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Silly arguments against God, by very clever writers

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I have just been watching a video compilation by Dr Jonathan T. Pararajasingham, a British neurosurgeon, entitled, 30 Renowned Writers Speaking about God, posted by Professor Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True. The video features a pretty impressive array of writers – including Arthur C. Clarke, Nadine Gordimer, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Douglas Adams, Germaine Greer, Martin Amis, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Harold Pinter and (of course) the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens – who are either atheists or agnostics. These are people who craft words for a living and who know how to argue a case, so I was expecting to hear at least one really good argument for atheism. Suffice it to say that I was underwhelmed by the arguments that were presented. More on that below.

“No religion is true” does not imply that the idea of God is false

I was most amused to hear several speakers arguing that because all religions are false, the idea of God must also be false. This is a total non sequitur. What’s more, it completely ignores ardent Deists such as Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine, who poured scorn on the tenets of organized religion, but argued for the rationality of belief in God, from the laws of Nature (see here and here). For all his hatred of Christianity, Tom Paine (who is, strange to say, a hero of the late Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne and many other New Atheists) was a man passionately in love with God. Want proof? Here’s what he says about God in The Age of Reason:

The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe, that we call ours, “I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, AND LEARN FROM MY MUNIFICENCE TO ALL, TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER.”…

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed! Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make, but the Scripture called the Creation…

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

Dr. O’Hanlon’s misunderstanding of religion

But the prize for the most wrong-headed assertion will have to go to Dr. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, a highly acclaimed British writer and scholar. Towards the end of the video [21:06-21:54], O’Hanlon (whose picture appears on the left at the top of this post, courtesy of Wikipedia and Daan Berg) is asked, “Would you say, in a way, that what the Bible was for your father, Darwin’s Origin of Species was for you?” He responds:

Yes, except that it was absolutely based on generations of quiet science, quiet people really thinking. There was no bullshit involved at all, no wishful thinking, no absurd myth-making, no ridiculous covering up of deep fear. All of the Bible, all religions, are composed of cowardice pretending to be reality – abject cowardice. We don’t like to think that we are undoubtedly going to die. That’s what all religion is based on – fear of death.

People reading this post will be more inclined to think that Darwinism owed its triumph to a combination of poor cell biology and bad philosophy. Darwin was a very fair-minded scientist, but he knew nothing about the chemical structure of DNA, RNA and proteins. To make matters worse, information theory hadn’t been invented in his day. These two limitations led him to mistakenly claim that “Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws,” which (for Darwin) seemed to refute the notion that Nature has an Intelligent Designer. Many theists, of course, would argue that laws of any sort imply an Intelligence; however, the great contribution of Intelligent Design theory is the observation that specified complexity is the hallmark trait of intelligent agency.

The real essence of religion

When I heard Dr. O’Hanlon say that all religion is based on fear of death, my instant reaction was: “You are completely wrong.” And then I suddenly recalled that a great writer had refuted Dr. O’Hanlon’s claim much more effectively than I could ever have done, more than sixty years ago. I remembered a passage that I had read in an essay by C. S. Lewis entitled, Religion Without Dogma? which was originally read to the Oxford Socratic Club on the 20th May 1946, and later published in the Phoenix Quarterly, vol. I, No. 1 (Autumn 1946) under the title ‘A Christian Reply to Professor Price’. (Professor H. H. Price had earlier written a paper entitled, ‘The Grounds of Modern Agnosticism’, which he read to the Socratic Club on the 23rd October 1944.) In his essay, C. S. Lewis skilfully demolished Price’s claim that belief in immortality belongs to the very essence of religion. Lewis’s essay is also a splendid refutation of O’Hanlon’s claim that all religion is based on fear of death

My disagreement with Professor Price begins, I am afraid, at the threshold. I do not define the essence of religion as belief in God and immortality. Judaism in its earlier stages had no belief in immortality, and for a long time no belief which was religiously relevant. The shadowy existence of the ghost in Sheol was one of which Jehovah took no account and which took no account of Jehovah. In Sheol all things are forgotten. The religion was centered on the ritual and ethical demands of Jehovah in the present life, and also, of course, on benefits expected from Him. These benefits are often merely worldly benefits (grandchildren and peace upon Israel), but a more specifically religious note is repeatedly struck. The Jew is athirst for the living God (Psalm 42:2), he delights in His Laws as in honey or treasure (Psalm 19:10), he is conscious of himself in Jehovah’s presence as unclean of lips and heart (Isaiah 6:5). The glory or splendour of God is worshipped for its own sake. In Buddhism, on the other hand, we find that a doctrine of immortality is central, while there is nothing specifically religious. Salvation from immortality, deliverance from reincarnation, is the very core of its message. The existence of the gods is not necessarily decried, but it is of no religious significance. In Stoicism again both the religious quality and the belief in immortality are variables, but they do not vary in direct ratio. Even within Christianity itself we find a striking expression, not without influence from Stoicism, of the subordinate position of immortality. When Henry More ends a poem on the spiritual life by saying that it, after all, he should turn out to be mortal he would be

…satisfide
A lonesome mortall God t’ have died.

From my own point of view, the example of Judaism and Buddhism is of immense importance. The system which is meaningless without a doctrine of immortality, regards immortality as a nightmare, not as a prize. The religion which, of all ancient religions, is most specifically religious, that is, at once most ethical and most numinous, is hardly interested in the question. Believing, as I do, that Jehovah is a real being, indeed the ens realissimum, I cannot sufficiently admire the divine tact of thus training the chosen race for centuries in religion before even hinting the shining secret of eternal life. He behaves like the rich lover in a romance who woos the maiden on his own merits, disguised as a poor man, and only when he has won her reveals that he has a throne and palace to offer. For I cannot help thinking that any religion which begins with a thirst for immortality is damned, as a religion, from the outset. Until a certain spiritual level has been reached, the promise of immortality will always operate as a bribe which vitiates the whole religion and infinitely inflames those very self-regards which religion must cut down and uproot. for the essence of religion, in my view, is the thirst for an end higher than natural ends; the finite self’s desire for, and acquiescence in, and self-rejection in favour of, an object wholly good and wholly good for it. That the self-rejection will turn out to be also a self-finding, that bread cast upon the waters will be found after many days, that to die is to live — these are sacred paradoxes of which the human race must not be told too soon.

(The quote from More is from his poem, ‘Resolution’, in The Complete Poems of Dr Henry More, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, Edinburgh, 1878, line 117, p. 176.)

At this point, I’d like to add my own perspective, which echoes what C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people criticize religion for being too other-worldly, and of causing people to be unhealthily preoccupied with eternity, at the expense of the things that really matter in this world. The charge is not wholly groundless; there are some forms of religious belief which do just that. But for me, the great thing about religion – in the truest sense of the word – is that it takes you out of yourself, by opening your eyes to the fact that the ultimate Reality is Someone Who is much greater than you can possibly imagine. It is this awareness of an all-embracing perspective belonging to Someone outside of yourself that enables you to step outside of the framework of your own ego, put your worries aside, and just live for the moment, which means living for others. In other words, you stop worrying about death if you choose to live your life from a God’s-eye perspective, let go of your ego, and cease making yourself the center of your personal universe. Thus the benefit of true religion is that it makes people whole, restores their sanity and sets them free. Religion, properly lived, is the only thing that is guaranteed to cure people’s never-ending preoccupation with themselves and their wants. True religion, then, is not personal wish-fulfilment but self-abandonment. Another name for that attitude is trust. Without that trust, the doctrine of personal immortality will avail you naught, spiritually speaking.

Christopher Hitchens’ argument against God: Love cannot be coerced

This, by the way, answers the one argument of substance that I heard on the entire video: an argument by Christopher Hitchens (the last speaker on the video), that it is impossible for us to genuinely love God if we are obligated to love him, under pain of eternal damnation in Hell. While making this argument, Hitchens is not letting go of himself. What he is saying, in effect, is: “Now, let me imagine that there is a God, and let me imagine what that would entail for me. If there is such a Personal Being, then presumably He would want to be loved by me, since I am capable of knowing Him – and He might well feel miffed at the fact that I didn’t love Him. Being omniscient, He would know if I didn’t love Him, of course. Being all-powerful, He might even get nasty and exact vengeance on me – perhaps even eternal vengeance. But if God could really do that, then I couldn’t possibly choose to love Him freely – in which case I couldn’t really love Him at all, in which case it would be wrong of Him to punish me for not loving Him. So since the concept of God implies the possibility of His doing something wrong, which means that He isn’t God (since God is supposed to be essentially benevolent), then there must be something deeply flawed about the whole concept of God.”

Logically speaking, Hitchens’ argument doesn’t work, because it assumes that God’s omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipotence are equally fundamental attributes of God. But if God’s omnipotence is grounded in His omniscience and omnibenevolence, then God cannot will what is ultimately bad for anyone. Only we can do that – which is why C. S. Lewis insisted in The Problem of Pain that “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.”

But on a psychological level, Hitchens’ argument is profoundly wrong, too. What is missing from it is the notion of trust. Instead of worrying about what an omnipotent God might do to Him, what Hitchens should have asked himself is: if rational argumentation leads me to believe that there is a Mind Who created the cosmos, keeps it in being, and therefore keeps me in being, what is my response to such a Being? The only sensible response to such a Being is one of trust. Any other response is self-defeating. Trust in turn means letting go, and not letting thought experiments about hypothetical consequences interfere with one’s impulse to love God. Hitchens’ hero, Thomas Paine, was able to let go and love His Maker, as we saw in the quote from him above.

Notive that I wrote: “If rational argumentation leads me to believe that there is a Mind Who created the cosmos…” in the paragraph above. “That’s a pretty big ‘if'”, I hear you say. But I would argue that the combination of recent scientific evidence indicating that not just our universe, but the entire multiverse must have had a beginning (evidence which I discussed in this post), coupled with the arguments from the fine-tuning of the cosmos (scroll down to the end of this post for a list of good posts) and the startling evidence that the first living thing was designed (see this excellent video by Professor John Walton, Fellow of the Royal Society for Chemistry), does make it rational to believe that there is indeed a Mind Who created the cosmos and the first living organism.

Miscellaneous arguments against God by Thirty Leading Writers

Here are some other highlights that I saw on the video, 30 Renowned Writers Speaking about God:

Arthur C. Clarke relating the story of Laplace’s statement to Napoleon that he had no need for the hypothesis of God (a reply which avoids the obvious questions of where the laws of Nature originally came from, why they hold at all, and what they are);

Arthur Miller asserting that God is a projection (a claim I find difficult to square with the Parable of the Last Judgement, which tells us that even “respectable” religious people who claim to be followers of Jesus will be damned in Hell for all eternity if they did not feed the hungry, care for the sick and clothe the naked, during their lives on Earth);

Gore Vidal whinging about the way in which God designed the human spine (fine; let’s see his improved model, and the genetic coding for it);

Douglas Adams misconstruing the fine-tuning argument as being like a puddle of water wondering why it exactly fits the hole in the ground that it’s in (never mind the fact that the puddle would still exist if the hole had a different shape, whereas we would cease to exist if the laws of Nature were even slightly different from what they are now);

Germaine Greer defining good as whatever results in the greater good of the greater number (which entails the truly monstrous ethical conclusion that you are morally obliged to inflict torture, rape and even burning at the stake on an innocent person, if you have good grounds for believing that doing so will result in a greater benefit for society as a whole – see here for a scenario where this could happen);

Jose Saramago arguing that the story of Abraham by itself constitutes a sufficient refutation of belief in God (surely, at most, it only refutes the notion of a capricious and egomaniacal God, but not one Who is essentially good);

Terry Pratchett telling us that he found it harder and harder to believe in people, let alone God (poor guy);

Ian McEwan claiming that religion cuts off a source of wonder at the beauty of the world (funny, that was what happened to me as an 11-year-old, when I read science books galore written by pontificating atheists, asserting that the Sun was a rather ordinary G-type star that was doomed to fizzle out in a few billion years, and that the Universe would one day end in a whimper);

Salman Rushdie asserting that when religion is in charge of the ethical question, you get Inquisitions (try telling that to a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Taoist);

Norman MacCraig telling viewers that the reaon why he was convinced that atheism is true was that he cannot believe Christian dogma (now there’s a logical argument for you!);

Matt Ridley exuberantly exclaiming that we’re going to generate more mystery, the more we discover (I do hope he’s right, but what if the laws of physics turn out to be finite and fairly easily comprehensible, and some scientist discovers a Grand Unified Theory of Everything tomorrow?);

Howard Brenton passionately advocating the separation of Church and State (no argument from me on this point, but what does that prove about God?);

Tariq Ali arguing for putting the Pope on trial (relevance to theism?);

Roddy Doyle humorously lamenting the fact that when he became an atheist, he couldn’t blame God for his misfortunes (ha!);

Diana Athill arguing that dying is no big deal, because it’s just like going to sleep and never waking up (which is not in the least reassuring if you’re still awake); and

Christopher Hitchens arguing with his characteristic passion against the doctrine of Vicarious Atonement (which I find puzzling, as there are many Christians who believe in the doctrine of the Atonement, but don’t construe it in the way described by Hitchens – see these articles by Robin Collins, for instance).

Comments
eigenstate, again, you have willfully failed to address the actual content of any of my specific rejoinders, going all the way back to your very first entry into the conversation. Virtually everything you say is based upon what you have thus far ignored, so I therefore feel no obligation to attempt a discussion with you. If you care to address the conumdrum your force upon the evidence by misapplying the concept of physical information, then we can proceed.Upright BiPed
February 13, 2012
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Hello Mark, I apologize again for the extended break. It was basically unavoidable.
You are trying to identify the physical conditions of information transfer. So the property of being “immaterial” should be describable in physical terms (which sounds like a potential oxymoron – but maybe not). What is it that the music box, the bees dance, the loom and the DNA have, that the roof tiles do not? I am afraid I need help with this.
I think your question makes clear one of the (perhaps many) points which separate us. Again, I believe the culprit is the missing context, but in this case it's not particularly anything being taken out of context, but is more likely that the context wasn't clear from the start. When I originally presented the argument, I was presenting an abbreviated summary of a larger argument. I did so because the person I was presenting it to would hardly be interested in reading through the entire background argument, and also, it was being made as a comment to a blog post, and I think it would be a bit much to submit the entire (several thousand-word) essay as a comment. In any case, I would like to address your question, but to do so I must move away from it to add some context, then circle back to it. The very first thing I must do is separate the examples of the music box, fabric loom, and bee's dance from the example of DNA. The reason for this is rather simple. The source of the recorded information in each of those examples is known, whereas the source of recorded information in DNA is what is in question. While the argument I am making does not attempt to answer the specific source of the recorded information in DNA, it does intend to show that the information transfer in DNA has the same formal quality as all other examples of recorded information transfer. That quality is being semiotic, and I go on to claim that being semiotic has observable physical objects/dynamics which can be demonstrated to exist the same in genetic information transfer as they do in any other form of recorded information transfer. This claim points to the requirement of a mechanism capable of creating the semiotic state observed in protein synthesis. The recorded information in the loom and music box have a known human source, and consequently, their semiotic nature is the result of human input. The recorded information at work in the bee's dance has, as well, been demonstrated to be semiotic in nature (i.e. it is not merely the presence of a flying (and dancing) bee that determines the response, but is instead the pattern of the bee's dance interacting with a physical protocol held in the bee's sensory system). This is a point where I believe context must be gathered in. A common denominator among each of these examples is that their source is within the living kingdom. This point was made clear in the larger argument, where I employed a simple visualization of an intrepid explorer in a space suit on a distant lifeless planet. Outside his or her suit, among the rocks piled upon one another in a lifeless planetary atmosphere, there is absolutely nothing that 'means or represents' anything at all to anything else. There are no representational arrangements of matter; there is no decoding of those representations based upon isolated protocols, and none of it leads to any specified effect. Yet, inside his/her suit (and its operating systems) representations and protocols are in full effect. It is a falsifiable premise that recorded information transfer is only observed to be in existence by the mechanisms available within the living kingdom. There is no evidence whatsoever that inanimate objects have the capacity to assign representational values to other inanimate objects, or to coordinate protocols in order to decode or interpret those representations. The is no material evidence that such a thing is happening in inanimate nature, or that it ever has, or ever will. Living systems, on the other hand, not only provide a mechanism with the capacity to establish these required relationships, but they are the only verifiable source of such relationships. This line of observation travels directly from the authentic definition of information (i.e. derived Latin, to 'give form' to) and goes to the very nature of recorded information itself. As an example, a researcher might casually say that there is information contained within an atom of carbon. However useful that statement may or may not be, it imposes an anthropomorphic fallacy if its taken literally. In actuality, an atom of carbon contains a certain number of atomic and subatomic particles in a particular state, which we can study in order to create information about the carbon atom. But, there is no material in the carbon atom that is “information”. Information is not a material element; it does not exist on the periodic table, and if every instance of recorded information in the universe were to vanish at once, the material content of the cosmos would not change one iota. The state of a carbon atom only becomes recorded information if it brought into existence by a mechanism capable of creating it – because it doesn't exist in the carbon itself. Therefore a logical distinction is made between a) matter, b) information, and c) matter which has been arranged in order to record information. In other words, a distinction between an apple, information created about an apple, and a book arranged to record information about apples. They are three distinct realities which must be individually accounted for. There is one final piece of context to add; it is an observable reality that all instances of recorded information are tied to having specified effects, even if they never achieve that effect. For instance, the effect of the pins and tines of a music box are to recreate a specified song; the effect of the punch-cards in a fabric loom are the specified patterns which appear in the fabric it produces, and the effect of the bees dance is that the other bees fly off in the specified direction. Without the observation of a specified (or as some say, functional) effect, the existence of recorded information transfer would be impossible to confirm. Our entire anthropological history (and well as massive observation of nature around us) are a logical and unbroken witness to this reality. Now having given this underlying context, (as well as the context I have been trying to highlight in my previous comments, particularly the context of the very narrow instance where a set of finite iterative (repeating) physical representations lead to specified functional effects during protein synthesis, via materially isolated protocols) I would like to address your question. You ask what my example of the fabric loom has, that your example of roofing tiles doesn't have. Firstly, this is an example of representations and protocols being established within a non-living system. The distinction between your example and the fabric loom is that the loom has an immaterial coordination (required for information transfer) as well as a specified effect. In the fabric loom, we have holes in paper cards driving the resulting color patterns in the fabric. To accomplish this effect, the holes are decoded by mechanical sensors which follow the pattern of holes – but it is not merely the presence of these sensors that leads to the specified effects, it is the immaterial coordination of those sensors. In other words, there is nothing in the material make-up of the sensors which would cause this coordination to exist. Without equivocation, it is the formal (rules based, not law based) coordination of the sensors-to-the-holes which facilitates the specified effect. You ask what my example of a bee's dance has that your example of roofing tiles doesn't have. Firstly, this is an example of a living agent capable of semiotic transfer. The resulting effect of the bee's controlled motor function (flying in a specified direction) is caused by the visual pattern of the dance being coordinated to a pattern within its sensory system. The bee has the capacity to decode this visual input by means of a coordinated pattern (and then respond to it) but there is nothing inherent in the material make-up of its sensory components which determines that coordination; that is an immaterial relationship which otherwise (outside the system) would not exist. As before, its is not merely that the material exist or is present, it is the coordination of that material (within the system) which facilitates the transfer of the representation into the specified effect. You ask what my example of a music box has that your example of roofing tiles does not have. Like the fabric loom above, this is another example of representations and protocols being established in a non-living system. The resulting effect is caused not by the mere presence of pins and tines, but the immaterial coordination of those pins to a song, as well as the immaterial coordination of the tines to the pins. So, the 'thing' that the bona fide examples of information transfer have that the example of missing roof tiles does not have are, not surprisingly, the four entailments listed in the semiotic argument. Its doesn’t have an arrangement of matter to represent an effect within a system; it doesn't have an arrangement of matter to physically establish the relationship between the representation and its specified effect; it doesn't have a specified effect, and it doesn't demonstrate the physical dynamics required by semiosis. There is no system there, except one that has been rationalized post hoc, and ultimately there is no transfer of information to cause a specified or functional effect. You disagree and say that your example demonstrates each of these. Your example has an arrangement of matter; the roofing tiles. Their arrangement is not a representation of the stains to follow, but that is not your point, you say. You claim that the physicality is the same. Your example also has the stains that follow. Those stains are not the specified effects represented by the arrangement of roofing tiles, but again, that is not your point. You say the physicality is the same. Your example also has the joists which either prohibit or allow the stains to happen. These are not immaterial protocols to establish a relationship between the (non-existence) representations and their (non-existent) specified effects, but yet again, that is not your point. You say that the physicality is the same. But such a counter-example doesn't work for the obvious reason that it doesn't attempt to demonstrate the entailments as they are observed. Instead, it attempts to demonstrate the entailments with the observed dynamics removed. This does not seem to me to be particularly different than making a claim about any physical observation, let us say ”entropy within a closed system” for instance, then simply removing the “in a closed system” requirement from the observation, but continuing with the claim nonetheless. It doesn't work as a test of the claim. The entailed requirement that an object must serve as a physical representation of an effect within a system is a claim about that physical object. It is a claim about the observed relationships between physical objects operating within a physical system. The fact that the claim includes not only the number and materiality of the individual objects, but also their relationships to one another, is simply a function of making the observation accurate. This negates neither the requirements nor the observations. Does the order and length of a bee's dance impute meaning to the other bee's; in other words, does the pattern have a relationship to the effect it creates? The answer in unequivocally affirmative. Do the holes in a loom's punch-cards communicate to the system the specified effects observed in the output? Again, the answer is clearly yes. So, if you return the entailed requirements to the claim, then you can proceed. Do roofing tiles serve as representations of ceiling stains? Of course not. Are ceiling joists installed as protocols for rain damage? Of course not. Clearly, a counter-example outside of the living kingdom is in order, and must not impute post hoc representational values and rules to its components, or rationalize specified effects and supposed functionality. A tree casting a shadow of itself on the ground simply will not suffice. The issue at hand is the transfer of recorded information into its specified effect, not the state of an object. So you ask how can we know that an arrangement of matter represents a specified effect within a system. And the answer is given, by observing the system and satisfying the four entailments. We must observe an effect being created by an arrangement of matter, and that effect must be be facilitated by a second arrangement of matter which is materially isolated from the first. Nirenberg accomplished this in regard to DNA by manipulating the input into the ribosome and documenting the effects produced at the output, via an isolated set of coordinated amino acid synthetases. We have further verified his observations by changing the rules in the synthetases and introducing novel arrangements. Von Frisch accomplished this with the bee's dance by isolating the pattern in the dance, then observing the effect it had (via coordinated sensory interpretation) in the foraging pattern of the other bees. Information had been observably transferred to create a functional effect. If all of this is the point you were driving at with your comment about mere physicality not being sufficient, then I believe I've already agreed with you. But then again, the claim being made isn't about physicality with its observed dynamics removed. It includes the observed (and fully demonstrated) relationships involved in transferring recorded information to specified effect. The entailments, in order to be complete and accurate, come directly from the observation of physical objects and their physical relationships to one another. In your question, you state “the property of being “immaterial” should be describable in physical terms”. Indeed that is exactly what I have attempted to describe in terms of a system of inter-related physical components. The pattern within the arrangement of matter acting as a representation must create a non-ambiguous discernible function within the system, and cannot be reducible to its material make-up. The arrangement of matter acting as a protocol must be coordinated to this 'non-materially-reducible' aspect of the representation while remaining isolated from it, and it must map that 'non-materially reducible' aspect to the resulting effect. Your counter-example fails because it doesn't address any of these observed requirements, except by overlying a post hoc anthropomorphic rationalization (i.e. the missing tiles did not represent the stains until you claimed they did, the supposed relationship came from you). If you happen to read this, then I would like to ask a question. Do you believe there are any demonstrable instances of semiosis outside of the living kingdom? If you should want to continue the discussion, I will try to return as soon as possible. - - - - - - - - - In case anyone is following this conversation and is not familiar with the topic, the summary argument is here.Upright BiPed
February 13, 2012
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I was looking forward to Upright Biped continuing this discussion. Too bad.kuartus
February 10, 2012
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@Upright Biped#5.1.1.3.16,
Eigen, going back to my first post to you in October of last year, you have yet to actually engage and refute a single observation I have made regarding your posts. You simply carpet bomb the next response with grandioloquent bluster, then re-assert your position as if something has come about.
Ah, you're damning me with faint praise! :-) I am not aware of the means to refute your observations, or any observations. Observations are not subject to refutation, so far as I know, except for doubting they are observations in the first place. If by "observations" you mean "argument", well I haven't seen any to refute, yet. And even then, maybe I would agree, if I saw an argument. You brought up the color sense of bees and von Frisch, and I take that to be what you are referring to by "observations". I have no means or interest in refuting them. I'm waiting for something to be built on top of them. Having read some of the other exchanges going on here, with markf, for example, I don't think I can derive anything to work with from that, as markf has apparently committed the same error you are making: that "protocols" are something ontological special, and intrinsically human, or intelligence-based. Perhaps markf if doing so just for what-if purposes, arguendo, or maybe he isn't actually stipulating such and I've misunderstood. In any case, so long as you are advancing the anthropocentric conceit that "protocol" is 'humans only' or 'intelligence only', the investigation is disabled, right there. That's a/the fundamental problem the source of catastrophic error in the argument (such as there is one). Everything is protocol. Light passing through a glass prism operates by protocol, with the different frequencies (colors) of the white light decoded on output. The structure of crystals in a salt obtain by protocol, the rain in a hole in the path encodes the state of least energy for the shape of the hole when filled. The protocols we devise for our own utilities are no less protocols -- rule-based mappings and deterministic functions -- but they are no more protocols than any of the innumerable protocols we might point at in nature. The "law" in natural law denotes protocol. The protocols we hold close as "human" are just that -- human protocols, and they are different only as a measure of anthropic conceit. So I say, anyway.
By the way, beyond having your math bluff removed in our last exchange, you also demonstrated that you are too ideologically blinded to grasp as simple physical fact: the manifest necessity in cognition is a system of protocols.
The "ideology" there, if there is something blinding me, is math. It's a conceptual framework that I didn't invent, but am familiar with and use regularly, and it just physics, and abstractions built on those physics, but reducible to those same physics. I have no problem agreeing to this statement: cognition is a system of protocols. Sure. But that's a trivial statement, just because all of physics is a protocol. These are just sets of constrained maps and functional isomorphs. Whether a human chooses the mapping, the connections and parameters between input (causal) resources and output (effect) resources or nature provides those mappings is not relevant to the protocol BEING a protocol. The "human protocol" or "intelligent protocol" distinction is an arbitrary one, just the set of protocols we recognize as finite automata WE have designed. Do you suppose physics has any less "manifest necessity" as a system of protocols? It cannot, any more than cognition, or it isn't a physic. It's a trick question put to you, because as I said above, physic IMPLIES protocol. Or maybe its more correct to just say that physics IS protocol. That works for consciousness too -- as system of protocols. And that's not surprising because cognition is physics. It's just a special (to us) case of protocols, a special (to us) part of physics.
Your senses, whatever they may be, would be non-functional without them. Also, in the computer you are typing on, we have created ‘artificial’ cognition by introducing protocols to a system of iterative representations. Your DNA transfers information in the same manner. It was transferring information that way eons before humans appeared on the planet.
Agreed. These are just examples of physics in action. Different protocols at work. Conventions. Procedures. Algorithms. Finite state machines. That's why your labeling this the "Semiotic Argument" seems a self-refuting title; it announces in the TITLE a confusion about "signs" and "symbols" as being ontologically privileged somehow for humans or intelligence. You further criticize general models of information and protocol as "anthropocentric", which is getting it precisely backwards. Those are general models that have no particular notice or knowledge of anything human, or intelligent, even as they subsume them (all physics is protocol, including human protocols). Your special pleading -- which I take it you want to argue for as being a 'simple physical fact', one thing we should be able to agree it is certainly NOT -- about human protocols as cognition, distinct from non-human protocols (physical law) is the very anthropocentric thinking you want to decry. The rasterization of my post on your screen is a protocol -- you're right, and I don't and haven't disputed that. What I believe you have completely missed is that that protocol is not substantively or mechanically different than any other protocol. Physics in action, up and down the chain. The "Semiotic" in your "Semiotic Argument" points to the human conceit about information, that 'human information' or 'human designs' are somehow fundamentally special. There's no basis for that conceit. We maintain such because we love our conceits.eigenstate
February 3, 2012
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UB 5.1.1.3.17 UB Thank you for continuing this discussion. In 5.1.1.3.9 I tried to identify your conditions for information transfer Whenever we the following conditions we have a case of information transfer: A) A cause (the music box cylinder, the paper cards in the loom, the bees dance). B) A protocol (e.g. the tines, the weaving machinery,  the bees sensory system). C) An effect (the song, the fabric, the bees flying off) It is not simply that A causes B causes C.  It is also important that: 1) A and B and C are discrete. 2) It is the arrangement of A and B that causes C (You also write that A and B have an immaterial quality – but I think this the same as saying it is the arrangement that matters). 3) A in some sense represents C. My example of the roof tiles and the joists would appear to satisfy these except for two things which I simply don’t understand what you mean: * There should be an “immaterial” element in the protocol * A should in some sense “represent” C You are trying to identify the physical conditions of information transfer.  So the property of being “immaterial” should be describable in physical terms (which sounds like a potential oxymoron – but maybe not).  What is it that the music box, the bees dance, the loom and the DNA have, that the roof tiles do not? I am afraid I need help with this. PS The roof tiles are a repetition of a finite number of alternatives (present or absent) and this is what creates the effect.markf
February 3, 2012
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Hello again, Mark, I aplogize for the continued delay. In your original example, you provided 'holes in a roof' playing the role of representations of the damage which would occur beneath them. You also had rain which would act as a protocol which would leak through the holes and cause the damage. I then responded that the rain is the direct cause of the damage below, and as such, it would violate the physical (immaterial) nature of the entailment (as discussed in 5.1.1.3.7). In your last response, you opted to change the protocol from being the rain, to being the ceiling joists below the roof tiles, which would then physically block the rain from causing damage. Setting aside any real-world observations (i.e. rafters and joists don’t block rain damage), this scenario seems to simply put the joist on the same physical plane as the roof tiles themselves (physically blocking the rain from reaching and damaging the ceiling). In any case, this ad hoc arrangement does nothing to introduce a deterministic (yet immaterial) element into the physical presence of the protocol. If you could say something along the lines of, perhaps, that damage does not occur below the joists installed on Tuesday (when the home was built), but does occur below those joists identically installed on Wednesday, then perhaps you would have a more persuasive case to present. Coincidentally, I think that adding such an element would have a direct impact on your statement about not being able to distinguish between ‘A simply causing C’, and ‘A representing C in a system where C comes about’. I would also like to once again draw your attention to the context of the discussion, particularly in the instance of DNA (and the other examples of recorded information I’ve given) where we are making observations of systems where a finite number of discrete iterative representations repeat themselves in order to accomplish their effects. - - - - - - - - - On a side note: In your comments you stated that you may drive me into articulating an additional observation of these entailments which I have yet to articulate. You may be entirely correct in that prediction. I welcome it if that should come to pass, because I think that such a thing is very much within the nature of what I am attempting to accomplish. I believe that we live in a material universe where the phenomena of recorded information transfer (particularly regarding iterative representational systems) must have a material basis which can be elucidated and described in its physical state. I can see it being no other way. Also, it is not uncommon in my domain of experience to have competing solutions debated at large, with corrections accepted and alternative ideas providing improvements on existing observations. So engaging thoughtful competition in earnest is a value (although you can already guess that I have no patience in debating someone who simply vomits ideological positioning statements as a means of rebuttal). I have also sought the critique and input of those who have an ID perspective, but outside of a couple of notable (and extremely valuable) exceptions, I have been generally passed over. In fairness to those whom I have sought out, several of my very early attempts to articulate the observations have ranged from awful to horrific. I also believe that people in general are somewhat cautious about stepping out into the open on these contentious issues. Given the history of the debate over the past twenty or so years, who could blame them?Upright BiPed
February 3, 2012
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Eigen, going back to my first post to you in October of last year, you have yet to actually engage and refute a single observation I have made regarding your posts. You simply carpet bomb the next response with grandioloquent bluster, then re-assert your position as if something has come about. That’s what you did then, and that’s what you are doing now. Allow me to save you the trouble: You are entirely correct in everything you say. Full stop. - - - - - - - - - By the way, beyond having your math bluff removed in our last exchange, you also demonstrated that you are too ideologically blinded to grasp as simple physical fact: the manifest necessity in cognition is a system of protocols. Your senses, whatever they may be, would be non-functional without them. Also, in the computer you are typing on, we have created ‘artificial’ cognition by introducing protocols to a system of iterative representations. Your DNA transfers information in the same manner. It was transferring information that way eons before humans appeared on the planet.Upright BiPed
February 3, 2012
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Very nicely put, Eigenstate. Indeed. And of course, the mechanisms of cognition are themselves fascinating, but that's a whole nother story :)Elizabeth Liddle
February 2, 2012
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@Upright Biped#5.1.1.3.7,
a) Do bees have color vision?
Yes, but of a different type than humans. Bees see orange through some part of the ultraviolet spectrum, I believe is the understanding. Bees are adept at differentiating grayscale colors from "colorful" colors, but have trouble distinguishing between "colorful" colors, as well. Nevertheless, I don't suppose that's any barrier to saying that bees can distinguish color from grayscale, or one color from another, even if far less effectively than humans.
Was this observation simply (and quite eloquently and properly) demonstrated by von Frisch in his straightforward empirical experiments?
Well, the results and experiments were well thought out and dispositive on the particulars they tested. In the second set Frisch did, the bees clearly were distinguishing blue from shades of gray. That's a "finding", and a valuable one. If that is to be held up to understanding that "bees see color like humans see color", I think that was NOT demonstrated, and that hypothesis (if that is what is being advanced) has not held up over the great many tests done since.
b) Were von Frisch’s experiments a proper and valuable example of scientific discovery?
Sure.
c) In what specific ways were von Frisch’s experiments non-scientific? Please be specific.
I am not aware of any problems with Frisch's tests for color sense in bees in terms of scientific method and epistemology.
d) Is it true or false that the von Frisch experiments exemplify untold thousands of similar experiments where empirical observations are used to further scientific knowledge without mathematical quantification?
Undoubtedly true!
e) If you had to offer an entirely casual estimate as to the amount of scientific knowledge gained through similar empirical observations of real world events, what would that estimate be?
"Ginormous" is the word that comes to mind.
f) Please provide a mathematical quantification of von Frisch’s experiments demonstrating that bees have color vision. Please indicate how your quantification improves upon, and otherwise extends and verifies, the empirical observations von Frisch made.
Frisch wasn't advancing a "metric" for color vision, or a paradigm for information. I have no doubt we could quantify the measurements Frisch captured for data points like 'how many bees congregated on blue", or "average time for a bee to choose on color or the other", and all of that is supporting information, quantitive data that attend the experiment. Frisch may well have pegged the quantitative thresholds for bee vision in terms of spectral range - the frequencies of light that the bee can process visually (bees are "red-blind", and see black and red as the same, for example, IIRC). But Frisch's hypothesis entails a prediction that can be experimentally observed -- if bees cannot differentiate "colorful colors" (at least some of them) from grayscale, then the bees would not land predominantly on the blue card, as the "grayscale only" hypothesis would entail their being unable to distinguish the blue from the other grays.
These very-obviously real semantic (meaningful) aspects of information transfer are specifically what is being documented in the semiotic observations which you are objecting to.
Sure. But I'm not objecting to any semiotic observations, myself. I make use such observations all the time. Shannon's point, and what you clearly have missed in information theory in general, not to mention various fields which are necessarily inclined to the study of "meaning" and semantics in formal terms, is that meaning does not obtain in the phenomena, the object, the music box cylinder, but in the electro-chemical mesh of the human brain. The bumps on the music box cylinder are configured to facilitate playback that triggers meaning in the hearing human brain (melody and dissonance, for example, even for people who've not heard that particular song before). Our surrounds are replete with patterns and configurations of matter and energy that trigger meaning, but the meaning is in the head, not on the paper. This seems like a simple idea to get and affirm, but it's not. It's very subtle and very counter-intuitive. If you think "of course!", I suggest you've not really understood this point. And you don't have to take my word for it -- this is shown from Shannon's disclaimer right on through to the present in all the various forms of inquiry and analysis on this subject. To study the "semiotics of the page" is to fundamentally understand the conceptual basis of "semiotic" as intrinsic to brains/minds, and extrinsic to the page (or the music box cylinder, etc.).
These are exemplified in von Frisch’s second important observation of bee behavior, where he documented that the pattern of bee dances in flight were “correlated according to some system” where the patterns of the dance have discrete meaning which would lead to specific outcomes in the flight patterns of the remaining bees observing the dance.
Yeah, this is a good example of the confusion I was getting at above. The meaning isn't "in the dance" (and this is important, because this is the same reason the "design is not in the arrowhead (or the cell)"), but is reified in the cognition of the bees (or humans, per chance) witnessing the phenomenon. The bumps on the cylinder, the marks of the letters on the page, and the motions of the bees' rear ends are correlates, but triggers rather than *bearers* of meaning. That, again, is the subtle, but all-important insight, and the reason "meaning" is not quantifiable in the mode of Shannon or K-C theory, but would only be quantifiable upon establishing a model of cognition, brain-states that can be expressed and manipulated quantitatively. That means that meaning is not intractable in principle as a formal, quantitative model. It's just tied to cognition -- the brain of the bee. The meaning is in THAT end of the bee, not the other, wagging end. You can't and thus won't ever find it there, per info theory. That's also why the idea of "semiotic", while extremely useful in a casual or trivial sense, is inherently anthropocentric as a concept. It's not coherent as a concept except where predicated on brains firing in patterns that signal recognition or identification based on percepts that map to those patterns and thus "trigger" it. If you take the minds out, in other words, and want to look for meaning "in the object", you're lost.eigenstate
February 1, 2012
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UB 5.1.1.3.11 No hurry or need to respond at all if you are too busy - but I remain interested in the discussion. Markmarkf
February 1, 2012
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Do bees have color vision? Was this observation simply (and quite eloquently and properly) demonstrated by von Frisch in his straightforward empirical experiments?
It's a clever but not definitive experiment. It does not establish that bees have two or more kinds of receptors. It demonstrates they have at least one kind of receptor with different spectral characteristics than the meter used by the experimenter to equalize the gray and color cards.Petrushka
February 1, 2012
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Mark, I just noticed that you have responded to my post - which I appreciate both your time and tone (in the face of my own less than gracious tone). Alas, I am smply out of time to respond. I will return asap and take your concerns into account. Again, thanks.Upright BiPed
February 1, 2012
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Eigenstate at 5.1.1.3.8
I keep saying around here, let’s do some math, and let everyone see where the merits lay. Let’s apply the concepts to real models and see how they perform. No need to just bluster back and forth.
In 1956 an Austrian ethologist named von Frisch acclimated a bee population into consuming sugar water set over a specifically colored card. He then conducted an experiment where he allowed the bees to access a series of gray-scale cards of varying neutral densities. Included in this series was the actual color (in which he had acclimated the bees in a feeding routine), as well as shades of gray which corresponded to the colored card (but in neutral density). By observing their reactions, he was able to demonstrate that the bees did in fact have the capacity of color vision, and could pick out the actual color against the shades of corresponding neutral density. He went on to decode the “waggle dance” of bees, and eventually was presented with a 1973 Nobel prize for his discoveries. Please provide your insight into these questions: a) Do bees have color vision? Was this observation simply (and quite eloquently and properly) demonstrated by von Frisch in his straightforward empirical experiments? b) Were von Frisch's experiments a proper and valuable example of scientific discovery? c) In what specific ways were von Frisch's experiments non-scientific? Please be specific. d) Is it true or false that the von Frisch experiments exemplify untold thousands of similar experiments where empirical observations are used to further scientific knowledge without mathematical quantification? e) If you had to offer an entirely casual estimate as to the amount of scientific knowledge gained through similar empirical observations of real world events, what would that estimate be? f) Please provide a mathematical quantification of von Frisch's experiments demonstrating that bees have color vision. Please indicate how your quantification improves upon, and otherwise extends and verifies, the empirical observations von Frisch made. - - - - - - - - - - In 1948 Claude Shannon sought to quantify information transfer (communication) in his seminal work on the subject of information transfer. He did so from a purely systems engineering perspective by nullifying the obviously very real concept of “meaning”, and instead he quantified the transfer of information as a quantifiable capacity of a given communications system. He acknowledged this limiting aspect of his methodology in the second sentence of the second paragraph of his famous paper; stating clearly: “Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” These very-obviously real semantic (meaningful) aspects of information transfer are specifically what is being documented in the semiotic observations which you are objecting to. These are exemplified in von Frisch's second important observation of bee behavior, where he documented that the pattern of bee dances in flight were “correlated according to some system” where the patterns of the dance have discrete meaning which would lead to specific outcomes in the flight patterns of the remaining bees observing the dance. Please quantify these “meaningful” aspects by mathematical means.Upright BiPed
February 1, 2012
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UB 5.1.1.3.7
I apologize again for the delay in getting back to this thread. I probably shouldn’t even be trying to carry on a conversation right now given my current constraints.
No need to apologise – my lectures have started again and I also have very limited time.  But it is probably worth continuing this a little longer. I going to summarise my understanding of what you have written in case I have it wrong.  I am not trying to put words into your mouth – just check my understanding. Whenever we the following conditions we have a case of information transfer: A) A cause (the music box cylinder, the paper cards in the loom, the bees dance). B) A protocol (e.g. the tines, the weaving machinery,  the bees sensory system). C) An effect (the song, the fabric, the bees flying off) It is not simply that A causes B causes C.  It is also important that: 1) A and B and C are discrete. 2) It is the arrangement of A and B that causes C (You also write that A and B have an immaterial quality – but I think this the same as saying it is the arrangement that matters). 3) A in some sense represents C. If I have missed out an essential condition please tell me. So if I can identify an example which meets all these physical conditions and clearly is not a case of information transfer then I have refuted your proposal. (Of course, this may lead you to realise there are additional conditions which you have not articulated – this is quite reasonable). First, a word about (3) above.  How does A represents C differ from the arrangement of A causes C? In the case of the loom and the music box clearly someone planned A with C in mind. But this is not the case for the Bees dance so that cannot be the criterion.  I cannot see what else “represents” can mean in this context except “causes”. My holes in the roof example was a start but needs refining to meet all these conditions.  It was the arrangement of missing tiles that lead to the pattern of damp patches.  So I seemed to have A covered OK. I thought of the protocol as simply being a rule (damp patch appears immediately below hole) but you are requiring some physical thing which implements the protocol and works through it’s arrangement.  So, OK let us imagine that below the tiles is a structure of joists – this is the protocol.  So if the rain enters through a missing tile and falls on a joist there is no damp patch, on the other hand if there a missing tile and there is no joist below then a damp patch appears. So now we have a cause A the arrangement of which combined with the arrangement of the protocol B causes the effect C. I also note that the slates and the joists are discrete from the damp patches.   I think we both agree that this is not case of information transfer but it seems to satisfy all of your physical conditions. I seem to have an A, B and C and satisfy conditions 1 and 2. Perhaps the issue is with 3 i.e. “represents”? But I need to understand what more you mean by “represents” and how this is a physical condition.markf
February 1, 2012
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@Upright Biped#5.1.1.3.6,
You previously attempted to force this interdisciplinary mistake of applying a re-purposed (and completely anthropocentric) definition of information to these observations. That attempt was quickly refuted in a thread which you then abandoned after the issue was exposed. Now back for a second time, I notice that nowhere in your rant did you address exactly how you intended to make the distinctions required by your misuse of the term.
That's the first I've seen of that post, thanks for the link. There's a lot to respond to there. Refutation is in the eye of the beholder, it seems, but that aside, but if you want to provide some clarity on which specific distinctions you are looking for, I'm just drawing on physics models that are well established and deployed in performative models. I'm happy to provide some specifics, but it should be enough that if you understand "Maxwell's Demon" and "information" as it pertains to Maxwell's Demon, little more needs be specified or distinguished. The semantics are well established for information as a scientific currency (that's the crux of the gedankenexperiment, that information is physical, and thus the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds, you can't cheat the system by the magical acquisition of information, right?). In the post you linked to, I see you have this to say:
But it represents a modern re-purposing of an almost organically-understood concept; one which has a tremendous history of being so understood.
That's an interesting form of refutation, if you consider that part of your putative refutation. It gives the game away. Your intuitional, anthropocentric use of the term defies application. It's non-operational, and this is easy shown just by asking you to apply it, operationally. Doing your math with it. The "re-purposed" semantics, if it is repurposing rather than just a technical and general definition of the concept, is deployed as it is because it PERFORMS, and enables working models to be constructed, tested, evaluated. Conspicuously, your "historic" version, does not. It's impotent in that regard. Notional, casual, flimsy. And that's fine for casual, flimsy purposes, but if you want to be rigorous, your terms can't work. You will have to repurpose them, and get beyond the anthropocentric box your terms are stuck in, conceptually. In any case, it would apparently seem that the intervening time has been difficult for you. Your contempt is palpable, and apparently there are some unresolved issues with “salespeople” and those who speak in the presence of “water-coolers”. No, I use charts and the resources we would call "information" in the casual sense all the time, too. And they are just as valuable and useful as they'd be to you or anyone else. I'm just aware that aware of the inability of those usages to support any disciplined analysis on the questions of ID, origins, biology. Again, this is easily shown just by asking you to deploy them operationally, and watching the fail. You can ask me, in fairness to show the physics semantics and concepts of information operationally, and I can do so, all day long. I have Leff & Rex's Maxwell's Demon 2 within arm's reach on the bookshelf nearby, and it has lots of good math and application of these concepts to draw from, and provide here, if necessary. So the contempt is not anything about watercoolers, but the assumption of ignorance you have for your readers and critics, to think that the brew of equivocation, special pleading and subjective anthropocentrism your advancing is not glaringly conspicuous. And really, calling the physics/math framework for information, the model that pays no heed to humans, consciousness or personality, but is completely general as a attribute of fundamental physics, well, that's just over the top to call THAT anthropocentric, as you sue for usage that only depends on what you, personally, find to be information, capriciously.
I am just a lowly research director with 30+ years in the saddle, so I will not aspire to speak for either group. I would only add that in my domain we measure human thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and the like. In such a fluid domain we know better than to hold our thumb on the scale, then puff up in disdain when its pointed out.
That makes the argument you are advancing all the more egregious, then. If what you say is true, you ought to know way better at this point. There's no "thumb on the scale" in using information as a physical concept, as physicists, chemists, biologists and other sciences do. It's completely general. Your gerrymandering as best you can about what is a "protocol" and "what it means" (!), and all the other subjective human conditions you put on it, THAT's thumbing the scales, if there's any of that going on, here. If you disagree, as I keep saying around here, let's do some math, and let everyone see where the merits lay. Let's apply the concepts to real models and see how they perform. No need to just bluster back and forth. But that's a trick challenge, isn't. You've got nothing to deploy, when you have to show your work. You are stuck in you anthropocentric intuitions about this notion of information designed as an ID polemic device. It's useful, until you actually have to show you can apply it and accomplish something verifiable with it.eigenstate
January 31, 2012
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Mark at 5.1.1.3.5 I apologize again for the delay in getting back to this thread. I probably shouldn't even be trying to carry on a conversation right now given my current constraints. In any case, thank you for the clarification. It is good that we can agree that recorded information doesn't simply exist in everything (as some have suggested). It is basically impossible to carry on a rational conversation about recorded information under that paradigm. So given that this is now out of the way, we can turn to your example of holes in roofs and stains on ceilings. In order to point out the distinction as I see it, I would like to draw your attention to some of the examples I gave in the argument. Let's take the example of the music box where we have one arrangement of matter acting as an abstract representation of a musical score (i.e. the music box cylinder with its arrangement of pins) as well as a second arrangement of matter (the tines) which actualize the representation contained within the cylinder (by establishing a physical protocol within the system). First I’d like to point out that it’s not merely the presence of this matter which creates (or allows for) the transfer of information, but it is the arrangement of that matter. I’d also like to point out that both of these arrangements of matter have an immaterial quality about them. For instance, the arrangement of pins on the music box cylinder is not a song itself, but is an abstraction of a song – one that if actualized within a system (with the correct protocols) will result in the song being recreated from the abstraction. However, in this particular instance, I would like to draw your attention to the second arrangement of matter; the protocol. Like the representational arrangement mentioned above, this protocol has an immaterial quality as well – that is, it is not the mere physical presence of tines which allows for the re-creation of the abstracted song, but instead, it is the spatial arrangement of those tines which is the necessary element. Further, the spatial arrangement of those tines is not determined by physical law, but is instead a rule (a protocol) instantiated in a physical object. In other words, the rule being instantiated within the system is not the presence of tines, but the (materially-inert) spatial arrangement of those tines. Having said that, I’d like to highlight one other important aspect. In the semiotic argument I made the claim that one of the key physical dynamics is that neither the representation nor the protocol ever becomes the effect. In order to steer clear of any misunderstanding on this, please allow me to restate this once more in stronger terms. In the example I gave, we have: a) A representation established in a physical object (e.g. the arrangement of pins on the music box cylinder). b) A protocol established in a physical object (e.g. the spatial arrangement of coordinated tines). c) A resulting effect driven by the representations (e.g. the specified vibrations of air being recreated in the airspace surrounding the music box). So to state it in direct terms: at no point in this system do the pins on the cylinder physically become the vibrations of air; as fixed brass pins on a rotating cylinder, they are physically incapable of either causing it or becoming it. Likewise, at no point does the spatial coordination of tines either become or cause the vibrations of air. The spatial coordination of the tines merely puts the tines in the proper path of the pins within the system. It is clearly the case that the vibrating tines themselves cause the vibrations of air – not the protocol that coordinates them, nor the pins that strike them. We can take these same physical relationships and see them at work in the automated fabric loom I offered as an example. In this instance, the representations are the arrangement of holes punched into paper cards (which act as an abstraction of the desired effects within the system). The protocols in this system are the coordinated mechanical sensors which respond to the abstractions contained in the cards. The effects of the system are changes in the threads being woven by the weaving machinery. Following the same physical dynamics as in the example of the music box, the threads being woven are being woven as a direct result of the weaving machinery; not of the protocols that coordinate the sensors to the holes, and not of the holes themselves. These are not examples of deterministic physical dynamics in the way, say, that oxygen bonds with hydrogen to form water, or the manner in which water reacts with sulfur-dioxide to form acid rain. Instead, these are instances of the physical processing of information, where an arrangement of matter acts as a representation of an effect within a system, and the system the representation operates within contains the protocols required to bring those specified effects into being. Now let us turn to your example, where holes in the roof are being suggested as equivalent to representations of the damaged ceiling below, and the protocol within the system is rain, which leaks through the holes and causes the damage. There are several issues that can be immediately raised here, but we can set all of these aside since we have already agreed that recorded information doesn’t simply exist in the state of an object, and I am assuming we can also agree that post-hoc assigning of representational meaning to objects by human beings doesn’t change that fact. Having said all of this, I am certain that it does not go unnoticed that rain water following gravity through the holes in the roof is the direct cause of the damage below, and it also cannot go unnoticed that this physical dynamic has nothing whatsoever to do with the examples of physical protocols given in the argument. - - - - - - ps: As an aside, I simply wanted to also add that in the instance of DNA (as in the music box and other examples) we are specifically dealing with an iterative represenational system, where a finite number of representations repeat as a means to achieve the required effect.Upright BiPed
January 31, 2012
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eigenstate @ 5.1.1.3.3, You previously attempted to force this interdisciplinary mistake of applying a re-purposed (and completely anthropocentric) definition of information to these observations. That attempt was quickly refuted in a thread which you then abandoned after the issue was exposed. Now back for a second time, I notice that nowhere in your rant did you address exactly how you intended to make the distinctions required by your misuse of the term. Quite frankly, at this point it is not entirely obvious that you even understand the issues. In any case, it would apparently seem that the intervening time has been difficult for you. Your contempt is palpable, and apparently there are some unresolved issues with “salespeople” and those who speak in the presence of “water-coolers”. I am just a lowly research director with 30+ years in the saddle, so I will not aspire to speak for either group. I would only add that in my domain we measure human thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and the like. In such a fluid domain we know better than to hold our thumb on the scale, then puff up in disdain when its pointed out. These are not luxuries we cannot afford to enjoy. They are methodologically unacceptable, and therefore never allowed. CheersUpright BiPed
January 31, 2012
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@Upright Biped#5.1.1.3.1 Sorry I realise I accidentally left a sentence of garbage at the end of my comment: #5.1.1.3.4.  I will correct it and also perhaps explains my point a bit better. You are concerned that:
The cornerstone of your rebuttal is actually rather old and illogical; and when carried to its extreme, it ends with ‘recorded information’ being a ubiquitous phenomenon which exists in everything.
Actually I completely agree with you that recorded information is not found everywhere.  What I am doing is pointing to examples which are not recorded information and as far as I can see have the physical characteristics that you say are essential for information transfer.  If they do not have these characteristics then all you have to do is indicate how they differ physically from your examples.  I think what is confusing you is I believe that what makes something information is not its physical characteristics but how it is used.  So almost anything might be a case of recorded information in context (perhaps this is why you are so concerned about me stripping away the context from your examples). For example, the damp patches in my ceiling might in some contexts be recorded information about where tiles are missing in my roof.  I might not be able to see where the tiles are missing and I can use the damp patches to provide me (or anyone else) with information. As I said before what you are trying to do is like trying to define the concept of language by the sounds that are typically used.  In fact almost anything can be used as a language – sign language, written languages, braille, etc. It is the way they are used that makes them a language.markf
January 29, 2012
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UB I offer examples of things which are not examples of information transfer and you accuse me of assuming recorded information is everywhere! You are trying to define the essential physical characteritics of information transfer and then show they apply to DNA/Amino Acids. When I offer counterexamples, which I believe have the same physical characterstics and are not information transfer you can refute this in one of two ways: * By showing how this example differs in its physical characteristis from information transfer (including DNA) * Showing that my example is actually an example of information transfer Instead I get some relatively light abuse and bizarre accusations of assuming recorded information is everywhere. instead of explaining how my counterexample does not have these characteristics or is an examplemarkf
January 28, 2012
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@Upright Biped#5.1.1.3.1,
Unfortunately Mark, your argument never actually rises to the level of being about the distinction between sufficient and necessary causes – it fails far in advance of that point. The cornerstone of your rebuttal is actually rather old and illogical; and when carried to its extreme, it ends with ‘recorded information’ being a ubiquitous phenomenon which exists in everything.
I think markf has been bending over backwards trying to accomodate you casual and equivocal semantics for "information". It's a generous gesture, but he's on a fool's errand, I'm afraid. There's a reason why "information" the way you use it is not used that way in science, or in rigorous, quantitative models. If there is a "greatest question in macro physics" over the last 100 years, it's got to be the examination of "Maxwell's Demon". Without digressing into all the intricacies of that controversy (and that's a thought experiment he launched not too long after Darwin put out his big ideas -- it's well over a century old as a problem, now), the central issue for Maxwell's Demon is the problem of information. Not "information" in some standing-by-the-office-water-cooler-have-my-sales-charts-printed-yet informal sense of the term, but in the formal sense of information as fundamental physics, thermodynamics in action. And that DOES make "information" ubiquitous, as ubiquitous as physical matter and energy, because that's what Maxwell's Demon resolves to, the consolidation of physical matter as information (cf. Landauer's Principle, "information is physical"). You can go on all you like about protocols and transfer, but these are arbitrary distinctions (useful though they maybe -- I'm a developer who makes a living through devising and implementing "protocols"), but the concept at that level is not amenable to rigorous analysis. It's a casual, fuzzy concept.
This of course, spits in the face of observed reality; it eviscerates the word “information” of any meaning whatsoever, and if granted (even for the sake of argument) it does not (and cannot) account for actual recorded information.
I think you have that reversed. The scientific semantics for information are concrete, discrete, mathematical, and empirically grounded (see the various experiments around Maxwell's Demon, for example!). You can actually do stuff with the scientific meaning deployed for "information". "Information" in the casual, anthropocentric sense you are holding to, is non-operative by comparison. This is the reason why Shannon disavowed "meaning" in his definitions for information theory -- "meaning" as a cognate of "information" in the casual sense you offer cannot be integrated into quantitative models, and has no objective semantics to support such analysis. Not all information is recorded, or permanent of course. Erasing a bit on your hard drive in a thermodynamically irreversible way destroys recorded information -- it's gone forever, and, crucially, thermodynamic costs are required to make that happen. The larger point being, information as a rigorously defined concept in science is not new, novel or controversial. It's just a paradigm shift for people who are used to thinking about information in terms of "data contextualized for human understanding and apprehension".
Once you allow the material state of any object to be considered ‘recorded information’ (which is an entirely anthropomorphic view of reality to begin with) then you can no longer use the word “information” to describe a material state which is actually arranged in order to record information (because by your usage it contains recorded information whether its arranged to do so, or not).
ANY way we talk about information is going to suffer some level of anthropocentric taint in the language we use, unless we reduce it all to symbolic calculus, which, importantly CAN BE DONE with markf's (and my) concept of information. The terms are just pedagogically useful. If you prefer, it's just fine to use "material state", and the discussion and models work just as well. By contrast, it is the casual, human-centric sense of information which you are trying to work from here that is problematic, and renders model-building and quantitative analysis impossible. Look at the trouble you have defining and using your terms. The difficulty you are experiencing here is conspicuous, a bright signal that you don't have grounded semantics for "information" as you are using it. "I know what it is, and when I see it I know it" won't cut it for the kind of questions we're trying to apply it to. THAT'S where casual human terms (just fine for talking about sales charts at the office, but vacuous in this context) are show-stoppers. The scientific semantics for information -- ubiquitous as matter/energy (for they are one and the same), quantitative, objectively derivable -- perform and calculate without any human caprice. It's just math using "information" the way scientists do. It's not math, or amenable to maths, as you're trying to use it.
In other words Mark, after you’ve uselessly bastardize and waste the term “information” in order to suit yourself, you’ll need a new one to replace it (because recorded information actually exist by the arrangement of matter in order to contain the recorded information).
There are many levels of description. The raised bumps on the metal of the music box cylinder represent "recorded information". But the temperature of that cylinder, the average thermal energy of the particles that make up that cylinder is just as much "recorded information" as a function of the various states of those particles. The temperature is constantly in flux, if we are thinking in terms of exacting precisions; the temperature of the cylinder is constantly varying from moment to moment, by minuscule amounts at least, as it interacts with the environment around it, but at any given instant, a set of "material states" for those particles exist in discrete fashion such that we can calculate an average of that thermal energy for the cylinder's particles. The "melody" is a higher level abstraction, something more like the temperature of the cylinder in that it is not a fundamental metric, not a measurement of quanta, but a conceptual abstraction based on that. The temperature abstracts based on the thermal properties of each molecule; the "melody" derives (per the music player) from the physical location of each molecule, with raised parts being part of a "note". In both cases, though, the abstractions are intrinsically bounded to the fundamental properties (that is the fundamental information) of each particle. That's a "lower level of description", measuring the thermal metrics on a particle by particle basis, and averaging them (or just sampling the average, as our instruments do, we don't have the means to measure particle by particle). But that "recorded information" exists at the same time as the "melody" information encoded in the raised bumps exist. They don't interfere with each other; each level of description provides a different set information set for the cylinder.eigenstate
January 28, 2012
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However, I have yet another example which may bypass these issues. Suppose we come across a new species of bee that does the dance exactly as the current species does but by itself so it has no effect whatsoever on other bees. This is not an example of information transfer. All that has happened is that the position of the food source has causes the bee to behave in a certain idiosyncratic way. But surely it meets all your conditions as the only difference is a lack of other bees.
Without the other bees, the protocols would not exist to decode the dance. That would in no way meet the conditons of the argument. Sorry Mark, it is clear that you simply do not grasp the argument being made, or more likely, you cannot view it in any terms other than bastardized terms you are married to.Upright BiPed
January 28, 2012
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Mark, Sorry for the delay, I had an impending date with a gurney.
I can provide examples where the conditions are present and information transfer is not taking place.
But you haven’t done so. First, you strip away the context and content of the observations being made, and then attempt to use the remnants to prove your point. For yourself, you have apparently succeeded. For me, not in the slightest. Unfortunately Mark, your argument never actually rises to the level of being about the distinction between sufficient and necessary causes - it fails far in advance of that point. The cornerstone of your rebuttal is actually rather old and illogical; and when carried to its extreme, it ends with ‘recorded information’ being a ubiquitous phenomenon which exists in everything. This of course, spits in the face of observed reality; it eviscerates the word “information” of any meaning whatsoever, and if granted (even for the sake of argument) it does not (and cannot) account for actual recorded information. Once you allow the material state of any object to be considered ‘recorded information’ (which is an entirely anthropomorphic view of reality to begin with) then you can no longer use the word “information” to describe a material state which is actually arranged in order to record information (because by your usage it contains recorded information whether its arranged to do so, or not). In other words Mark, after you’ve uselessly bastardize and waste the term “information” in order to suit yourself, you’ll need a new one to replace it (because recorded information actually exist by the arrangement of matter in order to contain the recorded information). Of course, this only resolves your abuse of the phrase “recorded information.” Additional resolutions will need to be put in place for your abuse of the terms “represent” and “rule”. A person engaged in earnest would typically use these common terms by their likewise common definitions, but instead, when you redefined the narrow phenomena of ‘recorded information’ to be ubiquitous among matter, you also removed any possible meaning from the word “represent”. And as you’ve demonstrated, the word “rule” now is a matter of necessity; indistinguishable from the word “law”. These are the prices that are demanded by those that must abuse language in order to argue their case. I attempted to bring this to your attention in my very first rebuttal to you, but to no avail. I realize that it will not matter now any more than it did then.Upright BiPed
January 28, 2012
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UB I am sorry that my post stupefies you.  I will try yet again. As I understand it your argument is 1) There are certain conditions which are necessary for information transfer.  2) Those conditions are present when DNA is expressed. 3) Therefore, when DNA is expressed information is being transferred. If that is not a fair summary – please say so. My points are: a) (3) does not follow from (1) and (2).  It would only follow if those conditions were sufficient for information transfer. b) I can provide examples where the conditions are present and information transfer is not taking place. So the conditions are not sufficient for information transfer. You say in my example of the holes in the roof the conditions do not apply because the holes do  not represent the damp patches and the rain is not implementing a rule. This is where the definition of represent (or “stands for” or whatever) is crucial.  What is the difference between A represents B and A is present when B is present? To me the difference is that in the first case A is being used by someone to communicate something about B. Which is why I don’t think a base pair represents the corresponding amino acid.  But maybe you mean something else by represents?  And to me the rain implements a very straightforward rule – the rule is that the damp patch is immediately below the missing tile.  What stops this being a rule?   However, I have yet another example which may bypass these issues.  Suppose we come across a new species of bee that does the dance exactly as the current species does but by itself so it has no effect whatsoever on other bees. This is not an example of information transfer.  All that has happened is that the position of the food source has causes the bee to behave in a certain idiosyncratic way. But surely it meets all your conditions as the only difference is a lack of other bees.markf
January 26, 2012
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Virtual drinks are cheap, and I've got lots of virtual money. :-)champignon
January 26, 2012
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vj,
Re your argument about Demon 1 and Demon 2, you really should read what Dr. Edward Feser has written in response to Stephen Law’s “evil God” argument.
You've missed the point. I'm not trying to make the case that God is evil. I'm showing that the argument you presented could be used to support your conclusion and its opposite:
Same evidence, same logic, opposite conclusion. If you can use an argument equally well to defend a claim and its opposite, you’ve got a bad argument.
You continue:
Re wishing yourself out of existence: it’s one thing to voluntarily sacrifice oneself for the sake of some good. It’s another thing to wish for a state of affairs which would have made one’s very coming-into-existence impossible. I find it strange that anyone would wish for a world in which they could never have come into existence.
Any world that God makes will exclude some people who otherwise would have existed. If God is going to exclude people anyway, then why not make the best possible world? Anyway, the issue is what God should do, not whether you or I would prefer a universe that includes us. I'm sure that trillions of the people who don't exist would prefer a universe in which they did. How much good does that do them? On the other hand, maybe God is obligated to bring every possible person into existence. Hmmm. I may have a theological argument for the multiverse here. :-).
You say that “God could have made me different, but still me.” That’s true, but only up to a point.
But up to a point is all we need. He just needs to change me enough so that I see the truth about him. Or better still, he doesn't need to change me at all. He just needs to make the evidence better. Regarding Jesus' prophecy, look at how hard you are having to work to rationalize away the straightforward, clear meaning of the text, and to find excuses for why the failed prophecy is not really a failed prophecy after all. (And look at Sonfaro's gyrations on the subject. He's gotten himself completely tied up in knots.) You are so committed to the idea that the prophecy has to be correct that you're discounting and ignoring the obvious evidence that it isn't. The question to ask isn't "How can I interpret the evidence so that it doesn't challenge my cherished beliefs?" Instead, the question should be "What is the most likely interpretation of the evidence?"
If there were someone whose sole reason for unbelief were the lack of sufficient evidence, then I’m sure that God would enlighten such an individual at the point of death. However, this would be a supernatural act of enlightenment, conferred by God at the very end of one’s life. It is unreasonable to expect God to supernaturally enlighten every spiritually confused person during their lives on Earth.
Why is it unreasonable? Many Christians believe God supernaturally enlightens people all the time, through the Holy Spirit. Why do that for some people and not for others?
You ask why God should slam the door on us after the final moment of death. It is not God who slams the door, but those who make the final decision to reject Him.
A loving God would allow us to change our minds and accept him after death. Why the arbitrary cutoff?champignon
January 26, 2012
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Champignon, Thank you for your post. Re your argument about Demon 1 and Demon 2, you really should read what Dr. Edward Feser has written in response to Stephen Law's "evil God" argument. Please see the following: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/broken-law.html Re wishing yourself out of existence: it's one thing to voluntarily sacrifice oneself for the sake of some good. It's another thing to wish for a state of affairs which would have made one's very coming-into-existence impossible. I find it strange that anyone would wish for a world in which they could never have come into existence. You say that "God could have made me different, but still me." That's true, but only up to a point. He couldn't have made you a dolphin, even if dolphins were fully rational like ourselves. Any rational individual that was a dolphin, couldn't be you. Re Matthew 16:27-28, I think we should compare this passage with Matthew 28:18-20, where the risen Christ manifests himself to His disciples:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This passage shows that Christ had already been given all authority in heaven and on earth, at his resurrection. That surely means His kingdom had come. Now go back to Matthew 16:27-28:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
The passage doesn't say that there are some who will not die before the Last Judgment. It says there are some who will not die before the coming of the Kingdom, and it says that then there will be a Judgment. "Then" does not necessarily mean "immediately afterwards." (As the Christian apologist Glenn Miller has pointed out, the telescoping of time intervals was regarded as an accepted literary technique in standard biographies of that time.) So anyone in the audience who later witnessed Christ's resurrection could be said to have fulfilled Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 16:27-28, since they had seen the coming of His kingdom. You ask why God couldn't illuminate you with the knowledge of His existence before you die. Actually, I would say that He probably does. (Many near-death experiences seem to suggest as much.) In your final moments of bodily existence, God could certainly make you aware that He existed, and ask you whether you wanted to exist in a state of friendship with Him for all eternity or not. If there were someone whose sole reason for unbelief were the lack of sufficient evidence, then I'm sure that God would enlighten such an individual at the point of death. However, this would be a supernatural act of enlightenment, conferred by God at the very end of one's life. It is unreasonable to expect God to supernaturally enlighten every spiritually confused person during their lives on Earth. You ask why God should slam the door on us after the final moment of death. It is not God who slams the door, but those who make the final decision to reject Him. It is quite possible to envisage that an individual could make a final choice against God, after being enlightened as to His reality. You might wonder why. Some people would prefer to be proud and independent rather than serve their Maker. To such people, God says: "Very well. If you really want to be left alone, then I will leave you alone."vjtorley
January 26, 2012
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And I’ll buy a round of drinks for everyone!
Have you got an estimate of the headcount? :)Eugene S
January 26, 2012
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I was going to steer clear of this, but here's one or two more thoughts. Is there any reason to think that a vision - "seeing" something - actually requires literally laying eyes on it? I think we've already established that many "saw" visions of things that weren't even literally real. There's no reason to think that this is any different or that time travel was executed. Not only are the events in Revelation clearly symbolic, but they take place over a period of time. How could John "see" a history of warfare, famine, and pestilence? Revelation also consists of several distinct visions which overlap, showing different aspects of events that would occur during the same time period. So how many times did John travel through time? Plenty of people "saw" things, implying the actual sense of sight, not a dream, even though those things were visions, not literally real. There is no interpretation of what Jesus said that requires this to be an exception, and if taken literally then very little that John "saw" could possibly even make sense.ScottAndrews2
January 26, 2012
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Mark, your comments are completely stupefying. First, I give you the physical entailments of recorded information transfer (defined in the argument as observations "which are a necessary result of the existence of recorded information transfer"). You then give back to me a counter-example that does not demonstrate those entailments; then you rightly point out that there is no information being transferred; and then (quite fantastically) you stamp your rebuttal with “QED” as if you’ve accomplished the obvious. Truly amazing. (By the way, protocols establish relationships that would not exist without them. That is why they are a part of the physical system. That is why they are needed. That is why they are called rules - not laws) So yes, I stated that your view is an anthropocentric mess because – clearly – the hole in your roof does not represent water stains on your ceiling. The holes in your roof are nothing more than holes in your roof; they are not recorded information. The drops of rain that passed through those holes were not rules connecting those representations to the stains underneath; they are nothing more than drops of water following gravity. This wholly made-up relationship, between holes and stains connected by rules of rain, is one of your own making. You’ve put yourself in the sample, Mark. It’s all in your head.Upright BiPed
January 26, 2012
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One would have to show the irrationality, which hasn't been done really. You have made a point that you disagree (with snark, but that's expected). Still doesn't change scripture though. "Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." - Jesus "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” - John John saw the kingdom of God come with power before he died. Simple enough. Gotta go. Late for work. Will argue with you more later. ;)Sonfaro
January 26, 2012
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