Saturday, November 18, 2006

The argument from authority

The Evangelutionist responds:


Compromise. I find neither theological or scientific compromises that have to be made in my position. I was born and raised a YEC, and definitely "compromised", if that's what you want to call it, in deference to God's creation, God's general revelation to man. I came to understand that YEC interpretations of the word were contemptuous of God's creation, willfully dismissive and ignorant of what God made.

To be sure, a good amount of my YEC theology was abandoned, but so much for the good, toward a serious view of God's word as true in *real* way, not in some gnostic, mystical way that my YEC framework had bound me to.

Of course, neither is interested in a Christianity that harmonizes God's special revelation to man (the Bible) with God's general revelation to man. Young earth creationism is the most effective weapon atheism has ever had in proving Christianity false (YECs are more than happy to latch their theology to the whole of Christianity, in my experience. If YEC interpretations are wrong, Christianity is disproved, etc.)

It won't do for the fundamentalist atheist to have Christianity making peace with the facts of God's creation. Dawkins would be delighted to see all of Christianity chain itself to young earth creationism, and go down with that ship, the lot of us, as every new bit of evidence from God's creation further falsifies the YEC interpretation.


i) Notice how the Evangelutionist is unwittingly tipping his own hand. For his commitment to theistic evolution is just as agenda-driven as the motives he imputes to Dawkins or the YECs.

ii) I’d add that you don’t have to be a YEC to subscribe to a traditional interpretation of OT chronology. The ultra-liberal James Barr has defended the traditional interpretation on historical and exegetical grounds:

J. Barr, "Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester(1984-85) 67:575–608.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I don’t see much evidence that you’re “committed to the authority of the Bible as God’s special revelation to man.”

Even if we bracket YEC distinctives, it is quite a trick to square Gen 1-2 with theistic evolution according to the grammatico-historical method.

iii) You also act as if the external world were available for direct inspection. But one of the ironies of modern science is that modern science has erected many filters between the percipient and the external world, viz. indirect perception, primary and secondary qualities, &c. As Stephen Hawking once said, “Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper.”

iv) Finally, one doesn’t have to read Behe, Berlinski, Dembski, Denton, Meyer, Wise, Wells, &c. to be suspicious of evolution, in part or in whole.

If you spend some time reviewing the vicious internecine warfare within the evolutionary community, that alone should give you pause to reconsider the foundations of evolutionary theory:


“If you publish a paper in a scholarly journal, it goes through a peer review process -- a ‘mini-consensus’ on the basic integrity of the methods, maths and plausibility of the findings, performed by peers also expert in that discipline.”

That works well enough most of the time, but when a theory like naturalistic evolution assumes the status of a worldview, then the peer review process can become a weapon to censor or blacklist dissent.

“OK, you don't believe in hominids. This begs the question stemming from the article I pointed to: what do you make of those 400,000 year old spears. You said you weren't disputing the timeline, and here you're saying there are only humans and simians as available choices. That seems a conundrum for you, then.”

You continue to conflate several distinct issues:

i) In response to the critics of my original post, I’ve been mounting an internal critique. I argue with them on their own grounds, according to their own methods and assumptions. That doesn’t commit me to their position. I simply proceed that way for the sake of argument.

ii) Apropos (1), I am not, for purposes of this thread, challenging the general propiety of conventional dating methods and results.

iii) At the same time, that doesn’t mean I can’t question a particular result. With reference to the article under review, the article itself raised the issue of what dating techniques were employed.

iv) To repeat myself— which, unfortunately, I have to do a lot of the time in responding to you because you raise the same objections ad nauseum as if I hadn’t already addressed your objections—when I raise questions about ice core dating as a relative dating technique, I referred to *secular* sources of information regarding the vicissitudes of ice core dating.

“To which group do you suppose the spears belonged? Humans or simians? I really can't venture to guess which way you'll answer, as each seems to present significant problems.”

Speaking for myself, I attribute the spears to cavemen, not to simians.

Moving along:


Science is agnostic with regards to metaphysics. It doesn't affirm the existence of God. It doesn't deny the existence of God. If you doubt this, then I'd ask you to produce some scholarly work that suggests that science includes any assertions, or even guesses about metaphysical truths.

You're apparently unhappy with science's epistemic foundation of methodological materialism, the same epistemic that flourished from the time of Newton and so many other God-fearing men of science. It's precisely this axiom of MM that keeps science right in its box where it belongs. MM restricts science from wandering into areas where it has no foundation.

Because of the nature of science, God will not, cannot be disproved, even in principle. It's not the perview of science to even entertain such questions. To ask such of science would be like asking you what the color "nine" smells like. It's a badly formed question.


i) Newton did not subscribe to methodological naturalism. Just for starters, this should be clear from his correspondence with Richard Bentley, as Bentley prepared for the Boyle Lectures by using Newtonian physics as a scientific argument for natural theology.

ii) You act as if evolutionary theory is a value-free field of investigation wherein the respective participants have no vested interest in the outcome. One only has to study the battle over sociobiology to see that both sides have an ideological ax to grind.

iii) For someone who talks about the unity of truth (“I hold it as axiomatic that all truth is God’s truth”), your attempt to compartmentalize religion and science is both internally inconsistent and philosophically jejune.

In practice, you believe in the disunity of truth. You divide the truth into autonomous departments that aren’t on speaking terms with one another.

So you actually operate with very modular notion of the truth, which only makes sense if reality is equally modular.

iv) The neutrality of methodological naturalism have been repeatedly challenged such high-level thinkers as Craig, Dembski, Plantinga, Poythress, and Del Ratzsch. Science cannot avoid metascientific assumptions:

v) Calvin Dude has been making the same point.

vi) One of the problems is the way you disregard the constitutive role of various models and metaphors in framing scientific questions and answers, viz.

M. Arib & M. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (Cambridge 1986)

A. Ortony, ed. Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge, 2nd ed. 1993)

D. Helman, ed. Analogical Reasoning (Kluwer 1988).

G. Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Harvard 1973)

As Gerald Holton, for one, explains:

“Themata embraced by opposing scientists often appear in opposing Dyads…Examples are continuum (e.g., in field) versus discontinuum (e.g., in atomism); complexity/simplicity; reductionism/holism; unity/hierarchical levels; causality/probabilism; analysis/synthesis. There are also a few triads, such as evolution/steady state/devolution, or mechanistic/materialistic/mathematical models.”

Now, you are implicitly operating with an incremental, bottom-up model, where the part is prior to the whole.

But it doesn’t follow that whatever is spatially composite is temporally composite. Bigger things may be composed of smaller things, such that bigger things can be taken apart or disassembled into discrete units. But this doesn’t imply that all big things can be put together or assembled by a discrete, stepwise process.

There is a competing intuition, stretching from Plato, Plotinus, Philoponus, Boethius, Anslem, and Cusa through Leibniz, Cantor, McTaggart, Blanshard, Gödel, Hardy, and Bohm, to Mellor, Plantinga, and Penrose—to name a few—for whom, to one degree or another, the whole is prior to the part, the infinite to the finite, the abstract to the concrete.

When I look at the world around me, not only do I see complexity, but concentric orders of complexity, like a giant Chinese puzzle box, consisting in compartments within compartments, ad infinitum—from cosmic to infinitesimal scales of magnitude.

Kurt Wise, in discussing complexity and integration (pp228-3o), in his chapter on "The Origin of Life's Major Groups," The Creation Hypothesis, J. Moreland, ed. (IVP 1994), does a nice job of succinctly summarizing the data.

And Michael Denton (although a theistic evolutionist) adds a lot of fine-grained detail in his book Nature's Destiny (Free Press 1998).

You are welcome to believe what you like, but my intuition, seconded by many of the finest minds in the history of ideas, tells me that concentric complexity, ranging along a continuum from the potential infinite to the potential infinitesimal, cannot be the end-result of a process, but is, rather, the initial state from which a process results. The initial state is instantiated ex nihilo, as a set of internal relations.

“To my knowledge, TEs do not appeal to supernatural mechanisms in scientific questions. For instance, I believe God created the universe, but I don't have any scientific evidence at hand that conclusively establishes that.”

Two basic problems:

i) If theistic evolution doesn’t treat God as a factor in the evolutionary process, then the cash-value of theistic evolution is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. As such, the role of God is relegated to a deus otiosus.

ii) To say that scientific evidence fails to “conclusively establish” divine creation is a completely different proposition from your prior claim that “it's not the perview of science to even entertain such questions.”

So your own position collapses into an incoherent and unstable compromise.

“The article. I stand by the article, and haven't retreated from it. This article alone puts a large hole in the idea that early man was defenseless against the threats of his environment.”

You continue to equivocate over the identity of early man. For some odd reason you seem to suffer from a persistent mental block. You raise an objection. I respond to your objection. Then you raise the same objection all over again as if nothing was said in answer to your objection.

“I have an understanding that accomodates this evidence -- the same understanding advanced by the researcher doing the actual science here. If I understand you right, the spears which have been found are 350,000 years old and were made by....? You'll have to answer that, because simians making spears seems a big problem for you, and humans making spears 350,000 years ago puts away the idea that (early) man was left to clawing as best he could with his fingernails to survive, at that point at least.”

As I’ve pointed out on several occasions now, it isn’t enough to arm early man at just one segment of along the evolutionary pathway. Is there some particular reason why repeated explications continue to bounce right off you?

“When you begin to question the dating technique, a regressive cycle begins that inevitable ends in: how does science know anything? What if the speed of light changed? Wouldn't radiometric dating be way off then? Etc. If that's the way you want to go, then we can declare a dead end on that point. It's a non-starter.”

Actually, these are legitimate questions. They go to the realist/antirealist debate in the philosophy of science.

I haven’t gone into that debate in the course of this thread. If I wanted to go there, I would have every right to do so.

The realist/antirealist debate is distinct from the creationist/evolutionist debate, although, depending on which side you take, it will have consequences for the creationist/evolutionist debate.

“As it is, though, you've agreed to the 350,000 years, so I'm content to revisit the article and re-assert that it puts weapons in the hands of man a very long ways back. That's not something you accounted for in your original argument.”

Half a bridge doesn’t get you across the river.



As for other archaeological evidence, I pointed to a piece on enhanced brain size and hearing capabilities, and you assert authority as an archaeological expert, dismissing the witness of these researchers. I can send you as many links as you want, but save me the time if you think you are more qualified than they to understand what the evidence says. Your dismissal of this was a good illustration of your divorce from science. Maybe you *do* know better than these archaeologists, and have better insight into what the evidence they've worked with suggests -- evidence you are reading about through an internet article. But the bottom line is, you've shown, and declared that you know better than the archaeologists what the evidence in the ground is, and what it means.

I can supply you with a good long stream of citations -- just a quick Google Scholar session on your own will prove the number of available items out there to look at. But it's a fools errand on my part if the testimony of the scientists involved is dismissed outright, because you believe you simply know better.


Several more problems:

i) Another one of your mental impediments is a persistent inability to accurately reproduce what your opponent actually said.

I haven’t “dismissed” any claims “outright” or “asserted my authority.”

What I have done, instead, is to subject the arguments I’m given to rational scrutiny.

ii) A number of Darwinians have written semipopular books or articles in which they make their case for evolution in order to persuade the general public that evolution is true, viz. Dawkins, Dennett, Eldredge, Futuyama, Gell-Mann, Gould, Kitcher, Lewontin, Mayr, Raup, Maynard Smith, &c.

They evidently believe that a layman is able to evaluate the evidence they present and come to the reasonable conclusion that evolution has the better of the argument.

But, by your lights, this exercise is worthless. Instead, you mount an appeal to blind authority.

iii) In addition, which side should the layman take when the experts disagree? Both Stephen Jay Gould and Kurt Wise are Harvard-trained paleontologists. Why should I accept the word of Stephen Jay Gould over the word of Kurt Wise?

iv) The epistemic status of scientific theories isn’t limited to scientific evidence alone. For there are metascientific assumptions which supply the interpretive grid.

Let’s take the case of dating. If I wanted to challenge conventional dating, I could do so on the basis of certain metascientific considerations:

a) There are philosophical and scientific arguments for creation ex nihilo. Cf. P. Copan & W. L. Craig, Creation out of Nothing (Baker 2004).

But if creation ex nihilo is true, then—to some extent, at least—the world is not the end-product of an incremental, bottom-up process.

I’d add that Craig is not an YEC. I believe he’s an OEC.

b) Or there’s the question of whether time has an intrinsic metric. If you’re a metrical conventionalist rather than a metrical objectivist, then our dating techniques don’t tell us anything about the “real” age of the universe, or any constituent thereof.

You don’t have to be a YEC to subscribe to metrical conventionalism. For example, this issue is discussed by Robin Le Poidevin—who is both an atheist and a temporal theorist—in his book Travels in Four Dimensions (Oxford 2003). Le Poidevin is sympathetic to metrical objectivism, but he admits that the arguments and counterarguments amount to a stalemate.


  1. Steve, your entire thesis is idiotic, especially you calling criticism of this silly idea that humans couldn't possibly survive in a 'evolutionary world' an atheological position. Funny how a fellow christian has mounted a damning attack on your conjecture and nonsense.

    I think the atheists that come here to observe know better than to waste their time. We know how committed you are to throwing stones at others while dismissing the science behind evolution theory because it doesn't fit in with your theology. Perhaps this nice gentlemen christian that is new here hasn't been around long enough to learn the methods of you and your fellow calvanists.

    No matter, You skirt has slipped and we can all see your dogma. It taint as pretty as you think it is.

  2. Anonymous said:
    Steve, your entire thesis is idiotic, especially you calling criticism of this silly idea that humans couldn't possibly survive in a 'evolutionary world' an atheological position.


    I assume that your supporting argument was lost in transmission.

    Perhaps you'd like to repost your comment with the missing argument.

  3. :::YAWN!!!::: redeeming quality of reading Steve's "science" posts...

    YEC's are a hoot!

  4. Hi Steve,

    Some commentary in response to your post here:

    1. Grammatico-historical exegesis. Steve, it's the "historical" part of grammatico-historical exegesis that wreaks havoc with YEC interpretations. If we look at literary forms and devices, then work in our historical knowledge -- WHOOPS! that's where the YEC train jumps the tracks, as the overwhelming witness of God's creation paints a picture that invalidates a YEC view as sound grammatico-historical exegesis.

    I endorse a TE interpretation of Genesis precise because it honors scripture in view of the witness of God's creation. The stars out your night time window are sufficient historical testimony to dismiss YEC views in the historical context.

    2. Indirect realism. Let me guess, this the card you're playing here. That's fine, I'm an indirect realist myself. Everything comes to mind through an interpretive layer. But it's a naive understanding of indirect realism that denies the underlying reality sensed through our interpretive filters. If that's your approach -- and it sounds like you're committed to it here but unwilling to just state it outright -- then you're mistaking indirect realism for *anti-realism*, which is what you are actually pleading for. If that's where you're at -- anti-realism -- well then fire up the sitar and pass the LSD, there's no point in talking this over any further. It's a magic carpet ride, baby!

    If you're avoid an anti-realist stance, and standing on indirect realism, then it doesn't get you off the hook like you think it does. Saying that the tree out the window doesn't exist because I'm looking at at through a distortive filter -- the glass of the window, oh and the tinted glass of my sunglasses too -- doesn't mess with the existential reality of the tree. It's simply a distortive layer that has to be incorporated into the knowledge base. I can't see the tree on the other side of the solid wall beside me, but this opaque visual filter doesn't make the tree disappear in an existential sense.

    Saying that all we experience comes by way of sensory input, and is mediated through an interpretive filter changes naught in this discussion. Methodological materialism doesn't make metaphysical assumptions about sensory indirection. If anything, a tour of quantum physics makes a good case that observation *does* reify probabilistic abstract realities -- an observed photon's wave function collapse and it "appears" when the observation demands.

    All of which to say, firing of flares of "indirect realism" or anti-realism (!) or some such doesn't change the process for inquiry via methodological materialism. Mechanisms exhibit symmetry and orderliness (per God's design!) in such a way that observations and predictions can be made, measured and assessed, in spite of (or because of) any interpretive layers that separate the mind from the mass.

    As for Hawking, I strongly suspect you don't know much about Hawking, or you'd realize the bassackwards nature of invoking Hawking as you have here. You've performed a classic "quote-mine" on Hawking here.

    Here's the context for the whole quote. It's from a debate between Hawking and Roger Penrose:

    These lectures have shown very clearly the difference between Roger and me. He’s a Platonist and I’m a positivist. He’s worried that Schrodinger’s cat is in a quantum state, that is half alive and half dead. 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 don’t know what it is. Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper. All I’m concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements. Quantum theory does this very successfully. It predicts that the result of observation is either that the cat is alive or dead. It is like you can’t be slightly pregnant: you either are or you aren’t.

    Hawking is making a positivist statement here -- he explicit declares it when you grab the whole paragraph, not just the single line. Worries and apprehensions about indirection and interpretive filters don't matter to Hawking here -- what matters is empirical performance. He specifically points at the realist/anti-realist conundrums posed by quantum theory as being irrelevant -- all that counts is predictive performance.

    This officially brings us *way* off the beaten path we started talking about -- your assertion that early man was incapable of surviving to the modern day. My reduction of the high level conversation is:

    SH: man could not have survived until the present day, constituted as he is.

    TS: That's quite at odds with mainstream science. SH is 'divorced from science'.

    SH: Prove it.

    TS: Well, what about these 400,000 year old spears?

    SH: What version of ice core dating was used on that?

    TS: ??? Dunno. Who cares? Who'd those spears belong to?

    SH: Cavemen, but you know that reality is not available to direct inspection, don't you?

    TS: ???

    Somewhere along the way we got waylaid from looking at the facts related to the original idea: early man's survival skills. I remind you that the top-level I assessment I offered was that you rejected the mainstream scientific understandings in making your assertion.

    In response, you persist in throwing out all manner of arguements for why we shouldn't trust mainstream science, what "famous" names stand as dissidents, how we really can't experience reality directly, etc.

    I suggest to you and anyone reading that your travels down that path make my point much more powerfully than I could myself; you've in this post clearly demonstrated your hostility and separation from mainstream science, at least on this issue. If not, then what can I make of the links and "dissenters" you are offering here?

    As I said before, that doesn't make you wrong. You may be right. It just means you are standing there going on about the illusory nature of reality from *outside* the walls of the scientific encampment. My argument to begin with was *not* that you were ultimately wrong. Or right. Instead, I was simply pointing to the separating distance between you and the scientific mainstream.

    Readers who are sympathetic with your hostility toward science will nod and see the wisdom and truth of your position. Those who don't share that hostility probably won't. But my assertions don't settle the question of who stands in the right here, but just that you are standing quite a ways from the experts in the relevant scientific fields (anthropology, geology, physics, paleontology, etc.).

    3. Authority. From the title of your post I gather you are concerned about what you see as an appeal to authority on my part. And it's true; in general, I do defer to the experts when considering questions of anthropology. I'm not a PhD in the field, and am happy to rely on those who are in areas that I can't decide for myself (which is a lot!).

    When one objects in high school Logic class to "Fallacy of appeal to authority, your honor!" the fallacy applies if, and only if, it can be shown that the authority I'm appealing to is not a legitimate authority, or is otherwise unqualified to speak on a given subject. If that's your objection than that leaves you with a dilemma:

    1. Declare mainstream science "illegitimate" and unfit to make pronouncements on age of fossils, lineage of hominds, etc.

    2. Acknowledge the legitimacy of mainstream science as qualified experts on the subject, and address their findings accordingly.

    If you choose 1), then I'd say that's your prerogative, but this represents a capitulation to my assertion that you are "divorced from science". You are hereby rejecting mainstream science as expert on the questions before us.

    If you choose 2), then I'd ask why you've wasted so much time focusing on James Barr, Dembski, William Lane Craig, and all their attendant complaints about science's "metaphysical assumptions"? There's no need to bother with any of this if you opt for path 2), and we can proceed on the merits of the argument.

    4. The merits of the argument. Hopefully, the dilemma above will get us out of the existential rut we've gotten into up to here. I'd like now to return to the original question.

    I offered another reference in my previous post concerning skulls, axes and cleavers found in Ethiopia dated to be 1M years old. Let me ask you to address that, as that pushes back the "tool-equipped" factor far beyond the 400,000 year mark previously suggested by the German spears. What are the implications of axes and spears for man in terms of hunting prowess and self-defense?

    Or let me ask a much better question, one that gets right to essence of our disagreement (at least about early man's survival capabilities -- the meta-philosophical stuff I see as a definite area of disagreement, but diversionary to the original argument):

    What kind of skills/technology/organization would have to be present for you to say your hypothesis has been falsified?

    This is a crucial positive statement you can make: here's the minimum early man would have needed to make it, and here's how I came up with the criteria.... Without that, then I would have to wonder how you went about deciding that early man was insufficiently resourced in the first place.

    A positive answer to that question would DEFINITELY be a big step toward reaching a productive conclusion to our discussion. I hope you'll consider providing one.

    5. Dating, creation ex nihilo, and the "intrinsic metric" of time. Ugh. The last part of your post is worth saving as a classic example of the mumbo jumbo that gets put up as a smokescreen by anti-scientists. A veritable "Monster's Ball" of exotic challenges to scientific epistemology.

    As I said above, your protestations about "metrical conventional[ism]" just emphasize the distance separating you from the main body of scientific knowledge and inquiry. You're donning a Rasputin's robe, and suggesting we *really* ought to be asking "what is time?", and what the meaning if "is" is.

    I need only point to your robe and refer you to my initial claim: you're divorced from science.


  5. I'm thankful that I do not uphold to either a young Earth or TE. I leave this thread to the atheists loitering in the shadows.

  6. lol...

    since when did evolution become science? Utter nonsense! Is evolution falsifiable? Evolution is a pseudo-scientific philsophy. Get over it!

  7. Of course evolution theory is falsifiable you cretin. All scientific theories are falsifiable with tangible evidence.

    Try this..actually read a science book.

    A real one.

    DDD isn't 'divorce from science'. Hell, he hasn't even gotten to first base.

  8. Anonymous,

    sniping from behind your anonymity, eh? Why don't you tell us your academic qualifications, and identify yourself also? Since you mentioned that evolution is falsifiable, I challenge you to give us some examples of possible scientific evidences that would be able to falsify the theory of evolution. I sincerely doubt you can, though.