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Category Archives: Knowing

epistemology, science, kinds of knowledge, methodology

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

The dialectic of extremes and means

The dialectic of extremes and means is a method of reasoning whereby one begins with extremes and reasons to means or vice versa.  If one begins with means, these are considered as unanalyzed entities, attributes, propositions, etc.  The goal is to work out the implications of them as principles or to analyze them into their constituent parts as a combination of extremes.  If one begins with extremes, these are considered as unsynthesized entities, attributes, propositions, etc.  The goal is to synthesize them into their fullness and completion as integrated means or to work from partial truths toward full truths.

We live among means, that is, we live in the middle ground, a mesosphere where things are muddled and messy but familiar and common.  Philosophy is often said to begin here, with what is commonly known rather than with specialized knowledge.  Whatever we find must come back to the middle ground where we live or else it is like a dream unrelated to our lives.

Classical deductive logic works from truths to their implications while preserving truth.  It assumes that truth is known at the beginning, that truths are known in the middle ground of life.  They may be known because they are axiomatic (worthy of assent) or because they are self-evident, or because they were given by a trustworthy source.  The outworking of such truths leads toward extremes.

The dialectic of reasoning from extremes to means is focused on the end, not the beginning.  It does not follow from truths; it leads toward truths.  One does not usually begin with truth.  One usually begins with something at hand, something muddled and messy.  Truth is something that must be sought.  This dialectic begins with partial truths and reasons toward full truth.

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Alternate arithmetic

A model is a realization of a mathematical formalism.  So ordinary arithmetic is a model of ordinary algebra.  That is, the algebra of the integers, the rational numbers, and the real numbers is realized by the arithmetic of the integers, the rational numbers, and the real numbers, respectively.  Are there other models of ordinary algebra?  Yes.  One alternate model in particular is a simple opposite of ordinary arithmetic and deserves the name alternate arithmetic.

The one-to-one correspondence between ordinary arithmetic and alternate arithmetic is as follows:

Property Ordinary Arithmetic Alternate Arithmetic
Origin 0
Ultimate 0
Unity 1 1
Duality 2 1/2
Left Order < >
Right Order > <
Minimum Digit 0 9
Maximum Digit 9 0
Minimum Decimal …000.000… …999.999…
Maximum Decimal …999.999… …000.000…

What is alternate arithmetic good for?  Ordinary arithmetic implicitly assumes beginning with nothing and adding something.  So the number N means 0+N.  Alternate arithmetic assumes beginning with everything and subtracting something.  So the alternate number N means 1/N.  That is, ordinary arithmetic is additive and alternate arithmetic is subtractive.  The square of opposition in quantification logic presents something similar.  None and some form an additive logic.  All and not all form a subtractive logic.

Instead of using alternate symbols, we may reinterpret the symbols of ordinary arithmetic.  In this way, alternate arithmetic looks exactly like ordinary arithmetic but means something opposite.  Or we may simply write the alternate number 1/N as N by abuse of notation.

November 2013

Evidence of Absence

Evidence of Absence: Completeness of Evidential Datasets

Elliott Sober presents a likelihood argument about the motto “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” (Sober 2009).  He states the Law of Likelihood this way:

The Law of Likelihood. Evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over hypothesis H2 precisely when Pr(E│H1) > Pr(E│H2). And the degree to which E favors H1 over H2 is measured by the likelihood ratio Pr(E│H1)/Pr(E│H2).

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The Bible vs. secular historical sciences

The Bible is diachronic but secular historical sciences are synchronic.  Let me explain.

The term “diachronic” arose in the study of the development of languages over a long time, which was the focus of linguistics in the 19th century.  But to make linguistics more scientific in the 20th century this changed to study languages as systems during particular time periods. The former approach was called diachronic, the latter synchronic.  These terms have come into use in history as the study of a people or place over a long stretch of time (diachronic) vs. the study of a time period over a large area (synchronic).

The Bible follows the Hebrew people over a long stretch of time, from their beginning on, which is diachronic.  The historical sciences are strongly synchronic: they study a wide area over a distinct period (or series of distinct periods) of time.

Synchronic linguistics is unified by the premise that languages have a common origin, a genetic relationship.  So the question becomes how to explain the differences between languages.  When this synchronic premise was applied to biological species, the question became how to explain the differences between species.

The Bible presents the opposite:  that biological kinds/baramin are distinct, though they have the same Creator.  So the question for a biblical biology is how to explain the similarities between distinct kinds/baramin.  A particular study might study a baramin over a long time.  Several of such studies might lead to the discovery of parallel changes in baramin that are explained by environmental changes and similar ways of adapting.  These are diachronic studies.

So the Bible and secular historical sciences diverge, not only because they have different premises but because they have different approaches to historical science.  The Bible is diachronic and secular science is synchronic.

November 2013

Appearance and reality

There’s a common idea that science shows appearances are often wrong.  It is said science shows that earth is not flat, the sun doesn’t go around the earth, and that life is not designed, all despite appearances to the contrary.  I think this is a mistaken view of what science has done.

Surveyors work with a flat earth model that works just fine for most purposes, and the sun’s motion relative to the earth can be described geocentrically.  Newton’s laws work fine for many purposes despite their being superseded by general relativity.

What happens is that theories are extrapolated (or interpolated) too far and they break down. A theory is superseded by one with a larger scope but the old theory may be valid within a restricted domain.  What Niels Bohr called the correspondence principle is the idea that a new theory should reproduce the results of older well-established theories in those domains where the old theories work.

So the problem is over-extrapolation (or over-interpolation).  Too often people make overly broad claims for a theory.  But until the limits of a theory are found, it may not be clear what the scope of the theory really is.

What is the scope of Darwinism?  As far as I can tell its scope is “life” as a single category, without differentiation of kinds organically or temporally.  This is a very narrow perspective, one that does not support the grandiose claims made for it.  And it is not helpful in understanding different kinds of life, particularly human life, or the age of the earth.

The Bible uses the language of appearances.  This is perfectly acceptable.  The Bible also gives God’s perspective, which is not a theory but something that theories can aspire to.  This is essentially what theologies do.

Nature is not out to trick us with deceptive appearances.  Old theories that worked still work.  All theories are limited.

November 2013

 

What is design?

“Design” is one of those terms many people use but few define. Two aspects of design are: (1) to plan and (2) to make. An evolutionist might say that “nature made man” but would never say “nature planned man.” The theistic evolutionist might say “God planned man” but avoids saying “God made man” except in some secondary, remote way. Design involves both planning and making.

There seems to be a third aspect: (3) to partially surprise. Someone who does not plan their days either does the same thing over and over or else has a haphazard kind of life. Language has an element of surprise in what is communicated and redundancy in the medium of communication. An artist who makes something totally unique confuses people; an artist who is too conventional bores people — good art is a design between these extremes.

These two extremes have low and high entropy. So evidence of design in this sense would be an entropy in the middle. A mid-entropy is evidence of design.

October 2013

Different sciences

It’s easy to forget that “nature” means the essence or form of something.  Over the centuries this morphed into nature as a “natural world” as if only some things have a nature, which is mistaken.  Every thing or being has a nature, including God.  A natural science is the study of things/beings with a common nature or essence.

There is a hierarchy of natures/essences.  People have a human nature which includes the properties of an animal nature.  Animals have an animal nature which includes the properties that living beings in general have.  This should mean that the sciences of biology, zoology, and anthropology are related as a hierarchy.

Evolutionism undermines this hierarchy.  Evolutionism makes zoology a mere subset of biology.  But zoology should be more: it should be concerned with how the natural kind called “animal” is different in kind, not merely in degree, from other living beings.  Evolutionism denies that some beings are different in kind from other beings.  In fact extreme evolutionism makes everything from molecule to man to differ only in degree, not in kind.  Hence evolutionists talk about “science” rather than “sciences” because the differences are considered minor.

Different sciences should be distinguished according to the different kinds of things/beings that are studied.  This applies to geology, for example.  If geology is merely physics applied to earth, it is different in degree but not in kind from physics.  Geology should be understood as studying a unique kind of thing, the earth.  We could we even distinguish antediluvian geology as a separate science since the earth then was different in kind, not just in degree.

October 2013

Progress

Emil Brunner in Christianity and Civilization (1948) wrote: “the popular belief that the idea of evolution and progress was first worked out within natural science, and thence affected the conception of history, is false. The reverse is true: the idea has been transplanted from an evolutionary conception of history into natural science. Lamarck and Darwin are not the pioneers but the heirs of this modern idea. The real pioneers are men like Rousseau, Lessing, Herder, Hegel. The idea of progress and evolution is a child of the optimistic philosophy of the Enlightenment.”

Darwin cannot be toppled without toppling Rousseau/the Romantics, Hegel/Marx/”the Left”, Adam_Smith/Herbert_Spencer/”the Right”, etc.  The idea that progress is natural, inevitable, unlimited, etc. is thoroughly embedded in contemporary thought. No one wants to be on “the wrong side of history.”  So shooting at Darwin does not get to the foundations of the problem.

The idea of progress is seductive and has enough association with Christianity to make Christians fall for it.  After all, there is progressive revelation, Christianity has led to moral progress, knowledge has increased, etc. But true progress requires spiritual and moral development or intervention by God.  Progress is not naturalistic.

One thing creationists can do to make a difference is supporting alternatives to naturalistic progress.  As an example, the sustainability movement is aware how the myth of progress impedes the ability of Western civilization to continue much longer.  While political interests try to co-opt movements such as this, there is the potential for creationists to provide a biblical and scientific foundation for sustainability.  To do this would require an enlarged vision about the problem and the solution.

October 2013