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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's wrong with Young-Earth Creationism?

This started out as a response to an anonymous comment, asking the question of the title.

My problems with Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) are six-fold.

1) The Bible tells us, in Psalm 19:1-4, and Romans 1:20, that God has revealed Himself to us through nature. (That's not the only way!) To ignore that evidence, or distort it, is a serious mistake, just as it would be an even more serious mistake to ignore God's revelation in Jesus Christ. I'm not sure that we understand any of God's types of revelation fully and correctly, but we shouldn't ignore them, and should seek compatibility between them.

The post to which the comment was made illustrates this problem with YEC. Kurt Wise is one of the most prominent Young-Earth Creationists, a paleontologist with impeccable academic credentials, and he cannot find good scientific evidence for the young-earth position in the fossil record. There is abundant evidence that the earth is older than a few thousand years in that record. How does Wise get around this? He says, honestly, that he has a prior commitment to believing in YEC. In other words, he discards evidence that argues against that position.

A similar situation exists with a YEC study of radioactive dating, called the RATE project. A group of YEC scientists concluded that the evidence from radioactive dating seems to indicate that the earth is a lot older than a few thousand years old. But then they went further. They proposed that it really isn't so old, because there have been periods when the radioactive decay rate was a great deal faster than it seems to be now. In other words, they rejected the evidence they discovered. (See here for one of my posts on this subject, which gives documentation.) There have been several criticisms of the RATE project's proposal that the rate of decay changed greatly, such as in the latest issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (which is not yet available on the Internet). The critic in that article, J. Brian Pitts, cites arguments** that way too much heat would have been produced by so much radioactivity, and that a mechanism proposed by the scientists who worked on the RATE project would not have worked. ("Nonexistence of Humphreys' 'Volume Cooling' for Terrestrial Heat Disposal by Cosmic Expansion," PSCF 61:23-28, March, 2009.)

Unfortunately, unlike Wise or the RATE project scientists, many YEC advocates just dismiss all evidence that there is good scientific evidence for an old earth.

2) The Bible does not necessarily teach Young-Earth Creationism. For example, Genesis 2:5 poses what I believe to be serious problems for the Young-Earth interpretation of scripture. (See this post, or my posts on David Snoke's excellent book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, for more criticisms of the YEC interpretation. In particular, here and here are posts pointing out problems with the belief that the days of Genesis 1 were literal 24-hour days.) Many God-fearing, Bible-believing scholars are not convinced that the Bible definitely teaches that the earth is only a few thousand years old, that the days of Genesis 1 were literal, or that the flood of Genesis was world-wide. The Young-Earth view, in its present form, is comparatively recent, becoming prominent only in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, although many Christian scholars, well before that time, did believe that the earth was not very old. See the history section of the Wikipedia article on Young Earth Creationism.***

3) There are well-informed YEC scientists, like Wise, or the people who worked on the RATE project, who are scientifically qualified, fair and reasonably objective in their discussion of the evidence for and against Young-Earth Creationism. But they are few and far between. There are charlatans, tax dodgers (see here), and demagogues out there, many with little or no scientific training, with web sites, radio programs, books to sell, and seminars to present in churches. It is much easier to get a following, including financial support, if you scream that anyone who doesn't believe in YEC is anti-God, and that there is abundant scientific evidence that YEC is true, than if you are fair and reasonably objective. Christians who don't agree with the screamers are seldom heard in the non-scientific media, or in conservative churches. As a result, conservative Christians, as individuals, in congregations, and in Christian schools, including home schools, colleges, and others, are being cut off from fair and honest examination of alternative Christian views of origins. They are providing ammunition for atheists who are anti-God. Further, they are cutting themselves, and their children, off from being able to reach well-educated sinners in need of a savior.

There may be a few people who have been won to Christ by a presentation of YEC. There are likely more than a few who have been driven away from Christ by such a presentation -- "If the Bible is so wrong about geology*, how can it be right about what it says about sin and redemption?" Glenn Morton, who had a career as a geologist with YEC training, describes how he "was almost through with Christianity," after he found that the Young-Earth geology he had been taught did not work, and discovered that other professional geologists with YEC training had found the same thing -- YEC geology doesn't describe the way things really are.

It is also true that there are screamers on the other side, people who say that Christian belief is incompatible with science, or that all Christians are willingly ignorant. That's just as bad, but this post is about what's wrong with YEC, not what's wrong with Richard Dawkins.

4) YEC advocates usually portray themselves as defending the Bible. That isn't really true. What they are doing is defending their interpretation of the Bible.

5) YEC and Intelligent Design (ID) are often presented as if they were one and the same. They are not. See here for documentation.

There are many Bible-believing, God-fearing, soul-winning, heaven-bound people who believe that Young Earth Creationism is the only option for Christians. I love them, and appreciate their sincerity and zeal. But most of them have been cut off from evidence, both scientific and Biblical, that argues against their position. There is such evidence, and it is part of God's revelation to us. YEC may or may not be right, but there are other views held by Bible-believing, God-fearing, soul-winning, heaven-bound Christians. Christians who haven't much background in origins, or science, should be told that such views other than YEC exist among believers. (There are problems with all of these views. In this post, I explain why I have problems with Intelligent Design. I'm not alone.)

6) (This point added on August 20, 2012) The genre of Genesis 1 is peculiar, and probably was meant to be largely symbolic. See here for some of the evidence for why I say that. This point is closely related to the second one, but since I'm adding it so long after the original post, I'm entering it as a new item.

What do I personally believe about origins? See here.

Thanks for reading!

*The Bible says little about geology, and I believe that what it says is correct. YEC advocates claim that the Bible says that the earth was covered by a world-wide flood, which is responsible for most of the earth's rock layers, and that this flood took place a few thousand years ago. That's one interpretation of what the Bible tells us. It's not the only one, and it is inconsistent with the evidence from geology. Some YEC advocates also claim that the Bible teaches that dinosaurs co-existed with humans, and other such nonsense. Here is some additional material about geology and YEC.

**This sentence was clarified on June 6, 2009. The article by Pitts is in this issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

***This sentence was added, and the previous sentence corrected, on June 6, 2009. I thank Brian Pitts for a communication which led to these changes.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold

In previous posts, I have written about Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls.

The Hallowed Hunt is set in the same universe, some time before the other two books, and with no overlap in characters, but with the same theology. That theology involves five gods, apparently joint deities, with no one ascendant over the others. A principal feature of this religion is that, at death, five animals, one representing each of the gods, are brought to the body of the dead person. Usually, one of the five makes some gesture indicating that that particular god has chosen to take the spirit of that dead person unto him or herself. (Two of the gods are female.) The religion seems to be Universalist, or nearly so -- almost everyone is, at the end, united with one of the gods.

Another feature of this religion is that there are a few saints. A saint is a person who has experienced one of the gods -- seen and talked with this being, in some spirit world, and returned to more or less normal life. Saints are created by the will of the gods -- they call some people to themselves before they die, then send them back.

The practitioners of this religion believe that no spirit being, even a god, can exist in the world of matter without some living being, human or animal, who acts with and for the god. They also believe in free will -- it is possible to reject a relationship with a god, or to not respond to a command from a god.

In The Hallowed Hunt (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) another aspect of the religion is revealed. That is that, when a human or an animal dies, it is possible for a shaman to receive the spirit of that human or animal into one's own, thus becoming a combination of two (or more) spirits).

I won't give away much of the plot. I will say that the previous paragraph is important in it, and point out that the consequences of uniting with too many spirits, animal or human, and obtaining too much power, are, in the end, negative. One character who has done this, and, by doing so, survived for centuries, wants nothing more than final oblivion. I will also say that the book includes a love story. The two main characters are married in the end.

Bujold is a good read. The theology she has invented for this book, and the other two she has written, which have the same setting, is well thought out, and interesting. It's clearly not Christianity, though. I'll stick with One Triune God. She has written other books, which do not share this theology. At least one of them seems to have a Christian character.

Thanks for reading.

In a series posted later, beginning here, I have written about Bujold's four Sharing Knife novels, also fantastic literature.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Paladin of Souls is the second of a trilogy of books, by Lois McMaster Bujold. I have written about the first such book, in particular, I examined whether or not it was a Christian novel. (It's not, but it has some Christian elements.)

The first link in this post is to the Wikipedia article on the book. That article covers matters of plot, and I don't wish to deal with them more, except as it relates to a brief analysis of the theology of the books, particularly this one.

One aspect of the theology of the three books is that no spirit being, even a god, can do anything in the world of matter without some willing help from a human:
So. You dragged me here, whichever of You harries me. But you cannot force me through that door. Nor can you open it yourselves. You cannot lift so much as a leaf; bending iron or my will is a task equally beyond your capacities. (Paladin of Souls. New York: HarperCollins, 2003, p. 170) Ista, the main character, is thinking to the gods. Emphasis in original.

Ista comes to see that service, freely given, is a good thing: ". . . What can the gods give me?" His brows twitched up in an expression of remarkably disingenous goodwill. "Why, work, sweet Ista!" (p. 172) The Bastard (one of the five gods) speaking to Ista in a dream.
It follows that the free will of humans is quite strong.

Bujold is a good writer, and well worth reading. I'll stick to my own God, however, rather than a made-up set of them. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sunspots 200


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
Wired reports on using genetically engineered "lazy"bacteria to fight infections.

Politics:
A CNN commentator honors the late H. R. Gross, a congressman who never took a trip at taxpayer expense, had his wife (at no pay) as office manager, and voted against almost every spending bill.

(or something)
According to CNN, the US Mint says that a new commemorative quarter (the one for the District of Columbia) will be the first US coin featuring an African American. Not so, according to the US Mint's own web site -- George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington appeared on such in the 1950s.

Literature:
(or Christianity, or something) Weekend Fisher has a good post on how long oral tradition lasts, related, in particular, to the gospels.

Christianity:
It's Brady wants us to think about who will cry at your funeral.


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

For a decade or more, I read suggestions that Lois McMaster Bujold is an important science fiction author. I sampled one of the many books from her Vorkosigan saga several years ago, but dismissed it as space opera, and read no more of the books.

Sometime last year, I came upon Bujold's The Curse of Chalion. This is how. I was looking for Mythopoeic Fantasy Award winning books that I had not read, but which might be worthwhile to read. The Wikipedia article on The Curse of Chalion had this amazing statement: The Curse of Chalion is noted for its focus on religion and metaphysics. This is not only a novel about self-sacrifice and redemption, but also a piece of speculative theological fiction which closely examines the relationship between free will, fate, and divine intervention.

I have now read that book, and two sequels. The Wikipedia article is correct in its analysis. I have a post that considers the question of whether The Curse of Chalion is a Christian novel. The short answer is no. Nonetheless, I found it well written and interesting, and with some Christian themes, such as self-sacrifice. Well, said I, what about the Vorkosigan Saga? Am I missing something interesting? After all, stories from the series have won four Hugo awards and a Nebula award.

(As an aside, Bujold is in rare company, indeed, as an author writing in English who has won important awards for both science fiction and fantasy. I am aware of only two others, Ursula K. Le Guin and Elizabeth Moon, who belong in this company with Bujold.)

What about the Vorkosigan saga? It is space opera, in that the stories are played out on a grand scale, between solar systems. It is also space opera in that it is melodramatic, romantic, and involves warfare with powerful weapons. But it is more than that. The characters are well drawn. Miles Vorkosigan is the main character in most of the books, and he clearly wants to do good, and is clearly flawed -- among other things, he doesn't take orders well. He is also physically flawed, being extremely short, and with weak bone structure. There are some ethical issues raised, but they aren't raised very high. For example, is it right to use artificial wombs? Some characters think so, some don't. In the books I have read (about half of the series) such issues are minor. Political, romantic, and business decisions make up the main parts of the plots. Every now and then, some character will make fleeting reference to a god, or use God's name in vain, but no one seems serious about it, with one exception.

I found something that I didn't expect. One character, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, who is the mother of Miles, is apparently meant, by Bujold, to be taken as a Christian. Here's my evidence:
. . . "I suppose -- I see myself. Or someone like myself. We're both looking for the same thing. We call it by different names, and look in different places. I believe he calls it honor. I guess I'd call it the grace of God. We both come up empty, mostly."
"Ah, yes. I recall from your file that you are some sort of theist," said the Emperor. "I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days."
(Barrayar, 1996 version, published as the second part of Cordelia's Honor. New York: Baen, p. 230. Emperor Ezar, who is dying, to Cordelia, about Aral Vorkosigan, her new husband.)

"Besides, your mother's religion grants some kind of good karma for visiting the sick and prisoners, and I hear you've been the two in one." (The Vor Game. 1990, Riverdale, New York: Baen, 103) Emperor Gregor, to Miles, about Cordelia. (See Matthew 25:31-40)

Does this make the saga Christian? I wouldn't say so, any more than having, say, a devout priest on a couple of episodes of Law and Order would make the series Christian. But it's nice that Bujold includes a Christian character, even though the evidence of her faith (unless I missed it) is scarce, indeed. There are a few references to prayer, or to a God, but these are never more than a sentence or two, except for the passages above. In Ethan of Athos, there is a reference to whether Ethan can absolve another character's sins (p. 333) Cee, that character, who is the result of biological engineering, thinks that he isn't human. Ethan sets him straight, however:
"So what is the test of humanity?"
"Well -- you have free will, obviously, or you could not be opposing your creators. Therefore you are not an automaton, but a child of God the Father, answerable to Him according to your abilities," Ethan catechized. (335)

Bujold deals with ethics relating to medical ethics, but they aren't allowed to get in the way of her stories, although sometimes her stories depend on them. In Falling Free, there is a race of humans with no legs and feet, but a second set of arms and hands in their place. Miles, Mystery & Mayhem, (Baen, 2001) combines her Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, and "Labyrinth." Bujold wrote, in the afterword, that, although all three works deal with reproductive technology:
"Yet in all these different societies, the test of humanity comes out the same, and it has nothing to do with genetics. No one can be guilty of their own birth, no matter what form it takes. We need not fear our technology if we do not mistake the real springs of our humanity. It's not how we get here that counts; it's what we do after we arrive." (p. 502)

A Civil Campaign has genetic engineering of insects as an important feature. And, of course, Miles himself would not have been born without the use of an artificial womb. Some of the societies on the Hegen Hub use these, in some it is a matter of choice. At least one planetary society, Athos, is absolutely dependent on these devices, as this race is without females.

All that being said, I wouldn't say that Bujold explores the implications of biological technology so much that the books are mainly about it. And she doesn't explore the implications of some sort of alternate society as much as Ursula K. Le Guin did in The Left Hand of Darkness (which was about a planet where an individual could be either male or female in any reproductive cycle, according to mostly chance factors). But Bujold is well worth reading, and if we want to read about biotechnology, I guess there are more factual sources.

So, in sum, I'm glad I started the Vorkosigan books. I have read almost all of them, and hope to finish them some day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jerry Coyne's essay: Are Science and Religion really compatible? 3, responses by others

I have been posting about an essay by Jerry Coyne, wherein he argues that a person who believes in a God who can work miracles cannot be a good scientist, or that religion and science are basically incompatible. The first post is here, and the second is here.

In this post, I present summaries of three reactions to Coyne's essay. The first two are by Christian authors who have attempted to show that science and Christianity are, indeed compatible. Coyne's essay was a review of their books. Edge gave several authors, including these two, the opportunity to react to Coyne. Most of them agree with him.

Karl Giberson differs, as might be expected. Giberson makes two excellent points. First, he says, science has historical baggage that would be embarrassing, if it was brought up constantly. He doesn't mention them, but I will give a couple of examples -- phlogiston and epicycles. We don't talk about science as if it still used these theories. Why not, then, allow theology the same privilege? Why hold Christianity to a outdated belief in a "tyrannical anthromorphic deity," when such belief has been superseded by almost all Christians?

Second, Giberson says: I wonder what would happen if, in the name of pluralism and diplomacy, we could all agree that it was OK for people to believe that evolution was a part of God's plan.

Kenneth R. Miller's response to Coyne is longer, and, I think, deeper.

Miller begins by disagreeing with Coyne's classification of Miller as a creationist. (See my previous post on how Coyne defines such.) Miller points out that he argued against the Intelligent Design side in the Kitzmiller trial. Miller says that he exhibits only one of the four characteristics by which Coyne identified creationists.

Miller then argues that Coyne has invoked "convergence" when he wants to, but only when he wants to. He also says that, although some alleged miracles -- a world-wide flood being one -- are subject to empirical verification or rejection (He says that one has been rejected) others, such as the incarnation and the resurrection, are not, but that Coyne rejects them anyway, because his position really is that there can't have been, or be, any miracles. As Miller says, that's a faith statement on Coyne's part. So he attacks Coyne's logic, and the soundness of his thinking.

Miller says that science, as practiced, requires methodological naturalism, but that Coyne confuses that with philosophical naturalism, a belief that the physical or natural world is all that exists, which is not a requirement for the practice of science, and which science can neither prove or disprove. (This Wikipedia article contrasts the two, but calls philosophical naturalism ontological, or metaphysical, naturalism.) Methodological naturalism assumes that the supernatural is not going to somehow assert itself when we perform experiments, so as to alter the results.

Miller points out that there are real and important questions, such as why science works, and why there is anything at all, that science cannot answer, and that Coyne shows no interest in, because he believes that scientific knowledge is the only legitimate form of knowledge.

He closes his response by saying that, considering the state of belief in evolution in North American today, Coyne is driving away allies that he needs in the important task of changing the perception of so many that what science has to say about the age of the earth, and the relatedness of organisms, is invalid.

Miller's response is masterful, a splendid antidote to Coyne.

He Lives, a good Christian blogger who is also a scientist, has also reacted. I cannot repeat his arguments here fully without committing plagiarism, but will summarize by saying that the author first considers the definitions of incompatibility, and says, convincingly, in my view, that science and Christianity cannot be shown to be incompatible. In fact, they must not be, since there are some good and important scientists who are Christians, and there always have been.

Then, He Lives considers seven common arguments which claim that science and Christianity are incompatible, and shows that each of them fails.

He has written a short, logical, and insightful response, which, although not exactly considering Coyne's essay (He Lives was aware of it) demolishes its central theme.

Compatibility between science and Christianity is possible. Like any marriage of strong-willed, independent, and unlike entities, making this marriage work has been, and will be, difficult. But, since the Bible and the findings of science are both part of God's revelation to us, we need to work at it. It is unfortunate that Coyne and others are actively trying to stop such activity, and are unwilling to acknowledge that their arguments that it can't be done don't hold up.

Thanks for reading. Read Miller and He Lives.

On a much different note (if you'll excuse the word) Happy Birthday, Handel!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Water in the book of John

I heard a recent sermon by the author of "the other side of the lake." As an aside, I guess it was, he mentioned the importance of water in the book of John. So I checked it out. I found that there were at least the following references to water:

In John 1, there is a discussion of the baptism of John the Baptist, which was with water.

In John 2, Jesus performed His first miracle, namely turning water into wine.

In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be born of both water and the Spirit, and there is more about John the Baptist's baptism with water.

In John 4, Jesus met a woman of Samaria at the well, where she had come to draw water. Jesus said that He was an unending source of water.

In John 5, Jesus healed a man, who was lying by the pool of Bethesda.

In John 6, Jesus walked on the sea during a storm.

In John 7, Jesus proclaimed Himself as the source of living water.

I didn't find a mention of water in John 8.

In John 9, Jesus told a blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam.

In John 10, Jesus crossed the Jordan River.

In John 11, Jesus wept.

I didn't find water mentioned in John 12.

In John 13, Jesus washed the disciples' feet.

I didn't find water mentioned in John 13 through 18.

In John 19, blood and water came out of Jesus' side, when it was pierced.

I didn't find water mentioned in John 20.

In John 21 (the last chapter) Jesus met his disciples by the sea.

Water is an amazing and very important substance. It makes sense to believe that God's original blueprint for the universe included a special role for this combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms, and that he designed them in such a way that they could carry out this special role. I don't think it's possible to prove that, though.

Thanks for the suggestion, other side! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jerry Coyne's essay: Are Science and Religion really compatible? 2, reaction

A previous post considered an essay by Jerry Coyne, who argued that science and religion are incompatible.

I have found two interesting reactions to that essay. I am sure that there are and will be more such. Edge published responses by several people, most agreeing with Coyne, but not all. The responders included Karl Giberson and Kenneth R. Miller, authors of the books that Coyne was reviewing in his essay. David Heddle, of He Lives, analyzed Coyne's claims logically. So has Siris.

In any serious argument, the first thing that ought to be done is to define terms. (It often isn't done, unfortunately, but it ought to be.)

Coyne deserves credit here. He has defined some of his terms. He defines theism thus: ". . . the concept of a transcendent and eternal god who nonetheless engages the world directly and pays special attention to the real object of divine creation, Homo sapiens." In so doing, he explicitly excludes some of the most "liberal" "Christian" theology as pantheism, not theism, or Christianity. I agree with Coyne -- A christian should believe the ideas he includes in that sentence.

Coyne also defines creationism, by saying that "all" creationists believe:
1) in God.
2) ". . . that God miraculously intervened in the development of life, either creating every species from scratch or intruding from time to time in an otherwise Darwinian process."
3) that humans did not evolve from apes, but were specially created.
4) ". . . they all adhere to a particular argument called "irreducible complexity." This is the idea that some species, or some features of some species, are too complex to have evolved in a Darwinian manner, and must therefore have been designed by God. Blood clotting in vertebrates, for example, is a complex sequence of enzyme reactions, involving twenty proteins that interact to produce the final clot." (This is a central belief of the Intelligent Design movement.)

Here, we begin to see some problems with Coyne's definition. Most obviously, Coyne is reviewing two books, one by Kenneth R. Miller, who is, according to Coyne, a creationist, and, hence, trying to do the impossible, namely combine science and belief in God. Coyne explains how Miller rejects item 4 in Coyne's own list of what makes one a creationist. He also says that Karl Giberson, who wrote the other book Coyne is reviewing, writes that ID is both bad science and bad theology. In the same essay where he writes that "all" creationists share four traits, he also writes:
In fact, they exhibit at least three of the four distinguishing traits of creationists: belief in God, the intervention of God in nature, and a special role for God in the evolution of humans. They may even show the fourth trait, a belief in irreducible complexity, by proposing that a soul could not have evolved, but was inserted by God.

So, Coyne's definition of a creationist does not hold up, as he has undercut it in his own essay. The authors he is reviewing don't necessarily accept irreducible complexity, one of his four criteria for characterizing creationists, but only "may" show it, and that only in their belief in the origin of the soul.

It is also true that some believers, including Billy Graham, are willing to at least entertain the possibility that what separated humans from pre-human ancestors was not the creation of human bodies and minds and souls, but the special creation of a soul within a pre-existing type of pre-human creature. So the third part of Coyne's definition may not hold up, either. There those, possibly including Giberson and Miller, who would say that God miraculously created the universe with laws and emergent properties that allowed living things to evolve, perhaps even allowed life to originate, without special miraculous activity during those events. Thus, point two is not necessarily true of all those Coyne says are creationists, either.

Even if Coyne hasn't defined creationist as carefully as he might have, or has lumped gap theorists with various kinds of theistic evolutionists, IDers, and young earth creationists, and others, it is possible that his main idea has merit. Is it possible for a scientist to be a believer, or the reverse? He doesn't think so:
It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified.

I have noticed a gap in Coyne's definitions. He hasn't defined science. The quote above comes as close to such a definition as he gets.

There's another idea in Coyne's essay that needs some discussion. He writes:
"In a common error, Giberson confuses the strategic materialism of science with an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism."

By this, he means that ruling out supernatural explanations works for science, but, he implies, this pragmatic methodology doesn't necessarily imply that there is no such thing as the supernatural. Maybe not. I suspect that Coyne, although he says that there could be evidence that would persuade him of the supernatural, would finally reject it. At least one prominent evolutionary biologist has explicitly said that he would do so:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen. "Billions and Billions of Demons," By Richard C. Lewontin. New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, vol 44, pp. 28+

Perhaps Coyne really doesn't have "an absolute commitment to a philosophy of materialism." I wonder. But Lewontin has, and I don't think he is alone. Richard Dawkins seems to have such a commitment, too. The link in the previous sentence is to the Wikipedia article on him, which says that he is an atheist, and a militant one. Antony Flew has accused him of such an absolute commitment.

If you start by ruling out, say, that air has weight, you are not going to publish articles and books that claim that it does. If you start by believing that there are no supernatural realities, it is very unlikely that you are going to write and speak as if you do. (The converse is also true, of course.) Hebrews 11:3 tells us that we understand how things were made by faith. Genesis 1:1 doesn't tell us when, how, why, or where things started. But it does tell us that there was a Who who started them. I have a commitment to a philosophy of supernaturalism. I admit it. Does that make me a bad scientist, or mean that I really can't be a scientist? I don't think so. I don't think Lewontin's unshakable commitment to materialism makes him a bad scientist, either. But Lewontin, Dawkins, or Coyne are probably not very reliable guides through the difficult waters of the interface between science and religion. (As an aside, Dawkins has recently reviewed Coyne's latest book.)

Thanks for reading. I will probably summarize the criticism of Coyne by He Lives, and discuss the responses by Giberson and Miller, in a subsequent post.

The third post is here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jerry Coyne's essay: Are science and religion really compatible?

I have tried to live my life in the belief that it is possible to be a committed scientist and a committed Christian. I won't elaborate on that much, but I hope that this blog has reflected that belief for the past four years plus. (See here, here, and here for posts setting forth some of my beliefs on the interaction between science and Christianity.)

Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago, and a prominent evolutionary biologist, has written an important and thought-provoking review of two recent books that have tried to do what I have described, that is, to reconcile science and Christianity, namely Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl Giberson and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, by Kenneth R. Miller.

Coyne has a lot of interesting and important things to say in this essay. He classifies Intelligent Design as both unscientific and as a form of creationism. He criticizes liberal theology, which he calls barely distinguishable from pantheism, and seems to have at least some understanding of, shall we say, more conservative religious belief. He recognizes Giberson's and Miller's sincerity and integrity. He favors their criticism of Young-Earth Creationism. But, he concludes,

"Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works." and:

"It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time."

Ouch. If I were as eloquent as Coyne, I would respond here, giving reasons why he is wrong, at considerable length, and with great eloquence. I'm not so eloquent. I will just say that the Bible teaches that one of the ways in which God reveals Himself to us humans, besides the "more religious" ways, is through nature, which gives us at least a partly religious motive for studying nature. It is also true that many of the greatest scientists who ever lived were Christians, or adherents of some sort of belief in things that can't be studied by science. Johannes Kepler is an example of a great scientist of the past who was a Christian. Francis Collins is an example of an important scientist of today who is. Although he was not a believer in a personal God, no less than Einstein was a deist, or close to it. So I believe Coyne is wrong. There are, and have been, scientists who were religious, and reconciliation between science and religion is possible.

See here and here for two more of my previous posts on this subject.

God willing, I will be posting again about this essay by Coyne, and presenting some criticisms of it, including reactions by Giberson and Miller. These criticisms will attempt to prove that Coyne is wrong.

Thanks for reading.

The second and third parts of this series have now been posted.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Antony Flew on The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, was a best-selling book. The title pretty much explains it.

In the December, 2008 issue of First Things, Antony Flew, who recently converted from atheism to deism, and is mentioned in The God Delusion, responds, in a page or two, to Dawkins. Two things that he says struck me.

First, Flew says that Dawkins is a bigot -- that is, one who is intolerant of other beliefs.

Second, Flew writes that Dawkins is, as a consequence of his bigotry, guilty of an academic sin:
"But an academic attacking some ideological position that he believes to be mistaken must, of course, attack that position in its strongest form." Flew argues that Dawkins has not done that -- he has misrepresented the case for God.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sunspots 199


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
(or something) Slate reports that testing embryos for hair color, and other superficial traits, is becoming more common. "This is how revolutions happen: Technology matures, trends converge, and cultural changes pave the way. By the time Steinberg opens his trait-selection business . . . it'll be too late to stop him. In fact, before you know it, we'll be used to it."

There has been some work done on the Neanderthal genome. Really.

Politics:
(or something) Jan points out that the real cause of our current financial problems is that there are no women in charge of things on Wall Street. None of the big bankers in front of a congressional committee last week were women. (I saw a bit of it on C-SPAN.) (Actually, the chair of the FDIC is a woman.)

Computing:
A recent court case may affect our ability to link freely to web sites that are available to the public at large, says Slate. Let's hope not

Christianity:
Cody says that he is not defined by his paycheck, but by what he does for nothing.

Bonnie on questioning authority.


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some news about human skin color

A recent report on National Public Radio details new findings in the genetics of human skin color. (The report is in text form, but the page has a link to an audio report, which is a little over seven minutes long. Robert Krulwich, science correspondent, is always interesting to listen to.)

Krulwich interviewed Nina Jablonski, an anthropologist. She believes that human skin color has changed, within groups of humans isolated from each other, because of selection, as such groups migrated North or South. Dark skin color, caused by deposits of melanin in the skin, tends to protect people from excess Ultraviolet light, which may cause skin cancer, and groups who have historically lived near the equator have darker skin than those who have lived further North. On the other hand, having lighter skin allows the person to absorb enough UV light to assist them in manufacturing sufficient vitamin D.

All of this was reasonably well understood before Jablonski's findings. Her research indicates, in addition, that many human lineages have migrated, and, in as little as one or two hundred generations, have changed their skin color from light to dark, or the reverse. For example, the Indians (of Asia), according to Jablonski, are now dark-skinned, but were not always -- they lived further North, and were lighter-skinned. Jablonski believes that humans originated in Africa, where they had darker skins.

Interesting. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 16, 2009

God's love -- another post

Crepe myrtle heart

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (All scripture is ESV, which allows uses like this)

Romans 5 :5 . . . God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8 :35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Thanks for reading about God's love.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

1 Corinthians 13: Paul on Christ-like love

azalea heart

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; 6 rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; 7 beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. 13 But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (ASV, which is public domain)

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)

Thanks for reading Paul.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

George MacDonald on true love

red heart, from leaf

The photo above is a section of a Sweetgum Liquidambar leaf, cut out in the shape of a heart. See here for the original photo.

Here, also, is a quotation from George MacDonald, on true love:
And lo! a shadowy face bent over him, whence love unutterable was falling in floods, from eyes deep, and dark, and still, as the heavens that are above the clouds, Great waves of hair streamed back from a noble head, and floated on the tides of the tempest. The face was like his mother's and like his father's, and like a face that he had seen somewhere in a picture, but far more beautiful and strong and loving than all. Adela Cathcart, 1864, Public Domain.

The face, as it were dripping "love unutterable," is, of course, the face of Christ.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Apologetics according to James W. Sire

I recently read A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics, by James W. Sire. It is little, being small in format, and only 111 pages long. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002)

So what is apologetics? Sire tells us that "Christian apologetics is simply the presentation of a case for biblical truth, most notably the central truth of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior." He elaborates on that, of course, and emphasizes the truth that, especially for persons of an intellectual disposition, it is often true that that central truth must be presented in a way that touches their mind. He also writes that appeals to the intellect don't always work, even if they are valid, and even with intellectuals, but says that people are just not going to believe in something that they are deeply convinced is not true. He believes that all Christians are at least partly apologists for the faith, and that we need to present reasons to believe even to believers -- many of them are ill-equipped to answer questions about the validity of Christianity, or about problems, such as the existence of evil. Sire believes that some Christians, including himself, are specially called to this work.

Sire writes of his own experiences. He tells us that he believes that he has been called to be an apologist, and led to the work he now is doing, and that his past experiences, in graduate school, in teaching, in publishing, and as an author, have helped him to do this.

The book does not have "humble" in the title for nothing. For one thing, Sire tells us that, to reach people, we have to listen to them. Really listen to them, even learn from them. We don't know everything. He also believes that, even with an unassailable argument, we won't get assent from listeners if we present our side proudly and triumphantly.

The author gives lists of books that would be good background for work in apologetics.

I was surprised that Sire didn't mention Ravi Zacharias, a notable contemporary apologist.

Thanks for reading. Read Sire.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sunspots 198


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
(or something) Slate says that we shouldn't wash out recyclable items before putting them in containers to be recycled, and explains why.

Wired on how leafcutter ants regulate traffic (for example on a narrow twig).

Wired on what are claimed to be the oldest animal fossils.

Politics:
(or something) An insightful post on tolerance.

Sports:
Congratulations to Pat Summitt, head coach of the Tennessee women's basketball program since 1975, on her thousandth win as a head coach, the most in history of any coach in major college basketball. I watched part of the game, including some of the celebration after it was over. Summitt (then Pat Head) began as a graduate assistant at age 22, and her first game in Knoxville was in front of a crowd of 53. The crowds are much larger now. Summit said that she thanked God for the opportunities she has had, and that she was blessed. All of the players who have stayed with the program for four years have graduated, a remarkable statistic. Here's the Sports Illustrated article on the game and its significance.


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Case Against Perfection, by Michael J. Sandel

I recently read Michael J. Sandel's The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).

It's a small and short book, considering various aspects of what has been called human enhancement, especially in athletics, and in genetic engineering of embryos. As the title suggests, Sandel is generally opposed to such enhancement. His arguments are of this sort:

The real problem with genetically altered athletes is that they corrupt athletic competition as a human activity that honors the cultivation and display of natural talents. From this standpoint, enhancement can be seen as the ultimate expression of the ethic of effort and willfulness, a kind of high-tech striving. (p. 29)

He has a similar objection to genetic engineering of human embryos -- he says that it would make us less human:

It is sometimes thought that genetic enhancement erodes human responsibility by overriding effort and striving. But the real problem is the explosion, not the erosion, of responsibility. As humility gives way, responsibility expands to daunting proportions. We attribute less to chance and more to choice. Parents become responsible for choosing, or failing to choose, the right traits for their children. (p. 87)

Are there religious objections to enhancement? I find them hard to draw. We take it as given that we are expected to purchase glasses for our children, the best equipment, such as shoes, for our athletes, and provide sometimes expensive training for both our kids and our athletes. So why draw the line at allowing, or even demanding, that the athletes take hormones, or injections of extra copies of normal genes, which will cause them to produce larger quantities of materials that will enhance performance? Yet most of us think that such treatment is unfair. Going down the path of enhancement, Sandel says, would logically lead to having the Super Bowl played by teams of robots. Do we want that? Do we want to genetically engineer our children for supposed superiority in some academic or physical endeavor, when, perhaps, they would not have chosen to live the life suggested by their enhancement?

Interesting questions, and interesting, if non-definitive answers. I'm glad I read this book. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A preterist view of origins

I have posted several times on a book by David Snoke, which argues, quite convincingly, in my view, that the Bible doesn't teach Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). (This is the last such post.) Although it's not perfect, I think the book is pretty good. Better than anything I might write, no doubt. An author, probably because he had read one or more of these posts, e-mailed me, and offered to send me a copy of a book he had written, which, although Christian in world-view, is also critical of YEC. I responded that I would be glad to see such a book. I was expecting a book that, like Snoke's, argues against YEC, and gives theological, Biblical, and other reasons for such an argument. When the book arrived, I found that it does argue against YEC, but that isn't what it's mostly about. The book, Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation, by Timothy L. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn, begins by explaining the preterist view of Revelation and other New Testament prophecy. (The book's web site is here. It was published in 2007 by Apocalyptic Vision Press, of Whitehall, Montana. If the book says so, I missed it, but I think that the press is a subsidiary of the church were author Martin is pastor. That doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with it, of course. I'm giving information here.) It is secondarily an indictment of YEC. As I understand the book, and preterist views, the authors are what Wikipedia calls Full Preterists.

I didn't know about the preterist leanings of the authors until I started looking at the book. It didn't take long. After getting past the cover, my first view of the contents was the 19 endorsements, on the first three pages of the book. As usual, such endorsements give a statement praising the book, followed by from one to three lines of identification of the endorser. Of these, five list some sort of preterist organization as the part or all of the affiliation of the endorser, and at least two more mentioned preterism as part of their endorsement. That struck me. I had a hard time remembering what preterism is, but it came to me -- it's a view of prophecy. Preterists believe that most or all Biblical prophecies, including those concerning the return of Christ, have already been fulfilled.

None of the endorsers were scientists, although there was an M.D. and an engineer. One of them said that he thought, in advance, that the book would be "beyond the pail" [sic] -- (see here) which led me to think that the book might be in need of some editing help -- but he was convinced as he read. I didn't find any other usage problems in the chapters that I read. The book is well put together. There are many pages of notes, an extensive scripture index, a bibliography, and an author index. For some reason, there is no subject index, which would have been helpful.

What does a preterist view of prophecy have to do with YEC? The authors contend that the modern YEC movement was heavily influenced by a dispensational view of prophecy. I'm no expert on the history of North American Christianity, but their case seems to be convincing, and I have seen it in other places, with no preterist beliefs. However, it does not logically follow, just because there are serious problems with YEC, and it was influenced by dispensational views, that preterist views are correct.

This is my first real experience with preterist views. I have known, for some time, that they exist, but I had not read them. The first four chapters of the book set forth these views. For example, preterists say that Jesus's statement, in Matthew 24, supports their view:
34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.)
Other New Testament passages are cited as teaching the preterist view, including 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, and James 5:8-9.

This is not the place, nor am I the person, to enter into an in-depth analysis of the preterist view. I do wonder about how that view explains two points of prophecy, however. One of them is the last trumpet, which is mentioned in Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, among other places. If there was, indeed, a trumpet blown to announce the gathering of the elect (which both of these verses mention) why is there no historical record of that? The book points out places in the after-New Testament historical record which, the authors say, document the fulfillment of prophecy in the first century. But they don't seem to have any historical record showing the blowing of the trumpet, the appearance of Christ, and the removal of the saints.

The second point is the spread of the gospel to all peoples. As Jesus put it:
Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
(See also other places, such as Revelation 7.) I don't understand how this could possibly have happened by the end of the first century. How could the gospel have gotten to the New World? To Australia? (But see the first comment on this post.)

This passage relates to both of my questions:
Matthew 24:30
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Preterists may have good arguments for points like these. I don't know. But, so far, I'm not convinced.

The majority of the book is devoted to a discussion of dispensationalist theology, which, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, has some serious weaknesses, even though it seems the most popular belief on end times among conservative Christians. (See here for one discussion of the weaknesses.) The book considers how this view has influenced the treatment of origins among the conservative Christian community. I agree that the two seem to be connected, although I'm not certain that the connection is as strong as Martin and Vaughn have set forth. Then, the final three chapters set forth what they believe is a proper view of prophecy, history, and Bible interpretation, including origins. Their term for this is "covenant creation."

Since I remain unconvinced about preterism, which is its foundation, I can't endorse this book. Re-examination of dispensational theology, Young-Earth creationism, and the proper role of the church in the world is a good, even great idea. But I'm not sure that Martin and Vaughn are on the right track.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

On August 17, 2009, I cleaned up some sloppy English in this post, and made a reference to the first comment, which mentions a verse which seems to be in favor of preterism.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Truths from Revelation

The book of Revelation is hard to get agreement on. Why do I say this? According the the Wikipedia article on the last book of the Bible, there are at least 12 views of how to interpret it, and some of those views are further subdivided.

Nonetheless, it is in the Bible, and it must be there for a reason. I hesitatingly* offer a short list of things that aren't in the book, and a list of what I believe are truths to be found there, which all, or nearly all, of the 12 interpretations might agree on.
*I am not a trained Bible scholar. Also, I am aware of the warning listed below as the first item in the list of things which are in the book, and I have no wish to come under that warning. I have not decided on one of the twelve interpretations, or on one of the subdivisions. Most, or all of them, have some serious weaknesses. However, I feel obligated to post about a book, probably in my next post, and that book has a lot in it about Revelation, and I wanted to set forth this background post, setting forth where I am coming from.

What isn't in the book:
1) The word, "antichrist" is not found there. (See here for the results of an on-line search for that word, using the ESV Bible.)
2) The word, "rapture" is not found there. In fact, that word is not found anywhere in any modern Bible that I am aware of, nor in the King James Version. (The concept is Biblical, though. See here for an almost balanced -- the author does make his choice known, but states that we cannot be sure -- discussion of common views on the rapture, and a good collection of apparently relevant scripture. He believes in a rapture before the tribulation period. None of the scriptural references he gives on the Rapture are from Revelation, except that he says that the Apostle John, the author of the book, is raptured, in Rev. 4.)
3) The phrase, "seven years" is not found there.

What is in the book:
1) There is a warning about misuse of the book.
Rev. 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (All scripture quotations from the ESV.)
2) Christ is supreme. (For example, see Revelation 1, and elsewhere in the book.)
3) There is danger in being lukewarm.
4) Christ offers an invitation to fellowship with Him. (For both points 3 and 4, see Revelation 3:14-22)
5) People from every ethnic group will be part of Christ's kingdom. (Rev. 7:9-12)
6) Some very bad things are going to happen to the world as we know it. (I understand that, according to the Preterist view of interpretation, some or all of them have already happened.)
7) The creation will be renewed, in a manner related to the return of Christ.
8) There will be a judgment for sin. Therefore, we need to be ready for Christ's return, and/or judgment.
9) The last verse in the book is important. (Lots of people can say the first verse in the Bible, but not many can say this one, the last verse in the Bible.) It speaks of God's grace!
Rev. 22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

May God forgive me if I have added to, or taken away from, the prophecies in Revelation. I know that there are many who are firmly convinced of a lot of other things in the book. These people, however, don't all agree with each other. I hope that they can agree on the list above, and, if it is incomplete, they will add suggestions below, as comments, and, if there are things they cannot agree on in the list, they will similarly indicate why that is so.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by David Snoke, part 11

I conclude my posts on David Snoke's A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 2006).The last previous post is here.

In his last chapter, "Implications for Theology," Snoke repeats his view that ". . . powerful forces of the world in which we actually live are under God's control and give glory to him." (p. 177) He has written, in the book, about several such powerful forces, including the sea, and I agree that he makes a good case for the idea. If it is true, what are the consequences? Snoke says that they include these (see pages 177-9):
The forces of nature are not evil, although they may be dangerous and destructive.
God is pleased with His creation, including predatory animals, and it glorifies Him.
Humans are special.
Although humans are special, the universe is God-centered, not human-centered.
The balance of nature is beautiful.
God is good, but not necessarily safe.

Snoke goes further. He writes (I think correctly) that the "standard" stories of the flood, and of creation, emphasize the cute animals too much. He says that the real lesson, especially of the flood, is that "if God were to stop the balance of nature even for a short time, humanity would be swept away in an instant, and that God's ultimate judgment will come without warning in the same way." (p. 183)

The author discusses the differences between Young-Earth Creationism and the Intelligent Design (ID) movement in some depth. He concludes, as I have, that they are mostly incompatible. His emphasis is more on their different theologies, mine more on what they have said about each other. (Snoke is clearly in the ID camp.)

Snoke speaks of an important point, namely that, if the church majors on Young-Earth Creationism, it will cut itself off from being able to influence educated leaders in society. ("If the Bible is so wrong about the age of the earth, how can I expect it to be right about Christ's life and ministry?" would be a likely thought in the minds of such people.)

The author does believe some things, and he sets them out:
There was a real Adam, and a real Noah.
The diverse forms of life were created by God. (I have had correspondence with Snoke, and he does not believe in what is sometimes called macro-evolution, namely that even large groups of organisms, such as, say, the Echinoderms and the Chordates, came about because of natural selection operating on a common ancestor.)
There will be a re-creation of the universe at the Second Coming.

Snoke has added an appendix, which is his own translation of the first part of Genesis. I am not competent to evaluate the value of this.

I appreciate Snoke's book a great deal, and I am glad that he wrote it, and that I read it. It has made me think about a number of important issues related to origins. As I have indicated elsewhere, I have problems with the ID movement that Snoke is part of. But his forthright discussion of the uncritical acceptance of Young-Earth Creationism, showing how the Bible itself does not demand it, and even has evidence against it, is much needed.

Lest there be any doubt, everyone is not so pleased with Snoke's book as I am. Here's a review of the book, entitled "A pathetic case for an old earth." The review claims that Snoke's view of old-earth creationism comes from reading The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris, which is now nearly 50 years old, and ignoring more recent works which answer some of Snoke's arguments. The writer also says that Snoke has not done a good job of interpreting scripture.

Thanks for reading. Read Snoke.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Chalice, by Robin McKinley

Chalice, by Robin McKinley, was published in 1998. (Wikipedia article on book.) McKinley has been writing and publishing fantastic literature for at least 30 years.

Some of her work has been re-telling of familiar stories, such as Beauty and the Beast, or Robin Hood. Such re-telling has been original. McKinley has added much detail, added characters, and, generally, made the stories her own. In Chalice, she has built a medieval-like fantasy world that doesn't depend on a story told already.

I won't give away the plot, except to say that everyone who deserves to finds happiness in the end. For more on the plot, see the Wikipedia article.

I will explain the title. The Chalice is a member of the Circle of a demesne, serving under the Master. The Circle's job is to maintain order, not only among the people, but in the crops, forests, and rivers. The Chalice's role is to prepare suitable drinks, or fluids to be poured out over, say, a bad field or a sick animal. She is second only to the Master of the Circle in her power to help maintain or restore order.

I will also say something about religion in the book. There is a priesthood -- in fact there are three -- Earth, Air, and Fire. We do not learn much about the practices of that priesthood, except that we learn that a person entering a priesthood is gradually transformed, both physically and mentally, so that eventually a priest is definitely not a normal human, and has difficulty even interacting with normal humans.

The Circle somehow relies on supernatural guidance. This is most dramatic in the selection of new Circle members, and involves divination of some sort. The Chalice, in this book, is untrained and needs guidance. She does not pray, apparently, but it seems obvious that she seeks such guidance, and has received it, in ways that she does not understand, herself.

McKinley is almost always a good read. (I didn't like the subject matter of Sunshine, but have found her other books to be well written and uplifting.) Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

George MacDonald on the universality of moral law

"There is in your house a door, one step through which carries me into a world very much another than this."
"A better?"
"Not throughout; but so much another that most of its physical, and many of its mental laws are different from those of this world. As for moral laws, they must everywhere be fundamentally the same." Lilith (public domain, 1895) Chapter VIII. Adam, also known as the Raven, speaking to Mr. Vane.

Thanks for reading. Read MacDonald.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sunspots 197


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:



Science:
Hummer drivers are much more likely to get a ticket, says Wired.

Music:
Slate on temperature and stringed instruments (such as the ones Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma played, but which weren't actually broadcasted at President Obama's inauguration).

An article in Christianity Today, by a man who has been in such bands quite a bit, proclaiming that church worship bands are (among other things) usually too loud.

Computing:
Dilbert on on-line identity ethics.

OpenOffice 3.0.1, a free alternative to Microsoft Office, is now available.

Christianity:
He Lives writes on the "great mystery of liberal Christianity." By liberal Christianity, he means a so-called Christianity that rejects the miracles of the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the resurrection. So what is that mystery? The mystery is why anyone would want to crucify Jesus, if He was just a mostly mild-mannered teacher.


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

halfway to the Sky, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I recently posted about Leap of Faith, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Since then, I have read, and liked, her halfway to the Sky. Leap of Faith was about coming to faith in God. I found no mention of worship, or faith, in this book.

I'm giving away much of the plot of this one.

So what is it about? It is about a twelve-year-old girl, trying to get over the death of her older brother from Muscular Dystrophy, and her parents' divorce. Dani tries to run away by hiking the Appalachian Trail. (Her real name is Katahdin. Her brother's was Springer. Her parents met and married on the Trail. Springer Mountain is at the Georgia end, Mt. Katahdin at the Maine end.)

Dani's mother finds her, shortly after the beginning of the Trail in Georgia. Dani has prepared carefully, buying gear, hiking clothing, and food. Her mother has come quickly, without preparation. The mother decides to walk the Trail with Dani. Dani gradually comes to understand her mother, her brother's death, her father, even her father's new wife, and herself. A friend she made early on the trail comes to let her down badly, emotionally. A new friend, an older woman who is a cancer survivor, comes to be valued by both Dani and her mother. Her father helps them both out in unexpected ways.

Because of Dani's mother's work, they cannot walk the whole Trail. However, a person who walks part of the Trail at a time is recognized as a thru-hiker, if they walk the entire Trail, just as much as one who goes the entire way at one time. They plan to walk the next section of the Trail in a year or so.

At the end of the book, Dani has a new half-brother, and agrees to baby-sit him for her stepmother. Dani and her mother sell their house, and move into a cabin closer to the Trail. (They are still in Bristol, TN, which is within easy driving distance of the Trail.)

Bradley seems to be very knowledgable about Trail hiking. The book is divided by days, and each chapter is headed by how far Dani has walked that day, how far she has gone, in total, on the Trail, and the weather. There are a lot of details about dangers and joys in hiking, gear, food, and geography. I did not find this background boring, but quite interesting.

A splendid coming-of-age and family understanding book. (Although Dani hasn't reached 14 years old by the end.)

Thanks for reading. Read Bradley.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Young-Earth Creationism and fossils

A post in the Panda's Thumb refers to a 1995 article by Kurt Wise, and labels him an "honest creationist." (The Panda's Thumb post indicates how to access the article by Wise.) The Wikipedia article on him indicates that he is an important and influential young-earth creationist. He has more than adequate scientific credentials, having taken a Ph. D. in paleontology at Harvard under the late Stephen Jay Gould.

Wise says, in the indicated article, at least two interesting and important things:

". . . there is no sense in which creationist paleontology at this point is capable of addressing the traditional transitional forms issue in any rigorous sense." CEN Tech J., vol 9, no. 2, 1995, p. 216.

"Evidence for not just one but for all three of the species level and above types of stratomorphic intermediates expected by macroevolutionary theory is surely strong evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Creationists therefore need to accept this fact. It certainly CANNOT said that traditional creation theory expected (predicted) any of these fossil finds." p. 219 (emphasis in original)

Wise is not about to give up young-earth creationism, and he makes that clear. He believes that explanations compatible with young-earth creationism can be found eventually. However, he argues, in this article, that young-earth creationist scientists should be concentrating on fields other than fossil transitional forms.

Even though this article is nearly 15 years old, I know no evidence that young-earth creationist paleontology has changed enough in the meantime to negate what Wise said in 1995. In other words, the fossil record can be taken as providing evidence which supports mainstream evolutionary theory.

Thanks for reading.