An open mind

How could you know if you had an open mind? If something disproves what you believe you know, could you change your opinion, or would you just ignore it?

I still debate with young-earth Creationists, mainly on Violet’s blog. I listened to this fascinating programme on the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum. About 56m years ago, over a period of about 1,000 to 20,000 years, vast amounts of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere, by volcanoes and burning coal deposits, and the temperature of the planet increased. There were forests at the poles. Global temperatures increased by 5-8°C. Different assertions will have different levels of dispute or certainty, and for the educated layperson a scientist might elide certain details for ease of explication, but the broad outline is clear. I find it wonderful how the evidence is recovered and interpreted, the care and precision of the investigators, the wealth of evidence. So I recommended the programme to two YECs, hoping that they would be as inspired by it as I was.

Sadly, Tiribulus wasn’t. He did not intend “sneering derisive dismissal”, he said, but accused the scientists of “spectacular intellectual dishonesty”. He claimed to understand their “claims”, but also their “method bias and out of hand pre-conclusions”. All unbelievers have similar bias, he says.

His response makes me miserable. The language of “bias”, formulated to enable us to see how we misinterpret evidence and help us perceive more clearly, he uses to write off something which challenges his view. Unbelievers cannot think properly, he says, as Jesus quoting Isaiah predicted- He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.

He is defended against challenge to his falsehoods, because he has a great need to believe them- so that he can remain part of his community, so that he is not distressed by the falsehoods the community spouts, perhaps so that he can feel superior to outsiders, or ignore them, and possibly because he experienced his life before conversion as chaotic and “sinful”, and feels any backsliding from his current position means falling into similar sin.

He has threatened to recommend something to me, claiming “fairness” would oblige me to listen or read it. I might not spend fifty minutes on it.

How would I know if I were open minded? I am open minded on Creationism. I am aware of theories of the origin and development of the Bible, and how the story of the Flood was adapted from a Sumerian legend, part of the epic of Gilgamesh. As I pick up more about the detail and complexity of understanding of the geologic column, I am inspired by the beauty of it. But then my community does not require me to believe idiocies.

Why does he comment there? Because he sees unrepentant sinners, and wants God to “save us from our sin and give us a new heart”- Because you are fellow bearers of the image and likeness of our God and I care about you. 

Tiribulus believes he understands about the Bible and the errors of unbelievers, and that prevents him coming to the truth. I will not be open minded where I particularly need to believe something, or imagine I understand but do not. When I am not open minded I may imagine I am- for I could not know. I have sought out hints and subtle indications, and sometimes been rewarded.

Perhaps it is all a waste of energy. I grope for greater understanding, but perhaps those who are satisfied with their understanding are better off, devoting their attention to more important, worthwhile things. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. They might be more effectual.

Catastrophism

I am a Catastrophist. So are you, if you have thought about it: catastrophism is the belief that the Earth has been affected by catastrophes in the past, radically changing its geology or biosphere. Two I can think of off hand are the Chicxulub impact which may have killed off the dinosaurs and enabled the rise of mammals- I can’t make a judgment and am unaware of the current consensus- and the impact which left us with the Moon, which has no iron core so is parts of the crust of both planets. Oh, and the Deccan Traps?

Pause for Wikipedia-

No, Livescience: Gigantic deluges of lava known as flood basalts have been linked with mass extinctions throughout history.

I had heard that Catastrophism and “Uniformitarianism” are opposing theories. Creationists are Catastrophists, seeing the evidence of Noah’s Flood everywhere; Creation-deniers are

(What did she just say? “Creation”-deniers??)

Uniformitarians, believing that the same natural laws have caused the deposit of strata throughout the Earth’s history. Creationists would argue the two theories are mutually exclusive. That idea infected my understanding of Georges Cuvier, who coined the words, but again from Wikipedia I learn he was a serious scientist, proving some fossil species had become extinct. Previously it was thought they must still live somewhere- an idea coming from Biblical understandings.

Whereas, I am both. Strata have formed in similar ways over the last billion years, and there have been catastrophes. (Yellowstone may produce a flood of lava/basalt! We’re all going to die!)

The point of my sermon this morning-
or mid to late afternoon, if you are in the US-
or any time, if you are reading this later-
is that understandings can entrap us. “Catastrophism” is a useful concept, but not if seen as rigorously distinct from Uniformitarianism. Particularly, identifiers of what we are not, such as imagining I am not a Catastrophist because that has to do with belief in the Flood, can create a blind spot preventing understanding.

Understanding must always be open, a jumping-off point for further understanding. Ideas can liberate and enslave us.

I have a question for you. A blogger called “Francois Tremblay” wrote this:

Trans genderism, through intimidation, death threats and sexual bigotry, pushes one giant act of erasure: they seek to destroy all women-only spaces, which means erasing any possibility of feminist advancement.

That makes me a monster. Any action to defend women against my destructive attack is justified. Now, Francois Tremblay is not one of those bloggers entirely obsessed with trans women, and s/he writes of other feminist issues as well. My question is, have I a right to object to someone quoting that blog on something unrelated to trans issues, in fact something I agree with? If she was unaware of FT’s attitude to trans women, should she now agree not to quote FT again?

And what is a reasonable analogy? Is it like quoting the Vegetarianism posts of a white supremacist? Or someone who blogs on how monstrous Trump voters (rather than Drumpf himself) are, but then about how they are so completely wicked and incorrigible that you might being to think, wait a moment, steady on- all of them, merely monstrous? I might happily interact with a blogger after they produced just one post strongly opposing BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, but how might a Palestinian feel about that?

giovanni-martinelli The Three Graces

Ice House Earth

For most of its history, the Earth has had no ice at its poles. On the greenhouse planet, carbon was CO2 in the atmosphere rather than trapped in the rocks. Forty million years ago, with continental drift moving Antarctica to the South pole, and ocean currents moving around the continent rather than bringing warm water from the Equator, ice began to form there, reflecting the Sun’s radiation back into space and cooling the planet. The last 2.7m years have had many cycles of interglacials and glaciation- the term “ice age” was coined in the early twentieth century when there were thought to have been three or four glaciation periods in history, but there have been hundreds.

Also in the early twentieth century, Milankovitch calculated the variations in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit, its axial tilt, and the precession of the Equinoxes. The more the axis of rotation varies from 90° from the plane of the orbit, the more the seasons vary and the more regions cool in winter. These cycles can influence when the glaciers advance.

We can calculate how much ice there is at the poles from the oxygen isotope ratio. Oxygen forms two stable isotopes, O16 and O18. Water molecules with O16 in them are lighter, so more prone to evaporation. When there is ice at the poles, water falling as snow there will remain for thousands or millions of years, and the ratio of O18 to O16 in the seas will be higher. Seashells and coral are made of calcium carbonate, CaCO3, and so the ratio of the two oxygen isotopes in the water may be calculated from ocean bed fossils, whose age is indicated by their place in the geologic column.

I find that fact beautiful. The elegance of the idea, and the complex effort required to produce and analyse the evidence of changing temperatures makes me proud to be human and delighted to be alive at this time in our history. Antarctic ice cores now go back 800,000 years, each year making a new layer of snow, and preserve samples of the atmosphere in the past: we can find the varying proportions of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. The wilful ignorance of young earth creationists and the deliberate deception of those who purport to argue their case scientifically gets more shocking- and pitiable, as they close their awareness to the wonders of human ingenuity and discovery. They are driven to more desperate quibbling as the weight of evidence increases.

As coral grows just under the surface of the sea, coral remains show that sea level has varied from a hundred metres below current levels during glaciations, and five metres above in the warmest parts of interglacials. The Earth’s temperature has varied by far more than the 4° predicted for this century; but never so quickly. Species have had time to adapt; not having that time is causing the incipient mass extinction of the anthropocene epoch.

Arcimboldo, Summer

The Geologic Column

The Geologic column demonstrates the age of the Earth is at least hundreds of millions of years old, and by the intricate order of fossils demonstrates evolution. It is the atheist’s friend, refuting fundamentalist evangelicalism. So it is disturbing that six of my first nine Google results for “geologic column” are Creationist. First of those is “Ten Misconceptions about the Geologic Column” by Steven A Austin, PhD.

Creationists drafted the GC, he shouts! Well, before nuclear fusion was understood, Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Sun as only thirty million years. Science can be wrong. He noted the “Denudation of the Weald” had taken 300m years, and wondered at the difference. That denudation remains controversial.

Adam Sedgwick, whom Austin names, was the son of an Anglican vicar, born 1785. He took holy orders. Yet he opened his lectures to women, and campaigned to allow non-Anglicans to enter Cambridge University. This progressive is a strange hero for a creationist. He described and named the Cambrian era based on physical characteristics of rocks unique to Wales, after research involving Charles Darwin as a field assistant. He believed in evolution- “We all admit development as a fact of history”- yet not natural selection, believing that there is a moral and metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. He thought God was involved, but that did not make him deny the age of the Earth, or the progress of fossils over millions of years. He changed his mind about the Biblical Flood when certain deposits were shown to have been made by glaciers, not floods.

I don’t know whether anyone believes Austin’s “misconception No.3”, The strata systems of the geologic column are worldwide in their occurrence. Where would all that rock come from? It is a wonder that 0.4% of the Earth has all ten sedimentary systems. Elsewhere, earthquakes have folded rock from under the surface over later rock, so that the strata may be upside down or vertical; the upper rock may erode, over hundreds of millions of years.

This means there are doubts, as with the Weald. Particular rocks may be dated in different ways: radiometric, or by the position of fossils. Austin calls this “special pleading”- yet while the date of any particular rock formation might be disputed, the general idea that rocks form in strata over millions of years, and may be dated radiometrically or by fossils is clear.

I would have said “indisputable”. Someone with no regard for truth, or for the integrity of the scientific community, clearly may dispute them. Austin has accumulated knowledge: the Cambrian System on an intercontinental scale is typically composed of quartzose sandstone, overlain by glauconitic sandstone with dark-brown shale, overlain by impure, light-brown limestones.

Some of his dissembling is only thinly disguised by the use of specialist words. Some fossils appear to be distinctive of certain systems [but] (most fossil taxa range through a few to several systems), he says. A taxon is a classification: Chordata, having a spinal cord, is a taxon of animals since the Cambrian.

Ken Ham’s picture may give some part of the motive.

l morality based on Bible

Beside the lie that only bad people, who if they were ever worshippers were never true Christians, would be gay, have an abortion or need a divorce, the lie that the geologic column is consistent with literal belief in Genesis 1 is tiny. Jesus warned against such people. The illusion may be comforting until the hapless believer is “bad”, suffers terror of being discovered, then is cast out.

Gratification

On Friday, during the partial eclipse I was tempted to look at the Sun.
I had heard the warnings.
I looked at it, and my eyes smarted.
I was still tempted to look at it.
What’s this deferring gratification thing? Weighing a glimpse of the sun as a crescent against the chance of permanent damage to eyes, I am still tempted!!

I then spent much of the day with the Three Guardians puzzle. Before I came up with the right questions, I spent hours with wrong questions and what various answers to them would mean. I am very pleased with having the right answer, and having thought of a fourth guardian which answered randomly, like a coin-toss, could answer that more complex problem with between five and eleven questions. Probably I should have done my washing, and in the beautiful sunshine a walk round the lakes might have been more relaxing, but working on that puzzle was the immediately gratifying thing.

A hug felt sexier than an ordinary friendly hug, and was followed up with an email addressed “Dearest Abigail”. She would be in touch, she said. Over a week later, I am on tenterhooks and wondering if she is messing with me, which feels cruel: that “dearest” touched my heart. I create theories of why she might deliberately hurt me, which feel possible but unlikely; but likelier the longer time goes on. Why would she would want to mess with me? Becoz I is trans, or because I had irritated her in some way I cannot imagine, or randomly without reason. The thought that she might not be in touch because of shyness or vulnerability in her came to me only later.

In The Last Battle, the dwarves go into the barn which is actually the gate of Heaven. The children see Heaven with its beautiful scenery getting more beautiful as you go further up and further in, but the dwarves see only a derelict barn with stinking old straw. So the children pick flowers for the dwarves, and the dwarves react angrily: Why are you shoving straw in our faces?

I came across “thetruthisstrangerthanfiction” on Violet’s blog. He is creationist. I find the complex, interlocking explanations of all the evidence of the age of the Earth fascinating and beautiful, and he finds them repellent: the desire to keep a meddling God with His meddling “morality” and call for “repentance” etc., is the real motivating factor at play behind the scientists’ rejection of young earth creationism, rather than the search for Truth which I perceive. Then again, his flowers- a literal interpretation of Genesis- are mouldy straw to me.

I want to persuade him. He is not persuadable, because he is immovably convinced that he has something better (as, mutatis mutandis, am I). I put long comments on his blog, rather than walking by the lakes or doing my washing. I wrote on facebook, to acclaim, I do not need you to be other than you are to validate who I am but one benighted stranger on another continent and a woman who may be hostile seem to indicate otherwise.

What I want may not be what is best for me.

Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Creationism and Christianity

Giovanni di Paolo, The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise (2)Creationism is about preserving the social order, argues Paul Wallace. It is a conservative creed: we can understand the world, because we understand the Bible, and from the Bible we get clear morality for Complementarianism and against equal marriage. But Christianity is about subverting social order. “Behold, I have made all things new,” says Jesus. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the humble. Maranatha- “Come, Lord, Come”- is a brave, or foolhardy thing to say. So Christianity has to give the answer to Creationism.

Here is a striking argument. What sort of God would create the World with evolution? A cruel one: Evolution is a cruel and inefficient way for a holy God to create life.  There were billions of years of life before the first eukaryote, 1,200 mya. There is no cruelty there, but God taking God’s good time, observing the beauty of the changes. God is eternal, but short-lived humans want results immediately. And then life evolves, and predators prey on herbivores, so that the herbivores which survive and breed are those which are best at getting away. Less cruel than having herbivores Giovanni di Paolo, The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradisewhich never will have a chance to escape.

There are observable botches in creation. Mammary glands evolved from sweat glands. The creationist has to explain the similarities some other way.

The same blogger claims that while Evolution says our future is indefinite, God says God will create a new heaven and a new Earth. The question is, How? Through God’s servants. The Creationist model of the World has God intervening directly because God’s servants are insufficient: original sin in Eden as soon as God had popped out for a bit; substitutionary atonement because humanity cannot be good; and soon the Rapture, God’s armies of angels blasting the devil, and a new society ruled by God so we become completely unable to make a mess of it ever again. Or, the Christian model, where God’s servants on Earth create God’s kingdom on Earth, here, now, with our love in our communities, with the Spirit in our hearts.

God is not constrained by modern science or the shackles of naturalism. This is close to Occasionalism. God, being a loving God, has given humanity a universe we can explore and begin to explain.

The Class Warfare Blog does not put any argument beyond that Creationism is silly- well, yes- which is insufficient in itself to argue that it comes from American Exceptionalism, but he has a point.

The rearguard

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée LeBrun- Portrait of a GirlEqual marriage is won, in the UK and US. Equal marriage in church is coming. But a few sad obsessives still keep up the bad fight. Homosexuality is Evil, they cry, worse than murder and child abuse! The End of the World is coming!

Don’t look at Geoff Arseaile’s blog, it excites him too much. I found him posting on how homosexuality inevitably leads to incest and paedophilia, and when I commented he started fantasising about my genitals. So much for his pure Christian mind. He then posted on how our civilisation is failing, and our Christian culture is dead. This is the fault of those in the 60s who tried to modernise the church, he thinks. On the same blog his pal Chalcedon451 bemoans people saying homosexuality is natural- even in the Church!- and the ministry of women. It is unclear whether he thinks women’s ministry is an attack by Satan or not.

“Dr” Fred Pontius has not edited his about page, so I have no idea in what way he claims to be a “doctor”. He posts on how children should be given “gay conversion therapy” and the number of LGBT folk. If the proportion is 1.7% rather than 4.5%, what? Smaller minorities are easier to persecute? He has other concerns as well: when a scientist tried to prevent teaching of Creationism as “science”, Pontius accused him of an apparent crusade against Christians who simply disagree with him. Though he posts a huge amount, it appears I am his only commenter this month.

I don’t see the point in debating these people any more. I have said it all, why should I repeat myself? The argument is won, and that feels so real to me after attending that wedding. Similarly with creationists: I have gained some appreciation of the complexity and order of the geologic column, and made my point that what creationists say about the Bible is as ridiculous as what they say about geology; I have nothing more to say, and since they are highly unlikely to admit they are wrong there is little point in debating them, though I am grateful to commenters on Tim’s blog saying sensible things about geology, whom I have learned from. Perhaps I should find something else to blog about.

Trust IV

Cesar Boetius van Everdingen Trompe l'oeil with a bust of VenusCreationism debates led me to biostratigraphy, the science of dating strata according to the life-forms fossilised therein, and particularly biostratigraphy from trilobites. Consider all that wonderful detail! There are ten separate Orders of trilobite- an Order is divided into family, genus, species- and 20,000 identified species over 291m years. Not everything is clear: 54m years after trilobites first appeared, the order Phacopeda appeared, and in 2009 when that page was last updated it was unknown from where. Perhaps it still is. From the wee drawings, my Ordovician trilobite looks like a Proetida, of the order which survived into the Permian.

Tim’s answer was that the strata were laid down by the Flood, and dating strata by species and species by strata is a circular argument. Well, the same species in strata a thousand miles apart indicates a similar age, and radiometric dating from one might be repeated for confirmation, but need not be. A series of strata may be upside-down because of metamorphic folding or whatever, but this does not refute the basic idea. If the strata were laid down in the Flood, I would expect the Orders to be far more higgledy-piggledy, and theories why one species was better adapted than another to be more difficult to sustain.

Everdingen, LucretiaNo, I had no belief in Creationism before, but now I have a Refutation I am entirely happy with. I imagine a conversation:

-Creationism!
TRILOBITE BIOSTRATIGRAPHY!!!!
And I do a Happy-dance, because I have won, beyond all possible doubt. At least in my own mind. Or I say, Look at this! Isn’t it fascinating! Isn’t it beautiful! And am surprised when others don’t see it the same way.

Yet there are still scientists who are creationists, and intelligent non-scientists. Those scientists produce arguments to convince lay-people that Creationism works, such as the spurious distinction between observational science and historical science- all those trilobite fossils have been observed, measured, Everdingen, four muses and Pegasus on Parnassuscategorized- and possibly they do this with the conscious intention to deceive, for the greater good of preserving a view of the Bible as literally true, inspired and inerrant; and possibly they do this because the Bible is inerrant, and therefore the evidence cannot indicate anything else. I don’t like to think of them deliberately lying, but it is possible.

With my high intelligence, I still hope to work things all out so that I can understand. Yet I see everything through a glass darkly, and Creationists assert their views, and conservative Christians and trans-excluding “radical” “feminists” alike say transsexualism is wicked and perverted and sick and dangerous and wrong and completely stupid and a sign that the person is damaged and SHOULD BE CAST OUT

-sorry about the shouting. I have retreated to my living room because in my experience the world outside is scary and bad things happen and I get really hurt. This shows I must be wrong about something. If you assess people’s assertions by the success they have made in the world, you weigh me lightly.

To go back to an old, clichéd phrase, I might have light enough for one step. I might trust my intelligence and instincts enough for that.

A creationist

File:Baby Orangutan 2 (7109564287).jpgMeet Tim, a Young-Earth Creationist, who examines the scientific evidence and finds it supports his theory. How?

First, humanity is bad. He produces several bible verses to show this. For him, this presumably refutes my Creationism argument. We are to blame, not God, and by sending us a saviour God did more than we deserve. If life evolved, suffering entered the world other than through Adam’s sin, and so God must have designed it.

What does he think of the Bible? It is more reliable than science, because its account does not change. In 2011, he cited a 1995 article from Time magazine which discussed an observation that the Universe was expanding unevenly, to claim this. I was aware that a star cluster in our galaxy was calculated to be 16bn years old when the Universe was thought to be younger, and Tim points to estimates (in 1995) ranging from 8bn to 20bn years old, not acknowledging that by 2011 the consensus was for 13.7bn. Now, it is 13.8bn. The Bible is clear- the world was created in six days- but File:Baby Orangutan 3 (7109563039).jpgscientists disagree and keep changing. The oldest known star, according to current models of stellar evolution, is 14.46 ± 0.8bn years old. For Tim, all stars including the Sun were created on the fourth day, three days after Light was divided from the darkness.

Tim, why stop in the 1990s? At one point, some scientists believed in Phlogiston, and some disputed that theory. Come on, Tim: scientists dispute- Therefore Creationism!

Poor man. The delight of increasing knowledge through dispute, argument and evidence is lost to him.  Though how wonderful, to mock, and belittle, and feel superior to those who achieve far more than he!

He collects facts and articles and tries to make them fit his falsehoods. Often, he pretends that they do. For him almost any discovery can be pressed into that role, and his blog could be treated as an eclectic mix of scientific curiosities, if you could ignore the constant refrain of “Therefore Creationism!”

He believes that natural selection of the fittest, and slow change by genetic mutation, cannot work. To argue this he says humanity is degenerating genetically. Our random mutations generally make us less fit, but do not prevent us from breeding and maintaining those mutations. He asserts that if bears move into the arctic, and become white, that is a loss of information rather than a gain. Some strains of H5N1 flu are less effective at multiplying than others- Therefore Creationism!!- yet flu still infects people, and any flu vaccine is a gamble, a choice of which might be the most troublesome strains that winter.

He is incorrigible. Too much in love with his own cleverness, he will not listen to those who could free him from his folly. Like those opposing equal marriage, or climate change deniers, he can only change by realising how stupid he has been, which is so painful as to be unimaginable for him.