Saturday, April 17, 2010

The view from above

John Lollard said...

“Which brings me to a difficulty that I am having with both you and Steve. I can't figure out what y'alls exact position is on anything.”

I can’t speak for Tfan. I can only speak for myself. He may or may not take the same position that I do.

“Do you believe that physics is capable of telling us the age of the universe, or do you not?”

I do not.

“Or do you believe that physics in intrinsically incapable of measuring the age of the universe because the earth will necessarily appear to be older than it looks?”

i) I think it’s misleading to speak of chronological appearances one way or the other. A physical object qua object doesn’t present any chronological appearance. Rather, that is something we judge in relation to other things, viz. the passage of time. And where physics is concerned, that goes well beyond the appearance of physical objects. Rather, that’s a theoretical construct based on various inferences and assumptions.

ii) But even if I accepted your terminology, I don’t have any antecedent position on whether the universe would *necessarily* appear older than it looks.

“Do you believe that the evidence DOES state the universe to be billions of years old, but it is irrelevant because it was supernaturally made to look that way?”

I don’t think there is any objective evidence for the age of the universe, in part because I don’t think it’s possible to establish an intrinsic temporal metric. For details, see the analysis of van Fraassen and Le Poidevin (in the works I’ve referenced).

“Do you believe that the evidence DOES NOT state the universe to be billions of years old but some other age, and that age is the true age of the universe?”

I don’t think we can use physical evidence to date the universe–in terms of absolute chronology. We can use conventional metrics to establish a relative chronology, although that, too, bumps up against another imponderable (fiat creation).

“Can I EXPECT there to be evidence for fiat creationism?”

I think you’ve bundled two questions into one:

i) Cosmological and teleological arguments, if sound, could establish the fact of fiat creation.

ii) However, given fiat creation, you can’t simply extrapolate time backwards along a linear continuum from the present to a point of origin in the past. And that’s because fiat creation doesn’t range along a continuum. To go from nothing to something is essentially discontinuous. So you can infer a cause, but not a continuum.

iii) Put another way, I don’t think science can ever get behind appearances. But it can draw inferences about what (or who) is producing the appearances.

“What is the ‘historogrammatical’ equivalent in science? I would like one that I can use in all situations.”

i) The objective of scientific realism is to reduce our indexical, first-person impressions of the physical world to an objective, third-person description. In other words, science tries to depict things as they really are, and not merely as they appear to be (to the human observer). But I don’t think that’s possible, for a scientist is ultimately just another percipient.

ii) We need to distinguish between the view from above (i.e. a God’s-eye view) and the view from within (i.e. a man’s-eye view).

God has designed us to perceive reality from within, viz. using our sensory relays (I’d also make allowance for ESP in some cases). And there is nothing wrong with that indexical perspective. For that is how God made us. It is reliable, but reliable according to the parameters that God intended.

By contrast, God views the world from above (as it were). He has exhaustive knowledge of the physical world because he knows his plan for the world. In creation, God instantiated his complete concept of the world.

There’s an ineluctable gap between appearance and reality which only God’s revelation to man can fill–to the degree that God chooses to disclose the details. By divine revelation, the view from above can enter the view from within. They intersect, although they don’t coincide. And that’s the only external check we have on our sensory perception of the world.

So it’s not a choice between science or revelation. Apart from revelation, science is flying blind.

(You might ask how I’m in any position to posit a gap between appearance and reality. Other issues aside, science itself posits such a gap, and then endeavors to close the gap it postulated.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

GTCC Outreach Report 4-16-2010

Today, the weather was great and the witnessing was intense at GTCC. We witnessed from 11:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. and the conversations ranged from a drug dealer justifying his sin to interacting with two Sunni Muslims.

The Drug Dealer

The first group I approached had an outspoken young man who asked questions that ranged from "Why do churches take so many offerings?" to "What does God think of me if I'm selling drugs to support my family when I can't find a job?" Since several students in the group noted that they attended Word of Faith Churches, I launched into a brief critique of that view, demonstrated from Scripture how it was wrong, and then explained the true gospel to those who were listening. The outspoken young man mentioned earlier said that he sold weed to pay the bills and put food on the table. He said that he was unable to find a job; I told him that that doesn't justify his sin. I said, "Man, you can find a job if you really want to" and at that point an older student stepped forward and said, "I've been looking for a job and I have been unemployed for over a year" and then the younger man admitted that he did have some type of regular work. I then said, "Look, the fact that you can't find a job is irrelevant; it still doesn't justify your sin. You can't justify your sin of selling drugs anymore than I can justify killing my toddler because she is an economic burden on my family!" He then walked off for a second saying that the comparison isn't the same and I said, "I didn't say that the sin was the same, I noted that the justification for it was no different than yours." He then said, "I need to think about this." Indeed he did.

Two Sunni Muslim Women

The next long interaction I had was with two Muslim young ladies. They were wearing "hijab" (head coverings) and after introducing myself to them and confirming that they were Muslim, I asked them, "Please explain to me who Isa is according to Islam." They gave the standard Muslim answer (i.e., a great prophet but not God, not to be worshiped, etc.). I then pulled out my Qu'ran, read Surah 5:116 and then asked them, "According to Surah 5:116, Mohammed believed that Christians worshiped Mary as part of the Trinity. Are you aware that the New Testament (NT) says that there is only One God revealed in three separate, eternal persons, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?" The more outspoken of the two said that she understood this, but then quickly said that the modern NT was corrupted such that it couldn't be trusted and that the Qu'ran preserved the truth. I then asked her if she had any evidence of any such textual corruption to back up her assertion and she admitted that she could not name any. She then noted, in good Muslim fashion that the Qu'ran is completely pure from the standpoint of textual transmission. I then told her she was wrong and backed up my assertion by referring to this palimpsest manuscript bookmarked on my iPhone that clearly demonstrates textual variation in existing ancient manuscripts of the Qu'ran. Both women adamantly refused to even consider this evidence and the least outspoken of the two said, "If Allah allowed the Qu'ran to be corrupted, then we have no basis for knowing what Allah said to the prophet Muhammed." I then said, "It is a fact that all ancient handwritten manuscripts have textual variations in them, whether Caesar's Gallic Wars, the NT, or the Qu'ran." They stood adamant in their refusal to consider such evidence. I told them that I was not afraid of the textual variations found in the manuscript tradition of the NT because my faith encourages close examination and scrutiny of all the existing manuscript evidence of the NT, whereas their faith does not. I asked them "What kind of faith would prevent and/or strongly discourage people from looking at variant readings in the existing ancient manuscripts of their Scriptures?" I told them that if what they were believing was the truth, they should not be frightened to study the variant readings in their ancient manuscripts. However, at this point I think they had already shut me out because I suggested that the manuscript history of the Qu'ran demonstrates textual variation.

A Strange and Somewhat Annoying Twist

After a while, a handful of people gathered around listening to my conversation with these young Muslim women. Strangely enough, one young black man walked up and stood right beside us, listening for quite some time before saying anything. Of course, it was quite awkward for this fellow to simply come up and stand so close to us and so I turned and said, "Sir, did you have something to say?" And then it was if a floodgate opened. This man (who was not a Muslim) came to the defense of the Muslim women by using Rodney King theology basically saying, "Look, we all worship the same god, so why can't we come together to help each other." At this point, I attempted to make it exceedingly clear that we do not worship the same deity, for the differences between the Muslim unitarian conception of God and the Christian trinitarian one can never be reconciled as they are mutually exclusive. I attempted to clearly note that they cannot both be true by virtue of their competing and contradictory nature and attributes and hence by logical deduction, one was true, one was false, or they both were false. At this point the Muslim women strongly disagreed with my denial that we worship the same deity (thus showing that they were at least theologically moderate Muslims) and the non-Muslim agreed with them, thus triangulating me. Once I tried to respond, all three started steamrolling me. They had all done this individually and I kindly asked them to stop and even shamed the young non-Muslim once, but to no avail. I quietly stood there until they finished and then said, "It is obvious that you are not interested in having a respectful dialogue as you have interrupted me three times when I have tried to respond to a question you have asked me; thank you for your time." I then gathered my belongings and we all went our separate ways.

An Unusual but Welcomed Response

As I was walking away, the non-Muslim man walked over to me and offered a genuine apology for his rude interruptions. I was then able to take another hour to explain in some detail who the One True God is, what the gospel of Christ is, and then reiterate the fact that he is a hell bound idolater should he continue in an unrepentant state. Our discussion thereafter was charitable and I was able to discuss the epistemological problems with his cultural and religious relativism, strong subjectivism, and pluralism; showing that if he was consistent with his own presuppositions, he really couldn't know anything. He seemed to appreciate what I was saying, asked for a ministry card and said he wanted to talk more via telephone, and I gave him a fist pump and we parted ways.

The rest of the conversations I had for the day were fairly short lived. Several students seemed completely uninterested in hearing the gospel and even I asked some students, "Does anything I've said concern you? Does it bother you that you'll have to face God on the day of judgment with your sins?" If they said, "Nope, not a bit!" I said, "Thanks for your time, if you have any questions, you can contact me via the information on the back of the card I gave you." Sometimes its best to shake the dust off your feet and move on.


Sometimes I get a meager sense of what it must have been like for the apostle Paul to walk about the ancient city of Athens and have his spirit stirred within him because he was surrounded by idolatry. People are just as much idolaters now as they were then, its just that they are more sophisticated in their idolatry. As John Calvin said, the heart of man is an incessant idol factory. He couldn't have said it better, for men always construct a deity of their liking to suit their own wandering desires. Until Christ sets them free, their are willing and voluntary slaves to such passions. May God find our efforts useful at showing His power in us and by making His great name known among the nations; starting with our own little Jerusalems.

A puzzle concerning time perception

From Robin Le Poidevin:
Abstract: According to a plausible and influential account of perceptual knowledge, the truth-makers of beliefs that constitute perceptual knowledge must feature in the causal explanation of how we acquire those beliefs. However, this account runs into difficulties when it tries to accommodate time perception – specifically perception of order and duration – since the features we are apparently tracking in such perception are (it is argued) not causal. The central aim of the paper is to solve this epistemological puzzle. Two strategies are examined. The first strategy locates the causal truth-makers within the psychological mechanism underlying time perception, thus treating facts about time order and duration as mind-dependent. This strategy, however, is problematic. The second strategy modifies the causal account of perceptual knowledge to include a non-causal component in the explanation of belief-acquisition, namely chronometric explanation. Applying this much more satisfactory approach to perceptual knowledge of time, we can preserve the mind-independence of order and duration, but not that of time's flow.
Read the paper here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The measurement of time and the age of the world

The second half of Poincaré’s essay ‘The measure of time’ is the more famous because of its connection with special relativity. But I will concentrate here on the first half, where Poincaré begins with the problem that we do not and cannot have a direct intuition of the equality of successive time intervals (equality of duration of successive processes). This is not a psychological point. Two successive periods of a clock cannot be compared by placing them temporally side by side, that is why direct perception can’t verify whether they lasted equally long, Bas Van Fraassen, Scientific Representation (Oxford 2008), 130.

In the case of two sticks we can check to see whether they are equally long (at a given time) by placing them side by side; that is we can check spatial congruence (at that time) by an operation that effects spatial coincidence (at that time). We can check whether two clocks run in synchrony during a certain interval if we place them in spatial coincidence. These procedures do not suffice for checking whether two sticks distant from each other in time or space are of equal length, nor whether distant clocks are running in tandem, nor whether a clock’s rate in one time interval is the same as some clock’s rate in a disjoint time interval. But in physics, criteria for spatial and temporal congruence are needed. Poincaré is concentrating on this need, ibid. 130-31.

What measures duration is a clock, and physics needs a type or class of processes that will play the role of standard clocks. What type or class to choose? One answer might be: the ones that really measure time, that is, mark out equal intervals for processes that really take equally long. While certain philosophers or scientists might count his demand as intelligible, it must be admitted that there could be no experimental test to check on it. We cannot compare two successive processes with respect to duration except with a clock; but clocks present successive processes that are meant to be equal in duration. This is similar to Mach’s point about thermometry: whether the melting of ice always happens at the same temperature, or the volume of a substance expands in proportion to temperature increase, can be checked only with something functioning as a thermometer–and thus cannot be ascertained in order to check whether thermometers are ‘mirroring’ temperature, ibid. 131.

Poincaré wishes to reveal by these examples two problems that arise in developing a measurement procedure for duration. The first is the initial one, illustrated with the pendulum: we cannot place successive processes side by side so as to check whether their endpoints coincide in time. So there is no independent means for checking whether successive stages of a single process are of equal duration: the question makes sense only after we have accepted one such process as ‘running evenly,’ ibid. 132.

Physics & metaphysics

I've been interacting with a physics student over at TFan's blog. Since that exchange has gone about as far as it can go, I'll reproduce it here:

steve said...
Yes, it's odd that KTS would voluntarily embroil itself in a wholly avoidable controversy, especially when Coral Ridge went through such a rocky transition after Kennedy bowed out.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"I have every thing that I know, mathematically, physically, evidentially, about the universe telling me that the universe is billions of years old, that the sun came first, then the earth, then the moon, and then water, and then plants and animals...Will you admit that all of the historical evidence that exists points to a billions-year-old universe and life that dispersed and diversified by evolution?"

Permit me to make a few brief comments:

1. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the earth is billions of years old. That generates a dilemma for the Darwinian. For in that case, fossils are separated from other fossils by vast stretches of time. And in that event it isn't possible to establish lineal succession.

Here's a discussion of the problem by a prominent Darwinian:

So if we accept geological timescales, then ask yourself if we can really construct evolutionary trees.

2. Have you asked yourself what a world which God created ex nihilo would look like? Here's an example of what I mean:

3. Have you studied the debate between temporal metrical objectivism and temporal metrical conventionalism? For a good discussion, read Le Poidevin:

Then ask yourself how we can measure the actual time of natural objects or events.

4. If you haven't done so already, I'd suggest that you read this book:

God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe
~ John Byl

5. Ever since Plato, there's been a raging debate within the philosophy of science over realism/antirealism. A few years ago, Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose published a debate, with Penrose taking the realist side and Hawking taking the antirealist side (in The Nature of Space and Time). If you haven't already done so, I'd suggest you read it.

6. Apropos (5), many philosophers are science are fairly skeptical about the limitations of scientific knowledge. Yet when we get into the creation/evolution debate, it's as if all those misgivings are instantly forgotten. I'd suggest you peruse some reviews of the following book, by a man who's probably the leading philosopher of science in his generation, then ask yourself what scientific theories can actually teach us about the real world:

steve said...
John Lollard said...

“Sadly, I am not right now disposed to acknowledge the argument from unreal time as in any sense compelling or meaningful.”

Well, to characterize prochronic time as unreal assumes that we know what real time is. But as a student of physics, you surely realize that this is a difficult question. Is the block view of time “real” time? Is the “passage” of time real?

Gödel, in his contribution to Einstein’s festschrift, argued for the “unreality” of time.

What is “real” time in quantum mechanics? Are those alternate timelines (alternate histories, alternative futures) equally real?

As you know, better than I, there is still no scientific consensus on the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics.

What is time? Is the A-theory correct, or the B-theory? Which version of the A-theory? Which version of the B-theory?

What about the controversy over temporal metrics? Isn’t that germane to dating?

What about our perception of time? Is that purely receptive, or is there a projective aspect to time perception?

My immediate point is not to endorse the theory of Gosse. Rather, I’m pointing out that even on scientific assumptions, time is very elusive.

“For fiat creation ex-nihilo, I suppose it could look a lot of ways. It might have happened in exactly the way described in Genesis. It might involve a Lion singing as in ‘The Magician's Nephew’. One definite possibility for how creation ex-nihilo could possibly look is in exactly that way that the evidence suggests it happened.”

But if, by your own admission, it could look a lot of ways, then in what sense does it look exactly the way the evidence suggests it happens?

Given creation ex nihilo, can you simply extrapolate from the present to the past along a linear continuum? Did God create a cyclical process by a cyclical process? Or did he create the cyclical process apart from a prior process?

Science uses natural periodic processes to calculate relative and absolute chronologies. Up to a point, I have no problem with that inference. But keep in mind that these natural processes were not designed to tell us the time. That’s just a human application.

And also keep in mind that there’s a circularity to this inference. Can you use one clock to tell if another clock is fast or slow?

During a power outage, all the clocks remain synchronized. They stop at the same time and come back on at the same time. Does that tell you what the time really is? No. You have to reset the clocks by another clock that didn’t lose its power.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"If you hold to the view of unreal time, or that a false appearance of age is an essential part of God's creation ex nihilo, then could you explain this belief a bit better?"

The adjective "false" is tendentious and invidious.

Strictly speaking, I don't think physical objects present the appearance of age.

Rather, we date objects based on our experience of the aging process. Not the discrete object alone. Not a snapshot, but a motion picture.

Because we're used to seeing the effects of time on physical objects, because we compare earlier stages with later stages, we acquire a sense of what's older or newer. So it isn't just the object. Rather, it's the object in time. Our perception of time. The "passage" of time. Watching things age and die or age and decay. Pass through the life-cycle. That sort of thing.

"Would you agree that past Christians who believed in a flat earth did so based on exegesis of the biblical text?"

That's a serious overstatement:

"If you do agree, could you point out from the Bible alone how such an interpretation is incorrect?"

As scholars like Gregory Beale have documented, the Bible uses architectural metaphors to portray the world as a cosmic temple.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

What doesn't make sense, to me at least, is why the universe would need to have billions of years of false history. Why would Adam need to have a false pedigree going through apes, monkeys, lemurs, and shrews? Having orchard trees already in bloom and producing fruit makes total sense as it immediately lends itself to the survival of God's creation, but how do the billions of years of false history of expansion and cooling of the universe and of gradual genetic drift lend themselves necessary aspects of Adam's creation? What is the purpose of making it look as though all things - not just tree rings and lunches, but everything - had a single origination (as opposed to a bunch of originations) billions of years ago when they did not?

Is it somehow a necessary thing that creation ex nihilo LOOK as though it happened in the manner claimed by scientists, even if it was really enacted in the way described by Genesis? That is, is there something intrinsic about a big bang that necessitates the image of it to appear in God's work of creation?

i) I wouldn't invoke prochronic time to explain everything you cite.

ii) However, you're taking for granted a complete package of assumptions. I'd unpack the package and discuss the individual assumptions.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14, 2010 4:14:00 PM
steve said...
John Lollard said...

"What doesn't make sense, to me at least, is why the universe would need to have billions of years of false history. Why would Adam need to have a false pedigree going through apes, monkeys, lemurs, and shrews?"

Of course, you're only giving one side of the argument. As Gee pointed out, even on evolutionary terms it isn't possible to simply read off an evolutionary pedigree for man from the fossil record. For it's not as though the fossils are neatly arranged in an evolutionary sequence. Rather, as Gee explains, an evolutionary biologist is using an evolutionary narrative to arrange the fossils in an evolutionary sequence. So the exercise is circular.

And Gee is a Darwinian! That's even before you get around to critics of macroevolution, such as Dembski and Wells in The Design of Life (to cite just one example).

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"I know you're not going to believe me, but we do not need a fossil record to establish evolution. If there were no fossils of anything ever, biochemical and molecular research or presently living organisms are sufficient to point out biological lineage and trace back the generations to a common ancestor."

I'm aware of that argument. Dembski and Wells discuss that type of appeal in The Design of Life (among other things they discuss).

However, there's a deeper problem with your responses. On the one hand, you raise intellectual objections to special creation. On the other hand, you take intellectual shortcuts.

Constructive dialogue is difficult when you when you raise intellectual objections, only to evince intellectual impatience when I try to offer intellectual replies.

For instance, if you're going to bring up conventional dating schemes, then you really can't avoid philosophical debates about the nature of time, the perception of time, and the metric of time.

Likewise, you can't have an intelligent discussion of the scientific evidence if you choose to simply opt out of longstanding and ongoing debates over scientific realism v. antirealism.

But when I respond on your own terms, you act as though you can't be bothered with that sort of thing.

So before I attempt to proceed any further, I think we need to clarify the ground rules. As it stands, I find you careening between rationalism and anti-intellectualism. Sometimes you talk like a physics student, but other times you talk like a naive realist.

Do you want to have a high-level, intellectually rigorous discussion of the issue or not?

steve said...
John Lollard said...

"Here is what I am looking for: I am looking for a scientific explanation of the evidence that we have that relates to life on earth and the origin of the universe. I am not looking for a philosophical explanation for why we can discard the evidence that we have, or for why we can discard the conclusions that we draw from it."

I can't comply with arbitrary restrictions on intellectual discourse. You take the "evidence" as a given, then require that I respond to the "evidence."

Now, up to a point, I don't object to responding to the "evidence."

However, what you call the "evidence" is a very theory-laden intellectual construct. It isn't something that is just "out there."

So why should I be forced to take your stipulative starting point as the correct starting point when, in fact, that disregards some preliminary issues which are quite fundamental to the conclusion?

"If you can explain to me how and why the evidence looks the way it does given a strict interpretation of Genesis - and I mean things like the redshifting of the CBR or the calcium deposits around volcanoes in the Mediterranean or the proportions of iron fusion in distant stars - then I will be satisfied."

There are YEC writers like Kurt Wise, John Byl, and Jonathan Sarfati who go into that sort of thing. I don't even know who you've already read.

BTW, I'd suggest that read some of the online articles by John Byl at:

"I am right now convinced that either God did not create in the exact manner described in Genesis 1 but rather in the manner described in science textbooks, God did create in exactly the manner described in Genesis 1 but made it to look like he created in the manner described in science textbooks, or else God did not create."

"Made it look like" misses the point. You might as well say that God made it look like the earth is flat and the sun moves around the earth. And, in a sense that's true, right? That's what it "looks like" to an earthbound observer.

Or you might as well say that God made it look like I'm seeing a star the way it is when I view it through the telescope–even though astronomy actually tells us that I'm seeing an image that traveled billions of light-years to reach the earth. In that case I'm not seeing the star as it is, but as it was.

On any position you take, whether Archbishop Ussher or Ed Witten, there is going to be a discrepancy between appearance and reality.

"But I am going to need more than a mere rebuttal of some specific explanation for some specific thing, and I will need an actual affirmation from the evidence for your thesis in a literal Genesis 1."

i) I've not been arguing for the literal interpretation of Gen 1. I'm merely evaluating your objections to the literal interpretation.

ii) Whether or not, or to what degree, we interpret Gen 1 literally, is an exegetical question, not a scientific question.

iii) Your objections clearly go beyond YEC. From what I can tell, you find OEC equally problematic. So there's no point in my discussing the pros and cons of YEC in particular.

iv) I also don't share your confidence in what can be known about the world apart from divine revelation. There's an ironic sense in which science undercuts scientific realism.

Take the science of sensory perception. Science tells me that I don't directly see a tree. All I really "see" is encoded information. Electromagnetic information which is converted to electrochemical information.

But if I accept that scientific analysis of perception, then in what respect does my mental representation of the extramental object correspond to the extramental object?

Short of divine revelation, we have no intersubjectival check on perception. So I regard divine revelation as a necessary underpinning for sense knowledge and scientific knowledge.

"Anything less, I feel, would be arguing with the same type of argumentation that Muslims use to deny the Resurrection of Christ."

The truth or falsity of Islam doesn't rise or fall on direct realism or scientific realism. It doesn't turn on a particular theory of qualia, viz. Is the grass really green?

To take just one example, Muhammad destroyed his credibility when, early in his career, he told his followers that his oracles were a continuation and confirmation of the Bible.

As time went on he came to realize that his message was in contradiction to the former revelations. But by then it was too late to take his words back.

Really, you don't have to go any further than that to disprove Islam. Islam disproves itself.

steve said...
John Lollard said...

“Since apparently I can't say anything right, then why don't both of you just go ahead and say whatever you find to be the most compelling argument for creationism. Present as full an argument as you think sufficient to convince someone with a supernaturalist worldview.”

A Blogger combox is hardly an adequate venue to sift through all of the technicalities of the debate. That’s why I’ve referred you to various literature on the subject.

For example, the red shift and cosmic expansion are discussed by Byl and Wise.

“But in my own mind it seems to be because of a disdain for special pleading and special crafted philosophical worldviews for the sake of avoiding an intellectual issue.”


Creation ex nihilo is a prescientific doctrine. It’s not some ad hoc conjecture which 19-20C Christians concocted to save appearances.

So are you suggesting that even if we rightfully believe in creation ex nihilo, and even if that doctrine might have a bearing on the appearance of the world, that we should simply bracket our belief as though it had no relevance to the issue at hand?

Likewise, scientific antirealism isn’t a face-saving position which desperate Christian apologists invented on the fly. So are you saying that even though many secular philosophers of science have been proposing various versions of scientific antirealism, Christians should bracket the relevance of that position to the creationist/evolution debate?

Likewise, how is it special pleading for me to mention the debate between temporal metrical conventionalism and temporal metrical objectivism? Doesn’t dating presuppose a temporal metric? You know…the measurement of time? And if there’s a persistent debate about whether or not our temporal metric is intrinsic or extrinsic to time, then isn’t that directly germane to the actual age of the universe?

Or if you object to “unreal time,” and I bring up the specter of alternate histories in quantum mechanics, how is that special pleading? Isn’t that responding to you on your own terms? Didn’t you say you’re a physics student?

With all due respect, it seems to me that you’re the one who’s been avoiding intellectual issues, not me. For example, I notice that you haven’t attempted to disprove anything I said. You haven’t tried to show that my reasoning is fallacious, or show that my premises are probably false.

A word of advice: I think it might be a good idea for you to take some time out to read the materials I’ve referred you to and mull over some of the arguments that we’ve presented.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The devolution of morality

Genes, Memes, & Mindsby John Maynard Smith 
Dennett’s last topic is the evolution of morality. Here it is important to distinguish two questions: “How could humans come to have a sense of right and wrong?” and “What is right and what is wrong?” I do not think the first question is all that difficult. I would expect any intelligent organism that lives in groups to evolve an ability to hold beliefs about right behavior, and to be influenced in those beliefs by myth and ritual. We do not only have beliefs: we make contracts. It is worth asking what cognitive equipment is needed to make a contract. At the very least, it requires language and a “theory of mind”: that is, we must be able to perceive other people as beings like ourselves, with minds like ours. Both these qualities are probably unique to humans. 
But is there any way in which we can decide, with certainty, which actions are right? Dennett’s view, which I share, is that there is not, unless you hold that some book, for example the Bible, is the word of God, and that human beings are here to do God’s bidding. If a person is simply the product of his or her genetic makeup and environmental history, including all the ideas that he or she has assimilated, there is simply no source whence absolute morality could come. Of course, this does not exempt us from making moral judgments: it only means that we cannot be sure that we are right.

UNCG Outreach Report 4-14-2010

Yesterday, we engaged in one-on-one evangelism in beautiful weather on the campus of UNCG. We were unable to engage in open-air preaching due to a UNCG booth of some sort being set up in the area we normally do this. However, this was just another opportunity to pass out tracts and engage people using the question of the day.

The question of the day: "How is a person reconciled to God?"

Remember, based upon our previous evangelism reports, the question of the day is designed to be a simple one-liner that engages people courteously yet directly.

Because we were on the campus from 10:30 a.m. till 4:30 p.m., we engaged too many people one-on-one to list in this report. However, I will report some of the highlights of the day in what follows:

A Kind Agnostic

The first person I interacted with was a kind lady who professed being an agnostic upon asking the question of the day. She said she didn't think that there was clear evidence either way that a god existed. I asked her if she was a materialist or some sort of dualist and she didn't seem to understand the question so I explained what those terms meant. She never really answered the question but said, "Well, I'm a scientific kind of person . . . I'd need some kind of scientific proof" to which I said, "What kind of proof would convince you that the God of the Bible exists?" She said she didn't really know. I then said, "If you don't know what kind of proof it would take for you to believe then how do you know that scientific proof [whatever that means] will convince you?"

I then asked her if she believed the only way she could know things was through the five senses and she said, "I think so" and I then asked her if she could empirically prove the existence of the laws of logic. She didn't get where I was going with the question, so I explained to her that since logic was immaterial it is not subject to empirical investigation. However, because she said that empirical investigation is the only way she can know things, but logic is immaterial, then given her standards, logic could not exist. But she then admitted that logic was necessary for empirical investigation. I said "True, but it itself is not subject to said investigation since it is immaterial, hence your empiricism cannot account for the very thing it uses to engage in empirical investigation". She got the point and was then all ears. I then explained to her how Christianity can account for such things, clearly explained the gospel to her, and I was off to talk to the next person.

Loads of Professing Christians Who Couldn't Tell Me How To Be Reconciled to God

I lost count of how many of these types of folks I ran across yesterday. So many evangelical church attenders, yet very few could explain in very basic ways what a person must do to be reconciled to the One True God. I asked all of them these two questions:
"If you claimed to be a plumber and I paid you to come to my house and fix my pipes, but when you came to my home, you had no tools with you and when I asked you how you were going to fix my problem you said, "Uh . . . beats me dude!" what kind of plumber would you be? Would you let a guy like that work on your broken pipes? My friend, if you claim to be a Christian, yet you can't tell me how to be reconciled to God, which is Christianity 101, what does that say about your Christianity?"
I received mixed responses to the above scenario/questions. The first guy I talked to seemed sincerely affected by my questions and he thanked me for talking to him. He said he'd read 1st John and examine himself. Others could say the right things but acted as if I was bothering them (they were sitting on the front lawn talking to each other, not studying, and not walking to class). With these folks, I boldly asked them, "As a professing Christian, are you really concerned about lost souls? Does it bother you that Jesus said that most people are on the broad path to destruction?" This seemed to change the tenor of the conversation for the better for some, but made it worse for others. Those who seemed to get interested, I pressed on, for others, I thanked them for their time, and moved on.

The True Encouragers

There are a number of college students at UNCG that are so encouraged by my being there. I will see them frequently on campus and they make it a point to come up to me, shake my hand, and thank me for my continued presence on campus. They are genuinely stoked that I am there and some of them want to have me come speak to their various campus ministry groups. To Issac, Nick, Rebecca, Al and others whose names I can't remember, thank you for your encouragement and thank your Sovereign God who raised up worms like me to preach the truth to many who would rather not hear it yet must. To God be the glory!

An Answered Prayer

I always pray that God will be pleased to prepare people's hearts to hear His truth from my lips. My prayers were gloriously answered yesterday. After witnessing to a Roman Catholic and then fellowshipping with a true sister in Christ who overheard my witnessing to the Catholic, God brought my path across two young ladies who were ready to receive the truth. I walked up, introduced myself, and asked them the question of the day and they looked at each other in amazement and said, "We were just talking about that very thing!" I said, "Ladies, the Bible says that everything that occurs is ordained of God, this is part of that everything, therefore, this is ordained of God". The next 45 minutes was glorious. They sat there listening intently as I spoke about what glorious things God has done to reconcile sinners to Himself. They were nodding in agreement as I spoke of sin, righteousness, and judgment. They asked great questions and after this I said, "Ladies, you have heard the truth today; please be reconciled to God through repentance and faith in His Son. Put your face in the carpet, and ask Him for mercy. If you desire to come to Him, if you are weary and heavy laden from your sins, He will give you rest, for Christ's yoke is easy, and His burden it light." At this point one of them was tearing up a bit. I thanked them for their time and as I walked away, they sat there, silently contemplating what I had said. May the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shine in their hearts! (2 Cor. 4.6)

A Friendly Chat with some Familiar Unbelievers

One unbelieving fellow that I spoke with weeks ago in a one-on-one encounter saw me and said, "Dude, I've got some questions I wanna ask you . . . let's find a place to sit down." We went to the Elliot University Center courtyard and chatted pretty intensely for 20 minutes about the existence of God, creation, logic, the problem of induction, and the gospel. At the point he had to go to class, but another familiar face, Lewis, sat at the table next to us and he invited me to sit down with him to chat a little. Lewis heckled me last week for about 10 minutes while I was preaching and he did so also once beforehand at the beginning of the semester. I like Lewis. He has a sharp mind, but abhors the idea of theistic determinism and does not believe that causal connections exist in the universe. I sat and answered his questions about free will vs. free moral agency, determinism, causality, and how all of this relates to Scripture while he smoked a cigarrette. He had to go, but I encouraged him to challenge me anytime whether one-on-one or when I'm preaching. He then left to go to class. The next time I see him, I want to ask him, "Lewis, if you deny that cause and effect relationships exist at all, how do you know that you were born?"

A Concerned Thinker

As I walked back to my car at about 4:00 p.m., I saw a sweating, muscled young man sitting on the steps outside the dorms on Walker Avenue. I walked up, introduced myself, and asked him the question of the day. After some small talk, I learned that his family had left the Southern Baptist denomination and transferred to a liberal Lutheran congregation because they got tired of the "hellfire and brimstone" preaching. When I explained the penalty of sin, he confessed, "Sir, I simply do not believe that god sends anyone to Hell." I then said, "But that is not the God of the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible damns men to Hell" and then I quoted Matthew 25:46 and other passages from the gospels to substantiate my assertion. We drifted through discussions about predestination, election, suffering, the problem of evil, and I then tried to finish with the gospel and a loving call to repentance. This young man was so kind. He was a a great listener and asked great questions yet he stumbled greatly over many Biblical truths. May God open his eyes to see and may the Lord use me and others to help him see his need for faith and repentance in Christ.


God is merciful, good, just, and kind, even to His enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). I am reminded of that over and over again as I evangelize, preach, and talk to many unbelievers every week. Christians need to know their Bibles, spend time in prayer, and then go and tell the story of what God has done for them in Christ and lovingly answer questions. There are so many who are willing to listen though they disagree. Dear Christian friend, will you take the gospel into your daily spheres of influence and go and tell them the old, old story, or will you sit on your "blessed assurance?" Never forget that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

Has Ergun Caner Participated in More Debates than Hannah Montana?

Ergun Caner has claimed to participate in many debates, in thirteen countries and dozens of states in the US. Mr. Caner has claimed to debate leaders of world religions, especially Islam. But where is this evidence? When and where did they take place? I am aware that he has backed out of debating (e.g., he nullified a debate with James White on Calvinism after they had an agreement to debate). But where is the evidence of him actually participating in any formal public debate?

Either his claim is true, or he has made them up. If it is true then where is the evidence? If it is a lie, then he needs to quickly man up and confess and repent to the student body of Liberty, as well as the larger Christian orbit of his influence.

For someone who considers himself the "Intellectual Pit Bull of the Evangelical Church" and calls his podcast "Engaging the Cults," it appears that he is all bluster.

Mr. Caner, you can settle this right now and provide evidence in the comments section. It will remain open for you.

Can we trust the Bible?

Obamacare or bust

The Obama Administration's plan for health care is creating a demand for more physicians (especially in primary care), which seems good for would-be physicians. In fact I believe that was one of the selling-points touted by the Administration.

But according to this article the problem is that there are no plans to create more residency spots to train newly minted med school graduates or junior doctors.

So, on the one hand, med schools are accepting and enrolling more med students into med school in order to meet the increased demand for more physicians under the new health care bill.

But on the other hand, according to the article, there are no plans to increase residency spots. The new health care bill doesn't deal with the issue.

Hence there's going to be a bottleneck when it comes to competition for residency spots, which doesn't sound so good for would-be doctors anymore. So much for this selling-point.

If the Obama Administration does want to increase residency spots via funding Medicare (which is apparently what teaching hospitals currently rely on most for funding to create residencies), then it seems like it'd increase the price tag in either more or higher taxes for taxpayers.

Of course, this in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad idea to have universal health care coverage under the new health care bill. But (in addition to many other valid criticisms) it does cast considerable doubt on its wisdom since it looks like the Obama Administration's health care bill is not only costing us as a society an arm and a leg but now perhaps a kidney too.

If this is true, then the main question would seem to be, are we willing to foot the bill in terms of paying more or higher taxes in order train more doctors to doctor us? What's more, are willing to let the tax revenue be allocated to wherever the federal or state governments deem there's a physician shortfall?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beckwith in the dock

[Quote] Prof. Beckwith, you are an intelligent man, but that does not make up for not being a good listener. You are so eager to make your point about Thomas Aquinas (a point which almost no ID proponent would disagree with), that you don’t understand what Clive is objecting to.

The prologue to your Biologos article attributed to you the view that, according to ID, design is found only in certain structures in nature, and that God is not involved in the rest. You did not correct that characterization of your views when it was challenged on the Biologos site and elsewhere. Therefore we must assume that you believe ID asserts this.

Clive is telling you that ID does not assert this. And you are brushing him off, by telling him he badly misunderstands. And what you are not seeing is that Biologos, your latest platform, is crawling with TEs who have also asserted this mischaracterization of ID. We at UD are therefore very nervous when you, a Thomist, appear on Biologos and appear to defend these TE mischaracterizations. We have long since learned to expect that we will be willfully misconstrued by TEs, but we expect more from Thomists who come from a more disciplined intellectual tradition.

And by the way, I have never seen any ID person, anywhere, write or imply that Thomas Aquinas was:

“teaching that the universe consists of lots of “Instances” of designed entities some of which may be detected and some of which may not.”

No, Aquinas did not *teach* that, but if that should turn out to be *true* about the universe, nothing is taken away from Thomas’s teaching. There is no *clash* between Thomism and ID. That is Clive’s point. And you seem to be determined to establish that there is a clash. And we wonder why.

It is not as if ID people have said: “We don’t need those stinkin’ Thomist arguments to prove the existence of God; we’ve got irreducible complexity.” ID people have not ruled out, and many of them embrace, metaphysical arguments for the existence of God. Thus, you seem to be picking an unnecessary fight, and you are doing it from a platform, Biologos, which hardly has the theological high ground, from a Thomist point of view. You’ve stopped short of defending TE against ID, but you certainly seem more interested in embarrassing ID than embarrassing TE. Why is that, given that I haven’t seen a TE writing which doesn’t contain at least one heresy that would make Aquinas wince?

The other difficulty I am having is that you keep speaking of Aquinas in weighty tones, but when people here offer you passages of Aquinas which do not appear to fit into your own version of Thomism, you do not engage. Is it possible that you know Thom*ism* much better than you know the texts of Thomas himself? Perhaps not, but if you know Aquinas’s texts well, let’s have some *expositio*, please. You know the threads where the exegetical challenges have been posted, here and on beliefnet. I’ll be watching for your counter-exegesis.

I would also like to know why you, Beckwith, would have a certain fellowship with Biologos in light of their TE position and other heretical views that would make Thomas Aquinas wince. The issue of differences in design detection is a side street nuance in the otherwise straight path of design, and doesn’t merit the theological critique from you (in my opinion) that Biologos merits daily.

It is more dangerous to ID and reason, yes, because half truths are always more dangerous than obvious lies. Perhaps an analogy would help. Who do you think hurts the Catholic Church more? Atheists who rant and rave with their irrational secularism or high ranking bishops who turn their backs on sexual deviants and give the those atheists something substantive to attack with. “Corruptio, optimi, pessima”

Who does more violence to reason? An atheist nitwit who might stupidly say that Aquinas was a bad philosopher, or a Thomist who acknowledge his greatness only to grossly misrepresent him and use his legacy against his true philosophy?

—”But it’s worse than that, it is, according to StephenB, demonstrably false to believe otherwise.”

It is demonstrably false that Aquinas’ metaphyics is incompatible with ID, yes, most definitely.

People have posted on this site with serious arguments based on a great deal of learning. Your responses of cute one-liners, expressions of exasperation, etc. do not do your reputation justice. Where is the deep Thomistic thinker that many of us hoped Francis Beckwith would be? He seems to have gone AWOL.

C’mon, Dr. Beckwith, you are better than this. Some of the people writing here have doctorates in religion from top-ranked universities. Others have philosophy degrees and have applied them to reading a considerable amount of the writings of the Angelic Doctor. How about engaging on Aquinas and defending your exegesis?

We’re all dudes with keyboards these days. And yes, heresy, such as theistic evolution, and a theodicy that removes God completely from creating anything biological. For that matter absolves God from any responsibility to His creation when it tries to give all evil consequences of nature red in tooth and claw over to evolution, a force that even God cannot control. I’ve read it on biologos myself and written about it here. That man and all of biology are results of the power of evolution (that even God cannot change) once set into motion, they think, absolves God of evil, thus their theodicy; even going to far (again, I’ve seen it myself) of calling Christians who believe in special creation heretics. In Darrel Falk’s view, Thomas Aquinas was a heretic. So yes, heresy on Biologos, all in the name of mighty Evolution will they jettison scripture and religious understanding. Why do you associate with those people who are so obviously theologically heretical? Why? I really want to know, sincerely I do. Please don’t be anything but honest, please, because I’m being very sincere.

Well, if Dr. Beckwith is going to go around correcting the metaphysics and theology of all those who do not hold to a Thomist metaphysics and theology, I hope he will apply that to *everyone* who writes about creation and nature, not just ID people.

I’d like to hear his Thomist perspective on “evolution must be true, otherwise God would be responsible for evil” — an argument that Ken Miller and Francisco Ayala have made. I’d also like to hear his Thomist perspective on the numerous Barthian attacks on natural theology which have been made by TEs. Does he think that Thomas Aquinas is compatible with Barthianism?

If Dr. Beckwith wants to “be his own man”, distinct from ID and from mainstream TE, that is fine with me. But so far I have heard only what distinguishes him from ID. I haven’t heard what distinguishes him from the overwhelmingly Protestant and utterly non-Thomist approach of most TEs.

Unless he tackles the theology of TE in whatever books and articles he puts out in the future, he will have no credibility as a theological referee in the debate between ID and TE.

Unfortunately, Dr. Beckwith seems to have decided to back away from a detailed discussion of theology and metaphysics here. His total contribution has been to refer us to one of his articles, which is excellent on the legal aspects of the ID debate but only an undergraduate-level introduction to Thomism, and hardly capable of refuting the counter-claims about Thomas which have been made by posters here, backed with quotations from Aquinas himself. Beckwith’s mastery of the Thomistic tradition has not yet been demonstrated, and will not be demonstrated by half a dozen quotations from Aquinas, Gilson and Feser. Until he shows more academic substance, I for one do not regard him as capable of speaking for Thomistic metaphysics or Thomistic theology, let alone of judging ID in its lights.


I got around to seeing 2012. Of course, for a film like 2012, “seeing” is the operative word.

What’s ironic about the film is that even though its director is a hardcore unbeliever, 2012 is in striking ways a flood geologist’s dream come to. Imagine a secular Hollywood director sinking $200 million in CGI on a film which is, in notable respects, a hitech commercial for young-earth creationism.

I’m not saying it’s technically accurate in terms of what, say, Kurt Wise would do if he were the director, but it’s certainly evocative.

The first part of the film resembles the day of judgment. Or, at least, one strand of eschatological imagery. The Bible uses a variety of figurative images to depict the day of judgment. Some imagery is destructive while other imagery is restorative. As a result, there are debates in Christian theology about whether the day of judgment will result in a new earth or a renewed earth.

CGI has reached the point where, as you watch the film, you say to yourself, This is what the final judgment could really be like!

However, the second part of the film takes the cataclysm in different direction, with heavy-handed allusions to Noah’s flood. Of course, it’s an “updated” version of that event, but the allusions are obvious.

And while this may not be intentional on the director’s part, Noah’s flood has this doubled-edged quality–for it prefigures eschatological salvation as well as eschatological judgment.

Del Ratzsch on methodological naturalism

TGL: In your review Design Theory and its Critics, you wrote that "If (perhaps for overwhelmingly good reasons) science is restricted (even just methodologically) to 'natural' explanatory and theoretical resources, then if there is a supernatural realm which does impinge upon the structure and/or operation of the 'natural' realm, then the world-picture generated by even the best science will unavoidably be either incomplete or else wrong on some points. Unless one assumes philosophical naturalism (that the natural constitutes the whole of reality) that will be the inescapable upshot of taking even mere methodological naturalism as an essential component of scientific procedure." This suggests that the distinction between the two forms of naturalism collapses, but there seems to be little awareness of the argument. Do you intend to develop it further?

DR: I have discussed it some elsewhere (e.g., in "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the way down'" (Faith and Philosophy, Vol 21 #4, October 2004, pp. 436-455)).


The basic problem with pre-stipulated conceptual/theoretical boundaries is that if reality itself happens to fall outside those boundaries, theorizing within the confines of those boundaries will inevitably generate either incompleteness or error. But methodological naturalism just is a stipulated prohibition on anything outside the 'natural' playing any conceptual role in scientific theorizing and explanation. If it turns out that reality chooses to ignore our restrictions (and why on earth shouldn't it?), then theorizing forbidden to cross those boundaries will inevitably be either incomplete or mistaken.

Here is an analogy. [All right - caught analogizing again.] Suppose that during the final pre-launch crew briefing for NASA's first manned mission to Mars, the head of NASA warns the crew of the dangers of starting public panics and instructs them to make no mention in any of their reports of aliens - regardless of what they happen to find on Mars. The restriction does make some sense. But suppose that the first thing the crew sees upon exiting their lander is an utterly undeniable Martian bulldozer. The question instantly arises: where did that come from? But the crew has a problem answering that question. Given the prohibition barring reference to aliens, the crew has only two options: (a) they can refrain from addressing the question, or (b) they can construct a theory of the chemical evolution of Martian bulldozers. But that means that their science of Mars will be either (a) woefully incomplete - leaving out perhaps the single most fascinating aspect of the mission - or (b) outrageously mistaken.


But even just methodological naturalism conjoined with aspirations for completeness has substantive implications. First, if one restricts science to the natural, then assumes that science can in principle get to all truth, then one has implicitly presupposed philosophical naturalism. But even if one merely stipulates methodological naturalism as essential to science, then assumes only that science is competent for all physical matters, or that what science (properly conducted in the long run) does generate concerning the physical realm will in principle be truth, then if the truth of the specific matter in question is non-natural, even the most excruciatingly proper naturalistic scientific deliverances on that matter may be wide of the mark, typically in exactly the way a science built on philosophical naturalism would be. For practical purposes, that comes close to importing philosophical naturalism into the structure of science.

So whether methodological naturalism has substantive philosophical implications (contrary to the common denial) or is philosophically neutral depends upon what it operates in tandem with. At the least, methodological naturalism makes the de facto assumption that there is an identifiable realm of reality which is on the scientifically relevant level functionally self-contained, and which is on that level functionally de-coupled from the supernatural. That assumption is neither obvious, trivial, nor - since it is an empirical universal negative - demonstrable.

But to actually answer your question, I may try to push it a bit further. But despite the above (and some other) reservations and qualifications, I think that methodological naturalism is a useful - perhaps even essential - provisional strategy, and one not to be lightly overridden.

TGL: Much has been made of the importance of methodological naturalism, particularly as definitive of what makes something science. What do you think of the arguments in its favour?

DR: Arguments for its value as a provisional strategy may be right. But even as a strategy, it has to be used with care. Over-rigid adherence can (as indicated earlier) have consequences for the self-corrective nature of science, and it can have other consequences (as noted just above) if care is not taken concerning what assumptions it is employed with.

Arguments for it will depend in part on exactly what methodological naturalism is, and more care is required there than is sometimes given. For instance, it is quite common to see methodological naturalism defined as a requirement that science be restricted just to natural concepts, resources, data, and theories, that being interpreted to mean that whether or not philosophical naturalism is true, science must proceed as if it is. (That, for instance, is the position of the National Center for Science Education - or at least of its director.) But the problem here is that (as Boyle pointed out three plus centuries ago) nature in a created universe might well - indeed most likely would - be very different from nature in a random, chance universe. Thus, the typical equating of a restriction to the natural with proceeding as if philosophical naturalism is true, turns out to beg some deeper questions.

Most of the actual arguments for methodological naturalism being a definitive, unchallengeable rule of science seem to me to be problematic. Very briefly, the three most common types of arguments are (1) arguments that anything non-natural is outside the realm of empirical detectability or testability, (2) arguments that allowing the non-natural into science is destructive in that it allows scientists to take the lazy way out in difficult scientific situations (simply saying "Well, God must have done that - no point in trying to figure it out", then wandering off to find the coffee pot) and (3) historical arguments claiming that the history of science has shown the bankruptcy of non-natural considerations in science. The first is the most prima facie plausible, but I think that there could be possible empirical cases in which the most reasonable conclusion would be that something supernatural was at work. (That's one of the cases I try to make in Nature, Design and Science.) Regarding the second, it is often the conviction that something is a product of design that keeps scientists in the hunt. Any company trying to reverse engineer a competitor's new computer model pays particular attention to puzzling components - refusing to give up trying to understand it precisely because they believe it to be a product of design. And of course historically most scientists took nature to be a product of design, and saw themselves as in effect reverse engineering nature - trying (as Kepler is alleged to have said) to think God's thoughts after him. The fundamental intelligibility of nature consequent upon its being designed by God was one of the key motivations underpinning the whole scientific project.

"Overwhelming evidence for evolution"

According to the OT scholar, Bruce Waltke:

If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.

But according to Henry Gee, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and a senior editor of Nature:

Fossils are where you find them, not where you want them. They are not found spread uniformly through the Earth's sediments. They are granted to posterity only thanks to accidents of geology.

The question immediately presented itself: could this fossil have belonged to a creature that was my direct ancestor?

It is possible, of course, that the fossil really did belong to my lineal ancestor. Everybody has an ancestry, after all. Given what the Leakeys and others have found in East Africa, there is good reason to suspect that hominids lived in the Rift before they lived anywhere else in the world, so all modern humans must derive their ancestry, ultimately, from this spot, or somewhere near it. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that we should all be able to trace our ancestries, in a general way, to creatures that lived in the Rift between roughly 5 and 3 million years ago. So much is true, but it is impossible to know, for certain, that the fossil I hold in my hand is my lineal ancestor. Even if it really was my ancestor, I could never know this unless every generation between the fossil and me had preserved some record of its existence and its pedigree. The fossil itself is not accompanied by a helpful label. The truth is that my own particular ancestry — or yours — may never be recovered from the fossil record.

The obstacle to this certain knowledge about lineal ancestry lies in the extreme sparseness of the fossil record. As noted above, if my mystery skull belonged to an extinct giant civet, Pseudocivetta ingens, it would be the oldest known record of this species by a million years. This means that no fossils have been found that record the existence of this species for that entire time; and yet the giant civets must have been there all along. Depending on how old giant civets had to be before they could breed (something else we can never establish, because giant civets no longer exist so that we can watch their behaviour), perhaps a hundred thousand generations lived and died between the fossil found by me at site LO5 and the next oldest specimen. In addition, we cannot know if the fossil found at LO5 was the lineal ancestor of the specimens found at Olduvai Gorge or Koobi Fora. It might have been, but we can never know this for certain. The intervals of time that separate the fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent.

In our everyday experience, on the scale of days and years, events can be ordered in time with a fair degree of certainty. We can be confident about what is cause and what is effect, and that one can be linked with another. In our everyday experience, individual events can be linked together to form a continuous narrative. You can see this to be true by looking back at your own working day.

Our perception of time changes when events become progressively divorced from the chronological context of our everyday experience. For example, look back at your family photograph albums. Photographs taken in the past few years are full of meaning for you. You can remember who is who in the picture, when and where the picture was taken, and even what was said at the time: your engagement with the picture is enriched by its context, the interconnecting web of events that connect that one snapshot with a whole host of other events, to make a story, part of the ongoing narrative of your life.

Now look at older photographs, perhaps from that vacation you had a few years ago. The enjoyment of vacations, so vivid at the time, is soon lost when you get back to the humdrum routine of home. You get the snapshots developed; you had always meant to label them while the memories were still fresh, but you never got around to it. Now, years later, it's too late — you can't quite remember who is in the pictures, exactly where they were taken, or in which order. Even the year escapes you unless you have some independent means of recalling it: the year the baby took her first steps, the year we bought the new car, and so on.

Turn the pages, back and further back, until there are no more pages, and all you have is a box of unmounted photographs left to you in the will of a remote great-uncle. None of your own experience allows you even to put these photographs in the correct chronological order. The pictures are of long-dead relations you have never met, and of whose existence you were previously unaware.

When confronted with such an image, no connection of shared events — of narrative — exists between you and the person in the photograph. The event depicted in the picture is lost in time, free from any context that might tie it to the present. When the fading of memory dulls the skein of your experience, it becomes difficult to arrange isolated events of your own life, as recorded by family snapshots, in any reliable order. When the life concerned is not your own, but that of another — a person who lived a long time ago in a foreign country — the task becomes impossible, especially when that person is dead and cannot be interviewed.

Looking back further still, we can see that our knowledge of past history — by implication, a narrative — is determined by the density, connectedness, and context of events. If events are isolated and disconnected, history breaks down. Students of ancient history, or of more recent intervals such as the Dark Ages in Britain, for example, have problems simply working out the order in which things happened, such as which king reigned before which. These problems are worsened by sparseness of documentation, of context. Between 410 ad, when the Romans quit Britain, and 597 ad, when Augustine arrived on the coast of Kent, there are few events in British history that can be treated as fact rather than conjecture. This is an interval of time equivalent in length to that between the Napoleonic Wars and the present day. No wonder, therefore, that this period is full of myth and legend: all sense of connected history and the passage of time ceases, filled instead with the timeless and retrospective romances of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The disconnection and isolation of events worsens further as centuries turn into millennia, tens of millennia, and finally into millions of years: intervals so vast that they dwarf the events within them. Events become disconnected, separated like stars by gulfs of space measurable not in miles, but in light-years. This is geological time, far beyond everyday human experience.

This is Deep Time.

Deep Time is like an endless, dark corridor, with no landmarks to give it scale. This darkness is occasionally pierced by a shaft of light from an open door. Peering into the lighted room, we see a tableau of unfamiliar characters from the lost past, but we are unable to connect the scene before us with that encountered in any other room in the corridor of time, or with our own time. Deep Time is fragmented, something qualitatively different from the richly interwoven tapestry of time afforded by our everyday experience, what I call 'everyday time' or 'ordinary time'.

A fossil can be thought of as an event in Deep Time. Compared with the immensity of time in which it is found, a fossil is a point in time of zero extent: a fossil either exists or it doesn't. By itself, a fossil is a punctuation mark, an interjection, an exclamation, even, but it is not a word, or even a sentence, let alone a whole story. Fossils are the tableaux that are illuminated by the occasional shafts of light that punctuate the corridor of Deep Time. You cannot connect one fossil with any other to form a narrative.

So there I was, confronted with a fossil that might have been half a tooth of a hominid, a scrap of flotsam from the ocean of time. Let us give a name — Yorick -- to its deceased owner. Yorick might have been my lineal ancestor; but we can never establish this for certain.

The events of Deep Time — fossils — are so sparse, because an animal, once dead, only rarely becomes a fossil. A million years passed between one fossil of Pseudocivetta ingens and the next. The process of fossilization and discovery is a concatenation of chance built upon chance. It's amazing that anything ever becomes a fossil at all.

Yorick could have been a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis, by default, simply because we know of no other hominids living in East Africa at that time. But there's an old saying in science: absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. Yorick could have belonged to some other species entirely. The half-tooth could be the first record of this species and, so far, the only record that this species ever existed. Imagine — an entire species can evolve, thrive, decline, and disappear and leave just half a tooth as a memorial to its existence. You can only wonder how many species have come and gone, leaving no record at all.

The fact is that we know so little of the past. We depend on the minute fraction of the life that Earth has produced that has left any record. We have hardly begun to count the species with which we share this planet, yet for every species now living, perhaps a thousand, or a million, or a thousand million (we will never know for certain) have appeared and become extinct.

New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries 'missing links', as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. In reality, the physical record of human evolution is more modest. Each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps.

The problem is that Fred and I cannot place our common ancestor in time and space unless we are able to discover our complete pedigrees all the way back to that point of ancestral convergence. To do this, as we know, is impossible, given that the fossil record is so discontinuous.

If it's possible to arrange three participants in more than one way, how can one know which one reflects the actual course of evolution — what really happened? The cladogram in figure 3 seems so natural, so plausible, that it must be right. But must it? The fact that three participants can be arranged in a different way from that intuitively expected suggests that it is at least possible to conceive of different evolutionary courses. To dismiss this and assert that the cladogram in figure 3 must be right simply because it accords with native common sense, is not a scientific approach, because it allows only what we humans imagine is possible and denies us the opportunity of exploring all the alternatives and examining which one best fits the evidence at hand.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Forgetful Francis

Francis Beckwith
April 8, 2010 1:00 PM

We are so trapped in the present that many of us forget--or don't remember, or never know--that American Christian fundamentalism never required a belief in young-earth creationism.

In the 1950s Biola University had on its faculty, Bernard Ramm, a strong critic of the creationism that was dominant at the time: It was not considered a big deal then, since in the famous five volume THE FUNDAMENTALS, theistic evolution was defended by James Orr! So much for fundamentalists all being young-earth creationists.

Francis Beckwith is so trapped in the present that he's forgotten–or never knew–that James Orr was a Scotsman, not an American. What is more, Orr was hardly a fundamentalist.

Anatomy of a resignation

"OT Professor Bruce Waltke resigns from RTS Orlando Faculty amid historical Adam and Eve controversy."

Resources on "creationism"

Dear Steve,

If Dr. Waltke was giving a comprehensive list of his sources, you'd be at least partly correct. For recent creationism, what resources besides ICR would you recommend for someone who wanted to be thoroughly familiar with the best science available?

I'll cast a wide net:

God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe
~ John Byl

Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning
~ John Byl

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
~ William Lane Craig (Editor), J. P. Moreland (Editor)

Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science
~ Del Ratzsch

The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence In Biological Systems
~ William A. Dembski, Jonathan Wells

Mathematics of Evolution
~ Fred Hoyle

Earth's Catastrophic Past Geology, Creation and the Flood
~ Andrew Snelling

Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution
~ Lee M. Spetner

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design
~ Stephen C. Meyer

Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach
~ Vern Sheridan Poythress

Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome
~ J. C. Sanford

The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution
~ Jonathan Sarfati

Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective
~ Bas C. Van Fraassen

Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Universe
~ Kurt Wise

Why Waltke subscribes to theistic evolution

Having familiarized myself with reconciliations of religion and science by: Institute of Creation Research (Henry Morris, young earth, no evolution), Reason to Believe (Hugh Ross, old earth, no evolution), Intelligent Design (Philip Johnson, no view on age of earth, but no evolution), BioLogos (intelligent design [lower case] and evolution) and Framework hypothesis (non-committal to any of these views), I consider that of BioLogos the best.

This suggests that his familiarity with the various positions is terribly superficial.

Waltke on theistic evolution

Since Waltke's position on theistic evolution has become a matter of public debate, it's helpful to document what, exactly, his position really is. Here are some statements of his:

Waltke cautions, “if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.”

We are at a unique moment in history where “everything is coming together,” says Waltke, and conversations—like those initiated by BioLogos—are positive developments. “I see this as part of the growth of the church,” he says. “We are much more mature by this dialogue that we are having. This is how we come to the unity of the faith—by wrestling with these issues.”

“I had not seen the video before it was distributed. Having seen it, I realize its deficiency and wish to put my comments in a fuller theological context:

Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended; they are uniquely created in the image of God and as such are not in continuum with animals.

Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church.

I am not a scientist, but I have familiarized myself with attempts to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with science, and I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and, as represented by BioLogos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.

I apologize for giving the impression that others who seek to harmonize the two differently are not credible. I honor all who contend for the Christian faith.

Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.

Science is fallible and subject to revision. As a human and social enterprise, science will always be in flux. My first commitment is to the infallibility (as to its authority) and inerrancy (as to its Source) of Scripture.

God could have created the Garden of Eden with apparent age or miraculously, even as Christ instantly turned water into wine, but the statement that God “caused the trees to grow” argues against these notions.

I believe that the Triune God is Maker and Sustainer of heaven and earth and that biblical Adam is the historical head of the human race.

Theological comments made here are mostly a digest of my chapters on Genesis 1-3 in An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007).”

Ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies are a very different literary genre from the genre of scientific writings. These ancient cosmogonies–including that of Genesis 1–do not ask or attempt to answer scientific questions of origins: the material, manner, or date of the origin of the world and of its species. The biblical account represents God as creating the cosmological spheres that house and preserve life in six days, each presumably consisting of twenty-four hours. But how closely this cosmology coincides with the material reality cannot be known from the genre of an ancient Near Eastern cosmology, which does not attempt to answer that question [footnote 80]. Recall that biblical narrators creatively and rhetorically represent raw historical data to teach theology, An Old Testament Theology, 202.

The best harmonious synthesis of the special revelation of the Bible, of the general revelation of human nature that distinguishes between right and wrong and consciously or unconsciously craves God, and of science is the theory of theistic evolution [footnote 81]. By “theory,” I mean here “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for the origin of species, especially adam,” not “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural.” By “theistic evolution” I mean that the God of Israel, to bring glory to himself, (1) created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them; (2) incredibly, against the laws of probability, finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce adam, who is capable of reflecting upon their origins; (3) within his providence allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions–such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth–to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially adam; (4) by direct creation made adam a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith; (5) allowed adam to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator… (202-03).

There is a synergetic modus vivendi in recognizing that both science and theology have a contribution to make to our understanding of the origins of the creation. A scientific cosmogony contributes to answering the questions of how and when, and the rhetorical biblical cosmogony answers the more important questions of who and why (203).

The renowned theologian B. B. Warfield supported the concept of biological evolution (202n80).

I have been helped in reaching this conclusion by Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Collins was director of the Humane Genome Project and is a devout Christian (202n81).

By way of comment:

i) Why theistic evolution was a permissible option for Presbyterian theologians like Warfield and A. A. Hodge poses an interesting sociological question regarding the intellectual ethos of 19C Presbyterianism. A question which some church historians have explored.

However, while that sociological question may be of keen historical interest, it is quite irrelevant to the normative question of what policy the 21C Church ought to put in place. It is not the duty of the Church to reproduce the intellectual ethos, or coping strategies, of a particular era in church history. For example, the fact that many Colonial Americans turned to Unitarianism is hardly a normative precedent for contemporary Christians.

ii) Walkte appeals to comparative mythology. However, other scholars in the field handle these materials quite differently.

iii) Waltke equivocates over the nature of ANE cosmogonies. It’s trivially true that prescientific cosmogonies were not designed to answer scientific questions. That, however, doesn’t mean that ANE cosmogonies were never meant to make factual claims about the real world, as the author and audience understood it.

iv) Waltke only cites one side of the argument. He doesn’t engage the scientific critics of macroevolution. And he also ignores the realist/antirealist debate in philosophy of science.

v) Waltke’s position on Adam and Eve seems to be that God took a male and female protohuman hominid and made them “spiritual beings.”

vi) Waltke calls his position a “synthesis” of science and Scripture. However, his position is really a stopgap. It isn’t scientific, and it isn’t Scriptural.

It’s not something he derives from science alone, or Scripture alone, and it’s not something that he can properly derive from combining science and Scripture. For both Gen 1-2 and macroevolution present self-contained narratives regarding the origin of life on earth. One can’t properly graft Gen 1-2 onto the trunk of macroevolution. These are independent explanations. And they tug in different directions.

vii) Waltke redefines original sin in terms of Adam and Eve reverting to their bestial ancestry. That is completely at odds with the narrative. It introduces an extraneous dynamic while it also disregards the narrative factors.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The two faces of Francis Beckwith

John Stackhouse's take on the Waltke "resignation"

Professor Stackhouse writes:

Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) has dismissed Dr. Bruce Waltke because he recently stated publicly two radical convictions: (1) that a Bible-believing Christian could believe in evolution; and (2) that the church needs to beware of becoming a cultural laughingstock for retaining anti-evolutionary views that cannot be supported scientifically.

What’s pathetic about this action is that those points weren’t even radical in the nineteenth century, when when Darwin himself had a number of orthodox defenders. So RTS apparently is not quite ready to catch up with almost two centuries of theology/science dialogue.

On the one hand:


I didn't approve of Stackhouse comments. I posted them followed by my own comments about the board's magisterial function in assessing the institution's documents. If you had been reading my blog, you would know that I had posted previously on the matter as well as links to my own contributions on BioLogos and the ID movement.

The criticisms you mention are Stackhouse's not mine. They are not my criticisms via Stackhouse (whatever the hell that means). The quote republished here is from Stackhouse, not me. I can't speak for John, but I suspect he is alluding to Warfield's peace with Darwinism that did not impede his status as a Reformed hero.

On the other hand:

Francis Beckwith
April 8, 2010 1:00 PM
We are so trapped in the present that many of us forget--or don't remember, or never know--that American Christian fundamentalism never required a belief in young-earth creationism.

In the 1950s Biola University had on its faculty, Bernard Ramm, a strong critic of the creationism that was dominant at the time: It was not considered a big deal then, since in the famous five volume THE FUNDAMENTALS, theistic evolution was defended by James Orr! So much for fundamentalists all being young-earth creationists.