Wednesday, May 31, 2006

incompatibility - their side

Of course it's not only Dennett and other philosophers, and scientists, who find evolution and the Christian god incompatible - many Christians do too, bless their souls. I'll present a more or less typical example from 'the Christian Courier', with my commentary.

This 'guide to youth' online mag presents the incompatibilities in forceful dot-points:

  1. The Bible teaches that matter is not eternal; rather, it was created by God (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3). Evolution, on the other hand, asserts that matter is eternal, and that it is absurd to suggest that it was created ex nihilo (out of nothing).
Of course this is rubbish. Evolution doesn't assert anything either way about the eternity of matter, it concerns itself solely with living organisms. Questions about the age and origin of matter are explored by completely different scientific fields; geophysics, cosmology, etc. One gets the distinct sense here that our author isn't just combatting evolution but science in general.

2. The Genesis account affirms that the Earth was created on the first day of that initial week (Genesis 1:1), and that the Sun and stars were created later – on the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19). Evolution asserts that the Sun and stars existed billions of years before our Earth came into being.

This is the same point, but provides even clearer evidence that the author is anti-science rather than simply anti-evolution. It's notable than neither here nor in any of the other 20 points is the 'evidence' word used, while the words 'assert' and 'affirm' are used in typically bent ways. I won't comment in detail on all 20 points though, that would be too boring.

Points 3, 4 and 5 each deal again with what the Bible 'states' or 'teaches' and what evolution 'contends', but again, none of them have anything to do with evolution. They're about the geology of the earth and the origin of our solar system. What the points don't state of course, is that our understanding of the great age of the earth, through the work of Charles Lyell and others in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, helped us to make sense of the evidence of fossils and to speculate more effectively on the origins of life.

Points 5 onward mostly deal with biology at least, and compare what the Bible 'states' and 'reveals' [revealing word] with what current science 'contends' etc. They at least have the virtue of displaying what is obviously a real incompatibility. The last two points, though, reveal the defensiveness and desperation of the author's position:
  1. The Bible announces that God made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26; 1 Corinthians 11:7). Evolution scoffs at such, and suggests that man, because of his fears of natural forces that he could not understand, created God in his own image.
  2. Each of the Bible spokesmen treated the Genesis record of origins as literal history – i.e., a true account of what actually happened in the beginning (cf. Matthew 19:4ff; Romans 5:12ff; 1 Corinthians 11:7-8; 15:45ff; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:13). Evolution laughs at the inspired documents, repudiating them as literal history.

Evolution is laughing at us! It's not fair. It hardly needs pointing out that it isn't just evolutionists who largely repudiate the literal truth of the events portrayed in the Bible. Historians and archaeologists are mostly agreed that the Bible is as inaccurate and unreliable as are all the documents of the era as a guide to the truth of historical events. But this idea of 'the disciples of Darwin' [the author's phrase] mocking the true faith is of course itself very Biblical. Evolution, throughout, is presented in the third person singular, as a false god worshipper, or a devil worshipper, or perhaps as the devil himself. Such entrapment in an outmoded and profoundly limited way of thinking almost elicits sympathy.

I'm not serious of course. The author's final remarks further underline the unprincipled nature of his 'argument':

Our young people need to be told forthrightly that the Bible and evolution do not agree. The theory of evolution is not only anti-biblical, but also is contrary to sound scientific principles in many areas. It should be resolutely rejected.
As he has amply demonstrated, the author is opposed to all science rather than simply evolution, yet he's not above invoking 'sound scientific principles' to reject science. It's deceitful in the extreme of course, but I'm prepared to exonerate him on the grounds of profound stupidity. The revolting thing is that space-wasters like this character consider themselves guides to youth. Of course, youth is too bright to be attracted to such dimness [I hope]. Even more revolting is that there are thousands of websites like this out there.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

La verité sans filtre

Saw tonight's SBS doco on the baccy wars and felt suitably outraged, and one of the matters of great interest was the support apparently given to smoking by the film industry of late. Surely we've all gleaned this. And sure we've heard the justifications - it's a historical , it's a nouveau film noir, they all puffed themselves to death in those days, he's just the sort of sadsack wanker who would smoke fifty a day, etc etc.

I've become less and less sympathetic to this line. As the doco pointed out, and it's worth repeating here, Sylvester Stallone was paid $500, 000 for smoking certain brands of cigarettes on-screen. If there's any form of prostitution that should definitely be illegal, surely it's this form.

Here's where governments could play a role. They've stepped in to force companies to display the truth in big bludgeoning letters on packets, why not force film-makers, and the tobacco companies behind them, to issue a similar sickmaking warning accompanying any film that feels it has to show smoking for 'authenticity'? It wouldn't offend non-smokers, much. Likely it'd enhance our sense of smug superiority.

It's a serious matter though. It's youngsters they're targetting, above all. They can be so easily hooked, and it's damn hard to get themselves unhooked. Money for jam for the baccy bastards.

The box above suggests another way of tackling the issue, also mentioned in the doco, and argued for here. Though personally I don't give a fuck about kids swearing. Typical fuckin Yanks.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

a few preliminary remarks

the neverending scary

I've been writing elsewhere, and sometimes nowhere of late. Many excuses. Perhaps I should keep all these writings together under a new blog title reflecting my rekindled interest in the psychology of faith. But then there are other interests...

It's an uphill battle, keeping the world safe for nonbelievers, but I'm prepared to fight it, folks.

Steven Pinker, early in The Blank Slate, quoted a survey showing that most Americans believed in the Biblical account of creation, and that the miracles recounted in the Bible really took place. Only 15 per cent believed that evolution provided the best explanation for the origin of life on earth. To be fair, rather than sticking the boot into the yanks again, it must be said that there are nations in which evolution would be so unheard of that it would scarcely raise a flicker on the edge of the radar, but as Pinker adds, us educated and informed folks needn't worry about them folks, even if they do threaten to blow us up from time to time. Who cares about being popular when you're right?

I'm hoping to write something next about whether evolution is compatible with religious belief, or at least Christian belief. The Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church officially proclaims their compatibility, I suspect because they don't want to be humiliatingly on the wrong side of the argument once more. Scientifically minded types too, such as the late S J Gould, have argued that they're really operating in mutually exclusive spheres. I'm sceptical about that, and I'll explore the arguments shortly - as shortly as I can be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

a few brief reflections on a version of libertarianism

Libertarianism, of the political sort (there's another sort of libertarianism associated with free will v determinism arguments that I'm not concerned with here) has a high profile on the net, promoted with much sound and fury at times, and it has quite a few strands, some of which I’m sympathetic to, others not. In fact I've recently begun subscribing to an e-magazine,, which I've just discovered is of the libertarian persuasion. It's not particularly strident, though, or noticeably ideological.

I'm in a little amateur philosophy group, and I led the discussion the other day on libertarianism. I introduced it via a philosophical paper by Jonathon Wolff, which was a critique of Nozick's famous Anarchy, State and Utopia. Not having read more than a few pages of Nozick's book (and that was near twenty years ago) I can't be sure that Wolff has represented it correctly, but it seems that Nozick, in arguing for the minimal state, relied heavily on rights - in particular, the negative right of an individual not to be interfered with or coerced.

Unfortunately Nozick provides little if any grounding for these claimed rights. Why do we have a right not to be interfered with or coerced? Where do such rights spring from? Rights are an invention, and quite a useful one in my view, but I also feel they need to be employed in a limited and careful way. To assert a particular right and then to use it as the basis for a political philosophy that, if followed, would turn our political situation into something radically different from what we currently experience, really does beg a particular question.

Another problem for Nozick's libertarianism, one barely mentioned by Wolff, is his treatment of the individual as the 'unit of liberty'. It's a political philosophy that valorises both liberty and the individual, as if to put both beyond criticism. At least on Wolff's account it's a highly rational argument that flows from the primacy of these two elements. Wolff also points out that Nozick is more a hyper-liberal than the free-market capitalist that so many libertarians turn out to be. This is where the utopian emerges, for Nozick imagines that his libertarianism minimal state doesn't necessarily entail capitalism, though it's of course compatible with it. In fact he envisages the formation of sub-states of freely associating like-minded people, elective affines if you will, pursuing their own interests without having to subsidise other groups. But this, Wolff argues, is economically naive. After all, Nozick's libertarianism is based on ownership, even self-ownership, which is the something that cannot or should not be interfered with. The individual must be free to give of oneself and also to accumulate for oneself, presumably by virtue of what is already owned. Ownership, free possession of goods, whether material or immaterial, is at the centre of this political philosophy, so capitalism seems pretty well unavoidable, and with the libertarian free flow of individuals between these like-minded sub-groups, you'll generally get the most successful and ambitious wanting to leave the most restrictive and financially unambitious (or unsuccessful, depending on how you look at them) groups. The gap between rich and poor groups would grow wider (many groups would become unviable and would dissolve) and you would be left, according to Wolff, with something like nineteenth century capitalism, with poorer groupings and individuals being forced to rely on the haphazard benevolence of the rich, in the absence of a welfare state or any kind of redistributive taxation system. A road to hell, or at least pointing that way, paved with Nozick's good intentions.

On the face of it, a devastating critique, but I'm sure libertarians can come up with better than this. In any case, I'm more interested, really, in where the balance should be struck between individual freedom and social protection as provided by the state. Looking at welfare, for example, I recognise the problem of welfare dependence - for corporations as well as for individuals - and the problems of systemic disadvantage and systemic exploitation that a non-welfare-based system and a non-redistributive system would encourage. There seems no alternative but to steer a course that provides both encouragement and protection, a course that requires constant shifting of the wheel to avoid the pitfalls on either side.

Monday, May 01, 2006


An article in this week’s Independent Weekly has had me reading online about the Katyn horror - partly, I’m ashamed to say, as a way of avoiding research into political libertarianism for a presentation I’m to give to my philosophy group.

Relatives of some of the Poles killed are to take the case before the European Court of Human Rights to try to force the Russians to disclose what they know, at the very least. According to the Wikipedia article on the massacre (or series of massacres):

In March 2005 Russian authorities ended the decade-long investigation with no one charged. Russian Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov put the final Katyn death toll at 14,540 and declared that the massacre was not a genocide - a war crime - or a crime against humanity but a military crime for which the 50-year term of limitation has expired and that consequently there is absolutely no basis to talk about this in judicial terms. Despite earlier declarations, President Vladimir Putin's government refused to allow Polish investigators to travel to Moscow in late 2004 and 116 out of 183 volumes of files gathered during the Russian investigation, as well as the decision to put an end to it, were classified.

The Polish authorities have been doing their utmost to pressure their Russian counterparts into disclosure, as well as into recategorising the crime. Now the families of seventy of the murdered Poles are taking the case to the ECHR in Strasbourg. Their motives appear to be mixed, with some insisting on prosecutions, others simply wanting the truth exposed as far as it can be, and an acknowledgement by the Russians of the enormity of the atrocity.

Throughout history there has been little love lost between the Russians and the Poles, and Katyn stands as a symbol of the bad blood between them, though of course it’s also much more than that. The Russian side is clearly greatly at fault here, and they should act now before their hand is forced. If they don’t, relations could be damaged even further.


pavlov's cat