Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trying to understand Edward Feser's objection to ID

Occasionally, I try to understand Prof. Edward Feser's objection to Intelligent Design, usually without success. I suspect it's because I don't fully understand Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. I'm trying to read Feser's book, Aquinas; a Beginners Guide, so perhaps one day I will understand it all. Meanwhile, I've come up with a thought experiment, hoping it finds its way to Prof. Feser, who will comment on it in his own blog.

Let's suppose that one day scientists are able to construct a "simple" bacterium completely from "scratch." No preexisting living parts were used. All the basic parts were synthesized from non-living materials. Let' suppose that this bacterium then behaves as if it were alive. As an ID advocate, I would have no problem with this. I would say that the scientists had succeeded in designing and constructing the bacterium, and that once constructed, its materials and organization have resulted in its ability to live.*

 I'm not sure what Prof. Feser would say. Would he say that the bacterium isn't really alive? Or would he say that once it's parts were organized in the proper fashion, God conjoined the form of life to it? Or would he maintain that such a scenario is in fact not possible? Or what?

 * I would also add that it seems highly improbable that (without the intelligent guidance of the scientists) all the materials would come together in exactly the right way so that there would be a bacterium. So improbable that we wouldn't expect it to happen even once in this universe. And that there doesn't appear to be any natural, gradual method from non-living materials to living ones. It appears that someone had to design and organize at least the first bacterium.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Autism an Epidemic?

Is Autism an Epidemic?

From the article:

 "The CDC report, published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), states that more than 1 percent, or 1 in every 88 children, is diagnosed with autism today, including 1 in 54 boys. 

This is a 78 percent increase in 6 years (2002-2008) and a 10-fold (1000%) increase in reported prevalence over the last 40 years. The report uses the same methodology that produced the CDC’s 2009 prevalence findings of 1 in 110 children with autism."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Programming of Life


Well-polished video that shows a lot of what goes on inside the cell and makes the argument that life could not have arisen through an undirected process. Whether or not you buy the argument (and I think there are problems with it), the animation is the best I've seen, so far. In fact, I wonder if it was animation or actual photography.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Something from Something means Something

This has been posted almost everywhere, but in case you haven't seen it, philosopher David Albert rips to shreds Lawrence M. Krauss's new book, A Universe from Nothing.

The other interesting comment that Albert makes is this:

"When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb."

If religions are cruel, a lie, a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for everything essentially human, then wouldn't it be dumb to believe them?

Is this easier to remember?

Millions of my readers have been complaining that it is too difficult to remember the address for my blog. So I created an easier address to remember:

Now I'll just have to put a link over there for here.  Or start blogging over there?  Decisions.  Decisions.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where is the Purposelessness of Evolution?

Insightful article by Techne over at Telic Thoughts:

Where is the Purposelessness of Evolution?

Keep up the good work, guys.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Taking Over the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF)

Thanks to Victor Reppert at Dangerous Idea for recommending RD Miksa's Taking Over the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF). I've only had time to look over the first page, but I can tell it will make for very good reading.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nice zinger by Rabbi Klinghoffer

Subtle ironic barbs should not go unnoticed:

"As historians now recognize, advocacy of Christmas Potluck Parties is one of the factors that impelled the medieval Crusaders in their marauding drive across Europe to re-conquer the Holy Land."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adam's Federal Headship and Original Sin

The traditional view of how human beings came to have Original Sin is that they inherited it biologically from their parents, and that this could eventually be traced back to our original parents, Adam and Eve. Most geneticists now claim that there never were just two people in the human population, but always at least several thousand. If this is indeed the case, it would require a revision of some sort in our understanding of how Original Sin was transmitted.

 I've been reading C. John Collins' book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?. He discusses an alternative model proposed by Derek Kidner in his (1967) commentary on Genesis. Kidner wrote:

 "It is at least conceivable that ...[Adam and Eve were] the first human pair as God's vice regents (Gn. 1:27,28)...God may now have conferred his image on Adam's collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being. Adam's 'federal' headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike." (p.124)

 Collins finds this acceptable, with the proviso that " would need to imagine Adam as chieftain, or 'king,' whose task it is not simply to rule a people but more importantly to represent them (the basic idea of a king in the Bible)." (p.125)

 So one plausible solution to the genetics problem is that in the original human population, consisting of several thousand people, Adam would have been the chieftain or ruler, representing the rest of humanity. When he falls, so does the rest of humanity. To our modern democratic minds this might seem unfair. But it would have made sense to those living under a monarchy. And if Christianity is true, we do indeed live under a monarchy. The good news is that even though our first king fell, our second king did not. And as Paul put it (I Corinthians 15:22):

 "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

More on Elliot Sober and Guided Darwinism

To support his distinction between "guided Darwinism" and "unguided Darwinism" Alvin Plantinga refers to the eminent philosopher of biology, Elliot Sober, in his essay,  "Evolution without Naturalism," ( in J. Kvanvig, ed., Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, vol. 3).  It's a fascinating essay, discussing not only the question of Darwinism and Theism, but also the question of Darwinism and Platonic Numbers.

On p. 196 of his essay, Sober writes:

"God can direct the evolutionary process in an ultimate sense, though mutations are undirected in a proximate sense.  Biology says nothing about the former and theism says nothing about the latter."

This might be enough for Plantinga's guided Darwinism, if determinism is true.  In a deterministic world, God could set up the initial conditions, and allow events to unfold, resulting in the precise path that He wanted evolution to follow.

However, what if the world is not deterministic?   Could we still have "guided Darwinism?"   And again, Sober is most obliging:

"Theistic evolutionists can of course be deists, holding that God starts the universe in motion and then forever after declines to intervene.  But there is no contradiction in their embracing a more active God whose post-Creation interventions fly under the radar of evolutionary biology.  Divine intervention isn't part of science, but the theory of evolution does not entail that none occurs.16 

 And in his footnote, Sober writes: 

 "Plantinga (2009) distinguishes "Darwinism" from "unguided Darwinism" and interprets the latter as incompatible with the existence of God. For Plantinga, Darwinism is a scientific theory whereas unguided Darwinism is that theory with a "metaphysical or theological add-on." I agree that the distinction is important, but think that the notion of unguidedness that is central to evolutionary biology is itself theologically neutral."

If I understand Sober's point, it is that Darwinian evolutionary theory claims that genetic mutations fall within a pattern that can be explained as random with respect to fitness.  However, it is possible for God to cause some mutations that are not random with respect to fitness to occur, so long as they do not fall outside that apparently random pattern.  Thus, they would "fly under the radar of evolutionary biology."

So then Darwinism, according to Sober, simply says that it looks like the mutations in evolution happened randomly with respect to fitness.  The question of whether they actually did happen that way is outside of the purview of evolutionary biology.

So the popular view -- and my previous view -- that "guided Darwinism" is an oxymoron, is apparently incorrect.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe

Professor of Philosophy Bradley Monton wrote a very interesting paper a few years ago, Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe. I brought it up and discussed it a few times at TelicThoughts (here, for example), but never came up with a satisfactory way of defending ID in an infinite universe. But I think I finally stumbled across a reasonable defense.

 Normally, ID proponents rely upon a finite universe in order to make their arguments: Given a finite universe of about 13.7 billion years, and composed of about 1080 atoms, there simply hasn't been enough time (or so they argue) to generate the biological information that we see on Earth. In his paper, Prof. Monton first points to empirical data that suggest that our universe is probably infinite in size. (From what I've come across, Monton's conclusion that our universe is probably infinite may not be that accurate. See here, for example. But it still leads to an interesting philosophical question.)   In an infinite universe, the probability resources for generating the biological information on Earth would be more than sufficient, as are all sorts of improbable events, such as people walking on water.

 Nevertheless, Monton maintains that there would still be ways, based on Bayesian probability theory, to persuasively argue for intelligently caused events or miracles. As an example, take the case of a man walking on water. Given the proper background information, such as, the man seems to be of high moral character and claims to be God's son, the probability that his walking on water was an act of God is higher than the probability that it is one of those improbable, but fully natural events that are bound to happen in an infinite universe. (We could contrast the case of this man walking on water, with a case where a man walks on water, but is not of particularly high moral character, or does not make any claims to a special relationship with God, and just happened to be out for a walk that day. In that situation, we would be less likely to take it as evidence of a divine miracle, and more likely to attribute it to one of those fluke things that happens in an infinite universe).

 Monton goes on to compare this with the case of the origin of life, which he is willing to grant (at least for the sake of argument) as a highly improbable event:

 "Here is one key difference. In explaining why one can infer design on the basis of the seeming miracle [a man walking on water], I pointed out that the seeming miracle would be more likely to occur under the supposition that God exists than it would under the supposition that there is no designer. This is what leads to the probability shift in favor of the designer hypothesis. In the existence of life case, though, it would be reasonable to think that there would be no more life in the universe under the supposition that God exists than under the supposition that there is no God. After all, even under the supposition that there is no God, we would expect there to be life in an infinite number of places in the universe. I see nothing in Christian theology, for example, which suggests that the density of life in the spatially infinite universe would be greater than it would be if there were no God.8

 And in the footnote, he adds:  

8There is still the question of why life exists on this planet. Before taking into account our knowledge that we’re here, that event is highly implausible under the chance hypothesis. But it is also highly implausible under the design hypothesis – we have no antecedent reason to think that God would create life on this planet, out of the infinite pool of planets in existence. 

The thing I stumbled across has to do with something called the Rare Earth hypothesis (which I think was first proposed in the book Rare Earth; Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe.)  The authors, Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, argue that animal life (non-unicellular life) "is exceedingly rare in our galaxy and in the Universe," and that it is only because of the very special and rare conditions that we find on our own planet that animal life is able to exist and thrive here.

If Ward and Brownlee are correct, then we do indeed have an "antecedent reason to think that God would create life on this planet, out of the infinite pool of planets in existence."  It is because this is one of the few planets in our galaxy, or even in our universe, that has the properties necessary for complex life to thrive, and thus for creatures "created in God's image" to live.

What's interesting is that Ward and Brownlee believe that "simple" (unicellular) life is abundant in the universe.  Of course it must be.  For if simple life were as rare as they think our type of planet is, then how incredibly lucky it would have been for it to appear in just the right place, so that eventually it could evolve into animals.

So yes, even in an infinite universe there would appear to be good reason to believe that life on our planet was designed.

What might change this conclusion is if we do indeed find simple life on neighboring planets or moons.  That, I think, would tend to support Ward and Brownlee's claim that simple life is abundant.  In that case in an infinite universe, we would find simple life nearly everywhere, and therefore simple and complex life on rare planets such as ours.  In such a case, this wouldn't mean that God hadn't designed both the simple and complex life.  Merely that probability arguments for that conclusion wouldn't be very compelling.

Maybe that will be an impetus for exploration of our solar system.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Larry Moran Agrees with ID Proponents that Methodological Naturalism not Necessary to do Science

Normally,  Prof. Moran calls us "IDiots."  But today, he agrees with us that methodological naturalism (or at least, intrinsic methodological naturalism) is not a necessary part of science, here. Apparently he held this view, thinking the majority of philosophers of science disagreed with him. But as Bradley Monton, professor of philosophy of physics, pointed out a couple of years ago:

 "...a false view about philosophy of science was promulgated by Judge Jones. Jones made it sound as if philosophers of science agree that methodological naturalism is a constraint on science, whereas in fact I think this is highly contentious in the philosophy of science community – or, if it’s not highly contentious, that’s because most all philosophers of science are on my side."

By the way,  Prof. Monton  is an atheist.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

High Marks to Plantinga's New Book

I finally finished reading Alvin Plantinga's new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies;  Science, Religion, and Naturalism.   I must give it very high marks and recommend it almost unhesitatingly.   Plantinga's main goal is to show that there is superficial conflict, but deep concord between science and theism; and superficial concord, but deep conflict between science and naturalism.  I think, for the most part, he succeeds in accomplishing this goal.  I especially recommend reading chapter 9:  "Deep Concord:  Christian Theism and the Deep Roots of Science," where Plantinga very systematically lays out his case.

I do have a few misgivings.  As I've mentioned before (here and here), it's not clear to me that Plantinga is correct in thinking that there is no conflict between Darwinism and guided evolution.  Further, he does not discuss what has become a hot topic in Christian thinking:  how to resolve the apparent conflict between geneticists, most of whom maintain that the human population never had fewer than several thousand people, and the traditional understanding of the Fall, which says that our current sinful nature resulted from the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  I, for one, am curious how Plantinga would suggest going about resolving this apparent conflict.

There are other parts of his book that I want to think over before I give my wholehearted endorsement to them.  It's not clear to me that Plantinga gave a satisfactory reply to the multiverse "answer" to the fine-tuned universe argument.  And I'm not sure that I agree with his suggestion that design arguments should best be viewed as "design discourses", instead.  If I have time, I hope to explore these issues in the near future.

But meanwhile, if you're looking for a good book that discusses the relationship of science and religion, I can't think of a better book to recommend.

 P.S. I suppose I'll also consider criticisms leveled at Plantinga's book by others.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trouble posting comments?

 I had tried changing the settings so that non-anonymous people could comment without being held in moderation.  Then I got a complaint from a friend who said he couldn't get a comment to post.  So I've changed it back to holding comments in moderation.  Let me know if it works, if you can.