Logic class, today! After a week of house hunting, a quick post like this feels like just the thing to cleanse the palate, so please forgive my indulgence.
Though it is often claimed–and tempting to believe, because it can sound sensible–it is completely false that you cannot prove a negative. (That is, for instance, that you cannot prove something doesn’t exist.)
I have heard the claim many times, often by wonderful and sincere people but, to be sure, wonderful and sincere people who don’t know what they are talking about — club of which all of us are members from time to time. For instance, I have heard atheists say “You can’t prove a negative!” in an effort to absolve themselves of the need to justify their belief that God does not exist. On the other side, I have heard Christians say “You can’t prove a negative!” in an effort to show that the atheist position is impossible.
Both are in error. Both seem to miss the fact that we prove negatives all the time and the fact that the same sort of “reasoning” they offer would defend belief in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and flying purple leprechauns named Marty.
This was brought up to me more than once by someone who objected to what I wrote for Tomorrow’s World publications concerning the non-existent 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. I would point out that, based on all the evidence we have, the Mayans said no such thing about the year 2012. All of the hoopla and hype was due to New Age goofiness (drug use included) and sloppy, agenda-driven non-scholarship performed by hobbyists and individuals with something to sell. And this is definitely the record we have of the Maya culture–no modern, credible scholar of Mesoamerican culture disagrees with the assessment that the Maya simply did not believe in a 2012 apocalypse.
However, someone apparently bothered when I pointed that out would sometimes write, saying, “You can’t prove a negative!” His point seemed to be that you can’t say that the Mayans never said that the universe would end in 2012. Of course, if it is true that you can’t prove the Mayans did not say something, then it would also be “logically” unreasonable to believe that the Mayans never said President Obama would be elected in 2008, that the Mayans never said “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” or that the Mayans never said they were the descendants of the undiscovered planet Great Googly Gumdrops and never prophesied the coming of their most dangerous foe, Mork from Ork.
Often (though not always, it should be said), the claim “you can’t prove a negative” is made in reaction to something one does not want to hear, as if it will somehow back their opponent into a logical corner. But that is far from the truth.
In fact, you absolutely can prove a negative.
Now, I should qualify that when I say “prove” I mean the same thing we faulty human beings commonly mean when we talk about “proving” anything — for instance, establishing something as the most reasonable position to take among known alternatives. If “prove” means “prove with mathematical exactness and precision but in real life” then virtually all “proofs” would escape us, meaning we could prove neither negatives nor positives! (Actually, we can thank Gödel for helping us to see that, in a very real way, such “proofs” can’t even be assumed for mathematics, itself.)
But if you mean “prove” as in “I can prove you took the cookie from the cookie jar” — a belief established by the preponderance of the evidence — then, oh yeah, we’re golden. We can prove negative statements to just as high a level of certainty as we are able to prove positive statements. In fact, we draw reasonable, sound conclusions about the truth of negatives all the time.
It seems to me that the question is often related to the old saying, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” which is usually abused in this context. Because, very simply, sometimes absence of evidence is, indeed, evidence of absence. For instance, if I told you that, right now, there was an elephant in your kitchen wearing your pajamas (hat tip to Groucho), and you went into your tiny kitchen and saw no pajama-wearing elephant, you would be perfectly justified by the lack of evidence in saying, “I have proven there is no elephant in my kitchen wearing my pajamas.” Why? Because were a pajama-wearing elephant actually in your kitchen, you would be justified in expecting evidence to be left. If you don’t even see a table pushed out of the way as the elephant fled in embarrassment upon hearing your approach (elephants have big ears), you have very good cause to say that your position is proved. For someone to say, “Well, you can’t say you’ve proven there is no elephant in your kitchen because you can’t prove a negative!” would say more about their misunderstanding of logic than it would about your argument. Your argument would be absolutely valid and sound.
If evidence is to be expected and no evidence is present, then absence can be logically inferred. So, perhaps the saying should be amended to say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence unless evidence should be expected.”
This is why we can, indeed, reasonably conclude that the ancient Mayan culture did not expect the universe to end in some sort of cataclysm on December of 2012. For all the New Agers’ and misguided hobbyists’ hoopla about what was supposed to be a universe-changing event, the evidence that the Maya thought about it as such a vastly significant date is just simply absent. Despite the vast volumes of cultural artifacts we have including volumes and volumes of information they, themselves, inscribed and wrote down, they say nothing about such a day being the end of the world. I won’t go into all of the details again [you can search the blog on “2012” and probably find more than you ever wanted to know], but the tiny crumbs that are generally offered by ill-informed hobbyists and tainted “researchers” always fail to pass the test. Monument 6 in Tortuguero? Understood in cultural context (as opposed to ignorantly imposing upon it non-Mayan ideas), it says nothing about the end of the world. The Comalcalco tile? Ditto. The much-later, Christianity-corrupted Chilam Balam? Actually evidence against 2012 date-setting theories when you understand it. The Dresden Codex? Not even.
(FYI on that last point: As all the unchristian 2012-addiction died down back then, the last stab I saw at trying to magically turn the Dresden Codex into “evidence” that the Mayans thought 2012 might be the end of the world was claiming that the last page of the codex is depicting the transit of Venus. No one offered proof the last page said anything like this, or even real evidence. Just an assertion that it is so, in the apparent hope that a confident sounding statement will add some credibility to what they are saying. Except that people — people with actual training in astronomy and Mayan works — have said that, no, the Dresden Codex absolutely does not mention the Venus Transit. Anyone who says the transit of Venus is in the Codex has no credibility. In fact, there’s a negative that can be proved: “The Dresden Codex does not mention the Transit of Venus.” — Sorry! So much of that pointless 2012 goofiness is still running around in my noggin that it spills out sometimes… Back to the post!)
For what should have been the one of the most significant events in their culture’s eschatology, the supposed “end of the world” date of December 2012 was remarkably and unreasonably absent from the vast collection of writings we have. Indeed, absence of evidence is, in this case, evidence of absence.
And, frankly, all of that ignores the positive evidence that the Mayans did not believe 2012 was the end of the world: many inscriptions concerning dates further out that 2012, the calendar discovery at Xultún, et al., ad nauseam. But that is an aside unrelated to the point of this lazy post, today. 🙂
In similar manner, you can prove the negative that Santa did not come down your chimney last Christmas. (Of course, he’d better not come to my house!) The absence of evidence that a fat man crawled down your chimney while you were asleep is pretty good evidence for the absence of such a fat man.
We can, indeed, prove negatives, and lack of evidence is sometimes evidence, itself. When an atheist claims that he doesn’t need to justify his belief that God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove a negative, he is not being rational. When a believer claims that the atheist’s position is not logical because you can’t prove a negative, he is also not being rational. No one gets off the hook. (Don’t get me started on the illogical fad among many atheists today to claim that “belief” doesn’t mean “belief” anymore. That would be a whole ‘nuther post…)
If someone ever tries to shut you down by claiming “You can’t prove a negative,” feel free to ask them to prove that such a proof does not exist, since that would require proving a negative, themselves. (Did you see that? I turned it around, didn’t I? Yes, I do think I’m clever, thank you.) Or, you can just ask them if it’s reasonable to strongly believe that Santa Claus does not exist. If they won’t say “Yes” to that, then I suspect they have more problems than their grasp of logic. In that case, you might recommend that they keep an eye out for any pajama-coveting elephants…
I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the topic, but I’ve seen the “you can’t prove a negative” fallacy used enough that I thought it would be something fun to write about. Yes, I have an odd idea of “fun,” but it has succeeded in relaxing me a bit after all of this house hunting! If anyone wants to read more about the mistaken notion that one cannot prove a negative, here is a decent essay by Dr. Steven Hales of Bloomsburg University, appropriately titled “You Can Prove a Negative” — knock yourself out. 🙂
It’s a busy day, today! As did the ancient, faithful Christian Polycrates, my family “observe(s) the day when the people put out the leaven.” With Passover last night and the Days of Unleavened Bread beginning tonight, we’ve got loose ends to tie up — really, final crumbs to throw out. And I can’t stay down here in my hovel typing on my blog while they are doing all the work upstairs. (Or, can I…)
Still, I do like to post something at this time of year — in particular, I like to mention why I, as a Christian, simply cannot keep Easter. So, I thought I would provide some reruns today in the event that some may not have seen them before.
And the Tomorrow’s World website has a number of resources for anyone interested in why Christians should not keep Easter and why they should consider the biblical Holy Days, instead. (You’ll note that the statement presumes that Easter is not a biblical Holy Day. Not an accidental contrast there.)
Speaking (however parenthetically) of contrasts, the commentary published just today (I think) on the Tomorrow’s World website is excellent: “Easter or Passover” by Mr. Mike DeSimone. It includes a very good chart contrasting Easter and the Christian Passover that really nicely lays out points one should consider. I highly recommend it.
That’s all from me today. Those last stubborn crumbs await! For those who keep the biblical Holy Days, I pray that all of us have a meaningful and profitable Days of Unleavened Bread!
To expect the articles in this compilation to be any different would be silly. Still, that’s actually not my point in this post. I’m used to such things in New Scientist, but what got my attention was this statement in the e-mailed advertisement:
“A compilation of classic New Scientist articles, The Human Story explains how an ordinary ape evolved into the most remarkable species the Earth has ever known.”
The linked-to online ad expanded:
“We are a truly remarkable species. In the space of a few thousand years we have transformed the planet, created a technological civilisation the likes of which has never been seen, and even begun to explore space.”
[For those worried that my spell checker is broken, “civilisation” is spelled in the British manner.]
I don’t mean to assume that no one can give an answer, but really: Apart from God’s existence and purpose for him, what is remarkable about man?
By evolutionary standards, we aren’t necessarily the most successful species on the planet. (Though, the meaning of “successful” and the other such descriptors is a question, and I will get to that.) As this io9.com article starts off:
“As the most intelligent and technologically advanced species on Earth, we humans like to think that we own the place. But evolutionary success can be measured any number of ways. As evolutionary biologist Stephen G. Gould once noted, complexity, intelligence, and ferocity don’t count for much in the long run — adaptability and reproductive success matter more.”
The article then goes on to describe eight non-human organisms (bacteria, beetles, et al.) who, from an evolutionary perspective, might easily be considered more successful than mankind.
“Successful” is only meaningful to humans defined in terms we care about.
Still, the advertisement said man was “the most remarkable species the Earth has ever known,” not the most “successful.” However, I think the difficulty still applies.
I take that being “the most remarkable” means having qualities that are most worthy of being remarked on. Dictionary.com defines “remarkable” as “notably or conspicuously unusual; extraordinary” or “worthy of notice or attention” but it would seem to me that from a materialist, Darwinistic perspective it’s sort of begging the question to say that mankind has qualities that make it the “most remarkable species” according to mankind. Maybe not really question begging, but a little–I don’t know–meaningless?
I mean, really–what makes mankind so remarkable?
Don’t get me wrong–I certainly think mankind is the most remarkable species! But the things I value most and find most worthy of noting are things I value because God’s revealed values give them meaning: our intelligence, our ability to create, our culture, our different religions, etc. And not all of those “remark-worthy things” are good. Some of man’s qualities are quite remarkable because they are very, very evil. Yet, even that–our capacity for moral or immoral action only truly has meaning in an existent God who gives real, objective meaning to morality.
The advertisement mentions the (perhaps debatable) relative speed at which we have “transformed the planet”; our creation of an advanced, technological civilization “the likes of which has never been seen [(1) It should say “never been seen before” since we are, currently, seeing ours, and (2) to which species’ technological civilization are we comparing it? The great technological civilization of the horseshoe crab?]; the fact that we are now exploring space (don’t many theorize that earth was seeded by microbes from Mars or elsewhere?); our culture and other items.
But from the (unjustifed) value-free point of view of modern evolutionary thinking, what makes any of these truly “more remarkable” than the extreme attributes of other species? Nothing, really. In fact, when one embraces the nihilism that is the logical end of God-less, materialist, evolutionary thinking — especially when the science-destroying “all things happen somewhere” multiverse is thrown in — very little, at all, is worthy of remark. There is nothing to be truly valued over anything else, and why should one actually appreciate any attribute in any species at all? Even the supposedly evolution-programmed instinct to reproduce can be ignored when nothing at all has any real meaning or value that isn’t merely imagined.
[And, as an aside: I note that it is possible that by “remarkable” it is meant by the magazine’s marketers to (effectively) mean “remarkable to the sensibilities of most humans, regardless of the lack of actual, objective value of the ‘remarkable’ characteristics.” But that is just as unsatisfactory. That humans would be the most remarkable species to… other humans? Duh. Gary Larson nailed that schtick when he drew the “Far Side” cartoon where one dog in a car is totally fixated on another dog outside as the most interesting thing in the world, all while the city around the car is in chaos, a nuclear explosion is going off, and people are running for their lives. “Humans are the species that humans find most remarkable” seems the least revelatory statement I’ve heard in a long time. (UPDATE: Might be able to see that cartoon here.)]
Interestingly, other science articles here and there are busy selling themselves to us based on how unremarkable mankind is (sort of a biological “Copernicus Principle,” perhaps) and how we’re just another animal, yet this one attempts the opposite, claiming that we are super remarkable, while embracing the same materialist philosophy that drives the others. Well, there are magazines to sell, you know, and dollars to be collected. (Sorry: pounds, in this case.)
A bit of a rant, today, I know. Don’t mean to be cynical, but after wading through so much God-less gobbledygook that tends to come out of folks such as the editors and writers of New Scientist, comments like those in the ads just strikes me as philosophically dishonest. I don’t know. Might just be me.
Someone recently asked me a question that brought to mind a couple of thoughts about the structure and knowledge of the “week,” and I thought they might make for a nice blog post.
As one who has encountered a number of weird, private calendar ideas, I would say that one of the most novel is the idea that the week should restart or “reboot” with each month. For example: In one formulation, the first day of the month is always the first day of the week, the second day of the month is the second day of the week, etc. In such a formulation, the seventh-day “Sabbath” (I use “scare quotes” around the word Sabbath there because it would not really be the true seventh-day “Sabbath”) would always be the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of the month. In varying months, then, there would be variously eight or nine days from the beginning of the last Sabbath of one month (the 28th) to the beginning of the first Sabbath of the next (the 7th). That is, the seven-day cycle is broken at the end of each month, since there are variously 29 or 30 days in a month and each of those numbers is not divisible by 7.
In another formulation, the 1st day of the month is named the “weekly Sabbath” thus making the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th of each month “Sabbaths.” In this instance, there are variously zero or only one day between the last Sabbath of one month (the 29th) and the first Sabbath of the next month (the 1st).
Both of these, however, fail when compared to Scripture. There are a number of ways to demonstrate that, but two are quick-and-easy clinchers for me.
(1) The Sabbath command clearly defines a seven-day week, and not just because it calls the Sabbath the “seventh day” (Ex. 20:10). It also clearly says, “six days you shall labor” (Ex. 20:9), tying them to God’s own acts of creation (Ex. 20:11). You can’t work for exactly six days if there are 8, 7, 1, or even zero days between Sabbaths. God defines the Sabbath in the commandment very clearly, and it is not as particular days of the month, but as the seventh in a sequence of seven days.
(2) The example of the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ, Himself, demonstrates these “week” formulations to be false. He was crucified on a Wednesday Passover on the 14th of the first month of the year. This is impossible to reconcile with these “monthly reboot” ideas. Each of those other formulations would require Him to be sacrificed on the Sabbath, itself, or on a Friday, neither of which fits the “three days and three nights” requirement He set forth for His time in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).
Actually, on a second point, looking at Jesus’ own practice is also my favorite way of answering the “Has time been lost?” question concerning the seventh day – that is, the question some have about whether or not our seven-day week, today, still matches the seven days of Creation or whether some time over the last 6,000 years some mistake has been made, shifting it an unknown number of days and leaving the “true” seventh day a mystery.
There is no mystery. While it is possible to trace back a line of people from Creation to today who could ensure that knowledge of the correct seventh day of the week has been passed on accurately and faithfully to our own times, as far as I am concerned we don’t actually have to go back the full 6,000 years — we only have to go back 2,000 years to the life of Jesus Christ. And if anyone in the world knew when the Sabbath was, I’m pretty sure Jesus Christ did! After all, He created the week to begin with (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16). Plus, we know that Jesus Christ’s own obedience to God’s law, including His Sabbath-keeping, was perfect (1 Peter 2:21-22; Hebrews 4:15). And the record of the last 2,000 years is clear and well documented.
I’ve known some who consider themselves “Christian” who say that they would keep the Sabbath if they could only be sure that today’s “seventh day” of the week was the right one. When demonstrated that today’s “seventh day” is exactly the same as Jesus’ “seventh day,” though, they have always seemed to find new reasons not to keep the Sabbath. (Which seems all the more contradictory, to me, since the answer to their question is being rooted in the actions of the very Savior they claim to follow.) Sometimes our reasons are only our excuses, it seems.
We can be thankful that some things really are as simple as they seem — like counting to seven. 🙂
The Bible contains many warnings to ancient Israel concerning an abhorrent practice of the Canaanites, who had previously possessed the land God had given them. We see one such example in Leviticus 18:21, “You shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech…” It was an abominable practice, in which people sought to appease the heathen god Molech and influence him to their benefit by sacrificing their own children in fire. Who would have thought that this ancient heathen god would so plainly rear his head in the modern Britain? A Channel 4 “Dispatches” episode in the United Kingdom–“Exposing Hospital Heartache,” aired Monday, March 24, 2014–revealed that many British hospitals are not only incinerating the remains of aborted and miscarried babies as “clinical waste” but are also burning some of those bodies as a means of heating their buildings in “waste-to-energy” programs. The television program was preceded that day by a number of reports in the news providing the grisly and tragic details. In one such article–titled “Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals” –the Telegraph’s Sarah Knapton reported:
“Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning fetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat…
“At least 15,500 fetal remains were incinerated by 27 NHS trusts over the last two years alone, Channel 4’s Dispatches discovered.”
More than 15,000. As Ms. Knapton reported, some families who experienced the trauma of losing a child early in pregnancy were not even consulted on what they wanted to do with their child’s body. Grieved and bereft parents were in some cases told that their child’s body would be “cremated” when, in actuality, the bodies were added to “waste-to-energy” plants where they could be burned to aid in heating the hospital. The concept of using the human remains of children as a fuel source, let alone equating it with “clinical waste,” has created a row to which the UK Department of Health has felt compelled to respond. As the article reports, Dr. Dan Poulter, health minister for the department, made a public statement, saying, “This practice is totally unacceptable.” No. Having your hotel reservation mishandled may be “totally unacceptable.” Being served a meal you did not order in a restaurant may be “totally unacceptable.” Having the parcel you sent to your grandmother lost in the mail may be “totally unacceptable.” Burning the remains of children to heat a building is an abomination. It is a travesty–a heart-wrenching tragedy and a nauseating violation of any sense of God-given human value. And the fact that it has been an institutionalized practice in place for years without protest by its practitioners is a sign of cancerous rot in the soul of a nation. The tepid response by officials is telling. One one hand, they must publicly recognize the outrage many are feeling. It can’t be ignored. The act of using the bodies of children as mere fuel to heat hospitals violates basic sensibilities. It prompts many to ask, “How could such a thing be allowed?” And yet, the widespread practice exposes a horrific public pretense. The policies that allow abortion on demand–and the arguments at the heart of such policies–consider the pre-born child to be no more than “tissue.” Yet, no one complains about burning fingernail clippings. There is no outrage when a hospital discards and incinerates a removed appendix. There are no public apologies or excuses or promises of reform forthcoming from the UK’s General Dental Council about the manner in which excised molars are thrown away. But, as much as effort as our “modern” societies and our societies’ governments pour into their philosophies and arguments defending the practice of treating abortion as nothing more than the removal of “tissue” from a pregnant woman, public outcries like this one demonstrate that deep down, our society still knowsbetter–it still knows what it will no longer publicly admit. It isn’t “tissue.” It’s a child. Tissue hasn’t been burned in an “eco-conscious” solution to heating hospitals. Babies have been burned to heat hospitals. Molech would be pleased.
Well, I feel I am somehow doing a disservice and failing at my “job” by not writing much about the new series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love science, and I love writing about it (hence the Works of His Hands articles for the Tomorrow’s World magazine–the newest of which I am currently late in delivering!) and its place and impact in our culture and our faith. Viewing the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan was a watershed experience in my own life as a child. Though it shows its age, the original Cosmos book, a companion to the original series, is still one of the most treasured books in my personal library. I eat this stuff up. The new show is currently a hot topic, and I like it when we have comments and writings on our websites about current, hot topics.
And yet about this whole Cosmos reboot I’ve just been sort of… I don’t know… meh.
Actually, I think that sums it up pretty well: meh.
It isn’t the stink that some Creationists are apparently trying to raise (see the Puffington Host article here — and, as always, caveat navita stans). It isn’t that it will almost surely be presented with an virtually aggressively atheistic, irrational, religion-hating point of view. I’ve come to expect that from some science works and have learned to pick around the garbage for the good stuff.
And, fleshing out that last point, it isn’t that I would be disappointed by Neil deGrasse Tyson expressing extreme ignorance about matters related to God and religious belief. Again, I’ve come to expect that and have become somewhat callused to it. Tyson is clearly an intelligent guy. A worthy successor to the Church of Naturalism’s “Saint Sagan”? He is called that by some, though I’m not sure I would give him that. (Maybe the new series would convince me otherwise.) Still, a very educated guy and, apparently, recognized as a popularizer of science for the masses. But, when it comes to matters related to God, faith, and how it relates to science? He’s an uneducated moron. (And I mean that in the most respectful way possible. I’m an uneducated moron on a number of things. If you’ve read this blog for long, you probably already know that.) He gives criticisms that most philosophers and believing scientists can refute in their sleep. But it sounds good to those of the Church of Naturalism: it plays to the crowd, and, like too many on both sides of issues like this, perhaps that’s all that really matters to him. He can point to the amazing things we see in the discoveries of science, but when it comes to comprehending the implications and interpretations beyond the equations — concerning meaning, philosophy, intent, purpose, and value — he isn’t even mature enough to enter the playground, let alone play in the sandbox.
And it isn’t that I would be shocked to find that the new Cosmos is, in many ways, a chance to selectively choose elements of human history and — whether told straight or perverted here and there with misleading twists — turn them into a winding tale supporting Naturalism as the One True Faith™. Carl Sagan was a master of this in the original Cosmos, and his tales could be woven together into a veritable new book of Acts for the Naturalism Bible. I would expect no less from a Cosmos produced by a new generation in which the attitudes have gotten nastier and the minds of many secularists all the more closed and bitter. I expect the religious sentiment of our greatest scientists to be treated ultimately as hinderances to the true faith of Naturalism instead of any sort of force for good, just as Sagan implied about Johannes Kepler and many atheists imply today (or outrightly state) about Isaac Newton and others. The tapestry woven will undoubtedly be crafted to serve the faith, and tales that disagree will not be welcome or even permitted — banned with the sort of passion and zeal for censorship that such individuals condemn when they believe they perceive such sentiment in religious works but apparently embrace when it serves their own interests.
All of this should be expected seeing that the series is being produced by Seth MacFarlane (as I thought during his Oscars stint: the perfectly reflective representative our culture deserves), who has declared that there is no political motive behind the show (all while explicitly blaming one political party for the country’s scientific ignorance, by the way) and who has praised what the show ostensibly represents: what Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow & one of the people behind the original Cosmos) has indicated should be a proper marriage of wonder and skepticism. And given the show’s backers, one would be deluded to expect that the romanticized “skepticism” on display will be anything but a narrow, favored “skepticism” wedded to an ironic and complete lack of skepticism as needed to maintain a fundamentally unsupported ideology.
And, finally, it isn’t that I don’t expect the new Cosmos to be anything less than impressive in its explanations, wondrous in its graphics and special effects, and moving and grand in its portrayal of our remarkable universe. Though I find its thumbnail of choice to look a little gross (a human eye surrounded by a reddish nebula that, to me, seems weird and fleshy due to the presence of the eye in the center), I expect that the series will seek to outdo its predecessor in every way, taking advantage of the remarkable abilities we now have to produce CGI images of startling realism and impact. The original Cosmos was a groundbreaker in this area, and if the new one is to stand out, it will have to compete with the seemingly thousands of digital images and video clips that are standard fare now on television programs featured by the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, etc. The graphics and images seen on a regular basis by the very audience that will be the new Cosmos‘ bread and butter already surpass much of what was seen in the original Cosmos by several orders of magnitude (though, not in the original show’s imaginatively creativity and subtlety, at times). To be a worthy successor, the creators of Cosmos will need to step things up, and I expect them to do so. I am normally a complete sucker for such stuff. And, I admit, the images I have seen (bloody eye mentioned above, excepted) — such as the one of Tyson standing before a window (or whatever) gazing upon a star, perhaps the sun, at an uncomfortably close distance — look fantastic. I expect the best of such things from the series.
So, why am I non-plussed? Why am I so meh?
I don’t know. Meh.
Let me know what you think. Have you seen any episodes so far? What do you think? How does it compare to the original with Carl Sagan? How is Tyson doing? Why do you think I am so meh? Is my mehness justified? I do plan on seeing the series eventually. From what you’ve seen so far, what do you think I should expect?
Positive or negative, your comments below are welcome.
Today, we briefly* cover a different one: Wax Fruit.
(* By “briefly,” I mean not briefly at all.)
Those who claim to be prophets generally feel pressed to have something to boast about–fruit of some sort. Perhaps they are stirred by Matthew 7:15-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
And it is true that while God warns against inappropriate judgment, He explicitly gives us permission–even the responsibility–to be “fruit inspectors.”
In the case of Self-Appointed Prophets, their desire is to sell their “successes” as fruit demonstrating that God is behind them and that their “mighty work” is surely the effort of God and not of mere men. But, in reality, it is wax fruit: It looks good on the outside, but on closer inspection, it isn’t the real thing.
This doesn’t mean it’s a lie, necessarily. As we’ll see in the brief list of examples, below, the “fruit” may represent real results of one sort or another. But they don’t indicate what they are claimed to indicate: God’s tremendous blessings, guidance, and inspiration, just like a plate full of wax fruit offers visual promise to a hungry man but real life disappointment to those foolish enough to take a bite. (Unless, you know, wax is your thing.)
Here are some examples out there in the wild from various Prophet-wannabes and other Self-Appointed Ones…
“Look! We have a building! And its pretty! God is surely behind us!”
Ahhhhh… I don’t think so. In the cases that come to mind, such as one in Oklahoma and one here closer to my own backyard, the buildings seem more a seeking to re-build the image and trappings of an empire in the hopes that people will be impressed. The latter example, in particular, reminds me of an “if you build it, they will come” approach: “If I squeeze my congregations enough and get them to fund these buildings, maybe it will impress enough other folks that they will follow me.” And the individual behind that effort is on record as willing to destroy families for the sake of getting what he needs to continue such efforts. And concerning the former example, I have spoken to many who have come from that organization to us over the years (I consider them “refugees”) who said that they were constantly being milked for more and more funds to build the buildings–above and beyond their normal tithes and offerings. They felt liberated being with us and not hearing every Sabbath that they needed to give more (and more and more and more and more…).
In such cases, these are hardly real fruit of a God-blessed work. We don’t see God using fruit such as that to highlight the work of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jesus Christ.
Not that we don’t see similar “Look at my awesome ‘fruit'” attitudes in the Bible when it comes to such things. One instance that comes to mind is Nebuchadnezzar’s:
“The king spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?'” (Daniel 4:30)
You can see how well that went for him in verses 31-33.
No, buildings aren’t sufficient fruit of God’s ordination. They might be simply a good sign that you are good at guilting people out of money they should be feeding their families with. Wax fruit.
It is certainly true that God will sometimes speak to real prophets with dreams (Num. 12:6, Jer. 23:28). And a Prophet-wannabe will often be motivated to claim that his own dreams and/or the dreams of others are “fruit” of his personal selection by God.
However, the presence of dreams, alone, is not sufficient, even if they come true (Deut. 13:1-5, Zech. 10:2), and sometimes, to be sure, a dream is just that: a dream–motivated by the needs of the sleeping brain in processing feelings, emotions, memories, experiences, etc., both conscious and subconscious, while the body is sleeping.
For instance, I know of one who claims such a dream, saying that his dream could not have been motivated by personal ambition or concern, since he did not have it in mind to start his own “church” and did not harbor any particular concern about those he publicly called his leaders at the time. However, in personal communication with me several years ago, at about the same time he says he had this dream, he expressed a great deal of frustration at how the leadership of his church didn’t accept his interpretations of various prophecies, although he had tried and tried to get them to see things his way and to convince them of the “truth” and “insight” he believed he had. Given the frustration I felt radiating from him over the phone, I, frankly, would have been surprised if some of that emotion was not present in his dreams, and I would be just as surprised, given the intensity of his frustration and disagreement and, as is apparent now, his suspicions about his own “prophethood” at the time, that this burst of frustration was something new. Surely it had been building over time to come across as it did those years ago. I’m not saying that his claim that his dream was not motivated by personal ambition and frustration is purposefully dishonest — rather, I’m saying Jeremiah 17:9 is something we all have to wrestle with, and what was obvious to me may have been invisible to him (though I tried–in my own, ineffective way, I am sure–in that conversation to help him see the pride in his comments). I know many of my own faults are certainly invisible to me (which my wife and kids are happy to let me know 🙂 ).
Regardless, the point is that such things are among the waxiest of wax fruit. And the case that came to mind, above, is hardly the worst such offense.
I’ve read of false prophets hoping to pull away God’s people claiming dreams of airplane accidents, earthquakes, meteor strikes, et al. Some of them are announced right after such an event (“Did you read about the earthquake in such-and-such place yesterday! It reminded me of the dream I had just the week before!”) and others are so vague that eventually they can be claimed as tied to some event (“Remember the dream I had about an airline-related tragedy? We are watching that very prediction come true on our own televisions today as authorities look for Malaysia Flight 370!”). Regardless, it is wax fruit. Waxy wax. Super waxish.
It’s waxy enough that the Bible warns us that even if some dreams do come true, we are to look to other fruit to verify someone’s status (e.g., Deut. 13:1-5), other verses (e.g., Deut. 18:21-22) notwithstanding (Isa. 28:9-10). And often the Non-Prophet will admit this, directing you to their particular choice of “other fruit.” We’ll talk about that later, but first let’s move on to some additional examples.
“You’ve got the look” (a comment from the prophetess Sheena Easton)
There are some out there who seem to strive to look like a prophet, as if their choices of style make for fruit. It does, but that fruit is of the wax variety.
For instance, I know of one who likes to wear a sort of Jewishy shawl. What does that indicate? That he likes shawls. Maybe that he is cold. 🙂
Another I’ve seen seems to want to emulate the dark, coarse covering that was associated with prophets in the Bible. John the Baptist wore such (Matt. 3:4) which surely harkened his listeners back to the clothing of men such as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2). Modern Self-Appointed Prophets would be looking to make such connections with their clothing not only to such prophets of old, but also to the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3). I’ve seen one who imagines himself one of the Two Witnesses who seems to prefer dark suits in what comes across as an effort to make such a connection, explaining Revelation’s comment of sackcloth clothing as possibly simply meaning “dark” and seeking, it seems, to attach himself to his personal divinations taken from heathen prophecies. (For a brief time after watching “Return of the Jedi” I liked dark clothes and thought they made me look cool. But I assure you, I was not one of the Two Witnesses. Neither was Luke Skywalker. I think.)
But looks aren’t fruit. Looks are fashion choices. A dark suit doeth not a prophet make. It is, indeed, wax fruit, and those who are paying attention won’t find God’s ordination “proven” in any way by such things. Zechariah 13:4 speaks of “prophets” who use their clothing to try and deceive others into thinking they are a prophet. We shouldn’t expect any less today.
This is a popular one, to be sure. I know of one fellow who may not claim to be a prophet but he does claim special ordination, so the lesson is similar, and back when he was busy making fun of using television as a means of spreading the gospel in the modern age he liked to boast about his Internet results. His materials actually claimed his website was the largest “Bible-based” website on the Internet, which I found hilarious. The claim was an easy one to make when you consider the question “Which websites would he consider ‘Bible-based’?” The answer would be, “Only his.” 🙂
But Internet “results” are not only wax fruit, they are low hanging wax fruit, as there are a number of ways to claim such “fruit” that translate into nothing much when one thinks about them.
For instance: “Our internal statistics indicate…” Wow — that’s something that can really be compared to others! “My downloads have sky-rocketed!” And what is a “download”? You’ll find that is conveniently left undefined and vague, since, under examination, it tends to fall apart. “Such-and-such rating agency says I’m awesome!” And even a lazy search of the Internet demonstrates that such-and-such rating agency is not to be trusted and should be compared to other factors. And I am told by his former members that one major organization run by someone claiming to be “That Prophet” has actively manipulated such measures in a way that makes them meaningless. (The Internet has no equivalent to the Nielsen ratings.) “We’ve had X visitors this month!” Traffic is easy. What they do with what they see on our website is harder. And, frankly, some out there are gaining traffic through dishonest means. For instance, I know of one Self-Appointed One who fishes for people on the Internet by directing misspellings of LCG and Tomorrow’s World websites to his own materials. I know another who has, for years, used our own literature and publications, massively quoted without proper attribution or links, as content on his own site (including material I have written, which makes up one of his most popular pages on search engines). Sometimes he will quote virtually entire articles from our magazine without giving the name of the author or the name and issue of the magazine, and certainly not a link to the source. To be sure, traffic is easy when your ethics are low.
What you often don’t see too often with such Non-Prophets is Internet results that are clear, unambiguous, and harder to truly “game.” (Let alone Internet results that actually represent individuals impacted by the truth — how is that measured? A question for later…) For instance, consider social media results. Subscribers to the Tomorrow’s World Twitter account currently number 47,100. That number is impossible for us to create by simply asking every member — man, woman, child, and infant — to subscribe. And by the way, I’m under no delusions: Ellen DeGeneres has 27,800,000 followers — that isn’t my point. The point is that transparent and easily verifiable measures of actual Internet impact are generally disregarded by such Self-Appointed Ones. For instance, one particular fellow (admittedly, a Self-Appointed Apostle, not a Self-Appointed Prophet, but still) likes to boast about his Internet “work” as the most advanced, far-reaching, evangelistic, super-magnanimous, better-than-sliced-bread, cutting edge, whathaveyou out there. His count of Twitter account followers? 721. That’s his personal account’s followers. The followers of his “work”? 230. (Apparently, “cutting edge” isn’t what it used to be.) Wax fruit is easy. Real fruit is hard.
Ditto for Facebook results, YouTube subscribers, and the like. It takes real people and real families with their own accounts to show up in such accounts. And you generally don’t see the rank-and-file of the Army of the Self-Appointed claiming such results. They need the sort of statistics less tied to reality, and those are often a dime-a-dozen and easy to debunk for those who know how. But they do sound impressive to those who don’t know better.
When pressed on these sorts of points, Web-focused Prophet-wannabes tend to backpeddle something fierce… “Well, you can’t count that… and they’ve been around longer… and they have more people helping… and I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or those things… and my YouTube account is pretty new… and, really, this is the only good ranking system out there (please don’t try to verify that on Google–thanks bunches!)…” Really? We’re supposed to consider “Internet results” as fruit and evidence of God’s empowering one’s impact on the world, and yet we have to discount that much evidence of–oh, I don’t know–actual Internet impact? It’s sort of like saying after a race, “Mom! I came in first! You can’t really count those eight boys that finished before me, because they ran faster, practiced more, and were generally better racers than I was. But when you take that into consideration, I won!” Just sad.
And, more importantly, even if there were more substance to such claims, they are hardly the sort of fruit that establish one as a prophet in reality instead of in fantasy. If so, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber would be the Two Witnesses. (Check here to see who the Two Witnesses are today–they change with the times!) False prophets by the dozens–frankly, probably by the hundreds–have massive Internet efforts.
Ah — the bread and butter of a “prophet”! These are common among members of the Self-Appointed Prophet Club, and understandably: If you are expecting others to think of you as a “prophet” then producing actual “prophecy” is a part of the job. John the Baptist may have done no miracle, but he did prophesy based on direct, personal revelation from God not rooted in nor simply interpretation of Scriptures (e.g., John 1:33-34). It comes with the turf.
But under examination, no one claiming to be a “prophet” today actually displays this fruit. Wax fruit aplenty, but the real thing? Nope. Nothing but empty plates.
Not a single one of them actually comes anywhere close to verifying a person’s “credentials” as a supposed prophet of God. Really, not a one. Mr. Armstrong, himself, showed more legitimate fruit than any of them in this area, and he explicitly said he was not a prophet. We’ll discuss more of the ways in which this wax fruit is displayed as this series continues in the future in posts here and there.
In the meantime, any “prophet” out there who feels his list of “fulfilled predictions” is different is free to mail it to me. I’m looking forward to being impressed! But so far, everything I’ve seen is nothing but one plate of wax fruit after another.
This one is interesting, and the “ceremony” varies from S.A.P. to S.A.P.
I’ve seen photos of supposed miraculous ceremonies in which the preacher was somehow “lit upon” by the “Holy Ghost” to make him a prophet and in which the “Holy Ghost” looks just like a weird and not-too-out-of-the-ordinary light effect on the photographic film. Not buying that. In the COGiverse (where most would never say “Holy Ghost,” by the way), some have taken whatever liberties they can to point to a “passing of the baton,” so to speak, and to claim that a position was given to them or that they were recognized for their “gifts.” I know of one, for instance, who discusses a particular instance of a personal interaction with Mr. Armstrong as a sort of informal “ordination” to position or evidence of approval for his current efforts and the role he has taken on himself. I also know of one who took words spoken by a minister while he was being anointed for a minor illness, combined with his specific request to have his level of wisdom prayed about, and who has turned that in his imagination into an “ordination” to the office of prophet — a gift or office the praying minister never intended to convey (cf. 1 Cor. 14:32-33). (For the record, I have heard those same words that got this fellow I’m thinking of so excited spoken in similar manner by ministers before–even when they had not been specifically requested to pray for someone’s wisdom, which makes the circumstance even more unremarkable–but those involved were not under the delusion that it magically made them a prophet.) While the “ceremony” and its justification and (mis)interpretation may differ from case to case, the Non-Prophet will press it as evidence of His special calling and as God’s Stamp of Approval™ on him and his “prophethood.”
Thankfully, I don’t know of anyone daft enough to fall for such tales as fruit worthy of their attention or allegiance, but, still, it’s worth mentioning in the list, as there are those who claim such “ceremonies” as their “starting points” and who expect others to be impressed by their version of events. Too often, such moments were simply the excuse the Non-Prophet needed (and had been looking for) to finally act on his heart’s desires. And, in the end, it is wax fruit unless backed up by other evidence. And, at least right now, no one has such “other evidence” they can point to that withstands intelligent and Bible-based scrutiny.
Then what are some examples of real fruit?
Now, that’s a good question. 🙂 The Bible gives us plenty of examples of good fruit. What comes to mind most immediately when I read of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15-20 is the fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
(It is not to be ignored that the same passage mentions contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, and dissentions–among other qualities–not as fruit of the Spirit but as works of the flesh (v.20). So, too, does Paul say right after the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (v.26). Some Self-Appointed Ones have made these things a way of life, sadly.)
This fruit of the Spirit I have not seen in abundance in a single one of those claiming to be a “prophet” these days, or, for that matter, in days past.
The matter of actual, direct revelation from God (as opposed to, for instance, Bible prophecy interpretation) as a proper fruit of someone claiming the title and office of “Prophet” (not just acting as a prophet, which even carnal Caiaphas did (John 11:49-52), but actually possessing the office) is worth its own post. In short, Mr. Armstrong summarized it well when he spoke of one being a Prophet–not simply an “inspired speaker” but one holding an actual title or office as a Prophet–as “one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God–separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible” (Tomorrow’s World, Feb. 1972). As mentioned above, even John the Baptist, who worked no miracles, fit this description. Mr. Armstrong had this right, and his simplicity and clarity should be appreciated. Simply interpreting biblical prophecies isn’t sufficient “fruit” of the office of Prophet.
Yet this truly prophetic fruit Mr. Armstrong describes is absolutely lacking amongst any today. Some may claim it, but their claims, on examination, represent some of the “Techniques of Non-Prophets” that I’ll post about later. (Again, we already covered two of them here and here.) Such claims end up being a mockery of what God does through actual Prophets.
We could go on, but this post is too long as it is. Suffice it to say that the fruit that some have paraded over the last few decades as “evidence” of their supposed God-Appointed status is, at best, wax fruit. (At worst, it is rotten fruit, but I thought wax fruit a nicer analogy.) It can be packaged to look very good, but on examination it signifies absolutely nothing worthy of the title and office of Prophet. Wax fruit is pretty on a platter as decoration. But it isn’t very nutritious, is probably rough on the teeth, and will surely give you a stomach ache eventually.
Thanks to everyone for their comments on the previous post. From what I see here and on Facebook and in some discussions here and there, it seems as though insights and opinions differ, but not too starkly. I mentioned then that I would share my own thoughts, so I will do that in this post.
First, though, a few links. I was able to put together a commentary on the matter for the Tomorrow’s World website. The need to aim at 650 words or less limits what you can say, and the audience will be rather broad (including mostly people who did not see the event), but it is an opportunity to direct folks to additional alternatives, including our own understanding of the biblical record. That commentary is here: “Creation vs. Evolution: Bill Nye and Ken Ham Are Both Wrong!” Here’s the leading paragraph:
When science-advocate Bill Nye faced off in debate Tuesday night against Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, the issue of creationism vs. evolution gained a rare degree of media scrutiny. Nye had called the teaching of creationism “a dangerous choice,” and promoters saw the opportunity for a profitable public event. Certainly much attention came to the subject. But, amid all the controversy, was there something that both participants missed?
However, back to the point of my post. In one of his ENV posts pointing out that the science of Intelligent Design and Creationism are not the same, David Klinghoffer made an insightful summary comment: “Isn’t it interesting that Bill Nye chose to debate Ham, then, where their respective views are incommensurable and no meaningful conversation is possible.”
This is a great way to summarize much of the Nye/Ham debate. In some ways it might as well have been a discussion about which spices bring out the flavor of barbecued unicorn.
Yet, there were things to be seen, and each fellow made some good points, not all of which were related to the “official” question being debated, which was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”
The question, alone, embodies a number of problems. “Creation,” for instance, could mean many things. The implication is that Ken Ham’s favorite understanding of the events of the book of Genesis is “the” understanding, and Mr. Ham spent precious time here and there defending his position not against Mr. Nye’s arguments, but against the idea that there are other possibilities, highlighting the problematic use of that word without qualifiers. Also, what constitutes “viable”? It’s a good word, but “viable” clearly differed in the minds of the debaters While that wouldn’t be enough to make it a bad debate–indeed, the positions could have (and sort of did) revolved around just that point: “What does it mean to be a viable model?” But the participants could have profited the audience with a clearer presentation of their positions on how they individually determine a model’s viability.
However, the fuzziness and lack of focus in the debate was rooted in the fact that each man had motives other than the simple question at hand. For instance, Ken Ham wanted to ensure he had the chance to share his faith to the hundreds of thousands who were/would be watching. (The video on YouTube currently sits at more than 827,000 views.) Also, he wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to believe in the Young Earth Creationism model he supports and still be a working, active scientist. That isn’t relevant to the debate, technically, but is a part of the contention motivating the debate, to be sure. On Bill Nye’s part, he seemed to want to give religious people permission to think differently than Ken Ham and to make the pitch to the viewing audience that America is going to fall behind scientifically in the world if viewpoints like Ken Ham’s are taught to our children. Again, this last point isn’t relevant to the viability of Ken Ham’s Creation model, but it is a big part of the impetus behind the debate.
Those things said, let me try to boil down my observations and reactions to the debate.
Overall, I agree with Evolution News & Views’ statement that the biggest victim of the debate was the Truth.
On one hand, it is great to see discussions of this sort on a bigger stage. Origins should matter to us. But on the other hand, this debate helped to cement in the minds of many, I believe, that these two individuals represented “the” two sides of the issue. It is not a two-sided issue, and these two, together, certainly did not represent the universe of possibilities. Our own contention, for instance, represented in today’s commentary, is nowhere to be found. Intelligent Design is nowhere to be found. Neither is the view of many with whom I would disagree (theistic evolutionists, et al.) but whose views I respect as serious attempts to understand the issues at hand. Consequently, this debate served to simply solidify the stereotype that the issue of origins is a matter of science vs. the Bible. And that’s a shame.
The best impression, overall, on the official question of the evening was made by Bill Nye, in my opinion.
It doesn’t mean I agree with him, to be sure. And both men made points that the other left hanging, so it isn’t as though the matter was truly settled, even in “debate” terms, if you will. If it had been a boxing match, there was no “knock out,” and the match would have come down to the judges.
And if I were the judge, I’d say that while neither man really “won”, the better impression was made by Bill Nye. I thought he did a good job of pointing out that the scientific evidence seems to contradict Ken Ham’s model and he suggested the idea that since there are many religious people in the world who don’t see things as he does, maybe he doesn’t have the Bible right, either.
On this second point, he was weak, and had he done as Ham did (which I will mention in a moment) by presenting testimony from, say, theistic evolutionists–even big namers, such as Francis Collins–he would have been more decisive. It would have robbed Ham of the force of his claim that the Bible must be considered as evidence that his position is true.
However, it seems as though this would have contradicted the heart of Nye’s approach, which is that such considerations should not enter into the interpretation of evidence, at all.
That doesn’t change the fact, though, that his examples meant to damage the idea of a young earth did a good job. The “winter-summer” cycle present in what seems to be 680,000 years of snow fall; the number of new species that would need to be generated daily over 4000 years from Ham’s choice of “kinds” (did his homework there, props to Nye); the pressing of the issue that even one fossil of a struggling animal, swimming for dear life during the flood, showing up in a “wrong” strata would disprove his case and that finding it would make you a “hero”; the lack of kangaroo fossils between the ark’s understood resting spot in the Middle East and Australia… All of these combined to give the edge to the idea that Ham’s model isn’t viable. Well, that’s too strong. They gave the edge to the idea that his model is “less viable than advertised.”
It isn’t that Ham didn’t score points. His comment about how 90% of the other dating methods disagree with a billion-years-old earth (I wish his print had been bigger in that slide), his example of trees being found that were found fossilized in rock, in which the trees were dated at 45,000 of years old, while the rock encasing it was supposedly dated at 45,000,000 old — all of these did have their effect, I believe. But, in the end, they weren’t enough, in my opinion, to counter the weight Nye’s examples seemed to carry. (At least some of his examples. His picture of various skulls and the claim that they needed time to evolve, for instance, seemed to fall flat.)
And Ham’s argument that the data must be interpreted was made well, though I think it could have been made better. Even just a few more choice examples–like the recent case of a single discovery, in particular, one single skull, throwing much vaunted human “family trees” into disarray–would have better illustrated the under-appreciated role assumption plays in building our understanding of the data. If Ham didn’t drop the ball on this, I do think he fumbled it a bit. That’s a shame, because those who are a part of his Answers in Genesis team have serious credentials and could have provided a number of easily summarized examples. All Ham could do was refer to those papers vaguely, mentioning that they are highly “technical”–meant to be a positive description (and it is), but surely coming across to some as a bit of a smoke-screen.
So, in the vague battle that this debate represented, on the issue that was supposedly at the heart of the matter, I think the edge was had by Bill Nye.
On one of the important “between the lines” issues–that teaching kids Creationism will mean we will no longer be able to practice good science–Ken Ham won the point.
Ken Ham trotted out a number of videos of various, credentialed scientists with PhDs in solid scientific fields who passionately vocalized their support for Ham’s Creation model, including the inventor of the MRI. Their appearance wasn’t, in my opinion, strong enough to win the main, “official” question in Mr. Ham’s favor, but they did help to win the day for one of the underlying motivations behind the whole debate: The idea, pressed by Mr. Nye, that we are risking destroying science education in America if parents teach Creationist ideas to their kids. The existence of these working, active scientists in their fields of expertise seemed to be living proof that Nye’s point was too strong–that his viewpoint was driving by either ideological beliefs or by ignorance of the caliber of people who claim belief in Creationism.
That was an important win for Ken Ham, and regardless of the official “result” of the debate–whatever in the world that would be–it was a win for the credibility of his organization and museum.
And given the extreme nature of the Young Earth position, the softer claim–that one cannot do good science unless one believes in evolution–was also refuted by those examples. Richard Dawkins’ statement that those who do not believe in Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution is either “ignorant, stupid, or wicked” is simply either ignorant, stupid, or wicked, itself. And Ham did a good job of showing the statement for the lie it represents.
(On this last point, it is a shame that the overwhelming focus of this debate was the age of the earth. Every other interesting element of origin-related discussions was marginalized, I believe. A real shame, and part of the stereotype reinforcement effect I mentioned above.)
In short, if the statement to be debated was Bill Nye’s claim that (my paraphrase) “Unless our young people abandon these Bible-based ideas of Creation and embrace evolution America will fall desperately behind scientifically,” that point would have been lost to Ken Ham.
One other point: Ken Ham also did a pretty decent job of defending elements of the story of Genesis against criticism. The kinds-into-species ratios is worth further thinking, and I think Nye scored a win with that one. But other points, such as his claim about the unfeasibility of a wooden ark, fell short. His comparison to the experience of the USS Wyoming, along with the accompanying chart of boat sizes, was an excellent attack, and I give him credit for it. But Ham defended well, pointing out that other cultures (I believe he mentioned China and Egypt) have done much better with much larger than his example. And his on Nye’s claim that a handful of “unskilled workers” couldn’t have built such an ark–a standard trope of anti-Genesis folks–Ham’s response was a surprisingly effective and humorous dismissal: “Why would you say Noah was unskilled? I didn’t meet Noah. Neither did you.” (By the way, that is Elizabeth Dias’ record of the comment, which she humorously characterized as Ham’s first “drop the mic” moment.) Of course, if you believe that Noah was called and personally spoken to by the Omniscient Creator and Designer of All Reality, there is not an issue with his level of previous boat building expertise, regardless of what it has been, let alone when you consider the stated lifespans of the day. Those points could have been made, but Ham’s dismissal was better: effective, short, and sweet.
There were some surprises that added to both the enjoyment and the frustration of watching the debate.
For example, Bill Nye mentioned the discovery of the Big Bang as a “plus” for the naturalistic science. That is comical, because the Big Bang story is actually a cautionary tale of what happens when scientists are too afraid of the theological implications of their work–a fear which delayed the acceptance of the Big Bang for quite some time. (In fact, “Big Bang” was a derogatory term coined for the theory–a fact that was conspicuously absent in Nye’s discussion of the term’s origin.) More on this can be read in the Tomorrow’s World article, “Where Did the Universe Come From?” When all the information is considered (initial entropy conditions, et al.), the Big Bang theory is powerful evidence for not only a created universe, but an intelligently crafted universe. Even the fad of the day–multiverse concepts–have not diluted the power of the Big Bang theory and its current mutations as evidence.
However, Ken Ham was not in a position to capitalize on this and did not even seem to bother. (Other than in his later “Bill, there’s a book that tells us where matter and energy came from” comment, which was fun.)
It was a nice treat to see Ham make the point that science depends on assumptions that cannot be scientifically proven, namely that the laws of logic are dependable and valid, that there are trustworthy laws of nature to be discovered, and the uniformity of nature in the universe. (To advertise myself, this week’s Tomorrow’s World program–“What Is Truth?”–makes a similar point, though it differs in that the point is made by a fellow my wife believes is more handsome than Ken Ham. 🙂 )
However, Nye could have capitalized on those points by granting them for the sake of argument and then stressing that it is those very three principles–the laws of logic, the laws of nature, and the uniformity of nature–that allow us to extend what we experience today into the geological record to understand what occurred in the past, and they are the reason why the “old earth” conclusion is drawn. It’s not an undefeatable point, but one I think he could have made some points with by using his opponent’s points against his own position.
Bill Nye made some false and misleading statements, I notice, but I don’t think he did them knowingly or purposefully. For instance, he mentioned the Tikaalik fossil as a good example of evolutionary theory making a prediction and being shown to be right. However, since its discovery Tikaalik has been demonstrated not to be the link that it was thought to be, neither in nature or in timing. Also, his argument that nature is not “top-down” like in Ham’s model but is “bottom-up” is under increasing attack within the pro-evolution community. Those points were well-covered in one of ENV’s articles, but it is possible as a “popular” scientist and not one up on the latest discussions or publications, maybe he wasn’t aware of these things.
On the “top-down” model of life’s development–a model much more in line with the idea of a Creator and Designer than modern evolutionary ideas–even atheist Thomas Nagel seems to have moved to search for alternatives to evolution, considering purpose-oriented natural laws as a God substitute. Nye is behind. But, frankly, most public, pro-evolution folks seem to be behind on this.
More could be said, to be sure, but I have other things to do this afternoon!
If you missed the debate, in a sense you didn’t miss much. Nothing has changed. Most everyone who felt this way or that still feel this way or that. But it was a good airing of two particular points of view. There are better comments about the debate than mine, and those interested should shop around the links I have provided, as well as others. For me, I’m feeling done with this! Or, actually, not too done. I hear from my brother-in-law that there is a bit of tussling going on over on Facebook about my commentary today. I think I will poke my head in and take a look. But after that, I’m done! 🙂
Well, it was quite a debate! For those who didn’t see the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate live, it is apparently going to be archived at debatelive.org for a while, so you can still see it.
If you saw it, what are your thoughts? I have some definite opinions, but I’d like to hear from other folks first. I enjoyed a good conversation with Mr. Tyler Wayne from my Cincy congregation who called me immediately after, and I think he made some good points. What are your thoughts? Feel free and leave them below, but be nice and respectful! No need to be uncivil.
I will try to write some of my own thoughts in a later post, perhaps tomorrow, after I’ve heard from you guys. Y’all hear from me all the time. 🙂 What do you have to say?
[And, by the way: I hate to push my “God and the u-bit” post too far down on the list already. Please feel free to visit it, as well, and leave a comment if you like. Apparently, it’s Science Day!]
[Update: While it is still archived, you should be able to view it here, embedded below. If you do, please feel free to leave your comments and observations below. Again, I will try to write my own thoughts later, but I want to hear from you, first! And for those who haven’t been there, you might check out my review of the Creation Museum from our visit about three years back. — WGS]
Tonight, Ken Ham of the Creation Museum just south of us in Kentucky and Bill Nye of “The Science Guy” fame will debate the question “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I had hoped to get tickets, but given that they sold out in two hours, that wasn’t going to happen. However, it is apparently going to be broadcast live (sign up at debatelive.org, where I think it will be broadcast), so I will watch if I can.
I don’t think the truth of “origins” will come out in the debate — I subscribe to an old earth but a young mankind, created at the re-creation of the earth, which neither men subscribe to. Ken Ham is a Young Earther and Bill Nye is an Evolutionist, so I think both miss the boat. And I should add: I’m open to learning I’ve missed the boat, as well. Since I can’t swim, successfully making it to the boat is important to me. However, the Old Earth/Young Mankind model is the best I’ve seen so far in reconciling all the data as thoroughly as possible while leaving open vast possibilities for new details to be discovered, and I am glad that is what we teach. Actually, some of the first few posts I made on this blog were about such things, now that I think about it. Here they are, in all their ignomin… er, I mean glory:
But I am still interested in the debate. I am also interested in how they conduct themselves. The inability of some to discuss/debate such matters with civility is irritating. Christian apologist William Lane Craig always impresses me with his ability to be respectful and courteous, even under harsh conditions (such as the first few “discussions” with physicist Lawrence Krauss in Australia, recently). I’m curious to see, given the formal structure of the debate, if Ham and Nye are able to keep the discussion respectful and courteous — and ditto for the audience.
But that’s actually not what I was going to write about! (Editorial Department at TW: I appreciate you!) I was reading in New Scientist this past week about the u-bit, a theorized entity in one particular maverick strain of quantum mechanics. New Scientist loves sensational cover blurbs (and they are pretty good at writing them), and the u-bit was the cover story, with this tease: “To make quantum theory real, we must create the most powerful entity in the universe.” Great tease, huh?
The article is worth a read for those who can stomach science content. I think its a good one. Here is a link–“From i to u: Searching for the quantum master bit”–but you might need to register to read the whole article (since I have a subscription, I don’t always see “please register” pages). Here is a (poorly condensed) summary of the idea…
Quantum mechanics–one of the most successful-yet-counterintuitive scientific theories in history–relies on the presence of poorly named “imaginary numbers.” I have discussed these on the blog before (see “About that equation…”), but to put it very briefly: an imaginary number is one that produces a negative number when you square it (that is, multiply it by itself). When you square positive real numbers or negative real numbers, the result is always a positive number (since “a negative times a negative is a positive”–the old rule from your school days, proven to be true here). So, since all “real” numbers are never negative when you square them, any numbers that would be negative when you square them must be “not real”–or imaginary. So, we have the number i, where i² = -1 just like 1² = 1.
Because they aren’t like the “regular” real numbers, many people assume that the imaginary numbers are just that: purely imaginary entities. However, we discover their presence in many applications and physical theories in our very real universe. As the New Scientist article describes: “In geometry they appear in trigonometric equations, and in physics they provide a neat way to describe rotations and oscillations. Electrical engineers use them routinely in designing alternating-current circuits, and they are handy for describing light and sound waves, too.”
Still, there has been something dissatisfying to many in their use in quantum mechanics–the currently reigning King of the Theories in describing physical reality–and in calculating its related and ubiquitous (and highly confirmed by experimental evidence) probabilities. Consequently, some have undertaking the challenge of recasting quantum mechanics in a form that uses only real numbers and has no imaginary number component whatsoever. Apparently there hasn’t been much success–coming close, but still needing the existence of something to “play the role of the imaginary unit.”
The theory that Dr. Bill Wooters and his students Antoniya Aleksandrova and Victoria Borish have come up with dispenses with the need of the imaginary unit, but only works if one hypothesizes the existence of the u-bit. The u-bit would be some element of reality that, in some way, is entangled with every other bit of information about every other particle, wave, field, etc. in all of existence. Mathematically, it would be represented by a two-dimensional vector, which is probably what gives it the ability to replace the imaginary numbers, since combinations of imaginary and real numbers, called complex numbers, are two-dimensional numbers by nature. But physically, the theorists have no idea what in the world the u-bit would actually be. Their theory only says that whatever it is, if it exists, it is rotating very at a great rate. (What sort of science is this where the only thing you can discover about an entity’s existence is how fast it must be spinning? Welcome to theoretical physics! 🙂 ) And, as the article describes, this entity could successfully act as an “omnipresent conduit of information” tying all things together.
Dr. Wooten’s speciality is in the information side of quantum mechanics, and that clearly influences the theory.
One familiar with the Psalms may not be able to help himself from recalling Psalm 139:7-12,
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
The idea of information being at all times and from all places available to an omniscient and omnipresent God seems like an idea of pure theology. Yet, here we have a purely physical theory of the universe that involves a theoretical artifact that smacks of the same sort of omniscience and omnipresence.
That doesn’t mean that the u-bit, in fact, exists. Hardly! Drawing that conclusion so quickly would be both bad science and bad Bible study. 🙂 Let the experiments be designed! Let the searching begin! Frankly, I think the odds are not in the u-bit’s favor, though I’m open to discovering I’m wrong–actually, I would be delighted to discover I’m wrong. And if it is found to be real–whatever it actually is–I’m not saying that we would have somehow discovered physical evidence of God’s Spirit in the universe. There be dragons in such thinking, unless there were to be powerful cause to conclude such (and it is hard to imagine cause powerful enough to dogmatically conclude such a thing). Yet, it is still fascinating! Knowing that there is a spirit in man and that, yet, his mind represents–as best we understand it–the union of a physical brain with the human spirit, I’ve often wondered how that interaction occurs–how it actually takes place. The ideas of Roger Penrose and others about the quantum-level dymanics that must exist in the brain, with Heisenberg uncertainties, wave function collapses, etc., and their possible relationship to consciousness and free will have always been a fascinating possibility in my opinion for enabling the spirit/brain interface, but, still, who knows? I won’t pretend to. And the possible existence of an entity, the u-bit, that is entangled with every single bit of information in the entire universe? As New Scientist describes it, “interacts with everything else in reality, dictating its quantum behavior”? OK–that is fascinating.
And the potential theological flavor of such an entity, of course, would make some nervous. Let me discuss that last…
New Scientist, which is sometimes rather assertive in it’s proactively anti-God stance, anticipates thoughts such as those above and tries a preventative measure in the early part of their magazine, where they publish editorial/promotional introductory essays about the current issue (p.5 in the print edition). In a small section (a couple of paragraphs) titled, “The u-bit may be omniscient, but it’s no God particle” (the print edition simply titles it “Not the God particle”), they write:
“Now we have an entity more befitting of the title [God particle]: the omniscient, omnipresent and unseen ‘u-bit’… Some will pounce on the fact that science needs such an entity to explain the universe. But the existence of a u-bit would be no more profound than the existence of natural laws. Let’s leave God out of it this time.”
There’s a lot of worldview packed into that statement, but to unpack just one element, “leaving God out of it,” here, is what some scientists would like to be done but which simply cannot be done–not completely. And scientists’ commitment to such a sentiment has clouded their judgment, before. The idea of a universe with a beginning was long fought against primarily because it had positive theological undertones–frankly, more than undertones, but outright theological implications. The idea that some get physicists get upset when people see theological implications in their work seems all the more weird when, in cases like the Big Bang theory, it was their own aversion to theological implications that delayed their own acceptance of a theory now taken as common understanding. Do they fault the public for noticing the same things they did–theological implications–or for not sharing the same distaste for those implications?
Of course, the theological biases of the past shouldn’t be held against the scientists of the present (unless they reproduce then), and major contextual ideas shouldn’t be overturned on a fad. And, frankly, I sympathize with the sentiment of some scientists who worry that the statement “God did it” will cut off scientific research. Understood wrongly, I see how it can do exactly that.
For instance, if we discovered a Big Bang was the beginning of it all and claim “God did it,” what more would we fail to learn? Should those scientists currently exploring what may have prompted the Big Bang or preceded it simply stop their research? Is there no more to learn beyond that? I guess what I am saying is that it would be a shame if the statement “God did it” was a means of cutting off study and research into “How God did it.” Does that make sense?
For instance, consider gravity. If we simply looked at the planets and saw them orbiting the sun in such a wonderful order according to beautiful laws, and then we–rightly–gave God credit for what we saw, knowing that the “ordinances of the heavens” (Job 38:33) bring Him glory, should we stop there with the understanding that “God did it”? Isn’t a natural desire to what to continue to learn, if possible, how He does it? Is gravity simply communicated by a particle, like the graviton, or is it a field? Is the idea of gravity as a distortion of the fabric of space-time the best way to look at it? I believe there is much wonder to be seen in continuing the process of discovery–that is, if anything, knowing that God did it should drive us all the more to explore it and learn about it, knowing that the works of His hands are truly worthy objects of our attentions. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). When we explore such things–strive to understand them more fully–aren’t we participating in the glory of kings? Isn’t the knowledge that “God did it” terribly motivating?
For another example, consider instinct. We marvel at the way animals make vast migrations having never been taught the way, how salmon return to spawning grounds to which they have no map, and how a vast amount of living information is transmitted from generation to generation in the animal kingdom through instinct. Yet, we still do not have a grasp on how this works. As someone once said, “instinct” is a good example of how we can give something a name and, by doing so, think that we understand it when, in reality, we haven’t a clue. Clearly, we’re seeing a wonderful element of design in God’s Creation when we see instinct in action, yet is that the end of the exploration? Is there no reason to explore further to see how instinct works? Recognizing that “God did it” should not be the end of exploration and experimentation–it should motivate us to wonder how He did it, and how it works.
Science is a noble practice, and just because some do it without a full understanding of the truth is no reason to beat up on them so. To be sure, I fault many of them for being willingly blind to the implications of their discoveries (he says, knowing he has many faults of his own). As I have said before, it is a human endeavor and thus suffers from human faults. Yet, at the same time, it is a marvelous pursuit. And scientists don’t have to fear the statement “God did it” if it is a spur to further investigation as opposed to and end to all questions.
I really have no dog in the hunt when it comes to the u-bit. I am comfortable in accepting the imaginary numbers and complex numbers as denizens of our very real world if they are needed. As I’ve mentioned, my favorite equation has i as part of its beating heart. But I am also fascinated at the possibility of discovering some additional element in the universe that may rid quantum mechanics of the need for them while displaying such fascinating qualities, knowing that the spirit realm and the physical realm must interact in some way. Is there such a thing as the u-bit? I have no idea whatsoever. But whether its for very real prey or very imaginary snipes, I am enjoying the hunt.
And, regardless of however irritated the editors of New Scientist may become, let’s not leave God out of it.