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Batten #2: Transitional Fossils and Quote Mining

March 16th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 26 Comments

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 — May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. (Wikipedia) He and Niles Eldredge developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, a theory that states that phenotypic evolution occurs relatively rapidly, between longer periods of evolutionary stability.

According to Gould, Charles Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was wedded to gradualism, the idea that evolution occurs uniformly through steady but gradual transformation of whole lineages. Borrowing from Wikipedia again, “Authors such as Richard Dawkins argues that constant-rate gradualism is not present in academic literature, and serves as a straw-man for punctuated equilibrium advocates.” (Such as Gould.)


The most important point here, is science develops over time. Scientists do have incorrect theories that change (and improve), and they do disagree with one another. Truth in science is not declared by any particular scientist, it is discovered by the scientific process. Scientists disagree and propose alternative theories, and they try to disprove these theories, including their own. (As I explained in What is Science? in my (incomplete) series on the previous creationism seminar, one of the foundations of science is attempting to falsify (disprove) your theory. The more you fail to do so, the more you can trust it.)

If “creation science” want any respect, creationists should be trying to disprove their own theories using evidence, and they should disprove evolution using evidence, not just appealing to “authority”, especially not appealing to the “authority” of misquotes.

Getting back to Gould, he spends a lot of time arguing for punctuated equilibrium, and arguing against gradualism. Gradualism would suggest a continuous fossil record, while punctuated equilibrium would explain why transitional forms are relatively rare. In the process of doing so, he wrote a lot about the rarity of transitional forms, providing creationist quote-miners with a gold mine. From Gould’s article, Evolution as Fact and Theory:

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.

Here is an example of a quote mine, very similar to one used in the slides in Dr Batten’s seminar (his slides probably didn’t have as much info, but the first sentence was key to what he wanted to communicate):

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persist as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils ….We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.” – Stephen J. Gould – “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, vol. 86 (May 1987), p. 14.

Notice he is talking here about our favored account of evolution, referring to gradualism. In the creationism seminar, this quote was mined and taken out of context in order to undermine evolution as a whole. For a thorough treatment of this quote mine, explaining the context, see Quote #3.2 on the Quote Mine Project. To borrow “John (catshark) Pieret”‘s words from that page:

Gould, in this article and many more over the next twenty years, consistently and extensively explained his position and the evidence for evolution, including transitional forms found in the fossil record. The constant abuse of the body of Gould’s life’s work in the face of this is not merely dishonest, it is despicable.

Now, to Batten’s talk, using Auke’s transcription with minor corrections (Dr Colin Patterson, Archaeopteryx):

Batten: … if you go back a bit further you find a common ancestor with us, and <..> back further, you find a common ancestor with bananas, and all the way back to microbes that made themselves uh on the Earth. And so the fossils are supposed to show this process, but in fact they don’t.

As Stephen Jay Gould, a famous evolutionist, said, that, uh, the fact that the fossils don’t show evolution, is a trade secret of palaeontology, the study of fossils. If you go uh to the British Museum of Natural History, there is a palaeontologist there, by the name of Dr Colin Patterson, and he he wrote a book about evolution, but in that book he didn’t have any examples, like pictures or illustrations, of transitional fossils, of something becoming something else, and he was asked about that, and he replied and said

“I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book, if I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. Yet Gould and the American museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. I will lay it on the line: there is not one such fossil for which one could make a water-tight argument.”

Another misquote? Who knows. An in-depth treatment of an attempt to investigate this quote can be found at Patterson Misquoted.

Batten:Well there are a handful that get an airing at University, to convince students that evolution is true. But the big picture is that they are missing. And the ones that have an airing now, in 20 years time, will fall of their perch and will be replaced by some other conjectural transitional fossil.

No substance in that paragraph, nothing to respond to. Just unsubstantiated sweeping claims. Or lies, even.

Batten:Let me show you what happens. This is actually a dinosaur family tree from the Chicago Field Field Museum of Natural History, and we have the dinosaur family tree there. And uh we have all these different types of dinosaurs, uh sauropods, and uh tyrannosaurs and so on, and birds, birds are in there, what are they doing there? Well, of course the latest hypothesis is that dinosaurs evolved into birds, and birds are just a feathered dinosaur. The only problem with that is that archaeopteryx, which is a real bird, according to evolutionary dating, actually precedes by a long shot any of its supposed ancestors that are being portrayed in the museums and in popular treatments around the world.

Now I don’t know much about the Urvogel Archaeopteryx and its dating, does anyone care to contribute on this claim? Of course, with creationists’ misquoting tactics and terrible scholarship, and their refusal to own up to past mistakes, I do not blindly trust anything they say. I’d need citations… Wikipedia does have some information and explanations on the “controversy” about its phylogenetic position.

With regards to dinosaur ancestry of birds, I recently came across an article that sequenced Tyrannosaurus Rex proteins, indicating that its closest living relative currently in our databases, is the chicken. (Crocodiles and alligators have not yet been sequenced.) Popular media can be misleading, ignoring that important detail in the title: Who are you calling chicken? T. rex’s closest living relative found on the farm.

Mysteries in science are abundant. Some uncertainty about a particular specimen is not a disproof of evolution. There are many ways that evolution could be falsified though: find a contradiction in the fossil record, find a Pegasus, find a reptile with nipples, a mammal with feathers, something like that.

Creationists believe God created different “kinds”, and that some speciation could occur within kinds, but that the “kinds” are not otherwise related. A bird is a bird and a dinosaur a dinosaur, with no link between them? Ditto for fish and amphibians, reptiles and mammals, reptiles and birds, land mammals and whales? If creationism requires there to be no links between “kinds”, and if creationists were practising real science, finding transitional fossils would falsify their theory. That would explain why they keep on ignoring the transitional forms that do exist, denying the evidence: do they lack the humility needed to admit when they are wrong?

From the Panda’s Thumb blog, Transitional fossils in 18 minutes. Lots of material there, feel free to make use of the pause button and Google:

“And of course, the trees of life constructed from the fossil record are the same as those constructed from genetics, anatomy, embryology, molecular biology, and any other scientific discipline.”

Now I ask: my beef here is with CMI. Shofar hosts CMI, but for now, I choose to believe they do so out of ignorance. Is there any chance that Shofar would distance themselves from CMI, or shall I just go ahead and lump them together? I can add all my Creationism posts to the Shofar category…

Categories: Religion and Science
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26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Herman Cummings // Mar 17, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Factual Genesis is Being Overlooked

    It would be much better if those that believe in a Creator, would make a call to learn
    the correct view of Genesis, rather than clinging to their current false beliefs of Genesis.

    Theistic evolution calls God a liar, when He specifically told Israel in Exodus 20:11,
    “For in six days, the Lord made heaven and Earth, the sea, and all there in them is…”.
    He told them this after defining the work week, in Exodus 20:9. When God told Joshua
    to march around Jericho for seven days, did God mean something other than 168 hours?
    If so, Joshua (from the tribe of Ephraim) should be STILL marching around those walls.

    The doctrine of Creation Science, is also false, along with “ruin & restoration”, progressive
    creation, Day/Age, gap theories, and theistic evolution. All are unsuccessfully trying to
    explain the first chapter of Genesis, which they do not understand.

    Creation Science begins with hypocrisy, declaring total belief in “literal interpretation”
    of the scriptures. That sounds nice, until you “put the Word” on their teachings. Where
    did the water come from on the first day? Did God create the birds on the fifth day before
    mankind, or after mankind on the sixth day? Did God create the land animals before
    mankind on the sixth day, or after Adam on the sixth day? On each of the previous
    questions, “young Earth” believers can’t give an honest answer. They begin to “redefine”
    the scriptures in an attempt to make them fit their false beliefs. When cornered,
    their escape path is to say “God will explain it when we get to Heaven”. That’s living in
    a delusion. Agnostics, atheists, and evolutionists need it explained to them NOW,
    so that they can be part of the church BEFORE Jesus returns.

    The problem with young Earth believers is that they are brainwashed into thinking that
    accepting scientific reality of an “old earth” means denying the seven 24-hr days of the
    168 hour Creation Week. Remember the “lack of knowledge” in Hosea 4:6?

    Misunderstanding of the Genesis text leads to foolishness when advocating
    that the mammoths, giant mammals, dinosaurs, and dimetrodons all
    died in Noah’s flood, which was in 2611 BC. The foundations of a young
    Christian’s faith is shaken when they are confronted with the reality of
    ancient geologic ages of Earth’s history, and the 650+ million year fossil record (of death).
    Genesis does not teach, nor agrees with any “young Earth” doctrine. Biblical Reality
    conveys the correct view of Genesis, using “correct” literal interpretation, explaining
    what God was revealing to Moses (Observations of Moses).

    We can remain in denial, which is not getting us anywhere, or we can
    learn the truth of Genesis, to enable us to expose the false conclusions
    of secular science. Which is it going to be?

    Herman Cummings
    PO Box 1745
    Fortson GA 31808

  • 2 Johan Swarts // Mar 17, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Herman, could you maybe complete that? What IS the correct view of Genesis?

  • 3 Hugo // Mar 17, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I grabbed Borg (Reading the Bible Again for the First Time)… he says the priestly story, Genesis 1.1–2.3, was probably written in the 500s BCE, while the “Yahwist” story was written earlier, perhaps in the 900s BCE.

    He goes into details about the cultural contexts of these stories. About the priestly story, he writes:

    The origin of the P story in the time after the Babylonian conquest adds one more dimension of meaning. In antiquity, when a nation was decisively conquered by another nation, it was commonly thought that the god (or gods) of the victorious nation had defeated the god of the vanquished nation, exposing that god as inferior or perhaps as no god at all. To many — Babylonians and Jews alike — it looked during the exile as if the gods of imperial Babylon had triumphed over the God of Israel.

    In this setting, the opening line and the central claim of the P creation story defiantly assert that the God of Israel is the creator of heaven and earth — of all that is. It proclaims the lordship of Israel’s God over against the lordship of Babylon and its gods. The story affirms as “counter-world,” an alternative world to the world of empire. [cites Brueggemann] This affirmation is, as we shall see, a theme that runs throughout the Bible from beginning to end.

    Ah, anyway, I hope this series (of 8 posts, already written, scheduled one per day) can focus more on science, rather than unearthing another bunch of “johannes_11” equivalents. 😉

  • 4 Ben-Jammin' // Mar 17, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    OT: I picked up McLaren’s The Secret Story of Jesus at the big library the other day. I don’t think I’ll review it in as much detail, but I’ll read as much as I can.

  • 5 Hugo // Mar 17, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Cool. I’d love to hear if you’d agree that it’d be good if all Christians read it. (Not instead of something else, just instead of continuing on their typical path.)

  • 6 Herman Cummings // Mar 18, 2008 at 2:37 am

    There is no such thing as an “E”, “D”, “P”, or any other such foolishess. From Genesis 1:2 thru Genesis 2:3, are the Observations of Moses. The chronological order is 4-5-6-7-1-2-3. They are not contained in the same week. They are found in seven different weeks.

    The rest of chapter two tells us of the orgin of modern mankind, beginning in about 7200 BC.

  • 7 Hugo // Mar 18, 2008 at 2:57 am


    These were “observations” of Moses you claim. Do you believe they came in a vision then? (Do you believe Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch, and possibly had a vision about his own death to be able to write about that?)

    Remarkable. And incredible… 😉

    So why did Moses write about Elohim in some places and Yahweh in others?

    Everyone else:

    If you’re curious about “E”, “D”, “P”… and “D”, what that refers to and where it comes from, Wikipedia has some of the basics at:

  • 8 Ben // Mar 18, 2008 at 3:56 am

    Cool. I’d love to hear if you’d agree that it’d be good if all Christians read it.

    I’m trying an experiment, if I can get any takers. Over at the Friendly Christian site. If anyone is interested in reading it with me.

  • 9 Whit // Mar 18, 2008 at 7:34 am

    More from DonExodus2 on youtube:

    “Teaching the controversy”

    Evolutionary Evidence

    Creationist Dishonesty (correspondence with Behe included)

    ( )

  • 10 Hugo // Mar 18, 2008 at 9:09 am

    That’s cool. A bigger challenge, which I’d love, would be to find people that would read “The Last Week” (Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan) with me. Only in a few months’ time though. Now that is more of a challenge. 😉

  • 11 Kenneth Oberlander // Mar 30, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Having just posted basically what you said in the next post in the series…*sigh*. Have seen these videos before, but the best one I’ve ever seen was one on how to evolve a clock on Youtube. Absolutely excellent. Type in clock evolution in youtube, should take you directly to it…

  • 12 sergio lepore // Jun 16, 2008 at 1:36 am

    In looking at this site there appears to be many transitions.

    When creationists ask for a cross between a fish and a lion there is going to be trouble.

    Tell me what you think, please.

    Sergio L

  • 13 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Nice link, for a nice list of transitional fossils. I’m not sure what you’re asking though… Any creationists asking for a transitional fossil between a fish and a lion would be demonstrating more ignorance (or stupidity) than the average creationist. The evolutionary pathway between fish and lions consists of a very large number of species. You could construct a whole chain of evolutionary steps though, and find some transitional fossils between at least some of those steps.

  • 14 // Jun 16, 2008 at 9:04 am

    This has absolutely nothing to do with Christ or Christianity – this is backwater intellectual politics by minor league aspirants. What proves this is the hundreds of posts on this tired and beaten to death topic on this site which reveal two things:

    1. Utter ignorance on both sides, from “prove God to me!” to “lions ate lettuce in the garden of Eden” – have you idiots listened to yourselves … forget the other mutt – listen to how stupid you sound yourself, and then you still want to trot out your utter idiocy for the world as a wannabe expert an expect your nonsense to be taken seriously.

    2. The internet is a wonderful place to play linky, linky, Wikki, wikki – in a feeble attempt make you folks look like you know what you are talking about, because you can google links to a hundred fools as stupid as you are – to neatly fit your pre-supposition’s search phrase criteria. All it proves, is you lack the capacity to think for yourself or formulate you own conclusions. It is lazy and opportunistic, borders on plagiarism and you know it. And you cannot show, not one of you how you came to your conclusions, just whom you’ve chosen to back on your partisan side of the fence. If I were your hypothetical lecturer on this topic – I would fail most of you in a class on this topic starting with everyone in Shofar – because it is irritating trying to teach parrots who can’t think or produce their own conclusions.

    Try this on for size, not that I think you can, else someone would have done so by now – but please do try and get beyond the reams and reams of: ad hominem, ad nauseum, ad nauseum … Here, this blog is supposed to be called think too much, so think!!!

    Open a real discussion on this topic and nobody is interested in your links to the super writer of the week’s opinions – do something you have never, ever done before – think for yourself and you evangelicals, grow up and get out of silly iron age superstition – Galileo is dead and he was right. If the cycles of physical life and death were not a part of this world, then where did the animal skins come from that Adam and Eve dressed in??? Idiots. And yet, you think you are doing the gospel a favour …

    Discuss this:

    God said: Let there be light … and the language he spoke was mathematics, and the alphabet of that language is what we call the periodic table. A billion years is as a second to God and a second is as a billion years – God equates them equal … so at which hour were we commanded to go love the broken world and break bread with it?

    The proof of God is we can hear His voice, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. See … else you wouldn’t be reading this … and you wouldn’t be irritated with me for bringing bread into it. You can’t feed a poor child with stones that were dead animals, no matter how old they are.

  • 15 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Al, now you’re definitely going too far. I’ve been wondering what to recommend with regards to your comments, because as much as I appreciate them and read them all, and agree with many of them, not everyone does. (One idea: I’ve wondered if I should give you your own dedicated corner where you can be as verbose as you want, then you can link there from comment sections…)

    You know as well as I do that some Shofarians will simply ignore what you write. Ditto for some non-Shofarians. And I know your writing is effective to some. But you should realise I’m taking a different approach with this blog, my mission does differ from yours. But if you keep on turning every example of my kind of discussion into your kind of discussion, then this site ends up being just another one of your sites, catering to the same crowd. I’m specifically trying to cater for a different crowd.

    Your comments scare people, Al. And I’m not talking about people in Shofar, I’m talking about outsiders observing. You have passion and drive, and that’s great, but these things can dominate and suppress discussions.

    Now you come in with:

    This has absolutely nothing to do with Christ or Christianity – this is backwater intellectual politics by minor league aspirants.

    Do you try to offend, Al? This blog is indeed not a Christian blog, it’s main topic isn’t Christ and Christianity. This blog does seem to have more of a science leaning. This blog is the way I like it. If you want to think of science and critical thinking as “backwater intellectual politics”, you’re welcome to do so, but respect other people’s paths through life. Please. And who are you calling utterly ignorant? Me? (I am…) Or the science PhD’s that have been commenting every now and then?

    Yes, there’s been some atheistic comments as well. There we’re talking about another group that is discriminated against unfairly. And in my fight against bigotry, I’m also going to defend the atheistic world-view. Not everyone believes the same thing, and that is fine. I will also be looking in more depth at Jesus’ teachings, and Christianity’s origins and developments. Some unfortunate recent developments, e.g. American fundie evangelicalism. But I’ll get to it when I’ll get to it, because this is my blog.

    In terms of pointing to outside resources, what’s wrong with that? Why do you have to go offend a contributor? Aren’t you playing ad-hominem attacks now?

    nobody is interested in your links

    Al, speak for yourself. If you’re not interested in what’s happening here, then shut up and go away. Or learn to be more diplomatic. You could have said the same things in a much friendlier way. I know that the children you used to work with didn’t respond to “friendly diplomacy” like that, that you have to know how to communicate with rough kids before you can do so. I respect that. But you know that us kids here grew up all cushy and sheltered and don’t know what the hard life is like. That’s us. And clearly you don’t know how to talk to us. Please bear that in mind or respect that, or go back to working in the circles that you are good at.

    Respectfully. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say, because I do appreciate your comments. Can you keep them on-topic though?

  • 16 // Jun 16, 2008 at 11:59 am

    It still isn’t anything new Hugo, over and over the same thing, you are doing the same thing in spite of spotting it and the same tired arguments. Do you know why I have taken so long to snort my general disdain on everything I’ve read here on this exact topic? I’ve been waiting and waiting for something new, some new voice, something a tad iron age superstition or anti-papal post renaissance in a huggy-kissy boxing match.

    Creationists and evolutionists only exist intellectually to dis-prove each other – something neither one can do.

    Waiting, waiting, waiting….Some lateral thinking … something, any bloody thing.

    Last year I very politely asked to open a discussion, here – not the kind of crap you are reacting to or pulling trying to pull yourself – and still pandering here – an open thoughtful discussion based on people’s OWN conclusions – and it went nowhere. We trotted back down the path of who’s read what, off into ad hominems and I knows what big words all like a big person. Whoo wee teacher says I’m clever. Forget the books, the educations, all the utter drivel in between – what does anyone think? Really think???

    Will those conclusions give us answers to global hunger, global warming, spiritual decay, financial corruption of the gospel…???

    What does someone think?

    Not Fred May or Batten or Ping-pong Paluka-boy – they don’t live here. Of course, I’m pissed off – kids are in deep, deep shit in my town and it is going to get worse and the best that comes out of it is an argument about stones?

    After years of this bullshit – How old is a stone?

    You don’t like the fact that I’m saying: Stop this bullshit, if we all have our clothes off – let’s fuck. I must play the game the play-play way and be all floral and stupid too. No.

    I turn up the heat, get the nasty right out there, without the bullshit nice-nice packaging – because face it, passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive like I play – is still the same crap, and my, my, my – it cuts doesn’t it?

    Why? See, now answer that. I’m just doing what everyone else is doing – MUCH LOUDER.

    See, why I find it so irritating. It gets no one anywhere. You yourself were moaning about wasting three years of your life on one topic and achieving nothing….

    How old is a stone?

    How tall is a dwarf?

    My ideas scare people do they? I frighten them – yes? Well break out the pitchforks and torches boy and girls … you got a problem on your hands. I’m not my past, my anger is now and present and lies bleeding in the street. It is sucking a tik pipe or planning to break into your house.

    In Greece they broke out the knives when arguing – to make a sharp point … excuse the pun.

  • 17 // Jun 16, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    And Hugo, all that up there was not personally directed outside of roughneck debate … just a hard, sweaty game of didactics … but this one is personal. And listen carefully – I’m only saying this to you because I respect you, really respect you. I wouldn’t waste my time if I didn’t think you have the intellect to do more. Feel me?

    Listen very carefully: You do not need McClaren et al. Apply your mind, reduce everything to it’s most simplest and no further – you will come to the same conclusions he did. You are more than able to do it.

    Then question then Hugo, is why are you wasting your time and more importantly – where do we go from here…?

  • 18 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for that comment. I hear you. But why I “need McLaren et al”, is because I don’t have the time to spoon-feed people. McLaren et al are authors that have already written books, it is a waste of time for me to rewrite those books. So I’m interested in getting such books in the hands of people I think could benefit from reading them.

    In terms of wasting time, this blog is largely doing things that I want to do. Hard to justify sometimes, spent a few hours hacking on a post about evolution yesterday. Not biological evolution in particular, rather the concept in general. It lays foundations for further discussions that I’d like to run. In particular, the evolution of religion, from something that cares about the poor, to something that cares purely about “procreating”. Counting “saved souls”… and going for the money is more useful in such a situation, because that helps feed the machine to “save more souls”. Lekke bullshit, y’know. But the background post on evolution comes first, because that’s how I’m building my story, my blog. That’s how I’m trying to do the science education thing as well, ’cause science is something I’m passionate about. So for the record. this isn’t true:

    Creationists and evolutionists only exist intellectually to dis-prove each other – something neither one can do.

    Creationists try to get that “controversy” belief going, hence the propaganda word “evolutionist”. Science, in the mean time, is unanimous about the situation. There is no controversy. But I understand that the creationists can continue to simply ignore science.

    I have another angle that I also want to take, but I’ve been postponing that as well. I don’t know how useful that will be, I don’t know what your comments or feedback on that will be, but I have external reasons for postponing it. Now looking at late July. Basically, we’ll start looking in more detail at what Shofar teaches. At that point I would love more theological input. I’ll probably ask some of my friends that are studying theology, whether they would like to provide some input on the details. And we will also apply our minds. Multiple angles and viewpoints of the situation. Hopefully an attempt to get diverse opinions and beliefs shared. And I’m sure you will understand how playing aggressive-aggressive then will shut down some potential conversations?

    I continue scratching my head about how to tell someone they’re wrong, without them shutting down and running away. Because people’s minds and beliefs go into defensive mode, where they are no longer open to learning.

    In terms of this:

    My ideas scare people do they? I frighten them – yes? Well break out the pitchforks and torches boy and girls … you got a problem on your hands.

    It wasn’t the ideas. It was the way they were presented. People commenting that they’re scared to say something that might upset you, because they’re afraid of how you would react. That doesn’t have much to do with the ideas being discussed, that has to do with attitude, aggression, style, and only that. So the actual ideas do not get discussed. Cornered animals, cornered by aggression, not by ideas in debate, are again not open to learning. They’re not open to ideas. They’re just looking at what the best course of action is for survival. When people are worried about their own survival, they won’t give a rat’s ass about “some poor kids under the bridge”.

    People are fundamentally irrational. Getting past the irrationality is hard. There are different ideas of how to do it, of course, but I’m not sure how much of a contribution aggression makes.

    OK, and in terms of your comments on this post, I think you will agree that they’re not that much about making a direct contribution, and more about starting a discussion on your frustrations with my approach to the matter… right? Something like that?

    In terms of your suggestions, I’m still not always sure what exactly you suggest (for this blog), or sometimes the things you suggest are not the things that I can do. So I continue on my path, making the preparations I want to make. (And yes, I’m taking “much too long” to get anywhere, but such is the path I’m walking.)

  • 19 // Jun 16, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Paul makes an astonishing statement in his letter to the Romans in which he basically declares that by looking very carefully at the natural world, you will hear the natural world speaking to God.

    That’s a good place to start. What is it saying?

  • 20 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    OK, maybe useful to get this out of the way, that you understand what my angle is, where we can agree, and what contributions I can make, and what I cannot. In the light of science then, as we’re commenting here on a science post (or I’m just using that as an excuse… 😉 ). So bear with me, this is now sketching out my perspectives.

    When looking at the natural world, you see majesty and intricacy and wonder, and you stand in awe. You think “wow!” You appreciate life and all it has to offer. You appreciate the miracle that it all exists. If you call the source of that “God”, you can agree with Paul. Even many atheistic scientists have a reverence for “God” in a poetic sense, but their perspectives on “God” is somewhat more pantheistic than theistic. In effect, you could say there is just some disagreement about the nature of “God”. And that isn’t exactly going to get resolved. That doesn’t reduce the value of the essence of Paul’s teachings, but not everyone is going to connect that awe and reverence with a personified God that responds to prayer through divine intervention, y’know?

    I’m happy that, in a strongly theistic culture, the sense of awe and wonder at existence and the world is expressed in a strongly theistic way. And I believe that the value of that kind of teaching still exists in a post-theistic or non-theistic culture, or pantheistic or panentheistic or whatnot-fancy-schmancy-label you can dream up, where the essence is an embracing and acceptance of the miraculous gift that is our very existence, the gift that is life. But not everyone is going to connect that to the Christian tradition, or to a monotheistic tradition, or whatever language one speaks when speaking about spirituality and what it means to be a living human. So I’m not going to be pushing Christian monotheism on everyone on this blog, I’m going to be looking at the essence and the value of the things I see, and share that, explaining the various contexts from which they can be understood. And by that I hope to build bridges, aid cross-cultural understanding, and attempt to encourage cooperation in bringing about what is known in the Christian tradition as “letting the Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven”. In that regard, we are in agreement and share the same mission, even if I’m trying to communicate with people that don’t share the Christian tradition or background.

    With regards to Paul in general, by now it should be quite clear that my “Christianity” is of the strongly liberal flavour. When I look at Paul’s letters, I look at the writings, the letters, of a particular fallible person that believes he met Jesus in a vision, but never did know Jesus in real life, in person. He wasn’t a disciple. So I wonder how much he knew of Jesus’ teachings. Apparently he took about three years before he even went to speak to the main leaders in the Jesus movement, in Jerusalem. As such, I remain skeptical as to how well his teachings (especially his early teachings) line up with the ideals and teachings of Jesus himself. Based on my understanding and knowledge, Paul was a big promoter of the “Jesus died for your sins, he’s your personal saviour” kind of doctrine. And Shofar loves Paul. 😉 To connect this particular early church leader to your concerns, it is interesting to note that his first letters didn’t have much to say about the poor: only after visiting Jerusalem and meeting with the people that knew the living, breathing, pre-easter Jesus, did his letters start containing a strong “give money to the poor” message, more specifically “send money to Jerusalem”, iirc. Maybe he was trying to appease the main leaders to get his own ministry more recognised, or maybe he discovered the importance and value of some of Jesus’ teachings that he hadn’t heard through his “vision”. (Or maybe I’m just being the typical skeptical liberal Christian here.) But this is how I see it. I see a guy that believed the world was going to end in his lifetime. I see a guy whose teachings weren’t perfect. There is much that I can learn from Paul, but I do not take his authority as “the authority of God”. And I also believe he sometimes writes, about some of his advice, “it is not God that says these things, but I”.

  • 21 // Jun 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    This is the hard cold formula to change the world:

    Once a week, feed one or two hungry, abandoned children whom you get to know by name until those two kids are adults and can find and feed one or two hungry children, once a week too. The rest of the world may not care much to do it – but those children will take over the world.

    That’s why I do it.

    I know you don’t care much for me speaking about Slabstown and the poor little kids down under the bridge there, I have yet to find any one who does, they are an embarrassment here and nobody needs what seems to amount to emotional manipulation – but since we are both orphans ourselves – let me ask you an orphan to orphan scientific question Hugo … If your dad hadn’t made financial arrangements so that you would never know financial stress when he died and you had to do the orphan thing my way, the hard, hard, hard way – do you think you would give a rat’s ass for them now? Where would you have got the money to read McClaren? You would have had to come to those conclusions yourself anyway, like I said you can. Don’t take that the wrong way, never feel under pressure because you did not need to suffer poverty – that is not what I am getting at. It is good that you weren’t burdened in that respect – too. Do you hear me?

    Once a week, feed one or two hungry, abandoned children whom you get to know by name until those two kids are adults and can find and feed one or two hungry children, once a week too.

    It will change the world forever.

  • 22 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I hear you Al, and I agree. I know that’s how things are changed. And I know I’m not exactly making a difference in those kids’ lives, and that the things I do to “make a difference” might just be a sorry excuse for not getting out there and getting my hands dirty. So I still look for avenues where I can “make a difference” without climbing out of my comfort zone.

    I’m all too aware of that.

    An interesting potential side-effect of the middle-class thinking person, is some form middle-class angst. Being blessed with a hard-working father with much foresight, is indeed a blessing. Not something I deserved. So here I am, all cushy in my cottage, with three computers in my area, and more books on my shelf than I can read right now. And I know I don’t “deserve” all this. So there’s guilt… the classic “bleeding heart liberal guilt” about the children under the bridge. About the unfairness of the world. And the realisation that I’m supposed to be making a difference there.

    Very much why the supernatural interventionist perspective is so prevalent and popular. No need to go make a difference to the children under the bridge, we’ll just say a daily prayer that God will look out for the poor. There, done, played my part, God will take care of them.


    I’m not saying God doesn’t care, I’m just saying that, as a person with a rather naturalistic perspective on how things get done, I do strongly believe we are God’s hands and feet. That it is up to us to go and make the difference. I’m all too aware of that.

    And I continue scratching my head as to how I can then contribute, without “just praying”, but also without climbing out of my middle-class comfort zone. Sick isn’t it. Friggen hypocrite. Or procrastinator maybe, always saying “I’ll figure out the best way for me to contribute, and once I’ve done that, I’ll do it.” Yea, right…

    And then I’ll be in Switzerland in August. And I’ll look for charities for sending money to. And my employer will meet my donations, thereby doubling them. And I will feel better, because I “sent some money”. Whoopdiedoo… Did I really make a difference?

    Sorry, excessive and unnecessary verbosity. I think the money will make more of a difference than prayer, but I still wouldn’t have gotten my hands dirty. But I continue seeking to find that solution that is significant enough, but within my comfort zone’s reach…

    I hope this verbosity helps us understand one another?

  • 23 Hugo // Jun 16, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Added two words in bold, to make my writing say what I actually meant it to say. Writing too quickly kinda causes me to miss my “negatives”, I notice… oops.

  • 24 sergio lepore // Mar 27, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I don’t think it’s possible to take the Bible seriously if you cannot agree with the genealogical line from Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus as it is presented in the Bible.
    It says that in the beginning God created Adam. But when we try to plug in 4.5 billion years somewhere, although this is NOT mentioned in the Bible, because of science, well, I think the two most honest sides to take are creationism or atheism (or agnosticism, if not believing in any sort of god is to off the mark).
    You can only wind up with less than 10, 000 years according to the genealogy in question; I think this is the big problem, aside from the Flood.
    I would rather look stupid for the sake of Jesus in the eyes of an atheist than try to pull the horse manure that people say with regard to there being no conflict with an old world model and the Bible, and/or evolution and the Bible for that matter. I can also respect a true atheist’s point of view because they are saying that they cannot intellectually lie to themselves and others so that they can have a security blanket against Hell, etc.

  • 25 sergio lepore // Mar 27, 2010 at 7:07 am

    I don’t think it’s possible to take the Bible seriously if you cannot agree with the genealogical line from Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus as it is presented in the Bible.
    It says that in the beginning God created Adam. But when we try to plug in 4.5 billion years somewhere, although this is NOT mentioned in the Bible, because of science, well, I think the two most honest sides to take are creationism or atheism (or agnosticism, if not believing in any sort of god is too off the mark).
    You can only wind up with less than 10, 000 years according to the genealogy in question; I think this is the big problem, aside from the Flood.
    I would rather look stupid for the sake of Jesus in the eyes of an atheist than try to pull the horse manure that people say with regard to there being no conflict with an old world model and the Bible, and/or evolution and the Bible for that matter. I can also respect a true atheist’s point of view because they are saying that they cannot intellectually lie to themselves and others so that they can have a security blanket against Hell, etc.

  • 26 Hugo // Mar 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    One of the books on my shelf has a tagline “taking the Bible seriously but not literally”. Titled “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg, in that genre it’s one of the books I really, really like. I’m mentioning it in case you are curious to see how some people’s non-literal approach looks.

    Still, I agree there certainly is conflict between a literal read, especially of Genesis, and science. Just like there’s conflict between a “this is divine writing, not human writing”-read of the Old Testament and the notion that the Bible is a good moral compass (and that the God described by that kind of read is a moral and benevolent).

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