Saturday, March 18, 2017

Christian World Views. Part 2: The Christian Academic Establishment

The Christian Faraday Institute is very much part of the academic establishment.

In part 1 of this series I looked at the anti-science reaction of fundamentalists to the Christian cultural marginalization which quickened pace during the 1960s (Slow marginalization had in fact been going on for a long while before that). This reaction has also had the effect of linking Christian fundamentalism (and also the de facto IDists) to the anti-establishmentarian right-wing via the right's conservative and anti-liberal appeal.  In this second part I want to look in detail at the views of a scientist and Christian evangelical who is part of the academic establishment, Denis Alexander. Let me admit that I'm completely biased and very much in favour of Alexander's views and those of the Faraday Institute. However, in spite of my moral support I'm not part of the institute; I'm too much the amateur who likes to stay and work in his shed.

I have recently finished reading Denis Alexander's book "Creation or Evolution; Do we have to chose?". Naturally, in view of my criticism of de-facto Intelligent Design's default dichotomy of intelligence vs natural processes and its all but inevitable outcome of God-of-the-gaps thinking I was very interested to read chapters 14, 15 and 16 which deal with intelligent design in relation to evolution.  In this post I showcase some of Alexander's thoughts, thoughts which reflect my own conclusions about de facto ID being a heavily god designer intelligence-of-the-gaps oriented paradigm, On page 403 Alexander sets the scene with a quote from William Dembski, one of the founders of contemporary ID: 

If for every instance of biological complexity some mechanism could readily be produced that accounts for it, intelligent design would drop out of the discussion

I don't think you can get more designer-of-the-gaps than that! Presumably by "some mechanism" which "accounts for it" Dembski is thinking in terms of law and disorder mechanisms (That is, explanations which use some combination of physical law and statistics) Dembski's statement contains the implicit assumption that 'intelligence' and  'some mechanism' are very distinct categories; in fact, mutually excluding categories. Dembski embodied this kind of thinking in his explanatory filter.

Below I quote Denis Alexander on the subject of Intelligent Design. I've tried to minimize my own comments and let him have the stage as I've already said so much (probably too much) about ID's dualism.....

Page 403: Many of ID's proponents .... believe that only through the gaps in our present knowledge do we have incontrovertible evidence that God is at work  in design.

Given that ID probably envisages God's designing involvement as a kind miraculous event, Alexander quotes Augustine's views on the subject of miracles, a view which subverts the God vs natural forces dichotomy:  

Page 404: When such a thing (a miracle) happens. it appears to us as an event contrary to nature. But with God it is not so; for him 'nature' is what he does.

Alexander comments on IDist Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell:

Page 407: The problem with "Signature in the Cell" is that the author makes his 'design inference' based on the failure of other current scientific explanations to provide adequate explanations for the origins of such complex  systems........; in other words, the inference is based on our present scientific ignorance - back to the designer of the gaps again.

Alexander realizes that ID provides fertile ground for conspiracy theorism:

Page 410: ID proponents are quick to suggest that there is a conspiracy among the editors of journals to prevent the publication of their articles.

...that actually points to the deep political matters which I have touched on in this blog and explains at least in part why North American IDists readily find themselves aligned with anti-establishmentarianism, the right wing, libertarianism, fundamentalism, Donald Trump and the anti-eco-lobby.

Alexander criticizes ID's half baked concept of "irreducibly complexity", but he does say this:

Page 412: In fact, I could very easily argue that all biological systems without exception are, in one sense, 'irreducibly complex'.

Too true! What appears to be 'irreducibly complex' is, according Alexander, exactly the opposite. Because there is such a widespread appearance of 'irreducible complexity' in the dependence of biological function on multiple components it renders the concept questionable. What Alexander is implicitly saying here is that because conventional evolution, by definition, moves in survivable incremental steps, every organic form must be placed on a path of continuous incremental change, Such paths trace a history of stable self-perpetuating structures through configuration space. This statement by Alexander is actually an implicit and back handed acknowledgement of the spongeam. Although I have reservations as to its existence, the spongeam is a necessary requirement of conventional evolution.

Page 417: To now assign the word 'design' to some biological entity is an attempt to introduce the language of Aristotelian  teleology back into science, and many centuries of endeavour suggest that the attempt will be sterile. 

This is really a comment for me; although my rather speculative ideas entail information creation by so-called "natural" means, this information creation must be supplemented by teleological selection; As I have said many times: "Nature", to me, looks suspiciously like a declarative computation. However, Alexander is probably right; such teleological explanations are more likely to remain as post-facto sense making narratives, not readily testable in the scientific prediction-test sense. So my ideas may not fly well. But then unlike the IDists and fundamentalists, I'm not touting myself as God's gift to science - I'm just an eccentric amateur who enjoys knocking up a bi-plane or two in his shed.

Alexander remarks that although the Bible does have the near equivalent of the word "design", nevertheless...

Page 419: ...the idea [of design] was around at the time, which makes it even more interesting that the idea  was never applied  as a metaphor for God's creative work. intriguing theological point. When I picked up Alexander's book I thought it would be just a biology refresher for Christians, but Alexander turns out to be a very good theologian as well!

Alexander spots the inner contradiction of the intelligence-of-the-gap paradigm which majors on the natural forces vs intelligent creation dichotomy: Philip Johnson, one of the founding fathers of ID, thinks that "apparently naturalistic processes" are a sign of the probable absence of God. But in response to this Alexander suggests that for Christians the very category of "natural forces" is a non-starter.

Page 421: So God cannot possible create by 'apparently naturalistic processes'  for the simple reason that if there is a God who creates, then there are no 'naturalistic processes' because naturalism is false. (My emphasis)

When Authors like Johnson talk of the "naturalistic blind watchmaker" it seems that he is utterly clueless as to the true nature randomness.

Alexander talks disparagingly of ID's 'two tier universe':

Page 423: ID literature gives the impression that there is something inherently naturalistic about certain aspects of the created order and not about other aspects, and such thinking appears to stem from a very inadequate doctrine of creation ... in biblical theology, the natural order is seen as a seamless web of God's creative activity.....Philosophical naturalism, like any philosophy resides inside the heads of some people but not others. (My emphasis)

I would claim that what IDist identify as naturalistic and materialistic are in fact law and disorder processes - that is, processes which can be unpacked in terms of algorithmics and statistics. But then the operation of the brain from a third person perspective looks to be composed of law and disorder components and yet we know that somehow intelligence and consciousness is immanent to the brain. Ergo, law and disorder are inextricably bound up with the operation of intelligence, but de facto ID, with its dualism, has violated this unity; it has disembodied intelligence from its deep connection with the material world.

Alexander appears to hold the view that the requisite information for evolution is already present in the universe. Such a view is, in fact, an outcome if one regards the processes of nature as imperative rather than declarative and therefore with no explicit declarative teleology - the teleology in imperative processes is implicit rather than explicit as it is in declarative processes. The quotes below are evidence that for Alexander the intelligence has already been built into evolution via its information burden. These quotes are taken from two sections in chapter 15 entitled Is Evolution Designed? and Intelligent Evolution. The latter title has echoes of my own appellation "Intelligent Creation", meaning that we are observing in the material world the very process of intelligence in action, much as a neuro-scientist sees the workings of intelligence in brain processes; but because the neuro-scientist is getting such a key-hole view it is often difficult to see how it all adds up to an integrated intelligence.

Page 425: I would like to suggest that recent biological discoveries clearly point to the theistic account of the overall story of evolution on planet earth, and I will give just a few examples of what I mean...

Page 425: It [evolution] is tightly organised and highly constrained.....

Page 426: But once we stand back and look at evolutionary history as a whole, then the idea of progress is inescapable... 

Page 426: ...So it is perverse to deny some form of directionality to the arrow of biological time..

Page 427: ...the mechanisms of life look highly constrained, far more than we ever realised even a decade or so ago....

Page 427: A research group from Harvard published a paper on this topic entitled 'Darwinian evolution can follow only very few mutational paths to fitter proteins' It is intriguing to read the sentence in the abstract: 'We conclude that the protein tape of life may be largely reproducible and even predictable'.

Page 428: ...there are only a few ways to arrive at a particular protein function because only some mutations will get you there and not others. It is as if an evolutionary path is already laid out in front of the gene encoding the enzyme, and the genetic dice keeps being thrown until the enzyme structure is generated  that optimizes fitness for its particular function...

Page 428: As the authors conclude in their paper published in Nature: 'That only a few paths are favoured also implies that evolution might be more reproducible than is commonly perceived, even predictable. 

Erratum page: The phenomenon of 'convergence' in evolution also highlights the way in which the process as a whole displays evidence of order and constraint......Simon Conway Morris..... (See here and here)

Page 430: ...convergence is ubiquitous... 

Page 432: So we are living in an ordered universe, not at all a random universe, but an anthropically fruitful one in which there is a biological narrative culminating in us as its observers. 

Page 432: Evolutionary history on this planet displays overall increased complexity, genomic constraint and convergence. This seems to be more consistent with a providentialist account...... and render less plausible the claims made by Gould, Dennett and others that evolutionary history is a totally random walk...

Page 434: To my mind the most recent findings from evolutionary biology are more consistent with the plan like theistic account that the Bible reveals to us.

I have written several blogs on the necessity of an imperative version of evolution to be "guided" in the sense of it being highly constrained; that is, the process must start with a large burden of information.  See here  and here and also here.

I can testify to the fact that de facto IDists make much of what they call the "blind, materialistic and random natural forces of nature" which they tell us are unable to generate complex organised structures. I've seen that kind of expression from de facto IDists umpteen times. I have also remarked how ironic it is that they should use such an expression of God's creation when this is just how atheism tends to view evolutionary processes i.e. "blind and natural".  Alexander has also picked this up and this is what he says in chapter 16:

Page 436: ...yet one still reads, in the ID literature, of the impossibility that life could emerge out of the chemicals by sinister-sounding 'blind materialistic, natural forces' But wait a minute; these are God's chemicals, God's materials. that are being talked about here. A mystery bigger than the origin of life is why Christians should ascribe pagan sounding characteristics to God's world.

Finally let our professional scientist sum up:

Page 460: In none of this account have we been talking about 'blind, natural forces' doing things because for the Christian such language is inappropriate.  We are living in God's world. These are God's chemicals and God's molecules that we are talking about...... As I've already highlighted, why Christians would want to ascribe pagan notions like 'blind natural forces' to God's holy materials. beats me.... (My emphasis)

Page 461: Christians should let the scientists get on with their work, without thinking they are engaged in some sinister conspiracy to promote materialism and naturalism. (My emphasis)

Page 462: The public promotion  of creationism and ID continues to create intellectual barriers for scientists, significantly diminishing  the likelihood of their taking the gospel seriously.

Page 462: My own experience within the scientific community is that the word 'Christian' is now often equated with the ideas of creationism or ID, making it that much harder to share the good news about Christ.

So, if Alexander is right then we can all give a big thank you to the IDiots, John Byle, David LoweJason Lisle,  John McKayKen Ham, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, Gerardus Bouwthe flat earthers, Danny Faulkner and Alex Jones etc, all of whom actually don't have much to agree about between themselves anyway. What better tribute could be given to these intrepid thinkers than the dulcet tones of the one and only William Tapley, the third eagle of the apocalypse and said by some to give batshit crazy a bad name.

For further  relevant links: See Part 1.

For more on Denis Alexander see:

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Anti-establishmentarian Malaise and Flat Earthism

For the Flat Earthers the UN neatly incorporates their two main obsessions: 1. The one-world-order conspiracy and 
2. a cryptic acknowledgement of what is only known to the Illuminati - that the earth is flat!

I thought I'd put on record this web item from Yahoo news.  I've reproduced it below because it's too precious to lose (Yahoo web items are eventually recycled, as far as I am aware).

The article is about what it states to be the increasing popularity in the Flat Earth conspiracy. However, I always bear in mind that some of these web news agencies have subtle ways of embroidering news to make it look more sensational; it need not be outright "fake news" but it can provide the distortions of disproportion, emphasis and de-emphasis. So I move with care.

Elaborated or not this article doesn't come out of a cultural vacuum; it is quite likely that it at least signals a trend in Western culture. Moreover, given my experience of conspiracy theorism it does look as if the writer of the article has picked up to a tee the kind of mentality needed to imbibe the paranoid fantasy world of modern fundamentalism. So, the article is pretty authentic sounding.

To me flat earth conspiracy theorism is up there with young earthism, geocentrism and David Ike's lizard conspiracy - all symptoms of the antiestablishmentarian malaise that's bound up with fundamentalism, general disaffection and individualistic "libertarianism"; the latter is particularly significant as it affects to have an aversion toward the role of conscious co-operation & coordinated behavior in human collectives, the social equivalent of a central nervous system; in their eyes locality equates to freedom, centrality to control freakery. Like the cloud-cuckoo-land Marxists of yesteryear, contemporary antiestablishmentarians dream of and aspire to a small-government idyll, but as the French revolution, the soviet system, fascism and China under Moa Tse Tung proved, idealistic revolutionary zeal, if its not corrupt from the outset, is so easily twisted and corrupted. Moreover, turning the status quo upside down is accompanied by a confusion which gives opportunity for dictators to step in and bring about an autocratic nightmare. With the coming of  Donald J Trump authoritarian extremists are tempted to think they are in with a chance. 

Turning to the Yahoo article we find that Yahoo news asked some questions of a British flat earther and reported his responses.  Below I try to summarize the essence of the fantasy world this guy lives in: 

ONE) He believes that good solid honest people don't need centralized science; they just use their immediate senses to look at the world and they are convinced that their common sense then enables them to see the manifest truth of flat earth (after all, its all "in front of our faces") and the manifest error, no make that "lies", of established science. 

TWO) The internet (a miracle of science!) is, ironically, spreading this anti-science non-sense!

THREE) Fundamentalist "science" of all types is at least in part a protest against generalized Copernicanism; it comes out of the feeling that each advance in science, starting with Copernicus, dehumanizes us, makes us feel belittled and insignificant and generally promotes a nihilistic malaise. Much more to these people's taste are world views which bring us back to the physical and literal centre of the cosmos. Fundamentalism does this in stages from young earthism through geocentrism to flat earthism. It's an inadvertent nostalgia for the Ptolemaic cosmos of the middle ages where man was at the centre of the temple of creation. But these flat earthers are actually going even further back than that - at least medieval people knew the world to be a sphere!

FOUR) A religious sense, perhaps of a Christian fundamentalist kind, has a significant role in promoting flat earthism. For flat earthers the only way they see of coping with what they percieve as the nihilist random world view of science is to reject the whole scientific edifice and turn to the God of the flat earth. They are convinced that somebody out there doesn't want us to believe. There's a conspiracy to make us atheists and nihilists, they think.

FIVE) Anyone trying to prove to these deluded flat earthers that they are wrong or opposing their ideas has the very opposite effect to that intended: they simply perceive such attacks as part of the conspiracy to deceive us of our true status in the cosmic set up.

SIX) NASA is just an organ of deception; part of conspiratorial scientific establishment out to defraud us of our right to know our literal cosmic centrality. Otherwise fundamentalists believe true "science" to be on their side, as promoted sometimes by a handful contrarian scholars.

SEVEN) Flat earthers come out with some breathtakingly naive science and logic. This is too numerous in the article below to mention and too laughable to refute. Here's a juicy morsel: ‘What about people in Australia? Why don’t they fall off?’ The reality is that there’s no such thing as gravity – instead there’s a force pushing you downwards. If the world was really spinning, why isn’t there a breeze? Surely this is a parody! Either that or starting with the Greeks this man is throwing centuries of hard won science to the winds!

Summing up
Antiestablishmentarinism has many paradoxes. It's affected libertarianism won't accept that big business is an emergent phenomenon which very naturally arises out of the logic of small business libertarianism. But the naive antiestablishmentrarian conspiracy theorist has a tendency to lump together big business and big government as of a piece with the same conspiracy to disabuse us of true knowledge and rightful freedoms.

It is ironic that both atheism and fundamentalism are in part down to a failure to spiritually cope with some of the gob-smacking output of modern science. The atheists throw their hands up in disbelief and face the precipice of nihilism.  The coping strategy of Christian fundamentalism is to return to the pre-science era and explain away science as an outcome of paganism and/or conspiracy. 

In the UK people can be just as daft and cranky as anywhere else, but it seems that the UK (apart from David Ike) does lack some of the big names in lunacy leadership, a leadership who deserve Nobel prizes in crackpot crazy such as William Tapley, Westborough baptist church, Kent Hovind, Steve Anderson, Ken Ham, Gerardus Bouw and Alex Jones, many of whom would welcome the Trump presidency. I know that this Yahoo flat earth article is in the Poe's law zone, but just remind me of any of the aforementioned names and I personally find it all too believable. 

Some of my posts apposite to this subject can be found in the links below

Why do conspiracy fans believe the Earth is flat? We spoke to one to find out
In recent years, the idea of a ‘flat Earth’ has intrigued YouTubers and conspiracy theorists alike.
Even certain celebrities have backed the idea that our planet is not spherical.
Last month, an American basketball star came out and admitted that he thought the Earth was flat – and other players said they agreed.
NBA star Kyrie Irving said in a podcast, ‘This is not even a conspiracy theory. The Earth is flat. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.’
Previously, rapper B.o.B (Bobby Ray Simmons Jr) Tweeted his support for the idea to his two million followers.
Yahoo News spoke to British flat Earth believer Roger, 46, a builder from London, to find out why people are attracted to the idea.
What attracted you to the idea that the Earth is flat?
I saw something about the flat Earth one day – and I resonated towards it. I remembered taking a picture on an aircraft, and looked back at that picture. There wasn’t a curvature. If you assume you’re looking at something, you will see it – that’s the reason people think the Earth is round.
Who told you about it?
People are believing in the flat Earth more and more. I first saw it when somebody that I knew, a DJ friend of mine, shared something about it online. I know him, and he’s quite a knowledgeable guy. I gravitated towards it.
Is the idea getting more popular?
To begin with, there was hardly anything about it – it was very minimal. Now there are thousands of websites and YouTube videos. I think YouTube deleted 60,000 videos. That to me just proves it even more.
Why would anyone try to lie that the Earth was a globe?
The reason people are trying to hide it is that they want us to believe that we all come from a speck of dust – that everything is pure chance, and that we are spinning around the universe, somehow miraculously developing and growing. It makes you feel insignificant. It takes away your desire to be a better person. If people understood that the world is flat, that the stars rotate around us, the sun rotates around us, people would start to believe that this has been built by design. People would gravitate towards God. The world would be a better place, wouldn’t it?
Who is behind the conspiracy?
There’s no globe, no rotation, no orbit, and there was no Big Bang. The idea of the round world is so that capitalist society can keep its domination of the world. You see little shops being pushed out by big shops. You pay money for things that shouldn’t cost money.
Are all flat Earth believers religious?
If you thought there was someone watching you from the top of the goldfish bowl, you would be a better person, wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel. But a lot of flat Earth believers come from a scientific viewpoint. One YouTube guy I watch is a scientist – he’s basically angry. Every time he tries to prove that the world is round, he just proves it’s flat.
What about space missions – don’t they prove that the Earth is round?
The space program is 100% fake – just like the moon landings are fake. It’s all tin foil and curtain poles. All NASA’s images are CGI, every one of them. President Obama said three years ago that in 10 to 20 years we would get out of Earth’s lower orbit. Well how did you get there in 1969? It’s really stupid. It’s like me saying, ‘I’ve been to Liverpool,’ then in ten years time going, ‘I want to go to Liverpool’. But people just don’t click.
What about satellites?
NASA is fake and a lie. If there are satellites, how come you never get reception when you are on top of a mountain? The internet all comes from cables under the sea.
What proves that the Earth is flat?
If you tell people the world is flat, they think you’re an idiot. But when you’re four years old and they tell you the world is round, you think they’re an idiot then – you ask, ‘What about people in Australia? Why don’t they fall off?’ The reality is that there’s no such thing as gravity – instead there’s a force pushing you downwards. If the world was really spinning, why isn’t there a breeze?  (Ed: have a good laugh at this point, it's carthartic)
What do your friends think about your beliefs?
When I tell my friends, they think I am crazy – but they thought I was crazy when I told them about the New World Order 20 years ago. Being part of society is a trick. It feels like slavery.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

History? No, more like Hamstory!

This man has a  rather distorted view of young earthist
history and he's trying to pass it on to others.
As I said in my last post, the 1960s saw a reactionary Christian response as Christianity became increasingly marginalized from the intellectual establishment. I think I'm right in assuming a causal link: By the 1960s that marginalization seemed to have reached a threshold which triggered a contrarian revival in Christian gnosticsm and the anti-science philosophies of Genesis literalism. In connection with the latter I wrote the following in this post:

That the resurgence of Genesis literalism is a recent phenomenon is in fact effectively admitted by fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham himself where in a blog post entitled “Happy Reformation Day” (31 October 2013) he applauds the reference to the 1960s YEC rival as “The Creation Reformation”. Prior to the sixties there was only a low background of Genesis literalism, a background found among the more extreme Christian sects like the Adventists, the Amish, the Jehovah's witnesses, the Plymouth brethren and I guess numerous marginal fundamentalist Christian sects in North America*. Since the rise of science YEC was never mainstream.

The general picture I have sketched out here is of young earthism reviving in the 1960s against an otherwise marginalized background of Genesis fundamentalism. After the scientific and industrial revolutions the wide spread Genesis literalism of more primitive times went into decline, particularly among science savy Christians and Christian academics. I don't think this general historical picture is contentious; even Ken Ham would accept it, although he would express it the emotively charged terms of "compromise". 

However, even though Ham accepts this general view, it is starting to look as though he is presiding over an organisation which has been distorting the history of young earthism: In particular this distortion entails minimizing the role that Seventh Day Adventism and Adventist George McReady Price played in influencing the young earthism which came out of the 1960s. This distortion is starting to come to light in a web article on the Biologos web site by researcher Ted Davis. This article is entitled:

Ken Ham's Alternative History of Creationism.

It can be read here:

The question of Adventist George Price's role in the 1960s YEC revival has been raised before, particularly in a book called "Reason and Faith" by Christian authors Roger Forster and Paul Marsden. Let me quote a little more from my post which I've already linked to:

We often hear Christians referring to believers like James May (JM) and Andrew Holland (AH) as fundamentalists. However, I think you will find that JM and AH are part of a recent recrudescent trend that kicked in only in earnest from the sixties onward. This YEC trend is, in fact, more extreme than most Christians who identified themselves with R A Torrey’s twelve volume series published between 1910 and 1915 entitled “The Fundamentals”, a work that became the manual of the early 20th  century fundamentalists. In their book “Reason and Faith”, evangelical Christians Roger Forster and Paul Marston comment as followers on the original fundamentalists:

“A few points are worth spelling out in more detail here. First, by Morris own admission [That is Henry Morris a founding father of modern YEC], most founding fundamentalists accepted either the age-day or the gap-theory form of creationism and he [Morris] can cite none who were young-earth creationists….. Orr (1844-1913), who contended for a moderate Calvinist form of historical evangelicalism in Britain and America …asserts: ‘The Bible does not profess to anticipate the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Its design is … reveal God and His will and His purposes of grace to men, and, as involved in this, His general relation to the creative world….Natural things are taken as they are given, and spoken of in simple, popular language, as we ourselves every day speak of them.’” (P329)

Forster and Marston go on to trace a link between contemporary YEC and Adventist prophetess Ellen G White through the Adventist YEC apologist George McCready Price:

“What we find then, that Price’s [YEC] appeal was to his fellow believers in the prophetess Ellen White, to some Lutheran pastors without scientific training and to the very occasional irascible person with scientific training. The bulk of critics of evolution did not accept flood theory. Even the famous lawyer/politician William Jennings Bryan, who led the abortive attack on evolution in the infamous Scopes trial, or Tennessee Monkey Trail as it became known, was (by Morris’ own admission) an age-day theorist who rejected Price and accepted orthodox geology” (P331)

JM and AH will try to make out that they stand in the best traditions of the mainstream faith, but they actually have a more natural affinity with the pre-scientific days of the faith or to sectarian and cultic Christian figures.

The foregoing tends to confirm Davis research as to the importance of Price in recent young earthist history. According to Davis Ham's organisation are loathe to acknowledge the role of Price in their history.  Let me quote the conclusion of Davis article: 

Why do Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit? Is it because (like those Christians mentioned by Morris) they don’t want their movement associated with a Christian sect that is sometimes viewed with suspicion? Perhaps that is part of the picture, but I think there’s a much bigger reason behind it. The tangled history of modern creationism threatens the simplistic, highly inaccurate narrative AiG hammers into their followers: that Young-Earth Creationism is, and always has been, the “zero-compromise” option for all devout believers in the authority of the Bible. The real story, as we have seen, is much more complicated than AiG’s rhetoric indicates. The fact that Ham and AiG are so blatantly twisting the facts here, and are so critical of those like Duff (and Numbers) who are trying to set the record straight, does not reflect well on the credibility of their organization 

Davis' article is well worth a read: He shows that Henry Morris readily acknowledged his indebtedness to Price. In the light of Davis article I thought I'd do a little research of my own.

On page 330 of Reason and Faith Forster and Marston also provide evidence of Price's influence on Morris:

In actual fact it would seem that the origins of modern young earth creationism may be traced back to Ellen White (1827-1915), a prominent early leader and prophetess among Seventh-day Adventists. In her character studies 'Patriarchs and Prophets' she had written of the geological efficacy of the Flood, burying immense forests which turned to coal. As a young man, Adventist George McReady-Price (1870-1962) read these and although untrained in any area of science, began in 1906 (though mainly in the 1920s) a series of books advocating a form of Flood geology in which all strata were laid down in the Flood. Morris admits: 

"Almost the only writers to advocate literal recent creationism during this period, however, were to be found among Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventists - no doubt partly because their respective founders, Martin Luther and Ellen G White, had taught six-day creationism and a world wide flood.

On page 332 of the same book we find quotes by Henry Morris:

[Price's] tremendous  breadth of Knowledge in science and scripture, and his beautiful writing style made a profound impression on me when I first began studying these great theme's, back in the early 1940s.

In 1959 'almost all Christian colleges and seminaries' were going along with the evolutionary creationism of the Christian  American Scientific Affiliation, and 'the few who still rejected theistic evolution were either teaching progressive creation or ignoring the issue via the gap theory'

In my copy of Whitcombe and Morris' book "The Genesis Flood" George McReady Price's name appears four times in the index as follows:  

Price,  George McCready, 184, 185, 189, 211

On page 184 above there is further evidence of Morris being impressed by Price: Viz:

Long ago George McReady Price made an extensive study of areas of this type around the world. He discussed these in many books written by him on the general theme of deluge geology. Although his examples were very impressive and well-documented, his writings were largely ignored by geologists, ostensibly because of his largely self-made geological education.

Young earthists like Price are rightly largely ignored in the professional scientific journals of the academic establishment, just as Christian geocentrists and flat-earthers are rightly ignored; these movements are anti-science after all. (See here,  here, and here. However, if one is making a special study of these subjects in relation to religious belief that's a different matter). In the above quote written by Morris in the early 1960s we can see the precursors of right-wing antiestablishmentarianism being put in place; specifically the prototypes of the divide between private operators and the publicly owned and funded academic establishment. But what is particularly ironic is that according to Davis Price has not only been ignored by this academic establishment but AiG are now also largely ignoring Price!  In fact Davis claims that: 

....Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit

According to Davis Price's name can only be found nine times in the whole of the AiG website; that's in spite of the fact that Price was so influential upon to Henry Morris who in turn was so significant to the 1960s young earthist revival through the book "The Genesis Flood". To check out Davis conclusion I looked through a series of web articles by AiG writer Terry Mortenson on what he calls "The Scriptural Geologists". Links to these web articles can be found on Mortenson's introductory article here:

Title: British Scriptural Geologists of the First Half of the Nineteenth century

As Price lived 1870-1962 Mortenson, by only considering the first half of the nineteenth century, neatly provides a pretext for not mentioning Price: But why not? Given that Morris was so influenced by Price you might expect him to at least get a mention, but not so; neither Price nor Morris are mentioned. By strictly keeping his terms of reference focused on the first half of the nineteenth century Mortenson is avoiding what seems to be an embarrassing connection for AiG.  Below I list the Genesis literalists that Mortenson documents:

Granville Penn 1761-1844  * George Bug 1769-1851 * Andrew Ure 1778-1857 * Henry Cole 1792?-1858  * Thomas Gisborne 1758-1846  * Rev Samuel Best 1802-1873 * George Fairholme 1789-1846 * James Mellor Brown 1796?-1867 * Fowler De Johnsone  * John Murray 1786?-1851 * George Young 1777-1848

Mortenson says of the above: 

Largely overlooked by modern historians, the scriptural geologists in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century tenaciously defended Genesis 1–11 as a reliable historical account.

They are overlooked because they don't hold a significant place in the history of Christianity during the first half of the nineteenth century. They are the rearguard of the old pre-scientific order as they attempt to recast that order in the new scientific paradigm. And even today after the 1960s revival of Genesis literalism, as Ken Ham admits, young earthism is in a small minority among Christian academics. Also, it is very telling that none of the above "scriptural geologists" appear in the names index of my copy of "The Genesis Flood". That's most likely because Whitcombe and Morris research efforts were not based on the these "scriptural geologists". In fact it is quite likely that Whitcombe and Morris had never heard of them. In the first halve of the nineteenth century British Christianity was very much part of the establishment and yet in spite of that the above names have been ignored; this is strong evidence of their lack of historical significance among the Christian mainstream. They have been dragged up by Mortenson in order to divert AiG's attention from Price and the Adventists and this has the effect of conveying a false impression that AiG owes its credit mainly to these "scriptural geologist". It is important to stress "AiG's attention" here: Clearly AiG are not fooling people like Biologos. This diversion is about AiG trying to convince itself that it doesn't have any roots in Ellen White's Adventism. But in comparison with Morris and Price the "scriptural geologists" do not have a significant place in the historical canon of modern young earthism let alone the Christian mainstream. Of course, an AiG fundamentalist is unlikely to see establishment neglect of the so-called "scriptural geologists" as an outcome of historical proportion; rather they may well see it as willful and sinful neglect by secular historians and "compromising" Christian academics and portray this neglect as part of their mythical narrative of  conspiracy and persecution. 

In a blog post entitled "My Parents are to blame!" and dated 10th January Ken Ham complains that Mortenson's work on the scriptural geologists has also been ignored; well, for reason already given AiG research must accept its place: Fundamentalist research doesn't qualify as being on a par with professional academic science and should only be studied if one is engaged on a project to research fundamentalism itself.  In the said post Ham writes:

In regard to Duff’s somewhat sarcastic and at times demeaning language (really invoking ad hominem attacks on me), what I specifically wanted to comment on was the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

Actually, what I believe concerning God’s Word beginning in Genesis is a result of my parents training me to stand boldly, uncompromisingly, and unashamedly on the authority of the Word of God. My parents hated compromise and did their best to uphold and honor the authority of God’s Word without in any way knowingly compromising God’s Word with fallible ideas of man. I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

Dr. Duff is just following the distorted historical analysis of the openly agnostic, apostate Seventh Day Adventist historian, Ronald Numbers (whom he refers to in the article). Young-earth creation is not a novel view invented by Seventh Day Adventists. It was historic Christian orthodoxy until the 19th century when the millions of years myth was popularized by atheist and deist geologists (and some professing Christian geologists who ignored Genesis), as is documented in the first three chapters of Coming to Grips with Genesis. In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years, but the young-earth “scriptural geologists” at that time raised biblical, geological, and philosophical arguments against those old-earth ideas and reinterpretations of Scripture, as The Great Turning Point documents.

Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not. He was interpreting the geological record using “biblical glasses,” just like the scriptural geologists did and as modern young-earth creationists do.

Here Ham has not only completely missed the point but he also betrays his distorted grasp of history. Firstly, there ought to be no suggestion that young earthism is a novel idea invented by Seventh Day Adventists; rather Adventists, through people like Whitcombe and Morris, helped to popularise it. Nevertheless, there clearly has been a marginal sectarian background of  Genesis literalism since its 18th-19th century demise and Ham was presumably in touch with the ultras of this background via his parents. That in itself proves little and is a distraction from the main point: That point is that the Seventh day Adventists via Whitcombe and Morris became a significant factor in the 1960s revival of young earthism. As Ham points out using his usual spiritual ad hominem (Ken Ham is a liberal user of spiritual ad hominem)":

In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years,...

...thereby effectively admitting to the histiorically marginal status of the so-called scriptural geologists. Ham says that he got his beliefs from his parents - quite possibly true as there is always a background of fundamentalist ultras to be found as Morteson's articles suggest. But so what? That doesn't change the fact that it was Morris and by implication Price who were  highly instrumental in the 60s revival of young earthism. In the light of this we can see that the following statements by Ham are either false, misleading or distortions:

FALSE CLAIM BY HAM: ...the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

MISLEADING CLAIM BY HAM: I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

HAM'S DISTORTED STRAWMAN (BORDERING ON THE FALLACIOUS): Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not.

Did Price play an important role in the the young earthist revivals?  Price most definitely did!

I think we see here how modern Christian fundamentalists, through their insistence on anti-science concepts such as young earth, geocentricity and flat earth, have been rejected by both Christian and non-Christian academics alike and thereby these fundamentalists have backed themselves into an anti-establishmentarian culture. This in turn has made them a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theorism, so-called "libertarianism"** and Trumpkinism - an extreme example being professional Christian conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Fundamentalist "science" doesn't deserve to position itself as something on a par with contemporary mainstream Christian academia. It is, in fact, a throw back to pre-industrial Christianity. 

* I found out later that the Jehovah's witnesses are not young earth although anti-evolution. As for the Brethren and Amish I haven't been able to get final confirmation either way.

** Libertarianism, so called, which affects to be the enemy of "oppressive big government" is a close relation of conspiracy theorism: For those marginalized fundamentalist communities and those disaffected with liberal government it is all too easy to start imagining government as the seat of malign Machiavellian conspirators. But I'm as cynical about phrases like "Small government libertarianism" as I am the "Dictatorship of the proletariat"; they are slogans used by disaffected & marginalised idealists, slogans which are then easily exploited by the power hungry as they elbow aside their retinue of starry eyed idealists and place themselves on the seat of power. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christian World Views. Part 1: Meanwhile, back in the false dichotomy zone...

The recent moderate sized tsunami of antiestablishmentarian feeling in Western societies has picked up many evangelico-fundamentalist Christians and carried them along with it. This is not surprising really: Since the industrial revolution Western Christianity has, in stages, become more and more culturally marginalized, most notably during the 1960s; During that decade Christians at last woke up to fact that the Western intellectual establishment could no longer be identified as even nominally Christian. By way of a reactionary protest there was among some Christians a revival of young earthism, fideism and a generalised form of gnosticism stressing an inner light "baptism" of gnosis (often identified as "Baptism of the Spirit"). This was effectively an anti-intellectual, anti-reason reaction against the intellectual status quo. These reactionary Christians were  saying "You've rejected us, but we don't need your profane reason, we have our own holy knowledge". They stressed the special "supernatural" revelatory element of Christianity either in the form of scripture or as gnosis, sometimes both. This pair of revelatory mediums were contrasted over and against mere profane human knowledge. In many ways this imposed revelation vs human knowledge dualism was one of the keynote assumptions in the weltanschauung of the new antiestablishmentarian Christianity.

But  there was a telling sign that this claim to privileged spiritual knowledge was not entirely without spiritual pathology: The relations between the gnostics and the scripturalists were often tense. The scripturalists, who made emphatic claims about endeavoring to follow God's Word down to the last jot and tittle ("The whole counsel of God") were often very suspicious of those claiming to have an inner-light encounter with the divine, an encounter which often appeared to short cut the scriptural route to sacred knowledge. In return the gnostics thought the scripturalists to be lacking a full gospel experience of God (I suspect that systematic personality differences between these two groups had a bearing on these mutual suspicions). The gnostics might claim that theirs was a Biblically based experience and that there was no tension between inner revelation and scripture, but the strongly reformation identifying scripturalists were not always convinced. For a start gnostic Christians often betrayed a troubling fideist skew to their thinking; for there was one thing that the scripturalists prided themselves on and that was not having given up on reason, at least what they thought of as reason; to them the Bible was a kind of "axiom" on which a superstructure of sacred reason was to be constructed. But it seldom to occurred to them, however, that in order for scripture to be interpreted in the first place, this huge highly complex "axiom" necessarily makes myriad calls on a rich cognitive and cultural complex of innate assumptions - it is the latter which has hidden up in it a very human looking axiomatic base. But blind to this truism the scripturalists pressed on claiming that their's was a world-view in which reason mattered; but, they claimed, it was "Bible based reason" and therefore all but beyond contradiction. So they thought: Scripturalism has given us the curious Genesis literalists who use the Bible as a sacred "axiomatic" starting point and then go on to conclude that the cosmos is a mere 6000 years old cosmos, or that whole cosmos rotates around the Earth (geocentrism) or that the Earth is flat. In order to gain a kind of intellectual parity with the profane academic establishment the scripturalists will say that their's is an equally valid intellectual exercise, an exercise based on the same set of data protocols, but instead those protocols are accounted for by a narrative derived from a Biblical starting point, rather than a profane "secular" starting point. So they think.

It is undoubtedly true that one's world view influences how one superimposes a coherent theoretical narrative on the myriad protocol "facts" and experiences which bombard us daily. But where the scripturalists (and also many gnostics) err is in their claim that the Bible is their starting point. No; their starting point is a Western world view and not a Biblical world view - after all, they are not first century believers, they are 21st century believers and they see the Bible through a 21st century cultural lens. As the saying goes, one can't see one's cultural prisms without great effort, but rather one effortlessly sees through those prisms.  

I would propose that there are two major cultural prisms found among Western Christians through which they see the world. The background assumptions of their world view are taken for granted and in most cases are taken on-board without serious thought. Both of the topics below, which deal with material far more fundamental than fundamentalism, have been on going and relentless themes in my blogs and really I'm just summarizing what I have already said elsewhere.

The Error of Scripturalism
In evangelico-fundamentalism the Bible is taken to be literally God's Word rather being the medium or channel through which sacred meaning is quickened. The Bible is “God’s word” only in as much as it is a conduit for information about God’s personality and salvation; it is part of the divinely managed signalling medium through which revelatory information passes to the recipient and takes root in his/her psyche. As I have pointed out many times before natural language, such as we find employed in the Bible, doesn’t contain meanings; rather it solicits meaning by way of connotation. That is, it triggers meaning in the cognitive association complex of the reader, an association complex that is a function of various cognitive traits, cultural influences, and histories. But it is actually very difficult to escape a way of talking about natural language as if words literally "contain" meaning. They don't contain meaning; meaning is generated by the recipient as a result of those words impacting is his/her psyche. Psychologically speaking we are often conscious only of the cognitive output of meaning. Our conscious mind gets delivered the text packaged along with its meanings; we are in effect seeing the back end of an unconscious process rather than the front end and therefore it appears as if meanings have emerged out of the words rather than our cognitive complex generating those meanings. I often hear sermons where it is remarked that it is possible to get so much meaning out of scripture; what is in  fact happening here is that so much meaning is being put into scripture

This whole process, if it is to deliver theological truth, only has a chance of doing so if it is under immanent divine management from start to finish. Unfortunately as a rule Western Christians often have a “natural forces” vs “divine interventions” view of God’s relation to his world. They therefore find the immanence of God difficult to take on board. Because of God’s intimacy with his created order the Bible is organically jointed to the rest of creation and transmits and delivers information like any other signalling medium in God’s world.

Of course, the process of Biblical information delivery can, and clearly does, go wrong (as does any other signalling system) at any stage along the transmission line especially at the destination where interpretations are proactively generated. Therefore the Bible doesn’t deliver certainty. Trouble is, the insecure conspiracy theory touting fundamentalist mentality is liable to feel that anything less than 100% truth equates 100% error – a position which we know to be untrue. Information carrying signals need not return the statistics of certainty to convey information; e.g. we can’t be absolutely certain when we board an aircraft that it won’t be involved in a major crash, but nevertheless we consider the safety statistics of air travel to convey information about high reliability, and this we regard as useful information.

We can see that fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham is light-years away from understanding just how natural language works when he says this in one of his blogs:

Compromising Genesis with evolution and millions of years undermines the authority of the Word, because this involves taking ideas from outside of Scripture and forcing those ideas into Scripture. When they do this, Christians are making themselves (fallible man) the authority over God’s (infallible) Word! Basically we’re saying that we know more than God and that we can reinterpret and edit His Word to adjust it to man’s ideas. But a Christian should never knowingly compromise God’s Word.

What Ken fails to see is that meaning is ultimately sourced in the recipient. i.e. the reader.  Meaning doesn’t exist inside the symbols of the transmitted Biblical text: Meaning is an extrinsic property rather than an intrinsic property of the Word. As such the Word is a trigger of meaning and therefore it is fallible (wo)man that assigns meaning – but it is an infallible God who manages this highly complex process of meaning delivery. The irony for Ken Ham is that in a sense meaning always comes from the reader - that is, the profane human agent! But that agent must be rightly primed in order to make the right interpretation. Of course, I don’t expect the Ken Ham's of this world, who so often look for clear grounds to file charges of heresy, to ever understand this. Anxiety over epistemic insecurity will likely mean that fundamentalists will continue to use fallacious and extravagant claims about following scripture to the letter without compromise. Such claims are a common way in which fundamentalists parade their piety to themselves and intimidate other believers. Scripturalism is based on a false dichotomy: that is the Word as revelation vs Man's thinking: It's a false dichotomy because Scripture is a seamless part of the rest of God's creation.

Some links on the nature of language:

The God vs natural forces dichotomy 
I have aired this dichotomy many times over on this blog.  I'm of the opinion that it is the single most important covert philosophical paradigm explaining why many Christians, particularly the de facto intelligent design community, bulk at the concept of evolution. The basic idea here, I submit, goes something like this: If  "natural" law and disorder processes of physics contain sufficient information to generate life then that means natural forces did it and it follows that God  intelligence didn't do it. Therefore we want to believe that natural forces didn't do it, but instead  intelligence did it. The basic dualism underlying this thinking, thinking which sets God against the very "natural forces" he has created, becomes clear among de facto IDists who are very explicit about rejecting the possibility that "natural forces" somehow contain the informational wherewithal to evolve life. See below for a list of American continent IDists who think along on these lines

Casey Luskin: See
Kirk Durston: See
Vincent Torely: See
Gordon Mullings: See
Robert Marks: See
Cornelius Hunter: See
Luskin, Ewart and Marks: See:

See also the ill-conceived explanatory filter which is the epistemological expression of de facto ID's "intelligence-of-the-gaps" thinking:

Fundamentalists are not so strong on this dichotomy as are the IDists, because they often invoke theological paradigms to contradict evolution - such as their view on the relation of the fall to physical death. However fundamentalists also, from time to time, display this instinctive culturally based dualism. See for example fundamentalist Jason Lisle here:

That this dichotomy is fundamental to Western thought is suggested by the fact that atheists often show signs of holding to a similar paradigm. Evangelical atheists feel obliged to prove at all costs that evolution must be the outcome of known law and disorder processes; if they think they can show this then they feel justified in claiming that the origin of life dispenses with a need for God in favour of "natural forces".  Richard Dawkins, for example, has remarked that evolution allows him to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. That, I suspect, is because he views the whole question through a dualistic prism whereby the "natural forces" inherent in law and disorder explanations are contrasted over and against the old divine magical explanations where God just speaks stuff into existence with a few mighty words (Abracadabra!). So, just as de facto IDists believe that a gap in law and disorder explanations must be filled with intelligent agency, atheists, conversely, believe that in filling the gap with a "natural" law and disorder account must mean there is no need for God intelligence to have done it! The dichotomy is common to both sides of the debate!

* By law and disorder I'm referring to the two contrasting mathematical tools we have to describe the universe, namely algorithms and statistics. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Atheist "Guest" Post

As I don't have anything to post just at the moment I thought I would hand over to a "guest" poster, namely evangelical atheist P Z Myers; after all, he gets lots of hits on his blog and so he might add a bit of verve to my blog (I can live in hopes). I know I've said it before but  P Z Myers vs. The US's We-don't-do-things-by-halves Christians is one of the best cynical-wise-cracking-straight-man vs cloud-cuckoo-land-dreamer acts since Sid James and Tony Hancock! There are enough boarder-line...err...shall I call it "bizarre"...Christian ministries in the US to keep Myers wise cracking until kingdom come. Anticipating whether or not the latest kooky Christian goings-on can get Myers any more gob-smacked, outraged and derisive than he already is, is first rate humor!  So let's sit back and enjoy the show. 

I have sad news, everyone. Ken Ham has finally blocked me on Twitter, so now I’m getting all the humorous Answers in Genesis news second hand…like this glorious announcement. The Ark Park has a new exhibit! It’s a diorama showing the wicked antediluvian humans putting on gladiatorial games, with dinosaurs.

That is so damned Biblical that I think I shat out a prophet while I was laughing so hard.
Although, I have to admit that it is amazingly cinematic. Imagine how much better the gladiator scenes in HBO’s Rome or that Spartacus series would have been if they’d occasionally brought a T. rex into the arena.
It also reminds me of the fabulous (in all meanings of the word) Jim Pinkoski, he of pygmies and dwarfs fame, who invented this spectacular scene for the end of his Noah’s Ark comic book in which fallen angels mounted on dinosaurs attacked the Ark to prevent it from sailing.

Religion just means that you get to make everything up.
 My Comment: Hahahahahah! Hahahahah! Well, I suppose that's why AiG rates as a kind of Disneyesque theme park!
Myers, by the way, is not nearly as "evil" as the serious minded and humorless believers who are the subjects of his derision make out - they are identifying his criticism and, even worse, his mocking of them with criticism and mocking of God. Myers seems to be the epitome of a stable moral family man who is a critical - very critical, in fact - pillar of society. Yes he's very abrasive and he would no doubt think of someone like myself a complete and utter gumby for being a believer, but that doesn't make him a blasphemer or immoral. If anything he's doing the Christian world a service by showing what some of us cranky Christians look like from outside. He might even be an instrument of the Almighty! After all, as the saying goes, the Lord moves in mysterious ways!

By way of disclaimer: I have to admit that my version of Christianity is hardly argued from an idealistic/passion/partisan/conversion/polemical position but rather from a tentative/research/exploratory/experimental position - that to me is my interpretation of what it means to be a devout God-seeking pilgrim and not a gnosto-fundamentalist one. No wonder I'm making heavy weather of evangelicalism!

Relevant Link: