Monday, January 23, 2012

More CTMU Nonsense...

It has been a while since I've posted something here, and that is the price of academia combined with illness.  But I probably would have gotten over said illness sooner if I hadn't worked through every day of it without much if any sleep (including the weekends).

I spent the better part of the month until recently doing something that creationists don't do -- working on actual academic literature.  Granted, my field is not among the hard sciences, but the work we were doing was pretty darn interesting.  I can't really go into detail on the subject matter because we barely hit the submission deadline and it's still in review as I write this, and the work here is due to be patented by my employer.  Nonetheless, the first author is an intern I co-mentored over the summer who will also be using this work as part of his doctoral dissertation.  I spent most of the time adapting and generalizing his quite specific work to other applications and running countless simulations which became test results for the paper itself.  It's in the nature of these types of jobs that you also find bugs and issues as you go along, and Murphy's Law dictates that these things always seem to come up late in the game.  So as I was fixing all these issues and then re-running and re-generating datasets, everything just came down to the wire after endless nights without sleep.  I remember all the other times I had to go through this sort of thing, and it's always been the same story...  except I was an undergrad the last time.

Anyway, that means that in addition to not having any time to work on the blog, I haven't had much time to work on the book, and I only managed to solve some problems with my personal research because it just happened to come up in the course of testing some hypotheses (ooh! another thing creationists don't do).  I also haven't had any time to continue reading through Chris Langan's bullcrap.  What I've managed to get through so far seems to lead down the path of a sort of divine solipsism...  incredibly stupid, and inherently unprovable.  At the very least, I did want to respond to a defender of the idea who posted in the comments on my prior CTMU post.  As his response was very long, I figured I'd put my reply in an actual blog post.

I use italics wherever he quotes me.  I set the font colors differently wherever he or I quote Langan directly.
"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."

He's also published several writings and a book, _The Art of Knowing_, through his Mega Foundation. 
Hm.  I was under the impression that that book was basically the same content that showed up in the aforementioned collection of essays.  If that's not the case, then I'll have to add one more to the list of publications that I'm aware of.  The "several other writings" of which you speak...  I've tried looking them up, and can only find a handful, and I don't see anything different in them.  They are all almost entirely word-for-word identical to various sections of the CTMU "paper."  There appear to be some mini-articles on his site that I haven't completely gone through, but I'm not equating them with "publications" any more than each of my own blog entries is a publication.
"On Langan's own website, he is rather clear in stating that he does not merely attempt to prove the existence of an [ill-defined] 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."

He does not assume that [any god] is indisputably real.
When I mention that he assumes that the Christian god is indisputably real, I am not merely restricting my assessment solely to the CTMU.  I'm including his own personal declarations about his beliefs as evidenced in his interviews and on his personal website (as I mentioned in that very same quote).  While he tries to be as generic as possible in the CTMU, he only appears to do so in order to try and sidestep the failures that abound when one gets specific in their definition of God.  In separate discourse, though, he does get more specific, and repeatedly tries to prove the "truth" of the Bible by interpreting it as having parallels to his own CTMU.  He's very much the same as any other ID advocate where the terminology of "Intelligent Designer" is simply used as a smokescreen of non-specificity in order to hide the fact that they actually wish to advance their own personal image of God.  Discovery Institute members will often pretend that they have no preference to a particular religious doctrine, but when preaching to the choir, they say something else entirely.  Langan just happens to be a little better at hiding his hand in his so-called "formal" publications than some others because he can just throw out a word salad that is so obfuscating that he can claim it to mean anything he wants.  His mode of counter-argument is always to obscure any actual point behind loquacity, and then belittle his opposition for failing to grasp what he claims he's saying (which is quite clearly different to different audiences), and then never actually addresses anything in the end.  A classic fallacy of intimidation.
You should be aware that some theories are based on empirical evidence, and that others are based on logical proof. The CTMU falls firmly into the latter category.
If, by the word "theory", you mean the colloquial loose definition used in normal conversation, then I can accept that logical "proof" theories exist.  However, in a scientific context, there can never exist such theories.  The problem with trying to establish the existence of something solely on a logical basis is that existence claims are necessarily empirical propositions.  This is simply inherent in the definition of "empirical."  This is also why it is incredibly laughable any time someone brings up flaws in the reasoning of various apologists and they hide behind the veil of "metaphysics," asserting that the claim is not scientific, but metaphysical.  It's a ham-handed way of allowing pretty much any idea you could possibly want to assert.  All existence claims trespass on the boundaries of science, simply on account of the fact that science deals with that which actually exists.  You can never trespass on those boundaries while simultaneously asserting that you are under no compulsion to obey the rules of science in order to validate your proposition.

Regarding "logical proofs" in general, there is a simple reason why all logical "proofs" of God fail.  Logic alone does not yield any truth.  An argument can be completely logically consistent but factually false.  Everybody knows the pink elephant example.  If your foundational principles are unsound, you end up a wrong result no matter what.  Take, a small example, his opening statement of the "physical universe."
"The physical universe contains all and only that which is physical." The predicate "physical", like all predicates, here corresponds to a structured set, "the physical universe" (because the universe has structure and contains objects, it is a structured set). [...] Specifically, the predicate physical is being defined on topological containment in the physical universe, which is tacitly defined on and descriptively contained in the predicate physical, so that the self-definition of "physical" is a two-step operation involving both topological and descriptive containment.
He tries to show that the definition of the physical universe is tautological (I snipped out a sentence where he differentiates between "tautology" and "autology", BTW).  However, that is merited solely on the acceptance of his definition, which is not at all a definitive description of the physical universe.  For instance, there is also the definition that the physical universe is "the spatio-temporal domain in which all things made up of either matter and/or energy are demonstrated to exist."  There is no tautology in that definition at all.  He repeats this same exercise a few times as well, and it fails the same way.  I'm particularly puzzled how he gets from saying that acts are a temporal phenomenon to immediately drawing that self-inclusion is a spatial relationship.  The former makes sense, but the latter is not justified in any way.

In one interview that Langan did with the site, he, on a few occasions, uses the Bible to corroborate his own CTMU, and then claims that he's intending to "mathematically prove the existence of God."  This sort of endeavor runs into the same problem.  You can do something which is mathematically valid, but unless you have a sound mathematical definition of "God" that agrees with reality, you will still be left holding an empty sack.  This is exactly what Godel was trying to point out with his proof of God, which was technically a "spoof-proof" to point out the unsoundness of the model on account of its lack of acceptable axioms.

"…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."

The key word here is *metaphorical*. God of the CTMU is more similar to a pantheistic God than an elderly man in the sky. In fact, except for some relatively minor details, the God of the CTMU is a god most pantheists would be happy to believe in. But again, the existence of God is not taken for granted.
Again, as I mentioned earlier.  It is, at best, apparently pantheistic because he deliberately avoids specificity in defining characteristics of his creative force.  He avoids this only in order to skirt certain otherwise irrefutable criticisms which can be leveled against the god of the Bible.  I don't make the claim, for instance, that Langan is a Biblical literalist -- if he was, he would pretty nearly singlehandedly discredit the concept of IQ.  I also wouldn't say that he does not take "God" for granted.  Admittedly, I've still yet to read the whole thing, but from what I have seen, he seems to go down this path of showing that the tautological nature of the universe makes self-creation an intrinsic quality of existence and since it is intelligent self-creation (an assertion which he claims to support is implied by complexity -- hint, hint), there needs to be a theological explanation for it.

Langan has said nothing about science here. He has stated that Intelligent Design is...not closed to the possibility of an Intelligent Designer, which is obvious. He certainly doesn't believe that there is anything inherently closed to this possibility in pure *science*. Mainstream *academia* is another matter.
Actually, he specifically refers to science.  He rebukes what he calls the "physical reductionism of the hard sciences"...  He also attempts to ridicule modern science for its current trend that relies heavily on simulation of otherwise difficult-to-observe conditions in the quantum scale.  Conversely, he spends the last 3 pages of his content specifically in support for ID.  He does mention early on that any probabilistic computations of relative improbability of CSI/Irreducible Complexity is incomplete without an all-encompassing model of reality -- which he proposes to have devised in the CTMU -- and he is correct to say so at least on that point.  However, around page 50, he turns this around and says that science has failed to produce such a model, and is therefore hypocritical in condemning ID proponents for it.  It's another way of phrasing the classical "science doesn't know everything" objection.  The problem is he ignores the fact that scientists don't make any claims which are dependent on knowing everything.

Regardless of whether you think he's talking about science or academia, he's spreading a fundamental falsehood either way.  Academia is not now nor has it ever been preemptively closed to anything.  What it demands is a degree of intellectual rigor and strict control mechanisms which filter what can and cannot be considered.  You're confusing the idea of having some harsh methods to filter what is admissible in the peer-reviewed literature, and being closed-minded.  Open-mindedness is not equivalent to simply allowing anything.  My guess is that Langan has a history of teachers who were less than accommodating to his character, and that has resulted in a rather infantile antipathy on his part.  I can't say I completely blame him for that, since I was in the same boat myself -- the difference being that I actually did something about it and my alma mater's administration actually agreed with me.  Of course, my field is also quite different from the norm and lacks a lot of the rigor that one might find in hard sciences...  though my greatest objections lied in the prejudiced assumptions as to who might be capable of standing up to that rigor.
I should state here that *Langan's work predates ID theory and nowhere relies on any part of it*. His conclusions are entirely his own.
On this point, you are 100% wrong, and I happen to doubt now how thoroughly you've actually read it.  You are probably thinking of when the ID movement came to the forefront and was a lot more "noticed", which did indeed happen after the CTMU publication.  The Dover trial is really when people started to take notice.  Berlinski, Dembski, Behe, Chapman, Klinghoffer, Wells, et al all published ID treatises well before Langan wrote anything.  The Discovery Institute predates anything Langan wrote by at least 8 years.  Langan dedicates an entire section of the CTMU paper to defending the ID movement.  Moreover, if you bother to even see the references that Langan points to on page 53, he does have citations of Behe's and Dembski's most infamous works.  He also issues thanks and acknowledgments to numerous Discovery Institute fellows.  The actual terminology of ID came up numerous times even during Darwin's own lifetime.  The concept of ID as an approach to proposing creationism in such a way as to look scientific and thereby distance itself (at least visually) from out and out religious dogma really began in the late 1980s.  Specifically after the Supreme Court's Edwards v. Aguillard decision.
He accepts that some people are Cartesian dualists, but he explicitly rejects Cartesian dualism after logically disproving its possibility. Unlike you, I am going to quote his statement on the matter.

"Moreover, they remain anchored in materialism, objectivism and Cartesian dualism, each of which has proven obstructive to the development of a comprehensive explanation of reality. Materialism arbitrarily excludes the possibility that reality has a meaningful nonmaterial aspect, objectivism arbitrarily excludes the possibility that reality has a meaningful subjective aspect, and although Cartesian dualism technically excludes neither, it arbitrarily denies that the mental and material, or subjective and objective, sides of reality share common substance."
He doesn't actually reject Cartesian dualism at all.  Maybe in name, but not in concept.  Even in the quote you cite, he's not rejecting it.  He's merely saying that it's an incomplete form of dualism by itself.  For that matter, he's rejecting what he calls "materialism" on the grounds that it is not dualist!  His objection on objectivism is not entirely clear whether he thinks that objectivism rejects a subjective component as an intrinsic quality of reality or whether he thinks objectivism universally rejects the very concept of subjective components at all.  The former is true, but the rejection is not arbitrary at all.  Similarly, he claims that materialism's rejection of the immaterial is arbitrary, which is again wrong.  The only reason I can imagine for him to perpetuate such a lie would be so that he can dismiss it out of hand.  In any case, he seems to be arguing instead that an "all-encompassing model of reality" must incorporate subjective reality (a la "The Secret"), the physical/real component of existence, and Cartesian+substance dualism.  Yet he offers nothing substantial to suggest why these components are necessary.  Simply asserts that to encompass all things, you must reject nothing, which is ridiculous.

There's a lot of equivocation throughout where he uses terms like physicalism, naturalism, and materialism interchangeably.  He is also implicitly not differentiating between ontological naturalism and methodological naturalism when he condemns science -- something pretty much every apologist does (Plantinga being one of the worst offenders).
Actually, they both define sets the same way. The difference is that they then place different restrictions on how sets are to be used. Different set theories take different approaches to the resolution of Russell's paradox by using different constraints on collections of sets. For example, NBG set theory uses classes of sets, while ZF set theory proscribes self-inclusion. However, the fundamental set concept is a primitive mathematical notion that remains unchanged. For the record, the definition Langan uses of a set is Cantor's[...]
This is a powerfully meaningless objection.  No one is saying that naive set theory is not foundational to more advanced axiomatic set theory approaches.  What I'm saying is that set theory is larger than that and as such, in the modern day no longer sticks to that specific definition.  There's a reason why Cantor's definition of a set is now classified as part of "naive set theory."  It is no different from saying that the sum of the angles in a triangle always add up to 180 degrees.  Once upon a time, any mathematician would say that is absolutely true.  Then we realized that Euclidean geometry is not the end-all be-all of geometry.  Yes, it's still foundational, and we still teach it as a baseline to geometry, but it is not where geometry ends.  You seem to have ignored all the sentences that came after I pointed out the difference between the formal study of set theories and naive set theory.

Bear in mind, also, that the way Langan writes this is as if to suggest that the unsoundness of naive set theory was an unsolved problem...  as if there were no concepts of axiomatic set theories.  The thing is that he plays word-games to show that naive set theory is unsound, but rather than to try and include other axiomatic set theories, he concludes instead that set theory itself is wrong and needs to be expanded in a way that he defines is correct.
Langan resolves Russell's paradox by using two different kinds of inclusion: topological inclusion, which is characteristic of ZF or NBG set theory, and descriptive inclusion, which is characteristic of computational linguistics (predication).
You seem to be belaboring under the misconception that introducing two individually admissible inclusion modes into one combined theoretical framework makes for an end result which is also admissible.  Math doesn't work that way!  The only thing I can imagine is that he needs to do that in order to group certain things into the same classification so that he can apply like properties to them where this would otherwise not be a valid equivalence relation to make had he merely chosen only one or the other inclusion mechanism.  In order to validate this model, though, he'd need to provide some formal proof that the two modes of inclusion are not mutually incompatible.  Again, I'd have to do more than loosely read it, but it seems to me that he hinges on making a tautology out of creation and then asserting that this demands a guided creative force.