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June 17, 2016 | 72 Comments

Real Philosophy Is Science — Guest Post by Old David


Editor’s note: Old David, a.k.a. David Marwick from Australia, is familiar from the comment pages, and I thought it would be fun if he were on the receiving end of criticisms. He graciously agreed. His article is also interesting for embracing common errors.

A wise old professor of philosophy defined philosophy for me as “The search for knowledge and understanding of reality using a scientific instrument called logic”.

Of course, that definition is entirely repugnant to “scientists” and “philosophers” of today even though it is the only definition I’ve ever heard that is inherently consistent and coherent.

To illustrate my assertion let’s compare and contrast speculation and assessment, ideological fancies and methodical examination, rationalism and the principles of logic.

The principles of logic are based on the “law of non-contradiction”; essentially, a proposition and its contradiction cannot both be “true”. Any logical assessment must be based on a certainly known premise, and a contradiction of that premise renders the “argument” invalid and absurd. A certainly known or “self evident” premise is one where the only alternative to a proposition is its contrary and which contrary is self-contradictory and thus absurd. A couple of primordial examples will do to illustrate: “I exist” and “a thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist”.

All science is composed of sub-disciplines under the great umbrella of philosophy; the great desire for knowledge and understanding of reality. A physicist can gain a PhD… which means “Doctor of Philosophy”. Philo-sophy etymologically means “the love of wisdom”; that is, the desire for, and to spend oneself to get, the right answer. Of course, the law of non-contradiction always applies. The “answer” cannot be “right” if it is self-contradictory or contradictory of certainly known premises.

The application of this logical procedure leads directly to what’s known as a “scientific method” which starts with an observation, proceeds to possible explanations (hypotheses) to be tested with logical congruity to certainly known facts, observation and experiment. Any real contradiction to any of which renders the hypothesis a “dud” or failure. This is the requirement for testability or falsifiability; a proposition that can’t be tested is not an hypothesis, it is a mere speculation with no claim to being any kind of science. As Karl Popper so elegantly put it “It’s not only not right; it’s not even wrong”.

Rationalism, on the other hand, starts with the assumption of an ideal then proceeds to try to find plausible justifications and excuses for the assumptions. The only judgement of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the excuses proffered is whether or not they suit the ideology assumed. Logic or facts have nothing to do with it, they are irrelevant to the purpose. The “truth” is entirely determined by marketability and convenience. Magic! Quite the opposite of a “scientific method”.

(Mathemagics is an invaluable asset to this process). (Aside: years ago I tried to wade through pages of obscure formulas and symbols from the clever idiot in the talking wheelchair purporting to “mathematically prove” that time goes back and fourth like a pendulum. It doesn’t seem to have taken off as you don’t see the Sagan, Dawkins, Attenbrough, etc. salesmen flogging it these days).

Now, let’s focus all this on fashionable fancies purporting to be “science” and “philosophy”.

Just about all the “scientistic” dogmas of ideological Materialism don’t come anywhere near the the most basic requirements of science or a scientific method. They can only qualify as fantastic superstitions rationalised by speculative interpretations of carefully selected and censored observations.

It is almost universally assumed that practically everything that exists is spontaneously produced from a lesser antecedent. A lovely speculation that might be an hypothesis, that might become a theory if there was even one real observation or experiment that suggested that it was a possibility; not even requiring an example of it ever having happened.

I refer particularly to the almost universal supposition of “Evolution”; the most perverse and harmful superstition ever to destroy mind and culture. It is demonstrably and certainly an impossible speculation. There is not the slightest chance of it being in any way possible unless all the relevant, well known, easily demonstrable Natural Laws and logic do not apply. Scientifically (philosophically (logically), physically, chemically, biologically, and mathematically (probability)) it is certainly completely impossible.

Logically (philosophically) it is impossible because a thing (like a system) that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist, and an effect cannot be greater than its cause. (Logic is a metaphysical science even if it does not comply with the Briggs Commandment against reification).

Physical (empirical) science also prohibits “Evolution” because it is directly contrary to the well known, easily demonstrable Natural Law we call entropy. The best (most succinct and precise) definition (description) of entropy is as it occurs in the “Second Law of Thermodynamics”; “All ordered systems, left to themselves, tend toward maximum randomness and lowest energy (potential or differential)”. That means that order naturally tends to degenerate into randomness (disorder) and energy potential tends to dissipate into a uniformity without potential.

Mathematically, the probability that even one simple protein could form by random accident is practically zero. Even the simplest live thing is composed of a concert of very complex and specialised proteins never, ever could happen by random accident or series of accidents even if entropy wasn’t a factor.

I am contending that all “science” and sophistry that even tacitly assumes the fraudulent dogma of “Evolution” will inevitably lead to all the errors of Modernism, both secular and “theological”, and thus all the mental, spiritual and cultural decay so much in evidence.

Briggs replies below

I’ll take on only the matter of evolution. The second law of thermodynamics is “violated” continuously; for instance, as I type this. If the law operated everywhere and continuously the universe would long be dead. The second law only makes a statement about “closed systems” and “on average”, so there is nothing wrong or inconsistent with the occasional increasing order.

It is common to mistake the reality of evolution with the theory that is said to drive it (a sort of reverse Deadly Sin of Reification!). Evolution is obvious; what caused it up for debate. Neo-Darwinian theory to explain man is certainly false (and if you think not, explain in strict neo-Darwinian terms abortion, adoption, LGBTianism, contraception, abstinence, etc.), and it is almost surely false to account for the rise of most (all?) species. Small, gradual, almost imperceptible changes accreting to organisms causing all those species? Part of the problem lies in misunderstandings of “chance” and “randomness”, which both proponents and critics of neo-Darwinianism get wrong.

There is no such thing as chance or randomness; therefore, they are not causative; therefore, they could not cause mutations; therefore, they could not cause speciation; etc. Something more akin to punctuated equilibrium makes more sense than wee changes. Let me put it this way in the short space available: things can only go where they can. Thus that a brand new species (a multitude of genetic changes) suddenly pops up from the detritus of an old one is not impossible.

Yes, that implies design, but so does everything. Two proteins meeting each other can only react in the ways according to their design; their essence. And if you say, “Well, what’s important is how their electrons etc. interact”, then you have merely pushed the design one level deeper, for then two or more electrons can only interact according to their design. The same with quarks or strings or mathematical equations or whatever. Design is inherent!

The universe (at its basest, most fundamental level) has to be this way for some reason. That reason cannot be “chance” or “randomness.” It must be because of something actual. For more on that, this series. Anyway, evolution is in no way inconsistent with Christianity. Of course, some theories of evolution are inconsistent with reality. But then that is true of so many theories these days.

Many are desperate not to admit to error in neo-Darwinianism because they believe that that theory disproves the existence of God. Thus why one worm has three and not two rings on its clittellum is not their real matter of interest. Becoming an “intellectually fulfilled atheist” is. (Don’t forget that humans are partly spiritual, which are bits not subject to physical forces, bits which therefore can’t be “evolved” by physical mechanism, which is why any purely physical or chemical theory of the evolution of man must be wrong.)

Before (as in before and not after, which even though I insist upon it I know it’s a condition which will be violated by many) readers go off on “intelligent design” and “creationism” without understanding what those terms mean, listen to or read This and this and this and this, which summarize views I share.

June 16, 2016 | 42 Comments

Are We Special? New Thoughts about the Anthropic Principle — Guest Post by Bob Kurland


Editor’s note This post first appeared at Kurland’s home site. My criticisms follow.

“Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient ‘coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.” — Paul Davies, winner of the 1995 Templeton Prize

“It is a strange fact, incidentally, that religious apologists love the anthropic principle. For some reason that makes no sense at all, they think it supports their case. Precisely the opposite is true. The anthropic principle, like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis. It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence.” — Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

The two quotations give two different views of the Anthropic Principle, that our universe is finely tuned to support carbon-based life; it’s known in several versions ranging in acronym form from Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), to Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP), to Christian Anthropic Principle (CAP), to Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle (you do the acronym).

My interest has been awakened again by conversations with an author who believes that the Anthropic Principle, as exemplified in a series of physical events and values for constants, the anthropic coincidences, strongly and quantitatively (via probability arguments) supports the proposition of a creating God.

I also believe that these anthropic coincidences help us to believe in God, but I do not believe that probability arguments, as they have been used heretofore, are valid. Rather, I take the point of view of the psalmist in Psalm 19 (KJV):

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

Anthropic coincidences have been discussed in two other posts (here and here). I here summarize those arguments:

  • Features of the universe—e.g. space dimensionality 3; the mass/energy content of the initial universe that enabled expansion but not immediate collapse; uniformity in very early universe; size;
  • Finely tuned values for fundamental physical parameters—e.g. the mass difference between proton and neutrons that enables stability for nuclear processes; the carbon-12 excited state energy that by resonance enhances the probability of carbon-12 nucleus formation from a rare collision of three He nuclei;
  • Nature of physical laws—e.g ratio of electromagnetic force to gravitational force; inverse cube force law for gravity; quantum mechanical laws that enable chemical bonding and (see below) the special properties of water;
  • “Accidental” geo-astronomical features–e.g. tilt of the earth’s axis enabling life-friendly climate, unusually large moon shielding earth from asteroid and meteor collision.

It must be emphasized that there are many more instances of such fine tuning—parameters for which the values have to lie between narrow limits to enable a life-supporting universe, and many more examples of geo-astronomical and chemical features. Ellis specifies general conditions that must obtain for a universe to contain life as we know it.

Some Christian apologists use the anthropic coincidences as an argument for the existence of God by citing the very low probability for their occurrence; all these happening would not occur by chance. A major objection to this procedure, which Ellis remarks, is that the universe is a single datum—probability arguments are generally applied to samples from larger collections for which we have information about variability.

For example, if you’ve examined 20,000 crates of oranges and found 100 crates containing bad oranges, you’d be justified in putting a probability of 100/20,000 or .005 in finding a bad orange in the next crate. But if you’ve only come across one crate of oranges, then it’s speculation to put a probability on finding a bad orange. (But see below.)

Another error one finds is that some apologists list a string of fine tuning examples (call them a,b,c,d,…, x), and then use the argument that P(a,b,c,d, …, x) = P(a) P(b) P(c) P(d)…P(x).

This would be true if the events were independent, in other words if what happened for one event did not depend on what happened for another. Such independence will not necessarily hold. Consider, for example, the properties of water that are life-friendly: its high freezing and boiling points, high specific heat, etc., and its surface tension, low specific gravity of ice, maximum density of liquid water at 4 deg C.

These properties all depend on the very unusual capacity of protons in a H2O molecule to form strong hydrogen bonds to oxygen atoms in other H2O molecules. And that hydrogen bonding capability arises from quantum mechanics and the physical nature of electrostatic attraction. So it is one feature, not many, for which a probability should entered. And how do you assess the probability of quantum mechanics giving rise to hydrogen-bonding?

“But is it probable that probability brings certainty?” — Blaise Pascal, Pensees 496

I’m going to try a different approach, using probability as a measure of belief. (I apologize to those professional statisticians and mathematicians who will certainly be offended by my presumption.) The approach is my take on Richard Jeffrey’s Subjective Probability.

Let’s start with a different definition of probability, based on strength of belief. Consider the following examples for buying stock. You overhear a conversation between a president of a software company and a friend that he’s going to buy XYZ internet utility, expecting that the stock price will rise to $100 as a merger prospect; it’s currently at $15. You buy the stock at $15: the assigned probability is the ratio, your bet/expected gain or p=15/100 =0.15. Here’s a second example: suppose your Uncle Louie tells you he’s heard that a gold mine has struck a vein of rare earths; its stock is currently $1.50 (a penny stock) but Uncle says it’s sure to rise to $100. You’re willing to risk $1.50 (but not anything more), so you buy the stock. You’re staking a probability of 1.50/100 = 0.015 that the stock will rise to the $100 figure.

The next step is to consider conditional probability, that is how the probability of an event depends on a linked event. Let A represent the event that the stock price rises to $100. Let B represent the event that information about the possible rise of the stock is given. Then the conditional probability is denoted as p(A|B), the probability of event A given that event B occurs. Note that there is no causal relation implied here—it’s only a matter of evidence.

Now to the meat of the matter. Let F represent the event of fine-tuning for the universe; G, that God exists; N, that God does not exist (or that “Naturalism= materialism” accounts for everything). Then:

  • p(G| F ) is a probability, a degree of belief, that F logically implies G, i.e. fine-tuning is evidence for the existence of God;
  • p(N | F) is a probability that fine-tuning implies that God does not exist;
  • p(F | G) is the probability that if God exists then He can fine-tune the universe;
  • p(F | N) is the probability that a fine-tuned universe would occur in the absence of God;
  • p(G) is the probability—the degree of belief—that God exists;
  • p(N) is the probability—the degree of belief—that God does not exist.

Then straightforward manipulation gives yields:

P(G | F) / P(N | F) = [ P(G) / P(N) ] x [ P(F | G) / P(N | G)].

Numbered in order, left to right, Term 1 is a likelihood ratio for belief that fine-tuning implies the existence of God to belief that fine-tuning implies no God; Term 2 is a likelihood ratio for belief in God to belief in no God (naturalism); Term 3 is a likelihood ratio for belief that God, if He exists, would create a fine-tuned universe to support life to belief that naturalism/materialism would yield a fine-tuned universe.

Now certainly Term 3 is a number much greater than 1, even if the exact value is indeterminate. The value for Term 2 will depend on the individual—for a Christian martyr, it would be a huge number; for Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus it would be a very small number.

Here’s the point: the value you impute to term 1, the likelihood ratio for belief that a fine-tuned universe is evidence for the existence of God, will be greater than 1 if you are not a hardcore atheist. If you’re agnostic—it’s a 50/50 proposition that God exists—then certainly fine tuning should convince you that God exists. If you’re an extreme atheist, then term 2 could become small enough to swamp term 3, even if the latter is very large.

So the upshot is that if you do believe in God or if you’re an agnostic, fine tuning can be evidence for God’s creating hand. If you’re an atheist–this will not be sufficient evidence. And we come again to Grace given by the Holy Spirit as the mechanism for faith.

Briggs Responds

I’m no fan of anthropic arguments. As I’ve said earlier this week, design is metaphysically necessary. The universe has to be the way it is for some reason, and that reason cannot be probability, randomness, or chance. It has to be that the cause of The Way Things Are is actual. Thus, that we see what we see at base is a metaphysical question. Since we do not know why things are the way they are, we cannot say why they could have been different. We can say that they could have been different, of course, and explain what the universe would look like under different initial conditions or laws, but since we do not know how the laws under which we live have been chosen or designed, we cannot say how they could have been designed differently. That would entail knowing the mind of the designer. The ultimate how is not a scientific question.

Likewise, I do not hold with subjective probability (here is a series explaining why). All probability is conditional, so it is a mistake to write for example “Pr(G)”. We can write Pr(G|Briggs’s accepted premises), which for me gives 1, but for the atheist gives 1. Yes, 1: probability is not subjective. Given the premises, you must accept the conclusion. Yet Pr(G|Atheist’s accepted premises) = 0. So the real questions of importance are in “accepted premises”. Are these true? Plausible? Wrong?

Also, there is no problem for probability, or logic, to discuss single events. We can say lots about this universe from the one example we have, both probabilistically and mathematically, especially considering probability only relates to incomplete knowledge, of which there is plenty. I also disagree about what “independence” means: see this article. It may be (scientifically) discovered that some “constants” had to be the way they are because of as-yet undiscovered principles. That is certainly the goal of a “final theory.”

June 15, 2016 | 3 Comments

Teaching: No Post, No Podcast, But One Book

Tried to do it, but ran out of time. Not only is there the teaching, and the radio shows, and the eating, and the talking too much, but there is also the book. That is the good-bad news. I finally have the page proofs, received on the very morning class started—and they’re due the very day class ends.

Book looks terrific, though. And the publisher’s staff, so far as I have been able to tell, which isn’t yet far, has been diligent removing the typos placed in the text by my enemies.

Incidentally, as a hot tip for fellow Linux users, xournal is a wonderful PDF editor. I hadn’t heard of it before (I live such a sheltered life). Fast and simple.

Ithaca update: Chapter House now a hole in the ground. The Commons finally repaired, more or less. College Town emptier than a lawyer’s soul. Cornell itself has buildings sprouting everywhere like bureaucrats in new technology, most of which are sinfully ugly and filled with small cafeterias with dull food priced at levels higher than New York City. Today we do the manly thing, which is tripping to the Dairy Bar and eating their delicious ice cream.

Actual posts by guest authors coming tomorrow and Friday. Which is as far as I’ve planned ahead.

June 14, 2016 | 23 Comments

The I-Have-Big-Muscles Fallacy


Harvard graduate walks down the street where a 50-lb sack of cement blocks his way. He reaches down to shift it but discovers that despite all his might the bulk won’t budge. He says to any who will listen, “I am a Harvard graduate with big muscles, and I cannot move this weight; therefore, it cannot be moved.”

This is a fallacy because any man not bound for government employment could easily lift the sack. That this two-legged anemic could not is insufficient (logical) evidence that nobody could.

Stated thus, the fallacy is plain and is so obvious that only a Harvard graduate (GPA 4.0 in Women’s Studies) could make it. It survives, though, and is not uncommon because it isn’t usually stated in terms of prodigious physiques but of mental muscles.

This logical infirmity strikes politicians and pundits particularly, where it often leads to the False Dichotomy, which is a special case of the Big Muscles. A politician will say, “We have to raise taxes because nothing else will work” and the pundit will agree: “I have a degree and therefore since I can’t see an alternative, there isn’t one.” But these examples are many and low and so we pass quickly on.

Take something meatier, such as the philosophical “problem” of other minds. Some academics say that since we cannot prove there are other minds, other minds therefore don’t exist. It is rare to state the conclusion as bluntly; still, the denial is implicit in the long-winded and futile attempts at proving what all can see. From Plato:

That other human beings are mostly very like ourselves is something about which almost all of us, almost all of the time, are certain. There are exceptions, among them philosophical sceptics, and perhaps those suffering from some abnormal mental condition…

Unsurprisingly, given that human beings are social, if not all necessarily sociable beings, this lack of agreement is more than a case of philosophers engaging in some abstractly theoretical controversy and contestation…

There is general agreement among philosophers that the problem of other minds is concerned with the fundamental issue of what entitles us to our basic belief that other human beings do have inner lives rather than whether we are able in specific cases to be sure what is happening in those inner lives.

However, there are (at least) two problems of other minds. There is the epistemological problem, concerned with how our beliefs about mental states other than our own might be justified…

It is not that proof in the form of argumentation for what we can know of other minds (minds which are obvious) won’t provide fascinating and rich details, which is very true, but that some philosophers really do in their more enthusiastic moments embrace their doubts and believe the existence of other minds can’t be known.

We see the same sort of arguments over solipsism, free will, and so forth. Everybody can see that there are other minds, that they alone do not exist, that we all have free will, but then, for some, theory enters. Certain premises (the theory) are embraced which lead inexorably to the conclusion that other minds can’t be known, that the theory holder alone exists (or they exist in a “vat” or simulation), that the theory holder doesn’t have free will, that things can’t be know as they are in themselves, and on and on. There are no seeming problems with the premises; they must be true. The conclusions necessarily follow.

The argument becomes, “I can’t see how any of the premises are false; therefore, none are false. Thus the absurdity follows.” The Harvard graduate hasn’t been able to lift the weight, the weight cannot be lifted. The faith the person has in his abilities—his self esteem—has triumphed over plain reality.

The Big Muscles in this way is no different than the dullard who says, “I don’t see how a material thing can be both a wave and a particle; therefore, it must be one or the other,” Or, “I can’t figure out a better system of government than democracy, which is said to be better than all the other ones; therefore, it is the best.”

We musn’t confuse the Big Muscles with the Deadly Sin of Refication, which shares similarities. Reification, like Big Muscles, occurs when a man embraces theory over reality, but in Reification the premises really are true and the conclusion thus also true, but where the premises or conclusion replace reality. Thus a mathematician will lay out a set of self-consistent equations and say, “These represent another universe which exists” and where the act of mapping the symbols in the equations to reality has taken place only in the mathematician’s mind.