Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Evolution of Conspiracy Theorism

Roberts: a stage in the evolution of conspiracy theorism. 

The above video has being doing the rounds of late. It shows Prof Brian Cox's clash with right wing Australia senator Malcolm Roberts over climate change.  Cox presents some climate data but Roberts simply rejects it as data manipulated by NASA.  The shortened Guardian version of the clash appeared on Facebook. I shared it and added my comment as follows:

Poor old Cox is reckoning without the conspiracy theorist's mindset: conspiracy theorism allows the fanciful multiplication of any number of entities and Machiavellian players who, it claims, are systematically distorting the truth. Presenting science to conspiracy theorists doesn't work because science depends on institutions and according to the conspiracy theorist those institutions are systematically corrupt.. Christian fundamentalists are of a similar ilk.

However, I don't think Roberts is a fully-blown conspiracy theorist himself, but he has the necessary precursors - deep suspicion of the motives of a scientific institution and the public funded scientific enterprise in general. There is probably a continuum here from a fairly undeveloped prototypical form of conspiracy theorism to the fully blown version we see in David Ike for instance. I interpreted Cox's vain attempts to teach Roberts about the need for theoretical modelling as a sign that Roberts doesn't have a well formed notion about the scientific dialogue between theory and observation; my guess is that he thinks modelling is non-empirical; this modelling may be too far removed from the obvious to register as empirical in Roberts mind. I've seen a similar mistrust of the academic community's orientation toward deeply theoretical narratives among flat earth theorists who would declare that the Earth is manifestly and empirically flat. The unfortunate fact is that academia has become in the eyes of the right-wing an ivory tower elite who speak a cryptic language beyond the average true hearted citizen whose common sense engagement with the truly empirical is the measure truth - well that's how the right-wing are liable to spin it if they can - in fact watch out for Donald Trump because this is the sort of thing you might hear from his mouth. If he becomes president it could become a time of danger and persecution for the academic community. 

This episode is also an indication of how far NASA has fallen since the glory days of the Moon landings. Roberts is part of the general drift toward suspicion and conspiracy theorism with its dread of government, even Western democratic government. I'm not quite sure of the reason for this overall drift; but at least two possible reasons occur to me; 

1. In the 1980s Marxism lost the argument with free market laissez-faire economics and its concomitant individualism. We are now seeing the outworking of this free market individualism in its more libertarian extreme. This is particularly so in America where its whiggish historical traditions were helped along by the over-interference of the British government with its colony, Those otherwise good American traditions have sprung into life and have been mythologized by paranoiac right-wingers as a government vs. the individual scifi romance. 

2. Secondly, the demise of Christianity: Christianity has become increasingly intellectually marginalized (expelled even!) in the West particularly in the public academic institutions which ironically had their origins in the Western church. Christianity's all embracing world view has been replaced by...... nothing. There have been some attempts to argue that atheism is a religion in its own right, but that is not convincing except in cases where Marxism or another atheist philosophy acquires a mystical eschatological status thereby resembling religion with its sense of destiny. Otherwise atheism is more naturally described as an ideological vacuum which fails to satisfy the soul of many. Possible outcomes of this are that either the ideological vacuum grows to envelope the whole of life in a hopeless dark cloud of nihilism. or that the vacuum gets filled with the most horrible ideological demons such as some version of fundamentalism. Like parts of Islam Christianity is reacting adversely and fanatically to intellectual marginalization and in consequence finds that it naturally identifies with the "libertarian" cause and its hatred of institutionalized public funded learning.  I say this as a Christian myself; my closeness to the Christian cause may have given me an advantageous perspective on the  malaise suffered by some contemporary Christians. 


I have recently learnt of another crackpot theory that is doing the rounds, namely, the  belief that Earth's mountains are the remains of what was at one time huge silicon trees which reached the clouds. (Devil's mountain, which vaguely resembles a large cut-down tree stump, is quoted as evidence  - I wonder where the chainsaw is that cut it down!). This theory isn't worth evaluating. but it goes to show that there is a contingent of people out there who so distrust scientific institutions that they would prefer to fill their minds with weird and wonderful fantasies propagated on the internet. They no longer believe in modernist progress and the theoretical narratives that have been painstakingly put together over the course of centuries in order to be consistent with observation. This is the new protest tradition of "throw it all out and start again!". That the established scientific community could be so systematically wrong about such gross aspects of our world invites systematic theories about intentional, clandestine and deceptive error. This context is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism. 

Stuff decades of geological research! Those flat topped mountains are obviously and empirically tree stumps!

Addendum 15/9/16:

It is basic. The sun warms the earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.

I think that speaks for itself. I need say no more.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Denis Alexander: "I would suggest dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'"

Theological Dualism: The "God bits" vs.  the "Natural  forces bits":  You only need drop the "God bits" and you're an atheist. 

I'm continuing to work my way through (v. slowly)  Denis Alexander's book  "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose". Chapter 8, which is entitled "Evolutionary Creation", critiques the concept of "naturalism" (and also "methodological naturalism"), a concept which I have also criticized in this blog many times. Naturalism is the subliminally theological idea that so called "natural forces" are set over and against Divine creative "interventions". Underlying "naturalism" is, in fact, the deistic notion that the cosmos works "naturally" by itself and where God (if you believe in him) steps in on occasion to do his stuff. Perhaps I caricature just a little, but to a dualist "Evolution did it" is identical to saying "God didn't do it" and "God did it" is the same as saying "Evolution didn't do it"! This mindset readily connects with subliminal gnosto-dualism, an implicit view where God is set over an against the inferior, if not downright evil, "natural forces".

"Naturalism" as a concept is also subliminally entrenched in the de-facto Intelligent Design community's explanatory filter. This filter is actually a sound epistemic procedure if we are dealing with human or alien artifacts: Intelligent entities, although they themselves may arguably conform to the laws of physics, are nevertheless too complex a realization of physics to their make treatment from physical first principles possible and therefore their works are best treated as a separate "intelligent" category. 

But the explanatory filter is grossly flawed if used in Christian theology where a totalising all-embracing immanent God is inextricably bound up with all that passes under the created order. In short all activity in creation, theologically speaking, traces back to Divine intelligence whether by permission or proactive decree. There is really no such thing as autonomous "natural forces" unless by it one simply means those phenomena whose patterns of behavior which are tractable to the law and disorder descriptions of conventional science. In contrast, the de facto IDists find it difficult to conceive God as much more than a tinkering alien. Let me submit here a radical proposal: If manifest divine "interventions" are the main basis for belief in God you may as well drop the whole concept of God and become an atheist.

I'm not going to do justice to Alexander's account here - he really needs to be read - but he also is highly critical of "naturalism" and by implication its subliminal philosophy of dualism,. However, I will give some sample quotes from Alexander. I don't myself necessarily accept the plain neo-Darwinist ideas of the academic establishment, but I believe Alexander is right in saying that Darwin's explication of creation as a process had the ironic consequence of actually giving traction to the idea that God was immanent and active in creation. For example, Alexander quotes Aubrey Moore, a fellow of St John's College Oxford and curator of the Oxford botanical gardens  in Victorian times:

There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present  everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law...For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God. (p. 202)

What's gone wrong since then? Christian theology, at least among the de-facto IDists and fundamentalists seems to have gone backwards since the nineteenth century! The above exposes the theological naivety of trying to put the intelligence of God in a similar category to that of aliens or humans who work very much within the created order. The only thing I would want to add to the above is that like an author of a book God has different attitudes toward what he brings forth from platonic space for reification by his permissive or  proactive will.

At the very least the quote from Moore does bring out Alexander's point that evolution favored explications that moved away from deism and dualism towards a full-time rather than part-time dualist-deist God. (At this juncture we must bear in mind that there are arguments against the notion that the creation didn't initially contain death as is maintain by most fundamentalists -  see Alexander's comments here)

If I'm not careful I could end up quoting the whole of chapter 8 but here are some further samples:

This rapid baptism of evolution into the Christian doctrine of creation, so characteristic on both sides of the Atlantic, was facilitated by a strongly providential theology that emphasized the total sovereignty of God over the whole created order. (p. 203)

Given that context it's no surprise that Alexander has turned against so-called "naturalism" and  also it seems "methodological naturalism":

We don't call Christian accountants 'naturalistic' because of the absence of theological terminology as they check the company accounts, any more than we expect our doctor to use theological language when she tells us that we've got the flu, or the mechanic to refer to Biblical texts when servicing our car. The absence of specific references to God does not render our lives suddenly 'naturalistic'. Quite the opposite: Christians walking with God in the power of the Spirit will be only too aware of God's presence and leading permeating every aspect of their daily lives. Naturalism is the philosophy that there is no God in the first place, so only an atheists can provide truly naturalistic explanations for anything. 
For the same reason I would not myself use the term 'methodological naturalism' to refer to what scientists do in their research, irrespective of their own personal beliefs. .....I would therefore suggest simply dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'

But today in the West we are in reactionary gnosto-dualistic times, so I don't suppose Christians unschooled in the nuances of the sciences will be able to unthink the well entrenched dualism of God vs "Natural Forces". In its place a defensive blend of anti-science Biblical liberalism and "touch of God" gnosticsm are likely to persist in Christian fundamentalist circles as they fight a retreating rearguard action. These people are unlikely to listen to Denis Alexander or any other Christian member of the academic establishment for that matter. For the extremists that establishment is all part of the end-time satanic conspiracy!

More on the false dichotomy zone

 ...and so on and so forth!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Trump: a Favorite of Christian Fundamentalists

That many US evangelicals think Trump  is God's chosen
man to rule the most powerful nuclear armed democracy
in the world is a pretty hair raising thought. 
Apart from his thoroughly deluded cult following of racists, right wingers, patriot ultras, semi-fascists, Kluk Klux Klansman and wacko Christian fundamentalists I don't think anyone regards presidential nincompoop in waiting, Donald Trump, as a serious presidential candidate, especially in view of his recent gaffs. But some Christian fundamentalists really do think he's God's gift to America.

Evidence of an affinity between the Christian hard right and Trump surfaces in a news item appearing in the August Premier Christianity magazine. This item tells us that fundamentalist James Dobson believes Trump has been "led to Christ".  Dobson who falls in the same league as the Falwells and Pat Robertson goes on to say:

All I can tell you is that we have only  two choices, Hilary and Donald. Hillary  scares me to death'

The article also says that:

 ...the president of of Liberty university, Jerry Falwell Junior and broadcaster Max Lucado have voiced support [for Trump]. ... Mr Trump recently appointed an evangelical advisory board, on which Dr Dobson and 24 other Christians sit.

So, the link between an incompetent quasi-fascist presidential candidate and Christian fundamentalists is further confirmed; they clearly have like minds.  It scares me to death that Dobson, Falwell and Lucado et al aren't scarred to death by Trump: It all goes to show that being a Christian doesn't guarantee discernment in spite of  fundamentalist self-belief in being privy to the counsels of the Divine. Although the Christianity article does say that not all evangelicals support Trump this connection between Trump and evangelicalism is testament to how lacking in self-criticism and how culturally run down some versions  of US Christianity have become. 

Further evidence of the link between Trump and fundamentalist Christianity comes from another fundamentalist source, namely Dr Michael Brown whose newsletters I receive (Not because I support Brown but because I like to keep an eye on fundamentalism). Brown is not the most extreme of fundamentalists himself - although still pretty extreme in my books - but his news is revealing. For according to Brown (My emphasis):

Ever since Donald Trump began to surge as a candidate last year, Christians have been pointing to the book of Isaiah and comparing Trump with the ancient Persian king Cyrus. Some have even claimed that God has revealed to them that He will use Trump for the good of America just as He used Cyrus for the good of the Jewish people, even though Cyrus was a “pagan” king.

To be fair Brown doesn't agree with these views himself although he doesn't condemn Trump. Brown, however, does otherwise hold extreme right-wing political views: As an indication of the latter,  we find Brown in another web article telling us it is possible that Trump's buffoonery is God's way of ensuring Democratic victory; Why? This is not because Brown supports the Democrats; far from it in fact. What follows is Brown's opinion of why he thinks the Democrats are being let in by God (My emphases): 

     To me the message would be clear: Despite President Obama’s radical policies, policies which have directly (and, for the most part, quite negatively) affected our families and our freedoms, the Church in America is still largely asleep, still largely oblivious to our nation’s steep moral and spiritual decline, still largely unaware of the perilous situation in which we find ourselves in the world today.
     The bad news is that a Hillary presidency would mean divine judgment on a sleeping Church and a sinning nation.
     The good news is that, with true repentance, that judgment could become a mercy, provided that we wake up.
     The best news is that the elections are still three months off and we can wake up today, asking God to have mercy on our land, getting out of our self-satisfied complacency, and praying for the Lord to turn us in the right direction without the help of His smiting rod.
     Obviously, I can only offer these thoughts as spiritual surmisings, also recognizing that the Lord has no political affiliation and that there is good and bad in each party. And whoever our next president is, that person will be my president and I will pray for him or her.
    My hope, though, is that the thought of Trump being raised up to pave the way for Hillary, all for the purpose of divine judgment, would provoke us to a greater sense of prayerful urgency. It is certainly called for today.

It is quite possible that as he wrote the above the issues of homosexuality, Obama care and even gun control were in Brown's head. In common with other fundamentalists Brown's mind is full of judgement, damnation and holy vengeance.   He regards the whole business of Trump as a wake up call to the sleeping right wing of Christian America who must rise up against the devil Democrats else come under judgement themselves! I am actually familiar with this kind of fundamentalist response when the drift of a nation or a church goes against their views - they believe the nation or church to be worthy of the most severe judgement by God. I personally have seen this kind of angry fundamentalist taste for judgment  in church contexts. Their moral compass is such that they see it as highly moral to express righteous anger and look for judgement if there is no submissive acquiescence to their theological views. Like other fundies Brown is all too ready to read wickedness into the behavior of both believers and unbelievers if that behaviour doesn't suite him (See footnote for another example *1).

Brown also provides a window on just how extreme some US Christian fundamentalists get in their opinion of Barak Obama:

    Is it true that a Hebrew prophecy about Barack Obama is hidden in the words of Jesus in Luke 10:18, where He said to His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”?
     Although this claim has been circulating for a number of years, I was asked about it again today, prompting this article.
     The short answer is: Absolutely, categorically, certainly not. This is complete nonsense, without any possible linguistic support.
     The claim goes like this: 1) Although Luke wrote in Greek, Jesus was speaking in Hebrew, so we must translate Luke’s Greek back into the original Hebrew; 2) the Hebrew word for lightning is baraq; 3) the Hebrew word for “high place” is bama; 4) in some cases there would be a u before the word bama (like the u in tube); 5) putting this together, Jesus would have spoken about baraq ubama, equating him with Satan.
     To repeat: This is complete nonsense, without any possible linguistic support, but since this claim is still in circulation, I’ll take a few moments to demolish it.

To his credit Brown condemns this fanciful rubbish:

    That being said, if you want to have some fun with the president’s name, then try this on for size: When you rearrange the letters for President Barack Obama you end up with An Arab Backed Imposter.
     As ridiculous as this is (and of course, it’s just plain silly), it’s infinitely more plausible than is the completely absurd, not to mention impossible, reconstruction of Luke 10:18 to yield a secret reference to Barack Obama, one in which he is connected to Satan himself.
     To be sure, internet myths die a prolonged and painful death, but I’m hoping that this one can be snuffed out once and for all right here.

Woe betide you if you are a Christian and you disagree with these people - they will probably regard you as fighting on the side of Satan! In their books appeal to the Divine Grace in Christ is futile unless you eat out of their doctrinaire hand!

Although Brown is anxious to distance himself from some of these extremes his evidence has grave implications: It  shows that in spite of the testimony of some Christians about how God guides their thinking the above subverts the thought that God works personally in peoples lives. Many apparently devout fundamentalists are living in a fanciful world of paranoia and conspiracy theorism, a world that qualitatively is not that much different from that of David Ike.The whole episode reflects extremely badly on Christian testimony and its persuasive power is correspondingly compromised.

*1 For example, see a blog post by fundamentalist Jason Lisle entitled "Deep Time - the god of our age  and dated 9/11/12 Lisle, like a good inquisitor stuffs blasphemies in the mouths of Christians who don't agree with his Young Earthism. He then uses this as a pretext to call down Divine censor upon them.