A Very Modern Creation Myth.

 

Genesis 1 is a work of defiance and faith.  It probably arose among the humiliated and defeated Jews of the Babylonian captivity, as a take down on the claims of the ancient Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish.

It portrays the history of the earth, as God directing by his Word, the development of that which He had created in the beginning.  It is a claim by a member of an enslaved race that it is the God of his or her people, not Marduk, the high god of their captors,  that is the God above all other gods.

It is also a declaration of human rights.  In the Enuma Elish human beings are created from clay and the blood of a slaughtered god, to be the slaves of the gods.  In Genesis 1, God, makes humans, male and female, in His image to have dominion over the world.  All people, not just some, are chosen by God to be sovereign rulers of the world.

The creation story is divided into working days.  An evening and a morning constitute in hot climates the working day, and God is shown as  carrying out his creation during normally constituted working days, and resting on the seventh. A working pattern suitable for all those made in the image of God.

The original state of the earth in Genesis, is not the chaos of the Enuma Elish which needs to be overcome by violence, but formlessness which needs to be directed. God called the light into being, but he named both the day and the night, thus indicating that both are under his control. The same applies to the dry land and the surrounding waters.

When he calls into being the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night, they are not named, but there is no need to.  God has already established His authority over the day and the night.  These exist only as markers to divide the day and the night, and to divide time up into seasons.  Their rule consists only in enabling a calendar by which humans can plan their lives. There is no reason to kowtow or attempt to placate them.  Their rule is a service.

The God of Genesis 1 works with his creation, rather than imposing his authority through force.  And this is the model for dominion given in Genesis 1, rather than the abusive model of the Enuma Elish.

Genesis 1 is an attack on the theology of the Babylonian Empire.  Its very first words, ‘In the Beginning,’ serve to highlight the Johnny come lately status of Marduk, who appeared very late in the pantheon of the Babylonian gods.

Marduk’s claim to high position was that, quite late in the story that the Enuma Elish tells, he stirred up the waters of Tiamat the Ancient Chaos, and then slaughtered her. His claim to high position is by right of conquest.

In Genesis 1, the female spirit of God is there from the very beginning moving in a feminine way upon the waters. (Hebrew like French is a language that assigns gender to its nouns, it also assigns gender to its verbs.)

Based as it is on Enuma Elish, it is reasonable to assume that the cosmology of Genesis 1 reflects that of Ancient Babylon.  This is not the message of the writer. This is a story about the relationship, between God, and his Creation.  And in this story, the role that Marduk, acquired through violence in the Enuma Elish, dominion over the earth, is freely given by God, to all humans male and female. All humankind is welcomed into the pantheon of gods. To us, all of us, is given the dominion of the earth.

The theology of the Babylonian Empire, redemptive violence, was also the theology of Christendom.  The belief that dominion can be acquired and kept by violence led to religious wars and the horrors of the inquisition, and its protestant equivalents. It is the theology of empire.  It was the theology of the British Empire, the theology that became incorporated into the theory of evolution, through Spencer’s slogan, ‘Survival of the fittest’.  A misunderstanding of this slogan, which merely means, that those inheritable  characteristics which increase the probability of  an organism  successfully breeding, are those which are likely to survive and increase in a given population; has led to the notion that science has shown us that the world is truly, ‘dog eat dog’. That we are all engaged in an endless struggle with the other, and that violence is the only way to peace.

It is a worldview driven by the desire for power, and by fear, and to those who are in its thrall it seems to be merely the truth.  The other way, seems to be only so much pie in the sky.  The message of Genesis 1 no sounder than its cosmology.

In fact it is probable that they aren’t even aware of the message, as the cosmology has been understood as the main theme of Genesis 1, and long since subsumed into the might is right theology that drove Christendom.

This is the theology that was defended by William Gladstone, the  G.O.M., the Grand Old Man of Victorian Britain’s politics, or as his political rival Benjamin Disraeli had it, God’s Only Mistake. When he  engaged in a series of debates with the famously straight speaking Darwinian, Thomas  Huxley  on the subject of the scientific accuracy of Genesis 1, the order of creation that he chose to defend, wasn’t that acquired by a straight forward reading of either science or scripture. It was instead both seen through the distorting lens of ‘The Great Chain of Being,’ a hierarchical structure, much more suited to the case he was making than either Genesis or the fossil record.

My understanding of Gladstone’s argument is that he regarded the Bible as the guidebook to human morality, and that he claimed that the similarities between Genesis 1 and modern science were proof of the divine inspiration of that guidance.  The morality he espoused was the imposed from the top variety of Victorian Britain, not that of Genesis 1;  and, as Huxley lost no time in pointing out, the order of creation he proposed was consistent with neither Genesis 1, nor the discoveries of modern science.

Basically Gladstone argued that God nearly got the order right.  He made two different stabs at describing that order.  The latter of these was that the Bible and science were in agreement, that life on earth had developed as follows: plants, fish, birds, beasts and then man.

Huxley wasn’t slow in pointing out the lack of respect to the Supreme Being implied by Gladstone’s argument.

But if I supposed the “Mosaic writer” to be inspired, as Mr. Gladstone does, it would not be consistent with my notions of respect for the Supreme Being to imagine Him unable to frame a form of words which should accurately, or, at least, not inaccurately, express His own meaning. It is sometimes said that, had the statements contained in the first chapter of Genesis been scientifically true, they would have been unintelligible to ignorant people; but how is the matter mended if, being scientifically untrue, they must needs be rejected by instructed people?

Thomas Huxley  Gladstone and Genesis 1886

He also pointed out that the plants described in Genesis 1 as occurring in the latter part of Day 3, are advanced plants, which don’t appear in the fossil record until well after the first fish. They are flowering plants the angiosperms, which turn up in the fossil record in the second half of the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs.

Curiously enough the scientists of today tell us that when the Mesozoic Era began, all the land was gathered together into one continent, Pangaea, which had the mother of all continental weather systems – a dry land. And that consequently all the seas were one sea, Panthalassa.  The conditions described as existing at the beginning of day 3, in Genesis 1.

So  the science in Day 3, provided you understand the word day to mean a long period of time, and the use of evening and morning to be somewhat poetic, appears  to meet Huxley’s minimum standards, for  consistency with its having been inspired ,  by the Supreme Being.

Continuing in the same frame of reference:

The Mesozoic Era ended with a bang. Around 65 million years ago an asteroid collided with the earth, throwing up clouds of dust into the air sufficient to block out the light and heat of the sun, and put a stop to photosynthesis.  This event is associated in the fossil record, with a mass extinction which wiped out among other things, the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and great sea reptiles.

If the writer of Genesis 1 had had access to this information, he or she could have used it as a counterpoint to the very political point that was being made in  the cosmology of Day 4.  At this point in the narrative their is a redivision of day and night, marked by two great lights, presumably the sun and moon, with the stars also appearing in the sky.   These heavenly bodies are representations of the rulers of this world and their God given role is to produce a stability and structure, that allows the rest of God’s creation to get on with fulfilling the roles that God has assigned to them.

(And yes, there is an analogy with modern science. Before the asteroid collided with the earth there would have been an extra light in the sky, and this would have been followed by a period of darkness. Day 4 could be interpreted as a return to normal service.  But this is unlikely to be the point the writer was making.)

It took a while for the earth to recover from the end Mesozoic extinction event.  It was around 10 million years before the first whales evolved to fill the ecological niches vacated by the great sea reptiles.  There was a radiation of modern type birds at around the same time as the whales. At the second half of day 5, in the Genesis account, God is portrayed as creating great whales, and living creatures.  He is then portrayed as communicating directly with them, something he doesn’t do to the birds.  If you take this literally and interpret it in the light of our modern knowledge, then the most likely interpretation is that the living creatures were in fact the smaller whales.

The  radiation of modern type bovidae (cattle) occurred in the grasslands that developed, much later  from about 10 million years ago. The hominins, our immediate ancestors also inhabited these grasslands.  Human Beings first appeared about 200,000 years ago. At the beginning of Day 6, the earth is portrayed as bringing forth, the living creature, cattle, the beast of the earth and the creeping thing. Only one of these creatures is readily identifiable, the cattle.  And modern type cattle proliferated with the grassland that also gave rise to our hominin ancestors.

The term living creature used here, is the same that is used for the living creature of the water, and it can also be interpreted as living soul.  The earth is credited with bringing forth the living creature, but that group is not later included in the list of those creatures that God made. Living creature can be interpreted as a catch-all term for the creatures of the other three groups.  But it could equally, and more in line, with modern science, be understood as a term for the creature that God chose to remake to have dominion over the earth, Man in the Image of God. The latter interpretation being the one that is consistent with the findings of modern science.

There are a surprising number of similarities between our modern scientific understanding of how the world developed, and the ancient accounts of Genesis 1.  Even the firmament, which is placed between, the waters above, and the waters beneath in Day 2 provides no problem if you understand it to be that which developed into the open firmament of heaven that the birds are portrayed as flying across in Day 5. I think there is  sufficient to meet Huxley’s  standard for divine inspiration.

However the cosmology of Genesis 1, is the medium not the message.  Its message is political, advocating respect for the human, and delineating the role of government as an agency for the maintenance of  stability and structure.  Even without the amazing coincidences, it is consistent with divine inspiration.

It’s message is consistent with that of psychologist, Brad Bushman.

I’ve been studying aggression for about 30 years, and I’ve seen that the most harmful belief that a person can have is that they’re superior to others,” Bushman said. “Men are better than women, my race is better than your race, my religion is superior to your religion. When people believe they’re better than other people, they act accordingly.”

He hopes that more research can help us understand where narcissism comes from, and perhaps help us to stem the tide. “If people could believe that everyone on the planet is part of the same human family, and deserves the same respect, so many problems would be solved,” he said.

Rachel Feltman You only need a one-question test to identify a narcissist. Washington Post August 2014.

 

The message of Genesis 1 is embedded in a story that fits in surprising detail with our modern understanding of the earth’s history. It’s message that all humans  are of infinite value, bearers of the image of God; and all entitled to play their part in the ruling of the earth; is one that the world, caught as it is in the narcissism of power, still does not hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Born to Believe

We understand and interpret the world through language. This of itself has the potential to bias the way we understand reality. Language right from our first words, ‘Mama, Dada, No!’ has inherent meaning, and frequently purpose.

reach for the moonIt should be no surprise to find that this is how  many of us interpret the world – a place with meaning and purpose.

We take life personally. And of course sometimes it is. Some of that which happens is a deliberate act by a conscious being.  Someone who if they had wanted too, could have behaved otherwise.

It is this feeling that life is, or ought to be, purposeful and meaningful, that creates within us the ecological niche, that is the habitat for religious memes.

I’m coming to think the really interesting thing about theology is not what any of it says about God, but how people try to verbalize their belief, and what the attempt tells us about the person and the culture in which said person operates.

Wendy Dackson  Two Entirely Random unrelated reflections 2016

Theology understood  not as the study of God, but as the study of how people incorporate this feeling that reality has purpose and meaning into their belief systems, has the potential to be a very fruitful discipline.

The study of God is a little more problematic.

The existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God, is as the Scottish Philosopher, David Hume pointed out inconsistent with the existence of suffering in the world.

This is something that Bertrand Russell also referred to in his, ‘Is There a God?’ essay  of 1952, the one that introduced the world to the Celestial Teapot.

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.

Bertrand Russell  Is there a God ? (commissioned by, but never published in, Illustrated Magazine, in 1952)

Bertrand Russell is frequently understood to be implying that belief in God is the logical equivalent to belief in an orbiting teapot; there is no reason to believe in the existence of either, and this is a good reason not to believe.

This is how Richard Dawkins understood him, and  argued in, ‘The God Delusion,’ published 2006, that he could do better than this, by making a probability argument. The existence of God, is like the existence of a Celestial Teapot, so improbable that believing in either is unreasonable.

Of course they aren’t actually comparable. We know what teapots are; human artefacts, intended for the brewing of tea. We also know, or at least think we know, that there was no way in 1952, that one of these artefacts could have gotten into space.

There is no reason to believe that the Celestial Teapot existed, and good reason to believe that it did not.  But all that would be required for it to have existed, was for there to have been something going on, that we don’t know about. (I am assuming that even if it had existed in 1952, the fact that it was made of china, makes it highly probable that it would no longer be in existence.)

The same is not true of the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God, of traditional Western theology.  A mere something going on that we do not know about cannot turn this God into a possible reality.

A God who is Omnipotent and Omniscient, is one who could do anything that is logically possible, including achieving His ends, without the need for suffering.  Suffering exists and therefore, given a normal understanding of goodness, observed reality is incompatible with the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent God.

There is zero probability that the Triple O exists.

The same is not necessarily true of the Celestial Teapot.

Knowing that the Triple O does not exist, does not rule out the possibility that this universe is the result of conscious creation.

We know what a china teapot is, and its existence or otherwise in any given place, is open to direct verification.  The same is not true of consciousness. We experience consciousness in ourselves, and extrapolate this outwards. The existence of other minds is a theory that is not open to direct verification.

All the provable facts on earth, including things such as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the Taj Mahal, and the Mona Lisa, can potentially be explained, as the outworking of  materialistic processes. There is no need  to introduce the notion of conscious agency.

Science is sometimes understood to be pushing the notion of a conscious, purposeful Creator into smaller and smaller gaps, as more and more phenomena fall to materialistic explanations.

It is argued that everything that has been recognised in past times as an act of conscious creation can already be, or will at some time in the future be explainable in materialistic terms.  The trouble with this is that it doesn’t just apply to so-called acts of God, it also applies to among other things, Michelangelo’s David, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I am reasonably certain that the immediate creation of these items is explainable in entirely materialistic term, the firing of synapses, and contraction of muscles, and the effect that this had on materials external to the body of the artists.

I don’t regard this as evidence that these acknowledged masterpieces are not the work of conscious creators. Likewise materialistic explanations for the structures of the universe, do not provide evidence that they are not works of conscious creation.

There is good solid evidence that the Triple O does not exist.  There is good reason to believe that the Celestial Teapot does not exist. There is no reason not to believe in a Conscious Creator.

Our human tendency to see meaning and purpose, where we see structure and function combined, makes belief in a Conscious Other easy for many of us.  However as David Hume pointed out way back in the 18th Century, this does not give us sufficient reason to believe.  Since that time, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has been propounded, with its demonstration, that it is possible to explain the existence of structure and function without need to invoke a deity. This proves just how right Hume was. It is unsound to argue from the existence of structure and function to a purposeful Creator, but it does not demonstrate that such a Creator does not exist.

The Protestant claim is that proof of God lies in his inspired word, the Bible.  We can know that God exists because he has revealed his existence to us.

It is sometimes claimed that the remarkable degree of consistency shown in doctrine, teaching and prophecy throughout the Bible demonstrates its divine authorship. This is a belief that although held fervently by some, is like belief in the Triple O, held despite the evidence not because it.

The author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, frequently wrote in a voice not his own.  The opinions expressed by his narrator, which in the case of Gulliver’s Travels, was of course Gulliver, were frequently although not necessarily at odds with the opinion held by Swift.  It is possible that the entire Bible is inspired by a consistent Creator, but if so then the Bible needs to be read like the works of Jonathan Swift.  The opinion of the narrator is not necessarily, the opinion of the Ultimate Author. And as with Jonathan Swift there is room to interpret the Author in different ways.

There is one major flaw in this analogy.  Gulliver is a work of fiction, he didn’t exist, therefore we know, that he was not the author of Gulliver’s Travels. It is reasonable to believe that there was an actual author, Jonathan Swift, who was trying to communicate something different, something frequently at odds with what his fictional narrator was saying. Swift was after all a satirist.

The case with the Bible is different.  The narrators of the Bible did exist.  There is no a priori reason to conclude that they were not working under the influence of an Ultimate Author. But no reason not to believe is not sufficient grounds to believe. This is the point being made by Albert Einstein in the following quote:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition.

Albert Einstein Letter to Erik Gutkind 1954

Subtle interpretations provide evidence, not for  the Mind of God, but the mind of the interpreter.

Among the allegedly primitive legends of the Old Testament, is a story which has been written in such a way that it can be interpreted fairly literally, without any need for subtlety, in at least two different ways.  There is the surface level account, which reads like a fairy tale, and serves to disguise the much more historical  account that is also there. Both accounts describe that historians and archaeologists tell us really did happen, the origin of agriculture.

The double interpretation relies on a very simple trick, giving one of the characters a proper name   that has a meaning.  Anyone who has ever at a personal level run across the legend of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me Tight, will know just how unsubtle this trick can be.

The name Adam, like Pinch Me Tight, is a name with a meaning. In Hebrew the word Adam means man. Man not in the sense of the male of the species, but of humankind. It doesn’t take too much subtlety of interpretation to figure out that any story where the main character is called humankind is likely to bear hidden meaning.

The Garden of Eden story starts off with no humankind to till the ground.  It is quite literally humankind that is told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  It is humankind that  is told that the consequences of eating of the Tree of Knowledge will be death. The immediate consequence of eating of the Tree of Knowledge was not death, but the difficulties of primitive agriculture; the tilling of a soil that became increasingly infertile. It is an agricultural origin story.

We are presently in what some scientists have labelled the sixth extinction.  Species are disappearing faster than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs.  The cause of this extinction is not an asteroid hitting the earth, it is us.  For most of the 500 thousand or so years that our species has been in existence, we were mostly harmless.  It was the agricultural revolution, that changed that.  It was the triggering factor that made our modern world possible.  The event, that enabled us to become death the destroyer of this world; the likely bringer of our own extinction. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge has put us in the pathway to accelerated extinction.

The Adam and Eve story is a work of ancient human genius. At one level it is a simple children’s story, advising of the dangers of not doing what you are told.  At another level it is an account that is compatible with our modern knowledge about the history of the earth. Which given that it arose among the Ancient Hebrews, is to say the least a bit of a co-incidence.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Genesis 2:6

In our modern scientific version of origins, evolution, the process that resulted eventually in the formation of humankind, began after this initial watering of the earth, in the primitive ocean. The same time zone where the Bible describes God as initiating the formation of Adam.

In the Biblical account the river names identify the Garden East of Eden, where God places humankind, with the fertile crescent. In our modern accounts too humankind arose outside, the fertile crescent.  Human Beings moved into that area during the last ice age.

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8,9

And yes, our modern science tells us that as the climate became warmer the tundra type landscape changed to one where tree growth was no longer stunted. So trees did grow up, after human beings entered the fertile crescent.

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge strikes me as an excellent metaphor for eating of the fruits of agriculture.

Given the different roles of men and in hunter-gatherer society, it is likely that it was women who were the first farmers. Or metaphorically speaking it was they who first picked the fruit from the, ‘Tree of Knowledge.’

The King James version of the Bible provides a literal, not idiomatic, translation of the effects that eating of the Tree of Knowledge had on the woman.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Genesis 3:16

An increase in the number of conceptions, and an increase in male dominance are known to be consequences on women of the move from hunter-gatherer society, to subsistence farming.

And for men considerably more work was required of a subsistence farmer than of a hunter-gatherer. The diet of the first farmers was inferior to that of hunter-gatherers, and without understanding of the need for crop rotation and fertilizer the ground would have become increasingly infertile.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;  Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 3:17-19

There is good reason to believe that the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God of traditional Western theology does not exist.  The same is not true of a Conscious Creator. There is no reason not to believe that such a Conscious Other Exists.

Once men argued that the structure of the universe proved that God the Triple O, must exist. History has shown that Hume was right, there can be other reasons for structure than a Conscious Creator.  Massive improbabilities are possible in infinities.

Compared with the improbabilities that brought us into being, that a story passed down through several thousand years, should be compatible with modern knowledge, and really be describing an event capable of leading us to our destruction doesn’t seem so amazing.

Just as structure in the universe is compatible with the existence of a Conscious Other, so is this story.

The co-incidence between this story and the findings of modern research, do not prove that even this bit of scripture is divinely inspired.  It is however consistent with the existence of a Providence, that is not the distant deity of traditional western theology. A Providence that interacts with and is as closely connected to the human as our own thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sceptical Believer.

Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopher

David Hume portrait by Allan Ramsay

The Scottish Philosopher David Hume wrote  the following defence of his scepticism, in response to  claims circulated, by those opposed to his appointment to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University

In Reality, a Philosopher who affects to doubt of the Maxims of common Reason, and even of his Senses, declares sufficiently that he is not in earnest, and that he intends not to advance an Opinion which he would recommend as Standards of Judgment and Action. All he means by these Scruples is to abate the Pride of mere human Reasoners,  by showing them, that even with regard to Principles which seem the clearest, and which they are necessitated from the strongest Instincts of Nature to embrace, they are not able to attain a full Consistence and absolute Certainty. Modesty then, and Humility, with regard to the Operations of our natural Faculties, is the Result of Scepticism; not an universal Doubt, which it is impossible for any Man to support, and which the first and most trivial Accident in Life must immediately disconcert and destroy.

David Hume  A Letter from a Gentleman to his friend in Edinburgh 1745 taken from The Writings of David Hume#, ed. James Fieser (Internet Release, 1995)

To function as a human being we must act as though we believe in the real existence of the material world.  And this of itself provides evidence that we believe in its existence. We generally also require social relationships and this requires us to believe not only in our own existence, but of the existence of other people.

Many of us go beyond this, believing that reality has purpose. It is not just the theists amongst us that are believers in Providence. My atheist friends are as likely as my theist ones to hold that some things are so right that they are just meant to be. Drawing attention to the illogicality of this kind of  statement coming from an atheist, when that which is being endorsed is positive, seems to me a mean act. One not conducive to the forming of healthy social relationships.

Not every providence related belief expressed by theists or atheists is so positive.  For instance the belief that bad things don’t happen to good people, or that people get what they deserve, are two related negative concepts which can be used to justify our indifference to the suffering of other people, and the endorsement of torture and rape.

It can be argued that this sense that reality is purposeful, has evolutionary advantages and that this is why it is so widespread. Obviously a widespread feeling does not make it so. Nor does a natural explanation for why this feeling is prevalent, mean that it is not a true impression.

But whether or not the believer in Providence, feels the need for capitalisation, the credited actions are widely prevalent, with by and large no suggestion that they require the overturn of natural law.

Providence is experienced within the normal workings of natural law. Which means that miracles, that is events that are contrary to the laws of nature, are as foreign to the experienced reality of believers in divine Providence, as they are to atheists.

David Hume’s claim that the miracles recorded in the Bible did not provide evidence for the truth of Christianity, strikes me as  common sense, possibly rather in the way that the works of William Shakespeare appear to be riddled with clichés.  (An Enquiry Chapter 10)  What was then original appears commonplace now.

However not all Christians understand that recorded miracles only provide evidence of the truth of Christianity if you already believe in the truth of Christianity.

I remember the first time I heard a Christian apologist offer the resurrection as “proof” for the existence of God. I rejected his argument, not because of historical doubts or because of its miraculous nature per se, but because I didn’t even take it seriously.

Jeff Lowder  The Miracle of the Resurrection 1995

In fact even if one believes that Christ is the divine Messiah, the miracles, for most of us anyway, are so different, from the non-showy way in which one experiences God/Providence acting in the world, that they are a cause for doubt.  Something extra that you have to believe.

This, if the Gospels are literally true, does not apply to the first followers of Jesus, who had the chance to experience showy miracles so often, that they were commonplace. For them they would indeed have provided evidence for Jesus divine mission.

That a major world religion is based on the belief that a young man who suffered an agonising and humiliating public execution almost 2000 years ago, is God, seems improbable beyond belief.  And yet it is demonstrably true that this is the case.

It is the sheer improbability of this belief , that is sometimes used as proof that the miracles recorded in the New Testament, most particularly the bodily resurrection of Christ, must have taken place.

Those who make this type of claim, notably the English theologian Tom Wright, are basing it on empirical evidence, the demonstrably real, both historical and present, existence of Christianity.

The claim being made in the following quote is the induction based; similar acts have similar effects. Wright states that in every other case where a proclaimed messiah died, his followers ceased to believe that he was the Messiah, but the same thing didn’t happen with Christ.  He says that this evidence demands an explanation.

The historian is bound to face the question: once Jesus had been crucified, why would anyone say that he was Israel’s Messiah?

Nobody said that about Judas the Galilean after his revolt ended in failure in AD 6. Nobody said it of Simon bar-Giora after his death at the end of Titus’s triumph in AD 70. Nobody said it about bar-Kochbar after his defeat and death in 135. On the contrary. Where messianic movements tried to carry on after the death of their would-be Messiah, their most important task was to find another Messiah. The fact that the early Christians did not do that, but continued, against all precedent, to regard Jesus himself as Messiah, despite outstanding alternative candidates such as the righteous, devout and well-respected James, Jesus’ own brother, is evidence that demands an explanation. As with their beliefs about resurrection, they redefined Messiahship itself, and with it their whole view of the problem that Israel and the world faced and the solution that they believed God had provided.

N.T. Wright Jesus Resurrection and Christian Origins 2002

For any given evidence there are a myriad of explanations possible.  We are constrained only by our worldview and the limits of our imagination. And the following quote from Tom Wright is a faith statement. A reiteration  of his belief in his own belief. Anyone holding a different worldview, or expressing the notion that other interpretations are possible must be wrong, because Tom Wright is certain that his worldview is true.

But, as far as I am concerned, the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity arose, and why it took the shape it did, are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer: that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him.  The origins of Christianity, the reason why this new movement came into being and took the unexpected form it did, and particularly the strange mutations it produced within the Jewish hope for resurrection and the Jewish hope for a Messiah, are best explained by saying that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have.

N.T. Wright Jesus Resurrection and Christian Origins 2002

Tom Wright’s claim is not only that something must have happened within 2 or 3 days of the crucifixion, but that this something was the miraculous raising of a man from the dead, as recorded in the gospels.

Such an event does have precedent within the gospels, where others were raised from the dead.  But it is unparalleled in our ordinary experience of life.  This according to David Hume, is what gives us good reason to doubt it.  Tom Wright is not arguing with this.  He is merely claiming that the rise of Christianity is so without precedent, that a miraculous explanation is more likely than any other explanation.

When horrific things happen to human beings, the frequent  response is that they must have been asking for it.  They brought it upon themselves. And those claiming this will use all their powers of intellect in the service of, the possibly instinct driven monster that is, confirmation bias.

That this doesn’t happen with all of the people all of the time, can be demonstrated by events following the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris in January 2015. Then millions marched to proclaim that the dead were risen in them. ‘Je suis Charlie.’

A similar explanation for the rise of Christianity strikes me as possible.  That those very first Christians were proclaiming, that Christ is risen from the dead.  He is risen in us.  ‘Nous sommes tous Christ.’

Evidence that the first Christians did make this kind of claim can be found in the New Testament, in documents written much closer to the events of that first Easter, than were the gospels.

Now you are the body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:27

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: Galatians 2:20

I think this statement  from 1 Corinthians is also very relevant.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

1 Corinthians 1 22,23

The gospels are full of miraculous signs, and theologians have long since found ways, although they haven’t always agreed, to explain the logic of the crucifixion.  Yet here, comparatively early in the history of Christianity, when Paul proclaims the centrality of the crucifixion, the plain reading is that the signs and the logic did not exist. That the miracles with which the gospels are packed are later additions, which served to confirm for subsequent generations the depth of meaning that the first Christians had experienced.

The German theologian Rudolf Bultmann, in arguing for the need to demythologise scripture, made  the following claim, a hostage to fortune, gifted to those who might want to discredit his argument.

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless [radio] and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits.

Rudolf Bultmann Kerygma and Myth 1948 quote taken from Radical Faith

Here Bultmann strongly underestimates the power of the human mind.  We have evolved with the capacity to believe all manner of things, that our cultures and social groupings expect of us. Even when they are in contradiction of each other. We have also the amazing capacity to affirm these beliefs in all sincerity, while completely failing to notice that our behaviour is at odds with our acclamations.

And he has misidentified the problem. The problem isn’t modern science, bur that the miracles are inconsistent with the way we experience the world.

There is within scripture, evidence that the high significance the first Christians placed on the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was wrapped up by later generations, in Jewish Mythology. And it is in this form, that it has been transported through time.

I think  Rudolf Bultmann may have been right that it is impossible to disentangle the historical Jesus from the mythology. But the gospels deliver something else, in the God Man at their hearts. An image of what it means to be good. An image of goodness that exposes the omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent god of traditional Western theology as an imposter.

David Hume argued that the existence of an, omnipotent, omniscient, and all good God was incompatible  with the fact that evil exists in the world. This very much depends on how you interpret the words.

The first two claims are normally interpreted as meaning all the power and all the knowledge that it is possible to have, without logical contradiction. So that for instance the claim that God could not make a stone to big for Himself to lift, and then lift it, is not evidence against omnipotence.

It does seem obvious that if these first two claims are true, and as suffering exists in the world that God cannot be all good. But that depends on how you interpret the word good. There has been a tradition within Christianity from at least the time of St Anselm (1033-1109), the first of the scholastic philosophers, of believing that ‘Might is Right.’

Anselm sees the duty of every rational creature as subjecting every inclination to the will of God. Of this Anselm writes, “This is the debt which angels and men owe to God. No one who pays it sins; everyone who does not pay it sins. This is the sole and entire honor which we owe to God, and God requires from us. One who does not render this honor to God takes away from God what belongs to him, and dishonors God, and to do this is to sin”.

Scott David Foutz  A Brief Survey of Anselm of Canterbury’s ‘Cur Deus Homo’ 1994

In the Medieval Feudal system the weak had a duty to the powerful, but not the other way around.  This is the system that Anselm translated into Christian Doctrine.  In this system it is impossible for an Omnipotent, Omniscient Being’s goodness to be impugned by anything that he does or allows to happen to us.

If you accept this interpretation of the word goodness, then the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and all good God, is logically possible.

Providentially the Gospels do not restrict themselves to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They also tell of his behaviour, teaching and miracles.  The incarnated God that walks these pages, is not King Herod.  The God Man at the centre of the Gospels gives the lie, to Anselm’s Omnipotent Monster.

If to be an atheist is to deny the existence, of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent monster of Anselm’s imagination, then  to be loyal to the Gospel of Christ, one must be an atheist.

 

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How Satan Became King

Satan

Human Beings bond on shared beliefs.  Factionalist type beliefs, i.e. those that say we are the good guys, and the evil lies in the other, are particularly good at producing within group social cohesion. They are also likely to operate in such a way as to maintain within group hierarchies.  Those who oppose the powerful within their own group are more liable to find themselves outed as traitors, than to overturn the status quo.

This remains true as long as the people in power, maintain their stance in denouncing the evil of the other.  Any softening of their position towards, the teapotted group,  those evil awful people over there, leaves them vulnerable to being overthrown by more staunch defenders of the faith.

So to be the prince in a world, where this is the dominant belief system, one must be an accuser.

The in-built paranoia of this hierarchical type of social organisation, is in the best interests of none, and it can result in horrific cruelty towards those on whom the evil is projected.  Yet because it operates as a vicious circle, its clutches are difficult to escape.

The early Christian movement, as described by St Paul, can be understood as a direct attack not on the people operating it , but on the system itself.

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 23:27-29

Those within the belief system, were to be joint co-heirs submitting to one another rather than attempting to dominate. And rather than demonising the outsider they were called to love them.

At the heart of this ancient belief system lay the truth of an innocent man brutally killed. The likely outcome of any social system driven by the notion that as the evil lies in the other, it can be overcome killing its carriers.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Quite quickly after Christianity originated its teachings became conformed to the wisdom of the world in which it found itself.  As Tom Wright claims I think correctly in his 2012 book, ‘How God became King – Getting to the Heart of the Gospels,’ the four gospels, which were written after Paul’s letters,  really are telling the story of how Jesus of Nazareth, was the long expected Jewish Messiah.  And all the signs that the Jews expected from their Messiah were there.

Now Tom Wright’s position is that, the Gospels tell it this way, because this is what really happened. Other theologians, such as Dominic Crossan  and John Spong, take the view that the Gospel authors understood what they were writing to be myth or parable, telling a truth beyond the literal. While New Atheists are inclined to the view that they just made it up.

Regardless of why the gospel writers recorded the story as they did, the Jesus of Nazareth story is tied to an Ancient Hebrew notion of theocracy.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

Painting by Hippolyte Flandrin 1842

Jesus ride into Jerusalem, recorded as occurring just the week before his death in all four gospels, ties with a Messianic prophesy, from the Book of Zechariah.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

Zechariah 9:9,10

This Jewish image of theocracy has a king, who though he is triumphant and victorious, comes humbly to serve his people, not to laud it over them. A ruler who operates as a servant of the servants of God.

This is not the type of leader who emerges in the paranoid social systems that arise as a consequence of the desire of the presently powerful, to maintain their status.

In the rest of nature the hierarchies that exist are pecking orders.  They are maintained through combat, or through the use of ‘symbols’ that denote actual fitness, for instance the antlers of a deer.

In human societies one of the traditional functions of the notion of an omnipotent god, has been to shore up the position of the presently powerful.  It is the notion that whatever is, is the will of God, and therefore right.  The  view that might is right, is more appealing to those who are currently the beneficiaries of power, than those who are suffering from it.

The theology that Christendom inherited from Rome, had Christ embedded in it. It took a considerable degree of theological ingenuity to make Christ a willing servant of power. Something that St Anselm, achieved in ‘Cur Deus Homo.’ An account of the crucifixion, that explained that Christ’s death was not paid, as the majority view of the time was, to ransom us from Satan, but to satisfy God’s honour and dignity, which had been offended by our disobedience.

In his theology St Anselm recast God, as a prince of  the ancient world.  These princes had to maintain their place in the pecking order by ensuring that appropriate tribute was paid to them.  Otherwise they left themselves vulnerable to hostile takeover.

Now princes did not operate alone they had lieutenants to do the work for them. People like Pontius Pilate, who needed to look as though they were maintaining order, and collecting rightful tributes. And where looking as though one is maintaining order outweighs actually doing it, then innocent victims of what is purported to be justice are a highly probable consequence.

Thus in St Anselm’s theology, the God of heaven, was demoted to an earthly king, the Prince of this World. Someone whose powerbase was so insecure that his honour and dignity needed to be defended.

Karen Armstrong in her 2009 book, ‘The Case for God,’ argued that modern religious fundamentalism is driven by fear. And she is partly right. Fear driven factionalism is a powerful bonding tool, for creating cohesive groups.  Without an initial cause for fear it is unlikely that such groups would form.  Once formed leaders within these groups can acquire a great deal of in, and sometimes even out of, group power, by whipping up hysteria against the other.  This hysteria might reasonably be construed by the singled out group as a threat.  And defensive moves by this perceived other will be understood as offensive, by the fundamentalist group, thus further ratchetting tensions.

These fear based systems are invasive. They enforce an us and them mentality within, and encourage a similar mentality in those groups that are targeted as the evil other. As Jonathan Swift noted in his ‘Argument Against the Abolishing of Christianity,’ the problem lies in factionalism.

Are party and faction rooted in men’s hearts no deeper than phrases borrowed from religion, or founded upon no firmer principles? And is our language so poor that we cannot find other terms to express them? Are _envy, pride, avarice_ and_ambition_ such ill nomenclators, that they cannot furnish appellations for their owners? Will not_heydukes_ and _mamalukes, mandarins_ and patshaws_, or any other words formed at pleasure, serve to distinguish those who are in the ministry from others who would be in it if they could? …………………. And therefore I think, there is little force in this objection against Christianity, or prospect of so great an advantage as is proposed in the abolishing of it.

 Jonathan Swift  An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity  1708

Jonathan Swift was a satirist, and the case that he was making , was that there was no point abolishing nominal Christianity*, because it wasn’t making the slightest bit of difference. All the world’s evils would exist even without it.  The same being true for any belief system. Get rid of one and a vacancy is left.  Any random difference can be used to justify a faction. The problem isn’t the belief, but the way of the world.

Christendom was not distinguished by its lack of barbarity. It too followed the Prince of this World.  The desire and respect for power and status  is a  cancer . Use power to speak peace and you end up with more violence.

This is the way that makes Satan the King of the World.

Footnote:

*Jonathan Swift at the start of his essay made the claim that he wasn’t arguing against the abolition of real Christianity, which it was once claimed had the power to change human behaviour.

 

 

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Honest to God

The then Bishop of Woolwich, John A.T. Robinson, in his 1963 book, ‘Honest to God,’ rejected the notion of a God out there, a superhuman creator, interfering from time to time in human affairs as incompatible with modern scientific thought.  Ironically this superhuman creator, that Robinson so roundly rejected, is one that Richard Dawkins accepts as a logical possibility. Arguing only that such a creator would not in fact be a god, because gods are supernatural beings, and this kind of creator would only be one other part of the natural order.  And therefore neither a god or God.

Which just goes to show that Richard Dawkins theological insight is better than you might otherwise give him credit for. John Robinson was also arguing that such a creator would not be God.

The personal God, that Robinson was arguing for was not this superhuman abomination.

Belief in God is the trust, the well-nigh incredible trust, that to give ourselves to the uttermost in love is not to be confounded but to be ‘accepted,’ that Love is the ground of our being, to which ultimately we ‘come home’.

John A.T. Robinson  Honest to God Chapter 3 1963

Robinson was arguing that his emotionally held belief that Love was the central value of life was grounded in his faith in God. And that his belief in God was grounded in his faith that Love was the central value of life.

This view of Love as the central value, was held by the philosophers, William James, who identified as a Christian, and Bertrand Russell, who identified as an agnostic. Just as is the case with Bishop Robinson, neither of these men came to this belief by rational means. It was in both cases an emotionally, not rationally held belief.

William James made the argument that while there was no way of obtaining rational certainty for those things that the heart wished for were true, acting as though that which you wish for is true, is what brings about the emotional certainty that it is so.

At the end of his article ‘Will to Believe’ he used the following quote to illustrate his point.

We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we may be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘Be strong, and of good courage.’ Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes. If death ends all, we cannot meet death better.

Fitz James-Stephens quoted in William James Will to Believe 1896

Or that to live fully human and courageous lives we need to, as the preacher of Ecclesiastes had it:

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Ecc. 11:1

The Bishop of Durham from 2003-2010, Tom Wright was highly critical of the arguments put forward by Bishop Robinson in, ‘Honest to God’ accusing him of being far from  honest.

In particular, Robinson himself seems to me to protest rather too much when he declares again and again that for the most part he remains a traditional Christian—yet says in the preface, revealingly, that he finds less and less of himself to what he calls the right side of the line that runs through the middle of himself. He was of course a complex character, as his biography reveals, and in later life he edited and republished, movingly, his father’s devotional book The Personal Life of the Clergy under the title The Personal Life of the Christian, reaffirming warmly the central disciplines and habits of Christian devotion. But how he kept the two sides of himself integrated, if he did, has never been clear to me. Maybe it was honesty which compelled this unclarity, but the sense of ‘owning up’, of ‘coming clean’, which the title implies is not, I think, borne out by the apparent confusion of the author.

N.T. Wright  Doubt about Doubt: Honest to God 40 years on 2005

The apparent confusion belongs to Tom Wright not John Robinson. Robinson was engaged in providing a meaningful account of Christianity to those for whom the biblical stories held no resonance.  People who would no more have regarded the biblical accounts as evidence of God in action in the world, than they would regard the Star Wars films as evidence for the existence of midi-chlorians.

Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.

Qui-Gon Jinn, to Anakin Skywalker  Taken from Wookieepedia

The attacks and sniping that Tom Wright complains of are found not in ‘Honest to God’ where Robinson almost bends over backwards to acknowledge the truths of those such as C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers who were producing more traditional accounts of the Christian message, but in Wright’s  ‘Doubts about Doubt.’

And it is this misidentification of where the alleged evil lies, that leads me to the conclusion, not that Tom Wright is dishonest but that he is deluded.

One of the things that Tom Wright accused John Robinson of was of ignoring the problem of evil.

I find it quite shocking that Robinson has no account to give of evil, either its existence, its analysis, or the solution offered to it in either traditional or revisionist Christianity. He recognizes that the normal liberal analysis is shallow and inadequate, but has nothing to offer in its place. How a theology rooted and born in the twentieth century could do justice to that twentieth century without a serious account of evil simply defeats me.

N.T. Wright  Doubt about Doubt: Honest to God 40 years on 2005

‘Honest to God’ is a small book, and it didn’t set out to solve the problem of evil.  But Tom Wright in projecting his own behaviour unto John Robinson, illustrates one of the causes of evil in the world.  The ability of the human brain to convince itself, that whatever it wants to believe is true.  An especially devastating ability when what that brain, is highly intelligent, and what it wishes to convince itself of, is that it is certainly right, and that the evil lies in the other.

Human Beings bond on shared ideas. Those who can produce the illusion that beliefs held for social reasons are certainly true, have opportunity to gain status in their social groupings.  If they can at the same time convince their followers that their social groupings and truths are under attack, by the other:

Those Evil  Awful People Over There,

then they are a position to acquire even more power within their group.  And certainly in times past and maybe even today this will have improved their average reproductive fitness.  In other words I am suggesting that the type of self deluding argument exhibited by Tom Wright, the gift that can make Satan himself appear as an angel of light, is an innate deceiver, a human instinct, the product of natural selection.  And you’ll find him waving his noodly appendage wherever humans seek power rather than love, certainty over truth.

 The noodliness of Wright’s thinking is even more clearly obvious, except to those who are similarly noodled, in his arguments against gay marriage, than in his critique of Honest to God.

Tom Wright’s sphere of influence is largely among those who would regard themselves as Bible believing evangelicals, and his views on justification, have led many within these circles to regard him as theologically unsound.

To maintain his sphere of influence, he needs to impress those within it of his ‘orthodoxy.’ They and he are emotionally certain that homosexual relationships cannot be recognised as marriage. And the innate deceiver, the instinct that likes to say,”Yes:” obliges in enabling him to convince himself that he can in fact  rationally justify his emotional response.

He is quoted over at First Things, as objecting to Gay Marriage, because it involves a change of the meaning of the word marriage. Now Tom Wright and I have both lived long enough to know that language evolves over time.  The word gay for instance has changed meaning within our lifetime.

I grew up in the Anglican Church of Ireland, and we regularly prayed that justice should be administered indifferently.  Rather than Christians demanding that word usage remains constant, I think a more sensible case could be made that we recognise the actual usage that words have in the present time, and use them accordingly.

Sarah Moon in More Like N.T. Wrong, does an excellent take down of his arguments based on the creation story of Genesis 1.

I won’t deal with them here.  But I find myself vastly entertained by the ludicrousness of this argument.

The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

N.T. Wright’s Argument Against Same Sex Marriage  First Things 2014

On that gay and glorious day when Christ comes to reclaim his Bride, N.T.Wright  if he believes himself to be a Christian, must surely expect to be there, at least metaphorically, as the Bride to Christ’s Groom.  Not a convincing argument against gay marriage.

The entertaining yet truly scary thing about those operating under the operation of the noodly deceiver, the confirmation bias driven monster that has been given not so much anthropomorphic as pastopomorphic form by Bobby Henderson as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is that you can see that the truth finding mechanisms within their brain are still in operation.

The bits of the brain that are there to test the theory, in the only way possible, by finding arguments against it are there doing their job. Yet the strength of the noodly appendage is such that its deluded servants are able to present evidence against their case as though it is evidence for, with total conviction.

In this same article Tom Wright can also be seen criticising others including Tony Blair the British Prime Minister at the time of the invasion of Iraq, for the holeyness of their arguments, while seeing only holiness, in his own holey arguments.

Tom Wright demanded from John Robinson a theological account of evil. A spaghettiology is all I can offer.  We have inherited from our evolutionary past an instinct that serves to hide our true motives from us, as we seek status and power within our society.  This instinct enables us to believe whatever it is that will gain us that power and status. It enables us to deceive ourselves into believing in our own goodness, and the rightness of our cause.  It enables us to see that the fault lies only in the other.  And thus is monstrous evil born.

If we would resist the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the first place we must look is within ourselves. Only then have we any chance of being, ‘Honest to God.’

 


 

 

 

Football, Santa Claus, Free Will and God

Football, Santa Claus, Free Will and God all at a certain level exist . They exist as concepts which affect human behaviour.

At its very basic level, the football concept means that with enough space  any object that rolls, can be turned into an occasion for fun, competition and social bonding. The environment, the human, and the concept interact to produce that which is conceived, a game of football. Something that, along with the singing of Christmas carols, is associated with the informal truce that broke out in Christmas 1914 between British and German soldiers fighting on the Western Front.

The Santa Claus concept, means that children are motivated to behave well in early December and that the adults get to enjoy maintaining a fantasy for children.  The environment, the human and the concept interact to ensure that children get excitement and presents. Some of that which is conceived relates to events in the external world.  But the central part of this concept, the man in the red suit flying through the sky, delivering presents to children all over the world, exists only in fantasy.

Free will is different from football and Santa Claus in that there is arguably a credible case that it exists externally to the concept. A case that physicist Sean Carroll failed to make in the following quote from a speech he made on naturalism in 2012.

The universe is made up of elementary particles that don’t have intelligence, don’t pass judgment, don’t have a sense of Right and Wrong. And the fear is, the existential anxiety is that if that purpose and meaningfulness is not given to me by the universe, then it cannot exist. The good news is that that fear is a mistake. That there is another option: that we create purpose and meaning in the world.

“If you love somebody, it is not because that love is put into you by something outside, it is because you created that from inside yourself. If you act goodness (sic) to somebody, it’s not because you are given instructions to do so, it’s that it’s a choice that you made.

Sean Carroll The case for Naturalism 2012. Transcript from Atheism Analyzed 2015

The bad news is that if materialism is true, and like Sean Carroll I ‘instinctively’ believe that it is, then it is these same elementary particles, that don’t have intelligence, don’t pass judgement, don’t have a sense of Right and Wrong; that we and the rest of the universe are made from.

If we are capable of loving, creating purpose and meaning, and doing good, it is because of how we are made.  Our ability to love, or hate, must come from inside us, but that is not the same as saying that an individual who feels either of these emotions created them.

The individual who exists at any one time is a consequence of nature, nurture, and the environment, including the social and cultural one in which they find themselves.  We do not make ourselves. Everything we do is a consequence of who we are, and the circumstance we find ourselves in with possibly a bit of randomness thrown in.

Bertrand Russell concluded the famous essay in which he introduced the celestial teapot to the world with the following quote.

Man in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny.  The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

This is of course a nonsense statement,  our behaviour is subject at every level to the same laws of nature as the rest of the universe.  What we are is determined at a fundamental level, by the behaviour of elementary particles.

Fundamental particles, structured by natural processes, to produce conscious beings. (I am aware of no group who is arguing that modern day humans, come into existence, by anything other than natural processes, regardless of how they believe our ancestors arose.)

We, if materialism is true, exist as a consequence of natural forces, our conscious   and our subconscious are dependent on them.  The person that exists at any given time is the consequence of these natural forces; and that consequence  decides how to interact with his/her environment.

I think it is possible to argue that if you are aware of what you are doing, if you behave as you want to, or take what appears to you at the time to be the best option given your circumstances: that you the consequence of the natural forces that are the immediate cause of your existence, are acting of your own freewill.

This is a very long way from Bertrand Russell’s miraculous Man, not subject to natural forces, or Sean Carroll’s supernatural you, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, creating ex nihilo love, and goodness.  It is sufficient freewill to enable us to take ordinary everyday responsibility for our actions, but not enough to ensure that anyone has the right to claim, or accuse anyone else of ultimate responsibility, or ultimate blame, for the good or evil that they do.  No-one makes themselves.

A problem arises when we have mutually incompatible desires.  What happens then can feel like anything but freewill. It can feel more like being dragged between two masters.  A feeling that St Paul poetically captured nearly two thousand years ago.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!  Roman 7:24

Paul famously despised the human rationality that the Greeks venerated. And in doing so eschewed one of the great ‘benefits’ of the human brain. Its ability to confirm for us, the desired truth, that we are doing one thing  when we are actually doing another, and that the evil must therefore lie in the other.

Sean Carroll provides a demonstration of this skill in action in his, ‘The Case for Naturalism,’ the talk he gave in 2012, the one where he propounded the existence of supernatural You, the Being able to create love and goodness, ex nihilo  You can find a transcript here.

Before his claims of the wonder of You, he first attacks Rene Descartes theory of mind and body dualism as unintelligible.  How can an immaterial mind, act causally on the body?  Then he goes on to mention other scientists, whose materialism he approves of.  Eventually he provides as though it is a culmination of the findings of materialism his own theory, not merely of mind/body but of mind/universe.  Magical Us, able without any help from the universe,  to create purpose, meaning, love and goodness.

By concentrating on rational failures, in what was a real attempt by Descartes to understand consciousness, he has managed to hide from himself, the truth that his own beliefs about consciousness have no rational basis. And project all the despised irrationality on to someone who is a member of what his social group has identified as the not we, the superstitious, religious other.

This speech was his introduction to the, Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop that he had organised. In it he identified his reason for holding the workshop.

And yet! Here we are! We’re having a debate. Why are we having a debate? Because, clearly, religion speaks to people for reasons other than explaining what happens in the world.

Most people who turn to religious belief do not do so because they think it provides the best biology or cosmology. They turn to religious belief because it provides them with purpose and meaning in their lives. With a sense of Right and Wrong. With a community. With hope.

“So if we want to say that science has refuted religion, we need to say that science has something to say about those issues.

Sean Carroll The case for Naturalism 2012. Transcript from Atheism Analyzed 2015

He identifies religion as a belief held for social reasons, and his purpose in this gathering was to attempt to replace religious socially held beliefs with science. Or although he clearly didn’t see it that way, to turn science into another religion.

Human Beings bond on shared beliefs. Beliefs which are held with a high level of emotional certainty. Scientific ideas need to be falsifiable, this makes them inherently unstable, incapable of giving certainty. Problems arise when people confuse the two.

Emotional certainty is possible, rational certainty about things other than logical necessity, is not. When people belong to social groups that demand that their core beliefs are held with rational certainty, then there is a problem.

A problem which the human brain, the organ which as Voltaire had it, has the wonderful ability to enable a man to believe exactly whatever he wants to believe, seems to have special adaptations for dealing with – an innate deceiver.

For compelling social reasons Sean Carroll needs to believe, that his emotional certainty, is rational, and  to convince others of the same.  This unleashes a mechanism for deception of the self.

Bobby Henderson noted a similar response among Scientific Creationists, and produced a brilliant anthropomorphism, for this particular socially induced form of confirmation bias – The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  And Sean Carroll has been well and truly noodled.

Which brings us back again to the question of freewill. Sean Carroll wants to produce a rational argument, to  support his emotional belief. He is enabled by unconsciously operating mechanisms, to deceive himself that he has actually done so.  He is not aware that he is deceiving himself.  For freewill to be operating it is not enough that Sean Carroll is emotionally satisfied with what he is saying.  He has to understand what he is doing.

So no he is not operating of his own free will. The Flying Spaghetti Monster made him do it.

Of course the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not just inflict itself on atheists. It affects the religious also, where it masquerades as faith.  Dr Wendy Dackson who blogs at Past Christian, describes her own relationship with the imposter, a ‘being’ whose reality is a lot nastier than Bobby Henderson’s pastopomorphic projection.

Because I did not “lose” my “faith” (as you define it, not as I do).  I know precisely where it is.

It’s in the corner, lying quietly, where I shot it with a tranquilizer dart to prevent it from doing any harm while I examine it and decide what should be done with it.

Wendy Dackson  What happened to my ‘Faith’ 2015

The socially induced certainty that misidentifies as faith, has the potential to be every bit as destructive, as Dr Dackson alleges. Those who are taken in by this dead ringer, lose touch with reality. Their certainty leaves them unable to connect with or understand the view of others. Being deceived into believing in the integrity of their socially held views, they can see  folly, or evil only in the other.

Those without fear have no need for courage, and those who are certain have no need for faith. Real faith can only be held in uncertainty.

Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury, demonstrated many times that the understanding that faith must be held in uncertainty, frees you to understand the truth found in the views of others, even others opposed to the beliefs that you hold. And in recognising similarities between his own beliefs and the belief of the other, he was able to form bonds of understanding.

He demonstrated this in an article he wrote for the Guardian in 2004, on a dramatization of Philip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials.  Rather than being threatened by the death of The Authority, the God Figure, in this play, he was able to acknowledge that there was truth in Pullman’s critique of religion.

If the Authority is not God, why has the historic Church so often behaved as if it did indeed exist to protect a mortal and finite God? What would a church life look like that actually expressed the reality of a divine freedom enabling human freedom?

Rowan Williams A Near Miraculous Triumph 2004

He also noted something else, that was portrayed in the play. The role that power and the desire for power, has in the trampling of the rights of the individual.

Repressors and would-be liberators are equally merciless to the individual; that is why Lyra’s life is at risk from both sides.

Rowan Williams. A Near Miraculous Triumph   2004

Yet the disastrous affair of the failed Anglican Covenant shows that Rowan Williams was also Spaghetti Monstered.  He didn’t believe in a God who needed to be protected. For him Pullman’s Authority equivalent was The Anglican Church. The Anglican Covenant was an attempt to protect the unity of the Anglican Church, with enforced agreed sanctions, even though he wasn’t calling them sanctions, on those branches of the Church, that failed to conform. An attempt to protect a mortal and finite institution.

Apparently failing to understand that this agreement, which thankfully wasn’t accepted, would have handed power over to the faithless believers, they who hold their ‘truths’ in certainty.

It was particularly shameful, because he himself believed that homosexual relationships were compatible with Christian belief, and that those who were opposed to gay marriage were wrong. Yet to prevent a church schism he was willing to tell the LGBT  minority  in the Church that they must respect the views of those within the ‘family’ who held that they were disgusting.

Williams’ fall from grace was linked exactly where Pullman placed the problem – in power structures. And to hold a particular power structure together he was willing to allow the church to continue to discriminate against one group of people. In fact to insist that it happened, even in branches of the Church, where the majority wished to be fully accepting of that difference.

This call to dogma would have if it was accepted, given the strong feelings that it invoked, probably have done the very thing that it was meant to prevent. It could have created schisms, and turned what remained of the Anglican Church into just another sect. Another sect whose beliefs separated them from the society around them, but where Church Leaders would be big fish in  the small pool, thus created. A place where people could have their craving for emotional certainty fulfilled, and where they could be held together by the condemnation of the evil other.  In other words it would be a church held together, not by the love of God, and neighbour, but one held together by the power of faction.

Rowan Williams was, in the hellish position of being in a situation of authority in a church that was tearing itself apart. This reduced rump church  would have been a more comfortable church to have been leading.

Give people certainty, and an enemy to oppose, and you create a faction.  While at a conscious level this is not the kind of church Williams wished to lead, it is one that he would have been able to lead.

And in this, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ scenario the very intelligent Rowan Williams, supported the ‘Anglican Covenant,’ a document that would probably have provoked schism – as a solution to schism.  What his emotional health needed was in opposition to what his rational mind desired. And he plumped for a solution that met his emotional needs.

There are other interpretations, but I believe that Rowan Williams is not only intelligent but also honest, and that therefore he must have been deceived.

Materialist that I am I don’t think that you need to invoke a supernatural presence to explain how this happened.

Where there is a conflict between the best interests of a person, and their own beliefs about what they should do, it would be no surprise to  an evolutionist to find that there is a mechanism in existence to persuade people that they are doing one thing, when they are actually doing the very opposite.  That a particularly vicious strain of confirmation bias would be invoked, one that because it is using a persons own intelligence to deceive them, would actually be more successful in the very intelligent.  An innate deceiver.

The saying, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ is well known. In the mythology of ancient times, this was blamed on the Prince of this World, the devil.  We have discarded the mythology that enabled this belief. Fundamentalists still pay lip service to the reality of a devil, but being blinded by the very same fellow, they are unable to see his tentacles operating through their own certainty.

The old mythology of the devil, created another, on whom to blame the world’s evil.  A better response than blaming people.

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12

The old mythology didn’t tell you how to recognise someone that was in the grip of the deceiver.  The knowledge that the deceiver operates through confirmation bias, gives you a place to start when you are looking to detect it in operation.

You are looking for very simple mechanisms, underlying what may be very fluffed out and convoluted arguments.

Rowan Williams for instance  used the argument from inappropriate guilt.

But who needs the Covenant, it might be said? There’s one very short answer to that. Some bits of our Communion represent needy and isolated parts of the Christian world.  They need relationships. They need the assurance that we won’t drive them into difficult positions. They need to know that we take them seriously enough to engage in conversation with them. And that’s part of what keeps them going and what makes them strong.  It’s very interesting that some of the parts of the Communion that have already said yes to the Covenant are exactly that kind of church.

Rowan Williams Archbishop: Why the Covenant Matters 2012

We must do things the way the poor and needy want them done. Because if we don’t give the poor and needy the power of veto over us, and it is  power that is being demanded not conversation; they will think we don’t take them seriously.

Note that we would not be giving this power to the actual poor and needy, we would be giving it to those who are in leadership positions within those communities. And in the case of LGBT rights strengthening the hand of those who wish to oppress the genuinely poor and needy.

Rowan Williams provides a rationalisation, based on the argument from inappropriate guilt. Sean Carroll, in the following quote, uses a different mechanism to support his socially held belief, truth by circular argument. He defines natural as identical with real, and God as supernatural and therefore not real.  So therefore God does not exist.

 By “naturalism” we mean the simple idea that the natural world, obeying natural laws, is all there is. No supernatural realm, spirits, or ineffable dualistic essences affecting what happens in the universe. Clearly the idea is closely related to atheism (I can’t imagine anyone is both a naturalist and a theist), but the focus is on understanding how the world actually does work rather than just rejecting one set of ideas.

Sean Carroll  Moving Naturalism Forward Discover Magazine  2012

It is not lack of imagination, but rationalising from his basic premises that there is only one reality, and that God does not belong in that reality,that leads him to believe that naturalism is incompatible with theism.

Of course any theist who understood the word natural to be identical with the word real, would argue that God was natural.  This peculiar definition has nothing to say about empirical reality.

Richard Dawkins presented in ‘The God Delusion,’ an unintentionally entertaining riff, on this simple argument.  For Dawkins, because only the natural exists, any real creator, wouldn’t be supernatural, but only superhuman, and therefore couldn’t, by his definition, be God. This argument of course has nothing to say about reality, only what names you should give to different parts of it. My entertainment was compounded by the fact that he then went on to argue that he was agnostic about  this God, which by definition couldn’t exist.

The Innate Deceiver that says, ‘Yes,’ to its devotees, doesn’t appear to be a very complex adaptation.  Where you see certainty expressed, when you got through the fluff, there you  are likely to find it sitting naked and waving its noodly appendage, an argument that has only to fool the logic blinded. It gets away with it because those who agree with the deceived are unable to see any flaw in an argument that is so, to them anyway, self-evidently true. While those who see the flaw become outraged and think that the person making the argument is a truth denier.  Where the opposition are also fully certain members of the noodled brigade, then this effect is magnified.

So far I have considered the real existence of football and Santa Claus.  These have real effects on the world, only because they are held as concepts.  Free will exists independently of the concept, and in a much more limited way than the concept suggests. Our behaviour is determined by the behaviour of the elementary particles that make us.  But as at any given time we are just a particular pattern of the elementary particles that form us, if we understand the truth about what we are doing, and could if we wanted to do differently, then we are acting of our own free will.  Deceiver instincts which cut short this process, must have had, at least in the past, an average positive effect on reproductive fitness.  However the people who are affected by them, have had there free will compromised. They do not know what they are doing.

As to the existence of God, well that does really depend on how you define the term. And I am going to plump for Ultimate Reality, that which brings us into being.  And as we clearly exist that Ultimate Reality must exist.

This is a concept of God, that Richard Dawkins would of course object wasn’t God at all, just a bad metaphor; like Stephen Hawkings, ‘Mind of God.’ And while I would agree with him about Hawking’s phrase, Professor Hawking, is an atheist and is not talking about anything that could reasonably be conceived of as a mind, I don’t think that my definition qualifies as a bad metaphor.

For Sean Carroll the Ultimate Reality, appears to be ‘Elementary Particles,’ and he has a problem, because it is extremely hard to believe that they give us purposefulness and meaning.  To resolve this problem he resorts to the nonsense that is ‘magical you,’ able to create love, goodness, etc., ex nihilo.

It is extremely hard to believe that our experience of consciousness is a product of simple interacting natural forces; that we came into existence through non-purposeful processes. That we are not in fact the consequence of purposeful action, by an Ultimate Reality with a non-metaphorical mind.  So difficult that Sean Carroll’s need to believe this has triggered an innate deceiver mechanism. Richard Dawkins has solved the problem, by creating the extremely bad metaphor of the purposeful selfish gene.  However just because it is hard to believe, and that proponents of the idea have fallen prey of the noodly appendage, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. It doesn’t mean that it is true either.

Richard Dawkins made an argument in the God Delusion that is, although he didn’t realise it, an ontological argument for the existence of God.  He had meant it as an demonstration, that his atheism was rational.

He said that he was logically agnostic, because it couldn’t be proved that God does not exist, but that the existence of God was so improbable, that his existence was no more probable than the celestial teapot, or fairies at the bottom of his garden.  So his agnosticism was compatible with his de facto atheism.

Of course if he is right that there is any probability of God at all, and reality is infinite, then he has just proved that God exists.  But atheists needn’t worry because in writing, ‘The God Delusion,’ he, or probably more accurately his subconscious, took care to define God in such a way that his existence would be a logical impossibility.

The logical position on the existence of an actual, ‘Mind of God,’ is agnosticism.  We really don’t know. And while Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’ looked forward to a time when we would know for certain, the only way that will be fulfilled is if there is a Mindful God.

What there is evidence for is that any God that actually exists is not all good, and omnipotent.  A point made rather well by Bertrand Russell in the following quote.

I will say further that, if there be a purpose and if this purpose is that of an Omnipotent Creator, then that Creator, so far from being loving and kind, as we are told, must be of a degree of wickedness scarcely conceivable. A man who commits a murder is considered to be a bad man. An Omnipotent Deity, if there be one, murders everybody. A man who willingly afflicted another with cancer would be considered a fiend. But the Creator, if He exists, afflicts many thousands every year with this dreadful disease.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

The First World War army chaplain, and Anglican priest, G.A. Studdert Kennedy, argued that belief in the omnipotence of God embittered people. Reading Wendy Dackson’s post on Language, where she protests strongly against the delusional use of words like love and goodness, to describe that which Bertrand Russell described as fiendish, you can see how the notion of omnipotent (magical) God, could leave those who are unwilling to go down the path of the noodled deceiver deeply angry with God.  And also angry with those reality deniers within the Church.

We seem to instinctively believe that where there is function there is also purpose. Some of the atheists who argue most strongly against the existence of a God, are driven to locate this feeling that there is purpose where it logically cannot exist.

It is logically possible that the universe and even the multiverse are a work of purposeful creation, the act of a mindful Creator.  It is even possible that that Creator is omnipotent in the sense that he holds all the power that it is possible to have. But traditional Western theology used omnipotence to mean something different from this.  They to honour God made Him the monstrous fiend outlined by Russell, magic god, constrained only by logic. The God that is not there.

 

 

 

The Genesis of Time Travel

 

 

Doctor Who Genesis

In an alternate reality,  people believe that the Universe was bootstrapped into existence by the efforts, of  a time-traveller the Once and Future Man.

They are wrong.

Theirs and a multitude of other universes, the multiverse, were catapulted into existence, unintentionally when an experiment on mind-control across time went awry. The scientists of the original universe had discovered that while they could not transmit matter backwards across time, they could transmit ideas.

They amused themselves by leaving coded messages of their interference, in the literature and art of the past.  They knew the explanation for the smile of the Mona Lisa, and exactly how Jonathan Swift was able to prophesy that the two moons of Mars would be discovered by a non-European scientist.

Providing evidence that you have changed your own timeline is difficult; something our experimenters discovered only after their experience with La Giaconda.  They had successfully changed the famously melancholic beauty, into a lady with an enigmatic smile. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, she had always had that smile.

No reason to believe is a good reason not to believe.

They realised that if their funding was to be maintained, they were going to have to provide independent evidence, that such changes had been made.

Jonathan Swift was their first target, he was easy to find.  They managed to get incorporated within Gulliver’s Travels claims that were only discovered after Swift’s lifetime, to be scientifically and historically accurate.  This then became their modus operandi.  They had the original authors incorporate information into their texts, that could be verified by modern science, but which could not have been known at the time that the text was written.

Sometimes the changes they made, did not get transmitted across time.  They eventually discovered to their horror that these changes were associated with rips in the fabric of time and space, rips that had in some cases given rise to other universes.

Among those universes you will find the universe of the Once and Future Man, and ours. Some evidence of the activities  of the unintentional creators can be found in both  universes. For instance the Mona Lisa has her enigmatic smile, and Jonathan Swift makes his prophetic claims about the moons of Mars.

The tears in reality that brought about the genesis of these two systems, appear to be linked ironically enough to the different interferences made to the Ancient Hebrew scripture, in  Genesis Chapter 1.

In the universe of the Once and Future Man, their ancient scripture gives an account of creation, that is exactly in accord with the findings of modern science. It was this accord that led to the belief  in the Time Traveller.

One of their greatest philosophers, Bertrand Russell, expressed his faith and admiration in this man, a Man not subject to the natural force of time,  in his famous 1952 essay, “Is there a Time Lord,”  in words that are identical to those made by our Bertrand Russell.

Man in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny.  The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

This belief in the reality of time-travel was encouraged by those in the originating universe, who had long since stopped interfering with their own time-line.  But  were using the same technique to misdirect those in the secondary universes so that they did not develop the potentially disastrous ability to manipulate their past through mind-bending.

It was initially believed that the reason for the failure of transmission of the changes to Genesis 1, was that the description of reality, was too different, from the worldview of the Ancient Hebrews.

So the version that our universe obtained was less detailed, and more in accord with what had been there previously.  For instance, the creation was recorded as taking place in days rather than aeons..

The Hebrew writers of the pre-interference script, played down the importance of the sun and other heavenly bodies.  Understandably enough.  They wished to distinguish clearly, their beliefs from the ‘superstitious’  astrological beliefs of the Babylonians, who at that time held them captive. This bias remains in the Genesis account of our universe.

The mind-benders, noted that the description of the separation of land and sea that the writers of the original text had used, ‘let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear,’ had a parallel in what  modern science had discovered about the history of the earth.  There really had been a time, in fact more than one, when all the waters of the earth had been gathered together into one place, and a dry land had appeared.

This is the state the earth was in at the start of the Mesozoic- the age of dinosaurs.  Rather than trouble the ancients with an account of the monstrous beasts that roamed the earth, or the fact that the giant dry land of Pangaea was breaking up, the scientists picked on something else that clearly marked the later part of Day 3 as the Mesozoic. The flowering plants -the angiosperms, originated in that era.

The scientific name for flowering plants, angiosperms, means enclosed seeds, and it is this defining feature  that they used  as part of their efforts to provide proof that they had interfered across time. As this quote from Genesis demonstrates.   ‘And the earth brought forth….. the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself ……..And the evening and the morning were the third day.’ 

The Mesozoic ended with a massive bang, an asteroid hit the earth, and the subsequent environmental disaster, is linked to the extinction of among other things the great sea reptiles, and the dinosaurs.  The scientists seeded the recovery from this period of celestial disruption into the Genesis account as Day 4.  A sort of return to normal service, when the two great lights and the stars again appeared in the skies.  (The idea that the celestial bodies were made at this time, was a later addition, possibly but not necessarily made independently of the scientists.)

The whales originated as part of the earth’s recovery, from the asteroid linked environmental disaster. The scientists decided that these should be the defining feature of Day 5, along with the radiation of modern type birds that occurred at around the same time.

There was obviously a problem in ensuring that the animals that they labelled great sea monsters, and other living creatures, should be clearly identifiable as whales rather than fish, or the previously extinct great sea reptiles.  They did this rather neatly by portraying God as speaking directly to them, something that happens only one other time in Genesis 1, when he speaks to people.  Whales being the only sea creature that there has ever been any reason to believe might be capable of understanding language.

“And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas,”  portrays God as speaking directly to the whales, this was put directly beside his communication about birds in an attempt to emphasize the point being made, “and let fowl multiply in the earth.”

Being satisfied that they had identified Day 5 as beginning no earlier than the Eocene period, they then considered which features should be used to identify Day 6, as later in time again.

They decided that the use of the term living creature, had been established sufficiently clearly as meaning a creature with whom it is possible to communicate, so they used this phrase at the start of Day 6 to describe the hominids that we evolved from.  They also recorded the other creatures that shared the grasslands that were our ancestors home, the grasslands that came into being around 1o million years ago: the ruminants (cattle), the  4-legged predators (creeping things), with everything else included in the catch-all beasts of the earth.

Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind, and it was so.

Then the reference living creature vanishes from the list, to be replaced by man, who is given dominion over the earth.  And with this the scientists stopped their interference, convinced that they had adequately placed their, “Kilroy was here.”

They were mystified as to why these changes didn’t show up in their ancient scriptures; and it was sometime, before physicists made the link between their activities and  various rips in the fabric of space and time.

As a consequence of this discovery a new program was set up by an international commission. It was entasked  with policing their earth’s timeline to make sure no more interference was caused; and also to make sure that  scientists in those universes that had come into being as an accidental artefact, did not acquire the knowledge necessary for time interference.

Efforts were made to ensure that those of us living in the secondary universes, did not come to an understanding of what consciousness is. As it was this knowledge that had made the across time mind-bending experiments possible.

They didn’t actually implant the belief, held by many scientists in our world that the purpose of science is to oppose religion, but it was one that they encouraged the development of. Regarding it as something useful to distract those who might otherwise have directed their talents to finding out what was really going on.

Sometimes, just sometimes the interferers sense of humour gets the better of them, and you will find their in-jokes incorporated into our universe.

One such joke was recorded as part of a report by Massimo Pigliucci  on a naturalism (the view that everything that is, is part of one reality) workshop held in 2012.

During the roundtable introductions, Dawkins (as well as the rest of us) was asked what he would be willing to change his mind about; he said he couldn’t conceive of a sensible alternative to naturalism. Rosenberg, interestingly, brought up the (hypothetical) example of finding God’s signature in a DNA molecule (just like Craig Venter has actually done). Dawkins admitted that that would do it, though immediately raised the more likely possibility that that would be a practical joke played by a superhuman — but not supernatural — intelligence.

Massimo Pigliucci From the Naturalism Workshop Part 1 2012

Richard Dawkins is actually making a sensible, if rather tautological point, when he says that any outside being interfering with our earth would not be supernatural.  Once you define the natural realm as meaning all that is, then by definition, any existent being must be a natural entity.  The joke lies in the fact that he treats superhuman , rather than natural, as the opposite of supernatural.  Our accidental creators are vastly entertained at the notion of themselves as superhuman intelligences.

The notion that they might have left their, ‘Kilroy was here,’ on DNA is a useful distraction, from the reality of where they did leave it.  They know from experience that the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures, are a much better place to acquire literary immortality, than  mutation and transposon vulnerable DNA.

Of course their real purpose in intervening in this conference was to distract these serious minds away from the problem described vividly, if rather histrionically, by the philosopher Jerry Fodor, in the following quote, the problem of consciousness.

“If it isn’t literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying… if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”

Jerry Fodor as quoted by Sean Carroll in Downward Causation 2011

What is the relation, between feeling thinking and doing. How do you get a machine, albeit a biological one to experience pain, itching etc.  And if thinking is in anyway causal, how is it done. How we experience the world feels vastly different from the mechanistic explanations that science is delivering. It isn’t enough to say that our experiences are an emergent property, a sort of lusus naturae.  As Jonathan Swift pointed out in Gulliver’s travels, this kind of explanation, is just as much an attempt to deny ignorance, as were the occult explanations of earlier times.

After much Debate, they concluded unanimously that I was only Relplum Scalcath, which is interpreted literally, Lusus Naturae, a Determination exactly agreeable to the modern philosophy of Europe, whose Professors, disdaining the old Evasion of Occult Causes, whereby the followers of Aristotle endeavoured in vain to disguise their Ignorance, have invented this wonderful solution of All Difficulties, to the unspeakable Advancement of human Knowledge.

Jonathan Swift  Gulliver’s Travels 1726

(Jonathan Swift had that which a more gentle satirical novelist, Terry Pratchett, described as the gift of first sight, the ability to see what is really there.  It will not surprise you to learn that the scurrilous attacks upon him by intelligent people such as George Orwell, were the result of our accidental creators efforts to discredit him and what were for their purposes anyway his dangerous ideas.)

The fact that these serious scientists and philosophers are using the argument, Relplum Scalcath, is not unfunny. Our accidental creators do like their little joke. George Orwell accused Jonathan Swift of what can only be described as having the gift of prophecy. But it  really is no secret as to   how come  Swift writing in the early 18th century, could have described so accurately the behaviour of 21st Century scientists. The alternate universe civil servants, are manipulating the scientists behaviour to match that described by Swift.

So focused have they caused  our philosophers and scientists to be on the notion that the purpose of science is to oppose religion, that they are terrified to admit their ignorance in case a supernatural being might be tempted to crawl into the gap.

Not every scientist at the Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop had been implanted with the idea that consciousness was an emergent feature. The  civil-servant who was tasked with minding biologist, Jerry Coyne, has the kind of sense of humour that almost lost him his job.  He has managed to convince the man, who blogs at. ‘Why Evolution is True,’ that the fact that we are subject to the laws of physics, proves something, that if it were true, would be a bigger threat to Darwin’s theory of evolution, than any number of fluffy bunnies hopping around in the Pre-Cambrian Era.

Jerry Coyne believes that as we are collections of atoms whose behaviour is completely determined by the laws of nature, that consciousness has no role to play in decision making.

He quotes the results of experiments done by Benjamin Libet in the 1980’s, which showed that actions that we would normally think of as volitional, had been initiated, before the conscious mind was aware of them, as evidence that consciousness plays no part in our decision making.

To understand why Coyne’s interpretation of these results causes a problem, for Darwinian’s consider the following  hypothetical scenario.

A man is wired up for a brain scan, and then kicked in the groin.  The evidence shows that his hands had moved to protect his testicles, before he was consciously aware that he had been hit, and before he had experienced pain.

This if it were true, would be absolutely consistent with the response being an adaptation, operating, more quickly than conscious processes, to maintain something extremely important in evolution by natural selection, reproductive fitness. One up for Darwin.

But Professor Coyne’s hypothesis is that even in the long-term,  consciousness is not the kind of thing that can have any effect on the physical universe, and therefore that any subsequent actions  that the man took towards his assailant, could not be affected by his conscious experience of pain. And if this is the case it therefore follows logically, although obviously not to Jerry Coyne, that pain and all  other complex conscious effects can not be the product of evolution by natural selection.  Evolution can only select for features that have a material effect on the world.

In standing firm against the notion that consciousness can have an effect on the physical universe, Coyne believes that he is taking a stance against religious superstition.

In reality he has thrown open the front doors and laid down the red carpet for creationists and the intelligent design brigade.

A complex non-adaptive feature or better still range of features, is just the kind of thing that intelligent – designers are looking for.  Although fortunately for Jerry’s guardian civil servant, the kind of god who would inflict pointless confabulations and  purposeless pain on his creation, is  not the one whose existence they  are trying to prove.  So they are not likely to alert his charge to the problem.

It was an incident that took place at the naturalism workshop that almost caused the alternate universe joker to lose his job.

….We all agreed that dualism (often called “nonphysical libertarian free will”) is dead, and that our decisions are determined largely before we become conscious of “making” them.  Surprisingly, Steve Weinberg was the one person who seemed to disagree with this, saying that his consciousness had a “role” in making his decision. I claim that consciousness of making a decision may be merely a phenomenon that follows a decision made unconsciously, and, indeed, may have evolved just for that purpose. That is, confabulating may be an adaptation.

Jerry Coyne Moving Naturalism Forward :My Summary 2012

Coyne’s surprise that someone, whose wisdom he respects as much as he does physicist Steve Weinberg’s, believed that consciousness had physical effects might have led him to, question his own views, if the civil servant had not taken emergency action, and implanted the confabulating notion.  But even then if he had not been further distracted by the free-will problem, he might have had time to realise that evolution is only going to select for deceptive systems that do have an effect on the material realm.

It was the real problem of pain, “How do you get something that is basically a moist machine, to experience pain, and react to it?” that led the scientists of the original universe to the discovery that they are trying to prevent our scientists from making – the  nature of consciousness.

Jerry Coyne is not the only thinker in our universe whose thought processes  have been manipulated.  It was their idea to initiate the belief in our universe that the real problem of pain was, ‘Why does God allow?’

They also, within our universe, corrupted the thinking of René  Descartes. The ‘evil genius, ‘ that he mentions as deceiving him, is yet again an example of the interferers bigging themselves up.

In the original universe, Descartes most famous quote was a response to the death of his much loved young daughter, ‘I am in pain therefore I am.’ In our universe this courageous life affirming statement, embracing the reality that our nature is to be a feeling animal, has been deleted, and replaced with the insipid, ‘I think therefore I am.’ And the claim that to be human is to be a rational animal.

Jerry Coyne has clearly fallen hook line and sinker for the myth that he is a rational animal. More so than Descartes, who first had to convince himself that he was not deluded before he could accept that he existed as an agent, an I, who could trust his own rationality.

Jerry Coyne, thinks that he is deluded and that he has no agency, and yet at the same time he believes he can trust his own rationality.  Immoral as it may seem, I feel a strong urge to high five his guardian deceiver, on a job well done.  Especially after reading this.

The illusion of agency is so powerful that even strong incompatibilists like myself will always act as if we had choices, even though we know that we don’t. We have no choice in this matter. But we can at least ponder why evolution might have bequeathed us such a powerful illusion.

Jerry Coyne What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement 2014

Notice what we are being asked to ponder.  If he had asked the question, ‘How has evolution bequeathed us such a powerful illusion?’ he might have been directed towards the realisation that evolution can only act on those things that make a material difference to the universe.

He is however right that he doesn’t have free will. Not because consciousness doesn’t have an effect on the physical, but because he is the victim of a deception.

 

Postscript:

I don’t know how the correlations between Genesis 1  and the  scientific account of the order in which modern life on earth arose. But they are there.

I agree with Jerry Coyne, that he does not have free will, but not because consciousness doesn’t have real effects on the world.  For humans to have freedom, they have to have the truth.  Jerry Coyne’s ability to recognise truth shows signs of having been suborned by a deceiver. I think the theory of evolution can explain how an innate deceiver could have been selected for. Therefore even though I don’t know how consciousness works, I think it is rational to assume that the innate deceiver, something that works using confirmation bias, is not an occult entity, or an external agent from another reality.

We are social animals, who very frequently bond on shared ideas.  Holding views vastly different from those in ones social group is likely to make social bonding more difficult, and on average thereby decrease our reproductive fitness.

In an environment where those who hold different views are demonised, being seen as a staunch upholder of the correct view, is likely to increase social status, and especially for the male of the species, at least in primitive societies, their reproductive fitness.   It should be no surprise in these conditions to find adaptations in existence, that serve to disguise from those who have a chance to gain high status within their communities, the flaws in their logic.

And it is my hypothesis that it is these deceiver instincts that served to derail the thinking of both René  Descartes and Jerry Coyne. Although obviously I can’t rule out evil geniuses, or alternate universe civil servants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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