Understanding creationism, II:
An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist

| 209 Comments

By David MacMillan

2. Variation and adaptation

The majority of modern creation science freely admits the existence of biological variation, adaptation, and speciation. Indeed, the recent-creation model – particularly the belief that all extant life descended from a small group of “kinds” present on Noah’s Ark which diversified into all families on Earth after a global flood – requires enormous adaptive variation and near-constant speciation. Creationists estimate that fewer than 10,000 pairs of land-dwelling, air-breathing animals on the Ark diversified to represent all families alive today. There are around 6.5 million land-dwelling species today, so millions of speciation events would have needed to take place over the past 44 centuries since their global flood.

As a side point: in order to go from 10,000 primordial “kinds” to 6.5 million species in less than 5000 years, the number of species would need to double every 385 years. If the rate of evolutionary development and speciation really were this rapid, few species would endure for more than four or five centuries without undergoing drastic and noticeable adaptation, and we would presently see about 45 new species emerging every single day. To explain this inconsistency, creationists will sometimes imagine an even more rapid period of hyper-evolution immediately following the Flood, after which adaptation and speciation would supposedly stabilize to their presently-observed levels. Apart from being utter special pleading, this explanation is even more problematic: each species would have to undergo a speciation event every few generations.

So creationists most certainly accept the existence of biological variation and speciation. Creationists call this rapid diversification from “kinds” down to modern species “microevolution.” However, the mechanism they propose as the basis of “microevolution” differs broadly from the mechanism accepted and taught as part of the theory of evolution.

Creationist literature – particularly curriculum, though this is the rule in apologetics and journals as well – typically presents Mendelian inheritance as the sole mechanism for biological variation. Almost all biological variation is believed to come through this process: the recombination of whole genes (examples usually tracing the familiar-but-oversimplified dominant/recessive system) from parental chromosomes to produce offspring with a blend of traits from each parent. They propose that this new blend of pre-existing traits is subject to natural selection and can cause those traits (and their associated genes) to become more or less prevalent in the population as a whole. Eventually, the concentration of these genes in subsets of the population is expected to lead to a split and the emergence of a new species. Creationists also point out that the loss of genetic information due to mutation can produce similarly selectable results, accelerating the diversification process. However, they will invariably add that this process works in only one direction; mutations can remove genetic information, but they cannot (in the creationist mindset) add it.

The creationist model claims that the variation provided by Mendelian inheritance and genetic loss – this “microevolution” mechanism – is responsible for all the variation we ever observe in nature. They claim that this observed level of variation is sufficient for the diversification of the 10,000 kinds represented on the Ark, but – they claim – not sufficient to produce the new genetic information needed to produce all life from a single common ancestor (what they term “macroevolution”). By erroneously supposing that Mendelian recombination is the exclusive source of genetic variation, they neatly exclude any viable mechanism for universal common descent.

Correcting this misconception can be difficult. It is not enough to explain that macroevolution is the accumulation of microevolution over time, because creationists define these as two distinctly different processes. They actually are correct in arguing that their “microevolution” could never accumulate into “macroevolution” because their definition of “microevolution” is much more limited than we see in reality. They must be made to understand that the genetic variation we actually observe on a daily basis is fundamentally different than what their “microevolution” allows for.

The misconception depends on a lack of information about microbiology and sexual reproduction in general, but there is a conceptual foundation at play as well: the idea that God is the prime creator of information, including genetic information. This idea is philosophical: the assumption that no new information can arise without an intelligence.

The creationist needs to understand two things. First, he should understand the scientific fact of just how much variation is actually observed in microbiology. There is no “limit” to genetic recombination; chromosomal crossover can take place at any base pair, and this process can alter or transpose or duplicate entire genes without loss of function. A common creationist claim is that any mutation large enough to make a difference will ruin the organism’s chances at survival. But this claim is simply false. First of all, genotype (the information in our DNA) is distinct from phenotype (the expression of traits based on DNA). Each generation has two copies of every chromosome (one from the mother and one from the father), so a given organism can use the maternal gene if the paternal one is scrambled, and vice versa. Moreover, it is not uncommon for chromosomal crossover to duplicate whole genes, so the old gene can retain its original function while the new gene develops a new function. Mendelian recombination can be the source of visible changes from generation to generation, but new genetic combinations are continually being generated within the genome itself.

More fundamentally, the creationist must realize the flaw in his philosophical argument. Our DNA does not contain abstract information, like a book filled with human language. Abstract information almost certainly requires a conscious mind to interpret it, but that is not what DNA represents. Using the idea of a code to represent DNA is our abstraction; the actual function of DNA is purely chemical. There is no interpretation required; the alignment and connection is the same sort of process by which snowflakes form into crystals. The evolution of our genetic code is not driven by some conscious intelligence constantly adding new information, but by the environment, which continually forces life to adapt in order to survive.

209 Comments

David, I’m new here and eagerly awaiting each installment of the series, having emerged from a similar background myself. This second post discusses the micro-evolution position of YECs vis a vis land-dwelling, air breathing animals, those happy few, those 10,000 few. However, what are their positions on: 1.) the myriad of marine and freshwater non-air breathing species; for example, did they microevolve after the flood also or were they already diversified more heavily? And what about pinnipeds, cetae, and other marine mammals? 2.) the many, many kingdoms of microscopic organisms that are everywhere in the biosphere. Have they speciated post diluvian, from a small set of original bacteria, viruses, diatoms, extremophiles, etc.? 3.) since all land and freshwater plants were presumably destroyed in the flood, did they quickly return via speciation from surviving seaweeds or did the ark carry a seedbank too and if so, why isn’t it mentioned? I jest of course but I am wondering if they do address these kinds of questions.

@Cordorcet:

Hey, thanks for your comment! We obviously know that the Genesis flood myth is a fable/poetic-form retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh with some critical departures intended to highlight the differences between the gods in the Utnapishtim story and YHWH in the Hebrew story. One of the edits is that the Hebrew author expands the Ark’s contents from the livestock of the protagonist to ALL breathing land creatures. It’s ridiculous, of course, to try and make this out as an actual historical event.

But they try. Genesis 7 says that the Flood killed every breathing land creature, but YECs typically exclude various invertebrates on the convenient grounds that they don’t breathe using normal lungs. And so plants, microorganisms, aquatic mammals, fish, and various insects/worms/invertebrates all somehow managed to survive without being intentionally brought onto the Ark. Suggested survival pathways include “clinging to floating matted logs” and “hitchhiking on the Ark”.

They have written painfully long, detailed, and inventive books on the subject. Like Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study. All about the ways it could have been done.

Point out that there are many species which can’t survive outside a very narrow range of conditions, and they’ll argue that those specializations came into being since the Flood; that the Flood-era flora/fauna were hardier.

david.starling.macmillan said:

They have written painfully long, detailed, and inventive books on the subject. Like Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study. All about the ways it could have been done.

I have GOT to get my hands on that!

Point out that there are many species which can’t survive outside a very narrow range of conditions, and they’ll argue that those specializations came into being since the Flood; that the Flood-era flora/fauna were hardier.

hmm…a flood which destroyed all air-breathing life AND was violent enough in its effects to create geological strata, grand canyons, what seems to be volcanic caldera older than 4000 years, ad infinitum, was not violent enough to destroy the hardy antediluvian plant life it buried under fathoms of intense water and pressure?

Condorcet said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

They have written painfully long, detailed, and inventive books on the subject. Like Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study. All about the ways it could have been done.

I have GOT to get my hands on that!

It’s just $32 over on Amazon, though I suppose I could get you a 10% off discount with my Creation Museum membership.

hmm…a flood which destroyed all air-breathing life AND was violent enough in its effects to create geological strata, grand canyons, what seems to be volcanic caldera older than 4000 years, ad infinitum, was not violent enough to destroy the hardy antediluvian plant life it buried under fathoms of intense water and pressure?

I suppose that all the seeds of all the plants in the world somehow managed to get trapped on floating mats of vegetation and then landed and self-planted conveniently on top of wherever their fossils had been laid down.

It should be noted that YECs don’t actually say that the Grand Canyon formed during the Flood. Somehow, the Flood drained off the world’s continents without leaving any major canyons at all. The Grand Canyon, they say, was formed rapidly after the flood when an ice dam burst.

Your discussion is very informative and spot on. However, attempts at rational discussions with YECs as a group is absolutely futile. In the end there is no possible discussion, evidence, or whatever you will ever be able to come up with that can refute: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

I look forward to your entire series.

Condorcet:

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Scott F said:

Condorcet:

Welcome. When editing your reply, feel free to add new pairs of <blockquote> and </blockquote> to tags make your comments more readable, so we can tell what are your words, and those you are replying to.

Thanks, mea culpa

However, they will invariably add that this process works in only one direction; mutations can remove genetic information, but they cannot (in the creationist mindset) add it.

As far as I know, YECs didn’t always push this new Post-Deluge Hyper-Evolution model, but now they do in an attempt to consolidate their “acceptance” for some parts of mainstream evolution which are just too stupidly obvious for them to ignore. In the past they accepted these things without any kind of framework attached, but recently they’ve latched onto this Super-Evolution story to explain how a fraction of a percent of known animal species could have fit onto the Ark. It has only gained its current widespread popularity among YECs in recent years, AFAIK. At least when I started paying attention to Creationism back in the late 90s/early 00s, they hadn’t settled onto the hyperfast evolution model to such a great extent. It only seems to have caught on since the opening of the Creation Museum, really.

Assuming that’s an accurate reflection on the state of Creationism, this argument seems like a holdover from their earlier attempts to debunk evolution. If they’d just drop the old baggage and accept that mutations CAN increase information, they’d instantly reduce some of the problems with their new model. Static-to-decreasing genetic information cannot generate endless varieties of new species, which their new story requires. Allowing for increased genetic information is the only way to explain the diversification of life, especially if you insist on diversifying all of it over a few centuries! But going back on their stalwart insistence that mutations CAN’T increase information not only makes them seem wishy-washy, it also opens up a Pandora’s Ark of potential problems. If genetic information CAN increase through natural means, why bother sticking with anti-evolutionism at all? They risk undermining their own position if they attempt to make it more plausible. In reality I don’t think it would actually turn many YECs away if they changed course like this, because reasoning things out carefully and consistently isn’t what got people into this mess to begin with. Anti-evolutionists are already inveterate ignorers of inconsistencies and inconvenient facts. Even an about-face like this from one of the biggest Creationist clearinghouses might go totally unnoticed, perhaps willfully so.

They actually are correct in arguing that their “microevolution” could never accumulate into “macroevolution” because their definition of “microevolution” is much more limited than we see in reality.

Or to put it simply, just point out that the definition of “microevolution” used by Creationists is not the same as the one used by biologists. Explain that it’s a made-up definition, and show them that the terms “micro/macroevolution” in biology have a different meaning. Explain that speciation is a macroevolutionary event, not a micro one. By definition (the one used by actual scientists), microevolution takes place below the species level and macroevolution is what takes place above the species level. Thus the separation between two species is macro (even moreso if the accelerated Post-Deluge Not-Evolution Evolution model allows serial speciation events: one species splits into two, and then those two split into four, rather than one species constantly splitting off other species which themselves remain fixed). If they already accept that speciation happens, so much the better.

The real-world example of genes being duplicated and then one copy mutating into something new is a powerful counter to the idea that genetic information can’t increase. But even with this staring them in the face, some anti-evolutionists I’ve known will deny that it represents an increase in information. They don’t consider the system as a whole having gained an entirely new gene, they see the copy of the gene being “degraded” and stop there. It must be a loss of information! And it was just a copy of an existing gene to start with, right? Then that’s just existing genetic variation! Sometimes even breaking things down into simple arithmetic isn’t enough: start with X number of unique genes, copy one of them, still X number of unique genes. Change that copy and suddenly you have X+1 number of unique genes, but somehow this doesn’t work out to an increase of genetic information… because reasons!

More fundamentally, the creationist must realize the flaw in his philosophical argument. Our DNA does not contain abstract information, like a book filled with human language. Abstract information almost certainly requires a conscious mind to interpret it, but that is not what DNA represents. Using the idea of a code to represent DNA is our abstraction; the actual function of DNA is purely chemical. There is no interpretation required; the alignment and connection is the same sort of process by which snowflakes form into crystals. The evolution of our genetic code is not driven by some conscious intelligence constantly adding new information, but by the environment, which continually forces life to adapt in order to survive.

To explain the way nature can embed “information” without intelligence, I sometimes turn to magnets. Throw a few magnets loosely onto a table and they’ll sort themselves out into a neat little order, all without the input of any Intelligent Magnet Sorter.

Building on that, it might help to explain the pattern of magnetic stripes in the floor of the Atlantic ocean. Sea-floor spreading along the mid-Atlantic ridge has allowed magnetized particles to align with the Earth’s magnetic poles through several reversals, crystallizing their new orientation as the magma cools and trapping information about the past in the rocks. The pattern on the Eastern side of the ridge is the mirror image of the pattern on the Western side, encoding data about the Earth’s magnetic field over millions of years as neatly as the strip on the back of your credit card. This pattern, this data, this information required no intelligent intervention to come about. It’s just the entirely natural processes of continental drift and magnetism.

Objections that the “apparent” pattern can’t exist because it would imply an Old Earth might be allayed if we grant for the sake of argument the YEC models of a catastrophic Flood, and imagine that this rift and the reversing magnetic poles happened as a result of the Deluge (maybe this is where the fountains of the deep broke open or something?). Some YECs love to throw in all kinds of disaster movie porn into that scenario; geomagnetic reversals and moving continents crop up not infrequently when they describe the upheavals. So even under an entirely Young Earth model, we still have natural processes generating and encoding information without requiring intelligence.

Condorcet said:

Scott F said:

Condorcet:

Welcome. When editing your reply, feel free to add new pairs of <blockquote> and </blockquote> to tags make your comments more readable, so we can tell what are your words, and those you are replying to.

Thanks, mea culpa

No problem. Liked your comments. Just a tad difficult to read. Now you’re looking much better. :-)

I read your post and the comments and I feel a tenuous pattern about the YEC’s. You mention hyper-evolution and I immediately think of the astrophysicist’s inflation at the time of the big bang, you mention suggested survival methods, etc. None of these things are in the Bible. But to paraphrase Mat 16:6 beware the leaven of the scientist. Perhaps if the pressure is kept up on the YEC’s, they, as a population, would evolve into rational beings. I listened to a kindly elderly, indeed ancient, preacher who today would be called a YEC, but he believed God micromanaged, i.e. he did not believe in gravity. People were held on the earth, the moon went around the earth, the earth went around the sun, the stars moved in the heavens, all due to the power of God’s will. He didn’t need hyper-evolution or floating mats of seaweed. You can see how far down the slippery slope the current YEC’s have gone. BTW that ancient preacher would never have been so unkind to make a comment like I did about rational beings. The veneer of civilization is very thin.

Scott F said:

Condorcet:

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ksplawn said: If they’d just drop the old baggage and accept that mutations CAN increase information, they’d instantly reduce some of the problems with their new model.

Well, first they’d have to adopt some consistent, detailed or mathematical definition of “information.” IMO they’ve been unwilling to do that because pretty much any definition you use allows it to be created through natural processes.

In reality I don’t think it would actually turn many YECs away if they changed course like this,

I somewhat agree. All this ID, CSI, IC stuff is not really about justifying biblical literalism to themselves. Its about getting God back in school classes. They don’t need any of it for their own belief, its merely for the consumption of school boards, judges, and students.

Explain that speciation is a macroevolutionary event, not a micro one. By definition (the one used by actual scientists), microevolution takes place below the species level and macroevolution is what takes place above the species level.

I beg to differ slightly with David on this one. I don’t think YECism is as consistent (about macro/micro) as he or you make it sound. I think the reality is that they will have wildly different standards for what counts as “macro” depending on whether you’re talking about humans and closely related species vs. species that are less closely related to us. Development of millions of species of ants from one progenitor species = micro, but the evolutionary change from australopithecus or even homo erectus to homo sapiens = macro…even though biologically speaking, the differences in those hominids is much smaller than the differences between various ants. And lets not even talk about onions. If they were as consistent as David implies, then clearly any definition of “macro” that includes human evolution from earlier hominids would require God’s separate creation of lots of different onion species. :) But they aren’t consistent; any human evolution from earlier hominids will be counted as macro, while onion evolution from earlier Allium species will be counted as micro.

More fundamentally, the creationist must realize the flaw in his philosophical argument.

Oh, I don’t think so. As Feynman said (paraphrasing), the easiest person to fool is yourself. I think bias and sloppy thinking (such as using a qualitative concept of ‘information’ rather than a quantitative one) adequately explains most creationists. Yes there are frauds, but I’m willing to accept that most are sincere believers.

Whether it’s religion or politics or culture, we humans tend to underestimate the extent to which normally functioning adults can disagree about basic notions. When someone disagrees with something we care deeply about, we tend to see it as a sign of malicious/mercenary thinking (“you just believe in a flat tax out of self-interest”) or insanity (“no normal person could dispute AGW”). But in reality, just because you think some notion is perfectly clear and obvious doesn’t mean every other adult on the planet would see it that way. As hard as this is to grok, most creationists probably really honestly think the evidence supports their beliefs.

The YEC understanding of recombination seems to have some limits. In the description in the post, recombination in the parents assembles a new genotype, which then spreads. That can happen every so often if recombination rates are low enough. But if they are a little higher, then the recombination will not only assemble the new genotypes (new haplotypes) but it will also disassemble them soon after. Which limits the ability of recombination to explain an imagined burst of hyperevolution.

Their general principle that mutation cannot increase adaptive information also has a big problem. When most evolutionary biologists hear of that principle, a simple objection immediately comes to mind. Suppose that we have a functional gene, say Hemoglobin Beta. And suppose that a mutation at site 56 occurs which mutates the base C to a G, and damages the function of the gene, That can happen, and it would fit in with the creationists’ supposed general principle.

But now suppose that another mutation occurs at that same site, and changes G to C. Well, by their definition it is one that creates “new genetic information”. If there was more of this “information” present when the base was C than when it was G, than a change back from G to C must increase the amount of this “information”. So there is supposed to be some law of the universe that makes that back-mutation impossible. Evolutionary biologists will be puzzled. Why is C –> G supposed to be a mutation which can occur, while G –> C cannot occur? What law of the universe is there that stops it from happening?

Joe Felsenstein said: But now suppose that another mutation occurs at that same site, and changes G to C. Well, by their definition it is one that creates “new genetic information”. If there was more of this “information” present when the base was C than when it was G, than a change back from G to C must increase the amount of this “information”. So there is supposed to be some law of the universe that makes that back-mutation impossible. Evolutionary biologists will be puzzled. Why is C –> G supposed to be a mutation which can occur, while G –> C cannot occur? What law of the universe is there that stops it from happening?

Chemical kinetics and thermodynamics could, in principle cause one reaction “direction” to be much more likely than the other. That isn’t the issue (IMO). The two issues related to your example are:

(1) Observation and experimentation does not support this actually being the case. IOW while it was possible that we could’ve found this to be true, we didn’t find it to be true. (AFAIK…someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

(2) Imagine two genes; one in which a G to C substitution in a sequence renders the gene inoperative, the other where a G to C substitution in a similar sequence renders a previously proken gene operative. According to creationist logic, one of those G to C substitutions must be possible while the other must be impossible, but it’s the exact same chemical reaction. THAT is a major problem with their theory.

(2a) The same issue can be seen when one considers duplication. AIUI, too many or too few copies of a sequence can sometimes lead to birth defects. How is an IDer to explain that the duplication reaction XX to XXX is allowed when you have five sequence X’s but forbidden when you have two?

eric said:

As hard as this is to grok, most creationists probably really honestly think the evidence supports their beliefs.

Like David, I grew up in the evangelical milieu (late 70’s/early 80’s vintage), forced to attend a Fundamentalist Christian High School and choosing (my younger self, indeed) to attend a Christian liberal arts college (where, ironically the theology faculty were much more progressive about things like hermeneutics and textual criticism than the “science” faculty were). The extra twist for me was that my father was a community college physics and astronomy professor, who had actually studied under Whitcomb and Morris as an undergraduate (then going on to graduate school at Wisconsin) and who was an active member of the Creation Research Society!

I always thought that it was “easier” for Physicists to be religious (I think it starts – though oversimplified – with that Neo-Platonism that characterizes higher mathematics and the austere and “divine” Laws of the Newtonian universe), but clearly geology and biology were not of any real concern to him (and therefore exactly what I was interested in). It was, of course, through reading the CR “literature” lying around the house that I became interested in the real science of evolution and biology.

Incidentally, I just recently found Panda’s Thumb via John Hawks’s website (I recently took his MOOC on Human Evolution)because I am very interested in physical anthropology, prehistory, and the human genome. I’m currently reading Svante Paabo’s memoir “Neanderthal Genes: In Search of Lost Genomes.” Incidentally, I’m merely a dilettante (primarily as a voracious reader), since my own work is as a Shakespeare scholar and a professor of English literature (I was very gratified to read the comment thread on Part One of David’s post, which had extensive and wide ranging discussion of postmodern literary theory as it relates to Biblical textual criticism, etc.)with a background in literary theory as well. I must apologize for all the personal digression, but after lurking on the part one comments thread, I decided I really wanted to to engage with such a thoughtful and well-versed online community. This all too allusive post was originally meant to comment on eric’s point about creationist sincerity or lack thereof. I can speak about how my father reconciled his study of physics and astronomy by saying that it seemed to me that he carefully constructed an interpretive framework (which was, of course, narrative-based)that began with basic “laws” he found in scripture and then worked very hard to show how observational reality and experiment supported these “laws.” In the end, of course, he had to posit that the only model that explained it with any consistency was in the rejection of steady-state and universalism and therefore, he was completely invested in tropes like the canopy theory, Morris’s Moon book, and a pre-lapsarian universe completely different from what is observable today. Conversely, I also gathered from him a very Jesuit-like rigor (I was reminded of him when I read Teilhard de Chardin years later)and also that “intellectual Catholic” (can’t think of another way to put it) bent of “all truth is God’s truth.” This was, of course, always tempered by absolute insistence of literal biblical interpretation and inerrancy.

I am really looking forward to this series and to learning as much as I can about biology, genetics, and evolution here at the Panda’s Thumb.

I just edited Mr. Condorcet’s comment, directly above, to show paragraphs where he intended them. The easiest way to show a paragraph is to use two “Enters” in a row; one alone will not do.

eric said:

ksplawn said: Explain that speciation is a macroevolutionary event, not a micro one. By definition (the one used by actual scientists), microevolution takes place below the species level and macroevolution is what takes place above the species level.

I beg to differ slightly with David on this one. I don’t think YECism is as consistent (about macro/micro) as he or you make it sound. I think the reality is that they will have wildly different standards for what counts as “macro” depending on whether you’re talking about humans and closely related species vs. species that are less closely related to us. Development of millions of species of ants from one progenitor species = micro, but the evolutionary change from australopithecus or even homo erectus to homo sapiens = macro…even though biologically speaking, the differences in those hominids is much smaller than the differences between various ants. And lets not even talk about onions. If they were as consistent as David implies, then clearly any definition of “macro” that includes human evolution from earlier hominids would require God’s separate creation of lots of different onion species. :) But they aren’t consistent; any human evolution from earlier hominids will be counted as macro, while onion evolution from earlier Allium species will be counted as micro.

Excellent point, very true. The specifically Creationist definitions of terms (scientific or otherwise!) are definitions of convenience rather than definitions of consistency. Whatever they can say and however they can spin it to fit their ideology goes, because ideology comes first. Microevolution, information, etc. are all just rhetorical punching bags used to train up the Creationist’s fighting form against reality.

Because the anti-evolutionist mindset is almost always a Fundamentalist mindset, where the application of logic is shallow and rhetoric carries the day. That (it seems to me) is the easiest and most common way of thinking which allows for reality, facts, and reason all to be subservient to the the core belief of the Fundamentalist. The path of least resistance to continuous acceptance of The Belief is to not submit to any external definitions or logic that might challenge it.

Anti-evolutionists use “straw definitions” because if they accepted the real definitions, the Belief at the core of their Fundamentalist mentality might be threatened. Most of them don’t realize they’re doing it, and like you I’m not always cynical enough to believe that even the ringleaders are aware of it. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful, insidious trap that afflicts everyone at some point, even when they should know better. Sometimes you can explain things to them at length for years and they just don’t allow themselves to make the connection. Easiest person to fool, as you said. What seems to separate the anti-evolutionists (or the climate deniers, or the AIDS deniers, or the anti-vaxxers…) is the extent and thoroughness to which this tendency manifests in their way of experiencing the world.

Condorcet, thanks for giving us your story too!

alicejohn said:

Your discussion is very informative and spot on. However, attempts at rational discussions with YECs as a group is absolutely futile. In the end there is no possible discussion, evidence, or whatever you will ever be able to come up with that can refute: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

I look forward to your entire series.

I have to agree.

David Starling MacMillan represents a type of creationist who can be convinced.

His case was fairly ideal. First of all he has very high academic ability. This not only allows one to understand science when one wants to, it also makes one less able to use simpleton propaganda slogans to shut down one’s own mental inquiries.

He does not appear to have an authoritarian personality structure, and thus does not seem like the type who would experience an irresistable urge to superficially conform to all tenets of a rigid ideology.

He was raised as a creationist, rather than turning to it as an adult for social, political, or personal crisis reasons. As I mentioned earlier, children often think critically about background social and religious assumptions they were raised with, when they become adolescents or young adults.

He seems to have had a lifelong habit of honesty.

He does not seem to have a past history of severe substance abuse, which for some reason is associated with adoption of rigid right wing ideology, at least in my observation.

The exact opposite case would be someone who isn’t exceptionally academically gifted, never really internalized honesty as a core value, perhaps has a history of substance abuse, applies a double standard - massive self-serving bias with frequent unfair attacks on others - and converted to the religious and political right personally (“born again”), perceiving this to be personally advantageous.

I can assure that the person I just described - and they are common - does not give rat’s a$$ about “post-flood mutation rates”, nor Mendellian genetics, nor any other such thing. Their attitude is “whatever I want to be true is true, I hate you intensely if you differ from me, and nothing can change my mind”.

And they are much more common than people like David Starling MacMillan.

But by promoting accurate science, we give the David Starling MacMillan’s a chance.

One small thing that I wonder about is how the taxonomic rank of species came to have its peculiar importance today. It wasn’t species, but “kinds” which were created, and “kinds” were saved on the Ark. But today it is species which are the only objective rank, while genera and so on are more a matter of convenience to the taxonomist - let alone the vagueness of “kinds”.

I’ve not read all the comments, but my favorite explanation for the conundrum of how the ark could accommodate all the species of the world is that God miniaturized them before they entered the ark and then restored them to full size after they exited it.

alicejohn said:

In the end there is no possible discussion, evidence, or whatever you will ever be able to come up with that can refute: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

There’s an irony that I missed until reading David’s latest posting. If you just wanted an explanation of the diversity of life on Earth, you could read the first chapter of Genesis and conclude that an omnipotent God put it all there, and the “omnipotent” part would cover any objections. Modulo some confusing bits about separating bodies of water, you could just accept that the world you see is the way it was created by God. While it isn’t science, it’s an explanation that is at least somewhat consistent with naive observation.

But Genesis doesn’t stop there. Only a few chapters later, God wipes out all land creatures except those rescued by a clearly non-omnipotent man with a very large boat. This undermines all the explanatory power of the first chapter. The world around us simply looks nothing like the result of a global flood and large scale animal rescue several thousand years ago. You can still say “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” but now the Bible says a lot of things that are at odds with naive observation.

Of course, you can go to heroic lengths to make it all appear consistent, but it’s no longer an easy way out. You are left with as much work to do as a real scientist, but without any reasonable prospect of success.

It seems like it would be easier for a YEC to say “OK, evolution really could happen the way scientists say it does, but it actually didn’t, because this is what the Bible says happened.” Then at least they would have a robust form of evolution available to explain post-flood speciation.

alicejohn said:

Attempts at rational discussions with YECs as a group is absolutely futile. In the end there is no possible discussion, evidence, or whatever you will ever be able to come up with that can refute: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

It can be difficult to deal with individual creationists, particularly if they have a degree in the hard sciences. I’ve dialogued at length with an old PhD creationist friend of mine who has authored numerous creationist high school science textbooks; it’s difficult because he is arguing from a position of authority due to his own credentials. As a result, he expects other people to accept his interpretation of the evidence as authoritative but demands an unreasonable burden of proof for my interpretations.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better when you’re dealing with a less-educated creationist. They know they don’t know everything, so they simply defer to those who do. “Look, I’m not an expert on that particular branch of science, but I know there are creationists who are, and I’m sure that if I had a degree I’d be better able to figure it out.” That, actually, is how I dealt with problems in astronomy. Even though I was getting a degree in physics, I wasn’t going into astronomy specifically, so I just decided that the problems in astronomy weren’t something I’d concern myself with. I was sure that if I had gone into astronomy I’d be able to figure it out.

Creationists debate very differently depending on what type of opponent they’re facing. If they are facing a Christian, they will double down on theological arguments and repeat fundamentalist tropes over and over; the other Christian’s objections will inevitably seem like special pleading to a nonsympathetic audience. If they’re debating a scientist like Bill Nye, they’ll draw on the vast set of misconceptions and misunderstandings their audience already shares – a list so extensive that the scientist can never fully prepare to refute unless he has had truly extensive experience with creationism. That’s part of the point of this series: characterizing and explaining these factual misconceptions so that even unfamiliar readers will come to understand how creationist arguments are constructed.

If a creationist were to publicly debate someone like me, they would probably stay as far away from evidence as possible and pressure me to explain what personal crisis or trial prompted me to abandon God’s Word and compromise with atheism, all in the name of “reaching out” and trying to appear sympathetic…ad hominem at its best.

Regardless, the two facets of creationism always operate in turn. Challenge them on their pseudoscience, and they’ll retreat to theology; challenge them on the theology, and they’ll retreat to their pseudoscience.

ksplawn said:

When I started paying attention to Creationism back in the late 90s/early 00s, they hadn’t settled onto the hyperfast evolution model to such a great extent. It only seems to have caught on since the opening of the Creation Museum, really.

In my opinion, Answers In Genesis and quasi-partner ICR represent the largest, most well-organized examples of young-earth creationism. Pretty much everyone else cites them on one thing or another. They’re the biggest, most vocal, most visible, and whatever they claim is usually treated as authoritative by the majority of YEC laypeople.

Assuming that’s an accurate reflection on the state of Creationism, this argument seems like a holdover from their earlier attempts to debunk evolution. If they’d just drop the old baggage and accept that mutations CAN increase information, they’d instantly reduce some of the problems with their new model. Static-to-decreasing genetic information cannot generate endless varieties of new species, which their new story requires.

Creationists will say that even if a given mutation appears to create new information, it can by definition only be “uncovering” information that was originally put into the genome by God. Which is highly convenient.

They actually are correct in arguing that their “microevolution” could never accumulate into “macroevolution” because their definition of “microevolution” is much more limited than we see in reality.

Or to put it simply, just point out that the definition of “microevolution” used by Creationists is not the same as the one used by biologists. Explain that it’s a made-up definition, and show them that the terms “micro/macroevolution” in biology have a different meaning. Explain that speciation is a macroevolutionary event, not a micro one. By definition (the one used by actual scientists), microevolution takes place below the species level and macroevolution is what takes place above the species level. Thus the separation between two species is macro (even moreso if the accelerated Post-Deluge Not-Evolution Evolution model allows serial speciation events: one species splits into two, and then those two split into four, rather than one species constantly splitting off other species which themselves remain fixed). If they already accept that speciation happens, so much the better.

Their definitions are inevitably tautological. Microevolution is stuff that happens “below the level of a kind”, and a kind is something that undergoes microevolution. Macroevolution is “change between kinds”, and a kind is something that can’t undergo macroevolution.

In real science, we construct our definitions such that they can be modified or rejected if the evidence requires. In creationism, the definitions are constructed to serve a philosophical and apologetic purpose.

It might help to explain the pattern of magnetic stripes in the floor of the Atlantic ocean. Sea-floor spreading along the mid-Atlantic ridge has allowed magnetized particles to align with the Earth’s magnetic poles through several reversals, crystallizing their new orientation as the magma cools and trapping information about the past in the rocks. The pattern on the Eastern side of the ridge is the mirror image of the pattern on the Western side, encoding data about the Earth’s magnetic field over millions of years as neatly as the strip on the back of your credit card. This pattern, this data, this information required no intelligent intervention to come about. It’s just the entirely natural processes of continental drift and magnetism.

I wish I’d had time and space to go into antigeology as well as antievolutionism, because there is a whole host of misconceptions specific to the young-earth and Flood Geology model as well. I chose to address the evolutionary bits in this series instead, simply because they also often apply to the old-earth varieties.

eric said:

They’d have to adopt some consistent, detailed or mathematical definition of “information.” IMO they’ve been unwilling to do that because pretty much any definition you use allows it to be created through natural processes.

Explain that speciation is a macroevolutionary event, not a micro one. By definition (the one used by actual scientists), microevolution takes place below the species level and macroevolution is what takes place above the species level.

I beg to differ slightly with David on this one. I don’t think YECism is as consistent (about macro/micro) as he or you make it sound. I think the reality is that they will have wildly different standards for what counts as “macro” depending on whether you’re talking about humans and closely related species vs. species that are less closely related to us.

It seems like this, because we’re reasonably expecting their definitions to be grounded in empirical reality and subject to evidential constraints. But their definitions are tautological and philosophical, designed to meet a rhetorical requirement. Only God can produce truly new genetic information, because true genetic information is something only intelligence can produce. Speciation can only be the result of microevolution, because microevolution is specialization and not the creation of new information.

More fundamentally, the creationist must realize the flaw in his philosophical argument.

Oh, I don’t think so. As Feynman said (paraphrasing), the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Oops! I should have been more specific: the creationist must be made to realize the flaw in his philosophical argument. :)

Joe Felsenstein said:

The YEC understanding of recombination seems to have some limits.

Suppose that we have a functional gene, say Hemoglobin Beta. And suppose that a mutation at site 56 occurs which mutates the base C to a G, and damages the function of the gene, That can happen, and it would fit in with the creationists’ supposed general principle.

But now suppose that another mutation occurs at that same site, and changes G to C. Well, by their definition it is one that creates “new genetic information”. If there was more of this “information” present when the base was C than when it was G, than a change back from G to C must increase the amount of this “information”. So there is supposed to be some law of the universe that makes that back-mutation impossible. Evolutionary biologists will be puzzled. Why is C –> G supposed to be a mutation which can occur, while G –> C cannot occur? What law of the universe is there that stops it from happening?

“Oh, but see, that’s not new information, that’s just returning to the original form! It might be new for the specific organism, but it’s not TRULY new because it’s nothing that God didn’t originally create!”

As a creationist, I maintained that even hugely obvious information-generating mutations, like the frameshift mutation that allows a certain strain of Flavobacterium to digest nylon, wasn’t actually new information; the frameshift mutation simply “uncovered” a genetic ability embedded in the DNA. I maintained this because I didn’t understand DNA. I really thought DNA was an abstract code; I didn’t understand that it was simply a complex chain of chemicals that operated according to the laws of biochemical reaction. I saw such mutations as FURTHER evidence of design and claimed that only God would be smart enough to embed multiple abilities into a single string of “information”.

TomS said:

One small thing that I wonder about is how the taxonomic rank of species came to have its peculiar importance today. It wasn’t species, but “kinds” which were created, and “kinds” were saved on the Ark. But today it is species which are the only objective rank, while genera and so on are more a matter of convenience to the taxonomist - let alone the vagueness of “kinds”.

One of the things I’ll touch briefly on later is how even though creationists typically criticize taxonomy as “promoting evolutionary preconceptions”, the classical Linnaean taxonomy actually confuses the issues. Linnaean taxonomy (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species) is a convenient ordering of all life as it exists now, but doesn’t accurately reflect all evolutionary relationships. Ancestry is not represented; location on the Linnaean tree only indicates broad relationships. All living and fossil species are given a terminus position on the Linnaean tree even though fossil species are often the ancestors of living species.

The more modern cladistic approach actually represents the evolutionary relationships. Cladistics organizes fossil species so as to show how close they are to various common ancestors, rather than placing them at the bottom alongside living species. Cladistics shows common ancestry as clearly as possible.

Yet the pseudoscientific field of creationist baraminology draws heavily on the Linnaean model even while they decry it. The Linnaean system is only a convenient grouping, not a cladistic model; not everything within a given taxonomic class has the same common ancestor. But creationists imagine that there IS a purported common ancestor represented by every taxonomic class, so they invent super-species to serve as the progenitors for entire Families or even entire Orders, then claim “macroevolution” is anything above those arbitrary taxonomic levels.

Joe Felsenstein said:

But now suppose that another mutation occurs at that same site, and changes G to C. Well, by their definition it is one that creates “new genetic information”. If there was more of this “information” present when the base was C than when it was G, than a change back from G to C must increase the amount of this “information”. So there is supposed to be some law of the universe that makes that back-mutation impossible. Evolutionary biologists will be puzzled. Why is C –> G supposed to be a mutation which can occur, while G –> C cannot occur? What law of the universe is there that stops it from happening?

This shows up even in a version of Dawkins’s “Weasel” program in which all sites are allowed to mutate for each offspring for each generation. The “average distance” of a generation of offspring from the ideal offspring representing the “best fit” to the current environment drops rapidly and then hovers at a small distance from the ideal.

From the “hovering” position, there is a well-defined probability that an offspring will get produced that exactly matches the ideal that represents the “best fit.”

The simulations follow exactly the theoretical predictions within a standard deviation or so.

However, the ID/creationists haven’t even figured out how to write a Weasel program; and they believe the answer has been placed in the program by introducing the “target” organism.

Mark said:

I’ve not read all the comments, but my favorite explanation for the conundrum of how the ark could accommodate all the species of the world is that God miniaturized them before they entered the ark and then restored them to full size after they exited it.

Hey, sounds reasonable to me. Wouldn’t miniaturized T Rexes be cute? XKCD#758 comes to mind. Feeding them would be a lot easier, too…most of the time. Maybe God also miniaturized their food sources and ecosystems? If so, he probably used 1250 scale, as that would allow the ~45,000 square cubits of deck space on the Ark to accommodate nearly a dozen square kilometers of ecosystem, sixty times the area of the famed Irish National Botanical Gardens.

Though the Ark still would have split apart and shredded itself in minutes. Maybe he also included a forcefield?

callahanpb said:

There’s an irony that I missed until reading David’s latest posting. If you just wanted an explanation of the diversity of life on Earth, you could read the first chapter of Genesis and conclude that an omnipotent God put it all there, and the “omnipotent” part would cover any objections. Modulo some confusing bits about separating bodies of water, you could just accept that the world you see is the way it was created by God. While it isn’t science, it’s an explanation that is at least somewhat consistent with naive observation.

But Genesis doesn’t stop there. Only a few chapters later, God wipes out all land creatures except those rescued by a clearly non-omnipotent man with a very large boat. This undermines all the explanatory power of the first chapter. The world around us simply looks nothing like the result of a global flood and large scale animal rescue several thousand years ago. You can still say “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” but now the Bible says a lot of things that are at odds with naive observation.

Of course, you can go to heroic lengths to make it all appear consistent, but it’s no longer an easy way out. You are left with as much work to do as a real scientist, but without any reasonable prospect of success.

The Flood really does muck things up horribly for the YECs…but at the same time it’s just enough to give them false hope. Fossil layers cannot be explained by Genesis 1, but they think a global flood will do the trick.

It seems like it would be easier for a YEC to say “OK, evolution really could happen the way scientists say it does, but it actually didn’t, because this is what the Bible says happened.” Then at least they would have a robust form of evolution available to explain post-flood speciation.

That’s what some creationists like Todd Wood admit. That, in fact, is what I admitted as a precursor to eventually coming over to the side of science.

I said, “Well, evolution sure does have a lot of explanatory power, and it all seems to check out pretty well, so I guess it could work if the world was old enough. Only, the world isn’t old enough, because the Bible won’t allow it to be. So creationism, flawed or not, is still the best explanation.”

Then I started to realize that the young-earth interpretation of the Bible wasn’t so solid after all and was actually a fairly recent invention, which started the dominoes in their inevitable descent. I realized that Genesis need not be more than intentional myth and fable, and so the only thing that had me clinging to a young Earth was a handful of Flood Geology tropes about how you can’t fold rock layers and zircons prove a young earth and all carbon dates at a young age.

Then I saw incontrovertible evidence that structures in and around our galaxy were indeed millions of years old at the very least, leaving me hovering at an “old-universe-young-earth” position for roughly fifteen minutes before I allowed myself to admit that Flood Geology really was thoroughly and completely indefensible.

Mike Elzinga said:

This shows up even in a version of Dawkins’s “Weasel” program in which all sites are allowed to mutate for each offspring for each generation. The “average distance” of a generation of offspring from the ideal offspring representing the “best fit” to the current environment drops rapidly and then hovers at a small distance from the ideal.

From the “hovering” position, there is a well-defined probability that an offspring will get produced that exactly matches the ideal that represents the “best fit.”

The simulations follow exactly the theoretical predictions within a standard deviation or so.

However, the ID/creationists haven’t even figured out how to write a Weasel program; and they believe the answer has been placed in the program by introducing the “target” organism.

Unfortunately, such simulations end up falling right into the YEC trap of assuming genetic code is an abstraction, rather than recognizing it as a puzzle simulating a series of mechanical steps.

David, thank you for writing this series. I’m impatiently awaiting each new posting. But I’m also delighted with the quality of the discussions in the comments here. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see no one name-calling or recycling one-liners. I can actually learn something from these comments! (For example, it sounds like Creationists now pretty much accept the basics of evolution as long as they are allowed to call it something else and it only goes back to Noah. A revelation!)

I appreciate the insight into the side of the debate that those of us who didn’t grow up in strongly religious households or creationist schools find so hard to understand. I know there’s a strong sense in the scientific and scientifically-minded community that if you engage creationists on their arguments, that you’re essentially legitimizing their arguments; or, that such debates are ultimately futile because they don’t change minds. But the fact is they do change minds, and one has to know what they’re up against in order to argue effectively for their side. The antievolution problem won’t just go away on its own if we ignore it, as many were and are content to believe, so it warms my heart to see more and more people fighting back against the pseudoscience fictions that Creationist organizations have been so successful at marketing as fact. And doing so in increasingly effective ways.

You’ve mentioned some of the individually tailored tactics that antievolutionists use in debates. And I’ve seen [the ironically named] Ray Comfort’s “shock and awe” interviewing of university students and professors, and their complete flusterment when asked questions about “kinds,” fossils of “transitional” animals, evolution being a “belief” or “faith,” and the like–terminology and rhetorical phrasing that we know from articles like this and the Nye/Ham debate form the basis of the Creationist arsenal, but that it was quite clear these students and professors had never encountered and had no ready response for.

I wonder, what is your opinion of science-embracing individuals using Creationists’ own tactics against them? What I mean is, dismantling their arguments from a platform of legitimate science can only go so far. You’re still left with the theological/hermeneutical, philosophical, rhetorical and historical fallacies and inconsistencies in their arguments (e.g., that if any part of the Bible is not to be taken literally, there is nothing binding any of it to be true, including the promise of salvation through Christ; or the outright lie that “secularists” have hijacked science as part of a plot to corrupt it and win converts for their “religion”).

Do you think an attack on those fronts that do not fall within scientific territory can be effective, or even won on certain points? Because it seems to me that the vast number of Christians and other theists who are content with metaphorical and symbolic interpretations of much of scripture, those who believe but see no problem with the scientific method, geologic time, and evolution, have just as much to lose from the “hijacking” of their own religion for fundamentalist purposes. Could (or should) a philosophical argument against the pillars of Creationism be part of the debate?

Here’s all that needs to be said about all “information” arguments. Creationists and ID proponents assert there is a kind of “information” which they won’t define and can’t compute. It is not to be confused with real forms of information like Shannon information and Kalmogorov information, which can be produced by natural processes. Call the Creationist ID version “Ooga Booga information”, or OBI. Here you may insert Dembski’s CSI or D/FCSI or Behe’s IC or whatever you like, it’s all the same.

The creationist or ID proponent plays a game of equivocation in which he broadens or narrows the definition of Ooga Booga Information in an ad hoc fashion, narrowing the definition to exclude the observed products of known natural processes (thus evading falsification), then later broadening the definition so it can encompass DNA, proteins, etc.

To have an “inference to design”, what the ID/Creationist needs is this pattern:

1. Natural processes make Ooga Booga Information? NO

2. Invisible Spirits and Spooks make OBI? YES

3. Do Living Things Have OBI? YES

This NO/YES/YES pattern is absolutely essential to logically infer that the presence of OBI in living things means that an invisible spook made the living things (an inference based on induction and then deduction; the first two steps form an inductive rule, step 3 is a deduction from the inductive rule.. Any other pattern invalidates the logic.

But the first problem is that we’ve never seen any invisible spook make any mutation anywhere, or make anything.

So they pull their first dirty, dirty trick, replacing “Invisible Spook” which they want kids to be taught in school, with “INTELLIGENCE”.

2. Intelligent beings make OBI? YES

Then they claim it’s a logical deduction that “intelligent beings” (really meaning “spooks”) made living things.

This is actually a logically fallacy because they’ve broadened the class used in the inductive step, inventing a new, broader class of “Intelligence” which includes both humans and hypothetical spooks. They can then claim they’re doing valid induction from the behavior of humans, and say this applies to intelligent agents in general, meaning spooks. This is an invalid form of induction because we have seen humans make things but we’ve never seen spooks make anything. If they were really doing induction, a valid inductive rule would be “spooks have never been seen to make anything so they never will make anything.” By saying “intelligent being” they evade this.

Let me use an analogy. Suppose we find a dead body with a bullet hole in it. In our past experience, whenever we found a dead body with a bullet hole in it, we always found that a human had caused a gun to go off, accidentally or deliberately. So we have an inductive rule: “a dead body with a bullet hole in it is always caused by a human who made a gun go off.”

Now suppose we broaden this inductive rule to “a dead body with a bullet hole in it is always caused by a human OR A GHOST who made a gun go off.”

Technically this is accurate, because “human or ghosts” is a superset of “humans”. But it is invalid to use this rule in a deductive step where you conclude “A ghost murdered the victims”! It should also be pointed out that an infinite number of inductive rules can be concocted of the form “a dead body with a bullethole in it is always caused by a human OR A GREEN KANGAROO who made a gun go off.” They’re technically accurate but can’t be used for deduction concluding that a green kangaroo killed the guy.

But this dirty trick is not enough. They still need to use equivocation, because every real, mathematically defined version of information is produced by natural processes. Thus, for real information we would stop at step 1:

1. Natural processes make Information? YES

And we’d be done, ID refuted; even if life has information, natural processes made it. So to continue past Step 1 they have to equivocate, and switch to a narrow definition of OBI, usually by talking about Shakespearean sonnets, the Mona Lisa, Mount Rushmore, etc. This definition basically amounts to what I call grammar-dependent information. The idea is that natural processes don’t make grammatically encoded meaning.

The problem for them, of course, is that living things contain no Shakespearean sonnets, no sentences, no grammatically encoded meaning. This ought to kill their logic at Step 3.

Thus, by the narrow defintion, they should have:

1. Natural processes make OBI (Shakespearean Sonnet Definition)? NO

2. Intelligent beings make OBI (Shakespearean Sonnet Definition)? YES

3. Do Living Things Have OBI (Shakespearean Sonnet Definition)? NO

Thus, by the narrow definition, the pattern is NO/YES/NO– they needed NO/YES/YES– and there is no valid inference to design.

But the IDiots solve this problem by equivocating, in Step 3, waaay over to a broad definition so that any string of DNA “letters” is “digital information” (even though no genome has “digits” encoded in it.) By the broad definition, to measure the OBI you just count the number of DNA “letters” in the sequence and convert it to bits by multiplying by 2 (because there are four kinds of DNA letters and log_base2[4] = 2.)

The problem for them is that, by the broad definition, natural processes can obviously make OBI. Of course, gene duplication doubles the length of a sequence, thereby doubling its OBI. This is true also of Dembski’s fancy “CSI” if you really follow the shit math he gives in his shit papers. His “CSI” always increases with longer sequence length.

Thus, by the broad defintion, they should have:

1. Natural processes make OBI (Broad Definition)? YES

2. Intelligent beings make OBI (Broad Definition)? YES

3. Do Living Things Have OBI (Broad Definition)? YES

Thus, by the broad definition, the pattern is YES/YES/YES– they needed NO/YES/YES– and there is STILL no valid inference to design.

So the ID/creationists just use equivocation, switching between definitions:

1. Natural processes make OBI (Shakespearean Sonnet Definition)? NO

2. Intelligent beings make OBI (Either Definition)? YES

3. Do Living Things Have OBI (Broad Definition)? YES

They finally got the NO/YES/YES pattern they needed, by the most dishonest methods conceivable. Teach the controversy!

The above analysis is true of all “information” type arguments including Dembski’s CSI and Behe’s IC. It’s all equivocation, and to argue with the ID perps you need to detect and challenge equivocation.

Katharine said:

You’ve mentioned some of the individually tailored tactics that antievolutionists use in debates. And I’ve seen [the ironically named] Ray Comfort’s “shock and awe” interviewing of university students and professors, and their complete flusterment when asked questions about “kinds,” fossils of “transitional” animals, evolution being a “belief” or “faith,” and the like–terminology and rhetorical phrasing that we know from articles like this and the Nye/Ham debate form the basis of the Creationist arsenal, but that it was quite clear these students and professors had never encountered and had no ready response for.

I wonder if this particular rhetorical tactic emerged WHEN it did precisely because a “vulgar,” actually really bastardized form of postmodernism (the simplistic shorthand of de-centered authority of, especially, texts and experts)had finally trickled down from French theory to the average undergraduate who was all too willing to see their bitter, crusty old professor stripped of (usually) his authority. The internet completes the process, where it even seeps into and capsizes medical authority and so on. The irony, of course, being the same stripping of theological and philosophical authority can be applied to them! This was a problem I observed in graduate school in English as well, where the destruction of the Western Canon (another, secular use of the term)by deconstruction and post-structuralism was immediately followed by the instantiation of a new, rigid canon of Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Lacan, Deleuze, Kristeva, etc. The YEC use of this most attenuated version of PM “relativism” is perhaps their most audacious rhetorical strategy. Popular misreading of ideas developed in Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” has contributed to this problem as well.

I would agree with the temptation to use the same strategy back, but I’m not sure if the ethics are something I can embrace. In the comments I’ve read so far there is a very clear and powerful demonstration (and refutation) of the anti-evolutionists’ enthusiastic affection for any tactic of misdirection, obfuscation, equivocation, and appeal to emotion that produces “results.” However desirous we are for similar results (say, budging that 1/3rd of Americans who think the world is 6000 years old, for example), if our methods betrays a madness, we have perhaps granted too much legitimacy to their arguments and lowered ourselves into their ethical mine-shaft (or gemaineschaft as the case may be).

Their methods fit very precisely with how the bulk of the American legal system work as well, where the style, method, and force of the debater rather than the terms of the debate determine victory or defeat (political campaigning as well). This can be traced, no doubt, all the way back to Classical models of rhetoric (reading Roman treatises on the subject show that Derrida and Foucault, et al were nothing new under the sun).

david.starling.macmillan said: The more modern cladistic approach actually represents the evolutionary relationships. Cladistics organizes fossil species so as to show how close they are to various common ancestors, rather than placing them at the bottom alongside living species. Cladistics shows common ancestry as clearly as possible.

I wouldn’t say that. The cladistic approach represents cladistic relationships. A cladogram doesn’t show how close anything is to any ancestors, and it does indeed place fossil species in the same positions as living species (usually the top, not the bottom, though that’s purely a graphic decision). Cladograms do show common ancestry, i.e. the descent of groups of species from a common ancestor, but they neither show the ancestors nor the closeness of species to those ancestors. Now, you can time-calibrate a cladogram or you can represent branch lengths in terms of numbers of changes; still, neither of those shows quite what you seem to be talking about.

Katharine said:

It warms my heart to see more and more people fighting back against the pseudoscience fictions that Creationist organizations have been so successful at marketing as fact. And doing so in increasingly effective ways.

I wonder, what is your opinion of science-embracing individuals using Creationists’ own tactics against them? What I mean is, dismantling their arguments from a platform of legitimate science can only go so far. You’re still left with the theological/hermeneutical, philosophical, rhetorical and historical fallacies and inconsistencies in their arguments (e.g., that if any part of the Bible is not to be taken literally, there is nothing binding any of it to be true, including the promise of salvation through Christ; or the outright lie that “secularists” have hijacked science as part of a plot to corrupt it and win converts for their “religion”).

Do you think an attack on those fronts that do not fall within scientific territory can be effective, or even won on certain points? Because it seems to me that the vast number of Christians and other theists who are content with metaphorical and symbolic interpretations of much of scripture, those who believe but see no problem with the scientific method, geologic time, and evolution, have just as much to lose from the “hijacking” of their own religion for fundamentalist purposes. Could (or should) a philosophical argument against the pillars of Creationism be part of the debate?

I think this approach can absolutely be effective. In fact, it’s necessary to some degree, because creationism is a philosophical worldview, not a scientific one. In order to deconvert (not from Christianity, but from creationism), a YEC must have his philosophical worldviews challenged SOMEWHERE.

It’s possible to destroy the philosophical worldview simply by the accumulation of cognitive dissonance – heaping so much clear and convincing science on the creationist that he eventually buckles. But it’s hard to get a creationist to stick around long enough for this, and it can unfortunately cause unnecessary religious deconversions – e.g., if everyone leaving creationism also leaves Christianity simply because they got tired of the cognitive dissonance and threw it all out, the remaining creationists will become that much more defensive.

It’s helpful, then, to try to break down the philosophical underpinnings of creationism by explaining the significance of myth and metaphor. For example, I always believed that any non-literal interpretation of Genesis was “myth” and any “myth” was something that wasn’t true – in other words, a lie. I now recognize that it’s entirely possible for a sacred text to contain clearly mythic elements (that would have been mythic even to the original audience) just as it’s fine to have parable or poetry. Creationists don’t have much appreciation for genre.

The problem is, creationists cast any theistic evolutionists as “compromisers” who have been “swept away” by the peer pressure of secular science. The philosophy you need to unseat is not specific to creationism; it is the philosophy of all fundamentalism. Breaking that down is a pretty tall order. Creationists will resort to “sympathetic ad hominem” in an attempt to discredit their opposition when they’re not Gish-galloping with pseudoscientific talking points.

I’d have a lot of trouble with the likes of Ray Comfort. They’re so assured of the truth of their beliefs that they feel justified using underhanded rhetoric: obvious strawmen, humorous caricature, etc. Either they make everything into a big joke, or they make everything super-serious and sober and accuse you of pandering to Satan.

It can be done, but it takes a lot of work. I’m not particularly conservative, but we need some more conservative-leaning Christian leaders to come out openly against creationism and say “Look, that’s not good hermeneutics, that’s actually really really bad hermeneutics, and here’s why, and it’s dangerous.”

diogeneslamp0 said:

Here’s all that needs to be said about all “information” arguments. Creationists and ID proponents assert there is a kind of “information” which they won’t define and can’t compute. It is not to be confused with real forms of information like Shannon information and Kalmogorov information, which can be produced by natural processes. Call the Creationist ID version “Ooga Booga information”, or OBI. Here you may insert Dembski’s CSI or D/FCSI or Behe’s IC or whatever you like, it’s all the same.

The creationist or ID proponent plays a game of equivocation in which he broadens or narrows the definition of Ooga Booga Information in an ad hoc fashion, narrowing the definition to exclude the observed products of known natural processes (thus evading falsification), then later broadening the definition so it can encompass DNA, proteins, etc.

It’s all equivocation, and to argue with the ID perps you need to detect and challenge equivocation.

Your analysis is spot-on. Simply put, the equivocation is using information as “abstract meaning” and then turning around and using information as “coded chemical instructions”. Yes, only intelligence can perform or interpret abstraction, pretty much by definition. But DNA is not abstract information. Never has been, never will be. Not unless we go in and modify it to run Doom.

John Harshman said:

david.starling.macmillan said: The more modern cladistic approach actually represents the evolutionary relationships. Cladistics organizes fossil species so as to show how close they are to various common ancestors, rather than placing them at the bottom alongside living species. Cladistics shows common ancestry as clearly as possible.

I wouldn’t say that. The cladistic approach represents cladistic relationships. A cladogram doesn’t show how close anything is to any ancestors, and it does indeed place fossil species in the same positions as living species (usually the top, not the bottom, though that’s purely a graphic decision). Cladograms do show common ancestry, i.e. the descent of groups of species from a common ancestor, but they neither show the ancestors nor the closeness of species to those ancestors. Now, you can time-calibrate a cladogram or you can represent branch lengths in terms of numbers of changes; still, neither of those shows quite what you seem to be talking about.

I may have over-specified. The critical difference I was trying to highlight is that cladograms are intended to produce groupings based on ancestry, while the Linnaean system does not necessarily produce groupings based on ancestry.

You’re welcome to dismiss the article writers’ assessments without even reading and thinking through (let alone refuting) their arguments, David.

Such instant dismissals, such “taint-so’s”, happen a lot in Pandaville.

My task, however, is to present the above information in case there are any readers out there who really DO want to know what are the counter-arguments, what is the “other side of the story”, when the atheists and skeptics start trying to claim that the Christian New Testament writers somehow “borrowed” their historical/truth claims from (or were “influenced by”), the pagan/mystery/Egyptian religions.

FL

Meanwhile, Helena Constantine wrote,

Yeah. it s just the Psalms that makes it clear that Yahweh is the leader of a council of gods, like in every other ANE culture:

Psalm 82

[1] God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

[2] How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

[3] Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

[4] Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

[5] They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

[6] I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

[7] But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

[8] Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

So it’s reasonable to ask, “What about Psalm 82 which Helena quoted? Who are those ‘gods’? Does the Bible teach Polytheism in Psalm 82?”

Fair questions; let’s look for an answer.

****

Take a look at the first and last verses of that Psalm. God is described as exactly what? A Judge.

And right after the first verse, what is God saying MUST cease? Rendering unjust judgments, and giving free passes to the wicked. (So who might God be talking to here?)

Right after the second verse, in verses 3 and 4, what is God saying MUST happen instead? Rendering judgments that defend the poor and the needy against the oppression and evil that’s being laid on them by wicked people. (So who might God be talking to here?)

In verses five, six, and seven, the “gods” that God is specifically addressing, are NOT doing what God said to do. God makes very clear in verse five that these “gods” are not paying attention to His instructions cited in verses 2 ,3, and 4. (So who might God be talking about here?)

So that’s why in verses 6 and 7, God (who is described as a Judge in verses 1 and 8, remember?) actually puts forth a judgment of His own: “I have said, ‘Ye are gods’, and all of you are children of the most High”…but ye shall die like men.” Whoever these unjust “gods” are, they will wind up dying like humans.

(So who might God be talking about here? Especially since God only claims humans, but NEVER any idol gods, as His own children?)

****

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

****

Okay. So now we looked at the Psalm 82 text and context, and we have an answer. You can clearly see that Psalm 82, (and of course the rest of the Bible) does NOT teach polytheism.

Now the word gods there is the same word Eloihim translated gods, but it is also translated judges. In Exodus, chapter 22, verses 8 and 9, as God is giving instructions in the law for how the judges are to determine certain cases, and God calls the judges gods because a judge has such authority over a person’s destiny.

And because he holds the power of a person’s life and destiny, God called judges gods.

So, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the judges.” Or, God will be judging the judges.

– Chuck Smith, Text Commentary on Ps 82 (via blueletterbible.org

The Bible, both OT and NT, very clearly teaches monotheism, as the following 28 verses demonstrate.

http://www.mit.irr.org/28-biblical-[…]only-one-god

FL

FL said:

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

In other words, your god spoke figuratively, not literally. The verse is not literally true.

phhht said:

FL said:

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

In other words, your god spoke figuratively, not literally. The verse is not literally true.

You’ll notice that fundamentalists don’t ever actually see “allegory” or “figurative” as legitimate literary modes of evaluation. They never approach a passage from a position that takes myth or fable or poetic language into account. They only invoke figurative language after the fact, when it’s necessary to justify what a verse is “totally still true” if you “just look at it this way”.

david.starling.macmillan said:

phhht said:

FL said:

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

In other words, your god spoke figuratively, not literally. The verse is not literally true.

[Fundamentalists] only invoke figurative language after the fact, when it’s necessary to justify that a verse is “totally still true” if you “just look at it this way”.

That is exactly what FL has done in this case. Good call.

Or maybe the issue is simply “Pay attention to both the text and the context.”

That’s just Bible 101, (or any other book for that matter).

FL said:

Or maybe the issue is simply “Pay attention to both the text and the context.”

That’s just Bible 101, (or any other book for that matter).

Everybody’s doing that. Mainstreamers come to different conclusions than you do when they pay attention to text and context, because “paying attention to both the text and the context” is an act of interpretation that leads to different results depending on the person. Your interpretation of the bible is just that, an interpretation, because you pay attention to both the text and the context. If you didn’t have to pay attention to context, THAT would be non-interpretive.

FL said:

Or maybe the issue is simply “Pay attention to both the text and the context.”

No, Flawd, the issue is that your god spoke figuratively, not literally.

Your god, according to your own bible, did not tell the literal truth.

And there aren’t any “Beware the figurative!” warnings anywhere, either. Your god simply dispenses with the literal truth, and instead uses poetic imagery.

It’s a myth, Flawd. It’s all figurative. Not literal.

eric said:

FL said:

Or maybe the issue is simply “Pay attention to both the text and the context.”

That’s just Bible 101, (or any other book for that matter).

Everybody’s doing that. Mainstreamers come to different conclusions than you do when they pay attention to text and context, because “paying attention to both the text and the context” is an act of interpretation that leads to different results depending on the person. Your interpretation of the bible is just that, an interpretation, because you pay attention to both the text and the context. If you didn’t have to pay attention to context, THAT would be non-interpretive.

Perhaps. But the Fundamentalist “context” seems to typically be, “What is the message that I want to twist this Bible passage to support?” The “context” is seldom about, “What did this passage mean to the audience that the author was writing for?”

FL said:

Because a new and fascinating paradox is taking place in Pandaville, and I want to see how it will turn out.

David M, the ex-YEC champion of Evolution, is ALSO David M, the openly biblical nemesis of atheism and skepticism. (And for some reason, this nemesis gig keeps popping up when you talk about the most vital truth claims about Jesus).

They expected the Evolution part from you. The Nemesis part, ummm, not quite.

As Dr. Jekyll, the Pandas love and welcome your input. But as Mr. Hyde, you’re making them nervous.

Perhaps you would care to support this last statement (in your bold) with one single solitary Panda who would agree with you?

Hmm…?

Ah. Thought not. Just another empty claim.

Chalk up another for the conspiracy of silence, no doubt. Eh?

FL said:

Katharine wrote,

Which makes me curious, FL–admittedly partly because I have a deep interest in it–why you don’t want to touch the subject of Egyptian resurrection? (Besides it being sort of irrelevant to the creation debate, I mean.) That Christian mythology owes much to the religions that surrounded it geographically and came before certainly doesn’t make me squirm in my seat, because the symbolic meaning behind the continuously-dying-and-resurrecing sun god resonates with me as a human being on planet Earth even if I am atheistic and not religious. What insight am I missing?

I think Ksplawn and David M’s responses pointed the way on the Egyptian stuff. I’m just going to toss in Dr. Ronald Nash’s CRI Journal article that goes into more detail, as well as Glenn Miller’s series of articles. This stuff seriously answers your question.

Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources[…]rj0169a.html

You also mentioned that the Mithraism mystery religion was “younger” than New Testament Christianity. Nash agrees with that, but that simply provides ANOTHER dissimilarity (on top of the stuff I mentioned about Mithraism excluding women) between that cult and NT Christianity:

The major reason why no Mithraic influence on first-century Christianity is possible is the timing: it’s all wrong! The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, much too late for it to have influenced anything that appears in the New Testament. Moreover, no monuments for the cult can be dated earlier than A.D. 90-100, and even this dating requires us to make some exceedingly generous assumptions. Chronological difficulties, then, make the possibility of a Mithraic influence on early Christianity extremely improbable. Certainly, there remains no credible evidence for such an influence.

So the real answer is NO, Christianity’s historical and truth claims weren’t borrowed, nor were influenced, by the Mithraism mystery religion. Claimed “similarities” or “borrowings” don’t look so similar or borrowed when examined up close. The claims of New Testamant Christianity simply do NOT “owe” anything to Mithraism or other mystery religions, nor to Egyptian myths, etc.

****

But one can get into even MORE detail if one is really interested. Here are Glenn Miller’s Christian-Thinktank articles regarding the same topic. This four-part series attempts to cover all the bases. Rolf and Katherine might like it.

Enjoy!

FL

I keep up to a degree with New testament scholarship. I have never heard of the Christian Research Institute Research journal. I have never seen an article from it cited in peer-reviewed literature. Does that tell you something?

Right in the first line, where he says “liberal authors”–it’s over. He seems to derive his idea of Mithraism entirely from Cumont’s 1903 monograph.

In fact, however, one could do some good work on false beliefs within the Atheist community about early Christianity. Not that Nash would know how.

FL said:

Correction: It was Helena Constantine who said that Mithraism was younger.

Actually, it was Roger Beck:

Beck, Roger, “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis,” JRS 88 (1998): 115-128.

callahanpb said:

Helena Constantine said:

What Rolf says is correct. Mithraism, hwoever, is younger than Christianity, having been devised by a certain Thrasyllus

That’s interesting. I know almost nothing about Mithraism, and I admit I thought it was much older. The wikipedia page largely supports the 1st century Roman origin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraic_mysteries but it gets complicated.

I wrote a good deal of that article–or I had at one time. God knows what condition its in now. That page is especially prone to vandalism.

FL said:

Meanwhile, Helena Constantine wrote,

Yeah. it s just the Psalms that makes it clear that Yahweh is the leader of a council of gods, like in every other ANE culture:

Psalm 82

[1] God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

[2] How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

[3] Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

[4] Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

[5] They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

[6] I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

[7] But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

[8] Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

So it’s reasonable to ask, “What about Psalm 82 which Helena quoted? Who are those ‘gods’? Does the Bible teach Polytheism in Psalm 82?”

Fair questions; let’s look for an answer.

****

Take a look at the first and last verses of that Psalm. God is described as exactly what? A Judge.

And right after the first verse, what is God saying MUST cease? Rendering unjust judgments, and giving free passes to the wicked. (So who might God be talking to here?)

Right after the second verse, in verses 3 and 4, what is God saying MUST happen instead? Rendering judgments that defend the poor and the needy against the oppression and evil that’s being laid on them by wicked people. (So who might God be talking to here?)

In verses five, six, and seven, the “gods” that God is specifically addressing, are NOT doing what God said to do. God makes very clear in verse five that these “gods” are not paying attention to His instructions cited in verses 2 ,3, and 4. (So who might God be talking about here?)

So that’s why in verses 6 and 7, God (who is described as a Judge in verses 1 and 8, remember?) actually puts forth a judgment of His own: “I have said, ‘Ye are gods’, and all of you are children of the most High”…but ye shall die like men.” Whoever these unjust “gods” are, they will wind up dying like humans.

(So who might God be talking about here? Especially since God only claims humans, but NEVER any idol gods, as His own children?)

****

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

****

Okay. So now we looked at the Psalm 82 text and context, and we have an answer. You can clearly see that Psalm 82, (and of course the rest of the Bible) does NOT teach polytheism.

Now the word gods there is the same word Eloihim translated gods, but it is also translated judges. In Exodus, chapter 22, verses 8 and 9, as God is giving instructions in the law for how the judges are to determine certain cases, and God calls the judges gods because a judge has such authority over a person’s destiny.

And because he holds the power of a person’s life and destiny, God called judges gods.

So, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the judges.” Or, God will be judging the judges.

– Chuck Smith, Text Commentary on Ps 82 (via blueletterbible.org

The Bible, both OT and NT, very clearly teaches monotheism, as the following 28 verses demonstrate.

http://www.mit.irr.org/28-biblical-[…]only-one-god

FL

Look FL, in that psalm were at the divine council at Ugarit and El is chewing out the other gods for dereliction in their duties overseeing the earth.. there is no other way to read it, literal or otherwise. What you offer is the fallacy of special pleading.

Very interesting, this Ugarit:

Several of the Psalms were simply adapted from Ugaritic sources; the story of the flood has a near mirror image in Ugaritic literature; and the language of the Bible is greatly illuminated by the language of Ugarit

FL said:

Katharine wrote,

Which makes me curious, FL–admittedly partly because I have a deep interest in it–why you don’t want to touch the subject of Egyptian resurrection? (Besides it being sort of irrelevant to the creation debate, I mean.) That Christian mythology owes much to the religions that surrounded it geographically and came before certainly doesn’t make me squirm in my seat, because the symbolic meaning behind the continuously-dying-and-resurrecing sun god resonates with me as a human being on planet Earth even if I am atheistic and not religious. What insight am I missing?

I think Ksplawn and David M’s responses pointed the way on the Egyptian stuff. I’m just going to toss in Dr. Ronald Nash’s CRI Journal article that goes into more detail, as well as Glenn Miller’s series of articles. This stuff seriously answers your question.

Actually, no, the previous comments on Egyptian religion do NOT answer my question, since I wasn’t asking a question about the specifics of Egyptian mythology. (And in fact I should have added murdered/abducted fertility gods/goddesses to that list of similarities–so thank you those who elaborated more on them; you make my point there better than I do.)

I also believe I never made the claim about the cult of Mithras, as the Romans understood it, predating the cult of Christ (though Zoroastrian influence is another matter entirely). I will grant you the use of the word “owe” implies intent–which was not my intent–and probably should not have been the one used since I can’t personally prove the intentions of, say, the attendants of the First Council of Nicaea. Just as I cannot prove that Charles Darwin’s On the Origin “owes” anything to his grandfather Erasmus’s poetry, because Charles is on record denying its influence on his work, even though an observer can clearly see they are both about the evolution of organisms. But this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re vague, so I’ll phrase it the way I should have all along.

My question (granted, maundering badly) is this: Why is it so important to you that similarities between various mythologies and Christology be minimized and/or proven to be merely coincidental and nothing else?

Now, I’ll admit I’m skeptical that can even be accomplished, because given the long history of travel and trade and conquest and intermarriage in the Middle East and Mediterranean; not to mention the evolution of ideas within any particular culture; and also given the “chain of custody” problems with copied texts, I do wonder how anyone can possibly prove that a certain belief was not influenced by others, particularly when those others clearly existed by the time of and would have been easily accessible to educated theologians engaged in the establishment of legitimacy and canon. (Let’s not forget that Christianity between the first and fourth centuries of the Common Era was a hot mess [and continues to be]; there were more sects running around with their own creeds than there were different species of Homo running around when H. sapiens came on the scene. Leaving the Holy Spirit out of the equation, there was no straight line of theological evolution from Jesus to “Christianity”.)

But I’ve also never seen any theological problem with saying the Jesus mythology is the product of more than one religious tradition, whether intentionally or not. I’m trying to see the value of the no-influence argument from your point of view because I don’t understand it. Why is it important to you or your thesis that Christianity not be derivative?

david.starling.macmillan said:

If you want to convince people of something, maybe citing NON-hyper-conservative-fundamentalists would help prove your point better.

If you can’t find anyone saying what you believe except for hyper-conservative-fundamentalists, maybe you should reconsider your belief.

You read my mind there, David, because that pretty much sums it up.

I’ll check out your links, FL, because I want to know what the other side claims. But with the bias labeled right on the tin, you know I’m going to be taking it with a heaping spoonful of salt.

I recall the interesting occasion (it was on the BW, about P340 or so) when I asked FL to vouchsafe one of the rules by which he interpreted scripture, viz: May one assume that any implication drawn from a scriptural text is true only if that implication is a necessary one - ie, one that is the required and inevitable conclusion - and not merely if the implication is a possible, useful or even likely one?

All I ever received was a surly “Why do you want to know that?”

My response, that I wished to understand the correct methods by which the Bible is interpreted, was ignored. I never received an answer.

The observations of FL’s “method” above are of course correct. FL reads and interprets scripture, and also augments, alters and truncates it, at will. He does that according to no principle whatsoever, but rather according to cultural blinkers installed by authority that he can’t question.

Here, he’s insisting on a metaphorical treatment of “gods”. It doesn’t mean gods in Psalm 82 or Exodus 8, says FL and FL’s whackdoodle site, it means “human judges”. On account of we say so. It’s a figure of speech, a metaphor.

Metaphor? Like “garden” meaning “primordial wilderness”, we ask? Or “serpent” meaning “urge to push the limits”? or “tree of knowledge of good and evil” meaning “acquisition of empathy and understanding of consequence”? Or “fall” meaning “acknowledgement of personal responsibility”? That stuff?

No, no, no. All of that is totally completely absolutely literal historical fact.

And you know this how?

Because we say so, that’s why!

Dave Luckett said:

I recall the interesting occasion (it was on the BW, about P340 or so) when I asked FL to vouchsafe one of the rules by which he interpreted scripture, viz: May one assume that any implication drawn from a scriptural text is true only if that implication is a necessary one - ie, one that is the required and inevitable conclusion - and not merely if the implication is a possible, useful or even likely one?

All I ever received was a surly “Why do you want to know that?”

My response, that I wished to understand the correct methods by which the Bible is interpreted, was ignored. I never received an answer.

The observations of FL’s “method” above are of course correct. FL reads and interprets scripture, and also augments, alters and truncates it, at will. He does that according to no principle whatsoever, but rather according to cultural blinkers installed by authority that he can’t question.

Here, he’s insisting on a metaphorical treatment of “gods”. It doesn’t mean gods in Psalm 82 or Exodus 8, says FL and FL’s whackdoodle site, it means “human judges”. On account of we say so. It’s a figure of speech, a metaphor.

Metaphor? Like “garden” meaning “primordial wilderness”, we ask? Or “serpent” meaning “urge to push the limits”? or “tree of knowledge of good and evil” meaning “acquisition of empathy and understanding of consequence”? Or “fall” meaning “acknowledgement of personal responsibility”? That stuff?

No, no, no. All of that is totally completely absolutely literal historical fact.

And you know this how?

Because we say so, that’s why!

Or “resurrection” meaning “the return of life in the spring after winter darkness”? That stuff?

Helena Constantine said: I wrote a good deal of that article–or I had at one time. God knows what condition its in now. That page is especially prone to vandalism.

It seemed reasonably well organized. I naively would have considered “Mithraic mysteries” to be about as esoteric as a Wiki page can get, so I’m surprised to hear about the vandalism.

I guess in context it makes sense, but wherever I first heard of Mithras as an analogous resurrection story to Christ (it might have even been at Catholic school way back) it didn’t seem like a hugely threatening idea. I was definitely taught that Zoroastrianism was another monotheistic religion (probably in a social studies class at the same Catholic high school). It wouldn’t have occurred to me that these things were controversial enough to result in Wiki vandalism. Religions are going to have a lot of similar ideas anyway. It’s hard to prove that one was derived from another, and even if, so what? Vergil was also sometimes considered to have anticipated Christian ethics, and that’s usually presented as support for Vergil rather than a charge of “copy cat” for Christianity.

Yeah. Of course it’s only coincidence that Easter and the Passover occurs just around about spring sowing time in the northern hemisphere. Sure it is.

See this lovely bridge… I have the title deeds right here.

I really love the Mormon take on wine. That Passover meal, Jesus was only drinking fruit juice, y’know.

FL said:

Meanwhile, Helena Constantine wrote,

Yeah. it s just the Psalms that makes it clear that Yahweh is the leader of a council of gods, like in every other ANE culture:

Psalm 82

[1] God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

[2] How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

[3] Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

[4] Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

[5] They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

[6] I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

[7] But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

[8] Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

So it’s reasonable to ask, “What about Psalm 82 which Helena quoted? Who are those ‘gods’? Does the Bible teach Polytheism in Psalm 82?”

Fair questions; let’s look for an answer.

****

Take a look at the first and last verses of that Psalm. God is described as exactly what? A Judge.

And right after the first verse, what is God saying MUST cease? Rendering unjust judgments, and giving free passes to the wicked. (So who might God be talking to here?)

Right after the second verse, in verses 3 and 4, what is God saying MUST happen instead? Rendering judgments that defend the poor and the needy against the oppression and evil that’s being laid on them by wicked people. (So who might God be talking to here?)

In verses five, six, and seven, the “gods” that God is specifically addressing, are NOT doing what God said to do. God makes very clear in verse five that these “gods” are not paying attention to His instructions cited in verses 2 ,3, and 4. (So who might God be talking about here?)

So that’s why in verses 6 and 7, God (who is described as a Judge in verses 1 and 8, remember?) actually puts forth a judgment of His own: “I have said, ‘Ye are gods’, and all of you are children of the most High”…but ye shall die like men.” Whoever these unjust “gods” are, they will wind up dying like humans.

(So who might God be talking about here? Especially since God only claims humans, but NEVER any idol gods, as His own children?)

****

In every case the answer is obvious: God the Judge is talking to, or about, human judges. That’s who He is calling “gods.” Why are they called “gods”? Not because they possess God’s omni-attributes – they’re only humans, and that’s all – but because it’s true that as judges, actual human lives ARE in their hands, ARE in their power, and can be vastly affected by their judicial decisions. That’s why the human judges are called ‘gods’.

****

Okay. So now we looked at the Psalm 82 text and context, and we have an answer. You can clearly see that Psalm 82, (and of course the rest of the Bible) does NOT teach polytheism.

Now the word gods there is the same word Eloihim translated gods, but it is also translated judges. In Exodus, chapter 22, verses 8 and 9, as God is giving instructions in the law for how the judges are to determine certain cases, and God calls the judges gods because a judge has such authority over a person’s destiny.

And because he holds the power of a person’s life and destiny, God called judges gods.

So, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the judges.” Or, God will be judging the judges.

– Chuck Smith, Text Commentary on Ps 82 (via blueletterbible.org

The Bible, both OT and NT, very clearly teaches monotheism, as the following 28 verses demonstrate.

http://www.mit.irr.org/28-biblical-[…]only-one-god

FL

You have my expert opinion, FL, that it’s full of shit.

Why have recourse to Paul, to discuss the influence of the mysteries on Early Christianity.

Jesus, or rather the author of the signs source–and yes I accept the signs source and will say why if anyone is interested–that is preserved in John already shows the influence of the mysteries. All of the miracles that Jesus does in John are engaged in a dialog with Greek cults. He turns water into good wine–not the cheap stuff that Dionysus caused to run in the fountains in his temples on his birthday (just happens to be the Epiphany), when he heals the lame man on the Sabbath, he sends him to Siloam to tell them there–Siloam was the site of an Asclepius temple, the miraculous multiplication of food is a spell from the Greek magical papyri, etc. Since you accept the NT as gospel true, FL, you have no choice but to accept that Jesus already copied the mysteries. But these are facts that Nash is completely ignorant of.

–in case you missed by faux pax last night.

callahanpb said:

Helena Constantine said: I wrote a good deal of that article–or I had at one time. God knows what condition its in now. That page is especially prone to vandalism.

It seemed reasonably well organized. I naively would have considered “Mithraic mysteries” to be about as esoteric as a Wiki page can get, so I’m surprised to hear about the vandalism.

I guess in context it makes sense, but wherever I first heard of Mithras as an analogous resurrection story to Christ (it might have even been at Catholic school way back) it didn’t seem like a hugely threatening idea. I was definitely taught that Zoroastrianism was another monotheistic religion (probably in a social studies class at the same Catholic high school). It wouldn’t have occurred to me that these things were controversial enough to result in Wiki vandalism. Religions are going to have a lot of similar ideas anyway. It’s hard to prove that one was derived from another, and even if, so what? Vergil was also sometimes considered to have anticipated Christian ethics, and that’s usually presented as support for Vergil rather than a charge of “copy cat” for Christianity.

There isn’t any resurrection in Mithraism. Christians (and this is in the 17th century or so) often interpreted the ‘rock birth’ of Mithras as analogous to resurrection. In fact its an old Mesopotamian phonographic type showing the sun (in human form) rising behind a mountain). Mithraists no doubt believed in some kind of life after death, but not in physical body–only Christians (and some other Jews) has that weird belief. Mithras, the unconquered sun, certainly didn’t die and rise. The idea of bodily resurrection seems to have arisen during the Jewish revolt against Antiochus V. They could could see that martyrs were having their bodies destroyed, so they figured divine justice would some day compensate them with new bodies. Everyone else int he Roman Empire who believed in an afterlife couldn’t wait to get out of the body which they considered a kind of prison.

Most of what I called vandalism comes from people who claim to be worshipers of Mithras shaping the site to their own purposes.

Zoroastrianism was indeed monotheistic. Its almost certainly the source of Monotheism within Judaism. At the time of the Persian conquest Jews aligned with the Persians against the Babylonians so copying their religion would have made political sense and it also would have increased the prestige of the Jerusalem temple. Monotheism may not have become universal in Judaism until the time of the Maccabean revolt (also the time the OT canon was fixed). Horace still talks about Jews worshiping gods other than Yahweh.

Helena Constantine said:

There isn’t any resurrection in Mithraism. Christians (and this is in the 17th century or so) often interpreted the ‘rock birth’ of Mithras as analogous to resurrection.

Those wacky 17th century syncretists. I look at the web page and think “Mithras the world’s first matador, sure. Proto-Jesus, not so much.” A bit of an eye opener compared to whatever shreds I had heard before.

The idea of bodily resurrection seems to have arisen during the Jewish revolt against Antiochus V. They could could see that martyrs were having their bodies destroyed, so they figured divine justice would some day compensate them with new bodies.

I call this the human spirit rising above adversity, and saying “Oh so it’s just made up then.” is missing the point. (not to say that was your point)

So one of my friends that is a YEC saw this and couldn’t help pointing out that your math is a bit off. If the number of species doubled from 10,000 every 385 years that would be just under 13 doublings and would be close to 81 Million species.

sez dorkyninja: “So one of my friends that is a YEC saw this and couldn’t help pointing out that your math is a bit off. If the number of species doubled from 10,000 every 385 years that would be just under 13 doublings and would be close to 81 Million species.” Your YEC friend wasn’t paying attention when they read the OP. If one doubling takes 385 years, 13 doublings takes (13 * 385 =) 5005 years, and the op explicitly states “: in order to go from 10,000 primordial “kinds” to 6.5 million species in less than 5000 years” (emphasis added). That’s less than 5,000 years, which, in turn, must necessarily be less than the 5,005 years your YEC friend’s thirteen doublings would require.

Also, if one starts with 10K “kinds” on Noah’s Big-ass Boat, nine doublings brings that up to 5,120K species, and 10 doublings brings it up to 10,240K species; thirteen doublings need not apply, thanks kindly for asking. if your YEC friend would be so kind as to tell us when they think Noah’s Big-ass Boat plied the raging waters of the Ye Fludde, we could tell you how many years-per-doubling it would take for 9-10 doublings to bring 10K “kinds” up to 6.5E6 species. On the perhaps-valid assumption that your YEC friend thinks Ye Fludde occurred 5,005 years ago, the number of years each doubling would have taken lies somewhere between (5,005/10 =) a hair over 500 and (5,005/9 =) a little over 556. Adjust those figures up or down, as appropriate, if your YEC friend thinks Ye Fludde occurred earlier or later than 5,005 years ago.

xubist said:

sez dorkyninja: “So one of my friends that is a YEC saw this and couldn’t help pointing out that your math is a bit off. If the number of species doubled from 10,000 every 385 years that would be just under 13 doublings and would be close to 81 Million species.” Your YEC friend wasn’t paying attention when they read the OP. If one doubling takes 385 years, 13 doublings takes (13 * 385 =) 5005 years, and the op explicitly states “: in order to go from 10,000 primordial “kinds” to 6.5 million species in less than 5000 years” (emphasis added). That’s less than 5,000 years, which, in turn, must necessarily be less than the 5,005 years your YEC friend’s thirteen doublings would require.

Also, if one starts with 10K “kinds” on Noah’s Big-ass Boat, nine doublings brings that up to 5,120K species, and 10 doublings brings it up to 10,240K species; thirteen doublings need not apply, thanks kindly for asking. if your YEC friend would be so kind as to tell us when they think Noah’s Big-ass Boat plied the raging waters of the Ye Fludde, we could tell you how many years-per-doubling it would take for 9-10 doublings to bring 10K “kinds” up to 6.5E6 species. On the perhaps-valid assumption that your YEC friend thinks Ye Fludde occurred 5,005 years ago, the number of years each doubling would have taken lies somewhere between (5,005/10 =) a hair over 500 and (5,005/9 =) a little over 556. Adjust those figures up or down, as appropriate, if your YEC friend thinks Ye Fludde occurred earlier or later than 5,005 years ago.

Answers in Genesis tells us:

Using the Bible, well-documented historical events, and some math, we find that the Flood began approximately 4,359 years ago in the year 1656 AM or 2348 BC. Some may look for an exact date (i.e., month and day), but we are not given that sort of precision in Scripture.

The problem with the Flood is not that the number of species had to go from 10,000 to 6.5e6 in several thousand years. The problem is that we had to reach the current number of species in several hundred years. Once written history starts, all hyper-evolution magically stops. Written history does not record massive changes in geology or biology. So all those species and all of the continental drift, and all of the peoples of the world had to come about within a mere tens of human generations.

Scott F said:

The problem with the Flood …

Or more succinctly, the problem with the Flood is that it’s obviously an allegory. (At least in light of today’s scientific knowledge; I’ll leave open how it was understood historically.)

The take-aways from a religious standpoint are things like Noah was a righteous man, and God made a covenant not to flood the earth again. Trying to reconcile it with 21st century science is a waste of time from both a scientific and religious perspective. The latter, because if you think there is anything important to learn from the story, you’ll miss it if you waste your time pretending it’s science.

The Flood and its implications strain plausibility so far, that it is really difficult for me to muster a better answer than “C’mon you cannot possibly believe this.” and if I concede this, then “OK, but if you think I’m going to believe it, you’re very mistaken.”

Scott F said:

The problem with the Flood …

Sorry I messed up the block quoting. Only the above was meant to be a quote.

d.s.m. wrote:

But Christianity’s dying-and-rising has no connection to the seasons whatsoever, and there are no precursors which show a developmental path from such myth.…

The whole “dying-and-rising-god myth” argument is, IMO, really bad historiography even though it’s a very nice story and makes for some entertaining speculation. Just poor scholarship and cobbled-together imaginings from start to finish

From The Jesus Mysteries:

St. Epiphanius must have found this a perplexing coincidence for, along with many other early Christians, he celebrated the same date, January 6, as the birthday of Jesus-as does the Armenian Church to the present day.55 Goodness only knows what he made of the “markings of the sign of the cross on the hands, knees, and head”! There was quite a dispute in early Christianity about whether the birth of Christ was December 25 or January 6. Was this because no one could remember? Or could it be simply because early Christians were unsure whether to synchronize it with the birth of Mithras or with the birth of Aion, both of whom were different representations of the perennial Mystery godman? These dates were not arbitrarily chosen. Both were once the dates of the winter solstice, the shortest day, which signals the turning point of the year and the returning of the life-giving sun. Due to the precession of the equinoxes this date changes slightly over time. So, although the solstice moved progressively from January 6 to December 25, some traditions continued to celebrate it on the familiar night.56 Today it falls around December 22. The annual celebration of the nativity of the Mystery godman celebrated the death of the old year and its miraculous rebirth as the new year on the date of the solstice. Osiris-Dionysus represented and was represented by the sun, as was Jesus, whom the Church father Clement of Alexander calls “The Sun of Righteousness.”57 By way of balance, Dionysus’ virgin mother Semele derives her name from the virgin moon goddess Selene.58 The angel Gabriel who comes to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus was likewise equated with the moon. 59

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 4, 2014 12:00 PM.

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