Intelligent Design

Pseudo Scientific Dogma

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The following is taken from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/

 The Marxist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Marxism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Marx had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.

These factors combined to make Popper take falsifiability as his criterion for demarcating science from non-science: if a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific. For Popper, however, to assert that a theory is unscientific, is not necessarily to hold that it is unenlightening, still less that it is meaningless, for it sometimes happens that a theory which is unscientific (because it is unfalsifiable) at a given time may become falsifiable, and thus scientific, with the development of technology, or with the further articulation and refinement of the theory. Further, even purely mythogenic explanations have performed a valuable function in the past in expediting our understanding of the nature of reality.

Search and replace Marx with Darwin and it remains essentially the same

The Darwinist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Darwinism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Darwin had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.

These factors combined to make Popper take falsifiability as his criterion for demarcating science from non-science: if a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Darwinism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific. For Popper, however, to assert that a theory is unscientific, is not necessarily to hold that it is unenlightening, still less that it is meaningless, for it sometimes happens that a theory which is unscientific (because it is unfalsifiable) at a given time may become falsifiable, and thus scientific, with the development of technology, or with the further articulation and refinement of the theory. Further, even purely mythogenic explanations have performed a valuable function in the past in expediting our understanding of the nature of reality.

Darwinism has become pseudo-scientific dogma. Karl Popper spells it out plainly for us.

 

46 Replies to “Pseudo Scientific Dogma

  1. 1
    Carlos says:

    OK, DaveScot, now you’re playing in my sandbox. (Excellent!)

    1) Notice that rewriting the quote about Popper doesn’t do what you want it to, since Popper clearly indicates that non-falsifiable stories can become falsifiable over time. So, even if Darwin’s original theory were at some point non-falsifiable, it could become so as more lines of evidence are discovered (e.g. molecular evolution, biochemical similaritiess, the genetic regulation of development).

    Incidentally, this point is really much more useful to ID supporters than it is their critics. For when ID critics claim that ID is non-falsifiable, ID supporters can still say, “no, it’s just not yet falsifiable!”

    2) It can be useful to consider what Popper actually thought about Darwinism. Popper himself initially considered Darwinism to be a non-scientific explanatory framework, analogous to Marxism and to psychoanalysis. (His own term is “a metaphysical research program” which is not itself a theory, but can be used to produce testable theories.) It has been claimed that he subsequently recanted, but I am not so sure what the recantation was supposed to be, except to point out that natural selection is not tautologous.

    3) One crucial but subtle point brought out in (2) is that Popper is severely critical of the empiricist agenda: that we can do science without metaphysical assumptions. On the contrary, Popper thinks that metaphysical assumptions can be extremely useful in creating theories (“conjectures”) — so long as the conjecture is refutable.

    4) Finally (for this post): there are some difficulties in Popper’s account of science which make it of limited use. One difficulty is that falsification is an attempt to dispense with induction, and offer an entirely deductive way of doing science.

    But this runs afoul of Quinean objections to our supposed ability to test the sentences of our theory one by one. If theories are “corporate bodies” and not merely sets of logically isolated sentence, then piecemeal testing, or either the Carnapian or Popperian variety, won’t work. This point was brought home against Popper by Hilary Putnam. Putnam has also shown that successful science uses a variety of inference schemes, and so Popper’s attempt to explain all science in terms of one inference scheme fails.

  2. 2
    tribune7 says:

    Carlos — So, even if Darwin’s original theory were at some point non-falsifiable,

    You miss the point. Darwin’s original theory, like Marx, presented predictions that have been falsified.

  3. 3
    Carlos says:

    But that’s part of the problem with Popper: that he doesn’t have a way of accounting for the rationality of scientific progress.

    Suppose we stipulate that phyletic gradualism is a central tenet of “Darwin’s theory.” And suppose the fossil record falsifies that hypothesis.

    Now, what’s a Popperian Darwinist to do? She might say, “OK, it’s all bunk, back to Paley!” Or she might say, “gradualism is false, but the rest of the theory remains sound.” Or she could even reconcile the fossil record with gradualism — for example, by arguing that the fossil record is too coarsely-grained to capture events that take place in time frames of less than several hundred thousand years.

    From what I know of it, Popper’s theory of science doesn’t offer any guidance as to which response is the most rational, and that’s a big problem with it. A big problem.

    So, even if “Darwin’s original theory” has been falsified, so what? One could always argue that the contemporary consensus among evolutionary biologists is not “Darwin’s original theory.”

    Additionally, it’s not always clear falsified theories must be rejected. Consider Newtonian mechanics. It’s been falsified for the very small (where quantum indeterimacy becomes noticeable) and for the very large (where relativistic effects become noticeable). Does that mean that we should reject Newtonian mechanics? Of course not! It still serves very well for explaining and predicting phenomena within a certain range of sizes and speeds.

    Now, if we’re to be strict Popperians, perhaps we ought to say: “by ‘Newtonian mechanics’ today, we don’t mean ‘the theory precisely as outlined in the Principia Mathematica.’ Instead, we mean “the theory as presented in the Principia, but only as applied to a limited range of sizes and speeds.” Call the first theory ‘Newtonian mechanics’ and the second theory ‘Newtonian mechanics*.’ Our situation is one in which Newtonian mechanics has been falsified, but Newtonian mechanics* has not.”

    This might help, but it also seems to invite all sorts of further problems, about how we’re supposed to tell when two theories are identical or similar.

  4. 4
    BarryA says:

    Carlos,

    With respect to gradualism and its importance to the evolutionary project, Dawkins says:

    “Gradualness is of the essence. In the context of the fight against creationism, gradualism is more or less synonymous with evolution itself. If you throw out gradualness you throw out the very thing that makes evolution more plausible than creation.”

    Richard Dawkins, “What Was All the Fuss About?” review of Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria by Niles Eldredge, Nature 316 (August 1985): 683-684

    Eldredge and Tattersall say this:

    “Darwin’s prediction of rampant, albeit gradual, change affecting all lineages through time is refuted. The record is there, and the record speaks for tremendous anatomical conservatism. Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record.”

    Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myth of Human Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 45-46.

    Now the problem as I see it is that most Darwinists believe they have to choose between Dawkins, on the one hand, and Tattersall/Eldredge on the other. One must be right and the other wrong.

    I say, why can’t they both be right? Dawkins is correct that gradualism is practically synonymous with Darwinian evolution. Eldredge and Tattersall are correct that gradualism is refuted. Therefore, since the pillar upon which the rest of the theory rests has been knocked over, the theory goes down with it. I don’t see any flaws in my logic.

  5. 5
    tribune7 says:

    Carlos, that’s the point. An unfalsifiable theory might still have merit, it’s just not a scientific one.

    Common descent or the influence of natural selection aren’t really big objections concerning ID. What is seen as a problem is the claim that common descent should be considered axiomatic and that natural forces are an adequate — much less the best — explaination for life and the diversity of life.

    The funny thing is that there are those in the scientific community who are seriously considering the unlikelihood of common descent.

    Note the wiki entry for gene flow (based onPeter Gogarten’s work):

    “Using single genes as phylogenetic markers, it is difficult to trace organismal phylogeny in the presence of HGT [horizontal gene transfer]. Combining the simple coalescence model of cladogenesis with rare HGT [horizontal gene transfer] events suggest there was no single last common ancestor that contained all of the genes ancestral to those shared among the three domains of life. Each contemporary molecule has its own history and traces back to an individual molecule cenancestor. However, these molecular ancestors were likely to be present in different organisms at different times.” [6]

    Sorry Pete for using your work to buttress an anti-Darwin argument. 🙂

  6. 6
    bFast says:

    Gentlemen,

    I consider the following statement:

    For when ID critics claim that ID is non-falsifiable, ID supporters can still say, “no, it’s just not yet falsifiable!

    I really see ID much better defined as “a metaphysical research program.” ID has produced a couple of testable hypotheses, most noteably “irreduceable complexity”. However, by its nature, I believe, will conjur up more hypotheses as time goes by. In truth, as with metaphysical views, if it must die it will die a very slow death.

    We see, for instance, Denton’s “evolution by law” view as presented in “Nature’s Destiny”. Denton’s view, while being highly teleological, would not be harmed in any way if it were demontrated that the flagellum could well have come to being by RM+NS alone. Denton’s view would also not be challenged by the discovery of a realistic theory of abiogenesis. In fact, Denton almost expects it — though I do not.

    Therefore it is my view that ID is best described as a meta-theory or “a metaphysical research program” rather than a theory/hypothesis in itself. However, I seen no reason to challenge that Behe’s “irreduceable complexity” argument is a true, testable, falsifiable hypothesis.

    ‘Bottom line, though resulting hypotheses may change, ID will live on pretty much forever.

    Alas, in defense of NDE, I see the ID community as a bit two-faced. On the one hand, genuine challenges to NDE are presented, such as irreduceable complexity; and on the other hand NDE is challenged by the ID community as unfalsifiable. I personally believe that NDE is in fact falsifiable, that it has weathered a significant number of challenges, that it has been forced to change by some of those challenges, and that it may or may not one day fall based solely on whether the theory is an accurate fundimental descripton of the cause of all biodiversity.

    I suggest, however, that the scientific community is far too presumptuous of its own base of knowledge, and that biology is far too young of a science for the community to be declaring their currently preferred theory as “fact”.

  7. 7
    tribune7 says:

    bfast — I see ID as not so much a scientific theory but as a slam-dunk, game-over rebuttal of scientific materialism, which also should have nothing to do with science but still permiates it.

    I remember years ago in the America’s Cup, New Zealand violated the spirit but not the rules, causing the U.S. to switch to a catamaran which also violated the spirit but not the rules and provided an even bigger advantage. That’s sort of what I see going on here.

    It should be considered in everything that the existence of God is axiomatic. If someone should have a theory that something long-considered divine has a natural explanation, he should be considered to investigate it, and if he should find that he is correct he should and would be heaped with praise because it is not challenge to everything good when a specific rather than general question is found to have a natural rather than divine answer.

  8. 8
    mike1962 says:

    bFast: “Alas, in defense of NDE, I see the ID community as a bit two-faced. On the one hand, genuine challenges to NDE are presented, such as irreduceable complexity;”

    As I see it, structures proffered as possible instances of IC (such as the flagellum) have not falsified NDE, but only challenge it.

    bFast: “and on the other hand NDE is challenged by the ID community as unfalsifiable. I personally believe that NDE is in fact falsifiable”

    What would it take to falsify NDE in your opinion?

  9. 9
    BarryA says:

    Moderator, I have a post stuck for a couple of hours. thanks.

  10. 10
    Carlos says:

    If a Homo erectus were found in Jurassic strata, it would be game over for NDE. And that’s a just one, fairly trivial example.

    If the proof for Godel’s theorem (for example) were found to be encoded into the genome of any species, let alone every species, that would pretty much put the kibosh on NDE, and it would win a decisive victory for intelligent design (or at least for non-Popperians; according to Popper, of course, no theory can ever be confirmed.)

  11. 11
    SatyaMevaJayate says:

    Carlos,
    Forget Homo erectus… how about a Wine glass in the Jurrasic strata.. Will that put the kibosh on NDE…

    or will a mere “explanation” that this glass couldn’t have been present in the Jurrasic straata & “should have” fallen through cracks in the strata when Quakes occured off the coast of California…

    There have been huge number of anomalies(not wine glasses bt artifacts that have be intelligently designed) discovered in archaelogy which have always been put in rubbish bin just cause they don’t fit in with evolutionary story’s timeline…

    just google up “forbidden archaelogy” or “Michael Cremo” & you will come up with a book that has documented the list of such anomlies…

  12. 12
    bFast says:

    mike1962, “As I see it, structures proffered as possible instances of IC (such as the flagellum) have not falsified NDE, but only challenge it.”

    At this point, Mike, I agree that the flagellum is a challenge, but not a falsification, of NDE. The longer the flagellum stands as an example of an unevolvable, (time measured not in hours or years, but in amount of energy spent to prove the evolvability of the flagellum) the better is its case agains NDE. I believe that there have been some serious cases made for an NDE pathway to the flagellum — see http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/flagellum.html

    While this post only presents a just-so story that could account for the flagellum, it is a story that can lead to a path of experimental validation. If it can be demonstrated that a truly useful, non-contrived, pre-flagellum can be adapted to become a flagellum in a single event mutation, I think that Behe’s challenge is toast.

    I believe that the challenge of Haldane’s dilemma remains to be significant. I am seen an emergence of patterns, most noteable the cyclochrome C as pointed out by Denton, but also the similarity of the marsupials and the placentals, the universality of pentadactylism, etc. Convergence seems significantly too strong a force to be accounted for by NDE. All of these challenge NDE. Do they, in one fell swoop, defeat it?

    I am seeing bunches of evidence coming out of rather specific mutations happening somewhere between the chimp and the human. Consider http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/Arti.....ub=SciTech
    Here we have a gene that has taken 18 mutations on the human side of the human/chimp ancestor, yet the gene showed a shocking mutation resistance, with only only two mutational differences between the chimp and the chicken. What caused this gene to go into mutation mode? This is a solidly unexpected phenomenon. Is this a case that cannot be realistically explained by NDE? I don’t know the answer to this, but it sure smells fishy. I also think that it is a wonderful place to explore ID based research.

    Consider the following link: http://www.thedesignmatrix.com/content/?p=25. Here Mike Gene points to a protzoan which contains an astonishing 27,000 coding genes. Not bad for a single celled creature. The boys at Telic Thoughts, most noteably Mike Gene and Krauze are suggesting that this creature may hold evidence of front-loading. If they find evidence that this organism actually has genes that are “ideally suited” for multi-cellularity, well, I think the NDEers are going to find this very hard to explain indeed.

    A number of IDers have presented “junk DNA” point of contention between ID and NDE. The suggestion is that if it is established that the majority of “junk DNA” proves to be useful, this will support the ID position over NDE.

    None of these things, I think, would conclusively and assuredly falsify NDE, partly because NDE is held with religious ferver by many. However, much of the above would validate ID, making ID respectable science.

    So NDE is likely to die the death of a thousand blows, but some of the above would jar NDE out of the confident position it is in.

    Have I just proved that NDE is not falsifiable? I really don’t think so. If the scientific community begins to say, “NDE seems to work really well except …” then NDE is effectively falsified. When the list of exceptions gets reasonably long, NDE will find its rightful place as a theory that provides an explanation for some of the variety of life that exists — because I believe that RM+NS are very valid mechanisms within nature.

  13. 13
    Joseph says:

    Carlos:
    If a Homo erectus were found in Jurassic strata, it would be game over for NDE. And that’s a just one, fairly trivial example.

    Seeing that NDE doesn’t predict Home erectus I don’t see how that scenario would falsify it. All that would do is change some thinking. And the most it could falsify is the history of life.

  14. 14
    BarryA says:

    Joseph,

    Thank you for illustrating the point so nicely. Nothing falsifies NDE because it predicts everything after the fact.

  15. 15
    DaveScot says:

    Of course ID is falsifiable. All that has to be done is demonstrate that chance and necessity did what ID claims can’t be done without intelligent agency.

    I feel the pain of the chance worshippers knowing that the falsification of ID is the demonstration of chance and necessity. It leaves them looking pretty darn silly as they blunder about doing everything they can to knock down ID including going to federal court to prevent kids from hearing a fair (no straw man) explanation of ID. The only they don’t do to knock down ID is demonstrate that chance and necessity is an adequate mechanism. No small wonder there – it’s not easy proving something happened that never actually happened. 😛

    Carlos, I think you missed the main point of my post. It’s the addition of ad hoc hypothesis to explain things after the fact. Let’s face facts here. RM+NS in principle can explain any modification at all in common descent. It’s all a matter of probabilities. If you are willing to suspend disbelief and accept that nearly impossible odds were routinely and repeatedly overcome during the course of evolution from chemical soup to nuts then RM+NS can do just about anything physically possible in making modifications to living things. Therefore, any empirical evidence that comes to light can be explained ad hoc by RM+NS.

    I’m not willing to suspend disbelief, Carlos. I won’t do it for the incredible stories found in religious texts and I won’t do it for the incredible stories found in biology texts. It’s just that simple.

  16. 16
    tribune7 says:

    If a Homo erectus were found in Jurassic strata, it would be game over for NDE. And that’s a just one, fairly trivial example.

    How about blood cells in dinosaur bone?

  17. 17
    Carlos says:

    If they found blood cells in a piece of dinosaur bone, paleontologists would have to do some fast and fancy explaining of how the cells managed to avoid being degraded in the seventy million years since burial. But that could happen, if the environment were entirely anoxic, free of anaerobic bacteria, isolated from cosmic rays but also free from geological distortions. I don’t see that could happen without also being conditions that would also destroy the blood cells themselves, but my taphonomy is very rusty, and not that good to begin with.

    By contrast, if they found a wine glass or a Homo erectus in Jurassic strata, that would blow to smithereens the entire paleontological story, and NDE would go up in flames along with it.

    Some of us here might be tempted to say that this sort of thing would only contest “macroevolution” and not “microevolution.” But the whole point of NDE is that microevolutionary processes are necessary and sufficient to explain macroevolutionary patterns. (A few paleontologists, such as S. J. Gould, contest this; they think that there are macroevolutionary processes, such as extinctions, which cannot be explained in terms of microevolutionary processes. But this is a minority view, so far as I know.)

    About falsification: yes, it’s true that one can always decide not to falsify simply by introducing some further ad hoc stipulation or constraint. But that’s not always irrational or illegitimate; that’s what my point about Newtonian mechanics was meant to illustrate. There are conditions under which Newtonian mechanics completely fails. But which would be the more rational response: to introduce ad hoc restrictions on the application of the theory, or to scratch it entirely?

    We still use Newtonian mechanics, and teach it in schools, not because it’s true but because it’s true enough. It’s perfectly good for engineers and good most of the time for physicists.

    Punchline: the fact that there are irremediable flaws in Newtonian mechanics isn’t used as justification for “teaching the controversy” between Newton and Aristotle. So why should the existence of irremediable flaws in Darwinism be used as justification for “teaching the controversy” between Darwin and Aristotle?

  18. 18
    tribune7 says:

    If they found blood cells in a piece of dinosaur bone, paleontologists would have to do some fast and fancy explaining of how the cells managed to avoid being degraded in the seventy million years since burial.

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to say it wasn’t buried 70 million years and evolution is wrong?

    Now, you mentioned Newton, but you’re overlooking something namely that, while Newton’s laws are still quite useful just as natural selection remains useful, the Newtonian view of things has been completely overthrown. A clockwork universe does not make any sense with relativity. Darwinism might be the last rement of the reign of materialistic reductionism.

  19. 19
    Carlos says:

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to say it wasn’t buried 70 million years and evolution is wrong?

    I don’t know if it would be “more sensible.” The paleontologists in question would have to look at all lines of evidence and hash it out.

    The astronomers who discovered anomalies in the orbit of Uranus could have said, “whoops, looks like Newton was wrong!” Instead they decided to keep the theory and ask, “what could be causing these anomalies?” That’s how Neptune and Pluto were discovered.

    Similarly, if paleontologists were to discover intact (but, I’m assuming, dead) cells in seventy-million year old tissue, they would have to think about how far this remarkable discovery would require revising the theory, or if the theory would have to be rejected. There’s no one right answer to this thought-experiment which counts as being “more sensible” than another.

    I’m assuming here that, for the purpose of this thought-experiment, the paleontologists would not have any good reason to question the dating of the specimen.

    you’re overlooking something namely that, while Newton’s laws are still quite useful just as natural selection remains useful, the Newtonian view of things has been completely overthrown. A clockwork universe does not make any sense with relativity.

    I’m not “overlooking” anything mentioned here — on the contrary, I’m emphasizing this very point. And part of my point here is that a theory can be falsified in the strict Popperian sense and still be extremely useful. One way of doing so is by introducing ad hoc stipulations that were not part of the original theory. Another way of doing so is by situating the original
    theory within a broader explanatory framework.

    Darwinism might be the last rement of the reign of materialistic reductionism.

    I’ve been thinking more and more about “reductionism” and what a Darwinian or post-Darwinian theory would have to account for. One thing that struck me is that it’s foolish for post-Darwinians to deny that organisms are teleologically structured. Organisms act for the sake of ends. That shouldn’t be a controversial point. (Just ask my cats.)

    The controversial point is whether or not a teleologically structured being — an organism — could have arisen without the intervention of some agency. That’s the point of the organism/artifact analogy.

    I agree that the standard Darwinian story is not fully adequate. But then again, I’m not defending “the standard Darwinian story.” I’ve long held that the Darwinian story needs to be situated within a larger theory of the dynamics of self-organizing systems, such as complexity theory or autopoietic theory.

  20. 20
    tribune7 says:

    The paleontologists in question would have to look at all lines of evidence and hash it out.

    I think our concern is that they are not.

    I’m emphasizing this very point.

    You are emphasizing the usefulness of Newtonian laws. You are not notably considering the overthrow of the mechanistic view of the reality and its implications (highly structured race and sex roles for instance). It is useful to know that species can adopt to their enviroment. It is (or will soon be) no longer possible for a thinking person to believe that all life came from a single cell via natural forces. And society will change because of that.

    The controversial point is whether or not a teleologically structured being — an organism — could have arisen without the intervention of some agency.

    I grant that it is controverial. But here is the big question — why would it be?

  21. 21
    Carlos says:

    I think our concern is that they are not.

    OK, I’ll bite, and I’ll ask two questions. First, what lines of evidence are paleontologists overlooking which, in your considered opinion, should lead them to regard evolution as falsified? Second, even if evolutionary theory is falsified, what would a reasonable response on the part of biologists be? (After all, falsification is only part of the story.)

    You are not notably considering the overthrow of the mechanistic view of the reality and its implications (highly structured race and sex roles for instance).

    Whoa! “the mechanicist view of the reality”? “highly structured race and sex roles”? What’s going on here? I mean it — what’s really going on here? ‘Cause from where I sit, this is complete curveball you just threw me — a real non sequitur.

    Still, I’d like to get into it, because I think that the real problem at stake in NDE vs ID vs Creationism (etc.) is not scientific but cultural, i.e. metaphysical/ethical/political.

    And society will change because of that.

    What sort of changes do you envision, and why are they desirable? How would the overthrow of NDE as a scientific explanation lead to the emergence of a more just (or less cruel) society?

    I grant that it is controverial. But here is the big question — why would it be?

    Because the fact that something appears to be designed doesn’t mean that it really is. What’s at stake here is whether how the world appears to us is how the world really is, and whether we have the capacity to understand how the world really is.

  22. 22
    DaveScot says:

    Carlos writes Because the fact that something appears to be designed doesn’t mean that it really is.

    If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands. — Douglas Adams

  23. 23
    tribune7 says:

    First, what lines of evidence are paleontologists overlooking which, in your considered opinion, should lead them to regard evolution as falsified?

    Consider the red blood cells found by Dr Mary Schweitzer in a T-Rex bone. It is very much appropriate to consider the cause to be mistake/pollution or DNA survival akin to bug-in-amber. BUT, I have yet to hear anybody in the scientific establishment even broach the possibility that the T-Rex is only 100,000 years old (or less), which would not seem to be unreasonable thing, considering.

    Second, even if evolutionary theory is falsified, what would a reasonable response on the part of biologists be?

    They would invite Dr. Dembski back to Baylor and stop persecuting the fellow at the Smithsonian.

    Whoa! “the mechanicist view of the reality”? “highly structured race and sex roles”? What’s going on here? I mean it — what’s really going on here?

    I’m not sure I understand your questions but by the end of the 19th century it became established that reason/science was the path to certain truth, while faith equaled superstition. This path started in the 17th century and was cemented by Newton in the 18th and by the 19th the authority of science was used to buttress claims to the inferority of women and of non-white races. With Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr et al, it is now understood that when it comes to material claims there are certain things we just have to be uncertain about and you are seeing a paradigm shift.

    What sort of changes do you envision, and why are they desirable? How would the overthrow of NDE as a scientific explanation lead to the emergence of a more just (or less cruel) society?

    If it can be re-established that man is above an animal a new perspective would be provided on policies ranging from how DDT is used in malaria zones to abortion to the purposeful destruction of embryos for research.

  24. 24
    tribune7 says:

    Because the fact that something appears to be designed doesn’t mean that it really is.

    If you can find a reason to think something that appears designed is not, fine. Otherwise, it is best to assume design.

  25. 25
    Carlos says:

    Tribune7,

    I hadn’t heard of Schweitzer’s discovery, so I looked it up and found a nice, non-technical article about it. This is really cool! Thank you!

  26. 26
    tribune7 says:

    You’re welcome.

  27. 27
    tribune7 says:

    One more thing for you Carlos:

    Some things in nature must remain a mystery to the most intelligent and enterprising investigators. Human knowledge has bounds beyond which it cannot pass. Universal knowledge is for God alone. If this be so in the things which are seen and temporal, I may rest assured that it is even more so in matters spiritual and eternal. Why, then, have I been torturing my brain with speculations as to destiny and will, fixed fate, and human responsibility? These deep and dark truths I am no more able to comprehend than to find out the depth which coucheth beneath, from which old ocean draws her watery stores. Why am I so curious to know the reason of my Lord’s providences, the motive of his actions, the design of his visitations? Shall I ever be able to clasp the sun in my fist, and hold the universe in my palm? yet these are as a drop of a bucket compared with the Lord my God. Let me not strive to understand the infinite, but spend my strength in love. What I cannot gain by intellect I can possess by affection, and let that suffice me. I cannot penetrate the heart of the sea, but I can enjoy the healthful breezes which sweep over its bosom, and I can sail over its blue waves with propitious winds. If I could enter the springs of the sea, the feat would serve no useful purpose either to myself or to others, it would not save the sinking bark, or give back the drowned mariner to his weeping wife and children; neither would my solving deep mysteries avail me a single whit, for the least love to God, and the simplest act of obedience to him, are better than the profoundest knowledge. My Lord, I leave the infinite to thee, and pray thee to put far from me such a love for the tree of knowledge as might keep me from the tree of life.

    –Charles Spurgeon

  28. 28
    Carlos says:

    Re: Douglas Adams: touche, monsieur!

    Re: “the mechanistic view of reality”: before the rise of modern science, slavery and patriarchy were justified on religious grounds. With the rise of modern science, racism and sexism were justified on scientific grounds. That no more licenses the inference that science is wrong than it licenses the inference that religion is wrong. And if we insist on rejecting all beliefs that have been used as justification for evil, we’re not going to end up with any beliefs at all. (Which might not be such a bad thing.)

    Steven Toulmin, in his excellent book Cosmopolis, coins the phrase “the Newtonian cosmopolis” as a way of referring to a set of widely shared 17th and 18th century assumptions about the structure of the natural and social worlds. But he also shows — and this point has been reinforced elsewhere — that Darwin played a major role in undermining the Newtonian cosmopolis. He did so by underscoring the importance of variation and contingency — the natural world is not a clockwork mechanism.

    I interpret Darwin’s work as consistent with more contemporary work in complexity theory which shows, in Brian Goodwin’s terms, that nature is intelligible but unpredictable. And this leads, in very short order, to rethinking what something must be like in order to count as science, because it suggests that predictability is not central to science “as such,” but only to the picture of science suggested by Newtonian mechanics.

    Re: social reform. The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit has written (in The Decent Society) that a “decent society” is one in which institutions do not humiliate people, and that a “civilized society” is one in which people do not humiliate each other. What I’d like to know is this: supposing that a decent and civilized society is desirable, how would replacing (or supplementing) NDE with ID help us build a more decent and civilized society? Eliminating abortion and embryonic stem cell research are a good start. What else?

  29. 29
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    –Punchline: the fact that there are irremediable flaws in Newtonian mechanics isn’t used as justification for “teaching the controversy” between Newton and Aristotle. So why should the existence of irremediable flaws in Darwinism be used as justification for “teaching the controversy” between Darwin and Aristotle?

    1. But the flaws in Newtonian mechanics ARE taught. That’s why there is no controversy.

    2. What do you see as the irremediable flaws in NDE?

    3. I think that replacing NDE and a materialistic explanation for the cosmos would infuse life with inherent meaning, which it currently lacks for many in the current paradigm. NDE plays right into “might makes right,” even if it seems a sad reality to the proponent, they consider it enexorable. You may point out that religions have also used their scriptures to justify might makes right. However, it can easily be shown that when they have done so they have used a mangled or incomplete interpretation, with plenty of strong contradictory teachings available, whereas with materialism and NDE the lack of inherent meaning is fundamental to its core.

    Tribune7-

    I’m sorry to say that while Spurgeon wrote most beautifully and poetically and expressed some fine sentiments, I found his whole viewpoint quite disheartening. I certainly hate to think that I have within my nature fundamental longings and aspirations which can never be filled, even with an eternity at my disposal. The only reason for his limitations to be true is that he envisions us forever confined to a narrow sense of self with narrow, bodily-type senses. Must we be forever imprisoned in our little ego-selves? The religions of the east hold out hope that we can expand into freedom.

  30. 30
    tribune7 says:

    Carlos — And if we insist on rejecting all beliefs that have been used as justification for evil,

    But we don’t have to reject beliefs that have been used to justify evil. We do have to reject the belief that evil doesn’t exist, and we do have to reject those beliefs that call evil good.

    avocationist, if I knew everything, I’d be bored 🙂

  31. 31
    Carlos says:

    1. But the flaws in Newtonian mechanics ARE taught. That’s why there is no controversy.

    Newtonian mechanics was taught as “fact” in my high school, and I’d guess that’s more or less standard practice — students simply don’t have the math skills to handle QM or GR until later on.

    2. What do you see as the irremediable flaws in NDE?

    NDE cannot explain the source of phenotypic variation. That is, it cannot show how random mutation produces phenotypic variation, only that it does so.

    The integration of embryology/developmental biology into NDE, in what’s become known as “evo devo” (evolutionary devolopmental biology), holds out a great deal of promise in overcoming this problem. But it’s a young science, and hard to judge. I’ve also recently learned of a similar line of thought in The Plausibility of Life, which is somewhere on the winter reading list, and may contain ideas that could resolve the dilemmas currently besetting NDE.

    My own pet theory, as I’ve indicated elsewhere here, is complexity theory, and I think that NDE will eventually need to be situated within a broader theoretical context inspired by complexity theory and by autopoeisis theory. This means, in one sense, teleology is to be explained, not dismissed. (Putting Aristotle on the back of Democritus, one might say.)

    replacing NDE and a materialistic explanation for the cosmos would infuse life with inherent meaning, which it currently lacks for many in the current paradigm. NDE plays right into “might makes right,” even if it seems a sad reality to the proponent, they consider it enexorable.

    Firstly, whether or not life lacks “inherent meaning” for “many in the current paradigm” has a lot more to do with the rise of narcissism and deterioration of community and tradition due to industrialism and post-industrialism than it has with what a bunch of scientists think. Now, it’s true that some laissez-faire capitalists have used Darwinism to justify their depredations of the less fortunate, but for every Herbert Spencer there’s a John Dewey. And before the rich used Darwinism to justify their exploitation of the poor, they used the Bible.

    If their use of the Bible was a misuse — and I’m quite happy to concede that it was! — I don’t see the grounds for holding that their use of Darwinism is not also a misuse. The two situations seem quite nicely parallel to me, and although it’s very clear to me that many, if not most, of the participants here insist that there’s an asymmetry, I myself don’t see it.

    Secondly, the reason why I keep coming back to John Dewey — although I could also use Richard Rorty in this respect — is to show that there’s a deep disconnect between acceptance of evolutionary theory and the refusal to speak to truth to power.

    In order to motivate the inference that, if Darwinism is true, then there’s no point in fighting against injustice and oppression, one would have to believe that the only kind of value or meaning which is worth a dam is an absolute value or meaning. But since that’s not available, from Darwinism it’s a buttery slope to nihilism. I’m not convinced of that inference — not by a long shot — and part of why I’m not convinced is because of Nietzsche and Dewey — Nietzsche for his celebration of art and of life, Dewey for his commitment to ethical and political solidarity. Both show, in distinctive and perhaps incompatible ways, how meaning and value, of a non-absolute sort, are consistent with acceptance of a broadly Darwinian, non-mechanistic world-picture. I could also refer to Bergson or Whitehead here, but I know Nietzsche and Dewey better.

    (It’s relevant to the story I want to tell that there was nihilism before Darwin. Here I’m leaning on both Nihilism Before Nietzsche by Michael Gillespie and Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism. So if nihilism and Darwinism are separable, then combatting the former doesn’t require combatting the latter.)

  32. 32
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    “Newtonian mechanics was taught as “fact” in my high school, ”

    OK, that’s probably true but you can see the situations are not similar.

    “The integration of embryology/developmental biology into NDE, in what’s become known as “evo devo” (evolutionary devolopmental biology), holds out a great deal of promise in overcoming this problem. ”

    ‘Overcoming’ it in the sense of learning more about it, but I predict it will not strengthen the case for NDE. I suspect, probably based upon my reading of the infamous Meyer paper, that we are only just beginning to plumb the depths of complexity involved in living organisms.

    I looked up the link to The Plausibility of Life as well as autopoeisis theory. Certainly they are intriguing and I cannot even begin to comment, except to say that they hold out promise for a system(s) that is so wonderfully organized and elegant, as to defy the possibility of atheism/materialism. Rather like Denton’s “Nature’s Destiny” idea of the organization of the cosmos, elements, and laws of nature toward life and human-like beings. In other words, even if we find these self-organizing principles and watch them in action, in the end it becomes more and more implausible to deny that something akin to the word God is at the root of it all.

    One possibility that comes to mind when facing a fantastic system is to suspect frontloading. Another one that is oddly appealing to me as a mystic, is the self-organizing type of idea. The reason I like it is that it fits in with my nondual philosophy. If God is all that exists, then of course this entire cosmos is self-organizing. What else could it be? And it amuses me that pure atheism can be so similar to nondual, panentheistic philosophy. So close yet so far.

    “Firstly, whether or not life lacks “inherent meaning” for “many in the current paradigm” has a lot more to do with the rise of narcissism and deterioration of community and tradition due to industrialism and post-industrialism than it has with what a bunch of scientists think.”

    I see your point but cannot entirely agree. I have talked to too many college kids on another forum and their worldview is definitely infused with the “no inherent meaning” that Darwinism implies. Note the rise in antidepressant use among the young, which is only partly caused by dismal nutrition. Now, as to our lonely society, you are right again, but there is a deep problem with people, for example atheists, who say that they have no belief yet they are happy and find life meaningful. The problem is this: that if I am right and God is the source of all life and existence, and we are infused with our life from God, and this is available to all people all the time albeit they are only dimly aware of it, then they will find life meaningful regardless of their beliefs because LIFE IS INHERENTLY meaningful. Beliefs are important, but they can lie on the surface of a personality.

    Do you see what I am saying? People seem to assume that they live in the universe of their choice. We either live in a God-universe or a non-God-universe. And we don’t know which – but it is one or the other, not both.

    “If their use of the Bible was a misuse — and I’m quite happy to concede that it was! — I don’t see the grounds for holding that their use of Darwinism is not also a misuse. The two situations seem quite nicely parallel to me, and although it’s very clear to me that many, if not most, of the participants here insist that there’s an asymmetry, I myself don’t see it.”

    Carlos, I often see parallels between Darwinists and the religious, but here I don’t. Darwin said he expected the inferior races (and he mostly meant blacks) would be wiped out within about 100 years. This is the obvious interpretation of survival of the fittest. It drove Marx and Engels, it drove not only Hitler but many influential persons of that time within Germany, and I am convinced it ruined Nietzsche as a philosopher.

    -” is to show that there’s a deep disconnect between acceptance of evolutionary theory and the refusal to speak to truth to power.”

    Please explain.

    Re your final paragraph about nihilism and justice, we run into the same problem I mentioned above. Let us say for the sake of argument that I am right – the uncreated energies of God permeate all things and while we are not consciously aware of it, it gives us sustenance psychically and emotionally. It doesn’t matter so much if a person believes this or that. But their level of spiritual development WILL influence how they choose to interpret their scripture or their Darwinism. God may be known inwardly through the intuitive faculties, but just bare belief in God’s existence is only a beginning. Take our Dave Scot for example. His mind is unconvinced of the existence of God, but he loves animals and has a strong sense of compassion and justice. These are signs of equal or greater merit than a belief held by the mind. I know I am long-winded here, but we cannot decide these questions based upon what I would call an outward belief, i.e., if a person does not believe in God we assume that they are an example of what materialism does to a person. But at the same time, people’s hold upon their inner intuition is weak, therefore worldviews do impact their behavior. And I think that the non-absolute values you mention are really absolute values, which are not acknowledged as such.

  33. 33
    Joseph says:

    Carlos:
    If a Homo erectus were found in Jurassic strata, it would be game over for NDE. And that’s a just one, fairly trivial example.

    Seeing that NDE doesn’t predict Home erectus I don’t see how that scenario would falsify it. All that would do is change some thinking. And the most it could falsify is the history of life.

    Carlos:
    By contrast, if they found a wine glass or a Homo erectus in Jurassic strata, that would blow to smithereens the entire paleontological story, and NDE would go up in flames along with it.

    Just repeating the same ole thing isn’t going to make it true. The history of life should not be confused with any theory of evolution.

    Perhaps you should read “Forbidden Archeology”. Just like the evidence presented in it a Homo erectus in the Jurassic would be explained away.

  34. 34
    mike1962 says:

    avocation: “Must we be forever imprisoned in our little ego-selves? The religions of the east hold out hope that we can expand into freedom.”

    Please don’t confuse Spurgeon with Christianity. Certain traditions, particularly the eastern Orthrodox traditions, pay more attention to the final state of redeemed, glorified man, as essentially god-like in character and power. The New Testament contains several statements to this effect.

  35. 35
    Carlos says:

    Re: (32)

    You mentioned that complexity theory or autopoeisis “hold out promise for a system(s) that is so wonderfully organized and elegant, as to defy the possibility of atheism/materialism.” In some sense I can agree even with this, but only in so far as these theories yield a holistic, rather than reductionist, picture of the cosmos and our place in it.

    If God is all that exists, then of course this entire cosmos is self-organizing. What else could it be? And it amuses me that pure atheism can be so similar to nondual, panentheistic philosophy. So close yet so far.

    Yes — it’s worth noting that this is the problem that Spinoza confronted — he was accused of atheism because he denied a transcendent deity. — but the poet and philosopher Novalis referred to him as “the God-intoxicated man,” who was so in love with God that everything became divine.

    What I would dispute is that the system is teleologically structured. It is one thing to say that we would not be here if the laws of physics were even slightly different than they are, if the earth were not the right distance from the sun and contained the right combination of water, carbon, oxygen, etc. It is another thing to say that this was all somehow planned out in advance. In short, the remarkable series of fortuitous events that resulted in our coming into existence does not make us anything more than “a glorious accident.”

    Whether we are a glorious accident or the final product of a teleological result is a metaphysical debate, and one that’s very interesting and worth having. But I see the metaphysical debate as separate from the religious dimensions of the problem.

    As a moderate Jew, I come from a long tradition in which religion was a practical and ethical matter, and in which metaphysical speculation played a comparatively minor role. This may shed some light on why I’m willing to concede metaphysics entirely to science while insisting on the conceptual autonomy of religion and theology.

    I have talked to too many college kids on another forum and their worldview is definitely infused with the “no inherent meaning” that Darwinism implies.

    My sense of the matter is that the opposite of spirituality is narcissism. In other words, being infused with a spiritual sensibility is an affective or “psychological” matter, not a conceptual-rational one. If someone is deficient in that sensibility, but then reaches for a conceptual vocabulary with which to explain this deficiency — even to himself! — then the Darwinian framework is a good candidate. But that doesn’t show that accepting the Darwinian framework leads to the deficit in spiritual sensibility.

    Note the rise in antidepressant use among the young, which is only partly caused by dismal nutrition.

    Plus deterioration of the nuclear family, the stress of having both parents (if both are even present!) working at least one full-time job, etc. (I don’t see how “Darwinism” can possibly be blamed for any of this.)

    -” is to show that there’s a deep disconnect between acceptance of evolutionary theory and the refusal to speak to truth to power.”

    Please explain.

    What I meant was this: some anti-Darwinians, as I’ve encountered here and elsewhere, assume that if NDE is correct, then there’s no alternative to “might makes right.” But this is morally repugnant. So, in order to avoid the cynicism of “might makes right,” they think that NDE itself must be refuted.

    My stance is that, firstly, the “might makes right” cynicism is much older than Darwin — one can find it well represented in ancient Greece, for example. At best Darwinism is used to dress up an old notion in some fancy scientitic lingo.

    But, supposing someone wants to fight injustice and speak truth to power, does it follow that that person should eschew Darwinian explanations for complex biological phenomena? I don’t think so, and neither did John Dewey. That’s one of the main reasons why he’s one of my philosophical heroes, even though he’s not a very rigorous thinker or clear writer. And he makes for a nice riposte whenever a cultural anti-Darwinian mentions Hitler, Stalin, or even Rockefeller.

  36. 36
    Carlos says:

    Is it true that NDE doesn’t predict Homo erectus? The theory does predict that, between any two species, there will be various intermediate species, and that evidence of shared descent is empirically detectable (i.e. by fossils, by molecular and genetic similarites, etc.).

    So it would predict that there would be some intermediaries between humans and other life forms, in particular the other hominoids, and it would predict that these intermediaries would be found in strata younger than the last common ancestor of humans and other hominioids.

    Thus, although it wouldn’t predict the exact anatomy or provenience of Homo erectus, it would come fairly close. And if a Homo erectus were found in Jurassic strata, there’d be no way NDE could explain it.

    The history of life should not be confused with any theory of evolution.

    OK — but one of the things that NDE does is it allows us to understand and explain the history of life. No other contemporary theory can do that. Whereas if our understanding of the history of life suddenly changes, as with an unexpected discovery (the hundred-million year old H. erectus), then the previousl accepted explanation must be rejected, and something more like ID or special creation would make a lot more sense.

  37. 37
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    Where is the edit feature, so that I can use italics?

    –“In some sense I can agree even with this, but only in so far as these theories yield a holistic, rather than reductionist, picture of the cosmos and our place in it.”

    I agree with what I think you might be saying. As a monist, I see the universe very holistically. I guess, if I understand your drift, I would say that the religious point of view is too reductionist for me as well as the materialist.

    –“Yes — it’s worth noting that this is the problem that Spinoza confronted — he was accused of atheism because he denied a transcendent deity. — but the poet and philosopher Novalis referred to him as “the God-intoxicated man,” who was so in love with God that everything became divine.”

    Ha, ha! That’s me.

    –“What I would dispute is that the system is teleologically structured. It is one thing to say that we would not be here if the laws of physics were even slightly different than they are, if the earth were not the right distance from the sun and contained the right combination of water, carbon, oxygen, etc. It is another thing to say that this was all somehow planned out in advance. In short, the remarkable series of fortuitous events that resulted in our coming into existence does not make us anything more than “a glorious accident.”

    The glorious accident approach is very unimpressive to me. As to how or whether it was planned, I am of two minds on that. It depends on the nature of God. It seems that either it was planned via a Supreme Intelligence, or that the nature of God is intrinsically intelligent, perfect, and tends toward rightness. But those aspects of biological organisms which give rise to the ID position appear very deliberately designed by a mind, therefore I propose that if the supreme Godhead is more impersonal than personal, there are other, lesser culprits responsible.

    –“But I see the metaphysical debate as separate from the religious dimensions of the problem. As a moderate Jew, I come from a long tradition in which religion was a practical and ethical matter, and in which metaphysical speculation played a comparatively minor role. This may shed some light on why I’m willing to concede metaphysics entirely to science while insisting on the conceptual autonomy of religion and theology.”

    You concede metaphysics to science but not to religion? That is certainly an interesting take on things. Perhaps the reason for your above is the Jewish emphasis on laws, and perhaps a lot of people have remained Jews out of loyalty and identity, and not with the religion being primary, as is the case with Christianity. So now I am curious – do you believe in God at all?

    –“In other words, being infused with a spiritual sensibility is an affective or “psychological” matter, not a conceptual-rational one. If someone is deficient in that sensibility, but then reaches for a conceptual vocabulary with which to explain this deficiency — even to himself! — then the Darwinian framework is a good candidate. But that doesn’t show that accepting the Darwinian framework leads to the deficit in spiritual sensibility.”

    You are saying something very similar to what I said. But many things affect a person’s sensibilities, and while a sound emotional upbringing is best, the news that one hears from others regarding ultimate questions, especially if one grows up without spiritual input in childhood when the brain is developing, can definitely make a difference.

    –“What I meant was this: some anti-Darwinians, as I’ve encountered here and elsewhere, assume that if NDE is correct, then there’s no alternative to “might makes right.” But this is morally repugnant. So, in order to avoid the cynicism of “might makes right,” they think that NDE itself must be refuted.”

    I think there is a lot more going on than that. The moral implications are secondary to a general sense that materialism is incorrect, that God is real, and defining own natures – are we more than molecules?

    –“My stance is that, firstly, the “might makes right” cynicism is much older than Darwin — one can find it well represented in ancient Greece, for example. At best Darwinism is used to dress up an old notion in some fancy scientitic lingo.”

    Sure, might makes right must have driven the age of empires. They seem like spiritual toddlers to me. So three-year-olds are not high minded. But you can’t get away from the implications of materialistic reductionism. It would be very nice if we humans would make the best world possible in which the most people can have a long, pain-free and propserous life, but if matter is all there is, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing does.

    –“But, supposing someone wants to fight injustice and speak truth to power, does it follow that that person should eschew Darwinian explanations for complex biological phenomena?”

    No! No padding of worldviews! Truth first.

    –“I don’t think so, and neither did John Dewey. That’s one of the main reasons why he’s one of my philosophical heroes, even though he’s not a very rigorous thinker or clear writer. And he makes for a nice riposte whenever a cultural anti-Darwinian mentions Hitler, Stalin, or even Rockefeller.”

    I don’t know enough about Dewey to comment.

  38. 38
    Carlos says:

    Where is the edit feature, so that I can use italics?

    WordPress supports some HTML tags. To italicize, put before the line to be italicized (but take out the spaces in front of and behind the i) and put a afterwards, to close off the italics. See here for a list of tags you can use. I don’t know if WordPress supports all of them for comment boxes.

    The glorious accident approach is very unimpressive to me.

    Interesting remark! May I ask why you find it unimpressive?

    You concede metaphysics to science but not to religion? That is certainly an interesting take on things. Perhaps the reason for your above is the Jewish emphasis on laws, and perhaps a lot of people have remained Jews out of loyalty and identity, and not with the religion being primary, as is the case with Christianity. So now I am curious – do you believe in God at all?

    I do believe in God. But I don’t consider God to be anything identifiable within an empirical theory. The terms that are used within an empirical theory are used univocally and literally. But one cannot do so with respect to God without denying his transcendence and incomprehensibility. On the other hand, of course, we cannot not speak of and to God. So there is a deep paradox in theological and religious discourse which does not arise when one speaks of chairs and protons. And I do not deny that God reveals Himself — though the structure of the Revelation is entirely different for Christians, Jews, and Muslims — but that we cannot speak univocally and literally about who is revealed when God reveals Himself. There is a Jewish tradition which calls God “Ha-Shem,” which means “the Name.” I find this a powerful and precise way of talking about God — God’s name is the Name, the pure Name, of which all human predicates fall drastically short.

    I suppose I should admit that part of my resistance to intelligent design became very clear to me a few days ago. I’d come across Dembski’s Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science and Theology. I’m interested in the evo vs ID vs creationism debate because I take my science very seriously and I take my theology very seriously. But it suddenly became clear to me that I don’t see the need for a bridge between them.

    According to a story I’d heard, the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe once said that the difference between a believer and an atheist is like the difference between seeing the stained-glass windows from the outside and seeing them from the inside. This is a profound difference, but it is not a difference that stands or falls with scientific theories.

    But you can’t get away from the implications of materialistic reductionism. It would be very nice if we humans would make the best world possible in which the most people can have a long, pain-free and propserous life, but if matter is all there is, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing does.

    See, this is a real sticking point for me. This would be right if the only concept of meaningfulness or value available were a “Platonic” concept — in which something is meaningful or valuable if and only if it is absolutely so — absolutely sub specie aeternitatis, “under the aspect of eternity,” in Spinoza’s magnificent phrase. But I don’t think that this is only picture of meaningfulness or value which is available. It’s enough for something to be meaningful or valuable if it contributes to the cultivation of human capacities, and the cultivation of human capacities is intrinsically good. Now, that’s not enough for you — clearly — but it does indicate a way of proceeding here which gives up on absolutism without sliding all the way to relativism or nihilism.

  39. 39
    avocationist says:

    Carlos, (hope I get the italics right)

    It may be I don’t understand the Glorious Accident idea well enough, but it doesn’t impress me because it seems so unlikely to be the case. I find it almost silly. Again, atheism is so close in a bizarre way, because I find the glorious accident that there is a God utterly improbable and perplexing.

    [i] I don’t consider God to be anything identifiable within an empirical theory. The terms that are used within an empirical theory are used univocally and literally. But one cannot do so with respect to God without denying his transcendence and incomprehensibility. [/i]

    One thing I have tried to express numerous times with little success is the error of considering God separate from nature. If all of nature emanates out of God and if we then study nature, how can we suppose that nature will bear no hallmarks of that, that which is its very essence and composition? I thought you wanted holism? And just because we study the simplest aspects of the entire totality of reality, and use unequivocal empirical terms, how does that mean we have confined God to it, or that he becomes comprehensible thereby?

    [i] I do not deny that God reveals Himself — though the structure of the Revelation is entirely different for Christians, Jews, and Muslims — [/i]

    They seem identical to me. They mirror each other. I’ve been thinking of writing an essay to that effect.

    If I were to name God, I would say, the Existent One.

    You say you see no need for a bridge between science and theology. This is a serious lack of ambition! This is Reality we are talking about, the great quest, the immense puzzle. And you want to compartentalize the fact that God must be the source of reality from science, which is the study of whatever aspects of reality we can reach to study. It is an incoherent disconnect, although many share it. I feel an emotional resistance here, and I wish I understood the why of it better. If you can, explain it.

    [i] According to a story I’d heard, the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe once said that the difference between a believer and an atheist is like the difference between seeing the stained-glass windows from the outside and seeing them from the inside. This is a profound difference, but it is not a difference that stands or falls with scientific theories. [/i]

    This, if I understand your point, is a reiteration of your idea that scientific ideas are just puny little things here on the ground, whereas God is so lofty we can barely examine him at all, let alone expect that his universe shows any signs of being differentiatable from an eternal mass of dead matter.
    ***
    I don’t deny the value of all good things as you mention. And no doubt I would prefer nonsuffering to suffering regardless of posessing a soul. I don’t say they are only good if they are absolutely good – rather I say that the absolute good is the core of our universe and all good things are good insofar they compare with it, and without the absolute good we have no universe at all so it is almost useless to speculate about what reality would be like if there is no God, which is really what we are doing.

    A main reason I say nothing would matter is that this glorious accident would eventually end, and all poignancy and insight would never have occurred nor be likely to occur again, all memory wiped out forever and ever, as good as if it never happened. Everything in vain. Every triumph and every suffering.

    You say cultivation of human capacities is intrinsically good. I say you have not turtled down far enough. Why is the cultivation of human capacities intrinsically good?

  40. 40
    Carlos says:

    Avocationist,

    Italics requires the brackets, not the [ ] ones. Now, on with the show!

    The “atheist” thinks that the universe is utterly amazing and without further explanation. The “theist” thinks that the universe can be explained by reference to God, who is utterly amazing and without further explanation. It’s just one more turtle further down. But if that’s all that invoking God is going to do for us, why bother? One might argue that God is self-caused, but if the property “being self-caused” is a genuine property at all, why not ascribe it to the universe, and save oneself the extra step?

    I don’t say this because I think that’s correct, but to show that mere metaphysical speculation is not going to separate the goats from the sheep.

    If someone were to be convinced of the existence of God on the basis of metaphysical argument alone, I would wonder if that person had not simply fallen into the quicksand of metaphysical illusion, and was — in some sense — really praying, not to God, but to an idol.

    Even if nature emanates from God, it doesn’t follow that the conceptual frameworks that work for the lowest emanation (physical reality) also work for the source. Panentheism, like traditional theism, must try to accomodate the thought of God’s transcendence, and that commits one to a series of irresolvable paradoxes. Every attempt that I know of to resolve those paradoxes results either in denying God’s transcendence altogether (i.e. Spinozism) or in denying that we can speak of God in any sense whatsoever (apophaticism).

    We have no choice, it seems, but to embrace and affirm paradox. But this is not the case when it comes to empirical theories or logical systems. In those cases, a precise, univocal meaning — whether of an object or of a concept — is desirable and attainable. This is why I think that theology and science are really very different critters, both of which play an indispensable role in the life of a culture and an important role in a well-lived human life.

    They seem identical to me. They mirror each other. I’ve been thinking of writing an essay to that effect.

    The structure and content seem importantly different. In Judaism and in Islam, the revelation is a text — Torah and Koran. In Christianity, the revelation is a person — Jesus Christ. (Although Jesus is identified with the Logos, the Word, in John.)

    You say cultivation of human capacities is intrinsically good. I say you have not turtled down far enough. Why is the cultivation of human capacities intrinsically good?

    First, may I say that I adore, “not turtled down far enough”? I will use this at every opportunity.

    Second, the cultivation of human capacities is intrinsically good because we don’t need to go any further in order to explain why some forms of social organization are better or worse than others.

    Suppose that one asks this question and receives a theistic answer: we should cultivate human capacities because that how God intended us to be. OK. But why should I care about how God intended us to be? Because he’ll punish or reward me accordingly after my corporeal demise? Well, why should I care about that? etc.

    That’s the thing with turtling down — one can never stop, unless provided with a good reason not to. My reason for not turtling down further than “cultivating human capacities” is that it’s a metaphysically neutral stopping point — what you see as a weakness is what I see as a strength. It’s a strength because it can appeal to different people from different traditions — it’s a common ground. Christians will have reasons for accepting it, as will Jews and Buddhists and atheists. One doesn’t need to go any further in order to explain the thing that needs explaining, which is why some forms of social organization are better than others, and that’s all one needs in order to speak truth to power.

    Contrary to what Plato himself thought, one needn’t be a Platonist about the Good in order to be a good social critic.

  41. 41
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    The “atheist” thinks that the universe is utterly amazing and without further explanation. The “theist” thinks that the universe can be explained by reference to God, who is utterly amazing and without further explanation. It’s just one more turtle further down. But if that’s all that invoking God is going to do for us, why bother? One might argue that God is self-caused, but if the property “being self-caused” is a genuine property at all, why not ascribe it to the universe, and save oneself the extra step?

    Well, I find one to be simple-minded and inadequate, while the other at least brings you to the brick wall of incomprehension of ultimate reality. I think there is no chance the universe could cause itself. This is precisely why the turtle thing is funny – that there must be a shift from the turtle to something utterly different in property. And yes, I think that being self-caused or uncaused is THE fundamental property of God. I like to think that is what the American Indians referred to as the Great Mystery.

    Matter as we know just does not fit the bill. Now, I happen to think that matter as we know it is really matter that is the tip of the iceberg of a very mysterious substance, and that the God mystery is intertwined with it. So if one thinks that matter is self-caused, then matter is far deeper in its aspects than we can see. And this brings us to the problem you mention, of transcendence, but I see no reason why we should not consider the monistic or panentheistic God transcendent, because we are perceivers stuck in a narrow band of perception (and probably of dimensions).

    And secondly, the ‘extra step’ opens up the possibility of a far more interesting universe – God, consciousness, soul, purpose, endless mystery.

    I don’t say this because I think that’s correct, but to show that mere metaphysical speculation is not going to separate the goats from the sheep.

    What sheep? What goats? Metaphysical speculation as opposed to what? I am deeply convinced of the reality of God for the logical/intuitive reason that only something utterly profound in its properties can account for existence.

    ..really praying, not to God, but to an idol.

    If one’s ideas of God are quite false, then we are praying to idols. But we can’t help it – we can only strive to improve our state of ignorance. It has been years since I prayed. Mostly I simply contemplate the existence, reality and nature of God.

    I was not aware that panentheism involves irresolvable paradoxes. Perhaps you should tell me what it means that God is transcendent. I do have a problem allowing for a personal God, as it seems an anthropomorphism and not to fit in with a God who is infinite. If God is infinite, how can he be an ego? Yet it feels personal.

    The structure and content seem importantly different. In Judaism and in Islam, the revelation is a text — Torah and Koran. In Christianity, the revelation is a person — Jesus Christ. (Although Jesus is identified with the Logos, the Word, in John.) But prophets revealed the texts. And Christianity reveres texts as infallibly inspired, as does Islam. How about Judaism – do they revere their texts as divinely inspired, or just the Torah, or not the Torah? So Christianity elevated their prophet to a divinity. I believe that was a mistake, and there is more good argument for that position, even scripturally, than you might think. Early Christians believed a wide variety of doctrines. Certainly, it took a good while for even the disciples to really ‘get’ that Jesus was not just a human messiah. (One reason I am no longer Christian is that I reject the trinity doctrine, altho, after reading the Dobzhansky thread, perhaps I am too hasty.)

    Suppose that one asks this question and receives a theistic answer: we should cultivate human capacities because that how God intended us to be. OK. But why should I care about how God intended us to be? Because he’ll punish or reward me accordingly after my corporeal demise? Well, why should I care about that? etc.

    No, no telling stories. All things which are good as opposed to painful, are good because they foster life. Life is instrinsically good, comes from God, is one step away from the core of reality. I say one step because that which we think of as life (of the body) is probably one derivation away from a kind of life possessed by God which I might call existence-life, or Being. It is deeper than birth and death.
    Morality grows as one’s understanding grows and one realizes that we are all partakers of one life, from one source. It is a mistake to think that morality can ever be commanded. That isn’t morality. The only one who can live in heaven prefers the good in his own nature. That is why one of the epistles says, “He who does not love his brother does not know God.” So it’s simple. Theologians can dress up their doctrines with all the talk of pleasing God or vicarious atonement or judgement days, but that is a spiritual law, and it is immutable.

    It’s a strength because it can appeal to different people from different traditions — it’s a common ground. A very useful approach, I agree, but we were not talking strategy here.

    That’s the thing with turtling down — one can never stop, That is precisely the clue that tells you that you must stop, but can only stop via a paradigm shift.

  42. 42
    Carlos says:

    Re: the Great Mystery, Wanka Tanka. (I have a friend who is trained in the Lakota medicine tradition, so I know a little bit of this stuff.) I wonder what you make of this?

    Let’s try to stop this crude and abusive slicing of reality into Nature and nurture, or Nature and human, or matter and mind. Nothing exists only in itself: everything is related in some way to everything else. Nevertheless, to think simplistically of ‘Nature in itself’ is for us nurtured, civilized being to think Nature, or experience it, however glancingly and misleadingly. How can we refer to anything in any way meaningfully unless we assume that it is experienceable
    in some way and to some extent by us? Even if we imagine reaches of Nature in space-time not to be actually experienceable by us, it is still our imagining, our experiencing in the mode of imagining. And in so imagining we do get something meaningful to us: the ultimately mysterious. The Plains Indians named this Wakan Tanka, and other tribes used cognate locutions. They are best translated as the Great Mystery.

    By “goats and sheep,” I meant that metaphysical arguments alone are not going to determine the shape of one’s spiritual life, if one even has a spiritual life, nor are such arguments going to determine whether the concept of “God” will play an important role in that life.

    In Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Kierkegaard compares someone who has a correct concept of God, but who lacks the right kind of existential orientation, with someone who lacks the correct concept and prays to an idol, but who has the right kind of existential orientation. He argues that the first person is really an idolater, even though he has true metaphysical beliefs, and the second person truly prays to the one true God, even though his metaphysical beliefs are false.

    That’s part of what I was getting at when I tried to distinguish between theology and metaphysics.

    Re: transcendence. When we say that God is transcendent, we are saying that God is utterly different from all created things. But how, then, can we speak about him? Our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite (so the argument goes), and our language cannot describe that which is utterly different. On the other hand, we cannot not speak about and to God. But we cannot speak about and to Him in a literal sense.

    If I say “the coffee is too hot,” what I mean is that the coffe is too hot. If I say “God is the ground of all being,” what do I mean? I’m not entirely sure of what I mean, although I mean something. If pressed to give an account of what I mean, I might just say something else just as metaphorical or polysemantic.

    Re: God as a person. I recently heard a radio discusson (available on-line) between two prominent philosophers, Hilary Putnam and Alvin Plantinga. Putnam tells a story of how he’d once asked Plantinga if God was a person, and Plantinga replied, “He is not less than a person” (i.e. he may be more than just a person). I like this very much; God appears to us as a person, as a face, because that is how we are. God-in-Himself (En Sof, as the Kabbalists say) cannot be understood as a person, or understood in any human terms at all.

    That is precisely the clue that tells you that you must stop, but can only stop via a paradigm shift.

    I’d like to shift gears slightly and ask, what if our need for paradigms is part of the problem?

  43. 43
    avocationist says:

    Carlos,

    You have a really fine mind and I greatly enjoy talking with you. With one more blogpost, this conversation will slip under water, and that is fine by me.

    What I make of your quoted section is that the first paragraph aligns pretty well with my sense of things, whereas the second paragraph backs off and leaves me disappointed.

    Re goats and sheep. I relate thusly. Somewhat like Tina Brewer, I think there is a spiritual capacity that is dormant, for whatever reason, and that it needs to be awakened. This awakening has been called by different names, but it is what Jesus meant by being born again. It has nothing to do with a belief in God or an intellectual assent to doctrine, nor baptism. I liken it to having a candle that gets lit. Until that candle gets lit, your spiritual journey has not begun. And this is the case with most people, and has little to do with their religious loyalties. So if what you are saying is that the intellect alone is not sufficient, then I agree.

    Yes, Kierkegaard, I like him.

    I guess I do not really ascribe to the kind of transcendence that you speak of. That is, I do not see nor believe possible this kind of disconnect of nature from God. Rather I see reality as a totality that is included within God but that the true nature of our reality is utterly transcendent to what it appears if we just look at it materialistically – and that transcendence IS God. Or, perhaps I could put it like this: There is no material world. There is one world, one reality, and it is spiritual. We perceive a narrow band of it and suspect or intuit that there is more, much more, so we call it supernatural and imagine it to be utterly estranged from us. Really, what little I know of Kabbala seems to corroborate this, in that they have this little map of how the spiritual-transcendent condenses by degrees into matter.

    But to put it more accurately, from a nondual viewpoint, we cannot call reality either spiritual or material, no name can be applied because they only have meaning in context of their opposite.

    If I say “God is the ground of all being,” what do I mean? I’m not entirely sure of what I mean, although I mean something.

    Ha, ha! You are right. Well, they say that language is inadequate, but I also think that language could be a lot more adequate if more people experienced elevated spiritual states and gave names for it, and could relate it to their own experience. Like they say, eskimos have 40 words for snow.

    I think I had heard of that remark, that God is not less than a person. I’m afraid it is rather like your ground of being – what does it really mean? Especially when we don’t really know what sort of beings we ourselves are and in what way we partake of (made in the image of) the divine? All I know is it feels like I love someone, and I rather hope it isn’t me.

    I’d like to shift gears slightly and ask, what if our need for paradigms is part of the problem? Oh, yes, indeed it is! This is what I like about zen Buddhism – they openly set out to destroy all the false concepts (which is all of them) because they are almost entirely hindrances.

  44. 44
    avocationist says:

    Uh-oh, when I said it was fine for it to slip underwater, I just meant that we are less likely to get in trouble for talking all this philosophy because few people will look at the next page.

  45. 45
    Carlos says:

    How about Judaism – do they revere their texts as divinely inspired, or just the Torah, or not the Torah?

    According to traditional (i.e. Orthodox) Judaism, God dictated to Moses written Torah (the Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch) and also gave him the oral Torah. The oral Torah tells us how to interpret the written Torah. The oral Torah was transmitted personally, from Moses to Joshua, etc. until it was finally written down as the Babylonian Talmud. Therefore, the Talmud has the same divine authority as the Pentateuch.

    By contrast, orthodox Jews do not believe — to the best of my knowledge — that the rest of the Old Testament was given to Moses by God — although they do believe that it was divinely inspired and infallible.

    Likewise, Muslims regard the Koran as dictated to Muhammed. Interestingly, however, Islam introduces two intermediaries absent in Judaism. According to Judaism, God Himself dictated Torah to Moses, who wrote it down. According to Islam, the Koran was recited by the Archangel Gibreal (Gabriel) to Muhammed, and Muhammed — who himself was illiterate — then recited it to his followers. It was only after Muhammed’s death that one of his scribes collected together all the pieces of the Koran that had been written down and redacted them into the Koran. So there’s an intermediary between Allah and the Prophet — the Archangel — and an intermediary between the chosen human conduit and the written text — the work of the scribe Zaid ibn Thaabit.

  46. 46
    avocationist says:

    Certainly, these ideas were copied by Christians and Muslims.

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