Book Write-Up: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Mark A. Noll.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans/Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

I first learned about this book at a graduate school Intervarsity meeting that I attended.  It had a guest speaker, and she was talking about faith and academia.  In the course of her talk, she mentioned Mark Noll’s book.  Someone from the audience clarified what Noll believed the “scandal of the evangelical mind” was: that there was not much of an evangelical mind.  The point here was not that evangelicals are dumb, but rather that the American evangelical sub-culture has neither done a lot of rigorous thinking nor contributed significantly to the world of academia.

I have wondered for a while whether or not I wanted to devote my time to reading this book.  I thought that it might be dated.  Not only are we now approximately twenty years after the time that Noll wrote this book, but it also seems to me that a number of evangelicals are within academia.  This is true in biblical studies, but also in the natural sciences.  I was curious about whether or not the book was still relevant.  I then read a blog by someone who had a Pentecostal background, and he attested that the book helped him immensely.  He is a young adult: he was probably a small child when Noll’s book first came out!  Yet, what Noll had to say resonated with him, due to his religious background and his longing for a Christianity that would honor God with the mind.

Noll’s book was more nuanced than I expected.  It’s not the case that evangelicalism was completely outside of academia, even when Noll wrote.  After all, Noll quotes scholarly evangelicals!  Noll acknowledges that evangelicals have participated in academic biblical studies, theology, and philosophy (though, on philosophy, Noll seems to be arguing that evangelicals are not contributing anything distinctly evangelical, but are resting on the work of other versions of Christianity, such as the Dutch Reformed, who have differences with evangelicals on such issues as the emphasis placed on conversionism).  Noll does not believe that dispensationalism is particularly rigorous intellectually, contending that it does not make a habit of interacting with other ways to interpret the Bible, and yet Noll does note that evangelicals are in biblical studies, while giving his opinion that the evangelical contribution to theology has been better than the evangelical contribution to biblical studies.

Of particular concern to Noll is the dearth of evangelical contributions to social and natural sciences.  Whereas Protestant Christianity, including the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards, reflected on how Christianity can speak to the way society should be, American evangelicalism has largely backed away from this.  It turns to end-time scenarios and conspiracism rather than thoughtful reflection about why the world is as it is, and how Christians should address it.  Noll does identify what may be changes in this current, such as the religious right and left, but he is not sure where they will lead.  On the natural sciences, Noll laments the growing influence of young-earth creationism, contrasting that with the openness to science that existed among earlier American evangelicals or fundamentalists, including such conservative Christian heroes as B.B. Warfield.  Noll is also discouraged by the lack of evangelical contributions to literature.  Noll mentions Frank Peretti’s Darkness books, but he does not appear to care for them, contending that they disregard the complexity of human nature in favor of some spiritual warfare model.  The overall problem, according to Noll, is that many American evangelicals choose not to engage the world.  More than once, Noll calls their approach “Manichean,” as if they embrace dualism in their withdrawal from the world.

To what does Noll attribute this scandal of the evangelical mind?  Well, he mentions a variety of factors.  Revivalism coincided with a zeal that did not exactly promote the life of the mind.  Noll also appears to believe that American Christians hastily adopted democracy and capitalism without a whole lot of reflection, as a way to fill the void in American society after America seceded from the British empire.  The Scottish Enlightenment’s influence on the United States also played a role, according to Noll, and it seems to me that the role was two-fold.  First, by emphasizing knowledge through intuition more than Scripture, the Scottish Enlightenment was contributing to forces against which many American evangelicals would rebel, leading them to retreat from the world and wait for Christ’s Second Coming.  Second, the Scottish Enlightenment’s emphasis on intuition of self-evident truths would still impact American evangelicals in that it would discourage them from rigorously trying to figure the truth out: after all, they intuited it!  This is my understanding of Noll’s beliefs about the historical significance of the Scottish Enlightenment, and I am open to correction on this.  I should also note that, on some level, Noll has problems with American evangelical Baconianism: its modernist attempts to pick out truths in the Scripture to convey absolute truth about the world.  For Noll, such an approach disregards the historically conditioned nature of both the interpreter and the texts that are being interpreted.

For Noll, a way out of the scandal is to exalt Jesus Christ: to recognize that Jesus Christ did not forsake the world but became incarnate and died for it.  Therefore, Christians should be interested in the world and what goes on in it.  Noll also promotes a Christocentric approach to Scripture, thinking that this would discourage the prophetic speculation in which dispensationalists engage.

In my opinion, Noll was probably on to something.  Yet, I have reservations.  First, I do not think that Noll was entirely fair, for, while I can see Noll’s point that young-earth creationism in focusing on the Flood resonated with dispensationalists who believed in a coming catastrophe, I do believe that young-earth creationists can appreciate nature, which is a far cry from rejecting the world around them.  Second, I question whether a Christocentric approach to Scripture is beneficial to the life of the mind.  It strikes me as reductionist, and I believe that it could ignore the complexity and original contexts of the Hebrew Bible’s writings.  While I do believe that dispensationalism is a rather flat approach to Scripture, I wonder if it can have insights that could encourage the life of the mind in terms of biblical interpretation.  Noll notes a dispensationalist belief that Scripture serves not just to foreshadow Jesus but to glorify God, and perhaps this is how it seeks theological significance in the various ways that it believes God has dealt with humanity.  Maybe such an insight can be reconciled with attempting to theologically deal with the diversity and historically-conditioned nature of Scripture.  Third, while I admit that many dispensationalist views on current events are simplistic and us vs. them, I believe that they should be engaged within intellectual dialogue.  Rather than dismissing conspiracy theories about the UN or knee-jerk Zionism, engage them, as much as you can (assuming the dispensationalists want a dialogue, which may not always be the case).

I do not know what Noll currently believes, but I wonder: Are things better now than they were when Noll first wrote the book?  I would say “yes,” in areas.  Biologos is an evangelical attempt to address and interact with science.  While I would not label evangelical fiction as “literature,” I do believe that, on some level, it acknowledges the complexity of human beings.  There are more evangelicals who are politically progressive.  And yet, many of the phenomena that Noll criticizes still remain, and that is probably why the book continues to resonate with certain people.

Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Book Write-Up: Coming to Peace with Science, by Darrel R. Falk

Darrel R. Falk.  Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

I would like to thank InterVarsity Press for sending me a review copy of this book.  Click here to see InterVarsity’s page about it.

Darrel Falk is a professor of biology, and he is also an evangelical Christian.  This book contains his reflections about his own attempts to bridge those two worlds, and it promotes tolerance within the church towards different views on origins.

I would like to make three points about this book.

First of all, the book has a lot about science.  The book is especially helpful in that it clearly explains how we can know that the earth is old and that evolution has occurred, and it presents lucid answers to young earth creationist objections.  On dating methods, fossils, and the second law of thermodynamics, Falk’s presentation is excellent.  I found chapters 5-6 to be rather difficult, however.  His overall point in chapter 5 was that animals around the world have a common descent yet have features that fit their environments, and Falk argues that evolution is more consistent with the evidence on this than the view that God performed a special creation of all species, or that the species evolved from a set number of “kinds” that God created.  Chapter 6 was about genetics.  Falk was making important points in these chapters, but I was getting lost in the details of some of Falk’s discussions, and I think that he should have organized them better, especially for us non-scientists.

Second, the book is about Falk’s personal spiritual journey.  Falk says that, earlier in his Christian walk, he was afraid to learn about biology because he feared that doing so would undermine his faith.  This may puzzle some people, who might ask: if he was so sure that Christianity is true, why would he have feared learning new things?  But, on some level, I can actually understand where his younger self was coming from: Falk wanted to grow as a Christian, and he did not desire any discordance or confusion in his worldview.  Fortunately for himself and others, he chose to wrestle with hard questions, and to write his thoughts in this book.  Another story Falk told that I appreciated was about how he decided to start going back to church so that his children could have the same positive church experiences that he had growing up.  He was initially reluctant to attend church because he did not know if people at a conservative church would accept him, a scientist with views that challenge young-earth creationism.

Third, the book contains Falk’s reflections about theology and the Bible.  On the one hand, Falk tends to treat Genesis 1 as figurative, one reason being that he believes that the science contradicts a literal interpretation.  Atheism does not appear to be on the table for Falk because he genuinely believes that he has had a spiritual experience, and so he maintains that the Bible is true in some way, even if it is not always literal.  Falk appeals to the existence of figurative language in the Bible and also the views of Augustine, John Wesley, and John Calvin.  On the other hand, Falk seems to maintain that Genesis 1, on some level, communicates what actually happened.  He notes, for example, that God in Genesis 1 “lets” things happen, which is quite different from God taking an active, micromanaging role in creation, and is consistent with letting nature take its course in the development of plants and animals, with God’s involvement (somehow).  I did not think that Falk’s theological reflections were always consistent, yet I respected what he had to say as a pilgrim trying to make sense of science and religion.  I also appreciated some of the passages that Falk quoted near the end of his book: C.S. Lewis’ statement that the layperson with a literal view of God and a process theologian essentially worship the same God, and conservative Christian James Orr’s statement that, even if Genesis 1-3 are not literally true, the fact is that there is sin in our world, and we need to be healed.

Falk’s book was an enjoyable, albeit a sometimes daunting, read.

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Spiritual Lessons from David’s Life, and Ken Ham’s Possible Evolutionism

For its Bible study, my church is going through The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, With Michael Rydelnik.  Last night, we did the first lesson about David.

What I appreciated most was the spiritual lessons that Rydelnik was mentioning on the DVD.  First, Rydelnik was saying that David was more qualified than Saul to be king because David in challenging the Philistine Goliath was putting his regard for God’s reputation and honor above his own personal safety.  The king of Israel was to be Israel’s champion, fighting her enemies, and Saul was not doing that when Goliath was taunting Israel.  Saul was afraid, but David put his regard for God’s honor above his fear.

I like this lesson because it is about honoring someone greater than myself.  Someone in the group, whom I call “Joe,” said that he did a search of “forty days” in the Bible, for forty days was the amount of time that Goliath was challenging Israel.  Joe concluded that forty days often relate to testing: Jesus was tested in the wilderness for forty days, the spies in Numbers who brought back the report were gone for forty days, and Jonah predicted that Nineveh would be overthrown after forty days.  According to Joe, God during this time was testing people or giving them an opportunity to look inward.  In I Samuel 17, God was watching to see what Israel would do: would Saul step forward as Israel’s champion?  If not, God would demonstrate that David would be the more suitable candidate for kingship.

A professor of mine once said that we should not look for deep meaning in biblical numbers, for they are probably tropes.  Granted, I am not sure if forty days always means testing.  When God flooded the earth for forty days and forty nights, what did that have to do with testing?  But I do not want to take off the table the idea that numbers in the Bible may have some theological significance.  I want to go more deeply into the Bible to get more profound concepts, not fewer.

Second, Rydelnik was saying on the DVD that David’s flight from Saul was an opportunity for David to learn lessons that he would need as king: lessons of leadership, of compassion, etc.  David led men while he was on the run from Saul, and he had opportunities to show mercy to Saul.  I like this lesson because it says that times of apparent exile can serve as opportunities for us to learn lessons, or to become prepared for the task ahead.

I was thinking about a sermon that Tim Keller gave about the David and Goliath story while I was listening to Rydelnik’s points.  Rydelnik seemed to be mentioning spiritual lessons that we should apply, whereas Tim Keller made another point: that we should identify, not with David, but with the Israelites whose champion David was.  Because David defeated Goliath as Israel’s representative, Israel could reap the blessings of security from Philistine rule.  Similarly, Christ as our representative defeated sin and death on our behalf.  I like this passive way of looking at spirituality, as leery as I am of Christological interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, and yet it does not have to be passive, necessarily (as Tim Keller would probably acknowledge).  If God indeed brought us blessings, could that not motivate us to have an active faith: to be grateful rather than grumbling, to see people as beloved of God, etc.?

After the study, we were briefly discussing creationism.  A couple of people in the group were talking about a radio segment that they enjoyed about God’s creation.  It was about God’s animals and some of their strange, unique features that helped them to cope and to survive.  They thought these features demonstrated divine design.  The thing is, after watching the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate on creation yesterday, I wonder if Ken Ham himself would attribute these animals to evolution, in some manner.  Ham does not believe that millions of species were on the ark, but rather that millions of species descended from a mere thousands of kinds.  In this scenario, even some of these strange animals that my friends were talking about came about through evolution, rather than as a result of God performing a special creation of each new specie that would come along.  At least that is my impression: Ken Ham seemed to acknowledge microevolution.

I’ll stop here.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 5:36 am  Comments (1)  
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My Thoughts About the Nye/Ham Debate

I watched the two hour and forty-five minutes debate between TV “science guy” Bill Nye and young-earth creationist Ken Ham.  See here for NPR’s summary of the key points of the debate, and also to watch the debate itself.  Here are some of my thoughts.  Please keep in mind that I am far from being a science person, so please be gentle in your criticisms.

1.  The debate would have been much better had each side presented its arguments from science, and then the other side would have been given an opportunity to respond or to rebut.  Instead, what happened was what followed: Nye Gish-galloped by presenting a whole bunch of arguments in his first presentation, whereas Ham did not have the time to respond to all of them; Nye was cheerleading about how the U.S.A. should not fall behind in science and thus should rigorously acknowledge evolution and the old age of the universe; Ham appealed to the Bible as an authority, as if that would convince someone who did not hold his religious presuppositions; and Ham name-dropped published, educated scientists who are young-earth creationists.

There were times when both were presenting significant arguments pertaining to science that should have at least been addressed by the other side, but they were not:

—-Nye asked how trees that are older than the alleged date of the biblical flood survived the flood, since trees normally don’t survive floods.  Ham did not respond.

—-Nye argued that it would have taken a lot of time for the millions of species there are today to have developed from the thousands of species/kinds that were allegedly on the ark, and that the span between the time of the Ark and today is not sufficient for that.  Ham did not respond.

—-Nye disputed Ham’s claim that animals before the Fall were vegetarians by noting that lions have teeth, which indicates they were always meat-eaters and never vegetarians, and Ham responded that there are vegetarian animals that have sharp teeth.  Nye did not respond to that.

—-In arguing that dating methods are unreliable, Ham pointed to a scenario in which a tree was encased in basalt, and the basalt was dated millions of years older than the tree encased within it, which is puzzling.  Nye did not understand that Ham was arguing that the tree was encased in basalt, and thus Nye’s argument against Ham on this point appeared rather ineffectual.

—-In response to Nye’s question of how Ham could reconcile the travel of starlight over a long distance with a young universe, Ham appealed to “the horizon problem.”  Nye did not respond.

—-Nye mentioned 680,000 layers of ice, arguing that this indicated 680,000 years (since a layer of ice is presumably laid each year), and he asked how Ham would reconcile that with a young earth.  Ham appealed to catastrophism as an explanation for how the layers could have developed within a short time-span.  Nye did not respond to that argument.

I’m not saying that Ham’s arguments were goodThis post explains why Ham was off-base in his basalt-and-tree argument, for example.  Still, it would have been nice had they responded in more detail to each other’s arguments, or had the format been more conducive to that sort of interaction over scientific substance.

2.  One of Nye’s prominent arguments was that evolution and the old age of the universe need to be acknowledged for the U.S. to do well in scientific advancement.  Ham, however, was distinguishing between a historical science that purports to describe the past, and the kind of science that looks at present realities.  Ham’s implication seemed to be that the U.S. did not need to accept evolution or the old age of the universe to make scientific observations and to invent things; after all, Ham was showcasing a young-earth creationist who contributed to the development of MRI technology!

Nye, in my opinion, did not sufficiently detail how evolution or acknowledgment of the old age of the universe could contribute to technological development.  Don’t get me wrong: he’s probably right about the earth’s natural past.  Nye, after all, presented more and better scientific arguments than Ham did, overall.  But Nye should have detailed the practical ramifications to evolution and the old age of the universe.

Published in: on February 6, 2014 at 6:02 am  Comments (3)  
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Book Write-Up: The Adam Quest, by Tim Stafford

Tim Stafford.  The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held On to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins.  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2013.

The Adam Quest profiles scientists who believe in Christianity and have wrestled with such issues as the creation stories in Genesis 1-2, the age of the earth, and the theory of evolution.  It features Young Earth creationists, Intelligent Design creationists who believe that the earth is old yet maintain that evolution is inadequate to explain life as it is, and Evolutionary creationists who hold that God used evolution in creating life.  The eleven scientists profiled in this book include Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, Georgia Purdom, Michael Behe, Fazale Rana, Mary Schweitzer, Darrel Falk, Ard Louis, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, and John Polkinghorne.  The book also provides some background information about other key figures in discussions about science and Christian faith: Berkley Law professor (emeritus) Phillip Johnson, Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, and old-earth creationist Hugh Ross.

With the exception of Phillip Johnson, the thinkers featured in this book are scientists, with degrees in science from reputable universities.  Some of them are quite renowned: I think of Mary Schweitzer, who found remnants of red blood cells in the fossils of dinosaurs.  All of them are people of science and of Christian faith.  The book is about their scientific and academic journeys, and also their faith journeys.  Not only do these scientists seek to make sense of their faith in light of their scientific insight and their scientific insight in light of their faith, but they also search for a place to belong.  In a sense, they are outsiders.  Some of the Young Earth creationists in this book are dissatisfied with what prominent Young Earth creationists have proclaimed in public; at least one of the advocates of Intelligent Design disagrees with attempts to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution in public schools; and those who disagree with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 struggle to find an accepting faith community.  Some of them actually find a supportive religious community in conservative congregations that disagree with their stance on science and the interpretation of Genesis 1.

This book was an enjoyable and informative read for me, and I liked getting to know these scientists as people.  If there was one profile that I liked the most, it was that of Young Earth creationist Kurt Wise.  I myself am not a Young Earth creationist, but I could identify with Wise’s introversion and conversion to Christianity.

An issue that came up throughout the book—-in some way, shape, or form—-was the God of the gaps: attempting to bolster belief in God’s existence by appeal to things that science does not know (i.e., science does not know how life began, so why not believe that God created life?).  Many of the scientists in this book distanced themselves from a God-of-the-gaps approach.  Even some of the Young Earth creationists said that they preferred not to focus on poking holes in evolution, but rather to come up with explanatory models for why things are as they are.  But it seemed to me that many of the scientists in the book could not get away from a God-of-the-Gaps outlook, for they talked about the inadequacies of science, as if they were looking to such inadequacies as a reason to believe in God.  There were some scientists who did not take this approach, however: one said that the universe is beautiful, even if complexity could have come about through natural means; another wondered why organization coming through natural means would preclude the existence of God.

One quote in the book that particularly resonated with me was of scientist Ard Louis, on page 150: “The evolution-creation debate gets tense because there is a fear of knocking down the foundations of faith.  This is the way creationists argue, that the whole thing will collapse if you mess with your interpretation of Genesis.  I don’t find that so worrying.  Charismatics find it easier to explore different ideas.  They take the Bible very seriously, but they know that God is real.”  I would bet that there are a number of charismatic Christians who are Young Earth creationists, and yet I like the picture that Louis is painting: why worry about new ideas, if you know from experience that God is real?

I have two criticisms of the book.  First of all, I wish that it had more of a systematic assessment of the scientific claims that were being propounded by the featured scientists.  The book had some of that: a Young Earth creationist initially believed that there were human tracks inside of dinosaur tracks, yet later concluded that he was mistaken; a scientist explains his or her disenchantment with Intelligent Design; etc.  But there were times when I was reading an idea that a scientist in the book was explaining, and I was wondering: “Is there something to this idea, or are there weaknesses to it?”  The book would have been better had it gotten more deeply into that.  Second, I wish that the book discussed biblical hermeneutics a bit more.  It did feature scientists who claimed that their interpretation of Genesis 1 was not exactly literal, but I would have liked for the book to have had more about people’s justifications of their interpretative approaches to the Bible, especially if those approaches were non-literal.  Tim Stafford in the conclusion to the book mentioned developments within biblical scholarship, but the book would have been better had it provided more meat about this issue.

Overall, though, the book was a worthwhile read.  Click here for Thomas Nelson’s page about this book.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the Booksneeze.com book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

Book Write-Up: Warranted Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga.  Warranted Christian Belief.  New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Alvin Plantinga is a renowned Christian philosopher.  I first heard of him when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School.  I was taking William Abraham’s class on “Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation,” and Professor Abraham may have mentioned to us that Plantinga was speaking at Boston College.  And so some friends and I went to Boston College to hear Alvin Plantinga.  To be honest, I did not quite know what to make of Plantinga’s lecture.  Plantinga seemed to me to be assuming the truth of Christianity, without attempting to provide it with any foundation of evidence.  My friends and I wondered if there was more to Plantinga’s ideas that we were not getting.

The next morning, I asked Professor Abraham what he thought of Plantinga’s lecture, and Professor Abraham responded that he was up late at night, taking notes, trying to unpack what Plantinga had said.  Later on in the class, Abraham gave a lecture that summarized Plantinga’s thought.  From what I remember of that lecture, Plantinga believed that Christianity was a coherent belief system, and that humans had something within them that allowed them to sense the divine.  I was later talking with a fellow student about presuppositional apologetics.  The concept did not make much sense to me, to tell you the truth: what, you just presuppose that Christianity is true?  The student replied to me that there’s more to it than that, that some of the issue relates to Christianity being a coherent belief system.  That reminded me of what Professor Abraham had said about Plantinga, and I began to suspect that Plantinga might not be the sort of apologist who seeks to rest Christianity on the foundation of evidence; rather, he might be a presuppositional apologist.

I would hear Plantinga speak again, this time at Harvard Divinity School.  To be honest, I did not understand his lecture because it was loaded with logical equations.  Years later, after I checked out Warranted Christian Belief from the library, I decided to listen to the episode of the radio program Unbelievable on which Plantinga was a guest (see here to access the link to that).  Plantinga seemed to be arguing that naturalism (a belief that excludes the supernatural) and evolution are mutually contradictory.  If there is no God, Plantinga appeared to be arguing, how can we trust our minds, which lead us to the conclusion that evolution is true?  Plantinga doubted that naturalism was sufficient to explain how we arrived at the ability to make determinations about what is true and what is false.  My impression, from reading wikipedia’s article on Plantinga’s argument and also Plantinga’s discussion of this topic in Warranted Christian Belief, is that Plantinga does not believe that fully knowing what is true is always necessary for human survival, and so he doubts that natural selection by itself can account for how we got that skill.  (My question is “Why not?”  The skill helps us to survive, even if there are things that we know that are unrelated to our survival.) 

All of that said, what are some of my thoughts about Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief?  Well, as with that second lecture of Plantinga’s that I heard, there were parts of the book that I did not understand, on account of the logical equations.  Moreover, I was not always paying close, intense attention to Plantinga’s analogies.  But there were many parts of the book that I did understand, and so I will comment on those.  I apologize for any misunderstandings on my part.

One topic that stood out to me in reading Plantinga’s book was foundationalism: Is there a foundation for truth-claims, particularly a foundation of evidence or logical argument?  When it comes to Christianity, does a person have warrant to accept it, or should Christianity be rejected because it appears to lack the support of logic and evidence?  Plantinga’s response seems to be that one can have warrant to accept Christianity.  According to Plantinga, Christianity, when understood properly, is a coherent and internally consistent belief system.  We have within us the ability to sense the divine, since there are times when we feel guilty or when we marvel at the majesty of God’s handiwork, and yet that ability has been clouded by our sinfulness and selfishness.  But God confirms to certain people’s hearts that Christianity is true, allowing them to see the beauty of God’s character.  This work of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts, Plantinga argues, is what makes their belief in Christianity warranted.

But isn’t this rather subjective?  Couldn’t there be some objective evidence out there that Christianity is true, evidence that can is available to everyone, not just those God privileges to receive the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit?  Well, Plantinga does not appear to accept a lot of classical apologetic arguments, such as the one that says that we know Christianity is true because of the alleged evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.  Plantinga does not believe that argument is iron-clad.  And, against the charge that believing in God is simply accepting something that has no logical or evidentiary foundation, Plantinga appeals to philosophical skepticism.  How do we know anything is true?  Is there any solid evidence that our memories are reliable, or that the world outside of us is real?  I’m somewhat doubtful that Plantinga takes this skepticism overly seriously: after all, he says that skepticism about the reality of the outside world will not help us after we leave our study.  I’m not sure if he has some way to get us back to believing that there is a world out there that we can rationally and reliably discern: he mentions Descartes’ view that God’s existence is what assures us of this, but I could not tell if Plantinga was agreeing with Descartes here.  I should also note that Plantinga more than once challenges other views because he says that they lack evidence or logical support: he asks, for example, what the evidence is that Christians believe in God due to wish-fulfillment or insecurity.  Does Plantinga require other views to have evidence, while exempting Christianity from that requirement?

Plantinga’s belief in the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit proves to be significant in some of his other arguments.  The existence of different religious beliefs undercuts the truth of Christianity?  Hey, just because not everyone accepts Christianity, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, Plantinga responds (albeit with sophistication).  Suffering and evil call into question the existence of a loving God?  Hey, why should a Christian disregard the illumination he or she has personally received on account of the existence of suffering and evil, as if it’s obvious that God has no reason for God’s ways of running the world?  Plantinga’s arguments here are not bad, I guess, but they strike me as rather diversionary.  For example, on pluralism, I wouldn’t say that the existence of different religions means that it’s arrogant to accept one of those religions, or by itself entails that Christianity is false.  I would, however, ask whether a loving God would judge people with eternal damnation in hell for not accepting Christianity, when it’s not obvious to them that Christianity is true, with all of the religions out there for them to choose from.  

One chapter in Plantinga’s book that I found rather disappointing was the one about the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible.  Plantinga was attempting to show that it is not strong enough to undermine the truth of Christianity.  The chapter was all right in that it discussed the different schools of historical-criticism, but it did not seem to address one of historical-criticism’s most significant challenges: that it highlights the theological diversity of the biblical writings.  That has the potential to undermine the idea that Christianity or the Bible represent a coherent, internally-consistent belief system.  I wonder how Plantinga would address that.  Would he try to harmonize and flatten out the biblical contradictions?  Would he say that God has a purpose behind them?  Or would he say that they’re not important, since they don’t detract from the big picture, which is God’s act of salvation in Jesus Christ?

There were some cases in which the footnotes provided the most interesting discussions in the book.  For example, one question that I have when people say that God reveals his truth to people’s hearts is why there are so many Christians out there with incomplete understanding, if God is revealing the truth to them.  Why do Christians disagree with each other over doctrine, if God is revealing the truth to all of their hearts?  In one footnote, Plantinga says that we don’t entirely know what numbers are, yet we can still know that mathematics works.  For Plantinga, God is somehow at work in the hearts of Christians, revealing to them the truth, even if their understanding is incomplete and they disagree with one another.

Probably the biggest reason that I found this book valuable was its interaction with theological and philosophical thought: Kant, John Hick, Gordon Kaufman, David Hume, and the list goes on.  I learned that there are different ways that Kant has been interpreted, and that some argue that David Hume was a theist.  There were many times when I agreed with Plantinga’s evaluation of certain thinkers’ thought: for example, I have long been confused by the concept of negative theology, the notion that we can only know what God is not, not what God is.  As Plantinga notes, we cannot really escape making positive statements about God.  I also appreciated Plantinga’s argument that God can have emotions: that this does not mean that God is a passive recipient of emotional stimuli, but rather that God acts in a way that demonstrates God’s love.  I have long questioned whether theists should be so committed to a Greek philosophical conception of the divine.

But I wonder: Is Plantinga’s interaction with philosophical thought even necessary, if what is truly important is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit?  Plantinga interacts with Kant, Hick, and Kaufman because he is trying to dispute any notion that they have shown successfully that humans cannot know anything about God.  But why care about what they think?  If a person knows God after being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is it really important what Kant, Hick, and Kaufman say?  The person knows God, and no one can take that away from her.  Or is Plantinga interacting with these philosophers because, notwithstanding his rejection of foundationalism, he still wants to show that Christianity is a coherent belief system—-that, even if it has no evidence backing it up, it is still consistent with reason?

I’ll close this already long post by speaking briefly about the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit.  I recently listened to a sermon in which a pastor was incredulous that there were Christians who were becoming atheists.  He was skeptical that they truly knew God over the many years that they were in church, if they could simply wake up one day and conclude that God did not exist.  The thing is, there are many people who have said the sinner’s prayer, who go to church, and who try to believe in the Bible, and yet they do not know that Christianity is true.  And there are some who think that they know, but that’s only because they’ve never been exposed to sources that question it.  My hunch is that these are the sorts of Christians who become atheists.  And is that their fault?  They did what Christianity presents as the right things: accepting Jesus, going to church, reading the Bible.  If God does not come through and reveal himself to their hearts, which Plantinga says God does for certain people, is it their fault that they left Christianity and became atheists?

And does God revealing himself to people’s hearts enable them to know that God exists?  Plantinga’s argument appears to be that it does, and yet in one place he refers to John Calvin’s statement that a Christian may find himself doubting God’s love.  Doesn’t that call into question the idea that God truly reveals himself to people’s hearts?  Or maybe God does so, and yet that does not presto-chango make us perfect?

In any case, this is a good book.  It’s actually the third volume of a series that Plantinga did on warrant, so, in a sense, I jumped in at the third act of the play!  But Plantinga did mention some resources that I may want to check out, such as William Alson’s Perceiving God.

Book Write-Up: Scientists Confront Creationism

Laurie R. Godfrey, ed.  Scientists Confront Creationism.  New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1983.

Scientists Confront Creationism contains essays by scientists, anthropologists, and others that attempt to explain and critique young-earth creation science.  I have seen this book in libraries for years, but only recently did I decide to read it.  Because the book is from the 1980′s, it has references to Ronald Reagan, and the creationists who are criticized include Henry Morris and Duane Gish.

I am not a science person, so I cannot claim to have understood everything (or even most things) in this book.  There were cases in which the arguments of both creationists and evolutionists went over my head.  But, in contrast to my recent reading of Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God (see my post about that experience here), I did not feel totally in the dark when reading Scientists Confront Creationism I could understand what was going on: creationists were appealing to science to make certain claims, and evolutionists were attempting to refute those claims by depicting the creationists’ understanding of the issues as limited or outdated.

I found the book to be a good resource in terms of addressing prominent creationist claims.  One creationist claim that I have heard, for example, is that the earth must be young because the magnetic field has been decaying, and it would be gone by now if the earth has been around for millions of years.  The response that this book gives to that argument is that the magnetic field does not just decrease, but it also fluctuates, meaning that it has not experienced an inexorable decline over the years.

Another creationist argument is that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics: whereas the second law supposedly states that nature tends towards increasing disorder, evolution is an example of increasing order.  The response to this argument, if I understood it correctly, is that such an understanding of the second law of thermodynamics is incomplete, for there are cases of increasing order within nature.  The second law of thermodynamics does not exclude such a possibility, the argument that I read was saying, for it allows for increasing order when there is assistance from outside of the system, plus its claim is that there has to be more movement towards disorder than movement towards order, not that movement towards order cannot exist.  John W. Patterson states on page 101: “As long as the downhill flows, off of which [the uphill flows] feed, exceed the build-up or construction processes, no violation of the second law is involved.” 

Yet another creationist argument is that evolutionary explanations tend to be circular: they argue that there is evolution on the basis of the succession of animals in the geologic record, then they date the succession in reference to evolution.  A couple of the essays in the book retorted that the succession of animals in the geologic record was seen and acknowledged before Darwin’s theory of evolution even existed.  While these essays said that there may be cases in which a newer layer is underneath an older layer (when one would usually expect the opposite), due to an earthquake, for example, they do not believe that this overthrows scientists’ argument that earlier species are deeper in the ground than later species, for one can often identify when there are exceptions to the rule and account for them. 

A couple of essays in the book seek to correct misconceptions about evolution, some of them held by certain evolutionists themselves.  Often, one hears the argument that less complex animals are older and deeper in the ground, whereas more complex animals are newer and higher.  Some creationists attempt to account for this alleged phenomenon through an appeal to the flood of Noah: the more complex animals were able to reach higher ground when the flood was occurring, and that’s why they’re higher in the ground!  Two of the essays in the book, however, dispute the idea that more complex animals are necessarily later, while less complex animals are necessarily earlier, for this is not always the case.  There are, for example, less complex animals that are later.  One essay, if I read it correctly, was disputing that evolution consistently moves in the direction of complexity.

The essays in the book maintained that creationism was inadequate and flawed.  As on the evolutionist web site talkorigins, there is a kind word said about creationist Robert Gentry, yet an essay goes on to note an example of Gentry having to retract one of his articles.  On creationism, one essay in the book argued that creationism is nebulous about what a “kind” is.  Genesis 1 presents God creating “kinds” and commanding the animals to reproduce according to their kind, and there are creationists who have argued that, while there may be microevolution that occurs within a kind, there is no evidence for macroevolution, in which an animal of one kind becomes an animal of another kind.  The problem, according to this one essay, is that there are animals within the same species who cannot reproduce with each other.  Are these animals indeed part of the same kind, or did God create them all separately, and all of them somehow fit onto Noah’s ark?  

But, to my surprise, there were also essays in the book that struggled somewhat with evolution.  It’s not that they denied its facticity, for they noted evidence for it: fossils of animals that are different from what exists today, skeletons that are human-like and also ape-like, and similarities between animals that, when mapped out, are consistent with the evolutionist hierarchy of development and taxonomy.  But some of the essays puzzle over why there are not too many fossils of intermediate species (they exist, but even Darwin wondered why they didn’t exist in greater number), or how one can explain the sudden appearance of certain species.  Punctuated equilibrium and the rarity of fossilization are solutions that are explored in this book.

Those are examples of the book’s scientific angle, and I hope that I expressed them accurately!  The book also had a decent humanities component.  I enjoyed the essay about populism and its relationship with anti-evolutionism.  Populism was a leftist movement, composed largely of farmers, and populist politician William Jennings Bryant was a prominent opponent of teaching evolution in schools.  But the left changed as it came to accept the insights of intellectuals, whereas the right-wing became the place where anti-evolutionism tended to reside.  One essay talked about the controversial 1980′s MACOS (Man: A Course of Study) curriculum in public schools, which taught evolution and cultural relativism, inspiring opposition from many on the right.  The essay noted that the cultural relativists were not as effective at mobilizing support for their position, since they could understand where the right-wingers were coming from, whereas dogmatism was what enabled the right-wing’s political success against MACOS.  I guess that dogmatism sells!

Robert J. Schadewald’s chapter, “The Evolution of Bible-science,” was definitely worth reading.  Schadewald compares young-earth creationism with flat-earthism, and the part of the book about the contributors states that Schadewald “has accumulated one of the world’s most complete flat-earth libraries.”  Both question scientific consensus with religious motivations.  Both offer money to anyone who can prove the opposite of what they believe (i.e., evolution, a round earth).  Both engage in public debates with scientists, and they are effective in that they attack, attack, and attack.  (Schadewald notes an example in which a panel declared the flat-earth proponent the winner of the debate!)  And there is even some intersection between the two movements: When creationist Duane Gish denied that there were members of the Flat Earth Society in the Creation Research Society, a flat-earther member of the CRS stepped forward.  Schadewald states that “Ironically, Gish may have created a fact”. for the flat-earther then quit from the CRS!

I enjoyed the final essay, “Is It Really Fair to Give Creationists Equal Time?”, by Frederick Edwords.  For one, as an ex-Armstrongite, I liked that Edwords mentioned the Worldwide Church of God’s support for the gap theory in his discussion of which creationism should be taught if creationism were to be in public schools!  (Edwords’ point is that young-earth creationists only want for their own brand of creationism to be taught alongside evolution, implying that they are as intolerant as they accuse evolutionists of being.)  Second, I appreciated Edwords’ point that there should be a class—-outside of the science class—-that explores different beliefs about human origins.  Overall, while I found this book to be quite sarcastic in places, I did think that it maintained a rather tolerant tone towards those who embrace religion.  It was a far cry from the new atheist rhetoric of people like Dawkins and Hitchens.

In terms of criticisms I have of the book, there were some issues that I wished it had explored further, such as how creationism went from being a part of the political left to becoming a part of the political right.  I also think that the book could have been clearer, especially when discussing the scientific evidence for evolution.  But my main criticism is that I wish that it had addressed another young-earth creationist argument: that the universe must be young because there is not much dust on the moon, and the moon would be buried in lots of dust if the universe were old.  The book addressed a creationist argument about the moon, but not that one!

Published in: on October 1, 2013 at 7:00 am  Comments (2)  

Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon 12

I am in the part of Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician that is about the Alger Hiss case, in which Congressman Richard Nixon played a significant role.  (For background on that case, see my post here.)  As I said in my first post about Morris’ book, one reason that I wanted to read it was to get an alternative perspective about the Hiss case, since much of what I have read thus far for my Year (or More) of Nixon seems to presume that Hiss actually did engage in espionage for the Soviet Union.  I read in an Amazon review of Morris’ book, however, that Morris is rather skeptical of ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers’ claim that such was the case.  In terms of blogging, I will probably save my post (or posts) about Morris’ discussion of the Hiss case for the future, after I have gotten a better idea of where Morris is going in his narration and arguments.

In this post, however, I’d like to use as my starting-point something that Morris says on page 376.  The topic is Richard Nixon’s alienation from academia, which, according to Morris, occurred after the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ treatment of scientist Edward Condon.  (For background on this, see my post here.)  Nixon tried to distance himself from that through a letter to Douglas Maggs, a critic and one of Nixon’s old law professors, and the Maggs letter went to others within academia as well.  But Nixon was unsuccessful in creating a bridge between himself and academia.  Morris states:

“In particular, the affair left a first legacy of distrust and suspicion in academic and scientific circles that would thicken into near-professional anathema, despite his solicitous gestures like the long letter to Maggs.  It would be a political liability for Richard Nixon for years to come and soon a touchstone for his own wounded resentment and alienation vis-[a]-vis an intellectual world that might have been a much greater ally and resource for him.”

Nixon’s alienation from academia has come up more than once in My Year (or More) of Nixon.  Nixon, on some level, was drawn to academia.  In my post here, I talk about Nixon’s fantasy about being an academic at Oxford—-of reading, teaching, and writing.  But I read somewhere (it may have been in David Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow) that there were academics who were rather amused by Nixon’s fantasy.  They must not have thought that Nixon’s thoughts were good enough for him to be within their ranks!  I read in another place that, while Nixon liked to read, his shelves were stocked mostly with older books and classics, rather than the newer, up-to-date books that academics were discussing.  And Stephen Ambrose, in his discussion of the books about foreign policy that Nixon wrote, makes the point that Nixon’s books were not particularly accepted within academia.  Ambrose himself is rather critical of Nixon’s books, saying that they were more like speeches and were inconsistent.

I myself have a love-hate relationship with academia.  There are times when I believe that certain academics are snobbish, that they talk an issue to death without going anywhere, and that they engage in sophistry that really doesn’t mean anything.  I’ve often wondered if they find my thoughts, my writing, or the books that I read to be good enough.  On the other hand, there are times when I am sensitized to the necessity for academia.  I was one time watching snippets of a debate between Christians and atheists, in which Kirk Cameron and Roy Comfort were representing the Christian side.  Kirk Cameron was trying to ridicule evolution, and he held up a picture of a “crockaduck,” a fictional intermediary between a crocodile and a duck.  One of the atheists looked embarrassed to be on the same stage with Kirk Cameron, but the atheist side didn’t impress me either, for one of the atheists was arguing for Christ-mythicism and was apparently unaware of when Josephus wrote his books.  That’s when it occurred to me: You either value the people who have seriously studied issues and who know what they’re talking about, or you have the “crockaduck.”

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Does The Genesis Code Fudge the Bible to Make It Agree with Science?

I promised yesterday that I would write a blog post about the 2010 Christian movie, The Genesis Code, specifically the scene in which it claims that the sequence of creation in Genesis 1 matches what scientific consensus says about the order in which things appeared in the universe and on earth.  You can watch snippets from that scene here.

I’ve long been interested in this question, ever since I read biblical scholar Joel Rosenberg’s statement in the HarperCollins Study Bible that “Remarkably, [Genesis 1's] order of life-forms resembles that of our modern theory of evolution: vegetation, swarming creatures, fish, birds, animals (mammals), and human beings.”  Granted, as I talked about yesterday, The Genesis Code does not appear to agree with the existence of macro-evolution, but its scene in which science and believers in Genesis 1 dialogue about the order of natural events in the history of the universe and the earth was the sort of thing that I’ve long desired to see (in real life, though, with real scientists).

What I’ll do in my post today is this: I will post Genesis 1 in the King James Version, which is in the public domain, and I will add comments about each day of creation.  When appropriate, I will mention how the pastor in the movie summarizes the content of the creation day under discussion.  More importantly, I will tell you what the scientist-characters in the movie say about what occurred at each stage of natural history.  My question will be this: Is there truly agreement between Genesis 1 and science regarding the order of events in natural history, or is the movie fudging one or both sides to artificially foster an agreement?  I’ll be referring to sources, some of them pretty good, and some of them, well, I wish I could find better!  Moreover, please keep in mind that I am not a scientist—-far from it!  But this post is not intended to be the last word on this subject, but rather my aim is to ask questions.  Please feel free to correct me, but I will not publish or interact with comments that say or imply that I or anyone else is stupid.

Here we go!

Genesis 1

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Comments: The pastor said that the waters of v 2 represent all that was, and that the darkness in that verse is symbolic of chaos.  What happened on the first “day” of creation, which (according to the presenter on the movie) was 15.75-7.7 billion years ago?  A scientist-character said that there was the Big Bang, and with it came the raw material for all that would exist (i.e., protons, neutrons, electrons).  The earth was only in the form of stardust.  There was a ball of plasma from which light initially could not escape, due to gravity, but, with cooling, expansion, and the reduction of gravity, electromagnetic radiation finally managed to escape, meaning there was light.  Stars and galaxies were formed.

I thought that the pastor was fudging Genesis 1 here by not taking the waters of Genesis 1:2 at face value.  The waters, in my opinion, are significant, for it is on the issue of the waters that Genesis 1 overlaps with the ancient Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish.  In Genesis 1, God separates the waters; in Enuma Elish, the god Marduk splits up the sea-goddess Tiamat.  The pastor near the end of the discussion says that Genesis 1 (whoever is its human author) must be divinely-inspired, for an ancient author on his own could not have been so accurate about the order in which things came to be, long before science found out about it.  But, by interpreting the waters in Genesis 1:2 as symbolic, the pastor is (intentionally or unintentionally, I do not know) obscuring where Genesis 1 overlaps with another ancient creation account.  Is Genesis 1 ahead of its time, or is it (in some manner) echoing or reflecting its ancient context?  In his push to prove the former, the pastor is interpreting the waters of Genesis 1:2 as symbolic, when they very well might be literal, which would mean that there is good reason to believe that the latter (that Genesis 1 is reflecting its own ancient context) is the case.

I was surprised, however, that a bigger deal was not made about the plasma.  I was expecting for someone to say that the plasma was the primordial waters of Genesis 1:2.  Plasma, according to this article, can have properties like those of a liquid.

I’ll talk more about stardust and stars when I talk about Day 4.

6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Comments: The pastor said that, on Day 2, the heavens were created and chaos was separated out.  A scientist then said that the second period of time had the galaxy and the Milky Way, along with the sun and the earth.  I’ll talk more about the sun when I get to Day 4.

I agree with the pastor that Genesis 1 is about God bringing order out of chaos, for the sea and the waters in the Hebrew Bible often relate to chaos.  And yet, as I said in my comments on Day 1, I think that the pastor is fudging Genesis 1 by not interpreting the waters as literal.  On Day 2, God divides the waters, putting some waters above the firmament and some waters beneath the firmament.  In my opinion, that’s different from the galaxy and the Milky Way forming.

9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Comments: The pastor said that Day 3 had oceans, dry land, and the “first forms of plant-life.”  A scientist said that, 3.75 billion to 1.75 billion years ago, the earth cooled, water formed, and there emerged early plant and animal life, bacteria, and photosynthetic algae.

I have a variety of points, which may come across as nit-picking, but you can do with my points what you will.  First of all, Genesis 1 does not say that liquid water came to exist on the third day of creation; rather, the waters already existed during the first and second days.  What is occurring on Day 3 is that God is organizing the waters beneath into seas.  Second, there’s not supposed to be any animal life on Day 3, for God created the sea-creatures on Day 5, and the land-creatures on Day 6.  This is actually significant, for, according to this article, scientists generally maintain that fruit trees came to exist after there were fish, and that marine organisms existed prior to the development of land plants, whereas Genesis 1 appears to present the opposite (fruit trees and land plants preceded sea-creatures). 

There is a literary pattern going on in Genesis 1, as many observers have noted: On Days 1-3, God created places.  On Days 4-6, God created the inhabitants for those places.  God creates day and night on Day 1, and he populates day and night with heavenly bodies on Day 4.  Day 2 sees the division of the waters above (in the firmament) from the waters beneath, and, on Day 4, God creates the birds for the firmament and the sea-creatures for the waters beneath.  On Day 3, dry land and plants appear, and, on Day 6, God creates animals and human beings.  Genesis 1 has a neat pattern, but my impression is that most scientists do not believe that real life followed that neat pattern to a T (even though there may have been some overlap—-sea creatures came before land creatures, for example).

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Comments: A scientists talked about what went on 1.75 billion to 750 million years ago.  Initially, the atmosphere was “opaque.”  But, as oxygen became concentrated into the atmosphere, it became more translucent, and the sun, moon, and stars became visible.

I have two points.  First of all, this movie says that there were stars and galaxies on Day 1, and that the sun came to exist on Day 2.  But, as far as I can see, that is not what Genesis 1 is saying.  Rather, Genesis 1 appears to be saying that God created the sun and the stars on the fourth day, not that they merely became apparent after having already existed for a long time.  My second point is merely a question, not a dogmatic statement: How did the plants of Day 3 survive for so many years without sunlight?  This is a critique that I have heard of the Day-Age interpretation of Genesis 1—-the view that each day in Genesis 1 represents long periods of time.  The movie tries to distance itself from the Day-Age interpretation, saying that it believes that God made the heavens and the earth in six days—-but what were days to God amounted to longer periods of time from the standpoint of the universe and the earth.  Still, the same question can be asked of this movie’s scenario (and maybe even of science, if science indeed believes that the sun became visible to the earth after plants had been around for a long time).

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Comments: The fifth day, for this movie, occurred 750 million to 250 million years ago.  During that time, sea life was dominant.  But, a scientist-character continues, 530 million years ago, the Cambrian explosion occurred, and every specie of land animal simultaneously appeared.

I have some points.  My first one will be rather nit-picky.  So is this movie saying that land animals came to exist on the fifth day?  Genesis 1 says that land animals came to exist on Day 6 of creation.  Second, referring again to the table in this article, most scientists believe that birds evolved from land animals, not that they existed before land animals (whereas Genesis 1 says that birds were created on the fifth day, and land animals on the sixth day).  See also this article, which discusses the debate about which land animals birds evolved from. 

Regarding the Cambrian explosion, this article aims to account for it from an evolutionary perspective.

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

The sixth day, according to this movie, went from 250 million years ago to the time of Adam.  During that time, there were extinctions, and mammals and birds came to be dominant.  Then, human beings appeared.

I like this interpretation better than Young Earth creationism, for The Genesis Code simply places the dinosaurs in Day 6 of creation, rather than holding that they co-existed with human beings.  But I have some points.  First of all, to repeat what I said regarding Day 5, there is the bird problem: Genesis 1 says that birds existed before land animals, whereas science says that they evolved from certain land animals.  Second, this movie obviously believes that there was death before the Fall of Adam and Eve, whereas Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world by sin.  Granted, there are Christians who will argue that Romans 5:12 is talking about human death, not animal and plant death.  Fine, that would make a fine topic for discussion.  I’m just saying that the movie invites this sort of discussion.  Third, Genesis 1:30 says that God has given plants to the animals as food.  It’s on the basis of passages like this that many interpreters maintain that, according to the Bible (or a voice within the Bible), people and animals were vegetarians until after the Flood.  Does The Genesis Code agree with this, or does it maintain that animals ate other animals prior to the Flood?  It seems to me that, if there were extinctions going on during the sixth day of creation, as the movie suggests, then animals eating other animals had to play some role in that.  But would acknowledging that animals ate other animals before the Flood go against Genesis 1, which appears to maintain that people and animals were originally vegetarian?

My conclusion: Genesis 1 and science may overlap in areas (i.e., sea creatures came before land creatures), but there are also differences between them.  In my opinion, The Genesis Code fudges the Bible to make it fit with science. 

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  

The Genesis Code: Overall Review

I recently watched the Genesis Code, which is a 2010 movie.  The movie explores the question of whether science and Genesis 1 are compatible.

I’m glad that I finally got to see it, for I was curious about it when I first watched its trailer online.  I learned about it as a result of doing an online search about Catherine Hicks, whom I love in Star Trek IV and 7th Heaven.  I wanted to see if she was in anything lately, and I saw that she was in the Genesis Code.  I also noticed that Fred Thompson, a 2008 Republican candidate for President, was in the movie, and, being someone who doesn’t watch much Law and Order, I wanted to see how good of an actor he was.   Later, I learned that actor Ernest Borgnine was in it as well, and I loved Borgnine in the 1955 movie Marty and the two-parter Little House on the Prairie episode, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (see my post about Borgnine here).  Another noteworthy actor in the Genesis Code was Louise Fletcher, who won an Academy Award for playing the chilling Nurse Ratched in the 1973 movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

To be honest, when I first saw the trailer for the Genesis Code, I thought that it might be a Christian movie, but I was not entirely sure.  It looked to me like it might be an impartial exploration of the question of origins, with strong religious and skeptical characters.  After seeing it, and after learning about the immense support that elements of the right-wing gave to it (see here and here), I now know that it’s a Christian movie.  Moreover, the guy who plays the pastor in the movie, Jerry Zandstra, is the President of the company that produced The Genesis Code, American Epic Entertainment.  Zandstra, as you can see from the wikipedia article about him, is a minister and has a history in Republican politics.  See here for his thoughts on the film.

The thing is, this movie cannot be characterized as young-earth creationist propaganda.  Actually, it’s point is that science and Genesis 1 are compatible because time is relative, and so a day to God may be a much longer time for human beings.  The movie is essentially acknowledging an old earth.  And it also makes the point that the sequence of creation in Genesis 1 is similar to what science says about the order in which things came to be.  Moreover, the movie does not say that dinosaurs co-existed with human beings, but it places the existence and extinction of dinosaurs within the sixth “day” of creation, the sixth day being from 250 million years ago to the time of Adam.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a post addressing the question of whether the film fudges on science or Genesis 1 to make the two agree.  I think that it does, in a sense, and yet I am pleased that conservative Christians have become excited about a film that has such a progressive approach to the issue of science and Genesis 1 (though the movie has had its share of conservative Christian critics—-see here and here).  I wish that the film had gone a step further and affirmed the theory of evolution, but, unfortunately, it had a couple of swipes against macro-evolution, some of them pretty misinformed (i.e., humans descended from apes), and some of them exemplifying standard creationist or Intelligent Design arguments against macro-evolution.  But the scene in which the pastor, scientists, and students are talking about the age of the earth and the sequence of events in the universe’s history makes the movie worth watching (although I could have done without the Christian protagonist smugly saying at the end of the discussion that science has caught up with the Bible).  I wish I could find the entire scene online, but here is a YouTube video that contains pieces of it.

As far as the rest of the movie was concerned, I thought that it was way too long, but there were a couple of gems.  First, there was the scene in which a skeptical youth is talking with the pastor about faith.  The youth is saying that he was convinced by the presentation about the harmony between science and Genesis 1, but he expected for faith to be a heart-issue rather than something that proceeded from hard intellectual work.  The pastor responds that people come to faith in different ways, some of them pretty mundane.  I appreciated this scene because it highlights that one does not have to believe in God as a result of a flashy experience, as some evangelicals seem to imply.

Second, while I didn’t care for most of the inane banter in the movie, I did like one scene near the end, as one of the characters refers to the TNT movie Purgatory, in which an angel said that the creator is tough, but not blind.  I love Purgatory, and I’m glad there are other fans out there!

I’ll be writing another post about this movie tomorrow, and maybe more posts after that.  We’ll see!

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