Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What does the Bible mean by "Natural"?

Some think the biblical language about homosexuality being unnatural is merely referring to cultural norms. However, that is not the case:

The ancient worldview is that there is a moral order to reality, which is tied to functionality. So, the reason why male/female sex is natural is because the function of sex is procreation. This may be a cultural belief in the sense that a certain culture held this belief, but it is not cultural in that the assumptions are purposefully based on societal norms. The assumptions are based on primitive observations of the world.

Today we, especially the highly educated, don't hold these assumptions: A) there is inherent functionality in nature, B) this inherent functionality prescribes a moral order, and C) following this moral order is key to flourishing and happiness as human beings. It is we who have had to be educated that our primitive observations are wrong, so technically speaking our views are the more 
culturally conditioned.

You can notice this in every day language, such as how we use the terms right and wrong and natural and unnatural - they all tend to be tied to the notion of a moral order and natural function. For example, you probably don't consider it too strange to say that eyes are for seeing, the mouth is for speaking and eating, the stomach is for digesting food, etc. But these are all instances of a primitive notion of functionality, which we have been taught is wrong.

However, none of this is to say the primitive view is right and our modern view is wrong. It is to show that people in Paul's day did not think they were referring to cultural norms when saying homosexuality was unnnatural. What they are saying is homosexuality goes against the natural purpose of sex and is destructive to humankind as a whole because it reduces the likelihood that the society will survive (i.e. it contributes to reducing the birthrate below sustainable levels, see Europe). For example, Plato gives the death penalty for homosexuality and masturbation in his Laws dialogue for precisely this reason. Christians went further and claimed the natural moral order was ordained by God Himself, and those who engaged in unnatural behavior were going against God, not merely going against nature.

Intelligent Design is one scientific technique for identifying instances of functionality in nature, the same functionality that underlies the traditional moral order.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why environmentalism needs Intelligent Design, and Intelligent Design implies environmentalism

The big implication of ID is that human beings, as intelligent agents, are completely unique out of all the other created things on earth.  They are the only beings exhibiting the ability to create CSI.

if can infer that CSI makes nature run (it seems to consist of many very complex systems held together by precise functional specifications), and furthermore than the 2nd law of thermodynamics leads to the breakdown of CSI, then CSI must be maintained by some intelligent agent to keep nature running.

A Biblical example is the injunction in Genesis for man to cultivate creation.  There are also a number of historical examples showing man must continue to cultivate creation or it falls apart.  For example, archeologists believe parts of the rainforest were grown by Indians and the soil construction was specially designed to replenish itself. Another example is the great plains in America.  Archeologists believe the plains were purposefully designed by the Indians as grazing grounds, and once the Indians disappeared from the land the animals began to reproduce out of control, which gave rise to buffalo stampedes.  Finally, the reason why there are so many forest fires in Californian forests is because the Indians used to conduct controlled burns to keep the fire fuel from building up.  However, current environmentalist push a non-intervention approach to maintaining the forest and discourage controlled burns, hence the greater number of forest fires.

Anyways, I see ID having two general implications.  First, contra modern environmentalists, humans have an extremely important role in the well being of nature, and if humans were eliminated, as some environmental extremists want, then nature would likely collapse.  However, this also means that we cannot just subvert nature to our own ends.  We must understand the functional information stored in nature before changing its functionality.  Our technology will contain much more CSI if it is built in line with nature's master plan than if built contrary to natures plan.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rome's true relationship to ID and evolution

Rome holds a tentative position regarding an old earth, common ancestry (through not a continuum between humans and animals), etc. However, the popes (JP II and Pius XII) have been very clear in their denunciation of Darwinistic/secular ideas: against the "non-overlapping magisteria", against a continuum between humans and animals, and positively stating there will be empirical signs of man's spiritual nature (ID is a subcategory of this concept).

The claim that Roman Catholicism is contrary to ID and embraces all aspects of evolutionary theory, especially Darwinism, is secular propaganda; which, unfortunately, appears to have been widely accepted by both lay Catholics and the Catholic intelligentsia.  This claim, however, is clearly false if one takes the time to read the papal encyclicals on the topic.

"Truth Cannot Contradict Truth", Pope John Paul II:

"In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points."

"The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29)."

"...theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man."

"The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Intelligent Design is a HORRIBLE apologetic!

johnnyb at UD makes the pertinent point that ID is not an apologetic, and should not be critiqued as if it were.

I agree.  In fact, I would go so far as to argue that ID is consistent with atheism!  What kind of apologetic for God's existence is also consistent with God's non-existence?  A horrible one, that's for sure!

Some think ID still gets us part of the way there by ruling out materialism.  Well, ID kind of rules out materialism, at least as it is construed today.  Namely, ID rules out non-intelligent matter as an explanation for intelligence.  Intelligence cannot arise from non-intelligence.  However, intelligent matter is a coherent concept.  Intelligent matter is not a completely outlandish idea.  Intelligent matter is a crucial principle for Mormonism, as an example.

So, if ID doesn't rule out atheism, and it doesn't rule out materialism, what does ID do?  Is anything and everything consistent with ID?  Is ID a completely vapid concept?  Heh, I can hear the heads nodding from the Darwinist camp!

ID does do something very, very important.  Personally, I consider this "something" to be much more important than any apologetic or ideological argument, because it undergirds the rationality of such arguments.  Furthermore, many bad ideas are quite consistent with many apologetics.  The importance of ID partially lies in its ability to rule out these bad ideas.  But that is just an accidental benefit to ID, just as ID can accidentally serve as a premise for an apologetic argument.

No, there is something much more important about ID.

This "something" is what Applied Intelligent Design is about.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How ID sheds light on the classic free will dilemma

Copied over from my original posting at Uncommon Descent.

The standard argument against free will is that it is incoherent.  It claims that a free agent must either be determined or non-determined.  If the free agent is determined, then it cannot be responsible for its choices.  On the other hand, if it is non-determined, then its choices are random and uncontrolled.  Neither case preserves the notion of responsibility that proponents of free will wish to maintain.  Thus, since there is no sensible way to define free will, it is incoherent. [1]
Note that this is not really an argument against free will, but merely an argument that we cannot talk about free will.  So, if someone were to produce another way of talking about free will the argument is satisfied.
Does ID help us in this case?  It appears so.  If we relabel “determinism” and “non-determinism” as “necessity” and “chance”, ID shows us that there is a third way we might talk about free will.
In the universe of ID there are more causal agents than the duo of necessity and chance.  There is also intelligent causality.  Dr. Dembski demonstrates this through his notion of the explanatory filter.  While the tractability of the explanatory filter may be up for debate, it is clear that the filter is a coherent concept.  The very fact that there is debate over whether it can be applied in a tractable manner means the filter is well defined enough to be debated.
The explanatory filter consists of a three stage process to detect design in an event.  First, necessity must be eliminated as a causal explanation.  This means the event cannot have been the precisely determined outcome of a prior state.  Second, chance must be eliminated.  As such, the event must be very unlikely to have occurred, such that it isn’t possible to have queried half or more of the event space with the number of queries available.
At this point, it may appear we’ve arrived at our needed third way, and quite easily at that.  We merely must deny that an event is caused by chance or necessity.  However, things are not so simple.  The problem is that these criteria do not specify an event.  If an event does meet these criteria, then the unfortunate implication is so does every other event in the event space.  In the end the criteria become a distinction without a difference, and we are thrust right back into the original dilemma.  Removing chance and necessity merely gives us improbability (P < 0.5), also called “complexity” in ID parlance.
What we need is a third criteria, called specificity.  This criteria can be thought of as a sort of compression, it describes the event in simpler terms.  One example is a STOP sign.  The basic material of the sign is a set of particles in a configuration.  To describe the sign in terms of the configuration is a very arduous and lengthy task, essentially a list of each particle’s type and position.  However, we can describe the sign in a much simpler manner by providing a computer, which knows how to compose particles into a sign according to a pattern language, with the instructions to write the word STOP on a sign.
According to a concept called Kolmogrov Complexity [2], such machines and instructions form a compression of the event, and thus specify a subset of the event space in an objective manner.  This solves the previous problem where no events were specified.  Now, only a small set of events are specified.  While KC is not a necessary component of Dr. Dembski’s explanatory filter, it can be considered a sufficient criteria for specificity.
With this third criteria of specificity, we now have a distinction that makes a difference.  Namely, it shows we still have something even after removing chance and necessity: we have complex specified information (CSI).  CSI has two properties that make it useful for the free will debate.  First, it is a definition of an event that is neither caused by necessity or chance.  As such, it is not susceptible to the original dilemma.  Furthermore, it provides a subtle and helpful distinction for the argument.  CSI does not avoid the distinction between determinism and non-determinism.  It still falls within the non-determinism branch.  However, CSI shows that randomness is not an exhaustive description of non-determinism.  Instead, the non-determinism branch further splits into a randomness branch and a CSI branch.
The second advantage of CSI is that it is a coherent concept defined with mathematical precision.  And, with a coherently definition, the original argument vanishes.  As pointed out in the beginning of the article, the classic argument against free will is not an argument against something.  It is merely an argument that we cannot talk about something because we do not possess sufficient language.  Properly understood, the classical argument is more of a question, asking what is the correct terminology.  But, with the advent of CSI we now have at least one answer to the classical question about free will.
So, how can we coherently talk about a responsible free will if we can only say it is either determined and necessary, or non-determined and potentially random?  One precise answer is that CSI describes an entity that is both non-determined while at the same time non-random.
[1] A rundown of many different forms of this argument is located here:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Intelligent Design is incompatible with certain forms of determinism

I've addressed elsewhere whether deterministic systems, such as Neoplatonism, are consistent with ID.  However, in that article, the assumption is the "necessity" that is eliminated from our causal explanations is unqualified.  I've been assuming so far that the CSI metric is meant to eliminate all forms of necessity, whether they be natural causes, aliens, deities, etc.

However, a reader made the astute point that Dr. Dembski does not actually characterize necessity in such a broad manner, and that I am interpreting his work in a more general manner than it may be intended.  In general, when Dr. Dembski talks of eliminating necessity, he is referring to natural causes, such as Darwinian evolution.

So, let's examine how well the concept of CSI works if the term "necessity" is restricted to refer to only certain forms of necessity, i.e. natural causes, and other forms of necessity are still fair game.  Specifically, let's examine what happens if intelligent agents are necessary causes that necessarily cause CSI.  P(CSI | Intelligent agent) ~ 1, or in other words the probability of an intelligent agent creating CSI  is very close to 1.

First, notice that such a qualification is not necessary for CSI to be an indication of intelligent activity.  It may be that P(CSI | Intelligent agent) ~ 0, and intelligent agents (IA) only create CSI in very, very rare circumstances.  If intelligent agents are the only beings capable of creating CSI, then the detection of CSI would still indicate the activity of an intelligent agent.  Therefore, even if P(CSI | IA) ~ 0, it is still the case that CSI functions as a design detector, and P(CSI | IA) ~ 1 is not a necessary condition for design detection to work.

Second, consider the conditions that CSI will be used for design detection.  The premise behind using CSI is we do not know whether an intelligent cause has been at work in our given scenario.  Consequently, we do not know whether a particular cause under consideration is a natural or intelligent cause.  Thus, we must take all the causes into account when calculating the CSI for a particular event.

Now, let's say the event does have CSI, and it was created by an intelligent cause.  Furthermore, the intelligent cause has the condition such that P(CSI | IA) ~ 1.  P(CSI | IA) ~ 1 means that the probability of a CSI event occurring is 1 / specification resources.  Therefore, the probability of the event under question occurring is 1 / specification resources.

The CSI formula is -log2 (P(E) * I(E) * PR).  P(E) is the probability of the event occurring.  I(E) is the specification resources available for specifying the event.  PR is the probabilistic resources.  We know from previous considerations that P(E) = 1 / I(E).  This makes the formula now look like this: -log2 (1 * PR) = -log2 (PR).  Since PR >= 1, and -log2 of any positive integer is <= 0, then CSI will always be <= 0.  Consequently, if P(CSI | IA) ~ 1 and an intelligent agent is responsible for the event, the CSI calculation will never register positive, and can never detect design.  Therefore, the condition P(CSI | IA) ~ 1 renders CSI an ineffective metric for detecting design.

The result from these considerations is that claiming intelligent design is compatible with determinism does not bode well for being able to actually detect intelligent design.  It is in the interest of intelligent design to rely on non-deterministic metaphysics in order to remain logically coherent.  One such non-deterministic metaphysic is libertarian free will, which attempts to be both non-necessary and non-random.  Such a metaphysic is quite compatible with Intelligent Design:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Intelligent Design makes stock market predictions

The theory behind Intelligent Design is precisely defined enough for a conference to demarcate Intelligent Design:

As such, Intelligent Design also makes predictions that apply to the stock market.  Consequently, for an individual motivated to do the research, as I will at some point here, it is possible for ID to put money behind its claims.

For example, Dr. Sternberg and Dr. Wells have shown that the genome only contains a very small amount of the information that creates biological organisms:

Consequently, companies predicated on being able to understand and modify any area of human physiology through sequencing the genome will not do well.  Of course, companies that focus on only very specific areas of human physiology can bring value to the market and make a profit.  But, to use a programming analogy, the only aspect of human physiology these companies will be able to manipulate are those that vary like function parameters, such as eye color, hair color, physical attributes that can increase or decrease within a range, etc.  Wholesale restructuring of the body is out of the question.

Another prediction is any company predicated on strong artificial intelligence will ultimately fail, as long as it remains true to its principles.  Jonathan Bartlett demonstrates why artificial intelligence is incompatible with Intelligent Design theory here:

Such companies will be successful with narrow scope applications of weak AI, similar to the genome sequencing companies.  But wholesale replication of human intelligence is also out of the question.  So, for example, the Intelligence Singularity theory of Ray Kurzweil will turn out to be bunk, insofar as the theory is necessarily contingent upon strong AI.

A positive prediction of Intelligent Design is that a companies predicated on using information technology to better capitalize on the unique attributes of human intelligence will be very successful.  Google search is one good example.  Foldit is another good example.

What other implications of ID can be tested on the stock market?

As in the case of the Ideal Intelligent Design Conference, these implications must be unambiguously tied to ID, and only ID.