Monday, December 17, 2007

Belated Announcement....

You may notice, if you look closely, that there is a piece of brilliance on the finger of the alluringly beautiful woman in this picture. Well, I gave this to her, and she responded in the affirmative. Those familiar with Western culture will know what this means...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability, part 4

A phenotype is the outward expression, the visible manifestation of a genotype (one's genes). Hence, one may have a gene for a particular eye color. This person's eyes are blue both in her genotype and her phenotype. Phenotypes then, obviously, apply to the physical characteristic of an individual. Yet, a phenotype is not limited to physical characteristics on the individual herself

A beaver is isolated from her family at birth. She is raised without the company of other beavers later to be released as an adult into a wetland void of beavers. Instinctively she sources the flow of water through her wetland, builds a dam, and forces the creation of an artificial pond. This behavior was obviously not learned as she did not learn it by observation: it is instinct and was coded in her genes.

The beaver's dam is, thus, an example of a phenotype: the outward expression of a genotype. Differences in phenotypic beaver dams exist. Some may allow more water flow; others less, etc. One beaver phenotype may present a proclivity for poplar trees, and a later birch-tree fungus, which kills off all available birch, may hence find the poplar-tree phenotypic proclivity of a particular beaver may spare her the plight of absent birch. Another beaver that prefers birch might not fare as well during the same birch-tree kill off.

How does natural selection act on the individual worker ant? She is incapable of reproduction, yet she cares for the larval brood, protects the colony, gathers food, builds and repairs the hill. Are her behaviors adding to the beneficial pressure of natural selection?

The worker ant is the offspring of the colony's queen and one drone who died moments after copulation--possibly weeks, months, or even years ago. The behaviors of the individual ant are phenotypes of the queen. All female ants in the colony share the same DNA; however, worker DNA ignores reproductive coding, soldier DNA recognizes and acts on coding for size and larger mandibles, and the queen DNA acts on coding, ignored by the others, for size and reproduction.

The phenotypic behaviors of the worker ant are actually phenotypes of the queen. If the queen produces phenotypic behaviors among her offspring that lend toward less community stability, then the chances of reproductive differential diminishes. Hence, the workers are phenotypes of the queen. Altruism and social cohesion as phenotypes of the queen favor the survival of the colony and reproductive differential in the queen.

Understanding how this relates to memes and human morality will be developed in the next installments. Particular attention will be placed on the ceremonial observances of the Pentateuch.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Foolish Hostilities

In-group charity and out-group hostility—we all have felt the warmth of the former and the sting of the later. In-group ethics are characterized by undeserved benevolence, benevolence that is capable of overlooking a multitude of offenses. Out-group hostilities are characterized by an overly critical ability to find fault in heterogeneity coupled with an oft-accompanied fear for the heterogeneous.

Identity with the in-group is cultivated through right and ritual. The right or the right of passage is the means through which one attains a given identity. In the Evangelical Christian community, personal conversion is the primary right of passage. For the “Sacred-Name” communities, recitation of a given name or baptism into that name is the initiation right. For the member of the in-group ritual becomes the rubric of identity, the way to maintain identity with the in-group.

In-group/out-group ethics present themselves strongly in religious contexts; however, such ethics are not inherent to religion. Rather, they are normative to human self-comprehension—a by-product of mammalian evolution. Unfortunately, though, the meme of religiosity is both the historical and modern venue for the nastiest expressions of these ethics.

No one is more despised than the “apostate.” The community fears and deplores her. Though at one time embraced despite her human misgivings, those same misgivings are now used to dress her up in the ghoulish garments of a nefarious knave. The reprobate is spoken of, though not named. She is damned with dour hostility, though no one sheds a tear. She has become the scapegoat, the trash bin of abhorrence. She is thought to be second-rate, undeserving of in-group identity from the start. Through deleterious depictions the dutiful devotes find gratification in her, vindication for their fears of heterogeneity, and justification for their draw to homogeneity.


Why do you fear that which is without? Cast aside your hubris for homogeneity and look reality into the eyes. Can you do this without shame? Is your belief system characterized by self-deception—the self-fulfilling, emotional, and illogical schematic attachments to anomalous aspirations?

If you are a devotee of religious faith, the answer is yes. No exceptions…..

Oh the web we weave when we choose to *believe*

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability, part 3

Perennial parthenogytes and sired sisters of a common brood, the worker ant seems the most unlikely entity to be influenced by sexual/natural selection. The complexity of ant society, though, depends on the ability of each individual worker to predictably participate in structurally-stabilizing societal routines.

The colony is disturbed. Three fingers wrap around the underside of a flat sandstone, exposing a brood of ant larva. Within seconds open-jawed ants, mandibles spread for the pinch, pour out of covert caverns in numbers and with movement that is startling to the unsuspecting toddler. Soon a dozen ants cling to his fingers, a dozen more dart up his hand, and dozens more rush to the site of the disturbance. In the shadow of the stone can be seen dozens more ants carrying the uncovered pupae and larva to underground safety. A parent wipes the ants off of the toddler's hand and several ants dye in the process.

How did the ants mobilize so quickly? Was there a sub-perceivable siren like a war trumpet calling the colony to action? A similar ability to communicate is evidenced in ant trails.

Notice an ant trail. Often ending at a choice item of caloric density, the ants closely follow a narrow trail--sometimes single file. Try this at home: find an ant trail, locate an open spot between ants on the trail, rub a finger or a napkin over the gap with enough friction as to spread a hypothetical grease smudge. Now observe. The ants will arrive at this gap in the trail and stop. They will veer away from the direction of the trail, trying to pick up where it resumes. Ants on both sides--coming and going--will do this until eventually the trail is reestablished. This process may take several minutes.

Why is it that ants are able to follow a trail so closely? What do the above portraits show? Ants are efficient communicators. Many ant species use hormone-rich liquids to communicate. A disturbed ant disperses an aqueous alarm. The receptor ants pass along the liquid alarm--often depositing the liquid on the ground for passerby ants to pick up the message. Similarly, an ant scout discovers a sugary spill on the sidewalk. She makes her way quickly back to the colony while she unnoticeably deposits a liquid trail, Hansel style, to direct her sisters back to the feast.

The general absence of reproduction among worker ants (there are exceptions--vestigial evidences of the former evolutionary ability of ants to individually reproduce) makes the worker an elusive candidate for natural selection. Yet the influence of natural selection acts on the individual ant. The next installment will explore more of the connections between ant behavior, natural selection, genes and memes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

President Bush's Address to the UN, Sept. 2007--Analysis and Critique

by Sara B.

On Tuesday September 25, 2007 the United States President, George W. Bush, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in an effort to motivate promotion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted in 1948. The President called on every UN member to join in a mission of liberation from tyranny, hunger, disease, illiteracy and poverty. For these great purposes, pleads President Bush, should the great institution of the UN aim for. He continues on to urge the UN members to build a world "where people are free to speak, assemble, and worship as they wish; a world where children in every nation grow up healthy, get a decent education, and look to the future with hope". "America" he states, "will lead toward this vision where all are created equal, and free to pursue their dreams". Quite the compelling plea from one of America's most criticized presidents, accused of heading a military campaign blamed for the killing of tens of thousands of innocent lives, and defending controversial policies such as the use of capital punishment on America's own home front. So how can one assess this seemingly empathetic message? What lays beneath this impassioned speech to the world's head institution for defending human rights? In the paragraphs that follow, I will offer my comments and critique of this address relating to its use and understanding of civil-political, social-economic, and cultural development human rights.

Civil-political rights as defined by Gordon Lauren and David Hollenbach are considered "negative" rights, or those rights which are non-intervention. These rights include (but are not limited to) life, liberty, personal security, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture, recognition and equality under the law, freedom from arbitrary arrest or exile, right to vote, right to assembly, etc. Michael Ignatieff in his Tanner Lectures on Human Values (Princeton University April 4-7, 2000) makes note of the very individualistic nature of such rights. Consequently, then, they act as an effective remedy against tyranny and are a high appeal to those of non-Western origin. Claims to civil-political rights can be used by individuals against larger institutions such as the state or church. In this, human rights are basically morally universal, applicable regardless of culture or nation. Or as Jack Donnelly describes, " there is an international consensus on the system of human rights rooted in the UN DHR is relatively uncontroversial" (40). Donnelly would assert that internationally accepted human rights do not depend on any particular religious or philosophical doctrine, however, he does not believe they are compatible with all comprehensive doctrines (41).

It is in Donnelly's description of civil-political rights that I see president George Bush advocating in his address to the UN. When speaking of the situation in Burma, Belarus, Iran and North Korea he claims "basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship are severely restricted" . He continues stating that "terrorists" and "extremists" deny the truth stated in the UD that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". In other parts of the world, AIDS and Malaria are serious health threats which those of more prosperous nations, such as the US, should alleviate. All people, from all parts of the globe, with their own respective religious and philosophical traditions, it would appear the President is saying, have a claim to such civil-political rights.

However, what the President says and what he does lack congruence. It is arguable that he cherry-picks the issues and rights which he can provide evidence for US goodwill and leadership. For example, all people should be free from the use of torture. Yet, frequent independent reports arise revealing torture used at America's Guantanamo Bay, violation of article number 5 of the UDHR. Presently, a cameraman from the Al-Jazeera news network, Al-Hajj, is being held prison at Guantanamo Bay for unknown reasons. Al-Hajj has never been charged with any crime, which is a clear violating of article 9 and 10 of the UDHR. Al-Hajj is currently starving himself in protest. Significant reports shed light on the excess force and indiscriminate killing tactics of American military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Furthermore, America is one of the new "developed" nations which still employs capital punishment.

Furthermore, President Bush does not seem to believe democracy or the vision of human rights is compatible with those who espouse "terrorism" or "extremism". Such rhetoric conveniently, and self-servingly justifies the President's War Against Terror. Current statistics indicate the loss of over 100,000 Iraqi lives, comprised highly of innocent civilians since the United States led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Also in the Middle East, President Bush makes a mockery of democratic policies in the Occupied Palestinians Territories. When the people of Palestine democratically elected the Islamic political party Hamas in 2005, President George Bush called for a halt of all money flow into the territories from outside nations. This was a significant blow to an area of the world highly dependent on international aid. As a result, many public services were halted in the region, including trash pick-up, and public service workers, such as teachers, were left without pay for months to follow. Israeli military attacks continued on the Palestinians territories and even into Lebanon during the summer months of 2006, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children. These acts of terror against civilians were carried out not only with Bush sponsored U.S support but also with U.S arms and weaponry. One may ask how actions such as this don't fall under the definition of state sponsored terrorism. George Bush's cry for democracy seems to fit with only those nations and political parties which agree to participate in American foreign policy. Apparently, President Bush does not seem to believe in civil-political rights for those who vehemently oppose his political doctrines.

It is also important to evaluate President Bush's speech in regards to social-economic rights. Although the President does not make direct reference to issues of social security, work, work conditions, etc., he does make reference to Article 25 stating "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food and clothing and housing and medical care". President Bush attempts to provide evidence for how his country is upholding and promoting this clause of the Declaration. He mentions how America purchases the crops from African farmers, donates billions of dollars to help combat the AIDS epidemic and Malaria, and has donated textbooks and trained hundreds of thousands of teachers. America, he states, has "dramatically increased our own development assistance". This would include the signing of free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea, striving for the alleviation of weapons of mass destruction, and open market talks.

Superficially, President Bush seems to be contributing to the social-economic rights of people of various nations all over the world. He has stated a myriad of ways in which the U.S has "aided" the under developed nations of the world. However, no amount of monetary hand-outs or altruistic aid can right the systematic injustices and human right abuses the capitalistic system espoused by the U.S president. One must ask, what type of history are those American bought textbooks teaching to children of other nations, what kind of training are these "teachers" receiving and what are they teaching these children. Why is free-trade the way to go, and if it is why is there so much widespread poverty in North America following the signing of NAFTA? President Bush doesn't ask the question of what kind of working environments or economic conditions free-trade is fueling in various countries. Or, for that matter, if the President Bush is so adamant about peoples' right to adequate health care, a fair paying job, and sufficient living conditions, why is his own country plagued with so many people homeless, jobless, and without proper health care? What policies can the President point to domestically that resemble the values of the UNDHR? Again, the dichotomy between what President Bush says and does is evident and needn't be overlooked. Structural injustices will not be overcome with hand-outs and good-will offerings.

The final component to human rights being analyzed here is that of cultural development. Jack Donnelly would assert that cultural rights are those that protect a communal way of life, focusing on the individuals in cultural communities, ensuring they are protected from the state and the majority culture (219). Ishay would attest that they are a stepping stone to universal rights and a way by which to protect the rest of the world from Western domination (5). As a whole, cultural rights are a right to self-determination.

President Bush does not directly address the issue of cultural or development rights in his speech to the UN. In fact, many could read the Presidents speech as a candy-coated imperialist ploy. Only once does the president speak of protecting the desires, autonomy, or culture of the nations in current "need". He states that "ethic minorities are being persecuted". The President is right, ethic minorities are being persecuted, on American soil. Legislation promoted by President Bush, such as the Privacy Act, and Anti-Terrorist Act has allowed racial profiling, and resulted in other major offenses to those of Arab descent and Islamic allegiance. Minority groups have not been protected, but insulted and suspected. Further America has trained, America was distributed textbooks, countries are trading with America, America is the "promoter" of democracy, so the President claims. Where is the respect for the will of other countries? Why are only minority groups which uphold American foreign policy given protection? For example, President Bush offers support for the "brave citizens" of Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq who are making a "choice for democracy". What does that make the other citizens of those countries? It is clear that, once again, the President is drenched with hypocrisy, half-truth statements, and misrepresentation.

The conclusion is clear: President Bush's speech to the UN may make mention of civil-political, socio-economic, and cultural development rights, but the onus is on President Bush to justify his disparate record of foreign and domestic policy. Individuals of America and elsewhere must take President Bush's speeches with a grain of salt, bearing in mind his attempts to promote American-military sponsored "democracy" and arbitrary enactments of human rights. We must not let a few examples of American good-will to paint our view of the Bush administration or his presidency. Instead, we must examine the structural components that make up a system that leads the global economy today in light of the extreme poverty and utter disdain for human rights it seems to promote.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability (part 2)

Denizens of a detritus domain—social soldiers, wholehearted workers, decadently-desirous drones, and the quintessential queen—all strive in altruistic service to the collective. Never lacking in work to be done nor wanting in survival needs, they more than merely exist—they expand, branching out with imperialistic ambitions. Colonized, helpless plebeians, unable to resist, the aphids yield their milk to the harvest of the imperial force in exchange for symbiotic protection. Concealed crop, forgone fruit of fungal yield, the cultivated fungi of the leaf cutter grows underground—owing its existence to the agrarians who garner its pre-digestive work on arboreal reapings. Trapped in the collective river and torn to shreds by its tide, the ground beetle is carried away piece by piece by the tropical army of red.

Communists, socialists? – No. Ants—highly social invertebrate animals. “Go to the ant, you sluggard!” enjoins the biblical writer. The writer observes that the ant diligently works in communal commitment and is never lacking. In this way the ant is proposed as a model for human emulation: Man is at his best when he works in conjunction with commitment social sustainability.

Human morality is a product of evolutionary development in the primate and later hominid taxons. Primates and hominids are social creatures. We make use of social relationships to better our individual chances for survival and to improve our ability to distribute genetic potential. Societal success is hence critical for the occurrence of sexual selection (aka, “natural selection’) in social creatures, and societal success cannot be removed from a commitment to societal norms (e.g., morality).

Behaviors that threaten social sustainability encounter the combative pressures of sexual selection. However, more than just genes are at risk when human behavior defies accepted norms. Deleterious behaviors themselves and the collective cognition of the civilization are threatened by asocial or anti-social behavior.

Humans generally reproduce through sexual intercourse between a male and female of the same species. In an ant colony, only a select drone and one queen have this “privilege.” The worker and soldier ants do not reproduce—they are all females without developed gonads. How then does their behavior contribute to the distribution of their genes? How is it that the behavior of the one ant effects the potential for her genes to be favored for dispersal.

In the next installment, the relationship between collective cooperation and reproductive dispersal of genes and memes will be explored in ant societies. This will further concretize the survival benefit of altruistic behavior in social taxons as the end-product of evolutionary developmental pressures.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Joseph, Ants, and Meme Stability (part 1)

The heroine in exile, the hero in a foreign land—both distanced from the familiar. Foreign tongues, ideas, ritual, customs…life is relearning, relearning the profane while cognizant of the holy.

A recurrent theme in Israel’s scriptures is that of the hero/heroine in exile. The heroic protagonist finds herself in the midst of circumstantial promotion. Joseph becomes the authority over Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Daniel is exalted in the palaces of kings. Esther and Judith receive honor in the royal courts of Persia and Susa. The heroes gain prominence through dream interpretation—recognized as an indicator of God’s spirit. The heroines aspire through their beauty and cunning. All bring success to their people in the midst of settings that threaten identity cohesion.

The similarities between the exilic-exaltation epics are evident. Why, though, does this theme repeat in Israel’s scriptures? What explicative exigencies can be proposed for the exilic-exaltation epics?

The recurrence of the exilic-exaltation theme is suggestive of the settings in which they were composed. It is likely that the communities which benefited the most from these stories were those either already in exile or under foreign dominion. While in exile and under foreign dominion, Israel lacked centripetal identity cohesion in the aftermath of the 586 BCE destruction of the Temple. Where the tide promoted identity diffusion, the zealous maintained identity through community identity markers—observable rituals or behaviors that reinforce identity cohesion.

Identity markers such as Sabbath observance (אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם), dietary restrictions (e.g., Daniel’s recourse to pulse), and circumcision assumed added import. The importance of these three observances cannot be overstated as they became the sin quo non identity markers of 2nd Temple Jewry. Critical scholarship posits that priestly works such as Leviticus (especially the Holiness Code of chapters 17ff) and Ezekiel (the Temple vision) are evidence of settings that jeopardized the integrity of Israel’s identity. In the face of threat to identity, a greater emphasis was placed on ritual and legal minutia.

The epic of Joseph, the story of Daniel, the exaltation of Esther, and the justification of Judith together speak succor to the exiled and oppressed. The Joseph narrative and the book of Esther were most likely penned while Israel was in Babylon and Persia. The stories of Daniel and Judith, though, herald to post-Exilic times when Israel was under harsh foreign dominion.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Exercise in Perspective Taking

Most of this blog’s current readers are conservative Jewish or Christian supporters of Zionism and the state of Israel’s policies including the policies relevant to the occupied territories. I would like to offer a unique challenge to these readers—a challenge that will likely result in a broadening of horizons and possibly even encourage humanity and benevolence toward suppressed peoples.

It has often been said that one cannot fully understand one’s own position until having taken on an alternative. Or, as a question, “How can we appreciate the micro and macro implications and reaches of our perspectives unless we also can explain and even defend polar points of view?” In the exercise that follows, I am asking for Zionists to attempt to think like a Palestinian in the Occupied Territories. Take on the perspective of one who considers Palestine a homeland and Israel a non-democratic oppressor.

At the risk of stating too much in favor of one position, I am refraining from describing a Palestinian perspective. Naturally, there are many micro perspectives within a broader ideology. And, this is very important; this is an exercise, an attempt to take on a perspective that is very new to many readers. I ask for sincerity not perfection in the posts.

Be prepared for me (and possibly others) to offer soft criticism of your post. Feelings run high in these matters, and many do not realize the sociological and humanitarian implications of a given perspective. Yet, if you dignify yourself to attempt this exercise with appropriateness, you will receive an appropriate response. I will erase inappropriate replies.

As thought fodder, I will quote a combination of two passages by the Jewish linguist and political analyst Chomsky. In these passages he presents the Israeli-Zionist perspective in a nutshell. Consider his approach a model. One does not need to justify every point—just give a paragraph or two.

Israelis may content that one cannot balance the simple desire to live in peace in the state established by decision of the United Nations against the demands of those who resort to violence and terror and who threaten the very existence of Israeli society (11).

The Zionist case relies on the aspirations of a people who suffered two millennia of exile and savage persecution culminating in the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history, on the natural belief that a normal human existence will be possible only in a national home in the land to which they had never lost their ties, and on the extraordinary creativity and courage of those who made the desert bloom (46).

Chomsky, Noam. Middle east illusions. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group: Maryland, 2003.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Palestine: The Effects of Israeli Occupation on the Environment in the West Bank and Gaza

by Sara B.

The least common denominator to humanity is the Earth--the sensitive biosphere on which we are all dependent. The foundational fact is: "we all need a fitted space for the basics--the one great element of 'democracy' in life, a kind of first equality" (Rasmussen 91). All of us that make-up the human entity hold the rights to productive land, a hospitable atmosphere, and safe water (Rasmussen 91). When these boundaries are crossed, and earth inhabitants are denied one or more of these rights, the consequences can be lethal. Because these vital elements comprise what is needed for human survival, to threaten one or more of these elements can cause a nation or community to collapse. Sadly, when oppression or colonization is committed by one sector of humanity against another, the confiscation of these basic needs is one of the main tools used to dominate. The lack of environmental justice in such arenas mirrors environmental apartheid and still is prevalent in our world today. One such example of this is Israel/Palestine. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has systematized an agenda for environmental control in effort to stifle the growth and development of a first nation people, the Arabs. The illegal Occupation of these areas has resulted in an extensive eco-crisis. Israeli occupied policy has resulted in water mis-allocation, agricultural degradation, and the fractured regime of solid waste management in the OPT.

Water can be described as Earth's lifeblood, a material good and a spiritual good that provides life and sustenance for all creatures, and enriches the landscapes of our Earth community (Hart 79). Therefore, when a government removes water from the common domain or reserves water for a specific people or it's own purposes, and allocates or withholds water to control people they are preventing part of God's world from fulfilling its purpose in the web of creation (Hart 80). For more than 55 years, this has been a great source of conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Although the region does possess naturally arid conditions, it's water crisis is primarily due to maldistribution of water imposed by Israel. Presently, Israel consumes more than 80 percent of Palestinian ground water and denies Palestinian access to the water resources of the Jordan river (Isaac). A brief analysis into the situation can shed further light onto the crisis.

The Levant region shares two main water sources: the first is the Mountain Aquifer in the south. This aquifer extends from the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley on the east to the eastern border of the coastal strip on the west (B'Tselem "The Water Crisis"). This source is fed by ground water from rain and flows eastward where it is drawn by wells. This source supplies approximately "one-quarter of the water needs of Israel and Israel settlements and almost all the running water that Palestinians in the West bank receive" (B'Tselem "The Water Crisis"). The second source of water is the upper Jordan River. The Jordan river runs along the west border of Palestine, and supplies roughly one-third of Israel's water needs, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Palestinians do not receive any water from this source. This is the only source of surface water in the region, and yet Palestinians have been denied this resource which occurs on their own land. This leaves the Mountain Aquifer as the only water resource for the West Bank Palestinians.

The brute facts ubiquitously state that Israel takes 80 percent of the water extracted from the West Bank. This arrangement of conditions first began in 1967, after the Six Day-June War when Israel determined all water to be property of Israel. To the present day, according to Israeli military order, it is forbidden for people to fix wells , or to build new ones without receiving Israeli permission. Obtaining this permit entails a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic process which often yields little positive result. B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, notes that the vast majority of applications submitted under occupation are denied. The few well permits that were granted were solely for domestic use, and "were less than the number of wells that, after 1967, had ceased to be used to improper maintenance or because they dried up" ("The Water Crisis"). On the other side of the fence, Israelis are living in seemingly tropical paradises. Their subdivision- type illegal settlements are luxuriously supplied with lush gardens and refreshing swimming pools. There is little to no concern about water use or preservation. American-Jewish settlers can be enjoying a watered lawn while Palestinians a few kilometers away wait up to weeks for piped water during the dry summer months. The skyline in the OPT is laden with homes are a-mast with water collection and storage devises to capture and preserve the scarce Middle Eastern rain water. This blatant lack of Eco-justice is not only de-humanizing, but also against international law (see Hague Regulations {1907}, and Forth Geneva Convention {1949}on the natural resources and occupied territories).

During the Oslo accords, water was mentioned as a "major issue", and was brought up again in September of 1995 at the Taba Agreements (also known as Oslo II) as one of the issues to be addressed in "final status" negotiations. As to date, these "negotiations" have not yet taken place. Meanwhile, Israel continues to use four times as much water as the average Palestinian, and the Israeli settler consumes 7 times as much water as a Arab OPT resident (Isaac "Water and Palestine-Israeli Peace Negotiations"). The allocations for water that were stated in Oslo II were not to be permanent, as they did not take into consideration population growth, or make allowances for industrial and agricultural development. The water that Palestinians are allocated are often times far from the World Health Organization standards. In fact, only 10% of the drinking water meets these standards. This is especially true in the Gaza Strip.

Much of the water in the Levant has recently become under corporate management and distribution and allocation. Mekorot, an Israeli company, has privatized much of the water from the two primary sources. Mekorot has severely reduced the supply of water to the Gaza Strip since the year 2000, and in doing so has breached the stipulations of the Oslo agreements. Also in Gaza, as recently as the summer of 2006, several major drinking water and sewage pipelines were hit by the Israel Defense Forces in clashes in Gaza, leaving Gaza residents and Palestinians in the West Bank the most water-deprived people in the entire region; indeed one of the most deprived in the world" (Chomsky 174). In further robbery, Israel plans to take the West Bank's largest quarry to dispose of trash acquired in Israel, depriving Palestinians of its use and jeopardizing the remaining Palestinian water resources (Chomsky 174). Such an approach on behalf of Israel is neither acceptable nor sustainable.

Another severing aspect of the occupation against the environment and population of the OPT is that of solid waste management, or the lack thereof. The Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Program has estimated that in 2001 approximately 1.1 million tons of solid waste were generated in Palestine ("Solid Waste Management Centre-Palestine Authority"). The average Palestinian produces around .4-1.2 kg/day of solid waste (PCBS 2006). This is in stark contrast to individuals living in Israel, who average 2.04 kg/day of solid waste. Those Israeli's who inhabit the illegal settlements scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza average 2.21 kg/day/person of solid waste (United Nations Environmental Program, 2003). To make matters worse, around 80% of the solid waste generated by Israeli settlements is dumped in sites throughout the West Bank.

It is estimated that the waste management systems have left large areas of towns and villages without disposal services for their solid waste (roughly 25% of the population). In 2005, 166 localities within the West Bank alone had no solid waste collection services at all (Palestine Central Bureau of Statics {PCBS} 2005). The waste that is collected is managed through land disposal, or trash dumps. In central Gaza, there has been some donor funded landfills which contain synthetic liner and leachate collection system to help prevent the potential pollution to ground water. Much of the time, however, in both the West Bank and Gaza, the solid waste disposal program is left unattended to. The streets of Palestine are heavily littered with trash. Many of their parks have lost their pristine appeal as they are littered with garage. Many residents burn their trash; producing unsafe amounts of acidifying and greenhouse gases. This type of air pollution is associated with various health issues in Palestine, including respiratory diseases and mortality ("Solid Waste Managament").

The cause for the lack of proper solid waste management can be attributed to many factors. The following list was composed by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ):

....the continuing fiscal crisis, due to Israel's withholding of Palestinian tax revenues and the boycott on international aid; the lack of infrastructure for solid waste disposal, including sanitary landfills and recycling facilities; the physical damage caused to infrastructure and equipment by armed conflict; the lack of public awareness on how to properly dispose of solid waste and the need for doing so; the weak and under funded environmental institutions on the national level; and the continual interruption of public civil services, by the Israeli Occupation, especially with respect to the constant military incursions, the Segregation Wall, and Israeli settlements ("Solid Waste Management" 1).
As population levels increase in the OPT these methods will be a continuing threat to the public health of the region and the environmental status. Furthermore, this method is ultimately unsustainable. Efforts from various foreign governments, local and foreign NGO's, various organs of the United Nations etc have attempted to improve the civil infrastructure and educate the population on waste control and management. However, the realities of the Israeli Occupation have stifled these efforts by preventing any prospect of steady, across-the-board improvement ("Solid Waste Management"-ARIJ).

The Palestinian agricultural sector also suffers from destruction and distortion resulting from Israeli systematic policies. In its agenda to fully control all economic resources in Palestine, the agricultural sector has been targeted the hardest of all by these policies. Agriculturel contributed to 45% of the GDP in the 1970's, but since the occupation as declined to a mere 7% in 2006 (PARC 2007). This is equivalent to 1.4 billion US dollars in net loss. Proved to be the most appropriate sector for dealing with emergencies that erupt in light of the political situation, the unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to food as a result of the Israeli Occupation practices have emerged as priority problems for the OPT societies ("Palestinian Agricultural Sector" ARIJ).

The most contributing factor to the instability of the agricultural livelihood in the OPT is the building of the Separation Barrier in the West Bank. As the building of this enormous wall continues, farmers are denied access to their lands and markets because of checkpoints and Israeli controls roadblocks. This steep increase in travel times makes the transportation of good s much more arduous, frequently resulting in spoiled produce. In addition to the restriction of movement, the Israeli Segregation Wall and networks of Israeli-only "by-pass" roads has effectively annexed important agricultural as well as water resource areas ("Palestine Agricultural Sector "ARIJ). The Separation Wall cuts in and out of farmers land, systematically designed to leave farmers hopeless, landless, crop less, and left to the scruples of Israeli legislation. Much of the land confiscated by the Wall is used to build illegal Israeli settlements, to dispose of sewage, dispose of solid waste and claim more "Jewish" land. In addition, thousands of essential olive trees (quite possibly the staple component to Palestinian agricultural society and economy) have been, and continue to be uprooted to clear space for the 9 meter high concrete wall. The cultivation of olive trees comprises 25% of the total value of agricultural production, but Israeli restrictions on water consumptions, land use, and export "force farmers to limit their produce to the crops which bear a high return, destined for the international market, such as strawberries and flowers" (Palestine and Palestinians 55). Of the 277 olives presses in the OPT, only 215 are operating; as a result of the declining economic situation, 62 olive presses are temporarily closed (Palestine and Palestinians 19). Also, since the election of Hamas in 2006, the international community has decreased the level of funding for developmental projects in the OPT, and accordingly, the agricultural sector continues to severely suffer ("Palestinian Agricultural Sector"-ARIJ).

The distribution of water as mentioned above also heavily effects the agriculture of Palestine. Agriculture in both Gaza and the West Bank is irrigated and extensively rain-fed. In the West Bank, rain-fed farming is the agricultural norm, as there is not adequate water to irrigate. However, the occupiers on the other side of the Wall irrigate over 10 times the area as Palestinians. Rain-fed farming in the West Bank has nearly collapsed in recent years by the mal-distribution of water, as well as the recent years droughts (Isaac "The Palestinian Water Crisis" 1999). The millions of dollars in net loss have been devastating to the Palestinian agricultural economy.

This brief assessment into the environmental crisis in Palestine can in no way do justice to the stark reality of the Israeli Occupation to Palestine life, economy and sustainability. however, despite Israel's consistent development of policies and systems to maintain complete control of the region, efforts can be made to help revive the earth commons of the Palestinian territories. Organizations such as the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee, Palestinian Fair-Trade Organization, Palestinian Wildlife Society, and other domestic and international NPO's are making slow progress in helping implement systems of sustainability. What is truly needed is autonomy for Palestine, as most of it's current environmental concerns arise from attempting to operate between the jaws of an aggressive oppressing state. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem states: "Environmental sovereignty will be a significant aspect regarding the OPT's capacity for sustainable development" ("Sustainable Development in the OPT"). Therefore, sufficient natural resources are a right not only to all human beings, but also vital to the future of Palestine and it's inhabitants. In denying first nation people's of these rights, Israel is disrupting the life blood flow through the universe, and proving to view the Palestinians and their environment as a collection of objects (to be manipulated and controlled to benefit the Jewish people) rather than a communion of subjects (whose traditions, purposes, and beings must be respected and admired) (Berry 17). An alteration of ego and mentality must take place in the minds and lives on those who are perpetuating the polices of Israel, those both in and outside the country. As spiritual beings, and environmentally concerned earth inhabitants, persons of the West can speak up against this brand of oppression and plead for their own governments to view the community of Earth as a comprehensive community in which all living and nonliving components of the planet should be intimate with one another (Berry 141). By stressing the oikos of the planet, and seeking out the organic and communitarian nature of all beings, the living and nonliving OPT dwellers can be liberated. (Rasmussen 91).

Works Cited

Attaya, Nitham. Agriculture is a Key Pillar in the Palestinian Economy. Palestinian Agricultural Relief Commttee. Beit Hanina, 2007. 17 July 2007,

Berry, Thomas. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Fransisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006.

"Capacity for Sustainable Development." The Status of the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 02 May 2007. Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem. 12 July 2007,

Chomsky, Noam. Failed States: the Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. New York: Owl Books, 2006.

Geopolitical Conditions in Bethlehem Governorate. Applied Research Institute- Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Applied Research Institute, 2005.

Hart, John. Sacramental Commons. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2006.

Impact of Occupation and Globalization on the Agricultural Sector in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinian Agricultural Association. Ramallah, Palestine, 2007. 17 July 2007,

Isaac, Jad. "The Palestinian Water Crisis." Information Brief 18 Aug. 1999. 12 July 2007,

Isaac, Jad. "Water and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations." Information Brief 18 Aug. 1999.14 July 2007,

"Palestinian Agricultural Sector." The Status of the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 02 Mar. 2007. Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem. 12 July 2007,

Palestine and Palestinians. Beit Sahour, Palestine: Alternative Tourism Group, 2005.

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statics (PCBS). 15 July 2007,

Rasmussen, Larry L. Earth Community Earth Ethics. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1996.

"Solid Waste Management." The Status of the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 02 May 2007. Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem. 12 July 2007,

"Solid Waste Management Centre-Palestine Authority." Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Program. 19 Jan. 2007. 14 July 2007, http://www.metap-

"The Water Crisis." International Law on Water. 10 July 2007,

United Nations Environmental Programme. 15 July 2007,

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 5: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1d

In Genesis 1:6-7 the function of the firmament-rakia is identified as to separate “the waters from the waters.” This separation of the waters alludes to the ancient Near Eastern perception of a vast ocean beyond the dome of the heavens. Etiologically, this dome was created through the combat-derived hegemony of the hero-architect (e.g, Marduk in Enuma Elish and Elohim in Genesis 1) and represented the victory of order over chaos. The firmament-rakia of Genesis 1 also functions to separate the watery chaos from created order. Further, rather than beginning with the Judeo-Christian teaching of creation ex nihilio, Genesis 1 begins with the assumption of primordial chaos.

Marks (1971) defines the firmament-rakia of Genesis 1 as follows:

"A translucent dome, like an inverted basin, placed 'in the midst of the waters'
[defining] the spatial boundaries of God's work...The solid 'hammered-out'
firmament restrains 'the waters' of chaos from above and receives its blue color
from them. 'Heaven' is therefore the upper protected limit of created

As indicated in the above statement, the firmament-rakia is a solid dome. It restrains the outside chaos and is positioned “in the midst of the waters.” Unique to Marks is the suggestion that the firmament-rakia receives its blue color from the heavenly ocean. This point is not essential to the Genesis 1 model of the firmament-rakia, but does appear to be consistent with what will be observed in passages drawn later from Ezekiel and Revelation.

In an Evangelical commentary produced by the publishing arm of the Navigators, the following insights are given:

“…the expanse (sometimes called “the firmament”) set up in day two is the
regulator of climate. The ancient Near Eastern cultures viewed the cosmos
as featuring a three-tiered structure consisting of the heavens, the earth and
the underworld. Climate originated from the heavens, and the
[firmament-rakia] was seen as the mechanism that regulated moisture and
sunlight. Though in the ancient world the [firmament-rakia] was generally
viewed as more solid than we would understand it today, it is not the physical
composition that is important but the function. In the Babylonian creation
epic, Enuma Elish, the goddess representing this cosmic ocean, Tiamat, is
divided in half by Marduk to make the waters above and the waters below”
(Walton, Matthews, & Chavalas, 2000).

The Navigators generally support a concordist view of Genesis 1. Condordist models attempt to make Genesis 1 agree with science through such mechanism as day-age creationism. Out of step with the conventional Navigator condordism, the approach exhibited in this commentary is refreshingly scholarly and honest as it seeks to set the pericope against the ancient Near Eastern context.

Though slightly obfuscating the significance of the Genesis 1 model of the cosmos, the commentators do note that the firmament-rakia was viewed as “more solid than we would understand it today.” The commentators also note the cultural dependency of the narrative on Enuma Elish and other such mythological cosmologies.

The final reference to firmament-rakia in Genesis 1 is found in verse twenty. This verse has been used in its English translation as evidence that the firmament-rakia is an “expanse” or a non-solid construct such as the atmosphere or space itself. This verse reads:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים--יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם, שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה; וְעוֹף
יְעוֹפֵף עַל-הָאָרֶץ, עַל-פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם.

And spoke
Elohim, Let swarm the waters, swarming [with] living souls, and flier let lfy
above the land, upon the face of the firmament-rakia of the heavens

My translation above differs slightly from that found in several common versions. Most modern English versions read, “…in the open expanse of the heavens.” This translation has been used to justify the reading that the firmament-rakia is not a solid but rather the atmosphere. Hugh Ross and Norman Geisler both argue for such a reading.

The Hebrew literally reads, “…upon the face of the firmament of the heavens.” The picture created is that of a firmament that stands outside of the venue that fowl fly in. This venue is obviously the atmosphere. By implication then one concludes that beyond the atmosphere stands the firmament. The word translated “open” by many modern versions is Hebrew “panay” which literally means “face.” Hence, the passages reads, “upon the face of the firmament-rakia of the heavens.”

This post concludes the Genesis 1 creation narrative. Following posts will address allusions to the firmament-rakia in the Deluge narratives and in other Pentateuchal pericopes.

Marks, J. "The Book of Genesis." Part of Charles Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press: 1971.

Walton, J., Matthews, V., Chavalas, M. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove: 2000.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Methodological Naturalism

Methodological Naturalism

by Sara B.
December, 2005

In coming to understand the world which surrounds and encompasses us as human beings, we have been able to test certain occurrences within the physical universe and come to understand them in their predictability and testability. In its original denotations this study is known as “science” and consists of testing hypotheses and organizing the data's results to understand regularities and laws within the physical universe. Science, in it's connotation however, has come to contain a wide range of meanings and substructures, including those things which cannot be empirically verified. Of these include studies such as theology and philosophy. Scientist claim that such studies are outside the range of empirically verifiable evidence and therefore should not be considered “science”. However many philosophers, and more prominently theologians, have tackled this argument and asserted that their worldviews are compatible with science studies and should be allowed within the frameworks of science. They reject the notion of methodological naturalism (MN) and the limitations they feel it holds.

MN's basic tenets assume that the methodology of natural science can only be based on evidence to which is empirically verifiable. The goal of science is to explain “the contingent natural phenomena strictly in forms of other contingent natural phenomena” (Moreland, Reynolds “On Creation and Evolution” 19). The scientific item in question must be empirically qualified or falsified by reference to natural law and employ measurable factors by which predictions prove to be repeatable and fruitful in guiding future research. This is not to say that one must be atheistic to do science, but rather that they cannot infer into their hypotheses an element of supernatural force. This method of conducting science must not be confused with metaphysical naturalism, which states that natural forces are all that exist. The theist then may conduct science within the methods ascribed by MN as long as he or she realizes this tool provides only partial truths (Haarsma, 78). They believe that all authentic science corresponds to God's activity in the world without embracing metaphysical naturalism. One can take scientific methodology without its naturalistic philosophies and call it “MN”. Michael Ruses' definition of MN states: “The methodological naturalist is the person who assumes that the world runs according to unbroken law; that humans can understand the world in terms of this law; and that science involves just such understanding without any reference to extra or supernatural forces like God. Whether there are such forces or beings is another matter and entirely and simply not addressed by methodological naturalism”(Ruse, 364.)

MN is not able to explain (yet) all physical events in the world and this is where theists believe this method of conducting science falls short. Because there are such phenomena (such as origins of the universe) which may never be explained by science theists believe it is scientifically okay to assume God's miraculous activity. Paul Nelson and J.M Reynolds state that “to the practicing Christian scientist the limitation of scientific descriptively to natural categories is not at all the necessary result of an atheistic worldview by simply a choice to make it possible for science to be a well-defied and reliable albeit limited activity” (Nelson, Reynolds, 262).

Opponents to MN must plead their case and supply support in order to gain credibility within the scientific world. Alvin Plantinga, possibly Americas most prominent philosopher of religion, in comparing creationism with evolution suggests that if theists adapt an attitude such that an acceptable hypothesis consists only of the laws of science, than by far the most probable of the scientific hypotheses for the make up of the universe is evolution (Plantinga, 137). The theists' use of MN leads to this conclusions for two basic reasons: 1) we don't know how it all happened and 2) it involves confusions between claim that all this “scientific acceptable hypotheses leave common ancestry as the most probable explanation” (Plantinga 138). Although it would be best if a proposition in question proves to be empirically verifiable, we cannot limit ourselves to it simply because some developed standpoint of naturalism assumes it so. Theists must choose the hypothesis which is best overall. Plantinga continues his argument in asserting that the Christian theist is not limited to that which has some scientific evidence, unlike the naturalist. We know the creation is from the Lord, and we aren't held down to a priori dogmas as to how the Lord did it (Plantinga, 138-139). Accordingly, Plantinga suggests scientists and other academics need to utilize both cultural criticism and Christian science (Plantinga, 141). Further, Plantinga even seems to question of whether natural laws even exists. Consider the following statement: “There are regularities, of course, but a regularity is not yet a law; a law is what is supposed to explain and ground a regularity. Furthermore, a law is supposed to hold with some kinds of necessity typically thought to be less stringent than broadly logical necessity, but necessity nonetheless.” (Plantinga, 146). Whether conventional science is satisfactory or not, the study should be open to something broader. Something which allows for the intervention of God, as we might call “miraculous”. To limit theistic science to theories of MN makes the theist seem as if he is moving in a path of desperation. He does, however, criticize the use of the God-of-the-Gaps theory, since he believes God is consistently involved in creation and in complete governance of it. God does not need to intervene now and then, but rather has a constant presence within it. Therefore, “...the right way for the Christian community to attain scientific understanding” includes that which we know by way of faith (Plantinga, 341).

Michael Ruse is one of Plantinga's main opposer's. His article in I.D. Creationist and it's Critics entitled “Methodological Naturalism under Attack”is a rebuttal to many of the criticisms of Plantinga. For starters, Ruse provides the following definitions to science: “...what we mean by the word 'science' in general usage is something that does not make reference to God and so forth, but which is marked by methodological naturalism. To associate evolution, for example, to an atheistic philosophy is a mistake of many theistic scientists. He believes in order for something to be truly scientific it must follow these guidelines (Ruse, 296-301 {1996}):

  1. Scientific explanation “relies exclusively on blind, undirected natural laws and naturalistic process.”

  2. “A scientific explanation may try to explain how one phenomenon follows in a right and definite way, as a result of the working of natural law.”

  3. Conclusions of science must be testable

  4. Conclusions of science must be tentative.

Ruse does not propose the there isn't presuppositions within the realms of scientific study, he does hold firm to the belief that we should do our best to work outside of our presuppositions, whether they be atheistic or theistically grounded. He states “...the scientist may or may not have very strong theological views, which one may or may not share. But inasmuch as one is going to the scientist for science, theology can and must be ruled out as irrelevant (Ruse, 366 {2001}). Plantinga does make reference to the what he believes are inadequacies of the evolutionary theory. But he obviously, as Ruse believes, has made up his mind of the issue prior to starting the investigation. Plantinga might use arguments against the atheistic scientist claiming they begin with a presupposition which effects the outcome, however he himself is guilty of the same accusation. Ruse claims that Plantinga uses a similar type of attack to MN in areas of study such as paleontology, systematics, animal instinct, and embryology. However, his argumentation against the scientific outcomes of such things are very similar to his own.

Some may claim, as does Plantinga, that not all science appears to be “repeatable” and therefore cannot be considered a “law” or “regularity”. Therefore, MN should be abandoned as an adequate form of testing hypotheses. However, in using the example of the extinction of dinosaurs, Ruse admits that it may not be a repeatable phenomena, but the various components involved in the extinction may be brought beneath regularity. Things such as the death of plants (Ruse, 368, {2001}).

In conclusion of Ruse's claims and propositions of MN we must note that he does admit that “methodological naturalism does not succeed in doing everything that it sets out to do. It may be that it never will. But to assume that there are going to be 'science stoppers', and that this should lead one to pull back from a commitment of methodological naturalism is to reveal that one has another agenda” (Ruse, 381 {2001}). Plantinga is committed to a tight and extreme literal interpretation of the Bible, and refuses to allow scientific evidences to challenge his interpretations of such things. It is made obvious that Plantinga's agenda is that of Christianity, and unfortunately this may have caused him to be ignorant to current works of science . Although proved right by empirically scientific theories Plantinga does not give these scientists and their conclusions the credit they deserve (Ruse, 382 {2001}).

Loren Haarsma in his article “Does Science Exclude God?” states that although God can and does intervene in nature, it usually works in consistent ways. However, since the factors which brought on the scientific revolution are still debated “neither atheists nor Christians should claim to 'own' the scientific method” (Haarsma, 80). People of various faiths may disagree in regards to philosophical beliefs about God and nature however by working side-by-side they can reach some consensus on scientific questions.

Haarsma, again referring to the usual consistency within nature, asks how then should the Christian conduct science outside the boundaries of MN? In regards to an unusual event, science cannot seem to either prove nor disprove the superseding of the law effected (Haarsma, 84). Science, although not able to scientifically explain a cause for some events, puts the situation into one of two categories: “unexplained” or “partially explained”. Yet, events which fall into these categories are able to change as new empirical methods are developed. However, there are some events which are known to have happened and have no scientific explanation. The Christian theist then can reasonably assume that God is able to supersede natural laws, and does in fact do so, which results in a certain event to be “unexplained” within the framework of scientific empiricalism. However, Haarsma does not believe a lack of evidence necessarily means the Christian should embrace it as a potential cause for a miracle but opens the possibility of it being so. Scientific proofs can be just as glorifying as, and more helpful theologically, as assuming God's supernatural intervention (Haarsma, 94).

In Science Held Hostage Howard Van Till, Young, and Menninga provide two main questions lying outside the realm of MN. First, although science can account for the various structures of the physical world it is not able to deal with the question of origins (Van Till “Science Held Hostage” 20). We are able to deal with events which occur within time, but natural science is unable to account for those things which concern the very existence of time. Those who adapt MN are left with no choice but to remain silent on the issue. Secondly, although natural science can investigate the behavior of physical things, it cannot answer the question concerning its governance. “The question of governance cannot be answered by describing patterns of behavior” (Van Till, “Science Held Hostage” 23). Following a MN approach to science would inhibit the naturalist from making a distinction between an autonomous or a theonomous perspective on the governance of physical behavior. Therefore the authors suggest that MN is intelligible with resident inside of the physical universe but unintelligible to describe the relationship between the physical universe and the transcendent realm (Van Till “Science Held Hostage” 25). Van Till attempts to make an appropriate balance between Christian faithfulness and intellectual integrity. He states that “neither natural science nor Christian theology can claim to deal comprehensively with all aspects of reality, and neither can claim that their theories capture the fullness of the reality they seek to represent.” (Van Till, 173 {1999}). He admits that theology is concerned with God and His relation to creation, contemporary natural science focuses on the natural world and how its developed properties and capabilities behave over time. Likewise, to force science to explain questions about divine action is exaggerating the competence of natural science. He feels, like Ruse, that for theology to assume its competence to speak on different properties and systems within formational history is an inaccuracy (Van Till, 174 {1999}). To summarize his views on MN, Van Till suggests that the theist should ask questions about the natural sciences and slowly move into questions which force a person to look outside of science for the answer. Therefore, science is not forced to assume any sort of presuppositions, neither is theology impeding on scientific facts nor pressing on the walls of it's structure.

J.P Moreland also acts as a strong critic against MN and the claims that it is necessary for a study of natural science (NS). Some claim that NS limits science to physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy and related fields. Theistic science is than considered faulty and seen as an unfruitful research program. Moreland believes that any view of science which is limited in this way should be abandoned. He seeks to undercut the advocates of this “hands-off” view of science which is proposed be individuals, such as Van Till, and wishes attack their arguments (Moreland, 42 {1994}). He believes that such claims to “science reduce physical object statements about actual or possible sense data which turn out to be private metal entities” (Moreland, 50 {1994}). If this is true, the study of the existence of matter is not a necessity for the study of natural science. Likewise, Moreland attests that NS has a number of goals for scientific theory formulation: simplicity of theories, empirical accuracy, predictive successfulness, clarity and consistency, fruitfulness in future research and avoidance of certain explanatory devices. It is not limited to one goal which insists on MN. A realist and anti-realist may have different interpretations of these goals. The realists sees these epistemic virtues as true, whereas the anti-realist believes these virtues merely show the rationality and preservation of the phenomena. If the goal of NS is stated in realist terms then anti-realist statements of science become impossible. He believes that anti realist treatments of the goals are philosophies of science (Moreland, 49 {1994}).

Moreland concludes that trying to discredit theistic science based on the demarcation of criteria is not successful. Although these claims are not primarily scientific, they act as a philosophical left-hand giving input into science of which the scientist is not qualified (Moreland, 43 {1994}). Moreland agrees that the physical universe is an important study, but admits that not all of its aspects or qualities are within the realm of scientific inquiry. Questions regarding transcendent issues (such as origins) are outside the domain of MN and NS. For thinkers such as Van Till than to abandon this fact is to deny the history of science.

What, than, does Moreland believe theology provides for the study of natural science? He believes it sheds light on scientific conclusions for the following four reasons:

  1. by providing rationally justified background beliefs against which rational assessment of a specific scientific theory can be made,

  2. yielding positive and negative result that can be tested,

  3. by recommending certain methodological rules over others, and

  4. by providing extrinsic goals of science and helping to justify intrinsic goals for science (Moreland, 56 {1994}).

In an assessment of these views proposed by creditable scholars, philosophers and scientists we can safely conclude that there consists an extreme plurality of thought about the proper methodologies as to which science must be subject to. Some believe, as we have seen that the limitations that science conducted strictly within MN. They hold that the natural scientists' assumption that theist science is fundamentally misguided is an improper attitude towards the integration of science and theology (Moreland, 42). An appropriate conclusions to their thoughts are provided in the words of John Stek:

Theology must take account of all that humanity comes to know about the world, and science must equally take account of all that we come to know about God. In fact, we cannot, without denying our being and vocation as stewards, pursue theology without brining to study all that we know about the world, nor can we, without denying our being and vocation as stewards, pursue science without brining to that study all that we know about God (Stek, 260-1).

On the other side of the spectrum are the theistic adherers to MN, namely that of Michael Ruse. His views, and those theistic scientists who follow MN as well, may be summarized in this following statement:

“...I am not prepared to accept that methodological naturalism is a philosophy opposed to theism. I see no reason at all to den the Christian access to methodological naturalism, saying that it is untenable for the Christian to insist that in our understanding of the natural world one employ only the methodologically naturalistic approach (Ruse, 383 {2001}).

The theistic scientists must decide where he or she stands on such issues, and be prepared to offer rebuttals to the opposing arguments. Ultimately, we should seek to find a balance between the two, without forsaking the goals of the other. Maybe Van Tills suggestions to science and theology contributing to the other is a proper goal to attempt to achieve. In any case, we should realize that the debate between the two will not cease until either science or God proves to be unmistakingly ungrounded and falls into utter ruin. We must wait to see which falls first.

Works Cited

Haarsma, Loren. “Does Science Exclude God? Natural Law, Chance, Miracles, and

Scientific Practice.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Ed. Keith B Miller.

Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2003.

Moreland, J.P. “Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism.” The Creation Hypothesis. Ed. J.P Moreland. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Moreland, J.P, John Mark Reynolds. Introduction. Three Views On Creation and Evolution. Ed. J.P Moreland, John Mark Reynolds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Nelson, Paul, John Mark Reynolds. “Young Earth Creationism.” Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Ed. J.P Moreland and John Mark Reynolds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Plantinga, Alvin. “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible.” I.D Creationism and It's Critics. Ed. Robert T. Pennock. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Plantinga, Alvin. Methodological naturalism. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49, no. 3, 1997.

Ruse, Michael. “Methodological Naturalism under Attack.” I.D. Creationism and It's Critics. Ed. Robert T. Pennock. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Ruse, Michael. But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1996.

Stek, John, “What Says the Scriptures?” in Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the Worlds Formation. Ed. H.J Van Till, R.E Snow, J.H Stek, and D.A Young. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999.

Van Till, Howard. “Theistic Evolution.” Three Views on Creation and Evolution. Ed. J.P Moreland, John Mark Reynolds. Grands Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

Van Till, Howard, David A. Young, Clarence Menninga. Science Held Hostage: What's Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 4: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1c

The opening verses of Genesis 1 parallel Enuma Elish in the following points: the existence of primordial waters (viz., no creation ex nihilio), the association of the primordial waters with chaos, the creation of order out of the aqueous chaos, and the bounding of the waters by the firmament-rakia. At this point it is evident that the composer of Genesis 1 completed this narrative against the backdrop of cosmogonies akin to Enuma Elish.

Genesis 1:14:17 reads:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם,
לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים,
וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים.
טו וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ
הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהָאִיר עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן.
טז וַיַּעַשׂ
אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל,
לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת
יז וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם,
לְהָאִיר, עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

14 And spoke Elohim, let there be lights in the firmament-rakia of the heavens to divide between the day and between the night. And let them be for signs, for seasons, for days, and for years. 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament-rakia of the heavens to light upon the earth—and it was so. 16 And made Elohim the two great lights—the great light to rule the day; the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And gave to them Elohim, in the firmament-rakia of the heavens, to light upon the earth.

Further evidence of the ontologically polemical objective of this narrative is the nomenclature used to designate the sun and the moon. Instead of using the common Semitic and biblical terms “shemesh” (sun) and “yareakh” (moon), the author uses the generic germs “greater light” and “lesser light.” The more common designations were in vogue as appellations for pagan deities. This circumlocution establishes an obvious referent for the modern-day reader. This referent is the context of Israelite monolatry and ancient near-Eastern cosmology. Thus the reader will understand that the text speaks to ancient (most likely post-6th century exilic) exigencies and not to questions that the modern-reader burdens the text with (e.g., the “Prank medium”, vapor canopies, white holes, creationism, etc.).

It has been suggested that vaulted-heavens model of the firmament-rakia creates an internal contradiction in Genesis 1. The argument poses that the “mobility” (apparent or otherwise) of the sun, moon, and stars in the “firmament of the heavens” necessitates that the firmament-rakia is a non-solid or gaseous substance (or lack of substance). If the text posits a solid vault, then, the reasoning goes, the heavenly bodies would not be able to orbit.

The text above states that the “lights” are placed “in the firmament-rakia.” The preposition “in” is a judicious translation of the Hebrew preposition. It would have been obvious to the ancient reader that the heavenly lights were placed in as in “on the face of” or “inside” the firmament-rakia. The ancient reader would not have perceived a contradiction in this passage; rather, she would have envisioned (as the ancients did) a solid vault into which the heavenly bodies were fixed.

The modern reader may envision an internal contradiction in this passage only because she is reading the text with her biases present. She is aware that there is not a solid vault over the Earth and that the sun, moon, and stars are suspended in the fabric of gravitational relationships. When reading this passage against an appropriate context (sitz im leben) the reader understands that the heavenly lights are fixed into the solid firmament-rakia. In the ancient cosmologies, the firmament-rakia itself orbits the earth.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 3: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1b

An essential aspect of exegesis is recognition of a text’s sitz im leben. Sitz im leben can be loosely defined as “context.” The term is German for “situation in life” or “life setting.” In exegetical endeavors the modern reader of ancient texts is apt to read modern-day questions, issues, perspectives, etc. into the text. A reading that retrojects modern-day exigencies into an ancient text is eisegesis—interpretation reflective of the reader’s own ideas or biases rather than true to the authentic reading of the text. Eisegetical readings abuse texts by stealing or covering up the meanings most authentic to an ancient text.

Disciplined consideration for a text’s sitz im leben is one means through which the modern-day reader can avoid abusing the text. Attempts to construct scientific ideas on the basis of Genesis 1 are certainly eisegetical abuses. Such uses of Genesis exhibit little or no consideration for its sitz im leben and hence for how the ancient Hebrew reader would have understood the text. Additionally, through eisegetical excess, such scientific ideas are not based on the text itself; rather, they are based on a select, idiosyncratic, highly-contingent *interpretation* of the text. Through jettisoning an authentic sitz im leben, such readings are guilty of eisegesis.

Genesis 1 is composed in the rhetoric of soft polemical diatribe. It is written against the backdrop of antecedent polytheistic cosmogonies. The exigency of the composer was not that of 21st century Creationism in any of its flavors. Rather, the composer sought to provide a morally and religiously monotheistic, non-idolatrous reworking of existing myths for the desired goal of religious purity and functional etiology. To posit any other goal is to eisegetically abuse the text in the interest of modern exigencies.

Genesis 1:6-8

ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם.
ז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן.
ח וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ, שָׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שֵׁנִי.

6 And spoke Elohim, let there be firmament-rakia in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.
7 And made Elohim the firmament-rakia to divide between the waters from below the firmmanet-rakia and between the waters which [were] from above the firmmanet-rakia—and it was so.
8 And called Elohim to the firmament-rakia, “heavens.” And there was evening and there was breaking, day two.

The reader will recall that the ancient Sumerian-Babylonian cosmology, like that in Genesis 1, began with the victory of the hero-god over the waters of chaos depicted in the dragon Tiamat. The hero-god of the Sumerian-Babylonian cosmology divides the dragon of chaos in two. Each half is used to hold water-symbolic of primordial chaos-at bay. Likewise, in Genesis, Elohim gains victory over the primordial waters, no doubt through an unmentioned combat with the watery chaos dragon. Such a combat is not specifically mentioned in this text, though other biblical portraits of creation do depict such a combat. Consider Psalm 74:12-14 for an example:

"You divided the sea by your strength; by your power you cleaved the sea-monster in two, and broke the dragon's heads above the waters; you crushed the many-headed Leviathan…"

Through conspicuous refusal to mention the dragon deity (other than the reference to T’hom-Tiamat in vs. 2), the author of Genesis 1 realizes that the reader, in her sitz im leben, is more than likely familiar with antecedent cosmologies. As a result, the author assumes that the reader will inject her meanings into the hegemony that Elohim gains over the waters.

With new-found hegemony over the original aqueous chaos, Elohim divides the waters. In so dividing the waters, the text specifies the purpose for the firmament-rakia: to hold the waters (chaos) in place. The author identifies the localities of the waters: above the firmament-rakia and below the same. To the ancient reader the hegemony of Elohim over chaos is described through the construal of the firmament-rakia. This same reader understood the firmament-rakia as a solid structure that vaulted the observed heavens.

Verse eight identifies the firmament-rakia as heavens-shamayim. In so doing, the author and reader understand that the solid structure of the firmament-rakia is also called heavens-shamayim. It is unnecessary and eisegetical to read modern ideas of heavens as “open space” into this passage.

Pictoral Model of an Ancient Hebrew Concept of the Cosmos

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 2: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1a

The reader will notice that the term “biblical cosmology” is not used in the singular. The author finds that it is tenuous to assume that the biblical authors envisioned an identical model of the cosmos. Though the models of the cosmos found in the biblical texts contain commonalities, not every portrait is comprehensive. Some portraits focus on only one constituent of the cosmos while others reflect on a more complete construal. Hence, the author will focus on the explicit cosmological aspects of a given passage before addressing implicit connections.

For the reasons described above, the author has chosen to deal individually with texts that describe the cosmos. Though a systematic, biblical study could be done of “biblical cosmology” with fruitful results similar to those in this study, the author prefers to focus on each portrait individually. Patterns will emerge through systematic reflection on each portrait, and the author aspires to make connections so as to benefit the cognition of the reader.

The Genesis 1 creation narrative contains numerous convergences with pre-biblical Sumerian-Babylonian and Canaanite creation traditions. Some of these parallels are of the utmost importance as the exigency of Genesis 1 is likely found in these polytheistic creation myths. Genesis 1 is polemically directed to combat polytheistic cosmogonies through literary reworking and anesthetization of existing polytheistic creation myths.

Leeming (52) explains the Sumerian-Babylonian creation myth contained in Enuma Elish as the victory of order over chaos. In Enuma Elish, the hero-god Marduk combats the dragon goddess Tiamat who represents the chaotic waters of primordial existence. Marduk crushes Tiamat—dividing her dead body in half. Tiamat who was the dragon of primordial watery chaos becomes the vehicle to establish the separation of the chaotic waters. Part of her corpse was used to hold the chaotic waters above at bay while the other half is transformed into the terrestrial abode of humanity and the threshold against the waters below upon which the earth floats.

Contrary to popular assertions of creation ex nihilo, Genesis 1 follows the lead of the ancient cosmologies with the assumption pre-existent primordial water (Beltz, 35). Notice, at no point is there a specific creation of water in Genesis 1. Water is assumed to exist. The Hebrew T’hom (“without form”) of Genesis 1:2 linguistically and thematically correlates with the Sumerian-Babylonian Tiamat. Though sanitized of reference to gods and goddesses, Elohim in Genesis 1 combats the primordial, watery chaos to achieve victory. Creation itself is initiated through separating order out of chaos (darkness and water).

The first act of Elohim in the Genesis 1 creation myth is the separation of light from darkness. This act is followed on day two with the creation of the firmament (Hebrew rakia). The Hebrew word for “firmament” (rakia-- רָקִיעַ) is derived from the root raka. This root means to “spread out by beating” (BDB) or “to beat, stamp, beat out, spread out, stretch” (TWOT). It carries the idea of beating out a solid malleable material such as a metal.

Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) define rakia- רָקִיעַ(“firmament”) as follows:

…the firmament of heaven, spread out like a hemisphere above the earth (from the root [raka]), like a splendid and pellucid sapphire (Ex. 24:10, compare Dan. 12:3), to which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews believed there was a heavenly ocean (Gen. 1:17; 7:11; Ps. 104:3; 148:4…

When read against the backdrop of the ancient cosmologies and the literary-etymological etiology of the term rakia- רָקִיעַthe picture of the cosmos portrayed in Genesis 1 becomes a reciprocation of the pre-scientific cosmologies of the ancients—a flat earth with domed heavens.

The next post will develop build upon the Genesis 1 references to the firmament.

Beltz, Walter. God and the Gods: Myths of the Bible, trans. Peter Heinegg. Middlesex: Penguin, 1983.

Leeming, David. Jealous Gods, Chosen People: Mythology of the Middle East. New York: Oxford, 2004.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Biblical Cosmologies, part 1

Surah 2:22 of the Qur’an states,

[Your Lord]…Who made the earth a resting place for you and the heaven a structure…

This passage evidences the pre-scientific cosmology of the Qur’an. It envisions vaulted or domed heavens that consist of a solid structure. Such a picture of the cosmos is common amongst the ancients, and it is readily incorporated by the Qur’an and the biblical authors.

Oddly, if I were writing an article about the scientific absurdities of the Qur’an, most of my Christian readers would take little prodding to convince them of the idea that the Qur’an is lacking with regard to scientific realities. I do ask that my readers consider why it is that they are so willing to accept criticism about a book that nearly one billion religious adherents herald as the precious Word of God while they might be unwilling to countenance the idea that the Bible contains similar, if not more archaic, models of the cosmos.

In the next series of posts, I will develop several biblical portraits of the cosmos. It will become evident to the receptive reader that the biblical portraits of the cosmos are in disagreement and contradiction with the physical or material realities of the universe. How the incongruence between the Bible and science is understood by the reader is her own decision. I have taken this contradiction (and others) as grounds for rejecting the plenary inspiration of the Bible; however, I realize that there are educated, Evangelical [and Jewish] scholars who acknowledge such difficulties yet have developed exegetical paradigms by which to justify the biblical authors’ use of pre-scientific understandings. It must be noted that I have only encountered a handful of Evangelical scholars that are willing to deal with this difficulty. At the end of this series I hope to mention who they are and refer readers to their works about biblical cosmologies.

More as time permits…