Archive for October, 2007

Where Greymalkin Gets To Post

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Before the development of science, people didn’t think scientifically. Pre-Newton, most common people still held to some folk ideas intellectualised by Aristotle when they asked about why things fell to the ground when you let them go. Yet on most of the ideas that we now take for granted, the average Jean in the fields just chalked up “scientific phenomena” under the “things we don’t know about” column. For all our advancement by the way, that column is relatively un-touched. It is still as awe-inspiringly long as it was in the 1500s. The rise of geology and the sense that the world was older than we were didn’t really give us new information (most of the early stuff was wrong), it gave us a new way to question. Reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species today you are struck by how he was a fine, creative mind but the theory was patently incomplete. He didn’t give us new answers so much as offer us new questions. This new line of questioning, asking things we had never thought to ask, has lead to some fine advancements in our yet very incomplete understanding of how biological entities change over vast spans of time through mutation.

All this preamble is to say: claiming that before Darwinism, the vast majority of Christians believed Genesis 1 and 2 to be literal (where literal is used to mean scientific) is anachronistic.

My humble and brilliant friend who comments here under the unforgiveably nerdy handle “Greymalkin” offered me this quote from the Irish Augustine in the 6th Century.

‘Although it is said that the whole creation was arranged in the course of six days, this does not refer to the succession of days in an interval of time, but to the sequence of [God’s] acts. For he who subsequently told the story divided in speech what God did not divide in the perfection of his works. For God created at once all of the things which he made, when by a single act of will he arranged the manifold diversity of all the species. In that single act of will he caused all things to come into existence at once, outside time; and since their creation he does not cease to rule over them throughout time’.

Within this paragraph is a stunningly complete theology of revelation and the action of God in time. It is also totally above any questions of “how”. Augustinus Hibernicus gets added to the big Valhalla style warehouse in the sky for legends of the church that defy the contemporary expectations of them.

Your Correspondent, Met a Corkonian once who didn’t ride a unicycle to work

Girls That Sing Songs They Wrote V

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

There is such a huge backlog of YouTube videos featuring female singer songwriters that I could make Stig swallow a Costa Rican turd while admitting he was wrong about the casual comment he made once a long time ago.

Some people would let it go, not me. I am not some person. I am the guy who drains all the fun out of casual comments.

You need St. Vincent to put the fun back in. I am not just listing her because I have the most awfully huge crush on her (not as bad as the Jenny Lewis crush but bad all the same). She was in Sufjan Steven’s band and the Polyphonic Spree and her real name is Annie Clark and she is a funny lyricist which always helps. And her album Marry Me is named after Maeby’s catchphrase in Arrested Development and it’s top class.

So here is Jesus Saves, I Spend, a song written and performed by a girl, thus proving they are at least as good as monkey-men. The extended intro is totally new from the album but it’s sweet.

She’s playing Belfast tonight and Dublin tomorrow by the way.

Your Correspondent, his hands are black inside this downtown taxi cab

One Line Review 8: Stardust

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

If Ricky Gervais ever gets a new character, I think there is a good chance we won’t get tired of him as quickly.

Your Correspondent, Refuses to believe in “love”

Thoughts On A Film

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Watching one of your loved one’s most treasured childhood films is a dangerous proposition. I learned this the hard way when I didn’t fall in love with the Goonies. But as we watched the actually brilliant Drop Dead Fred one night I realised something. Scientists could prove that the funniest things in the world involve people losing control of their body under the influence of others. Evidence:

    The blah blah blah scene with Evan in Bruce Almighty, punting an otherwise ordinary movie into classic status.
    The lunchtime date scene in Drop Dead Fred, where she throws her meal out the window.
    Any Charismatic Church I’ve ever been at where the Spirit “slays” people. It’s impolite to laugh in public at that though.

Your Correspondent, A Contestant For Your Affections

Noah’s Dove Avoids Capture

Monday, October 29th, 2007

So Jaybercrow is once again my muse. He wrote an article last night on what he makes of science and while Wife-Unit gets ready for the day I thought I’d riff on his theme. We’re off to make homemade beer and insulate a house and maybe do some organic gardening so if Konchog is right then my karma will be sky high and I’ll cash it all in for a convincing argument.

Science is our greatest invention. I say that because I hope maths is something we discover rather than invent. But science is even more impressive than velcro and usb disco lights put together. It has been astoundingly successful at making things turn and move and polarize and for a computer geek like me, the doping of sand which produces wafers we can turn into computer processors- it just still seems like magic. I am a nerd enough to get off on books about panda’s thumbs and the development of infinity but I am sane enough to still be very excited by the fact that light can react to paper to record a moment of time, trapped in a photograph.

So in case it isn’t clear yet, I think science rocks.

But because it is so successful we sometimes make a logical error of making science into a tent that covers all knowledge. Certainly, this is a mistake made by quite a few generations of historians who pursued a scientific method for doing history, a scientific historiagraphy. The guys who organised this effort got lots of funding and encouragement because scientific chemistry was working so well and scientific geology rocked (HA!) so much that surely scientific history would make similar objective, dispassionate, proveable, true for all cases advances.

There was lots of scientific history written, but history hasn’t been kind to it. As Jaybercrow points out (point 3), no human being can ever come objectively to any topic. We are subjects who are bound to be subjective. Our individual viewpoints, by dint of being ours, cannot be everyone’s. So the assumptions behind scientific history was wrong headed.

Science works excellently. But its grand trick, the mechanism that like the coil of the spring in a jack-in-box that makes it work is its ability to generalise. The scientist takes the hard-nosed data gathered from numerous experiments done the same way in different contexts and then makes a create leap to hypothesize a general cause. Jaybercrow dealt with this in point 2. Science is a way of inducing the creative spark that sees behind many disparate individual events to recognise the general cause at work. It turns out that the universe, whether made by God or not, has boundary lines drawn by generalised laws. So science is successful.

But back to humans. Each of us are individuals and entirely subjective at that. There is no way to generalise for humanity in any meaningful sense. If history is the study of human mistakes (or achievements), then there is no hope of applying the scientific method to it. There have been many leaders of the German territories and there shall be many more. But none of these experiments in Kaiser-dom are similar enough to justify generalisation. Kaiser Wilhelm II is an unrepeatable event. We can draw similarities between him and Charles V or Helmut Kohl, but the idea of a generalised law of German leadership is a laughable fantasy, although one many bright men pursued.

There is no way science can prove that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. In fact, the very importance and relevance of historical claims is of a different nature to that of a scientific claim. In the end, we have to evaluate each historical claim from the understanding that it is a distinct, individual and absolutely unrepeatable event that occurs in time just one time only. You might end up thinking like Ford that history is bunk, but if that is true, how do you know Ford said that, or even existed?

Examining intellectual history, as Jaybercrow has already said, what you see is not the scientific method standardising and regulating and refining the practices of other disciplines, but a myth of scientific objectivity that has hid the ever-present reality that science has more to do with creativity and human assessment (just like history, theology, literature and music) than Dawkins and all the Priests of Positivism would ever admit.

Your Correspondent, His eyes are small but they have seen he beauty of enormous things

It Might Have Won The Turner Prize

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Are miracles silly? Should we laugh at the silly billys who think that God intervenes in the world? I don’t think so. The best way to put it is to demonstrate it through my almost infinite artistic ability.

Miracles in 3 Frames

Your Correspondent, His favourite crisp flavour is Bum and Onion

Charting The Beiring Sea

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

There is a bit of a comment flurry going on in the Zoomtard comments. QMonkey wrote this:

“but you [Christians] have changed what you once believed because of what science has determined… not what god revealed to you.”

That sentence is philosophically incoherent. If the Judeo-Christian God that is posited does actually exist, he speaks through science just as clearly as his prophets and to remix my favourite Swiss, he can also just as easily speak through communism or a dead dog. If God is, even science is his revelation. You can grow up in a Christendom and still not understand the Doctrine of God.

QMonkey says something else that I suspect lots of people agree with.

“The VAST majority of Christians believe that god created the earth in 6 days, and that he destroyed the earth in a flood, Jonah survived inside a whale etc etc. They deny evolution for exactly the same reason you deny my theory that Jesus didn’t resurrect. I put it to you that up until 1900 ALL Christians believed in a 6 day creation… including st Paul, St John, St Matthew, Luther, William Tyndale etc.”

I cannot prove to you that the majority of Christians living today believe the world was created in 6 days. For what’s it’s worth, the majority of Christians today haven’t thought to ask the question what with famine and persecution and AIDS and all that going on.

But the historical assertion is categorically wrong. Throughout history the Genesis document has been understood to be a framework theological statement written in dispute with other nation’s gods. It’s much more fascinating than the laughable physics paper that fundamentalists turn it into. It was only in the 1900s that anyone began taking it “literally” where literally means scientific, at all. QMonkey and Joe Bloggs on the street actually can’t be more wrong. They have it backwards. I’ll prove it to you now without recourse to empirical methods (since history cannot be generalised) and it should serve as a double blow. QMonkey will accept that I am right about this and then he’ll buy me a pint next time in Dublin and loudly declare to a bevvy of beautiful girls beside us that I am the smartest and wittiest man since Richard Dawkins frankensteinly resurrected a hybrid of GK Chesterton and Carl Sagan in a weird evil atheist science experiment.

In 208 AD Clement of Alexandria wrote:

“And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist? . . . That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: ‘This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth’ [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression ‘when they were created’ intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression ‘in the day that God made them,’ that is, in and by which God made ‘all things,’ and ‘without which not even one thing was made,’ points out the activity exerted by the Son” (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]).

Origen was another super important church father and he wrote:

“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally” (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

Pay attention to this one from Origen which totally contradicts the Monkey’s assertion:

“And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day . . . and of the [great] lights and stars upon the fourth . . . we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world” (Against Celsus, 6:60).

Ambrose of Milan wrote:

“Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent. . . . The nights in this reckoning are considered to be component parts of the days that are counted. Therefore, just as there is a single revolution of time, so there is but one day. There are many who call even a week one day, because it returns to itself, just as one day does, and one might say seven times revolves back on itself” (Hexaemeron [A.D. 393]).

And Ambrose was preaching when Augustine of Hippo began his conversion process. He went on to be the most important theologian of the post-Biblical era full stop. And he wrote:

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19--20 [A.D. 408]).

“With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation” (ibid., 2:9).

“Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them” (ibid., 4:27).

“[A]t least we know that it [the Genesis creation day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar” (ibid., 5:2).

“For in these days [of creation] the morning and evening are counted until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were is extremely difficult or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” (The City of God 11:6 [A.D. 419]).

“We see that our ordinary days have no evening but by the setting [of the sun] and no morning but by the rising of the sun, but the first three days of all were passed without sun, since it is reported to have been made on the fourth day. And first of all, indeed, light was made by the word of God, and God, we read, separated it from the darkness and called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’; but what kind of light that was, and by what periodic movement it made evening and morning, is beyond the reach of our senses; neither can we understand how it was and yet must unhesitatingly believe it” (ibid., 11:7).

And on it goes through the ages. Christians did not read Genesis as a scientific text until a weird off-shoot called the 7th Day Adventists got very angry with Darwinists in the 1920s. I am a scientist who is a Christian. I subscribe to the theory of evolution and believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. In so doing, I am standing with the oldest of Christian traditions.

Your Correspondent, Would do anything for a banana

What Magic Are These Laws?

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Somewhere, sometime, some guy told me a story about some sisters. One was five and just starting school and the other was nine and ready to take over the world. They were on holidays and late one night they saw a shooting star. The younger girl was filled with excitement and loudly proclaimed, “That is a magical star falling to Earth and I will wish on it for the future!” Her dismissive older sister, proving her sophisticated maturity, shot her down with disgust, “You are so stupid!”, she said, “That’s a dead lump of rock that’s going to burn up into nothingness before it even hits the ground”.

The religionist thinks the younger girl is right. The empiricist thinks the older girl is right. The Father knows they will both remain wrong until they realise both are right.

Your Correspondent, Refuses to collapse the Magic into Law or let either take the place of Grace.

S-s-s-something From The Comments

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Crazy old Norner QMonkey has been annoying me by reading my posts with interest again. Here is what the old simian has to say:

can i ask… are there any christians you know of which hold views about god and his infulence on earth… which you would consider delusional? and if so why? im thinking in terms of visions/healings that kinda thing

Of course I know lots of people who are delusional about some things and some of them are Christians. For example, Wife-Unit is convinced that Eastenders is a really brilliant telly show and the Wire is crap and foul. And my boss thinks that the definition of style is the kind of thing a rich man wears at the golf course. And my intern-bitch is still insistent that God is a turtle that carries the Earth on his back. Two-Metre thinks God is the only person taller than him.

None of these things are true. For example, back in Jesus’ day people were much shorter and so statistically we can assume that the Messiah was a shorty.

If delusional means simply wrong in a straightforward, mistaken sort of way then I can assure you that every single person walking the face of the Earth is delusional about God in some important respects. Who am I to throw stones at the guys who handle snakes for Jesus? Should I also simultaneously have a go at my Buddhist pal because he doesn’t even realise God is a Trinity? I could try to mock Konchog if you like but I suspect he would best me in a battle of wits.

You mean delusional in the mentally unbalanced sense? There once was a day when I would confidently assert that lots of things from exorcisms to healing to belief in a Young Earth would be delusional. Just attribute that to my substitious nature. The drawback of being a sceptic is eventually you have to realise that sceptism extends even to your own sceptism. In calling these alleged events delusional I wasn’t being sceptical. I was moving to an actual position. Now I prefer to remain agnostic on all these things. I have no doubt that delusional people exist in the church, meaning people who are dreadfully and damagingly blind in their mistaken beliefs, but I don’t know any close up enough to say. Even if I did, I wouldn’t use those technical psychological terms. I’ll leave the diagnoses to Two Metre and just make fun of them behind their back.

It’s the Christian way.

Your Correspondent, Doing God’s work to let God off the hook.

Now You Know What To Order Me For Christmas

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Tim Keller is publishing a new book in February 2008. The Reason For God; Belief In An Age Of Skepticism is something I have been waiting for half my adult life- the words of this great man on pieces of paper bound together so that I can give them to everyone I know and let them have their minds be blown.

Here is what Keller says of the book:

I’ve been working for some time on a book for the ordinary (which means very sharp) spiritually skeptical New Yorker. Ever since I got to New York nearly two decades ago I’ve wished I had a volume to give people that not only answered objections to Christianity (what has been called ‘apologetics’) but also positively presented the basics of the gospel in an accessible yet substantial way. I had some books that did the one and some that did the other, but only one did both—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. As you know, I think Lewis’ book is peerless, and foolish would be the author who tried to replace him!

If you are a regular reader of Zoomtard, do not buy this book because when I regurgitate every last paragraph of it, you’ll be able to see my plagiarism!

Your Correspondent, Giddy like a child at the prospect