Finding the narrative

New York Times ex-science journalist Virginia Heffernan has said that she is a creationist, because she prefers the narrative of creation to that of science. David Sessions has a good discussion of the issues here. She is basically taking the line that one chooses one’s narrative of the world. This is shocking for a science reporter, but given her literary studies background, understandable.

In their book series Science of the Discworld, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen posit an element in the Discworld universe, narrativium, that is lacking in our own (Round)world. In that world narrativium is that which drives stories to have the right ending and magical creatures to have the right traits. The magicians note that Roundworld (our universe) entirely lacks this element, and yet we humans make the stories come out right anyway. Stories are what we make and construct to understand ourselves and the world. So is Heffernan right?

Yes, and no. We do choose our narratives. As Sessions notes, everything we know is an interpretation and a construct. Scientists often, usually unconsciously, construct narratives of their hypotheses or reconstructions of the past. It’s inevitable. We live, as it were, in a linguistic prison, and as soon as we represent our world, any critique of those representations is a metarepresentation, and so we end up trapped in a semantic ascent. This is a term of art in philosophy, based on Quine’s thought that every time one discusses a sentence, one is in effect using a higher order language to mention the sentence. So instead of getting further into the world, we abstract away from it. The more we seek to establish the truth conditions of our best knowledge sentences, the less concrete they are.

Is science therefore just a simple construct? Can we choose whatever narrative we like? Well, we can, but our narratives have to be grounded in the reality we inhabit, or we end up in schizophrenic or psychotic worlds of our own construction that have no relation to the worlds of others around us. And as this applies to the schizophrenic individually, it can also apply to entire cultural traditions. Heffernan notes that the stories of the Bible are still with us. This gives her confidence they are useful narratives, and from this she infers they have some truth. This is what I call, with my colleague Paul Griffiths, the Milvian Bridge argument: that the success of a narrative is reason to think it is true (Constantine won the battle at that bridge so Christianity is true).

But narratives serve many functions, and few of them are the literal truth. Reality (at least in this universe) is not narrative driven. As any lab or field scientist knows, it is often dull, boring, overwhelming in its detail and senseless. When we make narratives, we impart meaning and simplicity to the world. We select what we want to focus upon. Stories can persist for reasons that have nothing to do with the facts, such as cohering social groups (consider the role of the Exodus in Jewish culture). It is not because they are true, but because they are useful.

I don’t want to attack the “postmodern” culture Heffernan appeals to. Postmodernism is a weasel word that can be used in too many way to be clear, and anyway, most “postmodern” concerns are also raised by traditional (i.e., analytic) philosophy of science. What I’d like to discuss is why it is that science is not just narratives and representations.

It seems obvious: science attends to facts. It takes measurements, compiles data, analyses these in as objective a fashion as we can, and generates models of the world. Now, many people think this, too, is a kind of linguistic prison – what we choose to observe and the ways we observe them are themselves bound to theory, to the narratives, interpretations and representations of the science. But this cannot be right. Science was done before theory, and the narratives that those who did it accepted were often undercut by the observations. If you are merely constructing a story, then the data that you select on the basis of that story should not routinely undercut the narrative. And in science, they do routinely undercut the narrative. Consider dark matter and dark energy.

I think that the way to escape the linguistic prison is to tunnel into the foundations, for linguistic prisons all rest, in the end, on the empirical world, and we have at least a partial access to that world independently of our constructed worlds. Knowledge, in short, is based on our pre-theoretic experience.

The problem with choosing creationism (however Heffernan defines it) because she likes the narrative, is that this is the hallmark of a schizophrenic world view. We don’t get to choose any old narrative – only those that fit into the factual landscape. Creationism, as defined by literalistic interpretations of this or that sacred writing, fails that test, and simply is not available to a healthy mind.

38 thoughts on “Finding the narrative

  1. Postmodernism is a weasel word that can be used in too many way to be clear …

    But that is precisely Heffernan’s intent … to make her world all warm and fuzzy (especially fuzzy) by being exceedingly vague. She doesn’t even say she really believes in creationism, just that she prefers that “version” of the world. I hope she doesn’t decide on the Peter Pan version of the world and try to fly by thinking of the happiest things.

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  2. I really appreciated this article too. I wonder what the religious response to Heffernan’s preference will be – it’s hardly a firm commitment to a revealed truth.

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  3. “If you are merely constructing a story, then the data that you select on the basis of that story should not routinely undercut the narrative. And in science, they do routinely undercut the narrative. Consider dark matter and dark energy.”

    John, unless I am misreading you, you seem to be suggesting that “dark matter” and “dark energy” are actually “data.” They are not. They are theoretical constructs based on observations interpreted within the framework of an overarching physical theory of matter.

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    1. No. Dark matter and dark energy are based solely on observations that do not fit the theory. Yes, there are prior theoretical considerations, which is why dark matter was an anomaly (the rotation of galaxies didn’t match up with relativistic predictions) and why dark energy was proposed (the expansion of the universe did not match up with existing theories of quantum physics), but the observations held sway.

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      1. The observations leading to the construction of the concepts of dark matter and dark energy were indeed anomalies. But the construction of those new concepts was conducted essentially within the framework of the existing standard model of particle physics and Big Bang cosmology. That is, no brand new paradigm was formulated.

        You didn’t address the issue directly, but I’m assuming you’re in agreement with me that dark matter and dark energy are not actually “data” (as hinted in both cases by the term “dark”).

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  4. You write “If you are merely constructing a story, then the data that you select on the basis of that story should not routinely undercut the narrative.” Seems to me that many kinds of story telling routinely undercut the narrative—for example, following or undercutting or at least ignoring the narrative mark the difference between a romance and a modern novel. Meanwhile, when you write “and in science, they do routinely undercut the narrative. Consider dark matter and dark energy,” it occurs to me that the choice of the adjective “dark” is in perfect accord with a familiar narrative of science as the heroic unveiling of secrets. It’s part of the romance of science, which certainly needs some romance in view of the tedium involved in its day-to-day pursuit. Science is not literature, but the analogies run deep between them.

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  5. “Constantine won the battle at that bridge so Christianity is true”

    Term I am familiar with for this one is legendary proof. I cant detect an example of it in Virginia Hefferman’s article. Not a criticism would be fascinated to read more on you’re perspective on the concept, which seems to range further.

    Legendary proof is what made me switch from studying oral tales to looking at Late 17th century natural history (when i first started reading natural history and late 17th century philosophy I was surprised at how frequently I came across this significant feature of ‘folklore’. Use is identical, most often involving a physical object now lost or destroyed.

    When you see arguments between ethnologists and irate subjects of study at public meetings, legendary proof is often the sticking point. Users of traditional narrative view it as the empirical proof that the belief is true.

    A classic example I witnessed was a response to a rather non-controversial lecture on a common Scottish oral narrative regarding buried treasure. At the end a member of the public jumped up and stated that the lecture was non-sense as the empty treasure chest could be viewed at her local church.

    It seems to be a key factor in making a belief tangible. It’s use is extensive and persistent through time.

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  6. “a schizophrenic world view”

    I find this interesting in regard to L.P. It provokes serious emotional responses particularly when it is challenged. The example I gave above in relation to treasure invoked immediate emotional and physical responses from the 100 people in the room. Moved through the room like a lightning conductor and hung like a static charge for a considerable period( academics are so unguarded in group situations on home turf they are fascinating to watch on mass as they behave in highly exaggerated ways to standard vocal stimulus. Response to vocal stimulus often appeared far more heightened and the ability to control emotion and physical responses far lower than you would expect from a theater audience).

    In Ireland where a native species was considered not to exist (for cultural reasons) discovery of it provoked immediate fear and anxiety response.

    I have no idea how the relationship between mind, abstract ideas and body works but it is a fascinating one I think.

    Truth is utterly tangible and felt in these highly charged emotive states.

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  7. I sympathize with what you are saying except that creationism is available to healthy but partially deceived minds.

    Whoever is completely free of deception may cast the first stone.

    How, of course, can we definitely know if our minds are completely free of deception?

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    1. Friend, you appear to have forgotten your previous comment entered just nine minutes earlier: “Whoever is completely free of deception may cast the first stone.”

      Young earth creationism is an entirely Biblical idea (which, I would urge, makes it “good”), while “evolutionary creationism” is a hopeless syncretism (therefore “bad”).

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      1. Young Earth creationism resulted from the anti-Catholic,anti-authority, and anti-modern polemics of John Nelson Darby. It’s not well-grounded in the Bible, which doesn’t deny Darwin anywhere, and which in its unpolluted-by-Darby versions holds several different, often-conflicting stories of creation, but does not anywhere claim to be a science text.

        Even Darby didn’t cut out the warning to creationists offered in Romans 1.20, though. Don’t go there. Tell us why you like the narrative you have chosen to like, and suggest any advantages you think come from that narrative — but don’t suggest the rest of the Bible, the rest of the prophets, Moses, Jesus and God, were wrong, without more exegesis, please.

        In the end, Christians are left with the second testament of God Darwin knew, creation; Darbyists believe all sorts of stuff that is theologically dodgy about creation. Those beliefs are not science, and most Christians don’t subscribe to them.

        You’re not authorized to cast any stones yet.

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  8. “New York Times ex-science journalist Virginia Heffernan has said that she is a creationist, because she prefers the narrative of creation to that of science…. She is basically taking the line that one chooses one’s narrative of the world. This is shocking for a science reporter, but given her literary studies background, understandable.”

    The thought that a person chooses/prefers a particular “narrative of the world” is not shocking at all, unless one is somehow put off by the word “narrative.” Heffernan’s choice was not arbitrary or baseless; it had reasons, as she describes in her article. http://news.yahoo.com/why-im-a-creationist-141907217.html

    Certainly, some of her reasons are more intuitive/affective than we might like — but then again, maybe she’s just being more honest than many of us.

    She found the Biblical account more gripping than the story told by the Big Bang, Darwin, and evolutionary psychologists. In her words, she was more “amused,” “bugged,” “uplifted,” and “moved” by the Bible; she also said she had never found a more “compelling” story of human origins “than the ones that involve God.”

    But apart from such subjective reasons, there is Heffernan’s more objective (and well-founded) charge regarding current evolutionary psychologists and their conflicting “just-so stories for everything.” I’m reminded of a now-famous quote from Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin: “We take the side of science in spite of … the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.”

    We all have our reasons. Is Lewontin’s axiomatic philosophical materialism indubitably superior to Heffernan’s raisons du coeur?

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    1. But there are so many creation stories, how does one choose? I am partial to coyote stories; trickster gods are much more entertaining.

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      1. There are also many evolution stories (“just-so stories”) to choose from, as Heffernan has pointed out.

        And if you like tricksters, evolution has a wide range of those, including Piltdown man, Nebraska man, Pilbeam’s Ramapithecus, National Geographic‘s “Archaeoraptor,” William Schopf’s vaunted Australian microfossils, and a lot of less egregious examples.

        “Most of what I learned of the field [i.e., evolutionary biology] in graduate school (1964-68) is either wrong or significantly changed.” — William Provine, historian of evolutionary biology, Cornell University, “Teaching About Evolution and The Nature of Science (National Academy of Sciences): A Review.” http://web.archive.org/web/20040709130607/fp.bio.utk.edu/darwin/NAS_guidebook/provine_1.html

        I suggest that what you need to do first is to make a decision to allow that Intelligent Design might be a genuine scientific possibility. If that bridge can be crossed, then you can investigate which creation account makes best sense to you.

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      2. “how does one choose?”

        Stories die or have to become something else when they have no space or place in which to be told. More a matter of what culture you belong to and what space and context it has for tales to be told than choice I think.

        As they shift from one place to the next they become something else. Vital living every changing things as they shift from breath to breath.

        The literalism of fundamentalist faiths to me is a death and poverty stricken interpretation of narrative that is devoid of life.

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        1. Richard, great non-answer using the creationist gambit (if evolution is wrong on anything, then I’m right) -really how do you choose?
          Don’t get your knickers in such a twist over me suggesting your creation story is no better than any other.

          Science is different from religion – in case you haven’t noticed. Our understanding of evolution continually changes – this is expected. If the biology Provine learned in 1964 were exactly the same in 2004, then the field would be dead. This why your quotes of ancient biology texts are entirely beside the point. Your religion, on the other hand, is dead – stuck with an really ancient text that is largely irrelevant for living in the 21c. The stupidest thing a religion can do is write it all down and declare it sacred as written. If it had stayed oral, then it could be updated and no one would be the wiser (or like the Mormons where you get a new revelation when you need one). For instance, once we determined that homosexuality was not a choice, but a developmental difference, then we could easily have deemed it acceptable and moved on. Many religious sects just can’t do that.

          There is nothing that precludes intelligent design (but that is a far cry from your brand of biblical creation), we just need some reason for hypothesizing intelligent intervention (it does need to be a better explanation than the one we have). There is slim evidence for a human-like intelligent directing anything (this is the creationist hypothesis – god is a superhuman) – it appears as if there were no plan from the beginning. You really do need to know how gods design things before you can look for evidence of gods designing things. This is how archeology works.

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          1. Hello, Michael. You’ve said a lot that could be commented on, but I’ll keep it to just the following:

            “If the biology Provine learned in 1964 were exactly the same in 2004, then the field would be dead.”

            Provine was not talking about biology in general. He was dealing with evolutionary biology, and he said most of what he had learned in graduate school was later seen to be either wrong or significantly changed.

            The fact that the Bible does not get updated does not entail that it is “dead” — it may mean simply that God’s revelation was accurate as it was given, remains relevant, and doesn’t require ongoing revisions as does evolutionary theory.

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  9. Heffernan’s reasons for preferring the Biblical account over the evolutionary tale strike us as largely subjective. But then, why not? — since evolutionists themselves have attempted to market their wares by targeting people’s subjective side!

    For example, Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, during the year he was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote the following:
    “For sheer excitement, evolution, as an empirical reality, beats any myth of human origins by light-years. A genealogical nexus stretching back nearly 4 billion years and now ranging from bacteria in rocks several miles under the Earth’s surface to the tip of the highest redwood tree, to human footprints on the moon. Can any tale of Zeus or Wotan top this? When truth value and visceral thrill thus combine, then indeed, as Darwin stated in closing his great book, ‘there is grandeur in this view of life.” Let us praise this evolutionary nexus—a far more stately mansion for the human soul than any pretty or parochial comfort ever conjured by our swollen neurology to obscure the source of our physical being, or to deny the natural substrate for our separate and complementary spiritual quest.” (“Darwin’s More Stately Mansion,” Science 284:2087, June 25, 1999)

    If such a subjective/emotional appeal (albeit admixed with claims of “empirical reality” and “truth value”) can be made by a proselytizing evolutionist, then why shouldn’t Heffernan voice her preference using subjective reasoning as well?

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  10. “Science is different from religion – in case you haven’t noticed. Our understanding of evolution continually changes – this is expected. If the biology Provine learned in 1964 were exactly the same in 2004, then the field would be dead.”

    Thats a rather non-evolutionary statement (in a historical sense rather than a biological one).

    If it had stayed oral…..

    This is also wildly inaccurate. Oral tales can retain a remarkable degree of continuity over time. Although the context in which an audience receives it is not static. Whilst it is difficult to study but seriously dangerous to overlook, spoken word would have been the primary vehicle of learning in monastic institutions.

    Writing was also key in allowing religious institutions much greater cultural control they were not just writing religious texts but re-writing a pagan past in a christian present and attempting to redraw cultural traditions and identity in its own image. Control of the stories people told was essential here.

    A modern example may be the form of citation Richard uses. It seems to draw from a very selective but widely dispersed collection amongst a particular community, highly limited but seriously repetitive (a highly effective political stratagem). But its hardly limited to religious groups.

    It also allowed greater control over secular art and performers. Clerics were keen to state the greater memory capacity of writing as opposed to that of oral performance of the bards. A selling point to give them an edge in resting narrative from a non-christian secular group and a chance to re-organize local and ethnic identity in line with its own concerns.

    A modern example may be the form of citation Richard uses. It seems to draw from a very selective but widely dispersed collection amongst a particular community, highly limited but seriously repetitive (a highly effective political stratagem). But its hardly limited to religious groups. H.O.S has used similar methods; but it is a standard cultural moves used by groups trying to maintain and establish an authoritative base.

    The excuse that other groups do the same thing is however not exactly a winning argument.

    I would suggest this debate is going nowhere with both parties presenting highly selective and exaggerated evidence.

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    1. “Did you have a point”

      I think people are generally attempting to make some kind of point when they write however badly they do it (I write very badly in first draft or on the hoof; sorry). I made the assumption you may have something valid to say and read past what caused me serious difficulty.

      “did you just miss mine”

      I think I got the valid points made in regard to biology which are supportable. The wider cultural points on religion and remark on oral culture I would respectfully suggest you seriously think about before deploying in future.

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  11. ‘That’s a rather non-evolutionary statement’ i.e the notion that religion does not change perspective or position. Tradition just does not work in this way it can’t or it becomes the past and part of history rather than an ethnology.

    Richard may present himself and believe with utter conviction his particular cultural interpretation of the bible is a timeless truth but he belongs to a religious grouping with its roots firmly placed in a modern North Atlantic culture zone and strongly associated with one culture in particular.

    He is thoroughly modern in this regard.

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    1. Agreed, but it is the same Bible in 1964 and 2004. It is not the same biology textbook. Christianity is constrained in ways biology is not. The success of biology in a sense forced Richard to take the conservative view that he does – a view that has been toyed with on and off over the centuries in response to change. His is just the most recent in a long line of backlashes against perceived “modernism.”

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      1. “but it is the same Bible in 1964 and 2004. ”

        Reception and context is where things shift. Tradition is a creature of the present it has no choice but to re-draw or die.

        I started of life studying folklore, here the tradition was to take a modern folktale, hopefully take it back to some ancient Iron age origin but once you have found the origin you have all subsequent repetition and meaning, as it unfolds it rigidly repeats. It ignores historical context utterly, but as an idea it has been hugely successful, will not die and it has moved far beyond the doors of conservative Ethnology departments.

        The power of a successful story is not that it repeats but as it moves from mind to mind it transforms and becomes something else. This is its beauty and its power.

        Fundamentalists attempt to deny this is the case. Its authority claims are based on a rigidly maintaining and policing this fiction.

        To hear a creationist say that you have a choice in the narrative you pick is a bit like hearing a Rottweiler preaching and attempting to convert folk to vegetarianism (the suspicion being the Rottweiler may have some other motive for such a statement).

        To accept such claims at face value and think that what Fundamentalists say is actually the case ( not suggesting dishonesty what groups say and what groups do never fully match up) in regard to how this cultural group maintains and manages its belief system over time is I think unnecessary. Its certainly not the case that it is static and reads rigidly and literally or creationist stand apart as the most abnormal and static cultural group in history with no chance of survival.

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        1. You are reading things into to what I said, but even so religion is always tied to the “word.” If you stray too far, then you break the thread. We can see people who deny everything “factual” in the Bible and still call themselves Christians, but most (even those considered liberal) wouldn’t agree. I see it more like homeostasis with cycles both conservative and liberal around a fixed set point. Science has a wandering set point and we don’t expect to be back at the same place any time in the future. I think John’s comments on science and analogies to a fitness landscapes are relevant here.
          The valleys that allow escape from a religious stories are much harder to escape.

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          1. Not over reading I think, I was generalizing far too much. I was blunt in my first comment and wanted to avoid looking argumentative and failed to communicate effectively.

            Creationist use Darwin to suggest that modern biology is based on an ancient theory that scientists have dogmatically maintained, sticking rigidly to the pages of an old book. Often the next statement would be, they are after all atheists or words to that effect.

            Its not an accurate history of the subject. The interest is not with presenting an accurate picture of history its a debating point in an argument and has no need to be empirical.

            Its not a fault confined to religious thinkers.

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  12. “Can we choose whatever narrative we like? Well, we can, but our narratives have to be grounded in the reality we inhabit, or we end up in schizophrenic or psychotic worlds of our own construction that have no relation to the worlds of others around us.”

    I’m not so sure that we can choose our narrative.
    As you say, John our narratives have to be grounded in the reality we inhabit. But from experience, the plot we each create – our individual view of the world – becomes that reality.
    Twenty years ago, taking a bank to court, I went a fortnight without sleep. I then found myself burbling in a field – the plot had definitely gone.
    What this taught me is that we have a plot to lose. – It is made of our experiences, which are set in the place and time where luck has dropped us, with the influences and learning that come from that place and those times.
    Only when you lose the plot and find yourself in a plotless vacuum, do you realise how powerful a hold the plot has. – From an evolution angle, that hold would seem to say, ‘Keep doing what you did yesterday – it must be right because you are here today.’ – So we are stuck with our own particular hard to change narratives. – Only when our plots fail to please or function adequately are we forced to make adjustments.
    Your plot has led you to write the best philosophy site on the web. – My plot plot has led me to read your posts and make flattering compliments. – Jeb’s plot has led him to regale us with wondrous words from the past. – Virginia Hefferman’s plot has led her to prefer the narrative of creation.
    She didn’t choose this narrative – unless she is merely making a journalistic pose. – If on the other hand she truly thinks it is a valid stance, then that’s her plot – it is how it got to be from her own particular circumstance – and she’s stuck with it.
    If we had all been born in 2000 bc in Egypt we would all surely have had different plots than we have. – History is the making of plots. – Today’s part of history might seem a time of more valid plots because we have science to back them – but they can only be valid if science is infallible.

    For my part though I do prefer a plot based on observation rather than imagination.

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  13. Long have I suspected that creationists choose the story over the facts.

    In creationism, an angry old white man with an unruly beard poofs the universe and world into existence, and especially humans, with whom he toys.

    In evolution, from the smallest, most humble beginnings, the greatest things imaginable come — life from simple, mute chemicals; complex life from single cells; from one impregnated egg, an Aristotle, a Mozart, a Michaelangelo, a DaVinci, Galileo, Shakespeare, Darwin, Newton, Lincoln, Churchill, Carson.

    I’ve also noticed creationists pretend the New Testament doesn’t exist, often. The Jesus nativity story scares the living hell into them.

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  14. Re Ed Darrell’s comment of July 25, 4:14 a.m.:

    It’s not “facts” creationists have a concern about, it’s all those speculative anti-Biblical historical reconstructions of the past (a.k.a. “just-so stories”).

    God is not an “old white man with an unruly beard,” but without doubt he is “angry” — with people who twist the truth and set up straw men.

    You enthuse: “In evolution, from the smallest, most humble beginnings, the greatest things imaginable come….” — but your longest example of this is not about “evolution” at all (unless you are using the word in its pre-Darwinian sense referring to organismal development).

    The impregnated egg that turned into Newton (a young-Earth creationist) contained all the information needed for that zygote to develop into adult; only water and a few other things (such as oxygen, nutrients, warmth) needed to be added. (Maternal hormones also likely played a role, especially in the first few cell divisions.)

    But what evolutionists must explain is the development of the current universe from an initial particle which did NOT already contain the required information; and they must explain the development of life from non-living chemicals which did NOT already contain the required information; and they must explain the development of human beings from bacterial cells which did NOT already contain the required information.

    The New Testament, actually, is the source of a lot of creationist thinking, due to its clear indications of Jesus’s high regard for the authority of the Hebrew Bible (including the book of Genesis). But perhaps you’re thinking of the “Intelligent Design” folks who try to keep the argument focused on science, and for their efforts they get labeled as “stealth” creationists.

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    1. So, Mr. Peachy, God is angry with you? And yet you go on completely unphased, as if you don’t care?

      1. Pick your part of science, biology or not. The story of great things coming from humble beginnings still applies. Evolution applies only to biology (more about that in a moment), but the longest examples in the biological sciences cover 4 billion years in time, or single cell to the blue whale, the largest animal ever to live; or oceans-full, or forests-full.

      2. Newton? Arguing he was a young-earth creationist is akin to arguing Columbus was a Chinese communist, or George Washington opposed to anti-smoking ordinances, wrong in every particular, but especially in ascribing modern views to a guy who didn’t know what he had accomplished, and especially couldn’t have foreseen everything his own work would foster. Newton, as much as anyone else, understood that his description of gravity devastated much of the church belief of the day, that God’s steady involvement was necessary to make things go, even if God wasn’t personally involved in His slave-angels pushing the planets through the heavens. To claim Newton opposed a branch of science that was barely a science in his lifetime is to fail to understand who Newton was, what he did, what he knew and could know, and what his religious beliefs were.

      Such broad-brush error should give a wise person pause, regardless of faith.

      3. The fertilized egg contains one cell. DNA counts for a lot, but it doesn’t generate its own matter.

      4. “Evolutionists,” or scientists, have no obligation to explain to you matters completely out of their field. Nor do they have an obligation to explain questions that are inane as you ask them, and pointless as rebuttal as a result. Why should a biologist explain the origins of matter, issues for nuclear and theoretical physics, or the development of stars and planets, issues that also branch into astronomy? Now you’re going to argue Newton was anti-Big Bang, too? (It would be delicious to see you sweat describing why we still teach Newtonian physics, though Einstein’s five papers and subsequent experiment and observation showed Newton dead wrong much of what he discussed — but you’d probably blunder on in a boring soliloquy aimed to salve your own face in your own eyes, again without touching on reality.)

      5. Who says the original singularity was a “particle?” Who says information is required to turn energy into matter, and complex matter? Who says that information was not in the original singularity? You’ve stepped into a pile of excrement left from the discussions of Hawking and others, and confused it for the discussion itself. You need to come to such a discussion with clean shoes, as well as an open mind.

      6. Who says humans evolved directly from bacteria?

      7. What “information” do you claim bacteria lack to survive and thrive? Doesn’t the mere existence of bacteria, over time and everywhere including your gut, suggest you err to claim bacteria lack the information they need to grow and thrive?

      8. Just out of curiosity, have you ever studied chemistry? How many different substances do you think can occur in a reaction that combines a quantity of hydrogen with a quantity of oxygen? Are you claiming that chemistry is fluid, and any reaction could produce unknown substances? Or do you fail to understand the laws of chemistry? From where do hydrogen and oxygen get the “information” to form water, or hydrogen peroxide? How does it choose?

      9. The New Testament is the fount of much of your religious faith in things that could not happen, and that the New Testament does not claim happened? Perhaps we’ve stumbled into a better explanation for your rejection of the facts and history than you can offer yourself.

      Jesus had high regard for some authorities in scripture — though you make the same error here in ascribing Mr. Darby’s views to Jesus as you do earlier in ascribing Mr. Darby’s views to Newton, though Jesus knew nothing about how the current canon was developed (nor did He approve of it, for all we know), nor was that a subject Jesus ever discussed. But you’re theologically correct in the broader assertion (that you probably don’t know you made): Jesus did not disagree with any of the four, or six, or eight, conflicting creation stories in the Old Testament, and especially Jesus didn’t pick between the two conflicting stories in Genesis. Jesus liked all sorts of narratives for what they taught about how to deal with human life and human institutions. But nowhere does Jesus take issue with Darwin on the topic of evolution. (I’m limiting evolution to biology here, appropriately; Jesus also did not take issue with Newton, nor Einstein, nor Higgs, nor Pasteur, nor Collins, nor Herodotus, nor Eratosthenes, nor Pythagoras, etc., etc.)

      Jesus was not a botanist, nor a biologist, nor a scientist, and did not speak ex cathedra on issues in those spheres. No, Jesus was not lying about the size of mustard seeds — that wasn’t the topic he was addressing, and shame on you for casting Jesus as a liar.)

      Perhaps you’re not thinking at all, in trying to ascribe views you wish to rebut easily, to Newton, Jesus, or me. If you are thinking, you’re not putting enough thought into it.

      Please don’t fall into the trap most Darbyists fall into, which will lead you to deny all of God’s creation and God’s role in it, to justify your odd distaste for science.

      Or get out of it now, before it’s too late.

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      1. Wow, I’ve apparently stirred up a hornets’ nest with my brief comment!

        To keep this short, I’ll select just one of your questions to respond to.

        “8. Just out of curiosity, have you ever studied chemistry?”

        Yes, as a matter of fact, my undergraduate degree is in chemistry (and biology). I have also been a teacher of chemistry and other sciences for the last seventeen years.

        Based on the quality of your writing, I would surmise that you don’t have such a qualification. But of course, I could be wrong.

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        1. So, if you’ve studied chemistry, why do you abandon that knowledge when you pick your Biblical story, instead of taking a narrative that squares with the facts of chemistry?

          Most interesting claim. How can you teach stuff you don’t believe in?

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  15. “Can we choose whatever narrative we like? Well, we can, but our narratives have to be grounded in the reality we inhabit…”

    For us the environment we inhabit is a cultural one and the world has to fit with that construct. The choices we make will be mediated by the construct and we will strive to maintain the fit between the internal and the external.

    That means different stories or the same story interpreted in radically different ways to maintain an internal cultural fit.

    When things don’t fit we get emotional and as angry as a god.

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