Re: information creation and promissory materialism (was Especially for Bertvan) #1

Stephen E. Jones (
Fri, 15 Oct 1999 20:19:52 +0800


I have had to split this reply into two parts because of its length.
In accordance with my new policy of reducing the number of my
posts, I intend these to be my last posts to Chris on this thread.

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


>SJ> 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
>>be* "understandable" naturalistically"; and "I can't explain it", but "it"
>*cannot* "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.

>CC>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.

There is no question that materialistic-naturalistic science (NS) has been
hugely successful at understanding the *physical* world. But that is no
guarantee it will be continue to be successful, at the same rate. Respected
science writer John Horgan believes that science has now "entered an era
of diminishing returns":

"Spengler's analysis was, if anything, too optimistic. His view of science as
cyclic implied that science might one day be resurrected and undergo a new
period of discovery. Science is not cyclic, however, but linear; we can only
discover the periodic table and the expansion of the universe and the
structure of DNA once. The biggest obstacle to the resurrection of science-
and especially pure science, the quest for knowledge about who we are and
where we came from-is science's past success. Scientists are
understandably loath to state publicly that they have entered an era of
diminishing returns. No one wants to be recalled as the equivalent of those
allegedly shortsighted physicists of a century ago. There is always the
danger, too, that predictions of the demise of science will become self-
fulfilling. But Gunther Stent is hardly the only prominent scientist to violate
the taboo against such prophecies. In 1971, Science published an essay
titled "Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?" by Bentley Glass, an
eminent biologist and the president of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, which publishes Science. Glass weighed the two
scenarios for science's future posited by Vannevar Bush and Gunther Stent
and reluctantly came down on the side of Stent. Not only is science finite,
Glass argued, but the end is in sight. "We are like the explorers of a great
continent," Glass proclaimed, "who have penetrated to its margins in
mostly points of the compass and have mapped the major mountain chains
and rivers. There are still innumerable details to fill in, but the endless
horizons no longer exist." (Horgan J., "The End of Science: Facing the
Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age", 1997, p24)

But NS has been far less successful in explaining the non-physical aspects
of the world (eg. its origin, design, information, consciousness, and why
science is even possible). Typically materialists deny that there even are
non-physical aspects of the world.

A science based on philosophical theism (TS) can equally or better account
for the success of materialistic science in explaining the physical world, and
better explain the non-physical aspects of the world.

It is not necessary to convince hard-core philosophical materialist-
naturalists like Chris of this. That is by definition impossible while they
remain materialist-naturalists. All that is required at this stage is to keep
chipping away at NS, highlighting the gap between science's dominant
philosophy and the empirical facts.

Since 90% of the public reject philosophical materialism-naturalism, and
probably even a majority of all scientists, *if TS plays its cards right*,
sooner or later NS should crack and be forced to give up part of its public
funding and research facilities to TS.

>CC>Theistic "explanations," on
>the other hand, have not improved at all: They amount to: "God did it.
>Period. Now shut your mind. Period."

This is a common caricature of TS of course, as Johnson points out:

"That is a caricature of theistic rationality, of course. Theists do not throw
up their hands and refer everything to God's great plan, but they do
recognize that attempts to explain all of reality in totally naturalistic terms
may leave out something of importance. Thus they reject the routine non
sequiturs of scientism which pervade the Darwinist literature: because
science cannot study a cosmic purpose, the cosmos must have no purpose;
because science cannot make value judgments, values must be purely
subjective; because science cannot study God, only purposeless material
forces can have been involved in biological creation; and so on." (Johnson
P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, p210)

But it contains a grain of truth. If God *did* do it, then it is the
*materialist-naturalists* who are shutting their minds.

>SJ>And Christian theology, while it might have believed that the
>>materialist- naturalists "promissory materialism" would eventually fail,
>>could not really *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 of the universe,

>CC>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

This is typical of the limitations of NS. When it strikes a problem that is
beyond its materialistic-naturalistic scope, it denies reality to the problem!

TS, being more comprehensive, can at least admit reality to the problem.

>SJ>the origin of life,

>CC>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.

Not really. *All* the success of origin of life simulations have been due to
the input of the human intelligent designer:

"Over the years a slowly emerging line or boundary has appeared which
shows observationally the limits of what can be expected from matter and
energy left to themselves, and what can be accomplished only through what
Michael Polanyi has called "a profoundly informative intervention.". When
it is acknowledged that most so-called prebiotic simulation experiments
actually owe their success to the crucial but *illegitimate* role of the
investigator, a new and fresh phase of the experimental approach to life's
origin can then be entered. Until then however, the literature of chemical
evolution will probably continue to be dominated by reports of experiments
in which the investigator, like a metabolizing Maxwell Demon, will have
performed work on the system through intelligent, exogenous intervention.
Such work establishes experimental boundary conditions, and imposes
intelligent influence/control over a supposedly "prebiotic" earth. As long as
this informative interference of the investigator is ignored, the illusion of
prebiotic simulation will be fostered. We would predict that this practice
will prove to be a barrier to solving the mystery of life's origin." (Thaxton
C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of Life's Origin, 1992,
p185. Emphasis in original.)

If the reality of a supernatural Intelligent Designer was admitted, science
should be able to solve the origin of life, ie. come up with a plausible
scenario that fits all the known facts including the input of an Intelligent

>CC>Since Christian theology has no more basis >for any claims they may
make about the exact nature of this event than >naturalists

This is false. "Christian theology" has at least in principle available to it the
resources of an Intelligent Designer. Genesis 1-2 depicts God creating life
by the progressive infusion of new information into existing materials
created in the previous stage.

>CC>you are hardly in a position to make it an "intractable"
>problem for naturalists, while pretending that it's not equally intractable
>for theists.

See above. The problem is definitely *not* equally intractable for theists.
But I am pleased to see that Chris comes close to admitting it is intractable
for naturalists.

>SJ>the origin of life's complex designs,

>CC>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.

There is no such "principle of evolution that organisms will increase in
complexity to fill every available niche". This is easy to see when Dawkins
was asked by Paul Davies what would happen if life was wiped out on
Earth and had to start again. All Dawkins could predict was a list of things
that we "probably" or "might" get. He couldn't even be sure we would get
"sight" or "flight" on Darwinian principles. And he definitely would not
expect to get something with a "homo sapiens"-like intelligence:

"PD: ...The picture which Richard is giving us is that it's much more of a
lottery, much more of a blind groping about. The question that we have to
ask is if the earth was hit by an asteroid tomorrow and everything but
simple microbes were destroyed and we came back in another 3 or 4 billion
years, would we expect to find homo sapiens here again. Well, of course


RD: Yes. It is not in my view sensible to invoke fundamental laws of
physical improvement for the biological improvement of complexity or
running speed or anything else. If you wiped our life and started again-no,
you would not get homo sapiens. I tell you what you would get, you would
probably get a great diversity of living form. You'd probably get plants,
animals, you'd probably get parasites, you'd probably get predators, you'd
probably get large predators, small predators. You might well get flight,
you might well get sight. There are all sorts of things that you can guess
that you might get. You would certainly not get a re-run of what we've

(McKew M., "The Origin of the Universe", Interview with Richard
Dawkins & Paul Davies, "Lateline", Australian Broadcasting Commission,
19 June 1996, in Australian Rationalist, No. 41, Spring 1996, pp72-73)

As there certainly is no Darwinian "principle of evolution" that explains the
origin of Homo sapiens-level intelligence. Ernst Mayr, arguably the world's
leading Darwinian, thinks that "It is a miracle that man ever happened"
which would not have "been repeated anywhere else" in the whole

"Looking at the SETI project from a biologist's point of view in Essay 4, I
demonstrate that each step leading to the evolution of intelligent life on
earth was highly improbable and that the evolution of the human species
was the result of a sequence of thousands of these highly improbable steps.
It is a miracle that man ever happened, and it would be an even greater
miracle if such a sequence of improbabilities had been repeated anywhere
else." (Mayr E., "Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of
an Evolutionist", Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA, 1988, p5).

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

Note the limitations of Chris' NS which has to deny reality! The fact is that
evolutionists who deny design cannot help noticing it and have to be very
stern with themselves not to admit it to themselves:

"Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not
designed, but rather evolved." (Crick F.H.C., "What Mad Pursuit", 1990,
reprint, p138).

>SJ>the origin and nature of consciousness,

>CC>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. consciousness,

More denial mode! The fact is that "the hard problem of consciousness" is
just that-a *hard problem* for NS:

"Researchers use the word "consciousness" in many different ways. To
clarify the issues, we first have to separate the problems that are often
clustered together under the name. For this purpose, I find it useful to
distinguish between the "easy problems" and the "hard problem" of
consciousness. The easy problems are by no means trivial-they are actually
as challenging as most in psychology and biology-but it is with the hard
problem that the central mystery lies. The easy problems of consciousness
include the following: How can a human subject discriminate sensory
stimuli and react to them appropriately? How does the brain integrate
information from many different sources and use this information to control
behavior? How is it that subjects can verbalize their internal states?
Although all these questions are associated with consciousness, they all
concern the objective mechanisms of the cognitive system. Consequently,
we have every reason to expect that continued work in cognitive
psychology and neuroscience will answer them. The hard problem, in
contrast, is the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to
subjective experience. This puzzle involves the inner aspect of thought and
perception: the way things feel for the subject. When we see, for example,
we experience visual sensations, such as that of vivid blue. Or think of the
ineffable sound of a distant oboe, the agony of an intense pain, the sparkle
of happiness or the meditative quality of a moment lost in thought. All are
part of what I am calling consciousness. It is these phenomena that pose
the real mystery of the mind." (Chalmers D.J., "The Puzzle of Conscious
Experience", Scientific American, Vol. 273, No. 6, December 1995, p62)

>CC>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.

I guess this is meant to be an insult? One of my rules of thumb is that when
people are confident of their position, they can afford to be patiently
courteous. But when people are not confident of their position, they feel a
need to `shoot the messenger'!

It was evolutionists' insults to a poor old young-Earth creationist which got
me interested in this Creation/Evolution debate (see my testimony on my
home page). And it is evolutionists' insults which convince me that I am on
to something.

Now if evolutionists were supremely confident of their position, and were
unfailingly patient and kind to us `poor benighted creationists' then I would
*really* worry!


>CC>So far, you're batting .000.

Oh I wouldn't say that. Chris has not yet answered the "etc"! :-)

>SJ>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.

CC>What *leading* biologists do you have in mind?

Those who reject Darwinism include Pierre Grasse for starters.

CC>And what makes them *leading*?

I am sure that Chris already knows what makes a biologist "leading", so I
am not going to waste his time and mine explaining it!

In the case of Pierre Grasse, I will repeat what I wrote to Chris in another
post when he asked who he was:

On Thu, 07 Oct 1999 06:50:10 +0800, Stephen E. Jones wrote:


Only "Professor Pierre Grasse (who, for thirty years, held the chair for
evolution at the Sorbonne...)" (Koestler A., "Janus: A Summing Up,"
Picador: London, 1983, p177). Who Gould describes as "the great French
zoologist Pierre-Paul Grasse" (Gould S.J., "An Urchin in the Storm", 1990,
p234). Of whom Dobzhansky wrote:

"The book of Pierre P. Grasse is a frontal attack on all kinds of
"Darwinism" Its purpose is "to destroy the myth of evolution as a simple,
understood, and explained phenomenon," and to show that evolution is a
mystery about which little is, and perhaps can be, known. Now, one can
disagree with Grasse hut not ignore him, he is the most distinguished of
French zoologists, the editor of the 28 volumes of "Traite de Zoologie",
author of numerous original investigations and ex-president of the
Academie des Sciences. His knowledge of the living world is
encyclopedic..." (Dobzhansky T., "Darwinian or `Oriented' Evolution?,"
review of Grasse P.-P., "L'Evolution du Vivant", Editions Albin Michel:
Paris, 1973, in "Evolution", Vol. 29, June 1975, pp376-378)


>SJ>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.

>CC>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

The above just confirms my point. NS is simply giving up on the problem
of a materialistic-naturalistic solution to the origin of life. But if NS wants
to maintain its `creation myth' then it *must* at least pretend that they are
working on the problem and success is just around the corner:

"In fact, Justice Scalia used the general term "evolution" exactly as
scientists use it-to include not only biological evolution but also
prebiological or chemical evolution, which seeks to explain how life first
evolved from nonliving chemicals. Biological evolution is just one major
part of a grand naturalistic project, which seeks to explain the origin of
everything from the Big Bang to the present without allowing any role to a
Creator. If Darwinists are to keep the Creator out of the picture, they have
to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life." (Johnson P.E.,
"Darwin on Trial", 1993, pp103-104)

"The difference is that a naturalistic origin of life is indispensable to the
naturalistic worldview, and so no amount of experimental discouragement
destroys the faith that a valid naturalistic theory can someday be found."
(Johnson P.E., "Reason in the Balance", 1995, p210)

>CC>There was no artificial life movement 140 or even 25 years ago as
>there is now.

Arguably the modern origin of life has been in existence for 128 years
(Darwin, 1871); 86 years (Loeb, 1913); 71 years (Oparin-Haldane, 1924-
1928) or 46 years (Miller-Urey, 1953). Either way its a long time with no
significant results, except to realise the enormity of the problem:

"More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of
chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the
immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its
solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in
the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance. (Dose K.,
"The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers", Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988, p348)

>SJ>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:
>>"...Notice, however, that the sharp edge of this critique is not what we
>>*do not* know, but what we *do* know. ... With each passing year the
>>criticism has gotten stronger. The advance of science itself is what is
>>challenging the nation that life arose on earth by spontaneous ...
>>chemical reactions." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The
>>Mystery of Life's Origin", 1992, p185. Emphasis in original.)

>CC>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

It is the last page in a *whole book* of such examples! I suggest Chris get
it from a library and *read* it! he book was actually highly praised even by
a leading materialist-naturalist origin of life researcher Robert Shapiro:

"The authors have made an important contribution to the origin of life field.
Many workers in this area believe that an adequate scientific explanation
for the beginning of life on Earth has already been made. Their point of
view has been widely disseminated in texts and the media, and to a large
extent, has been accepted by the public. This new work brings together the
major scientific arguments that demonstrate the inadequacy of current
theories. Although I do not share the final philosophical conclusion that the
authors reach, I welcome their contribution. It will help to clarify our
thinking.... I would recommend this book to everyone with a scientific
background and interest In the origin of life...." -Robert Shapiro, Professor
of Chemistry at New York University. Dr. Shapiro is coauthor of Life
Beyond Earth." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery
of Life's Origin", 1992, back cover)

>CC>I 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?

It is also a thermodynamic problem:

"Life and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. How does all of this relate
to chemical evolution? Since the important macromolecules of living
systems (DNA, protein, etc.) are more energy rich than their precursors
(amino acids, heterocyclic bases, phosphates, and sugars), classical
thermodynamics would predict that such macromolecules will not
spontaneously form. Roger Caillois has recently drawn this conclusion in
saying, "Clausius and Darwin cannot both be right." (R. Caillois, 1976,
Coherences Adventureuses, Paris: Gallimard). This prediction of classical
thermodynamics has, however, merely set the stage for refined efforts to
understand life's origin. Harold Morowitz and others have suggested that
the earth is not an isolated system, since it is open to energy flow from the
sun. Nevertheless, one cannot simply dismiss the problem of the origin of
organization and complexity in biological systems by a vague appeal to
open-system, non-equilibrium thermodynamics. The mechanisms
responsible for the emergence and maintenance of coherent (organized)
states must be defined." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The
Mystery of Life's Origin", 1992, pp116-117)

Thaxton et. al.'s book contains a lot of maths with symbols, which I do not
fully understand, and which can't easily be transcribed into ASCII text.
Chris should get the book if he wants to follow their argument.

>>BV>Why can't science await a truly credible explanation before
>>>criticizing other people's expectations?

>SJ>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 naturalistic:

>CC>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?

This just proves my point. Now this might seem perfectly reasonable to the
10% (or less) of the population who are convinced philosophical
materialist-naturalists like Chris. But it seems absurd and close-minded to
the 90% of the population who aren't.

NS knows this and has been very successful at controlling the terms of
discourse (no conspiracy is implied or required) so this problem is kept
hidden from view. It is part of the ID movement's "wedge" strategy to
make NS philosophical assumptions public.

That is now happening even within NS as this frank admission by Darwinist
philosopher Michael Ruse illustrates:

"I think that this -- and I'm not saying this now particularly in a critical
sense, I'm just saying this in a matter-of-fact sense -- I think that today also,
for more than one eminent evolutionist, evolution in a way functions as a
kind of secular religion...So, as I say, historically I think, however we're
going to deal with creationism, or new creationism, or these sorts of things,
whether you think that this is -- that what I've just been saying means that
we'd better put our house in order, or whatever -- I think at least we must
recognize the historical facts. I think also, and I am going to speak very,
very briefly, because time is so short, is I think that we should also look at
evolution and science, in particular, biology, generally philosophically I
think a lot more critically...And it seems to me very clear that at some very
basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind
of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles
and these sorts of things, come what may...But I am coming here and
saying, I think that philosophically that one should be sensitive to what I
think history shows, namely, that evolution...akin to religion, involves
making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions, which at some level
cannot be proven empirically....I think that we're all much more sensitive to
these facts now. And I think that the way to deal with creationism, but the
way to deal with evolution also, is not to deny these facts, but to recognize
them, and to see where we can go, as we move on from there. Well, I've
been very short, but that was my message, and I think it's an important one.

Eugenie Scott: Any questions?

[There is a momentary silence.]

Ruse: State of shock!..."

(Ruse M., "Nonliteralist Anti-Evolutionism: The Case of Phillip Johnson",
1993 Annual Meeting of the AAAS, Symposium "The New
Antievolutionism", February 13, 1993)



Stephen E. (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ Email:
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \ Web:
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Perth, Western Australia v "Test everything." (1 Thess. 5:21)