Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Flood

What do I think of this book by John Walton and Tremper Longman published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always get excited when I see that a new Lost World book has come out. Walton’s books are always very enlightening and this time, he’s teamed up with another great Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman. They are discussing the great flood of Noah in this one and what the text says about it.

The first proposition put forward is the most important one in my opinion. This is that Genesis is an ancient document. Sounds obvious. Right? We all know it, but few of us seem to remember it. We read the text thinking it was written to people like us with a culture like us. That explains our tendency to read science into the text.

They also make the point that it’s not God’s purpose to teach us science in the Bible. We get a message about God’s work in the world. We do not get a message about how the world works. The message transcends any false beliefs that the ancient culture would have, such as the sky being solid and there being a body of water above.

This does not affect inerrancy. Inerrancy is about what the text affirms. The text speaks about thinking with our entrails, but that is not the teaching of the Bible. We do not go there to learn how our bodies work in thinking. We can learn some things about what to think and how to think, but not a scientific assessment of thinking.

The writers also do believe that there is a real event in the past being described. We often make a distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical. They can be different, but for the ancients, the interpretation of the event was much more important than the event itself. For the pagans, that would be their gods were showing their will through the events. For Israel, it was YHWH.

It’s also important to note that with the Genesis flood, we have a divine interpretation of the event right there. We do not have this with events today. Sorry, but we cannot speak with divine authority on why it is that a hurricane or a tsunami happened.

The writers also stress that hyperbole was a part of ancient writing. This goes on in the flood. It is no doubt that the flood is being described in terms that seem global. That does not mean that the flood itself was global. The ark itself is a huge wooden boat even by today’s standards. One can look at Ken Ham’s ark and think it’s possible, but keep in mind that was built using all manner of modern technology. Noah did not have that.

The writers also have a section on other flood accounts in ancient literature. They are there and while there are similarities, there are also vast differences. The biggest are not in the historical details, but in the theological interpretations of the events. These are the most important ones and yet, they’re usually left out.

The next section deals with the flood itself and in the context of the narrative. They show the connection it has to the sons of God passage in Genesis 6 and to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. All of these reflect on the role of order and the importance of the covenant.

The final section relates to how to approach issues of our day with the text. There is a section by another author who argues about the lack of evidence of a worldwide flood. As with many scientific issues, I thought it was fascinating and yet I found it very hard to understand. There’s also questions about how science and Christianity work together today. I agree with the authors definitely that we need never fear science. If it shows an interpretation of Scripture is likely false with good data, then we should really consider it. They rightly cite this informed opinion.

Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case ‘without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

Reading that, you could think it was written today. It wasn’t. It was written over 1,500 years ago by Saint Augustine. You can read it in his book The Literal Meaning of Genesis. If we believe God offered both the book of nature and the book of Scripture, we need have no fear of any scientific endeavor.

Differences of opinion I have with the authors are on minute points of interpretation of passages and not on major issues. Like all other Lost World books, this one is incredibly eye-opening and enlightening. I highly recommend it and I look forward to the next one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 18

Does evolution lead to evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered. This chapter looks at an essay by Richard Weikart on eugenics and evolution leading to that. I do agree that this does not establish that evolution is false. However, I do think there is a danger that one can take evolution in science and apply it everywhere else. When applied to morality, I do think it leads to great suffering.

Jelbert acknowledges this. There is a shameful history associated with eugenics. It did lead to forcibly sterilizing many people. Let’s also keep in mind Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood was a leaning proponent of this and the abortion crisis today is continuing this legacy. Now we don’t sterilize the people. We just kill the offspring.

Jelbert does say eugenics is not science and the scientific establishment was far from unanimous in supporting it. Yet if it is not science, then why was the scientific establishment involved? We could say perhaps it is not true science, but it is still a scientific topic.

Jelbert points to Peter Kropotkin speaking in 1912 at the first international eugenics congress in London.

Who were unfit? workers or monied idlers? Those who produced degenerates in slums or those who produced degenerates in palaces? Culture casts a huge influence over the way we live our lives, hopelessly complicating our measures of strength, fitness, and success.

Now I don’t know much about Kropotkin, but I look at this and think that this is just one opinion. Why should I take him as the main one? It would be like saying the existence of Jesus is far from settled in scholarship because Richard Carrier once spoke at the Society of Biblical Literature arguing for mythicism.

Jelbert also says that the Bible has been used to lead to great evil. He points to the Salem Witch Trials. This is true. However, I would contend that the witch trials misused the Scripture about a witch not being allowed to live since that applied to the Theocracy of Israel and not America. Also, it’s worth noting those lasted a short time and restitution was made.

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community lingered, however, even after Massachusetts Colony passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. Indeed, the vivid and painful legacy of the Salem witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his play “The Crucible” (1953), using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Of course, anyone who died wrongfully is still one person too many. Also, as Bruce Sheiman says in An Atheist Defends Religion

“Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.” —An Atheist Defends Religion

And

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

And one more

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

Jelbert also says the Bible purports to be a moral guide. I would like to know where this is. I do agree the Bible has some morality, but I don’t think the purpose of the Bible is to just make us good people. It is to make us Christian people who serve King Jesus and when we do that, we will be good people.

Jelbert goes on to say that Weikart paints scientists with a broad brush, but Weikart does not do this. He says many today often sound similar to the eugenics movement when talking about genetic technologies. This is true. Many do. Not all.

Jelbert also says he does not think there is a Christian ethic. If he means there are issues that Christians can disagree on in ethics, that’s understandable, but not all are. I don’t know many Christians willing to defend pornography or murder or rape. Most all of us condemn abortion as well. Christian ethics are founded on Christian principles such as mankind being in the image of God and the resurrection of Jesus.

I will say at the end I understand the concern of Weikart and we should take it seriously. Scientists can too often seek to play gods. At the same time, this doesn’t show evolution is false. It does show that that which works in science might not work in morality and perhaps if evolution is true, we still should not seek to take it into our own hands.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Origins, The Ancient Impact And Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11

What do I think of Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan’s book published by Morgan James Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If the writer of Ecclesiastes had said that of writing books about Genesis there is no end, he would have been quite right. It looks like often in discussions of the Bible, the two most debated books are Genesis and Revelation. Now another book has been added to the Genesis column.

I want to thank Douglas Jacoby for sending me a review copy of the book. I went through it in about a week’s time or so I’d say. The opening sections are incredibly helpful with discussing how to read the book and discovering what it would mean for the ancient audience. This is something that’s too often forgotten as we look at these kinds of topics. We are so stuck on our Western perspectives. Revelation we read literally because, well, that’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible isn’t it? Genesis we do the same except we read it scientifically literally, as if the ancient writer and audience really had questions of science in mind.

The writers also introduce the readers to pagan thought of the time and other epics about creation and the flood that were around. When you read this book, you will not only get an education in the Bible. You will also get an education in the pagan systems of the time and how they thought.

In some ways, the work reads as a commentary. In others, it doesn’t. This is a work more interested in answering questions from an apologetics perspective. That isn’t to say that other issues don’t come up, but Copan and Jacoby want us to try to understand how we can communicate the message of Genesis to our audiences today.

The writers also do right what they should do and that’s to rely on great scholars in the field. There are a plethora of endnotes and there is a bibliography section with recommended literature. Those who want to know more will have no lack of places to go to find more information.

The writers also tend to stay out of many of the controversies we have today, such as the age of the Earth, evolution, and the range of the flood, although sometimes endnotes do give their positions. Those aren’t the messages they want to have emphasized. Instead, it’s much more focused on what the ancients would have thought about the text as they read it.

The authors also do present interesting theories on many of the questions we have. You can even find arguments about the genealogies. Why is it that there were such long life spans in the book of Genesis? I’m still thinking about their interpretation of that which is worth looking into. Basically, their view is that the base root is 6 and the numbers should be seen differently. There’s a lot more involved and it’s best explained by getting the book.

What I like best is that the sections end by having a look at what has been established, then a look at how it relates to the New Testament, and then application is last of all. What a wonderful method this would be for pastors to take! Don’t take a text and jump straight to application! Instead, take the text and tell us what it meant to them, how it relates to the Bible as a whole, what it means to us, and then give the application!

Jacoby and Copan have given us a fine work to contribute to our study of origins. It is a work that is very reader friendly and the chapters are short enough that they would be appropriate for small group discussion. I recommend getting this one if you care about debates about Genesis.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 15

Has evolution dumbed us down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered. We’re going to return today with looking at his chapter in reply to Nancy Pearcey. The theme is that evolution dumbs us down. Pearcey argues that Darwinism eventually leads to pragmatism and postmodernism since all our ideas are products of evolution. This is reminiscent of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I have no wish to defend or critique the argument here.

Let’s get to what I do disagree with. Jelbert says that Pearcey gets wrong what atheism is. Atheism is not saying that there is no God. It is saying that a person does not believe there is a god. He goes on to say that this is important because it determines the burden of proof. One supposedly can’t prove that there is no God, just like you can’t prove there is no tooth fairy.

Well, these people disagree:

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Ultimately, I find this a dodge. The atheist is just saying that he doesn’t believe and the burden is automatically on the theist and if the theist doesn’t prove his claim sufficiently, the atheist is justified. Would the same be said to a person who is leaning towards a flat Earth and says “I’m not saying the world is flat. I’m just saying I don’t find sufficient reason to believe that it’s round.”? Would the same be said to the person who is arguing against evolution? Jelbert’s position should be considered more agnosticism, but then the burden needs to be placed on the atheist and the theist both. Whoever makes a claim has a burden.

It’s also a problem because let’s suppose that the claim “God exists” is true. In this case, theism is true, being the proposition that “God exists” is an accurate description of reality. On the other hand, let’s suppose that there are still atheists who say they lack God belief. In this universe, Theism could be true, in that God exists, and atheism could be true, in that people still lack God belief. This is something nonsensical though since atheism and theism are contradictories and contradictories cannot be be true. Theism is not making a statement about a subjective belief but about reality. If that is so, the denial of that statement is not making a statement about subjective belief, but reality.

And also, yes, God can hypothetically be disproven. One could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. That’s the way we disprove the idea of a square circle. That’s why there are such things also as the problem of evil that if they don’t disprove God, they at least try to show that God is highly unlikely.

Jelbert goes on to say that the big revolution of science was the freedom to say you don’t know something. Thus, you can try to find it out empirically. At this, one has to wonder if Jelbert has done any real looking into the medieval period. Empirical investigation was nothing new. It was being done. Scientists were trying to find natural explanations for most everything.

Jelbert then says that until God presents Himself for experimentation, we have no other recourse than naturalism, but why should I think that? This isn’t a scientific explanation but a theological one. If there is a God, then He would present Himself for scientific experimentation to us. Why should anyone think that?

“Doesn’t God want us to know He exists?” Why? What if God’s stance is sufficient evidence has already been given? What if He wants people to come to Him who want to know Him and not just treat Him like an object of trivia? What if He’s looking for people who are disciples?

But Jelbert has an example of this! Prayer experiments! Prayer experiments have not found prayer to be effective. Somehow, theists always have an excuse for God’s indolence!

Indolence?

That’s an odd way of putting it. The word refers to laziness or sloth. I’m sorry. We performed an experiment and God was obligated to play along? God is not like a machine where if you push A, B happens. There are no guarantees. Any married man should understand this. What your wife will like one time, she could find just annoying the next time.

Besides that, there are always too many variables. How do you know no one else is praying for a person in an experiment? How is the faith of each person involved in praying for a sick person? There is too much we don’t know, and from what we don’t know, we’re able to somehow make great leaps in logic. I’ve never been impressed by the idea of prayer experiments and having those tested. (Not to mention, there’s this little thing in the Bible about not putting God to the test.)

Pearcey goes on to say that each worldview gives an account of origins. Jelbert says that this is not correct. Scientists are fine with saying they don’t know and do not have undue concern for the origins of the universe. This must be news to Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking. He also says theists had ages to preach their truth with fervor only to adjust their position because of science. With this, Jelbert is perpetuating the myth of the warfare between science and religion. Yes. The conflict hypothesis is a great myth. It is recommended that Jelbert look at resources like Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science.

Pearcey also says that morality is always derivative from one’s worldview. Jelbert says this seems to contradict chapter 2 where absolute morality could demonstrate that there is a God. Pearcey is, however, right. What one believes about morality involves their whole worldview. Also, I don’t think Copan is saying morality proves that there is a God, but rather it gives strong evidence and he thinks God is the best explanation.

In closing, I have to say that yes, this isn’t meant as a proof of God, but a part of a cumulative case. I do agree that if the science is that evolution is true, we have to accept that and not just look to the consequences, but i think many times in his response Jelbert has made a number of philosophical and historical errors. Largely, having so many chapters endorsing the conflict hypothesis doesn’t really help. (And in all fairness, scientific apologetics doesn’t really impress me anyway.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Does Evolution Destroy Christianity?

If evolution is true, is Christianity in trouble? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I am a layman in the sciences. Much of the material is fascinating and I like the history and the philosophy, but I do not discuss how it is done. I am not trained in that area and I respect the field too much to speak about it where I don’t know.

This is also why when it comes to evolution, I do not say yea or nay either way. I am not a scientist so who am I to speak? For this, I actually owe the new atheists some thanks. When I saw how badly they botched areas that they hadn’t bothered to really understand, it got me to realize I needed to make sure I don’t do the same thing to be consistent.

I also got much of this doing some research in seminary on the relationship between science and Christianity. I found that many of the theistic arguments we use today are dependent on science, yet people were making strong theistic arguments before the rise of science. Could it possibly be a danger to marry an argument for theism or an interpretation of Scripture to a particular scientific viewpoint? What happens if that science changes? Besides, is this the way the ancients read it?

Genesis had been something I had a hard time understanding. If this isn’t a scientific account, how should it be understood? You see, I think in our modern age we are so scientific that we read science into everything. John Walton was the one who cleared away the chaos for me and allowed me to see it in a whole new light.

I have thought about this for years now and arrived at the position I am at. I can still hold to inerrancy, though I do not see it as an essential, and still hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though I question them being the only humans alive at the time, and still hold to all the essentials of Christianity. It’s not a big deal to me then. I can go to an atheist and grant them evolution and ask them then to tell me their real arguments against theism or Christianity. The Thomistic arguments had become the best arguments for my theism and those do not rely on modern science at all.

I have said that if I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said, “National Academy of Sciences Now Convinced Evolution is Pseudo-Science” I would say “Cool” and move on. On the other hand, if I saw one that said “Southern Baptist Convention Now Convinced Evolution Must Be Accepted As Fact” I would say “Cool” and move on. I really mean it. The resurrection and theism are still the same.

Imagine then my delight in seeing someone post in the Unbelievable? forum on Facebook that evolution destroys the Adam and Eve myth and thus invalidates Christianity. There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. This is something that is the case of two fundamentalisms arguing against one another.

Two fundamentalisms? How is that so? Simple. A fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist atheist. Let’s look at how both of them have approached the text and the issue.

Believe that it must be either evolution or creation and not somehow both? Check.

Believe that the text must be interpreted literalistically? Check.

Believe that the text is best understood by what a modern individual reader in the West would think today about the text? Check.

Believe that Genesis must be a scientific account? Check.

Believe that Adam and Eve must absolutely be historical? Check.

Believe that even if they are, they must absolutely be the only human beings alive? Check.

Believe that Christianity has to necessarily have inerrancy? Check.

Believe that one problem in a text invalidates all of it? Check.

Believe that somehow the resurrection of Jesus is called into question if there is a problem with Adam and Eve? Check.

Believe that there’s no need to read any scholarship on the Bible to better understand it? Check.

The only difference between these two is really their conclusion. It’s not their methodology.

I have a problem also with a theology also that says that the only way God can be God is if He creates by divine fiat. This is often God-of-the-gaps. If another way is found, then somehow God is out of a job, as if God’s only role is to create. It’s almost as if you’d think that the Bible has nothing to say about God having a sustaining role in the universe in constantly holding all things together by His power.

Let’s use another Biblical example. Conception and birth. The Bible says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The ancients knew as well as we do that sex makes babies. This is not in dispute. They knew the basics, but there’s no doubt we know a whole lot more about the process and what goes on inside the womb than they ever did. If you hold to a traducian concept as well, then you hold that the soul of the child comes from the parents as well somehow. This means that you can have a birth take place without God directly intervening at any step of the process.

Does that mean that we are not fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. It just means the way we thought we were fearfully and wonderfully made might have been inaccurate at one point.

Let’s also consider that the case for the resurrection does not depend on Adam and Eve. You still have all this data for the resurrection of Jesus that you have to explain. You might have to change your interpretation of passages like Romans 5 some, but it’s not a defeater.

I have met some who say that if there is no Adam and Eve, then there is no original sin. If no original sin, no need for the atonement. If no need for the atonement, no need for Jesus’s death. If no need for Jesus’s death, then Christianity is false.

Well, let’s suppose that there was no Adam and Eve. I don’t agree, but let’s go for the sake of argument. I don’t need them to know the reality of sin. I just need to turn on the evening news. Unless you can convince me that humanity is living in a world where everyone acts perfectly, my argument still stands. This is not a defeater.

As for Genesis, part of the reality of learning to interpret a text is to realize that your first natural reading might not be the proper one. It could be, but you need to establish that. This is especially so with a text from another culture, time, place, and language.

Let’s also remember that there are several devout Christians out there that accept evolution and are thoroughly orthodox and sincerely love Jesus. In this debate within Christianity often, one’s orthodoxy and commitment to Christ and Scripture should not be called into question without cause. A different interpretation does not mean you are a better Christian than someone else.

As I said at the start, I am not saying at all that evolution is true. I am just saying it doesn’t matter to me. If you are a Christian and you want to argue against evolution, God bless you, but I give this advice. Make your argument a thoroughly scientific one. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is shown to be bad science. If you’re someone who doesn’t know how to do something like work out a Punnett Square, you really have no basis arguing against evolution. If you make it the Bible vs. science, you will not convince anyone unless they are already convinced the Bible is reliable. You won’t find atheists like that.

None of this is to say Genesis or any part of the Bible is unimportant, but remember the foundation of Christianity is in new creation. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. Go there to establish Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science

What do I think of Ronald Numbers’s and Kostas Kampourakis’s book published by Harvard University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is an excellent book looking at a number of claims that have been made about science throughout the centuries. Many of these claims are taught even in textbooks today, but they really don’t bear any semblance with reality. Some are complete nonsense. Others have a grain of truth, but they’re mixed in with a great deal of error.

I knew the book was going to start off well when it had the first myth being that Christianity held back the progress of science. To give an example of someone postulating the myth, they quote someone and I won’t say who he is, but I will say he’s a certain unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from Skepticon. At that point, I knew I was going to like this one.

The book also deals with other myths I found personally interesting such as that Columbus refuted the idea that the Earth is flat or that science and religion have always been at conflict. These are myths that have so permeated our society that it’s hard to find people who disagree with them and consider it something that all educated people know. Well, no. A lot of educated people know just the opposite.

Others that caught my attention were the idea that there really is no scientific method. So many people claim to go by one, but there are vast and different fields in the scientific enterprise and no one method works for all of them. Get in a room with ten scientists and ask them to describe the scientific method they use and you’ll likely get eleven different opinions.

Another one was that there is not a wide gap between science and pseudoscience. Many ideas have been popular in science history and are pseudoscience today. It’s hard to really set out a line on what constitutes real science and what doesn’t. Even if you have falsifiability as one, then many end-times speculations and faith healings and such could be considered real science. (I do believe that there are actual miraculous healings, but I think many of the so-called faith healers are frauds.)

Another interesting aspect was a chapter about Paley. Paley in his watch was pointing more to teleology than internal make-up. Darwin only mentioned Paley once in his massive work and even then it was favorable. Much of what we call ID today would not be at all what Paley had in mind.

Other readers will find many other aspects interesting, especially if they’re interested in the sciences, but if you’re not, those chapters can be confusing. Some are historically enlightening, such as that the launch of Sputnik did not create a battle cry to start upping our science education. I recommend those who are curious to just look at the book on Amazon and see what myths are covered in there and if that is something that is of interest to you.

It’s also amazing how many scientists fall for these myths. Many scientists are great at science, but they are not great at history and philosophy and they went through school likely being taught these myths and it wasn’t the main focus of their education and they saw no reason to question them. Unfortunately, now they are propogators of those myths and it’s up to the historians and those of us interested in science to set the record straight.

This is a very enjoyable read. I often enjoy reading not so much about science itself, but the philosophy and history behind it. Ronald Numbers has had his hand in a number of great books like this and I look forward to more coming.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Where Science and Gnosticism Meet

Do these two contradictory views have anything in common? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gnosticism was one of the first great heresies of Christianity. Since the time of Plato, the material world had been downplayed in comparison to the immaterial world. Gnosticism continued this and it had a real problem with Christianity. Christianity held that God became incarnate in a body. Gnosticism was the view that all of matter was evil. When it met Christianity, it tried to say Jesus came to set us free from the lesser evil god who created matter and that lesser evil god was the God of the Old Testament.

Today, we have a movement that seems to be quite different. This is the idea that science is the supreme gateway to truth and science studies the material world. The material world is the real one and we need to get past any mention of anything that is so-called supernatural. (I question the use of the term)

I have been reading Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book Love Thy Body and started thinking about this. I can’t claim credit for everything then as her writing has been something that got my mind thinking about this. There will be a review of the book when I’m done and she is going to be on my show later this month.

Interestingly, where all of these meet is always connected with sex in some way. At this point, many of our friends in the sciences suddenly start to deny science. Let’s take a look at how.

Abortion is one of the first ones. If we look at the scientific evidence of what is in the womb, we have a human being. However, this is something very inconvenient for many people since it interferes with free sex and other such things, so something has to be done. Well, it might be a human, but it’s not a person. Scientific basis for the difference between a human being and a human person? It doesn’t exist. All of a sudden, many of our skeptical friends promoting abortion are interested in metaphysics and philosophy.

The next area is in homosexuality. You don’t have to be a super genius to tell that the man and the woman go together sexually. Simply put, A goes into B very well. Yet once again, we have an anti-scientific mindset going on here. Now I have no problem with people wanting to do research to see if there is anything genetic that leads to homosexuality or a proclivity to it, but there is one problem and one that Pearcey brings out very well.

When a person abandons a straight orientation and goes to a homosexual one, they are said to have found their true selves. Keep in mind that when doing this, they can sometimes leave behind a spouse and kids in tears and broken, but they do it anyway. This is looked at with applause as the person has realized who they really are. If a person ever abandons a homosexual orientation for a straight one or is a homosexual but lives married to someone of the opposite sex, they are said to loathe themselves and be denying themselves. Never are they celebrated as having found their true selves.

Question. What is the scientific test for the true self? Answer. There isn’t one. How is it known? It is based on how the person feels and on the reigning paradigm of the moment.

Despite all of this, I really consider the last one the most bizarre.

Now we get to the transgender movement. Often in apologetics, I find it amazing the things that one has to defend that one never thought they would have to defend. A few years ago I was stunned that we now have to actually convince people marriage is between a man and a woman. Today, we have to convince them that the man and the woman really are the man and the woman. The sign of bigotry today is to say that a man is actually a man.

In all other cases, we could look at the body and see how it works, but even here, we can just look and see what the body is. All the evidence that is physical for someone says that their DNA is male (or female) and their body is that of a male. This is the true scientific evidence. Unfortunately, all of this is denied. Why? The feelings contradict.

When these two contradict, one will have to be worked on and even if never fully altered, it will need to come under the control of the other. It will either be the body that determines the identity and we change the feelings, or it will be the feelings that determine the identity and we change the body. It is quite amazing that many in the scientific community, particularly internet atheists, think that the feelings are where the person’s true identity lies and you must change all the material reality to fit their feelings.

In this, they are like the Gnostics of old. We could say that transgenderism might be nothing new. It is just an old heresy wrapped up in new terminology and presented in a new way. Deny the reality of matter and go with the immaterial. The person’s feelings reign supreme.

Where does this end? Who knows. It was bizarre enough to redefine marriage, but now a person’s feelings are given more and more precedence and once that starts, I really don’t know how that will end.

Keep in mind, none of this says anything about how we treat such people in itself. People who are struggling with these issues do need to be treated with love and compassion. However, they also need to be worked with to accept reality. One will never have good results if they try to go against reality.

It’s also interesting that Christians that hold to a biblical view on all of these are the ones that are going with the science and yet, we’re seen as bigots for doing that. Could it possibly be that those who want to champion science are just extremely selective where they want to champion it? Could it be some really aren’t interested in following the evidence where it leads?

How we deal with this is what Pearcey tells us to do. Love thy body. The body is not an evil thing. It is a gift to be treasured and cherished. This is especially so since in Christianity, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit and God Himself became incarnated in a body.

Consider this thought. Suppose that Jesus is crucified and dies and is buried. The tomb is found empty on Sunday, but instead, Jesus is now appearing as a woman named Joanna. This would be something unusual, but I don’t think we could call it Christianity anymore. It would deny that there is something essential to the body. It can be changed to be whatever you want. It would bring into question the notion of identity. Was this truly Jesus? Is the fact that He was a man something accidental to who he is as a person or is the identity something that can be changed?

Throughout the incarnation, Jesus was Jesus and the body that went down came up again. Yes, it was new and glorified, but it was still the body of Jesus. So it is for us. Our bodies are not accidents. They are the first line of evidence we have of who we are. Start with the feelings and you can justify most any belief. Start with the body and you’re limited to reality.

I think I’ll go with reality.

I have no wish to be a science-denier.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 13

What do I think of Jelbert’s look at Phillip Johnson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert now. Jelbert is still in a section about science and this time looking at the work of Phillip Johnson. Johnson is largely known for his writings on evolution and in support of intelligent design. He thinks the whole system of evolution is problematic and is due to fail. He could be right. It’s not mine to say.

There’s not much in this chapter that I think needs to be said. It starts with the fact that many ID proponents don’t get their work in peer-reviewed journals. It could be because it’s bad science. I don’t know. It could also be that there is a bias in the field. I don’t fault IDists though for thinking that there is something else afoot. Too many well-known atheists use science and seem to have a God allergy as it were.

There is one main point I do want to comment on. Jelbert says what would be the point in studying origins naturalistically if it were assembled by a great designer and did not come about naturalistically at all? He says that if we knew what ID purports to know, there would be no point at all.

I do not say any of this as a proponent of ID. If the ID movement fell tomorrow I simply would not care. Still, I do think the idea that there is a God behind it all does not mean that science has to end.

For one thing, saying that something came about through a designer does not mean that the designer did not use naturalistic means. My favorite example of this is the Psalms. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in our mothers’ wombs. I do not dispute this just because we know more about the gestation practice and what happens when a man and a woman have sex together.

Second, if we find there is a designer, that can lead us to asking questions of how He made things and why He made things. It’s my understanding that the ID movement was right on this when it came to junk DNA. The thought was that if a designer made this, it had to be made with a reason. If a designer even set up the evolutionary process, it had to be set up for a reason.

Unfortunately for Jelbert, saying that X is a science stopper does not mean that X is false. We could say by that that if we find any explanation for anything, then we have come across a science stopper. The point of science is to find the answers to the questions. More questions do come on the way, but we are on the quest of finding the answers.

Jelbert also says that even if accurate, this would only give us deism and not theism. Perhaps, though it is a stepping stone to theism. At any rate, giving us deism shows us that atheism is not true.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 12

Should we teach the controversy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert continues as we look at chapter 12 of his book Evidence Considered and this time he’s responding to Michael Newton Keas who has an essay about what high school students need to know about science. I would certainly say our high school students don’t know enough about science. To be fair, our education is lacking so much that too many today don’t really know enough about anything unless they’ve been through private school or homeschool. Just look at the snowflake population today.

We are normally told to teach the controversy. Jelbert says that they can teach his children the view of Intelligent Design when they can convince scientists of it. Now I do honestly have some understanding here. I am not someone who is a promoter of Intelligent Design. Like many Thomists I think it produces a view of the universe that is still too mechanical.

I also understand that some controversies that take place on the internet do not take place in the academy. I certainly hope that Jelbert will be consistent and not treat mythicists seriously for you have more Ph.D.s in the field that hold to ID than you do Ph.D.’s in the field that hold to mythicism. If Jelbert does not do this, then he will be guilty of being inconsistent.

That being said, I do understand ID has made some contributions, such as their prediction that junk DNA would have some usages. Also, if information in Expelled is right, then a number of people have published papers with reference to intelligent design and lost their job for it. If that does happen, then excuse the public if they get suspicious about the claim.

Finally, if we look at an organization like the National Academy of Sciences, they do vote their own members in and we can understand a selectiveness to it. If there is a supposed bias, it does undercut Jelbert’s claim. For the classroom itself, I would say that if a student thinks ID is true, then here’s a suggestion. Let the student make a presentation to a classroom and he has to present his case and defend it.

Some people have said, “Well would that mean that everyone from another religion gets to give their account?” If so, what’s the problem? Everyone has the same task. Get up and make your case and defend your view in the face of opposition. Not only do students learn different views, they learn how to examine and critique them as well.

Also, for someone who referenced Galileo earlier saying that Christians should keep it in mind, perhaps Jelbert should keep him in mind more. Galileo came with the minority position and the majority position did shut him down. Now we know that Galileo was right. Does this mean that ID is right? Not my call to make there, but it does mean that the claim is certainly one to be explored.

Jelbert tells us that Keas does not define science and then tells us that a simple Google search could come up with a definition. He gives us one of “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Perhaps this is a good definition, but I wonder why Jelbert goes with a Google search. Would it not have been better to look up a qualified philosopher of science for this? This is a difficult term and when it comes to Google, I have no way of knowing who the source of this quote is and what this person’s authority is.

Jelbert speaks about how Keas says that geologists study one large object. Namely, the Earth. Jelbert says that Keas apparently wants to undermine the sciences that he does not like. I am unsure how Jelbert reaches this conclusion. I would have said geologists study the Earth as well and I have no wish to undermine geology. (Aside from the every now and then Big Bang Theory joke that geology isn’t an actual science.)

Keas then goes on to say that different motivations shape how we do science. Jelbert quotes him as saying

The ancient Babylonians produced the longest sustained scientific research program in human history (twenty centuries). Although their motivation was based in religion and astrology, their resulting mathematical astronomy wielded great predictive power.

Keas goes on to say that naturalism

amounts to atheism. Naturalism in science has guided many scientists to limit themselves to material causes to explain the world.

Jelbert tells us that Keas is criticizing methodological naturalism and upholding the ancient Babylonians as how science should be done. It is difficult to see how Keas is doing this. Keas is just making a statement about motivations. I don’t see him saying Babylon shows how it is done. It is just saying that even with motivations less than fully scientific, the Bablyonians gave us great success. He also says then that we should beware of our own presuppositions, which I think most of us would agree with and this is how scientific revolutions take place. There has to be a whole shift of the paradigm overtime because all data is interpreted under the current paradigm.

Jelbert tells us that the triumph of the scientific revolution was that it studied nature as nature which gave us much more success in five centuries than the Babylonians had in twenty. I think Jelbert is missing several factors here. These factors undermine his claim greatly.

For one thing, there was hardly the time to spend properly in science in the time of Babylon. Many people were more focused on survival and leisure time was unheard of. It was only the immensely wealthy who could do this. It was through the Middle Ages where science was really starting to take off that we developed better agricultural procedures to better enable people to survive and then the printing press better allowed the dissemination of materials relevant to the field.

Furthermore, Jelbert started talking about methodological naturalism, but methodological naturalism is not only a difficult term to define, and both parts at that, but it does not necessarily equal science. At least if it does, Jelbert has not given us an argument for that. It also does not work to say that this is what we do today, so this is what they did for five centuries. Atheism as a major worldview is still a latecomer. There have been atheists throughout history to be sure, but it has never reached the popularity level it has today.

Finally, Jelbert is ignoring the history of science as it began in the Middle Ages. Through this, he perpetuates what is known as the conflict hypothesis, that there is a necessary conflict between science and religion. This is not a view among most historians and philosophers of science today. It’s one largely shared in the public viewpoint, but not really so much in the academy, kind of like other ideas, like Intelligent Design.

Jelbert then tells us of how Keas says that scientists studying origins study presently existing things and use this to develop their hypotheses. Jelbert says they could hardly be expected to study things that do not exist, but with this it looks like Jelbert is saying something just to be argumentative. I don’t think Keas is presenting this as a problem.

Jelbert says further on that religion is fascinating and was humankind’s first attempt to understand the world it lives in, but if the Judeo-Christian view coincides with science in this instance, it is not of scientific interest. Maybe not of scientific interest if it does, but should it not be of philosophical and theological interest?

He also says it is clear that Keas is using science to confirm religious claims rather than the other way around. He says there are many ways that Judeo-Christian claims blocked science, but unfortunately gives no examples. The same can be said of atheism. How many atheists were hesitant to accept the big bang theory due to not liking the idea of the universe having a beginning? Everyone will approach the science from their own worldview and often interpret the data to fit that. No worldview is exempt.

Jelbert then says that Keas makes a distinction between how things work and how they originated and says he doesn’t know anyone who says says our origins affects the way we view our purpose. Really? Is he serious? How about Stephen Jay Gould?

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

One wonders about this. What is liberating exactly here? Gould doesn’t say, but one wonders. It leaves me thinking about Jerry Walls’s article on the hope of atheism. He quotes from Thomas Nagel in The Mind and the Cosmos.

The conflict between scientific naturalism and various forms of antireductionism is a staple of recent philosophy.  On one side there is the hope that everything can be accounted for at the most basic level by the physical sciences, extended to include biology.  On the other side are doubts about whether the reality of such features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, purpose, thought,and value can be accommodated in a universe consisting at the most basic level of physical facts—facts, however sophisticated, of the kind revealed by the physical sciences.

Walls rightly asks why anyone would hope that this is true. He understands that one can be a regretful atheist, but why would one discover there is no meaning in life and rejoice? You can realize that your wife is a jumble of atoms and be sad but hey, that’s reality. Why would you rejoice?

This is one problem I do have with evolution. It is not the science, but the philosophy. That we are animals in a sense is certainly true as Aristotle called us the rational animal. If we use evolution to say that we are mere animals, then I have a problem. It’s not the fault of evolution if this happens and it doesn’t change if evolution is true or false, but evolution in itself cannot show us if naturalism is true. Unfortunately, this kind of philosophy can lead our youth to especially act like animals, hence we can have a crisis with teen sex.

There are many things here I think are valid in Jelbert’s critique and I have not touched the science as science. He could be right. Unfortunately, in many areas, I think he takes a simplistic approach. He could be right on the science. I do not know. Yet when it comes to philosophy, theology, and history, there is a grave lack.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Evidence Considered Chapter 11: The Origin of Life

Does the difficulty of the origin of life provide evidence for theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert with chapter 11 of his book Evidence Considered. In this chapter, he looks at Walter Bradley and his arguments concerning the origin of life. As many of you know, my area of expertise is not the sciences so I will not be speaking on science as science.

I also do have a problem when Christians look at this as a necessity in that if we find a materialistic way that life can come about, then it’s game over. If that is the case, then God’s role in our system is to be a gap-filler and the only way he can create is through direct fiat creation. We already have a way where he does not do that which we will be commenting on later. When I reviewed Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation this was something I noticed from Fuz Rana.

If evolutionary mechanisms possess such capabilities, then believers and nonbelievers alike wonder, what role is a Creator to play? For example, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins quipped, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” I debated developmental biologist Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a well-known atheist and author of the award-winning blog Pharyngula, at North Dakota State University on Darwin Day, February 12, 2015, on the question of God’s existence. One of the key points Myers made was, in effect, evolution can explain everything in biology, so why do I need to believe in God?” (P. 129)

And

The key lesson from my interaction with Myers (and other atheists) is that to make a case for a creator and the Christian faith, it is incumbent on us to (1) distinguish our models from those that are materialistic and (2) identify places where God has intervened in life’s history. If we cannot, it is hard to convince skeptics that a creator exists. (Ibid.)

Rana, as well as his opponents, are both doing theology. Notice in this that there is nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. There is also nothing about metaphysical arguments. This feeds the whole conflict hypothesis where there is a conflict between science and religion necessarily and that science is the arbiter of if God exists or not. I have no wish to concede that ground.

This isn’t a scientific stance. It’s a theological one, and one has to ask the atheist especially how he scientifically establishes what it is that God would do? I contend that such is impossible and it’s really just bad theology. This doesn’t show that God exists, but it is important to show that science cannot determine that.

So let’s look at the chapter now.

Jelbert makes the claim early on that deism is much closer to theism. He will give an argument for this later on. This is said because Bradley says the origin of life problem is causing atheists and deists to become theists. I am sure this happens with some, but I have no reason to question what Jelbert says about the majority not converting to theism.

Jelbert also says the difficulty to account for this makes it an argument from incredulity. Jelbert later says in this chapter that there are many arguments Bradley does not interact with, but in fairness to Bradley, there are places where he has. One example is in Lee Strobel’s The Case For Faith. I don’t say this to say that Bradley’s arguments work or are persuasive. I leave that to the scientists. I say it to say that he has covered these elsewhere and an essay in a book with 50 such essays cannot be expected to give a full synopsis.

If one is presented with several materialistic hypotheses and does find them all lacking and one thinks they have positive evidence of intelligence, then this is not an argument from incredulity. I think an argument like that is much more like what is said by many atheists on the problem of evil with “Why would God allow evil X to occur?” If one does not know, it does not follow that there is no reason. It only follows that we are not omniscient.

As he goes on, he gets to deism being closer to atheism than theism. I am not convinced of this. Deism also provides an ontological foundation for the origins of the universe and for the transcendentals like goodness, truth, and beauty. Jelbert regularly looks to God’s functions instead of His nature to make his case.

There’s also this idea that if it is God, we have no need to search. He points to embryology as an example since David speaks about being formed in his mother’s womb. We know so much about embryology so this is false apparently. I do not see how. This is the example I was speaking about earlier. Aside from the virgin birth, which I do affirm, there is no instance of fiat creation and even in the former case, once the conception took place, the normal materialistic processes took over.

The idea seems to be then that if we can show a materialistic way that something came about, God did not bring it about, with the implication being that God could not or would not use materialistic means to do something. No reason is given for this claim. To give examples, let’s take some scenarios.

Picture the Red Sea event during the Exodus. Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that this is a true historical event which an atheist will not grant. The sea parts and the Israelites pass through and it closes over the Egyptians. Suppose you find out that this happened because of a wind and this has happened before. Therefore, it is no miracle. Not at all! The miracle is not just that it happened, but when it happened.

Jelbert later says about Bradley that he is claiming certainty where it does not exist and searching for God in arenas that have little evidence available. Yet if this is so, why is there so much about science here and so many theological claims built around science? If science has little information available for the debate, why should it be the arbiter of the debate? Would it be better for us to go through philosophical and especially metaphysical evidences?

Again, note the position I am in. You could dispatch of Bradley’s argument and I’m fine because the metaphysical arguments for God and the historical argument for Jesus will still stand. Yet what about Jelbert? What if Bradley was right? Would Jelbert be in trouble? If so, Jelbert is letting science be the arbiter as said, and this in an arena with little evidence.

Jelbert is also then doing what he accuses Bradley of. Bradley is in essence marrying theism to science if he bases his case on this. (I do not know if he does or not.) If that is problematic, what if Jelbert does the same and makes his atheism dependent on the gaps being found out supposedly? It was said years ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow. If Jelbert wishes to base atheism on the science of the day and if a Christian wishes to base his theism on it, that’s their choice, but I think I’ll stick with philosophy and metaphysics that have been faithful to their cause for millennia.

In Christ,
Nick Peters