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Detecting the supernatural: Why science doesn’t presuppose methodological naturalism, after all

Memo to Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education: the claim that scientists must explain the natural world in terms of natural processes alone, eschewing all supernatural explanations, is now being openly denied by three leading scientists who are also outspoken atheists. I’m referring to physicist Sean Carroll, and biologists Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers, who hold that there are circumstances under which scientists can legitimately infer the existence of supernatural causes. That’s a pretty formidable trio. The NCSE is perfectly free to disown these scientists if it wishes, but I think it would be severely undermining its own credibility if it did so.

Let me state at the outset that Intelligent Design, while open to the supernatural, has no prior commitment to the existence of supernatural beings, as it is simply the search for patterns in Nature which can be identified as the work of an intelligent agent. At the present time there is tentative evidence that not only the universe, but also the multiverse itself is the product of an Intelligent Designer, Who would then have to be in some sense “supernatural.” However, that’s still a long way from establishing the existence of: (a) an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being; (b) a personal God; (c) the God of classical theism; or (d) the God of the Bible, or any other book of revelation.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at what prompted three famous atheistic scientists to publicly declare that there could indeed be scientific evidence for the supernatural.

Sean Carroll on the supernatural

I’d like to begin with Assistant Professor Sean Carroll, of the California Institute of Technology. Two years ago, he wrote a blog article for Discover magazine entitled, Is dark matter supernatural? (1 November 2010), in which he plainly declared that scientists could legitimately invoke supernatural causes, if they were confronted with a sufficiently large volume of data indicating that the laws of Nature were being repeatedly violated:

Let’s imagine that there really were some sort of miraculous component to existence, some influence that directly affected the world we observe without being subject to rigid laws of behavior. How would science deal with that?

The right way to answer this question is to ask how actual scientists would deal with that, rather than decide ahead of time what is and is not “science” and then apply this definition to some new phenomenon. If life on Earth included regular visits from angels, or miraculous cures as the result of prayer, scientists would certainly try to understand it using the best ideas they could come up with. To be sure, their initial ideas would involve perfectly “natural” explanations of the traditional scientific type. And if the examples of purported supernatural activity were sufficiently rare and poorly documented (as they are in the real world), the scientists would provisionally conclude that there was insufficient reason to abandon the laws of nature. What we think of as lawful, “natural” explanations are certainly simpler — they involve fewer metaphysical categories, and better-behaved ones at that — and correspondingly preferred, all things being equal, to supernatural ones.

But that doesn’t mean that the evidence could never, in principle, be sufficient to overcome this preference. Theory choice in science is typically a matter of competing comprehensive pictures, not dealing with phenomena on a case-by-case basis. There is a presumption in favor of simple explanation; but there is also a presumption in favor of fitting the data. In the real world, there is data favoring the claim that Jesus rose from the dead: it takes the form of the written descriptions in the New Testament. Most scientists judge that this data is simply unreliable or mistaken, because it’s easier to imagine that non-eyewitness-testimony in two-thousand-year-old documents is inaccurate that to imagine that there was a dramatic violation of the laws of physics and biology. But if this kind of thing happened all the time, the situation would be dramatically different; the burden on the “unreliable data” explanation would become harder and harder to bear, until the preference would be in favor of a theory where people really did rise from the dead.

There is a perfectly good question of whether science could ever conclude that the best explanation was one that involved fundamentally lawless behavior. The data in favor of such a conclusion would have to be extremely compelling, for the reasons previously stated, but I don’t see why it couldn’t happen. Science is very pragmatic, as the origin of quantum mechanics vividly demonstrates. Over the course of a couple of decades, physicists (as a community) were willing to give up on extremely cherished ideas of the clockwork predictability inherent in the Newtonian universe, and agree on the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. That’s what fit the data. Similarly, if the best explanation scientists could come up with for some set of observations necessarily involved a lawless supernatural component, that’s what they would do.

While Sean Carroll doesn’t claim here that science is capable of establishing the existence of God, he certainly believes that it could establish the existence of a supernatural agent or agents.

Jerry Coyne agrees with Sean Carroll: there could be scientific evidence for the supernatural, and even for the existence of God

The following day, over at his Web site, Why Evolution Is True, evolutionary biologist Professor Jerry Coyne voiced his agreement with Sean Carroll’s conclusions, in an article entitled, Sean Carroll on the “supernatural” (2 November 2010):

This is where I agree with Sean, the philosopher Maarten Boudry, and, I think, Brother Blackford, and where we part company from P.Z Myers, The Great Decider, Eugenie Scott and the NCSE – and nearly everyone else. At least I (and probably Sean) could envision theoretical cases where we’d see behavior as sporadic and lawless – and provisionally indicative of a god. Others would not.

“What sort of cases?” the reader might be wondering. Professor Coyne helpfully lists some examples of evidence that would persuade him that God was real in another recent post, entitled, Shermer and I disagree on the “supernatural” (8 November 2012):

I’ve previously described the kind of evidence that I’d provisionally accept for a divine being, including messages written in our DNA or in a pattern of stars, the reappearance of Jesus on earth in a way that is well documented and convincing to scientists, along with the ability of this returned Jesus to do things like heal amputees. Alternatively, maybe only the prayers of Catholics get answered, and the prayers of Muslims, Jews, and other Christians, don’t.

P. Z. Myers regards the concept of God as nonsensical, but thinks that scientists could still discover and investigate causes that fall outside the natural order

The reader will note that Professor Coyne, in his recent article, Sean Carroll on the “supernatural”, listed P. Z. Myers as disagreeing with him on the question of whether there could conceivably be evidence for the existence of some sort of supernatural Deity. So I was bowled over recently, when I came across the following passage, in an article on Professor P. Z. Myers’ Pharyngula blog, entitled, In which I join Michael Shermer in disagreeing with Jerry Coyne, and Coyne in disagreeing with Shermer (November 8, 2012):

By the way, I do agree with Coyne on one thing: I also reject Shermer’s a priori commitment to methodological naturalism. If a source outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena is having an observable effect, we should take its existence into account. If Catholic prayers actually affected medical outcomes, we shouldn’t reject it out of hand because of the possibility of a supernatural source. But it’s still not evidence for a god, unless you’re going to commit to defining god as a force that responds to remote invocation via standard Catholic ritual chants by increasing healing…

In the same article, Myers also explains why he continues to reject the idea of God out of hand:

My position is that we cannot find evidence for a god, that the God Hypothesis is invalid and unacceptable, because “god” is an incoherent concept that has not been defined…

What I want is something like the Higgs boson: a description of a set of properties, inferred and observed, that can be used as a reasonable boundary for identifying the phenomenon. If you’re going to dignify it with the term “hypothesis”, there ought to be some little bit of substance there, even if it’s speculative. The god proponents can’t even do that.

Professor Myers’ position, then, seems to be this: he rejects the view that science has an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, and he acknowledges the theoretical possibility that scientists might have to invoke an extra-natural (or supernatural) cause of some sort in order to account for some observable effect which defied explanation in natural terms, but he refuses to call such a cause “God,” because he considers the term unacceptably vague and imprecise. Fair enough. While I would personally argue that God’s traditional attributes, such as omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence (see here and here), can be given a fairly rigorous definition of the kind that Myers wants, that’s the subject for another post. I will grant, however, that many religious believers are guilty of an appalling lack of precision when they talk about God, and that the Divine attributes need to be defined up-front in such a way that believers and non-believers alike can understand them.

So there we have it. No less than three prominent scientists, all of whom are outspoken atheists, publicly assert that science is not wedded to methodological naturalism, and that it is theoretically possible that scientists might have to invoke a supernatural explanation of some sort, in order to account for some observed effect. One of them (Coyne) is even prepared to publicly acknowledge that the best scientific explanation of this effect might involve an appeal to some sort of Deity.

Eugenie Scott’s key argument: supernatural causes aren’t scientifically testable, because we can’t control their behavior

Why, then, does the NCSE continue to insist that scientists must reject, on principle, the very idea of a supernatural cause? To understand why, it might be helpful to look at an article by Eugenie Scott, entitled, My Favorite Pseudoscience (Reports of the National Center for Science Education, volume 23, issue 1, January/February 2003), in which she explains why she regards methodological naturalism as a defining feature of science:

[S]cience is an attempt to explain the natural world in terms of natural processes, not supernatural ones. This principle is sometimes referred to as methodological naturalism.

Science is nothing if not practical. The explanations that are retained are those that work best, and the explanations that work best are ones based on material causes. Nonmaterial causes are disallowed…

Scientists do not allow explanations that include supernatural or mystical powers for a very important reason. To explain something scientifically requires that we test explanations against the natural world…

Science’s concern for testing and control rules out supernatural causation. Supporters of the “God did it” argument hold that God is omnipotent. If there are omnipotent forces in the universe, by definition, it is impossible to hold their influences constant; one cannot “control” such powers. Lacking the possibility of control of supernatural forces, scientists forgo them in explanation. Only natural explanations are used. No one yet has invented a theometer, so we will just have to muddle along with material explanations.

What’s wrong with Eugenie Scott’s “testability” objection?

Lack of testability is the principal objection to supernatural explanations put forward by Dr. Scott in her article. The first thing I’d like to note is that her argument, that we cannot control an omnipotent Deity and therefore cannot test its ability to influence events, would apply equally well to technologically advanced alien civilizations that are far ahead of us: we can’t control them either. Does that mean that scientists are prohibited from appealing to aliens too, when trying to account for observed effects?

Second, the objection fails to distinguish between the being and the agency of a supernatural Deity. One cannot perform tests upon a supernatural Being as such; but one can certainly perform tests that support or falsify hypotheses relating to the Deity’s mode of agency in the world – the “when”, “where”, “how” and even “why”. For instance, one can attempt to identify periods in the Earth’s past (e.g. the Cambrian explosion) when the complexity of fossil organisms increased relatively suddenly, and then inquire whether this increase was merely apparent or real. If it was real, one can ask whether these sudden bursts of complexity could have been front-loaded into the universe by carefully rigging the initial conditions at the Big Bang (thereby preventing the need for subsequent “manipulation”), or whether these relatively rapid jumps in biological information must have been “injected” into the cosmos periodically, at some time after the Big Bang. One can then inquire where these increases in complexity occurred, by looking for life beyond our Earth, and by performing tests as to what kinds of organisms can survive inter-stellar trips (panspermia). One might also attempt to scientifically verify or falsify the multiverse hypothesis, in order to ascertain whether life could have originated outside our universe. Finally, one might perform laboratory tests with the aim of identifying the easiest ways of genetically engineering any rapid increases in biological complexity that occurred in the past. This might shed light on the “how” of Intelligent Design. To identify the “why”, one might list some possible aims that the Designer could have had in establishing the cosmos (e.g. the production of stars, or of life, or of intelligent life), and then identify which of these aims are the most sensitive to tiny variations in the constants of Nature or the initial conditions of the Big Bang.

Third, there’s a difference between testing the ability of a supernatural Being to bring about some event, and testing the hypothesis that some event was brought about by a supernatural Being. Scientists have no way of doing the former, as they can’t control supernatural entities; but they can certainly do the latter. Yes, that’s right: I’m claiming that science can test for supernatural agents.

Why even advanced alien civilizations can’t arrange specific outcomes in any of the universes they create

“How?” you might ask. That’s a perfectly reasonable question. In an article entitled, Are we living in a designer universe? (The Telegraph, 31 August 2010), Sussex astronomer Dr. John Gribbin provocatively argues that a very advanced alien civilization could not only create baby universes, but also set their precise parameters, thereby designing their laws in detail, and he adds that our own universe might well have been designed in just this way. But then he adds a qualifying remark:

Crucially, though, it would not be possible in any of these cases – even at the most advanced level – for the designers to interfere with the baby universes once they had formed. From the moment of its own Big Bang, each universe would be on its own.

So even if aliens created our universe, they are incapable of interacting with it. Why is that important? Because three years ago, physicist Robert Sheldon wrote a thought-provoking article entitled, The Front-Loading Fiction (July 1, 2009), in which he critiqued the assumptions underlying “front-loading,” and argued that it would be impossible in principle for a Designer to pre-determine specific outcomes (such as the emergence of life, or of Homo sapiens) in a universe that He/She/It was creating, simply by carefully specifying the circumstances at the beginning. First, Dr. Sheldon explained why the clockwork universe of Laplacean determinism (the idea that you can control the outcomes you get, by controlling the laws and the initial conditions) won’t work:

First quantum mechanics, and then chaos-theory has basically destroyed it, since no amount of precision can control the outcome far in the future. (The exponential nature of the precision required to predetermine the outcome exceeds the information storage of the medium.)

Next, Dr. Sheldon examined what he called “Turing-determinism” – the modern notion that God could use an algorithm or program to design all the forms we observe in Nature – and found that it fared no better than Laplacean determinism:

Turing-determinism is incapable of describing biological evolution, for at least three reasons: Turing’s proof of the indeterminancy of feedback; the inability to keep data and code separate as required for Turing-determinancy; and the inexplicable existence of biological fractals within a Turing-determined system.

Specifically, Dr. Sheldon argued that the only kind of universe that could be pre-programmed to produce specific results without fail and without the need for further input would be a very boring, sterile one, without any kind of feedback, real-world contingency or fractals. However, such a universe would necessarily be devoid of any kind of organic life. Dr. Sheldon then proposed that God is indeed a “God of the gaps” – an incessantly active “hands-on” Deity Who continually maintains the universe at every possible scale of time and space, in order that it can support life. He argued that such a role, far from diminishing God, actually enhances His Agency.

Although Dr. Sheldon’s article was about God, the point it makes holds for advanced aliens too. It is impossible for them to guarantee specific results in any universe they create, simply by fine-tuning its physical parameters and initial conditions, or by kicking off some developmental program for that universe. Front-loading can only give you a very broad, limited control over outcomes in any universe you create. But as astronomer John Gribbin has pointed out, that’s the only control that aliens could conceivably have, over any universe they created.

How to test for a supernatural agent, and distinguish it from an advanced alien

I hope that readers can see where I am going by now. In order to demonstrate that an observed effect in our universe was caused by a supernatural Agent, we need only do two things: (i) show that its occurrence could not have been pre-ordained by any technologically advanced natural agents (i.e. intelligent aliens) living outside our universe, who may have created this universe; and (ii) show that the effect could not have been generated by aliens living within our universe, either. To satisfy condition (i), any highly specific effect will do; and to satisfy condition (ii), any effect which violates the laws of Nature will do. So would detailed foreknowledge of the future.

We can now see what’s wrong with the following claim by Professor Michael Shermer, in a recent article in Evolution News and Views, entitled, One Last Word on Alfred Russel Wallace, Intelligent Design — and Extraterrestrial Intelligence (January 30, 2012):

.. [A]ny ETI [extra-terrestrial intelligence - VJT] we might encounter would easily be able to engineer life, planets, stars, and possibly even universes. What would we call such an intelligence? If we know the technology behind the intelligence we call it an ET. If we don’t, we call it God. Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence would be indistinguishable from God.

Shermer reiterated the same point in a recent talk he gave at the atheists’ conference in Mexico City on November 3, 2012. Jerry Coyne, who was present, summarized Shermer’s key argument against invoking the supernatural in his post, Shermer and I disagree on the “supernatural” (8 November 2012):

Shermer’s argument is simple: we can’t distinguish between a supernatural being and an advanced civilization of, say, extraterrestrials that could perform all the “signs and wonders” that would convince most of us that God exists…

But if the argument I made above is correct, then there are effects that no natural extra-terrestrial intelligence could generate – whether it be an intelligence inside our universe or one outside it, in the multiverse. Even if we grant that aliens could create new universes, they could not specify in detail any outcomes occurring in those universes; nor could they violate any of the laws holding within those universes. I conclude, then, that there are concrete ways in which scientists could test for an effect’s being caused by a supernatural Agent.

What we need to look for, then, are highly specific law-breaking occurrences taking place within our universe. Where might we look for violations of laws? I would suggest that the laws of thermodynamics would be a good start. In this connection, it is worth recalling a famous quote by the late Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, in The Nature of the Physical World [1928], The Gifford Lectures 1927, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1933, reprint, pp.74-75):

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Eddington continued by drawing a distinction between two kinds of laws:

Primary and Secondary Law. I have called the laws controlling the behaviour of single individuals ‘primary law’, implying that the second law of thermodynamics, although a recognised law of Nature, is in some sense a secondary law. This distinction can now be placed on a regular footing. Some things never happen in the physical world because they are impossible; others because they are too improbable. (ibid., pp. 75-76)

The Resurrection of Lazarus by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922). France, 1857. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are a variety of outcomes forbidden by the second law of thermodynamics. Perpetual motion machines of the second kind are the best-known example. Another example would be knowing the position and velocity of a particle simultaneously with perfect accuracy: it has recently been shown (see here and here) that this would violate the second law. Time flowing backwards is another example. In this connection, even on a local level, a reversal of the flow of time for a sufficiently large, complex system which was rapidly losing order – e.g. the publicly recorded reassembly and reanimation of the body of a person who had just been blown to pieces by a bomb – would be such an improbable event that not even the advanced technology of aliens billions of years ahead of us technologically could make it happen.

Michael Shermer’s second argument for methodological naturalism: natural explanations are simpler – and Sean Carroll’s reply

Professor Shermer put forward an additional argument against invoking the supernatural, in his talk, as Jerry Coyne notes in his post, Michael Shermer’s talk in Mexico, and a note on the possibility of a god (November 3, 2012):

Shermer ruled the supernatural out of court from the beginning, saying that, like Hume, a naturalistic explanation is always more parsimonious, even if we can’t find one.

However, this argument has already been answered by physicist Sean Carroll in his widely cited online article, Does the universe need God? (in chapter 17 of The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity edited by J. B. Stump and Alan Padgett, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012):

All else being equal, a simpler scientific theory is preferred over a more complicated one. But how do we judge simplicity?

The simplicity of a theory is a statement about how compactly we can describe the formal structure (the Kolmogorov complexity), not how many elements it contains. The set of real numbers consisting of “eleven, and thirteen times the square root of two, and pi to the twenty-eighth power, and all prime numbers between 4,982 and 34,950″ is a more complicated set than “the integers,” even though the latter set contains an infinitely larger number of elements.

Professor Carroll elaborated on what this meant with regard to belief in God, in his Uncommon Descent article, “No God Needed” CalTech physicist responds to Uncommon Descent’s questions (June 7, 2011):

Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.” This doesn’t mean that the idea of God is automatically wrong; only that it starts out at a disadvantage as far as simplicity is concerned. A conscientious scientist could nevertheless be led to the conclusion that God plays a role in the best possible scientific description of the world. For example, it could (in some hypothetical world) turn out to be impossible to fit the data without invoking God. As Einstein put it: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” Alternatively, you could imagine deriving all of the physical laws from the simpler assumption that God exists. While these strategies are conceivable, in practice I don’t think they work, as should become clear.

Professor Carroll is willing to allow, then, that postulating God might be simpler than not postulating Him, if doing so enables scientists to describe the world more concisely than they would otherwise be able to do.

Carroll makes it clear that he has little time for the concept of God unless it does some useful scientific work, and makes predictions. And by predictions, I take it he means prospective ones, rather than retrospective ones like the easily falsifiable claim that “an omnipotent supernatural being wanted above all that everything in nature be purple,” as philosopher Elliott Sober suggests – or the more carefully worded claim proposed in its stead by Bradley Monton, that the supernatural being wished that “everything in nature APPEARS TO US TO BE purple.” Making retrospectively falsifiable claims like that doesn’t move science forward one millimeter: it adds nothing to our knowledge of the cosmos.

On the other hand, Carroll points out that if the laws and initial conditions of the universe could be deduced from the assumption that God exists, that would give Him much less freedom to act than religious believers usually ascribe to the Deity, as well as rendering Him impersonal. So it seems that theists are in a bind: if they insist on God’s total freedom, then the God-hypothesis does no scientific work; but if they come up with a God-hypothesis which yields specific predictions, then they’ve undermined God’s freedom and personhood.

An irenic proposal: how the God-hypothesis could be scientifically useful, while preserving God’s freedom

For my part, I take an intermediate view. First, I would suggest that God freely chose the underlying fundamental geometry for our multiverse, as well as the specific geometry for our particular universe, from a vast array of possibilities, based on aesthetic considerations. I have argued elsewhere that mathematical beauty is an objective property, so one prediction I would make is that the fundamental geometry underlying our universe is about as mathematically elegant as it can be, for a life-permitting cosmos which develops over time. There may of course be other possible universes which are just as elegant as ours in their geometry, but I doubt whether there are any that are more so. Second, let’s suppose that scientists conclude, in the course of their research, that while the underlying geometry of our cosmos fixes the kinds of parameters that define our universe, it does not determine their values. What’s more, it turns out that the values of the different constants are totally independent of one another, so that knowing the value constant of one tells you nothing about the value of the others. However, let’s also suppose that given the value of any one of the constants of Nature, scientists could deduce the values of all the other constants, based solely on the requirement that this universe has to be a life-permitting universe. Third, let’s also suppose that scientists were able to deduce these same values for the constants of Nature, this time on the basis of a different requirement: namely, that this universe has to be a maximally science-friendly one – in other words, a universe in which accurate scientific measurements can be made, which would permit intelligent beings to eventually figure out what the universe is made of and how it developed through time. If scientists were able to do all that, then that would be a striking confirmation of the hypothesis that the universe was made by a God Who fine-tuned it for life – and Who wanted intelligent beings to discover this fact, in the course of their scientific work. Here, then, we have an example of a God-hypothesis which would be genuinely useful in making predictions – and which could explain the values of the constants of Nature (and also, perhaps, the initial conditions of the universe) more simply than any alternative scientific hypothesis.

Let’s see how the rival hypothesis that our universe was created by technologically advanced aliens in the multiverse outside it could explain these thee discoveries. First, aliens might be able to make a universe whose fundamental geometry was a refinement of that of their own, but, not having made the multiverse, they would not be able to explain the mathematical beauty underlying it. Second, they might conceivably be responsible for the fine-tuning of the values of the physical parameters in our cosmos, as well as the fact that these values were especially friendly to life. However, they would not be able to guarantee that the same values of these were also science-friendly, allowing intelligent beings to measure and trace the history of the cosmos.

Will science work out like that in the future? Probably not, although it would be very exciting if it did. I’m just sketching a possibility here, to illustrate the point that God could be a scientifically fruitful concept, enabling scientists to describe the world in simpler terms than they could do without the hypothesis of God, and how the concept of God might guide future scientific discoveries.

I should also like to quickly point out that a life-permitting universe is not the same as a life-producing universe. If the mathematical arguments brought forward against front-loading by physicist Rob Sheldon are sound, then not even God could make the latter, because it’s mathematically impossible, as opposed to being merely physically impossible (which wouldn’t be a problem for a Deity Who created the laws of physics and can suspend them at will, if He chooses to). If Dr. Sheldon is right, then the emergence of life, even in our life-permitting cosmos, was not a foreordained result that could have been achieved through front-loading, but an effect that only an external, supernatural Agent could have brought about, by actively manipulating the cosmos at various points in its long history.

I used the phrase “manipulating the cosmos” rather than “intervening into the cosmos” in the sentence above, for a very deliberate reason. Intelligent Design proponents are not committed to holding that the Creator intervenes in nature, for the simple reason that the notion of the Creator “intervening” makes no sense. As Fr. Brian Davies, O.P. (who is no friend of ID), pointed out in a recent talk he gave on the New Atheism, you can only “intervene in” a situation from which you were absent in the first place. Since God the Creator is everywhere, upholding all things by the power of His Word, He can’t properly be said to “intervene in” any situation. What many ID proponents do maintain, however, is that God is capable of producing changes in creatures without using secondary causes, and that He has in fact done so. “Manipulate” is about the best term I can come up with for the activity of a hands-on Deity.

To sum up: in this post, I’ve not only refuted the NCSE’s leading argument for excluding the supernatural from science, but I’ve also examined two arguments brought forward by leading skeptic Michael Shermer in support of methodological naturalism, and found them wanting. I had originally planned to end my post at this point, but last night, I discovered that another distinguished skeptic had entered the controversy over methodological naturalism: John Loftus, who has written a couple of posts on the subject over at his Debunking Christianity blog.

Loftus: the success of science rules out appeals to the supernatural

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel fresco, 1511. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In a post entitled, Why Science Has No Need of God and What This Implies (November 26, 2012), Loftus explained why, in his view, science and supernaturalism don’t mix:

[I]f there is a God who intervenes in our world then science cannot work at all…

The very basis of science is predicated on a non-miraculous world order. Since science is possible a miracle working God doesn’t intervene… I have written about this with regard to meteorology… For God would have to intervene in the natural order of things, and if he did that very often the science of meteorology would not be possible. Meteorologists could not predict weather patterns and storms at all…

It goes for all the other sciences… Science itself would not be possible if there were a miraculous intervening God.

Now, I should point out that a supernatural act of intervention (or manipulation) need not be a miraculous event, as it may or may not contravene the laws of Nature. For example, the Creator may not need to suspend any laws, in order to bring about a specified outcome (say, a bacterial flagellum) that chance and necessity alone would not have produced within the time available. But we’ll let that pass. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the Creator uses miracles to accomplish His desired effects.

A more serious flaw in Loftus’ argument is its unfortunate use of a loaded phrase: “very often.” Science would be impossible if God “intervened in” Nature (or “manipulated Nature,” as I would prefer to put it) so frequently that human beings were unable to discern any natural regularities at all. Indeed, the very concept of Nature would elude us. However, the proper conclusion to draw is not, “Therefore, no such interventionist God exists,” as if we’ve somehow ruled out the existence of one type of Deity, but rather, “Therefore, Nature does not require that degree of Divine intervention.”

Thus instead of arguing, “Since science is possible a miracle working God doesn’t intervene,” Loftus should have concluded, “Since science is possible a miracle working God doesn’t intervene very often.”

In a follow-up post, entitled, Either Choose Science or God, You Cannot Have Both (November 26, 2012), Loftus re-states the same argument more forcefully, but with less success:

Scientists require evidence before accepting a hypothesis, and so science can only investigate that which is detectable. This is its limitation. We all know this. So it operates on the principle of methodological naturalism. It cannot do otherwise. Science assumes there is a natural explanation for everything it investigates precisely because this is the only way it can work. If natural explanations for events were not possible because God regularly intervened in the world, then science simply would not be possible. Since science does work then a miraculous intervening God does not exist.

Once again, Loftus’ argument is logically invalid because it inserts the loaded term, “regularly.” (Actually, “often” would have been a better word, as the word “regularly” suggests that God “intervenes” at fixed intervals – say, once a week.) All Loftus’ argument proves is that if God intervenes in the world, He does so relatively infrequently. Note that I use the word: relatively. If someone were to pin me down, and ask me to say exactly how many separate Divine acts of intervention (or manipulations, as I would prefer to call them) were required to bring about life on Earth in all its diversity, my very provisional estimate would be: around 10 million. (I’ll explain how I arrived at that figure in the Appendix below. I’m quite sure that my figure is wrong by at least two orders of magnitude, but I don’t know which way. It’s merely my best guess, at present.) The point I wanted to make is that even if we postulate 10 million separate interventions in the 4,000 million-year history of life on Earth, that would still work out at only one act of Divine intervention every 400 years. If I were a scientist, I wouldn’t be too troubled by that.

Think of it this way. Government officials don’t usually bother planning for disasters that occur only once in 1,000 years; only if an event occurs with a frequency of more than once every 100 years do they try to formulate some plan for coping with the expected calamity. Why, then, should scientists be perturbed by supernatural events that occur once every 400 years, especially when these miracles don’t affect their laboratory experiments?

Loftus might reply that the Biblical God is supposed to have worked miracles a lot more frequently than that. In response, I would point out that Intelligent Design, which can be defined as the search for patterns in Nature indicating intelligent agency, doesn’t concern itself with the Biblical God, as such. However, let’s do the math anyway. Leaving aside the Creation (which I’ve discussed above) and the Flood (interpretations of which vary among Jews and Christians), the Bible contains less than 200 miracles, most of which occur between 1300 B.C. (Moses) and 100 A.D. (when the last books of the Christian Bible were written). That’s one miracle every seven years, and additionally, most of these miracles occur only in one corner of the globe (Palestine), and at a time long before the birth of modern science. Once again, if I were a scientist, this would not bother me. Even if one believes (as I do) that five loaves and two fish were multiplied to feed 5,000 people two thousand years ago, that in no way prevents scientists from verifying the law of conservation of mass-energy in their laboratories on a routine basis. And if it turns out that this law holds “only” 99.999999999999% of the time instead of 100%, then I’m quite sure scientists can get used to this fact. For practical intents and purposes, the difference between the two percentages is insignificant.

But Loftus hasn’t finished yet. In his post, Why Science Has No Need of God and What This Implies (November 26, 2012), he deploys a probabilistic argument to discredit the idea of a God Who has intervened on rare occasions in the past, but not in the present:

This world looks exactly like one without a miraculous intervening God in it. And if there is no detectable miracle working God in our world, then we must seriously consider two implications…

First, since God doesn’t presently intervene in the natural ordering of the world then it is exceedingly probable there was never a miracle working God who created the universe in the first place…

Second, since God doesn’t presently intervene in the natural ordering of the world it is exceedingly probable he just doesn’t exist at all…

I’d like to make three points in response. First, if we’re talking about acts of intervention in the biological realm, one would only expect to see them occurring when a new kind of creature is being produced. Since Professor Michael Behe locates the “edge of evolution” at the taxonomic level of the family (roughly speaking), and since the total number of families of organisms is certainly no more than 10,000 (after all, there are only 292 families of insects), and the average lifespan of a biological family is more than 10,000,000 years (even for a species, it’s at least five million years), then we would hardly expect to see these acts of intervention occurring right now, during our lifetimes.

Second, Loftus is appealing to a uniformitarian postulate here: if God doesn’t intervene in the world at present, then probably He never did in the past either. But if you believe in miracles, then obviously you won’t accept Loftus’ uniformitarian postulate. Miracles are by definition singular occurrences, and they don’t happen with a set frequency, at predictable intervals. If they did, then they wouldn’t be miracles.

Third, there are many people who would take issue with Loftus’ assumption that miracles don’t occur in the present world. See for instance this article in The Huffington Post by Craig Keener. Maybe they’re right and maybe they’re not, but I don’t know how Loftus can claim to be sure that they’re wrong.

Loftus’ last valiant attempt to slay belief in a miracle-working God

Coat of arms of Moscow, which depicts a horseman with a spear in his hand slaying a basilisk and which is popularly identified with Saint George and the Dragon. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In his post, Either Choose Science or God, You Cannot Have Both (November 26, 2012), Loftus argues:

Now there are ways that science could detect the existence of God even if he didn’t intervene in the world today, but so far this is not what we find…

This is a remarkable admission. Loftus is conceding that science could detect the supernatural! Loftus’ methodological naturalism, it seems, is of a very weak sort: apparently he just thinks it’s a postulate that happens to be borne out by the facts, but which is not essential to doing science, after all.

Loftus continues:

The fact is that it didn’t have to turn out that science works. God could have made science impossible by intervening into our daily lives just as ancient superstitious people thought he did. That it has turned out the way it has is evidence a miraculous intervening God does not exist.

I have already discussed the fallacy in Loftus’ thinking here, so I shall not dwell on it further. But this time, he explicitly addresses the possibility of a God Who rarely intervenes:

If God exists then it’s entirely possible he could do a select few miracles here and there in the world, occasionally. So the Christian God could have resurrected Jesus from the dead (who else would have done this?) and science could still be possible.

Curiouser and curiouser! Loftus now acknowledges that miracles, if verified, could be used to argue not only for the existence of a supernatural Being but also for the truth of a particular revealed religion! And he admits that amidst all this intellectual upheaval, science could still carry on. I have to say it sounds like he’s sawn off the branch he’s sitting on, to me.

Loftus continues:

But herein lies a problem fit for God.

The more God intervenes then the less likely science is possible. Conversely, the less God intervenes then the more likely science can work. But science is not only possible, it has amassed an impressive amount of knowledge which has produced our modern world. So how likely is it that God has intervened compared with the weight of knowledge science has produced? At best, if God has intervened at all then he has done so in such minimal ways as to be indistinguishable from him not intervening at all.

Note that loaded word: “weight.” What Loftus is arguing here is that the more scientific knowledge we amass, the less likely it is that miracles occur. But the mathematical reasoning here is flawed. What Loftus should have argued was: the greater the percentage of categories of phenomena that prove to be tractable to explanation in purely natural terms, the less likely it is that miracles occur. And even that argument would still be flawed, as it relies on the hidden assumption that miracles, if they occur, are required to account for a class (or category) of observed phenomena. But if miracles are singular occurrences, then the success of science in accounting for all categories of observed phenomena on a generic basis fails to undermine belief in miracles. To do that, you would have to show that the evidence adduced in support of miracles was faulty.

But let’s grant Loftus’ assumption that some of the miracles that people believe in are generic in nature: that is, they are believed to occur because there are some classes of observed phenomena which are incapable of being accounted for in natural terms – e.g. the emergence of new families of organisms, as some Intelligent Design proponents would maintain. Loftus might then try to argue that since these unexplained kinds of phenomena constitute a very tiny (and ever-shrinking) percentage of the many kinds of phenomena known to science, a rational person would conclude, on the basis of past trends in the progress of science, that in the foreseeable future, this percentage will shrink to zero.

I would answer that this argument rests on an historical assumption which is empirically mistaken. In the superstitious Middle Ages, for instance, people believed in abiogenesis (or spontaneous generation), and they possessed no scientific evidence that the universe (and even the multiverse) had a beginning. They knew nothing about fine-tuning, either, let alone the impossibility of proteins originating naturally. Compared to the medievals, we are positively spoilt: we possess a superabundance of evidence that the universe, and life itself, had an Intelligent Designer. This conclusion is in no way weakened by the evil that individuals often experience in the world, because (a) the fine-tuning argument does not seek to establish the existence of an omnibenevolent Creator, and (b) the fine-tuning we observe in Nature is not geared towards individuals or even species, but towards the emergence of life, and in particular, intelligent life, so from a purely scientific perspective, the Designer might turn out to be indifferent to the suffering of individuals and interested only in the creation of intelligent life-forms. Disappointing? Yes, but still a lot better than having no Designer at all.

Finally, Loftus’ reasoning ignores the question of why God intervenes. If God intervenes to bring about a few very important outcomes that Nature cannot accomplish by itself (e.g. life, complex animals) then there’s a very big difference, in practical terms, between God’s intervening on these rare occasions and His not intervening at all: on the latter scenario, we wouldn’t be here.

I conclude, then, that Loftus’ arguments in defense of methodological naturalism are question-begging and unsound.

A revolution, it seems, is afoot. Scientists are finally coming out and declaring that they can live with the supernatural, after all. What will we see next? Open discussion of the flaws in Darwinian evolution?

APPENDIX

My figure of 10,000,000 acts of intervention was calculated as follows:
10,000 families of organisms on earth today x 100 families in the past for every family that has ever lived x 10 acts of intervention (say) to transform one kind of animal into another (think land animal to whale lineage) through intelligently guided evolution. As I said, it’s probably wrong by an order of magnitude or two.

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56 Responses to Detecting the supernatural: Why science doesn’t presuppose methodological naturalism, after all

  1. Thank you for this article!

  2. I’ve never understood the justification for making such a big deal of the natural/supernatural distinction in science. It’s pretty clear the human beings are supernatural in the strong sense of not being full governed by/predictable according to any set of in-principle discoverable physical laws. And so: a) we already have a good example of supernatural beings; and b) it’s unclear why any creative intelligence should be more bound in this way than we are.

  3. to comment on this claim of yours Dr. Torley:

    At the present time there is tentative evidence that not only the universe, but also the multiverse itself (to which you referenced Alexander Vilenkin’s work) is the product of an Intelligent Designer, Who would then have to be in some sense “supernatural.” However, that’s still a long way from establishing the existence of: (a) an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being; (b) a personal God; (c) the God of classical theism; or (d) the God of the Bible, or any other book of revelation.

    Actually Dr. Torley if we look at reality itself there is abundant evidence for (a) an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being; (b) a personal God; (c) the God of classical theism; and (d) the God of the Bible.

    This evidence is best illustrated by showing how the Galileo affair has played out:

    The Galileo Affair and the true “Center of the Universe”

    The Galileo affair has certainly turned out to be far different, and far more nuanced, than the simplistic ‘science vs. religion’ narrative that is told in popular culture today.

    Often times an atheist will try to deride a person’s Christian belief by saying something along the lines of, ‘Well, we also don’t believe that the sun orbits the earth any longer do we?’, trying to mock the person’s Christian belief as some type of superstitious belief that is left over from the Dark Ages that had blocked the progress of science. Yet, those atheists who say such things fail to realize that the geocentric (Earth centered) model of the solar system was overturned by three devout Christians, Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, the three primary scientists involved in overturning the geocentric model, were all devout Christians and it certainly was not an atheist, nor some group of atheists, nor some other religion, involved in overturning the geocentric model. Johann Kepler (1571-1630), a devout Lutheran, was the mathematician who mathematically verified Copernicus’s, a loyal Catholic, heliocentric model for the solar system. Diana Severance (PhD, Rice University), a historian with broad experience teaching in universities and seminaries, stated this about Kepler

    “About the time that the Reformation was proclaiming Christ rather than the pope as the head of the Church, science was announcing that the sun rather than the earth was the center of our planetary system. A leader in this changing scientific perspective was the German scientist Johann Kepler.,,, Throughout his scientific work, Kepler never sought any glory for himself, but always sought to bring glory to God. At the end of his life his prayer was: I give you thanks, Creator and God, that you have given me this joy in thy creation, and I rejoice in the works of your hands. See I have now completed the work to which I was called. In it I have used all the talents you have lent to my spirit.”[1] [See also the commentary on the work of Stanley Jaki: The Origin Of Science; reference #16]

    In fact, on discovering the laws of planetary motion, Johann Kepler declared this very ‘unscientific’ thought:

    ‘O God, I am thinking your thoughts after you!’ [2]

    In 1610, it was the Italian scientist Galileo Galilee (1564-1642), who was also a dedicated Christian to his dying day despite his infamous conflict with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church [3,4], who empirically verified the Catholic Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’s (1473-1543) heliocentric theory. Thus it is undeniable fact of history that it was men of the Christian faith, and no other faith (especially atheistic faith), who overturned the geocentric model. In fact, it can also be forcefully argued that modern science had its foundation laid during the protestant reformation of the 16th century, and also when the Catholic church had its own private ‘mini-reformation’ from Greek influences over its central teachings during this era. The main point being that it can be forcefully argued that modern scientific thought itself, of a rational, approachable, intelligible, universe, a universe that could dare be comprehended by the mind of man, was brought to a sustained maturity when a more pure Christian influence was brought to maturity in the Christian church(es) of western culture and the stifling pagan influences were purged from it.[5,6,7,8]

    The heliocentric theory was hotly debated at that time, for it proposed a revolutionary idea for the 1600′s stating all the planets revolved around the sun. Many people of the era had simply, and wrongly, presumed everything in the universe revolved around the earth (geocentric theory), since from their limited perspective everything did seem to be revolving around the earth. As well the geocentric model seems, at first glance, to agree with the religious sensibilities of being made in God’s image, although the Bible never actually directly states the earth is the ‘center of the universe’.

    Job 26:7
    “He stretches the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing”

    Galileo had improved upon the recently invented telescope. With this improved telescope he observed many strange things about the solar system. This included the phases of Venus as she revolved around the sun and the fact Jupiter had her own satellites (moons) which revolved around her. Thus, Galileo wrote and spoke about what had become obvious to him; Copernicus was right, the planets do indeed revolve around the sun. It is now commonly believed that man was cast down from his special place in the grand scheme of things, for the Earth beneath his feet no longer appeared to be the ‘center of the universe’, and indeed the Earth is now commonly believed by many people to be reduced to nothing but an insignificant speck of dust in the vast ocean of space (mediocrity principle). Yet actually the earth became exalted in the eyes of many people of that era, with its supposed removal from the center of the universe, since centrality in the universe had a very different meaning in those days. A meaning that equated being at the center of the universe with being at the ‘bottom’ of the universe, or being in the ‘cesspool’ of the universe, as this following quote makes clear.

    In addition, contrary to what is commonly believed, we now know that in the eyes of its contemporaries, the Copernican Revolution glorified the Earth, making it an object worthy of study, in contrast to the preceding view, which demeaned the Earth. Ironically, the Copernican Revolution is almost invariably portrayed today as having demoted the Earth from a position at the center of the universe, the main concern of God, to being merely one of the planets. Danielson(2001) made a compelling case that this portrayal is the opposite of what really happened, i.e., that before the Copernican Revolution, Earth was seen not as being at the center, but rather at the bottom, the cesspool where all filth and corruption fell and accumulated. [9]

    Yet contrary to what is commonly believed by many people today of the earth being nothing but a insignificant speck of dust lost in a vast ocean of space, there is actually a strong case that can now be made for the earth being central in the universe once again.

    In what I consider an absolutely fascinating discovery, Einstein’s General Relativity has shown that 4-dimensional (4D) space-time, along with all energy and matter, was created in the ‘Big Bang’ and continues to ‘expand equally in all places’:

    There is no centre of the universe! According to the standard theories of cosmology, the universe started with a “Big Bang” about 14 thousand million years ago and has been expanding ever since. Yet there is no centre to the expansion; it is the same everywhere. The Big Bang should not be visualized as an ordinary explosion. The universe is not expanding out from a centre into space; rather, the whole universe is expanding and it is doing so equally at all places, as far as we can tell. [10]

    Thus from a 3-dimensional (3D) perspective, any particular 3D spot in the universe is to be considered just as ‘center of the universe’ as any other particular spot in the universe is to be considered ‘center of the universe’. This centrality found for any 3D place in the universe is because the universe is a 4D expanding hypersphere, analogous in 3D to the surface of an expanding balloon. All points on the surface are moving away from each other, and every point is central, if that’s where you live.

    So in a holistic sense, when taking into consideration the ‘Privileged Planet principle’ [11] which overturned the mediocrity principle, and which gives strong indication that the Earth is uniquely suited to host complex life in this universe, it may now be possible for the earth to be legitimately, once again, considered ‘central in the universe’. This intriguing possibility, for the earth to once again be considered central, is clearly illustrated by the fact the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), remaining from the creation of the universe, due to the 4-Dimensional space-time of General Relativity, forms a sphere around the earth. I find the best way to get this ‘centrality of the Earth in the universe” point across is to visualize it first hand. Thus I reference the first few minutes of this following video to clearly get this ‘centrality of the earth in the universe’ point across:

    Centrality of The Earth Within The 4-Dimensional Space-Time of General Relativity – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/8421879

    Moreover, this ‘circle’ of the CMBR that is found by modern science to encompass the Earth, from the remnant of the creation event that brought the entire universe instantaneously into being, was actually predicted in the Bible centuries earlier:

    Proverbs 8:27 (King James Version)
    “When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he drew a circle upon the face of the depth:”

    Proverbs 8:27 (New International Version)
    “I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,”

    But as compelling as it is to use the privileged planet principle, in conjunction with the centrality of the Earth in the 4-Dimensional (4D) space-time of General Relativity, to establish the centrality of the Earth in the universe, this method of establishing centrality for the earth falls short of explaining ‘true centrality’ in the universe and still does not fully explain exactly why the CMBR forms a ‘almost’ perfect sphere around the Earth. The primary reason for why the higher dimensional 4D space-time, governing the expansion of this 3-Dimensional universe, is insufficient to maintain 3D symmetry, all by itself, becomes clear if one tries to imagine radically different points of observation in the universe. Since the universe is shown to have only (approximately) 10^79 atoms to work with, once a person tries to imagine keeping perfect 3D symmetry, from radically different points of observation within the CMBR sphere, a person quickly finds that it is geometrically impossible to maintain such 3D symmetry of centrality within the CMBR sphere with finite 3D material particles to work with for each radically different 3D point of ‘imagined observation’ in the universe. As well,
    fairly exhaustive examination of the General Relativity equations themselves, acknowledges the insufficiency of General Relativity to account for the ‘completeness’ of 4D space-time within the sphere of the CMBR from different points of observation in the universe. [12] But if the 4D space-time of General Relativity is insufficient to explain ‘true centrality’ in the universe, what else is since we certainly observed centrality for ourselves within the sphere of the CMBR? Quantum Mechanics gives us the reason why. ‘True centrality’ in the universe is achieved by ‘universal quantum wave collapse of photons’, to each unique point of ‘conscious observation’ in the universe, and is the only answer that has adequate sufficiency to explain ’3D centrality’ that we witness for ourselves within the CMBR of the universe. Moreover because of advances in Quantum Mechanics, the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality. [13]
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    I find it extremely interesting, and strange, that quantum mechanics tells us that instantaneous quantum wave collapse to its ‘uncertain’ 3D state is centered on each individual conscious observer in the universe, whereas, 4D space-time cosmology (General Relativity) tells us each 3D point in the universe is central to the expansion of the universe. These findings of modern science are pretty much exactly what we would expect to see if this universe were indeed created, and sustained, from a higher dimension by a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal Being who knows everything that is happening everywhere in the universe at the same time. These findings certainly seem to go to the very heart of the age old question asked of many parents by their children, “How can God hear everybody’s prayers at the same time?”,,, i.e. Why should the expansion of the universe, or the quantum wave collapse of the entire universe, even care that you or I, or anyone else, should exist? Only Theism, Christian Theism in particular, offers a rational explanation as to why you or I, or anyone else, should have such undeserved significance in such a vast universe. [14]

    Psalm 33:13-15
    The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

    As to the fact that, as far as the solar system itself is concerned, the earth is not ‘central’, I find the fact that this seemingly insignificant earth is found to revolve around the much more massive sun to be a very fitting ‘poetic reflection’ of our true spiritual condition. Please reflect on this for a moment, in regards to God’s ‘kingdom of light’, are we not to keep in mind our lives are to be guided by the much higher purpose which is tied to our future in God’s kingdom of light? Are we not to avoid placing too much emphasis on what this world has to offer, since it is so much more insignificant than what heaven has to offer?

    Matthew 16:26
    And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

    Here is a quote from evangelist Louie Giglio which I think captures this ‘poetic reflection’ of our true spiritual condition

    You could fit 262 trillion earths inside (the star of) Betelgeuse. If the Earth were a golfball that would be enough to fill up the Superdome (football stadium) with golfballs,,, 3000 times!!! When I heard that as a teenager that stumped me right there because most of my praying had been advising God, correcting God, suggesting things to God, drawing diagrams for God, reviewing things with God, counseling God. – Louie Giglio [15]

    Thus, as is extremely fitting from the basic Christian view of reality, the centrality of the world in the universe, comparatively speaking, is found to be rather negligible, save for ‘the privileged planet’ principle which reflects God’s craftsmanship, whereas the centrality of each individual ‘conscious soul’ in the universe is found to be primary,,,

    ,,,”Is anything worth more than your soul?”
    Matthew 16:26

    References:

    1. Kepler: the Heavens Declare God’s Glory – Diana Severance (PhD, Rice University),
    http://www.christianity.com/Ch...../11630018/

    2. Edgar Andrews, BSc, PhD, DSc, FIM, CEng, CPhys, is Emeritus Professor of Material Science in the University of London
    http://www.biblicalcreation.or.....cs104.html

    3. Contest Winner! – Barry Arrington – July 27, 2011
    Please read the section titled ‘Primer on the Galileo Affair’ to see how far the popular myth of ‘science vs. religion’ is from the actual reality of the entire Galileo affair:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....st-winner/

    4. Why Galileo was Wrong, Even Though He was Right – Cornelius Hunter
    Excerpt: The Galileo Affair is far more complex than the simple-minded warfare thesis supposes. Yes Pope John Paul II issued a declaration in 1992 acknowledging the church’s errors. And the church was no doubt mistaken. But the church’s action in the Galileo Affair was far more complex than simply opposing a scientific finding out of religious conviction,,,
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....gh-he.html

    5. The Reformation and the Development of Modern Science BY E. L. HEBDEN TAYLOR
    http://www.allofliferedeemed.c.....cience.pdf

    6. Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons
    IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21)
    http://www.robkoons.net/media/.....ffd524.pdf

    7. Jerry Coyne on the Scientific Method and Religion – Michael Egnor – June 2011
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....47431.html

  4. 8. Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video – (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

    9. The Copernican Revolution – March 2010
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100317a

    10. Where is the centre of the universe?:
    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/.....entre.html

    11. The Privileged Planet (refutation of mediocrity principle) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWyPIzTOTw

    12. The Cauchy Problem In General Relativity – Igor Rodnianski
    Excerpt: 2.2 Large Data Problem In General Relativity – While the result of Choquet-Bruhat and its subsequent refinements guarantee the existence and uniqueness of a (maximal) Cauchy development, they provide no information about its geodesic completeness and thus, in the language of partial differential equations, constitutes a local existence. ,,, More generally, there are a number of conditions that will guarantee the space-time will be geodesically incomplete.,,, In the language of partial differential equations this means an impossibility of a large data global existence result for all initial data in General Relativity.
    http://www.icm2006.org/proceed.....l_3_22.pdf

    13. Three intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    14. Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US

    15. Louie Giglio – How Great Is Our God – Part 2 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfNiZrt5FjU

    16. The Origin of Science
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....rigin.html

    Here is a relevant short video

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    http://vimeo.com/34084462

  5. 8. Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video – (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

    9. The Copernican Revolution – March 2010
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100317a

    10. Where is the centre of the universe?:
    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/.....entre.html

    11. The Privileged Planet (refutation of mediocrity principle) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWyPIzTOTw

    12. The Cauchy Problem In General Relativity – Igor Rodnianski
    Excerpt: 2.2 Large Data Problem In General Relativity – While the result of Choquet-Bruhat and its subsequent refinements guarantee the existence and uniqueness of a (maximal) Cauchy development, they provide no information about its geodesic completeness and thus, in the language of partial differential equations, constitutes a local existence. ,,, More generally, there are a number of conditions that will guarantee the space-time will be geodesically incomplete.,,, In the language of partial differential equations this means an impossibility of a large data global existence result for all initial data in General Relativity.
    http://www.icm2006.org/proceed.....l_3_22.pdf

    13. Three intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    14. Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US

    15. Louie Giglio – How Great Is Our God – Part 2 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfNiZrt5FjU

    16. The Origin of Science
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....rigin.html

  6. A few more notes:

    It is also interesting to note that ‘higher dimensional’ mathematics had to be developed before Einstein could elucidate General Relativity, or even before Quantum Mechanics could be elucidated;

    The Mathematics Of Higher Dimensionality – Gauss and Riemann – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6199520/

    3D to 4D shift – Carl Sagan – video with notes
    Excerpt from Notes: The state-space of quantum mechanics is an infinite-dimensional function space. Some physical theories are also by nature high-dimensional, such as the 4-dimensional general relativity.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Eugene Wigner – 1960
    Excerpt: We now have, in physics, two theories of great power and interest: the theory of quantum phenomena and the theory of relativity.,,, The two theories operate with different mathematical concepts: the four dimensional Riemann space and the infinite dimensional Hilbert space,
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc.....igner.html

    Here is a relevant short video

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    http://vimeo.com/34084462

    More notes:

    Quantum Evidence for a Theistic Universe
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1agaJIWjPWHs5vtMx5SkpaMPbantoP471k0lNBUXg0Xo/edit

    New Scientist Asks: Is There Such A Thing As Reality?
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-435928

  7. At the present time there is tentative evidence that not only the universe, but also the multiverse itself is the product of an Intelligent Designer, Who would then have to be in some sense “supernatural.”

    Nature itself is unnatural.

  8. My position is that we cannot find evidence for a god, that the God Hypothesis is invalid and unacceptable, because “god” is an incoherent concept that has not been defined…

    God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

  9. So I think we already have proof of the supernatural.

    1. Place X number of intelligent people in a room who all speak the same language.
    2. Provide an accurate clock which can be seen by all.
    3. Tell them them to raise their right hands precisely Y seconds from NOW.

    Given our fore-knowledge of crowd behavior ( see for exapmle films of the Nazi army before Hitler ) we can assume such an experiment would be successful ( all right hands raised in the precise time as humanly measured ) and that X and Y are completely arbitrary ( space and time constraints allowing ).

    I contend there is no natural explanation for the above.

    1. From what we know about human beings, it was a voluntary response to raise the right hand ( they have the ability to NOT do). We can show this by before hand telling an arbitrary population of the group that they will receive 1 million dollars if they do not follow the command given.
    2. There is no conceivable natural way that the mere speaking of the words at T=0 formed a natural set of preconditions in all X people causing the raising of the right hand at T=Y. This solution is highly improbable.
    3. Therefore it only makes sense that the X people made a willful decision to tie some abstract future event ( the ticking of clock hands arbitrarily forward in time ) to a willful act of raising their hands.
    4. But booth of the above willful acts ( deciding to tie the act to a future event, and executing the act at that time ) being determined by an immaterial will lies outside the realm of the natural and are supernatural events.
    5. Thus the existence of the supernatural is proven.

  10. @JDH
    There are many examples which yield similar conclusions. A simple example involves meaning, and it is far from clear how we could give a naturalistic account of it. Take for example the spoken English word “nine” and the spoken German word “nein”. Both will be identical in terms of the vibrations in the air and yet since the meaning is very different, we will never be able to identify those vibrations with any particular meaning. The problem gets worse when we consider that exactly the same term, say, “nine” can be written on varieties of paper with varieties of ink, spray painted on a wall, carved in stone or into a tree (here the word is actually the absence of tree/stone and so is made of nothing!), or encoded in a massive variety of other physical or digital media while remaining exactly the same thing. What kind of physical/natural account could do justice to this?

    And when we plug that additional difficulty in examples like yours it’s hard to see what kind of naturalistic approach would make sense unless it was hedged around with so many caveats and provisos as to be worthless.

  11. djockovic,

    I am unfamiliar with your blog. I think I will enjoy reading some of your posts this weekend, if I get the time.

  12. Dr. Torley here is a cleaned of version of posts 3, 4, 5, & 6:

    The Galileo Affair and the true “Center of the Universe”
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BHAcvrc913SgnPcDohwkPnN4kMJ9EDX-JJSkjc4AXmA/edit

  13. DJH posted this:

    1. Place X number of intelligent people in a room who all speak the same language.
    2. Provide an accurate clock which can be seen by all.
    3. Tell them them to raise their right hands precisely Y seconds from NOW.

    As an experiment, this is incoherent. If you measure the result after issuing these instructions, the result would depend on what you mean by “tell”. Does it mean “do as I say” or “make your own mind up”. And it gets worse for you, because later you alter instruction 3 to:

    We can show this by before hand telling an arbitrary population of the group that they will receive 1 million dollars if they do not follow the command given.

    So now “Tell them them to raise their right hands” has been changed to “Tell them them not to raise their right hands if they want a million dollars” But what benefit is awarded to the handraisers? Nothing? A million? Hand lopped off?

    You have forgotten to control for one of the variables present in the system. At best, it seems you are measuring the likelihood that a benefit-seeking intelligence can choose between different outcomes – something that already has a very natural explanation.

    Your experimental report would fail peer-review, not because your hypothesis is necessarily wrong (though it isn’t clear what your hypothesis actually is), but because your methodology is faulty.

    All you have done is demonstrate that it is impossible to reason about poorly defined concepts. But we already know that.

  14. djockovic posted this:

    It’s pretty clear the human beings are supernatural in the strong sense of not being full governed by/predictable according to any set of in-principle discoverable physical laws.

    This is a seriously bizarre assertion. It is impossible in-principle to discover physical laws that fully account for human behaviour? Say what?

    I can certainly in-principle discover physical laws that account for the emergence of human behaviour from consciousness, and in turn from biology, biochemistry, chemistry and physics. Nothing could be easier in-principle.

    The difficulty lies in the experimentation required to turn the in-principle into scientific knowledge. But that is what scientists are out there hard at work attempting to do.

    Claiming that it is impossible in-principle is armwaving nonsense. You are simply restating the discredited argument that, because you can’t imagine something, it is therefore cannot be.

  15. @Timothya
    It’s not bizarre at all. It’s actually bizarre to claim the contrary. That’s because, eg, whatever it is the laws say I have to do in certain trivial circumstances (eg, say a number between 1 & 10), as soon as I hear the prediction I’ll pick something else. Thus humans are, in a strong sense, not fully governed by any in-principle discoverable laws.

    And to claim otherwise is just petulant nonsense. A kind of discredited argument that just because you really, really, really want something to be true, it is, it is, it is. It isn’t.

  16. I’m still puzzled that I have read no suggestion as to what would be responsible for light always hitting its observer, any observer, when travelling at a constant speed in the same direction, at its established, absolute speed.

    If not an omniscient, omnipotent, personal God, for sure, the… mustn’t say, ‘agency’… ‘para-agency’ for this naturalist’s version of Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, the divine stalker, could not be random chance.

    “‘I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
    I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
    I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
    I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
    Up vistaed hopes I sped;
    And shot, precipitated,
    Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
    From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
    But with unhurrying chase,
    And unperturbèd pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
    They beat—and a Voice beat
    More instant than the Feet—
    ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me’.”

    But what else could it possibly be? Ultra intellectually-advanced aliens wouldn’t be capable of it, either, would they?

    Some of you may recall my suggesting several weeks/months ago(time passes quickly when you’re 72) that the brighter atheist scientists would be reading the ‘writing on the wall’, and taking steps to distance themselves from the monolithic, atheist misconceptions of their more fearfully dogmatic and pedestrian brethren.

  17. timothya you claim that djock’s proposed experiment is bizarre, Welcome to the bizarredly befuddled club timothya for I have found the claimed evidence of atheists, such as yourself, for Darwinian evolution to be quite bizarre, even delusional in the extreme. You name the piece of evidence and I can show you instances where Darwinists have twisted the evidence around just so to support their presupposed conclusion. Dealing with the bizarro world of Darwinists is much like this following quote:

    Nobel laureate physicist that you sure won’t read on a Darwin pressure group Web site
    Excerpt: Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! -
    Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 168-69)

    You also make a bizarre claim here timothya:

    ‘something that already has a very natural explanation’ which you say that natural explanation is a ‘benefit seeking intelligence’

    Actually timothya, contrary to whatever simplistic notions you have of consciousness and free will choices arising from some material basis, the fact is that consciousness and free will exist in humans is one of the most profound mysteries there is:

    The Science of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – Nov. 18, 2012
    Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.
    Excerpt: Many scientists who study consciousness would agree with me that, in fact, the hard problem of consciousness is probably the one question facing modern science that is arguably forever beyond our knowing, at least in terms of a physicalist model of how the brain might create consciousness. In fact, they would agree that the problem is so profound that we don’t even know how to phrase a scientific question addressing it. But if we must decide which produces which, modern physics is pushing us in precisely the opposite direction, suggesting that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/n.....eaven.html

    In fact timothya despite whatever delusions you may have for ‘science’ explaining consciousness via the brain, the fact of the matter is that the ‘science’ is revealing a ever deeper and deeper levels of complexity for the brain that is nowhere near providing an account for consciousness in reductive mechanistic terms,,,

    Modular Biological Complexity – Christof Koch – August 2012
    Summary: It has been argued that the technological capability to fully simulate the human brain on digital computers will exist within a decade. This is taken to imply that we will comprehend its functioning, eliminate all diseases, and “upload” ourselves to computers (1). Although such predictions excite the imagination, they are not based on a sound assessment of the complexity of living systems. Such systems are characterized by large numbers of highly heterogeneous components, be they genes, proteins, or cells. These components interact causally in myriad ways across a very large spectrum of space-time, from nanometers to meters and from microseconds to years. A complete understanding of these systems demands that a large fraction of these interactions be experimentally or computationally probed. This is very difficult.,,,
    This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying technology (in computers used to try to understand the biological interactions) speeds up by an order of magnitude each year. ,,,
    Improved technologies for observing and probing biological systems has only led to discoveries of further levels of complexity that need to be dealt with. This process has not yet run its course. We are far away from understanding cell biology, genomes, or brains, and turning this understanding into practical knowledge.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cont.....31.summary

    In fact timothya, regardless of what simplistic notions you have in your atheistic worldview, the plain fact of the matter is that the equation/equations that describe quantum mechanics to us, (which is our best description we have for the foundation of reality), of necessity have starting assumptions for ‘conscious observation’ and ‘free choice’. To illustrate how deeply free will has been validated as completely non-deterministic in origination I reference the following

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!
    timothya you claim that djock’s proposed experiment is bizarre, Welcome to the bizarredly befuddled club timothya for I have found the claimed evidence of atheists, such as yourself, for Darwinian evolution to be quite bizarre, even delusional in the extreme. You name the piece of evidence and I can show you instances where Darwinists have twisted the evidence around just so to support their presupposed conclusion. Dealing with the bizarro world of Darwinists is much like this following quote:

    Nobel laureate physicist that you sure won’t read on a Darwin pressure group Web site
    Excerpt: Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! -
    Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 168-69)

    You also make a bizarre claim here timothya:

    ‘something that already has a very natural explanation’ which you say that natural explanation is a ‘benefit seeking intelligence’

    Actually timothya, contrary to whatever simplistic notions you have of consciousness and free will choices arising from some material basis, the fact is that consciousness and free will exist in humans is one of the most profound mysteries there is:

    The Science of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – Nov. 18, 2012
    Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.
    Excerpt: Many scientists who study consciousness would agree with me that, in fact, the hard problem of consciousness is probably the one question facing modern science that is arguably forever beyond our knowing, at least in terms of a physicalist model of how the brain might create consciousness. In fact, they would agree that the problem is so profound that we don’t even know how to phrase a scientific question addressing it. But if we must decide which produces which, modern physics is pushing us in precisely the opposite direction, suggesting that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/n.....eaven.html

    In fact timothya despite whatever delusions you may have for ‘science’ explaining consciousness via the brain, the fact of the matter is that the ‘science’ is revealing a ever deeper and deeper levels of complexity for the brain that is nowhere near providing an account for consciousness in reductive mechanistic terms,,,

    Modular Biological Complexity – Christof Koch – August 2012
    Summary: It has been argued that the technological capability to fully simulate the human brain on digital computers will exist within a decade. This is taken to imply that we will comprehend its functioning, eliminate all diseases, and “upload” ourselves to computers (1). Although such predictions excite the imagination, they are not based on a sound assessment of the complexity of living systems. Such systems are characterized by large numbers of highly heterogeneous components, be they genes, proteins, or cells. These components interact causally in myriad ways across a very large spectrum of space-time, from nanometers to meters and from microseconds to years. A complete understanding of these systems demands that a large fraction of these interactions be experimentally or computationally probed. This is very difficult.,,,
    This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying technology (in computers used to try to understand the biological interactions) speeds up by an order of magnitude each year. ,,,
    Improved technologies for observing and probing biological systems has only led to discoveries of further levels of complexity that need to be dealt with. This process has not yet run its course. We are far away from understanding cell biology, genomes, or brains, and turning this understanding into practical knowledge.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cont.....31.summary

    In fact timothya, regardless of what simplistic notions you have in your atheistic worldview, the plain fact of the matter is that the equation/equations that describe quantum mechanics to us, (which is our best description we have for the foundation of reality), of necessity have starting assumptions for ‘conscious observation’ and ‘free choice’. To illustrate how deeply free will has been validated as completely non-deterministic in origination I reference the following

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    of note:

    What does the term “measurement” mean in quantum mechanics?
    “Measurement” or “observation” in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto.
    http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=597846

  18. timothya you claim that djock’s proposed experiment is bizarre, Welcome to the bizarredly befuddled club timothya for I have found the claimed evidence of atheists, such as yourself, for Darwinian evolution to be quite bizarre, even delusional in the extreme. You name the piece of evidence and I can show you instances where Darwinists have twisted the evidence around just so to support their presupposed conclusion. Dealing with the bizarro world of Darwinists is much like this following quote:

    Nobel laureate physicist that you sure won’t read on a Darwin pressure group Web site
    Excerpt: Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! -
    Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 168-69)

    You also make a bizarre claim here timothya:

    ‘something that already has a very natural explanation’ which you say that natural explanation is a ‘benefit seeking intelligence’

    Actually timothya, contrary to whatever simplistic notions you have of consciousness and free will choices arising from some material basis, the fact is that consciousness and free will exist in humans is one of the most profound mysteries there is:

    The Science of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – Nov. 18, 2012
    Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.
    Excerpt: Many scientists who study consciousness would agree with me that, in fact, the hard problem of consciousness is probably the one question facing modern science that is arguably forever beyond our knowing, at least in terms of a physicalist model of how the brain might create consciousness. In fact, they would agree that the problem is so profound that we don’t even know how to phrase a scientific question addressing it. But if we must decide which produces which, modern physics is pushing us in precisely the opposite direction, suggesting that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/n.....eaven.html

    In fact timothya despite whatever delusions you may have for ‘science’ explaining consciousness via the brain, the fact of the matter is that the ‘science’ is revealing a ever deeper and deeper levels of complexity for the brain that is nowhere near providing an account for consciousness in reductive mechanistic terms,,,

    Modular Biological Complexity – Christof Koch – August 2012
    Summary: It has been argued that the technological capability to fully simulate the human brain on digital computers will exist within a decade. This is taken to imply that we will comprehend its functioning, eliminate all diseases, and “upload” ourselves to computers (1). Although such predictions excite the imagination, they are not based on a sound assessment of the complexity of living systems. Such systems are characterized by large numbers of highly heterogeneous components, be they genes, proteins, or cells. These components interact causally in myriad ways across a very large spectrum of space-time, from nanometers to meters and from microseconds to years. A complete understanding of these systems demands that a large fraction of these interactions be experimentally or computationally probed. This is very difficult.,,,
    This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying technology (in computers used to try to understand the biological interactions) speeds up by an order of magnitude each year. ,,,
    Improved technologies for observing and probing biological systems has only led to discoveries of further levels of complexity that need to be dealt with. This process has not yet run its course. We are far away from understanding cell biology, genomes, or brains, and turning this understanding into practical knowledge.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cont.....31.summary

    In fact timothya, regardless of what simplistic notions you have in your atheistic worldview, the plain fact of the matter is that the equation/equations that describe quantum mechanics to us, (which is our best description we have for the foundation of reality), of necessity have starting assumptions for ‘conscious observation’ and ‘free choice’. To illustrate how deeply free will has been validated as completely non-deterministic in origination I reference the following

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!
    timothya you claim that djock’s proposed experiment is bizarre, Welcome to the bizarredly befuddled club timothya for I have found the claimed evidence of atheists, such as yourself, for Darwinian evolution to be quite bizarre, even delusional in the extreme. You name the piece of evidence and I can show you instances where Darwinists have twisted the evidence around just so to support their presupposed conclusion. Dealing with the bizarro world of Darwinists is much like this following quote:

    Nobel laureate physicist that you sure won’t read on a Darwin pressure group Web site
    Excerpt: Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! -
    Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 168-69)

    You also make a bizarre claim here timothya:

    ‘something that already has a very natural explanation’ which you say that natural explanation is a ‘benefit seeking intelligence’

    Actually timothya, contrary to whatever simplistic notions you have of consciousness and free will choices arising from some material basis, the fact is that consciousness and free will exist in humans is one of the most profound mysteries there is:

    The Science of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – Nov. 18, 2012
    Can consciousness exist when the body fails? One neurosurgeon says he has seen it firsthand—and takes on critics who vehemently disagree.
    Excerpt: Many scientists who study consciousness would agree with me that, in fact, the hard problem of consciousness is probably the one question facing modern science that is arguably forever beyond our knowing, at least in terms of a physicalist model of how the brain might create consciousness. In fact, they would agree that the problem is so profound that we don’t even know how to phrase a scientific question addressing it. But if we must decide which produces which, modern physics is pushing us in precisely the opposite direction, suggesting that it is consciousness that is primary and matter secondary.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/n.....eaven.html

    In fact timothya despite whatever delusions you may have for ‘science’ explaining consciousness via the brain, the fact of the matter is that the ‘science’ is revealing a ever deeper and deeper levels of complexity for the brain that is nowhere near providing an account for consciousness in reductive mechanistic terms,,,

    Modular Biological Complexity – Christof Koch – August 2012
    Summary: It has been argued that the technological capability to fully simulate the human brain on digital computers will exist within a decade. This is taken to imply that we will comprehend its functioning, eliminate all diseases, and “upload” ourselves to computers (1). Although such predictions excite the imagination, they are not based on a sound assessment of the complexity of living systems. Such systems are characterized by large numbers of highly heterogeneous components, be they genes, proteins, or cells. These components interact causally in myriad ways across a very large spectrum of space-time, from nanometers to meters and from microseconds to years. A complete understanding of these systems demands that a large fraction of these interactions be experimentally or computationally probed. This is very difficult.,,,
    This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying technology (in computers used to try to understand the biological interactions) speeds up by an order of magnitude each year. ,,,
    Improved technologies for observing and probing biological systems has only led to discoveries of further levels of complexity that need to be dealt with. This process has not yet run its course. We are far away from understanding cell biology, genomes, or brains, and turning this understanding into practical knowledge.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cont.....31.summary

    In fact timothya, regardless of what simplistic notions you have in your atheistic worldview, the plain fact of the matter is that the equation/equations that describe quantum mechanics to us, (which is our best description we have for the foundation of reality), of necessity have starting assumptions for ‘conscious observation’ and ‘free choice’. To illustrate how deeply free will has been validated as completely non-deterministic in origination I reference the following

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

  19. Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    of note:

    What does the term “measurement” mean in quantum mechanics?
    “Measurement” or “observation” in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto.
    http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=597846

    Needless to say, finding ‘free will conscious observation’ to be ‘built into’ our best description of foundational reality, quantum mechanics, as a starting assumption, ‘free will observation’ which is indeed the driving aspect of randomness in quantum mechanics, is VERY antithetical to the entire materialistic philosophy which demands that a ‘non-teleological randomness’ be the driving force of creativity in Darwinian evolution! Also of interest:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiments, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Of note: since our free will choices figure so prominently in how reality is actually found to be constructed in our understanding of quantum mechanics, I think a Christian perspective on just how important our choices are in this temporal life, in regards to our eternal destiny, is very fitting:

    Is God Good? (Free will and the problem of evil) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd_1UAjeIA

    Ravi Zacharias – How To Measure Your Choices – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Op_S5syhKI

    You must measure your choices by the measure of
    1) eternity
    2) morality
    3) accountability
    4) charity

    of related note:

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

  20. Sorry for the double post and misprint, please disregard/skip the double print of the the same section in the post

  21. Bornagain posted this:

    You also make a bizarre claim here timothya:

    ‘something that already has a very natural explanation’ which you say that natural explanation is a ‘benefit seeking intelligence’

    No I didn’t. Not even close. If you want to quote someone, then get it right.

  22. Axel posted this:

    I’m still puzzled that I have read no suggestion as to what would be responsible for light always hitting its observer, any observer, when travelling at a constant speed in the same direction, at its established, absolute speed.

    Oh! Now I get it – this is a comedy thread. I did wonder why Roswell Man featured in the original post. You got me good this time.

  23. djockovic posted this:

    It’s not bizarre at all. It’s actually bizarre to claim the contrary.

    Read for comprehension. It is the in-principle part of your original contribution that it bizarre. Hint – in-principle laws don’t actually have to exist at the moment when we are considering the problem. They only have to be derivable in-principle. Which they are.

  24. No, in-principle derivable is exactly what they’re not. That is, no conceivable laws could allow you to predict what I’ll do five minutes after hearing the prediction. Thus there are no in-principle discoverable laws which could allow you to do this.

    And so, just saying there are, there are, there are, isn’t going to show that there are. You would need to deal with actual reason why there aren’t.

  25. Timothya. See who wins.

  26. I predict djockovic wins. Therefore he will lose. It’s a law of nature.

  27. Okie Dokie timothya, verbatim:

    At best, it seems you are measuring the likelihood that a benefit-seeking intelligence can choose between different outcomes – something that already has a very natural explanation.

    Please oh please do tell the “very natural explanation” for a mental choice.

  28. Bornagain posteed this:

    Please oh please do tell the “very natural explanation” for a mental choice.

    Certainly:

    http://learn.genetics.utah.edu.....y-play.pdf

  29. So timothya, I ask for the natural explanation of a mental choice and you give me a very general outline of physiological responses to perceived danger?

    tit for tat:

    Ben Carson – Physiological chain involved in the raising of your hand in answer to question – 2:39 mark of video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qdo6rT064KA

    As to evidence of the mind making a choice independent of the brain:

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether.
    http://books.google.com/books?.....8;lpg=PT28

    “As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Sir John Eccles – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1963

    Do Conscious Thoughts Cause Behavior? -Roy F. Baumeister, E. J. Masicampo, and Kathleen D. Vohs – 2010
    Excerpt: The evidence for conscious causation of behavior is profound, extensive, adaptive, multifaceted, and empirically strong.
    http://carlsonschool.umn.edu/assets/165663.pdf

    Anxiety May Shorten Your Cell Life – July 12, 2012
    Excerpt: These studies had the advantage of large data sets involving thousands of participants.
    If the correlations remain robust in similar studies, it would indicate that mental states and lifestyle choices can produce epigenetic effects on our genes.
    http://crev.info/2012/07/anxie.....cell-life/

    So are you going to toe the deterministic line of materialism timothya for a mental “free will” choices?

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

    Perhaps timothya you should think a lot more carefully on just how profoundly quantum mechanics has undermined the deterministic view of reality?

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    timothya, if my conscious choices really are merely the result of whatever state the material particles in my brain happen to be in(deterministic), as you hold, how in blue blazes are my choices instantaneously effecting the state of material particles even effecting the state of particles into the past? Such as in this following experiment illustrates:

    Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past – April 23, 2012
    Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a “Gedankenexperiment” called “delayed-choice entanglement swapping”, formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor’s choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. “We found that whether Alice’s and Bob’s photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured”, explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study.
    According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as “spooky action at a distance”. The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. “Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events”, says Anton Zeilinger.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-04-q.....ction.html

    Methinks you need to carefully examine just how compromised your position is timothya before you embarrass yourself further!

  30. Wonderful posts bornagain77!

    Peace and God Bless

  31. This talk of scientists accepting the possibility of the “supernatural” is a seductive line of discussion, but it is a quicksand. The concern I have with this line of discussion (at least insofar as it is used to support ID) is two fold:

    First, the fact that someone like Jerry Coyne says:

    At least I (and probably Sean) could envision theoretical cases where we’d see behavior as sporadic and lawless – and provisionally indicative of a god.

    doesn’t mean that he views the supernatural (however defined) as either (i) a common phenomenon, or (ii) anything that deserves much real-world attention at present. Indeed, his statement — that in theory one could envision cases — is almost precisely what I would say for things that I don’t have a lot of interest in pursuing and probably wouldn’t want much taxpayer research money devoted to. Say, things like paranormal events, the occult . . . I don’t know, maybe crop circles, UFO’s and the like. Sure, we can envision ways in which the evidence might lead us to draw a scientific conclusion about their “supernatural” origin. But it is not something that is likely to ever gain much public support as meriting attention.

    Second, the other problem with Coyne’s statement, is that he presupposes some kind of “sporadic and lawless” behavior. (Incidentally, Michael Denton made this same mistake early on.) This viewpoint, insofar as anyone attempts to apply it to ID, is problematic because it divides the world into “lawlike” behavior and “lawless” behavior, the latter becoming some poorly-defined surrogate for ‘chance’ or some as-yet-unexplained phenomenon. Yet ID argues that there is a real third causal explanation: intelligent agency. This focus on “lawless” behavior, as in the quotes from Carroll and Coyne, is a fundamental mistake.

    Surely no-one would argue that ID violates law or that we observe “sporadic and lawless” behavior in biology and, therefore, piggybacking off of Carroll’s or Coyne’s language, might potentially be subject to a design inference. That is not the design approach at all.

    Things like the paranormal or the occult or UFO’s (or dare I say it, spiritual experiences), are typically experienced by one person, or a very small number of persons. They often are, at best, sporadically documented. There is often no hard evidence left behind. That is not to say such experiences and phenomena aren’t real; again, I’m happy to join Carroll and Coyne in saying some of them could be, and could even — in theory — be scientifically proven to be.

    But such phenomena are very different from the design inference, which is based on universal, everyday, pervasive experience, leaves behind a physical instantiation, can be seen, viewed and studied by all, etc. To drive the point, ID is not based on someone noticing “sporadic, lawless behavior.” It is based on our direct realization that we are dealing with digital codes, and design principles, and semiotics, and functional specified information.

    Let’s be clear. ID gains no currency in the broader scientific community by saying, in effect, “See, even renowned scientist X says things that are ‘sporadic and lawless’ might be amenable to a scientific answer.” That puts the design inference on about the same footing as trying to demonstrate that your grandma has a ghost in her house.

    What ID instead needs in order to gain currency is for renowned scientist X to be shaken from his intellectual stupor and realize that intelligent agency is a real phenomenon. And not one that is rare, and unusual, and lawless, and experienced only once in a blue moon; but one that surrounds us, is pervasive, and is based on our uniform repeated experience.

    Ironically, the materialist who yearns for the discovery of some as-yet-undiscovered-and-hitherto-unexplainable law that can cause particles to come together and form all of biology has more in common with the idea of a “sporadic and lawless” phenomenon than does ID. ID is based on what we do know; not some strange “sporadic and lawless” phenomenon.

    Intelligent agency needs to be viewed not as some “in theory one could imagine” rare and unusual phenomenon, but as a real, live, possibility for everyday scientific explanation. That is the only way ID will gain currency; and is the only currency worth gaining.

  32. 32

    Axel,

    That’s a problem I’ve often posed to others. Even if each photon is represented by a wave, any single. photon wave can only collapse on one person’s retina. If you take the number of photon waves produced per second by any visible star that have a probabilistic trajectory that makes the wave available for collapse by earthbound observers, there would have to be billions of photon-waves available per second by any single star overlapping a very tiny location (Earth) to accommodate the chance that a considerable number of humans might look up at the night sky at the same time and see the stars.

    A further question is: on any given night, an upturned human eye might simultaneously have thousands of photon waves collapsing on it from stars; how does the eye (or the brain) know how to collapse each overlapping wave in a particular location as a particular star in a particular fixed position in the sky? Is there some kind of positional information embedded in each photon wave that is extracted by some processing system?

    It seems to me that what we should see at night is either just a darker version of the day sky, or a night sky with flickering points of light that have no apparent fixed positions.

  33. Hi, William.

    It seems to me that what we should see at night is either just a darker version of the day sky, or a night sky with flickering points of light that have no apparent fixed positions.

    Maybe we need rose-tinted telescopes. Reality has a way of conflicting with our imaginations.

  34. Alan Fox:

    Maybe we need rose-tinted telescopes. Reality has a way of conflicting with our imaginations.

    And evolutionists would know all about reality conflicting with their imaginations.

  35. timothya, what a bizarre imagination you have, to imagine that I invoked extra-terrestrials, other than in response to their invocation by your fellow-atheists, who are so desperate for any kind of creator, other than an all-knowing, all-powerful God.

    It is surely evident to you than that was the only reason vjt referred to them.

    Do you have any kind of answer to the question I mentioned, concerning light? It seems most evocative of a similitude between the divine mind and the human mind/person.

  36. Very interesting, William. It took me a while to understand both paragraphs, but it was worth persevering, I must say.

    Re your first paragraph, yes, to my mind, there is no question but that only an omniscient, omnipotent, PERSONAL God could be responsible.

    Regarding your second paragraph, that is a fascinating point, and now considering it, it seems to me that more than ‘physical’ photons would seem to be necessary.

    A sharing, a coinherence, in the mind of God, more specifically, the Holy Spirit, as in the Mystical Body of Christ, which seems to be a fairly common experience of people who have had an NDE, might be the answer, and consonant with my concluding remark, above, concerning the divine mand and our own; indeed, identifying something of the ‘mechanics’ of the connection.

    The other night, I was watching a YouTube clip about a Russian orthodox priest (by the look of his surrounding appurtenances), who had obtained a doctorate at the age of 14.

    Like another NDE’r, an American woman, if I remember correctly, he had been shown his whole past life both as the spectator he was then (during the NDE) and ‘through his own eyes’, as it were, at the time, simultaneously!!!! Perhaps, moving in and out of each at will.

    Moreover, he could go anywhere in the world at any time in history. I think Hamlet was ‘onto something’ with his fabled animadversion to Horatio concerning the wretched indigence of his imagination.

  37. @timothya @13

    Really. What are you thinking???? or do you really NOT think, but just emote nonsense because you assume as a materialist you must believe you are more “scientifically sophisticated” than us ignorant ID people. Whatever your motivation you managed to pettifog your way out of seeing the real point.

    Perhaps you are ignorant of the term “Gedanken experiment” try looking it up.

    You wrote: “As an experiment, this is incoherent.”

    I respond: “timothya did not comprehend I was not proposing an experiment.”
    There is no X people, no room, no clock, there is no measuring of results, there is no control for variables…they exist only in our mutual thoughts.

    I was not proposing an experiment to see if X number of people can respond to a command. So at no time was I interested in “…[ measuring ] the result.”

    Rather, I was assuming that any intelligent person would immediately realize from their common experience that all X people would be able to perform the command.

    My contention is not – let’s propose this experiment and see what percentage of X people perform it and the send the report out for peer-review.

    My contention is that all rational people already recognize that X out of X people would raise their hands. And N out of N of the population offered 1 million dollars to “not raise” would not. This is a given from universal experience and needs no experiment to be done.

    SO.. Given that we know already that X people would perform this, a materialist must come up with a reasonable explanation of how it happened.
    The only rational explanation that will explain what we already know would be the results of this gedanken experiment is that humans are able to exercise free will. A rational conclusion which your pettifogging rescued you from. I guess you need defenses like that to maintain your materialism in spite of the evidence.

  38. Eric Anderson,

    Thanks very much for a well-argued post. I’d like to go back to the words “sporadic and lawless.” The term “lawless” actually comes from Sean Carroll’s essay, Is Dark Matter Supernatural? in which he distinguishes between three categories of mysterious phenomena:

    1. The silent: things that have absolutely no effect on anything that happens in the world.

    2. The hidden: things that affect the world only indirectly, without being immediately observable themselves.

    3. The lawless: things that affect the world in ways that are observable (directly or otherwise), but not subject to the regularities of natural law.

    Carroll argues that the term “supernatural” should be reserved for things falling into the third category. Dark matter, by contrast, falls into the second:

    There’s no question that dark matter is part of science. It’s a hypothetical substance that obeys rules, from which we can make predictions that can be tested, and so on. Something doesn’t have to be directly observable to be part of science — it only has to have definite and testable implications for things that are observable. (Quarks are just the most obvious example.) Dark matter is unambiguously amenable to scientific investigation, and if some purportedly supernatural concept has similar implications for observations we do make, it would be subject to science just as well.

    I would also argue that the paranormal phenomena you allude to in your post may well fall into this category as well, if they prove to be real.

    Let’s go back to Carroll’s definition of the third category again: “The lawless: things that affect the world in ways that are observable (directly or otherwise), but not subject to the regularities of natural law.

    I would argue that intelligent design is indeed lawless, according to Carroll’s definition of “lawless.” It’s an observable event, but it’s not law-governed: Intelligent Design is distinguished from both chance and necessity (i.e. the laws of Nature) by the Explanatory Filter.

    You suggest that the term “lawless” is being used to refer to “some poorly-defined surrogate for ‘chance’ or some as-yet-unexplained phenomenon.” But if it’s an as-yet-unexplained phenomenon, then it’s “hidden,” on Carroll’s definition, rather than “lawless.” As for ‘chance’: I don’t think it would even make sense to speak of it as falling under the category of “things that affect the world in ways that are observable.” I wouldn’t even call chance a “thing” in the first place, and I certainly wouldn’t say that it “affects the world in ways that are observable.” Chance doesn’t affect the world, as if it were a causal agent; rather, chance is an effect without an identifiable cause.

    The term “sporadic” is taken from Jerry Coyne’s post, Sean Carroll on the “supernatural” (2 November 2010). Coyne nowhere defines the term, but the Free Dictionary defines it as follows: “Occurring at irregular intervals; having no pattern or order in time.”

    According to this definition, intelligent design is indeed sporadic, precisely because it is creative. “Sporadic” need not mean “rare”; it simply means “irregular.” Acts of design are not like the precisely timed behavior of a metronome.

    You write:

    …[I]ntelligent agency is a real phenomenon. And not one that is rare, and unusual, and lawless, and experienced only once in a blue moon; but one that surrounds us, is pervasive, and is based on our uniform repeated experience.

    We do indeed have “repeated” experiences of intelligent agency, as you claim, but that does not make it lawful or regular. Rather, it makes it common, or as you put it, “pervasive.” Lawless occurrences do not need to be rare. As for the term “uniform”: if you mean “publicly seen by everyone” then I’d accept the term, but if you mean “at regular intervals,” then I’d have to disagree.

    I’d also like to distinguish between intelligent agency and intelligent design. The former is indeed pervasive in everyday life. We see programs all around us, and we use them every day. But we don’t design them every day; only a few people do that, and even when these creative people do their daily work, they are much more likely to spend their time amending programs than designing new ones. Truly creative activity is relatively rare.

    Hopefully, this has cleared up some of the terminological confusion. I think we were talking at cross-purposes.

    I certainly agree that acts of Intelligent Design are nothing like ghostly appearances, which are subjective and not amenable to scientific study.

    Finally, regarding my comments in the post above on the relative infrequency of acts of biological Intelligent Design (e.g. the appearance of new families of organisms, or irreducibly complex structures), I did indeed maintain that these were uncommon occurrences, over geological time. However, I was making a point in connection with miracles. And I made that point only after noting in my post that “a supernatural act of intervention (or manipulation) need not be a miraculous event, as it may or may not contravene the laws of Nature.” I then went on to argue that the acts of Intelligent Design that we see in the biological realm are infrequent (occurring at most only once every 400 years), which means that even if they were miraculous, they would pose no threat to scientists conducting their laboratory experiments, as the laws of Nature would still continue to hold up 99.999999999999% of the time.

    I hope these clarifying comments of mine help. Thank you once again for your post.

  39. timothya:

    ‘The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—-a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.’
    - Albert Einstein (of this parish!)

    Poor hapless IDer Einstein, fossil of a bygone age. He couldn’t even grasp that if a whole universe can construct itself by random chance, a library would be a doddle. I always reckoned he was old-fashioned and over-rated. How about you, Timmy?

  40. Timothya – Now that everyone has thoroughly debunked your assertions – which I doubt has changed your mind one iota – I am just curious what kind of person could think as naively as you do. If you would please answer the following, solely for my own curiosity:

    What age category 15-20, 21 – 30, 31 – 40, 41 – 50, 51 or older.
    Major in college:
    Highest degree:
    Country of residence:
    Political preference:

    If you don’t want to answer that is fine, but I am just curious how such naive thinking is generated.

  41. vjtorley @38:

    Thanks for your kind words and helpful clarification. I agree that this may be partly a definitional issue. Perhaps I can ask a couple of follow-up questions.

    Can you give me some examples of the kinds of things that would fall in Carroll’s category #1? It seems to be defined in a way that makes it a null set (or, perhaps, a purely hypothetical set). Therefore, it is not really a category of “mysterious phenomena” because, by its own definition, there is no observed phenomenon that can be deemed mysterious.

    Category #2 seems to be referring to regular, law-like events. The only point is that they aren’t directly observable themselves, just their effects. Dark matter is mentioned. Perhaps black holes, certain sub-atomic particles, etc. could fall into this category. (If we used a relatively expansive approach to this category, lots of things would actually fall into this category.)

    The third category includes everything that isn’t subject to the regularities of natural law. Surely this would include things like paranormal phenomena, ghosts, and the like. I do agree with you that intelligent agency could fall in this category.

    Thus my question (and point): Do we have any reason to think that Carroll, Coyne or other well-known scientists are seriously willing to consider the possibility of intelligent design in biology just because they have been quoted at some point as saying that “in theory” there might be some kind of cause that is not subject to natural law? I guess it is a step in the right direction, but my hunch is that they are talking about rare and unusual phenomena, not the regularly-observed (I don’t mean law-like, just common) occurrence of intelligent agency affecting the world. I’m just not sure ID gets a lot of mileage trying to piggyback on someone’s “in-theory-we-might-be-able-to-detect-the-supernatural” comment.

    Finally, with respect, I have to disagree about how common intelligent design is. Every day millions of people write stories, paint paintings, build models, write blog posts, etc. Every one of these acts is an act of intelligent design. Oh, they might not all be individually impressive acts of design like a Mozart concerto, a Shakespeare play, or a new heart-valve. But they are most certainly creative acts.

    One of the practical perceptional challenges ID faces is that intelligent activity is so pervasive in our lives that people tend to take it utterly for granted and don’t give it a second thought. Only when we take time to think about the limited capability of natural processes, and what goes into design activity, do we stop and catch our breaths at the awesome wonder of the fact that we are moment-to-moment humble witnesses to creative intelligent activity.

  42. Hi Eric Anderson,

    You asked about Sean Carroll’s category #1: the silent. Here’s what he wrote about it:

    If something is in the first category, having absolutely no effect on anything that happens in the world, I would suggest that the right strategy is simply to ignore it. Concepts like that are not scientifically meaningful. But they’re not really meaningful on any other level, either. To say that something has absolutely no effect on how the world works is an extremely strong characterization, one that removes the concept from the realm of interestingness. But there aren’t many such concepts. Say you believe in an omnipotent and perfect God, one whose perfection involves being timeless and not intervening in the world. Do you also think that there could be a universe exactly like ours, except that this God does not exist? If so, I can’t see any way in which the idea is meaningful. But if not, then your idea of God does affect the world — it allows it to exist. In that case, it’s really in the next category.

    I agree with your list of phenomena that fall in category #2 (the hidden). Regarding paranormal phenomena, they may fall in category #2 or #3 (the lawless), depending on the phenomenon. If psychokinesis were a real phenomenon, for instance, I’d guess that it would fall under some law. Telepathy would be different.

    You wrote:

    I’m just not sure ID gets a lot of mileage trying to piggyback on someone’s “in-theory-we-might-be-able-to-detect-the-supernatural” comment.

    You’re probably right. However, a lot of scientists and philosophers refuse to even consider Intelligent Design, because they see it as falling outside the domain of legitimate science, as it allegedly violates the principle of Methodological Naturalism. What my post shows is that this is no longer a decisive objection: several leading scientists say that science can live without this principle, and that there can indeed be a science of the supernatural. An attitude like that has got to be good news for the Intelligent Design movement. It means that people are becoming more open.

    Finally, you make a convincing point regarding how common Intelligent Design is.

  43. Hi Bornagain77,

    Thanks very much for all your comments and links. I’ll check them out tonight.

  44. it is theoretically possible that scientists might have to invoke a supernatural explanation of some sort …

    Exactly. They have bent over backwards to imagine some crazy, extreme case, where, finally, the supernatural may be invoked, and you see this as your chance to jump in and claim some sort of victory.

    What if god pulled some cosmic part trick ? What if we all awoke and found we had 2 heads ? Same thing.

    I thought it was assumed that when Science claimed to spurn the supernatural, it was assumed the audience had sufficient common sense to realise they werent including such absurd situations.

    Lastly, could you you leave my post up for at least 10 mins before I am banned ? Thanks.

  45. Dr. Torley here is a cleaned of version of posts 3, 4, 5, & 6:

    The Galileo Affair and the true “Center of the Universe”
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BHAcvrc913SgnPcDohwkPnN4kMJ9EDX-JJSkjc4AXmA/edit

  46. ahem “cleaned up version”

  47. Dr. Torley – if you are still perusing this thread could you please comment on whether you think the ability of humans to schedule a physical action at some arbitrary point in the future demands the working of an immaterial mind not subject to natural forces.

    It seems to me that for some events, a long enough time period could be specified such that it would be impossible for the initial conditions to be set such that the future event followed by purely natural law.

    Thus for example, the physical vibrations of the air caused by a person voicing a command coupled with the immediate electrical impulses in the listener’s brain could not possibly cause the event to happen at the selected arbitrary time.

  48. I disagree with Torley on some major points here.

    First, he cites three scientists who he says oppose methodological naturalism. But if you look at the details of what they’re saying, not a one of them really helps Torley’s claims.

    For Sean Carroll, the ‘supernatural’ is defined as ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’. First, that definition would fail anyway, since it’s trivial to imagine ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ that was itself “natural”. Second, if it’s fundamentally lawless behavior, then it would be contradictory for science to investigate it – since science is reliant on predictability and laws. But notice – Carroll is at once saying that the supernatural is ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ in one piece, while in another piece he’s arguing that the supernatural can only be included in science if it helps scientists describe the world. I maintain that these standards are inconsistent.

    Worse, here’s another standard from Carroll:

    For example, it could (in some hypothetical world) turn out to be impossible to fit the data without invoking God.

    This is nonsense. For any given observation, it’s in principle possible to ‘fit the data’ without invoking God. You can invoke just about anything you like, from ‘unknown natural laws that we haven’t discovered yet’ to ‘our observations are faulty’ to ‘we have brain damage’ to otherwise. So the impossibility standard, fails.

    For PZ Myers, the seeming agreement doesn’t help Torley’s case: even if you read Myers as saying he believes that it’s possible for science to discover the supernatural (and I see him give no definition of what qualifies as ‘supernatural’ other than ‘outside the current understanding of science’ – which would make the history of science into the history of the discovery of the supernatural), he doesn’t believe any evidence for God’s acts is possible even in principle. His one out is ‘unless you define god as a being who does such and such with healing when…’ – a definition Torley’s not going to accept.

    Jerry Coyne, meanwhile, engages in a dodge: what he does is say that if X came to pass (with X being something along the lines of ‘A 900 foot Jesus appears to me and starts healing amputees left and right’), he would accept such an event as evidence of God’s existence, and become a provisional theist. But note that, like with Sean Carroll, Coyne isn’t laying out anything close to a research project for ‘investigating the supernatural scientifically’ – the furthest he gets is his saying that he would accept event X as evidence for God, and become a provisional theist. But that does nothing to show that the supernatural can be investigated by science. At absolute best, it’s a subjective statement on Coyne’s part – a judgment call.

    So no, I dispute Torley’s claims here about the support he claims to be finding for the idea that the supernatural/God can be investigated by science, or that science isn’t restricted to methodological naturalism. For Sean Carroll, he defines ‘the supernatural’ in such a way that would make it apparently opaque to scientific investigation from the outset. For PZ Myers, God – certainly God as Torley understands Him – cannot be supposed or inferred by science. For Coyne, he only makes a statement of what would convince him of God’s existence, and describes no way for this to be mixed with ‘science’, unless “encountering something which makes one believe X” cashes out to “scientific evidence of X”.

    Dr. Sheldon’s criticisms of front-loading are entirely moot with respect to God, precisely because Sheldon’s criticisms only would apply to beings who are themselves ‘in time’. If God is outside of time, as I believe even Torley maintains, then actualizing a front-loaded universe is trivial. Torley would have to maintain that God doesn’t know the outcome of quantum events, or of phenomena to which chaos-theory applies, to argue that front-loading is not feasible for God.

    Finally, Torley says this about testing for supernatural agents:

    To satisfy condition (i), any highly specific effect will do; and to satisfy condition (ii), any effect which violates the laws of Nature will do. So would detailed foreknowledge of the future.

    Again, this runs counter to Sean Carroll’s (and apparently Jerry Coyne’s) requirement that the operations of the supernatural be ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ – you don’t get much more lawful than the orderly, predicted outcome of a future event.

    Further, Torley says that this must ‘violate the laws of Nature’. This is a common claim, but also a major mistake for the following reason: a tremendous amount of modern scientific knowledge is a violation of the laws of Nature as was previously understood. The history of science is the history of various laws of nature and scientific understandings being tweaked or overturned altogether.

    Sean Carroll even lists one example: previously, scientists had a clockwork view of nature, one of a Newtonian universe. Discoveries in the quantum world were taken as running counter to Newtonian laws and views. Did scientists then conclude that a law of nature was violated?

    No. They concluded that they misunderstood the laws of nature previously, and changed them accordingly. And they could do that for each and every apparent ‘violation of the laws of nature’ that ever comes to pass: science is incapable of determining whether event X violated a law of nature itself, or merely illustrated that a previous understanding of a law of nature was flawed. In each and every case, in principle, you could just revise the laws of nature.

  49. Hi JDH,

    I agree with you that the intelligent behavior of human beings is not completely predictable in advance, and I would also say there’s a point in time before any observed intelligent behavior, when predictions are impossible. Additionally, I reject determinism: I don’t believe that material events determine the propositional content of our thoughts or choices. However, I don’t think this makes volition supernatural, and I don’t equate “natural” with “material” or “physical.” I also think that while our thoughts and choices are not determined, they nevertheless have (non-determining) physical causes, to some degree. I hope that helps.

  50. Hi nullasalus,

    Thank you for your thoughtful critique of my post. I’ll address your weightiest objection up-front. You quote Sean Carroll as writing that “it could (in some hypothetical world) turn out to be impossible to fit the data without invoking God,” and you comment:

    You can invoke just about anything you like, from ‘unknown natural laws that we haven’t discovered yet’ to ‘our observations are faulty’ to ‘we have brain damage’ to otherwise. So the impossibility standard, fails.

    If an observed effect contravenes a law of Nature that holds throughout the cosmos and is well-tested at all levels of physical reality, then as I argued above, only a supernatural Agent could account for that. I then nominated the laws of thermodynamics as excellent candidates for exceptionless natural laws.

    Now, you could try to wiggle out of an observation which contravened the laws of thermodynamics, by postulating (i) arbitrary exceptions to those laws (e.g. maybe the law doesn’t work if the test is performed on February 29, in Boston), or (ii) some unknown fault in your observation procedures, or (iii) something unknown (e.g. magnetic field) which is distorting your mind and making you think that you’re observing a violation of the laws of Nature when actually you’re not. But this is what kairosfocus refers to as selective hyper-skepticism, rather than proper scientific skepticism. If I can’t trust my mind or my memory, then I can’t do science. If I can’t trust a result I get by following standard observation procedures, then once again, that undermines the possibility of doing science. And if I have to suppose that the laws of Nature have arbitrary exceptions, then how can I trust scientific procedures to work? Anything might go wrong.

    Your objection also overlooks the fact that a sheer preponderance of data which is at variance with the laws of Nature can shift the burden of proof away from those affirming the supernatural, placing the onus instead on those denying it. As Carroll writes in connection with the Resurrection:

    But if this kind of thing happened all the time, the situation would be dramatically different; the burden on the “unreliable data” explanation would become harder and harder to bear, until the preference would be in favor of a theory where people really did rise from the dead.

    Your strongest objection to this procedure comes at the end of your post:

    …[S]cience is incapable of determining whether event X violated a law of nature itself, or merely illustrated that a previous understanding of a law of nature was flawed. In each and every case, in principle, you could just revise the laws of nature.

    I have to disagree here. Whatever the laws of Nature are, there’s one thing that scientists absolutely insist on: they are written in the language of mathematics. Consequently, if they discover a violation of the laws of Nature, the conditions for whose occurrence cannot be described in mathematical language, then that effect necessarily falls outside any law.

    Let me illustrate. Scientists exploring the Amazon come across two amazing pieces of metal left there by a pre-Columbian civilization. One piece of metal turns blue whenever the person standing nearest to it says “I love metallic blue,” in any language, but under no other conditions does it turn blue. The other piece of metal turns red whenever one of the explorers (Jack) stands next to it, but careful testing shows that no physical property of Jack’s – not his height, weight, age or even his DNA – can explain this change. A regularity which makes reference to semantic utterances or to specific individuals is no longer a mathematical statement, and hence no longer a law. These are fanciful examples, to be sure, but what they show is that the scientific concept of a law of Nature isn’t infinitely elastic.

    You also take issue with Sean Carroll’s definition of “lawless”:

    For Sean Carroll, the ‘supernatural’ is defined as ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’. First, that definition would fail anyway, since it’s trivial to imagine ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ that was itself “natural”. Second, if it’s fundamentally lawless behavior, then it would be contradictory for science to investigate it – since science is reliant on predictability and laws.

    While science is reliant on predictability and laws covering at least some kinds of observed effects (otherwise the world would appear to be a “buzzing blooming mess”), it certainly doesn’t follow that science can only investigate phenomena that are predictable and law-governed. As Carroll points out, scientists have adjusted well to the discovery of quantum phenomena, which are not predictable (except in a statistical sense).

    You write that “it’s trivial to imagine ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ that was itself ‘natural’.” I think you are confusing “lawless” with “non-deterministic” or “chaotic.” But that’s not how Carroll defines the term. He defines it as follows:

    The lawless: things that affect the world in ways that are observable (directly or otherwise), but not subject to the regularities of natural law. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

    Quantum phenomena are still subject to statistical regularities. They are not lawless, in Carroll’s sense. An entity whose behavior was not covered by any kind of natural regularity could hardly be termed natural, in any case. It would have to be supernatural.

    Finally, Carroll provides an example of a phenomenon that would convince him of the supernatural, if it occurred often enough: miraculous cures as the result of prayer.

    You correctly point out (as I did, in my post) that P.Z.Myers “doesn’t believe any evidence for God’s acts is possible even in principle.” But you also doubt his openness to the supernatural, despite the fact that he wrote:

    I do agree with Coyne on one thing: I also reject Shermer’s a priori commitment to methodological naturalism.

    That sounds pretty conclusive to me. I don’t think he was merely saying here that scientists are capable of discovering phenomena that are “outside the current understanding of science.” Shermer would happily admit that; as you point out, it happens all the time. If Myers rejects methodological naturalism as an a priori postulate, then he must hold it on the basis of a posteriori evidence – which means that countervailing evidence, if sufficiently massive, could change his mind on the reality of the supernatural.

    You also claim that Jerry Coyne isn’t serious about the scientific investigation of supernatural phenomena. But look at what he wrote:

    I’ve previously described the kind of evidence that I’d provisionally accept for a divine being, including messages written in our DNA or in a pattern of stars, the reappearance of Jesus on earth in a way that is well documented and convincing to scientists, along with the ability of this returned Jesus to do things like heal amputees. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    In other words, he’s talking about phenomena that can be investigated scientifically – at least to the extent of verifying that they actually occurred and go beyond the power of any known agent. That’s a good start.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that Carroll, Myers and Coyne all explicitly stated that they don’t believe that science has an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, so that does show that they believe that “science isn’t restricted to methodological naturalism.”

    Next, you turn to Dr. Sheldon’s arguments against front-loading, and you write:

    Dr. Sheldon’s criticisms of front-loading are entirely moot with respect to God, precisely because Sheldon’s criticisms only would apply to beings who are themselves ‘in time’. If God is outside of time, as I believe even Torley maintains, then actualizing a front-loaded universe is trivial.

    I do of course believe that God is timeless. But I would maintain that God Himself cannot make a front-loaded quantum mechanical universe. Dr. Sheldon writes of Laplacean determinism:

    First quantum mechanics, and then chaos-theory has basically destroyed it, since no amount of precision can control the outcome far in the future. (The exponential nature of the precision required to predetermine the outcome exceeds the information storage of the medium.)

    The point here is that not even God can make the indeterminate generate the determinate. If the initial conditions of the cosmos are inherently vague, even to a small degree, then at some point down the track, prediction on the basis of those initial conditions breaks down. Of course you might say that the initial conditions are not vague, and that God knows their values precisely. But then you’re ascribing extra information to God, of which no trace exists in the cosmos. That’s not a front-loaded cosmos; that’s a front-loaded God.

    Another alternative would be to say that God knows what happens in a quantum mechanical universe by determining the values of wave functions whenever they collapse. But that’s not a front-loaded universe; that’s a universe which God continually manipulates.

    The same considerations apply to Turing determinism, which Dr. Sheldon also considers. The only kind of universe that can be pre-programmed to produce specific results without fail and without the need for further input is a universe without any kind of feedback, real-world contingency or fractals – and hence, no organic life. Again, the problem here is not God’s omniscience; it’s the inherent limitations of what programming can accomplish.

    I believe that God is not bound by the laws of physics. But He is bound by the laws of logic and mathematics – for these represent the very laws of thought itself.

    Finally, you take issue with my proposed test for supernatural agents, which invokes two simple conditions:

    To satisfy condition (i), any highly specific effect will do; and to satisfy condition (ii), any effect which violates the laws of Nature will do. So would detailed foreknowledge of the future.

    You write:

    Again, this runs counter to Sean Carroll’s (and apparently Jerry Coyne’s) requirement that the operations of the supernatural be ‘fundamentally lawless behavior’ – you don’t get much more lawful than the orderly, predicted outcome of a future event.

    Further, Torley says that this must ‘violate the laws of Nature’. This is a common claim, but also a major mistake for the following reason: a tremendous amount of modern scientific knowledge is a violation of the laws of Nature as was previously understood.

    In reply: detailed foreknowledge of the future, no matter how orderly and well-predicted it may be, is not lawful (or law-governed) unless it can be justified mathematically. As I argued above, for scientists ever since Galileo, the laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.

    It is indeed true that much of our modern scientific knowledge violates the laws of Nature as previously understood, but that does not mean that all of our scientific knowledge (of what’s naturally possible and what’s not) is revisable, in principle. Some things in life are known to be impossible, regardless of the time in which we live. One such certainty is that no force of Nature is capable of reassembling and reanimating a decaying corpse. A scientist could explain why this can’t happen naturally in mathematical language, by invoking the second law of thermodynamics: the improbabilities involved are just too great.

    I should add that typically, scientific discoveries which overturn old certitudes do so by putting new ones in their place, which are even more set in stone than their predecessors. Quantum mechanics has been tested to more than ten decimal places, for instance.

    In short: I’m optimistic that science is capable of discovering and verifying that certain specific effects do fall outside the laws of Nature. And if this is so, then science is capable of establishing the existence of a supernatural Agent.

    Would you call such an Agent God? You might, if you liked. But as I said at the beginning of my post, that’s still a long way from “(a) an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being; (b) a personal God; (c) the God of classical theism; or (d) the God of the Bible, or any other book of revelation.”

    I hope that helps.

  51. vjtorley,

    If an observed effect contravenes a law of Nature that holds throughout the cosmos and is well-tested at all levels of physical reality, then as I argued above, only a supernatural Agent could account for that. I then nominated the laws of thermodynamics as excellent candidates for exceptionless natural laws.

    Exceptionless? Not according to Sean Carroll: Despite the importance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is not absolute. Statistical mechanics implies that, given sufficient time, systems near equilibrium will spontaneously fluctuate into lower-entropy states, locally reversing the thermodynamic arrow of time.

    How about conservation of energy? A bit more tricky, but Carroll again denies it’s without exception.

    Now, I’m sure you can respond that these are quite specific or bounded circumstances – yes, Carroll is talking about a ‘local reversal of the arrow of time’, but surely in the right situation, etc… However, what I want to show here is that, at least as far as Carroll puts it, he doesn’t view these laws as exceptionless.

    Now, you could try to wiggle out of an observation which contravened the laws of thermodynamics, by postulating (i) arbitrary exceptions to those laws (e.g. maybe the law doesn’t work if the test is performed on February 29, in Boston), or (ii) some unknown fault in your observation procedures, or (iii) something unknown (e.g. magnetic field) which is distorting your mind and making you think that you’re observing a violation of the laws of Nature when actually you’re not. But this is what kairosfocus refers to as selective hyper-skepticism, rather than proper scientific skepticism.

    First of all, Carroll already allows for what he terms as exceptions to the exceptionless law. So that’s worth keeping in mind.

    Second, observations themselves wouldn’t ‘contravene the laws of thermodynamics’ – interpretations of those observations would. Your apparent violation of the law of thermodynamics could, in principle, have a non-violating explanation you simply have not found yet – just as we supposedly didn’t recently observe a particle going faster than the speed of light. Instead we had a measurement that was interpreted as such. People held out – in that case rightly, since another explanation was found in the end.

    Now, you say ‘hyperskepticism’ is in play. But at what point do you establish someone is being hyperskeptical? You and I and perhaps everyone else have our limits, but those are not ‘scientific’ limits. They’re subjective limits. Judgment calls.

    You should know this better than anyone else. How many times have you seen people, even scientists, reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason? How many have suggested that yes, something could indeed come from nothing without cause? How many cop to ‘hyperskepticism’ with regards to intentionality and materialism? How about the hard problem of consciousness and materialism? You’re Catholic – how do you judge reactions to the Miracle of the Sun?

    And keep in mind, we live in an age where scientists are willing to go much, much further than they were in the past when it comes to getting imaginative with explanations. Eugene Koonin is willing to cite infinite universes to explain the origin of life, while other scientists mention that anything that can happen, will happen, in an infinite multiverse. Michael Shermer insists that any seeming miracle that takes place would, at best, be ascribed to aliens. Others would insist we’re living in a computer simulation. The list goes on.

    And in all those cases, hyperskepticism is denied. Maybe the world is just odd, is the response. Or maybe a proper explanation is out there and we just need more time – promissory materialism/skepticism, another thing you should be familiar with.

    My point in bringing all this up is that what qualifies as hyperskepticism itself isn’t some rapt scientific measure. It too is a judgment call, a thing of subjectivity. Now, you can support it and argue for it, but at the end of the day nothing can ever stop someone from playing the card of, ‘There’s probably an explanation, I just haven’t found it. Maybe it will take 50 years. Maybe 150. Maybe 1000. Maybe we’ll never know the answer – we’re mere humans, our knowledge has limits.’

    Your objection also overlooks the fact that a sheer preponderance of data which is at variance with the laws of Nature can shift the burden of proof away from those affirming the supernatural, placing the onus instead on those denying it. As Carroll writes in connection with the Resurrection:

    Carroll is saying that if resurrections took place fairly often, then yes, denying the resurrection would be harder and harder to do.

    First of all, I’m surprised you don’t see the obvious problem with this: if resurrections commonly took place, then would Christ’s resurrection really seem like a miracle?

    Second, there’s a subtler issue at work. Yes, if resurrections happened “all the time”, then denying a resurrection would be difficult. But affirming it as supernatural would also become difficult. Carroll puts this in terms of laws of physics and biology – but, if resurrections happened all the time in the past, the defined ‘law of biology’ wouldn’t be such that resurrections were claimed to violate it, much less physics. Even if God was the source, it would be and could be framed as yet another aspect of nature we’re seeking to explain, and just haven’t been able to do so yet.

    Whatever the laws of Nature are, there’s one thing that scientists absolutely insist on: they are written in the language of mathematics. Consequently, if they discover a violation of the laws of Nature, the conditions for whose occurrence cannot be described in mathematical language, then that effect necessarily falls outside any law.

    You proceed to give examples with objects that turn certain colors based on certain conditions. But here’s the biggest problem with the examples you give – I emphasize the problematic point:

    One piece of metal turns blue whenever the person standing nearest to it says “I love metallic blue,” in any language, but under no other conditions does it turn blue.

    Just one problem: you can never test ‘all the conditions’. The speculation never has to end and – just like with the other examples I brought up – the question of whether what’s being dealt with could be described mathematically never gets a decisive ‘no’, but instead a ‘not so far’. Once again, you can insist that whoever is denying your conclusion is being hyperskeptical – with all the problems I mentioned comes with that.

    Quantum phenomena are still subject to statistical regularities. They are not lawless, in Carroll’s sense. An entity whose behavior was not covered by any kind of natural regularity could hardly be termed natural, in any case. It would have to be supernatural.

    Once again, you appeal to ‘not covered by any kind’, but that’s never something demonstrated. The quantum example only helps prove my point: under classical mechanics, quantum physics could have rightly been termed unnatural, perhaps even supernatural. So what happens once quantum physics is established? The word natural gets updated. Just as gravity got updated from an ‘occult power’ in the past to a natural one.

    Finally, Carroll provides an example of a phenomenon that would convince him of the supernatural, if it occurred often enough: miraculous cures as the result of prayer.

    Where does Carroll say this? What I see Carroll saying is that scientists would investigate such, and at first attempt to explain such things ‘naturally’. He does lead into the ‘if it were common enough’ statement re: resurrections, but I mentioned the problems there.

    If Myers rejects methodological naturalism as an a priori postulate, then he must hold it on the basis of a posteriori evidence – which means that countervailing evidence, if sufficiently massive, could change his mind on the reality of the supernatural.

    At best, if we go with your view, it means that Myers claims that ‘sufficiently massive’ evidence could change his mind. I suggest some healthy skepticism there, considering he flat out admits that no amount of evidence could change his mind about god.

    Myers would need to define just what he means by ‘supernatural’, in a way beyond ‘something outside what’s accepted as natural by scientists currently’.

    Also, I want to point something out: there is no incompatibility between someone being ‘hyperskeptical’, and someone claiming that ‘sufficiently massive evidence’ would change their minds.

    To give an example: imagine a being visited earth, cured amputees, wrote their name on the moon, and then departed. Rather similar to Jerry Coyne’s qualification for his believing in God. Except one atheist says, “I didn’t see that being raise anyone from the dead. Until I see that, I’m not convinced.”

    Is the person hyperskeptical? If so, well, you understand my point about evidence.

    In other words, he’s talking about phenomena that can be investigated scientifically – at least to the extent of verifying that they actually occurred and go beyond the power of any known agent. That’s a good start.

    What he says is ‘well documented and convincing to scientists’. And even there, Coyne’s going to have to alter his words, since if ‘convincing to scientists’ was the only bar he’d have to cop to Intelligent Design – there are scientists, if in the minority, who find the evidence convincing. Do you think Coyne will find that acceptable?

    I believe that God is not bound by the laws of physics. But He is bound by the laws of logic and mathematics – for these represent the very laws of thought itself.

    I’ll back off on this one and merely say I disagree with how you term it. If a universe is going to play out in way X, even if no trace of this information is in universe X, but God knows it shall play out this way, I think it’s fair to say the universe is front-loaded.

    In reply: detailed foreknowledge of the future, no matter how orderly and well-predicted it may be, is not lawful (or law-governed) unless it can be justified mathematically. As I argued above, for scientists ever since Galileo, the laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.

    Sure, and up until the 20th century, our scientific models were assumed with a classical/deterministic background. And until Newton, I believe, they excluded forces like gravity. I’ve recently been reading Brian Greene’s multiverse book. Here’s a great quote.

    No one knows whether it will take years, decades, or even longer for observational and theoretical progress to extract detailed predictions from any given multiverse. Should the current situation persist, we’ll face a choice. Do we define science—“respectable science”—as including only those ideas, realms, and possibilities that fall within the capacity of contemporary human beings on Planet Earth to test or observe? Or do we take a more expansive view and consider as “scientific” ideas that might be testable with technological advances we can imagine achieving in the next hundred years? The next two hundred years? Longer? Or do we take a still more expansive view? Do we allow science to follow any and all paths it reveals, to travel in directions that radiate from experimentally confirmed concepts but that may lead our theorizing into hidden realms that lie, perhaps permanently, beyond human reach?

    There’s no clear-cut answer. It is here that personal scientific taste comes to the fore. I understand well the impulse to tether scientific investigations to those propositions that can be tested now, or in the near future; this is, after all, how we built the scientific edifice. But I find it parochial to bound our thinking by the arbitrary limits imposed by where we are, when we are, and who we are. Reality transcends these limits, so it’s to be expected that sooner or later the search for deep truths will too.

    My taste is for the expansive. But I draw the line at ideas that have no possibility of being confronted meaningfully by experiment or observation, not because of human frailty or technological hurdles, but because of the proposals’ inherent nature.

    So, Greene is suggesting yet another revision to what counts as scientific. Now, I suppose an ID proponent could pick this up and run with it – if the requirement to observe or test something right now isn’t necessary for something to be scientific, then some of the stock objections to ID (even if they normally fail) go away. But it does help to show the elasticity of science and what is ‘natural’.

    In short: I’m optimistic that science is capable of discovering and verifying that certain specific effects do fall outside the laws of Nature. And if this is so, then science is capable of establishing the existence of a supernatural Agent.

    I’ve already explained my problems with this kind of thinking, but I’ll summarize here: ‘laws of nature’ are not known perfectly, they are modeled. They have been overturned repeatedly, and each time the new model is called natural. In principle, this can happen with every case – or people can beg off indefinitely, saying science needs more time, or an explanation is out there and simply remains to be found, or, etc. And the willingness of one person to say ‘Okay, if I saw this, I’d say that God/the supernatural did it’ does not add up to a ‘scientific test of the supernatural/God’, even if that person is a scientist. It’s a statement of their subjective view.

    I’d add, even your definitions of supernatural are suspect. Why should anyone accept that the supernatural cannot be lawlike and regular? Because if that were accepted, then possibly some established phenomena would therefore be supernatural? And what’s the problem there? Maybe you’re saying you’re trying to work with the definitions of determined skeptics to see how much progress you can make with them. But in that case you’re letting the skeptics call the shots, and making their demands seem reasonable – which seems ill-considered. And if that IS the goal, then you’re setting yourself to accept ‘hyperskepticism’ and make it seem reasonable.

    I’m trying to make a lot of points here, but here’s one for me to conclude this long comment on. Instead of trying to meet the atheists – indeed, committed public atheist activists – on their own terms, I suggest you simply stick with a defense of your own inferences. For Intelligent Design, in large part this entire discussion is pointless, especially now that ID proponents are outright stating that their views don’t violate methodological naturalism anyway. Now, I’d conditionally agree that ID still may not be science – but that would only suggest that science is incapable of investigating some forms of *natural* phenomena as well.

  52. vjtorey – you may not equate “natural” with “material” or “physical” – but there seem to be plenty of people who do. Don’t you think the ability of a human mind to schedule a volitional event in the future gives complete unambiguous proof that those that do associate “natural” with “physical” or “material” are wrong.

    I don’t see any possible way of modeling a physical, volitional response, scheduled at an arbitrary time in the future as a process which follows from physical or material law. To me that means the agent scheduling this action must not only have some ( not complete ) freedom from the physical, but must also be immaterial itself. I don’t know what you call something that is immaterial that can effect the physical other than “supernatural”

  53. Please forgive me for spelling your name wrong. I wish we could make simple edits to posts.

  54. Hi nullasalus,

    Thanks for a very substantive post. First of all, I’d like to address the epistemological issues you raise. You write:

    You and I and perhaps everyone else have our limits, but those are not ‘scientific’ limits. They’re subjective limits. Judgment calls.

    You should know this better than anyone else. How many times have you seen people, even scientists, reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason? How many have suggested that yes, something could indeed come from nothing without cause? How many cop to ‘hyperskepticism’ with regards to intentionality and materialism? How about the hard problem of consciousness and materialism? You’re Catholic – how do you judge reactions to the Miracle of the Sun?

    And keep in mind, we live in an age where scientists are willing to go much, much further than they were in the past when it comes to getting imaginative with explanations. Eugene Koonin is willing to cite infinite universes to explain the origin of life, while other scientists mention that anything that can happen, will happen, in an infinite multiverse. Michael Shermer insists that any seeming miracle that takes place would, at best, be ascribed to aliens. Others would insist we’re living in a computer simulation. The list goes on…

    My point in bringing all this up is that what qualifies as hyperskepticism itself isn’t some rapt scientific measure. It too is a judgment call, a thing of subjectivity. Now, you can support it and argue for it, but at the end of the day nothing can ever stop someone from playing the card of, ‘There’s probably an explanation, I just haven’t found it. Maybe it will take 50 years. Maybe 150. Maybe 1000. Maybe we’ll never know the answer – we’re mere humans, our knowledge has limits.’…

    …I’ll summarize here: ‘laws of nature’ are not known perfectly, they are modeled. They have been overturned repeatedly, and each time the new model is called natural. In principle, this can happen with every case – or people can beg off indefinitely, saying science needs more time, or an explanation is out there and simply remains to be found, or, etc. And the willingness of one person to say ‘Okay, if I saw this, I’d say that God/the supernatural did it’ does not add up to a ‘scientific test of the supernatural/God’, even if that person is a scientist. It’s a statement of their subjective view.

    The thing I find worrying about these passages in your previous post is that they seem to suggest that there’s no way of critiquing other people’s epistemic principles, when they differ from your own. (I say “seem” because I doubt if this is what you actually meant.) You write that they’re “subjective limits,” “judgment calls.” But if that’s all they are, then:

    (a) it is no longer possible to say that another person’s stance is irrational, as “There can be no argument on matters of taste”;
    (b) it renders objective knowledge impossible, as knowledge of any sort presupposes some epistemic framework for distinguishing true from false beliefs; and
    (c) it would mean that we can no longer know that God exists, since His existence is rationally warranted within some epistemic frameworks and not others.

    The last-mentioned consequence seems to go against the plain meaning of Romans 1:20 (which states that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen”) and Vatican I’s Declaration (chapter 3, session 2) that “God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason.”

    There has to be some discipline – call it “meta-epistemology” if you like – in which it is possible to critique other people’s epistemic principles and show that they lead to absurdities, or that they make scientific knowledge impossible. Now, I’m certainly not claiming that meta-epistemology is a scientific discipline as such. Rather, I’d envisage it as a branch of philosophy which can nevertheless make statements that are binding on scientific methodology, as science investigates objective, publicly observable phenomena, and science is forced to rely on empirical phenomena, even when it is investigating people’s subjective experiences, since it needs to correlate those experiences with observable events (e.g. changes occurring in the subjects’ brains).

    For example, when ID critics retort, “Who designed the Designer?” they are implicitly appealing to the universally accepted epistemic principle that an infinite regress of explanations explains nothing. (One can of course have an infinite regress of enabling conditions, but not an infinite regress of explanations.)

    Or to take another example, those who insist that something could indeed come from nothing can legitimately be accused of epistemic inconsistency: for if this principle were adopted in science, then nobody would bother investigating anomalous laboratory test results, as the simplest explanation would always be, “It just happened.” It would then be impossible to falsify hypotheses.

    Again, the fact that laws are in principle revisable does not mean that they can (at some future stage) morph into statements which cannot even be recognized by us as laws. Without some objective criteria for what counts as a law and what doesn’t, it becomes impossible to rule out any statement as being non-scientific. Anything – including black magic – might be a science. In which case ID can’t be ruled out either.

    You mentioned the idea that anything can happen in an infinite multiverse. However, one can still make probabilistic statements, even within an infinite multiverse. For example, I can argue that even if a life-permitting multiverse would pop up sooner or later, it is still extremely improbable that the underlying physics generating its scientific laws would be mathematically elegant rather than messy or even incomprehensible, and that the unusual coincidence of habitability and measurability within our own cosmos (which Richards and Gonzalez drew attention to in The Privileged Planet) is an unlikely fact which cannot be explained by the platitude, “Well, we’re here, aren’t we?”

    Reductionism has its problems, too. It’s one thing to say that A is reducible to B, even though we don’t know how. It’s quite another thing to say that A is reducible to B, even though we can never know how (as the New Mysterians do). What kind of reducibility is that? It seems to implicitly assume the perspective of an omniscient Being Who is capable of understanding how properties truly relate to one another, while at the same time denying the existence of such a Being. That’s an inconsistency.

    The point I’m making here is that even though some scientists may continue to resist the supernatural, the epistemic principles upon which they base their objections can be legitimately exposed as inconsistent and/or incoherent. Once these scientists’ philosophical “defenses” against the supernatural have been kicked down, ID can finally get a foot in the door.

    (ID needs to overcome this resistance to the supernatural, because there are some scientists and philosophers who rule ID out of court, not because it is explicitly supernaturalistic, but simply because it leaves the door open to supernatural explanations. This kind of metaphysical openness is anathema to many avowed secularists.)

    You concluded:

    And the willingness of one person to say ‘Okay, if I saw this, I’d say that God/the supernatural did it’ does not add up to a ‘scientific test of the supernatural/God’, even if that person is a scientist. It’s a statement of their subjective view.

    I would reply that if (as scientists tell us) it is true that universes, once created, cannot be naturally interfered with, and if a violation of the laws of a universe constitutes an act of “interference,” then it necessarily follows that any such violation must be a supernatural act. The only question is whether an observed anomalous event actually constitutes a violation of the laws of Nature or not. That’s a question that can be addressed if the event is observed repeatedly (which need not mean regularly).

    In connection with the laws of thermodynamics, you raise some valid concerns as to how absolute they really are. (Thanks very much for the links to the articles by Carroll, by the way.) I was very interested to read that energy conservation does not hold under general relativity. However, Carroll acknowledges that conservation of energy-momentum still holds. In short: we’re speaking of a mathematical adjustment, which scientists can adjust to fairly easily.

    You then point out that according to Carroll, low-entropy states (including the Big Bang – and for that matter, a resurrected body) are possible, given enough time. That’s a fair criticism, but if the observed low-entropy state (e.g. the reassembly and reanimation of one or more dead bodies) was predicted to occur in advance (e.g. by some prophet or miracle-worker, such as Elisha), and if the local decrease in entropy only affected dead bodies, then one can argue that this pre-specified low-entropy outcome has an infinitesimal probability within a natural framework, making a supernatural explanation more likely.

    You raise an interesting point when you argue that increasing the frequency of an observed miracle (thereby making it easier for scientists to publicly verify) would at the same time have the effect of rendering it no longer supernatural:

    …[I]f resurrections commonly took place, then would Christ’s resurrection really seem like a miracle?

    … Yes, if resurrections happened “all the time”, then denying a resurrection would be difficult. But affirming it as supernatural would also become difficult.

    I really have to disagree with you here. If only a one-off manifestation can be accounted supernatural, but at the same time that one-off manifestation might be put down to a freak hallucination, a blip in the measuring instrument or something, then how could anyone be faulted (by God or anyone else) for not believing in a miracle? And how can one distinguish rational belief in a public sign from irrational belief?

    I should add that the New Testament itself claims that Christ’s Resurrection was replicated. Acts 1:3 tells us that “After his suffering, he [Jesus] presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” John 20 records Jesus’ appearance to doubting Thomas, and adds that there were “many other signs” (John 20:30). Matthew 27:52-53 even adds that upon Jesus’ death, “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” Evidently the New Testament doesn’t have a problem with replicability. Neither does the Old Testament, as the succession of one miracle after another at the time of the Exodus shows.

    I should add that it is not necessary that miracles happen “all the time” for them to be verified. They simply have to happen a sufficient number of times to render alternative naturalistic explanations (e.g. hallucination or hoax) vanishingly unlikely. That is where the demand for replicability comes in. The miracles don’t have to be replicated on an everyday basis, however.

    Later on, arguing from the opposite dialectical position, you ask:

    Why should anyone accept that the supernatural cannot be lawlike and regular? Because if that were accepted, then possibly some established phenomena would therefore be supernatural? And what’s the problem there?

    I have often wondered myself whether God’s acts of Intelligent Design might occur at regular intervals, to coincide with cyclic changes on Earth’s climatic and/or environmental conditions. For instance, some scientists have argued that extinctions occur periodically in the fossil record – about once every 26 million years – which means that the fauna replacing them must appear at more or less regular intervals. But even if a regularity in the timing of Intelligent Design “interventions” in Earth’s history were discovered, that would not make them lawlike. All it would show is that one of the necessary conditions for such an act of “intervention” is that it conform to some mathematical regularity: it can only take place at certain times and not others. But that doesn’t give us a sufficient condition for any given act of Intelligent Design, or even a probability for that occurrence. Also, it tells us nothing about what kinds of designs will arise.

    If supernatural acts were not only regular but also predictable in advance by any competent scientist in the field, then I don’t think they could be legitimately called supernatural.

    Finally, you offer some advice regarding the future of ID research:

    Instead of trying to meet the atheists – indeed, committed public atheist activists – on their own terms, I suggest you simply stick with a defense of your own inferences. For Intelligent Design, in large part this entire discussion is pointless, especially now that ID proponents are outright stating that their views don’t violate methodological naturalism anyway. Now, I’d conditionally agree that ID still may not be science – but that would only suggest that science is incapable of investigating some forms of *natural* phenomena as well.

    I would argue that even if biological Intelligent Design doesn’t violate methodological naturalism, cosmological Intelligent Design certainly threatens it. A multiverse doesn’t explain itself: it still needs to be fine-tuned.

    I might add that if ID couldn’t undermine methodological naturalism, then I would see little point in it as an intellectual endeavor, other than as a tool for discrediting mind-matter reductionism – and even there, its effectiveness would probably be limited by the same considerations that prevented it from overthrowing naturalism.

    Your last suggestion that ID might not be science, but that even if it isn’t, all that shows is that science can’t explain all of Nature, is a very interesting way of putting it. I suppose that’s another way one could counter the critique that ID is unscientific: challenge the competence of science to exhaustively explain the domain of the natural.

    This discussion has been a lively and thought-provoking exchange of views, nullasalus. If you’d like to have the last word in this exchange, please feel free to do so.

  55. JDH,

    Thank you for your post. You ask how something immaterial that can affect the physical could possibly be called “natural.” Well, if something is created, then even if it’s immaterial, I’d say it’s still natural. Angels, for instance, are still part of the created order of Nature, if they exist (as I believe they do). Hence they are still natural.

    Some authorities reserve the term “preternatural” for realities which go beyond the material but are nevertheless created. See here. So the question is: is the human intellect preternatural?

    I would say not, because the intellectual soul is still the form of the human body. A Cartesian dualist could perhaps speak of the human intellect as preternatural; an Aristotelian hylomorphic dualist could not. For more on hylomorphic dualism, see this article: http://web.archive.org/web/200.....ualism.pdf

    Hope that helps.

  56. Torley,

    Well, thanks for the reply. Some clarifications follow, mostly.

    The thing I find worrying about these passages in your previous post is that they seem to suggest that there’s no way of critiquing other people’s epistemic principles, when they differ from your own.

    No, I do believe we can critique some people’s epistemic principles. I endorse the laws of thought (A=A, etc). I certainly believe we can find some people’s metaphysics utterly wanting, and more, on what I’d call objective rational grounds – even though those grounds are ultimately going to be based on some axioms.

    A large part of the problem here is that you’re looking to atheists themselves to set the terms of evaluation, with – so it seems to me – no eye on whether the standards they’re laying down are reasonable or defensible to begin with. Instead, you’re taking some very brief pablum about how they’d be open to evidence for the supernatural and how they’re obviously open-minded sorts, and then trying to arrange that into a standard for investigating the supernatural you think will satisfy them. On the other side, you’re taking subjective statements – like Coyne’s “if X happened, then I’d be a theist”, or Carroll’s “if this took place, maybe we’d conclude the supernatural” – to be statements about what science can show. Worse, you’re strongly implying or taking it at face value that the standards they’re laying down are quite reasonable, which ultimately puts them in the position of being judge and jury on these topics.

    Have you entertained the prospect that the people you’re dealing with – even if they’re scientists – may well be not only biased, but actually quite irrational on this topic, such that attempting to meet their standards may not be the wrong course of action? That their whole approach may well be fundamentally flawed?

    I see part of this problem at work in the following statement from you.

    For example, when ID critics retort, “Who designed the Designer?” they are implicitly appealing to the universally accepted epistemic principle that an infinite regress of explanations explains nothing.

    Really? They’re implicitly appealing to a universally epistemic principle about the infinite regress of explanations? First, I’m pretty sure that’s not universally accepted – that’s like saying the law of non-contradiction is universally accepted, forgetting what happened on UD over that very question. (Note: ‘Not universally accepted’ does not mean ‘rational to defer from.’)

    Have you considered that they may hardly understand the subject they’re talking about and be simply repeating something they barely understand, or worse, may well be inconsistent regarding?

    Or to take another example, those who insist that something could indeed come from nothing can legitimately be accused of epistemic inconsistency: for if this principle were adopted in science, then nobody would bother investigating anomalous laboratory test results, as the simplest explanation would always be, “It just happened.” It would then be impossible to falsify hypotheses.

    And yet, people do exactly that. If pressed, they get inconsistent, or they appeal to a mysterious universe, or worse.

    I suggest that “epistemic inconsistency” is not a thing most atheists fear being accused of.

    I really have to disagree with you here. If only a one-off manifestation can be accounted supernatural, but at the same time that one-off manifestation might be put down to a freak hallucination, a blip in the measuring instrument or something, then how could anyone be faulted (by God or anyone else) for not believing in a miracle?

    I didn’t say that only a one-off manifestation can be accounted supernatural. I pointed out that frequent, common manifestations would rhetorically be argued as, due to their frequency, not being natural.

    Case in point: regenerating limbs. If merely regenerating limbs were the standard for a miracle, the issue would be closed: we have evidence of such in abundance. It happens in the animal kingdom. But, that’s exactly the problem: for some animals, regeneration happens quite often. Even if we don’t wholly understand how, that very frequency makes people regard it as mundane.

    I have often wondered myself whether God’s acts of Intelligent Design might occur at regular intervals, to coincide with cyclic changes on Earth’s climatic and/or environmental conditions.

    First off, hold on. I said supernatural – I don’t think ID exhausts the category of supernatural.

    If supernatural acts were not only regular but also predictable in advance by any competent scientist in the field, then I don’t think they could be legitimately called supernatural.

    And I’d question this line of reasoning straightaway. While it may not be a requirement that God’s acts or supernatural acts be so predictable, I see no reason to accept that such predictability would rule such out. In fact, I don’t think you’ll have to go far to find people who have practically that exact standard with regards to verifying the supernatural, rhetorically. It just also so happens that anything that actually adheres to that standard is also called natural. Again, it’s inconsistency.

    The fact is, I don’t think ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ are very meaningful categories with regards to science, once it’s recognized that definitions of natural or even naturalism are extremely plastic, that the definition and boundaries of nature (especially nature with regards to science) has changed multiple times, in deep ways, since the founding of modern science, etc.

    I might add that if ID couldn’t undermine methodological naturalism, then I would see little point in it as an intellectual endeavor, other than as a tool for discrediting mind-matter reductionism – and even there, its effectiveness would probably be limited by the same considerations that prevented it from overthrowing naturalism.

    I don’t think ID is meant to ‘undermine’ methodological naturalism, especially given the fact that it’s entirely compatible with it. That said, I think MN is undermined in other ways. You’re really saying you don’t thinking that inferring ID in nature is a worthy intellectual endeavor? That just strikes me as alien thinking.

    I suppose that’s another way one could counter the critique that ID is unscientific: challenge the competence of science to exhaustively explain the domain of the natural.

    I’m not sure that’s a counter to the critique than a very rational conclusion. ID can be intellectually valid even if ID isn’t science, and science’s competence isn’t exhaustive precisely because some things (like ID) aren’t science. Or at least that’s one way to consider it.

    Anyway, summarizing what I’m saying here: I think you’re mistaken to turn to three atheist activists to support the idea of testing the supernatural, since their standards are both ridiculous and in principle entirely elastic. I think you give too much credit to many Gnu-style atheists, considering what you yourself have seen them embrace intellectually on this very site. I think the definitions of ‘natural’ (and therefore ‘supernatural’) have proven to be so elastic as to be useless save for rhetoric purposes, and I think someone can be both a hyperskeptic yet still say that some evidence would convince them. I question whether routine, predictable behavior shouldn’t be called ‘supernatural’ simply because it’s routine and predictable. And I think questions about God and the supernatural requires, fundamentally, some metaphysical commitments, where science as science is almost entirely useless as being the sole arbiter (for reasons I stated.)

    I’ve said more than that, but those are some important points. Anyway, hopefully the conversation was pleasant – I can be too aggressive at times, but with you it’s not intentional.

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