Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creation and Evolution: Why does it Matter? 

A repost from seven years ago.  It still matters.  A lot of the links are broken now, I'm afraid, but the content is still there.

I missed this week's Vox Apologia, although the topic is one that interests me a great deal. I just ran out of time. It was on the subject of evolution vs. creation, and whether it matters. There are a number of excellent posts up. Here's RazorKiss' entry, for example:
We dare not, we must not, and we cannot look an enemy in the face - and turn away as if it is irrelevant. We made that crucial mistake when this enemy first appeared - and we dare not continue. We cannot look at naturalism - at evolution - and spit in our Creator’s face by saying “so what if they deny you?” Romans warns us what excuses exist, for those who deny their Creator. None. His Creation, regardless of attempts to deny it’s Creator, stands as a testament to His power, His majesty, and His creativity - as do we. Despite the philosophical dexterity accompanying the devaluation of man, while simultaneously exalting his attributes - we should take it as a warning. If we exalt the natural - we dethrone the supernatural - we dethrone God - and take His place as the pinnacle. When we take over the pinnacle - we set ourselves up as God.
I'm going to argue that the evolution vs. creation debate does matter, which of course comes as a surprise to no one. But while many who defend the Christian perspective on the matter are content to argue for some theistic hand involved in the existence of the world, while not really disagreeing with a great deal of the popularly believed science on the matter, I intend to argue that any account of the origin of the universe that doesn't conform to the Genesis account creates the exact same philosophical and theological problem as a completely atheist account of our origins.

I have argued before that people hold to their view of the origin of the universe for entirely other than scientific reasons, and that this is just as true of the so-called defenders of science as it is of anyone else. I make this claim because I have a high level of confidence that nobody, literally nobody, has seen enough data to actually have observed enough to take their position purely on the basis of science. Certainly nobody I've ever argued with has. What they have done is that they have heard other people talk about what they've seen, and what their interpretation is, and they've read books and seen pictures, all of little bits and pieces of work that other people have done, and they are told a certain story about what all of it means, and they accept that story. Certainly many individual scientists have done a great deal of hands-on work on certain fields. But one guy knows a lot about biochemistry, and accepts the story on astrophysics, zoology, botany, and the rest. Another guy might be a great astronomer, but know nothing about living things. Check out this post by PZ Myers, for example, a die-hard defender of evolution:
Don't ask me about the subject of the title; I know little about it. I've confessed before to my zoological bias, which means plants and bacteria don't get the attention they deserve here. Fortunately, I can tell everyone to go read the summary of angiosperm phylogeny at Niches. While I don't know as much about flowering plants as I should, I can at least appreciate their importance and recognize an interesting evolutionary story when I see it.

He doesn't know much about the subject, but he likes the story. That's what ties them all together- the story. There is a certain story about how everything happened that they all like, and so all of their data is interpreted in terms of that same story. Details might be adjusted from time to time; question marks left where the data and the story don't match; but fundamentally the story stays the same.

It reminds me of the debate about systematic theology sometimes. Some theologians say systematic theology is bad, because you force Biblical data into an interpretive grid instead of letting the data speak for itself. My answer to that has always been that that's what everyone does; it's just how humans think. The difference is, if you own up to a system, then at least you have the opportunity to check your system against the data, and adjust the system if necessary. If you are unconscious of your system, you will distort all of the data to fit, while never being aware that you're doing it.

I want to start my system with one simple premise: "Thus says the Lord".

This will of course render me ignorant, insane, and dangerous in the eyes of many. That's OK. But we all have a choice between building our thinking on the word of God, or on my own mind. These are the only two options, and I choose the first.

After I've chosen the first, and then I read Genesis 1-2, there's only one choice- the world was created in six days by the supernatural power of God. And if I read more of the Bible, I discover that this all happened probably less than ten thousand years ago. As I argued here, I believe Genesis because I love Jesus, because He saved me from my sins, and Jesus always assumes the absolute truth of the Jewish Old Testament, everywhere He speaks. This is why I am a creationist, because I choose to accept a particular authority.

But this is the dirty secret- that's what everyone does. PZ Myers accepts the authority of the article he quoted above, because it tells a story that he likes. All people, including all scientists, do this all the time, because no scientist has access to all, or even more than a tiny fraction, of all of the relevant data. Even a biologist doesn't dig up all the fossils himself. And he never even sees many of them. He sees pictures in books, and takes someone's word for it that they look like what the book says they look like, and mean what the book or the journal says they mean.

There's nothing inherently wrong with doing this. Again, it's what we all do, all the time. I believe that there are some interesting political events going on in Lebanon right now, but I have no first-hand information of that at all. I have chosen to accept the authority of the news reports I have read. And where I suspect a bias, that is, where the reporting of facts and interpretations does not fit the story I have chosen to believe, I adjust accordingly.

Now to the self-appointed priests of rationalism and empiricism, this is an extremely foolish and blinkered way to think. But all that means is that they are ignorant of their own thought process, and therefore unable to adjust the story they have chosen to believe.

Every attempt I have ever read or heard to interpret Genesis 1-2 in any way other than a young-earth, six-day interpretation has been an attempt to accommodate the biblical account to the "facts" of modern science. The interpretation of the text are always discussed, but when you dig into it, you discover that interpretation is always a secondary concern, and the primary concern is making the text "fit" the science. But accommodations of that nature never work, because what is being attempted is to accommodate two stories, two philosophies that fundamentally contradict each other. One philosophy is the one that says that we think God's thoughts after him, and that all truth is learned by first submitting myself to God's proclamation of truth. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". The other philosophy says that man is the measure of truth, that I decide the facts and the meaning of things; that I decide what is right and wrong. You have to make a choice. You have to pick one of these stories; you cannot have both. This is the choice to worship the creature rather than the creator. If the Bible is true, then the atheists and unbelievers who claim to be scientists have no ability to tell me anything relevant about the origins of the universe. They have no wisdom; their minds are given over to darkness as punishment for their rebellion; they are fools. And why should I attempt to modify the holy Word of God to acoommodate the ravings of fools? They may be very good at describing things that they can see. They may be good at building things. But they have nothing to say about any issue to which the Bible speaks.

Of course, the other implication of this train of thought is that while it is immensely important whether I believe evolution or creation, it is not all that productive to argue about it, except when there is already a broad agreement on the philosophical underpinnings of the debate. But if someone does not believe the Bible, then I do not expect to convince them of creation, any more than I could convince them that Jesus actually walked on water. Both he and I believe what we believe because of issues that have nothing to do with science.

Doubt me? Go read some of those blogs that are written by supposed defenders of science. They spend almost their whole time raving about philosophy, and they attack people like me not in scientific terms but in philosophical terms. They hold a level of hatred toward people like me that cannot be explained by simple differences in scientific opinion. They claim that defenders of creation are liars and evil people. But if science is their concern- the simple aggregation of knowledge- why would they care about a disagreement over a fact, or even about a liar? If a man is a liar, then real scientists will have nothing to do with him, as they constantly claim. Then the development of knowledge will not be affected at all by that liar. He might fool some rubes; he might get some government money or get some stickers put on some textbooks, but so what? No, their hatred can only be explained by the fact that their philosophy is being attacked; their religion; their God.

The first thing that the devil ever said to man was, "Has God really said?" Satan's attack has always been an attempt to twist the word of God to mean something other than what it means. We must not accommodate that attack at all. So, creation vs. evolution is important primarily because the word of God is important. We must understand that the real point of attack is not on science, but on the credibility of the word of God. The devil's always been good at arguing, and the defenders of evolution are too. But if we remember what the attack is really about, and what we stand to lose, then we will not be fooled.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ed "What the" Heckman for posting my late entry to Vox Apologia VII. Go check it out- lots of good red meat there.

ANOTHER UPDATE: One more quick related thought, here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Against Traditional Marriage 

While preaching through 2 Samuel, I'm becoming convinced that maybe we Christians shouldn't be advocating for traditional marriage.  Maybe we should be advocating Christian marriage instead.  Traditional marriage hasn't usually been all that Christian.

The effects of the curse on the woman listed in Genesis 3:16 in part affect the marriage relationship.  We read, "Your desire will be to your husband, but he shall rule over you."  This is not an example of what should be, but what is.  Women historically and traditionally have been viewed as existing for the benefit of the man, and have not been treated with respect as "fellow-heirs" in the image of God.  Although the Christian teachings of the Old and New Testaments address this in a way that no other religion even began to, the Christian community has been slow in implementing this truth.

We have made a lot of progress in the last couple of centuries in particular, recognizing different roles for women within the church and home, but advancing equality in legal treatment and rights, and equality in human worth and dignity.  But then along comes modern feminism, which teaches that there should be no distinction between men and women at all.  This is a lie of the devil, but like many of his lies, it is an extremely clever one.  Like modern radical environmentalism, like socialism- it is a lie that is based on Christian truth, that would have been impossible had it not been for the Christian truth which it distorts.  I think we ought to regard feminism as a Christian heresy- a distortion of Christian truth.  The reason I think it is important to think of it this way is that this lie, like many of the devil's lies, has a two-sided danger to it- it gets you coming and going.  On the one hand we are tempted to accept that lie and reject the distinctions that the Scriptures maintain between men and women.  But on the other hand, if we reject that temptation, we are tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to reject the sound Christian truths which modern feminism distorts.

Modern feminists, for example, often assert that marriage is essentially an institution designed for the suppression of women, for the institutionalization of violence against women.  We Christians often rebel against such sentiments.  But while you're thinking about that, read 2 Samuel 3.  In that chapter, we see David with multiple wives in order to advance his political and military career, Abner seizing someone else's concubine to advance his career, and David demanding that Michal, his first wife, be returned to him, again to advance his career.  Every one of these decisions is made entirely absent concern for the women involved.  And all of them lead to disaster down the road.

We Christians need to realize that when we advocate for traditional marriage, 2 Samuel 3 is what a lot of people, especially feminists, hear.  The fact is that modern feminists are more right than we would probably care to admit.  And the reason for this is the curse.  When we say, "We need to defend the institution that has been at the very foundation of every society for thousands of years", we are making a huge mistake- tactically and theologically.  The institution of marriage for thousands of years has been defined not by Ephesians 5 ("husbands love your wives") but by Genesis 3:16 ("he shall rule over you").

Genesis 3:16 is not advocating what ought to be.  It is advocating what is, under the curse.  No aspect of the curse pronounced to the devil, to the woman, or to the man, is a positive or good thing (true, the Messiah is promised in Genesis 3:15, but remember, God is talking to Satan there, and the coming of the Messiah would be nothing but a huge headache for him).  The relationship defined by the curse is one of warfare- the wife continually trying to undermine the legitimate authority of the husband, and the husband ruling over his wife as he would a slave, as property.  For thousands of years, all around the world, this is what marriage has been.  This is what we see in 2 Samuel 3.  Outside of the Christian worldview's perspective on marriage, which is all too rarely practiced even in Christian circles, the feminists are more right than I think we conservative Christians would care to admit- marriage is an institution that institutionalizes oppression and violence against women.

Now there are common-grace benefits to marriage, even outside of the Christian worldview.  Marriage provides for a certain amount of societal stability and order.  Women are usually more protected within the confines of marriage than outside of it, especially in societies without much rule of law.  But the common practice of marriage in history, which we see well demonstrated in 2 Samuel 3, where women exist solely for the good of the men, absolutely cannot be defended Scripturally.  Jesus, attacking the exploitative views of the Jews of His day on divorce, said, "From the beginning, it was not so"- that the husband and wife were to live as one flesh, acting as loving and equal partners, companions.  Leadership exists within marriage, of course.  But according to Ephesians 5, that leadership exists in order for the husband to serve the wife, not the other way around.  Christ is our model of Christian leadership, and Christian leadership always exists for the purpose of service, as Jesus so beautifully modeled by washing His disciples' feet.

So I think that when we're dealing with the current assault on Biblical sexual ethics, we need to be really careful not to defend the indefensible.  Let's stop advocating for traditional marriage, an institution dominated by the curse.  Let's recognize that our critics may have more to teach us than we may have been prepared to admit.  Let's advocate instead for Biblical marriage, and the wonderful picture of love and companionship we see presented to us there, a model of mutual service and mutual respect.

Monday, September 10, 2012

He Keeps All His Bones 

Psalm 34:19-20
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.  He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.

In times of primitive medical technology, a broken bone was a very serious problem.  It usually meant permanent damage.  Consider Mephibosheth- his nursemaid fell with him and he was injured in both feet, with the result that he was crippled for the rest of his life.  Some ancient cultures would set bones so that they would heal after fractures, but the practice was very limited.

I think this gives us the key to this passage in Psalm 34, when looking at it from a modern perspective.  The Psalm has as one of its themes the truth that God protects and cares for His people.  Sometimes it doesn't feel that way.  We certainly go through many trials and sufferings.  The Psalmist himself says so- "Many are the afflictions of the righteous."  But even though we suffer, we do not suffer permanently.  We come out of our trials stronger than before, by God's gracious deliverance.  None of our trials do permanent damage.

I have had various accidents in my life, as most of us have.  Falls from trees, accidents on bikes, roughhousing with my brother, things like that.  When the hit comes there's that moment of shock, and then you start evaluating- what is the degree of my injury?  Am I bleeding?  Am I bleeding a lot?  Is anything broken?  Can I just walk this off or do I need some additional help (a band-aid, mom, an ambulance)?  The Christian life feels like that a lot to me- some new blow comes and after the initial shock, you take stock of the situation- can I walk away from this?  Is this going to do permanent damage?

Certainly the Christian experiences traumas like divorces, deaths of loved ones, falls into sin and so forth that will have permanent consequences.  I have made mistakes that have permanently cost me friends.  I have wasted time in sin that I will never get back.  But by God's grace I know that every loss I have experienced will be more than made up in God's time.  Some of those losses may not be recovered until eternity, but they will be.

This is a great example of a prophecy that has multiple levels of interpretation.  We have to be careful not to allegorize and read hidden spiritual meanings behind everything, but sometimes we know that we should, since the Bible shows us the way.  In John 19:36 this Psalm is quoted as a prophecy of the Messiah.  When He was on the cross, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the other prisoners to speed up their deaths, at the request of the Jews (since the next day was the Sabbath).  But when they got to Jesus, He was already dead.  So John says that this fulfills the prophecy in Psalm 34.

Unless you see the bigger picture, this can feel like a pretty trivial way of interpreting Scripture.  For one thing, the original Psalm doesn't appear to be about the Messiah at all.  It's clearly about God's people in general.  Further, Jesus' bones were not broken because he was already dead.  That certainly doesn't seem like avoiding permanent damage.

But of course, we know the whole story- by the power of God, Jesus was delivered even from the bonds of death.  Even His death was not permanent.  The fact that His legs were not broken was not in any way necessary to this whole process- the God who raised Jesus from the dead certainly could have healed broken bones.  But the larger point is that Jesus escaped unharmed and stronger than ever even from this most calamitous trial.

And He is the head of His people.  We share in His life.  It is precisely because Jesus rose from the dead, that He conquered death itself, that we can have the confidence that the Scriptures calls us to in Psalm 34.  We can know that not one of our bones will be broken. We share in Jesus' life, and therefore we can have complete confidence that we can walk away from anything life throws at us, even if it knocks us down for a while.  When we walk by faith, not by sight, we can have that confidence.  When we believe the promises of God and put our trust in Christ, nothing that life can throw at us can do permanent damage. We will stumble, but not fall.  We will bend but not break.  We will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but the Lord will lift us up, for He lifted up Jesus Christ from death, and all Jesus' people are lifted up with Him.

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