Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Problems with Creation Science II: On Taking the Bible Literally

Creation Science wants to claim that it takes the Bible literally and alternative approaches don’t (they don’t take literally things that disagree with science), and so it can claim to be the right position fairly easily.

The problem is that, as far as I can see, Creation Science doesn’t take things literally, but shies away from literal readings of things that disagree with those bits of science that they accept.

The most well known example is probably the second day of creation:

Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse heaven.

A literal reading of this isn’t hard to see. The cosmos is full of water, and to create the space for land to appear God first creates an expanse (or firmament, the word suggests a physical barrier) that separates the waters that were below from the waters above. This physical barrier is called heaven.

Then dry land appears on the third day when God gathers the waters under the expanse and locks them into fixed locations—oceans, seas, lakes etc, and so dry land appears.

So the literal picture is of a universe full of water where God creates a space for earth to exist. One suspects that that fits neatly with the fact that we see blue when we look up—we’re looking at the water on the other side of the barrier, heaven.

If, however, science calls the shots, then that is nonsense. And so Creation Scientists will, when pushed, read this non-literally. It is a metaphor (or ‘poetic’). The most common suggestion I’ve heard is that pre-Flood the earth was covered in a permanent blanket of thick clouds. It’s a strained reading (and is strange science. Unless they think physical laws changed with the Flood, why wouldn’t this cloud cover build up again after the Flood?) Their exegesis at this point is hard to understand, unless they draw back from readings of Scripture that they are fairly sure don’t square with the world as they know it. In fact, 2 Peter seems fairly straightforwardly to read Genesis the way I've suggested:

2 Peter 3:5-7 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water...


The earth was formed out of water and by water. This suggests water being more significant to Genesis 1’s picture of creation than the idea of a thick cloud cover above the earth.

And this world in the midst of water makes much better sense of the Flood:

Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.

The barriers that made a division between water above and water below and water below and dry land and are taken away. The water pours in and covers the land:

Genesis 7:18-20 And the water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the surface of the water. And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

Two things I want to point out here. First, the amount of water involved in covering every mountain on the earth is far in excess of the amount of water that we are, pretty sure, exists on the planet. Speculations (such as I’ve heard by Creation Scientists) that what happened was a lot of water coming together into a series of large tidal wave-like phenomena are not what the text is saying, it’s another fudge. The text is painting a picture of constant rain and water coming out of the depths of the earth covering the land, not of a periodic wave smashing everything to bits. That’s why the waters subside over a long period of time rather than waves just ceasing. And how the ark would survive waves like that is beyond me—at that point you’d have to leave science behind again and suggest another miracle to preserve the wooden ship (which then raises the question of why a ship at all?).

The second thing I want to point out is that the preoccupation to read this passage in the light of science misses the meaning of the passage. The Flood is held up in the NT as a type of the final destruction of the universe by fire. Back to 2 Peter again:

2 Peter 3:5-7 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

It’s not just a lot of water killing off all land creatures. It’s more than that. It is meant to suggest the end of creation, ‘the world at that time was destroyed’. Flooding the world with water is supposed to get a point across that is far more than just a huge natural catastrophe. It was the undoing of creation. The world was made out of water and by water, as the waters above and below were separated by an expanse called heaven, and the waters below were separated from the dry land.

When the floodgates of the sky and fountains of the deep are opened then this basic structure that enables life ceased. The world returned to its formless and void state—no separation between waters or between water and land, and no life. The world was destroyed.

Again, if you’re exegeting the Bible through science that’s nonsense. Matter, energy, space, time, all exist. There’s still a planet, there’s still a universe. Nonetheless the Bible portrays the Flood as on a par with the final Day of Judgement, the world was destroyed by water and will be destroyed by fire.

Thus, the Flood has a cosmic theological significance. It was the undoing of creation, just as much as the Day of Judgement will spell the end of this world and the beginning of the New Earth and the New Heaven.

I take it that is why there is that obscure note in Revelation:

Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

Why is there no sea in the new heavens and earth? If you put the science away for a moment and think about the significance of water in Genesis 1-8 then I think it comes into light. Water is related to that formless and void state at the beginning of creation.

Genesis 1:2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Here, before anything is said by God, there are apparently waters over which the Spirit of God moves. Again, if science is in the driving seat, you either have to say that creation began before God said anything in verse 3 (‘Let there be light’). Or you could accept what seems fairly obvious, that ‘water’ signifies more than just physical water. It signifies the formless and void state before there was a creation.

Hence, the end of the Flood is meant to allude to Genesis 1:2

Genesis 7:24 - 8:1 And the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.

The word for ‘wind’ in 8:2 that passed over the earth is exactly the same as the word for the ‘Spirit’ in 1:2 who hovered over the water. The end of the Flood conjures up the picture of creation.

That’s why the Flood is linked with the final end of the Universe by fire, because large bodies of ‘water’ is meant to conjure up the original formless and void state. The fact that creation could be so easily undone by God just taking away the barriers gets at the inherent impermanence and insecurity of the Universe. At any moment it could be swamped by inrushing uncreation and return to nothing. Hence, the great statement of OT trust in God:

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.

It’s not just an earthquake that is being put forward here, it is the cosmos coming apart at the edges. Even in the face of that God is our refuge, so we will not fear. That's a powerful statement of security in God!

So ‘sea’ would be a bit like the snake in the garden, or the ability of Adam and Eve to disobey God. It gets at the fact that while the creation is good, it does not have the imperishable glory of the New Creation. Creation is vulnerable, guarded only by the word of God that keeps the basic structures that makes life possible, and that light the path for humanity to walk in the light. This word of God is questioned, challenged, disobeyed, and with it life is turned to death and creation is in constant danger of being undone.

Yet the New Creation has Christ as its head. It participates in and lives in him. And so it will have no snake, no sin, no possibility of death, and no sea. It will not have any chance of being undone. It will be immortal, invincible, secured by its unbreakable link to the eternal Son of God who is its head.

All these connections are in danger of being overlooked when one finds the Bible’s talk of an expanse scandalous in light of modern scientific knowledge, and so explain it away.

The result is a strained reading that is arid and untheological and that obscures connections within the Scriptures. It’s also not literal.

55 comments:

Rory Shiner said...

Hi Mark,
Just to say it's great to discover your blog. Looking forward to being a regular reader.

Gordon Cheng said...

Preach it, badders.

Anthony Douglas said...

Why a ship at all?

It ain't a ship - it's an ark. In my more obstreperous moments, I've been known to call it a big shoebox.

I doubt it was particularly elegant, and I suspect it was pretty non-seaworthy, so that Noah et al would be at the mercy of the elements...or should I say, God?

I'm amazed by how prevalent the standard image of the ark is - we just swallow it as kids and never read the description. Yet I've never seen a depiction of the ark of the covenant that looks like a boat...!

michael jensen said...

Now: the question I want you to answer (so that I can use it!) is this:

not accepting Creation Science is accepting to some degree that there is a necessity to demythologise the Bible. Where do you draw the line? What criteria do you use? If here, why not somewhere else?

Baddelim said...

Hi guys, good to hear from you.

Michael, it's looking like this is going to be a seven parter, with at least one being in two parts (yes I know, it's embarassing how wordy I am). I will probably touch on the issue of principles of reading in the penultimate post.

And then I was going to reflect upon the issues the experience raised for me that aren't to do with the content of creation science. I need help...

michael jensen said...

Mr Prolixity -

that's you!

Bruce Yabsley said...

Mark hello: I don't believe we've met. I was at college way back in the early nineties, and followed a link here from Michael's blog. It's probably relevant to mention that I'm a particle physicist.

Michael's question is a good one, and I look forward to hearing your treatment of it. In my day there was an extremely stubborn reluctance to engage with these kinds of issues at College, maybe out of a Moynihan-ish sense that the matter would benefit from "benign neglect"; in any case, this was mistaken in my view. Because it is not enough simply not to be actively creationist: there should be a certain intellectual consistency about it. And those of us who look on are not really fooled by anything less.

Solidarity requires that I mention at this point the sheer unavoidable stumble-worthy scandal that creationism --- and the fact that it is so closely associated with conservative Christianity in some places --- represents to the scientific community. It is something even I still struggle with, God help me, not with respect to Christianity but with respect to the church. Speaking as a scientist: the church has had one hundred and fifty years to get its head around this matter. How much longer do we need to wait?

qraal said...

Hi Mark

Adam here. One problem I haven't seen addressed in literal readings of Genesis is just what sea creatures ate, since we have commands from the Almighty to the birds and beasts, but nothing to the creatures of the sea. I light of "water as chaos" that makes sense as the waters are part of 'uncreation' and thus rather an unruly place (to borrow your imagery a little) - what the critters in the sea then eat is an irrelevance.

But from the literalist point-of-view that Seventh-Day Adventists (and similar Judaising vegetarians) read from this is a live issue. At no point does God create food for the sea creatures in the form of trees and herbs of the field, and at no point does he command what they shall eat. Thus - taking "Genesis" literally - we have animal death before the Fall, because "little fish eat littler fish, and bigger fish eat them" etc.

Somehow the image of the "tanaim" eating from floating forests (as Joachim Scheven has argued) is just a little bit more incredible than the whole Creation Science edifice.

Adam

Baddelim said...

Anthony, ss to the ark being sea-worthy, someone can correct me, but I think people have done some very small scale models and found it very stable. I'm no ship engineer, and it's possible that as it scales up it becomes a lot more fragile (the surface area square versus volume cube issue) but I would want to check it out before I committed myself one way or another.

Adam (thought you were 'Qraal' but couldn't be sure - great to hear from you again), that's a great point that I'll probably pinch if I ever say anything on this again after this. There is no plant life created for water life in Genesis 1. Another problem for the strict literal approach. Thank you.

Bruce, looks like we missed each other by about a decade, I was late nineties/early noughties. I think you're right that Moore tends to leave many things to 'benign neglect'--what I'm doing is actually a bit uncharacteristic for Moore.

Despite Moore's rep, my impression from the inside is that Moore generally dislikes taking stands on anything other than what it considers absolutely critical for faith and life. So, there is a stand on the women's issue because that's seen to invovle issues that are fairly key. But even then there's a wider range of positions allowed than is often the case for institutions that take that kind of stand.

A lot of the older guys are teetotalers and are unhappy with my generation's general move away from that. Yet, they don't take a big public stand on it. At the same time they don't want us taking a big public stand on Christian freedom to drink, because that would unnecessarily alienate certain groups that are natural allies (particularly in Baptist groups).

I think creation science fits in this kind of category. As flint cowboy said, there's a lot of sincerity among the rank and file. So, we'd rather say focus on what's important--what it means that God has made the world through Christ and for Christ, then get bogged down in a side issue.

But, as you say there's another front. So I'm going to take courage in hand and put a few thoughts toghether in the safety of my own blog. (Lion-hearted brave of me I know).

I doubt it's going to be anything like as comprehensive as what you're looking for. But it might spark some things for others to pick up and develop further.

qraal said...

Hi Mark

I am Qraal, when anonymity seems handy. Interesting to hear what a Moore insider - I only hear about you guys from outsiders and it can be one-sided indeed - thinks on the issue of "Cretinism vs Evilutionism" (as one critic put it so adroitly years ago.)

Since I have "delurked" I should say what my views are. I am a convinced neo-Darwinian, but with a proviso. In old-fashioned Darwinism there was no account of creativity in the evolution process - non-directed variation was assumed and natural selection acted on that. Simple and yet hiding a vast pool of ignorance.

A historical review...

Darwin knew organisms varied in all their characteristics, but he had no way of knowing why. All the neo-Darwinian pioneers of the 1930s and 1940s also knew variation existed and were equally ignorant of its origin. But they could described at last what the units of inheritance were that made evolution possible - genes. And molecular biology from the 1950s onwards meant ever-expanding knowledge of what genes were and how they became specific characteristics of organisms.

But when all is said and done the source of creativity is still an assumed "black-box" (to borrow from Michael Behe) - evolutionary biologists know a lot about the mechanisms of how features come to dominate in populations, but they can only say very little about where those novelties come from.

Unlike Michael Behe I do not think we can show scientifically that an intelligent agent is involved, any more than molecular analysis of a work of art can tell us about the artist or the process of art itself. The Bible is quite clear that God is directly involved in all the processes of the natural world, yet no one makes a scientific case for a designer out of rain-clouds, sunsets, wild flowers, animal behaviour and similar "pointers to God" that the Bible references.

I do think there may yet be a case for the hand of God at a cosmological level because that cosmic boundary is really where science ends and metaphysical speculation begins.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Mark thank you for these further remarks.

"benign neglect" was meant to be precise. (Sorry if you know this: it wasn't clear from your reply.) The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously advised then-President Nixon that at that time, given recent history and the president's own policies, the issue of race in the US would benefit from a period of benign neglect. This statement was much misinterpreted and reviled, but I take it that its intended sense is clear. Along these lines, I have often supposed that the creationism of former principal Knox was a factor in the faculty's studied avoidance of the issue in my day, when DBK's tenure was still fresh in memory. This has explanatory force, but I have no positive evidence for it.

Your argument about MTC choosing its stands is interesting, but I think it collapses an important distinction.

Like you I am impressed with the mutual restraint between generations re temperence, esp. given its historical importance here. But this is a disagreement over a behavioural matter that plainly admits of argument, regardless of how strongly the conclusions are held: few reasonable people entirely dismiss "dry towns" or the rejection of alcohol by people with (say) family backgrounds in the matter; likewise I do not hear (at least among Anglicans) any argument that alcohol is in all times and in all places (in all cultures?) utterly and obviously wrong and forbidden to the Christian. Further, the tendency of generations to shift the emphasis in weighing such matters is proverbial. So an agreement to disagree over the appropriate ethic --- which does not exclude personal disappointment --- makes sense here. It is still, as I say, praiseworthy.

This same argument will not run for creation science, which makes very strong empirical claims. This is a matter in which it is possible to be right, wrong, or uncertain in a more straightforward manner, without being concerned that the answer might change with some cultural shift. (I am no relativist in ethics, but note I don't need to be to have written the previous paragraph. In any case the phenomena of natural history admit of objective examination in a way that the role of alcohol in the culture does not.) Sure, doctrinally you might argue that CS is a secondary matter: thus far, I agree. But qua scientist I still wish to pound the table and say "But it is wrong. Don't you care?"

Along these lines, offending scientists by hopping in bed with creationists is not to be straightforwardly compared to offending one's creationist allies by not joining in their battles. Whether the scientific community is in the right must count for something here. (I mean, right on the straightforwardly scientific issues. Culture war à la Dawkins is another matter : and I note his latest effort has led to some cries of dismay from people who are no friends to Christianity.)

I hope you'll pardon me for being unimpressed with the sincerity that flint cowboy reports (and which I don't dispute). As I have heard many times from evangelical colleagues: it is possible to be sincerely wrong; and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander here. I have no personal problem with the humble believer in this matter, and for teachers like f.c. I accept that it's a pastoral issue to be approached in gentleness and with wisdom. But in the broader picture, these people are prey to demagogues for whom creation science is a rabble-rousing issue among Christians. The leadership class has, as I said, had a hundred and fifty years to come to terms with the question. I wish to call time, as the Americans say.

Anthony Douglas said...

Seaworthy was perhaps the wrong term. I was thinking more of the ark as a luxury raft (you get a roof) rather than a ship. The rudder, sails, keel etc are underspecced...

While I'm being flippant...perhaps the sea creatures weren't meant to eat food at all - they could have been solar-powered! (Though my version of Genesis does include a divine command to them to propagate...)

martin shields said...

Hello Mark, I look forward to more that you have to say on this topic. You wrote:

Creation Science wants to claim that it takes the Bible literally and alternative approaches don’t (they don’t take literally things that disagree with science), and so it can claim to be the right position fairly easily.

The more sophisticated advocates of Creation Science claim that they seek to understand the text as it would have been originally understood by its original audience (this assertion is made, for example, by Creation Ministries International and, I believe, Answers in Genesis). By this they seem to mean they take some parts literally but recognise figurative language, metaphor, and so forth, when appropriate.

The problem is, they make this claim but then patently fail to fulfil the task of so understanding the text. I was once attracted to some aspects of creation science, and I assumed it was in accord with the teaching of the Bible. I no longer subscribe to this thinking, not because of the influence of science, but because I have spent a good deal of time seeking to understand the text in its original context, as the original audience would have understood it. Doing this has highlighted numerous serious exegetical problems with the claim of creation science advocates that they present the "plain meaning" of the text. This is no more than an assertion disguising a complete failure to come to grips with the text itself.

On the question of the ark's seaworthiness, is it relevant that there is one other floating vessel for which the Hebrew word translated "ark" is used: baby Moses' flotation aid in Exod 2: 3, 5?

Baddelim said...

Hey guys,

Qraal said:
Unlike Michael Behe I do not think we can show scientifically that an intelligent agent is involved, any more than molecular analysis of a work of art can tell us about the artist or the process of art itself. The Bible is quite clear that God is directly involved in all the processes of the natural world, yet no one makes a scientific case for a designer out of rain-clouds, sunsets, wild flowers, animal behaviour and similar "pointers to God" that the Bible references.

I do think there may yet be a case for the hand of God at a cosmological level because that cosmic boundary is really where science ends and metaphysical speculation begins.


I also think the ID movement is overplaying its hand by trying to show design. I think it works much better by just showing that chance+time is a very improbable explanation for what we see when it comes to life.

That's unfortunately a less convincing argument for people. Humans seem to hate professing ignorance, and so will generally continue to believe something they know has problems until they can find a better alternative.

But I think this is something that I would like to see be more part of science if it is going to be true to its rhetoric. I'd like to see scientists be more up front and say 'we don't know, we've got some ideas, but they've got problems'.

As far as I can see (albeit, with a very limited knowledge of these things), evolution makes little sense based on our current understanding of science. It's just that people are sure it's right, so they get irritated when the improbability of it all is pointed out. I don't think that's intellectually honest.

Evolution may be the way God did things, but if so, it shows that there's still a huge amount we don't know, because I don't think evolution fits in well with what we see.

For me, the strength of Behe and others has been to bring this aspect of the evolutionary case back into the spotlight.

Baddelim said...

Hey Bruce,

I take your point about the difference between alcohol and science, but I think there's enough in common to see some analogy. Because believing things, like doing things, is a moral activity. If anything, tolerance on a behaviour is harder to sustain than tolerance on an idea - just witness reactions to the suggestion of lay presidency at Communion, or witness reactions to making a public homosexual bishop, even though such ideas had been around for some time.

As to the fact that it matters whether scientists are right or not. I'd say yes. But I'd also say it isn't core business for the church. That's what science is for, to try and help humanity understand the science of the world we live in.

All truth matters, but that doesn't mean that the Church is to take stands on every issue out and around where people are in the wrong: wrong metaphysics, wrong view of history, wrong view of a theory of art, of mathematics, of logic, and so on.

The Church exists to proclaim Christ, and to help people be disciples of Christ. When other fields bear upon this concern, then the Church needs to take a stand.

But scientists can fight their own battles, just like historians, politicians, judges, and artists can. All those fights matter, but God has given us different spheres and given those spheres their own legitimacy.

The church should only be encouraging divisions among those who take the name of Christ only when it matters to the business of following Christ.

That's an oversimplification, but it'll sketch out a position to start from.

As far as the sincerity issue goes, I quite agree, sincerity isn't enough. Truth matters. But like a number of commentators so far (including yourself), I'd want to draw a distinction between rank and file and the leadership of Creation Science. Some of the crticisms I'd want to make of the latter I'd not want to make of the former group.

Even among the leaders, I suspect there's some differences. Empiricism as an epistemology rules with a tyrannical sway at the moment. It doesn't surprise me that a large number of Christians have been so infiltrated by empiricism's way of defining truth, that they just can't read Gen 1-3 in anything other than an empirical way.

Such people need to be treated with care, even if the science establishment gets annoyed.

Part of the problem, I think, is that most of what science discovers is fairly counter-initiative to how the world just 'looks' and so a fair bit of training is needed in each discipline to learn to think in a right scientific way in that discipline. Many people can't or won't or don't do that.

So at one level, on the scientific angle, I think this issue reflects a more general failure science is having with disseminating its views into society as a whole. And that's an issue for you guys to work on, not us clergy. We've got enough failures of our own to keep us awake at night.

Baddelim said...

Hi Martin,

The more sophisticated advocates of Creation Science claim that they seek to understand the text as it would have been originally understood by its original audience (this assertion is made, for example, by Creation Ministries International and, I believe, Answers in Genesis). By this they seem to mean they take some parts literally but recognise figurative language, metaphor, and so forth, when appropriate.

The problem is, they make this claim but then patently fail to fulfil the task of so understanding the text.


That's my impression as well. If comments are about literary features are to be taken into account are said seriously, one doesn't turn around and go, 'these guys don't take it literally, QED they're wrong.'

Which is why I've represented their position as being 'strictly literal unless it can't be read that way'. That seems the best fit of the way they argue their exegesis. Even though they make some comments that indicate more awareness of the nature of language than that, such comments don't seem to inform their approach.

On the question of the ark's seaworthiness, is it relevant that there is one other floating vessel for which the Hebrew word translated "ark" is used: baby Moses' flotation aid in Exod 2: 3, 5?

Yep, great point. Brings out the theological significance, a la Peter once again, and the internal connections between Gen 1-11 and the rest of the Pentateuch.

qraal said...

Hi Mark

You said...

But I think this is something that I would like to see be more part of science if it is going to be true to its rhetoric. I'd like to see scientists be more up front and say 'we don't know, we've got some ideas, but they've got problems'.

As far as I can see (albeit, with a very limited knowledge of these things), evolution makes little sense based on our current understanding of science. It's just that people are sure it's right, so they get irritated when the improbability of it all is pointed out. I don't think that's intellectually honest.


Firstly, I want to clarify something - 'evolution' means many things to many people and you seem to be focussing on the question of the origins of life itself, rather than the process of biological change through historical time. Many researchers would agree with your statement that the issue of origins has many problems and not very many answers. The puzzle of how life-as-we-know-it could spring from non-biological chemistry is currently pretty recondite to the methods of science.

What isn't in doubt is the normal meaning of evolution as "biological change through time via natural selection acting on genomic variation" - that's pretty much an observed fact and one of the most well supported theories in science. Michael Behe is simply mistaken in his claims that biochemical machines can't evolve without a Designer fiddling with them.

However, as quite a few biologists and scientists have observed, there is no way of eliminating the impression that evolution has a goal and actually progresses, even within human society and historical interactions. The cosmic process is not a blind, witless automaton, and the impression of some kind of Mind involved in the creativity of the world has struck a lot of Darwinians quite forcefully. Theologically the question can be put - is that Mind a creature, or the Hand of God?

Bruce Yabsley said...

Mark this reply is late (I have been travelling) and the discussion has moved on ... but I do want to come back to you on this issue. You wrote

But scientists can fight their own battles, just like historians, politicians, judges, and artists can. All those fights matter, but God has given us different spheres and given those spheres their own legitimacy.

The church should only be encouraging divisions among those who take the name of Christ only when it matters to the business of following Christ.


... and other things along the same line. To the extent that this is your own answer, I accept it as given in good faith, reasonable from where you stand, and (noting the fact that this whole series of posts exists) consistent with a willingness to pick a fight on suitable ground, to get the church's position straight within itself. Fine.

But to the extent that it is an answer on behalf of the clergy, I'm sorry but it won't do.

First, to claim the conclusion as one's own, one must be willing to be bound by the premisses. If all those fights matter --- if the sciences, and the arts, and other organised human endeavours, have at least their own potential legitimacy --- then for this reason alone the cult of "full-time ministry" that infested this town in the late eighties and early nineties was pernicious. It was endlessly tolerated at the time, and I have heard no repentance of it since, and so I must doubt whether these points are accepted.

Second, the scientific community is not just the "science establishment". It is quite possible to be born into it, either by virtue of one's family or one's natural gifts and predilictions, or (as in my case) by the combination of the two. It includes children. And almost all of us with this background, and some acquaintance with conservative Christianity, have creationist horror stories to tell, some of them lasting over months or years --- as if being the Smart Kid did not bring with it spiritual dangers enough. The science establishment can no doubt look after itself. So can I --- I even, God help me, have a theology degree. But teenagers? Primary schoolchildren? We have both sought to distinguish between the leadership of CS and the rank-and-file: if one is young enough, and on the receiving end, this is a distinction without a difference.

Third, it is mysterious to me how it can be important to be patient with empiricism among Christians that you believe to be mistaken, without it also being important to be understanding of the visceral horror of empirical falsehood that scientists, and their fellow-travellers, properly (you believe) feel.

Finally, the scientific community is not an island. We have a fan-club, friends-and-relatives, and a vast penumbra of persons who respect us more-or-less, who (yes the Bultmann quote is coming) use electric lights and as a result, however vaguely, accord us some authority re the nature of the physical world: these people are all listening too. The idea that 10% of Sydney could be brought into churches that "teach the Bible", without that teaching making some peace with the scientific community in a matter where you suspect them to be right ... isn't this a fantasy?

Dannii said...

Sigh.

Noone interprets the Bible literally. Noone. It's such a misused word, please don't use it, just say what you really mean! If you mean historically, say so. If you mean using the grammatico-historical method, say so. Etc.

Baddelim said...

Hey Qraal,

What isn't in doubt is the normal meaning of evolution as "biological change through time via natural selection acting on genomic variation" - that's pretty much an observed fact and one of the most well supported theories in science. Michael Behe is simply mistaken in his claims that biochemical machines can't evolve without a Designer fiddling with them.

This is the point at where I just don't know enough to comment. I note that even apologists like Dawkins has said something like 'evolution has happened, it just hasn't happened when anyone was watching' and it leaves me a bit suspicious. I also think that the fact that bodies are synergistic, and so many things in a body rely on other things to be in place for it to work (the eye being one that strikes me: you need the eye, you need nerves going to the brain that carry the information, and you need a brain that can process the information) doesn't sit right with the random and atomistic changes that evolution seems to advocate. But if you tell me, such suspicions are just false and it can happen, then I'm left somewhat unable to engage. I just don't know enough about the science.

Baddelim said...

Hey bruce,

Your points are good, it just takes time for me to come around to them.

First, to claim the conclusion as one's own, one must be willing to be bound by the premisses. If all those fights matter --- if the sciences, and the arts, and other organised human endeavours, have at least their own potential legitimacy --- then for this reason alone the cult of "full-time ministry" that infested this town in the late eighties and early nineties was pernicious. It was endlessly tolerated at the time, and I have heard no repentance of it since, and so I must doubt whether these points are accepted.

Hmmmmnnn. I think I am able to give a reason why I think clergy shouldn't be fighting a fight on behalf of science without all clergy agreeing with the premises of the argument. I'm not speaking as a representative of clergy, I'm saying why I think you shouldn't be expecting us to fight your battles.

As to the push into giving oneself to the ministry of the word. I basically support the idea of pushing people to consider it, and even organising some of church life to produce such leaders, rather than leaving it to an individual to sense a call on their own. That part of the change that took place I thank God for. I think you've correctly identified the collateral damage (or it may have been more cause than effect) - a tendency to reestablish a two-tiered Christian life, with activities in this world not mattering. My former students can (hopefully) testify that I've sought to address that in the scope of the responsibilities I have. But I think we can have both, and will need to have both.

Second, the scientific community is not just the "science establishment". It is quite possible to be born into it, either by virtue of one's family or one's natural gifts and predilictions, or (as in my case) by the combination of the two. It includes children. And almost all of us with this background, and some acquaintance with conservative Christianity, have creationist horror stories to tell, some of them lasting over months or years --- as if being the Smart Kid did not bring with it spiritual dangers enough. The science establishment can no doubt look after itself. So can I --- I even, God help me, have a theology degree. But teenagers? Primary schoolchildren? We have both sought to distinguish between the leadership of CS and the rank-and-file: if one is young enough, and on the receiving end, this is a distinction without a difference.

You're pointing out that there's going to be a cost to the strategy I've outlined, and that it will be worn unfairly by the most vulnerable. I agree. I expect that if you and I compare notes on growing up we'll probably find a lot of the same negative experiences. I don't think we can make the world a safe place for thoughtful and intelligent children, and certainly not in Australia.

Going toe to toe with creationism isn't a better answer. The leaders will circle the wagons even more strongly to stop their young from hearing other arguments fairly, parents who find it all confusing will be attracted to the easily understood terrain the leaders lay out. All that will achieve is removing any lines of communication in, so it's even more likely that as the kids reject creationism they reject Christ.

Third, it is mysterious to me how it can be important to be patient with empiricism among Christians that you believe to be mistaken, without it also being important to be understanding of the visceral horror of empirical falsehood that scientists, and their fellow-travellers, properly (you believe) feel.

Because I think the strong have to bear with the weak. The scientific community is, by and large, intelligent. And while it is hard to show consideration in the face of Australia's predominant anti-intellectualism, that's what is expected of true leaders. Simply by virtue of being more intelligent and understanding you have more freedom. That's to be used in a way that bears with those weaker than yourselves.

The scientific community needs to get over its visceral horror for ideas that are around among people that are not as smart as themselves. It's a barrier to serving.

Finally, the scientific community is not an island. We have a fan-club, friends-and-relatives, and a vast penumbra of persons who respect us more-or-less, who (yes the Bultmann quote is coming) use electric lights and as a result, however vaguely, accord us some authority re the nature of the physical world: these people are all listening too. The idea that 10% of Sydney could be brought into churches that "teach the Bible", without that teaching making some peace with the scientific community in a matter where you suspect them to be right ... isn't this a fantasy?

Possibly, and if in time I think this is as a big factor as you suggest here, my stance will shift. But at the moment I don't think most people's rejection of Christ has a lot to do with science. That's one of my complaints against creationism's strategy.

Baddelim said...

Hey Dannii,

Noone interprets the Bible literally. Noone. It's such a misused word, please don't use it, just say what you really mean! If you mean historically, say so. If you mean using the grammatico-historical method, say so. Etc.

I know. But that's how this argument is often set up, with the accusation that not reading Genesis 1 'literally' is being liberal. I feel like I'm making constant motherhood statements in these posts, but it does seem like it's necessary.

If you want to move this discussion to a more profitable level along the lines you're suggesting, you'd be more than welcome.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Hey Mark: thanks for returning to this. I would like to refocus the discussion, since in responding to each other's points, we've maybe been talking past each other's concerns. My problem is not with the position you've taken in these posts, but with the default Moore position which (your own actions to the contrary) you have sought to defend: namely, that they do not want to take a public stand on this issue because it is not critical for faith and life.

But what is it to take a public stand? (Concern for the weak is related, and I'll deal with it at the same time.)

A twenty-five minute sermon of which fifteen minutes is about biology and geology and astrophysics, is certainly taking a public stand. I am not asking for this in general, or even on any regular occasion --- because, in your words, it is not core business for the church --- although certain rather peculiar situations might call for it. Any such thing will likely contain material that, if improperly handled, will be disturbing to uneducated but inoffensive Christian persons. It therefore needs to be treated with care. (It would also greatly help if the preacher knew what he was talking about.) I think we both agree on this.

But what about second-year OT lectures at College? What about theology lectures in third year? What about apologetics in fourth? Is none of this useful background, or useful as a control on interpretation? Moore is an academic institution which aims to provide ministers with a theological grounding to last them forty years: it does a lot of things that are not, purely in themselves, "core business" for the church. So this argument will not suffice to justify the systematic refusal to engage with this material at College, at least in my day (I am not aware that it has changed, but maybe someone will correct me). Nor will concern for the weaker brother establish this point. Certainly issues should be raised with due care, but if something being potentially disturbing to the untutored believer is a criterion for sidelining it at College, then many many other things should be suppressed. For example, as I hear, it sometimes scandalises the zealous that Moore interacts with non-evangelical theologians. Yet I take it you want to retain this practice?

To use your own analogy, on the permissibility of alcohol: I agree that taking a stand on this is not core pulpit business. But it does belong in College discussions in Ethics, Doctrine (concerning anthropology and culture), and Church History.

An intermediate case, where we are most likely to disagree, concerns occasional remarks while expounding Scripture, and the sort of things one is willing to use as a control on interpretation. You already mentioned the well-known case of the expanse in the midst of the waters. You agree that no such expanse and no such upper waters exist, and (if I am correct, also) that the grounds for knowing this are extra-Biblical. You are happy to use this point to skewer CS types on their inconsistency in claiming some spurious purity in interpretation: fine. But legitimate controls on interpretation do not begin and end with the non-existence of the expanse.

You began with age: this will do well. The earth and the solar system are 4.6 billion years old, the universe (as far as we know it) about three times as old; the continents move (very recent knowledge, that); and the different species are related by common descent. These are hugely nontrivial and nonobvious points, thoroughly extra-Biblical, rather widely (if very imperfectly) known in our culture and also --- here comes that word --- true. You wrote that scientists can fight their own battles: the scientific community was dragged into an acceptance of these points, kicking and screaming in some cases, by the data. I don't want the clergy or anyone else to fight these battles, because these battles are over. What I want is for people in ministry to be aware of the situation, to let it inform exposition where relevant, and to consider it part of the teaching ministry to give the faithful some cues about such matters rather than letting them be surprised by them. To do this is not to encourage divisions: it is to refuse to leave a vacuum.

If we're to fight, let it be on these grounds. Re your specific replies:

(1st) Of course I accept that others might reach your conclusions from different premisses. And if you want to urge people to Christian ministry while acknowledging the legitimacy of other professions, I am all for it. My point is that this acknowledgement binds one to hold that certain kinds of rhetoric are illegitimate. It may be that respect for secular callings has been collateral damage in some wider, important battle --- even so, I guess you do not expect me to be happy about this --- but some things that were done and said were simply wrong, any struggle apart. And since the doctrine of creation is at issue here, the question is a propos.

(2nd & 3rd) If you want to keep open lines of communication to people of creationist opinion, by all means do so. The two of us are communicating across quite a gulf already, with certain issues sidelined, so I can scarcely object. But I do want it kept in mind that the Smart Kid in the fellowship group, with other intellectual loyalties and sources of knowledge in addition to the church, can be a species of weaker brother-or-sister in need of consideration. And I do not need to remind you that at least some creationist activists constitute a belligerent and unappeasable lobby-group. The categories of weakness and strength, power and responsibility, cut across the divides ... common lines of rhetoric notwithstanding.

(Final) No disrespect, but if you don't think that a disconnect with scientific knowledge of the world is at least partly implicated in the estrangement of many educated (and some uneducated) people from the church ... then you should get out more. I agree that the creationist diagnosis --- with Genesis and Godless Evolution as foundations of duelling world-systems and all that --- is mistaken, but that's because it's a misreading of how systems of thought work, and how evidence and reasoning work. That the church is ill-at-ease with scientific knowledge is a commonplace: that's enough to give it a credibility problem, right there. This depends on no extravagant epistemology.

All this talk underlines Michael's question re demythologising the Bible. You said this would be treated in post VI: I look forward to it. If you want to refer any or all of the other things I've said forward to this and later posts, please do so.

Baddelim said...

Bruce,

I think a lot of the points you raise I'm in agreement with (as I think VI part III should show). The only areas that seem outstanding to me are what we make of the relative non-handling of this at Moore and whether I need to get out more (your final point). I hate speaking for the College as a whole, but I dislike things being said that I think just aren't accurate. Despite what I've already said, I don't think there's a deliberate attempt to not speak on such issues.

Speaking personally, as someone who taught the doctrine of creation for the last couple of years to second year, I never touched these issues. I had (by the end) 12 hours of leactures to cover creation, humanity, providence and sin. The amount of work involved to get up to speed on the science was huge and the payoff (in my view) for graduates' pastoral ministry minute. Instead we focused our attention on how Calvin treated the topics in the Institutes and did some minor supplementing in areas he passes over. I wouldn't be surprised if others come to similar conclusions in their little domains. At College at least, I don't think the silence is really because of the creationist lobby, it's because we are already struggling to fit things in an overpacked programme, and everyone 'just knows' what has to go in and how much of a scandal it is that it isn't given more attention.

As to getting out more, you could be right. The problem may be with me. Nonetheless, my impression at the moment is that 'science has disproved the Bible' is not the key reason why people aren't coming to Christ. Perhaps when I get out more my view will change.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Mark please don't misunderstand me. I fully believe that your own decision not to treat these issues played out as you said, and was not the result of any external pressure or official policy. But if everyone consistently makes the same choice for fifteen years on the trot --- it may be more like twenty --- then it may as well be called a policy: a policy from below, if you like. I have no strong interest in how it comes about, rather my concern is with the fact that it's there and that it is prima facie absurd.

College regards Greek, Hebrew, Calvin, church history, theology of various kinds, and oodles of stuff covering three or four years of study to be important, and yet never at any point discusses scientific knowledge of the world which you yourself acknowledge to be important for interpretation in some cases. This stance needs a defence --- and what defence will you offer? --- regardless of whether it is a formal policy or a mere entrenched bad habit.

As to whether the sciences are relevant on the street (as it were): I really don't mean disrespect by telling you to get out more, but you really, really need to get out more. You write that my impression at the moment is that 'science has disproved the Bible' is not the key reason why people aren't coming to Christ, but the fact that people do not walk up to you, a priest, and spontaneously use such a naff cliché, does not signify.

Everyone knows that conservative Christianity and the sciences have issues with each other. (Consider what comes into people's heads if they hear "Genesis" or "Garden of Eden". Alongside "Adam", "Eve", "snake", and "apple" [don't blame me for the last one], I claim that "evolution" or some such vaguely understood reference to scientific knowledge will score.) The creation science movement, which seems to exist to identify Christianity in the public mind with rejection of modern science, is well-known, and a byword for obscurantism. Most of the conservative church in the US is in bed with this movement. Even in Australia encountering it is an occupational hazard in Baptist and certain other church circles; and I repeat that the scientific community considers this movement --- as existing to promulgate empirical falsehood --- anathema. One of my relatives (a normal person, unlike me) gets spontaneously asked whether Christians are required to believe that the earth is six thousand years old, routinely on those otherwise lucky occasions when religion comes up in conversation. And what honest answer can they give? Because their church is subject to CS depredations ...

I'm sorry Mark but the burden of proof is on your side. And I'm afraid I must quote your own words back to you:

The amount of work involved to get up to speed on the science was huge and the payoff (in my view) for graduates' pastoral ministry minute. Instead we focused our attention on how Calvin treated the topics in the Institutes and did some minor supplementing ...

Let me stop it right there: I can safely assert that none of my relatives have been quizzed on Calvin's stance by people on the street. Again please understand me: I am happy for your students to learn Calvin, as he has a lot to teach. But let there be some proportion. As for the effort required for you to get up to speed: what am I, chopped liver? Oh no, that's right: I'm a physicist with a theology degree. Likewise there are ministers in the diocese who used to be working scientists. A friend does nonlinear optics and preaches at his local church and (if memory serves) has a Baptist minster for a father who was also a professional geologist, which just goes to show that miracles are possible. I take it you get my point: if you don't have time to make pizza, order out for it like a normal person.

Again, I mean no disrespect but there is a sense of unreality to this discussion, and this is the sound of me trying to provide a reality check.

SaintSimon said...

Thak you for helping me to take another step towards understanding these things. Your post and the quality of the discussion are awesome.

luke said...

Hey Mark,

I realise I'm ~900 days late to comment ;) but I'm hoping you can clear something up for me.

I recall seeing this series when you first wrote it, and was recently pointed to it again from a discussion on the Syd Ang web site. However, when I first read it, I assumed you naturally supported evolution, given the context (YECS is dopey) and the venom directed at you by SAH.

However upon re-reading it I looked through the comments and noticed your sceptical remarks vis a vis evolution. To me this seemed very strange to say the least, as you're essentially leaving the door open to creationism-lite in the midst of putting the boot into YECS and being attacked (at the time) for your 'anti-creationist' views! From a scientific point of view, I would imagine this actually puts you and SAH on the same side!

So I was wondering if you could clear something up for me, specifically where and how you see human life appearing, historically? Do you believe human life was created supernaturally? Do you believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and the Fall? Do you therefore reject the mainstream timeline of evolution, and/or think it is incompatible with Christianity?

I'm very curious to hear your thoughts, as I was quite surprised you went to all this trouble and yet don't support evolution. If your position has changed in the past 900 days then I'd be keen to hear that too :)

Cheers,
Luke Stevens

Baddelim said...

Hi Luke,

My views haven't really changed since I wrote these posts. Except I can now see that there is strong evidence that Athanasius believed in the immortality of the soul, whereas the post on him implies he didn't.

As to evolution, no I still have much the same scepticism as before. I'm not interested in working out what the parties are and then joining one and toeing its line. So I accept that rejecting a young earth but not accepting evolution makes me disliked by most players in the debate. That's fine with me. The fact that some of that dislike, like from SAH, is expressed in an ungodly and toxic manner is just what we should expect in the last days.

My opposition to evolution is not based on theology. It is based on my limited grasp of science and its strengths and weaknesses. That's why I'm never going to be acceptable to SAH or people like them. They don't want people rejecting evolution because the science is unproven, they want them rejecting it because it contradicts the Bible. They want a knock-down fight between science and the Bible which allows them to both reject any claim to be scientists and allows them to referee what scientific theories and findings are true and what aren't. They want the authority over science without the responibility for it. I think that's wrong

So my scepticism is based on slightly different grounds:

1. I think many of the evidential and theoretical arguments against evolution raised by creationists and, even more, intelligent design folk make a lot of sense.

2. I don't understand why we don't find animals around now with half evolved (i.e. non-functioning) senses and organs, if this is supposed to be a legit aspect of evolution. Surely out of the whole planet there must be some species in transition. They can't all be stable and not evolving at this present moment.
3. If evolution is true, and scientists understand it as well as they claim they do, they should be able to reproduce it - turn an animal into something clearly different by guided evolution. If random chance can do it, scientists should be able to do it much faster. There's enough species out there with very short generational turn over to be able to get the number of generations needed over a couple of decades. I can't understand why no-one has even tried as it would settle the question fairly decisively.
3. I am highly suspicious of how evolution functions. It seems that scientists react relatively calmly when it comes to any other theory other than evolution. Evolution seems to function like a myth - a way of explaining the universe and particularly humanity - that enables them to orientate themselves and find their (lack of) meaning and morality. They treat it like it is an item of faith. I'm fine with faith. I'm not fine with faith that is supposed to be science. So I think scientists lose their rational detachment when it comes to this question, which makes it hard to trust them.

Baddelim said...

As I've said, I'm not a biological scientist. I'm not going to ever do the work to get up to speed to adress the scientific question from first principles. I don't have another ten years of life to justify that. So I take my own scepticism with a grain of salt, as I've indicated.

As for the theological dimension of the question, there I'm guided by the Bible. Adam and Eve existed. There was a first man and woman and the rest of us are their descendants. I don't care when it happened or which homo species they were.

And as I've tried to indicate I think the natural/supernatural division needs to be rethought a bit. God didn't wind up the universe and let things go. He stands behind the patterns and regular features we see. That 'nature' is his handiwork and when things occur that are not regular, those 'miracles' are his handiwork as well. It's all God at work, it's just the glory is expressed a bit differently depending on the event. Whether the medicine heals me or it happens instantaneously on praying, I thank God for the healing. I don't see what all the bother is over whether humanity 'evolved' or it happened without the use of pre-existing biological forms. Either way it is the direct creative act of God.

That part of your question is part of why this matters to me. It seems to me that Creationists reinforce the atheist view that the world is empty of God. That God is only active when there is a miracle. So if humanity appeared 'naturally' then God didn't create us. But I was born 'naturally' and I acknowledge God to be the one who formed me and gave me life. That doesn't require a miracle, if you see that everything that happens, happens by the will of God. Even 'chance' bows the knee to God - as anyone with a Reformed doctrine of providence recognises.

Hope that helps.

luke said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the response! Appreciate it. I'll try and cover a few things in response briefly and then get to the meatier issue.

On evolution, I think you'll find most of your objections have been dealt with quite comprehensively.

As very quick examples:
#1 Creationists & IDers are not trustworthy sources -- it's really sad that they've played so fast and loose with the evidence vis a vis evolution (to the point of flat out dishonesty), it's caused so much damage and is why (in part) I think there's been such a zealous counter-response that they have provoked;
#2 All species are in transition (though arguably we've transcended natural selection), I don't think you've grasped how evolution works here.
#3 You see artificial speciation every time you see a domestic sheep, and speciation has occured in the lab: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation#Artificial_speciation
#4 I think it's wrong to generalize about all scientists. Certainly the ones who speak the loudest are (almost by definition) the most zealous, and Dawkins for eg has been criticized over his career by like-minded scientists for turning people off due to his outspokenness, but I wouldn't let the few characterize the whole. Plus, when you consider how much they cop from not just nutters like the SAH mob, but large swathes of the (none too bright) US religious & political establishment, you can understand the desire to push back!
#5 (from elsewhere) Irreducible complexity has also been dealt with at length many times over. (The Discovery Institute is one of those dishonest players, imo.)

I just wanted to make those points because I think if you're going to take a position on evolution, it's worth reading a bit more about it, even just at a popular level so you get the 'aha!' moment. You only need to do a little bit more reading -- no need for a decade out of your life! If we take our objections *too* seriously we're like people who dismiss Christianity because of suffering in the world -- we'd say if you can put that aside for a moment you'll reach a profound truth, and I think the same is true with evolution.

Anyway the really interesting point for me is where the theological and material meet, which is perhaps best exemplified by Adam & Eve (the nature of a 'soul' is another one, of which I think I have a materialistic solution).

To me, it seems strange that you (rightly) jettison the literalistic YECS reading of Genesis, but then want to insist that Adam & Eve existed. In what sense do you think they existed? Ie, was there a non-corrupt humanity at some point? When? What put humanity there/here on Earth, and where did it come from, if it didn't evolve (i.e. some other blind force, or divine intervention?)? Moreover, by insisting on a literal Adam & Eve, aren't you just doing a smaller version of what the YECS people do -- pluck out a part of Genesis and insist it must be true? That's what I find so peculiar after your overwhelming arguments that such an approach is unwise and unnecessary.

Also, do you then believe Noah existed, and really did stick all those animals on an ark? If not, why pluck out Adam & Eve as real figures? (Oh
just read previous comment where you indicate it is possible.) People have looked at the pragmatics of supplying enough food & water, removing the waste, preventing animals from eating each other etc etc which makes the ark story seem very absurd. To my mind, with a strong theological imperative for a literal Adam & Eve, plus a literal ark, no evolution (for non-theological reasons) I'd say from a scientific point of view you would be well and truly in the creationists camp, which is what I find so unusual given this series! Would you say that's fair, or no?

luke said...

4,


If I can indludge and engage with the supernatural/natural distinction -- I think about this issue _all the time_ and have tried to discuss it on several forums but never get very far. To me, "if you see that everything that happens, happens by the will of God" is a nonsense :) It borders on panentheism. What does it mean? To me it means either God is capricious, random and uncarring (as the world is), or God is rightly apart from the world. If God's will is expressed in the unchanging physical laws of the universe, then God as an active force is redundant.

So, the bother with whether humanity evolved or not is for the same reason -- precisely because God as an explanation is (to the materialist's mind) completely redundant, and to my mind (as a Chritian grappling with these issues) I don't find 'It's all God' to be very satisfactory. The idea that evolution is just a side issue I think is an oft-repeated phrase (not by you :) that I think needs a critical eye cast over it. The whole point of evolution is that is IS the exaplanation that means there was no Adam & Eve, and the fall/sin is just allergory (which is fine by me, it's still true as an observation). There is no need for us to have 'souls' (whatever that is), and again not that, to my mind, we need one (in fact it's easier if we don't). It's a comprehensive explanation for why life (and ourselves) is the way it is. For example: why is lust a big issue? Well, how far would genes get that didn't promote interest in sex? And so on for all our biological-driven behavior. It's not 'created' that way at all -- and that's the point.

luke said...

5.

This is what Dawkins makes a big deal of - evolution *is* completely counter-intuitive (and it's a shame for all his inflamatory nonsense people miss the actual science). That's why he's spent his career setting it up against a creator -- it's a blind force that doesn't need one. For us to say 'It doesn't matter, God works through all' doesn't resolve the issue, it just makes God a blind force & if anything it concedes the point to the materialists. Therefore we get the reaction of creationism in its various forms (all of which are as plausible, and implausible, as each other, to my mind), including your own (imo). That's why it's such a tricky issue :)

The only vaguely (and I stress vaguely!) plausible explanation I've been able to think about comes from the simulation argument, which is fun in and of itself...

===

! I think posting my comments actually worked. It's a miracle of divine and/or non-divine making ;) Love to hear your thoughts!

luke said...

lol, thanks for approving the comments that made it. I was having all sorts of problems trying to post the darn things (too big, weird Google errors, etc), and looks like an early first version, and parts 4 and 5 of the eventual 5 parts I tried to post made it. *shrug* the gist of it is probably there :)

Baddelim said...

Hi Luke,

You are welcome, and thanks for raising some good food for thought.

#1 Creationists & IDers are not trustworthy sources -- it's really sad that they've played so fast and loose with the evidence vis a vis evolution (to the point of flat out dishonesty), it's caused so much damage and is why (in part) I think there's been such a zealous counter-response that they have provoked;
Both sides claim this about the other, and my impression is that there’s some truth to the accusations in both directions. It’s part of what makes having a position on this difficult, I think very few people are acting like scientists should about the question.

#2 All species are in transition (though arguably we've transcended natural selection), I don't think you've grasped how evolution works here.
Possibly, it depends on which model of evolution is being argued for. This will probably tie in to the issue of IIRC. I don’t see evidence of animals with organs, nerve endings, or senses that don’t work yet, but might work in a while with some more random change.

#3 You see artificial speciation every time you see a domestic sheep, and speciation has occured in the lab: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation#Artificial_speciation
Yes but that’s not really evolution, is it? Some of the proposed evolutionary changes are relatively spectacular – fish developing lungs, something developing both wings, lighter bones, and a different kind of lung to become a bird, that kind of thing. I’d like to see that occur in a lab.

#4 I think it's wrong to generalize about all scientists. Certainly the ones who speak the loudest are (almost by definition) the most zealous, and Dawkins for eg has been criticized over his career by like-minded scientists for turning people off due to his outspokenness, but I wouldn't let the few characterize the whole. Plus, when you consider how much they cop from not just nutters like the SAH mob, but large swathes of the (none too bright) US religious & political establishment, you can understand the desire to push back!
I’m not generalising about scientists. I’m generalising about people who go into bat for evolution. They approach the issue in a way that seems highly unscientific. They come across as ‘fundamentalists’ in their manner and form of arguing. That is the public face of evolution, it’s not irresponsible of me to note that in weighing things up.

#5 (from elsewhere) Irreducible complexity has also been dealt with at length many times over. (The Discovery Institute is one of those dishonest players, imo.)
I’ve heard this claimed, the only thing I’ve ever seen about it seemed to argue that something could be kept if it served a useful purpose even though it didn’t serve the purpose that random change would put it to next. I can accept that as a one off or two off coincidence. But so much of bodies seem to require so many things simultaneously that it really stretches credibility to suggest that answers the issue across the board.

Baddelim said...
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Baddelim said...
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Baddelim said...

I just wanted to make those points because I think if you're going to take a position on evolution, it's worth reading a bit more about it, even just at a popular level so you get the 'aha!' moment. You only need to do a little bit more reading -- no need for a decade out of your life!
I don’t think that saying ‘I’m sceptical’ about evolution is the same thing as saying I have taken a position. I’m agnostic about evolution. The overwhelming majority of scientists with a biological speciality affirm it. That counts a lot for me. To the degree that I’ve followed the issue it doesn’t add up, that counts a bit for me too. I’m not going to argue for or against it, try and promote or discourage it being taught, or the like. I’m not convinced, so yeah, technically my position is that I do not believe in evolution, but in practice my position is just that I don’t think we (really just I) are in a position to know what mechanism God used.

I don’t think I’d have to do a little bit more reading. I suspect I’d have to do quite a lot to get the certainty I’d require. I would need to get myself to a level where I could follow and critique peer reviewed published journal articles in a variety of scientific specialities. And that would take a lot of time. I have doubts about the integrity of both sides in this debate, which means I’d have to be able to do a lot of work myself from first principles.

To me, it seems strange that you (rightly) jettison the literalistic YECS reading of Genesis, but then want to insist that Adam & Eve existed. Moreover, by insisting on a literal Adam & Eve, aren't you just doing a smaller version of what the YECS people do -- pluck out a part of Genesis and insist it must be true? That's what I find so peculiar after your overwhelming arguments that such an approach is unwise and unnecessary.

I insist on Adam and Eve existing because of how the NT treats them. Here as always, Scripture interprets Scripture for me. Even the other details of Genesis 1-3 are not allegories or the like for me, they are a genuine and true account of history just not in the same kind of genre as 1 Chronicles or the Gospel of Mark. I’m committed to Genesis 1-3 describing events that occurred in reality, my view is that they are describing them the kind of way an amillenialist like me thinks that Revelation describes events that occur in the Last Days – theologically, not journalistically. It may look like what YECS are doing, but they seem to have gotten (inchoately as SAH managed to expressed it) that even when we agreed about a detail in the text there was no real agreement between us. They believe that everything is literal unless it simply can’t be read that way. I think that that you weigh up a whole range of factors to interpret things as a mix of literary devices, literal and journalistic historical details, theological focus and the like.

Baddelim said...

Also, do you then believe Noah existed, and really did stick all those animals on an ark? If not, why pluck out Adam & Eve as real figures? (Oh
just read previous comment where you indicate it is possible.) People have looked at the pragmatics of supplying enough food & water, removing the waste, preventing animals from eating each other etc etc which makes the ark story seem very absurd. To my mind, with a strong theological imperative for a literal Adam & Eve, plus a literal ark, no evolution (for non-theological reasons) I'd say from a scientific point of view you would be well and truly in the creationists camp, which is what I find so unusual given this series! Would you say that's fair, or no?

I take on board the objections to the Ark. But the objections make the same mistake I criticise creationists for – Genesis 1-11 doesn’t give us enough information, nor is it interested in answering those kinds of questions. The objections only work by taking the text as a more or less comprehensive account. And it’s not. It’s a highly selective account to make a theological point. It is possible that all the objections could be answered if we knew more, and it’s possible that they can’t, and the account isn’t literal. God has given us what we need for faith and life and we work with that and receive it for that purpose. We read the texts as theology not as science. What they say about the world will be true, but as they aren’t given for that purpose, we need to be prepared to be far more cautious than people tend to be as to how they might sometimes speak to science.

It’s for this reason, that I think most creationists wouldn’t see me as one of them in any sense whatsoever. Their position is not just the particular points about science they argue, it is a view about the Bible. I don’t agree with their view about the Bible. I believe the Bible is given to create faith in Christ, and lead believers into godliness. That purpose shapes how we read its content – when the Bible speaks about the world it only does so to promote faith and repentance, not to speak about the world per se. They believe the Bible is an encyclopaedia that gives a range of facts about the world. One of those facts happens to be the gospel, and so it needs to be believed like anything else the Bible teaches. Their Bible is ‘flat’, mine has a Christ and cross-centred shape to it. I think that is what makes them so angry, and why I have come to the conclusion that I needed to make a little stand on the issue. Now, from a science point of view you might decide that I sit with them, as a non-believer in evolution, and that’s fine. That’s a different set of questions again.

Baddelim said...

If I can indludge and engage with the supernatural/natural distinction -- I think about this issue _all the time_ and have tried to discuss it on several forums but never get very far. To me, "if you see that everything that happens, happens by the will of God" is a nonsense :) It borders on panentheism. What does it mean? To me it means either God is capricious, random and uncarring (as the world is), or God is rightly apart from the world. If God's will is expressed in the unchanging physical laws of the universe, then God as an active force is redundant.

Pfft. What unchanging physical laws? Science cannot establish that there is any law that is unchanging. That is pure prescription – an article of faith. Science is a descriptive discipline – it can observe what happens with great regularity and consistency. To decide that it will always occur that way requires a step that science itself cannot provide.

Be that as it may, I believe in miracles. So I don’t believe in unchanging physical laws. I believe things have happened at the command of God that cannot be repeated in laboratory conditions.

I think there is probably going to be a big gulf between us here. When I say that God wills everything that happens, contained in that is the idea that while the things that occur can be malevolent (like human evil) or random and capricious (like natural evil) in and of their own nature, they are also more than that – God wills them for good. So while God is in control of them, they are not a perfect or clear expression of God’s character because their own inherent nature is not aligned with God’s law. This is part (not all) but part of what keeps providence from being panentheism. It is also part of what makes God’s will something that cannot be collapsed into natural cause and effect so that God becomes redundant. As Joseph said, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Two causes and purposes at work in the same action, one under the control of the other. The greater cause cannot be read off the events, but once faith is in place it can be seen. And that’s what Scripture offers – the lenses that enable us to see what is there, but hidden to the eye without faith.

Baddelim said...

This is what Dawkins makes a big deal of - evolution *is* completely counter-intuitive (and it's a shame for all his inflamatory nonsense people miss the actual science). That's why he's spent his career setting it up against a creator -- it's a blind force that doesn't need one. For us to say 'It doesn't matter, God works through all' doesn't resolve the issue, it just makes God a blind force & if anything it concedes the point to the materialists. Therefore we get the reaction of creationism in its various forms (all of which are as plausible, and implausible, as each other, to my mind), including your own (imo). That's why it's such a tricky issue :)

Your argument here is a bit too condensed for me to follow, Luke. I don’t see how the first point about evolution being counter-intuitive segues into the point about it being a blind force that doesn’t need a Creator.

From what I can see from what you’ve written, I’m not sure I can agree with you. Dawkins seems to be saying, ‘God only exists if there is clearly something natural that simply cannot be explained as anything other than something supernatural. If science explains it then God is not involved.’ Creationists seem to agree with Dawkins and so keep trying to find something supernatural in nature – the beginning of life, the appearance of complex biological forms, and the like. But the Bible seems to see the natural, with its regular patterns and cause-and-effect regularity as an expression of the glory of God. Seen rightly, nature is evidence of God because it is a creation.

From the way you are arguing, am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t thank God for healing you if you take medicine and then get well? If I’m not right about that, why do you give you thanks?

Thanks again for taking things further.

in Christ,
Mark

Baddelim said...

Sorry Luke, didn't realise you redrafted the first comment, I thought the differences I could see on a quick scan were due to blogger bugs. It did something similar with my first comment - published it three times. If there's an argument I missed you want to restate, please feel free.

qraal said...

Hi Mark

Just a point of fact, but speciation has been observed in lab settings. Currently the major changes you're discussing aren't understood to be "singular" events replicable by lab mutations. Lungs, wings, pneumaticised bones and similar structural changes occurred through a series of steps and our genetic technology is only just catching up to where we can explicate the kinds of gene changes required to produce them. Once that data is available then we'll really know if such changes are feasible via the proposed mechanism of natural selection acting on "random" mutations.

But the real issue ignored by scientific analysis of evolution is the source of creativity - natural selection works, but the source of change is poorly understood. Mutation is a lot less random looking than people used to think and the phenome is more than just what's encoded by exons.

Dannii said...

The source of creativity in genetics is the source of creativity in all things, the most creative one of all - God.

I'd like to know about some mutations that show creativity - information rich changes that introduce new phenotypes, and not the mere resistance-to-pathogen type of phenotype.

We read the texts as theology not as science. What they say about the world will be true, but as they aren’t given for that purpose, we need to be prepared to be far more cautious than people tend to be as to how they might sometimes speak to science.

I agree with that. But I think the Bible does speak science, but it's science that points to theology, not science as an end to itself. Our God cares about science, in a way.

"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings."

Baddelim said...

Hi Qraal,

Nice to hear from you again. Interesting point, I think I had heard something along those lines in the past.

But it seems to me that you've more or less agreed with me here. We have observed something that, on the taxonomies we use, establishes something as a new species. But a species quite similar to the one before it. But we really do not know how a one celled primordial organism over time became a whale - we don't even know how it could. The creative mechanism is currently hidden to us. And what we are beginning to see of the creative mechanism (such as in the cases of speciation that we observe) puts a lot of weight on information already in place in the biochemistry.

But that then makes the notion of how life began a bit more hidden than it was before as well - because evolution doesn't work by random chance, but by drawing on pre-existing information, but the information had to be formed by random chance originally.

None of that is me saying, "Look it's all wrong, so it must be a mirale." I'm saying, I think we don't really have any idea at this stage how life began nor how the really big changes could take place that are needed to explain what we see. I think science needs to be more forthright in what it does not know, and not so enamoured of the mythic potential of evolution to give atheists a sense of intellectual fulfilment and orientation.

Baddelim said...

Hi Dannii,

This really is a pleasant surprise, first Qraal and now you.

The source of creativity in genetics is the source of creativity in all things, the most creative one of all - God.

Yes, but that's like saying the answer to the question 'why did WWII occur' is 'God wanted it to'. That's a theological answer that addresses the primary cause. But as God works through secondary causes, we can ask the question simply at the level of the secondary causes - why did I get better? Because of the effect this medicine had on my body. Because God healed me. Both are true, but are answering different aspects of the question.

I'd like to know about some mutations that show creativity - information rich changes that introduce new phenotypes, and not the mere resistance-to-pathogen type of phenotype.
I suspect Qraal or Luke might be in a position to offer it, it'll be interesting to see what they point to - I've heard the claim, but not the specifics.

Mark: We read the texts as theology not as science. What they say about the world will be true, but as they aren’t given for that purpose, we need to be prepared to be far more cautious than people tend to be as to how they might sometimes speak to science.

I agree with that. But I think the Bible does speak science, but it's science that points to theology, not science as an end to itself. Our God cares about science, in a way.
Hmmmn. Definitely agree that God cares about science.

If you replaced 'science' with 'history' I definitely agree with your second sentence - "But I think the Bible does speak history, but it's history that points to theology, not history as an end to itself." I'm not sure if I would want to put it quite the same way when it comes to science. Apart from our debate over Gen 1-11, does the rest of the Bible really demonstrate a scientific interest in how things work? Or does it regularly step over that to point to God as the author and source?

qraal said...

Hi Mark

Not so sure about "we don't know how it could" since every macro-organism begins as a single cell. We can see evolution of a lineage reflected in the individual development of a species - not in the old Haeckelian sense of adult recapitulation, but in the sense that embryological stages are often conserved across large taxonomic spans - for example, the stages which our Chordate phylum shares with echinoderms, but not other invertebrates.

Genes are often very strongly conserved and genes from vastly different species will often function quite well when spliced in. The bulk changes seem to be encoded in the gene regulation systems, not the genes themselves, and those systems seem more accessible to mutational tinkering than the basic genes.

But I think you're right about the atheists being disingenuous about their account of reality being complete - far from it. However I must disagree about natural law merely being arbitary patterns that God can change at a whim. Seems too capricious for the God who chose those being saved before the foundation of the world? A God whose faithfulness is renowned and extolled in the Bible, whose constancy work is seen in the natural world, isn't the Allah of Islam who can do it how He wills merely because He wills it.

The Medievals argued over nominalism - that what is true is true because God willed it so - and the view that truth wasn't arbitary, but inherent in God's inner nature. Are we doing the same here?

luke said...

Ok let's see if I can beat the comment gremlins this time around, with two responses in four posts...

1a.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the responses, and hopefully Blogger has settled down this time :) There's plenty to chew on so I'll try and be selective for brevity's sake...

On evolution, let's take a couple of steps back to the broader ideas. I assume, from your comments, that you would accept let's say Evolution 2.0 which provided different mechanisms within the same broad brush strokes (?); that is that the basic tenant of simple building blocks + variability + feedback + time = complexity. That complexity can look wonderfully designed, but it is (with one qualification) the product of an unconscious, unthinking and unpredictable process.

(FWIW I still think you're a bit hung up on the so-called 'macro' changes, which is a bit of a false distinction -- they're simply the result of incremental change over a very, very long time, that looks to us, at the end of the process, like it must have been 'designed' that way.)

A good, popular take on this concept if you've got an hour to spare is this BBC doco on YouTube called "The Secret Life of Chaos": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HACkykFlIus . It articulates why the undesigned-design that we see is so amazing and unexpected. The idea that it "really stretches credibility" is exactly right -- that's why scientists and lay people alike are so amazed by it; they think the same thing. That's why it's a big deal, it really does explain things in a way we really wouldn't have guessed.

Anyway, I just want to establish that big picture of evolution (or whatever force of complexity-from-simplicity we end up with), regardless of the actual details. (The one qualification from earlier is why there are mathematical rules at all, which the doco gives a brief nod to at the very end; but the point stands that we don't need an interfering designer once the wheels are in motion.)

The reason I want to establish that in broadest terms possible is so we can then define creationism (again, broadly -- I obviously accept you're in different category to the SAH crowd) a little better.

luke said...

1b

So, to me, the distinction works like this: if you accept complexity from simplicity without the need for a designer interfering, you're not a creationist; if however you reject that broad idea and do see the need for a designer to intervene in the creative process -- especially for theological or biblical reasons -- you are a creationist. (In a sense, any theist could be called a creationist because you would hold that God sets up & maintains the experiment to begin with, but let's leave that aside for the time being.)

So, with that distinction in mind, I have a hard time placing your position -- no one can accuse you of having an unoriginal position :) On the one hand, it seems (and correct me if I'm wrong) you're prepared to accept evolution may be true (or at least don't reject it theologically), and that Genesis 1 is not, and needs not be, literal (or 'literalistic'), and that doesn't impinge on the truth of Christianity, which is fine, I agree.

On the other hand, and this is the spanner in the works, you "insist on Adam and Eve existing because of how the NT treats them," and then you go on to outline (rightly, again, to my mind) all the problems with hows the YECSers treat the bible... but aren't you doing the same thing here by insisting on a literal Adam and Eve from whom we all descend, in the face of very significant (dare I say overwhelming) scientific evidence to the contrary, and for biblical reasons, and biblical reasons alone?

Isn't that essentialy the creationist error -- insisting on something historical because it's in the bible, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary?

You may say they read Gen 1 wrong, fair enough, but aren't you both starting with the same view, just a different starting point -- insisting some parts of the creation account are true because the bible says so, science be damned. You may take a more minimal view, but it's still a shared approach, so far as I can see, and I don't need to outline why I think it's a bad one, because you've already done so! :)

luke said...

2a

Switching topics...

Yes, fair enough that things like gravity remain a 'theory' in a technical sense, but imagine if we didn't have stable physical laws -- I don't think we (or much else) would exist.

The nature of physical laws (and our reality itself) is important because it impacts on prayer and God's agency. For example, take weather patters. When we have drought here, it's like half the church is praying for rain, except for those going to a wedding, who are all praying for sunshine. Can you imagine what a weather map would look like if God answered these prayers? It would be huge rain clouds over the dry areas, with little holes over the churches holding weddings :)

But of course that doesn't happen, so why petition God to make it happen? It's absurd.

So, the alternative then is just to be thankful for the rain/sunshine we get, when we get it. But isn't this really just a prayer to the universe? Isn't it just saying "Thanks that things are"? That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems odd to appreciate some natural phenomena as though it had a specific purpose just for you... unless of course we start appreciating *all* natural phenomena that way (in a 'it all works for good' sense), but now we're in a logical minefield. Let's zoom in to natural phenomena that affects us, like illness.

I understand the dual 'God uses evil for good' argument, but to me it's a minefield few get through unscathed :) To my mind, such 'good' is at best unknowable, and at worst we end up turning evil into good.

It's also quite easy to disprove. For example, something bad may happen and someone may die. Or they may get some horrible mental illness that leaves them homeless and destitute, or whatever. There's no good for them -- they suffer, they die, the end. That's the point of a fallen world -- bad is bad, there's no silver lining.

Now in some cases bad stuff happens, but some good comes of it. Fine, but how do we know it's what God wanted, or if it is even good? For example, let's say person with mental illness recovers, and becomes 'successful' making tonnes of money with a beautiful family. Life is good, and it wouldn't have worked out that way if it wasn't for their illness. "God is good!" they may say.

But the important bit that's left out is God is 'good' *to us*. Now successful person buys himself and his family lots of clothes and technology... but they're manufactured in modern sweatshops in China. They drive around in a big car (well, *any* car) contributing to global warming that eventually hurts the poorest of the poor. He buys (without realising it) blood diamonds for his wife, fueling conflict. Even the rare minerals in his mobile phone fuel bloody conflict elsewhere.

So... where's the good? How could we even tell? All we're left with is an increasingly meaningless assertion that 'God is working it for good', but we barely take it beyond our own narcissism -- my good, in my rich, comfortable western life.

luke said...

2b

From the way you are arguing, am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t thank God for healing you if you take medicine and then get well? If I’m not right about that, why do you give you thanks?

Well, I've been chronically ill for ~8 years so I've had a long time to think about it :)

Firstly, it's worth noting that for much of our existence we didn't have medicine, or even much sanitation, or germ theory, or anything... so medicine itself (herbs not withstanding) as we understand it is very modern. It's a long walk to thank God for the basic intelligence of humans that over thousands of years we eventually developed some modern medicine, for some rich people, for some illnesses. Certainly immunization and sanitation has made the world a much less horrible place, but it's hard to know if we should be thankful for the medicines, or horrified at the universe we inhabit in the first place.

I actually had to train myself out of thinking that God was 'working for good' through my illness (in any way I could understand, at least), because it completely messes with your head. I was thinking "Oh of course I had to be sick to learn X, now I'll be able to use that when I'm better!" but 'better' never came and I eventually realized that the whole point of sickness etc being bad is that you *do* miss out on things, life is hard, and there isn't some magical silver lining where God's working it for good (people just die, after all) -- it is what it is, it's part of our fallen world, and that's that.

So what should I give thanks for? I honestly have no idea :)

luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baddelim said...

Luke,

Thank you for your contribution here - it really is quite substantial. I'm toying with making it the subject of a post or two in its own right - Your comments, and my thoughts in response making up one or two posts as a basis for starting of some new conversations. Seems a shame to have something as thoughtful as what you've written and at such length be hidden away at the bottom of an old thread. Let me know if you have objections with that, otherwise I'll try and put something up to that effect this week.

Baddelim said...

Hi Qraal,

Thanks, that helps push things on a bit. If I've understood you correctly in your recent comment you say:

1. Shared embryologic stages are evidence of evolution.
2. Genes are similar/same across species and can be spliced across species fairly easily.

And these are evidences for evolution.

I think my take on these is that evolution can account for them, but they aren't quite evidence for evolution. Someone who held to a special act of creation could just as easily argue that God used similar building blocks to make animals.

It seems to me that, if the world we were faced with was one where these two traits weren't in existence - where different animals were radically different genetically, and even used very different bio-chemistry, then evolutionists would hold that up as proof of evolution and creationists as evidence of special creation.

If a theory can't account for some data that matters, but being able to account for data isn't quite evidence of the truth of the theory. The best evidence of a scientific theory is reproduction under consistent circumstances, or of it being able to predict something we haven't observed yet.

And, as far as I can see, those are the two things evolution can't really offer. We aren't trying to deliberately evolve things to spec. We aren't successfully predicting things we might find.


However I must disagree about natural law merely being arbitary patterns that God can change at a whim. Seems too capricious for the God who chose those being saved before the foundation of the world? A God whose faithfulness is renowned and extolled in the Bible, whose constancy work is seen in the natural world, isn't the Allah of Islam who can do it how He wills merely because He wills it.

The Medievals argued over nominalism - that what is true is true because God willed it so - and the view that truth wasn't arbitary, but inherent in God's inner nature. Are we doing the same here?


Weeelll, I wouldn't go for 'arbitrary' patterns - I'd say contingent. Creation doesn't have to exist, and doesn't have to exist this way. God had huge freedom in the kind of cosmos he brought into existence. Anything he created would be good, because he is good, but things didn't have to be this way.

And I'd say that the regular patterns are an expression of God's general providence. So when there is a miracle, I don't see that as a supernatural disrupion of the natural, it is God's will expressed in a somewhat different form.

Truth is truth because it is grounded in the God of truth - so I agree, nominalism is right out. But one has to be careful not to tie God too closely to the creation such that God's freedom is imperilled, and he only has one option - he had to create, and he had to create the world he acutally made. That does collapse the creator-creature distinction in my view, and comes close to making creation an extension of God.

luke said...

Mark, sure, sounds good!

qraal said...

Hi Mark

You said...

Hi Qraal,

Thanks, that helps push things on a bit. If I've understood you correctly in your recent comment you say:

1. Shared embryologic stages are evidence of evolution.
2. Genes are similar/same across species and can be spliced across species fairly easily.

And these are evidences for evolution.

I think my take on these is that evolution can account for them, but they aren't quite evidence for evolution. Someone who held to a special act of creation could just as easily argue that God used similar building blocks to make animals.


Of course. But I wasn't saying they were "evidence" per se, but "proof of principle", in that complexity can come from one cell. We can see the common origins of all complex lifeforms in this differentiation from the singular to the immensely multiple. "Evolution" originally applied as a biological term to that process of the individual unfolding from an egg.

I agree with you about God's freedom and avoiding a "necessary creation", but I personally think God doesn't violate creation's integrity by suspending its laws. In the case of JC's resurrection the Bible's pretty clear that His Rising represented the New Creation breaking into this old one, as a firstfruits of what was to come. Thus the old creation still applied, but JC wasn't bound by its old 'elemental principles' (stoicheion, I think is the Greek word.)