Monday, March 10, 2008

The Ignorance--It Burns!

I don't know why, but sometime I feel the need to look at the material produced by creationists and evangelicals, just to see if there are arguments worth taking a look at. Some people are certainly smart, such as William Craig, while others are truly bottom-of-the-barrel arguers, such as those found on YouTube. What usually makes these in the latter group so terrible to me is their complete ignorance of the topics at hand, demonstrated by false statements and little or no references to sources, and are unwilling to figure out that there is something terribly wrong in their statements. One example must be Kent Hovind who is masterful in his abilities to misrepresent every aspect of science.

However, there is some concentrated stupid that can be found via the evangelical organization Way of the Master, which has the faces of Kirk Cameron, a former child actor, and Ray Comfort, a minister from New Zealand with no formal theological training at a seminary as far as a I can find. Obviously, neither of them are scientists and have minimal exposure to it in schooling. Yet Ray has seen himself fit to write over fifty books and tracts, many of which touch on scientific facts and attack the extremely well-verified theory of evolution. His general ignorance was well on display when the dynamic duo agreed to debate members of the Rational Response Squad, namely Brian Sapient and Kelly O'Connor; more correctly, Ray et. al. challenged the RRS. The general pwnage is still talked about today. After all, Ray also argued the banana was evidence for design in nature when most the details of the banana that make it so great for consumption are the product of artificial selection. In other words, the banana (more correctly, the plant the banana comes from, the banana tree) is evidence for the abilities of evolution by small modifications and selection, either natural or artificial.

So, why would I waste 5 more minutes on this guy? Apparently, what he spreads is popular on the web and his blog only adds to it. There again his general lack of knowledge about science and history can be found. So, I think it worth while to do a proper dissection of one of his posts where he claims that (modern) science proves the Bible. He also states how science has changed to conform to the Bible, meaning the Bible was write all along and it can be seen to be the product of an amazingly knowledgeable mind. He does not seem to bother with the facts that are completely contrary to a literal reading of the Bible, such as the ~6000 year old Earth, the Earth forming before the Sun, the Moon being a light source in itself, whales before land animals, etc. And let's not forget that the Bible is full of cases of the laws of nature being broken, the miracles in the Bible innumerable. So, just to start this post of his requires forgetting so much and can only be done by the shear will power of someone trying to evangelize instead of critically think.

And it gets all the worse as the post actually starts. In his 12 points where sciences confirms the Bible and contradicts previously held views in science, the stupidity actually hurts. He has a formula as such: firstly "THE BIBLE", secondly "SCIENCE NOW", finally "SCIENCE THEN". This very setup is erroneous since such a way suggests science is simply a monolith to be read, written by the Prophets of the Laboratory. (Hey, that sounds like a cool band name!) What exists in science is a lot of evidence, sorted out by very able minds in an attempt to best explain the universe. Science nor scientists claim neither absolute nor unchangeable positions; the findings of science won't change unless a significant amount of evidence points to another hypothesis that better explains the situation. Further, what one scientists says can easily contradict another. For example, Aristotle thought that comets were disturbances in the atmosphere, while centuries later Seneca challenged the idea since this idea did not conform well to the understandings of weather. (If comets were in the atmosphere, why does the wind not force their tales to point in another direction, like a weather vane?) We know better now that comets are far away, though Aristotle's position was understandable with his knowledge then. Of course, Christian theologians were of little help in this matter; for example, Clement of Alexandria thought like Aristotle did (Protrepticus 10--hey, look at that, a reference!).

Now, on the the stupid:

1. According to Isaiah 40:22, the earth is a sphere, at least by Ray's reading of things. Too bad that past Christians did not think it that way and stated the world was flat, people such as John Chrysostom (4th century CE) in Homilies Concerning the Statutes 9.7-8, stating the world is flat and floats on water; Lactantius (245–325); St. Athanasius (c.293–373); Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394); Severian, Bishop of Gabala (d. 408). In fact, Lactantius was ridiculed by Copernicus himself in his work on the heliocentric model. Also, in a more recent piece of scholarship, it has been argued that Augustine of Hippo himself may have been a flat-earther, and he was smart enough to tell Christians not to argue with pages about science because they know much better about these matters (Leo Ferrari, "Augustine's Cosmology". Augustine Studies 27, 2 (1996): 129-77). So, if the meaning of this passage was for a flat earth, it was missed by these persons.

In fact, the Gospels would suggest a flat earth as well. In Matt 4:18 we read as follows: "Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor." Because of the shape of the Earth, not counting clouds or obstacles, one can see for about 20+ miles. On even the highest mountains it is still limited. One certainly cannot see on the other side of the earth or even across the sea. For Jesus to be able to see each kingdom of the world while on top of a mountain, the geometry of the Earth would need to be flat. Rome alone is hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem and so was the capitol of the Parthian empire, let alone in China and any civilizations in the Americas. It does not matter if Jesus has perfect eyesight since you cannot look through rocks.

So, what does Isaiah 40:22 even say? "He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth." Okay, firstly, for the geometry fans: a circle is NOT a sphere. The Hebrew word is chuwg (חוג), which can mean mean circle, circuit, or compass. If the prophet wanted to me clearer about the spherical nature of things, he could have used duwr (דור), which can mean ball, which is used in Isaiah 22:18. Further, the passages suggests flatness when in context. Isaiah goes on to say in chapter 40 that God sees people on the ground "like grasshoppers." This tells us God is a man in the sky and can look down and see all the people. Job 22:14 confirms God to be in the sky and can be hidden by clouds. However, for God to be "above", in the case of a sphere this is meaningless. A person in China has the exact opposite direction of up as a person in New York City. And as for chuwg, the meaning of its circularity and not spherical nature is confirmed in Proverb 8:27: "When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth." It is not possible to inscribe a sphere onto the surface of water (the Deep), and this laid the foundations of heaven. From further examination of the Bible and other sources, the universe of the ancients looked something like this:

Firstly, this is how the Babylonians say the universe, created mostly out of the carcass of the monster Tiamat, killed by the god Marduk.

Now, the Hebrew version:

You can get more details in the video produced by the Infidel Guy and Robert M. Price here. Also, see Browning, W.R.F. Dictionary of the Bible. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)

So now, what about science? Let's see: Aristotle thought the Earth was round, as did Strabo, both giving good arguments for this; Eratosthenes measured the size of the earth rather accurately in the late 2nd century BCE. Anaximander did not believe in a flat earth, but his geometry of the planet was not correct (as a cylinder). In fact, Strabo used Homer as evidence for the phenomena of the spherical nature of the earth (see Odyssey, V: 393: "As he rose on the swell he looked eagerly ahead, and could see land quite near.") Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE) claimed that everyone believed the Earth to be spherical (Natural History 2.64). Ptolemy also gave reasons. So, when the scientists were really coming into their own, they said the earth was round. Even during the time the Gospels were being written, then, science knew better and yet Matthew gets is wrong. And as for science today, well, everyone should know the earth to be spherical.

2. Jeremiah 33:22 says the stars are uncountable. So, if the verse is supposed to be scientific, it is avoiding scientific terminology. "Uncountable" could be very vague and is. Is it just exhausting to go through all the stars and number them? Is the number actually infinite? In set theory, "uncountable" refers to sets of numbers that are "larger" than the set of natural numbers. There are not that many stars in the sky. The observable universe is finite and so are the number of stars. And since it is unlikely Jeremiah was using advanced mathematical language, he seems to suggest that the number is very large.

Modern science points out that there are many, many stars. Our galaxy alone has on the order of 400 billion stars (4*10^10). There are billions of galaxies. It is estimated that the number of stars in the observable universe is on par with the number of grains of sand on the surface of the earth. So, in effect, the number has been counted. One could say that modern science has contradicted Jeremiah, but that would take the meaning of the passage much more literally than it should be. But, since that is what Ray does, taking things literally when it is obviously not, the charge can apply to him. As for the statement about science saying the number of stars is only 1100, this number at least comes from somewhere if you look. Ptolemy cataloged about this many stars in his Almagest. That is a lot of stars and I would call that "uncountable" since I lack the will power to count them all. But, to say that science said there were only 1100 stars is without evidence, especially if it comes from the statement of only one person, espeically when philosophers argued in the past. Anaxagoras (5th century BCE) argued for an infinite universe with an infinite number of atoms. Such a belief makes is easy to accept there to be more stars than those visible. The proof that there are not an infinite number of stars in an infinitely old universe with a constant density was demonstrated in the Olber paradox. So, Ray is simply wrong in his statements about the state of science in the past and his literal reading of a statement that cannot be literal only shows his agenda.

3. According to Job 26:7, the Earth free floats in space. More correctly, the passage says that the Earth is hung from nothing. Well sure. After all, the Earth pushed up by pillars, not hung from above (Job 9:6, 26:11, Psalm 75:3). So, how can we understand Job 26:7 will the 11th verse tells us the Heavens are held up by pillars and the Earth earlier in Job? Well, the Hebrew word 'erets (ארץ) can refer to the underworld, also known as Sheol, which was mentioned in the previous verse (Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering (RSV)). And as pointed out in the pictures above, Sheol is in the region below the Earth with its inhabitants. So, this 'erets could mean that the Earth is above the nothingness that is Sheol. It is hard to properly gauge the meaning of the word "nothingness" in the Hebrew since it used only here in the entire Old Testament. However, since poetry seems to be in use here it is not difficult to believe that Job is referring to Sheol, the subterranean place of darkness, as "nothingness". And the progression of Job 26 becomes sensible, since we have a sort of bottom-up on the Creation: Sheol, Earth, The Sky with clouds, the highest reaches heaven where the Moon is.

Now, does the Earth actually free-float in space? This is certainly a very improper way to refer to the nature of things. After all, the Earth is not "free" since it is gravitationally bounded by the Sun. Also, floating gives the impression of the Earth being in water while space is rather empty. (As an aside, if you had a large enough bathtub and a gravitational force under it, Saturn would float in it since its density is less then that of water. Cool!) Also, the text in Job says the Earth is "over nothing." Over implies a downward direction, but this makes no sense with a spherical earth as the frame of reference cannot be made universal over the earth's surface; not everyone can point with the same vector and call it "down". So, more evidence of a flat earth in the Bible and not well connected to the findings of science.

But the last part of this, that science said the Earth sat on a large animal, this is completely false. This idea is from Hindu cosmology where the earth sits on elephants on turtles, etc. Hinduism is not science. I am not even aware of the term "Hindu Science", unlike "Christian Science", to exist. To say that the notion of the earth on elephants was ever considered science is simply an outright lie. It is not simple intellectual dishonesty--it is shear dishonest. (Okay, perhaps Ray is confused about what people said and what science has said, but that just shows his unwillingness to differentiate in order to try to sell Christianity and is still dishonest and projects his inability to understand what science actually is.)

4. Entering the New Testament, Ray says Hebrews 11:3 tells us the world is made of invisible elements. Okay, the Greek word used here is phainō (φαίνω), which means to be evident, to be seen, to meet the eye, shine. In context, the verse tells us that the world was created by the Word of God and a word is not visible.

Going into science, he claims that the world is made of invisible things, atoms. Well, I can see atoms. Otherwise, I would not be able to see my computer which is composed of atoms. And if you want, you can see atoms individually.

Atoms are not invisible; they are just very, very small. But they give off light, which is how we can see anything. If atoms were in fact invisible, I could look through any object. However, many things are opaque, including my computer's keyboard. Further, the text of Hebrews does not say the world is composed of invisible things but that the creation came about by the agency of invisible things. The Greek word used here is ginomai (γίνομαι), a deponent verb meaning to come into existence. It can also mean to happen. Now, the verse is talking about God's creation of the universe, so the context makes clear that the universe came into being via powers invisible. The universe did not come about because of atoms. In fact, in the earliest moments of the universe there were no atoms, but instead a "quark soup". Further, no one could extrapolate from the Bible that the universe is composed of atoms, and even if one did no details about atoms could be given. You can't extrapolate Plank's constant, for example, or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle out of Genesis or Hebrews.

But the last part is again the worst. Originally, it said this "SCIENCE THEN: Science waw ignorant on the subject." Now, this completely ignores Democritus, an pre-Socratic philosopher that argued for the existence of extremely small atoms composing everything in the universe. He believed in atoms and void between atoms; otherwise, if you cut something and there is something in the way, how is it possible? It seems a void is required to be moved through. This was one of his arguments. Against, it doesn't get us to quantum mechanics, but it is very good. Also, Democritus was centuries before the epistle to the Hebrews was ever composed. So, even if the author of Hebrews (no one knows who since no name is on it, though tradition says Paul of Tarsus) did mean to speak of atoms, that was something already thought about. It doesn't demonstrate any divine knowledge at all.

And someone in the comments pointed that out to Mr. Comfort, a person with the handle Rando. First, Ray is smug about the whole thing:

Democritus was born in 460 BC. How did he see atoms so long before Galileo developed the first reliable microscope in 1609 (2,000 years later), and before the advent of the electron microscope in the 1930's? Also, why to you believe everything you read in history books, and doubt anything written in the Bible? I look forward to your reply.
So, he first avoids the problem. There was nothing about seeing them. Also, this is not faith in history books. Just read Aristotle, Diogenes Laërtius, Cicero, Seneca, etc., who talked about Democritus' theories at length and you know that the idea was ancient. Besides, if you could see atoms in the time of Democritus that would disprove Hebrews 11:3, not confirm it. Later, Ray says he now sees the error and makes a fix: "SCIENCE THEN: Science was mostly ignorant on the subject" (emphasis added). This is not the problem actually. It matters not if knowledge of atoms was in its infancy or advanced; the idea of atoms was the key thing. After all, the author of Hebrews gives no details about atoms at all beyond existence (if he was even talking about such things), and there is no contradiction between a lack of exact knowledge and an intricate modern theory of atoms, just progression. If Ray wanted to fix the problem he would have completely deleted this part of the post since it does not support his case at all.

Once again we have an example of a lack of coherent thought and scientific and historic ignorance written up in order to evangelize rather than get the truth out.

5. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:41, each star is different from another. Modern science says the same, that two stars are not identical. No problem. But where in the world did Ray get the idea that ancient astronomers thought all stars were the same? This is without any backing in reality. Heck, a caveman can see that not all stars are the same by simply noticing some stars are brighter than others and some have different colors. Some "stars" even move (the word planet from its Greek roots means "wanderer" or "wandering star"). The observing ability to notice this is bare-minimal--you just need eyes. This is simply a false statement.

6. Job 38:19-20 is somehow supposed to say that light moves. I guess if light can "dwell" someplace it must have the ability to move there. Let's take that as it is, though it is certainly not what a first reading of the text would uncover. And of course, we know today that light moves, extremely fast though (299,792,458 meters/second exactly).

But once again, Ray asserts about ancient science without any history to back him. He says that the ancients believed light did not move. Huh The closest I can find here is from Aristotle's Sense and Sensibility. He stated "That without light vision is impossible has been stated elsewhere; but, whether the medium between the eye and its objects is air or light, vision is caused by a process through this medium." Also, "light is due to the presence of something, but it is not a movement." So, one person in antiquity said that light was some sort of stationary substance. Most others thought otherwise. For example, Euclid had his own work on light and proposed it traveled in straight lines. Euclid also argued about previous theories of how eyes see; his arguments were based on the finite speed of light. (See Euclid's Optica, one of his few works that have survived to the present day.) Before Euclid, Empedocles proposed that the eyes had fire in them and so projected light onto an object which then returned to the eye to be seen. Again, light is said to travel. Some proposed the speed of light to be infinite. Heron of Alexander had done that (1st century CE). Today, we know better.

So, the say-so of one person is not the end-all in science. Further, the ideas of the movement of light in Empedocles are contemporary with the dating of the Book of Job, the 6th to 5th century BCE (see Bergant, Dianne "The Wisdom Books", The Catholic Study Bible, Oxford University Press).

7. Job 28:25 is now claimed to say that air has weight. Sorry, but no. The NIV translators understood that what is being talked about is the force of winds. Ray's understanding of the text is forced, not natural.

Does air have weight? Well, it has mass. It has pressure. However, weight is not a very proper way to talk about air. Firstly, without a gravitational field it is without weight. Here on earth air seems to be without weight since we are immersed in it. But, air does have weight here on earth, for that is how we feel its pressure. But who in the past said air was without weight? I can find no evidence of this, and Ray is not forthcoming with his source.

8. Looking next at Ecclesiastes 1:6, wind is said to blow in cyclones. I think to make better sense of this, it is more accurate to say that Ecclesiastes 1:6 says that there are wind currents that makes turns along the way. Well, there certainly are. Did the ancients say otherwise? I have found nothing to support that. It sounds made-up to me. Ray needs to give some sources around here. Also, wind can blow straight or near-straight. This happens all the time.

9. Leviticus 17:11 says that the life of any creature is in its blood (NIV). Well, if you bleed an animal of its blood then it will likely die. However, not all creatures have blood. For example, flat worms do not have blood, nor do they need it. So, the statement that any creature has blood is a false one. Also, blood is not the source of life, as Ray states. Again, plants and primitive animals show that to be the case.

But then Ray gets into blood letting. This is obsolete because it doesn't work and is usually harmful. The idea was that when you are sick you have too many "humors" in the blood and they must be released. Well, usually you are sick because there is too much of something bad in there, so the idea is not that far-fetched. Now, does the idea of blood-letting contradict the notion that higher animals, such as humans, need blood to survive? Of course not. Otherwise, the doctors of old would simply have taken out all the blood and not thought about it a second time. They prescribed a certain amount of blood to be taken out, leaving some (most, hopefully) for the patient needed it. (Also note that the Talmud gave instructions on when blood-letting should be practiced; Christian writers did the same. See "Bloodletting in Talmudic Times" by Fred Rosner, Bull. N.Y. Acad. Med. 1986 November; 62(9): 935–946. A quote: "I, blood, am the cause of all illness" (BT Baba Batra 58b) and "much blood produces much leprosy" (Bechorot 44b).)

10. Next we move into the sea with 2 Samuel 22:16 and Jonah 2:6 which say that there were deep mountains and trenches in the oceans. This is a fact today. Did the ancients say otherwise? I have found nothing to make that seem to be the case. (Seeing a trend here?)

11. Job 38:16 speaks of springs in the oceans. They do exist. . . sort of. There are hot vents under water, but they are not springs in the proper sense of the word. Springs form because of melted ice water on land. Volcanic vents do not produce water. Did the ancients ever say theyse vents didn't exist? Not anywhere I can find. It gets pretty ridiculous when Ray can spew this stuff without thinking that something like this does not require the least bit of evidence.

12. Leviticus 15:13 says to wash hands in running water. Not a bad idea. Did ancient scientists say to wash in still water? I can only find evidence to the contrary. "The ancient Egyptians thought that sitting a dusty body in still water, as the Greeks did, was a foul idea." I won't say I have any great authority here, but it is more than Ray's assertions. Also, Muslim practice of Ablution requires moving water. And it seems obvious. If you have a bucket of water and you are dirty then that dirt goes into the water and the next person that uses the water has dirt already in it. Also, Lev 15 here is talking about semen discharges.

So, there is one great load of poor scholarship being passed off in an attempt to try and convince people a iron-age book is in fact a modern science book, though a literal reading of many passages are simply false compared to modern science. Heck, the Bible will even contradict ancient knowledge. For example, Leviticus 11:20-3 says that winged insects have four legs; insects are defined as having six legs. How did this one get passed the editors?

Now, another person in the comments went through a similar analysis, named David W. Irish. So, at least I am not the only person crazy enough to do this, though I think I have more references and pictures and details. But here is the question: will Ray and his ministries retract their work because of these overarching failures? I think we all know better.

No comments: