The Judgment of the Canaanites

It is a fairly common objection to the Bible and to all forms of biblical faith that a God who would order the extermination of all the Canaanites by the Israelites cannot be a loving God, and therefore cannot be any kind of god that they would want to worship.

There are a number of answers that have been posed to this question that are inadequate for anyone wishing to take the Bible seriously. One answer is that God did not prescribe the war, He simply decreed it. This falls foul of the Scriptural injunction that God gives to wipe all the Canaanites out. He commanded them to do it (though with very important exceptions, as will be noted below. The exceptions, in fact, point us in the right direction, as I will argue). Another inadequate answer is that Israel falsely attributed the command to God, but actually conquered Canaan on their own steam. Nor is it adequate to say that all forms of warfare are evil, as if there were no such thing as a just war. Christian ethicists have argued from Scripture through all the centuries of church history that there is such a thing as a just war. The question is a formidable one, and it will not do to simply wish the problem away, or explain it in such a way as does not do justice to the biblical data.

The exceptions to the genocide are, as state above, quite important. Rahab and her family were spared. Why were they spared? Because of their faith. The Gibeonites were spared. Why were they spared? They believed that the land was going to Israel, and they feared the God of Israel. They used underhanded methods to gain their lives. And yet, while there is a reproach from Joshua directed towards the Gibeonites, there is no reproach from God, interestingly. In fact, in David’s time, the Gibeonites are allowed to exact justice on the seed of Saul’s line because Saul violated the treaty made with the Gibeonites. In both cases, there was a belief (on the part of the people spared) that God’s people Israel had the right to the promised land, and that Israel’s God was the true King of all named gods. There was a measure of faith, in other words. Whether we would call that saving faith is a question that would go beyond the evidence.

But if a faith, a belief that Israel’s God was the real deal was sufficient to create an exception, then we may infer from this fact that the Canaanites, as a general rule, did not worship the one true God at all. This is well-documented in Scripture. The false gods of the Canaanites (Molech, Shamash, Baal, etc.) are mentioned over and over again. The sin of the Amorites is mentioned in a revealing way: it is something that is not yet full earlier in redemptive history (compare Genesis 15:16 with later mention of the Amorites), thus pointing to a long-suffering patience on God’s part (He could have judged them far earlier!). Sin and faith then can be seen as the central issues here. The majority of the Canaanites were unbelievers who lived extraordinarily sinful lives (Leviticus 18). The exceptions were spared!

This brings us to the question: what did the Canaanites deserve? Did they deserve life? Did they deserve heaven? No one deserves life, and no one deserves heaven. The evidence suggests that they were a very sinful people on whom God’s judgment is therefore entirely just.

The objection immediately comes to mind, however: what about the women and the children? What had they done? The evidence of Balaam and Balak in Numbers suggests that the Canaanite women actively tried to seduce the Israelite men in order to get them to worship false gods. Ok, then what about the children? Weren’t they innocent? Psalm 51 states that children are sinful from the time of conception. Not even children are innocent. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never had children. They are not the cute little innocents that we think they are, though they certainly have not had opportunity to become Jack the Ripper. The point is this: what does anyone deserve? The simple truth is this: none of us deserve a single day of life on this earth. We have no right to demand anything of God any more than the pot has the right to demand anything of the potter.

If one wants to talk about the most evil event that has ever happened in human history, we cannot look to the genocide of the Canaanites. That was God’s judgment on a wicked people. God used the judgment as simultaneously giving Canaan to His people to be the promised land. Later on, when the Israelites became terribly wicked, God did the same kind of thing: He used another nation to judge Israel. But the most evil event cannot be the genocide of Canaanites. It cannot even be the Holocaust, as horrific as that was. The most evil event in history is the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory.

God has infinite dignity. A sin against God is therefore a sin against an infinitely holy God with infinite dignity. Try this thought experiment: contemplate the differences of the consequences that a slap in the face has with regard to the following people: what would happen if you slapped a hobo on the street, a fellow citizen, a police officer, the President of the United States, and the God of the universe? The same action has drastically different consequences depending on the dignity of the person being offended. Imagine, then, the heinousness of putting to death a person who is both God and man in one person, and therefore has infinite dignity; but who is also absolutely innocent and perfect. Not only this, but the method of putting Christ to death was the most humiliating kind of death on offer in the Roman world (it was reserved for traitors to the Roman empire: Jesus Christ the most resolute non-traitor, died the traitor’s death in place of traitors). So, the most humiliating death a person could die being inflicted wrongfully on the God-Man, who was and is perfect in every way, is the most evil event in all of human history. This raises the question: why would the genocide of the Canaanites stick in our craw if the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth does not? The truth is that God brought amazing and infinite good out of the infinite evil (the power of God is manifest in its most amazing form just here and at the resurrection of Christ from the dead) of the cross. As Joseph says of his brothers, they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What is the good, then, that came out of the genocide (I prefer the term “judgment” for obvious reasons!) of the Canaanites? The Canaanites were judged for their sin, while the Israelites received the promised land from God. This event, in fact, is part of the stream of the story that culminates in the very death of Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, there seems little point in objecting to the judgment of the Canaanites, which seems just. The real question is the marvelous, amazing, and inexplicable mercy of God in sending His Son to die for us.

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Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 Two Different Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to say that there are two creation accounts that contradict each other, and that therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis could not have been written by the same author. The first bit of evidence given is that, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humans, whereas in chapter 2, plants were created after humans. The second bit of evidence is the order of creation for animals vis-a-vis man: in Genesis 1, animals are created before man on the sixth day, whereas in Genesis 2, they are supposedly created after (depending on one’s translation of the verb “formed” in 2:19). What is more, historical-critical scholars tend to view any attempt to see the relationship of these chapters in a different way as a “harmonizing” attempt (as if harmonizing were some kind of dirty word). I will make the argument here, not even based on harmonizing with regard to the first bit, but based on exegesis, that the historical-critical understanding of the relationship of the chapters is in grave error.

The exegetical flow of Genesis 2:5-9 has to do with the institution of agriculture. How did it get started? Well, before it got started, there were two “problems” or “things lacking” to rectify. The first was that there was no rain, and the second was that there were no farmers. Agriculture does rather depend on these two things even today! Going back all the way to Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the “bush of the field” and “the plant of the field” in verse 5a are not descriptive, then, of all kinds of plants. Rather, they are limited to cultivated crops (the designation “of the field” points this way). This is absolutely proven by the second of the two reasons given for why these plants were not present. The first reason, “no rain,” of course, would be a good reason for why any plant had not yet appeared. So, that reason for the lack of plants is inconclusive for our point. However, “no man to work the ground” in verse 5b cannot possibly be a reason for why wild plants were not present. Wild plants do not need humans to work the ground in order to thrive. Therefore, to interpret the “bush of the field” and “plant of the field” in verse 5a to refer to all plants of whatever kind is irresponsible exegesis.

Whatever one may think of Kline’s exegesis of these verses, I think his point about verse 6 is well worth considering. A two-fold “problem” needs a two-fold solution. Kline believes that verse 6 is a. speaking about a rain-cloud, and b. giving us the solution to the first problem (no rain). Verse 7 then describes the fix to the second problem (no farmer). This interpretation is confirmed, then, in verses 8-9, where a garden (cultivated plants!) is planted, and verse 9, where the emphasis is on the food quality of the plants. Verses 5-9 then tell us of the introduction of cultivation in history, which is a large part of the cultural mandate of 1:28-29. This points to continuity between the two chapters, not discontinuity. As many scholars have noticed, chapter 1 treats of the creation of all things with a sort of wide-angle lens, whereas chapter 2 turns on the telephoto lens in order to focus more specifically on the creation of man, and the covenant which God made with him.

One last comment on this first part of the issue: I have yet to see a single liberal treatment of Genesis 1-2 that even acknowledges these exegetical points. They simply assume, without any argument, that, “of course,” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. One suspects that, even if a liberal were to read about these arguments for explaining the text, they would push such considerations under the rug, because they favor the idea of a contradiction, since it supports the JEDP source theory. Of course, a single author could not have had such things in mind as a more general account of the creation of all things in chapter 1, and the focus on the creation of humanity in chapter 2. Quite impossible! It seems to me that ancient authors might have been a bit more flexible than the modern historical critics give them credit for!

The second bit of evidence given is the order of creation with regard to animals and man. If 2:19 is translated, “Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heaven,” then yes, there is an issue there. But if, with the NIV and ESV, the verb “form” is translated as a pluperfect “had formed,” the entire question is resolved. The issue is whether the verb can be translated this way. The grammar of Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley seems to think this is a possibility. It cites Genesis 2:19 as an example of an imperfect being used “In dependent clauses to represent actions, &c., which from some point of time in the past are to be represented as future” (par. 107k). Waltke and O’Connor do not list Genesis 2:19 as an example of the wayyqtl representing a pluperfect sense, though they allow that this is a possible use of the wayyqtl, while admitting that it is controversial (see 33.2.3).

Joüon-Muraoka (in the second edition; the first edition does not discuss the issue) would call this use of the imperfect “very irregular.” J-M argues that the pluperfect can only be expressed by avoiding wayyqtl (166.j). Davidson allows for a third possibility for the imperfect: “to express actions which are contingent or depending on something preceding” 43(b). The upshot of the discussion is this, that we have four options. The first option is to translate “formed” as a simple past, interpret the form as a contradiction, and thus assume an absolutely idiotic redactor, who couldn’t spot the contradiction with chapter 1 if his life depended on it. Or, secondly, we could interpret the form as a pluperfect, which IS grammatically possible, at least according to GKC and W-O’C, and thereby alleviate the difficulty entirely, thus assuming a reasonably intelligent author. The third option is go with Davidson’s approach, and interpret the verb as expressive of an action which was dependent on some previous action, though I am not entirely sure how that would help us. The fourth option is maybe the simplest one: translate as a simple past, but then note that 2:19 does not have to express a time relation between the creation of the animals and the creation of man. I prefer option 2 or option 4.

Does this mean I am harmonizing where the text does not allow me? I would argue no. These are legitimate exegetical options. But if all it takes to “reconcile” these two passages is interpreting a verb form in a perfectly acceptable grammatical way, or suspending a time relation between two actions, recognizing along with many Hebrew scholars that narrative continuity is not the same as temporal continuity, then I would argue that the contradiction is the mind of the liberal critic, who forces it on the text. In literary terms, a contradiction should only exist if there is no other possible alternative, since we must assume that the author knew what he was doing, and was not an idiot. The problem that the liberal critic has is that he or she is so confident that there is a contradiction present that they are willing to build an entire theory of sources on this basis (along with the different names of God used in chapters 1 and 2, which would be subject matter for a different post). I hope I have shown that no contradiction is necessary from natural interpretations of the text. Where contradictions are not the only option, they should not be chosen. This is all the more true if we believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible and that He cannot lie.

A Van Til-Clark Discussion on Archetypal-Ectypal Knowledge

I am not going to get into a discussion of the interpretation of the Van Til-Clark debate, and whether they were talking past each other or not. I am only going to address a small part of the discussion, namely, the difference between archetypal and ectypal knowledge, and whether this forms an area of common ground between God and man.

First, some definitions are in order. The archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction is not by any means original with Van Til. It comes from Protestant Scholasticism. For instance, see the first few chapters of Markius’ Compendium Theologiae Christianae. Archetypal knowledge is the knowledge that God has. Ectypal knowledge is the knowledge that creatures have. The scholastics usually divided ectypal knowledge into the knowledge of angels and humans. Then human knowledge was further subdivided into the knowledge of man at creation, the knowledge of man as distorted by the Fall, the knowledge of the pilgrim, the knowledge of the blessed (glorified in heaven), and the knowledge of Christ as the God-man, Who had two knowledges, if you will, the archetypal knowledge of God according to the divine nature, and the knowledge of the hypostatic union as the God-man.

One of the points at issue, and the one most controverted, is whether God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide at any point. Usually those of the Clarkian persuasion will say that of course it must coincide, or else we are doomed to complete skepticism and we cannot know anything correctly. Those who follow Van Til believe that such a coinciding would violate the Creator-creature distinction. Sometimes a quantitative/qualitative distinction is introduced here as well. Those of the Clarkian persuasion would say that God knows a greater number of thoughts than we do, but that there are at least some thoughts that God and man have in common. To put it in its most forceful way, wouldn’t God have to know all ectypal knowledge in order to be omniscient? If we look at a pencil, and can agree that a human knowledge of a pencil might extend to its molecular structure, wouldn’t God also have to know the way in which we know the pencil in order to be omniscient? Wouldn’t there be overlap precisely at that point between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge? Van Til and his followers would claim that there is a qualitative distinction between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge just as there is a qualitative difference between God’s being and our being.

So what am I adding to this conversation? I believe that there is a way beyond the forceful way of putting things that I mentioned. It has to do with the atomization of knowledge implied in Clark’s way of thinking. By putting the matter in quantitative terms, God’s thoughts, while infinite in number, are thought of as building blocks. They are discrete points in a matrix, if you will, that extend infinitely in all directions. But God’s knowledge cannot be atomized in this way. If Van Til is correct in his analysis of facts having both substance and context, then the holistic context of all things (and by this context I am NOT positing some sort of higher reality to which both God and creation belong), including Himself, is always the context for God knowing all things, including His knowledge of ectypal knowledge. We cannot atomize God’s knowledge of ectypal knowledge from the rest of God’s knowledge. That context is one that humans will never and can never share, since that context would include God Himself in all His fullness. God’s knowledge is whole, just like His being is a simple whole. The simplicity of God prevents our dividing God into pieces. Therefore, His knowledge must be likewise one whole.

So this formulation of things must also answer the objection: how can our knowledge be true at all? Are we doomed to skepticism? The answer is a simple no, because of God’s self-revelation to us in both nature and Scripture. We would be doomed to skepticism if God did not reveal Himself to us, because then we would have no test of knowledge given to us by God. This would also answer the possible charge that we have descended into Kantianism (the idea that we cannot know anything in the noumenal realm, but only believe). If God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, then we would indeed know nothing. However, revelation is God’s way of ensuring that we can know things rightly, even if in a limited creaturely way. God’s revelation is an anchor that tethers all human knowledge.

The other objection that must be answered is this: is God’s knowledge then the all-encompassing whole that everything belongs to? Do we lapse into a form of idealism by saying this? Again the answer is no, simply because God’s knowledge is distinct from creation itself, just as God’s being is distinct from creation. We cannot separate epistemology from ontology in our thinking.

Dating the Israelite Exodus from Egypt

Posted by David Gadbois

In 2014 a filmmaker named Timothy Mahoney released the documentary Patterns of Evidence, seeking to demonstrate the historical veracity of the Exodus account, largely through its sympathetic treatment (if not outright endorsement) of a revisionist timeline known as the New Chronology, an idea that has its genesis in English Egyptologist David Rohl.  Mahoney is not a scholar but claims to have spent over a decade of research on the film, and while he seems very well-meaning it must be said that this thesis does more harm than good to those believers and unbelievers who are making an honest inquiry into the matter.

The movie has since made its way to Netflix, and has become influential to many evangelicals.  Unfortunately, this is leading many people down the blind alley of the New Chronology.  This scheme down-dates the traditional Egyptian chronology by several centuries.  There is no need to embrace a revisionist timeline.  It is imperative that we, as Christians, handle the matters of biblical history with great care, so that in our apologetic witness we would not give reason for skeptics to cast doubt on the biblical testimony.  The truth matters and, indeed, God is truth.

The dating of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a fairly daunting issue even for scholars who specialize in the relevant historical fields and devote their lives to such issues.  It is even more daunting for laymen such as myself to sift through such matters.  But we can at least consider an overview of the positions held by sound, contemporary scholars.

At this time Ted Wright, Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing, and Douglas Petrovich are at the forefront in defending a 15th century exodus from Egypt (1446/7 BC).

On the other side, favoring a 13th century exodus under the pharaoh Ramses II, are Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier (as of at least 2007).  While their conclusions may not be correct, I consider their motives and expertise unimpeachable.

John Currid does seem warm to the idea of a 13th century exodus in the EP Study Commentary of Exodus vol. 1 (2014, first published in 2000), but nonetheless concludes “For now, the date of the exodus and the conquest must remain an open question.  More evidence is needed.  I would agree with Waltke that a definitive verdict cannot be arrived at ‘until more data puts the date of the conquest beyond reasonable doubt.  If that be true, either date is an acceptable working hypothesis, and neither date should be held dogmatically.'”

From what I can tell, Bruce Waltke seems to have gone from a firm 15th century advocate to saying that the matter is “uncertain” in his OT Theology (2007).

More recently, Duane Garrett has echoed this uncertainty in his Exodus commentary (Kregel Exegetical Library, 2014).  He provides a helpful, up-to-date, and balanced overview of the various positions, and covers the merits of not only the Early Date (15th century) and Late Date (13th century) but also a Very Early Date (16th century) and a Very Late Date (12th century).  He only dismisses “radical revisions to Egyptian chronology and history carried out by amateurs and by a few unconventional scholars” such as David Rohl (p. 102, see fn).

I mention the above names for several reasons: 1.  because they are alive and can be expected to express reasonably up-to-date scholarship 2.  because they are reformed or evangelical, as best as I can tell, or at least are highly sympathetic to the biblical account.  As such I believe they are arguing in good faith.  3.  because they have relevant specialization and expertise on the subject.  As far as I can tell, everyone listed except Wright and Kitchen have PhD’s in relevant fields, and collectively the breadth of their expertise covers ANE history, religions, archeology, semitic languages, Egyptology, middle Egyptian, and so on.

The most relevant, direct evangelical exchange on the subject is probably the back-and-forth between Bryant Wood and James Hoffmeier found in JETS 48/3 and 50/2 (here and here).

The most interesting recent developments on the archaeological side of the issue, that post-date the above literature, come from Douglas Petrovich.  He has maintained for some time that the pharaoh of the Exodus is Amenhotep II, and that the timing was 1446 B.C. (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, TMSJ 17/1).  Moreover, he holds that the Israelites departed from their dwelling place in the archaeological site now known as Avaris.  In this he is in line with the views of Bryant Wood.  He just recently earned his PhD in ANE history and archeology from the University of Toronto (where Wood and Hoffmeier also earned their doctorates), and made a bit of news last year when he claimed that ancient Hebrew was the first proto-consonantal alphabet and derivative of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  He published the case for this thesis in The World’s Oldest Alphabet:  Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script.

This finding goes back to only 2012. With the names of three biblical characters in view on the materials he studied, the implications obviously go above and beyond the nature of the written Hebrew language.

Moreover, he believes that recent Austrian-led archaeological digs at Avaris have turned up evidence that the site was abruptly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II.  He made this case in  The Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5/2.  He intended to write a book, “Evidence of Israelites in Egypt”, based on this and other recent archaeological evidence.  After inquiring about the status of the book via e-mail correspondence to Dr. Petrovich, he wrote back and indicated that the timing of publication of this book is currently uncertain.  He decided to publish the book on the Hebrew alphabet first, since he considered that thesis to be more unassailable in the scholarly community.

I can only mention in passing that there is, likewise, recent archaeological evidence that has surfaced regarding Israel’s conquest of Canaan in a compatible time-frame, for instance at the site of Ai.

Hopefully the Lord will continue to bless this generation as more archaeological work is done and the data continue to shed light on this difficult topic.  For now, I would assert that the revisionist timeline of Rohl is an unnecessary diversion.  It would be far wiser to pay attention to the work of the solid evangelical scholars mentioned above.  In that regard, I believe that the legitimacy of criticisms of the historicity of the exodus on the basis of archaeological evidence is quickly evaporating.

 ***Post script.  I would not want to dissuade anyone who is reasonably informed and of a discerning spirit to view Patterns of Evidence.  It is an entertaining documentary, with very high production values, and it does retain redeeming features:  the archaeology of Jericho, Joseph’s tomb, the Merneptah Stele, the Berlin Fragment, and interviews with a handful of conservative scholars.

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.

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