Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dualism, Theology and Cognition

The following summary of the areas I’ve been working in over the years was prompted by my reading of a pre-published paper by Christian Missionary and anthropologist Jim Harries. In very different ways both of us are struggling to come out from under the dualistic philosophical wreckage that pervades much of Western thought. I’ve had years of trouble from Western paradigms that either:

a) Cut the knot of dualism by declaring conscious sentience as an illusion in favour of a crude billiard ball materialism or,

b) Persist in maintaining a sharp dualism between mind/intelligence and “Natural forces”.

In Africa Jim Harries has found that once you get past the language barrier and speak the native lingo you soon realise that although rural Africans seek wealth just like us they are not buying into Western dualism as a way of seeking it.  (See here and here).

This summary of my work is indicative of my two-front intellectual war against both knot-cutting-denial of the reality of sentience and the rampart dualism current in much of Western Christian folk culture. In particular as a Christian myself Western Christian folk culture, with its implicit dualism, has been a particular challenge to my keeping the faith; in fact much more so than any challenge an atheist might raise; at least atheism does try to rationalise its categories rather than multiply entities! (although, of course, I don’t accept the way atheists carry out their rationalisation; they teeter on the precipice of nihilism)

***

Most people who have studied physics are impressed by its tendency to suppress the multiplication of entities: Viz: Phenomena which from the first person perspective seem very different in category are often merged by physics into a unifying theoretical narrative. e.g a) Heat and light collapse into the single category of electromagnetic radiation b) Matter and electromagnetic radiation collapse into the single category of quantum waves etc. It was this powerful category simplification that attracted me to physics in the first place and I’ve been in the business of category rationalisation ever since: It’s a great occupation because it considerably simplifies reality & simplification equates to understanding.
 
Below I list some examples of how I’ve carried on in the spirit of physics’ category rationalisation. In some ways this represents a kind of sketched out manifesto summarising the drift of my thoughts and the “policies” I’m working on. These “policies” have been filled out to a lesser or greater degree and I provide links to related articles giving more details.

Category rationalisation 1:  In this rationalisation I introduced the idea of “goal seeking systems” during a written discussion I was having with Jim Harries. As Jim Harries has made me aware Western Christians have theologically slanted their goal seeking toward social development and the afterlife whereas Africans slant it in favour of prosperity teaching. Nevertheless, in spite of this big cultural difference there is the obvious underlying shared universal, namely goal seeking. Whether pertaining to the afterlife, hocus pocus magic, prosperity teaching or just plain old commercial goals, Westerners and Africans are both involved with goal seeking; it is a cross cultural universal. In both cases actions are being carried out now with an eye to the future; Viz: sacrifice and work now for a return on the “investment” later; and by “sacrifice” it could be literal! (unfortunately!).  Goal seeking may be either carried out with some consciously conceived aim or the goal seeking system simply set up in such a way that when in its wanderings it stumbles across the “goal” it selects it. The teleology of goal seeking is, I propose, a necessary condition of intelligence. The concept of goal seeking is pivotal in what follows here.  In my last point below I introduce the radical but tentative idea that the cosmos is an intelligent computation in as much as it has a declarative structure  as opposed to an imperative structure.

While on the commonalities of Africans and Westerners let me also mention, as I hope the following will make clear, both Westerners and Africans engage in the epistemic activity of narrative creation in order to give sense to their otherwise very variegated experiences .

Category rationalisation 2:  The elimination of language processing as a distinct cognitive category. 

If I’m right in my simulation models of association then language is just a (very) tweaked version of a general cognitive learning ability which is capable of bringing experiences (in this case experience of symbols) into association.


Category rationalisation 3: Elimination of the empirical vs metaphysical distinction. All things are at once both empirical and non-empirical.

In its most general form theorising is a case of weaving our diverse experiences together with a unifying sense-making narrative; this is true of both:
a) Low level formal science and
b) The high-level activity of world view formation, an activity which tends to be informal, seat of the pants and often done unconsciously.

The difference between these two epistemic activities is not one of fundamental distinction but one of degree: Science tends to be a very disciplined, formal and highly conscious self-critical activity confined to elementary low level objects with regular behaviour like springs and precipitates. Worldview formation is far more informal, tries to boil down huge intricate nutrient beds of experience and incorporates them into complex “mythological” sense-making narratives. One other difference is that science endeavours as far as possible to engage in a prediction-test coupling in order to cross check its narratives – but this is not always possible even in science – String Theory is an example; we are told that it does a good job of making post-facto sense of things, but it has yet to pass the test of prediction.  World view synthesis, because of the complexity and epistemic intractability of its subject matter, tends to be a post-facto sense making activity and doesn’t readily make predictions.

Nevertheless the general idea behind both formal science and world view synthesis is that in both cases theoretical narratives are used in an attempt to join the dots of experience. The upshot is that in one sense every theoretical concept is observable in as much as it attempts to make sense of experience.  And yet in another sense nothing is observable: This is because we do not directly observe the constructions that our minds place behind the data dots of experience; rather those experiences only effectively sample the theoretical objects they purport to manifest. This is true of simple objects like Hooke’s law right through to the most complex baroque conspiracy theory – both activities involve data dot joining, although it has to be said that in this extreme example these activities are of very different levels of rigor, consciousness, self-awareness and self-criticism.

So the pertinent questions revolve not round whether an object is metaphysical or empirical, but rather questions about the epistemic quality used to construct the narrative which links the data dots of experience.

For more, see the side bar of my blog which is entitled The Ideas-Experience Contention and see also here:

In many ways the above is effectively eliminating the science vs. non-science distinction; all epistemic endeavours have both an empirical and metaphysical element. The difference between scientific knowledge and other knowledge consists not only in differences of the formality and rigor of the epistemic technique but also in the regularity, order and complexity and of the phenomenon studied.  Springs and precipitates are low level, very regular and therefore very amenable to formal scientific epistemology. In contrast world view synthesis grapples with complex and highly erratic experiences and consequently can’t be expected to return synthesising narratives with anywhere near the authority of the elemental objects delivered by science. 


Category rationalisation 4: Elimination of the Natural forces vs God’s work dichotomy: See here and here.


Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the subjective vs objective distinction.

So called “objective” matters are couched in the language of the third person, a language which affects to be absent of the observer perspective. Ultimately, of course, those third person accounts must trace back to a conscious observer-theoretician although third person language tends to suppress this by positing the existence of some perspective detached from any sentient observer; almost a kind of “God’s eye” view, ironically! But I would question whether this detached “thing-in-itself” perspective is a coherent idea: The only world we really have inside knowledge of is the world of sentience and therefore with any third person account, with its affectedly detached language, we actually implicitly impute first person content and significance. We have some inkling as to what it means and feels like to be another sentient being, but we don't know what it feels like to be, say, a block of lead. In fact apart from an observer's ability to perceive the block and theorize about it the block seems to have no real intelligible existence; for even when we think about the existence of the block in third person terms, apparently independent of observers, we implicitly understand its existence in terms of how it impacts cognition. 

I would tend to go along with a view not dissimilar to Bishop Berkley’s version of “positivism”; namely, that a world without cognating observer-theoreticians makes little intelligible sense. As I've implied already, the cognating observer is actually implicit in the so-called “objective” third person accounts.

NOTE: Don’t get too hung up on the connotation of “theoretician”. I’m not necessarily thinking of a consciously deliberating intellectual theorist. The fact is our minds are so smooth and quiet in operation that we theorise and hypothesis about work-a-day-things without apparent thought; the hypothesising mind works informally in the background and then presents its end-results to our consciousness.


Category rationalisation 5: Elimination of the mind vs matter distinction.


When the third person perspective zooms in for a close look at the first person what is seen from the third person perspective is a complex collection of neural nodes signalling each other. Of course, we don’t expect the third person to actually see any consciousness present in the brain of the first person since by definition the third person is other than the first person. I propose is that the so called material brain is how the third person experiences the presence of the first person he is observing. Thus, it follows that “matter” is another name for the third person’s conscious perspective on the first person. “Matter” is in effect the medium of communication between minds. “Matter” is how different minds experience one another whereas consciousness is how a mind experiences itself.

Ironically with today’s technology it is possible for the a first person perspective to get a third person perspective on his/her own neurons and thus be aware of himself not only as an object of conscious cognition but also a concomitant object of organised matter; this is likely to produce some interesting chaotic feedback effects.

The two accounts, third person and first person, go hand in glove. In fact I would maintain that both first and third person accounts are needed to make an intelligible cosmos; they are irreducible and inseparable; if you try to make one primary and the other secondary you end up stuck in a schizophrenic philosophical dualism that is liable to reduce the cosmos to either an ill-defined medley of unconnected qualia or an insentient world of billiard-ball matter; both reductions are an error in my view and a full account of the cosmos requires both perspectives to be put together in a complimentary way. “Matter” is the theoretical means by which conscious sentience understands itself.  I sketched out the latter idea when I wrote the prologue of my book.


Category rationalisation 6:  There is no Bible vs Nature distinction.

Because natural language (of the Bible) works by connotation, then for its meanings to be generated the Bible must utilise the mental resources of association that bind it seamlessly and organically to our world.  See here.


Category rationalisation 7:  There is no clear justification whereby one can posit a dichotomy which contrasts an invisible God over and against visible people. Both God and man are invisible as far as the third person perspective is concerned.

Clearly the essence of a person is neither the visible body nor the behavioural sample that the third person observes. In actual fact the essence of a person is a far more extensive object consisting of the immense behind-the-scenes frenetic sentient activity that the third person can only sample and from that sampling informally construct that complex invisible theoretical object we call “personhood”. The essential point is that like everything else the thing-in-itself we call “personhood” is basically invisible apart from a few observed behavioural traits which constitute the “data dots” available to the third person. In other words personhood is not directly observable – it is an object constructed by the third person in order to arrive at a sense making narrative about personality.  This isn’t, of course, done in a formal theoretical way but by innate cognitive packages that work to a large degree unconsciously.  The cognitive package which deals with the (re)construction of deity may well have considerable overlap with our social interaction packages. But in spite of this I think it would be wrong to say that deity isn’t subject to observable tests: In a sense people test their faith every day; experiences confirm or may disconfirm their faith:  But this daily “walk with deity” is carried out in a very informal, subconscious and anecdotal way and this probably renders formal scientific testing of the existence of deity via established epistemic protocols all but impossible.

Being the sort of guy who is probably on the autistic spectrum may peculiarly fit me to understand this lesson of the invisibility of personhood. I can remember a time at infant school when I used to walk around the school playground by myself believing that all the other children were unconscious; they all seemed so irreflexive. This almost solipsist response of mine was probably down to my social cognitive package not working very well; that is, in my case there seemed to be no automatic conclusion which kicked in and told me that the other kids were conscious – it is something I had to learn over a period of time. But the essential point is that in consequence of my mild disability it became plain to me that the behind-the-scenes conscious personality is an entirely invisible entity and has to be mentally constructed by the third person. Human personhood is as invisible as God’s personhood; the epistemics of personhood means that it is always something one has to interpolate.


Category rationalisation 8: This is the ultimate category elimination: Everything is cognition.

Is it right to say that mind is embodied in matter? Probably no, if accept the idea that so-called “matter” is in fact the third person’s perspective/experience of the first person. The concept of “matter” necessarily follows if one is to have a set of communicating centres of cognition.

But I’m going to go a bit further here and remark upon my on-going speculations in this area. Viz: Rather than “mind being embodied” it is better to say, I propose, that “matter is incognated”. What do I mean by this? My current thinking is that the parallels between quantum mechanics and the way our minds work at the neural level are indicative of one thing; in both cases I see hints of a declarative goal seeking computation rather than the standard view of physics as entirely the domain of imperative processes.  This has prompted me to conjecture that the cosmos is in fact the inside workings of an immanent sentience in action. On this view the cosmos is itself a cognitive process in which we are all immersed. If true, then given cosmic dimensions and its potential computational power, it follows that as far as we are concerned the cosmos looks to be the mental workings of a deity of immense power. Just as the third person perspective of the neuroscientist only sees signalling neurons when he zooms in on the first person, so our low-level perspective of the cosmic cognitive process only sees quantum signalling. Yes, it's all conjectural I know, but its worth pursuing in my opinion. 

To anticipate and suppress any possible pantheistic misinterpretations in these proposals let me point out that the relation between God and his Creation may not be dissimilar to the relationship an author has with his/her story: The author’s story is created by the author and runs in his/her mind as a huge idea and yet the author remains, nevertheless, very distinct from and eminent in relation to his creation.

***

I have attempted to give the foregoing thoughts a more defined shape in The Cosmic Perspective (see here, here and here),  The Melencolia IPproject and the The Thinknet Project. This blue skies investigation is on going

c. Tim Reeves,  March 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Christian World Views. Part 2: The Christian Academic Establishment

The Christian Faraday Institute is very much part of the academic establishment. 
https://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/index.php


In part 1 of this series I looked at the anti-science reaction of fundamentalists to the Christian cultural marginalization which quickened pace during the 1960s (Slow marginalization had in fact been going on for a long while before that). This reaction has also had the effect of linking Christian fundamentalism (and also the de facto IDists) to the anti-establishmentarian right-wing via the right's conservative and anti-liberal appeal.  In this second part I want to look in detail at the views of a scientist and Christian evangelical who is part of the academic establishment, Denis Alexander. Let me admit that I'm completely biased and very much in favour of Alexander's views and those of the Faraday Institute. However, in spite of my moral support I'm not part of the institute; I'm too much the amateur who likes to stay and work in his shed.

I have recently finished reading Denis Alexander's book "Creation or Evolution; Do we have to chose?". Naturally, in view of my criticism of de-facto Intelligent Design's default dichotomy of intelligence vs natural processes and its all but inevitable outcome of God-of-the-gaps thinking I was very interested to read chapters 14, 15 and 16 which deal with intelligent design in relation to evolution.  In this post I showcase some of Alexander's thoughts, thoughts which reflect my own conclusions about de facto ID being a heavily god designer intelligence-of-the-gaps oriented paradigm, On page 403 Alexander sets the scene with a quote from William Dembski, one of the founders of contemporary ID: 

If for every instance of biological complexity some mechanism could readily be produced that accounts for it, intelligent design would drop out of the discussion

I don't think you can get more designer-of-the-gaps than that! Presumably by "some mechanism" which "accounts for it" Dembski is thinking in terms of law and disorder mechanisms (That is, explanations which use some combination of physical law and statistics) Dembski's statement contains the implicit assumption that 'intelligence' and  'some mechanism' are very distinct categories; in fact, mutually excluding categories. Dembski embodied this kind of thinking in his explanatory filter.

Below I quote Denis Alexander on the subject of Intelligent Design. I've tried to minimize my own comments and let him have the stage as I've already said so much (probably too much) about ID's dualism.....

Page 403: Many of ID's proponents .... believe that only through the gaps in our present knowledge do we have incontrovertible evidence that God is at work  in design.

Given that ID probably envisages God's designing involvement as a kind miraculous event, Alexander quotes Augustine's views on the subject of miracles, a view which subverts the God vs natural forces dichotomy:  

Page 404: When such a thing (a miracle) happens. it appears to us as an event contrary to nature. But with God it is not so; for him 'nature' is what he does.

Alexander comments on IDist Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell:

Page 407: The problem with "Signature in the Cell" is that the author makes his 'design inference' based on the failure of other current scientific explanations to provide adequate explanations for the origins of such complex  systems........; in other words, the inference is based on our present scientific ignorance - back to the designer of the gaps again.

Alexander realizes that ID provides fertile ground for conspiracy theorism:

Page 410: ID proponents are quick to suggest that there is a conspiracy among the editors of journals to prevent the publication of their articles.

...that actually points to the deep political matters which I have touched on in this blog and explains at least in part why North American IDists readily find themselves aligned with anti-establishmentarianism, the right wing, libertarianism, fundamentalism, Donald Trump and the anti-eco-lobby.

Alexander criticizes ID's half baked concept of "irreducibly complexity", but he does say this:

Page 412: In fact, I could very easily argue that all biological systems without exception are, in one sense, 'irreducibly complex'.

Too true! What appears to be 'irreducibly complex' is, according Alexander, exactly the opposite. Because there is such a widespread appearance of 'irreducible complexity' in the dependence of biological function on multiple components it renders the concept questionable. What Alexander is implicitly saying here is that because conventional evolution, by definition, moves in survivable incremental steps, every organic form must be placed on a path of continuous incremental change, Such paths trace a history of stable self-perpetuating structures through configuration space. This statement by Alexander is actually an implicit and back handed acknowledgement of the spongeam. Although I have reservations as to its existence, the spongeam is a necessary requirement of conventional evolution.

Page 417: To now assign the word 'design' to some biological entity is an attempt to introduce the language of Aristotelian  teleology back into science, and many centuries of endeavour suggest that the attempt will be sterile. 

This is really a comment for me; although my rather speculative ideas entail information creation by so-called "natural" means, this information creation must be supplemented by teleological selection; As I have said many times: "Nature", to me, looks suspiciously like a declarative computation. However, Alexander is probably right; such teleological explanations are more likely to remain as post-facto sense making narratives, not readily testable in the scientific prediction-test sense. So my ideas may not fly well. But then unlike the IDists and fundamentalists, I'm not touting myself as God's gift to science - I'm just an eccentric amateur who enjoys knocking up a bi-plane or two in his shed.

Alexander remarks that although the Bible does have the near equivalent of the word "design", nevertheless...

Page 419: ...the idea [of design] was around at the time, which makes it even more interesting that the idea  was never applied  as a metaphor for God's creative work. 

...an intriguing theological point. When I picked up Alexander's book I thought it would be just a biology refresher for Christians, but Alexander turns out to be a very good theologian as well!

Alexander spots the inner contradiction of the intelligence-of-the-gap paradigm which majors on the natural forces vs intelligent creation dichotomy: Philip Johnson, one of the founding fathers of ID, thinks that "apparently naturalistic processes" are a sign of the probable absence of God. But in response to this Alexander suggests that for Christians the very category of "natural forces" is a non-starter.

Page 421: So God cannot possible create by 'apparently naturalistic processes'  for the simple reason that if there is a God who creates, then there are no 'naturalistic processes' because naturalism is false. (My emphasis)

When Authors like Johnson talk of the "naturalistic blind watchmaker" it seems that he is utterly clueless as to the true nature randomness.

Alexander talks disparagingly of ID's 'two tier universe':

Page 423: ID literature gives the impression that there is something inherently naturalistic about certain aspects of the created order and not about other aspects, and such thinking appears to stem from a very inadequate doctrine of creation ... in biblical theology, the natural order is seen as a seamless web of God's creative activity.....Philosophical naturalism, like any philosophy resides inside the heads of some people but not others. (My emphasis)

I would claim that what IDist identify as naturalistic and materialistic are in fact law and disorder processes - that is, processes which can be unpacked in terms of algorithmics and statistics. But then the operation of the brain from a third person perspective looks to be composed of law and disorder components and yet we know that somehow intelligence and consciousness is immanent to the brain. Ergo, law and disorder are inextricably bound up with the operation of intelligence, but de facto ID, with its dualism, has violated this unity; it has disembodied intelligence from its deep connection with the material world.

Alexander appears to hold the view that the requisite information for evolution is already present in the universe. Such a view is, in fact, an outcome if one regards the processes of nature as imperative rather than declarative and therefore with no explicit declarative teleology - the teleology in imperative processes is implicit rather than explicit as it is in declarative processes. The quotes below are evidence that for Alexander the intelligence has already been built into evolution via its information burden. These quotes are taken from two sections in chapter 15 entitled Is Evolution Designed? and Intelligent Evolution. The latter title has echoes of my own appellation "Intelligent Creation", meaning that we are observing in the material world the very process of intelligence in action, much as a neuro-scientist sees the workings of intelligence in brain processes; but because the neuro-scientist is getting such a key-hole view it is often difficult to see how it all adds up to an integrated intelligence.

Page 425: I would like to suggest that recent biological discoveries clearly point to the theistic account of the overall story of evolution on planet earth, and I will give just a few examples of what I mean...

Page 425: It [evolution] is tightly organised and highly constrained.....

Page 426: But once we stand back and look at evolutionary history as a whole, then the idea of progress is inescapable... 

Page 426: ...So it is perverse to deny some form of directionality to the arrow of biological time..

Page 427: ...the mechanisms of life look highly constrained, far more than we ever realised even a decade or so ago....

Page 427: A research group from Harvard published a paper on this topic entitled 'Darwinian evolution can follow only very few mutational paths to fitter proteins' It is intriguing to read the sentence in the abstract: 'We conclude that the protein tape of life may be largely reproducible and even predictable'.

Page 428: ...there are only a few ways to arrive at a particular protein function because only some mutations will get you there and not others. It is as if an evolutionary path is already laid out in front of the gene encoding the enzyme, and the genetic dice keeps being thrown until the enzyme structure is generated  that optimizes fitness for its particular function...

Page 428: As the authors conclude in their paper published in Nature: 'That only a few paths are favoured also implies that evolution might be more reproducible than is commonly perceived, even predictable. 

Erratum page: The phenomenon of 'convergence' in evolution also highlights the way in which the process as a whole displays evidence of order and constraint......Simon Conway Morris..... (See here and here)

Page 430: ...convergence is ubiquitous... 

Page 432: So we are living in an ordered universe, not at all a random universe, but an anthropically fruitful one in which there is a biological narrative culminating in us as its observers. 

Page 432: Evolutionary history on this planet displays overall increased complexity, genomic constraint and convergence. This seems to be more consistent with a providentialist account...... and render less plausible the claims made by Gould, Dennett and others that evolutionary history is a totally random walk...

Page 434: To my mind the most recent findings from evolutionary biology are more consistent with the plan like theistic account that the Bible reveals to us.

I have written several blogs on the necessity of an imperative version of evolution to be "guided" in the sense of it being highly constrained; that is, the process must start with a large burden of information.  See here  and here and also here.

I can testify to the fact that de facto IDists make much of what they call the "blind, materialistic and random natural forces of nature" which they tell us are unable to generate complex organised structures. I've seen that kind of expression from de facto IDists umpteen times. I have also remarked how ironic it is that they should use such an expression of God's creation when this is just how atheism tends to view evolutionary processes i.e. "blind and natural".  Alexander has also picked this up and this is what he says in chapter 16:

Page 436: ...yet one still reads, in the ID literature, of the impossibility that life could emerge out of the chemicals by sinister-sounding 'blind materialistic, natural forces' But wait a minute; these are God's chemicals, God's materials. that are being talked about here. A mystery bigger than the origin of life is why Christians should ascribe pagan sounding characteristics to God's world.

Finally let our professional scientist sum up:

Page 460: In none of this account have we been talking about 'blind, natural forces' doing things because for the Christian such language is inappropriate.  We are living in God's world. These are God's chemicals and God's molecules that we are talking about...... As I've already highlighted, why Christians would want to ascribe pagan notions like 'blind natural forces' to God's holy materials. beats me.... (My emphasis)

Page 461: Christians should let the scientists get on with their work, without thinking they are engaged in some sinister conspiracy to promote materialism and naturalism. (My emphasis)

Page 462: The public promotion  of creationism and ID continues to create intellectual barriers for scientists, significantly diminishing  the likelihood of their taking the gospel seriously.

Page 462: My own experience within the scientific community is that the word 'Christian' is now often equated with the ideas of creationism or ID, making it that much harder to share the good news about Christ.

So, if Alexander is right then we can all give a big thank you to the IDiots, John Byle, David LoweJason Lisle,  John McKayKen Ham, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, Gerardus Bouwthe flat earthers, Danny Faulkner and Alex Jones etc, all of whom actually don't have much to agree about between themselves anyway. What better tribute could be given to these intrepid thinkers than the dulcet tones of the one and only William Tapley, the third eagle of the apocalypse and said by some to give batshit crazy a bad name.




Note: 
For further  relevant links: See Part 1.

For more on Denis Alexander see:
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/denis-alexander-is-coming-to-norwich.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/denis-alexander-at-norwich-cathedral.html
http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/denis-alexander-i-would-suggest.html

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Anti-establishmentarian Malaise and Flat Earthism

For the Flat Earthers the UN neatly incorporates their two main obsessions: 1. The one-world-order conspiracy and 
2. a cryptic acknowledgement of what is only known to the Illuminati - that the earth is flat!

I thought I'd put on record this web item from Yahoo news.  I've reproduced it below because it's too precious to lose (Yahoo web items are eventually recycled, as far as I am aware).

The article is about what it states to be the increasing popularity in the Flat Earth conspiracy. However, I always bear in mind that some of these web news agencies have subtle ways of embroidering news to make it look more sensational; it need not be outright "fake news" but it can provide the distortions of disproportion, emphasis and de-emphasis. So I move with care.

Elaborated or not this article doesn't come out of a cultural vacuum; it is quite likely that it at least signals a trend in Western culture. Moreover, given my experience of conspiracy theorism it does look as if the writer of the article has picked up to a tee the kind of mentality needed to imbibe the paranoid fantasy world of modern fundamentalism. So, the article is pretty authentic sounding.

To me flat earth conspiracy theorism is up there with young earthism, geocentrism and David Ike's lizard conspiracy - all symptoms of the antiestablishmentarian malaise that's bound up with fundamentalism, general disaffection and individualistic "libertarianism"; the latter is particularly significant as it affects to have an aversion toward the role of conscious co-operation & coordinated behavior in human collectives, the social equivalent of a central nervous system; in their eyes locality equates to freedom, centrality to control freakery. Like the cloud-cuckoo-land Marxists of yesteryear, contemporary antiestablishmentarians dream of and aspire to a small-government idyll, but as the French revolution, the soviet system, fascism and China under Moa Tse Tung proved, idealistic revolutionary zeal, if its not corrupt from the outset, is so easily twisted and corrupted. Moreover, turning the status quo upside down is accompanied by a confusion which gives opportunity for dictators to step in and bring about an autocratic nightmare. With the coming of  Donald J Trump authoritarian extremists are tempted to think they are in with a chance. 

Turning to the Yahoo article we find that Yahoo news asked some questions of a British flat earther and reported his responses.  Below I try to summarize the essence of the fantasy world this guy lives in: 

ONE) He believes that good solid honest people don't need centralized science; they just use their immediate senses to look at the world and they are convinced that their common sense then enables them to see the manifest truth of flat earth (after all, its all "in front of our faces") and the manifest error, no make that "lies", of established science. 

TWO) The internet (a miracle of science!) is, ironically, spreading this anti-science non-sense!

THREE) Fundamentalist "science" of all types is at least in part a protest against generalized Copernicanism; it comes out of the feeling that each advance in science, starting with Copernicus, dehumanizes us, makes us feel belittled and insignificant and generally promotes a nihilistic malaise. Much more to these people's taste are world views which bring us back to the physical and literal centre of the cosmos. Fundamentalism does this in stages from young earthism through geocentrism to flat earthism. It's an inadvertent nostalgia for the Ptolemaic cosmos of the middle ages where man was at the centre of the temple of creation. But these flat earthers are actually going even further back than that - at least medieval people knew the world to be a sphere!

FOUR) A religious sense, perhaps of a Christian fundamentalist kind, has a significant role in promoting flat earthism. For flat earthers the only way they see of coping with what they percieve as the nihilist random world view of science is to reject the whole scientific edifice and turn to the God of the flat earth. They are convinced that somebody out there doesn't want us to believe. There's a conspiracy to make us atheists and nihilists, they think.

FIVE) Anyone trying to prove to these deluded flat earthers that they are wrong or opposing their ideas has the very opposite effect to that intended: they simply perceive such attacks as part of the conspiracy to deceive us of our true status in the cosmic set up.

SIX) NASA is just an organ of deception; part of conspiratorial scientific establishment out to defraud us of our right to know our literal cosmic centrality. Otherwise fundamentalists believe true "science" to be on their side, as promoted sometimes by a handful contrarian scholars.

SEVEN) Flat earthers come out with some breathtakingly naive science and logic. This is too numerous in the article below to mention and too laughable to refute. Here's a juicy morsel: ‘What about people in Australia? Why don’t they fall off?’ The reality is that there’s no such thing as gravity – instead there’s a force pushing you downwards. If the world was really spinning, why isn’t there a breeze? Surely this is a parody! Either that or starting with the Greeks this man is throwing centuries of hard won science to the winds!

Summing up
Antiestablishmentarinism has many paradoxes. It's affected libertarianism won't accept that big business is an emergent phenomenon which very naturally arises out of the logic of small business libertarianism. But the naive antiestablishmentrarian conspiracy theorist has a tendency to lump together big business and big government as of a piece with the same conspiracy to disabuse us of true knowledge and rightful freedoms.

It is ironic that both atheism and fundamentalism are in part down to a failure to spiritually cope with some of the gob-smacking output of modern science. The atheists throw their hands up in disbelief and face the precipice of nihilism.  The coping strategy of Christian fundamentalism is to return to the pre-science era and explain away science as an outcome of paganism and/or conspiracy. 

In the UK people can be just as daft and cranky as anywhere else, but it seems that the UK (apart from David Ike) does lack some of the big names in lunacy leadership, a leadership who deserve Nobel prizes in crackpot crazy such as William Tapley, Westborough baptist church, Kent Hovind, Steve Anderson, Ken Ham, Gerardus Bouw and Alex Jones, many of whom would welcome the Trump presidency. I know that this Yahoo flat earth article is in the Poe's law zone, but just remind me of any of the aforementioned names and I personally find it all too believable. 

Some of my posts apposite to this subject can be found in the links below

Why do conspiracy fans believe the Earth is flat? We spoke to one to find out
In recent years, the idea of a ‘flat Earth’ has intrigued YouTubers and conspiracy theorists alike.
Even certain celebrities have backed the idea that our planet is not spherical.
Last month, an American basketball star came out and admitted that he thought the Earth was flat – and other players said they agreed.
NBA star Kyrie Irving said in a podcast, ‘This is not even a conspiracy theory. The Earth is flat. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.’
Previously, rapper B.o.B (Bobby Ray Simmons Jr) Tweeted his support for the idea to his two million followers.
Yahoo News spoke to British flat Earth believer Roger, 46, a builder from London, to find out why people are attracted to the idea.
What attracted you to the idea that the Earth is flat?
I saw something about the flat Earth one day – and I resonated towards it. I remembered taking a picture on an aircraft, and looked back at that picture. There wasn’t a curvature. If you assume you’re looking at something, you will see it – that’s the reason people think the Earth is round.
Who told you about it?
People are believing in the flat Earth more and more. I first saw it when somebody that I knew, a DJ friend of mine, shared something about it online. I know him, and he’s quite a knowledgeable guy. I gravitated towards it.
Is the idea getting more popular?
To begin with, there was hardly anything about it – it was very minimal. Now there are thousands of websites and YouTube videos. I think YouTube deleted 60,000 videos. That to me just proves it even more.
Why would anyone try to lie that the Earth was a globe?
The reason people are trying to hide it is that they want us to believe that we all come from a speck of dust – that everything is pure chance, and that we are spinning around the universe, somehow miraculously developing and growing. It makes you feel insignificant. It takes away your desire to be a better person. If people understood that the world is flat, that the stars rotate around us, the sun rotates around us, people would start to believe that this has been built by design. People would gravitate towards God. The world would be a better place, wouldn’t it?
Who is behind the conspiracy?
There’s no globe, no rotation, no orbit, and there was no Big Bang. The idea of the round world is so that capitalist society can keep its domination of the world. You see little shops being pushed out by big shops. You pay money for things that shouldn’t cost money.
Are all flat Earth believers religious?
If you thought there was someone watching you from the top of the goldfish bowl, you would be a better person, wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel. But a lot of flat Earth believers come from a scientific viewpoint. One YouTube guy I watch is a scientist – he’s basically angry. Every time he tries to prove that the world is round, he just proves it’s flat.
What about space missions – don’t they prove that the Earth is round?
The space program is 100% fake – just like the moon landings are fake. It’s all tin foil and curtain poles. All NASA’s images are CGI, every one of them. President Obama said three years ago that in 10 to 20 years we would get out of Earth’s lower orbit. Well how did you get there in 1969? It’s really stupid. It’s like me saying, ‘I’ve been to Liverpool,’ then in ten years time going, ‘I want to go to Liverpool’. But people just don’t click.
What about satellites?
NASA is fake and a lie. If there are satellites, how come you never get reception when you are on top of a mountain? The internet all comes from cables under the sea.
What proves that the Earth is flat?
If you tell people the world is flat, they think you’re an idiot. But when you’re four years old and they tell you the world is round, you think they’re an idiot then – you ask, ‘What about people in Australia? Why don’t they fall off?’ The reality is that there’s no such thing as gravity – instead there’s a force pushing you downwards. If the world was really spinning, why isn’t there a breeze?  (Ed: have a good laugh at this point, it's carthartic)
What do your friends think about your beliefs?
When I tell my friends, they think I am crazy – but they thought I was crazy when I told them about the New World Order 20 years ago. Being part of society is a trick. It feels like slavery.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

History? No, more like Hamstory!

This man has a  rather distorted view of young earthist
history and he's trying to pass it on to others.
As I said in my last post, the 1960s saw a reactionary Christian response as Christianity became increasingly marginalized from the intellectual establishment. I think I'm right in assuming a causal link: By the 1960s that marginalization seemed to have reached a threshold which triggered a contrarian revival in Christian gnosticsm and the anti-science philosophies of Genesis literalism. In connection with the latter I wrote the following in this post:

That the resurgence of Genesis literalism is a recent phenomenon is in fact effectively admitted by fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham himself where in a blog post entitled “Happy Reformation Day” (31 October 2013) he applauds the reference to the 1960s YEC rival as “The Creation Reformation”. Prior to the sixties there was only a low background of Genesis literalism, a background found among the more extreme Christian sects like the Adventists, the Amish, the Jehovah's witnesses, the Plymouth brethren and I guess numerous marginal fundamentalist Christian sects in North America*. Since the rise of science YEC was never mainstream.

The general picture I have sketched out here is of young earthism reviving in the 1960s against an otherwise marginalized background of Genesis fundamentalism. After the scientific and industrial revolutions the wide spread Genesis literalism of more primitive times went into decline, particularly among science savy Christians and Christian academics. I don't think this general historical picture is contentious; even Ken Ham would accept it, although he would express it the emotively charged terms of "compromise". 

However, even though Ham accepts this general view, it is starting to look as though he is presiding over an organisation which has been distorting the history of young earthism: In particular this distortion entails minimizing the role that Seventh Day Adventism and Adventist George McReady Price played in influencing the young earthism which came out of the 1960s. This distortion is starting to come to light in a web article on the Biologos web site by researcher Ted Davis. This article is entitled:

Ken Ham's Alternative History of Creationism.

It can be read here:


The question of Adventist George Price's role in the 1960s YEC revival has been raised before, particularly in a book called "Reason and Faith" by Christian authors Roger Forster and Paul Marsden. Let me quote a little more from my post which I've already linked to:

We often hear Christians referring to believers like James May (JM) and Andrew Holland (AH) as fundamentalists. However, I think you will find that JM and AH are part of a recent recrudescent trend that kicked in only in earnest from the sixties onward. This YEC trend is, in fact, more extreme than most Christians who identified themselves with R A Torrey’s twelve volume series published between 1910 and 1915 entitled “The Fundamentals”, a work that became the manual of the early 20th  century fundamentalists. In their book “Reason and Faith”, evangelical Christians Roger Forster and Paul Marston comment as followers on the original fundamentalists:

“A few points are worth spelling out in more detail here. First, by Morris own admission [That is Henry Morris a founding father of modern YEC], most founding fundamentalists accepted either the age-day or the gap-theory form of creationism and he [Morris] can cite none who were young-earth creationists….. Orr (1844-1913), who contended for a moderate Calvinist form of historical evangelicalism in Britain and America …asserts: ‘The Bible does not profess to anticipate the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Its design is …..to reveal God and His will and His purposes of grace to men, and, as involved in this, His general relation to the creative world….Natural things are taken as they are given, and spoken of in simple, popular language, as we ourselves every day speak of them.’” (P329)

Forster and Marston go on to trace a link between contemporary YEC and Adventist prophetess Ellen G White through the Adventist YEC apologist George McCready Price:

“What we find then, that Price’s [YEC] appeal was to his fellow believers in the prophetess Ellen White, to some Lutheran pastors without scientific training and to the very occasional irascible person with scientific training. The bulk of critics of evolution did not accept flood theory. Even the famous lawyer/politician William Jennings Bryan, who led the abortive attack on evolution in the infamous Scopes trial, or Tennessee Monkey Trail as it became known, was (by Morris’ own admission) an age-day theorist who rejected Price and accepted orthodox geology” (P331)

JM and AH will try to make out that they stand in the best traditions of the mainstream faith, but they actually have a more natural affinity with the pre-scientific days of the faith or to sectarian and cultic Christian figures.

The foregoing tends to confirm Davis research as to the importance of Price in recent young earthist history. According to Davis Ham's organisation are loathe to acknowledge the role of Price in their history.  Let me quote the conclusion of Davis article: 

Why do Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit? Is it because (like those Christians mentioned by Morris) they don’t want their movement associated with a Christian sect that is sometimes viewed with suspicion? Perhaps that is part of the picture, but I think there’s a much bigger reason behind it. The tangled history of modern creationism threatens the simplistic, highly inaccurate narrative AiG hammers into their followers: that Young-Earth Creationism is, and always has been, the “zero-compromise” option for all devout believers in the authority of the Bible. The real story, as we have seen, is much more complicated than AiG’s rhetoric indicates. The fact that Ham and AiG are so blatantly twisting the facts here, and are so critical of those like Duff (and Numbers) who are trying to set the record straight, does not reflect well on the credibility of their organization 

Davis' article is well worth a read: He shows that Henry Morris readily acknowledged his indebtedness to Price. In the light of Davis article I thought I'd do a little research of my own.

On page 330 of Reason and Faith Forster and Marston also provide evidence of Price's influence on Morris:

In actual fact it would seem that the origins of modern young earth creationism may be traced back to Ellen White (1827-1915), a prominent early leader and prophetess among Seventh-day Adventists. In her character studies 'Patriarchs and Prophets' she had written of the geological efficacy of the Flood, burying immense forests which turned to coal. As a young man, Adventist George McReady-Price (1870-1962) read these and although untrained in any area of science, began in 1906 (though mainly in the 1920s) a series of books advocating a form of Flood geology in which all strata were laid down in the Flood. Morris admits: 

"Almost the only writers to advocate literal recent creationism during this period, however, were to be found among Lutherans and Seventh-day Adventists - no doubt partly because their respective founders, Martin Luther and Ellen G White, had taught six-day creationism and a world wide flood.

On page 332 of the same book we find quotes by Henry Morris:

[Price's] tremendous  breadth of Knowledge in science and scripture, and his beautiful writing style made a profound impression on me when I first began studying these great theme's, back in the early 1940s.

In 1959 'almost all Christian colleges and seminaries' were going along with the evolutionary creationism of the Christian  American Scientific Affiliation, and 'the few who still rejected theistic evolution were either teaching progressive creation or ignoring the issue via the gap theory'

In my copy of Whitcombe and Morris' book "The Genesis Flood" George McReady Price's name appears four times in the index as follows:  

Price,  George McCready, 184, 185, 189, 211

On page 184 above there is further evidence of Morris being impressed by Price: Viz:

Long ago George McReady Price made an extensive study of areas of this type around the world. He discussed these in many books written by him on the general theme of deluge geology. Although his examples were very impressive and well-documented, his writings were largely ignored by geologists, ostensibly because of his largely self-made geological education.

Young earthists like Price are rightly largely ignored in the professional scientific journals of the academic establishment, just as Christian geocentrists and flat-earthers are rightly ignored; these movements are anti-science after all. (See here,  here, and here. However, if one is making a special study of these subjects in relation to religious belief that's a different matter). In the above quote written by Morris in the early 1960s we can see the precursors of right-wing antiestablishmentarianism being put in place; specifically the prototypes of the divide between private operators and the publicly owned and funded academic establishment. But what is particularly ironic is that according to Davis Price has not only been ignored by this academic establishment but AiG are now also largely ignoring Price!  In fact Davis claims that: 

....Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit

According to Davis Price's name can only be found nine times in the whole of the AiG website; that's in spite of the fact that Price was so influential upon to Henry Morris who in turn was so significant to the 1960s young earthist revival through the book "The Genesis Flood". To check out Davis conclusion I looked through a series of web articles by AiG writer Terry Mortenson on what he calls "The Scriptural Geologists". Links to these web articles can be found on Mortenson's introductory article here:

Title: British Scriptural Geologists of the First Half of the Nineteenth century
Link: https://answersingenesis.org/creation-scientists/profiles/historical-setting/

As Price lived 1870-1962 Mortenson, by only considering the first half of the nineteenth century, neatly provides a pretext for not mentioning Price: But why not? Given that Morris was so influenced by Price you might expect him to at least get a mention, but not so; neither Price nor Morris are mentioned. By strictly keeping his terms of reference focused on the first half of the nineteenth century Mortenson is avoiding what seems to be an embarrassing connection for AiG.  Below I list the Genesis literalists that Mortenson documents:

Granville Penn 1761-1844  * George Bug 1769-1851 * Andrew Ure 1778-1857 * Henry Cole 1792?-1858  * Thomas Gisborne 1758-1846  * Rev Samuel Best 1802-1873 * George Fairholme 1789-1846 * James Mellor Brown 1796?-1867 * Fowler De Johnsone  * John Murray 1786?-1851 * George Young 1777-1848

Mortenson says of the above: 

Largely overlooked by modern historians, the scriptural geologists in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century tenaciously defended Genesis 1–11 as a reliable historical account.

They are overlooked because they don't hold a significant place in the history of Christianity during the first half of the nineteenth century. They are the rearguard of the old pre-scientific order as they attempt to recast that order in the new scientific paradigm. And even today after the 1960s revival of Genesis literalism, as Ken Ham admits, young earthism is in a small minority among Christian academics. Also, it is very telling that none of the above "scriptural geologists" appear in the names index of my copy of "The Genesis Flood". That's most likely because Whitcombe and Morris research efforts were not based on the these "scriptural geologists". In fact it is quite likely that Whitcombe and Morris had never heard of them. In the first halve of the nineteenth century British Christianity was very much part of the establishment and yet in spite of that the above names have been ignored; this is strong evidence of their lack of historical significance among the Christian mainstream. They have been dragged up by Mortenson in order to divert AiG's attention from Price and the Adventists and this has the effect of conveying a false impression that AiG owes its credit mainly to these "scriptural geologist". It is important to stress "AiG's attention" here: Clearly AiG are not fooling people like Biologos. This diversion is about AiG trying to convince itself that it doesn't have any roots in Ellen White's Adventism. But in comparison with Morris and Price the "scriptural geologists" do not have a significant place in the historical canon of modern young earthism let alone the Christian mainstream. Of course, an AiG fundamentalist is unlikely to see establishment neglect of the so-called "scriptural geologists" as an outcome of historical proportion; rather they may well see it as willful and sinful neglect by secular historians and "compromising" Christian academics and portray this neglect as part of their mythical narrative of  conspiracy and persecution. 

In a blog post entitled "My Parents are to blame!" and dated 10th January Ken Ham complains that Mortenson's work on the scriptural geologists has also been ignored; well, for reason already given AiG research must accept its place: Fundamentalist research doesn't qualify as being on a par with professional academic science and should only be studied if one is engaged on a project to research fundamentalism itself.  In the said post Ham writes:


In regard to Duff’s somewhat sarcastic and at times demeaning language (really invoking ad hominem attacks on me), what I specifically wanted to comment on was the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

Actually, what I believe concerning God’s Word beginning in Genesis is a result of my parents training me to stand boldly, uncompromisingly, and unashamedly on the authority of the Word of God. My parents hated compromise and did their best to uphold and honor the authority of God’s Word without in any way knowingly compromising God’s Word with fallible ideas of man. I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

Dr. Duff is just following the distorted historical analysis of the openly agnostic, apostate Seventh Day Adventist historian, Ronald Numbers (whom he refers to in the article). Young-earth creation is not a novel view invented by Seventh Day Adventists. It was historic Christian orthodoxy until the 19th century when the millions of years myth was popularized by atheist and deist geologists (and some professing Christian geologists who ignored Genesis), as is documented in the first three chapters of Coming to Grips with Genesis. In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years, but the young-earth “scriptural geologists” at that time raised biblical, geological, and philosophical arguments against those old-earth ideas and reinterpretations of Scripture, as The Great Turning Point documents.

Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not. He was interpreting the geological record using “biblical glasses,” just like the scriptural geologists did and as modern young-earth creationists do.

Here Ham has not only completely missed the point but he also betrays his distorted grasp of history. Firstly, there ought to be no suggestion that young earthism is a novel idea invented by Seventh Day Adventists; rather Adventists, through people like Whitcombe and Morris, helped to popularise it. Nevertheless, there clearly has been a marginal sectarian background of  Genesis literalism since its 18th-19th century demise and Ham was presumably in touch with the ultras of this background via his parents. That in itself proves little and is a distraction from the main point: That point is that the Seventh day Adventists via Whitcombe and Morris became a significant factor in the 1960s revival of young earthism. As Ham points out using his usual spiritual ad hominem (Ken Ham is a liberal user of spiritual ad hominem)":

In the early 19th century, most of the church quickly compromised with millions of years,...

...thereby effectively admitting to the histiorically marginal status of the so-called scriptural geologists. Ham says that he got his beliefs from his parents - quite possibly true as there is always a background of fundamentalist ultras to be found as Morteson's articles suggest. But so what? That doesn't change the fact that it was Morris and by implication Price who were  highly instrumental in the 60s revival of young earthism. In the light of this we can see that the following statements by Ham are either false, misleading or distortions:


FALSE CLAIM BY HAM: ...the false accusation that what we believe at AiG had its roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement with Ellen White.

MISLEADING CLAIM BY HAM: I was a creationist interested in teaching God’s Word in Genesis and opposing evolutionary ideas before I ever heard of Henry Morris or any others that Duff mentions who had an interest in the topic of origins, the Flood, and other issues in Genesis.

HAM'S DISTORTED STRAWMAN (BORDERING ON THE FALLACIOUS): Duff also incorrectly implies that Adventist George McCready Price invented the young-earth view and that it was merely modified by Whitcomb and Morris (authors of The Genesis Flood). But Price most definitely did not.

Did Price play an important role in the the young earthist revivals?  Price most definitely did!

I think we see here how modern Christian fundamentalists, through their insistence on anti-science concepts such as young earth, geocentricity and flat earth, have been rejected by both Christian and non-Christian academics alike and thereby these fundamentalists have backed themselves into an anti-establishmentarian culture. This in turn has made them a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theorism, so-called "libertarianism"** and Trumpkinism - an extreme example being professional Christian conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Fundamentalist "science" doesn't deserve to position itself as something on a par with contemporary mainstream Christian academia. It is, in fact, a throw back to pre-industrial Christianity. 

Footnotes:
* I found out later that the Jehovah's witnesses are not young earth although anti-evolution. As for the Brethren and Amish I haven't been able to get final confirmation either way.

** Libertarianism, so called, which affects to be the enemy of "oppressive big government" is a close relation of conspiracy theorism: For those marginalized fundamentalist communities and those disaffected with liberal government it is all too easy to start imagining government as the seat of malign Machiavellian conspirators. But I'm as cynical about phrases like "Small government libertarianism" as I am the "Dictatorship of the proletariat"; they are slogans used by disaffected & marginalised idealists, slogans which are then easily exploited by the power hungry as they elbow aside their retinue of starry eyed idealists and place themselves on the seat of power.