Friday, December 31, 2010

Judgment Inversion

I was reading yet another excellent post over at Pyromaniacs.

It made me think about the odd observations I've had in witnessing to people.

Nonbelievers often talk about "What about all the unsaved people". Usually it is to point out how unjust God is...

Mushy people, who claim to be believers, often act like everyone is going to be saved (or will actually come right out and profess universalism).

I want to be charitable, and say it is because they realize they are unworthy of salvation, and therefore everyone is worthy.

But I think it is because of a misunderstanding of sin (on both sides).

The unbeliever very likely has a better understanding of sin. But he rejects God's justice. To him sin is normative. God has no basis for justice.

The mushy person rejects the notion of sin (or at least, makes light of sin) - sin isn't so bad, justice isn't necessary.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anthropology at Biologos

Biologos has the first substantive post on their models of anthropology. They are called "Retelling" and "Homo Divinus".

The author, Denis Alexander, tells us "The Retelling Model represents a gradualist protohistorical view". That is, it is a stylized account of what happened to the earliest humans (perhaps 200,000 years ago). This allows a smallish group to be representative of all humans to come.

"the Fall is interpreted as the conscious rejection by humankind of the awareness of God’s presence and calling upon their lives in favor of choosing their own way rather than God’s way."
Now this is interesting. What is the difference between humans of 200,000 YA and 4,000 YA (or today)? What is "choosing their own way" rather than "God's way"? Do animals choose God's way or their own way?

Sadly, Denis does not say.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Evolution and Theodicy

(closing out the papers reviewed at Todd's blog)

The last paper is by John Schneider, entitled (in short) "An 'Aesthetic Supralapsarianism'". As a supralapsarian myself, I was eager to read it (spoiler: I was disappointed).

Once again, I appreciated the forthrightness of the author (page 5):
"the narrative of human evolution makes it very hard, if not impossible, to maintain this position [the Fall] and its approach to theodicy. For it seems, on this science, that not just natural evils, such as animal suffering and violent episodes in nature, but also the disposition for human moral evils, are practically part of God’s original design." (italics in original)
I addressed the problem of evil nearly three years ago. It is a serious matter, one that cannot be dodged (for example, by claiming "mystery").

Schneider makes an interesting claim on page 6:
"Concordists have never been able to resolve this conflict between the Bible and science on the order of nature with their hermeneutics of inerrancy." (he is speaking of Old Earthers here - he intentionally ignores YEC)
If true, this is a useful tidbit. I have been looking for a satisfactory theodicy from Old Earthers, and have yet to find one - it may not exist.

The crux of his argument is on page 10 (although I don't think he realizes it, as he goes into a long mumble about Job later):
"In Domning’s scientific 'theodicy,' these disorders are simply 'inherent in the existence of a physical and moral universe.' The theodicy is that to create a real physical universe, these sorts of sufferings were inevitable, even for God."
To which he adds:
"For now, I choose to ignore the questions that this assertion raises, such as the 'options' that would be available to an omniscient and omnipotent being, and how the 'new heaven and earth,' lacking these sufferings, is eventually possible."
This is a great failure on his part. These are the most important aspects of this argument - if God could not (or would not!) create a world without suffering and death the first time around, why believe the final state will be (or can be) different?

Which brings him to his shocking (and perverse) conclusions (page 12):
"God has 'rightfully,' or 'justly,' and not immorally or amorally, decided to make and to shape the world (and in microcosm, his own life) in this unexpected, undeserved, and painful way, including inexplicably great violence, disorder, suffering, and injustice." (emphasis added)
I don't see how it is inexplicable. God does what is pleasing to Him. So, suffering and violence (at least to animals) must be pleasing.

On page 13, we see his view of the true God of the Bible (commenting on Calvinism):
"God monstrously as creating some human beings for salvation, but all the others deliberately for eternal damnation."
So, a god who creates suffering because it pleases him is not monstrous - but a God who judges sin is?

And (page 13):
"Our experience of God and the world is on the whole exactly what God planned from the beginning." (emphasis in original)
Amen. But is suffering God's response to sin (the signal that all is not as it should be), or does it please God?

These are two pictures of two very different gods.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fall

I'll interleave one of the papers from Todd Wood's review with the Biologos stuff, because it's all relevant.

I'll state up front that Wood wins the short and sweet summary, "This is basically a summary of standard liberal biblical scholarship".

There's a lot here (page 1):
"Modern science has amply demonstrated that phenomena such as predation, death, and the extinction of species have been intrinsic and even necessary aspects of life on earth for billions of years"
"the biblical Adam and Eve and their early offspring are portrayed as figures living in the Neolithic period, around 9,000 to 7,000 BCE, which is some 30,000 years later than the earliest archaeological evidence for religious behavior and culture among humans."
I appreciate his straightforwardness here. No need to dig up his presuppositions.

He also seems to grasp the nature of sin, which I am often frustrated trying to communicate to TE's (page 2):
"a range of evidence establishes that virtually all of the acts considered 'sinful' in humans are part of the natural repertoire of behavior among animals"
That is, what Christians call "sinful", biologists call "natural". This raises the question of where our nature comes from (and is it good).
  1. Good, (presumably from God) - there is, therefore, no sin (no deviancy)
  2. Evil, from God - God is the author of evil
  3. Evil, altered - this is original sin
I just had to grab this chunk (page 4):
"the characters have symbolic names and act like stock figures; the episodes look prototypical"
This reminds me of the spoof "History Channel Produces bad SciFi".

Also, an oddity (page 4 again):
"nakedness as a symbol of primitive life, clothing of civilized life"
Not sure where he gets this idea. Nakedness was a symbol of right standing before God (who sees everything). Clothing is a symbol of shame (attempting to hide from God).

Ok, skip a lot of mumbling in the middle, lots of juicy stuff near the end!

Page 13:
"we share a transtemporal and universal biological and cultural heritage that predisposes us to sin."
"They [George Murphy] and others have proposed that original sin is a biologically inherited state, a byproduct of billions of years of evolution."
Interesting. So, he is going with #2. God made us be evil. Let the spinning commence! (still page 13):
"Yet selfish behavior did not become sin (culpable wrongdoing) in human beings until the evolution of their self-consciousness (and God-consciousness) allowed our remote ancestors to override their innate tendency to self-assertion by the exercise of their free will."
Sneaky, but fail. He is claiming that stealing, lust, and hatred are only sins because we know it's wrong (else it is good). But which is God's character? That which He creates or that which He commands? Harlow is making God out to be schizophrenic.

And the conclusion, page 14 (I'm thinking I need to start reading these things back to front...):
"To put the issue in these terms is not to blame God
for human sin. As Karl Giberson puts it, 'By these lights, God did not "build" sin into the natural order. Rather, God endowed the natural order with the freedom to "become," and the result was an interesting, morally complex, spiritually rich, but ultimately selfish species we call Homo sapiens.'"
"We must trust that God created the kind of world that he did because an evolutionary process involving selfishness, suffering, and death was the only way to bring about such creaturely values as novelty, complexity, and freedom."
There it is again. God's creative power being limited by man. Ultimately, everything comes down to God-centered vs. man-centered.

Bonus points:
"Once the doctrine of original sin is reformulated [i.e. gutted], the doctrine of the atonement may likewise be deepened [i.e. gutted]. But the new understanding of sin requires that we now favor theories of the atonement like the Christus victor model or the moral influence theory, instead of the theory of a ransom paid to the Devil or a satisfaction paid to God’s honor [nice slam on propitiatory atonement]. Better, to privilege Paul’s soteriology, we must elevate the truth of a new humanity inaugurated in Jesus Christ, whom God sent into the world in suffering solidarity with a groaning creation—to be the vanguard of a new creation full of new creatures destined to be transformed and drawn up into the life and fellowship of the triune God." (emphasis added)
Nice Darwinian reference to the superman there...

And for double bonus points:
"For Christianity to remain intellectually credible and culturally relevant, it must be willing to revise— and thereby enrich—its formulation of classic doctrines"
"The task of Christian theology in every generation is not simply to repeat or paraphrase the tradition"
Yes, syncretism is always the only way forward. Relevance, always relevant. 2 Timothy 2:2 anyone?

Friday, December 17, 2010


(As an aside, I had hoped to intersperse these heavy theological posts with some headlines from Science Daily. Sadly, my newsreader ate 4000 achived posts [about 4 months]. Good news, I'm all caught up! Bad news, no headlines.)

Biologos has launched right into their attempt at anthropology (the study of man).

Some might think anthropology involves digging up skeletons and buried cities, or studying primitive tribes.

Biblical anthropology consists of investigating what the Bible says about man. I'm looking forward to this series...

From this first post:
"address the relationship between the Adam of Genesis and the anthropological and genetic account of a humanity that did not have a single couple as the source of its genetic endowment"
I appreciate this honesty. Many people attempt to merge deep time and special creation for Adam and Eve. I don't see any advantage to such a position. If deep time is true, apply the conditions uniformly.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On Adam and Eve

Right on time for my new analysis... I was reading Todd Wood's blog, and initially thought little of this paper. I'm glad I went back and read the paper.

He launches right in (page 2):
"In this study, I aim to show why we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of these [Biologos] pressures."
"Now it is true, for example, that the eastern churches do not talk about original sin the way that Augustine did; but it does not follow that they therefore have nothing to say on the subject."
I've lost count of how many times I've heard people claim that Eastern thinking solves the problem. The Eastern Orthodox have a serious problem with denying total depravity, but they still believe in the Fall.

He gets back to this on page 8:
"However, Towner has distorted Irenaeus' actual view. According to Irenaeus, the first humans were created morally innocent, their innocence being more like that of a child than of a full adult. God's goal was for them to mature into moral confirmation, but the Fall interrupted the process." (emphasis in original)
Page 5:
"A story is 'historical' if the author wanted his audience to believe that the events recorded really happened."
This is an important point. It all comes back to who is the author. Is it truly God, or can we dismiss parts of the Bible we dislike by claiming they are due to some human failing in authoring.

Page 6:
"scholars thinking along these lines might suppose that Genesis 3 teaches that 'humans are sinful.' But this is not a timeless truth on its own. Sooner or later someone will want to know, did God create humans with a tendency (or at least an openness) toward sinning, or did he make them good, only for humans to become sinful?" ... "In other words, the supposed timeless truth, once it interacts with actual human experience, demands answers to historical questions." (italics in original, bold added)
That's exactly it. What is sin? If our nature is now supposedly sinful, but our nature has evolved gradually from the animals (which are supposed to be good, day 5), how does sin work? You are forced to reject the Fall. Probably any notion of sin at all.

Page 7:
"Any telling of the biblical story must include the notion of sin. Humans are estranged from God, and Israel is God’s means of bringing light to the world." (emphasis in original)
He's skipping a bit here (I would have edited things differently). No sin, no need for salvation. No atonement (not to mention no explanation for the "wrongness" in the world).

Page 8:
"If we say that being prone to sin is inherent in being human with a free will, then we must say the Bible writers were wrong in describing atonement as they did, and we must also say that Jesus was wrong to describe his own death in these terms."
Yes, we also make God the author/creator of sin and evil (which he gets to later).

Page 9:
"Further, we have now made nonsense of the joyful expectation of Christians to live one day in a glorified world from which sin and death have been banished."
This is a good point. If death is "good", if there is no sin - then the eternal state is just like the current state. I am immediately reminded of Philip Jose Farmer's "Riverworld". An eternity of struggle, war, death and rebirth. If TE's are right, I'm totally making them all my grail slaves! (just kidding ;)

(still page 9):
"At least in the traditional understanding, humans are to blame for the evil they do and the pain they inflict; here, we can only blame God." (emphasis in original)
"Finally, they fail utterly to address one of our deepest intuitions, that there is something wrong with sin and death, and that we need God to help us and to heal us."
The final portion of the paper lays out his theory. Of particular interest is the competing views of what is means to be made "image of God" (page 10).

It's interesting the position he takes, it is unclear to me what he is really gaining compared to the YEC position.

Page 13:
"this particular couple were a fresh start, for whom physical death was not their intended outcome."
Citing John Bloom:
"we can propose that the special creation of man occurred in one of these gaps and that it was not bridged by purely natural means."
Invoking special creation won't win him any favors in the TE/accommodation camp.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What is Evolution?

I am somewhat appreciative of all the drama over at Biologos. In many ways, I believe they are in direct violation of Titus 3:9. At the same time, it is much like an investigation of heresy - it helps to form right doctrine and to determine error.

I've long held that matters of an Old Earth or Young Earth are a matter of conscience. Let everyone be convinced unto himself (and keep it to himself).

However, the more I dig into things in the course of this Biologos dust-up, the more I am convinced that an Old Earth is incompatible with orthodox Christianity.

In that light, I will need to expand out formal arguments and definitions in a series of posts.

First, the Biologos "About Us" page says:
"We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation."
Now evolution means a lot of things, including:
  1. Deep time - geological periods and time spans; the geologic column, and fossil record
  2. Common descent - the belief that all living organisms descended from a single (very simple) organism or possible a common pool of self-replicating organic material
  3. Macroevolution - in the past referred to as "the transmutation of species", or what might be better termed "transmutation of kinds" (to oppose "reproduction within kinds")
  4. Stellar evolution - the belief that all matter started originally as hydrogen (one proton and one electron)
  5. Microevolution - this is the one thing everyone agrees on. This is "descent with modification" which has been readily observed.
I believe #1 is the main problem. Without it, #2 and 3 disappear (similarly, assuming #1 makes arguing against #2 and 3 very hard). #4 is a separate issue altogether (you can have an old universe and a young Earth).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hawking's Grand Design

I found an interesting debate on CNN, through an article at Ignatius Insight.
(the debate is in three parts at Youtube, hopefully in a lasting fashion)

Part 1 - Larry King interviews Hawking
Part 2 - King gets reaction from a Catholic and Deepak Chopra (the panentheist)
Part 3 - has some back and forth (with the co-author standing in for Hawking)

I have a number of responses in different directions. I will have to expand on most of these in later posts.

First, is that any "God of the gaps" type explanation (or "science is how, theology is why" as it is currently phrased) is ultimately doomed to fail. Physicists are going to continue to push at all edges, until you are left with the god of deism (this is largely where Biologos is now). The "how" does not immediately give us the "why", but it does severely constrain it.

Second, is that Hawking is actually a theist. He is arguing on the nature and attributes of his "god", M-theory (it is eternal, and sufficiently powerful to create everything from nothing; it is explicitly not personal, nor just).

In part 3, near 2:30, Spitzer (the Catholic) has a clear shot at giving the Gospel. He blows it, and mumbles something about a "God shaped hole in our hearts" (not his actual words). Too bad.

In part 2, near 13:20, a blogger says "Thank God for Hawking". We can thank God, although we really should pray that God will break through Hawking's hard heart while there is still time for him.

Also, for Larry King. I know he heard the Gospel when he interviewed Kirk Cameron. He is clearly interested in eternal matters, but it has not taken root.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Santa Claus

Internet Monk has an article on "the real Santa Claus".

Reading that, and the comments reminds me that few people know (or behave as if they knew) who the real Santa Claus is.

Most people behave according to the mythology initiated in the early 20th century, and evolving even today.

It's interesting how "godlike" Santa has been made to become:
  1. Omniscient - "he knows when you're sleeping"
  2. Eternal - always an old man, presented as the same man for the last hundred years (or more)
  3. Judge - "he knows if you've been bad or good"
  4. (aspects of) Omnipresent - able to visit every house in one night, present in all malls (although some attribute this to "helpers")
I say junk Santa. Who needs him? (Or encouraging parents to lie to their children)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reenchanting Nature

"The Reenchantment of Nature" (Alister McGrath) - The commenters at Biologos recommended McGrath as a source of theology from an evolutionist point of view. Sadly, this was the only book my library had (perhaps a good sign, as my library specializes in heretics and apostates).

This book was very short - 186 pages. McGrath assumes a lot, and his argument wanders a lot. This leaves me short on understanding his position.

It seems he feels that we (Western culture) have come to see nature as an "adversary" (to be conquered), rather than a "gift" (to be stewarded).

I can't help but think this is the result of his evolutionary thinking.

We see a glimpse of this on page 180:
"The issue of pain and suffering in the world remains something of a puzzle, and at times troubles Christians considerably."
The evolutionist must believe that God created suffering, because it is good - it pleases Him. This is definitely a puzzlement!

It reminds me most of "Ishmael", who takes this thinking to its logical conclusion - that we must allow human death as "most natural". Allow famine, allow the weak to die - to resist is unnatural ("sinful").

McGrath doesn't seem to go this far. But it is like his logic is leading him there, and he knows it is wrong. But he can't figure out why, so he says nothing (or says it is "a puzzle").