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Darwinists Check Their Logic at the Door

In my last post I commented on Nobel Prize winning physicist Eugene Wigner’s article “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” in which Wigner describes as “miraculous” (1) that “laws” of nature exist; and (2) that we should be able to discover those laws.

 In this post I will use an exchange in the comment section of that post between ID proponent “StephenB” and Darwinist “Delurker” to illustrate the utter vacuity of Darwinist argumentation, or at least the vacuity of the arguments of this particular Darwinist.  It is not my purpose to pick on Delurker per se.  I am using his arguments, because they are quite representative of the type of arguments Darwinists make on this site. 

 Exchange 1: 

 StephenB:  “You seem to be taking an awful lot for granted.  How did nature become comprehensible?”

 Delurker:  “That is not a question that is addressed by modern evolutionary theory.  To the extent that nature is comprehensible, modern evolutionary theory predicts that alignment with reality will be selected for.”

 Comment

 Delurker’s response starts with a factual misrepresentation and ends with an argument that is at the same time both self-contradictory and circular. 

 First the factual misrepresentation.  The existence of human cognitive ability (i.e., the ability to comprehend nature) is obvious.  Darwinism purports to be a comprehensive explanation of the development of all characters of all organisms.  In other words, according to the theory, if an organism has a particular character, whether the character is an eye, a fin or the ability to think, that character must have developed through Darwinian processes.  Delurker’s assertion that Darwinism does not attempt to address the question of how human’s cognitive abilities developed is spectacularly false.  It is like saying rocket scientists do not study propellant.  Indeed, there is an entire sub-field of Darwinian endeavor devoted to the study of cognition and how it might of developed, and fame, fortune and a Noble Prize awaits the first researcher who develops a half-way plausible theory. 

 Now to the argument, such as it is.  The argument is self-contradictory, because after denying that Darwinism addresses the origin of cognitive ability, Delurker then asserts that cognitive ability developed through natural selection.

 The argument is circular as well:  StephenB asks “How did the character “cognitive ability” develop in humans?  Delurker responds:  “It was selected for by natural selection.”  Delurker means that the character exists because organisms that had the character were “more fit” than those that did not.  How do we know the organisms with the character were more fit?  Because the character in question exists in them.  Which, of course, brings back to the starting place.

 Exchange 2:

 StephenB:  “How did the mind develop the capacity to comprehend it [i.e., reality]?”

 Delurker:  “That’s an interesting question.  Biologists investigating the evolution of the human brain are attempting to answer it.  Thus far the answer appears to be “incrementally.”

 Comment

 Delurker has now completely abandoned his first outlandish assertion that biologists do not attempt to account for the development of human cognitive ability.  I suppose he hoped no one would notice.  Now he responds to a serious question with a dismissive triviality. 

Does Delurker truly expect anyone to be convinced by a one-word explanation of perhaps the most important question in all of science?  Give me a break.

 Exchange 3:

 StephenB:  “How and why did the two realms get coordinated such that each makes sense with the other?”

 Delurker:  “No need to coordinate.  Reality exists.  Organisms who don’t deal with reality die (eventually).”

 Comment

 Here Delurker resorts to the old debating technique of “equivocation,” or, more commonly, “the old switch-a-roo.” 

 Keep your eye on the ball.  The ball is:  “the development of human cognitive ability” which has led to the development of mathematical theories with an amazing correspondence to physical reality.

StephenB asks how Darwinism could possibly account for that character.  Delurker says “organisms that don’t deal with reality die off.”  Again, give me a break.  Of the countless millions of species that have existed, only one has developed the character in question.  Delurker is as much as saying, “any organism that does not develop the ability to do higher math will become extinct.”  His answer would be humorous if it were not so pathetic.

 Exchange 4:

 StephenB:  “How did two realms arise in the first place?”

 Delurker:  “The nature of reality is not addressed by modern evolutionary theory.  The fitness of organisms to that reality is.”

 Comment

 Again, Delurker tells a blatant falsehood.  Every Darwinist will tell you that materialism is assumed in his research, either flatly or methodologically.  Delurker is either staggeringly ignorant of this fact or simply fabricating facts to suit his argument.

 Exchange 5:

 StephenB:  “Why should there even be two realms?”

 Delurker:  “You’re letting your terminology run away with you.  There is physical reality and there are mechanisms that allow populations of organisms to become more fit with respect to that physical reality.”

 Comment

 StephenB asks a profound question.  Given materialist premises, how can a Darwinist say there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended?

 Delurker does not even attempt to answer this question.  Instead, he accuses StephenB of being confused.

 Exchange 6:

 StephenB:  “Indeed, which Darwinist even accepts the existence of two realms, one of which constitutes the immaterial mind of the investigator?”

 Delurker:  “What evidence do you have that mind is immaterial?”

 Comment

 Again, faced with a question he cannot begin to answer, Delurker changes the subject.  There is a substantial body of research supporting the existence of the immaterial mind.  Much of that research is summarized in O’Leary and Beauregard’s “The Spiritual Brain.”  But notice that the evidence for the material mind is not the issue that StephenB raises.  StephenB raises the question of how a Darwinist can ever accept the existence of a mind.  Delurker’s response to that question is conspicuous in its absence. 

 Conclusion

 Some of the greatest arguments against Darwinism are the vacuous arguments its supporters make for it.

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124 Responses to Darwinists Check Their Logic at the Door

  1. Nicely done, Mr Arrington.

    A similar recap of exchanges on UD could fill a library. On the other hand, there is also the number that never took place. The attempted squaring off between Timaeus and Allan McNeil comes to mind.

  2. In exchange 1 StephenB asked “how did nature become comprehensible?” not “how did man become able to comprehend nature?”. Delurker was quite right to say that evolutionary theory does not attempt to answer this question. This is a metaphysical question about the nature of reality which would apply if no living thing had ever existed.

  3. In exchange 4 you write:

    Again, Delurker tells a blatant falsehood. Every Darwinist will tell you that materialism is assumed in his research, either flatly or methodologically.

    As you are a stickler for logic you will recognise that statement is false if any single Darwinist can be found that is not a materialist. Will Ken Miller do?

  4. Exchange 6. By including the phrase “immaterial mind” StephenB is making an assumption. It seems reasonable to call it out.

  5. 5

    Mark Frank, your feeble attempts to rescue Delurker are only more of the same weak brew that he offered. I won’t even stoop to responding to them. To do so would give them more dignity than they deserve.

  6. Mark Frank in #2 pointed the subtle difference that implies a sudden jump into the metaphysical. It is not difficult for me to see that StephanB simply applied the materialist view the way it is universally professed i.e. “metaphysics is an emergent material phenomenon”.

    It is simply pathetic to observe a scientific culture that is so two faced in its attempt to disregard the obvious. Live up to your materialist claims regarding this “metaphysical phenomenon”!

  7. Re #5.

    Mark Frank, your feeble attempts to rescue Delurker are only more of the same weak brew that he offered. I won’t even stoop to responding to them. To do so would give them more dignity than they deserve.

    Is this an example of ID logic?

    Re #6. I am a materialist and I am quite happy to argue about how or why nature is comprehensible. I imagine this would follow the well-worn lines of discussing the argument from reason. But it is nothing to do with the theory of evolution.

  8. —Mark Frank: “Exchange 6. By including the phrase “immaterial mind” StephenB is making an assumption. It seems reasonable to call it out.”

    Not exactly. The point is that when the Darwinist disavows the existence of the immaterial mind, he can no longer make a meaningful distinction between the investigator and the object of the investigation. If all is matter then there is no distinction to be made, which means that matter would be investigating itself, which is ridiculous. Materialism is not really an intellectual position at all. Quite the contrary, It is a declaration of war on reason.

  9. —Mark: “Re #6. I am a materialist and I am quite happy to argue about how or why nature is comprehensible.”

    Go for it.

  10. #9

    OK. I am not sure if this is the right forum as the discussion tends to get lengthy and complex. But I will give it a go.

    I would start off by saying that I don’t think nature is entirely comprehensible. Why do you think it is? There are plenty of things that no one currently understands. Why assume that they can be understood?

  11. Barry Arrington, clearing smoke and breaking mirrors. Nicely done. But don’t expect me to bring you to any fun houses. Heh. :)

  12. Barry, yours is a complete misreading of Delurker’s comments.

    Delurker’s assertion that Darwinism does not attempt to address the question of how human’s cognitive abilities developed is spectacularly false. 

    I agree with Mark Frank that you have wholly misunderstood DeLurker’s statement.

    What DeLurker states is that evolutionary biology does not address (or attempt to address) “the comprehensibility of nature.” He further states that modern evolutionary theory nevertheless predicts the emergence of cognitive adaptations that enable organisms to cope with the natural world (indeed there are huge literatures addressing this topic). IOW, he asserts the opposite of the above. Hence your entire Exchange 1 is off point.

    Similarly, Exchange 2 is therefore entirely off point as well, as it flows from your misreading of Exhange 1 (and should have tipped you off to that misreading.)

    Delurker is as much as saying, “any organism that does not develop the ability to do higher math will become extinct.”

    He is saying that organisms that are not well-adapted to their environments tend to become extinct.

    The balance of your post simply assumes the correctness of a dualist metaphysics:

    Given materialist premises, how can a Darwinist say there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended?

    Perhaps “there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended” is the suspect premise.

    Big topic.

  13. 13

    I have found that the most efficient explanation for the incoherency consistently on display from materialists is that they are exactly what they claim to be: programmed, mindless, animated matter. It also alleviates frustration.

    If one is a material automoton, there is no capacity to deliberately discern true statements about anything, because there is no such thing as actual deliberacy. Deliberacy in materialism is an effect of preceding events.

    Without a locus of acausal intentionality, one will determined to be true whatever accumulations of prior sequence programs them to believe is true. If rior sequence tells them to bark like a dog and believe they have solved the mystery of the universe, they will do so, and believe so.

    There is no “truth” difference to be found between Jeffry Dahmer’s, Ghandi’s, Pat Robertson’s and Richard Dawkins’ beliefs and actions, because they all do, say and believe what they do for exactly the same reason that leaves rustling in the wind do what they do: sequences of physics. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Now let us wait in amusement while Mark, who appears to be a self-described biological automoton without any locus of acausal intentionality (free will), attempts to “deliberately” discern a true argument from a false one, even though he offers no means by which he can deliberately do anything.

    We should first ask him how he intends to make a “deliberate” truthful argument about anything in the first place.

  14. Re #12

    “I have found that the most efficient explanation for the incoherency consistently on display from materialists is that they are exactly what they claim to be: programmed, mindless, animated matter.”

    Actually it is an interesting point. If there is a really something utterly different in kind called mind which you claim you can perceive and I claim I cannot. Then then one explanation is that we are both right. You have some kind of mysterious access to this state which I don’t.

    I suspect you don’t seriously believe this. Why?

  15. 15

    Mark,

    Why should I disagree that you are what you say you are, and that which you behave as if you are?

    Yes, I believe you are what you say you are. Now, do you have the potential to acquire free will, or, in the materialist parlance, can physical conditions in your system reach a tipping point and reveal acausal intentionality, much like critical mass gives way to a nuclear reaction?

    That would be an interesting experiment. I don’t know if NPC’s (non-player characters) can acquire or eventually reveal free will, although I suspect they can.

    So please, carry on. Please begin by explaining how you intend on deliberately discering true statements from false – i.e, what philosophical concept or foundation provides you with such a capacity.

  16. Re #14

    But I believe that free will is compatible with determinism and materialism. So I don’t need to acquire it. I already have it.

  17. WJM @ 12:

    “acausal intentionality”

    Are all advocates of a non-material mind here OK with “acausal intentionality?”

    And that something acausal (uncaused) can result in physical events or effects, by means of human behavior?

  18. This debate goes beyond the theory of evolution- beyond biology.

    People who ignore that fact are ignoring the debate.

    People who ignore the debate has a tenency to erect strawman after strawman.

  19. 19

    #15:

    What I don’t understand is if you really don’t understand that compatibalist “free will” is just a semantic avoidance of the issue, or if you do understand that it is, and just employ it to confound the debate.

    I suspect the first.

  20. 20

    Joseph,

    If the capacity to understand evolution has purportedly been generated by evolution, don’t you think the first order of business for an evolutionist would be to explain how he or she can expect to understand and describe evolution in evolutionary and biological terms?

    Without such an underpinning as to how they can have knowledge in the first place, or expect to make true statements, why should we listen to anything an evolutionist has to say?

  21. —Mark Frank: “I am a materialist and I am quite happy to argue about how or why nature is comprehensible.”

    —Mark Frank: “I would start off by saying that I don’t think nature is entirely comprehensible”

  22. —Diffaxial: “What DeLurker states is that evolutionary biology does not address (or attempt to address) “the comprehensibility of nature.”

    How do YOU explain the comprehensibility of nature?

  23. —William J. Murray; “What I don’t understand is if you really don’t understand that compatibalist “free will” is just a semantic avoidance of the issue, or if you do understand that it is, and just employ it to confound the debate.”

    You are entirely correct. The so-called “free will” of the compatibilist is powerless to influence its own fate in any way. It hijacks the word while stripping it of all meaning.

  24. StephenB:

    when the Darwinist disavows the existence of the immaterial mind, he can no longer make a meaningful distinction between the investigator and the object of the investigation.

    Can a meaningful distinction be made between different minds? If so, how, given that they are both rooted in the immaterial? If they can be distinguished, than I imagine that one material phenomenon can be meaningfully distinguished from another.

    If all is matter then there is no distinction to be made, which means that matter would be investigating itself, which is ridiculous.

    They’re made out of meat? ;)

  25. Without such an underpinning as to how they can have knowledge in the first place, or expect to make true statements, why should we listen to anything an evolutionist has to say?

    That’s the beauty of the scientific method. We don’t have to inquire into an investigator’s metaphysical presuppositions or submit her to psychiatric examination in order to listen to what she has to say. If what she says is of interest, we can listen and then we can watch for confirmation or refutation; or we can try to build on or disconfirm her findings.

  26. StephenB @ 8

    Not exactly. The point is that when the Darwinist disavows the existence of the immaterial mind, he can no longer make a meaningful distinction between the investigator and the object of the investigation. If all is matter then there is no distinction to be made, which means that matter would be investigating itself, which is ridiculous. Materialism is not really an intellectual position at all. Quite the contrary, It is a declaration of war on reason.

    There have been references in other discussions to how an Apple computer, for example, could run an emulation of Windows and thereby run software written for the Windows OS which in turn models aspects of physical reality. Such computers are, as yet, less complex and sophisticated than the human brain so I see nothing inherently problematical about the latter being able to construct and manipulate models of external reality which can then be tested for correspondence with that reality.

    My personal belief is that the reality we observe around us is best understood as a model constructed on the basis of sensory input. It is only a partial representation of what is out there because the senses we have evolved have a limited range and there are many aspects of reality we are unable to detect directly at all. We are completely oblivious, for example, to the neutrinos that are pouring through our bodies every second. Within that model we have the capacity, which we call ‘imagination’, to construct other models that are potentially vast in scope. In a sense, this is the material Universe investigating itself.

    We have no compelling evidence for the existence of an immaterial mind. Quite the reverse, we have substantial evidence that damage to the physical brain can produce corresponding deficits in mental capacity and overwhelming evidence that the mind disappears when the brain ceases to function. For the Paleyist to press the claim for an immaterial mind in the face of such evidence is the irrational position.

  27. Re #20

    Stephen – I guess you see some kind of contradiction in my two statements. I don’t. Maybe I should refine the first one by altering it to:

    “I am happy to discuss to what extent the universe is comprehensible and how and why it is comprehensible to that extent” – but it would have been a real mouthful.

    Anyhow – do you think it is entirely comprehensible?

  28. 28

    Adel (#24):

    You write as if the application of science doesn’t require any philosphical underpinnings. If so, why should one take measurements in the first place? What guides how one applies their inferences? Which conclusions are meaningful, and which are not?

    But, modern materialists lack programming that answers these questions, or even recognizes them as meaningful questions. They have been programmed to accept the system as is and apply it, without any thought as to the foundation of that system. Indeed, it is only via ignorance of the foundation of science as a meaningful system that one can utter statements in direct contradiction to that foundation and which undermine it, and then innocently insist that the foundation isn’t necessary for the building to exist and work just fine.

    Calling a certain point in a chain of causation via physics “free will” is no different than calling the tipping point that turns critical mass into a nuclear event “free will”, or calling it an act of “deliberacy” when rock begin rolling down the side of a mountain.

  29. Diffaxial at 11 says,

    “What DeLurker states is that evolutionary biology does not address (or attempt to address) ‘the comprehensibility of nature.’”

    Interesting. When non-materialist neuroscientists try to explain why – based on evidence – they don’t accept the evolutionary biologist’s premises, the final, supposedly triumphant argument they hear is Steve Pinker’s “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes the truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), p. 305.) Many others have said the same.

    I wonder how many serious scientists would find that a basis for continued research? How would they know that they were researching anything other than their own evolutionary program for replicating selfish genes?

  30. 30

    And yet, these are the kind of statements and equivocations and semantic avoidances that materialists not only repeat over and over, but insist make sense.

    One is left with three options: they are stupid, which I don’t believe; they are being willfully deceitful, which I also do not believe; they are simply programmed machines without the free will capacity to intervene when their system begins making incoherent statements.

    Since the third option corresponds to what they claim is their nature anyway, I believe it is actually the case.

    Lacking the free will deliberacy required to acausally intervene when one’s statements or beliefs are incoherent, they simply continue on as if what they have said is coherent, honestly not understanding why others insist they are not making any sense. They honestly see others as “not making sense”.

    We cannot convince machines that their program is in error, because the only thing the machine has to check the validity of the program is .. the program itself. There is nothing outside of it to intervene.

  31. 31

    What is astounding is that materialists argue as if they can make deliberate distinctions of truth, and argue as if any of us are pursuing something other than a fecundity advantage over each other (thanks, Ms.O’Leary).

    They argue as if their programming is somehow “better” than the program of someone who believes in the literal truth of the Bible and fathers 15 children.

    If evolution created thought, and created how we interpret cognition, logic, and truth, and the only sorting process that evolution employs is a fecundity differential, then by the only measure by which “truth” has any value in evolution-generated reason, what that literalist believes is “more true” than the truth espoused by any materialist who might generate 1 or 2 children due to their consern about overpopulation and the state of the world.

    What is “the truth” in a Darwinian world, other than “that which tips the balance of the fecundity differential their way”?

  32. Mark F at 3:

    (Quoting Barry): Every Darwinist will tell you that materialism is assumed in his research, either flatly or methodologically.

    As you are a stickler for logic you will recognise that statement is false if any single Darwinist can be found that is not a materialist. Will Ken Miller do?

    1) By definition, a Darwinist assumes materialism in the process of evolution, so Barry’s original statement seems to me to be true ontologically and not helpful.

    2) Ken Miller is not a Darwinist.

    3) Ken Miller appears to have no problem with “methodological materialism” in research.

  33. William J. Murray:

    One is left with three options: they are stupid, which I don’t believe; they are being willfully deceitful, which I also do not believe; they are simply programmed machines without the free will capacity to intervene when their system begins making incoherent statements.

    We’re either “lords”, liars, or lunatics! Orrr we simply adhere to one ideology for cultural and philosophical reasons, while others adhere to their ideologies for their cultural and philosophical reasons. I don’t really have a problem with that last possibility.

    Also, a related-unrelated question: How can water be wet if its individual molecules are not? Where in the world does the wetness come in? To me, this is similar to wondering how evolutionary beings can do anything other then what promotes their personal fecundity.

  34. #25 Seversky
    “My personal belief is that the reality we observe around us is best understood as a model constructed on the basis of sensory input.”
    This is a self-defeating statement as the belief itself cannot be verified by sensory input. Beliefs are immaterial as they have no spatial extension in the brain.

    The content of what your belief is found precisely in the immaterial mind. When you say “We have no compelling evidence for the existence of an immaterial mind” being French in origin I translate “Nous n’avons aucune preuve convaincante de l’existence d’un esprit immatériel.” The content of your belief is what is not material, not the physical expression of the belief on the screen.

    You saying “damage to the physical brain can produce corresponding deficits in mental capacity” only establishes correlation, much like saying that everytime I start a fire I see smoke or every time my battery dies my car stops. It doesn’t mean smoke is fire or that I am the car.

  35. StephenB @ 21:

    How do YOU explain the comprehensibility of nature?

    I am vexed by this mystery in the same way that I am vexed by the walkability of nature.

    We observe an amazing correspondence between our ability to walk, and the walkability of nature. Although we can’t walk everywhere, we can walk up and down hills, through valleys, up mountainsides, down wet roads and around walls of mysterious origins, even on the moon – many, many places. And, against all odds, every one of those locations and many more are walkable. Compounding my astonishment, many of these places display runability, and we can run! Why, we eat and digest many other organisms, and, against all odds, most display digestability!

    How did the correspondence between our ability to walk (run, digest) and the walkability (runability, digestability) of nature arise? What coordinated walking and walkability? And how can one explain the walkability of nature itself?

    A deep, deep mystery.

  36. 36

    Lenoxus,

    Outside the mind of an observer, neither quality is known to exist.

    Also, I don’t see any answer in your post other than “it just is”.

  37. O’Leary @ 28:

    Interesting. When non-materialist neuroscientists try to explain why – based on evidence – they don’t accept the evolutionary biologist’s premises, the final, supposedly triumphant argument they hear is Steve Pinker’s “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes the truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), p. 305.) Many others have said the same.

    I wonder how many serious scientists would find that a basis for continued research?

    I would expect that most would find it irrelevant. The scientific method has cultural, not evolutionary, origins, and has been progressively refined in such a way that, when it is working, our quite fallible cognitive biases may be subtracted from our conclusions.

    It does not follow from the fact that the evolved human ability to eyeball and throw projectiles is limited and imperfect that we cannot devise conceptual tools (such as mathematical physics) and technologies (rocket propulsion and guidance systems) capable of inserting spacecraft into Martian orbit.

    Similarly, it does not follow from the fact that the main features of human cognition originated due to local adaptive value, and are therefore limited and imperfect, that we cannot devise and perfect methods for maximizing the accuracy and usefulness of scientific conclusions to a similar degree of accuracy and usefulness.

  38. Re #31

    If you don’t like Ken Miller as an example – how Dinesh D’Souza? William Dembski bemoans the fact that he accepts the theory of evolution (or is there is a difference between this and Darwinism?) on a thread he started yesterday. But I think Dinesh would be very surprised to be described as any kind of materialist.

  39. 39

    Diffaxial,

    If thought processes are constrained like bodily functions to physical realities, then that means God exists, or else humans would not believe in it.

    However, since we know that humans believe all sorts of contradictory things, we know thought processes are not – as your analogy erroneously indicates – necessarily hardwired to what is physically existent.

    Since we know evolution does not necessarily produce entities that make (or believe) true statements, once again we come to the question: why should we be able to comprehend nature at all?

  40. 40

    How did “cultural” activities of man escape evolutionary process?

  41. —Mark Frank: “I am happy to discuss to what extent the universe is comprehensible and how and why it is comprehensible to that extent” – but it would have been a real mouthful.”"

    Rational arguments, if they are rational, can be summed up in a few words. The general and special theories of relativity can be outlined in a paragraph or two.

    —”Anyhow – do you think it is entirely comprehensible?”

    I suspect that the answer is yes. If someone told us all of its secrets, I submit that we could comprehend all of it. We haven’t discovered many of those secrets and may likely never will, but that is a separate question. What we do understand is a result of [A]nature’s rationality, which makes it comprehensible, and [B]our rational minds, which comprehend it, which are two disctinct but related issues.

    So, I return to my question. How did the universe [nature if you like] become comprehensible [rational, if you like]?

  42. —Diffaxial: “I am vexed by this mystery in the same way that I am vexed by the walkability of nature.”

    Not a strong response, and certainly not an answer. No problem. I understand that you do not answer questions.

  43. Oh boy, my own thread at UD! And Mom said that playing piano in a cathouse[*] would never lead to anything.

    Given the length of Barry’s post, I’ll respond to each exchange separately.

    Exchange 1

    StephenB: “You seem to be taking an awful lot for granted. How did nature become comprehensible?”

    Delurker: “That is not a question that is addressed by modern evolutionary theory. To the extent that nature is comprehensible, modern evolutionary theory predicts that alignment with reality will be selected for.”

    Comment

    Delurker’s response starts with a factual misrepresentation and ends with an argument that is at the same time both self-contradictory and circular.

    First the factual misrepresentation. The existence of human cognitive ability (i.e., the ability to comprehend nature) is obvious. Darwinism purports to be a comprehensive explanation of the development of all characters of all organisms.

    You have misread my response. StephenB was asking about the nature of reality and the fact that, at some scales, it appears to follow certain regularities. That is a question of cosmology, not of biology.

    The argument is self-contradictory, because after denying that Darwinism addresses the origin of cognitive ability, Delurker then asserts that cognitive ability developed through natural selection.

    I never denied that cognitive ability arose through evolutionary mechanisms. This confusion is based on your previous misreading of the discussion. I said that the question of the apparent comprehensibility of reality is not within the scope of biology. The question of how populations of organisms might evolve to reflect the regularities inherent in reality is definitely within the scope of modern evolutionary theory.

    [*] Please don’t tell her I’m actually writing software and doing mathematics — she’d be so disappointed in me.

  44. Exchange 2

    StephenB: “How did the mind develop the capacity to comprehend it [i.e., reality]?”

    Delurker: “That’s an interesting question. Biologists investigating the evolution of the human brain are attempting to answer it. Thus far the answer appears to be “incrementally.”

    Comment

    Delurker has now completely abandoned his first outlandish assertion that biologists do not attempt to account for the development of human cognitive ability.

    I never made such an assertion, as noted in my response to Exchange 1. Reading the entire thread in context makes it clear that StephenB’s first question was about cosmology, not biology. This question is clearly about biology.

    I suppose he hoped no one would notice.

    These kinds of veiled accusations of dishonesty have no place in civil discourse.

    Now he responds to a serious question with a dismissive triviality.

    Far from being trivial, my answer is the shortest summary I could come up with of the essence of modern evolutionary theory. All changes in populations are incremental.

    Does Delurker truly expect anyone to be convinced by a one-word explanation of perhaps the most important question in all of science? Give me a break.

    My answer was succinct, but recognizable as accurate by anyone with even an undergraduate understanding of modern evolutionary theory. Naturally there are many more details, and many peer reviewed journals that discuss this area of active research. That doesn’t make my response incorrect.

  45. Exchange 3

    StephenB: “How and why did the two realms get coordinated such that each makes sense with the other?”

    Delurker: “No need to coordinate. Reality exists. Organisms who don’t deal with reality die (eventually).”

    Comment

    Here Delurker resorts to the old debating technique of “equivocation,” or, more commonly, “the old switch-a-roo.”

    Keep your eye on the ball. The ball is: “the development of human cognitive ability” which has led to the development of mathematical theories with an amazing correspondence to physical reality.

    No, in this thread of the conversation the “ball” is StephenB’s assumption that the two “realms” need to coordinate. That is neither self-evident nor part of modern evolutionary theory.

    Modern evolutionary theory explains how populations of organisms adapt to the (ever changing) real world. The nature of that objective, external reality is a matter for physicists, biologists research how populations of organisms adjust to it.

    StephenB asks how Darwinism could possibly account for that character. Delurker says “organisms that don’t deal with reality die off.” Again, give me a break.

    Failure to deal with reality as well as one’s competitors, either intra- or extra-species, leads to lower reproductive rates. That’s how modern evolutionary theory explains how populations of organisms become better at dealing with their environment. This is biology 101.

    Of the countless millions of species that have existed, only one has developed the character in question.

    If you are referring to “consciousness”, you need to define your terms pretty carefully. It seems to describe a continuum rather than a binary condition.

    However, all species that currently exist have come from populations that were more fit to deal with (their current) reality than were their predecessors. Consciousness is just one possible adaptive trait among many.

    Delurker is as much as saying, “any organism that does not develop the ability to do higher math will become extinct.” His answer would be humorous if it were not so pathetic.

    If you read my words carefully and in context, I’m saying nothing more than that the ability to deal with reality makes an organism more likely to survive than organisms that do not deal with reality. That statement is true regardless of the trait under discussion. Indeed, it would be an argument against modern evolutionary theory if human consciousness were not aligned with reality.

  46. Exchange 4

    StephenB: “How did two realms arise in the first place?”

    Delurker: “The nature of reality is not addressed by modern evolutionary theory. The fitness of organisms to that reality is.”

    Comment

    Again, Delurker tells a blatant falsehood. Every Darwinist will tell you that materialism is assumed in his research, either flatly or methodologically. Delurker is either staggeringly ignorant of this fact or simply fabricating facts to suit his argument.

    You’re rather free with the accusations of dishonesty. Again, that’s not conducive to civil discourse.

    Please re-read StephenB’s question. He asked how the two “realms”, the physical world and human consciousness, arose initially. My response is perfectly direct and accurate. Modern evolutionary theory does not address that question.

    To your second point, methodological naturalism is part of the scientific method, but philosophical naturalism is not. That has no bearing on the fact that modern evolutionary theory does not address issues of cosmology.

  47. Exchange 5

    StephenB: “Why should there even be two realms?”

    Delurker: “You’re letting your terminology run away with you. There is physical reality and there are mechanisms that allow populations of organisms to become more fit with respect to that physical reality.”

    Comment

    StephenB asks a profound question. Given materialist premises, how can a Darwinist say there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended?

    Delurker does not even attempt to answer this question. Instead, he accuses StephenB of being confused.

    Where did I ever claim that “there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended?”

    You are projecting your dualism. My personal view is that “mind” or “consciousness” is an emergent property of our particularly complex brains. The patterns that make up that property are instantiated in “material reality”, between our ears. I’m not sure how something non-material could even exist, let alone affect something material.

    To return to StephenB’s question, my answer was in the context of modern evolutionary theory, which deals with populations of organisms adapting to physical reality. There is no reason to expect modern evolutionary theory to address the kinds of questions StephenB was asking with respect to it.

  48. Exchange 6

    StephenB: “Indeed, which Darwinist even accepts the existence of two realms, one of which constitutes the immaterial mind of the investigator?”

    Delurker: “What evidence do you have that mind is immaterial?”

    Comment

    Again, faced with a question he cannot begin to answer, Delurker changes the subject. There is a substantial body of research supporting the existence of the immaterial mind. Much of that research is summarized in O’Leary and Beauregard’s “The Spiritual Brain.” But notice that the evidence for the material mind is not the issue that StephenB raises. StephenB raises the question of how a Darwinist can ever accept the existence of a mind. Delurker’s response to that question is conspicuous in its absence.

    That is not a question that anyone can answer because it assumes the existence of something not proven to exist, namely an “immaterial mind.” Unless and until StephenB or yourself can provide any reproducible, empirical evidence whatsoever that the mind exists independent from the brain, the question he asked is quite literally meaningless.

    Further, the question is outside the remit of modern evolutionary theory.

    Finally, there are numerous biologists who are devout theists and who believe in an immaterial soul. Surely both you and he have heard of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Father George Coyne.

  49. Conclusion

    Barry began his post with:

    It is not my purpose to pick on Delurker per se. I am using his arguments, because they are quite representative of the type of arguments Darwinists make on this site.

    I’m actually flattered by this, since I find the arguments of the ID opponents here generally superior to those of the proponents in terms of logic and evidentiary support.

    I trust I have explained my position with respect to my discussion with StephenB and cleared up any confusion on Barry’s part. I do hope that further discussion can take place without the misattibutions and accusations of dishonesty that are all too often part of these debates.

  50. —Delurker: “That is not a question that anyone can answer because it assumes the existence of something not proven to exist, namely an “immaterial mind.”

    No, it does not. It is a very simple question. How did the universe become comprehensible. Either you agree that it is comprehensible or you don’t. If you think it is, I am asking you how it got that way.

    —”Unless and until StephenB or yourself can provide any reproducible, empirical evidence whatsoever that the mind exists independent from the brain, the question he asked is quite literally meaningless.”

    It isn’t meaningless at all. Just as a written paragraph must be made comprehensible before a reader can comprehend it, a universe must be made comprehensible before a scientist can study it. You are evading the issue.

  51. StephenB#49

    —Delurker: “That is not a question that anyone can answer because it assumes the existence of something not proven to exist, namely an “immaterial mind.”

    No, it does not.

    Your original question was:

    Indeed, which Darwinist even accepts the existence of two realms, one of which constitutes the immaterial mind of the investigator

    That presumes the existence of an immaterial mind. If you want that question answered, you need to demonstrate that such a thing exists.

    It is a very simple question. How did the universe become comprehensible.

    That’s a somewhat different question that doesn’t presuppose an immaterial mind. I have already provided an answer in the context of our previous discussion: Modern evolutionary theory does not address those kinds of cosmological issues. However, given a comprehensible reality, the mechanisms of modern evolutionary theory will result in populations of organisms becoming better adapted to that reality.

  52. —Delurker: “I trust I have explained my position with respect to my discussion with StephenB and cleared up any confusion on Barry’s part. I do hope that further discussion can take place without the misattibutions and accusations of dishonesty that are all too often part of these debates.”

    You can take up the problem of misattribution with whomever you think would be appropriate. For my part, I am more concerned with your evasions. In any case, if you would provide honest answers to honest questions, you would be far less vulnerable to such charges. Evasion is little more than dishonesty that fears to assert itself.

  53. StephenB#51
    If you are going to accuse someone of evasion, you should clearly point out exactly what you base your accusation on. I have answered you directly in every instance and I do not appreciate the aspersions you are casting.

    Are you interested in an actual civil conversation?

  54. —Delurker: “Your original question was:

    —”Indeed, which Darwinist even accepts the existence of two realms, one of which constitutes the immaterial mind of the investigator”

    That was a separate question. The original question was phrased this way, WORD FOR WORD:

    “How did nature become comprehensible?”

    That is the question that you are evading. Please stop stalling.

  55. —Delurker: “Are you interested in an actual civil conversation?”

    It is no more uncivil to call attention to evasionary tactics than it is to evade.

    The question on the table is this: How did the universe become comprehensible?

  56. StephenB#54

    It is no more uncivil to call attention to evasionary tactics than it is to evade.

    You continue to make baseless accusations. Clearly you are not interested in civil, rational conversation. How do you think that reflects on you, as a proponent of ID?

    The question on the table is this: How did the universe become comprehensible?

    I have answered this in the context of the original conversation, clearly pointing out that it is not within the scope of modern evolutionary theory. If you don’t understand this, then you need to educate yourself more before pontificating on this topic. If you do understand this, the question represents an attempt to distract from ID applied to biology. Which is it?

  57. StephenB,

    “The question on the table is this: How did the universe become comprehensible?”

    I forget; when was it last incomprehensible?

  58. —Delurker: “I have answered this in the context of the original conversation, clearly pointing out that it is not within the scope of modern evolutionary theory.”

    I didn’t ask you what evolutionary biology says. I asked you what you say. Does your world not transcend evolutionary biology? Surely, you can, at least, hazard a guess as to how the universe became comprehensible.

    —”If you don’t understand this, then you need to educate yourself more before pontificating on this topic.”

    When did I pontificate? I simply asked a question. Since it is my question, I am the best position to know what kind of education is needed to answer it.

    —”If you do understand this, the question represents an attempt to distract from ID applied to biology. Which is it?”

    How can I distract from my own question, which is only peripherally related to biology, if at all.

  59. 59

    Sversky,

    Re: #25

    “My personal belief is that the reality we observe around us is best understood as a model constructed on the basis of sensory input. It is only a partial representation of what is out there because the senses we have evolved have a limited range and there are many aspects of reality we are unable to detect directly at all.”

    This is interesting, because how then would one be able to be certain of any reality? How would one be able to logically conclude that there is no immaterial reality (for example)? If our minds (meat brains) evolved the capacity to understand and perceive reality only in a limited way, how could materialists by being materialists even know that evolution only provided for materialism?

    And in the same post, in the very next paragraph you state: “We have no compelling evidence for the existence of an immaterial mind. Quite the reverse, we have substantial evidence that damage to the physical brain can produce corresponding deficits in….”

    This seems to be somewhat of a contradiction to what you stated earlier. How could you know what is compelling or substantial and what is not, if your ability to perceive is incomplete, limited and partial?

  60. StephenB#57

    I didn’t ask you what evolutionary biology says. I asked you what you say. Does your world not transcend evolutionary biology?

    Some days it doesn’t seem so. Good thing I like my job.

    Surely, you can, at least, hazard a guess as to how the universe became comprehensible.

    I’m not sure the question is coherent as stated. Would it even be possible for any form of life, or more generically any entity capable of comprehension, to arise in a universe that didn’t have at least some regularities? Aren’t those regularities therefore the definition of “comprehensible”? (I’m winging it here, those aren’t rhetorical questions.)

    This seems to boil down to a variant of the anthropic principle or fine tuning argument — and I suspect you’ll run into the same problems as defenders of those positions. For example, to my knowledge no one has been able to formulate them as testable, falsifiable hypotheses.

  61. Mark F At 37:

    If you don’t like Ken Miller as an example – how Dinesh D’Souza?

    Dinesh is definitely not a Darwinist. Still doesn’t fit the bill.

  62. —Delurker: “I’m not sure the question is coherent as stated.”

    If I asked you how a written paragraph was formed in order that a reader could make sense out of it, would you find that question coherent?

    If so, then why is it not coherent to ask how a universe could be formed such that a scientist could read it?

    —”This seems to boil down to a variant of the anthropic principle or fine tuning argument — and I suspect you’ll run into the same problems as defenders of those positions. For example, to my knowledge no one has been able to formulate them as testable, falsifiable hypotheses.”

    Do you need a falsifiable hypothesis to recognize that the universe is ordered in such a way that the scientist can investigate it? You either think the universe is orderly, comprehensible, and investigatable or you don’t. If you do, then you must have some idea about how the logic of its operations harmonizes perfectly with the logic of the human mind [brain, if you like] that comprehends it.

  63. To MeganC (#56)

    when was it last incomprehensible?

    I was content to just lurk until I saw that. Now thats worth the price of admission.

  64. StephenB, news flash:

    The universe is not a paragraph, and scientists aren’t really “reading” it.

    Metaphors get you only so far.

  65. absolutist @ 33

    #25 Seversky
    “My personal belief is that the reality we observe around us is best understood as a model constructed on the basis of sensory input.”
    This is a self-defeating statement as the belief itself cannot be verified by sensory input. Beliefs are immaterial as they have no spatial extension in the brain.

    If I were to to take a position of radical skepticism, I could not verify my own existence, let alone yours. I can claim direct experience of myself but I cannot verify it to you or anyone else and my only evidence of your existence is the post on my screen. Like solipsism, however, such a view is a philosophical dead-end. It takes us nowhere.

    As for immaterial consciousness, I agree that it is a hard problem but my understanding is that we were discussing a dualist view which holds that the mind is an incorporeal entity, one that is capable of existing independent of the physical brain.

    As for beliefs, if they do indeed correspond to patterns of electrical activity in the brain then it is arguable that they do indeed have a physical dimension comprising extension in both space and time.

    You saying “damage to the physical brain can produce corresponding deficits in mental capacity” only establishes correlation, much like saying that every time I start a fire I see smoke or every time my battery dies my car stops. It doesn’t mean smoke is fire or that I am the car.

    If I strike a match and hold the flame to a piece of paper which then catches fire, you could indeed argue that we have only observed correlation not causation. If, however, every time I light the match I am then able to set fire to the paper, if we never observe the reverse where the paper catches fire spontaneously and then ignites the match, we can then reasonably infer a causal connection and have something approaching Stephen Jay Gould’s definition of “fact”:

    In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

  66. The question on the table is this: How did the universe become comprehensible?

    Two problems. First, this question begs another question, in that it starts with the assumption that nature can be said to be comprehensible, then asks how that occurred. The question that first should be asked, not begged, is “can nature be rightly said to be comprehensible or incomprehensible, and/or can it be rightly said to have become comprehensible?”

    Which points to the second problem: to state either that nature may be said to be “comprehensible” or “incomprehensible” in the sense that these terms denote a property of nature, or something in nature, appears to commit a category error. The best synonym of “comprehensible” appears to be “intelligible.” It is messages (including paragraphs, as in the example above) that can be said to be comprehensible or intelligible, or conversely, incomprehensible or unintelligible. A thunderstorm, on the other hand, can’t be said to be either “comprehensible” or “incomprehensible” in anything resembling that sense, because it bears no message. It may be said that we comprehend the dynamics of a thunderstorm, or conversely that we do not comprehend the storm, but those are properties that attach to us and our level of understanding, not to the storm. The same may be said of a galaxies and quarks; galaxies and quarks are neither intelligible nor unintelligible, because they bear no messages. What can be rightly said is that we understand galaxies and quarks, or do not understand them.

    To the extent that we do, the question then becomes how that is possible. The answer refers to ourselves and our histories.

  67. Just as a written paragraph must be made comprehensible before a reader can comprehend it, a universe must be made comprehensible before a scientist can study it.

    My comment in 64 can be sharpened with reference to this passage. The sense in which a paragraph is made comprehensible by the writer is that the meaning or message the writer wishes to convey is encoded intelligibly into that paragraph. What renders the paragraph comprehensible is that a message is intelligibly encoded therein. An incomprehensible paragraph is one that does not have an intelligible message encoded therein. Phenomena in nature such as thunderstorms, quarks and galaxies cannot be said to be either comprehensible or incomprehensible in that sense at all, because no message is encoded in those events, either intelligibly or unintelligibly. Therefore it is a category error to state that nature was made comprehensible in the same sense that a paragraph is made comprehensible, or to ask how it is that nature became comprehensible in the sense that a paragraph is comprehensible.

  68. —-”Two problems. First, this question begs another question, in that it starts with the assumption that nature can be said to be comprehensible, then asks how that occurred. The question that first should be asked, not begged, is “can nature be rightly said to be comprehensible or incomprehensible, and/or can it be rightly said to have become comprehensible?”

    As Paul Davies and countless others have pointed out, science is based on the assumption that nature is comprehensible.

    —-”Which points to the second problem: to state either that nature may be said to be “comprehensible” or “incomprehensible” in the sense that these terms denote a property of nature, or something in nature, appears to commit a category error. The best synonym of “comprehensible” appears to be “intelligible.” It is messages (including paragraphs, as in the example above) that can be said to be comprehensible or intelligible, or conversely, incomprehensible or unintelligible. A thunderstorm, on the other hand, can’t be said to be either “comprehensible” or “incomprehensible” in anything resembling that sense, because it bears no message. It may be said that we comprehend the dynamics of a thunderstorm, or conversely that we do not comprehend the storm, but those are properties that attach to us and our level of understanding, not to the storm. The same may be said of a galaxies and quarks; galaxies and quarks are neither intelligible nor unintelligible, because they bear no messages. What can be rightly said is that we understand galaxies and quarks, or do not understand them.”

    The terms intelligible and comprehensible are synonyms, which means that you just wasted a lot of space.

    —-Diffaxial: “To the extent that we do, the question then becomes how that is possible. The answer refers to ourselves and our histories.”

    The answer REFERS?
    How does our history inscribe comprehensibility in the universe?

  69. StephenB#61

    If I asked you how a written paragraph was formed in order that a reader could make sense out of it, would you find that question coherent?

    If so, then why is it not coherent to ask how a universe could be formed such that a scientist could read it?

    That’s an excellent example, although probably not for the reason you think.

    We know how written paragraphs are created. We’ve written them ourselves and we’ve seen other humans write them.

    It is by no means as obvious that a universe is the same kind of thing as a written paragraph. Suggesting that a universe is formed to be comprehensible assumes your conclusion, namely that the universe is a created artifact. Without far more evidence, this is a category error.

  70. DeLurker (#50)

    You wrote:

    Unless and until StephenB or yourself can provide any reproducible, empirical evidence whatsoever that the mind exists independent from the brain, the question he asked is quite literally meaningless.

    You might like to have a look at the following:

    Kevin Williams, Scientific Evidence for Survival of Consciousness after Death
    http://www.near-death.com/evidence.html

    Brian Josephson’s Parapsychology Links
    http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/psi.html

    Princeton – Parapsychology Research http://www.fourmilab.ch/rpkp/

    I’d also recommend the following books (haven’t read them yet, but I understand they’re the best summary of work in the field):

    The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin.
    HarperOne; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009).
    http://www.amazon.com/Consciou.....ef=ed_oe_p

    Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality by Dean Radin.
    Paraview Pocket Books (April 25, 2006).
    http://www.amazon.com/Entangle.....pd_sim_b_1

    The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations by Stephen E. Braude.
    University Of Chicago Press; illustrated edition edition (October 16, 2007).
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tephebraud

    It pays to keep an open mind.

  71. —Delurker: “We know how written paragraphs are created. We’ve written them ourselves and we’ve seen other humans write them.”

    You are confusing yourself. I didn’t provide that example to sell you on the idea that the universe was designed. I was responding to your mistaken notion that the idea of a comprehensible universe is incoherent. Please keep track of your own objections so you will know what it is that is being refuted.

    —”It is by no means as obvious that a universe is the same kind of thing as a written paragraph.”

    It is obvious that in order to understand both, both must be comprehensible. In that sense, the example fits very well. I didn’t choose the example because it serves every purpose; I chose it because it serves that purpose.

    —”Suggesting that a universe is formed to be comprehensible assumes your conclusion, namely that the universe is a created artifact. Without far more evidence, this is a category error.”

    Again, you are confusing yourself. I am not arguing; I am describing. If I was arguing, I would be providing reasons to accept a designed universe. I haven’t done that. I am simply asking you to explain, or provide a wild guess, about how the universe became comprehensible—how it became investigatable—how its functional operations are of such a nature that the laws of mathematics can quantify them—how the logic of its behavior corresponds with the logic of the human mind.

    After all this time, don’t you think its time you took on the question?

  72. DeLurker

    In your last post (#67), you wrote:

    It is by no means as obvious that a universe is the same kind of thing as a written paragraph. Suggesting that a universe is formed to be comprehensible assumes your conclusion, namely that the universe is a created artifact. Without far more evidence, this is a category error.

    OK. Here’s a question for you. Who said this?

    The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.

    Albert Einstein, “Physics and Reality,” in Journal of the Franklin Institute (March 1936) as quoted in Einstein: A Biography (1954) by Antonina Vallentin, p. 24.

    “Comprehensible” simply means “amenable to rational investigation.” The scientific method presupposes that the universe is comprehensible in this sense; otherwise, it would be impossible for scientists to perform replicable experiments to test their theories, which are expressed in the language of mathematics.

    Or as Eugene Wigner put it in The Unreasonable Effectiveness Of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences (in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. I (February 1960). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright 1960 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.):

    [I]t is not at all natural that “laws of nature” exist, much less that man is able to discover them…

    The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.

    In reply to your argument: the universe doesn’t have to contain a message in order for it to legitimately described as “comprehensible.” Rather, what makes the term “comprehensible” legitimate is the fact that the universe’s workings can only be described using the language of mathematics. There is no category mistake here.

    I can certainly sympathize with a scientist who modestly refrains from speculating on why nature is comprehensible (methodological agnosticism). But I do think it is dogmatic to rule out the most intuitively obvious explanation – that the reason why nature is so amenable to scientific investigation is that it was designed to be understood by intelligent creatures like ourselves – simply on the grounds that we cannot understand the Designer.

    And if there is such a science-friendly Designer, we can be confident that the current theoretical tensions which exist within the scientific domains of physics and cosmology will have a satisfactory resolution which we can grasp, and will soon discover.

    Now that’s a falsifiable prediction.

  73. StephenB#71

    —Delurker: “We know how written paragraphs are created. We’ve written them ourselves and we’ve seen other humans write them.”

    You are confusing yourself. I didn’t provide that example to sell you on the idea that the universe was designed.

    I know you didn’t, which is why I noted that it was a good example but for reasons other than those you probably had in mind.

    I was responding to your mistaken notion that the idea of a comprehensible universe is incoherent.

    If that was your intention, you haven’t yet addressed the issue.

    —”It is by no means as obvious that a universe is the same kind of thing as a written paragraph.”

    It is obvious that in order to understand both, both must be comprehensible.

    Non sequitur.

    —”Suggesting that a universe is formed to be comprehensible assumes your conclusion, namely that the universe is a created artifact. Without far more evidence, this is a category error.”

    Again, you are confusing yourself. I am not arguing; I am describing.

    Your description demonstrates that you are making a category error.

    After all this time, don’t you think its time you took on the question?

    I’ll be happy to engage in the discussion when you phrase your question coherently. I’ll restate what you wrote above:

    If I asked you how a written paragraph was formed in order that a reader could make sense out of it, would you find that question coherent?

    If so, then why is it not coherent to ask how a universe could be formed such that a scientist could read it?

    The assumptions inherent in your last question clearly show your category error and make the question incoherent. If you can rephrase without insinuating those assumptions, it may be answerable.

  74. vjtorley#72

    And if there is such a science-friendly Designer, we can be confident that the current theoretical tensions which exist within the scientific domains of physics and cosmology will have a satisfactory resolution which we can grasp, and will soon discover.

    Now that’s a falsifiable prediction.

    No, it isn’t. Even if you eliminated the vague language and tied it to an actual scientific hypothesis that explains existing empirical evidence, it would not serve to distinguish between a universe with a designer and one without.

  75. StephenB @ 63:

    How does our history inscribe comprehensibility in the universe?

    It doesn’t, and it didn’t. Our history (evolutionary and cultural) inscribed into us the ability to comprehend, and the cultural means to build distributed and networks of historically cumulative cognition and comprehension. That is all that is required.

  76. StephenB, you claim that the universe is comprehensible and therefore that this comprehensibility must have an origin. I think you are confusing the object and the subject. The universe it what it is. Creatures living in it comprehend it to various degrees – a fir tree comprehends it less than a dog who in turn comprehends it less than me. Clearly comprehensibility is a variable, not a constant, and furthermore it is not a property of the observed but a function of the degree of comprehension that resides with the observer. Your question of how the universe obtained the property of comprehensibility is meaningless because it is based on an incorrect premise.

    Your example of the written paragraph suffers from the fact that a paragraph is written by someone who is not just a writer but also a reader. A writer can make a paragraph comprehensible to others (i.e. make it conform to the degree of reading comprehension in others) only because the reader in him instructs the writer in him on how to do this. It should be obvious that someone who can’t read will be unable to write a comprehensible paragraph. This is totally different from the universe and a living creature observing it without having created it, so you need to think of a different example.

    A solution to the question how a creature can come to comprehend the reality around him, a reality that originated independently from him, has already been suggested by others.

    fG

  77. VJ @ 72:

    But I do think it is dogmatic to rule out the most intuitively obvious explanation – that the reason why nature is so amenable to scientific investigation is that it was designed to be understood by intelligent creatures like ourselves – simply on the grounds that we cannot understand the Designer.

    In this instance, VJ, intuitions cancel. I find this notion as intuitive as the idea that seas are so swimmable because they were designed for fish, the atmosphere so flyable because it was designed for birds, and terrain so walkable because it was designed to be walked upon by ambulators like ourselves.

    IOW, not at all intuitive, and indeed toweringly backward. Our principle adaptations include a capacity for cumulative comprehension by means of joint attention and cooperation. It’s what we do. The environment in which we came to do it (those elements of the natural and social environments the comprehension of which was crucial to our survival) was no more devised for our comprehension than oceans were for swimming.

    (Intuitions better ask questions than they answer them.)

  78. Diffaxial

    Thank you for your post. You argue that the environment in which we came to develop our “capacity for cumulative comprehension by means of joint attention and cooperation… which was crucial to our survival” was “no more devised for our comprehension than oceans were for swimming.”

    There are several problems that I have with the analogy you’ve proposed.

    (1) Science is a theoretical enterprise, not a practical one. The scientific enterprise isn’t about saving lives as such, although some scientific discoveries may happen to do so.

    (2) Science aims at understanding reality, not merely describing it. Cataloguing and correlating the properties of the various kinds of things we observe is not science proper. It’s the preliminary spadework. Someone still has to construct a theoretical model which explains why things hang together the way they do, and then generate some testable hypotheses from that model.

    (3) A species with a well-developed capacity for “joint attention and cooperation” will be very good at observing changes in its environment that threaten its survival, and at communicating news about some impending danger. Monkeys do as much – they warn each other of approaching predators. That doesn’t make them good scientists.

    (4) Science is a relatively recent enterprise in human history. It only goes back about 2,600 years, to the ancient Greeks, who are generally considered to have been the world’s first true scientists. That makes the origin of our ability to understand constructs from theoretical physics, not to mention bioinformatics, all the more mysterious – and I have to say that I find the “spandrels” explanation rather lame.

    (5) The universe is too beautiful – it’s much more elegant than we would expect it to be, if all it had to do was support intelligent life. The more scientists understand the universe, the more they come to realize that it exhibits at all levels the characteristic of “simplicity with variety” which William Hogarth (1753) defined as the hallmark of beauty in his classic, The Analysis of Beauty.

    The discovery of this “beauty all the way down” in the cosmos is unexpected. As Robin Collins puts it in his essay, Universe or Multiverse? A Theistic Perspective (scroll down to part VI),

    [A]lthough the observable phenomena have an incredible variety and much seeming chaos, they can be organized via a relatively few simple laws governing postulated unobservable processes and entities. What is more amazing, however, is that these simple laws can in turn be organized under a few higher-level principles… and form part of a simple and elegant mathematical framework…

    Further, this “fine-tuning” for simplicity and elegance cannot be explained either by the universe-generator multiverse hypothesis or the metaphysical multiverse hypothesis, since there is no reason to think that intelligent life could only arise in a universe with simple, elegant underlying physical principles. Certainly a somewhat orderly macroscopic world is necessary for intelligent life, but there is no reason to think this requires a simple and elegant underlying set of physical principles. This is especially clear when one considers how radically different the framework and laws of general relativity and quantum mechanics are from the world of ordinary experience: although the regularities of the everyday world are probably derived from the underlying laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity, they do not reflect the structure of those laws. Indeed, it is this difference in structure between the classical, macroscopic world and the quantum world that has largely given rise to the interpretive problems of quantum mechanics. Thus, there is little reason based on an observation selection effect to expect the sort of macroscopic order necessary for intelligent life to be present in the underlying, microscopic world…

    Theism offers a natural, non-ad-hoc explanation, of why the laws of nature can be encompassed by such principles. As mentioned above it has been part and parcel of traditional theism that God would be motivated to bring about an aesthetically pleasing universe.

    Belief in God sounds pretty reasonable to me, given what we now know about the world.

  79. DeLurker (#74)

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    Even if you eliminated the vague language and tied it to an actual scientific hypothesis that explains existing empirical evidence, it would not serve to distinguish between a universe with a designer and one without.

    OK. You want specific predictions? I’ll give you one. I predict that the universe will be found to exhibit the geometry of E8 . Physicist Garrett Lisi, author of the Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything explains why in this interview by Zeeya Merali in New Scientist (15 November 2007) entitled “Is mathematical pattern the theory of everything?” (see page 2 of the online version):

    “I think the universe is pure geometry – basically, a beautiful shape twisting around and dancing over space-time,” says Lisi. “Since E8 is perhaps the most beautiful structure in mathematics, it is very satisfying that nature appears to have chosen this geometry.” (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

    As Lisi points out in the same interview, there are other nice bonuses that his theory offers:

    Lisi is specially pleased that his model is “without strings, extra space-time dimensions or other weird inventions that there’s no evidence for”, which bedevil string theory. The maths is simpler, too, which he says makes it even more compelling. Compared with string theory, “this uses baby mathematics,” he says.

    As a theist, I would expect God to make a universe like that. As Robin Collins argues in his essay, Universe or Multiverse? A Theistic Perspective (scroll down to part VI), “it has been part and parcel of traditional theism that God would be motivated to bring about an aesthetically pleasing universe.” Thus the antecedent probability that the universe should instantiate “the most beautiful structure in mathematics” is very high indeed.

    For an atheist, by contrast, the antecedent probability that the universe should just happen to exhibit the most beautiful geometrical structure is very low.

    It’s still early days for Lisi’s theory, which remains at a very incomplete stage. However, Lisi’s theory could easily be disproved by the Large Hadron Collider experiments, if a particle is discovered which his theory cannot account for. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to stick my neck out for E8, and predict that some version of Lisi’s theory will be validated.

  80. DeLurker: Not meaning to be coy here, but am I wrong to find it funny that to the one that finds comprehension of other than itself (the universe by the mind) can be either the thing itself comprehending itself or that no such thing is really happening and all is ultimately not capable of true meaning or even only illusion (whatever that is) yet that very one spends so much time and “thought” trying to make meaningful paragraphs about it when they actually believe it is meaningless outside their own creative ability make up some sort of meaning for themselves, thus giving themselves the actual creative power to make the universe themselves and therefore being both the cause and the effect? (whew!)

    offering a tool for discernment – “Jesus spoke in parables and WITHOUT a parable He did not speak” You might want to read why (Lk 8:10) because all this (the universe) actually has a meaning and a purpose towards an end, but-

    A profound truth of the “universe” (a Created thing) is its comprehensibility beyond – yep thats a rock alright and it really is a rock – but only to those given it by the One Ultimate Mind that said very plainly that one can (not may not) not see the Kingdom of God (the Beginning and End; the Author and Finisher – the reason for it all and its Results (Revelation of an Eternal State) UNLESS – and that both of those particular Beliefs (philosophical position commitment towards Created or material) is actually given as a gift so each one “has his reward”.

    Diffaxial: #75 Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Yours is quite the statement of faith – IS IT NOT?

    Now the interesting question I will proffer is – how does one come to their position other than which one they WANT to be true and from whence does that WANT arise.? Is it not predictive/discerning that one would need eyes to see and ears to hear, but could only have or get them if wanting them? Why would one NOT want them?

    The inside story here is that there IS meaning here unless you don’t want there to be in which case you would wright a bunch of meaningless paragraphs explaining why there isn’t. :)

  81. It may be that that part of the universe not yet comprehended by man may be incompehensible by man. Should that thought stop us trying to comprehend it?

    It may be that underlying the order and logic we think we see, there is chaos and randomness. Should THAT possibility cause us to give up the attempt at comprehension?

    StephenB at 62 wrote “If you do, then you must have some idea about how the logic of its operations harmonizes perfectly with the logic of the human mind [brain, if you like] that comprehends it.”

    I think that that statement contains an unsupported assertion – that the logic of the “operations of the universe” harmonise perfectly with the logic of the human brain; hence needs further explanation or support.

  82. DeLurker used to go by the name JayM, who claimed to be, if you remember, an ID supporter, even though everything he wrote was against ID. He justified this by saying that he was just trying to help ID to gain credibility. This was, of course, not true. It was, in reality, an underhanded way to critique ID. These folks, they’ll go to any length to argue against ID, even by being disingenuous. So, no, JayM, I’m not going to re-instate you under a sock-puppet name, so stop emailing Denyse about it. Your insincerity is, quite honestly, bothersome.

  83. —-damitall: “I think that that statement contains an unsupported assertion – that the logic of the “operations of the universe” harmonise perfectly with the logic of the human brain; hence needs further explanation or support.”

    It makes no sense to characterize the obvious as an “unsuppored assertion.” We confirm the correspondence between subject and object every time we measure the rate of a falling object, or express the probablity that it will snow, or calculate the distance to the nearest galaxy. Obviously, nature’s behavior fits our mental models. That needs to be explained. Why do the two realms match? Darwinists reveal their ideological partisanship by refusing to confront the problem or by providing nonsensical answers. As far as I can tell, there is only one reasonable explanation: Someone created a rational universe ripe for investigation and fashioned rational minds to apprehend it. Until someone offers a credible alternative to my answer, I will affirm mine as the most reasonable.

  84. —faded glory: “I think you are confusing the object and the subject.”

    On the contrary. Unlike Darwinists, I recognize both the subject, the object, and the correspondence between the two. It is the Darwinists who treat subject and object as one and the same—matter reflecting on matter—molecules contemplating other molecules–material brains responding in slavish obedience to other material realities.

  85. VJ @ 78:

    There are several problems that I have with the analogy you’ve proposed.
    (1) Science is a theoretical enterprise, not a practical one. The scientific enterprise isn’t about saving lives as such, although some scientific discoveries may happen to do so.
    (2) Science aims at understanding reality, not merely describing it. Cataloguing and correlating the properties of the various kinds of things we observe is not science proper. It’s the preliminary spadework. Someone still has to construct a theoretical model which explains why things hang together the way they do, and then generate some testable hypotheses from that model.

    These responses overlook a crucial distinction that I note above, and here emphasize. That is between the foundational human cognitive adaptations that emerged through biological evolution, which include the capacity for joint attention, shared reference, cooperation, theory of mind, and language, and the vastly more recent superstructures of the scientific method and related academic and political institutions, which have been present for something like 0.25 percent of the run of Homo sapiens (depending upon what you count as the onsets of Homo sapiens and of the scientific method). Hence I remarked to Denyse O’Leary in 37 above:

    The scientific method has cultural, not evolutionary, origins, and has been progressively refined in such a way that, when it is working, our quite fallible cognitive biases may be subtracted from our conclusions…it does not follow from the fact that the main features of human cognition originated due to local adaptive value, and are therefore limited and imperfect, that we cannot devise and perfect methods for maximizing the accuracy and usefulness of scientific conclusions…

    And in 75:

    Our history (evolutionary and cultural) inscribed into us the ability to comprehend, and the cultural means to build distributed networks of historically cumulative cognition and comprehension. That is all that is required.

    Although founded upon biologically derived cognitive adaptations, science, as a cultural artifact, and like all human cultural innovations, may enunciate goals and aspirations that have nothing whatever to do with survival and reproductive success, including interest in theoretical rather than practical results, understanding rather than simply “cataloguing,” and so on. The emergence of such aspirations and emphases does not in the least contradict the fact that the key social-cognitive adaptations that provided the requisite cooperative and intentional foundation for the comprehension of nature by scientific means themselves arose as evolutionary adaptations.

    (3) A species with a well-developed capacity for “joint attention and cooperation” will be very good at observing changes in its environment that threaten its survival, and at communicating news about some impending danger. Monkeys do as much – they warn each other of approaching predators. That doesn’t make them good scientists.

    While chimps, in particular, do exhibit clear elements of theory of mind (such as gaze following, some capacity for imitation, awareness of what others see or have seen in competitive contexts, etc.), they do not engage in cooperative episodes of joint attention and “we intentionality” in the sense currently described by Tomasello and others, which entails not only that you and I attend to the same object or event, but that I know that you are attending to the feature to which I am attending, and you know the same about the alignment of my attention and yours (knowledge that can be taken further recursively, as when I know that you know that I know that you are attending to the feature to which I am attending, and so on). Only human beings do that.

    Similarly, research makes it clear that when a vervet monkey emits one of several fixed, but apparently referential, warning cries, it does so automatically as an affective response to the given threat with no intent to communicate, as indicated by the fact that it takes no note of whether others in their troop actually attend to its cries or have already climbed to safety. It is absolutely clear that joint attention and intentionally informative and cooperative communication is unique to human beings, and is one of our most foundational social-cognitive adaptations. All of the ways we strive to comprehend the world are founded upon those unique adaptations, as well as upon our talent for cultural innovation and retention, including science.

    It’s what we do.

    (4) Science is a relatively recent enterprise in human history. It only goes back about 2,600 years, to the ancient Greeks, who are generally considered to have been the world’s first true scientists. That makes the origin of our ability to understand constructs from theoretical physics, not to mention bioinformatics, all the more mysterious – and I have to say that I find the “spandrels” explanation rather lame.

    I don’t find these developments mysterious at all. The histories of these cultural innovations are histories of the impact of the cultural invention of distributed cognition – essentially thinking and problem solving accomplished by social networks distributed over space and historical time (the scientific community in the historical past, in this instance). That explosive social/cultural innovation, and the technologies that foster it (the inventions of writing and number systems, the printing press, libraries and universities, etc.) are recent, and reasonably well documented and understood.

    (5) The universe is too beautiful – it’s much more elegant than we would expect it to be, if all it had to do was support intelligent life.

    Surely it is inevitable that any universe of sufficient richness to give rise, by unguided means, to creatures as talented and terrible as ourselves is also inevitably profligate in every other imaginable way, including profligate in beauty. It is also overwhelmingly profligate in emptiness and monotony. I hope your view of God also embraces a love of emptiness and monotony (as well as Haldane’s “inordinate fondness for beetles”) – as there is at least as much emptiness and monotony in the universe as there is beauty (if such things can be quantified at all).

    But scratch the above paragraph. It seems to me that the ultimate meanings of these excesses are subjective judgments that arise from, rather than prove the rightness of, one’s biases and expectations about the world.

  86. Diffaxial (#85)

    Thank you for a very well-argued post. I realize now that I did not do justice to your account of the social and cognitive developments which made the emergence science possible, and I would agree with your assertion that “joint attention and intentionally informative and cooperative communication,” in the metaphysically robust sense in which you have defined these terms, is indeed “unique to human beings,” as it presupposes a knowledge of what other individuals are attending to – and hence, a fully developed theory of mind. I’ll have to have a look at Tomasello’s book when I get the chance.

    I think you are quite correct in proposing that science is something that emerges when “social networks distributed over space and historical time” reach a critical mass. All human beings have the cognitive wherewithal to do science. What made its emergence possible in ancient Greece was the fact that Greece was situated at a very favorable location where ideas from different cultures were freely exchanged, coupled with a prevalent and widely shared metaphysical belief that nature was amenable to rational investigation.

    I would, however, take issue with your contention that “the key social-cognitive adaptations that provided the requisite cooperative and intentional foundation for the comprehension of nature by scientific means themselves arose as evolutionary adaptations.” While these changes may well have been biologically adaptive from their inception, that fact alone does not account for their origin.

    I would contend that an evolutionary account of human cognition is an oxymoron. The reason is that human cognition presupposes a capacity to form abstract concepts, and I would maintain that that’s not a capacity that can meaningfully be said to belong to a physical system. Animals have perceptual concepts, as discussed an article by Jesse M. Bering and Daniel J. Povinelli, entitled “Comparing Cognitive Development” in Primate Psychology, (edited by Dario Maestripieri, Harvard University Press, 2003), available at http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false . (See especially pages 228-229 and the accompanying table 8.1.) I drew this article to the attention of readers on this recent thread , to which you also contributed, so I won’t repeat myself here. (I’ve added a couple of comments by the way.) Only humans have abstract concepts. If you believe, as I do (for reasons outlined here (see especially the articles by Oderberg and Ross), that the capacity to have abstract concepts is not a physical capacity, then it follows that our ability to do science will have no satisfactory natural explanation.

    By the way: if the size and monotony of the universe bothers you, I suggest you read this article and this one too. A smaller universe would require a lot more Divine intervention to keep it going.

  87. VJ @ 86:

    I’ll have to defer until tomorrow a close look at this post. For now it is interesting to note that Michael Tomasselo, Josep Call, and their colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have had a long running dialog and debate in the scientific literature with Daniel Povinelli and his colleagues regarding the most appropriate interpretation of recent research in to the cognitive attainments of great apes. Povinelli has ascribed the behaviors of apes that resemble expression of theory of mind to operant learning, only, largely denying that they have attained conceptual achievements such as “understanding that others see,” while Tomasello’s group ascribes much more cognition and abstraction to apes. Both teams have devised and conducted ingenious empirical work in support of their theoretical positions, although in my opinion Tomasello et al. have it more right.

    The point being that Bering and Povinelli’s view of the cognitive attainments of non-human primates is not the only, or necessarily the dominant, contemporary take on this topic.

    Link to the Max Planck Institute:

    http://www.eva.mpg.de/english/index.htm

    By the way, I noted the emptiness of the universe, not its size. And none of that bothers me in the least.

  88. –StephenB: Unlike Darwinists, I recognize both the subject, the object, and the correspondence between the two. It is the Darwinists who treat subject and object as one and the same—matter reflecting on matter—molecules contemplating other molecules–material brains responding in slavish obedience to other material realities.

    Now you are talking about a different level of abstraction. Your original point was about the universe and the creatures living in it and observing it. Nobody claims that these are one and the same in the context of the one comprehending the other.

    So what about my point that comprehensibility is not a property of an observed entity (the object), but rather a function of the cognitive capabilities of the observer (the subject)? I think it is rather obvious that the comprehensibility of an object depends entirely on who is observing it.

    fG

  89. StephenB (83),

    “Until someone offers a credible alternative to my answer, I will affirm mine as the most reasonable.”

    Yours is the LEAST reasonable because it hasn’t been properly reasoned – as most of your views aren’t. Diffaxial and others have given you the most reasonable position, which is that the universe is comprehensible by us because we have evolved to comprehened it – creatures which DON’T properly comprehend it don’t survive. A creature that perceives a predator as being a mile away when it is only a yard away will soon be eliminated from the gene pool.

    Even then, the universe is really only comprehensible in the physical realms in which we exist. At the micro level where quantum mechanics dominates, the universe is not comprehensible and we have different, and competing, “interpretations” of what is going on, none of which are entirely satisfying from the point of human comprehensibility. There again, they don’t need to be comprehensible for our survival because we as humans aren’t directly affected by what is going on in the quantum mechanical realm.

    And that is another reason why your answer is inferior, indeed why it’s almost certainly wrong. If a designer did design the universe to be “comprehensible” then it did a lousy job at the quantum mechanical level. Why didn’t the designer – who would surely have known that its designed universe would lead to curious creatures eventually developing sophisticated devices for investigating the micro universe – make the quntum mechanical world more comprehensible for us?

    That’s why the view put forward by Diffaxial and others is better, and explains more, than yours.

  90. VJ: one more quick observation: I had not, prior to writing 87 above, followed your link to Bering and Povinelli’s chapter, because I am very familiar with Povinelli’s work, own a copy of his (and Eddy’s) monograph on Chimpanzee “seeing,” etc.

    Now I have – and found that the subsequent chapter was penned by Call and Tomasello, presenting the alternative view and the experimentation upon which it is based. It so happens that the entire chapter is there, with no holes. Bering and Povinelli’s chapter is missing the opening pages.

    Give it a look.

    (To bad the references are absent.)

  91. Er…”too bad.”

  92. Diffaxial

    Thanks very much for the references. I found Michael Tomasello’s Home Page and it had lots of interesting articles online. I’ll just copy the abstracts here for interested readers. My initial impression is that Tomasello has certainly been very methodical in his research, and I don’t think I’d quarrel with any of his main conclusions. Chimpanzees are smarter, it seems, than Povinelli gave them credit for. Nevertheless, they lack the human capacity to distinguish between true and false beliefs, and they appear to be incapable of referring to absent objects. Apparently, chimps understand other agents’ behavior in terms of a perception-goal psychology, rather than a belief-desire psychology. 2,300 years ago, Aristotle considered the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality to be a uniquely human trait. I don’t think he would have been at all perturbed by Tomasello’s findings. I think he would still insist that the mental Rubicon between chimps and humans remains as real as ever.

    Anyway, here is the abstract of Tomasello’s latest article.

    Prelinguistic Infants, but Not Chimpanzees, Communicate About Absent Entities
    Ulf Liszkowski, Marie Schafer, Malinda Carpenter, and Michael Tomasello in Psychological Science (2009), Vol. 20 No. 5, pp. 654-660.
    Abstract – One of the defining features of human language is displacement, the ability to make reference to absent entities. Here we show that prelinguistic, 12-month-old infants already can use a nonverbal pointing gesture to make reference to absent entities. We also show that chimpanzees – who can point for things they want humans to give them – do not point to refer to absent entities in the same way. These results demonstrate that the ability to communicate about absent but mutually known entities depends not on language, but rather on deeper social-cognitive skills that make acts of linguistic reference possible in the first place. These nonlinguistic skills for displaced reference emerged apparently only after humans’ divergence from great apes some 6 million years ago.

  93. Here’s the next one.

    Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later
    Josep Call and Michael Tomasello in Trends in Cognitive Sciences (2008) Vol. 12 No.5, pp. 187-192.
    Abstract – On the 30th anniversary of Premack and Woodruff’s seminal paper asking whether chimpanzees have a theory of mind, we review recent evidence that suggests in many respects they do, whereas in other respects they might not. Specifically, there is solid evidence from several different experimental paradigms that chimpanzees understand the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Nevertheless, despite several seemingly valid attempts, there is currently no evidence that chimpanzees understand false beliefs. Our conclusion for the moment is, thus, that chimpanzees understand others in terms of a perception-goal psychology, as opposed to a full-fledged, human-like belief-desire psychology.

    Conclusion (excerpt)
    … Even if chimpanzees do not understand false beliefs, they clearly do not just perceive the surface behavior of others and learn mindless behavioral rules as a result. All of the evidence reviewed here suggests that chimpanzees understand both the goals and intentions of others as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Moreover, they understand how these psychological states work together to produce intentional action; that is, they understand others in terms of a relatively coherent perception-goal
    psychology in which the other acts in a certain way because she perceives the world in a certain way and has certain goals of how she wants the world to be…
    But chimpanzees probably do not understand others in terms of a fully human-like belief-desire psychology in which they appreciate that others have mental representations of the world that drive their actions even when those do not correspond to reality… Why chimpanzees do not seem to understand false beliefs in particular – or if there might be some situations in which they do understand false beliefs – are topics of ongoing research.

  94. Last one! Thanks Diffaxial.

    Chimpanzees know what others know, but not what they believe
    Juliane Kaminski, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello in Cognition 109 (2008), pp. 224–234.
    Abstract – There is currently much controversy about which, if any, mental states chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates understand. In the current two studies we tested both chimpanzees’ and human children’s understanding of both knowledge-ignorance and false belief – in the same experimental paradigm involving competition with a conspecific. We found that whereas 6-year-old children understood both of these mental states, chimpanzees understood knowledge-ignorance but not false belief. After ruling out various alternative explanations of these and related findings, we conclude that in at least some situations chimpanzees know what others know. Possible explanations for their failure in the highly similar false belief task are discussed.

  95. StephenB you said, “It makes no sense to characterize the obvious as an “unsupported assertion.”

    Please explain to me the Wave–particle duality shown in the double-slit experiment and other oddities of quantum mechanics.

    Our mental models may fit well with the universe at the scale we interact with it daily, but the realm of the very large and very small may contradict our understanding of how reality operates.

    GIMI

  96. —-faded glory: “So what about my point that comprehensibility is not a property of an observed entity (the object), but rather a function of the cognitive capabilities of the observer (the subject)? I think it is rather obvious that the comprehensibility of an object depends entirely on who is observing it.”

    While your point is well expressed, and refreshingly concise, it fails the test of reason. Subjectivism always does. If there is nothing there to comprehend, it will not be comprehended. As stated in the “”Anthropic principle,” for example, the rationality of the universe is manifested in the stability of structures essential for life, all of which depend on the delicate balances between differerent fundamantal forces. Clearly, the universe’s orderliness and precision is not a “function of, or does not depend on, the cognitive capabilities of the observer.”

    If everyone became a subjectivist overnight, the universe would continue to be rational and would not collapse, meaning of course, that neither its orderliness nor its finely tuned constants depend on the mental capacity of its observers. Rather than deny the rationality of the universe, you would be better served to explain, or at least speculate about, how it might have happened.

  97. Gaz,

    Yours is the LEAST reasonable because it hasn’t been properly reasoned – as most of your views aren’t. Diffaxial and others have given you the most reasonable position, which is that the universe is comprehensible by us because we have evolved to comprehened it – creatures which DON’T properly comprehend it don’t survive. A creature that perceives a predator as being a mile away when it is only a yard away will soon be eliminated from the gene pool.

    There is no reason that “survivability” leads to truth, for all sorts of phobias and neurosis just as well lead to survivability. But there is an even more fundamental difficulty to hinging everything ever known on “survivability”. It is this: knowledge is not transient, it is not passed on from parent to child biologically. Morality is innate, but knowing how to start a fire isn’t. Our ability to comprehend the outside world is not an evolved trait because it is not a physical trait. I know that darwinists love to talk about metaphysical evolution, but it cannot be tested physically, so it cannot be tested at all by any material study. Neuroscience can only study neurons, to get an interpretation of the neurons, you need to ask the mind before you can know what the movement in the neurons means. If the neurons really accounted for the mind, you should be able to determine thoughts by strictly studying the movements themselves, such as speed, direction, and so on. But you can’t. And using the non sequitur “emerging quality” of the mind from matter is not helpful.

    StephenB’s is the MOST reasonable, for it doesn’t become self-referentially incoherent like believing that whatever is thought evolved, for you could never know otherwise if that were true.

  98. Hi Mark, you said: “Re #6. I am a materialist and I am quite happy to argue about how or why nature is comprehensible. I imagine this would follow the well-worn lines of discussing the argument from reason. But it is nothing to do with the theory of evolution.”

    So let’s do it. What is a materialist, anyway? :-) We need to get our terms agreed upon first thing.

  99. StephenB, if I understand you correctly, you are using the terms ‘comprehensibility’ and ‘order’ or ‘precision’ as more or less synonymous for this discussion. I struggle with that, because as I noted I don’t believe that comprehensibility is a property of an object, whereas I can see much more readily how ‘order’ can be so (not quite sure about ‘precision’ though).

    Just consider how one could go about measuring ‘comprehensibility’. Say, we have a puzzle and want to measure its comprehensibility. We could give the puzzle to 100 test subjects and measure how long it takes each person to solve it. We would get a qantitative result, some kind of distribution that we could precisely describe in terms of its mean, standard deviation etc. But have we now measured the comprehensibilty of the puzzle? Surely not, rather what we have done is measure the comprehension of the test subjects in relation to this particular puzzle.

    The puzzle simply exists, with whatever physical properties it has. ‘Comprehensibility’ projects the cognitive functions of the subjects onto the object, and as such conflates the observer with the observed.

    Now, when it comes to ‘order’ I am more in agreement with you. We can quantify the order of an object in some way, say via the concepts of thermodynamics. This order exists independently of the observers. So now the question really is ‘how did the universe become ordered to the extent it is’. I suspect that this question can be partly resolved by physics (for instance, how did stars form out of primordial clouds etc.), but that there also metaphysical aspects to this that can not be readily addressed by science, and as such are well outside the purview of biological theories such as (neo-)Darwinism.

    fG

  100. VJ @ 86:

    Just time for a sketch:

    I would contend that an evolutionary account of human cognition is an oxymoron. The reason is that human cognition presupposes a capacity to form abstract concepts, and I would maintain that that’s not a capacity that can meaningfully be said to belong to a physical system.

    I wonder if you are not conflating the level of description required to completely describe and understand what a physical system engaged in an abstract activity (including abstracting!) is doing with the ontological and causal facts about that system.

    What comes immediately to mind is the concept of “multiple realizability.” Multiple realizability may be illustrated by the relationship between an algorithm, say for performing long division, and the physical systems in which that algorithm may be instantiated. The algorithm for long division may be instantiated, or realized, in any number of media: within a Babbage-like physical mechanism, using paper and pencil, as a computer executing a program, within brain tissue and the working memory of an individual person, and so on. In short, the algorithm may be multiply realized, is itself something other than any given realization, and is therefore something abstract.

    Nevertheless, it does not follow that the algorithm can be executed apart from all such physical instantiations. On the contrary, every instance of the calculation of an quotient by means of this algorithm entails the use of some computational and ultimately physical embodiment of the algorithm. When a computational system does becomes the vehicle for that algorithm, it becomes something both physical and something abstract – the computational and ultimately physical embodiment of an abstraction.

    So, now imagine that we encounter a computer, engaged in an activity. Assume that we have a complete and exhaustive description of the physical states of the computer, but don’t know what it is doing. After some observation we realize, “it is doing long division!” We have now attained a description and explanation of the activities of the computer at an appropriate and necessary level of abstraction (a description of the algorithm for long division) that is itself not reducible to a description of the physical states of the computer – we had that, but still didn’t know what it was doing.

    Nevertheless, it does not follow that the algorithm for long division is pushing electrons through AND gates, changing voltages within physical registers of the microprocessor, and so on. We know that at the causal level the computer remains relentlessly physically determined by the physics and electronics of the various components. There is no “immaterial algorithm” causally propelling the events within the computer as it occurs. The computer is wholly physical. Therefore, ontologically the computer remains a wholly physical device.

    In short, we have a physical system for which an abstract, rather a physical or causal, level of description is absolutely required before we can understand what it is doing and embodying, yet the object itself is nevertheless ontologically, wholly physical at the causal level, accomplishing what it accomplishes by means of nothing other than those physical facts.

    Someone is now going to pipe in and say, “yes, but the computer only embodies those abstractions because an intelligence designed it to do so.” But this would be off point. Your claim was not that “a physical system is capable of abstraction only if an intelligence designs it to be so.” Your claim was that “physical systems are incapable of the formation of abstract concepts.” The above, while not illustrating the “formation of abstract concepts,” does go a long way to establishing that abstraction and physical embodiment are not mutually exclusive.

  101. fg 99

    You have proven the puzzle to be comprehensible. Give an unsolvable (incomprehensible) puzzle to same 100 test subjects and see what happens.

  102. #65 Seversky

    As for beliefs, if they do indeed correspond to patterns of electrical activity in the brain then it is arguable that they do indeed have a physical dimension comprising extension in both space and time.

    Unfortunately for the Strict Physicalist, establishing correlations does nothing to prove that beliefs and brain states are the same thing. It could quickly be stated as follows:

    (1) The law of identity: if x is identical to y, then whatever is true of x is true of y and vice versa.

    (2) I can hold certain beliefs without thinking about them, such as facts about each widget in my inventory, or information about each animal in zoology, or facts about mathematical probability, history and so on.

    (3) Beliefs have a certain aboutness about them, that is they are about something, whereas my physical brain states are not about anything.

    (4) Beliefs (x) can be true or false.

    (5) Physical brain states (y) can be positively or negatively charged but it does not make sense to say that they are true or false or about things.

    (6) If my belief about the history of mathematics is not positively or negatively charged, then what is true of physical brain states (y) is not true of beliefs (x) and vice versa.

    (7) Therefore, I have reasonable justification for believing that beliefs (x), or for that matter myself who hold those beliefs, are not the same type of thing as a physical compound or the brain.

    This type of argument could be developed similarly for desires, sensations, thoughts and volition.

    Neuroscientists will continue to establish more and more precise correlations but saying it is a “fact” that a belief or an act of will is the same as a brain state is not the common sense view and certainly the burden of proof is on the physicalist to show that they are identical. To this day, the “evidence” I’ve read has not been convincing. I am surprised by the support shown for strict physicalism with the lack of evidence to support it. It is as if these people are feverish from a fear of a cosmic authority.

  103. —-”StephenB, if I understand you correctly, you are using the terms ‘comprehensibility’ and ‘order’ or ‘precision’ as more or less synonymous for this discussion. I struggle with that, because as I noted I don’t believe that comprehensibility is a property of an object, whereas I can see much more readily how ‘order’ can be so (not quite sure about ‘precision’ though).”

    Order and precicion are comprehensible because they have comprehensibility, that is, there is something about them that the one comprehending them recognizes as being outside of himself and compatible with his mental framework. The human intellect is the internal comprehending faculty that apprehends the external comprehensibility. If that was not that case, the investigator would simply be investigating himself and his own capacity to comprehend [psychology], rather than nature, which is comprehensible [science]. If the comprehensibility is not there, nothing would be comprehended. Hence, alan’s quote with reference to Einstein and his remark about the miracle of nature’s comprehensibility. Einstein understood the difference between epistemology and metaphysics. The two are connected, but they are not the same thing.

  104. —GIMI: “Please explain to me the Wave–particle duality shown in the double-slit experiment and other oddities of quantum mechanics.”

    —-”Our mental models may fit well with the universe at the scale we interact with it daily, but the realm of the very large and very small may contradict our understanding of how reality operates.”

    The universe must be remarkably comprehensible if you can make distinctions like that. More to the point, if nature was not comprehensible, we could not progress in our ability to comprehend it, as you have suggested that we can. One can move closer and closer only to something that is real, namely comprehensibility. If comprehensibility was not real, we could not fine tune our understanding of it since there would be no basis for the fine tuning. It is impossible to measure one’s progress toward a standard that doesn’t exist.

  105. —Diffaxial; “It doesn’t, and it didn’t. Our history (evolutionary and cultural) inscribed into us the ability to comprehend, and the cultural means to build distributed and networks of historically cumulative cognition and comprehension. That is all that is required.”

    That tells me nothing about the standard that is being comprehended, which was, after all, the point of the question. Your questionable account refers only to the capacity of the investigator and says nothing about the object of the investigation.

    —”Phenomena in nature such as thunderstorms, quarks and galaxies cannot be said to be either comprehensible or incomprehensible in that sense at all, because no message is encoded in those events, either intelligibly or unintelligibly.”

    On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered. That is exactly what a scientist does, he decodes, unscrambles, and reverse engineers the messages found in nature. By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on his own brain state, his own history, and on an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all. It is not posible to comprehend the incomprehensible.

  106. StephenB @ 105:

    On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered.

    This only works if you assume from the outset that what scientists are doing can be construed as decoding encoded messages, reverse engineering engineered artifacts, and so on. Of course, that is the assertion we are challenging. Because it only works only if (I blush to repeat it) you assume your conclusions, this remains an assertion, only, unsupported by particular scientific successes absent that assumption.

    On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered.

    Rinse and repeat. It certainly follows that, if events in nature are not encoded messages, we cannot decode messages contained therein. What does not follow is that, having construed natural events as bereft of message content, we cannot understand the causal histories and lawful regularities that result in those events. We can. And that is what scientists are overwhelmingly about, with considerable success. That success unequivocally demonstrates that huge tracts of the natural world can be understood absent the assumption that nature is comprehensible in the way that, and for the reasons that, a paragraph is comprehensible (e.g., agentic authorship).

    By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on…an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all.

    “An irrational nature” repeats the above noted category error (in slightly different form). Nature is neither rational nor irrational, as the contemporary consensus (of long standing) is that natural events (thunderstorms, galaxies, quarks) neither result from reasoning nor can reflect faulty reasoning.

    It is not posible to comprehend the incomprehensible.

    Stephen, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. T.”

  107. Diffaxial,

    Why do you insist on playing the childish “Catch me, if you can!” game.

    StephenB has thoroughly trashed your “loop’d'loop” rhetoric.

    Diffaxial, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. Loopy”.

  108. Oramus @ 107:

    Diffaxial, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. Loopy”.

    Cool.

    As for the rest, I guess those would be paragraphs into which no intelligible message has been encoded.

  109. BTW, really curious to know what survival advantage contemplating existence holds for Humanity.

    “Dem belly full, but we hungry!” A hungry mouth is a hungry mouth!”

  110. Diffaxial (#100)

    I only have time for a brief response here, as I’m busy at the moment, but you might like to check out this article by Professor James Ross, in response to your computer example (Ross addresses computers in his footnotes):

    http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/co.....iality.pdf

  111. On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered.

    —-Diffaxial: “This only works if you assume from the outset that what scientists are doing can be construed as decoding encoded messages, reverse engineering engineered artifacts, and so on. Of course, that is the assertion we are challenging. Because it only works only if (I blush to repeat it) you assume your conclusions, this remains an assertion, only, unsupported by particular scientific successes absent that assumption.”

    I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable. That is the irrational position.. Hint: all worthwhile intellectual pursuits begin with an assumption. Thus, one can CHOOSE he rational assumption or choose the irrational assumption.

    —-Rinse and repeat.

    That’s my line. Get your own.

    —-“It certainly follows that, if events in nature are not encoded messages, we cannot decode messages contained therein.”

    Right you are.

    —-“What does not follow is that, having construed natural events as bereft of message content, we cannot understand the causal histories and lawful regularities that result in those events. We can.”

    One cannot understand lawful regularities without also knowing what they indicate. There is no such thing as regularity without order, and there is no such thing as order without purpose, function, or message. Regularity serves order, and order serves purpose. Sorry, but that is the way things work.

    —-“And that is what scientists are overwhelmingly about, with considerable success. That success unequivocally demonstrates that huge tracts of the natural world can be understood absent the assumption that nature is comprehensible in the way that, and for the reasons that, a paragraph is comprehensible (e.g., agentic authorship).”

    Atheist scientists unwittingly assume the comprehensibility of the universe even as they are publically denying it. That is all part of their irrationality.

    In any case, is that the great meaning that you extract from the universe, —that we all have causal histories?

    —- “An irrational nature” repeats the above noted category error (in slightly different form). Nature is neither rational nor irrational, as the contemporary consensus (of long standing) is that natural events (thunderstorms, galaxies, quarks) neither result from reasoning nor can reflect faulty reasoning.”

    If nature wasn’t rational, rationality could not grasp it. That should be obvious.

    —–“Stephen, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. T.”

    As Mr. T might put it, “Pity the poor fool who denies truth in the name of truth.” “

  112. StephenB @ 111:

    I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable.

    Haste makes waste.

    [C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error.

    I choose [C].

  113. Diffaxial,

    Haste makes waste.

    [C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error.

    I choose [C].

    You must have written that in haste.

  114. —-Diffaxial; “[C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error.

    I choose [C].’

    No, actually that is incorrect. If the universe was not rational and, if under those conditions, someone falsely attributed rationality to it, that would be a category error.

    On the other hand, to say that the universe is either rational or not rational is to simply state an either or proposition.

    Your mistake is in substituting the word “irrational,” which connotes the failure to use reason, with the word “non-rational,” which,in the context used, means not according to reason. To call nature “irrational” would indeed be a category error, since that word implies that nature has refused to use its capacity for reason, even though only humans have that faculty.

    Notice the way I formulated the problem:

    “I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable.”

    Do you see the word “irrational” in that paragraph. No, someone quietly slipped it in and hoped no one would notice. [Who on earth could that have been?]

  115. StephenB @ 114:

    —-Diffaxial; “[C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error.”

    No, actually that is incorrect. If the universe was not rational and, if under those conditions, someone falsely attributed rationality to it, that would be a category error.

    Which tells me that you don’t know what a category error, or category mistake, is. Get busy.

    Do you see the word “irrational” in that paragraph. No, someone quietly slipped it in and hoped no one would notice. [Who on earth could that have been?]

    That would be StephenB in 105:

    By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on…an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all.

  116. Diffaxial

    Is the number 2 green or not green?

    Merely asking the question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what a number is. To ask whether an abstract methematical entity can be colored is indeed tantamount to a category mistake.

    But I cannot think of any kind of entity, abstract or otherwise, for which the question, “Can that entity (and all its properties) be understood by human reason?” is an illegitimate question – i.e. one that doesn’t even make sense. It seems to be a question that we can meaningfully ask about any object, or collection of objects – even the whole cosmos. If the question didn’t make sense, then we wouldn’t have a science called cosmology, would we?

    Thus, to maintain that the question, “Is the cosmos rational?” is a category mistake, you have to argue that there is something wrong-headed about the scientific quest. For it really is that bold – a quest for unbounded knowledge.

    So far, human beings have had a pretty good track record in unravelling the secrets of the cosmos – even if their investigations often give rise to new questions. There seems to be nothing out there, which we can observe, which remains impervious to scientists’ best attempts to understand it. Even black holes can be modeled.

    There are, however, some entities which cannot be understood by human reason.

    (1) Once we have identified the fundamental laws of science, we shall have to take them as a “given” – although even here, we can still investigate the question of why the universe has these laws and not some other ones. For instance, if (as physicist Garrett Lisi proposes in his Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything) it turned out that the universe instantiates the geometrical structure E8, which many mathematicians consider to be the most beautiful mathematical object, that would be a very surprising fact, which we might reasonably explain by the hypothesis that the universe was designed by an intelligent Being who wanted to make the universe in the most elegant possible manner.

    (2) We don’t seem to be very good at understanding ourselves. Although we can model any aspect of our behavior, we cannot construct a complete model of human nature, the way we can for the nature of gold, say. Nothing surprising here – it’s just a consequence of our capacity for recursion, coupled with the fact that we can’t step outside our own skins.

    (3) If higher intelligences (i.e. aliens or angels) exist within the cosmos, or if the cosmos itself is the creation of a Supreme Intelligence, as theists believe, then of course, we can hardly hope to understand the workings of these minds.

    So in these cases, the answer to our question, “Can this entity be understood by human reason?” is: No. But I defy you to name a single entity for which the question isn’t even legitimate. All entities, it seems, can be sorted into two baskets: amenable to human reason, or not.

  117. VJtorey @ 116:

    Your definition of category mistake is exactly right. What you are incompletely characterizing, however, is StephenB’s argument. StephenB’s argument turns on an ambiguity or equivocation (I don’t think intentional) that is apparent in his use of words such as “rational” and/or “comprehensible,” and does so in a way that does result in a category error. Stephen’s main assertion lies downstream from that error.

    We all agree that it is perfectly intelligible to ask whether entities within the universe, or even the universe itself, are such that we may be capable of understanding them. We agree that it makes sense to to ask about any entity, “can that entity be understood by human investigation and reasoning?” Scientific success indicates that many phenomena can be understood and that perhaps the universe as whole may someday be understood as well, particularly when you define human reason and the scientific enterprise as I have above (the product of a network of distributed cognition over historical time scales). As you say, “All entities, it seems, can be sorted into two baskets: amenable to human reason, or not.” There is no category error there.

    But Stephen is asserting more than that, and it is this additional assertion that commits a category error. Stephen’s assertion is that nature is “intelligible” and “comprehensible” in the way that a paragraph is intelligible, and further insists that if it were not intelligible in this way, it would not be intelligible at all.

    Paragraphs are intelligible or comprehensible in the sense that they have been “made comprehensible” by an author, in the sense that an intelligible message has been encoded into it. The reader, upon comprehending the paragraph, decodes that encoded message and retrieves its meaning. When meaning is successfully conveyed in this way it is right to say that there is intentional activity on both ends – a sender and a receiver. And, it is no coincidence that the word “meaning” can refer both to message content and to “intentions” (as in, “I didn’t mean to do that”), as the recovery of the meaning of a message occurs when I understand what the sender intends that I understand. Here I think of Searle’s pithy take on Grice:

    Grice saw correctly that when we communicate to people, we succeed in producing understanding in them by getting them to recognize our intention to produce that understanding. Communication is peculiar among human actions in that we succeed in producing an intended effect on the hearer by getting the hearer to recognize the intention to produce that very effect….I can, for example, tell them that it is raining just by getting them to recognize my intention to tell them that it is raining. (from Searle, J. R. (1998). Mind, language, and society: Philosophy in the real world. New York: Basic Books, pages 144-145.)

    That Stephen intends “comprehensible” in this sense of “encoding-decoding,” and a sense that includes intentional meaning, is completely clear from his above statements:

    Just as a written paragraph must be made comprehensible before a reader can comprehend it, a universe must be made comprehensible before a scientist can study it.

    And, particularly:

    if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded…That is exactly what a scientist does, he decodes, unscrambles, and reverse engineers the messages found in nature.

    It is my claim that Stephen’s additional assertion, in the context of the contemporary scientific world picture, commits a category error. Just as hurricanes destroy homes neither accidentally nor intentionally (because hurricanes are not agents, and the dimension “intentional – accidental” can only be said to apply to actions initiated by agents), neither are galaxies and thunderstorms either “rational” or “irrational,” because only agents capable of reasoning (or faulty reasoning) are capable of rationality or irrationality in that sense. Similarly, to construe the causal facts behind a lightning strike or supernova as reflecting rational authorship and a message (“what was intended by THAT??”) is indeed similar to remarking on the color of a number or the oafishness of a hurricane.

    Of course, at another remove, that is the debate at hand, in that the contemporary scientific world picture also asserts that the advent and history of living organisms (including ourselves) does not reflect “authorship,” a world picture many people find impossible to accept. Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph. Otherwise, StephenB asserts, we would not fine nature intelligible at all. It is his goal to adduce success in the natural sciences as evidence for that authorship, because, he asserts, nature would not be intelligible absent that authorship.

    But here is where the (I think unintentional) equivocation occurs, as Stephen ascribes to nature “comprehensibility” in the sense of “comprehensible like an encoded paragraph” (and “rationality” in the sense of “the actions of a rational agent”), but claims in support of that assertion “comprehensibility” in the sense we all agree is appropriate, that is, “amenable to understanding by means of human investigation and reason,” a relationship to human comprehension that may be shared by authored and non-authored phenomena alike. But “comprehensible” in the first sense does not follow from the fact of comprehensibility in the second sense. Nor is the conclusion that nature is “comprehensible” in the first sense (the intelligible encoding/decoding of messages) compelled by success in attaining scientific understanding in the second.

  118. —Diffaxial; “Which tells me that you don’t know what a category error, or category mistake, is.

    I well know that meaning of the term, its origin, and the subjectivist motivation that prompts it. The word you need to focus on is “distraction,” which constitutes your damage control strategy.

    To suggest that nature is rational is to point out that it has rational properties that can be understood by rational minds. For you nature is not rational, which means that rational minds could not comprehend it since there would be nothing there comprend. Thus, you ignore the correspondence between natures comprehensibility and man’s capacity to comprehend it, providing the simplistic and subjectivist answer that human history explains all. That argument makes no sense since it ignores the object of the investigation, leaving the investigator to investigate himself.

    +

  119. —-Diffaxial: “Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph.”

    The essence of your error lies in the words, “in the sense that we all agree upon”…… It is not our “agreement” that makes nature comprehensible; it is nature’s properties.” Once again, you have tried to subjectivize an objective reality. Indeed, you are making the opposite or the reverse of a categorical error. You are ascribing to the subject [the human capacity to comprehend] that which should be ascribed to nature [comprehensibility]. Subjectivists cannot come to terms with the ontological reality of the investigator and the ontological reality of the object of the investigation so they oversimplify by trying to explain everything in terms of the investigator alone. That will not do. [This, by the way, is not reminiscent of "Cartesian dualism," the error that prompted Ryle's notion of "categorical error." Skeptics are always busy trying to slay the radical Cartesian dualistic strawman while ignoring the logical and sensible Aristotelian/Thomistic dualism.]

  120. StephenB @ 119:

    To suggest that nature is rational is to point out that it has rational properties that can be understood by rational minds. For you nature is not rational, which means that rational minds could not comprehend it since there would be nothing there comprend.

    I am arguing that nature is neither rational nor not-rational, as the ascription of either commits a category error. This has nothing to do with subjectivity. Indeed, it removes a subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what may be described as “rational” in that domain in which those terms are applicable, namely the domain of human actions.

    The essence of your error lies in the words, “in the sense that we all agree upon”…… It is not our “agreement” that makes nature comprehensible; it is nature’s properties.” Once again, you have tried to subjectivize an objective reality.

    This misconstrues my statement. I did not state that our attainment of comprehension of nature occurs because of agreement or consensus. I stated that we (you, me, VJ) agree that human investigation and reason (e.g. science) sometimes result in the comprehension of nature.

    I further argued that your conclusion that, in light of our comprehension, nature necessarily bears intentional content (i.e., that it may be likened to a paragraph bearing an encoded message), and otherwise would be unintelligible, doesn’t follow from that fact. We are capable of understanding both columns of text and geological columns, the former comprehension entailing the decoding of encoded message content and the associated communicative intent (as in Grice/Searle above), the latter comprehension entailing a grasp natural events that convey no such content or intent. The former characterizes human communication; the latter human scientific investigation of the natural world.

    Again, this has nothing to do with subjectivity, and indeed removes another subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what messages are intended by events that do fall in a domain that can be rightly said to often include intentional content and “encoding-decoding,” namely human actions and utterances.

  121. —–Diffaxial: “I am arguing that nature is neither rational nor not-rational, as the ascription of either commits a category error. This has nothing to do with subjectivity. Indeed, it removes a subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what may be described as “rational” in that domain in which those terms are applicable, namely the domain of human actions.”

    You have yet to explain how the investigator apprehends regularity, order, and rationality if regularity, order, and rationality are not there.

    —“I further argued that your conclusion that, in light of our comprehension, nature necessarily bears intentional content (i.e., that it may be likened to a paragraph bearing an encoded message), and otherwise would be unintelligible, doesn’t follow from that fact. We are capable of understanding both columns of text and geological columns, the former comprehension entailing the decoding of encoded message content and the associated communicative intent (as in Grice/Searle above), the latter comprehension entailing a grasp natural events that convey no such content or intent. The former characterizes human communication; the latter human scientific investigation of the natural world.”

    The issue is this: Does nature behave with a logic that corresponds to the logic of our minds. If it doesn’t, then you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which is not quantifiable and not comprehensible. [A Darwinist scenario of the history of human comprehension does not address that topic because it says nothing about the object of the investigation]. The analogy of the paragraph is apt. Just as the logic of the written paragraph exhibits a logic that corresponds to the logic of our mind, the universe also exhibits a logic that corresponds to the human mind. Just as the interpreter reads the paragraph, the scientist reads nature. I am not committing a “category error” or “reifying,” or “personalizing” or “projecting” or imposing human characteristics onto nature. None of those formulations are arguments, they are simpy misplaced accusations that do not address the topic. The fact is that something must be comprehensible in order to be comprehended. The observer cannot take away from nature that which nature does not have. Again, this should be obvious and ought not need any defense. It is your position of an incomprehensible universe that requires a rational defense, and, so far, you have provided not even a hint of one.

    –“Again, this has nothing to do with subjectivity, and indeed removes another subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what messages are intended by events that do fall in a domain that can be rightly said to often include intentional content and “encoding-decoding,” namely human actions and utterances.”

    The subjectivity consists in holding that the investigator can comprehend nature even if nature’s behavior is incomprehensible, which is tantomount to saying that the subject [investigator] can apply human logic to understand an object [investigation] that does not behave logically. That makes no sense. If the investigator trusts his internal mental processes which tell him that IF it rains THEN the streets will get wet, that is only because the same logic is true in the real world– IF it rains THEN the streets really will get wet. We can reasonably predict events in the real world only because the real world itself is reasonable. Narcissistic subjectivism intrudes into the investigation and makes it all about the investigator. Subjectivism does not read comprehensibilty “out of nature,” as the scientist is obliged to do but rather reads incomprehensibiltiy “into nature.” Instinctively, the subjectivist understands that a rational universe implies a creator and that the comprehensibility of nature requires an author. So, he denies nature’s rationality in order to avoid nature’s author.

  122. StephenB @ 121:

    The issue is this: Does nature behave with a logic that corresponds to the logic of our minds.

    Biological and cultural evolution resulted and continues to result in correspondence between our representations of nature and nature itself. It is we who were adjusted by selection, and by methods we ourselves have devised, such that correspondence is present (to whatever extent it is present). That doesn’t render the correspondence entirely subjective, although we must sometimes strive to stand apart from that human evolutionary and cultural history, and see ourselves has having emerged from that history, in order to approach objectivity. Indeed, given that we have a good idea of the processes and history that resulted in our conceptual tools and the representations of nature they generate, and the biases such a history may introduce (such as the misapplication of theory of mind, resulting in the over-attribution of agency to nature), we may subtract those biases to attain an understanding that better approximates an objective account. That cannot be done from a stance of denial of that history.

    If it doesn’t, then you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which is not quantifiable and not comprehensible.

    You are inordinately fond of tautological declarations, as it is only tautologically true that “one cannot comprehend the incomprehensible.” What does NOT follow is that nature absent authorship is necessarily incomprehensible. The appropriate question that is not tautological is, “you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which was not authored.” The answer is as above.

    The analogy of the paragraph is apt.

    I disagree. There are many reasons to believe it inapt (e.g. it commits a category error.)

    The fact is that something must be comprehensible in order to be comprehended.

    The flip side of the above tautology, as “BY DEFINITION” implicitly calls from the mountaintops and whispers from the trees.

    Tautologies aside, authorship does not necessarily follow from comprehensibility.

    If the investigator trusts his internal mental processes which tell him that IF it rains THEN the streets will get wet, that is only because the same logic is true in the real world– IF it rains THEN the streets really will get wet.

    As above, selection ensured that our cognitive and cultural resources reflect such a correspondence. No mystery there.

    Instinctively, the subjectivist understands that a rational universe implies a creator and that the comprehensibility of nature requires an author. So, he denies nature’s rationality in order to avoid nature’s author.

    Really just the flip side of:

    Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph. Otherwise, StephenB asserts, we would not fine nature intelligible at all. It is his goal to adduce success in the natural sciences as evidence for that authorship, because, he asserts, nature would not be intelligible absent that authorship.

    All that said,

    One of my favorite journals, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, uses a format that I find very effective. In that journal a target article presents an lengthy argument for a particular thesis. Much of what follows in a given issue are briefer (but substantial) invited responses from numerous researchers and theoreticians in the field, many of whom vigorously dispute the target thesis. The reader is therefore provided a very comprehensive contemporary view of the issue.

    I think we’ve done a good job setting out opposing positions on this particular issue. Rather than continuing to state and restate these positions beyond the point at which the discussion has become completely dysfunctional, and unless you have something new to say on the topic, I suggest we put this issue in the mail.

    (I will add that no one, not even Barry, has denied that he completely misstated DeLurker’s position in the OP.)

  123. —-Diffaxial: “Biological and cultural evolution resulted and continues to result in correspondence between our representations of nature and nature itself. It is we who were adjusted by selection, and by methods we ourselves have devised, such that correspondence is present (to whatever extent it is present).”

    You are contradicting yourself rather blatantly. On the one hand, you deny the correspondence between the mind and its object by insisting that the universe has no rationality. On the other hand, you suggest that we have “devised” a correspondence as if nature had something for the mind to correspond to.

    —-“That doesn’t render the correspondence entirely subjective, although we must sometimes strive to stand apart from that human evolutionary and cultural history, and see ourselves has having emerged from that history, in order to approach objectivity.”

    If, as you are unsuccessfully trying to argue, all parts of the correspondence can be explained by the by the evolving rationality of the subject and no parts of the correspondence can be explained by the properties of the object of investigation, then obviously the correspondence is entirely subjective. More to the point, unless the object of the investigation is comprehensible [rational], then there is no correspondence in any case. Correspondence requires a rational universe and a rational mind to comprehend it. That is what correspondence means. You are trying to deny correspondence and have it at the same time. To be consistent, you must deny correspondence altogether. Darwinism and correspondence are incompatible because correspondence requires at least two realms [moderate dualism], otherwise there are no two realms to correspond. You cannot have it both ways.

    —–“Indeed, given that we have a good idea of the processes and history that resulted in our conceptual tools and the representations of nature they generate, and the biases such a history may introduce (such as the misapplication of theory of mind, resulting in the overattribution of agency to nature), we may subtract those biases to attain an understanding that better approximates an objective account. That cannot be done from a stance of denial of that history.’”

    You seem to be confusing the philosophical meaning of objective with the psychological definition. We are discussion the objective nature of a rational universe apart from the subjective perspective of the investigator. We are not talking about an “objective” investigation in terms of the absence of bias and prejudice.

    —-“You are inordinately fond of tautological declarations, as it is only tautologically true that “one cannot comprehend the incomprehensible.” What does NOT
    follow is that nature absent authorship is necessarily
    incomprehensible.”

    Remarkably, you deny even that which you declare to be “tautologically true.” Also, I have already explained that those are two separate but related arguments, and you reject not just the latter argument for the former argument as well. So, that last protest is meaningless.

    — “The appropriate question that is not tautological is, “you need to explain how the -investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which was not authored.” The answer is as above.”

    The appropriate question will be the one that prompts an explicit and straightforward answer, for which I am willing to try any for which I am willing to try formulation, tautological included. You have in no way explained how the investigator can use human science to comprehend and quantify a comprehensible and quantifiable universe, because you deny the fact that the universe is comprehensible and quantifiable. You have only stated that evolution produces the individual’s capacity to comprehend, even though you also say that there is nothing rational in the universe to comprehend.

    .

    —-“Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he
    wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the
    conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there
    must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph.”

    No, I make the argument for the simple reason which you have not yet grasped. The rational mind cannot comprehend a rational universe unless the universe is rational. That is an epistemological issue. On the other hand, once one understands that regularity, rationality, order, and comprehensibility all serve purpose, then one can infer the author as a second order proposition. That is a metaphysical issue. The arguments are separate but related—as I have stated, and as you have ignored. You reject both the epistemological argument and the metaphysical argument even as you conflate them.

    —-Diffaxial: “I think we’ve done a good job setting out opposing
    positions on this particular issue. Rather than continuing to state and restate these positions beyond
    the point at which the discussion has become completely dysfunctional, and unless you have
    something new to say on the topic, I suggest we putthis issue in the mail.”

    Feel free to take your own advice and I will follow your example.

  124. StephenB @ 123:

    Feel free to take your own advice and I will follow your example.

    As there is nothing new in your reply, that’s the plan.

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