Friday, April 29, 2005
An A-Priori Commitment to Millions of Years?
This indicates to me that perhaps they had an a priori commitment to long ages, probably based on Greek philosophy (which had been revived during the renaissance). The geologists of the 19th century talked about getting out from under the Abrahamic
(or was it Mosaic -- can't remember the actual terminology) system. Anyway, the dates go slowly outward from Mosaic dates -- starting out at about 80,000 years, and progressing steadily upward until we are at the 4 billion mark for the earth today, and the 20 million mark for the universe.
Anyway, nothing explicit, it is certainly very likely that they did not have an a priori commitment, but it just made me wonder, and I might look into it more at a later date.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Evolution and Alchemy
That general idea, coupled with a few fraudulent examples of it happening, kept the fires of alchemy burning for long after it should have died out. But, again, it made sense -- they had no reason to think that the changes available by chemical means were limitted.
This is almost the same situation in biology. Change has been observed in living beings (and in fact had been observed LONG before evolution or even aristotelian biology), but not the kinds of change required to fully rewrite the way an organism works. While there is quite a lot of variation available even within a single population, ultimately there is not the ability for transformations between life forms no matter how much time you had.
Mendel's work actually showed this experimentally (and his paper said as much), but this has been widely ignored. It was assumed that mutations solved this dilemma, but the kinds of mutations normally observed do not add up to the power needed to do the necessary transformations in any amount of time.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Naturalism, Science, Theology, Polkinghorne, and Dembski
The first article is Intelligent Design: Yesterday’s Orthodoxy, Today’s Heresy. There are several interesting things within the article. The ones I found most interesting is:
- The fact that bad theology in the 19th century is what led to Darwinism. Specifically, he contrasted William Paley's theology of a watch built by a watchmaker with the Church Father's theology of a master flutist who both created a flute and loved to play it. Paley leaves God distant from creation, instead of intimately involved. This distance eventually led to evolution (in fact, when Darwin was still a Christian, Paley was one of his favorite reads).
- The fact that you can't have a completely self-contained interpretive framework. Ultimately, you have to involve ideas and thoughts from other disciplines, based on (or at least inspired by) Godel's incompleteness theorems.
- The problems with current Christian education of its pastors.
Here are some quotes:
“Enuma elish” are the first words of the poem. They mean “when on high.” The poem is talking about the origin of the world, and it ultimately tries to vindicate Marduk as the head god of the Babylonians. The poem starts out with Tiamat and Apsu, who are the salt and fresh waters. Notice that this starts with natural, material forces. As the salt and fresh waters mingle, there is a sort of cohabitation, and out of this comes a first generation of gods. As the gods go on, they kill each other and do various things. For generation upon generation you get new gods, and as you read along, you find that these gods are becoming more and more conscious and intelligent, until you finally get to the head god, Marduk.
Notice what is happening. It is not that you are starting out, as in Genesis, with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;” that God speaks the world into existence; that God, a conscious, intelligent, personal agent, is the source of all being, and then everything is created as a result of this intelligence. Rather, intelligence is emerging as a byproduct of natural forces working themselves out. So we see an evolutionary story in the Enuma Elish. I am not just imposing it; it is there.
Paley was a theist, but it is easy to see why with Paley’s natural theology it was a very short step from theism to deism. But now push it a little further: If a perfect watch is one that never needs winding, would an even more perfect watch be one that constructs itself? A watch is just an object in motion. Material objects move. So why not just set it up so that material objects build the watch and then allow the watch to continue indefinitely? There was a fellow named Kingsley who described evolution as the result of God, but he said, “God makes a world which makes itself.”
I think you see where this is going. You go from theism to deism, but once you have a perfect watch that does not need God except at the beginning stages, why not just take it further and just have a watch that constructs itself? I think that is where the logic of science went. By the time you get to Darwin you have a world in which everything makes itself. And what Darwin brings to the party, as it were, is an account of how you get biological organization and complexity.
Let me just say where I believe we are now. I think we are finding that this concept of a world that creates itself is no longer adequate. For the idea that the world created itself to be convincing, you are going to have to argue that material processes are adequate to explain everything in the world. To do that, there has to be a reduction to natural law. Basically, what you have to say is that for anything that happens, there is an antecedent circumstance and some law-like relationship that takes you from one thing to the other. You have this in Newtonian mechanics. For example, if you have a certain orbit, then there were some initial conditions, some properties of the matter which led to that. Or if you are trying to explain some instance of biological complexity, then there must be some background conditions, some natural selection pressures, or certain properties of variation that could account for that.
It is not that the principle of sufficient reason breaks down. It is just that when intelligence is a sufficient reason, there is no reduction possible. If God in his wisdom creates the world, it makes no sense to ask: What is behind that wisdom? Who designed that wisdom? There is nothing behind it. That is how intelligence works. Intelligence is creative. Intelligence is not an open book; intelligences write books. They create novel information. You cannot reduce them to these material mechanisms.
If I had to characterize in a nutshell what is happening within the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, I would say this: We in ID are saying that this picture of a materialistic world, entirely controlled and capable of being explained by mechanisms is no longer adequate, and we have good solid reasons for showing the insufficiency of that worldview on scientific grounds.
A similar thing happened in the 1930s in mathematics, when a mathematician named Kurt Gödel showed that there were true mathematical statements that could not be proven. The things that are proven in science are those things that you can explain in terms of material mechanisms. Gödel’s result is called “the incompleteness theorem” because it is saying that there are truths that are not susceptible to this sort of mechanization of mathematics. Likewise, the mechanization of science is incomplete—it does not account for everything.
And that brings us to the second article: Religion in an Age of Science. It's a very interesting article. However, Polkinghorne does not hold that scripture is in authority over science, and that where scripture and science disagree, we should look to scripture. He believes the other way around. However, the arguments against naturalism and science are excellent. Especially this paragraph:
There is a second thing I want to say, and it's this: many people have a picture of the physical world which is very outdated. The great triumphs of the science in the eighteenth century, and the further discoveries of the nineteenth century, encouraged a view of the physical world as if it were in some sense mechanical, a rather rigid and deterministic world. Actually, we've always known that can't be right, because we've always known as an absolutely basic fact of human nature that we have the experience of choice and responsibility. In the twentieth century we have made further scientific gains and twentieth-century science has seen the death of a merely mechanical view of the world. In part, that is due to the cloudy fitfulness of quantum theory lurking at the atomic and sub-atomic roots of the world. But I think, more importantly still, it is also due to another unexpected insight of science gained in the last thirty - forty years. Even the physics of the everyday world, even the physics of Newton, is not as mechanical as Sir Isaac and his followers would have thought it to be. That's a very surprising discovery. Those of us who learned classical physics, learned the subject by thinking about certain tame, predictable systems, like a steadily ticking pendulum. That's a very simple robust system. If you take a pendulum and slightly disturb it, or you are slightly ignorant about how it is moving, the slight disturbance only produces slight consequences, the slight ignorance only produces slight errors in your estimation of how it will behave. We thought the everyday Physical world was all like that. It was tame, it was predictable, it was controllable - in a word, it was mechanical. Now, we've discovered that, in fact, almost all the everyday physical world is not like that at all. Almost all of the everyday physical world is so exquisitely sensitive that the smallest disturbance produces quite uncontrollable and unpredictable consequences. There are very many more clouds than clocks around. This is the insight that is rather ineptly named chaotic dynamics. It came as a very great surprise to us. It is not altogether astonishing that the discovery was first made in relation to attempts to make models of the earth's weather systems. In the trade it is sometimes called the butterfly effect: that the great weather systems of the earth are so sensitive to individual circumstance that a butterfly stirring the air with its wings in Beijing today will have consequences for the storm systems over London in a month's time. Now, that world - that exquisitely sensitive world - is an intrinsically unpredictable world. We can't know about all those butterflies in Beijing. So we've learned that the physical world, whatever it is, it certainly isn't mechanical, even at the everyday level. It is something more subtle and more supple than that. To do justice to the full development of the argument, I'd need to say a good many more things, but I think already one can see the beginnings of a picture of the physical world that is unpredictable in detail and open to the future. That is a gain for science. Science begins to describe a world which is sufficiently flexible in its development, a world of true becoming, of which we can consider ourselves as inhabitants. The future is genuinely new, not just a rearrangement of what was there in the past. In such a world of true becoming, with its open future, we can begin to understand our own powers of agency, our own powers to act and bring things about. I would want to say also that such a physical world is one which, in my view, is capable also of being open to God's providential interaction and his agency in the world. So that whole picture of the physical world has been loosened up. It is much more hospitable to the presence of both humanity and divine providence than would have seemed conceivable a hundred years ago.
Complaining that a Scale is not a Microscope
"ID sucks because it can't tell us who the designer is"
Or, more generally,
"ID sucks because it does not give a complete account of origins and doesn't resolve the theological debate entirely"
The issue is that ID isn't meant or designed to do that. ID answers ONE QUESTION and ONE QUESTION ONLY -- was X designed? That can only have three answers -- yes, no, and I don't know (actually, ID can only answers that question two ways -- yes and I don't know). ID is simply a TOOL. To complain about ID because it doesn't answer every question about life, the universe, and everything is just as silly as complaining that a scale doesn't have the same features that a microscope does. A scale only weighs things. It won't tell you why it weighs that amount. It won't tell you what color something is. It will only answer the question WHAT DOES IT WEIGH. Likewise, ID only answers the question IS X DESIGNED?
I find it odd that scientists would reject a tool on the grounds that it has a very specific purpose, and answers a very specific question.
Another attack on ID (this one from theologians) complains that ID gives the false impression that the way life exists on the earth was the way that it was created, which is biblically false. Again, this is another misunderstanding of what ID is -- ID does not say that everything was created as it is. ID allows for both designed and undesigned biological systems, and for designed systems to falter. The ONLY QUESTION THAT ID ANSWERS is WAS X DESIGNED?
I think that a lot of these "misunderstandings" of ID arise because of one of two reasons: (a) people don't want ID to be true, and therefore purposefully have a false impression of what it is or does, or (b) some creationists are overly-pushing ID as being the answer to all of their ills in the science/religion conflicts. I think both answers are true.
Starlight and Time
This brings me to think about one of the problems in origins research -- to come up with a properly suitable comprehensive theory of origins, it would require knowledge of a vast array of sciences, most of which people study their entire lives. Therefore, once a paradigm is established, it would take an exceptionally long time for it to be disestablished, since the disestablishers would have to have answered all of the questions from all areas of science.
First of all, I have a lot of respect for Russel Humphreys. I didn't before the conference. I appreciated the fact that he was humble about his own findings, and, specifically regarding his speed of light study, was very tentative about them. Reading Hugh Ross's assessment of the situation had led me to believe that AiG did not put any disclaimers on the material, but in fact they do. In addition, in a personal conversation with Russel after the conference, I asked him how many evidences he had collected for a young earth. He told me he had collected around 200, but only wished to disclose the ones that had been well-researched, which he publishes on ICR's web site.
Second of all, my favorite talk was on racism. I had thought about skipping that topic, because I thought it was going to be very boring. But instead, I learned many fascinating things. One of which was that the reason my parent's generation is so bigotted is probably because bigotry was taught as a fact of biology. Now, neither I nor AiG think that evolution is the source of racism. The existence of racism in biology textbooks simply tells me why its so engrained in them that they can't seem to let it go. So what was AiG's point? It was that the Bible contained the truth all along. When the Church abondoned God's word to follow secular science, when secular science changed, the Church was left holding the bag, and was no longer a light to the culture. It wasn't about racism per se, but about the Church compromising to contemporary culture. When people try to rectify the Bible with personal beliefs and modern science, it is always the Bible which winds up changed. As believers, we are to put the Bible first, not last.
The third thing, which is mostly trivia, is that the Ice Age ended around the time of Abraham. Job, which was written roughly at the same time, takes place in the middle east, but has an unusually high number of references to cold, ice, and snow. I thought that was interesting.
I also bought some videos there, which is unusual for me, since I usually buy books. Anyway, I've really enjoyed the Creation Astronomy video, and look forward to the research Jason Lisle will be doing with AiG. I also enjoyed Tas Walker's biblical geology video, and am doing some more research on my own in that area.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Welcome to CrevoBits
Anyway, you'll probably find a lot wrong with the blog -- that's its whole point. Please help me out by posting how stupid I am in the comments. However, please help me out by being specific and including links if you can. I'm also always looking out for good books to read!