Saturday, April 22, 2017

Paul Nelson's "Outrageous Lies"

Demonizing anyone advancing a teleological point of view is something that the neo-Darwinist research program has accomplished well.  Keep the debate focused on your opponents, and make your opponents look bad. 

Ed Brayton on ScienceBlogs claims to have found more evidence of "lying for Jesus":

Keith Miller said absolutely nothing that even remotely resembles what Nelson claims. Nelson, much to my surprise, was telling a baldfaced lie in order to make Keith Miller look foolish . . .  So not only did Miller not deny that a thief had stolen the items from his car . . . he explicitly agreed that a thief had stolen them. Nor did he claim that a “natural regularity” occurred. What he did dispute is the notion that human actions are somehow outside of the sphere of natural explanations.
Paul Nelson, apparently for comic effect, innocently if carelessly, states that Keith Miller (not to be confused with Kenneth Miller) would not phone the police if a thief broke into his car, since there is nothing about the evidence of the act---no inherent property of purposeful intent distinguishing it from any other natural cause--and, as Miller himself seems to explain this makes sense since a thief is just another bit of the natural world.  

What Miller actually said is that he could infer that a thief had broken into his car, but only by reference to what similar natural causes (ie. thieves) are known to do.  But .... but ... not because there was anything criminal intention in the way the car was broken into.  Is that really Miller's only objection to the example?  Is Miller implying that there is no way to rule out a natural cause without intentional agency (for example, a natural cause that could accidentally break into a bank vault even though it has not more intention than a tumbling tumbleweed) based on the circumstances without reference to similar actions?  Apparently, just because we don't know of a natural process (or other natural cause) that seems intentionally selective doesn't mean can't postulate one or alternatively classify a human as yet another natural cause. In that sense, how many people do not die of natural causes?  If a cause cannot normally be attributed to a natural regularity or a natural accident, why do the rules change if inferring purposeful agency implies something superhuman? 

Ed Brayton bases the prosecution's argument on the word "regularity" which Nelson attributes to Miller.  You find out later in Nelson's apology letter that he was interpreting all of Miller's remarks in terms of the whether William Dembski's explanatory filter had epistemological merit.  Brayton avoids any discussion of this context.  But if there is an important difference between natural regularities and purposeful causal agents (even natural ones) what is that difference?  Why is that getting swept neatly under the rug?  If the fact that Miller didn't use the word "regularity" is important here, then Miller was avoiding the issue, and then there is a very good reason to joke about Miller's response. 

Nelson jokes that Miller won't call the police because the car got broken through natural causes, and the room seems to enjoy the joke.  Nelson exaggerates the absurdity, and took some dramatic license that in retrospect may have been a bad idea.  Yes, Miller probably could and should have been pressed to explain whether any kind of thing is in principle too improbable to be attributed to accidental intrusion of law-like stochastic processes (and maybe that did happen in the full written account).   But isn't there something more than a little silly (and evasive) about Miller's response?  I don't mean to suggest that Miller was intentionally evasive.  (He is after all just a natural causal entity with evasive-seeming behaviors.)  But evolutionary logic is bad for the brain. Neo-Darwinism is, as Richard Dawkins would put it, a malicious little meme that makes otherwise sound minds reach bizarre conclusions.

This is your brain on neo-Darwinism:
Any questions?

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