Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Paul Nelson vs Keith Miller Interchange.

I have followed with interest the interaction between Paul Nelson and Keith Miller as it unfolded following Ed Braytons allegation of dishonesty against Paul Nelson.

The interchange was started by this piece by Ed Brayton:

Paul Nelson's Outrageous Lie.

Paul Nelson responded with a comment:

Paul Nelson's defence.

Ed Brayton then produced a new post:

Paul Nelsons Continued Lie.

Paul Neslon then responded with this posting:

An Apology to Keith Miller.

2. Whether we believe that intelligent causation is necessarily part of "natural regularity" or not. Especially do we regard responsible intelligent causation as something distinct from "natural regularity"? Can you have a guilty and reprensible natural regularity? Is it right to punish a natural regularity?

If we reduce human intelligent causation to natural regularities does this have consequences for our view of human action? If all we are is molecules interacting where do we get moral responsibility and culpability from?

17 Comments:

Blogger allygally said...

It's fairly straightforward. Nelson tried to make Miller look foolish, he made a mistake and owes an apology. So far he has given a pretty mealy-mouthed excuse for an apology.

The reason being: if Miller is right that the thief is a natural agent and therefore within the realm of science, then the argument is back Nelson's court: why does he believe that the ID designer (outside nature) is in the realm of science? And is it not true that, honestly stated, the ID designer has to be supernatural? Nelson does not want to take on this argument, so he prevaricates and blusters.

It's really just the old argument: are the "aliens", "prime movers" or whatever you think might be the ID designer, just a smokescreen to avoid saying "godddidit"?

2:28 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Andrew said:
The argument seems to me to hinge on:

1. What Keith Miller means by "natural regularity." Does Keith Miller really believe that human beings can be reduced to molecular interaction alone?"

I think you are unfair to Miller. He makes it clear that he sees god in some important aspects of life, (spirituality, morality, love..) but not in science. A perfectly respectable position held by the vast majority of Christians.

"Keith Miller cannot be a Christian if he believes that a human being is only matter plus energy."

Nasty. He doesn't say that. He makes it perfectly clear that there are other dimensions (in his belief) than the purely material. (see above)

"Whether we believe that intelligent causation is necessarily part of "natural regularity" or not."

I'm tempted to give the Tonto reply when he and the Lone Ranger are surrounded by Indians: "What you mean we, white man?".

But I'll desist.

Do you mean: whether we believe the ID designer is a natural entity, amenable to science? Behe doesn't. Nor does Dembski. Does Nelson?

"Especially do we regard responsible intelligent causation as something distinct from "natural regularity"?"

Since you acknowlede above that it is not clear what Miller means by "natural regularity", I cannot see how we can equate it "intelligent causation" or with anything else.
It also depends on how you define "intelligent causation": in nature or outside?

2:49 pm  
Blogger Richard H said...

Keith Miller cannot be a Christian if he believes that a human being is only matter plus energy.

Maybe I've missed the point, but if you believe that God created the universe, then when we see "matter plus energy" are we not just seeing the building blocks of that designed universe, using the senses that we have been designed with?

Why would "matter plus energy" and "believing in God" be mutually exclusive if you believe God created the universe?

Try this for an analogy where we would be 'God':

If some Artificial Intelligent software managed to build other software tools within a computer environment that enabled it to see the binary data that ultimately it is made from....it can choose to believe it is simply made up of binary data (matter) and the processor (energy) moving that data, or it can conclude that someone created the binary data to create it (God - aka Humans in this instance).

The building blocks from which we are made and can sense, are unrelated to what we believe if we believe that there is a designer that exists outside of those building blocks.

3:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nelson said:
"Now what would you infer from that pattern, I put the question to Keith. And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car..."
What Miller actually said was:
"Such analogies are completely inappropriate. The thief is a natural causal agent. Humans are part of nature – in fact a part of nature that we know a considerable amount about."
Nelson clearly represents Miller as denying that a thief was involved, whereas Miller equally clearly admits that a thief was involved. Thus, Nelson lied about what Miller said. This lie is the crux of the matter. All else is misdirection.

8:39 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Richard,

Sorry to be so slow in responding.

The keword in my statement was "only" If human being are only matter and energy then Christianity is false.

One example...
According to Luke's gospel
Jesus said to one of the thieves dying on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise" Thus conscious personality can exist seperate from the body.

11:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew: that is pure and utter misdirection!

Your statement is irrelevant, as is Christianity, to this discussion. The only matter at hand is the fact that Nelson clearly and unequivocally represented Miller as saying the direct opposite of what Miller in fact said.

This is lying!

No hand-waving about "matter and energy" or about the implications of Miller's statements for Christianity can change this (which is why they are irrelevant).

Nelson lied. You now attempt to defend his blatant dishonesty. What does that say about your own honesty?

Most of the ID movement have a gapping credibility gap due to a widespread view of the scientific community that this movement indulges widespread dishonesty in the form of frequent misrepresentation, and the occasional outright lie. Attempting to defend an IDer who has been caught in a blatant lie just adds to that impression.

3:47 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Annonymous,

I see the situation very differently from you. It is precisely because of my commitment to truth telling that I cannot accept that this is a simple case of deliberate dishonesty. I have tried to explain why after carefully studying the material.

9:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did Miller say that there was a thief?

Did Nelson say that Miller said there was not a thief?

If the answer is "yes" to both questions (and I believe that the record allows no other answer), then the only conclusion can be that Nelson lied about what Miller said.

Explanations as to what Nelson thought was inconsistent about Miller's position are irrelevant to this issue. Even if Miller's position is inconsistent, that is no excuse to lie about it!

11:06 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

I wonder whether Keith Miller himself would agree that it is a simple and straightforward case of deliberate lying...

Nelson saw what Miller was saying as implying that there was no such thing as real moral responsibility. He presented a highly abbreviated (and unfair given that the hearers did not have access to the prior discussion) summary account of what he thought of as Miller's views.

It is often the case that we use a caricature of another persons views for debating purposes and this can sometimes be useful to help us get at the truth... shouting liar and calling for someones scientific career to be ended ( I am not saying you have done this BTW) or calling for legal action because of something like this is not a helpful way forward in academic investigation.

12:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Andrew, the version that Nelson gave was not merely "abbreviated" or "unfair", it was quite simply untrue. Uttering an untruth is called "lying". It is as simple as that. The untruth was about something far more basic, more concrete, and thus more obviously untrue than confusion over "moral responsibility" and other concepts. The untruth was concerned with whether Miller admitted that there had been a thief. Unless and until you direct your argument at the presense or absense of this thief (and not at the arguable moral implications of Miller's viewpoint), I cannot view your arguments as anything other than dodging the issue.

In any case, Nelson doesn't have a scientific career to be ended, for the simple reason that Nelson (like the majority of prominant ID-advocates) is not a scientist.

From what I have seen to date, honesty is valued far lower than orthodoxy in the realms of Christian Apologetics and ID, so it is unlikely that this dishonesty will do his career any great harm.

2:23 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,
This is the Lie:
"And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened, Keith said a natural regularity occurred."

How many people in the context when listening to that would be driven to the serious conclusion that Miller really does not believe in crime, theives and phoning the police?

It is clearly in the context of a definitional disagreement over whether intelligent causation comes within the term natural regularity or not.

To cite this example as the great proof of the dishonesty and low moral standards of people within the ID movement and Christian Apologetics is clutching at straws.

3:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How many people in the context when listening to that would be driven to the serious conclusion that Miller really does not believe in crime, theives and phoning the police?"

I would most certainly conclude that this is what Nelson represented Miller as believing. Whether somebody would conclude that this is what Miller believed would depend on how well they knew Miller, how they viewed Nelson, and how naturally skeptical they were. I have seen no evidence that Nelson's audience knew Miller, or were an unsympathetic audience to Nelson, so I see no reason that they would actively reject the anecdote's veracity, particularly not without having given the story greater reflection.

This is all irrelevant incidentally. It does not matter whether Nelson's audience believed his lie (though from the reported laughter, it is apparent that they did), the dishonesty was in his uttering the untruth. Can you really imagine a witness, caught out in perjury, excusing himself to the judge because "it doesn't matter, because the jury didn't believe me anyway"?

No, it is not "clearly in the context of a definitional disagreement over whether intelligent causation comes within the term natural regularity or not" -- it is clearly in the context of a cheap shot aimed at (illegitimately) discrediting a rival viewpoint.

Nelson represented the rival position as "denying the existence of thieves". This, beyond the fact that it is an untrue representation of Miller's actual statement, is an obvious strawman argument designed to illegitmately discredit the rival argument without engaging its substance.

4:14 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anon,

The point of the paragraph is that Nelson ties together ringing the police with making a design inference. For him without the design inference you cannot ring the police. For him the design inference is entirely distinct from the category of natural regularity. For him the evidence points to an intelligent act as distinct from a natural regularity.

For Miller the intelligent act is part of natural regularity.

You cannot read this and think that Nelson is seeking to laugh at Miller because he does not believe in crime or police... he is seeking to laugh at Miller because he includes responsible human crime under the heading "natural regularity."

5:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The point of the paragraph is that Nelson ties together ringing the police with making a design inference. For him without the design inference you cannot ring the police. For him the design inference is entirely distinct from the category of natural regularity. For him the evidence points to an intelligent act as distinct from a natural regularity."

If Nelson's worldview is so blinkered that it obscures what somebody clearly stated then he has no place in civilised debate or in philosophy. In fact I would argue that it is an indication that he should perhaps seek psychiatric help, as it means that he is more willing to believe what his beliefs tell him should be the case, than in what the facts staring him in the face (in this case the existence of Miller's words in an email) are telling him.

Most normal people would not make a "design inference" in splendid isolation.

They would (at least subconsciously) note that they have left the car unattended, that a person has the physical capability of breaking into a car, and that some people seek to steal. Means, motive, opportunity -- all, arguably, natural regularities.

To attempt to make a "design inference" lacking this context would appear to be quite bizzare.

Thus, applying Nelson's own analogy to the question of the origin of Life in all its diversity, we would want to know at least something about the who, why and how of a hypothetical designer, before we gave it even any possibility of credence. The lack of these details places ID below even YEC in the scientific mind -- as at least YEC provides (admitedly scientifically highly implausible) details on this.

6:42 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

Is the root of the problem that you have the same classification system for people who do not swallow evolution as a worldview as Richard Dawkins?

"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that) "

[He later explains that what he particularly dislikes about creationists is their intolerance.]

8:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is the root of the problem that you have the same classification system for people who do not swallow evolution as a worldview as Richard Dawkins?"

No. I have met few creationists that aren't either ignorant, dishonest, or both -- but there are counter-examples. Even Dawkins admits that Kurt Wise is both an honest and a knowledgable creationist, for example.

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further, I would claim that Nelson's claims about Miller's position meets title="Wikipedia's definition of Doublethink".

5:17 am  

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