Re: information creation and promissory materialism (was Especially for Bertvan)

Chris Cogan (
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 22:29:29 -0700

> [...]
> >>CL>But given my belief in evolution through RM&NS, I must theorize
> >>>that macroevolution occurred here, through mechanisms we
> >>>haven't yet figured out.
> >SJ>But this is not so good a point! This is just "promissory
> CL>The other side of the coin is the small-minded vanity of saying,
> >'I don't understand it, therefore it is not understandable; if I can't
> >explain it, it must be supernatural.'
> No. The boot's on the other foot. Nowadays it is the *materialist-
> naturalist* who is "saying, 'I don't understand it", but I know it *will
> "understandable" naturalistically"; and "I can't explain it", but "it"
> "be supernatural."
> This might have been reasonable 100, or even 50, or even 25 years ago,
> when materialistic-naturalistic science could, on the basis of its initial
> successes in explaining *some* things naturalistically which were thought
> to be supernatural, claim that it would eventually be able to explain
> *everything* naturalistically.

Considering that it has had a *HUGE* string of successes since a hundred
years ago, and since even 25 years ago, I'd say that the confidence that
stuff in the physical world will be explained naturalistically has vastly
*greater* basis than it did a hundred years ago. Theistic "explanations," on
the other hand, have not improved at all: They amount to: "God did it.
Period. Now shut your mind. Period."
> And Christian theology, while it might have believed that the materialist-
> naturalists "promissory materialism" would eventually fail, could not
> *prove* it would fail, and it looked like obscurantism when theology
> suggested it.
> But today, 140 years after the Darwinian revolution, it is becoming
> apparent that materialism-naturalism *has* had only *limited* success.
> Major intractable problems *still* remain (e.g. the origin and fine-tuning
> the universe,

The alleged "fine-tuning" has never *been* a scientific problem. It's a
problem only on the basis of certain assumptions that we have no way of

the origin of life,

As a historical event, this is a problem for either side, since we weren't
there to see it, and since the evidence, if any, is buried in the
informational "noise" of time. Since Christian theology has no more basis
for any claims they may make about the exact nature of this event than
naturalists, you are hardly in a position to make it an "intractable"
problem for naturalists, while pretending that it's not equally intractable
for theists.

the origin of life's complex designs,

This is hardly a problem, and it is certainly not an "intractable" one. It
is predicted (more or less uniquely) on the basis of the very principle of
evolution that organisms will increase in complexity to fill every available
niche, as long as each increase in complexity also brings with it a survival
advantage for the genes of the organism. Indeed, that's pretty much the
*point* of evolutionary theory.

Further, you bias the description when you call them "designs" without a
shred of evidence for doing so.

> the
> origin and nature of consciousness,

Consciousness is a method of information processing that enables some
organisms to survive better than similar organisms would if they had no
consciousness. Since even organisms as simple as flatworms do some
information processing, and since human consciousness seems to be no more
than awareness coupled with *self* awareness and a capacity for forming and
using concepts, there is, so far, no "problem" with the origin of
consciousness. Or, for that matter, with its nature. Just because you,
yourself, have no experience of consciousness, does not mean that it's a big
problem for those of us who *do* experience it.


So far, you're batting .000.
> The Darwinian paradigm, which was supposed to be the complete
> replacement of design, has failed in its quest and even leading biologists
> reject it or give it only lip-service.

What *leading* biologists do you have in mind? And what makes them
> In fact it is now looking that some of these problems will *never* be
> solved, because funding is drying up and new researchers don't want to
> waste their career on an intractable problem. On the other List I am on,
> someone who attended the last International Origin of Life (ISSOL)
> Conference remarked how the numbers were down and there were less
> young faces.

One likely reason is that most people feel that the present solutions,
though incomplete, are essentially enough, and that future efforts on simply
creating life on our own are more promising as areas of interesting
research. There was no artificial life movement 140 or even 25 years ago as
there is now.

> The problem now, 140 years after the Darwinian revolution, in field after
> field, is not what we don't know, but what we *do* know:
> "One characteristic feature of the above critique needs to be emphasized.
> We have not simply picked out a number of details within chemical
> evolution theory that are weak, or without adequate explanation *for the
> moment*. For the most part this critique is based on crucial weaknesses
> intrinsic to the theory itself. Often it is contended that criticism
focuses on
> present ignorance "Give us more time to solve the problems," is the plea.
> After all, the pursuit of abiogenesis is young as a scientific enterprise.
> will be claimed that many of these problems are mere state-of-the-art
> And, surely some of them are. Notice, however, that the sharp edge of this
> critique is not what we *do not* know, but what we *do* know. Many
> facts have come to light in the past three decades of experimental inquiry
> into life's beginning. With each passing year the criticism has gotten
> stronger. The advance of science itself is what is challenging the nation
> life arose on earth by spontaneous (in a thermodynamic sense) chemical
> reactions." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of
> Life's Origin", 1992, p185. Emphasis in original.)

I note, Stephen, that the passage you quote does not include even a *single*
example of such knowledge, but merely the *assertion* that there is such
knowledge. I would be interested to see just what science has found that is
"challenging" the idea of abiogenesis. Also, it is not at all clear to me
what is meant by "spontaneous (in a thermodynamic sense)." This *sounds*
like a misstatement of the evolutionary view of abiogenesis, but since I'm
not sure what it means, I'll just point out that evolution isn't about
thermodynamics, but about information. Energy is needed to produce the
variations that selection works on, and to sustain the process of producing
variations, and this will mean passing energy through the system (and out
into space). But, that's just the second law of thermodynamics. So, what
*is* "thermodynamic spontaneity"? Can you or *anyone* give it a useful and
scientifically acceptable meaning?

> BV>Why can't science await
> >a truly credible explanation before criticizing other people's
> The answer is because modern science has become thoroughly saturated
> with a philosophy of materialism-naturalism, which *must* criticise other
> people's expectations *in advance* when those expectations are not
> materialistic-naturalistic.
> According to this apriori philosophy there simply *cannot* be "a truly
> credible" scientific explanation" which is not materialistic and

I agree. If it isn't naturalistic (ultimately), then it's simply not
scientific. Why? Because, even if evidence of a designer was found,
scientists would have to assume it was a *naturalistic* designer (i.e. an
alien or some such) rather than God, at least until someone can propose a
means of distinguishing the works of an alien being from God-as-designer in
a scientific way. What do you have in mind?

> Some theists might justly be accused of following a God of the gaps, but
> I have never heard of one who believed that God was only revealed in the
> gaps in our knowledge.

No, but that's the only place He is deemed to be *needed*.

> But materialists-naturalists who claim that science will eventually fill
> gaps in are really believing in a "science of the gaps":

Yes, but, considering that this confidence depends only on the premise that
Existence is naturalistic and causal, and considering the fact that the
methods of the empirical sciences have found out more (and corrected more
theologically-based errors) in a hundred years than the theological approach
did in *thousands* of years, it is no wonder that confidence in this way of
approaching scientific questions remains high.
> "Some claim that we can never conclude that an event is a miracle because
> science may find a natural cause for the event in the future and this
> principle (that science ought only to search for natural causes) is the
> foundation of scientific advance. I have already shown some reasons why I
> think methodological naturalism is not required for doing science, so I
> not rehearse those reasons here. Moreover, I think that this position is a
> question-begging, science-of-the-gaps argument to the effect that since
> natural causes have been found for a number of phenomena, then natural
> causes will be found for all of them. I see no reason, however, to accept
> this argument and the attitude toward miracles that it exemplifies. If we
> have good theological, philosophical or scientific grounds for suspecting
> that some phenomenon is the result of a primary causal act of God
> scientists do not appeal to primary causes willy-nilly), then I do not see
> why we cannot do research in light of this conviction and, in principle,
> obtain confirmation for it in a specific case like the origin of life."
> (Moreland J.P., in Geivett R.D. & Habermas G.R., eds., "In Defense of
> Miracles", 1997, p145).

If there is no reason we cannot do such research, then why hasn't any such
research ever discovered anything? What does such a view of miracles add to
scientific research? If you are studying how electrons behave, will a belief
miracles help you figure out how they behave? If you are doing experiments
to find a way in which life might have originated, will your belief in
miracles make for a better experimental design? Will it enable you to better
choose which experiments will lead to an answer?

> BV>As naturalistic
> >explanations are found, theists must revise their religion (not a bad
> >system), and as naturalistic explanations reveal more complexity and
> >unexplained phenomina, science must revise it's theories. (The same
> >system some theists use.)
> Generally agree. But despite the propaganda, it is not always "religion"
> which has to change to accommodate science. As I posted recently, the Big
> Bang is an example where science had to admit that the Christian
> theologians who believed the Bible were right all along:

Of course, there is nothing at all about a Big Bang in Genesis (or
*anywhere* in the Bible), so it seems extremely unlikely that there is any
reason that any scientist would have to admit that the Bible was "right all
along." In fact, Genesis *flatly* contradicts the Big Bang theory, right in
the first few verses. Only by the grossest distortion of either Genesis or
the Big Bang theory, or both, could this possibly be interpreted as "being
right all along."

Stephen, you've been chided several times before by others for your apparent
inability to actually *understand* what you read. So, I suggest you get out
your good ol' scruffy copy of the Old Testament and read the first few
verses *very* slowly, very carefully, several times, and then compare that
with a similar careful reading of a summary of the Big Bang theory. You
might as well equate the Swan Lake ballet with stampeding elephants.

> "A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe;
> if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The
> pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This is an exceedingly
> strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have
> always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created
> heaven and earth... Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back
> in time, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is
not a
> matter of another year, another decade of work, another measurement, or
> another theory; at this moment it seems as though science will never be
> able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist
> has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad
> dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer
> the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted
by a
> band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." Jastrow
> "God and the Astronomers", 1992, pp106-107).

Yeah, right.

Despite Jastrow's gloating over the apparent failure of reason to go past
the Big Bang, there is no reason to believe that the difficulty is anything
more than the result of faulty premises and that, in any case, it's only
temporary. Jastrow, to be not *nearly* as blunt as I'd like to be, is full
of bull-excrement. He was obviously not qualified to be delving into such

> BV>Only an agnostic suspects neither side will reach any final, ultimate
> >truth.

> Bertvan here commits a fallacy. *Neither* "science" nor "religion" claims
> that its side will reach "final, ultimate truth". The *real* question is
> getting relatively *closer* to the "final, ultimate truth".
> But there is an asymmetry here. If the "final, ultimate truth", is that
> materialist is right and the "final, ultimate truth" is that there is
nothing but
> matter in mindless motion and undirected, impersonal physical forces, then
> it doesn't really matter much about getting closer to the ultimate truth.
> that case the universe would be ultimately meaningless and life on Earth a
> fortuitous accident, which will inevitably be snuffed out never to return
> the next turn of the cosmic wheel of fortune.

Well, *that's* silly. And irrelevant. If you are getting the "meaning" of
your life out of something like God, then, for *you*, the universe would
ultimately be meaningless. But, for the rest of us, life goes on, full of
meaning, God or no God, whether life is a fortuitous accident or not.

> But if the materialist is wrong and the "final, ultimate truth", is that
there is
> in fact an Intelligent Designer who brought into being the universe, life
> human consciousness, and who has revealed Himself to man through the
> Bible, then it most certainly *does* matter about getting closer to that
> "final, ultimate truth"!

There is a slight problem here. There may be an intelligent designer who
nevertheless is *not* revealing himself through the Bible or any other book
(or by any other means at all). You have no evidence that, *IF* there is an
Intelligent Designer, it will be *anything* like the various versions of God
in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, considering the nature of the
Universe as far as we can tell, we can guarantee that it *won't* be like the
various Gods of the Bible (who didn't even know that the Earth was round,
and who knew almost nothing of mathematics, logic, biology, chemistry, and
physics, etc.).

= = = = =

A final point: You quote a lot of people, but seem to have few actual
independent thoughts of your own. Is this just because you lack the ability
to come up with such views yourself, or do you think that quoting Jastrow,
et al, will somehow make your arguments seem more reasonable? From my point
of view, it doesn't help much for you to back up *you*r bad arguments with
the bad arguments of *other* people (especially when you seem to have gotten
your bad arguments from them in the first place). Further, I've noticed that
much of what you quote has *remarkably* little substance, like the three
large quotes above. *None* of them point to any actual facts. All three are
the kinds of collections of generalities one hears at after-dinner speeches,
full of rhetoric but short on substance. I, for one, am not impressed by
this kind of empty blather. If you are going to quote people, at least quote
them when they actually have something to add, such as a specific fact to
back up your point (or theirs), or some actual reasoning. Please.