Saturday, August 31, 2013

God, both Impassible and Impassioned

"God, both Impassible and Impassioned" by Paul Helm.

Fastest growing Christian countries

Is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?

"Darwinian evolution in the light of genomics" by Eugene Koonin.

"The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?" by Eugene Koonin.

Evolution via the gradual accumulation of mutations

According to James Shapiro (2011, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, p. 95):

The 2001 Nature report of the draft human genome contained two important figures illustrating what genome sequencing had taught us about protein evolution [382]. Using transcription factors and chromatin binding proteins as examples, the figures showed that these classes of proteins did not evolve one amino acid at a time [emphasis mine]. Instead, the two classes of protein "shuffled" and "accreted" copies of functional protein segments called domains as eukaryotes progressed from yeast through nematode worms and Drosophila fruit flies to mice and human beings. In other words, proteins diversify through a process of acquiring, amplifying, and rearranging coding sequences for subprotein structures that may be dozens or hundreds of amino acids in length.


382. Lander, E.S. et al. Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome. Nature 409, 860-921 (2001).

From the notebooks of the Lazarus experiment

According to Peter Ward ("What Will Become of Homo Sapiens?"):

Assuming that it does become practical to change our genes, how will that affect the future evolution of humanity? Probably a great deal. Suppose parents alter their unborn children to enhance their intelligence, looks and longevity. If the kids are as smart as they are long-lived - an IQ of 150 and a lifespan of 150 years - they could have more children and accumulate more wealth than the rest of us. Socially they will probably be drawn to others of their kind. With some kind of self-imposed geographic or social segregation, their genes might drift and eventually differentiate as a new species. One day, then, we will have it in our power to bring a new human species into this world. Whether we choose to follow such a path is for our descendants to decide.

Here's an excerpt from the ending of the original screenplay for the movie Gattaca:


     As we pan across the constellations, a title is superimposed
     upon the starscape:

              In a few short years, scientists will
              have completed the Human Genome Project,
              the mapping of all the genes that make
              up a human being.

              After 4 billion years of evolution by the
              slow and clumsy method of natural selection,
              we have now evolved to the point where we
              can direct our own evolution.

     The first title is replaced in the heavens by a second title.

              If only we had aquired this knowledge
              sooner, the following people would never
              have been born:

     A succession of portraits and photographs of RENOWNED and
     HISTORIC FIGURES fades in and out of the constellations - the
     accompanying titles list their affliction rather than their

                         Blind from birth

                         NAPOLEON BONAPARTE


                              LOU GERHIG [sic]
                      Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
                         (Lou Gerhig's [sic] Disease)

                             RITA HAYWORTH
                         Alzheimer's Disease

                             HELEN KELLER
                            Blind and deaf

                           STEPHEN HAWKING
                        Lou Gerhig's Disease

                         JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE

                           CHARLES DARWIN
                          Chronic invalid

     The face of Charles Darwin fades off and another title appears
     out of the stars.

              Even Charles Darwin, the man who told of
              the survival of the fittest, numbered
              amongst our frailest.

     The title fades off and is replaced by one final title in the
     night sky.

              Of course, the other birth that would
              surely never have taken place is your own.


Should we make evolutionary biology a basic science?

On the one hand:

"Evolution: medicine's most basic science" by Randolph M. Nesse and Richard Dawkins.

On the other hand:

"Neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis and selfish genes: are they of use in physiology?" by Denis Noble.

Researchers find surprising difference between human and chimp genomes

Old news, but FWIW:

Despite sharing 99 per cent of our DNA with chimpanzees, a certain key genetic process tends to occur at totally different places on human and chimp chromosomes. A study by Oxford statisticians and US and Dutch geneticists, published in Science, compared recombination in humans and chimpanzees and found a surprising difference between the species....

Why these hotspots occur, and what triggers the swapping of DNA at those particular points, is a mystery. One theory was that the DNA code either side of hotspots controlled the activity. However, comparing chimps and humans showed that despite being so genetically similar, the species have totally different recombination hotspots....

'If chimps and humans do not share these recombination hotspots, then it means something other than the surrounding DNA code must be controlling the process of recombination - because the surrounding DNA code in chimps and humans is pretty much identical. This means that recombination is even more mysterious than we already thought: what is controlling it, and why does it occur so often at these particular places?

'The findings also tell us something else important: that the recombination landscape must be evolving extremely quickly. In humans and chimpanzees, the genome as a whole is very similar but the recombination hotspots totally different - so hotspots must be evolving much, much faster than the rest of the genome. That adds extra mystery to what drives these hotspots: why do they evolve so quickly?'

I believe this is the paper in question.

Are mutations random?

According to James Shapiro (2011, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, p. 82):

There is one last area where the traditional assumptions about genetic change have been shown to be unrealistically restrictive. That is the question of targeting changes to specific regions in the genome. Conventional wisdom and the vast majority of evolutionists assert that there is no way natural genetic engineering functions can "choose" where to operate within the genome. This was a topic of active debate in 1988 when some adaptive mutation experiments were initially overinterpreted in neo-Lamarckian terms [2, 669, 670].

Despite interpretive errors in the Lamarck vs. Darwin debate, a priori denials of the capacity for functional targeting of biochemical changes to DNA should be jarring to molecular biologists. We have over 50 years of investigation into the molecular basis of how cells regulate transcription, and all biologists agree that the transcription apparatus can be directed to specific, functionally appropriate sites in the genome. The reason for the denial in the case of mutation probably has to do with a continuing influence of the late 19th Century philosophical notion that "germ plasm" inheritance has to be isolated from the soma [671]. But in the 21st Century, when we know about transcriptional regulation, signal transduction from the cell surface to the genome, and the operation of natural genetic engineering in the germline, it is time to abandon this mistaken doctrine.

It is difficult (if not impossible) to find a genome change operator that is truly random in its action within the DNA of the cell where it works. All careful studies of mutagenesis find statistically significant nonrandom patterns of change [emphasis mine], and genome sequence studies confirm distinct biases in location of different mobile genetic elements. These biases can sometimes be extreme, as in the targeting of S. cerevisiae LTR retrotransposon insertions into regions just a few base pairs upstream of RNA polymerase III transcription start sites [672–674]. In many cases, we have some understanding of the molecular mechanisms and/or functional significance of the observed preferences (see Table II.11).


2. Sniegowski, P.D. and Lenski, R.E. Mutation and adaptation: The directed mutation controversy in evolutionary perspective. Annu Rev Ecol Systematics 26, 553-578 (1995).

669. Cairns, J., Overbaugh, J. and Miller, S. The origin of mutants. Nature 335, 142-5 (1988).

670. Maenhaut-Michel, G. and Shapiro, J.A. The roles of starvation and selective substrates in the emergence of araB-lacZ fusion clones. Embo J 13, 5229-39.

671. Weismann, A. The Germ-Plasm: A Theory of Heredity, (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1893) (1994).

672. Bushman, F.D. Targeting survival: integration site selection by retroviruses and LTR-retrotransposons. Cell 115, 135-8 (2003).

673. Devine, S.E. and Boeke, J.D. Integration of the yeast retrotransposon Ty1 is targeted to regions upstream of genes transcribed by RNA polymerase III. Genes Dev 10, 620-33 (1996).

674. Bolton, E.C. and Boeke, J.D. Transcriptional interactions between yeast tRNA genes, flanking genes and Ty elements: a genomic point of view. Genome Res 13, 254-63 (2003).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Your cheatin' heart

Ham is alluding to John Loftus:

Chris Pinto the "Kevin Bacon" of King James Onlyists

Peter Gomes' dog is associated with Peter Gomes -->
Peter Gomes is associated with Harvard Divinity -->
Harvard Divinity is associated with Alan Kurschner -->
Alan Kurschner is associated with James White -->
James White is associated with Chris Rosebrough -->
Chris Rosebrough is associated with Brannon Howse -->
Brannon Howse is associated with Chris Pinto -->
Chris Pinto is associated with Chris Pinto's dog -->

Chris Pinto's dog must be promoting homosexual Christianity!

“Cultural Catholicism” and the End of Life: “You Earned It”

I’ve mentioned that Roman Catholicism is so onerous because it puts its hooks in you at various times in your life – from baptism as a child, to “first confession” and “first holy communion”, then Confirmation as an early teen, then marriage, baptism of your own children, etc. It’s a programmatic cycle.

There is another point at which Rome is prominent, and that is at death. As the “Baby Boom” generation continues to age and die, people will continue to be focused on this phase of life, either as people focused on the end of their own lives, or that of their aging parents.

Paul Moses, a journalism professor at Brooklyn College/CUNY”, has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal this morning entitled “A Liberal Catholic and Staying Put”, which puts this in view.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Law and miracle

Debates about the scientific status of miracles have been going on for a long time, and often involve competing paradigms of natural law. For instance:

In his classic Adventures of Ideas (140-59), A. N. Whitehead describes two contrasting views of nature's laws as they obtained in much of the seventeenth and eighteen centuries:  
(1) Theological voluntarism is the metaphysical idea that an omnipotent God endowed matter and nature with principles of motion that are passive and therefore completely dependent on God's volition; that since the properties of matter (atoms) are extension, impenetrability, and inertia, the motion of matter originates in God, the prime mover; that an active principle sustains motion and activity in nature by counteracting resistance; that this active principle is the source of gravity; finally, that the causes or laws of nature are therefore superimposed from the outside and are completely dependent on an omnipotent deity, who can abrogate or suspend these natural laws at will (miracles) to modify their course. 
(2) Immanence is the view that activity and motion are inherent principles in matter and nature, that all movement in nature is governed by autonomous laws that constitute the interdependence of all activity in nature; that these immanent laws are so embedded in the structure of nature that they cannot be disrupted, that any disruption of the laws of nature (miracles) is impossible because it contradicts the principles of reason, order, and perfection–the attributes of God. Essentially voluntaristic, Newtonianism gave way in the eighteeth century to the view of immanent activity in nature that was essentially mechanistic, which is to say Cartesian. For according to Rene Decartes, the laws of nature were decreed by God and are–like his volition–immutable and universally efficient. That is why miracles contradicted God's immutable will–unless (perhaps) they were embedded in God's grand scheme from the beginning. 
Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana: America’s First Bible Commentary, A Synoptic Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. Vol. 1: Genesis. Edited with an Introduction and Annotations by Reiner Smolinski (Mohr Siebeck and Baker Academic, 2010), 85-86n22.

In six days the Lord made heaven and earth

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exod 20:8-11).
This text often crops up in debates over the days of Gen 1. Appeal is made to this text to establish two related points. The days in Exodus 20:8-11 are 24-hour days. And the days are consecutive. By parity of argument, so are the days of Gen 1. An uninterrupted sequence of 7 24-hour days. This is called the calendar-day interpretation. 
There's obviously some merit to this argument from analogy. After all, this isn't just a reader's inference. The text itself invites that comparison. 
However, there's also a danger of a modern reader unconsciously recasting the issue in provincial and anachronistic terms:
i) Ancient Israelites didn't think in terms of 24-hour days. That represents clock time. They didn't have clocks.
ii) Likewise, subdividing a day into 24 equal units of time is artificial rather than natural. 
iii) There's an equivocation about the "day." It's not as if Israelites labored 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, before knocking off work. The workday actually stands for daylight hours. As a matter of fact, you took breaks between one day and the next day. You labored during daylight hours, and rested at night. 
You were largely dependent on sunlight to be able to see. That could be supplemented a bit by firelight–or moonlight (a full moon on a clear night). 
Folks who traveled by foot had to allow for enough time to arrive at their destination before they ran out of light. 
iv) Moreover, day and night aren't like flipping a light switch, where it becomes instantly light at sunrise and instantly dark at sunset. First light precedes sunrise. Especially on a clear day, the sky brightens well before sunup, and darkens sometime after sundown. So the boundaries between day and night are fuzzy.
v) In addition, unlike clock time, which cuts across the natural divisions of day and night, sunrise and sunset undergo seasonal change. They vary every day. The daylight hours lengthen in the summer and shorten in the winter. 
vi) Not only is this sensitive to the temporal orientation (i.e. time of year), but spatial orientation (latitude). If you live in Alaska, there are times of the year when you have continuous sunlight, and times of the year when you have continuous night. When the sun never dips below the horizon or rises above the horizon. One day blends into another day. One long day. A "day" that's longer than a week. So the duration of a day is not invariable. It depends on where you live, as well as when you live. So the duration of a "day" is variable both internally and externally. When a day naturally begins or ends is quite different from clock time or calendar time. 
Of course, the Decalogue was originally addressed to people in the Mideast, but imagine applying it to someone living near the North Pole before the advent of electrical lighting. And Christian missionaries would have to make allowance for that contingency. Exod 20 does, indeed, draw a parallel between the ordinary workweek and the creation week. But the ordinary workweek doesn't necessarily map onto the creation week the way some modern readers routinely assume. 

Secularism Without Atheism

Many apologists and apologetic organizations put a lot of focus on responding to atheism. They place a lot of emphasis on presenting arguments for the existence of God, arguing that miracles occur, etc. Doesn't that make sense in a society that's been growing increasingly secular?

Exhuming dead theories

Darwinian evangelicals: a love–hate relationship

What's not to love?
"There are a number of good books available on reconciling science and Christian theology, particularly creation and evolution. The value of such books to various audiences depends, of course, on some shared assumptions. Carlson and Longman's book [Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins] is especially important for anyone who perceives conflict between evolutionary theory and Scripture. While sharing a commitment to scriptural infallibility and a generally literalist reading, they nonetheless show that none of the multiple creation stories in the Old Testament precludes the acceptance of contemporary science. I recommend it highly." 
—Nancey Murphy, professor of Christian philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

Ten things I hate about you!

But at the heart of liberalism is the denial of purpose in nature. Historically, the key turning point was Charles Darwin. The central elements in Darwin's theory -- random variations, sifted by the blind, automatic process of natural selection -- were aimed specifically at getting rid of the concept of purpose or design in biology. As historian Jacques Barzun says, "This denial of purpose is Darwin's distinctive contention." 
Today we are seeing the real-world results of this denial. Transgenderism treats the scientific facts of human biology as having no intrinsic purpose or significance. It treats the body as nothing but a piece of matter that gives people no clue about who they are as persons. It is a self-alienating worldview that teaches people that their identity as male or female has no inherent purpose or dignity. (For more, see chapter 3 in my book Saving Leonardo.) 
This article is adapted from Saving Leonardo, by Nancy Pearcey, director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist University and editor at large of The Pearcey Report.


"Lutheran Insulter"

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The music of life

Oxford don Denis Noble is another one of those insider critics of the standard evolutionary paradigm:

Calvinism and the First Sin

"Calvinism and the First Sin" by Prof. James Anderson.

Cut out the middleman

From a recent WSJ article:

Most people are unaware that if they don't use insurance, they can negotiate upfront cash prices with hospitals and providers substantially below the "list" price. Doctors are happy to do this. We get paid promptly, without paying office staff to wade through the insurance-payment morass.

Read the rest here.

Who's redefining what?

I'm going to comment on this post:

So look, here's my modest proposal: If we aren't going to start with sound exegesis of the Bible and be content with that…

Well, when is Dan actually going to start with sound exegesis? We keep getting his token reverence for the sufficiency of Scripture, absent the exegesis to back up his claims. Less genuflecting and more spadework would be appreciated. 

Same thing for all their other redefinitions. If they wanted some holy status for their errant feelings and hunches and "leadings," they should never have assaulted the well-known and well-defined Biblical phenomenon of prophecy, and embarrassed themselves by trying to redefine it to suit their experiences. 

i) First of all, notice that Dan doesn't tell us what the definition of the this "well-defined" phenomenon is. This is yet another example of Dan's routinely perfunctory performance. Make pious gestures towards the authority of Scripture, but don't follow that up with the goods. 

ii) Also, let's compare his claim to David Aune's conclusion in his standard scholarly monograph on prophecy:

Prophetic sayings and speeches preserved in early Christian sources exhibit a wide variety of forms and styles. Even though we have somewhat overconfidently proposed a typology of six types of basic forms of prophetic speech and three kinds of complex forms, it is apparent that only the presence of formal framing devices betrays the possible presence of Christian prophetic speech…There is therefore no such thing as a distinctively characteristic form of Christian prophetic discourse that is recognizable apart from the presence of formal framing devices. The only real exception to this generalization is the apocalyptic vision report, a literary form which we have not considered in any detail and which requires careful study in its own right. D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Eerdmans 1991), 337-338.

Hmm. Seems like the phenomenon is far less monolithic than Dan purports to be the case. 

See, that's where the modern inventors of Charismaticism/"continuationism" went wrong. Parham and his poor dupes were originally seeking the Biblical gift of tongues. That is, they expected to be able to speak in unlearned human languages supernaturally. And when they started babbling and gobbling, they were convinced it had to be that, that Biblical gift, that falsifiable gift with defined contours and edges. So they went off to mission fields, expecting to be understood by the Chinese... but, yeah, you know how that went. Natives shrugged and, in effect, made little circular gestures by their temples. Incomprehensible babble.
So here's where the first-gen errorists went afield. They were sure their experience was valid (Charismaticism 101), so then took some large hammers and saws to the Bible, and eventually changed the interpretation of what "tongues" meant from, well, what it meant, to what they were doing. They took a well-understood gift and invented something that gave cover to their experience.

As with prophecy, Dan dictates a received definition of glossolalia–which he equates with xenoglossy. He then accuses Pentecostals of redefining the phenomenon to retrofit their actual practice. Let's compare Dan's claim with some standard scholarship on the issue:

The ambiguous evidence regarding the exact nature of tongues raises the question of whether even Paul himself or the other earliest Christians knew the exact nature of the phenomenon. R. Ciampa & B. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 586. 

From the way Paul speaks of this phenomenon [tongues] in the rest of this chap. [12] and in chap. 14, however, it seems best to recognize it as some form of noncommunicative utterance or incoherent babbling.
The phenomenon cannot mean speaking in foreign tongues…it denotes here [14:2] some sort of utterance beyond the patterns of normal human speech. J. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians (Yale U. Press 2008), 470, 510. 

Second, Paul understands these utterances to be addressed to God (14:2,14,28) and not to humans (14:2,6,9). It is not a language of normal human discourse, but something mysterious and "other," which may give it its appeal. It consists of "mysteries in the Spirit" that are unintelligible to humans (14:2 ) and that benefit only the speaker (14:4). It communicates with God through prayer and praise (14:15) in ways that analytical speech do not…This rules out the view that tongues refer to the miraculous ability to speak in unlearned languages or to speak in one's native language. D. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Baker 2003), 584. 

Edwards declares: "It is evident that the Corinthians did not use their gift of tongues to evangelize the heathen world. They spoke with tongues in their Church assemblies, and not once does the Apostle urge them to apply the power to the purpose for which it would be so eminently serviceable." 
If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said "the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God" (14:2), let alone, "the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself (14:4). But we saw that insofar as Chrysostom, Cyril, Thomas, and most especially  Theodoret and Calvin were concerned, the whole point of using foreign languages was strictly to serve the proclamation of the gospel as part of the mission to the world. But if we decontextualize the gift from mission (as Paul clearly does in 1 Cor 14), the basis for the gift has disappeared. 
Tongues may then be viewed as "the language of the unconscious" because it is unintelligible (unless it is "interpreted") not only to others but also to the speaker, A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2000), 977, 988. 

The weight of the textual evidence, however, does not support this understanding of tongues as real human languages. The Pentecost story does emphasize the intelligibility of the tongues spoken, but a careful reading indicates that the miracle occurred in the hearing rather than in the mode of speaking. The bystanders do not ask, "How can they all be speaking our native languages?" but rather, "Since all who are speaking are Galileans, how is it that we hear them in our own native languages" (Acts 2:8).
As for Paul,he could hardly emphasize more strongly that in his view–and he was a speaker in tongues himself (14:18)–glossolalia is an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor 13:1; 14:2,4,7-9,16-17,23).
In summary, the convergence of evidence suggests that glossolalia is a verbal expression of a powerful emotional state. It is not a real language but a kind of structured or ordered babbling, "Glossolalia and the Embarrassments of Experience," L. T. Johnson, The Princeton Seminary Bulletin (1997), 117-118, 121.

Now, it's not the purpose of this post to give my own definition of glossolalia. I don't quote these scholars to endorse their interpretation. Rather, I quote them to document the patent falsity of Dan's assertions.

i) To my knowledge, not one of the scholars I quoted is Pentecostal or charismatic. Therefore, Dan can't say they were motivated to reject the foreign language interpretation to ex post validate their personal commitment to contemporary Pentecostal practice.

ii) In addition, their analysis gives the lie to Dan's claim that there's a received definition of tongues, such that anyone who rejects the foreign language definition is "redefining" the NT phenomenon. 

And frankly, it's examples like these which raise questions about Dan's integrity. He makes willfully ignorant public claims. For some reason, he feels no duty to make a good faith effort to inform himself before he sallies forth about the Bible or people who disagree with him. As a pastor, he ought to have more sense of responsibility. Don't tell your people what the situation is before you've done some basic fact-checking. 

Every time we're trying to talk God's Word, someone is sure to ask, "So, what about when X happens? or when Y happened in 1843? How do you explain that, huh?" As if this is what really should consume the Christian, because we already have so well mastered all that actually-in-the-Bible stuff.

Questions like that are quite germane when Dan and other MacArthurites deny that things like that ever happen. Does Dan really think his sweeping historical claims should be immune to empirical falsification? If he said something never happens, his denial invites potential counterexamples. Why does Dan imagine that he's entitled to operate with a double standard which allows him to issue blanket denials, but exempts him from ever having to consider any evidence to the contrary? What does that say about his character? 

But then again, really, since the whole point is that we've got this imperative (we must validate the Charismatic's experience and his special powers)…

I agree with Dan that that's a problem in Pentecostalism. Problem is, Dan has the same methodology. Dan is the mirror image of what he faults in Pentecostalism. Dan also begins with experience. He's a disguntled former Pentecostal. He had a bad experience. And because his experience with Pentecostalism left him emotionally damaged, he automatically rejects charismatic claims, as well as "contiuationist" interpretations. In Dan's case, you can take the Pentecostal out of Pentecostalism, but you can't take the Pentecostalism out of the Pentecostal. Because Dan burned his fingers playing with strange fire, he's now a crusader against matches. 

Finally, a word about the commenters at Pyromaniacs. They are very quick to recognize cult personality psychology on the part of folks who hang onto every word of some TBN televangelist, but oblivious to their own personality cult psychology when their MacArthurite heroes come under scrutiny. 

A Better Way to Honor Dr. King's Dream

Biblical longevities

Apostate Ed Babinski emailed me. 
Caught your article about biblical genealogies. 
I also ran across this... 
Creation Research Society Quarterly, "Biblical Longevities: Some Questions and Issues"

And what does Huebner say?

The author also ignores the clear lack of expected randomness in many of the entries of Table 1. In the best example, Noah (ordinal 10) was 500 years old when his sons were born and the Flood followed 100 years later when he was 600. His son Shem (ordinal 11) became a father when he was 100 years old and he lived 500 more years, dying at the age of 600. The chance of this being anything other than a fabricated, symbolic use of special numbers is miniscule.
Well, yes and no. I agree with Huebner that the chances of that pattern randomly popping up are miniscule. However, it hardly follows that the numbers are fabricated. Rather, these are round numbers. Has it never occurred to Huebner that Bible writers sometimes use round numbers? Does he equate round numbers with fabrication?
And, no, I don't think the numerical parallels between Shem and Noaha are random. Rather, the narrator rounded the figures up or down to equalize them so that readers would notice a parallel between Shem and Noah. That's intentional rather than random. But the logical alternatives aren't random selection or fabricated symbolism. Rather, the narrator is using round numbers to create symbolic patterns. The figures are schematized, but that doesn't make them fabricated. Stylized history is still historical. Round numbers are real numbers: just approximations. They have a basis in fact. Sorry if Ed is too dense to grasp these nuances. 
You asked what signs we would need to be able to judge a person's age at death if all we had was the skeleton. 

No, Ed. that's not what I said. Basic reading comprehension has never been Ed's strong suit. This is what I actually said:

Youngblood doesn't bother to explain how paleoanthropologists would be able to determine the age of prediluvians from skeletal remains. If, say, they aged very slowly, could you tell that from skeletal remains? 
Don't we generally determine age of death from skeletal remains by comparison with normal lifespans?
So what would be the frame of reference in the case of prediluvians? By definition, they fall far outside normal standards of comparison. 

Notice how Ed blows right past my carefully qualified statements. Ed then says:

But when you're talking about people who allegedly lived way past 100 some basic considerations come to mind such as the fact that tooth enamel does not grow back but continues to wear out. So do the inside of joints, where the surfaces touch one another, literally wearing down the joint surfaces over time, even in a young healthy person who overuses their joints.  It's true that tortoises can live for 200 years but they have beaks that continue to grow slowly, and they either move slowly, or swim in water which probably slows the deterioration process, but they probably suffer broken down joints all the same once they reach that age.  One could hypothesize that the patriarchs were blessed with genes for growing multiple sets of teeth for as long as they lived, though very few humans are blessed with those same genes today (a few today are blessed with some extra teeth that come in after the second set, but we don't grow teeth as easily as sharks do). As for joints, even young healthy people can wear those out, so people living past 100 would probably have increasingly more trouble with their joints. 

Which totally disregards the qualifications I gave in my original response to Youngblood. Ed has the attention span of a Tweeter. 

I don't doubt that forensic anthropologists can judge roughly how old the decedent was. However, that's based on the normal aging process. Comparing skeletons of 20-somethings with other 20-somethings. Having a large sample from the same age groups. 

The question at issue is what would supply the frame of reference if someone died at 900. Does that mean they mature and age very slowly? Does that mean they mature at a normal rate, but remain in their prime for centuries before senescence sets in? 

Even if we just consider this from a hypothetical standpoint, I'm unclear on how a forensic pathologist would determine the age at death of someone who died at 900. What's the standard of comparison? What's their equivalent of an index fossil in this situation?  

How The Apostles Died

The subject of the martyrdom of the apostles came up during William Lane Craig's August 26 Reasonable Faith podcast. He addressed the issue as it relates to evidence for Jesus' resurrection. He emphasized the point that the apostles' willingness to suffer is more important than whether they died as martyrs. He didn't say much beyond that. For those who are interested, I address the death of the apostles in several posts linked here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rat nirvana

I'm going to comment on this article:
Although the experiments were done in rats, Borjigin thinks they have implications for the near-death experiences (NDEs) reported by one in five people who are resuscitated after their hearts stop. Although they were unconscious, unresponsive and clinically dead at the time, they come back with stories of bright lights, “realer than real” memories, and meetings with people they knew. Some scientists have dismissed these accounts outright. Others have taken NDEs as proof of a religious afterlife or a consciousness that lives on outside the body, as popularised in a recent bestseller of dubious provenance.
But Borjigin’s research suggests that these experiences could just be a natural product of a dying brain. That doesn’t make them any less real, but it does root them in the natural world, without the need for a “super-“ prefix.

Before proceeding, let's clarify the scope of my comments. I'm not going to comment on whether NDEs are evidence for the afterlife. Rather, I'm going to comment on whether these experiments are evidence that there is no afterlife. Is mind reducible to detectible neurological activity? 
Here's my problem with this sort of evidence. 

i) This isn't comparable to humans who were clinically dead, resuscitated, and describe their "postmortem" experience. Rats don't report back to us. 

ii) Tracking general brain activity doesn't explain the specific content of NDEs. 

iii) Likewise, a scientific 3rd-person description doesn't give us the 1st-person viewpoint. 

iv) We can't get inside the "minds" of rats, assuming they have minds. We don't know what they visualize, if anything, at the moment of death.

v) This leaves the "hard problem of consciousness" unsolved.

vi) I don't rule out that some animals may have rational souls. What do dogs dream about? I don't know, but I don't think dualism has to stop with humans. 

Suppose we had very sensitive neuroimaging techniques to scan brain states. Suppose we hooked up a test subject and scanned his brain states while he was having the following experiences:

1) Listening to music.

2) Dreaming.

3) Spontaneously remembering something.

4) Deliberately retrieving a memory.

5) Deliberately imagining something. 

Now, unless I'm mistaken, all of these experiences would show up on the neuroscan. The scan would reveal "heightened" activity "in" the brain. They'd all be very similar. 

Yet these neurological outputs have very different inputs. 

In the case of (1), that brain state is caused by an external stimulus.

In the case of (2), we might say that's caused by the brain.

In the case of (3), we might say that's "inside" the brain. Yet it's a brain state that corresponds to an external event, not just a neurological event. He's remembering something from the past. Something that really happened. And that's the source of the memory. The brain is not the source of the memory, but the past event.

In the case of (4), that could be the same memory as (3). But there's a difference. In the case of (3), the recollection was involuntary. He had a spontaneous flashback. In the case of (4), he willed himself to access that memory. He deliberately retrieved that memory. 

Does that mean his brain caused his brain state? But what's the difference between cause and effect if both are brain states?

Moreover, how does reducing all this to activity in the brain distinguish voluntary recollection from involuntary recollection? Both are (allegedly) brain states, but in the case of voluntary recollection, what causes that memory to surface in consciousness is the mental act of willing it. 

Likewise, dreaming and imagining are both said to be brain states. And they are both subjective. Figments of the imagination.  They don't correspond to objective reality.

Yet dreaming is involuntary whereas imagining is voluntary. If the test subject imagines something, he will cause a brain state that registers on the neuroscan. And that seems dualistic. It suggests a certain independence, where his mind causes a brain state. 

Of course, a physicalist would deny it, but in that case, how does a physicalist distinguish between two internal brain states where one is the effect of volition while the other is spontaneous? 

In addition, wouldn't all these different brain states simply register as heightened neurological activity on the scans, even though they are clearly distinguishable in terms of their sources and causes? 

Another simple example is pain:

If I'm hooked up to the scanners when a bee stings me, the scanners will register heightened brain activity. But even if the effect (pain) is a brain event, that doesn't mean the cause (bee sting) is a brain event. 

Cain & Abel

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Against the Gods

John Currid's new book, Against the Gods, has been receiving some buzz. It's largely in response to recent views on the evangelical left regarding the OT and comparative mythology. In general, I think Currid's book is an excellent corrective.

I have a few reservations. Although his position on the birth of Moses is defensible, I also think it's unnecessary. But my major disappointment is with his handling of the Enuma Elish. Here I prefer John Oswalt's treatment, in The Bible Among the Myths.

Christians who take an interest in this issue would do well to read both scholars.

I'd add that Currid has covered some, but not all, of the same ground in his earlier Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. His new book is pitched at a more popular level.

The Fall

Three-story eschatology

It's become fashionable on the evangelical left to say the creation account in Gen 1 reflects a hopelessly obsolete three-story cosmography. We should just admit the narrator or redactor was mistaken, given his inevitable prescientific ignorance. That's a case of God accommodating his revelation to the primitive audience. That's culturebound. That's passé.

But one often-overlooked problem with that position is that it's terribly shortsighted. For that position doesn't conveniently terminate at the water's edge of protology or creation. Rather, it carries right over into the Gospels and NT eschatology. To the end times as well as the beginnings. After all, you could just as well say the Incarnation reflects a three-story cosmography, what with all those references to angels coming down to earth, or the Son of God coming down to earth. Likewise, what about depictions of the three-story Parousia, where Jesus comes back by coming back down to earth? 

Logically, this means members of the evangelical left should also relegate the Incarnation and the return of Christ to a mythical world picture. Why not go all the way with Bultmann? 

“The Current State of Rome”

Hop On the Sacramental Treadmill
Over at Old Life, Sean Moore (“Old Life Sean”) who is a former Roman Catholic seminarian, has provided some comments in a thread on Conciliarism and Protestantism that thoroughly convey the rough state that Rome [“Official Rome”, not the imaginary, epistemologically perfect “Called-to-Communion” Rome] finds itself in.

Eric Charter has pulled them together for his Literate Comments blog. Here is a taste of it:

You’ve engaged a group who are themselves in the middle of a fight for the soul of their communion. They’ve just seen the heyday of their conservative ‘renaissance’, which best I can tell lasted about 15 years, from early 90′s till about 2007. And actually Ratzinger, in lobbying for the office, was a last ditch effort to keep the movement on life support. I was just going back through Pachence’s notes after I left and it looks to be about ’92 when he starts to notice a swing in the seminarians coming through the formation center. And it looks to be what you’re seeing now is the Vat II vanguard pushing back and gaining steam right around the time Ratzinger took office, which is a great deal of why he quit shortly thereafter. So, now you’ve got both sides marshalling different bishops, theologians, and putting them forward as the ‘official position’. You even had Ratzinger making movements toward SSPXers trying to shore up the conservative flank.

Remember ‘interpretation’ in Rome is a multi-headed beast. There isn’t ONE conclusion, there are multiple and since 2005 now officially,-not ex cathedra(huge loophole) the only bounding that has been set is “no rupture”. Well if no definitive bounding(single conclusion) was set at Vat II, and the hermeneutical purpose was to allow for multiple interpretations so that Rome could effectively morph pastorally with modernity you will forever have swings one way or another, you will effectively have sects, factions, movements all LEGITIMATELY being able to claim grounding in ALLOWABLE interpretation. Which is why you have Anglo-catholic communions, SSPXers(dissent), Vat II ‘liberals’, Latin-rite communions, the Network, social conscience academics, etc.

Now they want to say this isn’t confusion, like what you see in protestantism because sacramentally we are all on board. Well, I’ll grant that everybody, who practices, goes to mass. Let me be generous here; I’d say 1 in 200 catholics can explain to you their sacramental theology. …

What you have is a religious communion grounded in the priestly charism of the ordinary magisterium. They have sacerdotalism. They have grace and benefit mediated to them per priestly mediation and justification/salvation conveyed by way of ontological renovation and purgation. Now, 1 in 1000(uber-generous) could explain that to you. But since you have ex opere operato at work, and your official posture is to want to receive the benefit conveyed, you’re still good…. Most people’s religious expression in RC amounts to; “I go to mass, went to mass, tried to do right, went to confession a few times and I hope the priest gets there in time for last rites.”

Read it all here:

Please note: an earlier version of this post had erroneously attributed the Literate Comments blog to Darryl Hart.

Catholic Converts and “Buyer’s Remorse”: Permitting “Pitifully Low Standards” to Overcome It

The Real Roman Catholic Hierarchy
In response to this thread, “Jason Stellman Defending the Faith”, Nomosian asked:

Are Catholics really that desperate to enlist among their ranks of apologists converts that have been enlightened a mere one year? That's rather telling in my opinion. By their measure, he's been teaching and preaching heresy for the last 20 years, but now, in the last year he's some how finally gotten it right and is qualified to lead others? Those are some pitifully low standards.

He really answered his own question. I responded: “My thought is that the whole ‘Catholic Convert’ schema has been set up to allay the buyer’s remorse that many of them have upon finding out what they've really gotten themselves into.”

Another Called to Communion writer has portrayed that feeling as “a marriage, in which romance does not reduce to sentimentalism, nor prescind from difficulty and pain, but rather flows from the realities of a life shared together, come what may”.

In other words, the newness comes off, and the Roman Catholic convert who falls in love with “The Church” wakes up one day and finds that the purported “Bride of Christ” really does have warts.