Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Quote

My friend Syd told me about the following intriguing quotation from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

When Sam awoke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.

He remembered that smell: the fragrance of Ithilien. 'Bless me!' he mused. 'How long have I been asleep?' For the scent had borne him back to the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory. He stretched and drew a deep breath. 'Why, what a dream I've had!' he muttered. 'I am glad to wake!' He sat up and then he saw that Frodo was lying beside him and slept peacefully, one hand behind his head, and the other resting upon the coverlet. It was the right hand, and the third finger was missing.

Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: 'It wasn't a dream! Then where are we?'

And a voice spoke softly behind him: 'In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.' With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. 'Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?' he said.

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: 'Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?'

'A great Shadow has departed,' said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

'How do I feel?' he cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel' -- he waved his arms in the air -- 'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!' He stopped and he turned towards his master. 'But how's Mr. Frodo?' he said. 'Isn't it a shame about his poor hand? But I hope he's all right otherwise. He's had a cruel time.'

'Yes, I am all right otherwise,' said Frodo, sitting up and laughing in his turn. 'I fell asleep again waiting for you, Sam, you sleepyhead. I was awake early this morning, and now it must be nearly noon.'

'Noon?' said Sam, trying to calculate. 'Noon of what day?'

'The fourteenth of the New Year,' said Gandalf; 'or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him.'

Syd pointed out an interesting thing about this passage. The day when "everything sad [is] going to come untrue" and when "A great Shadow has departed" is the 25th of March, a day we do not celebrate. Instead, we celebrate nine months later. And now the King who has tended and will tend us, and with whom we shall eat and drink, awaits us. "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests".

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens - 1949-2011

I was sad to read this morning that Christopher Hitchens lost his battle with cancer at the age of 62. I won't pretend I agreed with him on many things - in particular I found his treatment of history to be very one dimensional. None of that really mattered because of his panache and eloquence. His articles and his debates were always entertaining; even 'God is not Great' in places is the sort of rollicking good polemic which is so rare these days.

By way of tribute here is a young Christopher Hitchens debating foreign policy in the Reagan years and chain smoking (skip to 47.48 to see him deliver the Hitch smackdown on a caller).

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

'This is a bogus statistic'


A comment on one of my previous posts has alerted me to the fact that Steven Pinker has an FAQ up on his site concerning ‘Better Angels of our Nature’. None of the questions appear to take him to task for using made-up statistics. Some of the responses he gives are highly entertaining. For example when asked about ‘atheist regimes in the 20th century’ he says:

‘according to the most recent compendium of history’s worst atrocities, Matthew White's Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2011), religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. Communism has been responsible for 6 mass killings and 67 million deaths. If defenders of religion want to crow, “We were only responsible for 47 million murders—Communism was worse!”, they are welcome to do so, but it is not an impressive argument.

Fourth, many religious massacres took place in centuries in which the world’s population was far smaller. Crusaders, for example, killed 1 million people in world of 400 million, for a genocide rate that exceeds that of the Nazi Holocaust. The death toll from the Thirty Years War was proportionally double that of World War I and in the range of World War II in Europe‘


Whether the Thirty Years War was more destructive than World War I and II is an interesting question; Germany and large parts of Central Europe undoubtedly suffered a demographic collapse in the 17th century (15-20% in the German States). However the overwhelming majority of deaths during the 30 Years’ War were caused by disease – specifically typhus, dysentery and bubonic plague. This situation was partially caused and exacerbated by the movement of the various armies through the German countryside – resulting in food shortages and the outbreak of epidemics. According to the detailed treatment given in Europe’s Tragedy by Peter H Wilson death records from towns appear to show few directly related to military violence and 30 years of warfare reaped around 450,000 military casualties.

It could be argued, in fact it should be argued that much of this mortality would not have happened were it not for the conflict - other areas of Europe suffered population declines in this period but not as precipitous as Germany’s – so there is a direct responsibility there and disease related deaths should be added to the tally. However if that is the case then you have to compare like with like. Close troop quarters and massive troop movements helped facilitate an influenza pandemic at the end of World War I – perhaps the greatest medical holocaust ever. Add these to the 15,000,000 slaughtered in World War and it becomes proportionally the deadliest conflict in world history.

In answer to another religion related question Pinker states:

‘Jesus deserves credit for stigmatizing revenge, one of the main motives for violence over the course of human history. But things started going downhill in 312 when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the historical facts are not consistent with the claim that Christianity since then has been a force for nonviolence:


The Crusaders perpetrated a century of genocides that murdered a million people, equivalent as a proportion of the world’s population at the time to the Nazi holocaust.

Shortly afterwards, the Cathars of southern France were exterminated in another Crusader genocide because they had embraced the Albigensian heresy.

The Inquisition, according to Rummel, killed 350,000 people.

Martin Luther’s rant against the Jews is barely distinguishable from the writings of Hitler.

The three founders of Protestantism, Luther, Calvin, and Henry VIII, had thousands of heretics were burned at the stake, as they and their followers took Jesus literally when he said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”


Following the biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” Christians killed 60,000-100,000 accused witches in the European witchhunts.


The European Wars of Religion had death rates that were double that of World War I and that were in the range of World War II in Europe.


Christian conquistadors massacred and enslaved native Americans in vast numbers, and perhaps twenty million were killed in all (not counting unintentional epidemics) by the European settlement of the Americas.


World War I, as I recall, was a war fought mostly by Christians against Christians. As for World War II and its associated horrors, see my answer to the previous question.

I was pleased to see Pinker’s statistics on the witch hunts – 60,000 over 3 centuries - are reasonably accurate (on the internet you regularly see figures of 9 million waved about) One wouldn’t want to act as some kind of apologist for killing people for imaginary crimes, however the figures for the Inquisition are far too high – 10,000 over six centuries is a more credible estimate. As far as I can make out from a quick scout through ‘google books’ Henry VIII burned 81 heretics, Calvin burned 1 (Servetus) and Luther believed that burning heretics was against the will of the Holy Spirit, thus giving the softie a fat 0. Not a very impressive total for the 3 founders of Protestantism.

The most bogus figure of the lot is the (non-disease related) extermination of 20 million native Americans during the settlement of the Americas. Pinker appears to have got this number from White’s necrometrics – however as his discussion of it on his site shows he basically plucked the number out of thin air (he has taken the median of 4 clearly made up estimates). The conquest was often one of murderous oppression but the demographic collapse – 90% in some areas was as a result of epidemics. For example – the native population here in New England may well have been some 72,000 to 114,000 before colonisation. By 1670 that number had been reduced to only 8,600.

The decline was not the result of a genocide campaign, in fact, in the case of the Spanish the settlers were small in number and depended on native communities to build and sustain their colonies. As a result officials became concerned about the mortality that was occurring and passed edicts to protect natives from colonial excesses; they had become convinced by voices such as Las Casas who argued it was Spanish rule causing the disaster, not understanding the horrific role of disease. None of this probably sprang from any noble motive but it shows how tenuous the accusation of genocide is.

In answer to one question (I’ve read that at the beginning of the 20th century, ninety percent of deaths in warfare were suffered by soldiers, but at the end, ninety percent were suffered by civilians) Pinker writes:

‘This is a bogus statistic; see pp. 317–320

No – if you want to see a load of bogus statistics start at page 1 and keep reading till you get to page 832; then read the FAQ for good measure.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How bad were the Mongols ?

Separate piles of heads of men, women and children were built into pyramids; and even cats and dogs were killed in the streets.

Sayfi Heravi on the sacking of Naishapur

Exactly how nasty were the Mongols? Let’s be honest, they would probably be the last people in world history you would invite round for wine tasting and canap├ęs. One famous anecdote concerning their rule for example claims that un-cooperative Russian nobles were assembled and forced to lie on the ground. A heavy wooden gate was then thrown on them and a table and chairs set up on the top side of the gate. Following this a victory banquet was thrown (which no doubt involved some stamping and enthusiastic dancing) and the unfortunate Russian princes were suffocated under the weight of the platform. Ironically, in doing so the Mongols were showing a certain degree of respect by not shedding noble blood; a similar principle was applied with the last Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad who was executed by being rolled in a carpet and kicked to death by horses.

In ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ Stephen Pinker (quoting White’s estimates again) claims that the hordes of Genghis Khan and his successors managed to wipe out 40,000,000 people. This puts them at second in the all-time ‘Possibly the worst things people have done to each other’ list with an adjusted death toll of 298,000,000 (mid-20th century equivalent). Pinker writes:

The Mongol invasions of Islamic lands in the 13th century resulted in the massacre of 1.3 million people in the city of Merv alone, and another 800,000 residents of Baghdad. As the historian of the Mongols J. J. Saunders remarks "There is something indescribably revolting in the cold savagery with which the Mongols carried out their massacres. The inhabitants of a doomed town were obliged to assemble in a plain outside the walls, and each Mongol trooper, armed with a battle-axe, was told to kill so many people, ten, twenty or fifty. As proof that orders had been properly obeyed, the killers were sometimes required to cut off an ear from each victim, collect the ears in sacks, and bring them to their officers to be counted. A few days after the massacre, troops were sent back into the ruined city to search for any poor wretches who might be hiding in holes or cellars; these were dragged out and slain". The Mongols’ first leader, Genghis Khan, offered this reflection on the pleasures of life: “The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms.”[1]

How credible are such estimates? It is certainly plausible if we take the contemporary chroniclers such as Ibn al-Athir and Al-Nasawi at face value. These state the Mongol Army (estimated at perhaps 130,000 men) massacred hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of people. 1,600,000 people were killed at the sack of Harat, and 1,747,000 at Nishapur (another source says 2,400,000). The Mongol leader Hulegu claimed in a letter to Louis IX of France that he killed two million people during the sack of Baghdad [2]. This would mean the Mongols were pulling off operations on the scale of the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Stalingrad regularly over the course of their conquests. According to Jack Weatherford in ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’ these figures are ‘preposterous’. David Morgan in ‘The Mongols’ is as sceptical, but less emphatic, regarding these estimates as not statistical information but instead ‘evidence of the state of mind created by the character of the Mongol invasion’.

Weatherford states that ‘conservative scholars place the number of dead from Genghis Khan’s invasion of central Asia at 15 million within five years’, however ‘even this more modest total…would require that each Mongol kill more than a hundred people’. If we took the chroniclers estimates, according to Weatherford this would mean ‘a slaughter of 350 people by every Mongol soldier’ (this would trump even the 87 people killed by Arnold Schwarzenegger during the course of the movie Commando).

Even so, it is somewhat glib to say that the chroniclers exaggerate – though this is often the case in ancient and medieval history [3]. One approach to determine their authenticity is to try to quantify exactly what the population of Central Asia was at the time. According to David Morgan this is difficult due to the lack of comprehensive Islamic archaeology and the fact that mud brick buildings do not respond well to repair. In many places however, such as at Harat it is possible to see where the pre Mongol walls stood – according to Morgan none of the sites appear to have been big enough to accommodate the populations noted in the sources; even under a siege where the population would have been swelled by refugees [4]. Another problem is that if we accept the contemporary figures then this would indicate the Mongols were outnumbered by ratios of 50-1 and you would think they would have greater success at fighting off their assailants.

Bernard Lewis and David Morgan state that the Mongol devastation was not universal. Only Transoxania and Khurasan had to suffer Mongol wrath at its worst whereas South Asia was never submitted to a full scale assault. Parts of Russia were devastated but some areas escaped lightly or completely [5]. The campaign against the Chin Empire in China was destructive but that later undertaken against the Sung was less so in order to take over as intact a country as possible,

The only way in which the 40 million figure given in ‘Better Angels of our Nature could be rendered plausible is if the statistics given for China from Sung and Chin times to after the expulsion of the Mongols in 1382 are accurate. These show a drop in population from 100 million to 70 million in 1290s [6] and 60 million in 1393 – a drop of 40 million. How responsible are the Mongols for this apparent holocaust?

We have already seen the problems with attempting to rely on the Chinese censuses which all too often appear to reflect the effectiveness of the central administration rather than the actual population. According to Timothy Brook in ‘The Troubled Empire’ many Chinese in Mongol areas were simply not reported, having been en-serfed and thus disappeared from the records altogether. Additionally the 14th century in China saw extensive flooding of the Yellow river and the subsequent famine, outbreaks of disease in the 1330s and a major outbreak of what is thought to have been the Black Death from 1353-4.[7] China in the 14th century experienced below average temperatures, harsh winters and a shorter growing season. The Yellow river flooded 6,000 square miles and 17 walled cities causing severe epidemics. Military disruption would have caused refugees to move south into communities where they would have been treated as transients and therefore not counted in taxation censuses.

What conclusions can be made – if any - on the extent of Mongol destructiveness? Certainly the invasions were appalling and exacted a heavy toll on agriculture and towns. Some modern studies tend to take a revisionist stress the positive aspects of Mongol rule, however as Hugh Kennedy remarks in Mongols, Huns and Vikings:

‘Revisionist historians have questioned the extent of Mongol ferocity and destructiveness, suggesting that such accounts are largely rhetoric and hyperbole. However, the weight of contemporary evidence is very strong and it is backed up by the archaeology. Of the great cities sacked by the Mongols, only Bukhara and Urgench were rebuilt on the same site: Balkh, Otrar and Nishapur were ruined for ever and at Merv a new town was founded two centuries later well away from the remains of the old. Samarkand was rebuilt outside the old walls while the ancient city remained as it is today, a desolate .waste of mud-brick ruins’.

Nonetheless – while the Mongols themselves would have been absolutely delighted to have been credited with the annihilation of 40 million people in the 13th century (around 9% of the world’s population at the time) – the number seems pretty unlikely. It’s the same as the number of civilians killed in World War II with a vastly higher world population and more destructive forms of weaponry. 11-15 million doesn’t seem outside the realms of possibility – a staggering total but still some way short of the inflated total given by Pinker [8]. If that figure is correct then the Mongol Conquests killed 2.5% of the world's population (450 million) in over a hundred years - from the 1230s to the late 14th century. By contrast World War II managed to wipe out between 1.5 and 2% of the World's population in only six years.

[1]One of the less well known aspects of the Mongol conquests was their capacity for propaganda. Regarding the above quote Jack Weathersford writes in ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World that:

‘Rather than finding such apocalyptic descriptions derogatory, Genghis Khan seemed to have encouraged them. With his penchant for finding a use for everything he encountered, he devised a powerful way to exploit the high literacy rate of the Muslim people, and turned his unsuspecting enemies into a potent weapon for shaping public opinion. Terror, he realized, was best spread not by the acts of warriors, but by the pens of scribes and scholars. In an era before newspapers, the letters of the intelligentsia played a primary role in shaping public opinion, and in the conquest of central Asia, they played their role quite well on Genghis Khan’s behalf. The Mongols operated a virtual propaganda machine that consistently inflated the number of people killed in battle and spread fear wherever its words carried.’

Similarly George Lane remarks that the Mongols ’deliberately exaggerated and encouraged the horror stories that circulated around them and preceded their arrival in order to ensure an unhesitating surrender of the cowed population’.

[2] In David Morgan’s ‘The Mongols’ he states this figure as 200,000 however he was misled by an editor’s translation and has corrected it to 2 million in later editions. Clearly this figure is ludicrously high (see the estimates for Baghdad’s Medieval population in footnote 4).

[3] Even such a towering figure as Julius Caesar in his ‘Gallic Wars’ claimed that in a single battle against two tribes he had defeated an enemy 430,000 strong without losing a single soldier.

[4] Estimates of Baghdad’s population range from 96 million (!?!) by an 11th century source Hilal al-Sabi to perhaps 200,000 to 500,000 inhabitants (Jacob Lassner Massignon and Baghdad) The most plausible range for the time is probably between 200,000 and 600,000, a very large city by Medieval standards but not sufficiently large to meet Hulugu or Pinker’s total. Estimates of the killed range from 80,000 to 1 million. The lower end seems far more credible.

[5] John Fennell argues that although some Russian cities were captured and presumably damaged or destroyed, many others were probably bypassed and escaped sack.

[6] The 1290 census did not include Yunnan and other areas and also did not enumerate several categories of people, claiming that ‘migrants living in the wilderness are not included in the total’. According to Peter C. Perdue in ‘Exhausting the Earth’ it is generally accepted that the 1393 census did not count the entire population

[7] The Mongols don’t get off the hook completely here as it was the creation of their empire that cleared the way for the advance of plague from Central Asia into China.

[8] Any estimate has to be taken with a considerable pinch of salt. John Man estimates that the Khwarezmian massacres claimed 1.2 million lives – 25-30% of 5 million. Hulagu’s conquests may have claimed roughly the same number and a slightly lower total can be assumed for the incursions into Eastern Europe and Rus. Clearly the Chinese census cannot be taken at face value in estimating population lost & most of the total must be due to plague. Assuming the real decline was 30 million (allowing for a significant undercount in the censue) and Mongol actions accounted for 25% of deaths gives 7.5 million. This would give a grand total of 11.5 million over the course of around a century.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Classical Global Skepticism and the EAAN

Update (Sep. 12, 2015): I'm temporarily taking this post offline -- like for a year or so -- because it inspired me to write a more detailed article that is being published in an academic journal. Even though a blogpost doesn't (or at least shouldn't) count as a prior publication of something, and even though the article and blogpost are only similar in very broad strokes, I'd like to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Steven Pinker's Medieval Murder Rates

In a highly problematic passage from Steven Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ the professor highlights the fact that homicide rates have plummeted across Europe since the 13th century. He does this with reference to the work of sociologists and historians such as Ted Robert Gurr and Carl I Hammer which show that murder rates dropped sharply across the centuries – 14th century England was about 95% more violent than the present era. What conclusions does Pinker draw from this? He seems to be pushing some theory by Norbert Elias which states that a civilizing process occurred. Medieval people were boorish, animalistic and lacking in habits of refinement. According to Pinker:

‘over a span of several centuries, beginning in the 11th or 12th and maturing in the 17th and 18th, Europeans increasingly inhibited their impulses, anticipated the long-term consequences of their actions, and took other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. A culture of honor—the readiness to take revenge—gave way to a culture of dignity—the readiness to control one’s emotions.’

By contrast according to Pinker

‘The people of the Middle Ages were, in a word, gross. A number of the advisories in the etiquette books deal with eliminating bodily effluvia: Don’t foul the staircases, corridors, closets, or wall hangings with urine or other filth. • Don’t relieve yourself in front of ladies, or before doors or windows of court chambers. • Don’t slide back and forth on your chair as if you’re trying to pass gas. • Don’t touch your private parts under your clothes with your bare hands. • Don’t greet someone while they are urinating or defecating. • Don’t make noise when you pass gas. • Don’t undo your clothes in front of other people in preparation for defecating, or do them up afterwards…..In the European Middle Ages, sexual activity too was less discreet. People were publicly naked more often, and couples took only perfunctory measures to keep their coitus private. Prostitutes offered their services openly; in many English towns, the red-light district was called Gropecunt Lane. Men would discuss their sexual exploits with their children, and a man’s illegitimate offspring would mix with his legitimate ones’

Now at this point once again I have to jump to the defence of the poor benighted medievals. Unlike Steven Pinker I am a regular watcher of the ‘Maury Povich’ show in the United States (for UK readers the immediate point of reference is the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’) and I have been on numerous pub crawls in UK city centres. All of the gross practices highlighted by Pinker are in evidence – one might say omnipresent - in modern society so it makes little sense to rat on our ancestors for displaying them. Perhaps Pinker needs to spend less like in the urbane, sophisticated environment of Cambridge Massachusetts and more time somewhere like Calton Glasgow. Then he might not have as much confidence in the voodoo like properties of Peter Singer's ‘empathy circle’.

So what to make of Pinker’s historical data? Well, from the start I would expect to see a drop in homicide rates across the centuries for four reasons. Firstly societies have gradually increased centralised power in the state and established a monopoly on violence. Secondly courts of law have become more effective as venues for settling disputes, thereby making the use of violence unnecessary. Thirdly schooling and education have introduced a greater civility – perhaps this counts as a ‘civilising process’? Fourthly, it is now much harder to kill people due to modern medicine and the emergency services. Wounds which would previously have been fatal and resulted in homicide now result in grievous bodily harm*. A Saturday night in Newcastle which in previous centuries might have resulted in a bloodbath now simply results in the A&E being clogged with aggressive drunks. It would therefore not be surprising if homicide rates were higher before these variables developed – what would be surprising is if they were lower.

Before looking at Pinker’s figures I should point out how homicide rates are calculated, as n per 100,000 of population per annum. Basically you take the number of murders and divide it by the population size (of say Medieval Norwich). You then multiply this by 100,000 to give you the murder rate. Pinker has some figures from Gurr which show the murder rate in Medieval London as having homicide rates from of around 50 per 100,000 during the 14th and 15th centuries (the present figure is more like 1.8 per 100,000). He quotes a figure from Carl Hammer showing that the murder rate in 14th century Oxford was 110 per 100,000 which is astonishingly high given how sleepy and civilised the place is today (this murder rate - calculated based on 36 cases of homicide between 1342 and 1348 - is akin to that of cartel ridden Ciudad Juarez in Mexico).

Are the figures accurate? Here we run into a number of problems. You might have noticed that the homicide rates are highly dependent on the population statistics. Michael Prestwich discusses this in Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (p507-508). One estimate he quotes is that London in the first half of the fourteenth century had a homicide rate of between 5.2 and 3,6 cases per 10,000 (equivalent to 52 per 100,000 and 36 per 100,000 meaning London was as violent as present day New Orleans). However this estimate was based on the population of London being 35,000 to 50,000. It’s become increasingly clear that these estimates are wrong. For example it’s clear that building densities around Cheapside were extensive by the end of the 14th century – at levels not reached again until 1600 when the population was 100,000-200,000 including suburbs. According to Prestwich estimates of the city's population now reach as high as 107,900 to 176,000. At a population of 100,000 the murder rate would be 1.8 per 10,000 (18 per 100,000). This would make London’s murder rate equivalent to present day Atlanta or Pittsburgh. A slightly higher population estimate would make the murder rate equivalent to present day Boston across the Charles river from Stephen Pinker’s office – which seems unlikely. If that were correct then the question we would have to ask is why our present day cities are more dangerous than their equivalents in an age of comparative lawlessness** ?

What of the Mexican murder rate for Oxford? Prestwich says that the high figure may be explained by the fact Hammer used coroners records to come up with his statistics. Unlike the present day these report the circumstances of a mortality and do not distinguish between murder, manslaughter or accidental death – hence you end up with an extremely wide range of possible rates***. Given the paucity of data – Pinker seems to have gone for the highest one in order to massage his thesis. Furthermore such records only cover a period of a few years and might reflect a one off crime wave ****.

Any conclusions based on what little statistics we have must therefore be provisional and potentially unsafe. For example, according to Prestwich, the records show that there were ‘only three larcenies in Norwich in 1313, as against 703 in Bedford, Indiana (a town of similar size), in 1975’. It would be ill-advisable to read that statistic and go on to write a book called ‘The terrible daemons of our nature’ showing the slide into criminality of Western Culture – especially since 14th century crime reporting probably less quite a lot to be desired.

*This is perhaps the most important point. For example Randolph Roth author of American Homicide argues that given modern medicine—emergency response, trauma surgery, antibiotics, and wound care—three out of every four people murdered before 1850 would probably survive today.

**The issue of how violent Medieval society was is seriously hampered by lack of evidence. Alternative interpretations exist such as Phillipa Maddern’s ‘Violence and Social Order: East Anglia 1422-1442’ which argued that the allegedly violent landscape of East Anglia (then the most urbanised area of England) was in fact, remarkably free of criminal violence and that this model could be applied to the rest of the country.

***As an example of the difficulties with this approach the only surviving run of coroners’ records for England’s 2nd largest city Norwich are from 1263 to 1268. These document 36 cases, 14 seem to be accidental death or theft. In 5 the conclusion is more ambiguous – either the jury swore the death was accidental or the suspect was cleared by compurgation. That leaves 17 possible instances of murder over 5 years – a proportion of which could classed as manslaughter. If these were all murders the average rate per year given a population of 17,000 would have been 20 per 100,000 – a rate akin to Philadelphia in 2010. If half were murders the rate would be 10 which is slightly less than Boston.

****Oxford was undoubtedly a violent place in the Middle Ages. Of 29 coroners’ reports that have been preserved for the period 1297-1322, 13 are murders committed by scholars. Attacks on townspeople were sometimes countenanced and even led by officials of the university. For example in 1526 a Procter organised a riot in which many citizens were attacked and their houses looted. In 1355 in what became known as the ‘St Scholastic’s Day riot’ an argument in a tavern became a pub brawl which went on for the next 3 days. It began when a group of students at an inn near Carfax disapproved of the wine they were served. The inn-keeper having given them ‘stubborn and saucy language’ the clerks ‘threw the wine and vessel at his head’. The townspeople then seized the opportunity to arm themselves with bows and arrows and attack scholars. Gangs of academics and citizens clashed in the streets and academic halls were burned. Six students and scholars were killed.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Pinker tackles the Albigensian Crusade

In ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ Steven Pinker reels off example after example of ancient, medieval and early modern brutality in order to justify his thesis that the world is getting less violent. Pinker writes:

In the 13th century the Cathars of southern France embraced the Albigensian heresy, according to which there are two gods, one of good and one of evil. An infuriated papacy, in collusion with the king of France, sent waves of armies to the region, which killed around 200,000 of them. To give you a sense of the armies’ tactics, after capturing the city of Bram in 1210 they took a hundred of the defeated soldiers, cut off their noses and upper lips, gouged out the eyes of all but one, and had him lead the others to the city of Cabaret to terrorize its citizens into surrendering. The reason you have never met a Cathar is that the Albigensian Crusade exterminated them. Historians classify this episode as a clear instance of genocide*, **.

In this passage Pinker claims that the infamous Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) took the lives of 200,000 people, though in a footnote he approvingly cites White’s figure for the suppression of the Cathars – one million deaths.

The first step in determining whether these are credible estimates should be to estimate the population of the region and the scale of the conflict which erupted for 20 years. Estimates of the Langudoc’s population in the 13th century are few and far between. According to ‘Heresy Proceedings in Languedoc 1500-1560’, the population in the fourteenth century was about 1.5 million. So I think we can make an educated guess that the population at the time of the crusades (13th century) was a bit lower at 1 million (see also). This means in order for White’s figure of 1 million deaths to be credible, the Crusade needed to have been sufficiently large to slaughter pretty much every single person in the Languedoc (unless of course they bussed in a load of heretics from somewhere else).

In terms of the major cities in the region according to Costen, ‘The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade’. The city of Beziers possibly had a population no higher than 10,000. Toulouse had a population of 20,000, Montsegur at the time it was besieged had a population of 361, Carcassonne had a population of 6,000.

During the fighting itself, almost the entire population of Beziers was slaughtered on the 22nd of July 1209 according to the chroniclers. The legates recorded that ‘our men spared no-one, irrespective of rank, sex or age’ and put the toll for the massacre down as 20,000. In God’s War Christopher Tyerman states that ‘the true figure was almost certainly far less’ (p591). Costen points out that the cities population probably only numbered 10,000 (Tyerman thinks 8-9 thousand) so ‘this claim can be seen as in line with the normal inability of commentators at this period to deal with large numbers’ (p123). When Caracassonne fell, all the citizens were allowed to leave freely (though naked according to some accounts). When a new crusade was launched in 1211, Lavaur was attacked and 400 Cathar perfecti were burnt (New Cambridge Medieval History vol5 p167).

Following Beziers the social order of the region – always a ‘a patchwork of petty lords and nobles who spent most of their time and energy fighting each other’ - collapsed and it became a perpetual war zone. Massacres became a regular event – ‘from the inhabitants of the modest Castrum of Les Touelles to the 5,000 citizens dispatched at Marmande***’ (Tyerman 592). However as the war dragged on these horrors decreased, perhaps reflecting a lack of persecuting zeal or the chroniclers indifference.

Following the death of Simon De Montfort his son Amaury lost ground and retired to Paris. Another crusade led by Louis VIII was sent to the Langudoc upon which many southern cities voluntarily submitted to the king. Upon arrival the crusade was very small due to the departure of many of its original participants and the fact that many had die in an epidemic. In the event it was not attacked and the king died unexpectedly. When war next erupted in 1228 the count of Toulouse sued for peace due to financial considerations and agreed to enforce the heresy laws.

The inquisition’s activities were more restrained than their reputation suggests though they conducted an unprecedented level of investigation and interrogation. Bernard of Caux, inquisitor of Toulouse appears to have sentenced 207 offenders between 12th of May and 22nd of July 1246 (the height of the inquisition’s activity)– burning none, sentencing 23 to imprisonment and ordering the rest to wear crosses. Later in the century some 8 to 9 percent of those sentenced were burned to death.

The Albigensian Crusade must rank as one of the nastiest of medieval wars, resulting in massacres, atrocities, guerrilla warfare and the breakdown of social order. As Malcolm Barbour argues:

‘the Albigensian crusades went far beyond the normal conventions of early thirteenth-century warfare, in the scale of the slaughter, in the execution of high-status opponents, male and female, in the mutilation of prisoners, in the humiliation and shaming of the defeated, and in the quite overt use of terror as a method of achieving one's goals'.

Nethertheless, as Tyerman points out ‘the crusades did not destroy a region’ (p604), once the fighting ended, ‘prosperity returned’. With the exception of the massacre at Beziers the destruction waged in the region was comparatively modest in scale. Aside from de Montfort’s victory at Saint-Martin-Lalande and the Battle of Muret the Langudociens appear to have avoided field engagements and the massacres appear to number in the hundreds rather than thousands.

Coming up with any sort of figure for death tolls appear futile. 1,000,000 deaths is clearly ridiculous, 200,000 – a 20% death rate for the region seems too high. 100,000 might be closer to the truth but given the paucity of evidence any estimate is going to be pure speculative ‘finger waving’.

*Actually the Albigensian crusade hardly touched the Cathars. As Languedoc was restored to southern French rule after 1218 the Cathars resumed the public practice of their faith and were as strong as before. The crusade – always something of a cynical land grab - was a failure that petered out after its leader Simon De Montfort was killed at Toulouse in 1218. The reason the Cathars got their come-uppence was because the French monarchy acquired the Langedoc region of southern France through an advantageous marriage and the inquisitors were allowed to operate there.

**In his account of the capture of Bram Pierre Des Vaux claims that the mutilations were performed as a reaction to atrocities perpetrated by the defenders, reflecting tit for tat violence rather than tactical necessity. Hideous atrocities were perpetrated on both sides, including the reign of terror conducted in the Dordogne valley by Bernard of Cazenac and his wife Elise (the second jezebel) in which 150 men and women had their hands or feet amputated or their eyes put out in the Benedictine Abbey of Sarlat. Elise’s modus oper
andi was allegedly removing women’s thumbs and ordering the removal of the nipples of a poor peasant woman (Tyerman p592).

During the siege of Toulouse in 1217-18, captured crusaders could expect to have their eyes put out, their tongues removed, to be dragged behind horses, stoned, dropped from the ramparts, or drowned with mill-stones around their necks. According to Malcolm Barbour ‘In 1212, Roger Bernard, the count's son, captured some crusaders near Narbonne, took them back to Foix, where he and his men spent their time devising "new and original tortures" for them including suspension by their genitals’.

*Again the numbers seem high here given that the population in later centuries is estimated at numbering around 1,000 but there is little doubt a major massacre took place – the anonymous pro northern chronicler describes numerous assorted organs ‘torn out and tossed aside on the open ground as if they had rained down from the sky’.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Steven Pinker and the An Lushan Revolt

Most people – I think – if asked to name the bloodiest century in human history would probably say the 20th. I hasten to add this isn't the kind of question you get on history exam papers nowadays – you are more likely to get quizzed on ‘Household Formation, Lineage and gender relations in the early modern Atlantic world’ or something less bloodthirsty.

In Steven Pinker’s new book, ‘The better angels of our nature’ the wild haired Harvard professor is having none of this. The preference for the 20th century is mere ‘historical myopia’. Instead when one roots around through the
history books for forgotten wars and scales for the world’s population at the time – you find a whole set of lesser known conflicts that dwarf the toll for the first and second world wars. Pinker then presents a table showing the Second World War as merely the 9th most destructive atrocity of all time – lagging behind the Atlantic Slave Trade, the annihilation of the American Indians, Tamerlane’s conquests, the fall of Rome, the fall of the Ming dynasty, the Mid-east slave trade, the Mongol conquests and – most terrible of all – the An Lushan Revolt (something the majority of westerners have never even heard of).

Now at this point one’s proverbial ‘Bullshit-o-meter’ should be sounding – anyone who claims that they have a reasonably accurate ‘death toll estimate’ for something like the Mongol Conquests is being ludicrously over-confident. Pinker’s table looks suspiciously like something that has been cut and pasted from Wikipedia. In fact the figures appear to have been lifted from a site called ‘Necromterics’ authored by Matthew White – a librarian and author whose somewhat macabre hobby appears to be calculating historic death tolls. His scholarly works include such essays as 'Which Has Killed More People? Christianity? or Gun Control' so it's a bit strange that Pinker would consider him the go-to man on the demography of Medieval China.

The An Lushan Revolt, according to Pinker and White, wiped out something like 36,000,000 Chinese over the course of 8 years – a toll equivalent to two thirds (66%) of the Tang Empire’s population. If you scale for the mid 20th century’s population you would end up with an equivalent toll of 429,000,000 people. That would indeed be an astonishing high death rate – by comparison the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia killed around 13% of Russia’s population - over half the population in the regions and countries of Europe where there is data of useful quality died in the Black Death (perhaps the worst demographic disaster in the history of the world). To justify this Pinker and White refer to the fact that at the peak of the medieval Tang dynasty, the census taken in the year 753 recorded a population of 52,880,488. After eleven years of civil war, the census of 764 gave a figure of 16,900,000. None of the figures cited on White’s site appear to come from Sinologists as far as I can see and no context is given for the low census figures*.

Accordingly I have worked through a number of works such as the ‘Cambridge History of China Vol 3’, Mark Edward Lewis’s ‘The Chinese Cosmopolitan Empire – the Tang Dynasty’ and David Andrew Graff’s ‘Medieval Chinese Warfare’ to see if they can shed greater light on what is now claimed to be the greatest holocaust in human history.

An Lushan was a garrison commanding general of mixed Sogdian and Turkish descent who rebelled against the Tang Dynasty in 755. This sparked a civil war across northern China for a period of eight years before the rebels were finally destroyed in 763. During this period of the two capitals of the Tang dynasty, the city of Chang’an was damaged and the city of Luoyang was burned. This suggests that the conflict was highly destructive but when assessing the impact there are a number of difficulties.

Firstly, up until the modern age, population counts were sporadic and incomplete. The first full censuses were not made until 1790 in the United States and 1801 in Britain. In the medieval Chinese era, the government counted households and some or all of the people constituting them, but did not attempt a complete registration until 1953. This was for the purpose of levying troops or more commonly allocating tax burdens. Only a few landmark censuses from the pre-Song era are taken to be reasonably reliable and the taxation records are frequently disrupted by war and administrative chaos. The figures for number of households are held to be far more reliable than those for actual head count

Secondly the census figures vary wildly depending on the contemporary level of government control. For example, in the reign of Taizong from 626 to 649, only 3,000,000 household were registered. Under the previous Sui dynasty (581-618) the figure had been 9,000,000 households. According to Richard Guisso in the Cambridge History of China this ‘sensational decline was not the result of catastrophic loss of life during the civil warfare of late Sui and early T'ang, but of simple failure by the local authorities to register the population in full. Even in the first years of Kao-tsung's reign only 3,800,000 households - certainly far less than half of the actual population – were registered. Considerably more than half of the population was thus unregistered and paying no taxes (p297 Cambridge History of China). This shows that in times of difficulty the highly centralised taxation system could break down – resulting in half the population or more being omitted from the census.

After the An Lushan revolt the situation reached crisis proportions and a new period of warlordism and regional autonomy emerged. The Tang had survived only by carrying out a general decentralisation of administrative power and dispersing power through a new tier of provincial governments. Despite the restoration of peace the empire remained in a state of chaos. China broke into many regions who collected their own taxes and remitted only a small portion to the central government. The Tang could no longer update it’s registers and chart landowning; local tax records were destroyed, scattered and rendered obselete. As Graff writes:

After the An Lushan rebellion, the Tang court lost the ability to enroll, enumerate, and impose taxes directly upon the majority of China’s peasant households. This development is dramatically illustrated by the decline of the registered population from approximately nine million households in 755 to less than two million in 760. (P240 – Medieval Chinese Warfare)

The post rebellion census figures cannot then be relied upon when estimating the impact on the empires population in the 8th century and there are no signs of a catastrophic two thirds population loss. Instead the indications are that China continued to have a large population base into the 9th century with which the dynasty was able to raise professional and conscripted armies to compete with the nomadic powers in dominating inner Asia.

The estimates given by the great Harvard sinologist John King Fairbank in 'the New History of China' (2006) are that ‘the empire’s population may have totalled 60 million in AD 80, 80 million in 875, 110 million in 1190’ (p106). These are of course estimates but they show that the general impression from historians of the period is not one of catastrophic population decline followed by recovery – but of a slow and steady late medieval population boom coupled with a shift in population from north to south. Mark Edward Lewis remarks that that:

‘Between 742 and 1080 (two years for which comprehensive census records have survived), the population in the north increased by only 26 percent, while that in the south increased by 328 percent’

C A Peterson in the Cambridge history of China notes that in the wake of the rebellion:

Large scale shifts of population took place. Many of the war affected areas in Ho-pei and Ho-nan were partially depopulated, and many people migrated to the Huai and Yangtze valleys and to the south (P496)

There are therefore plenty of reasons to be sceptical of Pinker’s claim that An Lushan’s revolt ranks as the most destructive war of all time. In fact he doesn’t appear to have done even the most basic research of research into the credibility of his figures; which is a shame because ‘The Better Angels of our Natures’ is a very good read and presents some interesting questions.

*In his recent book 'The great big book of horrible things' Matthew White goes with a 'more conservative' figure for the An Lushan revolt of 13 million dead - though he obviously didn't tell Pinker.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Debate on Science and Religion

Hey folks, sorry for the lack of posting lately. To make up for it I'm copying a debate I had on an old blog I used to write with a couple of people of the young-earth inclination. I've changed the names (although they were just screen names). [Update: I've corrected some formatting issues.]

B: Science is knowledge..but it is not wisdom. Wisdom only comes from studying the Bible. Evolution is a theory...not a fact. I don't care how many times they say its fact..it is not. They can't prove anything. True science is being able to prove a theory.

The main reason people want to believe this lie...is they want to deny God. If you believe a wonderful creator God made us...then you have to believe in the rest of the Bible. This includes living a life that is Christ-like in character. You must deny yourself and lift up the cross. But people don't want to deny themselves.

Too many Americans have too many idols. Such as food, tv, sports, material things, etc. Believing in science allows people to live a hedonistic lifestyle...if it feels good...do it. This is fine..but as Solomon says in Proverbs....only for a season.

Jim S.: I have to disagree. Science is the systematic observation of God's creation. The Bible tells us that God's creation is a reliable witness (see Psalm 19:1-4, for example). So I don't see how we can believe the Bible and not believe science. Science is one of the things that led me to belief in God.

I also have to contest the claim that people believe in evolution in order to deny the existence of God. There are plenty of people who believe in God and evolution. I suggest you read Life's Solution by Simon Conway Morris and Rebuilding the Matrix by Denis Alexander. Both authors are devout Christians, scientists, and Darwinists. So it seems to me that evolution is completely consistent with belief in God and Christianity.

B: "devout Christians, scientists, and Darwinists".....what?

You cannot believe in God and evolution....they contradict themselves. You either believe the Bible and a literal 6 creation days...or you believe in millions and millions of years....not both.

Just look at the 2nd commandment...."for I the Lord thy God am a jelous God", He wants your total obediance to His word. You can't believe God and what some lowly, sinful men have invented in their minds. Which is what evolution is....a nice guess to how the world was created.

I've heard some Christians say that the days were actually thousands of years in between....what? God created the flowers and the grass and the trees on the 3rd day....He created the sun and moon and stars on the 4th day....so flowers and trees went 1,000 years without sunlight? I don't think so.

So it seems to me that evolution is completely in-consistent with belief in God and Christianity...because remember...being a Christian meens being a follower of Christ...the same Christ who created the world in Genesis

Jim S.: Well, I have to disagree again. There are plenty of devout Christians who believe in evolution. C. S. Lewis, for example, accepted it, and he was a great champion for Christianity. B. B. Warfield, the theologian most responsible for our concept of the inerrancy of the Bible, believed in evolution. Moreover, evolution seems very similar to the Christian doctrine of rationes seminales, or seminal principles. This was the view that God created everything in seed form, and it then developed accordingly. It was held by many early Christians, such as Athenagoras, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine, as well as many theologians of the Middle Ages, such as Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Roger Bacon.

The Bible tells us the who and the what of creation, but focuses less on the when and the how. God frequently uses natural processes to accomplish his purposes (see, for example, Exodus 14:21), so I don't see anything inconsistent with believing that God used the natural processes that he set up to create the world.

I'm convinced that the whole "evolution vs. creation" meme is something invented in the 19th century by non-Christians who wanted to drive a wedge between Christianity and science. I don't think it's wise to let such people define the content of our faith for us.

As for the age of the universe, that strikes me as a completely different issue. You write that the plants couldn't have survived 1,000 years without sunlight, but they couldn't have survived a single day without it either, or even a minute. The resolution to this is in Genesis 1:3 which states that there was light on the surface of the earth on day one. As long as there was light, the plants could photosynthesize for as long as they needed.

I would argue that Genesis 1 clearly represents the days of creation as being God's days (they make up his workweek, the seventh day is his day of rest), and that we have no reason to think that God's days are the same as humankind's days. Indeed, the Bible states pretty clearly that God's experience of time is radically different from ours (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8-9).

I'll close by reiterating the fact that the Bible itself tells us that his creation is a reliable and trustworthy witness (Job 12:7-10; Psalm 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-20). Science is the systematic observation of God's creation. Therefore, I think that we Christians are obliged, by the words of the Bible, to accept the findings of science. This doesn't mean that we have to accept everything every scientist says, because some scientists have an axe to grind against religion. But God's creation can be trusted to reveal the truth about itself. If it reveals that the universe is billions of years old, then I have no objection.

B: I don't know how to respond to some of your statements. To the men you stated who believe in evolution and claim to be Christians. It says in Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

I've never heard about the creation week not being the same week we keep today. I mean...does God really need a week to do anything...after all...he just spoke and things happened. Also, the 7th day wasn't for God to rest...because really...does God need rest? Of course not. The 7th day is for us to rest. Our society works and works and works...God knew this...He gave us a day to not think about the world but think about our Lord and Saviour.

True science is something that can be proved. Of course evolution can not be proved. Its a theory. Nobody was there. Same with creation. We only have our faith to go on. But do you want to put your faith in men or God?

1 Corinthians 2:5 says, "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

There is power in the words of God. He spoke and the world was created. Look at the word universe. Uni being one...and verse being the spoken word....ONE WORD....God spoke and all was created. I believe that it was 7 days...the same 7 days we keep today. Everything works in cycles...a 24 hour cycle...a weekly cycle...a monthly cycle..etc. Why would God be using some other time frame that we don't understand?

For the most part I believe evolutionists fall under Romans 10:3, " For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."

Let me state this one more time. A Christian is a follower of Christ. You either believe everything the Bibe claims...or you don't. You cannot cherry pick what you want to believe out of the Bible. In Ephesians 3:9 it says, " And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ".

I think alot of people feel ashamed to to say they believe in Creation. Because its the scientists and perceived intellectual types that believe in evolution. So if you want to be cosidered "smart" you will believe like they do. But I am not ashamed to believe in creation. The Bible says in Romans 10:11, "For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed."

There is a day coming where Christ will show himself to us and He will be justified before men. The Bible is the truth...not a half truth..not partially true...totally true. In John 17:17 it says, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

Scientists cannot get you to heaven. If they can...then by all means...believe what they say. Evolution somehow says God needed help or time to do what He wanted....thats rubbish. God could have created the whole world in a second if He wanted to. The creation story is for us...today...a testimony to the love of God.

My major problem with evolution is that it puts doubt into peoples minds. It doubts Gods power. Evolution is a stumbling block to young Christians. What does Jesus warn us about in Matthew 24:4..."And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you."

Deception is the major problem for Christians in the endtime. I believe that evolution is just another one of Satans deceptions. If Satan can get people to believe that they can be good Christians and believe in evolution....who wins?

Jim S.: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. If I may, let me reproduce what you wrote, with my comments interspersed.

I don't know how to respond to some of your statements. To the men you stated who believe in evolution and claim to be Christians. It says in Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

These men don't merely claim to be Christians, they are Christians. For example, part of the reason that you believe that the Bible is true in everything it asserts is because of B. B. Warfield's defining of the concept of inerrancy. He believed the Bible was the holy word of God, and believed it contained no errors. He also believed in evolution.

I've never heard about the creation week not being the same week we keep today. I mean...does God really need a week to do anything...after all...he just spoke and things happened.

Agreed. He didn't need to take seven calendar days or billions of years. But the question isn't what God can do, but what God has done.

Also, the 7th day wasn't for God to rest...because really...does God need rest? Of course not. The 7th day is for us to rest.

Well, according to the Bible God rested on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). Of course God didn't need to rest. He was creating an archetype: just as God rested on God's Sabbath day, so humanity should rest on humanity's Sabbath day. This same pattern is extended to nature: the Hebrews were commanded to give the land a Sabbath rest, one year out of every seven (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7). The parallel is the six-plus-one pattern, not how long the Sabbaths are.

Our society works and works and works...God knew this...He gave us a day to not think about the world but think about our Lord and Saviour.

Agreed, although I don't think there's anything preventing us from thinking about him during the week.

True science is something that can be proved. Of course evolution can not be proved. Its a theory. Nobody was there.

Well, according to the Bible, creation was there, and it testifies as to what happened. Contrast the Bible's view of the reliability of creation's witness with the reliability of humanity's witness. The testimony of creation is much more trustworthy.

Same with creation. We only have our faith to go on.

I came to believe in God and creation partially because of the discoveries of modern science.

But do you want to put your faith in men or God?

In God. That's why I trust what he has revealed through his creation, as well as what he has revealed in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 2:5 says, "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

There is power in the words of God. He spoke and the world was created. Look at the word universe. Uni being one...and verse being the spoken word....ONE WORD....God spoke and all was created.


I agree.

I believe that it was 7 days...the same 7 days we keep today. Everything works in cycles...a 24 hour cycle...a weekly cycle...a monthly cycle..etc. Why would God be using some other time frame that we don't understand?

There's nothing incomprehensible in the idea that God's days are different from ours. Again, the point in the days of creation is to set up the six-plus-one pattern that we are to follow in our days. How could the first three days be the same kind of days we have today if the sun, moon, and stars didn't even appear in the sky until the fourth day?

For the most part I believe evolutionists fall under Romans 10:3, " For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."

I think our society uses evolution as an excuse to avoid God. That says a lot about our society and nothing about evolution. Again, there are plenty of devout Christians who have submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God who believe in evolution. I've given several examples of such people in my earlier comments.

Let me state this one more time. A Christian is a follower of Christ.

Of course.

You either believe everything the Bibe claims...or you don't.

I believe everything the Bible claims, although I wouldn't make this a test for being a sincere Christian. C. S. Lewis thought the Bible had errors in it, and as I wrote above, he was a great champion for the cause of Christ. But this is a side issue, since you and I are in agreement on this.

You cannot cherry pick what you want to believe out of the Bible.

Right. But that means you can't choose to ignore the Bible passages that say that God's creation is a trustworthy revelation, and that we are therefore obliged to accept its testimony. With regards to the age of the universe, I'm not challenging the words of the Bible, I'm simply challenging your interpretation.

In Ephesians 3:9 it says, " And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ".

Amen.

I think alot of people feel ashamed to to say they believe in Creation. Because its the scientists and perceived intellectual types that believe in evolution. So if you want to be cosidered "smart" you will believe like they do.

I agree. However, I don't think the response to this is to close our eyes to evidence that might challenge us to think about things.

But I am not ashamed to believe in creation. The Bible says in Romans 10:11, "For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed."

There is a day coming where Christ will show himself to us and He will be justified before men. The Bible is the truth...not a half truth..not partially true...totally true. In John 17:17 it says, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."


I agree with all of this. I would just point out that the Bible itself says that the truth isn't limited to what the Bible says.

Scientists cannot get you to heaven. If they can...then by all means...believe what they say.

Well, of course not.

Evolution somehow says God needed help or time to do what He wanted....thats rubbish.

That's not what evolution says. Evolution at most would explain how God used the natural laws that he created to create the various plants and animals. Nobody is claiming that God needed help. Remember, God used a strong wind to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21). Does this mean he needed "help"?

God could have created the whole world in a second if He wanted to. The creation story is for us...today...a testimony to the love of God.

Agreed.

My major problem with evolution is that it puts doubt into peoples minds.

There are two ways to respond to this situation: deny evolution, or deny that it conflicts with our faith. You've chosen the first option, I've chosen the second.

It doubts Gods power.

No it doesn't. It simply tells us how he used it. The existence of a strong wind that blew back the waters of the Red Sea did not challenge God's power, it demonstrated his power.

Evolution is a stumbling block to young Christians.

That's because fallen human beings have claimed that evolution and Christianity are inconsistent. Why do you accept this testimony of human beings, when the testimony of the Bible clearly says that we can trust what nature tells us?

What does Jesus warn us about in Matthew 24:4..."And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you."

Deception is the major problem for Christians in the endtime. I believe that evolution is just another one of Satans deceptions. If Satan can get people to believe that they can be good Christians and believe in evolution....who wins?


Well, if evolution is no longer a stumbling block to accepting Christ, then it seems to me that nearly everyone wins. The only people who don't win would be those who were using evolution as an excuse to avoid God. They would then have to find another excuse.

B: I will give you the last word. You make a compelling arguement. Let's agree to disagree on this topic. Take care and God bless.

Jim S.: Fair enough. Thanks for the debate! I hope you keep reading and commenting.

L: To Jim S.;

I enjoyed your debate with B; I thought you both handled your arguments with elegance and christ-likeness in your restraint and attitudes.

I wanted to make a comment regarding that topic. I also have given much study, research and thought, as well as prayer in filtering viewpoints and evidence on both sides of the issue of creation and evolution, and in this case specifically the age of the universe.

One major obstacle I always come to when encountering the idea that perhaps the earth (and beyond) was created over a long period of time as opposed to literal 6 days which the Bible would seem to indicate in a straight-forward reading, is this:

I think that in all fairness and honesty, to ALL viewpoints on this subject, first of all, no one would ever get any direct indication that there was a long period of time involved STRICTLY from the Bible itself. There is nothing to indicate. One might make an argument that it could "support" such an idea, but there is nothing there to directly INDICATE it. Would you agree with this? If you have some examples to the contrary, I would sincerely be interested in considering them.

Secondly, assuming that is the case, it is logical to conclude then, that the actual IDEA of millions and billions of years, comes from what science tells us is revealed or observed in nature, or as I would refer to it, God's creation. Yes?

If so, one thing we have to realize is that while science is certainly a good thing and can be very helpful, it is subject to FINITE MAN'S INTERPRETATION - ALWAYS. It should NEVER be taken as authority OVER GOD'S WRITTEN WORD. It must ALWAYS be interpreted in light of the Bible, and NOT the other way around.

There are almost always at least 2 ways to look at almost any piece of evidence. Contrary to what modern science theology likes to try to convince us, evidence NEVER is a simple cut and dried fact, and never simply interprets itself. ANY and ALL evidence is ALWAYS interpreted based on pre-suppositations, and biases. Essentially, our world-view is the context within which everything that we see, hear, feel, etc, is viewed, perceived, and interpreted. We MUST keep this in mind.

Therefore, with that in mind, almost ALL evidence that COULD be interepreted as indicating the earth is millions of years old, can ALSO be interpreted differently, based on one's presuppositions, assumption, and world-view. If it makes it easier, go ahead and give me an example of "evidence" which indicates the earth is millions of years old, and I will show you how there can be another, equally valid, equally logical, interpretation for that "evidence". Almost ALL the scientists and others that you cited as examples of christians that believed in evolution, did so, NOT because the Bible gave that indication, but because of scientific observation etc., and usually because they were led to believe by scientists in those days, that such ideas were more or less FACT, and that there was no other way to view them. Therefore, they had to FIND a way to make science (or more accurately MAN"S INTERPRETATION of science", FIT the Bible so that they could justify holding to the truth of God's word without looking like an idiot. One might say they "compromised" because they did not have the faith to simply believe exactly what God said in His word, but rather trusted in what MAN'S INTERPRETATION of nature told him, rather than realizing that scientific theory is ALWAYS changing, and always susceptible to error and misinterpretation, and of simply not having ALL the facts available yet.

With that in mind, here is the main issue I have had to come to terms with, the main obstacle to being able to accept man's interpretation of millions of years.

IF one accepts man's interpretation of the "evidence" as indicating that the world is millions of years, one of the main pieces of evidence that would HAVE to be included in that, if not the very foundation of it, is the fossil record. IF the earth IS millions/billions of years old, then the fossils we find in the deepest layers would HAVE to have been deposited there at that time. The problem with this, is this:

IF this is true, then it would absolutely mean, that there was DEATH, DISEASE, SUFFERING, etc., for millions of years BEFORE MAN SINNED. The Bible tells us, that death was a RESULT of SIN, and that before sin all was perfect. There was no death, no disease, no suffering, etc. BECAUSE of SIN, the entire earth and indeed ALL OF CREATION (groaneth) suffers as a result of the sin curse. To believe that death and suffering existed before man sinned, essentially discounts the entire premise behind why Christ ever had to come to earth and die for us in the first place. It would also be CONTRARY to the very NATURE OF GOD, to allow death, suffering, etc., and call it "GOOD". I do not believe that God would "use" death and suffering as his method to bring about his perfect creation. Common sense and logic tells you, that ALL the bad, evil, suffering etc., that exists today, is a result of the curse of sin. If you think through this whole concept thoroughly, I think you would have to agree that accepting billions of years also has to accept death and suffering before sin, and that accepting death and suffering before sin, is absolutely contrary to the clear teaching of God's word.

IF this is true, then would you not agree that it then behooves man, to go back and START FROM THE BIBLE, and RE-INTERPRET the "evidence" from the perspective that the BIBLE is THE final authority on the subject, and must be the starting point in all scientific interpretations. REMEMBER, all the evidence is ALREADY interpreted based on assumptions and presuppositions to begin with. There is already a different way to view ALL that evidence which evolutionists CHOOSE to interpret as indicating an old earth. More and more good research and findings are emerging all the time with the recent availability of modern technology to creation scientists. Mainstream evolutionists try with all their might to block, thwart, and discount any ideas, evidence, or theories which oppose their ever changing theories, but little by little more and more things come out that are becoming increasingly difficult for evolutionists to explain or argue away, so they work with all their might to BLOCK these things from ever gaining public access, they try with all their might to keep ALL arguments one-sided, because they know that when people are actually exposed to the PROBLEMS associated with belief in evolution, and all the flaws in logic and LACK of evidence, and circular reasoning involved with what little evidence they have that can support their arguments, people quickly right through the facade, so they have to play the shell game with their evidence and arguments, and block all opposing veiwpoints from the young minds that they are so desperately trying to brainwash while they can.

I hope you will consider these comments prayerfully and deeply, as I have for many years now, and I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Jim S.: Hi L, thanks for joining the debate. I apologize for taking a few days to respond, I have a lot of things on my plate right now. You might want to check out this post which has links to several other posts I've written on science and religion, including this particular issue.

Your first objection is that no one would come to view the days of creation as long periods of time solely through the study of the Bible. I disagree, and gave a couple of biblical arguments in my comments above. First, the days of creation are clearly presented as God's days (the first six days are his workweek, the seventh day is his day of rest), and the Bible unequivocally states that God's days are very different from humanity's days (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8-9). Second, the first three days occurred sans sun, moon, and stars, and so it would be difficult to equate them with the same days we experience now.

There are many other biblical arguments along these lines. One of the more popular ones is that the creation of both man and woman took place on day six (Genesis 1: 27), but the description of events between the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2 cannot be reasonably squeezed into a single day. Another is that the Bible suggests that God's rest is ongoing; and since God's rest is identical to the seventh day of creation, the seventh day is a long period of time continuing up to the present (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:12-4:11). Therefore, the other six days, being of the same type, are also long periods.

Another point to make here is that many of the early Church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Origen, thought the days of creation were long periods of time. Of course, they thought that each Bible passage had several distinct interpretations, but one of the interpretations they gave was that each creation day was a long period. They gave biblical arguments for it. The point being that they were obviously not trying to reconcile the Bible with science, since at that time there was no scientific evidence for the antiquity of the earth and universe.

Your second objection is that science is finite man's interpretation of God's creation, and should therefore be understood in light of the Bible. I would point out, first, that theology is finite man's interpretation of the words of the Bible. Our understanding of the Bible is just as fallible as our understanding of God's creation. If science is merely an interpretation, so is your understanding of the Bible.

Second, I would point out that the Bible itself states that God's creation is a reliable witness independent of the Bible. Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:18-20 both claim that those who do not have any special revelation (roughly the Bible) to go on, still have the revelation of God's creation. They will thus have "no excuse" according to the apostle Paul. But if creation has to be understood in light of the Bible in order to be properly understood, they will have an excuse: they simply didn't have access to the correct lens through which they could understand creation.

Your third objection is closely related to the second: any evidence that the universe is billions of years old could be interpreted just as validly in favor of a young universe. This view -- that all we have is interpretations, and any interpretation is as good as another -- is pure postmodernism. I think this view is plainly false: for example, I collect (it's weird, I know) flat earth creationist literature. These people argue that the scientific evidence can be understood just as validly as affirming that the earth is flat as that it is round. They give dozens of scientific arguments in favor of a flat earth. But it's all bogus. The evidence clearly supports a round earth and refutes a flat earth. Therefore, scientific evidence can and does speak for itself. It does not equally fit under any interpretation: some interpretations are refuted by the scientific evidence, and some are affirmed by the scientific evidence.

As such, I disagree that the scientific evidence for the age of the earth could be interpreted just as readily in terms of a young earth. There are all kinds of scientific evidences establishing the age of the earth and universe, and they all say the same thing: billions of years.

Your fourth objection is that, if the earth is billions of years old, and animals have been dying the whole time, it would contradict the Bible's claim that death was introduced by the sin of the first human beings. Since Christ died to rescue us from the punishment of sin, i.e. death, to suggest that there was death before sin denies Christ's atonement.

My response to this is: who did Christ die to save? Plants and animals? The obvious answer is he died to save people. The Bible states that human death was introduced by sin; both physical death and spiritual death. But there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that animal and plant death was introduced by sin. This point is made very explicitly in Genesis 3:22-24, Romans 5:12-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-58. All of these passages specifically limit their context to human beings, and the latter two directly contrast the death that was initiated with the sin of the first human beings with the salvation which Christ offers to all people; not animals, not plants. There's nothing there, or in any other passages in the Bible, to suggest that the death of non-spiritual beings was not present before the Fall. In fact, God's providence in the predator-prey relationship is sanctioned in the Bible (Job 38:39-40) and is even called "good" (Psalm 104:21, 27-28).

Now the larger issue here is that a universe billions of years old and the occurrence of evolution does not contradict the Bible or Christianity. As I mentioned above, I became a Christian partially through the study of science. It led me to God. The Bible and the universe have the same origin, and so they do not conflict. There are sometimes apparent conflicts, of course, but they are just that: apparent. The fact that those who wish to deprecate religion often use science to do so does not say anything about science itself, and I don't think we should let them tell us what we believe.

L: Jim S.,

I don't know if you will see this, as it has been so long since the last post. I also, have a lot on my plate and am not often able to check out these sites. In any case, thanks for the thoughtful comments and debate.

First, it is not true that some of the early church fathers believed long periods of time as you suggested, that is totally misinformed. You need to go to some deeper sources and do a deeper study on that topic. I am not familiar enough with ALL of them to say NONE of htem believed it, but the VAST majority of early church fathers held to 6 literal days.

Secondly, I do not see ANYTHING in Genesis that would indicate to me or anyone else, from a straightforward, literal reading, that the first week is "God's week" and NOT that of humans. It simply does NOT indicate that in anyway. It talks in plain straightforward language and continues on with no indication whatsoever that his time is different. In fact, you should realize, that God is OUTSIDE OF TIME WHATSOEVER !!! He HAS NO TIME. CLEARLY, that first week was from the point of view of a 6 24 hour days on earth. It does not matter whether the sun was present yet or not, as you stated yourself, GOd was providing the light at that time, and it would be no task at all for God to simulate a normal day on earth.

Thirdly, as far as interpreting GOd's word, you can go deep into theological debates on things which the Bible does not give enough clear information on to made a definite conclusion, and in those instances there are definitely interpretations involved, but the readin in genesis is VERY straighforward, and there is honestly NO interpretation involved, it is just simple reading!! It is only those who WANT to interpret it differently that they need to start weaving and twisthing all kinds of things into it.

As far as the Bible stating that the creation is a reliable witness, again, you are stretching it. REmember, the Earth was CURSED!!! The scriptures were NOT. This earth and the entire universe GROAN due to SIN the BIble tells us. Therefore, ALL of creation was cursed because of sin, not just humans. And remember the FLOOD??? That obviously changed the face of the entire earth as it then was. In fact the Bible says that the Earth "that then was" perished. That throws a bit of a monkey into then trying to look at the earth as it is NOW and interpret it how it was BACK THEN when everything was perfect. ONLY by first interpreting it from scripture can we see clearly the evidence of nature. Remember, ALL evidence IS interpreted, it is NEVER just self interpreting, despite what your training may have taught you. I never said that evidence can "equally fit under ANY interpretation". What I said is that MUCH evidence can be explained with more than ONE interpretation. There are is SOME evidence which currently appears to fit only ONE interpretation, and some of that currently fits the evolutionary theory better, and much of it fits creation better. But, remember, just because only one interpretation may be supported right now does not mean that more information will not be accumulated in the future that would change that as well. Science throughout the ages, has CONTINUOSLY changed it's theories based on newly aquoired information. Remember science once told us the earth was flat, while bible believing christians KNEW it was round, and we were mocked, and even tortured and put to death for our beliefs, but that didn't change the fact that the earth was round just because science didn't believe it, and because they did not have enough information at that time to convincve themselves otherwise.

Much evidence can easily be biewed from AT LEAST TWO different pespectives, or interpretations, and this is VERY common in science today. Many times evolutionists themselves have multiple theories as to some particular piece of evidence or concept, as also happens amongst creation scientists. So my point is that how one CHOOSES to interpret evidence, IS biased by their presuppositions and biases, and that is absolutely true.

I am also shocked by your statement " There are all kinds of scientific evidences establishing the age of the earth and universe, and they all say the same thing: billions of years", because up to that point you have been quite honest and careful in answering things within the realms of it being YOUR opinion etc. To state something like this as a FACT, is a bit mind-boggling. You CLEARLY have NOT studied the issues if you truly believe this. THere is a VAST amount of evidence which strongly supports a young earth. I honely would not know where to start. I can think of literally HUNDREDS of examples. I really cannot believe you would really honestly think this. I fully agree that there are SOME evidences which CURRENTLY favor the evolutionary view, but there are probably MORE that actually favor the young earth creational point of view. And remember, even the ones that do not currently favor creation, does not mean that they NEVER WILL. Also, even MANY staunch evolutionists would agree in an honest manner that there are certainly SOME evidences which CURRENTLY favor the creationist point of view and cause them much grief. They obviously believe similiar to me, that in time more information will be uncovered which will exhonerate their beliefs, but they do agree that CURRENTLY there are certainly evidences which do NOT support their theory. You REALLY need to get out more and do some seriious open minded, subjective searching around and studying if that comment truly reflects your beliefs. There are TONS of evidences which are currently completely inexplicable with evolutionary theory, and are easily explained and accounted for by creation and the flood.

As to your question of who did Christ die to save, the question is obviously mankind, but the Bible is also VERY clear that the entire creation suffered due to sin!!! Genesis clearly indicates that animals were vegetarians before the fall, and God would not look at death, disease and suffering and call it "Good". I'm not sure what kind of picture you have of God, but that is certainly not the God I know and that is clearly revealed in the Bible. All things were PERFECT before the fall, and God clearly indicates that the entire earth was cursed - the ground, the animals, the vegetation, EVERYTHING! Nothing was the same after man sinned.

IN the scriptures you gave concerning the predator-prey relationship - first of all it never calls it "good", you may want to re-read those passages. secondly, more importantly, you seem to forget the whole point here, that after the fall everything changed, and again after the flood again. God did not originally intend for man to eat meat, but after the flood God then told man that just as the herbs were for him to eat, so now were all the beasts. Obviously this was not part of the "good" that God had originally created, but because of the curse in a fallen world, exceptions were made and God made allowances. Just like, in a totally different topic, God never INTENDED for divorce, but He says because of the hardness of man's heart, God made allowances and exceptions, but this does not mean he still "approves of it" or would call it "good". No, sin and death and suffering and disease were NOT part of God's original paradise, but were ALL a part of the curse.

Finally it is wonderful that you became a christian, and it is wonderful that GOD chose your love and study of science from which he would call you to himself, but NEVER confuse that with meaning that science is on the same level as the Holy scriptures. People have been saved through MANY means, people have even been saved through other people who themselves are NOT CHRISTIANS, and have indicated that. I personally know of examples, and have heard accounts of even others, of people who were saved out of churches that do not even preach the true word of God, but their hearts were opened to GOd even through words spoken by unsaved, false teachers, but God can use ANYTHING that he chooses, that does not make the source necessarily "good". Just because your love of science lead you to believe in GOd and give your life to him as a result of something you were lead to believe or understand through science, that does not mean your interpretations of science were NECESSARILY correct or of God's fitting with what really happened. God just chose to use that particular aspect to work in your heart as he saw fit, it was His MERCY, in spite of yourself and your own arrogances and presupositions etc., just as we all have them, and God saves each of us in spite of ourselves.

Jim S.: Let me summarize your points and respond to them in turn. After this, I may not be able to respond at length for a while, since I have term papers to write. Please forgive me if I'm a little brusque, I had to crank this out fairly quickly.

1. You say I'm incorrect about the Church fathers:

it is not true that some of the early church fathers believed long periods of time as you suggested, that is totally misinformed. You need to go to some deeper sources and do a deeper study on that topic. I am not familiar enough with ALL of them to say NONE of htem believed it, but the VAST majority of early church fathers held to 6 literal days.

With all due respect, I have studied this at a deep level, and I'm not wrong. I can prove it. I would reiterate a point I made above, that the Church fathers believed that each passage in Scripture had multiple interpretations. But that does not change the fact that one of the most common interpretations they gave is that the creation days were long periods of time. Another common interpretation was that the events of creation week took place simultaneously in no time, and the days of creation were metaphorical. A few writings you may want to check out are book V of Irenaeus's Against Heresies, book IV of Origen's De Principiis, and Augustine's The Literal Meaning of Genesis. In fact, Augustine argues the day-age interpretation towards the end of The Confessions, which is one of the most famous and widely-read books in Christian history.

In fact, I'm only aware of one passage in the Church fathers that (I would argue) clearly defines the creation days as calendar days. So if you really think the vast majority of them agreed with you, I challenge you to find a couple of passages from them where they clearly define the creation days as calendar days or humankind's days or solar days or 24-hour days or whatever. Note that I'm not asking you to find passages where they mirror the biblical text; I'm asking you to find passages where they explicitly define the creation days as being calendar days.

2. You argue that no one would understand the Bible as teaching anything other than the calendar-day interpretation.

I do not see ANYTHING in Genesis that would indicate to me or anyone else, from a straightforward, literal reading, that the first week is "God's week" and NOT that of humans. It simply does NOT indicate that in anyway. It talks in plain straightforward language and continues on with no indication whatsoever that his time is different. In fact, you should realize, that God is OUTSIDE OF TIME WHATSOEVER !!! He HAS NO TIME. CLEARLY, that first week was from the point of view of a 6 24 hour days on earth. It does not matter whether the sun was present yet or not, as you stated yourself, GOd was providing the light at that time, and it would be no task at all for God to simulate a normal day on earth.

Again, if this is the case, it should be fairly easy to refute the arguments that I gave above. You've barely touched them. For example, I argued that the biblical text clearly represents the days of creation as God's days, because "they make up his workweek, the seventh day is his day of rest." You claimed that the Bible doesn't say that. I find this frankly incredible. Rather than quote the whole creation account here, let me just quote one verse, Genesis 2:2: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." Obviously, the Bible presents the days of creation as God's days. If you don't believe this, supply an argument demonstrating otherwise. In the meantime, the rest of the argument -- that God's experience of time is radically dissimilar from our own (as you acknowledge) and so the creation days should not be understood as humankind's days -- still stands.

Another argument was that the concept of the calendar day is explicitly introduced on day four, so obviously the first three days were not calendar days. You responded that God could have been the source of light to mark the days before the sun appeared in the sky. But i) what does the source of the light have to do with anything? And ii) I acknowledged above that there was light on the earth's surface before day four (Genesis 1:3). So what? Regardless of the fact that there was light, it did not serve to mark calendar days, because calendar days were not so demarcated until day four. What's your argument against that?

You seem to be saying that your position is just blatantly obvious. But saying that emphatically doesn't make it so. If it's that obvious, it will be easy to explain it. How, and in what way, does Genesis 1 and the rest of the Bible define the creation days as calendar days?

3. You argue, as a corollary of point 2, that your understanding of the creation days is not an interpretation but just what the Bible says.

the readin in genesis is VERY straighforward, and there is honestly NO interpretation involved, it is just simple reading!! It is only those who WANT to interpret it differently that they need to start weaving and twisthing all kinds of things into it.

Well, all terms have more than one meaning, and so when we analyze a text to see what meaning is being employed, we are interpreting. You can't avoid it. If the word "interpretation" is a sticking point for you, just substitute the word "understanding" for it. So your interpretation of Genesis 1 is just your understanding of Genesis 1. So now I have to ask: is it possible for us (you in particular) to misunderstand the Bible? I think basic humility requires us to answer this affirmatively.

Bear in mind, I'm not suggesting that the calendar-day interpretation is absurd or unreasonable. I think it is false, and that it cannot be reconciled with the words of the Bible, but I can certainly see why people would understand the Bible that way. The point here is that, while the Bible is perspicuous (lucid or clear) that does not give us the license to read it superficially. There are plenty of biblical passages that superficially seem to be saying something they're not. For example, when Jesus is approached by the rich, young ruler, he seems to flat-out deny that he is God (Matthew 19:17; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). But a more in-depth analysis of the text in light of its cultural background shows that he is actually saying the opposite.

4. You argue that the testimony of God's creation cannot be trusted because when humankind fell, creation fell with it.

As far as the Bible stating that the creation is a reliable witness, again, you are stretching it. REmember, the Earth was CURSED!!! The scriptures were NOT. This earth and the entire universe GROAN due to SIN the BIble tells us. Therefore, ALL of creation was cursed because of sin, not just humans.

But all of the statements in the Bible that say God's creation is a reliable witness are made to fallen people living in a fallen world. If the Fall meant that creation's witness was no longer trustworthy, how do you account for the fact that God specifically says that it is trustworthy after the Fall?

As for "stretching it", let me just say that the point I'm arguing here is known as the doctrine of general revelation. It has been the standard view throughout Christian history. I don't think it's stretching it to defend a position that has had such broad acceptance within the Christian community for the last 2000 years.

5. You argue that the testimony of creation cannot be trusted because the flood altered the earth.

And remember the FLOOD??? That obviously changed the face of the entire earth as it then was. In fact the Bible says that the Earth "that then was" perished. That throws a bit of a monkey into then trying to look at the earth as it is NOW and interpret it how it was BACK THEN when everything was perfect.

Again, all of the statements in the Bible that say God's creation is a reliable witness are made after the flood. So obviously, the flood did not affect the reliability of creation's testimony.

As for the Earth "that then was" perishing, this is obviously referring to the people, not the planet Earth. The Hebrew word there is often used to refer to the world's population, in much the same way that we might say, "The whole world is turning away from God." (I would also point out that "everything" before the flood was emphatically not perfect. The people were so evil that God saw fit to destroy them with the flood.)

6. You argue that while facts need to be interpreted language does not. So the only way someone can disagree with your interpretation is by being trained in such a way as to not see it.

ONLY by first interpreting it from scripture can we see clearly the evidence of nature. Remember, ALL evidence IS interpreted, it is NEVER just self interpreting, despite what your training may have taught you.

It seems a little convenient for your position that facts need to be interpreted but language does not. This would entail that no fact can ever refute you, since it can only do so if it is a misinterpretation. It would also entail that no biblical argument can ever refute you, because such an argument would also be a misinterpretation, whereas your understanding is just what the text says. It would follow from this that there is no evidence, whether from God's creation or his Word, that could ever convince you that you have misunderstood something. Of course, I don't think this is the case -- I'm sure you're open to biblical arguments -- but this is what your position would lead to if applied consistently.

But anyway, the "training" I've received allows me to analyze the biblical text in detail, but without missing the forest for the trees. I wasn't brainwashed or indoctrinated.

7. You never meant to suggest the postmodern claim that evidence can fit just as well under any interpretation.

What I said is that MUCH evidence can be explained with more than ONE interpretation. There are is SOME evidence which currently appears to fit only ONE interpretation, and some of that currently fits the evolutionary theory better, and much of it fits creation better.

Then I withdraw the charge. I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that much evidence can be explained more than one way, while some cannot. As to whether some fits evolution or creation better -- you have to remember that I don't think evolution and creation rule each other out. So evidence for evolution is not evidence against creation. Also bear in mind that many Christians who do not accept evolution nevertheless accept that the universe is billions of years old. So evidence for such an age would not be perceived by them as being evidence for evolution or evidence against creation.

8. You argue that science is constantly changing, so we have to take a long term view. The positions of today might be refuted tomorrow.

But, remember, just because only one interpretation may be supported right now does not mean that more information will not be accumulated in the future that would change that as well. Science throughout the ages, has CONTINUOSLY changed it's theories based on newly aquoired information.

This is a standard argument used to defend scientific anti-realism, and I really don't think you want to align yourself with this view. At any rate, I would argue that this argument is a misunderstanding: the scientific facts of 100 years ago have not been refuted or overturned; they have been refined. For example, Einstein's relativity equations refined Newtonian mechanics for some domains of measurement. But Newtonian mechanics wasn't really refuted; its descriptions are still accurate for most things. It was just supplemented to provide a more complete picture.

Of course, there have certainly been theories that were made in the absence of evidence that have since been refuted by the advent of evidence. But we can't use this to justify a general skepticism about science, since many theories are specifically made in light of the evidence. In order for this objection to hold, you would have to show that the particular scientific theory under discussion is not consonant with the facts. But this is precisely how science is usually done.

(As a side issue, I would point out that your example of how science said the earth was flat while Christians said it was round is incorrect. The Western world has known that the earth is round since at least the time of Aristotle, a few centuries before Christ. A good book about this is Jeffrey Burton Russell's Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians.)

9. Since much evidence can be explained in different ways, such evidence is interpreted by what one chooses to believe.

Much evidence can easily be biewed from AT LEAST TWO different pespectives, or interpretations, and this is VERY common in science today. Many times evolutionists themselves have multiple theories as to some particular piece of evidence or concept, as also happens amongst creation scientists. So my point is that how one CHOOSES to interpret evidence, IS biased by their presuppositions and biases, and that is absolutely true.

I think this is a valid point, but you're taking it too far. Let's say we have a fact that can be fitted into three possible hypotheses, A, B, and C. It fits into A and B fairly and equally well, but does not fit in with C as well. So scientists would have to choose between A and B based on other reasons than the fact in question. Now these other reasons are not necessarily just presuppositions that they don't want to give up or think about. It could very well be that the other reasons are further scientific evidence. Moreover, a scientist could say that, while the fact fits better with A and B, it can be made to fit with C, and that there are other things that make C more plausible than A and B, despite their greater consonance with the fact in question. So whether one chooses to accept A, B, or C will be based on many things, and sorting them out can be difficult. So it's not too surprising that there will be scientists who disagree on which theory is best.

But it would not be fair for someone to say that since the fact fits into A, B, and C, it can fit into another theory, D, as well. This simply doesn't follow. Just because we can't decide between multiple theories, we can't thereby say that a theory that is radically inconsistent with them can equally accommodate the facts.

10. You argue that I have overstated my case against a young earth.

I am also shocked by your statement " There are all kinds of scientific evidences establishing the age of the earth and universe, and they all say the same thing: billions of years", because up to that point you have been quite honest and careful in answering things within the realms of it being YOUR opinion etc. To state something like this as a FACT, is a bit mind-boggling. You CLEARLY have NOT studied the issues if you truly believe this. THere is a VAST amount of evidence which strongly supports a young earth. I honely would not know where to start. I can think of literally HUNDREDS of examples.

You're right, I overstated my case. I have not examined every single argument that young-earth creationists have put forth, so I cannot say that every single one of them fails. So my apologies.

I have, however, studied the issues pretty extensively, and all the arguments I've studied purporting to prove a young earth were not merely wrong. They were fraudulent. By this I do not mean that the people who came up with them were being consciously deceptive, but that they were not being intellectually honest or responsible. They essentially take any anomaly and inflate it into the suggestion that the entire paradigm is wrong. The reason this is intellectually dishonest is because this can only be done by ignoring the 99+% of the evidence that supports the paradigm, and doesn't support their replacement paradigm. Virtually any position can be defended with such tactics. Flat-earth creationists depended upon such argumentation in the 19th century.

Here's an illustration: early measurements of some "phenomenon" range between 2 and 5 "units". As measurements become more accurate, they start to range between 2 and 4, and then 2 and 3. Finally, the measurements establish it as 2.3 ± 0.1. Now a young-earth creationist comes along and tells everyone that the figure of 2.3 is wrong, because there is another measurement that puts it at 5, over twice as much. This supposedly shows that the whole framework is bogus. But when we look into it, the measurement of 5 was one of the first ones made, when they weren't very accurate. They just took an anomaly that had since been corrected, and ignored all of the other measurements made since then that overrule it. Moreover, their own position requires that the measurement be 107. So saying it's 5 rather than 2 doesn't really do much to defend their view.

11. You argue there is significant evidence supporting young-earth creationism.

I really cannot believe you would really honestly think this. I fully agree that there are SOME evidences which CURRENTLY favor the evolutionary view, but there are probably MORE that actually favor the young earth creational point of view.

First, let me just point out that you were arguing earlier that we can't trust what God's creation tells us. And now you're suggesting we can, but only if it tells you what you want. I don't think you can have it both ways.

Second, flat-earth creationists came up with literally dozens of "proofs" that the earth is flat and stationary. They arrived at their arguments the same way young-earth creationists have: by ignoring overwhelming evidence and inflating anomalies. So can you explain to me how the young-earth arguments are significantly different from the flat-earth arguments?

Third, let me supply a quote from a former young-earth creationist who became disappointed with it. By God's grace, he was able to see that Christianity did not stand or fall on such arguments.

I took a poll of all 8 of the graduates from ICR's school [Institute for Creation Research] who had gone into the oil industry and were working for various companies. I asked them one question. "From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?" That is a very simple question. One man, who worked for a major oil company, grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said "No!" A very close friend that I had hired, after hearing the question, exclaimed, "Wait a minute. There has to be one!" But he could not name one. No one else could either.

You can read the whole thing here.

12. Many evolutionists accept that there are some valid creationist arguments.

Also, even MANY staunch evolutionists would agree in an honest manner that there are certainly SOME evidences which CURRENTLY favor the creationist point of view and cause them much grief. They obviously believe similiar to me, that in time more information will be uncovered which will exhonerate their beliefs, but they do agree that CURRENTLY there are certainly evidences which do NOT support their theory.

If by "creationist" you mean any view that ascribes some creative activity to God, and if by "evolutionist" you mean someone who thinks that evolution refutes the existence of God, then I would certainly agree with this. Atheists tend to be very unnerved by Big Bang cosmology, for example, precisely because it proves the existence of a transcendent cause of the universe.

If by "creationist" you mean "young-earth creationist" however, I really doubt this. Could you tell me some of the arguments that evolutionists concede support a young earth?

13. You suggest that I haven't really investigated this issue.

You REALLY need to get out more and do some seriious open minded, subjective searching around and studying if that comment truly reflects your beliefs. There are TONS of evidences which are currently completely inexplicable with evolutionary theory, and are easily explained and accounted for by creation and the flood.

I suspect (if I'm wrong, please correct me) that you're equating any evidence for an old earth and universe with evolution. Let me just reiterate that I see evolution as a completely different issue from the age of the earth and universe. With regards to the former, I'm arguing that evolution is consistent with Christianity. But whether or not it is true is something I'll leave to the experts. My point is that I have no problem with it if it is true.

Regarding the age of the universe, I've spent years investigating this issue, both from the exegetical point of view (i.e. what the Bible says) and the scientific point of view, although I have to admit that I've been out of the loop a bit since returning to school a couple of years ago. I read most of the young-earth journals, and have spent a great deal of time in theology libraries pursuing it. So this is not some decision that I've drifted into because I was influenced by unsavory concerns.

14. You argue that animal death and suffering began at the Fall, not just human death and suffering.

As to your question of who did Christ die to save, the question is obviously mankind, but the Bible is also VERY clear that the entire creation suffered due to sin!!! Genesis clearly indicates that animals were vegetarians before the fall...

The clearest statements about the death that was introduced with the sin of the first people limit their contexts to human beings. The Bible nowhere states that animal or plant death was introduced by the sin of the first human beings

Moreover, in your scenario plants experienced death before the Fall. While the Bible draws the line between human and non-human death, you seem to be drawing it between animals and plants. But this has no basis in the words of the Bible.

I'm perfectly willing to grant that the entire creation fell along with humankind. But I would also suggest that the biblical text is just as easily read to be saying that the fall of creation is referring to Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden. God told them that, once they left the Garden, the land would be cursed, because they weren't going to be in the paradise God created for them anymore. When he says that thorns and thistles would inhibit their efforts when they tried to plant and harvest crops, this is because they weren't going to be in the paradise God created for them anymore.

Finally, I would argue that the animals in the Garden of Eden were vegetarians. Can you give me a reason to think that the biblical statement applies to animals outside the Garden of Eden as well?

15. People who disagree with you about this do not really worship the God of the Bible.

...and God would not look at death, disease and suffering and call it "Good". I'm not sure what kind of picture you have of God, but that is certainly not the God I know and that is clearly revealed in the Bible.

Are you sure you want to say this? That because I disagree with you about the age of the earth I must not be worshiping the same God as you? That I can't possibly have Jesus as my savior because I disagree with you?

As for your understanding being what "is clearly revealed in the Bible" -- I'm giving biblical arguments that your understanding of the Bible is incorrect. Before you say that anyone who disagrees with you must not really believe in the God of the Bible, you have to deal with their arguments from the Bible that support their claims. Otherwise, anyone can defend any position by saying "the Bible says so". Again, this is precisely what the flat-earth creationists did (and do -- they're still around). They claim the Bible says the earth is flat, and when anyone disagrees with them, they respond, "I'm not sure what kind of picture you have of God, but that is certainly not the God I know and that is clearly revealed in the Bible."

16. The world was perfect before the Fall.

All things were PERFECT before the fall, and God clearly indicates that the entire earth was cursed - the ground, the animals, the vegetation, EVERYTHING! Nothing was the same after man sinned.

Nowhere does the Bible say that things were perfect before the Fall. It says things were very good. This isn't a quibble, it's an important point. The Bible does not say or imply that the original creation was perfect. Moreover, as I've already pointed out, if the animals were vegetarian, then plants experienced death. So your perfect scenario still involved the physical death of physical beings.

I would also point out that the description of conditions of the Garden of Eden do not translate to the rest of the world. Obviously there was something unique about Eden with respect to the rest of the world, or God wouldn't have needed to expel Adam and Eve from it when they sinned.

17. I'm wrong about the Bible calling the predator-prey relationship "good".

IN the scriptures you gave concerning the predator-prey relationship - first of all it never calls it "good", you may want to re-read those passages.

"The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. ... These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things." (Psalm 104:21, 27-28)

The word for "good" here is the Hebrew word tov. The primary definition of this term is "good", and I'm unaware of any English translations that do not translate it as "good" in this passage. So not only is God the one who gives the lions their prey, it is specifically called "good".

18. God did not allow people to eat meat until after the flood.

God did not originally intend for man to eat meat, but after the flood God then told man that just as the herbs were for him to eat, so now were all the beasts. Obviously this was not part of the "good" that God had originally created, but because of the curse in a fallen world, exceptions were made and God made allowances.

I agree that people did not receive permission to eat meat until after the flood. I disagree that animals did not or could not eat meat before then. Nor does Genesis 9:1-4 say or imply that animals (not humans) eating meat is wrong and so could not have been a part of the original creation. Again, the passage in point 17 above clearly says that God sanctions the predator-prey relationship, and that it is good. Genesis 9 does not contradict this.

19. Science is not as authoritative as Scripture.

Finally it is wonderful that you became a christian, and it is wonderful that GOD chose your love and study of science from which he would call you to himself, but NEVER confuse that with meaning that science is on the same level as the Holy scriptures.

Well, I certainly think scientists can be mistaken and can be blinded to certain views that would prevent them from seeing some important truths, both scientific and religious. I also think Christians can be blinded to certain views that would prevent them from seeing the correct understanding of Scripture. We're fallen.

But Scripture also says that Scripture is not the only revelation from God. He also reveals himself through his creation. Moreover, it states that the testimony of creation is valid independent of the Bible, since creation is a trustworthy revelation to those who do not have the Scriptures (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-20).

So if you're suggesting that God's revelation in Scripture is more authoritative or trustworthy than his revelation in creation, I would simply say that all revelation from God is equally authoritative and trustworthy precisely because it is revelation from God. After all, revelation is revelation; truth is truth. While one truth may be more important than another, it's nonsensical to say that one truth is truer than another.

20. The fact that people can be saved by something does not mean that the "something" by which they were saved is necessarily a good thing.

People have been saved through MANY means, people have even been saved through other people who themselves are NOT CHRISTIANS, and have indicated that. [...] but God can use ANYTHING that he chooses, that does not make the source necessarily "good". Just because your love of science lead you to believe in GOd and give your life to him as a result of something you were lead to believe or understand through science, that does not mean your interpretations of science were NECESSARILY correct or of God's fitting with what really happened. God just chose to use that particular aspect to work in your heart as he saw fit, it was His MERCY, in spite of yourself and your own arrogances and presupositions etc., just as we all have them, and God saves each of us in spite of ourselves.

Of course, I agree with this. I know a philosopher who became a Christian after reading Albert Camus's The Plague, which specifically criticizes Christianity. But while I'm arguing that science is trustworthy, I'm not basing this on the fact that God used science (among other things) to save me. I'm arguing that it's trustworthy because it's the systematic observation of God's creation, and the Bible says that God's creation is a trustworthy and reliable witness. You haven't given any argument to suggest otherwise.

Let me make a few final points:

First, all the claims you've made here, including the suggestion that I must not be worshiping the God of the Bible, are young-earth creationist talking points. By itself, this isn't a problem. But your most recent comment contains almost no argumentation, only assertion. You don't give reasons or evidence for your views, you just state them, claiming that they're just what the Bible says, and move on. You need to argue for your positions. Give me biblical references, and explain how they prove your point.

Second, a main point I'm defending is the doctrine of general revelation. This is not something made up in the 20th century to justify trying to reconcile the Bible with contemporary science. It's a doctrine that goes back to the earliest Christians, who themselves got it directly from the Bible. It has been the standard view throughout Christian history. This doesn't mean it is unassailable, but you seem to just be assuming that it is wrong. You have to defend your position and explain why this widely-held doctrine is incorrect, and why the passages I've cited fail to demonstrate it.

Third, another significant point I've made in earlier comments has been untouched. Namely, that the alleged hostility between science and Christianity is a social construction that is used by people hostile to religion to create the false dichotomy that we have to choose one or the other. I contest this, and ask you and all other Christians who buy into it: why are you letting non-Christians tell you what you believe?

Finally, young-earth creationism is virtually identical to, and historically derived from, the visions of Ellen White, upon which Seventh-Day Adventism was founded in the 19th century. While Seventh-Day Adventism is a genuine denomination today, it was originally very cultic, if not an outright cult. The point being that I don't think it's wise to accept a position that has such questionable origins without doing some very serious analysis first. If you want to read more about this, a good book is Ronald Numbers's The Creationists: The Evolution of Young-Earth Creationism, which was actually endorsed by a prominent young-earth creationist when it came out (Henry Morris). A short essay by Numbers can be read in three parts here, here, and here.

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