Monday, June 19, 2017

Fundamentalism's Pantomime Villains

Haha! David Ashley does an excellent job of playing a pantomime baddie

I've recently had another encounter on Facebook that's worth recording and should be set against my two recent Facebook related postings: Viz: The flat earth new age conspiracy theorists and a fundamentalist's response to the London Bridge terrorist atrocity. Particularly relevant is the latter post as it concerned an American fundamentalist's rage over the UK treatment of Muslims - this fundamentalist blamed the UK as a whole for the recent Islamic terrorist attacks and therefore felt justified in showing no sympathy whatever; it would seem that nothing less than a draconian clamp down on  Muslims, as a class, would satisfy this person.

I think its safe to say that Christian fundamentalists, as do all fundamentalists,  have a strong sense of an us vs them identity and this is linked to the belief that those beyond the pale habitually habour malign motives and are therefore fully worthy of the kind fundamentalist ire and censorship such as we see, for example, coming from Ken Ham.  As wiki says fundamentalists in general have: 

....a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

It is easy to imagine how, if plausible scriptural warrant can be constructed, this attitude to outsiders readily translates into legitimizing the killing of "outgroupers". Fortunately, as I have said before, even Christian fundamentalists are hard put to it to find chapter and verse in the New Testament justifying the homicide of outgroupers*. However, the fact is Islam does have both Koranic texts and traditions which are easily interpreted as justification for carrying out a holy war upon infidels. In the book "The World's Religions" the Editor Sir Norman Anderson wrote the chapter on Islam and in a section entitled "Jihad" he writes (My emphasis):

One more religious duty (other than the Five Pillars) deserves notice: the duty of Jihad or Holy War. It is incumbent in general on all Muslims who are adult, male and free to answer any legally valid summons to war against the infidels; and he who dies in a Jihad is a martyr and assured of paradise. The Jihad, with the fanatical courage it evokes, has been by no means been limited to the  inception of Islam and its possible relevance for the future can scarcely be ignored. The matter is greatly complicated, however, by the question as to when such a summons can be regarded as legally valid. From the earliest times Muslims have divided the world into Dar al-Islam, where Islam reigns supreme, and Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War), where the rule of Islam should be extended, if necessary by war. Polytheists were given the option of conversion or death, while the People of the Book (Jews or Christians) were given the additional alternative of submission and tribute.  Of recent years the question has arisen, however, as to whether a country which has once been Dar al-Islam but has subsequently fallen under a non-Muslim government is to be regarded as having lapsed into Dar al-Harb. The majority view seems to be that Jihad may be proclaimed only by that lawful Caliph - or, presumably, by the Mahdi whom even Sunni Muslims expect; that it is lawful only in Dar al-Harb; that a once Muslim country does not lapse into Dar al-Harb as soon as it passes into the hands of infidels, but only “when all or most of the injunctions of Islam disappear therefrom”; and that it is in all cases essential that there should be “a possibility of victory for the army of Islam”. 

But in spite of all that  ...and here is the big "but" is very unwise if Christians, motivated by a indulgent desire to secure the moral high-ground, try to hold Muslims to these belligerent interpretations and traditions as if that is how a true Muslim should behave! No! Rather, Christians must encourage peaceable Muslims who wish to re-interpret their texts and traditions in less bellicose terms. In any case there is no reason for Christians to feel smug on this point:  After all, the history of Christianity in the West is littered with bad interpretations of the Bible: Leaving aside the excesses of the Middle ages we only need look at contemporary times with its surfeit of spiritual pathologies found among some Christians: Viz: anti-science doctrines (young earthism, geocentrism, flat earth etc), anti-modern medicine doctrines, fideism, gnosticism, conspiracy theorism, authoritarianism, and worst of all cultic sectarianism.  All the Christians who subscribe to such ideas will make loud claims to them being based on their "plain reading" of the Bible. There is a hankering among them for an easily read unambiguous literalism. This means that they find it hard to accept that the Bible is a book which in God's sovereign purpose clearly reflects the philosophy and world view of the writers and this must be factored in when interpreting the Bible. Needless to say, for the fundamentalists who seek epistemic short cuts to certainty this nuanced approach to the Bible is far too slippery and yields too ambiguous results for them to feel comfortable with it.

Now, let me get back to this latest Facebook encounter. I'm a member of a Facebook discussion group and the subject under discussion was Islamic terrorism; understandably enough in the light of recent events in the UK. I made a comment trying to express briefly some of the things I've mentioned above; in particular that Christians like myself aren't really in position to be overly morally smug towards Muslims. Below is my initial comment which was made in response to someone I shall refer to as "Bert Board". Unfortunately I've lost Bert's initial comment which proposed that Islamic terrorism has its roots in the Koran and explains why I replied with the following comment:

Timothy V Reeves Christian fundamentalism is also implicit in the Bible (Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion etc) but it very much depends on the prior concepts one brings to the Bible and scripture in general (the latter includes the Koran) in order to interpret it. e.g. whether or not one sees it as "once for all complete" (= fundamentalism) or part of a developing revelation. This matter actually links to "Aumann's" theorem which requires common priors. The "priors" are organically rooted in a huge hinterland of concept networking.

Well, I can see now that that statement is far too cryptic and entails too much background work for it to be really illuminating. But far worse it has all the cues which are likely to trigger the ire of any anti-Muslim Christian fundamentalist whose black vs white outgroup vs ingroup social paradigm is at stake. As it turned out "Bert Board" replied, but so brief was the encounter that I was left unsure whether or not he was arguing from a fundamentalist base. Interestingly he appeared to be taking the line I've already mentioned, namely that Muslim's are supposed to acquiesce to being cast into the role of behaving belligerently to infidels; i.e. as a class Muslims are the villain of the piece . In order to prove his point Bert tried to employ a toy town rendition of logic which uses the old trick of attempting to force the opposing interlocutor to choose between two options of a false dichotomy. Here  are Bert's comments:

Bert Board: Islam is a religion... Christianity is not a religion (Christ is the most anti-religious figure ever, so Christianity is NOT tribal).... (now figure out the priors for that one Timothy!).

When you refer to Christian fundamentalism... all you mean is for one to take the Bible seriously... (by the way the Bible does not maintain that the earth is flat...the Bible refers to the earth as round... it also refers to the Sun's orbit; which in fact the Sun does do every 27,000 years around the centre of our galaxy).

I love pantomime villains: Just looking 
at this guy gets me in stitches!
And looked at scientifically there is not much really wrong theoretically with Young Earth, i.e. Young Universe, etc.... Relativity suggests that the universe can be both 6 days old AND 14 billion years old...

(Notice that in my post I have responded to each of your issues, i.e. Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion, so, we should therefore now concentrate on terrorism being implicit in Islam....otherwise you are simply semantic goal-post shifting).

Bert Board:  OK Timothy let's examine "fundamentalist priors" to reveal yours...

Doing this is simple and will eventually link to the concept of "Terrorism".

In order to do this we first consider 2 fundamental propositional priors:

1/ A just god cannot forgive unjust behaviour.
2/ An unjust god can forgive unjust behaviour.

Which proposition characterises the Christian prior and the Islamic prior?

Let me say straight away I usually avoid discussing with fundamentalists unless there is obviously something to be gained by doing so. As I saw little of any use emerging from this particular discussion I unleashed my answer to Gish Gallop: Viz Cognitive Carpet Bombing: This strategy involves using so many web links on the subject that the fundamentalist is unwilling to handle them; they are more likely to just go away, sullenly sulking about my heretical error. But more productively it also acts as a way of reviewing and recapitulating my own work, so really I must admit it's rather self-indulgent. In this particular case here's how I responded:

Timothy V Reeves That’s just superficial, simplistic and silly, as I hope will become clear to you in the fullness of time. Human minds don’t work using that kind of toy-town imperative logic with its simple class connections. Viz: “A then !B” and “!A then B”. Actual cognitive class connections look more like the first Venn diagram you can see in the paper I’ve linked to below (Except  that they are much more complicated and have fuzzy boundaries):

We need to take into account that natural language is less notational in operation than it is connotational. I’ve attempted the beginnings of a theory of connotation here:

Your toy town logic leads nowhere: Until you define terms like “just” your “logic” is a dead-end. If you do attempt to define it you will quickly find that you have pitched yourself into the complex world of human cognitive association.

Timothy V Reeves: But let’s start at the beginning.

Firstly I’m a Christian on the edge of evangelical Christianity.  This means that I agree with this statement of yours:

QUOTE Christianity is not a religion (Christ is the most anti-religious figure ever, so Christianity is NOT tribal). UNQUOTE

But…and here’s the big but….only if practiced rightly. For me the word “Fundamentalism” has all the connotations of an aberrant religious caricature of Christianity. Straightaway I can rule out this statement of yours:

QUOTE When you refer to Christian fundamentalism... all you mean is for one to take the Bible seriously UNQUOTE

No! Take an evangelical Christian like scientist Denis Alexander. He takes the Bible very seriously but does not, in my books, classify as a “fundamentalist”. (The same applies to the scientists of the Christian Faraday institute). For more about Denis Alexander see here:

Timothy V Reeves: Fundamentalism is 2 parts attitude to 1 part doctrine. This means that biblical literalism isn’t sufficient to qualify one as fundie. A case in point is young earthist Paul Nelson. Paul Nelson gets a mention by evangelical broadcaster Hank Hanegraaff here:

Now contrast that with the highly partisan sectarian exclusivism and didactic authoritarianism of fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham:

…not to mention his ex-business partner John Mackay:

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE By the way the Bible does not maintain that the earth is flat...the Bible refers to the earth as round... it also refers to the Sun's orbit; which in fact the Sun does do every 27,000 years around the centre of our galaxy) UNQUOTE

Remember, natural language is connotational and therefore when we read the Bible we do well to bear in mind what the language we are reading connoted to the people of the time.  As one of my missionary friends says “Meaning = text + context” where “context” is the culture in which the text is embedded.  Even in our own language “orbit” has a variety of connotations let alone going back a few thousand years to a pre-industrial, pre- scientific culture. See here:

Please tell me that you’re not tapping into this kind of literalist junk theology:

If you are a fundamentalist Bert (and I hope to God you’re not) then take up your flat earth argument with other fundies who will disagree with you, not with me: I don’t get involved in inter-fundamentalist arguments. Here’s a taster for the sort of thing you are likely to encounter:

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE And looked at scientifically there is not much really wrong theoretically with Young Earth, i.e. Young Universe, etc.... Relativity suggests that the universe can be both 6 days old AND 14 billion years old... UNQUOTE

You wouldn’t be referring to Jason Lisle’s “Last Thursdayist” cosmology by any chance? See here:

Even worse is fundamentalist astronomer John Byle. See here:

I’ll hand it to fundamentalist Russ Humphreys; when he came up with his gravitational field theory of cosmology he at least committed himself to a scientific program. He failed of course and so back came the “Last Thursdayist” fundamentalists!

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE Notice that in my post I have responded to each of your issues, i.e. Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion, so, we should therefore now concentrate on terrorism being implicit in Islam....otherwise you are simply semantic goal-post shifting. UNQUOTE

Fundamentalists of all kinds are alienated cultural vandals and there is a commonality between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism. I have a field of research before me that involves probing into the fundamentalist psyche whether it be so-called Christian or Islamic. So tough luck Bert, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.


Summing up
After a comment promising he would get back to me it seems that the heat in the Kitchen was too great for Bert and he took my advice: He deleted his account (or made it invisible) and took all my comments, which were added as a reply to his comments, into oblivion - or so he might have thought; it's standard practice with me to get copies of the discussions I'm involved with straight away.

I'm well used to dealing with fundamentalist anti-science which we've all seen before - yawn! (although to be fair in such a brief contact I wasn't sure whether Bert was simply acting as devil's advocate for Christian fundamentalists). But what was really notable in this particular case is the use of the anti-Muslim line which is determined to cast Muslims into the pantomime bad guy, whether they are that way inclined or not, by drawing attention to traditions and texts which to the literal minded are easily interpreted as injunctions to achieve religious goals by force. I have noted this idiot approach to Muslims before: See the reference to a Jeremiah J Johnson here. But why try and push all Muslims into such a role when the majority who have lives in the West are likely to want peace and prosperity. A far more discerning, intelligent, nuanced and civilized concept of human villainy is needed. Reality is more complex and intractable than our caricatures and models render it. 

* But some Christian fundamentalists are not far from highly bellicose thinking. See the two Christian fundamentalist pastors I mention in this post.  Also, I remember long ago listening to a Christian fundamentalist who, on the basis of Old Testament references, was advocating the return of the death penalty. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

What's Gone Wrong?

The Copernican cosmos as promoted by Thomas Digges in the 16th Century

During a BBC Horizon program on the Stars historian of science Stephen Pumphrey of Lancaster University said that the Copernican Solar System was the beginning of both a scientific and social revolution in as much as it heralded a profound shift in humanity's perception of its place in the universe. To support his point Pumphrey quoted  two lines of a poem by John Donne (1573-1631). This poem was called An Anatomy of the World. Below I quote the latter quarter of the poem and this contains the quotes used by the Pumphrey; these I have emphasized in bold

Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.
Then, as mankind, so is the world's whole frame
Quite out of joint, almost created lame,
For, before God had made up all the rest,
Corruption ent'red, and deprav'd the best;
It seiz'd the angels, and then first of all
The world did in her cradle take a fall,
And turn'd her brains, and took a general maim,
Wronging each joint of th'universal frame.
The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
Both beasts and plants, curs'd in the curse of man.
So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world's condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund'red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ'd that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world's sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum'd the East;
Whose having breath'd in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin'd from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this, 

Pumphrey puts his quotes firmly in the context the Copernican revolution,  I have to confess that I find poetry difficult to read and so I'll have to take Pumphrey's word for it that these lines are allusions to the Copernican revolution, for revolution it definitely was. Pumphrey also implies that the medieval thought form "As-above-so-below" meant that Copernicus had help clear the way for a social revolution and not just a scientific one. It was the start of a history of scientific endeavor that in stages removed humanity from its Ptolemaic place of being centre stage, the focus of the Cosmos, to apparently - and I stress "apparently" - a mere incidental side show in the great Cosmic perspective.  For many the new philosophy no longer made sense and so in this context the lines: "And new philosophy calls all in doubt,...Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,..." are very appropriate. 

My understanding of the final quarter of Donne's poem is that it starts by lamenting the fall of humanity and the consequent corruptions it lead to; if I'm reading Donne right then included in this wide ranging field of corruption is the discomfiture generated by the Copernican revolution; that is, he appears to see Copernicanism as an outcome of the fall!

One coping strategy, when faced with difficult truths, is, of course, to go into denial; We can see this in the anti-science of the Christian Fundamentalists who in some cases have gone so far as too revert to the cosy stage-set of a geocentric cosmos. (See also here, here, here and here)

But things are even worse than that; we've already seen on this blog how some Christian fundamentalists are going even further and are turning to flat earth theory. When this happens flat earthists necessarily explicitly employ conspiracy theorism in order to give account of how the scientific establishment could be so systematically deceived (or deceiving!). Now, what is interesting is that flat-earth conspiracy theorism is not the exclusive domain of Christian fundamentalists, but, it seems, it is part of much more general anti-establishment malaise. Evidence for this has recently come to light on my Facebook account where one of my friends leans toward new-age ideas. I have been vaguely aware that there are new-age conspiracy theorists out there and moreover I knew that my Facebook friend, if not and out and out conspiracy theorist, was drawn toward conspiracy theorism. This came apparent when he announced on Facebook that some flat earth postings had caught his interest. In his  subsequent FB posts which stimulated a lively debate, I was not sure whether he was trying to troll his friends or whether he was seriously countenancing flat earth theory: I came to the conclusion that he was rather intellectually blown-away by flat earth apologetics as he hadn't seen it before, but he kept up the demeanor of a troll in order to hedge his bets.

Below I publish  posts from my friend (whom I shall call "Frank Saucepan") and two other Facebook users who reacted to my friend's provocative posts and who also had new-age and conspiracy theorist sympathies:

Frank Saucepan: I have to say this 'flat earth' business has seriously got my attention!
Johnny Duckpond: There are no photos of a globe earth only composites no video footage from any of the supposed 25000 satellites I'm not a flat earther but you gotta question that shit! … I've decided to believe nothing until it's proved! I want to say it's round but then there's this 😏 not sure it's exactly the right one but check it out. Remember this deception has been going on for hundreds of years so well ingrained into popular culture. I'm just looking at all the evidence on everything & it's only becoming obvious that there are some major lies going on, I'm not sure of all the answers but I'd rather say I don't know than trust what I know to be bullshit!
Frank Saucepan: Yep! Flat earth, globe. Can't say I'm 100% on either. One thing I can say is I know we've been lied to on so many layers on many topics
Frank Saucepan: I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

In response to some video taken from the space station Johnny, who seems to be a full blown conspiracy theorist, responding as follows to critics of flat earth:

Johnny Duckpond: Like I said, prove that's real! My posts are tests you can do yourself. Don't know about you but I can only just afford a flight to Portugal this year. Get the point? It's total crap fabricated by idiots, NASA. If you sincerely believe that to be real Eta then I'm simply lost for words buddy!!!

Between them Frank and Johnny stimulated a large number of thread comments, by and large hostile to flat earthism, I'm glad to say. However, I couldn't quite dispel the feeling that Frank was pulling everyone's leg, but then again his leaning toward new-age antiestablishmentarianism and conspiracy theorism sets him up for a belief in flat-earthism.

I could't resist joining the fray by responding to one of Frank's threads which he apologetically headed as:

Frank Saucepan: All I did was say this flat earth business has caught my interest!
Timothy V Reeves It caught mine too, but it only works if you add huge dollops of conspiracy theorism. But conspiracy theorism has inner contradictions: Once you believe conspiracy theory A you can always find conspiracy theory B which explains conspiracy theory A as a product of a conspiracy of deception. In short conspiracy theorism completely phux-up any attempt to arrive at the truth. Any so called "truth" arrived at via conspiracy theory A is easily undermined by conspiracy theory B. Here's a video showing how easy it is to invent fanciful but plausible conspiracy theories :  [This was a link to the clever Star Wars tongue in cheek conspiracy - unfortunately the sound track has been copyrighted]
Timothy V Reeves See also:
Timothy V Reeves And this:
Johnny Duckpond: Kent Hovind the Creationist? Anti Evolutionist?
Timothy V Reeves: Among fundamentalists irony piles on irony
Johnny Duckpond: I'm neither but simply looking for the truth & it certainly isn't in the mainstream! I don't think it's in scripture either but somewhere in between the lies of mainstream & metaphor of scriptures ( all scriptures ) as a lot can be contrived over several thousand years of indoctrination & tradition! Only a few have eyes to see...
Timothy V Reeves: So what's your take on "flat earth"?
Johnny Duckpond: It's an interesting concept personally I can't prove it either way but I don't ' Believe ' it is flat. I also don't believe what NASA showed us is real in fact I know it isn't real n that is a fact. What earth looks like I don't know.
Timothy V Reeves: So do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators etc etc are all lying in unison? That sounds like quite a sweeping catch all theory in itself! If you can't believe anything why even believe that?

In response to that I got some come-back from an all-out Flat-Earther and "NASA is fake news" conspiracy theorist:

Johnson Kaputski: I don't see flat earth as a conspiracy theory. Was Plato a conspiracy theorist?? Anything that doesn't confirm to the religion of science is conspiracy.. talk about anything not given in text books or presented by mainstream media and you are a crackpot. So many lies told to so many fools... me included...
Timothy V Reeves Plato didn't have satellites, aircraft, sophisticated navigation, radar etc etc all technologies that to work take into account the curvature of the earth. Moreover do you think that NASA, ESA, the Chinese, the Russians, map makers and numerous satellite operators, aircraft software writers etc etc are all lying in unison? If so then that sounds like quite a sweeping catch-all-theory in itself! To imagine that such organisational feats are possible is a highly theoretical stance that surpasses the relatively simple abstractions entailed in spherical Earth theory.
Timothy V Reeves PS: The Greeks were the first to propose a spherical Earth theory. So Plato likely believed in a spherical Earth.

Shortly afterwards Kaputski deleted his entry and my replies went with it. I've been in half a mind to reinstate it on Frank's thread, but perhaps that would be too nasty.

In someways Frank succinctly summed up his take on antiestablishmentarianism when he posted:

Frank Saucepan:  I believe the 'Truth' is ultimately defined by the level of acceptance that the individual is willing to adopt. For me, I'm on the journey of accepting that maybe, just perhaps my entire life has been lead by corrosive and corrupt minds of maniacs

I think Frank is serious! He has absolutely no trust or respect for the system that has educated him. But there may be an inconsistency in Frank's thinking: It is unlikely that the corrupt minds of a set of maniacs could be coherent, coordinated and disciplined enough to wrought such a huge systematic deception!


So just what has gone wrong with our Western education? Why do we have Christian fundies and new-agers  who  are so disaffected as to totally despise the educational institutions of their societies? The difficulties that the human spirit has with anchoring its soul in a post Ptolemaic cosmos probably has something to do with it, as Stephen Pumphrey has implied: Copernicanism had an inherent tendency to eventually subvert any notion that the cosmos is some kind of cosy stage set.  Thomas Digges (1546-1595) was among the first to start subverting the old order, although he retained a spiritual perspective on the meaning of it all:

"This orb of stars fixed infinitely up extends itself in altitude spherically, and therefore immovable the palace of felicity garnished with perpetual shining glorious lights innumerable, far excelling over [the] sun both in quantity and quality the very court of celestial angels, devoid of grief and replenished with perfect endless joy, the habitacle for the elect."

But I think the antiestablishmentarianism I'm talking about here is fairly recent. Whilst spiritual hope existed alongside post Ptolemaic science it seems that faith and trust remained largely intact. But now, of course Western societies teeter in the brink of noetic nihilism, a nihilism which in some cases even denies the reality of human consciousness and promotes the notion that life is ultimately empty of meaning apart from some self-defined fickle subjective goals.  If that is what some educators are trying to teach us it is no surprise that some reject the whole caboodle.*

* Let's assume we operate the epistemic filter I described here and in time arrive at a full law and disorder (L&D) description of the Cosmos. Could we then claim that the job of science is complete and has furnished us with a full solution as to the nature of the Cosmos? Very doubtful: Firstly it is conceivable that more than one L&D scheme will join the dots of data, or that further "data compression" could take place in terms of a more succinct L&D scheme. But more philosophically profound is the question as to whether L&D constitutes a complete explanation at all; after all, in the final analysis it's mere flat description; useful, yes, but it only addresses part of the intuitive sense of mystery.  For some mentalities, however, this may feel enough; full explanation in terms of L&D dispels all their curiosity; mystery solved! But for other mentalities (myself included) who feel that only purposeful, teleological and personality based explanation stands a chance of  addressing mystery the job of explanation is only just starting. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sabotaging Christianity

Howls of laughter could be heard coming from the readers of the blog Panda's Thumb after they had read an article on the Christian fundamentalist web site Answers in Genesis. (Follow the links from the Panda's Thumb post here). The tongue-in-cheek title of Panda's blog post was telling:

Don't let me catch any of you heretics claiming that creation was 10,000 years ago!

The AiG article which was the subject of so much (understandable) derision was a stern authoritarian piece explaining why anyone believing the Earth to be as much as 10,000 years old (rather than AiG's clipped figure of 6000 years) was in danger of compromising their faith! The language used by the author of the article would no doubt please his boss Ken "Hell and Hamnation" Ham. Here's a sample taken from the article (my emphases):

Naturally, this [That is, the 10,000 year view] calls into question the integrity and accuracy of the Bible in Genesis 5, Genesis 11, 1 Chronicles 1, Luke 3, and others—which makes this a serious biblical authority issue. It would call into question the majority of accounts where fathers and sons are discussed as overlapping in the text too. If you can’t trust the Bible in the area of genealogies, then why trust it anywhere? This would be a dangerous step toward unbelief, especially if taught to unsuspecting children.

When you leave open the possibility for the earth to be 10,000 years old, you are suggesting that God erred in numerous places in the Bible. My humble [!!!!] suggestion is to be more precise based on the biblical data that is given. It is better to “err” on the side of Scripture than the side of sinful, fallible man’s ideas about the past.

Don’t let the world influence you to doubt the genealogies and chronological data in the Bible. 

Like so many of the fifth-rate articles appearing on AiG's web site it's just not worth spending too much time exposing this article's numerous fallacies. Suffice to point out here that the article in question indulges in the usual fundamentalist practice of stuffing its twisted logic into the mouths of other Christians in order to secure charges of compromise and even heresy. But here the target isn't Christian evolutionists or atheists but instead a group of Christians who one might think would be the natural allies of AiG. But no! Under Ken Ham AiG has become so authoritarian and controlling  that it is even determined to kick into line other fundamentalists. It attempts to do this by using its usual turn of spiritually intimidating language; even these Christian are being firmly placed by Ham's organisation into the category of compromising heretics. As I've implied before fundamentalist vs. fundamentalist slanging matches are  the natural outworking of fundamentalist logic.

In the past I've accused AiG of being highly sectarian and partisan, but I think it's fair to say that this latest article borders on the cultic. But really this ought to be no surprise; AiG boss Ken Ham sets a fine example of how to holy bad mouth people who don't obey his teaching the Bible. Of course, to the readers of Panda's Thumb this behavior is all but indistinguishable from the many crack-pot Christian sects and cults which litter the Western world, especially in the US.

However, it's worth comparing AiG's line on the age of the Earth with the view taken by fundamentalists Whitcomb and Morris in their book The Genesis Flood, a book which helped to trigger the young earthist revival of the 1960s. My 1974 copy of this book has an appendix on page 474 which is entitled Genesis 11 and the Date of the Flood. This appendix talks about the Genesis genealogical lists, lists used by fundamentalists for estimating the age of the Earth.  In that appendix we can read the following:

Another reason for questioning Ussher's chronology for Genesis 11 is the evidence that not all the post diluvian patriarchs are listed in our present Hebrew text.... p475

If the strict chronology interpretation of Genesis 11 is correct, all the postdiluvian patriarchs, including Noah, would still have been living when Abram was fifty years old; three of those who were born  before the earth was divided (Shem, Shelah and Eber) would have actually outlived  Abram; and Eber, the father of Peleg, not only would have outlived Abram, but would have lived for two years after Jacob arrived in Mesopotamia to work for Laban!.....On the face of it, such a situation would seem astonishing, if not almost incredible. p477 seems that the strict chronology view must be set aside in order to allow for the deaths of these patriarchs long before the time of Adam. p478

Whitcomb and Morris develop the thesis that there is enough latitude in the Genesis genealogies to stretch the limit on the age of the Earth beyond archbishop Usher's seventeenth century estimate of 6000 years. 

Summing up their Biblical researches Whitcomb and Morris conclude:

A careful study of the Biblical evidence leads us to conclude that the Flood may have occurred as much as three to five thousand years before Abraham. p489

So, if we take this three to five thousand year window and assume a thousand years between creation and flood, then given that Abram lived about 4000 years ago Whitcomb and Morris effectively return an estimate for the age of the Earth between 8000 and 10,000 years old. By Ken Ham's standards that sounds pretty heretical to me!


It is quite possible that the authoritarian, bordering on cultic character of Answers in Genesis is down to its head personality Ken Ham. He gives every impression of being a very unreasonable and uncompromising character. For example, when Biologos offered to meet Ken over a friendly meal he refused; after all, what have the sons of Belial to do with the sons of righteousness! The story behind this occasion can be found on Ham's blogs here:

The response to Biologos' friendly overtures was delivered through one of Ken's mouth pieces (my emphasis):

Dr. Haarsma’s intent to dialogue with us (and as also expressed by others at BioLogos) is for the purpose to try to show Christians that we can all agree to disagree. We will not, however, send out such a kumbaya message. (Though we would certainly welcome Dr. Haarsma to tour our Creation Museum, as we would [Gavin]; if they have not yet visited, they may not know how the entire museum points to Christ and is highly evangelistic.) Biblical authority matters deeply to us, and we will not pretend to be conciliatory towards those who already know our position and yet clearly want to reinterpret the plain reading of Genesis to match fallible human opinion held by the scientific majority—which is a dangerous hermeneutic.

It is possible (but by no means likely) that when Ken Ham leaves AiG a change of leadership could usher in a more reasonable regime. Although a new leader would likely still vigorously promote a 6000 year old Earth (s)he just might have more respect for other points of view, Christian and atheist. But while the cultic Ham, friend of the religious crank John MacKay, is in charge this won't happen. We should bear in mind that most if not all cults are initially seeded by strong uncompromising self-believing personalities (e.g. Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Ron L Hubbard, David Berg, David Koresh, Noel Stanton etc) who surround themselves with 'Yes' men. A self perpetuating bureaucracy is then set up which is liable to perpetuate the uncompromising didactism of the founder.

AiG desperately needs regime change and Quantum Non-Linearity urges all reasonable young earthists to do what they can to marginalize Ken Ham and his friend John MacKay.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

That the debate over de-facto intelligent design has, in some quarters, solidified into the false dichotomy of "Intelligence vs Natural forces" on both sides of the debate is evidenced by this post from IDist in chief Barry Arrington entitled Astonishing Things Materialist Say. I reproduce the content of the post below:

Sev muses:
The problem for creationists is that positing an intelligence that is able to create life out of inanimate materials is to claim that life can be created out of non-living materials. The question then becomes, if it’s possible at the hands of a creator then why not through natural causation?
Hmmm.  The space station exists.  Just why couldn’t it have been built by blind purposeless natural causes?  I suppose the analogy is not really fair, because the nano-technology displayed in even the most simple life makes the space station look like a tinker toy.

 As a Christian I have no a priori problems over  the introduction of intelligence into the ultimate origins debate. However, as I've made clear in this blog I believe the de facto IDists have really made a pig's ear of it. See here and here. I would like to suggest that the operation of intelligence and "natural causation" are, as in the human mind, well and truly of a piece.

Addendum 13/04/17
Further polarised  dualism can be seen in a post by IDist Gordon Mullings on:


For them, [evolutionists] NOTHING is too difficult for evolution or blind random natural processes!

Since they do not believe in God, anything & everything that exists, even if can’t be explained, is still thought to have come into existence by pure random natural processes – including their own thoughts (Now there’s a thought to chew on for a while! – heh:)

...once again we have the "random natural processes" vs "intelligence of the gaps" dichotomy.
In answer to the atheist world view Mullings uses ID's clunky explanatory filter, a clumsy epistemic algorithm that requires repeated and separate evocations rather than one filter that does the whole job. The clunkiness of ID’s epistemic filter is plain in the way one needs to re-apply it n-times in order for it to work. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it was satisfactorily shown that life evolved. Using de facto ID's epistemic filter one would then conclude that “natural forces did it”.  But the de facto IDist can’t really concede defeat at this point and therefore must apply the filter again but this time to the higher level physical regime that has generated life. The same thing happens again if it should prove that the physical regime has an outer physical regime which explains it and so on. This n times invocation of the filter suggested to me that some kind of recursive filter should be adopted rather than this repeated resubmission of the same filter.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Evolution: So, its mechanism(s) is not a fact!

The above video was posted on Sandwalk, the blog of evangelical atheist Larry Moran, biochemistry prof at Toronto university. In it James Downard defines evolution simply as this:

Natural Branching Common Descent

Compare that with the definition preferred by Larry Moran which in shortened form goes:

Change in allele frequency over time.

There are several points to make here

1. The reference to "Branching Common Descent" by Downard is an explicit reference to evolution as a history of change. The second definition, on the other, hand stresses evolution as a present tense continuous process: Defined in this differential way the implications for natural history in terms of a branching tree of life may or may not follow. I suppose this is probably Downard's niggle with the definition preferred by Moran; it's too open about natural history. 

2. Both definitions make no commitment to the mechanisms of evolution and for good reason I believe: According to Larry Moran the exact range mechanisms are debatable and theoretical.  This sounds like good news for those who might want to include intelligent activity in the mechanism!

3. What is unsaid here is important: Seldom do evangelical atheists make an admission about the burden of up front information needed to make conventional evolution work. See here, here and here.

4. There is nothing philosophically untoward in either definition of evolution, except that I suspect that for Downard the word "natural" comes with a huge amount of implicit philosophical baggage connected with the old dualist "God did it vs natural forces did it " contention. Going on what Larry Moran has said (and I can quite believe him), the exact mechanisms for evolution are the subject of on going study, so its no surprise that questions over the gaps in this area are likely to be subject to speculation and implicit world views.  For example in Downard's case it is almost certainly true that by "natural" he's ultimately thinking of law and disorder mechanisms. 

5. The "science" of BYL & LISLE: In someways Downard has hit the nail on the head as far as challenging the young earthists is concerned: They would likely be very uncomfortable with his explicit reference to a branching history. Young earthists hate science's treatment of natural history and are willing to patch-in bogus histories if needs be.  See for example fundamentalists BYL & LISLE. In fact John BYL is very explicit about the need for fundamentalists to have a vision of a God who is prepared to patch-in deceptive bogus cosmic histories, but I don't  think Jason LISLE would want to put it like that!  Between them BYL and LISLE reveal much about just what Christian fundamentalism does to one's grasp of science. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dualism, Theology and Cognition

The following summary of the areas I’ve been working in over the years was prompted by my reading of a pre-published paper by Christian Missionary and anthropologist Jim Harries. In very different ways both of us are struggling to come out from under the dualistic philosophical wreckage that pervades much of Western thought. In particular I’ve had years of trouble from Western paradigms which either:

a) Cut the knot of dualism by declaring conscious cognition an illusion in favour of a crude billiard ball materialism or,

b) Persist in maintaining a sharp dualism between mind/intelligence and “Natural forces”.

In Africa Jim Harries has found that once you get past the language barrier and speak the native lingo you soon realise that although like Westerners rural Africans desire wealth, they are not buying into Western dualism as a way of seeking it.  (See here and here).

This summary of my work is indicative of my two-front intellectual war against both knot-cutting-denial of the reality of conscious cognition and the rampart dualism current in much of Western Christian folk culture. In particular as a Christian myself Western Christian folk culture, with its implicit dualism, has been a challenge to my keeping the faith; in fact much more so than any challenge an atheist might raise; at least atheism does try to rationalise its categories rather than multiply entities! (although, of course, I don’t accept the way atheists carry out their rationalisation; as a result of which they teeter on the brink of nihilism)


Most people who have studied physics are impressed by its tendency to suppress the multiplication of entities: Viz: Phenomena which from the first person perspective seem very different in category are often merged by physics into a unifying theoretical narrative. e.g a) Heat and light collapse into the single category of electromagnetic radiation b) Matter and electromagnetic radiation collapse into the single category of quantum waves etc. It was this powerful category simplification that attracted me to physics in the first place and I’ve been in the business of category rationalisation ever since: It’s a great occupation because it considerably simplifies reality & simplification equates to understanding.
Below I list some examples of how I’ve carried on in the spirit of physics’ category rationalisation. In some ways this represents a kind of sketched out manifesto summarising the drift of my thoughts and the “policies” I’m working on. These “policies” have been filled out to a lesser or greater degree and I provide links to related articles giving more details.

Category rationalisation 1:  Human beings are goal seeking systems. 

I introduced the idea of “goal seeking systems” during a written discussion I was having with Jim Harries. As Jim Harries has made me aware Western Christians have theologically slanted their goal seeking toward the dual goals of social development and the afterlife whereas Africans slant it in favour of the single goal of prosperity teaching. Nevertheless, in spite of this big cultural difference there is the obvious underlying shared universal, namely goal seeking. Whether pertaining to the afterlife, hocus pocus magic, prosperity teaching or just plain old commercial goals, Westerners and Africans are both involved with goal seeking; it is a cross cultural universal. In both cases actions are being carried out now with an eye to the future; Viz: sacrifice and work now for a return on the “investment” later; and by “sacrifice” it could be literal! (unfortunately!).  Goal seeking may be either carried out with some consciously conceived aim or the goal seeking system is set up in such a way that when it stumbles across the “goal” it selects it. The teleology of goal seeking is, I propose, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of intelligence. The concept of goal seeking is pivotal in what follows here.  In my last point below I introduce the radical but tentative idea that the cosmos is an intelligent computation in as much as it shows evidence of having a declarative structure  as opposed to an imperative structure.

While on the commonalities of Africans and Westerners let me also mention, as I hope the following will make clear, both Westerners and Africans engage in the epistemic activity of narrative creation in order to give sense to their otherwise very variegated experiences .

Category rationalisation 2: The elimination of language processing as a distinct cognitive category. 

If I’m right in my simulation models of association then language is just a (very) tweaked version of a general cognitive learning ability which is capable of bringing experiences (in this case experience of symbols) into a weighted association.

Category rationalisation 3: Elimination of the empirical vs metaphysical distinction. All things are at once both empirical and non-empirical.

In its most general form theorising is a case of weaving our diverse experiences together with a unifying sense-making narrative; this is true of both:
a) Low level formal science which deals largely in bits and pieces and
b) The high-level activity of all-embracing world view synthesis, an activity which tends to be informal, seat of the pants and often carried out unconsciously.

The difference between these two epistemic activities is not one of fundamental distinction but one of degree: Science tends to be a very disciplined, formal and highly conscious self-critical activity confined to elementary low level objects with regular behaviour like springs and precipitates. Worldview formation is far more informal, tries to boil down huge intricate nutrient beds of experience and incorporates them into complex “mythological” sense-making narratives. One other difference is that science endeavours as far as possible to engage in a prediction-test coupling in order to cross check its narratives – but this is not always possible even in science – String Theory is an example; we are told that it does a good job of making post-facto sense of things, but it has yet to pass the test of prediction. World view synthesis, because of the complexity and epistemic intractability of its subject matter, tends to be a post-facto sense making activity and doesn’t readily make predictions.

Nevertheless the general idea behind both formal science and world view synthesis is that in both cases theoretical narratives are used in an attempt to join the dots of experience. The upshot is that in one sense every theoretical concept is observable in as much as it attempts to make sense of experience.  And yet in another sense nothing is observable: This is because we do not directly observe the constructions that our minds place behind the data dots of experience; rather those experiences only effectively sample the theoretical objects they purport to manifest. This is true of simple objects like Hooke’s law right through to the most complex baroque conspiracy theory – both activities involve data dot joining, although it has to be said that in this extreme example these activities are of very different levels of rigor, consciousness, self-awareness and self-criticism.

So the pertinent questions revolve not round whether an object is metaphysical or empirical, but rather questions about the epistemic quality used to construct the narrative which links the data dots of experience.

For more, see the side bar of my blog which is entitled The Ideas-Experience Contention and see also here:

In many ways the foregoing is effectively eliminating the science vs. non-science distinction; all epistemic endeavours have both an empirical and metaphysical element. 

The difference between scientific knowledge and other knowledge consists not only in differences of the formality and rigor of the epistemic technique but also in the regularity, order and complexity and of the phenomenon studied.  Springs and precipitates are low level, very regular and therefore very amenable to formal scientific epistemology. In contrast world view synthesis grapples with complex and highly erratic experiences and consequently can’t be expected to return synthesizing narratives with anywhere near the authority of the elemental objects delivered by science. 

Category rationalisation 4: Elimination of the Natural forces vs God’s work dichotomy: See here and here.

Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the subjective vs objective distinction.

So called “objective” matters are couched in the language of the third person, a language which affects to be absent of the observer perspective. Ultimately, of course, those third person accounts must trace back to a conscious observer-theoretician although third person language tends to suppress this by positing the existence of some perspective detached from any sentient observer; almost a kind of “God’s eye” view, ironically! But I would question whether this detached “thing-in-itself” perspective is a coherent idea: The only world we really have inside knowledge of is the world of sentience and therefore with any third person account, with its affectedly detached language, we actually implicitly assign to it first person content and significance. We have some inkling as to what it means and feels like to be another sentient being, but we don't know what it feels like to be, say, a block of lead. In fact apart from an observer's ability to perceive the block and theorize about it, the block seems to have no real intelligible existence; for even when we think about the existence of the block in third person terms, apparently independent of observers, we implicitly understand its existence in terms of how it impacts cognition. 

I would tend to go along with a view not dissimilar to Bishop Berkley’s version of “positivism”; namely, that a world without cognating observer-theoreticians makes little intelligible sense. As I've implied already, the cognating observer is actually implicit in the so-called “objective” third person accounts.

NOTE: Don’t get too hung up on the connotation of “theoretician”. I’m not necessarily thinking of a consciously deliberating intellectual theorist. The fact is our minds are so smooth and quiet in operation that we theorise and hypothesis about day-to-day-things without apparent thought; the hypothesising mind works informally in the background and then presents its end-results to our consciousness.

Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the mind vs matter distinction.

When the third person perspective zooms in for a close look at the first person what is seen from the third person perspective is a complex collection of neural nodes signalling each other. Of course, we don’t expect the third person to actually see any consciousness present in the brain of the first person since by definition the third person is other than the first person. I propose that the so called material brain is how the third person experiences the presence of the first person he is observing. Thus, it follows that “matter” is another name for the third person’s conscious perspective on the first person. “Matter” is in effect the medium of communication between minds. “Matter” is how different minds experience one another whereas consciousness is how a mind experiences itself.

Ironically with today’s technology it is possible for the a first person perspective to get a third person perspective on his/her own neurons and thus be aware of himself not only as an object of conscious cognition but also a concomitant object of organised matter; this is likely to produce some interesting chaotic feedback effects.

The two accounts, third person and first person, go hand in glove. In fact I would maintain that both first and third person accounts are needed to make an intelligible cosmos; they are irreducible and inseparable; if you try to make one primary and the other secondary you end up stuck in a schizophrenic philosophical dualism that is liable to reduce the cosmos to either an ill-defined irrational medley of unconnected qualia or an insentient world of billiard-ball matter; both reductions are an error in my view and a full account of the cosmos requires both perspectives to be put together in a complimentary and rational way. “Matter” is the theoretical means by which conscious sentience understands itself.  I sketched out the latter idea when I wrote the prologue of my book.

Category rationalisation 6:  There is no Bible vs Nature distinction.

Because natural language (of the Bible) works by connotation, then for its meanings to be generated the Bible must utilise the mental resources of association that bind it seamlessly and organically to our world.  See here.

Category rationalisation 7:  There is no clear justification whereby one can posit a dichotomy which contrasts an invisible God over and against visible people. Both God and man are invisible as far as the third person perspective is concerned.

Clearly the essence of a person is neither the visible body nor the behavioural sample that the third person observes. In actual fact the essence of a person is a far more extensive object consisting of the immense behind-the-scenes frenetic sentient activity that the third person can only sample and from that sampling informally construct that complex invisible theoretical object we call “personhood”. The essential point is that like everything else the thing-in-itself we call “personhood” is basically invisible apart from a few observed behavioural traits which constitute the “data dots” available to the third person. In other words personhood is not directly observable – it is an object constructed by the third person in order to arrive at a sense making narrative about personality.  This isn’t, of course, done in a formal theoretical way but by innate cognitive packages that work to a large degree unconsciously.  The cognitive package which deals with the (re)construction of deity may well have considerable overlap with our social interaction packages. But in spite of this I think it would be wrong to say that deity isn’t subject to observable tests: In a sense people test their faith every day; experiences confirm or may disconfirm their faith:  But this daily “walk with deity” is carried out in a very informal, subconscious and anecdotal way and this probably renders formal scientific testing of the existence of deity via established epistemic protocols all but impossible.

Being the sort of guy who is probably on the autistic spectrum may peculiarly fit me to understand this lesson of the invisibility of personhood. I can remember a time at infant school when I used to walk around the school playground by myself believing that all the other children were unconscious; they all seemed so irreflexive. This almost solipsist response of mine was probably down to my social cognitive package not working very well; that is, in my case there seemed to be no automatic conclusion which kicked in and told me that the other kids were conscious – it is something I had to learn over a period of time. But the essential point is that in consequence of my mild disability it became plain to me that the behind-the-scenes conscious personality is an entirely invisible entity and has to be mentally constructed by the third person. Human personhood is as invisible as God’s personhood; the epistemics of personhood means that it is always something one has to interpolate between the data dots. 

Category rationalisation 8: This is the ultimate category elimination: Everything is cognition.

Is it right to say that mind is embodied in matter? Probably no, if we accept the idea that so-called “matter” is in fact the third person’s perspective/experience of the first person. The concept of “matter” necessarily follows if one is to have a set of communicating centres of cognition.

But I’m going to go a bit further here and remark upon my on-going speculations in this area. Viz: Rather than “mind being embodied” it is better to say, I propose, that “matter is incognated”. What do I mean by this? My current thinking is that the parallels between quantum mechanics and the way our minds work at the neural level are indicative of one thing; in both cases I see hints of a declarative goal seeking computation rather than the standard view of physics as entirely the domain of imperative processes.  This has prompted me to conjecture that the cosmos is in fact the inside workings of an immanent sentience in action. On this view the cosmos is itself a cognitive process in which we are all immersed. If true, then given cosmic dimensions and its potential computational power, it follows that as far as we are concerned the cosmos looks to be the mental workings of a deity of immense power. Just as the third person perspective of the neuroscientist only sees signalling neurons when he zooms in on the first person, so our low-level perspective of the cosmic cognitive process only sees quantum signalling. Yes, it's all conjectural I know, but its a notion worth pursuing in my opinion. 

To anticipate and suppress any possible pantheistic misinterpretations in these proposals let me point out that the relation between God and his Creation may not be dissimilar to the relationship an author has with his/her story: The author’s story is created by the author and runs in his/her mind as a huge idea and yet the author remains, nevertheless, very distinct from and eminent in relation to his creation.


I have attempted to give the foregoing thoughts a more defined shape in The Cosmic Perspective (see here, here and here),  The Melencolia IPproject and the The Thinknet Project. This blue skies investigation is on going

c. Tim Reeves,  March 2017