It feels so good when it stops

March 6, 2011 • 12:44 pm

Would you like the mental equivalent of hitting your head with a hammer? If so, here’s some fun courtesy of Denis Alexander at BioLogos.

First, another new reason to ignore the Gnu Atheists: they’re old, odd, and pointless:

“Yes,” I hear you say, “but isn’t it the case that today the UK is home to some fire-breathing scientist-atheists whose fame has spread throughout the world?” True, the way the media works does give huge scope for the dissemination of extremism, but the point in this case is that the number of such ultra-enthusiastic scientist-atheists is really small, to be counted on the fingers of one hand. They are retired elderly professors, with time on their hands, and to be frank my secular colleagues tend to treat them as slightly odd. What’s the point in getting all hot under the collar in crusading for a belief system that, in essence, just represents a disbelief in someone else’s belief system? That does seem a bit pointless.

And don’t miss Part 2!  Here we see true progress in theology: debates about angels on pins have been replaced by debates about precisely where in the hominin lineage we became sinful. (My money is on Homo erectus.)

Taking the corpus of Biblical literature as a whole, here we have a ‘grand narrative’ of creation, alienation from God due to human sin and disobedience, redemption through Christ, and a new heavens and a new earth.  We have the possibility of fellowship with God through freely willed choice. Our nearest cousins, chimps and bonobos, to the best of our knowledge, do not. So the curious Christian is likely to ask at least some time during their lives, “Well, when did that possibility first begin? When did people first start knowing the one true God in such a way that they could pray, walk with God, and be responsible to God? When could they first be judged by God because they had sinned?” It is those kinds of questions that the Retelling and Homo divinus type of models are interested in addressing. Did all this happen rather slowly, as in the first model, or rather fast, as in the second? Notice that the questions raised are not to do with the origins of religion (however defined), which is another kind of discussion altogether, but with the origins of spiritual life, knowledge of God, the time when humans first became answerable to God for their actions. . . .

. . . Think of the Retelling Model. Here in this context it is imagined that a population of early humans at some unspecified time come to an awareness of God as creator and of (at least some of) their responsibilities toward God, but reject the light that they have received. This is perceived to happen as a process over a long period of time, maybe thousands or even tens of thousands of years. In the case of the Homo divinus Model, such ‘spiritual enlightenment’ is seen as occurring less as a process, more as a saltation, again in a small human community or even in a single couple.

Are these “Models” really all that different from the “Flood Model” of Henry Morris and Duane Gish?  In all of these cases the models, unlike those of science, originate not from observations of nature but from a book of fiction.

See Eric MacDonald for the antidote.

94 thoughts on “It feels so good when it stops

      1. Ah yes, without having a degree in shiteology you have no right to comment, you ‘old’ gnu person!

  1. Oh yeah, that must be it: the whole gnu atheist movement is definitely just British elderly scientists. Pay no attention to the rest of us, we’re not here at all.

    We’re not the gnus you’re looking for 🙂

    1. That’s just it, as Nick Matzke and Mooney have shown time and time again, the gnus they are looking for…

      don’t exist.

      they made them up.

      they are straw-people.

      …and I’ve grown all too weary of people not calling this what it is:

      a lie.

      intentional or not, that is what maintaining a strawman is.

  2. It’s obvious that none of us are smart enough (or is it cool enough – I forget) to understand that sophisticated theology. Why, it also sounds sciency. All that talk of the One True God (which one is that again) – why I can’t wait to see the peer-reviewed papers and evidence for the claims…or am I being too unsophisticated again. I must be an unwashed lout. Will Biologos ever forgive me?

    1. Also, why do they assume that other creatures don’t come to the OTG with free will? Maybe the OTG really loves a lot of sex – the bonobos have it correct and we humans have screwed it up. All this time, laughing at us. Damn, dirty apes.

      1. Clearly you have not read the OTB (one true book). Sex = Bad. Therefore, bonobos are almost the worst. The worst clearly being Tetrahymena thermophila. Those guys are crazy.

        But really, it comes down to the book. We have it and nothing else does. End of question. Or, rather, no question in the first place.

          1. The biblical literalists are very happy to make an exception in the case of the Song of Solomon, and declare that it is really an allegory about Christ’s relationship with his church.

          2. …and Lot’s incestuous daughters.
            Both versions of Genesis are littered with approved fornication.
            And why did the Midianites kill all but the virgin females?
            etc, etc…
            The Babble is chock full examples where sex == good.

            1. Sex=good if it results in more offspring. Hence 7 billion inhabitants of Earth.

              Of course this applies to evolution as well.

  3. They are retired elderly professors, with time on their hands, and to be frank my secular colleagues tend to treat them as slightly odd.

    What?! The Pope isn’t retired!!

    Oh. So it’s alright for the religiolistas to be old farts?

  4. Hmm, lessee, three comments here in 10min (to something posted pro bono) vs five comments there in no less than two days (to something that leads one to suspect may have been paid on a per-word basis). That says something right there.

  5. Why in the hell couldn’t “Tom Johnson” have pointed his “YNH” gun at the people who REALLY aren’t:


  6. So this is what, the punctuated equilibrium version of creationism?
    Yeesh. I think I’ll just use a regular old hammer. At least my skull will offer some protection.

  7. Alexander is apparently playing a sort of ‘tu quoque’ game to defend the respectability of the “discipline” of theology by trying to draw all sorts of parallels with ideas like String Theory, free will compatibilism, or historical interpretations which can’t be objectively tested or determined either. There are “many different ways in which reliable knowledge is acquired in different disciplines.” Science, philosophy, history — so why not give a break and throw in theology as just one of the legitimate areas of study?

    So, should we therefore ban all forms of speculative model-building in science because, at least in our present state of knowledge, we can see no conceivable way of determining which, if any, of the rival models might be the correct one?

    Is “God exists” really comparable to speculative model-building in science, though? Especially when Alexander also spends a lot of time pooh-poohing the idea that theology is in any way scientific? Theological “truths” get to be expressed in “figurative language” — as long as it’s not metaphor all the way down to atheism, that is.

    If religion is a”speculative model” akin to what is done in science or philosophy, then so much the worse for religion. Fine. God is a hypothetical Mind which did not evolve and which creates and acts on matter through psychokenesis and ESP. Ok, let’s go at that one with the usual philosophical and scientific intensity of scrutiny and see what happens. Does it keep being a reasonable hypothesis, an inference to the best explanation?

    No. Alexander doesn’t want the most basic assumptions of religion to be scrutinized: instead, he wants them to get a free pass and THEN see if we can’t get some reasonable hypotheses out of them. IF God exists and the Bible is his revealed truth, can we figure out a way to reconcile scripture with science so it doesn’t sound as implausible as it otherwise does? And can we call doing that a “discipline?”

    Again, no. It is a lack of discipline. Pull yourself together and focus: first things first. Your “speculative model” has to be reasoned to. No fair pulling it out of sloppy intuitions, primitive assumptions, moth-eaten traditions and “special revelation” to the spiritually attuned and then claiming it’s automatically a worthy area of study just like high-end cosmology, sans the math.

    I wasn’t impressed by the article.

    1. “God … creates and acts on matter through psychokenesis and ESP”
      Are you saying that he wins the Randi’s $1000000?

      1. Gabrielle Guichard wrote:

        Are you saying that he wins the Randi’s $1000000?

        No. As usual, the returned application form was a rambling, incoherent mess. These guys never seem to be able to state with any clarity what they can do, under which conditions, and with what level of accuracy.

        1. I would have expected any forms sent to god to be returned by the post office as undeliverable.

    2. The problem, of course is that in the real world, models tell us something. They allow us to answer specific questions and make predictions, the answers to which allow us to refine the model.

      Again, I have to ask. What question has any theological model EVER answered?

    1. I’m dying to know when we first got our Everlasting Souls!

      I wanna know how he can just whip out the fact that bonobos and chimps don’t. Did someone invent a soulometer when I wasn’t looking?

  8. Thanks. I think that completes my bullshit quota for the day.

    In a way, he is saying that the gnu atheists don’t actually pose a problem for the biologos types. So we can perhaps take that as a dismissal of the accomodationist complaints.

  9. 99.9% of theology is just rationalizing beliefs. There’s no actual reasoning going on here. Theology explains nothing, and predicts nothing. Angels dancing on the heads of pins is as sophisticated as it gets.

  10. “When did people first start knowing the one true God in such a way that they could…walk with God….”

    Yes, yes. This is such a scientifically compatible question. Are there artifact footprints with one set being perfect and godish? Are there cave painting of Yahweh holding hands with Lucy? Biologos should definitely fund some research.

    These people make my head hurt.

    1. Perhaps the larger of the footprint trails at Laetoli are God’s! That’s 3.2 million years, and that’s my offer of help to Alexander.

    2. Are there artifact footprints with one set being perfect and godish?

      According to a Hallmark poster I read, they appear all the time on the beach, right next to human footprints.

      1. That triggered my memory for this hokey story – not quite as good as the legend of the sand dollar, but…

        Footprints in the Sand

        One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

        In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

        This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

        “You promised me Lord,
        that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

        The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

        Mary Stevenson, 1936

        1. I prefer the alternative version in which the last line is: The Lord replied, “My child, there we were hopping”.

          (Incidentally, it seems obvious to me that Ken was explicitly referencing the hokey “Footprints” story, and then Tulse didn’t notice that and explicitly referenced it himself, and then Michael didn’t notice that and quoted it himself.)

        2. It was supposed to trigger your memory to that abysmal story, not lead you to post it in its entirety.

          Here’s another clue… if someone makes references to a rowboat, a helicopter and a flood – they are not asking for the straight version of that story to be posted in its entirety, either.

  11. Does religion (pick one, or more) produce reliable knowledge?

    No. It is unconstrained activity – ways of fooling yourself with no error correction built in.

    “Fellowship with God through freely willed choice” My arse.

  12. Am I the only one who sees this kind of drivel as amazingly provincial?

    These BioLogos people are trying to filter millions of years of human evolution through a god belief that’s at best only 2500 years old (prior to that, the Israelites were still quite polytheistic), and has never risen above minority status in the world, even using the grossly inflated numbers one finds in an almanac.

    Apologetics of this sort serve only to make it exquisitely clear that Christianity is utterly incompatible with reality, as revealed by science.

    1. Yeah, I have to imagine there is a Hindu equivalent of BioLogos, explaining very patiently and pompously how belief in Shiva is perfectly compatible with modern science.

      I wonder what the Aztec version would be like: “Well, of course the ripping out of still-beating hearts from our enemies should be seen in its metaphorical context…”

        1. I am not sure of Ganesh, all versions of Hindu mythology I am aware of agree that Ganesh was created by Parvati, one of the several forms of the mother goddess.

          I guess that the one with Lakshmi is in some sense the most popular mythology: perhaps the most popular creation story in Hinduism is of the mother goddess(of whom Lakshmi is considered a form) being the creator of all the other gods, who then proceed to create the universe.

        2. And to the credit of some of these story-writers, the stories come complete with the gods being all confused when the they are created out of thin air :D.

      1. There will have to be several Hindu versions: one for those who believe in the Trinity(Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma) then the so called Shakts(who believe in a mother goddess, Shakti, which translates to power, or capability), and then the Deists(those who believe the Paramatma is outside the Universe), and then the atheists and the agnostics(those who would swear by Samkhya.

  13. So does this “model” explain how souls first appeared ?

    Was there some ancestor with say 1% percent of a soul and did this confer some advantage that natural selection could work with ?

    And come to that how does a non-material soul get passed on to progeny ?

    These are important questions and perhaps Denis Alexander will be expanding on his “model” in future articles.

    1. No no no silly! This is all wrong! The soul is quite obviously irreducibly complex. 1% of a soul could not possibly be functional as an organ of worship.

      ; )

  14. “What’s the point in getting all hot under the collar in crusading for a belief system that, in essence, just represents a disbelief in someone else’s belief system?”

    My my, what a deep thinker the man is!

    You know, I personally wouldn’t waste a SECOND of my time on such shallow blah -blah nonsense, that was obviously written only ‘for effect’ and hasn’t been given one iota of serious thought!

    At least THESE folks have THOUGHT about their belief *cough*:

        1. Once again, I have contacted as many as I amble of these childish death-cult believers to determine if any of them are confident enough to legally sign over to me all of their worldly goods, effective on the 23rd, in return for an immediate reward.
          So far, no takers.
          I wonder why their convictions are revealed as being vanishingly tiny when they are requested to put their money where there mouths are?

    1. I’d be happy to ignore the religious, if only they would stop killing apostates and murdering abortion doctors and marrying multiple underage girls and flying planes into buildings and outlawing stem cell research and teaching empirically false beliefs about the natural world and…

      If, as PZ once opined, religion was a purely personal hobby like knitting, few atheists

          1. Eh, I take those kind of things like I take LARPers and furries — if they want to dress funny in public, that’s fine.

            (And when you get down to it, religious believers are just live action role players who’ve gotten too caught up in the game…)

      1. This.

        It’s a little strange this appears so far downthread. Religious dogma is responsible for so much horror.

        My question would be: Why don’t people like Alexander get hot under the collar when confronted with the atrocities cited by Tulse? We can’t allow jihadists to continue to luxuriate in the shade provided by the tree that is moderate religion, to paraphrase Sam Harris.

  15. Geez, usually people at least try to pretend that they’re not making an ad hominem argument. “Pay no attention to them — they’re all old retired professors.”

  16. precisely where in the hominin lineage we became sinful. (My money is on Homo erectus

    1/2 for a penis joke, but still rong. It was Eve’s fault, of course.

  17. Cue Bevis and Butthead: heh, heh, heh, he said “homo!”

    How come the BioLegos guys never come here to play? I want to know what sin is. What would homo whateverus have to do to be sinful?

    I’m sure it has something to do with those damned quantums!

    1. Doc – you probably could answer your own question about the whereabouts of the BioLogos guys [and only one gal as far as I can determine]. Karl Giberson was the only one who spent some time and effort trying to have an exchange with the Gnus, but Uncle Karl seems to be diminished at BL. Also, I think that it is not in the best interests of the BL mission to engage the Gnus – they certainly will not change any minds among the atheist/agnostic crowd. Their target demographic is the evangelical crowd that is trying to figure out how they can accept scientific findings in relationship with their faith. A while back Coyne suggested that they should go after Al Mohler for a while rather than the Gnus – and perhaps they took his advice.

  18. Being new to the atheist scene I thought I’d look Alexander etc. up & this is what I noticed (probably obvious old news to you old campaigners):

    According to Wiki:

    Dr. Denis Alexander is the director of the the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. An interdisciplinary academic research institute based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, England. It conducts research, holds seminars and lectures, and disseminates publications on various topics at the intersection of science and religion. It was established in 2006 by a $2,000,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

    This however is the the Faraday Institute for Science page entitled: Who was Michael Faraday? It explains that the name “Faraday” was chosen because “he combined a deep religious faith with an outstanding scientific career…a very effective communicator of the latest findings in science in the public domain, an exemplar of how to cross inter-disciplinary boundaries.”

    A quick look at the above link will tell you that indeed he was a communicator, but firstly he was a scientist who did experiments

    Faraday quote: “Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature.”

  19. A comment by Mike Gene below that nonsense was fun to note: “It is crucial to recognize that the Gnus are activists and have a socio-political agenda. They are another movement, akin to the animal rights movement, the ID movement, the pro-life movement, etc. Because most people assign great authority to science, the Gnus are trying to siphon the authority of science to support their activism, just as the other movements likewise try to siphon off the authority of science.”

    At this point my irony meter exploded. Let me just replace a few words so that we all understand the Biologos agenda:

    “It is crucial to recognize that Biologos are activists and have a socio-political agenda. They are another movement, akin to the animal rights movement, the ID movement, the pro-life movement, etc. Because most people assign great authority to science, Biologos are trying to siphon the authority of science to support their activism, just as the other movements likewise try to siphon off the authority of science.”

    Talk about projecting and irony! Gnus contain real scientists, so take that!

        1. What do you have against Spong? He was instrumental in helping me jettison the remains of my (already quite liberal) Christianity.

          Shorter Spong: Of course all the clever people know that the emperor has no clothes, but for a long time, people have been telling really great stories about the clothes they thought the emperor had, and now we know it’s really about the stories, not the clothes, so let’s just forget about the clothes and celebrate the stories.

  20. I do not know, but whenever people start talking about “one true God” and the likes, I always have an urge to shout out to them that the Sumerians, Egyptian, Indus-Valley and Vedic “true gods” pre-date their “true gods” by centuries and millennia at the very least. So shouldn’t at least the Sumerians have the right of primacy in this matter, you know, because they trumped everybody else in coming up with a theology.

    I have still to meet a coherent argument about why any of the “dead” religions(Sumerian, for example) is any less likely to be true than one of the current ones. I guess one of the “cutting edge” questions in (sophisticated) theology should be whether or not we are all going to Hades or the Sumerian or Egyptian hells anyway!

  21. ‘Homo Divinus’? Wow – the stupid hurts. I wonder where the invisible ‘homo divinus’ fits into the cladogram.

  22. I think we can move a long way into the thoughts of the religiously inclined if we can develop some sort of answer to the comfort belief brings when faced with one’s mortality. To simply say that when one dies, “That’s it. Nothing, nada, zilch” doesn’t inspire very many people to drop the proverbial veil. In my limited appreciation of such matters, I think religious people need to become more scientific in their apprehension of existence, and scientific people need to somehow become more spiritual. The latter doesn’t imply belief in gods, but perhaps a deeper knowing of every moment we draw breath.

  23. What’s the point in getting all hot under the collar in crusading for a belief system that, in essence, just represents a disbelief in someone else’s belief system?

    On the one end this rings hollow, since the four horsemen always point out that atheism has both positive empirical and social content. Physicalism is an example of the former, which rightly speaking isn’t a “belief, see Dawkins’ The God Delusion and its probabilistic basis.

    On the other end it is deluded, since one can as well claim that all religion “just represent a disbelief in someone else’s belief system” as much (all other religions _and_ “atheism” – a zero sum game).

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