Saturday, November 24, 2012

Once Again: The False Dichotomy Zone: God did it vs. Deep time did it!

In my last post I remarked on Uncommon Descent’s Barry Arrington’s tendency to frame the question of creation within the “God did it vs. Evolution did it” dichotomy. Subsequently, I was very interested to see a blog post by Young Earth Creationist Jason Lisle where, as I’d expect, we find that he too promulgates a similar perspective.  Arrington, however, isn’t a YEC as far as I’m aware, but in spite of that the “God did it vs. Evolution did it” dichotomy is seductive enough to lure a wide spectrum of views; in fact the theological categories of some atheists betray a similar underlying structure.

In a post entitled “Deep time- the god of our age” and dated 9th November Lisle tells us:

However, by their actions, Deep Time disciples do indeed imbue him with personal characteristics and powers that only a conscious being can possess…..Consider (1) Deep Time has characteristics and powers that belong to God alone.  In fact, the parallels are truly amazing!  For example, Deep Time has the power of creation.  According to His followers, he has made stars, planets, and galaxies.  He has made canyons, and mountains.  Deep Time separated the continents and oceans.  He has made all living creatures through his servant – Evolution.  Indeed, Deep Time took the elements of this world, and from that dust he made man.  These are all powers and actions that are rightly reserved for God alone (Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 33:6, Job 38:4, Psalm 104:5-8, Genesis 1:9-10, Genesis 1:20-25, Genesis 2:7).

Lisle, of course, doesn’t believe in deep time but he nevertheless holds in his head the folk caricature that portrays the physical processes of deep time as truly creative powers rendering a Creator God redundant. Lisle is probably a fundamentalist by inheritance; that is, he was born and bred into a fundamentalism where he was taught to think of those physical processes as an imaginary pretender to God’s unique position as Creator. In Lisle’s fundamentalist mind the description of radical changes in the pattern of matter (such as gas to galaxies or elements to organisms) using physical algorithms is to render God redundant and to thereby threaten faith. In fact as he says above these are powers only a conscious being can possess. For Lisle it is an either/or choice between God and physical processes.

But there is no rational basis for Lisle’s distorted caricature of physical processes as a god pretender. So-called deep time is neither very deep nor capable of answering the profound questions about ultimate origins. A few billion years is completely swamped by the colossal dimensions of the combinatorial space in which we find living structures located. To locate those configurations or locate the rare physical regime capable of generating them (if such has a mathematical existence) is a task of extreme computational complexity, a task well beyond the resources of pure chance and our deep time.  “Deep time” leaves those questions of ultimate origin untouched. A back handed acknowledgement of this fact is the popular recourse to those multiverse scenarios that attempt (vainly I believe) to take the stress away from having to posit a cosmos that must be endowed with very peculiar and special conditions for it to work. “Deep Time” is certainly no god and cannot even be caricatured as such: Deep time is in fact a mere host that has been impressed with some very unique patterns of behaviour; that these patterns have been smeared out over a relatively short space of time is remarkable. But the fearful Lisle is not going to see it in these intellectually neutral terms; for a marginalized/persecuted YEC like Lisle the claimed output of deep time looks so suspiciously god-like that for him the question of creation is very much framed, as it is for Barry Arrington, by a dichotomy - in this case the specific dichotomy is being expressed as “God did it vs. deep time did it”. *

Another of Lisle’s naiveties is the common YEC misconception that separates out “historical science” (such as evolution) from “operational science” (such as physics):

  Although Deep Time has nothing to do with science, often the science and the stories are interleaved such that it can be difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends! 

YEC’s are unable to deny the success of the hard sciences like physics and chemistry, sciences which deal with present tense continuous processes. But natural history, of course, is anathema to YECs and so they attempt to drive a wedge between history and physics. But as Lisle admits above it can be difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends! There are good reasons for those difficulties of distinction, because all science is at once both highly historical and yet highly contemporaneous: The present tense continuous processes of physics are justified by a history of documented evidences, evidences that are in fact signals from the past. Moreover, new evidence never emanates from circumstances that exactly reproduce the past and so the interpretation of new evidence depends very much on a knowledge of history. Ergo, physics is grounded in history. And historical science is grounded in the present: Events long past leave a present tense continuous trace of evidence that can be used as test material. In both physics and history the logic of the general epistemic problem is the same: Viz. that of endeavouring to infer the form of an otherwise inaccessible structure from a set of data samples. Fundamentalist attempts to undermine “historical science” ultimately subverts both science and history and rides rough-shod over the assumption of a rational readable world.

Lisle’s thought life is impeded by a set of flawed stock arguments and concepts repeated endlessly in YEC circles. These he can’t or won’t think round; to question or review those stock arguments and concepts will smack of compromise and spiritual failure. In fact the chief polemical weapon in the fundamentalist’s armory is less reason than it is a deep resource of spiritual invective that is ready to use to impugn the consciences of Christians who question the YEC tradition. The following quotes speak for themselves:

Disciples of Deep Time worship him with reverence and awe.  They may deny this with their words, but their actions indicate that they do cherish this god above all others.  This makes sense: if indeed Deep Time does have the powers and abilities that his disciples attribute to him, then he should be worshiped…..Since Deep Time is so contrary in nature and actions to the God of Scripture, it is disappointing that many Christians attempt to honor and serve both of them……. It’s not that modern Christians want to give up the True God.  Rather, they simply want to add another god, one who is contrary in nature and actions to the Living God…... Remember reading of Baal?  Baal was the Canaanite god of weather and thunder.  The Israelites often fell into Baal worship, in violation of the First Commandment.  Elijah pointed out their absurd inconsistency in 1 Kings 18:21, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”  It was illogical for the Israelites to attempt to serve two contrary gods (and immoral).  Are we any different today when we try to add other gods to Christianity? No man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).  …..Those Christians who want to believe in Deep Time along with the biblical God are being dreadfully inconsistent.  They may claim that they serve the Lord alone, but by their actions they reveal that Deep Time is their primary god, and the Lord is secondary. 

According to Lisle Christian scientists like John Polkinghorne, Chris Isham, Ken Miller, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, John Lennox, and Francis Collins, (not to mention many Uncommon Descent contributors) are worshipers of a strange god who is contrary in nature to the living God. Lisle is accusing them of violating the first commandment and therefore of being little better than idolaters and worshippers of Baal; in fact Lisle implies that deep time is their primary god! Given that God is probably the most important thing in the life of these scientists we begin to appreciate how deeply a YEC is prepared to insult the faith of other Christians.

But to be fair to Lisle we need to put this sort of invective in context. Lisle is very much part of a minority, a minority he perceives as persecuted and having to fight discouragement:

Textbooks that fail to acknowledge the supreme lordship of Deep Time are not likely to be used, or even published.  Those who wish to work as professors must swear allegiance to Deep Time and His servant Evolution if they want to be hired……It can be discouraging to see so many Christians attempting to serve the pagan god Deep Time.  It often feels like the Christians who truly stand on God’s Word are so very few.  But we should remember that Elijah was discouraged as well.  In a time when he was afraid for his life, and thinking that he was the last faithful believer he cried out to God (1 Kings 19:14).  But the Lord responded, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18).  Think of this the next time you are discouraged about the rampant compromise within the Church.  How many more Christians has the Lord kept for Himself who have not bowed the knee to Deep Time?

Lisle does try hard to be logical and scientific, and his personality type favours a rational faith. But he is limited by the strictures of the inscribed-in-stone 6000 year time frame of fundamentalist Christianity, a stricture impelled with the kind of threatening spiritual language that we have seen above. Lisle is stuck with the legacies of his past; a born and bred YEC he is now trapped. Status and loyalty binds Lisle to his flock of admiring followers who look to him as a champion against the encroaching philosophy of profane science. Therefore Lisle is unable turn his back on them without a great betrayal apparently taking place. It is probably too late for Lisle to change; his boats were burnt long ago. Thus Lisle finds himself very much locked in to a reactionary and anachronistic cultural minority not unlike the Amish. But for the Amish a self-imposed separation insulates them from the grief and aggravation that comes through intercultural contact. But this is not an option for YECs who are committed to doing all they can to convert Christians to their 6000 year time scale, But if they are making such little headway with Christians what hope do they have with secularists? No wonder Lisle is discouraged!

Fundamentalists like Lisle are apt to regard those who are not with them as being against them and in their spiritual conceit they see those who are against them as necessarily also against God. Not surprisingly then for the marginalized fundamentalist evil appears to lurk round every corner and they view the world beyond their cultural boundaries as totally depraved. Consequently, a profound distrust colours and pervades their perception of their social surroundings and this makes them susceptible to the paranoia and false dichotomies of conspiracy theory(Also see hereFor fundamentalists the creation question is also cast into the mold of a false dichotomy: Either one accepts  the YEC view of God as a magician who speaks creation into existence or one is in danger of entering the eternal fire for believing  nonsense about creation somehow being able to create  itself!

Addendum 01/12/12: Fundie 'Elder Statesman' Breaks Rank!
An indication of the isolation of YECs comes from a video posted on PZ Myers' blog (A very useful source on  the state of American fundamentalism). In this video we find Pat Robertson, an "Elder Statesman" of American right wing Christianity, disowning Young Earth Creationism. This is what Robertson says:
If you fight revealed science, you’re going to lose your children! And I believe in telling them the way it was.
As far as I'm aware Robertson is influential so this looks to be good news. But then given the number of pathetic "prophetic" gaffs he's known for this could be a  mixed blessing.

Note 9/03/13  The following is a quote I have recently picked up from a fundamentalist:  "....the big bang is a secular idea to try to explain the universe without God! ". In this fundamentalist's mind those who believe in big bang are, as we have also seen in the case of Lisle above, being accused of setting up an alternative to creation by God. This straw man is being wrongly foisted on Christians who accept established science and who see the cosmic story as simply a description of a natural history rather than the god pretender portrayed in these fundamentalist's distorted caricature. The "God did it vs. Naturalism did it" is a dichotomy that is very much centre stage in the fundamentalists mindset.

* In his post Lisle attempts to press home his argument against deep time with a moral argument about the dispassionate cruelty of physical processes. This is essentially a question bound up with problem of evil and suffering, an issue I’m certainly not touching here except to say that it is as much a problem post-Adam as it is pre-Adam. 

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