Natural Theology

Dialog with Jeff Williams: Intermission

This is a continuation with the dialog between Jeff Williams and I. Jeff asked:

I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles.

Having written the first three (of five) parts, I think I've answered everything except "the limits of the invariability principles." To do that, I have to finish the posts on "meaning" and "math," then ruminate on the nature of infinity and its relationship to nature (a small part of the latter is
here, but I also have some unpublished material on that, too).

Since I think I've answered all but the last (and I have every reason to believe that I can answer the last, but with a lot more exposition), I'm going to take a break to take time to mentally recharge before working on the next two parts.

Jeff can now attempt to rebut.



Table of Contents
  1. Jeff's original post
  2. Intro to my reply
  3. Part I to my reply
  4. Part IIa to my reply
  5. Part IIb to my reply
  6. Part III to my reply
  7. Intermission to my reply
Comments

Dialog with Jeff Williams: Part III

This is a continuation with the dialog between Jeff Williams and I. The previous post was here. The first post was here.

This is the third part to the answer of his question:

I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles.

The answer will consist of five parts:
  • The road to logic
  • The road to truth
  • Logic and Reason
  • The road to meaning
  • The road to math
What I have to show is how to achieve each of these things, using only atoms (or any physical things), and physical operations on atoms.

This post will cover the third topic, Logic and Reason.
Read More...
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Dialog with Jeff Williams: Part IIb

This is a continuation with the dialog between Jeff Williams and I. The previous post was here. The first post was here.

This is the second part to the answer of his question:

I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles.

The answer will consist of five parts:
  • The road to logic
  • The road to truth
  • Logic and Reason1
  • The road to meaning
  • The road to math
What I have to show is how to achieve each of these things, using only atoms (or any physical things), and physical operations on atoms.

This post will cover the second topic, the road to truth.
Read More...
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Dialog with Jeff Williams: Part IIa

This is a continuation with the dialog between Jeff Williams and I. The previous post was here. The first post was here.

Having set the stage, I will now answer his question:

I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles.

The answer will consist of four parts:
  • The road to logic
  • The road to truth
  • The road to meaning
  • The road to math
What I have to show is how to achieve each of these things, using only atoms (or any physical things), and physical operations on atoms.

This post will cover the first topic, the road to logic.
Read More...
Comments

Dialog with Jeff Williams: Part I

This is a continuation with the dialog between Jeff Williams and I. For my summary of the background, see here.

On his blog, Jeff has asked me to
respond to several points.

But before he makes his specific request, he makes some preliminary statements, some of which I take issue with. He writes:

I recognize two distinct innate modes of human thought: rational objectification of events in the world; and esthetic experience of Being.

I agree with Jeff that we make distinctions between the sense data of our experiences, the description of what we think our sense data is telling us about an external world (assuming an external world exists!), and the description of how we think that sense data compares to an ideal (the esthetic experience). Where I disagree with Jeff is the nature of these distinctions.

We are all just "
ripples on the quantum pond" (do take time to read this link. If we disagree on this we won't agree on the important things). So our sense data is ripples on the pond; our rational objectification of events is ripples on the pond, our esthetic experience is ripples on the pond; our "our" is ripples on the pond. For there to be true distinctions between these things then there needs to be true distinctions in the ripples.

This means that there are ripples that give rise to logic, truth, and meaning for these are the basis of our ability to describe events (Jeff's "rational objectification") and our ability to describe a "distance" between two events (which is the "is/ought" distinction). The only difference between the "rational objectification of events" and the "esthetic experience of Being" is that the latter involves a distance metric between two events or between an event and an "idealized" event.

The resulting representations do not exist as such in the external world...

Here, Jeff needs to demonstrate that there is an "external" -- as opposed to "internal" -- world. If everything is ripples on the pond, then the events and our descriptions of the events, all exist in the same pond. The "internal"/"external" distinction is due to the limitations of our perception and are not due to a fundamental aspect of reality.

I retain Heidegger’s distinction between them as “Truth” arising from esthetic experience, and “Correctness” inhering in objectification.

I note that Jeff needs to define what "truth" and "correctness" are in his worldview, just as I will have to do in mine. Mine is easy.

Again, Being is reduced to copula.

This is problematic for several reasons, which Jeff will have to defend. First, how does anyone know what "Being" is, since we can't directly experience it? Second, it betrays a form of thinking where "Being" and "copula" are distinct things. As a Christian, I would argue that this is equivalent to the "modalist" heresy. I don't want to immediately derail this particular part of the discussion, but we may eventually have to go there (cf. my posts on the
Trinity, which are more about the ways this doctrine shows how individuals think about things than it is about the doctrine itself.).

Thankfully, we have no need to go through another tedious debate about duality.

I'm not sure we can ultimately escape it. As I (attempt to show) in
On the Undecidability of Materialism vs. Idealism both physicalism and metaphysicalism are dual ways of looking at the same thing. If Jeff wants to get rid of metaphysics, then the only way he's going to be able to do it is by a subjective mental coin flip. That is, the only way you can get rid of metaphysics is by arbitrary fiat. Note the duality: the only way you can get rid of physicalism is by arbitrary fiat, too.

So now we get to the discussion points. Jeff wrote:

my claim that reason is essentially different from reality ...

Reason can't be different from reality, since it's all just ripples on the quantum pond
1. What I think Jeff wants to say is that reason allows us to construct descriptions that may, or may not, accurately describe reality. The hard part is knowing which descriptions belong to which class. Jeff wants to reject the idea of "Being" and "copula", but he has to provide a basis as to why. Why not say that "Being" and "accurate descriptions of Being" are both "Being"? (note the parallel to Trinitarian thought).

I will repeat my original answer to that question: while we have dedicated receptors and neural paths for each sensation, no such thing exists for reason. I cannot experience reason the way I do light.

If reason is just the swirling of atoms in certain ways in your brain, then you have to be able to experience it, even if the connection may not be obvious. As I will show in the next blog post, you do have neural paths for reason. I'll show how they work in theory. That this works in practice can be seen in the paper "
Computation Emerges from Adaptive Synchronization of Networking Neurons". And, if you're like other people (admittedly, my sample size is small), you experience reason by talking to yourself (we subvocalize our thoughts). That is, computation has to interact with it's environment for the results of computation to be known. The swirling atoms in your brain which are your reason interact with the sense receptors in your brain to make the results of reason known. That is, your sense receptors can be triggered by interaction with an external swirl of atoms as well as the internal swirl of atoms.

where I can create mathematics or logical forms, but this is entirely without external sense data.

I will show that this is false. You cannot sever the roots of mathematics from sense data. But I first have to show where you get logic, then truth, then meaning, and then math.

Without converting to the imaginings of space and time, I have no intuition of reason at all.

This, too, is false. One of the things that has to be understood is that, when it comes to physical devices, there is no difference between the hardware and the software. We may not know what initial knowledge the wiring of our brains gives us, but it's clear that it's there. See, e.g. "Addition and subtraction by human infants", Karen Wynn, Nature, Vol 361, 28 January 1993.

The new subject of quantum mind is attracting top physicists and neuroscientists and perhaps offers the path to understanding.

One the one hand, everything is quantum. On the other hand, let me quote Feynman:

Computer theory has been developed to a point where it realizes that it doesn't make any difference; when you get to a universal computer, it doesn't matter how it's manufactured, how it's actually made.2

That is, computer theory doesn't care about the actual physical construction details as long as you get the right behavior.

Your model, however, centers on atoms, not waves, and leaves the exact principles unspecified.

As per the Feynman quote, it doesn't matter if the model is based on atoms or waves. The model doesn't care. I'm going to use atoms simply because it's easier. And this is an interesting property, since whatever quantum "stuff" is, it exhibits wave-particle duality. That is, computation theory is wave-particle agnostic. What matters is the actual behavior.

and since atomic arrangements are part of nature, that implies an exact connection and description of truth.

Note quite. There is an exact connection between connection and description, but that doesn't mean that every description is true. Remember, there are false as well as true descriptions.

It would also leave unexplained the limitations of Wigner’s invariability principles, which seem to demonstrate the inability of reason to grasp anything larger than a very limited set of events within limited space and time.

Sure, our brains, being physical objects, have physical limitations on what they can keep in mind at one time. But the wonderful thing about Turing machines is that they can use external storage. In fact, to the best of my knowledge,
man is the only animal that does use external storage for thoughts. We have all the physical bits in the universe by which we can augment our reason.

Instead, I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement ...

Better, reason is matter in motion in certain patterns. If you want to get a preview, see Notes on Feser's "From Aristotle..." If you have questions with this, I can try to address them in the next post.



[1] Unless, of course, you want to admit a transcendent God, who is reason itself and the non-physical cause of all physical things.
[2] Simulating Physics with Computers, International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 21. Nos. 6/7, 1982
Comments

Dialog with Jeff Williams: Intro

On September 8, Jeff Williams and I entered into a Twitter debate about the nature of reality. Jeff describes himself as "an atheist as a result of recognizing the illusion of metaphysics in its entirety." His blog is "Too Late For The Gods".

Eleven days later, the discussion is still going. I cobbled some code together to pull the entire conversation from this
starting tweet, formatted it a bit, and saved it in a text file here.3 It helps immensely to be able to search the complete discussion for what has been said, to look for conversational loops, dead ends, and unanswered questions.

But the conversation has outgrown Twitter. At
this point in Twitter, Jeff has asked me to defend one of my claims and has switched to his blog to continue this phase of the dialog. His post is here. After some preliminary remarks, I will respond directly here on my blog. If Twitter isn't a very good medium for these kinds of things, neither are a blog's commenting facilities, particularly since I'm going to want to use diagrams to illustrate some points.

Why have Jeff and I been doing this for almost two weeks now? I won't speak for Jeff but, while I thoroughly disagree with some of his fundamental statements and think that his worldview is ultimately incoherent, we do agree in some surprising ways. For example, he
posted a rebuttal to some arguments made by the Christian apologist William Lane Craig. While I don't agree with everything in his rebuttal, I do agree that Craig (as well as most contemporary apologists) are an embarrassment. I'll try my best not to join them.

I also agree that reality, whatever it is, is deeply counterintuitive. I've posted Feynman's comments about the nature of nature from his lecture on quantum mechanics before (e.g
here and here). They are1:

We see things that are far from what we would guess. We see things that are very far from what we could have imagined and so our imagination is stretched to the utmost … just to comprehend the things that are there. [Nature behaves] in a way like nothing you have ever seen before. … But how can it be like that? Which really is a reflection of an uncontrolled but I say utterly vain desire to see it in terms of some analogy with something familiar… I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics… Nobody knows how it can be like that.

This leads me to sympathy for Jeff's statement:

The strangeness of physics presents unmatched opportunities for philosophy at this moment. I regret that few mathematicians and scientists have reciprocated with an understanding of philosophy, which always precedes other fields by clearing and setting the grounds for thinking in any age.2

But I will expand on that in that we all need each other. Philosophers need to incorporate what we know of the physical world into their philosophies (assuming they want them to be correct descriptions of reality, for some definition of "correct"), and scientists need to do the same. Because sometimes they share the same goal: to figure out what we really know and how we know that we know it.

I found Jeff's post "
Response to Eckels on Heidegger and Being" a welcome companion to illuminate some of the things he said on Twitter. Some (hopefully helpful) material to provide background on what I hope to say in more depth in my reply is here. I expect that it will take me a few days to put things in a satisfactory arrangement.



[1] "
The Character of Physical Law - Part 6 Probability and Uncertainty"
[2]
Part one and part two.
[3[ Updated 9/22/20 since the conversation is still ongoing.

Comments

On the Undecidability of Materialism vs. Idealism

Is mind an emergent property of matter or is matter an emergent property of mind?

According to Douglas Hofstadter
1:

What is a self, and how can a self come out of the stuff that is as selfless as a stone or a puddle? What is an "I" and why are such things found (at least so far) only in association with, as poet Russell Edison once wonderfully phrased it, "teetering bulbs of dread and dream" .... The self, such as it is, arises solely because of a special type of swirly, tangled pattern among the meaningless symbols. ... there are still quite a few philosophers, scientists, and so forth who believe that patterns of symbols per se ... never have meaning on their own, but that meaning instead, in some most mysterious manner, springs only from the organic chemistry, or perhaps the quantum mechanics, of processes that take place in carbon-based biological brains. ... I have no patience with this parochial, bio-chauvinist view...

According to the Bible
2:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

I believe that computability theory, in particular, the lambda calculus, can shed some light on this problem.

In 1936, three distinct formal approaches to computability were proposed: Turing’s Turing machines, Kleene’s recursive function theory (based on Hilbert’s work from 1925) and Church’s λ calculus. Each is well defined in terms of a simple set of primitive operations and a simple set of rules for structuring operations; most important, each has a proof theory.

All the above approaches have been shown formally to be equivalent to each other and also to generalized von Neumann machines – digital computers. This implies that a result from one system will have equivalent results in equivalent systems and that any system may be used to model any other system. In particular, any results will apply to digital computer languages and any of these systems may be used to describe computer languages. Contrariwise, computer languages may be used to describe and hence implement any of these systems. Church hypothesized that all descriptions of computability are equivalent. While Church’s thesis cannot be proved formally, every subsequent description of computability has been proved to be equivalent to existing descriptions.3

It should be without controversy that if a computer can do something then a human can also do the same thing, at least in theory. In practice, the computer may have more effective storage and be much faster in taking steps than a human. I could calculate one million digits of
𝜋, or find the first ten thousand prime numbers, but I have better things to do with my time. It is with controversy that a human can do things that a computer, in theory, cannot do.4 In any case, we don't need to establish this latter equivalence to see something important.

The lambda calculus is typically presented in two parts. Lambda expressions and the lambda expression evaluator:

Lambda.0

One way to understand this is that lambda expressions represent software and the lambda evaluator represents hardware. This is a common view, as our computers (hardware) run programs (software). But this distinction between software and hardware, while economical and convenient, is an arbitrary distinction which hides a deep truth.

Looking first at
𝜆 expressions, they are defined by two kinds of objects. The first set of five arbitrary symbols: 𝜆 . ( ) and space represent simple behaviors. It isn't necessary at this level of detail to fully specify what those behaviors are, but they represent the "swirly, tangled" patterns posited by Hofstadter. The next set of symbols are meaningless. They represent arbitrary objects, called atoms. Here, they are characters are on a screen. They can just as well be actual atoms: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and so on.

Lambda.2

The only requirement for atoms is that they can be "strung together" to make more objects, here called names (naming is hard).

Lambda.3

With these components, a lambda expression is defined as:


Lambda.4


Note that a lambda expression is recursive, that is, a lambda expression can contain a lambda expression which can contain a lambda expression, .... This will become important in a future post when we consider the impact of infinity on worldviews.

With this simple notation, we can write any computer program. Nobody in their right mind would want to, because this notation is so tedious to use. But by careful arrangement of these symbols we can get memory, meaning, truth, programs that play chess, prove theorems, distinguish between cats and dogs.

Given this definition of lambda expressions, and the cursory explanation of the lambda expression evaluator (again, see [3] for details), the first key insight is that the lambda expression evaluator can be written as lambda expressions. Everything is software, description, word. This includes the rules for computation, the rules for physics, and perhaps even the rules for creating the universe.

But the second key insight is that the lambda evaluator can be expressed purely as hardware. Paul Graham shows how to
implement a Lisp evaluator (which is based on lambda expressions) in Lisp. And since this evaluator runs on a computer, and computers are logic gates, then lambda expressions are all hardware. With the right wiring, not only can lambda expressions be evaluated, they can be generated. We can (and do) argue about how the wiring in the human brain came to be the way that it is, but that doesn't obscure the fact that the program is the wiring, the wiring is the program. That we can modify our wiring/programming, and therefore our programming/wiring, keeps life interesting.

Therefore, it seems that materialism and idealism remain in a stalemate as to which is more fundamental. It might be that dualism is true, but I think that by considering infinity that dualism can be ruled out as an option, as I hope to show in a future post.



[1] Gödel. Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Twentieth-anniversary Edition; Douglas R. Hofstadter; pg. P-2 & P-3
[2] The Bible, New Revised Standard Version, John 1:1, Genesis 1:3
[3]
An Introduction to Functional Programming Through Lambda Calculus, Greg Michaelson
[4] This would require a behavior we cannot observe; a behavior we can't describe; or a behavior we can't duplicate. If we can't observe it, how do we know it's a behavior? A behavior that we can't describe would mean that nature is not self-describing. That seems impossible given the flexibility of description, but who knows?. There might be behaviors we can't duplicate, but that would mean that nature behaves inside human brains like it can behave nowhere else. But there just aren't examples of local violation of
general covariance, except by special pleading.



Update 9/30/20

In
The Emperor's New Mind, Richard Penrose muses:

How can concrete reality become abstract and mathematical? This is perhaps the other side of the coin to the question of how abstract mathematical concepts can achieve an almost concrete reality in Plato’s world. Perhaps, in some sense, the two worlds are actually the same?

Note the unexamined bias. Why not ask, "how can the abstract and mathematical become concrete?" In any case, they can't be the same, since infinity is different in both.

Comments

Epistemology & Hitchens

A little over two months ago I wrote "The Zeroth Commandment" about how I think attempts by Christian apologists to "prove" the existence of God are, not only ultimately futile, but are also fundamentally misguided. In that same spirit, I also proposed the "Spock-Stoddard Test". I followed both of these up with "On the Knowledge of God" where I quoted Berkhof, who cited Kuyper:

... Reformed theology regards the existence of God as an entirely reasonable assumption, it does not claim the ability to demonstrate this by rational argumentation. Dr. Kuyper speaks as follows of the attempt to do this: “The attempt to prove God’s existence is either useless or unsuccessful."

Let me now attempt to put some theory behind these musings.

A Twitterer
attempted to take Christopher Hitchens to task for his statement:

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

Hitchens isn't wrong, but his statement is incomplete. The corrected version should read:

What can be asserted without proof can be accepted or dismissed without proof.

Why is this so? Because reason has to start somewhere. It has to hold that some fundamental, foundational, things are true simply because they are true. They are the first stepping stone on what may be a long journey.

It may be that an axiom results in a system that conflicts with empirical measurement. In that case, the axiom can be rejected (or the measurement questioned). It may be that the axiom agrees with empirical measurement. In that case, it can continue to be provisionally accepted for as long as no other disconfirming empirical measurement is found. Note that empirical agreement with one axiom does not rule out other axioms that have the same empirical agreement.

It may be that an axiom conflicts with other axioms or statements derived from those axioms. In that case, something has to give. Knowing what has to give can be problematic.

But it may also be the case, thanks to Gödel and the universe, that we can never fully explore the consequences of the axiom either logically or empirically. In that case, you are free to accept it or reject it.

I submit for your consideration that the axiom of "God" is in the latter category. You are free to accept or reject as you will. It may be one of the few truly free choices you get to make in life. In thousands of years there has been no successful logical proof of God's existence, nor has there been a successful logical proof of God's non-existence. Neither is there any generally accepted empirical proof either way. Note that I put self-reflection in the category of empirical proof.

But this means I also have to finish my examination of the Warren-Flew debate to show why Flew ultimately failed.

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Warren-Flew Debate, Part 2

I considered devoting the second part of this review to further examination of Warren's points. But that is such an unappealing task that I'm going to just skip on to Flew's positive argument for atheism.

In my
previous post, I lamented that neither side addressed what it means to know. Still, Flew made some observations which deserve comment.

On Knowledge

That is to say we have to start from and with our common sense and our scientific knowledge of the universe around us.

Yes, we all have to start somewhere. But we need to establish criteria on how we know we've arrived. With common sense, Flew fails to establish whether the majority view (theism) or the minority view (atheism) is the "common" one. One can do an internet search for "humans hardwired religion" and see the arguments for and against. The argument against says that humans are hardwired for pattern recognition, but this misses the point. After recognizing patterns, we seek teleology. And we are wired for teleology - we have to be - but
atheists suppress this aspect of being.

As to scientific knowledge, scientific knowledge is incomplete and sometimes wrong. This is not to disparage science; it's just the nature of the thing. Too, scientific knowledge contains descriptions based on empirical induction, and descriptions from empirical induction are probabilistic. That means that there is some point where we consider a probability high enough to be trustworthy - whether it's 50.1%, 75%, or 99.9999%. And this leads to the necessity of what it means to trust Nature and whether or not Nature is trustworthy. Note that the same considerations apply to questions about God.

Of equal importance is the trustworthiness of our intuitions. Feynman gives an idea of inability of intuition to grasp quantum mechanics. In his hour long lecture "
The Character of Physical Law - Part 6 Probability and Uncertainty", he begins by saying that the more that we observe Nature, the less reasonable our explanations of Nature become. "Intuitively far from obvious" is one phrase he uses. Within the first ten minutes of the lecture he says things like:

We see things that are far from what we would guess. We see things that are very far from what we could have imagined and so our imagination is stretched to the utmost … just to comprehend the things that are there. [Nature behaves] in a way like nothing you have ever seen before. … But how can it be like that? Which really is a reflection of an uncontrolled but I say utterly vain desire to see it in terms of some analogy with something familiar… I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics… Nobody knows how it can be like that.

Neither Flew nor Warren acknowledged the problem of intuition getting in the way of apprehending truth, nor possible approaches for dealing with it. We'll see how this problem affects Flew's Euthyphro argument.

About the law of the excluded middle: in general surely it can only be applied to terms and contrasts which are adequately sharp.

This is quite true. Logic, and computation, are based on objects that are distinguishable. This means that if two things can't be distinguished, then we can't accurately describe them. This means that God is beyond reason and logic, because He is not made of distinguishable parts, yet we talk about Him as if He is. At the heart of the Christian concept of God is what is to us a paradox: what God says is the same as what God is (because both are immaterial and unchanging), yet what God says is somehow different from what God is. Flew doesn't mention if this difficulty - that God is beyond reason - is one of the things that enters into his affirmation that there is no God.

My first and very radical point is that we cannot take it as guaranteed that there always is an explanation, much less that there always is an explanation of any particular desired kind.

Bravo, except that this shouldn't be radical. We know that empirical knowledge is incomplete (we'll never experience the interior of a black hole, at least not in any way we can talk about it) and, ever since G
ödel, we know that knowledge based on self-referential logic is incomplete.

You can not argue: from your insistence that there must be answers to such questions; to the conclusion that there is such a being.

This. A thousand times this. Explanations are "just so" stories of which there can be no end. "Just so" stories that actually describe reality are much harder to devise.

For in the nature of the case there must be in every system of thought, theist as well as atheist, both things explained and ultimate principles which explain but are not themselves explained.

Note that Warren says the same thing: "God is the explanation which needs no explanation." In the final analysis, both sides end up with
what they start with! Flew starts with "no god" and ends with "no god"; Warren starts with "god" and ends up with "god". Everything else in between are flawed arguments. I hope that once you see this happen, time and time again, that you see that what passes for a lot of "apologetics" are vain attempts to prove what has been assumed as true!

How often and when, when you make a claim to know something or other, do you undertake or expect to be construed as undertaking to provide a supporting demonstration of the kind which Dr. Warren so vigorously and so often challenges me to provide? Certainly when we claim to know anything, we do lay ourselves open to the challenge to provide some sort of sufficient reason to warrant that claim. But that sufficient reason can be of many kinds. And, although it may sometimes include some deductive syllogistic moves, the only case I can think of offhand in which a syllogism is the be-all and end-all of the whole business is that of a proposition in pure mathematics. Clearly that is not the appropriate model in the present case.

Again, Flew is right. The problem is that he doesn't say what the appropriate model is. He doesn't provide the testability criteria that he demands must be present (covered in the the
next post).

The other way, which is the interesting one which I want to consider, is to urge that whereas we who have not enjoyed the revelatory experiences vouchsafed to the believer cannot reasonably be required to accept his claims, this believer himself is in a sure position to know.

Flew is basically saying that the "deaf" don't need to trust the "hearing". Here, Flew says "I haven't heard". Later, he will say, "I don't see." While he admits these things, he then needs to show that the theist is hallucinating and examine whether or not his presumption of atheism is the cause of his not hearing or seeing. As anyone who does puzzles knows, changing how you look at the puzzle can enable you to see things previously missed.

Flew gets positive marks for trying to lay a foundation of what it means to know; but negative marks for the incompleteness of his presentation. Having reviewed these points, the next post will examine Flew's three arguments.
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Warren-Flew Debate, Part 1

In my post "On the Knowledge of God", I wrote: "I have come to the conclusion that neither side [theist and atheist] has any arguments that aren't in some way fundamentally flawed. One day, I will make this case in writing." I guess today is the day to get started (but not, yet, to finish). One problem, of course, is which side to address first and which arguments within each side to address. I could, for example, consider the debate between Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, and John Lennox of which a transcript of the debate is here. I could, for example, cover Feser's "Five Proofs of the Existence of God". I could review "On the Existence of Gods" by Saltarelli and Day. I could ignore what everyone else is saying and present my own case. But even when I do get around to that, I'll still want to include answers to objections, which means covering the traditional arguments.

Somewhere, in a place that I can no longer find
1, I remember reading that Antony Flew was the "most important atheist you've never heard of." On the other hand, Flew may have abandoned atheism in favor of deism in 2004, six years before his death. One side says the switch may have been the result of senility - a charge which Flew denied2. Still, up until that point, he had an impressive pedigree. And in 1976, he debated Thomas Warren over a period of four nights in Denton, Texas where he argued for the affirmative position that there is no God. The debate is available on Youtube and in print.

My primary goal will be to examine Flew's arguments. My secondary goal will be to dissect Warren's responses to Flew. I have to admit that my sympathies -- but not my worldview -- are with Flew in the debate. My impression is that, of the two debaters, he is the more careful craftsman. He is trying to paint a picture with careful brush strokes while Warren is firing a paint gun. Flew is wielding a scalpel, while Warren is using a chain saw. Both have their uses, even though Flew removes the wrong organ and Warren cuts down the wrong tree.

Because my sympathy is with Flew I will deal with his arguments last. First, I want to show where Warren's responses to Flew fall flat. First, Warren makes the claim that Flew has to hurdle seven walls; escape seven cages, to "know" that God does not exist. Warren presents his chart number 9 (manually recreated with minor edits):

Warren
Note that, with one exception, Warren is in the same place. Where Flew must show the eternality of matter, Warren must show the creation of matter. After that, at least according to Christianity, Warren must answer the same questions. Genesis says that we are made from "rocks and dirt" (Gen 2:7). Since the "dust of the earth" is unconscious, the same transition must be made. Conscience, i.e. morality, must also enter into the picture. And so on. If Warren could go back in time, what would he see? Would he see dust forming into a human shape which then begins to move? If so, what would intermediate shapes, if any, look like? How long would it take? Would it happen in an instant? Would it happen in minutes? Would it happen over millions of years? How long would the operation to make Eve take? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? What does Warren think he would see? The only difference between Warren and Flew's position on "life from rocks and dirt" is time scale and the presence, or lack thereof, of agency. Since Warren can't go back in time, how does he know what he claims to know? He may answer, "because the Bible says so," but that is an appeal to authority which, in any other undertaking, would require additional support.

And this leads to a fundamental problem. Neither side addresses what it means "to know". There is no mutual groundwork on the nature and limits of reason, empiricism, or self-evident knowledge. Warren has a way that he escapes the mutual prison cells, but I suspect he wouldn't permit Flew to use the same kind of tools. Warren says:

...the only way he can arrive at atheism is to come through all of these walls.

This simply isn't true. We know that knowledge obtained by empiricism is incomplete, if only because we can't experience everything. Thanks to Kurt G
ödel, we know that knowledge obtained by reason, if it is consistent, is incomplete3. Both Warren and Flew need to address what it means to know in the face of uncertainty.

There are some things that we just can't know. And some of the things we claim to know by reason are built upon statements that are taken to be true for no other reason than they are assumed to be true. These axioms, these presuppositions, these self-evident truths may, or may not, conform to external reality (whatever that turns out to be
4.) So while something might be logically true, it may not correspond to a correct description of Nature (cf. the "Stoddard" portion of the Spock-Stoddard Test).

Too, each system may give different answers to the same questions
5, and a question that has an answer in one system might not have an answer in another. It's important to watch for mental sleight of hand when someone argues the superiority of one system over another because their system has an answer to something the other does not. That's not necessarily a virtue. Their system will have unanswerable questions that might be answered in their opponents system.

Warren will use this technique ("my worldview has an explanation, but Flew's does not") as if this settles the matter. As above, it does not. Furthermore, wittingly or unwittingly, this leads to "God of the gaps" thinking. That is, the idea God has nothing better to do than to be an explanation for things where our knowledge is incomplete. While our knowledge will always be incomplete, the moment a particular gap in our knowledge closes, the need for God in that particular instance goes away. So much for an unchanging God.

Warren also seemed to refuse to accept the problem of the
Sorites paradox, that is, the lack of bright lines of demarcation between some objects. How many grains of sand comprise a pile? How many hairs on a head make the difference between bald and hirsute? In the theory of evolution, where did the difference between human and non-human occur? Warren states:

The truth of the matter is, the theist, who believes in Almighty God, has absolutely no trouble with the question of which was first--a woman or a baby.

Sure, but this is because Genesis gives an account where this question is answered. But, as stated before, just because there is an answer doesn't mean it corresponds to reality. The existence of an explanation is not evidence of the truth of the explanation. Warren then asks:

Have you ever seen anything that was neither human nor non-human?

Here, Warren is begging the question. What, exactly, does it mean to be human? That we have the form of a human? Clearly, the Sorites paradox comes into play, since a person who is missing limbs isn't less human than than someone who isn't. Is it based on behavior? If I lose my mind to dementia, does my humanity gradually fade? If something passes the Turing Test, can it be said to be human? Is humanity based on genetics? Neanderthal and modern humans apparently had a common ancestry. In practice, we find that the definition of human is fluid. It depends on form -- except when it doesn't. It depends on behavior -- except when it doesn't. It depends on genetics -- except when it doesn't. Warren ought to admit that our humanity is rooted in our being in the image of God -- but this has to be something non-physical. And since it's non-physical, it's hard to define. Warren is using a sharp line which his own theology has to affirm is actually ineffable.

To be continued...



[1] Possibly "
Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate", Habermas and Flew.
[2] Asking the senile if they're senile is like asking a drunkard if he's drunk, or an insane person if he's insane.
[3] G
ödel's first incompleteness theorem.
[4]
The Matrix
[5] Compare
Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries.
Comments

On the Knowledge of God

[updated 5/21/2020 to include quote from Philosophy In Minutes]
[updated 11/21/2020 to change "all side" to "all sides"]

I'm just this guy, you know?
1 One of the possible recent mistakes I have made is getting involved with Twitter, in particular, with some of the apologists for theism and for atheism whose goal is to prove by reason that God does, or does not, exist. Over time, having examined both the arguments both for and against, I have come to the conclusion that neither side has any arguments that aren't in some way fundamentally flawed. One day, I will make this case in writing (I still have much more preparation to do first). Still, the failure of one argument doesn't automatically prove the opposite case. So the failure of the arguments on all sides does not mean that a good argument doesn't exist. It just means we haven't found it. Yet, once you see the structure of these arguments, their commonalities, and the problems with them, you begin to wonder if it isn't a hopeless enterprise in the first place. Hence my proposed "Spock-Stoddard Test" and "The Zeroth Commandment." To be sure, these are not based on rigorous proof, but merely on informed guesswork. But they encapsulate the notion that whether or not one believes or disbelieves in God is a logically free choice. It is primal. It is not entailed by other considerations. You either do, or you don't, for no other reason that you do, or you don't. Post-hoc rationalizations don't count.

When one is, as it were, the "lone voice crying in the desert" with an opinion that appears to be relatively rare, at least in the circles I run in, it's gratifying to find others who have come to the same conclusion. Clearly, group cohesion doesn't make my position true or false, but it does make it less lonely. Herewith are a few quotes that I've come across along the way.

He is not in the business of giving them arguments that will prove he has some derivative right to their attention; he is only inviting them to believe. This is the hard stone in the gracious peach of his Good News: salvation is not by works, be they physical, intellectual, moral, or spiritual; it is strictly by faith in him. ... Jesus obviously does not answer many questions from you or me. Which is why apologetics-the branch of theology that seeks to argue for the justifiability of God's words and deeds-is always such a questionable enterprise. Jesus just doesn't argue. ... He does not reach out to convince us; he simply stands there in all the attracting/repelling fullness of his exousia and dares us to believe. -- Robert Farrar Capon. Parables of Judgment


Jesus did not, indeed, support His theism by argument; He did not provide in advance answers to the Kantian attack upon the theistic proofs. -- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism


Like probably nothing else, all authentic knowledge of God is participatory knowledge. I must say this directly and clearly because it is a very different way of knowing reality—and it should be the unique, open-horizoned gift of people of faith. But we ourselves have almost entirely lost this way of knowing, ever since the food fights of the Reformation and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, leading to fundamentalism on the Right and atheism or agnosticism on the Left. Neither of these know how to know! We have sacrificed our unique telescope for a very inadequate microscope.
...
In other words, God (and uniquely the Trinity) cannot be known as we know any other object—such as a machine, an objective idea, or a tree—which we are able to “objectify.” We look at objects, and we judge them from a distance through our normal intelligence, parsing out their varying parts, separating this from that, presuming that to understand the parts is always to be able to understand the whole. But divine things can never be objectified in this way; they can only be “subjectified” by becoming one with them! When neither yourself nor the other is treated as a mere object, but both rest in an I-Thou of mutual admiration, you have spiritual knowing. Some of us call this contemplative knowing. -- Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance


Reformed theology regards the existence of God as an entirely reasonable assumption, it does not claim the ability to demonstrate this by rational argumentation. Dr. Kuyper speaks as follows of the attempt to do this: “The attempt to prove God’s existence is either useless or unsuccessful. -- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology


Today, it is generally agreed that there can be no logical proof either way for the existence of God, and that this is purely a matter of faith. -- Marcus Weeks, Philosophy in Minutes




[1] Said of Zaphod Beeblebrox, "
The Restaurant and the End of the Universe"
Comments

The Zeroth Commandment

I sometimes despair over the existence of Christian apologists who try to prove the existence of God. Some, like William Craig Lane, who are well known, are like multi-megaton MIRV ICBMs -- all aimed directly at their feet. Very powerful but ultimately useless. It's as if they are unaware of the Zeroth Commandment:

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other reasons before Me.

Comments

Spock-Stoddard Test

I would like to propose the "Spock-Stoddard" test for arguments presented by apologists of every kind:

It is not logical, but it is often true.
                        -- Spock, "Amok Time"


It’s logical, but I wonder if it’s correct?
                        -- Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, "Dark Shadows", #132




Update 9/26/20. Nothing is new. I came across
this on Twitter, which came from here:

Something can sound very logical and still be false. Or something may sound unbelievable and be true.
                        -- Octavius, 200 A.D.
Comments

Notes on Feser's "From Aristotle..."

[updated 5/5/2020 for clarity, 5/6/2020 to add an aside on qualia]

Some notes on Edward Feser's "
From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature". This is not a detailed rebuttal; rather it's an outline of points of disagreement with various statements in his paper. To better understand why I disagree the way I do, previous experience with the lambda (λ) calculus is helpful. Reviewing my disagreement with Searle's Chinese Room Argument may also be useful. I wrote that article over a year ago and promised to revisit it in more detail. One of these days. Still, my understanding of Searle's argument is this:

We can, in theory, construct a machine that can translate from Chinese to another language, without it understanding Chinese. Therefore, we cannot construct a machine that can both translate and understand Chinese.

The conclusion simply doesn't follow and I don't understand how it manages to impress so many people. One possibility is confirmation bias.
1 Fortunately, one of the Fathers of computer science, John McCarthy, independently came to the same conclusion. See "John Searle's Chinese Room Argument".

Feser makes the same kinds of mistakes as Searle.

Syntax is not sufficient for semantics.

From John Searles's Chinese Room paper, quoted by Feser.

True, but incomplete. The λ calculus has syntax (λ expressions) and semantics (λ evaluation).

The problem is this. The status of being a "symbol," Searle argues, is simply not an objective or intrinsic feature of the physical world. It is purely conventional or observer-relative.

  • This is exactly right, that is, it is observer-relative but this isn't a problem. In the λ calculus, meaning is the arbitrary association of a symbol with another set of arbitrary symbols. It is simply an arbitrary association of this with that. What Searle and Feser miss is that the most fundamental thats are our sense impressions of the (presumably) external world. Because our brains are built mostly the same way, and because we perceive nature in mostly the same way, we share a common set of "this with that" mappings, upon which we then build additional shared meaning.
  • This is why there is no problem with qualia. It doesn't matter how a brain encodes this and that. it is the association that determines meaning, not the qualia themselves. (See here).
  • In the final analysis, nature observes itself, since we observers are a part of nature. As the Minbari say, "We are 'star stuff.' We are the universe, made manifest - trying to figure itself out."

It's status as a "computer" would be observer-relative simply because a computer is not a "natural kind," but rather a sort of artifact.

  • First, as Feynman wrote, "Computer theory has been developed to a point where it realizes that it doesn't make any difference; when you get to a universal computer, it doesn't matter how it's manufactured, how it's actually made."2
  • We have been made by nature. We can, and likely will, argue forever over how this actually happened, but this paper cannot concern itself with either "why does the universe exist?" or "why does the universe exist the way it does?".
  • We observe ourselves ("Cogito ergo sum").

In short, Searle says, "computational states are not discovered within the physics, they are assigned to the physics.

  • I think this betrays "linear parallel" thinking. This is "this" and that is "that" and the two don't meet. But what Searle and Feser miss is that nature is self-referential. Nature can describe itself. And that's why the objection, "Hence, just as no physicist, biologist, or neuroscientist would dream of making use of the concept of a chair in explaining the natural phenomena in which they deal, neither should they make use of the notion of computation." is wrong.
  • Chairs aren't self-referential objects. Computation, and intelligence, -- and nature -- are. Recursion is fundamental to computation. In implementing a λ calculus evaluator, Eval calls Apply; Apply calls Eval. We may (or may not) not use the concept of "chair" to explain natural phenomena, but we can't escape using the concept of intelligence to explain intelligence. This computer science aphorism is instructive: to understand recursion you must first understand recursion.
[Referring to Kripke's quus example: x quus y = x + y if x + y < 57, otherwise 5. 10 quus 7 is 17; 50 quus 60 is 5.]

For, whatever we say about what we mean when we use terms like "plus," "addition," and so on, there are no physical features of a computer that can determine whether it is carrying out addition or quaddition, no matter how far we extend its outputs.

This is, of course, false. The programming is the wiring. One could, in theory (although it might be nigh impossible in practice to untangle how symbols flow through the wires), recover the method by reverse engineering the wiring. Then one could determine whether addition or quaddition was being performed. Since the methods are different, the wiring would be different.

[Searle] is not saying, whether there are [rigourously specifiable empirical criteria for whether something ... is a computer] or not, that something fitting those criteria counts as a computer is ultimately a matter of convention, rather than observer independent facts.

How nature behaves is empirical fact. Putting labels on different aspects of that behavior is a matter of convention. Searle is objecting to the very nature of nature.

[Searle holds] that having a certain physical structure is a necessary condition for a system's carrying out a certain computation. Searle's point, though, is that is nevertheless not a sufficient condition.

This is false for systems that compute. For the example of a Turing machine, the wiring, the physical structure, is both necessary and sufficient. It is a self-referential structure. For systems with less computational power than a Turing machine, the wiring will be simpler.

If evolution produced something that was chair-like, it would not follow that it had produced a chair, and if evolution produced something symbol like, it would not follow that it had produced symbols.

  • First, this is the Sorities paradox on display. At what point is something like x actually x? It depends on definitions and definitions can be fuzzy.
  • Second, and absolutely devastating to Feser's argument, is that in the λ calculus, symbols are meaningless.
  • Third, in the λ calculus, symbols are nothing more than distinct objects. And nature is full of distinct objects that can be used as symbols. Positive and negative charge is important because they are distinguishable and they are self-distinguishing!
  • Fourth, how evolution builds a self-referential structure in which symbols acquire meaning is through the equivalent of λ evaluation is, of course, contentious.

If the computer scientist's distinction between "bugs" and "features" has application to natural phenomena, so too does the distinction between "software" and "hardware."

The λ calculus consists of λ expressions and λ evaluation. λ evaluation is just a list of substitution rules for symbols, and symbols are just distinguishable objects. In this sense, the program (λ expressions) and computer (λ evalution) distinction exists. However, λ evaluation can be written in terms of λ expressions. And here the program/computer distinction disappears. It's all program (if you observe the behavior) and it's all computer (if you look at the hardware). A λ calculus evaluator can be written in the λ calculus (see Paul Graham's
The Roots of Lisp) which is then arranged as a sequence of NAND gates (or whatever logic gates you care to use. Cf. the Feynman quote, above). So it's very hard to know if something is a "bug" or a "feature" from the standpoint of the computer. It's just doing what it's doing. It's only as you impose a subjective view of what it should be doing, and how it should do it, that bugs and features appear. Nature says "reproduce" (if one may be permitted an anthropomorphism). And nature has produced objects that do that spectacularly.

But no such observer-relative purposes can be appealed to in the case of the information the computationalist attributes to physical states in nature.

The λ calculus simply specifies a set of symbols and the set of operations on those symbols that comprise what we call computation. What needs to be understood is that symbols as meaningless objects and symbols as meaning
are the same symbols. The λ calculus does not have one set of symbols that have no meaning and another set of symbols that have meaning. There is only one alphabet of a least two different symbols. If you follow a symbol through a computational network, you can't easily tell at some point in the network, whether the object is being used as a symbol or if it's being used as a value. Only the network knows. We might be able to reverse engineer it by painstaking probing of the system, but even there our efforts might be thwarted. After all, a symbol could be used one way in the network and a completely different way in another part of the network. That is, computers don't have to be consistent in the way they use symbols. All that matters is the output. Even our computing systems aren't always consistent in the way things are arranged. For example, when little-endian systems interface with big-endian peripherals. Due to the complexity of "knowing" the system from the outside, you have to hope that the system can tell you what it means and that you can translate what it tells you into your internal ideas of meaning. I can generally understand what my dog is telling me, but that's because I anthropomorphize his actions. I have to. It's the only way I can "understand" him.

Moreover, as John Mayfield notes, "an important requirement for an algorithm is that it must have an outcome," and "instructions" of the sort represented by an algorithm are "goal-oriented."

  • It is true that algorithms must terminate. That's the definition of "algorithm".3 But algorithms are a subset of computing. A computational process need not terminate.
  • All computing networks are goal oriented. The fundamental unit of computation is the combination of symbols and selection therefrom. By definition, the behavior introduces a direction from input to output, from many to fewer. (One might quibble that the idea of inversion takes one symbol and produces the "opposite" symbol, but one can implement "not" using "nand" gates, and "nand" gates are goal oriented.) So if logic gates are goal oriented, systems built out of gates are goal oriented. The goal of the individual gate may be determinable; determining the goal of the system built out of these elements can be extremely difficult, if not impossible to fathom. Sometimes I understand my dog. Other times, all I see is emptiness when I look into his eyes. All we can do is compare the behavior of a system (or organism) to ours and try to establish common ground.
The information content of the output [of a computation] can be less than the input but not greater.

True, but irrelevant for systems that get input from the environment. That is, computers need not be closed systems. With the correct peripherals, a computer can take as input all of the behavior of the universe.

Darwin's account shows that the apparent teleology of biological process is an illusion.

  • Underlying this claim is the idea that randomness exhibits purposelessness.
  • However, one can also equally make the claim that randomness hides purpose. As Donald Knuth wrote, "Indeed, computer scientists have proved that certain important computational tasks can be done much more efficiently with random numbers than they could possibly ever be done by deterministic procedure. Many of today's best computational algorithms, like methods for searching the internet, are based on randomization."4
  • Whether someone thinks randomness is purposeless or hides purpose is based on one's a priori worldview.

The key is to reject that [mechanistic] picture and return to the one it supplanted [Aristotle-Scholastic].

The fallacy of the false dilemma. Another alternative is to deeply understand the "mechanistic" picture for what it actually says.



[1] Battlestar Galactica: "
I'm not a Cylon..."
[2] Simulating Physics with Computers, International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol. 21. Nos. 6/7, 1982
[3] The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms, Section 1.1; Donald Knuth
[4]
Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

Comments

Ravi Zacharias on Objective Morality

In this short video (5 minutes), Ravi Zacharias is asked the question, "why are you so afraid of subjective moral reasoning?" To which Ravi replied, "do you lock your door at night?"

This is an flawed answer, simply because people don't always do what they know they should do. That is, if morals are objective, people won't always act morally
1, and if morals are subjective, then people won't always act morally2. Therefore, this answer has no bearing on the question!

Ravi further states:

If morality is purely subjective then you have absolutely nothing from stopping anybody from being a subjective moralist to choose to just zing one through your forehead and say 'that's my answer.'" How do you stop that? If you're willing to say to me that moral reasoning can be purely subjective, I just say to you, "look out, you ain't seen nothing yet."

This answer fails for (at least) four reasons.

First, it's the fallacy of the "
appeal to consequences." That is, the desirability of something generally has no bearing on whether or not a statement is true or false. The statement "it is true (or false) that morals are subjective" is not proved by "subjective morality isn't desirable."

Second, it requires an
appeal to authority. After all, who says that "subjective morality isn't desirable?" Ravi? The listener?3 God? For an appeal to authority to have some credibility, everyone has to agree on the authority. Atheists certainly don't agree that God carries any authority.

Third, Ravi knows that governments wield the sword against "evildoers".
4 "Wield the sword." "Zing one through the forehead". Same difference. When Paul wrote this, the citizens didn't get to choose the kind of government they had or what the government thought was good and evil. Paul was imprisoned and eventually executed by that government.5

Fourth, and most importantly, Ravi should know the answer to "how do you stop that?" By preaching the gospel, that's how. God pours His love into the hearts of those who believe and "love does no wrong to a neighbor."
6

That this particular response does not adequately address whether morals are objective, does not prove that they are subjective. After all, there could be a better answer. One would have hoped that a renowned apologist would have had a better response.



[1] The initial course, "Introduction: First Five Lessons" in the Open Yale course
Game Theory, shows where students are asked to play a game. Most of them don't know, and therefore don't use, the optimal strategy when they first play the game. But after the instructor analyzes the problem and shows them the objective answer -- the right thing to do -- some of them still don't make that choice!
[2] See
Another Short Conversation...
[3] I once had a conversation with an Indian coworker. He didn't understand why the US didn't nuke Pakistan in order to take out Bin Laden. When I replied that the fallout would take out tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of his countrymen he responded, "So what? They're just surplus people." What horrified me was a desirable outcome for him.
[4]
Romans 13:4.
[5]
Genesis 50:20
[6]
Romans 13:10.
Comments

A Physicist's Questions

Three weeks ago I read the review of Tom Holland's "Dominion" over at historyforatheists.com. According to the reviewer, the thesis of Dominion is that:

... most of the things that we consider to be intrinsic and instinctive human values are actually nothing of the sort; they are primarily and fundamentally the product of Christianity and would not exist without the last 2000 years of Christian dominance on our culture.

Today, in
Creation Myths, by Marie-Louise Von Franz, I read:

Always at bottom there is a divine revelation, a divine act, and man has only had the bright idea of copying it. That is how the crafts all came into existence and is why they all have a mystical background. In primitive civilizations one is still aware of it, and this accounts for the fact that generally they are better craftsmen than we who have lost this awareness.

This suggests the more general case of a connection with the divine producing better results.

And this triggered the memory of an article by Dr. Lubos Motl written in 2015, "
Can Christians be better at quantum mechanics than atheists"? Lubos makes some interesting statements. First, he answers his question generally affirmatively: "Apparently, yes." On the other hand, Lubos is an atheist and is an expert on quantum mechanics. Still, he notes:

In this sense, atheism is just another unscientific religion, at least in the long run.

"In this sense" being atheistic
eisegesis, where the atheist attempts to impose their own prejudices onto Nature, instead of the other way around. Note that the Christian has this problem in double measure: not only must Christians avoid molding Nature into their own image, they must avoid molding God into their own image. They must be conformed to the Word, not conform the Word to themselves. Idolatry is a sin in both science and theology.

Nevertheless, in his post, Lubos asks some questions about Christianity that I'm going to attempt to answer. First, he asks:

A church surely wants the individual sheep to be passive observers, doesn't it?

Of course not. The church is a group of people who have been given a mission: to love one another and to make disciples throughout the entire world. We are to be active participants in the kingdom life. We don't "create our own world", but we don't do this in quantum mechanics, either. In both cases, the world reveals itself to us. After all, Wigner will get the same result as his friend.

But underneath Lubos' question is the idea of control: control by the church upon individuals and Lubos don't like outside control. He becomes rightfully incensed about suggestions, for example, that some questions should be off-limits to scientific inquiry. Yet consider one of the over-arching themes of the Bible, namely, order from chaos, harmony from static. This theme begins in Genesis and continues through Revelation. Static is maximally free. It cannot be compressed, there are no redundancies. Harmony requires a giving up of freedom. Totalitarians, whether secular or misguided Christians, will try to impose this order from without. Christianity says that this order must come from within, by the indwelling Spirit of God, received through the Lord Jesus Christ. It cannot be imposed by force of arms, but only through the reception of the Gospel. Each believer must find their own place(s) in the heavenly music.

But don't all religions actually want the only objective truth about the state of Nature to exist?

What we may want, and what actually is, are two different things. Still, Christianity says that we live by faith. This means we are uncertain as to what may come our way, even though we are certain as to God's faithfulness. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "for we see as though a glass, darkly."

Classical physics was doing great with omniscient God while quantum mechanics with its observer-dependence (and therefore "relativism" of a sort) seems to be more heretical, doesn't it?

Christianity is, in a sense, observer dependent, too. It claims that there are those who do not experience God and those who can. There are blind who do not see and deaf who do not hear. Furthermore, it claims that those who do not experience God cannot, unless God first works in them to restore their "spiritual" senses. But Lubos' question about omniscience contains a fact not in evidence, namely, that what we cannot foreknow (the outcome of a measurement before the measurement), God cannot also foreknow. There are no "hidden variables" in the natural world, but Scripture claims that there is hidden knowledge known only to God (eg. Dt. 29:29, et. al.) So on this point, the Christian and Dr. Motl will just have to disagree.

Science is ultimately independent of the religions – but it is independent of other philosophies such as the philosophies defended by the atheist activists, too.

Maybe. Science sees one part of the elephant, philosophy another. Until we have one theory of everything, I think this should remain an open question. I think Escher's
Drawing Hands applies more to the relationship between science and philosophy than we might want to admit.



Comments

The Halting Problem and Human Behavior

The "halting problem" considers whether or not it is possible to write a function that takes as input a function Pn and the inputs to Pn, Pin, and provides as output whether or not Pn will halt.

It is obvious that the function
(defun P1 ()
"Hello, World!")
will return the string "Hello, World!" and halt.

It is also obvious that the function
(defun P2 ()
(P2))
never halts. Or is it obvious? Depending on how the program is translated, it might eventually run out of stack space and crash. But, for ease of exposition, we'll ignore this kind of detail, and put
P2 in the "won't halt" column.

What about this function?
(defun P3 (n)
(when (> n 1)
(if (evenp n)
(P3 (/ n 2))
(P3 (+ (* 3 n) 1)))))
Whether or not, for all N greater than 1, this sequence converges to 1 is an unsolved problem in mathematics (see
The Collatz Conjecture). It's trivial to test the sequence for many values of N. We know that it converges to 1 for N up to 1,000,000,000 (actually, higher, but one billion is a nice number). So part of the test for whether or not P3 halts might be:
(defun halt? (Pn Pin)

(if (and (is-program Pn collatz-function) (<= 1 Pin 1000000000))
t
…)
But what about values greater than one billion? We can't run a test case because it might not stop and so
halt? would never return.

We can show that a general algorithm to determine whether or not any arbitrary function halts does not exist using an easy proof.

Suppose that
halt? exists. Now create this function:
(defun snafu ()
(if (halt? snafu nil)
(snafu)))
If
halt? says that snafu halts, then snafu will loop forever. If halt? says that snafu will loop, snafu will halt. This shows that the function halt? can't exist when knowledge is symmetrical.

As discussed
here, Douglas Hofstadter, in Gödel, Escher, Bach, wrote:

It is an inherent property of intelligence that it can jump out of the task which it is performing, and survey what it is done; it is always looking for, and often finding, patterns. (pg. 37)

Over 400 pages later, he repeats this idea:

This drive to jump out of the system is a pervasive one, and lies behind all progress and art, music, and other human endeavors. It also lies behind such trivial undertakings as the making of radio and television commercials. (pg. 478).

This behavior can be seen in looking at the halting problem. After all, one is tempted to say, "Wait a minute. What if I take the environment in which
halt? is called into account? halt? could say, 'when I'm analyzing a program and I see it trying to use me to change the outcome of my prediction, I'll return that the program will halt, but when I'm running as a part of snafu, I'll return true. That way, when snafu is running, it will then halt and so the analysis will agree with the execution.' We have "jumped out of the system" and made use of information not available to snafu, and solved the problem.

Except that we haven't. The moment we formally extend the definition of
halt? to include the environment, then snafu can make use of it to thwart halt?
(defun snafu-extended ()
(if (halt? snafu-extended nil 'running)
(snafu-extended)))
We can say that our brains view
halt? and snafu as two systems that compete against each other: halt? to determine the behavior of snafu and snafu to thwart halt?. If halt? can gain information about snafu, that snafu does not know, then halt? can get the upper hand. But if snafu knows what halt? knows, snafu can get the upper hand. At what point do we say, "this is madness?" and attempt to cooperate with each other?

I am reminded of the words of St. Paul:

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. — 1 Cor 8:1b



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The No Free Will Theorem

In one sense, I'm not ready to write this post; my subconscious mental machinery is still working to sort out all of the ideas in my head. But after not having done any reading for the past few weeks, before bed I picked up where I left off reading Pierce's An Introduction to Information Theory. But I had stopped in the middle of a paragraph, decided I needed to go back to the beginning of the chapter, tried to make progress, and gave up. So I switched to where I had set aside The Best of Gene Wolfe and resumed with the story The Death of Dr. Island. A passage that I will quote later caused a cascade of, if not pieces falling into place, a clarity of what questions to think about.

Earlier this week, over at
Vox Popoli, Vox took issue with a particular scientific study that concluded on the basis of experimental data that free will does not exist. While I think I agree that this study does not show what it claims to show, I nevertheless took the approach the free will doesn't exist. The outline of a proof goes like this.

Either thought follows the laws of physics, or it does not. X or ~X. I hold the law of non-contradiction to be true. Now, someone might quibble about percentages: most of the time our thoughts follow the laws of physics, but sometimes they do not. But that misses the point.

Why would anyone suppose that our thoughts don't follow the laws of physics? Perhaps because of an idea that thought is "mystical" stuff; that there is a bit of "god stuff" in our heads that gives us the capabilities that we have. If this were so, since the Christian God transcends nature, our thoughts would transcend nature. It's how we would avoid non-existence upon physical death: the "soul" which is made of "god stuff" returns to God. Perhaps it's due to not knowing how thinking is accomplished in the brain. What I'm about to say certainly isn't taught in any sunday school I've ever attended, or been discussed in any theological book I've ever read. While that may be because I don't get out enough, I suspect my experience isn't atypical. Another, more general reason, is because that's the way our brains perceive how they operate. It's the "default setting," as it were. Most people, regardless of upbringing, think they have free will. I think I can explain why it's that way, but that's for another post.

How does one prove that thoughts follow the laws of physics? The ultimate test would be to build a human level artificial intelligence. I can't do that. The technology isn't there. Yet. The best I can do is offer a proof of concept. I maintain that this is better than what the proponent of mystical thought can do. I know of no way to build something that doesn't obey the laws of physics. By definition, we can't do it. So any proof would have to come form some source from outside nature held to be authoritative. In my world, that's typically the Bible. There is no end of Bible scholars who hold that Scripture teaches that man has free will. It doesn't, but my intent here is to make may case, not refute their arguments. Although I acknowledge that it certainly wouldn't hurt to do so elsewhere.

What is thought? Thought is matter in motion in certain patterns. This is a key insight which must be grasped. The matter could be photons, it could be water; in our brain it is electrons. The pattern of the flow of electrons is controlled by the neurons in our brain, just like the pattern of the flow of electrons is controlled by NAND gates in a computer. While neurons and NAND gates are different in practice, they are not different in principle. NAND gates can simulate neurons (there are, after all, computer programs that do this) and neurons can simulate NAND gates (cf.
here). Another way to view this is that every time a programmer writes computer software, they are embedding thought into matter. I've been programming professionally for almost 40 years and it wasn't until recently that I understood this obvious truth. But if this is so, why aren't there intelligent computers? As I understand it, there are some 100 billion neurons in the brain with some 5 trillion connections. Computers have not yet achieved that level of complexity. Can they? How many NAND gates will it take to achieve the equivalent functionality of 5 trillion neuron connections? I don't know. But the principle is sound, even if the engineering escapes us.

Humans are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, just as computers are. Having just re-watched all four seasons of
Battlestar Galactica on Netflix, it was fascinating to watch the denial of some humans that machines could be their equal, and the denial of some machines that they could be human. In the season 4 episode No Exit, the machine's complaint to his creator "why did you make me like this," is straight out of Romans 9. Art, great art, imitating life.

However one cares to define the concept of "free will," that definition must apply to computers as equally as it does to man. The same principles govern both. As long as it meets that criteria, I can live with silly notions of what "free" means. "You are free to wander around inside this fenced area, but you can't go outside" is usually how the definitions end up. I think limited freedom is an oxymoron, but people want to cling to their illusions.

There is so much more to cover. If our thoughts are the movement of electrons in certain patterns, then how is that motion influenced? What are the feedback loops in the brain? What is the effect of internal stimuli and external stimuli? Is one greater than the other? The Bible exhorts the Christian to place themselves where external stimuli promotes the faith. The dances of their electrons can influence the dance of our electrons. Can we make Christians (or Democrats, or Atheists, or…) through internal modification of brain structures through drugs or surgery? How does God change the path of electrons in those who believe versus those who don't? Would God save an intelligent machine? Could they be "born again"? Does God hide behind quantum indeterminacy? So many questions.

In April 2009, I wrote the post
Ecclesiastes and the Sovereignty of God, which gave excepts from the book A Time to Be Born - A Time to Die, by Robert L. Short. Using the Bible, in particular the book of Ecclesiastes, Short reaches the same conclusion I do arguing from basic physics.

The universe controls us. We do not control the universe.

This brings me to the Gene Wolfe quote mentioned at the beginning of this post:

This is what mankind has always wanted. … That the environment should respond to human thought. That is the core of magic and the oldest dream of mankind…. when humankind has dreamed of magic, the wish behind the dream has been the omnipotence of thought.

[to be continued]
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Atheism: It isn't about evidence

[Updated 5/7/2011, 10:49:05 PM; then 5/13/2011, 8:03:53PM. 7/18/2019 changed "otherwise" to "others"]

On the first of the year I wrote "
Cybertheology" to begin the long process of using science, particularly computer science, evolutionary biology, and game theory to give evidence for and provide understanding of God. After all, I believe that the God who reveals Himself in the spoken and written Word also speaks through nature -- and that the message must be the same in both. In 2009 I wrote "Evidence for God" which gave my reaction to one atheist's claim of the lack of evidence for God. Over at John Wright's blog, another atheist commenter recently claimed again that there is no convincing evidence for God.

I have now come to the conclusion that a consistent rational atheist cannot claim that evidence, or the lack thereof, is the issue at all. The proof is really very simple and builds upon ideas in the earlier post "
Bad Arguments Against Materialism."

Every argument should have well-defined terms. Defining "God" is surprisingly hard. Traditionally, Christianity has said that God is immutable and omniscient; however, an
Open Theist would disagree with these characteristics. Some argue that God is inherently good; others would say that the existence of evil disproves this notion (and this latter group is wrong, but that's not the topic of this post). The notion of "creator" is sufficient for now. Materialism has to conclude that matter in motion is the source of the idea of God -- "god" is an emergent property -- just like the number i is an emergent property (to the best of my limited knowledge of physics, one can't point to the square root of -1 apples or protons). Theism holds that matter is an emergent property of God and, therefore, God must be immaterial. One side holds that God is the product of man's imagination; the other says that man's imagination is the product of God.

Tangentially related to this is the question of how to recognize the existence of and the reason for singular events, such as Creation or the Resurrection. As will be shown, this reduces to differences in brain wiring.

If a creator God does not exist, then nature must consist solely of matter in motion. In particular, our thoughts arise from the movement of matter in certain patterns and our thoughts must obey the laws of physics. The laws of physics themselves are simply descriptions of how matter moves in relation to other matter. A description is just matter in a different dynamic relationship to other matter. Some theists may reject this idea and state that there is a supernatural aspect to thought, but the atheist has no such recourse. Computers, goldfish, and human minds work via electrons in a silicon, or carbon, matrix. The complexity of thought depends on the arrangement of atoms in the brain (or CPU).
1

The key insight is that evidence is simply atoms that are external to the brain; different brains process the same data differently. There is a reason why we don't discuss theology with goldfish, golden retrievers, or computers: their brains don't have enough particles in the right configuration. The same principle applies to the atheist and the agnostic. When they say, "the evidence isn't convincing," what they really mean is "the atoms in my brain don't process the external data the way yours does."

The observation that brain states can be changed due to external factors (memory is "simply" state changes in the brain) doesn't help. Either the brain actively causes brain states to change based on how the brain processes the data, or there is some effect where the brain is passively changed. In the first case, the brain's wiring affects the brain's wiring, so the data is irrelevant, because different brains process the same data differently. The external data just shows how the brain is wired. In the second case, the external data changes the brain. The brain isn't evaluating evidence in the sense of the claim that the "evidence isn't convincing." Instead, the correct view is "my brain is/is not capable of being changed by the external world in the same way as other brains."

Since the external evidence is the same for both theist and atheist, the difference is in the way brains process that data. Given the way most human brains work (cf.
The Mechanism of Morality), we ask "which arrangement of atoms is better?"

The rational atheist must answer, "that which results in reproductive advantage." The problem for the atheist at this point is that theists have more children than atheists. Even though atheism appears to be on the rise, population in general is on the rise. In relative numbers, the atheists are losing ground. Writing in "
The Source of Evangelism" (atheist evangelism), Vox Day said, "... their own children are converting to religion faster than religious children are converting out of it."

We have evolved to think in teleological terms. As
this study showed, people with Asperger's typically don't ascribe intention or purpose behind the events in their lives. Atheists, on the other hand, can reason teleologically, but they reject those explanations. It isn't evidence -- it's wiring. The atheist can't come out and say that their brains are wired better than the theists, for at least two reasons. First, it isn't supported by the demographics. Again quoting Vox Day, "But the demographic disadvantage means that the atheist community has to keep all of their children within the godless fold and de-convert one out of every three religious children just to keep pace with the growth of the religious community." Second, it isn't supported by reason. After all, materialism is a strict subset of theism. The theist can think everything the atheist can -- and more. The theist has a bigger "universe" in which to think.

One explanation for this demographic disparity may be found in the difference between brains wired to recognize the existence of a creator God and those that are not. In the Abrahamic religions, the creator God is strongly identified with life. For example, the Jews were told by God, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live..." [De 30:19]; Jesus said, "... have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Christianity asserts that death is an "enemy" -- the last enemy to be overcome [1 Cor 15:26]. Certainly, one doesn't have to reject the idea of a Creator God to reject life; but in my limited experience it sure seems that social battles of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, are drawn with a line generally between secular and religious. The side that places a premium on reproduction will outproduce those that do not.

If the atheist can't say that their brains are wired better than theists, they also won't say that their wiring is worse. That would totally defeat their arguments. Therefore, they adapt a form of protective coloration wherein they deflect the issue to be external to themselves -- the evidence -- when it clearly isn't. Adopting protective coloration against one's own species may be another reason for the reproductive disadvantage of atheists. After all, this is a form of defection against the larger group and, as Axelrod has shown, an evolutionary strategy to maximize reproductive success is to defect in turn.

It appears that the atheist cannot win. If God does exist, they are wrong. If God exists only in man's imagination, evolution has wired man so that the idea of God gives a direction toward reproductive success. The attempt to remove God from society will result in demographic weakness.
Shiny secular utopias simply don't exist.2



[1] After posting this in the morning, in the evening I started re-reading
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. Via seemingly different paths we have come to similar conclusions. On P-4 he writes:
  As I see it, the only way of overcoming this magical view of what "I" and consciousness are is to keep reminding oneself, unpleasant though it may seem, that the "teetering bulb of dread and dream" that nestles safely inside one's own cranium is a purely physical object made up of completely sterile and an inanimate components, all of which obey exactly the same laws as those that govern all the rest of the universe, such as pieces of text, or CD-ROMs, or computers. Only if one keeps on bashing up against this disturbing fact can one slowly begin to develop a feel for the way out of the mystery of consciousness: that the key is not the stuff out of which brains are made, but the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of a brain.
  This is a liberating shift, because it allows one to move to a different level of considering what brains are: as
media that support complex patterns that mirror, albeit far from perfectly, the world...
[2] On 5/12, CNN.com posted the article "Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims". In this article, Oxford University professor Roger Trigg, is quoted as saying "The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless."
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Christian Doctrine, Ancient Egypt, Game Theory

I am slowly making my way through the book Old Testament Parallels by Matthews and Benjamin.

The story “The Farmer and the Courts of Egypt” tells the story of a farmer who is unfairly accused by an official who tries to steal the farmer’s goods. The farmer pleads his case and demands justice. Somewhat reminiscent of the much longer book of Job, it was written around 2134-2040 BCE.

Two passages stand out. The first reads:

Good example is remembered forever. Follow this teaching: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

This is the golden rule, over two thousand years before Christ.

The second passage says:

Do not return evil for good...

Proverbs 17:13 says, “Evil will not depart from the house of one who returns evil for good.” Proverbs was likely written after 400 BCE. I find this link to Egyptian thought to be extremely interesting and wonder why I haven’t seen more recognition of this in “mainstream” Christianity. A subsequent post, which has been a very long time in coming, will explore the influence of Egyptian thought on Genesis, the story of Noah, and the Exodus.


In terms of game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, “do not return evil for good” translates to “don’t defect after cooperation.”

Both St. Paul and St. Peter write, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil...” [Rom 12:17, 1 Peter 3:19], which becomes “don’t defect at all.”

A future blog post will have to examine the implications of the Christian response to the Prisoner’s Dilemma versus the evolutionarily robust “tit-for-tat” strategy in
Axelrod.

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Cybertheology

I had wanted to title this post “A New Word for a New Year”, but cybertheology is already being used. A very superficial survey shows that it is typically used to describe how people use the internet in relation to theology. I want to use the term to describe a scientific discipline with the focus of discovering and understanding God. As a Christian, I hold that God has spoken to us through His prophets and, ultimately, His Son (Heb 1:1-2). But the God who reveals Himself through the written and spoken Word, has also revealed Himself in nature (Rom 1:20). I contend that there will be no conflict between Nature and Theology, but that the scientific study of Nature can be used to inform theology, and theology can be used to inform science. I propose that cybertheology be where these two disciplines meet.

I use the “cyber” prefix because of its relation to computer science. Theology and computer science are related because both deal, in part, with intelligence. Christianity asserts that, whatever else God is, God is intelligence/λογος. The study of artificial intelligence is concerned with detecting and duplicating intelligence. Evidence for God would then deal with evidence for intelligence in nature. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” [John 10:27] and the Turing test is the primary test for human level AI.

Beyond this, the Turing test seems to say that the representation of intelligence is itself intelligent. This may have implications with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that “what God says” is, in some manner, “what God is.”

I also think that science can inform morality. At a minimum, as I’ve tried to show
here, morality can be explained as goal-seeking behavior, which is also a familiar topic in artificial intelligence. Furthermore, using this notion of morality as being goal seeking behavior, combined with John McCarthy’s five design requirements for a human level AI, explains the Genesis account of the Fall in Eden. This also gives clues to the Christian doctrine of “original sin,” a post I hope to write one of these days.

If morality is goal-seeking behavior, then the behavior prescribed by God would be consistent with any goal, or goals, that can be found in nature. Biology tells us that the goal of life is to survive and reproduce. God said “be fruitful and multiply.” [Gen 1:22, 28; 8:17, 9:1...] This is a point of intersection that I think will provide surprising results, especially if Axelrod’s “Evolution of Cooperation” turns out like I think it will.

I also think that game theory can be used to analyze Christianity. Game theory is based on analyzing how selfish entities can maximize their own payoffs when interacting with other selfish agents. I think that Christianity tells us to act selflessly -- that we are to maximize the payoffs of those we interact with. This should be an interesting area to explore. One topic will be bridging the gap between the selfish agents of game theory to the selfless agents of Christianity. I believe that this, too, can be solved.

This may be wishful thinking on the part of a lunatic (or maybe I’m just a simpleton), but I also think that we can go from what we see in nature to the doctrine of justification by faith.

Finally, we look to nature to incorporate its designs into our own technology. If a scientific case can be made for the truth of Christianity, especially as an evolutionary survival strategy, what implications ought that have on public policy?
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