Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dodging the bullet


“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.”

1.Working in “our” historical knowledge is precisely the opposite of the GHM.

The point of the GHM is to work our back to the background knowledge of the original author and audience. To interpret the text in light of what the text would mean to the original author—given his historical horizon—not what a modern reader would like the text to mean, given his historical horizon.

What you are doing is to indulge in blatantly anachronistic exegesis.

2.In addition, you continue resorting to the unprincipled tactic of equating the traditional interpretation of Gen 1-3 with YEC.

As I pointed out, James Barr is not YEC—or OEC—or TE.



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.


You’re the one who’s failing to draw some elementary distinctions here. In particular, you are mashing together ontological antirealism (e.g. idealism, phenomenalism; social constructivism) with a branch of epistemic antirealism.

The fact that the tree I perceive is a real tree, which enjoys an extramental existence, is irrelevant to the question of whether the tree-in-itself resembles my perception of the tree.

You are tacitly operating with a philosophy of scientific realism, according to which scientific theories are descriptive of reality.

That makes sense if you also subscribe to direct realism. But there’s a mismatch between scientific realism and indirect realism.

Indirect realism affirms the extramental reality of the external world—that there is an external world.

But what the real world is really like is inaccessible to direct inspection.

What you need to underwrite your scientific realism is a direct correspondence between your mental representation and the world it allegedly resembles.

But, ironically enough, a scientific analysis of sensory perception puts the real world at several removes from the mind of the percipient.

So, yes, Virginia, there is a real world. And there is clearly a correlation between what we perceive and what there is—otherwise we couldn’t navigate our environment.

But you need more than a functional correlation—you need descriptive correspondence.


“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.”

I realize that you’re new to my blog, and so it’s only natural for you to impute your ignorance to me.

On this very blog I’ve quoted Hawking before, in context, in full.


“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.”

Which supports my case, not yours—since positivism is a version of scientific antirealism.

“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…Somewhere along the way we got waylaid from looking at the facts related to the original idea: early man's survival skills.”

i) As usual, you can’t keep track of your own argument. You are the one who continues to bash YEC by claiming that YEC flies in the face of the natural record.

Since you keep appealing to the evidence as if we had direct access to the evidence, it is not way off the beaten path for me to point out that according to science itself, the human mind does not enjoy immediate access to the way the world really is.

ii) In addition, your end of the thread has been by no means limited to “early man's survival skills.”

No, you have also devoted a lot of time to making sweeping claims about the metaphysical neutrality of science.

Once again, I’m arguing on your own grounds. You have yet to grasp the nature of an internal critique.

“If not, then what can I make of the links and ‘dissenters’ you are offering here?”

Yet again, you’re unable to keep track of your own argument. I didn’t volunteer this material.

Remember what you said? I always have to remind you of what you said because you have a habit of forgetting what you said from one post to the next. Here it is again:

“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.”

So that’s exactly what I did, in compliance with a very specific request from you.

But when I do as you ask, you’re reaction is to engage in evasive maneuvers.

“It just means you are standing there going on about the illusory nature of reality.”

I never said anything about the “illusory nature of reality.” That’s just so much spin on your part.

“Readers who are sympathetic with your hostility toward science will nod and see the wisdom and truth of your position.”

i) Is Stephen Hawking hostile to science because he’s an antirealist?

ii) More to the point, you are equating “science” with a commitment to methodological naturalism, which is a euphemism for functional atheism.

It’s quite true that I don’t surrender to the effort by unbelievers to hijack the scientific enterprise and redefine science to thereby evict the Creator from his own creation.

“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.).”

So none of the ID folks are “experts in the relevant scientific fields.” Would you like to compare your resume with theirs?

“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!).”

To the contrary, you cherry-pick what authorities you defer to. You only defer to authorities whose views happen to mesh with TE, while you repudiate authorities whose views are either to the left or the right of TE.

“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’?”

Both (i) because you have defended your commitment to TE by appeal to the metaphysical neutrality of science, and (ii) because you asked me to provide you would scholarly opinion to the contrary.

When, however, I answer you at your own level, you look for the exit sign. An excellent example of how you “dismiss” major positions” out of hand.

“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?”

Several issues:

i) Is this a sincere question? Are you genuinely interested in my answer?

Or do you plan to automatically dismiss any answer I give unless I blindly submit to every sentence in the article?

ii) Forgive me in advance for actually quoting from the article itself, but according to the article you referred to me, it’s clear that hand-axes and cleavers were a pretty ineffective means of self-defense:

“White was disappointed to find that the lower face was gone. Because of peculiar scratches on the skull, he thinks the individual may have been killed by a large lion or hyena, which probably ate the face and gnawed on the skull in an attempt to extract the brain.”

So this Stone Age weaponry was no match for a natural predator like a lion or hyena.

Looks like the article supports my contention rather than yours:

a) It supports my contention that there were natural predators who posed a mortal threat to early man, and;

b) It also supports my contention that hand-axes and cleavers were ineffectual in warding off attacks from major predators.

iii) Depending on the design, there’s an obvious difference between the utility of spears and hatchets as defensive weapons.

The obvious problem with a hand-ax or cleaver—or even a club—is that, in order to use it against a predator, you must come within striking distance of the predator.

Even if you have a chance to do some damage to the predator, it can more than return the favor. One bite or swipe and the man will be mortally wounded from infection, blood loss, or a broken neck.

At best, man and beast are likely to inflict mortal injuries on one another.

The potential advantage of a spear is that you don’t have to come within easy reach of fangs and claws to use it.

You can throw it, although that’s a high-risk gambit. Throwing a spear will only bring down predator if you aim well and hurl it hard enough to penetrate a vital organ.

The ease with which it penetrates the skin and tissue also depends on the design of the spearhead.

Teamwork is clearly an advantage. Throwing several spears at once.

Or you can try to keep the beast at bay by holding onto the spear and poking or stabbing the animal until it retreats.

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

That depends on whether we’re arguing on your grounds or mind.

i) On my grounds, the historicity of Adam is not a hypothesis. On my grounds, human identity, from the first man (Adam) to modern man is not a hypothesis. For a Christian, these are non-negotiable.

ii) I can explain the survival of Adam’s posterity in a way that you cannot:

a) Adam did not acquire his intelligence through a long evolutionary process. Rather, he was endowed with intelligence by divine fiat. And that endowment was then transmitted to his posterity by ordinary means.

b) Adam did not acquire language through a long evolutionary process. Rather, he was endowed with a linguistic capacity (indeed, with a working language) by divine fiat, which he also transmitted to his posterity.

Therefore, Adam and his posterity had the wherewithal to invent weapons and coordinate defensive or offensive tactics from the get-go.

“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.”

Now we’re back to the internal critique:

i) A specific claim demands specific evidence.

ii) The natural defense mechanism for hominids would be an arboreal lifestyle—which, for the most part, puts them out of reach of terrestrial predators.

As I’ve said before, some simians, like baboons and mandrills are basically land animals. But they have compensatory defense-mechanisms. They move in packs and have their own set of fangs.

iii) However, (ii) needs to be qualified. Up-to-a-point, there are one or two predators who can follow their simian quarry up the tree, like leopards and pythons.

How far up the tree you can go depends on the ability of the upper branches to support your body weight. If the prey is lighter than the predator, than the prey can escape the leopard by climbing higher than the leopard can safely follow.

Another possible means of escape is jumping from one tree to another. But that is also affected by the body weight of the prey.

This maybe why Orangutans don’t occupy the same habitat as leopards. The Orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling simian, and it probably represents the upper limit of an arboreal lifestyle.

Depending on the sex and age of the individual, an Orangutan weighs as more or more than a leopard. So it’s arboreal lifestyle is an ineffective defense mechanism against a predator that can exploit the same environment.

Pythons are less of a threat because they move slowly and eat less often. It also depends on the size of the python vis-à-vis the Orangutan.

The larger specimens are generally ambush predators, whereas the smaller specimens are hunters.

iv) Not only is body weight a threshold condition for some natural defense-mechanisms, but it’s also a threshold condition for some artificial defense-mechanisms.

You can arm a ten-year-old boy with a spear, but will that make him a match for a cave bear?

A spear is only as lethal as the amount of force you can apply to the spear. How hard can you throw it? How much weight can you put behind it?

It isn’t enough to arm early man with spears. Early man must be big enough to have the sheer strength (for throwing) or body weight (for stabbing) to make effective use of the spear.

v) In addition, there is also some correlation in the ratio of bodyweight to brain size. Bigger brains go with bigger bodies. The correlation is inexact, but that’s the general trend.

When you appeal to the brainpower of hominids to compensate for the loss of their natural defense-mechanisms, that is contingent on other evolutionary developments.

vi) And, as I’ve also pointed out, not all tools are effective weapons. A hatchet or a cleaver won’t keep a lion or leopard from killing you.

So what’s the minimum that early man would need to survive?

To make your case, you would need (i) *archeological* evidence to actually (ii) *show* that when he came down from the trees, early man became (iii) *big* enough and (iv) *brainy* enough to develop (v) *effective* weapons and (vi) *communication* skills (vii) *soon* enough to compensate for the loss of his natural defense mechanisms.

“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.”

I see. So although two top philosophers (Craig and Copan) have written a complete book in defense of creation ex nihilo, with chapters on “Philosophical Arguments for Creatio ex Nihilo" (chap. 6) and “Scientific Evidence for Creatio ex Nihilo” (chap. 7), that just so much “mumbo jumbo.”

Nice to see you last-ditch retreat into obscurantism and anti-intellectualism as you dismiss out of hand any line of evidence which is inconvenient for your faith in theistic evolution.

“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 see. So when Robin Le Poidevin publishes a book by Oxford University Press in which he considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when Barry Dainton, in Time & Space (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when Lawrence Sklar considers metrical conventionalism in Blackwell’s Companion to the Philosophy of Science, he (along with his editor, W. H. Newton-Smith) is muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when Adolf Grünbaum, Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy of Science, Chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science, and Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when John Lucas, Oxford Don, Fellow of the British Academy, and past President of British Society for the Philosophy of Science considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when Hans Reichenbach, student of David Hilbert, Max Planck, Max Born and Albert Einstein, as well as teacher of Hilary Putnam, and the man who put UCLA on the map considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Likewise, when Henri Poincaré, merely the greatest mathematician of his generation, as well as a leading physicist, considers metrical conventionalism, he’s muttering “mumbo-jumbo,” and separating himself from the “main body” of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

Good to be reminded of how “deferential” you are to experts outside your own field of study.


  1. :::YAWN!!!:::

    I know I'm convinced. Some dirt. A rib. Two people. A talking snake.

    Yep, thats what I'll hang my hat on.

  2. Anon, you are convinced that us christians are barking mad, so why do you loiter here? Be a good chap and yawn somewhere else.

  3. Steve,

    1. Hawking. Hawking, speaking in the quote you provided, was stressing the importance of observational consistency and predictive performance. He's specifically *not* concerned with the existential anxieties you're expressing, and said so in the paragraph you quoted from him in expressing your anxieties.

    Do you suppose that if Hawking were to read this exchange he'd nod and say "You know we really don't have a good enough grasp of the concept of time to really face this question." Hah. He's pointing in an opposite direction than you are with the quote you gave -- the predictions, the thing. What successfully predicts is good by definition, according to Hawking.

    2. Indirect realism. I maintain that your insistence on shifting the conversation away from the archaeological evidence to the question of "what is 'evidence', really, when you get down to it?" is all the reader need realize from this exchange. When you start wondering what the meaning of "is" is, your fundamental opposition to the conventional epistemology of science is proved.

    2. Philosophy of science. I understand you are interested in escalating the question here to a "philosophy of science" discussion: What is reality? Do we know what reality really is? How do we know what "is" is? Etc.

    You will obviously respond as you will, but for my part, I think it's best to focus on the evidence we have at hand. If I bring up skulls or spears or cleavers, and you want wax philosophical in response about metrical conventionalism, be my guest. That makes my point about your orientation here nicely.

    So, focusing on the claims you made that man couldn't have survived such as he is, you said:
    To make your case, you would need (i) *archeological* evidence to actually (ii) *show* that when he came from the trees, early man became (iii) *big* enough and (iv) *brainy* enough to develop (v) *effective* weapons and (vi) *communication* skills (vii) *soon* enough to compensate for the loss of his natural defense mechanisms.

    That's nothing but begging the question, Steve. What do you mean by "big enough"? How can I know if the evidence I present resents man as "big enough"? How do you determine at what point man becomes "brainy enough"? How soon is "soon enough"?

    Without substantive answers to these questions, you're no better off than you were before. We *know* you don't think it's "enough". The whole dispute is about what constitutes enough. This is what happens in scientific debates when one scientist makes a claim and the other says, "OK, show your math!".

    So Steve, it's time to show your math. You've claimed you have insight beyond the science community on this issue. I'm asking for the criterion you use to determine "enough". Saying it's "not enough" doesn't help anything. Showing what enough is, and why that measure and not something more or less, does.

    In short, you can really nail your case closed here by showing your math. I'm easily and happily silenced by verifiable maths.

    Lastly, I believe you misunderstood me with regard to philosophy of science. I've got no problem with philosophy of science, or metrical conventionalism. That's all good stuff, and interesting in its own right. My point was that it's a red herring here, unless one is committed to the argument that archaeology is off its rocker, that the dirt evidence is an illusion, that you are divorced from the science here.

    I now understand you are fully capable of doing a Google search for 'metrical conventionalism'. But looking at this list of names -- and it includes some impressive names, scientific heroes of mine -- how are yo attaching this back to skull, spears and cleavers? Do you suggest that these men are quarreling with the speed of light as the anchor for isotope decay? If not, how do you attach your list to our discussion of early man's defensive/survival capabilities?

    If you do take time to grace this response with your own response, I'd plead for answers to the questions of what constitutes "enough":

    - enough brain size
    - enough technology/tools
    - enough organizational skills

    If we have a reliable handle on that, then our dispute is settled. If early man didn't have enough of these things, then clearly, something else -- miraculous perhaps -- should be considered. If early man *did* have enough of these resources, well, then your argument would be falsified.

    Either way, we would have clear claim to something useful being produced from this discussion -- a useful answer! Whaddya say we give it a try? Tell me what *enough* is in a way that we can test the evidence, then I in return will do my homework to see what evidence we can look at to see if it surpasses or falls short of "enough".