Book Plunge: Three Views on Creation and Evolution Conclusion

What are my final thoughts? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So having reached the end, I want to lay out some thoughts on the matter. While I have my views, I want to focus on what I think we should agree on. All of what I say will be that which I think should be agreed on by all Christians in the debate.

First, whatever is shown to be true by science and Scripture should be accepted. Christians should have no problem with whatever method God chose to use. If the evidence showed He used evolution to create, then we accept that. If we find evidence that shows that the Earth is much younger than we thought, then we accept that.

If we hold to inerrancy, this should not be a problem. We would realize that if Scripture is true then whatever is shown by science will align with it. To say otherwise is to keep going on with the outdated conflict hypothesis.

Second, we should not try to fill in gaps with God. When the medieval scientists did their work, they were filling in gaps of knowledge and thought by explaining more, they were giving more glory to God. They were discovering how the creator chose to work and tended to want to use materialistic explanations. They really did not do appeal to miracle.

If we put God in as just someone to stop a gap, then we have a very different view of God. We often have it that we think the universe can exist just fine on its own and is not dependent in any way on God, despite Scripture regularly telling us otherwise. This is where we get to the internet atheist idea that if evolution is true, God is out of a job. This is itself a theology that does hold that the universe can exist on its own. How it exists needs to be answered.

Third, that doesn’t mean there could never be gaps where miracles could occur, but a miracle should not be occurred to just because there is a gap in knowledge. I would think we would need some indication from Scripture that a miracle took place and a problem clearly insurmountable by materialistic means. Unfortunately, no one will agree entirely on what that means, which means it is part of the debate.

Fourth, we need to stop telling everyone why they’re holding the positions that they hold unless they say otherwise. Atheists will tell Christians they hold their views for a fear of death, for example. Christians will tell atheists they just want to live in sin. Now in some cases, this could be true, but we need to realize that saying that doesn’t deal with the arguments.

Meanwhile, between us, something I saw in the book was various appeals to why someone held their view and the reasons were never good. It was a psychological motive that the other person would always deny. No matter who is doing this, it doesn’t help our debate any.

Fifth, we need to realize there are going to be gaps in our knowledge always no matter our viewpoint. I said I would have some of my own questions for evolution and here is a big one I wonder about. I wonder how sexual reproduction came about. I can understand single-celled organisms reproducing by themselves. It sounds like a complex process, but that is within onesself.

I have a hard time understanding how through small incremental steps a system evolved between the two sexes in species where they would reproduce in such a method. I would be willing to accept that this is just an unknown at the time, but for me, it is a big unknown. That brings me to my next point to discuss.

Sixth, either way, we definitely have to avoid making people think, no matter their worldview, that they must choose between Christianity and science. When atheists tell Christians they have to accept either evolution or Christianity, a great many will choose Christianity because it gives them greater benefits in their lives and sadly will become hostile to science and not make great contributions that they could make.

Christians, meanwhile, will not reach atheists if they say it has to be one or the other. This should be seen as an in-house debate. Whatever one thinks of evolutionary creationism, I really don’t think it should be labeled a heresy. Heresy is a very serious charge that puts someone outside of salvation.

Ultimately, perhaps we should all just listen to one another more. Instead of saying why we think the other person believes X, let them tell us why they believe it. What is their evidence? Maybe we should then respond to that.

I would like to see this debate get along better and have us realize we are Christians debating an issue that is really secondary. We all unite on Jesus, which is the most important aspect.

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

Book Plunge Part 3: Three Views on Creation and Evolution

What do I think of Howard Van Till’s view? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is easily the longest one in the book, and that’s understandable. Van Till is taking on a position that is seen as a negative in much of the Christian community. There are too many times when a Christian says that they are open to evolution and immediately the hounds of heresy come out ready to devour.

So let’s get some positives.

First off, I fully agree with this aspect of Van Till’s essay. We don’t need to make it the point to anyone that they have to choose either evolution or Christianity. That does harm both ways. An atheist who is convinced by science, rightly or wrongly, that evolution is true, but is told he has to abandon that to become a Christian is not going to be able to easily do this.

For the Christian, if they see evidence that convinces them that evolution is true, rightly or wrongly, they could be ready then to abandon Christianity. This is especially so if we don’t give them reasons for thinking Christianity is true other than their emotional feelings. Now add in also that for young people in college, they could be more easily tempted to give in to strong sexual desire and have more emphasis to abandon Christianity.

The focus of Christianity is not creation. It is Jesus. I would rather have someone have the wrong view of creation and the right view of Jesus, rather than have the right view of creation, such as a Jewish person who treats the Old Testament like Scripture, and is wrong on Jesus.

Second, I appreciate his points on supposed gaps that we sometimes seem to want to see in evangelicalism. We often give the impression that the more questions science answers, the more God is out of a job, but what a poor view of God for both the Christian and the atheist. A God who is just a stopgap? Both the atheist and Christian have poor theology and yes, every atheist has a theology. They have a doctrine of the deity or deities they don’t believe.

Van Till says that a universe that has all of this seamlessness needs its own explanation. Something I notice in the book is I can’t remember one time Aquinas is cited. For Aquinas, the idea of sustaining of the universe would be essential to him. The existence of God is shown by something as simple as change in the universe.

I also appreciate that Van Till did spend some time in Genesis. I think he spent more than the others, but again, I wish he had spent a lot more. He did stress the importance of taking the text seriously.

Some negatives here?

I would have liked to have seen more of the evidence of evolution that he finds convincing, rightly or wrongly again. I do grant though that for those of us who are not scientifically minded, this could be difficult. We more often just hear that the majority, even Christian biologists, accept evolution, and this could be true, but I want to know why they do.

Second, I want to know how prayer works in his world. Van Till believes in miracles, but he doesn’t seem to explain them. What are we wanting God to do? Van Till can sometimes make God be too transcendent just as his opponents can overemphasize immanence.

Third, I would like to have had something explained about the soul in creation. How does man get one? Now it could be that Van Till holds to anthropological monism. Okay. Say that then. If he doesn’t, then explain what does happen.

Overall though, I think Christians need to listen to this position and don’t have the hounds of heresy come out. Making a war of science and religion only hurts both sides. These need to be viewed as allies and not as enemies and anyone who says they are enemies is doing a disservice to both. I am sure that is not the intention of many, but that is often the effect.

Next time, I plan to give some concluding thoughts.

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

Book Plunge: Part 2 — Three Views on Creation and Evolution — OEC

What do I think of Robert Newman’s view of Old-Earth creationism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Regular readers of the blog know I’m someone who is on the fence in a way between Old-Earth Creationism and Fully Gifted Creationism, OEC and FGC respectively, using the latter term as that is the term used in part three and I wish to be respectful to the one who uses it. I have some qualms about what evolution can explain, but if I was convinced it was true, it would not change my interpretation of Scripture or my beliefs about Jesus.

Thus, when I read Newman’s essay, I found much that i agreed with. I saw that he wants to be faithful both to Scripture and science. Regularly, it is said that if we are handling both correctly, they will agree. This should be a statement that all three camps in the debate should be able to agree to.

I did like that he paid some attention to Genesis 1-2, but sadly again, not much. Now I realize the book is about creation and evolution and not necessarily Genesis, but if you’re talking about Christians, you eventually do have to get to Genesis if you’re talking about creation. Howard Van Till in part three will spend the most time on this, but again, he is sorely lacking in spending a lot of time on it.

One major point of disagreement I had with Newman, however, is that in his chapter he talked about how he gets concerned when some Christians say the Bible does not have anything to say to us about science. Well, maybe it does. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. Why should I go to the text assuming that it wants to answer modern science questions any more than I should go to it to get a strategy guide for the latest video game or learn how to do algebra?

Now I realize that seems a bit playful. After all, video games and algebra weren’t really in practice when the Bible was written, but yet in the same way, modern science as we know it wasn’t being practiced. Why should I think that Genesis is trying to give me a scientific account? It could be that it is, but that needs to be argued and not assumed. We have often thought some places in Scripture were giving scientific accounts and it has not ended well.

Newman’s repliers seemed to be friendly to him and briefly, this is something I had a problem with in this book. It seemed that most every reply was from someone who held to the OEC position. J.P. Moreland was a lone exception who holds to it, but admitted that he sometimes thinks YECs have a good case. I would have either liked to have had the writers reply to each other, or else had a Christian who was YEC, one who was OEC, and one who was FGC all replying. The problem was you have four replies and all seem to come from the same camp.

Overall, I don’t have much to say about Newman’s essay as I agreed with a good deal of it. For me, the question of whether evolution happened or not is a non-question and that will be covered more in part three where I do plan on giving some ideas that do give me qualms still about being willing to sign on the dotted line. At the same time, I realize I am approaching this as a non-scientist and there is only so much time to study any given field. I like to admire it as an outsider, but I don’t take parts in debates of science as science. The history and philosophy I will do, but not the data itself.

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)

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/1/2017: Ted Cabal

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christians have never been without controversy. Many of the Pauline letters were written to deal with controversies. We can be sure that once one controversy gets answered, we will move on to a whole new one. Nowadays, a great controversy of the ages for Christians is the, well, controversy of the ages.

How old is the Earth? How did God create? To be sure, this is an issue that we should debate and we should debate heartily, but we should not divide over it. When we do, we have a whole lot more heat than light. Sadly, this sort of division has often occurred.

My guest this week is the co-author of the book Controversy of the Ages. He has written not to settle the debate, but to encourage us in how we frame the debate. How is it that a Christian approaches questions of faith and science? If we believe that the two can never contradict, what happens when it looks like they do? How can each side learn to listen to the other to have better dialogues than we are often having right now?

So who is this co-author? He’s Dr. Ted Cabal. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Theodore James Cabal has taught philosophy and apologetics at Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and for the last 20 years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, he is the general editor of The Apologetics Study Bible (2nd ed. summer 2017) and co-author with Peter Rasor of The Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should not Divide over the Age of the Earth (2017).

We’ll be looking at the relationship between Christianity and science in the past. What was going on when the Galileo affair took place? Was it really a tension between faith and science or was something else going on there? How does it parallel to today? Are we in danger of the same mistake today?

We’ll be discussing the three main camps when it comes to the age of the Earth. You have the young-earth creationists who think the Earth is 6-10,000 years old. You have Old-earth creationists who have an Earth about 4.5 billion years old yet don’t accept evolution, and you have the theistic evolutionists who have an old Earth and think that God did use evolution to create.

What divides these camps in such a heated way so often? How do each of these camps view science? What can each of these camps learn from one another? We’ll be looking at this question and hopefully this interview will shed more light than heat on this important topic.

I hope you’ll be listening for this next episode and I hope regardless of which stance you take, you’ll learn something about your side and something about how you can learn to view your opponents in a better light. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. It’s always a joy to hear that you like the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Controversy of the Ages

What do I think about Theodore Cabal and Peter Rasor II’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When it comes to the views on the age of the Earth, by and large, you have three views. You have the YEC (Young-earth creationism) view which places Earth to be at about 6-10,000 years old. You have the OEC (Old-earth creationism) view which says Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but that macroevolution didn’t take place. Then you have the TE (Theistic evolution) view that agrees that the Earth is old but says that God used evolution to bring about His purposes.

The authors start off this book with a look at another case that supposedly presented an opposition between science and Christianity, which was the debate about heliocentrism and geocentrism. They argue that Galileo did have the right idea with the approach to the problem in that he was fine with upholding inerrancy, but said we must not hold to the inerrancy of interpretation. Meanwhile, his opponents while skeptical of the new science were also justified in their hesitancy. Why should they suddenly abandon a position they had held for well over a thousand years in a position that had not been verified yet?

From here, we get to the conservatism principle. If you hold to inerrancy, hold to it, but be open to the possibility that you could be wrong and when sufficient evidence is presented, then be willing to change your mind. This is a principle that it would be great if we followed instead of assuming that inerrancy means you must hold certain interpretations to be true.

From there, the writers go on to look at the history of the controversy over Darwinism and how evangelicals responded. This led to a rather staunch position in some circles for young-earth creationism. Most notably was the publication of The Genesis Flood and how holding a young-earth and a global flood became essential staples of the young-earth position.

All of this was done to protect a high view of Scripture and avoid compromise with science. However, as the writers point out, at certain points, even the YECs were agreeing with the science and not going with the “literal” interpretation that they praised. The example is brought forward again of geocentrism. Many times a “literal” reading of the text would lead to geocentrism, but few hold to that today, although there are a small number who do.

The writers then look at what they recommend to each of the groups. For YECs, the main issue is that they have often put too narrow a boundary on inerrancy and Christianity and looked at others as compromisers and claimed to know the intentions of their heart. Someone can believe the Earth is old and/or in evolution without being a God-hater or a compromiser or something of that sort. I have seen the YEC community often times hold to a dogmatism that practically includes YEC in the Gospel which is a problem.

OECs meanwhile are encouraged to not be too targeting of YECs and to be careful about the models they put forward. TEs can often say about OECs what OECs say about YECs. TEs easily claim that OECs accept science to a point and then deny what disagrees with them. OECs need to be working to make sure their models do hold fast to the evidence.

TEs meanwhile often have the problem of being seen as more theologically liberal. It can often be seen as evolution being what must be accepted, but we can get a bit iffy on Scripture. Not all TEs are like this, but there are a number who are which will only make evangelicals skeptical of the movement.

What needs to be remembered by all is that the Gospel does not include the age of the Earth. It shows up in none of the creeds and does not need to be an issue. We can talk about it and debate it, but by all means let’s remember we are in Christian fellowship with one another on the essentials of the Gospel.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Faith vs. Fact Part 3

How goes our case against Coyne? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today, I hope to get us all the way through to the start of chapter 4 and then continue tomorrow and hopefully finish up on Monday.

On page 90, Coyne tells us that in the field of biblical archaeology, there has been failure after failure. What do we get? Arguments from silence. Well there’s no evidence of the Exodus from Egypt, which of course you will not find interaction with works like James Hoffmeier’s that can be found here and here. You won’t find out about the claim that the Scythians were a much larger crowd that wandered for a much longer time and all that they left behind were the tombs of their kings, you know, the things that were designed to last. Why should we expect a group of nomands wandering in the desert for 40 years to leave behind something? We certainly should not expect records from Egypt as if Pharaoh would write “Pharaoh’s Journal Entry X. Today, those Hebrews managed to escape from me and go out and wander the wilderness and here I am powerless to do anything about it.” He certainly would not add in “And yeah, their God totally kicked the butts of our deities with powerful miracles that destroyed us.”

For the Gospel of Luke and its Census, there are a number of ways to interpret the passage. One such way is to say that this is an event that took place before the great census of Quirinius which took place later on. This would be the one that led to the revolt of Judas. This is indeed a possible reading and if there is a possible reading that destroys the contradiction, then we cannot say there is necessarily a contradiction. For why a historian should have recorded the miracles at the death of Christ, we have already addressed that. Yet to say it comes up as failure after failure is simply quite false. You can go to a library and find numerous books on biblical archaeology. We have found the bones of Caiaphas. We have found Nazareth. We have found the Asiarchs and Tetrachs Luke wrote about. We are finding that there were synagogues in 1st century Israel. I have near me here Craig Keener’s massive commentaries on Acts which include numerous archaeological discoveries. I have in my library Evans’s “Jesus and His World” which contains much more in archaeology as well.

Of course, Coyne has listed his own sources here on Biblical archaeology like…

Well, okay. There aren’t any, but hey, details. Who needs them?

On pages 92-93 Coyne tries to show that naturalism is not an assumption. Scientists do not assume naturalism. (And for the most part, fair enough. Not all do.) Yet he must deal with what Lewontin said in Billions and Billions of Demons.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

Coyne says that Lewontin was mistaken. We can allow a divine foot. We’ve just never seen it. But why should I believe Coyne over Lewontin, especially when Coyne says other scientific organizations echo the same claim? Especially since when Coyne sees two religious people disagree, he thinks that is cause for skepticism. What reason could I give for thinking Coyne’s position is the right one that represents true science while Lewontin’s does not? Is Coyne busy ousting his own that do not speak the true doctrine of science as he sees fit?

When we get to the next chapter, Coyne is arguing against accommodation. Of course, Coyne goes with the natural/supernatural distinction which I do not agree with and defines something of that sort as a breaking of the law of nature, though there is no source given for where this definition comes from. Coyne does say that he could see some things that could convince him of the truth of some religions, but then perhaps it’s really aliens.

Naturally when it comes to miracles themselves, you can be sure that any interaction with Keener is totally left out. One would think that if history was a science and one was doing a scientific study, you’d at least look at the best evidence against your position, but alas, people like Coyne are people of faith and really looking at the contrary position is not acceptable.

But hey, Coyne is not totally closed off to a religion being true. He does say what it would take to convince him. What’s that? Well he tells us on pages 118-119.

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.”

Please note that this is tentative to him. He could still be wrong he thinks even after something like this. What are we to get from this? For one thing, it means Coyne is closed off to evidence. What it would take for him to get to consider the truth of Christianity is not to look at the evidence for Christianity such as the classical theistic arguments or the historical case that Jesus rose from the dead. No. Those won’t work. What it would take is an experience. That means that whatever argument I come to him with minus the experience he has already decided will be ignored. Is this really a rational way to explore evidence? This even after he says we do not assume naturalism a priori? This after trying to tell us that we should go with the evidence?

At the bottom, he says to turn it around and ask religious people what it would take to make them abandon their faith.

Well that’s easy.

For theism, you would need to refute the classical theistic arguments and give a better explanation for reality than theism and at the same time give a disproof for theism. Without a disproof, we just have agnosticism. For Christianity, you’d need to give a better case for the rise of the early church than the proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead. Do you have a better way to explain the data? Note my position depends on the evidence. Coyne’s depends on an experience.

But maybe Coyne can explain the resurrection. That’s what he spends time doing on pages 121 and 123. On 121 he says:

“Historians have ways of confirming whether unique events are likely to have occurred. Those methods depend on multiple and independent corroboration of those events using details that coincide among different reporters, reliable documents that attest to those events, and accounts that are contemporaneous with the event. In this way we know, for example, that Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of conspirators in the Roman Senate in 44 BCE, though we’re not sure of his last words. As has been pointed out many times, the biblical accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection fails these elementary tests because the sources are not independent, none are by eyewitnesses, all contemporary writers outside of scripture fail to mention the event, and the details of the resurrection and empty tomb—even among the Gospels and the letters of Paul—show serious discrepancies. Nor, despite ardent searching, have biblical archaeologists found such a tomb.”

Here we have a lot of assertions. Do we have any scholars cited? Nope. Not a one. When it comes to Caesar, we are not told who these authors and when they wrote that make them reliable, but hey, Coyne has said so so, yeah, let’s just take it on faith.

For the idea of contemporaries, I have spoken of this with another similar event, namely that of Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon and I used Richard Carrier as an example. Coyne acts like writers outside of Scripture would really want to bother writing about Christianity. For one thing, the earliest ones saw this as an oddball sect not worth talking about. Give it a few centuries and everyone knows about it and at that point, there’s no need to state what Christians believe. It’s common knowledge at that point.

But for cases with the Gospels being eyewitness accounts, naturally, there’s no interaction with Bauckham. As for serious discrepancies, none of these are mentioned, but that only goes against Inerrancy if true. Christianity does not stand or fall on Inerrancy. I have already said much about the nature of the writing and events being contemporary here.

But you know, maybe Coyne will have an argument against the resurrection. Indeed, he does. What is it? It’s an argument of Herman Philipse on page 123.

“It seems likely—for Jesus explicitly states this in three of the four Gospels—that his followers believed he would restore God’s kingdom in their lifetime, including sitting on twelve thrones from which they’d judge the tribes of Israel. But, unexpectedly, Jesus was crucified, ending everyone’s hope for glory. Philipse suggests that this produced painful cognitive dissonance, which in this case was resolved by “corroborative storytelling”—the same modern millennialists do when the world fails to end on schedule. The ever-disappointed millennialists usually agree on a story that somehow preserves their belief in the face of disconfirmation (for example, “We got the date wrong.”) Philipse then suggests that in the case of the Jesus tale, the imminent arrivals of God simply morphed into a promise of eternal life, a promise supported by pretending that their leader himself had been resurrected.
If you accept that an apocalyptic preacher named Jesus existed, who told his followers that God’s kingdom was nigh, this story at least seems reasonable. After all, it’s based on well-known features of human psychology; the behavior of disappointed cults and our well-known attempts to resolve cognitive dissonance. Like disillusioned millennialists, the early Christians could simply have revised their story. Is this really less credible than the idea that Jesus arose from the dead? Only if you have an a priori commitment to the myth.”

Is this story really less credible? Why yes. Yes it is. It does not deal with all the evidence even accepted by scholars in the field.

For one thing, how about crucifixion. Did that happen? Why yes, yes it did. (And I must state that since Coyne is even skeptical Jesus existed.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

And what about the account of the empty tomb. Is it reliable?

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

And appearances?

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81)

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

“That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever can agree.” (Reginald H. Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142)

Please observe this Coyne. This is how historical research is done. One consults the leading scholars in the field. These are going to be basic facts I will accept until shown otherwise. Note that Christ mythicism is not even on the radar. These are also not a plethora of Christians scholars I’ve gathered. Coyne’s approach would be like making an argument against evolution and thinking it has to be powerful because young-earth creationist scientists say so. But let’s go on.

For one thing, when a Messiah died, you went home or you found a new Messiah, as N.T. Wright says. There is no indication of any other movement where hope went on. Appearances by themselves would in fact lead the disciples to not think Jesus was alive, but that He was most certainly dead. The ancient world knew about such appearances and saw it as a sign that the person was indeed dead. It’s interesting to notice that no one ever considered James, the brother of Jesus, to be the new Messiah.

Second, you would think that if cognitive dissonance was applied, that there would at least be interaction with Leon Festinger. There isn’t. Festinger’s work wouldn’t even apply well to cognitive dissonance anyway since the observers in fact numerous times interfered with the study group, thus damaging the results, but from what we do know, cognitive dissonance does not reach other people outside of the movement and the movement does in fact die soon afterwards. This is not the case of Christianity where even those opposed to the movement accepted it. One has to ask what it would take to convince you that your brother was Lord and Messiah. (And Bauckham, Hurtado, Bird, and others have made numerous cases to show the earliest Christology after the resurrection was that Jesus was and is fully deity.) In fact, When N.T. Wright responds to this argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God he says “The flaws in this argument are so enormous that it is puzzling to find serious scholars still referring to it in deferential terms — which is indeed, the only reason for giving space to discussion of it here.” (p. 698)

Now Coyne wants us to believe that these stories of Jesus being seen as vindicated morphed into a resurrection. When? The earliest accounts we have are of a bodily resurrection per the creed in 1 Cor. 15. If we say that it was for the Gentile mission, the Gentiles scoffed at the idea of bodily resurrection. If we were talking about making a change to the accounts amenable to the Gentiles, we can talk about the Jesus found in the Gnostic Gospels. This Jesus is not at all a threat to the Roman Empire. Christians would be seen as quaint and bizarre, but hardly challenging Caesar. That’s not what we see in the New Testament.

Finally, in the honor-shame context of the New Testament, the Christians would have followed every rule of how not to make a new religion. Tie it in with the religion seen as most odd at the time, Judaism. Forego traditional practices that out you with society like animal sacrifice. Reject a morality common at the time, such as open sexuality. Have your Messiah be someone who was crucified, an utter shame. Make your figure be bodily resurrected, something that would be seen as a joke. Have your belief be a new belief since that would have been viewed with suspicion at the time. The wonder is that Christianity not only won overall, but survived.

So no Coyne, we find the explanation laughable not because we have an a priori commitment to the myth, but because we do know how to do history. Perhaps Coyne should consider going through Wright’s work and responding to it since the case is supposedly so obviously false, or go through Michael Licona’s work here.

On page 138, Coyne interacts with theistic evolution and asks can you believe there would be such a thing as theistic chemistry or theistic gravity? Why only apply it to evolution? Perhaps, but could we not put the shoe on the other foot. We hear talk about naturalistic evolution. Could we not say how ridiculous it would be to think of naturalistic chemistry and naturalistic gravity? Why do we speak of evolution? Because evolution is usually seen as a God stopper as it were. It doesn’t have to be. Again, I leave this to others to debate, but proving evolution does not disprove theism. In fact, if anyone had a bias in this, I would have to agree with Plantinga that it would be the atheist since naturalistic evolution is the only game in town.

Finally, when Coyne interacts with Plantinga, Plantinga in defending his view of creation does appeal to the devil as a possible cause for disasters in the world. Coyne says it’s hard to imagine a serious philosopher saying something like this. Of course, Coyne should not talk about serious philosophy. After all, he says:

Another problem is that scientists like me are intimidated by philosophical jargon, and hence didn’t interrupt the monologues to ask for clarification for fear of looking stupid. I therefore spent a fair amount of time Googling stuff like “epistemology” and “ontology” (I can never get those terms straight since I rarely use them).

Yes everyone. Jerry Coyne who has to google terms like epistemology and ontology is going to be telling Plantinga how he should do serious philosophy. This would be like me saying I have to google what a Punnett Square is and how to make one, but I am going to laugh at the thought of Coyne being a serious evolutionary biologist.

Plantinga’s argument however does not need to show the existence of the devil. The problem of evil is to ask if Christianity is consistent with itself and one aspect of Christianity is belief in the devil. If this is even a possible explanation, then Plantinga’s argument stands. I am not saying I agree with it, but I am saying it is still not a problematic statement.

But enough of this, next time, we shall see what Coyne says about how faith strikes back.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.