue to God’s original creation out of nothing.  Creatures undergo development in their lifetime, which is a natural analogue to God’s creation by refinement.  After the Fall, changes in the environment took place and reproduction generated more variability, which led to new species as well as deformed creatures.

So the explanatory axis for all of this comes from the extremes of repetition and variation held together by design.  The repetition of reproduction maintains life on earth.  Variations of life that fill out the earth and the possibilities of harmonious variety were designed in from the beginning to unfold over time (the original meaning of the word ‘evolution’).  Functions that have only survival value are post-Fall — their possibility was allowed from the beginning but were only triggered after the Fall.

December 2011

Primary, secondary, and tertiary creation

People often fail to distinguish different types of creation.  Primary creation is creation from nothing.  It requires not only a supernatural ability but a transcendent being — one who is beyond creation.  Secondary creation is creation from something but that requires supernatural abilities such as super-strength or super-intelligence.  Tertiary creation is one that happens via natural processes over time.

For example, light was created from nothing.  Seas were created from a formless, watery earth.  Generations of creatures have come about from natural processes.

Many ancient Christians were influenced by Platonic thinking and interpreted Genesis as almost all primary creation.  That meant that every species was created from nothing — that is, a primary creation.  Later natural theology emphasized the magnificence of creation — something only a super-powerful and super-intelligent being could do — that is, a secondary creation.

In the late eighteenth century when the species concept was further refined, people started thinking that some species might have been “transformed” from other species — that is, tertiary creation.  The “naturalist” movement of the 19th century pushed this to include all species.  Darwin proposed a mechanism and the door was shut to alternatives.

December 2011

Creation Chronicle Inferential Models

The confusion and disagreements about creation models shows the need to have accurate terminology. Accordingly, I suggest some standard terminology such as the following to distinguish types of Christian teaching on creation:

The Creation Chronicles (CC) are the actions and events explicitly recorded in the Bible regarding the beginning and earliest years of the created world, especially the chronicles of Genesis 1 to 11.  These are non-negotiable.  Only the most extreme opponents dispute these.

From these come the Creation Chronicle Inferences (CCI), which are the first inferences from the Creation Chronicles such as that the kinds of creatures are fixed in number.  These inferences are foundational principles for all creation models.  Some Christian opponents dispute these.

From the CC and the CCI, various Creation Chronicle Inferential Models (CCIM) are developed, which are the subject of research and debate.  There should be no dogmatism about these models.  Disagreements about these models should be expected.

November 2011

Hemidemisemi science

A quarter note in music is classically known as a quaver. A sixteenth note is half of a quaver, which is called a semiquaver. For a thirty-second note the prefix “demi” is used instead of a second “semi” to make a demisemiquaver. Similarly, a sixty-fourth note is a hemidemisemiquaver. As we shall see, these prefixes will come in handy.

“Science” is a term for what was called in centuries past “natural philosophy” or what Isaac Newton called “experimental philosophy.” Physics is the pre-eminent science and has always set the highest standard for anything else to be called “science.” It is primarily characterized by highly controlled experiments. The particular value of controlled experiments has been precisely described recently by the study of causality (see Judea Pearl’s book, Causality: models, reasoning, and inference. Cambridge, 2000.)

In order to trace out a causal chain it is best to have sufficient control over all variables and then vary one individual factor at a time while holding all other variables constant. Such highly controlled experiments are only available for hard science such as physics and chemistry. That plus inductive generalization is science. Anything else that claims to be science should be measured by such a standard.

By relaxing the standards somewhat one can engage in fairly controlled experiments in other subjects. Medical science uses limited experiments to validate results of treatments on patients. However, unlike electrons and molecules, patients are individuals that vary and whose particular history cannot be controlled so statistical approaches are required for more predictable results. But medical science does not have the precision of physics or chemistry. One may call medical science a “semi-science.”

There is great interest in making psychology and sociology into sciences. But greater limits on experiments prevent them from reaching the standards of medical science, much less physics or chemistry. One may call psychology or sociology a “demisemi-science.” It is a similar situation with fields such as astronomy and botany in which the main source of data is not experiment but field observation. There may be much observational data and empirical generalization but causality is elusive without experiments. They are demisemi-sciences, too.

There is great interest in making the study of the past into science but there are many reasons why the subject of history is not science and should remain with the humanities. For one thing, the role of documentation is much more important. The best sources of history are trustworthy documents based on direct experience and observation of past happenings. Understanding and evaluating such texts is primarily an activity that must consider wider aspects of life — religion, culture, philosophy, and the like. There is a limited place for science.

Some say that natural history is science because its sources are objects such as rocks rather than texts. But again the best sources are documents based on direct experience and observation. A written account of a volcano observed, for example, is much superior to trying to estimate the date from rocks of today. Interpretation is required which takes us away from the controlled world of science. One may call natural history a “hemidemisemi-science.”

So while many would try to wrap themselves with the prestige of science, there is nothing that has the rigor of physics and chemistry because they cannot control all variables. Other disciplines are half or a quarter or an eighth of a science. Our terminology should reflect this if we are trying to avoid exaggeration.

October 2011

Kinds of explanation

Different kinds of explanation may be distinguished by how they project phenomena onto ranges over pairs of opposites.  For example, an explanation may focus on natural laws but acknowledge measurement error or noise as well.  A combination of law and error/noise is one kind of explanation.  Other kinds of explanations combine created and fallen aspects, gradual and catastrophic events, macrocosmic and microcosmic aspects, wave and particle, etc.

Each kind of explanation has its uses and its limits.  Evolutionary explanations combine law and chance to derive whatever is being explained.  This would not be so bad as a limited projection of phenomena onto one of many opposites.  What’s objectionable is the grand claims that are made for no design, no purpose, etc. — these are based on excluding other explanations rather than replacing them.

The world is manifold and multiple kinds of explanation are appropriate.  We need to understand the uses and limits of each kind of explanation.

September 2011

Two scientific methods

Data-driven (DD) science is focused on the collection and use of a diverse archive of observations.  Data analysis discovers generalizations in the archive, which are inductively extrapolated to the world.  This leads to a search for empirical consequences and their corroborating (or not) data via field observations and experiments.  New results are added to the archive and the process repeats.  In this way general laws are discovered and justified.

Hypothesis-driven (HD) science is focused on generating and testing hypotheses.  After a search for evidence or experimental testing, an hypothesis gains or loses support.  The process repeats with further investigation of the same hypotheses or alternative ones.  While the hypotheses are often based on data analysis, they may be based on intuition, dreams, ideology, or whatever.  The data used for HD hypothesis testing is often not made available for others to use.

DD science is more conservative and slower to progress but has a stronger justification.  It is how younger sciences work best, leading to well-grounded laws.  It is how statistical sampling works, where random samples justify generalization to the whole population.  For natural science, the greater the archive of observations, the more there is a sound basis for universal generalizations.

HD science is better at quickly accumulating minor advances of a mature science with well-established laws.  However, it is open to faddishness and ideological bias.  The hypotheses that are investigated tend to be ones that are trendy or ideologically correct, while alternatives are ignored.  Data sources may be cherry-picked to ensure positive results.  This may lead to research with support for contradictory hypotheses, a notable problem with medical research.

DD science works best when much data has been collected.  If data collection is too expensive or impossible (e.g., the subject is in the past), the temptation to say something immediately leads researchers toward HD science prematurely.  This happened with geology and biology in the 19th century.  The accumulation of large scientific databases has led to more interest in DD science but HD science is strongly entrenched as the standard.  Bioinformatics is providing an opportunity for DD science with its large archive for well-grounded research.

HD science is often called hypothetico-deductive though that is not the original meaning of Whewell’s term.  It is a common misconception of Whewell’s nuanced “Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences”.  Darwin was one of the first to make it:  take a grand hypothesis and look for scraps of evidence to prop it up.  That is not justified induction, i.e., science.

Creationists have adopted HD science with a biblical foundation instead of the dominant naturalistic one.  While this may be a good apologetic approach, it has all the weaknesses of HD science, which leads to dueling hypotheses rather than consensus.  DD science takes longer but leads to general laws with strong support and so is a better methodology when there is controversy.  The strongest arguments creationists can make are based on DD science, not HD science.

August 2011

Introduction to creationism

There are different sources of knowledge: historical, scientific, engineering, business, philosophical, theological, etc. They work best when they work together. For example, even the best business could not construct a very good bridge if they ignored engineering knowledge. This also applies to the sciences. The natural sciences need to consider knowledge from history and engineering for example. The odd thing is that this is not normally done. In fact, some would say that science is the only source of knowledge and so should ignore everything else. This is called “scientism” or “positivism” and it is a form of willful ignorance.

In the 19th century. People such as Auguste Compte openly called for excluding other sources of knowledge from all sciences. He called this ideology “positivism” and surprisingly it caught on so that many people in the sciences think they cannot consider knowledge from any other source at all.

Some scientists and others dispute this ideology and are open to all relevant sources of knowledge when investigating the natural world. One group of these scientists are commonly called “creationists’ because they include knowledge from ancient history in their understanding of natural history. In particular, they include sources of knowledge that indicate an original creation, degeneration, and catastrophe should be included when studying astronomy, biology, and geology.

July 2011

Creationism and naturalism

Some creationists emphasize the difference in religious/metaphysical assumptions of creationism vs. evolutionism as if this explains almost all their differences.  But if that were true, creationists should focus on defending their religious/metaphysical assumptions instead of criticizing evolution. Since they do spend much time criticizing evolution, they are at least implicitly saying they have enough in common with evolutionists to have a dialogue.  Evolutionists seem to want only monologue. What do creationists have in common with evolutionism and conventional science in general?  In addition to a belief that some truth about the world can be found empirically, they have in common a form of naturalism, which leads to a search for natural laws and explanations.  However, in the 19th century, science accepted extreme naturalism, which in practice is indistinguishable from metaphysical naturalism.  It insists that science must be naturalistic “all the way down”.  It says that if God exists, His direct actions are empirically undetectable.

Creationists are accused of the other extreme, supernaturalism, in which divine or semi-divine agents intervene in the world at any time for any purpose or no purpose.  This was the mythological world that ancient Greeks starting with Thales objected to.  But creationists hold to neither extreme.  They accept a moderate naturalism in which a reasonable and loving God creates and upholds the natural order, and sometimes intervenes in the natural world. Creationist method recognizes both the actions of God and the consistency of the natural order.  It is naturalistic in that the default assumption is that natural laws and explanations are expected unless there is historical or revelational justification for supernatural events.  In particular, the six-day creation, the great flood, and the dispersion at Babel are sufficiently attested.  Other events are possible but the burden of proof is on those suggesting them; otherwise, naturalistic laws and explanations prevail.

Christians who promote theistic/deistic evolution accept extreme naturalism and a God who is undetectable.  To them the acts of God are completely indirect and can be known only through esoteric knowledge that interprets conventional science through gnostic readings of the Bible.  This is properly called gnostic because it severs God from the natural, physical world, contrary to the Incarnation and revelation of God in history. Those who promote progressive creation must hope that previously unknown miracles supply what naturalistic science cannot.  Their case is weak scripturally and scientifically. Creationists need a moderate naturalism for methodological purposes as well as showing the inadequacies of their opponents.

July 2011

Rise and fall of science

In broad Aristotelian terms, this is how it happened:

Aristotle articulated four types of causes — material, efficient (mechanism), formal (design), and final (purpose) — with the final cause as the most important.  His biology tried to find these causes but he had to speculate about final causes and his biology failed.

Fast-forward to Francil Bacon who separated material and efficient causes, which science would investigate, vs. formal and final causes, which were left to philosophy and religion.  From the Enlightenment on the material and efficient causes were deemed sufficient to explain phenomena.  Occam’s razor was a tool in this reductionistic and scientistic move.  The formal and final causes were left as superfluous, something for poets and stripped-down theologians.

This happened before Darwin.  With Darwin this scientistic understanding was incorporated into mainstream science.  Those who wanted to include formal and final causes were banished from the scientific community.  The Prussian model of the university consolidated this move in Europe and later elsewhere.

Even if evolution were superseded, something just as reductionistic would replace it without a broader cultural and intellectual shift.

June 2011

Three 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’. (1)

Here is a description of three research programmes concerned mainly with biology but also with geology and cosmology from the distant past to the present.

The Aristotelian Research Programme

Aristotle and those who followed him described a world that is largely static. Archetypes of all species were created by special act of God (or the gods) and species have not changed since then. The earth is also the same as it was from its beginning. Whether the cosmos has always existed or was created, it has never changed appreciably.

Aristotle asserted that the cosmos has always existed and was always basically the same. This was changed in later centuries to a relatively recent special creation (<10,000 years ago). In either case, it is a static world picture.

The Evolutionary Research Programme

Darwin and those who followed him described a world that is largely dynamic. All species developed from other species and the original simple organism developed somehow from inanimate matter. No special act of creation was involved. Lyell and those who followed him described an earth that is in slow continuous change with minor exceptions.

An evolutionary research programme requires that there be long ages of time for gradual changes to accumulate and produce the world of today.

The Combination Research Programme

This programme describes a world that is both static and dynamic.  Archetypes of basic kinds of organisms were created by special act of God and all species have developed from these. The earth was created and has not changed drastically except from a global flood in ancient times.

Question? Aristotelian Combination Evolution
Change? Static Both Dynamic
Continuity? Discrete Both Continuous
Initial state? Complex Both Simple
What dominates? Initial state Both Process
Change from initial state? No change Some change Complete change
Species? Fixed species From kinds to species Changing populations
Past time? Eternal or short Short or long Long
Nature or History? Nature Both History
Type of change? Catastrophic Both Gradual
Character of change? Revolutionary Both Evolutionary
God’s relation? Direct Both Indirect