Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cosmological ID Talk

And it's at a public school! (Well--after hours at a public school).

Date: Thursday, November 2
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.
Location: Nashua (NH) High School South lecture hall

Some more details from the local paper.

This time I'm confident it won't be cancelled.

Monday, October 30, 2006

UD on Harvard's "Origin of Life" Initiative

Longtime readers might recall that I have, on several occasions, written favorably about abiogensis research. As it turns out, this means that, once again, I don't see eye-to-eye with Mr. Dembski.

I noticed on Uncommon Descent that Dembski posted on Harvard's "Origin of Life" initiative. As is his style, he simply makes a wry comment and then pastes an excerpt from some an article.

Dembski's comment:
How much play do you think ID is going to get in Harvard's new origin of life initiative[?]

Of course, the question is rhetorical: Dembski knows the answer: the answer is none.

His manner of asking it, however, is meant to imply that the answer is "none" because of some vast scientific conspiracy.

In fact, Dembski is correct: the answer is none, because nothing is owed a "play" in scientific research, which self-organizes along a pecking order based on "put up or shut up." Dembski is preaching to his choir, one that tends to believe that research scientists view theists and theism as the enemy. This is false, as Dembski would know if he spent any length of time in an actual research environment. At least I hope that's his excuse--I hope he doesn't sing that "they hate us, they really hate us" tune knowing that it's a lie. At any rate, one of his great disservices to Christianity is that he is helping to make Science vs. Christianity a self fulfilling prophecy. He is doing his darndest to drive a wedge between the two--and many Christians, I fear, are taking the bait. Demonizing scientists is just another way that Dembski is very much like Ken Ham of AiG.

Perhaps, Mr. Dembski, if you care to make a testable prediction regarding Harvard's initiative they will give you some "play." In fact, I am willing to bet that if you can make a testable prediction from your theories and apply for research funding under this initiative that your proposal would be reviewed favorably. By all means, submit a proposal that states: My ID theory states that if you do this experiment: [fill in the blank] the result will be this: [fill in this blank too].

As it is, or at least as far as I know, ID makes no prediction beyond that of the theologian: Harvard's effort will fail to explain the origin of life. Though of interest, that's not a scientific prediction. Neither is its corollary: research into the origins question will only further demonstrate the implausibility of life starting by itself.

Though such predictions don't constitute scientific research, they are precisely why Christians (and IDers) should embrace and participate in the origins initiative. It's the same reason we should encourage cosmology studies or archeological research in Palestine. If you are worried that scientific research can undermine your faith, then I suggest you work on strengthening your faith instead of attacking the researchers. Attacking the researchers is Dembski's and Ham's approach, and it is bad scientifically and, more troubling, it is bad theologically.

Christians should be saying, in effect, "bring it on!" Dembski, for reasons that I cannot fathom, does not go beyond predicting that he won't be invited to Harvard's potluck, while conveniently ignoring the fact that, scientifically, he has nothing to contribute.

White Out!

Last week I was in Colorado Springs for work. In the wee hours of Thursday morning a blizzard rolled through. And being from New Hampshire, I don’t toss around the word "blizzard" cavalierly. It was quite impressive. All day Thursday I and my fellow residents at a hotel near Pike's Peak were trapped inside. Horror of horrors: for most of the time, the internet went out! And the TV behaved like a low budget commercial for cable providers: every ten seconds or so it would lose its satellite connection and then spend ten or twenty seconds reacquiring, only to repeat the cycle endlessly. At some point most of the guests gathered in the lounge and, having nothing else to do, we talked to each other! It was strange.

The whole day had a kind of Stephen King atmosphere. Like The Shining. Or Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. Except, I’m happy to report, guests didn’t go missing one-by-one.

By Friday everything was back to normal. The roads had been cleared; in fact the temperature went up to 50 degrees. That, along with the clear skies, made short work of most of the snow. At the hotel, we all went back to ignoring one another, the sense of camaraderie forgotten. Progress.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Review: A Meaningful World

A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt (IVP Academic, 2006) is the best ID book I have read. It deserves a special place in this overcrowded genre, in part because it takes the preferred approach. Recent books have championed ID with a kind of ice-cold sterility, presumably to support the proposition that ID is a bona fide science. Often the result is a sleep-inducing rehash of familiar arguments written in impenetrable, impersonal, and unnecessary technical language.

Wiker and Witt do not focus on ID as primarily a counter to evolution, but as a response to the nihilism that permeates both our culture and our schools. Instead of the standard ID methodology of challenging pure naturalism where it enjoys a home-field advantage, an ill advised tête-à-tête within the domain of philosophic materialism, A Meaningful World couches the dispute not as one "science" against another, but as meaningfulness and beauty versus meaninglessness and inelegance. Oh, the usual cast of factoids are present—biological complexity and cosmological fine-tuning, but here they are but refreshingly deemphasized supporting characters in an adventure that transcends the purely scientific.

The only other ID book that is in this class is The Privileged Planet. But even here we see a difference in approach. While Gonzalez and Richards argue that the purely naturalistic explanation of a life sustaining universe is so implausible as to be ugly, Wiker and Witt turn it around: science's answer is so ugly as to be implausible. Both approaches are reasonable. The former renders The Privileged Planet more of a science book, while the latter gives A Meaningful World a philosophical and even theological flavor.

Although the data point to a designer, Wiker and Witt realize that a sighted watchmaker doesn't necessarily provide any more purpose or hope than a blind one. Indeed, for believers the notion that an alien might have designed terrestrial life is more repulsive than theistic evolution. At least theistic evolution preserves a God in control. An alien designer admits the possibility that we are the science project of a pimply faced, diamond eyed, teenage D-student flunky. An ID that proudly claims the designer need not be God is both bad science and heretical theology. It's a view wherein a secondary cause can ascend to a position of primacy, a view which is guilty of the same degradation it purports to challenge. No consolation that our designer may have been created by God, for that just leaves us, as creations of the creatures, with no special place in God's mind.

A Meaningful World does not evoke the ennui of traditional ID. Here we see the connections are much richer. Not merely data leading us to design, but data, beauty and even human genius leading us to acknowledge both design and meaningfulness. So-called design flaws are not excused as optimization compromises, but are likened to the alleged imperfections in Shakespeare's iambic pentameter which, when viewed through a non-reductionist lens, are seen for what they are: the enhancements of a genius, not the ineptitude of a barely competent and ultimately uninspiring poet.

Wiker and Witt also address the impossibility of meaningfulness or beauty in a world explicable solely on the basis of philosophical materialism. While plausibility arguments for the evolution of morality and altruism may satisfy some, even if they are accepted they would only explain a façade. An evolved morality is a meaningless illusion; it is simply a survival mechanism. It's prettier, perhaps, than bigger teeth or more a deadly venom, but ultimately it's just a variant on the same theme, a theme that offers no purpose beyond procreation.

In A Meaningful World we read that the compulsion for survival is often a poor explanation for human endeavors. Metallurgy first developed not so that we could create harder weapons with which to kill our enemies and ensure the continuation of our genes, but as a means to create more beautiful works of art. In fact, the beauty of gold defies explanation—it has no application in weaponry, it simply appeals to something good within, something innate in our species, something meaningful.

The absurdity of some of the most brilliant atheists is pointed out in A Meaningful World through the example of the renowned physicist Stephen Weinberg. In the penultimate paragraph of his book The First Three Minutes, Weinberg describes human life as farcical, and that scientific advancement only enhances his sense of pointlessness. Yet in the final paragraph Weinberg reverses himself and claims there is something special about the human species: our ability to study the data that, in Weinberg's perspective, prove that it's all about nothing. This is what A Meaningful World challenges, this nihilism writ large, a cosmos whose only meaning is to reveal the absence thereof.

In stark terms, then, Wiker and Witt point out the hideousness of a world without God as its designer. The only meaning it can offer, as Weinberg candidly admits, and as you can find in arguments of Dawkins and his followers, is the pursuit of science that reinforces our meaninglessness. The only sacrament in the church of naturalism is the celebration of the accident of our existence and the worthlessness of our lives, and the only creed is the claim of an ironic noble cause found in the scientific revelation of universal ignobility.

A Meaningful World is a partial antidote to this disease. There is beauty and purpose in this world, some of it even man made. Taken as a whole, along with but not subordinate to the familiar scientific ID data, we see God. It's probably true that only those who have already found God will see Him afresh after reading A Meaningful World, but that's a wonderful and meaningful accomplishment.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Response to Jeremy Pierce

In the post below, Jeremy commented:
David, as I've been catching up on your critique of the ID movement and then reading this post, I'm troubled by a theme that doesn't sit well with me. I think you've set up the ID people with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. Here it is, and tell me if I'm wrong.

If they acknowledge that the argument does not prove the existence of God but merely provides evidence that some can take to be a sign of the existence of God, evidence that others can resist, you call it a ruse that they are hiding behind so that they won't be labeled religious.

Yet if they assert that the argument does more than that, you call it a claim that science proves ID, which you also say is bad, because all science establishes is the signs of some intelligence, signs that someone can reinterpret or take to be from something else if they so choose.

My problem is that I think the biological versions of ID need to admit that, for all the argument shows, the designer is just a bunch of aliens. Otherwise it just smacks of intellectual dishonesty. At the same time the DI people need to admit that they believe the conclusion is not about aliens but about God. They just can't say that they think the argument proves it to be God. Given their endorsement of biological ID arguments, this seems to me to be what they ought to say. But you call it a ruse. That's what I just don't get.
I think I see your point, but I'm not sure. Let me try to clarify.

In a sense I am projecting.

I acknowledge that, in principle, the designer doesn't have to be God. I have argued that point many times, including recently (I think on Rosenhouse's blog), when someone from the anti-ID side brought up the false "turtles all the way" criticism. I argued (without success) that (in principle) an advanced alien who evolved without any irreducibly complex components could have designed life with the feature of irreducibly complexity. Seems rather obvious, but it was rebutted with some impenetrable metaphysical argument.

So, as I said, I agree that, in principle, the designer doesn't have to be God.

Here's the projecting part. When I talk of Cosmological ID I am up-front that I think the designer is God. I would feel very uneasy going beyond mentioning, just as an aside (and even this I don't do) that the designer might be an alien from another universe. And without question I wouldn't elevate that possibility to the category of a critical feature of my view, along with the claim that it should make it palatable to critical thinkers of all stripes.

Suppose we wipe the slate clean and nobody ever heard of ID. Now suppose Dembski comes along and proves (or effectively proves) that the bacterial flagellum was designed. Just a bolt out of the blue. What would happen, assuming his mathematics and his analysis were independently checked and confirmed? In this make-believe world where the flagellum was accepted as designed the scientific community would naturally split between the alien and God camps. The point is, if ID is really science there is no need for a preemptive strike that "the designer could be an alien." Prove design—and afterwards the fallout will include speculation on the designer.

It seems to me, knowing that 99.9% of IDers are theists, that what is being sold here is: there is a position waiting for someone to fill, the position of an intellectually fulfilled atheist IDer. And the existence of this open position, rather than being simply an intellectual curiosity, is central to the argument that ID should be in the science curriculum.

Suppose YECs did the same thing. (They might as far as I know.) Imagine if they said:
AiG science belongs in the science curriculum of public schools because it is real science, and it points to a young earth even if you don't believe the biblical account. Indeed an honest atheist, if they gave our science a chance, might easily conclude that the earth is young.
In that case I think almost everyone would agree it was a political tactic. I don't see how the ID movement is doing anything different. At least until such time that they start producing some real science. (If the YECs do not make that argument, it's to their credit.)

To reiterate: if ID is science then go produce some results, and stop all the distracting philosophical mumbo jumbo. No need to mention that the designer might be an alien. People will naturally go there if the science is sound and they do not want to acknowledge a supernatural designer. Mentioning the possibility over and over certainly makes me want to say that the ID community "doth protest too much."

Or, even more succinctly put: since ID doesn't pass muster as a science, the claim "the designer could be an alien" is in fact a ruse (or at least a red herring) intended to create a façade of scientific legitimacy.

Now as to whether a claim is actually made that design can be demonstrated I would say that it certainly is. Unless Dembski has retracted, he has stated that his mathematics is not susceptible to a false positive--which means that anything it concludes is designed is definitely designed.

As an aside, the idea of tying design to low probability (yes, I know it is not just low probability) is probably a mistake and certainly incomplete. The cosmological ID argument is not based on low probability at all. But suppose it were: suppose we had a theory that gave the distribution of the physical constants, and from that theory we concluded that the probability of a set of life-sustaining constants was 1 in 10500. Suppose on the basis of that probability we prove the universe was designed. Now suppose a new theory comes along that demonstrates that the constants were not random draws but that their values are determined. The design proof "crumbles" because a probability of 1 in 10500 has been replaced with a probability of unity. And yet Cosmological ID, at least as I view it, would live on precisely because it is not based on the (in actuality incalculable) probability of the values of the physical constants, it is based on the fact that if they were changed by a small amount the universe could not support life. Indeed, I would argue that this situation, in which the values of the constants are determined from a theory of everything, points a more elegant form of design.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cosmological ID talk Cancelled

Talk about timing! I was about to post details regarding a fine-tuning talk I was going to give for the New Hampshire Astronomical Society meeting on October 20th at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. However, before I finished composing that post I received an email informing me that my invitation was rescinded.

Apparently, all hell had broken loose.


Because, according to the email:
Some members of the club Googled your book title, found that it was recommended on several sites supporting Intelligent Design, and assumed this would be the topic of your talk. While I have assured our membership that your presentation would not be on a religious note, the issue very quickly got out of hand with many members stating they would not attend, and several others saying they would not renew their membership.
Not renew their membership! Amazing.

This is interesting on numerous fronts:
  1. Yes there would have been some religion--what's to be expected from an Cosmological ID talk entitled Cosmological ID: Is God In the Details? One difference between my talks and other ID talks is that I am very up-front about the religious overtones, and don't hide them behind a "the designer could be an alien" ruse.

  2. Nevertheless, there is real scientific meat in the talk (though, as you would expect if you know my position, I never say ID is science.) I have given this talk (a souped-up version of the one I give at churches) for university physics departments. It always generates a lot of interesting and friendly discussion.

  3. I hope this isn't a trend--the ID movement has poisoned the well as far as the public schools are concerned, but this is the first time fallout from their political maneuverings has contributed to a cancellation of one of my talks outside the public schools.

  4. Having placed partial blame on the ID Movement, the membership of the NHAS is not without culpability. What would motivate scientists to go into a hissy-fit because an invited speaker's novel received a good review on an ID-friendly web site? It also received a good review from the local science writer for the Nashua Telegraph whose is adamantly opposed to ID.
I am interested in what the anti-IDers who read this blog think about the NHAS canceling the talk for the reasons given.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What's in the Bible   Lesson 1.3  Joseph

This is part of my current Sunday School, which is a basic tour through the whole bible. The primary text is What's in the Bible by R. C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Most of the maps are from the Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts and Maps

The approach here is big picture, less detail. The goal is to make you comfortable with the entire bible, so that when you look in detail at any one part you don't feel as though you're picking up a tome youv'e never read and starting in chapter 47.

I will maintain a list of links to the lessons in the left sidebar.

Joseph to Moses

We next look at two more famous men from early Jewish history: Joseph the shepherd who became a prince, and Moses the prince who became a shepherd.

Last week we spoke of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today our story picks up with Jacob's children, especially his eleventh son, Joseph.

The twelve sons of Jacob become the twelve tribes of Israel--sort of. There are also twelve tribes according to the lands they were given when they inherited the Promised Land. Those are almost the same --except the Levites became the priestly tribe, and were not given any land. However, two sons of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) were given land--thus there are also twelve tribes by that reckoning. The Tribe of Judah and the Tribe of Benjamin joined together to form the Kingdom of Judah. The Levites who, as mentioned, became the priestly class and did not receive any tribal land, are linked today to living people who believe they are descendants of Levi. The remaining tribes (Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh) are considered lost. (Their whereabouts unknown following the Assyrian captivity, and the subject of tremendous speculation. The Book of Mormon states that Native Americans are descended from the tribe of Manasseh. According to The Book of Mormon, sons of the prophet Lehi founded the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations in the New World. Some Mormons also teach that northern Europeans are descended from Ephraim, making them natural heirs to God's covenant with the Israelites. Most Latter Day Saints see this relation as more symbolic (through adoption) than literal, however—no doubt this shift to "symbolic" is based in part on the fact that DNA testing has cast serious doubt on the veracity of these claims.)

Joseph was the firstborn of Jacob and his beloved wife Rachel. All redemptive history can be traced to a simple act of a man (Jacob) making a common parental blunder. He favored one son (Joseph—b. ca. BC 1780) over his ten brothers. Jacob gave Joseph an expensive "coat of many colors." In a butterfly effect, this seemingly minor act set into motion God's amazing plan:
2 This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. 5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it." 8 His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. 9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. (Genesis 37:2-11)
Jacob asked Joseph to go find his brothers, who were grazing their flocks near Shechem. When Joseph arrived, he learned that his brothers had gone on to Dothan, which lay along a major trade route to Egypt. Joseph's brothers intended to kill him, and present the hated garment, splashed with blood, to Jacob as evidence that Joseph had been eaten by wild animals. God, however, had something else in mind: Midianite traders, traveling to Egypt, purchased Joseph as a slave.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Batteries Recharging

Taking the week off--temporarily blogged out.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It's Talladega, Baby!

This is arguably the NASCAR Nextel Cup's most important weekend. Now, NASCAR is unique among the spectator sports in that it holds its Superbowl (in terms of prestige) as its first event of the season, rather than the last. That would be the Daytona 500, held in February. That was so long ago that next year's Daytona 500 is closer than this year's.

This weekend is the fourth race of the ten race "chase" playoff system that ends NASCAR's season (arggh, what'll I do?) and determines its champion.

However, it's not just any race. It's Talladega!

For those one or two readers interested I wrote about what makes Talladega so special here.

For others, I'll just summarize. At most tracks things spread out, so that a pack of, say, six closely packed cars, which will usually occur, if it occurs at all, away from the leaders, would be so noteworthy that the announcers will point it out and say something like: "Now there's a crash just waiting to happen!"

The peculiarities of Talladega result in huge groups of cars, as many as thirty or more, closely packed and going at very high speed, and it includes the leaders. The slightest mistake and bada bing, what's known affectionately as the "big one," a massive crash that will almost certainly involve some of the drivers going for the championship. (Wikipedia includes this type of crash among the list of events in its entry for "The Big One.")

Now it comes as no surprise that NASCAR fans enjoy crashes. But that is only because we fully expect that nobody will get hurt. Football fans like bone-crunching hits--even though on occasion those hits cause serious injury. Same sort of thing.

Why do we like the crashes? It is not because of cars being crunched or flipping over--although that is pretty cool. It's because of an intense second between when you know there was a crash and when you find out who was involved. It's the who was involved that makes crashes an exciting part of a race.

If you're at a race, this is how you are made aware of a crash, assuming you didn't just happen to be watching the right spot of the track. All of a sudden you'll sense the crowd turning their heads en masse, with many of them pointing. You follow their eyes or hands to locate the wreck.

On television what will happen is this: The cameras will probably be on the leaders. Suddenly the announcer will say something like: "trouble in turn two!" An instant later a camera will find the crash.

In either case you're thinking "who wrecked?" What a rush! Obviously you don't want it to be the car you're rooting for, but you kinda want it to be one its competitors. If you are a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, you're probably thinking "oh, let it be Jeff Gordon!" It's mildly disappointing when (as is most often the case) it involves a car that was no threat to win anyway.

But Talladega is a whole different dynamic. A crash there could take out five or six of the ten cars racing for a championship with a huge effect on the championship point standings. That's what makes this NASCAR's most important weekend.

The ten championship contenders, when interviewed ad nauseum over the next couple days, will say over and over: "I just want to survive Talladega."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The first time Dembski booted me

When Dembski booted me from his blog, he wrote:
David Heddle: I don't like your attitude. I recently booted you off a listserve that I moderate. I'm now booting you from this blog. Goodbye.
Several people asked me to comment on the list from which Dembski booted me prior to banning me from Uncommon Descent. I didn't respond, deciding instead to think about how I could answer carefully. You see, the list asks members not to reveal posts (unless the author grants permission) and not even mention the list by name. I want to respect that.

Simply acknowledging the existence of the list is not revealing anything, especially since Dembski already announced that he threw me off.

After consideration I decided that since Dembski mentioned (for no apparent reason) that he booted me from the list then, as they say in all those Law and Order episodes, opposing counsel has "opened the door."

I will relate general themes and my own posts that led to my expulsion, without revealing any names (other than Dembski) and without pasting any forum content (other than my own). Revealing my own posts is absolutely permissible.

First I wanted to search the archives of the list that I have stored on my personal computer, reexamining all my posts. There weren't many. Mostly I lurked. In fact, I didn't even read most of the posts, beyond the subject line, because few dealt with my interest, which is cosmological ID. Most of my contributions were of the "ID is not science" form. Some were notes of appreciation for the occasional post I found useful.

I first got into trouble on the forum before Dembski was the moderator. Unaware that it was the third-rail of ID, I posted something mildly negative about young earth creationism. I soon found out that some members of the list are extremely sensitive about this topic. I also learned about the "big tent." The big tent is this: ID welcomes all views on the age of the earth. Furthermore, to prevent internal squabbles, the topic of the age of the earth is verboten.

Welcoming all views is reasonable--after all science (and this list is supposed to be about science) welcomes all views. But what science never does is place views "off limits." How, I asked in subsequent posts, can we be "about science" if a scientific topic, namely the age of the earth, is off the table? A handful of people replied by email (I flew below most everyone's radar on this list) to say they agreed with me, but on the list the argument against my position was that the age of the earth was not relevant in the domain of ID. I pointed out that for cosmological ID it is extremely relevant, since fine-tuning arguments make no sense for a YEC position--but shortly thereafter the thread was closed for discussion. (I didn't post much on this list, but I had a Ted Williams-like batting average for having my threads closed.)

Here's the thing: there is no such animal as a "big tent" (as the term is used on this list) in science. Science is the ultimate meritocracy. A fragile persona will not survive. Apart from a gentleman's agreement to treat young students with kid gloves--and even then only for a short while--nobody gets a free pass. In my novel Here, Eyeball This! I describe the dynamic this way, explaining why a professor in the story didn't act "hurt" when he was accidentally placed in an embarrassing social situation:
By necessity, physicists develop thick skins. A great deal of professional activity involves giving and attending talks and seminars. These often degenerated into one physicist insulting another over his deplorable lack of acumen. Many times Aaron had heard this same Mike Jacob say to another professor, or even a visitor, in regard to some subtle physics argument, 'Hey man, that’s just plain stupid.' After some discussion, the target of the jibe would either concede that he had indeed presented a stupid argument, or Jacob would retract his comment and admit that he was 'both a jackass and a fool'. Then they would go on as if nothing had happened, no hard feelings whatsoever.
Put more succinctly: there's no crying in science. You present your ideas--you defend them--and you try to persuade, but nothing is sacred.

The next time I got into trouble (with the same people as it turns out) on the list was fairly recently, at the beginning of September, but still before Dembski became moderator. Ironically, I got in trouble along with Dembski. Here's what happened. About a month ago I saw a post on Uncommon Descent that criticized a certain university for having a essay contest for prospective students in which the winner would be awarded a $50K scholarship. The topic had to be related to a resource from Answers In Genesis--though I am still not sure if the money comes from the university or AiG. What Dembski complained about on Uncommon Descent (the post was later modified and finally removed) is that he had been informed that an ID essay, even if it were neutral regarding the age of the earth, could be submitted but it would not win the contest. I agreed with Dembski that this bizarre position was both untenable and blog-worthy. So I also posted, with liberal pasting from Dembski's blog--and with attributions (in the form of the blogger's "hat-tip") to Uncommon Descent.

That night (or the next evening) I received a polite phone call from the list's moderator asking me to remove the post and apologize, because I had posted content from the forum. I said that I would remove it, but I wasn't sure if I would apologize, because I hadn't even read the relevant posts and all my questionable content was lifted from a public website, i.e., Uncommon Descent. The moderator said he understood that I did nothing wrong but still wanted me to remove the post from this blog, which I did.

However, I did not apologize--not solely due to the fact that I'm a rotten bastard but at least in part because I don't find pro forma apologies of the pattern "sorry if I accidentally offended you" very meaningful. Here is the [sanitized] mea culpa I posted to the list:
Yes I also blogged on this issue, having learned about the contest and *****'s quote (about [an] ID paper will not win) from another blog, not from a ***** post. I actually attributed the other blog when I posted the quote. In other words, I cut and pasted (and attributed) a public internet site.

I will remove my blog post as requested by *****.


David Heddle
Now, Dembski was in the right in this instance. As it turns out, a member posted information on the contest on the list for the admitted purpose of encouraging dissemination. Well, once you grant permission to publicize information you can't then whine about it if someone finds it worthy of ridicule. (The gist of my post was that a Christian university was holding a contest the requirements for which would have excluded many church fathers as well as many renowned theologians.)

Even more bizarre, everything I posted was also available on the university's and/or AiG's website, with the exception of the quote about an ID paper not having a chance. But that quote wasn't on the list (at least I couldn't find it, and still can't in my archives)--I suspect it was private communication between the member and Dembski. So I did not violate any rules of the list, not even accidentally. Furthermore, I don't blame Dembski for posting. His site is frequented by IDers--it is quite proper for him to provide a warning to his readers that if any of them are thinking of entering an ID essay, don't bother--it'd be a waste of time.

That was not the end of it. Even though no actual list information was revealed that wasn't available elsewhere, you'd have thought that we had leaked atomic secrets to Iran. It turns out that I had also, somehow, cast aspersions on the good name of the university in question and reignited the "big tent" admonitions. At one point I posted:
The "big tent" discussion prompts me to post regarding what I see as schizophrenia in the ID community.

My personal view of ID is that it is a scientific-based apologetic. In that regards, I have no problem with a "big-tent." All my ID talks are on fine-tuning and cosmology. In spite of being labeled a heretic now and then by outspoken YECs, I generally have no problems--in fact the majority of the audiences in the churches and colleges were I speak are biased toward a YEC position. (I don't get invited to public schools anymore--the backfiring of the ID community's political strategies has poisoned that well.)

However, if I agreed with what I suspect is the majority position on this list, that ID is all about the science--well then I'd have a huge problem with the big tent. Because it is manifestly true that one of the two positions, OEC or YEC, is grossly abusing science. This is not a case where both can be right. It's not even a case where both can be wrong.

So if we are indeed all about science, why is that topic the third rail of ID, or at least the third rail of this list? To me the ID community sends a message to the outside world that is no different that if it stated: we believe ID is all about science, but we don't take a position on Newton's Laws.

Just to be clear, I am in favor of the big tent. But I view it as a luxury that I enjoy only because I don't believe that ID is all about the science.

[David Heddle]
And, in response to charges of having insulted a YEC on the list:

Come, on. Is your skin really that thin? How can a simple statement of fact that I, David Heddle, stated that "I would be embarrassed"--not that "***** U[niversity] should be ashamed of itself" or anything of that nature--be offensive? Not just offensive, but "extremely derogatory." It's simply my opinion--just ignore it for crying out loud. Or if it really bugs you respond with something more substantive that claiming injury.

We should be immune from the hair-trigger on our sensibilities that has infected the rest of the world. Any why should the number of ***** faculty on this list be of any significance?

I did not, in my comment, criticize your view, or *****'s view, or AiG's view, on the age of the earth. If you inferred that from my comment, you are reading into it. I'm criticizing, I thought rather clearly, that a Christian University would offer a scholarship that would exclude many prominent Christian theologians. Even there, I'm not questioning your right to do it; I'm questioning the wisdom of it. And it's true, if I were a ***** alumnus, I would find it extremely embarrassing. And if the money is coming from ***** and not AiG, I’d be incensed.

By the way, if they offered a scholarship that exactly accommodated my reformed theology and scientific background but excluded Christian brothers and sisters of a different opinion, I'd also be embarrassed.

As an institution such as ***** that is so newsworthy, so much in the public eye, so prominent, why do you think that you are beyond criticism?

And who is "dismissing" you? You certainly have extracted a great deal of meaning from my short ***** comment.

Your clarification regarding ID seems to have shifted from "An ID essay could be submitted, but would not be selected as the winner" to "any paper can be submitted, but not just any paper will win" which is quite different and really goes without saying for any essay contest, don't you think?

David Heddle, Ph.D.
As you might imagine at this point I was skating on thin ice.

Shortly thereafter it was announced with great fanfare that Dembski would be the new moderator of the list. From being scolded and asked to apologize one day to the new moderator the next was quite impressive--my own rehabilitation was not so spectacular. Worse, I immediately fell into the bad graces of the new ruler.

We are now at the time, a few weeks ago, when the pope made a statement widely interpreted by many, including me, as clarifying that Rome is not peachy-keen with your garden-variety theory of evolution. When, in late August there were just rumors about the pope making a statement on evo/design I wrote an opinion that it would be bad for the pope to endorse ID, followed by a sarcastically triumphant post when, a couple weeks later, the pope's statement came out.

On the list, I posted:
In my opinion the pope's statement is the best we could hope for. By that I don't mean: well, he could have endorsed ID, but we knew that wasn't going to happen, so we'll take what we can get. No, I mean he could not have issued a better statement. It will be very difficult to continue the quote-mining about Rome's position, although I expect the NCSE will try.
OK, not too bad. I'm in dangerous territory, but since I busted on the NCSE I think I got a pass. However, later in this same thread a member took exception to the point and, without revealing details, offered a generic teological statement and asked, sarcastically, if it would have been so bad for the Church to have at least endorsed that. To which I responded:
Of course not. And the church does endorse that statement, as I'm sure many have pointed out. What would be bad is for the church to endorse the view that the flagellum is irreducibly complex-- because maybe it isn't. And it would be bad for the church to endorse the view that you can mathematically determine whether something is designed-- because maybe you can't. It would be good for the church to do exactly what Rome seems to be doing: endorsing the scriptural view that God's creative work is so evident that all men are without excuse, and that any theory of evolution that rules out God's intervention at any time it pleases Him --and especially one that claims any random processes played a role in the development of the human species, is incompatible with Catholicism.

David Heddle
At this point, moderator Dembski stopped discussion in this thread, claiming the discussion was over "the same tired issue." I then posted:
Is there a list somewhere of what are the "same tired issues?" Because I don't see how a recent major address by the pope, one that brings some needed clarity to Rome's position, is a tired issue. Nor would I characterize the discussion that follows--dealing with analyzing his statements--as tired.

Then again, maybe I'm just sick of being the Grim Reaper. This is at least the second or possibly the third time, in recent memory, that a subject has been gaveled immediately after I posted.

The arbitrariness of gaveling discussions is annoying.

David Heddle
What happens next is that I got an email from Dembski, which I am going to post. If anyone takes exception, I'll point out that an unsolicited email is regarded as the property of the recipient, especially if the sender does not make any special request regarding its confidentiality. The email was also sent to the list.

Debski wrote:

Gaveling this discussion means moving it off this list, and that, obviously, includes a discussion of the merits of whether it should have been gaveled in the first place -- any such "meta-discussion"
takes us right back to square one. If you have a problem with my moderation -- and that applies to any of you -- take it up with me directly.

It bears repeating that the default view of ID for this list is the position hammered out over a fifteen year period starting with Phil Johnson and moving through to Behe, myself, Wells, Meyer, Nelson, Pearcey, Gonzalez, Richards, and O'Leary. Any of you who have a fundamental problem with that position need to consider carefully whether you should be on this list at all.

Best wishes,
Bill Dembski

As an aside, I found the statement: It bears repeating that the default view of ID for this list is the position hammered out over a fifteen year period starting with Phil Johnson and moving through to Behe, myself, Wells, Meyer, Nelson, Pearcey, Gonzalez, Richards, and O'Leary to be revealing. That is independent of where ID actually falls in the spectrum, from a dishonest and profitable political movement for which Dembski is a guru to a bona fide science for which he is a groundbreaking theoretician. I am reminded of an instance when that great philosopher Foghorn Leghorn (remarking on the little genius rooster) broke the fourth wall and said: "I say, there's something yechh about a boy who don't like baseball." Well there is something yechh about someone who includes himself in a list of greats.

It also made me think of the times I met real greatness in real scientists who actually were within their rights to list themselves among the leaders of a research field. Once I wanted to hear Hans Bethe give a talk, and I wanted a good seat. I arrived at the seminar room an hour early and there was a old man with liver-spotted hands sitting at the conference table eating Sun Maid raisins from a box. After offering to share, he asked me if I was a student and what I was studying. He was kind and humble--I thought he was either a Pitt professor (I went to Carnegie Mellon; Pitt is just down the street, and often we attended one another's seminars) or one of those peculiar people who are not associated with the department but show up for interesting seminars. We talked for about thirty minutes about physics--and then one of my professors arrived. You know the ending: I was chatting with Hans Bethe. What did he not say? He did not say: "the default view for nuclear physics is the one hammered out by Rutherford, ..., myself, ..."

Why was he all alone in the seminar room? It turns out that he had told the professor sponsoring his visit that he was tired and wanted to rest before his seminar. I had interrupted his private time.

Well, being the hothead that I am, I immediately composed and submitted what would be my last post:

Your response seems to be more appropriate for scolding an apostate member of a fan club rather than moderating a list ostensibly existing for exchanging ideas on ID. For those of us who would like to see ID change direction, who feel that the approach taken by some (by no means all, for example I greatly admire how Gonzalez, for one, continues to perform actual scientific research) of the titans you mention has been hugely counterproductive (just try talking ID in a public school, it is now but a distant memory for me)--we should keep our mouths shut or else the big boys will take their ball and go play elsewhere?

Thus far, that's the message I take from your moderating. And the rather odd (so they seem to me) explanations you have posted (on *****) thereof, which included, to *****:

"Have you read Behe, Johnson, or my own work? -- I'm not asking this question rhetorically. It's precisely comments like this that have led a number of my senior colleagues to want to jump ship from ***** and start a new list. But that's not going to happen. The level of discussion on this list needs to improve. Please don't post anything so unreflective again."

Which I interpret as: be careful, or the really important folk--who have discussed it but, so far, have agreed to continue to be gracious-- might just start another list with only really smart people invited.

And when you wrote:

"I have no problem calling ID philosophy if by philosophy one understands it broadly and as originally conceived, which always included metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and natural philosophy. The latter in the 1800s was changed to "science.""

Which, with its little history lesson that nobody needed, I interpreted as: it's OK if you don't think ID has reached the level of science as long as you acknowledge that is philosophy, and that philosophy, gotcha, includes science.

And I might as well go for the trifecta and admit that I was also troubled when you wrote:

"What I'm concerned about are sneering critics who think that ID's claims to science are dishonest, confused, ignorant."

Since it leaves you with broad powers to define what reaches the level of sneering.

Oh yeah, and then there was the pledge of allegiance when we renewed our membership. I still don’t know what's up with that.

David Heddle

I soon received this email (also addressed to the list):

I asked you to take this up with me directly. Instead, you've decided to stir the pot with the whole list. I'm therefore directing ***** to suspend your account. Your case will be reviewed over the next two weeks, at which time you will either be reinstated (assuming you want to return) or removed permanently.

In the interim, until ***** actually disables your account, you may wish to resist the temptation to take some parting shots as that will make your continuation with this list still more tenuous.

A word to the wise: I'm committed to restoring a sense of proportion to this list and have no patience those who think this list is the place to redefine, or better yet neuter, ID. You are welcome to do this, but do it elsewhere.

I remember the email came just before I was off to the gym. I probably should have done nothing, a good workout always calms me down. But instead I fired back:
You can leave me off. I have no interest in being on a list where you have to affirm that the moderator walks on water.

Now, it is obvious that not everything I wrote was commendable. There is, however, one point that I want to make clear: my criticism of Dembski's mathematics came before I got kicked off this list or his blog. It would not be fair to say that suddenly I was a Dembski critic because of vengeance. A search of my blog and Panda's Thumb (and even Uncommon Descent) will reveal a uniform response on my part over the last three years: I have not read Dembski. Now my gut feeling was that what he was claiming, or at least what his champions were claiming, was impossible, but as long as I hadn't read his books I could evade questions about whether I thought he was correct. That all changed a little less than a year ago for a rather remarkable reason. I was exchanging emails (on quantum mechanics) with a Nobel Laureate quality physicist who is also a strong Christian. (I'm not going to tell you his name, you can simply choose to believe me or not.) In passing I asked him what he thought of ID. I meant cosmological ID, but only asked about "ID." He responded as if I had asked about biological ID. He words were polite (he's not a beast like I am) but they were also very clear: he thought Dembski's mathematics were, shall we say, not very laudable. That email prompted me to start reading Dembski's work, concentrating at first on the Design Inference monograph and, in that weird way that unintended consequences are, well, unintended, to this post which is now concluded.

NOTE: if you wish to make a comment on this post make it substantive. Comments that are merely insults will be deleted.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's in the Bible   Lesson 1.2  Abrahamic Covenant

This is part of my current Sunday School, which is a basic tour through the whole bible. The primary text is What's in the Bible by R. C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Most of the maps are from the Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts and Maps

The approach here is big picture, less detail. The goal is to make you comfortable with the entire bible, so that when you look in detail at any one part you don't feel as though you're picking up a tome youv'e never read and starting in chapter 47.

I will maintain a list of links to the lessons in the left sidebar.

The Covenant with Abraham

Considering such a tiny fraction of the Bible has man enjoying an unhindered relationship with God, while the rest is about redemption and reconciliation, it is not a reach to suggest that God had fall-then-redemption paradigm in mind from the start. He was not surprised by Adam's sin. God knew that a creature made in His image would fall--in a sense God purposely made man with a susceptibility to wanting to be not just in God's image, but as God.

When, early on, the Bible turns to the theme of redemption, the central figure who emerges is Abraham. Abraham is the father of all who ultimately are redeemed. At first this is manifested in a literal bloodline--the Jews. Later his family adopts members from all races and nations.

Abraham was born somewhere around BC 1800. Before looking at his life, it is interesting to ask: what was the world like at the time Abraham was born? There is a tendency to think that not much had happened between the time of Adam and the time of Abraham. But in fact, a great deal had happened both biblically (the Noahic flood, the Tower of Babel) and in non-biblical history. So the first question, which is controversial, is how much time passed between Adam and Abraham? According to many timelines, something on the order of two thousand years passed from Adam to Abraham.

It's worthwhile to discuss the recent history of biblical timelines.

The King James translation was completed 1611. In 1642, John Lightfoot of Cambridge University analyzed genealogies to come with September 17, 3928 BC for the date the universe was created. Not to be outdone by an Englishman, eight years later James Ussher, Anglican archbishop of Ireland, corrected Lightfoot's work. He arrived at a date that would live in infamy: October 3, 4004 BC. (In a final iteration, Lightfoot corrected Ussher's correction, settling on October 18-24, 4004 BC as creation week, with Adam created at 9:00 AM on October 23.)

This date was so-ingrained in the Christians of that era that any child would recite 4004 BC as the year of creation. Ussher's timelines made it into both the marginal notes and the chapter headings of the King James Bible.

Their work ignored Hebrew scholarship. It was based, as mentioned, on biblical genealogies-even though it is well established that biblical genealogies are not chronologies. X begat (or "was the father of") Y does not always imply a one-generation relationship between the two. This both solves and creates problems. And while it is virtually meaningless in terms of the old/young earth debate, it does mean that accountings of the time since Adam roamed the earth are bound to contain errors.

On example we see is in Christ's genealogy in Matthew, where we read:
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. (Matt. 1:8)
which one can compare with
11 Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, 12 Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son, (1 Chron 3:11-12)
In this genealogy (Azariah is the same person as Uzziah) we see that there are three generations missing from Matthew's account, which makes Uzziah appear to be Joram’s son rather than his great-grandson. That is all fine and dandy considering Matthew's purpose was to explain Christ's Davidic (legal) bloodline. Nevertheless it calls into question the precision of Matthew’s concluding:
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the (10) deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the (11) deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matt. 1:17)
I don't know a resolution to this issue, although I don't dwell on it very much. For a more striking example, we read:
Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures. (1 Chr 26:24)
Shebuel is of the time of David, and yet Gershom is a true next-generation son of Moses (Ex. 2:22) . Thus there are 400-plus years between Gershom and his "son" Shebuel.

It is also well known that if genealogies are also chronologies then there are a whole host of additional problems, such as Noah not dying until Abraham was in his fifties. No, it is clear that the bible uses genealogies as historic flows rather than precise family trees. We all are sons of Father Abraham.

These simple examples show that we cannot place two much emphasis on derived, genealogy-based timelines. It is possible that there was much more than two thousand years between Adam and Abraham. I personally believe, based on scientific and archeological evidence, that it was on the order of 100,000 years.

Secular research indicates that by the time Abraham is on the scene, civilizations have risen and fallen. The Stone Age gave way to the Neolithic era (ca. BC 10,000 the era for which remains from the original walled city of Jericho are dated) which gave way to the Bronze Age somewhere around BC 6000. The Bronze Age is subdivided into early, middle and late. Abraham appears somewhere in the "late-middle."

By the time Israel emerged as a nation in the late thirteen century BC, civilization was already ancient. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerian and Old and Middle Babylonian Cultures had already risen and fallen. Egyptian civilization, after an extended period of preeminence due to the predictability of Nile flooding, was waning. By Israel’s time, recorded Chinese history is well under way.

The picture from non-biblical history is: a great deal happened between Adam and Abraham. Or Noah and Abraham. Mankind spread about the world, civilizations rose and fell, and God waited patiently. Finally, however, God was ready for the next step in His redemptive plan: a covenant with Abraham. Why Abraham and not, say, some Indian or Chinese nomad? Who knows?--it wasn't because of Abraham's "goodness", it was because Abraham was chosen by God for God's good purpose.

One day, God spoke to Abraham (then still called Abram):
1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:1-3)
This agreement between God and Abraham is a covenant or a contract. Just like a modern contract, it is a legally binding document. Unlike a modern contract, which is arrived at by negotiation, this contract is unilaterally imposed by God. God is saying to Abraham, the first of the patriarchs: get up, move to a new land (1500 miles away, it turns out) and I will bless all the peoples of earth through you.

God promises three blessings to Abraham:
  1. The gift of land. This was for Abraham, who lived on a small piece of land near Hebron, but primarily for his descendents, who would inherit the entirety of the Promised Land.
  2. The father of a great nation. Although Abraham and Sarah would have only one son, the new nation of his descendents would number about 600,000.
  3. All nations will be blessed. Jesus Christ, who would bring salvation to all nations, would be a descendant of Abraham.

Patriarchal Blessing

There is one genealogy which we can reliably take as a chronology. Abraham and Sarah had one son Isaac. Isaac had two sons, one of which was Jacob. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are collectively known as the patriarchs. They were men of faith with their own human flaws--and they were privileged to be used by God as the roots of the vine.

Isaac was not Abraham's firstborn son. Abraham had a son Ishmael, through Hagar, Sarah's maid. As Abraham's firstborn, Ishmael would have inherited most of his possessions of land, tents, and livestock. God, however, had something else in mind. Ishmael would miss out on the most important inheritance: his father’s blessing:

After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac (Gen 25:11a)

God would show further disregard for the "firstborn" rule; the next case was even more striking. Isaac and his wife Rebecca had twins. The blessing is passed not to the older, but to the younger. Even stranger, by all accounts the older (Esau) was the "good" boy, a man's man who worked hard, while the younger (Jacob) was a mama's boy, and something of a liar and a cheat--in fact Jacob conspired with his mother to steal the blessing by deceit! Nevertheless, in one of the most striking passages that display God's sovereignty, we read:
10Not only that, but Rebecca's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy (Rom 9:10-16)
Jacob receives the blessing when by every human standard we feel that he should be cursed. But God has His purpose, and part of it is to show, once again, his sovereignty when it comes to salvation. For Jacob is converted not because he seeks God, but because God found him, wrestled him, and made him say uncle:
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 27 The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. 28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." 28 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Gen 32:24-30)
The Patriarchal blessing was passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob. Most amazingly, we inherit this same blessing. Like the patriarchs, we do not receive this blessing because we are good. We just receive it, because.

Next: Moses, Moses, Moses