Evolution and entropy

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:05 am

The claim is sometimes made that entropy, or the laws of thermodynamics, prohibit the possibility of evolution.

The laws of thermodynamics can be stated in a number of ways in words, and more precisely in equations, but here is one way of stating them:

  1. Energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system.
  2. The net entropy of an isolated system always increases.
  3. The entropy of a system approaches a constant value as the temperature approaches absolute zero (-273.15o C).

A more amusing but less accurate version I have seen is:

  1. You can never win, you can only break even.
  2. You can only break even at absolute zero.
  3. You can never reach absolute zero.

Returning to the first set of laws, the First Law obviously needs to be slightly modified in the light of General Relativity and Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 to ‘matter-energy cannot be created or destroyed’, but the bottom line remains the same.

Entropy has a technical definition, or rather a number of different technical definitions, expressed in equations, but it is often understood as the ‘disorder’ of a system. So an increase in entropy is a decrease in order, and so on. Essentially, energy tends to change from more useful forms, that can do work, to less useful forms, over time.

The claim I referenced in the first sentence – that entropy forbids evolution – relies on the notion that evolving from a single-celled organism to something like a human being (with a human brain, perhaps the most complex matter we know of) requires a considerable increase in order, and therefore a net decrease in entropy.

The answer is right there in the Second Law, though: the words ‘in an isolated system‘. A single-celled organism does not evolve into a human being if it is placed in a sealed chamber and isolated from incoming energy – in the forms of heat, light, food and air – from the environment.

Perhaps the people who make this claim want to regard the whole of Earth as an isolated system, and argue that the evolution of all lifeforms from simpler (less-ordered) lifeforms is prohibited by the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

But the answer to that involves stepping outside and looking up, even on a cloudy day. Earth is not an isolated system, because it receives vast amounts of energy from that big nuclear fusion generator in the sky, the Sun.

Local increases in order – decreases in entropy – are certainly not prohibited: a human brain is much more ordered than all the food that goes into making it.

In practical terms, no system in the universe is closed and isolated. Even the Solar System emits solar energy to the space around it. But certainly, in considering Earth, the energy coming in from the Sun is a huge part of the overall energy picture.

(As a side note, high energy, short wavelength visible light arrives with the ability to do work, including the work of photosynthesis. It passes through various processes, and then is emitted as low energy, long wavelength infrared radiation, which radiates off into space. Unless intercepted by greenhouse gases, in which case it hangs around a bit longer, warming the globe…)

And it turns out that the nuclear fusion process of hydrogen combining to form helium that produces the Sun’s energy involves a net increase in entropy – a net decrease in order. And, given that Earth receives only a tiny fraction of the energy the Sun puts out, this increase in entropy occurring in the Sun completely dwarfs the local decrease in entropy involved in evolution. So, in the local system of our Solar System, net entropy increases, in agreement with the Second Law

No rules of thermodynamics are contravened by the processes of evolution.

For ease of navigation I will include links to each of the other posts in this series at the bottom of each post.

Why I think it’s important to understand evolution
Cosmogenesis, abiogenesis and evolution
Facts, Theories and Laws
Radiocarbon dating
Radiometric dating and deep time
Four Forces of the Universe
Probability and evolution
Species and ‘baramin’, macro- and micro-evolution
Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam
Transitional fossils
Complexity – irreducible and otherwise


Why I think it’s important to understand evolution

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:38 pm

I’ve decided to re-animate this blog for a while to post a short series of clear, simple discussions of some of the common arguments that are used to reject evolutionary theory as an explanation for the current diversity of living things on Earth.

When I raised the issue on Facebook, a friend asked “Why is it so important to you to persuade people to believe the Theory of Evolution?”, which is a great question. So this post is both an introduction to the series (initially I think there might be about 10 posts in total, but it may well grow), and my attempt to answer that question.

First, I think there’s value in clarifying that evolution is not something we ‘believe in’ in any religious sense. Rather, we ‘believe that’ it is the theory that best explains all of the available evidence… until a better one comes along. This is true for all scientific theories.

With that in mind, then, I care that people understand evolutionary theory because I care about what is true, and because it is a theory that we use in things like medical and pharmaceutical advances that save lives. Rejecting it is also strongly associated with rejecting science in other domains such as vaccines and climate change. It also makes people very vulnerable to liars and charlatans.

I suppose there’s one or two other notes worth including in this introductory post: I’ve been using the words ‘evolution’ and ‘evolutionary theory’, but it is probably more accurate to talk about the ‘modern evolutionary synthesis’ – the sum of the best current understanding on the part of evolutionary biologists of the mechanisms through which life perpetuates itself and changes.

Those who reject evolution often talk of ‘Darwinism’, but this is inaccurate for two reasons:

  1. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory, not an ideology. It is not an ‘ism’. Confusing the kind of thing an idea is confuses our thinking.
  2. While Charles Darwin was important in outlining the broad lines of evolution, others also did so before and since. He wrote in a time when he did not know of the existence of genes or DNA, so he got some things wrong. Science, by its nature, moves on, and evolutionary science is no exception. Refuting Darwin may not refute the modern evolutionary synthesis, and vice versa. (A related point is that traducing Darwin’s character or motivations does not refute evolutionary theory.)

The other point is about the use of ‘theory’ in relation to evolution, and this is something I’ve already written about elsewhere: Facts, Theories and Laws

I hope that the journey will be interesting and useful for all of us.

For ease of navigation I will include links to each of the other posts in this series at the bottom of each post.

Cosmogenesis, abiogenesis and evolution
Evolution and entropy
Facts, Theories and Laws
Radiocarbon dating
Radiometric dating and deep time
Four Forces of the Universe
Probability and evolution
Species and ‘baramin’, macro- and micro-evolution
Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam
Transitional fossils
Complexity – irreducible and otherwise



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:58 am

I’ve said before that ‘debunking’ isn’t that interesting to me as an activity. At the same time, I care passionately about truth and truth-telling. So when someone crowed that the Bible’s divine origin was demonstrated by the fact that it had prophesied that certain cities would be destroyed and never rebuilt, I immediately thought of Tyre. Formerly the capital of the Phoenicians, it is now in Lebanon, and called ‘Sour’. Here is what Ezekiel had to say about Tyre (in Chapter 26):

7 For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. 8 He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. 9 He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. 13 And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the LORD; I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD.

It was actually Alexander who tore down the old city and threw it into the sea, building a causeway from the mainland out of the island that, with added silt, means Tyre is now a promontory rather than an island, but Nebuchadnezzar also attacked it, and in fact it has been destroyed or damaged a number of times, including in the wars in Lebanon in the past few decades.

But here’s a satellite photo of modern Tyre/Sour (click for bigness).


Clearly there’s a substantial small city there. The population is estimated at about 117,000, though the wartorn nature of the region means that accurate censuses are hard to come by.

There’s been a lot of tapdancing by people trying to save the prophecy: here are a few examples:

It does depend on ones perspective! Was the original city rebuilt into the thriving city it was once on a time??

Not sure about ancienct populations, but I’d be pretty surprised if the ancient city had 117,000 inhabitants.

The statement that Tyre will never be rebuilt means more than the restructuring of stones, wood and mortar. Tyre will never regain international prominence as a world trader and colonizer. She will never be a rich, prosperous, flourishing, world power as she was in Ezekiel’s day. The denial of rebuilding goes far beyond a mere architectural project. It must include making Tyre into the person she was in the early sixth century BC. It must be kept in mind that the meaning is “you will never be rebuilt,” not “the city will never be rebuilt.”

The statement in 26:14 does not deny there would be buildings on the island. It means that Tyre would never be rebuilt into the commercial superpower she was in Ezekiel’s day. It means that the palaces and temples of Ezekiel’s day would forever lie deep underneath the ground (and the water!), never to be revived. It would in no way be rebuilt into the prosperous, powerful living entity she was at the time the oracle was given.

Chapter 26 verse 14 says (in part): “I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets.” Have another look at the satellite photo: bare rock?

Someone else (actually, I think it was the SDA Bible Commentary) then said ‘Oh well, the island has been rebuilt but the prophecy meant the city on the mainland”. But if the ‘Romanium Stadium’ shown in the satellite image marks the location of the old city (which makes sense) it is clear that the modern city extends considerably inland and around that. Some of that area has been preserved for archaeological reasons, not built over, but that would be rather clutching at straws in prophecy terms.

I could keep going, there are lots more examples. But they’re all ways of explaining away or dancing around the contradiction.

You can’t have it both ways, if you care about truth. If the warrant for the Bible’s prophecies being reliable is the real-world evidence, you don’t then get to explain away the evidence when it’s inconvenient.


God, Intervention and Responsibility

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:20 am

Someone asked on a forum ‘Was God responsible for the deaths in the Newtown shootings?’

My response:

Thread is about God’s role. On which, if God could have prevented it and didn’t, why not?

Certainly Huckabee’s ‘pushing God out of the schools’ makes no sense – if God is omnipresent, he’s in the school.

An omnipotent, omnipresent God is responsible for what happened, in my view.

The question is what you do with that.

One of the forum denizens responded:

Being Omnipotent, God could prevent all evil deeds and every evil thought from taking place. He could obliterate all evil actions the moment such thought enter the mind of human beings.

We would be robots, and the Devil would have strong arguments proving that God is arbitrary and that he is a despot who will not grant human beings the freedom to exercise their right to choose between good and evil.

We would be simply puppets in the hands of a mighty being. All our choices and decisions would be made by such a God. Is this the kind of God you would like to have?

My response:

The alternative, though, is a God who does nothing. What’s the point of that God? May as well not be there at all, if he never does anything anyway for fear of taking away freedom of choice.

It’s not a coherent perspective.

Either God intervenes, or he does not. If he does, why would he intervene to find a parking space or effect the outcome of a sportsball game, but not to stop a mass murderer of children? If he does not, how is he relevant to what goes on in this world? If, in order to protect free will, only natural causes are allowed, then only natural causes matter.


What Am I?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:03 am

I mentioned to some friends on Facebook that the label ‘Christian’ doesn’t really fit me well these days. People tend to assume I’m a Christian when I say I believe in God, and to then interpret what I say from that perspective, which means they tend to miss what I’m really trying to say.

My friend James asked ‘So what are you?’, and here’s my best attempt at a reply:

Thanks for the question, James. Unfortunately the answer is far from simple. I’ll give it my best shot, though, because I know my vagueness is a source of frustration for many people.

I believe in God: a god who is literally infinite. God contains the universe, and indeed the multiverse, rather than the other way around. Our universe is a small local phenomenon within God, because it is finite within infinity.

God is also omnipresent and omniscient: everywhere, all at once, and knows everything, all at once: not through specific looking and attention but in the eternal present.

Being infinite, God contains all possibilities of good and evil, male and female, hot and cold, light and dark, large and small, from the quantum level of quarks and photons to… the multiverse.

Being infinite, any knowledge of God, no matter how large, is finite divided by infinite = zero. No-one knows anything fundamental about God (including me), and being infinite, anything we claim to know, God also embodies the direct negation of.

Given that, as well to call me a Buddhist or Muslim or Zoroastrian or… whatever any person trying to come to grips with the universe has ever believed: and its negation.

Calling me a Christian, when I very explicitly say that God embodies the negation of everything Christian, just seems perverse.

Call me a ‘quantum theist’ if any label be required, but that includes the possibility of ‘classical theist’ and no doubt many other possibilities that our fledgling quantum physics, less than a century old in a 14 billion year old universe, has never even contemplated.


Good stuff from David Friedman

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:04 pm

I’m not an atheist, and I have to admit I have issues with the approaches of some of what P Z Myers (whose stuff I like a lot) calls the ‘gnu atheists’.

This blog post from David Friedman is a very nice rebuttal to some of their more simplistic arguments: http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/01/atheism-and-religion.html

Most of the gnu atheists claim that they are about reason above all. If that’s true, they ought to be engaging with religion in all its richness and complexity, not with their own simplistic strawman versions of it.


Religious Stuff

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:35 pm


It’d be nice if everyone, on all sides, could show more respect for other viewpoints and more respect for the truth.

It’s what I increasingly come to: I’m not advocating for or against any particular view, I’m advocating for truth and honesty. By all means disagree with someone, but don’t lie or distort the evidence to do so. And even if you’re not lying but honestly mistaken, accept clarifications in the spirit of an honest desire for truth.

I try to do likewise, and am happy to have it pointed out when I’m falling short of that aspiration.


Praying for the sick simply does not work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

I probably shouldn’t have to make the disclaimer after all this time, but it seems I do: I’m not attacking religion, Christianity or God. I’m challenging our (necessarily, inevitably) limited understanding of those things.

Here’s a big analysis of the research evidence: http://www.springerlink.com/content/ql345l2h434666l5/

It’s pretty conclusive: praying for the sick to be healed simply does not work.

Where it gets interesting is what we do with that. Rather than perhaps thinking again about what prayer means and what it is for, the most typical responses are to either try to impeach the science in some way as a godless plot or else to mutter about the inscrutable will of God.

His will must indeed be inscrutable if it turns out that praying for someone yields *exactly* the same medical outcomes as not praying for them… and if most Christians’ current understanding of the power of prayer is correct.

It’s not simple, and it’s not meant to be simple: but just pretending reality is not as it is doesn’t cut it any more.


Critical Thinking and/or Creationism (in Tennessee)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:01 pm

Kind of ambivalent about this story, really. Critical thinking is a good thing. Science should involve students critiquing theories and considering evidence:


But considering the sources, you have to wonder: I’d have no issues at all if the same standards of critical thinking are applied to both evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. The worry for me is if this bill was used as cover to present a heap of creationist critiques of evolution while at the same time presenting ID as settled science…

But I really do think it’s possible to ‘teach the controversy’ without indoctrinating.


Extinction of Religion?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:19 am

First, please note that I post this without glee: I seem to be developing a bit of a reputation for being anti-religious among some commenters here that I think is undeserved. I’m interested in news about religion, and like anything it’s often not the good news that makes the news…

And besides, this story has physics, too! It’s a paper published at a physics conference, and is based on physicists using mathematical modelling tools developed for physical processes to look at the rates of growth on national censuses of those declaring themselves unaffiliated with any religion.

There’ve been a number of articles about the paper going around, but journalists often get things wrong or have odd emphases, so I always prefer, where possible, to go directly to the original scientific paper.


The language gets fairly mathematical, but the graphs and figures are pretty easy to read and interpret, as is the main thrust of the paper. Their notion is that people tend to conduct a bit of a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to be affiliated or unaffiliated with any particular group. To the extent that people judge there are more costs and fewer benefits in being affiliated than not, they will tend to drop their affiliation.

The study took census data from 9 countries – Australia is one of them but the US is not – and looked at the rates of change of people identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Most of the obvious caveats were addressed, so please do read the paper (or at least skim it) before assuming they missed something obvious.

It needs to be said that the ‘extinction’ would not be absolute, would not happen in all places evenly (or at all) and will not happen tomorrow… the graph suggests perhaps 70 years for effective extinction of religion in the Netherlands, for example.

There’s more to say and some links to add, but perhaps I’ll do that in the comments. In the mean time, just an interesting story.


Literalism and Bibliolatry

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:58 am

Recent forum discussions1 are just the latest manifestation of an issue I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. I’ll let one of the forum denizens, ‘John317’, speak for himself:

People have to decide whether to accept their feelings & opinions about this or whether they are going to trust the Bible[…]2.

If the Bible […is] untrustworthy on something so central in Scripture as this {whether God kills}, perhaps it is wrong on many other things.

Do you trust the Bible […] when it comes to telling us that Christ is both fully man and fully God? Or that homosexuality is a sin? […]

My point is that once we start jettisoning ideas and teachings that we don’t like for whatever reason, it becomes a matter of accepting what we like and rejecting everything else that we might find personally objectionable. At that point, people are no longer placing their faith in the word of God or even in God Himself but in their own opinions.

That particular post was in response to a discussion about whether God kills, and John317 kind of had the wrong end of the stick. I was agreeing with him: if you take the Bible literally, then God does indeed kill. He killed pretty much everyone on earth in the Flood, making God the most effective mass killer in history.

Now, what one does with that is obviously more complicated, but all I was trying to do at the time was to force believers to take their own beliefs face-on: if you believe in a literal Bible, you believe in a killer God. Whether or not God has every right to kill is another debate.

But the bigger issue is that one about ‘do you believe the Bible or your own opinions?’

The Bible is full of contradictions. I don’t think that statement is even controversial. There’s a list here, and sure, some of them are kind of petty, but there’s mountain of them.

Different people do different things with that. Some, like my friend Lawrence and other friends, throw out the Bible. The claim is made that it’s infallible, yet they see the contradictions and feel they have no choice.

Others deny that it is so, and find ways to explain away the apparent contradictions. If pushed into a corner they tend to fall back on ‘well, we can’t know everything, so you just have to have faith’.

What that also tends to mean, though, is that they then cherry-pick the bits and pieces of the Bible they like – pick their preferred pole of each contradiction, if you like. Of course, if one picks the opposite poll – well backed up with Biblical evidence – one is ‘trusting to your own opinions’.

I guess the position I’ve come to, if it can even be called a position, is that I trust God, but have to discern God through what is a human document. It’s a human document with particular purposes, and one with flaws. And yes, I know that there are particular texts within it that claim it is all perfect, but whence the contradictions?

(PS I’ll be particularly interested in comments from Paul, my brother, who is the person I know who knows his Bible best.)

Given that, of course there’s the temptation to rationalise away anything inconvenient! I have to trust myself and my own honour and honesty not to do that: and recognise that I’m flawed and fallible.

But if we recognise that the Bible is a library of books written by humans, then we can recognise that *perhaps* the Creation story is a religious origins story about God’s role, rather than a literal history of how the universe and world came to be.

We can recognise that *perhaps* the Flood was actually a local event that covered the *known* world rather than the entire planet, and perhaps people ascribed to God’s wrath what was a natural event.

We can recognise that it was the war leaders of the time who claimed God’s imprimatur when they commanded that all the men, women, children and babies be slaughtered and just the young virgins kept to be ‘wives’ for the soldiers.

We can recognise that human homophobes projected some of their fears onto God.

And so on.

There are arguments about where to stop and what is real and what’s the point and…

But there is, in my view, no alternative to consulting our own minds: there is simply no coherent and consistent Biblical set of doctrines and practices that can be unproblematically drawn from the text. And, as I’ve discussed before, God is too big and too strange to be captured in one book – or a billion.

Hence the reference to ‘bibliolatry’ – book worship – in the title. When the book itself is worshipped, rather than God, that’s not that different from any other form of idolatry.

The book points to God, and God is bigger than the book.

  1. Paul is probably correct when he says in the comments that those are not always helpful, but they do provide food for thought
  2. Given that it’s a Seventh-day Adventist forum he referred to Ellen White in the same breath as the Bible but IMO that’s a separate and narrower issue. If you want to follow that up I’ve discussed it on the ClubAdventist forum (google it)


Four Forms of Immortality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:09 pm

As part of a forum discussion, a friend wrote:

…as we observe in the Universe, ‘death’ changes meaning to ‘change’. If my understanding is correct, a dying star is simply going through a change, one state to another.(bravus feel free to correct)

If I took that definition and used it for life on this earth, I would be into reincarnation or something like it. …death seems to be a natural for the process on this earth.

I replied:

I don’t think you’d end up with reincarnation, at least in the sense of consciousness and ‘past lives’ and such. The change would be more that your body would decay and dissolve into the earth, and those chemical elements – which started out their journeys in the hearts of supernovas – would move on to plants and animals and the earth and other living things. Under such a view there are two – no, three – forms of immortality (neither conscious):

  1. that process of your component parts coming from and then returning to the Great Chain of Being represented by the complex interlocking systems of our ecosystem
  2. the passing on of your DNA – and so much more – to your offspring
  3. the passing on of ideas and other contributions to human society – work you’ve done, wealth you’ve built, books you’ve written, paintings you’ve painted
  4. (OK, one more) the memories you leave in the minds of all those you’ve touched

In the light of these forms of immortality, life is meaningful even if it turns out there is no resurrection. I hope there is, but if it turns out there isn’t, I don’t want to have wasted my life pining for it.


On With The Body Count

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:46 am

It’s something that comes up fairly often in discussions of religion, for all sides. Atheists point to the death toll and suffering in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Christians point to the deaths in Russia and China and ascribe them to atheism.

Personally I don’t find it a particularly interesting argument, just because it’s so slippery and prone to bias. Here are a few of the issues:

  1. Raw numbers tend to be compared, but that’s not logical. If the Crusades killed a million out of a world population of 200 million at the time, that’s half a percent of the world population. If Stalin killed 20 million out of a world population at the time of 4 billion, that’s one tenth as many in relative terms. So saying ‘atheism has killed more people’ is not really honest unless the number comparisons are relative rather than absolute.
  2. To what should the deaths be ascribed? The deaths in the Crusades are usually ascribed to Christianity, but it’s fair to acknowledge that that was allied to a fair degree of desire on the part of European monarchs to gain reputations as warriors and to extend their domains and tributes. Similarly, the deaths in China and Russia this century are often ascribed to either atheism or communism, depending on the motives of the speaker, but can also be seen as the results of totalitarianism more than either. There is so much rationalisation and re-interpretation done that the argument becomes almost meaningless.
  3. Hitler is a convenient case in point. He used elements of Christianity in his writings and speeches and claimed God was on Germany’s side, so some claim his massacres should be ascribed to Christianity. Others recognise that he was probably using these elements strategically and for propaganda purposes rather than out of real belief. The word ‘Socialist’ in the name of the National Socialist (Nazi) party is sometimes used to ascribe his crimes to socialism, despite the fact that his politics were far to the right.

And so on. It’s a propaganda device people use, but I’ve seen it used so many different times by different people in different contexts to support their own positions, often in very counterfactual ways, that I tend to just reject it entirely because I don’t have the energy any more to try to teach people enough history to understand why they’re talking nonsense.

This discussion will get echoed to Facebook, and it’s been inspired by and should complement the discussion sparked by my ‘religion eats your brain’ status update.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:13 pm

Conservative Christians tend not to believe in climate change. But they do believe extreme climate events are Signs of the End. Cannot freakin’ win with these people. THE WORLD can’t win. REALITY can’t win.


Incorrigibility1 of Religious Beliefs

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:55 pm

I’ve been participating in a looong (over 500 posts) discussion2 at a Seventh-day Adventist forum I sometimes frequent about the Bible’s attitude to moderate consumption of alcohol:


This blog post is not about that issue per se, but the bone of contention there was my claim that the Bible condemns drunkenness but is silent on moderate use. If you’re interested, the thread is both exhaustive and exhausting. 😉

But at the end, a forum denizen posted the following:

The Bible is plain on these things, just as it is on the Sabbath and the state of the dead, yet there are people who still want more evidence and even certain kinds of evidence, while the evidence of how God thinks about those things is staring them in the face.

Here are some verses that tell us the reason that some people decide one thing and some decide another. It is not because of worldly wisdom or information or education. It has everything to do with attitude, relationship with Christ, and dependence on the Holy Spirit:

John 7:17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;

John 8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

1 John 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

John 10:26-27 …but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Daniel 12:10 Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.

So, paraphrased: “If you disagree with my interpretation of the Bible, it’s because I’m on God’s side and you’re not.”

Now, leave aside the fact that Seventh-day Adventists are out of step with many other Christians on the state of the dead and almost all other Christians on the Sabbath, so the implication is that the vast majority of Christians are not actually on God’s side.

Leave aside, too, the sheer breath-taking arrogance this attitude displays – and here I refer as much to the quoted verses themselves as to the poster, who will probably read this blog post.

My point is simpler than that: it’s that this view makes all the other views a person holds incorrigible. They cannot be challenged by other people to change their beliefs even on the basis of Scripture, because they have convinced themselves that their personal, existing interpretation of Scripture is the only one sanctioned by God, and that all the others are… not of God. (And, in their binary worldview, there’s only one other place it can be from…)

Such a faith cannot grow, since there is no source that can challenge existing views. It is inherently stagnant.

As always, counterpoints and other views on the issue are sought…

(And finally, a return: I used to footnote blog posts extensively in the past, but haven’t been doing it as often lately.)

  1. ‘Incorrigible’ is sometimes thought of as meaning ‘naughty’, but it basically means ‘uncorrectable’: unable to be corrected. Someone who is consistently naughty and whose behaviour can’t be corrected is incorrigible. But one could also be incorrigibly happy, positive or friendly – it’s not inherently a negative term.
  2. Yes, I’m a bit of a masochist and probably a fool.


A Little Philosophy Around God, morality and the Bible

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:33 am

I have little time for ‘debunkings’ of flawed Christian arguments, although the arguments themselves annoy me: I just feel the effort is usually wasted, because everyone involved is already convinced in one direction or another, so nothing changes.

More than that, many such efforts seem to me to be unsophisticated, and to fall into many of the same fallacies and oversimplifications that they are railing against. I’d rather put time and energy into life.

Sometimes, though, someone does some careful work on the topic that I find interesting and enjoyable. I think (as a postmodernist) that all such efforts can be deconstructed in terms of their own internal logic, in the same way as the things they’re deconstructing, but it’s still interesting to talk/think about.

Here’s a short discussion by ‘Fedora’. Although it’s the end of the sequence, it’s probably a good place to start: http://urbanphilosophy.net/philosophy/trouble-in-paradise-on-biblical-morals/

Here are a couple of the earlier pieces mentioned in that piece: http://urbanphilosophy.net/religion/objective-morality-and-the-bible/, http://urbanphilosophy.net/religion/response-to-fedora-on-objective-morality-and-the-bible/, http://urbanphilosophy.net/religion/a-response-to-payton/.

Have fun, kids!


Something I’ve been thinking about

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:11 am

First, check out this amazing video. You might have seen it before, but watch it again anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ve4M4UsJQo&feature=search

Now, God could have just walked over to the car and switched it on, metaphorically speaking. But how much more amazing and awe-inspiring to do it this way!

Similarly, he absolutely has the power to speak and have the universe appear just as it is: but how much more amazing and awe-inspiring to speak it all in potentia in the one great word of the Big Bang, and then have all the parts connect in precise, incredible ways over nearly 14 billion years of connections to have us here to marvel at it all.


I’m not antiChristian

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:21 pm

I am antibigotry, antihomophobia, antiprejudice, antipedophilia, antisexism, antiracism and so on. And when I see Christians being pro… any of those things, I’ll call them on it. When I see them ascribing it to their faith, I’ll call them on it even more.

As I said to Matt the other day, though, I still regard that as critiquing ‘my side’.


A sense of priorities

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:22 am

This article from Paul Syvret is mostly about tax exemptions for churches, and is pretty satirical in tone: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/its-your-chance-to-pray-for-pay/story-e6frerdf-1225897081649.

But some of the numbers he brought out struck me. Hillsong gives $1m tax-free expense accounts annually to 5 of its senior staff – that’s $5m. And that’s in addition to million-dollar houses, cars, free flights and other benefits. Hillsong raised over $50m in revenue last year, and spent less than $3m on charity. Less for the poor than for the wealthy pastors.

I’ve had this discussion about wealthy Christians with my friend Polar before, and she doesn’t necessarily agree that it’s a problem. I should clarify that my problem is not with the wealth per se, but with the sense of priorities. Could the pastors stand to live a little more simply, and pass on a bit more to those in our society who are doing it tough?

Here’s what their founder said about himself: “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. – Matthew 8:20.” Bit different to the Palm Beach mansions the Hillsong folks inhabit.

And here’s what He said to someone else (from Matthew 19):

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.


Evolution and Faith (and lots of other stuff)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:10 am

This report on a recent survey of Americans on their attitudes to science and religion has its own particular spin on the issues, but it does link directly to the research report. Definitely interesting stuff: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/vcu-survey-on-science-and-religion/.

As I may have mentioned before, we’re in the midst of an extended study of the ‘Test of Faith’ materials on the relationship of science and religion. One quote from the report linked above that seemed to make sense to me (it was in response to the finding that 42% of Americans believe evolution conflicts with their faith) was:

The large chunk who see conflict is bad news for accommodationists. But the accommodationist response—at least that of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—is this: You don’t understand your own faith, because if you did, you would see that there’s really no conflict. They have a big theological task in front of them.

I think it’s probably true. Those who try to fit science and faith together often do so by redefining the faith component, or trying to. That doesn’t work so well, because religious faith is pretty much designed to prevent redefinition, but at the same time, and contrary to the conclusions in the linked article, it seems to be the correct way to go about it, in those instances where the Biblical text (when understood and interpreted correctly within historical and cultural context) does not support the specific views of believers in relation to science.

Over to you…