Friday, December 29, 2006

"A carefully crafted illusion"


"These are the same concerns I had to wrestle with as I moved through the progression from YEC to OEC/ID to TE."

A good example of the domino theory in action.

"In terms of science, evolution is no different than medicine or meteorology."

No different? Medical science deals with presently observable and reproducible processes, while meteorology is a predictive science.

That's quite different from a science of origins which attempts to reconstruct the distant past by extrapolation from trace evidence in the present.

"If you want to move the creation event up to 4004 BC, then you either have to reject science, or you have to ignore all prior appearances of natural history as a carefully crafted illusion."

1. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that mountains appear smaller at a distance?

2. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that stars look younger to an earth-bounded observer than they really are?

3. Does your book address metrical conventionalism?

4. Here's an interesting story:

"ATLANTA -- Scientists announced Thursday that a new cloning technique appears to rewind the aging clock in cow cells, and they have produced six calves through the process that show signs of being younger than their actual chronological ages. 'What we have shown for the very first time is the cloning procedure is actually reversing the aging process. In fact, it turns out that these cells are actually younger than their chronological age,' said study leader Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, Inc."

I, of course, assume that you would reject this report as a hoax since this would involve a carefully crafted illusion, right?

"Certainly the world could have created with the appearence of age, and that is the only logical version of YEC that I can find."

You beg the question by assuming that the world has any particular appearance of age. The world has no "appearance" of age, one way or the other.

That's an *inference*, not an *appearance.*

An inference from certain natural processes which were never designed to tell us the age of anything.

I don't object to the attempt to draw such inferences, but we're dealing with incidental side-effects of a natural process (or processes) which has a very different natural function. To confound the natural purpose of a periodic or cyclical process with the artificial purpose to which you put it is blatantly anthropomorphic.

If a farmer uses a rooster as an alarm clock, and the rooster turns out to be unreliable, is that a carefully crafted illusion?

Should we expect the rooster to tell a farmer the right time to get up in the morning? If the rooster gives the incorrect time, does this mean we either have to reject science, or we have to ignore all prior appearances of natural history as a carefully crafted illusion"?

I suppose you also believe that noses exist as a platform to support a pair of glasses, and if the glasses constantly slide down the nose, that represents a design flaw in nasal engineering.

"But if only the Bible can tell me which observations are real and which are illusions, what right do I have to assume that trees do not actually grow hands and clap when nobody is looking (Isaiah 55)? In fact, how would I ever know what things in the Bible are to be taken literally and what things are not to be taken literally if I don’t look to nature to help me put the Bible in context of the world we live in?"

i) This objection has already been addressed.

ii) It's also deeply disingenuous of you to appeal to appearances in defense of modern science. It's modern science which treats many of our common sense perceptions as illusory. A table appears to be a solid, colored object.

But, according to atomic theory, the table isn't *really* a solid, colored object.

"I will not spend any time arguing with you that Moses meant a literal 'day' when he says 'day.' Just like I will not argue that he meant to describe the firmament as a solid structure supporting the 'waters above the heavens', under which the sun, moon and stars were fastened (read it carefully)."

This is an off-cited cliche. Obviously you're too lazy and dishonest to engage the counterarguments, viz.,

Sometimes it is said that the language in the Bible arises against the background of ancient “cosmology” that postulated underlying waters, then solid earth, then a solid “firmament” dome for the sky, then the sea above the firmament (Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia‘ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991]: 227-240; Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part II: The Meaning of ‘The Water Above the Firmament’ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 54/1 [1992]: 31-46; Seely, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59 [1997]: 231-255; Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 [2004]: 291-311).

For one thing, the ancient Near East did not have one unified “ancient cosmology” but several accounts—Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hittite—contradicting one another at points but nevertheless with some similarities. Genesis 1, as we have observed, does show some similarities to these accounts, but it repudiates the pagan accounts in favor of a monotheistic alternative.

Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that from these mixed pagan accounts we can distill a core of assumptions that were also shared by ancient Hebrews. The Bible nevertheless describes things that Hebrews (and eventually other readers) could see for themselves. To suppose that the text teaches detailed technical cosmological views is to confuse the text with the totality of what its readers may have believed.

Moreover, a modern cosmological interpretation of the ancient accounts may sometimes impose on the texts a preoccupation with physicalism that does not belong to this kind of literature within the ancient cultural milieu. For example, the idea that the firmament is literally solid is disconfirmed by the statement in Genesis 1:17 that God set the lights “in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens.” If the lights in heaven were literally embedded in a solid, they could not move in the way that they obviously do. Perhaps some ancient people could see the obvious, as well as be skeptical about alleged physicalistic implications of pagan cosmogonic stories. (p96n8).

"For centuries, Christians had nowhere else to direct these types of questions and so they naturally directed them at the Bible. As a result, the church fathers accepted the model of the Hebrew universe, which was physically identical to the Ancient Near-Eastern cosmos, without question."

This is a sloppy, contend-free comparison.

"They simply had no reason (evidence) to doubt it. After the influence of Greek astronomy, the medieval church eventually adopted the Ptolemaic system and built an elaborate Scriptural defense in support of it. If you read Martin Luther’s commentary on Genesis, you will clearly see that he believed the earth to be at the center of the universe, fixed and immovable, just as it is described throughout the Bible."

1. Where does the Bible say the earth lies at the center of the universe?

2. When the Bible talks about the immobility of the earth, that has reference to earthquakes, not the position of the earth in relation to other celestial bodies.

You're guilty of an anachronistic interpretation in which you retroject later debates back onto Scripture.

Put another way, it isn't talking about the *earth*, but the *land*.

3. What we actually have in Gen 1-2 are certain allusive, architectural metaphhors foreshadowing the ark and the tabernacle.

"TE chooses to accept the latter option. In fact, if you study the pagan creation mythologies of the ancient Near East, it becomes clear that God is co-opting these various stories (the foolishness of the world) to convey timeless theological truth to His chosen people, leaving the physical details of the ancient Near Eastern cosmos in tact so that the original audience might understand it and assimilate it into their worldview."

Once again, you're hiding behind content-free generalities. What's your specific evidence?

There are works that address the issue of comparative Semitics at a scholarly and discriminating level, viz.

J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001).

K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003).

J. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker 2006).

These are places to begin, and not with loose, unbridled comparisons.

"Given the numerous material contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2, it becomes clear that God was not writing an article for Scientific American."

This is yet another oft-refuted cliche which ignores the fact that Gen 1-2 are not both creation accounts. They are dealing with different events. Gen 1 is global and cosmological while Gen 2 is local and anthropological.

"An interesting academic question perhaps, but to state that the truth of these doctrines completely hinges on the specific details of their historicity is to step out of the ancient mindset and into the mindset of a modern, western, post-enlightenment materialist; an approach that ironically has more incommon with folks like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan than it does with a Christian worldview based on the Bible."

I see. So when Jesus appeals to specific details of Gen 1-2 to reaffirm the doctrine of marriage (Mt 19), he is captive to a modern, materialistic, post-enlightenment mentality that has more in common with Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan than it does with a Christian worldview based on the Bible.

What you're doing here is a transparently rhetorical, preemptive strike.


  1. Steve,

    A couple questions:

    1. When you say this:

    An inference from certain natural processes which were never designed to tell us the age of anything.

    This suggest you have some special knowledge of the purposes for these "certain natural processes". What specifically are the processes you are referring to here, and what is you basis for establish their purpose?

    2. I think is quite an evasive answer -- ok it's not an answer, which is par for the course here, but an evasive (rhetorical) question:

    1. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that mountains appear smaller at a distance?

    Mountains don't appear smaller at a distance. Only the most naive sensory reading would suggest that. A small movement of the head will provide parallax cues that place the far away mountain... far away, perceptually. While a far off mountain may only occupy a small number of degrees in the field of view, parallax informs the viewer that the mountains are very far off indeed.

    Or simply put, far off mountains appear "far off", because they are far off. The physics we hold to predict exactly that phenomenon. If that's the case, then what do we do with rocks that appear to be quite ancient, according to the physics applied? Are you embracing the naive view here?

    There's an implied "scientific" in the use of "appear" in these contexts, such that when I say the rocks in your garden appear old, I don't mean "naively appear", like you're eyeballing it with a confused look. Rather, I mean "scientifically appear" old -- old based on measurements of physical processes built into the rock itself. I have a hard time believing this distinction is lost on you.

    2. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that stars look younger to an earth-bounded observer than they really are?
    Naivete again, Steve. When we say "appear", we don't mean some kind of "naive appearance", like answers you might get from a three year old. Rather, the intent is to suggest "scientifically appear", which is more clunky in terms of the prose, but apparently necessary here. So, no, I don't see that the stars "scientifically appear" to be younger than they really are. Although that presumes my own estimates of their ages, I guess. You've not been willing to stick your neck out far enough to venture a guess as to how old *any* star really is, from what I've seen. It's too scientific, perhaps?

    3. Metrical Conventionalism.
    Does your book address metrical conventionalism?

    You keep bringing this up. Can you lay out how this applies here? Which stream of conventionalism are you advancing here? Classic "Reichenbach/Carnap/Sclick" conventionalist, or something more along the lines of Larry Sklar? Given your previous comments, I'm inclined to think you are holding to something like what William Lane Craig mentions here.

    I say that because your recent use "amorphous" time reminded me of Craig using that same unusual word in the same article. Just in case that *is* the way you are leaning, note that Craig is talking about time being amorphous *outside* the bounds of metric time -- time as part of the space-time fabric of the reified universe.

    In any case, maybe you could boldly venture out from behind that term and explain how it attaches here?


  2. Touchstone,

    Go into your room, and do your home work. You can't expect Steve to actually EXPLAIN the things he throws about all willy nilly, can you?

    Its perfectly OK for Steve to make claims like:

    "Gen 1 is global and cosmological while Gen 2 is local and anthropological. "

    He's not just throwing that out there because some guy thought it up to harmonize the wackiness of Gen 1 and 2...he throws it out there because its clearly and OBVIOUSLY stated in the book. In the book of Calvin Chapter 2, verse 3.

  3. Anonymous,

    Schockingly perhaps, I understood what Steve was saying there, and generally affirm it:

    Gen 1 is global and cosmological while Gen 2 is local and anthropological.

    These two "points of view" for Gen 1 and 2 are developed as a (partial) way out of the otherwise apparent conflicts between them. It doesn't recover things completely, but it does present a plausible resolution of the perspective and voicing problem.

    I don't suppose Steve adheres to the Documentary Hypothesis, which is a natural explanation for the conflict between the two accounts -- the come from two different authors (the Yahwist and the Elohist). No matter, here, though. That's an explanation I'm likely to give when asked the same question (not hostile to the Yahwist/Elohist idea on my end).

    The order of creation is still a problem in any case. When pressed, the usual answer for those pointing to the Gen 1 order (Adam *after* animals) in conflict with the Gen 2 order (Adam *before* animals) is something along the lines of "the animals aren't really being created in Gen 2, but merely re-introduced -- they're new to Adam!" or some such.

    Such is the wages of scientific-historical literalism in Genesis, answers like that.


  4. "Shockingly" that is, "shockingly". It's hard to even type it correctly, it's so shocking. ;-)