Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A First Lesson in Practical Logic

My article from the new issue of The Classical Teacher magazine:

When I was a philosophy student in college, one of my professors articulated a principle of argument which I have remembered ever since: attack your opponent’s assumptions and his inferences. I have taught logic for some 15 years now, but when I find myself in an actual debate, this is the only thing I consciously bring with me.

This principle is based on a fundamental distinction in logic and this is reflected in the two branches of traditional logic. The first branch of traditional logic is formal logic. Formal logic has to do with the structure of an argument. In formal logic, truth is secondary, because the primary concern is whether the conclusion follows from the premises—whether the premises are true or false. In material logic, on the other hand, which is the second branch of traditional logic, it is the truth of the premises that is primary.

Let’s say I have the following argument:
Taking an innocent human life is wrong
Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life
Therefore, abortion is wrong
Formal logic asks whether the conclusion, “Abortion is wrong,” follows from the two premises, “Taking an innocent human life is wrong” and “Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life.” It does not ask whether the premises themselves are true or false. If the conclusion does follow, then we say the argument is valid. If it does not, it is invalid. The student studying formal logic would study the seven rules of validity. He would also memorize the nineteen valid argument forms as a sort of shortcut so he could see an argument’s validity at a glance.

A good logic student would quickly see that the above argument is indeed valid: its conclusion does follow logically from the two premises.

But material logic would ask the further question: “Are the two premises really true?” Is it true to say that taking an innocent human life is wrong, and is it also true that abortion takes an innocent human life? Material logic, too, has its rules, which involve definition and division. If, in addition to being valid, the argument’s premises are true, then we say that the argument is sound.

When my philosophy professor said “attack the assumptions and the inferences,” he was assuming this distinction between an argument’s structure and its content. He was saying, in effect, “Ask if the premises in your opponent’s argument are true, and also whether or not the argument as a whole is valid.” By “assumptions” we mean the premises of the argument; by “inferences” we mean what would also follow from the premises if the argument were, in fact, valid.

Let’s try this method of attacking the assumptions and inferences on another argument we often hear today:
There is a right to same-sex marriage
All rights should be protected by law
Therefore, the right to same-sex marriage should be protected by law
Now, I have never seen the argument stated exactly this way. Often it is stated in an invalid form (this is the case with most arguments you hear, unfortunately). But if I were an advocate of same sex marriage, this is the way I would state it. When Thomas Aquinas argued for the truths of Christianity, he always put his opponents’ arguments in the best light; he always gave them the benefit of the doubt, if it was possible. As a matter of ethics, we should always try to do this.

In the above case, then, how do we attack the assumptions and the inferences? Let’s attack the assumptions first.

The most common situation is that there is one true premise and one false premise, and often it is the first premise (called the “major” premise in logic) that is the problem. If we have stated the argument properly and put the major premise (the most general one) first, that is the most likely place our opponent may have gone wrong. If we apply that to this argument, then we want to look at the premise that states that same-sex marriage is a “right.”

Well, is it?

Notice that at this point we seem to have gone well outside the boundaries of logic. A premise in an argument can be gotten from anywhere. It could be a statement of science, or of history, or of economics. But there are still principles of material logic we can apply here. One of the aspects of material logic is definition, which has to do simply with what words mean. In this case, we can ask whether, given the meaning of the word, same-sex marriage could qualify as a “right” or not.

So the first question to ask is, “What is a right, and how do we know if something qualifies as one?” There are many ways of addressing this question. Just for fun, I am going to employ the most sophisticated and beautiful of all logical arguments: the dilemma. The dilemma is a way of putting your opponent in a box; it is a way of showing him that, no matter what in fact is the case, his assumption leads to an unacceptable conclusion. Again, there are numerous ways of attacking the truth of a statement—this is only one of them.

If I am making this argument, here’s how I do it: There are only two kinds of rights: those that originate in divine law and those that originate in human law. If the claim is that same-sex marriage is a right originating in divine law, then it must be false, since (if it is addressed at all) it is precluded by the holy books of all major religions. If the claim is that same-sex marriage is a right originating in human law, then it must, again, be false, since the law of the land (at least in the United States) does not acknowledge it. Therefore, in either case—whether the appeal is to divine or human law—the claim is false.

Now there are complicating factors here. The supporter of same-sex marriage could support his case by saying that it is a right originating in human law and that it can be found in the Constitution itself (either a state constitution or the federal Constitution). In fact, this is exactly the argument some make. The weakness of that position, however, is that they would then commit themselves to abandoning their belief in this right as soon as the constitution in question is amended. At that point, their only refuge would be in some sort of metaphysical, God-given right, which is a much harder assertion to establish--particularly for people who, like many of those who take this position, either do not believe in metaphysics or are not terrible good at it.

There are many ways to attack the truth of an opponent’s premise. The above example is just one way to do it. Let’s look now at how to attack the inferences.

Attacking the inferences of an argument involves taking the logic of your opponent’s argument and applying it to something else. The object here is to use your opponent’s logic to produce a conclusion that even he will find unacceptable. This procedure is called reductio ad absurdum, which is Latin for “reduction to absurdity.” It is a very concrete way of showing how ridiculous your opponent’s argument is.

Let’s try this on another argument. Recently, the issue of Intelligent Design has been the subject of a vigorous national debate. Its proponents claim that there is a way to scientifically prove that certain things in the universe—or the universe as a whole—are the product of design. Its opponents charge that Intelligent Design is not science:
In order for a theory to be scientific it must be falsifiable
Intelligent Design is not falsifiable
Therefore, Intelligent Design is not science
In appealing to falsifiability, the opponents of Intelligent Design are employing the criterion for science laid down by philosopher Karl Popper (who said that science, broadly speaking, is whatever holds itself out for potential falsification). If someone claims that there is a law of gravity, he climbs to the top of a building and drops things over the side and they fall to the ground. And every time he does this the same thing happens. The theory is scientific because it could be shown false by something being dropped from the top of the building and not falling to the ground. In this way, the law of gravity is falsifiable.

The debate now is whether Intelligent Design is falsifiable in the same way. We could attack one of the assumptions here (like we attacked the assumption of the previous argument about same-sex marriage) by questioning the second premise. But let’s try attacking the inferences.
How would we do this? We would simply ask, if we accept the argument that Intelligent Design is not science because it is not falsifiable, then what else does not qualify as science? The idea here is to come up with something your opponent would say is science that is not science by the criteria he has laid out. It is to show him his logic is wrong because, if he applies it consistently, he will have to accept a conclusion he doesn’t want to accept. Is there one?

The best place to look for scientific theories that are not falsifiable is physics. Everyone accepts that physics, and the theories that are included under it, are scientific. But many of them are not falsifiable—at least not now. The most famous of these is superstring theory. Superstring theory is the theory that particles and fundamental forces in the universe can be explained by the vibration of very tiny symmetrical strings. The problem is that the theory is not only not falsifiable, but, as some scientists have pointed out, it isn’t even conceivably falsifiable. Some of Einstein’s thought experiments (many of which he later set forth as full scientific theories), the scientific status of which have never been questioned, are not falsifiable either.

Your opponent could swallow hard and say that these things are not science, but he will know he is on shaky ground—and he will know you know he knows it.

This simple principle, this logical shortcut, does not replace logic, and, in fact, can be performed much better and more easily if you know logic. But it is still useful to both the experienced logic student and the person with little formal logical training.

34 comments:

Lee said...

Good show, Martin!

The proposition that all life has common ancestry is itself unfalsifiable. We weren't there to see it, and we weren't there to not see it, and we can't reproduce the settings in the lab, run the experiment, and take notes for five billion years.

Anonymous said...

Are there fossil rabbits in the Precambrian?

Lee said...

Do we know that the fossil rabbits we do have were descended from creatures in the Precambrian?

Can we prove that they were?

Can we prove that they weren't?

Anonymous said...

Yes.
Depends on what you consider proof.

Note that you changed the subject. A Precambrian rabbit or other mammal fossil in rocks more than 543 million years old would falsify common ancestry; something you said could not be done.

If you were on a jury for a murder case in which there were no eyewitnesses would you accept a defense claim of a miracle over DNA evidence?

Lee said...

> Depends on what you consider proof.

Wasn't it someone else in another thread who asked, "If we assume that dogs have five legs, then how many legs does a dog have?" Four.

By all means, you are invited to prove that such fossil rabbits as we have were/were not descended from creatures in the PreCambrian.

And as they say in school, show your work.

> Precambrian rabbit or other mammal fossil in rocks more than 543 million years old would falsify common ancestry; something you said could not be done.

I was being nice. The absence of a rabbit in the Precambrian, to serve as evidence in favor of evolution, would also have to serve as evidence in favor of not evolution.

If we were to find a rabbit skeleton in a Precambrian strata, would evolutionists just give up? I doubt it. They simply assume that the rabbit, while still alive, had gone on a digging frenzy. I wouldn't be surprised if that has indeed happened. "Hmmm. This does not look like an animal typical of the strata. We will therefore assume it doesn't belong here."

> If you were on a jury for a murder case in which there were no eyewitnesses would you accept a defense claim of a miracle over DNA evidence?

Ah, the joys of non-specification. What were the particulars of the murder case? I would not assume that, because a plausible case could be worked out, that it is necessarily true.

In a court of law, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient for conviction. Is that level of proof good enough for Darwinism? And if so, is it also good enough for ID?

Anonymous said...

"And as they say in school, show your work."

Can I post an entire paleontology textbook here?

"If we were to find a rabbit skeleton in a Precambrian strata, would evolutionists just give up? I doubt it. They simply assume that the rabbit, while still alive, had gone on a digging frenzy. I wouldn't be surprised if that has indeed happened. "Hmmm. This does not look like an animal typical of the strata. We will therefore assume it doesn't belong here.""

So paleontologists and biologists are liars or are hidding evidence? Show your evidence for this. Note one of Martin's "Rules" for this blog: "Questioning the motives or integrity of people you have never met just because you disagree with them".

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_common_descent

Lee said...

> Can I post an entire paleontology textbook here?

Are you seriously suggesting that there is a paleontology textbook somewhere that does?

Which one(s)?

> So paleontologists and biologists are liars or are hidding evidence? Show your evidence for this.

I didn't say that it would be a dishonest endeavor, necessarily. It could be sincere. If I found a mosquito larva in the glove box of my car, and I had previously concluded that mosquitos do not typically reside in glove boxes, I might sincerely conclude that it must have gotten there some other way than to hatch out on my car's registration document, because it doesn't belong there. I have not logically or empirically ruled out that it could never have hatched there, but in my mind I would never have considered it.

Let's try another approach. For the sake of argument, let's grant as true your suggestion that finding a rabbit in the pre-Cambrian would disprove common descent.

Is it enough that one possible disproof is refuted?

If rabbit skeletons are not to be found in pre-Cambrian strata, can we therefore conclude common descent?

I think the most it could prove is that rabbits did not live during the pre-Cambrian. How does it prove that rabbits are descended from animals that *were* alive in the pre-Cambrian?

You'd have to assume that animals that lived in a previous era begat the ones in the current era.

In other words, we'd have to assume what we are trying to prove.

Lee said...

From Wikipedia:

> "The wide range of evidence of common descent of living things strongly indicates the occurrence of evolution..."

From Lee:

The presence of language such as "strongly indicates" means that the use of the word "proof" is inappropriate.

Martin Cothran said...

I might point out that the simple maxim that the absence of a falsifying condition is not proof of the truth of a position. The only thing it is proof of is the absence of a falsifying condition.

Lee said...

Yes, Martin, and thanks for getting the thread back on track.

As to falsifiability, that's pretty much what ID is trying to do to Darwinism: show that the presumptions underlying evolution are too improbable to have happened without intelligent design.

You would think they would welcome the attempt. But Darwinists seem to act as if the very act of trying to falsify Darwinism is impertinent.

I think there are only three possibilities. If we take it as a given that all animals have common ancestry, it happened by: necessity, accident, or design. If there is a fourth possibility, I am unaware of it.

I think it is clear that it wasn't necessary. If after several billion years, chance and conditions resulted in a single living cell, it could have died instantly. It could have failed to find nutrients and starved. It could have gotten too hot, too cold, or too poisonous. Or the cosmos could have burped and the formation of the cell could have been a near miss. When you drop a ball, it falls to earth because gravity necessitates its downward acceleration. We know of no such physical law that necessitates the formation of life. Scratch one possibility.

That leaves accident or design, with the Darwinists rooting for accident. By proposing it, the implicit assumption is that there was enough time for life to diversity. It's an assumption on their part that there was.

ID attacks that assumption. If they can show that accident is improbable (same as Anonymous's murder case without an eyewitness), then the remaining possibility -- design -- is rendered more possible.

If a good theory is falsifiable, I would think evolutionists would grateful for the research. It would seem Nietsche would be right in this case: that which does not destroy Darwinism strengthens it.

Ah well. So much for gratitude, which Stalin called "a dog's disease."

Lee said...

As James Taranto says, Homer nodded...

> Lee: "ID attacks that assumption. If they can show that accident is improbable (same as Anonymous's murder case without an eyewitness), then the remaining possibility -- design -- is rendered more possible."

Amend that last word to "probable."

Thomas said...

Evolutionary theory provides a relatively complete mechanism which can account for genotypical change and make predictions (whether for new finds in the fossil record or, as in the case of a virus, an actively changing genome). Evolutionary theory is not written in stone; in fact, the total effect of natural selection is being intensively debated, for it seems that random evolutionary drift has a far greater influence than is previously thought.

So the status of non-darwinian mechanisms is very much in play in the debate right now. Unfortunately for ID theorists, that's not what they want. They need an engineer God tinkering with the genome to overcome certain evolutionary impasses (or the ones that don't take the science seriously, or else haven't had the opportunity to study it, might even deny the general idea of common descent). This idea of God would be considered by any of the great (or even half-ways decent) theologians quite vulgar -- God is not a being among beings that must act on the level of secondary causes -- and has no place in scientific discourse. Unless of course ID theorists really want to follow through and take God into scientific enquiry, rendering him a super-powerful (though not transcendant) extra-terrestrial.

Serious scientists question the theory of natural selection, and remain quite within the realm of acceptable scientific discourse; but they come up with things like gene drift and flow, not an obscene picture of God as a post-seventeenth century engineer--and thank God!

Anyway, the post, I thought, was about the structure of certain syllogisms and fallacies, not evolutionary theory.

Lee said...

> it seems that random evolutionary drift has a far greater influence than is previously thought.

You mean, presuming evolution is true, this is how facts that don't fit the theory are explained. Right?

> Unfortunately for ID theorists, that's not what they want. They need an engineer God tinkering with the genome...

Do you have a specific ID statement in mind, or are you just venting? ID theorists think it's fair to ask the question: is it reasonable to presume there is no evidence of design in nature? If you don't think that's a reasonable question, tell us why. Why should we refrain from trying to find methods for studying that proposition?

> to overcome certain evolutionary impasses (or the ones that don't take the science seriously, or else haven't had the opportunity to study it, might even deny the general idea of common descent).

Different issue, but what makes questioning the general idea of common descent such a bad thing? Why are some propositions safe from inquiry? I was referred to a Wiki article that said common descent is "strongly indicated". Is that supposed to be good enough to stop all questions?

> This idea of God would be considered by any of the great (or even half-ways decent) theologians quite vulgar -- God is not a being among beings that must act on the level of secondary causes...

You have just branded as less than half-ways decent John Calvin and anyone else who interprets the Bible from the Reformed perspective. By what authority can you claim God is not involved in His creation at the level of "secondary causes"? Certainly not the Bible's. Who wrote your scriptures, and why should we pay them more heed than the Bible

> ...and has no place in scientific discourse.

Please prove to me that the concept of searching for clues of design is not a scientific endeavor. Or are you just assuming it?

> Unless of course ID theorists really want to follow through and take God into scientific enquiry, rendering him a super-powerful (though not transcendant) extra-terrestrial.

Why not transcendent?

> Serious scientists question the theory of natural selection, and remain quite within the realm of acceptable scientific discourse

I'm getting the impression that when you use labels such as "serious" and "halfways decent", you're just trying to preclude debate. Even unserious and indecent folks are right once in a while. Why not consider their arguments instead of dismissing the persons making them?

> not an obscene picture of God as a post-seventeenth century engineer--and thank God!

What is so obscene to you about a God that conforms to the Biblical picture of him as all-powerful and very involved in His creation?

Thomas said...

Lee,

"You mean, presuming evolution is true, this is how facts that don't fit the theory are explained. Right?"

No. Are you familiar with what evolution means, Lee? You seem to be confusing genotyical shifts over generations with both natural selection and common descent.

"Do you have a specific ID statement in mind, or are you just venting?"

I do: Michael Behe. He accepts common descent for the most part, but argues that some systems need pseudo-divine aid.

"You have just branded as less than half-ways decent John Calvin..."

I will check the Institutes when I have time, but I'm fairly sure that, for Calvin, God does not act at the level of secondary causes, at least regularly, since Calvin was well aware that this would compromise God's transcendence. I don't think you've read Calvin closely enough (perhaps you've been unfortunate enough to encounter him with his inferior present day popularizers); he at least endorses the medieval distinction between primary and secondary causality in A Defense of the Secret Providence of God.

"What is so obscene to you about a God that conforms to the Biblical picture of him as all-powerful and very involved in His creation?"

Certainly the picture of God as an engineer who creates "mechanisms" which act for optimal efficiency, and creates by way of natural, inner-worldly causes would have been repugnant to anyone familiar with the traditional notion of God as transcendent. In order for God to act in a causal way (such as science could detect) he would have to have a body by virtue of who he is (rather than as that which he voluntarily takes on), which would simply make God a powerful extra-terrestrial (which, obviously, is obscene), for this is the only way one can act as an inner-worldly, secondary, finite cause. This God has little likeness to the Logos who permeates all things, delimiting their borders and rendering them intelligible, or a father who stands "beyond being" and can only be seen through his image in the son, etc. In order for God to act the way ID theorists wish to say he does, one must toss out most of trinitarian theology, the notion of God's transcendence, and the very interval between God and creation. It means that we have to take the impoverished, mathematized image that science presents the world as, and stick God inside it, impugning both the world and God.

Thomas said...

I shouldn't have questioned whether you were familiar with evolution, but rather whether your statement uses the term "evolution" too ambiguously. Likewise, I shouldn't have suggested that you weren't familiar enough with Calvin (I haven't read a great deal of his work myself, having encountered much of it second-hand), but instead should just have expressed my confidence that Calvin distinguishes between primary and secondary causality in a scholastic fashion.

Lee said...

Well, in this day and age, that constitutes almost sort of an apology. Which I consider to be almost sort of gracious, and of course I almost sort of accept it.

That was a joke. Almost. Sort of.

We've had these exchanges before, Thomas, and I just don't see how they can be fruitful until you divulge what your source of religious authority happens to be. I can thump on the Bible all day, but if you don't accept the Bible as an authority, we don't have enough in common even to argue. We would have to leave the subject of theology out of our discussions. Fine, Paul warned us almost two thousand years ago that the world would see our faith as foolishness, and whatever the unbelievers think Paul may have been lying about, nobody can claim he was lying about that.

For non-believers, in most cases, there doesn't seem to be anything authoritative except what they think is right in their own eyes. But you don't appear to be a non-believer; you speak as if there is a distinction to be made between good and bad theology, for example, and theology is important only if there is a God to study. Otherwise, theology is a fabrication and not even able to pass muster as a philosophy, since philosophy is not self-consciously grounded on fabrication.

But a requirement of religion -- all religion -- is that it must have an authoritative voice. For Catholics, it's the Church hierarchy, and the Pope in particular. For Mormons, it is the elders of the church. For fundamentalist Christians, including us Reformed folk, the authority is the Bible. Now, we may misinterpret the Bible, but when we do, it's on us to get right with the Bible, not for the Bible to get right with us.

Many Christians, I understand, do not accept the entire Bible as an authority, though it is seldom specified by them which parts are authoritative and which are not. In my view, that's less than ideal, but it is still not a catastrophe so long as belief in the Holy Trinity is intact, belief in Jesus as the incarnate God the Son, and faith in the promises God has made to His people. (I can call Catholics, for instance, my brothers in Christ, though I doubt they can call me that.) But it does raise the question: if the Bible is not the authority, what is?

And that's the rub, isn't it? The only thing that makes a Christian a Christian is belief in the risen Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who died to atone for our sins. If you don't believe in that, you can't be considered a Christian, even if you know more about Jesus than anyone else alive. But whose word do we take for it that Jesus died and rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven?

The Bible's. It's got to be the Bible. The most unbelievable, unprecedented, ostensibly ridiculous notion in the entire Bible, that God chose the form of a man, became man, died, and was resurrected.

If you believe that part of the Bible, why not believe the rest of it?

And if you don't believe that part of the Bible, why bother portraying yourself as a Christian? Who would you be fooling?

And if you believe in that part of it, but draw the line at some of the rest of it, what is the standard by which you construct *your* personal set of scriptures?

So... when you tell me there is a God, but deny that He had anything to do with designing Creation, it is appropriate for me to ask: what is the source of your authority?

Really. I'm dying to know.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

And I should add: so far, the primary standard you have presented in this thread is this: if it earns a disapproving adjective from you, we can safely dismiss it from the discussion.

That goes for theologians who are not at least "half decent"; theology that is "obscene", "vulgar", or "repugnant"; or for scientists who are not "serious".

Now, I like a well-turned adjective as well as the next guy, but an over-reliance on them in argument is actually (I think Martin will back me up on this) a form of logical fallacy. Maybe there is a better name for it; I was taught to call it a use of question-begging epithets.

So, no, I don't accept your notion of the limits of God's power in the natural world based on your insistence that it's what all the half-decent, non-vulgar, non-obscene -- i.e., all the cool -- theologians think.

I need to know what your authority for belief is, and how your position is constructed.

5:18 PM

Thomas said...

I'll comment on the rest of this later, but--

"an over-reliance on them in argument is actually (I think Martin will back me up on this) a form of logical fallacy."

This doesn't really follow. I think you're referring to an ad hominem argument, but an ad hominem argument refers to rejecting an argument based on irrelevant personal characteristics of the speaker. Since one of the things I am arguing that ID theory talks about God in a way that is inappropriate (to the point of being obscene), then it is not an ad hominem argument, but the point of the argument I'm putting forward. It's the accuracy of the adjective "obscene" that is being contested. I've argued that this is the case (in my previous post about mathematized nature), if you wish to argue in kind -- rather than simply assert my argument is some kind of logical fallacy you can't remember the name of -- you ought to take up the position that modern physics doesn't reduce nature by mathematizing it, or that transcendence is possible for an inner-worldly being, or something of that sort.

Lee said...

> This doesn't really follow. I think you're referring to an ad hominem argument, but an ad hominem argument refers to rejecting an argument based on irrelevant personal characteristics of the speaker.

Well, you made me go dig out my ancient textbook. "An Introduction to Critical Thinking," by W. H. Werkmeister. The book's intro page says he was a professor of philosophy at University of Nebraska. It's ancient, like I said: published in 1948. But it's more recent than Aristotle. I'm not in a position to tell how good it is, but I'll just put it out there.

"Question-begging Epithets" are (in his organization of the material) a subheading under "Begging the Question," so let's start there. Werkmeister:

> "The fallacy of begging the question occurs in several forms, but in every one of its forms it is committed by assuming at the outset of the argument the very point which is to be established at the conclusion."

So after some discussion about some of the other forms of begging the question, we come to this:

> "Question-Begging Epithets... i.e., in the use of names and adjectives which assume that which requires proof. When John L. Lewis referred to former Vice-President Garner as a 'whisky-drinking, poker-playing, evil old man," he resorted to question-begging epithets. Such epithets are also employed in such phrases as "epidemic of open-mindedness," "the deadly objectivity of contemporary philosophy," "this damnable piece of legislation," "the dollar imperialists of Wall Street," "this whole greedy, power-hungry assortment of Roosevelt supporters," (Thomas E. Dewey), etc.

> Werkmeister continues: "The use of question-begging epithets is a favorite device of propagandists, but it is not restricted to them. For epithets are question-begging whenever they are used without supporting or adequate evidence and for the specific purpose of influencing the thoughts or actions of the persons addressed. If we accept question-begging epithets uncritically and permit them to color our thinking, we fall victim to one of the most common of all fallacies."

So, back to my point about your arguments: which of your statements fall (in my opinion) under the heading of question-begging epithet?

> Thomas: "This idea of God would be considered by any of the great (or even half-ways decent) theologians quite vulgar."

We are given no independent criteria or authority for what constitutes a "great" or "half-ways decent" theologian, and no reason to think that the idea of God you don't approve of is wrong, let alone "vulgar". You do mumble something about "secondary causes", but provide no support for why your concept is the one all presumably non-vulgar and decent theologians should embrace.

> Thomas: "Serious scientists question the theory of natural selection, and remain quite within the realm of acceptable scientific discourse; but they come up with things like gene drift and flow, not an obscene picture of God as a post-seventeenth century engineer...."

This masquerades as an argument, when in fact it is simply a dismissal of argument. There can be no argument, since anyone who doesn't agree with your preferred set of scientists is predefined as not "serious", and any conceivable dissenting view on your concept of God "obscene". But no reasons are proffered as to why this is so.

> Thomas: "Certainly the picture of God as an engineer who creates 'mechanisms' which act for optimal efficiency, and creates by way of natural, inner-worldly causes would have been repugnant to anyone familiar with the traditional notion of God as transcendent."

To me, nothing is more counter-intuitive than saying that the Creator of something had nothing to do with its actual design, but so much for my instincts, as you have pronounced them "repugnant." I have no idea why, and you don't support it, but there it is.

> Thomas: "In order for God to act in a causal way (such as science could detect) he would have to have a body by virtue of who he is (rather than as that which he voluntarily takes on), which would simply make God a powerful extra-terrestrial (which, obviously, is obscene), for this is the only way one can act as an inner-worldly, secondary, finite cause."

As a Reformed Presbyterian, I would call this an attempt to put God in a box, which the scriptures warn against. (E.g., "and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?") But at least it's a proposition. But there's that word "obscene" again. Fine. It tells me you really find any disagreement with your concept of God revolting. But it doesn't tell me what is so obscene about it -- that is, thinking God designed life, when the Bible is so explicit about Has having done just that -- I thought that was the point of being God in the first place.

> Thomas: "It means that we have to take the impoverished, mathematized image that science presents the world as, and stick God inside it, impugning both the world and God."

And let him with the most adjectives win. Epithets can certainly make an argument more entertaining. But they are no substitute for an argument.

One Brow said...

If we were to find a rabbit skeleton in a Precambrian strata, would evolutionists just give up? I doubt it. They simply assume that the rabbit, while still alive, had gone on a digging frenzy. I wouldn't be surprised if that has indeed happened. "Hmmm. This does not look like an animal typical of the strata. We will therefore assume it doesn't belong here."

No, they would not be that sloppy. first, they would know the difference between a skeleton adn a fossil. Finding a skeleton would be evidence of recent origin, because skeletons don't last long under most conditions. Second, the type of strata that usually produces fossils at all is layered, any incursions would not have to be assumed, they would be traceable.

One Brow said...

If rabbit skeletons are not to be found in pre-Cambrian strata, can we therefore conclude common descent?Changing the subjectdoes not save your position. Your claim was "The proposition that all life has common ancestry is itself unfalsifiable." He presented a method of falsification(one of many). Just admit you were wrong and move on.

One Brow said...

I think there are only three possibilities. If we take it as a given that all animals have common ancestry, it happened by: necessity, accident, or design. If there is a fourth possibility, I am unaware of it.Oh goody, a trilemma. I see you are trying to use one of the methods outlined in this post. I just authored my own post on why this tactic was a failure generally, let's look at the specific failure here. First you are separating causes that are not imcompatible. In additon to "necessity, accident, or design" we have some combination of two of them, or all three of them, in varying degrees of admixture. Secondly, it shows a failure of the imagination, for example, "unintended side effect of others actions by an omnipotent, non-omniscient deity".

I think it is clear that it wasn't necessary. ... That leaves accident or design, with the Darwinists rooting for accident.I doubt that "Darwinists", as you would probably describe them, exist. At any rate, the normal description of evolution involves both the random and the non-random, working together. So, no one is "rooting for accident". In fact, if there was nothing but accident, you could never make a pill that reliabe in it's effect.

Lee said...

> First you are separating causes that are not imcompatible. In additon to "necessity, accident, or design" we have some combination of two of them, or all three of them, in varying degrees of admixture.

To a point, I agree, but it isn't (as the mathematicians would say) commutative.

If the universe, life, evolution, what have you, was ultimately designed, one could expect to find some degree of both necessity and accident.

But if it was not at the highest level designed, it's hard to impute design at any level underneath. Even at the level of man's own apparent ingenuity, but we don't have to go there, since life came into being before man did.

So if God did get the whole thing rolling in the first place, it would be conceivable that what we call evolution is to some degree accident, and to some degree necessary. It doesn't fit my own theology, but it is a philosophical possibility.

But if God does not exist, then precisely at what point can design be introduced as one of the possibilities?

> No, they would not be that sloppy. first, they would know the difference between a skeleton adn a fossil.

If you enjoy quibbling, also feel free to pick at all my typos, misspellings, and bad proof-reading. Or you could grant me the benefit of the doubt and assume that if I could have used the word "fossil" instead of "skeleton", my point would have still stood, then it is not material to the main point I was making. But proceed as you like.

> Second, the type of strata that usually produces fossils at all is layered, any incursions would not have to be assumed, they would be traceable.

That's assuming we know as much about this stuff as you're inferring.

> He presented a method of falsification(one of many). Just admit you were wrong and move on.

Have you heard of a logical fallacy called "speculative argument", or (in some texts) "hypothesis contrary to facts"? I've quoted from Werkmeister already in this thread. Now that I have the book off the shelf, let's see what he has to say:

> Werkmeister: "Speculative Argument -- This fallacy occurs in two distinct forms, but both have in common an alleged deduction of something which 'is' from something which 'is not'."

> [continuing] "The first form of this fallacy is called a 'hypothesis contrary to facts.' An assumption is made which does not coincide with the facts. This assumption is then elaborated 'speculatively'; that is to say, it is pointed out what the consequences would have been if the assumed conditions had been real instead of fictitious. And finally, a conclusion pertaining to actual facts is then drawn from this 'speculative' elaboration.'"

In this argument you are asking me to assume a condition that is not real -- namely, a fossil strata less friendly to the hypothesis of common descent. And then, you point out speculatively that if the fossil strata were different in the manner you suggest, it would falsify common descent. But such a hypothesis is contrary to facts, is it not?

Now, certain other things would also falsify the common descent, but they too would be speculative. We could have invented a time machine, for example, and found a technology that would allow us to capture all life on film. So we could pick a species and if we could not trace visually the phenomenon of common descent to another species, then we could falsify the theory. But we don't have such a time machine, nor do we have the technology to capture the whole of life on film, so that would be an argument contrary to facts, too.

We could also falsify common descent if we were able to discover incontrovertible evidence that the universe was created a mere six thousand years ago. But we have no such evidence, and to base an argument on that would be, again, speculative.

What are the facts, then? If you have two fossils at different points in the strata which bear certain taxonomical resemblance to one another, what can you reasonably say that is incontrovertible fact about the two of them?

You can say that they resemble each other in certain respects. But that much we have as a given.

Can you say that fossil A begat fossil B? You can certainly hypothesize it. It seems reasonable. But can anyone prove it happened that way? And can anyone prove it did not happen that way?

Because two creatures bear taxonomical similarities, can we *necessarily* conclude that species A evolved into species B? I don't think so. No more than you can look at two rust heaps in a junkyard and conclude that a Model A Ford happened when enough Model T Fords had sex with each other. There is, in the case of the Fords, a certain design similarity between the Model T and the Model A but... wait, did I just say, "design"?

Thomas said...

Lee,

"Question-begging epithets" are not a formal logical fallacy, and if epithets are substantive (if they, for example, if they are used to make a distinction), then they are acceptable within the course of polemical discourse. One would be hard-pressed to find more biting polemic than that which Irenaeus directed against the gnostics, or Athanasius against the Arians, Augustine against the Pelagians, Luther against the Roman Catholics, or Calvin against the anabaptists. You may think this is inappropriate, but realize that my comments pale in comparison to these, and that I'm interested in the arguments themselves, which your objection to my use of terms like "serious" (!) has sidetracked. But I'll follow your rabbit trail, and defend the terms you objected to, since it seems that is the direction you want to take.

> "This idea of God would be considered by any of the great (or even half-ways decent) theologians quite vulgar."

Here I used the term "great" to refer to theologians who are almost universally acknowledged as eminent, Augustine being a good example, and I used the term half-ways decent to refer to those theologians who are less universally acknowledged, but are still recognized as fairly main stream, Luther being an example. I would include under these terms theologians with whom I strongly disagree (Calvin, Duns Scotus), and I used these terms to avoid counter examples of marginal theologians (who abound on the internet). Thus, here the point was clarity and accuracy, not praising those theologians with whom I agree or excluding those with whom I disagree.

Likewise, when I referred to "serious" scientists, I was referring to those in the mainstream of science, some of whom I disagree with (Gould) and some of whom I dislike (Dawkins).

Using the term "obscene" to refer to a picture of God as an engineer (in the style of seventeenth century mechanistic philosophers) is one of the things I wish to argue, and rather than simply putting that forward, I argued for it, and once we've completed this meandering rabbit trail, I'll try to expand on my argument.

And while "impoverished" is a negative term (which isn't a bad thing unless you wish me to use entirely value-free terms, which you seem to be arguing), "mathematized" is a technical term for a certain systematic way of viewing the world, and not an epithet at all. I'm a bit flummoxed why you would think of it as something negative.

Would it now be acceptable if I again took up my case and argued that intelligent design conceives of both the world and God and a mechanistic, mathematized way which is inappropriate when considered in the light of Christian tradition?

Lee said...

> "Question-begging epithets" are not a formal logical fallacy...

Well, all I can say is, use them if you enjoy them, but they're not material. Nobody never uses them.

> ...if epithets are substantive (if they, for example, if they are used to make a distinction), then they are acceptable within the course of polemical discourse.

I think the point Werkmeister was making about epithets is they are not substantive.

> One would be hard-pressed to find more biting polemic than that which Irenaeus directed against the gnostics, or Athanasius against the Arians, Augustine against the Pelagians, Luther against the Roman Catholics, or Calvin against the anabaptists.

Would their arguments have been less potent had they omitted the epithets? Less entertaining, perhaps.

> You may think this is inappropriate, but realize that my comments pale in comparison to these, and that I'm interested in the arguments themselves, which your objection to my use of terms like "serious" (!) has sidetracked.

When you label as "serious" those scientists with whom you are in agreement, and by inference "unserious" those with whom you disagree, you stack the deck right from the start. I think, if you're on my side of the debate, it's worth pointing that out.

> But I'll follow your rabbit trail...

Since the original post was about logic and logic errors, I actually think that in this case it was not a rabbit trail. If it was a rabbit trail, it was not *my* rabbit trail. You brought up the distracting epithets; all I did was spotlight them. Use them all you like, but I'll point them out all I like.

> ...and defend the terms you objected to, since it seems that is the direction you want to take.

I really didn't have much choice, if I wanted to continue the discussion. If you actually make a real argument, I will try to respond to the real argument. If all I can find is epithets, I'll beat time until you make a real argument.

What I really wanted to know what you consider to be the source of religious authority. Until I know what that is, there's not much else I can do with your theology.

> Here I used the term "great" to refer to theologians who are almost universally acknowledged as eminent, Augustine being a good example, and I used the term half-ways decent to refer to those theologians who are less universally acknowledged, but are still recognized as fairly main stream, Luther being an example.

So we determine who great theologians are by popular acclaim? Or informed critical acclaim? Is that the source of religious authority? Would there happen to be an independent set of criteria we could use instead?

> I would include under these terms theologians with whom I strongly disagree (Calvin, Duns Scotus), and I used these terms to avoid counter examples of marginal theologians (who abound on the internet). Thus, here the point was clarity and accuracy, not praising those theologians with whom I agree or excluding those with whom I disagree.

That seems fair. But what is the authority of the Church based on? And what difference does it make what the theologians say, if they can't base their arguments on scriptures, principles, or pronouncements that are God-given? The most clear and accurate theological mind on the planet isn't going to do me much good if he bases his theology on something I don't accept as authoritative (e.g., the Book of Mormon, for example). Or if he rejects what I do consider authoritative (namely, the Bible).

Which is why I have asked you what *you* consider authoritative.

> Likewise, when I referred to "serious" scientists, I was referring to those in the mainstream of science, some of whom I disagree with (Gould) and some of whom I dislike (Dawkins).

But the mainstream is not always right, is it? "Serious" sounds like an orthodoxy.

> Using the term "obscene" to refer to a picture of God as an engineer (in the style of seventeenth century mechanistic philosophers) is one of the things I wish to argue, and rather than simply putting that forward, I argued for it, and once we've completed this meandering rabbit trail, I'll try to expand on my argument.

I must have missed the argument. It sounded more like an assertion.

> And while "impoverished" is a negative term (which isn't a bad thing unless you wish me to use entirely value-free terms, which you seem to be arguing)...

Go ahead and use it after you have established and defended your point. It won't make your point for you.

> "mathematized" is a technical term for a certain systematic way of viewing the world, and not an epithet at all. I'm a bit flummoxed why you would think of it as something negative.

I'll take that under advisement.

> Would it now be acceptable if I again took up my case and argued that intelligent design conceives of both the world and God and a mechanistic, mathematized way which is inappropriate when considered in the light of Christian tradition?

So you are proposing that not only is ID bad science, it is also bad theology. Of the two notions, it is the second one, coming from you, that intrigues me most.

You can argue that, if you like, and I'd like to hear it. You could perhaps flesh out that "secondary cause" bit, and explain how that prevents an all-powerful God from using His power. But "Christian tradition", per se, has little hold over me. Obviously, there are traditional elements in any Christian denomination. But tradition is authoritative only if you're a Catholic, and even then it is the Church hierarchy that defines which traditions are important and which are not -- which makes the Church hierarchy the ultimate authority for a Catholic.

For someone like me, it is more important to know whether ID is consistent with scripture. I don't see a conflict, and unless you can point one out, I won't. The Bible paints a picture of a God who is very actively involved in the workings of His creation. A God who made all things, through whom all things were made. To me, that is inconsistent with ID's alternative, namely the luck of the draw.

One Brow said...

To a point, I agree, but it isn't (as the mathematicians would say) commutative.

Forgive me for being a little too obsessive over these minor errors, but being a math teacher, I can't help to point out that a much better notion would be "independence", and while I'm at it, the listener/reader infers while a speaker/writer implies.

If the universe, life, evolution, what have you, was ultimately designed, one could expect to find some degree of both necessity and accident.

Depending on the process proposed.

But if it was not at the highest level designed, it's hard to impute design at any level underneath. Even at the level of man's own apparent ingenuity, but we don't have to go there, since life came into being before man did.

Since we are discussing generic design considerations, there is no reason to think some minor deity could not have come along and seen RNA strings and insert or rearranged them to create cell walls, or really take any other step independent of the rest.

But if God does not exist, then precisely at what point can design be introduced as one of the possibilities?

Any point at all.

If you enjoy quibbling, also feel free to pick at all my typos, misspellings, and bad proof-reading.

I am the last person to have standing to criticize others for typos, and I apologize for underestimating your understanding of fossils.

That's assuming we know as much about this stuff as you're inferring.

Sedentary rock (the type where skeletal fossils are found, iirc) forms smooth lines, that incursions break.

Have you heard of a logical fallacy called "speculative argument", or (in some texts) "hypothesis contrary to facts"?

That is the only type of falsification possible for a current scientific theory. If there were falsifications consistent with the facts, then the theory would be discarded or limited in scope, as has happened to Newton's Laws and neo-Darwinism.

Now, certain other things would also falsify the common descent, but they too would be speculative. We could have invented a time machine, for example, and found a technology that would allow us to capture all life on film. So we could pick a species and if we could not trace visually the phenomenon of common descent to another species, then we could falsify the theory. But we don't have such a time machine, nor do we have the technology to capture the whole of life on film, so that would be an argument contrary to facts, too.

Genuine falsificaiton do need to rely on reasonable attainable objects.

Can you say that fossil A begat fossil B? You can certainly hypothesize it. It seems reasonable. But can anyone prove it happened that way? And can anyone prove it did not happen that way?

Such validations are, of course, impossible. In fact, scientists have long acknowledged you can not prove a hereditary relationship between any two extant faossils.

What we have seen are validations. For example, based upon fossil A and fossil C, you can predict the a creature who might create a fossil B, with a variety of features, in locations intermediary to A and C. Ususally, you will not find B precisely, but we have often found B', one of the more famous recent examples was Tiktaalik rosae.

Lee said...

>> To a point, I agree, but it isn't (as the mathematicians would say) commutative.

> Forgive me for being a little too obsessive over these minor errors, but being a math teacher, I can't help to point out that a much better notion would be "independence"...

I can't tell why you object to my using the word "commutative." I intended to communicate "interchangeable", as in "independent of order" -- which design, relative to accident or necessity, is not. "Commutative" is a synonym of "interchangeable."

> ...and while I'm at it, the listener/reader infers while a speaker/writer implies.

Is that a fact? Really?

See the interesting discussion at Dictionary.com on the subject...

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/infer

It seems to me that I'm still okay with my word usage, though I don't necessarily object to using a better formation.

Don't want to give you the impression that I mind being corrected per se, but when I am corrected, generally, I prefer to have done something incorrect to warrant it.

> Since we are discussing generic design considerations, there is no reason to think some minor deity could not have come along and seen RNA strings and insert or rearranged them to create cell walls, or really take any other step independent of the rest.

I have to admit, that is a fascinating concept. Then let me (to be safe) amend my earlier statement to say, since most evolutionists I talk with a materialists, that minor deities are not an issue in those discussions. We are agreed on that, are we not?

Now, about the minor deity. What are the possibilities, given that at the top level, there is no design? I would say that either the minor deity was himself designed, or the result of accident or necessity. If designed, then so was his interference with DNA. If not designed, he is (like the rest of us) a prisoner of physics and mathematical odds (even if his set of physics is less restrictive than ours), and the whole question of whether he really has free will is certainly open for debate.

>> But if God does not exist, then precisely at what point can degn be introduced as one of the possibilities?

> Any point at all.

I would question whether free will exists at all, if there is no ultimate Designer of life. I can think of no good reason why it is not all physics. Descartes may have said, "I think, therefore I am," but that's not a conclusion, but an assumption.

> I am the last person to have standing to criticize others for typos, and I apologize for underestimating your understanding of fossils.

No problem, but I hardly intended to set myself up as an expert in that area, or any of these areas. I'm just an interested bystander, no more and no less.

> Sedentary rock (the type where skeletal fossils are found, iirc) forms smooth lines, that incursions break.

And all of that makes perfect sense. But we don't know everything, and the history of science is in large part a history of belated mea culpas.

>> Have you heard of a logical fallacy called "speculative argument", or (in some texts) "hypothesis contrary to facts"?

> That is the only type of falsification possible for a current scientific theory. If there were falsifications consistent with the facts, then the theory would be discarded or limited in scope, as has happened to Newton's Laws and neo-Darwinism.

Finding fossils in various levels of strata, we think, can tell us when certain species lived, at least relative to each other. It may lead us to generalize that all life could have evolved from a single ancestral cell. But, given all that, how could we falsify the theory of common descent? By saying we could falsify it if the facts were different, that's where the "hypothesis contrary to facts" comes in.

> Such validations are, of course, impossible. In fact, scientists have long acknowledged you can not prove a hereditary relationship between any two extant faossils.

That's usually the time when the name-calling starts, but you handled it differently. I appreciate your willingness to stop short of that and admit what we both know: it's still a theory.

> What we have seen are validations. For example, based upon fossil A and fossil C, you can predict the a creature who might create a fossil B, with a variety of features, in locations intermediary to A and C. Ususally, you will not find B precisely, but we have often found B', one of the more famous recent examples was Tiktaalik rosae.

And that's very interesting.

One Brow said...

I can't tell why you object to my using the word "commutative." I intended to communicate "interchangeable", as in "independent of order" -- which design, relative to accident or necessity, is not. "Commutative" is a synonym of "interchangeable."

Technically, "commutative" would be a property of the way things are combined (in this case, temporally), "independent" would describe how those things are related to each other. In other words, "commutative" does not depend on which objects you are discussing, "independent" does.

I have to admit, that is a fascinating concept. Then let me (to be safe) amend my earlier statement to say, since most evolutionists I talk with a materialists, that minor deities are not an issue in those discussions. We are agreed on that, are we not?

Are we discussing our differing ontological viewpoints, or ID? Because last I heard, ID does not claim to be able to rule out pantheon of minor deities.

Now, about the minor deity. What are the possibilities, given that at the top level, there is no design? I would say that either the minor deity was himself designed, or the result of accident or necessity. If designed, then so was his interference with DNA. If not designed, he is (like the rest of us) a prisoner of physics and mathematical odds (even if his set of physics is less restrictive than ours), and the whole question of whether he really has free will is certainly open for debate.

I think such a discussion would be well outside the scope of science and outside the scope of what ID has to say.

I would question whether free will exists at all, if there is no ultimate Designer of life. I can think of no good reason why it is not all physics. Descartes may have said, "I think, therefore I am," but that's not a conclusion, but an assumption.

I don't think free will exists in the sense that a person in identical cricumstances will make different choices, but this is not a testable hypothesis, so I don't claim it is a scientific position. I do not see free will as being needed for (pre-determined) thinking or making (pre-determined) choices.

And all of that makes perfect sense. But we don't know everything, and the history of science is in large part a history of belated mea culpas.

All of scientific knowledge lies somewhere between the "It doesn't conflict with anything and it sure looks nifty" level (such as superstring theory) and the "perverse to withhold consent" (such as the sun will rise in x hours at location y). Our knowledge of how rock is formed generally, coming from a variety of observations of both formed rocks and forming rocks, places our understanding of sedimentary rock much closer to the latter.

By saying we could falsify it if the facts were different, that's where the "hypothesis contrary to facts" comes in.

Yes, I understood that. I was pointing out this was true of any field of science. It's even true of the notion of the earth orbitting the sun.

That's usually the time when the name-calling starts, but you handled it differently. I appreciate your willingness to stop short of that and admit what we both know: it's still a theory.

Well, there is no level higher than theory, so it's not like it could do better. Heliocentrism is a theory. Germs causing diseases is a theory. The existence of atoms is a theory.

Thomas said...

Lee,

You're correct that, even though the comments veered off topic immediately, the original post concerns itself with logical discourse, and so our debate over my language falls squarely into the original topic. It should be clear that simply using "epithets" does not amount to a formal logical fallacy (specifically an ad hominem fallacy), but you wish to say "they're not material."

I think it would be beneficial to distinguish between an epithet and an adjective that presupposes a value-judgment. If in the course of a criticism of Christopher Hitchen's book on religion, I refer to him as an abject alcoholic, and reference his frequent drunken appearances on television shows, that can be called an epithet, and it should be considered immaterial. If, while criticizing his book, I remark that his logical skills need a good deal of work, that shouldn't be called an epithet, for it directly relates to my argument: no-one should consider Hitchen's inability to make cogent arguments irrelevant to my task of criticizing his book. Negatively (even sarcastically) referring to Hitchens's work may be impolite, but it should not be called immaterial or unsubstantive. Using adjectives that make or presuppose value judgments, therefore, ought not be ruled necessarily irrelevant.

Thus, when I refer to scientists who seek natural causes for speciation and development as "serious", this might presuppose a judgment, but it cannot be said to be immaterial: when I use the term "serious" in reference to a scientist, I mean that he understands the basic requirements of his discipline and takes pains to act in accordance with them. You may not like it, but that can hardly be said to be immaterial to the debate over intelligent design, because it takes a stand on what the fundamental operating principles of modern science are. Here, formal logic is insufficient, and we must utilize material logic (which makes judgments about more than just the validity of statements).

Modern science takes up a certain stance towards the world which reduces the objects of experience from things which appear to us as beautiful, useful, etc. (things which make themselves significant to us as human beings) to matter or energy suspended in space, stripped of its "subjective" aspects (such as beauty or significance) and reduced to sheer material for mathematical analysis. Science is necessarily reductive; or to put it another way, it requires the scientist to take up a stance towards the world and the things in it that sets aside important aspects of the world. For this reason biology reduces living, ensouled beings to machines which "function"; i.e., to bits of matter operating according to the same sorts of laws that govern inert matter (for, in this view, one cannot make a distinction between the two). By thinking of the world in an artificial, stripped down way, the scientist can make great discoveries and technological advances; however, when the scientist forgets that this way of approaching the world does not present the world as it actually exists in its fullness, but only as an artificial, mathematical construction useful only for limited purposes, then the scientist commits a grave philosophical error.

The ID theorists commit this same sort of error: by attempting to conceive of the act of creation under the aspect of modern physics, the ID theorists have lost sight of the artificial reduction that science must make, erroneously considering the world as it appears in physics as the world which God created; but this is a world devoid of true beauty (having only the "subjective" beauty we happen to ascribe to things) or significance, since everything is "really" just extended matter in abstract space. God, then, gets considered an engineer who imposes upon things the shape that makes them function as he wants them to, rather than as a transcendant being who has the power to give things their own nature, not imposed from without, but generate from within. Here the Aristotelian distinction between natural things and man-made things is crucial. Creation, as Christian theology generally treated it, does not operate within the confines of mathematical abstraction, but within the world in its wholeness, and from an infinite source which cannot even be kept within the confines of the world--this would be the scriptural way of talking about creation.

When I have a bit more time, I can expand this argument in terms of finite and infinite, or secondary and primary causation, and expand on the Aristotelian distinction between natural and man-made things.

Lee said...

> I think such a discussion would be well outside the scope of science and outside the scope of what ID has to say.

Fine, but I was just responding to what you said.

> All of scientific knowledge lies somewhere between the "It doesn't conflict with anything and it sure looks nifty" level (such as superstring theory) and the "perverse to withhold consent" (such as the sun will rise in x hours at location y). Our knowledge of how rock is formed generally, coming from a variety of observations of both formed rocks and forming rocks, places our understanding of sedimentary rock much closer to the latter.

I think there is an awful lot we don't understand. Right now, I believe all observations tend to be made by pretty much assuming Darwinism to be true, and then working backwards. Facts may be facts, but Darwin is the lens. If the lens is dirty, or warped, or cracked, then heaven help a lot of the theories based on it.

In any event, ID does not question the evolutionists' time line or the events themselves, even if I do. The only difference, as far as I can tell, between ID and Darwin is that ID does not assume it could have happened without an intelligent design. They aren't convinced that natural selection and other materialistic explanations are sufficient.

Lee said...

> ...no-one should consider Hitchen's inability to make cogent arguments irrelevant to my task of criticizing his book.

But you have it to show, don't you?

> Modern science takes up a certain stance towards the world which reduces the objects of experience from things which appear to us as beautiful, useful, etc. (things which make themselves significant to us as human beings) to matter or energy suspended in space, stripped of its "subjective" aspects (such as beauty or significance) and reduced to sheer material for mathematical analysis.

Dissect Darwinism, and dissect ID, and lay them out side by side, and the only difference is *one* thing: Darwinists presume that, to get from a single cell to man, you can do it through purely materialistic processes. ID folks are not presuming that. It's one presumption against another. But through the magic of labeling, one presumption is "serious", while the other is not.

> Science is necessarily reductive; or to put it another way, it requires the scientist to take up a stance towards the world...

Apparently, what it requires is the willingness to say that we can consider a world that created itself, but cannot consider a world that didn't.

> The ID theorists commit this same sort of error...

If science wants to theorize that life could have diversified without the help on an intelligence, then it is not unscientific to question that presumption. If it's wrong for ID to question it, it was wrong for scientists to make the presumption in the first place.

> God, then, gets considered an engineer who imposes upon things the shape that makes them function as he wants them to...

I think that's what's implied when the Bible calls the Lord the Creator.

> ...rather than as a transcendant being who has the power to give things their own nature, not imposed from without, but generate from within.

I have asked you for your authority for this version of God. Biblical? Papal? Hindu? Buddhist? Kierkegaard? Thomas' own private notions? I keep hoping you'll show your cards. I've been calling all discussion long.

> Here the Aristotelian distinction between natural things and man-made things is crucial.

The last I checked, Aristotle was not considered an authority on matters Christian.

>Creation, as Christian theology generally treated it, does not operate within the confines of mathematical abstraction...

Maybe I'm not following this. It seems you are saying that God doesn't bother with the engineering details, that somehow it would diminish His power to do so. Can you provide a quote from the Bible that says as much? Or a quote from whatever your authority happens to be, if it is not the Bible?

Thomas said...

Much belated, but here's the promised distinction between artifacts and natural things.

http://tearingdownthemaskofmaya.blogspot.com/2009/06/works-of-art-and-works-of-nature.html

Aside from any theological issue, talking about God as an engineer is a philosophical mistake, because it fails to recognize the difference between natural and unnatural things.