Friday, June 16, 2006

On Holiday

We are off to the NW Highlands of Scotland for 3 weeks... I will post some pictures when I return I hope!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reliable Recognition of Intelligent Agency.

Which of the following propositions do you agree with?

1. Human intelligent agency is a distinct type of causation which can be recognised and is recognised successfully as an integral part of our normal lives. The evidence left from some human acts is indistinguishable from other animals. The evidence left from other human acts is distinguishable from all other known animal activity. eg writing books and using a complex language.

2. Human intelligent causation can be recognised as having occured even in situations where we know nothing about the individual agents concerned. We believe in their existence solely on the basis of the recognition of human like intelligent causation.

3. Human intelligent causation is currently our only physical model for the whole field of intelligent causation...we have no other material intelligent agents to study yet.

4. It is possible to concieve of other different intelligent agents from ourselves. It is not impossible that such beings may exist.

5. It is legitimate to use human intelligent causation as a model for the whole field of possible intelligent causation-
(a) from different time periods
(b) from different planets.
(c) from other non-material/hyper material intelligent agents.

6. It is possible to come to a correct conclusion of intelligent causation when examining
(a) the universe as a whole
(b) particular instances of intelligent design e.g. a living cell or a flagellum.

Quote (Part 2)

"After figuring that out, it was the death of rationalism, as far as I was concerned. The problem with rationalism is that it isn’t rational. It fails to give sufficient importance to the development of the choice of the right premises; it tries to justify them by circular reasoning. Once I was alert to that distinction, I was able to critique the things that previously I felt I had to take for granted. "

Friday, June 09, 2006


When you speak of rationality, there are two very distinct components. One is logical reasoning, which is about going from premises to conclusions, conclusions that should be as good as your premises. Thus, logic will get you into insanity if you’ve got the wrong premises.

The other component of rationality is having the right premises. How do you get them and how do you determine that they are right? Not by logical reasoning, surely, because then you would be reasoning from other premises in order to justify them. There is an instinct, or revelation, or whatever you want to call it, that underlies your thinking, and the only interesting problem in philosophy is how you get that.

Peacock Feather.

I love peacock feathers!
"For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for, thinking of so many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years, often and often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and Hooker, can be wholly wrong, and therefore I rest in peace."
He now discussed the arguments:
"About the weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder." "I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me feel uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"
Charles Darwin
(The life and Letters of Charles Darwin, John Murray, London, Vol.2, p296, 1887)
Can he really mean that? Why did he feel like that?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What is "Natural Regularity"?

Pauls Nelson's view:
It is synonymous with "physical regularity" and the following are genuine physical regularities:
-- the principle of superposition in stratigraphy
-- Newton’s second law
-- the speed of light in a vacuum
-- Maxwell’s equations
And so on. Physical regularities can be described in equations or simple relations.

I found this quotation from Michael Ruse which seems to agree...
"Science is an attempt to understand the physical world, primarily through law, that is, through unbroken natural regularity." (Montagu, pg. 328)

Also from this page:

In discussing the following argument:
As scientists have shown us, the world is a well regulated place. They have discovered many laws of physics (such as the law of mass conservation). But everyone knows that you cannot have laws without a lawmaker. There must therefore be a Supreme Lawmaker. In spite of their anti-religious tendencies, then, scientists have actually helped to prove the existence of God.

The author says:
This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. In the second sentence, law means something like 'natural regularity'. In the third sentence, it means something like 'a command made by a governing body or person'

This fits with the above senses of the phrase.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Ed Brayton wrote a very scathing response to my first piece on the Paul Nelson vs Keith Miller affair. After having read his response (here) and studied the relevant pieces of text carefully I am left wondering whether we both have the same source documents... certainly Ed is reading them in a very different way from myself.

I am still convinced that the argument turns on what Keith Miller means by "natural regularity" or his later phrase "physical regularity."

Remember that the context of this discussion is that it is a group of scientists who are also Christians who profess to believe that the Bible is the "Word of God".
It seems clear to me that Paul Nelson's view in the discussion is that if a human being belongs in the category of "natural regularity" or "physical regularity" then this destroys moral responsibility. If a human being is reduced to only matter and energy interacting then moral responisbility is just an illusion.

Keith Miller seems to me to be deeply confused here. On the one hand as a scientists he wants to see a human being entirely within the category of "natural regularity" or "physical regularity" on the other hand he wants to say (a) Complex biological structures behave in strange ways and this may allow us to escape from the destruction of moral responsibility (b) As a Christian he believes that a human being is more than just matter and energy.

Paul Nelson was presenting his view of Keith Miller's confusion... ie that he denied a real basis for responsible intelligent causation and thus would have no real grounds for defining some actions as crime... it was his understanding of Millers position that he was ridiculing. He unwarrantably caricatured Keith Millers position and for this he has apologised. However we are left with a considerable degree of puzzlement about Keith Millers views. Does he or does he not believe that human, intelligent, responsible action can be reduced to physical regularity alone or not? This seems to me to be one of the issues at the heart of the ID debate too.

[BTW my comment about him not being a Christian if he believes that a human being can be reduced to interaction of matter and energy alone was not meant to be "cattish" just a statement of reality. Orthodox Christianity has always taught that human beings are made in the "image of God" and are a union of matter and spirit with the spirit capable of some kind of conscious experience without the body... hence Jesus' words to the thief on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise" when both of their bodies were dead and disposed of in different ways.]

Monday, June 05, 2006


After reading the debate between Paul Nelson and Keith Miller again and trying to understand what was going on in Keith Miller's mind I started doodling. Clearly Paul Neslon had Dembski's Explanatory filter in his mind in the discussion:

However Keith Miller had the methodological naturalists classification system in his mind which I reckon looks something like this:

I wonder if we had to produce a universal cause classification system what would it look like?

1. Chance
2. Known Regularity
3. Unknown Regularity
4. Natural Intelligent Cause (human)
5. Natural Intelligent Cause (superhuman)

6. Intelligent Cause (non-material)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Paul Nelson Vs Keith Miller.

Ed Brayton has kindly responded to my last post on this discussion here and John Rennie at the Scientific American Blog has waded in with his view here.

I just started reading (again) the Word document of the exchange between Keith Miller and Paul Nelson which I am finding fascinating.

Interestingly Nelson provides a context for his view of "natural regularity" early on in the exchange....

"Is it possible, using ordinary scientific methods, to detect an “intelligent” intrusional event? By “intelligent,” I mean a mode of causation not reducible to natural regularities or chance events. Is intelligent causation a legitimate scientific inference?"

Thus the frame of the discussion is whether this classification of causation is acceptable or not.
Is intelligent causation reducible to "natural regularities or chance events" (or a mixture of both)? Is it legitimate to defend another seperate class of intelligently caused events (even if we insist that they are natural and physical events through and through.)

Miller responds with the view that we can never infer an intelligent cause because we can never exhaust the possibilities of "natural regularities and chance events." A design inference he says is theological and thus outside of science.

Nelson then asks Miller if it is "religious" to infer that Miller's email had an intelligent cause.

Miller is caught between a rock and a hard place now... He tries to account for responsible intelligent causation at the level of neuronal activity plus a gentically controlled embryonic development plus past evolution ....but as a professing Christian he is obviously somewhat uncomfortable with this view of a human being....however the important point is that eventually he comes down with the final answer....

YES... it is religious to infer that his own email had an intelligent cause!

As Nelson later points out this has interesting consequences!

The inference that the man found with stolen property is the responsible intelligent cause of the broken car window is also a religious inference.

It is Nelson's frustration that a professing Christian should tie himself into such ridiculous knots that results in his unwise caricature of Millers arguments. Millers conclusion here is silly and does deserve to be laughed at. He made a mistake.

Presumably the general consensus is that Keith Miller is wrong in his conclusion here. Presumably Keith does not wish to maintain this view.
Presumably Ed Brayton and John Rennie agree that he is wrong here.

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?