iSoul In the beginning is reality

The church and the world

At least from the time of Constantine to the Middle Ages, the Church was involved in the world – i.e., public affairs and endeavors such as philosophy.  The Reformation was partly a reaction against this, refocusing the church on spiritual matters and leaving worldly matters to others, that is, to Christians outside the church’s official structure.  The highest authority for the church was the Bible but outside the church the prince or king ruled.  This was reflected for example in rejecting marriage as a sacrament – Protestant churches did not even perform weddings for several centuries.

Protestants were content to let natural philosophers (scientists) do their thing though the Catholic church remained sensitive to the philosophical and theological implications of natural philosophy – that’s what got Galileo in trouble.  The Bible was the authority concerning spiritual matters but science became the authority for knowledge of the natural world, as the state was the authority for political matters.  Gradually, Christian countries departed from Christianity because the church left the world to others.

Protestants inspired social movements such as the abolition of slavery but it was a matter of Christians influencing society rather than the church directly involved in social matters.  Then in the early 20th century the social gospel refocused liberal/modernist Protestants on society, while conservative/fundamentalist Protestants reaffirmed the spiritual focus of the church.  In the later 20th century conservatives started to get interested in what was happening in the world since it was affecting them, too – Darwinism, abortion, etc.

Where does that leave us today?  Creationists are surprised that Christians won’t let the Bible be the final authority for science.  But the separation of the Bible from matters of the social or natural world has a long history.  Evangelical churches are focused on spiritual matters and leave social and natural matters to others, who are often non-Christians.  Catholics are still smarting from the Galileo affair and have been reluctant to criticize scientists.

I conclude that creationism will make slow headway in and outside the church until there is a spiritual/philosophical movement that relates spiritual matters to natural matters.  To make a military analogy, para-church organizations such as creationists have are like special forces that help with fighting but it is the army that takes over territory, as only the church can re-take society and science for Christ.

May 2014

 

Hypernatural science

Although IDers avoid talking about the designer, the critics of ID “know” that they are trying to sneak God into science.  After all, who else could the designer be?  The critics of YECs reject bringing God into science because God is a wild card that could make any hypothesis true.  We seem locked in a battle of naturalism without God and divine supernaturalism.  Is there anything in between these extremes?

In fact there is.  We need only look at traditional Christian metaphysics.  The intellect is something that is not natural – each intellect has to be created by God – but neither is it supernatural, that is, God’s direct intervention.  We can call the intellect “hypernatural.”  Note: the intellect is often called “mind” or “intelligence” but these words have other associations.

Who has intellect?  Humans, angels, and God.  God’s intellect is not created.  Angels have intellects but not bodies, though they may take the appearance of bodies.  The intellect is what most distinguishes humans from animals.  The intellect allows humans to understand something of the thoughts of God.  (What about “spirit”?  As I understand it, a spirit includes intellect but also the ability to believe and have communion with other spirits.)

The creation of primal matter is supernatural – the direct action of God creating from nothing.  But once primal matter is created, it needs to be ordered according to some design.  Is the design of the natural world supernatural, too?  No, or at least not necessarily.  Humans can understand much or potentially all of the natural world by use of their intellect.  So the design of the natural world is hypernatural.

Life is hypernatural because the operation of physical laws are not enough to originate life on their own.  So the study of life is a hypernatural science.  Hypernatural sciences are those that study the design of the natural world or hypernatural phenomena such as life.

What does a hypernatural science look like?  Because the human intellect is hypernatural, analogies are possible between how a human might design the universe and how the universe was in fact designed.  However, the intellect that designed the universe must have been much greater than a human intellect, yet this would be a difference of degree rather than kind.

It is significant that the first human, Adam, named all the animals.  His intellect was clearly up to the task.

The hypernatural world is limited.  What is hypernatural cannot create from nothing, nor does it necessarily have the power to implement its designs.  Only God can implement any design.  Who designed the hypernatural world?  Only God could do that.

April 2014

Biblical geocentrism

Since the downfall of Ptolemaic astronomy, the Bible’s geocentric language has been an embarrassment to believers. Unbelievers spin the Galileo affair into a grand struggle between science and religion while believers hesitantly defend the Bible as speaking in prescientific terms. But when understood correctly, geocentrism is a valid position and one which we all use. The key is to understand that the Bible speaks in terms of cycles, not orbits.

Genesis 1 says: 14 And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15 And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

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A reverse engineering argument

Elliott Sober is a professor of philosophy who has written in support of evolutionary biology.  I’m going through his book “Evidence and Evolution.”

Sober argues for the superiority of the likelihood approach. The  “law if likelihood” states that evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 if and only if the probability of E given H1 is greater than the probability of E given H2; i.e., P(E | H1) > P(E | H2).  Note that this is a comparative approach; it only works when comparing two specific hypotheses.

The surprising thing about this law is that the probability of any hypothesis is irrelevant — it’s the probability of the evidence that counts.  Almost all probability arguments ignore this but Sober thinks Paley’s watch argument is a likelihood argument.  Sober comes close to accepting Paley’s argument but stops short for this reason:  it lacks independent knowledge about what a creator intended.

In other words, it begs the question to say that the creator made the eye to see because we find that the eye sees.  We would need independent knowledge of what the creator intended for the eye before considering whether or not that’s what the eye does.

Christians typically say that God’s intentions are inscrutable or known only generally.  Aristotle tried to discern purpose (final cause) by philosophical means but didn’t get very far, and teleology got a bad name.  Is there another approach?

I see two approaches. One is to find passages of scripture that show specific intentions God has for the creation.  For example, Genesis 1:26 says mankind is to rule over the fish, birds, and livestock on the earth.  What do we observe?  Mankind rules over the fish, birds, and livestock.

However, Genesis assumes the existence of God.  Can we argue without this assumption?  Another approach is to reverse engineer features of the world such as organs like eyes.  What is the design problem that led to the eye being designed as it appears?  For every feature of the world, we could come up with some design scenario.  We would include the possibility that something went wrong and that the design we observe is less than optimal or even perverse.

This would be quite a project, not unlike the evolutionary project of coming up with just so stories about how features could possibly have arisen through evolution.  We would match every evolutionary story with a creation design story.  The likelihood argument then is which hypothesis confers greater probability on what we observe?  The answer is design for several reasons:  (1) even evolutionists agree that life appears designed, (2) complex features such as watches are designed so it would be expected that other complex features we observe are also designed, and (3) there exists a particular design problem for each feature observed.

March 2014

Cumulative knowledge

While it is generally thought that science is a form of cumulative knowledge, this has meant different things. Since Kuhn, new theories are often considered ‘incommensurable’ with old theories. Essentially, a ‘scientific revolution’ occurs in which the old theory is superseded by a new one rather than incorporated into it as a special case.

But old knowledge should not be superseded by new knowledge, otherwise all knowledge is ‘defeasible’ and in danger of being shown completely false at any moment, hence we really don’t know anything. Rather, new knowledge should clarify old knowledge, show its limits and context, but not completely replace it.  We should not (and do not) trash old theories that still work. Of course, some theories are shown not to work even in a limited domain and should be rejected (astrology for example).

So science should act respectfully toward theories that have been generally accepted, and try to maintain as much of them as possible. However, this goes against the grain of a scientific culture in which revolutionary change is prized and Whig history is the norm (those who anticipated the new theory are good guys, those who held on to the old theory are bad guys).

This respectful attitude toward the past goes beyond science to modern culture which rejects old ways of doing things and exults in the new, which has become so ingrained that no matter how bad the new is, it is commonly preferred to the old simply because it is new.

We can and should dispute this modern prejudice and arrogance. In particular, we should reject any natural history that deprecates ancient knowledge such as the occurrence of a world-wide flood. This goes beyond what is contained in the Bible but the Bible acts as a kind of referee concerning what is genuine knowledge and what is knowledge falsely so-called.

Before Darwin it was well known that humans are different in kind from other creatures but evolutionists have lost this knowledge in their obsession with showing that everything is different only in degree. So it is precisely this deprecation of the old that holds science back.

There were some ancients (Aristotle in particular) who said the universe always existed (based on a lack of knowledge of a beginning). The Bible affirms that in this respect the myths and legends of many cultures are correct: there was a beginning. But the Bible says more and that is the issue today. For example, the age of the earth is the age of the universe since the earth was there ‘in the beginning’. Starlight was visible on day four, which leads to the question of how starlight got to be so far away (not the reverse of how starlight got to be here).

Respect for genuine knowledge from ancient sources goes against modernity. That makes creationism a threat to moderns and post-moderns. It also goes against the grain of an anti-tradition attitude, which is strong even among creationists. The point is that ‘tradition’ may contain genuine knowledge; it should not be discarded as a whole but sifted through to keep what is good.

December 2014

 

Turning the issue around

Creationists are allowing their opponents to frame issues backwards, which puts us on the defensive.  The real question they’re trying to answer is, How can modern science fit with the Bible without distorting it?  Their opponents keep asking the reverse: How can the Bible fit with modern science?  That puts the pressure on the defenders of the Bible.

For example, the starlight and time issue should not be a question of “how can the Bible fit with modern astronomy?”  It should be, “how can modern astronomy fit with the Bible without distorting it?”  The pressure should be on astronomers to figure it out.  It is not “our” problem but “their” problem (recognizing that some creationists are also astronomers).

This arises because modern science works independently of the Bible — or any other discipline except for mathematics.  The independence of science is carefully and strongly guarded by science communities.  And no feedback loop from outside of science is accepted.

Oppose the independence of science?  Now that’s controversial.

November 2014

The word “creation”

The word “creation” is used by non-creationists in a minimal sense.  The existence of the universe is explained as the creation of God.  This is the core meaning that all monotheists accept.  But what about the essence and nature of the universe — was that created, too?  The success of physics has led to a minimalist version of creation here.  It is claimed that “a few simple rules” is all the essence needed for the present universe to happen.  The universe of today is only remotely created.

Creationists use the word “creation” in a maximal sense:  almost everything is the result of creation.  Every variety of plant is created, even though we know that artificial or natural selection have a more direct bearing on them than what happened thousands of years ago.  Every beautiful or amazing aspect of the universe is ascribed to creation and every ugly or diseased aspect of the universe is ascribed to the fall, yet no objective criteria are provided to delineate these differences.

In short, one group under-uses the word “creation” and another group (us) over-uses the word “creation”.  This doesn’t foster communication or understanding between people from different backgrounds  A more precise meaning for the word “creation” that is between these extremes would help.

October 2014

History and science again

I keep coming back to the difference between history and science. It seems to me that creationists treat origins primarily as an historical matter and secondarily as a scientific matter, which I think is correct. This is one reason why Bible history is very relevant to origins. But our opponents treat origins as primarily a matter of science and do not see historical works as relevant. One reason they do so is their belief in long ages so that historical data are spread too thin in time to do real history.

People frame origins as a matter of science but it should really be framed as primarily a matter of history. If origins is primarily a matter of science, then the evolutionists are right in insisting on an over-arching scientific theory that explains as much as possible about how the current universe came to be. Whatever the failings of evolution, it does provide a general scientific theory that can be incrementally improved.

Creationists do not have a competing theory to evolution – they have a competing history. This history depends critically on the Bible, though it can be justified with reference to other historical sources. Calling the Bible “science” just confuses things.

So let’s tell people how sacred history is superior to profane science (to use the old-fashioned terms).

October 2014

Poetical truth

Mortimer J. Adler’s “Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth” is very stimulating, though we would disagree on some points.  One point that needs qualification is his unqualified endorsement of Augustine’s principle that religion must always accord with the science of the day.  He doesn’t define science here perhaps because he is taking a broad brush approach as a philosopher.

But he does define poetical truth, p.102: “Utterances are in the realm of poetical truth if they are about what is possible and if they are not subject to contradiction.”  Note that is essentially Popper’s definition of pseudoscience.

MJ Adler doesn’t say it but evolution fits that definition.  Evolutionists argue that evolution is possible, not that it is probable, and they apply evolution to contradictory situations, e.g., what they consider good designs and bad designs.

So evolution is true — poetically true.  That actually may help since many people are wedded to the idea of evolution and progress.

September 2014

Actual infinity

Before the 19th century it was commonly understood that only God (or perhaps the “gods”) were actually infinite.  If one spoke about the actual infinite, one was doing theology.  In mathematics infinity was considered a manner of speaking, which was clarified in the early 19th century with the careful definition of limits.

In the late 19th century Cantor’s infinite sets were seen as a challenge to this because they treated infinite sets as complete entities.  But there is still no need to consider this essentially different from the relative manner infinity is treated elsewhere in mathematics.

The idea that the universe may be eternal is ancient but there has never been a comprehensive treatment of what this would mean.  Theologians are still struggling to understand in what sense time could exist before the creation.  Nonmetric time seems to be the best solution.

The burden is on anyone who speaks of a physical infinite to explain in detail what they mean.  Otherwise, they’re just throwing words around.

August 2014