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 http://www.discovery.org/a/3935. 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.

Summary

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?

Conclusion

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.”

On How to Treat Islam and Muslim People

From some of the recent stories that have been circulating about how some pastors have treated the Islamic faith, the Koran, and Muslim people, you would think that these people rejoice in the idea of Muslims going to Hell. The Crusades are apparently not so dead as we had hoped. Any story of a Muslim converting to the Christian faith that I have heard of involves two things: 1. the sharing of the gospel; 2. an outpouring of love. Perhaps the one single thing that speaks to Muslims most powerfully of all is the love of Jesus Christ in action two thousand years ago. One thing is certain: we will not see any conversions of Muslims to Christianity through making fun of their religion, burning the Koran, or flaunting our Western prosperity in their faces. Understandably, these actions make them very upset (though I do not mean to imply that the Muslim attack in Paris was justified: if there is one thing that I have learned about the Muslim faith, it is that Muslims are DEADLY serious about their faith, and they cannot laugh about it). They are the incredibly stupid actions of people who apparently think that they do not have enough attention, and want to become martyrs. I suggest a different approach. Build relationships with Muslims, and show them love and kindness. Show them hospitality (this speaks volumes to someone from the Middle East).

Although I don’t tend to get political on this blog very much, I will say that Ron Paul’s stance on the sovereignty of other nations makes a lot of sense to me. He argues that one of the main reasons that Muslims hate the West so much is because we interfere all the time in their political affairs. We would never tolerate the kind of interference from someone else that we regularly dish out to all the world. What makes us think that Muslim countries are rejoicing when we offer to “help?” Ron Paul argues that our interference with Middle Eastern politics is one reason why 9/11 happened. It is difficult to gainsay Paul’s conclusion on this point. Protect ourselves? Sure. Interfere with other nations? I would prefer not.

The Old Testament God

It has become rather commonplace to denigrate the God of the Old Testament (usually assuming from the outset that He is a different God than the God of the New Testament). For instance, Richard Dawkins says about Him the following in a now rather famous quotation from his book The God Delusion:

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.

I was just reading a book of Ezekiel essays, and a few of those essays say much the same thing, if a bit less rhetorically high-handed.

There are a number of things one could say in answer to these charges. The first thing I want to draw attention to is the most quoted Old Testament verses in the Old Testament. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what that quotation is? That’s right, you guessed it! Exodus 34:6-7, which say this: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” These verses, or parts of them, are quoted in the following places: Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, and possibly Micah 7:18. It seems fairly plain, when once these passages are looked up, that there is a significant difference (to understate things rather drastically!) between Dawkins’s understanding of the Old Testament God and the Old Testament’s view of the Old Testament God.

It is important to notice that Dawkins seems to be laboring under the (mis)impression that, if there is a God, He owes His creatures something. The facts concerning the Fall into sin make it rather plain that God owes humanity nothing. The fact that any humans at all get to breathe, live, eat, and procreate is a marvel of grace in and of itself. Anything less than annihilation of the human race (which would have been perfectly just!) is pure grace. What, after all, should the God of the universe do when His creation spits in His face, and tries to take Him off His rightful throne, and usurp His place? Instead of destroying mankind utterly, God not only let them live, but He provided a promise of salvation right in Genesis 3, that there would one day come a seed of the woman which would crush the head of the serpent. This alone ought to answer the questions about the supposed “ethnic cleansing.” A closer look at the passages dealing with the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites reveals that God delayed His judgment on those sinful people by many long years, giving them opportunities to repent (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” for instance, in Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the people driven out is constantly the reason for judgment. God owes them nothing.

Is God jealous? Yes, but what definition of jealous are we meaning by the term? The Bible says that God’s name is jealous (Exodus 34:14). But we tend to import our human understanding of jealousy into the word, and then refashion God into our own image. God’s jealousy is for our good. He does not want us to worship any other god, for the other “gods” are all false. If we have a relationship with the one true God, then we have the greatest good of all. God does not want to share that relationship with anyone or anything else. It is similar to the proper jealousy of a spouse: a spouse does not want to share that exclusive relationship with anyone else.

Does God hate women? No doubt today’s radical feminists would disagree with me here (as would Dawkins!), but I would have to say no. Woman is clearly represented as a full image-bearer, having the image of God stamped on them, just like men (Genesis 1). Just because they are not heads of the marriage does not mean they are hated, any more than a colonel is hated just because he is one rank below general. There is to be love and understanding between a husband and wife (Genesis 2).

Does God hate homosexual people? More and more when I get this answer, I just direct people to Rosaria Butterfield’s book, which says it SO much better than I ever could. Read that book and you will understand what God says about it in His Word, and how Christians, incidentally, should treat the homosexual population. I will only say this: God loved all His children, even while they were yet His enemies.

Is God racist? This is really the most puzzling one of the bunch. All races come from Noah, and all races come from Adam. The main promise of the Old Testament God to Abraham is that God would make him a blessing to all nations. Exactly how is this racist? The fundamental covenantal structure of the Old Testament is that God’s solution to Adam’s messing up the world would include bringing about a salvation that has equal scope.

Dawkins probably got the “infanticidal” from the story of King David and his son, which is the only possible place I could even imagine such a charge coming up. But what does God owe to any human being? Does the potter owe anything to the pot? No, the pot owes everything to the potter. Besides, why should Dawkins object if God simply weeds out someone would probably (under Dawkins’s belief system) be not the fittest? Survival of the fittest targets infants as weaker people. Dawkins is much more akin to infanticidal than God ever thought of being. With God, an infant is a human being, created in God’s image right from conception. With Dawkins, an infant is a piece of tissue until birth. Which view is more infanticidal?

Filicidal? How does Dawkins get that from the Old Testament? Yes, there is the promise of the suffering servant, and yes, Jesus is present in the Old Testament, according to the New Testament. But usually this charge is directed against the New Testament God for “killing His Son.” But the Son laid down His own life. No one took it from Him. It was a sacrifice for sins so that we might have salvation.

Is God capricious? No. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and yet not allowing the guilty to escape punishment. This one would need to address specific passages that Dawkins had in mind, and since we don’t know those passages, it is fruitless to try to answer his query. From the standpoint of one who believes in the Old Testament God, I find God to be amazingly consistent, and the very farthest thing from arbitrary. I will say this: just because God does not always explain His reason for doing such and such a thing, does not mean that a reason is non-existent. He may have a reason that He does not choose to tell us. This is, in fact, the burden of God’s message to Job in the last part of that book. God is not answerable to human beings. We are answerable to Him.

A Very Disturbing Book

Today I read this book. It was extremely disturbing to me. It was disturbing, not because I disagree with it, but because I was so shocked by it. I had been used to thinking about the reasons our children leave the church in this way: we haven’t trained them in apologetics, and so when they leave for college, their faith is attacked, and they do not have the weapons at hand to defend their faith, and actually share the gospel. To a certain extent, I think the previous analysis is still partially correct, but it has received a large wake-up call corrective from Ken Ham. His thesis, based on the research of Britt Beemer, is that very few people who leave the church do so because college started them on the road to doubt. In fact, they were already gone! Their doubts started (in 88% of the 20-year olds who were interviewed!) in middle school and high school. Folks, we are losing our children long before college.

I received a further shock upon reading his statistics on Sunday School, and his analysis of why Sunday School, even when conducted by faithful, truth-telling folks, is not helping in this matter. The problem with many Sunday Schools is that they tell a story that is not really addressing the narrative they receive from the secular world even in middle school. Sunday School winds up being about faith, whereas school is about life and facts. In other words, our middle and high school Sunday School curricula, while often faithful to the texts, do not teach the texts apologetically! They hear from scientific teachers, and are typically unable to distinguish between the science of present phenomena and the science of origins (if there even is such a thing!). If science is correct in matters related to rockets, cell phones, robots, organic chemistry, mathematics, and biology (to name only a few fields), then mustn’t it also be right in matters of origin? Certainly not. However, our children are not receiving the message on these matters. The other problem with Sunday School is that parents are often abdicating their home responsibilities with regard to spiritual matters because “the children will learn it in church.” Ken Ham is not advocating the abolishment of Sunday School, and neither am I. But we do need to rethink what we’re doing in Sunday School. Ham argues that we need apologetics much earlier, and that the apologetics needs to address human origins in ways that directly challenge what our kids are hearing in school.

We need to talk about origins, and here’s why. An erosion of faith in the authority of Scripture is taking place. Ken Ham argues that it starts with the age of the earth. If science has proved that the earth is old, then in the minds of most folks, that disproves the Bible’s account, which then must turn into myth. Yes, yes, there are the day-age view, the framework view, and the analogical day view of Genesis 1 and 2. Most people are not able to make such fine distinctions in their head between interpretation and fact. Their minds will not typically jump to the idea that their interpretation of the Bible must alter. Instead, the Bible must go. The erosion starts in Genesis, but never stops there.

Now, Ham’s analysis is much more sophisticated than I have here laid out (and the complete results of the survey are included in the back for the benefit of statisticians). I am simplifying to give people a flavor for the whole. It is a very quick read (I read it in less than 2 hours). I think we need to heed its warnings, and its proffered solutions.

Backgroundism

It is common now in Old Testament studies for scholars to think that they are studying the Old Testament when they are in fact studying Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) parallels. I was reading a book on an OT book this morning (which will remain anonymous) that had some really excellent essays on the theology of the book, but which also had some essays on the ANE background of the book. There seems to be an assumption that if it was written anywhere near the time of the biblical book, and it was written anywhere near the location of Israel, then it must be relevant to our understanding of that particular book. I believe some serious qualifications of this idea are in order.

First up, the context of ANE documents and the biblical books cannot be assumed to be the same. For one thing, the biblical books are addressed to God’s people, whereas ANE documents are not. Furthermore, the biblical books are inspired by God Himself, whereas the ANE documents are not. The context of the recipients and the method by which the books are made are vastly different. This should give us great pause. I am not saying that background studies of this type are completely irrelevant or useless. However, we need to be quite a bit more cautious about applying our understanding of ANE documents to the OT books.

A second qualification I would offer is this: background documents seem to be much more helpful in understanding the biblical text when there is an apologetic in the OT text against the ANE background texts. As an obvious example, I would point out the apologetic intent of Genesis 1 against the various ANE understandings of how the world was created. Genesis proclaims that God created this world by His speaking it into existence, not by some kind of cosmic battle (like the Enuma Elish claims, for instance). Also, the sun and the moon are not the origin of anything, but were created by God (witness Moses calling them “the greater light” and “the lesser light” instead of their more common but also potentially misunderstood nouns; shemesh is the name of an ANE god of the sun).

Thirdly, it is really irritating to me to read stuff on the ANE background of the OT that never draws any conclusions about why their study is relevant to our understanding of the OT texts in question. They often simply point out a parallel without saying how that parallel actually affects our exegesis of the text. Sometimes, the scholar seems to be saying “Well, I’ve read all the relevant ANE texts, so therefore my understanding of the OT book must be correct.” Even worse is when the ANE background text is used in preference to the OT book’s own literary context in order to change, diminish, or twist the biblical text.

Great Book on Apologetics

I just finished reading this book, written by one of my professors at WTS Philadelphia. It is a great read, and an important book.

A lot of people (myself included) have been longing to see what apologetics looks like in practice, not merely in principal. In particular, I have been longing to see what many people espouse and know as the “presuppositional apologetic” put into practice. What would it look like to share the gospel in a presuppositional way with a Muslim or an atheist? In this book, you will find some very well-imagined conversations of what that could look like. Oliphint is very careful to do two things in those conversations: firstly, he doesn’t make the unbelieving interlocutor into some kind of dummy, and secondly, he is always careful to make sure that we know that his conversations are only one way that even a presuppositional apologetic might take in the course of an actual attempt. These conversations were the highlights of the book for me, and I suspect will be for many others as well. In particular, I appreciated the conversation with the Muslim. I had long been searching for “the great contradiction” between the presuppositions and the life of the Muslim, and Oliphint nails it for us. More on that later.

Oliphint argues for a retirement of that phrase “presuppositional apologetics” in favor of a new term “covenantal apologetics.” By “covenantal,” Oliphint means the traditional Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and how those two covenants affect our minds; in particular, he stresses the noetic effects of the Fall, and the image of God in man, and what has happened to that image both in the Fall and in salvation. It is another way of saying “gospel-focused” apologetics. That was always something I greatly appreciated about apologetics at WTS: it was not about winning the argument, but about sharing the gospel, and seeking to tear down barriers to the gospel that people erect in their minds. Apologetics at WTS serves the gospel message, as it always should. Now, whether Oliphint will succeed in convincing people to change the term “presuppositional” to “covenantal” remains to be seen. The former term certainly has a longer pedigree, and people have used it out of habit for decades now.

I want to share Oliphint’s insights into apologetics in a Muslim context, for that is what most excited me about the book. In the “covenantal” model, one searches for an underlying, architectonic contradiction between an unbeliever’s principals, or presuppositions, and their practice, or the life they build on top of it. We search for what makes the foundation incompatible with the building they lay on top of that foundation. The Muslim believes that God is absolutely free. Nothing whatsoever can possibly bind God. He is absolutely transcendent. In our terms, God has libertarian free will. The Koran is not a revelation of who Allah is, but rather a revelation of Allah’s will (that is a key difference with Christianity: we believe the Bible reveals who God is, and not just His will for us). For the Muslim, Allah cannot enter into a relationship with a person, because that would bind Allah, and Allah cannot be bound by anything. This has several implications. Firstly, Allah is not powerful enough to enter into a relationship and yet remain God. Allah cannot be both transcendent and immanent. Secondly, they have no assurance whatsoever that God will not, at the end of history, declare that all Muslims are wrong and all Christians are correct, or even declare that what Muslims believe and what Christians believe are exactly the same thing (they’re not, by the way!). The Koran does not bind Allah, and so they have no way of knowing whether Allah will always act as the Koran says he will. They further have no assurance that living the way of Islam, namely the five pillars, will guarantee any kind of favorable reception of Allah at the last. All they can have is a hope that is not based on knowledge, even though they claim up one side and down the other to believe in a rational religion (and they castigate Christians for believing in such “irrational” things as a Trinity and a God-man). If Allah were to reverse everything in the end that Muslims hold dear, would they still reply “Allah be praised”? The Koran sinks underneath the weight of a god so utterly transcendent (even to the point of being trapped by that transcendence to the point where he cannot relate directly to a single person in a relationship) that the Koran cannot be any kind of reliable indicator of what Allah is like.

This is only the barest bones of the already truncated version of what this apologetic looks like in a Muslim context, but it was extremely helpful to me to have that great contradiction pointed out. Take up and read. You will be glad you did.

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

The Insider Movement and the Word-Concept Fallacy

Debate was rather heated in the PCA General Assembly this year over a motion to include a statement to the effect of saying that the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God. It is usually felt by people who believe this that such a statement can be an effective bridge for evangelism to Muslims. They will also usually state the obvious, that the Arabic word for God is Allah, and so Arabic translations have the word “Allah” in the Bible. Therefore they have the same God that we do.

There are a number of serious problems with this line of reasoning. Firstly, the implication of such a statement is that the Trinity is not central to the Christian idea of God, but is an optional add-on. Folks, are we really willing to say that about the Trinity? That it is optional? I would think Athanasius would be rolling in his grave at the suggestion.

Secondly, the argument from the word “Allah” commits the word-concept fallacy. This fallacy happens when someone claims that because a word is present, therefore a particular concept is also present. In this case, the argument states that because we both use the same word for God in Arabic, that therefore we both pour the same meaning into the word. This is not a legitimate move. I can use the word “lie” to mean a falsehood. Just because someone else uses the word “lie” to mean recline does not mean that we have the same definition of the word “lie.” Now, it is a little more complicated than that with the example of “God,” because some things that Muslims believe about God resemble some things that Christians believe about God, whereas there is no overlap at all between “falsehood” and “recline.” Still, it remains true that Muslims and Christians mean something very different by the name “God.” I have no problem at all with Arabic translations using the name “Allah” for “God.” We do not argue about words, but about the meaning of those words.

I would argue that this very difference is an evangelistic tool. Why tell a Muslim something that we are just going to have to retract later on? The situation reminds me of the mentality of the seeker-sensitive movement, which winds up dumbing down the message of Christianity in the interests of getting them in the door. The problem is that they don’t stay in the door, because there is nothing very different between the church and the world. It is the worship that is extremely different from anything the world has that actually perks up people’s interest, to the point of them saying, “Why is this different? What do they have that I don’t have?” Similarly with Muslims, I do not believe it is helpful to start out by saying something that is grossly misleading at best, and heretical at worst. It is far better to tell them of the love of Jesus Christ, and to keep on directing them there. The love of God and the grace that Christianity offers in the Gospel is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Science, the Sciences, and the Queen of the Sciences

I have been thinking recently about science and its relationship to theology. In the Middle Ages, theology was the queen of the sciences. This held true even through the time of the Reformation, when theology was taught at universities. With the rise of the Enlightenment, specifically the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, all that changed. Kant’s philosophy was that there are two realms, if you will: the noumenal realm and the phenomenal realm. The former had to do with the nous, the mind. It was the realm of what is unseen. The phenomenal world is that of our senses. Kant argued that we cannot know anything about the noumenal world. That is, nothing from the noumenal world can reveal itself to us. At one stroke, therefore, he ruled out of court any such thing as revelation from God. Because of this philosophy, theology was no longer taught at universities. Departments of religion replaced departments of theology. All other fields became more and more fragmented, since theology is the only science that can hold the others together in any kind of unity, since theology is the only science that bridges natural and special revelation.

But this raises a problem when it comes to our understanding of science today. Science today looks at the data of what is in the universe, and seeks to understand it by positing theories that might explain how things came to be the way that they are. Science, therefore, can only exist in the theoretical world. Science cannot arrive at truth, since the data could theoretically be explained in another way. People thought the earth was flat until Pythagoras came along. People thought that the sun revolved around the earth until Galileo and Copernicus. People thought that the sun was the fixed center of the universe until Einstein came along. Theories come and go. But if this is so, what is to prevent us from seeing theology in the same way, if we posit that theology is a science? Why isn’t theology mere theory?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of the data. Although natural revelation and special revelation are both from God, the latter is like a pair of spectacles (so says Calvin) that helps us to understand everything else. Natural revelation was sufficient before the Fall. And if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin, it still would be sufficient. The Bible only came about because of the Fall. We can’t see properly unless we put on the spectacles. We will ultimately come to wrong conclusions about natural science unless we first put on the spectacles! Modern science is starting to see, in one sense, that our conclusions are not merely determined by the data. Our presuppositions play a large part in how we read the data. Unfortunately, when it comes to a theory like evolution, the role of presuppositions is typically ignored by modern man, such that he holds evolution to be fact and not theory. But does a theory about origins have more or less authority than the spectacles of God’s Word? Which is the pair of spectacles? Natural science or theology? I just started reading Peter Enns’s newest book, and he definitely believes that evolution is part of the frame of reference for reading the Bible, and not the other way around. He speaks of evolution as fact, and not theory. Whatever else we can say, then, we can certainly say that Enns does not understand the nature of science as theory, not fact.

Theology needs to reign once more as the queen of the sciences. Only then can we halt the progressive fragmentation of knowledge and seek to reunify knowledge again. Kant was wrong. God can and has revealed himself to man. Only by that revelation can our nous (“mind”) be renewed. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Scripture does that by the power of the Holy Spirit. This has far more authority than science ever could.

The case of Galileo is usually misunderstood as the church persecuting Galileo for his views on heliocentrism. However, if you read Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances, you will see a different facet at play. The church was actually more concerned about the relationship of science to Scripture and theology. They were far more concerned about the fact that Galileo posited science as fact, and that he was putting science over the Bible as more authoritative. The issue of heliocentrism was involved, certainly, but the case was more complicated than simply “the church persecuting the misunderstood-but-correct scientist (bad church, bad church!).”

PCRT Seminar: Major Approaches to Creation, Part 1 (Derek Thomas)

(Posted by Paige)

[I owe this to Lane in return for a delicious Italian meal, good company, and the privilege of hearing him sing “And Can It Be” – just amazing. Sorry this one wasn’t live; I still don’t know how he does that, even after watching!]

I chose Derek Thomas’s seminar because I’d just finished reading his Job commentary with my 14-year-old, and I only belatedly realized I’d assigned myself to write up what Thomas dubbed a particularly “complex, difficult, divisive issue.” (That is a short “i” in the middle there; he’s Welsh.) So, here goes. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Please do read everything with a Welsh accent.

There was a lot of content in this presentation, so this will take two parts.

To begin with his endpoint: as the PCA study committee also affirmed, there are several views of creation that can be held without threat to inerrancy. While Thomas would personally subscribe to about 1.5 of the views he presented (on which see part two), he acknowledged that several other views were the convictions of scholars he respects. That said, there are lines in the sand past which inerrancy is no longer viable. The three non-negotiables he mentioned were creation ex nihilo, the special creation of man, and the historical, biblical individual named Adam. (I suspect there may have been more examples in his mind, but he didn’t get to them before Q&A time.)

Before describing any particular views of creation, Thomas dwelt on the tension that exists between biblical and scientific worldviews regarding the nature of the universe. He noted that evolution was not really a scientific theory, but rather “a philosophy, a worldview, an epistemology that affects ethics, morals, and standards.” Even the Big Bang theory moves beyond science and into theology when it tries to address origins (i.e., what happened before this singularity?). “Theologians should get antsy when scientists do theology – generally they do it pretty badly.”

Still, as the church we don’t want to commit another embarrassing error along the lines of geocentrism; it may be healthy to be skeptical of science, but “not to the extent we look foolish.” Thomas acknowledges that we trust science for many things (e.g., “If they’re going to cut me open and remove bits of me, I am going to have to trust the science”). Yet there is no way to reconcile even a generous 7-Day-Creation age of the universe (50,000 years ago? 200,000?) with scientific claims – 13.77 billion years – without doing something radical to the biblical account. And this we may not do.

In any case, “we need a degree of modesty when talking about these issues.” Science may be wrong; it is changing, not a constant. And theology may be wrong – the Bible is inerrant, but its interpreters are not.

Thomas also cautioned us to remember that there is a distinction between the Neo-Darwinian viewpoint (represented by Richard Dawkins) and the worldview of Darwin himself. Darwin’s deism was “ungodly, he had no gospel”; and yet he posited that God creates a few primal forms and always assumed a fixity of species (i.e., he did not advocate trans-species evolution). “That is 13.77 billion years away from Neo-Darwinism,” which has no fixed point of origin and traces “an unbroken line from mollusk to man.” This view is now the most dominant philosophy in modern thought…and it introduces the absorbing question, What might man ultimately become??

Speaking of evolution, we must remember that any so-called Christian view of creation that calls into question the historical, biblical Adam has dropped away from inerrancy. Thomas stresses the adjective biblical here because there are those who suggest that “there was a [historical] dude called Adam that God singled out from other hominids” to endow with the divine image. He referenced Dennis Alexander [dates??] who believed that hominids were around for a couple hundred thousand years (and had acquired language!) before any one of them was singled out by God for homo divinus status. John Stott unfortunately adopted this view. It introduces the conundrum of whether Adam & Eve’s parents were human – or a source of food. (And what happened to all those other hominids? What did they become? Hmmm.)

Closer to home we have Peter Enns asserting that Paul’s endorsement of the historical, biblical Adam can be disregarded because Paul was an ancient man, a product of his times…and we know so much better now about human origins. In Derek Thomas’ wry assessment, “That isn’t just a slippery slope – that’s an Alpine slope!”

Stay tuned for part two…

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