Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science - an audio lecture by Peter Harrison; from the Faraday Institute (7/2007)

Peter Harrison has 4 or 5 lectures available (free) at the Faraday site. This is the one I enjoyed most.

Quotes and comments;

1. 'The Rationalists doubt the senses can give us truth, and the Empiricists doubt 'reason' can give us truth.'

2. 'Bacon talked of the mind as a cracked mirror; ie. it receives the impressions but gives a false 'picture.'

3. 'Bacon believed that science could make up for the negative effects of the Fall.'

4. In the Q+A a person says 'the scholars of that time (17th century?) wanted to prove things from scratch' (i.e. by reason.) But this ignores many things; namely the various forms of revelation. Men can't escape the fact they live in a 'revealed' universe; that they have language handed to them from god; that they are made in god's image; and that they live in god's universe. There is therefore no way they can start from scratch.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A response to; The God equation; a review by Ron Csillag; of the book 'Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up (Hill & Wang) by John Allen Paulos.

I came across a link to this review at the Arts and Letters Daily website; where it was introduced by a quote that comes at the conclusion of the review.
'As for the problem of good and evil, he defers to fellow atheist, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion."
- I take offense at this statement, and think it's utterly wrongheaded; in fact nonsensical. (I'll respond to it near the end of my response.

1. Paulos apparently assumes there is such a thing as irreligion; but the Bible tells us that all men are religiou. One reason people deny this claim is the fact the term 'religion' had become so overused as to be obsolete. People rarely ever try to define it, and if they don't, what they say on the subject is meaningless. A much better term (one that can be meaningfully employed) is belief system. All people have belief systems; even people like Paulos. (Speaking personaly, I'm more than tired of this game; where people one doesn't like are trivialized by calling their views religious.) We also need to draw a distinction between 'religion' (a meaningless term) and God. (The generic god word is also meaningless. To talk rationally about God one has to first define the term. If one is referring to the Being described in the bible one needs to say so.)

2. 'This newest addition to the neo-atheist field crowded by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others emboldened by the recent transformation of non-belief from a 97-pound weakling into a he-man, Paulos thankfully employs little math, preferring to see things, as he tells us, in the stark light of "logic and probability."
- one could ask him what he means by logic, what logic he's referring to, and how he defines it, and how he knows it's true or valid. If all were matter in motion how could there be such a thing as logic.

3. 'Lord knows Paulos isn't the first mathematician to proclaim his lack of religious faith. Cambridge's famous wunderkind G.H. Hardy loudly and proudly adjudged God to be his enemy. To Erdos, God, if He existed, was "the supreme fascist."
- truth claims uttered by materialists are meaningless. For truth to exist there must be an absolute standard. And if man is the supreme being in the u. there can be no absolute standard, as man is finite, fallible and sinful.

4. "It's repellent for atheists or agnostics," he admonishes, "to personally and aggressively question others' faith or pejoratively label it as benighted flapdoodle or something worse. Those who do are rightfully seen as arrogant and overbearing."
'That doesn't prevent him from doffing the gloves. The ontological argument is "logical abracadabra.'' The design, or teleological argument, is a "creationist Ponzi scheme'' that "quickly leads to metaphysical bankruptcy.''
- this is comical. Paulos seems incapable of taking his own advice. (Admittedly hard to do :=)
It's hard to know what it means to refer to design arguments as a 'creationist Ponzi scheme.' Is that supposed to impress anyone? If Paulos thinks the ID argument has no weight he should read the latest articles on the cell he can find. The idea the information in the cell (codes, etc.) happened by some kind of chemical accident is preposterous. It's clearly impossible. If Paulos disagrees maybe he can account for the genetic code in terms of chemical affinities.
- the Ontologicl argument is notoriously slippery. At various times I've been impressed by it, and then not impressed. (The philosopher Colin McGinn had similar feelings as I remember.) One should remember the Anselm's argument' was really a prayer. I don't think it can be as easily dismissed (in the rude, vulgar way Paulos does) as some think. The trouble for the materialist is this. If we can't come to know god by 'definition' (as it were) how can we come to know 'things' like justice? ie. how do we know if 'justice' exists? isn't it because we 'define' it into existence? or try to? If the ontological argument for god is 'abracadabra' (and isn't it insulting to accuse a pious man like anselm of magical incantations?) then we might think the same holds for our arguments about abstractions like justice, fairness, equity, law, rights, etc.
- in my opinion its materialism that leads to metaphysical bankruptcy. Here's the idea the universe came from nothing (an impossibility) and that living organisms 'emerged' from inert matter; that information was created by chemical reactions; that intelligence came from non-intelligence; that persons came from non-persons. All the above is impossible; and violates all we know about true science.

5. 'As for the problem of good and evil, he defers to fellow atheist, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion."
- well that's an absurd comment; repulsive in fact. It depends on playing this child's game of asserting materialism isn't a religion and Christianity is. The reality is that both are belief systems. (Or worldviews if you prefer.) How Weinberg can allow himself such a statement I don't know. I can remember reading many times that the horrors of communism were done by good men who really wanted to help the people... and that events just went bad, that there were unintended consequences. I've read many accounts of how Lenin was a good man, trying to do good. So maybe Paulos could tell us if he thinks there were no good people in the USSR or in Maoist china?
- and of course the materialist has no way to define good. If all were matter in motion goodness would not (and could not) exist.

6. 'Or as Paulos might say, no mathematician has ever deliberately flown planes into buildings.
- what a silly comment. Lenin himself stressed the necessity of using terror. (And he's a hero for certain Muslim terrorist groups.) Wasn't he a brilliant intellectual? (and he certainly wasn't the only one who believed in using evil to do good.)

7. Paulos tells us that 'Much of theology is "a kind of verbal magic show.'' A claim that a holy book is inerrant because the book itself says so is another logical black hole.
- Any final authority can only be established on the basis of that final authority itself. This is why arguments for god are meaningless to materialists; by the very nature of the case they can't take them seriously. On the other hand how do you defend materialism? Well, by the authority of Materialism, which tells you only matter exists. And how do you know Materialism is true? You don't; you just believe it (probably because you have a dispute with god.
* - Paulos wants to mock the idea the authority of the bible comes from the bible. But his idea 'logic' is the final authority relies on what? logic. So in his case it's logic that's self attesting. (The idea a book is holy because it says it is is obviously erroneous. A book is 'inerrant' if it is; a book can't be made inerrant by a claim. It's not the claim that makes it so by the reality of the case. One either accepts the claim or (with Paulos) does not. It's not the book that's making the claim it's the authors of the books; the men who claimed they were speaking the words of god. One either believes men like Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, etc. or one does not. (And I'll believe they were being scrupulously honest before I'll believe Paulos. Does he really believe the universe came from nothing? does he really believe life came from inert matter? does he really believe that information was created by chemical reactions and then mutations? does he really believe the personal came from the impersonal (and in fact from hydrogen) Does he really think man was produced by mutations in some proto ape? (and we might note that mutations don't create information, but destroy it.) You tell me. I think he knows all too well that these things are impossible. Evolution is promoted so heavily in our day not because knowledgible people think it's true, but because it's the best weapon materialists have in the perennial battle of natural man against the reality of the Creator.
- Paulos can't give us any proof Aristotlean logic can comprehend the reality of our lives and this universe. Can 'logic' tell you what justice is? what love is? what truth is? what fairness is? what laws should be? what the state should be like? etc. I don't think so :=) Can logic even tell you what logic is? can it tell you why you should have it as an ultimate authority? can logic tell you if there's a god? some say yes and some say no; can logic' tell you who to believe? and why? If there is no mind what is logic? if thought is just chemical reaction what is logic? if thoughts are just chemical reactions what are words? what is lanaguage? why should I think words can tell me what reality is? If thoughts are just chemical adjustments why is paulos so upset with 'religionists' and christians in particular? If man is just a chemical machine why should he be held responsible for anything he thinks or says. If man has no free will why is Paulos so upset? Are his critiques mere chemical reactions?

1. this was not meant to be a book review; only a response to an article, and especially to the vile comment by Weinberg. (Well known for making such remarks.)
2. As one brief example of cell complexity and design;
- Transporters: 'Aussie biologists talked about protein transport into mitochondrial membranes in Current Biology.2 Since there are two membranes, similar to those in chloroplasts (see 01/01/2005 story), there are two squads of transporters to get the cargo in and out. Named TOM and TIM for translocons of the outer and inner membranes, these are “a series of molecular machines” that know how to sort and authenticate objects needing to pass the gates. They envisioned an “entropic spring” mechanism that can help get the cargo passed through “no apparent input of energy.” This type of mechanism is “an emerging theme in biology” that harnesses the disordered motion of molecules to provide binding flexibility and low energy cost to accomplish “a range of functions.” “The TIM23 complex is a smart machine,” they say, describing its ability to grab a piece of cargo, insert it, respond to a stop-transfer signal and reject it, or pass the cargo to the next machine complex.' - (2005)