Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How nerdy am I?

Pretty nerdy, it seems.

I am nerdier than 75% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Though since my answer to the last question was this was what I thought of myself, I don't know whether it takes any notice of the rest. I must be really nerdy to disassemble the quiz.

It would explain why I find this funny, I guess.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When worldviews collide

To most persons, nature appears calm, orderly, and peaceful. They see the birds singing in the trees, the insects hovering over the flowers, ... and all living things in possession of health and vigour, and in the enjoyment of a sunny existence. But they do not see, and hardly ever think of, the means by which this beauty and harmony is brought about. They do not see ... the constant and daily search after food, the failure to obtain which means weakness or death.

A.R.Wallace, "Darwinism"
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Jesus isn't talking about the struggle for survival here - he is pointing out to his followers that there isn't one. Hence the clash of worldviews.

Of Wallace's argument (which is also present in "The Origin of Species"), David Stove says:
Almost everything that could be wrong is wrong with this reply of Darwin and Wallace. First, as to its method. It is an unsatisfactory way of defending a scientific theory, when it is objected that what it predicts is not observable in one area, to reply that that is not a problem, because what it predicts is not observable anywhere else either.
Later on he says:
What would it be like, even, to meet a man who really believed that there is a Darwinian struggle for life among humans? Even this, as far as I know, never happens, and never has happened. Which is certainly a very great mercy. But it is not at all difficult, on the other hand, to imagine meeting such a person.

He would be a man who actually believed that he is struggling for his life, all the time, against his parents, children, wife, neighbours, the postman, the doctor, the Lord Mayor..., and also believes that everyone else is in exactly the same case. What could we possibly make of this most unfortunate man? His mental state, because of its obvious affinity with certain more familiar pathological states, might aptly be named paranoia darwiniensis. In any case it would be clear that he is in some extremely dreadful delusionary state. Nor would any cure seem at all possible, unless it began with someone's convincing him that Darwin's theory of evolution is false

Monday, September 25, 2006

"What's your motivation?"

Corkscrew says:
I've just been thinking more about your post here, and there's something I genuinely don't get. If I understand correctly, it's important to you that there be someone somewhere who is doing research that is both scientific and theological. Is that accurate?

If so, what's your motivation here? Why is it important to you for that overlap to exist? Why do you think it doesn't bother some other Christians so much
I think that if Christianity is to work as a worldview, then it must be consistent with any other observations that I make. In this context, I have quite a strong commitment to the Romans 1 idea of what Christians call "general revelation" - the idea that there is publicly accessible evidence of the presence of God.

If science were to come to the conclusion that "evidence of God" is fictional or unreal, that would have an impact on my theology (though not presumably Ken Miller's, for example, since I think he and others argue that there is no visible evidence of the presence of God). It wouldn't necessarily shipwreck my faith - though other Christians have been plagued with doubts by the supposed evidence that God isn't needed as a creator. But it would have a big impact.

Secondly my concept of the nature of truth is not post-modern. I believe that if Christianity is true, then this means that everything that isn't Christianity is false. So if science is being carried out from a presupposition of philosophical naturalism or uniformity of natural causes within a closed system, I believe that ultimately it will be shown to be ill-founded where it relies on those claims, and people who have that as the foundation of their beliefs will have to re-evaluate them. Conversely, of course, if philosophical naturalism can be shown to be a sufficient foundation for beliefs, this would again have an impact on my theology. I know this claim to exclusive truth is politically incorrect, but I would add that I am tolerant - I may disagree with you, but I would defend to the death your right to believe something different from me (as Voltaire said) and I don't think you can say fairer than that!

Why does it not bother other Christians so much? My opinion on this is that they haven't understood what the Bible says. I don't think this is a "show-stopper" - because Christianity isn't fundamentally about having everything right - it is about an individual's response to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Please note that, whilst I believe that truth ought to be consistent with this worldview, the worldview isn't driving the science. But I don't believe that philosophical naturalism is the only way that good science can be done, and because of my presuppositions, I have my doubts about the validity of conclusions drawn when the foundation of science is philosophical naturalism.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's not only me who thinks that ....

(or, in this case, thought that)
... no cases, possible or even actual, ever do bother [armor-plated neo-Darwinians]. If you discovered tomorrow a new and most un-Darwinian-looking species of animals, in which every adult pair produced on average a hundred offspring, but the father always killed all of them very young, except one which was chosen by some random process, it would take an armor-plated neo-Darwinian no more than two minutes to "prove" that this reproductive strategy, despite its superficial inadvisability, is actually the optimum one for that species. And what is more impressive still, he will be able to do the same thing again later, if it turns out that the species had been misdescribed at first, and that in fact the father always lets three of his hundred offspring live. In neo-Darwinism's house there are many mansions: so many, indeed, that if a certain awkward fact will not fit into one mansion, there is sure to be another one into which it will fit to admiration.

David Stove, "Darwinian Fairytales", Where Darwin first went wrong about man
(... which ties in nicely with Amanda's post, that I have wanted to link to for months.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why I'm not annoyed with ID

Dave Heddle expresses his frustration with the ID movement here. He says:
The only thing, in my opinion, that can save ID is to acknowledge that it is not science but a science-based apologetic.
From an apologetic point of view, I think that ID can remove what people want to hang their hats on - I know of people who have become open to Christianity through creationist presentations.

However, there's more to it than that. There is an issue of science - ID in my opinion embodies a metaphysical alternative to philosophical naturalism. The scientific consensus at the moment is that there is uniformity of natural causes within a closed system - which means that there is no external agency, and we are part of the system. ID means that science can be carried out in an open system - human intelligence needn't be just the product of the system (which has a major epistemological impact - how can we know anything if we are part of the system?), and the origin of things can lie outside the system, rather than through some internal bootstrapping process.

Creationism has an open system. But whereas creationism starts with a prior commitment to a text (the Bible, or other) - which means that it has an empirical predisposition to squeeze results to fit a particular interpretation - ID starts with no such prior commitment. It simply accepts the possibility that the system may be open. Naturalism has to exclude that possibility - it is as committed to a particular interpretation of results as creationism.

Since, IMO, we have no a priori way of knowing whether we are part of the system, or whether there is a God, and ID is as far as I know the only game in town which works on this basis, that's where I am at the moment. If I could find other science being carried out that wasn't philosophically naturalistic and didn't have a prior commitment to a text, I would take it seriously.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Six times twenty four?

I am agnostic as to how much Genesis 1 says in terms of facts. As I said below, from a scientific point of view, I work on the basis of naturalistic assumptions - partly because I believe that they will be shown not to stand up in the fulness of time. Hence the ID slant in what I write - I think that it will become apparent that purely naturalistic explanations of the universe will be demonstrably unfeasible.

From a Christian point of view, I don't have a problem with people like Mackay (or friends of mine) arguing for a strict six day, 6000 year timetable - though I think this causes a dichotomy between creationist science and naturalistic science which does little to help either Christianity or science. For the record, I find science that has a prior commitment to philosophical naturalism (that excludes the possibility of external intelligent agency) somewhat more unhelpful. As evidenced by Alan's comments, it is quite apparent that even within creationist evangelical Christianity (I hope that's not an unfair label, Alan), there is quite a diversity of opinions - there certainly isn't a tightly controlled Young Earth Creationist line that everybody is expected to toe.

However, it may come as a shock to some readers that I don't endorse a 6x24 hour period of creation. Why am I not convinced that the six days in Gen 1 are six 24 hour periods?

1) Because (24 hour) days are reckoned according to the setting and rising of the sun, and the sun wasn't created until day 4. Arguing that it was concealed behind cloud (or something) and only became visible later on is not what the text says, and seems to be an argument to justify a prior conclusion.

2) Because the creation account in Genesis 1 is written from the perspective of God in heaven, not from a human perspective. In studying Genesis recently, it was suggested that verses like "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created" [2:4] and "This is the written account of Adam's line" [5:1] actually relate to the preceding passage, rather than what follows. This makes a lot of sense, and for example helps to explain why there are two dissimilar accounts of the creation. In any case, it isn't clear that God's timescales are the same as ours: in fact, later on in the Bible, we are explicitly told that they aren't ("a day is like a thousand years").

3)... this ties into the fact that the seventh day is different. God enters his rest on the seventh day - and remains in his rest - which Adam and Eve are created to share to begin with, but which they lose. From the perspective of this passage, there is no "eighth day". This is a highly significant theological point - see Hebrews for how this is teased out through the rest of the Bible. Which doesn't exclude the possibility that the six days were 24 hour periods, but certainly makes their actual length far less significant than what happens on the seventh day. Given that the seventh day theologically doesn't end - and is apparently not a 24 hour period - it also seems less likely that the first six days were 24 hour periods.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I'm going to struggle to post over the next few months, I think. But Corkscrew asked which bits of what John Mackay said in the interview linked below I agreed with. Here's some thoughts, which say a bit more about where I am coming from in this regard.

For one thing, I agree with the points he made about much of modern science coming from people whose philosophical framework was theistic, rather than naturalistic. Also I agree that much of the noise in support of evolution is philosophically motivated rather than based on evidence. There is evidence for evolution - but there's also evidence that challenges evolution, and the evidence for evolution is not widely known, and what is widely known is not as substantial as the general population is led to believe.

I am happy for creationists to see what they can do to pull apart naturalistic theories. If the theories are sound, this will only strengthen them. If the theories aren't sound, then better ones will replace them. I'm surprised that mainstream science is so sniffy about this - it really does make them appear to be working from dogma rather than science. What I don't think that creationists can do is use the Bible as experimental/scientific evidence. If the Bible guides creationists when they look for evidence, fine. But it can't constitute evidence in itself.

One interesting example of how creationist examination of naturalistic science might have had an impact: I suspect that creationists were considering the possibility that fundamental physical constants might change over time before the concept appeared in mainstream scientific journals.

Also, personally, I am not convinced that Mackay's interpretation of Genesis is the only possible valid one for Christians, although I have many friends and relatives (who know less about science than Mackay) who are happy with this interpretation (and also many who aren't). I believe, like Mackay, that the Bible is "truth" - without being convinced that the pre-Noah accounts provide a historical account. (For example, I'm not convinced that Genesis 1 talks about 6x24 hour periods). And for the sake of examining naturalistic theories, I am happy to understand and use those theories on their own terms. I believe that, if darwinian evolution is wrong, it will be possible to demonstrate this "internally" - within its own frame of reference - without requiring an external authority.

I am more convinced about the simple historical accuracy of what follows Noah in the Bible - at least pending more research. Bill Cooper's book "After the Flood" - which is available online - makes a good case for how human history developed following the flood account in Genesis - and from a historical point of view, I think a much stronger case can be made for the use of the Bible as a source. I would like to see a response from a non-Christian historian to Cooper's book. Whereas the Bible was thought to be generally unreliable at the end of the 19th Century ("the assured results of modern criticism"), I understand that more careful research generally showed it to be as reliable as any other historical document.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Interview with John Mackay

John Mackay is the international director of creationist organisation Creation Research. He was recently interviewed for the BBC HardTalk programme, and the programme can be viewed here.

I don't necessarily agree with all of Mackay's answers, but you might enjoy the conversation.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Imagine ...

John Lennon, in what is considered by many to be "the greatest song every written", said:
Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky,
Imagine all the people, living for today.
All well and good. This is a sentiment that is expressed by lots of people. So a commenter to the post below says on a related theme, for example:
That's only a depressing state of affairs if you somehow get the impression that things should be otherwise. Me, I'm happy with the universe as it is.
The problem is that many people want it both ways. So on - an unofficial site, I suspect - it says:
While all this [the reaction to his death] happened, one could "imagine" Lennon calmly looking down on us, watching the world's reaction, and having a huge celestial laugh.
A trawl through the internet finds other people with similar reactions, apparently missing the irony.

Now, I'm not disputing the huge influence that John Lennon had, both on music and as a cultural icon. But surely the "goodness" of "Imagine" must be linked to what people perceive as its "truthfulness" - the extent to which it reflects the actual nature of the world around us. If somebody believes that it is true, then that person can't claim that John is "looking down" on us - or that he is actually "in heaven" - or that even though he isn't in heaven, then he is in some blissful state (which is actually what John was singing about when he said heaven). If you believe that there is no heaven, you can't introduce it by the back door for sentimental reasons. You have to stick with post-death annihilation. Which also means that nothing you do, or that John did, for that matter, ultimately has any cosmic significance.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Veggie Tales and Alex Rider

A recommendation for "The Lord of the Beans" - a VeggieTales parody/pastiche of a more influential film series, with a message. It includes Sporks - monsters that are half-spoon, half-fork - the writing on the bean (on one side) says: "If you can read this, you are too close" - and the Bilbo equivalent says that he feels like "chocolate spread that's been spread over too much ham."

They must have had so much fun writing it! It's about the only thing that has distracted my son from Doctor Who in the last few weeks.

I've also now finished all the Alex Rider books - Stormbreaker, Point Blanc, Skeleton Key, Eagle Strike, Scorpia and Ark Angel - by Anthony Horowitz. They are targeted at children a few years older than mine. This isn't a bad idea, as it's hard to find things that particularly young teenage boys will read - but I foresee the necessity of explaining a few words to my children as they read the books.

The stories are somewhat formulaic, though exciting nonetheless. Alex Rider is a thirteen/fourteen year old orphan who reluctantly finds himself working as a spy for MI6. The James Bond cliches are present - the gadget inventor (Smithers), the psychopathic baddie who finds some reason to "monologue" to Alex towards the end of the book, death-defying stunts, the henchmen with striking appearances. But as James Bond moves back to his somewhat darker Ian Fleming identity in "Casino Royale", Alex Rider comes across as the victim of his adventures as much as the hero, bearing emotional scars as well as physical ones from a very intense few months. The badness of the villains is made very clear - their disregard for the lives of everyone who might get in their way - and Alex is not given the opportunity to kill people "in cold blood" - though he does end up killing people in self-defence.

A good series, which kept me turning pages and buying the next book until I'd finished.