Feb 132013
 

As some of my readers know, I’ve been a reader for some time of philosopher Ken Wilber. While the level of detail in Wilber’s system can be annoying, I find it’s always good to check any new ideas against his criteria, because if you don’t – you’ve usually missed something.

One of the key components in Ken Wilber’s philosophy is the notion of quadrants, and what it says is this: Most things can be looked at in four different ways. They can be looked at either from an inner perspective or an outer perspective, and they can be looked at as individuals or as members of a group or system – giving four perspectives. Like this:

The left-hand side is the interior perspective, the right-hand side is the exterior perspective. The upper half is individual, the lower half is collective.

The easiest example of these perspectives is a human being. We can look at a human being and study him from the outside (upper right) and study his brain structure, his biology and its underlying chemistry. This will give us a great deal of insight into him. We can also study his environment and how his organism interacts with the atmosphere, the food supply, the traffic flow, etc. (the lower right). We now have a different set of insights, equally important.

But this leaves out an entire half of the picture. What is it like to be this person from the INSIDE? What are his thoughts and feelings? What meanings does he attach to things? What does he feel? These questions are all in the upper left quadrant. Finally, what is his relationship to other people, seem from within the group? What are the values and beliefs of his family, his community or his social group?

Our tendency as modern people is to focus on only one quadrant (often the upper right) to the exclusion of or devaluing of everything else. All quadrants are important, and none should be reduced or folded into another or important insight is lost.

Ok, after this overly-long introduction, how do we apply these principles to spirituality? Let’s analyze first the case of the fundamentalist. This person may believe that he or she is deriving all of their truth from the Bible or the Koran. But in fact, they are focused almost entirely in the bottom left quadrant – the inner social group. They are relying – not on the Bible, but on the meanings and values attached to the Bible by their group. The idea that another group can attach entirely different meanings to the same Bible is confusing to them.

They are also unwilling to actually examine the Bible externally in the right-hand quadrants. Objective examination of the texts would show evidence of copy errors, redactions and multiple sources. Objectively comparing the text with history and science would show evidence of historical and scientific errors or ignorance. These objective incongruities are all ignored or pushed aside in favor of the values and beliefs of the group.

Certain kinds of skeptics, on the other hand, privilege the other quadrants. They assume that the ONLY value the Bible can possess is objective factual value. That it can be a useful source of poetry, mysticism, meaning and value is ignored. That it can be a basis for community interaction,  and social solidarity – providing a literary and mythic vocabulary is likewise unimportant. Their focus is entirely on the right-hand quadrants, particularly the upper right.

Those of us attempting to live spiritually in a modern world had best be able to live in all the quadrants at once. We must be open to the mystical, the poetic and the metaphorical, and value inner spirituality. We must be aware of the prejudices and preconceptions our group mentality may lead us into. We must be willing to accept the insights of objective insights of history, science and textual scholarship without blindness. But we must also be aware of the potential blindness of those who try to live only in the upper-right quadrant of the individual externals.

Oct 052007
 

Moving on to the last installment, I want to focus on the harm done by Young Earth Creation Science. I have already discussed in the earlier series why YEC is not required (and is in fact contradicted by) the Bible. I have also summarized the evidence and the expert opinion of scientist that YEC is simply false.

The harm of YEC arises as an inevitable result of the combination of the first two problems. What happens when you embrace an idea that is demonstrably false? What happens when you insist that believing this false idea is the litmus test of Christianity?

As an illustration, I’d like to refer to the history of Glenn Morton. Morton, which you can find here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gstory.htm. Moron was a geophysicist employed by a seismic company working for Atlantic Richfield. He was also a Creation Scientist who published regularly in the Creation Research Society Quarterly and had frequent meetings with the members of the Institute for Creation Research. He also employed a number of the graduates of ICR’s graduate school of the sciences.

Morton began to become aware of problems with the geologic data that flatly contradicted Young Earth Creationism. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve these problems, he published a paper called “Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth” in which he solicited the help of other Creation Scientists in resolving these problems. The reaction was chilly.

Quoting Morton “Here is a list of what young-earthers have called me in response to my data: ‘an apostate,'(Humphreys) ‘a heretic'(Jim Bell although he later apologised like the gentleman he is) ‘a compromiser'(Henry Morris) “absurd”, “naive”, “compromising”, “abysmally ignorant”, “sloppy”, “reckless disregard”, “extremely inaccurate”, “misleading”, “tomfoolery” and “intentionally deceitful”(John Woodmorappe) ‘like your father, Satan’ (Carl R. Froede–I am proud to have this one because Jesus was once said to have been of satan also.) ‘your loyality and commitment to Jesus Christ is shaky or just not truly genuine’ (John Baumgardner 12-24-99 [Merry Christmas]) “[I] have secretly entertained suspicions of a Trojan horse roaming behind the lines…” Royal Truman 12-28-99”

Morton conducted an informal poll of his friends who had graduated from the ICR program and had worked in the oil industry and asked this question: “From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?”

Here is how he describes the reaction. “One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said ‘No!’ A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute. There has to be one!” But he could not name one. I can not name one. No one else could either. One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.”

And Morton had a crisis of faith himself. He very nearly became an atheist. Not because he began to disbelieve in God per se, but because Young Earth Creationist had told him that there were only two alternatives: be a Young Earth Creationist, or be an atheist. Since the facts convinced him that Young Earth Creationism was false (as they will anyone who approached them objectively), he supposed that atheism was the only alternative. A book on Old-Earth Creationism revived his faith.

From this story (and you can read a collection of similar testimonies here: http://www.answersincreation.org/testimony.htm) , we begin to see several of the harms of Young Earth Creationism.

1. Because it is false, and associated with God and Christianity, it made belief in God and Christianity seem

2. Because it associates science with deep personal beliefs, YEC Scientists became accusatory, hateful and angry when presented with simple facts which contradicted it.

So there we have lack of faith, anger and hatred.

Elaborating a bit on YEC’s effect on faith, we have to consider, not merely the Christians who will lose their faith when they discover YEC isn’t true. We also have to consider the non-believers who will never even consider Christianity because it is associated with a theory that is so obviously false and absurd.

Let’s examine another of the fruits of Young Earth Creationism. Because its proponents have so much invested in it (their entire religious framework), they are strongly emotionally motivated to support it. This has resulted in YEC Scientists gaining a reputation for exaggeration, misquoting and outright falsehood. When one thinks they are defending God himself, any means can seem justified.

In the story above, for example, John Morris of the ICR went to the podium during the presentation of Morton’s paper to challenge him claiming to have been in the oil industry himself. This turned out to be false (or exaggerated – he had once taught a course in petroleum geology). Duane Gish, a famous YEC debater, has a notorious history of using incorrect facts in his writings and debates – being publicly corrected with explicit proof of the error – and then continuing to repeat the same misstatements over and over. (see here: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/gish.html for some examples). Walt Brown in his book (which is still available online) made a claim which has been repeated all over the internet that the cytochrome C sequence of a rattlesnake is closer to human than to any other animal. When pressed, it turns out his source for this claim is his own son’s science fair project! A project in which he drastically misinterprets the meaning of cytochrome C data. (see http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/lies/lie025.html). This is representative of a number of protein sequencing claims from YEC Scientist that are completely false, to the point of apparently being pulled out of thin air in the case of Kent Hovind: (http://members.cox.net/ardipithecus/evol/HovindLie.html). Out of context quoting is so rampant among YEC Scientist that whole websites have sprung up attempting to correct all the errors (you can start here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html)

So now in addition to being destructive to faith and producing anger and hatred, we can label YEC as tending to produce dishonesty. In my opinion, however, one of the most aggregious tendencies of YEC is to attribute dishonesty, not merely to their opponents, but to God himself.

In order for YEC to be true, God must have intentionally created all the evidence in favor of evolution. For example, as I point out in my brief analysis of evolutionary evidence here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution, God would have to have deliberately infected humans and other primates with retrovirus “scars” at certain points in their DNA in just such a way as to make it look like they inherited these scars from their primate ancestors. God would have to have created beams of starlight to give “apparent age” to newly minted stars millions of light-years away (or changed the fundamental constants of the cosmos by huge orders of magnitude). God would have to have tampered with radioactive decay, and done so in such a way that multiple isotopes of multiple elements would all match and agree on outrageously incorrect ages when employed by radiocarbon dating. God would have to have deliberately chosen, time and time again – methods of creating and maintaining the earth which managed to APPEAR as if they were evidence of great age and genetic relationships for all life.

We cannot trust the natural world that God created – because for various inscrutable reasons, he has made it tell a false story. Instead of Paul’s admonition to “let God be true, and every man a liar” we are urged to let God be the liar and every Young Earth Creationist be true. They would not see it this way of course. To them, it’s simply a matter of thinking that the truth of God’s natural world is not as reliable as the truth of an ancient inspired Hebrew text as interpreted by their particular theology.

So let’s add up the results. The fruit of YEC are faithlessness, anger, hatred, deception, and blasphemy.

What does this tell us?

I wanted to close with a quote from St. Augustine – still as eerily applicable today as when it was written more than a thousand years ago…
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (St. Augustine: Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 19)

Oct 042007
 

Continuing in my series on the problems of Creation Science we come to what should, by rights, be the first and only point:

Creation Science is contradicted by the facts.

As I said, this should, perhaps, have been the first consideration. But as fallible human beings, our minds can deceive us. Whatever we say about wanting the truth, we generally only want truth that reinforces what we already want to believe, on a deep and sometimes irrational level. This is why I thought it was necessary to first open up some room in the minds of Creation Science believers for the idea that the Bible does not explicitly and infallibly teach Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

The Bible gives us some interpretive space to form our own conclusions on this issue. We should do as the book of Job suggested (as was previously quoted).

But ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you; the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you. The fish of the sea shall declare to you. (Job 12:7-8 WEB)

Let us use our reason and powers of observation to inquire of the animals, the earth, and cosmos – and discover the facts. What, then, are the facts? The fact is that science has demonstrated two facts almost beyond any reasonable doubt, and these two facts completely contradict a Young Earth Creation. Those two facts are:

1 The earth (and the cosmos) are billions of years old.
2. All life on earth descended genetically from a common source.

I don’t have time or space now to even summarize all the mountains of facts that have been collected to demonstrate these two facts, but these links represent a good place to start:

On the age of the earth: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html
And the age of the universe: http://education.aas.org/publications/AncientUniverseWeb.pdf
The case for common descent: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/
I had begun a series trying to address this evidence from a specifically theistic viewpoint, and the first installment of that series can be read here: http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/evidence_evolution

Expert Opinions

For the purposes of this series, I’ll limit myself to quoting from expert or influential opinions. I will quote here from statements of the official bodies representing large groups of scientist, and from religious groups or leaders.

“we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious doubt.” (Statement of the Pontifical Academy of Science)

“The core concepts of evolution are well documented and well confirmed. Natural selection has been repeatedly demonstrated in both field and laboratory, and descent with modification is so well documented that scientists are justified in saying that evolution is true.” (Botanical Society of America's Statement on Evolution)

“Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable.” (American Geological Institute)

“Today, nearly half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” (Pope John Paul II – Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996)

“During the past year, religious fundamentalists have intensified their effort to force public school science classes to include instruction in "creationism." As defined in publications of the Institute for Creation Research and in laws passed or under consideration by several state legislatures, this doctrine includes the statement that the entire universe was created relatively recently, i.e. less than 10,000 years ago. This statement contradicts results of astronomical research during the past two centuries indicating that some stars now visible to us were in existence millions or billions of years ago, as well as the results of radiometric dating indicating that the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years.” (American Astronomical Society Statement on the Teaching of the History of the Universe)

“Evolution is a fact in the sense that life has changed through time. In nature today, the characteristics of species are changing, and new species are arising. The fossil record is the primary factual evidence for evolution in times past, and evolution is well documented by further evidence from other scientific disciplines, including comparative anatomy, biogeography, genetics, molecular biology, and studies of viral and bacterial diseases.” (The Paleontological Society)

“As a community, biologists agree that evolution occurred and that the forces driving the evolutionary process are still active today. This consensus is based on more than a century of scientific data gathering and analysis.” (American Institute of Biological Sciences)

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.” (The Clergy Letter Project – endorsed by over 10,000 clergy of all denominations – see http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/religion_science_collaboration.htm)

So above we have the official endorsement of Biologists, Geologists, Botanists, Paleontologists, Astronomers – all testifying that from the perspective of their own disciplines, evolution and an ancient earth are not only supported by the facts, but overwhelmingly supported. We also have the statements of thousands of clergy, including the late Pope, that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence, and that it does not contradict faith.

While this sort of “argument from authority” is admittedly a shortcut, it’s important to understand that the opinions of these bodies of scientists are not offered simply as something we must believe because they SAY so. They are offered as the result of the combined observations and studies of hundreds of thousands of trained observers who have tested the predictions of the theory of evolution.

Oct 042007
 

Creation Science is a Lie of the Devil

Many Christians glancing at the title of this essay would assume that I’ve made a mistake in typing. Surely it is EVOLUTION, not Creation Science, that is a lie of the Devil. Isn’t evolution, after all, the foundation of atheism, moral relativism, and attacks against the veracity of the Bible? Don’t many innocent and inexperienced Christians lose their faith due to the influence of godless evolution in high school and college? Yes they do. And I propose that the blame for this rests squarely with Creation Scientists. I believe that Creation Science, through faulty logic, poor scholarship, and the arrogant and blasphemous identification of its own human opinions with God’s word, poisons Christianity and lays the groundwork for massive loss of faith.

Jesus railed against this kind of spiritual arrogance. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don’t enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter.” (Matthew 23:14 WEB) By insisting on making opposition to evolution the litmus test of Christianity, Creation Science turns away the scientifically minded and creates an artificial social rift.

Ok, let me back up and turn down the rhetoric for a minute. There are many in the Creation Science movement who are good, sincere people. There are some who have good scientific training in a variety of fields. A number of Creation Science arguments seem to make good sense, and require some expertise to refute – I believed in them myself for many years, and I was a Zoology major in college. Also, the variety of “Creation Science” I am arguing against here is hard-core Young-Earth Creationism. There are many believing scientists who, like myself, accept the basic facts of evolutionary biology and geology but still see the presence of God in the phenomena of life at some level.

The purpose of the “rant” above is to try to shock my Young Earth Creationist friends into looking for a minute at the consequences of their own rhetoric in a new light. Don’t assume too quickly that only your own view honors God. Don’t assume your reading of scripture is the only way to read it. Don’t make your personal theology a Procrustean bed in which all Christians must lie. Remember what God asked Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4 WEB) I’ve often heard this verse quoted against evolutionists. Billions of years you say? Were you THERE? But it applies equally well to Christians. We don’t have any direct knowledge of how God did it. We have our personal interpretations of the ancient Hebrew texts. We have the traditions of our denomination or our favorite teachers. These do not constitute personal omniscience on the subject of the creation! If it turns out that our insistence on one particular interpretation of Genesis is turning people away from the teachings of Jesus, is that the work of a positive spiritual force, or a negative one?

I submit that it is a negative force on several fronts. It is unscriptural. It is untrue, and it is ultimately harmful.

The Bible supports an old earth and evolutionary development.

I will address this topic first, because many people who believe in Young Earth Creationism in spite of significant opposition from the scientific community primarily because they are convinced that the Bible explicitly and unambiguously teaches Young Earth Creationism – leaving them with no choice but to dispute all evidence to the contrary. This is not true. Long before Darwin and evolution became household words, students of the scriptures had different theories on how God created the world, and how long it took. In short, they had questions over how to interpret the creation stories of Genesis. These differing interpretations continue to this day.

For example, Some think that the days of creation were thousand-day periods, not 24 hour days, based on the scripture:

“For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night.” (Psalms 90:4 WEB)

They point out that in Genesis 1:11, not only are plants created, but they produce seeds and fruit without any mention of supernatural intervention – hardly the work of a single day. If we try to harmonize Genesis 1 and 2, then it seems difficult that all the events of the sixth day, including the creation of animals, the creation of man, the naming of all the animals (thousands of species) Adam falling asleep, and the creation of woman – were all possible in a 24 hour period.

Others believe the creation days represent long ages of indefinite length – longer than simply a thousand years. They point out, for example, that the first several days of creation take place before any mention of the sun and moon – hence the evening, the morning, and the “day” mentioned must be symbolic of an age.

Indeed, while we are told that God rested on the seventh day (Gen 2:2) the book of Hebrews implies that the seventh day of rest is STILL going on, many thousands of years later. (Heb 4:4-11). Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “day” in Genesis (yom) also refers to ages of time, from years to entire epochs. For example:

“The time [Hebrew =’yom’] that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years.” (1 Kings 11:42 WEB)

This could hardly be referring to a forty year DAY. It refers to a time. Using this definition, we could translate the verses of Genesis “and this was the first time period” . An even more striking example is here:

“Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time [Hebrew = ‘yom’ to come forever and ever [Hebrew = ‘ad olam’]” (Isaiah 30:8 WEB)

Did God intend Isaiah’s writing to last only a day? Clearly this is an age of time, and a very LONG age. It lasts for an “olam” which in Hebrew means a very long age of time, for example:

“The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting [olam] covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:16 WEB)

How long does God’s promise last? Ages and ages. But what does the Bible say about the age of the earth?

“He stood, and shook the earth. He looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains were crumbled. The age-old [olam] hills collapsed. His ways are eternal [olam].” (Habakkuk 3:6 WEB)

Even back in the time of Jacob, supposedly soon after the flood, the hills are referred to as “olam” (Gen 49:26) or “age-old”. This doesn’t fit if the earth is only a few thousand years old – especially if most of the mountains were supposedly carved out by the flood – only a few generations earlier.

More on the word “olam” can be found here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/olam.htm

Returning to our various creation theories, a number of theorists make an interesting observation about Genesis 1: 1-2. In the first verse, the entire earth is described as being created. Then Genesis 1:2 seems to begin a listing of the seven days of the creation of the earth. Is Genesis 1:1 part of the six days, or might it have occurred ages before? This is called the “gap” theory:

Genesis
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

[GAP?]

Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. Gods Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.
(Genesis 1:1-2 WEB)

Some even suggest that previous creation and destruction events are all part of this silent gap, based on 2 Peter 3:5-7 (see the site here: http://www.kjvbible.org/major_models.html for a further explanation).

Another possible gap occurs between Genesis 2:3 and Genesis 2:4. Those of us who have studied the documentary hypothesis will recognize this as the gap between the “P” creation story and the “J” creation story. But in any case, it represents a completely new and somewhat different creation story following on the heels of Genesis chapter 1. Some Christians have hypothesized that this represents a of some kind. Perhaps between earlier “versions” of creation and the current one. Perhaps between a “spiritual” creation and a physical one (this gains support from Genesis 2:5). A further elaboration of this is the so-called “proclamation” theory, described here: http://home.entouch.net/dmd/synop.htm. Basically, according to this theory, Genesis one consists of God’s proclamation of a particular aspect of creation, followed by Moses commentary that, eventually, it was accomplished – but the accomplishment did not necessarily happen on that creation day. For example:

God: “Let there be light [proclaimed on the first day]”

Moses: “and [in the course of time] there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. [occurred at some later time in fullilment of the first day proclamation]”
(Genesis 1:3-4 KJVA)

Moving from the age of the earth to the development of life, there are several interesting observations to make about the Genesis account. When we are told that God “created” the earth, and life, the word used is “baw-raw”. While this can simply mean create, it also can refer to using pre-existing materials. The word can ALSO mean to “choose” or “select” or “mark for use” – a fascinating fact considering the implications of natural selection. Combine this with the fact that in several of the verses regarding creation, God seems to arrange things so that the laws of nature produce life in and of themselves.

“Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with its seed in it, on the earth” (Gen 1:11)

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life” (Gen 1:20)

“Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind” (Gen 1:24)

These all seem to imply a natural process, whereby the earth and the waters produce life on their own, rather than God producing it directly.

Even in the case of man, God is described as creating him out of the “dust of the earth” – out of the constituent chemicals already present on the earth. All these seem to fit well the concept of God using and directing natural processes such as evolution and natural selection.

I have focused above on fairly conservative biblical ideas. It is also quite possible, of course, that Genesis is poetic and figurative – and has little to do with an exact narration of the physical events of creation. In this case, there is no reason to insist on literal days and special acts of direct creation.

Needless to say, I’m not the first person to believe that the Bible teaches or is compatible with an ancient earth and the gradual evolution of life. Many intelligent believers have come to one or both of these conclusions. The next part of this essay will consist of quotes from some of these Christians. I believe the reader can see that Old-Earth Creationism and/or Theistic Evolution are widely-held and respected viewpoints among believers.

“Of course, there are many Creationists who argue for an old earth. Biblically, this position that the word for day is used for more than twenty-four hours even in Genesis 2:4, the events of the sixth day surely took more than twenty-four hours, and Hebrews 4:4?5 implies that God is still in His seventh-day rest. If the seventh day can be long, then the others could too. Scientifically, this view does not require any novel theories to explain the evidence. One of the biggest problems for the young earth view is in astronomy. We can see light from stars that took 15 billion years to get here. To say that God created them with the appearance of age does not satisfy the question of how their light reached us. We have watched star explosions that happened billions of years ago, but if the universe is not billions of years old, then we are seeing light from stars that never existed because they would have died before Creation. Why would God deceive us with the evidence? The old earth view seems to fit the evidence better and causes no problem with the Bible.” (Dr. Norman Geisler- Theologian, Apologist, Philosopher)

“But there is a very real, point of conflict that has been created in much of the church. Because of attitudes of bigoted, as often times prejudiced position is self righteous, if you don’t believe in creationism THIS WAY then you are not a Bible believer, that’s simply not true. And this way that they are describing is usually called the young earth approach…” (Pastor Jack Hayford, Church on the Way)

“Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science. As this principle is undeniably true, it is admitted and acted on by those who, through inattention to the meaning of terms, in words deny it. When the Bible speaks of the foundations, or of the pillars of the earth, or of the solid heavens, or of the motion of the sun, do not you and every other sane man, interpret this language by the facts of science? For five thousand years the Church understood the Bible to teach that the earth stood still in space, and that the sun and stars revolved around it. Science has demonstrated that this is not true. Shall we go on to interpret the Bible so as to make it teach the falsehood that the sun moves around the earth, or shall we interpret it by science, and make the two harmonize?” (Charles Hodge – Presbyterian theologian and professor)

“I would opt for the day-age theory, given all that must take place on the sixth “day” according to the Genesis record. Incidentally, this day-age view has been the majority view of the church since the fourth century, mainly through the influence of Saint Augustine.” (Walter Kaiser – president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

“The (young earth) author uses the verse from Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ (Job 38:4) to admonish the old-ager. To the author I say, “Where were you when God laid the foundations of the earth?” You were not there either! So you can’t “assume” a 6,000-year-old earth, just like we can’t “assume” a 13.7 billion year old universe. What we have to decide this issue is the evidence from God’s creation, and not our assumptions. Job 12:8 says “speak to the earth, and it will teach thee.” Secular and Christian scientists, outside of a religious framework, have examined God’s creation, and it says, “I’m 13.7 billion years old.”.. Does it matter which position you believe in? No, it doesn’t. The doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ is not affected by the age of the earth, nor the method God used to create the earth.” (Greg Neyman – founder Answers in Creation)

“As for the age of the earth and the universe, within the usual limits of any scientific conclusions, I believe that the present calculations of about 4 billion years for the earth and 14 billion years for the universe are not far wrong, and I see no conflict with that understanding and my understanding of the Bible.” (William D Phillips – Nobel Prizewinner in physics)

“The charge that evolution is anti-Christian, and that theistic evolution is not a respectable position, is very difficult to make good in view of the evidence we have here given.” (Bernard L. Ramm – Baptist theologian and professor)

“Christian apologists trained in the physical sciences and familiar with the Scriptures see no danger in connecting big bang cosmology with biblical teaching because the connection is based on well-established, thoroughly tested science and clear exegesis.” (Hugh Ross – theologian and scientist)

“The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses: to mean (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis.” (Francis Schaeffer – pastor and theologian)
“The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . The frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative ‘day’ was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.” (C.J. Scofield – pastor and author of the “Scofield Reference Bible)

(quotes above courtesy of http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/notable_leaders/index.shtml)

To summarize, old-earth creation theories and theistic evolution are perfectly compatible with solid Bible interpretation. They have been the preferred interpretation of many good, devout Bible scholars and intelligent men of science. The literal six-day interpretation of Genesis does not account for all the facts, even Biblically.

I’ll pause for breath before proceeding to the subsequent points – Creation Science being untrue and harmful.

Sep 272007
 

While we like to suppose that the human intellect discovers the truth about things, and then we follow that truth, the fact is that it rarely works like that. What tends to happen is that our subconscious mind – our hopes, fears, desires and needs – suggest to us a particular way of looking at the world: and then our intellect jumps in to find reasons WHY.

I was just reading (ok, LISTENING to) Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” – an excellent and engrossing book. He describes an experiment where a group of “speed daters” were surveyed about which of a list of qualities were the most important in a prospective partner. Was it physical attractiveness? Honesty? Wit? Common interests? After the test, they had their “speed dating” experience and were asked to rate each of the people they met on these qualities, as well as to pick the ones they were interested in getting to know better. As you might have suspected, the participants weren’t very good at predicting the people they would be interested in. They might have SAID they wanted a person who was honest and shared their interests, and then picked someone who didn’t rate high on those qualities at all, but was very physically attractive or witty. What’s more, when they were given the same survey a week later – their criteria had changed. If they had been attracted to a witty person, for example, they now rated “wit” as the most important criteria. Their intellectual criteria, in other words, were at the mercy of their subconscious desires, not the other way around.

This is just as easy to do in the creation/evolution argument. We all know that there are atheists who would be happy to listen to any evidence for evolution – even BAD evidence, because it helps them defend their worldview. And we all know there are believers who would be happy to listen to any evidence for creation – even BAD evidence. People will praise to the skies the work and credentials of complete hucksters, if the hucksters tell them what they want to hear.

Fortunately, just as there are checks and balances in government, to counteract the human tendency to abuse power – there are checks and balances in science, to counteract the human tendency to intellectually deceive ourselves.

ONE of those checks is peer review. The intellectual work of a scientist must be presented to a community of observers trained in the same field, who all have a vested interest in their own particular view and their own particular work. If there are glaring errors, these people will see it if anyone can. In particular, if the work of a scientist challenges the current understanding of things, his work is likely to be carefully scrutinized by other researchers with a vested interest in the current understanding of things. Peer review means that a scientist will be motivated to avoid the embarrassment of publishing nonsense. On the other hand, if the new idea elegantly explains problems that others in the field have been wrestling with, and helps them further their own work they will be motivated to give it a good hearing, and the originating scientist will be motivated to present the idea. Peer review is a protection to prevent our brilliantly adaptive intellects from inventing explanations that only serve our own needs and interests. They must serve the needs and interests of a broad community. This makes them more likely to be “true” in the sense of providing useful general principles.

But another and perhaps the primary “check” on a bad scientific idea is its predictive power. It’s very easy for our brilliantly adaptive intellects to invent ideas to explain any set of facts we come up against. It’s quite another thing to invent ideas that explain the facts BEFORE we encounter them. The “speed daters” in the experiment above were very good at inventing plausible reasons WHY they were attracted to certain people based on certain qualities – but not so good at predicting in advance what qualities would attract them. Only a person who correctly understands their own deepest motivations could accurately predict who they would be attracted to. Similarly, only a scientific theory that is in touch with some important aspect of the truth can make accurate predictions.

In my opinion, Creationism, particularly young-earth Creationism, is revealed by both these scientific “checks” to be largely a case of ad-hoc intellectual justification. Only a small handful of scientists see any merit in it. Is this simply a case of clinging to a justification for atheism? I don’t think so. Many scientists who accept evolution are believers. In fact, of the scientists who are believers, more of them believe in evolution than don’t. Remember also that Darwin’s theory had to originally win over the support of scientists who were almost entirely believers, and against massive public opposition. It could do this only because of its great explanatory power and predictive value.

As for predictive power, young-earth Creationism is, in my opinion, a complete disaster. Time and time again creationists have been forced into elaborate justifications to account for additional facts as they arise. None of these justifications may sound intellectually implausible on the surface. But the fact that the need for such justification arises again and again – not just in evolutionary biology, but in geology, physics, and chemistry, is telling. According to a young-earth creation scientist, nothing is as it seems. Transitional fossils aren’t really transitional. The geological column doesn’t represent a long sequence of deposits. The principles of radioactive decay can’t be trusted. The speed of light might have changed. Apparent genetic relationships have convoluted alternative explanations. Any exceptions invalidate the general rules. This is not evidence of the predictive power of Creation Science. It is, rather, evidence of the rather amazing power of the human mind to deceive itself.

And for what? To reconcile the facts to one particular interpretation of an ancient Hebrew text – a text which has generated quite a number of alternate interpretations? Of course, at this point, it’s much more than that. There is a whole group-ego structure built around this particular interpretation, and to a member of this group, any challenge to it is not simply an issue of scientific fact. It is a direct attack on the identity of who they are as a person and as a member of the group. They cannot concede any point against it without giving up some part of themselves.

This is not to say that it can’t work the other direction. In spite of the benefits of healthy skepticism, for example, I can’t help thinking someone like the Great Randi has more than an academic interest in maintaining his skeptical point of view, and that encountering a real psychic would challenge him on a level far more fundamental than simply intellectually.

Jun 252007
 

Science rules out all religion except the highest. "

D.E. Harding

 

As most of you know, I have a lot of sympathy with atheists. There’s something noble in many of them. Since childhood, most of them have been approached with crass literal interpretations of the religious metaphors of the Bible. They have heard irrational justifications for the divine misbehavior in the Old Testament. They have been told they are damned for wrongs they never personally committed. They have been offered contradictory and arcane explanations for why Jesus dying on the cross should matter to them. They have been called fools and swine when they found all these ideas unpersuasive. Ultimately they have been threatened with everlasting torture and finally shunned.

 

There’s a refreshing courage in someone who can simply tell the Christian culture it can take a hike. And buried under a reasonable skepticism is often a profound regard for the truth, however stark it may be. But… I find that I cannot be an atheist. There are simply too many important things in my experience that hard-line atheism either dismisses or disparages.

 

One of my favorite quotations from G. K. Chesterton goes like this: “We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.”

 

There are moments in my experience when rationality and positivism aren’t an adequate world view. In fact, to say they are inadequate is a terrible understatement. They seem, as Chesterton said, “dead”. When I try to get into the mindset of the hard-core materialism, I feel like the men in Eliot’s poem.

 

“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”

 

The External World

“Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all in my hand, little flower—but if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.” – Tennyson

I felt the dryness of rationalism first in relation to the external features of the cosmos. My first major in college was zoology, so I had a reasonably good scientific education. But time and time again I would find that science simply pointed me toward profound states of awe, but then couldn't follow me into the wonder of it. I can remember many of the exact experiences – Looking at a map of the universe in National Geographic. Staring up into a profoundly clear night sky at sea. Studying the ATP cycle in molecular biology. I would be left with a overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement, and nothing to this day changes my belief that these things are WORTHY of amazement – in fact demand it. It makes no difference to point out that the ATP cycle, for example, could have come about by “natural” processes. All this does is rearrange the wonder, not diminish it. It is just as inexplicable that it should be possible for “natural processes” to create such a marvel. The natural processes themselves become the wonder.

 

The Internal World

"The heart has reasons that reason knows not of. We feel it in a thousand things. . . . . do you love by reason?" – Pascal

 

Looking at my own inner life inspires more wonder. Is it really possible that so much meaning and joy and wonder arises in a cosmos who’s own interior is entirely dead and inert? No physical explanation of cognition even touches the inner experience. Joy, and spirit and art and ecstasy simply are not, to my mind, fortunate epiphenomena arising out of the cold physical facts of the world. They are more important to me, and more real to me, than the physical world itself, and it seems unavoidable that they arise out of the innermost nature of the cosmos itself. And so I suspect that not only in myself, but in the entire cosmos, “inner experience” is a fact, and that the whole cosmos has an “interior life” of some kind.

Aesthetic experience

When I experience natural beauty, look at a sunset or ponder a flower – or when I read a transcendent poem or look at a great painting – what is this profound feeling I experience in connection with the quality of these objects? It is really a matter of my mere subjective preferences – just as I like carrots but abhor beets? This seems a totally unsatisfactory answer for aesthetic experience. When we appreciate quality in the world, we are appreciating something real – something supremely important. This quality is recognized by a non-thinking process, and hence cannot be defined, tested for or recorded by an instrument. And yet… we know what it is.

 

Existence Itself

Nothing is more amazing than the fact that anything exists at all. It's difficult to really wrap our mind around just how bizarre the fact of existence is. I remember at least one occasion, however, when the whole foreign mystery of existence itself came crashing through to my consciousness. I felt trapped in some terribly foreign state of being, totally out of place. I suspect many have had similar experiences. WHY is there something rather than nothing – this seems the ultimate question, and it is impossible to feel the full weight of this mystery bearing down on your consciousness without sensing that something terribly important is behind it all. But, as Ken Wilber pointed out, strict materialism has nothing to offer to the mystery of existence beyond what he calls "the philosophy of oops" – a reluctance even allow the question of "why?"

Mystical experience

At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas (the real one that is) experienced a profound mystical vision that caused him to put down his pen and leave his Summa Theologica for another to finish. His scribe begged him to complete the work that would come to be considered the greatest masterpiece of rational theology of all time. "I cannot.” Thomas replied. “Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw." Profound mystical experiences of various kinds open up a perspective that is not adequately addressed by rationality alone. These range from such things as out-of-body experiences to profound states of non-dual awareness that, while impossible to completely communicate, make it utterly impossible to look at the world without seeing it asmanifestation of a divine unity. I'd recommend the following link as an excellent example of such an experience: http://www.nonduality.com/dazdark.htm. It's understandable that a hard-line atheist would find a description of someone else's experience unpersuasive. But I believe it's utterly impossible to have one and remain entirely satisfied with hard-line atheism alone as a worldview. To quote a line from Sagan's Contact, where Ellie is explaining her experience, "I… had an experience… I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone!"

This is just a brief survey of some of the areas that make hard-core atheism, as a worldview, something I can't accept. Is it possible that I'm deceiving myself – that all this meaning and beauty and unity that I seem to sense in the world are really just epiphenomena of physics and chemistry? Logically, I would answer that yes, it's possible. But my whole point is that logic is inadequate to the task of answering this question.

I'll close with a few words from "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis. The story is about several children, accompanied by a strange pessimistic creature called a “marshwiggle” named “Puddleglum” who descend from the kingdom of Narnia, ruled by the good lion Aslan and enter a subterranean kingdom ruled by a witch-queen to try to rescue a kidnapped prince. Once there, the witch puts them under a spell of confusion and forgetfulness. She gradually convinces the children that there IS no world above ground, no sun, no sky, no Aslan. They become convinced that these are all simply children’s tales and dreams – projections they have created in their minds from the drab and ordinary objects in the miserable underground world ruled by the witch. Only Puddleglum rebels.

“One word, Ma’am” he says to the witch, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face on I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Mar 212007
 

First a disclaimer. I’m an example of a “Theistic Evolutionist”. I think this actually makes me a good candidate to evaluate the evidence for evolution. If the evidence tended to show that God created each species independently, I’d be happy to accept it. I’m not an atheist, so I have no anti-God axe to grind. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the opening chapters of Genesis require me to believe any scientific particulars about the origin of species. So if the evidence tends to show that all life descended from a common source with modification, I’m equally happy to accept THAT. I was originally a zoology major in college, so I have enough of a science background to at least have a basic understanding of most of the ideas presented in favor of evolution. My purpose in this article or articles will be to try to explain these issues to Christians and other theists simply enough that they can evaluate them.

Let’s begin by setting some boundaries.  People mean a lot of different things when they say “evolution”. All I’ll be talking about here is the idea that all life has descended with modification from common ancestors. This is one formulation of the FACT of evolution. Evidence for the truth of this idea is overwhelming. In fact, evidence of the same strength and kind regularly sends people to death row for murder. And I’ll hope to show that if the FACT of evolution is false, then God has gone out of his way to deceive us – to the extent that he could not be trusted.

As to the mechanism of HOW life descended with modification from a common source – that is more open to discussion. We know a great deal about some of the mechanisms, but certainly not everything. As to how life originated in the first place – that is even MORE open to discussion. Scientific theories about this currently rely on substantial amounts of conjecture. What we DO know is that somehow, life descended from a common source with modification. It was not created in the form of distinct individual “kinds” or species, as creationism would have it.

DNA and Genetics

It’s interesting to remember that Charles Darwin knew nothing about DNA. The workings of the inside of the cell were, to use Michael Behe’s term, a “Black Box” to Darwin and other scientists of the day. In Darwin’s day, it was well known that parents (human, animal or plant) passed on their characteristics to their offspring. People with black hair would tend to have children with black hair. Birds with larger beaks would tend to have offspring with larger beaks, etc. Although genetics was studied, no one knew exactly HOW these characteristics were passed on.

Now we know that DNA and RNA molecules control these traits and others by controlling the structure of the proteins that make up the bodies of all living things. The genes on the DNA molecule are blueprints for building the complicated building blocks that make up life. These DNA molecules, and the traits they contain, are passed down from one generation to the next. Enormous effort has gone into studying and cataloguing gene sequences of the DNA molecule, especially in humans. We have also studied the intricate and fascinating workings of living cells down at the level of biochemical reactions.

The Commonality of Life

The first fascinating thing about DNA is that all life on earth uses it. Not only does all life use DNA, but there are other surprising similarities. All life uses the same basic three types of polymers out of hundreds of possibilities. Many molecules that make up life come in “right-handed” and “left-handed” varieties. Overwhelmingly, all life on earth uses molecules of the same “handedness”. All DNA in all life uses only four nucleoside building blocks out of at least 102 possibilities. All proteins in all living things use only the same 22 amino acids out of 309 amino acids available in nature. All life uses the same basic “code” for translating DNA into proteins. All life uses a very similar cycle of complex chemicals to process energy. For example, virtually every form of life from yeast to man uses a protein called “cytochrome c” as part of the process of providing the body cells with energy. When Darwin proposed that all life descended from a common source, he had no idea that at the molecular level, all life would turn out to be so very similar.

Why this similarity? If God were creating each species separately, why would he make a rose and a whale look so completely different on the OUTSIDE – but function so similarly on the INSIDE, at the level of molecules? Why limit himself to so few chemical choices out of the huge number available? Why be so beautifully creative with the outward forms and so boringly repetitive with the inner workings? Did he take shortcuts with the biochemistry because he thought no one would be looking at it?

Of course, it all life descended from a common ancestor, then everything becomes plain. All life has inherited the basic chemistry of life from its original ancestor. If only God had made a few species that use different amino acids, or a different polymer or a different nucleoside – the theory of evolution would be in serious trouble. But he didn’t.

DNA Variation and Mutation

Although normally DNA is passed from parent to offspring as a perfect copy, occasionally there are problems. Minor changes can happen, for various reasons. DNA can be damaged during copying due to such things as radiation, environmental toxins, certain viruses or just a random “hiccup” in the chemical machines that do the copying. There are many sections of the DNA molecule that are inactive. Changes to those parts of the DNA molecule will be passed on to the offspring, but will have no noticeable effect on the offspring. On the other hand, if the mutation happens to a part of the DNA that is used for making proteins, then the protein can be changed. This can cause major or minor differences in the traits of the offspring. Mutations and the rates of mutation have been extensively studied, especially in humans. This is an important part of some cancer research, for example.

Take, for example, the protein “cytochrome c” I mentioned above. This protein is made up of about 100 amino acids and is vital to all life on earth. Because it is so vital, any mutation that seriously changes the way DNA produces cytochrome c tends to be fatal. And for that reason, very few changes in cytochrome c are passed on to offspring. But there are some parts of the cytochrome c protein that are only “structure”. They can be changed to a different amino acid without changing the function of the molecule.

Think of it as a toy dump truck made of legos. The toy truck has to have wheels, and a certain cargo capacity. But it really doesn’t matter, for most of the truck, if you build it out of green legos or black legos, or a mix of all sorts of colors. As long as the structure is there and it rolls and carries cargo – it will work. And so the cytochrome c molecules in humans are slightly different than the ones in horses, or corn, or yeast. They have accumulated some mutations. But they all work. In fact, you can take human cytochrome c and put it into yeast and it will work just fine.

But here’s the interesting part. If any life form has a mutation in its DNA causing a change in cytochrome c, it will pass that change in cytochrome c on to its offspring. If all life is descended from a common source, then, we should be able to map out the family tree of all life on earth by comparing cytochrome c molecules. If we start with humans, then any form of life with very similar cytochrome c should be on a branch of the tree very near us, and any form with more differences in cytochrome c should be farther away. So what do we find? We start with:

Chimpanzee: 100%. That is to say, chimp cytochrome c is absolutely identical to human cytochrome c. This would tend to indicate that chimps are very close to us on the family tree of life.

Here are other species and how similar they are to humans in their cytochrome c:

Mouse: 91.3%
Donkey: 89.4%
Horse: 88.5%
Lamprey: 80.8%
Carp: 78.6%
Maize: 66.7%
S. pombe (a yeast) 67.3%
Neurospora (another yeast) 63.7%
Euglena (a single celled organism) 56.6%

It’s not hard to see that the tree of life we actually find by molecular testing is very similar to the tree that evolutionary biologists had put together decades earlier by examining common characteristics. But Darwin had never heard of cytochrome c. He and other biologists created their classifications based on various shared traits. Darwin did not know that mapping the development of a molecular protein would turn out to show the exact same pattern as his theory predicted.

But how does this fit with special creation? WHY would God deliberately create humans and chimps to have EXACTLY the same cytochrome c out of more than billions of possibilities? Is it because the cytochrome c in humans and chimps functions slightly differently, somehow “tailored” for primates? No. The cytochrome c of virtually all life is basically interchangeable in terms of function. This is because it is basic to the energy cycle of all life. As I said above, human cytochrome c works in yeast without a hitch. Why would God perfectly match his “custom” created cytochrome c to the evolutionary chain of life? Why provide virtually certain forensic evidence that all life evolved from a common ancestor? All God would have had to do would be to give chimps significantly different cytochrome c than humans and evolution would have been dealt a devastating blow.

And cytochrome c sequences basically ARE at the level of importance that DNA evidence is in a courtroom. Cytochrome c differences are caused by DNA differences, and are only passed on by ONE mechanism that we know of in the whole world – one that we observe every single day. Heredity.

Endogenous Retroviruses

If the previous example were not enough, the phenomena of endogenous retroviruses should seal the deal. Retroviruses insert themselves into the DNA of their host. Very occasionally, they will insert themselves into a sperm or ova and will be passed on to the next generation as part of the DNA. Provided that the virus has inserted itself into a portion of the DNA that is not critical, it can and will continue to be passed on for generation after generation. It is estimated that about 1 to 8% of human DNA are these fragments of viruses passed down from our ancestors. These fragments are, in effect, tiny “scars” of ancient viruses infections found on our DNA, in every cell.

Now for the interesting part. Several of these same virus fragments, in the same locations, are found in chimps, gorillas, orangutan, gibbons, and other apes and monkeys. The closer we get to humans, the more fragments are shared. The odds against this being by chance are astronomical. The only known mechanism for having exactly the save virus fragments in exactly the same places is… heredity. It is inescapable that we share ancestors with chimpanzees and other apes and monkeys. We know how the viruses get there. Viral infection. We know how they are passed down – genetically to offspring. These are observable mechanisms that we have studied extensively. Humans and chimps have clear and unmistakable genetic fingerprints of a common ancestor – fingerprints left by an ancient viral infection.

This phenomena is nearly impossible to explain reasonably through special creation. Why on earth would God create both chimps and humans so that their DNA was scared by several virus fragments in the same locations?? What possible purpose could this serve? Why place older and fewer infection markers in more distant evolutionary ancestors – exactly as evolution would lead us to expect? Did God create each of these species so that it APPEARED they had been infected in the past by viruses? Or did he manipulate the odds (and it would have required drastic manipulation) so that they were infected in the same places in their DNA? Either way, God would be going out of his way to LIE to us – to deliberately mislead us with the evidence. And once again, if it had turned out that we shared virus scars with organisms who were very different from us, but didn’t’ share them with apes – evolution would have absolutely no explanation.

If you shared enough very specific gene markers with another person, it would be proof positive in a court of law that you and that person share common ancestry. This is exactly how most paternity cases are resolved. Exactly that same sort of evidence proves conclusively that we share ancestors with the other primates. The only alternative is that God is a liar and a trickster.

Jul 282006
 

By Ken Wilber [img_assist|nid=5|title=Ken Wilber|desc=Ken Wilber|link=node|align=right|width=92|height=100]

It is flat-out strange that something – that anything – is happening at all. There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are. This is extremely weird.

To Schelling’s burning question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of “oops.” The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it’s all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens – oops! The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear – its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism to scientific materialism, from linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism – always comes down to the same basic answer, namely, “Don’t ask.”

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening? Why am I here?) – the question itself is said to be confused, pathological, nonsensible, or infantile. To stop asking such silly or confused questions is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity, the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

I don’t think so. I think the “answer” these “modern and mature” disciplines give – namely, oops! (and therefore, “Don’t ask!”) – is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence. There are, of course, many varieties of this “Deeper Order”: the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya, Braham, Rigpa. And although these different varieties of the Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears. Something else is going on, something quite other than oops….

Jul 282006
 

Although I’m not entirely ready to discuss this issue, since I’m still mulling it around in my mind, I thought we might be in need of a topic to kick around for a bit, so I’ll wing it.

I have previously stated my view that God, as “Being” pervades all reality, down to the last atom. Some objectors noted that they saw no evidence of this. I would like to introduce some evidence, launching into it from a different discussion topic we have also had recently – the problem of reductionist arguments for psychological states – ie explanations for our mind which reduce the mind entirely down to physics and chemistry.

I wish to discuss the problem of conscious experience.

It is possible to imagine that physical sciences could eventually give us much insight on the FUNCTIONS of our mental experience. How information is analyzed, stored, collated and evaluated. How we focus our attention. How we control our behavior. Functional components simply need a functional mechanism as an explanation.

But functional explanations leave one phenomena untouched – our actual experience of consciousness. The experience of what it is LIKE to see a color, remember a face, or have a thought. I am not asking how our brain sees, remembers, or thinks – but how these mechanisms generate the actual experience of being conscious of these functions.

“How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp”. (T H Huxley)

We may notice that there are correlations between physical states of the brain and the experience of consciousness, but it is a logical error to assume that a correlation implies either a cause and effect, or (even more absurdly) an identity. We notice that whenever the Genii appears, Aladdin is rubbing the lamp. But this hardly “explains” the Genii. We would need to know HOW and WHY one produces the other. Much less can we say that Aladdin rubbing is lamp is ONE AND THE SAME as the Genii.

In a similar way, a brain state may be associated with the experience of consciousness. But it cannot be said to CAUSE it unless we know the exact how and why. Far less is it ontologically identical with conscious experience. The actual experience of seeing the color red does not seem, on observation, to have any identity in it’s NATURE to the firing of neurons in the brain.

Not only that, but it is difficult to see how any progress in neuroscience could possibly account for conscious experience. Neuroscience can possibly discover physical mechanisms which produce mental functions. But conscious experience is not a “function”. It is a state of being. There is no particular reason WHY a particular pattern of neural activity should produce our conscious experience of a vast subjective world.

Wrapping up quickly, I believe that conscious experience is completely unaccountable in terms of reduction to the laws of physics and chemistry. Conscious experience needs to take its place, like mass and space-time, as a fundamental “given” of the cosmos – part of its fundamental nature.

I could expand on many of these points greatly, but perhaps it’s best to let the discussion take care of that.

Jul 272006
 

From “A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber

“M-Theory has certainly got intellectuals thinking; that is, thinking differently. What would it mean if there were a theory that explained EVERYTHING? And just what does “everything” actually mean, anyway? Would this new theory in physics explain, say, the meaning of human poetry? Or how economics works? Or the stages of psycho-sexual development? Can this new physics explain the currents of ecosystems, of the dynamics of history, or why human wars are so terribly common?

In the interior of quarks, it is said, there are vibrating strings, and these strings are the fundamental units of everything. Well, if so, it is a strange everything, pale and anemic and alien to the richness of the world that daily presents itself to you and me. Clearly strings are an important PART of a larger world, fundamental to it, but not that significant, it seems. You and I already know that strings, should they exist, are only a tiny part of the picture, and we know this every time we look around, listen to Bach, make love, are caught transfixed at the sharp crack of thunder, sit rapturous at sunset, contemplate a radiant world that seems made of something so much more than microscopic, one-dimensional, tiny rubber bands…

The Greeks had a beautiful word, Kosmos, which means the patterned Whole of all existence, including the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms. Ultimate reality was not merely the cosmos, or the physical dimension, but the Kosmos, or the physical and emotional and mental and spiritual dimensions altogether. Not just matter, lifeless and insentient, but the living Totality of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit. The Kosmos! – now there is a real theory of everything! But us poor moderns have reduced the Kosmos to the cosmos. we have reduced matter and body and mind and soul and spirit to nothing but matter alone, and in this drab and dreary world of scientific materialism, we are lulled into the notion that a theory uniting the PHYSICAL dimension is actually a theory of EVERYTHING…

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