Archive for the ‘apologetics’ Category

>Critique of my Young Earth Creationism post

2009 August 22 7 comments

> My post on young earth creationism raised several responses here and at Vox Popoli where it was originally posted. See also here and here. As well as a response on theologyonline.

These responses suggest some further aspects need to be discussed.

It is important for me to clarify what I was trying to do. I deliberately chose to give a scientific/ philosophical defence rather than a scriptural one. I thought it would interest a broader audience. And it is important to realise the issues in this debate are philosophical.

There were 2 main points I wanted to make.

  1. There is a fundamental difference between operational and historical science. Thus historical science can be challenged by types of knowledge (such as testimony and documentary knowledge) in a way that operational science cannot be challenged.
  2. Evidence against YEC that presupposes evolution is true is invalid. (In fact evidence against any theory presuming a priori that it is false is invalid).

So if people came away unconvinced yet more aware of their own preconceptions, and they could see that YEC is a valid philosophy that can be considered—and either accepted or rejected—then I am content with this.

The main complaints were the lack of positive evidence for YEC and the lack of exegetical support given for the YEC position.

Addressing the lack of positive evidence first. This complaint is reasonable, especially given my title. However the reasons given above are why I was cautious to discuss specific issues. Until these issues are dealt with, debates are frequently at cross purposes. YECists are forever pointing out the assumptions that non-YECists hold.

I had considered that too much discussion on the merits of, say, helium diffusion dating (and why evolutionists disagree with it) would miss the point that evolutionists are assuming ancient dates because they have a prior commitment to such, and thus they are judging other dating methods by their agreement, or not, to radiometric dating. Whereas my position is that the questioning of all dating methods is legitimate. As it was, the debates in the comments still frequently assumed the validity of old earth dogma.

Do YECists not also have a prior commitment to younger dates? Yes, they do. But they admit their commitment to a biblical timeframe. Evolutionists frequently deny their prior commitment and pretend they are somehow more objective, when in fact they are choosing the clocks that suit their purposes.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of more positive evidence of a young earth would have improved the post and it may be something I could address at a later stage.

My choice to avoid a scriptural defence on why the Bible demands YEC was deliberate, as mentioned. I laid out the basic beliefs for the benefit of those who did not know what they were; to clarify what YECists believe and also what they do not believe despite accusations to the contrary. However the responses and a conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago has suggested that I should probably give the scriptural reasons for the YEC position at some stage.

>A defence of Young Earth Creationism

2009 August 14 33 comments

>Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is multifaceted. It is a metaphysical framework; a scripturally informed philosophy of nature which includes a scientific model that seeks to evaluate and explain the world. Thus it touches a variety of topics. There are limits in what can be accomplished with a short blog post, but I think that some clarity can be brought to the debate, specifically identifying the source of the conflict and the domain in which the debate needs to occur.

Antagonism to YEC is predominantly philosophical, rooted in naturalism. Opposition to the YEC position is frequently made using suppositions antagonistic to YEC; the proof of error is therefore in the axioms not the conclusions.

YEC has a long history. It has been the predominant position throughout most of the history of the West, until the introduction of uniformitarian interpretations in the 18th and 19th century by the non-catastrophic geologists. These geologists influenced Darwin and although Darwin didn’t publish his theory till the 19th century, evolutionary-like philosophies have a much older history, somewhat similar ideas proposed by some Greek philosophers. And YECists have good company with the likes of scientists such as Kepler, Newton, Pasteur, and Maxwell. But the issue is not a tradition game or a numbers game, it is: Does YEC accurately describe reality?

The underlying reasons for specific YECist concepts are: the rules of logic as applied to the Bible and science, and the grammatical historical hermeneutic applied to the Bible. YECists take most of Genesis to be historical narrative including the creation, fall, and flood. They think that most occurrences of the word “day” in Genesis 1 mean a usual day because of contextual considerations.

YEC touches several fields including theology: hermeneutics, theodicy; philosophy: philosophy of science, logic; science: biology, genetics, palaeontology, astronomy, geology, climate, thermodynamics; information theory; archaeology; history. (Hermeneutics and logic would be better classified as fields that form YEC belief rather than result from it, as mentioned above).

I wish to cover the following about YEC

  • What young earth creationists (YECists) do and do not believe;
  • The nature of evidence and science; and
  • A discussion focusing on a single aspect of YEC: the age of the earth.

What YEC is

YEC can be summarised as follows:

  • The universe is not eternal, it was created by God who is external to the world, self existent, and eternal
  • God created the world in 6 usual days
  • Nature was corrupted by the Fall of Man
  • The earth is about 6000 years old
  • The earth was deluged by a global flood about 4500 years ago
  • The Bible is inerrant and should be interpreted in a straightforward manner (according to genre)

There are several corollaries from this, though the specifics may vary. The creation model includes:

  • Most of the sedimentary layers of rock and enclosed fossils that occur worldwide were formed during the Noachic Flood.
  • The earth likely contained a single continent that broke up during or after the Flood
  • There was a single ice-age caused by the post-Flood climate
  • All land and air animals (of significant size) are descendants of the animals that were on the Ark
  • Man has coexisted with all animals that have ever existed
  • Natural selection (an analogue of artificial selection) occurs
  • Speciation is rapid. It occurs through allelic separation, genetically induced variation, or detrimental mutation (loss of genetic information).
  • There are genetic limits to the amount of speciation, diversification, adaption, or breeding that can occur
  • Information content of the biosphere cannot increase. Matter cannot create information.
  • Information is always the result of an intelligence
  • Loss of information can mean improved fitness within a specific environment, that is loss of function can result in improved likelihood of survival.
  • Lost information cannot be recovered without reintroduction of the same information (save trivial examples) by breeding or design
  • Archaeological artefacts post-date the Flood, which limits their age to a maximum of 4500 years

There are several accusations that are charged against YEC which proponents of YEC do not support or promote; such as

  • God (or Satan) created the fossils in situ as a test of our faith
  • God created things with false appearance of age (this needs qualification)
  • Animals were created how they look now and no new species of animals have developed
  • Entropy was a result of and did not exist before the Fall of Man
  • The earth is flat

On evidence and science

While much could be written in defence of the specific YEC beliefs, discussion can be difficult if foundational issues are not identified.

Modern science was originally a systematised process of categorising our observations to make further inferences and reduce our observations to consistent laws. While hypothesis testing is a usual method, data gathering to create a hypothesis was seen as legitimate. Thus, multiple measurements of the planets led to Kepler proposing elliptical orbits, which could then be further tested. Francis Bacon is frequently credited with formulating the scientific method. Written as:

observation → induction → hypothesis → test hypothesis by experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge

Popper’s falsifiability criterion has had a clarifying influence on the understanding of scientific theories. Therefore negative evidence was seen as disproving a theory whilst positive evidence is merely consistent with a theory, not proof of such.

Notice that Bacon’s definition is necessarily limited to observable phenomena. This is classic operational science (also called empirical science), which helps us infer laws about things that are demonstrable and repeatable. This is an enormously important distinction that frequently goes unrecognised. In contrast, inferences about previous events are not repeatable. This does not mean that the scientific method cannot be employed, rather that it is limited in what it can say.

Consider the science of identifying a criminal via a DNA sample. This science is not being done to discover how DNA binds to itself (i.e. hydrogen bonding), it is attempting to establish an event such as a murder.

So a fragment of the DNA is identified and then matched to a specific person. The samples can be run several times and in several different ways; both the forensic sample and the suspects’ samples. And we can establish that the forensic sample and a suspect sample match. This part of the process is operational science.

However establishing a particular suspect as the murderer is not observable. We cannot do an experiment several times to show that he did indeed murder the victim. Intrinsically it is impossible; the event happened in the past. And even if we establish he is capable of murder, it doesn’t prove he committed this particular murder. This kind of science is called historical science.

It has been claimed that scientists do not discriminate this way when practising science. This may be the case. When one does historical science there is usually an element of operational science as seen in this example (though the converse is not necessarily true). But whether actual scientists discriminate like this is irrelevant to the philosophy of science, what matters is whether this distinction exists. And it clearly exists because a methodology that relies on repeatability cannot be applied to singular past events.

The reason for this discussion is to show that historical science competes with other evidences in a way that operational science does not. If I claim my house is so high, I can invite you to m
easure it. Testimonial evidence doesn’t play a part. We don’t ask a range of people their opinion as to what they think my house height is. 3 measurements by several engineers using differing methods that all agree trump the opinion of a dozen opinions and guesses. This is not the case with historical science.

Returning to our murder investigation with DNA sampling, all we have established is that a suspect shares a DNA fingerprint with a crime scene sample. This may be because it is a limited test, say a portion of DNA with a limited number of polymorphisms. Even if we can be certain the DNA matches by performing adequate sequencing, there may be a identical twin brother we do not know about. Or the DNA may have come from the suspect, but at another time; a meeting earlier in the day. Now I am not trying to imply that DNA testing is inaccurate or inappropriate for criminal investigation, I am illustrating how its use in proving crime is intrinsically different from operational science.

Testimony of others meant little in the height of my house, but it means a great deal in identifying a murderer. Not because murder is more important that house height, but because it is not testable in the way that heights and widths of objects are. A claim that the suspect has a twin brother is a competing claim against the DNA test. A claim that the suspect was seen elsewhere at the time of the murder is a competing claim. A claim that the blood type does not match despite the DNA matching is a competing claim.

Note that competing claims against historical science can be both scientific and non-scientific (eg. testimonial).

Also note that scientific claims do not automatically trump non-scientific claims. The testimony of a thousand witnesses is not overturned by a DNA match just because the latter is scientific. We weigh several competing claims and people will be variously convinced depending on how reliable they regard each piece of evidence.

YEC is a competing claim about the history of the world. It is predominantly a competing claim to the historical sciences of biological macro-evolution, abiogenesis, stellar evolution, and uniformitarian geology.

Some of the YEC disagreement with evolutionary theory is due to consideration of non-scientific fields such as documentary evidence. However much of the disagreement is from a competing but different historical science. For example, consider the age of the earth.

How old is the earth?

YECists claim that the earth is about 6000 years old (though anything below 10000 years would fall into the same range). This is phenomenally different to the uniformitarian geological claim of 4.5 billion years. But note that any usual clock cannot calculate the time since the formation of the earth. We cannot go back, set our stop-watch, and mark off the aeons until now. We are considering a past event (or several past events). Compare this to measuring the time it takes a horse to run 1 km. We can do this measuring the starting and finishing time, and we can do this repeatedly, thus giving us the time (on average) the horse takes. For this we observe established clocks.

For past events we need to establish a historical clock, say radiometric-dating. Experiments can determine the amount of various isotopes of uranium and lead in a particular sample. One can do this part of the experiment over and over. We can satisfy ourselves to the limits of experimental accuracy that the sample contains a certain amount of uranium. This part of the investigation is operational science. All parties generally agree on the number of atoms identified in the sample and their ratio.

This ratio is then keyed into a formula based on a specific theory with a variety of assumptions to get a date for the formation of the mineral it was derived from. Now the theory is radioactive decay, which is reasonably well established, and an assumption is, say, no daughter isotope was present when the mineral formed.

The problem is that these calculations do not always give the answers that are thought to be correct (as established by other historical clocks or underlying evolutionary theory); so sub-theories are added, such as leaching of isotopes, addition of isotopes, incomplete melting at time of formation of mineral in rock. Creationists have also suggested a modification to the theory: the variation of decay half-life, though this modification is often disparaged.

Rather than discuss the merits of these sub-theories or, if you prefer, alteration of assumptions (all of which are reasonable); I would simply like to note that since radiometric dating is a historical science, there are competing claims.

There is the competing documentary claim, that the world was created 6000 years ago according to the Bible. This is a claim that YECists take seriously, much like the testimony of someone who witnessed an event. But documentary evidence is not restricted to the Bible. A variety of cultures have given an age of the earth much less than 4.5 billion years and more in keeping with the biblical figure, such as the Mayans and the Greeks. This particular competing claim is less convincing to agnostics and some theists, including some Christians. There are, however, other documentary claims and historical scientific claims that are worth mentioning.

Staying with radiometric dating, we have reliable documentary evidence for the age of some volcanic episodes. It so happens that rocks from lava flows within recent history that we know the real age of (via operational science) are consistently dated much older by radiometric dating, frequently hundreds of thousands of years or older. Explanations are offered up as to why this is the case, but the greater point is the model is reliably incorrect; it doesn’t matter how good this theory is or should be, the fact is the model doesn’t work.

If radiometric dating cannot get dates correct when we do know the true age, why should we trust it when we don’t know the true age?

We also have competing scientific claims. Radiometric dating is not the only historical clock. There are a large number of clocks. And even radiometric clocks vary depending on the isotope used.

Historical clocks often give maximum ages. This does not mean that the calculated age is the actual age, rather given the most favourable assumptions this is the longest a particular process has been going on. In constructing a clock based on sodium in the ocean, a maximum age would be established by assuming no sodium in the ocean when it formed, the lowest reasonable estimate for sodium influx, the highest reasonable estimate for sodium outflux, with the current concentration identified by measurements of salinity. The maximum age identified may not equal the true age, as the ocean may have started somewhat salty for example.

Within radiometric dating we have carbon dating competing with metal dating. Pretty much all carbon containing materials that have been tested contain carbon-14. This places an upper bound on their age. This includes diamonds embedded in rock supposedly millions of years old.

Other historical clocks include: diffusion rates of helium; decay of the magnetic field; decay of DNA and protein from dead organisms; elements in the ocean; recession of the moon, starlight travel from distant stars.

Objections can be raised against these other clocks (though the carbon-14 data is hard to surmount), but this is hardly the point. The point is that there are competing claims here. Radiometric dating of metals is favoured by the evolutionists because it gives a time frame needed for evolution. But it is one piece of historical scientific evidence. One person may find it convincing, but with so much riding against it, it is not unreasonable to weigh the other evidences heavier.


YEC is a worldview. It recognises a variety of evidences. It clearly understands the difference between operational and historical science
. YECists do not dispute any significant operational scientific finding. Investigating past events is philosophically distinct from investigating repeatable events and YEC views past events differently, and in a way that I think makes more sense of the data.

YEC theory on the age of the earth is more parsimonious. It is consistent with much of the documentary evidence. It is also consistent with many of the historical scientific clocks. Modifications to the starting conditions and rates give ages consistent with a young earth, including radio-carbon. Radio-dates of metals less so, but these are known to be inaccurate, and YEC proposals concerning rates of decay may resolve other well recognised difficulties of radiometric dating. Ancient earth theory is unable to easily reconcile non-radiometric clocks or even radio-carbon clocks.

Thanks to Paladin and AndyM for their suggestions.

>Why doesn't the Bible address X?

2009 July 3 4 comments

>A not infrequent complaint raised by theism sceptics is that the Bible does not address many issues the sceptics think it should address; if indeed the Bible is a divine book and not merely a human one.

There are several problems with this demand

  1. It assumes the critic’s concerns are the same as God’s
  2. It assumes the Bible is written for the sceptical
  3. It assumes that God should dictate Scripture rather than use his servants to author it
  4. It ignores that Scripture was written into a culture
  5. It ignores what is contained within Scripture
  6. It ignores that the issues may be addressed indirectly
  7. It places an unreasonable burden on the size of the resultant text
  8. It suggests that if such was included the sceptic would be convinced of the truth of the Bible

Whose concern is important?

To ask that the Bible address X, Y, or Z assumes that these are the things God is most interested in recording for his people. The Bible is diverse, though there are several common themes. A major theme is right relationship with God. There is a large amount of material discussing individuals and nations in right and wrong relationship with God and the consequences of such. God is forever calling people to himself and rebuking them for going their own way. The Bible suggests that the biggest problem in men following God is not evidential, rather wilful. All Jericho were in fear of Yahweh after reports of his exploits, yet only Rahab submitted to him.

Related to this theme is reconciliation, especially the focus on God coming to earth as a man to teach us God’s way, to receive our punishment, and to establish a kingdom. Thus, much of Scripture builds up to this event, describes this event, and discusses the consequences of this event.

Who was the Bible written for?

The Bible has information that can be used to defend the truth of God and to rebuke the mocker; that is, it does have apologetic value. However the intended audience includes, and is probably predominantly, those who belong to God’s kingdom. At the time of the Old Testament that was Israel (though admittedly this included apostate Israel). In the New Testament the gospel of Luke (and Acts) are addressed to Theophilus (Friend of God). The letters are all addressed to individual Christians or churches. The biblical “inadequacies” as claimed by the sceptical may be of less concern to believers.

The Bible was written by God’s servants

Scripture, in the main, is not dictated by God. Thus there is freedom for the authors to write in their own style. Christians believe God had the authors include what God wanted recorded. Many also claim that God prevented them from writing error. This at least allows for difficulties in reconciling parallel passages, none of which contain exhaustive information.

The Bible was written into specific cultures

This fact has been misused to limit the scope biblical injunctions. Nevertheless, the authors were writing to the people who lived and thought a common culture. They addressed issues that were pertinent to the people around them. This includes who they perceived as their friends and enemies at the time. Laws related (in part) to their way of life, the types of houses they lived in, the foods they ate. The Israelites were an agrarian society. Many of the specific issues we face in the 21st century were non-existent in ancient Israel, and some of them would have been barely comprehensible. However most issues faced by diverse nationalities have some degree of commonality. Truly new concepts, such as intellectual property, are not that common. To request the Bible address specifically, issues that post-date its completion is anachronistic. The Bible may do so if God wishes, but to complain of these types of deficiencies is unreasonable.

What does the Bible discuss?

The fact is, the Bible does discuss a wide range of issues. There may be questions we have that it is difficult to clearly answer from biblical considerations, but what of that which the Bible does tell us? It tells us a lot about God, a lot about us. It tells us we are broken. It tells us our relationship with God is broken, and better, how to fix it. It tells us how to treat others. It teaches about relationships with one’s spouse and with one’s children. It tells us about honesty in business relationships. It tells us to concern ourselves with the less fortunate.

There is much we are shown about in the Bible. Is the concern about what is lacking actually about us not liking what is not lacking?

The indirect teaching of Scripture

It is not that difficult to apply what the Bible says within an ancient culture to our modern one. Is it really that hard? to go from “build a parapet around the edge of your [flat] roof” to “build a fence around your swimming pool.” Does one really think that if God opposes getting intoxicated with wine that he approves of getting intoxicated with marijuana? Many of the questions we have in our modern technological age are addressed indirectly through Scripture.

How big do we want our Bible?

It is difficult for a finite text to cover all the questions that man is capable of asking. The amount of information now known to man is vast, too much for any one person to know. Yet there are questions I can ask (that are intrinsically answerable) and not one man on earth currently knows the answer. If the Bible addressed in detail the specific answer, along with an underlying explanation of the assumptions of the questioner, of every question raised by a bibliosceptic its size would be enormous, not to mention unsustainable for the ancient scribes. For a hand-written book, the Bible is already pretty large. And even many Christians have not read it thru. How does one gain the overall themes of a book that would take a lifetime to read thru once?

Would a different text alter the sceptic’s position?

My considered view is that the complaint of biblical deficiencies is an empty one. Inclusion of specific issues would only mean that different deficiencies would be raised.

As mentioned above, the problem, as the Bible sees it, is not one of knowledge; rather it is one of the will. Rahab chose to worship Yahweh. Many of those who would be willing to submit to Christ have enough information to evaluate him. If someone has a real stumbling block then it is worth addressing it with him. But there is enough clarity in Scripture for those whose hearts are good soil, and there is enough concealment for the mocker to remain sceptical.

Categories: apologetics, Bible, clarity

>Flat earth cosmology and other assumptions

2009 January 29 9 comments

> Michael Patton posted recently that he thinks that people lose faith because of lack of discipleship and he mentioned in passing that Christians used to believe the world was flat. That Christianity didn’t teach a flat earth doesn’t change the thrust of his argument. Nevertheless, I offered my thoughts as this lie needs to die.

In response to this others claimed that the Bible teaches a flat earth.

Greg made this comment,

…the idea of a “flat” earth is presented in the Bible, simply because that’s how the people envisioned it back then. They’d go up onto a mountain top, look around, and see a round, disk-shaped earth. That’s all they knew, and God no where in His Word sought to obviously correct that understanding. I think any “scientific” statement in the Bible is best understood by the science of their day, not ours.

The cosmology presented in Genesis is incredibly similar to Egyptian and Babylonian cosmology. Not in its theology, just in its structure. Sometimes we like to think that the Israelites developed their culture and wrote the Bible in a vacuum, that there was no influence or sharing of ideas between others in that same era and geographical location.

I’ve noticed that Christians tend to try and explain this kind of stuff away so we can make the Bible conform to our modern understanding of science. We have this misplaced idea that to be reliable, the Bible needs to match our understanding of everything, or that if there’s some borrowed stuff from Babylon or Egypt that its any less inspired. We sometimes forget that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. God inspired in a manner that would be meaningful to ancient Israelites. He accommodated Himself to them by taking their cosmology and reinterpreting it in light of Himself.

Its really quite fascinating when you read Genesis with this in mind. You come across a whole mass of information and meaning that we moderns tend to overlook because we just don’t think that way anymore.

And he recommended the article A Common Cosmology of the Ancient World. I have only read some of this and would like to respond to it in more depth at a later stage. For now I wish to make a few comments about assumptions in Greg’s quote and then a few thoughts on the flat earth question.

The phrase

any “scientific” statement in the Bible is best understood by the science of their day

poses problems. Firstly science in the modern sense dates back a few hundred years. Rather statements of this type in the Bible are factual claims. Granted they may come from inference rather than direct observation but they are not scientific in the way we understand the term. Further many modern “scientific” claims are claims of history not operational science. There is much truth in understanding the Bible on its own terms not ours, but “own terms” is about how the Bible uses language, not its objective claims. The ancient Israelite concept of what constitutes “life” may not fully correspond to ours, but Jesus either rose from the dead or he did not.

The related comment

He accommodated Himself to them by taking their cosmology and reinterpreting it in light of Himself.

is a significant claim. Agreed, God does not have to correct our misconceptions. And not doing so does not give tacit approval. But statement says that God tells us our misconceptions are correct when they are not. I disagree.

What about cultural influences?

Sometimes we like to think that the Israelites developed their culture and wrote the Bible in a vacuum, that there was no influence or sharing of ideas between others in that same era and geographical location.

I am not certain who holds to the Bible being written in a vacuum. Israel clearly interacts with the nations thru-out both Testaments. They constantly shared ideas with their neighbours, much to God’s displeasure. The proposal that God hated the behaviour of the pagan nations and constantly told Israel not to emulate them and repeated told them not to worship foreign gods or adopt their practices, yet borrowed their incorrect structural cosmogony seems unlikely.

To flat-earthism. I note that the objection is a slightly different point to the one I made. I have previously posted that the sphericity of the earth was documented as least as early as 500 BC. Patton’s comment was about Christianity teaching a flat earth. The history is that Christianity has, by and large, taught a spherical earth when addressing the topic. The most that can be said is that some argued against antipodean lands and/ or inhabitants for reasons unrelated to the earth’s shape.

As mentioned, I hope to post later about the claim about the Bible teaching a flat earth. For now I have several general comments.

  1. Because the flat-earth myth was invented by infidels in an attempt to discredit Christianity, in any discussion about earth topology Christianity should be given the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Geocentricism is not the same as flat-earthism.
  3. “Evolutionary thinking” is much more pervasive than we realise. For example the idea that polytheism developed into monotheism is an social evolutionary idea not a biblical one. The Bible suggests the reverse.
  4. Why should every other text (and theory) be the standard to which the Bible is compared? If the Bible and any particular text disagree why is it assumed the Bible is in error?
  5. Accounts recorded by Scripture and other cultures could be due to common memory. If there is borrowing going on it may be from the Bible (or possibly source texts in the case of Genesis) to other nations than vice versa. A comparison of texts is helpful.
  6. We must be careful about forcing poetry. As I previously wrote:

    Poetry frequently talks about real events and uses literal wording at times. However features of poetry include the frequent use of symbolism and metaphor. When reading poetry it is important to understand the point being illustrated, not insist on the literal meaning of the underlying wording. If a poem uses a phrase that is intended to be literal or does indeed coincide with reality then it is not unreasonable to use the passage as support that the author understood this particular concept. It is not valid, however, to force literalism on a poetical passage.

>Atheist debater stuck for words

2008 December 13 1 comment

>Apologist Joe Boot was asked about his favourite stories from his experiences. He describes one of the experiences saying, at a debate organised by

the humanist society and Campus for Christ at a Canadian University, I felt the grace of God helping and strengthening me. My closing remarks were met with pin-drop silence. The atheist was bewildered and concluded with an incoherent moral rant against the Bible! One atheist student filled in his reaction card suggesting the debate had been ‘fixed’ by Christians bringing in an atheist with no arguments! (emphasis added)

Categories: apologetics, atheism


2008 September 26 4 comments

>Evolutionists often argue against a designer by pointing to poor design in plants, animals, and humans. In his recent book By Design, Jonathan Sarfati makes the following points (my paraphrase):

  1. This is not a scientific argument, it is a theological one. It is not saying anything about design but about the designer.
  2. The examples offered are usually not bad design but a problem with our ignorance. We don’t understand the design. If we understood the full function of the organ then the good design would be obvious.
  3. Features need to be considered together and not in isolation. It is not one aspect that is being optimised but several.

These are profound points.

As an analogy consider a car, an object that is designed.

  1. Pointing out why you think a car functions suboptimally does not prove the car is not designed, it says that you think the designer did a poor job.
  2. Not understanding how spoilers work does not mean their presence is poor design, rather it reveals good design when you becomes aware of flow dynamics.
  3. Designing for speed and crash safety are competing themes. The fastest car may be unsafe in a crash. The strongest car may be slow. A car may be optimal for speed, safety, space, and fuel efficiency; though not maximised for any single one of these features.

>A defense of inerrancy

2008 September 21 15 comments

>I heard mention of inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures in a sermon recently. The speaker was defending infallibility though he is not an inerrantist. It would seem that these terms seem synonymous so perhaps some definitions are in order.

Incapable of error in expounding doctrine on faith or morals.
Inability to err in teaching revealed truth.
True in any claim of fact.
Without error, and free from all contradiction.

“Fallibility” in theology is describing reliability, “errancy” is describing error. Inerrancy encompasses infallibility, that is if the Bible is error free then it is also reliable. Inerrantists are infallibilists. However one can claim that the Bible is reliable and useful for faith yet claim it contains errors of fact. Infallibilists may or may not be inerrantists. I claim the latter position is difficult to defend logically and scripturally, but that is not the intent of this post.

During the sermon the position of inerrancy was dismissed in, what I consider, somewhat of a strawman manner. Inerrantists were portrayed as being somewhat simplistic and unthinking. The kind who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” While people of that persuasion undoubtedly exist, this is not the zenith of an inerrancy apologetic and one should should consider the best claims of his opponents, not the poorest.

I am an inerrantist because I think that is the position Scripture points to. The Bible does not appear to discriminate between facts of faith and facts of history. Conversely the Bible claims to be grounded in history. We can believe God about things we cannot know because he is reliable in the things we do know. The early Christians backed up the truth of Christianity by appeal to a fact of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now we can know much about the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection based on revelation by God, but this revelation is confirmed in our minds by the very fact that Jesus did indeed die and then rise from the dead! Many people make claims about spiritual truths but many are also unreliable. They cannot back up their claims with events that prove them trustworthy. If they are unreliable in earthly things why should we believe them about spiritual things.

But rather than an extensive defence of inerrancy at this stage, I want to describe what it is inerrantists claim.

Inerrantists believe the Bible to be true in every factual statement it affirms. Inerrantists can agree with the quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” though preferably with qualification.

The last two clauses are relatively straightforward:

  • I believe, or I affirm that what Scripture claims is true;
  • The debate is settled on the side of Scriptural claims because God never errs.

The problem lies in the first clause. While true on the face of it, the debate is around what exactly did God say? The speaker is equating the Bible with God’s words: written in the Bible = God said it. But Bible may not say what the speaker is claiming the Bible says. So while the inerrantist believes the Bible is true in everything it affirms, the careful inerrantist wants to know what exactly the Bible does affirm; nothing more, nothing less.

While people may disagree on specific meanings of texts, there are several relevant issues in understanding Scripture. I will address the literalism claim in more depth.

Inerrantists don’t hold to a literal reading of every text. While they believe much of the Bible is to be taken literally (while errantists may not do so), probably the best descriptor of their hermeneutic is a “straightforward reading” of the text. So if the text is historical narrative then the claim of inerrantists is that what is written is a faithful history. The events really did happen in the way described. But this does not mean that every verse is to be read as literal. No one reads like this. Even the hyperliteralist sees metaphor in some passages. I am not aware that anyone claims the parables really happened. The literalist would rather defend that Jesus really spoke the parables.

So Scripture is to be interpreted according to genre.

Here are several beliefs that inerrantists can and do hold.

  • Poetry uses symbolism and hyperbole.
  • Proverbs are general truths and there may be specific examples of people who fail to follow the general rule.
  • Fables and allegory illustrate an underlying reality.
  • Analogies carry over an aspect common to 2 situations. They may carry over several aspects but they may carry over only 1 aspect and one should be careful about over reading them.
  • People use approximations when giving information.
  • Not all information about an event may be given.
  • Early revelation is not overturned by later revelation though it may be clarified and/ or expanded upon.
  • Only the original text is necessarily inerrant.
  • Copists made errors. Extant manuscripts may contain error.
  • Translation can introduce error. The original language is inerrant, other languages are inerrant in as much as they faithfully reproduce the original.
  • The text may contain more than one meaning.
  • A strict chronology may not be followed.
  • The Bible may be (deliberately) vague in places.
  • Prophecy is often difficult to understand, especially before the fact.

Here are some examples that an infallibilist may falsely challenge an inerrantist.

  • The earth does not stand on pillars. (Job 9:6)
  • Godly parents have rebellious children. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Some Bibles include the comma Johanneum. (1 John 5:7-8)

So where would an inerrantist and infallibilist possibly disagree?

  • The numbers of returning exiles listed in Ezra and Nehemiah do not line up.
  • Was the number of demoniacs 1 or 2?
  • Jonah was not really swallowed by a sea creature.
  • The chronology of the Israelite/ Judean kings is incorrect.
  • Noah did not really live to 950.
  • Paul did not write the pastoral epistles.

An infalliblist may claim that there is error in the Bible as evidenced by this list, but because they are not claims of faith we can still learn from the principles in the stories. The inerrantist would argue that the straightforward reading of the Bible claims are indeed true or that the apparent contradictions are resolvable. He would further argue that the lessons taught are dependant on the reality of the situation: God acting in real history.

>The divorce gene

2008 July 21 Leave a comment

>The Grand Theory of Evolution is clearly wrong as seen by comparing it to scientific findings that haven’t been sieved thru an evolutionary filter prior to interpretation. But further evidence of its falsity and its implicit attack of Christianity can be seen by assessing its fruit. A recent example of evil disguised as science via evolutionary theorising can be seen in Helen Fisher’s work.

But in country after country, and decade after decade, divorces tended to peak (the divorce mode) during and around the fourth year of marriage. There were variations, of course. Americans tended to divorce between the second and third year of marriage, for example. Interestingly, this corresponds with the normal duration of intense, early stage, romantic love — often about 18 months to 3 years. Indeed, in a 2007 Harris poll, 47% of American respondents said they would depart an unhappy marriage when the romance wore off, unless they had conceived a child.

Nevertheless, there was no denying it: Among these hundreds of millions of people from vastly different cultures, three patterns kept emerging. Divorces regularly peaked during and around the fourth year after wedding. Divorces peaked among couples in their late twenties. And the more children a couple had, the less likely they were to divorce: some 39% of worldwide divorces occurred among couples with no dependent children; 26% occurred among those with one child; 19% occurred among couples with two children; and 7% of divorces occurred among couples with three young.

She starts with some basic data gathering, all very reasonable. I do note that there are variations and there is no indication that data has been assessed over a long time period, say 2000–3000 years.

Then suddenly I got that “ah-ha” moment: Women in hunting and gathering societies breastfeed around the clock, eat a low-fat diet and get a lot of exercise — habits that tend to inhibit ovulation. As a result, they regularly space their children about four years apart. Thus, the modern duration of many marriages—about four years—conforms to the traditional period of human birth spacing, four years.

Perhaps human parental bonds originally evolved to last only long enough to raise a single child through infancy, about four years, unless a second infant was conceived.

Aside from mere assertion, lack of any rigour, or any actual scientific explanation—i.e. another evolutionary just-so story—this is justifying sin. Apparently we don’t divorce because we are fallen, sin-choosing creatures. No, we evolved this way. It is in our genetic make-up. Our desire to divorce has no moral implications, it is the expected response to our physiology.

By age five, a youngster could be reared by mother and a host of relatives. Equally important, both parents could choose a new partner and bear more varied young.

And thus a conceived child-rearing methodology will be promoted as a valid alternative to the father and mother ideal.

My new theory fit nicely with data on other species.

Despite the fact that we are distinct from the animals which do not bear the imago dei.

Scientifically, evolution is a fraud. There is enough reason to reject it based on its falsity alone. But I think many Christians fail to realise how much of an attack on Christianity evolution is, and how intrinsically evil is this extremely prevalent lie.

>Vanquishing Atheism's Vanguard

2008 June 28 5 comments

>I reviewed Vox Day’s book The Irrational Atheist for Tekton Apologetics Ministries and the review has recently been uploaded. The Tekton rating system is a 1–3 thumbs down for negative reviews and 1–3 thumbs up for positive reviews (with no neutral option). I gave the book 2+ (ie. a 4 on a 0–5 scale)

The review is at Tektonics and I have reproduced it below.

Vanquishing Atheism’s Vanguard

A Review of Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist

by Joel Bethyada

I had high expectations for this book. This concerned me somewhat as it increased the chances of being disappointed on reading it. Suffice it to say that it met my prior elevated expectations.

Vox is witty. He is both very clever and very funny. When you are laughing just reading the contents page you know it is going to be a good book.

What is useful in this foray into the New Atheist territory is that Vox lets them choose the battlefield and the weapons. And while Vox has no hesitancy in demolishing the arguments with his opponents’ swords, he frequently just sharpens them before handing them back leaving the New Atheists to eviscerate themselves!

The first few chapters cover the ground rules. Subsequent chapters are devoted to various popular atheists exposing their foolishness or duplicity. Despite the subtitle (Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens), Vox also has chapters on Dennett and Onfray. That they are not referred to in the title is due to Vox’s admiration of the former’s honesty, despite his mistaken conclusions; and the consistency of the latter’s position, albeit a horrifying one.

He then discusses objections to Christianity that have been raised by several of New Atheism’s statesmen or are commonly used by contemporary atheists. Vox suggests that Hitler was neither Christian nor atheist, but likely pagan; briefly dismissing the genetic fallacy that Hitler was raised Christian by noting that so were Dawkins and Hitchens. The Inquisition is dismissed mentioning themes that have previously been raised by other apologists, and also making the astute observation the the precipitating cause had a higher body count than all the inquisitors over several centuries combined. He then covers the Crusades. And finally human sacrifice in religion suggesting that often times political subjection was a primary motivation over piety. I am less certain the ancients made as great a distinction from the spiritual as modern day secularism.

Following along the lines of the Christians-behaving-badly arguments, the tables are turned and the New Atheists are forced to answer for unprecedented mass murder of the more powerful atheists (and only atheists!) of the 20th century.

As a theological addendum, Vox takes on theodicy and determinism using analogy with computer games. The analogy is quite a useful one but because of some theological errors, minor equivocation and pushing the analogy further than it is capable of, this section, while interesting reading, is less compelling than the atheist trouncing.

The style is slightly difficult at times (but made up for in the humour); the arguments are reasonable to follow but some sentences take slow focused concentration or re-reading. Vox makes frequent reference to his vast knowledge of topics and persons and reading the electronic version may be preferable to allow quick searches on esoteric comments. (The electronic version is available free online).

The book’s strengths include a offence approach—though perhaps a little aggressive, if one is going to take someone to task about minor mathematical errors he best be sure to make none himself—and arguing within the atheist paradigm. Weaknesses include allowing his opponents to label scientific that which is certainly not empirical evidence and better labelled historical, and the discussion of complexity where Vox fails to identify the real flaw in Dawkins’ argument and his fractal designer rebuttal is incorrect.

Will this book affect persons on either side of the debate? I hope so. Certainly the more noble of the atheist crowd will ponder its conclusions and it may perhaps draw them away from the dogmatic assertion that “God is not.” It will certainly encourage Christians who have thought the New Atheist arguments held water to realise they are hot air—if they can overlook any theological disagreements they have with the author. And for those who were already convinced of the New Atheist stupidity it certainly adds more ammunition to their armoury.

>The limits of God

2008 June 14 1 comment

>God is unable to do any conceivable thing. There are things he is unable to do for a variety of reasons and I wish to categorise these.

One method of dividing up the actions that God is unable to perform results in 2 options: Actions that men (also) cannot do and actions men can do

Attributes of God are similarly categorised. Attributes of God that man can have to a degree are called communicable. Examples would be love or mercy. Attributes that God has and we do not are called non-communicable. An example would be omnipotence.

Actions that neither men nor God are able to perform belong to the category of logical impossibilities. These actions require breaking the law of non-contradiction. Asking God to both do and not do something in the same way at the same time is logically impossible. Asking God to both have an attribute and an attribute that contradicts it is logically impossible. God cannot make a rock too big to lift. God cannot be both unchangeable and changeable in the same manner.

There are also actions that humans are able to perform that God is not able to perform. This seems to solely relate to the realm of sin therefore they are actions that abuse a good; they create an evil. Evil is a distortion of an underlying good. Therefore God is unable to perform them because he would be doing evil. An example would be lying. Lying is a distortion of truth, truthfulness is an attribute of God. For God to lie would be a denial of his nature.

There is a subcategory of actions that men can do and God cannot that deserves mention. There are some actions that are limited to men because its definition excludes the possibility of applying to the divine. An example would be murder. This requires some explaining.

God and men can both kill humans. Killing is defined as removing a life. Now this can be allowed as in the case of war or capital punishment, disallowed as in the case of murder, or accidental (because we live in a fallen world) as in the case of manslaughter.

Murder is disallowed because it is the unwarranted removal of life. God created us and owns us. We must obey him and he has told us that we are not to murder, not to destroy the imago dei. This prohibition clearly is one that can only apply to men (and possibly angels). God cannot destroy life without his own permission. If God does destroy life it means he has permitted himself to. Therefore God is unable to murder because the definition of murder does not apply to deity. One could argue that it was at least theoretically possible for Jesus to murder during the incarnation if he took a life without the implied or express permission of the Father, though that takes us into another debate, perhaps for another time.

The limits of God

  • God cannot perform logical impossibilities.
  • God cannot sin.
  • God cannot do things defined in terms of men.

The limits of men

  • Man cannot perform logical impossibilities.
  • Men can sin.

The debate on the limits of God goes even deeper than this. When we say that God cannot sin the question arises whether God cannot do evil or will not do evil? Or even, can anything that God does be considered evil as he is the definition of good?

Further, even if God cannot sin as deity, it is possible that Jesus could as man even though he choose not to.

Categories: apologetics, logic, philosophy, sin

>Jesus and the use of metaphor

>Now we have dispensed with the flat earth claim I would like to address Jesus’ ability to understand symbolism. The relevant part of Tilling’s post was,

Had you asked [Jesus] if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the ‘literal’ tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him).

This is not an issue of scientific knowledge, it is one of literal versus allegorical.

Jesus was familiar with the Old Testament besides Genesis. He frequently quoted Deuteronomy and mentions the prophets. The Old Testament had plenty of material that was understood to be figurative. In the book of Judges we read of Gideon’s son Jotham telling his half brother Abimelech a story of the trees having a council:

The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’ (Judges 9)

This is more than a thousand years before Jesus yet these people understood fable. In fact trees seem to be a recurrent theme in the Old Testament with Joash sending a message to Amaziah concerning a cedar and a thistle (2 Kings 14, 2 Chronicles 25), and God informing Ezekiel about an eagle removing the upper twigs of a cedar to a different land (Ezekiel 17). Jesus certainly would have been familiar with these passages.

Moreover, Jesus frequently spoke in parables himself. He didn’t just inform people of theological truths but made use of stories to illustrate these truths. Matthew adds,

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. (Matthew 13)

The parable of the sower is a good example. This parable uses symbols thru-out: sower, soil, birds, rocks, thorns, birds—all symbols of some other thing.

The clincher that Jesus both understood and affirmed the literalness of Adam and Eve is seen in his description of John the Baptist. The Old Testament closes with a prediction of God’s visitation and his forerunner Elijah:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (Malachi 3)

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4)

Now this could be interpreted as either Elijah returning (as he ascended to heaven in a whirlwind) or as a person coming in the ministry of Elijah. We are told it is the latter in the gospel of Luke; the fulfilment in the person of John the Baptist:

And [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, (Luke 1)

Jesus affirms this,

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

” ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,/
who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11)

Jesus applies Malachi 3 to John and Jesus specifies that John is Elijah. From this we can note that Jesus is perfectly able to understand that a passage can have figurative aspects to it. Jesus does not think that John is literally Elijah or that Malachi meant that Elijah would literally return. And Jesus thought this is even though several of his contemporaries thought that Elijah would literally return.

So when Jesus claims that Adam was a real person he is fully able to comprehend the difference between this and the concept that Adam fictitious person representative of humankind. He is able to understand whether the creation story is historical or mythological. This is not surprising as Genesis clearly historical narrative and Joash’s story is clearly allegorical. Malachi may be more subtle but that is often the case with prophecy; that Jesus is aware of this subtlety demonstrates our thesis more strongly.

>Did Jesus believe in a flat earth?

2008 May 11 1 comment

>When responding to Tilling earlier, I indicated that as well as discussing the characterisation of knowledge I wanted to correct other false statements in his post. The 2 errors were the flat earth claim and the idea that metaphors would puzzle Jesus. Here I address the flat earth.

The flat earth claim probably is unfounded. That Christianity promoted a flat earth was in large a lie propagated by the likes of Andrew Dickson White in his anti-Christian polemics. Jeffery Burton Russell has discussed this in detail (summary here) and even an atheist site has acknowledged the false claims against the church. The latter’s view of Christianity remains somewhat hostile.

The knowledge of the sphericity of the earth can be currently dated at least as early as ~500–600 BC in Greece. Pythagoras (~500 BC) and Aristotle (~350 BC) believed the earth was a sphere; though spherical claims may have easily predated this, especially in other regions. I am not aware of extant documents that inform us what other empires before Greece which include Persia, Babylon, and Egypt, thought of the earth’s shape. I do dispute the claim that much of Hebrew theology and cosmology derives from Babylon; these ideas are partially based on (what I would consider) false synchronisms. Reviewing knowledge earlier than Egypt, we have Josephus claiming that Abraham introduced astronomy to the Egyptians. I doubt we have enough information to adequately judge Josephus’ claim but the assumption of ignorance of the ancients is tired and likely reflects modernist arrogance. Even the events at Babel suggests that astronomy was a significant feature there.

Given that the Greeks knew the earth was a ball centuries before the Roman empire existed it is highly likely that the Roman world at the time of Christ believed in a spherical earth. The occasional theologian in the centuries after Jesus suggested a flat earth but this was the exception. Perhaps more commonly, opposition arose at times against the idea of the antipodes. One must be careful not to view this as evidence that the person was arguing for a flat earth. There were (false) reasons for arguing against men living on the other side of the earth unrelated to the shape of the earth. Men could hold to a spherical earth and disbelieve in either antipodean lands and/ or inhabitants.

The Bible makes very little comment of the shape and structure of the earth. Most of the passages referenced are poetical. Poetry frequently talks about real events and uses literal wording at times. However features of poetry include the frequent use of symbolism and metaphor. When reading poetry it is important to understand the point being illustrated, not insist on the literal meaning of the underlying wording. If a poem uses a phrase that is intended to be literal or does indeed coincide with reality then it is not unreasonable to use the passage as support that the author understood this particular concept. It is not valid, however, to force literalism on a poetical passage. This is also true with the use of metaphor in prose, though this is generally more obvious.

In summary we have documentary evidence for the knowledge of a spherical earth for more the last 2500 years and it was common knowledge at the time of Christ. The idea of a flat earth has never been seriously held by the majority of people since before the time of Christ and the medieval flat earth myth was invented by infidels in their attempt to discredit the church.

>Absense of evidence equals legend?

2007 December 12 Leave a comment

>In a Nature article in May Haim Watzman writes

One way to experience the Elad view of the City of David is to tour the site with an Elad-trained guide. It is possible to visit the excavations on your own or with a guide you’ve brought yourself. But the default option for tourists and school groups is to hear the narrative that asserts the Jewish claim and historical connection to the site, say Greenberg and his colleagues.

There is some truth to these claims, as a Nature visit to the site suggests. The tour guide provided by Elad was well-spoken and knowledgeable, but mixed myth and fact in her presentation. For example, she asserted that the reason David chose the site for his capital is that it lies just below the Temple Mount, which is identical to Mount Moriah, the site where, according to the Bible, Abraham took his son Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Although the identification of the Temple Mount with Mount Moriah is well-established in Jewish tradition, there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham’s presence on the site — or indeed for the existence of Abraham and Isaac.

In fact, a handful of archaeologists go so far as to say that David and Solomon may also be largely mythical characters. This view is rejected by most experts on the period — they tend to agree that it is likely the two ancient rulers did reign in Jerusalem. But many scholars argue that the evidence discovered so far — both at the City of David and at other sites in the region — indicates that the biblical description of the extent and wealth of their kingdoms is exaggerated.

Besides the interesting assumption that a Nature writer is the unbiased judge of a archaeological/ tourist guide (which may or may not be valid), how exactly has the guide mixed myth with fact?

Identifying Mount Moriah with the Temple Mount is enough for a fact for Watzman because of tradition (and presumably some archaeological data) and because many archaeologists happen to think there is some substance to idea that David and Solomon existed; but Abraham is a myth because of lack of archaeological evidence?

Then what of the well-established Jewish tradition for the existence of Abraham and Isaac? Since when is lack of a specific type of evidence evidence of myth? And what specific archaeological evidence does one expect to find for a specific individual that lived 4000 years ago?

Documentary evidence is strong evidence and the Bible gives documentary evidence that Abraham existed. Abraham is discussed in the genre of historical narrative. His ancestry, geography and activities are well described. His behaviour, both good and bad, are mentioned which can only add to the authenticity of the accounts. Moriah is even mentioned by name in connection with Abraham.

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22)

With regard to his slight on David and Solomon, a reading of opinions concerning the existence of Nineveh and Babylon from a century ago should caution men against having too much faith in “scholars.”

Categories: apologetics, archaeology

>Physics is descriptive not prescriptive

2007 October 8 Leave a comment

>It is important to remember the laws of physics come from observations. We observe regular patterns and attempt to come up with mathematical models that explain the data and predict related phenomena. The predictive component is validates the model, it suggests that the model is more likely to represent reality. Explaining anomalous data is less impressive because models can usually be adjusted to fit. Models with simple equations, symmetry and covering more fields are generally favoured.

Kepler and Newton came up with orbital equations and gravitational theory that explained the movement of the the planets. Using gravitational laws we can predict the movements of the moon around the earth to great accuracy.

But the moon does not orbit the earth because of these equations, the moon orbits the earth and these equations describe the movements.

God set up the universe to function how it does. But God also sustains it, this means that it is not wound up and would run without him, if God removed his sustaining power the universe would instantly cease to exist. Anti-theists complain that this means we cannot do science, that we are at the whim of a God. Well we are dependant on him, but that does not mean that the universe is irregular and unpredictable. Leaving aside the fact that an atheist view of the universe gives us no reason to even trust our senses, if God is not capricious, then we can rely on his usual providence. We can therefore examine the universe with an assumption of a constant God who set up the world with a high degree of predictability.

This predictability has been known by all cultures and predates the scientific method—the scientific method gives a tool to gain underlying knowledge and make predictions based on models. As the earliest scientists said, they were thinking God’s thoughts after him. Isaac Newton stated,

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.

Because God sustains the universe he can manipulate it at his will. Not that he necessarily does this on frequent basis. This intervention we refer to as (specific) providence if God’s hand guides specific events according to his will, or even at our request; we refer to it as miracle if it involves the overriding of physical law. Both the general upholding of the universe and a specific change to how the world usually operates are of equal ease for him. If God can stretch out the fabric of space then the multiplying of loaves and fish is of little difficulty.

That is why science is unable to disprove miracles. Miracles are not within the domain of operational science. Miracles are God’s specific activity, not his general activity. We cannot observe regularity in miracles to formulate physical law. However they are provable, just via another method: testimony. Proof of miracles is via witnesses.

Miracle is also proof of the supernatural. Science can say the the world operates “like so” under the normal scheme of things. Observations that contradict what we know may be due to miracle and science can say nothing against it—science does not describe specific providence, only the general. Dead men do not come back to life according to biological science, but there is nothing to prevent God doing this in a specific case if he so wishes.

>Reasons that Genesis 1 means a literal 6 days

2007 September 16 8 comments

>Firstly I have a question for those who deny the days are literal: “If God decided to make the world in 6 days, how would he convey this so we would not misunderstand him?” I mean, if God did take 6 days, there is nothing he could say more than what already is in Genesis 1 to convince us. Whatever further details that could be written would be explained away by those who disagree just like they do now. If the days were not intended to be read as literal the wording used in Genesis seems an unusual choice, and there are plenty of ways in Hebrew to say otherwise.

Several reasons why I think the days in Genesis 1 are of 24 hour duration:

  1. Style is narrative. This is clear from just reading it, but technical analysis concurs.
  2. The word “day” is prefixed by a number. This always means a literal day elsewhere in Scripture. Some questions of interpretation of day with a number is raised when the passage is prophetic.
  3. The word “day” is prefixed by the phrase “there was evening and there was morning,” a phrase that is also used for a literal day. Again, some dispute around prophetic usage.
  4. The first day also mentions the day was divided into daytime and nighttime according to whether it was light or dark.

    And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day(time),” and the darkness he called “night(time).” And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Genesis 1:3-5)

  5. Comparison is made to creation when God commanded the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath. God said,

    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 6 days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in 6 days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the 7th day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20)

    The reason this parallel is exact is because the word day is used. One can have a Sabbath of other time periods, usually years (Exodus 23, 2 Chronicles 36), but no comment is made about those periods being the same as the creation periods, ie. days.

    In fact the existence of the week is a strong pointer to the literalism of Genesis 1. Day, month and year all have astronomical events that define them. Other time divisions are clearly a division or multiplication of these 3 fundamental periods. Decade and century from the decimal numerical scheme; seconds, minutes and hours from the sexagesimal scheme. The week is clearly a period based on days that has no logical explanation other than divine decree.

The first day is particularly instructive because, in a way, it is acting as a definition. Not only is it literal because of the mention of a number and evening and morning, the day is defined based on a period of daylight followed by darkness.

For those who deny the days are 24 hours this needs explaining. And it is likely the proposed hermeneutic will be invoked because of a prior, extra-biblical commitment to an ancient earth.

>Who and why not how and when. Really?

2007 September 7 5 comments

>A comment so frequent it would be difficult to attribute a source is:

Genesis 1 tells the creation story in terms of who and why not how and when.

Like many cliches it sounds pithy but on closer inspection lacks substance. The statement is analysing the first chapter of the Bible from the viewpoint of who, why, how and when. It is useful to read the chapter with these questions in mind.

The repeated use of the word God thru out the chapter certainly supports the observation that Genesis 1 tells us who created.

What about the “why”? I can see very little in the first chapter that tells us why God created the universe. That he did, yes; but his motivation for doing so, no. We are informed that the stellar objects are for light and time keeping and the vegetation is for food; so there is a “why” for creation in terms of man’s relationship with them, but the reason for making man? In fact it is difficult to find much in the Bible that tells us why God created us. A explanation would be that he is love and created creatures, including man, to offer love as a gift. While that is likely true, it is an indirect teaching of Scripture and is not obvious in Genesis 1.

Does Genesis 1 tell us how God created? Only in a limited form. That all started from the deep (water) and hence possibly some creations were made from water; that space was created by separating the waters; in terms of land and seas being gathered together which may have some implications for geology. Genesis 2 gives information on the “how” of man. Male was made from dust and God’s breath, which may have some theological implications but less certain scientific ones; and female from male, again for theological reasons: in order to teach us about marriage. While some “how” information may be garnered from the chapter, it is not a primary teaching.

Which leaves the “when”. The term “when” in the phrase above is used to mean that Genesis 1 does not give us chronological information. So strictly the “when” is not given in the first chapter, it is from later chapters in Genesis and elsewhere in Scripture. But that Genesis 1 gives chronological information is certain. The chapter repeatedly uses statements that give a chronological flow.

Therefore if someone subscribes to a hermeneutic that doesn’t agree with Genesis 1 describing 6 literal days, it is unreasonable to disparage those who think it does.

So the quote may be better rephrased:

Genesis 1 tells the creation story in terms of who and when but gives little information on how and why.

>Comparing the days of creation

2007 August 29 7 comments

>The framework hypothesis claims Genesis 1 is a literary device not intended to teach chronology. It claims this is seen in the symmetry between the first 3 days and the second 3 days. Such symmetry would not deny a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. There are other examples of literal events that have symmetry (Numbers 7). There are also other arguments for a literal interpretation which I am not going to touch on here.

The argument is God created the environments on days 1 to 3, a different environment each day, and filled those environments on the next 3 days; day 4 corresponding to day 1, 5 to 2 and 6 to 3. So how symmetrical is Genesis 1?

Going thru Genesis 1 what is created when?

  • Day 1: Light, day(time), nighttime
  • Day 2: Expanse (sky, space, heavens)
  • Day 3: Land, seas, plants
  • Day 4: Sun, moon, stars
  • Day 5: Water animals, air animals
  • Day 6: Land animals, man

So we have day 4 creations residing in the expanse of day 2 while bearing the light that was created on day 1.

We have day 5 creatures filling the sea of day 3 and flying on the face of the expanse of day 2

And day 6 creatures live on the land of day 3.

While there is some correspondence between 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6, it is neither exact nor compelling, and inadequate to override the several other evidences that Genesis 1 is literal narrative history.

>Inconsistent Christians

2007 August 21 6 comments

>In his book The Battle for Truth, David Noebel comments in his conclusion,

Why do Christians so easily accept inconsistencies into their worldview? In this sense, non-Christians are much more consistent. There are no Marxist/Leninist creationists. There are no New Agers who believe in ethical absolutes. The Christian, who trusts the Scriptures and therefore has access to the one worldview based on eternal truth, should be the first person to recognise the bankruptcy of secular religious views. Yet all too often he is the first to embrace them!

This seems way too common. It is most unfortunate. Christians need to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind. I think there are several reasons why the above comment is the case—at least within the West.

Christianity is the truth, so where other worldviews contradict Christianity they are incorrect. Many Christians subscribe to a false worldview. To a subset of this group the inconsistencies between what they believe and Christianity may not be a compelling reason to reject their false beliefs, or conversely, Christianity. While some atheists may be somewhat more consistent, there is, fortunately, no shortage of inconsistent atheists. While atheists have no reason for universal, objective morality they do not all become nihilists, or mass-murderers like Stalin who was more consistent.

Part of Christians’ inconsistency is their desire to hold onto Christ in a world that denies him. They have met him and believe but have yet to allow their false worldview to be completely transformed. It is admirable they remain in Christ but they need to be made aware that Christianity demands our worldview is conformed to Scripture. What is also difficult is that they live in a culture where they are now going against the flow. Christian beliefs are currently very antithetical to secular beliefs, therefore the Christian viewpoint is actively opposed. While that may not be a lot different to what the non-Western Christians face, the Western Christians are in the position of having emerged from a Christian heritage which had a more favourable view of Christianity.

A further reason is that there are weeds within the church. Some people are “within” the church but are not of God and they promote ideologies that oppose God. Christians need discernment, though with the basic lack of a Christian worldview this is more difficult; looking at the fruit of person’s lives can be helpful in this area. Weeds appear like wheat early on, but they do produce fruit in the long term? fruit consistent with being in Christ. Rank heresy should not be too difficult to spot. Unfortunately it detracts some, and there is much that is more subtle than grossly heretical beliefs.

We have a tendency to agree with data that confirms our beliefs and explain away that which challenges it. This is understandable. It is a reasonable position if you are in the truth but an unreasonable one if you are in error; the problem is how do you know which camp you belong to?

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The answer is not to assess if data conforms to your ideas but do you conform to Scripture.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Categories: apologetics, philosophy, truth

>The design argument

2007 June 11 Leave a comment


The heavens declare the glory of God,/
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

In essence this is straightforward. In everyday life it is apparent that many things are designed by men. We recognise design. And we know that designed objects have a designer. The parallel is that we see many other things that are not designed by men but are clearly designed.

We recognise design by purpose or intent. While a splatter painting may have been drawn by an artist there is no clear intent so whether or no it was designed is not clearly apparent. However the more intent something has the more clearly it was designed.

Information content is a helpful way of assessing design. The higher the information content the more obvious it is designed. Information is based on specification and complexity. So if something is ordered it is not particularly complex. If something is complex based on the number of bits to store it, it is may or may not be specified. So storing 100 addresses is specific, 100 random letters is not. A measure of information can be made by the the storage capacity required to hold the generator of the data. For a story it is the data (ie. every single letter, though thru lossless compression it may be possible to minimise information content) as a story is specified and not predictable. However large quantity data that is predictable (⅓ in decimal), calculable (π, e) or random has a low information content.

The issue with random numbers or noise needs more explanation. It is low information because describing a random number generator requires little information. To describe any single random number will require as much data as an equivalent length story. The reason this is not high information is that it lacks any specificity. The binary data that describes a jpeg picture may appear random but it is specific, it stores data about a specific object.

People don’t perform these calculations rigorously but as information content ranges over multiple orders of magnitude design is easily recognised. A smoothed rock is easily distinguishable from a carving. We can tell a painting from spilled paint (usually). We know that a book has an author.

So it is clear that design can be seen even if the designer is not known. The existence of a designer can be inferred from design. So when one sees all the design in this world that is not from the hands of man the logical conclusion is that a designer exists and he is other than man. One may claim this designer is other than the Grand Designer; whether that be an angel, a lesser god of a pantheon, an extraterrestrial being. But whatever the immediate source, these beings are still creatures and the ultimate source must be the Creator.

>The moral argument

2007 June 10 2 comments

>Humans acknowledge they are moral beings. That is they have a sense of “ought” as C.S. Lewis put it. There is no denying that virtually every person has a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. So there is a universal sense that morality is a real phenomenon. That is not to say all people have the same set of morals. While an innate sense that there is right and wrong exists, being fallen creatures we may not always recognise all that is truly right or wrong. We may so dull our senses that we struggle to hear our conscience. Or we may need clarity as to God’s rules. There are persons who have a strong sense of obligation to conscience and they limit themselves from doing legitimate things for their conscience’s sake. While this behaviour is still honourable it shows that sense of “ought” is not the same as the true “ought.”

Scripture shows us what this true ought is and in societies where Christianity has not yet had significant influence the distinction between Christians and non-Christians in their approach to morality can be quite marked.

The general sense of ought in a person is a pointer to God. If God exists then there is the possibility for an objective morality; the objectiveness coming from God’s character. It is objective because it is obligatory and applies to all men. The obligation comes because we are owned by God.

If God is non-existent then there can be no objectivity. There is no true obligation. There is nothing that allows us to say this is how it should be for all men. All is personal opinion and competing preferences. But a personal preference is not an “ought”, it is preference. A preferred behaviour is the same as a preferred food or a favourite tie.

So without God how do we explain this universal trait? And even if an explanation is forthcoming it does not answer the question of why we should obey the “ought.” If we recognise it as a quirk of nature then we are under no obligation to obey it, even if we can explain its reason for coming into existence. So without God, that is, without objectivity we realise that this is not true morality, it is merely an apparent morality. Something that confers survival value but it derives its importance from what it offers, not what it intrinsically is.

However this is not how we see morality. When we examine ourselves we know it is not a preference. In us there is a sense of objectivity. Not all moral codes are equal. Some choices really are better than others. We may argue morality is subjective in the abstract but when faced with certain behaviour it becomes clear that not all is equal. We appeal to some standard which must be external to us. By judging competing systems and claiming some systems are better than others we are appealing to objectivity. Objectivity can only come with a moral God.

  • If there is no God then morality is subjective
  • If there is a God then morality may be objective
  • If morality is objective then there must be a God.

Should atheists still behave morally? Yes. Because morality is real there is a moral giver who has stated he will judge us. Atheists will be judged as will all men. Better they obey the sense of ought which they have no reason for than to be consistent with their (false) philosophy and glory in their shame.

Categories: apologetics, ethics