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Author Archives: Rag

On the Centrist Project

The Centrist Project proposes to break the gridlock in Washington by electing five independent Senators.  It’s an appealing strategy.  But their Centrist Principles show a moderate go with the flow attitude that eschews “ideology” for trendy politics.

For example, under Environmental responsibility it reads:

“I will act as a steward of the environment for future generations. I believe that climate change represents a potential threat to the United States and the international community. I will support international efforts to curtail carbon emissions, including policies that raise the cost of polluting behavior.”

There is no awareness of trade-offs here or of the extremes of environmental and anti-environmental politics.  Without an “ideology” of centrist philosophy this effort will drift into going with whatever direction the political winds are blowing.

Means and Extremes

Means and extremes in classical mathematics have to do with proportions.

If A is to B as C is to D, we write A : B :: C : D.  This is ordered so that A is greater than or equal to B and C is greater than or equal to D.  A and D are called the extremes; B and C are called the means.

By elementary arithmetic the product of the extremes equals the product of the means:

A x D = B x C.

If B = C, then B is the mean proportional or geometric mean of A and D.  In that case B is the positive square root of A x D.

This provides a basic principle for centrism: the means are between the extremes in a principles manner.

The centrist

In my usage, centrism is distinguished from moderation as follows:

The moderate seeks the relative middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the moderate moves in that direction to a moderate degree.  In contrast the centrist stakes out a position in the long-term middle so if the winds blow in one direction, the centrist leans against the wind.  The centrist may seem contrarian in two directions at the same time depending on the issue but their focus is always on maintaining a place between the extremes.

Centrists are aware there are always trade-offs and oppositions:  liberty vs. safety, property vs. equality, big business vs. big government, present generations vs. future generations, economic stability vs. economic growth, etc.  Centrists seek a middle way between these extremes, a compromise that is aware of the tension between these extremes and expects adjustments in the future.

Beyond species

Louis Agassiz wrote:
…if species do not exist at all, as the supporters of the transmutation theory maintain, how can they vary? And if individuals alone exist, how can differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of species?

Darwin responded to Asa Gray:
I am surprised that Agassiz did not succeed in writing something better. How absurd that logical quibble — “if species do not exist how can they vary?” As if anyone doubted their temporary existence.

The irony is that science works by finding invariants — things that don’t change.  If everything is always changing (and changing in ways that change), science is impossible.

There are many problems with the species concept but the main problem is that species are not even close to a concept of invariant/created kind.  For human beings we cannot accept any speciation; there is only one kind.  On the other extreme for microorganisms we can accept many speciations within a created kind.  Other organisms are in between — it’s something like the more complex organisms are, the fewer species there can be.

A concept of created kinds is not like species because kinds are permanent, like chemical elements.

January 2014

Science and history

Science and history should be complementary disciplines. Science should not dominate history but they should work together.

Science focuses on what does not change – what is conserved, what repeats, what is invariant. History focuses on what does change – the small details that turn out to make a big difference, the unique people and events that are most significant.

History is part of the humanities, not part of the sciences, because its methods are less methodical and more interpretive. History is diachronic – it looks through time, within time, as a participant. Science is synchronic – it looks across space and abstracts time as if observing from the outside (the “view from nowhere” Thomas Nagel called it).

When it comes to scientific matters – objective, unchanging, repetitive – historians should defer to scientists.  When it comes to historical matters – subjective, changing, unique – scientists should defer to historians. In short, when it comes to trans-spatial experience historians should defer to scientists, and when it comes to trans-temporal experience, scientists should defer to historians.

Since scientists find large distances of earth and space, historians should respect that and not confine themselves to small regions. Since historians find less than 10k years of history, science should respect that and not invent time beyond history, even if it makes their job easier.

January 2014

Charles Darwin, colleague

Charles Darwin should be accepted as a colleague of scientists who disagree with him, and one who made significant contributions to the progress of science.  Whatever disagreements there are with what he wrote should not blind people to what he was: a scientist among scientists.

As Newton’s name was used by the so-called Enlightenment to add prestige to a mechanistic and materialistic agenda, so Darwin’s name has been used to promote the ideology of naturalism.  Darwin does not seem to have been the ideologue that Huxley and his followers today are.  Instead Darwin seems to have been a modest scientist who was surprised by his fame.  As we would not criticize Newton for the things the Newtonians said about a mechanistic universe, so we should not blame Darwin for the ideology of Darwinism.

I agree this is complicated by the use of the term “evolution” by both the scientific literature and the ideological literature.  Perhaps we could distinguish “scientific evolution” from “ideological evolution”.  Evolution is an “ideological fact,” not a scientific fact.  Historians and others recognize the difference.

December 2013

Revelation and detection

I think the following principle is true:  For every divine revelation there is a detectable effect.  Whether this effect is a miracle or not is a separate matter.  How science or history explain the effect is also a separate matter.  The point is that Christian apologetics can show the detectable effect and then point to the divine revelation as its proper cause and explanation.

If we do not accept this principle, we open ourselves up to spiritualism and gnosticism, in which revelation is in a separate reality from what is detectable, and the Bible may be contrary to fact but spiritually true.

I had a theistic evolutionist try to tell me that revelation is undetectable by science.  He gave the example of Communion (the Eucharist) as including a spiritual element completely undetectable by science.  I pointed out 1 Co. 11:27-34 where the apostle links sickness to wrong spiritual attitudes about Communion.  We may not be able to connect sickness to a spiritual attitude but sickness is detectable.

Of course some revelations are about the future and so may not be detectable yet.  But the trustworthiness of the revelation may still be established by the trustworthiness of those giving the revelation and those transmitting it.

In any case, divine revelation has detectable effects.

December 2013

Creationism vs. modern science

What is a real explanation? We are so used to dumbed-down “explanations” we hardly know what a real explanation is anymore. A real explanation describes all the causes of something. These were divided by Aristotle into four kinds of causes: the material, efficient, formal, and final causes.

The early scientific movement of Galileo, Bacon, etc. divided these causes into two groups: the material and efficient causes and the formal and final causes. They considered the former group the province of the book of nature and the latter group the province of scripture or metaphysics. Modern science focused on the former group and left the latter group to others or just ignored it.

Creationists criticize the so-called Enlightenment but haven’t realized how much it was the outgrowth of the modern scientific movement. Since the Enlightenment the material and efficient causes have been considered sufficient to explain something. Nature was substituted for creation and partial explanations were substituted for full explanations. This is the mantra of modern science today: we can explain everything without reference to teleology or intelligent design or God.

Creationists haven’t fully realized that they are trying to put all the causes back together, and put the books of nature and scripture back together, and find full explanations for the natural world, which is the world created by God.

So creationists today are not modern scientists. Though they seem not to realize it, they are trying to return science to the search for full explanations.

December 2013

Understanding creationists

It’s rare to find an attempt to understand creationists.  But here’s one, in an excerpt from “The Intellectual Civil War within Evangelicalism: An Interview with Molly Worthen” by Tiffany Stanley, December 3, 2013:

I think it’s a mistake to understand creationists as “anti-science,” at least if we want to understand how they see themselves. The reality is that the creationist movement comes out of a tradition of Biblical interpretation that understands itself as deeply rationalist, deeply scientific, that rests on the premise that God’s revelation is all one, that God is perfect and unchanging, and therefore his revelation must be perfect and unchanging too. Our two modes of encountering his revelation, in scripture and in the created world, cannot contradict each other. One theologian associated with this tradition named Charles Hodge famously said that scripture is a “storehouse of facts.” A theologian’s job is to “arrange and harmonize” those facts just as a scientist gathers data in nature and makes sense of that data. And so to really understand the creationist movement, you have to see that creationists see themselves as being good scientists, as using the faculties of human reason as God intended, and in a much more effective, truer way than secular, non-believing scientists do. To understand reality accurately, they say, you must take as your founding assumption the truth of God’s revelation. I think that is crucial for understanding the frame of mind of creationists and how they view their project.

December 2013

The theological issue

I agree with those theological critics who say that the age of the earth or universe is not by itself a major issue for theology.  It’s only when the age of the earth or universe are wedded to other ideas that major issues arise.  Two minor issues can make a major issue.

Before the rist of modern science, a constancy paradigm reigned that held there was a large, unchanging supralunary world and a small, sublunary world that varied within limits.  The age of the universe or earth made little difference for the constancy paradigm.  Hence Christians could accept the view that the universe had no beginning, as long as God was understood as responsible for its existence.

Modern science changed all this, first in astronomy and gradually in all the sciences. When the evolution paradigm arose, Christians were told it was a lawful process guided by God’s providence.  Theistic evolutionists still have this idea even though evolutionists have made it clear that evolution is completely unguided.  Now if evolution has less that 10 thousand years to work, it cannot do much and so age becomes a major issue for them.  Hence they defend hypertemporality (deep time) strongly.

At this point the age of the earth is an enabling issue for evolutionary common ancestry.  Now common ancestry should be a theological issue because it says that the difference between all organisms is a matter of degree, not kind.  So theistic evolutionists have to posit undetectable spiritual kinds or become progressive creationists and posit unrecorded miracles.  Either way they have retreated from the Bible.

The main theological issue is the reality of multiple kinds of organisms, which are discontinuous with each other, with a particular discontinuity between humans and non-humans.  Without this, the Bible makes no sense.  Because of this, I’m a multiple kind creationist (MKC).

December 2013