Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I am currently 30. Based on what time of the year The Dumbest Generation was published, I was either 27 or 28 when it came out, which includes me as being a part of the Dumbest Generation, as no one under 30 is to be trusted. While I regret that is the way my generation is seen, unfortunately, Mark Bauerlein makes his point exceptionally well leaving me with the desire to change my generation.
I will state at the start that I do not believe I am your normal man of my age. I am diagnosed with Asperger’s and thus my information processes, particularly in the social area are not the same. I also happen to have a large library here at my house which can lead to my wonderful wife worrying about what will happen if I get any more books. Of course, there are ways I am like others. I do happen to have a number of video game consoles, I am on Facebook, I am regularly on the internet. For TV viewing however, I watch only House, Monk, and especially Smallville, and every now and then a DVD or movie at the theater. However, there was a time I was not like this until apologetics came along and gave me fulfillment. I quickly became an avid reader. Before that, none of my subjects in school ever really challenged me. I was elected Most Studious of my class, but it was an odd win since I never studied. I’d just come home and play video games until it was time to go to bed. Of course, I did some reading, such as mysteries be it Hardy Boys or Mary Higgins Clark.
Now as one who does seek the greater things in life, I understand the writer’s concerns. I also understand them more recently having recently undergone debates with people on the blog site of a member of the Rational Response Squad. My opponents were Christ-mythers and a number of them made comments documented in the Screwballs section of TheologyWeb asking why we should read books when everything is on the internet?
Ah yes. The fear of books. That’s one of the places where it all starts.
Now in saying this, no one is saying everything on the internet is bad. After all, this review is on the net. My own blog site is on the net as is JPH’s web site. The problem is not the use of sources on the internet but the uncritical use of such sources and the lack of books. Living in Charlotte, I recently heard two bookstores in the area were closing, and it was something that brought great sorrow to me to hear. How a society views knowledge and the quest for truth will show what really matters to it. I can’t help but think that we are moving closer and closer to A Brave New World. (That’s a book for those of you unfamiliar with the literature.)
Bauerlein deals with objections that maybe it’s lack of time or lack of income that are keeping people from reading. It’s neither. The bottom line while not specifically given seems to be that we are too hedonistic a society looking only for pleasure and not really caring about truth. Everyone lives for the moment. Bauerlein makes a strong case that social approval is sought for. If anyone reads a book, it is because they need to be in the know as to what goes on in it to interact with their friends. In fact, Bauerlein says that this is what was going on when Harry Potter book sales were skyrocketing. The kids enjoyed the books, but they also gained social approval by reading the books. Enter phenomena such as texting and Facebook. Kids are more interested in doing this to be accepted by their peers than they are in interacting with those older than them to be accepted by them.
Early on in my apologetics career, I saw Ravi Zacharias as the man I wanted to be like. Today, the up and comer in a field would say that they are the one they want to be like. It doesn’t matter who is respectable in the field. What matters is the respect of friends. The Internet has sadly helped to perpetuate what has gone on. I don’t see the Internet as a tool for evil in this. The Internet is a tool like any other tool that can be used for good or for evil. When used correctly, it is an excellent resource medium. There is also nothing wrong with the social interaction. I do think youth should be spending time with their friends as well and doing a number of social activities. However, there must be moderation in all things.
While on Facebook, I don’t make it all about me and rather enjoy getting into heated debates on the site. Bauerlein recommends that our youth get educated. Learn what’s going on in the world around you and also what went on in the world before you. Even if you’re reading fiction, read good fiction. Find an area of interest and learn all you can about it. Know what the great thinkers thought. Naturally, none of us can be specialists in everything, but we should have at least a rudimentary knowledge.
A criticism of this book is that I don’t think Bauerlein goes into the cause of this enough or what to do about it. My stance is that it is not that the church abandoned thinking because the world did. I think the world abandoned thinking because the church did. The church should be the intellectual forefront in the world and when it abandons the areas of logic and truth, we can be sure that the world will follow. It will also help to get past this view of religion that it is all about us. We often make the gospel about us instead of about God. Of course, it involves us, but it is not that God is participating in our story. We are in fact participating in His.
Much of the individualism in society today caters to a world where personal feelings are of utmost importance and what is true is of secondary importance. It doesn’t matter if what you said is true because what you said is offensive. I hope that people today will restore our intellectual bearings. If you are not part of the dumbest generation, find someone who is and mentor them. If you are, educate yourself. No one really wants to be seen as dumb. The stakes are high. As Bauerlein says on the back of the book about the dumbest generation, “They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.”
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Since I have a dental appointment today, I'm handing the reins over to ministry associate Nick Peters for a review of Mike Licona's new book on the Resurrection. I might have a closer look at this book myself later; in the meantime, here's Nick's take.
Gary Habermas has for years been the name in evangelical Christianity on defending the Resurrection. His prize student in this field has been Mike Licona. Together, they wrote The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I happen to know Mike Licona very well and I know that whatever he does, he does seriously. I also know that he is one who has dealt with doubt on many topics so he wants to make sure he’s right. What would it be like then if he alone wrote a book to demonstrate how he went about verifying the Resurrection of Jesus?
I no longer have to wonder that. He has released such a book and it is a gold mine of information. Licona has changed the face of studies in the Resurrection of Jesus with this book. From now on, any scholar who wishes to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, will have to address the content and the methodology that is put forward in this book.
I say content and methodology because Licona deals with both of them. The first third of the book nearly is spend on methodology alone. What is history? What does it mean to do history? How does one do history? This is not just in fields of religious studies but information that could apply to any area of study.
I find this part incredibly important due to people not knowing how to do history. It’s not just looking at the data and saying, “Well that sounds true.” It involves looking at a list of criteria and knowing the best way to evaluate the content of your sources and knowing which sources are ones that are worth using. Do we want to use the testimony of Paul, or do we want to use Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” Both of them testify of the Resurrection as a historical fact, but one is more relevant.
Can we even know history? Postmodernism raises up a challenge. Can it be dealt with? Yes, it can be. Licona deals with that position as well citing a number of postmodern historians. There can be little doubt that Licona has done his homework which should be no surprise since the book is based on his dissertation. (Naturally, there are some updates.)
Licona also addresses the question of miracles in the second chapter and whether history can answer the question of if a miracle can take place. Licona is right in saying that to draw inferences from the miracle is to do theology. We can demonstrate that Christ rose from the dead and likely it was a supernatural agent, but when it comes to the nature of that agent, then we are doing theology.
Do you want to answer Hume? Do you want to answer Ehrman? Licona deals with each of them. Licona warns us following what he said in the first chapter that we need to be aware of our horizons. What presuppositions are we bringing to the events that we are studying? Are Christians too often letting their theological bias color the way they interpret the evidence? Are atheists letting their atheistic ideology color the way they interpret the evidence?
Indeed, this is an important point and the objections are usually quite weak. For instance, what difference does science really make? Are we to say that we don’t believe in resurrections because we live in an age of science? Could the one who says this please show me when it was that science discovered that dead men don’t naturally come back to life? The reason people buried Jesus is because he was dead and they knew the dead don’t naturally come back to life. (Of course, many believed God would raise the dead, but that’s a far cry from saying they naturally came back to life. They knew it was a miracle because they at least had a rudimentary understanding of the universe.)
When it comes to content with Jesus starting at chapter three, Licona addresses the major controversies and sources. He looks over each and places them on a scale that he has earlier stated referring to how reliable the source is and the information that we can get from the source. Of course, atheists thinking scientifically need to realize that saying “probable” is not the same as it is in scientific circles. History cannot confirm its hypotheses the way science can. To say something is probable is to imply that there is really no evidence to the contrary and thus no reason to question it.
Licona documents all his claims and the footnotes will be especially helpful. There are even two pages where the footnotes are of immense value. In one, he has a list of statements by scholarship on the Christ-myth hypothesis. (One could argue that a footnote would be too much for that idea, but when one meets those regularly who espouse such an idea, it is helpful.) The other is a list of scholars stating the date they believe the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 goes to.
Finally, when it comes to the Resurrection, Licona not only gives his hypothesis that Christ did indeed rise, but deals with others such as Vermes, Ludemann, Goulder, Crossan, and Craffert. Licona is quite generous with each one, wanting to represent them as best he can and ably deals with where they are deficient while granting the areas where they are sufficient.
When he deals with his own view, he presents it under the exact same categories that he has presented prior views under and works out how well the Resurrection hypothesis works. Of course, some readers could always claim bias on his part, but now the claim will not be enough. They will actually need to interact with the material. There can be no doubt that Licona knows it well.
As a bonus, the end of the book has a response to Dale Allison and his views on the Resurrection of Jesus. Readers familiar with Allison will appreciate this, though it will take awhile to get to as overall, when it comes to content, the book has 641 pages of information. As I carried this book with me, a number of people thought it was comparable to a dictionary.
A criticism of the work, however, is that Licona does not interact with the idea of honor and shame. Of course, many today aren’t really looking at the social sciences, although in the look at Craffert’s hypothesis, Craffert does refer to Malina and Pilch. Still, mentioning such aspects as the shame of crucifixion and how no one would preach a resurrected victim of crucifixion unless they really believed it was historical and could not be denied played an important factor.
Despite that, what Licona has is excellent and if someone wants to be a serious student of the doctrine of the Resurrection, they need to get and be familiar with this important volume. I do believe it has changed the face of Resurrection studies from here on out.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Reports that Jesus’ disciples were martyred prove nothing.
Legal experts like Simon Greenleaf have composed detailed arguments based on the honesty and motives of the apostles. As he puts it, “they are entitled to the benefit of the general course of human experience, that men ordinarily speak the truth, when they have no prevailing motive or inducement to the contrary.” Moreover, one cannot deny that martyrdom is a heavy price to pay which requires an explanation of motive.
Martyrdom does not “prove nothing” – it proves something, and the critic needs to show what that something is.
Regarding Joseph Smith, it is said that he was “probably a charlatan.” Note people alive at the time cited proof that Smith was indeed a charlatan. The same cannot be said of the evangelists, so the parallel cannot hold closely.
Claims that this or that individual couldn’t possibly have hallucinated are nonsense.
To make a statement like this requires either expertise in the field of psychology, or consultation with such experts. Hallquist is definitely not of the former, and this simple statement of course offers no evidence of the latter. Speculation of hallucination is never enough to make the case.
Even if there were several people in Paul’s day who would have claimed to have all seen the risen Jesus at the same time, their testimony might not have stood up to scrutiny.
Here, it would merely be reiterated that sheer speculation such as this is not evidence – one must at least form a hypothesis upon which to rest a speculation (eg, put together evidence and piece it together to reach a reasonable conclusion). Elements like the testimony of disciples, the empty tomb, Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker, lack of contrary testimony, and so on much be explained. Hallquist’s approach is scattershot and piecemeal, which makes it all the less effective as he must contrive a different explanation for each phenomenon.
So it is. So what do we know about Hallquist? What credibility does he have?
He has a degree in philosophy. He is not an authority in any other field.
He fails to apply the standards of jurisprudence in the testimony of the evangelists.
He is not an authority in the analysis of legal-historical evidence.
He argues from ignorance, from assertion, and from speculation, and almost never relies on evidence.
Hallquist, in his own words, is "uncredible."
Thursday, November 18, 2010
There is no evidence for the resurrection outside the Bible.
Yes, there is. It's called the empty tomb. We can also added the existence of the Christian movement as a whole (which is part of my TIF thesis). Perhaps if this means, “there is no literary evidence” it is correct (and also, if it expands “Bible” to mean also “Christian testimony,” eg, the church fathers).
Of course, the Skeptic will have alternate explanations for these things, but properly speaking, they are called into court as “evidence” for the Resurrection in any case made for it. The critic must also deal with the fact that hostile parties do not testify against the Resurrection: By this summary point, “there is no evidence against the Resurrection in any text” is just as strong an assertion.
There is little evidence that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, or based directly on eyewitness accounts.
The “eyewitness” appeal has an inherent self-refutation: The critic is not an eyewitness to the composition of the Gospels and is therefore not in a position to dictate what happened 2000 years ago. The only alternative is to loosen the stringent demand for “eyewitness” testimony as the only valid form of testimony.
Relatedly, the critic here is using the word “anonymous” to describe the Gospels. Since the authors are named on the documents, and by others, the word they really want is “pseudonymous”.
This means that the Gospels can’t be trusted as evidence for miracles.
By the standard of law, however, guilt must be proven and innocence presumed; without testimony or evidence to the contrary, those who claim the miracles can be trusted. The first two points were of course an effort to prove guilt, as it were.
It is also said that “the stories could just be legends.” But allegation is not proof. The critic can cite no one, alive at the time, who claimed the evangelists reported legends.
One of Paul’s letters provides evidence that a number of people claimed Jesus had appeared to them after his death. But this isn’t proof of a miracle.
But again, what this requires to move beyond bombast is evidence of falsity. None is presented in this summary point. All that is presented is an analogy to the Mormon church which tries to impose upon the presumed bias of the Christian against Mormons.
Other points that could be developed: The alleged miracles (or the golden plates?) were not done in the presence of hostile eyewitnesses, as in the case of the miracles performed by Christ and His apostles. The Book of Mormon alsofails the Ancient Documents Rule and is therefore unacceptable as evidence in a court of law.
We’ll offer reflections from Tophet on points 5-8 tomorrow, but I wanted to close with an answer to a reader inquiry. It was noted that I had said in an earlier post here:
In the case of the Resurrection, it is not hard to see why it would not be reported by non-interested parties. A historian like Tacitus, with his prejudices against Jews and Christians, upon hearing the story would dismiss it as superstitious nonsense – with no further investigation warranted. Note that this would be his reaction whether the Resurrection had truly occurred or not. The same could be said of other potential witnesses whose works are left to us, like Lucian.
However, in my article on Tacitus’ testimony to the existence of Jesus, I said:
First, a likely cause for investigation erupted right in Tacitus' backyard, so to speak, in Rome c. 95 A.D. Emperor Domitian's niece Domatilla, and her husband Favius Clemens, were accused of "atheism," related to "being carried away into Jewish customs." Judaism of course was a recognized religion, so it is quite likely that the "Jewish custom" referred to is Christianity [Benk.PagRo, 15-16] . Here, then, was a perfect motive for Tacitus to investigate the movement historically: Some of Rome's highest-placed people seem to have joined the movement.
I know of certain shallow atheists who will claim this is contradictory, but it needs to be kept in mind that this is a matter of scale. In the latter instance I am only talking about Tacitus investigating enough to satisfy honor, so to speak – to be sure that Jesus existed, led a movement, and was executed. There is nothing in these basics that would offend his sensibilities as a Roman, in contrast to the Resurrection.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Valerie Tarico is a name Tekton readers could be familiar with since JPH has reviewed a book of hers before and since she was in the past a blogger for John Loftus at Debunking Christianity. While she’s no longer writing for Loftus, she hasn’t stopped writing for herself. Her latest book, Trusting Doubt, is a look at evangelicalism and why she left it behind.
Notably at the start, Tarico has a way of writing that gives the reader the impression that they really don’t know anything about evangelicalism and Tarico is here to show them what they’ve missed. Tarico writes from the perspective of one who grew up in this environment and wrestled with doubts and then finally just gave up. The book reveals more about Tarico however than it does about evangelicalism.
To her credit, Tarico does say she read books like Evidence That Demands A Verdict and The Problem of Pain, but she says she did not find them convincing. Why? We are not told. It is something however that indicates that her doubt was more emotional than it was factual. This is apparent since Tarico throughout the book pictures evangelicalism as a force that doesn’t allow for questions to be asked and looks down on doubt. On the contrary, I as an evangelical wish more people would ask questions and have doubts. Those are the ones I know are taking it seriously.
To be fair also, the leaders she talked to didn’t help. One gave the answer of “Pray.” He then told her Matthew 17:20 says that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain “Move from here to there” and it will move. This is definitely a recipe for disaster. This youth minister was treating the passage as if it was a blank check. Such a fundamentalist way of thinking did not help Tarico. Unfortunately, she never questioned the methodology.
In fact, for her, this is the only way to approach it. She refers throughout the book to a position of literalism held by evangelicals. In the back of her book even, she lists four books as evangelical defenses of literalism. Those are Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, The Case for Christ, Reasonable Faith, and That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith. Tarico also does not see the wide array of beliefs allowed in evangelicalism. She says we demand allegiance to a very specific set of beliefs on pages 12-15. These include a belief that human beings are inherently evil even though they’re in the image of God and a strong literalism with end-times prophecy. (Though not specifically stated there, she does throughout the book demonstrate no knowledge of Preterism and instead refers to the rapture.)
It is doubtful if Tarico is aware of real scholarship on issues. For instance, she speaks of a line of theologians and evangelists on page 20 saying “From the Apostle Paul to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther to Rick Warren.” I don’t think Rick Warren would even want to be included in such a line-up. Even if I was a fan of Warren’s, I would not include him up there with Paul, Aquinas, and Luther.
Objections Tarico raises throughout the book are weak and numerous articles at Tekton can deal with them or at least reference other sites that do. The objections she raises are predictable, such as disagreements with science, attitudes concerning slavery and homosexuality, the problem of evil, and genocides in the Old Testament. Strangely enough, she never directly goes after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Throughout all of this, she will also not refer to evangelical responses to her criticisms. Tarico takes a shotgun approach and her goal is to grip the reader emotionally hoping the reader is unaware of scholarship on the issue and how apologists for centuries have answered such questions. The sad reality is that much of her readership probably is unaware.
Absent also is Tarico’s own worldview. Towards the end, she seems to say that she does not believe in any deity, but the terminology is ambiguous. I see Tarico as simply wanting to have the beliefs that come naturally with a theistic worldview, such as objective morality and reliability of reason, without having that extra annoying baggage (to her) that comes with it, such as God.
Tarico makes statements as well that are just unbelievable. I have been an evangelical for years and never heard such things. For instance, on page 115, she says that Jesus would have given restitution if he had done something while alive so good to repair all the past evil. In a note below she says “Evangelicals try to say that this is what the crucifixion did. It was so good of Jesus to suffer for us, it was so loving and generous that it transformed all of the evil into good. But this misses the nature of blood atonement.” I would love to hear the evangelical who says that. I have heard several atonement theories, but I have never heard anything like that before, but that doesn’t stop Tarico. Without a source, she goes on expecting her readers will stop and think “That’s ridiculous.” I agree. It is ridiculous. It is also something that I do not believe and I know of no evangelical who does.
On page 135 in a section talking about Heaven and Hell, Tarico shares a talk with her daughter.
“Are those soldiers in Iraq Christians?”
“Most of them. Why?”
“That’s really bad! They think those Iraqi people are going to hell, and they kill them anyhow and send them right there anyway!”
What could I say?
Um, Valerie? You could have said several things. By this logic, no Christian should be a policeman since that would mean we’d have to kill criminals at times. Absent from Tarico’s thinking is any idea of the deservedness of Hell. Absent is any idea that these people have already rejected Christ personally and are willing to kill others and lead others astray. Absent is that this is not a religious war but is a war under the orders of a government, and I do believe in Just War theories. Absent is any mention that the soldiers we have are trained to avoid civilian casualties at all cost. Absent is the notion that the soldiers are not responsible for the unbelief of their enemies. Whenever someone arrives in Hell, they won’t have the justification of saying “But someone killed me before I could believe!”
This is not to deny the importance of the question. Children will ask questions like that and we need to answer them. Tarico sees this as the ultimate defeater. I see it as a dilemma at best. Yes. There is the sad reality that people die in war and we all wish we could avoid that, but we fight wars that are just for a greater good and not because we want to send people to Hell.
On pages 140-142, Tarico writes about children and death and the age of accountability. She asks why any parent would allow their child to pass the threshold age. Why not just kill them beforehand? It would be a great sacrifice on the part of the parents. It has been done, as she documents. She asks if she’s sounding facetious. She’s not. She’s just following the logic where it leads.
Yes. That’s exactly where it leads. We are to commit murder for the sake of goodness. Only in Tarico’s mind does such an idea make sense. It is a wonder how we could be holy while God is holy while at the same time murdering our own children.
On pages 167-8, she looks at the topic of prayer and how she thinks it’s selfish what we pray for. She pictures a church where a minister gives thanks that a little girl in the congregation is healed. A girl she calls Petra stands up however to challenge the minister. “What about little Joey who was in the hospital? He got prayed for and his church prayed for him and he died.” After telling us of how the minister will sidestep the question, Petra turns to the congregation and tells them how they believe God is intervening to help them win football games or score big on the SAT. She asks how many will go home and thank God for dinner without wondering why he didn’t give it to someone in Africa who needed it more. If we really believe God is interested in football games and such, what are we doing about the suffering of the world? Can we tell someone about the healing of our child when their child has just died of cancer?
Never mind that Tarico has no problem with someone being indignant in the congregation during a sermon. For her concern for people’s feelings, one wonders what the parents of the little girl who did have healing would think of this outburst? We can agree with some parts, such as praying for football games and such, but even then not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with praying that you’ll be the best you can be at something and realizing that if you’re a good athlete, that’s a gift from God. Also, it would not do good to look in the eyes of someone who just lost a child from cancer and talk about how your child was healed if that happened. That doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge when appropriate the healing of your child. At that point, it would be best to talk to the grieving parent about the reality of the resurrection. A Christian can give thanks for a meal that they have because they realize that if they have something, it ultimately does come from God. Does that mean they don’t care about people in Africa?
Somehow, I suspect Tarico lives in a home with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electricity. If she’s thinking we’re so selfish for acknowledging the blessing of God, maybe she ought to consider selling all she has and getting away and going to Africa. Of course, that would mean she’d have to give up writing books against evangelicalism, which would really be a blessing. She’d also then have to see real Christians in Africa who live in poverty and give thanks for everything they have and maybe get a feel for what the biblical culture was like instead of reading her culture into it.
Ironically, on page 174, Tarico does get some things right. She talks about how evangelicalism has taken in some of the culture such as Individualism. Many of her critiques we’d agree with. What’s ironic about it is that Tarico herself doesn’t realize she bought into the same beliefs and is reading the Bible as if it was written in a culture of literalism and individualism. Going over church history, she gets many facts wrong which can be documented here at Tekton, such as the claim that during the Inquistion, the Cathar genocide took 500,000 victims. Such a claim is more dealt with here. Other historical claims including thousands of witches burned and the destruction by Christians in the New World can be found here.
Tarico also expresses outrage, as we stated earlier, at the conquest of Canaan and of course, she goes to the favorite of skeptics everywhere, Numbers 31. I would just love it for one skeptic to state where the virgins spared in the text were raped and/or taken as sex slaves. She refers to William Henness, an evangelical minister, turned skeptic, who said that the soldiers probably didn’t separate virgins from non-virgins by asking. Tarico insteads pictures the Israelites as lining up the girls and giving them an embarrassing physical examination. Tarico is unaware that no such test would be needed. Virgins in the ancient culture were identified by some mark or type of clothing. Tarico is unaware as well of the history that led up to that attack. More on that can be found here. (JPH note: I cannot help but be appalled by this reference, inasmuch as it is the same one I called Tarico down for in the article linked far above. Obviously she is not in the least interested in correcting her mistakes, for there is little doubt that she is aware of my critique.)
Readers of Tekton will enjoy how Tarico writes in the end about how we live in an age now where we can amass knowledge. We have information online via living documents. For her, the great example of this on pages 240-241 is Wikipedia. Looking at her book, it wouldn’t be surprising if she had done all her research on Wikipedia. A look at the problems with Wikipedia can be found here.
To conclude, Tarico’s approach is a shotgun approach that doesn’t interact with the opposition. Indeed, reading her book, you’d think the opposition didn’t really have any works out there addressing Tarico’s claims. Tarico takes a light approach to all topics and assumes there can be no answer and moves on. Light thinking like this is good for skepticism. It is deep thinking that wrestles with the hard questions that leads one to the truth however and especially to the person who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Monday, November 1, 2010
Since I have a dental appointment and a lunch meeting today, I’ll be taking a break from the Ticker and giving the floor to Tekton’s ministry associate Nick Peters, who I have asked to write a review of John Walton’s The Lost World Of Genesis 1, since it is about something outside my expertise and Nick himself is sympathetic to an OEC position.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the first post in an occasional series on what I am reading for fun these days (and what lessons I have taken in for apologetics from that reading!), and then on Wednesday we start a new series critiquing a book by a certain Skeptic…which one? You’ll find out soon! For now, here’s Nick.
One of the top in-house debates amongst Christians today is the age of the Earth. Inevitably, the topic of Genesis 1 comes up. YECs will say that OECs are not taking it literally. OECs will say that YECs are taking it in a wooden literal sense. Theistic evolutionists would also make the same criticism as OECs of YECs. Despite our differences, both sides do want to take the text in the best way to understand what the author intended us to mean.
The work of John Walton however opens us up to a new possibility: What if we’ve been going about this all wrong? We today look at Genesis 1 as if it was meant to be read as an account of the material origins of our world. What if instead it was describing the functional origins of our world?
Walton warns us of the dangers of translation, which we already know of. When you read a Bible in English, you are also reading on some level an interpretation as the translators translate the text the way they think it should best read. The only real way to know what the text originally said is to learn the requisite languages. To an extent, we can depend on the works of Hebrew and Greek scholars, but it is best if we can to learn the language for ourselves.
Words aren’t all that separate us from a past culture. There is also, well, culture. As an example, Walton says the following on page 11:
When marriages are arranged and represent alliances between families and exchange of wealth, the institution fills a far different place in the culture than what we know when feelings of love predominate. In that light the word marriage means something vastly different in ancient culture, even tough the word is translated properly. We would seriously distort the text and interpret it incorrectly if we imposed all of the aspects of marriage in our culture into the text and culture of the Bible. The minute anyone (professional or amateur) attempts to translate the culture, we run the risk of making the text communicate something it never intended.
This is an astounding point to make and one that we can so easily miss, especially in our age where we think everything is just like our culture. When we marry today, it is because of love. Surely that’s exactly what was done in the past! Walton is suggesting we take off those blinders and try to see how the ancient world was different.
On page 20, Walton wants us to realize that in the ancient world, everything was brought about somehow by the deity (or in pagan cultures, deities). There were no miracles, but there were signs of the deity’s actions that were favorable or unfavorable. At the same time, this does not mean micromanagement.
The ancients were not interested in a scientific account of the world coming into being at the hand of the deity. They already knew that was what happened. They were more interested in the function of something rather than what Walton refers to as the materialistic origin of it.
In some ways, we still maintain this. If you asked me who I am, I could give my name. I could also say “I am the husband of Allie Peters.” “I am a philosophy student at Southern Evangelical Seminary.” “I am the Deeper Waters blogger.” “I am JPH’s ministry partner.” All of these things were true and all could define me. If I was to respond with something else, such as an account of what is in my DNA, it would be a true account, but it would not be the information you would be really looking for. You more often want to know my place in society.
This is also how Walton says the ancients would have read Genesis 1. What is the place of the cosmos? Through a number of propositions, Walton builds his case for Genesis 1 with it being that YHWH is giving an account of the function of the cosmos with the cosmos rather being seen as the temple of God. The seventh day then takes on all-new importance as at this point, YHWH is entering the temple as the preparation is done and now he begins his reign.
Walton stresses that objects in the Genesis account are recorded for their function rather than their material origins. Light is described as day because it serves the function of establishing daytime. The sun and the moon and the stars serve as functionaries that help light the world. Man in God’s image is the ultimate function as he is put here to represent God’s rule on Earth.
This also brings us into the idea of providence and the doctrine of existence, something a good Thomist like myself delights in. An objection some atheists raise today is “How do we know there wasn’t a God, and maybe when he created it was the last act he did before he ceased to be?” To an ancient, they would have wondered what on Earth was being asked. How could anything maintain its existence apart from the deity?
Such objections can be answered. (All interested in my review from the perspective of Thomism can read my blog starting here.)
The point for Walton however is that we can be so caught up in looking for grand signs of the deity that we forget what the ancients knew. The deity is involved in everything and the blessed doctrine of providence should remind us of that. The deity is not only the cause of material existence but of continual existing of the cosmos.
Supposing all this is true, what does this say about the debates on origins? Walton says there are dangers YECs and OECs can both fall into. For instance, the YEC can accuse the OEC of paying too much attention to science and letting that interpret the text. This idea is concordism with the idea that we must read Genesis to have it fit modern science. The sword cuts both ways. The YEC can be so committed as well to an interpretation of Genesis that they must throw off any science that they think disagrees.
What are we to say? Walton believes the days are to be read as 24-hour periods, but that the text says nothing about when the creation event took place. Everything could have been established in place earlier and this is just God establishing the function of it. I do believe Walton is unclear at this point unfortunately. The result however is that the debate really doesn’t need to focus on the biblical text as the text isn’t meant to address that question.
What we should focus on however is being careful of ideologies masquerading as science. Walton says we should avoid evolution when it is presented as automatically naturalistic. A Christian can believe in evolution as God’s mechanism, but they cannot support (obviously!) evolution in a godless universe. A Christian can support ID, but he cannot say “Science establishes a teleology.”
What we can do is look at the data. If the data indicates a designer, then inferences are drawn from the data to who or what that being is. If the data indicates evolutionary change on a macro level, then that is fine, and inferences can be made, but again, those inferences are not science. To speak of “naturalistic evolution” is to put on evolution an idea of naturalism that cannot be established in the sciences. (See here for a TheologyWeb review of a couple of books of Victor Stenger I did along those lines as some debate on the topic.)
What needs to be taught in science classrooms instead is data and leave the philosophy to other areas. I consider this an excellent idea. Scientists too often are posing as philosophers considering the inferences they draw from the data to be part of the data itself. Walton wants us to avoid that and get back to the main point of Genesis 1. This world belongs to God and he reigns. Whatever method we accept of God’s creation and however long it took, the only point we all need to agree on is that God is responsible for it all. (Walton does say that this includes material origins as well even though the text is not meant to teach that)
One other aspect I liked of this book is that at the end of some chapters, Walton lists references that people can go to if they want more information on technical points. This book is not written in technical language but those who want more can freely go to the references he has given. He also has an FAQ at the end answering questions people have asked about his proposal.
One criticism I have mentioned however is that I do not believe he is clear enough on the meaning of the days in Genesis 1. Walton doesn’t come out and state his view, but I was left wondering how exactly I was to see the days in Genesis 1 in his view. Now, I have my belief on the days of Genesis, but I found his position on that to be unclear.
Still, I heartily agree with the assessment of Davis A. Young on the back cover. We need to immediately read this book. If you especially have any interest in the origins debate, this is the book for you.