RE: Accomodation (Was Re: Seely's Views 2)

From: Glenn Morton <>
Date: Mon Sep 06 2004 - 11:17:15 EDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From: George Murphy []
> Sent: Monday, September 06, 2004 8:40 AM
> To: Glenn Morton; 'Roger Olson';
> Subject: Accomodation (Was Re: Seely's Views 2)
> Glenn -
> No doubt you will be frustrated & perhaps annoyed by the
> fact that I'm not going to respond to your arguments about
> information theory in any detail. I'm sorry about that but I
> simply don't see that they do more but provide an analogy for
> your other arguments, & I'd rather address those arguments
> directly. I will comment on one of your statements from
> another post & hope that that will give a clearer idea of the
> reasons for my skepticism. I quote a whole paragraph of
> yours to indicate what I'm referring to but will address only
> the 1st sentence which makes a key (& I think mistaken) assumption:

I am a bit disappointed. Frankly I feel that this law of physics is
getting the silent treatment that my geology posts on TW get from the
YECs. So, yes, I am a bit disappointed. I fail to see how a proven law
of communication which is used daily by communication engineers
designing circuitry and which applies to all forms of
communication--electronic or not--doesn't apply to God's communication
to mankind. It seems a bit ad hoc to me.

Do you think Shannon's communication theory doesn't apply to physical
communication systems?

And as to whether or not communications theory is only an analogy to my
other arguments, I would say that I finally after years of looking have
found the physical basis for my other arguments. That theory applies
even if the communication channel is sound waves, writing or
electromagnetic waves in neurons.

>> "Suppose there are two possible cases for a Biblical passage,
>> true or false, and we are transmitting at a rate of 1000
>> passages per second with probabiltiies p0=p1=1/2. Thus our
>> source is producing information at the rate of 1000 bits per
>> second. During transmission the interpretation, exegesis etc,
>> all introduce errors so that, on the average, 1 in 100
>> passages is perceived incorrectly (a false statement as a
>> true statement or a true statement as a false statement).
>> What is the rate of transmission of information? Certainly
>> less than 1000 bits per second since about 1% of the received
>> passages are perceived incorrectly. Our first impulse might
>> be to say the rate is 990 passages per second, merely
>> subtracting the expected number of errors. This is not
>> satisfactory since it fails to take into account the recipient's
>> lack of knowledge of where the errors occur. We may carry it to an
>> extreme case and suppose the problems of interpretation and
>> exegesis is so great that the perceived truth of the
>> passages are entirely independent of the transmitted truth
>> values. The probability of perceiving a passage to be true is
>> whatever was the original truth value and similarly for
>> false statements. Then abut half of the received passages are
>> interpreted correctly due to chance alone, and we would be
>> giving the system credit for transmitting 500 passages per
>> second while actually no information is being transmitted at all."
> "Suppose there are two possible cases for a Biblical passage,
> true or false, ..." This seems to assume that we can take a
> text like Gen.1 apart into independent propositions which can
> each be evaluated as T or F - v1 T, v2 F, &c. But that's not
> what accomodation means. Verses 14-19 are true statements
> that God created the sun, moon & stars.

How do you know they are true statements? The fact is that you have to
assume that there is a god before you can then even ask the question of
whether or not He created the sun, moon and stars. If there is no God,
then obviously he didn't create them and then that statement is false.
The problem I see is that Tipler say, that theologians don't want
science impacting their domain. And this goes in all directions from
liberal to extreme conservative

Secondly, everyone has defined accommodation as God accommodating his
truth to the false beleifs of the culture he is influencing. Seely

        “It is then out of respect for the heart condition of those to
whom He spoke that God sometimes drew back from telling the absolute
truth. Rather than forcing upon men with culturally weakened moral or
intellectual capacities the unbearable light of pure truth. He
condescended to adjust His revelatory lesson to their mistaken views. He
gave them milk until they were ready for solid food (John 16:12; I
Corinthians 3:1,2; Galatians 3:23-4:7) and sometimes that milk was a
watered down compromise with the pure truth (Matthew 17:25-27; 19:8;
Acts 16:3).” Paul Seely, Inerrant Wisdom, (Portland: Evangelical Reform,
1989), p. 200

Now, this inserts a huge amount of noise at the source of the divine
transmission. (This is not some weak-kneed analogy George). If God
wants to get his truth across and he mixes it with falsehood, there is
no way that the communication theora don't apply. This is like having
static on the television transmitter rather than in the set.

And if we are not supposed to place truth values upon the statements of
God, what are we supposed to do with them? If I know that 30% of God's
statements are not really what he meant, there is nothing I can do to
figure out what god intended short of haviing him appear to me in a
dream. This is why Shannon says: "if the channel is noisy it is not in
general possible to reconstruct the original message or the transmitted
signal with certainty by any operation on the receved signal E." C. E.
Shannon, " A Mathematical theory of Communication" The Bell System
Technical Journal, 27(1948):3:379-423, p. 20 at

Accommodation leaves us unable to determine with certainty what God
intended. Everything about this set of theorems applies to the
God-to-man communication system.

Communication is about the movement of information. Information is a
physical. Information is not spiritual, mental or etherial. Information
is stored by arranging particles of matter.

"In a sense what David Deutsch had to say [on the Church-Turing]
principle] was related but perhaps not equivalent to the thing I keep
stressing, which is that information is a physical quantity. It's not an
abstract thing, it's not pat of theology, it's not part of philosophy.
Information is inevitably represented by real physical entities and is
therefore tied to the laws of physics." Julian Brown, Minds, Machines,
and the Multiverse, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), p. 116

Information processing and transmission requires the manipulation of
physical particles.

"Speaking at a conference on quantum computation held at the Royal
Society in London, Williams said that by then individual transistors on
chips will be turned on or off by as few as eight electrons, compared
with about 500 today." Julian Brown, Minds, Machines, and the
Multiverse, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), p. 30

See also Rolf Landauer, “Information is Physical,” Physics Today, May
1991, p. 24

All of this means that communication, be it from God be it from the
leprechaun next door or my wife, is ruled by the laws of communication.
Communication is the transfer of information from one point to another.
That fits what God is doing--transfering information from wherever he is
to wherever we are. You may not like the implications that communication
theory has for your position, but that is your problem. It clearly
applies, at least to the physical portions of God's communication.

 In the context of
> the whole account they are statements about the theological
> value of the heavenly bodies relative to humanity. Seen in
> the light of modern scientific knowledge, the placement of
> these verses in the whole account after the creation of the
> earth & vegetation is wrong if the account is read as a
> scientific report about the development of the universe. The
> truth of the text and the falsity, by modern scientific
> standards, of the worldview to which it's accomodated can't
> be taken apart as easily as you suggest.

We agree that if this is read as a temporal order of events at creation
it is wrong. That isn't the point. The point in all this discussion is
can we determine theological or historical truth, if God is transmitting
some percentages of falsehoods to accommodate his truth to the people.

According to Seely, the entire OT law is probably an accommodation:

"The people originally addressed in Leviticus 11 were steeped in the
ancient Near Eastern concept that some things were clean and others
unclean, and that to touch or eat the unclean was a sin. This was a
culturally enforced religio-ethical concept, and their minds were too
immature and too hardened in it ('their hearts were hardened') to
receive the absolute truth that nothing outside of man is really
unclean(Mark 7:15).
        "So, god met them where they were, compromised with their
immature view (their hardened hearts), and employed their false concept
to communicate the truth of His holiness and his command that they be
holy. He temporarily allowed their mistaken but ingrained viewpoint to
prevail over the absolute truth about the clean and the unclean in order
to communicate without hindrance the higher truth of His demand for
holiness." Paul Seely, Inerrant Wisdom, (Portland: Evangelical Reform,
1989), p. 201

I keep coming back to the unaswered question of what objective criteria
exists to tell us that all accommodation stopped with Jesus?

> > And I noticed George, that you didn't answer the questions
> I asked of
> > Don. Why is it that that list of questions simply is never
> answered?
> > We always go off on other tangets.
> This is the 1st time I've seen these questions. They were
> posed to Don I don't read every post on the list in detail.
> But I'm glad to deal with these now.


> Then to your questions:
> > 1. Why does accommodation only apply to JudeoChristianity?
> The question is only meaningful if one assumes that there
> are other religious texts besides the Bible which are genuine
> witnesses to divine revelation, & I see no reason to assume
> that. The primary criterion for any such claimant is whether
> or not it witnesses to Christ, & of course the vast majority
> of texts of other traditions don't. Those that do refer to
> Jesus - the Qur'an, The Book of Mormon &c - are either
> obviously dependent on the Bible and/or distort the biblical
> witness to the significance of Christ.

What you have done is limit the field of possible answers to the one you
prefer. I would say that it is begging the question to claim
automatically that the Qur'an and Book of Mormon distort the Bible when
according to Seely's view of accommodation, there appears to be no way
to rule out accommodation by Jesus and thus some of the things Jesus
said may need correcting. In that case, maybe the Qur'an and or the Book
of Mormon correct earlier accomodations to falsehood by Jesus.

> > 2. Why do we know that accomodational revelations have stopped?
> 1st we have to know whether or not revelation has
> stopped. Most protestants would say it has because the
> central revelational event has taken place and there are no
> more apostolic witnesses to it. No more revelation, no more
> accomodated revelation. If, for the sake of argument, there
> have been or will be further revelations then I see now
> reason why they might not be accomodated to the then-current
> state of knowledge in the culture to which they come. I'll
> leave it to any RCs or EOs who wish to to expand on their
> understanding of post-apostolic revelation.
> However, accomodation in communication of God's word
> hasn't stopped. Paul & I have given examples of such
> accomodation in (respectively) translation & preaching. You
> don't like them but that's your problem.

I am not sure to what you refer. If you mean that we put the Biblical
message into a modern situation, why would I not like that in a sermon.
Where did I ever say I didn't like that?

> And while later dogmatic statements of the church do not
> have the status of scripture, it's significant that they too
> are accomodated. Consider, e.g., the Nicene Creed's "he came
> down from heaven" or the use of the concepts of "nature" and
> "person" from Greek philosophy in the Definition of
> Chalcedon. (In the latter case one can't say that those
> concepts in themselves are "false" but use of them does mean
> that Christ is understood within a particular philosophical
> framework which is not, as we realize today, unique.)

The problem with all this is to further move us towards a position in
which we can't know God's truth. I would say that if we can't know
God's truth, then there is really no point to religion. The addition of
an immovable earth, Platonic idealism and Aristotelian physics to the
Biblical theology of the first millennia AD is an additional source of
communicational noise. This is noise at the receiver end. We have God
transmitting falsehoods and men adding things which were not transmitted
by God. How on earth is one to ever know truth. Doing it Don's way by
existentializing the faith leads me directly to think of Dora
Lazurkina's self delusion that she was communing with the deal Vladimir.
It would appear at the base of it all, there is no way to determine
theological truth. Is Jehovah compromising with those heart hearted
near-easterners or not? Is Jesus accommodating his message to the hard
hearts of the first century or not (don't see why their hearts should be
less hard than a bunch of neolithic farmers)? Is modern translation
accommodating their translations to the beliefs of today? Is the
preacher accommodating the truth he sees to the beliefs of his
congregants? Is communicating with dead Vladimirs or dead Jesus's
reality or self-delusion? And we tell people that if you come to Christ
you can know with certainty that you are a christian? Under these
circumstances, I would ask precisely how?

> > 3. How do I tell what is and isn't accommodation other than my
> > personal feelings of what is and isn't?
> a. By what they say about Christ.

And if they say something you don't like about Christ it is
accommodation and if they say something you like, it isn't? The
question is by whose standard do you judge this? Mine or yours?

> b. By comparison of one biblical text with another
> (e.g., Gen. 1 & 2).

Text A accommodates in one way and text B accommodates in another. How
do we tell which text is unaccommodated? You haven't explained anything
by either you’re a. or your b.

> c. From external evidence. (E.g., the sun & moon
> weren't created on the 4th day. The mustard seed isn't the smallest.)

This one explains something. If it violates observational data or
physical law. Why does that not apply when we consider the implications
of the noisy channel theorem to your view of accommodation? :-)

> > 4. Where in the Scripture (indeed any scripture from any religion)
> > does it say God accommodates? (Paul's examples in his book are not
> > satisfactory for me--the case of divorce)
> The fact that they aren't satisfactory to you doesn't
> invalidate them. But try Heb.1:1 & think of some of the
> "various ways" God communicated in the OT - like urim & thummim.

The reason they aren't satisfactory can be shown by something I wrote to
Paul privately yesterday:

>>>>One way I could attack your divorce example is by asking the
question whether or not divorce was frowned upon by the Roman-era Jews,
and maybe Jesus' statement is itself an accommodation. How would we
tell if Jesus' statement that divorce was granted only because of the
hardness of the Jews heart was itself an accommodation? Why is Jesus
exempted from accommodationalist tendencies? Is there an experiment we
can perform to tell whether Jesus or Jehovah is the accommodationalist?
This is a serious question Paul. This is what I meant from the other
day that you apply accommodation only where you want to let it be used
and ad hoc-ishly proclaim that it doesn't apply elsewhere with no
underlying cogent philosophy of when and where accommodation takes

Concerning the urim and thummim, see what we wrote in Morton, G. R. and
Gordon Simons, (2003). "Random Worms: Evidence of Random and Non-random
Processes in the Chromosomal Structure of Archaea, Bacteria and
Eukaryotes," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 55:3:175-184,
on page 176 in the section The Bible and Chance. So, your statement does
not come as a surprise to me nor does it shake the position I advocate.
The noisy channel theory is a real theory and the fact that you don't
like the implications is entirely your problem to deal with in your
theology. But it IS a major problem.

> > 5. What is truth and is it possible to attain it under this
> shifting
> > sand epistemology?
> Jn.14:6.

Dora Lazurkina!

> (Probably you know the hymn with the refrain
> "On Christ the solid rock I stand,
> All other ground is shifting sand.")

Dora again. Just because I or you firmly feel we know Christ, it doesn't
make it so. As I pointed out Ramanujan believed that a Hindu diety gave
him his mathematical insights. Only by ruling out all other examples of
this by fiat (which is a form of begging the question), can one stand
firm on the existential principle.

> > And the final question I asked was:
> >
> > 6. And why exactly should I then automatically assume that God's
> > intention was as you describe it? Just because I might be wrong
> > doesn't automaticaly make you correct. The whole thing might be
> > farce. This is another question I would like to see addressed and
> > actually answered.

> I didn't say that you should "automatically assume"
> anything. What I'm saying is that you should start from
> faith in Christ. When you read the Bible and are confronted
> with the kinds of issues you've described at length about the
> age of the earth, evolution, the flood &c, take seriously
> what the Incarnation suggests about God's way of communicating.

But that gets right back to the heart of the problem. How do I know
what Christ is communicating?, what he demands of me?, what his rules
are?, if he is always mixing his message with falsehoods? Is love your
enemy an accommodation to the Jews who wanted those nasty Romans to love
the Jews? Noisy channels can't communicate. Accommodation makes the
channel noisier than it already is on the receiver end of the circuit.
Received on Mon Sep 6 11:32:12 2004

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