Saturday, December 23, 2006

Richard Squawkins


“When I ask what epistemic value an explanation has, that's a *scientific* question. In other words, how does this explanation add to the reliability and epistemic confidence of our knowledge?”

Obviously wrong, since every explanation is not a scientific explanation.

“If you have an answer -- and you do, so do I -- that explains everything and anything, than it doesn't help you one bit in terms of science.”

i) I never said that common design explains everything. You resort to a straw man argument because you are incompetent to address the real argument.

ii) I never said that common design explained everything. Rather, I posed a question: how does the evidence differentiate evidence for common descent from evidence for common design?

iii) A creationist doesn’t deny localized forms of common descent. He doesn’t deny that various dog-breeds descend from a common ancestor (the wolf). He doesn’t deny that various subspecies of orchid descend from a common ancestor (the wild orchid). He doesn’t’ deny that the various races of man descend from a common ancestor (Adam).

iv) I don’t care about what is helpful to science. Science is not an end in itself. Science is not an intrinsic value. Science is only a means to an end. The issue is whether science is helpful, and to what degree, and under what conditions.

“Why, because all questions have the same answer! If all questions have the same answer, there's no meaning to the idea of question.”

If true, this objection would be equally explicable to the explain-all of common descent. So the reasoning is reversible. Try to follow your own argument for a change.

“But science builds knowledge by ruling things out. The leading theory is properly described as the theory that is hardest to rule out.”

Other issues aside, I notice that you don’t apply this yardstick to evolution. You treat evolution as something to be disproved rather than proved.

“Because the God hypothesis in science has no way to be falsified.”

Even if this were true, so what? You are arguing that if the “God hypothesis” imposes a limitation on science, then this consequence is unacceptable.

That’s an irrational contention. The fact that something may generate a particular consequence is not, of itself, a reason to deny it.

“As I've said here before, science disavows any claims or knowledge of metaphysical truth.”

Yes, you’ve said that before. But *saying* and *showing* are two different things. You never demonstrate your claim. You simply assert it ad nauseum. And you disregard arguments to the contrary.

Science intersects with metaphysics. Here’s a general definition of metaphysics in a standard reference work:

Metaphysics is a broad area of philosophy marked out by two types of inquiry. The first aims to be the most general investigation possible into the nature of reality: are there principles applying to everything that is real, to all that is? – if we abstract from the particular nature of existing things that which distinguishes them from each other, what can we know about them merely in virtue of the fact that they exist? The second type of inquiry seeks to uncover what is ultimately real, frequently offering answers in sharp contrast to our everyday experience of the world. Understood in terms of these two questions, metaphysics is very closely related to ontology, which is usually taken to involve both ‘what is existence (being)?’ and ‘what (fundamentally distinct) types of thing exist?’ (see Ontology).

Be all this as it may, even if not literally everything, then virtually everything of which we have experience is in time. Temporality is therefore one of the phenomena that should be the subject of any investigation which aspires to maximum generality. Hence, so is change (see Change). And when we consider change, and ask the other typically metaphysical question about it (‘what is really going on when something changes?’) we find ourselves faced with two types of answer. One type would have it that a change is an alteration in the properties of some enduring thing (see Continuants). The other would deny any such entity, holding instead that what we really have is merely a sequence of states, a sequence which shows enough internal coherence to make upon us the impression of one continuing thing (see Momentariness, Buddhist doctrine of). The former will tend to promote ‘thing’ and ‘substance’ to the ranks of the most basic metaphysical categories; the latter will incline towards events and processes (see Events; Processes). It is here that questions about identity over time become acute, particularly in the special case of those continuants (or, perhaps, processes), which are persons (see Identity; Persons; Personal identity).

CRAIG, EDWARD (1998). Metaphysics. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved December 23, 2006, from

You arbitrarily equate “science” with positivism and methodological naturalism. Truth by definition is your modus operandi.

“It's strictly limited to natural contexts.”

And you define “natural” as “naturalistic.” Circular.

“It will be harder than ever for such science to get any credibility after the damage done by Dembski and fellow travelers.”

This is one of your recurrent problems. Your position is driven by anxieties over the PR aspect of ID theory or YEC or OEC.

“And once again, that construal of truth is completely agnostic with respect to metaphysics.”

And once again, that’s a completely ignorant statement of the relation between science and metaphysics.

“Which is the reason it's a mistake to say that I'm a "functional atheist" with respect to science. Science is *agnostic* with respect to metaphysics, and thus cannot take a theistic or atheistic stance.”

If, in doing science, you automatically and systematically rule out the possibility of divine agency in advance of your investigations, then that is hardly agnostic. Rather, that’s an atheistic stance from start to finish.

“If that's what God did, just like mature creation, science will have no way to tell. It will be completely unable to identify that case.”

Which would mean that science is a limited source of information. So what?

“Consider this hypothetical: the earth was 'poofed' into existence 6,000 years ago by God.”

Now your using Babinski’s derogatory lingo.

“It looks old, acts old, yet it's young, per God's powers. “

No, the universe doesn’t *look* any particular age. That’s simply an inference we draw by hypothetically running present processes backwards in time—assuming certain constants and initial conditions.

That’s an operation that *we* perform *on* nature. And up-to-a-point, there’s nothing wrong with that extrapolation—just as there’s nothing wrong with using a rooster as an alarm clock.

Farmers have been using roosters as alarm clocks from time immemorial.

The problem is when Farmer Touchstone begins to equate a rooster with an alarm clock. When he is no longer able to distinguish the natural function of the bird from the artificial function he assigns it.

At that point, poor Farmer Touchstone is captive to his anthropomorphic projections. He now inhabits a cockwork universe. He has “cock=clock” etched on his spectacles. Richard Squawkins book, The Blind Cockmaker, is his Bible.

And he accuses me of being “mystical” and “unscientific” when I deny that his rooster really is a walking, squawking alarm clock.

“Now, as a scientist, how do you propose that we might learn more than that about the process of creation? If this kind of creation, this design for the world is what actually happened, how is that impetus for additional discovery.”

It all depends on the example. What is the point of science? To find answers to certain questions? Well, if we already have an answer to a particular question, then we can stop asking that particular question.

Eve was the product of fiat creation rather than procreation. So we can stop asking how she was made.

This doesn’t mean we should stop asking how you and I were made, since we are the product of procreation rather than fiat creation.

Some illnesses are cured by medical science while other illnesses are cured by prayer. Prayer is the correct answer in some cases, while medicine is the correct answer in other cases.

“Do we start researching how God acts supernaturally to perform miracles? How do we scientifically proceed in this case?”

The problem with you is that you begin with a preconceived framework, then you try to squeeze all of the evidence into you’re a priori framework, and if it doesn’t fit you saw off the offending evidence.

But what is the evidence for your framework? Clearly in your case the evidence isn’t driving the framework, but vice versa. Oh, and that makes it a metaphysical construct.

You feel the need to classify a phenomenon before you investigate it.

I don’t begin with a particular kind of question. I don’t begin with a scientific question, or a historical question, &c. I begin with a factual question: what is true?

Whether the correct answer is historical or scientific or miraculous, &c., is a subdivision of its factuality.

“If that's what happened, there's no point in proceeding scientifically as to the mechanisms of creation. It's a supernatural phenomenon. And the role of science has vanished from the picture. That's not a problem. But it is a fact. Suggesting that's a spur for science is silly. That's where science bows out.”

No, what is silly is the way you substitute something else for what I actually said. I made the *general* observation that “If you think something was designed, then that encourages you to look for an explanation rather than treat it as a brute fact or surd event. Belief in design is an impetus to scientific discovery. You only seek a rational explanation if you believe that a rational explanation is available, which assumes the rationality of nature.”

Creation ex nihilo would be a rational explanation. It might or might not be a *scientific* explanation, but it would be a *rational* explanation.

That doesn’t rule out “scientific” explanations in other cases, or even in this case. Scientific explanations are, at best, a subset of rational explanations generally.

“If you are simply inclined to say ‘Goddidit’ as the explanation for any given phenomena, then there's no *distinctive* evidence for *anything*, *anywhere*.”

Another straw man argument. Because he can’t deal with the real argument, Touchstone always resorts to straw man arguments—universalizing a specific claim.

Revelation specifically attributes certain effects to God. The creation of the world. The creation of natural kinds.

Since I know this to be true, revealed truths figure in my explanation of events.

Revelation also attributes many other events to ordinary providence. Since I know this to be true, that also figures in my explanation of events.

Touchstone, by contrast, is like one of those split-personality accidents from a transporter mishap. There’s the “Christian” Touchstone. Then there’s his agnostic alter-ego. Which is the real Touchstone? Or are they equally real? Now that’s a scary thought! Lock your doors and keep a taser nearby!

“So yes, if miraculous intervention by an omnipotent God is the preferred answer for any scientific question, then there is no distinctive evidence for any scientific theory.”

The rote, straw man argument.

“Science operates on the assumption that nature obeys physical laws and constraints.”

i) To begin with, science operates with no such assumption. Touchstone’s assertion is based on a rather provincial interpretation of natural law. But there is no received interpretation of natural law in the philosophy of science.

And notice that Touchstone can’t avoid appealing to metascientific assumptions.

ii) Also watch for the hidden asterisk. Remember that Touchstone is an alethic antirealist. He doesn’t believe that human beings enjoy access to objective truth.

So his assertions about science are reducible to a purely autobiographical and introspective witness to his own mental states.

“Never before the 20th century has Christianity (or significant parts of it at least) denied the evidence of nature as it has in the last 100 years.”

Many of the church fathers subscribed to instantaneous creation. What evidence, recent or otherwise, would count against instantaneous creation?

“Is my affirmation of 170,000 years too little, too much, or just right? If it's not right, what science are you basing this on?”

Try metrical conventionalism.


  1. I said:

    But suppose this were a debate over ID-theory. T-stone's problem is that because he's a dogmatic theistic evolutionist, he can't even stand the watered-down theism of ID-theory. And that's because some, but not all, ID-theorists are opposed to evolution.

    He said:

    I don't have a problem with the theism that drives much of the ID movement (not all IDers are theists). My beef with ID is that it is thoroughly non-scientific. At best its a "philosophy of science" critique of mainstream science. And if that's all they advanced it as, I think I would not object. But the ID folks have got themselves thinking they have a scientific leg to stand on here, and they don't.

    Except that he also said:

    The Intelligent Design movement, lead by William Dembski, Philip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, et al, isn’t really about establishing the reality of evidence for a Designer. It’s a movement dedicated to discrediting and destroying evolution.

    This is easily demonstrated by looking at the focus of the articles and words of the ID movement are: biology, DNA, common descent. If “intelligent design” finally becomes credible science, but does so through cosmological arguments and observations, then where does that leave the “anti-evolutionists”? It’s unacceptable for the core of the ID movement to accept a Designer who employs evolution as part of His design. The very name of William Dembski’s blog — “Uncommon Descent” — speaks to his investment in overturning Darwin, as opposed to the pursuit of a Designer.

  2. Steve,

    I realize this is the extent you feel comfortable with in wandering into the science questions:

    Try metrical conventionalism.

    I don't think that speaks at all to the question. How does "metrical conventionalism" produce a distance/time measurement for SN1987A, in your view?

    What number does it come up with?

    As it is, it looks like another "Oh, science doesn't have anything to say of value", divorced from science kind of answers.


  3. The number would be a variable of whatever unit you used to measure time with.

  4. Steve,

    What are you afraid of here, Steve? It's a straightforward question.

    If metrical conventionalism doesn't come up with an answer, what does, in your view?

    Isn't easier to just say "Science, I divorce you" three times and be done with it?


  5. Touchstone is once again over-playing his hand.

    For one thing, his "follow up" question to Steve has nothing to do with the original question he asked and Steve responded to. But that is not what I'm interested in at the moment.

    Given Einstein's relativity theory, it is impossible to say that any particular aspect of the universe is a particular age. That's because time goes at a different rate depending on the velocity of objects.

    Instead, all one can ask is how old does X appear relative to Y's framework?

    Answering this question will not give you the actual age of X, because there is no actual age. Age is determined by relative framework.

    This can easily be demonstrated by a simple thought experiment. Touchstone, if you were traveling close to the speed of light and you aged one minute according to the clock next to you, but you aged 5,000 years from the perspective of old are you actually?

    Now I'm pretty sure that Touchstone believes in Einstein's relativity in physics, since it's chic to do so and Touchstone cares about that more than he does about making sense. So one would think he won't do a knee-jerk reaction here...but let's just say I won't be holding my breath.

    By the way, Touchstone might also be interested in knowing that distance itself can be a relative measurement. After all, if everything is expanding at the same rate within a closed system, then within a closed system the "distance" between two objects will be the same; but outside that system the distance will be getting greater even as the objects themselves get larger (note also that because the objects are getting larger from the outside perspective, the distance around the objects based on an outside observer would also be getting larger).

    So at most, all Touchstone can hope to answer is, "How old and how far away do things in the universe appear to us in our one limited framework?"

  6. Calvindude,

    I'm familiar with GR, thanks. I'd be delighted to have Steve answer based on the earth as the reference frame. Relativity's "built in", and isn't a problem here.

    Think practical here guys. How do astronomers measure the age of SN1987A, and why do they use the metrics they do? Do you suppose when they publish estimes of distances/times of 170,000(light)years that they've forgotten about Einstein.

    All the evasion with meta-science or construing my request for a scientfic measurement on SN1987A in terms of an absolute time reference that GR denies is just more fodder for my thesis here. Steve uses meta-science to insulate himself from the ravages of science.

    Calvindude is throwing flares.

    I'm happy to accept an answer in the according to "how old does X appear relative to Y's framework". That's the implicit constraint since the early 1900s, assuming by "framework" you mean "reference frame".

    I'm quite happy to get answers expressed according to the "limitations" of GR. So how about it? Is this the one that stumped Steve Hays?


  7. Sorry should have answered this:

    You asked:
    This can easily be demonstrated by a simple thought experiment. Touchstone, if you were traveling close to the speed of light and you aged one minute according to the clock next to you, but you aged 5,000 years from the perspective of old are you actually?

    You'll have to disambiguate "actual" here -- the whole point of GR/SR is that this is a poorly formed question. If you mean "actual" as a reference to my local elapsed time (the clock next to me), then a minute has passed. If some civilation back on earth is keeping track of how long I've been gone, I've been gone 5,000 years.

    That's beginner relativity theory -- way to go. However, keep in mind that time dilation does not afford light transit beyond the theoretical limit - c. This means in the case of the photons bearing the testimony of the supernova SN1987A heading toward earth have *zero* time lapse. Light is universally instantaneous with respect to itself.

    But the exploded star that sent the light off to faraway earth has spatial distance from the earth -- different then than it is now due to relative motions of the two -- that has a minima that cannot be reduced. Light can't get anywhere faster than c. If that distance between the star that used to be before it went supernova is X lightyears, then if we receive light from X, the smallest amount of time that event could be seperated from the arrival at earth is X years.

    What this means is that it's stupid to wonder about time slowing down form the light going from SN1987A to earth itself -- time dilation for light itself is a non-starter, a complete, universal instantaneity.

    But by either of the reference frames for the endpoints -- the location of SN1987A when it blew, or the earth, a very long "local" time has elapsed between the event and the arrival of its light evidence in the earth's sky. Something like 167,000 to 170,000 years. Maybe you need to think about that as some larger number of cycles of microwave light from cesium-133 atoms, in order to have something "regular" and quantized to measure local time by (Trying to avoid Steve's "what is time? soliloquies here -- we can use a local atomic clock as a chosen meter for local time).

    But in any case, even with adjustments for relative motion between them, the local clocks at either the source or the destination would record something on the order of 170,000 years of elapsed time in transition.

    So, *somewhere* there's a reference frame that has existed long enough to have a local clock spin for 170,000 years.



    "What are you afraid of here, Steve? It's a straightforward question. If metrical conventionalism doesn't come up with an answer, what does, in your view?"

    Are you trying to be obtuse, or does this come naturally to you?

    It isn't a yes or no question. If time has no intrinsic metric, then the measurement of time will vary according to the conventional metric of choice. No one answer.

    Here's a novel idea: why don't you learn what you're talking about before you pose accusatory questions. You just make yourself look bad.


    "Steve uses meta-science to insulate himself from the ravages of science."

    Once again, are you trying to be obtuse, or is this a congenital thing with you?

    We've been over this same ground many times before.

    Dating involves the measurement of time. Am I talking over your head, or are you capable of absorbing that concept?

    Okay, assuming I don't need to explain that to you, when you ask about the age of supernova or whatever, that involves the measurement of time, comprende?

    And the measurement of time involves a temporal metric. Are you still following? I don't want to go too fast for you.

    Therefore, the question of whether time is intrinsically amorphous or not is unavoidable if you are going to ask whether your temporal measurements correspond to an objective matter of fact.

    I can go slower if you need me to. Break it down into baby steps if need be. Use some comic-strip illustrations if need be.

  9. Steve,

    Ok, let's take it slow then. How do measure time?

    Just to keep it simple, how do you measure it locally? Choose whatever local reference frame you like. Once I know how you do that, then we can proceed.


  10. CalvinDude said...

    "Just to keep it simple, how do you measure it locally? Choose whatever local reference frame you like."

    You're conflating my argument with Calvindude's. These are separate arguments. Try again.

  11. Steve,

    I don't expect you will respond on these issues - it's problematic for you. There's no point in badgering for what you determined to avoid. I've asked, and your answers speak for themselves. I'm fine with that.

    Have a nice Christmas!


  12. Touchstone said:

    I don't expect you will respond on these issues - it's problematic for you. There's no point in badgering for what you determined to avoid. I've asked, and your answers speak for themselves. I'm fine with that.

    Have a nice Christmas!


    You never miss a chance to be obtuse, do you? I've answered your question several times, now.

    Your problem is that you don't know what the answer is supposed too look like because you haven't done your homework on metrical conventionalism.

    So you keep asking the wrong question. Newsflash: there is no right answer to a wrong question. That's the point.

    Then, in yet another muddle-headed move, you conflate my argument with Calvindude's,

    You're wasting my time with your unteachable incompetence—not to mention your insatiable appetite for heresy. Why don't you go find another playmate or get a dog or take up Solitaire.

    Have a nice Christmas!