Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Doug Theobald pointed out to me this morning that there is a larger misrepresentation in Paul Nelson’s comments of a couple weeks ago. In his comments he said, in response to the list of theistic evolutionists that included Keith Miller, Howard Van Till, Ken Miller, Terry Gray and John Polkinghorne:

“Here’s the problem though. All of them accept a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation by definition.”

But that is absolutely false, as the response from Keith Miller shows (and it is equally demonstrable from the writings of the others on the list). And this lie has been told time and time and time again by ID advocates, not just by Nelson. In fact, no one in their right mind – no scientist or philosopher of science that I have ever heard of, accepts a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation. No archaeologist would excavate an ancient village full of artifacts like pottery and houses and such and think, “Well gee, science won’t allow me to conclude that this was made by humans, so I guess I better explain this as being caused by wind patterns and erosion.” As Keith Miller makes clear in his comments, science does not rule out intelligent causes, it rules out disembodied intelligences (whatever those are) that exist beyond nature and are not bound by nature’s laws. And it does so because there is no way to design a test for such causes. In many ways, this is a much more important lie than the specific one about Miller because it’s a lie told by many ID advocates about virtually all scientists and it fosters a major misunderstanding about the nature of science.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    May 31, 2006

    I would state the point more strongly. Science does not rule out even disembodied intelligences. If we had evidence of one or more such, that fact would be incorporated into our scientific theories. And it’s pretty much meaningnless to say that science “rules out [things that] exist beyond nature and are not bound by nature’s laws.” That seems to imply that science begins with some presumption of what is natural and what nature’s laws are, rather than science discovering that.

    The only thing science insists upon is empirical evidence for its theories. The only reason the gods are missing from the domain of science is because the gods so far have done a great job of hiding themselves. We climb Mt Olympus, and the gods are not there. We study life, and there is no elan vital. We test intercessory prayer, and it doesn’t work. Soi disant prophets fail when asked to prophesy in testable fashion. Theologians retreat when asked to turn their theories into something that can be empirically tested.

    Scientists don’t exclude god on the basis of some a priori philosophy. They exclude god on the basis of looking around, and not seeing any evidence for him.

  2. #2 Ginger Yellow
    May 31, 2006

    It’s probably fair to say that science rules out unbounded intelligent causation a priori. Disembodiment isn’t necessary. If you don’t put any constraints on the intelligence (eg strong enough to break into a car), then you can’t infer it from anything (eg a broken car window).

    ID thrives on the ambiguity between “intelligence” as an abstract concept and “an intelligence” as an instantiation of the concept that actually does the designing. Science doesn’t rule out an intelligence as a cause, so long as you can make assumptions about it (eg a propensity to break into cars). But ID refuses to make those assumptions, because that would either confirm that it is religious or contradict the religion of some or all of its proponents.

  3. #3 mark
    May 31, 2006

    I guess I just don’t understand how intelligence can break into a car. I’m pretty intelligent, but I can’t break into a car unless I use the actions of my body, which is a very materialistic physical object, and of which my intelligence is a part/product. So how is this any different from the intelligent-designing alien intelligence creating the universe, except that such a being could not exist before the universe, and there is absolutely no evidence for one?

  4. #4 VisualFX
    May 31, 2006

    It seems to me that what Paul Nelson is doing is to conflate “natural” intelligence with “supernatural” intelligence – perhaps on purpose to try and obfuscate the obvious flaw in his argument. It looks like to me he is insisting on seeing the two as the same making no distinction between the “knowability” and testability of the former vs. the “unknowability” and non-testability of the later.

    This may be genuine flaw in his reasoning and he is not seeing it, or perhaps is yet another example of his intellectual dishonesty.

  5. #5 Paul Nelson
    May 31, 2006

    “Darwin…was converted to his new ideas only after he had made numerous observations that were to him quite incompatible with creation. He felt strongly that he must establish this point decisively before his readers would be willing to listen to the evolutionary interpretation. Again and again, he describes phenomena that do not fit the creation theory.”

    Ernst Mayr, Introduction to Harvard facsimile ed. of the Origin of Species, 1964 [1859], p. xii.

    But how is this possible, if hypotheses of unobserved designers are untestable in principle?

    Douglas, if you’re reading this — the “intelligent causation” in question (in my Palos Verdes remarks) is intelligence as a causal primitive, i.e., irreducible to other fundamental categories (chance and necessity). You’ll notice in my back-and-forth with Keith on 16 June that nowhere, not even in relation to his own actions, does Keith allow that such causally primitive intelligence is scientifically detectable. When, for instance, I asked Keith about the causal origin of his own email messages (character string patterns), he gave two accounts: one, the scientific, terminated in the chemical primal soup. Agency in that story is all epiphenomenal on strictly physical entities. The other story was “spiritual,” or religious. Only the first account was scientifically tractable, by Keith’s lights. In fact he said that inferring an intelligent cause for his messages was religious.

    Given a naturalistic metaphysics of explanation, irreducible or causally primitive intelligence is an anomaly. Under a reductionist naturalism, the thief in the much-discussed thought experiment dissolves on analysis into non-thief (physics), and, while we may put him in jail because he’s an annoying and dangerous pest, ultimately there’s no one home — really there as an agent — beyond the physical story.

    Check out Dawkins’s take:

    http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html#dawkins

    “But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not?…Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live.”

  6. #6 Mithrandir
    May 31, 2006

    I’d go a bit further, VisualFX, and suggest that the IDists don’t acknowledge the existence of such a thing as “natural” intelligence.

    At the risk of lumping Nelson in with others, recall DaveScot, who, when asked to provide an example of an intelligence violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, replied “Me, writing this sentence.” They really do believe that intelligence is inherently supernatural.

    If we ever do create sapient machines, I dread the prejudice that they’ll face from the Nelsons and the DaveScots of the world.

  7. #7 Mithrandir
    May 31, 2006

    In lieu of a more detailed response to Dr. Nelson, I’d like to emphasize that Richard Dawkins is a scientist by trade, and that the moral philosophy described in his article is hardly the most well-thought-out example of such.

    If Dr. Nelson seeks a more sophisticated, while still explicitly atheistic and materialistic, analysis of the moral consequences of a materialistic view of consciousness, I would recommend the works of Daniel Dennett. For that matter, I’d also recommend to Dr. Dawkins that he read some Dennett for himself! :)

  8. #8 Dave S.
    May 31, 2006

    Ed writes:

    And it does so because there is no way to design a test for such causes.

    This is the money quote. Science (and by ‘science’ I mean the practice of science) doesn’t rule out claims based on natural vs. supernatural, it rules them out based on testable vs. un-testable. Science doesn’t rule out “intelligent causation” (and what a stupid thing to say), it rules out untestable intelligent causation. Just as it rules out any other kind of causation that is not testable. Testable means that there are tests that can be done to support a positive model of design. There is no such model.

    But the objection you sometimes hear is what if the untestable claim is really the true claim, then adhering to testability will never let you find it. But even if it is, there is no way to fruitfully advance by allowing untestable causations. In other words, even if you had the “true” cause, you’d have no way to know you had it.

    Imagine a game of chess. For the first player (who is highly skilled), his strategy is to play moves that have in the past shown to be very productive, based on learned tactical and strategic motiffs. He knows from experience which plays are potentially strong and which need not even merit a moments serious thought because they lead in all cases to positions known to be losing or inferior. Even if he’s never seen the exact positions before, he can know from practice and study which kinds of positions likely result in defeat (by giving up a queen for a pawn with no mate threats and no prospect of getting further material for example). He therefore spends all his time on each move thinking only about one or a few potential candidate moves, even though there may be a dozen or more possibilities at any one time.

    The second player on the other hand resorts to a different strategy. What he does is to take all the legal moves available in any position, and then he picks one of those at random. He justifies this by saying that the other player, even if he be a grandmaster, will occasionally miss the ‘true’ best move in any given position because he’s tied to past success. And besides, the second player argues that his strategy actually includes the first players likely moves as a subset anyway.

    Whose strategy will more likely result in a winning game?

  9. #9 DarwinCatholic
    May 31, 2006

    The thing that seems to make this whole thing aggravatingly par-for-the-course ID foolishness is the dogged insistence that because certain kinds of “design” can be detected (an arrow head, a buglary, etc.) that therefore it must be possible to detect the work of an unknown designer based simply on certain levels of complexity. What (and this is truly appauling for people who are allegedly philosophers of science) ID proponents seem to forget is that science deals with the repeatable.

    One can infer a thief broke into the car because one knows, from observation or report, that thieves are known to break into cars and take just the kind of articles that are missing, and that they do so by breaking windows. This requires no knowledge of the thief’s intent, moral state, or indeed intelligence (which with a car thief is probably pretty minimal anyway). Rather, one simply needs to know that such situations have been found before and that in the past it has invariably been car thieves who were responsible.

    This can also be the object of study in that the car thief’s methods are repeatable. You could practice window breakage as a way of entering the car and use of screw drivers as a way of levering the radio out of the dash. If you produced similar results, this would confirm your theory a the thief’s methods.

    The question of biological origins is entirely different, however. We can’t say (unless they know a great deal they’re not letting on): “This planet’s life bears all the signs of divine creation, because we’ve also seen God’s methods at work on planets A, B, C, D and E. Plus, I can see that He used method X over here on the squirrel and method Y over here on the aardvark.”

    We can neither identify from experience the work of a divine agent, nor reproduce his methods, which pretty effectively puts it out of the reach of science. ID advocates always counter by saying they don’t insist that the creator is God, it could have been aliens or some such. And yet aliens are (until we have experience with their methods and multiple examples of their handiwork) equally beyond the ability of science to touch as potential culprits.

    We posit evolution because it is the only suggested solution which is clearly going on now. And if it’s going on now, why not assume that it worked in the past too.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    Paul, the issue here is not whether the view that one can’t test for supernatural causes is correct; the issue is whether you have represented those views accurately. It is clear that you haven’t. You claim, quite bluntly, that all of those men believe that science cannot test for any intelligent causation, period. That is a lie, plain and simple. In his exchange with you, Keith said very clearly that one can test for intelligent causes:

    The thief is a natural causal agent. Humans are part of nature – in fact a part of nature that we know a considerable amount about. As a paleontologist I can similarly infer the action of long extinct animals. We can study the patterns of breakage on shells or bones to infer the likely predator. We can infer much about the interactions of organisms from the fossil record – that is in fact one of my research interests. But you are proposing that science can infer the action of a cause external to the physical universe.

    For your representation of their views to be correct, they would have to reject all of archaeology and much of anthropology. Do they do so? Of course not. None of them do. All of them accept that science can in fact infer the action of human intelligence, but all of them also make clear that science cannot infer the actions of a supernatural intelligence. You misrepresented their views when you said that they deny that science can infer intelligence, plain and simple.

    You might further note that Miller’s position is that science can disprove some types of supernatural claims, but it can never prove them. He writes:

    Can science verify a divine miracle (in the sense of breaking causal chains)? Only in the sense of concluding that there is no presently known cause-and effect explanation. What science can do is debunk claims of supernatural action (such as bogus “faith healers” or “miracle workers”) or paranormal events – which it as done repeatedly. By equating divine action with breaks in the casual chain, you make the creative action of God something that science can disprove.

    I take this to mean that when supernatural claims are made that have claimed effects on the natural world, one can at least test the effects and, if they turn out not to be true, the causal claim is thereby falsified. For instance, if someone lays his hands on sick person X and claims to have cured them of cancer through supernatural power, and person X then dies of cancer anyway, the claim has been disproven. But even if person X doesn’t die of cancer, can it be proven that it was the result of supernatural intervention? No, because there are natural mechanisms by which cancer can go into remission as well.

    Likewise with creationism. Though creationism does involve supernatural causation, when one presents a creationist model of the natural history of the earth – that the earth is 6000 years old, that all living things were created in a single week, that there was a global flood that killed off virtually all animals other than those on the Ark, etc – then it is making testable empirical statements. And those statements, of course, have been tested and rejected. That does not prove that there is no God, of course, but it does prove that the claims about history of the earth that were drawn from belief in that God are false.

    But all of that is secondary. Regardless of whether these men are right or wrong about the testability of supernatural causation, none of them – none of them – “accept a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation by definition.” All of them, every single one, believes that science can infer intelligent causes in a wide range of areas, as long as that intelligence is natural and bound by natural law.

  11. #11 Raging Bee
    May 31, 2006

    “But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not?”

    No, not really — assigning credit, blame and responsibility is part of our arsenal of tried-and-true methods of encouraging correct behavior from our fellow humans.

    Under a reductionist naturalism, the thief in the much-discussed thought experiment dissolves on analysis into non-thief (physics), and, while we may put him in jail because he’s an annoying and dangerous pest, ultimately there’s no one home — really there as an agent — beyond the physical story.

    This statement is utter nonsense — basically a parody of determinism at its most naive, something a ten-year-old science geek might say just before puberty hit him. How, in any legal or moral sense, in anyone’s mind, does a thief “dissolve on analysis into non-thief?” And what does “physics” have to do with any of this? Nelson is hiding behind a mess of phrases so vague that he can pretend they mean whatever he wants them to mean, then change their pretended meaning at his convenience — i.e., the moment his argument is refuted or exposed as dishonest.

  12. #12 Sosiosh
    May 31, 2006

    In my (current) opinion, it is nonsense to talk about coming up with a test for an intelligent agent. What are we supposed to do? Wait around and see if this agent does something that doesn’t conform to the normal laws of nature? Stare at a rock for a decade and see if it sprouts legs?

    We can look to the past and see if evidence of past events fits these same laws of nature. If something anomalous turns up, we at least have something unexplained. But even that doesn’t mean we have found something unexplainABLE. Has any ID claim of irreducible complexity (the only alleged evidence of ID) stood up to scrutiny?

  13. #13 386sx
    May 31, 2006

    But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not?

    So then if a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system is the correct view, then, for the good of humanity, it is best to pretend that it is not the correct view. Otherwise, I don’t see what your stinkin’ point is. Lol, all these good people make all these good critical points and Mr. Nelson comes rolling in here with a bunch of obtuse BS. I must say, I admire the fortitude of the folks who have to deal with you guys on a regular basis. Kudos!

  14. #14 Paul Nelson
    May 31, 2006

    386sx, that wasn’t my point (“But doesn’t a truly scientific…”) — that was Dawkins.

    Ed wrote:

    Regardless of whether these men are right or wrong about the testability of supernatural causation, none of them – none of them – “accept a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation by definition.” All of them, every single one, believes that science can infer intelligent causes in a wide range of areas, as long as that intelligence is natural and bound by natural law.

    But not as a causal primitive. Look again at Keith’s 16 June reply to my question about the origin of his email messages:

    KM: I am a part of nature. At the scientific level, my intelligent action is a consequence of chemical and neural activity in my brain. What is then the cause of those processes? The genetic code within my cells directed the construction of my brain which then responded to the external environment. My genetic code evolved by mutation and selection over billions of years from the first living cells. Those cells were themselves the consequence of prebiotic chemistry. Etc. This is one possible scenario for the existence of my intelligent action. My point is that an entirely seamless account is possible.”

    By “entirely seamless,” Keith means rendered strictly in terms of a chain of physical (non-mental) entities. Keith and I have gone round on this point for years. “Intelligence” in his picture of the world is not a proper or fundamental causal category within science. It is only a placeholder for a more thorough analysis, where the causal actors will turn out to be “physics” (sorry Raging Bee to enrage you, but by that I mean simply the entities described by our most basic sciences).

    Question for Raging Bee: do you think Dawkins is right or wrong about the illusionary — “useful fiction” — nature of the notion of responsibility?

  15. #15 Sastra
    May 31, 2006

    As Raging Bee points out, supernaturalists always seem to use the most simplistic “mad-dog” forms of greedy reductionist physicalism to represent the naturalistic “other side,” in order to make their alternative clearly superior. So I think the particulars of this argument against evolution indicates where the real problem lies: it’s not with biological evolution, it’s really with neurological physicalism.

    What is the “supernatural?” Defining it as “anything which is not natural” doesn’t get us anywhere. What does or doesn’t constitute part of the “natural universe” is largely stipulative. If you run into someone who claims that “Gods and spirit realms are part of nature,” how do you prove otherwise?

    Defining the supernatural as “that which can’t be tested by science” also doesn’t seem to work very well, since one can easily imagine a fictional scenario where the existence of God, ghosts, and magical forces are so clear, obvious, and common that scientists are forced to incorporate such things into their theories, and perhaps even test and measure them like Dan Ackroyd’s character in “Ghostbusters.” As others have already said, naturalism isn’t a framing assumption of science, it’s a working theory based on what just happened to be the findings of science. We might have discovered otherwise. We still might.

    If the “supernatural” is defined as “that which follows laws outside of our physical universe” you get the odd result that string theory and multiverse theory are now dealing with “supernatural” concepts — which they clearly are not (even if you think these theories are unscientific.)

    In my opinion, the best definitions I’ve run across are those that define the supernatural as involving unmediated mind over matter. If nature is anthropocentric, if it anticipates or focuses on human beings, then supernaturalism is true. If mind and its products (value, will, emotion) are prior to matter, independent of laws, irreducible to anything else, and not even supervenient on the physical — then supernaturalism is true. And naturalism is false.

    Supernatural causes are fundamentally mental, with events in the natural world being put into action or existing because of their connection with a higher realm of intention or meaning or values — Mind and the products of Mind. God just “wills” the universe into existence. Those born when a red planet is high in the night sky will be “angry” people, because red is anger. It’s all of a piece. The physical world is reflective of and controlled by its connections to an underlying world of thought and meaning.

    I think Mithrandir has it exactly right. Creationists do believe intelligence is supernatural — because this is the model they are using for both “intelligence” and “supernatural.” Evolution is only the current focus of the real skirmish. The ghost in the universe appears to be an enlarged version of the ghost in the machine.

  16. #16 Douglas Theobald
    May 31, 2006

    Paul,

    For the purposes of this thread the views of Mayr and Dawkins are irrelevant; for my purposes, I really don’t care what their metaphysical views are.

    PN:
    the “intelligent causation” in question … is intelligence as a causal primitive, i.e., irreducible to other fundamental categories (chance and necessity).

    Beside the point. That is your own special definition of ‘intelligent causation’ — most people don’t use it that way. Most people (like Keith) think that the actions of a thief are ‘intelligent causation’, irrespective of any metaphysical baggage. It would be wrong for me to say publicly that “Paul beats his wife regularly”, only to explain later that I only use the verb ‘to beat’ in reference to hockey.

    PN:
    … Keith [does not] allow that such causally primitive intelligence is scientifically detectable.

    Correct, but only using your special definition. That is a far cry from excluding intelligent causation from science in general. You, as a proponent of ID metaphysics, assume that ‘intelligent causation’ is one member of a mutually exclusive, tripartite set of causal primitives (intelligence, chance, necessity). Keith does not accept that view.

    You obviously assume that free will is inconsistent with a natural, physical account of intelligence (and perhaps Dawkins does too). Not everyone makes that assumption, and you shouldn’t project it erroneously on those you disagree with. (For example, as I see it, you are simply making a naive epistemic reductionist error).

  17. #17 DarwinCatholic
    May 31, 2006

    As a semi-relevant aside… In the car thief analogy, does one actually detect the action of intelligence, or simply make the most parsimonious conclusion based on past experience in deducing the activity of the car thief? Experience suggests that since human-valued items were stolen but food was not, it was probably a human that was responsible, not some other creature capable of breaking into a car. Not to mention the fact there are far more human lurking outside movie theaters than bears or chimps or what have you. But this is basically just an analysis of what types of creatures tend to break into cars, and what they tend to steal. It has nothing to do with whether the invader is intelligent.

  18. #18 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    The fact that intelligence may be reducible to purely physical processes does not rescue Paul from the charge of misrepresentation, and frankly I think he’s just engaging in more hand-waving to distract attention from the only issue that matters here. He claimed that all of those men reject the idea that science can infer intelligence, yet all of them agree that science can do precisely that. The ultimate explanation for intelligence, whether physical or metaphysical, simply doesn’t matter in that regard. Indeed, Nelson himself lists examples of science inferring intelligence, from archaeology for example, while also claiming that all of those men deny that science can detect intelligent action. The fact that all of the examples Nelson himself cites are examples of same sort of mundane physical causation that he claims not to be talking about is proof that this is little more than a dishonest shell game – the definition is always under the other shell.

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    May 31, 2006

    Paul: I can’t comment on Dawkins because I’ve never read anything of his. Nor do I feel so inclined.

    Getting back to the subject: Your misrepresentation of other people’s views and statements have been repeatedly pointed out here. Are you going to apologize, sincerely and honestly, or not?

  20. #20 Sastra
    May 31, 2006

    Theists who do not classify human intelligence as a “causal primitive, irreducible to other fundamental categories” — but who do classify divine intelligence that way — are no more contradictory or inconsistent than those theists who see all intelligence as supernatural, but don’t believe in vitalism, spirit guides, or whatever else they decide is “superstition” which has been “tested against” by science.

    Place the supernatural outside of the need to be consistent with natural findings, and it’s all just a more or less arbitrary matter of picking and choosing.

  21. #21 Sylas
    May 31, 2006

    Paul’s comment above looks to me to be (at last!) a fair and accurate account of Keith Miller’s position. For Miller, intelligence is not a distinct “thing” that can stand on its own as a “cause”. It is rather a property of some things (thieves, theologians, thinkers). The “cause”, for Miller, is the thief… a natural entity that happens to be intelligent.

    Science is perfectly able to deal with causes that have the property of being intelligent. But you have to identify the cause and connect it to the empirical consequences that we are able to observe.

    For Miller, the entire natural world is a creation of God, and the act of creation is not a cause within a natural sequence. It is the underlying foundation of all natural causes, all of which are ordained and established by God and work according to His purpose. You can’t tease out one bit and say — “here is God” as opposed to another bit where God is not involved. All the causal actors within the sequences of cause and effect studied by science are undergirded by the basic laws of physics — even if they defy description at that level and are described at higher levels of abstraction. God is over and above and behind all laws of the natural world.

    What Paul believes about God is a bit less clear to me. I presume he also recognizes that God is a transcendent creator of all the natural world; but why then this need to contrast God’s activity with natural processes? One point Paul has made in some of his writings (if I recall correctly; Paul may clarify if I have misunderstood) is that God could have used evolution, in principle; we need to look at the evidence and see whether he did use that process or not.

    Frankly, Paul’s position on the age of the Earth demolishes any claim he might make to be serious about following evidence. But this is ID rather than creationism, so let’s keep really quiet about that. What ID needs to be taken seriously as science is to get past the notion that God did not use evolution, and say something about what he DID use. “Intelligence” is not a cause of itself; and until something concrete can be said about how the designer interacts with the causes and effects of the physical world, there is no design theory. and no science of intelligence.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    Sylas, thank you. I think you summed up Keith’s view perfectly and illustrated the key difference. Of course scientists can detect events caused by real entities that have the property of intelligence, but not as what Nelson refers to as a “causal primitive”. Intelligence is a property of nature, it is not something that exists as its own entity. There is no actual entity called “intelligence”, any more than there is an entity called “beauty” or “strength” – these are descriptions of attributes of material things. Just as it is a misnomer to talk about “science” proving something (as opposed to scientists proving something), it is a misnomer to talk about “intelligence” doing something. “Intelligence” does nothing, it is merely a description of the capabilities of a material entity; an intelligent being can, of course, do something.

  23. #23 Paul Nelson
    May 31, 2006

    Douglas wrote:

    It would be wrong for me to say publicly that “Paul beats his wife regularly”, only to explain later that I only use the verb ‘to beat’ in reference to hockey.

    Of course, which is why I apologized to Keith. I compressed his position — “he rejects intelligent causation” — to the point of making him seem like an idiot. And that was wrong.

    But extend me the principle of charity in return (Ed, are you listening?). If one reading of my Palos Verdes remarks has me ascribing an obviously ass-backwards view to people I know very well, who can be expected to scream like hell when they find out (Gray, Van Till, the two Millers — I’ve met and talked to Peacocke and Polkinghorne at conferences in the UK, but don’t know them well), at an event I knew was being videotapted for public distribution, whereas another is a well-known ID position [the Dembski trichotomy], where Keith Miler (for instance) would say, “Yes, if one defines ‘intelligence’ that way, then I do reject it as a scientific construct” — well, which is the reasonable reading to impute to me?

    “Dammit Paul you’re just covering your ass. Take your punishment like a man.”

    Use the principle of charity. Ask yourself: if you said something hurriedly, responding to your interlocutor’s slide, how would you like your remarks to be interpreted?

    I disagree with you, Douglas, about what “most people” think about the ontological status of intelligent causation, and frankly, neither of us knows — but I’d guess that, except for the really wild-eyed eliminative reductionists like Dawkins, “most people” regard their own agency as irreducible in some strong sense. Now, they may be wrong about that, but that’s their intuition. One reason ID has become so popular is the wide perception that runaway physicalism (for instance) is just crazy, and moreover dehumanizing. From an ID perspective, it is not a minor matter whether, on analysis, “intelligence” dissolves away into other causal categories.

  24. #24 386sx
    May 31, 2006

    386sx, that wasn’t my point (“But doesn’t a truly scientific…”) — that was Dawkins.

    In that case, I think it is a very good quote. You are to be commended for quoting such insightful people such as Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Mayr. Well done sir. So I take it that you think that it is good to pretend, as long as it is for the good of humanity. Otherwise, I don’t see what your point is.

  25. #25 Raging Bee
    May 31, 2006

    Okay, at least Paul is now admitting that ID is based on the gut geelings of ordinary people, and not on anything that can be called “science.” I can appreciate this, since I have very similar gut feelings myself (and am not pretending they can be scientifically proven).

    But I have to ask: why is there this “wide perception that runaway physicalism (for instance) is just crazy, and moreover dehumanizing?” Could that perhaps be the result of religious demagogues and fanatics deliberately spreading lies about what scientists actually allege? And what the hell is “runaway physicalism?” Something one does at the end of a really hot date? I guess that could be “dehumanizing,” but some humans like it that way. It’s certainly not a branch of science or philosophy I’ve ever heard of.

    (I could offer an aside about religious nuts saying we’re all worthless depraved filthy sinners, unworthy of life unless we believe in their gods, then calling science “dehumanizing;” but that would be off-topic…)

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    Paul Nelson wrote:

    Of course, which is why I apologized to Keith. I compressed his position — “he rejects intelligent causation” — to the point of making him seem like an idiot. And that was wrong.

    But extend me the principle of charity in return (Ed, are you listening?). If one reading of my Palos Verdes remarks has me ascribing an obviously ass-backwards view to people I know very well, who can be expected to scream like hell when they find out (Gray, Van Till, the two Millers — I’ve met and talked to Peacocke and Polkinghorne at conferences in the UK, but don’t know them well), at an event I knew was being videotapted for public distribution, whereas another is a well-known ID position [the Dembski trichotomy], where Keith Miler (for instance) would say, “Yes, if one defines ‘intelligence’ that way, then I do reject it as a scientific construct” — well, which is the reasonable reading to impute to me?

    I think there are three compelling reasons why you don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one. I would be much more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this if you had owned up to it up front rather than having multiple rationalizations debunked and then finally admitting it (and even then, couched in the language of “well this isn’t satisfying to Keith, so I guess I ought to say I’m sorry” rather than a genuine recognition that you had genuinely distorted his position). Your first response to this, with as much time as you chose to take to consider what that response should be (so there’s no excuse for “responding hurriedly” as you make above), was that you did not misrepresent his views at all and that the only thing you had to apologize for was for making private emails public.

    Second, I’d also be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you had not spent most of the last few days leaving comments here frantically waving your hands and trying to change the subject to irrelevant things. It simply doesn’t matter whether you and Keith have different definitions of intelligence and whether it is or is not reducible to other physical causes. You specifically claimed that he denied that a human thief was responsible for the missing items in the car. That claim is not made any more defensible by any of the various rationalizations you have thrown up regarding moral culpability or the nature of intelligence or anything else. Someone who was genuinely sorry for misrepresenting someone’s position would simply say, “I did it. It was wrong. I apologize.” They wouldn’t say that, but then make one rationalization after another about irrelevant aspects of the discussion that have no bearing whatsoever on that misrepresentation.

    Finally, I would be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you would even give an accurate description of the situation. You did not merely “compress his position” down to “he rejects intelligent causation”. What you said was much more specific than that. You said that he refused to accept that a human thief was responsible for the missing items in your hypothetical, a clearly ridiculous position for anyone to take. You made him sound like a complete idiot in front of the audience, and there is no way in the world that you were not aware of the fact that he did not take that idiotic position. You had an audience laughing at the utter stupidity of a scientist giving such a ridiculous answer to an obvious question, and you had your colleagues cheering you on from the sidelines. My very first thought when I saw the transcript of what you said was, “Keith Miller is a very bright guy. There’s no way he would have said that a human thief wasn’t responsible for the missing stuff from the car. This must be a misrepresentation of his views because I can’t imagine anyone, much less someone as intelligent as Keith, saying something so stupid.” Yet you told an audience that he did so, and at no point in that little pep rally did it occur to you that you were completely smearing a really good guy and making him out to be a total idiot who couldn’t answer a question that any 9 year old could answer?

    And even if your answer was “hurried” at the time, what was your response when it was pointed out to you that he doesn’t take the idiotic position that you attributed to him? You still claimed that you didn’t misrepresent his position. And when it became very clear that no one was going to buy that one, you issued a half-hearted apology that didn’t say “I misrepresented his position completely”, but only said that you had represented his position “in a fashion that Keith saw as wrong.” Not that was wrong, mind you, just in a way that he saw as wrong. And you still claimed not to have misrepresented his position but only that your comments “had the effect of making your position seem foolish”. And then you still went on to blame this on some ambiguity in Keith’s response to you, which is where you tried several times to bring in totally irrelevant aspects of the conversation.

    The truth is very simple: Keith agreed with you that a human thief stole the items from the car. You lied and said that he refused to believe that a human thief stole the items from the car. It really is that simple, Paul, and all the handwaving about moral culpability and the ultimate nature of causation does nothing at all to change that. And even after issuing a half-hearted apology, you’re still trying to change the subject to anything but that, while simultaneously asking for the benefit of the doubt. If you had acted sincerely from the start, you might get that benefit of the doubt. But the behavior you’ve displayed here certainly doesn’t warrant any such benefit.

  27. #27 Raging Bee
    May 31, 2006

    Speaking of “trying to change the subject to irrelevant things,” wasn’t that pretty much the intent of Paul’s original offending remarks? Justifiable or not, what was the comment about Miller’s views, if not yet another diversion from the emptiness and dishonesty of ID “theory?”

  28. #28 steve s
    May 31, 2006

    Paul, this is offtopic, but it’s a question we’re curious about. Some of us denizens of PT/AtBC were wondering which position you take to defend Young Earth Creationism w/r/t the evidence, because you’re an atypical YECist. Do you take the “all the scientific evidence really points to YEC” position, or the “all the scientific evidence is against YEC, and I don’t care” position? Someone suggested I just wait for your forthcoming monograph, but who knows when that’ll be?

    thanks
    Steve

  29. #29 Paul Nelson
    May 31, 2006

    You accused me of “outrageous” lying, Ed, in a very public forum, the Panda’s Thumb. Yet when I tried to explain the context of my remarks, from long personal interactions with Keith Miller about questions of scientific epistemology — i.e., to defend myself against a serious charge — you accused me of “handwaving” and introducing “totally irrelevant aspects.”

    By this standard, anyone accused of perjury may be presumed guilty. Case closed — no trial or weighing of evidence or circumstances required. When the accused tries to introduce evidence in his defense, we may push this aside as “totally irrelevant” and “handwaving.” We already know that he lied, and now want only his admission of the same.

    The written record shows that, on 17 June 1998, when I asked Keith directly if science could infer intelligent causation from patterns in the world, he said, with an exclamation point, No: the thief is a “natural physical regularity.” The record also shows that Keith does not regard intelligence as a fundamental causal category within science. The thief is a temporary bundle of matter who takes things not belonging to him as a matter of “physical regularity.”

    Why do you suppose the Palos Verdes audience laughed? Because they actually thought that Keith Miller believes the wind or a stray meteorite was responsible in the thought experiment? No: sane people, including Keith, know when someone has broken into their car.

    They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings “natural regularities,” which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange. The audience knew (of course) that Keith would have ascribed the event to a thief. That’s not amusing.

    What’s amusing is collapsing agency into necessity or physical regularity. The thief broke into the car because he had no choice. The moral dimensions of the situation are relevant precisely because human beings evaluate each other not as automata, but as genuine agents, and assess the plausibility of competing scientific worldviews in terms of how those worldviews fit with their intuitions about matters as basic as the reality of right and wrong.

    Here’s what I could have said, and in light of this ongoing hassle, wish I had said:

    “Keith Miller agreed that a thief broke into the car. But when I then asked him to agree that my thought experiment showed the rationality of inferring intelligent causation from patterns of physical evidence, he balked and said No — turns out the thief was a natural physical regularity after all.”

    Here’s what I believe I did wrong:

    1. Mentioned a private exchange in public without first consulting a person (Keith) involved in that exchange.

    2. Expressed Keith’s position in a way that made him look unnecessarily foolish. I should have said that Keith inferred a thief, and then amplified what Keith actually meant by “thief” with respect to the deeper questions separating us (methodological naturalism vs. ID).

    But there’s only so much I can do about (2). If someone is determined to dissolve away agency into non-agency (physical necessity), in the end no one can stop him. It really is Keith’s position that scientifically speaking, the ultimate causal actors are not agents, but particles in various arrangements (see e.g. his reply to my question about the origin of his emails).

    Anyway: I’m sad about all this, mainly for having let Keith down, whose Christian confession I share, but also because I admire your independence and feistiness, Ed, and hate to have our first personal interaction be as bitter as this. But I won’t (can’t) cop to lying if I don’t think I lied.

    Steve, please email your USPS mailing address (nelsonpa@alumni.uchicago.edu), and I’ll send you the chapter I wrote with John Mark Reynolds on YEC.

    Gotta talk my daughter to a soccer game.

  30. #30 Russell
    May 31, 2006

    Ginger Yellow writes, “It’s probably fair to say that science rules out unbounded intelligent causation a priori.”

    I disagree. A creator god who pulled the strings of the universe could pretty clearly leave his signature on it, and instructions and comments, for us to see. He could leave verses from his scripture engraved on the inside of our skulls, which would show up on CAT scans and on autopsy. He could encode them in ASCII in strands of junk DNA. He could answer prayer, literally, as a voice inside each person’s head, speaking clear words in each person’s native tongue. Or he could publicize his words in copperplate Gothic script across the sky each night at 18:00 UTC, in Latin, visible to all. In fact, he could do all of the above.

    We, as scientists, would then recognize that there was some intelligence out there speaking to us. We might not be able to prove its bounds, or lack thereof. But its existence would be clear.

    Religious believers pull out a piece of dishonest rhetoric, when they are faced with examples of how their god could provide evidence of himself. Their usual response is that their god doesn’t do that, because he doesn’t want to force us to believe that he exists, that he wants our belief to be a matter of faith, of will. The reason this is dishonest is that it contradicts all their previous claims that there is plenty of evidence for their god. Belief deriving from evidence, and belief chosen as a matter of will, are mutually exclusive. I don’t choose to believe that the Pythagorean theorem holds in the Euclidean plane, that my tissue is cellular, or that relativity in some important ways is a more accurate model of gravity and motion than Newtonian mechanics. At no point when thinking on how the world is and on what theories best model it and explain it, is there ever a point when I need to make a choice or commitment. Science isn’t like politics or religion. At least, it shouldn’t be. Even where the science verges on philosophical, as with the distinction between the many-worlds interpretation and Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, there’s no reason for a scientist to think or act like a preacher or politician who commits to a side, rather than like someone who investigates and explains. Of course, scientists sometimes “get religious.” There are any number of papers that get written, and often not much read, as everyone in the field knows that is just Prof. So-and-so again beating his drum on such-and-such again. And that’s the point: we recognize when a colleague has started to practice philosophy or religion, beyond what the evidence can tell.

    This is what the religious believer fails to understand. When he simultaneously says that there is plenty of evidence for his god, and that belief is a matter of faith, he contradicts himself. First, he is asserting what clearly is not the case, and then he turns to explain why it shouldn’t be the case.

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    Paul Nelson wrote:

    You accused me of “outrageous” lying, Ed, in a very public forum, the Panda’s Thumb. Yet when I tried to explain the context of my remarks, from long personal interactions with Keith Miller about questions of scientific epistemology — i.e., to defend myself against a serious charge — you accused me of “handwaving” and introducing “totally irrelevant aspects.”

    By this standard, anyone accused of perjury may be presumed guilty. Case closed — no trial or weighing of evidence or circumstances required. When the accused tries to introduce evidence in his defense, we may push this aside as “totally irrelevant” and “handwaving.” We already know that he lied, and now want only his admission of the same.

    This is nonsense, merely an attempt to shift the blame to your accusers rather than taking responsibility for your own actions. The facts are really rather simple here: you said that he refused to accept that a human thief was responsible for the missing items in the car in your hypothetical. That’s what you said to an audience full of people, and it’s on tape. It was a lie; not only did he not refuse to accept a human thief as the explanation, he explicitly agreed that a human thief had stolen the items. That isn’t merely “compressing his position”, it is completely reversing his position – and for the purpose of making him look like an idiot.

    Why do you suppose the Palos Verdes audience laughed? Because they actually thought that Keith Miller believes the wind or a stray meteorite was responsible in the thought experiment? No: sane people, including Keith, know when someone has broken into their car.

    They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings “natural regularities,” which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange. The audience knew (of course) that Keith would have ascribed the event to a thief. That’s not amusing.

    For crying out loud, Paul, you make this claim and yet you wonder why no one is giving you any benefit of the doubt here? No, the audience did believe that Keith refused to ascribe the event to a human thief. Why did they believe that? Because that is exactly what you told them. Let’s look at it again, shall we:

    Now what would you infer from that pattern, I put the question to Keith. And rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened, Keith said a natural regularity occurred.

    RATHER THAN inferring that someone had broken into his car, he said a “natural regularity occurerd”. YOU are the one who contrasted “natural regularity” with human thief and told them explicitly that Keith had refused to believe a human thief had stolen from him. You even contrasted his idiotic reaction with what those smart people in the audience would have done. There is no way in hell that anyone in that audience believed that Keith accepted a human thief had broken into his car based on what you told them. That is why they were laughing, because you put an incredibly stupid claim into the mouth of someone they didn’t know and they were laughing that someone would say something so stupid. But of course, he didn’t say that – he said the opposite of what you said he said. And you knew he said the opposite of that. You knew that he had agreed that a human thief was responsible and that the only dispute was over the analogy between human intelligent action and supernatural intelligent action.

    You could have presented his views accurately and you chose to lie about them. And even after being caught, you just keep trying, over and over again, to change the subject to discuss moral culpability and the ultimate nature of causation, neither of which has anything at all to do with whether Keith inferred a human thief or not. Like it or not, that is handwaving and it is really quite pathetic. Even after being caught, you denied it, tried to change the subject, issued a half-hearted, Clintonian apology and continue to obfuscate and attempt to change the subject. I’ve got no problem giving benefit of the doubt, but you clearly have not earned it.

    You say you’re disappointed; I’m disappointed too. I’m mostly disappointed because someone I had thought, until now, was both honest and honorable stood in front of a large audience, made a very good guy sound like a complete idiot by lying about his position, and then stood there while the audience laughed at this decent guy. It is abominable behavior, Mr. Nelson, and your behavior since being caught has not improved the outlook any. If you had just admitted it immediately and issued an unconditional apology, I would be willing to extend you the benefit of the doubt. But your actions here have removed any doubt there might have been in the first place by compounding dishonesty with dishonor. You really should be ashamed of yourself; the sad part is that you’re not.

  32. #32 ImagoArt
    May 31, 2006

    Russell wrote,

    Religious believers pull out a piece of dishonest rhetoric, when they are faced with examples of how their god could provide evidence of himself. Their usual response is that their god doesn’t do that, because he doesn’t want to force us to believe that he exists, that he wants our belief to be a matter of faith, of will.

    Just some clarification with regards to Christianity. The Christian claim is that God has revealed his existence to every human. The matter of free will arises when someone is faced with the decision of whether or not to follow God. (Note that whether or not you believe God has revealed himself to you is irrelevant to the fact that such a claim is part of Christian theology.)

    Rusty

  33. #33 hdtnkr
    May 31, 2006

    …The thief is a temporary bundle of matter who takes things not belonging to him as a matter of “physical regularity.”…They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings “natural regularities,” which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange….What’s amusing is collapsing agency into necessity or physical regularity. The thief broke into the car because he had no choice….If someone is determined to dissolve away agency into non-agency (physical necessity), in the end no one can stop him. It really is Keith’s position that scientifically speaking, the ultimate causal actors are not agents, but particles in various arrangements (see e.g. his reply to my question about the origin of his emails)….

    P.N.: I don’t know you from Adam, but I have to conclude from these statements that you either (a) did not even really read & comprehend Miller’s responses, (b) are so caught up in your own myopic categories that you can’t imagine other positions re: scientific causality & metaphysics, or (c) that you really are just a hand-waving charlatan.

    Did you even read Miller’s responses re: the option of accepting intelligence as part of nature *without* being reductionist about it, or his statement about “emergence” and biological beings constituting their own wholes even if obviously still correlating back to physics & chemistry in whatever fashion?

    How can you keep attributing this completely reductionist stuff to Miller if you’ve actually READ Miller’s comments?

  34. #34 Sastra
    May 31, 2006

    Good grief. In another thread I had parodied Paul Nelson’s statement by suggesting that he had MEANT to say the following:

    “Now, what would you infer from that pattern, I put the question to Keith. Of course, he said he’d do what everyone in this room would do, namely he would get out his cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car. BUT rather than think what everyone in this room thinks – that like all intelligent causation a thief can be inferred through basic intuitions about reality to be an irreducible agent outside the physical universe – Keith said that human agents are ‘natural regularities.’”
    (Pause for delighted, derisive laughter from audience.)

    Of course, what he said was nothing like this. If he had meant to tell the audience that Keith Miller had inferred a thief but held the position that the thief was not a “causal primitive, irreducible to other fundamental categories” — or that human beings were “natural regularities” — he could, would, and should have said something like the above.

    And no, there would have been no delighted, derisive laughter from the audience if he had made that rather esoteric point. I assume these were not all theology grad students, who I suppose just might have given a sophisticated little snicker over this fine little jab.

    I agree with Ed. The reason the audience laughed is because the thought experiment about the broken-into car parallels common creationist analogies such as the tornado in a junkyard. Why, that tornado “just happens” to put together an automobile by random chance, as the wind blows parts around. And the same kind of “natural regularities” just happened to break the window and steal the valuables. See how silly evolutionists are? They will do anything to avoid obvious conclusions. Gaffaw.

    I’m still not 100% sure if Mr. Nelson is being as disingenuous as he seems, or if he might honestly believe that the audience “laughed over the absurdity of calling human beings ‘natural regularities’” and they somehow “knew (of course) that Keith would have ascribed the event to a thief.” There is no “of course” about it. Tornado in a junkyard. That is how creationists think evolutionists would try to explain away the obvious.

    However, although the academic who is out of touch with the common people is a stock character, given the actual statement about how Miller would NOT have dialed 911, I infer the former. If Nelson was only making a point about the irreducibility of agency, why the little flourish about not phoning the cops because he would NOT infer that someone broke into his car?

    Busted, dude.

  35. #35 Ed Brayton
    May 31, 2006

    Sastra-

    I think this last post, claiming that the audience didn’t believe him when he said that Miller said the opposite of what he said, is pretty much the last nail in the coffin of his credibility. This is just a man desperately clutching at straws, throwing stuff at the wall in the hope that something sticks other than the one basic, undeniable fact that he lied about Nelson for the purpose of making him sound like an idiot.

  36. #36 386sx
    May 31, 2006

    “Darwin…was converted to his new ideas only after he had made numerous observations that were to him quite incompatible with creation. He felt strongly that he must establish this point decisively before his readers would be willing to listen to the evolutionary interpretation. Again and again, he describes phenomena that do not fit the creation theory.”

    Ernst Mayr, Introduction to Harvard facsimile ed. of the Origin of Species, 1964 [1859], p. xii.

    But how is this possible, if hypotheses of unobserved designers are untestable in principle?

    I’m not sure what you mean, but maybe you should ask the people who made up the “creation theory.”

    By the way, what was the point of all those quotes? Are we supposed to throw a party or something?

  37. #37 hdtnkr
    May 31, 2006

    …the one basic, undeniable fact that he lied about Nelson…

    I think Ed meant “lied about Miller,” not about Nelson obviously…

  38. #38 Chance
    May 31, 2006

    Just some clarification with regards to Christianity. The Christian claim is that God has revealed his existence to every human. The matter of free will arises when someone is faced with the decision of whether or not to follow God.

    Thats pretty much what he said. It’s a faith position, no evidence. Each and every one of the above.

  39. #39 Troy Britain
    May 31, 2006

    Nelson: Why do you suppose the Palos Verdes audience laughed? Because they actually thought that Keith Miller believes the wind or a stray meteorite was responsible in the thought experiment? No: sane people, including Keith, know when someone has broken into their car.

    They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings “natural regularities,” which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange. The audience knew (of course) that Keith would have ascribed the event to a thief. That’s not amusing.

    Oh come one Paul, you were speaking to a room full of ordinary folks not theologians or philosophers and even if you were it is a wild stretch to suggest that they would jump to the conclusion you give here given the context of your comments at the debate.

    Of course you were implying that Miller was espousing an “insane” position, that is what made my BS detector go off (which led me to pass your comments on to Miller) and it is made pretty clear by your punch-line: “Now at that point our dialog broke down”. The clear implication being that Miller’s response was irrational so there no point to further discussion.

    But it didn’t break down, in fact when you came back at him with this reductionism stuff he replied thusly:

    Miller: I am no such reductionist. I believe that complex entities have emergent properties that, while ultimately rooted in the underlying chemistry and physics, are not reducible to them. Most natural entities that we encounter as living beings are integrated wholes, that have meaning in and of themselves.

    And I have little doubt that he would add if asked that as a matter of theology he believes (as most Christians do) that humans also have a spiritual dimension. But that is not a scientific question and he was clearly trying to keep the science and the theology separate.

    Nelson: What’s amusing is collapsing agency into necessity or physical regularity. The thief broke into the car because he had no choice. The moral dimensions of the situation are relevant precisely because human beings evaluate each other not as automata, but as genuine agents, and assess the plausibility of competing scientific worldviews in terms of how those worldviews fit with their intuitions about matters as basic as the reality of right and wrong.

    I think some of the theological petticoats of your “scientific” objections to evolution are showing (or at least a caricature of evolution loaded with the typical philosophical baggage that creationists like to heap upon it). All these asides about “moral dimensions” and “right and wrong” looks to me to be grounded in the typical antievolutionist argument that if “evolution” is true then there are no grounds for morality. That a world where most people accepted “evolution” would descend into a chaotic pit of moral depravity where the strong subjugate the weak etc. etc. etc.

    But what I am really fascinated by is the fact that you keep putting the “kick me” sign on coming out with these silly rationalizations. Why don’t you either admit you were wrong, unconditionally (the right thing to do), or simply skulk off into shadows for a while until the furor dies down and then come back out acting like this business never occurred (what antievolutionists typically do)?

  40. #40 epitaphforacentaur
    June 1, 2006

    ed made me giggle in pain the other night (ralph reed post), and now troy’s last paragraph in the above post. i often find here some of the funniest writing i’ve ever read.

    i kept wondering why the hell paul keeps coming back, knowing full well he’d never fully recant what he said and admit his act wholly. never really apologize of ridiculing the reputation and work of keith miller. …really? … to reiterate what troy said, what the hell are you doing other than putting a “kick me” sign on your back, i don’t understand?

  41. #41 J O'Donnell
    June 1, 2006

    Let’s play our favourite game, spot the creationist contradiction:

    Paul Nelson gibbered:

    Why do you suppose the Palos Verdes audience laughed? Because they actually thought that Keith Miller believes the wind or a stray meteorite was responsible in the thought experiment? No: sane people, including Keith, know when someone has broken into their car.

    They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings “natural regularities,” which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange. The audience knew (of course) that Keith would have ascribed the event to a thief. That’s not amusing.

    Yet earlier Nelson admits:

    Of course, which is why I apologized to Keith. I compressed his position — “he rejects intelligent causation” — to the point of making him seem like an idiot. And that was wrong.

    How does that statement fit in with the above. Did the audience laugh Nelson because they thought Miller was an idiot for rejecting that a human thief could do it, or that they found it funny that human beings are ‘natural regularities’. I fail to see how that is supposed to be funny though to begin with, maybe in your head it might be, but someone thinking a mini-tornado stealing the items and not a human would be very funny. The other scenario doesn’t evoke any sort of mirth at all.

    Of course, how you can reconcile these two statements is quite beyond me. You admit your statement makes Miller look like an idiot, precisely BECAUSE your audience would get the impression Miller claimed a human couldn’t have stolen the items. Then you claim they found it funny based on a reason that would distinctly not portray Miller is an idiot.

    So which is it then? Not that I’m expecting you to hold a consistent position or anything.

  42. #42 sdanielmorgan
    June 1, 2006

    Paul said:
    “But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not?…Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live.”

    First, Dawkins is a biologist, not a philosopher of ethics.

    Second, if we all agree [as I'm sure Dawkins would] that people are a function of genetics and their environment, then we would all agree that holding people responsible within societal frameworks, giving them justice, reward and punishment, is part of their environment and shapes and molds their perceptions, outlook, and ultimately, their behaviors.

    Silly Paul.

  43. #43 Ginger Yellow
    June 1, 2006

    Paul:

    I disagree with you, Douglas, about what “most people” think about the ontological status of intelligent causation, and frankly, neither of us knows — but I’d guess that, except for the really wild-eyed eliminative reductionists like Dawkins, “most people” regard their own agency as irreducible in some strong sense.

    I realise I’m not the singular of data, but I certainly think my agency is reducible. Paul, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on this and assume you’re just ignorant about what “reductionist” people actually think about agency rather than deliberately misattributing opinions to them. I strongly recommend you read Dennett’s writing on the subject, particularly Consciousness Explained or The Intentional Stance. He’s quite clear that while he certainly thinks intelligence is phsyically reducible, it can and indeed almost always is useful to think about agency on another level. When we can’t even solve the three body problem, there’s no way we can realistically model human intelligence by trying to replicate the phsyics/chemistry. He argues it is sometimes (often?) appropriate to assign the customary attributes of agency (such as desires and goals) to all sorts of things that we wouldn’t consider free agents – a well programmed robot, for example.

  44. #44 Bruce Beckman
    June 1, 2006

    I think that the central issue for this thread is: Did Nelson understand Miller’s position regarding intelligence and natural cause when Nelson made his comments to the audience?

    If Nelson did not understand Miller’s position *or* if Nelson was unable to accurately articulate Miller’s position, then it is probably fruitless to engage Nelson in a discussion of these matters since he clearly could not contribute anything useful to the discussion. I think everyone would agree that Miller’s position is pretty straightforward and clearly spelled out for all to see in the published e-mail exchange. If this is the case Nelson might want to take his PhD off the wall and store it in the bottom of a birdcage.

    If Nelson did understand Miller’s position then Nelson intentionally misrepresented Miller in order to make Miller look foolish and Nelson look wise. If this is the case then Nelson is a liar and a scoundrel and doesn’t deserve to be a part of the scholarly community.

    Either way, it doesn’t seem to me like anyone should waste his or her time in discussions with Nelson.

  45. #45 Douglas Theobald
    June 1, 2006

    PN:
    I disagree with you, Douglas, about what “most people” think about the ontological status of intelligent causation, and frankly, neither of us knows — but I’d guess that, except for the really wild-eyed eliminative reductionists like Dawkins, “most people” regard their own agency as irreducible in some strong sense.

    GY: I realise I’m not the singular of data, but I certainly think my agency is reducible.

    I should clarify that I wasn’t suggesting anything specific about whether most people find agency reducible or not, whatever that really means. I would probably agree with Paul here about “most people”, if we’re talking a cross-section of America or Europe. What I meant was that Paul’s particular use of “intelligent causation” is very specific and rather subtle, and most people are certainly not familiar with Dembski’s trichotomy. For the average, well-informed listener, saying that Keith “accept[]s a philosophy of science that excludes intelligent causation by definition” means that Keith thinks science cannot investigate the actions of things like human thieves, rats in a maze, ancient cultures, social constructs, SETI, etc.

  46. #46 Dave S.
    June 1, 2006

    Douglas Theobald writes:

    What I meant was that Paul’s particular use of “intelligent causation” is very specific and rather subtle, and most people are certainly not familiar with Dembski’s trichotomy.

    Indeed they are not. And even among those who are familiar, many reject his notion as unsupported and inconsistant with known facts. It is certainly not axiomatic, as appears to be assumed by many of its advocates in my experience.

    This appears to be a case of “Look at how the poor confused theist is forced to come to absurd conclusions by his clearly irrational rejection of the scientific inference of design.”, and the crowd nods and chuckles in agreement, “Uh-huh, that’s what you get when you follow the atheist Darwinists and what can only be called their pathological fear of accepting design (since obviously they can’t reasonably reject it based on lack of merit).”

    P.S.: Most excellent Macroevolution FAQ in Talk.Origins by the way.

  47. #47 djsnyder
    June 1, 2006

    Part-time observer here, but kudos to the efforts of Ed and his merry band of enlightened Ed-heads.

    Is the issue not that Paul Nelson is un-gentlemanly or un-Christian (though Ed clearly demonstrates he is both of these), nor even that he suffers from the zealot’s usual excess of hubris, though this is apparently true as well. Rather, isn’t the essence of Nelson’s obduracy the fact that were he genuinely to apologize, he would be admitting that his entire position (and by extension that portion of the ID/creationist “big tent” he represents) relies on the *willful* misrepresentation of his critics’ arguments?

    He doesn’t apologize, not because he is concerned to save face, but rather (on a microcosmic level) a genuine apology destroys a significant part of ID “theory.” Apology as anti-matter: he apologizes and thus ceases to exist.

    Dave Snyder

  48. #48 386sx
    June 1, 2006

    Science doesn’t rule out “intelligent causation” (and what a stupid thing to say), it rules out untestable intelligent causation.

    Well it might sound like a stupid thing to say, but, like most scientists, you’re neglecting the causal primitive “intelligent causation”. Now, one might think that if science doesn’t like the causal primitive, and if one is doing some causal primitive stuff, then perhaps one should look outside of science for their causal primitives. (E.g., religion, or maybe astrology or something like that.) But no.

    So, in essence, was Mr. Nelson lying when he said that Mr. Miller would do something silly “rather than do what everyone in this room would do, namely get out your cell phone and dial 911 and infer that someone had broken into his car, rather than say that event, that intelligently cause event had happened”? No, because like most scientists, you are forgetting about the causal primitive of the adverb rather.

  49. #49 hdtnkr
    June 1, 2006

    < blockquote>…like most scientists, you are forgetting about the causal primitive of the adverb ‘rather’.

    That’s not “forgetting,” that’s just the difference between doing biological evolutionary science and social linguistics. Nelson lied to the extent that he didn’t acknowledge that for Miller there’s no necessary contradiction involved when an “intelligent” thief’s actions can also be said to correlate back to physics & chemistry — it’s not an either/or choice. That’s why Miller specifically referred to biological organisms as constituting their own wholes in the email discussion, as well as to “emergence.” It’s Nelson himself who is forcing the reductionist reading of responsibility, not Miller, and that’s what the lie is. Get it yet???

  50. #50 386sx
    June 1, 2006

    It’s Nelson himself who is forcing the reductionist reading of responsibility, not Miller, and that’s what the lie is. Get it yet???

    So then, given Nelson’s agreement with Mr. Miller that no area of science is remotely close to a level of understanding sufficient to recognize all possible cause-and-effect pathways to a given end, Mr. Nelson’s defense — “They laughed because of the absurdity of calling human beings ‘natural regularities,’ which is the very term Keith used in our 17 June exchange” — might not be true because:

    1) If no area of science is remotely close to a level of understanding sufficient to recognize all possible cause-and-effect pathways to a given end, then calling human beings “natural regularities” might not be so absurd.

    2) Mr. Nelson might not have been able to read the minds of the people who were laughing.

  51. #51 hdtnkr
    June 1, 2006

    1) If no area of science is remotely close to a level of understanding sufficient to recognize all possible cause-and-effect pathways to a given end, then calling human beings “natural regularities” might not be so absurd.

    In the context of the email exchange as a whole, it’s not absurd at all. The lie was misrepresenting that context, and implying that fully *human*, responsible action can’t backwards-correlate with “natural regularities” in a non-reductionist way. That’s why making claims about human design/action and divine design/action are completely different endeavors, and not at all directly analogous (since we *know* how to gauge many of those sorts of correlations with humans, at least as far as car break-ins go). It’s pointless to discuss this further: either one understands what Miller was saying in the emails (even if one doesn’t agree) or one doesn’t. Either way, Nelson misrepresented Miller’s position by implying that the context of the “natural regularity” phrase precluded everyday human intelligence/intent/responsibility; Nelson did that either intentionally or out of ignorance. Both are just as pathetic in my book. So, technically, you’re right: Nelson might not have “lied,” he might just not understand what the heck he’s talking about. Does that make things any better, really???

  52. #52 Rilke's Granddaughter
    June 1, 2006

    No. Given a choice between being accused of intelligent deception and outright stupidity, I’d choose deception.

    But I’d still feel bad about it.

    The point to keep in mind is not that Nelson lied; it’s that we know he’s intelligent enough to have realized that he made a mistake, if it was a mistake – but he’s not ethical enough to correct the mistake.

    That’s the sad thing: the fundamental lack of ethical behavior exposed by this incident.

    He’s been hanging with Dembski too long.

  53. #53 386sx
    June 2, 2006

    So, technically, you’re right: Nelson might not have “lied,” he might just not understand what the heck he’s talking about.

    So it may or may not be safe to say that when Mr. Nelson said in his debate with Mr. Miller that “Human beings exhaust the known natural causes for certain patterns pretty readily, and then they move on to the possibility of intelligent causation,” Nelson definitely probably did not have in mind professor Behe’s scientific research on the immune system, because:

    The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. [Kenneth] Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)).

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