Republication of the Covenant of Works

It is rather amazing to me to see how worked (!) up people can get over the republication thesis. Is it that people just hate Meredith Kline? Or do they just hate Westminster California? I hear and read overstated cases on both sides. I have read that the republication thesis was the standard position among Reformed theologians in the post-reformation era. This is surely overstated. I have also read that not only is the republication idea heretical, but that no Reformed author ever believed it before Meredith Kline. This is also quite overstated. I have hesitated to write about it, because my own thoughts on the subject were anything but settled. They still aren’t settled. I see helpful insights on both sides (although it must be said that there are an enormous number of individual positions on the nature of the Mosaic covenant). What I am attempting to do in this post is simply to clear away some misapprehensions on both sides.

Definition of republication: that there exists in the Mosaic covenant some sort of republication of the covenant of works. Almost all advocates of the republication thesis I have read agree that the essential nature of the Mosaic covenant is that it is part of the covenant of grace, and that the republication has nothing whatsoever to do with how Old Testament Christians become saved. Most advocates of the republication thesis agree that people were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone both before and after Christ came. This is not something that most critics of the republication thesis are willing to concede (that republication advocates actually believe this about OT believers). Little, however, is to be gained by caricature, and it is time that the critics saw this. As a matter of fact, there is no Reformed theologian I know of who believes that people in the Mosaic economy obtained eternal salvation by their works in the Covenant of Works.

Another misapprehension among critics is that the Westminster Standards explicitly forbid this notion. It does not. The relevant wording in WCF 7 is as follows: “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others…The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them as a covenant of works” (section 6). The key phrases here are “under the law” and “to be thereby justified, or condemned.” Republication advocates (at least those claiming to be confessional) do not advocate that OT believers are in any way under the law as a covenant of works to be thereby justified or condemned. Unfortunately, the normally careful Cornel Venema makes a mistake concerning this point in CPJ 9 (2013), p. 161, where he states, “[T]he Confession expressly denies that the law was given through Moses ‘as a covenant of works.'” The correction that is important here is that Venema leaves out the qualifying phrase “to be thereby justified, or condemned.” With regard to the last phrase in section 6, again, most republication advocates will say that the republication does not re-obligate us to the covenant of works. As Fesko says, “[T]he Mosaic covenant is part of the Covenant of Grace but that I maintain that the former republishes, not re-administers, the covenant of works” (CPJ 9, 2013, p. 178). The key words there are “not re-administers.” In section 6 of WCF 7, in other words, the phrase “to be thereby justified, or condemned” controls the whole section. The promises of obedience to the law did not come to OT believers by way of the covenant of works. I feel sure most republication advocates would agree with this.

The fact is that republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy is, in the theology of most of its advocates, simply another way of talking about the pedagogical use of the law.

However, against some republication advocates, I do not believe that the WCF proves the republication thesis, either. Chapter 19 is often referenced in this regard, but chapter 19 does not say that the covenant of works was republished. It says that the moral law that was used in the Adamic covenant as the covenant of works was later given at Mount Sinai. It is that same moral law that is the subject of the sentence in WCF 19.2, not the covenant of works. Republication is therefore not proven or disproven by the Westminster Standards.

Another common misapprehension is that the republication view is quite novel and new. It most certainly is not. There probably are sources that have been “accommodated” to the modern viewpoints. Turretin’s view is, for instance, enormously complex and difficult to parse. However, James Buchanan, John Colquhoun, and the Marrow divines are not difficult to parse at all, and they quite clearly advocate the republication view, with almost all of the distinctives that the modern advocates have. Here is James Buchanan, in his monumental work on justification:

The Law-considered as a national covenant, by which their continued possession of the land of Canaan, and of all their privileges under the Theocracy, was left to depend on their external obedience to it,- might be called a national Covenant of Works, since their temporal welfare was suspended on the condition of their continued adherence to it; but, in that aspect of it, it had no relation to the spiritual salvation of individuals, otherwise than as this might be affected by their retaining, or forfeiting, their outward privileges and means of grace. It may be considered, however, in another light, as a re-exhibition of the original Covenant of Works, for the instruction of individual Jews in the principles of divine truth; for in some such light it is evidently presented in the writings of Paul (Justification, BoT edition, pp. 38-39).

Can anyone seriously doubt that Buchanan was an advocate of the republication thesis?

Here is John Colquhoun, in his work A Treatise On the Law and the Gospel:

The violated covenant of works, as I observed above, was not, and could not be, made or renewed with the Israelites at Sinai; for it was a broken covenant, and besides, it was a covenant between God and man as friends, whereas now man has become the enemy of God. but though it was not renewed with them, yet it was, on that solemn occasion, repeated and displayed to them. It was not proposed to them in order that they might consent, by their own works, to fulfil the condition of it, but it was displayed before them in subservience to the covenant of grace that they might see how impossible it was for them as condemned sinners to perform that perfect obedience which is the immutable condition of life in it…Now the covenant of works was displayed in this tremendous form before the Israelites in order that self-righteous and secure sinners among them might be alarmed, and deterred from expecting justification in the sight of God by the works of the law…Although the Sinaic transaction was a mixed dispensation, yet the covenant of grace and the covenant of works were not blended together in it…The law promulgated from Mount Sinai to the Israelites as the matter of a national covenant between God and them…the promises of that national covenant were promises of temporal good things to the Israelites, both as a body politic and as individuals, and of these in subservience to their enjoyment of religious privileges. The inheritance of the earthly Canaan as typical of the eternal inheritance was given to Abraham by promise (see p. 67 for a further delineation of the national promises that the republished covenant of works would give to an obedient Israel). See pages 55, 57, 61, 62, 64, and 66 of the SDG edition for the quotations.

Lastly, The Marrow of Modern Divinity:

God never made the covenant of works with any man since the fall, either with expectation that he should fulfil it, or to give him life by it…[L]et no man imagine that God published the covenant of works on Mount Sinai, as though he had been mutable, and so changed his determination in that covenant made with Abraham…[I]t was added by way of subserviency and attendance, the better to advance and make effectual the covenant of grace; so that although the same covenant that was made with Adam was renewed on Mount Sinai, yet I say still, it was not for the same purpose. (Christian Heritage edition, pp. 83-84).

On pages 81-83, there are supporting quotations from Polonus (maybe Polanus?), Preston, Pemble, and Walker that advocate a republication of the covenant of works at Sinai. Now, the idea of republication is not the view of all the Reformed fathers, and it would be difficult to say what the majority view was. A lot depends on which elements one includes in one’s definition of republication. There is the element of the covenant of works renewed as pedagogical. Then there is the element of a national covenant (which can be made for different purposes, as the Colquhoun quotation shows; i.e., not all advocates of a republication thesis believed that it was republished for the purposes of giving the land to Israel upon condition of obedience.). In Kline’s view there is the additional element of simple merit, which is certainly not something all republication advocates share.

Can the critics of republication please stop claiming that all these ideas are purely novel, and haven’t been around until Kline came on the scene? That should now be manifestly absurd.

On the other side of the coin, there seems to me to be some exaggeration on the part of republication advocates as to how widespread the view was in the Reformation era and post-Reformation era. Here is where the danger of accommodation comes in (making old authors speak with modern categories). It does not appear to me from my current vantage point that republication was the majority view. A careful reading of Turretin would seem to bear this out (Venema’s careful handling of Turretin seems mostly on target, although Fesko does have some legitimate points in response. The whole exchange in CPJ 8-9 is essential reading for this debate).

So here is where I currently am: I advocate a form of republication that is very similar to Colquhoun’s. The republication was given to Israel primarily for the purposes of the pedagogical use of the law (though not only for this purpose). Of course, it is helpful to bear in mind that in this pedagogical sense, the covenant of works is always republished throughout the entire Bible. It is always there, sometimes more in the background, sometimes more in the foreground.

There is something unique about the Mosaic economy, however. I believe that there was a national covenant made with Israel, but not for the purposes of giving them the land. That was already promised in the Abrahamic covenant. John Colquhoun’s list of privileges and promises that hinge on the obedience is more in line with what the Scripture says, in my opinion. It is, therefore, a very limited republication view that I espouse. I reject Kline’s view of simple merit, if he means strict merit. No one can merit strictly except Jesus Christ.

Quote of the Week

This week we hear from G.K. Beale, as he has been influenced by  C.M. Pate:

The NT perspective on the role of the law can best be understood in the light of the beginning destruction of the old creation and the emergence of the renovated creation. For example, some have observed that Paul has apparently contradictory views of the law in Romans and Galatians, sometimes viewing it quite negatively and at other times positively. The fact that the end-time new creation has broken into the old world means that these two worlds overlap and that the old world is already beginning to crumble. Consequently, the law for unbelievers living in the old creation results in enslavement to sin and judgment. This judgment begins during the old age…and is consummated at the end of the age, when the old cosmos will be judged by being destroyed and old-age inhabitants will be consigned to the second death because of their violation of the law…On the other hand, the law is a source of blessing for spiritually resurrected believers living in the new creation because in Christ they have power to fulfill the law in Christ in a way that spiritually dead people do not. (footnote: I am indebted to C.M. Pate, The End of the Ages Has Come (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 124-148, for his excellent discussion of how the overlap of the ages solves the dual Pauline perspective on the law, though he does not relate this to old creation and eschatological new creation.) G.K. Beale, “The New Testament and New Creation,” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect, edited by Scott Hafemann (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), pp. 159-173, quote on p. 168.

This struck me forcefully as a very helpful way of thinking about the law, as long as one does not take a dispensational spin on it. The statement would also require some clarification. For instance, in Galatians, where Paul is more negative on the law, it is the forward-looking pedagogical use of the law that he has in mind (see the particularly evocative picture of “tutor” in the end of chapter 3). Beale does not mean that the law is part of the old age, and that it is therefore done away with in the new creation. Rather, there is a typological function of the pedagogical use of the law. This can help explain why the same covenant of grace is differently administered under the time of the law and the time of the gospel, as the Westminster Standards puts it. The pedagogical and typological function of the law is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the old age. The third use of the law (as a guide for the Christian life) is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the new age now that the fulfillment has come. It is not as though the pedagogical use of the law has been completely discontinued, or that the third use of the law sprang up de novo in the New Testament. However, in the eschatological view of things, as the law points forward, the typology is more in view because the antitype had not yet come. Now that the antitype has come, the normative aspect is more in view.

If N.T. Wright had only realized that this was what Paul was getting at in his different treatments of the law, he might never have started on his course of leaving the Reformational doctrine of justification. There are other ways of reconciling Romans and Galatians without resorting to a Roman Catholic limitation of “works of the law” to the ceremonial aspects of the law.

New Online Resource for Biblical Literacy

(Posted by Paige)

Compass Rose 1I am pleased to invite you to visit the Grass Roots Theological Library, a newly minted website housing the creative debris of a very busy mind.

Not at all intended to rival this worthy blog, my site is meant to be a collection of free, excellent, user-friendly resources for those who are serious about promoting and pursuing biblical and theological literacy for themselves and for others in their spheres of influence.

For pastors, teachers, and other leaders there are original, elder-tested Bible lesson plans and “Reviews of Books You’d Rather Not Read Yourself” . . . For the self-feeding autodidact who may lack professors or peers for the journey there are numerous resources, essays, talks, and lists to help. My goal with all of this is to offer worthy, unpretentious and unique contributions to the never-ending task of nurturing Christian literacy.

Suggestions are always welcome, and new material will keep showing up as time goes along. My personal favorite stuff: over 500 original text-based questions to ask when studying the book of Hebrews . . . weekly brief “Bible Journal” posts sharing some lively commentary on whatever I’m studying . . . my wall maps (you’ll see!).

Intrigued? The proof of the pudding is in the eating – please visit and glance at the Library so that you can know better what I am talking about. If you like what you see, please Bookmark or “Follow” so that you don’t forget about it (you can follow on Twitter also, @GrassRootsTheo). I promise you’ll only get notifications when I post a new Bible Journal piece. And please share this with those in your circles, whether leaders or learners, who would benefit by it!

Welcome to the Library!

Review of the Richard Dawkins – Wendy Wright Debate

This is a guest post by Dr. Adrian Keister, brother of the blog owner.

You can see this debate here.

This was an interesting debate, although I was a bit disappointed in both of them (that’s typical, actually; few people on either side, it seems, speak to the questions and concerns of the other side. It’s so much easier to repeat assertions than to actually address the arguments.).

Here’s my analysis of the video. D = Dawkins, W = Wright. Overall, I would criticize W for appearing to want to win the argument more than she wants to win Dawkins for Christ. I noticed in Brian Greene’s interview with D that D was not attempting to change her mind. He was attempting to reach the audience. Perhaps W was doing the same. I thought W’s demeanor was annoying – too overdone. Some would probably think it condescending, as if anyone who disagreed with her is stupid. Mind you, I think D had a bit of that as well, but it was hidden better. His condescension was more in the content of his comments and questions rather than in his tone – it was more academic condescension.

0:00 Introductions – no comment.

0:37 D asks W why she is concerned about evolution. W answers that what you believe about how people are created shapes what you believe about people. If you believe that people are created out of love, and have a spirit and soul, you’ll be more likely to treat other people with dignity and respect. The unspoken assumption here is that people ought to be treated with dignity and respect. W can get that from the Bible, although D won’t follow here there, considering his opinion of the God of the OT:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. The God Delusion

1:05 D replies that you have to contend with facts – in this case scientific facts. He compares evolution with gravity or the Milky Way.

1:10 W says that scientists have been censoring any evidence that contradicts evolution. She is questioning D’s use of the term “fact” here: is evolution a scientific fact? She mentions the fraudulent “evidence” that has been put forth in the past as evidence for evolution.

1:36 W argues that we should teach the controversy, and not censor out the other side of the debate.

2:02 D says that “Seriously, there isn’t a controversy.” I’m sorry, but this is laughable. There is a controversy! A little further on he repeats himself, “The fact of evolution is uncontroversial.” I would question the use of the word “fact” and the use of the word “uncontroversial.”

2:27 D says that Piltdown Man was never used as evidence for evolution. This is quite simply incorrect. D needs to check his history a bit more before saying things like that. Doubtless it’s not used as evidence now. This whole debate is a bit tangential. Both sides of the debate, if put under the microscope, can be shown to have made many mistakes.

2:37 W makes an incredibly important distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. She claims that there is evidence for micro, but not for macro.

2:50 W attacks D’s attitude with what I would regard as an ad hominem, even if it’s true. It’s not useful for winning D over.

3:08 D asks where W studied science. This is yet another ad hominem. It shouldn’t matter what one has studied, in terms of the truth of one’s claims. Now, rhetorically, you can certainly question the believability of someone in this fashion (attacking that person’s ethos).

3:28 W makes a very important claim: that all so-called evidence for evolution, say, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, is only in drawings. There aren’t real fossils there, or even photos of real fossils. So W claims. More on this later. She also mentions how scientists are creating a sort of protective hub around themselves, where they don’t allow any disagreement. The movie Expelled definitely corroborates these statements.

4:13 D claims that the evidence for evolution is substantial. He goes on to DNA evidence. His claim is that the DNA of human beings, monkeys, chimps, etc., has a beautiful hierarchical structure that can only be explained by evolution. To that I would reply in these words of Dorothy Sayers:

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read? We find a well-known biologist writing in a weekly paper to the effect that: “It is an argument against the existence of a Creator” (I think he put it more strongly; but since I have, most unfortunately, mislaid the reference, I will put his claim at its lowest)–“an argument against the existence of a Creator that the same kind of variations which are produced by natural selection can be produced at will by stock breeders.” One might feel tempted to say that it is rather an argument for the existence of a Creator. Actually, of course, it is neither; all it proves is that the same material causes (recombination of the chromosomes, by crossbreeding, and so forth) are sufficient to account for all observed variations–just as the various combinations of the same dozen tones are materially sufficient to account for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and the noise the cat makes by walking on the keys. But the cat’s performance neither proves nor disproves the existence of Beethoven; and all that is proved by the biologist’s argument is that he was unable to distinguish between a material and a final cause. – The Lost Tools of Learning.

So the argument that the DNA can only be explained by evolution is quite simply a non sequitur. Of course there can be similarities in the DNA if all animals were created by God. Just as God wanted certain animals to have similarities (limbs, hair, etc.), He could (and I believe did) use the secondary means of DNA to accomplish that.

Evolution may or may not have a good explanation for the hierarchy of DNA, but Mature Creation Theory (MCT for the rest of this review – this is what I believe) can certainly account for it.

5:00 D claims that evidence for macroevolution is in the DNA, and in the geographical distribution of species.

5:08 W dismisses the DNA and geographical distribution as “commonalities”. I could wish she had enlarged on this a bit further. She should have said something like, “Well, just because there are similarities in the DNA, even in a hierarchy, doesn’t imply that one species evolved into another. If you write God out of the equation from the get-go, and the only mechanisms available to explain anything are inside the cosmos, then naturally you’re going to see the similarities as evidence of macroevolution. But if there is a God Who created the universe, then He could easily have put those similarities there in order to achieve some unity in diversity.” She reiterates her question about the evidence.

5:18 D takes a step back and attempts a definition of the word “evidence”. This would be a good move, provided he did it well. Unfortunately, he appears to define evidence as “whatever scientists accept as proof.” This is rather postmodern, to say the least. A better definition would be “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or false.” I think this is a better way to describe it. D goes on to talk about some sort of “agenda” that W has. Presumably, he’s attempting to point out that she’s biased. This, of course, is true. What D would presumably not want brought to the surface, is that he is biased as well. The only honest thing is to come out and say what your bias is, which W does, eventually, at 6:02, and 8:21.

5:58 D accuses W of rejecting science. It would, perhaps, be much more accurate to say that W rejects the mainstream scientific viewpoint, which is quite a different matter. D does what a lot of evolutions do: equate evolution with science. My objection to evolution as science is that the statement that we evolved from lower beings, and that life forms in general evolve from one species to another, is not scientific. D is not capable of producing evidence in the fossil record to support this. He says that the DNA is evidence, but the problem is that precisely the same DNA “evidence” can be interpreted more as evidence of a Creator. Actually, of course, the DNA doesn’t really support either viewpoint, independent of fundamental assumptions. If you assume that evolution is true, you will interpret the DNA as evidence for evolution (and, on the face of it, not having studied it, you understand, I would grant that the DNA evidence is compatible with the theory of evolution); if you assume that God created the universe about six thousand years ago, then you will look at precisely the same DNA “evidence”, and interpret it as evidence for a Creator (the DNA evidence is most certainly compatible with the creationist position as well). In other words, the DNA will not be able to settle the issue. Not only can D not produce evidence from the fossil record (see Duane Gish for the world’s leading fossil record expert – evolutionists have lost to him in debate too many times to do it any more), but we can’t see any species evolving from one species to another today. Evolutionists claim that’s because it takes too long. That’s convenient. So we have a process that, to our knowledge, has no clear-cut evidence that it ever occurred in the past, and no evidence that it occurs now. That’s a problem for any scientific theory.

6:02 W replies that there is no hidden agenda. I think she does say there is an agenda, and she comes out and says what it is. It’s just not a hidden agenda.

6:09 W basically accuses D of an ad hominem. I suppose, technically, she is right. But it is rhetorically effective to question someone’s ethos, which is presumably what D is doing. W is not wrong simply because she has an agenda. Everyone has an agenda, and a truth is presumably true no matter who (with whatever agenda) holds to that truth. W goes on to say that ad hominem attacks show, to her, that the evolutionists do not have confidence in the evidence, otherwise they would not need to resort to them. This is problematic. It’s her opinion, but it wouldn’t have to be true. Probably it is true in some settings. Is it rhetorically effective to say so? Again, are you trying to win the person, or the argument? Sometimes you can do both at the same time, but often, in today’s irrational society, to win the argument is to lose the person.

6:38 D denies ad hominem; I don’t think he’s right here. I do think he leveled an ad hominem against W. His argument essentially went like this: “You have a hidden agenda, therefore your argument cannot be trusted.” That’s a textbook ad hominem. It truly is amazing how bad at logic many otherwise intelligent (and D is obviously highly intelligent) people are.

D goes on to compare people who deny evolution with people in a Latin or Roman history class denying that the Romans ever existed. This, however, is begging the question (petitio principii). The historicity of evolution is precisely the point being argued!

6:58 W says that D’s “annoyance” is a perfect example of the hostility that evolutionists have against people who don’t buy into it, who ask for the evidence.

7:13 D says that you can just read an elementary biology textbook to get the evidence.

7:18 W says it’s interesting that D brings up textbooks, because of the fetus in the womb argument. This is Haeckel’s embryos. She says that this argument has been proven to be false (she should have used the word ‘invalid’; terms are clear or unclear, propositions are true or false, and arguments are valid or invalid. Terms cannot be true or false, nor can they be valid or invalid. Propositions cannot be clear or unclear, nor can they be valid or invalid. Arguments cannot be clear or unclear, nor can they be true or false.).

7:40 D dismisses her accusation by saying that it’s just a Victorian error, and it’s being dealt with. He even claims that modern textbooks don’t have Haeckel’s drawings in them as evidence for evolution. This is debatable. See the Discovery Institute’s review of several modern biology textbooks at As late as 2004, at least, they were still using them. This video interview was done in 2012. I suppose it’s possible (I haven’t checked) that textbooks are no longer using Haeckel’s drawings, but given the usual academic inertia of textbooks, I would be surprised if no recently published modern biology textbook is using Haeckel’s drawings. Campbell’s Biology, 9th Ed., 2011, does not have the drawings anywhere that I could find, for what that’s worth, nor does it seem to mention the incorrect recapitulation theory. I would tend to agree with D more on the value of this discussion, actually. I do think it’s a problem that the textbook writers kept this error in their textbooks for this long, but this is hardly a strong argument against evolution.

8:00 D reiterates that W’s failure to accept the “massive evidence” shows her hidden agenda. So he asks again what that is.

8:30 W replies with a reductio ad absurdam argument (if done correctly, this is a valid argument form): philosophies based on the theory of evolution lead to practical political philosophies that devalue human life, whereas the Christian philosophy leads to a valuing of human life. At 8:48, she mentions that evolution assumes that human beings are merely material. She’s on to a big argument in favor of creationism here: can evolution and materialism account for the consciousness and creativity of human beings? There is a qualitative difference here between human beings and all other life forms on the planet.

9:07 D says that he “accepts all that” and “agrees with all that”; he means that he thinks people should be treated with dignity and respect. He goes on to say that W does have an agenda: that she wants human beings to be treated with dignity and respect. His argument here is that she is engaging in wishful thinking: W wants people to be treated with dignity and respect, and therefore she is going to re-interpret or distort scientific facts from a framework or worldview that allows her to come to the conclusions she wants. I think that D and W would both benefit from a discussion of the term “scientific fact”. What is a scientific fact? You could certainly point to real-world data as scientific facts, but is that what D means here? It would seem to me that he’s including the theory of evolution in the category; if he is, it’s yet another case of begging the question. The question of whether evolution is a scientific fact, whatever that means, is precisely the point of the debate! Now, if D is not including the theory of evolution in the category of scientific fact, then kudos to him. If he means simply the evidence that there is, the results and data of experiments, then good. However, W would definitely claim, I think, that those scientific facts (just the evidence) do not show forth evidence for evolution at all. This you can deduce from her repeated command, “Show me the evidence,” that D makes fun of in the Brian Greene interview.

9:30 Here W comes back to claiming that the evidence for evolution is nonexistent, and that evidence for creation gets censored out. That is, the evolutionists are cherry-picking the data. This is a serious accusation, and one that, if D is smart, he will address. Then W reiterates her statement that there is no evidence of one species evolving into another.

10:00 D reiterates his claim that there is a mountain of evidence for evolution of one species into another. He accuses W of not listening to the evolutionists, and only listening to each other.

10:15 W reiterates her command to show her the evidence, the bones, the carcass that shows one species evolving into another.

10:30 D claims that almost every fossil you find is an intermediate form. I think Duane Gish would beg to differ. W has a very interesting response: if there were such fossils, the Smithsonian Institute would have a bunch of them on display. They don’t, therefore there are not such fossils. She points out that the Natural History museum contains only drawings. I think it’s very instructive to do a Google search for something like “photos of intermediate fossils” or something like that. You do get a lot of drawings. You get some fossils, but I ask you this: do you get a nice progression of fossils, in an actual photograph, showing the progression of one species to another? If you find one, I’d be very interested to see it.

10:45 D makes the important distinction that, in terms of intermediate forms, we would be looking for intermediates not between dogs and cats (or modern species), but between an ancient species, and a somewhat less ancient species. He’s quite right here. The problem is, how would we know in advance that any particular fossil we found wasn’t just a different species, but an ancestor of a current species? Or asked another way, if you didn’t already assume evolution to be true, what would be the most natural explanation for fossils that correspond to extinct animals or beings? Would you look at a fossil that’s similar to modern bones, but not exactly like any modern bones, and think to yourself, “That must be an ancestor of this modern species.” Or would you look at it and think to yourself, “This species is very like such-and-such modern species, but it’s not exactly like any bones we see today. Since species go extinct all the time, I’m going to conclude that this fossil belongs to an extinct species.” I would hope that you would agree that the latter interpretation is quite reasonable. Now, I’m not going to say that the latter interpretation rules out any “need” for evolution. There is still the question of origins: in the beginning of life, were there many species coming into existence all at once, or was there only one life form from which all modern life forms descended? If you believe the Genesis account, many species came into existence in a very short time span (the recurring Genesis 1 phrase “morning and evening” rules out the day-age theory from the get-go; what would “morning and evening” of an age mean?) From 11:00 to 11:30, he mentions Australopithecus, and the “mountains of evidence” that there is a progression in these life forms. He asks W why she doesn’t see these as intermediate forms.

11:30 W says that the burden of proof is on the evolutionists to show non-scientists that their theory is correct. She is, of course, entirely correct in this. All scientific theories are assumed “false until ‘shown’ to be ‘correct’”. She reiterates that the scientists don’t actually have this evidence, because she claims it is only in drawings, and not actual fossils. There are some fossils – you can see some of them on display at the Göteborgs Naturhistoriska Museum. W’s argument could be weak here, and at an important point. She should debate the fossils, but she is not a scientist. Because she is not a scientist, she has to go on secondary sources.

11:44 W turns D’s argument about hidden agendas back on D, saying that their could be hidden agendas on the part of the evolutionists. One example she produced was the idea that different races of humans are at different points in their evolution, an idea that showed up in Darwin’s writings. I think she should have pushed through to Hitler here, who definitely used the ideas of evolution to argue that the Aryan race was superior to all others, and that the Germans should, therefore, rule the world.

11:58 D tries to deflect this by saying that this idea was Victorian.

12:00 W says that Darwin is the hero of evolutionists.

12:08 D says that Darwin is a hero, but not with respect to racism. D brings the conversation back to Australopithecus, and the “beautiful progression” there.

12:20 W says that they’re still lacking the material evidence.

12:23 D says the material evidence is there: go to the museum and see it.

12:26 W goes back to the philosophies (see 8:30) that have come out of the evolutionary theory: she reiterates that such philosophies have had horrific results, whereas the philosophies that have respected people have been the most successful societies. Reductio ad absurdam arguments can be done well. However, here it feels more like a dodge. She should deal directly with Australopithecus; perhaps she does not know enough to do that.

13:02 W goes back to the DNA argument. All people have distinct DNA (she must mean except for identical twins, who share the same DNA; identical twins is surely irrelevant to the discussion at hand). She takes this as evidence that every person is created individually.

13:36 D says the DNA shows that each person has evolved individually. He says that there are DNA differences between people, otherwise natural selection couldn’t happen. I’ve already dealt with the DNA evidence in my comment concerning 5:58.

13:43 D reiterates his presentation of the fossil progression, which I dealt with in my comments concerning 10:45.

14:01 W says she has seen the evidence, and that it’s not convincing. She should have put forth another argument for why it’s not convincing, instead of reiterating her view that the “aggressive evolutionists” need to stop censoring the creationists (she’s correct on this point, incidentally; no evolutionist should censor any creationist just because of their view on origins. If anyone feels tempted to do so, they should reread Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and keep their peace.).

14:38 D confesses to being frustrated, but denies that it’s about suppression. He mentions several fossils again (presumably the Australopithecus chain), and tells W to go and look at them again.

14:49 W claims, again, that the fossils aren’t there. I’ve dealt with this already in my comments regarding 10:30 and 11:30.

15:00 W reiterates that evolution has produced ideologies highly destructive to the human race. At this point, I’m going to stop the detailed analysis, and see if either of them start listening to the other’s arguments, or whether there’s not going to be anything else of substance.

17:25 D claims that there are fossils from about any vertebrate group W would care to name. Presumably he means that there are intermediate forms from any ancient vertebrate group to any other less ancient vertebrate group. I don’t think I buy this. If you do a Google image search of something like “photos of progression of intermediate fossils from amphibians to reptiles” you find an incredible number of … drawings. Yes, there are a few photos, but not nearly so many as you should expect. Nor are they laid out in anything like a “progressive” nature. That is, one fossil usually looks nothing at all like another. Now, if the theory of evolution is true, and the macroevolution only comes about by a whole series of microevolutions, then the fossil record should contain a whole raft of these intermediate forms. The changes should be minute enough that anyone could look at a progression of fossils and agree that there is a definite progression. This is not the case. So then the evolutionists trot out the idea of “punctuated equilibrium” – long periods of slow change punctuated by short periods of immense change. The problem with this theory is that the fossil record for such a theory is likely to be indistinguishable from the fossil record expected if the mature creation theory is true. Dating methods such as rubidium-strontium make an enormous number of assumptions that may or may not be reasonable. In particular, they make continuity assumptions: the fundamental constants of the universe have been constant for billions of years, etc. A world-wide flood, e.g., might put a damper on that sort of thing. For that matter, what about the necessary conditions to effect these punctuations of great change? Might those conditions affect the results of a rubidium-strontium dating?

20:25 D says that the idea of God “tinkering with creation” is blasphemous. This reveals D’s ignorance of the Christian God. The Christian God is unique: the infinite-personal Creator God. That is, God is transcendent, but yet also imminent. God is always concerned about His creation – He constantly upholds it, and if, for a second, He were to withhold His sustaining power, the entire universe would instantly cease to exist. This is not the God of the Deists – the cosmic watchmaker who “winds up” His creation and lets it go.

22:22 D asks if evolution could be the working-out of God’s purpose.

22:26 W replies that there are Christians who believe that.

25:00 D makes a startling observation: that he does not want to live in a Darwinian society. But, he respects facts which, of course, as we know, lead him to believe in evolution. I find it rather amusing that D lumps “Darwinian society” with a “George Bush” and “Margaret Thatcher” society. The free market is very different from what D imagines it to be.

26:00 W says D has agreed with her about the kind of society that Darwinian theory produces. I’m not sure there is as much agreement as W and D think there is. They both think that Darwinian principles would lead to a ruthless society. However, their idea of what a ruthless society is differ.

29:40 D asks is there is any positive evidence in favor of creation.

29:49 W points to DNA. I think this is weak, as I’ve mentioned before. Much better would be to point to the idea of irreducible complexity, such as the human eye. The human eye is a complex integrated organism. If you remove any feature of it, it’s not as though the eye works but not as well. No, if you remove any part of the eye, it ceases to function altogether. It is inconceivable that such an organism could have evolved from any previous kind of eye. Natural selection implies the idea that you go from simpler to more complex, as the more complex works better. But how could you have gotten to the human eye that way, by gradual stages? There are no previous stages! I definitely take this as evidence of design.

30:30 W points out that most mutations die out, which is true. This, however, is not a particularly strong argument against evolution, because the theory of evolution says that that should happen!

32:00 D undertakes an immensely important task: defining his terms. He should have done this a long time ago, as should W. He defines what Darwin’s theory of natural selection is. First, there is individual variation. By this he means that every individual, apart from monozygotic twins (identical twins) is different from every other individual. He says this is fundamental to the theory. So far, so good: I can’t disagree with this statement. Within that variation, D continues, some survive better than others, and some reproduce better than others. That’s how we get evolution. So D concludes that just because there is individual variation, that doesn’t constitute an argument against evolution, because evolution presupposes individual variation. D is quite right that the presence of individual variation does not rule out natural selection. However, it is unclear how what D describes (on the scale of microevolution, I’m quite willing to admit that natural selection occurs) can account for variation between species (or macroevolution). Species are different from one another precisely insofar as a member of one species cannot (ordinarily) mate with a member from another species. In fact, the wiki on Species defines a species as “one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.” The wiki goes on to mention that this definition is difficult (and from the point of view of evolution, I can see why), but I see no issue with this definition from the creationist viewpoint.

33:05 D reiterates that individual variation is not evidence against evolution, rather it is evidence for evolution. Actually, of course, it is neither. It’s consistent with both evolution and creation. So he needs to stop saying it’s evidence for evolution!

33:45 W indicates that human beings have a spirit, and are not just material. This is an extremely important point. However, its effectiveness hinges on whether it is granted by the evolutionist that people have a soul or not. If they do, evolution definitely cannot explain why – evolution by Darwinian natural selection is a theory that confines itself to the material world, and has no recourse to anything unphysical. This is why you have many biologists who deny that people have a soul.

35:00 D explains that in terms of a self-consciousness, he believes in a soul; he doesn’t believe in an immortal soul, and his language indicates that he believes every aspect of a human being’s existence is material. That is, he doesn’t believe in the immaterial. He takes Carl Sagan’s maxim: “The cosmos is all there was, all there is, and all there ever will be.” So W’s argument about soul and spirit is doomed not to work with D – he doesn’t agree with her fundamental assumption that there is an immaterial soul belonging to every human being.

35:50 W asks an important follow-up question: if soul is defined in terms of consciousness, then is a mentally disabled person – one who has no consciousness – lacking a soul?

36:00 D says that they have no consciousness. In his own terms, then, he would say they have no soul – as he defines soul. However, a minute or so later, D says that a placenta has no soul, because it doesn’t have a brain. This (rightly) confuses W: does a person have a soul because they have a brain, or because they have consciousness? W asks a clarifying question to answer this point.

37:00 D answers that someone without a brain that can exhibit consciousness would not have a soul. However, this does not answer W’s question. W is asking about someone who has a brain that, perhaps, at one time could exhibit consciousness, but has been damaged, say, and can no longer exhibit consciousness. D does not answer this question. Unfortunately, W doesn’t follow-up with a more careful question. I will not comment on W’s story of persecution. W is on her home turf here, and D can hardly be expected to comment on it – and he doesn’t.

44:00 D says that by “The Controversy”, he thinks that W means the debate between science on the one hand, and biblical Creation on the other. Again, D is trying to grab the high ground here, but I certainly would not give it to him. The debate is NOT between science and biblical creation. I think it’s worth setting down my beliefs on this matter, because I think the issue is important.

First, we define a scientific statement as a proposition (propositions have the property, by definition, that they are either true or false) that can be tested by observation. The observation can be of various types. We could use any of our five senses, or we could augment and enhance those senses by technological means. In any case, it is by an observation that we test a scientific statement.

Second, we define science as the collection of all scientific statements, together with the experimental apparatus to test the statements, and the people who do the testing. There is an interplay here, as well, between the statements and the experiments. That, too, is part of science.

Now, by these definitions, I ask you: is the theory of evolution scientific? Well, the theory of evolution certainly makes predictions that can be tested. However, is the statement, “We all evolved from primordial goo to the highly complex life form known as homo sapiens” scientific? Are there any experiments we could run to test it? Well, the only real experiment we could run to truly test this statement is to generate a whole raft of universes (you must have repeatability in science), evolve them in time for billions of years, and see how they turn out. This is not possible, even in theory, much less practice. Therefore, the statement above is not scientific. Now, by the same token, the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” is not scientific, either. Both of these statements make predictions about the future, and those can be tested. However, at its root, the origins question is not a scientific question.

So the debate is not between science and creation. The debate is between evolution and creation. Attempts to say that evolution is scientific beg the question: I say it’s not science to begin with!

D goes on to ask why W would single out the Babylonian-Jewish creation “myth” – why not add the Hindu version, or other versions?

44:30 W replies that she wants to teach the controversy between evolution and intelligent design. She is not arguing that we should teach biblical creation in, say, public schools.

45:00 D asks W who she thinks the intelligent designer was. W rather side-steps this one, and merely says that scientists can debate this one. But she says that, however it might have happened, she believes that the schools should teach the theory of intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution, and let the evidence speak for itself.

53:30 D brings in Karl Popper, a very influential philosopher of science. Popper’s big idea was falsifiability: he defines a scientific statement as one that can, in theory, be falsifiable by observation. I think this is too strong, and I think the current direction is away from Popperian falsifiability. However, no one can deny that observation is absolutely central to science. Interestingly, D mentions the idea that the earth goes around the sun, and claims that this theory has never been refuted. I beg to differ. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity posits that there are no preferred reference frames. If you want to talk about the sun revolving around the earth, you go right ahead. The mathematics might be slightly more complicated, but that is neither here nor there. The atheists have loved to poke fun at the church because of the Galileo controversy. Galileo agreed with Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun, and because the church took a too-literal interpretation of certain biblical passages, they insisted that the sun revolved around the earth. The church persecuted Galileo. And yet we find that the General Theory of Relativity says the debate was pointless. There’s nothing wrong with thinking that the sun revolves around the earth, and there’s nothing wrong with thinking that the earth revolves around the sun. Pick whichever you want.

56:19 D mentions irreducible complexity. He says that scientists dispute whether they really are irreducibly complex, and seems to dismiss this incredibly important objection to evolution in a single sentence.

59:20 W says that if there really was a vast amount of evidence in favor of evolution, that would influence a large number of people. This is a bit of an ad populum fallacy (appeal to the masses: if everyone’s doing and thinking x, then x must be right).

59:49 D says there is “beautiful, elegant evidence” for fish coming out of the water onto land. If you google “evidence that fish came out onto land fossil photos”, you again get tons of … drawings. There are a few fossils, but again, they are isolated, unusual fossils. There is no progression that I can see that uses real, fossil photos. D also mentions the reptilian jaw transitioning into the mammalian. You can google that and still get very few, and very isolated photos of real fossils. Even the page here: if you scroll down to the bottom, has a “series” of “humanid fossils.” Supposedly, they are in a chronological order, at least from B through N. It’s not at all obvious to me that there is a progression in physical features. I see a bunch of normal variation, not in any particular order.

There are no substantive arguments beyond this point.


I find D’s arguments unconvincing, but not really because of W’s arguments. W didn’t seem to answer D’s heavy guns here. In particular, she didn’t answer his “evidence” even once convincingly. She kept saying only that she had looked at the evidence, and that it wasn’t convincing to her. Now I think D is making the mistake of thinking that if anyone with an open mind were to look at the evidence, they would be convinced of evolution. This is surely a bit naive. In today’s world, the number of truly irrational people is astounding. But, in addition to that, there are many, many creationists out there who have looked at the evidence (Duane Gish is a prime example), and see it as evidence of intelligent design, and not evolution.

W was weak on her “evolution leads to evil societies” approach. Both W and D agree with this point, but W never followed it up with a “so how can you be comfortable with this gap in your life? On the one hand, Darwinian theory entails natural selection, which is brutal and ruthless. On the other hand, you want the society of people to be caring, loving, and gracious. On what basis can you argue for the latter, given the former? Shouldn’t the facts and evidence dominate your ideologies? On what basis can you go against nature? By what authority?” At this point, D can say nothing, because he has no basis for saying that any one set of ethics is better than another. He might say that we shouldn’t murder, because it is for the good of society, or it is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it’s circular – you have to use the word “good” in this argument, and you can’t define that without a standard of some sort. And if you have a standard, what makes your standard any better than anyone else’s? If you have no superior life form handing down the law, then there is no basis for absolute ethics, without which the entire philosophy collapses.

D was weak in that he kept assuming W had not seen the evidence, despite her assertions to the contrary.

W was weak in her evidence for creation or intelligent design. She should have pushed irreducible complexity a lot harder.

D was weak in that he was quite surprised that anyone should be persecuted for their beliefs. He claims that he would never do that, but I wonder what would happen if he was in charge of who gets what money from, say, the NSF. Would he give any money to ID people like Stephen Myers?


D obviously won this debate, but not with strong arguments. He won the argument because W’s arguments were exceptionally weak. He had some weaknesses himself, to be sure, but overall, W’s weaknesses were greater. D had a much more winsome style – W comes across as annoyingly combative.

I think the Dawkins – Lennox debate was considerably better. Lennox has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and another in philosophy. Dawkins, in my opinion, is not able to hold his own against someone of Lennox’s caliber; Dawkins is, in the words of David Berlinski (a Jewish atheist mathematician, who can’t stand it when fellow atheists use their atheism to beat down ID people – he’s a very interesting fellow), “A crummy philosopher.” Berlinski also said of him, “Very intelligent. A bit of a reptile, but very intelligent.”

Quote of the Week

It may sound ridiculous to blog a post about a quote of the week, when I haven’t blogged much in the last month at all. I have hopefully emerged from the doldrums of the last month. Anyway, here is a great quotation from the Anchor Bible commentary on Jonah, written by Jack Sasson (p. 13):

I hold that commentators serve best when clarifying what lies before them instead of explaining what they imagine to have existed.

I would only add to this: if only some of the other Anchor Bible commentaries had listened or had this same perspective!

Anyone Preaching on Jonah?

Anyone preaching or teaching on Jonah might appreciate a picture of the famous whale pulpit in Poland. My kids got a real kick out of this.