Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Philosophy and Science: Physicist George Ellis' Comments on Krauss, Hawking, and Tyson

Back in July of 2014 John Horgan interviewed George Ellis for Scientific American.  Ellis is a physicist-mathematician-cosmologist who co-authored the 1973 work The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time with Stephen Hawking.  The full interview is worth reading but here are a few fascinating excerpts with specific reference to the need for philosophy to undergird good science and what happens when bad philosophy enters the scientific enterprise.  NOTE: All bold-face type is added by me.

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?
Ellis: Certainly not.  He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.
Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being.  Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.
And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed  (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.
It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?
Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.
Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Does Biology Need Darwinism...Really?

Philip S. Skell is Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has included work on reactive intermediates in chemistry, free-atom reactions, and reactions of free carbonium ions.

He has written a provocative piece entitled "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?" 

Here are a few excerpts: 

Darwin's theory of evolution offers a sweeping explanation of the history of life, from the earliest microscopic organisms billions of years ago to all the plants and animals around us today. Much of the evidence that might have established the theory on an unshakable empirical foundation, however, remains lost in the distant past. For instance, Darwin hoped we would discover transitional precursors to the animal forms that appear abruptly in the Cambrian strata. Since then we have found many ancient fossils – even exquisitely preserved soft-bodied creatures – but none are credible ancestors to the Cambrian animals.
Despite this and other difficulties, the modern form of Darwin's theory has been raised to its present high status because it's said to be the cornerstone of modern experimental biology. But is that correct? "While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,' most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas," A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, wrote in 2000.1 "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."
I would tend to agree. Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.
In the peer-reviewed literature, the word "evolution" often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for "evolution" some other word – "Buddhism," "Aztec cosmology," or even "creationism." I found that the substitution never touched the paper's core. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology.
He ends the article with this:
Darwinian evolution – whatever its other virtues – does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology. This becomes especially clear when we compare it with a heuristic framework such as the atomic model, which opens up structural chemistry and leads to advances in the synthesis of a multitude of new molecules of practical benefit. None of this demonstrates that Darwinism is false. It does, however, mean that the claim that it is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Problem of Evil Videos by Dr. Greg Ganssle

Below are three short videos put together by Dr. Greg Ganssle (Yale University) on the problem of evil.  The first video outlines the deductive problem of evil.  The second video responds to the deductive problem of evil.  The third video outlines and responds to the evidential problem of evil.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Denying the Historicity of Adam and the Resurrection of Jesus

As evangelicals continue to debate the historicity of Adam it is helpful to see how others have argued.  There are those like Peter Enns who deny the historicity of Adam but still hold to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is argued that there is no necessary connection between the two beliefs.  Yet it is instructive to see how the argumentation used by Enns to argue against Adam has been used by others to argue against the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, for example, are a few quotations from Enns arguing that the belief in Adam found in Scripture by Jesus and Paul is to be explained by accommodation to the times.

As a child of Israel’s traditions, Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [death] as Adam and his disobedience.
 By saying that Paul’s Adam is not the historical first man, we are leaving behind Paul’s understanding of the cause of the universal plight of sin and death.  But this is the burden of anyone who wishes to bring evolution and Christianity together—the only question is how that will be done.[1]
 …Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world.  Paul’s understanding of Adam as the cause reflects his time and place.[2] 
Paul, as a first-century Jew, bore witness to God’s act in Christ in the only way that he could have been expected to do so, through ancient idioms and categories known to him and his religious tradition for century upon century.  One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate.  The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.[3] 
Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors—whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis.  Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment.[4]

Using this same type of reasoning others have gone on to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ--reducing it to a metaphor.  Consider these thoughts from Gerd Ludemann and Roy Hoover:
 Gerd Ludemann
 If Jesus was raised as the Gospels tell us, where did he go afterward?  As all of us know, Acts of the Apostles tells us that he went to heaven.  But I would like to ask my opponent whether he really thinks Jesus went to heaven.  That is to say, what we are dealing with in the New Testament texts are images of people of a specific time that cannot be equated with facts.  And if you take one of the elements out of the sequence—resurrection, ascent to heaven and then heavenly return—the whole thing will collapse.[5] 
I think that if we can’t say where Jesus went after he was on earth and if we have to exclude that he went to heaven, we have to look for the clearest hypothesis to explain all the texts.  Anybody who says that he rose from the dead is faced with another problem that I shall address later—namely, if you say that Jesus rose from the dead biologically, you would have to presuppose that a decaying corpse—which is already cold and without blood in its brain—could be made alive again.  I think that is nonsense.[6] 
In other words, belief in his resurrection, ascension to heaven and immediate return are mythological elements of the faith of the first-century Christians, which we cannot take as simple descriptions of fact.[7]

Roy Hoover 
The first thing one comes to recognize is that the credibility of the idea of resurrection is dependent on two basic concepts that prevailed in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity, two concepts that were assumed to be true by religious Jews and by the first generations of Christians.  One is a certain concept of God.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on faith in a God who is believed to be the Creator and Ruler of the whole cosmos and faith that this God created human beings in God’s own image and likeness.  The logic of a resurrection faith, both in first-century Judaism and in first-century Christianity, is that if this God has the power to create the world and human life in the first place, then this God has the power to re-create the world and human life as well.  Further, the God who created the world is also the God who rules the world with goodness and justice.  This sovereign God will raise the dead in order to demonstrate the reality of divine sovereignty.  In the end, goodness and justice must prevail in this world, if this God really is the world’s ruling power.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on this understanding of God.  If this God really is God, then the resurrection of the dead is a reasonable hope.  That is the logic of ancient resurrection faith. 
The idea of the resurrection of the dead is also dependent on a certain view of the cosmos, namely that the cosmos has a three-level structure: the earth is the middle part; above the earth is heaven or the heavens, the space occupied by God and the angels; below the earth is Hades, the realm of death and the powers of evil.  Given this map or picture of the cosmos, it seemed plausible to virtually all ancient peoples that divine powers could and did intervene in the affairs of human beings. 
Indeed, such interventions were to be expected.  They were special manifestations of the divine power responsible for the everyday order and life of the world (compare the relationship between Odysseus and Athena in Homer’s Odyssey, as well as the relationship between Aeneas and Jupiter in Virgil’s Aeneid).  Resurrection was understood by both Jews and Christians in the first century C.E. as such divine intervention, one in which God would end the anarchy of human history and inaugurate a new world order in which God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
If the idea of resurrection both in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity is dependent on a particular concept of God and a particular picture of the cosmos, it is credible as long as that concept of God and that picture of the world are credible.  If that concept of God and that worldview lose their credibility, ideas and beliefs that are dependent on them lose their credibility as well. 
And that, in fact, is what happened with the coming of modern scientific knowledge about the physical and natural world.  Thanks to Copernicus and Galileo, sunrise and sunset have become merely figures of speech for us rather than literal descriptions of the sun’s movements, as those terms were for all peoples in antiquity.  And thanks to Darwin and his successors, we have come to see ourselves as the offspring of a long, evolutionary process who occupy a particular and highly significant place in the process, namely the point at which the evolutionary process has become conscious of itself, as the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it in The Phenomenon of Man. 
In short, the ancient worldview on which the idea of resurrection is dependent has been replaced by a modern worldview based on the findings of modern science.  And with that profound change in worldview, the literal statements about the resurrection of the dead and the resurrection of Jesus have lost their literal meaning, as Ludemann has said.[8]

Let it be clearly understood, the argument is not that Enns denies the resurrection of Jesus.  He claims otherwise.  The idea presented here--in short form--is that the structure of argumentation used by Enns to deny Adam also has implications for the resurrection of Jesus.  The kinds of arguments used by Enns and others have been extended to cover other ground which does impinge on central matters of the faith.  

[1] Peter Enns. The Evolution of Adam, p. 123.
[2] Ibid., p. 124.
[3] Ibid., p. 143.
[4] Ibid. 
[5] Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli (IVP, 2000), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 45.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] Ibid., pp. 140-142.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus Did Mention Homosexuality!

There is an argument that continues to be used that says that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.  This is supposed to be of some consequence since many of those making this argument seem to imply that if Jesus had mentioned homosexuality they would change their views to match his.  Even if it be granted that Jesus didn’t specifically mention homosexuality there is still the need to accurately place Jesus in his first century Jewish context.  Consider these words from J. P. Meier:

On sexual matters, Jesus and the Essenes tend in the same direction: stringent standards and prohibitions… In a sense, one could call both Jesus and the Essenes extreme conservatives … apart from the two special cases of divorce and celibacy, where he diverged from mainstream Judaism, his views were those of mainstream Judaism.  Hence there was no pressing need for him to issue or for the earliest Christian Jews to enshrine moral pronouncements about matters on which all Law-abiding Jews agreed.  If almost all Jews agreed that acts of fornication and adultery were wrong, there was no reason for Jesus, who shared these views (see, e.g., Mark 7:21-22; Luke 16:18) to exegete the obvious.[1]

Nevertheless, it may be the case that Jesus did speak directly to the issue of homosexuality in his teaching.  Below are some excerpts from an article by G. Thomas Hobson, “σέλγεια in Mark 7:22,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 21 (2008), 65-74.  (A pdf of this article can be found HERE).

It is commonly claimed that Jesus never speaks one word about homosexuality.  However, one can argue to the contrary that he actually speaks two.  As we look at his list of sins in Mark 7, we find two words that arguably include homosexual behavior within the scope of their meaning.  One is the term πορνεία (sex outside of marriage), a word which has been much studied and commented upon.  The other is the word σέλγεια, on word on which precious little study has been done. (p. 65)

Hobson mentions William Barclay’s comment that σέλγεια may be possibly the “ugliest word” in the list of New Testament sins.  Hobson comments:

It’s a word that Jesus (translated through the tradition that Mark presents) could easily turn to as a synonym for homosexual activity and other similarly shocking behavior forbidden by the Jewish law. (p. 65)

Hobson goes on to engage in a lexical study of the word looking at its usage in classical Greek, pre-New Testament, and post-New Testament contexts. 

Jewish writers almost always use this word in its sexual sense.  It appears that what βδέλυγμα was to idolatry, σέλγεια was to πορνεία: sin taken to its most disgusting degree… The term may have been used to refer to what were regarded as the most shameless violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah. (p. 67)

Hobson notes that σέλγεια is used ten times in the New Testament: Mark 7.22; Romans 13.13; Galatians 5.19; 2 Corinthians 12.21; Ephesians 4.19; 1 Peter 4.3; 2 Peter 2.2, 7, 18; Jude 4.  The references in 2 Peter are especially noteworthy, as Hobson points out:

Second Peter uses σέλγεια more than any other NT document.  It links σέλγεια explicitly with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, picturing Lot (2 Pet 2,7) as “greatly distressed by the licentiousness (σέλγεια) of the wicked” around him (probably not referring to their failure to show hospitality). (p. 68)

Hobson notes that Jesus’ usage of this term only appears in Mark.  Hobson takes the accepted view of Mark’s audience that it was primarily a Gentile audience.

Only Mark has σέλγεια on his list also.  It would appear that the writer of Mark, writing for a general audience, saw a need to spell out an element of Jesus’ teaching that addressed a sexual lifestyle issue among Gentiles, a matter that was less of an issue for Matthew’s predominately Jewish audience.  Furthermore, for some reason, neither πορνεία nor μοιχεία specifically addressed the sexual sin he had in mind.  It is likely (particularly in light of a text such as Melito, De Pasc. 389-94) that Jesus was speaking of violations of the Torah such as homosexual behavior, incest, or bestiality, rather than comparatively less shocking sins such as adultery and fornication. (p. 70)

Hobson ends his article with these thoughts:

Exactly what did Jesus consider to be “utter shamelessness”?  What did he consider too far “over the line”?  The danger is to impose twenty-first century AD politically correct ideas on Jesus.  It is unlikely that Jesus used the word to describe the scandals of poverty and injustice.  It is unlikely that he was speaking of mere affronts to “common decency” (whatever that means).  In context, it is far more likely that Jesus had in mind what his fellow Jews (like the author of 2 Peter) meant when they used the word: images of Sodom and Gomorrah, images of outrageous violation of the one-flesh union of man and woman.  Jesus would likely have shared Jude’s concern about those who “twist the grace of God into σέλγεια” (Jude 4).

If Jesus had wished to speak of homosexual behavior in his list of sins that defile the human heart, to what other word could Mark have turned in his translation?  Παιδεραστία was too narrow a term.  ρσενοκοίτης had barely been coined by Paul.  And πορνεία is too broad a concept, although it is the only word Matthew chooses to use in his version of Jesus’ sin list.  σέλγεια was an ideal word for identifying both homosexual behavior and other similar sexual sins of which even the Mishnah was reticent to speak any more than was absolutely necessary.  It appears that the situation demanded that the subject be addressed for Mark’s mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles, but not for Matthew’s Jewish-Christian audience.

σέλγεια reveals itself as a shamelessness that knows no boundaries, a shocking brazen disregard for any kind of morality.  Did Jesus use this word as a synonym for homoerotic activity and other similar acts from which Jews (along with many Gentiles) recoiled in horror?  One cannot prove beyond doubt that Jesus had this meaning in mind, but a plausible case can be made that he did.

The appearance of σέλγεια on the lips of Mark’s Jesus must be accounted for somehow, and it will not do to say that a word of such shock value as σέλγεια was a throw-away detail, or was intended as nothing more than a synonym for πορνεία or μοιχεία.  Yes, these three words may overlap in meaning, but in a context where all three are used together as part of a standard trio of sexual vices, and particularly in a first century AD Jewish context, where σέλγεια is virtually always used in a sexual sense, it is likely that all three terms are intended to convey specific meanings: fornication, adultery, and the most shocking sexual offenses named in the Torah.  It is argued here that, as he seeks to faithfully communicate Jesus’ teaching, Mark found it necessary to emphasize to his readers that Jesus did explicitly reaffirm the Torah’s prohibition of the most shocking sexual offenses, of reaffirmation that Matthew did not find it necessary to make to his readers.

Jesus says that both πορνεία and σέλγεια come from the heart, along with murder, theft, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness (Mark 7,21-3).  As the debate about sexuality continues in today’s society, Jesus’ words about shameless disregard for boundaries in the area of sexual behavior deserves further consideration in this debate. (pp. 72-74)

     [1] J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, volume 3 (New York, 2001), 502-503 as quoted in G. Thomas Hobson, “σέλγεια in Mark 7:22,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 21 (2008), 73.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Houston Sermons Subpoenaed: Russell Moore on "Why Not Hand Them Over?"

Russell Moore asks and answers the question Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over? as he discusses the recent events in Houston, Texas.  His answer is short but covers a great deal of ground in answering basic types of objections.  Here are few items from the blog post:
These questions come really in two or three different forms. The first is based on Romans 13, the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the government has God-given authority. We submit to government, the argument goes, even when we don’t agree with specific government policies. So why not just send in the subpoenaed sermons, even if we don’t like it, since we have nothing to hide.
The problem with this view is that Romans 13 is not an unlimited authority. Paul clearly bounds in the power of Caesar’s sword to the punishing of “wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:4). That’s why the Apostle says that taxes are to be paid, along with honor and respect, to those to whom such things are due (Rom. 13:7). On the opposite side of the spectrum from Romans 13 is Revelation 13, which demonstrates what happens when a government oversteps its bounds, as was the case eventually in the Roman Empire’s attempt to regulate worship.
Every authority, under God, is limited. Daniel is obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar, until the king decreed the way prayers should be offered. Peter and John are obedient to the authorities, until they are told how to preach, in which case they defy this authority (Acts 4:19-20).
Moreover, the issue is even clearer when we recognize that the City of Houston, and beyond that the broader American governing system, is, unlike in the case of Caesar, not the rule of one man (or one woman). There were all sorts of governing officials up and down the chain in the Roman Empire, but the ultimate accountability was Caesar himself. In our system of government, the ultimate “king” is the people. As citizens, we bear responsibility for electing officials, for speaking to laws that are made in our name, and for setting precedents by our actions. Shrugging this off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
When the government acts, legal precedents are set. By complying with this unjust decree, Christians would be binding future people and institutions, including those who are the most powerless to stand against such things. If the government can scrutinize the preaching of Christian churches on sexual matters in Houston, the same government could do the reverse in, say, Amarillo. It would be just as wrong for the mayor to demand to see sermons from the Episcopal Church calling for LGBT anti-discrimination laws as it is to do this. As citizens, we bear responsibility. This is analogous to the tax collectors and soldiers coming to John and to Jesus asking how they are to function as Christians in the world of Caesar. They were not to use their power to defraud people or to go beyond their delegated authority (Lk. 312-14; 19:8).
It sounds spiritual and pious to say that we are just going to “give up our rights” and “surrender our place at the table.” We should indeed do that. When we are stricken on the cheek, we turn the other one. When someone takes our tunic, we give up our cloak as well (Matt. 5:40-41). That’s quite different though from those who have been given police authority ignoring assaults; such is injustice decried by Scripture. And it’s quite different from a soldier forcibly collecting cloaks because “you ought to be giving those up anyway.”
That’s why the Apostle Paul, quite eager to give up his personal rights (1 Cor. 11:7-11), appealed to his Roman citizenship repeatedly in the Book of Acts, litigating for liberty. And that’s why he, like John and Peter, refused to comply with a decree that was unjust (Acts 16:35-39).
Be sure to read the rest of the post and see Moore's answer to the following question:
But, some would ask, aren’t these sermons public anyway? Why would we not want the mayor and the city attorney to hear them?