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

| 567 Comments

By David MacMillan.

7. The religion of evolution.

The final set of creationist misconceptions about evolution surrounds its supposed religious, moral, and ethical implications. These objections prove difficult to address, simply because they have little or no objective basis and are almost purely philosophical or religious. This section will concentrate mostly on explaining the relationships and connections between these arguments, as systematically refuting them would delve deep into philosophy and theology and is far beyond the scope of a single post.

Many creationists assume as self-evident that evolution precludes the existence of God, not because of any qualities intrinsic to evolution, but because their concept of God is dependent on creationism. Officially, creationists usually teach that the Bible is our only infallible revelation of God’s existence, but in practice the “fact” of special creation is treated as a primary basis for belief in God. The “testimony of nature” is implicitly held up as proof of God’s existence. Every time a particular piece of purportedly creationist evidence is described, the underlying implication is that God’s existence depends on six-day special creation. Thus, to even propose that evolution could be true is automatically a “challenge to the evidence” for God’s existence.

The assumption that “evolutionism” and “secular science” denies God’s existence applies not only to the suggestions that evolution might be possible, but more generally to any challenge to creationist arguments. While some creationists take pains to discard the more outlandish arguments, others will fiercely defend obsolete and ridiculous theories simply because of their perceived apologetics value. This stubbornness is the source of animosity and division between the various creationist movements; each group points to “concessions” and “compromises” the other groups make, because any compromise is considered a tacit admission that maybe the evidence for God isn’t quite as strong as it would otherwise be. Such arguments are all God-of-the-gaps arguments, of course, but this fact goes unnoticed.

Creationists often make this argument more explicit by quoting Romans 1:20, the atheism/agnosticism clobber text:

…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that [men] are without excuse.

To a creationist, this verse means that the testimony of nature is sufficient to establish God’s existence, God’s attributes, and God’s nature even without revelation. Thus, it is claimed, atheists and agnostics have no excuse for unbelief. Embarrassingly, I once hosted a (short-lived) Internet radio show called “Without Excuse” predicated on this idea.

Creationists believe that if common descent is even a remote possibility, then God’s existence is no longer demonstrated by nature. Even the discussion of whether evolution is possible challenges their “testimony of nature”, so it challenges their certainty about the existence of God.

Certainty is a major theme in much creationist theology. A false dichotomy is set up: either you are absolutely certain about God and the Bible and the gospel, or you are doomed to wallow in doubt and probably end up lost. This dichotomy combines personal pride with fear of the unknown. Creationists will typically admit doubt about their own salvation long before they will dream of admitting doubt about special creation. Because their narrative of absolute certainty is something science obviously doesn’t offer (science embraces and depends on doubt and questions), they must preserve it at all costs.

If a person’s primary reason for believing in God is special creation, then it is a tenuous faith at best. The majority of Christians accept that God could have used common descent to bring about life on Earth without any hazard to their faith. More importantly, Romans 1:20 is not a polemic against atheism at all; it is rather a polemic against Roman idol-worship. Reading on in the chapter:

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. [Romans 1:22-23]

Modern atheistic humanism obviously did not exist in Rome, and this passage did not, in fact, address atheism. It was warning against something else entirely: using the natural world as a basis for religion, making gods patterned on men and birds and animals. Worshiping these sorts of gods, argued the author, effectively replaces the Creator with the creation, reversing the proper order of things. In spreading out of Judea and into Rome, fledgling Christianity sought to overcome the perception that Jesus was nothing more than another regional deity. So they preached a Creator God who was not known based on imagery taken from creation, as with the many gods worshiped in Rome, but through the revelation they had received from Jesus.

Ironically, creationists who define their God’s existence as dependent on the doctrine of special creation are tying their theology to their perceptions of nature, committing the very mistake this passage warns against. Of course, they won’t recognize this irony. They’ll insist that merely admitting the possibility of evolution goes against the Bible. In pursuit of further confirmation of this prejudice, they dream up moral problems with evolution and common descent.

One objection to the idea of God’s using evolution is that it would somehow be inconsistent with God’s nature to use any process depending on “chance”. As we’ve already seen, this objection depends on misconceptions about evolution being a “chance” process. Creationists suppose that “natural processes” are random and chaotic, and are thus somehow “beneath” the ways of a God who they argue must order everything perfectly. A more common, strident objection is that God would not use death or suffering as part of his creative process, therefore excluding evolution. To propose evolution as a possibility is to associate death and suffering with God’s intent for the world, something young-earth creationists argue should be immediately rejected. This view may seem incongruous; after all, creationists have no difficulty believing that God sent a global flood to wipe out nearly every living thing on the planet. But the objection to the process of evolution should be understood as coming from a particular theological doctrine, not a generalized opposition to struggle and suffering. These creationists believe (based on Genesis 1:31 and Romans 5, along with other passages) that physical death could not have existed during the six days during which God completed the creation of the world. Obviously, this objection begs the question whether the six days are literal days: theistic evolutionists already see the six-day creation week as metaphorical.

Moreover, even in periods of church history where a six-day creation week was universally considered historical, the theological significance of Genesis was still primarily spiritual. The assignment of physical theological significance to creation, the fall, the flood, and so forth – the idea that death itself is a physical abnormality resulting directly from a single physical human action in history – is only a very recent and very sectarian doctrine. The Church has historically interpreted the Curse and Original Sin in many different ways, only a handful of which bear any resemblance at all to the YEC dogma.

Insistence on specific physical events as necessary for spiritual or theological models is rampant throughout evangelicalism. Some denominations insist on various spiritual signs like healings or speaking in tongues. Others attach vital significance to the event of baptism or to the verbalization of a particular prayer. Virtually all evangelical denominations insist that the Crucifixion achieved its purpose by meeting some predetermined set of physical conditions for sacrifices.

This practice of assigning essential spiritual significance to particular physical events has been around for a long time. It is the basic pattern of religion: making certain rituals and events and beliefs necessary components of salvation offers a more tangible object of faith, strengthening religious fervor. In the case of creationism, faith in the “scientific evidence” of a young planet and a global flood bolsters faith in the doctrines supposedly defined by those events. Of course, this practice inevitably backfires; when the faithful realize that the “science” is a con, they lose their sole basis for belief in the doctrines and jump ship. Rather than recognizing that they are responsible for creating this problem, creationists and other evangelicals take offense at the doubt and start insisting all the more strongly on the very arguments that are disillusioning their followers.

Additional objections remain. Creationists may argue that without God, we have no reason to trust logic or science. Of course, this claim begs the question as well, as it presupposes that God is the source of logic. And since evolution is not intrinsically atheistic, it’s not really relevant; the antagonism comes from the creationist theology. Finally, we don’t use logic because we have faith that it’s true; we use logic because it provides useful results.

Often, scientists suggest evolutionary explanations for the genesis of certain behaviors or traits. Some creationists erroneously assume that, in consequence, evolution can be used to justify any sort of behavior. This, too, comes from their theology; they believe that all sin and death and suffering arise from a series of physical events in history - the Fall - so they naturally assume that an evolutionary history would give rise to an evolutionary morality. On the contrary, derivations of morality from evolutionary history are idiosyncratic; evolution is a description of what happens, not what ought to happen. Supposed “evolutionary morality” comes from the application of an essentialist philosophy, not from the study of natural history itself.

The final area of philosophical objection to evolution deals with the supposed implications of natural selection: that it supposedly demands “survival of the fittest” and thus leads people to commit selfish or immoral acts. Similarly, other creationists allege that the idea of higher or lower animals will prompt racism or lead us to treat other people “like animals”. Yet this accusation only goes back to the creationist mindset that historical events dictate present moral imperatives - a view which is specific to that particular Christian group. Likewise, there are no higher or lower animals in properly understood evolutionary theory; all extant species are equally modern because they have all adapted to their present modern environments. The notion of treating people differently because they are related to animals comes not from evolutionary ideas, but from the creationist belief that animals and humans are separated by essential physical differences, humans being in the “image of God”. Creationist moral frameworks are so ingrained that they end up being applied illegitimately to the evolutionary model. Such essentialist philosophies are the reason things like eugenics were taught and believed: eugenics originated with the idea that, because survival of the fittest got us here, we ought to continue the process and cull out the weak. Creationists suppose that such ideas are somehow intrinsic to evolutionary theory, when in fact they require broad philosophical leaps that in no way derive from evolution itself.

All of these religious and ethical objections are, of course, problematic at the outset. Even if they were accurate (and they aren’t), they wouldn’t change the truth value of evolutionary theory. They are examples of argumentum ad consequentiam, a logical fallacy in which a proposition is deemed true or false because of its purported implications. Creationists suppose that evolution is accepted because of its philosophical implications and argue against it on the basis that it has immoral implications, but neither of those things are true. Evolution is accepted because it accurately describes reality. No more, no less.

567 Comments

Were you there?

Actually, I repeat Ham’s question because it, along with its purported answer that they have the witness of one who was there, appears contrary to that other common claim of creationists (and of Ham himself), that creation is just obvious, just read Roman 1:20 (really, read the Bible to know that creationism is obvious from nature?).

You need the Bible because supposedly historic science can’t prove anything, but no one has any excuse because you don’t need the Bible to know that the world was created. “The Bible says so.”

Well, when making sense is clearly not the goal nor the result, rather, your aim is merely rubbishing science to make room for your own a prioris, you’re not likely to make sense.

Glen Davidson

A great final installment, David. I’ll just single out one tiny passage for comment:

…the idea that death itself is a physical abnormality resulting directly from a single physical human action in history – is only a very recent and very sectarian doctrine.

This is true, and it also represents what has long struck me as just an abominable view of the deity. They literally believe that because Adam and Eve sinned, God punished everyone. Every future human being, even every other animal on earth, was punished with pain and suffering and death despite bearing no responsibility at all for the sin in question. It’s like imprisoning not only a convicted thief but his children and grandchildren, or executing not only a convicted murderer but a hummingbird and a honeybee two hundred miles away.

The idea that such would be the conduct of a “just” god, even merely a “benevolent” or “rational” god, is – not to mince words – completely insane. And that people would worship and praise such a being is completely terrifying.

Creationists believe that if common descent is even a remote possibility, then God’s existence is no longer demonstrated by nature. Even the discussion of whether evolution is possible challenges their “testimony of nature”, so it challenges their certainty about the existence of God.

The generalized form of this problem is not limited to YECs. It afflicts OECs, non-creationist evangelical, even liberal mainstream sects too. We might call it the clarity problem:

1. If God’s message isn’t perfectly clear, then it would be evil to send people to hell (or let them go to hell) for not understanding it correctly.

2. Also, our God is tri-omni. If the message is unclear, that means he either couldn’t, didn’t know how to, or didn’t want to make it clear. Any of those answers undermines one of the omnis (with the third being basically a restatement of #1 above), so none of them are acceptable.

3. If some interpretation contradicting our sect’s interpretation of scripture is “even a remote possibility,” that means the message isn’t clear.

4. So, no other interpretations can even be remotely possible; all believers-in-other-interpretations must know the truth deep down, and not accept it because they want to live a life of sin (or whatever). Any other possibility runs into one of the problems given above.

***

As I see it, there’s three general responses to the clarity problem. Two substantive but relatively rare, one common but not very intellectually satisfying. The first is to go full-on Calvinist and just say salvation is predestined, predetermined, and not a matter of anyone’s choice or actions at all. How you “interpret the message” is irrelevant because you were saved or hellbound before you ever heard it. The second is to go full-squishy-liberal and say God doesn’t send any ‘honest truth seekers’ to hell at all, regardless of whether they are wrong sect, wrong religion, or even atheist. The liberal christian God gives out A’s for effort, so it’s okay if the message isn’t perfectly clear. The most common and least satisfying response is the punt, the argument from ignorance: “I don’t know how to reconcile lack of clarity with all this theodicy and tri-omni stuff, but I have faith they are reconcilable by God, even if they seem contradictory to me.”

mattdance18 said:

The idea that such [mass murder] would be the conduct of a “just” god, even merely a “benevolent” or “rational” god, is – not to mince words – completely insane.

Absolutely right on the money.

One thing which strikes me is the complaint of the creationist that evolution makes “man” to behave “like an animal”.

While otherwise, we are told that the reason that the human body is so much like bodies of chimps and other apes is that there is a common design to them. The creationists cannot go so far as to deny the common features.

Of course, evolution only says that the reason is that humans and chimps share common ancestry. It means no more for how we should behave than the fact that we are related to Torquemada.

On the other hand, creationists tell us that there is a “common plan”. That the designer used a common plan shows that the designer had common purposes. And doesn’t that mean, if we are going follow the designer’s goals, that creationism says that we ought to behave like apes?

TomS said: And doesn’t that mean, if we are going follow the designer’s goals, that creationism says that we ought to behave like apes?

Being apes, we cannot behave other than ‘like apes’.

If we share common ancestry with creationists, does that mean we should behave like them? :D

I think the relevant section of Romans 1 IS partly a polemic against unbelief/atheism as well as sin/wickedness such as idolatry. Verses 19-20 (New International Version): “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”.

ashleyhr said:

I think the relevant section of Romans 1 IS partly a polemic against unbelief/atheism as well as sin/wickedness such as idolatry. Verses 19-20 (New International Version): “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”.

I don’t deny that Romans 1:20 can be used as a polemic against atheism; obviously it is used in this fashion quite often. But is that what it originally was? I would say no. I don’t think the author or any of the original readers thought of atheism in connection with this verse.

We may be inclined to see anti-atheism in this verse, but that’s just our modern perspective. As Matt pointed out when he was editing this installment, some varieties of atheism did exist in first-century Rome, but that wasn’t what this verse was about. The whole following discussion provides context: this isn’t saying “See, nature is amazing so it must have been created by God.” This is saying, “See, nature is amazing; the only God that could be big enough to create all of this must transcend nature.”

The verse doesn’t say that God’s existence is “clearly seen” from nature. It says that God’s attributes are clearly seen. The author and the audience of this passage assumed God’s existence as a given. Romans 1 is saying “The creation was see around us is inconsistent with a god that is borrowed from images inside creation; God must be eternal and all-powerful and outside of nature.”

At least, that’s my take on it. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. That’s what my understanding of first-century culture would tend to imply, anyway.

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

Ray Martinez said:

Creationists, of course, CLAIM that special creation is based on evidence

Oh boy, testable, plausible evidence at last! Don’t keep us in suspense, Ray, by all means tell us what this evidence is!

Unless, of course, it isn’t evidence at all. You know, like Flawd’s claim that we must have been created because we have eyes. You really need to do better than that.

Verse 20 says God created the world in such a way that everyone can come to the conclusion that an invisible Designer exists—that’s why deniers are “without excuse.”

But the bible is fiction, Ray, not fact. What it says doesn’t matter here in reality.

Evolution says verse 20 is not true:

No it doesn’t. It never mentions verse 20.

God did not create the visible to reflect His invisible power; rather, according to evolutionary theory, we descend from previously living animals (= the idols of Romans 1).

Nope, gods did not create anything, and we do indeed descend from previously living animals.

Ray Martinez said:

After reading the 7th installment by Evolutionist David MacMillan, I think it obvious that he has not represented his foes (Creationists or Bible) fairly or accurately.

Who said “Bible” was a foe for me? I’m a Christian.

MacMillan then quotes Romans 1:22,23. In the quotation above MacMillan represents special creation as a belief not based on evidence. Creationists, of course, CLAIM that special creation is based on evidence. So he should have addressed why the explanation of evidence in favor of special creation is wrong…

Try the first six installments. My choice to completely dismantle creationist pseudoscience before addressing the religious objections was entirely intentional.

Concerning his handling of the Romans 1 verses. Verse 20 says God created the world in such a way that everyone can come to the conclusion that an invisible Designer exists—that’s why deniers are “without excuse.” Then MacMillan offers verses 22 and 23 as somehow contradicting or refuting this interpretation—that these verses only speak of Roman idol worship. No, these verses are not limited in their application to ancient idol worship, but any idol worship in any age.

But the verse never says God’s existence is evident from nature. It says God’s attributes are evident from nature. It says, “Given the existence of a creator, we can tell from creation that he must be eternal, omniscient, and transcendent.” A far cry from a polemic against agnosticism. Indeed, I daresay most people (Christian and non-Christian) would agree with this: if there is a creator, he’s not part of the creation, and images of God taken from within nature are clearly false.

Ray very clearly illustrates the classic fundamentalist hermeneutic. The actual intention and meaning of a passage isn’t nearly so important as what he can represent the passage as meaning in his own cultural context. The Bible must always be about Ray, about Ray’s problems are the really truly important ones. This verse had a special meaning – antievolutionism – that never could have ever been unearthed until Ray and his pals came along and explained what it really meant. Ray and his pals really are special people.

And they’re the ones who insist I don’t accept that the Bible “just means what it says”. Amazing.

A quick note: Ray’s claptrap is not, as one might suppose, an example of postmodernism. Rather, postmodernism is the very sort of critical thinking which allows us to identify the fallacies in Ray’s thinking.

Question: Why are there so many versions of the bible in just English alone; not to mention other languages.

Answer: Because hermeneutics, exegesis, etymology, and generalized word-gaming are needed in order to extract the desired rationalizations that prop up thousands of different sectarian dogmas so that each of them can be “The One True Dogma” even though they disagree – often violently – among themselves.

Religion is a game of words to determine who is on top; especially among fundamentalists.

Or, as somebody once put it:

It’s not about good.

It’s not about evil.

It’s about power.

Translating the Bible into English is such a huge task that most charlatans and power-seekers never complete a publishable version. Bible translation takes expert knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The difficulty of translation weeds out most flakes.

From the Bible Forewards I have read, most translators are motivated by the same reasons that motivated William Tyndale in 1525. He wanted the common people to read the Word of God for themselves in their own language, such that the plow boy out in the field would know as much of the Holy Scriptures as the bishop.

I don’t dispute that King James I of England had some political reasons to commission a new translation. This is recounted in Alistair McGrath’s book from 2002:

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture

Nevertheless, the King James translators worked on their task diligently, adopting a kind of “code review” for completed passages. They produced a literary masterpiece, an edition that is revered today. (Perhaps revered too much.) They transcended the King’s original intent.

I also know that Archbishop Bancroft made 14 unauthorized changes to the final version after the translators were complete. Those changes probably involved strengthening the role of the wider church at the expense of the local congregations (the Greek word in question was ecclesia).

The KJV would have been better off without those changes. And yet somehow the Bible got out to English-speaking people despite man’s mischief and private agendas. The Good Book inspires people to feed the hungry and care for widows and orphans. The Bible tells us not to feed the trolls, and the majority of Pandas can agree with that. Jesus of Nazareth gave us words that argue strongly against grabbing power, and talk of Christian service instead. All the sectarian dogma and word-gaming has not been able to wipe out those valuable words.

Hear, hear!

Ray Martinez said:

Creationists, of course, CLAIM that special creation is based on evidence revelation.

Fixed it for you Ray.

we don’t use logic because we have faith that it’s true; we use logic because it provides useful results.

This seems to me to be key. The same can be said of Evolution, and of all science. We don’t “have faith” in science. We use the scientific process because it provides useful results.

Period.

Officially, creationists usually teach that the Bible is our only infallible revelation of God’s existence

The “testimony of nature” is implicitly held up as proof of God’s existence.

It has always seemed to me that YEC appears to put these two statements into conflict. After all, wasn’t the later the primary motivation of most “natural philosophy” in western culture? That the work of early scientists (even Darwin) was to investigate the “testimony of nature” in order to understand how God created the world?

The problem came about when the “testimony of nature” attested to a “truth” that was different than what was related by a literal reading of the Bible.

I still don’t understand how a YEC can believe in both the “testimony of nature” and a literal reading of the Bible. It seems to me that the YEC must not believe in a “literal reading” of the “testimony of nature”.

David wrote,

Who said “Bible” was a foe for me? I’m a Christian.

A Christian, or an Agnostic? That’s a separate issue for another time, but there’s enough information on the table by now, to make clear that merely saying “I’m a Christian” isn’t really accurate in your case.

There is an asterisk, an explanation, that needs to be placed there. And the asterisk is tied in to what you believe and don’t believe regarding the Bible’s historical and doctrinal claims. Same for me of course, and really (regardless of one’s label), same for all of us.

Harold recently wrote that he is a “Christian Atheist.” Always worth exploring. (Another asterisk.) Again however, that’s a separate issue for another discussion time. We simply live in a world of asterisks.

FL

From the original post

Creationist moral frameworks are so ingrained that they end up being applied illegitimately to the evolutionary model. Such essentialist philosophies are the reason things like eugenics were taught and believed: eugenics originated with the idea that, because survival of the fittest got us here, we ought to continue the process and cull out the weak

The process of survival of the fittest continues whether we like it or not. The essence of eugenics is that (some) humans get the power to decide who is fit and who is weak: human selection displaces natural selection. Otherwise “fitness” is defined by reproductive success. Being the Alpha Male does not result in the opportunities it might have once done, and childless Olympians and Nobel Laureates are left behind in the evolutionary race by a man who dies young because of genetic defects, but has nontheless managed to father scores of illigitimate children that somebody else will ennsure achieve reproductive success.

FL said:

A Christian, or an Agnostic? That’s a separate issue for another time, but there’s enough information on the table by now, to make clear that merely saying “I’m a Christian” isn’t really accurate in your case.

There is an asterisk, an explanation, that needs to be placed there.

Every self-proclaimed Christian is some other Christian’s “asterisked” believer. That’s the way sectarianism works: he doesn’t believe what you think is the correct form of Christianity, and vice versa.

Personally, I feel no need to asterisk anyone. Doing that is an attempt to sneak in sectarian exceptionalism. When you refer to yourself as Christian and him as Christian*, that’s just a poorly hidden way to send the message “I’m the real thing, his is just a variant offshoot.” I’m not buying it.

classic “No true Scotsman” fallacy that we’ve all seen before.

also by definition - if EVERYONE needs an asterisk, no one does! “*” are for exceptions not the rule

FL is not an arbiter of who is a Christian and who is not.

The message of Christendom is not about believing but about a state of mind.

A savage may well be more of a Christian than FL.

A preoccupation with the Bible reveals an immature mind. The Bible may, at best, be a roadsign, pointing the way. Mistaking the pointer for the goal is nothing but a comfortable headrest. (John 5:39-40)

What good are sweet words on the lips if absent from the heart?

The true religion of the future will be the fulfilment of all the religions of the past-the true religion of humanity, that which, in the struggle of history, remains as the indestructible portion of all the so-called false religions of mankind. There never was a false god, nor was there ever really a false religion, unless you call a child a false man. All religions, so far as I know them, had the same purpose; all were links in a chain which connects heaven and earth, and which is held, and always was held, by one and the same hand. -F. MAX MULLER, in a letter to the Rev. M. K. Schermerhorn, 1883.

FL said:

David wrote,

Who said “Bible” was a foe for me? I’m a Christian.

A Christian, or an Agnostic? That’s a separate issue for another time, but there’s enough information on the table by now, to make clear that merely saying “I’m a Christian” isn’t really accurate in your case.

There is an asterisk, an explanation, that needs to be placed there. And the asterisk is tied in to what you believe and don’t believe regarding the Bible’s historical and doctrinal claims. Same for me of course, and really (regardless of one’s label), same for all of us.

Harold recently wrote that he is a “Christian Atheist.” Always worth exploring. (Another asterisk.) Again however, that’s a separate issue for another discussion time. We simply live in a world of asterisks.

FL

And Floyd gets to declare whose asterisks “accurately” line up with the phrase “I am a Christian” and whose don’t.

There’s more than enough information on the table by now to make clear that Floyd is an incorrigibly arrogant sociopath.

Carl Drews said:

From the Bible Forewards I have read, most translators are motivated by the same reasons that motivated William Tyndale in 1525. He wanted the common people to read the Word of God for themselves in their own language, such that the plow boy out in the field would know as much of the Holy Scriptures as the bishop.

I’ve always thought this is part of the problem. Because while the plow boy in the field might thus be able to read the scriptures as well as the bishop, it doesn’t follow that he will know them or understand them remotely as well.

Don’t get me wrong, Catholicism certainly has its own problems with authoritarianism. I just wonder whether the Reformation made much of an improvement, given that so much of what has come out of it is ill-informed literalistic nonsense.

Henry J said:

Or, as somebody once put it:

It’s not about good.

It’s not about evil.

It’s about power.

Whilst I agree with the sentiments, it was the First Evil that was speaking there.…

David MacMillan said:

Often, scientists suggest evolutionary explanations for the genesis of certain behaviors or traits. Some creationists erroneously assume that, in consequence, evolution can be used to justify any sort of behavior. This, too, comes from their theology; they believe that all sin and death and suffering arise from a series of physical events in history - the Fall - so they naturally assume that an evolutionary history would give rise to an evolutionary morality.

I’ve always seen this as more of an extension of the fundamentalist belief that anybody not subscribing to The Right Religion, especially The Right Version of The Right Religion, is somehow not able to recognize moral acts and will find all kinds of justifications to support their immorality (which they must have, because they aren’t worshipping The Same Thing The Same Way As Me.) Mostly in our familiar Christian circles, this is manifested in non-evolution contexts as “without (our kind of) belief in God, you can’t have a basis for morality and anything goes!” If you don’t have the same view of the same God, you are wandering in darkness (as they see it).

Even non-fundamentalist thinkers sometimes subscribed to a version of this, though without always being particular about WHICH religion people were supposed to follow as long as they followed one of them. The structure and moral guidelines provided by religion was the important part.

The Creationist context for the fundamentalist thinking simply notices that scientists try to peer into human behavior through the lens of evolution and takes that as a search to justify immoral behavior. It goes back to even the earliest objections to human evolution from apes; that it “reduces” humans to “just” an ape, who then have no obligations but to act accordingly.

The most important part of this post and reiterated by Ray Martinez is that when a creationist says he or she bases his or her belief on evidence - it is not scientific evidence. It is that the Bible was revealed by a god called by Christians God to presumably Moses. Nothing else matters. The evidence is solely the Bible and its status as the truth - as the bumper sticker says” The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

The whole enterprise of “creation science” is a sham, a lie, an unsubtle ploy to subvert the good status of science for evangelism and apologism.

David also wrote,

The majority of Christians accept that God could have used common descent to bring about life on Earth without any hazard to their faith.

****

“No hazard”, eh? That sounds like a baseless assertion to me, especially in light of former Christians who, by their own public testimony, ran into such hazards. Check out these examples, yes?

British TV interviewer Howard Condor: “And was there a particular point, or something you read, or an experience you had that said, ‘Yes this is it, God does not exist’?”

Evolutionist Richard Dawkins: “Oh well, by far the most important was understanding evolution. “I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy.

“Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded.

“I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity, and I think I realized that about the age of sixteen.”

– 2011 interview, quoted in Ken Ham’s blog via AIG

****

“Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution” (Tellectual Press, March 2013) is co-authored by biblical scholar Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen.

“When we first started on this book, I was a struggling Christian,” Suominen said. “I had accepted the reality of evolution, but could not see a way to resolve the conflict between science and my inherited faith. And now that the last page is written, I know that there isn’t one.”

The book began as a collaboration between Robert M. Price, a biblical scholar and atheist, and Suominen, who was a believing Christian at the start.

Both accepted the reality of evolution, and agreed to research its theological implications and the various ways that Christian writers have tried to smooth over the conflict between science and faith.

–duncancrary.com

****

Regarding this author Edwin Suominen (an electrical enginner and former registered patent agent), Salon Magazine’s Valerie Tarico asked him a most interesting question; it’s very timely for this thread.

Salon: “Out of all of the ways in which believers have tried to reconcile evolutionary biology and the Christian tradition, which seem to you the most robust or credible?”

Suominen: “That’s an insightful and difficult question, because the plausibility of these writers in the realm of theology seems to be inversely proportional to their acceptance of the science.

“You can head in one direction or the other, but you can’t have it both ways, despite their protests that they can.

One of the most eloquent and level-headed about the scientific findings and issues for traditional theology is John F. Haught. Yet his tedious appeals to the “drama” and “aesthetic intensity” of evolution are so far off our credibility meter that it would be difficult to summarize our conclusions without sounding uncharitable.

“Our view of all these sorts of evolutionary apologetics, his included, might be apparent from the title of one of our subheadings, “Shoveling After the Parade.”

Just something to think about. When you travel the evolution road, you DO run into road hazards, it seems.

Later on, I’d like to check out that Bible verse which David called a “clobber text” – the unavoidable, razor-sharp Romans 1:20.

FL

david.starling.macmillan said: pointing out that whatever visible interactions a god may or may not have had with nature in the past, he clearly isn’t visibly interacting at present…that’s not really even a claim.

It very much is a claim. It’s a claim that you know what happened in the past. Its also a claim that you know the nature of God at least partially - well enough that if there’s a weeping statue in India tomorrow or if Jesus appears on someone’s toast, you will say that this is not a God appearance because it is the nature of God not to do such appearences.

I’m pointing out that miracles themselves would certainly be detectable if we happened to have a detector in the right place at the right time, but they wouldn’t change any of our understandings of physical interactions. At most, they would simply add an unknown constant, but one which would be typically dismissible.

I still disagree. I don’t see how we could not change our understanding, if we get some credible observation of a violation.

Perhaps we are differing on that “credible” issue? I have been assuming that when you talk about miracles, we are talking some credibly observed event; some observation that scientists would take seriously and not dismiss as a hoax or fraud or incomplete/bad data. If your point is that miracles will not come in ‘credible events,’ so we will have no good reason to alter our understanding of science, I guess I could see that. If this is the case though, your point seems like another waste of time to me, like your use of ‘counterfactual.’ There is very little point to discussing non-credible claims. And, I’d also point out, the idea that God works only through non-credible miracles is still inconsistent with both the NT and OT. Helena’s informed, academic explanation (from a couple weeks ago) of the water-to-wine miracle was extremely relevant to this question: the language of the story was specifically chosen to refute common accusations of trickery that were circulating at the time. IOW, it sure looks like the gospel writers went out of their way to embed the subtext “see, it couldn’t have been a trick or fraud” into the story. The Cana story’s details are meant to lend credibility to the miracle. So if your point is to say that God would never perform a credible miracle, never leave evidence that scientists would be forced to take seriously, this seems to be refuted by at least one of the bible’s miracle accounts.

It’s not an issue of want; it’s an issue of need. My understanding of Christianity suggests that once the Incarnation and the Resurrection were accomplished, there was no further need of empirically-established god-belief. If God has no particular need for people to believe in him specifically for the sake of believing in him, then there’s no reason to expect anything different than what we see.

Well first, the whole doubting Thomas thing occurred after the resurrection. I don’t see why days after or centuries after should make a difference. If Jesus saw the value in helping Thomas through his disbelief, then I don’t see why helping modern Thomas’ through their disbelief would be any different.

Second, IMO there is clearly a need…unless God is supremely callous and indifferent to people going to hell. You’ve got a lot of people here who would at least rethink the question of whether to accept Jesus if they got some credible empirical evidence that the biblical account was true. That’s souls that can be saved from hell if God is willing to do a miracle or two. “No need” begs the question of what God wants to accomplish, and if “salvation of all humanity” is what he wants to accomplish, then I would say that the need - for at least some people - is very clear.

Jesus works miracles in front of entire crowds. This is not consistent with any claim that Yahweh is a hidden God, imminentely hidden God, or eminintly hidden God.

Well, that would be the whole point of an Incarnation, wouldn’t it?

That, my friend, is not any sort of answer. If incarnation is God’s valid work-around for wanting to stay hidden WHILE showing his divine presence, then there’s no reason he can’t incarnate now. Its theological Price is Right - Jesus Christ, come on down!!!

eric said:

david.starling.macmillan said: pointing out that whatever visible interactions a god may or may not have had with nature in the past, he clearly isn’t visibly interacting at present…that’s not really even a claim.

It very much is a claim. It’s a claim that you know what happened in the past.

Not at all. Like I said, whatever visible interactions a god may or may not have had in the past, we know there’s no empirically-detectable evidence of divine action now. That’s not a claim about the past at all. It’s a claim about the present. Do you disagree? Do you think there is empirically-detectable evidence of God?

I’m pointing out that miracles themselves would certainly be detectable if we happened to have a detector in the right place at the right time, but they wouldn’t change any of our understandings of physical interactions. At most, they would simply add an unknown constant, but one which would be typically dismissible.

I still disagree. I don’t see how we could not change our understanding, if we get some credible observation of a violation.

I guess it depends on what you mean by a “change” to our understanding. If you’re saying that the empirical observation of a miracle would force us to revise all our physics to add an unknown miracle-constant which will be assumed to be zero in 99.999999999% of all cases, then I suppose that’s fine. But I don’t see that as a change to our current equations; just an update. If F = ma + k where k is 0 in virtually every case, then F = ma isn’t really wrong or useless or incorrect.

It’s not an issue of want; it’s an issue of need. My understanding of Christianity suggests that once the Incarnation and the Resurrection were accomplished, there was no further need of empirically-established god-belief. If God has no particular need for people to believe in him specifically for the sake of believing in him, then there’s no reason to expect anything different than what we see.

Well first, the whole doubting Thomas thing occurred after the resurrection.

But still during the Incarnation. And there can be exceptions in extraordinary circumstances, e.g. Paul (though you may or may not consider a vision to be a proper miracle).

Second, IMO there is clearly a need…unless God is supremely callous and indifferent to people going to hell.

Because hell is totally, like, a real place.

“No need” begs the question of what God wants to accomplish, and if “salvation of all humanity” is what he wants to accomplish, then I would say that the need - for at least some people - is very clear.

Well, I would say God wants to accomplish the salvation of humanity from humanity, not from his imagined temper tantrums over sin.

If incarnation is God’s valid work-around for wanting to stay hidden WHILE showing his divine presence, then there’s no reason he can’t incarnate now.

Unless, of course, the first incarnation accomplished everything it was intended to. Which is the one thing that virtually every orthodox Christian agrees on.

And hiddenness wasn’t part of that. Hiddenness is an result, not a “need” in itself.

stevaroni said:

The biggest issue with Fl and his ilk is that in his mind it’s “persecution” to teach the simple, demonstrable, easy to understand way that the physical world actually works, rather than to pretend that there’s a mysterious, undetectable, magical being that controls it all from behind the curtain.

What strikes me, moreover, is that (1) that the “mysterious” stance is supposed to be an “alternative”, even though it does not make any gesture toward describing how the world is supposed to work (2) the “mysterious” is only invoked for evolution and a few other few other things (deep time, big bang, “historical science”) and not for other things (procreation, heliocentrism, “remote science”), with no discernible reason for the different treatment.

david.starling.macmillan said:

Not at all. Like I said, whatever visible interactions a god may or may not have had in the past, we know there’s no empirically-detectable evidence of divine action now. That’s not a claim about the past at all. It’s a claim about the present. Do you disagree?

Hey now, first you said “its not even a claim.” Now you say “its not even a claim about the past.” Saying its a claim about the present is saying its a claim, yes?

Do you think there is empirically-detectable evidence of God?

Well, as I said, if H2O had transmuted to ethanol in a way that didn’t violate the laws of physics, the guests at the wedding would’ve toppled over dead from prompt gamma irradiation.

You seem to be trying to make the argument that the resurrection and other NT miracles would have left no detectable trace, no evidence that we can access currently that they occurred. But those NT miracles are just like FL’s claims about OT miracles such as the flood, in that we can ask what evidence they would have left had they occurred, and see if the evidence we have is consistent with them. And in the case of water-to-wine, we can say that the account given is not consistent with a physics-obeying transmutation of elements. So you either give up that the transmutation happened, or give up that it was physics-obeying and go with a more omphalos-like view of miracles.

I guess it depends on what you mean by a “change” to our understanding. If you’re saying that the empirical observation of a miracle would force us to revise all our physics to add an unknown miracle-constant which will be assumed to be zero in 99.999999999% of all cases, then I suppose that’s fine. But I don’t see that as a change to our current equations; just an update. If F = ma + k where k is 0 in virtually every case, then F = ma isn’t really wrong or useless or incorrect.

I would agree that F=ma would still be a good and useful approximation of F=ma+k, given a rarely acting God. I disagree that this is not a change in our understanding. It is an enormous change in our understanding. You are telling me, essentially, ‘evidential support for the existence of gods? Meh, nobody’s going to change their worldview over that.’ Really?

I would also point out that k does not have to be large for the revision in our understanding to be enormous. QM has brought on an enormous change in our understanding of how the world works, and yet at the level of cannonball physics, if we were to parse it in terms of “what’s it’s k-value in F=ma+k?”, the answer would be essentially zero.

Well first, the whole doubting Thomas thing occurred after the resurrection.

But still during the Incarnation. And there can be exceptions in extraordinary circumstances, e.g. Paul (though you may or may not consider a vision to be a proper miracle).

That fits the definition of exceptionalism. “Nobody gets evidence after the resurrection because nobody needs evidence after the resurrection…except the guys that the bible said received it.”

Next you’ll be telling me that the free will of humans would fundamentally compromised if any of us saw evidence of God…well, except for the thousands to tens of thousands of people the bible says got that evidence. It didn’t compromise their wills because…um…exception.

Second, IMO there is clearly a need…unless God is supremely callous and indifferent to people going to hell.

Because hell is totally, like, a real place.

So, if I understand your theology, the reason God doesn’t give evidence is because we don’t need evidence, because post-resurrection it makes no difference whether one believes or not? People who don’t believe because they lack evidence don’t suffer any harm for it that God would want fixed?

That is certainly not out of the boundaries of some very liberal sects (UUs spring to mind), so just so you know, I’m asking real clarification questions. The above is not intended as a rhetorical/incredulous point.

eric said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

Not at all. Like I said, whatever visible interactions a god may or may not have had in the past, we know there’s no empirically-detectable evidence of divine action now. That’s not a claim about the past at all. It’s a claim about the present. Do you disagree?

Hey now, first you said “its not even a claim.” Now you say “its not even a claim about the past.” Saying its a claim about the present is saying its a claim, yes?

I’m just saying, I don’t think we need to dispute the lack of empirical evidence for divine interaction at present. Do we? If we can agree, then that part isn’t a claim per se, it’s an agreed-upon observation.

Do you think there is empirically-detectable evidence of God?

Well, as I said, if H2O had transmuted to ethanol in a way that didn’t violate the laws of physics, the guests at the wedding would’ve toppled over dead from prompt gamma irradiation.

H2O in earthenware jars doesn’t spontaneously transmute to ethanol, with or without gamma radiation. That’s the part of your argument I don’t get. You already acknowledge that such a miracle would have to be triggered nonphysically; why is it so hard for you to accept that God wouldn’t need to produce zillions of gamma rays in order to accomplish it?

So you either give up that the transmutation happened, or give up that it was physics-obeying and go with a more omphalos-like view of miracles.

Omphalos says that God created with a false history. That’s different from saying God prevented gamma radiation from killing everyone present.

I would agree that F=ma would still be a good and useful approximation of F=ma+k, given a rarely acting God. I disagree that this is not a change in our understanding. It is an enormous change in our understanding. You are telling me, essentially, ‘evidential support for the existence of gods? Meh, nobody’s going to change their worldview over that.’ Really?

Of course it would be a huge worldview change. But it wouldn’t change anything about the way science works, as long as we can all agree that we won’t expect God to screw around with our experiments just for the hell of it.

Next you’ll be telling me that the free will of humans would fundamentally compromised if any of us saw evidence of God…well, except for the thousands to tens of thousands of people the bible says got that evidence. It didn’t compromise their wills because…um…exception.

Has nothing to do with free will. That is and has always been a lousy, lousy argument.

…if I understand your theology, the reason God doesn’t give evidence is because we don’t need evidence, because post-resurrection it makes no difference whether one believes or not? People who don’t believe because they lack evidence don’t suffer any harm for it that God would want fixed?

That is certainly not out of the boundaries of some very liberal sects (UUs spring to mind), so just so you know, I’m asking real clarification questions. The above is not intended as a rhetorical/incredulous point.

Sure, I understand.

Yeah, that’s about it. Like I said, please take a look at my BW comment to FL from Sunday to get a better idea of what I’m talking about; I think you’ll find it interesting. Salvation isn’t about saving us from God; it’s about saving us from us. Even though the reconciliation of humanity centers around the person of Jesus, you don’t have to be a theist to be part of it. Paul says as much – that Jesus is the “savior of the whole world, and especially of us who believe.”

F = ma, except on rare occasions when no one is looking?

There are lots of times when nobody is paying attention and assuming that F = ma - or any other physical law - remains true. Contingencies intrude all the time in uncontrolled chains of events; but suggesting that some of those “contingencies” were really the interventions of a deity is what is called a god-of-the-gaps argument.

I don’t see why it would be more reasonable to conclude - based on our knowledge of contingencies from cases we have checked - that “a miracle occurred” rather than a contingency happened.

It seems to me that fitting miracles among contingencies is inconsistent with our knowledge of the regularities of physical law. We are saying, in effect, that contingencies follow physical law except when they don’t, especially during the times we aren’t looking; and doing this, no less, in order to preserve some form of a sectarian dogma.

Mike Elzinga said:

F = ma, except on rare occasions when no one is looking?

It seems to me that fitting miracles among contingencies is inconsistent with our knowledge of the regularities of physical law. We are saying, in effect, that contingencies follow physical law except when they don’t, especially during the times we aren’t looking.…

No one said anything about looking or not looking.

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

Since F is the summation of all forces each of which would accelerate the mass if the other forces weren’t there, why not just posit an additional force?

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

But that is nothing more than fiction.

There are no gods who have either needs or abilities to mess with Newton’s second law of motion. In reality, k is always zero.

Your assertion is a fantasy.

david.starling.macmillan said: I’m just saying, I don’t think we need to dispute the lack of empirical evidence for divine interaction at present. Do we? If we can agree, then that part isn’t a claim per se, it’s an agreed-upon observation.

Agreed. Let’s end discussion on this point. It’s one less thing to respond to.

Do you think there is empirically-detectable evidence of God?

Well, as I said, if H2O had transmuted to ethanol in a way that didn’t violate the laws of physics, the guests at the wedding would’ve toppled over dead from prompt gamma irradiation.

H2O in earthenware jars doesn’t spontaneously transmute to ethanol, with or without gamma radiation. That’s the part of your argument I don’t get. You already acknowledge that such a miracle would have to be triggered nonphysically; why is it so hard for you to accept that God wouldn’t need to produce zillions of gamma rays in order to accomplish it?

I did not say “spontaneously.” If there’s a transmutation that doesn’t realease gammas, that violates our current understanding of the laws of conservation of energy and momentum, regardless of the presence or absence of some nonphysical trigger.

So you either give up that the transmutation happened, or give up that it was physics-obeying and go with a more omphalos-like view of miracles.

Omphalos says that God created with a false history. That’s different from saying God prevented gamma radiation from killing everyone present.

I disagree. In both cases what you have is an intervention that - in part - erases information that there was an intervention. The lack of emitted gammas is just like the lack of C14 or in the oldest carbon sinks (a problem for YECs); removing that carbon or those gammas creates a false history.

Of course it would be a huge worldview change. But it wouldn’t change anything about the way science works, as long as we can all agree that we won’t expect God to screw around with our experiments just for the hell of it.

I don’t agree to that. I’m a scientist: if there is some entity out there that looks like it is a causal factor in my equations, it better show up in my equations. That is the intellectually honest thing to do. If I observe some photon suddenly gaining 2 MeV or a transmutation which should release gammas not releasing gammas, I’m going to scream it to the world, and if it leads to a modification of our equations, I’ll be happy about that, not sad or upset. Pretending it didn’t happen because I think God only occasionaly does such things is simply not in the cards.

Salvation isn’t about saving us from God; it’s about saving us from us. Even though the reconciliation of humanity centers around the person of Jesus, you don’t have to be a theist to be part of it. Paul says as much – that Jesus is the “savior of the whole world, and especially of us who believe.”

Fair enough. If lack of belief doesn’t cause some metaphysical harm that needs fixing, then (in that theology) it makes a bit more sense to say that God is not going to intervene to try and fix it.

david.starling.macmillan said:

Mike Elzinga said:

F = ma, except on rare occasions when no one is looking?

It seems to me that fitting miracles among contingencies is inconsistent with our knowledge of the regularities of physical law. We are saying, in effect, that contingencies follow physical law except when they don’t, especially during the times we aren’t looking.…

No one said anything about looking or not looking.

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

I guess I don’t know how that is any different than saying k usually represents a normal contingency, but it is occasionally replace by the supernatural intervention of a deity. If we happen to be looking, and it is a one-off event, how will we ever check that it is NOT a contingent force?

Apparently deities, like ghosts, can decide in an instant NOT to be detected by any experiment we can think of to do. They can even slip in and do a one-off intervention to avoid detection even if we quickly do an experiment based on the outcome of a random toss of the dice. We try go back to check, and the deity is gone; so we decide it was a contingency (fluke) we didn’t get a chance to check.

So how is that any different from no deities or ghosts at all? Why postulate conscious entities that always make themselves undetectable in principle when none of our experiences with physical law and physical contingencies call for them?

And why would deities mess with our heads like that? That sounds too much like a Loki thing to do; and Loki is very much the embodiment of a human characteristic.

Henry J said:

Since F is the summation of all forces each of which would accelerate the mass if the other forces weren’t there, why not just posit an additional force?

It’s just an example. F = ma is a stand-in for any conceivable equation which could accept a constant in that fashion.

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

But that is nothing more than fiction.

Question-begging.

eric said:

Omphalos says that God created with a false history. That’s different from saying God prevented gamma radiation from killing everyone present.

I disagree. In both cases what you have is an intervention that - in part - erases information that there was an intervention.

But if God is already doing a miracle to replace the water in the jars with ethanol, what makes you think he needs to use nuclear physics and gamma radiation to do so? And what would be so weird about preventing the release of gamma radiation anyway? God would have no reason to produce fake carbon-14 results in fossils, but he would have a very good reason not to kill everyone present.

Of course it would be a huge worldview change. But it wouldn’t change anything about the way science works, as long as we can all agree that we won’t expect God to screw around with our experiments just for the hell of it.

If I observe some photon suddenly gaining 2 MeV or a transmutation which should release gammas not releasing gammas, I’m going to scream it to the world, and if it leads to a modification of our equations…

…then you will have discovered a new physical law. Not a miracle. A miracle, in essence, is the hidden “+k” in every equation…where k is assumed to be zero in any case not involving direct conscious divine action.

Salvation isn’t about saving us from God; it’s about saving us from us. Even though the reconciliation of humanity centers around the person of Jesus, you don’t have to be a theist to be part of it. Paul says as much – that Jesus is the “savior of the whole world, and especially of us who believe.”

Fair enough. If lack of belief doesn’t cause some metaphysical harm that needs fixing, then (in that theology) it makes a bit more sense to say that God is not going to intervene to try and fix it.

Glad we’re agreed. ;)

Mike Elzinga said:

Why postulate conscious entities that always make themselves undetectable in principle when none of our experiences with physical law and physical contingencies call for them?

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

david.starling.macmillan said:

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

But that is nothing more than fiction.

Question-begging.

Fantasizing.

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

What would tell us that we are observing an exception to the rule instead of a contingency? How do we distinguish a “miracle” from an unanticipated contingency?

In other words, what would make us conclude that we just detected an event orchestrated by a deity?

Mike Elzinga said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

What would tell us that we are observing an exception to the rule instead of a contingency? How do we distinguish a “miracle” from an unanticipated contingency?

In other words, what would make us conclude that we just detected an event orchestrated by a deity?

A deity taking credit, mostly. Case in point, “God raised him from the dead.”

david.starling.macmillan said:

Mike Elzinga said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

What would tell us that we are observing an exception to the rule instead of a contingency? How do we distinguish a “miracle” from an unanticipated contingency?

In other words, what would make us conclude that we just detected an event orchestrated by a deity?

A deity taking credit, mostly. Case in point, “God raised him from the dead.”

That is no deity taking credit. That is a credulous believer attributing an event to a non-existent fictional character.

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

Mike Elzinga said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

What would tell us that we are observing an exception to the rule instead of a contingency? How do we distinguish a “miracle” from an unanticipated contingency?

In other words, what would make us conclude that we just detected an event orchestrated by a deity?

A deity taking credit, mostly. Case in point, “God raised him from the dead.”

That is no deity taking credit. That is a credulous believer attributing an event to a non-existent fictional character.

Like “The virus raised him from the dead.”

Perhaps more to phhht’s liking, then.…

“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he turned to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all.

That work better?

david.starling.macmillan said:

Mike Elzinga said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m not postulating an entity that makes itself undetectable.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

What would tell us that we are observing an exception to the rule instead of a contingency? How do we distinguish a “miracle” from an unanticipated contingency?

In other words, what would make us conclude that we just detected an event orchestrated by a deity?

A deity taking credit, mostly. Case in point, “God raised him from the dead.”

I have no idea what “A deity taking credit” even means. What would tell us that there is a “deity” that is taking credit for something? What are the physical manifestations of such an event? How would we check them, and how long would we be able to keep checking them until we have a decent chance of ruling out natural explanations?

Here is where I am having trouble understanding what the distinguishing characteristics of a “miracle” would be. All of the purported “miracles” we have heard about have been stories passed around and picked up by writers in the distant past. Thus, we have only hearsay reports of “miracles” from the past coming to us via people we don’t know let alone have any assurances that they or their “sources” existed and were reliable reporters who knew how to check. If that is all we have, why are we obliged to believe that “miracles” happened even though we can’t check and we don’t have miracles today?

The question then comes down to what would constitute the distinguishing characteristics of a “miracle” today. What is the process for verifying they actually happen?

Anecdotal reports are, at best, a possible justification for starting an investigation; but such reports should not be taken at face value, even if many people claim to have seen something they think is a “miracle.”

So in short: What is a miracle really? Did miracles actually happen in the past? How can we check? Do miracles happen today? How can we check? What would an investigation entail?

Put in more terse scientific terms, what is the operational definition of a “miracle?”

For better or worse, I’m just going to go ahead and punt to Clarke’s Third Law on this one. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [miracles]. So if one gets bogged down in figuring out the operational definition of a miracle, it’s more useful to simply revise the question to a functionally equivalent but less philosophically problematic one, namely: what is the process for verifying whether an alien intelligence is using advanced technology to do apparent miracles, and what is a good basis for determining whether such an event took place at some point in history?

Not to say that Jesus was an alien or anything, mind you. My view of God is one that implies transcendence – i.e., God can alter the physical universe as easily as the Matrix can be altered by the program running it. But for our purposes – the purposes of investigation, detection, and so forth – there’s no need to split hairs; miracles are indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.

I obviously don’t think aliens have ever landed on Earth; I have no idea whether or not intelligent extraterrestrial life exists at all. But it’s not impossible that first contact could have been made but simply been lost to history. An alien civilization a few dozen lightyears from here could have detected Jupiter from its tugging on Sol, trained its radiotelescopes on our solar system, and detected the signature of biomolecules in the atmosphere of Sol Planet 3 twenty million years ago. They could have put a single astronaut on board a ship, put him in cryogenic sleep, and sent him on an exploratory mission. Suppose his ship all but burned-up on entry and only his life support pod survived, crash-landing somewhere remote and nasty. He could have escaped with severe injuries but met up with a primitive tribe, done some “miracles”, and lived long enough to vaguely communicate his origins…at which point he could have died, and the villagers burned him on a funeral pyre to honor him.

Unlikely, of course, but not outside the realm of possibility. Could we conclude that such an event had happened, based solely on oral or written accounts? Probably not, but if those accounts contained the right kind of information, then perhaps.

Under such circumstances, how could we know whether “miracles” supposedly performed by this character had actually happened? It would be a special case, and it would certainly tax the limits of historical inquiry, but we could at least draw some general conclusions.

Make sense?

david.starling.macmillan said:

Perhaps more to phhht’s liking, then.…

“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he turned to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all.

That work better?

You mean is it better fiction? Nah, it would be better if we have it so the god goes back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong so the guy never got paralyzed in the first place! Shazam!

david.starling.macmillan said:

For better or worse, I’m just going to go ahead and punt to Clarke’s Third Law on this one. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [miracles]. So if one gets bogged down in figuring out the operational definition of a miracle, it’s more useful to simply revise the question to a functionally equivalent but less philosophically problematic one, namely: what is the process for verifying whether an alien intelligence is using advanced technology to do apparent miracles, and what is a good basis for determining whether such an event took place at some point in history?

Not to say that Jesus was an alien or anything, mind you. My view of God is one that implies transcendence – i.e., God can alter the physical universe as easily as the Matrix can be altered by the program running it. But for our purposes – the purposes of investigation, detection, and so forth – there’s no need to split hairs; miracles are indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.

I obviously don’t think aliens have ever landed on Earth; I have no idea whether or not intelligent extraterrestrial life exists at all. But it’s not impossible that first contact could have been made but simply been lost to history. An alien civilization a few dozen lightyears from here could have detected Jupiter from its tugging on Sol, trained its radiotelescopes on our solar system, and detected the signature of biomolecules in the atmosphere of Sol Planet 3 twenty million years ago. They could have put a single astronaut on board a ship, put him in cryogenic sleep, and sent him on an exploratory mission. Suppose his ship all but burned-up on entry and only his life support pod survived, crash-landing somewhere remote and nasty. He could have escaped with severe injuries but met up with a primitive tribe, done some “miracles”, and lived long enough to vaguely communicate his origins…at which point he could have died, and the villagers burned him on a funeral pyre to honor him.

Unlikely, of course, but not outside the realm of possibility. Could we conclude that such an event had happened, based solely on oral or written accounts? Probably not, but if those accounts contained the right kind of information, then perhaps.

Under such circumstances, how could we know whether “miracles” supposedly performed by this character had actually happened? It would be a special case, and it would certainly tax the limits of historical inquiry, but we could at least draw some general conclusions.

Make sense?

Vagueness is the unconquerable bulwark of religious belief. It’s a lot easier to defend a miracle if nobody knows what one is.

david.starling.macmillan said:

My view of God is one that implies transcendence – i.e., God can alter the physical universe as easily as the Matrix can be altered by the program running it. But for our purposes – the purposes of investigation, detection, and so forth – there’s no need to split hairs; miracles are indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.

Well, I like science fiction also; good writers are fun to read; and we can be glad that there are talented individuals who can write good novels for our entertainment and imagination.

As to “transcendent” beings that can alter the physical universe, I suppose thoughts of such beings can be some sort of spark to one’s imagination and sense of purpose. I don’t see it as being much different from the projections of early humans – or even today’s hunter/gatherers - of themselves onto their universe. It can be a form of self awareness and stimulating ideas of potentiality.

And I don’t wish to criticize whatever modes of thought others engage in to give structure and meaning to their lives. We all begin in different circumstances; and most of us end up taking different paths along a journey we don’t get to complete before we die.

It is an interesting question, however, why so many humans seem to feel deities are necessary. It may be our historical habits, yet unlearned without fear, or it may be “logical” extrapolations of our early childhood relationships with our parents and surroundings carried into our adult years.

There seems to be a notion among many humans that deities, especially some specified deity, are necessary for a fulfilling life. Many, if not most humans, seem to be skeptical, if not fearful, of claims by others that rich, fulfilling lives can be had without deities. That notion seems to be a source of considerable conflict and tension among people; so it is quite reasonable to ask if learning to live without deities is even achievable in the vase majority of cases.

The transition from something like YEC fundamentalism is difficult enough for most brought up in that milieu; but what makes possible the transition to a fulfilling life without deities possible in a world that seems to be suspicious of people without deities?

It is one thing to let go of a particular sectarian dogma – difficult in itself; but it seems to be quite a different thing to let go of deities.

david.starling.macmillan said: But if God is already doing a miracle to replace the water in the jars with ethanol, what makes you think he needs to use nuclear physics and gamma radiation to do so?

You misunderstand; the release of gammas is a necessary consequence of the laws of conservation of energy and momentum. Yes of course an omnipotent God could violate these laws, but you seem insistent on saying that his miracles don’t violate physical laws. So no, in a general sense he doesn’t have to let these emissions happen. But in YOUR sense, the sense you’ve been arguing He acts for the past several pages, he does.

If I observe some photon suddenly gaining 2 MeV or a transmutation which should release gammas not releasing gammas, I’m going to scream it to the world, and if it leads to a modification of our equations…

…then you will have discovered a new physical law. Not a miracle. A miracle, in essence, is the hidden “+k” in every equation…where k is assumed to be zero in any case not involving direct conscious divine action.

Then I simply don’t understand how your miracles work. Let me try and simplify this: if it’s hidden, it violates. Non-violation requires non-hiddenness, because for us to say some event is not an apparent violation of physical law, we must be able to observe the cause of the event and be able to calculate the energy (or momentum, or what have you) in and out.

What you’re doing is trying to have your cake and eat it too: allow a completely unobservable, uncalculable source to produce effects that appear to violate physical law, but at the same time say no physical law has apparently been violated.

I’m saying that a divine miracle, if one were to take place, would not render science unusable or incorrect; it would just be an exception to the rule.

As a scientist, I reject the notion of exceptions to the rules. We can certainly say that some approximations are better than others, and I will certainly accept revising the rules based on new evidence. But it is fundamentally counter to the methodology of science to ignore some event because you think it’s God-driven and therefore very rare.

NO David, we do not ignore rare occurrences. We put them in. They count. To not count them is to make the same mistake FL makes - to selectively count data that only supports ones’ preconceptions. I will not do that. Neither should you.

It would be very bad science and biased to do what you ask - to ignore some event because one thinks it is a rare or momentary exception to the rules.

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

phhht said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

I’m saying that F = ma + k, with k equals zero unless God has a specific, immediate need for k to not equal zero in a particular system.

But that is nothing more than fiction.

Question-begging.

Fantasizing.

I was going to go with special pleading

david.starling.macmillan said:

For better or worse, I’m just going to go ahead and punt to Clarke’s Third Law on this one. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [miracles]. So if one gets bogged down in figuring out the operational definition of a miracle, it’s more useful to simply revise the question to a functionally equivalent but less philosophically problematic one, namely: what is the process for verifying whether an alien intelligence is using advanced technology to do apparent miracles, and what is a good basis for determining whether such an event took place at some point in history?

…Under such circumstances, how could we know whether “miracles” supposedly performed by this character had actually happened? It would be a special case, and it would certainly tax the limits of historical inquiry, but we could at least draw some general conclusions.

Make sense?

No, it seems completely irrelevant to the point we’re arguing, and if it supports either one of us at all, it supports me.

First, without some confirming or credible evidence that such an alien visit scenario took place, we all seem very comfortable concluding that it didn’t take place (with all the sciencey caveats in mind - this conclusion is tentative, yada yada). Yet, you resist the notion that we should conclude Jesus’ miracles didn’t take place. One cannot make a negative conclusion about the alien scenario and yet remain agnostic about the Jesus one, because it’s the exact same thing. It’s either agnostic about both or negative conclusion on both, and since we all feel very reasonable and comfortable reaching a negative conclusion about alien visitors, I submit to you that the only thing holding you back from reaching the negative conclusion about Jesus’ miracles is a pre-existing theological bias or belief. You’re shielding your belief from a train of logic you would otherwise use.

Second, if some advanced alien remained hidden while performing what looked like a violation of physical law, we would call that an apparent violation of physical law. The mere possibility of a Clarke alien behind some miracle is insufficient reason to say such an event is consistent with the laws of physics as we know them. In such a case we would investigate, and if no physical cause consistent with our current laws could be found, we would start revising those laws. We would not ignore the event because it was rare, and we would not shrug it off as consistent-because-of-hidden-source. IOW, if you replace God’s supernatural intervention with a Clarke alien, scientists would respond to the miracle event exactly the way I’ve been saying, and not the way you think we should. The very pithy point here is the one I’ve made several times now: positing some agent behind an apparent miracle does not move it from the “apparent violation” category to the “consistent with physics as we know it” category. You need more than just a possible, hypothetical agent to do that; you need observed mechanism. You need evidence of that agent and an understanding of its capabilities. Without those things, its an apparent violation. Many of the NT miracles are apparent violations of physics as we know it, and positing that an agent caused them (vs. a spontaneous event) does not change that. Saying “agent did it” is not a magical get-out-of-violation-free card.

if some advanced alien remained hidden while performing what looked like a violation of physical law

No one is saying God “remained hidden” while performing miracles.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on July 9, 2014 12:00 PM.

Presbyterian Church refuses to endorse Evolution Weekend was the previous entry in this blog.

Heartland and Discovery Institutes - Not So Strange Bedfellows is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter