Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The 6,000 years prophecy

Glenn Morton has on his web-site an article Early Church Fathers on Genesis by John Tobin. The point in this article is that not all the early church fathers didn't believe in a six days creation and a young earth. The article does not deny that some of the ECFs believed in a six times 24 hours creation.

Interestingly, a YEC website,, has an article named The Early Church Fathers Believed in A Young Earth & Recent Creation, which claims that Origen is the only ECF that maybe interpreted the days of creation as anything but 24 hours days.

And the article begins with a quote from The Epistle of Barnabas:

The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation: "And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it." Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished in six days." This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, "Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years." Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished.

The article supplies a few more quotes of similar content.

So, not only did some of the ECFs believe in a literal six days creation, some of them also believed that everything would be finished in 6,000 years; that is, the end of the world would come 6,000 years after the start of the creation.

This is even clearer in a quote given a few paragraphs later. In Against Heresies, Book 5, Irenaeus writes:

For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: "Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works." This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.

So, origins may for YECs simply be a part of eschatology, and that might explain why it is so important for them that the earth not be much older than 6,000 years old. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Gerald Aardsma, who formerly worked with ICR, had to leave, because he accepted to push the upper limit to 12,000 years, so it's not just a question of Genesis 1; there is clearly more at stake.

And that more might well be that the real question for the YECs is not, how long the earth has existed, but how long it will continue to exist.

However, is this idea supported by the Bible? The Bible does operate with longer cycles that are based on shorter cycles, such as the sabbathical cycle of seven years, a week of years, based on the seven days week, and the jubilar cycle, fourtynine years made up of seven sabbathical cycles. But these are cycles, something repeating itself, not something with a final ending. So, this particular YEC idea of the earth lasting for as many thousand years as the creation in Genesis 1 spanned days would seem not to be supported by the Bible.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dembski's Law of Conservation of Information

William Dembski provides on p. 8 of the online paper The Conservation of Information- Measuring the Cost of Successful search a definition of his Law of Conservation of Information in the form of a theorem.

However, just to warm us up, we'll do some preliminary definitions first.

Let A and B be two events with probibilty p of A to occur and probability q of B to occur.

The (self-)information or surprisal value of A is defined as

I(A) = − log2 p

The added information of B to A is defined as

I+(A : B) = I(A) − I(B) = − log2 p + log2 q = log2 q/p.

Two immediate consequences of the latter definition is

I+(A : A) = − log2 p + log2 p = 0; and

I+(A : B) = log2 q/p ≤ log2 1/p = − log2 p = I(A).

The last line implies that the added information of B to A cannot exceed the information of A alone.

What should here be understood is that the information of A is exactly a measure of the surprise of the occurence of A, the smaller the probability, the larger the surprise. Assume you live somewhere, where the probability of rain on any one day is 90%, and the always reliable weather forecast says that it will rain the next day. The weather forecast doesn't really give you much information, since you would anyway expect it to rain, so not much surprise in that case. If instead the weather forecast had said that it would be a clear and sunny day the next day, that would have given you more information, since it would be contrary to expectation, therefore a greater surprise.

What the definition of added information says is basically that you know, what you know, and the more you know, the less will there be to learn.

Dembski's motivation for introducing added information (cf. p. 3) is as follows. During a search, the more samples are taken, the higher will be the probability of a success; but a higher probability corresponds with a lower self-information value, and our intuition says that the more samples taken, the more information generated.

A more efficient search will generate more information per sample; but the problem then is, how to figure out which search is more efficient than a random search, which Dembski uses as the base search strategy.

We can now give Dembski's definition of the Law of Conservation of Information:

Theorem (Conservation of Information). Suppose S and T are searches over a given search space, S being a random search with probability p success in a single query and T being a nonrandom search with probability 1 of success in a single query. Suppose further that U and V are searches over the space of searches in which S and T reside so that U on average locates a search of the original space that with probability no more than p successfully searches the original space and that T with probability 1 locates a search of the original space what with probability 1 successfully searches the original space. Then the information that V adds to U is at least as great as the information that T adds to S, i.e.,

I+(U : V) ≥ I+(S : T).

Moreover, by a suitable choice of U, this inequality becomes an equality.

Here U and V are meta-searches; that is, searches for searches. What the theorem therefore says is that is requires at least as much information to figure out how to do a search as to actually do the search itself.

As an illustration, Dembski uses a search for a treasure on an island (cf. p. 6). It may be prohibitive to do a random search for the treasure; but you have a treasure map, so no problem. However, where did you get the treasure map from? You first needed to do a search for that from among all treasure maps. This may have been an even more involved search, which leads to an infinite regress.

In short, information comes at a price, and that price is at least the same amount of information.

Dembski writes p. 9:

According to Douglas Robertson (1999), the defining feature of intelligence is its ability to create information. Yet, if an act of intelligence created the information, where did this intelligence come from? Was information in turn required to create it? Very quickly this line of questioning pushes one to an ultimate intelligence that creates all information and yet is created by none (see Dembski 2004: ch. 19, titled “Information ex Nihilo”).

Here 'Douglas Robertson (1999)' refers to an article "Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will, and the Turing Test" by Douglas Robertson, and 'Dembski 2004' refers to Dembski's own book The Design Revolution.

The point being that intelligence creates information, which means that intelligence applies some search strategy, and from where does intelligence know about that search strategy? This knowledge is itself information, so there must be an ultimate intelligence.

If not, then, Dembski continues:

On the other hand, if the information is the mechanical outworking of preexisting information, the Conservation of Information Theorem suggests that this preexisting information was at least as great in the past as it is now (this being the information that allows the present search to be successful). But then how do we make sense of the fact (if it is a fact) that the information in the universe was less in the past than it is now? Indeed, our present universe, with everything from star systems to living forms, seems far more information-rich than the universe at the moment of the Big Bang.

The obvious question here is, how do we measure information? If there is more information in the universe today than at the moment of the Big Bang, assuming that to have happened, then we should be able to figure out, what happened all the way back to the Big Bang. The current universe certainly may exhibit more variation than the very early universe; that is, there are more different things to know something about, but is that more information?

All in all, Dembski's main point is that human intelligence might have another source than evolution, which he considers to be a search strategy. Since evolution to produce intelligence must itself have been even more intelligent or guided by something even more intelligent, evolution cannot be a random search. And if evolution is a random search, it cannot have produced intelligence, which must therefore have another source. He does not write this directly; but it's what he is hinting at.

Now, as for Dembski's Law of Conservation of Information, it ignores that we don't always start out with finding an optimal search strategy. Occasional search strategies are made up along the way based on experience. Modern dictionaries are alphabetically ordered, which makes it simple to use relatively efficient searches based on the spelling of a word; in antiquity it was more common to order words by decreasing importance, such that those that corresponded to a more important concept were at the top. However, in antiquity, scrolls were used, so this ordering simply meant that you typically only needed to unscroll a small segment of the scroll. With a book, you can open it anywhere at the same cost. In that way ordering of information and search strategies depend on technology. We simply don't start out with determining the optimal search strategy and then turn everything else around after that.

So, Dembski's theorem may be correct mathematically seen, but he may have wasted his time searching for the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Decomposing specified complexity

In the paper Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence (2005), William Dembski has provided his as of this writing latest definition of specified complexity. My purpose with this post is to clarify, what Dembski means by this concept as it is explained in that paper. Of course, my exposition is a personal interpretation, and it may possibly be far from, what William Dembski intended.

The definition of contextdependent specified complexity of a pattern T given a (chance) hypothesis H is given in section 7, "Specified Complexity", p. 21 as:

χ = –log2[M·N·φS (TP(T| H)].

We won't worry about the contextindependent version, in which M·N is replaced by 10120.

Let T be some observed event, such as the poker hand Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suite, also known as a Royal Flush. 

The hypothesis H here could be the assumption that the deck of cards was thoroughly shuffled, such that each particular position in the deck could be assigned a probability of 1/52 of holding any particular card, and that each partucular position in the deck with the first card removed could be assigned a probability 1/51 of holding any particular of the remaining 51 cards, and so on.

Subject to H, the probability of being dealt Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace in that order of a specific suite is 1/52·1/51·1/50·/49·1/48, or around 1/3·10-8. Since there are four suites, we multiply by four, and since the order of the cards makes no difference, we additionally multiply by 5! = 120 to get a probabilty of around 1.6·10-6, somewhat higher than one in a million.

That is, in the case at hand, P(T| H) = 1.6·10-6, or at least very close to that value.

If there are M = 20 groups of people playing poker, and each group has played N = 10 games, the probability of at least one Royal Flush having been dealt in the first round of a game is therefore M·N·P(T | H) = 3.2·10-4. That is, M is the number of independent observers, and N is the numbers of times that each observer checks for an event.

Now, say that a hand with Deuce and Five of Hearts, Nine of Spades, King of Diamonds, and Six of Spades had been dealt. The probability of this is actually lower than the probability of a Royal Flush; but even if such a hand had been dealt, no-one would have noticed, since it's not really any remarable poker hand, although it has a lower probability. If any cheating is going on, we would not expect any increase in the occurence hands like that, but rather in the high value hands, such as Royal Flush and Four Aces.

This leads us to the term φS(T), the specificational resources associated by S with T. The subscript S denotes a semiotic agent, which is simply anyone/anything that can communicate using some symbolic language. An event such as our T must conform to some pattern P for S to be able to communicate its occurence, and such a pattern can be described using a string of symbols such as "Royal Flush", "Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suite", or "Ten to Ace of the same suite". The descriptive complexity or semiotic cost φ'S(P) of a pattern P is the number of symbols used in the shortest description of P available to S. Conceptually, we can think of it as that S has a dictionary of descriptions relevant to the subject area beginning with descriptions of length one, continuing with descriptions of length two, and so on, and S goes through this dictionary until a matching description of P is found. Assuming S has found a description for P, yet continues to go through the dictionary to the last entry of the same length, the number of descriptions checked is the number of all descriptions with a length shorter or equal to the length of the shortest description of P.

The formal definition of φS(T) can be found in section 6, "Specificity", p. 17:

φS(T) = the number of patterns for which S’s semiotic description of them is at least as simple as S’s semiotic description of T.

So, it's not actually the number of descriptions available, but the number of patterns, whose shortest description is shorter than or of the same length as the shortest description of T, or, put differently, whose descriptive complexity is at most the same as the descriptive complexity of T.

That is, the patterns Four Aces and Royal Flush have the same specificational resources, and the pattern Poker Hand has the same specificational resources; but these three patterns have different probabilities subject to the hypothesis H.

What is the point in the specificational resources? Dembski's claim is that a simple pattern, that is a pattern with a short description, is a stronger indicator for design than is a complex pattern. The 'complexity' in 'specified complexity' refers primarily to low probability of an event to occur by chance (what Dembski calls 'statistically complex'). A pattern such as Poker Hand is as simple as Royal Flush, but, of course, any poker hand is a Poker Hand, so simplicity of the pattern is not sufficient to say that we have a case of design. A pattern such as Deuce and Five of Hearts, Nine of Spades, King of Diamonds, and Six of Spades has a very low probability to occur; but it's nor really a pattern we are concerned about, if by 'design' we mean 'cheating', although someone might claim that it's not every day you see exactly this poker hand. It's the combination of a simple pattern and a low probability that should arise our suspecion, according to Dembski.

Why the subscript S? Because dufferent observers may not have the same descriptions at disposition; for instance, a person unfamiliar with poker might not know, what a "Royal Flush" is, and not know that it has special significance within the game. Therefore, specified complexity is a subjective measure.

If we look at the product φS(TP(T | H), then it is an upper bound on the probability of S to observe an event that is at most as descriptive complex as T and has at most the same probability (cf. p. 18).

In short, the whole product M·N·φS(TP(T | H) is an upper bound to the probability subject to H that at least one of M independent observers during one of N observations will report to the semiotic agent S at least one event that is at most as descriptive complex as T and has at most the same probability.

Converting to binary logarithm reverses the scale and turns the product into a number of bits. If M·N·φS(TP(T | H) < 1/2, then χ > 1. That is, if χ > 1, it can be considered more reasonable to conclude design than to conclude chance.

Where's the problem, if anywhere?

First off, to make specified complexity of any use in a given situation, it is necessary to know the value of P(T | H). We don't always do that, nor necessarily do we have much of a way to estimate the value.

Second, as many critics, for instance Elliott Sober, have pointed out: this one-sided approach is not actually used in design detection. There is always an implicit assumption about the capabilities of a designer, and those capabilities are assumed to be the same as those of humans. Especially in criminal cases, also a motive is required for a design conclusion, and again, what can count as a motive depends on assumptions about the designer.

Third, we are dealing with a moving target: what counts as 'design' varies from context to context. If someone writes a book, that's design, and if someone else later writes a book taht is suspeciously similar to the first book, it may be a case of plagiarizing. We here have two designed objects, no matter what; yet, Dembski wants design here to mean that the second author plagiarized the book of the first author.

Is specified complexity information?

Dembski doesn't anywhere in the Specification paper claim that specified complexity is information – though he has on pp. 11-12 a discussion about Fisher's eliminative approach and algorithmic information theory, also known a Kolmogorov-Chaitin information theory, or simply K-C information theory.

For any event E with probability p, the value I(E) = -log2(p) can be considered information, by Claude Shannon called the self-information. Not really something much used by Shannon, who instead used the average value of the selfinformation called entropy.

Dembski, however, frequently uses the self-information, so we'll do it here as well.

Now, if M·N·φS(TP(T | H) < 1/2, then P(T | H) < 1/[2·M·N·φS(T)], and therefore

(EQ1) I(T | H) > log2(M) + log2(N) + log2(φS (T)) + 1.

Let's use a slightly different way than Dembski's to present part of, what he writes pp. 11-12.

A fundamental result in algorithmic information theory is that for any natural number N there exist bit strings of length N that cannot be compressed to a string of length d < N by the same compression algorithm. We can formulate this as

Theorem 1: For any natural number N and any compression algorithm P there exists a string S of length N such that |P(S)| ≥ N.

Proof: For any natural number d the number of strings of length exactly d is 2d. The number of strings of length at most d is then

Σ0≤id 2i = 20 + 21 + … + 2d = 1 + 2 + … + 2d = 2d+1 − 1 < 2d+1

If d < N, then 2d+1 − 1 < 2N, the number of strings of length N. There are therefore more strings of length N than strings of length less than N. It is therefore not possible for P to map every string of length N to a string of length less than N.

In EQ1 there is a clear similarity between the term log2(φS(T)) + 1 and log2(2d+1) = d + 1 in the above.

As mentioned, the product φS(TP(T | H) is an upper bound on the probability of S to observe an event that is at most as descriptive complex as T and has at most the same probability, or, to add some confusion, at most as descriptive complex as T and at least as stastically complex. Let U be any such event. Then we have that

(EQ2) I(U | H) ≥ I(T | H) > log2(M) + log2(N) + log2(φS(T)) + 1 ≥ log2(M) + log2(N) + log2(φS(U)) + 1.

To give an intuition for, what this means, consider a communication system with M senders that each sends N messages to a receiver S that in turn uses some compression algorithm φS to compress all received messages. Let T be some message and assume S to know the probability of receiving any particular message – just as in Shannon's model. Then S discards all messages with a higher probability than T and all messages whose compressed version is longer than the compressed version of T. If any message is kept, it will have a specified complexity at least the same as T.

That is, if any message U is kept, and it satisfies I(U | H) > log2(M) + log2(N) + log2(φS(U)) + 1, then a design inference should be triggered; that message is not generated by chance.

While it may be debatable, whether specified complexity itself can be considered a kind of information, information theoretical concepts do enter into it.

Can specified complexity increase?

Assume M people during N rounds toss a coin 100 times and after each round send a message with the resulting sequence to S, who in turn measures the specified complexity of each sequence. Have we any particular reason to assume any increase in specified complexity over time? Not really, since each round simply starts out the same place as the first round.

Now assume instead that after each round, those K people, 0 ≤ K M, that scored the highest specified complexity copy their sequence to the next round. If K = 0 we have the same as above, and if K = M, nothing new will come up in the remaining rounds, so we assume 0 < K < M; that is in each round after the first, some people will recast their sequence, and some people will retain their sequence. Then, obviously, we can expect the maximum amount of specified complexity to increase.

This isn't much of a model of evolution, of course, but it does illustrate that natural selection with some variation to work with can increase specified complexity, as long as there is neither complete randomization nor complete stasis.

Sure, it can be said that S as the selector infuses intelligence into the game; but S does not employ any particular purpose or anything, only the per round selection of the sequences with the highest specified complexity.

See also: Dembski vs. Hume

Friday, November 24, 2006

By request: Review of a Chick Tract

An anonymous commenter to my review of Mere Christianity suggested that reviewing a Chick Tract would be more my level. Not the one to disappoint an honest request, I googled 'Chick Tract', and the first link was to the website of Chick Publications owned by Jack T. Chick.

As the name suggests, Chick Publications is a publishing company; that is, it sells books. However, there were some smaller articles online, and I decided to take one of those out for a ride.

The chosen article is: New Definition of Science? by Thomas Heinze from November/December 2005.

Heinze's first paragraph sums up, what it's about like this:

"Evolution is science, so the schools must teach it. Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) are religion, so they must not be taught!" We have been hearing this kind of rubbish a lot more since President Bush said he thinks intelligent design should be taught in public schools in addition to evolution so the students can understand what the debate is all about.

Should ID be taught in school? I am not a US citizen, so I am not too concerned about school education in the USA; but the question is relevant enough still. I wouldn't mind that ID be taught in higher grades in primary school and in high school. The question would of course be, what exactly should be taught? The problem here is that ID has become connected with origins. Everybody knows that until the Wright brothers actually managed to get a flying machine into the air, scientists had 'proved' the impossibility of such an enterprise. And everybody knows that according to 19th century aerodynamic theories, bumblebees were unable to fly; except that the bumblebees didn't know about any such theories, so they flew anyway.

Indeed, teaching ID in school might require a new definition of science. As of today, a scientific theory is a human convention; it isn't true or false, but usable or unusable. Using a formal proof to prove that the bacterial flagellum cannot evolve is about as exciting as a formal proof/disproof of the existence of God; that is, it can have some academic interest – but it just isn't science.

Heinze continues:

Mark Bergin in World Magazine lists some of the criticisms: "The Philadelphia Daily News said widespread acceptance of ID could undermine the scientific method. The Washington Post suggested that the president was 'indulging quackery' for political gain. The Los Angeles Times called the comments 'one more example of the extreme right's attempt to create a Taliban-like society." (Mark Bergin, Mad scientists, World Magazine, 8/05,) Evolutionists, who say that Bush wants religion and what they want is science, use a special definition of science that eliminates creation: "Science is the search for natural solutions." Creation by an intelligent Designer is a supernatural rather than a natural solution. By this contrived definition, to be "scientific," you have to be an atheist.

As indicated above, ID could undermine the scientific method, leading away from a science based on observations to a more formal type of science. And as for the "Taliban-like society", while the Discovery Institute denies any connection with Christian Reconstructionism, the occasional hostile anti-Darwinism does indicate some connection. Also the main funder of the Center for Science and Culture is Howard Ahmanson, who is known for Reconstructionist sympathies.

As for the definition of science reported by Heinze, "[s]cience is the search for natural solutions", what else would Heinze suggest? Science is supposed to support technology, that is human interaction with nature (when we talk about natural science, which isn't all science; though you are advised to not tell a natural scientist that ;-)), including prediction of natural events. If vulcanic eruptions are symptoms of the anger of some god, we of course need not worry about science; but not even IDists believe that. Where do we draw the limit? Science is the search for natural solutions, though maybe not everything has a natural solution. But if we do not first search for natural solutions, but give up and ask God to solve our problems, how do we then know that we wouldn't have found a natural solution around the next corner? And what does that have to do with being an atheist? Do theists explain everything as an act of God? If not, where do they draw the limit? Where that limit might be is not a scientific question, because it is a limit to science, assuming that science is the search for a natural solution. So, no, you don't have to be an atheist to be scientific, you only have to know that certain questions are within the scope of science and others are not.

Back to Heinze:

Consider this: The heads of some of America's most famous presidents have been carved from solid rock at Mount Rushmore. If a visiting evolutionist science professor applied the "search for natural solutions definition to these heads, he would have to conclude that they were formed by something natural like weathering and erosion rather than by intelligent design. If he suggested this, he would be laughed out of the classroom.

In this case we happen to know that the heads were carved by humans, so we have a good case for design. Anyway, did the humans that carved the faces use magic or anything like that? I suppose they used chisels and hammers; nothing supernatural. These humans knew something about rocks, such as what kind of tools would be needed to work with the rock. This is perfectly fine natural science supporting technology, that is human interaction with nature. Assuming that only a supernatural being could have achieved something such wouldn't have been all that helpful, would it?

Back to Heinze:

But he does not hesitate to teach his students that the heads of the real presidents who inspired the statues evolved by accident through the blind forces of nature. Is he right when he claims that the real heads of real presidents had no designer? No! Stone cold, dead wrong!

Well, we here happen to have strong indications that the physical traits of humans depend on those of their parents, since they are inheritable. That is, we have a working natural explanation, and no supernatural one is warranted.

But Heinze continues:

The Rushmore heads only show design on the carved surface. The real heads show incredible design all the way down to the atoms. Human heads are made of billions of cells. Inside each cell, wonderful little machines do much of the work of the cell. Every machine known to mankind had an intelligent designer, but these cell machines are so precise and efficient that manmade machines are crude by comparison. Scientists are studying them, hoping to copy them. For example, a miniature motor that spins at 100,000 RPM with almost perfect efficiency is found in some single celled animals that evolutionists consider "primitive." This is just one of the many kinds of molecular motors and other molecular machines found even in "simple" cells. Moreover, the cell's machines are made of some of the most complex and difficult to produce chemicals in the world, such as protein and RNA. These materials never occur in nature except when made by living cells. Yet, evolutionists claim that lucky accidents brought the parts together and assembled them.

Now, we are moving a bit too fast here, aren't we? It isn't in particular evolutionists that consider single celled organisms to be "primitive", actually IDists and creationists are more into that kind of name calling, since they have more of a vested interest in the impossibility of evolution. Actually, the complexity of single celled organisms support evolution in the sense, that if a single celled organism could evolve, the evolution of humans from simian ancestors is no problem at all in comparison.

That "[t]hese materials never occur in nature except when made by living cells" has a natural explanation: the components react with oxygen, and since 21% of the earth's atmosphere is made up of oxygen, proteins and DNA do not occur outside of special environments. Some single organisms even today do not tolerate much oxygen, whereas most other organisms actually require oxygen, and plants produce oxygen from carbon dioxide as a by-product of photosynthesis, while animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

It is true that abiogenesis – the origin of life from non-life – is far from understood today; but unfortunately, we cannot speculate us to everything from the comfort of an armchair. IDists appear to think that we should; but unfortunately, science progresses mostly through a lot of wrong guesses, and the occasional right guess. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." This quote was picked up from Mike Dunford's post Peer Review at The Questionable Authority. – thanks Mike :-).

The promise of ID to deliver a more rapid turn-around for scientific discoveries is questionable; after all, the scientific output of the ID community is this far rather meagre; see e.g. the above linked post by Mike Dunford.

That "evolutionists claim that lucky accidents brought the parts together and assembled them" is made out of pure straw. Evolution can occur everywhere within an organism; the function of a component such as what now is a flagellum can have evolved, and each part can have its own evolutionary history; maybe Heinze shouldn't rely so much on IDists' misrepresentations of evolutionary theory?

But since Heinze has his inspiration from the IDists, he continues completely off track:

Why would they even consider such a dumb idea? Because their definition of science makes intelligent design "unscientific".

As indicated above, evolutionists do not consider such a dumb idea, so there's really no point in Heinze's "Because ..."

Which makes Heinze's following paragraph pathetic:

Hiding the evidence for intelligent design from our students is a horrible, despicable crime against them. How many students would believe in evolution today if the evidence that God was the Designer and Creator had not been hidden from them?

Counter-question: how many students would believe in creation/ID today if a more thorough understanding of science, including evolutionary thery, had been provided by schools? The main problem with ID is that its proponents exploit that people don't know all that much about, how science works. Maybe scientists should do more out of informing the general public about, how science works? This would certainly give the IDists a harder time; they would have to leave their comfortable armchairs and not only to travel around repeating the same old stuff that has been debunked so many times over and over again. The public deserves better than what the IDists have to offer.

Heinze ends with these words:

You can get more information to help students and teachers find the truth in The Vanishing Proofs of Evolution, In the Beginning Soup? and How Life Began published by Chick Publications.

Since Heinze went completely off track a few paragraphs ago, I'd suspect that these Tracts are just leading even further into the wilderness of misconceptions.

In short, if you need to laugh or cry, reading a Chick Tract might be the way to go; otherwise, just stay away from them.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review of C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

Quotes are taken from C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, Fount 1997 (first edition: Geoffrey Bles, 1952).

Having read much acclamation of C.S. Lewis on Internet sites, I decided last year to read some of his books, and I started with The Abolition of Man from 1943 and was actually rather disappointed. To me it was fairly standard conservative propaganda, and I actually gave up finishing reading the book. It was too predictive – not exactly uniteresting, only too predictive. It should be noted that I had just finished writing a paper on a Danish conservative pastor and politician, and there were simply too many similarities for comfort.

Now I have picked up Mere Christianity, which is based on three radio program series from 1942-44 - that is from pretty much the same time as The Abolition of Man. While it is mostly more of the same, Mere Christianity does have a few advantages in that it has a more concrete topic.

According to the Preface, the book explains the common base of Christianity – therefore the title. Lewis had it reviewed by four clergymen, an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic. In general it was accepted by all four, though the Methodist thought Lewis had said too little about Faith, and the Roman Catholic thought that he had gone to far about the unimportance of theories in explaining Atonement. That is, the book should give a reasonable impression of the common base of standard British Christianity in the 1940s.

As mentioned, Mere Christianity is based on radio programs, so it is addressed to 'ordinary' people, it's not a philosophical treatise, and I am aware that therefore it should not be read as if it were a philosophical treatise. Also it was written during the WW II, and that war is clearly present as a shadow behind the book – in its beginning question whether there really is a difference between good and evil. If there is not, how can we then condemn Nazism?

The book Mere Christianity actually consists of four books:

  1. Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe;

  2. What Christians believe;

  3. Christian Behaviour; and

  4. Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Book 1: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

Here Lewis introduces two different meanings of 'natural law'. The first meaning refers to, what today is usually understood by a natural law: a law such as the law of gravity that is obeyed without volition. If you hold a stone in your hand and let it go, it will fall to the ground – the stone cannot 'choose' whether it will fall or not. The second meaning refers to the idea that most humans recognize certain rules for conduct, rules that at least in earlier times were considered so self-evident that they could be considered an unwritten natural law with the same force as written laws. While the human body is subject to the natural laws – such as the law of gravity – according to the first meaning, it is human behavior that is subject to the second meaning of natural law, and we can choose to obey that law or not in the sense that we do not necessarily follow it.

According to Lewis, this natural law – in the second meaning as a moral law – is not an instinctive behavior, because it is used to arbitrate between instinctive impulses (cf. pp. 8-10) and it can therefore not be one of those impulses itself.

It is this moral law that enables us to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. That is, according to Lewis, moral relativism is factually wrong.

More importantly, the moral laws, since they do not describe actual human behavior, are not derivable as actual facts of human behavior and must therefore be something above and beyond the descriptive laws, it most be an actual law as something given by a lawgiver (cf. p. 18).

On pp. 18-19, Lewis discusses two views about the universe. One view is the materialist, according to which matter and space just happen to exist, and development is driven by chance. The other view is the religious, according to which there is a conscious mind behind the universe, a mind with purposes, one of which has been to produce creatures that have a mind as well. According to Lewis, these two views actually sum up all the possibilities in that any intermediate view really just is a form of either of these two.

Since there is the moral law, and we cannot deduce it from observations of actual human behavior, yet we know it from within ourself, we can conclude that somebody must have made that law and put it into us, and that somebody cannot be part of the universe.

That is, our conscience, which is supposedly universal (as Lewis claims in The Abolition of Man) is a proof of the existence of a transcendental consciousness.

This idea can also be found in Paul's Letter to the Romans:

Rom 2:14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;

Rom 2:15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them);

The law Paul is referring to here is the written law. The Gentiles do not have this law, since it was given only to the Jews; but they are still applying the commandments of the law as witnessed by their conscience. This is the same principle of the universality of the law.

The obvious problem both with Lewis' argumentation and Paul's claim is that this law is something rather fuzzy, it's simply 'the law' without any precise specification of exactly, what the commandments of that law are – though later in Romans 2 it is clear that The Ten Commandments are referred to by Paul. Also, Paul's point is that, while the law was given to the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, to whom also was given the commandment of circumcision, the law is universal, and therefore:

Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:

Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

So, Paul is arguing for a change in the definition of 'Jew' from being applied to a certain ethnicity to being applied universally. Are we therefore to assume that sometime during the first century ce suddenly all non-Jews were supplied with a conscience or what?

How universal are Lewis' moral law? It is diffucult to figure out without more precise knowledge about this law. That all human societies acknowledge some moral law does not on its own prove that it is the same law. Actually Lewis takes this question up half-ways in Book 3, where he mentions the four 'Cardinal' virtues that are common to all civilized cultures, and the three 'Theological' virtues (Charity, Hope, and Faith) that are special to Christianity (cf. p. 63).

Actually, I dare even go as far as to say that within the same society, there can be more than one moral law.

One day, when I was in a supermarket, I - as I always do - first went to the check-out line after having gathered all the (not very many) goods I was to buy. At the back of the line was a shopping cart with goods in it, but no person behind it. However, I placed myself behind the cart, expecting its owner to show up very soon. Customers occasionally leave their carts for a very short term, while fetching the last thing or two on a neighby shelf, and I thought that might be the case here. But no one showed up, and the line in front of the cart moved forward, and of course the cart and I then had to follow. Occasionally shop personnel use carts while putting goods on the shelves and leave them, if they momentarily are called to do something else. Also, occasionally, customers simply abandon their carts and leave the shop, if they get tired of waiting in line. That is, from prior experience I had reason to think that the cart might not be 'standing' in line. Still, I decided to keep my place and see, if the owner of the cart didn't show up. The line in front of the cart then moved one more customer forwards, and since the cart didn't show the least intention to follow, I decided that I had to be an abandoned cart, and I moved to the back of the active part of the check-out line. In that very moment a woman came to the cart and yelled at me: "You were sure quick there!" Apparently, in here mind I was an egocentric exploiting the situation. Since fighting about a place back or forth in a check-out line is very low on my priority list of things I consider worth fighting about, I went back to my old place behind the cart without a word, and the woman pushed the cart up to the back of the line, also without a word.

As this story shows, this woman and I apparently were following very different moral laws. Should I say that the law I followed was superior to hers? Of course, otherwise I wouldn't be following it – but I must assume that the woman also considered her moral law to be superior, so what's the point?

On p. 11, Lewis writes:

We do believe that some of the people who tried to change the moral ideas of their own age were what we would call Reformers or Pioneers - people who understood morality better than their neighbours did. Very well then. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people's ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

Or maybe you just consider your own moral rules to be the Real Morality and assign to yourself the right to judge other people as if they were subject to your rules. Isn't Lewis here simply claiming that he can overrule everyone else with whatever moral rules he happens to have accepted?

That is, unfortunately it is all just a question of might makes right; if you happen to have the power to coerce other people to play by your rules, you can claim that your rules are universal, otherwise you can't.

In short, I find Lewis' argumentation insufficient to prove anything else than that everyone's a potential dictator; but we hardly need Lewis to tell us that. By the end of the day, morality only serves to justify that some people can use whatever means of force they might have at disposition to control other people. Morality is nothing but power politics. That's the Real World.

In that real world you find out, what is wrong by being punished, and the one that punishes you is therefore morally superior, even if you think it is the other way around. That is, morality is just another name for pecking order. There is in the real world no other crime than to be punished.

Now, Lewis just prior to the above quoted passage from p. 11 writes:

Have any of the changes [in morality] been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality.

This is, of course,  directed against moral relativism – presumably with 'civilised morality' = 'Christian morality' and 'savage morality' = 'Nazi morality'. But that is from the point of view of a British academic, who with the consent of British clergymen is defining the universal moral law and implying that we either accept that moral law or accept to be considered on the level of the Nazis that are universally considered to be bad guys.

Book 2: What Christians believe

Lewis begins with claiming that "[i]f you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through." (cf. p. 29) This might have been the case for British Christianity; but look to the USA. Such tolerance is not tolerated there: you are either a Christian or completely wrong.

Next Lewis claims that "[i]f you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the world is simply one huge mistake." So, it's the atheists that are intolerant. In my personal experience, there are indeed very intolerant atheists; but maybe Lewis is wrong about, what is the main point in all the religions of the world? I am no expert on religions; but I have taken some courses in the science of religion, and in the course History of Religion, we were told that it was actually a problem to define 'religion', since there was no single thing in common for them, not even the belief in one or more gods. And Buddhism, while acknowledging the existence of (the Hindu) gods, does not assign any significance to them; they are not to be worshipped.

Following the above comments about atheists, Lewis divides humanity into two divisions, the majority that believes in some kind of God or gods, and the minority that does not. Lewis also sees it as Christianity lined up with all other religions against "the modern Western European materialist." The next big division is between those who believe that God is beyond good and evil and those who believe that God is 'good' or 'righteous'. The first view is called Pantheism, the second view is held by "Jews, Mohammedans and Christians."

The obvious problem here is, what kind of sense does it make to say that God is good or righteous? Isn't it merely a definition? If God does it, it is good and righteous? In the Flood story, God almost exterminates all life on earth. That wouldn't be considered a good action, if done by humans; but God isn't measured with the same standard as humans, so the Flood was good, because it was an act of God. A god who is good by definition is a god who is beyond good and evil, isn't it?

However, apparently Lewis sees it differently – but he doesn't tell us, what it means that God is good, so the point appears simply to be that some religions are different from others.

Pantheism, Lewis tells us, also implies that God is part of this world, while the Christian idea is that God is the creator of the universe; like an artist is not part of his products and doesn't die, if they are destroyed. Though God created the world, things have gone wrong in it, and "God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again."

The obvious question here is, how could things have gone wrong, unless God was an incompetent artist? According to Genesis 1, every time God made something, he saw that it was good, and he finished his master piece with creating humans in his own image, leaned back and saw that it was very good, and then he went to take a well-deserved rest – and we know what happened in the mean time. Perhaps God had too high ambitions for his qualifications?

Lewis, while he was an atheist, had asked himself the question, how the world could go wrong, how it could be so cruel and unjust, if it was made by a good god (cf. p. 31). Then he asked himself, from where he had got the idea of just and unjust? Using the idea of just and unjust against God destroys the idea – because if it is only a private idea, the world is not really unjust. That is, by trying to prove that God did not exist, that the whole of relity was senseless, Lewis found one part of reality – his idea of justice – that was full of sense. From this, Lewis concludes that atheism turns out to be too simple.

Well, Descartes did pretty much the same four centuries earlier, so why not? The problem here is that different people may have different ideas about, what is just and unjust, but how many gods are Christians allowed to operate with? During his discussion of Pantheism, Lewis rejects the idea that there could be different moral standards, for example that the older you get, the more you tend to see things from more than one point of view. The Christian idea of just and unjust remains the same and doesn't depend on any personal knowledge – Lewis' idea of just and unjust is absolute, everybody has to bow down to, what Lewis considers to be just and unjust. So Lewis is God? He would have said 'no', I'm sure; but modesty is the true sign of divinity, isn't it?

Not only is atheism too simple for Lewis, but so is, what he calls Christianity-and-water, "the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right" (cf. p. 33). Besides the good God in Heaven there are also "all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption" (ibid.).

Don't we all know it? First there's all the love-bombing to get us inside the church, but when we have come inside, the door is locked, and the whip is pulled out. What else is new? 

Lewis proceeds to discuss dualism, whereby he means the idea that there are two powers, one good and the other bad. He dismisses this idea with the obvious reason that to determine which is which, you need a standard from an even higher power, so really there can be only one ultimate power. Not that there isn't a dark power in the world, which is in rebellion against God and has occupied this world. In the last paragraph on p. 37, this imagery becomes even more war-like:

Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.

But who is the devil? The Nazis would have been easy targets for a projection back, when Lewis held his radio talks, and that's what he is playing on here. If Christians are always liberators, only bad people can be against them. Lewis makes it not a choice, whether you want to be Christian or not; you are either a Christian or the agent of the enemy.

Who is the devil? The communists? The Muslims? The Liberals? The Darwinists? You? The Nazis were a real threat to Britain back in 1942-44; but the same logic can be used to whip up fear for just about anything and anyone, and as a Christian you need to project the devil somewhere – to avoid having it projected on yourself; either you or somebody else is the enemy. In short, I find it too easy to mis-use Lewis' image of Christians as part of a secret society to liberate the world; but then again, Lewis is only telling, how Christians view themselves. And what else could he do? By definition, Christianity is beyond critique; anyone who criticizes Christians is part of the evil enemy, the Dark Power.

Next up is, of course, how could this evil power have "made himself for the present the Prince of this World"? (cf. p. 39). Oh, we know – it's that free will, and if something's free to be good, it's also free to be bad. God is so adorably good that he has given us a free will, and therefore it's of our own free will that things are as bad as they are. We have just listened to Lewis tell us that being Christian is cooperating with a liberator, and going to church is listening to the secret radio messages from our friends, so we went to church. And the door was locked behind us. And the love-bombing pastor suddenly pulls out the whip and starts yelling and screamimg at us that it's all our own fault: we are ourself the baddies. We killed the dinosaurs, and so on. Makes you wonder, if supporting the Nazis could have been worse, doesn't it? Except that they of course also said "Gott mit uns" ("God (is) with us").

But God couldn't have made it in any other way, because free will is the only thing that makes "possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." (cf. p. 40). Lewis writes (ibid.):

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

I warned you against all that love-bombing, didn't I? Anyway, it doesn't work: if there is a 50% chance that a human, given the choice, will sin, even God should have realized it won't work. Have just two humans, and it will go wrong. Anyway, it's not the impression you get from the Bible that God wants us to have "the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other"; the impression is that either you join God or you are killed. And since there's a 50% chance that you won't join God, prospects are dire.

How did the "Dark Power" go wrong? Lewis admits – to his credit –  that we cannot give an answer with any certainty to that question; but he can offer a "reasonable (and traditional) guess, based on our own experiences of going wrong" (cf. loc. cit.):

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.

This sin is, what Lewis in Book 3 calls 'Pride' (cf. the chapter "The Great Sin", beginning p. 100). However, as the Bible has it, God created humans in his own image. Since God wants to be God, humans therefore want to be God as well – they were created that way. It's not a sin, but a design flaw – blame the designer. During creation week, God did that which looked good in his eyes, so humans, created in his image (and therefore looking very good in his eyes), could do nothing else but what looked good in their eyes. No reason to guess; the biblical text is actually rather clear here.

On p. 41, Lewis writes:

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended – civilisations are built up – excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

So, Lewis manages to derive an entire world history out of his guess. Running along with this, we might even say that it applies to Christianity, even that must have been corrupted by Satan. The sin of Adam and Eve was that they wanted to become wise as God and know about good and evil – isn't that what any Christian wants to inform us about? That something is good, and something is evil, and which is which. But for some reason, lewis doesn't apply his own guess to Christianity.

Next Lewis gives a small recap of the story of the chosen people, the Jews, up to Jesus, introducing the latter on p. 42 with these words:

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.

It's not quite like that, however. As Lewis points out, for the Jews, God meant "the Being outside the world," so how could Jesus talk as if he was God? Let's us read in the Gospel of Markus:

Mar 10:17 And as [Jesus] was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

Mar 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God.

Of course, the question here could be rhetorical; but the simple explanation would be that Jesus is not claiming to be God, though perhaps acting on God's authority. Lewis is right that it would have been a rather un-Jewish thing for Jesus to claim to be God, even to be considered to be God; after all, wasn't the sin of Adam and Eve that they wanted to be like God? And the gospels go around this tricky bit very carefully, even to the extent that Jesus' rôle as the Messiah (a title for humans) was to be kept a secret.  And it isn't Jesus that is going to come and judge the world, it's 'the son of man', whoever that was supposed to be. Sure, Jesus is identified as the Messiah, the son of man, the son of God, and all that – but not as God himself in the gospels.

Lewis mentions that "[a]mong Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it." So, maybe the idea that Jesus was God originated among 'Pantheists'? For a more Hellenized Jew as Paul, the idea of a human as God was less strange. And we even see this in the gospels: it is in general Gentiles that have an easier time acknowledging Jesus.

A religion built up on the idea that no human is God, even that no human is good, isn't exactly the religion, in which it makes too much sense to claim to be God or good. Should we say that it is yet another of God's design flaws?

On p. 43, Lewis writes:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; ot you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

In a society that only acknowledges God as good, and where God is "the Being outside the world," there is no "Good Teacher" of course, and that's the problem. How can you change that society? It's not possible, because you cannot be good, unless you are God, and God is outside the world, not inside it.

Christians say that we should let Jesus come into our lives; but how can we, if Jesus is God, and God is always outside the world? A lot of speculation has been done to solve that problem. As an aside, being a "Son of God" in the Old Testament doesn't make you a god yourself, this title is used for angels and the kings of the Davidic dynasty; it's simply anyone who serves God and thereby gains divine authority, not someone who's a god himself. Throughout the Old Testament we see these sons of God misuse their divine authority, so it's not as if it's all that promising that Jesus is yet another son of God. Therefore, Jesus must be elevated to be God himself – except that doesn't work, because God is always outside the world. Remember that only a 'Pantheist' can have a god coincide with the world.

Really there is no difference between Christianity and 'Pantheism' – in the eucharist, the believer refuels himself with the god as in all the other mystery cults.

Lewis isn't into speculations either. On p. 46, he treats us to a condensed version of Christianity.

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity.

So, death is disabled, and pigs can fly.

Lewis next writes about repentance and atonement; but we'll scroll forwards to p. 50, where he again picks up the theme about death:

Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. This means something much more than our trying to follow His teaching.

And luckily we won't have to marry in that new life, because we'll be like angels, right? Apparently, Lewis doesn't refer to a physical death here, but to the death of our old self and having a new life in Jesus put into us. It's just that not all Christians see it this way; they take it to be literal, physical death that has been disabled, once Jesus returns. Obviously, physical death wasn't disabled in the first century ce, and 2 Peter comes up with many excuses for that. Apparently, the first Christians believed that if they transformed themself into the image of Jesus, they would be recognized as the good guys on Doomsday, and be taken to heaven and never die physically.

What is this new life after non-physical death then? On p. 53, Lewis writes:

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being 'in Christ' or of Christ being 'in them', this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts – that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body.

For Lewis, this earthly body of Christ, through which he operates, is like a secret society with the object of undermining the devil. But that's not the whole story; Lewis writes p. 54:

Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think he is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.

But we have to prepare the invasion, by doing sabotage actions and so on. This idea of being a secret society preparing for the invasion of the main force has its clear drawbacks, when looking at the world today. It can be used to legitimate Christian subversion of regimes elsewhere, but there is another religion that knows the same secret formula, Islam. And don't forget the feminists; they also want to conquer the world – using the same promises of a return to Paradise. Everybody promises a return to Paradise, and why should the one party be chosen rather than any other? By experience we know that no merchandise lives up to its advertising, so why can't we just say that they are all wrong, and that secret societies are the real Satan?

Lewis ends Book 2 with the words (ibid.):

Now, to-day, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.

See, I told you: first the love-bombing, then the whip – and the door is locked behind you. You can avoid this by not entering in the first round.

Book 3: Christian Behaviour

On p. 59, Lewis writes:

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

Ok, so morality really is crowd control; but who is to control the crowd? That is, by the end of the day, morality is nothing but a power struggle. In actual practise, morality certainly has nothing to do we fair play and nothing at all to do with harmony between individuals. Morality serves the purpose of allowing some people to yell and scream at others – of course not officially, but we are here talking about actual practise.

Lewis continues discussing these three parts of morality, and concerning the second part, he writes p. 61:

Does it not make a great difference whether I am, so to speak, the landlord of my own mind and body, or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord? If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Yes, let's reinvent slavery. If we are tenants in our own minds and bodies, then we'll be cast out, if we don't pay the rent. If you have lost your job, so you can't pay the rent, you'll be out of your mind and body, and you are even to consider that a blessing. If God made us, that means that he is responsible for us, not only that he can use us as zombie soldiers in his silly war against himself.

Notice, how things work here: first the love-bombing, then the threat that you'll be whipped, if you don't do as commanded, and now that you'll be thrown out of your mind, if you should get the idea to develop one of your own.

Beginning the next paragraph, Lewis writes that "Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever," and he ends it by writing:

If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

So, a Christian nation should make no sense; but actually some Christians claim that such a thing exists. The problem is, that even if we live forever, it's not here on earth. Actually, our earthly life becomes of no real importance, if it's just a passing moment before the everlasting life in heaven or hell. This is the kind of stuff that makes suicide bombers.

Over the next pages, Lewis discusses Christian virtues. We won't go into that, except have a small peek at a passage from the chapter on Forgiveness. On p. 97, Lewis writes:

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of hinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.

Yes, the devil is really a nice guy, once you get to know him, isn't he? Don't believe all those stories that Christians tell about him. Too bad that the bad guys aren't really bad, and the good guys aren't really good. What happens with the absoluteness of good and evil then? Lewis would probably have said that nothing had happened. It's not the moral standards that are changing, only the assumption about whether some party behaves quite as bad as that party should to become the devil incarnate. But what is the practical difference? Many Christians today consequently focus on negative things to say about Muslims and are not really concerned with to what extent these things are true or not. Islam is the incarnation of the Dark Power, so it must be bad through and through, even if you should happen to know some Muslims that aren't. And let's not talk about Darwinists; not even about OECs (Old Earth Creationists); they have all given in to the Dark Power. Once you have the idea that good and evil are absolutes and identifiable, good will be projected onto your own party and evil onto the opposite party, and evidence will be invented to show that it's the plain and simple truth. But Lewis doesn't mention anything about this.

A little later, Lewis writes (pp. 97-98):

Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment – even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy.

So, the whole point of "love your neighbor" and "love your enemy" is to kill them, whereby you show that you love them. With love like that, who needs hatred? For Christians, apparently, love and hatred is one and the same.

Can you see, what I warned you against? The love-bombing turns into hate-bombing the longer we stay in the church, and remember that the door is locked behind you, once you step into the church.

Christian morality can be used to defend anything – really, literally anything whatsoever.

What's worse is, what Lewis writes a little earlier on p. 96:

Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

But if you kill a person, you kill a person, not an action. If you flog a person, you flog a person, not an action. If you imprison a person, you imprison a person, not an action.

No wonder that Christians appear cold , arrogant and self-righteous to other people. If you have the right to kill your enemies, you can simply declare anybody your enemy and then kill them. Or, certainly you have the right to kill anybody that is an enemy of God, and who isn't an enemy of God? Anybody that doesn't do as you command them to do? Why is that different from killing the enemies of the state or the enemies of the revolution?

Lewis is aware there's a problem. On p. 98-99, he writes:

I imagine somebody will say, 'Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?' All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed.

In other words, Christians are people that do things for no other reason than that they are written in a book, and they do it with cold blood.

A few sentences later, Lewis continues:

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him; wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying that he is nice when he is not.

Within its own strange world, this, of course, makes sense. The life here on earth if of little importance compared to the eternal life in heaven or hell, so loving someone means wishing that they end up in heaven, not doing anything for them here on earth. Except, what's the point in charity then? Why not kill poor people, so they can go to heaven? Or do they go to hell? For being poor?

Around a year ago I was invited to a local Islamic Culture Center, where I was told about Islam. It was quite interesting, and it was pretty much the same as the above. There was a story about the daughter of an emir; she had stolen something and was sentenced to have her right hand cut off, a sentence that was executed despite the high rank of this woman. I was off course told that this severe punishment depended on that it wasn't out of need that she had stolen, and the thing she had stolen had been in a locked room, so it wasn't because she was tempted by the ease of the theft. She had committed a deliberate, unexcusable theft. But that wasn't all: the severe punishment was to spare her for an even worse punishment in the afterlife, so it was actually to her own advantage. Still I found the punishment wrong, though without saying it.

Sure, within this line of thinking, the Christian and the Muslim (they are really the same religion) are right in thinking as they do. It's just that, if they are wrong, they are the cold-blooded instruments of Satan.

C.S. Lewis was borne in 1898, he served as a soldier during WW I, and Mere Christianity is based on radio talks from WW II. I have never served as a soldier, nor lived in a country involved in a war against it, so I am prepared to accept that Lewis' view is formed by experiences that I do not have. In return, however, I will say that building an absolute morality on personal experiences and something that happens to be written in some book is a very shaky foundation.

Continuing on p. 99, Lewis writes:

I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply because it is yourself.

An alternative way to interpret the commandment of loving others like yourself could be as follows. With yourself you have introspection; you judge yourself knowing why, not only what you did. So to love others like yourself would mean to judge them by the why, not the what. If you cannot find anything lovable by a person, just acknowledge that you know too little about what is really going on inside that person; do not judge outside your understanding. This would, in my humble opinion be more compatible with the gospel texts, even if Lewis' version may be more compatible with standard Christianity.

Lewis ends the chapter with:

Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves. For really there is nothing else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco...

But people have given up beer and/or tobacco. What is wrong in saying that God loves us because he, maybe even better than we self, knows what is inside us? He doesn't love us for our achievements, but for our possibilities that are more likely to come to the surface through love than through hate or neglect. But that is of course based on this life, not the eternal life, so of no interest to Christians.

Book 4: Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity

As the title of this book indicates, Lewis is here introducing the trinity. I don't have anything to say to about this introduction except that it leads up to the idea that Jesus was the first new human (or new man, as Lewis writes, but people have become more gender-sensitive since then), and being a Christian means to let Jesus help you become such a new human yourself by establishing a mutual relationship between you and the Father.

Lewis explains, in my humble opinion, this quite well (just to say something positive for a change). On p. 130, he explains the difference between being 'created' and being 'begotten'. According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus, the Son, is begotten, not created. As Lewis explains it, the difference is that since Jesus is begotten, he is of the same kind as the Father, whereas a created thing would have been of a different kind. Humans can make ('create') various things, such as a wireless set, which isn't itself a human; but humans beget humans. Therefore, this new human the Christian is to become as a son of God is actually to become of the same kind as God.

Lewis ends the book with the words:

Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Such as punishment and death penalty. I am not buying, but how about you? Remember that once you step inside that church, the door is locked behind you.

Information in RNA codons

m-RNA codons (or triplets) consist of three nucleotide bases, usually identified by their first letter: U(racil), C(ytosine), A(denine), and G(uanine). In DNA, T(hymine) replaces U(racil).

The codons code for 20 amino acids, and three codons function as stop codes. The codon ('AUG') that codes for the amino acid methionine also functions as start code. In short, we can say that there are 21 instructions of the codons: 20 amino acids (including methionine/start code).

The total content of information measured in bits in the instructions is log2(21) = 4,3923. The maximum capacity of information in a single nucleotide is log2(4) = 2, since there are four different nucleotides, and the maximum capacity of information in a codon is log2(43) = 3*log2(4) = 6. That is, there is close to 1.6 bits of 'unused' information capacity in the codons, almost an entire nucleotide's worth.

If we look at the first nucleotide in codons, we get this table:


The first column indicates the nucleotide, the second column counts the number of instructions with a codon with the corresponding nucleotide as the first, and the third column shows the residual information needed; that is, the information needed in the remaining two nucleotides to resolve which instruction is coded for. Second column, fifth row counts the four preceding rows. Since some amino acids, such as leucine, have codons with different initial nucleotides, the number of instructions is 24 rather than 21.

Looking at the first two nucleotides, we get this table:

UU2 1
UC1 0
UA2 1
UG3 1.5850
CU1 0
CC1 0
CA2 1
CG1 0
AU2 1
AC1 0
AA2 1
AG2 1
GU1 0
GC1 0
GA2 1
GG1 0

Explanations are analogous to the above.

As can be seen, in only one case, 'UG', is the residual information greater than 1, and in eight cases, that is in half of all cases, the residual information is 0. This means that the third nucleotide actually carries very little information; none at all, where there's a '1' in the second column above (or a '0' in the third column).

To make this somewhat clearer, let's rearrange the table to have it ordered by the second nucleotide:


As can be clearly seen here, the codons whose instruction is fully determined by the two first nucleotides (those with a '1' in the second column above) are those codons, who have a 'C' as the second nucleotide or a C or G as the first nucleotide and a 'U' or 'G' as the second nucleotide. Put differently, if a codon has a 'C' as the second nucleotide, or it has a 'C' or 'G' as the first nucleotide and the second nucleotide is not an 'A', the third nucleotide does not add any information.

This suggests that the RNA/DNA codes have themself evolved, from an original two-nucleotide code based on 'C' (a pyrimidine) and 'G' (a purine), or simply only distinguishing between pyrimidines ('C' and 'U'/'T') and purines ('G' and 'A').

Acknowledgements: When I originally wrote this post, I had not noticed that there are two groups of serine, and I therefore counted 21 amino acids. I posted a part of this post at TheologyWeb, and user Roy made me aware of the error.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Non-monotonic Search

In monotonic logic, the following implication always holds true:

(1)if A Þ B, then A Ù C Þ B

That is, no additional information can invalidate an already established conclusion.

In non-monotonic logic, of which monotonic logic is a special case, implication (1) does not necessarily hold true.

Consider an example: most apples that you know about are red, so if your always reliable friend Bill tells you that he has an apple, you will assume that it is a red apple, that is

(2)Bill has an apple Þ Bill has a red apple

Now, Bill tells you that it is a yellow apple, so you readjust your conclusion from this additional information. That is you get:

(3)Bill has an apple Ù Bill has a yellow apple Þ Bill has a yellow apple

Let us consider a more complicated example. You are driving towards town C, when you come to a crossroad, where the road splits into three, one road leading to town A, the second road leading to town B, and the third road leading to town C. You are running low on gas, and you can't reach town C without refueling. Luckily, you have been told that there is a gas station in one of the towns A and B, and you have enough gas left to reach at least one of these towns. You just can't remember, which of A and B has a gas station.

That is, we have

(4)There is a gas station in town A or in town B, but not in both

Your problem is to pick one of the towns to drive to.

Scenario 1:

You have enough gas to drive to either of the towns, back to the crossroad, and then to the other town. That is, no reason to panic, just pick either of towns A and B. When you arrive there, you'll have the answer to which town has a gas station.

We can formulate this as that your current information allows for two possible worlds: one in which town A, but not town B, has a gas station, and one in which town B, but not town A, has a gas station. Since town A is the nearest, and you want to minimize the minimal distance you have to drive, you pick town A. That is, you apply some rule to prefer one of the possible worlds as the real world.

That is, we have

(5)(4) Ù A is the nearest town Þ there is a gas station in A

However, when you arrive at town A, you find that it does not have a gas station. From this you can safely conclude that there is a gas station in town B. That is, even though you made a wrong guess, you anyway ended up gaining information, which you wouldn't have done, if you hadn't made any guess at all.

We now have

(6)((4) Ù A is the nearest town) Ù there is not a gas station in A Þ there is a gas station in B

Luckily, a premise for this scenario was that you have gas enough to drive back to the crossroad and then to town B for your refueling.

Scenario 2:

As above, except that you do not have enough gas left to drive to both towns; you need to pick either, and if it's the wrong one, you're stuck. However, notice that even in this case, assuming you go through the same reasonings and actions as above, implication (6) still holds. You cannot get a refuel, but you have gained information through at least making a choice and acting accordingly. Assume you have enough gas left after reaching town A to drive back to the crossroad - though you cannot continue to town B. Then you can draw a gas station symbol on the road sign to town B and thereby make you information available to other drivers that then will not have to go through what you have been through.

The main point here is that in case of a disjunction, monotonic logic is a show-stopper, while non-monotonic logic at least allows you to proceed by making a choice and acting according to that choice, and by that you may gain information to dissolve the disjunction.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Materialism, naturalism, and atheism

On the blog for The Christian Cadre, contributor BK has written a post, Dawkins' Dilemma, in which BK refers to a post by Pastor Dustin S. Segers on Segers' blog Grace in the Triad, which asks, how a materialist atheist like Richard Dawkins can view the god of the Old Testament as a monster. From where does Dawkins derive his standards?

Now, I am no expert on Dawkins; but while I know that he is a self-declared atheist, I do not know that he has declared himself to be a materialist. Actually from BK's quoting of Segers, I can say that Dawkins doesn't quite fit the bill.

BK quotes Segers for the following two syllogisms:

Syllogism One:

1. Material things are extended in space.
2. Objective moral laws are not extended in space.
3. Therefore, objective moral laws are non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.


Syllogism Two:

1. Objective moral laws are universal entities that apply to all people, places, and times.
2. Materialism holds that only particular entities have ontological existence.
3. No material thing is a universal entity.
4. Objective moral laws are not material things.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.

I can positively say that Dawkins does not adhere to the materialism implicitly defined by these two syllogisms.

On p. 127 of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes:

DNA gets the best of both worlds. DNA molecules themselves, as physical entities, are like dewdrops. Under the right conditions they come into existence at a great rate, but no one of them has existed for long, and all will be destroyed within a few months. They are not durable like rocks. But the patterns that they bear in their sequences are as durable as the hardest rocks. They have what it takes to exist for millions of years, and that is why they are still here today. The essential difference from dewdrops is that new dewdrops are not begotten by old dewdrops. Dewdrops doubtless resemble other dewdrops, but they don't specifically resemble their own 'parent' dewdrops. Unlike DNA molecules, they don't form lineages, and therefore can't pass on messages. Dewdrops come into existence by spontaneous generation, DNA messages by replication.

That is, while DNA molecules are material, genes = DNA patterns are not, though each concrete instance needs to exist in a material form. Genes therefore violate premise 2 of Segers' Syllogism Two. DNA molecules are particular entities; but DNA patterns are not.

Therefore, Dawkins is not a materialist, at least not according to Segers' definition.

Materialism should be distinguished from naturalism, according to which no supernatural consciousness is actively operating in the universe. Dawkins uses the word meme in analogy to gene, where a meme is a thought pattern, not some assembly of neurons - two persons can share a meme, but they don't share neurons. A meme can be something like 'you shall not cause suffering', which most people accept. Such memes, while not material, can still be completely natural, because they need not be impressed by direct operation by any supernatural, conscious entity, and they can be 'inherited' by social interaction.

Now, the Sixth Commandment (Deuteronomy 5:17) says "You shall not kill". Assume this to be an objective moral law. Then, according to Segers, it "appl[ies] to all people, places, and times". In 1 Samuel 15:1-3 we have this interesting passage:

1Sa 15:1 And Samuel said unto Saul, Jehovah sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of Jehovah.

1Sa 15:2 Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt.

1Sa 15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

It is the prophet Samuel telling King Saul to slay — that is, kill — all the Amalekites, "both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." It is even a divine commandment, Samuel is passing on the words of Yahweh, though not an absolute moral law, because it is specifically addressed to Saul. As reason for this commandment is given that Yahweh "ha[s] marked that which Amalek did to Israel".

But if the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not kill", with Segers' words, "appl[ies] to all people, places, and times", then it applies to Saul and can not be circumvented with any excuse, not even revenge.

That is, even (some) theists allow for exceptions to supposedly objective moral laws, so what's the whole point of such laws? Once you allow for a supernatural, conscious entity to intervene with human affairs, you allow for any specific commandment to preempt the supposedly objective moral laws.

Objective moral laws, if such exist, allow for no exceptions, not even exceptions imposed by the lawgiver. Note that Saul doesn't completely follow the instructions in that he doesn't kill the Amalekite king Agag and also keeps the best of the animals. Samuel then kills Agag; but even that doesn't finish off the Amalekites. They pop up again from time to time.

Possibly God has here been caught by his own laws; the Amalekites cannot be killed because of the Sixth Commandment? No matter how much God tries to finish off the Amalekites, not even he can do it.

See also:
The sad, but true story of the Amalekites
Reconstructing a murder case

About Me

A Christian in Satanist clothes