Theo Todman's Web Page - Notes Pages
Mike & Sylvia (29/12/2010)(CORRESPONDENT'S COMMENTS)
(Text as at 19/03/2011 17:18:14)
For Text Colour-conventions (at end of page): Click Here.
This discussion mostly centres on epistemological questions, and picks up on issues left dangling in the discussion of authority1. My comments appear as footnotes within this page.
- Stephen was reading a book Theo may care to read2: "Johnson (Donald E.) - Programming of Life".
- You know your comment about Wiseman’s3 Six Day Revelation being like a ‘Just-So4’ story. Well .... really .... lots of the accounts given by evolutionists as to how this or that developed are really classic Just So Stories. Kipling’s “How the elephant got his trunk” is really an evolutionary story and reminds me of what I was taught about “How the giraffe got his long neck5.”
- A number of theologians have the view that Moses wrote Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, and I don’t really disagree with that. When one thinks of all the things that God told Moses recorded in Exodus, Leviticus etc., it would be no great problem for God to have told Moses6 about His creation, giving him six different talks / visions on six different days. After all Moses was up on the Mount for much longer than six days.
- Be careful, Theo, not to dismiss minority7 views. They could8 well be right.
- That is true if we are dealing with biblical exegesis – look what the majority make and do with communion (compared to what happened in the Scriptures) and the majority view is clearly wrong9.
- Look at the majority view of nephesh, soul10.
- Wiseman’s interpretation / translation of ‘asah’ (made in Genesis 1:7) may be a minority view but that is not the reason for dismissing his view. ‘Asah’ is one of those general Hebrew words (and ‘made’ in English is also a general word) and in the KJV and NIV is translated by dozens of different English words. Wiseman’s translation is perfectly possible11, but it seems, at times, you want to interpret / translate the Bible in a way which makes it easier to dismiss12.
- I would rather look for a possible explanation (whether it be a majority or minority view) which makes it more credible (to my mind13 at least).
- Also, in science, new views often start as the minority. Galileo’s was once a minority14 view. Before then there were so many explanations15 for the stars etc. which did not fit the accepted science.
- That sounds a bit like evolution to me; there are so many explanations to explain the bits that don’t fit16 the accepted evolutionary model(s). As pre-Galileo17, the accepted science may be wrong.
- To believe that life just started from lifeless primeval gases ... that takes a lot of faith18. But then, you may well be a man of greater faith19 than I.
- Whether theistic evolution be the way God did it or not, I have no idea. But then ... I have no idea20 how God created or when He did so .... so I am not much help.
- Sometimes we go round in circles21, but occasionally I think we reach new ground! Mike actually brought up the “port in the Andes22”. It was in the context of there being many inexplicable23 facts24 about the world, universe, geology, and so on, and that we still don’t have many of the answers, or indeed, many of the puzzle pieces to start with. Well done for finding the notes on our original discussion of this subject – I knew it rang a bell! This particular example of a puzzling set of facts is a good25 one, I think. We end up trying to fit a theory to the facts, but the theory really does depend upon our preconceived26 ideas of the world.
- I agree with Mike (obviously!) that much of our understanding of the facts that we come across in our lives depends upon what we have already decided to put our faith in, and we tend to understand everything in that context. Why we decide to put our faith in God27, or alternatively, put our faith in something else, is interesting. I believe the Holy Spirit works by presenting each person with this choice in their lives – but then of course you know this already!
In-Page Footnotes:Footnote 2: Information Theory.
Footnote 3: Wiseman.
- I have bought a copy, but don’t know when I’ll read it.
- On the same topic I have:-
… "Gitt (Werner) - In the Beginning was Information", and
… "Shannon (Claude) & Weaver (Warren) - The Mathematical Theory of Communication",
not that I’ve read them either.
- The “issue” seems to be that (allegedly) living cells contain too much information in them not to have been explicitly created by a designer. I don’t know how to evaluate such arguments. When I find time, I’ll pursue the themes in Link, that discuss Behe’s ideas (which are along the same lines).
Footnote 4: Just So Stories.
- I’ve recently got hold of an electronic version of "Wiseman (P.J.) - Creation Revealed In Six Days: The evidence of Scripture confirmed by Archaeology", though it’s missing the Appendices (do you have a copy with these – and are they important?). I’ve converted it to my format, and started reading, but it’ll probably be a while before I finish it.
- Used copies of his Clues to Creation in Genesis are available on Amazon; but, if memory serves, this book is mostly concerned with his (to my mind rather implausible) “colophon” theory. “Implausible” because (in effect) it suggested (I seem to remember) that because Semitic languages are written from right to left, this somehow explains why the covers of the books got attached to the wrong books. But the covers are on the “back”, so this doesn’t seem to follow. But maybe I’ve got Wiseman wrong.
Footnote 5: Necks.
- Normally, the disputes over “How the giraffe got his long neck” are disputes between different evolutionary theories – eg. the discredited Lamarkian explanation – whereby the individual animals stretch their necks to reach higher branches and pass this acquired characteristic onto their offspring – versus the Darwinian version whereby a chance mutation for a longer neck gives the offspring who possess it a heritable advantage over their conspecifics (and other species inhabiting the same niche). It’s only really the Lamarkian approach that is “Just so”.
- But, there are cases where some odd event allegedly occurred in the past – say the alleged bi-location of Padre Pio (eg. Link). Those who believe in such possibilities accept them at face value. But those who don’t sometimes feel obliged to come up with some explanation as to how they came about. But obviously, whatever their suspicions, they don’t really know what happened – so what they do is come up with a collection of “just so” stories that – while each may individually be of low probability – collectively they are of higher probability than the obnoxious supposed event that is being doubted. To deny the obnoxious event, all we need is that one of an open-ended list of alternative possibilities be true.
- I assume we agree that the bilocation of a stigmatic is likely to be untrue, and would think of various stories of greater or lesser charity as to how the legends might have come about. Interestingly, "Ehrman (Bart D.) - Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium" considers the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus – and admits that the alternatives that explain the facts – while individually possible but not especially likely – are collectively more credible than the miraculous alternatives.
- Whether we seek an alternative to the miraculous event depends on our prior commitments. Those with a commitment to Christianity have no need to seek an alternative explanation, and Catholics have no objections to Padre Pio, but both groups are likely to object to the alleged miracles of Apollonius of Tyana (Wikipedia: Apollonius of Tyana (Defunct)) – unless they attribute them to powers other than God (which is another “just so” possibility).
- Now, I don’t know whether my use of the expression “just so stories” in connection with Wiseman’s theories is apposite. That’s the trouble with a chat – sometimes you say things that on reflection aren’t as appropriate as they might have been. That’s why I have doubts about face-to-face discussions on serious matters, as explained to Sylvia some while back (Click here for Note).
- It seems to me that what we have is a problem of interpreting ancient texts in the light of more recent understanding. While this understanding is certainly fallible, it is based on a lot more data than was available to the ancients. I’ve recently been trying to quiz a friend of mine (a Catholic who converted to Islam 3 years ago) on this topic with respect to the Qur’an, but have got nowhere (Click here for Note).
Footnote 6: Adam or Moses?
- The interesting thing about necks is that almost all mammals have 7 vertebrae – including bats, whales, giraffes and humans (see Link).
- Why is this? If you were an engineer designing from scratch, rather than operating by decent with modification, wouldn’t it be likely that long necks would have more vertebrae than short ones?
- No doubt an evolutionary biologist would still need to explain why sloths and manatees differ from the standard plan. I’ve not pursued this question.
Footnote 7: Minority Views.
- I had thought that Wiseman’s view was that the 6-day revelation was to Adam, not to Moses – but I may have misunderstood.
- But even if he did hold this view, you are free to invent another alternative – another “just so” story. The point of all this is that (I presume) you take the strictly literal account as too much in conflict with what we know, and so the Biblical account has to be interpreted more subtly.
Footnote 8: Backing the Minority View.
- My point wasn’t that minority views should be dismissed on principle. That would be absurd – as then science or any other discipline would never move on.
- My point was that it’s not open to a non-specialist to go against the expert consensus without good reason. Did you see the recent Horizon program Science Under Attack (Link (Defunct))? It wasn’t that great, but it explored the question of why it is that journalists and the general public seem keen to go against the scientific consensus on a number of issues – for instance climate change. For a review,
… The Guardian (Link),
And for a critique,
… Bishop Hill (not a bishop! Link).
- Taking the climate change issue. It is not certain that temperatures are rising, and it is not certain that the rise, if there is one, is due to human agency, and it is not certain that even if both these claims are true that anything can be done about it. But, the consensus is that both statements are true, and that something can be done about it, provided something is done soon. If nothing is done, and things carry on as they are, then the Antarctic ice-sheet will melt, and many great cities will be submerged, and earlier than that, the Arctic ice will melt, the Atlantic Conveyor will fail, and the UK will get a Scandinavian climate. So, it’s an important issue, one on which there is masses of data that has to be carefully modelled. It’s a problem that everyone hopes will go away as it’s expensive and inconvenient to fix. So, it is very tempting to deny the problem altogether.
- The point the program makes is that to arrive at a rational judgement, you have to take all the data and all the evidence, and not cherry-pick the bits that suit your viewpoint.
Footnote 9: Biblical Exegesis.
- Yes – the minority could be right, but the smart money will always be placed by an outsider on the majority view, because the consensus will be right (say) 90% of the time.
- Reputations are made by challenging the consensus, rather than going with the flow, so it’s always possible to find a heretic that disagrees with the consensus.
- But the vast majority of these heretics will be wrong, so it is methodologically unsound to look round for someone who says something you’d like to hear, and choose that.
Footnote 10: Souls.
- Well, I agree that that the majority view on Communion is clearly wrong just as you do, but our reasons differ slightly, though we agree that the root cause is a faulty paradigm.
- While it doesn’t deal with this topic, I remember "Harvey (A.E.) - Jesus and the Constraints of History" as a useful and scholarly account (in a non-sceptical way) of what could and couldn’t have been said of Jesus in NT times.
- By analogy, certain things (like the Last Supper being the institution of “Communion”, and what was understood of the bread and wine) are hopelessly anachronistic. I remember reading somewhere once someone claiming that Paul’s “cloak”, that he asked Timothy to bring, was his “chasuble”. Again, a hopeless anachronism.
- The trouble with the “traditionalists” is that they can’t see how “the church” could have gone so horribly wrong so quickly, given the promise of the Holy Spirit and experience of Pentecost, and they don’t have the same overview of what was going on that dispensationalists do. These are large questions, and – much like the “counting” of manuscripts to determine the NT text – it’s “independent witnesses” that are important. Lots of witnesses from the same tradition, that share the same paradigm, aren’t necessarily worth counting individually.
- I suppose there might be analogies with a wholesale rejection of supernaturalism by some atheistic scientists, if this rejection is a priori and ideological rather than methodological or inductive.
- I also suppose it’s important how involved individuals are in “testing” the paradigm, and working within it, and whether they know (or can know) whether or not it works. We might consider working geologists and practicing Pentecostals – the facts of the world must impinge on them on a daily basis and confirm or conflict with their paradigm. I’m not sure this is the case with traditionalists, especially if they don’t study their Bibles much.
- The bottom line in all this is that there are different ways of counting heads. I would agree that just when to demur from the majority view is a moot point; and I (like you) have to watch out that I’m not doing so just because it’s convenient. Basically (I would say) you need a jolly good reason.
Footnote 11: Asah and “doing”.
- It’s instructive to read the preface of a recent book supporting the traditional view ("Cooper (John) - Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-dualism Debate").
- There are lots of issues here; not least whether
… not of course that you would think there could be a truth-value difference here!
- There are such things as souls, and
- Whether the Bible says there are
- Basically, each view has a set of “definitive” passages, and a set of “difficult” ones that have to be harmonised or explained away. The opposing views seem to take one another’s difficult passages as definitive, and vice versa.
- I have a few handy OBT booklets on this topic, lest you ask:-
… "Ozanne (Charles) - The Life and Soul of Mortal Man: His Composition, Disintegration, and Resurrection", and
… "Bullinger (E.W.) - The Resurrection of the Body",
… "Bullinger (E.W.) - The Rich Man and Lazarus - the Intermediate State".
- My feeling is that it’s impossible to achieve what the authors of the above booklets wish to do, and the long list of “problem passages” in, for example, Ozanne’s booklet shows this fairly clearly. The assumptions are:-
My view is that the Bible is much more accommodating towards “common currency” beliefs contemporary with the writers than modern (fundamentalist) scholars think is appropriate, and that we should focus on the moral message of the various passages rather than the metaphysical details presupposed.
- a. The traditional doctrines are either false to reality or ethically obnoxious.
- b. Nothing of the sort could be found in Scripture, properly interpreted.
- c. Rather than being a library with potentially discordant views, written and revised during the course of a millennium, the Bible speaks univocally when different passages treat of the same topic.
- My inclinations are strongly towards materialism (in the non-moral sense), but I’m currently reading a book on NDEs ("Fenwick (Peter) & Fenwick (Elizabeth) - The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences"). Do you have a view on NDEs? Most of the phenomena seem to be explicable by the sort of things that are likely to happen in the dying brain, and this is the popular materialist explanation, but the claim that people have “floated out of their bodies” and seen things they couldn’t otherwise have seen are difficult to refute other than by denying that they happen as related, but are “talked up” in some way. There’s also the issue of how these episodes are remembered and when the experiences (whatever they are of) actually happened. Given the prevalence of amnesia around the period of traumatic events, it seems to me most likely that the experience of the NDE is had when the person is “coming round” rather than during the crisis itself. A popular explanation of the experience of déjà vu is that it’s down to a memory storage and retrieval problem, and that the “remembered” experience is the one currently being had, but with the memory off-set by a second from real time. But any application of this idea to the timing of NDEs is just speculation on my part.
- What do you make of claims like this (in non-traumatic cases, so they aren’t really NDEs):-
- A similar account was given to us by Dora Parker, who had also had an out-of-body experience when she was ill with 'flu as a seven-year-old child.
“I left my body and felt relief that I was free ... I heard a noise and my nanna coming upstairs ... I continued to float and the light at the bottom of the stairs was brilliant (we only had gas). I was inquisitive. I needed to see why the light was so bright. I got to the curtain (we had a curtain at the bottom of the stairs) and I heard my nanna scream and scream. My body started to shake. I was tangled in the curtain. I had to go back — my lovely nanna wanted me — so I floated back and as she let my head on the pillow I came into my body feet-first.”
- Whatever the grandmother saw, it clearly terrified her, just as the sister of the boy in the previous account was terrified. There is obviously something about an OBE which to an observer seems like death — a body without its vital force.
- In some instances, leaving the body seems to be a way out for people who are in great physical pain, or even great emotional distress. Some of the people who wrote to us had had an OBE in these circumstances and were subsequently able to reproduce it as a mechanism to escape pain. Mrs Christine Hopkinson describes what happened to her when she was in severe pain (though not near death) due to an undiagnosed gall bladder problem.
“I remember saying to myself, all right, take me, I can't go on any longer — here I am. I spent some time out of my body and then felt had a choice of whether to go back or not. I chose to go back. For several weeks the same thing occurred, but I controlled the experiences. At the onset of pain I relaxed and ‘floated out' until it was ‘safe' to return and the pain was gone. I was able to roam about the house, check that my baby was sleeping, look at the cat and dog, see my husband asleep. I could see my body sitting there waiting for me to return to it. I have always felt that if I ‘needed' to I could do it again — but only if I ‘needed' to — and consequently have never been afraid of suffering acute pain. I have always felt guilty about not sharing these experiences as I feel if the techniques could be taught they could help people who suffer pain.”
("Fenwick (Peter) & Fenwick (Elizabeth) - The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences", pp. 38-9).
Footnote 12: Dismissing the Bible?
- Well, no doubt. Asah is a very multi-purpose word in Hebrew. But the question isn’t really whether the particular meaning chosen in a particular context is possible, but whether it’s likely.
- In particular, did the author of the passage have an alternative way of more clearly expressing his intention if the heterodox translation is what he really intended. And, if so, why didn’t he use that expression?
- Is there any motivation for the “possible” translation other than to harmonise the text with something else the reader (if not the Biblical author) believes in?
- How well does the heterodox translation harmonise with other Biblical passages that deal with the same topic (or with ancient translations of the passage in question into other languages)?
- How do you explain the origin and popularity of the orthodox view?
Footnote 13: Credibility and Minds.
- Not at all. I want to interpret the Bible in as reasonable a manner as possible. What I want to do – just like you, I think – is find out what it was originally intending, and then – unlike you – see whether that original intention is credible. If it isn’t, then you just have to live with this and see what you can make of the passage that is helpful.
- Clearly, the early chapters of Genesis are a lot more sensible than the then competition – they stress the separateness of God from the universe and its dependence on him, while avoiding turtles, sea-monsters and ludicrous legends. But insisting that it has to be taken literally just places stumbling-blocks in the way of the conscientious. And struggling to find some quaint interpretation that appears to preserve literality doesn’t seem to me to be accepting the Bible as it is.
Footnote 14: Minority (but Correct) Views – Galileo.
- Well, I suspect it depends how “full” your mind is. I’m sure many Christians have some vague feeling that “flood geology” fits both the facts and the Bible, without really being aware of, or caring about (not being working geologists) just what the geological facts are.
- I always see an asymmetry here. If you want to go out on a limb, you need to know more about the subject than the competition. You can’t just pick on any madcap that says something comfortable for you to believe.
Footnote 15: Pre-Galilean Explanations.
- Well, presumably all ideas start off as the view of the one person first to think of them. But it doesn’t make it rational to believe the minority view – even if it should turn out to be correct – until evidence for its truth has accumulated. Galileo couldn’t really prove his view (indeed, no scientific theory is deductively valid as it’s supported by abductive rather than deductive proofs – inference to the best explanation of a large amount of data).
- There’s a shift of paradigm (in theory) just as soon as the new theory explains more and struggles with less of the evidence than its rivals – thought there are lots of sociological factors involved, and some theories “feel wrong” and so are very reluctantly accepted.
- The main point is that “science” is never final – there’s always more to be discovered and explained, and depending on just what is discovered the existing theories will have to be adjusted to a greater or lesser degree to accommodate the inconvenient new facts. But at least “science” cares about the evidence which it seeks to explain. It’s not prescriptive of how things must be, as though we can know without looking – which was the approach of some medieval and some ancients – and was the dominant position until just before Copernicus.
- If you have a holy book (or some other indubitable authority) that you think tells you how the world is, then you have no incentive to look at the world itself. The same is true if you have too high a view of the rationality of man (in being able to intuit the truth independently of experience) or of the “helpfulness” of God (in designing man to be a successful intuitionist of the truth).
- I’ve heard it said that the Judeo-Christian world-view was essential for the rise of science. It features in the discussions on Copernicus – how he thought that because the universe was made for man, it would therefore be intelligible to man. But other Christians who have had an Aristotelian view of a remote God have thought that it was impious to investigate the creation, because man in his fallen state can know nothing without divine help.
- It strikes me that someone needed to take step of confidence that the world is intelligible, and that man has the capability to find things out, and then see how you get on. If you make progress, then fine.
- There are some mumblings in creationist circles about just how unlikely it would be for the higher intellectual capacities to have evolved, as they don’t seem very useful to hunter-gatherers. I’m not impressed, and suppose that they are spin-offs from skills that did have survival value.
Footnote 16: Problems with Evolutionary Models.
- Well, it’s right that sometimes the minority – but happily correct – view doesn’t immediately get accepted because it can’t prove its case.
- The original problem with the Copernican system was that astronomers expected to see parallax in star positions as the Earth moved round the Sun (if it did). It was only the invention of the telescope that (inter alia) blew the lid off such doubts by revealing the vastness of the universe, and allowing the huge inter-stellar distances to become appreciated. It’s just that it took a while for the data revealed by the telescope to become widely available, and some people thought it impious to use the instrument at all.
- Similarly, think of Kelvin’s “upper bound” limits to the age of the Earth, and of the Sun, using 19th-century physics Link. Until the discovery of radioactivity, the Earth (with its molten core) “couldn’t be” more than forty million years old (see Link), as otherwise it would have cooled down from its presumed initial molten state. And the Sun “couldn’t be” older than five hundred million years (see Link).
- Again, Barnes’s arguments that the decay of the Earth’s magnetic field (when extrapolated back) places a limit on the age of the Earth ignore (or reject) past polarity-reversals, which show the extrapolation-assumption to be unsound (seeWikipedia: Thomas G. Barnes - Earth's magnetic field decay. See Link for a detailed rebuttal of Barnes’s theory.
Footnote 17: Galileo.
- You’d need to give some examples here, but …
- Popper famously / notoriously claimed that evolutionary theory (like psychoanalysis) was unfalsifiable, and therefore pseudo-scientific. This claim has been disputed (by both evolutionary theorists and psychoanalysts). I’ve no impulse to defend the latter, but I think the consensus is that Popper was wrong with respect to evolution, and Wikipedia: Objections to evolution - Unfalsifiability claims that he modified his views.
- I need to re-read "Kitcher (Philip) - Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism", which deals with this sort of objection (in particular Chapter 2 - "Kitcher (Philip) - Believing Where We Cannot Prove").
Footnote 18: Faith.
- I know Galileo is just an example, so the following points are not strictly relevant, but I’ve jotted them down for future reference. Your point here, though, is that Galileo was (loosely speaking) correct but was initially resisted. He’s an awkward example because the main problem in his case was that of authority to teach, but you could have chosen other examples (plate tectonics is a classic case). All this stuff is discussed in "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
- My point isn’t that the minority-view can’t be right, only that it’ll be wrong 90% of the time, even if we restrict ourselves to the views of experts; and that non-experts have no warrant for choosing a comfortable minority view that agrees with their prejudices.
- It might be interesting to think through what logical work belief in such minority views performs. It’s not as a logically necessary bit of scaffolding – so that if the view turned out to be false, the belief that it allegedly supports would be without foundation – because the belief would still be held anyway. It just seems to be something of a comfort-blanket as far as I can see. But I dare say all people have such comfort-blankets. My point is that they should be as robust as possible, and not just any old rag of last resort.
- Anyway, Galileo is a popular defence witness in a number of arguments. I’m not sure which aspect of science you had in mind, but I suppose it would be his support for the Copernican system, as this was then the most controversial area of his thought.
- I’m no expert in this area, but my understanding is that at the time of Galileo, before natural science had taken off, the general view was that scientists (or mathematicians) could theorise and create models that predicted things – that “saved the phenomena” – but not claim that this is how things really were (which is exclusively for God to say). So, Ptolemy’s theories of epicycles to explain retrograde planetary motion weren’t held as “the truth” of how things were, just as useful fictions to help predict their movements. How things really were was down to the theologians and philosophers who knew the mind of God. Galileo’s trouble was that he believed his theories, and taught them as the truth, thereby stepping on their toes. Also, he claimed to be able to interpret the Scriptures, which also wasn’t his job.
- It’s interesting to think how Scriptural verses should be interpreted, in the absence of evidence of how things actually are. We now know that there are no “storehouses” for the wind, so see verses that refer to them as poetic. But without this knowledge, isn’t it “safer” to take them literally?
- There were a bunch of verses that now seem obviously figurative, but which were taken literally in the absence of evidence to the contrary, and in the light of the “common sense” that the earth doesn’t seem to be moving (I’m indebted to Wikipedia: Galileo Galilei - Controversy over heliocentrism for reminding me of these KJV quotes; though the Latin Vulgate version is more relevant to the Galilean controversy):-
- Psalm 93:1: The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
- Psalm 96:10: Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
- 1 Chronicles 16:30: Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
- Psalm 104:5: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
- Ecclesiastes 1:5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
- I’ve a big book:-
… "Blumenberg (Hans) - The Genesis of the Copernican World", which quotes …
… "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought"
… "Copernicus (Nicolaus) - On The Revolutions Of The Heavenly Spheres" and
… "Galilei (Galileo) - Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences"
that would provide the background.
Footnote 19: Greater Faith.
- Well, belief in the natural origins of life is a corollary of a commitment to naturalism, and displays a reluctance to resort to divine intervention whenever you get stuck. It’s not necessarily atheistic.
- Consider the famous quote of Laplace’s interaction with Napoleon (see Link), namely
“Someone had told Napoleon that (Laplace’s) book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.' Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, "I had no need of that hypothesis." Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, "Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things."”. I think the issue is whether God needs to be brought in to explain the details. Laplace’s book dealt with perturbations in the solar system, and whether God was needed to prod the planets back onto their orbits if they started to wander off. Laplace had no need of that hypothesis, as including previously neglected terms in the dynamical formulation explained things adequately. This isn’t to say there is no God, or that God doesn’t ultimately hold all things together, just that you don’t need to introduce God as the proximate cause of the phenomena. To do so is to introduce the “God of the Gaps”.
- Pete and I attended a moderately interesting conference on Naturalism (Click here for Note) at Heythrop. The naturalists won, in my evaluation.
- Everyone is agreed that the origins of the first life-forms are difficult to explain, and the (probably rather out-dated) attempts I’ve seen so far aren’t very convincing. See for instance:-
… "Cairns-Smith (A.G.) - Seven Clues to the Origin of Life - A Scientific Detective Story"
… "Cairns-Smith (A.G.) - The Life Puzzle - On Crystals and Organisms and on the Possibility of a Crystal as an Ancestor"
… "Hoyle (Fred) - The Intelligent Universe: A New View of Creation and Evolution"
… "Hoyle (Fred) & Wickramasinghe (Chandra) - Lifecloud: The Origin of Life in the Universe"
But, however far off these arguments are, the fact that they don’t stack up is only evidence that no naturalistic explanation is currently available, not that one never will be found, nor is it a call to abandon the naturalist program.
- Interestingly enough, there was an announcement on 6th March 2011 (see "Hoover (Richard B.) - Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites: Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus") that fossil life had been “found” in meteorites. This is, of course, highly controversial, and has been claimed before. But
- If it can ever be substantiated, it would greatly improve the odds on a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the first replicators (more on which in a moment).
- There’s an interesting analogy here between my interest in (if not reliance on) such a theory and your interest in (if not reliance on) Wiseman’s theories.
- I don’t think there’s much of a parallel because Wiseman is an amateur whose work hasn’t been subjected to peer-review (as far as I know). Not that amateurs can’t be right, but (as I’ve argued) other amateurs can’t rely on their testimony unless they can evaluate the arguments for themselves, and acquire the relevant linguistic and archaeological competences (in this case).
- Panspermia: what has this got going for it?
- Initially, I thought that this view (that life originated in space and arrived on earth via comets) simply pushed the problem back a step – ie. how did it arise on (or get transferred to) comets? True, it provides an extra 10 billion years, but this won’t affect the probabilities much.
- But, this is too hasty if the option (if it is one) of replicators having originated on comets is taken. There are two reasons for this:-
- Comets are farther from the Sun (or their host planet, if they originated in another solar system), and so sensitive organic molecules are less likely to be disrupted by cosmic rays – an objection to the “primordial soup” idea.
- It massively increases the probabilities of a naturalistic explanation of the origins of the initial replicators, as there are / were very many more appropriate comets than terrestrial planets (or at least they have a higher surface area to mass ratio).
- Anthropic principle: this is an important point never to forget. Panspermia takes the view that life is common throughout the universe; but, say this is wrong (as I think likely) and take the extreme view that life (or at least intelligent life) has only arisen once. Then, that place would have to be here. It’s a selection effect – it has to be here, because we’re the ones observing it.
- There’s a website hosted by Cardiff University that takes an interest in these matters: Link (Defunct).
- My view is that a naturalistic explanation of the origins of life need in no way be atheistic; the setting up of the system that allows this to happen is still unexplained. Even if we adopt a multiverse (or infinite expansion / contraction of a single universe) explanation to get round the “fine tuning” arguments, we still have to explain what or who set up the basis for the cosmic dance in the first place. Hawking’s (and others) idea that “the equations” somehow bring what they describe into existence by some bootstrapping mechanism just seems silly to me.
- But, this “ground of all being” idea isn’t the same as the “cosmic tinkerer” idea – of the God of the gaps who is brought in to explain the bits that naturalism currently finds hard to answer. My view is that we have to give up on that kind of God as he will continue to diminish as more and more gets explained.
- This isn’t equivalent to deism either; it allows for God’s intervention in salvation history if not in natural history. The reasons for believing in God are not to explain natural phenomena but supernatural phenomena (though a healthy scepticism is advised here, as no-one seems keen to believe is the supernatural phenomena alleged by other people’s religions).
Footnote 20: Revelation and Ignorance.
- I doubt it. But the point is that faith in the naturalistic program is justified by its success. Can you think of any scientific question to which the agreed scientific answer was “God (proximately) did it”?
- The appendices in "Gitt (Werner) - In the Beginning was Information" treat of the migration of birds (amongst much else) as though the specific design-intervention of God is required to ensure they fly in a V-formation to conserve energy. But I thought various computer simulations (of “boids”) had shown that this behaviour (and the flight of starlings) can be explained mathematically (see Link, etc).
- Sheldrake is a naturalist, but thinks that we might need new laws of physics to explain certain phenomena (eg. see "Sheldrake (Rupert) - Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals"). Again, this is a response to “being stuck”, and is a step to be resisted until (a) all other avenues have failed and (b) the new proposals have been quantified and clarified and a clear “research program” has been mapped out.
Footnote 21: Arguing in Circles.
- Assuming you’re not culpably ignorant as a Bible student, in failing to know what’s actually there, what was the point of God nattering on to Adam (or Moses) for 6 days in what was essentially a private chat? Why didn’t Adam (or Moses) write down what was said, for the edification of the rest of us?
- Doesn’t this lack of transmitted revelation count against the “creation revealed in 6 days” idea?
- No doubt you’ll say you’ve “no idea” why God didn’t allow the conversations to be recorded, but I won’t be impressed.
Footnote 22: Tiahuanaco.
- The purpose of writing these discussion up is to help prevent this! We may ultimately decide that we disagree on some fundamental premise or other, but the purpose of writing it all up is to find what these premises are.
- We (or I) do need occasionally to review what we’ve said before, however, and I don’t always do that. I’m still “working on” ways of structuring all this. So far all I have is the Blog jump table (this link) or the global Notes jump table (this link).
Footnote 23: Inexplicable Facts.
- For our earlier discussion on Tiahuanaco Click here for Note.
- … and don’t forget to look at my response!
Footnote 24: Facts.
- Are the facts really “inexplicable”, or just currently unexplained?
- Naturally, there are philosophical disagreements about what knowledge is. It was thought to be justified true belief, until "Gettier (Edmund) - Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" came up with counter-examples. But now it’s assumed that knowledge is JTB+X, where “X” is some “extra” that gets rid of the Gettier examples. Broadly speaking, the minimum requirement for a knowledge-claim is that what you claim to know is actually true, that your belief is justified (broadly, that the belief was acquired by a usually reliable process). And you can’t claim to know what you don’t believe (“I know Y is true, but I don’t believe it” is Moore’s paradox - Wikipedia: Moore's paradox).
- Since we can never be sure (except in some incorrigible cases – simple logic and mathematics, knowledge of your own subjective states, and such-like) that any proposition is true, we can only rarely know that we know, even if we know.
- This all sounds rather bleak, and I prefer to focus on justified belief. It’s often pointed out that “certainty” is a psychological state only loosely-connected to claims to know – one can know things of which one is not certain – most of the hazily-remembered stuff from school, for instance.
- So, while we might not know – or be certain – what the explanation of a particular fact is, we can have justified beliefs about such explanations. This, in my view, is about as good as it gets.
- My view remains that beliefs are only more or less likely to be true, where the degree of likelihood can sometimes be precisely quantified, but usually cannot.
Footnote 25: Good Examples.
- Sadly, there are many cases where the facts – taken to be true statements about the world – are themselves in dispute. This came up in the Tiahuanaco case.
Footnote 26: Pre-conceived Ideas.
- The trouble with the Tiahuanaco case is that the facts are very much in dispute.
- Additionally, the suggested explanation (of tilts in the Earth’s axis) is so non-conservative, that it should be an explanation of last resort.
- So, I don’t think it is a good example.
Footnote 27: Faith in God.
- Well, I’m sure we all start off with pre-conceptions, but aren’t they revisable in the light of experience and education?
- What we do need to do is have a holistic view of things. You can’t believe any one thing in isolation from all the other things you believe. You must always ask yourself what else you’d need to believe (or give up), and whatever else would have to be the case if such-and-such an alleged fact were true. You can’t have one area of the Earth uplifted thousands of feet without other impacts. A change in the earth’s axis of rotation would impact not just one Andean port, but the whole world.
- Well, we do go round in circles here. This discussion isn’t about faith in God, but how we know about God, what God has told us, and how God works.
- You think it’d be highly convenient if God had given us a nice hand-book of how everything important for us to know actually is. So do all religions, and they all have their holy books. Some are better than others, but irrespective of how barmy they seem to a superficial reading, some of their adherents manage to persuade themselves that they have the exact words of God and “place them” before others to accept or reject at their eternal peril.
- It seems to me that placing stark choices – like the Book is either inerrant and the verbatim word of God, or it’s a load of hooey – places a false dichotomy before people, and prevents them from getting any good at all from the supposed revelation.
- What I’d like to do (sometime) is to consider just what can be salvaged from the wreckage (if that’s how you want to view things). Say we were to accept (as obviously I think we must, but you don’t) that there was no such person as Adam. What are the consequences? Clearly Paul thought there was an Adam, so in a sense (if I’m right) his arguments are grounded on a false premise. But what he was arguing for – that we are all sinners needing salvation – is still true. The argument is just couched in terms of what everyone then believed (or if they didn’t, they believed something else even less likely to be true that they needed arguing out of).
|Note last updated
||Reference for this Topic
||969 (Mike & Sylvia (29/12/2010))
||Theo Todman's Blog|
Summary of Note Links from this Page
To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.
Summary of Note Links to this Page
To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.
Text Colour Conventions
- Black: Printable Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)