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Sunday, August 26, 2007

light, matter, action1

I’ve just started on a series of books that take a theological look at the early chapters of Genesis. The plan is to read John Macarthur’s “The Battle of the Beginning”, Thielicke’s “How the World Began” and “In the Beginning” by Bavinck.

This is distinct from books that have exegetical or textual concerns, some of which I’ve read over the years.

I’m into Macarthur and am both encouraged and disappointed.

The encouragement comes from him taking the text as written and setting out to understand it as God’s word to us, for our instruction about us, God and the cosmos in which we share an inter-penetrating contiguous reality. I don’t think many authors attempt to do this. On the whole, authors on Genesis make continual excursions into hat tipping to modern materialism, excuses for evolutionary speculation or white fear at Christian faith being found at to be . . well, supernatural.

However, rather than staying with his strength, Macarthur does drop into some strange holes: paragraphs on Adam’s navel, for instance; sheer waste of space; and the old Aristotelian mistake that species ( a modern concept) are what God created (in Genesis we are told that God created ‘kinds’) and that they are fixed. He addressed this more accurately in the later part of the book, but at its first mention he makes the mistake. The fixity is not of species, but of kinds, for which we possibly don’t have a definition.

Critics fail to understand some basic facts of the history and philosophy of science and lampoon Genesis for crimes not committed, thereby lampooning themselves, as it happens. One of the basic facts of course, is that Edward Blyth, who was what would be called today a ‘creationist’, first introduced the notion of natural selection. Darwin, true to form, did not acknowledge the debt: a trait he was well versed in (check an interesting article on this at

Macarthur then attempts to understand God’s creating ‘light’ as some sort of localised source: seemingly an attempt to have a sun substitute prior to the sun’s creation on day 4.

He also goes into some odd byways when it comes to the earth’s early state, the creation of the firmament and separation of waters. Many do this (both critics and supporters of the ‘Genesis makes sense’ view), I think reading back into these early days the nature of the earth and the cosmos as we have them today. I don’t think that this is always wise.

It strikes me that the words referred to, while I don’t discount them, may be being used figuratively: in the proper sense, that is. By this I mean a figure of representation, not a figure, of ‘they mean something completely different but still convey the meaning the figure denies’.

For example, when light is created on day 1, it must by implication entail the creation of the entire electromagnetic spectrum: perhaps creation of the energy ‘infrastructure’ of the cosmos, without which there ain’t nuthin.

Let’s look at Gen 1:1-5 more closely

Ge 1:1-5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

2: the earth was formless and void. Macarthur goes into long description about it being a muddy wasteland. But does not ‘formless and void’ mean that it has no form and there is nothing there. Is it not that the earth was not in existence on the first day?

In ‘the darkness over the surface of the deep’ Macarthur considered it referring to deep oceans. I don’t think this is necessary. If there was no earth, then what could the ‘deep’ be: perhaps the cosmos in its entirety, absent of energy; perhaps just space, or with the waters, a mass in a fluid-like state awaiting energisation (which might have followed instantly upon the creation of the deep and waters) the introduction of light (energy), then, is perhaps the energisation of the cosmos. Could the separation of light and darkness be not only the provision for pacing time, in principle, but also be the formation of matter as we know it, distinct from energy (although we know they are interchangeable . . .often with a noisy bang).

My proposal may fall down with God calling the light day and the darkness, night, but perhaps not. With the formation of energy and matter, the separation of night and day becomes possible. But was there such diurnal variation from day one? Maybe not, as evening and morning are names of times and markers of the passing of time. They do not require alternating lighting conditions, only the passage of time. After all, the astronomical markers of time passing are not made and that purpose is not served, until day 4.

What is really striking here is that from day one, we have the personal: the Spirit was moving over the surface, hovering, say some translations: here is the God who is love, bringing forth his creation. I note the difference from the violence of pagan stories, I also note that pagan stories pre-suppose a cosmos for their tales, but here we have a real creation, not merely a modification of the pre-existing. Ah the poverty of pagan nonsense!

Next we have the expanse formed. Macathur goes into great detail about canopy theories, the making of terrestrial atmosphere, and so on. All pointless I think, if earth is not yet made.

Here God is engaged in ‘stretching out’ his cosmos. Humphries notes that most frequently in references to the heavens throughout the OT, this concept of ‘stretching out’ is employed. Perhaps aspects of inflationary theories are correct and just the duration is wrong! Humphries also makes it clear that it is beside the point to refer to time as an absolute, as it is not. The 6 days clearly refer to earth gravitational frame of reference. Other durations pass in other frames of reference, as we well know from Relativity theory. It is simply nonsense, I suspect, to discuss time as an absolute, it is always with respect to a frame of reference. Now if God ‘stretched out’ time-space during creation, then any questions about time outside of the earth FOR are empty.

So here we have God stretching, separating and on day 3, commencing the formation of astronomical bodies, or at least ‘earth’, the name given to the dry land.

Here water elides into H2O and the seas are formed: a planet is on the way.

Then on day 4 the lights and so on are made, so there may not have been diurnal lighting variation before that time: as only here are the bodies made which could effect that.

So how did evening and morning occur before this? Doesn’t matter, I suggest. As an example, go to either of the poles in mid summer or mid winter and tell me if days pass. They do, but the light doesn’t change!

I'll post more as I keep reading.

Friday, August 24, 2007

On systems

I was taken by this quote from an old book by von Bertalanffy:

Even if complex molecules like nucleoproteins and enzymes are considered as being ‘given’, there is no known principle of physics and chemistry which, in reactions at random, would favor their ‘survival’ against their decay; rather this is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics according to which a ‘soup’ containing proteins, nucleoproteins, enzymes, etc., would tend to chemical equilibrium, that is, breakdown of ‘improbable’ proteins, etc, into ‘probable’ simple compounds (as happens after the death of any living system). Selection, i.e. favored survival of ‘better’ precursors of life, already presupposes self-maintaining, complex, open systems which may complete; therefore selection cannot account for the origin of such systems.

L. von Bertalanffy, Robots, Men and Minds (New York: Braziller 1967, p 82.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shhhhh! Don't Mention the Aboriginal Problem!

The Sydney Episcopalian Diocese has long struggled to have an effective ministry to Aboriginals. This is sad when one considers the geographic area of Australia that became Sydney had been the area of establishing European Settlement and has thus presented European Christians in Sydney with the most eduring contact and association with the earlier inhabitants of the land.

This will be admitted by Sydney Episcopalians who are genuine in confronting reality. Stephen Judd and Kenneth Cable acknowledge the early failing of Sydney Episcopalians in their book 'Sydney Anglicans'. On page 13 of the book they say "But in the main the Church, and its patrons, were not frontier-conscious. Some clergymen were; most were not: it had become a matter of individual interest. The same applied to concern for aboriginals." Little else can be found in that book to help attain a worthwhile understanding of how Christians failed to 'reach' Aboriginals in suitable scale.

Love demands that evaluate our approach to evangelising Aboriginals because we certainly need to improve. So we need to learn from the failings of the past and we also need to avoid exacerbating the problem by giving further insult to our 'Brothers in Adam'.

In this latter category are those of the Sydney Episcopalian Church who adopt a Theistic Evolution view of origins. The Book they present to Aboriginals as the Word of God, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, gives clear indication that, according to the genealogies contained therein, the world is well under 10,000 years old. Immediately a discordance arises in the mind of Aboriginals because they are being taught, even by Theistic Evolutionists, that Aboriginals have been on this great island for 40,000 years or more.

Having had a long association with land, the Aboriginal is inclined to favour the older date and this immediately calls into question, in his mind, the integrity of this so-called 'Word of God'. Further, difficulty arises when Theistic Evolutionists, as they logically must, question whether Aboriginals are actually descendants of Adam.

Dare I say it - 'There is nothing knew under the sun' - the problems of yesterday will visit today and all they while Sydney Episcopalians will continue to fail to have an effective evangelical ministry to Aboriginals.

A help to redress the problem is to draw from the ministry of the late Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld (not Episcopalian) as recorded in the book; - 'Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E Threlkeld - Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859', Edited by Niel Gunson published by Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, ACT 1974. It is a two volume work and I thoroughly recommend the work for understanding the times before and after the introduction of Europeans to Aboriginals. Lancelot Threlkeld was missionary to Aboriginals in the Lake Macquarie region of New South Wales, just north of Sydney.

For the sake of brevity I can only draw out a few anecdotes to make my case.

In his introduction, Niel Gunson reflects on the failure of Christians in evangelising Aboriginals. He adequately addresses the morality of non Christians having ill effect on Aboriginals as well as the patronising approach adopted by the white man to the Aboriginal. But it is two other points he makes which I want to mention.

On pages 8 and 9 Gunson says - "Secondly, Christianity as preached to the Aboriginals was simply a new mythology which seemed to have less bearing on their environment than their own traditional religion. In Polynesia the Calvinistic pantheon of Jesus and Jehovah could be put to the test against the Polynesian pantheon Ta'aroa and Tane, and if the old gods visibly failed, the new ones could be proved superior. Naturally, as in all such cases, the new gods triumphed. The missionaries took over from that point. Such tests could only be made in a polytheistic society. It was impossible to shift the Aboriginals from their almost mystical sense of their own religious experience. They possessed their own spiritual values, and the white man's religion as presented to them in Evangelical terms did not make much sense. Christianity, in its traditional form, was only significant to the Aboriginal when he had lost the 'old faith' of his ancestors. This is in part a judgement on Evangelical doctrines as they usually postulate a cosmology which is both arbitrary and and improbable. Christianity could only be relevant to the Aboriginal when he came face to face with a Christian spirit in the context of his own traditional religion. With the Polynesians it was easier to make a clean sweep - demolish all the old gods by the methods used by Elijah with the priests of Baal. With the Aboriginals, their awareness of the universe was too real to withstand the arbitrary claims of Western Christianity. It was not necessarily Christianity which had failed, but the missionaries because of their limited vision.

Thirdly, from the beginnings of contact, the missionaries were affected by their own pessimistic beliefs regarding the Aboriginals. This pessimism was closely related to the theological views prevailing in the early nineteenth century, particularly among the Calvinists and Wesleyans. There was a strong belief, founded on a literal acceptance of everything in the Old Testament, that some tribes lay outside the scheme of salvation. One of the reasons for the Protestants neglecting missionary enterprise in the Reformation period had been the belief that the primitive races of South America were given over to damnation because of the sins of their ancestors [the curse on Canaan]. The same suspicions were held of the Aboriginals. Thus the Reverend William Walker, who had been appointed missionary to the Aboriginals by the Wesleyans wrote pessimistically to the Reverend R. Watson, in October 1821, that the Aboriginals were 'the progeny of him who was cursed to be "a servant of servants to his brethren" ', and he listed reasons why he believed them to be 'emigrants from the same stock that shall soon stretch out its hands unto God'. Similar statements could be collected from the correspondence of other early religious leaders in the colony. Even the most successful missionaries seemed to be tainted by these views."

Gunson intimates not so with Lancelot Threlkeld. On page 91 an extract of Threlkeld's memoranda for Wednesday 14 December 1825 reveals "At this period the general opinion of the Colony was respecting the Blacks, was that they were incapable of instruction, this Mr [Samuel] Marsden frequently avowed. Others supposed that they were species of Baboon, and had no regular language. A French man of war arrived, and the medical Philosopher, (falsely so called) endeavoured to confirm the opinion. Saxe Bannister Esquire in a postscript to a note sent to me at this time states, that: 'The French medical Gentleman has confirmed my opinion of the innate deficiency of these poor people by a careful examination of many heads.' I ventured my opinion in the following postscript to that Gentleman: Perhaps the Aborigines think that there is an innate deficiency in the bulk of white men's skulls, which prevents their attainment of the native language. I feel exceedingly happy that the French examination ended in the head, for my business lies wholly with an organ that has escaped their notice, namely: The Heart; but, had they even searched, and found an innate deficiency in that organ, I would have then smiled, and retorted, my trust is in him who has said: 'A new heart will I create within them.' May the heads of the French be more clear to see the state of their hearts, at present ignorant of the Divine influence of the Spirit of Christ to bring men from nature's darkness into his glorious light.' [It appears that Threlkeld makes a later note in this segment of his memoranda. He says in 1838] I have no reason to alter my opinion of the capabilities of the Blacks at this date 1838 nor of the perfectness of their language."

The reminiscences are rich with anecdotes of how Lancelot Threlkeld regarded the Aboriginal as his fellow man albeit, to that time, far removed from relation from God in belief and habit.

If Gunson is right to describe as literalists those who were pessimistic toward the hope of Aboriginals for salvation then I must say they were literally limited in their reading of Scripture. It is really stretching the curse on Ham's son Canaan to exclude all his descendants from salvation - for, is it not "God ... who wants all men to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth"? Indeed, are we not to accept that Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, has been adopted into the Lord Jesus? Was she not of Canaan? As the Reformers prescribe, we must interpret Scripture with Scripture and those who failed to do this when considering the curse on Ham's son Canaan have most dangerously squandered evangelistic opportunity and, in the exteme, have themselves cursed the descendants of Canaan.

As concerning Gunson's point about evangelising Aboriginals we can only concur in criticising any methodology which uses only part of the Gospel. Many Sydney Episcopalians warrant criticism for emphasising the New Testament almost to the exclusion of the Old Testament. This will not work well enough with the religious belief and legends of the Aboriginals. The Biblical Creationist has a cosmology and world history which can be rightly explained through the filter of Aboriginal culture and history. One example is the flood in the time of the man Noah. This relates well with the Aboriginal legend of a great flood with only a few survivors. Indeed the New Tribes Mission has developed the 'Firm Foundations' method to evangelism which is the whole of Gospel message for remote area cultures.

Further, is this not the approach used by the Apostle Paul when the Athenians could not at first grasp the message of a crucified Christ (Acts 17). On this point I provide another extract from page 62 of Lancelot Threlkeld's Reminiscences: commenting on the Scriptural passage 'The world by wisdom knew not God.' Threlkeld said "it matters not whether Athens, or Australia, the fact is the same, an unmistakable evidence of the truth of holy writ as declared by the Apostle Paul ........ In that classical region called 'the shop of the Gods', 'a city crammed with temples, a country so filled with deities that you may easier find a god than a man, a pantheon of the world having one temple in common to all the gods,' and one altar with this inscription: - 'TO THE UNKNOWN GOD' whom they ignorantly worshipped until the despised babbler, the Apostle Paul, declared him unto the men of Athens: - What, then, could be expected from men sunk into the lowest scale of degradation in regard to the knowledge of the Almighty as the Aborigines of Australia ......... Speaking to M'Gill, the aborigine who was with me in the boat, on the subject, and supposing that he were in a canoe and overtaken with such a gale of wind as was then blowing, and if he were sinking, on enquiring of him was there any being on whom he would cry? He said. 'yes, there was Koun'. On asking him what he would say, his reply was, 'Koun tia;' - literally ...... meaning look to me, or save me, just whatever the mind intended to the understood ellipses. This led me to further enquiry and the description given to me was that he had three names; - Koun, Tippakál, and Por-ang, that he was a male being, who was always as he is now; in appearance like a Black, that he resides in the thick bushes or jungles, occasionally appearing by day but mostly by night .... Tippakál the name of the male being, kál the masculine termination .... Koun is a name remarkable from its singular construction, the word is pronounced so as to rhyme with the English word cone. According to the structure of the language K denotes Being; O, purpose; U, power; N, potentiality, which combined forms, the name of the unknown Being, KOUN .... Porrang taken from Pórr, the root of to fall down, to drop, to be born, and no doubt has reference to his drop[p]ing his prey by the fire-side unhurt."

Surely this presented an excellent opportunity for evangelism.

Another example whereby Biblical Creationists have the message to fit the beliefs of Aboriginals (and other cultures for that matter) concerns some creatures they encountered which do not fit the world's view of reality. On page 78 Gunson, in a footnote, says that "Bunyip stories rivaling those of the Loch Ness Monster were a commonplace of Aboriginal lore in the coastal regions of southeastern Australia." Gunson also includes the following quote from a French researcher of the days of the Colony: "Dans l'eau le War-wi monstre amphibie qu'ils décrivent comme un crocodile pour la longueur, et qu'ils disent habiter les revieres d'eau douce d'ou il sort quand il lui plait pour se saisir des enfants, et qui retourne ensuite sous l'eau pour les devorer. Sur terre, le Coupir monstre a forme humaine qui habite les cavernes des collines rocailleuses. Il a le pouvoir de se saisir des noirs, mais laisse passer les blancs sans leur faire de mal."

I do not speak French so a friend a little more adept in the language gave me the following translation: "In water War-wi the amphibious monster which they describe as like a crocodile because of its length, and which they say lives in fresh water rivers from where it leaves when it pleases it to seize children, and returns again under water to eat them. On ground the Coupir monster has human form and lives in the caves of the rocky hills. It has the power to seize blacks, but lets whites pass without doing them harm."

Now, the alleged sightings of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland describe a creature resembling that of the Plesiosaur. Yet, the world view says that Plesiosaurs died out about 65 million years ago. Thus Theistic Evolutionists will discard Aboriginal belief in a creature of such description in their ancestors' time as mythology. What an affront to the Aboriginal! The Biblical Creationist can affirm the existence of such a creature in the time of man (whether such creatures still exist is not yet established) and would not therefore discredit this Aboriginal belief. Further, the Biblical Creationist could even add to the belief by citing the findings of scientist Mary Schweitzer which are of T-Rex bone, not fossilised and containing red blood cells and soft tissue.

Returning to the matter of the alleged 40,000 plus years of Aboriginals inhabiting this land I believe the issue for the Aboriginal is a desire for recognition of their antiquity and long attachment to the land, long before European arrival. When the failings of the inbuilt assumptions of carbon dating are explained while maintaining Aboriginal antiquity and long attachment to this land (albeit under 10,000 years) and, at the same time, affirming our brotherhood through Adam and potential brotherhood in Jesus Christ as Sons of God - all this is a message attune to the Word and Will of God and is thus in tune with reality.

In summary, the Biblical Creationist has much in Aboriginal belief and experience to work with in presenting the Word of God and has greater hope of working to the good of the Aboriginal. The Theistic Evolutionist has only a 'half baked', inconsistent and potentially insulting message to deliver.

Sam Drucker

Friday, August 3, 2007

Shannon Information

From time to time the question of 'information' is raised related to the notion that evolution (grand scale. . . .the sort we don't see) requires that information be created. Some critics have attempted to undo this by seeing information non-semantically. That is they use 'Shannon' information.

I came across this quote in Nonaka and Takeuchi, "The Knowledge Creating Company" OUP 1995 p90, which may be interesting in this context.

"Shannon . . .commented: "I think perhaps the word "information" is causing more trouble . . . than it is worth, except that it is difficult to find another word that is anywhere near right. It should be kept solidly in mind that [information] is only a measure of the difficulty in transmitting the sequence produced by some information source" (quoted by Roszack, 1986, p12). Boulding (1983) notes that Shannon's assessment was analogous to a telephone bill, which is calculated on the basis of time and distance but gives no insight into the content of information, and called it Bell Telephone (BT) information. Dretske (1981) argues that a genuine theory of information would be a theory about the content of our messages, not a theory about the form in which this content is embodied.

Boulding, KE 1983 "System Theory, Mathematics, and Quantification", in "The Study of Information" ed. F. Machlup and U. Mansfield, pp 547-550. New York, John Wiley and Sons.

Dretske, F. 1981 "Knowledge and the Flow of Information". Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Roszack, T. 1986 "The Cult of Information". New York: Pantheon Books.