Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rush Limbaugh's Sixth Grade Essay Found!

Through diligent research, I have discovered the long-missing 6th grade essay, "The Foundning [sic] Fathers: An Essay" written by Rush Limbaugh. This document has long been considered the Rosetta stone of Rush Limbaugh scholarship, showing the development of his political philosophy and providing insight into his later thought. Written in red crayon, the Limbaugh essay examines the history of the founding of the United States and the philosophy of the founders.

Limbaugh's statement of the thesis foreshadows his problematic views of women and minorities. "The founding fathers," he wrote, "not mothers! [sic] founded our nation to be free from the king to believe in God and keep black people as slaves." His problematic attitude towards women is further exemplified by the next paragraph titled, "Women in America: A History". He writes, "Women in America were very nice. They gave men whatever they wanted and that's the way it ought to be since women are not so smart." Limbaugh provides no evidence in support of these assertions but moves on to discuss the role of African-Americans in the founding of the United States in the next section entitled, "Black people, some of my best friends are black".

"There were no Black founding fathers eitehr [sic]. Lots of them kept slaves and how bad can they be? Jefferson maybe had sex with a slave, and he smoked pot too. My older brother says I can have sex with a girl someday, I'd like that. Maybe three of them. I think people should not smoke stuff unless maybe they really need to."

Many have criticized Limbaugh's hypocrisy given his attitude toward drug use and his own struggles with prescription drugs. His early attitude described here may explain his later appearance of inconsistency. Perhaps, the young Limbaugh might explain, Limbaugh "really need[ed]" that oxycontin.

Finally, on the subject of economics, Limbaugh included his nascent philosophy:
"The founding fathers had lots of money and that was good because money is something people need to be happy. I think if you have money you should not have to give it to anyone else no matter how much they need it because it's you're [sic] money. I am using my money to buy a car someday."

It's not clear that Limbaugh's political philosophy has advanced since this essay was written and whether he would disavow any of his earlier beliefs. It is clear that the inchoate, often ill-informed, ideas of public figures stated in their youth is far more important than the views clearly enunciated, repeated and explained in the most public possible ways. Without these intrusive, historical investigations of public figures before they had the education, interest and experience to have reasonably formed a political philosophy, how else are we to know what they think?

Monday, October 26, 2009

David Chalmers's Dancing Qualia Argument

Alas, I have little time to read actual philosophy and am now reduced to reading introductory anthologies in considering changing my textbook. Nonetheless, in one of the anthologies I am considering, there is an article by David Chalmers in which Chalmers argues that consciousness (which I will refer to as qualia for short) supervenes on the physical organization of the conscious organism. For example, my visual experience of blueness is determined by my brain's physical structure and organization, say a firing in a certain set of neurons in my visual cortex. (Let's ignore complications involving determination, dependence and supervenience for now.)

I am in complete agreement with this conclusion, but his argument for that claim seems to me deeply flawed. The argument is from a thought experiment involving what he calls 'dancing qualia'. Here's the thought experiment.

Suppose that one constructed a circuit of silicon chips that structurally and functionally mimicked perfectly the neural circuit (forgive the metaphor) underlying a visual experience of blueness. Now, in a reductio ad absurdum argument, we suppose that the experience is not determined by this physical organization but instead differed from the neural circuit in the silicon circuit. He imagines that we suppose the visual experience might be one of redness instead of blueness. I'll assume that there is no visual experience at all fixed by that silicon circuit since that appears to be more like the claims of Searle and other anti-functionalists.

Now, suppose that we could connect a human brain to this silicon circuit or to the section of the visual cortex ordinarily responsible for that experience, and this connection could be mediated by a single switch so that the brain could be switched seamlessly between brain circuitry and silicon circuitry. The result of this switching would be that the person would alternate between having a visual experience of blueness and having no visual experience at all (given our hypothesis). But, also given our hypothesis, the functional organization of the brain/silicon chips is exactly the same, so the firings fed into the rest of the brain are functionally indistinguishable. It follows that the person's inner cognitive state could be switched back and forth between blueness and nothing without anything else in the person's cognitive state changing. The person would continue to believe she had just had a blue experience, would say and believe exactly the same things about her "blue experience" and be emotionally affected in exactly the same way by this "blue experience". Chalmers thinks this result is absurd: it is not possible that one's qualia could dance in and out of one's experience without having any effect on one's other mental states.

The problem with this thought experiment is that we know that people can have various cognitive deficits which, taken together, could conceivably have something like the dancing qualia result that Chalmers thinks absurd without any change in their other mental states or cognitive processes. One relevant syndrome is blindness denial. In this state, people are blind yet unaware of their blindness; they assert and apparently believe that they are fully capable of sight despite their manifest blindness, and they confabulate impressively to account for their difficulties in using their eyesight. Similarly, we might imagine that someone had a kind of unconsciousness denial in which she did not have a conscious experience but still had all the functional equivalents. She would believe she had had conscious visual experiences but would not have had them, and the functional equivalence of her experiences would make the confabulation unnecessary. Conversely, there is the blindsight syndrome in which people are capable of some degree of visual processing without any awareness that they are in fact processing that information. So, when forced to guess whether there is a light in their supposedly blind field, they will do so at a rate much higher than chance, yet they will remain steadfastly certain that they can see nothing in that area. So, it might be possible to have functional equivalence of visual processing without any consciousness of seeing anything at all (although blindsight patients are far from functionally equivalent to fully sighted people). And, of course, the denial that they can see anything would make these patients clearly different from the imagined silicon-equivalents. The point of these examples is not that phenomena exactly like that described by Chalmers are actual but that it is conceptually possible that someone could have the functional equivalent of conscious visual processing without any realization that one's visual processing was not in fact conscious at all. So, in the case in which we switch back and forth between the conscious and the non-conscious visual processing, it is not absurd to think that the person not be aware of this difference, that the person's cognitive and other mental states not be affected at all.

I suppose one might respond that the imagined case is not one in which the person's brain is functioning abnormally or is damaged in any way, so we would have no reason to think this complex syndrome occurs. However, we might easily think that the silicon-chip circuit was in itself a kind of abnormal functioning or brain damage. The damage need not affect the rest of the brain if the circuits are, as supposed, functionally equivalent.

A better response is to suggest that if the two circuits are fully functionally equivalent, then supposing that one such circuit is conscious and the other is not is inherently an unfalsifiable claim. So, since the person believes the state to be conscious, we should suppose that it is conscious. I have some sympathy for this idea, and it is amusingly presented by Raymond Smullyan's "An Unfortunate Dualist", but it's also clearly a different argument from Chalmers's. If we supposed it was possible for the functional organization of two states to be equivalent without the consciousness being the same, then we've already made the assumption that two states can differ without falsifiable differences between them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hugh Ross Creator and the Cosmos, Chapter 11

It is becoming increasingly clear that Ross has no viable argument for the existence of God. However, in these chapters Ross "critiques" the views of contemporary physicists on the origin of the universe. Chapter 11 is on Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

Ross chides Hawking for failing to rely on the Bible when Hawking attempts to answer the questions, "What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did we come from? Why is it the way it is?" Yes, it's better to rely on the holy book of group of a nomadic shepherd culture from thousands of years ago than it is to rely on the results of the most advanced scientific research available. As much as I am trying to, it is sometimes hard to take Ross seriously.

What description does Ross give of Hawking's claims and arguments? And what is his specific critique of Hawking?

It's hard to know what the criticism of Hawking is because he does not really explain Hawking's position, deciding instead to quote a criticism from Hawking's ex-wife of Hawking's lack of traditional religious belief. All I could glean from Ross is that Hawking believes the universe might be bounded in time without having a beginning. Clearly if this makes sense, then Ross has no argument for the existence of God. Perhaps Hawking thinks that "Beginning" implies that one thing did not exist at some time and did exist at a later time. If that is so, then the bounded universe theory does not imply a beginning of the universe.

I'm not sure whether this is what it means for something to have a beginning. It might be that the fact that there is an earliest moment in time is enough to imply a beginning. Either way it is not the case that there could have been an antecedent cause.

Rather than try to explain or address any of this, Ross criticizes Hawking on the totally irrelevant issue that Hawking claims, apparently, that we can know eventually all the facts there are. Ross notes that Godel's incompleteness theorem (assuming we are formal systems which Ross probably does not think) and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle limit our possible knowledge. Further it is impossible to solve problems about certain physical systems. This issue is, of course, totally irrelevant to claims about God's existence. Ross is just taking a cheap shot when he cannot make any real argument against Hawking's theory. This is a bit like saying, "Yes, Mr. Einstein, that theory of relativity is intriguing, but you said that God does not play dice with the universe, and I'm fairly certain that God, being a nonphysical being, does not have any dice to play with. Booyah!" I am no expert on Stephen Hawking or physics, but I think he knows about these problems. Perhaps Hawking should be taken to mean that we can know everything within some understood theoretical limits.

In sum, Ross's chapter on Hawking is laughably thin. It's a criticism of a view that he doesn't even explain, and much of the criticism is about issues that are not relevant to the claims at issue (the need for a God to explain the existence of the universe).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, Chapter 10

In this chapter Ross goes completely off the rails into unintentional humor. As poor a philosopher as Ross is, he is even worse as a Bible scholar. In this chapter he argues that the Bible, rather than any other religion, fits the scientific evidence because it describes a transcendent God existing outside our normal time dimension who is personal without having any ordinary physical characteristics and is a holy trinity--3 beings in 1 being. In supporting this point he selectively quotes some passages of the Bible that might be interpreted as God not being physical. It's important for his purpose that the passages be quoted very selectively because at least huge amounts of the Bible describe God in essentially the same way any other primitive religion would describe its gods. I'll give a brief selection of those later, but now we have to marvel at Ross stretching his interpretation of the Bible to make it appear as though the Bible fits his own (probably incoherent) concept of God existing outside time and space.

Here are his quotations from the Bible followed by my comments:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Ross asserts that this supports his view because he claims the term for creation means creating something brand new or creating from nothing. He does not explain how he knows this is the correct understanding of creation in this case. Perhaps he simply is fluent in ancient Hebrew. But we don't really need help in translation since, as noted in an earlier post, the second verse is this: "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Then God said, "Let there be light." God created the heavens and the earth from a watery chaos, not from nothing. It is possible, however, one might consider the universe to be brand new. On Ross's interpretation this cannot describe God creating the universe first and then creating the earth from that original chaos because the universe was not a watery chaos before God created the earth. In any event, the first verse introduces what God is doing and the later verses explain how God does it.

By faith we understand that the universe was made at God's command, so that what is seen was not made of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Here's Hebrews 11:1-3 in the New International Edition: The heading is "Faith"
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

It's completely unclear that this means that God created the universe from nothing. Since the passage is about faith in things we cannot see, its point is that God's creating the universe is something we cannot see but must have faith in. Whether God did this from nothing or did this from things we simply do not or cannot observe, the passage does not say. Here's the next quotation:

This grace was given in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Timothy 1:9)

There are two or three quotations along these lines. The quotation is just asserting that God has a plan for us; it's clearly not a literal claim about the nature or method of God's creation. So, it's easily possible that this is just a metaphorical way of saying that God has always had that plan for us. So, let's cut to the real evidence. Is God portrayed in the Bible as a being existing outside time and space?

Let's look at Genesis:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2: 7)

And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2: 8-9)

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (2: 15-17)

Adam and Eve, after eating of that fruit:
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (3: 8-9)

This is clearly an anthropomorphic conception of God, not a God who exists outside time and space. He speaks, walks, breathes, and makes mistakes. I only had to look in the first book of Genesis to find this, so it's obviously not hard to find evidence disconfirming Ross's claim. Just for additional evidence, I thought about other places where God is described in the Bible so I looked in Exodus where God talks to Moses.

And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3: 3-8)

Here God talks from a burning bush, and Moses looks away so as not to see God's face. Clearly, if God has a face, he exists in space and time, and cannot be the transcendental figure that Ross thinks the Bible describes him as. I'm not going to bother looking for more passages; it only took a few moments to find this stuff. On the contrary, one has to search assiduously and interpret generously in order to find anything in the Bible that doesn't involve a God existing in space and time, in which God is not anthropomorphized.

It's possible that the New Testament has a more abstract concept of God, but I'm not sure if that's true given that Jesus is supposed to be the only begotten son of God. If God can have sex with Mary, he must exist in space and time.

It's clear that Ross's interpretation of the Bible is an act of pure desperation that stretches the meaning of a few ambiguous or unclear passages into a conception of God that conforms to what he takes to be the scientific evidence for God's existence while, at the same time, ignoring the vast majority of the Biblical passages involving God in which God exists in space and time rather than transcending them.

There's not much more to this chapter. Ross describes several arguments by scientists, but it is in reality a parade of strawmen. I'll only mention two examples. He says Victor Stenger's position is that self-organizing principle account for development of the universe. Then criticizes Stenger on the grounds that "Not one single example of significant self-generation or self-organization can be found in the entire realm of nature. In fact nature shows just the opposite. Without causation nothing happens and without organization by an intelligent being, systems tend toward lower and lower levels of complexity" (p. 78).

There are actually two claims being made. The first is that the Big Bang generates itself. I do not know how Stenger understands this claim because Ross does not even bother explaining it. Ross does attempt to refute the second claim. The second claim is that systems in nature self-organize; and Ross is just wrong about the existence of self-organization. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is evolution, but self-organizing systems--systems in which order arises because of energy external to the system enters it--are common in nature. I won't bore you with a list.

The second response to his Big Bang proves God argument is Adolf Grunbaum's. Grunbaum claims that Ross's view of a time before time. This, Ross quotes Grunbaum, "presupposes some completely fictitious super-time for which no evidence at all has been given" (p. 76). Ross thinks this is erroneous since Grunbaum does not understand time. Ross then refers back to his claim that God caused effects before our time dimension existed. How reasserting his claim about a second kind of time without the explanation or proof of its existence that Grunbaum demands is supposed to accomplish anything I don't know. Then, to my amusement, he claims that the atheist responses are feeble. Pot, meet kettle, as they say.

In sum, Ross expends considerable effort finding passages that might be interpreted as revealing a God who exists outside our time and space dimensions while ignoring virtually every other passage in the Bible since they do not fit his conception. Finally, he attempts to respond to arguments against his view but completely fails to give convincing counterarguments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, Chapters 3-9

Typically when you have a crappy argument, you need to spend a lot of time focusing on the some part of the argument that you can establish, so no one recognizes the huge flaws in the rest of your argument. Suppose you are arguing that there is an afterlife, and you have some empirical evidence for near-death experiences that cannot yet be explained in natural terms, you emphasize the failure of scientific explanations and skip quickly past the part of the argument that because we do not know why humans have some experiences, those experiences must be supernatural. Ross utilizes that argumentative strategy in the bulk of this book. He spends most of his time playing up the evidence for a Big Bang and a beginning of the universe and neglects to show how this evidence proves the existence of God. Perhaps because he thinks it is obvious, but I think this is how he thinks the argument goes.

1. Everything that has a beginning in time must have a cause ("a beginner" he says).
2. The universe had a beginning in time.
3. Therefore the universe must have a cause.

It's not clear that the first premise is true. On the quantum level, some events occur without a cause although there are probabilities that some such event will occur. However, the main problem with this premise is that since time only exists when there is matter, the universe had a beginning in time but could not have had a cause because there was no time before the beginning of the universe in which the cause could have occurred.

We can see the problem with this argument by noting that if there was a beginning in time, then God must have had a beginning in time, and, according to premise 1, must have a cause. Yet it is absurd to think that there is a cause of God's existence. Hence, the first premise of Ross's argument must be false.

Weirdly, Ross recognizes that God cannot have caused the universe by preceding it in time as we understand causation to work but "predated" the universe in a different time dimension. This is both meaningless and special pleading. It is special pleading because Ross specifically ridicules others who propose ways in which the universe might have existed before the Big Bang yet he appeals to such a "time before time" for his own hypothesis. Moreover if it is possible for there to be additional dimensions in time in which causes can occur, then there is no reason to think that the universe has a beginning in time. So, with no beginning in time, Ross's entire argument for the existence of God, based on there being a first moment in time, is unsound. In that case, the second premise in the argument above is false on Ross's understanding of this other dimension in time.

It's no wonder, then, that Ross spends most of his time on the evidence for a Big Bang. That can be supported with evidence. And, importantly, this gives Ross's argument a veneer of scientific respectability. But the further argument cannot be, and he spends almost no time discussing the argument above, and so does not address the obvious problems with such claims.

Ross does rely heavily on the authority of scientists, especially with respect to belief in God. It is always possible that his quotes are mined--taken out of context to appear to show something other than they actually mean--but it's possible that some cosmologists believe in God. However, it's not likely that Ross really wants to consider scientific authorities as counting for or against belief in God since scientists generally are much less religious, and the higher the status of the scientist the less religious they tend to be. Here's a brief description of a 1998 study of elite scientists, members of the National Academy of Sciences and their relative belief in God. They found that 7% of NAS members had a personal belief in God while 72% personally disbelieved. If Ross wants to play dualing scientists, using some potentially undistinguished scientists chosen only because they agree with him, against the survey of the most distinguished scientists in America, he will lose convincingly.

In sum, Ross spends a great deal of time reviewing the research on cosmology that supports a finite universe with a beginning in time. Then he turns around and hypothesizes that there is a time before the beginning in order to allow God to have created the universe. Thus, the argument he presents undermines the conclusion he wants to derive from it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creationist Hugh Ross's Creator and the Cosmos Chapter 2

This post is part 2 in my excessively careful evaluation of the claims of Hugh Ross in his book, The Creator and the Cosmos. In my discussion of the first chapter I noted that Ross makes basic philosophical mistakes about meaning and morality that led him to interpret the scientific evidence in conformity with these biases.

Chapter 2: My Skeptical Journey

In this chapter Ross recounts an undoubtedly fictionalized account of his quest for knowledge in the world's philosophy and religions. I say that this must be fictionalized because he claims to have read the holy books of other, unnamed religions before he looked into Christianity (and the Judeo-Christian tradition). Perhaps Ross is a space alien visiting from some distant planet, but no person from a modern Western nation would look into Christianity last.

What did Ross find in these philosophers?
"[C]ircular arguments, inconsistencies, contradictions and evasions" (p. 15).

What did Ross find in these other holy books? He found:
"[S]tatements clearly at odds with established history and science. I also noted a writing style perhaps best described as esoteric, mysterious, and vague. My great frustration was having to read so much in these books to find something stated specifically enough to be tested. The sophistry and incongruity with established facts seems opposite to the Creator's character as suggested to me by nature" (p. 15).

These are examples of Ross's own inconsistency in his evaluation of evidence. These would be, and may be, good criticisms of some philosophers and religions but they apply as much to the Bible as any of these other sources.

Nonetheless, when Ross stumbles across a Bible, he finds to his shock that it is perfectly accurate.

I discovered the same thing when I first encountered a Bible. It read:

For countless ages the hot nebula whirled aimlessly through space. At length it began to take shape, the central mass threw off planets, the planets cooled, boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed, from masses of cloud hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust. And now the first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean, and developed rapidly in the fructifying warmth into vast forest trees, huge germ springing from the damp mould, sea monsters breeding, fighting, devouring, and passing away. And from the monsters, as the play unfolded itself, Man was born, with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil, and the cruel thirst for worship. And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death's inexorable decree.

Sorry, that's Bertrand Russell's A Free Man's Worship. I looked at my library again.

In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle...
At about one-hundredth of a second...the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million degrees centigrade. This is much hotter than even the center of the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of so-called elementary particles...
As the explosion continued the temperature dropped, reaching thirty thousand million degrees Centigrade after about one-tenth of a second; ten thousand million degrees after about one second; and three thousand million degrees after about fourteen seconds. This was cool enough so that electrons and positrons began to annihilate faster than they could be recreated out of the photons and neutrinos. The energy released in this annihilation of matter temporarily slowed the rate at which the universe cooled, but the temperature continued to drop, finally reaching one thousand million degrees at the end of the first three minutes. It was then cool enough for the protons and neutrons to begin to form into complex nuclei...
This matter continued to rush apart, becoming steadily cooler and less dense. Much later, after a few thousand years, it would become cool enough to form atoms of hydrogen and helium. The resulting gas would begin under the influence of gravitation to form clumps which would ultimately condense to form the galaxies and stars of the present universe.

Oh, wait. That's Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes. And it's not very theistic. I tried again.

In the beginning God created dates. And he saw that the date was Monday, July 4, 4004 BC. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And when there was Light, God saw the Date, that it was Monday, and he got down to work; for verily, he had a Big Job to do. And God made pottery shards and Silurian mollusks and pre-Cambrian limestone strata; and flints and Jurassic Mastodon tusks and Picanthropus erectus skulls and Cretacious placentals made he; and those cave paintings at Lasceaux. And that was that for the first Work Day. And God saw that he had made many wondrous things, but that he had not wherein to put it all. And God said, Let the heavens be divided from the earth and let us bury all of these Things which we have made in the earth; but not too deep.

Well, that's at least potentially consistent with the evidence, but, unfortunately for Ross, it's not the Bible but instead Not the Bible. So what does the Bible say and is it consistent with our scientific knowledge and the concept of God and God's creation that Ross wants? Here's the first book of Genesis.

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Ross asserts that the amazing things about this account is its order and coherence, and that it is the only religious account of God creating the universe from nothing. Clearly, creation from nothing is not in Genesis. Before God creates the universe "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." Before the creation there was a formless, watery chaos (this concept of origins is actually borrowed from Babylonian mythology), and God created the universe from that chaos.

How about God saying, "Let there be light"? Isn't that God creating a big bang? Not likely, God doesn't say, "Let there be an explosion." But more important, this conception of light is a concept of light pervading the universe without the sun as the source of that light. It is not in any way comparable to an incredibly high temperature explosion. Moreover, it says that God calls the light day, but that makes a hash of the idea that God saying "Let there be light" is God creating the Big Bang since he wouldn't call the Big Bang "Day".

It's obvious that the rest of this story is not accurate, but just to emphasize the point: "And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’" Seriously, Ross thinks that there is a dome separating the land on earth from the waters around us, in the oceans, and the water above us held back by the dome? And that this claim is supported by scientific research? Maybe God only left the dome up for a while and took it down later when the water had drained away a bit. There's really no point in trying to refute Ross's claim since it so patently flies in the face of even the most basic scientific view of the world; one can only ridicule Ross's claim. Yet Ross concludes after his "skeptical" review of the Bible, "I had been unsuccessful in finding a single provable error or contradiction" (p. 16). I must suppose he did not read past the first paragraph (and even there it's not so much that there are no errors but that they are not easily provable).

One last piece of evidence cited by Ross is his calculation of the "probability of the chance fulfillment of thirteen Bible predictions about specific people and their specific actions" (p. 16). Ross does not even summarize his method or predictions but only refers to another work. This appears to be more an attempt to sell another book than to do serious scholarship. At any rate, since he says nothing about the predictions, we can say only a couple of things about how people interpret them. First, if you select the predictions you want to test and ignore others, then you can select the accurate ones and thereby make the Bible appear to be a reliable source.

Second, I have serious doubts about the accuracy of whatever his specific predictions are. The error that is most likely to occur is what psychologists call "subjective validation". One takes certain events that have happened and then interprets the prediction in a way that makes the prediction accurate. The technique called cold reading, when a psychic does it, relies on the same error. For example, John Edward might say, "I'm getting an 'M' name. . ." and the people in his audience fill that vague prediction in with a specific name, "Yes, my father was named Michael." It is this way that people make Nostradamus' basically meaningless verses into prescience. So whatever predictions Ross chose, it's most likely that he filled in a vague prediction with some event that could be understood to fit it.

Third, some of the "predictions" in the Bible are not even predictions but written after the events under the pretense that they had been written at an earlier time. It's easy to make predictions about things that have already happened. If I asserted that this post was written in 2000 and predicted a devastating terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, then that would seem like eerie accuracy but for the fact that my prediction came after the fact. Here's a source that explains this for the so-called predictions in the book of Daniel. There's no way to know what Ross has in mind as evidence, but we certainly should not take his word for these implausible claims.

In sum, the second chapter of Ross's book is supposed to explain how he was led to his fundamental commitment to Christianity. Alas, his confidence in this evidence is absurdly misguided, and his attempts to bolster it with the supposed accuracy of predictions which he does explain cannot be considered evidence.

Creationist Hugh Ross's Creator and the Cosmos, Chapter 1

One of my students lent me a book, The Creator and the Cosmos, by old-earth creationist Hugh Ross that argues that contemporary science directly supports all the claims in the Bible. Just for fun, I am going to critique Ross's claims one chapter at a time. My short take is that the book is a mix of intellectual inconsistency, willful ignorance, often bizarre misinterpretations of evidence, poor argumentation, strawmen, and wishful thinking.

Chapter 1: The Awe-Inspiring Night Sky

Ross starts off laying out his fundamentalist Christians presuppositions and biases. He claims that:
[i]f the universe not created or in some manner accidental, then it has no objective meaning, and consequently, life, including human life, has no objective meaning. A mechanical chain of events determines everything. Morality and religion may be temporarily useful but are ultimately irrelevant. The Universe (capital U) is ultimate reality.

On the other hand, if the universe is created, then there must be reality beyond the confines of the universe. The Creator is that ultimate reality and wields authority over everything else. The Creator is the source of life and establishes its meaning and purpose. The Creator's personality establishes its personality. The Creator's character defines morality (p. 10).

These claims are utter nonsense. Neither meaning of life, even objective meaning, nor morality depends on a creator. Philosophers have nearly all thought that morality does not depend on God at least since Plato's Euthyphro. Socrates asks Euthyphro whether the gods love the pious because it is pious or whether something is pious because the gods love it. Euthyphro immediately selects the first option: things are good independently of God (or the gods) or God's character or command. But why is this so obviously the best answer?

Perhaps the best argument that morality does not depend on God comes from Leibniz. If morality depends on God's command, then God can have no reason to prefer one command over any other; God's commands are arbitrary since they could be based on nothing themselves. If this were the source of morality, it could only be the morality of a bully, that one should do what the bully wants because he/she has the power to enforce it. It would make no sense to praise God for being good since God's commands would be equally good no matter what God's commands were.

These considerations basically refute the idea that morality depends on God's character just as well as they do the Divine Command theory. No one could praise God for having a good character because no matter what character God had, it would be equally good. We could not say, "God dislikes murder because it is wrong," but only "Murder is wrong because God dislikes it." But then God's preferences--indications of God's character--are arbitrary.

Two final points (from Rachels' Elements of Moral Philosophy) against the divine command (character) theory. First, it is utterly mysterious how God's character could determine morality. How could God having a murder-hating character make murder wrong? If we found out that God did not like murder, we might decide to go along with God on it from fear of punishment or hope for reward, but those are not moral reasons at all. But there is no way to make sense of the idea that God's character determines morality. Second, there are good reasons to be morally good and avoid moral evil. If we judge moral right and wrong only on the basis of God's character, we miss the important facts about benefits and harms to people.

The question about meaning is more complex question, but Ross's claim is equally wrongheaded. First, he conflates meaning and purpose. It's not clear what the meaning of life is, but it does not depend on our creation by a being with a purpose in mind for us. Nor does it depend on our having an eternal afterlife.

Having an eternal afterlife is completely irrelevant to whether this current life is meaningful. Whatever fact there is about the afterlife (e.g. it is pleasurable, it connects us to God, it provides opportunity for morally important goals that we are committed to) that would make it meaningful, could equally be available to people in this life. If an eternal life could be meaningful, then a finite life could also be meaningful.

God's purpose for our life is equally irrelevant to the meaning of our lives. Suppose a mad scientist creates a being in a laboratory with the goal of making that person a slave who cleans the scientist's lab equipment. Or suppose the scientist wants this creation to run around stupidly in circles, banging his head and chanting songs of praise for his creator. That would be a meaningless life if any life is despite the person clearly having a creator who had a purpose for his existence. So if God having a purpose for creation is to be meaningful, it must be a meaning that is independently meaningful. Just as in the morality case, God would not give us meaning by creating us, but would have to create us with an independent meaning. If God created us only to provide food for worms, then that would not make our lives meaningful. Moreover, if God is morally good, God could not treat humans only as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves. But if God tried to give us meaning by creating us only for his purposes, then God would be treating humans as means only. In order for us to have meaning in our lives, God would have to create us with a meaning already.

Ross's misunderstanding of basic philosophy is not only a mistake in itself but also leads to biases in his understanding of the evidence from physics and cosmology. If one goes into an evaluation of evidence with a preconceived view of the matter. Ross knows what his interpretation must show before he even considers that evidence; he has a conclusion and is determined to find the evidence to fit it. And it is little wonder given this confession that this is what he proceeds to do in the rest of his book.

Brief Hiatus for Birth of Unpublishable Baby

The Unpublishable spouse and I have just had a child, our son Corwin, on September 29. I will try to start blogging again soon.