Friday, August 07, 2020

Not all young earth creationists are YECs

On the same site where I was debating yesterday, a discussion arose as to whether Augustine and other ancients were YECs (Young Earth Creationists). Some atheist scientists (one in particular) were arguing that they were, while a few of us argued that they were not.

The basis of our argument is not that Augustine and his brohs believed in an old earth (why would they?) but rather they were not at all like what the the term YEC has come to mean. I had this exachange:

Me: People are concentrating on Augustine as an example of someone who believed in a young earth (why wouldn’t he?) and yet was not a YEC. (@dga471 is, IMO, correct. Usage is king and today’s usage is that YEC == somewhere in the neighborhood of Ken Ham.) 

Augustine wasn’t the only “church father” (if you can call him that) who was not a YEC. YECs generally interpret God’s warning “on that day (that you eat from the forbidden tree) you will surely die” as meaning something like on that day you will begin the process of dying. The problem being that Adam breathed for another 900+ years. 

But in the early church famous figures solved this problem differently, with a millennial day solution. 

For example Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) wrote: 
For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression ‘The day of the Lord is a thousand years’ [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 81 [A.D. 155]).
 What Justin is saying, is that a solution to the Adam-did-not-die-as-God-promised problem is to take “day” in Gen. 2:17 to mean a thousand years, a la Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8. So he was a young earth creationist, I suppose, but definitely not a YEC. 

Others had, at least at times, similar non-literal views of Genesis days, including Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

Someone else: That, however, is not a requirement for being a YEC. In fact I’ve commonly heard another explanation/excuse: that the death referred to is spiritual death rather than physical. 

Me: You may have heard the spiritual death explanation commonly, but not commonly from YECs. It is a position of many OECs to explain how, as scripture says, death could enter through one man if in fact there was lots of death prior to the fall. At the 99% level when OECs make that argument, YECs say “no, no, no, Adam’s death must refer to physical death.” You are simply wrong. 

Same someone else: And I’d say that anyone who thinks that the days of creation were each a thousand years long is still a YEC. Sorry. 

Me: No worries, we live in a post-modern world where everyone is entitled to their own definition of words. 

Same someone else: Your definition seems particularly odd, as you say that some young earth creationists are not YECs; you’re defining the acronym in opposition to the words it stands for. 

Me: It is not odd at all. The term YEC has come, from usage, to mean the form of young earth creationism that sprung up as a result of the advent of evolutionary theory. It was recognized that evolution needed a great deal of time, and so modern YECism arose in an attempt to deny it that time. YECs proclaim a young earth in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. That is the distinguishing mark of a YEC, and it is not shared by the ancients. Augustine and others from the first 500 years? I don’t actually know how old they thought the earth was, they probably just accepted whatever the consensus was, which was certainly not billions of years. But they didn’t dig their heels in in the ground in the face of scientific evidence. You really don’t see the difference? 

In the very same way, ancients who might have believed the earth was flat are not the same as modern “Flat Earthers” who, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still proclaim flatness. Again, you don’t see a difference? It’s one bin for all? 

And there the discussion ended.

 Soon classes will start and I’ll have no time for these guilty pleasures.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Can a YEC do science?

On another site, I was in debate about whether Young Earth Creationists (YECs) can do science. Now anyone who knows me also knows that I am no fan of Young Earth Creationism. Theologically I consider in a secondary or tertiary doctrine. Yes, I was in a church where I was told that my views on creation posed a stumbling block to other believers, and that made me incredibly sad, but the concern was not reciprocated: those who believe in a young earth pose no barrier to fellowship, as far as I am concerned.

However, those who go beyond a theological perspective and argue that science done right (a la AiG or CRI) actually supports the YEC view, e.g., that dinosaurs lived within the last 10ky and walked alongside people—they are (at best) severely misinformed folk being led by (at worst) liars for Jesus. [1]  

If you have a YEC view, then your view about science, if you are honest, should be: “Science disagrees with my view of creation. So be it, I don’t care. It'll all sort itself out in the end.”

I have total respect for this view.

Back to the debate. This is a site frequented by scientists and science lovers, theists and atheists.

Several atheists were arguing that YECs cannot do science, at least science related to evolution or the age of the earth/universe. This is total nonsense. You could argue that YECs ought not do such science, or that you would never knowingly hire a YEC to do scientific research in these areas, and I might (or might not) agree with you. That is a different matter altogether, and one fraught with value judgements and legal considerations.

But to argue that they can’t, because they lack some proper ideological viewpoint, is nonsense.

Science is not a religion. Scientists are practitioners of a craft, not clergy. To do science means to follow the scientific method. That means: experiment and/or calculate, document, and disseminate. And the holy of holies, never falsify (by addition, subtraction, or modification) your data.

Science does not ask you about your motivations, beliefs, religion or lack thereof, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, party affiliation, etc. It simply doesn’t give a rat's derriere about any of these.

This is what a lot of scientists have trouble with: science does not even care if you love science or if you believe in the results you are obtaining. So a YEC astronomer could make the most precise measurement of the Hubble constant, while not believing for a second that the reciprocal of the Hubble constant gives the age of the universe. His measurement, that is his science, is no less valid because he does not believe what he measured reflects reality.

Why would a YEC want to be an Astronomer? It doesn’t matter, as far as science is concerned. A person whose motivation is ideologically pure: “I want to know the secrets of the universe!” does science the same exact way as the person whose motivation is: “I want tenure and a paycheck” or "I want to learn how to blow up the world."

One of the atheist scientists posted a scenario that I though made my point better that I did. He wrote:
If you go to a candidate talk and they give an impressive, rigorous, detailed and well supported study and then at the end the punchline comes and they say “of course none of this is actually real because it contradicts the Bible” then no person with any academic integrity would take them seriously. 
To which I responded:
This. A thousand times this. They just gave a talk that was “impressive, rigorous, detailed and well supported” and then came out of the closet. How does that retroactively affect the science they just presented? If what they presented had you excited and could further your own research, would you now say: “Well darn, I guess I can’t use that after all!” 
This isn’t hard. Science is agnostic about everything you are as a person. It cares only about one thing: that you follow the method.

[1] Another repulsive (but common) position is that a young earth view is a first tier doctrine and, via the slippery slope, if you deny the young earth view you'll soon be advocating universalism and denying the trinity and justification by faith alone. Because of "metaphysics."

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Maxwell's Equations make me think of Priscilla and Aquila

In teaching the history of science to an honors class, I eventually arrive at James Clerk Maxwell. Here is the Scot who has perhaps the most famous set of equations in physics named after him, equations that represent the first unified theory in that they synthesized the fields (in two unrelated senses of the word “fields” no less!) of electricity and magnetism into what then became known as electromagnetism.

But wait, there’s more.

The equations related to electricity included a constant that had to be measured from experiment, εo, the permittivity of free space.

The equations related to magnetism included a constant that had to be measured from experiment, μo, the permeablity of free space.

Maxwell combined his equations in a way that formed a description of waves, and so the electromagnetic wave (right down to your wifi) was “born.” The velocity of the wave turned out to be the square root of 1/εoμo. And evaluating that gives you—the speed of light. Awesome.

I always told my students: imagine what it must have been like for Maxwell to see waves traveling at speed of light pop out of his equations. A true Eureka! moment.

And then, on a study abroad last summer (seems like last millennium) we stopped at St. Andrews in Scotland [1] and heard a lecture from a true expert on Maxwell. I (big mistake!) asked her about Maxwell’s reaction to the speed of light being related to two constants that seemingly had nothing to do with light. She said, paraphrasing: “Meh. It was not a big deal. Maxwell and others were expecting it.”

Balloon, deflated. Well, it’s certainly more fun to teach history when you don’t actually know history and can embellish it willy-nilly!

Which brings us to Priscilla and Aquila, two of my favorite characters from the New Testament. [2] Priscilla and Aquila (wife and husband) were this remarkable couple, Jewish exiles from Rome, whom Paul encountered in Corinth on his second missionary journey. The bible is silent on what must have floored Paul: at that time he was the world's most far-ranging missionary, and yet he encountered two Christians from Rome. And they appear to be mature in their faith. (And they share his profession!) No missionary of note had yet been anywhere near Rome. How delighted and flabbergasted he must have been.

But that is speculation only, because the bible does not record the matter of his reaction. I hope my fantasy of Paul’s delighted surprise in encountering Priscilla and Aquila doesn’t end like my fantasy about Maxwell and the speed of light.

[1] It turns out they have a golf course at St. Andrews! Who knew?

 [2] And Priscilla’s name is usually given first, which denotes her as the more prominent. And this in a culture of patriarchy, so she would have had to rise even further to be given the marquee position. And, blissfully unaware of notions of biblical manhood and womanhood that would develop over the next two millennia, she participated in teaching a man, Apollos. And he wasn’t just an unschooled layperson convert, but an established missionary. [3]

 [3] And Apollos was not told to get a degree in Greek philosophy to master ontology and epistomology and then attend seminary for four years and affirm a lengthy, uninspired, extra-biblical confession. No, he was given simple correction and sent on his way. It is a lot harder to become a preacher or missionary today. It is not at all clear that the results are commensurate with increased cost.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Aristotle has caused a lot of trouble

Galileo’s first trouble with authority was not with the church [1], but with the philosophers. As we read in Timothy Ferris’s book Coming of Age in the Milky Way[2]
Galileo was twenty-five years old when a scientifically inclined nobleman, Francesco Cardinal del Monte, took an interest in his abilities and got him appointed professor of mathematics at Pisa. There he lectured on astronomy, poetry, and mathematics and resumed his hectoring of the Aristotelians, at one point circulating a satirical poem poking fun at the Scholastics’ habit of coming to school in togas, like little wax Aristotles. The students were delighted but the Scholastics were in the majority on the faculty, and when Galileo’s contract expired he was let go.[3]
It is often argued that medieval Christianity delayed the development of science, which while exaggerated by the critics of Christianity may be at least partially true. [4] But as the Dark Ages ended, the renewed adoration of Aristotle caused, at the very least, unnecessary additional delays. Aristotle’s horrible science was considered by many (the scholastics mentioned above) as beyond refute, solely because of its pedigree. However what Aristotle taught, when it comes to science, was nonsense. Probably the best example is that he taught that the starry realm beyond the “air” (outer space, if you like) was absolutely immutable.

Then, praise God, we have the suddenly appearing supernova of 1572 [5] which closed the door once and for all on Aristotle's "science". The scholastics, you see, would have it that something that appeared out of nowhere had to be a close-by atmospheric phenomenon, not far away in the Aristotle's immutable aether. But the development of triangulation demonstrated beyond any doubt that the supernova was not in the atmosphere, but distant, among the stars.[6] When Aristotle's "so bad it is not even wrong" view of the cosmos was finally jettisoned, scientific progress took off on an exponential trajectory.

Another aspect of the discipline of philosophy that Galileo objected to was its penchant, still evident today, for proof by an appeal to authority. (In some sense one feels for them, what other arrow do they have in their quiver?) Ferris quotes a passage from a book written by Galileo's father that might well have been Galileo's motto:
It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are in search of truth. [8]
The problem with Galileo, as Ferris points out, is that while he had a laudable disdain for relying on arguments from authority, he reached a point in his life where he demanded that others accept his conclusions on precisely that basis. That's what got him in trouble with the church, not his support of heliocentricity.

[1] And his trouble with the church was not really about his Copernicanism, but rather because he was an arrogant jerk and a political imbecile. He actually had important supporters in the church early on, but he got too full of himself.

[2] A great read which I use in my Honors course on the history of physics.

[3] Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way (p. 85). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

[4] Another reason is the Romans loved engineering, but not so much pure science, and their influence lasted well beyond their empire.

[5] It cannot be overstated how important to modern science was the 1572 supernova, only to be followed a scant 32 years later by another supernova, so that both Tycho Brahe and Kepler had ample viewing opportunities. There would not be another one visible to the naked eye until my lifetime. It was in 1987. Some see luck, I see providence.

[6] Because the super nova looked like it was in the same place to observers that were far from one another, just as stars do. If it were in the atmosphere it would have looked very different for distant observers (not even that distant) against the background stars.

[7] The modern scholastics still get immutability wrong, not of the cosmos but of God, and like the physical error eradicated by the 1572 supernova, the theological error is traceable to Aristotle. His damage continues, with a common view of divine immutability as much closer to Aristotle's distorted view of God than anything found in the scriptures.

[8] Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way (p. 84). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Those darn Christians and their pseudo-intellectual anti-science nonsense!

As I have argued many times, only Christians can harm Christianity. Atheists can’t harm Christianity. Proponents of other religions can’t harm Christianity. The government can’t harm Christianity. COVID-19 can't harm Christianity. No, the church of Christ is immune to all save self-inflicted wounds.

Among the most dangerous are: legalists who sacrifice the gospel for a yoke and demand that we live as if Christ never freed us from bondage, cultural warriors who think our living the correct way for a Christian means that we are obligated force unbelievers to live the same way [1], and those who apply highly fallible human philosophy to theology, and especially when they do it with an anti-science agenda. The latter group is far more dangerous to sound doctrine than the scientist-Christian. Well, at least I think so.

Human philosophy is nothing at all like science. Virtually every scientist agrees that quantum mechanics is the best description of the microscopic world, that Maxwell’s equations are the way to describe electromagnetism, and that General Relativity is our best theory of gravity. There are not Maxwellians and non-Maxwellians as there are stoics and epicureans and Aristotelians and Platoists and neo-Platoists. The complicated taxonomy of human philosophy testifies to its uselessness for anything but, well, idle-philosophising.

If we are generous and give credit to philosophers for the Law of noncontradiction[2]—well that is about as far as it goes. It was all down-hill after that. The garden-variety philosopher-theologian writes pseudo-intellectual word-salad, which would be easily dismissible except they tend to have the credentials and jargon-speak that cause others to take them seriously.

I recently saw this from a philosopher-theologian on twitter: [3], [4]
Tbc: I reject Darwinism totally. It is bad sc. resting on worse metaphysics. I'm tired of wild-eyed schemes for integrating it into Xian theology. We ran that experiment & it led to pantheism. [Rolls eyes]
I replied:
This is nonsense and a form of lying for Jesus. Darwinism (I think he means evolution) might turn out to be wrong or like most science incomplete, but it is not bad science. Human Philosophy is more of a risk to sound Christian doctrine than science.
To rephrase my response, since this is not twitter: Evolution is the best scientific theory we have to explain the diversity of life. While like all science it will undergo refinement, it is not likely to ever be proven wrong in a global sense, unless the fossil record is afforded a better scientific explanation or anachronistic fossils are discovered.

I would like to think that if I found the theory of evolution incompatible with scripture (I don’t) I would take one of these two approaches:

  1. I don’t care, I believe the bible.
  2. I believe evolution is wrong, and I going to study it with all my ability and demonstrate in the lab how it is wrong.

I hope that I would not pretend that I could trivially dismiss the theory by dropping some nonsensical pseudo-intellectual jargon.

You know,  I believe that, with little effort, much philosophy applied to theology could be Sokal-hoaxed as easily as post-modern drivel.

[1] There was like a zillion opportunities in the New Testament for a teaching moment that would justify the Christian engaging in the culture wars. The Holy Spirit availed himself of none of them. Just saying.

[2] In truth credit should go to Logicians, as should credit for enumerating the logical fallacies.

[3] This philosopher thinks it is clever to use the phrase Darwinism instead of evolution. Insistence on using that term, which is completely inaccurate, is a red flag. Darwin’s theory is not the modern theory of evolution, for one thing he knew nothing of genetics. I heard something similar in a different venue the other day: “Evolution has not changed much since Darwin”. Why do Christians say things like that, things that easily fact-checked and demonstrably false? Saying you don’t believe in evolution because you find it incompatible with scripture—while I would disagree I would and do respect that position. But just making up stuff that isn’t true—that I cannot condone.

[4] Later in the twitter exchange, this philosopher argued that philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism were a distinction without a difference. That is total nonsense. The former argues that the natural world is all there is and everything we really know is through science. That latter argues that the study of the natural world is through science—it is basically the philosophical backbone of the scientific method. The former is incompatible with Christianity, the latter is not. That is not a distinction without a difference.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Divorce and Picking Cherries

Internet atheists often accuse us of cherry-picking. They are as right as they are wrong.

They are wrong in that they generally choose their cherry-picking examples from the Old testament law and tell us that if we believed what we are selling we’d still follow these laws, including the prescribed penalties, because, you know, not a jot or tittle. By this argument we should summarily execute a rebellious son, (Deut 21:18-21) but we don’t because, you see, we cherry-pick which verses we want to follow. The problem with their examples, of course, is that in their zeal to make us look bad they completely ignore the strong biblical support for the notion that many jots and many tittles from the Old Testament law (in fact all of them, although some have been reinstituted in the laws for New Testament believers) are null and void.

Where they really should attack us is on matters like divorce and behaviors that are discussed in the New Testament. There we do indeed cherry pick. Group A are the laws and rules we like. We say they are complete, universal and prescriptive. They are in effect exactly as written, nothing more nothing less, for the duration of the Christian dispensation. The ones we don’t like? That’s Group B. They are, we rationalize, descriptive, localized in time and space, and cultural, and just for the apostolic era. 

And nobody can agree on which are in Group A, and which are in Group B. The crazy theonomists put everything in Group A—which for me is good reason to believe that nothing belongs in Group A, given they get virtually everything wrong.

It is a system in which everyone loses because everyone wins.

Most likely since the rules have always been written by men, the passages on divorce are generally viewed as Group A, i.e., complete, universal, prescriptive, and will last until the end of history. In this line of fuzzy (and convenient) thinking, the only grounds for divorce are those stated explicitly: infidelity and abandonment. That leaves out: spousal rape, beating your spouse and children, being a criminal, being a drug addict, and a gazillion other horrible things. So ingrained is this “infidelity or abandonment only” inviolate law that those who in their guts recognize that there have to be other legitimate reasons for divorce will try to weasel their way out by saying that all manner of things (such as those mentioned) fall under the huge umbrella of the abandonment clause—sort of the way the Supreme Court uses the commerce clause to make law in areas that have nothing to do with commerce. In other words, they cheat.

A cleaner solution is to use the Great Hermeneutic: the bible is meant to be read intelligently. And what was given explicitly was meant to be in addition to what common sense dictates, such as the right to divorce a spouse who routinely uses the family grocery money to buy crack. Those who accept this explanation sometimes imagine the Holy Spirit saying: Seriously? I needed to inspire someone to write that you can get a divorce if you spouse regularly beats you and your kids, even if when he is done he asks for a beer and forgiveness? Do you guys use the brains that, well, I gave you?

Monday, June 22, 2020

The RA gedankenexperiment and the Russell Scale

In physics, we have technique for contemplating the consequences of a theory called the gedankenexperiment or, in English, the thought experiment. It was perfected by Einstein (hence the German) who launched himself down the path of Special Relativity with his legendary “what would I see if I could catch up to a beam of light?” thought experiment. 

I like to look at theology with a thought experiment based on the skills of an imaginary polymath called the Rational Agnostic (RA). The RA is smart, educated, scrupulously neutral, and prefers the pronoun they. They look at everything without bias, going where the evidence leads them. We want to use the RA to evaluate doctrine. We are not trying to convince the RA of anything. In particular we are not proselytizing. We give the RA a simple task. We assign to them a doctrine, and ask to what extent the Bible supports the doctrine. We do not care whether or not the RA accepts the doctrine. [1] We only care whether our scholarly friend does or does not find support for the doctrine within the pages of scripture. 

We cannot limit our RA to binary yes or no. We need to give them a standard non-logarithmic hundred-point scale for their evaluations.  And we need units for our scale, which, speaking of polymaths, I have dubbed Russells, after my favorite atheist (can a believer have a favorite atheist?) the philosopher, mathematician, writer, and Nobel laureate (Literature) Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). They don’t make atheists like they used to. [2] A score of 0 Russells means there is no support for a doctrine to be found from Genesis to Revelation. A score of 100 Russells means that, without question, the doctrine is unambiguously taught in the bible. 

We will also call the scale the Russell Scale. 

For example, if we asked our RA to evaluate the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ, they would surely give it a score of 100 Russels, not because they believe it but because there is no question whatsoever that the Bible teaches of the Resurrection of our Lord. You can't weasel out of it, nor should you want to.

Now if you asked whether the Bible teaches of the eschatology known as post-millennialism, I think the RA would come back with a very low score. Not zero, but low. Maybe 10 Russells. I think the score would be low for all the dreaded end-times views. 

There is an exegetical spectrum from biblicists to whatever is on the other end of the scale, let's call them scholastics. The scholastics, who derive a lot of doctrine, don't think very highly of the minimalist biblicists, while the biblicists simply don't think about the scholastics at all. Or at least that's how I imagine it. 

In reality, they're not so different. Everyone has a threshold on the Russell Scale. If a doctrine evaluates below your threshold, you will not accept it as dogma. What we call a biblicist has a high threshold, while a scholastic has a low threshold. But no Christian has a threshold of 100 (a pure biblicist.) Nor does any Christian (I hope) have a threshold of 0, at which point you'd accept doctrine even if the Bible had nothing to say on the matter. An example of a pure scholastic would be one who affirms this doctrine which achieves a score of 0 Russells: "Seth found his wife through temporarily genetically safe and moral incest with an unnamed sister." (Come to think of it, maybe there are some pure scholastics.)

One reason that there cannot be a pure biblicist is that the doctrine of the Trinity would not score 100 Russells. You can make a really good case for the Trinity, but you can't make a bullet-proof case. Therefore, positing the Trinity as a necessary doctrine for Christians to affirm, every Christian has a threshold on Russell scale less than 100. QED.

Every Christian, even the biblicists, and even if they deny it, accepts that some doctrine (at least the Trinity) is derived by Lutherian "good and necessary consequences." Your Russell threshold simply determines your tolerance for what achieves the designation of "good and necessary."

How would you score the Trinity? I would give it somewhere around 90 Russells. 

I would give a "yes" on infant baptism somewhere around 40 Russells, and a "no" on infant baptism a complementary score of 60. [3]  

For now, that's all I have to say on the Russell scale. I do hope Bertie had a death-bed conversion; he would be an interesting person to talk to.

[1] In real-life we would, of course, care a great deal abot our RA's accepteance, at least if the doctrine at hand was the Gospel. 

[2] To be fair, they don't make theologians like they used to either.

[3] The Russell Normalization Law requires that the scores of a yes on a doctrine and no on the same doctrine add up to 100 Russells.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

It Takes More Faith To Believe in God Than In Evolution

One of the more common jabs at evolution is the reverse of the title of this post, namely the quip that "it takes more faith to believe in evolution than in God." The attempted "clever" meaning of the statement is clear: evolution is so unlikely that God is actually the easier option to accept.

The first thing wrong with this argument is that it is fallacious. The more serious problem is that it is unbiblical.

It is fallacious because it is an argument from incredulity, which is indeed a fallacy. Wikipedia notes

Arguments from incredulity can take the form:

  1. I cannot imagine how F could be true; therefore F must be false.
  2. I cannot imagine how F could be false; therefore F must be true
Such arguments are not valid (even when accidentally correct). While you imagine that you have refuted or confirmed an position, you have in fact done nothing with any actual value.

"It takes more faith to believe in evolution than in God" as an argument against evolution is a logical error of the first type.

Generally this argument also uses the common straw-man caricatures of evolution, namely that is an undirected process of random mutations and survival of the fittest. Actually evolution is highly directed, and there are other important processes involved, including the most obvious: genetic variation as a result of sexual reproduction. There is also genetic drift and migration.

How is evolution highly directed? We mimic evolution in computer programs to solve nonlinear, multivariable optimizations with many local extrema that are not amenable to traditional derivative methods. The programs are called genetic algorithms. The idea is simple. You create some trial solutions (they don't have to be very good) and you specify a "fitness function." For example, in the famous Traveling Salesman problem, the solutions are paths taking us to all the cities in our territory, and the fitness function is the path length, the shorter the better. You then apply the methods of evolution to your solutions and evaluate the new generation.  The ones that do the best survive, the others die. This is not a random stroll, It is highly directed to find solutions with shorter paths. Only those solution reproduce.

Actual evolution is even more directed, because the fitness function is the mother of all fitness functions: literal survival.

Okay, sorry for that rabbit trail. This post isn't really about the mechanisms of evolution. It's about the quantity of faith needed to accept evolution compared to the faith needed to believe in God.

How much faith do I need to believe in evolution?

Well, I need faith that the universe and the earth are old. We have many different sources for estimates of these ages, to include
  1. Radiometric dating with different radio isotopes
  2. Stellar evolution
  3. The expansion of the universe (Hubble's Law)
  4. Geography of strata
  5. Plate techtonics
  6. The cosmic microwave background 
  7. The discovery of gravitational waves, and their agreement with theory
What do these all say? The say the universe and earth are billions of years old. Does it take more faith to believe in billions of years or to believe all these different approaches, which rely of different scientific theories, all conspire to give the same wrong answer? You tell me.

If we accept the earth is billions of years old, I still have to have faith that evolution occurred during that time period. To that end we have:
  1. A huge fossil record including (despite weird claims to the contrary) transitional fossils.
  2. Examples of evolution in the lab, including speciation.
  3. The presence of vestigial organs, limbs, wings, etc.
  4. Predictions of evolutionary theory, including (but not limited to) the fusion of a human chromosome (number 2) and the predicted (where and when) transitional fossil of the Tiktallik.
In short, it doesn't take much faith to believe [1] in evolution.

Now, how much faith does it take to believe in God? According to the Bible it might was well be infinite, because you will never muster enough faith without supernatural intervention:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8)
It takes nothing more than following the evidence to believe in evolution. (Which, by the way, doesn't prove that it is correct. Scientific theories are not really ever proven correct.) By contrast, it takes a supernatural act of God to acquire a saving faith.

By the way, I am a theistic evolutionist. I believe that God used evolution as his secondary means to create the diversity of life. I believe in God's sovereignty, and as such I believe that evolution was never outside of his control. This sometimes gets characterized as a form of deism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Deism would say that God set up the initial conditions and stood back as the universe marched forward in time, never intervening. Whatever happened, happened. Theistic evolution says that if God did not intervene in the evolutionary process,[2] it wouldn't be that he has the disinterest of a deistic god, or that he couldn't have intervened if needed. It would be because he didn't have to

[1] By "believe" we mean "to accept as the current best scientific theory." 

[2] And of course he might have intervened, but it would not have been because things were taking off in a direction he didn't intend or foresee, but rather because the intervention was always planned.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Cultural Original Sin

We are seeing what I believe is an interesting metaphor. With the current (and changing) culture acting as They Who Judge The Quick and the Dead. Unfortunately, although we have a lidless-eye mutable judge (current culture) we have no redeemer for this realm. Once you are lost, you are lost.

We are seeing the tag of Moral Reprobate assigned to those who are are or have been heroes to some. Recently the statues of slave traders, slave apologists, and slave defenders have been toppled.

I think this (toppling statues) is a good thing. Firstly for the putrefying body-of-death libertarian inside who has not completely expired and who thinks any public money spent on (almost anything) let alone a statue is a waste. But this is trivial.

The bigger reason is of course the obvious one: Robert E. Lee fought to defend the practice of enslaving human beings made in the Image of God.

I cannot fathom the visceral response to seeing Lee honored with statuary among those from the race he sought to keep in subjugation. This is not of the "I'm sorry if you are offended" variety, it is of the "Of course you are rightfully offended." But in truth it is simply outside of my experience since I am not a member of a group that has ever faced oppression. [1]

I have my own visceral response to Christians who like to point what they view as a mitigating factor: that Lee (how they know this, I'm not sure) was "good Christian man," whatever that is. (Personally, I never met one.) This is totally irrelevant. Theologically I hope he was saved and is now, in the presence of his Lord, fully cognizant of the sinfulness of his ways, a fate that (hopefully) awaits all of us. If Lee was a Christian, he is no better than any other, nor is he worse. He is equally devoid of any merit apart from the finished work of Christ. As are we all.

Humanly (and therefore no-doubt sinfully) I wish he didn't identify as a Christian, in the same manner I wish Trump didn't identify as a Christian, because it is one more example of bad behavior for which our faith is held accountable and subjects its practitioners to charges of rank hypocrisy.

The temptation to make excuses for or ignore the sins of our heroes is great. I see it all the time with the Puritans. We give their theologians deserved kudos for their writings, but most of their admirers neglect to point out that the Puritans also shamefully persecuted many with different theologies. I have to be very careful with my own theological hero, Martin Luther, who wrote some of the most virulent (and violent) anti-Semitic writings ever penned. [2]

Is there really Original Sin in the cultural realm? I think so, but it is only speculation, because we always have an extant set of heroes who maintain (for now) their reputations. But can they survive indefinitely?

A Gedankenexperiment: Pick a hero. Any hero.  [3]  Now fast-forward two centuries to a brave new world in which all animals have legal rights. Zoos and pets are abominations. Eating animals is a class-1  felony with its own edition of Law and Order. (In the criminal justice system, carnivorous crimes are considered particularly disgusting...da-dum!). How will our current unsullied heroes, who may have been on the boards of zoos or Perdue, kept a household full of pets, and enjoyed the occasional Philly Cheese Steak be viewed?

More statues must fall.

[1] The closest I come is that my maternal grandfather was a Soviet Jew. He escaped to America and avoided any pogrom. I never identified as a Jew, but I like to point out that when the Bible talks about preserving a remnant among the Jews, that "I'm one of 'em!"

[2] It is not, of course, just Christians who excuse their heroes. Darwin had some overtly racist writings that are often get-out-of-jail-excused as being misunderstood or anachronistic.

[3] I resisted the chance to use MLK as an example of someone who is currently exemplary. It is not that I don't think he is, it is because I wanted to avoid the fad of a white man virtue signaling his admiration for MLK. Of course this footnote about virtue signaling is a form of meta virtue signaling. And that the previous sentence about meta virtue signaling is a form of meta meta virtue signaling. It's virtue signals all the way down.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Some thoughts on Cain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel tends to get only a light dusting. But it is worthy of deeper investigation. The question that we all ponder is: “Why was Cain’s offering unacceptable?”

There has been much speculation about this, and much of it unsupportable. In particular, three reasons are often suggested: 1) Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it did not involve blood; 2) Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it was not of sufficient material quality;  3) Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it was of little "economic" value i.e., it was not sufficiently sacrificial.

All these reasons lack something vital: scriptural support.

The offering did not have to be a blood offering. It was not made as a sin atonement. Both brothers offered what was appropriate for their vocations. Cain’s sacrifice was not rejected because of any left-wing vegan leanings.

Nor is there any hard evidence that Cain’s offering was of poor quality. It is true that of Abel’s offering we read that it was “of the firstborn of the flock, and their fat” and no comparable description of Cain’s—but such descriptions are more apt for animal offerings. It would be odd to describe an offering of the fruit of the land as the “first sprouted.” The material of Cain’s offering is not described in any negative terms.

Furthermore, there is no suggestion, whatsoever, that Cain’s offering was less economically valuable to Cain than Abel’s was to Abel. It was not rejected because it did not cause enough "pain" to Cain. 

In summary, it appears that the acceptance and rejection of the offerings had nothing to do with the material type, quality, or relative value. 

So what did it have to do with?

We see the hint in the historically ordered Hall of Fame of Old Testament Saints found in Hebrews 11. These OT saints are praised for an intuitive grasp of God’s immutability, a grasp which looks nothing like the later-derived monstrous Greek-philosophy inspired doctrine of immutability that renders God as a blob of cosmic energy. The praiseworthy saints of Hebrews 11 understood the only solid-ground doctrine of immutability that one can learn from scripture: God is unchanging in the sense that we can put total trust in his promises. The OT saints of Hebrews 11 had faith that God would keep his promises made in the garden and later to Noah, Abraham, Moses. etc. 

And who is the first of these saints mentioned in Hebrews 11? It is Abel.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain (Heb 11:4)
Though not seeing it fulfilled in his abbreviated life on earth, Abel believed the promise that God made to his (Abel's) parents, that one would come to crush the head of the serpent. Cain did not. Even those who understand this are still tempted to add something to faith—but Abel did not offer a better sacrifice (i.e., more substantive or valuable in some sense) because he had faith. No,  the sense is rather this: because Abel had faith in God’s promise, his sacrifice was deemed better. If Cain was the one who had faith, his vegan sacrifice would have been the one that was accepted and Abel's offering of the first born of the flocks would have been rejected.

God says as much. In talking to Cain after his offering is rejected, God says: “If you [Cain] do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.

God is not telling Cain to improve the quality of his offering. He is telling Cain to improve the quality of his heart.

That’s how I see it. I could be totally wrong.