Is Doing Science Good?

Is our science necessarily a blessing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor again having a sore throat and some lightheadedness. Turns out, I have strep. I am supposed to be able to go out into the world again on Thursday. For now, I am feeling a bit miserable.

Last night then, I was doing some gaming while listening to N.T. Wright. That’s something that usually always gets me thinking. Wright talked about Paul and the world he lived in and why he did what he did.

As I took my medication last night for Strep, I started considering it. What did people do in the time of Jesus when they had a sickness like this? There weren’t really medications that they could take that were as effective as what we have today. I really am thankful to live in this world where I can have medication available.

That got me considering about the nature of science. We have done this with medication and that is certainly a good use of the science that we have. However, why should we develop the science to work on this problem? We could just as easily poison everyone with a medication as we could cure them.

We have many things we could do with science, and sure, we do use science for weapons of war, but even when we do that, we don’t go out full throttle with them and unleash them on anyone else who disagrees with us. Had we wanted at one time, we could have taken over much of the world being militaristic.

Let’s imagine that we could go back to ancient Rome and give them the means to launch a nuclear weapon. Do we have any reason to think they would not have nuked Carthage in the Punic Wars? We could say that they would have made medication also and given it to all their people, but why think that? Rome wasn’t known for taking care of the poor. It would be better to take care of the elites and the military.

Today, we don’t really have this concern. It seems like a given to us that you care for the poor among you. It seems like a given that you try to use nonviolent means before going to violence. Why do we think differently?

It’s because before science became the force that it is on the scene, Christianity became a force as well. Our values were drastically changed by Christianity and most of us don’t realize that there is a background Christianity behind much of our moral thinking even if we don’t recognize it. Because of that, when we developed science, we thought of the ways that we could use it to help us and to explore the cosmos. We developed weapons of war so we could defend ourselves, but never with the intention of a militaristic takeover of the rest of the world. Again, ancient Rome would likely have done the opposite.

We are often told that we have a lot of blessings today because of our scientific enterprise, and I agree with that. However, if we didn’t have the moral categories we have, we could easily turn most any place we wanted to into Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We could easily infect the world in biological warfare and kill billions. It’s a blessing that we have this science today, but a better blessing that we have the moral teachings of Jesus that guide us.

Yet what will happen if we ever abandon that heritage and the morality that has been given to us?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

What Hill Will You Die On?

Are some battles the ones that are essential? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a group I’m in, someone shared a picture with someone saying on social media, “Answer me one question and I will convert to atheism. Show me the evidence for the Big Bang Theory.” I find it incredibly sad that someone could make a post like that and even if it wasn’t real, we know there are people who think that way.

For one thing, let’s start with a basic quibble. Every position has something that can be called evidence. The most crazy conspiracy theory out there that no one else will believe in except the one person who does still has evidence. You could say he’s interpreting it wrongly or that it’s not really true, but it is still evidence. If you asked if there was any evidence for Muhammad’s night flight, I could say that we do have Muslim sources saying that. That is evidence. Do I trust that evidence and think the sources are reliable? No.

This person likely meant proof, but even that is problematic for there is very little in life that we have proof for and certainly not in the area of science. We can have extremely good evidence in science for something, but that evidence is always probabilistic. It’s the same with history also. Historians don’t speak of proof. There are many events that are so sure that it’s ridiculous to doubt them, such as the crucifixion of Jesus, but that does not mean we speak of “proof.”

So after that, let’s get to the more serious point. This is not a hill to die on. Many readers I have here are YECs, but I would say the same thing to someone who was OEC and was saying “Show me the evidence of evolution and I will become an atheist.” What has to be asked is what is absolutely necessary for Christianity to be true. That doesn’t mean the other doctrines are unimportant or that they are false. It means what is absolutely necessary.

Let’s consider something with evolution. Let’s suppose you had thought that Piltdown Man was good evidence for the theory. Some people did believe that. I was trying to see how many dissertations were written on it, but I could not find that number aside from creationist websites citing 500 and I did not want to use the opponent to back the statistic.

Now we know it was a hoax. Does that mean that anyone who thought it was real should automatically conclude evolution is false? No. It could be false, but all that is really false in this case is one finding. Now you could say you question the scientific establishment after that, which is a separate issue, but the core leading cases for evolution and the science behind it would still be there. What that is would be up to the scientists to explain, but I have never had one tell me the case is built on one discovery.

So what about Christianity? You definitely need the existence of God for that. You also need Jesus being fully God and man or else we are not truly reconciled by the grace of God, which also entails the Trinity eventually, and you need the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is also not saying that you necessarily have to affirm everything to be a Christian. For example, I don’t expect a small child to understand the Trinity nor do I think the early church was quoting the Nicene Creed, though the seeds of the doctrine were there.

What about inerrancy? That is something important, but there could hypothetically be an error in the Scriptures and Christianity could still be true. It could still be that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. After all, the early church didn’t even have a New Testament and it’s not like a slip-up in a later writer could overturn a past historical event. Note that this does not mean inerrancy is false. That is not relevant at this point. It is just saying it is not an essential. It’s not even saying the doctrine is unimportant. It can still be important and I understand many churches and Christian schools putting it in a statement of faith.

The same applies to YEC. The same applies to OEC or to Evolutionary creationism. If you look at any of these and say “If this is not true, I am abandoning Christianity”, then you are basing your faith on something other than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You could say if they are false, “I still have the resurrection of Jesus, but now I really have to rethink doctrine XYZ” and that’s okay!

For me, there have been many positions on which I have changed my stance. One such example is eschatology. I used to be a strong dispensationalist. I grew up listening to Southern Gospel music and so many songs are about the rapture. I was challenged by a Baptist minister especially to rethink that with plenty of reasons and like C.S. Lewis being dragged into the kingdom, I went kicking and screaming. Over several years time, I moved into orthodox Preterism. I have a strong passion to talk about eschatology and that doctrine, but I will not base my Christianity on it. I would say if it was shown to be false, “Whoa. I really gotta rethink the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation.” Maybe I would never even find an understanding of them. That’s okay. For all of us, there are things in the Bible that we don’t understand and aspects of our theology we are still working out.

Please note that at this point, I am not saying YEC, OEC, or EC are false. Right now, it doesn’t matter. I’m also not saying your stance on origins and creation doesn’t matter. I’m not saying you can’t have strong positions on those issues, be passionate about them, and argue for them. I am simply saying don’t base Christianity on them. Christianity needs to be based on the life of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.

Odds are if you are journeying on your Christian life and studying, you will change your mind on a number of issues, and that’s okay. There will still be many things you don’t know in the end also, no matter how much you study. If any of us could comprehend God, we would be God and He would not be. There are going to always be passages of the Bible that you don’t understand and you will not be a perfect interpreter of every one of them. That’s also okay.

Don’t be like this person who based their faith on something other than Jesus. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. I don’t really care on that issue. What I want to know is where does he stand on the resurrection of Jesus. It would be better to get Jesus right and everything else wrong, than to get everything else right and Jesus wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

How Does This Work?

Do we need to know how two things work together? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I saw again someone asking the question on how an immaterial mind, like God, can affect a material world? I am not at all saying that we shouldn’t ask the question, but I find it striking that these people act like saying “We don’t know, therefore it can’t happen.” These are also the same people who share the idea that religion is against finding answers to questions and science is the one that says, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

Apparently, that means in all questions except for those about religion.

I replied the same way that I always do. Right now, I am sitting at my desk typing, at this point, on this blog. I am willing myself to type. I do not know how that works, but yet I am doing it. Even if I held to a purely materialistic view of man, which I don’t, I would not know how to explain that.

When it comes to the world we live in, let’s suppose, as I do, that I have arguments for God, an immaterial being, that I find conclusive. Let’s also suppose that while they are not hills I am ready to die on and a debate I don’t really enter into that much, let’s suppose that I have reasons I find conclusive for believing in an immaterial aspect to me. One such reason even in scientific circles is Near-Death Experiences. True, some scientists do think they’re bunk, but some, and not just Christian ones, spend a great deal of study on these. My thinking on them is I think some of them are true, but they are not meant to give you the furniture of the afterdeath.

I do also take it as a given that there is such a thing as a material world. I’m not going to bother dealing with the thoughts of people like Bishop Berkeley or Eastern thought that can say the material world is an illusion at this point. That could be fascinating to do some time but now is not that time. For now, we’ll just say that there is something immaterial and there is a material world.

Let’s also suppose, as I do, that I have reasons I think justify me in believing in the reality of miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus. Even if there had been no resurrection, that does not mean I would be unjustified in believing in miracles if I think I have good evidence of them. If this is the case, then I already have reason to believe the immaterial can act on the material.

In what might seem like a slight detour, let’s consider evolutionary biology. In this area, many creationists often say that there is no known mechanism on how life came about from non-life to get evolution started. There are many proposals, but none that are conclusive. Again, I am not a scientist, but let us suppose that this is still the case. This in no way means that there is no answer or that the answer cannot be found. It could be hypothetically the case that the answer is never found, but it will not disprove evolutionary biology. I would encourage those on the more creationist side of the debate to not go that route as it is just God of the gaps and if an answer is ever found, that seemingly puts God out of a job.

However, evolutionary biologists who would complain about that technique of creationists, and I think rightly so, need to make sure they’re not making the same mistake. This would be a sort of materialism-of-the-gaps. Now in both of these debates, it would be different if someone could give some sort of argument that could prove that either of these is impossible, but as far as I know, this has never been done.

This also means that you are not obligated to know every in and out of your worldview no matter what it is. I don’t expect an evolutionary biologist who is an atheist to tell me every aspect of the history of our species and of our cosmos and answer every question I have in order to hold his position. He should want to know as much as he can, but no one can know it all. At the same time, on the grounds given above, a Christian can say they do not know for sure, but why not be “scientific” and say “Let’s find out.”

Either way, this is a poor objection. I would like it that the side that keeps saying “Let’s find out” would want to actually study the subject they are arguing against and find out if they are misunderstanding.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

How To Not Be Taken Seriously

What are some arguments to avoid if you want a good dialogue? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote about how not all atheists on the internet are alike. Some atheists are what are known as internet atheists or fundamentalist atheists. So what are some arguments that they use? I am going to give a few of them and keep in mind, it’s not just the arguments but how they’re asked. If someone asks about these and I think they genuinely want an answer, that’s one thing. If they assert them constantly and don’t dialogue on them, then I don’t take them seriously.

Let’s start with one of the biggest ones. Jesus never even existed. If you say this, it is thoroughly difficult to take you seriously. Most Christians I know don’t even bother interacting with this nonsense any more. Most of these arguments are hugely question-begging and done from people who know nothing about how to do history. Along with this goes the pagan copycat argument.

Following this route, if you cite Richard Carrier as if he’s the best thing ever to happen to New Testament scholarship, then you will not be taken seriously. By the way, when I say Richard Carrier, I mean the unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from SkeptiCon. Carrier also doesn’t teach at any accredited university or seminary. There’s a reason for that. It’s not because of credentials, but because of his positions.

If you present faith as believing without evidence, I don’t have reason to take that seriously either. This is a constant mantra that the new atheists had. This is again a question that can be asked still in an inquisitive way that I would be happy to correct since so many Christians get this wrong sadly. Faith is really seen more as trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. It’s not blind belief.

And following that pathway, if you cite the new atheists regularly, that will be a red flag. No. The God Delusion is not a devastating book to theism. Even some atheists wrote about that book being an embarrassment. Michael Ruse endorsed the book the McGraths wrote in reply saying that Dawkins’s book left him embarrassed to be an atheist.

If you outright refuse to read whatever disagrees with you, then you won’t be taken seriously. The number one I use is Andrew Loke’s book nowadays. This book is absolutely free to read on a Kindle device. I have seen some people make so many excuses to not read it. Look. If you have time to go on Facebook and just argue against me relentlessly, you can put aside some time to read what disagrees with you. I could understand if I was asking you to buy the print version that costs over $100. I am asking you to read something free.

If you also refer to my book as the BuyBull, I will not take you seriously. Any time I hear someone say this, I walk away thinking they’re practically someone in high school who doesn’t know better. I am up for a good insult just as much, but this is not one. It gets into this idea that everything in the Bible is completely stupid and false. For some people, you would think they would rather commit ritual suicide than admit there is something in the Bible that can be true.

This will not shut down debate, but as a rule, in academic debate, I do not read Wikipedia. Wikis are just fine for pop culture items. I will go to wikis for TV shows and movies and video games as I trust the fans on the internet to be able to know about these topics. When it comes to more serious issues, I don’t know who edited that Wiki article last.

“But if you check the notes on the article, you get fine sources!”

“Then give me those sources directly.”

Memes are another kind of defeater. About the only exception is if you have a meme that is a quote of something someone has said. It’s just put in a pithy illustration. If you think a meme is a great presenter of an argument, I don’t take it seriously. A meme is meant to be either an illustration of a point already made, or a quip meant to be purely humorous, and I have plenty of those that I use constantly. It’s not meant to be the argument itself.

If you are someone also who emphasizes science above everything and especially says everything must be explained scientifically, then I don’t take that seriously. This is not because I am anti-science, but I am anti making everything science. It’s not. There are plenty of things that we know that we don’t know scientifically. I don’t have to wake up everyday and do scientific tests to see if my parents love me. History and Math are not necessarily known through science. Science can contribute in some ways, such as archaeology, but not mostly. Philosophy is another such area.

I am also cautious about those who present the Middle Ages as a Dark Ages where science was shut down entirely and the Christians were killing anyone who dared challenge them. Thankfully, this myth is starting to be undone in the world around us. One leading voice doing this is atheist Tim O’Neill.

Also, if I am in a Facebook debate and most every comment I give gets the laugh emoticon from you, I will know you are a waste of time. The laugh emoticon should really be saved for jokes. When it’s used in a debate like that, it just comes across as petty.

Keep in mind also that all of this is said in light of knowing how something is said is just as important. If an atheist comes to me and says, “But I have heard that scholars say Jesus never existed and is based on pagan myths,” and I can tell he’s just stating that as if to say that’s what he’s read, but is open to knowing otherwise, then no problem. The same for every other item on this list.

Many of us in apologetics hope to someday find better debates, but too many atheists are really dumbing down their side. Yes. I also know many Christians are doing this. We often are cleaning our own house out. I too rarely see leading atheists doing the same.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Yes. You Need To Study Before Arguing.

Do too many people argue without knowing what they’re talking about? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If there’s something I see on Facebook debates and any debates online for that matter, it’s a lack of real research into what people are talking about. No. It’s not just atheists who do this. Christians do it as well.

Yesterday, I saw a debate going on about Genesis 1 and evolution. It’s easy for an atheist to assume that the only interpretation of Genesis 1 that every Christian must hold to is young-earth creationism. This is not to say that that view is right or wrong, but it is to say the debate is not as easy as that.

Not only that, whichever view an informed Christian holds on the topic of Genesis 1, normally they have a defense of the position that they hold so a basic stumper objection that someone thinks is so powerful just won’t work. It’s not so easy to say “Well if there were plants on day three, how does that work if the sun wasn’t there until day four?”

On the other hand, a Christian will automatically jump to critiquing evolution. Now I know that some Christians do disbelieve in evolution and some of those are Christians who have really studied science and are informed on the topic. I have no problem with those. They could be right for all I know.

Unfortunately, too many Christians want to throw out an objection they read and they have never studied the science at all. Hint. If you can’t figure out how to work a Punnett Square, you probably shouldn’t be debating evolution. If you do debate it, also make sure it is science vs science and not the Bible vs science. If evolution falls, it will because it will be shown to be bad science.

The problem with all of this is that these are all complex topics. Science is a deep field that people spend years studying and do a PhD on one facet of the scientific kingdom and normally specialize in that area. Being a scientist does not mean that you know everything about science or study it thoroughly.

The same with the Bible. It’s not really a book, but rather a collection of books. When Mike Licona and I have talked about gaming together, he has said he doesn’t want to play Bible trivia against me. Why? He’s a New Testament scholar? It’s because he knows he’s not well-versed on the Old Testament and I would likely do better in that area.

Even in New Testament studies, someone can be specialized. Even a great scholar like N.T. Wright is not trained in the Gospel of John. He has said the Gospel is like his wife Maggie. He loves her, but he does not claim to understand her. Some will specialize in the Pauline epistles. Some Revelation. To do a commentary of one book can take years of study.

Most people who are making memes on the internet to argue against positions have very rarely done any study of them. If you are someone who uses memes as arguments in themselves, you’re probably doing a huge disservice. Memes can be fun illustrations of arguments, but they are not meant to be the arguments themselves.

Consider how this happens in philosophy. The problem of evil is probably the most potent argument against the existence of God. I don’t consider it logically persuasive, but I understand the emotional persuasion in it. However, if all you have is evil, odds are you need to do some more study. It’s too simplistic to just say “Evil is real, therefore God doesn’t exist.”

A lot of this comes down to a number of causes I think. The first is that we tend to have emotional commitments to positions that we hold. This can include a Christian who has ties to a doctrine such as Arminianism, the rapture, inerrancy, young-earth creationism, or any other position. (Each of those is also a position I have held to in the past or hold to today.) Emotional barriers make us incredibly resistant to rational persuasion.

I have no doubt a lot of atheists are atheists for primarily emotional reasons, such as dislike of God over the problem of evil, or a desire to live as they want, especially in the area of sexuality. I don’t doubt a lot of Christians base their Christianity on an emotional experience that they have had before as well. This is not to say that emotions should play no part in our thinking, but that they don’t need to be the main force.

There’s also that a lot of us think we shouldn’t really have to study something. There should be some silver bullet argument to take down any position. This is quite likely not going to happen for a complex worldview. They can exist for one particular argument, but not for the position as a whole.

So what’s the solution? There’s no easy way about it. A person needs to study and not just what they agree with, but what they disagree with. The great danger also is that simplistic thinkers will often think they are great thinkers. Too many Christians think they’re devastating evolution when those who study it are just rolling their eyes. Too many atheists think they’re Biblical scholars when those who have studied Scripture are just convinced the person is clueless. Anyone can have an opinion, but let’s not confuse an informed opinion with an uninformed one.

That also means study needs to be with books. Podcasts and YouTube videos are great, but the best material is to be found in books. Get the best and learn what you can. In debate, those who do not read will always be at the mercy of those who do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Science Skepticism

Why are many of us skeptical of the reigning paradigm? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I blogged about Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage about the transgender movement. In it, I found that if anyone went against the reigning narrative in transgenderism, then they were shut down and not allowed to speak. Color me skeptical then when I hear that all the leaders in thinking on this issue in the world of science go with the movement. After all, if someone in the field who is a leader speaks and disagrees, they no longer qualify, and who knows how many others don’t speak out of fear of losing their livelihood?

Not only that, but many of us today find it absurd to say that the reality of male and female which has been attested to since as long as man has been around, is suddenly no longer real based on that science of the day. It would make as much sense as science telling us that rape is not wrong. It would be like telling me that blue is really red.

This doesn’t help in other areas either as we naturally then have skepticism there. Some of these beliefs that are held to be mainstream could be true. Some could not. The most obvious case upfront is evolution. I am someone who does not care about evolution one way or another, but I do understand the skepticism that many of my fellow believers have.

It’s important to notice also that another reason for that skepticism is many Christians get the idea that the matter in science is either/or. You can either keep your belief in God or have belief in science on these issues. For many people, the idea of God is a greater reality to them than the idea of thought that has shown up only recently. In their minds, they have firsthand knowledge of what all God has done for them.

By the way, it doesn’t help when it goes the other way either. It doesn’t help when Christians tell atheists that they have to disbelieve in evolution or some other scientific idea in order to be a Christian. The first step in being a Christian is believing that Jesus died and rose again for your sins. If one has other false beliefs, which they will have and do have, then work on those beliefs later.

Climate change is another one. I can remember a time in my day when the fear was that there would be an ice age that would come upon us all. I am forty years old which means it was not too long ago and yet, that was the science. Today, I am told the exact opposite. Not only that, I am told the measures I have to take to stop this are rather extreme. Consider also that since I believe God won’t let the planet be destroyed this way, I am skeptical.

I am reading a book right now on the Coronavirus panic that echoes many of my thoughts. There was one time I was majorly concerned about it, but it lasted only a day and got help after talking to some knowledgeable friends. Other than that, I have seen a lot of hysteria, but you dare not question the paradigm. After all, if you do that, you don’t really care about the other people do you? This, despite the fact that my concern is those other people have jobs and they need to be able to provide for their families and we’re not helping by keeping them from doing that.

This also can show up in other fields, such as in history. Today, many schoolchildren grow up believing that Columbus sailed to show the Earth was not flat. That’s what I grew up being taught. That’s a complete myth. Many atheists talk about the Inquisition as if it wiped out half of Europe. That’s also a myth.

The difference with the science is we are often told that if anything is true, it must be able to be scientifically demonstrated. Whatever the science shows, this kind of idea is nonsense. Not everything can be scientifically demonstrated. These scientific ideas also, lo and behold, often seem to be tied to the political paradigm of the day as well. Isn’t that convenient?

If anything, I find it amazing that the people I meet who claim to be skeptics are the ones who are least skeptical in these areas. Whatever the reigning paradigm is, they jump right on board with it immediately. The questions that those on the outside have, well those are the questions of the ignorant masses and they’re not really worth taking seriously.

Which cases are wrong and right in science? Not mine to decide. Some I think are definitely inaccurate, such as the transgender movement. Others, I could not speak authoritatively one way or the other, though I have my skepticism of them. Those on that side need to instead of shouting down the skeptics (And this applies to Christians also when we encounter skeptics of Christianity) need to be able to hear our very real questions and concerns and be able to reply. Shutting down the other side for speaking differently never changes their minds. As a recent example, I seriously doubt any conservatives changed their mind on politics just because the Parler app went down. If anything, that only makes our concerns look more plausible. Keep one side from talking, and it looks like the side in charge has something to hide after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Conclusion

How do we end this? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our final look starts with chapters on science. Basically, it looks like at the beginning Ray is saying “Theology doesn’t have a testing method like science does so science is better.” No. Not better. Just different. If we assume that the material world is orderly and things work in an orderly fashion, then we can test things repeatedly. Other fields though are not the same way. Philosophy, literature, economics, history, and many other fields of study do not have a methodology like science because of the subject matter they study.

At the same time, this gives me good reason to actually NOT put as much trust in science. After all, what we accept as proven science today could be what historians might look on in the future and say “What were they thinking then?” On the other hand, moral truths like “It is wrong to torture babies for fun” are not known through science and will quite likely stand the test of time.

Because of the way science is, nothing in science is known with absolute certainty. Everything is subject to change. What is far less subject to change are the philosophical principles science is founded on. Some things are surely more certain in science than others, some that at least now it would be ridiculous to deny, but proof is not there.

On p. 223, Ray tells us there have been many crucified saviors. There have been many who had virgin births and were of royal lineage. Problem is, he never names one. That’s a shame. I would have enjoyed seeing such a list. Spoiler alert. There aren’t any others.

This is something important to point out. We have seen many misquotations of people by atheists, including Ray. This kind of argument about crucified saviors is a really bad one mainly find on the internet. Ray wants us to treat science seriously, but he’s not willing to do the same for beliefs outside of his field.

In the end, that’s really what we have. No taking seriously of outside beliefs. Ray doesn’t quote any Christian scholars or historians or philosophers or anything of that sort. Ray says he grew up in a fundamentalist movement and it shows. He has never left that mindset. Now, instead of serious interaction, he can just claim people have a virus. Christians might say that atheists have a demon. Ray has just come up with a fundamentalist atheist counterpart to that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation

What do I think of Gavin Ortlund’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gavin Ortlund is a pastor and a scholar.

Yeah. I know. I didn’t realize that was legal either. Pastors can actually be well-educated and write scholarly books?

Thank God they can and we need more like that. This book is on Augustine and his doctrine of creation. What can we learn from him on this? After all, he did not know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. He did not know about what modern science says about the age of the Earth. He did not know about Einstein and cosmology. We also have about 1,400 years of biblical exegesis on him now.

If we think we cannot, we miss out. As Ortlund tells us, Augustine’s time was a different time and they had different issues and debates going on which can cause them to see our issues and debates in a new light. Imagine a table where you have Francis Collins from BioLogos, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis all sitting together debating creation. Augustine comes and joins them. What will he add to the conversation? What will he take away from it?

Let’s start with one of the first lessons he can teach everyone at the table. Humility. Augustine did hold strongly to his positions, but when he wrote, he also said “This position that I disagree with now could be right.” He is not dogmatic in his stances and does not hold only one position on the matter of creation as the Christian position. While we debate how long it took, many might be surprised to hear what Augustine would say. Young-earthers sometimes ask old-earthers about God taking so long to create. Augustine would say the same to young-earthers since he held that creation was instantaneous and Anselm even said that was the most common view in his time years later.

The first lesson that Augustine would want to teach us I think is that we need humility to be able to listen instead of just try to respond. What are the concerns of the intellectual opponents. Why do they hold their position? Should we really be calling their faith into question over this topic? You cannot tell someone’s commitment to Christ solely based on how they answer questions on evolution or the age of the Earth.

Augustine could also tell us a lot about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He wrote a book called that and yet we today would not think his interpretations are very literal. He’s got figurative and allegorical meanings in his understanding of creation. Yet despite this, he also does pay attention to the historical matters in the book. He does tend to want to take it to be historical, but his main concern is how we see the Scriptures. Augustine would have more understanding to someone who takes the passages in a figurative or allegorical sense and yet holds to inerrancy than one who rejects them because he thinks they don’t cohere with modern science and that the Bible just got it wrong thinking the Bible requires one interpretation.

What about animal death? This is a big one and we can be tempted to think that modern science again has caused many people to think animal death was going on before the Fall and Augustine would be unfamiliar with that debate. We would be inaccurate. Augustine spoke about animal predation. He would tell us it’s unwise for us to critique the design of the universe in this area like it would be unwise for a layman to go into an engineer’s office and see many of the tools and be critical not knowing what the tools represent.

For Augustine, creation is a key doctrine and the one that gets him the most enthralled quite likely. He has endless praise for even the simple worm. He does see something beautiful in even predation. The way the system works together is amazing as he says old life needs to pass away to make room for new life. Augustine also lived in a time before the world was touched by Disney. We can automatically think hunting is evil after hearing the story of Bambi after all.

The chapter on evolution is wonderfully named. Can we evolve on evolution without falling on the fall? This chapter deals with how we should see evolution. Ortlund doesn’t take any side in this actually, but he says many of the debates aren’t new. For this one, it usually comes down to the historical Adam and there are evolutionary creationists who think Adam is historical.

Yet even before the coming of Darwin, many interpreters of Genesis were suggesting that Adam was not the only human being on Earth. When the story of Adam and Eve took place, there were other humans there. This explains where Cain got his wife, Cain building a city for inhabitants, and the avoidance of inbreeding to bring about new people.

I am not saying this is what Ortlund says happened as he admits he doesn’t know enough of the science to comment, but I think he just wants us to be more open. Even if we can’t agree in dialogue, is there a way we can have better dialogues? If all three organizations could meet at the table, have a heated debate, and in the end shake hands and leave as fellow Christians and friends though still disagreeing, I think Ortlund would be pleased and even more, I think Augustine would as well.

Those interested in the debate about creation and evolution and Genesis should read this book. Again, I think the main lesson to learn is humility. Reading Augustine could cause us to look with new eyes at creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Another Bad Atheistic Argument

Does the size of the universe prove there is no God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I check writings of atheists often and I got a blog notification this morning of an atheist blog that will remain nameless. I commented once in response to a post here and soon found my comments being moderated while my opponents got to keep going on. Underhanded movements in comments are something that cause me to ignore someone very quickly.

But today, I see a post about proof of atheism. Hey. I gotta see what this stellar argument is. As I expected though, I was gravely disappointed. This argument as not stellar at all, other than that it was about space.

The idea was about how vast the universe is and we can’t explore it all and how many stars there must be out there. Why would a being of omniscience or omnipotence do this? Now that is a good question. I leave it to the more scientifically minded to address it. However, the author made no attempt to answer and just said that we don’t know what brought about the Big Bang, but it sure wasn’t God.

Because, well, reasons I guess.

Now notice this. This argument just points to something we don’t know and assumes right off that there can be no good reason for this. Considering how limited our knowledge of the universe really is, isn’t that a hasty conclusion to make? Why should we think there’s no good reason for it?

Not only that, suppose I have several philosophical arguments for God, like the Thomistic arguments, that are deductive arguments such as the conclusion is reached with certainty from the premises. If so, then those arguments trump an “I don’t know” argument any day of the week. I can just as well say back, “I don’t know either” and still have my strong case for theism.

We’re also often told that religion stops people from answering questions and science goes “Let’s find out!” Well where is that scientific attitude here? Instead, it’s just “I don’t know” and then “It’s not God.”

The argument is also actually theological. “If there is a God, He would not create this way.” Really? How is that known? Where is this data coming about that if a god exists of any kind, He wouldn’t create in such and such a way?

Even if we granted the challenge to monotheism, couldn’t we hypothetically say that perhaps polytheism is instead true and atheism is still false? After all, the world of comic books is a world populated with several planets and universes and such, and yet it is often a world teeming with gods. Of course, I don’t think that is true, but that would still be enough to show atheism still has work to do.

If you’re an atheist, please don’t engage in such lazy thinking. If you want to make a claim about how God would or wouldn’t do something or why He would or wouldn’t, bring some data. Where do you get this knowledge of God and what He is like? Also, it is not effective to say, “I wouldn’t do it this way.” Okay, but I think we can all agree you’re far from omniscient and omnipotent and it’s just ridiculous arrogance to think you can come anywhere close to that.

A lot of self-respecting atheists would not make this kind of argument out there. They’d actually be agreeing with a lot of what I say in this post I suspect. There are bad arguments for theism and bad arguments for atheism. We should make it a point to eliminate both wherever we see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Seeking Truth

What do I think of Timm Todd’s book published by TT Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This was one of those rare occurrences for me when I was given the book by someone I knew in person. He mailed it to me, but we met beforehand and he didn’t have a copy then. It’s always intriguing to read something by someone who isn’t as well-known in the field and is willing to step out and take a step in that direction.

So Todd’s book is arguing mainly for intelligent design as showing that there is a creator. On this, I must say I cannot really comment. I do not really go for scientific arguments for theism and that includes intelligent design. I cannot really speak then to the arguments for ID at the start of the book. They could be great or they could be terrible. A scientist would need to evaluate them.

From there though, we get into more philosophical arguments that I prefer like the moral argument. Readers of my work know that my problem with the moral argument is that it’s fine insofar as it goes, but it needs to go further. I don’t just want morality explained. I want goodness itself explained. That includes morality, but it is not limited to it.

Todd also gives some interesting anecdotes from his personal experience of things that has happened in his life that he thinks are moments of God working in his life. They could be, but I always get skeptical of such stories. I am not skeptical in the sense that I think they’re made up or anything like that, but I have seen stories where people are convinced God is telling them something and it’s bunk. Still, I do know some people will find this convincing and if it leads them to Jesus, well and good.

I appreciated the part on the reliability of Scripture some, but not entirely. I do think a scientific look at Genesis 1 can be interesting, but I find John Walton’s proposal for Genesis much more convincing where the account is a functional account of a cosmic temple being created. The archaeological backing of the Bible is certainly something I agree with, but when we get to prophecy, I again demur from Todd’s approach. I really don’t think a futurist approach to prophecy is tenable.

I definitely appreciated the sections on Jesus as Todd tries to show the intelligent designer is Jesus. From there, Todd goes on a much more pastoral approach and here is where I truly think Todd’s strength lies. Todd’s writing is really down-to-earth and simple to understand and not in your face at the same time. It is very evangelistic without being simplistic. It is not a recycled approach either. Todd hasn’t copied the Romans Road or the four spiritual laws. He’s his own person.

At the end, I was also skeptical of the idea that all the apostles were willing to die for their faith. They could have been, but as Sean McDowell has shown, we don’t have the best historical data for all of them. Still, many of Todd’s arguments are the kind that can put a rock in someone’s shoe to borrow Greg Koukl’s term.

One area that did puzzle me going through the book some was seeing God referred to as a force. I could understand this at the start if you are trying to show an intelligent designer and you don’t know much about Him, well you can certainly use impersonal pronouns or say a force, but I kept hoping we would move past that terminology eventually.

Still, when you read the book you see someone passionate about their Christian faith and we need more of that. This could be a good work for someone open to scientific arguments, though I don’t think it would be the best for someone academically inclined. Give it to someone who wants a more popular-leveled approach to coming to Jesus and it could very well shine for them. I certainly am thankful that people like Timm Todd are out there wanting to do something more for the kingdom and we need more of that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)