Nelson: Parabolas and Methodological Naturalism (Again)

@pnelson Do you actually get paid for this?

1 Like

Is there anything new you have to offer? ANy changes in your point of view?

This all seems to be repeating what you’ve said several times before. I’m sure rephrased with different quotes and so on. But is there anything new here?

There was a continuum between the Rationalists of early science and the Empiricists of the 19th century. Much of Newton’s work was derived from experiments and founded in empiricism which is entirely in keeping with MN. If you think empiricism and experimentalism should be scrapped, then present an argument for it. At least in my view, the modern scientific method is much more useful than a method based on intuition and subjectivity.

They are critiqued because their ideas are not testable. If you think MN does not require testability, then you need to explain why that is.

Since when does MN exclude intelligence? Naturalism includes the behavior of plants and animals. The natural explanation for a bird’s nest is a bird. The natural explanation for burrows is a burrowing animasl. The natural explanation for Mt. Rushmore is humans. You can detect and test for the actions of intelligence within MN.

If ID has abandoned MN and the scientific method then it can be judged by the ID method, whatever it may be. From what I have seen, the ID method seems to be founded on the idea that subjective human intuitions are infallible. For example, if an object has the subjective appearance of design then it is designed. That method seems fraught with problems, starting with the assumption that subjective human intuition is infallible.


Why not?

For what it is worth, Stuart Kauffman definitely falls into this category. See for example Humanity in a Creative Universe.

1 Like

Here I’m responding in agreement to @pnelson’s objection that “the lowest levels of physical existence are causally sufficient for events like the origin of life”

I’m saying that, even if the lowest levels of physical existence were causally sufficient for events like the origin of life, explanation in terms of those lowest levels would not help me understand what’s going on.

For one thing, no one really knows if there is a lowest level or what that lowest level is. But we could imagine that quantum field theory is the lowest level. Here there’s no hydrogen cyanide or water, or hydrogen or carbon or nitrogen or oxygen. There’s fields in a flat space-time and some Lagrangian density that describes these fields in that space-time and some initial condition for those fields. On the scale I would tend to investigate HCN hydrolysis, say 5 mL, there’s billions of billions and billions of excited states in these fields.

If someone wrote out those fields and the Lagrangian density, and the analytical solution (if such a thing exists and if there’s enough paper in the world) or a close numerical approximation (if not, still needs to be enough paper), this account would not give me any more understanding of the hydrolysis of HCN than I presently have.

I compared my understanding to God’s above, but maybe a better analogy is Deep Mind’s AlphaGo.Go is an exceedingly complex and beautiful game (does anyone here play?), that can’t be solved computationally without more logic circuits than particles in the observable universe. Machine learning has opened a way to design a Go program that lacks that kind of analysis, but still can play at a level significantly beyond human capabilities.

But trying to figure out why AlphaGo makes a move it does is very difficult. The way it ‘understands’ the game is so different from the way we think. Even its simplified account (in terms of probability density functions across the Go board) is not all that useful for us in terms of understanding. However, it is very useful in terms of analysis or testing our own understanding.

Maybe someday an AI will be able to map out and rank prebiotically plausible organic chemical reactions in terms of quantum chemistry. Such a program would be invaluable for analyzing different origins scenarios and testing and growing our own understanding, but by itself will probably not help us understand how life originated.

1 Like

To get from physics to concerto’s under MN requires (or maybe not?) emergence - the idea that a higher level of complexity can emerge with rules of its own that do not violate physics, but may not be fully reducible to physics either. I would be interested in your thoughts here.

In practice, what is the heuristic value in ID? Were an object actually designed and therefore the naturalistic presumption wrong, science would keep on digging even if futile and the riddle remained open. The opposite is true of ID. Once deemed designed, you are done; there is no further need of investigation. Which presumption is more likely to generally advance science? As a practical matter, even the theistic scientists of yore such as Galileo, Newton, and Bacon presumed that the natural order would yield natural explanation, and not everything was carried on angel wings.

1 Like


The odd thing about emergence, once one takes it seriously, is suddenly one finds that the upper levels decouple from the lower, strongly – and then go off on their own to explain things. Even more remarkably, the upper levels turn around and start explaining lower-level states of affairs, top-down. See the recent writings of the physicist George Ellis.

Apropos of levels, since you work on the OOL, I’d very much like to have your opinion of this paper:

1 Like

If this were true, Harvey would never have discovered the circulation of the blood.

The questions (1) “What is it designed to do?” and (2) “How does it work?” are intimately connected, with constant travel on the two-lane highway between them. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with a research group comprising engineers, mathematicians, and biologists, all motivated by design premises, and we have more open research questions than we can handle. Our first public meeting was scheduled for this summer, at Biola University, until COVID-19 hit. Now we are aiming for 2021.

Want an attitude that kills curiosity (and therefore, research)?

“That’s just more evolutionary junk. Does nothing. Forget about it. Natural selection only cares about an organism’s reproductive output, so we should expect a whole lot of non-functional and suboptimal debris. Living things are kludges assembled by a blind process.”

How many ID supporters are researching the origin of genes or the origin of life? What research are they doing with respect to producing positive evidence for ID?

It’s a good thing that the biological community doesn’t have that attitude. Instead, they use evidence to determine if a sequence has function. You may also want to read up on the bladderwort genome where scientists have concluded that nearly all of the genome is functional:

Or we could look at the ID community who demands that nearly all of the human genome be functional for aesthetic and theological reasons. No amount of evidence seems to change their mind.


13 posts were split to a new topic: Can ID be applied to biology instead of artifacts?

The paper is very abstract, appears simple, but (most important) it is outside my field, so I can’t say anything specifically about their analysis or some of their conclusions, esp.

The ability to synthesize an actual artificial cell using designed components that can self‐assemble spontaneously still remains a distant challenge.

As for the conclusion they find relevant to prebiotic chemistry, to me it looks similar to what John Sutherland said at the start of his recent opinion article:

Broadly speaking, the origin of life can be approached by thinking from biology down or from chemistry up. From biology down, phylogenetic analysis of gene sequences can be used to plumb the depths and deduce the general nature of the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of cellular life from its catalogue of genes, but just how relevant is this to the actual origin of life? The latest list of genes thought to be present in LUCA is a long one. The presence of membranes, proteins, RNA and DNA, the ability to perform replication, transcription and translation, as well as harbouring an extensive metabolism driven by energy harvested from ion gradients using ATP synthase, reveal that there must have been a vast amount of evolutionary innovation between the origin of life and the appearance of LUCA. Clearly, it is not possible to deduce the precise environment that LUCA inhabited from such a low resolution and incomplete picture, but it is tempting to speculate and assume from its reliance on hydrogen as a reductant — through the action of NiFe hydrogenase — that it lived in a place where hydrogen was plentiful. Furthermore, many of the inferred proteins in LUCA use FeS clusters and other transition-metal-ion-based co-factors; thus, an environment that could furnish these inorganic components is circumstantially implicated. However, what we are really after is the environment and the chemistry associated with the origin of life, not where an organism or collective of organisms way along the evolutionary line lived, but is it possible to get the former from the latter? Unfortunately not, because it is impossible to say whether the predecessors of LUCA inhabited the same environment from day one, or whether life started elsewhere, spread and adapted to the conditions at various locations, and was then killed off everywhere except at LUCA’s chosen abode by, for example, a giant impact.

Considering that our lineage cannot be phylogenetically traced back beyond LUCA to the very origin of life, is there anything about biology’s beginnings that we can glean from our downwards look from extant biology? The answer is yes, but a guarded yes.

Sutherland, J.D., 2017. Opinion: Studies on the origin of life—the end of the beginning. Nature Reviews Chemistry, 1, 1


Okay, I take you to be making a statement about how complicated a thing a human being is generally able to fathom, in the sense that you can say you really understand it.

You don’t appear to be saying that there is no explanation for how life originated, in terms of physics, just that whatever such an explanation might be, it’s probably too complicated to really understand? In the same way that there is an account one might be able to write down *(and possibly simulate on a computer), in terms of some equations describing the evolution of some system of quantum fields, for how HCN hydrolysis occurs, but such an account wouldn’t help you understand in a sort of intuitive sense how or why HCN hydrolysis occurs?

I’m not sure I fully agree with that. In one sense I totally concede that don’t understand weather or the atmosphere all that well, and I’d be completely lost trying to wrap my head around a detailed simulation of the Earth’s climate, complete with it’s surface topology and so on. Of course I can’t wrap my head around all of it at the same time, and I can’t sort of “run” the simulation inside my head at the level of precision and accuracy of a supercomputer. But in a broad sense, I can still make sense of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate in terms of things like radiative inputs from the sun, high and low pressure, evaporation or what have you.

Consequently, it is implausible that a completely “denatured” cell could be reversibly renatured spontaneously, like a protein.

I agree, which is why nobody actually postulates that is how life originated. I am not aware of any contemporary origin of life researchers who seriously advances that hypothesis. All proposals I have seen involve some form of gradual, incremental increase in chemical complexity facilitated by various environmental cycles.


Scheduled for release when? We’ve all been on the edges of our seats.

Hi Art,

Maybe part 2 tomorrow or Tuesday, if I can clear away some other responsibilities first. I hesitate to promise anything because of my poor track record in that regard. :frowning:

I appreciate your Job-like patience, in any case.