"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Feb 19, 2008

The Bible can't get the story straight

One of the regular features of this blog are posts related to issues about the debate between Biblical Literalists in the form of creationism and "Intelligent Design" and the scientific view of the world, in particular the scientific explanations for the observed evidence of evolution.

This debate invariably turns around creationists attempting to undermine peoples understanding of science, the meaning of "theory" in science and the modern scientific theory of evolution.

I thought it might be interesting to open up an additional "front" in this debate and point the Biblical Literalists to some of the oddities in their "Holy Book". These are problematic for literalists because in their attempt to refute modern scientific understanding they resort ultimately to their close reading of the Bible. Their starting point is that this book is the word of God and must therefore be understood literally.

So lets have a look at some of the absurdities and contradictions in the Bible, in particular those that have some relevance to the creation of the world/Universe/Life.

Here's one for today - two Bible passages which are clearly contradictory
Genesis 1:3-5 King James Version (KJV) Public Domain

3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:14-19 King James Version (KJV)

14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

19And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

So lets get this straight; According to the Bible (God) the light and darkness and the division of the evening and morning took place on the first day.

But no hang on ... wait... it was the fourth day according to the second version. So er which was it first day, fourth day, first day, fourth day?

Hmmm. A bit of a problem here for the Bible Literalists - particularly given that these passages come from the very start of the Bible. If it cant even get the story straight in the introduction what hope for the rest of the book? So is God lying to us about when he made the light and darkness? Is he just forgetfull , didn't take a note in his diary? Not a much of a designer if he cant even remember his plan for creating the fundamental stuff of light and darkness - and that's before we even get to the beasts of the field.

Or is the reality simply that these were stories made up a long time ago by people to try to explain the world that they found themselves in?

Whats very interesting is that it is possible to follow these creation myths through other cultures where there are variations on this Theme. More on this later.


Looney said...

Why is any of that more preposterous than claiming that an original life self-replicating life form composed of specific sequences of proteins and DNA spontaneously arranged itself in the primordial ooze? Per Dawkins example, it is like expecting a tornado in a junk yard to arrange a working Airbus. I prefer to think of it like putting silicon crystals, wire and plastic into the blender and hoping for an iPod to pop out. Sooner or later you have to take some nasty medicine, no matter what position you choose.

Regardless, none of us were around at the beginning.

Bunc said...

Its preposterous because it posits no specific testable explanation simply a supernatural "designer" who couldnt even get his dates right.

It also runs contrary to all the scientific evidence about the age of the Earth, the formation of the planets, the cosmic background radiation - shall I go on?

Looney said...

Well, let's see.

1) The accepted view of the age of the Earth in the early 19th century was essentially infinity, per the teachings of the Greeks. I am not surprised at all that evidence for age that was accepted from the mid-19th century was in the billions of years, given the intellectual climate and the continued fascination with Aristotle's teachings. (Remember the flat earth?)

2) All dating methods are based on piles of assumptions and the events that they purport to date are inherently irreproducible. Yes, I went through some of this in my quantum mechanics classes.

3) To date, there is no accepted theory on planet formation that I am aware of.

4) Background radiation is, like dating a bit of speculation constructed on top of a mountain of assumptions.

Now that isn't to say that I think Moses' explanation is the basis for some detailed scientific understanding. I just reject the notion that today's "scientists" are smarter than Moses and know significantly more than him.

Given the difficulty in understanding the details of something like combustion in a car engine, I just don't see how lesser minds who are only incentivized by the opportunity to be published in an obscure peer reviewed journal can really engage in more difficult deductions regarding what happened billions of years ago.

Bunc said...

1) The Greeks were arguably more enlightened than modern fundamentalist christians then.

2) I would be interested to hear you arguments about modern dating methods. The use of these by independant labs in independant experiments on independant samples yields a consistant age for the earth of over 4.5 BILLION years. How old do you think it is 6,000 years? State your case.

3) Planets form from the accretion discs around new stars I believe is the prevelant theory although other circumstances I guess may lead to planet formation. As we find out more EVIDENCE from Scientific studies then theories will revise as always. Whats your explanation - the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it?

4) Background radiation was, interestingly predicted by cosmological theory and the finding of the background radiation actually supported the theory and is entirely consistent with a number of other strands of theory - hey - thats science! perhaps if you can come up with a better expplanation ( not the Flying Spaghetti Monster one) then maybe you'll get published in a peer reviewed journal.

Rejecting a hundred years plus of scientific progress because you don't believe these people were smarter than Moses? LOL

That would be Moses the great philospher/scientist/designer would it? Or the guy who went up a mountain and came back with some stones? ( as an aside - do you believe Moses wrote the early parts Bible like some scholars argued - or did God write it drectly or were there a number of authors?)

"I just don't see how lesser minds who are only incentivized by the opportunity to be published in an obscure peer reviewed journal can really engage in more difficult deductions regarding what happened billions of years ago."

Thats essentially an appeal to your personal incredulity - a logical fallacy, and a "my guys better than your guy because he's older argument" Huf and puff stuff looney - your arguments are mere empty rhetoric and Ad Hominem. You attack the character of those who do science rather than the argument - which is why I respond by taking Moses down a peg or two.

Looney said...

Um, I didn't say that Moses was smart. I am not trying to lift the intelligence level of Moses up here, just trying to give my perspective on the intelligence of the scientific community - based on first hand observations! Like I said, I do not believe in the existence of scientists, at least I don't believe in scientists who have any kind of big picture understanding of the world. They accept their world view based on blind faith from their teachers, then bury their heads into a petri dish for a few decades. Yes, they will have some useful insights into the petri dish, but not much more.

Regarding the dating methods being done by different laboratories, this is a red herring. Basically, the laboratories check the relative ratio of isotopes and then plug the results into an equation. Assuming the rock to be relatively homogeneous, n laboratories will produce roughly the same ratios of isotopes, which will then be plugged into the same formula and - not the least bit surprising - give roughly the same answer. That proves exactly nothing, because the question was with regard to the validity of the formula, not the competency of labs to perform isotope measurement.

Marf said...

Oh, but you did say Moses was smart... and I quote: "I just reject the notion that today's 'scientists' are smarter than Moses and know significantly more than him."

They accept the world view based on blind faith from their teachers? That's different from religion how? I'll tell you how. At least in science you can go test it out for yourself if you don't believe your teachers. You can't in religion.

And I suppose if you count the physical universe as a petri dish, I can agree with you on this point.

As far as dating methods, there have been extensive tests to figure out the half-life of elements like carbon and argon. We know the rate they decay at. Sure, radioactive decay is a random process. But just like any quantum process, it has probabilities. You may not be able to pin down what a single particle will do, but you'll know pretty accurately what ten trillion of them will do.

Bunc said...

Looney, you yourself admiotted that you dont know a scientist so its a bit presumptious to be ascribing motives to a group of people you dont know.

"They accept their world view based on blind faith from their teachers, then bury their heads into a petri dish for a few decades."

Again you simply demonstrate a profound and disturbing ignorance of the world of science. The way people make their name in science is usually by overthrowing a previous theory and proposing either a modification of it or its replacement with a better theory. In that sense science is probably one of the most competitive occupations there is.

No scientist worth their salt puts blind faith in their teachers and certainly top scientists are no respectors off scientific tradition. If that were the case then Darwins theory would have been passed down unaltered and unchallenged.

The truth is that if any scientist could find a better theory than the modern synthesis then they would be famous.

There are red hot debates within the sciences all the time about the meaning and explanation of the latest experiments and observations. The fact that the process of natural selection has essentially withstood this test is testiment to its robustness.

As for dating techniques I would be interested in hearing from you your evidence about current concerns about dating techniques and formulae - maybe something that would shave a few billion years of the estimates? I am really looking forward to your response on that one.

By the way I was just over at the Answers in genesis Journal -a "Peer reviewed" Bible Literalist Journal which calls for scientific papers supporting the Biblical account of creation and the flood. Interesting - I found three/four submitted papers in their archives - not exactly a florid field of research this Bible theory/ID stuff is it?

One of the tests broadly both of the success and importance of a scientific theory is the amount of research and further theoretical work it generates in that field.

Try a search on evolution, adaptation, speciation, paleontology etc etc and get some sense of just how much research has been provoked by the scientific explanations of Evolution - and how none of it seems to be finding any evidence which essentially contradicts the theory.

Marf said...

You know Bunc, I don't know how you do it. Everyone that comments on my blog just agrees with me. I can't get any real discussion like this. Even when I do bring up atheist views.

Looney said...

Well, the first project that I worked on was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was a small follow on to a much bigger earlier project. The earlier work was done by a consulting firm on contract to LLNL. A few hundred pages of documents were received from the consulting firm and typed back into the word processing system at LLNL. Since I had to go through the documents in detail I observed that the only changes made at LLNL were to erase the names of the consulting engineers and replace them with the names of some UC Berkeley Ph.d's before sending the documents on to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

To make matters worse, it was a project involving crack growth in nuclear power plant piping. LLNL had touted their world class fracture mechanics research team in selling the project. Fracture mechanics wasn't my specialty, but I immediately found that these "experts" had failed to include the pressure of the fluid in the cracks, which was a fracture mechanics 101 error. Ooops!

The next 25 years of my career have given me no reason to be any less cynical.

Bunc said...

Looney - your one example hardly damns the whole of scientific endevour. I am sure that there are some pretty stupid software engineers out there also - the law of natural selection tends to weed out all the unfit ones though!

Nothing like a nuclear explosion I suppose to weed out the unfit nuclear scientists!

Marf - What you need is a pet Looney Fundamentalist like I have. (no offense because I am sure Looney considers me his pet "evolutionist" ). What you need to do is lay some bait in a post - it doesn't need to be controversial - even a basic statement of the theory of evolution will do.

Once one swims into your pond the next secret is - be nice to them. deal with their arguments but treat them like a human being.

They do respond to this eventually because there is part of the brain of the creationist that actually understands the meaning of the word Christian.

Once you have your creationist where you want them then you can ramp the debate up - but do remind them occassionally that its nothing personal (Their daft arguments will infuriate you but try to keep distinguishing their arguments from them as people - brainwashing is hard to crack you know and people resist for years).

Until you can get your own pet fundamentalist I could lend you mine occassionally. He's a fully certified (certfiable?) Mark 111 ID'er and comes fully equipped with the standard range of Ad Hominems, non sequitors, stereotypes etc. Great for practicing your debating skills with.

With apologies to Looney :-)

(See the technique Marf? A bit of "stroking" helps.)

Marf said...

Duely noted. I have noticed that you speak with an elegance I sometimes lack on atheistic topics.

The world would not be as interesting if there were not people that disagree with you. It helps us remind ourselves why we believe the way we do.

Looney said...

Greetings Marf and thanks Bunc. What Bunc writes here I can whole heartedly agree with. Ad Hominems and non sequitors vs. faulty induction and gnosticism! Touché!

Bunc, I am probably too cynical, but I have a lot more than one anecdote.

Bunc said...

Life would indeed be boring if we all agreed on everything. Anyway debate sharpens up one's understanding of the issues I think. We are all seekers after truth in one way or another. It only gets frustrating when people intentionally try to distort arguments - but that usually shows that your argument has more force if they have to resort to such measures.

Bunc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bunc said...

Just a note - the last deleted note is not me censoring - my comment came up twice so I deleted one of them. I don't delete on topic comments.

Looney said...

Bunc, your "mad" mycologist friend reminds me of when I was young: All the other kids wanted to grow up to be policemen and firemen, but I wanted to grow up to be a "mad" scientist. Of course things don't always work out as planned and I grew up to be a "happy" engineer instead. Hopefully he can transform into a "happy" mycologist.

Mike Beidler said...


As promised, here is the information on Dr. John H. Walton's work, which is sure to assist biblical literalists in understanding Genesis from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, which is how Genesis should be read.

Dr. Walton is an amazing scholar. Ironically, he is not an evolutionist. In fact, I believe that he has all the "dots" but he hasn't connected all of them, so to speak. ;-)

Regardless, his writings are a must-read for anyone still reading Genesis in a strictly literal manner. This goes for Young-Earth Creationists and athiests alike, both groups of which (generally speaking) tend to read Genesis through a 21st-century lens.

Dr. Walton, an Old Testament professor from Wheaton College, has two major works published, both of which I have links to in the recommended reading sidebars of my blog:

(1) Genesis (NIV Application Commentary series)

(2) Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

I would challenge any proponent of YEC or OEC to read the first book up through the chapters covering Genesis 1-12, and then read the second book if he or she wants more in-depth information on the ANE perspective.

Dr. Walton does have an outstanding PowerPoint presentation online, which is what I've summarized on my blog. That can be accessed here:


Craig said...

The problem that most people seem to overlook is that for the Genesis version to have any possibility of being true,or even close to it, one would have to accept that we are all here today due to a long line of inbred incestuous offspring populating the world.

Considering the physical, health and emotional problems that inbreeding is known to cause, whether one believes in God or not, suggests something isn't quite right with how things are supposed to have happened.

Actually, it isn't even just one initial start of inbreeding that lead us to exist but in "fact" two, after everyone except those on the Ark was wiped out in a world wide flood.

So, since we aren't all playing "dueling banjos" back in some forgotten holler, it would seem that things can not be taken as literally as one might like.

Beyond that, the statement that "All dating methods are based on piles of assumptions" is just plane false.

Unless the decay of carbon 14 all of a sudden changed at one point leading one to believe the laws of nature periodically play "Simon says", one simply has to read and understand the various dating methods, beside "blind dates", to know that the only assumptions would be those made by those who don't believe the dating methods accurate to within statistically meaningful tolerances.

As for Moses, he was a "Magician" of the highest order and considered as such in the Royal court before he lost favor. But, from reading the bible with a technical mind, it is very likely that the "Ark of the Covenant" which was claimed to lay waste to entire armies might have actually been a chemically or even nuclear powered, in a primitive way.

Although why a magician or even anyone with any brains at all would take 40 years to travel what the average caravan of the time could do in under a month is a bit of a puzzle.

Anyhoo, it really doesn't matter what I or anyone else believes, until one tries to impose one's beliefs on another. A "Belief", by definition, can not be proven so is there really a need to try to prove what is impossible to?

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