Re: Dembski and Nelson at MIT and Tufts

Kevin O'Brien (
Sat, 3 Apr 1999 16:15:35 -0700

>You misrepresent my use of the term "intelligence."

Then you should have defined it; if you do not define your terms, do not get
upset if people do not use them as you intended to use them.

>I use the term to denote the ability to reason.

Which is how I assumed you meant it; maybe you didn't read my post carefully
enough. You seemed to be saying that some people were inherently better
able to reason than others, so they develop theories the rest of us could
never think of. I was trying to explain that that is not the case; that
with sufficient education and training and experience, anyone could have
come up with any theory.

>It is clear that most people can reason....

So we agree on this point; then why do you believe only a special few could
think up scientific theories?

>...but most
>people cannot be at the forefront of science and develop the theories and
>devise the experiments necessary to elicit questions from Nature.

That has nothing to do with the ability reason; that has to do with getting
the education, the training, the experience and the money necessary to do
the work, and having the luck to be in the right places at the right times.

>I do not recall using the term "artifact."

No, you didn't, but it's assumed in your logic, whether you realize it or

>Scientific theories are by nature mathematical....

No, they are not. Theories are by nature explanations of how physical
phenomena work; sometimes that can be done with pure mathematics; often
times with a mixture of mathematics and exposition; most of the time solely
with exposition. Most physical theories are mathematical; many chemical
theories are mathematical but many are expositional; most biological and
biochemical theories are expositional with only a few being mathematical.
Yet all are theories, because they explain physical phenomena.

>...and so it deals with concepts that include fields that
>are more elusive than what is normally called an artifact.

Theories are explanations of physical phenomena; therefore theories deal
with physical forces. Artifacts are controlled by physical forces, so
theories usually deal with artifacts directly or indirectly.

>For instance, it
>is clear to me that there can never be a mathematical theory that will
>explain life.

Perhaps you can enlighten the rest of us with the evidence you have that
makes that clear to you. In any event, life is a physical phenomenon that
needs to be explained; there are in fact many theories that when combined
explain how life works. Some of these theories are mathematical, most are
not, but they explain how life works well enough to be accepted as true.

>It could be that we can "create" life in the lab, but the
>elements that we use in the lab cannot be described mathematically by a
>full-fledged theory.

Theories don't merely describe a phenomenon (what does it do, when does it
do it, where does it do it), they also explain it (how does it work; why
does it work the way it does); scenarios that only describe phenomena are
called "schemes". Since life created in a laboratory must be the same as
natural life then it must be explained by the same theories that explain
natural life. So in fact we do have full-fledged theories that explain
life; whether they are mathematical is irrelevant.

>Fundamental theories deal with "dead" things and not life.

Except that life is controlled by these "dead" things, such as
electromagnetism, chemical kinetics and thermodynamics; therefore these same
fundamental theories deal with life as well.

Kevin L. O'Brien