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Monday, April 24, 2006

Let's Review...Ten Points of Discussion

Bible Stuff - Three Points

First, Jesus has been established as an historical character from eyewitness accounts in the Bible, writers of history such as Josephus, and people who might have rather erased all records of him, that is, the Romans and Jews. The Romans recorded the existence of "Chrestus" and His followers. The Jewish Talmud has references to Jesus, his birth, his ministry and also the Book of Matthew. Almost everyone agrees that He existed, other than a fringe factor that can be ignored. I consider the self-styled Bible scholar known as G A Wells to most definitely be one of the fringe. I am on the side of the majority opinion that Jesus was most definitely an historical character.

Second, it has been established that there is a great deal of controversy within the ranks of Biblical scholars concerning the dating of the New Testament books. There are competing camps, neither of which can claim a concensus. I am on the side of the early daters, as I have posted previously.

Third, I have established myself as a Bible literalist. Unless the Bible is clearly using prophetic or allegorical terminology I take it literally for both doctrine and historical narratives. This puts me in the minority, but it is not a tiny minority by any means.


Creation Stuff - Seven Points


I am going to first make a concession. Whereas I don't believe in macroevolution, the Tiktaalik controversy caused me to consider the matter carefully. Creationists are correct in saying that "Tik" is not a pure transitional form, since it remains a fish. On the other hand, macroevolutionists are correct in believing that if indeed there is a continuum of creatures from water to land, then "Tik" is closer to bridging that gap than any other fossil found. It is the closest thing to a transitional form yet discovered. It doesn't "prove" macroevolution to be true, but it is significant in that it is an expected find if macroevolution is true. As evidence it is definitely a blow for the macroevolutionary side of the fight. If macroevolution was able to be proved at some time in the future then a few more fossils like Tiktaalik would go a long way towards that end.

First, it is true that the majority of scientists of every discipline believe macroevolution to be true. For most of them, that doesn't enter in to their particular field of research. I am in the opposing camp, a small one, but one that includes some very brilliant and capable scientists. (disclaimer - The ID list is of scientists who agreed with this statement - “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” ) It would be more gracious of macroevolutionists if they would cease the propaganda campaign trying to configure creationists as cranks. Cranks believe the world is flat, or that the UFO's are coming to get us soon, or other ludicrous beliefs. Creationism has been the belief of some of the great scientists of all time and has never been disproved, it has just become unpopular. I find it interesting that so many macroevolutionists go to great lengths to portray creationists as whacked-out pseudo-scientists with no credentials. Is this a way to stop the discussion before it is begun?

Second, the large amount of historical records and the evidences of carvings and figurines and drawings is evidence that dragons and sea-monsters and firebirds were actual living beings - dinosaurs. Once they became uncommon they tend to take on the characteristics of myth. But much mythology is just history passed on by "Chinese Telephone" so to speak. No one has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation for why it is that so many of these representations and records are accurate depictions of dinosaurs according to the best paleontological evidence we have today.

Third, there are evidences in virtually every culture that the Bible narrative of Genesis is true or at least evidences that support the narrative. Genealogies around the world mention Noah, Sham, Ham and/or Japheth and some go all the way back to Adam. There are world-wide flood accounts from cultures on every continent. The Biblical account was carefully safeguarded by the family of Adam through Noah down to Moses and then on through time by Jewish scribes carefully counting words and comparing scripts so that not "one jot or tittle" would be miscopied. This is why the Genesis account is plausible whereas other stories have the appearance of what we call myth.

Fourth, Uniformitarianism, once a tenet of macroevolution, has been largely debunked. Geoleogists are moving back to catastrophism. Creationists say the events surrounding the Noahic Flood are responsible for the geological record in stone. Macroevolutionists say that it is a record of multiple catastrophes with varied causes, such as comets, local floods, meteors, etc.

Fifth, a very controversial subject is the matter of evidence surrounding the Noahic Flood and the fossil record. Both camps believe that the fossil record is strongly on their side. Macroevolutionists deny that the Ark and the Flood are plausible and that the time factors are wrong. Here is another place where the age of the earth and the Universe become part of the dialogue.

Sixth, there are conflicting opinions regarding the statistical possibilities of macroevolution and the application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Also, another controversial subject is that of Irreducibly Complex systems. The fine-tuning of the Universe is yet another factor to be considered. In all of these discussions creationists sometimes find themselves on the same side as Intelligent Designers, with macroevolutionists on the other side. But make no mistake, ID proponents and creationists are not necessarily coming from the same place. My point of view concerning the origin of life and the Universe are quite different from a Hugh Ross or a William Dembski. There are Christians who are macroevolutionists and Christians who are creationists. There are non-Christians who nonetheless are creationists or ID'ers and there are non-Christians who are macroevolutionists. I am a Christian who is a creationist but I sometimes use the arguments of ID proponents when they are, to me, valid, even if there are areas of disagreement between us.

Seventh, in my opinion the primary reason a person is either on the side of macroevolution or creation seems to be world view. I believe it is the rapidly changing world view of a Western World moving away from Christianity and towards Humanism in the 1800's that led to the theories of Darwin being adopted, Uniformitarianism accepted, and Biblical textural criticism popularized. Once popularized, such thoughts became the "default setting" for the teaching of those disciplines, thus many Christians have come to agree with positions that are not in accord with the Bible. At that point many Christians decide to not take the Bible literally in places they might have otherwise done so, on the basis of what is considered by the world to be common or accepted knowledge. There were no great discoveries in the 1800's to disprove God, but rather there were hypotheses proposed that did away with God as a necessity.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1) I respect your up-front concession, which has much of value. Honest consideration of opposing views is a rare and valuable commodity in the blogosphere. At the same time, there's something I have to take issue with: the use of "not a pure transitional form, since it remains a fish" and "the closest thing to a transitional form yet discovered." It's a definitional issue that has as its foundation something much bigger, not creationism, but - as some would suggest, anyway - the human habit of essentialism. (For starters, everything can be shoehorned into just a fish, or just an amphibian . . .)

Your poem in the post below led me to think (and eventually dig up) a poem I wrote, it turns out, almost exactly a decade ago, after walking from nighttime into daylight (something I did rather too much in college, and not truly since), with obligatory lovelorn sogginess, of course. We can point to night, easy, and we can point to day, easy. But the transition inbetween is different. We give these times names - dawn, dusk. For many animals, these are the times of most activity. For people, these - like many other in-between, liminal places and stages and times and things - are sometimes both special and uncanny. And they're frustrating. Can you pick the moment when night becomes day? Day becomes dusk becomes night? (Being ever ingenious, people have come up with various markers - so many stars visible, etc., but all have a sense of arbitrariness about them.) What you have instead is a stretch of time, watching individual slow, almost imperceptable moments that result in undeniable changes, as late afternoon deepens into the flush of sunset and is swallowed by starlight; as the world widens into light and night shrinks into shadows (including the genuinely strange moment where early morning has brought back form and depth and pale washes of color, yet not day, exactly.

There is no such thing as a 'pure' transitional form, only different moments. Indeed, given the nature of evolution, I don't think there can be such a thing; it would be an essentialist beast in a nonessentialist world. Instead, we would expect to see different mixes of characteristics making a sort of mosaic, tied, more or less well, to the task of literally making a living in, say, Devonian shallows or Carboniferous swamps or Permian uplands . . .

2) "Uniformitarianism, once a tenet of macroevolution, has been largely debunked. Geoleogists are moving back to catastrophism."
Another definitional issue, muddied by the fact that Uniformitarianism refers to two things. The first is the idea, fundamental to any kind of historical investigation, that we can use the present day to understand the past, that the same kind of natural processes and laws existed then, even if specific conditions were (perhaps wildly) different. In the post and comments about Jesus and history, for example, everyone is assuming that people were being, well, people, rather than mindless zombies or compulsive liars; similarly, the Law and Order shows play off the assumption that everything from motivation to the laws of physics held at the time when whatever crime was committed - otherwise, they'd all be at sea. In science, (for example) studying sedimentation today can tell us something about rocks formed in a inconceivable distant yesterday . . . and so on. Geologists, etc. are most certainly not abandoning this!

There was also, under this general principle, an idea sticking around in some people's heads that not just laws but change itself had to be uniform - that is, gradual, as if nature was a dj that always played the slow songs, and never mixed it up a bit. This is really what's been tossed aside, as we've come to terms with a slip-and-slide globe, and the possiblity of relatively quick (geologically speaking) dashes of major change - think housecats - lie around sleeping all day, and then suddenly start tearing around the house for 20 minutes at 9:30 . . .)

Perhaps the best we can hope from this kind of exchange is to gain a better idea of other ways of thinking, something you've been very clear in setting out.

________

. . . you vill be tortured by the old bad poetry now!

________

Morning Sky in early April

In slow beauty comes the dawn
A slow and quiet sadness morning
across the gray and cotton clouds
wind-driven below the risen
sun. In slow beauty comes
the dawn, rose and golden.
moments before the first grasp
of the true light, of grass and branches
the sky flattens. Still, a bird half-heard
begins, from feathered darkest green, black
bird,
crow,
chickadee,

Shall she come and watch with me,

rose

and golden?

-Dan S.

radar said...

I am now convinced I must have a poetry carnival of some kind, and soon!

There is a certain grace to the poems of the inspired. I would say that in one moment you were inspired and managed to capture a fragment of that inspiration on paper.

Blogger says the next Tiktaalik will be named "upfrnuge"

creeper said...

The Bible Stuff: Yep, there's controversy about the dating of the New Testament books, yep, you're a Biblical literalist, and Jesus is most likely a historical character, though that is not a certainty. And it's still another few steps from a person named Jesus actually existing to the details of his life (especially regarding his miracles, birth etc.), which aren't confirmed historically in the slightest.

creeper said...

Creation Stuff:

There seems to be some general confusion here. First of all, I have to ask you something that I've asked before and you may have written off as a flippant remark:

What is a macroevolutionist?

And on the heels of that: what is macroevolution?

You seem to have plugged this in to use instead of "Darwinism", which is a likewise foggy term, and in different debates can be taken to mean anything from general atheistic heathenism to quite specifically Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Macroevolution is large-scale evolution occurring over geologic time that results in the formation of new taxonomic groups. It stands opposed to YEC, which insists on variation within distinct kinds from the get-go.

What's important to grasp is that macroevolution simply refers to the evolution taking place and does not specify any mechanism. IDers, theistic evolutionists and naturalistic evolutionists can all agree that macroevolution did indeed take place. You can think of it as common descent, or the phylogenetic tree.

Common descent - or the mere observation that macroevolution did take place, by whatever mechanism - is accepted by the majority of scientists and just about universally by biologists. The opposing camp that you are in - the one that denies common descent - does not include the "very brilliant and capable scientists" that you link to. They signed a very different statement, one that does not deny or question common descent in any way. Not only is it such an incredibly vague and weakly worded statement that PZ Myers, Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins could probably sign it in good faith, it is simply beside the point of macroevolution.

Try and get some scientists to sign something like: "We are skeptical of claims of common descent, and of a common ancestor for the different 'kinds' of life on our planet." - and see how far you get.


"On the other hand, macroevolutionists are correct in believing that if indeed there is a continuum of creatures from water to land, then "Tik" is closer to bridging that gap than any other fossil found. It is the closest thing to a transitional form yet discovered. It doesn't "prove" macroevolution to be true, but it is significant in that it is an expected find if macroevolution is true. As evidence it is definitely a blow for the macroevolutionary side of the fight. If macroevolution was able to be proved at some time in the future then a few more fossils like Tiktaalik would go a long way towards that end."

I've asked you this one before as well, but I'll try again: In what way would a transitional form be different from Tiktaalik, in your estimation? Let's see if you can answer this without a strawman.

The fact that scientists can look at the phylogenetic tree, predict roughly what organism will be between two different organisms, and in what strata it is most likely to be found (and where it will most definitely not be found) is a powerful confirmation of common descent. It also happens to falsify YEC and the notion of a recent global flood.


"I find it interesting that so many macroevolutionists go to great lengths to portray creationists as whacked-out pseudo-scientists with no credentials. Is this a way to stop the discussion before it is begun?"

After taking a quick glance at that thing about G A Wells you linked to above, I wonder if you were able to keep a straight face while typing that. Just about half of that little essay is devoted to an extended ad hominem regarding Wells' academic past. Is this a way to stop the discussion before it is begun?

"Creation science", like it or not, is on extremely shaky scientific ground, and has offered precious little in terms of testable hypotheses.

creeper said...

Second - evidence for dinosaurs. So far I've seen plenty of speculation and some so-called proof of which at least part has been shown to be a fraud. It's an interesting basis for speculation, but I don't think we can call it evidence until a dinosaur skeleton dated within the last 2-3000 years comes to light. Fortunately you agree that dating is accurate within that time.

The reports from the middle ages as well as your interpretation of Behemoth and Leviathan are vague and poetic enough that they can refer to a number of different animals; as you put it yourself: "much mythology is just history passed on by "Chinese Telephone" so to speak". Is there some kind of built-in limit to this "Chinese Telephone" effect?

creeper said...

Third, "This is why the Genesis account is plausible whereas other stories have the appearance of what we call myth."

The Genesis account is not plausible from the world we see around us - unless you want to throw in corollaries of rays of light being created before their source was created etc.

And yes, of course the Genesis account has "the appearance of what we call myth".

creeper said...

"Fourth, Uniformitarianism, once a tenet of macroevolution, has been largely debunked."

Uniformitarianism is one of the most basic principles of modern geology, the observation that fundamentally the same geological processes that operate today also operated in the distant past. It exists in contrast with catastrophism, which states that Earth surface features originated suddenly in the past, by radically different geological processes than those currently occurring. Note, however, that many "catastrophic" events are perfectly compatible with uniformitarianism.

"Geoleogists are moving back to catastrophism."

"Today most geologists combine catastrophist and gradualist standpoints, taking the view that Earth's history is a slow, gradual story punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events that have affected Earth and its inhabitants."

creeper said...

"Fifth, a very controversial subject is the matter of evidence surrounding the Noahic Flood and the fossil record."

How can YEC possibly account for fossils invariably and predictably appearing in strata that line up according to the phylogenetic tree? What are the odds of that?

creeper said...

"Sixth, there are conflicting opinions regarding the statistical possibilities of macroevolution and the application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics."

Glad you brought that up. Could you please post or link to the equation and assumptions behind the odds of horse evolution that you accused us of altering? The longer you evade this, the more it's just going to look like you have something to hide, and I'm sure you wouldn't want that.

Also, could you please tell us how you can be alive if the 2nd law of thermodynamics means what you said it means?

"Also, another controversial subject is that of Irreducibly Complex systems."

Did you have a look at the Ken Miller articles I linked to?

creeper said...

"Seventh, in my opinion the primary reason a person is either on the side of macroevolution or creation seems to be world view."

That's why the naturalistic process of science is so useful, Radar. You have an idea, you formulate a hypothesis that can confirm or falsify your idea, and if it isn't confirmed, or if it is falsified, you either drop it or change it - and as a result the state of our knowledge improves over time. If we all just sat around and said to each other that it all just depends on what you believe in, we'd certainly not be tapping away on blogs right now.

"I believe it is the rapidly changing world view of a Western World moving away from Christianity and towards Humanism in the 1800's that led to the theories of Darwin being adopted, Uniformitarianism accepted, and Biblical textural criticism popularized."

Who's to say which is the cause and which is the effect?

"Once popularized, such thoughts became the "default setting" for the teaching of those disciplines, thus many Christians have come to agree with positions that are not in accord with the Bible."

If you choose to take it literally, or even to see it as some kind of science textbook.

"At that point many Christians decide to not take the Bible literally in places they might have otherwise done so, on the basis of what is considered by the world to be common or accepted knowledge."

I'm guessing most Christians have the wherewithal to recognize spiritual lessons in the New Testament even if they've conclude that the Genesis account is a wee bit implausible.

"There were no great discoveries in the 1800's to disprove God, but rather there were hypotheses proposed that did away with God as a necessity."

Correct. And the theory of evolution isn't anti-God. It just happens to clash with a literal reading of some parts of the Bible.

radar said...

Creeper,

I have to work late today and will be late getting to these comments, but I just wanted to say (I took a quick look in) how excellent your comments are and just as I had hoped in response to my posting! I will address every one of them when I get my chance. Good stuff!!!

A Hermit said...

"I believe it is the rapidly changing world view of a Western World moving away from Christianity and towards Humanism in the 1800's that led to the theories of Darwin being adopted, Uniformitarianism accepted, and Biblical textural criticism popularized. Once popularized, such thoughts became the "default setting" for the teaching of those disciplines, thus many Christians have come to agree with positions that are not in accord with the Bible."

Probably true, and, I think, a good thing since the result has been the rejection of slavery, the recognition that women are persons and not chattel, scientific advances, the expansion of civil and human rights etc.

Creeper and anonymous have done a fine job of responding to most of the rest of this post, so I'll just add pass this on for anyone interested in Prof. Well's response to Rev. Neal's criticisms:

G. A. Wells Replies to Criticisms of his Books on Jesus

"I conclude that I have in Dr. Neal yet another conservative critic who to some extent misrepresents me, dwells on some marginal matters as if they were of fundamental importance to my case, and deals with the more central ones by mounting plausible-sounding objections while ignoring the answers I have repeatedly given to these very points. His polemical tone and confident emphases do not improve his case. His acerbity increases as his dialogue with my defender proceeds and is obviously in part the result of sheer exasperation with an interlocutor who continually comes back at him. But it is partly prompted by his concern to deter potential readers from my books by persuading them that they are unworthy of serious attention."

Quite a substantive rebuttal, I recommend reading the whole article.

A Hermit

A Hermit said...

Here's an interesting quote from John P. Meier


"Q: Can historians address the Resurrection, then?

A: We can verify as historians that Jesus existed and that certain events reported in the Gospels happened in history, yet historians can never prove the Resurrection in the same way. Why not?

Perhaps some fundamentalists would claim you can. Apart from fundamentalists, perhaps even some more conservative Catholic theologians would claim you could. I myself along with most questers for the historical Jesus—and I think a fair number of Catholic theologians as well—would say the Resurrection stands outside of the sort of questing by way of historical, critical research that is done for the life of the historical Jesus, because of the nature of the Resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus is certainly supremely real. However, not everything that is real either exists in time and space or is empirically verifiable by historical means."


One of the foremost Biblical scholars of our day confirms that the Resurrection of Jesus CANNOT be established as historical fact.

highboy said...

Hermit: Interesting how you use a reknown scholar to back up the idea that the resurrection cannot be established as fact, but reject the same scholar's assertion that His existence can be verified.

highboy said...

I'm leaving for home now. Will check back in when I get all set up. Might take a week or so. Talk to you all when I get back to the U.S!

Anonymous said...

" I would say that in one moment you were inspired . . ."

Thanks! Rather more perspiration than inspiration, I'm afraid, though . . . . it doesn't quite work, not the way I wanted it to . .

"Blogger says the next Tiktaalik will be named "upfrnuge""

Sounds good to me! : )

re: common descent -

Some IDC advocates (Behe, for example) in theory accept or are not completely opposed to common descent. In practice, though, they go after all aspects of evolution (IDC advocates have joined into the Tiktaalik bashing, for example), since IDC is really just plain ol' creationism in a nice suit. (There may be completely sincere IDC people out there, but they're completely irrelevent in the movement)

"What's important to grasp is that macroevolution simply refers to the evolution taking place anddoes not specify any mechanism"

For a rather good book review that also serves as a quick and easy review of new discoveries and ideas of the last two or so decades that have greatly changed our idea of what one major mechanism is, look at this:

"Despite much recent controversy about the theory of evolution, major changes in our understanding of evolution over the past twenty years have gone virtually unnoticed.[1] . . ."

If you're not sure what a Hox gene might be or do, or what genetic switches are, if Evo Devo makes you think of an '80s band - go read.

-Dan S.

Anonymous said...

" Cranks believe the world is flat, or that the UFO's are coming to get us soon, or other ludicrous beliefs."

What makes these beliefs ludicrous?

Creationism has been the belief of some of the great scientists of all time

As was aether.

and has never been disproved, it has just become unpopular."

No evidence seems to support it; instead, the evidence seems to suport different models. (In fact, there was a remark on some science blog comment thread that technically speaking, Einstein didn't disprove the existence of aether, just gave an explanation that didn't need it, and that theoretically, nothing's stopping someone from applying for a grant to do further work on it - although it has become unpopular. The phasing of course implies that this is a matter of taste or fad.

-Dan S.

creeper said...

Radar, I look forward to your replies, but I'll let you know right now I won't be able to reply until Sunday - traveling the next few days, and most likely with limited access to the electric Internet.

See you all then -- creeper

A Hermit said...

"Interesting how you use a reknown scholar to back up the idea that the resurrection cannot be established as fact, but reject the same scholar's assertion that His existence can be verified."

I haven't denied any such thing, Highboy. I've pointed out several times now that I think it is probable that there was an actual person around whom these stories collected.

That is quite different, however, from accepting the historical existence of Jesus as he is described in the Bible. Maybe I haven't made that distinction clear enough until now, if so I apologize for the confusion.

But, more importantly, it would appear that even for a prominent theologian/historian, (whose bias as a Catholic priest is pretty obviously slanted toward the traditional view of Christ), the central part of the story can never be proven.

At this point we can certainly argue about the value of revelation and faith, but to continue to maintain that there is some vast store of historical evidence to support the Gospel description of Jesus is plainly futile.rt