Monthly Archives: July 2015

Meeting creationists on their own terms: understanding the Genesis flood

Maimonides said it best, over 800 years ago. The Divine Teaching is, of necessity, expressed in human language. We don’t believe that God has fingers and hands (Exodus, Isaiah, Psalms, Luke) or goes for walks in gardens (Genesis). I would add that no one takes the commandments in the Bible literally, and when Daesh comes close to following the rules of law laid down in Deuteronomy, we are quite properly appalled. All of this is familiar, but this piece combats biblical literalism on its own terms, shows how it is inseparable from interpretation, and thereby undermines its strongest attraction – the illusion of certainty.

The Logic of Science

In this post, I am going to do something highly atypical for a science blog: I am going to talk about theology. I want to be very clear about why I am doing this and why you should pay attention (regardless of your personal religious beliefs or lack thereof). I have spent a great deal of time talking to creationists, and what I have found is that most of them are concerned primarily with what the Bible says, and they only accept science when it happens to line up with their religious views. In other words, it’s not that the creationists are unintelligent, it’s simply that they have different priorities. As a result, if you initiate a conversation with creationists by talking about the science of evolution, you won’t get anywhere because they think that the science conflicts with their religion, but if you start by explaining why the science

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21st Century Capitalism Subverting Democracy, Says Top Investment Manager

Financial system failing; real problems of climate, environment, resource limitation, and looming food shortages ignored; long-term consequences never considered; rising inequality; a rewards system that stops the market from behaving rationally; democracy ineffective against the influence of the financial elite.

Jeremy Grantham

Photograph by Erik Madigan Heck via WSJ

Who says? Left-wing intellectuals like Naomi Klein, contrarian Nobel Prize economists like Krugman and Stiglitz, political dissidents like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, or Scottish National Party, Green, and a cetain Labour would-be leader in the UK? No; one Jeremy Grantham, financial strategist whose firm manages more than US $118 billion in assets, in his keynote address to the 2015 Morningside Investment Conference in Chicago. I don’t normally write about financial matters, but here we have the chief strategist of one of the world’s largest asset management firms delivering one of the sharpest critiques of what now passes for capitalism that I have ever seen, and his remarks* deserve far wider circulation.

Grantham lists the following 10 major problems [my comments in brackets]:

Resource constrains, low capital expenditure, inequality itself, climate pressures, and the low-hanging fruit is mostly gone. Facebook is not the steam engine.

Human folly, avoiding unpleasant information, leading to bubble after bubble as we repeat past mistakes, and deny or ignore the really important matters, like climate change.

Resource limitations. Conventional economics pays no attention to this, and assumes endless growth, as if the free market were a perpetual motion machine that would never run out of anything.

In particular, oil. Our economy was built on cheap oil, which is running out now. [Shale gas has reversed this, but only for the moment.]

Climate problems. Tree ring data show that California is the driest it’s been in 1,200 years. The cotton crop in Texas failed for 6 years in a row because of drought, and then came devastating floods.

Food problems. Probably, the biggest problems that we face, with water running out, soil erosion, population growth, and climate change. This may well lead to chaos in the world’s poorest countries. [Food problems were predicted in the 1940s, and failed to materialise, but that was because of the Green Revolution and Haber process fertiliser. There are no comparable innovations in sight.]

Income inequality. The economy can’t grow when wages are failing to rise.

Slow rise in output, for many reasons. What technology can most readily provide, we already have [as in my example regarding food]. As Grantham puts it, “Resource constrains, low capital expenditure, inequality itself, climate pressures, and the low-hanging fruit is mostly gone. Facebook is not the steam engine.”

Systematic failings of modern capitalism, which focuses exclusively on profit, neglects common resources such as air, water, and soil, and discounts the future of our grandchildren. As a Princeton University study shows, the [US] financial elite has massive influence on legislation, while public opinion has little or none; “This is not really effective democracy in action.”

Bad management by the central banks, and a corporate culture where 80% of the rewards of top management are in stock options, making financial manipulation (specifically, share buyback using cheap borrowed money) more rewarding than real investment in new productive capacity.

This is not really effective democracy in action.

Finally, market bubbles. These are built into the structure of the financial industry. Investment managers protect their jobs by following the herd. So everyone does the same thing, pushing markets away from correct valuations, and making the rational distribution of resources, which is after all the whole point of free market capitalism, impossible.

The rest of Grantham’s presentation was highly technical, directed at his fellow investment managers; that part of his talk is summarised here, as reported by an investors’ website, which did not, however, bother to relay his remarks on the wider issues discussed above.

*Behind a pay and membership wall, but this summary is my own personal review and may be freely copied with acknowledgement.

Linguistic Creationism and the Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563), via Wikipedia

This from Uncyclopedia by way of my friend John Zande’s Superstitious Naked Ape.  To the arguments used there, I would add the following:

Linguistic evolutionists cannot explain the origins of language. Therefore the theory of language evolution fails its very first test

If English is derived from German, why are there still Germans?

No one has ever observed one language change into another. Were you there?

The real reason why people deny that the different languages were created by God, is so that they can use bad language. After all, if language is not God-given, there are no objective standards and anything goes.

And when I first came across the arguments below, I thought that no one could really be using them to defend the Tower of Babel story. I was wrong. See e.g. Creation and Human Language (Creation Social Science Quarterly) and The Origin of Language (Creation Magazine); h/t John Zande. Links to creationist sites are nofollow.

The following is taken directly fromUncyclopedia.

fingerprint-dm Linguistic Creationism is a theory stating that all of the natural languages could not have developed naturally, so they must have been intelligently designed by God when he destroyed the Tower of Babel.


Irreducible Complexity: If you remove letters from the word “book” you get “ook”, “bok” and “boo”, all of which are nonsensical and hence not sustainable by usage for subsequent evolution into meaningful words. It is thus impossible that the word “book” developed from any other word, it must have been created by God so in order to be used.

Improbability of spontaneous linguistic genesis: It is highly improbable that even the simplest English sentences were formed from alphabet letters spontaneously, since the odds of monkeys banging away on hypothetical typewriters and in so doing generating a readable and semantically meaningful text is vanishingly small. Hence the English language…

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Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism

Long but worth it. See in particular the section “Advice from a Former Young Earth Creationist”. This post exposes Young Earth Creationism as a 20th-century heresy, with sinful disregard for reality. It also considers from the inside (as I cannot) the claims Creationists make based on Christian faith, and dismantles them. Compare my own posts Biblical literalism as blasphemy and Anti-Creationists need to think about tactics, extensive writings by my friend the geologist historian priest Michael Roberts, at Peddling and Scaling  and elsewhere, and Numbers’ detailed scholarly analysis  The Creationists.

For my own blog, I’ve settled on Primate’s Progress as title; a clear favourite. Many thanks to those who shared your thoughts on the matter, here and elsewhere. H/t John Bunyan, of course, but I shall do my best to avoid the Slough of Despond.

Letters to Creationists


The Protestant consensus since the time of the Reformation has been that the physical universe and its history are real, not illusory. As God’s creation, the physical world conveys genuine information about the Creator and can serve to inform our interpretations of the Bible. Therefore, when geologists (many of them devout Christians) in the early 1800’s found that the rock layers showed the earth to be far older than the 6000 years derived from a literal reading of Genesis, Bible-believing Christians did not ignore, suppress, or lie about these findings. Rather, they adjusted their interpretation of the relevant Bible passages away from a simplistic literal reading, just as they had done 200 years earlier with the verses that depicted a stationary earth. Through about 1960, nearly all Christians, including conservative Old Testament scholars and most fundamentalists, were comfortable with interpretations of Genesis which accommodated an earth that was many…

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‘Stone Age’ tools are a problem for YEC; but Noah’s Flood solves everything

(Reblog of Terry Mortenson concedes: ‘Stone Age’ tools are a problem for YEC, Age of Rocks) Lava flows across Antrim? Blame Noah’s Flood. Palaeosols in between them? Noah’s Flood again. Moving continents? Obviously the result of Noah’s Flood. All those poor extinct dinosaurs (the ones that weren’t later exterminated by Nimrod the Mighty Hunter) – drowned in Noah’s Flood. And radiometric dates proving, by any sane standard, an ancient Earth? You guessed it; they don’t take account of the radiation associated with Noah’s Flood.

And now, with breathtaking disdain for reality, a Creationist explanation for the Palaeolithic toolmaker’s rubble that covers so much of Africa (but nowhere else). All produced by colliding rocks, during Noah’s Flood.

Wait a bit and we’ll be told that cratering on the Moon, Mars, and Mercury is somehow caused by Noah’s Flood. Come to think of it, we don’t even need to wait. There’s one school of Creationist thought, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron, the one behind Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol, that says exactly that.

Age of Rocks

Answers in Genesis generally does well not to acknowledge its best critics, because doing so exposes their audience to the fact that theirs is a ministry rooted in pseudoscience, which is ultimately damaging to the cause of Christ. If we abhor the truth as it pertains to the natural world, how are we to persuade anyone that we hold the keys to God’s kingdom?

When AiG does respond, typically it is prefaced with caveats highlighting the ‘naturalistic’, ‘atheistic’, or ‘evolutionary’ assumptions that motivate their attackers. This strategy is effective in dismissing those like Richard Dawkins, who are not shy about such convictions, or Bill Nye, who—though less antagonistic—is still not a confessing Christian. However, as Terry Mortenson demonstrated yesterday, AiG cannot entirely ignore pleas from within the church, despite that it simultaneously informs their readers that most Christians—especially those holding advanced degrees in theology or the natural sciences—also describe creationist’s efforts as bad…

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What’s in a name? The Pensive Primate, or Primate’s Progress? Tell me what you think

Orangutans are capable of having mental maps and calendars of the forest

Orangutans are capable of having mental maps of the forest

Update: Primate’s Progress it is.

And now for something a great deal less serious.

I originally planned to concentrate on scientific topics, especially the quirks of evolution, so I called this blog “Eat Your Brains Out”. I was referring in particular to the sea squirt. A sea squirt is a tunicate, a member of the group most closely related to vertebrates (that’s you and me and frogs and fishes), but you wouldn’t think so to look at it. As I wrote the story, it starts out as a free-swimming larva, clearly related to our tadpole ancestors, but when it grows up it just sticks its head on a rock and turns into a couple of slimy tubes and reabsorbs its juvenile nervous system because it doesn’t need it any more. Nice story but, as a well-informed reader pointed out, it’s more a matter of rearranging than reabsorbing. Besides, I suspect that more people know about Zombie Apocalypse than about the metamorphosis of sea squirts. And in any case, I’ve found myself writing about all kinds of things, such as politics, education, and freedom of speech, not just about science. Time for a new title.

So, after watching the final episode of BBC’s Monkey Planet (“how primates are individuals with a sense of self and why brainpower is essential to primate survival”), I decided to assert my sense of self and advertise my brainpower by renaming my blog The Pensive Primate. But then I discovered a company selling what it calls Pensive Primate gifts, such as mugs and T-shirts with pictures of orangutans on them, so I settled for Primate’s Progress instead. However, I have mixed feelings about the word “progress”. It makes me sound little bit like (perhaps I am a little bit like) a naive optimist left over from an earlier century. More seriously, it suggests a common misconception about evolution, which is that it is somehow always Onwards and Upwards.

Further searching showed that the label “Pensive Primate” has actually been used many times by photographers and artists, and as far as I can see it is not a trademark. It follows that I can use it too if I want to. After all, there’s no real risk that this blog will be mistaken for a multi-million marketing enterprise.

So now I have to decide. Which is it going to be, The Pensive Primate or Primate’s Progress?

Comments welcome

Image: BBC web site

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