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On Bundling Tourist Attractions

On Bundling Tourist Attractions

The Christian Post reports that the Cincinnati Zoo was forced to quit bundling its tickets with those to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. This has been blogged to death all around the internet, and I’m going to join in ganging up on the story.

According to the Creation Museum’s founder, Ken Ham, however, the zoo received hundreds of complaints, many of which were opposed to the faith and ideas that the museum presents.

“It’s a pity that intolerant people have pushed for our expulsion simply because of our Christian faith,” Ham said, expressing disappointment in the zoo’s decision but also understanding of its perspective.

I want to pick on a couple of points in that one.

First, in calling opponents of this deal “intolerant people” Ken Ham accepts to bizarre modern notion that a lack of endorsement or assistance constitutes intolerance. I don’t regard those who refuse to give money to my church as intolerant. I don’t regard those who refuse to give money to a political candidate they oppose as intolerant. Bundling tickets is sharing value. It’s not intolerant to fail to do so, neither is it intolerant to oppose doing so.

Second, the problem here is not the Museum sponsor’s “Christian faith.” It’s their completely untenable scientific ideas which their Museum is designed to promote. I’m a Christian. More importantly folks like Dr. Kenneth Miller and Dr. Francis Collins are Christians. It’s not the Christian faith that’s the problem, it’s the particular unscientific views of Answers in Genesis that are the problem.

The Museum pushes young earth creationism, which requires a wholesale rejection of the bulk of modern science either directly or in its implications. Of course, we don’t see them rejecting all the technology that’s based on atomic theory when they reject radiometric dating. That would be impractical. But it’s implied.

In bundling tickets, the Cincinnati Zoo was, in my opinion, giving too much tacit recognition to a museum that should be treated as outside the bounds of scientific discourse. There is simply no redeeming value in it at all. Now note that I don’t say it should be closed, or that its sponsors should be imprisoned, but I do say that they should not be treated as scientists engaged in the endeavor of bringing science to the public.

One of the great negative side-effects of post-modernism has been this idea that all ideas are somehow equal and that we are intolerant if we don’t treat them as such. It goes hand in hand with the view that if we allow the expression of all sides of an issue, giving them equal time, we have somehow properly covered that issue.

My view, on the contrary, is that ideas have to earn their place at the table. People who espouse unpopular ideas should be prepared to do the work of getting them to that place. The Creation Museum presents propaganda for a viewpoint that has never earned its place at the table, and indeed has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t deserve such a place. An organization that is engaged in science should not even appear to endorse it.

David at He Lives takes quite a different position than I do. He says:

Ken Ham’s (silly) creation museum and the Cincinnati Zoo had a joint Christmas promotion—buy a ticket to one, see both. Now that is an odd, strange-bedfellows sort of pairing—but so what? People who wanted to visit both attractions could save a little money, and both places get a piece of the pie, including potential visits to their respective gift shop and restaurant cash cows. A win-win.

Of course I risk having David tell me I have my “panties were bunched around his eyeballs” as he did of James Leach, but I agree much more with Leach. These are not merely two tourist attractions. I’m betting that neither institution would claim that as their primary purpose. The Creation Museum has as its goal religious proselytization, and the Zoo, one would hope, has an educational purpose.

I would suggest that this was not the pairing of two tourist attractions, both of which were harmless. I would see it much more as similar to Disney World offering a bundled package with a tour of some whorehouses.

But I’m sure I’m just over the top. I take both my science and my faith seriously. Because I take my faith seriously, I wouldn’t want my church contributing in any way to the Creation Museum. Because I take science seriously, I don’t want any scientific institution or group to contribute in any way to the Creation Museum.

Faith and Creation – Some Links

Faith and Creation – Some Links

I encountered a few posts related to these to words, to which I’d like to call your attention. First, via Higgaion I navigated to this post about taking things on faith.

The author, Dr. James F. McGrath, makes some excellent points on just what faith means from a Biblical perspective. One thing I would emphasize is that while we may believe certain things on limited evidence, we rarely believe based on no evidence at all, or contrary to the positive evidence. Usually we at least believe that there is some evidence with us.

Let me quote one key comment that ties this in with creation:

There is no reason to think that the author of Genesis expected his readers to believe his creation story ‘on faith’. He does not dispute the basic facts of the natural world as understood in his time: that the world is mostly land with a large gathering of connected basins filled with water called seas; that there is a dome over the earth; that above the dome are waters; that there are lamps placed in the dome (the moon, like the sun, being viewed as a source of light). He says all of this because it is what people thought in his time. None of it is anticipated to require faith to believe it. What the author offered was an alternative story of creation, not alternative facts about that which was created.

This is an extremely important paragraph. Those who have never tried it, have no idea how difficult it would be to express both a new view of God and a complete new cosmology simultaneously, and have it connect with hearers. Those who look for a modern cosmology in the Bible are really asking the wrong questions of the text. We tend to ask how accurate the text appears to us, when a better question would be what the text communicated to those who first spoke/wrote or heard/read it. I don’t mean here to say that the historical meaning is the only meaning of a religious or spiritual text, nor that we can be 100% certain we know. But we will do much better starting with that historical text, then by immediately trying to read it from a perspective unknown and unimaginable to the first audience.

The second related post is the beginning of a series by Dr. Westmoreland-White on Levellers. He has written an initial post that consists largely of suggested reading, and has now continued with an initial post looking at the texts, starting from Genesis 2:4b-25.

Dr. Westmoreland-White notes regarding this passage:

All this is clearly to say that those who told this story and those who wrote it down and included it in our Bibles were NOT asking scientific questions. They were asking about God and humanity and our relation to each other and the world (as they knew it). By the time of the early monarchy when this was written, Israel was in conflict with surrounding nations who all had their own gods and goddesses. The constant question was “Who is this YHWH of yours anyway!” since Yahwism was relatively new to Canaan. . . .

There is a similarity in the way in which the two bloggers are viewing the text, and I agree with them both on this. This series is likely to be good.

With reference to the sources of the early chapters of Genesis, I have thus far presented a working translation of the first 10 chapters of Genesis, and I plan to post the 11th either later today or sometime tomorrow. The purpose of using my own translation is not that I think mine is better. In fact, due to a number of factors I would consider it worse. But I wanted a copyright free, modern language translation which I could slice up according to the sources. You’ll find these posts with the sources color coded in category “Genesis” on my Participatory Bible Study blog.

I think that will do for now.

Breaking Christian News and Nereus=Noah

Breaking Christian News and Nereus=Noah

In my Breaking Christian News e-mail today the headline story was Depictions of Noah, the “Wet One”, Discovered in Ancient Greek Art.

This sort of thing makes me crazy. The article will leave many Christians with the impression that somehow Greek archeology or [tag]Greek Mythology[/tag] has now produced some sort of proof for the stories in Genesis. But if one follows the links to images, which anyone with an acquaintance with the cultures involved and having a basic understanding of comparative mythology can recognize a contrived parallel.

Apparently this author, Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr., has written a number of things on this topic, all of which appear equally without merit. There’s a good review of a prior book here:

Athena and Kain is a silly book with a pernicious message. It seeks to rob the ancient Greeks of their uniqueness, to taint their contribution to the formation of western culture, and to replace both with a fundamentalist cant that does no service to Genesis. . . .

I’m so glad when competent people take the time to read trash, so that I don’t have to take the time. “Silly” was the first word that came to my mind as well.

Now what is it that prevents Breaking Christian News from recognizing the same thing? Either claiming this sort of thing in support of Christianity, or even presenting it in such a way that one can get that impression can only reflect badly on Christianity and Christians.

Random Mutations and God

Random Mutations and God

JuliaL, in a comment to my previous post, Don McLeroy and his Big Creationist Tent . I’m going to copy the comment here and reply, because I think it brings up an important point that deserves a post of its own.

Here’s the part that mystifies me:


Consider natural selection of random mutations. If they’re random mutations, they can’t be God-directed, and if they’re naturally selected, you can’t hav, quote, “God-selecteds.”

Is the claim being made that there is no such thing as a mathematically random process, such as the choosing of the winning number in a lottery? Or, is McLeroy saying that a process can indeed be mathematically random, but in some magical fashion then God is incapable of being any part of it? So God is completely excluded from lotteries? And if we want to cut God out of any issue, we need only introduce randomness (like “Russian roulette” with a gun before pulling the trigger), and God is forced to stand by helpless? I’ve seen people pick a Bible verse to read by closing their eyes, letting the Bible fall open, and then putting their finger to the page to pick a random verse to mediatate on. Does this process mean that God is now excluded from the event and must stand around looking incompetent?

As for natural selection, is the claim here that anything selected for/against by nature thereby excludes God from any role? Nature pretty much destroys certain kinds of plants I attempt to put in my yard; the heat, humidity, and alternate drought and flood kills them off. Does installing such plants mean that I have managed to ban God from my yard?

This seems a strange view of God, not as the ground of all being or as the wholeness of which everything else is a part, but as a separate, discrete individual who can be pushed aside through math and nature processes that we all normally acknowledge exist.

The thing that has mystified me for a long time is that so many people seem to view a natural process as something which separates something from design by God. From my theological point of view, the universe exists because God wills it so, therefore everything is designed. Supposing I create a machine that automatically produces some other device. Would that secondary device not be considered my design? God goes one better, and designs and elegant and simple algorithm that produces huge variety. It’s still God.

Intelligent design creationists (IDC) are not satisfied to have God ordain laws and processes. They want God to intervene along the way, and see indications of that design. The Holy Grail of this idea is that one process or system that simply cannot have been produced by the simple combination of variation + natural selection. They keep claiming to have found it, but as knowledge of the evolutionary process advances, ways are discovered. IDC requires a severe deficit in imagination.

The requirement for detectable intervention ties intelligent design to creationism. If that were not the case, they could embrace people like me who believe in God and believe that the universe itself exists by the will of God. That means everything we see is designed at some level or another. I’m not a metaphysical naturalist. But IDCs do not embrace people like me. Why? Because the simple statement that the universe is designed is not their real goal.

Their goal is to prove elements of the Biblical story of creation, specifically that there are “kinds” that cannot produce one another, boundary lines that can only be crossed by special divine intervention. That’s the point of trying to find detectable footprints. It’s not design/non-design so much as it is the detectability of design, and even more specifically the detectability of limits that require divine intervention at particular points.

On this young and old earth creationists can agree, because their understanding of the Genesis story, while not the same, agrees in hearing it as narrative history. They just disagree in the level of symbol involved. They both need divine intervention in a way that should be detectable. (There’s some discussion of this right now because IDCs want to deny part of their roots. This has been discussed recently by Nick Matzke, Ed Brayton, and from the IDC side by Rob Crowther.

Now to the word “random.” That is largely a scare word, since evolution is not, in fact, a random process. Natural selection is quite directed. There are a number of definitions of the word random, but in this case non-mathematicians are generally thinking something like “lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern” (Merriam-Webster). Though this is not the mathematical definition, it will work for our purposes.

In A Wonderful Life Gould suggested a thought experiment rolling back the movie of the history of life on earth from the time of the Cambrian explosion onward, and suggested that it might unroll in different ways because random events might occur differently. But there is a view of determinism that would say that everything that occurs is totally caused by previous events, thus if we had sufficient knowledge we could tie every event right back to be big band, down to movements of subatomic particles. With this level of determinism, someone with my view of evolution could claim that God did design not just human beings as such, but me in particular, by the way he “set off the big bang.” Everything would be determined by the arrangement of particles (and whatever) at the moment “cause” came to have any meaning. Thus intelligent design without that identifiable time of intervention.

(For those who want to think more about this, let me link to two series by Peter Kirk at Speaker of Truth. I’m not specifically endorsing everything Peter says, and I gather that he isn’t either, but that’s not because I disagree with any substantial portion. I simply don’t understand the physics well enough for my agreement to make any difference. The important thing is that he is here working with concepts from physics, and relating them to theology and origins, and deals some with the issue of causation. The posts are Kingdom Dynamics Introduction, Beyond Causality, The Boundaries, and The Crunch, followed by The Beginning part 1 and part 2.)

IDCs would like that, however, because it wouldn’t give them their “kinds” with boundaries between them. In the view of some of them, front-loading would come with the creation of the first life, which should have DNA capable of producing everything that happened later.

But there is no necessity that absolute determinism is true. It’s just a possibility. There could be events that are not caused in our sense of the word at all. For example, we have no way to speak sensibly of the “cause” of the big bang. I have had people I regard as reliable tell me that quantum physics shows that the universe is truly deterministic, and others I regard as equally reliable tell me it proves that there is true randomness. I don’t understand their arguments so I cannot comment on who is right. But it’s interesting that it appears to be a debatable issue!

Some other theists who are scientists, especially physicists, see the subatomic realm as a place where God could intervene, for example, to cause mutations at the appropriate moment, without us being able to detect that intervention at all. Again, this wouldn’t make IDCs happy, because they want to find God, and also, for the most part, to prove that he created the world in a way that can be related to Genesis. Don’t ever be deceived by the rhetoric–Genesis will show up sooner or later.

I don’t really understand the how of it at all. I would be satisfied if God simply created the process, and the process produces everything else. I think variation + natural selection is a very powerful process. At the moment I don’t see any example of demonstrated intervention. I would simply say that as a theist I hold that even if the process is random in its input (variation) it is random because that is the way God ordains it to be. That is not a scientific conclusion, however. Science must simply observe whether it is random or not and report.

Finally, I do believe that the IDCs come up with a bizarre idea of God, a God who is more active at some points than others, and one who designed a process to diversify life, but it didn’t work right, so he has to tinker. Somehow they think this is a positive think and work very hard to prove that it happened, at the same time proving, in my view, that God is incompetent. That’s not a conclusion I’d prefer to come to!

Codex on Mesopotamian Creation Stories

Codex on Mesopotamian Creation Stories

Tyler Williams is beginning a series on this topic. After reading just the first entry I strongly recommend that any of my readers interested in the creation stories take a look at this material.

For those who have not been following my material you can look at the Genesis category on my Participatory Bible Study Blog, and particularly the first entry, which includes links to my other material on the web. The material in the Codex series will clearly deal in much more detail and depth with things I only mentioned in passing.

Hat tip: Abnormal Interests.

Pseudo-Polymath Series on Genesis

Pseudo-Polymath Series on Genesis

I’ve been intending to mention this since last week’s Christian Blog Carnival came out, but I’ve been distracted. Mark Olson at Pseudo-Polymath has started a series on Genesis from a philosophical perspective. The first entry is Reflections on Gensis: Chapter 1, and he has now posted the second entry, Reflections on Genesis: Chapters 2-3 (part 1).

Right now I only want to make one comment and mention a couple of my own related posts. At the end of the first entry, Mark says:

However, Kass suggests that scientific views evolution may deny the intelligibility and primacy of species (the separation noted in Genesis) and the importance and uniqueness of man. And in that sense it might be in opposition, but I’m not expert enough on evolution to know how notions “kind” and “species” which arise from Genesis are denied by evolutionary theory.

I’d simply like to link to two of my previous posts that may relate; Design, Direction, and Evolution and An Evolutionary View of Kinds.