Monday, 30 September 2013

ID Science?

The Discovery Institute has an article about ID Science. You, know, the whole observation, hypothesis, prediction, test thing.

They even claim they do just that:


Natural structures will be found that are irreducibly complex, and contain parts in intricate patterns.

Only two things wrong with this prediction.

1. It is not a necessary consequence of their theory. God could have chosen to create things that were not like that. Compare to the nested hierarchy predicted by evolution. This must be true, if evolution is true.

This is vital to a prediction because it gives falsifiability. Evolution would be falsified if there was no nested hierarchy. ID would not be falsified if irreducibly complex is never found.

2. It is perfectly compatible with evolution.


By experimentally removing or breaking parts in a system, then testing for functtionality without those parts, we can determine whether the system is irreducibly complex.

This is the kicker. ID is not science because they have never done this.

ICR's "Summary of Scientific Evidence for Creation"

This is a response to an article by Duane Gish, on the web site of the Institute for Creation Research. Gish was one of the big names in creationism, and had a Ph.D. in biochemistry, so we would expect him to be quite an authority. He pasted away in March of this year.

The article is here.The section titles are taken from that document.

I. The Universe and the Solar System Were Suddenly Created.

This is an astonishing claim.  Sure, the universe suddenly appeared (whether created or not), but not the solar system. Curiously Gish offers zero evidencve to support his claim that the solar system was suddenly created.

With regards to the universe, he cites the Second Law as proving God did it, which I have taken apart previously.

II. Life Was Suddenly Created.

 He bases this claim on the fact that there is a certain point in the fossil record before which there are no fossil - which is exactly what you would expect. He claims the first fossils were complex organisms, which you might think means lions and elephants and giraffes, but they were nothing like that.

The fact is that fossils have been found from as long ago as 3.5 billion years, and these are the fossils of single-celled organisms - cyanobacteria. To be fair, even these organisms are presumably not that simple, but we are just going going to see anything less complex in the fossil record. It is amazing we even see these.

III. All Present Living Kinds of Animals and Plants Have Remained Fixed Since Creation, Other than Extinctions, and Genetic Variation in Originally Created Kinds Has Only Occurred within Narrow Limits.

This is basically the argument that there are no transitional fossils.  Actually, there are.

IV. Mutation and Natural Selection Are Insufficient To Have Brought About Any Emergence of Present Living Kinds from a Simple Primordial Organism.

The argument from improbability. Of course, Gish does not do any calculations, he just asserts that the "mathematical probability ... is infinitesimally small even after many billions of years".

Well, I assert it is not.

V. Man and Apes Have a Separate Ancestry.

You might think a guy with a Ph.D. in biochemistry would be interested in the genetic similarity. Apparently not. This is just about rubbishing various transitional fossils, so is the same argument as III.

Real scientists, doing real science, have looking at the DNA, and established that the chimpanzee's DNA is closer to our own than it is to a gorilla's:
 While the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule – about 0.1%, on average – study of the same aspects of the chimpanzee genome indicates a difference of about 1.2%. The bonobo (Pan paniscus), which is the close cousin of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), differs from humans to the same degree. The DNA difference with gorillas, another of the African apes, is about 1.6%. Most importantly, chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans all show this same amount of difference from gorillas. A difference of 3.1% distinguishes us and the African apes from the Asian great ape, the orangutan. How do the monkeys stack up?  All of the great apes and humans differ from rhesus monkeys, for example, by about 7% in their DNA.
All this fits perfectly with the nested hierarchy required by evolution. But it is quite a problem for creations.

VI. The Earth's Geologic Features Were Fashioned Largely by Rapid, Catastrophic Processes that Affected the Earth on a Global and Regional Scale (Catastrophism).

Some were, some were not.

The first death knell of the Genesis 1 myth came from geology, in the Eighteenth century, when a guy called James Hutton suggested that things in the past happened pretty much as the do today. This was called uniformitarianism, and stood against catastropism. Nowadays, we accept that the landscape is shaped by both gradual processes and by catastrophes.

Gish does not say any more than that. Thereis the unspoken suggestion that this means the global flood happened, though he never mentions such an event explicitly.

VII. The Inception of the Earth and of Living Kinds May Have Been Relatively Recent.

First, Gish rubbishes radiometric dating, then he suggests other indicators of a young Earth. Several of these point to an Earth old that the few thousand years he presumably believes, but that is not to be held against him - they are all consistent with a world created by god 6000 years ago.

So let us quickly look at these indicators:
Estimating by the rate of addition of helium to the atmosphere from radioactive decay, the age of the earth appears to be about 10,000 years, even allowing for moderate helium escape. 

So this is a method based on radioactive decay, which he was just rubbishing. Can we assume the decay rates are constant, or can we not, Dr Gish?

Based on the present rate of the earth's cooling, the time required for the earth to have reached its present thermal structure seems to be only several tens of millions of years, even assuming that the earth was initially molten.
This would seem to be based on estimates by Kelvin, a brilliant thermodynamist, but who was working with limited knowledge. It is now known, for example, that radioactivity provides a heating mechanism within the Earth.

Extrapolating the observed rate of apparently exponential decay of the earth's magnetic field, the age of the earth or life seemingly could not exceed 20,000 years.
 Again, this is working with out-dated evidence. Nowadays, it is established that the magnetic field does not just decay, but actually flips north-south occasionally too (this is recorded in iron oxide in rocks).

It is ironic that Gish was arguing against uniformitarianism in VI, and yet in the very next section, he assumes uniformitarianism to try to prove his point. But where would creationism be without cherry-picking?

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Firmament

Christian apologists have made several attempts to explain away references to the firmament, and many modern Bibles now use the term "expanse" to try to sweep the issue under the carpet. This post looks at some Christian apologist web pages that attempt to deal with the issue.

Answering Islam

Web page here.They look at this verse:
Job 37:18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?
Note that in those times mirrors were made of molten bronze or copper, which was then polished, so "molten looking glass" presumably meant a metal mirror. They quote Norm Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties, 1992, and so shall I.

It is true that the origin of the Hebrew word raqia meant a solid object. However, meaning is not determined by origin (etymology), but by usage. Originally, the English word 'board' referred to a wooden plank. But when we speak of a church board member, the word no longer has that meaning. When used of the atmosphere above the earth, "firmament" clearly does not mean something solid. This is evident for several reasons. First, the related word raqa (beat out, spread out) is correctly rendered "expanse" by many recent translations. Just as metal spreads out when beaten (cf. Ex. 39:3; Isa. 40:19), so the firmament is a thinned out area.

A lot of words to say nothing at all!

Meaning is determined by usage, fair enough. So how is it used? According to Strong's concordance:
beaten (1), hammered (2), plates (1), spread (3), spreading (1), stamp (1), stamped (2).

So in fact the usage supports the idea of a solid firmament.

The rest is a circular argument. Christians have decided it does not refer to a solid dome, so assert that it "clearly does not mean something solid" and have chosen to translate the word as "expanse" in modern editions. Sorry, but that in no way indicates that the original author had that meaning in mind.
"Second the root meaning 'spread out' can be used independently of "beat out", as it is in several passages (cf. Ps. 136:6; Isa. 42:5; 44:24). Isaiah wrote, 'So says Jehovah God, He who created the heavens and stretched them out, spreading out the earth and its offspring (Isa. 42:5, MKJV). This same verb is used of extending curtains or tents in which to dwell, which would make no sense if there was no empty space there in which to live. Isaiah, for example, spoke of the Lord 'who sits on the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in...'
Okay, so we have this word which means a solid thing is spread out thinly. This might apply to working metal to make a bowl, it might apply to unpacking and erecting a tent. Remember that this was a bronze age or early iron age society; these were the sorts of things that might be familiar to them.

Sure there was space to live in a tent. But the canvas of the tent was stretched out over your head - just as God stretched out the firmament over the whole world. This makes perfect sense, and really I struggle to see Geisler and Howe's point here.

Third, the Bible speaks of rain falling through the sky (Job 36:27-28). But this makes no sense if the sky is a metal dome. Nowhere does the Bible refer to little holes in a metal dome through which the drops fall. It does speak figuratively of the 'windows of heaven' opening for the Flood (Gen. 7:11). But this should probably not be taken any more literally than our idiom, 'It is raining cats and dogs.'

What? Nowhere does the Bible refer to little holes in a metal dome through which the drops fall - but actually it does! This is some wonderful cognitive dissonance. They have decided that references to rain coming though holes is figurative - because that supports their position - and then go on to say there are no references at all.

The reality is that the Bible makes numerous references to these holes.

"Fourth, the Genesis creation account speaks of birds that 'fly above the earth across the face of the firmament' (Gen. 1:20). But this would be impossible if the sky was solid. Thus, it is more appropriate to translate raqia by the word 'expanse' (as the NASB and NIV do). And in this sense there is no conflict with the concept of space in modern science.

They seem to be arguing that Genesis say birds fly in space! The face of the firmament is the side of the dome that faces us, and it seems quite reasonable that birds would fly across it.

"Fifth, even taken literally, Job's statement (37:18) does not affirm that the 'skies' are a 'metal mirror,' but simply that they are 'as [like] a mirror. In other words, it is not a comparison that need to be taken literally, any more than God is really a 'strong tower' (cf. Prov. 18:10). Further, the point of comparison in Job is not the solidity of the 'skies' and mirror, but their durability (cf. word 'strong' [chazaq]; v. 18). So, when all is considered, there is no evidence that the Bible affirms that the firmament of the sky is a metallic dome. And thus there is no conflict with modern science." (Geisler & Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties [Victor Books, USA 1992], pp. 229-230)

Yes, it does say the firmament is like a metal mirror, so we cannot take that to mean it actually is a metal mirror. But we can assume that the author thought it was like a metal mirror - i.e., solid.

Interesting that they take "strong" to mean durable. However, this is just wishful thinking on their part. A solid firmament would be an incredible feat of engineering in human terms, requiring remarkably strong materials of construction - and it is this that the Biblical author is alluding to.

By the way, here is how the word chazaq is used elsewhere in the Bible.

The article cites Strong's concordance, concluding:
Hence, Geisler & Howe were correct when stating that the term can mean hard or firm and therefore refers to the heavens enduring throughout the ages much like a metal mirror endures. The comparison is on durability, not solidity.
That is some reach there. Me, when I see that "the term can mean hard or firm" I am going to conclude that it refers to something hard and firm. But hey, they have already decided there is no firmament, so are obliged to twist the evidence to support that conclusion.

JP Holding

Holding wrote an article, itself responding to an article by Paul Seely. The article by Seely is in two parts here and here:

God called the firmament Heaven

Holding starts with Genesis 1:7-8

Genesis 1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The issue here is God calling the firmament "heaven". Does God live within the solid structure? That does seem unlikely. Holding prefers to consider the firmament to be the atmosphere:

We therefore argue that raqiya‘ is intended rather to refer to that which serves to ‘separate the earth from all that is beyond it’,15 (that is, what we call the atmosphere, and interstellar space) and that because no differentiation is made otherwise, there is no reason why Genesis can not be read to permit a description of the heavens and the natural order as we know it.

So does he believe that God created the atmosphere, and called that "heaven", and God sits on a thone in the atmosphere? I am not at all convinced that that makes any more sense.

The Hebrew word used here is שָׁמַ֫יִם or "shamayim", which can mean heaven or sky. Perhaps a better explanation is that God created a solid dome over the word, and he called it the sky.

Genesis 2:29, 2:20, 6:7, 7:3, 9:2 all talk about birds of the sky, using the same word, and in the flood account, the waters come from the sky, using the same word.

It is worth remembering that our modern idea of an afterlife in heaven is at odds with the Biblical view, in which all the dead will return to life at the same moment, to live, not in heaven, but on earth.

This page lists all 400 or so occurances of the word, and many times one Bible translates it as heaven, another as sky, and there are plenty of times it could be translated as sky when it is not.

This is not without problems, as Holding says. One is the birds of the sky, as already mentioned (though he cites a different verse). How can the birds fly in the firmament (which is called "sky"), given it is a solid structure?

But raqiya and shamayim are different words that are used differently in the Bible. God creates a firmament, and calls it the sky, but these are two different words used differently throughout the Bible.

Holding attempts to counter this, saying:

The problem with this argument is that the claim that shamayim is ‘broader in meaning’ than raqiya‘ in Genesis 14 is simply groundless—the result of circular reasoning. In Genesis 1:8, the implication is that the raqiya‘ has the name shamayim in an exact one-to-one correspondence, just as is the case for the ‘Earth’ and the ‘Seas’ when they are named (v. 10). There is no reason to see a broader meaning of shamayim than an exact equation with raqiya‘.

The reality is that we do have good reason to think that the words are not synonymous - and that is why they are consistently translated differently.

God Creates Nitrogen, Oxygen, Etc...

Holding says:

There is a flaw in this line of reasoning as well. Seely has asserted that the ‘air’ or ‘space’ which surrounds us is ‘intangible,’ and this is correct from a strictly phenomenal point of view. But in actuality, the ‘air’ and ‘space’ around and above us is not strictly ‘intangible’ at all. It is rather composed of gas molecules (oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc.) that are too small for us to feel or otherwise perceive unaided, and further out into space there is a wide variety of material such as spaceborne dust, gases, and so on. There is no reason why ‘made’ should be an inappropriate verb for the creation of such things, unless Seely can show elsewhere that creation of something similar required a different verb—and that he certainly cannot do, unless he has some hidden passages in the Old Testament up his sleeve.

This is certainly possible, and it is illustrative of the fact that Christian apologists can and do find rationalisations for pretty much anything in the Bible that does not take their fancy. The question is, is this likely to be what the author meant? Holding gives us no reason to suppose so.

Ezekiel and Exodus

Holding rejects the description in Ezekiel as being merely a dream, and on this I agree. He also similarly rejects the description in Exodus 24:10, which is less certain, but I will allow him that one too.

Waters Above

What, then, are these ‘waters’? We agree with Seely, against a number of commentators, that these are not clouds. 31 Rather, it is our suggestion that these ‘waters’ were the originally-created, basic building blocks of matter that the earth was made from, and otherwise became all that was created outside of our atmosphere and/or our solar system. 32 We would hardly expect the author of Genesis to make distinctions between things like stellar matter, methane gas, asteroids, comets, etc.
Well, that is a possible interpretation, but is it likely? Holding continues:
No further revelation is given about the nature of these waters; nor is it said what has happened to them. As far as the inspired writers knew, these waters were still ‘up there,’ and if they started with the conception of an ocean, they would continue with that conception.
The reality is that the Bible has several references to the water that is still up there, refering to windows being opened in the firmament to allow rain to come through. Holding objects to this on the basis that it is "not proven" that raqiya‘ and shamayim have different meanings. That is just rhetorical sleight-of-hand. We can be confident that it is very likely they had different meanings, and that is suffice to say that it is very likely that the Biblical authors were thinking about the waters above when they say the windows in the firmament opened to allow rain through.

We do not need to prove that they had different meanings - that would be impossible at this great remove  to show - we need only to show it was very likely to show that the firmament very likely refered to a solid structure.

God and Science

 This web page starts out with some telling admissions, quoting first Josephus:

After this, on the second day, he placed the heaven over the whole world, and separated it from the other parts, and he determined it should stand by itself. He also placed a crystalline [firmament] round it, and put it together in a manner agreeable to the earth, and fitted it for giving moisture and rain, and for affording the advantage of dews.
And the Jewish Talmud:
"The learned of Israel say, "The sphere stands firm, and the planets revolve"; the learned of the nations say, "The sphere moves, and the planets stand firm." The learned of Israel say, "The sun moves by day beneath the firmament, and by night above the firmament"; the learned of the nations say, "The sun moves by day beneath the firmament, and by night beneath the earth."
These prove that the Jews of that time believed in a solid firmament, which would seem to destroy all arguments to the otherwise.

Later the author discusses what the firmament actually is, ending a section called "The Firmament" saying:
So, the verb raqa does not necessarily refer to the beating out of a solid object, but to a spreading out process, whether the object be solid or not.
So the best he has is that raqa might not mean a solid structure - but he has already admitted that the ancient Jews thought exactly that!

The page goes on to discuss this more, but its claims are the same as the pages already discussed. What I did find intriguing was the claim that:
 The Bible does present a cosmological model of the universe, although, being a spiritual guide rather than a scientific one, it is not overly detailed. Even so, it is scientifically accurate. Overall, the Bible presents God as the Creator of the entire universe (matter, energy, space, and time). It makes the following audacious claims, which contradicted the prevalent ancient cosmologies, but have been confirmed by modern science:
  • Time had a beginning.
  • The universe had a beginning.
  • The universe was created from the invisible.
  • The dimensions of the universe were created.
  • The universe is expanding.
  • Creation of matter and energy has ended in the universe (refutes steady-state theory).
  • The universe is winding down and will "wear out" (second law of thermodynamics ensures that the universe will run down due to "heat death"-maximum entropy).
What? It is scientifically accurate to present God as the creator of the universe? Wow.

Does the claim that time had a beginning contradict the prevalent ancient cosmologies? He offers no evidence to support that claim. In fact, while he does give verses that seem to indicate the Bible says these things, most seem to be common to many creation myths. Here is the Greek creation account, and here the Babylonian story. Just like the Genesis account, both start from a formless, watery void. And I really think all creation myths involve things that we can see appearing - that is what creation is!

His claim about the Bible saying the universe is expanding is based on verses stating that God created an expanse over the sky. This is about God creating a solid structure, an event that happened in the past, not that is on-going today.


This is by way of contrast. BioLogos describe themselves as "a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith, guided by the truth that “all things hold together in Christ.”".

They have a page about the firmament, with a great illustration of the Biblical cosmology. As they say:
Arguing for a non-solid raqia in Genesis is extremely problematic, for two reasons. First, the biblical and extrabiblical data indicate that raqia means a solid structure of some sort. The second problem is a much larger theological issue, but is actually more foundational. Regardless of what one thinks of the raqia, why would anyone assume that the ancient cosmology in Genesis could be expected to be in harmony with modern science in the first place?

Monday, 23 September 2013

Rationalising the Genesis Account

If you hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, the creation account in Genesis 1 is quite a problem. Let us look at how creationists attempt to surmount some of the issues.

Dumbing Down
I would first like to point out that God has not revealed the entire creation process in the Genesis creation account, but only that which is particularly relevant to mankind. Many events in the creation account of the Bible have been intentionally left out (unicellular life forms, dinosaurs, etc.), I believe, because they would have been difficult to express in the Hebrew language, and would have lead to confusion, since they would not have been understood through the vast majority of mankind's existence (i.e., only understandable in the last two centuries).

On the surface this seems perfectly reasonable, but is it?

Ancient man was not stupid. he was just as bright as we are. The difference is that we have two centuries of science behind us, educating us about how the world really is, so we know the Earth goes around the sun, we know about bacteria, etc. Clearly we cannot expect ancient man to know these things...


Why not? If God was talking directly to his chosen people, then yes, actually we should expect them to know about these things. Modern man is perfectly capable of teach children these things, surely it is not beyond an all-powerful, all-knowing God?

Long Days
Plant life was created on the third day (Genesis 1:11-13, ~1.0 x 109 years ago). These verses are probably the strongest argument for the day-age interpretation. ... Fruit trees take years to bear fruit, testifying that the third "day" could not possibly be just 24 hours long, as claimed by young earth creationists.
I wonder if the author thinks that mankind appeared in one day fully formed. Using this logic, the sixth day cannot have been a single 24 hour period - it takes nine months for the embryo to develop into a baby.

I strongly suspect that he believes Adam and Eve were created already old (perhaps no more than the equivalent of five years old, but definitely more than as a one day old embryo). And yet he dismisses the possibility that God brought forth plants in one day, making them grow rapidly to full size?

Created or revealed?
Next the translucent cloud layer was removed so that the sun, moon and stars shown through. Notice the unusual construction in Genesis 1:14 which states, "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years;'" "Let there be" is an unusual way to describe de novo creation (see also verse 1:3). I believe that at this point God removed the translucent cloud cover from the planet to allow the stars, moon, and Sun to be seen from the surface of the earth (the frame of reference of all Genesis 1). The text then reiterates what God had already done in Genesis 1:1 regarding the creation of the sun, moon, and stars. The time frame describes events over days, seasons, and years - obviously more than 24 hours long.
Creationists have a big problem with Genesis 1, with the sun created after there is already sunlight, and plants growing on the Earth. A popular dodge, as seen here, is to pretend that the text says the sun only became visible on the four day.

Here the author notes the unusual construct "Then God said, 'Let there be...'" Actually, God saying let such-and-such happen is seen in verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 20, 24 and 26 (besides the verse in question, 14). In each case God announces his intention to act, and then he acts. He says, "Let there be light", then creates light, he says "Let us make man in our image," then creates mankind. He says "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night", and two verses later, he does just that.

To fit his pet theory, the author has arbitrarily decided top pretend verse 16 refers to something done previously, while all the other creation accounts are assumed to occur when described.

The image of God

Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Man in the image of God; what does this mean in practical terms? It cannot refer to bodily, biological form since God is a Spirit and man is earthly. But while it may be true that the body does not belong to the image, since God does not have a body, yet somehow we would like to see man’s body (which is a very real part of man) included in the image. Language and creativity,—two important parts of the image, are impossible without a body.
Does this hold up? Image means what he looks like, not connected to things like language and creativity. Of course, the real question is what does it say in Hebrew?

The root word is used 17 times in the Bible; here are a select few (others are less obvious, but none of them are inconsistent with appearance; I have used different translations to make the point clearer).

Numbers 33:52 Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.

1 Samuel 6:5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land.

2 Kings 11:18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the LORD.

Ezekiel 23:14 "Then she carried her prostitution even further. She fell in love with pictures that were painted on a wall--pictures of Babylonian military officers, outfitted in striking red uniforms.
It is worth pointing out that this is consistent with the concept of God in the Old Testament.
Genesis 3: 8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. 9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Genesis 18:1 And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
Exodus 24:10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
The third one could be understood to be a vision,. but nevertheless shows that God was understood at that time to have a human appearance.

It all points to God having a human-like form, and that he created man in his own physical image.

Here is a rationale that I find somewhat bizarre, and yet it does make a kind of sense:
Although God is spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a body like a man, when He appeared visibly to men according to the Old Testament record, He did so in the form of a human body (e.g. Genesis 18:1-2; 32:24, 28,30).8 Dr Henry Morris writes: 'There is something about the human body therefore, which is uniquely appropriate to God's manifestation of Himself, and(since God knows all His works from the beginning of the world—Acts 15:18), He must have designed man's body with this in mind. Accordingly He designed it, not like the animals, but with an erect posture, with an upward gazing countenance, capable of facial expressions corresponding with emotional feelings, and with a brain and tongue capable of articulate, symbolic speech.'
So God has a particular form that he likes to adopt, and he chose to make man in that form. It is only a step from seeing God as looking like a wise, old man, an image rejected by most Christians, but probably what the ancient Hebrews believed.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

WL Craig and Kalam

William Lane Craig is a Christian who seems to make a living by debating non-Christians about the existence of God. One of Craig's favourite topics is the Kalam cosmological argument.

Here is Craig's formulation:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Number 1 is carefully formulated to exclude God; God did not begin to exist, so he did not have a cause. It is a bit of semantic trickery that builds in the conclusion Craig wants to reach. You might as well exclude the universe. Everything except the universe and God has a cause, and we have no particular reason to suppose the universe has a cause, do we?

The claim of number 1 is based on inductive reasoning. All the things around us have a cause, therefore it is likely that some other thing also has a cause. Inductive reasoning is not certain, but it is what we do all the time, and is often the only way to make sense of the world, right from an early age. If you see something that is person-shaped, you assume it is a person.

The issue is whether we are justified in going from those things we see around us, to make a conclusion about the universe. Is this sound reasoning?

1. Everything we know in our world has a cause
2. Therefore the universe must have had a cause

No, it is not. The universe is unlike anything else we have experience of, and such a leap is just not justified. Consider this:

1. Everything we know in our world has a cause
2. Therefore God must have had a cause

Would Craig accept that that logic is sound? Of course not! And yet it is identical to the logic upon which his argument is founded.

The difference is only that in what conclusion he wants to reach. That is just bad reasoning.

Causes and Causes

What exactly do we mean by a cause anyway? I look at my computer, and I know it has a cause. A company went to the trouble to assemble it. There was in turn a specific cause for that; they were fulfilling an order to make money. When you look around you, everything you see has a cause (or several), even if you are not clear on the details. One event that led to another. Cause and effect.

At the quantum level, that is not the case. The classic example is radioactive decay. It just happens at random, there is nothing that happens to an atom to make it fall apart. The standard response to this is that the particle exists within a framework (the laws of physics) and it is that that causes it to fall apart.

But that seems to me to be quite different to what we see at the macroscopic world in the things around us. We suppose:

1. Everything we know in our world has a specific causal event
2. Therefore the radioactive decay of an atom must have a specific causal event

The logic is the same as before (a simple inductive argument), but the conclusion reached is demonstrably false. It is very clear that you cannot use experience of our world to predict what will happen at the quantum scale.

So why suppose you can use experience of our world to predict what will happen at the universe scale?

Also, it is now apparent that the framework is important too. Is this logic sound?

1. Everything we know in our world has a cause
2. Therefore the laws of physics must have had a cause

Absolutely not. And indeed, the way Craig formulates Kalam ("Whatever begins to exist has a cause."), there is no reason to suppose so, as there is no reason to think the laws of physics had a beginning.

The universe began to exist

While is is well-established that this space-time started at the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago, it is not clear what was around before then. It has been suggested that the universe existed infinitely before that point, primed to "explode", or that it is cyclic, expanding and contracting all through time, or that it is but one in a multiverse or...

Craig makes the claim that it had to have a beginning, and he does so by citing cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin. I cannot find any examples of Craig citing Vilenkin, but this is typical, from Uncommon Descent:
But in 2003, a team including Vilenkin and Guth considered what eternal inflation would mean for the Hubble constant, which describes mathematically the expansion of the universe. They found that the equations didn’t work (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/physrevlett.90.151301). “You can’t construct a space-time with this property,” says Vilenkin. It turns out that the constant has a lower limit that prevents inflation in both time directions. “It can’t possibly be eternal in the past,” says Vilenkin. “There must be some kind of boundary.”
What this seems to say is that the universe had a definite beginning.

So what is Vilenkin's view on whether God created the universe? This is from an interview, by the way.
Some people claim your work proves the existence of God, or at least of a divine moment of creation. What do you think?

I don’t think it proves anything one way or another.

I went to a meeting of some theologians and cosmologists. Basically, I realized these theologians have the same problem with God. What was He doing before He created the universe? Why did He suddenly decide to create the universe?

For many physicists, the beginning of the universe is uncomfortable, because it suggests that something must have caused the beginning, that there should be some cause outside the universe. In fact, we now have models where that’s not necessary—the universe spontaneously appears, quantum mechanically.
So what does Vilenkin believe? Later in that interview he say:
But this quantum creation from “nothing” seems to avoid these questions. It has a nice mathematical description, not just words. There’s an interesting thing, though; the description of the creation of the universe from nothing is given in terms of the laws of physics. That makes you wonder, where are these laws? If the laws describe the creation of the universe, that suggests they existed prior to the universe. The question that nobody has any idea how to address is where these laws come from and why these laws in particular? So there are a lot of mysteries to keep us working.
So this is like the radioactive decay of an atom. It just happens spontaneously, no cause-and-effect, although it does require the framework of the laws of physics. But that is fine, we can explain that by saying they always existed, and so are excluded from Craig's argument.

However, it is quite possible Vilenkin got it wrong - or more likely Craig is misinterpreting him (here).
The more recent theological claim that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin have proved that the universe had to have a beginning is also in error. Again, this theorem was derived from general relativity and so is inapplicable to the issue of origins. Furthermore, it is disputed by other authors.44 I asked Vilenkin personally if his theorem required a beginning. His e-mail reply: “No. But it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time.” This is exactly what a number of existing models for the uncreated origin of our universe do.
Here is a paper by Vilenkin that he links to from his university web page, written in 2011. This, we must assume, represents his most recent thinking on the subject of cosmology.
In summary, I have described the new world-view that has emerged from inflationary cosmology. According to this view, inflation is a never-ending process, constantly producing new “bubble universes” with diverse properties. This multiverse picture can be tested both by direct observation of bubble collisions and indirectly, using the principle of mediocrity. The prediction for the dark energy based on this principle has already been confirmed. Here I will mention some other observational tests that have been suggested in the literature.
Craig cites Vilenkin as an authority on cosmology. Does Craig accept this theory too? No. Craig cherry-picks. He gets the quotes that are useful to him, and cites Vilenkin as an authority where it suits him, and ignores Vilenkin where his own pet theory disagrees.

A couple more web sites that address this issue:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Parable of the Ten Minas

This parable is recorded in Luke 19.

Luke 19:11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants,[a] he gave them ten minas,[b] and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
15 “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant![c] Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’ ”

It is generally accepted that the nobleman is meant to be Jesus, but is it possible this refers to an actual nobleman? Archelaus, for example, went to Rome to claim the land after the death of his father Herod.

The servants represent the people of the land, the first two being tax collectors, who gain a lot of money for the nobleman. The third represents the common man, who has carefully guarded the land, but has not exploited it or anyone else to get more money.

This becomes clear when this third servant says: "you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow" What possible reason is there for this to be said of Jesus? Jesus was on earth to "sow", so that the good would be reaped! It is the accusation of a poor man to a tyrannical ruler.

The response by the noble man also is that of a tyrannical ruler - from the perspective of the under-trodden. He takes from poor, and gives to the rich. This is a polemic against unfair taxation: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away".

Jesus entreats us to love our enemies. Is this then the words of Jesus, or of a tyrannical ruler: "But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me."

Put this context. Jesus is inside the house of a tax collector who Luke notes is rich; the tax collector has just given away half his belongings, and Jesus has said he is saved. The perfect time to speak about the inequities of Roman taxation.