Friday, May 23, 2014

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society on Creation

To complete my recent series on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their governing organ, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, what could be more appropriate for this blog than a couple of articles taken from the March 2014 Awake! Magazine containing instructions from the Watchtower telling JWs how they should think about creation. Please find below photos of the articles concerned, and very revealing they are too.

The Watchtower tells JWs what to believe on creation (Click to enlarge).

Here are my comments:

ONE) Notice that the WT articles disparagingly refer to “creationists and fundamentalists” as if the WT and their followers aren't creationists and fundamentalists themselves!  The WT are every bit as fundamentalist, as say, Answers in Genesis and more: In fact, I would refer to them as fundamentalist++! The reason for the “plus plus” is that the WT and their followers constitute a cult in as much as the WT claims to have exclusive rights to the autocratic theocratic management of Christian observance. They carry out this management using the spiritual and psychological duress common to cults (See my first post of this series). As a rule you will find that fundamentalists are unable to see themselves reflected in other fundamentalist cultures and will completely disown these cultures as wilfully in error. They can do this without seeing the irony because they have a complete and unself-critical conviction that their brand of fundamentalism is set apart from all them others because, needless to say, they claim to have The Absolute Truth.
TWO) Notice that the WT accepts the scientific consensus on the age of the Earth. Is this a good thing or bad thing? Probably a bad thing because this will put them in an advantaged position as compared to the crackpot science of YECs like AiG:  JWs can smugly and plausibly claim that they are not anti-science! So anybody of a fundamentalist frame of mind can become a JW and perhaps feel a bit better about it. After all, it seems that the YECs are in an eccentric minority even in America: As YEC Ken Ham of AiG has recently admitted in one of his blog posts, old-Earth Christians have a position regarding Genesis [that] is the norm and not the exception among Christian academia today. So the WT can claim to be on the side of the broad swathe of academia in contradiction to dime store pundits like Ken Ham.

THREE) But the WT is not happy about evolution and only allows variation within “kinds”. Well, admittedly evolution’s power, when it is badly sold as a something-for-nothing process that “poofs” organized structures out of a huge sea of pure randomness is not only counter intuitive, but is actually wrong, so it's not surprising if the WT achieve some traction here. In fact, we find that like many of the writers on the “Intelligent Design” website Uncommon Descent the WT's reasons for rejecting evolution are dualist. Quoting from the Awake! article:
The theory of evolution is also embraced by many who claim to accept the Bible as the word of God. They believe that God produced the first burst of life on earth but then simply monitored, and perhaps steered, the process of evolution. That however, is not what the Bible says….According to the Bible, Jehovah God created all the basic kinds…..”
The foregoing is based on an implicit and false dichotomy between the actions of God and the processes of the natural order. These views of the WT are comparable to the views expressed by Uncommon Descent’s V J Torley. (See here)


Regarding creation, on the whole the JWs look a lot better (unfortunately!) than the panicked anti-science YEC fundamentalists who gained some ground during the 1960s when Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic started to face some strong intellectual challenges and a sense of alienation and marginalization set in. It is probably not a coincidence that the JWs date their restoration of “The Truth” back to the late nineteenth century long before the age of the Earth was noticeably on the agenda amongst Christians; in fact the original early 20 century fundamentalists did not by and large believe in a 6000 year old Earth.* In the late nineteenth century when the JWs were forming end time prophecy seemed to be the hot issue and not creation. However, it is interesting to note that the WT’s specialism on date fixing was something they “caught” from Adventist Jonas Wendell. Perhaps it is significant that today’s fundamentalist YECs also “caught” their views from an Adventist: George McCready Price.

* According to Wiki the Watchtower’s founder Charles Taze Russell’s production “The Photo Drama of Creation”:
….purports that the seven creative 'days' in the Book of Genesis equal 49,000 years, based on Russell's belief that each creative day lasts 7,000 years. It further claims that 48,000 years had already passed, such that the final thousand years were "near at hand".


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Systems Theory and Religious Cults.

Rule by Divine Right:"Theocratic" is one way to spin "autocratic"

This post follows on from my last post on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m going to hark back to the 70s and 80s when I was scrutinising the cult world. At that time I produced many rambling hand written notes on a systems theory approach to cults. In this post I want to boil some of that down to its essentials.

As I investigated the world of Christian cults and the strict regimes of observance they imposed on their personnel I started playing with the idea that cults constitute a kind of organism whose basic unit of construction were human beings. My thoughts went as follows:

Cults are in effect “collective identities” in as much as their unit building blocks (people in this case) are highly organised in terms of their uniformity of practice and belief. It is this high organisation that gives cult personnel a collective pattern which sets them apart from their environment. We know from our studies of organic structures that this kind of organisation requires cybernetic circuits to be in place in order to maintain the organisation in the face of the randomly perturbing and disrupting effects of the environment. Biological organisms not only need the instructions found in DNA but also a controlling nexus of feedback circuits necessary to read and implement those instructions and thus preserve bodily identity. These two cybernetic features also appear in cults, as we shall see.

To us as individuals the collective identity of our myriad bodily cells is bound up with our conscious survival as sentient beings; in fact as far as human values are concerned we would probably agree that the individual cellular units, like the individual insects of an ants nest, serve the greater whole rather than the whole serving the units. In fact in order to maintain the much valued collective identity of our bodies, cells grow, serve and die; but that doesn't matter as long as the integrity of the body remains intact. This means that if it were a choice between the overall identity of the body and the survival of the myriad individual cells, the corporate body comes first. In terms of human values cells are there only to serve the corporeal system identity whereas the high level corporeal system only serves the cells in so far as they continue to provide effective service that preserves the overall bodily identity. In a sense the body is a kind of meta-level parasite on the life of cells, cells which live and die for the body not unlike the individual ants of an ant’s nest. The body has an identity by virtue of its organised pattern but the individuality of the cells that make up this organisation is all but immaterial; you could replace huge numbers of cells but the essential organised identity of the body would remain. The human body in this sense is a bit like a data pattern where the exact medium on which that pattern is impressed has a limited relevance.

If we now set these basic ideas up against the cults we find, ominously, something similar; the cult collective identity seems to have precedence over the interests of its basic units of construction, that is, its personnel. This personnel serves the system, and the system only serves the personnel in order to facilitate their active maintenance of the whole. The collective identity of the cult has a kind of moral precedence over its unit member’s quality of life. The cult identity is therefore a meta-level parasite that embraces its hosts rather like the human body is a “meta-parasitic” on its host cells.

It was thinking like this that started me wondering if cult systems almost constitute a new form life, a form of life made up of human units. This notion isn't entirely new; the idea that ant’s nests form a super-organism has been mooted before and my idea about cults had a similar look about it. As with organisms like the human body, the individual units of  a cult only count in so far as they promote overall system identity and as such their quality of life is not paramount: Cult personnel are fed a deceptive and often a very intimidating line in order to keep them in place and serving well. In bad cases these personnel lose all their freedom of choice and can almost become slaves. But a collective group pressure and group think keeps them in place.

The case of Raymond Franz (ex JW governing body member) reveals a lot about the cult dynamic in this respect. It shows that a cult can tolerate a turnover of membership even in high level personnel and yet the cult identity remain in place - just as there is a large turnover of cells in the body and yet the overall identity of the body remains stable. If the human hosts of the cult become a problem and threaten cult identity, then provided these problem personnel don’t exceed a certain threshold in number, the cult can excrete them as waste as can be seen in the Raymond Franz case. But in spite of Raymond Franz’ loss to the JW organisation his contribution to it in terms of the many anonymous articles he wrote in support of the Watchtower during his enthusiastic and loyal tenure probably remain there to this day. In other words he has left the cult a supporting legacy which can still be used to mobilise and galvanise gullible recruits. The cult, therefore, has life of its own, apart from its individual recruits.

The teachings and doctrines of which governing body member Franz was a major contributor are the equivalent of the DNA of the organisation; they provide instruction on the expected belief and practice of its members. This observance based faith is essential to the structural integrity of the organisation; after all it is ultimately the collective behaviour of the cult's personnel that defines the cult's collective identity. This essential observance is maintained by a reporting and discipline system that aims to keep transgressions within the standards of the cult. The information that comes from headquarters also provides the valuable service of responding to the philosophical challenges faced by Kingdom Halls in their local and national context. Instruction on how to think about the hot issues of the day are found in the Awake and Watchtower magazines and in the many Bible study aids all of which are sold by the Watchtower to its Kingdom Halls; in short, the Watchtower followers have to buy the information that keeps them in line. As my accompanying pictures show the JW system is very hierarchical and this facilitates the up and down flow of the information which promotes a strict uniformity of belief and practice between Kingdom Halls. This two way flow of information up and down the hierarchy constitutes the cybernetic circuits of the system.

In as much as the essential organised pattern of the cult is maintained by its internal systems it is a self-perpetuating pattern that sucks in the lives of its host human organisms. The cult is, as it were, a kind of “wave” form that travels through its human media impressing its pattern on this medium at least for a while and then, may be, “excretes” this medium from its back end when it has finished with it. In the face of an inevitable membership turnover it is the corporate identity that is the meaning of life, the universe and everything as far as the cult is concerned. That identity lives to survive and survives to live; it is stuck in a self serving feedback loop. But as a parasite on human life it can have the effect of degrading their quality of life and can turn them into wretched slaves of the system.

In the light of these considerations I gave up on any notion that the cult is some kind of conspiracy complete with an illuminati whose aim in life is to deceive and control those they rule. No, the leaders of the cult, as Franz has shown, are just as taken by their own propaganda as the rank and file; that the cult’s leaders genuinely believe their own teaching makes them far more persuasive. The concept of a controlling illuminati is a human attempt to personify what is in effect entirely impersonal, namely the cult system, a system that is a huge parasitic pattern praying on familiar human weaknesses and fallibilities Those weaknesses and fallibilities are legion; human epistemological limitations, and human traits like the need for security, belonging to an elite fellowship of confidants, paranoia, pride, vanity, self centred ambition, sleaze, ignorance and incompetence.

The kind of conspiracies envisaged by conspiracy theorists is in one sense far too moral in an inverted way to explain the success of a cult. A cult with an illuminati conspiracy at its head would require a very disciplined integrity of purpose amongst them, albeit a purpose directed against non-initiates. It is ironic that the grand conspiracies envisaged by conspiracy theorists are in a sense too “moral” for the untidy, erratic and oft self-centred behaviour of human beings. It is ironic that the real enemy is not some highly intellectual conspiracy which in terms of looking after its own interests is also very moral, but rather the impersonal chaoskampf *or chaos monster of insentient beast-like systems that so easily seduce and corrupt us by appealing to the baser aspects of our nature. All those apparent conspiratorial cover ups have a ready explanation in terms of our common human  failings and the temptation to cover up our own fallible nature and make good our pride. The conspiracy theorist seeks to personify otherwise difficult to comprehend forces that exploit fallible human nature. The cult model is a warning paradigm for all those cases where we feel alienated from systems which aren't serving us well and instead we feel that we are serving them.

* The idea of chaoskampf leads us into a connected complex of ideas in mythology and legend:  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society

The JWs: Genuine, kitschy but not authentic

By 1985 I had been studying the Jehovah’s Witnesses intermittently for over five years. This study had included visits to the local Kingdom Hall, and the JW assemblies at Norwich City football ground, along with talks and correspondence with Kingdom Hall members. I can say straight away that all I saw left me with the overwhelming impression of a culture that reeked of flawed human motivation. I saw a repertoire of unconscious and self-inflicted tricks exploiting the human vulnerability for soaking up typical conceits and self-deceits: In particular a “swallow whole and digest slowly” world view was served up on an enticing plate. Like so many other religious package deals this included promises of banishing ambiguity with spiritual authority and of being part of a spiritual elite who have turned their back on the cold evil outside world and are now moving in the warmth and security of a caring off-the-peg-community. That community is overseen by a presiding patriarchy claiming to be in touch with absolute Truth. All one has to do in return is to sell up (figuratively speaking, but sometimes literally as well) and let that patriarchal spiritual authority do all your thinking for you. All you need think about is trying to understand the message proffered and to become a proficient single minded salesperson of the sect.  Basically it’s the same old, same old story repeated again and again by every Christian sect/cult between here and Salt Lake City. All these cult people no doubt mean well, but in the final analysis it’s the usual story of epistemically challenged humanity throwing up their hands, abdicating epistemic responsibility and seeking the security of clear cut, definitive and authoritative answers; and of course there’s no shortage of egotistical religionists (sometimes boarder line mentally ill) who claim to have those answers and will loudly pronounce everyone else to be fundamentally wrong! These religionists offer an all-or-nothing faith package none of which is negotiable. Any persistent attempt to negotiate any part of it is taken as a sign of disobedience to the Almighty himself. One is required to accept the whole package without argument or else be damned!

It was in 1985 that I came across Raymond Franz’ book “Crisis of Conscience”, a book published in 1983. Franz was onetime governing body member of the Watchtower publishing organisation. It is this organisation that provides the JW Kingdom Halls with detailed instructions about their observance of belief and practice. Franz’ book tells the story of his disillusionment with this organisation and his eventual break with it. As with all religious cults that try to envelop their members lives so totally, breaking with them can be a painful  business as Franz’ book confirms. I can recommend this book to all cult watchers.

In order to capture what I myself had got from the book in 1985 I typed up a five page summary of my personal take-home lessons. This article is now in computer readable format, and can be downloaded from here.

.  It picks up on some general characteristics that as it turns out are common to all cults/sects and even, I’m bound to add, characteristics that can be found (albeit in a less pronounced precursory form) amongst fundamentalists and perhaps even some moderate evangelical Christians.

I have to admit that having been a long time watcher of Christianity in its cult forms I find the whole phenomenon disturbing; in fact I’m reminded of the sinister legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. That story probably has a basis in some real event, an event which prompted a Hamlin town chronicler to record in 1384 the macabre entry: “It is a 100 years since our children left”; if as some have suggested this was a reference to the Children’s Crusade it is all the more appropriate to my case*. The idea behind the Pied Piper legend is that of some kind of spell being worked to make people leave their homes apparently voluntarily. But with today’s communications secrets are difficult to keep even in the control freak atmosphere of a cult and so the spell that these cults work on their members can be scrutinised and analysed. I think it important to emphasise the metaphor of a “spell”; for I believe it is wrong to accuse cult members of lying as they appear to have been seduced by a self-deceit.

My article has four sections that, as I have subsequently learned, describe features common to other cults and which are part of the cult dynamic. So here then is a brief summary of those sections which are admirably exemplified by the JW Kingdom halls and their controlling publishing organisation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Section 1: Unaccountable authority: The sect leaders think of themselves as stewards of an institutional authority that should not to be gainsaid.
Section 2: The clash with reality: The account that the cult provides of the world around them often does not match up well against reality itself. In the case of the Watchtower this is seen in the repeated failure of their anticipated end time history to correspond with real events. (Since writing my article in 1985 I note that the Watchtower has given up on its prediction that “the end of this system of things” would come within one generation of 1914)
Section 3: Spiritual spin: The leaders have to find a way to account for the intellectual dissonance that may result of their failure. They therefore engage in what today we might call “spiritual spin”, that is, they give the story a spin that in the first instance attempts to explain the failure away. After that they rely on silence and short memories; new recruits are not informed of the failures since nobody talks about them.
Section 4: Character defamation. The sect/cult believes that world beyond their community is depraved and in particular those who take a robust stand against their observances are thought of as especially depraved. It is therefore a very natural part of the sect/cult mind-set to believe that those who attack them must do so because they are sold-out to the darkness of evil and are on the wrong side of the Almighty. They therefore feel entirely justified in abusing detractors by accusing them of heinous sin. For people outside of the cult this equivalent of name calling may be just water off a duck’s back, but for members  who are held thrall to the cult spell and whose lives have been so thoroughly socially immersed in the cult this is a real threat: It provides a frightening example of what will happen to you if you contradict the cult authorities; one is cast into the outer darkness, or "hell" if you like. This moral abuse, I feel, is an important part of the cult dynamic. For cults that don’t have economic control over their subjects this social control is the main means of coercion; one is effectively “burnt” with words of moral disapprobation, the equivalent of the heretic’s pyre! In this connection, whenever I approached JWs about Raymond Franz I found that they automatically concluded he was a sinner and liar. The upshot was that this completely blocked even so much as a cursory examination of the evidence. So let’s be clear: Unless cult members proactively seek you out there is probably little point in you trying to “de-convert” them: To them you are guilty until proved innocent. If they do seek you out it may be a sign they are already having doubts. So let them take the initiative first, but be ready for them when they come your way.

Postscript: At the time I was studying the WT and other cults I was moving in evangelical circles. What began to disturb me in those early days of my faith was that the sort of thing I was seeing amongst the JWs and these cults I also found, albeit in milder form, in some of the stronger versions of evangelicalism and especially in evangelicalism’s fundamentalist communities. For example, I note that AiG supremo Ken Ham is very much into 4 above… those who disagree with him he will paint as morally flawed compromisers. But that is another (long) story.

Relevant Link:

* If 1284 is the date when the Children of Hamlin left, then this is actually too late for the Children's crusade story which is dated circa 1212. Another theory is that the Children were lost to "Dancing Mania", a social phenomenon that occurred in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries (according to Wiki). As I read up on the subject it is clear that once again we are ham-strung by epistemological limitations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

YEC Star Light Problem: Recent News on Lisle’s ASM Solution.

Fundamentalist Christian and YEC guru Jason Lisle has yet to publish his promised blog posts on the relation between gravity and his solution to the YEC starlight problem.  So, I thought, I’d better keep the matter on the simmer just in case it gets forgotten. Lisle’s promise of blog posts are found in a comment he added to one of his other posts. In this same comment he also gives us his one liner refutation of the objection that his cosmology entails a gravitational field:

Missing gravitational field: I had already planned to deal with this in detail in a future blog entry. But the short answer is: no, ASC does not require a gravitational field. It is simply a coordinate transformation from the ESC. And coordinate transformations do not introduce any real forces.

Well yes, you can do almost anything with coordinate systems. In some coordinate systems objects can look completely distorted or time can run backwards. So, right, ASC doesn't generate a gravitational field. But as Lisle will tell us there is a difference between his Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC) and his Anisotropic Synchrony Model. It is when Lisle moves over to a model rather than a mere convention that the question of a gravitational field ultimately arises.

Below I've reproduced one of Lisle’s recent blog comments that impinge on this matter along with my inevitable interleaved comments. (See the comments section of his post titled Are you Epistemologically Self-Conscious? and dated 6 September 2013)

LISLE: Hello and welcome back.

My Comment: Welcome back? I'm not sure Lisle is the sort of person to whom I could reciprocate a welcome. I don’t think he compares well with the more self-critical and self-aware YECs one finds on Uncommon Descent and others like Paul Nelson who, as far as I can tell, are reasonable evangelicals unlikely to assassinate detractors character's on the heretic's pyre. Lisle, on the other hand, comes out of the “hell and hamnation” stable of AiG and Ken Ham, where we find an abrasive religious ethos. Here a strict observance based faith means that charges of heresy and disobedience to God’s very words come as naturally as the bad language used in some secularist circles. (See here and here for example). Lisle, like Ken Ham, takes his cue from Romans 1 and is likely to believe that those who disagree with him are wilfully suppressing the truth in unrighteousness; this belief has the effect of sanctioning the wanton character defamation of detractors.

LISLE There has been much confusion regarding the difference between the anisotropic synchrony convention (ASC), and the anisotropic synchrony model (ASM). The conventionality thesis notes that the one-way speed of light is not measurable and not even meaningful apart from a defined synchrony convention – and such a convention is tantamount to defining the one-way speed of light. In other words, we get to choose the one-way speed of light (within certain constraints) and then this tells us how to synchronize clocks. The ASC convention has the one-way speed of light moving infinitely fast toward a given observer (not necessarily earth, though it happens that all human observers are currently on earth). Thus, ASC, by itself, does not require any special position for anything in the universe. If an observer were in the Andromeda Galaxy M31, he would measure light moving infinitely fast toward him, if he uses ASC. So, ASC does not require anything in the universe to be in a special position.
When it comes to conventions, we are free to choose. We can use ASC, or the more commonly used Einstein Synchrony Convention (ESC). As long as we are consistent, all physics will be self-consistent and consistent with all observations. It’s just as we can use the metric system or the English system to measure distances. However, if we are to switch systems, we must do a conversion

My comment: Nothing wrong here, and he is right about the confusions of ASC and ASM. But therein is the rub; Lisle’s ignorant lay followers are so totally fazed by it all that they think Lisle has worked an intellectual miracle by pulling an infinite speed of light out of the hat. It’s what Lisle doesn't tell them that’s the problem. In particular, notice the sentence about M31; nothing wrong with that technically but to the layman it shields the cosmic asymmetry in Lisle’s ASM. This asymmetry comes out very clearly in Sam Trendholme’s elegant thought experiment. According to Lisle’s ASC model it follows that at this moment in time light (and presumably gravity?) from our galaxy hasn't yet reached M31, but clearly not vice versa. This asymmetry leads to Lisle’s irrational cosmological model where he has to posit in-transit-signal-creation .  
LISLE: My theory is that the Bible uses the ASC system and not the ESC system, partly because the latter was not invented or used until very recent times. But ASC was implicitly used by all ancient cultures. Since the Bible was written to be understood, it would make sense for the Lord to use the ASC system which could have been understood at any time in any culture, and to use Earth as the point of reference.

My comment: Does the Bible use ASC? I once thought that this statement by Lisle was at least arguable, but on second thoughts I'm not so sure. The writers of those ancient times probably thought that distant events are notified to sight across space instantaneously in all directions – translating that in our modern terms this implies a two-way instantaneous transmission of a signal. But having said that I suspect the ancients didn't even think in terms of a signal travelling to the eye but rather in terms of a direct and instantaneous apprehension of an object. For example, I have recently published a blog post on a primitive YEC who seems to have an intuitive view of sight notification as a two-way instantaneous affair and which doesn't involve the transmission of a signal. So, the implicit human historical meanings that lay behind the Biblical text are likely to be wrong with respect to modern scientific ontology; these ancients may well have thought in terms of a two-way instantaneous sight notification. But then Genesis is not to be judged against the criteria of modern scientific ontology but rather the common sense ontology of pre-scientific writers who were concerned with mythological religious polemic and wouldn't know what Lisle was talking about if he told them they were using ASC!

LISLE: Any system of synchronization must specify a reference position (by ASC) or a reference velocity (by ESC). There is no getting around that because of the physics of relativity – e.g. there is no absolute, observer-independent synchrony scheme. Assuming that I'm right, and the Bible uses ASC, then when the text states that God made the stars on the fourth day of the creation week, this would mean that they were all created at the same time by ASC reckoning from Earth’s position. And they would be instantly visible to anyone on Earth. On the other hand, if the Bible uses ESC and the stars were made on day 4 by ESC reckoning, then this means that the stars were made at the same time as defined by Earth’s velocity on day 4. So either way, the Earth is used as a reference frame for our benefit. This does not necessarily imply a special position for Earth (though it does not deny it either).

My Comment: Yes, ASC doesn't imply a general geocentricity in itself, but ASM certainly does!

LISLE: Now, why should we accept ASM? Well, it’s a model and not something that the Bible directly teaches. So perhaps we shouldn't. However, I think it is the model that is the most consistent with the data and compatible with the history recorded in Scripture. You asked if there are reasons outside my interpretation of Scripture. First, my interpretation of Scripture is not the issue, but rather how the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. It could be that I'm mistaken in my reading of the text and if I have violated a rule of hermeneutics, I welcome correction. In any case, I believe the text is quite clear that God created the universe in 6-days, with the stars being made on the fourth day. Since God was the only one there at the time, it makes sense to rely upon His testimony of the events.

My Comment: Here Lisle does no justice to the fact that Genesis, like the rest of the Bible, was penned in the context of a people who no doubt had a very different understanding of their world to ourselves – this, what is to us an alien understanding, is implicit in the meaning behind the Biblical texts. But like a lot of other Westerners Lisle will likely be a dualist who underrates the immanence of God, a God who is Sovereign in managing the choreography of all that happens under the Sun (and we must add in this day and age, and well beyond the Sun!). This management will cover all those delicately poised neural thresholds in the human mind, a mind that in an act of mythological creation wrote the first chapters of Genesis as a polemical attack on the religion of the day .

Notice Lisle’s common fundamentalist misconception of Bible reading, viz: "The Scriptures interprets Scripture." This is an epistemic cliché that does the rounds in fundamentalist circles and which is seldom critically scrutinised. It is based on an unspoken motivation to make the scriptures a kind of self-contained closed universe of meaning and interpretation. But Scripture being language does not literally “contain” meaning. Meaning is an extrinsic not intrinsic property of language, a property which it gains through its relationship with its context. The Scriptural texts are, in fact, sequences of symbolic triggers of meaning that necessarily exploit the resources of their social and cultural environment in order to generate that meaning. Like many fundamentalists Lisle’s understanding of language is still at the kind of primitive stage that corresponds to this YEC’s concept of sight notification.  Like sight itself Scripture is not a direct revelation of God that does without intervening layers of signal and interpretation; by its very nature, being language, Scripture cannot work in a cultural vacuum. The upshot is that humanity’s appropriation of revelation through scripture is still partial (1 Corinthians 13).

And finally let me just note in passing that trying to tie hermeneutics down to a set of "rules" is also rather silly.

LISLE: Second, apart from the Scriptures, there would be no basis for science anyway. That is, we would have no rational justification for the inductive principle upon which all science is based. As a clumsy analogy, it’s a bit like saying, “apart from data collected in telescopes, do we really have any good reasons to believe in most of what we read in astronomy textbooks?” Perhaps not. But then again, there really is no good reason to reject the data collected in telescopes any more than there is any good reason to reject the history recorded in the Bible. Rejecting either would undermine our rational confidence in knowing just about anything about astronomy.

My Comment: I may have a general sympathy with Lisle here: Without a belief in God as a benevolent and personal benefactor we lose a cognitive corner stone which means our thinking, epistemology, concomitant ontologies and the whole basis of our rationality have a tendency to crumble into nihilism along with all that we think we know. And yet, ... and yet Lisle presides over his irrational signal-creation-in-transit cosmology!

LISLE: Third, putting aside the above points, ASM accounts for observations in a way that is better than secular models – such as the expectation of evidences of “youth” at all distances in space. By “youth” I mean things that cannot last billions of years, such as spiral galaxies or blue O-type stars. And indeed, these are found at all distances in space.

My Comment: Notice that Lisle doesn't tell us what precisely classifies as “youth”. After all, recall that as far as Lisle is concerned anything much over 10,000 years old would classify as “old” and conflict with his views. As far as I'm aware not enough is yet known about galactic dynamics to start making pronouncements about a 6000 year old universe. Moreover, even if galaxies “wind up” they would take millions of years, and not a mere 6000 years, to do so!  But YECs like Lisle are on an anti-science crusade and it is therefore deemed sufficient by them to simply engage in a negative attack on established science without coming up with any positive evidence for a 6000 year old universe. (See here for similar misconceptions: )

LISLE: Fourth, although ASM does not require Earth to be in any special position, there is indeed evidence suggesting that our solar system has a privileged position in the universe. This is the research project I'm working on currently here at ICR. And we have not yet completed our analysis, but hope to have some results in a few months. So stay tuned.

My comment: Surely Lisle must have meant to write “ASC” rather than “ASM”? …..because clearly his ASM is radically geocentric! As Lisle makes clear in his original paper, ESC requires the Earth to be near the centre of a set of concentric shells of creation that would have started at the outer reaches of the cosmos billions of years ago, with finally the Earth’s immediate vicinity only being created around 6000 years ago. This, of course, means that light from the vicinity of the Earth (and presumably gravitational influence as well?) hasn't reached beyond a shell of 6000 light years! The rest of the universe can’t yet see us or feel(?) us! Radically asymmetric indeed! So, I'm not at all surprised that Lisle is lurching toward a form of geocentrism.  In fact might he be looking for that gravitational field after all?!

LISLE: I hope this helps.

My comment: Helped? Most likely it has help lead Lisle’s followers, who hang on his words, further up the garden path of confusion. Like garden paths in general, it’s going nowhere.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Yet Another YEC Starlight "Solution": But he can’t be serious! Oh yes he is!

 PZ Myers and his followers;  always eager to bite YEC butt

I see that another Young Earth Creationist has braved the piranha infested pond of PZ Myers blog and has even had the honour of being snapped at by the King Piranha himself. But this scientifically illiterate YEC, brushing aside all the technical expertise (if such it can be called) thrown at the starlight problem by the likes of say Answers in Genesis, breezily advances his own idiosyncratic “solution” to this problem. Quoting from Myers blog this is his take on the matter:  

I’m willing to be proven wrong on this, but I don’t believe that starlight is something that actually physically travels to earth, in order for us to see it. I think that light is emitted from an energy source, and if the amount of energy released as light is enough, the object will be bright enough for our eyes to see it from earth. I don’t buy when someone argues that starlight has been traveling for billions of years to get here. Feel free to prove me wrong by proving the current understanding of light travel, but no one else so far has been able to address this without just throwing more theoretical BS at it
….. I don’t use it (that is, Variable Speed of Light theory - ed) personally, but I’d imagine that you can get an approximate distance, using the speed of light as measured in a vacuum. The constancy of the speed of light is really the secondary problem though. The main problem I have is with the “transit” part. If your ideas about light travel are true, you should be able to catch some of these photons from a distant star of your choosing, and ship them to me with a note telling me which star they’re from. Once I open the container, those photons jump into my eyes, and I see your star, I will come on to Pharyngula AND DDO, publicly admit my ignorance on light travel, and issue an apology, as well as reimburse you for any shipping costs.
Any takers, or are you guys just going to grumble about how ignorant the challenge is and make excuses for why it’s not possible to meet the challenge?? That seems to be the MO here for many of you, or the few of you and your puppet accounts, whichever the case may be.

But wait a minute; is this guy for real? Is he just a troll stirring Myers' piranha pond in order to work up a feeding frenzy for his amusement?  Who knows: The state of fundamentalist creationism looks so suspiciously like some kind of April fool’s send up that it’s difficult to tell. But parody or not, either way it’s a sign of fundamentalism’s intellectual bankruptcy; their “serious” solutions are farcical enough to make them indistinguishable from parody…. and vice versa. But actually I think this YEC is the real deal; any good parodist is probably too intelligent to be able to sink down to the level of replicating such incoherence.

For this YEC it’s just common sense that anything travelling to the eye could be captured in a box and exhibited. The idea that a photograph of a distant star sent to him in the post is a record of captured energy from the star is far too subtle for him. To him we see objects simply because they are “bright enough” and it has nothing to do with signalling. He is still under the cognitive delusion that blinds him to the fact that the world only makes sense because we proactively interpret the signals it sends us. We see the world through very active cognitive centres; these centres work so well and the world beyond is so rational that we are delivered the sensation of a rationality that resides entirely beyond us, out there, signals or no signals;. In short our cognitive processing is so seamless in its connection with the rest of creation that we feel we are directly witnessing what is out there. It is no surprise then that this particular fundamentalist looks as though he thinks that his perception of the stars is direct and has no need of signals. He cannot see round his cognitive interface; he cannot see that interface, instead he sees through it.

Religious fundamentalists seem to have an across-the-board cognitive immaturity which means they are blind to both the cosmos’s rationality and to the highly complex processes in our minds which proactively appropriate that rationality* from the signals it sends us. But as far as this latest YEC is concerned one may as well try and instruct a five year old in the theory of radiation.  No surprise then that Myers’ readers simply find selves reduced to snapping as the only way of teaching numskulls like this a lesson.

This YEC has complete contempt for the story of science as the cumulative effort of many scientists who have collectively constructed the theoretical edifice of science bit by bit. To this man it’s all just so much “Bullsh*t” and is completely trumped by his native "common sense". He is typical of the North American frontiersman ethos, where a self-reliant can-do attitude leads to the scorning of the communal efforts represented by public domain science. To such obsessively practical and individually minded people any attempt to cooperate communally smacks of Marxist collectivism. To them well governed communities look more like conspiracies and high theory is written off as bunk. But amongst Biblical literalists an attitude of contempt for public domain science is not just for the unsophisticated: YEC astronomer John Byl also holds the collective effort embodied in current cosmological theory in contempt.  

Sometimes I wonder if these unknowing and merry clowns have been sent to perform in front of cynical straight man PZ Myers in order to provoke his vicious line in biting commentary and give us some cutting edge comedy. In fact I have confess that when Myers reacts to the latest excesses of fundamentalists, it's some of the best comedy I've seen!

Relevant links on Myers blog:
Other relevant links  

* The poor grasp that Biblical literalists have of the fact that the Bible must be proactively interpreted in order to be understood seems to be part of the same cognitive malady.


Addendum 09/05/14Here is some more text from PZ Myers client “clown”. I suspect that many less scientifically illiterate YECs would be embarrassed by this incoherent clap-trap:

Like I told the people on DDO that I was discussing this with, if you’re going to honestly try to understand my position, you have to let go of certain assumptions that you currently have because the ideas are not going to be in perfect harmony. I’m challenging some things, about the current understanding, that are taken as axiomatic but are actually just assumptions.
First off, you have to understand that starlight doesn’t physically “travel” here, or “arrive” here, from distant stars. I think it’s nonsense that light left an object billions of years ago and “traveled” all this way across the universe, to bombard our eyeballs with little packets of energy which are believed to be physical things that don’t have a rest mass (huh?). I don’t buy that we’re “looking back in time” and seeing objects as they existed millions of years ago. Such a theory requires you to believe that you can still see light from an object that may not have existed for millions of years, which is absurd. The universe doesn’t have to be so counter-intuitive.
When you look into the night sky and see a star, you are viewing it in real time, as it exists that night, which requires that vision actually play a role in “viewing” something. Most people that discuss this issue seem to believe that it’s all physics, photons, and they view space as a big cosmo-discotheque. They seem to forget about the eye, brain, and complex neurology that also plays a very big role.
It doesn’t matter if there is an infinite number of photons, from an infinite number of stars that are coming at you from all directions and arriving at the same time, you are still only going to see the stars that are within your field of vision. Even if photons coming from stars directly behind you could pass you by, do a U-turn, and come back toward you, you still won’t see those stars. Those photons won’t do you a bit of good because the stars are outside your field of vision. The obvious question then is, if photons and light travel control what we’re able to see in space, why does our field of vision exist?? 

When I first heard the idea that we see things because something travels to our eye from the object I must have only just got beyond a single figure age.  I remember it now; it was a very radical thought which explained so much and yet which cut across my immediate intuition about objects: As I have mentioned above our world is so rational and are minds so constructed to tune into that rationality that the objects one beholds are very convincingly portrayed as “out there and over there”. That this out-there-ness is actually “conjured” by the mind by way of interpretation of the signals it receives is remarkable:  Something arriving at my eye, which if rightly interpreted, so successively conveys information about its source that I “see” the source and not the destination. The mind works other similar “appropriate illusions”; for example sound always sounds as if it is a property of the object it emanates from and not an activity of my ears. Also meaning, particularly of language, seems to be a property of the language itself and nothing to do with the slick interpretations of the signs worked up by mental processes.

My guess is that Myers client fundamentalist is still bound to this childish “illusion” of believing himself to have some kind of direct apprehension of the object he beholds. Although other fundamentalist may be embarrassed by this fellows performance, I would argue that he typifies a common fundamentalist fallacy; namely the tendency to conceive the Bible as literally the “Word of God” rather than understanding it as a signal that triggers meaning without which no “Word of God” could exist. The Word of God, like intelligence, sentience and rationality is a distributed rather than located phenomenon.

Addendum 10/5/14:  PZ Myers' intellectually immature fundamentalist has continued to frustrate Myers and his readers attempts to teach him a thing or two; not that I think they are bothering any more: They've long since picked their jaws up from the floor and are now reduced to just laughing. And I'm still wondering if he's a clever troll. See: