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.