9/25/2007

STARWIND ASKS A QUESTION

Probably the most energetic and scholarly commenter on my blog of late is Starwind, who I first encountered at Vox's site. Unlike most of Vox's clones, Starwind has done his homework where Genesis is concerned, both in terms of science and in terms of the original Hebrew text. Starwind appears to be a 'progressive creationist' in the Hugh Ross mode, who wants to affirm the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture in a way that is consistent with scientific findings.

I'm sympathetic, actually. I participate in a chapter of Hugh Ross's organization Reasons To Believe in the Fresno area, and it gives me a good opportunity to interact with sincere, thoughtful people who hold similar sentiments, some of whom are (like Starwind) sufficiently well-educated that it would be something of an injustice to describe them as laymen.

Anyway, Starwind asks a question that I think a lot of theologians as well as scientists would find intriguing, which is the matter of discerning Yahweh's intent with respect to Genesis 1 and the prescientific peoples that produced this tradition. Starwind writes:

Assume (hypothetically) that God did cause creation in a sequence of events begining from nothing but God Himself, ending in the universe/solarsystem/homosapiens as science observes and theorizes it today. Assume further that you are God revealing to Moses what you did. How would you explain it? What level of detail would you include? What words would you use? What would you emphasize, what would skip over? Whom would be your readership? When (if ever) would you expect them to understand and what is your purpose in their understanding? What would you want Moses, the Israelites, and mankind to conclude from what you'd created and revealed?

Now then, what specifically do you tell Moses to write down?

And now as Scott Hatfield, given the incomplete understanding of science as to the state of cosmology and evolution, if your university "comparative religions" professor assigned you to write a correlation of science to the various religious creation accounts, what table would you draw?

The 'table' Starwind refers to is his attempt at a detailed correspondence between Genesis 1 and scientific chronologies, in the manner of Gerald Schroeder or Hugh Ross. I invite general discussion of Starwind's question.

20 comments:

Richard said...

A "table" of correlations between science and "creation accounts"? The former is a logically coherent and reductive (reproducible, though probably countably infinite set of facts), the latter is not (new accounts are created without rules). Correlation requires that a mapping exist between elements in domain A (science) and domain B (creationist accounts). There are no mappings possible between between a set of logically reproducible facts and a set of of non-logical reproducible facts (or conversely, there are an infinite set of mappings, which is why creationist mistakenly believe this question has meaning -- just ignore the creation accounts you dont' like). Any rational person would not want to live in a world that worked this way (image that a particular record of credit card transactions is matched against a list of other credit card transactions and one is chosen using the criteria "it reinforces Starwind's preconceived notions" , because we lack the mapping function (the credit card number). Give me the mapping function and we will talk.

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

Look at photographs of just a fraction of the billions of stars that comprise our galaxy; then at deep field images of just a fraction of the billions of galaxies that stretch away from our own as far as the telescopes can see. Try to envisage the billions of years that - according to science - all that has existed.

Then ask why a being capable of creating all that would have done so just as a backdrop for one minor planet circling an unremarkable star lost in the suburbs of one of those galaxies.

Ask why that being would be at all interested in the doings of a species of quite clever ape on that planet that finds itself, more by luck than judgement, at the top of the heap - for the moment, at least.

Ask why he would choose to reveal himself to Bronze Age tribesmen in the Middle East a few thousand years ago. Why not ancient Britons or Chinese or Indians or Enlightenment Europeans or now?

Perhaps answers other than a strained correlation between Scriptural and cosmological accounts of the origins of the Universe might be found through a Casaubon-like obsession with the minutiae of ancient texts - not that such work should be discouraged - but, as an agnostic, I am not holding my breath.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Richard:

Give me the mapping function and we will talk.

Well, as Gregory Bateson once observed, 'the map is not the territory.' Richard, I wouldn't claim that no mapping is possible, but I share your skepticism that any such mapping can be justified by evidence independent of the Bible itself. So the mapping function might be something along the lines of, 'since Genesis 1 is true, then scientific data about origins must be in principle assignable to one of the six days of creation.' It is not the possibility of the map, but the implied premise which leads to the proposed correlation being untestable.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

ian h spedding fcd:

Welcome! I, too, am a FCD!

Keep in mind that I am not advocating Starwind's take on Genesis, just throwing it out for discussion. One of the thing that fascinates me about Hugh Ross's attempt at building an alternative reading of Genesis is that there is still an assumption that, somehow, our little jerkwater junction was the point of all Creation. So Ross and his fellow travelers are in the curious position of always dressing their presentations with the trappings of cosmic awesomeness, but always think locally rather than globally about the significance of it all. So, in one breath they will use anthropic-style arguments for the 'design' of the sort of universe that can support life, then claim that the same sort of ad hoc reasoning makes it unlikely that life would appear anywhere else!

Richard said...

Scott Hatfield said --

the mapping function might be something along the lines of, 'since Genesis 1 is true, then scientific data about origins must be in principle assignable to one of the six days of creation.'


Ok, so how do you pick which data is assignable to what day of creation? There is no criteria that makes one mapping preferable to another. That means that all such decisions are simply the reinforcement of one's own biases.

I think Stephen Gould put it best:

The net of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry


from "Stephen J. Gould. 1999. Non Over-lapping Magisteria. Skeptical Inquirer July August, 55-61."

peak_bagger said...

As they say, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." But what is a "FCD"?

Clueless.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

A 'Friend of Charles Darwin'...search the net, if so inclined, and you can become an FCD, as well!.....:)

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Ok, so how do you pick which data is assignable to what day of creation? There is no criteria that makes one mapping preferable to another.

Oh, again, that's easy. The map that makes my particular sect's version of events is clearly preferable...:)

Speaking of which, any thoughts on the local SDA-sponsored event I posted about a while back? They had a full-page ad in the Bee on Sunday.

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Welcome! I, too, am a FCD!

Thanks, Scott. It's a pleasure being here. May I say I've always enjoyed your writing, especially the tone of reason, toleration, moderation and good humour.

Keep in mind that I am not advocating Starwind's take on Genesis, just throwing it out for discussion.

I understood that. I find the history of the Bible fascinating, though, especially the problems of trying to translate between two languages where there is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between words and concepts. You have to wonder how much of their original work and intent the original authors would recognize in something like the KJV.

One of the thing that fascinates me about Hugh Ross's attempt at building an alternative reading of Genesis is that there is still an assumption that, somehow, our little jerkwater junction was the point of all Creation. So Ross and his fellow travelers are in the curious position of always dressing their presentations with the trappings of cosmic awesomeness, but always think locally rather than globally about the significance of it all. So, in one breath they will use anthropic-style arguments for the 'design' of the sort of universe that can support life, then claim that the same sort of ad hoc reasoning makes it unlikely that life would appear anywhere else!

I tend to agree with Paul Davies that there is something deeply mysterious underlying the Universe although I doubt it is anything like any conventional notions of a deity.

What is worrying is that the more esoteric the theories generated by contemporary physics become, the greater is the possibility that Sir Arthur Eddington was right.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...


What is worrying is that the more esoteric the theories generated by contemporary physics become, the greater is the possibility that Sir Arthur Eddington was right.


I assume you're referring to Eddington's comment to the effect that not only is the universe queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose...:)

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

I assume you're referring to Eddington's comment to the effect that not only is the universe queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose...:)

That's the one! :)

What concerns me is that I remember a paper in Nature many years ago which examined the comprehensibility of science papers from the beginning of the twentieth century up to the 60' or 70s. What they found was that a paper from around 1900 could be understood by anyone could read a serious broadsheet newspaper of the period whereas some recent papers where virtually incomprehensible even to highly-qualified researchers in neighbouring fields.

The killer was a comment from one of the leading exponents of string theory at the time. His didn't think it was or would ever be possible to explain the theory adequately in ordinary language and this struck me as alarming.

If you have theories in science which are only accessible to the few who have a sufficient grasp of advanced mathematics, then the problem of persuading a sceptical public to support science and accept the accuracy of its findings is more serious than perhaps we thought. Isn't it likely that, as science struggles to understand and explain a Universe that gets stranger the longer we study it, the explanations that are constructed will be ever more remote from the grasp of popular understanding?

Anonymous said...

Isn't it likely that, as science struggles to understand and explain a Universe that gets stranger the longer we study it, the explanations that are constructed will be ever more remote from the grasp of...

reality?

--emerod

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