Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christian World Views. Part 1: Meanwhile, back in the false dichotomy zone...

The recent moderate sized tsunami of antiestablishmentarian feeling in Western societies has picked up many evangelico-fundamentalist Christians and carried them along with it. This is not surprising really: Since the industrial revolution Western Christianity has, in stages, become more and more culturally marginalized, most notably during the 1960s; During that decade Christians at last woke up to fact that the Western intellectual establishment could no longer be identified as even nominally Christian. By way of a reactionary protest there was among some Christians a revival of young earthism, fideism and a generalised form of gnosticism stressing an inner light "baptism" of gnosis (often identified as "Baptism of the Spirit"). This was effectively an anti-intellectual, anti-reason reaction against the intellectual status quo. These reactionary Christians were  saying "You've rejected us, but we don't need your profane reason, we have our own holy knowledge". They stressed the special "supernatural" revelatory element of Christianity either in the form of scripture or as gnosis, sometimes both. This pair of revelatory mediums were contrasted over and against mere profane human knowledge. In many ways this imposed revelation vs human knowledge dualism was one of the keynote assumptions in the weltanschauung of the new antiestablishmentarian Christianity.

But  there was a telling sign that this claim to privileged spiritual knowledge was not entirely without spiritual pathology: The relations between the gnostics and the scripturalists were often tense. The scripturalists, who made emphatic claims about endeavoring to follow God's Word down to the last jot and tittle ("The whole counsel of God") were often very suspicious of those claiming to have an inner-light encounter with the divine, an encounter which often appeared to short cut the scriptural route to sacred knowledge. In return the gnostics thought the scripturalists to be lacking a full gospel experience of God (I suspect that systematic personality differences between these two groups had a bearing on these mutual suspicions). The gnostics might claim that theirs was a Biblically based experience and that there was no tension between inner revelation and scripture but the strongly reformation identifying scripturalists were not always convinced. For a start gnostic Christians often betrayed a troubling fideist skew to their thinking; for there was one thing that the scripturalists prided themselves on and that was not having given up on reason, at least what they thought of as reason; to them the Bible was a kind of "axiom" on which a superstructure of sacred reason was to be constructed. But it seldom to occurred to them, however, that in order for scripture to be interpreted in the first place, this huge highly complex "axiom" necessarily makes myriad calls on a rich cognitive and cultural complex of innate assumptions - it is the latter which has hidden up in it a very human looking axiomatic base. But blind to this truism the scripturalists pressed on claiming that their's was a world-view in which reason mattered; but, they claimed, it was "Bible based reason" and therefore all but beyond contradiction. So they thought: Scripturalism has given us the curious Genesis literalists who use the Bible as a sacred "axiomatic" starting point and then go on to conclude that the cosmos is a mere 6000 years old cosmos, or that whole cosmos rotates around the Earth (geocentrism) or that the Earth is flat. In order to gain a kind of intellectual parity with the profane academic establishment the scripturalists will say that their's is an equally valid intellectual exercise, an exercise based on the same set of data protocols, but instead those protocols are accounted for by a narrative derived from a Biblical starting point, rather than a profane "secular" starting point. So they think.

It is undoubtedly true that one's world view influences how one superimposes a coherent theoretical narrative on the myriad protocol "facts" and experiences which bombard us daily. But where the scripturalists (and also many gnostics) err is in their claim that the Bible is their  starting point. No; their starting point is a Western world view and not a Biblical world view - after all they are not first century believers, they are 21st century believers and they see the Bible through a 21st century cultural lens. As the saying goes, one can't see one's cultural prisms without great effort, but rather one effortlessly sees through those prisms.  

I would propose that there are two major cultural prisms found among Western Christians through which they see the world. The background assumptions of their world view are taken for granted and in most cases are taken on-board without serious thought. Both of the topics below, which deal with material far more fundamental than fundamentalism, have been on going and relentless themes in my blogs and really I'm just summarizing what I have already said elsewhere.

The Error of Scripturalism
In evangelico-fundamentalism the Bible is taken to be literally God's Word rather being the medium or channel through which sacred meaning is delivered. The Bible is “God’s word” only in as much as it is a conduit for information about God’s personality and salvation; it is part of the divinely managed signalling medium through which revelatory information passes to the recipient and takes root in his/her psyche. As I have pointed out many times before natural language, such as we find employed in the Bible, doesn’t contain meanings; rather it delivers meaning by way of connotation. That is, it triggers meaning in the cognitive association complex of the reader, an association complex that is a function of various cognitive traits, cultural influences, and histories. But it is actually very difficult to escape a way of talking about natural language as if words literally "contain" meaning. They don't contain meaning; meaning is generated by the recipient as a result of those words impacting is his/her psyche. Psychologically speaking we are often conscious only of the cognitive output of meaning. Our conscious mind gets delivered the text packaged along with its meanings; we are in effect seeing the back end of an unconscious process rather than the front end and therefore it appears as if meanings have emerged out of the words rather than our cognitive complex generating those meanings.  I often hear sermons where it is remarked that it is possible to get so much meaning out of scripture; what is in  fact happening here is that so much meaning is being put into scripture

This whole process, if it is to deliver theological truth, only has a chance of doing so if it is under immanent divine management from start to finish. Unfortunately as a rule Western Christians often have a “natural forces” vs “divine interventions” view of God’s relation to his world. They therefore find the immanence of God difficult to take on board. Because of God’s intimacy with his created order the Bible is organically jointed to the rest of creation and transmits and delivers information like any other signalling medium in God’s world.

Of course, the process of Biblical information delivery can, and clearly does, go wrong (as does any other signalling system) at any stage along the transmission line especially at the destination where interpretations are proactively generated. Therefore the Bible doesn’t deliver certainty. Trouble is, the insecure conspiracy theory touting fundamentalist mentality is liable to feel that anything less than 100% truth equates 100% error – a position which we know to be untrue. Information carrying signals need not return the statistics of certainty to convey information; e.g. we can’t be absolutely certain when we board an aircraft that it won’t be involved in a major crash, but nevertheless we consider the safety statistics of air travel to convey information about high reliability, and this we regard as useful information.

We can see that fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham is light-years away from understanding just how natural language works when he says this in one of his blogs:

Compromising Genesis with evolution and millions of years undermines the authority of the Word, because this involves taking ideas from outside of Scripture and forcing those ideas into Scripture. When they do this, Christians are making themselves (fallible man) the authority over God’s (infallible) Word! Basically we’re saying that we know more than God and that we can reinterpret and edit His Word to adjust it to man’s ideas. But a Christian should never knowingly compromise God’s Word.

What Ken fails to see is that meaning is ultimately sourced in the recipient. i.e. the reader.  Meaning doesn’t exist inside the symbols of the transmitted Biblical text: Meaning is an extrinsic rather than intrinsic property of the Word. As such the Word is a trigger of meaning and therefore it is fallible (wo)man that assigns meaning – but it is an infallible God who manages this highly complex process of meaning delivery. The irony for Ken Ham is that in a sense meaning always comes from the reader - that is, the profane human agent! But that agent must be rightly primed in order to make the right interpretation. Of course, I don’t expect the Ken Ham's of this world, who so often look for clear grounds to file charges of heresy, to ever understand this. Anxiety over epistemic insecurity will likely mean that fundamentalists will continue to use fallacious and extravagant claims about following scripture to the letter without compromise. Such claims are a common way in which fundamentalists  parade their piety to themselves and intimidate other believers. Scripturalism is based on a false dichotomy: that is the Word as revelation vs Man's thinking: It's a false dichotomy because Scripture is a seamless part of the rest of God's creation.

Some links on the nature of language:

The God vs natural forces dichotomy 
I have aired this dichotomy many times on this blog.  I'm of the opinion that it is the single most important covert philosophical paradigm explaining why many Christians, particularly the de facto intelligent design community, bulk at the concept of evolution. The basic idea here, I submit, goes something like this: If the "natural" law and disorder processes of physics contain sufficient information to generate life then that means natural forces did it and it follows that God didn't do it.  This basic dualism, which sets God against the very "natural forces" he has created, becomes very clear among de facto IDists who are very explicit about rejecting the possibility that "natural forces" somehow contain the informational wherewithal to evolve life. See below for a list of US IDists who think on these lines

Casey Luskin: See
Kirk Durston: See
Vincent Torely: See
Gordon Mullings: See
Robert Marks: See
Cornelius Hunter: See
Luskin, Ewart and Marks: See:

See also the ill-conceived explanatory filter which is the epistemological expression of de facto ID's "intelligence of the gaps" thinking:

Fundamentalists are not so strong on this dichotomy as are the IDists, because they often invoke theological paradigms to contradict evolution - such as their view on the relation of the fall to physical death. However, fundamentalist also from time to time display this instinctive culturally based dualism. See for example fundamentalist Jason Lisle here:

That this dichotomy is fundamental to Western thought is suggested by the fact that atheists often show signs of holding to a similar paradigm: evangelical atheists feel obliged to prove at all costs that evolution must be a product of known law and disorder processes; if they think they can show this then they feel justified in claiming that the origin of life dispenses with a need for God in favour of "natural forces".  Richard Dawkins, for example, has remarked that evolution allows him to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. That. I suspect, is because he views the whole question through a prism whereby the "natural forces" inherent in law and disorder explanations contrast over and against the old divine magical explanations where God just speaks stuff into existence with a few mighty words. So, just as de facto IDists believe that a gap in law and disorder explanation must be filled with intelligent agency, atheists, conversely, believe that in filling the gap with a "natural" law and disorder account must mean there is no need for God intelligence to have done it! The dichotomy is common to both sides of the debate!

* By law and disorder I'm referring to the two contrasting mathematical tools we have to describe the universe, namely algorithms and statistics. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Atheist "Guest" Post

As I don't have anything to post just at the moment I thought I would hand over to a "guest" poster, namely evangelical atheist P Z Myers; after all, he gets lots of hits on his blog and so he might add a bit of verve to my blog (I can live in hopes). I know I've said it before but  P Z Myers vs. The US's We-don't-do-things-by-halves Christians is one of the best cynical-wise-cracking-straight-man vs cloud-cuckoo-land-dreamer acts since Sid James and Tony Hancock! There are enough boarder-line...err...shall I call it "bizarre"...Christian ministries in the US to keep Myers wise cracking until kingdom come. Anticipating whether or not the latest kooky Christian goings-on can get Myers any more gob-smacked, outraged and derisive than he already is, is first rate humor!  So let's sit back and enjoy the show. 

I have sad news, everyone. Ken Ham has finally blocked me on Twitter, so now I’m getting all the humorous Answers in Genesis news second hand…like this glorious announcement. The Ark Park has a new exhibit! It’s a diorama showing the wicked antediluvian humans putting on gladiatorial games, with dinosaurs.

That is so damned Biblical that I think I shat out a prophet while I was laughing so hard.
Although, I have to admit that it is amazingly cinematic. Imagine how much better the gladiator scenes in HBO’s Rome or that Spartacus series would have been if they’d occasionally brought a T. rex into the arena.
It also reminds me of the fabulous (in all meanings of the word) Jim Pinkoski, he of pygmies and dwarfs fame, who invented this spectacular scene for the end of his Noah’s Ark comic book in which fallen angels mounted on dinosaurs attacked the Ark to prevent it from sailing.

Religion just means that you get to make everything up.
 My Comment: Hahahahahah! Hahahahah! Well, I suppose that's why AiG rates as a kind of Disneyesque theme park!
Myers, by the way, is not nearly as "evil" as the serious minded and humorless believers who are the subjects of his derision make out - they are identifying his criticism and, even worse, his mocking of them with criticism and mocking of God. Myers seems to be the epitome of a stable moral family man who is a critical - very critical, in fact - pillar of society. Yes he's very abrasive and he would no doubt think of someone like myself a complete and utter gumby for being a believer, but that doesn't make him a blasphemer or immoral. If anything he's doing the Christian world a service by showing what some of us cranky Christians look like from outside. He might even be an instrument of the Almighty! After all, as the saying goes, the Lord moves in mysterious ways!

By way of disclaimer: I have to admit that my version of Christianity is hardly argued from an idealistic/passion/partisan/conversion/polemical position but rather from a tentative/research/exploratory/experimental position - that to me is my interpretation of what it means to be a devout God-seeking pilgrim and not a gnosto-fundamentalist one. No wonder I'm making heavy weather of evangelicalism!

Relevant Link:

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Trump Victory Part 2: Anti-Establishmentarianism

...but they all understand him! 
This picture is from:

The Western intellectual elite are heart aching about the election of Donald Trump on a minority vote. I can hardly blame them. In the UK we might feel that "Brexit" was a bit of jolt, but it hasn't rocked the governing establishment. The genteel quasi-aristocrats who have been the mainstay of stable British politics for many a year are still in charge and even though many of them are not entirely comfortable with the Brexit vote they respect the poll and are getting on with making the best of a bad job; it all looks just how a healthy democracy should operate. Not so the US; if the UK is in choppy waters the US is in the midst of a storm.  

In his first days Donald Trump is proving to be a dishonest tike who will not concede a point; e.g Lost the majority vote did we? No! The election was rigged! Small numbers at the inauguration? Dishonest media! All the popularity polls are negative? Fake news! This man shows a worrying tendency to be unwilling to cope with the world of reality beyond his spin and "alternative" facts. Why doesn't he just accept these results, get on with the job and prove to us that he's not such a loser after all! No! To an "alpha" male with his ego "reality" is what he thinks it should be!  We are all hoping that he isn't so ego driven that he attempts to corrall people into his fantasy land by recourse to force, the last resort of the incompetent. Trump's politics is the gut-reacting emotive politics of shoot first and ask questions afterwards. In spite of all this, however, I'm not happy about banning Trump from a full-blown state visit to the UK: If in the UK he gets treated like a president he just might start behaving like one. We can but hope. I'm clutching at straws I know, but straws seem to be the only thing one can grab now-a-days!

Recently I overhead a radio program where an American academic was analyzing the accession of Trump to the presidency. I heard him suggest that America is in the middle of culture war where Donald Trump is a blue collar millionaire who speaks the emotive language of passion and polarization of his class. This highly charged language connects with a large slab of the population who distrust the established elites and instinctively regard Trump's demagoguery as much more genuine. Of course that demagoguery sounds even better if you feel disaffected and alienated. The constituency that Donald Trump appeals to was referred to by Hilary Clinton as a basket of deplorables - well, we now know that was not the wisest piece of campaigning on Hilary's part, but I think we know what she means, and so did Donald's fans: It confirmed to them that the elite establishment is a thoroughly conceited and snobbish clique: The EU may well have suffered from a similar reaction to their perceived irrelevant elitism. But it is not likely to occur to the Trumpkins that stuck-up elitism is a universal human failing; push out one lot of snobs and you may get another lot who are a lot, lot worse.

As political incorrectness is now de rigueur we may as well categorise, label and identify some of Donald's constituency: In the culture war that is now the US Trump is depending on the support from a miscellany of traditionalists, southern baptists, cloud-cuckoo-land fundamentalists, quack prophetic ministries, conspiracy theorists, anti-establishmentarians, anti-intellectuals, rust belt workers disaffected by the economic fluctuations of globalism, pseudo-libertarians, the KKK, crypto-fascists, misogynistic rolling coal alpha males - the list could go on, but all of them want to roll the clock back to simpler times.  Now, as I have a special interest in Christian fundamentalism I thought it appropriate that I should focus on this particular sub-constituency to exemplify the "culture war" theory.  I need look no further than my favourite young earth fundamentalist, AiG theme park boss Ken Ham. In a Facebook post dated 3 February he writes the following: 

The left wing secular media is doing to Trump what they've done to Answers in Genesis for years--false accusations, lies, misinformation, censorship, and more.
And the left wing protestors are involved in what secularists did to the Ark Encounter--false accusations, ad hominem attacks, lies, and more.
Notice how the left that's falsely accused Christians of intolerance for years are some of the most intolerant people on the planet. Left wing media and protestors want free speech as long it's their own speech and their own views--they want to censor real free speech.

This all fits in so snugly: It's easy to see why Ken Ham is one of those establishment hating "deplorables"; that establishment, particularly its academic wing, have fallen into the heinous sin of criticizing, mocking, and  even worse, ignoring Ken Ham's young earthist anti-science project. So it's not surprising that Ham looks to be a Trump supporter. It is clear that Ham identifies with Trump's own experience of being on the receiving end of the status quo's contempt and sees Trump being handled in a way that he himself has first hand experience of.  So, sleaze or no sleaze Trump is the champion that Ham is cheering on. Notice Ham's particular gripe though, namely the demon "left wing media". In fact in my experience of anti-establishmentarian culture it has a tendency to group together a large swath of its opponents under the appellation "lefties"; in particular, the pseudo-libertarians may even go as far as to call anyone "socialist", whose vision of government is larger than theirs!  But I think Ken Ham will find that it is not just the "left wing" which opposes his "you-weren't-there" anti-sciencism: Let's recall that fundamentalist Pat Robertson and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly have criticized young earthism and see it for what it is: An anti-science project.

Regarding fundamentalism's anti-sciencism:  It is probably relatively easy to keep together a small handful of tame young-earthist scholars such as we see at Ken's AiG: Keeping them in place is achieved by both the carrot and the stick.  Carrot wise their reputations, careers and social loyalties have been forged in the relatively small fundamentalist community; in fact so small that one finds the names of the same scholars cropping up again and again in connection with young earthist apologetics; they are big fish in a small pond. As for the stick one only needs to look at the heavy duty spiritual threats that Ken Ham is capable of directing at those who he labels as "compromisers". If one is a timid Christian lacking in spiritual confidence that can have an intimidating effect. 

Of course, establishment academic science is a far bigger field than young earthism, where the latter tends to concentrate on undermining the assumptions of current science and the assumptions of cosmic epistemic integrity which make science possible. Keeping a world-wide and disconnected clientele of established scientists reading from the same hymn sheet would be a far harder task if it wasn't for cosmic epistemic integrity keeping them together. In contrast the small number of fundamentalists have no settled cosmology  and can't agree on some very basic science: Viz:  whether  the world is flat or geocentricwhether the cosmos is old but the earth is young earth, whether the sun should be considered a star or not, whether cosmic integrity can be disposed of, whether the cosmos is just a facade etc. Fundamentalist "science" is a mess! My conclusion is that God's creation has an observational integrity which keeps most established scientists in harmony. To explain this feat of organisation away, fundamentalism is tempted by conspiracy theorism 

End Notes: 

1. KenHam, perhaps buoyed by the victory of his political champion, has recently had the confidence to spell out his scrambled anti-science version of natural history based on a literalist interpretation of the Bible: 

Bible's history has the earth formed before the stars -- evolution is incompatible with Bible.
Evolution belief has birds formed after dinosaurs. Bible's history has birds formed before land animals (which includes dinosaurs). Evolution and the Bible are incompatible.
Evolution belief has fish before fruit trees. Bible's history has fruit trees before fish. Evolution is incompatible with the Bible
People cling to naturalistic evolution -- it's their (false) basis for determining their own morality and reject being subject to their Creator.
Christians who add evolution to the Bible are making man's word infallible and God's Word fallible! No! It's the other way around."

2. Below is the link to another fundamentalists who has been backed into the Trump supporting camp:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In the News

If you've never quite grasped what "irony" means then the following must take the biscuit; but be sure to lock down your irony meter first:

I think the happy looking chappy on the right, yes the right, well knows that he can undercut the rather expensive looking business man on the left. 

In the 1980s the (pseudo) Marxists had to go back to the drawing board.  Now it's the turn of the (pseudo) libertarians to do the same.  Of course, ideologues on both sides will claim that neither of the above is a true representative of the ideal pinnacle of their respective philosophies. But then that sort of claim is only human: Having moved among and studied Christians of many flavours for years I can say that a very similar pretentious idealism can be found especially among those Christians of a partisan temperament and sectarian world-view: Each sectarian will claim that no one else does justice to the real deal. For these idealists a new dawn is always just over the horizon and that they themselves are the best representatives of that new dawn !  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Simulation, Purpose and Declarative Computation.

The Simulation argument: Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so!

Although I don't see eye to eye with the North American de-facto Intelligent Design movement on many of their ID specifics or identify with their anti-academic establishment ethos, I nevertheless keep up with one of their web sites, Uncommon Descent. In particular Canadian ID reporter Denise O'Leary often has something interesting for me to chew over, although as per the de-facto IDists in general she loathes the publicly funded academic community; after all, they've rejected ID, certainly in the form that Uncommon Descent promotes it. If and when academia does promote ID it surfaces in a very different form to de-facto ID as we shall see below.

Denise O'leary does make herself useful though; like the good press bloodhound that she is, she sniffs around the boundaries of established academia looking for deconstruction material. Inevitably, like any work in progress, establishment disciplines have those loose ends where things don't quite add up; that's only to be expected of any discipline worth its salt where the learning curve is never complete. Such disciplines are necessarily in a state of flux as ideas are probed and tested to be eventually selected, rejected or put into at least a temporary limbo. Thanks to Denise O'leary I don't have to go looking for these academic wild cards myself - I wait for her to find them for me! In this connection I have two posts by O'leary of interest and I will talk about these here.

The first post is titled: "Quantum like model of partially directed evolution?" and it quotes the abstract of a recent paper which explores what it calls "The partial directivity of evolution". The paper is pay-walled and so isn't readily accessible. However, in another academic universe that reference to "partial directivity" might go under the term teleology! If so, then I'm glad to see that this subject is being honestly aired as I'm doing so myself in my Meloncolia I project.  But as O'leary states this paper is moving into controversial territory; mainstream evolutionists tend to give the slightest hint of teleology a wide berth; after all, how does teleology reduce to the familiar and tractable mathematics of law and disorder? For if the universe is the cosmic equivalent of a goal seeking complex adaptive system then there are grave doubts as to whether its operation could ultimately be reduced to equations; as John Holland, in his first lecture at the Santa Fe institute, indicated the very rationale for a complex adaptive system is that reality doesn't readily reduce to tractable equations!

Denise O'leary's reaction to the thought of "directivity" is as follows:

 The thought seems information must already be present in the system before sustainable evolutionary strategies can develop. Here, that’s called evolutionary informatics, but it is a dangerous topic to consider.

True, as we've seen in this blog conventional evolution would require the needed information to reside in the conjectured spongeam, But I think it unlikely that the spongeam actually exists; conventional physics, I would hazard, doesn't carry the requisite information. Instead physics has the character of a constrained exponential search that creates information rather than has information built-in from the start. It is quantum mechanics, I conjecture, which gives nature's search its exponential power. It is this exponential character which means that information is created at a linear rate rather than at an imperceptible logarithmic rate. This search, I tender, is part of a declarative rather than imperative computational paradigm and is therefore purposeful. But herein lies the rub: The teleological information needed to select what the search turns up need not reside in the system in any apparent and simple mathematical way. Purposeful information may reside outside the search processes and only become apparent as information gets fixed by purposeful selection. This, unfortunately, is likely to present an intractable epistemic problem for science and this is not going to endear teleology to the conventional science practitioner.  

O'leary's second post conveniently follows on in this teleological vein and is titled "Could evolution have a higher purpose?". This post quotes New York Times science writer Robert Wright who in turn references the establishment figures Nick Bostrom  and Neil deGrasse-Tyson, figures who have dared to moot the idea of reality-as-a-computer-simulation, a theory which, as many point out has obvious resemblances to theism. See also my rather tongue-in-cheek comments on simulation theory here.

O'Leary quotes the following gem from Wright:

The New Yorker reported earlier this year that “two tech billionaires” — it didn’t say whether Musk is one of them — “have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.

I don't think it is possible to "break out" of a simulation  without destroying one self, although it may in principle be possible for us to at become aware we are created simulated beings. Perhaps that is what the Originator of the simulation is looking for; like the Monolith creators of Arthur C Clarke's 2001 Space Odyssey this Originator is waiting for us to become technically advanced enough to become aware of the simulation before he/she/it makes a move! As you can see with simulation theory the distinction between science and science fiction starts to become blurred!

For right wingers like O'leary the academic establishment is perceived as a major player in the "liberal" conspiracy against them and theism. Therefore that teleological concepts tantamount to ID are being mooted by establishment figures is surprising. It is very likely, however, that teleology will remain unpopular with establishment scientists who will continue to plod along with their procedural paradigm of physics. This paradigm is expressed in the imperative algorithms of law and disorder mathematics rather than the goal seeking declarative paradigm which is liable to compromise epistemic tractability. 

Summing up O'Leary says: 

So the obvious answer is yes, evolution can have a higher purpose but then it must originate in an intelligence capable of purpose.

Yes, I would go along with that: The concept of purpose is meaningless unless one assumes that intelligence is a fundamental, a-priori and irreducible aspect of reality. But did O'leary just say that evolution can have a higher purpose? That sounds just like the theistic evolutionists of Biologos, a Christian academic establishment group which O'leary despises!  A criticism  of theistic evolution by de-facto IDists is that theistic evolution places theism beyond scientific testing in contrast to de-facto ID's God-of-the-gaps interpretation.  The latter makes ID testable by looking for a gap in science and then applying misguided ID's epistemic filter

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Faith Big on Divine Wrath, Judgment, Punishment and Death

Answers in Genesis Ark promotion film: This still from the film shows a mother and child just before their execution by a huge tsunami which can be seen through the window bearing down on them ; no problems to Ken Ham: It's all about well deserved judgment!

In this post entitled "Odious Christianity" abrasive evangelical atheist PZ Myers publishes some tweets he had seen from fundamentalist Ken Ham. In the light of AiG's Ark promotion film (See screen capture above) the content of these tweets is true to type:

Taken from PZ Myers blog: Ken Ham's take on sin and physical death *

As we know Ken Ham's version of the Christian faith majors in the subjects of divine vengeance, wrath, judgement, mega death and the condemnation of Christian "heretics" (= those who don't agree with Ham). I have plenty of examples of that: See, here, here, hereherehere and here. In Ken's mind a person's salvation is at best  questionable and at worst invalidated if that person doesn't accept the divine authority of Ken's opinions (which, of course, he claims are from the Bible - as the Jehovah's witnesses claim about their opinions). As far as Ham is concerned that "good news" he speaks of above, the good news of the gospel, is in danger of being null and void if you don't believe what he claims the Bible teaches about the age of the cosmos.  

Here's PZ's reaction to the above, with my comments interleaved:

Hate is a strong word, but not strong enough for my feelings. Ken Ham might be a decent human being if he weren’t so thoroughly poisoned by this toxic faith he professes, and insists on infecting others. Christianity is the rot that corrupts minds.

MY COMMENT:  Whether or not Christianity is the rot that corrupts minds seems to be a function of the minds that receive it: The Bible has been abused to justify all sorts of atrocities, from the burning of heretics, through the persecution of homosexuals, to the oppression of reasonable evangelicals. But then look at the way evolutionary theory has been abused to justify social Darwinism. A lot seems to depend on the personalities (and their world view) who are doing the interpretation, whether it's of Christianity or atheism. 

 I reject his notion of sin — the idea that there is some kind of divine law against which we can transgress — but humanists do not deny that we can do wrong and we can do harm. We think we should do better, not to appease some vengeful deity, but because it improves our lives and helps make those around us happier and better able to live up to their potential. 

MY COMMENT: I can't disagree with that! But it sounds to me as if Myers actually does accept the "notion of sin" in its most general sense; that is, if it is simply understood as wrong doing and failure to make all due allowance for the feelings of those around us (which for Christians presumably includes God).  I know it's an old fashioned word with bad puritanical connotations but as I frequently say "Sin is the word with the 'I' in middle" and that quip sums up much (but not all) about the human predicament that is problematical. Hell is a place where the 'I' rules and has taken over completely 

Clearly PZ is getting the impression  from Ken Ham's Christian Witness that God is some vengeful deity who majors in the punishment of human beings for inscrutable and arbitrary reasons. I can hardly blame PZ for that impression given Ken's wrath centred Christian Witness. Thank you very much Ken you're obviously doing a grand job of it. 

We certainly do accept that death is inevitable, but not because we are wicked — the wicked often seem to flourish while the good may die young. Are we to measure the virtue of human beings by their longevity? Charles Manson is 82, and surely destined to join the saints in heaven, while every infant death must open a chute directly to hell for its wicked soul.

What enrages me most is the implicit condemnation of every human being who had the effrontery to die, which by the Christian doctrine so clearly stated by Ham is every goddamned human being ever.

So my father, a good man, died quietly in his sleep on Christmas years ago — of heart disease. But in Ken Ham’s filthy mind, his death was the bite of an angry god against whom he’d transgressed.

My sister, a good woman, died suffering in a hospital bed of a massive systemic infection, leaving behind two young children. To Ken Ham, she deserved her death because she’d transgressed in some unknowing way against his mighty, vengeful god.

We all have people we’ve loved and lost to accident, to disease, to old age. To a Christian, their god willed this loss, and to Christians like Ken Ham, those deaths were a punishment for “sin”.

Some day, Ken Ham will die, and remember — it will be because he is struck down by his capricious god for his wickedness, and every moment of his dying, if it be long and agonizing, will be deserved. At least, that’s what he should believe.

MY COMMENT: Well I can't speak for Ken Ham's "filthy mind"; he'll have to speak for himself. But Perhaps Myers ought to read Denis Alexander's book "Evolution or Creation; Do we have ti choose?". Now, I don't expect Myers to have anything other than contempt for Alexander's Christian faith and theology. but what the book would tell him is that for people like Alexander belief in Christianity doesn't necessarily imply a belief that death is a punishment for sin; In his book Alexander sketches out his idea that there are two kinds of death, spiritual death as well as physical death, where Alexander sees physical death as part of the natural order of things and intimately bound up with evolution as a means of creation.  I'm not going to comment here on whether Alexander's views are right or wrong - that would take a lot of consideration as Alexander is a sophisticated thinker (I wish to God that Ken Ham was as well!). Suffice to say here that it follows that Ham's views about physical death and sin (Except in Ham's mind, of course) aren't a necessary interpretation of Christianity; others, like Alexander, think differently. 


I know of Christians who, although they believe the cosmos to be 6000 years old, haven't, unlike Ken Ham, turned the question into a faith quality test and therefore they don't get uptight with those Christians who disagree with them. Alas, the polarization of the creation question, particularly in North America, does not encourage this kind of respectful disagreement. If fundamentalists like Ken Ham and John Mackay succeed in exporting their epistemic arrogance to the UK where the question is not such a divisive contention, it won't be long before Christians here will be at one another throats - as some professing Christians are in the States; e.g. Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.**


* To be fair on Ham it is just possible to interpret his meanings more along the lines that death is less a punishment for sin than it is a ramification of sin: e.g. If someone is killed in a terrorist attack such a death is caused by sin (of the terrorist) but it is not as such a punishment for the murdered person's own sin. However, as I find Ken Ham's authoritarian behavior generally unacceptable I'm in no mood to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

** The August 2016 edition of Premier Christianity magazine carries a news item on page 13 entitled "Trump has made a commitment to Christ, says Dr James Dobson". The article reports that Dobson  claims televangelist Paula White had 'personally led him (Trump) to Christ'. Dobson is a right-wing Christian who, according to the article, sits on Trump's evangelical advisory board. Let us now turn to the November 2016 edition of Premier Christianity magazine. This edition contains an interview with Tony Campolo a "red-letter" evangelical who supports Hilary Clinton. and says "She (Clinton) wanted to use politics to do what her Christian faith had led her to do". Campolo, as an evangelical who accepts gay marriage, would likely be considered as at best a very substandard Christian by the Christian right who have more tolerance towards Trump's sleaziness than they do to the conscientious acceptance of gays. As a rule the Christian conservative right is far less accepting of the authenticity of  the faith of the 'Christian left' (such as Campolo) than vice versa. 

However the point under scrutiny here, as I've implied in the main text, is that both Clinton and Trump identify as Christians. In short the Trump vs. Clinton presidential campaigns were effectively a Christian-on-Christian celebrity 'death match'. The Christian conservative right are likely to attempt to solve the paradox that this introduces by claiming that Clinton isn't a Christian - they may even claim she's demonically inspired! (See video below).

The Fundamentalist Response to Myers' Post

Below I publish Ken Ham's Facebook response to PZ Myers' blog post on "Odious Christianity". Actually the response is largely that of Ken's friend and fellow fundamentalist, Ray Comfort, whom Ken publishes. As we read this response we bear in mind that Myers is reacting to the version of Christianity as presented by Ham and Comfort; after all, PZ certainly wouldn't claim to know God and therefore what he knows of the God of Christianity is by and large via the likes of Ham and Comfort.  So when Ham claims that Myers' post is a  "hateful rant against God" we remember that this is the God as perceived by Ham which Myers is ranting against. 

Comfort, as is the wont of fundamentalists, claims to know what is really going on inside Myers mind, namely "enmity against God", "hatred of the law of God", "anger primarily at God", "loves the darkness hates the light". The epistemic certainty of Fundamentalists means that they believe they have authoritative scriptural insight into the minds of detractors. As I have often remarked fundamentalists take it for granted that those who disagree with them, Christian and atheist alike, do so with malign motives and in bad conscience - I've seen that in action many times among fundamentalists. Hence this character defamation of PZ Myers by Comfort is no surprise to me. But I take it with a pinch of salt; whatever, the motives of Myers (and we don't  know those, of course), the fact is that the behavior of Ham and Comfort is not exactly an attractive feature and could well explain Myers abrasive reaction.  But of course Ham and Comfort are likely to read a slight against themselves as a slight against the Almighty and therefore worthy of the utmost censor. 

Ken Ham shared Ray Comfort's post.
Ray Comfort from Living Waters -- a great personal friend and friend of the ministry -- posted a response to PZ Myers' recent hateful rant against God:

Professor PZ Myers hates Christianity. Nor is he a big fan of my good friend, Ken Ham.
In writing about his hatred, PZ unwittingly showed his hand when he said,
"I reject his notion of sin — the idea that there is some kind of divine law against which we can transgress — but humanists do not deny that we can do wrong and we can do harm. We think we should do better, not to appease some vengeful deity, but because it improves our lives and helps make those around us happier and better able to live up to their potential. We certainly do accept that death is inevitable, but not because we are wicked — the wicked often seem to flourish while the good may die young. Are we to measure the virtue of human beings by their longevity? Charles Manson is 82, and surely destined to join the saints in heaven, while every infant death must open a chute directly to hell for its wicked soul."
His hatred is perfectly in line with the Bible:
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
PZ is unashamedly godless (a state the Bible refers to as "carnal"), and so his mind is at "enmity" against God. That means he is in a continual state of hostility towards his Creator. That certainly is true. Even though he doesn't believe that He exists, but he contemptuously hates the very thought of "a god."
But look at the pinpoint accuracy of the Scriptures:
"...for it [our carnal mind] is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
His hatred is directed at the "law of God,"--the moral Law (the Ten Commandments).
PZ is like a criminal who hates the police, not because of who they are individually, but because of what they represent. They stand for the law--that which is right and good, and that is offensive to someone who loves and lives for crime.
PZ's railings about his loved ones dying is tragic, but peripheral. They are not the main reason why he is angry.
His anger is primarily at God and His Law, because he doesn't like being told what to do. Like you and I before we came to Christ, he loves his sin, and he who loves the darkness hates the light.
I'm not sure why PZ called Charles Manson "wicked," when his atheistic worldview doesn't allow for anyone to be "wicked."
Or could it simply be that Manson transgressed the moral Law, which says "You shall not kill," and PZ intuitively knows that, because of his God-given knowledge of right and wrong (see Romans 2:15).
It's actually heartening to see him using his moral compass. If he would put down his weapons and study how God's moral compass is infinitely higher, he may rethink his rejection of "The soul who sins, shall die."
This is because every death is sobering evidence of the truth of that verse.
You can see PZ in action in our movie "Evolution vs God" (over 2 million views) at
P.S. PZ hates the movie. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Ham Fisted Pathological "Science"

Picture from:
The fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis is a gold mine for those who, like myself, have an interest in fundamentalist thought forms*.  Fundamentalists will sometimes use the cliche "Different world view, different interpretation of the facts" to justify their belief that the cosmos is  only 6000 years old. In someways I agree with this cliche, but what I don't accept is that their world view is an unambiguous function of an authoritative "plain" Bible reading. For inside the embattled, marginalized, paranoiac, laughing-stock fundamentalist communities, we find fundamentalists joining the data dots of evidence in such a perverse fashion that it undermines the integrity of the signals we receive from both the Bible and the world in which it is embedded. See here and here for example**

The following post has recently appeared on the blog of AiG theme park supremo, Ken Ham. In this post Ham provides us with the main reason why, in my opinion, he can be identified as an anti-science influence; this is down to his habitual division of science into observational science and historical science. I have, of course, criticized this abuse of the word "science" by Ham several times before on this blog, but the passage below is such an excellent specimen of Ham's misconceptions that it must be exhibited. We remember that he is passing this particular abuse of science on to those who have little aptitude or willingness to delve into the nature of science. Moreover, we can't rely on any of Ham's tame scholars like Danny Faulkner to correct him; they have found a social-standing niche inside fundamentalist communities and therefore unless they are prepared to restart their careers we can't expect much from them. In this connection let's also not forget that fundamentalist astrophysicist, Jason Lisle, produced his perverse cosmology under the auspices of AiG. 

I reproduce Ham's article below for inspection; I've underlined the parts of the passage relevant to this post. I've also linked to the many articles I've written on the subject of Ham's anti-science. 

Exposing Ken Ham’s Faulty Belief About Science
By Ken Ham on December 30, 2016
What is science? Well, there’s a lot of misuse of the word by secularists and the popular media. The word itself simply means “knowledge” and refers to the process by which we use the scientific method to learn more about the natural world around us.

Now, secularists often misuse the word science when they use it to refer to their molecules-to-man evolution belief, and then also misapply it to refer to technology, which is operational science (observation and repeatable testing). There’s a big difference between knowledge about the past (origins beliefs) and knowledge for building technology! You can’t observe, test, or repeat the past, so historical (or origins) science isn’t the same thing as observational science that can be directly observed, tested, and repeated in the present.

Faulty Claims
The media also misuse the word science to claim that creationists are against science. We aren’t against science—AiG loves science, and we have staff with PhDs in various science fields! What the media really mean is that they accept secular beliefs—which they’ve labeled science—and reject creation beliefs. Since we don’t agree with their secular beliefs, they believe we must be against science.
But we aren’t against science. We’re against an evolutionary, naturalistic interpretation of the evidence that contradicts God’s Word.
Secularists need to admit their faulty beliefs. But they don’t want to acknowledge they have any beliefs! They believe life somehow arose by natural processes, and they also believe in an unobservable process of molecules-to-man evolution. Secularists have a religion. They have beliefs about how the universe and life arose, and these beliefs affect how they interpret evidence in the present.
Creationists are more than willing to distinguish between beliefs about origins and observable science that builds our technology. But secularists refuse to admit what are obviously beliefs—they just keep claiming their beliefs are “science.” They make these claims to attempt to brainwash people into believing that molecules-to-man evolution can be proven—which it is most definitely can’t!
You can learn more in “Two kinds of Science”  (See

What seems to be beyond this man's comprehension is that time isn't the overriding category marker which justifies him dichotomizing and lobotomizing science in this fashion: What makes some objects less amenable to science than other objects is not down to this simple minded dichotomy but a much more general, graded and subtle phenomenon; namely epistemic distance. Take for example an object like a socio-economic system; such a system is a present-tense-continuous object and one might therefore think its study doesn't classify as "historical science". But that hardly makes it readily observable: its logical complexity and epistemic inaccessibility makes it difficult to data-sample this object with any level of comprehensiveness. One might also argue similarly about string theory. In both cases epistemic distance, brought about by complexity and/or inaccessibility is a factor which has an important bearing on our ability to know with certainty. Moreover, this complexity and inaccessibility forces the study of such objects to become a study of history in that documentary records compiled over long spaces of time (i.e. historical documents) are very relevant to the construction of theoretical narratives which attempt to make sense of these objects.  In many ways some simple historical questions like where I went on holiday last year are far more observable and evidence based than complex human social systems and strings. Because all data about the objects we study arrives at out senses as signals after some kind of journey - that is, we never "see" the object-in-itself - then the thoroughgoing skepticism and nihilism of postmodernism is liable to render our world as completely unknowable. But for those of us who trust in the epistemic integrity of the cosmic signals, the slow scientific reconstruction of our world piece by piece becomes possible. The irony, as we have seen so often in this blog, is that fundamentalism undermines this cosmic integrity!

Ham frequently uses the cliche  "...observable science that builds our technology". Complex pieces of machinery, when tested, often have erratic unrepeatable problems and therefore locating those problems  very much depends on the records of machine testers,  or test-bed outputs (like in flight recorders). That is,  vital historical data helps build our technology! 

However, I won't consider this subject any further here as I have already given the matter undue attention in the following posts on fundamentalist anti-science:


Because fundamentalists by definition believe that "plain" Bible readings provides them with an epistemic short cut to certainty they are correspondingly presumptuous and condemning in their treatment of both atheists and Christians who disagree with them. Fundamentalists are quite sure that their antagonists hide guilty consciences and are therefore deserving of the utmost censor and judgement.  I've come to the opinion that fundamentalism favours personality types of a suspicious and sometimes quasi paranoiac frame mind and also those who readily engage in either side of dominance relations. See my blog post here where we find moderate and reasonable evangelical Hank Hanegraaff taking exception to Ken Ham's censorious tone. (See here for examples of that tone - search for "Ham")

A good model, I believe, for evangelical Christians to follow are the epistemic attitudes and methods of an establishment scientist like Denis Alexander who gives us his theological views in his book Evolution or Creation: Do we have to choose?. Alexander, far from claiming that his interpretations are the final answers sanctioned by divine authority tenders his views as "models" for consideration, study and argument. Now that's what I call good epistemological practice, a practice which contrasts against the spiritual threats and intimidation used by some fundamentalists to bully through their position in order to reach a beyond doubt status, thus giving them license for heresy hunting.

Sometimes fundamentalist ministries like AiG will complain that established scientists don't give all due attention to their "scientific papers" and therefore can't comment on YEC theories. But in my view it is wholly wrong to put the "science" of the Kent Hovinds, the Ken Hams, the John Mackays, the Christian Flat Earthers, the Christian Geocentrists and the Christian conspiracy theorists like Tim LaHaye in the same category as the work of established epistemic institutions.. To be frank most fundamentalist "science" classifies as quack epistemology and unless one is engaged in a specialist study of fundamentalism it is time ill spent for professionals to study exhaustively fundamentalist "science" as if it is real science.

* That interest primarily stems from my own Christian faith. When the views of Christian fundamentalist were pushed in my direction, such as is found in "The Genesis Flood" I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of quality in their thought. I felt betrayed. At first my faith was at stake and so was the intellectual integrity of God's world of which the Bible is a thoroughly integrated part. Hence fundamentalism, with its corrosive effect on faith, became a deep concern of mine.

** Examples of the fundamentalist world view corrupting the Biblical message can be seen in Christian Flat Earthism, Geocentrism and "The Sun is not a star" ideas. In all these cases the Bible simply records the point view of the primitives of the day who, of course, did not have a modern cosmological perspective and who reported the approximations of their time. It is therefore no surprise if the Bible has little or nothing to say about a cosmology involving a spherical Earth revolving around a nuclear powered star.  Much of fundamentalism, I would hazard, has its motivations in anti-establishment disaffection. For example consider this likely fundamentalist client who doesn't believe light has a travel time; he clearly has no trust whatever in established science.