Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chris Langan's "theory"

Pretty much every person out there who tries to support creationism on some claimant scientific and/or logical basis have one thing in common -- all of them lie, distort, and make a mockery of reality in order to get the job done.  I've had a number of whirls at the joke that is William Demsbski, and I allude quite a bit to core failures he makes in the nonsense he publishes when I did my post about creationists and their screwy ideas about math.  Well, recently, someone pointed me to this fellow named Chris Langan.  I'd never heard of the guy until then, and I really didn't care.  Among the reasons given as to why I should consider taking what this guy says seriously is because his IQ has been tested as being around 195-210...  Ummm...  okay.

Well, I tried looking up what I could about the fellow, and actual examples were pretty sparse.  I did find a rather dismal performance on 1 vs 100...  a show I had never even seen prior to this, but whatever.  It's not really fair to judge someone's intellect based on knowledge of trivia, as it is called 'trivia' for a reason.  But I think it is also worth mentioning that even if I am to take his intellectual capacity at face value, that doesn't really serve in any way to validate anything he has to say.  So already, the fact that the man's work was suggested to me on the basis of what can effectively be called an invocation of the argument from authority fallacy does not bode well.

Anyway, the so-called "theory" I was pointed to and suggested to read (by someone who had not read a word of it himself, of course) was something that Langan calls his "Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe" or CTMU.  To be honest, I've yet to completely read through this work, as even a small section reveals massive wrongness within.  I guess I can probably agree with the theists on one thing, though : This work may well be the very best that theists can offer.

... and it's still eminently moronic.

Let me first begin by pointing out that the paper on CTMU was published at a conference hosted by an Intelligent Design think-tank.  His only other publication that I'm aware of is to add one essay in a collection of essays specifically with the agenda of casting doubt on evolution.  A collection of essays edited and published by none other than the colossally unscrupulous statistician and self-proclaimed "fair weather" YEC, William Dembski.  On Langan's own website, he is rather clear in stating that he does not merely attempt to prove the existence of an ill-define deist-esque "Intelligent Designer" through CTMU, but rather that he assumes the Christian God is indisputably real, and deliberately interprets some limited degree of scientific evidence through that lens and CTMU is the attempt to corrupt science with his religious beliefs.

If you think I may be taking it too far, here are Langan's own words --
…Biblical accounts of the genesis of our world and species are true but metaphorical, our task is to correctly decipher the metaphor in light of scientific evidence also given to us by God. Hence, the CTMU.
Yyyeeeah... Already, he shows his hand in revealing that scientific and intellectual rigor is not really ever going to be one of his strong suits.  Well, again, that on its own doesn't really mean a whole lot to the validity of what he has to say, but it is definitely a fairly stark shadow of doubt cast upon his credibility.  It basically means that I can't really approach what he has to say at face value without being primed to doubt it.  But if he had a solid case anyway, then I'd at least be struggling to poke holes in it regardless of how much I'd want to.

Even in the introduction to his paper alone, he lauds the Intelligent Design approach as one which is “not preemptively closed to teleological causation.”  Meaning that in page one alone, he has brazenly lied about the nature of science.  Well, the guy claims to be an autodidact, and I suppose that if he had any real exposure to the concept of academic rigor, he might know better, but given his attitudes towards religious belief and his anti-academia axes to grind, I'm not so inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Science doesn't work that way.  Science is a tyranny of evidence.  It is open to anything in the long run, but at a given point, only considers that which is supported by evidence.  There is nothing preemptively closed about science, though there are plenty of ideas which are rejected specifically because they've been disproven (which is not a preemptive decision).  That which has not yet been shown to be true through evidence is given equal consideration as that which is definitively untrue.  This axiom definitely applies to science -- unfortunately, Langan, like all other creationists, takes this to mean that the "God" hypothesis is rejected with extreme prejudice.  It's more than a little bit obvious that he has no hope of getting anything right considering he shows conclusively in that doesn't even have any idea what science is actually about.

This is aside from the fact that he repeatedly invokes the universally discounted, refuted, and demonstrably fallacious "irreducible complexity" argument on numerous occasions.  Other foundational failings are his sort of acceptance of Cartesian dualism as a base truth.  In a very Deepak Chopra-level of understanding, he seems to argue that consciousness and souls lie in a different plane of existence...  not only is there no evidence whatsoever to support dualism, but there is quite strong evidence to refute it.  But then, I guess neuropsychology is not something he would have studied, or if he did, he rejects it out of hand because it doesn't support his dualist views.  The very fact that he treats consciousness and souls as a foundational construct and draws analogies between wave-particle duality, space-time unity, and mind-brain dualism.  It's interesting, too, that he repeatedly throws out Lorentz-invariance, which isn't quite so compatible with quantum models of space and time (since it implies continuity), and conspansion which, as far as I can tell, actually fails to model wave-particle duality.  Ultimately, he commits a major logical fallacy here in making an argument from analogy, which is a form of non sequitur fallacy.  It's a common thing, but it is not in any way valid.  Analogies are useful for explaining or describing concepts, but they do not actually stand in place of anything when actually proving something.  Yes, perhaps a hypothetical collective unity of souls could perhaps operate in a way that resembles quantum entanglement and/or superposition...  But that does not mean that the existence of quantum entanglement proves the existence of souls!  The fact that this sort of argument and unproven assertions used as premises are so fundamental throughout means that his work can absolutely and without doubt be dismissed on this factor alone.

Well, it so happens that there are other struggles involved in poking holes in his paper, and it's one of the main reasons why I have yet to finish it.  The man simply goes on and on for great lengths without ever actually making a point.  Entire pages are dedicated to some random word salads where he puts forth a variety of proposed conjectures, and in the process of pretending to explain himself, he brings up examples, only to ramble on and on about the specifics of the examples without ever actually connecting any of these points to his original intention.  The entire piece is just horribly written, with a clear and direct objective of making sure nobody understands what he's actually getting at.  It's a classic argumentum verbosium where there is no solidity in any of his arguments, nor is there any indication of an argument at all.  It is simply a massive cloud of sophisticated wordplay that seeks to dazzle the reader until there is simply no effort made to truly scrutinize any of the content (or realize that there isn't any content in the first place).  It's plainly deceptive and entirely disingenuous.  I suppose it is silly to expect any better. 

One such example where his rambling fails is one where he drags on an on about the use of the word "physical" when describing the universe, but in bringing in set theory into that point, he tries to pull the supernatural rabbit out of his hat too soon.  Yes, "physical" as a predicate for defining members of a set is less specific than "material", but people use the term "physical" for a reason.  The set of real numbers, for instance, can be considered a set containing physical entities, even though numbers don't exist in any material sense.  However, he goes from saying that this sort of representation is ill-defined to saying that it warrants the need for a completely different model of set theory...  which is a bit over-the-top.

For that matter, in order to do so, he plainly gets the definition of a set wrong --
Anything can be considered an object, even a space or a process, and wherever there are objects, there is a set to contain them. This "something" may be a relation, a space or an algebraic system, but it is also a set; its relational, spatial or algebraic structure simply makes it a structured set. So mathematicians view sets, broadly including null, singleton, finite and infinite sets, as fundamental objects basic to meaningful descriptions of reality. It follows that reality itself should be a set...in fact, the largest set of all. But every set, even the largest one, has a powerset which contains it, and that which contains it must be larger (a contradiction). The obvious solution: define an extension of set theory incorporating two senses of "containment" which work together in such a way that the largest set can be defined as "containing" its powerset in one sense while being contained by its powerset in the other.
Okay...  that's a huge word salad, but ultimately, if you're at all familiar with sets, you'll probably realize what is wrong here.  That's not how formal set theory defines a set;  it's how naive set theory defines a set, which is known to be unsound.  What he brings up here is the well-known Russell's Paradox.  Now, most people, when they take a basic beginner's level discrete math course in college, or even taught about the basics of set theory in grade school, they are generally going to be exposed to naive set theory as if it is all there is to sets...  and for those types of purposes, it's usually quite complete...  but mathematicians have known, at least since the turn of the 20th century about the unsoundness of naive set theory.  Modern set theory proposes a series of axioms to address these issues, though you have to look at which axioms you choose carefully within a subset of problems.  What Langan appears to be doing here is pretending he's come up with some revolutionary new idea, when he's really trying to fabricate a system of axiomatic set theory that has its own paradoxes, which make an already known-to-be unsound model unsound all over again.

He uses a series of semantic word-games in order to ultimately come to a point to suggest that the universe cannot be properly represented in naive set theory...  no surprise there...  but then instead of going to that point, he decides instead to redefine the concept of set membership and containment to say that it is possible for the largest possible set to be simultaneously larger and smaller than its own powerset.  Yes...  no contradiction here.

So what's the point of all that craziness?  Can you guess?  Well, try thinking of a concept that is so incredibly self-contradictory and illogical that the only way to make sense of it is to construct a patchwork of flawed logic...  That's right!  It's the "God" concept!  If the fellow was willing to stop at a merely deist god, there would be little need.  But Langan would not dare stop there, because he deems it necessary to define "God" with most all of the self-refuting properties that are part of the Biblical Yahweh character.  What's worse is that while he applies all those properties without a hint of question, he does not appear to present any method by which he establishes that any of them could apply in the first place.  But it doesn't really matter to him, because "Biblical accounts...are true, but metaphorical."  But things like omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, etc...  those aren't metaphorical.  Who cares?  All you need is to apply these logically untenable attributes within the confines of a provably unsound mathematical framework and then it all adds up!  Just remap the logical contradictions into the contradictions of your framework and declare that your framework is valid because the naive set theory you compare it to happens to also be unsound.

Well, I'm sure I will have more to tear down as I get further through the pile of tripe that in the CTMU proposition...  but in the meantime, I can say this much for Christopher Langan -- although you've shown that you have a certain degree of mastery in the art of obfuscation through egregious expositions of needless verbosity...  as far as the soundness of your arguments go, even Anselm did better.