May 13, 2005

Santo Subito

Rumor has it that the process for John Paul the Great will be or has started.

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May 12, 2005

A Few Words on Intelligent Design

I am not a critic of Intelligent Design. When it comes right down to it, I generally accept the principles of intelligent design. But intelligent design is NOT science and if one buys intelligent design, one is accepting evolution. I find it odd that people should be such enthusiastic stompers of evolution (a scientific theory) and endorsers of intelligent design (a philosophical construct.)

Scientists who attack intelligent design as "not science" are not being entirely true to themselves. It would be equally valid to attack neo-darwinism. Neo-darwinism is the philosophical construct that grew up around Darwin's original proposal of evolutionary theory. While neodarwinism added some aspects to the theory as a whole (for example allopatric speciation), it also set on top of evolution an interpretive framework. Although the scientists using it would probably think of it as value neutral, it is not. Neo-darwinism assumes as its underpinning the absolute randomness of everything that happens in the natural world and in the mixing of genes. But absolute randomness is, in fact, an axiom, an expectation and it is improvable. Moreover, it is loaded with a philosophical bias that makes the theory including it untestable.

I think it is safe to say that those of us who are not creationists can buy the fact that through the distribution of genetic material animals change slowly over time. We know this is true because selective breeding gives us different kinds of dogs, cats, horses, and even drosophila. Now science can tell us that this gradual change is the result of a shift in the gene pool and science can propose reasons for the shift--allopatric speciation, island biogeography, temperature variation, "survival of the fittest," evolutionary morphospace and baupläne, etc. All of this so far is valid and scientifically testable. You can do experiments for a great many of these things and see if they cause genotype shifts in populations. What is untestable is that the mechanisms behind all of this are random. For example, when we do our experiments, we are using controlled conditions and the happenings are not at all random. The mixture of genes might be to some extent, but we cannot even say that for certain---brownian motion is not a truly random event--it is shown to be weakly deterministic.

Thus the assumption of randomness and unquideness is the philosophical bias that underpins science. Science is the pursuit of explanations of phenomena in the natural world apart from those factors that cannot be observed by science. In other words, science has an underlying "neutral" hypothesis that implicitly assumes atheism. The atheism is not antagonistic (in most cases) it is simply the condition required to try to determine what happens in the natural world. If scientists always had recourse to "the a miracle occurs" their explanations would amount to nothing.

Now, intelligent design comes along with various problems that have been observed before in evolutionary theory. For example, what good is half an eye? Gould proposed an odd little theory called exaption in which he proposed that an organ or body part that had previously served some other function is co-opted to become an eye or ear or something else. Now, as with a number of Gouldian notions, this is not a testable hypothesis it is a speculation. The same is true of his theory of contingency. Contingency is a marxist overlay employing Hegelian dialectical materialism to suggest that if everything did not occur precisely as it occurred in evolutionary history then we must perforce wind up at a different place in the present day. Such a speculation precludes scientific knowledge that the DNA of nearly all species is multiply redundant--that is there are a great many copies of genes that code for certain things that can be turned on and off by regulator genes. Right here we have a mechanism for redundancy. In Wonderful Life Gould speculates that if Pikaia had not assumed its place in the Cambrian Burgess pantheon then vertebrates would not have developed or would have been very, very different creatures. Perhaps. But how do you prove this scientifically? How do you experiment with it? What observational set can you propose that would isolate the appropriate factors and leave us with only the conditions required by Dr. Gould. In fact, there probably aren't any. Contingency is a philosophical speculation supported by a great deal of reasoning but no evidence whatsoever. It is the marxist class struggle imposed on the history of life.

I have demonstrated amply by this point that science has its share of nonscientific thinking. Intelligent Design is part and parcel of this. It is a philosophical lens through which to examine data. It sees what Behe calls "irreducible complexity" and leaps to the causal conclusion, "intelligent design." But it begs the question--we have labeled the thing irreducibly complex, but is it really, and is there some other mechanism to produce this. Obviously Behe does not think so, but Behe is also looking at it through a biased lens. I honestly don't know enough about the biochemical pathways that Behe speaks of to pronounce intelligently on the question of irreducible complexity, but others have suggested that the words themselves entail the bias of the philosophy.

Intelligent design is evolution in theistic garb. That's the first thing everyone should understand. They propose no new mechanisms, they basically accept the Darwinian lines of massive overproduction of offspring, natural struggles, development of species. What intelligent design does is it defies the implicit atheistic assumption of naturalist science and says that all of this is guided by a designer. Now, it may come as a big surprise to you, but this still implies that humans had ape-like ancestors (NOT as is so often stated humans evolved from chimps). The paradigm hasn't shifted. What has shifted is the philosophy through which the paradigm is interpreted. Now we have determinism laid on top of the natural world.

I happen to think that this is the correct explanation of things. God can cause through whatever mechanism He wishes any changes in the natural world. Knowing as He does His own rules and laws, He can easily cause to happen whatever needs to happen to lead to the end. What I reject is that proving this statement falls into the realm of science. It does not. It falls into the realm of religion, belief, and philosophy. God cannot be proven from these mechanisms. Because of its implicit bias, science can only be surprised by God, it cannot find Him in the data. Now, a scientist looking at the data may see God--that is the work of the Holy Spirit communicating through the data--but using that data to "prove" God is simply not viable.

The objection to intelligent design is not that it is bad science (although this is what scientists might tell you) it is that it contravenes a necessary assumption of science and the way science works to make a special exception for a sensitive case. The objection to intelligent design is that it is a philosophical assumption that poses as a theory. It offers nothing that evolution does not offer already. It is simply the theistic side of the coin. Atheists (Dawkins among them) argue that evolution proceeds in a random fashion (a point they cannot prove with any evidence whatsoever) and theists say that it proceeds by design. In either case the mechanism is as Darwin originally suggested--natural occurrences acting upon a population.

So, intelligent design is not a scientific theory, it is a philosophical construct. Evolution IS a scientific theory that must carefully be teased apart from a philosophical assumption of "no intervention." Proper teaching of evolution would require a very careful statement that we can assume nothing about how the mechanism proceeds. What appears random may be random but we cannot prove randomness. What we assume to be guided could be guided, but we can even less assume that.

Intelligent design is a philosophy attempting to disguise itself as a new scientific theory. It offers nothing in the way of evidence or proof of its propositions. It has discovered nothing new and it offers no insight that those of us who were believing Christians didn't have before its formal statement. Through my entire career as paleontologist, I believed and I still believe that everything that happens is guided and determined, watched over and supported by a God who cares and who has an end in mind. But I wouldn't dare propose this as a startlingly new theory of science or faith. Intelligent designers should have the intellectual honesty to examine their underpinnings and admit that what they are teaching is a philosophy--a different slant on the same data. Now, we can debate a different issue which is whether or not public schools should offer this understanding as a philosophical alternative to neo-darwinism; however, that is an entirely different issue and one that requires different "rules of engagement." For the time being I merely wanted to make clear what intelligent design is and what it is not. It is a philosophical construct, it is NOT a scientific theory that can be acted on according to the rules of science. That is why most scientists object to it. How do you disprove "then a miracle occurs?" It is entirely possible that just our use of terms--"irreducible complexity"--presents a barrier to other hypotheses and explanations for those who embrace the terminology.

We need to keep in mind Gödel's theorem, which reduced to a non-mathematical statement boils down to--within any given closed system there are propositions that can be made that cannot be proven using the axioms of the system. Intelligent design is one of these (as is atheistic evolution) neither is provable under the rules of order for scientific investigation.

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May 11, 2005

My Former Beloved Pastor

When the diocese of Orlando drove Fr. John O'Holohan out on the specious requirement of retirement age (although there were many others who were equally entitled to the privilege and yet remained in place) my heart sank, and I quickly stopped attending the Church at which he served as Priest.

Mr. Luse directed me to a press whereat I could acquire one of Fr. O'Holohan's books. What a blessing. Look for Shalom 2000. I already have several copies but if you're looking for a prayer book that is not overwhelming, this is a nice gift.

My thanks to Mr. Luse.

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Recommended chez TSO

Mr. Spamman.

As TSO lets down his hair, he gets progressively more interesting (although he was always extremely interesting) and amusing. For those who don't know him, you would do well to seek him out--adds a bit more levity to the blogosphere. Twice the humor with less than half the angst of your average blogsite!

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May 10, 2005

The Deep Meanings and Resonances within a Word

If you've ever wondered why I sign off "shalom" Talmida gives you insight into the word that I learned long, long ago. At this time I decided that the Word that was with God was indeed Shalom. So, while Pax Christi approaches the fullness of meaning I want to convey in my send-off, it is shalom, the Word, I wish for all of you. Thanks again Talmida.

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Are You Too Scrupulous?

Take the admittedly anecdotal test and find out.

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Catholic Carnival

Please visit the XXIX Catholic Carnival chez Living Catholicism.

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Calendar Girls

A highly improbable, but true, story of a group of women in England who decide to pose for a calendar. The impetus is the death of one woman's husband from cancer. While undergoing treatment, she was often forced to remain in the inadequate waiting room. She thought that the Woman's Institute for the area should raise the money for a new couch for the room so it would be somewhat more comfortable.

Their previous efforts at fundraising were, shall we say, not terribly successful. One of the women hits upon the idea of the group of them posing nude for a calendar. Now all of these ladies are not, how shall we put it, in the first bloom of youth, although all are blessed with a certain beauty that comes only of age. So we think we've gotten outselves into a female version of The Full Monty. Not so at all--while there are obvious parallels, this story is unique, very amusing, and charming. In fact, the whole set-up for the first calendar shot is extremely funny, as are several other moments in the film.

Recommended for the adults in the house.

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Author: Randy Wayne White

If you like mysteries that are more of the invesigative sort without any really possibility of "solving" them, AND you like local color, this is the kind of book for you. White does for Southwest Florida what McDoncald did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s for Fort Lauderdale. I don't know if John D. MacDonald's books are still in print, but I suspect that if they are they will breathe a certain air of nostalgia that might be a bit musty. Travis McGee was a product of his time with all the "love child" of the sixties certainty of "sexual healing." White's detective is mercifully bereft of such illusions and has grown up with the idea of an endless bounty of sexual possibilities. Fortunately, while this current is understood it isn't tremendously emphasized and one can finish the book relatively unscathed by modern sexual morality.

Our hero and investigator, Doc Ford, runs a marine biological supply company out of his two story tin shack built on a whart out in a bay of Sanibel Island. For those who don't know, Sanibel and Captiva comprise and odd east-west oriented barrier island off the south-west coast of Florida. We tend to hear a great deal about the Southeast part of Florida (Miami and Ft. Lauderdale) but the Southwest coast mercifully remains a bastion of old Florida. Attitudes there are changing gradually and with the increase in the size and complexity of Naples, Fort Meyers, and other cities, we can expect the swamp-ridden Southwest to join the Southeast in what passes for fame in this world. For the moment, however, we have the southwest preserved in this book. You will meet Florida Crackers--in some cases not the most pleasant of personalities, and other people who inhabit the southwest coast. In addition, by the time you are through, you'll have a pretty fair understanding of a small section of the Florida coastline.

The story? Well now, that's really hard to say without saying everything. Let's leave it with a bomb goes off near the boats of a group of Sanibel Island Fishermen. It is thought to be part of an endless roiling controversy about net fishing that is threatening to destroy a large portion of the fishing population of the region. As it is so close to home Doc Ford helps with the investigation.

The book jogs along nicely and doesn't introduce too much nonsense to hurt your brain. You will learn some things about the schooling habits of tarpon and other tidbits of the natural life of Florida--but don't expect either great literature or anything that will weigh you down too much.

With this start I plan to read about three other White books before my vacation to Southwest Florida. He has books titled Sanibel Flats (again set on Sanibel), Ten Thousand Islands referring to an area south of Naples that consists of a estuarine enviroment with large stands of salt tolerant mangrove that make up tiny islands, and Everglades (don't suppose that reference needs any clarification.) Anyway, if the quality continues White may ascend to a place just below James Lee Burke in my estimation of modern mystery writers.


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Willing God's Will

I took up a new book yesterday and was plunged almost immediately into this passage:

from Desiring God's Will
David G. Benner

Looked at carefullly, willfulness is more against something than for something. My willful self refuses to quit as I seek to push through my writing block or finish lecture preparation even when my spirit is dry and my body is telling me to take a break. A spirit of willingness invites me to pause and turn to God, simply opening to God for a moment, lettling God bring perspective and clarity about my need to stop writing for the night or throw out what I've started and wait for the gift of a fresh idea. Willfulness, in either circumstance, is my fight against quitting, against attending to my body, against attending to God's Spirit. The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.

Thinking about this yesterday, several things struck me, and looking at it again this morning, I see yet other points. Let me start with the caveats. In the example above, trying to break through writer's block or finishing prep for a lecture one can see a certain amount of willfulness, or one can see tenacity. Breaking through a writer's block requires a certain amount of staying at the computer or writing desk and simply writing your way through. In this particular case it is difficult to distinguish how much is necessary and how much is willfulness. That is the line between tenacity and stubbornness is unclear. There are times at which we are required to stay at a task to achieve the breakthrough we need to attain--and this can go for tasks in the spiritual life.

Now, as to yesterday's thoughts--how often do I allow willfulness to overpower a spirit that cooperates with God? It is far too easy for me to take over, even when God has begun the task, and to run it my way. Perhaps blogging is an example. There are times when God is clearly in control, and there are times in which Steven is running the whole show. Surrender to God shows in the effect the individual pieces of writing have. I have written things on which I have recieved comments that surprised me. I thought it was yet another entry, others thought that it spoke to their hearts. That's when God is in charge. When Steven is in charge its a wandering mess that generally leads me to threaten yet once again that I'm going to take all my marbles and go home. I do that once or twice a year and it seems about time for a fresh crop. But perhaps this year rather than making a fool of myself again, I can listen to what God has to say, stop feeling sorry for myself, and continue to write as He leads.

It's all a balance between willfulness and willingness. Willfulness to conquer the stubborn parts of the self, and willingness to cooperate with God. They blend into the same thing, and yet they take on such different aspects.

I'll keep you posted on the book.

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