Side Comments on Clinton Ohlers

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Our first office hours is scheduled. What are Office Hours? I’m preparing by moving comments from the original thread over here.

You can see the original post (with some edits) over here:

I hope you can join us!

Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
(George) #2

I love parables!

It started when I suddenly had the thought, mind you, not a conclusive thought, that the Parable of the Good Samaritan just might be a parable about Jesus that he told about himself !

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Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
(Jon Garvey) #3

Ohlers (from the linked article) sounds an interesting voice in this discussion, and as far as I can see from that has a similar view to mine that the issue must be understood through the metaphysics. Especially the history of the metaphysics.

I particularly agree with what he says about the various Christians involved in the development of science and their interaction with the metaphysical trends of the time. Reading guys like Bacon or Boyle, one realizes that unlike most scientists (or Christians) today, they had an understanding of their metaphysics, but one also sees they had culturally-induced blindspots, some of which we’ve inherited today.

Jonathan Bartlett has a dog in this fight, so would be good to invite specifically.

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(Curtis Henderson) #4

I’d be happy to “put in a good word” for you and your work with Josh Farris if that would be helpful. He and I know each other fairly well.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #5

Please do! Let him know you’d love for him to join us, and you’ll be here too =). Still in process of setting dates…

(Curtis Henderson) #6

Of course! An excessively quick read had me thinking that Farris might be present at the conference, but I see you were referring to the forum here. I’ll definitely let him know.

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(Curtis Henderson) #7

So… the wheels got turning a bit and I think I’ll invite Bruce Gordon over. I think it would be interesting to hear his perspective on the site, as well.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

So, we have a date now.

Farris was at Dabar and I had a brief moment to talk to him. Looking forward to having them here.

Also, @cwhenderson, I hear that they may be putting a JTF grant together on faith and science. Perhaps they can include you. Make sure to ask.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #9

Keep this in mind too. Just two weeks away.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

Don’t forget this is coming up next week. Read the thread, and invite people you know will care.

(Joshua Ryan Farris) #11

Sounds good.

I am not sure what kind of scientific argument could be given that supports the existence of the soul, apart from NDE’s and out of body experiences etc. These are, of course, dependent on some interpretive work, but if there is a large of body of data that suggests that something is going on that is empirically detectable and repeatable, then it might offer some modicum of scientific support for a soul (i.e., a mental substance that is not strictly speaking identical to its material parts interacting or the whole material part itself). The doctrine of the soul, which is fairly well an established furniture piece in Christian dogma, is certainly consistent with scientific data. I am not sure what would rule it out.

I am not inclined to think that souls have mass or weight, except derivatively in relation to their bodies. Although, it may supply energy to the physical world.

They may not be able to agree on the origination of the soul or the way in which it relates to the body, but that it is not evidence against it nor does that preclude some agreed upon understanding–namely, a substance that is distinct from its body and can potentially exist disembodied. This understanding is a fairly fixed piece of furniture in Christian dogma across the three major sub-traditions (e.g., Eastern catholicism or Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Reformed Catholicism).

I would only describe souls as contingently immortal (although I’m not a fan of the modifier ‘contingent’ because it seems to suggest conditionalism). I am open to the view that we are sustained by Divine ideas, assuming we remain substantial in some stretched or weak sense. God may have an idea that we are sustained, but there is still a ‘we’ and a substance that is sustained.

While this is not a problem, per say, for the scientists, according to our working definition of science, it is a serious problem for the physicalist.

I am not sure what this is setting out to prove or disprove. There are arguments that philosophers have run from the data in cognitive science where the data seems to suggest something about the nature of religious experience. Is that data sufficient to to show or suggest something non-physical is present? Probably, but that is an open topic for discussion. Given the limitations of science, however, I am not sure what to make of Patrick’s point.

There is one fundamental fact about the world if there is a ‘information’, namely that _I_exist, and, I presume, you do too. This does not seem to be a problem for science, as we have defined it, but the science domain just doesn’t extend that far. Science is limited in this way, even if the scientific process presupposes scientists. The important point about I, as a mind substance, existing is that there does not appear to be any specified designator that makes sense of my mind in the physical realm or in my body. Not even mind more generally is a sufficient designator for my mind. Assuming this is true, we do not discover it from science (not directly), yet it still supplies some fundamental fact about the world beyond the bounds of science.

If not here, then it would be great to discuss these ideas and their implications further in another context.

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Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #12

Hey @jrfarris I moved this hear because its off topic to the main point, though certainly very interesting.

Let me know some dates that can work for you, and let’s get it on the calender. It should be fun.

Sure. I’m just saying that is very poorly defined from a scientific point of view. It is unfalsifiable. I’m not denying that a soul exists (it does exist), but I’m not sure we have a good handle on what exactly it “is.”

On this point, I’m not sure you know what I mean by “information.” I mean full knowledge of my current configuration and how reconstitute “me” from basic components. This might be the complete spacial configuration of all atoms and electrons in my whole body, which would necessarily contain the detailed configuration of my brain. This is all “information” that could “in principle” be stored on a very large hard drive, or beamed across the internet (though it would be an obscenely large file). It has “substance” to it in the same way that this electronic note to you has substance. Though it is not material, it is instantiated in material.

So this is a scientifically defined concept of “information” which might encode our consciousness if consciousness is encoded in atomic configurations (and it may not). Though I have not read his book, it seems to be that this is a tact that Dembski takes in his book Being is Communion:

http://beingascommunion.com/

I hasten to add that he gets information theory in relation to ID and evolution wrong. To my eye, he just seems to be in error on his calculations there. Nonetheless, Dembski might be on to something on the soul <-> information hypothesis. Though I have not read his book…

Two analogues are helpful, on from science fiction, one from the classics.

  1. The Delphic Boat. If planks on a boat are replaced one by one, till all the plans are replaced, is it still the same boat? If so, the boat is the “form” (i.e. the information), not the precise planks out of which it is formed.

  2. The StarTrek Transporter. If we are destroyed at one end of the transporter and reconstituted out of new atoms at the destination, down to atomic precision, are we still the same people? What if the atoms themselves are disassembled, transmitted, and then reassembled on location? Does it matter?

These questions don’t seem to trouble Captain Kirk! Though @AndyWalsh might remind us of some stories we missed…

If understand this as technology, we might run into the “continuity of the self” problems. However, I wonder if that is really the case if is God and God alone (Divine Mind or Idea) who can accomplish this feat, maybe the problem is alleviated. A transporter malfunction could create clones of us, and the mere potentiality of this dilutes our sense of identity. If, however, this is rooted in God, we don’t have to worry about malfunctions.

Any how, I think this could be a really interesting conversation. Let’s get a date on the calendar.

(Jon Garvey) #13

FYI I reviewed Being as Communion at length (9 posts, I think) before it was released in the USA. Although Dembski’s approach is through information theory, it has much in common with Aristotelian hylemorphism.

And so I think Dembski would be a little more nuanced than to equate human existence with the exact configuration of atoms, though clearly that is at least part of the “information” that makes up what we are.

In other words (in Aristotelian terms) form is not simply a record of the arrangement of matter, but the principle that arranges it (raw matter + form -> substance). This implies that there is more to human “information” than could be extracted by material means like a Star Trek transporter.

An analogy might be that, whilst one can abstract the digital code from a computer, you have not obtained the intelligence that put it there.

Edit - this post seems most closely to address the idea that “information” in is more than “information extracted” in Dembski’s thinking.

And this one, whilst more of an aside, discusses why teleology may be detectable empirically, but not whether it is intrinsic teleology or divine action - may be of interest to Josh in his interaction with ID: Dembski does not believe that one can “prove God” from nature - his position is far more subtle.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

Can you summarize his conception of information and the soul?

(Jon Garvey) #15

Probably no more than I have without re-reading the book - I last did so four years ago.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #16

@Josh_Reeves, did misunderstand. Sorry. I’ll go back edit my post to clarify.

It turns out I totally agree with you.

Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #17

You are correct that this does not depend on a test for agency.

Though, I’d point out that human perception of agency can easily be fooled too. We often detect agency where there is none. That is one of the biases against which we are hyper-vigiliant against in science. Playing red team.

@kelvin_M works on AI, and everyone has been a bit in an uproar in Google passing the Turing Test. The people on the other line do NOT notice that its merely a computer program, crunching numbers, not a human mind with agency:

This raises an interesting question. Does Google assistant (an AI program) have agency or not? Certainly a human is telling to do something, and uses that goal as a type of “agency.” On the other hand, it is merely a bunch of matrix math operations. So are the receivers correctly or incorrectly perceiving agency?

This is all to say that:

  1. Science will rework our understanding of self-evident truths (like that humans can easily percieve agency).

  2. We really should do Office Hours with @kelvin_M some time soon!

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #18

Much larger conversation @rcohlers. That is not what is going on. It is a semantic misunderstanding about how to characterize the part of a process we can’t explain. We cannot mathematically determine how much of that process is (1) unknown law, (2) providential choice, or (3) random noise. That means “randomness” in science is semantically no different than saying some collection of these three things.

It doesn’t really change my answer much. We just ask the humans in question what they were intending to do, and they reveal it to us, and we decide if we believe them. So the way how science engages human agency is by revelation (human revelation).

There is not a way to do this without drawing analogy to ourselves. And we are also are notorious for finding agency were it does not exist (e.g. the “bump in the night.”) Justin Barret from Fuller has written on this too. So, despite what you think,

It is one of our regular activities, and part of what it means to be human. It is not however, a reliable process.

Except the agency of humans is in the purview of science, even though we cannot reliably detect it. Agency is natural. It is the agency of God that we have difficulty with, because we can’t simply just go ask Him. For those that do not believe in God, they are justified to wonder if we are just detecting agency in the “bump in the night.” It is not possible to detect agency with reliability with out a truthful revelation, especially when we are engaging beings much different than us.


There is much more to discuss @rcohlers. Thought is is certainly an admiral start at pulling this together into a coherent whole. It is going to be an interesting time in HK.

Clinton Ohlers: Two Parables on Divine Action
Can We Empirically Detect "Agency"?
(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #19

11 posts were split to a new topic: Can We Empirically Detect “Agency”?

Can We Empirically Detect "Agency"?