Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Out of town...

Until next week.

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 2)


(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)



Aside: Judging from the last post, some readers are not so happy with my view: These arguments are (mostly) for the edification of the saints, atheists will never accept them. I'm not sure why people (on both sides) don't like that position. I think the bible teaches it clearly. Just one example: 1 Cor. 1:18, For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (That verse, by the way, is a very powerful comfort, in terms of providing assurance of your salvation. Turning it around, if you do not find the word as foolishness, well you can take that to the bank.)

I think atheists sense that I have given myself an easy way to end all debate: well of course you don't agree, you are an athiest. That's actually true, but I don't use that. I'll argue as best I can, as if I had a chance to convince, but I know that the words are falling on ears that cannot hear unless opened by God. To my fellow Christians, rest assured that I am not arguing that we should not witness. On the contrary, that activity should consume us.


A solid Basis for Biblical Inerrancy


Having dealt with the common “bad” arguments, we look at a good one. Again, we cannot make a mathematical, bullet proof justification. This argument will be most helpful to those who generally agree that the bible is reliable and written in “good faith” but not necessarily inerrant. If you think the bible is a complete fiction, then no human reasoning without concomitant divine intervention will make you think otherwise.

As an example, I recently had an exchange (yes, on Panda’s Thumb) with a bible-denier who claimed no New Testament scripture could have been written before the second century. (This he stated matter-of-factly, with no evidence.)

I argued:
That is utter, revisionist nonsense for many reasons, including circumstantial.

For example, there is no mention (except prophetically) of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Roman legions in AD 70. This means that these Jewish writers didn’t think it important to mention, even in passing, the massacre of about a million Jews and the enslavement and relocation of 200,000 others. Not to mention the desecration and destruction of their center of worship.

This would be akin to multiple Jewish writers penning a history of the twentieth century without mentioning the Holocaust.
When others joined in (not on my side) my regrettable snarkiness got the better of me, and I wrote:
But to assume the gospels and the epistles, even if they are fiction, were written around AD 100 and (the writers) didn’t bother to weave in the destruction of Jerusalem, an event known from independent accounts to be factual, (well) the only argument you could make is that the writers conspired thusly:
  1. Let’s write a (fake) history of events from seventy (or more) years ago, so that we can have cushy ecclesiastical jobs, all that pesky persecution being little more than an annoyance.
  2. Oh, let’s not mention our holocaust of AD 70 so that it will look like we wrote these before that event.
  3. Oh, just for kicks, let’s put fake prophecy about AD 70 into the mouth of our invention, Jesus.
  4. Oh, but lets be very clever and make (the bulk of it) it vague. Not in the sense of the Oracle of Delphi, but so that in the distant future, many people will think it refers to a still future event, so that our descendants can continue to milk the same prophetic text as referring to a rapture and great tribulation.
And then you’d have to get Clement of Rome, just for another example, to insert into his writings of that era fictional references to Paul’s nonexistent letters to the Corinthians.

And of course, the failure to mention the events of AD 70 is just one reason why the late date is nonsense.
As you might have guessed, this approach didn’t work, because the response was generally along the lines of: yeah, that sounds about right.

(Aside to my fellow Christians who do believe the prophecy to which I am referring, the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24) is indeed about a future Great Tribulation--well that's a separate issue that we have looked at in the past and will look at again in the near future.)

So keeping in mind that the target is (for the most part) the believer who wants to learn why he can be confident in biblical inerrancy, let’s move forward.

The Testimony of Jesus

Our approach is to appeal to the testimony of Jesus. Jesus himself expresses the highest view of Scripture, saying that “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen” in the law shall disappear or fail to be accomplished. (Matt. 5:18) We also know that Jesus was prone to use scripture in his arguments, often beginning sentences with “It is written” and to proclaim that he is the Messiah (Luke 4:21). And of course, Jesus used scripture alone when tempted by Satan.

In short, Jesus asserts that all of Scripture is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative to the letter. Therefore, the proper view of biblical inerrancy affirms not only the general events and doctrines taught in Scripture, but it affirms that God has infallibly caused to be written the very words used in the Bible. To deny this or to affirm anything short of this is to call Jesus a liar.

By now you should be screaming: yes all that is fine and good but you are appealing to the bible as evidence for what Jesus said, and so it cannot be proof of inerrancy. You are correct. It is just background.

Bootstrapping

We will use a bootstrapping approach. Here the idea is to build a logical chain from the least controversial claim to the conclusion, that the bible is the inerrant Word of God. The "proof" is then as strong as the weakest link.

Sproul uses a Christ-based bootstrapping argument based on this chain:
  1. The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  2. On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  3. Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an inerrant authority.
  4. Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
  5. The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  6. Conclusion--On the basis of the inerrant authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy; i.e., inerrant.
We will use a similar chain:
  1. Jesus is a real historic figure
  2. The gospels are, at least, reasonable historic accounts
  3. Jesus performed miracles
  4. Miracles are a sign from God that the person performing them is a prophet
  5. As a prophet, Jesus would speak the truth
  6. Jesus affirmed the bible as the word of God
    Conclusion--Therefore, the bible is the word of God

Jesus is a historic figure

This receives very little criticism, even in secular circles. Non-Christian historians such as Josephus discuss Jesus. (Note: references to the resurrection in Josephus’ Antiquities were probably redactions by misguided Christians. However, the core reference to Jesus is generally considered reliable.)

The Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56–ca. 117) wrote, describing Rome’s burning under Nero:
Nero fastened the guilt… on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus (Christ), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of… Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even Rome… (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82.)

There are references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, of which the earliest period of compilation occurred between AD 70 to AD 200. One reference to Jesus from this period states:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy."
There are also references in the writings of Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minorca, ca. 112 (where he seeks advice from Rome on how to prosecute Christians). The Greek playwright Lucian (AD 120- ~180) mentions (satirically) Christians and Christ (though not by name). Even the Koran mentions Jesus. There is little argument that Jesus existed.

The gospels are, at least, reasonable historic accounts


Again, there is little argument here. Both historically and archeologically, the gospels have proved to be models of reliability. In particular, no archeological work has ever disproved a claim of one of the gospels.

In his article The Inerrancy of Scripture Tim Challies writes:
Only a couple of generations ago, scholars pointed to the Bible's claim that there was a king of Assyria named Tiglath-Pileser as an error, for archaeological evidence had not proven that any such king existed. But then archaeologists excavated Tiglath-Pileser's capital city and found this carved into bricks: "I, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria..." It is a fact that "the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems...Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all" (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, page 70). R.C. Sproul writes, "The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain."

Jesus performed miracles

Given that we know the gospels are reasonable historic writings, and not subject to wild speculation, we acknowledge that Jesus performed miracles. We know that not only did his friends attest to and write down his miracles, his enemies also acknowledged them, although they attributed his miraculous works to Satan. Furthermore, his miracles were witnessed by a large number of people, many of whom would have had ample opportunity to deny the miracles when the apostles began preaching in Jerusalem. This is no known account of someone claiming “I was there, I was among the crowd, and that didn’t happen.” There is, of course, a great deal of skepticism among even some who say they are Christians about the truth of the miracles, but most acknowledge that the writers of the gospels believed that had witnessed actual miracles, i.e., they were not lying.

Miracles are a sign from God that the person performing them is a prophet

Miracles are expressions of divine power and as such they bear witness to the fact that the performer has been marked by God as His prophet. They are, in fact, God offering proof that the messenger is His messenger. They do not necessarily imply deity: God has empowered humans (such as Moses) to perform miracles, or to be the conveyor of miraculous, divine power. If a human performs a true miracle, we are confident that he doing so at the pleasure of God, the ultimate power behind the miracle.

We conclude then, at a minimum, Jesus was a prophet of God.

As a prophet, Jesus would speak the truth

As a prophet of God, speaking as God’s messenger, Jesus would speak the truth. The assumption here is that God would not go to the trouble of providing the credentials of a prophet, via miracles, without ensuring that the messenger’s message was true.

In fact, the prophet will speak the truth even though he will often not understand what he is saying. Prophets generally do not understand their own prophecy. Peter tells us that their prophecy (concerning Jesus) was not for them or even their contemporaries, but for us (1 Peter 1:10-12). That we may look back and see how the prophecy was fulfilled. If you believe that the story of Jesus is generally true, it is useful to go back and study the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Then you will see how precisely it was filled, which should give further confidence in biblical inerrancy. (Or, once again, that it was a carefully crafted fiction.)

This is a crucial point. The bible is so self-referential (across vast time periods), and so detailed, and so specific, that the only two rational choices are that it is the truth or it is a pack of lies.

Jesus affirmed the bible as the word of God

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, Jesus attested to scripture being of God on many occasions. Again, most liberal scholars do not dispute that Jesus spoke of scripture as being inspired. However, a claim is sometimes made that Jesus was mislead by his times—the Jews of that day also believed in inspiration. Jesus, in his human nature, it is argued, was not omniscient (Matt. 24:36). This is true, but we do not rely on Jesus’ omniscience but his sinlessness. For He makes bold claims of doing nothing except the father’s bidding—claims that would be outright lies regardless of His times or the lack of omniscience of His human nature. Thus Jesus, as truthful messenger, could not have treated the bible as inspired solely because he was misled by His times.

Therefore, the bible is the word of God

Since Jesus is a true prophet, and He taught of the authority of scripture, then scripture must indeed be the word of God.

In summary—the gospels, once we grant their being generally reliable as almost all scholars do—then bootstraps itself into being the word of God through the claims of Jesus. The only real alternative, if the gospel writers were even just mostly reliable, is that Jesus was the consummate fraud and fakir. His miracles have not been disputed, including a bold prediction that Jerusalem itself would be destroyed within a generation. The only hole in this approach is if you believe that a true prophet could lie, and Jesus lied egregiously when it came to his view of scripture.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Susskind's New Book

I have just ordered Leonard Susskind’s book: The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design.

I am interested to see how Susskind argues against fine-tuning. One thing that I am very happy about: he used the phrase “intelligent design” (yes, I realize he refers to it as an illusion.) I have always been annoyed that the term has been co-opted by the biologists.

Here is what Publishers Weekly has to say about Susskind’s book:
As modern physics has developed a better understanding of how the universe operates at its most fundamental levels, one thing has become increasingly clear: we're damned lucky to be here at all. The laws of physics are precariously balanced, and were the value of one constant slightly different, life as we know it wouldn't exist. To explain the ridiculous improbability of it all, some physicists have turned to the "Anthropic Principle": the universe seems perfectly tailored to us because if it weren't, we wouldn't be here to observe it. The underlying rationale for this argument involves the "landscape" of potential laws of physics (which, it turns out, aren't so immutable after all), a whole bunch of extra dimensions and lots of particle physics. Luckily, Susskind—the father of string theory—does the job right, guiding readers through the current controversy over the Anthropic Principle. Make no mistake: this is the cutting edge of physics as described by one of the sharpest scientific minds around. While the subtitle is a bit misleading (this isn't about intelligent design in the Kansas Board of Education sense, but actually a controversy at once bigger and less prominent), persistent readers will finish this book understanding and caring about contemporary physics in ways both unexpected and gratifying. (Dec. 12)
I like how they contrast cosmological ID to biological: “a controversy at once bigger and less prominent.” I couldn’t agree more.

I once attended a lecture by Susskind. In the middle he stopped, turned to the audience, and said: “I do great physics.”

Actually, he does. It will be interesting to see if he has something new and testable to use in the argument against fine-tuning, or whether it will be the same-old same-old metaphysical sleight-of-hand.

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 1)


(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Thology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)


Our second topic has to do with the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. This is no small matter: more than 3000 times, the bible makes the claim “thus sayeth the Lord.” If the bible is not really the word of God, then it is a pack of lies. This is an important point: The bible makes very lofty claims about itself—this exaggerates the negative impact of any discovered biblical error. Suppose you have two professors. Professor A claims that everything he says is absolutely true while Professor B makes no such claim. When each is found in error, is it not Professor A’s credibility that takes the bigger hit?

In this segment, we will attempt to prove biblical inerrancy. Not in the scientific sense, but more like in the “beyond a reasonable doubt” sense. What we really doing is uncovering the minimum set of assumptions you need in order to establish the authority of scripture. So instead of saying, “I just know it is true” you can at least say “If you can believe X, Y and Z then I can make a compelling case for inerrancy.”

For the most part, this argument will be for the believer. An atheist will accept no proof of biblical inerrancy just like he will accept no proof of God's existence. It is not just that he won't, but he cannot. (He of course interprets this inability as rational denial.) If he is not drawn by God, and not moved by the Spirit, he will, enslaved by his natural state, view the word of God as foolishness.

Of course, God ordains the means as well as the ends, so we take every chance provided, always praying that this time the atheist will believe our arguments. If he does, we know it wasn't the persuasiveness of our words that deserves the credit.

Like apologetics, what we are doing here is strengthening our case for why we believe what we believe. It is, for the most part, to give ourselves encouragement. At the same time, it does allow us live up to our biblical mandate to answer our critics. If someone argues: you have no reason to believe in the truth of the bible we can say: yes we do.

Inerrancy is an important topic. The great confessions of the past, including the London Baptist the Westminster, make this claim:

The Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith, and practice.

Many denominations, faced with higher criticisms of this doctrine, have substituted the above statement with a new one:

The Holy Scriptures are infallible in matters of faith and practice.

The first statement is strong, saying that of all books ever written, the bible stands alone in its infallibility. The second is as different from the first as night is from day. It states only that the bible is infallible (and perhaps not uniquely so) in matters of faith and practice. In matters of history and science, it is deemed fallible and hence, ultimately, unreliable. The stakes are very high.

Four Bad Proofs

As important as inerrancy is to us, we need to avoid bad arguments supporting it. In the book Primitive Theology, Gerstner outlines four bad proofs. These are four ways that are sometimes used but which in fact are fallacious and should be avoided. These four “bad arguments” are lifted, nearly verbatim, from Gerstner’s treatment of their error in Primitive Theology.

1. The Bible’s own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

We cannot use passages such as 2 Tim. 3:16 to prove the bible is inspired or inerrant. Probably everyone senses the circularity of such an approach, or the logical fallacy of begging the question, in which the conclusion is demonstrated by first assuming it to be true. And of course, if a claim of inerrancy is all that is required then we must allow that the Koran and the Book of Mormon are also inerrant.

Here is the important distinction: The bible is not the word of God because it says so, it says so because it is.

Some will argue that the bible is different. In general, they agree that something is not true merely because it says it is true. However the bible, being the word of God, is subject to different rules. It is God’s word, and God’s word cannot be challenged. This, of course, is true. But it misses the point. The question is not whether we should instantly obey the word of God. We agree with the prophet Samuel who said "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1. Sam 3:10) but like Samuel we must first know that the voice we hear is really God’s. The question is whether we can accept the bible as the word of God merely because it says that it is. The answer is we can not.

Some will argue it is simply too presumptuous and impious to put the bible to the test. On the contrary, it is an act of humility. For we are using the only means at our disposal that God has given us, our reason, to distinguish between the true word of God and the word of men falsely claiming to speak the word of God. We are again reminded that Jesus’ miracles are offered as proof of his claims of deity.

No we cannot use the bible’s own claim as proof of its inspiration. However, if we successfully make a case for inerrancy, as we will attempt to do later, then the bible’s lofty claims about itself will carry great weight. It’s claim of inspiration will be of comfort, and its refrain of “Thus sayeth the Lord” and its proclamation of the gospel will be sources of great joy.

2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Another bad proof of inerrancy attempts to ride the coattails of a sound doctrine: the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” This internal testimony is necessary for us to understand God’s word, for without it His truth would appear as foolishness to our ears (1 Cor. 1:18). It is tempting, then, to make this type of argument:

Just as the bible certifies itself by the letter of scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men.

Many even assume the bible is “dead text” until the Spirit speaks to a heart at which time the beneficiary has an experiential basis for accepting inerrancy. What more, could one demand as proof than the voice of God speaking directly into one’s soul?

Nothing more, is the obvious response. Nobody would be foolish enough to reject as inconclusive the very voice of God inwardly announcing to us that the bible His word. At such a point, searching for proof would be superfluous.

Of course, when pressed for details, the proponents of this view will concede that they never actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to them “the Bible is my Word.” Many would even complain that it is impertinent to ask them if they actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, even as they continue to claim that the Sprit is talking to them. We politely remind them that we affirm the doctrine of the inward testimony of the spirit as it applies to understanding scripture, just not as it applies to the bible’s inerrancy.

If the Spirit does not testify audibly, the question becomes, how does the Spirit, through inaudible testimony, convey to someone that the bible is inerrant? The answer given is that the Holy Spirit confirms our convictions when we read the bible and intensifies our experience as we meditate on scripture. Once again we agree that such a thing happens, but counter that it still doesn’t prove inerrancy or inspiration. All it means is that a person reads the bible and he is stirred by parts of what he reads. He feels or thinks he feels a spirit other than his own working in his heart. Even if he is sure there is another spirit, he cannot be sure what that spirit is. Furthermore, if it is the Holy Spirit he cannot be sure it isn’t the Spirit telling him that this part of the book he is reading is good, but other parts—well—if you don’t feel the same way don’t you have to believe them.

To summarize we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as a basis for inerrancy. (At the same time, we loudly affirm our belief in the testimony of the Spirit.) The Spirit’s testimony is not audible, it is an intensifying of feelings and enlightening of understanding as we contemplate, but it does prove inerrancy.

3. The Believer’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

It may not be obvious that the first two “bad” proofs—using the bible itself or the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy—are rooted in the same error: elevation of the creature above the creator. Indeed, they seem to have a level of piety implying just the opposite. However, accepting, for example, the bible as the word of God just because of its own claim is sheer arbitrariness, regardless of how lofty the intention. By dismissing (often derisively) God’s gift of reason, we become a law unto ourselves, appealing to our own “feelings.”

In our third version of bad arguments for inerrancy, we find an augment that is transparently man centered. The argument is this:

The bible is inspired because it inspires me.

Here we have a “proof” that is purely based on experience. But a proof based on experience can never prove anything to anyone else. In addition, the book that you claim inerrant on the basis of the experience never states that you are justified in your reasoning—it never states that “see, you have come to believe me just like I said you would, by feeling it in your bones.”

No rational person would deny that a Christian will have experiences when reading scripture that are different from when he reads something else, but this is not a basis for inerrancy, it is only a basis for stating that the bible is “moving.” One sign of the unreliability of this proof is that Christians often have similar feelings when reading a biblical commentary, watching a move such as The Passion of the Christ, receiving a well crafted sermon, or listing to a poignant testimony. Yet the same feeling would never be used to claim the inerrancy of those sources.

4. The Church’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Some, sensing the error in the previous approaches, yield to the temptation of the bosom of the mother church. The (erroneous) idea is that God has promised guidance to the body as a whole that He has not promised to individual believers. In effect, God is entrusting, by means unspecified, the church with the certainty of the inspiration and inerrancy of the bible, and then saying: now you go teach the flock who should require no proof other than your word.

This relies on the authority of the church. And the church does have authority. And from where does the church derive its authority? From the bible! We are back to circular reasoning, although this circle has a larger diameter. The bible is inerrant because the church teaches that it is. To accept this, we must bow to the authority of the church. But the church enjoys this authority because it is granted in the bible, which is inerrant.

We must be straight on this: The church is not the basis of the bible’s authority. The bible is the basis of the church’s authority. The Catholic Church, for example claims papal authority from And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:18) But to make this claim Rome must first prove the trustworthiness of Matt. 16:18. Only after that is established can the Catholic Church then attempt to use the passage to make her case for papal authority.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

True Colors

It is reasonable to speculate that there are, broadly speaking, six groups involved in the ID debate:
  1. Scientists who oppose it on cold, objective, scientific grounds
  2. Secularists who view it as a religious threat
  3. Scientists who believe it has scientific merit
  4. Religious types who view it as evidence for special creation
  5. Religious types who view it negatively because they see it as challenging the supremacy of pure faith
  6. Those who are ambivalent
Of course, boundaries are crossed. I am in group three when it comes to cosmological ID. I am also in group four, and even in group six when it comes to biological ID.

Now, suppose you are a professor about to teach an anti-ID course. Suppose you are Professor and Department Chairman (in the Religious Studies Department) Paul Mirecki at the University of Kansas.

Furthermore, suppose that you want to give the illusion that you are in group one, which is clearly perceived as the academic high ground. Then you might give interviews to the national media and say things like:
"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."
Now the reporter might have asked, "what does a Religious Studies professor know about science?" But the reporter was, I gather, being polite. I would have asked, "what does a Religious Studies professor, especially one with a Th.D. from Harvard, know about Christianity?” But that would have been the cynic within.

Is Professor Mirecki (qualified or not) actually concerned that ID is not science? A hint that he is not very clever about hiding the fact that he is solidly in group two comes from the title of the course: Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.

Not very nuanced, is he?

And now an even clearer picture of the character of Dr. Mirecki has emerged. Enthralled over his new found celebrity and field promotion to the rank of Vanquisher of All that Smart People Hate about Common Bumpkins, he is unable to contain himself. As reported by the Lawrence Journal, the good doctor wrote in an email:
“The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category ‘mythology,’” Mirecki wrote.

He signed the note “Doing my part (to upset) the religious right, Evil Dr. P.”
Content of his email aside, isn't it astounding that you can have a doctorate from Harvard and still write like a third grader? Big fat face? Evil Dr. P?

I certainly hope that there are scientifically literate students who take Mirecki’s class, and pounce on him anytime he mentions that ID is not science. Regardless of whether or not ID is science, probing questions should make it obvious that, when it comes to the science, he will not be capable of anything beyond parroting. It needs to be made clear that this course is not about science, but about anti-Christian bigotry masquerading as a defense of science.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A well-deserved Fisking

Jonathan Witt has a great post about Dilbert taking on a fire-breathing militant evolutionist. There are a lot of good links in the article that elaborate on the basic story. (And the basic story is: why would an alleged scientist bother to make a spectacle of himself by going ballistic over what a cartoonist has to say? Who’s next in his line of fire? Nancy and Sluggo?) At the end of Jonathan’s post, he relays a suggestion from a victim of this over-the-top biologist’s venom, a victim (and an atheist) who argues that the Discovery Institute should bankroll the guy, seeing as he is something of an embarrassment to his own cause.

That is indeed a fascinating dynamic, when someone is so awful at making any sort of reasoned, cogent argument that you wish he would defect to the opposition.

Jonathan also has a good op-ed in today's Seattle Times.

Is ID bad theology?

There is a new and potentially effective prong of attack being employed in the war against ID. A good example is found in this article by Susan Ives.

About halfway through the article, Ives writes:
Intelligent design disrespects faith, discounts faith, destroys faith.

Faith is belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. Faith falls into the realm of metaphysics — literally, "beyond physics," the branch of philosophy that seeks to explain the nature of reality and the origin and structure of the world.

When we try to prove and promote the metaphysical through the physical — when we muddle faith and science — we are, in effect, saying that faith is not enough, that faith, like science, requires proof. Faith that requires proof is no faith at all.

In my Protestant tradition we recite a creed that declares our faith: "I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth."

There are no footnotes in this creed that refer to William Dembski's "The Design Inference" or references to "The Black Box" by Michael Behe, two of the seminal books in the intelligent design movement.
After promising earlier in the article to treat both sides with respect, she then goes on to characterize irreducible complexity as “junk science.”

She concludes with the now common soundbite:
There is also a compelling argument for keeping religion out of public schools: not to protect the schools from religion, but to protect religion from the government.
Of course, when someone like Ives makes this statement, she is, I suspect, being disingenuous. To believe that she is more concerned about the government (here in the form of public schools) destroying religion than religion destroying public schools—why I’d just as soon believe the Soviets really were “protecting” Prague in 1968.

At any rate, it is her claim that ID is bad theology, a claim that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately, that is troublesome. Boiled down to its essence, the argument goes like this:

Faith is about believing without evidence. Therefore any attempt to bring scientific evidence to Christianity is detrimental, since it “disrespects” faith.

This is a good tactic because it will resonate with some Christians. However, it is very bad theology.

Ives points out the lack of footnotes in the (Nicene, I presume) creed. Well first of all, the creeds were not inspired, so that’s already a weakness in her argument. But let’s run with her litmus test of missing footnotes, viz.,
  • In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.”

  • When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God complied with the request. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “And Moses’ inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land.”

  • Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God’s glory. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.”

  • When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. Instead of containing a footnote that reads: “and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema,” my bible reads that Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

  • When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them he was flesh and blood, and that he could even eat. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “and their rewards in heaven were diminished because they relied on physical proof.”

  • Paul writes, in the letter to the Romans, that since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. My bible doesn’t have a footnote that reads: “but pay attention to that evidence at your own peril.” Instead, Paul adds that the reason for this (scientific data) is so that men are without excuse.

  • Even in the case of “doubting” Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, my bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.”
Ives makes an age-old mistake, but a popular one, that “faith” in the bible means “blind faith.” On the contrary, the bible presents a consistent theme of God providing evidence, including physical evidence, of His existence. To think that science can be detrimental to faith is to imagine that God’s creation is orthogonal to God’s plan of redemption.

This new approach, to cast ID as bad theology, is an attempt to drive a wedge between those Christians who understand that faith and science are complementary, and those Christians who, through poor teaching, elevate “blind faith” to a degree well beyond anything that can be supported by scripture.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What did Jesus know and when did He know it?

One of the more interesting sayings of Jesus is found at the end of the Olivet discourse. In Mark’s account, we read, in chapter 13:
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13: 24-33)
This passage concerns what many describe as the great tribulation, and it parallels the account in Matthew 24. Some might say that this passage contains two difficult phrases. The first is found in verse 30. Here Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Since many view the tribulation described here as a future event, this passage, it is fair to say, presents a problem for that viewpoint. You have to figure out how to deal with the two words “this generation.” However, since my own view is that the events described in the verses leading up to verse 30 have already happened, within forty years of Jesus’ prophesy, I don’t view verse 30 as a problem at all.

However, verse 32 presents a whopper of a problem regardless of your position on the end-times. For we all must deal with the fact that concerning this “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds,” regardless of what it refers to, we read that Jesus does not know the hour. This is a serious problem indeed, although we tend to smile at this verse and say things like “even Jesus doesn’t know” which, while apparently true, glosses over a very profound theological issue.

The fact that Jesus lacked this knowledge has not prevented the emergence of a cottage industry devoted to using the newspapers to predict the Second Coming. (And that would be among those who believe that this passage does in fact refer to the Second Coming.) After many embarrassments where predictions made to the very day and hour were proved false, the modern form for those who claim to know something Jesus didn’t know is more subtle. It’ll be soon, I’m sure—probably in my lifetime or at least in the lifetime of my children.

As an aside, if you (quite reasonably) view generation in verse 30 as referring to a period of approximately 40 years, then Jesus is not contradicting himself by on the one hand limiting these events to occur in that time span but on the other hand saying he does not know precisely when the terminus of his prophecy, his coming in the clouds with great power and glory, will occur in this generation-length interval. (And of course, in this view this event, Jesus’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory, does not mean The Second Coming that will mark the end of history, but the destruction of temple worship and the wholesale slaughter of Jews in AD 70.) Jesus’ time frame references can be paraphrased as saying “this will happen in the next 40 years, exactly when, I don’t know.”

But as I said, it’s verse 32 that is the problem, regardless of the details of the prophecy. Futurist or preterist, you still have to deal with the fact that Jesus didn’t know. For Jesus, we all believe, is God, and one of the attributes of God is omniscience. So how do we deal with the fact that Jesus is omniscient and yet there is something that He doesn’t know?

In solving this conundrum we have to avoid the heresy known as Nestorianism, named after Nestorius, who became bishop of Constantinople in 428.

As with many heresies, we find Nestorianism was rooted in good intentions “run amok.” Others before Nestorius erred by denying Christ’s human nature. Nestorius went to the opposite extreme, stressing Christ’s humanity to the extent that there were two distinct personalities—one divine and one human—within the same living consciousness. In arguing his position that the divine and human natures of Christ were separate, he stated that “God was never a two month old baby.” The litmus test of Nestorianism was an interesting one: whether or not you were willing to grant Mary the title theotokos, or “she who gave birth to the child who is God,” or more informally, “Mary, Mother of God.” Nestorius and his followers were unwilling to grant Mary that title, arguing that she bore only the human half of the duality. They would only refer to her as “Mary, mother of Jesus.” Now of course (and for no real good reason) many Protestants are loath to use the phrase “Mary mother of God,” because of its association with Roman Catholicism. We Protestants should fear not, the honorific “Mary mother of God” is self evident.

So an (unacceptable) solution to the problem of Jesus not knowing something is to resort to Nestorianism. That would entail arguing that Jesus the man is completely separate from Jesus the God; that Jesus the man is merely a human who is more or less possessed by the second person of the trinity, and Jesus the man and only the man is speaking in Mark 13:32.

We will find the solution to this puzzle in that direction—but without going so far as totally separating Jesus’ divine and human natures.

The problem before us is a weighty one indeed: it really amounts to seeking an understanding of the mystery of the incarnation. Here it is useful to turn to the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. There we find this teaching regarding the incarnation:
So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.
What this teaches is summarized by four negatives. The incarnation is without confusion, without change (or mixture), without division, and without separation.

Nestorianism, be contrast, would teach: with total separation.

The orthodox view is that Jesus the person is omniscient. Jesus the person has two natures, not separate, but distinct. Jesus the person has divine nature that is spiritual, immutable, preexistent, etc. And he has a human nature that is physical, mutable, and was born of a woman. The divine nature retains the attributes of deity including omniscience. The human nature retains the attributes of humanity, including limited knowledge, pain and suffering, fatigue, sickness (probably) and aging. With one important exception: sinfulness.

The divine nature can communicate to the human. Jesus can prophesy. Jesus can read minds and hearts. For example, he knew Nathanael before he met him:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:43-49)
But all these amazing powers were also performed by “purely” human prophets. The divine can communicate knowledge to any human—that’s the very definition of a prophet. What distinguishes Jesus from your garden variety prophet is that he was without sin and that his person included rather than just communicated with the divine. Jesus was not just an instrument of the divine, he was (is) divine.

This view of the incarnation allows us to take Jesus at his word. When He said “I don’t know”, He really didn’t know. His divine nature was not pleased at that moment to communicate that information to his human nature. And yet, throughout Jesus’ ministry there are many examples where his divinity was manifested by his humanity. He performed miracles. He forgave sins.

It is possible that hints of the limited knowledge of Jesus’ human nature may appear elsewhere in scripture. In fact, it could very well be that much of Jesus’ prayers reflect his human nature praying to the Father in much the same manner we pray—or at least are supposed to pray. Was it Jesus’ human nature, with incomplete knowledge, who prayed for his murderers to be forgiven? Wouldn’t his divine nature already know whether they would be forgiven? I don’t know—but it is an intriguing possibility that for me helps to explain some of the mystery of our Lord’s praying as recording in sacred scripture.

There is still a problem, though. Jesus didn’t just say “I don’t know.” He said “only the Father [knows].” This leaves us with the nagging question of the Holy Spirit—who has all attributes of deity but without Jesus’ complication of a dual nature. Was Jesus saying that the Spirit is not omniscient? I don’t know. It’s a puzzle.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Evolutionist/Creationist/ID Quiz

I tried making one of those annoying quizzes. The possible results are:
  1. Atheist Evolutionist
  2. Deistic Evolutionist
  3. Theistic Evolutionist
  4. Intelligent Design Supporter, and
  5. Young Earth Creationist
Remember folks, it's just for fun. Don't take it too seriously.

No surprise here, my result was:

HASH(0x8c71b4c)
You support Intelligent Design. You believe that
God not only created everything, he left
evidence behind.


What Type of Evolutionist/Creationist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sin and Suffering

(note: cross posted on blogs4God)

Is human suffering related to sin? The answer is yes, but the relationship is often perceived incorrectly.

That suffering and sin are related is beyond refute. We need only recall the familiar "curse" passage from Genesis.

It is also true that entire populations, such the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, have suffered as a direct consequence of their sins.

What is wrong, however, is take this truth to an unsupported conclusion, namely that all or most human suffering is in proportion to our sinfulness. In spite of a lack of support in scripture, this is a recurring theme: that sickness, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and (as a less common but more pathological example) a lack of prosperity are related to sinfulness.

The book of Job should be sufficient to put this falsehood to rest. Job suffers, perhaps as no mere man has ever suffered, and yet he was "blameless and upright." Just in case anyone misses the point, Job's friends make that argument, that Job's sin is behind his suffering, but their theology is found wanting.

Furthermore, in any number of passages (let alone in real life) we see clear evidence that the wicked, far from suffering, actually prosper.

Jesus also teaches this truth, that we should not correlate human suffering with the degree of sinfulness of the inflicted. Recall his encounter with a man blind from birth:
1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)
His disciples were not trying to trick Jesus. But they did demonstrate this same, common misconception about a connection between sin and suffering by phrasing their question in the form of a false dilemma, asking Jesus as if there were but two possible answers: either the sin of this man or the sin of his parents led to his blindness. Jesus avoids the false dilemma by answering: neither.

This may or may not be a comforting truth, that our suffering is not correlated with our sin. Jesus teaches elsewhere on this matter, in a way that is decidedly uncomfortable. In the thirteenth chapter of Luke we read:
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Here the teaching is not about sickness or blindness, but about unfathomable crimes and inexplicable accidents that befell innocent people. Representing the former, we have the story of worshippers who were murdered by Pilate's soldiers-not during an act of protest or other civil unrest but while they were at a synagogue. And in the latter case we have eighteen bystanders crushed in the collapse of a tower.

Here Jesus is being asked: "why do bad things happen to good people?" His answer (to both calamities) is fairly astonishing: do you think they are worse sinners than you? Well they were not. And unless you repent, you will likewise perish. This response is, in many ways, brutal. He says, in effect, the right question is not why did bad things happen to the worshipers in Galilee or the pedestrians in Siloam, but why don't bad things happen to you? You deserve it as much if not more that those about whose plight you inquire.

Jesus' answer is a reminder that we all are in rebellion against a Holy God, and that every breath we take is a punishment postponed, and for the impenitent it will be a punishment not delayed indefinitely. For those who do repent, we are saved and spared by God's grace—nothing more, nothing less. In this world we may and will suffer, but in the next there will be no towers of Siloam.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bad Review

Well, does it mean I am really a writer if I get a bad review? On Amazon, my only review is:

This story is a cheap cover for an autobiography. All the elements of Heddle's life are present in "Aaron" (aka David Heddle): physics, the conversion, meeting the girl via a note left in a trashcan...barf.

If you want Heddle's mind and writing, visit his blog: http://helives.blogspot.com/”>

That’s all well and good except the reviewer left a big clue that he didn’t actually read the book. There is nothing in the book even remotely close to “meeting the girl via a note left in a trashcan.” Something is found in a trashcan, but it's not a note and it has nothing to do with a girl.

It is fairly clear that the reviewer, one Steven Daniel Morgan, read the synopsis which ends with:
When Aaron detects signals from Leila, an undergrad beauty, uncertainty rules. She’s his student, which makes misreading the signals costly. Then a trashcan provides a golden opportunity for Aaron. But is it one that he can accept?
and connected dots that actually remain quite separate in the story. (Although it does point out that the synopsis probably does deserve a bad review.)

I have always figured someone I have annoyed would decide that writing a bad review would be just recompense. I just expected him to be more clever.

UPDATE: I now have some more reviews, one of which also points out that the scene described by S. Daniel Morgan does not actually occur in the book.

UPDATE 2: Mr. Morgan’s review has been removed from Amazon. I don’t know if Mr. Morgan retracted the review, in which case I thank him for doing the right thing, or if a reader reported the fact that the review was fabricated to Amazon. I wish Mr. Morgan had read the book—he fits into the niche audience of science graduate students. I think he might have enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Level?

I have blogged several times on the mythical "level playing field." This is the absurd position proffered by the academic evolution community in which it collectively states, sometimes through spokesmen who manage to maintain a straight face –no doubt through extreme exertion –that an intelligent design submission to a peer-reviewed journal would be given a "fair and unbiased" reading.

If they simply stated that ID is not science and ID submissions would not be given consideration —well then at least you could respect their honesty.

At any rate, for those of you not already familiar with the ill treatment of Dr. Richard Steinberg, here is an interesting article, all the more remarkable given that it was published by that right-wing, lunatic fringe, fundamentalist Christian organization: National Public Radio.

The entanglement of the National Center for Science (except for physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology… in other words only evolution) Education in the affairs of the Smithsonian is particularly appalling. This strange organization is much more about political activism than about science. Among other things, its representatives distort the position of the Catholic Church on evolution. And now it is clear that the NCSE is poised, Pat Robertson-like, to call down the wrath of Darwin upon any apostate academician.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Interview with a Molecular Biologist

The Dawn Treader posts an interesting ID-evolution interview with a molecular biologist.

Part one
Part two

Cosmological ID Talk

My next Cosmological ID talk will be at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire on December 8. The invitation comes from their Campus Crusade group. Here is the abstract I sent them:


Cosmological Intelligent Design - Is God in the Details?

Biological Intelligent Design (ID) is in the headlines. In the Dover school system in Pennsylvania, a federal court case was held over the legality of a school district's adoption of a curriculum that includes ID as an alternative to evolution. In Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere similar legal action is unfolding.

There is, however, a less newsworthy form of ID, often called Cosmological ID. Related to the Weak Anthropic Principle, Cosmological ID posits that the observed fine tuning in the laws and constants of physics - the tight constraints that are necessary for habitability - is evidence of the universe's design.

In this talk I will present numerous examples of the fine-tuning observed in various physical laws and constants. I will also discuss alternatives to the conclusion of design. Finally, I'll examine the question of Earth's mediocrity, often called the Copernican Principle.

This is the fourth time I'll be giving this version of the talk. First was as the Community College of Baltimore County. Then at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. Then as a community outreach at my church. And now Daniel Webster College.

I'll provide more details as they become available, in case you happen to be in the area.

Lesson 1: Apologetics

Part 2: An apology for Apologetics



In his book Primitive Theology, John Gerstner gives the following reasons for apologetics:
  1. People who argue against arguments are, in fact, making arguments. They are using their heads to justify not using their heads. To provide reasons for not using reason is simply not very smart.

  2. You will encounter those who will, as they should, ask why. You need a because that is more substantive than just because.

  3. When sane people appear to be against reason, they actually are not. When Tertullian said he believed (in God) because it was absurd (as opposed to logical) he was in fact saying that it was logical that the ways of an infinite, Holy God should (by reason) appear absurd to fallen creatures.

  4. If Christianity claims to be true, then it requires proof. If we only needed to claim truth, the Christianity would be established, as would Mormonism, Scientology, Islam, and all other religions. Proof is not just for the atheist, but also the believer. As Chillingsworth put it:
    I am certain that God has given us our reason to discern between truth and falsehood, and he who makes no use of it, but believes things he knows not why, I say, it is by chance that he believes the truth and not by choice; and I cannot but fear that God will not accept the sacrifice of fools.

    Even when we jettison reason in favor of experience, we are actually reasoning. The very primitive reason is this: I have had an experience, and that experience could only come from God. But this reasoning is very weak, and requires the listener to take the speaker’s word for it. The apologist who has only experience is in a position of extreme weakness, like the Moody Bible student who witnessed about Christ in her life to a University of Chicago professor. The scholar, through probing questions that she could not begin to answer, eventually had her doubting her own salvation. She was right and he was wrong, but she didn’t know her apologetics. She had the proof but didn’t know how to express it, and ultimately believed she didn’t have it.

  5. Christ proved He was who He claimed to be.
    Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:11)

    But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." (Matt. 9:6)
    Before healing the paralytic, Jesus forgave him of his sins, thus claiming His divinity. He then did not say: believe it or not. Rather he went on to prove His divinity by means that no rational person could deny.

  6. The bible testifies to its own inspiration, but not through circular reasoning. The gospels have proven historically reliable, and they testify to a miracle working Jesus, miracles of which His enemies do not deny but rather attempt to attribute to Satan.

  7. Through apologetics we demonstrate that the Creator is God, that God certifies His Son, that His Son certifies the Word, and that the Word certifies the gospel.

Apologetics cannot win Souls. Apologetics is about winning souls.

To understand this seemingly contradictory heading, we must understand the difference between proof and persuasion.

As already mentioned several times, many modern Christians see a sort of incompatibility between proof and faith. Many times people have criticized me on my website for trying to prove God, and asserting that they need no such proof. Surprisingly this even comes from Reformed critics; the same Reformed who are sometimes criticized for being too intellectual. It is as if the reformed viewpoint of the total depravity of man has the following corollary: no point in proving anything to corrupt man, who will not respond to the gospel on the basis of proof.

John Calvin, who knew better than most that only divine intervention can change a man’s heart, wrote in his Institutes, regarding proof of biblical prophesy:
If godly men take these things to heart, they will be abundantly equipped to restrain the barking of ungodly men; for this is proof too clear to be open to any subtle objections.
Calvin, who absolutely agreed that man is severely corrupted, nevertheless did not believe that man was incapable of understanding the proof. He was certain that man, apart from the Holy Spirit, was incapable of being persuaded by the truth. He wrote, regarding the purpose of proof:
[proof is] not to convert the hearts of the ungodly, but to stop their obstreperous [stubbornly defiant] mouths.
Calvin also noted the difference between proof and persuasion. Proof is objective, persuasion is subjective. We see, all the time, people who lose arguments but refuse to be persuaded. The aphorism rings true: “People convinced against their will, hold the same opinion still.”

This is task of the apologist: to prove the Christian world view and rely on God to move the unbelieving heart. It is not much different from the task of the missionary, which is : to present the Christian world view and rely on God to move the unbelieving heart. In fact, a good missionary should be a good apologist an vice versa. In neither case does the speaker have any power to change a man’s heart. It either case, however, it may please God to use the words as means, for God ordains both the ends and the means.

That is what we mean when we say that apologetics cannot win souls, and yet is all about winning souls.

Apologetics and Saving Faith

Faith is so central to Christianity that we frequently refer to Christianity as our faith. As Protestants, we even broke from the church over the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, which we will discuss in a later topic. Thus faith, and not reason, is at the core of our salvation. That does not, by any means, as we have discussed, imply that we are to abandon or distrust reason.

Apologetics, like evangelism, aids in planting and watering of the seed, but it is God alone who brings forth an increase in faith:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Cor. 3:6)
What exactly constitutes a saving faith? It is of particular interest to those of us who affirm Justification by Faith Alone. When Luther declared that justification is by faith and faith alone, the question arose “What kind of faith?” The answer, attributed to both Luther and Calvin, is that Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” Luther called saving faith a fides viva—a living faith that issues forth in good works.

To get a little more academic, it is generally accepted that there are three major components of a saving faith.

Notitia refers to the fact that we have the correct knowledge or content. When we say we have faith, we obviously have faith in something. Notitia is the knowledge of that something. Today people often claim that sincerity in one’s faith is the most important aspect. Sincerity may be important, but it is not all important. What you believe has to be right. You may sincerely believe in reincarnation, but that is not part of a saving faith, but rather part of a damning faith. Being sincerely wrong is no virtue.

It does not mean you need a comprehensive knowledge (if so, we all would be lost), but there is some (undefined) minimum set of correct beliefs you must hold, such as the fact the God exists.

When the apostles proclaimed Christ, they provided content: Christ’s biography. They taught of Jesus’ life and his works, and how He fulfilled prophesy with His crucifixion and resurrection. They taught that men are sinners. This teaching is vital: before I can reach out for a savior I need to know that I need to be saved. With notitia I have the “theory” of Christianity; the content.

Assensus means that you not only have the notitia (content) but you also give intellectual assent to the content. This is a non-volitional agreement; you cannot will yourself or make a decision to believe. There may be a process by which you can ultimately reach a point where you can honestly affirm a proposition, either through education or divine intervention, but you cannot simply tell yourself I will believe.

If I tell you that George Washington was the first president, that is notitia. It’s data. You may believe it, you may not. If you believe it, it is then assensus.

Many mistake assensus as the level of faith that produces salvation. This is not so; salvation comes at the third level. Assensus is belief, and belief is not enough for salvation. James teaches this when he famously refers to demons in his epistle:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)
The demons have both notitia (correct content) and assensus (intellectual assent), but their faith was/is not a saving faith. It lacks the third component fiducia. (Although even if they had it, it is not clear they would be saved. Nowhere is it mentioned that there exists a redemptive plan for fallen angels.)

As for real people, we have the example of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.
Simon [the magician] himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (Acts 8:13)
Yet Simon was cast away by Peter for not having a heart that was right with God (Acts 8:21), and went on (legend says) to launch a heresy that still exists in the form of new-age mysticism. Simon the Sorcerer believed; he had both notitia and assensus, but he did not have a saving faith. Christ’s explanation of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13) also teaches of those who believe but fall away.

We must not mistake belief with faith.

Fiducia is the complex “of the heart” faith, as opposed to the cerebral notitia and assensus. This relates to our conviction and passion. This is our conscience, our personal trust and reliance. This is the part of faith that goes beyond knowing that the bible teaches us not to steal, and acknowledging that stealing is a sin, to being convicted by the Holy Spirit that stealing is wrong.

With fiducia, we not only know the content of the gospel and believe it to be true, we also believe it to be good. This is clearly, in its entirety, a gift of God. Before regeneration, we are dead in sin and cannot seek or please God. After the gift of faith, we are radically violated; our heart is transplanted. We now (imperfectly) seek God. Our biblical knowledge is buttressed by conviction that God is good, and the things of God are greatly to be desired.

Apologetics, it can be said, is in the business of spreading notitia and fighting for assensus. Fiducia is out of the purview of apologetics; Fiducia is a gift from God.

Summary

Some people believe that since it is the work of the Spirit that converts, we don’t need to engage in apologetics, which is a defense of Christianity. You sometimes here Christians say, “To give arguments for the truth of Christianity, to give reasons for our faith, would be to undermine the work of God the Holy Spirit.”

The bible teaches differently. We are to be prepared to defend our faith, with gentleness even in the face of hostility, in order to shame those who blaspheme God.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Parable of the Weeds

I would like to discuss a common but incorrect teaching regarding the famous parable of the weeds:

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt 13:24-30)

This parable is often explained this way: in the church there will always be unbelievers (weeds). God, however, will straighten everything out at the harvest.

This is an incorrect interpretation for two reasons:
  1. Jesus himself repudiates this interpretation.
  2. Other teachings in scripture indicate that, within the church, we should be weeding.
First, what does Jesus say? In explaining this parable our Lord teaches:

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. (Matt. 13:36-38)

Jesus is quite clear in verse 38: The field is not the church and neither is it Israel. The entire world is the field. In the world there are plenty of weeds, but it is not our business to do anything about that, other than to proclaim the Gospel. In particular, we are not to engage in violence against non-believers.

Second, it is clear that we are to "weed the weeds" in the church. If this parable is describing, as many suggest, the inevitable reality of apostasy within the church—then the lesson of the parable would be "do nothing to remove apostates from the church." But we know that is not the case—at the very least weeds easily identified by their refusal to refrain from an unrepentant, sinful lifestyle (or from preaching heresy) are to be excommunicated. Paul's letter to the Corinthians is just one example where it is taught that, at times, people must be given the boot. And the well known instructions for church discipline provided in Matthew 18 would be meaningless if weeding was not permitted within the church.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Surrealistic Day

I went to my church today for the funeral of a friend who went home to the Lord on Saturday. Tonight, at the same church, I am giving a Cosmological ID talk. This talk was requested by that same friend-- the one who died. It seems so bizarre.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Who Designed the Designer?

The question "who designed the designer" is either a really good question, or a really awful one. For someone just starting to think about these matters, it is an obvious place to begin. For a scientist, such as Richard Dawkins, who asks it as if merely posing the question presents an insurmountable obstacle to ID, it is very height of arrogance if not stupidity.

Let's begin with IDers who claim the designer doesn't have to be God (a point of view that, personally, I don’t find tenable.) If they use Behe's irreducible complexity as the basis for their ID (a theory about which I am ambivalent) then the answer is simple: our immediate designer (if it is not God) was either designed by another creature (or by God) or, ironically, it evolved. That is, while life on earth displays irreducible complexity, there is no need to assume that the creature-designer does. Maybe the creature-designer, examined microscopically and historically, displays clear evidence of having evolved, with no issues of irreducible complexity, or insufficient time, or convergence, or any of the other problems, apparent or not, faced by evolution on earth.

On the other hand, if the designer is God, then the question is meaningless. Only things that are created have to have a cause. The universe must have a cause. Life must have a cause. But something not created does not have a cause. So the question "who designed God?" is ill-formed. Similar to the trick question "have you stopped beating your wife?" it assumes facts not in evidence.

Now, those on the anti-ID side will immediately say "that's a copout!" However, I'll remind them that, when it suited science, science gave the same answer. When the standard model of the universe was the Steady State model, it was perfectly acceptable to respond to the question, "what caused the universe?" with the answer "nothing caused the universe because it wasn't created, it just is."

So when applied to the universe, the answer "it just is" was acceptable, but when applied to God, it apparently isn't. So we have hyper-bigots like Dawkins (who believes Christian parents are child-abusers, if they rear their children in the faith1) asking the question "who made God?" 2 as if it were a show-stopper when in fact it is a trivial question.

Some cosmologists, by the way, theorize that although our universe has a beginning, the universe creation machine that bubbles up universes from the vacuum is eternal. Anyone who asks "who designed the designer" should just as readily, and with the same level of disdain, ask "who or what made the vacuum eternally pregnant with new universes?"



1 "Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of having been brought up Catholic in the first place.", Richard Dawkins, "Religion's Real Child Abuse", Free Inquiry, Fall 2002, Vol. 22, No. 4., p. 9

2 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker : Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design, Norton, W. W. & Company, 1986.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Best "Calvinistic" Conversion

Like most Calvinists, I used to think that the Apostle Paul's conversion, described in the chapter nine of Acts, was the best "Calvinistic" conversion presented in scripture. Saul, the persecutor if not outright murderer of Christians, knocked to the ground and blinded by the light. Certainly Saul was not seeking the Lord, nor can what happened to Saul be described as God "wooing" a lost sinner.

However, in teaching a recent Sunday School class on Predestination (the notes will be posted in good time) a comment from one the men in the class about Jacob got me thinking about his conversion. It is told to us in Genesis 32:

22The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. (Gen 32:22-29)

Keep in mind that prior to this, Jacob has been busy praying to God in verses 9-12 of this same chapter.

So how does this mysterious conversion fit the Calvinist paradigm?

I would argue that Jacob's earlier seeking is the "false seeking" we often see. It occurs when someone appears to seek God, but what he really seeks is what God has to offer. In this case, Jacob seeks protection from his brother. For good reason: Jacob has been a rascal.

Later, after Jacob is alone, the mystery man, whom we shall identify as a theophony of God (although he may be but a representative of God) appears. Regeneration, regardless of where or when it happens, is an intensely private matter, and Jacob's solitude is very fitting.

The appearance of the man, unbidden by Jacob, represents, I would argue, the moment he was reborn; the very moment he was given a heart of flesh. Like Saul's knockdown, it is an unexpected, unmerited and monergistic divine initiative.

What happens next is what makes this a really good example of conversion for the Camp Calvin. Jacob wrestles with God. Why is this so good? Because Calvinism is so often maligned as "free-will abrogated." It is nothing of the sort. It is merely the truth that you are regenerated before you believe rather than after. Your free will is intact. However, you now have a heart that can actually seek God rather than, at most, what God offers. But it doesn't usually happen without a fight. Jacob's wrestling represents the true nature of the Calvinistic view: your free will is going to wage battle with your new heart for some time after you are born again.

It gets better. Jacob eventually refuses to let go of God. This represents the truth that once a man has a new heart he will ultimately seek to take the kingdom by force. Eventually all regenerate men will seek God with such conviction that nothing can stop them.

In the final act of submission to God, Jacob, in verse 27, gives his name. The modern equivalent would be that Jacob cried "uncle." God blesses him, and Jacob is not only regenerated, but saved.

Although I am still not sure what the hip dislocation is all about…

Friday, November 04, 2005

Can You be Both?

Does being a Christian, in the eyes of atheist scientists, taint your credibility when it comes to science? Atheists are usually (although not always) careful to say “no”, but I don’t think it takes a Fellini to read between the lines.

Oh sure, they trot out people like Ken Miller, but his role is really that of a “useful idiot.”

And at any rate, they have repeatedly quote-mined, if not outright lied, about Rome’s view on evolution. (It’s happening all over the place today, as a result of this story.) To summarize what I have blogged about before: Rome accepts theistic evolution. A theistic evolutionist concedes that the evolutionary process is never out of God’s sovereign control, while an “ordinary” or even a “deistic” evolutionist does not. They will all “do” evolution in the lab in exactly the same way (just like I do physics the same way as a nonbeliever) but if you ask if it is possible that life could have been wiped out by a catastrophe, or taken a different path, or any of a number things that could have prevented the evolution of intelligent life, you’ll get two different answers.

Yesterday, on Phil Plait’s blog, he posted some gorgeous pictures that just might be of some of the earliest starlight we have seen.

In the comment section, one reader expressed confusion over how it took the light so long to reach us. I commented (I have corrected a few minor typos):
I think the problem is probably (it usually is, anyway) with a misconception about what it means that the universe is expanding. It does not mean that the universe is filling a void of previously empty space. It means that the space between objects (galaxies) is getting larger.

The usual analogy is to imagine galaxies as dots painted on a balloon. As the balloon inflates, the dots are stationary, but the space between them grows, and each dot claims the other dots are moving away (when, in some sense, they are all at rest!).

So imagine a star was 10 steps away. It emits light. As the light travels toward us, space expands. So the light has to travel more than 10 steps to reach us. (In fact, if space expanded fast enough, the light might never reach us!) Well suppose it finally does reach us. It might have traveled 15 steps, even though at first it was only ten steps away. In the meantime, the star that it came from might be 25 steps away.

That is why that, although the universe is about 14 billion years old, the visible universe is much larger than 14 billion light years–it is more like 40 billion light years.

Which immediately elicited this reply (from a different reader, not the one I was helping)
toss me for getting off-topic, but i can’t believe (oh but it’s true!) that the previous comment was contributed by the same david heddle that vigorously defends intelligent design over at Panda's Thumb. his explanation of the size of the universe here seems clear and logical, just what we want on this blog, but knowing that he’s arguing creationist nonsense elsewhere puts a bad taste in my mouth. i had to say it.
I just find this telling, somehow, that a person had to go out of his or her way to point out my religious (or, to be more exact, philosophical) leanings after I had made a “pure science” comment. Now this happens all the time on Panda’s Thumb; there I cannot give a pure science comment without launching an unrelated religious war. Here, however, it caught me by surprise.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New Sunday School

The Church History posts are done.

This years Sunday School will follow and borrow heavily from Primitive Theology, The Collected Primers of John H. Gerstner, Soli Deo Gloria, 1996. The topics are:
  1. Apologetics
  2. Biblical Inerrancy
  3. The Deity of Christ
  4. Predestination
  5. Free Will
  6. Justification
  7. Roman Catholicism
  8. The Atonement
  9. Reconciliation
  10. The Problem of Pleasure
  11. Dispensationalism
Each of these topics will span multiple posts.

1. Apologetics

Should Christians be engaged in the practice of proving their faith, using the rules of logic and the scientific method? Or do you believe that it is unseemly for us to attempt to prove Christianity’s truth claims? Many Christians do believe that we should not attempt to prove Christianity, that the whole business is a “faith” thing. The point of this first topic is for us to understand the serious error that underlies this form of thinking. Let us begin with a famous passage:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim. 3:16)
Speaking of proof, what does this passage prove? If you answered that it proves that the bible is inspired and/or inerrant, you are wrong. Any book can make the claim of inerrancy. Such a claim has to be evaluated without becoming its own proof, and we will take up that challenge in our text topic.

Assuming, for the moment, biblical inerrancy, what does the passage teach? With that assumption (biblical inerrancy) it does indeed teach that scripture is inspired. It also teaches that all scripture is important. That must be the attitude of all Christians: all scripture: pleasant and unpleasant, Old Testament and New Testament, simple and difficult, clearly related to the gospel and not so clearly related—all of it is important.

Furthermore, we read:
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
Doctrine, Paul teaches us, is important. Not just for teaching, but for refutation of those who oppose it. And it is not just for pastors or missionaries. Peter wrote:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Pet. 3:15:16)
If your attitude is: I don’t care about doctrine, I don’t care about logic, I don’t care about reason, I only care about that Christ died for me then you are:
  1. Saved.

  2. In violation of the biblical mandate to defend you faith.
That doesn’t mean that we all have to be theologians. It does mean that it pleases God that we have the attitude of theologians: that the bible is not only a book of hope, but a book of sound reasoning and logic. And that God Himself, while he may indeed be “above logic or reason,” He is certainly not, as that phrase is often actually meant to convey, below logic and reason.

Apologetics is the discipline of defending your faith, using logic and reason. It is helping people know what they believe and why they believe it. It is an intellectual defense of the truth of the claims of the Christian faith. However, as a defense, it is not merely defensive, it is also offensive; the proactive construction of a case for Christianity, not just a reactive defense against assaults.

For the average Christian it means this: learn sound doctrine, and learn how to support it biblically. It can be viewed this way:
  1. Have a way to defend biblical inerrancy. It won’t (and can’t) convince someone who has not been moved by the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:18). Nevertheless, we should be able to do more than simply say “I just believe it.”

  2. Be able to defend and demonstrate that the bible does in fact teach what we claim to hold as our beliefs. Does the bible teach that if homosexuals are born that way, God would surely never punish them for it? Prove it. Does it, instead, teach that God will in fact punish not only homosexuals but everyone else, not in spite of but because of how they are born (unless they are saved)?, prove it.
Apologetics, often it seems, gets no respect. Even the famed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, when asked to write a defense on the gospel, replied, "The gospel does not need to be defended. It is like a caged lion. Just turn it loose and it will take care of itself."

According to Spurgeon, those who met the lion (scripture) needed a defense, not the other way around. Reason, said Spurgeon, needs defense, not faith. The word of man needs defense, not the word of God. This position is echoed by many modern Christians. It certainly sounds pious, but it is just as certainly wrong.

The attitude is an easy one to understand. If our faith or if the bible needs defending, it presents an image of weakness. Today, it is most often our feelings that we use to defend our faith. Today, many Christians are proud to be fideists: those who rely on faith alone rather than reasoning in questions of religion.

But it must be remembered that we are not defending our faith or the Word because it needs defending, but rather because we need to defend it. Our act of defending it, according to Peter, is our way of proclaiming Jesus as our Lord.

Reasons why people don’t do apologetics


  1. It is hard work. You have to prove, prove and study, study. Most people will work hard if they find it necessary. But most do not find apologetics necessary. As already mentioned, as long as they “feel” Christ in their hearts and have the experience, well that is far superior to reason. Reason, to most Christians, when applied to matters of faith, is unreasonable. Why bother?

  2. The people against whom you defend the faith will neither follow your reasoning nor care about your arguments.

  3. You stir up more opposition than you create support. Many anecdotes speak of people never doubting their faith until they heard someone give an apology for it. Besides, whoever heard of salvation-by-reason?

  4. The bible itself, on the surface, seems to, at times, argue against reason.
    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor 1:26)

    For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)

Digging out of the hole

We face these formidable reasons why people do not do or perhaps respect apologetics. Summarized neatly, as it were, by Spurgeon’s proclamation that the scriptures are their own apologist and man need not assume the role. Why not just take Spurgeon’s advice—loose the Bible and let it roar? Here are some reasons:

  1. We meet the world before we meet the bible. Thus its claim to be the word of God will be measured by the hearer’s or reader’s world view.

  2. The bible itself assumes this, telling us in its first sentence that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In verse one it already assumes there is a God, and that we know what is meant by the word “God.” It does begin by explaining what “God” means. Thus, even the bible itself assumes that the reader, through his or her experiences, has learned “God”. Genesis 1:1 argues strongly that the bible is not its own apologia: if it were meant to convince an atheist it would seem that a bad place to start is with an assumption of precisely what the atheist rejects.

  3. Related to point two: the bible, by itself, cannot prove the atheist wrong. The bible does not prove God exists, it assumes God exists. The atheist, reasonably, will insist that you believe in this book by faith alone, apart from all evidence. The apologist must demonstrate how what we know about the world and what we know about the bible are complementary. That is precisely why, when properly understood, science should be among the Christian’s best friends, not his avowed archenemy.

  4. Since the bible cannot independently prove that God exists, it cannot prove that it is the word of God.
Spurgeon’s lion—is it then just a paper lion? Profoundly no. Spurgeon was wrong in assuming that scripture was its own apologetic. Scripture’s power comes not in proving that God exists, but in its revelation about the God it assumes. Once God is proven to be true, independent of scripture, and scripture is proven to be the word of God, then the Spirit makes the word come to life in the hearts of men.

If scripture is its own apologist, then we should airdrop bibles rather than send missionaries.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Apropos Nothin'

A couple small points. First, I created one of those visitor maps that are the latest rage. You can pin yourself here or use the link on the left.

Also, I have brought back the weather pixie. I got rid of her because I found her strangely attractive, and that was disturbing. Like the guy in the commercial who falls for the voice on his car's GPS unit.

What can I say? It's a fallen world.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Spineless

Time to report on some disgraceful, cowardly behavior from Aydin Örstan, a research associate employed by my favorite museum, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. (Aside: correct pronunciation: kar•NAY•gie, not KAR•nah•gie, as any native Pittsburgher knows.)

Örstan runs the Circus of the Spineless, a carnival featuring posts about invertebrates. Krauze, a contributor to the TelicThoughts blog, submitted this post to the most recent circus.

It was summarily rejected. The only explanation from Mr. Örstan:
My policy on this blog is not to have any links in any of my posts to any creationist (including “intelligent” design) sites. Hence I turned down a submission from one such site. I offer no apologies.
Well Aydin, I don’t expect that anybody is requesting an apology.

Örstan’s actions are no doubt representative of editors at the scientific journals: if a submission smacks of ID, reject it. Örstan further weakens the so-called “level playing field” theory, the ludicrous claim that an ID submission would be evaluated by the community on its merits. We all knew the “level playing field” mantra proclaimed nothing more than a fantasy, so in that sense Örstan has performed a service.

Örstan’s editorial policy, as I have blogged before, is representative of the circular reasoning:
  1. Do not publish ID in peer-reviewed journals, because it is not science.

  2. ID is not science, because it does not publish in peer-reviewed journals.

  3. If it is published in peer-reviewed journals, excoriate the editor.
It also points out how the evolution blogs define creationist, to wit, anyone who disagrees with evolution. By this definition, Ken Miller can be a "good Catholic" and not a creationist, while any IDer, regardless of his religious perspective, is. A creationist, that is.

Circus: indeed.

Spineless: indeed.