Registered Parliamentarian

I finally passed my registered parliamentarian test this morning. It is without a doubt the single most grueling test I have ever taken in my entire life. The pool of questions is 1400, divided into 5 sections. Many of these questions seem designed to try to trick you. Fortunately, you can take the exam in parts now. I took part IV this morning as the last one.

Is Musical Beauty All in the Ear of the Behearer?

The following is a talk I gave at the worship conference at Christ Church of the Carolinas. It is a longer post, because it is a talk that lasted a little less than an hour.

“You like what you like, and I’ll like what I like.” “It’s all a matter of personal preference.” “You have your music and I have mine.” “Different strokes for different folks.” Is musical beauty all in the ear of the behearer, just as visible beauty is all in the eye of the beholder? Is it all just a matter of personal preference and taste? Or does the Bible and natural revelation teach us something more nuanced than that? We can phrase the question this way: is musical beauty all entirely relative, or are there standards that we can discover from the Scripture and from nature that point to some objective standards? Now, let me be clear: personal taste and preference are not irrelevant. And, in suggesting that there is such a thing as an objective standard for musical beauty, I am not suggesting that therefore everyone has to like only a certain kind of music. Nor am I suggesting that an objectively beautiful piece of music would need to be appreciated by everyone alike. Different factors can play in to whether a person “likes” a certain piece of music. I know many professional musicians, for instance, who have heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony so often that would really rather not hear it yet again, as beautiful and magnificent a piece as that is. I know of piano teachers who refuse to teach Beethoven’s Für Elise, for similar reasons. However, I am not primarily here to talk about personal preferences, and why people like some kinds of music and not others. My purpose is to ask about the music itself. Is there anything like a standard of beauty apart from what we think about it? My position is that there is a standard of beauty, and that Scripture and natural revelation tell us about it. Just about everything that I am going to say today goes out on a limb. Just about every sentence would be contested by someone or other. Just know that I am aware of that. I will try to make a case for a particular view of musical beauty. It is not the majority position among Americans.

For Scripture, I would direct us to Philippians 4:8, which reads as follows in the ESV: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are two points I wish to draw our attention to in this text. Firstly, Paul’s words imply that there are things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. They are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise regardless of our reaction to these things. This state of affairs would, in fact, be true even if no human being could appreciate it. I’m sure that some of us have heard about the old saw that if there was a rose in the middle of a field that no one ever saw, would it still be beautiful? Similarly, if an avalanche of rocks happened, and no one heard it, would it still make a noise? According to Paul, the answer is yes. These philosophical questions, of course, usually presume that God is not part of the picture. However, we cannot take God out of the picture. There is always an audience. God makes many things that only He appreciates fully. Stars that are tens of billions of light years away that we cannot study properly because we cannot see them clearly, God still appreciates the work of His fingers. And when God creates something, it is always good. Ultimately, that is the reason why Paul says what he says. In studying whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We follow his fingerprints, in order to figure out what God is doing, and thereby marvel at God’s creative power and infinite wisdom. So, these things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, because God makes them so, ultimately speaking. Even things that humanity creates can only be so because God creates humanity. Our creativity is always derivative. We create because God first created us.

What logically follows from God’s creation of things on earth is that God defines what is beautiful in His creation. And that is everything that He has made. The refrain in Genesis 1 is that God saw what He had made and pronounced it good. Then, when God looked at everything He had made, He says that it was very good. All creation, as God created it, is good, and therefore worthy of pondering. Humanity, however, has not gone in the same direction as God’s original creation. The Fall brought ugliness, chaos, sin, rebellion, evil, and death into the world. We believe that the creation is still good, but that we humans have marred the creation. We have distorted creation, and put it out of kilter. This means also that rebellious humanity has often substituted the ugliness of sin and rebellion for the beauty of God’s creation. We have called good bad and bad good. The Fall has had a profound effect on our ability to recognize beauty as well as manufacturing our tendency to make God’s creation ugly. Similarly, when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, that also affects their ability to recognize beauty. Even as we say that, we have to remember that the existence of beauty is one thing, and the appreciation of that beauty is something different. This can help us to understand that something can be beautiful even if it is not appreciated, or appreciated differently. Something outside of us can be objectively beautiful, even if our subjective capacity is not up to appreciating it. So, beauty in music is objective. Our subjective likes and dislikes do not change whether something is beautiful or not. It only affects our enjoyment or appreciation of it.

Equally important is that the existence of the Fall means that many things that humans create are not beautiful. If we say that all art or all music is beautiful, then we are denying the Fall. How can a book, for instance, that praises drunkenness, sexual immorality, and idolatry be a beautiful book? The Bible describes these things, yes, but it condemns them! It is possible to describe a fallen world (even the ugly parts most affected by the Fall!) in a beautiful way. The Bible does this perfectly. However, it is not possible to glory in the ugly parts in a beautiful way. So Paul is saying that there ARE things that are beautiful, which implies that there are other things which are not.

The second point I wish to point out in the passage is Paul’s word choice at the end of the verse. He says, “think about these things.” The verb that Paul uses (logizomai) is defined this way in the Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon: “to give careful thought to a matter, think about, consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on.” Paul’s use of the verb here implies that what you think about or ponder must be able to sustain that kind of thinking and pondering. For example, it would be quite impossible to do what Paul is exhorting us to do with a song such as “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” That kind of song simply doesn’t have enough meat on the bones to sink your teeth into! The only way the song is even endurable to someone singing it, is if the singer is drinking all 99 bottles himself! It’s a trivial song. Maybe it was invented purely for annoying people. If so, the inventor was a genius at achieving his goals in life. So, the point we are making is that the material to be pondered must be capable of sustaining that kind of attention. This means that there needs to be a certain amount of depth to whatever it is we are studying in our following Paul’s instructions. It might be difficult to define precisely what it means for something to have depth, but in general, we can think of it this way: is the substance completely accessible on the first seeing or hearing? Or is there more to it than that? If there is more to it than simply complete and instant accessibility, then we are dealing with something that has depth enough to be considered according to Paul’s criteria. We can probably all agree that “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” just doesn’t cut it as something worthy of sustained attention and meditation! So, to summarize where we have gone so far: Paul tells us that there are things worthy of sustained attention, and that we should give sustained attention to those things. Along the way, we have noticed that God the Creator defines what is beautiful, and that we humans have often substituted something ugly for something beautiful, and we have often denied the effects of the Fall in the realm of art. Now, we will turn our attention to natural revelation, and see if it can tell us anything about beauty in music.

We immediately run into problems here, however, for music is difficult to define. Finding the one essential aspect of music that makes something music is difficult. If we go with melody as the essential aspect, then what do we do with a drum solo that has no melody? Is that not music? Harmony does not always exist either, for there are hundreds of songs that have no harmony, but only melody. Rhythm is firmer ground, because all music has a rhythm of some kind. The notes or sounds have to occur in some kind of order, even if that order is not always intentional. Here is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines music: “That one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of emotion.” Later on, it gives an even more basic definition: “Sounds in melodic or harmonic combination, whether produced by voice or instruments.” I would want to add rhythmic in there, so as not to offend our dear friends, the percussionists. So the definition would then run like this: “Sounds in melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic combination (or any two or all three of these three elements), whether produced by voice or instruments.” The thing I like about the earlier definition, however, is the emphasis on beauty of form and the expression of emotion. These are two very important elements to which we will be returning. That gives us enough of a definition of music to go on with. The question now is this: how can we tell if a given piece of music is beautiful or not?

I believe the first place to start is with a recognition of music’s parallels with human language. Music is a form of communication, and it has a language. Even that is disputed by some musicologists (as is almost every sentence of what I am writing!), but for the purposes I have in mind here, the parallel will serve as a very helpful illustration. Music is a kind of language. We know when someone is communicating to us well or poorly, depending on whether they are expressing themselves accurately or imprecisely. But, even more than that, we can tell the difference between language that is beautiful and language that is ugly. Humans have not left language alone with regard to the Fall either! We can tell the difference between Revelation 21:4 on the one hand, which says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away;” and four-letter curse words on the other hand, which are vulgar and ugly forms of communication. However, there is more to it than that. Revelation 21:4 could be recited in an ugly way. This introduces the person who reads the words (or, in the case of music, performs the notes). If I read the text in such a way that each word exists all by itself and has no apparent relationship to the other words, then we have what a computer would do. This is something I always do for my voice and piano students. I recite the first words of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in two ways. The first way is like this: Once…there…were…four…children… whose…names…were…Peter,…Susan,…Edmund,…and…Lucy. The second way I read it is the more natural way that we would use in normal conversation. The point I am trying to raise with that is that music is a language and there are significant parallels.

For instance, English, to pick the obvious candidate for our purposes (though most any language would work for the analogy), has letters that make up words that are grouped in phrases and sentences. Those sentences are then grouped into paragraphs, chapters, and then books. Similarly, music has notes instead of letters (and even those notes are called by letter names!), small groups of notes instead of words, phrases that match English phrases, and longer phrases that match sentences. The phrases are then grouped together into periods and sections, which can then be grouped into movements in some cases, and entire works.

This parallel from verbal language to music has a very important point of application to us. What makes effective communication that will not bore the listener to tears? There needs to be form and order, as well as expression. How do we communicate this in music? Here is, I believe, the secret to all great music: the arch. Another way to say it is musical line. There are many pianists out there, say, who can play absolutely anything with their fingers because they have complete dexterity, and they have practiced their technique to the point of mastery, but couldn’t express something emotional or otherwise to save their lives. This is what I usually call the computer syndrome. Computers have come a long way since they first started being able to make sounds. You can even, with a great deal of work, get a computer to have a crescendo (gradually getting louder) or a diminuendo (gradually getting softer). However, the one thing a computer still can’t do (at least I’ve never heard it yet) is musical line. Arch. Rising and falling action. Let’s go back to English language. In a novel, what do you have for most of the book, if it is well-written? You have rising action. Rising tension. The protagonist(s) are struggling with obstacles in the way to achieving some goal. These obstacles must prove very difficult to overcome, or else you could not have an entire novel about it. At a point near the end of the book, there is a crisis. It is the point of greatest tension, greatest dissonance. Then the action resolves somehow. If it resolves in favor of the protagonist, then you have some form of “he lived happily ever after,” a happy ending. And if it resolves against the protagonist, then you have a tragedy. In music, you have a very similar structure in well-composed music. There is rising action, rising tension, greater and greater dissonance until you reach the high point of the phrase, or section, or piece. After that, the dissonance is resolved. Obviously, the resolving has to be near the end. In the case of a novel, it is quite impossible to have the climax of the novel be in the middle, because what would the author do for the remainder of the book? Just repeat himself over and over again about how happy the protagonist is? That just doesn’t work. It’s lame, and the audience won’t stay to read the rest of it! No, the climax is always near the end. The end consists of wrapping up loose threads of the narrative. Music is very similar. What is true about good music is that there are arches within arches. Phrases have this rising and falling action, and the phrases are connected together in a much larger pattern of rising and falling action. The whole piece is also rising and falling action. Bad music doesn’t look like this. Bad music hovers around a fixed point, like someone reading in a monotone. And bad performance takes those arches and flattens them into a pancake. Any of you who were here last night heard lots and lots of arches, whether you knew you were hearing them or not.

This observation about music as compared to novels can be supported greatly from special revelation, the Bible, and I mean here the structure of biblical revelation as a whole. The Old Testament is nothing if not rising action. The obstacles (antagonists) are sin and Satan. The protagonists are God and the seed of the woman. Which seed will win out? The seed of the serpent or the seed of the woman? Through the promised seed in the promised land, God brings to completion in Jesus Christ the ultimate plan of redemption. There, too, we can see that the crisis, the climax of all redemption is the person and work of Jesus Christ, focused especially on the cross and the empty tomb. And, if you look at the size of your Bible, and where that climax occurs, it occurs near the end of each of the gospels, which is well past the half-way point in the Bible. The rest of the Bible after that is teasing out all the implications of what Christ has done, and leaves us with the ultimate resolving of all things in the book of Revelation.

So, since this has all been pretty much at the level of the concepts, what does this look like in the worship music of the church? I have until now avoided the so-called “worship wars,” because I believe that these standards of musical beauty cross many lines. The most obvious divide is that between “Contemporary Christian Music,” or CCM, and traditional hymnody. I would say this: there are good and bad hymns, just as there is good and bad CCM. The date of composition is not what matters. All music was once new. What matters is whether it communicates in the way we have been demonstrating. That being said, I will say that, in general terms, hymns communicate musically in a more beautiful way than CCM does. This is because good hymns tend to have the arch-shaped phrases, whereas CCM tends to hover around a fixed point. Notice that I said “tends.” That is because there are some really terrible hymns out there that have no arch at all to the phrases. I think of many hymns from the revivalist tradition, for instance. Now, if I step on your toes at this point, because there might be some revivalist hymns you love, or some CCM that you love, realize it is not my purpose to be combative here. And, there are good modern hymns that have the arch-shaped phrases.

The other principle that is absolutely essential is whether the tune fits the words. Here also I must raise an objection to CCM. CCM has no resources for setting sad words. Psalm 88, for instance, is a very sad Psalm, a Psalm that mourns, and that sees and plumbs the depths of darkness. It should not have happy, major-key upbeat rhythmically snappy tune to go with it. It should have a sad tune that laments. Incidentally, the whole issue of lament is one that we need to think through in churches. Carl Trueman, one of my professors at Westminster Theological Seminary, once wrote a spot-on article entitled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing? (now printed in this book) When you’re feeling depressed, or sad, you don’t always feel like singing something cheerful. You tend to want to sing something that expresses how you are feeling.

However, and this is a big caveat, music in worship is not primarily about how we feel. This is a mistake that 99% of Christians make when they are trying to decide what to sing in worship. They want to sing something familiar, or something catchy, or something upbeat. Why? Because of how it makes them feel! The whole point of this conference, however, is that worship is service to God, not service to us, and that includes our music. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not whether we feel a certain way when certain music is done in worship, but what words and music will best serve and glorify God? That doesn’t mean we check our emotions at the door and sing in a monotone. Everything we have been saying militates against that sort of thinking. Singing in a monotone is not artistic music. It is a computer.

One last thing deserves mention here. This view of art does not make hymn singing or hymn-playing impossible for the average person. It is not a question primarily of technique. As I mentioned before, plenty of people with technique to burn are thoroughly non-artistic. When you sing, remember language. Remember rising and falling action. Remember how the words fit together with the music. Sing in sentences. In the best hymns, the words fit the music and the music fits the words. That is true beauty in worship music. That should be our goal.

Happy Chained America, or “Celebrating Independence”?

Chain

Our country was founded to be a religiously free country. This was one of the primary goals, if not the primary goal, of the pilgrims in coming over from England. Later on, even the founding fathers who were not Christian still believed in religious freedom. For instance, Thomas Jefferson, hardly a Christian himself, did not believe that civic freedoms depended on one’s religious beliefs. He believed in a complete freedom of religion. Take a good look at the bill that Jefferson helped write and sponsor for the Virginia legislature. Are not the evils mentioned in it precisely those that we see today, and have every right to fear in the future?

Here are the words of the first amendment to our constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In today’s world of a “living and breathing Constitution,” this has become a complete wax nose. It means whatever the cultural majority decides it means.

Up until the SCOTUS ruling, there has been mostly freedom of religion (although that has eroded somewhat). There will no longer be a true freedom of religion, unless cooler heads prevail. Folks, if someone wants to be able to say “I hate homosexual people,” he ought to have the freedom to voice his opinion (this is something I would not say, by the way). I date the chaining of America to June 26, 2015. We are no longer a free country. People might very well respond by saying that they are just pursuing their rights, which have been denied them for a long time. This is an utter lie. Judging from the religious persecution that has already started against conservative Christians who refuse to engage in something that they cannot by their own conscience do, churches will most certainly be targeted.

If Satan’s minions were willing to listen, they might realize that they are using the wrong strategy, if they desire to eliminate the church’s influence from America. Up until now, Satan has been making the American church fat and lazy by giving them multitudinous opportunities to be comfortable. Churches fall away from Christ in droves when this happens. It has been happening. Now, however, all that dross is about to be purged away. The church is going to become lean, purer, and much more effective. It will start to look more and more like the house churches in China. There will be many positive things that will come out of this situation. In other words, I am not whining. Obviously, God knows that the church in America needs this in order to be purged. But my point is this: the left should not try to kid themselves or lie to the American public about their true goals. Welcome to the Chained States of America. Big brother is watching.

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.”

Quote of the Week

Today we hear from Berkhof on theistic evolution, timely in today’s current theological climate.

Other evolutionists advocate what they call theistic evolution. This postulates the existence of God back of the universe, who works in it, as a rule according to the unalterable laws of nature and by physical forces only, but in some cases by direct miraculous intervention, as, for instance, in the case of the absolute beginning, the beginning of life, and the beginning of rational and moral existence. This has often been called derisively a “stop-gap” theory. It is really a child of embarrassment, which calls God in at periodic intervals to help nature over the chasms that yawn at her feet. It is neither the Biblical doctrine of creation, nor a consistent theory of evolution, for evolution is defined as “a series of gradual progressive changes effected by means of resident forces” (Le Conte, emphasis Berkhof’s). In fact, theistic evolution is a contradiction in terms. It is just as destructive of faith in the Biblical doctrine of creation as naturalistic evolution is (emphasis added); and by calling in the creative activity of God time and again it also nullifies the evolutionary hypothesis (Systematic Theology, pp. 139-140).

My Father’s Article on the Exodus Population Numbers

I think this issue has serious ramifications for the exegesis of the numbers of the Exodus. Many if not most commentators simply assume exaggerated numbers. They have not crunched any numbers. My father shows that exaggeration is surely not necessary in order to understand the census numbers literally in the Exodus and Numbers account. What follows here is an abbreviated summary that my father wrote, and the article itself is available here (see attachment near the bottom).

The purpose of this paper was to demonstrate (with a mathematical model) how the population of the Israelites could have increased during their captivity in Egypt consistent with the specific census numbers noted in the book of Numbers. In particular, it was shown that a family size of 6-8 children throughout the time of captivity could easily account for the census numbers without resorting to metaphorical and/or hyperbolic interpretations of those numbers.

The mathematical model was characterized by the relaxing of any implicit extra Biblical requirement that the number of generations of all lines of all the patriarchs had to be limited to five during the entire time of captivity. The model was designed to include such parameters as the average number of children per family, the rate at which the first born and subsequent male children were killed by the Egyptians, the number of live births per family before and after the Egyptian edict, and a variable associated with multiple births, all of which resulted in a range of the total Israelite population being ~1.4 million to ~1.8 million, with the most likely number being around 1.5 million at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. In all cases, the census numbers in the book of Numbers were forced to be satisfied exactly by the calculational mechanism of the model.

The results showed the following:
1. A typical exponential growth pattern of the Israeli population, similar to that of the population of the United States from 1790 to 1870. This without the unreasonable number of children per family of about 30, as a number of commentators would have us believe would have been necessary. In this case, the model (while being considerably simpler than the actual scenario) was able to account for all the numbers noted in Scripture dealing with the Exodus population. This implies that a more complete and accurate descriptive model would strain neither our understanding of Scripture nor common sense in terms of what the Scriptural numbers mean.
2. That the proportion of first born male children killed would have been considerably greater than that of subsequent male children, thus further illustrating the justice of the passover executing of the firstborn of Egyptian people. The model predicts male baby deaths by the Egyptians to be in the order of hundreds of thousands.

In general, future exegeses of Scriptural passages which contain perplexing numbers should be conducted by including questions about one’s implicit assumptions about such numbers rather than about the actual numbers themselves (In this particular case, for example, an implicit assumption made by many commentators is that the number of generations going from Judah to the Exodus was five for all descendants of Jacob). In this regard, it is hoped that this paper will stimulate further analysis of various numerical information contained in Scripture to help clarify any seeming paradoxes centered around such numbers. The results of such analyses likely may well have sermon applications beyond the details of the specific passages in question. For example, consideration of the abortion statistics in the United States as compared to the the number of deaths of Israelite baby boys suggests that a similar judgment of God upon the United States would not be out of line and that repentance as a nation for the crimes of abortion is urgent.

Response to Gerety

Sean Gerety has written a blog post wherein he attacked my blog post quotation of Berkhof in the following way:

It’s hard to imagine a more vicious attack on the integrity of the Scriptures and the Reformed system of faith than what Keister has written above.

Gerety expounds this attack by saying the following:

If the Scriptures were irrational and violated the laws of logic, specifically the law of contradiction, would they still be trustworthy? I don’t see how? Yet, for Keister reason is not a tool by which we can discover the trustworthiness of Scripture and he confuses the laws of logic with errors in logic due to sin.

I would simply say this: go back to the original post and see if I was saying that we can’t prove the Scriptures to be correct. I was NOT saying that we do not apprehend the Scriptures by use of our reason, fallen though it is (the Holy Spirit is required for us to understand the Scriptures: this is God’s answer to correcting fallen human reason). There is a big difference between apprehending (Gerety’s word is “discover”) God’s word by use of reason (which I think is essential), versus proving God’s Word is true by the use of reason (which I believe is impossible).

Let it also here be said unequivocally that I believe that all logic and infallible reason belong to God, and there is not one single contradiction in all of Scripture. Indeed, God, through Scripture, has given us the very source of logical and rational thinking.

The problem here is that Gerety equates my statement of the limited, derivative nature of our reason (which requires an external starting point precisely in order to be valid!) with irrationality. The only thing I was saying in the post (and what Berkhof was saying, as well!) is that Scripture is our starting point, and that we cannot prove a starting point, any more than we can build a foundation under another foundation. The proof is in the pudding, shall we say, and the pudding is one hundred percent logical, when God and Scripture are our starting points.

My questions for Gerety are simple: would Gerety claim that human reason is more foundational to our thinking than God’s Word is? I thought God’s Word WAS truth, the very definition and encapsulation of truth. God’s Word is the very thing that enables us to think truly logically and rationally. Second question: does sin affect fallen man’s logic and rationality at all? I thought human beings were depraved in every aspect of their being, the mind included. Now, I do not claim that unbelievers are incapable of agreeing with a logical proposition. There is such a thing as common grace. However, if Scripture is not the alpha point, the omega point is irrationality. The unbeliever will always start from the wrong place. If you start in the wrong place (i.e., with false premises), then the conclusion will be wrong as well.

In conclusion, I do not believe I have issued any attack whatsoever on the Christian faith, or the Reformed faith, let alone one than which a more vicious attack could scarcely be imagined. Since Gerety is banned from this blog, he will need to respond on his own blog.

Is Theology a Science?

This question is, of course, way too large to address in only one post. However, I was reading Berkhof’s Introduction to Systematic Theology (which is included in the Eerdman’s edition of his Systematic Theology), and I found a really fascinating discussion of this question that was eminently clear and precise. So, what I want to do here is to set forth Berkhof’s arguments and see what people think.

The question revolves around the definitions of the two terms. What one means by “theology” and what one means by “science” will carry the day in answering the question. It seems fairly obvious that if theology is a science, it is a science that is different from the “normal” sciences we think of today (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). With the advent of Kant’s denial that human beings can truly know anything beyond what the senses can apprehend (Kant did not deny the existence of things beyond the realm of the phenomenal world; rather, he posited that they were objects of faith, not knowledge), theology as a science has fallen on hard times.

Berkhof makes the point that many people wanted to retain the idea that theology is a science, but they wanted to do so while being persuaded of Kant’s position. This meant that they had to make theology into a science of observable things (see p. 46). What is observable is the human psyche. So theology had to be redefined as the science of religion (as opposed to the majority definition in church history of theology being the ectypal (creaturely) knowledge of God). In other words, it became the science of what we can observe happening in human beings when confronted with the supernatural. It was thought that the supernatural itself could not be the object of scientific study, but our reaction to the supernatural could be observed.

Berkhof notes several problems with this train of thought. Firstly, this is too narrow a definition of science. If science is limited exclusively to the realm of what we can observe with our senses, then what of those branches of science that deal with the philosophy of science? The material they work with is not sensory information, but is dependent on rational intuition (pp. 46-47).

A second problem Berkhof raises is that science, like theology, is also dependent on revelation. Without a revealed world, science would have nothing to study. As hard as science often tries to get away from revelation, it cannot escape natural revelation at all.

A third problem is that the physical sciences and theology both have tests that can be performed. The physical sciences use the laboratory, whereas theology uses Scripture as a test.

Now, Berkhof asserts that theology is not a science in the same way that the natural sciences are. Theology has a different method, a method determined by the subject matter. However, the question may be raised as to whether science can be reduced to the scientific method. Remember the original meaning of the Latin scientia, which means “knowledge.” Most scientists today would deny that anyone can know God as an object of knowledge. They would typically say that one can only believe in God. However, such a position completely ignores the possibility of the Bible being revelation from God to us. We can know God through His revelation of Himself. That we believe the Bible is God’s revelation does not mean that theology is still all a matter of belief and not of knowledge. The scientist himself has to believe that the tools of his trade are trustworthy (his senses, and his reason). Does that make his field less an object of knowledge and only a matter of belief? Then neither does belief in the Bible as God’s revelation mean that theology is all reducible to belief and has no component of knowledge in it. In short, theology, when rightly defined, is a science, when science is understood in the above way.

Degreeism

When I was a witness for the prosecution in the Leithart case, one of the main ways that the defense sought to discredit my testimony was to attack my academic credibility. I didn’t have an advanced theological degree (apparently an M.Div. doesn’t count as an advanced theological degree, only Th.M.’s and Ph.D.’s would count). I just discovered that I am in good company. The best, in fact:

John 7:14-18 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. (NKJV)

The people were grudgingly admitting that Jesus did know the law well. And this is what puzzled them, since He had not gone through standard rabbinical training. He didn’t have the proper academic credentials. Therefore, how could His testimony be true?

Listen to what Dr. (!) Sproul says about the passage: “After college, I went on to seminary, which brought a whole new level of difficulty. But probably the biggest academic adjustment in my life occurred when I enrolled in doctoral studies in the Netherlands. I had no idea how rigorous the academic discipline at that level would be. But as I completed my academic work, I realized that there were many of us who had been educated well beyond our intelligence. That is a problem with upper levels of education-once we get through them, we have a tendency to think we actually know far more than we do, and we have a tendency to tilt the nose a bit and look down at those who have not gone through such rigorous training. We put a lot of focus on people’s degrees and wonder whether their credentials are really credible” (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary on John, p. 134).

Indeed, this is true. On the one hand, such academic training has value (witness the benefit that most of the Reformed world has obtained through the scholarship of Dr. Sproul!). On the other hand, truth is not determined by such an academic degree. I know of many people who hold Ph.D.’s in theology who wouldn’t know what true scholarship was if it hit them on the nose. I know of many other people who have no Ph.D. at all, and yet produce amazing work. What matters is not the degree, but the work, and the actual quality of the work produced. Many of the most famous theologians in all history had no advanced degree. John Calvin had no advanced degree in theology. Neither did C.H. Spurgeon. Nor did any apostle except Paul. Folks, we forget our origin if we engage in degreeism. We make man big and God small. Scholarship has its value, and so does a Ph.D. have a value (I hope to obtain one myself at some point). However, God exercising His wisdom through the Holy Spirit is the best teacher of all. We would do well not to forget this. We will do well not to make an idol out of education or letters after people’s names.

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.

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