Evolution with Purpose?, Lamentations Contradicts Jeremiah?, Ann Coulter Praises a Democrat, Bruce Cohen on Theodicy

1.  Last night, I started Steven Weitzman’s Song and Story in Biblical Narrative.  I haven’t quite gotten into the flow of his argument yet, but an incidental point stood out to me.

It concerns evolution.  On page 7, Weitzman states: Biology provides a textbook example: the wing of a bat seems similar to the wing of a bird not because bats and birds inherited this trait from a common ancestor but because each has evolved along parallel lines in response to similar environmental conditions.

As I said long ago in my post, Questions on Natural Selection, there’s something I don’t understand about evolution.  The way it’s often been presented to me, there are random mutations, and the animals whose mutations gave them the ability to survive live on to pass down their genes.

But there are also times when it’s presented to me as creatures evolving characteristics they need in response to their environment.  It’s like, “I need an eye to cope with my environment here, so I’ll evolve an eye.”

But the two concepts strike me as different.  In the first one, I don’t necessarily evolve what I need.  I’m at the mercy of mutations that I can’t control, and, if they’re favorable to me, then I survive.  But there’s no guarantee that anyone will have a favorable mutation.  If there are animals with features that enable them to survive in their environment, that’s because they’re the lucky ones: they got good mutations.

In the second, a creature mutates to adapt, as if there’s a purpose in the mutation.

I feel like I’m stumbling in the dark on evolution and no one can help me.  Atheists dismiss people as stupid.  Regarding creationists, I can’t always be certain if they’re defining evolution to me in a correct manner.

2.  I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Book of Lamentations.  It has the following on the authorship of the Book:

Nothing in the Bible expressly attributes our canonical book of Lamentations to Jeremiah the prophet, but the seeds for such an ascription are present in the general tendency to ascribe originally anonymous works to prominent figures, such as Moses, David, Solomon, and in the statement that Jeremiah, a “weeping” prophet (Jer 8:23—Eng 9:1), who lived through the fall of Jerusalem, wrote a “lament” or “laments” (2 Chr 35:25) over Josiah. Perhaps it is from such origins that there grows the ascription found already in the LXX, at the head of the book: “. . . Jeremiah sat weeping and composed this lament over Jerusalem and said. . . .” The LXX order of books associates it with Jeremiah. In various ways the Targum, the Syriac (Peshitta), and Vulgate make the same ascription to Jeremiah, as do the Babylonian Talmud (B. Bat. 15a) and other rabbinic works, which quote the book in the form: “Jeremiah says. . . .”

As noted above, the Hebrew Bible itself does not place Lamentations with the book of Jeremiah, a tradition continued in some uncommon but ancient listings of the books of Scripture. This impressive evidence of the book’s original anonymity is bolstered by critical examination of the content of the book, for while it is not impossible that Jeremiah could have written it, some of its ideas seem implausible or incongruous as coming from him. In the question of reliance on help from foreign powers, contrast Lam 4:17, which refers to the poignant longing of the people (“we”) for aid from Egypt, with Jer 2:18 or 37:5–10, where the prophet denounces alliances and predicts their failure; on the destruction of the temple, compare Lam 1:10, with its reference to God’s forbidding nations to enter the sanctuary, with Jer 7:14, where the prophet in God’s name predicted this dire event; in Lam 4:20 King Zedekiah is “the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Yahweh,” on whom the common hopes of the people depended, while in Jer 37:17 the prophet clearly predicted his capture by the Babylonians. Could Jeremiah, active as a prophet through this whole tragic time, have lamented, “Her prophets find no vision from Yahweh”? (2:9).

I find most of the arguments against Jeremiah’s authorship to be weak.  Lamentations 4:17 presents reliance on foreign nations as a let-down, which is what Jeremiah 2:18 and 37:5-10 essentially argue.  Yes, God forbade foreigners to enter the sanctuary (Numbers 18:2-6), as Lamentations 1:10 affirms; and, yes, Jeremiah predicted that foreigners would enter it as part of God’s punishment of Judah.  But the two concepts aren’t really contradictory, for Jeremiah can mourn over something that he predicted, as if it’s strange and unusual (i.e., God doesn’t like foreigners entering his sanctuary but allows them to do so, anyway).  Moreover, maybe Jeremiah didn’t understand the full impact of what he was predicting until it came true; then, it was a shock to him—something he’d never seen before.  

The part about the prophets finding no vision from Yahweh (Lamentations 2:9) is a decent point, though, because Jeremiah offered his people hope and guidance during and after the destruction of Jerusalem.  But maybe God stopped speaking to Judah after she rejected Jeremiah—by going to Egypt in spite of his warnings.  At that time, she had no guidance. 

3.  I enjoyed Ann Coulter’s column this week: Harry Reid’s Negro Problem.  I can’t say that I found all of it in good taste, but I somewhat liked her following statement:

After the 2000 election, Democrats had a chance to make one of the rare smart Democrats, Donna Brazile, head of the Democratic National Committee. Brazile had just run a perfectly respectable campaign on behalf of that bumbling buffoon Al Gore.

She also happens to be black. Again, blacks give 90 percent of their votes to the Democrats.

But the Democrats skipped over Brazile and handed the DNC chairmanship to the goofy white guy in lime green pants, Howard Dean.

What I like is that a conservative pundit like Ann Coulter can find something to like in a Democrat.  I like Donna Brazile myself.  She sounds reasonable.  She doesn’t talk down to people (unlike some liberals).  She can disagree while remaining friendly.

4.   I thought this post was good, even before the recent earthquake in Haiti: Believers and Black Swan Scotoma.  It’s by Messianic Rabbi Bruce Cohen, and it concerns theodocy: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Christian authors write books and preach sermons about how we can live prosperous, happy lives, without being touched by tragedy.  But no one is insulated from tragedy.  Rabbi Cohen refers to Christian musician Stephen Curtis Chapman, whose seven-year old daughter was killed in an accident.  Rabbi Cohen states that we don’t understand why tragedy occurs and that we should serve God because it’s the right thing to do, not to get rewards.

This brought to mind other posts, such as atheist John Loftus’ The Darwinian Problem of Evil, in which Loftus quotes Charles Darwin’s dismissal of the theistic argument that suffering brings moral improvement.  According to Darwin, it doesn’t always, plus that argument doesn’t account for why animals suffer. 

Or there’s Rachel Held Evans’ post, Is God in control? , which takes on the Calvinist claim that God controls everything.  She doesn’t believe God would ordain the rape of a child.  By contrast, some Calvinists may argue that even that can fit within God’s righteous purposes.

I’m not sure what to say about theodicy.  In a sense, I hope that my relationship with God will ensure that things will turn out well for me, and that my loved ones and I would escape tragedy.  That’s one reason I pray: so that things will turn out well in my and other people’s lives.  That’s a basis for hope.  And, if there is tragedy, there’s a part of me that would like to see that as part of a righteous purpose.  As an elderly church lady once asked a skeptical waitress, “What’s the alternative?”  To believe that things are pointless?

But it’s not easy when the pain of real life comes crashing through.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Evolution with Purpose?, Lamentations Contradicts Jeremiah?, Ann Coulter Praises a Democrat, Bruce Cohen on Theodicy

  1. I am one of those creationists you speak of, but for the sake of understanding I´ll try to explain, from an evolutionist viewpoint, what it means for an organism to evolve something because it needs it.

    First, it´s worth mention that all of the mainstream varieties of Darwinism deny the concept of directed evolution: the notion that a creature in some way feels a need for something and therefore evolves it.

    If I correctly understand modern evolutionary theory, and I believe I do, the belief is that a great variety of mutations occur by means of undirected random DNA copying errors. The vast majority of these mutations are either harmful, resulting in the eventual dying out of the creatures carrying them, or meaningless, producing no significant affects. There is, however, a third category: the few mutations which happen to help a creature. Thus, for example, a fish in a cave might experience a mutation which causes it’s eyes not to develop. For a fish living in complete darkness, this would be an advantage, because the fish therefore would not expend its energy growing eyes, nor would it experience the sometimes lethal infections caused by bumping its eyes into cave walls.

    Thus, one could say that the fish lost its eyes because it no longer needed one. But the fact is that really it is just a blind mutation which was propogated because it was useful. Does that help at all?

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for taking the time to address my question, Mitchell. The way I’m interpreting your last paragraph is that, according to evolution, the fish didn’t lose its eye because it no longer needed one, but it randomly happened, and, it happened to be useful. Am I correct?

    BTW, I have another blog with the same post, at http://www.jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com. Ranger wrote a comment that says some scientists do act as if evolution is teleological. But I also got comments that the mutations are random.

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