Apologetics: January 2004 Archives

This email discussion is continuing. I got a response back, I've sent off a response to that, and I've gotten another one back already. It's venturing into broader issues of interpretation and inerrancy. I've included it in the original file and in the Arguments About Sex and Sexuality collection.

Update: Now that I've got an extended entry feature, the second part of the file linked to above is here. The first part is in the previous post.

I received an email from someone who I assume would prefer to remain anonymous, in response to some of what I've said about homosexuality. His basic thrust was that he couldn't understand how I could take passages about homosexuality literally to conclude that there's something bad about homosexuality despite all the evidence against that view, especially when I wouldn't take other passages literally, e.g. Joshua with the sun standing still in the sky and Genesis 9 with its once-common interpretation that the curse on Canaan justified slavery of all blacks. There are so many things with this argument that I find mistaken that it wasn't easy to work through it step-by-step, but here's my response.

Update: I've added the response into the extended entry now that I'm on Movable Type and can do such things.

Scientists have discovered that feelings of eeriness and religious experiences can correlate with very sounds lower than we can hear. According to NPR today, a man working on a house alone saw what looked like a ghost. The next day he discovered an electric tool buzzing on its own. He investigated and found a fan operating at a very low frequency. When he turned it off, the tool stopped. Apparently this was also the reason for his ghost sighting. British scientists have investigated the effects of infrasound at musical performances. Parts of the music with infrasound notes correlated with experiences of "sorrow, coldness, anxiety and shivers down the spine". The NPR story described a different experiment. There was a strong correlation between those in an audience who near infrasound projectors and those who reported strange or spiritual sensations during the performance.

What do we conclude? Those who are quick to dismiss any reality to spiritual claims say: According to The Guardian's story, "natural sources of infrasound - wind, air conditioning systems and traffic for example - could possibly explain why there were persistent reports of hauntings in some buildings." That doesn't bother me. At atheists.about.com, however, we find a stronger stance. "It disproves that old idea that there are some things that science cannot and will not ever be able to explain, one of which is often the strange sensations people have in some circumstances. Religious feelings are not immune to careful, scientific investigation - we just need the right sorts of things to look for, first."

This is doubly fallacious. First off, you can't disprove the idea that there are some things science can't explain by showing that one such thing is now explained. There still may be lots of other things science can't explain, for all this argument has shown. Second, as one of the people interviewed on the NPR spot this afternoon pointed out, all this shows is a correlation. This gives us one occasion for religious experiences. It doesn't show that it's the cause. I can think of a number of possible scenarios for this. He suggested that maybe we're always unconsciously having religious experiences, and this just brings it into our conscious awareness. Another explanation would be that these infrasound effects bring us into a connection with spiritual realities that we're otherwise not aware of. A third possibility is that this is an effect that leads to a similar sensation to those caused by spiritual realities. One way or the other, the conclusion doesn't follow. It's a possible explanation for some religious experiences, as the Guardian story said, but it's a bit beyond the evidence to say much else for sure.

Da Vinci Code review

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Here's an excellent review of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code by Craig Blomberg, one of the most responsible of contemporary evangelical biblical scholars. It challenges a number of the claims made in the book that even the most liberal biblical scholars would agree are simply invented by Brown. If you're going to read the book, read this review first (and probably again when you're done, perhaps even referring to it as you go). In the process, Blomberg gives some useful information about the current state of historical work on Jesus and gives some worthwhile corrections to numerous falsehoods that are commonly repeated but aren't supported by serious research. It's worth reading even if you don't intend to read the novel.

Almost a year ago, Michael Crichton gave a heated condemnation of the scientific community for beefing up low-standard research with rhetoric, computer models based on equations whose variables we can't even guess at in an educated way, and conducting heresy trials against those who challenged the research. The targets? Carl Sagan's claims about the certainty of extraterrestrial life, the probability of serious nuclear winter in the event of a nuclear war, and now global warming.

What amazed me throughout the whole thing is how much he sounded like Philip Johnson or Michael Behe in their criticisms of neo-Darwinism. I doubt he'd allow the comparison, but his language is about the same, saying that consensus is a ploy when there's no argument, that those who question the consensus are belittled and called unscientific (note: I have seen Daniel Dennett do both these things), etc. To those who know anything about philosophy of science: How well does this comparison hold up? Are there crucial differences, or has Crichton given the intelligent design movement more ammunition?

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