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Christianity Even Culturally Conservative Darwinian Atheists Worried about Tyranny Can Love

Why is this man, for whom  “the Darwinian world is more real than the physical world,” promoting morality compatible with Christianity?

 

The famous 20th century theologian Karl Barth, perhaps largely because of his preferred political orientation[i], made a very interesting point:

Historically speaking, certainly prior to the 20th century in the West, elites concerned with keeping stability and order were more than happy to use the Bible to help them rule.

As Barth argued more specifically, here the Bible had been brought under human control and reason. He said that it had come to be seen not so much as revelation from God, but rather as a part of the “natural knowledge” of God that every man could discover by his own rational powers. In his view, “the Bible grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost… was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power” (1/2:522-525).

One might, like myself, want to further explore the contours of Barth’s argument – just what, given the challenges of human governing, constitutes the salutary “use” of the Bible by a political leader from one that is not? Might, for example, one unbelieving ruler’s use of it be less culpable than another’s?

In any case, it is unarguable that, in the West, rulers in the past thought that they had to rule their people by using the Bible. And when it comes to this, we might wonder: “Is this so bad? What’s the big deal? Isn’t it good that rulers would engender respect for the Bible and use it to help them rule? And of course, since they were politicians, who wouldn’t expect them to be tempted to misinterpret the text to their own advantage from time to time?”[ii]

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

The fact of the matter, contra Barth, is that there is much wisdom in the Bible that even nonbelievers can recognize. For example, one need not be a Christian – or even a conservative politician – to recognize that until being re-oriented by Christian conviction, the world really did reveal a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery (see my wider article about how Christian values and sentiments have been formed in Western nations in spite of a lack of belief in Christianity).

Therefore, I contend that we simply should not be surprised when even hostile witnesses like atheists or non-Christians recognize that the morality the Bible upholds – and even the “Fear of God” itself — are important for maintaining a civilization that values human freedom (another example).

In other words, this is a very human and existential matter. One can’t continually ignore creation’s “design specifications” and expect that only good things will come. We all, for example, need to eat to live and we all need to uphold certain standards of what amounts to universally preferable behavior (see this argued for more fully here). We all, inevitably, will “should” one another, and we need to do that “shoulding” rightly.

Karl might say: “I’m looking at you Jordan Peterson”….

Here Jordan Peterson, who I introduced in a past post and the topic of a very interesting recent piece in the Huffington Post, is an interesting example. Peterson has got the ear of American conservatives (and he just recently did a big talk for Canadian conservatives called 12 principles for a 21st century conservatism“). And his whole intellectual program is built on the assumption that the evolutionary story is true – a story which has, in the past, been thought to be problematic when it comes to implications for human moral behavior.

Peterson would vigorously contend vs. this idea – and he has all kinds of reasons that he can martial to support his view.[iii] In fact, from within his understanding of the evolutionary framework he upholds the Bible as critical to Western civilization and insists that getting morality right – evidently with real rights and wrongs that apply across the board – is really the most important and consequential thing human beings can be concerned with.

And – very interestingly – an exploration of his views of right and wrong reveals they map rather closely with the traditionally-held views of Christian churches.[iv]

For me though, the interesting, long-term question is this: is there any reason why the moral views that Peterson holds must remain stable? Even though Jordan Peterson might make this or that moral claim now, is there any reason why those who follow him would need to do the same?

One highly significant aspect of Peterson’s program is that the goal of the morality he speaks of is oriented towards earthly survival – not just of individual, or perhaps, even one’s group, but ultimately encompassing humanity more broadly. In sum, everything about our morality – absolutely everything – must come to be seen through this controlling lens.

Some might be thinking: “Isn’t this what Christianity is all about though? Being good to gain God’s favor in this world, surviving vs. ones’ enemies, and to be able to survive His final judgment?” Actually, no. In fact, this is a total perversion of Christianity, which ultimately works in the world for one’s neighbor’s sake from a place of peace with God.[v] In Him, we have survived our sin, our first and second deaths, and the oppression of the demonic, and hence have nothing to fear — even in a fallen world racked by suffering.

Not surviving you say? Well, this act is intentional — and it defeats our enemies, giving us peace with God. The resurrection removes all doubt.

As a 1930s church document written up vs. the Nazis, the Bethel Confession, put it:

“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.”

What do Christians who have come to support the evolutionary theory have to say about this? Presumably folks like the popular Evangelical Bishop of the Church of England N.T. Wright – as well as other Christian theistic evolutionists – would agree that the Bethel Confession is right, but how can they? For where is their Eden? Their “original creation”? History has significance because where we are going has something to do with where we started. The “what happened?” is momentous.

Perhaps it can make sense that Peterson, starting from and coming from his evolutionary perspective, thinks that matters of right and wrong are intimated connected with survival.

…but what do theistic evolutionists like Wright have to say about why their view of evolution – featuring a morality not oriented towards earthly survival but rather God and His purposes – should be favored? What are the reasons that they give for why the ethical framework they wish to promote should be more important than any “survival of the fittest” – even seemingly more civilized and palatable versions of survival of the fittest like Peterson’s?

That’s what I want to know. I imagine that they are going to say that this simply comes down to us needing to think about what it means to be human, that we are rational animals that give reasons for our views and can work together, the responsibility to respect the history of religious and philosophical thought, etc., etc.

But Peterson can say all of that as well, and does. So what, other than intellectual inconsistency (“No, we must not say that the goal of our morality is survival, for the individual, group, or otherwise!”), makes them say that we should not see life primarily in terms of survival?

Why is it not about this? Why is not survival, and survival alone, when it comes to determining our morality?

Saint Darwin? Not so fast.

Perhaps some of the more conservative, evolution-supporting churches disagree with the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and those who authored the Bethel Confession put it back in the 1930s?

In other words, maybe from the very beginning of humanity the principle of struggle – for survival – was there right from the beginning? There never has been a real Eden?

And of course, when combined not with an Aristotelian frame (where there are some things, i.e. “forms” or “natures” on earth that are good and are eternal, never changing) but with a Hegelian/Darwinian frame, this means that in order to survive, the fit are going to need to change. And if this is the case, what is the good reason that their morality, or behavior, would not need to change – and perhaps quickly?

This means that there is no reason that the moral views Peterson endorses – again, with practical survival being the modus operandi of ethics – should remain stable. What is advantageous and good for humanity as a whole yesterday may not be good tomorrow.[vi]

In other words, the evolutionary framework cannot be re-jiggered to prevent it from being acidic to conservative frames of mind.[vii]

“The philosopher Daniel Dennett, for example, describes Darwinism as a universal acid, dissolving all our traditional concepts, such as religion…” (see here).

Even from the perspective of human reason, Christianity and its Bible can only be used by “wise” elites to help govern our nations or guide our cultures so much and for so long – to perhaps protect our society from the internal and external enemies that threaten it for so long. Insofar as a Darwinian-infused Hegelianism lies at the foundation of our thought – insofar as this is the most real story – Christianity will be of no real help.

For His Kingdom is, ultimately, in this world — though oh so humbly veiled — but not of it.

Man cannot serve two masters and God is not mocked. He is, however, mocking us already through – and ironically, through reason alone.

To say the least, this presents some real issues for Christians – not to mention all of humanity.

We need something strong, don’t we? Something stable. Something we can be confident of.

Indeed. We need the Lex Aeterna (the Eternal Law) – and even more, the One who fulfills the Lex Aeterna on our behalf.

And Dr. Peterson — if you are listening, remember that the Apostle Paul says that “if even an angel of heaven…” (referring to this and this)…

FIN

 

Notes

[i] Socialism, vis a vis what one has recently called a “a totally crude patriarchal dirt-and-toil society.”

[ii] Again, we might think: “Is this really so bad? Aren’t the stability and order that might come out of this good things?” “Well, not if it means living in a state like Nazi Germany or North Korea!,” you might say! On the other hand, perhaps even that is preferable to utter chaos as well (an interesting debate there).

[iii] One does not need to listen to any of his major lectures or interviews (try this one for a lot of depth) for very long in order to recognize that his understanding of what he calls the “dominance hierarchy” is a very nuanced and well-thought-out position.

[iv] Peterson believes in real good and evil (see 2:30:00 here). In his third recent religion lecture (around 2:13:30), he said, followed by rousing applause: “Empirical data says it’s much better for kids to have two parents. Marriage is not for the people getting married. It’s for the children. If you can’t handle that, grow the hell up. Seriously.”

Also, when it comes to a topic like gay marriage, the comment Peterson made on an article in the Atlantic called “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” namely:

“When gay marriage normalizes in the US, as it has in Sweden, then the divorce rate will be higher among gay partners, just as it is in Sweden. But why let facts bother you? Andersson, Gunnar (February 2006). “The Demographics of Same-Sex ‘Marriages’ in Norway and Sweden” (PDF). Demography 43 (1): 79–98.”

….would suggest that he is somewhat willing to question the popular narrative here. Around the time I was writing this post, he also said the following: “Intact heterosexual two-parent families constitute the necessary bedrock for a stable polity.” Also note his comments about people living together without being married (again, with rousing applause, at 1:30 here), his comments having children (see here) and on abortion (see here), as well as his comments on transgender issues in this post.

[v] At the same time, given the way that the issue of survival is makes itself known to us existentially, it’s not hard for a Christian to see some wisdom in this. That said, for Christian believers who have peace with God (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13), life is not ultimately about our physical – or even spiritual – survival.

[vi] As is clear from his first interview with Sam Harris and here (this one is a shorter clip), Peterson is a full-blown evolutionary pragmatist who has difficulty saying that any one statement a person might make is true, period (this fits with the views of Hegel, who is often appropriated by figures not only on the left, but on the right – see here for information on this phenomena in general and here for thoughts about Peterson’s possible debt to Hegel).

In sum, it seems that for him, in some sense, truth equals what works and fitness (taking into account what he says about what he calls the “dominance hierarchy”).

In his third religion lecture (1:34:30) he says that the postmodernists are right that there are an infinite number of interpretations of most anything, but they are wrong in saying that none of them are preferable….

I say “exactly,” – but why are some preferable? For Peterson, postmodernism and relativism are not reasonable because there are social and material constraints in the universe that can’t be overcome and therefore must be taken into consideration (therefore some interpretations are preferable)….

But what about the “fact” of evolution, whose ways proponents admit they do not fully understand? (see footnote below)

For me, some interpretations are preferable because of what the Author said and the fact that language is stable, which “works” because there are many things in the creation that are not necessarily eternal, but nevertheless stable and consistent until the life to come (vs. Hegel, again, see here).

While I do not deny that there are real Christian believers can fully embrace the evolutionary narrative and remain real Christian believers, I think many persons, even those who are not overly literalistic, will conclude that they must embrace one view or the other. My own view on the viability of the evolutionary narrative – as one who is quite aware of what is put forth as the best evidence – is one of rather severe skepticism and doubt.

Here, I suggest that voices like David Berlinski’s are worthy of our respect and consideration.

[vii] An additional question we need to ask today is why the evolutionary account of reality should necessarily favor truth-telling (read on). Peterson is commendable for his focus on personal honesty in one’s life (he notes that we are the only creatures who “can truly deceive,” and gravely says “Do not say what you believe to be false”), and for his fighting vs. postmodernism/relativism. That said, note that if postmodernism is only constrained by physical and social reality and honesty rules the day, any real stability still cannot be assured. The reason for this is that if evolution is our key “what happened” account, it also has something important to say about where we are going. In Peterson’s account, in this “I suffer therefore I am world,” we basically find things to be meaningful and also create, albeit slowly over time, things, ideas, gods, etc. to survive (he’d be quick to note that this does not mean there is no god). The questions arise: 1) Why should we care deeply beyond our in-group, racial, ethnic, or ideological? ; 2) Why isn’t postmodernism – with its steering us towards more freedom for us in our in-group of other postmodernists – simply a luxury item must of us can’t afford yet? ; 3) If this naturalistic story is the key “what happened” truth, why might not some overcoming of traditional morals – and the accompanying guilt – be the next step in human evolution? ; 4) Finally, even if think 1-3 are true because evolution is true, if evolutionary fitness is also somehow the truth (pragmatically – in this third religion lecture, he says: What’s real from the Darwinian perspective is plenty real enough, because we’re alive and everything….”[1:53:20]), how does it not, empowered by modern physical theories, ultimately throw the truth of everything – including evolution itself – into question, finally just making us the truth?

(He has also said that he doesn’t think you can dispute the proposition that the longer something [here he means an idea, a myth/story] has had a selection effect on life the more real it is. It’s the fundamental axiom of Darwinian biology. The Darwinian world is more real than the physical world. [1:59:00]). Also in his second interview with Sam Harris he says: “The most permanent things are the most real.” See also his comment recorded in my previous post talking about him regarding how “the things we see around us [are] lasting no time.”)

 

 

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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Micah Bournes – Thank God For Evolution

Really good stuff.  Clever, creative, and thought-provoking. Note accompanying the You Tube video:

…This video does not attempt to affirm or deny the validity of the scientific theory of evolution. Evolutionary language is used primarily as a poetic device to illustrate larger issues concerning human nature. Visit http://www.micahbournes.com for more thought provoking videos and poems. Also visit thejusticeconference.com

HT: Virtues in the Wasteland guys.

Bournes is not pronouncing, but I’ll pronounce a bit, utilizing a quote from Michael Hanby, who I think is correct in this assessment:

There is simply no such thing as a methodological naturalism that is not also an ontological naturalism, and ontological naturalism is, at bottom, a bad theology that does not know itself.” (italics mine ; note Hanby himself believes evolution occurred)

Absolute craziness?  More of my thoughts on the topic here.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How Darwin Helps Us See the Truth: Life is About Helping Our Neighbor Survive

Saint Darwin?

Saint Darwin?  Well, let’s not be too hasty…

“You have the God you believe in.” – Martin Luther

[warning: this post has a central point, but also touches on many big issues in a process that both meanders and relentlessly re-frames”. Patience may be needed.]

Charles Darwin talked about the “truth of the universal struggle for life”, where the “strongest live and the weakest die”. For example, “intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.”

As A.N. Wilson points out, Darwin’s mechanistic theory of natural selection “removed any necessity for a metaphor of purpose when discussing natural history”[i]. Many years after Darwin, Richard Dawkins then reduced matters to the level of the individual “selfish gene”. And now, evolutionary epistemologists (this is evolution applied to the “theory of knowledge”) have argued that the ideas in our minds are not selected for their truth value but their survival value.

Much to dispute there of course! Still, doesn’t it seem like Charles Darwin was on to something when he used the words life and survival in the same breath? Doesn’t this point us to what is, in fact, an obvious truth?

No.

Yes.

It depends.[ii]

"Not surviving", you say?

“Not surviving” you say?

Darwin, of course, was right to highlight the obvious fact that we, as human beings, are consciously concerned about our lives and the upholding of the same. And this is, in one sense, the way things must and should be – each of us exhibiting legitimate concern for ourselves, which is in fact a part of serving our neighbor. That said, persons like Darwin, deep down, really do believe that life, “nasty, brutish, and short… red in tooth and claw” (Hobbes), is really all about pure survival – for one’s self and those one cares about.[iii]

“This is most certainly true”, they believe.

Of course, this is not really what is true about life. Rather, the words of God’s risen Messiah are true: “whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

The Christian should know that losing our lives for Christ is not something we are supposed to worry about. It is something we are supposed to receive from the hand of our loving heavenly Father. The foremost way that we “lose our lives” has to do with something that is entirely passive on our part.[iv] It means that He drowns our old self in baptism, and identifies us not with this fallen world but with Him (see Romans 6). Having left the old, empty way of life behind, we are united with the One who makes all things new. And having been raised from the dead Himself as the first fruits of a new creation, we too are raised to spiritual life… and will know new physical life as well in the life that is to come. This world no longer has any real power over us – even if this is something we continually have trouble believing.

So the answer is “no” – life is not ultimately about our struggling to survive. We have a heavenly Father who has saved us from the world, the flesh, and the devil! We are worth more than many sparrows.

But why then would I say that the answer “yes” is a possible answer as well?

Well, all of us – even Christians – know that we fight for many things: our integrity, recognition… “success”.  And in the midst of this, do we not seem to be estranged from the world we know? As Pastor Brian Wolfmueller puts it, our consciences tell us (at the very least!) that there is something wrong with

  • me
  • the way others treat me
  • the way people treat other people
  • everything

It seems to me that whatever we believe about the divine, man, and the world, we know that this is true. At the very least….can you admit it often feels like it!?

Of course as a Christian, I would go much further than this. Although we can’t not love as a human beings, our love is not only weak, but fallen. More specifically, because it is not oriented correctly, our love is wholly tainted with selfish desire…. corrupt. Take the matter of how we abuse sex, for example. As the journal First Things provocatively put it in a recent tweet (leading to a larger article on the purpose of pornography): “Sex distracts us from death. Perhaps that is why it has come to be seen as the central purpose of human existence.”

soooo

Sokushinbutsu – freeing the soul from the temporal?

Death. Is not the specter of death is always lingering in the background in everything we do? As the book of Hebrews puts it, Christ came to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”.

I submit this is the core reason for the “yes” answer: we are at war with death, and it is indeed awareness of death that, in part, fuels all that he is and does. We can see this illustrated not only in the efforts of persons to have their names live on – to be memorialized and such – but in the extremes we see around us. Historically, most men have not, in Ray Kurzweil fashion, thought it realistic or worthwhile to try and topple death itself – at least in this world. On the other hand many have, for example, attempted to assert their authority over death by taking their lives into their own hands… and ending them. Not only this, we know that at one time Buddhist sages attempted to overcome death’s power – the temporality of this world itself – by dying a slow and intentional death…. This is known as the practice of sokushinbutsu, where “austerity [is observed] to the point of death and mummification.” By doing this, they sought to earn bliss in a life which transcended this world.[v]

Why? Perhaps the Apostle Paul gives us a clue when he states that all know “God’s righteous decree that those who practice [evil] deserve to die” (Rom. 1:30-32). And of course, none of this is meant to deny what he also asserts elsewhere not of Christians but of pagans: God “satisfy[ies] [human] hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14).

So not even possessing true joy in one’s heart from God is the same as salvation from the “wages of sin”, death!

But this is exactly all the stuff that fallen man wants to suppress and not think about. Really better not to frame it this way…

Indeed, since human beings are not like the other animals, we can deliberate over whether or not to rightly grow and reach our intended end (not death… but eternal bliss with God and men). And therefore, there is much to be said about “natural man’s” fight for survival. All of this is inevitably tied up with philosophy, which the French philosopher Pierre Hadot asserts – I believe rightly – is like a religious conversion. We must say that all men – the greatest and the least – are philosophers, involved in what Hadot says involves “a total transformation of ones vision, life-style, and behavior.”  

[bonus insight from my pastor: “Philosophy determines self-control internally.  Civil law determines how the self is controlled externally. When theses two clash, then we have problems.”]

James K.A. Smith: humans, having a “religious nature” are devoted to alternative liturgies designed to pull us away from God’s true story… true liturgy

James K.A. Smith: humans, having a “religious nature”, are devoted to alternative “liturgies” designed to pull us away from God’s true story… true “liturgy”

Whatever someone’s philosophy, they are seeking what they call the “good life”, and they will attempt to state what this life entails as positively as they can. Finally however, examined negatively, this is actually an attempt to be able to live with themselves – to be content in the face of the questions of meaning that may haunt them…. To be able to find answers that they take some satisfaction in regarding their questions of life, death, guilt, etc…..

And how do we get back to Darwin in all this? Unbelief leads to sin which leads to death which leads to fear which leads to an obsession – though knowledge of this is also suppressed – with survival. Still, the hard-core evolutionist looks to “bravely” face the “truth”: it is not only ideas in our minds which are selected for their survival value – not truth value – but everything. It is True that everything is about survival – particular truths being valuable only insofar as they aid survival (for problems with this see here).

Surely, when matters are put this way, even some non-theist evolutionists will balk. That said, I wonder if any outrage they might feel can last. After all, thoughts of “selfish genes” aside, more “liberal” (i.e. idealistic, Romantic, historicist) evolutionists could – in complete harmony with what I have put forth above – also think about this in terms of the survival of love – of fighting to continue life not just for myself but for those I love! And maybe I really do feel like – and think – I am eager to love the whole world….

Curtis White, a “Romantic” but nevertheless “in the tank” with the philosophical naturalists: the attack on the arts is “also an attack on our earliest human instinct: our ability to invent our way to survival.” (p. 91)

Curtis White, a “Romantic” but nevertheless “in the tank” with the philosophical naturalists: the attack on the arts is “also an attack on our earliest human instinct: our ability to invent our way to survival.” (p. 91, italics his)

And in the midst of all of this kind of thinking, I suggest that we can find many grains of truth. After all, as those created in the image of God, we certainly were made to love our neighbors. I would even posit that all communication, for example, exists primarily for the sake of love between persons, particularly the Creator and the crown of His creatures, man. Further, I would assert that the key purpose of communication, specifically but not limited to oral language, is that it enables us to share, intelligently navigate, pursue goals in, and enjoy the world and with other persons, present as well as past (i.e. remembering).

So, even for the Christian, it is best not to think about the purpose of language being to form truthful propositions (even as they are eager to propose Christ and His benefits to the neighbors they love!).[vi] The Christian seeks to be true, using all gestures – particularly spoken words – to love his neighbor. This means helping others to know peace in the midst of what we sometimes can only call a “vale of tears”, that is, a dying and disintegrating world. In such a world – ravaged by the curse and the “Prince of this world” – we are not exempt from the reality of life’s struggle, nor immune from the temptations we face.

So being more specific, just how does Darwin help us see the truth – namely that life is about helping our neighbor survive? Simply put, Christians know that even though God has delivered them from the world, the flesh and the devil they are still here. The reason is that God is keen that all persons – our neighbors – would survive His wrath. He desires that all persons be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

“God has communicated his entire self to you. Communicate also your entire self to your neighbor”.

“God has communicated his entire self to you. Communicate also your entire self to your neighbor”. – 17th c. Lutheran theologian John Gerhard.

And here, the Scriptures have two important themes to understand.

On the one hand, we learn how God, while we were still sinners (enemies), was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ. He obviously means to be taken seriously here when He says the world (elsewhere: “the whole world”) and does not make an effort to qualify. Again, this really is a God who desires all persons to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

On the other hand, in the book of John we learn that whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ is under the wrath of God: the wrath of God remains on those who reject the Son (see John 3:16-18, 36).[vii]

So which one is true? That is the wrong question. Here, your Christian friend should actually tell you “what is true for me” is not the wrong question (since its so postmodern!) but the right one!

Do you enjoy hearing about this Jesus you hear your Christian friend talking about? Are you curious to hear more? Do you feel a pull towards this man Jesus, His life, His message, His mind-numbing claims? Are you perhaps even thankful that this message of God’s great love for you in Christ has come to you here and now?

Then you have that first God, the Truth.  And, in a very real sense, survival is not an ultimate issue for you: in Him you overcome the world, the flesh and the devil.

Or, do you turn away? If so, then you have that second God – even though that is not what He wants for you. You will not only not know victory over the world, flesh, and devil in this life, you will, being under Gods wrath, die the “second death” in the life to come.

Go with that first option, and you will truly – rightly – have the God you believe in.

FIN

 

Image credits: St. Darwin: https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2482/3731337208_f2b2f791fc.jpg ; other non-book pics: Wikipedia.

Notes:

[i] In God’s Funeral, p. 188. Of course, in traditional Christian theology, this kind of talk was not metaphorical. That is, until Ockham: “For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74). Of course, there were previous theological developments in the West that made this kind of thinking possible as well.

[ii] I think, in general, if you insist on using the word “nature” the answer is “yes”. On the other hand, if you are eager to be displeased with the word “nature” – wanting to use the word “creation” instead – the answer is “no”. I think this is in the background of this entire article, but the following paragraph speak to this a bit more:

The difference between saying “creation” and “nature”…. The Christian knows that there is no “nature” that can be distinguished from the “supernatural” – not if that means that nature can be profitably believed to function apart from the moment-by-moment sustaining presence of its Creator. Not if man can imagine that he can master and control “nature” by reading the book of the world, ignoring its Author, and thinking it to be a machine he is now enlightened enough to master. Not if he can save himself – not needing the One who comes down from heaven that we might be “born from above”….. (John 3)

[iii] This man, a well-known, [formerly unapologetic] pick-up artist (the “red pill” he talks about refers to the movie the Matrix, and in this context, means having the courage to learn about the true nature of women), argues that while evolution as a theory is true that it does not apply to modern human beings. I think his argument would be particularly intriguing for anyone who buys into evolutionary thinking – even if my wider formulation above: “life is really all about survival – for one’s self and those one cares about“, would still seem to apply to his view.

[iv] From an old blogpost: “But wait a minute, we might say… what about the parables of the “treasure in the field” or “counting the cost”?   It is true – on the other side of this banquet of grace, the parables of Jesus also call us to recognize that this love interest is going to cost us everything.  The church cannot fail to see that being the bride of the King means “losing our earthly lives” – relatively speaking, we must see that they are, in a very real sense, “dead to us”.  When He leads us to the treasure in the field, we see that the things on this earth really are – and must continue to be left behind – “buried” in the ground like the treasure was.  After He finds us and brings us into the banquet this is the cost that Jesus demands we recognize and actively participate in.  In his small catechism, Luther said: “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…” (see more on this here, from the most excellent Lutheran blog Pastoral Meanderings).  This can mean nothing but a radical change – as He exchanges His righteousness for our sins, we also see that our world has been exchanged for His world.”

[v] This bliss of nirvana would be the extinguishing of their desire and even their own selves (as their individuality can only be seen as something to overcome).

[vi] This is not to say that truth in language is unimportant – it is always important, even as technical accuracy is not always needed nor even desirable. To say “the sun rises” today still, post-Galileo, still does not strike us as wrong or in need of adjustment. This holds true for both oral and written communication, for example. What is more important – the basis for beneficial communication – is that persons be true, hence acting truly.

“True” can also mean good things like being genuine, authentic, sincere, caring, firm in allegiance, loyal, steadfast as well. For example, we speak of true feelings, having a true interest in another’s welfare, or being a true friend. Here, in this sense, it seems to me that “real” could serve as a synonym of true. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/true

[vii] For any Calvinists in the room, I give you the Lutheran scholastic theologian Hunnius: “Why are the reprobate condemned for not believing that Jesus died for their sins if He didn’t, in fact, die for their sins?” In other words, “You are condemned for not believing what isn’t true for you, anyway.”

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Young Earth Creationism is Too Liberal

faith, reason, and earth history[Science can become], as someone has put it, ‘an organized way of going wrong with confidence.” – Leonard Brand (p. 32)

First of all, no apologies for the “click-bait” title. I will admit that part of me wanted to make that title a question – as I have big ideas to share and want to get everyone (me included) thinking and talking and questioning (again, questioning me as well! – I don’t doubt I have a lot to learn) – but I do, at least currently, think I’m right!

So, I’m glad you are here. And yes… I realize that not even the first self-proclaimed fundamentalists believed in young earth creationism. Let me now try to gradually unpack what I am really getting at in this post.

I have been taking a look at the updated textbook (2009) of young earth creationist scientist, Leonard Brand: Faith, Reason, & Earth History: A Paradigm of Earth and Biological Origins by Intelligent Design.

Asking the question, “Can creationists be effective scientists?” Brand answers in the affirmative and makes his case in some 450 pages or so of distilled wisdom. I have an undergraduate degree in the sciences (biology and chemistry) and try to keep up a bit with secular scientific literature – at least the popularized accounts. It seems to me that there is a real depth to Brand’s writing that one usually does not see in science textbooks. I suspect a lot of that has to do with how careful Brand must be – seeing as how opponents and possibly even fellow Christians would be quite eager to label him and those like him as “not real scientists”.[i]

The issue I have as I read this book is that I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the definition of what counts as science in the modern world is far too narrow.

And I am not talking about, for example, Brand’s case that the creation is far younger than we typically think. I am talking about how our understanding of the scientific method in particular is too narrow (crazy talk? I think I am, however, very open to persuasion here – please help me to see where I may be wrong).

Brand, summing up Gould (1984): “the catastrophists of Lyell’s day were the more unbiased scientists…”

Brand, summing up Gould (1984): “the catastrophists of Lyell’s day were the more unbiased scientists…”

On the one hand, when Brand simply says “science is at its best when studying the characteristics of objects and processes that can be observed and quantified” (p. 37)

and

“Science cannot do experiments to test the supernatural. This concept is clear enough and also accepted by interventionists [this is his definition of scientists who believe in a global flood and that God reveals Himself to human beings – see viii], but science has [mistakenly] gone a step further and has decided to accept only theories which do not imply or require ay supernatural activity at any time in history (Johnson 1991).” (p. 73 – all bold are mine in this and following quotes)

and

“We cannot directly test whether God involved Himself in earth history. But if He did involve Himself in ways described in the Bible (creation and worldwide geological catastrophe), these events should have left some evidence in the natural world (for example, limited evidence for evolutionary intermediates and pervasive evidence for very rapid geological action). The possible existence of such evidence can be investigated scientifically.” (p. 76)

…this all sounds pretty good and sensible to me. On the other hand, he also says things like the following:

“If we hold a book in the air and drop it, the law of gravity dictates that it will fall to the floor. We can try it a million times and the same thing always happens. However, since we are mobile, reasoning beings, we can choose to stick out a hand and catch the book before it falls to the floor. We have interjected an outside force into the system and changed the course of events, but we have not broken any laws. An intelligent God could choose to interject an outside force into earth’s balanced geological systems and change the course of events to bring on a catastrophe without breaking any laws of the universe.” (p. 78)

On the one hand, this sounds fine to me, but then there is something that gives me pause (what I bolded there). Note that Brand seems keen to emphasize that God will *never* break (or suspend?) any of the universe’s laws. In short, he strongly implies that God always functions through the laws of nature that He has established, as is evident when he says, for example, that it is not defensible to think that “if God is involved in some process, that process does not function through nature’s laws.” Shortly thereafter, he also says “There is much about the universe that we do not know. So we are unreasonable to assert that God cannot work outside of the natural laws we know, because they are only a small part of the laws of the universe.” (p. 79).

Does it seem likely that Brand is separating God’s creation (“nature”) from His activity in creation too much? After all, in Brand’s telling, it seems that these are impersonal laws of nature that God created – which He of course personally uses to accomplish His will.

Is that really a good way of thinking about these things?

He also says things like this:

“The portion of the universal laws that we understand are called natural law. The things that God does which we do not understand are called supernatural… [We will someday see that things like miracles] are part of the law-bound whole that God understands and uses to accomplish His purposes. God may use some of those laws only during the process of creation. He can make use of all those laws, but we never will have the power to utilize some of them even if we do eventually understand them. That is the primary difference between natural law and what we call supernatural.” (p. 78)

Another view - an aberration in modern science?

Another view – an aberration in modern science?

Again, we see that Brand is keen to never deny “the reality of the laws of nature”, which I get the impression all of creation can be reduced to. He further explains that, historically, the idea of the “God-of-the-gaps” is that believers in God who did science had “a tendency to explain things that did not seem possible through operation of natural laws (the “gaps” in our explanations) as requiring the direct result of God’s power”. He says that the faulty logic in the old “god-of-the-gaps” concept implies that if we can understand how something works, God does not have any part in it.” (p. 79) This is all well and good.

Or is it? Even though this seems to make some sense to me, I wonder about the implications here. First, note that for Brand, if a human being can muster the power to utilize a natural law – and hence, work more effectively with God’s “inventions” (p. 79) – we are no longer, by definition, dealing with the “supernatural” (at least insofar as we are talking about this matter as scientists?). Second, while Brand wisely writes that “naturalism is a powerful biasing influence in science in steering scientific thinking, and in many cases deciding what conclusions are to be reached” (p. 80), he also assumes [without any qualifications] that both “scientists with a naturalistic orientation and interventionists who are research-oriented” are searching for the truth (what is the scientific method really for?: finding truth? success? both? depends? should considerations like this play a part?) Finally, he says that “living things and physical phenomena are like machines in the sense that they are mechanisms that can be studied and understood” (p. 83, italics mine), for example, is “an assumption that is crucial for science” (p. 84).

Let’s focus on that last point a bit. Brand says it follows from this mechanistic assumption that “on a day-to-day basis, natural processes are not dependent on the capricious whims of the spirits or the operation of magic” (p. 84), and here we can all surely agree. That said, Christians, for example, know that God is actually nothing like this (of course Brand agrees, even if non-believers might see little difference between all the “gods” and this God). Rather, we know that the Apostle Paul argued, quoting a pagan poet, that “in Him we live and move and have our being”, and also asserted that everything was “held together by His powerful word”. My question: Dare we insist that this does not mean He is intimately involved in the movements of all things at all moments? Brand does say he believes that “God constantly uphold the laws of nature” (p. 86), but I wonder if even that is saying too little here, and is, in fact, beside the point.

"If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects."

“If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects…nothing can be more truly present and within all creatures than God himself with his power” (from AE 37:57-58)

Why do I say this? Let me begin answering that question with a little bit from Michael Hanby, who recently wrote a thoughtful essay for First Things called “The Civic Project of American Christianity”. In this essay, he talked about how Christians need to think more critically about the origins and implications of political liberalism (for the connection between political liberalism and theological liberalism – almost never realized – see this post highlighting Gary Dorrien’s work). In his essay, he said, for example:

“…insofar as a mechanistic understanding of nature and a pragmatic conception of truth are the correlates of the abstract individual and the liberal notion of freedom as power, even a ­Newtonian understanding of nature, reason, and freedom will eventually destroy the foundations for the rationality of natural law, as reason is reduced to the calculation of forces and law becomes an ­extrinsic imposition

To speak of freedom as something more than immunity from coercion, to speak of nature as something other than so many accidental aggregations of malleable matter at our disposal, to speak of truth as something other than pragmatic function, is to place oneself outside the rule of public reason and to risk becoming a stranger to the public square….

Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).  The proto-Lewontin – and Christian – Boyle: …………….

Robert Boyle, the proto-Lewontin?  in his mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

Again, as I complained above, with Brand’s view it seems to me we are abstracting God’s creation from His activity too much – leaving us with what I think, biblically, should never be an option: serious contemplation of “impersonal laws of nature”.[ii]

Now I understand that again I am sounding audacious, as I am apt to do. After all, Christians and other theists might insist that a mechanistic universe implies a Mechanic (Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all.’”) – so this kind of thinking is not necessarily bad!

My counterargument is that in conceding the assumption / knowledge of a mechanistic universe, it becomes more difficult to unambiguously assert, with the Christian apologist Nancy Pearcey, that “because a human is a someone, not a something[iii], the source of life must be also a Someone, not the forces of nature.” After all, if everything is a mechanism and hence should be considered a machine when it comes to scientific study, why would we not seriously consider – if we are open to hearing other views – that it may well be true that the human being is not exempt from this calculation? At least when it is not our ox being gored?

Still think it is no big deal? Well, I simply ask this: do we treat machines differently than we do human beings… persons? (even if, it seems to me, some would find this question specious)

I want to be careful in how I say the following now. Could it be that saying, as Brand does, that the universe is a mechanism – and that therefore, it follows mechanistic laws – is actually spiritually dangerous? That it likely means eventually asserting it is a machine, and that this likely will have significant implications for how we come to think about God and neighbor?[iv]

And the two shall become one…

And the two shall become one…

And here is where the complaints of many of the “Romantics” vs. the men of the Enlightenment start to really resonate with me. About 250 years ago, George Hamann echoed Vico in saying that “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. Johann Goethe went even further, essentially arguing that “the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia]. In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.” (view as summarized by Martin Noland).[v] And recently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Romantic author Curtis White’s take-down of scientific materialism (The Science Delusion, 2014) – where he endeavors to show time and again where pure naturalism and its machine are both illogical and socially harmful.[vi] These men contended – I suspect rightly – that modern science was becoming the one ring to rule them all largely because of the questions and concerns I have been raising.

Picture of Ockham: “For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74)

For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74)

So all of this relates, I think, to what C.S. Lewis called The Abolition of Man. I also suspect I summed up my deepest concerns about Enlightenment thinking (and I have many concerns with Idealist/Historicist/”Romantic” counter-programs as well) in a past post, saying:

“In short, in the dominant Enlightenment mode of thought, the importance of character and trust in the “knowledge equation” are severely minimized, or, some cases, removed altogether.  In this case, what we get is an anemic conception of knowledge where things like natural laws, physical evidence, accurate observation, mathematics, logic, and human reason become all that remain.  Insofar as these things go hand in hand with the presence of humanity, in this mode of thinking they are basically extracted from human being, from character, from trust.”

So, again: does God rule the world through unbendable and mechanical laws of nature He has established? Perhaps laws He and we could actually articulate, enumerate – even capturing their essence mathematically, etc?

I must question here!

If it has not been clear enough why I think this way from what I have written above, consider also the following:

First, is there not an alternative way of approaching these matters that both retains the value of science and makes the particularly theistic/Christian assumptions regarding order in the universe more explicit? Why should we not assert the idea that the “laws of nature” are really just soft and hard regularities that God is constantly upholding and that we can depend on because God is love – and hence orders things for us to discover, use, and have confidence in?[vii]

Second, take into account this information from a WSJ review of Rebecca Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex (which I reviewed here):

“It is no accident that Socrates propounds what has come to be called the “Euthyphro argument” on the way to his trial. The pompous Euthyphro confidently tells Socrates that the holy is to be defined as “what the gods love.” Socrates points out that this gets things backward: The gods love the holy because it is already holy, not because they regard it so. In other words, things are not good because a supposed God approves of them; rather, God approves of what is good in itself, quite independently of his will. This Socratic argument undermines the entire idea that theology can provide a basis for morality and opens up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue. As Ms. Goldstein remarks, this was a seminal moment in the history of moral philosophy and indeed in the development of human civilization; it showed the power of pure rational thought.”

Note that Plato’s Socrates makes God subject to the [moral] laws of nature, opening “up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue” (however logically inconsistent this may ultimately be- see here and here). Brand does not make God subject to the [physical] laws of nature – He only says that God always works through the laws He has established. That said, one should be able to discern without too much trouble how the insight and value that Christianity has brought to these matters epistemologically is now readily “hi-jackable”.

In being sympathetic with arguments like those of Socrates, did Christians go badly wrong[viii], philosophizing in such a way (“voluntarism” and the like) that the church was removed further and further from what should have been a simple message? Namely that: while we cannot say that God’s creation and its laws necessarily had to be the exact way that they are, we can – and need to say – that these things are all in line with its Creator? For example, in order to defend God in a scientific age, it seems to me that one simply need not – and in fact should not – insist that God created (or especially needed to create) “the best of all possible worlds”. Could one not posit, for example, an immature and yet pure “very good” – which, had man responded well, could have become a mature and pure “very good” (ultimately becoming better… even more desirable)?

And Mr. Kant, "knowledge" of his "laws" was anything but.

And Mr. Kant, “knowledge” of his “laws” was anything but.

So, in order to be a good scientist is it really necessary to hold all of these ideas that Brand talks about above?

Or could my concerns – which would require shift the way that we think and speak about such matters (for one, dropping the “nature is a mechanism” talk)[ix] – be incorporated into a science which remains robust and successful? I am hard-pressed to think of a reason that it could not. After all, the “soft” and “hard” regularities that we observe in the world that God holds together in a very ordered way have the potential to be unambiguously labeled and quantified by all persons, trans-culturally and even trans-historically. For example, when we count specifically identifiable things this is not to say that there might be other ways of “capturing” or “harnessing” these particular realities (philosophically speaking, I think we can say that in each case, “number” is an actual thing that can potentially be counted by human beings and may or may not be depending on their purposes). Further, the fact that the “laws of nature” have often been shown to be only incomplete representations of reality – think of Newton vis a vis Einstein – shows us that there might always be more to these “laws” that may be identified at this or that moment and that we think should be said.

In short, I am saying this: I do not think we should be so hasty in our metaphysics here, being tempted to think that we can accurately label God as a scientist, mathematician or engineer. I will admit that I tend to think that He is more the Artist who does not need to quantify and measure – and that only some of us are the scientists, mathematicians, or engineers who decide to do this to some of his own work for our own purposes. I do not mean to denigrate scientists by saying this but rather to elevate God.

Contra Bacon, we do not make creation our slave and "put it on the rack". Its also not our machine. We love it and pray its groaning may end.

Contra Bacon, we do not make creation our slave and “put it on the rack”. Its also not our machine. We love it and pray its groaning may end.

As alluded to by Hanby above, in our world today, “knowledge” – however one chooses to define it – is strictly related to what it does for us – or, more accurately, what we do with it in our “knowledge practices”. As Mr. Francis (not Roger!) Bacon insisted “knowledge is power” – and now, it appears, it is only power (in short, all “knowledge” essentially deals with bodies in motion, and is purely heuristic).[x]

And so, what should be our response to this? To insist, for example, that modern science could have only arisen in a Christian context, given that Christians believe that our orderly God has given us epistemological equipment that accurately comports with the cosmos and its laws of nature? As should be clear from my argument, I think that cedes far too much to the Enlightenment program and those of it’s forerunners.

Instead of this, I propose something more like the following summation:

When it comes to man’s modern scientific program (yes, certainly empowered by Christian beliefs!) no one can deny the importance – and appropriateness – of examining particular scientific matters and theories in terms of “utility” – these things really do, thanks be to God, “work”! That said, why should one ever insist that what we call the “laws of nature” – much less all of the theories built on them – are “true”? Why – as if we knew the inner workings of the mind of God and His creation (Vico) – should they ever be associated with what we call knowledge in any sense?

Why not rather assume that these “laws” are the truly conventional and contingent things – transitory maps and “useful fictions” – and that things like belief in God, human relationships, and moral truth are true and certain knowledge (not the other way around)?

“…you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.   On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

And where do I go from here theologically? Here: what we are to know and in fact already know in part should start with essential Christian doctrine.  My argument builds on truths like those exemplified in Psalm 22:

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
  On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

And this: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12, see John 17:3 as well).

…but ignore that last bit for now, and focus with me on my argument vs. our understanding of the scientific method. Am I off my rocker? If you think so, try to help me out and show me where I am wrong – but if you do, please try to address my actual arguments.

FIN

 

 

Notes: 

[i] Of the first edition, fellow young earth creationist Kurt Wise wrote: “Faith, Reason, and Earth History makes a substantial contribution to creationist literature. It is the most philosophically sophisticated book on the subject and a must read for anyone interested in creationism and the origins controversy.”

[ii] Of course, one does not need to insist, with Jonathan Edwards, that God re-creates the entire universe during every moment, in order to challenge Brand’s notion that we can have real knowledge about something called “nature’s laws” in part because of this assumption about the mechanistic nature of nature.

[iii] Actually, I think we do need to say that a human being is a something as well – just not a mechanism. Here we find that the emphasis of some philosophers – mostly classical – on things like essence and substance are of use to us. See also Gumbrecht’s Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey.

[iv] As I argued in the past:

considering the creation – and especially ourselves – as machines is spiritually dangerous because it opens us up to the temptation to think the same about all persons, including the Creator Himself!   Then, we treat Him accordingly – that is, attempting to manipulate Him as we would any other machine.  In sum, such thinking only gives fuel to our desire to justify ourselves over and against Him.

it is not only incorrect to say that the cosmos is a machine, but it is even dangerous to say that it is like a machine – and it is best to avoid such talk… Please note that I am not saying that all persons who currently see the cosmos as a machine think as I have outlined above, for some still identify the cosmos with the creation and see God as very much involved in it.  Further, I am not saying that the errors of those who really do see nature as wholly organic, free and divine are less theologically serious.

I am simply asserting that it is normal for the practice of methodological naturalism to lead persons in this mechanical direction and for it to affect our deepest beliefs.  And I think to say this is not much different from saying lex orendi lex credenda (the Law of prayer is the law of belief).  As one finds some success in the world using naturalistic techniques one may begin to think, somewhat logically, that they ought to have a very good reason for not letting their methodological naturalism become pure philosophical naturalism. Just what is that good reason?  After all, they think, there is no doubt that I am understanding much about nature and learning ever better how to manipulate it. It works because it is true and its true because it works!”

[v] Noland, Martin R. 1996. Harnack’s Historicism: the Genesis, Development, and Institutionalization of Historicism and its Expression in the Thought of Adolf Von Harnack. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Union Theological Seminary, 1996. Consider also this quotation from Michael Polanyi: “The argument of doubt put forward by Locke in favor of tolerance says that we should admit all religions since it is impossible to demonstrate which one is true. This implies that we must not impose beliefs that are not demonstrable. Let us apply this doctrine to ethical principles. It follows that, unless ethical principles can be demonstrated with certainty, we should refrain from imposing them and should tolerate their total denial. But, of course, ethical principles cannot, in a strict sense, be demonstrated: you cannot prove the obligation to tell the truth, to uphold justice and mercy. It would follow therefore that a system of mendacity, lawlessness, and cruelty is to be accepted as the alternative to ethical principles and on equal terms. But a society in which unscrupulous propaganda, violence, and terror prevail offers no scope for tolerance. Here the inconsistency of liberalism based on philosophical doubt becomes apparent: freedom of thought is destroyed by the extension of doubt to the field of traditional ideals, which includes the basis for freedom of thought.” (From: —Michael Polanyi, “The Eclipse of Thought,” in Meaning, by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975], pp. 9-10).

[vi] Of course, there is much wrong with White’s alternative! I plan on doing a full review of the book in the future, but here is a preview of the kinds of things I will say: “The problem… is that White is a hopeless Romantic. Literally. Like the Idealists and Romantics before him, all eager to overcome the fallen world (their own definition of the fall: in the chains of society), White embraces notions of moral evolution (pre-Darwin) and takes pride in being aware of life’s irony: that man lives by fictions and that the artists and poets realize this. They thereby seek to be true not in the stories (not histories!) they tell, but in their varied efforts to gently enlighten us to and allign us with the [playful] activity that is of the World Spirit: such is the good and True and Good and Beautiful. Forget antiquated notions about the Faith once delivered to the saints – life, they assert as if they know it, is not about this or any other “Certain Knowledge” of humanity. This is the Faith and Conviction for which they will so courageously – and meritoriously – fight.”

[vii] Previously, I had written: “[Regarding how to understand science]….I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and *act* in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand.  Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love.  Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!  As the linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior.  There must be an infrastructure in place from the beginning. This matter does not center around the fact that truth is a social construct instead of some cold and impersonal factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially.  And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).  And this in turn brings us back to Romans 1.  It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order=God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love.  Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

Now none of this means that we can’t observe [and harness, as are able] the hard and soft regularities that God has put in place for us.  It just means being humble about working with these things, understanding that He has His own purposes for arranging the world as He sees fit, and we have our own purposes…” (from here)

[viii] Abelard contended that while intentions could be either good or bad, particular actions could not. Then, Duns Scotus was the first to argue that “As Old Testament moral practice was preparatory, our present moral understanding may also be provisional, and for this reason God’s actual commands to us may differ from the Decalogue” (Holmes, 71). Ockham argued that if the world was not contingent, this would necessarily make God subject to the universal forms (see here, particularly under “universals”) that were posited (the Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor says that nominalism was adopted to safeguard God’s power: so that He would not be limited by overly strict conceptions of nature, particularly human nature. This new focus on “voluntarism” and “nominalism” seems to re-capitulate the Stoic’s reasons for shunning theories of forms while upholding some kind of creator God [though one with the cosmos] and His divine power). Again, of course, one who is more “Neoplatonic” (or, perhaps, simply Christian?) in their view of God and the world, for example, need not insist that a) there is only one possible way of structuring the world, b) that God could not freely choose to create universal forms (and some and not other potential others) that were in accordance with his nature.

[ix] As long as we do not think that nature (the creation!) is a mechanism. I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong or one is wrong to strongly believe that the creation is in fact a mechanism. I am simply saying that we really can’t have certain knowledge that the universe is a mechanism – but that it should not matter for the scientist.

[x] “..to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe…depends wholly on the arts and sciences… For we cannot command nature except by obeying her… Truth, therefore, and utility are here perfectly identical.” – Francis Bacon (might that not help explain the confusion this N.Y. Times editorial pinpoints?)

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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“What About the Dinosaurs Dad?” Where Jurassic Park and the Creation Museum Meet

jparkAs a very young child, one of the main things I wanted to know about was how science and the Bible fit together. “What about the dinosaurs, dad?” (an elephant?) We’ve taken our kids to natural history museums and even the Creation Museum when we were down in Kentucky, and there is nothing like dinosaurs that gets the imagination – and questions – going.

Like a Velociraptor, the new Jurassic World movie totally snuck up on me. I had no idea it was coming. In any case, I really enjoyed the original film. This weekend I watched it again with the boys (with lots of warnings about the scarier scenes).

One thing I find fascinating to think about is how in the first movie there is this idea that 65 million year old dinosaur blood and DNA could potentially be preserved. What this made me think about is the [rather under-reported] news over the past ten years about the fresh (and smelly!) dinosaur tissue discovered by Dr. Mary Schweitzer (see this article for amazing color pictures of this).

What could all of this mean? I think it’s a good question for people to keep asking and thinking about (see the brief conversation I initiated in the comments of this article). What is really interesting is that young earth creationist scientists have evidently been talking about discoveries like this for quite a long time and consider finds like these to be highly significant to their case (see the links to all the articles at the bottom of this and this article). Things like formaldehyde and iron atoms can act as preservatives under certain conditions – that said, it seems amazing to me that tissue could remain fresh for thousands of years much less millions (all the fresh tissue found would have to have been preserved for 13,000 – 40,000 times longer than 5,000 years).

What to think of evolution as a whole? I will admit that I am no expert on the topic but it hasn’t prevented me from writing on the topic from time to time. The following is a revised compilation of a couple posts I’ve done on the topic from the past couple years (originally here and here – see my take on the Ham-Nye debate here).

Yes, I will admit hard to imagine in a pre-fall, "very good", state.

Yes, I will admit hard to imagine in a pre-fall, “very good”, state.

“Dad, why did God make sharks so that they eat other animals?”

So my four year old asked me this question out of the blue two nights ago (as of this writing) – well, right after asking me if sharks, crocodiles and sea monsters were real.

What would you say?

Ugh.

Ugh.

I said:

Some people just think that this shows God has a hard edge – sure He is loving, but still… in some ways, He is very hard”.

Others say that animals eat other animals because of the curse, and I think they are right.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the creation fell with them. God had given Adam and Eve great power and when they disobeyed Him and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they threw the whole creation into chaos.* They started getting old, and would die. Things started to decay and disintegrate. Animals started to eat one another…

Not long ago on a blog, a man known as the GeoChristian linked me to his blog post about animal death before the fall.

Being firmly unconvinced by his post, here is how I replied to him:

Much better... (see here)

Ahh…. Much better… (see here)

I guess I, sensitive guy that I am, am just fundamentally incapable of interpreting God’s evaluation of “very good” in a way that permits carnivorous activity. God said the world, not the garden, was “very good”. You say: “A related passage is Romans 8:20-22, which states that the whole creation groans. Just like in Genesis 3, the passage does not state the nature of that groaning, and it doesn’t necessarily include death” and it is pretty much impossible for me to think that groaning and death do not go hand in hand. Looking at it briefly, Psalm 124:1 “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God” is not glorifying God because of predation per se, but is glorifying God because all creation seeks their sustenance from him. I Tim 4:4 is simply saying that “everything created by God is good”, which is certainly true – but he does not create that which infects his good creation by the curse of original sin. As for teeth indicating predation, we know that doesn’t work. Kevin, I’m guessing I won’t convince you and you won’t convince me. I don’t consider myself a hard core YEC – I just like to listen widely to the various views.”

In short, I find the idea that God built suffering, death and decay into the original creation – as if this is “very good” – even more disturbing than the idea of eternal punishment. Why?  Death, decay and destruction are not very good and I see no reason, biblically or otherwise, to think they are (am I simply irrationally sensitive, being repulsed and wanting to turn away, for example, from carnivorous assaults as I do?).  On the other hand, it is clear that eternal punishment is not the way it is supposed to be – nor is it supposed to be for men, but for angels.

That’s where I think the accent needs to go. You see, I think God hates eternal punishment more than I do. Of course, I still believe in it because I think the words of Jesus – kind Jesus – point to this reality.**

This is one of the reasons I think the young earth creationist position can’t be readily dismissed.***  In any case, even theistic evolutionists who would say that there was a literal Adam and Eve are now being told that this is not even a scientifically viable position to hold (for why, see the answers to my comment here)

PressFeature_DeniableDarwin

The powers that be inform us that anyone who believes in something like young earth creationism is a complete and total moron (evidently people like Leonard Brand, Ben Carson, Terry Hamblin [Wikipedia article here], Andrew McIntosh, John C. Sanford, Raymond Damadian, Stephen Lloyd and Todd Wood for instance).  These days, saying you believe this a good way to socially assassinate yourself when it comes to intellectual respectability.

It seems another way to do this – not as much of course – is simply to question evolution period, as Ben Steyn argued in the 2008 movie Expelled.  Besides the revealing Dawkins-aliens moment, the highlight of the movie had to be the agnostic and secular Jew David Berlinski, the mathematician-physicist turned harsh Darwin-critic.  His effortless takedown of neo-Darwinian thought was compelling and his brash confidence admittedly entertaining (see the You Tube clip below for Berlinski on Darwinian evolution).  Berlinski has nothing but contempt for what he sees as the intellectually facile system that is called the neo-Darwinian synthesis – a “Scientific Scandal” if there ever was one, he says.

I would say that Berlinski is well worth reading (if not for the sheer entertainment).  And not long ago, our library ordered a book of his essays The Deniable Darwin.

As one can see by looking at Berlinski’s various books as held by OCLC WorldCat libraries, many of his peers in academia evidently did not judge this book to be one of his better moments.

berlinskibooks

One might be forgiven for thinking the articulate anti-Darwinian thoughts of a highly educated, scientific mind the stature of Berlinskis’ might actually be of interest to people.

Certainly, there is an interest in semi-popularized books about evolution.

evolutionbooks_001

All this said, as one can see from the first chart above his 2008 book lampooning atheism did a bit better.  In it, he said of Darwinism:

We have no idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did.  We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the brain functions.  Beyond the trivial, we have no other theories. (bold mine, p. xiii, see also 156-165).

And in this excellent interview on Issues ETC., Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute talks about Berlinski as well as four other prominent, non-religious scientists scientists who have dared to question the Darwinian orthodoxy*: Jerry Fodor, Lynn Margulis (both opponents of intelligent design), Thomas Nagel (in his book pictured below: “the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude”), and Steve Fuller (an agnostic who defends intelligent design).  He also mentioned the late Philip Skell.

MindAndCosmosBook

Luskin reinforces what should be the obvious notion that science is not the impartial search for truth, but is also governed by important sociological and political factors (and spiritual of course) as well.

It also seems to me that Luskin has been very careful with his examples.  I noted a couple years ago his Discovery Institute colleague Paul Neslon was rightfully skewered (it seemed to me) by a couple prominent atheist-Darwinists, Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers, for being careless about representing people’s views.

This topic is always interesting to me – particularly when thinking about how Christ asks us to have faith like a child in His simple and humble words. I wish I had more time to read these books!

FIN

 

 

Notes

*So get what this kid – 4.5 years old – asks me last night….  [note: this was from last year] As I laid down with him in bed to tuck him in, he peppered me with theological questions and commentary for what must have been a good thirty minutes or so. I don’t recall the exact words that he used, but at one point I am pretty sure that he basically asked me whether or not the curse was enacted by a direct act of God in response to Adam and Eve’s unbelief or whether it came about by a release of some kind of power from the tree itself, as its true use had been violated. I told him I wasn’t sure, as I said to myself “Why had I never thought about it that way?”

This kind of thing happens more often than one might think (post from 3 years ago on kids asking very hard theological questions)… I feel blessed to know that I have a son who is proud about how he believes in God and wants to share that with me.

** Others these days are calling this into question left and right – it is certainly something that needs to be addressed and dealt with more. The very gifted and popular Eastern Orthodox blogger Al Kimel has been doing a lot of stuff arguing against the traditional view of hell, and linking to others doing the same, for instance: http://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/scot-mcknight-and-the-immortality-of-the-soul/

*** Old earth creationists will often say that they do not believe that there was any human death before the fall either. Here is a link to a relatively recent debate between two prominent young earth creationists (YEC) and two old earth creationists (OEC).

****The article the interview is based on is found in this issue (Issue 2, 2013) of the Christian Research Journal: Are There Nonreligious Skeptics of Darwinian Evolution and Proponents of Intelligent Design?

Images: JPark: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fireatwillrva/8224969668 ; animal pics: Wikipedia

 
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Daring to deny Darwin III: Recognizing the true heart of Darwin’s theory and its intimate connection with the modern technological and scientific mindset (MSTM)

Nope: Kepler, writing in 1605 stated that “the celestial machine is not a kind of divine living being but a kind of clockwork”

Not quite: Kepler, writing in 1605 stated that “the celestial machine is not a kind of divine living being but a kind of clockwork”

Uh uh: Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Uh uh: Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Bingo: “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. - George Hamann * (pic of Hamann

Bingo: “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. – George Hamann *

(Part I and Part II)

 

Note: I thank my friend David Bade whom I have quoted below, and who has unearthed most of the fantastic quotations found in the pictures and sidebars garnishing the text below.**

As I noted in just a bit longer exposition the other day (see here), analogies are critical:

The creation we know is not God’s machine or technology, but His living art, the distinct, unequal and beautiful but diseased partner with whom He dances.

A dance of death?: “ Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death” ― 18th c. English atheist poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

A dance of death?: “ Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death”
― 18th c. English atheist poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

.

I submit that a widespread acceptance of faulty analogies is one of the reasons why, as regards Christianity, unbelief found very fertile ground in the West long before Darwin:

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

….Darwin’s truly distinctive contribution to the nineteenth-century world-view was not to promote materialism, nor to propose a theory of evolution – plenty of scientists and philosophers had already done that; it was to expound a theory of natural selection which removed any necessity for a metaphor of purpose when discussing natural history. Evolution proceeded, in the Darwinian view, by a series of ineluctable progressions, the stronger form always eliminating the weaker. Once the process had been recognized for what it was, there was no need to personalize it at all. There was no need to pretend that Natural Selection had a view of things, or loved the world, or the people in it, any more than it had once loved amoebas or brontosauruses. The bleak impersonal chain of being rolled on with the inevitability of the other “laws of nature”: there was absolutely no need, if this was an accurate picture of what happened in nature, to posit the existence of a “Creator”. (A.N. Wilson, God’s Funeral, p. 188, bold mine).

I suggest reading that quotation above several times, and digesting it slowly, as there is a logic here we need to understand.  I think that this man, an agnostic with religious leanings (more pantheistic), really gets to the heart of the matter. Now, some notes of clarification and critique…

 

With Descartes, mechanics become physics, and an old vision (see below quote on Lucretius) is given new “life”: “there are absolutely no rules in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics it is a part or type… the laws of my mechanics, that is of [my] physics” – Rene Descartes (quoted by Fabbri)*

With Descartes, mechanics become physics, and an old vision (see below quote on Lucretius) is given new “life”: “there are absolutely no rules in Mechanics which do not also pertain to Physics, of which Mechanics it is a part or type… the laws of my mechanics, that is of [my] physics…” – Rene Descartes (quoted by Fabbri)***

-According to the neo-Darwinian theory, being “fit” has little to do with mere physical strength. The stronger eliminating the weaker needs to be understood as meaning that those who “fit” best in their environments survive – what is in view here is both being in the right place at the right time and having all the requisite traits necessary to overcome obstacles to passing on one’s genes. So, of course raw physical strength alone is not the only critical element, but powers of the intellect, survival instinct, etc.

Francis Bacon on nature: “make her your slave” ... "put her on the rack"

Francis Bacon on nature: “make her your slave” … “put [her] on the rack”

-Nature is conceived of as a machine, operating as it does according to mechanistic laws. Insofar as a personal creator is not in view here this would, given the all-important presence of impersonal “laws of nature”, inevitably seem to be about about viewing the creation as a more or less impersonal machine, even if it can be described as a beautiful, awe-provoking, and even alluring machine.

whereas ancient and medieval engineers and philosophers, from Archimedes and Aristotle to Leonardo, understood mechanics as describing the principles for constructing machines, many if not most of their successors have understood mechanics to be the study of the laws according to which nature--and therefore machines as physical objects--operates. -- David Bade

….whereas ancient and medieval engineers and philosophers, from Archimedes and Aristotle to Leonardo, understood mechanics as describing the principles for constructing machines, many if not most of their successors have understood mechanics to be the study of the laws according to which nature–and therefore machines as physical objects–operates.
— David Bade

 

-The theory seems to feature a glaring contradiction because machines do have a specific purpose.  “Does it make sense to talk of function (or even purpose) without a designer?” (Reiss 2009: 20). Interestingly, the presumption of “nature” as a machine presumes an underlying order and arrangement – and scientists insist we are capable of discerning its workings – yet curiously, it is evidently able to avoid having any purpose (which incidently, then brings up another critical question: how do we *know* part of the “purpose” of certain elements in the universe, for example, is to essentially serve as a clock, by which we might determine its age?)

"In truth, one cannot, it seems, oppose mechanism and finalism, one cannot oppose mechanism and anthropomorphism, for if the functioning of a machine is explained by relations of pure causality, the construction of a machine can be understood neither without purpose nor without man. A machine is made by man and for man, with a view toward certain ends to be obtained, in the form of effects to be produced… a mechanical model of any phenomena is explanatory only so long as we take machines as already granted." -- Georges Canguilhem (1947)

“In truth, one cannot, it seems, oppose mechanism and finalism, one cannot oppose mechanism and anthropomorphism, for if the functioning of a machine is explained by relations of pure causality, the construction of a machine can be understood neither without purpose nor without man. A machine is made by man and for man, with a view toward certain ends to be obtained, in the form of effects to be produced… a mechanical model of any phenomena is explanatory only so long as we take machines as already granted.” — Georges Canguilhem (1947)

 

-Interestingly, what Darwin proposes in positing his theory is something that Hume opposes as regards his epistemology. With Hume, not only is “correlation not causation” but we need not posit causation at all!  We might recognize that something is there, or that something does happen, but why would we ever imagine that asking why – or even how – something happens is, strictly speaking, necessary? (see here for more on Hume, along with a critique)

David Bade: “Mechanics has become the science of any and all motion, regardless of who or what causes that motion…. To argue that the action of a mechanism explains something one must first have rendered invisible both the machine’s maker and the purposes for which it was made” (picture: Cosmos as clock)

David Bade: “Mechanics has become the science of any and all motion, regardless of who or what causes that motion…. To argue that the action of a mechanism explains something one must first have rendered invisible both the machine’s maker and the purposes for which it was made” (picture: Cosmos as clock)

 

-Nevertheless, Hume’s view can be seen as being compatible with Darwin’s theory in a practical sense. In order to not undercut Darwin’s theory with Hume some may note that human beings inevitably will, in spite of Hume’s insistence that it is not logically necessary, search for reasons and causes…  For example, for the evolutionist this means how and why is it that some survive and not others… what is the mechanism?  Again, note that here, for all practical purposes, we are back to nature as a machine (and so, as Bade notes as regards explanations of “purposeless” evolution, “teleology keeps creeping back into mechanical models through the back door.”****)

20th century scientist Richard Lewontin has famously said, “We cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.” But he follows the early scientists and professed Christian, Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

20th and 21st century scientist and agnostic Richard Lewontin has famously said, “We cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.” But he follows the early scientist and professed Christian, Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

 

-While the evolutionist might insist that this search is really only practical and necessary for us, this does end up putting the word “truth” in a certain, very strange, context.  Here “truth” is talked about in a way that is very different than the ways we typically understand the word. In short, the only truth is that every fiber of our being is unavoidably orientated towards simple survival – specifically, as Richard Dawkins never tires of reminding us, that we might successfully reproduce – at whatever the cost.  But note the logical conclusion of this. If our bodies and minds must deceive us in this or that circumstance or context in order that our kind and kin would continue to live[!] – evidently this is the “purpose”, or “goal” of the process[!] – so be it, for this is our destiny (I develop this more, distinguishing my position from Alvin Plantiga’s similar argument in my post Daring to deny Darwin II: how Christians can apply Marx’s largely correct views of human nature to today’s Darwinian climate)

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

David Bade note that “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does this epistemological confidence lie?

 

-This is what is ultimately the “truth” then: determinism must, in some mysterious sense – for yes, we feel like and know (do we not?) we are free to choose much! – rule all (yes, note the contradictory nature of this).  What does this mean? Well, for instance, the importance of considering guilt and its causes is perhaps to be downplayed, denied, and to be made a merely pragmatic consideration. Those influenced by naturalism live as they please and are “reasonably” able to do so with their fellows (that is avoiding nasty short term and long term consequences as best they can discern them), always living with the contradiction that their lives are both seemingly determined and free.

"If god is dead everything is permitted." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If god is dead everything is permitted.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

-In the midst of all of this, what man generally calls religious considerations, which he is unable to avoid, comes  to the fore.  An attainable “purpose”, as the doggedly materialistic Darwinist sees it (being somewhat compatible with the only “purpose” we seem to be able to somewhat coherently discern and discuss given the overarching frame of our machine-like existence), is to face up to and, if possible, to avoid death. However, as the Christian knows, the real purpose of any fallen man, with no irony intended (hence no quotes around purpose) – his goal – is to downplay and suppress the horridness of death… and ultimately to deny and avoid facing up to the sin against God which causes death – something that we know, deep down, is not the way it is supposed to be (note that no matter how much we suppress the truth – which today happens quite a lot – we do retain a conscience, however badly seared it might be – see more here)

No.  No.  Yes...

No. No. Yes…

 

-In order for fallen man to be most effective in taking on death he needs to convince himself that somehow, someway, many limits – perhaps most limits – can potentially be overcome (and yes, there are many other ways fallen man tries to deal with death in less extreme ways – not thinking about it, prettying it up, calling it natural, focusing on the afterlife, etc.). “Limits”… note the quotes – this is the hope that sustains (hence the stuff I have been posting here from the paper I wrote for my library technology presentation – see here).

Oh, the irony.  Hawking concludes: "we shall all... be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."  Librarian and linguist David Bade: "Having theoretically constituted the world as a machine, [scientists] deny their involvement in this construction and identify it with the human striving to know “the mind of God.”— librarian and linguist David Bade."

Oh, the irony.  Librarian and linguist David Bade: “Having theoretically constituted the world as a machine, [scientists] deny their involvement in this construction and identify it with the human striving to know “the mind of God.

Some of those quotes I think are most significant I repeat now:

Many years ago, I was reading Isaac Asimov’s fictional Foundation series and was introduced to the character of Hari Seldon. This man develops a science called “psychohistory” that enables him to predict the future via probability using mathematical formulas.  As an impressionable sixteen year old, this was a very new idea for me at the time and had a real impact on me – I vividly remember the time and place I read this and my subsequent wrestling with the concept: was science really progressing such that it would have abilities like these? Or if it was not, could it? Recently, I came upon what is by now a familiar theme – the universe as a machine, albeit a beautiful one – in the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. As opposed to Hari Seldon’s formula(s), which took into account contingencies (and hence probabilities), what we find in Hugo Cabret certainly seems to be a more deterministic way of looking at things. Whether or not this is the case, here I submit that the practical idea is the same: by treating the cosmos as a machine and by carefully observing it, mathematical formulas can assist in “capturing” the world and be used to make predictions about it.

…Men like Descartes and Leibniz even used the automaton as an “emblem of the cosmos”, and this both summed up and fueled what I would characterize as the modern scientific and technological mindset, or MSTM where the boundaries limiting man’s power over nature increasingly were expected to succumb

(from here and here)

 

From Lucretius through the renaissance and up until the 17th century the phrase machina mundi “emphasizes the ‘technological’ or, again, the poietical character of the notion of nature, without attributing to it the idea of a spiritless (or dead) mechanism” (Mittelstrass 1988: 26)…*****

Pre (and post?) MSTM: From Lucretius through the renaissance and up until the 17th century the phrase machina mundi “emphasizes the ‘technological’ or, again, the poietical character of the notion of nature, without attributing to it the idea of a spiritless (or dead) mechanism” (Mittelstrass 1988: 26)…*****

 

What is this modern scientific and technological mindset (ie. straightjacket), or MSTM, in more detail?

I would characterize the MSTM as being set on overcoming everything seen to be a limit, and being reductionistic and pragmatic in practice. I do not mean to imply that the MSTM was the dominant or most important mode of thinking for most of the early modern scientists (most early scientists were more tempered by competing systems of understanding – particularly religious ones – that would compete against drives such as these) or that it was fully developed in those for whom it was the dominant or most important mode of thinking. More specifically, we can look at the MSTM in this way. It begin with an approach to the world called “methodological (not necessarily philosophical) naturalism” in the 17th century, was upgraded to include “pragmatic utilitarianism” in the 19th century, and has in recent years been upgraded to “systematic iconoclastic world-repurposing” towards man’s desires (late 20th and early 21st century). In some cases of course there were those who were “early adopters” of the upgrades. Again, what this all comes down to (endgame) is that we have behavior that can be described as being reductionistic and iconoclastic (limit and barrier breaking). This may leave us with some “laws of nature”, but also leaves us with moral lawlessness, where the ethical façade of the 19th c. “pragmatic utilitarianism” upgrade collapses altogether. At this point, we can say that there is nothing intrinsic about beauty, justice, and meaning, for example – i.e. beauty, justice, and meaning are only something that I/we (and those we choose to associate with) create / make / determine.

(from footnote here)

Even though his argument evidently was not taken seriously by most all intellectuals since he wrote it some 250 years ago, Hamann (see above) nailed it (even if there were other things he said that were not so good – see here).  The German romantic writer Goethe also was on to something, when he essentially said that because of what I have called the MSTM….

“the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia] In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.”******

 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - right on the MSTM.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – right on the MSTM.

 

So here we see that Darwin was just the nail in the coffin, and we now have this cage we deal with.  What is “right” and “wrong” is now increasingly ruminated on in the context of the cosmic machine – to be overcome by the few, the proud, the chosen. Much is unknown here, but we can say this: they will rule not like the God of the Scriptures would have leaders rule, that is to not only act with true retributive justice, but to major on showing – from the depths of their hearts – kindness, compassion, and mercy for all human beings.

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Freud, bearing MSTM fruit: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

 

C.S. Lewis draws things to a close for us – from his Abolition of Man:

What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument… For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… [is] the power of some men to make other men what they please….[from elsewhere in the book: …mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of the masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motives but their own ‘natural’ impulses.]  If man chooses himself as raw material to be manipulated, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners…..

 

The theoretical mechanization of life and the technical utilization of the animal are inseparable. Man can make himself master and possessor of nature only if he denies all natural purpose and can consider all of nature, including, apparently, animate nature--except for himself--to be a means. This is what legitimates the construction of a mechanical model of the living body, including the human body--for already in Descartes the human body, if not man, is a machine." -- Georges Canguilhem (1947)

Well, “himself” not meaning all men…: “The theoretical mechanization of life and the technical utilization of the animal are inseparable. Man can make himself master and possessor of nature only if he denies all natural purpose and can consider all of nature, including, apparently, animate nature–except for himself–to be a means.
This is what legitimates the construction of a mechanical model of the living body, including the human body–for already in Descartes the human body, if not man, is a machine.” — Georges Canguilhem (1947)

 

In short, ruthless mechanical “justice” for the life unworthy of life.  For those unworthy of our boastful strength and might and accomplishment.

 

abolitionofman

 

But heed O man – there is only one way to really survive death…

 

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight.

— Jer. 9:23-24

….this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

— John 17:3

FIN

*This quotation from the mid-eighteenth century, re-iterates one made by the Italian humanist – arguably the father of “historicism”, Giambattista Vico* (really vs Descartes), already offered in the late seventeenth century. In Vico’s mind, methodological error was to be charged towards persons like Descartes, who “apply human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles,’ to the study of nature, which was created by God and so is fully known by God alone” (Noland, p. 111)! Vico however made an error of his own, falling off the other side of the horse: While Descartes rejected the “application of human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles’, to the study of history, Vico argued that human history is, in fact, created precisely through such ideas, which are ‘modifications of the human mind’” (p. 111) – he “asserted the epistemological primacy of the man-made historical world” (Gadamer, in Noland p. 220). Martin Noland, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf Von Harnack (1996).  More on Vico and historicism in an upcoming post.

But if we go with Hamann, does this mean we give up rationality and science?  Hardly.  As I wrote elsewhere:

“I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and *act* in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand.  Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love.  Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!  As the linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior.  There must be an infrastructure in place from the beginning. This matter does not center around the fact that truth is a social construct instead of some cold and impersonal factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially.  And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).  And this in turn brings us back to Romans 1.  It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order=God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love.  Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

Now none of this means that we can’t observe [and harness, as are able] the hard and soft regularities that God has put in place for us.  It just means being humble about working with these things, understanding that He has His own purposes for arranging the world as He sees fit, and we have our own purposes…” (from here)

**From a paper recently presented at a conference “Integrationism and humanism” in Oberageri Switzerland 24-27, June 2014.

Key sources quoted in Bade’s paper and above:

Canguilhem, Georges (2008). Knowledge of Life. Translated by Stefanos Geroulanos, and Daniela Ginsburg, Introduction by Paola Marrati, and Todd Meyers New York: Fordham University Press.

Eaton, William R. (2005). Boyle on Fire: The Mechanical Revolution in Scientific Explanation. London: Continuum. (Continuum Studiesin British Philosophy)

Fabbri, Natacha (2011). “Deus Mechanicus and Machinae Mundi in the Early Modern Period,” Historia Philosophica. An International Journal, IX: 75-112.

Machamer, P., Mcguire, J. E. and Kochiras, H. (2012). “Newton And The Mechanical Philosophy: Gravitation As The Balance Of The Heavens” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, v.50 nr.3: 370–388

Mittelstrass, Jürgen (1988). “Nature and science in the Renaissance.” In Woolhouse, R. S. (ed.), Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries : Essays in Honour of Gerd Buchdahl. (Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic), 17-43.

Mittelstrass, Jürgen (1995). Machina mundi: Zum astronomischen Weltbild der Renaissance. Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn. (Vorträge der Aeneas-Silvius-Stiftung an der Universität Basel ; 31)

Reiss, John O. (2009). Not by Design: Retiring Darwin’s Watchmaker. Berkeley: University of California Press.

***“When Descartes turns to machines to find analogies in his explanation of the organism, he invokes automatons with springs and hydraulic automatons. He is thus a tributary, intellectually speaking, of the technical forms of his age: of the existence of clocks and watches, water mills, artificial fountains, pipe organs, etc…..This explanation can only be conceived once human ingenuity has constructed apparatuses that imitate organic movements…. (for example, the launching of a projectile, the back-and-forth movement of a saw–apparatuses whose action [their construction and activation aside] takes place independently of man)” — Canguilhem, Georges, 2008.

Here the librarian and linguist David Bade has a rather sensible suggestion that those determined to take this path ought to consider: The usefulness and the validity of thinking of the world as a machine depends upon thinking about machines clearly, and this requires understanding them humanistically and teleologically as creations of human beings for human purposes.”

****example: men like Steven Jay Gould, more so than most evolutionists (but they all do this) “in effect treats the end result achieved as the goal of the process. This is the standard view that since the eye is adapted for seeing, its structure can be explained as the result of a process of selection for seeing” (Reiss 2009: xv).

*****David Bade goes on: “…because it remains a creating nature (natura naturans) or, in Christian and neo-Platonic thought, a machine created and sustained by God.”  It seems to me that if the idea of a machine universe is heavily de-emphasized, it is Christians and other persons of the book who still have a sensible foundation for rational and scientific discourse. For others without such a biblical foundation, this kind of confidence may be far more ethereal, and tend to be swallowed up in notions of mystery and the unknowability of it all…

******Noland, Martin R. 1996. Harnack’s Historicism: the Genesis, Development, and Institutionalization of Historicism and its Expression in the Thought of Adolf Von Harnack. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Union Theological Seminary, 1996, p. 176.

Although seeing the big picture more clearly than many of his contemporaries, Goethe was nevertheless, in a sense, also wrong. For, as this post has pointed out, “classical mechanics” had taken a decisive turn. With Galileo and Descartes, there was no room to understanding this as something distinct from nature, having to do with creators and their simple machines: “After Galileo, mechanics became the quantitative study of local motion of bodies, and mechanics and its relation to the simple machines was no longer conceived in opposition with nature” (Machamer, P., Mcguire, J. E. And Kochiras, H. (2012), p.373-374). This theory of motion “became the new model of intelligibility for understanding nature” (ibid.: 374). As David Bade notes: “Whereas Aristotle had distinguished between natural laws of motion and παρὰ φύσινmotions, e.g. mechanical motions which are caused by human action, Galileo argued against that view that mechanical motions also followed the laws of nature, mechanics being the science of the laws of all motion. What he ignored was the fact that levers, winches, pulleys, screws and wedges by themselves do not move; even “the force of the blow” is reduced to “the weight or balance.” The reasons and causes of the miraculous effects of machines has nothing to do with those who make and use them. Galileo’s theory of machines was in many ways and for certain purposes an improvement over earlier theories, but nevertheless his theory of machines was thrown off balance when the existence and operation of the machine was theorized in abstraction from its maker and operator.”

_____

 

Most images of people from Wikipedia (except Canguilhem: http://www.babelio.com/auteur/Georges-Canguilhem/2584)

cosmos as clock: http://sophistsociety.tumblr.com/post/4674299921/clockwork-universe ; Kurzweil gravestone: http://www.catalysthouse.net/film-review-ray-kurzweil-a-transcendent-man/ ; Hawking: http://www.feandft.com/a-review-of-stephen-w-hawkings-a-brief-history-of-time/

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Daring to deny Darwin II: how Christians can apply Marx’s largely correct views of human nature to today’s Darwinian climate

PressFeature_DeniableDarwin

In a past post, I said: “[Casey] Luskin reinforces what should be the obvious notion that science is not the impartial search for truth, but is also governed by important sociological and political factors (and spiritual of course) as well.”

When it comes to talking about ideas regarding the history of the world – and the highly abstract theories and models* that evolutionary thinkers depend on to tell these stories – there is no real reason to assume that what comes out of the scientist’s mouth has to do with truth.  I am simply taking their own theory to its logical conclusion.**

Let me explain. 

I am not saying that these persons can’t come up with plausible and somewhat reasonable-sounding explanations of why things are what they are and have come to be – and along with this, why what often appears to be the case, really is not the case (for example, why dinosaur bones that appear to be young by virtue of the fresh tissue inside of them are really 65 million years old or more***).

Pressing Karl into the Lord's service.

Pressing Karl into the Lord’s service.

I am simply saying this: if we assume as true that which most modern scientists base their thinking on – that is, cosmological and then biological evolution – then what is really important is precisely what I mentioned above: that a person come up with plausible sounding theories about why things are the way they are and have come to be (and when it comes to scientists living in theistic nations, one’s ability to do this will be directly correspond to the readiness of a culture to disbelieve the writings that support these theisms, not by any “provable” scientific argumentation per se).

In other words, what really matters for these scientists expounding on survival of the fittest (that does not mean strongest, that means those who “fit” best with their environment and hence are able to pass on their genes to the next generation) is that they simply sound smart, possessing the requisite rhetorical and conversational abilities to convince a wide range of the population that they are contributing something of value.

Why do they not actually need to produce anything that has real value?  The point is that they only need to be associated with those who do, and to borrow from the capital these fruit-producing persons possess.  In other words, those who put forth evolutionary theory as truth can only do so because they parasitic on those who are essentially creative engineers and really do have some real connection with what is truth.  Everyone will acknowledge that there must be a significant amount of truth in theories coming from men like Newton and Einstein because their theories have been clearly seen to be absolutely foundational in attaining practical inventions and results that everyone can experience.

This is truly powerful.  And as neo-Darwinian thought tells us, with power comes the ability to not only survive – the power to fit into one’s environment – but to pass on one’s genes.

It does not matter if not every person claiming to be able to do historical science, (as someone like Ken Ham defiantly calls it vs. those who say there is nothing to such a seemingly sensible-sounding distinction) sees practical results coming out of their intelligence.  It is simply the case, that as far as evolutionary theory is concerned, it is not only brawn, but brains that are essential for passing on one’s genes – even as certainly one wants to have both, because some women, for example, have a hard time looking past physical strength (yes, good looks help to).  Enough people value these intellectual traits because they “know” – subconsciously if not consciously – that having them can make all the difference – especially as the intellectual arms race increases – so that their genes will be favored to survive.   And it is very often the case that one only needs to appear as if one has the potential to come up with things that would be useful for helping one to survive, or better yet, thrive.  marx_satan

So that alone, according to the theory of evolution itself, is the truth – of course there is nothing intrinsic about things like beauty, justice, love and meaning.  Therefore, it is not necessarily true that whatever comes out of the even the most respected proponent of evolution’s mouth has any actual basis in reality whatsoever.****

What will defeat this argument?  Well, if we are talking about actually persuading the person holding it via reasons, to a large degree this will depend on the person’s confidence in their dogma.  I might suggest this as a start though as something that might perhaps make a real difference (since I do believe that for many of us evidence which is public, relevant and convincing is important): specifically explain how certain scientific discoveries that everyone can clearly see are discoveries could not have been made unless the one making them had depended on evolutionary theories (see this short article from Philip Skell @ The Scientist as well questioning Dobzhansky’s dictum ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ – update: also this from Nancy Pearcey).

FIN

* Of course, I think we all must give the nod to “common sense realism”: we are still be able to agree with most any other human being that knowing some basic facts or “truths” (little t) on the ground might have some obvious, immediate survival value, for instance, when we both immediately respond to the sight of the hungry tiger and run away.  But the key question is this: why would our evolved (and evolving) reason and sense “equipment” be useful for anything more complicated and abstract than this – and if it seems to be, why should we trust it?

**The great Alvin Plantiga has done something similar, but my argument is a bit different.  The first footnote features one such distinction.

*** based on their understanding of radiometric dating methods, the geological column, taxonomy, and sequences of “index” fossil.

****To briefly address another angle of this argument:  why should we assume that any living being should be capable of producing complicated theories and models that are accurate representations of reality that have no obvious immediate survival value?  Why should it matter whether our reason and senses can accurately map reality or not?  What is ultimately important is that they exist to help us survive – and if this means they will “deceive” “us” (what are “we” anyway?) from time to time, perhaps that is for the best.  In short, it would seem that the very act of constructing a theory to explain man’s existence belies an inherent theism within man which evolution is hard-pressed to justify.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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