Saturday, May 06, 2006

They're Creeping In! Pt. 3

We are continuing our series of responses to this article from BaptistFire. The first two posts can be read here and here. Hopefully today we’ll be able to cover more ground than a sentence (woohoo!). Again, I’ll provide the immediate context:

Crept in Unawares …
Calvinists want to take over your Southern Baptist church
a BaptistFire special report
(Updated: Sept. 26, 2005)

What Calvinists Believe

Calvinists do not believe that God loves everyone (contrary to John 3:16). They do not believe that God wants to save everyone (contrary to 1 Tim. 2:4). Most do not believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. (contrary to 1 John 2:2). Not only are these doctrines contrary to the Bible they are contrary to what the vast majority of Southern Baptists believe.

I noted in my first response that the entire purpose of this section of the article is to cast Calvinism in the negative light. Each one of these statements is made in the negative (”Calvinists do not believe…”). This anonymous contributor doesn’t want to tell us what Calvinists do believe. All he (or she) wants to tell us is what they supposedly don’t believe and then contrast that with a favorite prooftext. We’ve already looked at the first two assertions coupled with the Scripture citations of 1 Tim 2:4 and John 3:16. Today we’ll look at the next point:

Most do not believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. (contrary to 1 John 2:2).

If by this it is meant that consistent Reformed theologians deny that Christ’s atonement has universal extent, lacking efficacious intent, then this is correct. In other words, on the cross Christ actually saved people. He didn’t merely potentially save them; he actually saved them. But this anonymous author chooses to place the discussion in Scriptural terminology (for instance, using the term world. We don’t deny that Christ died for the “world,” but that the “world” is defined by the context) with the sole purpose of contrasting it with an oft-cited prooftext. But is particular redemption “contrary to 1 John 2:2″? Let’s take a look at this text:

1 John 2:1-2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

It never ceases to amaze me how synergists are so practiced in the art of taking any random non-soteriological text and making it relevant to the discussion. If it has the words “all,” “world,” or “whosoever” in it, it’s fair game, apparently. In any case, the synergist exegesis hinges on two assumptions: 1) the assumption that the only definition of “world” is “every single person without differentiation,” and, 2) the eisegesis of the word “potential” into the text. We’ll look at both assumptions separately:

1. The first assumption was already refuted in the my first article. The word “world” has varying meanings throughout John’s writings, as well as the rest of the New Testament. When John tells us “do not love the world” (1 John 2:15) does he mean “do not love every single person”? Or when he states that Jesus came “into the world” (John 1:9), or that the Father sent the Son “into the world” (John 3:17), did he mean that Christ was literally sent into “every single person”? Or when Jesus stated, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), did he mean “I am the light of every single person”? Or when Jesus states to his disciples, “You are of this world” (John 8:23) do you think he meant “You are of every single person”? Of course not. Rather, the word “world” has varying meanings in his writings. Therefore, we should not dogmatically assume its meaning. It must be determined from the context.

2. When it comes to the atonement, we must determine intent before we determine extent. But advocates of universal redemption are always quick to cite prooftexts that concern extent while altogether ignoring the intent of the atonement: that Christ died on the cross with the intent of actually saving people. He redeems them, satisfies God’s wrath, and intercedes on their behalf (see my response to Elmer Towns concerning the atonement for more information).

It takes eisegesis, therefore, in order to apply the atonement with universal extent, for its specific intent must be altogether ignored. So here the word “potential” must be eisegeted into this text, defying intent in order to avoid universalism but remain with universal extent. Christ can’t be the actual propitiation for the sins of every single person in the world (the assumed meaning of the word “world), for if he actually satisfied the wrath of God against their sin, God is unable to justly condemn them. Christ, therefore, can only be a potential propitiation. He can only potentially satisfy the wrath of God.

But is there a reading of this verse that does not require either an assumed meaning of the word “world” or eisegesis of the word “potential” into the text? Certainly there is! Can we not recognize John’s audience? Can we not recognize geographical, ethnical, and time-age-related distinctions? In fact, the linguistic parallel here with John 11:51-52 is terribly close, so much so that is simply dishonest to avoid the conviction that this is John’s meaning here:

John 11:51-52 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Notice the parallel:

1 John 2:2
He Himself
is the propitiation for
our sins
and not for ours only
but also
the world

John 11:51-52
he prophesied that
would die for
the nation
and not for the nation only
but also
that He would gather together in one
the children of God scattered abroad

Who, then, is the world? The children of God scattered abroad. Jesus didn’t just die for Jews but Gentiles as well (ethical distinction), not just for those in Asia Minor but from every nation (geographical distinction), not just for those who lived in the 1st century but for all ages to come (time-age-related distinction). In short, with his blood he redeemed a church “from every tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

Now that we’ve gotten past the first paragraph of Scripture prooftext citations, we should be able to move quickly in future posts to come!

Evan May.

The God who says and does

I recently had a very civilized exchange with Evan Tomlin and a fellow commenter over at:

Here’s my side of the dialogue:

steve hays Says:
April 18th, 2006 at 1:02 pm

Hi Evan,

How do you (or do you?) distinguish between rationality and rationalism? Between a rational defense of the Bible (or the faith generally) and a rationalistic defense of the faith?

steve hays Says:
April 19th, 2006 at 12:54 am

Hi Evan,

I’m not trying to beat you over the head with my rhetorical club. Over at Triablogue I bonk a lot of folks on the noggin, but the reason I went into your combox was to avoid a bloody confrontation since that is not at all my aim in this exchange.

I appreciate your effort to think through these issues for yourself.

i) My question wasn’t concerned with Van Tilian apologetics in particular, but rational apologetics in general.

You seem to be rejecting rational apologetics in favor of some nuanced form of fideism.

ii) One of my problems with fideism is when the fideist makes an argument for fideism. What’s the point of defending your right not to defend the Christian faith?

If you’re going to go to the intellectual effort of defending fideism, which strikes me as a rather self-contradictory exercise, why not redirect that intellectual firepower into actually defending the faith?

Why argue for the proposition that you don’t have to argue for your faith?

iii) I have a very different take on Wright. Wright is trying to stake out a mediating position on Scripture. On the one hand, he doesn’t take the liberal view of a Spong or Bultmann, according to which the Bible is both uninspired and historically worthless. On the other hand, he doesn’t take the traditional view that Scripture is both inspired and historically inerrant.

Put another way, the traditional view says that the Bible is a supernatural record of supernatural events, whereas the liberal view says that the Bible is a natural record of nonevents.

His position, by contrast, treats the Bible as a natural record of supernatural events. He doesn’t approach the Bible as divinely inspired. Rather, he approaches the Bible as a historian who regards the Bible as a historically respectable primary source of information about the past.

He wants a Bible that is authoritative in some measure without begin infallible or inerrant.

iv) He latches on to the faddish Pomo critique of modernism, represented by the strawman of the Enlightenment. However, using the Bible as a warehouse of abstract theological propositions has been around since Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas, to name a few. It has nothing to do with the Enlightenment.

v) I’ll grant you that there is still, in contemporary exegesis, an affectation of disinterested and dispassionate detachment from the emotional tone as well as the ethical and alethic claims of the text upon the reader. This affectation is an exercise in self-deception.

vi) I’ll also grant you that the attempt to formalize our tacit knowledge will inevitably involve some loss of information, for not everything in our spontaneous experience is quantifiable, and in the effort to give rigorous expression to our prereflective apprehension, the output will be less than the input. We know more than we can say.

So, yes, there is a sizable existential component which, feeding into the process, is lost in the course of its transmission and transmutation into logically interlocking propositions.

There—I assume that Bro. Steb won’t be needing to take you to the ER for head trauma inflicted by my baseball bat!

steve hays Says:
April 19th, 2006 at 1:08 pm

“Namely, the individual agent often “finds himself believing” (nod to Plantinga) the propositions of Scripture and acts accordingly without formulating this “encounter” (nod to Wright) in a logically dependent manner. ”

Agreed. Most Christians are not intellectuals, and even among Christian intellectuals, many of them are not competent to do apologetics because their area of specialization lies outside the fields of knowledge most relevant to apologetics.

A Christian is justified in what he believes as a simple matter of religious experience.

And, in that sense, you could say that fideism is the default position for most believers.

However, it’s important to have some Christians who are able to speak up for those who can’t: to give voice to their otherwise inarticulate grounds for faith.

For one thing, the average believer is intellectually vulerable. He is easily stumped. And he can become unsettled or impaired if objections pile up which generate cumulative doubts.

He doesn’t necessarily cease to be a believer, but he loses his confidence.

It is also true that we have a doctrine of the church as well as a doctrine of Scripture. These work in tandem, although there is, as you know, more than one model of their interrelationship, and it’s important to sort these out.

Once again, I appreciate your spiritual and intellectual explorations. Keep up the conscientious efforts.

steve hays Says:
April 19th, 2006 at 1:59 pm

“I appreciate your care in not furthering a bludgeoning exchange”

I trust you not to spread any malicious rumors about how I might actually have a warm and fuzzy side to me. I have a reputation to protect, you know! I’ve spent a lot of time carefully cultivating my hardnosed image, and any evidence to the contrary would be devastating to my public image and my personal reputation!

steve hays Says:
April 19th, 2006 at 5:19 pm

As to Loftus and Robbins, couldn’t we lock them in a room with cutlery and remove the bodies the next day? I think that would be a win/win situation, don’t you?

steve hays Says:
April 19th, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Hi Steb,

I don’t see how Van Tilian apologetics ends up with a subjective epistemology. Yes, Christian theism is “selected” as the worldview with the most explanatory power (VT would say, the only explanatory power), but how does this differ from any choice of one explanation over another because one enjoys—or is seen to enjoy—more explanatory power than its actual or hypothetical rivals? It seems to me that a “problem” for everyone is a problem for no one.

A weakness with much of the current debate over the justification of belief is that it frequently assumes that knowledge is unobtainable, so we must settle for well-warranted belief. Given that I can’t know for a fact where the truth lies, the next best option is to probabilify my beliefs so that I at least choose the most likely belief. I may be wrong, but given my epistemic limitations, that’s the best I can do, so I’m justified in what I believe even if I turn out to be wrong.

This assumes a certain epistemology, and, in religious matters, assumes a certain religious epistemology.

I don’t regard this as an adequate model of saving faith.

The need for rational justification is person-variable. However, fideism, even of the soft variety, is something of a misnomer.

Generally, Christian intellectuals who are attracted to fideism find it appealing, not so much because they regard human reason as so very limited, but, to the contrary, because they think that philosophy or science or Bible criticism has rendered the innocence of precritical faith in Scripture hopelessly jejune.

So their fideism is really a rearguard action after surrendering to reason. They admit defeat and retreat to a bunker which is immune to conventional weaponry.

Bultmann is a good example. Given his form criticism, with its assumption of orality, his closed-system worldview, and his attachment to loose comparative mythology, existentialism becomes a makeweight for the loss of historicity and miraculosity.

As to your ultimate question: “Does the Bible have to be inspired and inerrant to be authoritative? If so, why? If not, why not?”

This is the wrong question to lead with.

The first question we need to ask is what does the Bible claim to be? What does it say about itself?

Now, we may reject the account it gives for itself, but if we reject that answer, then to salvage faith in Scripture by substituting a different set of truth-conditions is an artificial exercise; for if the Bible is unbelievable on its own terms, then it is hardly more credible when we try to retrofit Scripture with some wholly extraneous rationale.

My point is that we need to begin by posing a factual question rather than a pragmatic question.

The salient question is not, in the first instance, what is the practical value of inerrancy, and can that be secured by some alternative route, by something short of inspiration.

The salient question is what God has actually done. Has God spoken? Has God spoken to us in the Bible?

Inspiration is the efficient cause and logical implication of the identity between Scripture and God’s word, while inerrancy is the necessary outcome of that identity.

If God is the speaker—even though he employs a mundane intermediary—then what is said is inerrant—even infallible.

If it is errant, then God is not speaking. Error is only possible if or when there ceases to be a point of identity in the continuum between Scripture and the word of God.

Different things can be authoritative. A judicial ruling is legally binding even though it may be badly mistaken.

Truth is authoritative. And there is, hypothetically speaking, a sense in which Scripture could be authoritative insofar as it is true, even though it is not entirely true.

However, the question would then be how you could detect just when it is that Scripture happens to be true.

At that juncture you become your own authority. You adduce and apply your own, extrabiblical criteria to the Bible.

And, in that respect, you must already know where the true lies in order to retreive the truth from the falsehood when you come to Scripture.

If so, why bother with the Bible in the first place if you enjoy independent access to the truth?

steve hays Says:
April 20th, 2006 at 1:03 am

The debates over justification and warrant are, in part, concerned with what conditions must be met in order to convert mere belief into knowledge. But they are also concerned with beliefs that enjoy prima facie warrant even if they are false. The conditions that must be met for a belief to be justified even if it falls short of knowledge.

steve hays Says:
April 26th, 2006 at 12:49 am

“I find the idea of accepting the self attestation of scripture to be a fideistic argument itself. You stated that “if the Bible is unbelievable on its own terms, then it is hardly more credible when we try to retrofit Scripture with some wholly extraneous rationale.” Isn’t that the idea of fideism, to accept claims without any verification, warrant, proof, testing or whatever you want to call it? On what grounds would we claim that the “gut feeling” of the Mormons is wrong? Why is the Quran not actually the word of God? The claims of the Bible are just that, claims. Why does anyone believe any claim of any religious system?”

I wasn’t appealing to the self-witness of Scripture as an argument from authority. My point is simply that we need to judge the Bible by its own claims, by what it claims for itself. The state claim is the object of belief or disbelief.

There is a distinction between believing that the Bible teaches X, and believing what the Bible teaches regarding X. It is quite possible to believe that the Bible teaches something without believing what it teaches.

Now the immediate point of this distinction is not that you should believe the Bible, but that if you are going to believe the Bible, then you need to believe what the Bible teaches about itself—the self-referential statements, as well as whatever else it teaches.

If, say, the Bible lays claim to plenary, verbal inspiration, and I substitute a theory of partial inspiration, that’s an ad hoc theory.

Whether you believe the Bible, and why you should believe it is a separate and subsequent question. But before we can get to that state, we need to be clear on the nature of the claim to b e believed or disbelieved.

As to rival revelatory claimants, that counterexample was keyed to your apparent assumption that I was appealing to the self-attesting authority of Scripture. I was not. I was merely appealing to the self-witness of Scripture. Whether or not that self-witness is authoritative is, as I say, a separate and subsequent question.

But as long as you bring it up, it also depends on whether you’re asking for some general, uniform, multipurpose criterion or criteria that would be equally applicable to every revelatory claimant.

That’s an interesting question.

But it isn’t necessary for our immediate purposes to come up with an abstract, external test.

It is sufficient to judge these two particular claimants on internal grounds.

On the one hand, there is no positive evidence of any kind that either the Koran or the Mormon “scriptures” are inspired while, on the other hand, there is positive evidence that they are uninspired and errant. And that, too, is a case of judging them by their own claims. I could go into the details, but I’ll pass on that for now since it may be too much of a digression from the main point at issue.

“Is the use of historical analysis, logical deduction/induction and philosophical analysis the equivalent of “substituting a different set of truth-conditions [as] an artificial exercise”? I’ve honestly never understood this claim from the presuppositionalist camp. Can you explain how we show or prove the existence of God or the validity of scripture without retrofitting scripture?”

Van Tilians don’t oppose the verification or falsification of Scripture by scriptural criteria; what they oppose is the verification or falsification of Scripture by unscriptural criteria.

There is also, apropos the above, a difference between what we defend and how we defend it.

Once again, my point is that if we’re going to defend the Bible at all, then we need to defend a Scriptural doctrine of Scripture, a Biblical doctrine of Biblical inspiration.

It would be self-defeating to propose a theory of inspiration at odds with the self-witness of Scripture, and defend that theory as if you were thereby defending the Bible.

So there’s a distinction between the theory we are defending, and the arguments we deploy to defend that theory.

When I spoke against “retrofitting” Scripture, that had reference, not to how we defend the Bible, but what doctrine of Scripture we are defending in the first place.

“The whole argument depends upon the ‘identity between Scripture and God’s word’”.

My argument is both an argument from Scripture and an argument for Scripture. We have to take our doctrine of Scripture from Scripture itself. That is the object of belief or unbelief. If it’s an object of belief, then that’s what we are committed to defending.

At this stage of the discussion I’m not mounting an argument for the Bible. I just want us to be clear on what we need to argue for were we to mount such an argument. What are we defending? That’s the preliminary question.

“I think that evangelicalism ends up believing the Bible is authoritative for the same reason Muslims believe the Quran or Mormons believe the Last Testament, because of a theory of transmission. We believe that the living God “spoke” his word to prophets, evangelists, apostles, etc. They believe the only true god “spoke” his word to the only true prophet. We distinguish ourselves by resorting to “artificial exercises”. Something seems terribly wrong with this scenario, and I fully accept that it may be my perception and/or lack of understanding of things, in fact I hope it is, but I’m afraid it may not be. In the end, I don’t want a theory of authority that is dependent upon a theory of transmission.”

But what if there is, in fact, an internal relation between a theory of authority and a theory of transmission? Indeed, the relation is pretty straightforward.

God is the paradigmatic authority-figure. If God can inspire to communicate his will, then the end-result is authoritative due to the process of inspiration. I don’t know why you find that objectionable.

The fact that not every claimant successfully meets the condition doesn’t render the relation unsound. The inner logic of the relation is one thing, and evidence for what that relation does or does not obtain is another thing.

“My last problem with the logical dependency way of thinking is the seeming inability to avoid a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. The Muslims seem to come by it honestly, they freely claim that Allah spoke to Mohammed directly. As a matter of a fact that’s one point they criticize us on, the idea of textual corruption and untrustworthiness of the Bible. But evangelicals of the moderate type avoid such a claim by alleviating it with phrases like “the personality of the authors was not overridden by the HS”, or “God used human authors in spite of their imperfections”, or “even though he employs a mundane(?) intermediary”. On the one hand, the higher degree of ontological identity we can assert between scripture and God’s actual words, the higher degree of inerrancy and subsequent authority we can assert. But on the other hand, the higher degree of ontological identity we assert between the two the closer we come to a statement of mechanical dictation, which nobody today is willing to assert anymore, and rightfully so. In the end we seem to be left in a realm of the middle ground which can’t logically assert anything as bold as the Muslims and won’t dare assert anything as “liberal” as the “errantist” positions of Crossan, Funk, Schweitzer, Wright(?) or especially the terrible Bultmann (I still disagree with your assessment of him, but that’s another diablog for another day).”

One needs no resort to a mechanical or dictation theory. Rather, one only needs to things:

i) In context, identity between God’s word and man’s word (God’s spokesman, the prophet, apostles, &c.) consists in the divine spokesman saying exactly what God intended him to say, nothing more and nothing less. He says just what God intended him to say, the way God intended him to say it.

ii) We also need a doctrine of providence. God is not merely the (primary) author of the Biblical writing; he is also the author if the Biblical writer.

He is responsible for the existence, personality, and socialization of the agent.

So it isn’t a case of taken possession of a human being, and playing him like a flute to channel the message, while the spokesman is a mere mouthpiece or dummy, while God is the flutist or ventriloquist.

God doesn’t simply play the instrument; he designed the instrument in the first place. He is, as it were, Stradivari and Heifetz in one: both violinist and violinmaker.

He is not, however, the violin. The violin, the secondary agent, is still a person in his own right.

“What is this elusive point of identity in the continuum, and how do we know it apart from artificial exercises? Do we just believe as fideists?”

i) I think I’ve explained the point of identity, which I don’t find elusive.

ii) Once again, my remark about “artificial exercises” had reference, not to how we defend Scripture, but what we defend, viz., a theory of partial inspiration.

But an artificial doctrine of Scripture can also give rise to an artificial argument for the doctrine in question.

Let’s illustrate this point with some smaller examples. There are men who will defend the miracles of Scripture, but they will rationalize the miracle by substituting a naturalistic mechanism contrary to the cause attributed to that event by Scripture itself. Velikosvksy was a well-known example. Ericc von Daniken is another.

iii) As to why we believe, what counts as convincing evidence is person-variable. Some folks are more impressed by existential evidence, others by empirical evidence, still others by abstract reasoning. There’s no uniform line of evidence that everyone finds equally convincing.

“When you said that truth is authoritative and that in a hypothetical sense scripture “could” be authoritative because it is true, my heart leapt. This is what I’m looking for! A theory of authority based upon truth value itself and not upon a secondary means such as transmission.”

Two problems with this:

i) It’s an inspired mode of transmission which secures the truth of the document.

ii) It’s an inspired mode of transmission, which renders the truth accessible.

Partial inspiration would be self-defeating. The point of inspiration is to distinguish when God is speaking from when he is not.

If this distinction is not preserved, then he might as well not be speaking at all, for God’s voice is lost in the cacophony of all the human voices. Somehow we have to retrieve the signal from the surrounding static. This amounts to a denial of the very possibility of divine self-revelation.

God can never be heard above the static. He can never cut through the static. His voice is just one more voice.

At that point it’s up to man to strain to hear if he can dimly make out the voice of God. That’ isn’t a serious doctrine of revelation.

“If Joshua was “wrong” about the earth and sun’s rotation, does this mean the Bible is errant and untrustworthy? Surely we’re not this pedantic in our reasoning.”

This lead to a makeshift doctrine of Scripture, in which we begin by compiling a list of problem passages, then we device a theory of inspiration which just manages to skirt our problem passages.

That is a made-up theory of inspiration. A stopgap.

The problem way to approach this is:

i) To take the self-witness of Scripture as a paradigm;

ii) To confess that to be a Christian is involves a precommitment to certain things;

iii) To be clear on the rational grounds for our faith;

iv) Carefully interpret problem passages on their own terms, guarding against the tendency to unconsciously import extrascriptural assumptions into the text.

For example, a modern reader almost automatically sees Joshua’s long day through the lens of Apollo 11 and the Galileo affair.

But that involves an explicit comparison between a heliocentric system and a geocentric system. To extrapolate back in time from that debate to Josh 10:12-14 runs the risk of blatant anachronism. We’re reading extraneous concerns and controversies into a text innocent of those later debates. There’s no reason to assume the author was operating with a developed cosmological system like Ptolemy or Copernicus.

“But granting your line of thinking, if I try to disprove the “errantists” and prove the truthfulness of the Bible, do I not likewise set myself up as my own authority?”

No, because you’re taking Scripture as your standard of comparison.

Out of Egypt

Dagood has replied to my rebuttal. He buried his reply in the combox over at Debunking Christianity. Having read his reply, I can well understand why he consigned it to obscurity.

“Dating of Exodus Again, steve brings up Kitchen, and the complete lack of evidence of Exodus not necessarily meaning it never happened. I did not intend to go through all the problems with the Exodus itself in this blog, just the Plagues. (Too long!)”

i) The “complete lack of evidence” disregards my follow-up post on Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition.

ii) Again, Kitchen’s immediate point is not about summarizing the state of the evidence, but about what evidence we can expect to survive given the conditions of the Delta.

Do we good reason to expect more evidence? Is that expectation unfounded? That’s the point.

iii) Let's be clear on one thing at the outset: intransigent unbelievers don’t care about archeological evidence. There’s a long history of unbelievers denying Biblical claims in the absence of corroborative evidence.

And every time an archaeologist makes a discovery which confirms a Biblical claim, the unbelievers go right on denying the historicity of Scripture.

All they do is to retreat to the ever-narrowing circle of the remaining uncorroborated claims.

iii) In addition, it isn’t necessary to have direct and independent corroboration for everything someone says to find him credible.

“However, as an example, I would encourage anyone to read the excerpt of Kitchen. It shows how forced the archeologist must go to attempt to maintain any viability to the Exodus. Kitchen notes that where the Hebrews allegedly lived was primarily mud, and therefore writing would not have existed.”

“Now I would hope that steve would be at least a little more skeptical. Why do the records have to ONLY be written where the slaves lived? There would be other records of slave trade, not necessarily JUST in the Delta.”

i) This is a very deceptive summary of what Kenneth Kitchen said, as if we do have extensive written records for everything else at that time and place—but not, suspiciously, for the slave-trade or Exodus.

This is what Kitchen said: “Scarce wonder that practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites…And in the mud, 99 percent of discarded papyri have perished forever; a tiny fraction (of late date) have been found carbonized (burned… Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost; and monumental texts are also nearly nil.”

ii) Kitchen does say “a tiny fraction (of late date) have been found carbonized (burned…A tiny fraction of reports from the East Delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis.”

So not all our records were lost, but what survived is extremely fragmentary.

iii) Apropos Memphis, this was the chief administrative center of Egypt. But little has survived the ravages of time. Cf. “Memphis,” The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology (Zondervan 1983), 310.

If Dagood actually knew any Egyptian history or archeology, he’d know this, and not continue to raise such empty-headed objections.

iv) Kitchen also says that “pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.”

So there’s more than one factor to account for the state of the evidence.

My original quote from Kitchen already anticipates Dagood’s objections. He turns a blind eye to what was stated.

“Further, is Kitchen claiming that the Hebrews were ONLY used in the Delta?”

The Exodus narrative is centered in the Delta.

“Part of the reason for the dating of the Exodus in the 13th Century BCE is to place their existence in the reign of Rameses II, at the time of building the cities Pithom and Ramses. (Ex. 1:11) Is Kitchen stating that these cities were made of mud?”

Kitchen already addressed that objection as well: “Even great temples reduced to heaps of tumbled stones.”

“I apologize for not getting any deeper in terms of the Exodus, and again encourage anyone to go read some books (not websites) as to the problems involved.”

Yes, and Hoffmeier’s monograph would be a good place to start.

“And steve, the dates are NEVER irrespective of the evidence. Those that favor an earlier date do so because of the inability to coordinate the evidence with the later date. Those that favor a later date recognize the problems intrinsic with the earlier date. Those that favor an entirely different millennium (!) see the problems with both of these dates.”

“Never” is a fine example of Dagood’s hyperbole.

The evidence which I cited distinguishes between the first millennium BC and the second millennium BC, not between the 13C BC and the 15C BC. So the evidence I cited is irrespective of whether one favors the early or late date of the Exodus.

“Think of this—the single most important event in Hebrew history, and the archeologists/historians cannot even agree which Century it happened in, due to the problems with evidence!”

How is that surprising? We don’t have a continuous calendar extending from our own time back into the ANE. Reconstructing a relative or absolute chronology for ancient history is extremely complicated and inherently provisional, in attempting to piece together a timeline from fragmentary and diverse sources of information, such as regnal years, astronomical records, as well as lithic and ceramic typology. The ANE had more than one calendar at more than one time and place.

“But let’s move on to the Plagues:

“I see, you too, fall into the concept that ‘every’ does not mean ‘every’ and ‘all’ does not mean ‘all’ and the person writing this was using grandiose generalizations. Is God always this indistinct in his inspiration? When the Flood covered the whole earth, does this just mean ‘some’ of the earth? (Gen. 7:17) When the author states that every living thing perished, is this just more hyperbole? (Gen. 7:21-23).”

“While you claim the patter is from “general to specific” you give no examples in the Plagues. Where does God state, for example “All Egyptian livestock died” (Ex. 9:6) and then later specifically state it was only the livestock of a certain area, or personage? (Psuedo-Exodus 58:52??).”

i) No, nothing “grandiose.” Just an innocent, garden-variety generality.

ii) I said that quantifiers are context-sensitive, and I went on to specify in every case just what I meant. Pity Dagood can’t read the fine print. It’s all there.

iii) The point at issue is not the inspiration of the text, but the intelligence of the reader. Does the reader pay attention to quantitative caveats within the text, as well as the overall shape of the narrative? Or does he seize on a few isolated expressions, in defiance of the way in which their usage is implicitly and explicitly qualified in the course of the narrative.

God inspired the writer, not the reader. If a reader is dense or chooses to misread the text so that he can force it into self-contradiction by willfully disregarding internal clues and caveats, then he is welcome to his self-deception.

All Dagood does is to drop all of the qualifications given in the course of the narrative, then proclaim the narrative internally inconsistent.

“I certainly agree that there is a mean between a single cow and the every Egyptian cow killed. Does your Bible indicate where, on this mean, the Plague fell? Why, yes it does—it says ‘every.’ Can you give us a method by which we can even remotely determine where, on this mean, the author intended us to be persuaded that fewer than “every” cow died?”

I don’t need to lay down a general methodology. All that’s needed is a close reading of the text, where the text itself tells what did and did not survive each plague. That is something else I documented in detail.

“Water to Blood You did read Ex. 7:19, right? Every bit of water God stated he would strike—every pond, every stream, ever canal, every reservoir, every bit of water in a wooden bucket or stone jar.”

Yes, I read 7:19. I also read 7:22 and 7:24. Reread what I wrote.

This is how one reads a narrative. By reading the entire narrative, the way it was meant to be read; not by cherry-picking isolated verses out of context that were never meant to be read in isolation from their function in the narrative flow.

“It would not be just the Nile. All the fish in Egypt would die.”

The Egyptians would lack fresh fish for a week. Mass famine does not ensue.

“True, I am not a biologist, and would never claim to be. I am, though, at least familiar with environmental eco-systems, and have owned a fish tank or two. What happens when you drastically change the ph level in water? The fish and aquatic life either radically adapt, or die. According to your Book, it was the latter.”

A fish tank is a closed ecosystem; a river is an open eco-system. Dagood still doesn’t get it. The Nile is not an aquarium!

“No, the fish do NOT just start to wash down from the upper river, and replenish the lower river. They would have nothing to eat! The large fish need smaller fish, the smaller fish need insects and algae, and all of those items would be gone. There would be no eggs or young or tadpoles or anything left in the lower river to reproduce and repopulate. That, too, would have to come from the upper river.”

A river is a moving ecosystem. You have little fish as well as big fish upstream, and both are moving downstream. You have algae wherever you have algae. Insects are ubiquitous.

“I am not saying it could never happen, but it would take years on the river systems alone. The canals, ponds and streams would take decades.”

Yes, there might be some long-term damage. Just not on the scale you insist.

“And I did not take into account the blood washing into the headwaters, affecting that portion, NOR the problem of coagulation. I gave the Christian the benefit of the doubt that God kept the blood with some viscosity, and ended the Plague prior to it hitting the ocean. If the blood did thicken, and scab, all underwater plant life would die as well. The ecosystem, in that case, would be completely destroyed. It would take more than decades.”

If…if…if. This is the iffy objection to the Ten Plagues.

“The only reason I mentioned crocodiles was to actually get people to think about the full implications of the plague. Not just ‘all the fish were gone. Now all the fish are back.’”

The narrative never said “all the fish are back.” But fish would come from up river.

“I did like the response—'crocs don’t need to eat very often.' It reminded me of debating with inerrantists. Often, when pointing out contradictions between two verses, the inerrantist peels one verse down to just a phrase at a time, and shows how each individual phrase does not contradict the other verse. Yet when taken as a whole, it makes no sense.”

You suffer from a lack of reading comprehension. My point all along has been to read the text in context. It makes perfect sense when taken as a whole.

You are the one who tries to wedge it into a contradiction by acting as if one verse was written in ignorance of another verse, even within the confines of the very same narrative or pericope.

But one verse was not written independently of another verse. It was never meant to be understood in separation of the entire literary unit.

“Yes it is true that a crocodile can go a long time without food. Are you saying that every crocodile had just happened to eat prior to the plague? That there wasn’t a single crocodile that may have been hungry, and by being deprived of food, wouldn’t start to go out looking?”

i) The narrative doesn’t discuss crocodiles one way or the other. You’re the one who brought that up. So any discussion will be speculative.

ii) Crocodiles are cold-blooded creatures. Reptiles. They have a slow metabolism. A crocodile can survive without food for a week. A crocodile is not a Humming Bird or Least Weasel.

iii) You’re setting up a false dichotomy: either every crocodile had to survive or else every crocodile had to perish. Non sequitur.

iv) You are also dissembling. As I explained at the time, the crocodiles would have plenty to eat in the way of dead fish and carrion.

“Or perhaps it was another miracle in which God told all the crocodiles to fill up immediately before the plagues so as to survive. He wanted his people to leave Egypt with stylish belts, shoes and bags.”

Unable to address the merits of the argument, you resort to rhetorical bubble-wrap.

“Unfortunately, God was not so kind with the fish, giving them a pre-warning. They all died. Just like all the fish in the Flood. To all you people out there with an emblem on the back of your car, here is news- God Hates Fish! (Strangely, Jesus used them to pay taxes and sustain a post-mortem body. Perhaps my next blog will by “Jesus couldn’t be God, because he likes fish!”)”

More rhetorical bubble-wrap. It didn’t take long for you to lose the argument. On the very first round.

“Frogs Not destroyed? Are you serious?”

I’m a serious reader, unlike you.

The plague of frogs assumes the existence of frogs. There were frogs around to plague the Egyptians.

“ I thought the idea of an enormous bunch of frogs was supposed to be some kind of miracle. Whether we started with 1 or 100, the idea was that God created a bunch more frogs out of nothing. Are you saying that of all the plagues, the frogs were natural?”

i) I neither affirm nor deny a miraculous multiplication of frogs. The text is silent on the source of the frogs, so I’m not going to be more specific than the text. That’s part of being a responsible interpreter. That’s the difference between exegesis and eisegesis.

Whether their origin is natural or supernatural is speculative in any case. One can toy with the implications of either conjecture.

ii) The timing is miraculous.

iii) Oh, and frogs are not fish. Frogs are amphibious. They breathe air. Some lay their eggs on damp ground. Some are desert dwellers.

“At least I have the courtesy of reading the plagues as being miracles before showing the results would have destroyed the country.”

I don’t prejudge the question. That’s a matter of exegesis. And Scripture is often indifferent to the mechanism, if any.

“Livestock Ah. Now you are saying that all the livestock were not killed. So what do we do with 9:6 where it says….uh….”all the livestock of the Egyptians died.” Sure I know there are livestock in the next plagues. Where do they come from? I guess you are saying we should not trust the narrator of the story when he says “all died.” What else can’t we trust them on?”

More of your transparent sophistry. The way I exercise trust in the narrator is to interpret individual verses in the narrative context.

That’s what a narrator does: he writes a narrative. It’s a literary unit. It has an overall shape. A natural progression. Earlier stages may foreshadow later stages.

“Oh, and if the Tanakh went from general to specific, how come vs. 3 says “livestock in the field” and vs. 6 says “all.” Now you are saying that the narrator went from specific to general? Which is it?”

Both. There’s no uniform principle of composition. But one needs to be aware of various narrative techniques which a given narrator will deploy.

“It is not that hard to keep up with the apologetic. If you want general to specific (like Gen. 1 to Gen. 2) you say (without a lick of proof) that narrators went from general to specific. If you need it to be an alternative, you say it is an exception.”

No, you simply interpret the text before you. You judge every pericope on a case-by-case basis.

I didn’t give examples because it’s a common place of OT scholarship. As Oswald Allis put it, "We often find in describing an event, the Biblical writer first makes a brief and comprehensive statement and then follows it with more or less elaborate details," The Old Testament (P&R 1972), 82.

Here are a couple of examples: the relation between Gen 6:19 and 7:2 is an instance of going from general to specific.

Likewise, the relationship between Gen 1 & 2, where Gen 1presents a general account of creation, while Gen 1 fills in the details regarding the making of man.

There are many examples in the Exodus account because it has a broadly concentric structure of escalating damage, where the some of the same targets take more than one hit, resulting in a steady diminution of the original stock.

This is the overarching structure of the narrative.

Within that framework there are many individual specifications. You need to read a historical narrative with a view to both the macrostructure and the microstructure, especially in the case of the Plagues, which are cyclical as they circle back to build on what went before.

“Trading with Hebrews I purposely left this out. The relationship between the Hebrews and the Egyptians is so muddled throughout these events, any position one holds, makes no sense.”

“Pharaoh (if you go with the later dating of Exodus) has enough power to kill all the Hebrew baby boys (1:15) as well as ordering them to work without materials. (5:7).”

Every pharaoh was an absolute monarch. This doesn’t depend on the early or late date of the Exodus.

“Why trade with the Hebrews, if he could just take their cattle?”

All other things being equal, he could.

“But in 10:24, Pharaoh is asking Moses to leave their livestock behind. Asking? Why not swoop in and take them?”

Because, by that point in the narrative, he’s taken a beating. He’s gone up against Moses and repeatedly lost.

This is why you need to read a narrative…as a narrative.

“As of 12:36 the Egyptians were favorable to the Hebrews to the point of simply giving them Gold and silver.”

i)Yes, and once again, where does this occur in the course of the narrative? At the tail-end they’ve been bested and defeated. Demoralized. Their resistance is worn down to nothing. That’s the cumulative effect of the plagues. That was the intention all along.

ii)Moreover, their favorable disposition is attributed to divine agency, just as the ill-will of Pharaoh is attributed to divine agency.

“If the Hebrews had cattle, and the Egyptians did not, there would be cattle riots. And sheep and donkey riots. The story acts as if these two nations were peaceably living side by side, with bad things happening to the Egyptians and good things happening to the Hebrews.”

Even if there were riots, so what? The fact that good things happen to the Hebrews and bad things to the Egyptians is irrelevant to the possibility of a riot.

“Even if they DID trade cattle, there would still be the issue of how to negotiate with the Hebrews.”

At the outset, there’d be no need for negotiations. Slave-masters don’t dicker with slaves. Slave-masters have the upper hand.

But as the narrative unfolds, there is a shift in the balance of power. The Egyptians are on the losing end of the plagues. They are beleaguered and disempowered.

“And the influx of Egyptian items (all sadly lost in the wilderness. Whoops, not there, either, since archaeology can’t find them in Canaan, and can’t find them in the desert. Must have dropped them in the Reed Sea.).”

i) Once again, you disregard Kitchen’s observation that this is typical of ancient military campaigns. It is not a suspicious exception in the case of the Exodus.

ii) You also disregard the evidence which he and Hess do adduce.

So you have failed to engage their arguments.

iii) Oh, and while your at it you might also wish to brush up on Hoffmeier’s sequel volume, Ancient Israel in Sinai.

“And the loss of livestock being replenished and lost again.”

That’s your tendentious spin.

“I stayed away from any interaction between Egyptians and Hebrews, since the book is so contradictory as to the events, and any scenario proposed by me would be (rightly) pointed out as contradictory by some verse. I can’t help it that your book contradicts itself.”

i) No, what I did was to introduce the Jewish stock to debate you on your own turf. My position doesn’t depend on this. Indeed, I reject your underlying misinterpretation. But, for the sake of argument, I pointed out that you chose to ignore a resource readily at hand.

ii) I can’t help it that your argument is vitiated by selective quotation.

“The Egyptian granaries. Enough to sustain a nation? And not a single record kept of their depletion? Not a note made of the loss of grain? And even with stores, they would STILL require outside assistance.”

Egypt was the breadbasket of the ANE. As John Currid notes,


Egypt has always been the land of grain for Palestine during rough times (cf. 12:10-20; cf. 26:1-2). A good example comes from the time of Pharaoh Heremhab of the 19th Dynasty in Egypt. It tells of Asiatics being allowed to come to Egypt to pasture herds and to obtain food because of times of distress in the rest of the Near East.

Genesis (Evangelical Press 2003), 2:280.


Dagood can also read about ANE granaries in The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology, 219-20.

As well as consulting the periodical literature on ANE storage facilities, cf. J. Currid, “The Beehive Buildings of Ancient Palestine,” BA 49:1 (1986): 20-25; J. Currid & A. Navon, “Iron Age Pits & the Lahav (Tell Halif) Grain Storage Project,” BASOR 273 (1989): 67-78.

“Royal Stables. Where were those stables, again? Oh, that’s right. That takes archeology. And the absence of evidence of royal stables doesn’t mean there weren’t any.”

Not only is Dagood ignorant of ANE agrarian economics, he is equally ignorant of ANE husbandry and horsemanship. Where you had horses and livestock, you had stables. Where you had cavalry and charioteers, you had stables.

Of course the king of Egypt had stables, just like other ANE rulers.

Chariotry was a fixture of ANE warfare since the Middle Bronze Age. Cf. ISBE 4:1015.

While you’re at it, try reading the entries on “Horse” (242-43) and “Stables” (423) in The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archeology.

Oh, that’s right. Dagood doesn’t study archeology. He just talks through his hat.

“And are you saying the person that ran the Royal Stables was one that feared YHWH? 9:20. I could point out that technically Pharaoh would have “owned” the horses, and HE did not follow YHWH, so his would have been killed.”

i) I never said that Pharaoh was the only one with stables. Other important landowners would also stable their horses and livestock.

In context, we were discussing the cavalry and the charioteers. Remember?

ii) At this point in the cycle (the seventh plague), the account doesn’t say whether or not Pharaoh left his horses or livestock in the open field.

iii) The fact, though, that Pharaoh still had a squadron of horsemen and charioteers to pursue the Israelites makes it obvious, from the viewpoint of the narrator, that his warhorses were not all exposed to the hail. An intelligent reader will interpret what went before in light of what happened afterwards.

All of the information isn’t given all at once. Much of the narrative suspense lies in leaving some details unstated, to be explicated at a later phase in the dramatic arc.

“Only the cavalry? (14:23) O.K., so God was lying in 14:17 and 14:4 when he claimed he would ‘gain glory’ through all of Pharaoh’s army. (See also 14:9 and 28) Ya sure this is the apologetic you want? Not all the army died, so God was lying? Or incompetent? Note also Moses’ song in 15:4 indicates it was the entire army. I’ll grant you that it is song, not history, so was Moses exaggerating, too? Seems to be a common problem in these parts.”

As I’ve said more than once now, specific usage qualifies generic usage.

But, hey, you’re welcome to be obtuse.

“Natural possibilities? O.K. So you are saying God didn’t have any part of this at all? That his part was ‘written in’ at a later time? And this is all an exaggeration.

Hmmmm…I thought that was my line!!”

Dagood is dissembling as usual. Or is he just a little slow on the uptake? I explained exactly what I meant.

But, since he chooses to make an issue of this, let’s connect all the dots:

i) The Bible doesn’t offer any systematic definition or classification of the miraculous. But a miracle can take different forms:

a) A miracle can run contrary to the ordinary course of nature.

b) A miracle can represent an extraordinary conjunction of ordinary natural forces.

c) A miracle can either operate through second causes (e.g. Exod 14:21) or else it can bypass mundane media.

Which interpretation is correct can only be judged on a case-by-case basis. Also, because the account may be indifferent to the “mechanism,” if any, the account may furnish insufficient data to determine the mechanism, if any.

ii) One reason the Bible doesn’t define or classify or catalogue its own miracles is that, in the nature of the case, miracles are generally reported in historical narratives, and the genre of narrative theology does not regularly halt the action for editorial asides.

iii) Another reason is that, from a Biblical viewpoint, every event, whether miraculous or providential, is an act of God. It may or may not make use of secondary agents and agencies, but God is a primary, if not necessary the only, cause of every event.

iv) The distinction between what’s natural and supernatural is a secular distinction. For the run-of-the-mill secularist, nature is all there is, and nature is physical.

Hence, anything immaterial, like God, angels, demons, and discarnate souls, as well as the effects attributed to these incorporeal agents, are automatically relegated to the supernatural category.

But that represents an outsider’s perspective. In Scripture, the dividing line lies between creature and Creator, not nature and supernature.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Theory & reality

Brother Danny said:


I have decided not to address most of the points in your post due to time constraints.

Back to the object at hand -- I'll write on cosmology soon, and materialism, if time allows.”

On the basis of this statement, as well as his previous statement about Gen 1, (see below) it looks like Danny is going to contend that Gen 1 has been falsified by modern cosmology, which is sufficient reason for rejecting the Christian faith in toto.

If so, he faces the following challenges:

I. Exegesis

i) Many conservative Christians don’t interpret Gen 1 chronologically.

That is not my own position, but if Danny has bet the house on Gen 1 in relation to the chronology of modern cosmology, his argument, even if otherwise valid, would leave the position of many Christians untouched.

ii) An ancient Israelite was perfectly aware of the fact that the sun was source of the diurnal cycle.

They rose with the sun, and retired at sunset.

So one didn’t have to await the invention of the electric light bulb or modern cosmology to make this stunning observation.

However we interpret Gen 1:14-19, this does not represent a prescientific perspective which is been falsified by modern science, for one doesn’t need to be a child of the scientific age to raise the objection which Danny has leveled against this particular feature of the text.

iii) John Sailhamer, in Genesis Unbound, as well as his commentary on Genesis, has argued that 1:14 should not be rendered, “Let there be lights in the expanse to separate the day and night,” but rather, “Let the lights in the expanse be for separating day and night.”

Sailhamer is a Hebraist. Out of curiosity, I ran his interpretation by three other Hebraists: Bruce Waltke, John Currid, and David Clines.

Clines thought that this rendering was grammatically acceptable. Waltke thought it was unacceptable, while Currid also thought it was unacceptable, but for a different reason than Waltke.

So you had four eminent Hebraists evenly divided over the syntax of v14.

Then there was the view of Donald Wiseman, the late great Assyriologist, who felt that the traditional rendering of the verb (“to make”) was mistaken.

This illustrates the dangers of resting so much weight on one verse.

Many commentators have also noted parallels between the creation account and the flood account:

In the flood account we have a triple-decker ark with a window and a roof (6:16; 8:6,13). The animals occupy different decks. During the deluge the ark has water above (rain) and below (floodwaters).

Now, let's compare this to the world. In the creation account, the world has windows (7:11) and a roof (1:6-8; 14-16). It has water above and below (1:2,7). The world has three decks: sky, earth, water (cf. Exod 20:4). Animals occupy different "decks."

In that event it may also be that what we have in v14ff. is an architectural metaphor in which God is depicted as a cosmic carpenter.

So why there was light on day one—why, indeed, was there a day one with a diurnal cycle before the sunlight on day four?

The literary answer would be because a carpenter cannot install skylights until he has put a roof on the house. But there was sunlight before there were skylights.

1:14 was not the whole of Danny’s objection. But it’s part of it.

II. Botany

Perhaps Danny’s implicit objection is that you cannot have plants without sunshine.

But if the world was made within the span of six consecutive calendar days, then the flora could certainly survive for a day (day 3) without sunshine (day 4), even if you accept the traditional reading of v14.

Remember, too, that even on the traditional reading, there is a light source already in place.

III. Creation ex nihilo

i) Gen 1 doesn’t explicitly teach creation ex nihilo, although that is a natural enough way of reading the text.

Be that as it may, creation ex nihilo is clearly implied in Col 1:16-17.

So what, exactly, is the thesis which Danny is opposing?

This is what the traditional reading of Gen 1 amounts to:

God made the world in the span of six consecutive calendar days. He made no use of any preexistent “stuff” (matter, energy). And everything was made in the way it’s described in Gen 1, which is to say, fully formed. There is no transition from simple to complex, or embryonic to mature. Rather, the final product is given by God’s immediate creative fiat.

The end-product is a fully furnished and finished world, with no intermediate stages of development.

ii) Now, the question this poses for Danny is what evidence would count against that claim?

How would the world look if it were, indeed, made that way? How would it differ from the world we see? What, if any, would be the detectable difference between the world of Gen 1 and the world we see today?

Incidentally, I’m not appealing to the theory of “apparent age,” which is a misnomer, for objects have no inherent appearance of any particular age.

We date an object on the basis on experience. If we had no prior experience, we could not date an object.

In addition, this is not an apologetic ploy, drummed up on the spot to do an end-run around modern science.

The interpretation I’m presenting here represents the traditional, prescientific reading of the text.

If you’re going to say that Gen 1 has been disproven by modern cosmology, then you need to consider the implications of Gen 1. What would such a world look like?

Of course, Danny doesn’t believe Gen 1. But that’s irrelevant.

For purposes of argument he must assume the viewpoint of Gen 1 if he’s going to claim that Gen 1 runs contrary to modern cosmology or the natural evidence.

So, assuming, for the sake of argument, that the earth world was created ex nihilo in the span of six days, would science be able to detect its true age? Would there be a discrepancy between such a world and the world we see around us?

What kind of evidence would count for or against creation ex nihilo? Creation ex nihilo is sui generis. It leaves no trace evidence, for the effect involves no intervening process, be it fast or slow.

iii) I’d add that the world in Gen 1 is not necessarily identical with the world we see today, for the prediluvian world was subject to a global flood. So there’s also the question of what impact that would have on the empirical record.

IV. Process & Product

“Which also record lots of other goodies, like that the earth was created before the stars, that the plants were created before the sun, that the "days" were present before the sun” (Brother Danny”).

i) Danny tosses this off as if it the order of events in Gen 1 is obviously wrong.

At the risk of stating the obvious, none of us was around to see the origin of the world we inhabit.

What is more, none of us has ever seen the origin of any other world.

So the original and originating order of events is not an observational datum.

Cosmology attempts to reconstruct the distant past through trace evidence, mathematical modeling, and uniformitarian assumptions to justify the extrapolation of the past from the present.

ii) Consider, for a moment, some of the fudge factors that go into physics and cosmology these days:



We are now in a position to discuss the testability of the new physics, which is broadly defined here as the standard paradigm of particle physics,3 the standard paradigm of cosmology and recent variations on these themes: A comprehensive analysis of the testability of these paradigms could fill several books and so only a representative sampling of major testing problems associated with the new physics will be presented here. Proponents of the new physics will no doubt feel that the present discussion does not include positive support for these theories and therefore leaves the reader with too negative an impression. However, countless technical, general, and popular discussions of the new physics have tended to be so dogmatic and optimistic that a small dose of antidote could not hurt and may be very helpful. If the "believers" repeatedly claim the right to present very idealized overviews of the new physics, then they are obligated to grant "skeptics" the chance to present reasoned alternative viewpoints.
(1) Mentioned earlier was the remarkable example of superstring theory, a variation on the standard paradigm of particle physics in which fundamental particles are treated as one-dimensional strings rather than mathematical points. The community of theoretical physicists is very excited about this theory and some regard it as the ultimate unified paradigm of physics: "It is a miracle; it is the theory of the world." 4 However, as attested to by one of the primary spokesmen for the new physics (Steven Weinberg), "there seem to be no decisive tests in sight"1 by which the superstring theory could demonstrate its scientific validity.
(2) The standard paradigm of particle physics has been unable to retrodict successfully the masses of quarks and leptons or the organization of fundamental particles into regular families. The values of more than 20 parameters that are crucial to the paradigm, such as particle masses, the coupling strengths of the forces, and the magnitudes of CP violations, cannot be uniquely derived and therefore are freely adjustable.4-6
(3) The standard model is completely dependent upon the existence of the hypothetical, "Higgs boson," yet none of the variants on the grand unification theme, a cornerstone of the new physics, can predict the mass of this crucial particle or how it interacts with other particles.7 One worries that the next new particle to be found with a mass between a few giga-electron-volts and a tera-electron-volt will be christened the Higgs boson by fiat.
(4) Many theories of the new physics require extra dimensions beyond the four dimensions of space-time with which we are familiar, 5 to 26 dimensions is typical and about 950 dimensions is the latest record. Yet there is no known way to test empirically for the existence of these extra dimensions.8
(5) The hypothesized unification of the four forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak, and strong) is predicted to occur at energies that are now and probably forever inaccessible to empirical testing.3
(6) The standard cosmological paradigm asserts that the key events in the evolution of the universe took place within 10-25 s after the Big Bang. However, even in principle, we cannot obtain direct information on the state of the universe prior to decoupling at about 1013 s after the Big Bang.9
(7) The validity of the most widely accepted cosmological model (Big Bang plus inflation) is completely dependent upon the validity of the standard paradigm of particle physics, but the latter, as we have seen, suffers in many ways from untestability of the first kind.9
(8) Standard cosmological models have never been able to retrodict satisfactorily the existence of galaxies, neither did they predict the recently discovered bulk streaming of large numbers of galaxies, nor did they predict the existence of the enigmatic dark matter that constitutes more than 90% of the mass of the universe.10
It is sometimes stated11 and more often implied that "physics is nearly finished," that we have just about figured everything out. The above examples of inherent untestability, which concern fundamental aspects of the "nearly finished physics,'' tell a different story.
Moreover, examples of effective untestability are more numerous and even more worrisome.


Below is a sampling of some of the more clearcut examples of the effective untestability of the new physics, beginning with particle physics. For an excellent and readable historical review of the development of the new physics, which is quite unique in that it avoids the seamless idealization that typifies recapitulations by the particle physicists themselves, the book Constructing Quarks by Pickering3 is highly recommended.
(1) When fractionally charged quarks were initially proposed as the fundamental constituents of hadrons, a truly definitive prediction--the existence of particles with unusual charges such as + 2/3 or - 1/3--appeared to be inevitable. After many fruitless searches, theoreticians hit upon a unique way out of the failed prediction: It was proposed that quarks were dynamically confined inside hadrons and so free quarks should not be observed. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. If negative results can be circumvented by strategies of this sort, can the theory in question be regarded as testable?
(2) The predicted existence of magnetic monopoles is another example of a definitive prediction by Grand Unified Theories (GUTs), a very important prediction for the whole standard paradigm of particle physics. In spite of many heroic and imaginative attempts over a period of at least 40 years to detect these mythological particles, results have been consistently negative.12 Most distressing is the fact that negative results are often followed by changes in the predicted properties of the magnetic monopoles (e.g., masses or hypothetical spatial distribution) such that the new magnetic monopole predictions are not in conflict with existing observations. If physicists are unwilling to take "no" for an answer to the question of the existence of magnetic monopoles, what does this say about the testability of the standard paradigm?
(3) For some time, the gauge theories that provide the mathematical foundations of the new physics had the serious problem of predicting infinite values for some physical quantities. This was regarded as physically unacceptable and a technique, called renormalization, was developed to remove the unwanted infinities. The technique worked quite nicely but some physicists, for example, Dirac,13 were deeply concerned about the ad hoc nature of this resolution and regarded renormalization as an arbitrary device whose necessity indicated that something was fundamentally wrong with the theories.
(4) In the 1970s, measurements of the proton structure function were at variance with initial predictions of the quark model. This problem was "solved" by introducing and manipulating two theoretical devices: a quark-antiquark "sea" inside the proton (in addition to the regular quark constituents) and a new set of adjustable particles (gluons) to mediate the interquark forces.3 Is this acceptable model building or the addition of epicycles?
(5) Even the strongest supporters of the new physics admit that the introduction of the "Higgs mechanism" was a totally ad hoc solution to major problems of GUTs: Without it, the gauge theory of the electroweak force was nonrenormalizable and disagreed with observations.3 In general, a renormalizable gauge theory with spontaneous symmetry breaking is highly dependent upon such a mechanism.4 According to an eminent theorist who has played a major role in the development of the new physics, "...the only legitimate reason for introducing the Higgs boson is to make the standard model mathematically consistent,.. . The biggest drawback of the Higgs boson is that so far no evidence of its existence has been found. Instead, a fair amount of indirect evidence already suggests that the elusive particle does not exist. Indeed, modern theoretical physics is constantly filling the vacuum with so many contraptions such as the Higgs boson that it is amazing a person can even see the stars on a clear night!"7 Indeed, and it is this tendency that severely reduces the effective testability of the new physics.
(6) To prevent inconsistencies between the electroweak and QCD theories, theorists invented a new set of quantum numbers for quarks called "color"; each "flavor" of quark could exhibit one of three colors.5 Like renormalization, this device worked quite well but, again, should we regard it as an ingenious and proper product of model building or as another epicycle?
(7) The same question applies to the introduction of yet another new quantum number, "charm," and the charmed quark (the GIM mechanism), which were initially introduced on an ad hoc basis to solve the kaon-decay anomaly and to provide symmetry with the four leptons known at that time (later more were found), and for which the supporting data are ambivalent at best.3
(8) Recently, the standard GUT model yielded the bold prediction that protons were unstable and had a lifetime on the order of 1032 years. This prediction is currently regarded as having been falsified, but what is more worrisome is that there is a seemingly limitless supply of alternative GUTs to take the place of the apparently falsified version. Since GUTs are so adjustable, how can one test a "one model fits all data" paradigm?
(9) A general prediction of the standard paradigm of particle physics has been that spin should be largely irrelevant in high-energy, large-angle, elastic scattering of hadrons. This prediction has been repeatedly falsified over the last 10 years in a series of proton-proton scattering experiments by Kirsch and his collaborators.14 Reaction of the theorists has been predictable: initial disbelief in the data and, when the unhappy results would not quietly disappear, subsequent attempts to "save the phenomenon" by introducing new theoretical considerations.
(10) A recent addition to the new physics repertoire is "technicolor": a hypothetical new strong interaction for hypothetical subcomponents of the hypothetical Higgs boson (see No. 5 above). How many levels of untestable abstraction are we to allow?
(11) There are at least six versions of superstring theories and currently no way to decide their relative merits.1 Even if the superstring paradigm could overcome its previously mentioned untestability of the first kind, it would still be plagued by untestability of the second kind.
(12) Coupling of the graviton (hypothetical particle mediating gravitational interactions) to the hypothetical Higgs field would result in an enormous value for the cosmological constant. This clearly violates the observation that the cosmological constant is zero (or exceedingly small). So theorists have proposed that without the Higgs field the cosmological constant would have had a huge negative value, but that with Higgs field coupling this is neatly canceled by the huge positive value to give a net value of about zero, as observed.7 Is this not the sledgehammer approach to physics problems?
These are just a few examples of the remarkable resiliency of the new physics, a resiliency that leaves it on the verge of untestability. It is amazing how predictive failures (e.g., nondetection of fractionally charged quarks) are cleverly circumvented and then gradually the failure/solution comes to be regarded as an argument in support of the paradigm! The fundamental question is where should one draw the line between acceptable modification of a theory according to traditional model building and artificial modifications that spoil the conceptual elegance of the theory and have no physical justification other than the fact that they circumvent inconsistency between theory and observation? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut dividing line by which one could make an objective decision.

In the case of a theory in the latter stages of ad hoc development (e.g., the Ptolemaic universe), the shear ungainliness of the theoretical contraption begins to raise doubts in the minds of those who are not positively biased by participation in its construction, and gradually those doubts begin to spread throughout the scientific community. Could the new physics represent model building gone awry? Yes, that could be the case; so many new "fundamental" particles, force-carrying particles, and theoretical devices have been tacked on to the original quark model that the new physics is beginning to make the Ptolemaic universe look rather svelte. On the other hand, one must emphasize that the new physics has much more data to explain and therefore this heroic theoretical effort might not represent model building gone awry. Happily, there is an excellent prospect for deciding between these two possibilities and this will be the subject of Sec. V of this article. Briefly, the ability or inability of existing paradigms to predict correctly the form of the enigmatic dark matter that constitutes at least 90% of all matter in the cosmos will be a powerful tool for objectively and scientifically determining: (1) whether the new physics represents a natural or an artificial unification of our knowledge, and (2) if the latter is the case, then whether there are other "dark horse" paradigms that hold more promise.
Before this crucial test is discussed, however, let us take a brief look at the standard cosmological paradigm in terms of effective testability. The Big Bang theory has been the basic paradigm of cosmology for decades. The combination of the observed redshift-distance relation for galaxies and the isotropic microwave background radiation is strong evidence in support of the idea that 10-20 billion years ago the observed portion of the cosmos was in a much more compact state and that it has been expanding ever since then. According to the Big Bang model, the initial state was a singularity: All of the atoms, stars, and galaxies we now observe were compressed into an entity with infinite density, temperature, and pressure, and with a diameter equal to zero (in fact, space and time did not yet exist). For unknowable reasons (perhaps boredom), the singularity began to expand. Einstein, who developed the theory upon which the Big Bang model was based, general relativity, was very critical of the idea of an initial universal singularity because he felt that general relativity was being pushed beyond the limits of its applicability.2 He felt that one could turn the mathematical crank until values like zeros and infinities resulted but that this was not realistic. Aside from the problem of an initial singularity,9 the original Big Bang model had other major technical problems 9,15 such as the flatness problem, the horizon problem, and the smoothness problem. It also could not explain the existence of galaxies. It predicted a homogeneous distribution of matter on large scales whereas inhomogeneity in the distribution of matter has always been observed on the largest scales that could be adequately tested.16,17 It did not predict that the universe would be largely composed of an unknown form of matter referred to as the dark matter. It predicted uniform expansion of the galactic environment whereas observations reveal large deviations from a uniform Hubble flow.18 And there are many less dramatic predictive problems that have beset the original Big Bang theory, such as those associated with predicted elemental abundances19 and the predicted age of the universe.20
In order to rescue the Big Bang theory, particle physicists began to suggest ways in which the new physics might be brought to bear on cosmological problems. Although astrophysicists were initially somewhat demure about this new relationship, before long the majority of the physics community was proclaiming that the "marriage" of cosmology and particle physics heralded the birth of a complete understanding of nature. A much smaller group of scientists worried that it looked more like an incestuous affair with a high probability for yielding unsound progeny. Recently, a noted astrophysicist candidly characterized the interactions of astrophysics and particle physics as follows:
"[T]he big news so far is that particle physicists seem to be able to provide initial conditions for cosmology that meet what astronomers generally think they want without undue forcing of the particle physicist's theory. Indeed I sometimes have the feeling of taking part in a vaudeville skit: "You want a tuck in the waist? We'll take a tuck. You want massive weakly interacting particles? We have a full rack. You want an effective potential for inflation with a shallow slope? We have several possibilities." This is a lot of activity to be fed by the thin gruel of theory and negative observational results, with no prediction and experimental verification of the sort that, according to the usual rules of evidence in physics, would lead us to think we are on the right track..."21
Let us consider several examples of applications of the new physics to the realm of astrophysics and evaluate the testability of the results. Using GUTs as a theoretical toolbox, physicists fixed up the old Big Bang theory by the addition of a period of rapid expansion (inflation), which simultaneously removed the flatness, horizon, and smoothness problems.9 But, of course, the testability of the inflationary hypothesis is entirely dependent upon the testability of GUTs and we have already seen that there are major problems with the latter. Moreover, the inflated Big Bang model may have a serious problem with the age it predicts for the universe,20 and the one rigorous prediction that it does make: that W = 1 (which means that the density of the universe is equal to the "critical" value) has been repeatedly contradicted.9 A second example concerns the fact that the old Big Bang theory, when analyzed in terms of the new physics, appeared to generate too many magnetic monopoles; remember that no magnetic monopoles have ever been observed. Inflation deftly "solves" this problem by inflating space to such an extent that the resulting magnetic monopole density can be made arbitrarily low,15 in fact, low enough so that we could not have expected to detect a magnetic monopole even after 40 years of trying. Obviously, if the density of magnetic monopoles is now to be a freely adjustable parameter, via the inflation scenario, then the effective testability of theoretical constructs predicting the existence of magnetic monopoles is significantly reduced. One is reminded of that vaudeville act: "You got negative results? Not to worry. We just pump up the old cosmos a little. Oops, not too much! And, presto, your negative result is a vindicated expectation." A third example concerns the recent discovery that the large-scale structure of the cosmos is organized like "soap suds," with galaxies residing primarily in the interstices of huge bubblelike voids. The new physics has offered at least three different interpretations for this phenomenon, all post facto, of course. The cosmic suds are attributed to (1) superconducting and furiously vibrating cosmic strings,22 or (2) biased galaxy formation in a WIMP-dominated universe10 (WIMP stands for a hypothetical class of weakly interacting massive particles), or (3) hard as it may be to believe, double inflation23 (if one inflation doesn't solve all the problems, how about two inflationary episodes?). All of these theoretical interpretations are so unconstrained that they are effectively untestable and their ad hoc status is embarrassingly obvious. Many other examples of new physics applications in the astrophysical realm just leave one's mouth hanging open: Quasars are cosmic strings,22 quasars are axion lumps,24 the solar neutrino problem is due to axions or other WIMPs in the Sun,25 neutron stars are really big quark nuggets,26 the difference between spiral and elliptical galaxies is whether they were "seeded" with self-intersecting or nonself-intersecting "loops of string," 27 the dark matter is WIMPs or "shadow matter"16 (the latter idea may have been cribbed from Lewis Carroll),... .
In general, when the proponents of the new physics apply their art to cosmological problems they usually invoke essentially untestable physics that is supposed to have taken place in the unobservable past in order to explain current observations. Are they solving the problems or hiding them behind a curtain of sophistry? Without adequate testability, how are we to decide this question?


iii) One might object that Oldershaw’s article is almost 20 years old, and therefore badly out of date.

And that may well be true. But if physical and cosmological theories suffer from such an ephemeral shelf-life, then that hardly inspires our confidence.

iv) It is not enough to say that Gen 1 is contrary to modern cosmology or historical geology.

To generate a conflict, you must say that, given the same process, Gen 1 yields a result contrary to modern cosmology, &c.

But does it follow that Gen 1 is at odds with the natural record given an alternative process, or even the absence of any process whatsoever?

A dating scheme assumes a certain process. Remove the process, or substitute a different process, and what becomes of the dating scheme?

Given a certain sequence, a certain order of events, a certain rate of change, you will have a predictable result.

But to say that this is inconsistent with Gen 1 is, at best, a tautology, and, at worst, a petitio principii.

If you assume a series of events different from Gen 1, then, by definition, that will generate a conflict. But all you’ve done is to beg the question in your own favor.

What would result from Gen 1 on the basis of its own internal, narrative assumptions?

V. Mathematical Physics

Theoretical physics and mathematical physics are not interchangeable, but they do overlap, for mathematical modeling is, to my knowledge, the chief tool used by the theoretical physicist to extend the experiment data beyond the range of the extant evidence.

And it’s striking to consider the level of mathematical incompetence among theoretical physicists. In the course of reviewing a book, Steven Weinberg made this admission:


For me, the modern computer is only a faster, cheaper, and more reliable version of the teams of clerical workers (then called "computers") that were programmed at Los Alamos during World War II to do numerical calculations. But neither I nor most of the other theoretical physicists of my generation learned as students to use electronic computers. That skill was mostly needed for number crunching by experimentalists who had to process huge quantities of numerical data, and by theorists who worked on problems like stellar structure or bomb design. Computers generally weren't needed by theorists like me, whose work aimed at inventing theories and calculating what these theories predict only in the easiest cases.

Still, from time to time I have needed to find the numerical solution of a differential equation,[1] and with some embarrassment I would have to recruit a colleague or a graduate student to do the job for me.


Here’s a Nobel laureate in physics who can’t do his own number-crunching!

Or consider an anecdote of Freeman Dyson’s:


In the spring of 1985 Ed Witten, one of the most brilliant of the young physicists at Princeton University, announced that he would give a talk. Rumors were buzzing…Witten spoke very fast for an hour and a half without stopping. It was a dazzling display of mathematical virtuosity…when Ed Witten came to the end of his hour and a half, there was no Oppenheimer in the audience to make a sharp-tongued comment. The listeners sat silent. After a while the chairman of the session called for questions. The listeners still sat silent. There were no questions. Not one of us was brave enough to stand up and reveal the depths of our ignorance. As we trooped glumly out of the room, I could hear voices asking quietly the questions nobody asked out loud.

I describe this scene because it gives a picture of what it means to explore the universe at the highest level of abstraction. Ed Witten…has moved so far into abstraction that few even of his friends know what he is talking about….[His] role is to build superstrings into a mathematical structure which reflects to an impressive extent the observed structure of particles and fields in the universe. After they had head him speak, many members of his audience went back to their desks and did the homework they should have done before, reading his papers and learning his language.

Infinite in All Directions (Harper & Row 1989), 15-16


It makes you wonder how many practioners have mastered the basic tools of the trade.

Witten can do his own computations, and I dare-say Roger Penrose can as well, but how many others are up to the task?

VI. Theory & Reality

Stephen Hawking is undoubtedly the world’s most famous cosmologist. But what epistemic status does he assign to his own theorizing?

“He's [Roger Penrose] a Platonist and I am a positivist. He's worried that Schrödinger's cat is in a quantum state, where it is half dead and half alive. He feels that can't correspond to reality. But that doesn't bother me. I don't demand that a theory correspond to reality because I do not know what it is. Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper. All I am concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements.”

“Any sound scientific theory, whether of time or of any other concept, should in my opinion be based on the most workable philosophy of science: the positivist approach put forward by Karl Popper and others. According to this way of thinking, a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make.”

“If the universe was essentially unchanging in time, as was generally assumed before the 1920s, there would be no reason that time should not be defined arbitrarily far back. Any so-called beginning of the universe, would be artificial, in the sense that one could extend the history back to earlier times. Thus it might be that the universe was created last year, but with all the memories and physical evidence, to look like it was much older. This raises deep philosophical questions about the meaning of existence. I shall deal with these by adopting what is called the positivist approach. In this, the idea is that we interpret the input from our senses in terms of a model we make of the world. One cannot ask whether the model represents reality, only whether it works. A model is a good model if it first, interprets a wide range of observations, in terms of a simple and elegant model. And second, if the model makes definite predictions that can be tested, and possibly falsified by observation.”

Now, one may or may not agree with Hawking’s philosophy of science. But the immediate point is that you cannot simply appeal to a scientific theory or scientific evidence without addressing the metascientific question of what you think a theory is good for. Your science is only as good as your philosophy of science.

Here’s another quote from Dyson:


The main thing which I am trying to suggest by this discussion is the extreme remoteness of the superstring from any objects which we can see and touch. Even for experts in theoretical physics, superstrings were hard to grasp. Theoretical physics are accustomed to living in a world which is removed from tangible objects by two levels of abstraction. From tangible atoms we move by one level of abstraction to invisible fields and particles. A second level of abstraction takes us from fields and particles to the symmetry-groups by which fields and particles are related. The superstring theory takes us beyond symmetry-groups to two further levels of abstraction. The third level of abstraction is the interpretation of symmetry-groups in terms of states in ten-dimensional space-time. The fourth level is the world of the superstrings by whose dynamical behavior the states are defined. It is no wonder that most of us had a hard time trying to follow Ed Witten all the way to the fourth level.

Ibid. 18.


Now, I ask you, what’s the chance of a fourth-level abstraction, a mathematical construct four steps removed from the observational data, being even approximately descriptive of the actual world we live in?

True, string theory is not the only game in town, and Dyson’s summary is rather dated.

But could any rival theory operate at a lower level of abstraction?

Again, string theory is not the same thing as cosmology. But the methodology is similar, is it not?

VIII. The Veil of Perception

Not only are our mathematical models far removed from the observational data, but the observational data is several steps removed from our mental representation thereof. As one philosopher expresses the relationship:

“The direct realist view (Gibson 1972) is incredible because it suggests that we can have experience of objects out in the world directly, beyond the sensory surface, as if bypassing the chain of sensory processing. For example if light from this paper is transduced by your retina into a neural signal which is transmitted from your eye to your brain, then the very first aspect of the paper that you can possibly experience is the information at the retinal surface, or the perceptual representation that it stimulates in your brain. The physical paper itself lies beyond the sensory surface and therefore must be beyond your direct experience. But the perceptual experience of the page stubbornly appears out in the world itself instead of in your brain, in apparent violation of everything we know about the causal chain of vision.”

Before we can even theorize about observables, the “observable” already lies at the end of black box in which the sensible is encoded in the form of electromagnet information, and then reencoded in the form of electrochemical information, in order to reach the mind of the observer.

IX. Whither Cosmology?

What’s the current state of modern cosmology and physics, anyway?

Cosmology is not the same thing as physics, but their fate is intertwined.

Here are a few recent comments from leaders in the field:


M theory is not a theory in the usual sense. Rather it is a collection of theories, that look very different, but which describe the same physical situation. These theories are related by mappings, or correspondences, called dualities, which imply that they are all reflections of the same underlying theory. Each theory in the collection, works well in the limit, like low energy, or low dilation, in which its effective coupling is small, but breaks down when the coupling is large. This means that none of the theories can predict the future of the universe, to arbitrary accuracy. For that, one would need a single formulation of M-theory that would work in all situations.

Up to now, most people have implicitly assumed that there is an ultimate theory that we will eventually discover. Indeed, I myself have suggested we might find it quite soon. However, M-theory has made me wonder if this is true. Maybe it is not possible to formulate the theory of the universe in a finite number of statements.



“WE DON’T know what we are talking about.” That was Nobel laureate David Gross at the 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics in Brussels, Belgium, during his concluding remarks on Saturday. He was referring to string theory - the attempt to unify the otherwise incompatible theories of relativity and quantum mechanics to provide a theory of everything.

“The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity”
Gross - who received a Nobel for his work on the strong nuclear force, bringing physics closer to a theory of everything - has been a strong advocate of string theory, which also aims to explain dark energy. “Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory,” he said. “But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break.”

He compared the state of physics today to that during the first Solvay conference in 1911. Then, physicists were mystified by the discovery of radioactivity. The puzzling phenomenon threatened even the laws of conservation of mass and energy, and physicists had to wait for the theory of quantum mechanics to explain it. “They were missing something absolutely fundamental,” he said. “We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.”



Steven Weinberg recently said that this is one of the great sea changes in fundamental science since Einstein, that it changes the nature of science itself. Is it such a radical change?

In a way it is very radical but in another way it isn't. The great ambition of physicists like myself was to explain why the laws of nature are just what they are. Why is the proton just about 1800 times heavier than the electron? Why do neutrinos exist? The great hope was that some deep mathematical principle would determine all the constants of nature, like Newton's constant. But it seems increasingly likely that the constants of nature are more like the temperature of the Earth - properties of our local environment that vary from place to place. Like the temperature, many of the constants have to be just so if intelligent life is to exist. So we live where life is possible.

For some physicists this idea is an incredible disappointment. Personally, I don't see it that way. I find it exciting to think that the universe may be much bigger, richer and full of variety than we ever expected. And it doesn't seem so incredibly philosophically radical to think that some things may be environmental.

Could there be some kind of selection principle that will emerge and pick out one unique string theory and one unique universe?

Anything is possible. My friend David Gross hopes that no selection principle will be necessary because only one universe will prove to make sense mathematically, or something like that. But so far there is no evidence for this view. Even most of the hard-core adherents to the uniqueness view admit that it looks bad.



The beginning of the 21st century is a watershed in modern science, a time that will forever change our understanding of the universe. Something is happening which is far more than the discovery of new facts or new equations. This is one of those rare moments when our entire outlook, our framework for thinking, and the whole epistemology of physics and cosmology are suddenly undergoing real upheaval. The narrow 20th-century view of a unique universe, about ten billion years old and ten billion light years across with a unique set of physical laws, is giving way to something far bigger and pregnant with new possibilities.

I don’t know what strange and unimaginable twists our view of the universe will undergo while exploring the vastness of the landscape. But I would bet that at the turn of the 22nd century, philosophers and physicists will look back nostalgically at the present and recall a golden age in which the narrow provincial 20th century concept of the universe gave way to a bigger better megaverse, populating a landscape of mind-boggling proportions.



As Lenny says, this means that the old dream of a unified theory that makes unique and falsifiable predictions appears no longer possible. Much that physicists hoped to explain, as necessary features of any possible universe, are just contingent, or environmental features of one universe out of many possible ones.


X. The Road to Nowhere

Of course, not everyone agrees with string theory, but the very degree of disagreement illustrates the underlying point just as well.

All these guys are groping in the dark with a book of wet matches to light their way.