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“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 4- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part IV

We left off last time at an intermission (page 40) and pick up there. The moderators interject here to try to reign in the conversation, asking Owen and Campbell to limit the discussion in this afternoon (think about it–multiple days-long debates!) to the first proposition at question, namely “that all religions have been founded in ignorance” (40). Owen begins his defense of the proposition.

First, Owen flatly states that he would not have to defend the proposition that all religions ever are ignorant if humans were not themselves kept in ignorance of “what manner of beings they were, how they were formed at birth, and how their characters were afterword produced for them” (40-41). This bold claim has interest to us today–what more have we learned about these questions than Owen and Campbell might have known in 1829? It seems clear we know more about at least a few of these questions, though one could argue that psychology, anthropology, and biology have digressed–that position would be interesting to see defended. Nonetheless, what does it say that religions persist to this day, almost 200 years later, with possibly more knowledge of these questions than Owen had?

Owen goes on, here making a much more interesting claim: he states that he will demonstrate that humans are different from whatever any religion supposes them to be and that none of the religions apply to humans as they truly are (41). What is interesting to reflect on at this point in the debate is how frequently Owen makes these lofty, impossible to prove claims. Is he really going to survey every religion ever in existence to demonstrate individually that they are all impossible to reconcile with what he believes is human nature? No, of course not. But keep an eye on modern debates over the existence of God or the nature of Christianity as well–how often do the interlocutors in those debates make similarly grand claims without support?

Owen goes on to claim that to prove his contention, we need only to look at ourselves and the facts that we know of right now (41). Here he makes one of the first relevant points to Christianity specifically in the debate so far (though he does so as an attack on “all” religions, apparently): he argues that human beings come into the world entirely ignorant of the state of things and without control over their formation, and concludes from that any religion that teaches humanity is by nature sinful or “bad” (as he puts it) is therefore mistaken. Specifically, Owen asserts that “no being… can ever be made to become responsible for [its] nature” (ibid).

Owen goes on to stress his previous argument that no one is in control of the circumstances of their birth, such that it is an accident of history that people are born into places in which they believe whatever religion they believe (41-43). He asks, “Who amongst us decided that he should be taught to speak English, be instructed in the Christian religion and belong to his particular sect?” (43). He then appeals to the commonality of all humanity in being accidents of birth to find unity: all the things which separate us, he asserts, can be attributed to the accidents of circumstance (I’m using the phrase “accident” here to substitute for his wordier descriptors). Thus, we can turn to our neighbors and unite with them over our shared humanity. It is a powerful call to a humanist faith in the unity of all humankind.

Campbell rises to meet this mixed challenge. And he does so with startling clarity:

Let us try this position with a reference to our existing institutions : all schools and colleges have been founded and predicated on the ignorance of man ; all testimony has been predicated on the ignorance of man; all the books that have ever been printed are predicated on the ignorance of man? Are not these facts? But does the existence of these facts cast any opprobrium [censure], obloquy [public verbal abuse], or disparagement upon books, human testimony, or seminaries of instruction?— These terms, then, have nothing in their nature or import calculated to engender a prejudice against religion. (45)

Campbell goes on in to frankly concede Owen’s point that all religions are founded in ignorance, so long as it is taken by that to mean that all religions are founded on humans who do not have the capacity to control the place of their birth, the circumstances thereof, etc. But rather than concluding that this means the are all false or unnecessary, Campbell flips the narrative on its head and says that this ignorance itself shows the need for religion! The reason, he asserts, is because religion helps us to sort out the many things that happen as accidents of birth and provides a basis for morality and rational sorting out of all the myriad of details that we are made aware of throughout our lives. ” If, then, [people] need a religion at all, they need it because of their ignorance. It was instituted to remove human ignorance, and the necessity of supernatural revelation has ever been predicated on that ignorance” (45).

The question of what human knowledge is gained and what is necessary is “thorny,” as Campbell notes, and he goes on to state that Owen’s position effectively makes all human capacities and reasoning necessary based upon the way Nature operates on them. But nature itself does not explain all things, and the capacity for our observation of all things is not limitless. Metaphysical truths, like many principles of mathematics which seem unquestionable, can become difficult when the test of observation is applied, but that does not undermine the possibility for their truth.

Moreover, Campbell argues that we are not entirely products of circumstance: Owen himself went against the nature of British society from which he sprang. The ceding of all knowledge to circumstance has led to a number of ideas that are difficult to reconcile with reality, according to Campbell. Among these are those philosophers who came to deny right and wrong; others who denied the existence of the physical world; and many other difficult positions. Then, Campbell goes on a somewhat lengthy discourse about not just Owen’s 12 principles (introduced before) but also on how philosophers in general tend to pick a favored principle (or set thereof) and reduce all human activity and thought down to that–an exercise that is often futile, according to Campbell (47-49).

With this, Campbell concludes, and the two retired for the day. We, too, will leave off here (page 51) and pick it up later. For now, think on how the debate of this day played out: Owen asserts that all religions are founded on ignorance due to circumstances of birth. Campbell concedes the point but notes that if that is the argument, all human institutions are also founded in the same ignorance, such that it is hardly a reason to dismiss religion specifically. Moving on, Campbell argues that religion is necessary exactly for the reason Owen asserts it ought to be condemned. A fascinating day for the debate, don’t you agree?

Questions

  1. Do we know more about what manner of beings humans are, how we are formed at birth, and how characters are produced than Owen and Campbell did in the 1800s? Is it historical hubris to suggest we might? And, if so, what does that say for Owen’s thesis that if we just knew about these questions, all humanity would disavow all religions as ignorance?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s counter-charge that religion is, in fact, made necessary by humanity’s ignorance?
  3. Should the bare fact of accident of birth be an argument against a position–religion, philosophy, etc.?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

"The Man in the High Castle" – A Christian Reflection on the Finale

Amazon recently released the final season of “The Man in the High Castle” and it was full of revelations, deeply moving moments, and the intense buildup fans of the series have come to expect. Here, I’d like to discuss the finale in light of a Christian worldview. There will, of course, be major spoilers for the whole series since we are talking about the finale.

The Breaking of Swords

The climactic scene in the final episode shows the revelation that John Smith has died, and upon finding out about it, Bill Whitcroft, the newly-minted leader of the Nazis in the United States immediately throws off his swastika and calls off the attack on the Western States. An immensely powerful scene follows, in which hordes of bombers suddenly turn aside from violence. The people who are watching in anticipation of their almost certain deaths look on in awe as the bombers turn away and their lives are saved. They set down their weapons on the battlements as the music swells with emotion. It was a conscious choice–a choice for peace rather than war, for turning aside from violence, for the breaking of swords.

The scene also makes me think of a recently released book entitled Beating Guns, in which the authors talk about political topics related to gun control, but also about the eschatological hope of literally beating guns into plowshares. In fact, one of the authors has a group that does that literal act, having truly turned a number of weapons into various garden implements and tools.

Each of these acts–literally working to beat guns into garden tools or choosing to go the way of peace instead of the way of destruction–demonstrates something about Christian eschatological hope that is often missed in the broader discussions of end-times theorizing. Too often, Christians obsess over details of alleged end times prophecy but miss the fact that Jesus has already come and that calls us to a radical renewal and change of the world–one that calls us to peace and overwhelming love.

The call to peace is powerful, and some of the greatest Christian thinkers have made it central to their theology. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of a radical call to peace that went against security. Rather than having the security that comes with force of arms, Christians are called towards a life that turns the other cheek and trusts in God.

Evil Begets Evil

John Smith is a kind of ultimate tragic figure. There’s an absolutely stunning sequence in this final season as Helen Smith discovers what John is doing. Interspersed with flashbacks showing how John initially tried to resist the Nazi regime until ultimately capitulating to it and even watching his friend get shipped off to a concentration camp, we discover with Helen that John Smith, as he gains control of the United States, is planning for a continuation of the Final Solution. A particularly chilling moment is when she discovers the map for where the concentration camps would be placed. Helen realizes this is for real–John is planning to not just continue but also magnify the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated.

Finally, Helen confronts John on their ill-fated train ride. She asks him: “How did we get here–you and me, how did we get here?” She has come to the realization, fully owning that what she has done, and what her husband has done, is an incredible evil–a crime that will be remembered throughout all history. When she calls it a “crime” John Smith says, “I know.” She replies, “It has to stop.” His response is absolutely horrifying, not because it is utterly evil–it is–but because of how we can see that this kind of evil is something people can almost fall in to. He says: “I don’t know how.”

He has gotten so used to the state of affairs that he is inoculated to it. Evil is simply a way of living, it is how they live. It has supported and propped up their lives. It is so incredibly easy for we as humans to give in to evil. We allow it to become a norm. We look the other way when we see injustice and we accept it as a fact of life. People will, after all, do horrific things. What can we do?

But we cannot do this. We cannot accept evil as it stands. We must not. We are called to do better. We must tear down unjust institutions, acknowledging that they are part of what makes it so that we “don’t know how” to do any different. We must call for reform, for a setting down of arms, a march of peace. We cannot ever allow ourselves the comfort of that hideous evil to hide behind: ignorance.

A March of Saints?

The ending of the series is surprisingly ambiguous. I kind of loved it. We see the quantum machine opening up, apparently allowing people from all sorts of alternate worlds come in. The march of people coming in from all over is a stark contrast to the restrictive control that the Nazis have been trying to impose. It’s a kind of march of saints as people go looking for each other from across worlds. It is beautiful.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sacrifice and Sacrament in Dan Simmons’s “Hyperion”

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo Award-Winning science fiction novel that reads like a kind of modern Canterbury Tales. The theological depth and beauty of Simmons’s Hyperion is as profound as it is repelling. The stories told in the novel range from horrifying and vulgar to profound and deep. Each traveler has their own purpose for being on the journey, and Simmons draws readers in with these tales. Here, we’ll discuss one story that moved me deeply. There are, of course, SPOILERS in what follows.

Sacrifice and Sacrament

One story, in particular, sticks out for me. That is the story of the “cruciform” told by Lenar Hoyt, a Roman Catholic priest who tells the story of Paul Duré, a priest who was exiled to the planet Hyperion and researches a strange population there. As readers go on, they see through Duré’s eyes, that the people he’s researching are apparently immortal, and that they follow the way of the “cruciform.” This leads Duré to believe he has found something that will bring life to the Christian church at large–rock solid evidence that Christianity is true and that everyone should follow it.

But as the story goes on, we discover that the immortality of these people is something much more horrifying. The “cruciform” is really a kind of parasitic organism that sustains the host humans while draining their will to do anything other than serve it. The price of immortality is unconscionably high. Pain removes the cruciform creatures, but it manipulates the others into killing the host only to resurrect them from whatever is left so that it can continue living. Duré, unwittingly, had consigned himself to an endless existence serving the cruciform.

Duré, though, discovers a way out: he burns himself continually so that the cruciform will at last remove itself from his body. Hoyt finds him and is able to end his years of endless torment by removing the cruciform and allowing him to die at long last. The cruciform was a mockery of Christian salvation and resurrection hope, something Duré himself came to realize. His own death was a kind of sacred sacrament, a burning away of the evil of artificially discovered immortality that brought nothing but misery and a deliverance into the eternal life after.

Duré wrote, in one of the entries after he realized the abomination that was the cruciform:

If the church is meant to die, it must do so–but do so gloriously, in the full knowledge of its rebirth in Christ. It must go into the darkness not willingly but well–bravely and firm of faith–like the millions who have gone before us, keeping faith with all those generations facing death in the isolated silence of death camps and nuclear fireballs and cancer wards and pogroms, going into the darkness, if not hopefully, then prayerfully that there is some reason for it all, something worth the price of all that pain, all those sacrifices. All those before us have gone into the darkness without assurance of logic or fact or persuasive theory, with only a slender thread of hope or the all too shakable conviction of faith. And if they have been able to sustain that slim hope in the face of darkness, then so must I… and so must the Church. (91)

The sure and provable scientific fact that Duré had been seeking when he found the cruciform initially confirmed his faith before the horror of it made him literally burn it away. But what he found in its stead was a newfound hope, however slim, that in the face of darkness and evil, without the most persuasive evidence, his faith could sustain him. It’s a profound commentary on Christian hope, and one that should be read fully to experience.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles” by Timothy Larsen

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles is a series of lectures and responses on the Scottish poet/author/pastor and his legacy for our time.

The book is a publication of part of the Hansen Lectureship series, a series of lectures dedicated to the legacies of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, and Owen Barfield. Essentially, it is to provide a “means of escape for prisoners”–speaking theologically, the lectureship is to provide ways to escape from our narrow-minded self-centeredness and “be equipped for practical deeds in real life” (5).

Larsen’s contribution to this series focuses on George MacDonald, and he does so in three lectures that emphasize MacDonald’s look at the incarnation, his discussion of the crisis of doubt, and the re-enchantment of the world. Each lecture has several highlights. I was particularly struck by the second lecture about the crisis of doubt, which related through MacDonald’s characters and poetry the struggle of the Victorian era’s own awakening to new challenges to traditional theology and thought. MacDonald used his characters to show that doubting was not something to be attacked or undermined, but rather was a part of faith formation, particularly in an era with new challenges.

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles is a brief but fascinating look at the works of MacDonald and how his legacy can impact us to this day. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone” by Brian J. Tabb

Revelation inspires extremes of opinions. Today, people heatedly argue over its meaning, what is to be taken literally, when its events will/have/should happen. It was challenged on its canonicity in the Reformation and before. What can be done to bring some light to this mysterious, complex book? Brian J. Tabb attempts, in All Things New, to provide a way forward in reading Revelation not as an obscure, impenetrable text, nor as a newspaper to tell us about the end times, but rather as a capstone of Scripture that highlights theological themes throughout the whole Bible.

Tabb notes in the introduction the disputed nature of Revelation. Rather than trying to refute all the positions with which he disagrees, he instead seeks from the beginning to build a reading of Revelation that makes sense of its place in Scripture.

First, Tabb turns to how Revelation reveals the Triune God, highlighting the use of language throughout the Bible to demonstrate how the book reveals God’s Triuine nature. This first part is a fascinating section as Tabb draws on broad swathes of Scripture to show that the author of Revelation drew from all over the Bible to demonstrate the Trinity as well as the work of the divine Persons. Next, Tabb turns to themes in Revelation of suffering for God, witnessing, and worship. The third part focuses on judgment, salvation, and restoration. Here again Tabb’s argument is holistic, seeking to show how the author of Revelation drew from Biblical imagery to make their argument about these themes. It is important to note the way that the author of Revelation uses this language, which seems to work against the notion that they took everything literally themselves, picking and choosing from throughout the canon to make their points. Finally, part four shows Revelation’s view of the word of God as trustworthy, prophetic, and true.

Tabb’s work here is admirable in that he has written a book that could benefit readers of many different views related to the book of Revelation and its meaning. All Things New is a helpful book in clarifying the meaning and purpose of one of the most debated and confusing books in the canon.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour” by John Goldingay

There are many questions that arise for Christians as we read the Old Testament. There are almost as many different answers to each question as there are questions. John Goldingay, in Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour attempts to answer some of these questions by giving Christians concrete ways forward in addressing the Old Testament and ethics.

After a brief introduction outlining the meaning of ethics and how one might look at the Old Testament for guidance, Goldingay dives directly into questions of what guidance the Old Testament might offer for Christians regarding ethics. Specifically, he divides the questions into qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Then, he looks at some specific texts and people in the Old Testament and how one might derive ethical guidance from them.

There are many broad topics in a book like this, which addresses ethical questions from how we ought to act in Godlikeness to how animals ought to be treated. Mostly, he follows a format that draws from numerous OT texts in order to try to show a specific direction for ethical inquiry and answers. Among the most difficult questions Goldingay approaches are those to do with sexuality–who are people allowed to have sex with–and questions about wealth and family. He tends to fall in the moderately conservative realm in the answer to all of these questions.

Goldingay’s approach to ethical questions in the Old Testament leaves many questions untouched. That is a necessity, of course, because only a massive tome could truly address many of the topics related to ethics in the Old Testament in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, readers may wonder about how Goldingay specifically derives his ethical standards. He does, of course, bring texts to the forefront in order to argue for each point, but he does little to address some of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament. Additionally, others have argued that an approach to the Old Testament that treats its laws like a kind of codified rule of ethics is indeed mistaken (eg. John Walton). These are highly relevant questions–especially when an answer to them may undermine the very basis for Goldingay’s project to begin with. Goldingay, I believe, has gone into these questions elsewhere in more detail, but for this book it mostly just serves as a straight up guide to how Goldingay believes the Old Testament ought to be viewed ethically.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is an intriguing book that, like many works on the topic, will generate much discussion for those engaged in the topic. Those looking to try to determine some ethical outlook from the Old Testament will be rewarded, but some questions about the method and theory itself remain unanswered.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Disability and the Way of Jesus” by Bethany McKinney Fox

The question of what it means to be “healed” is one of those that seems simple on first glance, but upon closer examination becomes extremely complex quite swiftly. Bethany McKinney Fox’s Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church is an exploration of many of these complex questions. Fox brings light to these questions by surveying many perspectives in sometimes surprising and challenging ways.

Fox challenges assumptions from the get-go, pushing readers to look beyond their assumptions about what it means to experience healing or even to desire it. Too often, people assume that someone with a disability wants to be “healed” so that they can be “normal”–but this itself smuggles in a number of perceptions and assumptions about what the person who has a disability is feeling or thinking. Fox even notes the ways our language can change these perceptions.

The bulk of the book, though, deals with biblical texts related to healing and brings a number of perspectives to bear on these texts. After a look at the context in the First Century of Jesus as healer, Fox brings the perspectives of physicians, people with disabilities, and pastors to bear on various healing texts in the Bible. These often bring very different ideas to the text and come away with surprising readings. For example, do the texts suggest healing is something everyone ought to seek? Do they demand Christians pray for healing? What does it mean to be healed? These questions get very different answers depending upon who is reflecting upon them.

Finally,the book turns to what it means to be healed in the Bible, as well as practices of the church that can help assist healing. Here, there is a stirring call to the church to break the structures that bind those with disabilities in addition to trying to bring healing and holistic care to all people.

Disability and the Way of Jesus is a fascinating read that will force readers to rethink assumptions and examine Scripture texts anew while also looking for new applications to their personal lives. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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