Stephen Hawking has recently declared that philosophy is dead, and that science is the only reasonable method for securing knowledge. In response, Professor Cavadini will argue that philosophy is rooted in man's wonder about the universe, and that scientific inquiry is only one aspect of true wisdom and should not be privileged over others.
The event is at the University of Chicago.
In ENV...David Klinghoffer writes...A severe intellectual sclerosis in scientific and popular media is one big reason that arguments for intelligent design meet with such resistance there. When it comes to the evolution debate, scientists and journalists alike are afflicted by a tendency to think in terms of simple stereotypes and crude clichÃƒÂ©s -- about what ID theory says and what kind of people ID advocates are.
That's one reason ENV keeps coming back to Alfred Russel Wallace, evolutionary theory's co-founder.
Michael Flannery adds a concluding reflection on his debate with Michael Shermer ("Resolved: If He Were Alive Today, Alfred Russel Wallace Would Be an Intelligent Design Advocate").
At ENV, Michael Flannery is currently debating Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer, and with his customary eloquence and learning. They tackle the question: If he were alive today, would evolutionary theory's co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, be an intelligent design advocate?
On this episode of the ID The Future podcast, Casey Luskin talks with ARN Executive Director Dennis Wagner on the Access Research Network's Top 10 Science Stories of 2011. Gaining top honors on the list was the publication of the 50th peer-reviewed pro-ID scientific paper. Biomemetics, the field of science where man tries to mimic designs found in nature, made the top 10 list again this year with inventors from Harvard building a prototype butterfly and researchers in China reverse-engineering the woodpecker in order to build a better shock-absorbing system. Tune in to find out what else made science headlines in 2011.
A guest blog in Scientific American by Rob Dunn casts some doubt on the long-standing idea that the appendix is vestigial along the twisted road of Darwinian Evolution. Instead, it could be a live-saver.
This post by Denise O'Leary, in Uncommon Descent, summarizes IDs challenges in the past few years and indicates what is to come.
On IDtheFuture, Dennis Wagner highlights the Top 10.
This post, in ENV,by Michael Behe again indicates the limits of Darwinian Evolution in the macroscale.
Professor Stephen Hawking is an emerging champion of New Atheist thinking. In his A brief history of time, he intrigued readers with the comment that the discovery of a Theory of Everything would be to know "the mind of God". It has now become clear that he was using an arresting literary device and, in reality, Hawking denies the existence of God and does not think there is a cosmic mind. In the past, many cosmologists have affirmed Theistic or Deistic beliefs and atheists have been a small minority. But this situation is changing and the New Atheists have welcomed Hawking to their ranks. His track record and iconic status amply counterbalances the influence of cosmologists who believe in God. Dawkins puts it this way:
"Darwin kicked him [God] out of biology, but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace."
God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? (source here)
Hawking's latest book, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, develops his approach to the Big Questions that people have always asked, claiming that he is presenting the findings of "science". Examples of these questions are: "What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a Creator?" He goes on to write that the laws of physics, not the will of God, explain our universe.
"The title, The Grand Design, will suggest for many people the existence of a Grand Designer - but that is actually what the book is designed to deny. Hawking's grand conclusion is: "spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."" (p.16)
In this short book, Professor John Lennox of Oxford University subjects Hawking's book to critical scrutiny and finds the logic very weak. Lennox does not follow the NOMA approach of Gould (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) that compartmentalises science and keeps it entirely separate from matters of faith. Lennox writes as a philosopher of science as well as a scientist and recognises there are philosophical foundations for both science and faith. He seeks to clarify these as well as to point out flaws in Hawking's approach.
"I do hope [. . .] that I have at least managed to communicate to you that the widespread belief that atheism is the default intellectual position is untenable. More than that, I hope that for many of you this investigation of Hawking's atheistic belief system will serve to confirm your faith in God, as it has mine, and that it will encourage you not to be ashamed of bringing God into the public square by joining in the debate yourself." (p.96)
Hawking does not understand Theism at all. He is always portraying God as a "God of the Gaps". In particular, when he presents the laws of physics as providing a rationale for origins, he follows it up by inferring that there is no God. It is a case of: 'If law is the explanation, then God is pushed out of being an explanation'. Theists understand things entirely differently! God is the Creator and Sustainer of all material things and he is the author of all natural laws, whether or not we understand them. Discovering more about "law" can never undermine belief in God but inevitably serves to increase our sense of awe and wonder. Hawking wants us to choose between physical law and personal agency, but these are false alternatives. Lennox uses the example of explaining the jet engine - if we were called to choose between the laws of physics or the aeronautical engineer Frank Whittle, we would consider this absurd! Lennox goes to some length to show that theories and laws cannot be appealed to as though they are creative agents - even though this concept is advanced repeatedly by scientists who seek to explain origins in this way. Hawking has not explained why there is something rather than nothing. He starts with gravity but does not explain how gravity came to exist.
"[Hawking and others like him] fail to see that their science does not answer the question as to why something exists rather than nothing, for the simple reason that their science cannot answer that question. They also fail to see that by assumption it is their atheist world-view, not science as such, that excludes God." (p.39)
Hawking presents the multiverse as the "scientific" explanation of cosmic fine tuning. Instead of reinforcing the "old idea that this grand design is the work of some grand designer", he declares that the answer of modern science is that "our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws". This approach replaces a special, designed universe with an almost infinite spectrum of universes, in one of which we live. To claim that this is the answer of "modern science" fails to acknowledge that there are many cosmologists who reject multiverse thinking. It also pretends that a theory that is devoid of experimental validation can be labelled "science".
"What is very interesting in all of this is the impression being given to readers of The Grand Design that God is somehow rendered unnecessary by science. Yet when one examines the arguments one can see that the intellectual cost of doing so is impossibly high, since it involves an attempt to get rid of the Creator by conferring creatorial powers on something that is not in itself capable of doing any creating - an abstract theory." (p.52)
Numerous other issues are helpfully addressed by Lennox, but the last to be considered here is rationality. Science is a rational activity, as is also philosophy and theology. Lennox finds a link between all three disciplines:
"One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design. Far from belief in God hindering science, it is the motor that drove it." (p.73)
But atheistic science reduces rationality to the firing of neurones. In the words of Francis Crick: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Darwin was similarly perplexed about where his worldview was leading him: "With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy." Mechanistic, reductionist science ultimately destroys rationality. Lennox has this comment:
"The very existence of the capacity for rational thought is surely a pointer: not downwards to chance and necessity, but upwards to an intelligent source of that capacity." (p.75)
The same issues arise with other human traits of free agency, altruism, morality and consciousness. Atheistic science is a 'universal acid' that corrodes them all away. Lennox argues that the worldview of atheism has nothing to offer us when grappling with these issues. He points the way to satisfying answers in Christian Theism. Worldview differences are again central for understanding ourselves and our place in the world.
"The crucial difference between the Christian view and Hawking's view is that Christians do not believe that this universe is a closed system of cause and effect. They believe that it is open to the causal activity of its Creator God." (p.88)
The book certainly deserves to receive the "Award of Merit" in the "2012 Christianity Today Book Awards".
God and Stephen Hawking
John C. Lennox
Lion Hudson plc, Oxford. 2011.
ISBN 978 0 7459 5549 0
In the year 2000, an international conference considered the question "What is life?" Every participant was asked to draft a definition, and every speaker was required to address the central question. According to David Abel, who was one of the speakers, no two definitions of life were the same. This finding replicated that obtained by Rizotti who, in 1996, published a book with the title Defining Life. Abel considers that definitions can be grouped into two subsets: one of which perceives life as an essentially physicochemical phenomenon, and the other has an emphasis on coded information superimposed on material systems (developing Hubert Yockey's seminal ideas).
"Yockey was among the first to realize the linear digital nature of genetic control. Many others have appreciated that life was somehow different, but could not put their finger on exactly what this difference is. Ernst Mayr argued that physics and chemistry do not explain life. Monod and Bohr argued the same. Bohr pointed out, "Life is consistent with, but undecidable from physics and chemistry." Kuppers agreed." (p.107)
Hurricane Ivan over the Gulf Coast: ordered but not self-organised (source here)
Abel's review paper argues that life manifests characteristics that cannot be explained by physicodynamics alone, whether the focus falls on chance or on necessity (natural law). This is because biological information governing life processes and organisation is essentially nonphysical.
"The most fundamental distinction is the ability of "life" to exercise formal (nonphysical) organizational and pragmatic control over its otherwise physical interactions (e.g., chemical reactions, molecular associations, electrostatic attractions/repulsions; hydrophilic/hydrophobic tendencies, phase transitions; quantum uncertainty and "information entanglement"). The formal controls are attributable specifically to Prescriptive Information (PI) and its carefully regulated algorithmic processing. More than anything else, the ability to organize, regulate and holistically manage physicodynamics into a formal meta-metabolic scheme that values and pursues staying alive is what defines the uniqueness of life." (p.108)
Some have thought that the genetics of the simplest living prokaryote provides insight into the question "What is life?" Mycoplasma genitalium has a 580-kilo-base-pair genome containing 470 genes. However, sequencing is just the first step towards understanding this free-living cell. Research has revealed unsuspected complexities in the regulation of these genes.
"The number of interacting, formally integrated layers and dimensions of life's Prescriptive Information (PI), even in the simplest known free-living organisms, is mind-boggling." (p. 108-9)
Rather than persevere with the challenge of trying to define life, Abel suggests that it is more realistic and productive to identify the distinguishing characteristic of life. Nine of these are listed. In the main, they relate to familiar characteristics: possession of a membrane, reproduction, metabolism, etc., but expressed using words that identify the biological information requirements.
"All free-living classes of archaea, eubacteria, and eukaryotes meet all nine of the above criteria. Eliminate any one of the above nine requirements, and it remains to be demonstrated whether that system could remain "alive". RNA strands, DNA strands, prions, viroids, and viruses are not free-living organisms. They fail to meet many of the above well-recognized characteristics of independent "life"." (p.109)
Having established this baseline, Abel identifies a number of issues arising from these distinctives that warrant further discussion. However, in every case, Abel counsels caution, because there have been far too many cases of scholars defending pet theories by the selective use of evidences, rather than building theory on well-grounded empirical foundations. "Science must constantly guard itself against Kuhnian paradigm ruts". First, the concept of complexity is in need of urgent clarification. Many scholars appear unable to get beyond the Shannon approach to quantification.
"The place to begin understanding the phenomenon of linear digital prescription is a study of the three different types of sequence complexity. Biologically functional linear complexity lies in the subset of Functional Sequence Complexity (FSC), not Ordered Sequence Complexity (OSC) or Random Sequence Complexity (RSC). Functional Sequence Complexity (FSC) is a linear string of monomers or composite units that collectively perform some nontrivial function. Empirical evidence of the purely spontaneous formation of such strings, especially when more than 10 loci are involved, is sorely lacking. [. . .] FSC is a succession of algorithmic selections leading to function. Selection, specification, or signification of certain "choices" in FSC sequences results only from nonrandom selection. These selections at successive decision nodes cannot be forced by deterministic cause-and-effect necessity. If they were, nearly all decision-node selections would be the same. They would be highly ordered (OSC). Moreover, the selections cannot be random (RSC). No sophisticated program has ever been observed to be written by successive coin flips where heads is "1" and tails is "0"." (p.112)
This leads us to the concept of functional information. Abel distinguishes between two subsets: descriptive (DI) and prescriptive (PI). He refers to a Mercedes automobile to clarify the distinction. DI tells us about the component parts of the car and how they operate together in a harmonious way. PI tells us how to engineer and build that Mercedes.
"Unfortunately, many semantic information theorists make the mistake of thinking of functional information solely in terms of human epistemology, and specifically description (DI). This in effect limits the meaning of "function". DI provides valued common-sense knowledge to human beings about the way things already are. Being can be described to provide one form of function. [. . . ] The term "functional information" as used in peer-reviewed naturalistic biological literature by Nobel laureate Jack Szostak et al. in 2003 can be a completely inadequate descriptor of the "how to" information - the instructions - required to organize and program sophisticated utility. Potential formal function must be prescribed in advance by Prescriptive Information (PI) via decision node programming, not just described after the fact. As its name implies, PI specifically conceives and prescribes utility." (p.114)
Whereas some consider digital information to be crucial for understanding biological evolution via Darwinian mechanisms, Abel is unimpressed. Random mutations are incapable of constructing PI, with or without natural section.
"Life crosses The Cybernetic Cut across a one-way CS (Configurable Switch) Bridge. This bridge traverses a great ravine. On one side is found all those phenomena that can be explained by physicodynamics alone. On the other side are those phenomena than can be explained only by selection for potential (not-yet-existing) function. Traffic across this bridge flows only from the nonphysical world of formalism into the physical world through the instantiation of purposeful choices. Such instantiation requires arbitrary (dynamically inert) physical configurable switch-settings and selections of physical symbol vehicles in a material symbol system." (p.116)
Some have sought an explanation of PI using the concept of self-organisation. They suggest that if snowflakes form exquisite patterns naturally, why not life? The answer is very simple. Abel points out that there is confusion here between self-ordering phenomena and self-organisation. He distinguishes two types of self-ordering phenomena: sustained and dissipative. Sustained structures include crystals and snowflakes, and dissipative structures emerge from chaos, like the vortex that forms as water runs out of a bathtub, or the order observed in a hurricane. But neither of these types of self-ordering deliver organisation. At this point, Abel's clarification of the characteristics of life sets a benchmark to guide our analysis.
"Self-ordering events occur spontaneously daily. But, they do not involve decision nodes or dynamically-inert, purposeful, configurable switch settings. No logic gates need to be programmed with self-ordering phenomena. Self-ordering events involve no steering toward algorithmic success or "computational halting". Self-ordering phenomena are purely physicodynamic and incapable of organizational attempts. Laws and fractals are both compression algorithms containing minimal complexity and information. Inanimate physicodynamics cannot exercise purposeful choices or pursue potential function. No model of undirected evolution pursues the goal of future utility." (p.120)
Even the word "system" is widely used without thinking rigorously about what a system actually is. When Abel uses the term, he is referring to a "sustained functional system" that is organised rather than ordered. As an example, consider what is intended when people talk about a weather system:
"It is merely a physicodynamic interface of wind, temperature and atmospheric pressure differential. A weather front may involve phase changes and manifest self-ordering (e.g., a hurricane); but it is not organized. It manifests no choice contingency, no purposes or goals, no accomplishment of function or utility. Weather fronts have no formal components, no computational achievements, no algorithmic optimization, and no intended purpose."(p.118-9)
Throughout the review paper, Abel draws attention to the relevance of philosophy for analysing the various approaches that have been made to answer questions about life. He points to the inadequacy of physicalism or materialism to grapple with data relating to Prescriptive Information. A different paradigm is needed which is more appropriate for engaging with the different characteristics of life.
"Materialistic presuppositional commitments are causing us to turn our backs on a rapidly growing empirical biological reality that hollers into our deaf ears, "Materialism is dead!" We will never understand life under the purely metaphysical imperative, "Physicodynamics is all there is, ever was, or ever will be". Professional philosophers of science rightly respond, "SEZ WHO?" How was that pontification scientifically determined? The scientific method itself cannot be reduced to mass and energy. Neither can language, translation, coding and decoding, mathematics, logic theory, programming, symbol systems, the integration of circuits, computation, categorizations, results tabulation, the drawing and discussion of conclusions. The prevailing Kuhnian paradigm rut of philosophic physicalism is obstructing scientific progress, biology in particular. There is more to life than chemistry. All known life is cybernetic. Control is choice-contingent and formal, not physicodynamic." (p.125)
This paper is necessary reading for all who have an interest in abiogenesis research!
Is Life Unique?
David L. Abel
Life, 2012, 2(1), 106-134 | doi:10.3390/life2010106
Abstract: Is life physicochemically unique? No. Is life unique? Yes. Life manifests innumerable formalisms that cannot be generated or explained by physicodynamics alone. Life pursues thousands of biofunctional goals, not the least of which is staying alive. Neither physicodynamics, nor evolution, pursue goals. Life is largely directed by linear digital programming and by the Prescriptive Information (PI) instantiated particularly into physicodynamically indeterminate nucleotide sequencing. Epigenomic controls only compound the sophistication of these formalisms. Life employs representationalism through the use of symbol systems. Life manifests autonomy, homeostasis far from equilibrium in the harshest of environments, positive and negative feedback mechanisms, prevention and correction of its own errors, and organization of its components into Sustained Functional Systems (SFS). Chance and necessity - heat agitation and the cause-and-effect determinism of nature's orderliness - cannot spawn formalisms such as mathematics, language, symbol systems, coding, decoding, logic, organization (not to be confused with mere self-ordering), integration of circuits, computational success, and the pursuit of functionality. All of these characteristics of life are formal, not physical.
Access Research Network has just released its annual "Top 10 Darwin and Design Science Stories" for 2011.
Gaining top honors on the list was the publication of the 50th peer-reviewed pro-ID scientific paper. A major criticism of the intelligent design movement over the past decade has been the lack of scientific research and peer-reviewed scientific papers. The establishment of two ID research labs, Biologic Institute and the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, along with a peer-reviewed scientific journal Bio-Complexity, where the scientific merit of intelligent design claims can be examined, have helped accelerated the body of peer-reviewed scientific literature for ID. According to Dennis Wagner, ARN Executive Director "Together, these labs along with individual researchers have published peer-reviewed pro-ID scientific papers in journals such as Protein Science, Journal of Molecular Biology, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modeling, Journal of Advanced Computational Intelligence and Intelligent Informatics, Quarterly Review of Biology, Cell Biology International, Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum, Physics of Life Reviews, Annual Review of Genetics, and multiple others. Collectively, this body of research is converging upon a consensus: complex biological features cannot arise by Darwinian mechanisms, but require an intelligent cause."
Biomemetics, the field of science where man tries to mimic designs found in nature, made the top 10 list again this year with inventors from Harvard building a prototype butterfly and researchers in China reverse-engineering the woodpecker in order to build a better shock-absorbing system. "In order to reverse-engineer a system," Wagner pointed out, "it has to be engineered in the first place. The butterfly and the woodpecker are just two examples of biological designs that are so complex, they defy the limited capabilities of Darwinian mutations and natural selection."
An online version of the ARN Top 10 Darwin and Design stories for 2011 with hyperlinks to original news sources can be found at www.arn.org/top10.
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