Tom Gilson

Evolution Defined ;)

Naturalistic Evolution (def.): the marvelous (presumed) capacity of nature to create the appearance of design, and to produce beings who have the ability to design and to detect design; but which itself has no ability to design, or if it does have that ability, it is forever undetectable.

(This definition was inspired by a recent comment, but it applies to many others’ views as well.)

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60 thoughts on “Evolution Defined ;)

  1. very good.
    but… where did that come from?
    i.e., is this “evolution” we speak of just a random happenstance of the laws of physics? really? don’t we find that even mildly curious?
    and if so… where did those come from?

  2. @Doug:

    this “evolution” we speak of just a random happenstance of the laws of physics? really? don’t we find that even mildly curious? and if so… where did those come from?

    An atheist, and naturalist as the majority of them are, will at some place have to posit brute facts; there is no escape. Of course, there are severe problems with that move. Off the top of my head:

    (1) How can one even recognise brute facts? There must be *some* criteria for otherwise it is nothing but an ad hoc stipulation.

    (2) Follows from (1), but why is positing brute facts is not an appeal to ignorance? Is there any reason to dismiss any future scientific improvements that will / could lead to an improved understanding? Is there any why we should throw up our arms in despair and abandon doing science?

    (3) A metaphysical question (the first of many): how can brute facts, say in the form of physical laws, which are nothing but abstract mathematical descriptions of observed correlations in experimental data, actualize or bring about anything at all?

    The theist and the atheist do not differ simply in the difference of opinion about the existence of one particular being, but rather in their whole world view. A theist, at least one of a classical persuasion, will insist that the world is intelligible through and through. The universe is, not turtles all the way down, but ordered all the way down. The atheist will have to undermine this underlying metaphysical picture to escape the deductive metaphysical proofs and then offer his own alternative, which as far as I can see, lead inevitably to positing brute facts with all the attending problems, such as the ones I sketched above.

  3. If there is an appearance of design then there is the possibility of design. It seems to me then that those who claim that there is no design have to demonstrate why design is impossible.

  4. @G. Rodrigues:

    Doesn’t everybody ultimately have to propose some sort of brute fact to get their worldviews off the ground?

    To escape the problem, some theists will claim that God is a necessary being who contains within Himself, the explanation or reason for His existence. I’m not even sure that makes sense, but its hard to see why a brute fact couldn’t have that property as well, if the theist God can. Furthermore, one can always ask why the self-contained reason is, causing the problem to resurface.

    And if the reason for God’s existence isnt self-contained, its hard to see how He is any less brute fact than any other proposition (ex. mindless force that produces universes), or how theists avoid the problems with brute fact that you mention.

    It appears everybody just has to say, somehow, somewhere, something just is.

  5. I’m not even sure that makes sense, but its hard to see why a brute fact couldn’t have that property as well, if the theist God can.

    Follow your nose where it leads you, d. Think about what else must be true of this self-existent, self-explained brute fact, in relation to itself and to creation. See where that thought takes you.

  6. @d:

    Doesn’t everybody ultimately have to propose some sort of brute fact to get their worldviews off the ground?

    God as conceived by classical theism is *not* a brute fact; rather His existence and, at least in part, His attributes, are the conclusion of rigorous *metaphysical deductive* proofs starting with some rather obvious premises — although naturalists in their despair will dispute even these.

    You are free to disagree with the proofs and their metaphysical baggage; you may even think that they do no make much sense (though if you do, in return I will think that you do not understand them) but for the sake of intellectual honesty, do not go around saying that the existence of God is a brute fact, because that is simply false.

    If you wish to call the premises of these arguments brute facts, then I suggest you look up the proofs and the definition of brute fact.

  7. Unfortunately people like Sault don’t realize that this worldview, when taken to its logical conclusion, dooms science and the general pursuit of truth. If things aren’t really as they appear, then its game over.

    Naturalistic Evolution (def.): the marvelous (presumed) capacity of nature to create the appearance of reality, and to produce beings who have the ability to carry out tests in order to detect and understand reality; but which itself has no ability to detect or understand this reality, or if it does have that ability, it is forever undetectable or incomprehensible .

  8. D says “Doesn’t everybody ultimately have to propose some sort of brute fact to get their worldviews off the ground?”

    Ok Godless one, I’m going to grant you the fact that an eternal unconcious energy source created it all. So now you have a foundation to work off of. Now you have to logically explain:

    How did these blueprints of the universe come about? Especially the laws. You are asserting the Universe created itself correct? With all these blueprints and laws of how everything works attached correct?

    How does Dead matter create the first life? It seems to me that non-life created life, and I’m not talking about under today’s conditions I’m talking about the conditions and atmosphere that this all occured from billions of years ago?

    How do values (moral values that our beloved atheists cling to) come from valueless matter?

    How does this work exactly: Out of unconciousness, conciousness comes?

    What is the special ingredient that entails consciousness in living beings?

    How does Reason come from reasonless matter?

    Reason could be used in two terms:

    The Un-guided Universe created itself by not using “reasoning methods” so how does reason come out of that?

    The Un-guided Universe didn’t have a reason to come into existence, if it did please explain to me what this reason is?

    I see that even grantinbg you the brute fact of a foundation entails alot of “faith” afterwards. So why exactly do you think it is more plausible to state it is more likely that God does NOT exist?

  9. Unfortunately people like Sault don’t realize that this worldview, when taken to its logical conclusion, dooms science and the general pursuit of truth. If things aren’t really as they appear, then its game over.

    Not sure what you mean, I’m having a hard time seeing your point over the glare of the better light bulb in my floor lamp.

    An atheist, and naturalist as the majority of them are, will at some place have to posit brute facts … How can one even recognise brute facts? … why is positing brute facts is not an appeal to ignorance?

    Are you asking why a brute fact can’t be an axiom? Perhaps I misunderstand your usage of the term “brute fact”… Wikipedia suggests that a dollar bill being a piece of paper is a brute fact… is that what you mean?

    How does Dead matter create the first life, How do values come from valueless matter? etc

    Perhaps there is less of a difference between what is “alive” and what is “dead” than we like to think. As far as the rest… morals, values, reason – these are all human concepts. We have created them to help us make sense of the world around us.

    I don’t think that existence requires a reason to be… by reason I assume you mean purpose, right? I don’t see why the universe requires a purpose – it simply is, unless we somehow manage to figure out otherwise.

    finally,

    If there is an appearance of design then there is the possibility of design

    Our only frame of reference for “design” is our own. Without any other examples, can we truly make that determination? (and no, anything resembling “omg! a 1 in 1 billion quadrillion chance of it *just happening*! must be designed!” definitely isn’t science)

    I’m totally down for studying anything credible, at least to the best that my education allows.

  10. Sault,

    This is ironic:

    Not sure what you mean, I’m having a hard time seeing your point over the glare of the better light bulb in my floor lamp.

    If you don’t know what he was talking about, then it will seem opaque to you. That’s not a sign of your own brightness. Would you be interested in some reading?

    Your question about “brute facts,” and your adversion to Wikipedia and dollar bills, seems to go nowhere. It’s not clear from what you wrote there that you know what a brute fact is. A dollar bill being made of paper is explainable; thus it is not a brute fact. Do we need to work on this together?

    Perhaps there is less of a difference between what is “alive” and what is “dead” than we like to think.

    “Perhaps” arguments intrigue me. It’s as if your shrugging it off, saying, “maybe there’s an answer, so maybe I don’t need to worry about the question.” Or in other words, “I’ll try and see if answering with a non-answer will make the question go away.” Is that rational? Really?

    But at this point there is no naturalistic answer to the question where life came from, and no, (please, don’t embarrass yourself!) the definition of life for these purposes is not difficult.

    Now, if you really do believe there’s very little difference between “alive” and “dead” than we like to think, then you may be on the verge of declaring yourself a full-blown eliminative materialist. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be thinking that the seemingly-dead world is more alive than it would appear. I’m guessing you would think that the seemingly-alive world is more dead than we realize. Does the question apply, or did I get the premises wrong? If it applies, then how would you answer?

    As to the quantifiers for design, I think you raised that question once before and you ignored our answers. Is this how a thinking person engages in discussion? “I’ll ask a question, and if they answer it, I’ll ask it again. That’s how I’ll show they don’t have any good answers, by gum!”

    Do you conceive of yourself as a person who thinks, who has the capacity to learn, and who wants to know what he’s talking about?

    If you still want to try to demonstrate that for yourself and for others, well, now’s your opportunity.

  11. Dang, this is horribly long, but I can’t think of a way to shorten it – I have a lot to reply to. My apologies for such a lengthy post!

    It appears everybody just has to say, somehow, somewhere, something just is.

    That is a statement that makes perfect sense to me.

    If you don’t know what he was talking about, then it will seem opaque to you.

    The point that I was trying to make is that science works, ie, giving us a better light bulb. Hard for me to understand how science can be a delusion when the methodological study that it represents has advanced our knowledge so much in such little time.

    On the other hand, if you presuppose the existence of the supernatural, then of course you’d believe that science is ultimately doomed, since natural methods cannot discern the existence of the supernatural. I lack supernatural belief, so I cannot share your conclusion. I don’t necessarily see supernatural belief as inherently irrational or delusional, as some do, but I am skeptical.

    It’s not clear from what you wrote there that you know what a brute fact is.

    I looked it up on Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and Answers.com and that’s what I ended up with. I tried to demonstrate that with my human vs animal vs collection of atoms… are there any brute facts, in other words? Me being human – is that brute fact? Me being an animal? Me being a collection of atoms? I’m trying to figure out what you mean… (feel free to take pot shots at the atheist who doesn’t understand some of the finer points of philosophy – I took Logic 101 but didn’t go much further than that)

    “I’ll try and see if answering with a non-answer will make the question go away.”
    […]
    But at this point there is no naturalistic answer to the question where life came from,

    Poor choice of words, my apologies. What I meant to say is that perhaps there isn’t such an insurmountable barrier between life and non-life as you seem to believe. I look at what we’ve achieved in the lab and I think it’s reasonable to say that a naturalistic origin of life is possible.

    I’m guessing you would think that the seemingly-alive world is more dead than we realize

    Just the opposite, actually. I think that “life” is a somewhat arbitrary line, and that there is life around us that exists in ways that we might not appreciate or understand. Life is really beautiful – I think we forget that sometimes. I know I do.

    As to the quantifiers for design, I think you raised that question once before and you ignored our answers.

    I honestly do not see what you’re talking about. Are you sure you pointed to the right page? Unless you meant that the quantifier for design is that it looks like its designed, which is to my mind a non-answer. Could you help me out by restating?

    I do consider myself to be reasonably intelligent, but communication can be a barrier to understanding. Christians tend to use words in ways that I wouldn’t, so it’s entirely possible that I may not get your points. Please bear with me if I need something explained twice.

  12. Oh yeah, I forgot the book. Trying to respond to everything, don’t want anyone to think I’m skipping anything on purpose!

    Did church institutions preserve some scientific knowledge? Yes. Did they encourage innovation? I don’t think so. I look at Galileo and Wycliffe as two examples of the Church institution being averse to progress in scientific thought (do modern Christians understand that Wycliffe was demonized for translating the Bible into English? I mean, they even dug up his body and burnt it at the stake!).

    Much like Mormons, I see the individual believers in that time period as decent people, and once you get into the Renaissance (post 14th century) capable of great scientific achievements, but with a corrupt religious hierarchy over them.

  13. @Sault:

    I look at Galileo and Wycliffe as two examples of the Church institution being averse to progress in scientific thought (do modern Christians understand that Wycliffe was demonized for translating the Bible into English? I mean, they even dug up his body and burnt it at the stake!).

    Get your historical facts straight. The Galileo story is much more complicated and there is very little in it that substantiates the imaginary, mythical war between Religion and Science.

    I see the individual believers in that time period as decent people, and once you get into the Renaissance (post 14th century) capable of great scientific achievements, but with a corrupt religious hierarchy over them.

    Please, do yourself a favour and read a decent book on the history of science, say for example, Edward Grant’s “The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages”.

  14. He means that your worldview renders science a collective delusion.

    I’m afraid I don’t get it either.

    If its somehow supposed to be obvious if that some non-deity necessary, brute fact exists as the ground of being, it follows that science is a delusion – well, call me dumb, but I don’t see it.

    Quite a lot of work needs to happen there…

  15. d,

    I’m afraid I don’t get it either.

    If its somehow supposed to be obvious if that some non-deity necessary, brute fact exists as the ground of being, it follows that science is a delusion – well, call me dumb, but I don’t see it.

    SteveK was responding to Sault’s views expressed in the other thread and that were the reference for this blog post. It has nothing to do with positing brute facts. Sault was arguing against the appearance of design being evidence for design. His reasoning could also be applied to the appearance of regularity (and has been) to argue that regularity doesn’t exist.

  16. Sault,

    We have created them [morals] to help us make sense of the world around us.

    You are are saying that we fabricate a reality in order to help us make sense of the true reality. A lie helps us understand the truth. How does that work, Sault?

  17. So that’s the argument for design? That it looks designed? Really? I thought there was more to the ID argument than that. Isn’t that just a glorified metaphysical argument a la Aquinas rather than hard science?

    Let me put it a different way. It seems like ID depends upon the universe being regular, right? What if the fine constant structure was different in different parts of the universe? What if physical constants changed over time?

    In other words, would ID be disproven if we found the universe to not be regular?

  18. The point that I was trying to make is that science works, ie, giving us a better light bulb.

    It appears that way, Sault. Designs work too. They produce things that otherwise cannot be produced. At least that’s the way it appears. You want to deny the reality of designs that “work”. On what basis do you not also deny the reality of science?

  19. Holy ess, another long post. Last one for the night!

    You are are saying that we fabricate a reality in order to help us make sense of the true reality. A lie helps us understand the truth. How does that work, Sault?

    No. We create concepts and ideas in order to make sense and find purpose in life. Everything from our perceptions of love (courtly love, free love, monogamy) to our worldviews (whater -ism you happen to be) to justice to morality to the supernatural, we create them all… and sure, some of them may even be true! But their objective truth is not as important to us as their usefulness.

    How do we cope with the reality that bad people do horrific things to others? We create concepts like punishment in the afterlife, or reincarnation, or even magical curses/spells to help us deal with it.

    How do we deal with the often chaotic nature of the world around us? Perhaps we create the concept that we can understand the world by methodologically studying it… or perhaps we anthropomorphize it and worship it and attempt to bargain with it or placate it.

    It doesn’t matter all that much whether God really exists or not… what does matter is that we have the concept of God. We can use that concept in a plethora of ways… this construct, like so many others, is useful to us.

    I think that we, as humans, have a need to make sense out of the world around us. To that end, we create and share these concepts.

    Hmm. I guess you could say that I view these things as memes…. that’s actually a pretty appropriate term, I think. Hmm. That term originated with Dawkins, I think. I haven’t read him, so I don’t know if what I’m describing is his viewpoint or not, but it’s my take on it all.

  20. You want to deny the reality of designs that “work”. On what basis do you not also deny the reality of science?

    I am willing to look at a rigorous and methodological way of determining what makes an object “designed” vs not. If ID can’t provide it, then to my mind it is a sham. I mean, if the whole marketing is that ID is “design detection”, then how does one go about detecting design, outside of metaphysical argumentation?

    I’m looking for hard science. Science has given me a better light bulb, and I expect any other branch of science to provide results. If ID can’t provide results, then I question whether it is science at all.

  21. Sault,

    I am willing to look at a rigorous and methodological way of determining what makes an object “designed” vs not.

    I’m not sure that this can be done. I guess that’s why the debate is ongoing.

    But notice this. Similar to the topic of morality, numbers, circles, etc – notice that nobody is denying that everyone “sees” designed objects all around them. So it’s not a question of IF there is such a thing as design – there is and we all recognize that. The question is how best to detect it.

    Perhaps a good starting point would be to ask yourself what makes a light bulb, or any similar object, appear designed?

    I’m looking for hard science.

    Not all science is “hard”. Some areas are “soft” yet they still fall under the broad category of science.

    Science has given me a better light bulb, and I expect any other branch of science to provide results.

    You are confusing science with engineering. Engineers produce light bulbs. Science is not required to produce one piece of technology because science is not synonymous with technological gadgetry. Science is a method of inquiry, a tool.

  22. Sault,

    But their objective truth is not as important to us as their usefulness.

    Here’s the problem with this, Sault. The concept of “usefulness” is no criteria at all according to your worldview. This criteria doesn’t tell you if some concept is a true reflection of reality, or not. You said this:

    We create concepts and ideas in order to make sense and find purpose in life.

    According to your thinking, usefulness is a concept/idea that we created in order to make sense of our lives. According to your thinking, its objective truth is not as important as its usefulness. But all concepts are useful for one thing or another – including every religious and scientific concept – so every concept must be important. Does every concept reflect reality accurately? Clearly not.

  23. I am willing to look at a rigorous and methodological way of determining what makes an object “designed” vs not.

    I’m not sure that this can be done. I guess that’s why the debate is ongoing.

    Then ID fails as a practical science. If it’s no better than philosophy and metaphysics, then it shouldn’t be taught in science classrooms and certainly is no replacement for the theory of evolution.

    Science is a method of inquiry, a tool.

    Psychology, biology, chemistry, archaeology even… each of these fields has yielded tangible results. The results of inquiry are *results*. If ID cannot provide these results, then it cannot be on par with these other branches of science, as I’ve said.

    Evolutionary theory works – we can use it in computer science to develop programs that work, even though we don’t necessarily understand how. These programs are messy, organic… but they work. What unique contributions can ID make to computer science?

    Perhaps a good starting point would be to ask yourself what makes a light bulb, or any similar object, appear designed?

    That’s the question that ID is supposed to provide, isn’t it? ID is “design detection”… so if ID is a science, then what has it come up with? My answers are subjective and non-rigorous… but it is also not my job to do ID’s work for it!

    According to your thinking, its objective truth is not as important as its usefulness.

    Exactly! Except that I’m saying that not about myself per se, but about humanity as a whole.

    Does every concept reflect reality accurately? Clearly not.

    Of course not. What I’m saying is that truthfulness is nearly irrelevant – the important thing is how these concepts serve us.

    Let me give you an example. Prayer gives us comfort – we can pray for healing or for rain to come or for justice to be served on the wicked. Regardless of truthfulness (and if you’re a Christian you believe that the other 99% of all religions aren’t), prayer serves a purpose. I believe that we have created the concept to fulfill these needs.

    The concept of “usefulness” is no criteria at all according to your worldview.

    If we need comfort and a mental construct (meme, idea, concept, etc) gives us comfort, then we’ll use it. “Useful” is what fulfills our human needs and helps us function in a world that we struggle to understand and function within.

  24. Sault,

    What I’m saying is that truthfulness is nearly irrelevant – the important thing is how these concepts serve us.

    The truth of that statement is nearly irrelevant, Sault. Your worldview is set up in such a way as to render itself irrelevant.

    As for ID theory, I’m not an apologist for teaching this in the science classroom.

  25. Sault,

    So that’s the argument for design? That it looks designed? Really? I thought there was more to the ID argument than that. Isn’t that just a glorified metaphysical argument a la Aquinas rather than hard science?

    Let me put it a different way. It seems like ID depends upon the universe being regular, right? What if the fine constant structure was different in different parts of the universe? What if physical constants changed over time?

    In other words, would ID be disproven if we found the universe to not be regular?

    I’m presuming that this was in response to me. A few points:

    1. You will note that I never mentioned ID so what ever argument in support of ID that you think I was referring to exists only in your imagination.

    2. What I was referring to was the similarity of the argument some people use to support their non-realist stance towards science with your argument to explain away the appearance of design.

    3. ID is not the only design argument and funnily enough Aquinas argues from the regularity (or orderliness) of the natural world to God. In spite of your preference for the results of “hard science” (a preference you’re prepared to ignore when it suits you), the only way to avoid the conclusion of a metaphysical proof is to deny the premises or show that it is invalid. Therefore people will deny the regularity of the natural world in order to deny God.

    4. Regularity in this sense is not the same as regular in the sense you used it. The aim of science is to investigate and describe the regularities in the natural world. If there are no regularities there is no science.

    I am happy to answer questions on the above but will not be responding to further displays of wilful ignorance.

  26. Sault, you say,

    I’m looking for hard science. Science has given me a better light bulb, and I expect any other branch of science to provide results. If ID can’t provide results, then I question whether it is science at all.

    I suggest you acquaint yourself with the interaction between philosophical and scientific reasoning involved in ID. If you still insist on “hard science” sans philosophy after reading that, then I would ask you to define “hard science” using only scientific rather than philosophical reasoning. Or consider your opinion, “truthfulness is nearly irrelevant.” How does someone make that metaphysical and philosophical claim after dismissing someone else’s claim as “no better than philosophy and metaphysics”? If you’re going to set aside philosophy, then you have to set aside your belief that truthfulness is nearly irrelevant.

    And I don’t mean just to alter or correct your view on that: I mean that if you set aside philosophy, then you will have to completely abandon all belief concerning whether truthfulness is relevant. You will have to choose not to have an opinion on the matter. Which includes choosing not to have an opinion on whether it’s relevant whether your having an opinion reflects truthfulness or not. The attempt is impossible, of course, and the lesson is that insisting on hard science alone as a source of knowledge leads to impossible situations. It’s a lesson that serious philosophers learned long ago.

  27. Well, I was working on a 10 paragraph response trying to detail how frustrated I am … but I will read your link and think about it carefully before I reply again.

    Umm, actually I’ll respond quickly. I am not casting aside philosophy, not at all. My belief is that ID/design should be more than metaphysics and philosophy, though, to be an indicator of truth. At this point in my life I am very pragmatic… if it works, I’m biased towards it. If it doesn’t, I am biased against. Computer science works – I am for it. Phrenology doesn’t – I am against it.

    If a chemist couldn’t explain how table salt is made, or perform hydrolysis, he isn’t much of a chemist, is he? If ID is making physical scientific claims, then I expect it to be able to be work within that realm. That’s all, really truly all.

    I don’t understand why there is such hostility towards these viewpoints, but it frustrates me. Does saying “pragmatism” help at all?

  28. Sault, what are you saying here?

    If ID is making physical scientific claims, then I expect it to be able to be work within that realm. That’s all, really truly all.

    ID is making the claim that nature points beyond nature; that there is something about reality that doesn’t “work within that realm,” the realm of physical science. So it sounds to me like you will accept ID as true only if it contradicts itself. You’ll want to re-think that, I think.

  29. Sault,

    If a chemist couldn’t explain how table salt is made, or perform hydrolysis, he isn’t much of a chemist, is he?

    On your view none of this matters. All that matters is that the chemist produce something that you find useful.

    The explanation of how table salt is made need not be true, but if you find the explanation useful then that is all that matters.

    The demonstration of hydrolysis need not be done successfully, but if you find the demonstration useful then that is all that matters. The truth is irrelevant.

    I don’t understand why there is such hostility towards these viewpoints, but it frustrates me.

    Read this comment repeatedly until you do understand.

  30. ID is making the claim that nature points beyond nature;

    If ID is really making no natural claims, then I withdraw every objection that I have to it. It is then a philosophical/metaphysical position, and that’s fair enough.

    You know, I got stuck on the whole “design detection” thing… I shouldn’t have let myself get so frustrated.

    On your view none of this matters. All that matters is that the chemist produce something that you find useful.

    A chemist isn’t a mental construct… dang, I’ve apparently done a very poor job of explaining my worldview, huh? I’ve assumed far too much and said far too little. No wonder we’re having such a hard time communicating!

    Okay, let’s try again.

    Above all, I consider myself a pragmatist. I want things that work, that give results.

    First, mental constructs. I see ideas, concepts, etc as things that we have created… morality, justice, the supernatural, prayer, etc etc… for these things, I believe that we don’t care nearly as much if they are true vs what they can do for us, what needs they can satisfy…. their usefulness, in other words. These needs can be emotional, intellectual, social, etc.

    So let’s transition that idea into the physical world. These mental constructs that give us physical, tangible results are more valuable to me than the ones that don’t. Chemistry is a part of the “science” construct, for instance. Its formulae and equations might be abstract in and of themselves, but when applied, they *work*.

    Let’s contrast chemistry with alchemy. Alchemy gave the promise of transmutation, but couldn’t. It didn’t work… so was discarded.

    I know that evolutionary theory *works* – I gave a programming example a few posts back.

    So…

    1. What does ID purport to be?
    2. Can it deliver?

    If ID is a physical science, then it should be able to show tangible results. If it promises “design detection” then it should be able to show tangible results. If it can’t, then it should be discarded as a physical science.

    ID is apparently not a physical science, if I understand you correctly. That in and of itself doesn’t discredit it or mean that it’s not useful… if it gives you comfort or makes you feel special or gives you intellectual satisfaction then so be it. Supernatural claims cannot be verified, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s “true” or not… if it’s useful to you, you will use it.

    With all of this mental construct stuff etc, I’m not talking about just me… I’m talking about all of us. We all do this, whether we realize it or not. What is useful to us, we keep, what is not, we discard (broadly speaking). In that way, I believe that we are all a little pragmatic.

    Think of it this way… it’s kinda like Faux Fox News. If it is useful to you (reinforces your worldview, feeds your disgust for anything non-Christian and non-Republican) you’ll keep watching it, if not, you’ll turn it off in disgust and lament how many people actually watch that shlock.

    Making sense yet?

  31. Sault, this would be a good time for you to examine yourself and the way you’re treating this discussion. You’re flipping from one clearly false position to another. For instance, quoting myself first,

    ID is making the claim that nature points beyond nature;

    If ID is really making no natural claims, then I withdraw every objection that I have to it. It is then a philosophical/metaphysical position, and that’s fair enough.

    ID is making a natural claim, right there in the short text you quoted: “nature points…” That’s what design detection is about. I hate to frustrate you again, but nothing I said last time takes that off the table.

    First, mental constructs. I see ideas, concepts, etc as things that we have created… morality, justice, the supernatural, prayer, etc etc… for these things, I believe that we don’t care nearly as much if they are true vs what they can do for us, what needs they can satisfy…. their usefulness, in other words. These needs can be emotional, intellectual, social, etc.

    Does it matter whether it is true that they do good things for us, that they satisfy the right needs, etc.?

    Do you include rationality among the ideas, concepts, etc. that we have created? If not, on what basis do you exclude it?

    I know that evolutionary theory *works* – I gave a programming example a few posts back.

    Whether it works is part of the dispute, especially whether it works to explain consciousness, qualia, rationality, and other related features of life, including some that you falsely consider not to have real existence: morality, justice, etc.

    What ID purports to be is a scientific and philosophical research program that seeks to discover what is true about the origins of life (in biological ID) and the cosmos (cosmological ID). It does not limit its research assumptions to the necessity that every physical effect must have a physical cause; in fact, it knows physical and philosophical reasons to reject that assumption.

    Is this useful? Is truth useful? Is knowing what a human being really is useful? Is knowing your place in the universe useful? Or is there nothing useful in your mind but technology?

    You ask, “making sense yet?” Yes, you’re making sense in a limited and rather sad way. You have a cynical view of your own life and of others: you limit your interest to what is “useful,” making your relationship with reality a technological one; you are in a state of epistemological despair, doubting that anyone knows anything but what they find useful; you have no means of knowing whether that which you find useful has utility for you in what actually matters; and you think everyone else is just like you.

    We’re not all just like you, my friend, and you need not be, either. There’s no need to be so cynical, limited in your interests, truncated in your relationship to reality, despairing of knowledge, and flailing about for usefulness with no idea what some knowledge or technology ought best be useful for. Your epistemological position makes sense from one perspective, for our culture has carried many to that despair, but it’s not necessary, it’s not useful for what really matters, and it’s not true. There are better ways than that.

  32. You’re flipping from one clearly false position to another.

    I’m sorry that I’m coming across that way. Everything that I’m saying is intended to be one coherent whole, no flipping involved. If I’m failing to communicate that I apologize… I haven’t spoken philosophically in many years, and it turns out that my views have changed a little. Hard to have pat, concise answers when you haven’t practiced!

    I hate to frustrate you again,

    Story of my life. I’ll get over it, somehow. =)

    Does it matter whether it is true that they do good things for us, that they satisfy the right needs, etc.?
    Do you include rationality among the ideas, concepts, etc. that we have created?

    What our constructs actually do for us and what we think they do can actually be two different things… but it matters, yes. I think that we should be aware of our constructs and how they serve us, and if objective truth is important to us, to evaluate them in light of that as well.

    I think that we as humans have a primal need to make sense and comprehend the world around us… that is why we create and use these constructs in the first place. I view rationality as one approach to organizing these constructs and concepts and ideas… and hey, it works pretty well when you’re able to be consistent about it.

    Whether it works is part of the dispute,

    I beg to differ. I know that it works, that cannot be disputed. The question is whether it is true.

    Yes, you’re making sense in a limited and rather sad way. […] Your epistemological position makes sense from one perspective,

    Huzzah – it’s about damn time!

    You have a cynical view of your own life and of others: you limit your interest to what is “useful,”

    I am in many ways a very jaded, cynical, and skeptical person… but that’s not always a bad thing.

    Keep in mind… Truth, beauty, love, art, happiness, music, joy, spirituality… these are all “useful”, but all still wonderful and pleasurable and meaningful and make life worth living. I don’t know what I’d do without music or that construct that we call “family”… probably be flailing about in epistemological despair!

    you have no means of knowing whether that which you find useful has utility for you in what actually matters;

    I think you’re presuming a bit much. I don’t have a supernatural guidebook telling me what is important and what isn’t… that’s my responsibility to figure out.

    There are better ways than that.

    I don’t begrudge you the heavens and hells you’ve dreamt of in your philosophies, for you have yours, and I have mine. I personally find the idea of worshiping an omnipotent being a rather odd idea, myself.

    One of my favorite authors is Frank Herbert, and a theme that he’s touched on is the relationship between awareness (as in prescience and omniscience) and happiness. What is the greatest gift you can give someone who thinks they know everything? Surprise!

    So if we are created by a more or less omniscient being, it makes more sense to me that we fulfill our own unique and quirky destinies and do our best to surprise them!

  33. Sault,
    You have repeatedly used the term “mental construct” in the context of it being a human fabrication – a fairy tale detached from reality – for the purposes of it being useful. I reject that whole heartedly and I’m willing to bet that you reject it too, even though you keep saying that’s what humans do.

    I’m willing to bet that you don’t *pretend* that some action is immoral for the purposes of satisfying your utilitarian thirst. You genuinely think it is *really* immoral, and so you act. Not because you are thirsty for utility, but because you are thirsty for the truth and desire to let it lead you.

  34. @Sault:

    You are not just wrong; your position is literally incoherent and meaningless. Let us look at a pair of quotes:

    I think that we as humans have a primal need to make sense and comprehend the world around us… that is why we create and use these constructs in the first place. I view rationality as one approach to organizing these constructs and concepts and ideas… and hey, it works pretty well when you’re able to be consistent about it.

    Keep in mind… Truth, beauty, love, art, happiness, music, joy, spirituality… these are all “useful”, but all still wonderful and pleasurable and meaningful and make life worth living.

    What you are saying here is that there is no objective matter of fact about Truth; concepts are to be evaluated as useful or not useful insofar as they allow us to pursue our interests (whatever they are). But if there is no objective matter of the Truth, then neither *anything* you say is objectively true. If we ask you if the proposition “there are objective truths”, call it P, is true or false, all you can answer is neither. By your criteria, the proposition P, which is after all a *mental construct* as there are no propositions lying around in the physical world, can only be evaluated as useful or less useful. But then if we ask “Believing P is useful” is true, all you can answer is neither once again, because there are only mental constructs and no objective truth of the matter. You have just chucked out the window not only your own beliefs as purely instrumental and not true in any objective sense, but also all science and knowledge. Congratulations, as it takes talent (of sorts).

  35. What you are saying here is that there is no objective matter of fact about Truth;

    I find objective truth in the physical. We can measure objective truths – speed of light, gravity, the chemical effects of oxytocin, etc.

    If we’re talking about truth, though, what I find fascinating is subjective truth. I believe that we only need as much truth as is required for us to *believe* that it’s the objective truth.

    Need + Ability for our construct to satisfy that need = Useful

    If I need to know if Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic church, and my mental construct satisfies that need by spending 5 minutes on Wikipedia, then subjectively that construct is useful… I have satisfied my need for truth. It isn’t important whether it is objectively true… it is subjectively true enough for me.

    What if I have a high need for objective truth, though? That might lead me to spending hours reading books and articles about Galileo, until I can be satisfied about my conclusions. My constructs ability to satisfy that need for truth means that it is useful.

    The funny thing is that I could be completely wrong… but if my construct has satisfied that need sufficiently, then it won’t matter to me (unless faced with doubts, criticism, evidence contradicting my conclusions, etc).

    That is what interests me. I believe that our need for “truth” will often leave us short of objective truth, but we will still walk away feeling sufficiently reassured that we got it right (or at least right enough).

    I believe that there are objective truths… but again, that objective truth isn’t as important to us as we may think. We only require as much truth as we need.

    How many people believe that what they believe is right without research vs those that have? Yet they all believe. That fascinates me.

    I believe that this concept of “constructs” applies to us on a societal level as much as a personal level as well, btw.

    I hope that I have presented this in a way that makes sense, and I apologize for the long post.

    I do value the truth… but at what point am I satisfied? That’s an important question, for sure. I want enough to be satisfied… and I want what “works”. I think we all do, its just that our subjective thresholds may differ.

  36. *click*

    Of course a “if it works, its useful” philosophy will disgust you… you value objective truth too much for that to satisfy you. Its probably the same with just about every other person who reads this – why else would they be here?

    I try to describe the world I see around me… and the world I see is “if it works (for me), then its useful”. The cynical part of that viewpoint is perhaps how low a threshold I think we have for what works.

  37. Sault, this is literally impossible to be true on its own terms. That is, you are guaranteed to be wrong in this statement:

    I believe that there are objective truths… but again, that objective truth isn’t as important to us as we may think. We only require as much truth as we need.

    If you are wrong in this, then you are wrong in one of your most central life principles.

    Now, how do I know this is certain to be wrong? You state your position about objective truth’s unimportance as being objectively true, and clearly your position on this is totally important to you. This is impossible to be true.

    The longer you rely on this false and impossible attitude toward reality, the more trouble you are placing yourself in. Please reconsider, for your own good.

  38. You must think I’m a bit of a thickie, but I really don’t understand what you mean.

    If I’m wrong? Okay, so I could say that objective truths are very important to people most of the time. Why then do I see people still promoting supply-side economics, or practicing seances, or doing the whole New Age thing… none of these things are objectively true – so why do so many people believe in them so fervently?

    On the other hand, I could say that objective truths are important to people… but that they’re willing to settle for far less than the objective truth and be satisfied (even thinking that it *is* the objective truth!). Well, that explains the groups I just mentioned.

    Okay, so how about me? I see patterns of behavior, I have a theory that explains them, and I think that at this point I’m basically correct. I haven’t worked out all of the details… I certainly haven’t been rigorous, which I consider to be a requirement to determine the “objective truth”.

    I’m not saying that my theory is objectively true… just that so far it’s true enough to satisfy my basic needs (the need to explain these behaviors without writing a dissertation or spending hours on the internet or whatever).

    I’m trying to emphasize that I can’t exclude myself here – I could be objectively wrong, and I have to have the intellectual integrity to acknowledge that.

  39. @Sault:

    You must think I’m a bit of a thickie, but I really don’t understand what you mean.

    Tom Gilson gave an argument in a three-line paragraph showing that your position is incoherent. You concede that you do not even understand what he means, so I suggest that you stop. Stop, right now.

    You came here, smug and arrogant, prancing your ignorance, throwing around puerile objections, accusing a whole group of people (evangelicals) of being uneducated and yet you cannot even recognize a very simple three-line reductio ad absurdum argument.

    These are very harsh words, I know. I wrote them, not to put you down, humiliate you, win a debate or any thing of that sort, but in the hopes that you will sober up and try to learn a little more before passing on judgements about that which you clearly do not understand. Note that I am not saying that you have to accept our arguments; but you *must* understand them before you are able to make a rational, pertinent objection. And first, you *must* learn the most elementary points of logic, of how to construct an argument, etc. otherwise you will just look foolish.

  40. Sault, before you do the kind of full stop that might lead you to exit completely—which I don’t want at all, and I doubt anyone else does—please interpret this instead as “stop making the kind of mistakes you are making,” as G. Rodrigues aptly described them. And please take time to reconsider your position, as I have already urged you to do for your own good.

    I’d be more than happy to explain my point in greater detail if you want me to. I’m going to pause long enough first, though, so you can let me know whether you really want that further explication. (I have a meeting to get ready for anyway.)

  41. I have to admit, I’m about ready for the full stop thing, at least on this post, after G. Rodrigues’s comment. I am going to try again and state my argument in a more formal fashion. Please bear with my ignorance of the finer points of philosophy. I would appreciate any criticism you can offer.

    1. There are objective truths.
    There are things that are true whether we believe in them or not, ie Hitler was a man.

    2. There are subjective truths.
    There are things that we believe are true – Hitler was a bad man.

    3. Subjective truths can be objectively true, objectively false, or lie somewhere in between.
    Did you know that it takes two Nazis to change a light bulb?

    4. We have emotional needs as human beings.
    I need to feel at peace. The slaughter of millions upsets me greatly.

    5. Obtaining objective truth can fulfill those needs.
    Well, Hitler’s dead.

    6. Obtaining subjective truth can fulfill those needs.
    I believe that he’s burning in hell right now.

    7. It takes more effort to find objective truth than it does to find subjective truth.
    It takes more time to find facts than to make a judgement call – I could spend hours researching Hitler’s death to make sure he died, or I could just spend 2 minutes on Wikipedia.

    8. We will search for truth until we can make a subjective judgement that will satisfy our emotional needs.
    It only took me 2 minutes on Wikipedia, but I trust Wikipedia, so I don’t feel the need to do any further research of my own. He’s burning in hell, I’m good.

    9. We won’t spend time and effort researching something if our emotional need has been satisfied.
    Why waste time researching further? Wikipedia said so!

    10. Even though that subjective judgement isn’t necessarily objectively true (see #3), it won’t matter to us – we have satisfied our emotional need.
    Dude, Hitler died. It says so on Wikipedia. Now how about them Broncos?

    I haven’t gone into the whole “construct” thing… do I have to at this point, or is this enough?

  42. That’s considerably more clear, Sault. I’m having trouble seeing how it fits into the whole, however. I’ll lay out some questions and/or issues for you. The sum total of this is that your position is based considerably more on emotion than on thought.

    Part of that I do not need to demonstrate: you have done it yourself through your use of “feel” in this last post. You assess your chosen “subjective” truths based on whether they satisfy you on a feeling level.

    But I do need to show that at the same time you are using feelings to assess truths, you are failing to use rationality. On that point, please don’t miss my point 8 below.

    Your lack of rational thinking shows up all over the place. Here are some examples; I could have brought forth several others besides.

    1. You say,

    As far as the rest… morals, values, reason – these are all human concepts. We have created them to help us make sense of the world around us.

    Is that an objective or a subjective truth? Does the difference matter to you? What if you didn’t think subjectively it mattered, but you were objectively wrong?

    2. Does science really work? For what purpose? Is that a good purpose? Is it real? Most pertinently at the moment, is your answer objective or subjective? If subjective, why have you persistently used language here that implies it’s objective? If it’s objective, how do you know it’s objectively a good purpose? Do you have a rational answer for that?

    3. You have said,

    No. We create concepts and ideas in order to make sense and find purpose in life. Everything from our perceptions of love (courtly love, free love, monogamy) to our worldviews (whater -ism you happen to be) to justice to morality to the supernatural, we create them all… and sure, some of them may even be true! But their objective truth is not as important to us as their usefulness.

    Is it an objective question or a subjective one whether, “their objective truth is not as important to us as their usefulness”? That’s a serious question, not a trick one; in fact, it’s a crucially important question. What if it’s an objective question? Then your opinion might be wrong. If it’s a subjective question, then you can’t count on your opinion being true, either. All it does for you, on your own accounting, is allow you to feel comfortable (for now, for as much as you know at this stage). Either way you can’t count on your opinion unless you offer some objective grounds for it.

    4. You haven’t responded to your irrationality that I pointed out in <a href="https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/11/evolution-defined/#comment-31363"#29. That is, you made a feeble and false attempt in #32, but see #33.

    5. G. Rodrigues and SteveK have pointed out further irrationalities in your position; for example #36.

    6. Your response to what I wrote in #39 was that you did not understand it. That does not speak well of your ability to draw rational inferences from a rationally constructed argument.

    7. When G. Rodrigues drew out some implications of your failure to understand, you said that that kind of answer might cause you to consider leaving the discussion. What was it about what he said that would cause you to respond that way? Was he cruel? Was he unfair? I don’t think so, but I’m open to what you have to say about it; you’re the one he was directing it toward, after all. Next question: was he wrong?

    8. You said <a href="https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/11/welcome-to-visitors-from-the-thinking-atheist/#comment-31275"a while ago:

    I will not and indeed, can not, accept a belief that I consider irrational. I do not see the most ardent Christians that I know either possessing (or in many cases, the ability or motivation to possess) a rational understanding of their faith – it’s largely experiential and subjective and that’s where it ends. If faith is sufficient, then why go beyond that?

    I acknowledge that not everyone can have the intellectual understanding that people like me do… but there’s something to be said about how atheists, Mormons, and Jews have a better understanding of the Bible than Evangelical Christians (according to that recent Pew study you probably know of). Is it correlative or causative? (ie is it a coincidence with or a direct result of their beliefs?) Dunno.

    I personally think that Evangelicals fear a thorough education. Educated people are more likely to be liberal and tolerant of other faiths/beliefs, and that seems to buck against the Evangelical opinion.

    8a. Does your own “thorough education” include training in making and assessing rationally constructed arguments?

    8b. Is it possible that in rejecting beliefs you consider irrational, you have not been properly employing the tools by which rationality is properly assessed?

    8c. What irrationality do you see in anyone’s understanding of their own faith here?

    8d. Why do you criticize Christianity for being “largely experiential and subjective,” when you have just told us that’s how you choose your own preferred “truths?”

    8d. (A little off the main flow of what I’m trying to communicate here, but since it’s part of what I’ve quoted here I’ll say it regardless.) You say you value science, but can you read a research report? See the paragraph there beginning, “We also know how to read…”

    While I’m at it, I want to respond to something I missed earlier:

    I look at Galileo and Wycliffe as two examples of the Church institution being averse to progress in scientific thought (do modern Christians understand that Wycliffe was demonized for translating the Bible into English? I mean, they even dug up his body and burnt it at the stake!).

    The dispute with Wycliffe was not over scientific thought. That leaves Galileo. Name one more. Just try. Give up? Go read Hannam.

    Now, what’s the point of all this? I’ll be right back. It is extremely important, and I want to set it out in its own comment so it doesn’t get buried or obscured.

  43. Here’s the point of my whole last comment, and I think also of others’ comments here as well, Sault.

    It’s not that we need to prove you’re wrong. I don’t have that need. If (as the saying goes) “somebody is wrong on the Internet!” that doesn’t affect me very much personally, and I have no need to try to remedy that entire situation. I don’t need very much to prove my own position right with respect to your challenges against it, either, because those challenges don’t have much strength in them for me to worry about.

    Here’s what it’s about. You have a self-image, and you have adopted the atheist’s common position, of saying that you are more rational than Christians. You say that rationality is important to you. It’s time for you to examine yourself. You don’t live up to your own self-image. You are not successfully displaying rationality here at all. You’re displaying a choice of “truths” based on personal, subjective feeling, not on a chain of reasoning based on rigorously tested evidence. You’re displaying a series of fallacious reasoning, and difficulty following our reasoning. (If you had understood our reasoning and had disagreed with it on that basis, you would have pointed out our errors with some rational argument of your own, but instead you’ve only repeated and expanded upon your own position, even after we have argued—with logic and reasoning—that your own position is self-contradictory.)

    You claim reason as your friend, and that’s exactly what reason would be, if only you would use it.

    You claim reason as either an enemy or a stranger to Christianity, but look who’s actually employing logic and rational argumentation here?

    You criticize Christians for supposedly choosing our truths subjectively, but then you say that’s how you choose your own “truths.”

    You need to examine yourself, Sault.

  44. One more urgent item I can’t let slip away:

    What is “subjective truth”? Is it different from truth? Is “objective truth” different from truth?

    I know what you said earlier about this, but it was incorrect. You said about “subjective truths” that they are “what we believe are true,” such as, Hitler was a bad man. Thankfully, you acknowledged that “subjective truths” can be objectively true or false. Why not just say that they are true or false?

    What you have consistently described here as “subjective truths” are actually subjective opinions. Opinions need not be true or false. For example, I think that if your opinion is that Hitler was a bad man, that’s a true opinion. But if you say that your opinion is that cribbage is more fun than gin rummy, that’s opinion in a category of taste, which is not necessarily true or false. But (don’t miss this!) if you do in fact think—subjectively—that cribbage is more fun than gin rummy, then it is objectively true that you hold that opinion. So there are even objective truths about subjective opinions. But let’s keep it simple: there are even truths about subjective opinions.

    Please don’t confuse this with the word “beliefs,” by the way. A belief is either true or false, if it relates to facts that can be true or false. If you say “I believe Hitler is burning in hell,” then you are expressing a belief that is either true or false. Either he is or he isn’t burning in hell. If you say, “I believe cribbage is more fun than gin rummy,” that’s just a colloquialism; in that context it really means “I hold the subjective opinion.”

    And don’t put religious belief into the subjective category carelessly either, as you did here:

    6. Obtaining subjective truth can fulfill those needs.
    I believe that he’s burning in hell right now.

    Hitler’s current status is a matter of fact, not of opinion. Therefore it cannot be true—subjectively or otherwise—that he is burning in hell right now unless he is actually burning in hell right now.

    But suppose someone is of the opinion that he is burning in hell right now, and that this opinion or belief gives that someone comfort. That could fulfill a need, as you said in #5 and #6. Notice what that sense of comfort signifies. It is a matter of emotional condition. It has nothing necessarily to do with truth; in fact, comfort is a notoriously poor guide to truth! So the term “subjective truth” is completely inappropriate for that belief.

    So let’s put this to the test: Is Hitler burning in hell right now? What do you think? Your answer either helps you feel better or not (or something in between). Besides, that, your answer is either true or it is not (and nothing in between). But whether it helps you feel better has absolutely nothing to do with whether it is true or not.

    Therefore I conclude that your distinction between subjective and objective truth is irrational, uneducated (yes, the truth hurts, but you need to face yourself squarely in the eyes on this one, too), and false.

  45. THANK YOU for spending the time to help me question and understand myself. A fair bit has been said about my ability to reason, but I can’t reason unless the concepts are communicated successfully. It took me stating my opinion in the most formal manner that I could before that happened. I’ll learn from that going forward, hopefully.

    So much to respond to!!!

    What you have consistently described here as “subjective truths” are actually subjective opinions.

    I’ll try to use more appropriate terminology.

    Thankfully, you acknowledged that “subjective truths” can be objectively true or false. Why not just say that they are true or false?

    Good point. Was trying to be precise. I thought that using the word ‘truth’ without qualifying it might cause confusion.

    then it is objectively true that you hold that opinion.

    I wasn’t really addressing truth about whether a belief is held or not, just whether the belief itself was true. Point taken, though.

    Notice what that sense of comfort signifies. It is a matter of emotional condition. It has nothing necessarily to do with truth; in fact, comfort is a notoriously poor guide to truth! So the term “subjective truth” is completely inappropriate for that belief.

    Up until that last sentence, that was exactly the point that I’ve been trying to make! I was using ‘subjective truth’ to mean ‘something that I believe to be true’, exactly in that true-false manner that you describe. Should I have used the word ‘belief’ instead?

    Okay, “even when beliefs aren’t true, as long as we believe they’re true they have the power to comfort us”.

    But whether it helps you feel better has absolutely nothing to do with whether it is true or not.

    Yes, yes, yes, exactly, exactly, exactly!!! That is what I meant by #10!!!

    Oh, and as a quick aside, since I lack belief in the supernatural I don’t believe in the existence of Hell, so I can’t believe that Hitler is burning there. In continuing the spirit of Godwin, though, I figured a Hitler analogy was fitting.

    I will respond to everything else after I’ve had some time to think about it. Lots of valid points, and a lot of thought required on my part…

    I apologize, I’ve totally and unintentionally hijacked this thread. I’m having mixed feelings about being dissected so publicly, but what the hell, right?

    …and I have to say, the moniker “Thinking Christian” is absolutely appropriate!

  46. Is this enough, Sault? Yes, it is. It’s enough to make a thinking person want to rip their hair out in frustration. I implore you to read Tom’s comments with the care they deserve.

  47. Sault, thank you for that courageous and very helpful response! I’m glad to let you work through your thoughts here in this matter. I understand better now how you were using your terms, and I think we both understand one another better now. It’s great to see that happen.

    Knowing SteveK as I do, I’m sure he was responding to your previous comment, and had not read what you wrote most recently.

  48. I’ve had some time to think. Let’s see what I can come up with.

    You assess your chosen “subjective” truths based on whether they satisfy you on a feeling level […] you are failing to use rationality.

    That is in some way the essence of what I am saying. To some degree, we only get as close to the “truth” as we need to in order to be happy. It isn’t rational – we as human beings aren’t rational! We (I!) may strive for rationality, but only go as far as we need to placate our emotions.

    Look at me – I believe that I am a rational and critical thinker. However, as shown in this thread, I am not nearly as much of these as I thought I was. I got close enough to the truth to feel like I reasonably described reality, then basically stopped. My theory made me happy, so I basically stopped working on it.

    1. If I cannot objectively show that this whole argument is valid – that is, describes reality, has some degree of predictability, etc – then I am wrong. I believe that it does, but have not rigorously proved that it does.

    2. I believe that our beliefs (I’ll stop using the term ‘subjective truths’!) are only as true as we can objectively prove in the real world. In other words, they are as true as the degree to which they work in the real world.

    Again, by this criteria, if this argument fails to be both reasonably descriptive and predictive, it can’t be true.

    I believe that this criteria holds for a wide variety of beliefs/opinions/things we believe on faith (all meanings of the word)… from scientific theories to economic theories (supply-side economics, for instance) to whether more people like Coke than Pepsi. If I said that Coke tasted better than Pepsi, that would be subjective and unable to be verified in the real world. Inability to be proven = cannot be considered true or false.

    3. See #1. I may believe I’m right, but I’m not truly right unless I can prove so. I haven’t been rigorous – I haven’t felt like I’ve had to.

    4. My misunderstanding about ID has led to me saying some very odd things about it. What I was trying to say is that if ID makes a claim that can be proven in the real world (objectively, rigorously, a la all other sciences) then it can be evaluated as true or false. If it makes a statement that can’t be proven or disproven, by the criteria that I have stated, I cannot judge it as true or not – I can only call it unprovable.

    Wow, that kinda sucks. I’d love to call ID blatantly false… but it certainly does depend on what ID’s claims are, doesn’t it? I apparently need to review what ID is claiming before I make further statements about its truthfulness.

    Before I answer further I need to think some more… bear with me.

  49. 5. I believe that there are objective truths… again, just that we fall short of them more than we’d like to admit. I believe that what we believe is true only as far as it is able to be proven objectively. It is only as true as we can prove it to be, in other words.

    What do I do if something by definition cannot be proven objectively, though? I think that it means that I can have an opinion about its truth, but must properly be neutral to it and treat it as unprovable.

    So I can’t make a statement of true/false about supernatural existence… but I can make a statement of true/false about the efficacy of prayer, for instance, since we can measure that in the real world.

    Ummm… make sense?

    6. I think it was an issue of miscommunication on my part. I’m still grateful that you stuck in to help bridge the gap, though.

    7. The statement

    you *must* understand them before you are able to make a rational, pertinent objection.

    Was absolutely correct. It seemed to me that communication was becoming impossible, and there’s not much point in continuing the conversation if you can’t understand what I’m saying and I don’t understand what you’re saying.

    As far as ignorance/education etc… it is true that “my” group is more Bible-literate, on average, than the Evangelical group. Yeah, it’s easy for me to be smug and arrogant about that, emotionally… and that’s an attitude that will probably not change until they get it together. I’m not saying that Evangelicals are ignorant or uneducated… just that they aren’t as Bible-literate, on average, as Mormons, Jews, or atheists, as the Pew study showed.

    8. I have to admit that I must restate what I said earlier.

    It is my opinion that many Evangelicals fear a thorough education. I must admit that I can’t say that it is actually true, though. True enough, maybe, to describe some of the Evangelicals that I’ve met and interacted with, but it’s not fair to judge hundreds of thousands of people based on the acts of a few dozen people. So… my opinion, and while it might be true, I can’t say that it is true. <– EDIT: Actually, that makes it pretty damn hypocritical, doesn't it? Me judging a population based on the interactions I've had with only a few of its members? Yeah.

    8a. Apparently my education has not covered making rational arguments nearly as well as I'd thought!!!

    8b. To be consistent with my earlier statements I must say that I have not been consistently rational.

    Before I answer further, I must think some more.

  50. 8c. Here, at this site, I haven’t seen enough people talking about their faith to even have an opinion of how rational they are regarding their faith. In a general sense, I would adhere to my base assumption – that people are in general less rational than they would like to think.

    8d. In this argument, I say that subjective beliefs (opinions? statements of belief? whatever) are only as true as they can, and are, provable in the real world. If the existence of the supernatural realm cannot be proven in the real world, then it has no power to be either true or false.

    We may believe whatever we want, but we aren’t true unless those beliefs line up with what can be, and is, proven to be true.

    The rub is that I believe people in general prefer to go no further in seeking the truth than basically what makes them feel good (ie satisfies their emotional needs).

    Hell, I’m doing it.

    8dd. I have not read the original paper, only the results that the Pew study and the news outlets that have covered the story have broadcasted.

    Re: Galileo and Wycliffe

    I misspoke about Wycliffe – it wasn’t about scientific progress … it was a fight against letting the common man read the scriptures in their own language. My error.

    As far as Galileo… as far as I understand it, it was a matter between fundamentalists within the church persecuting someone who challenged their beliefs. I don’t think I’m interested at this point in debating the issue.

    So, I appreciate the comments, and value the criticism – if my arguments are fallacious, then I need to understand why, and if they are, re-evaluate them. I still hold the opinion that they are in some sense true, but as I have tried to state, I haven’t been rigorous about proving it, so I can’t at this point assert truth.

    I think I’ve answered the major points that have been brought up, at least as well as I’m able to at this point. I need more rigor and a bit more thought on this issue… while I think that I have some degree of truth here, I don’t think you’ll be willing to entertain that possibility until I’m able to state it correctly (whether that means rewording or reconstructing, not sure yet).

    I’m stepping back for a day or so to take care of a personal issue. I will resume the discussion when that is resolved.

  51. Hi All
    I just had to jump in on this comment by Sault:

    Evolutionary theory works – we can use it in computer science to develop programs that work, even though we don’t necessarily understand how. These programs are messy, organic… but they work. What unique contributions can ID make to computer science?

    Are you referring to genetic algorithms here?
    If so, then surely you realize that a genetic algorithm is not writing an actual program..it is manipulating data.

    If you mean something else, Sault, please give us real examples, otherwise you are just ‘saying but not citing’.

    From
    http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Evolutionary_programming

    Evolutionary programming was extended in the 1980s to use arbitrary data representations and be applied to generalized optimization problems. The same general process of population-based random variation and selection was applied to data structures such as real-valued vectors (Fogel and Atmar, 1990; Fogel et al., 1990; Davis, 1994), permutations (Fogel, 1998), matrixes (Fogel et al., 1993), variable-length vectors (Fogel, 1990), binary strings (Fogel, 1989), and so forth. David Fogel (1988) introduced a form of tournament selection to Evolutionary Programming that allowed lesser-scoring solutions a probabilistic opportunity to survive as parents. This provided a “soft selection” mechanism (Galar, 1985) ,and the ability to more rapidly escape points of local optima (see also simulated annealing). Fogel et al. (1991; 1992) also introduced the idea of self-adaptation of variation parameters, in which solutions carry both the information about how to address a problem as well as the information about how to create offspring, with both being subject to variation.

    or are you referring to something like this?
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/meta/getalife/epgp.html

    Hmmm…what can Intelligent Design contribute to computer science?
    Well, most programs are carefully designed, implemented and tested by (reasonably) intelligent software developers, running on intelligently designed hardware….

    The real question is of course, the origin of information and programs in the first place. Even an evolutionary program generator is itself a program that was written by an intelligent designer.

  52. *What* you are manipulating is almost completely secondary to the process behind it.

    Let’s take one example that I dug up – predicting renal function. It’s a pretty decent article – it talks about how evolving computational systems (ECOS) train themselves to detect renal failure with greater accuracy than traditional algebraic models based on a more classic statistical analysis.

    That’s pretty effing cool, and it works. The process of mutation, selection based on fitness, then reproduction is evolution. Simply saying that it just “manipulates data” does it a gross disservice and marginalizes how revolutionary and powerful the concept itself is.

    By contrast, design theory explains how we’ve always tried to approach programming – well-structured, easy to read, easy to understand (in an ideal world ha ha ha). Well-written code should explain itself.

    I contrast that to what life actually looks like – in some ways it is truly amazing and beautiful, but its also messy, imperfect, inaccurate, and it makes mistakes. That all makes sense if life evolved!

    You can find a very good representation of the benefits of evolutionary programming (EP) here. There are even toolkits out there to help programmers get started.

    Dismissing it as simply “manipulating data” is completely missing the point. Some argue that its only “evolutionary” if the code modifies itself randomly (totally an echo chamber approach to the situation). Again, missing the point, but we do have self-modifying evolutionary code, too, so if that’s what it takes for you to believe, then so be it.

    Argue all you want that the ultimate source of these codes is intelligent – the point is that evolution works. It doesn’t explain the origin of life, but it describes pretty well what’s happened since.

    More on evolutionary programming and genetic programming here.

  53. @Sault
    You are right..it is really cool. I had not realized that this type of programming had come so far.

    FYI, although I firmly believe that the God of the Bible is the Creator and Sustainer of everything, I’m not a Young Earth Creationist – I have no problem with a very large, very old and very dynamic universe, so we are not in disagreement there.

    If I had to put a label on it, I think I would agree with the Robust Functional Economy of Creation, described by my old friend Howard Van Till of Calvin College (see http://www.asa3.org and http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Evolution/S&CB4-96VanTill.html)

  54. Well, at this point the page isn’t rendering correctly on my browser, and I’m not sure why.

    I guess I’ll sum up where I’m at right now briefly…

    I found a document about complexity which has been able to challenge my worldview in a way that I understand…

    I look at my position and can define it as a sort of pragmatic empiricism. The problem is that, as this document notes, it doesn’t allow for induction as a method of truth. This is a major weakness, and one that I cannot resolve within my current philosophy. So… I appreciate the criticism and the time spent helping me understand.

    I’m a little upset that my philosophical issues dominated the thread, as I do have thoughts that are relevant to this topic. Well, we can visit those another time, perhaps in another response.

    Thanks again for spending the time to help me, I appreciate it. Back to the philosophical drawing board, and this time I shan’t emerge until I have a better understanding of myself and what I find something acceptable, consistent, and rational.

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