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J.W. Wartick

This tag is associated with 441 posts

Junia and Bayesian Epistemology: Philosophical probability trumping Biblical scholarship?

Alexander Pruss is one of the smartest people I’ve encountered. Though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, the sharpness of his intellect and his wit is always fascinating. His blog is frequently a place to flex mental muscles, as he offers small, one-off arguments to spur discussion. Recently, he wrote a post entitled “Junia/Junias and the base rate fallacy” Pruss argued that application of Bayesian analysis to biblical scholarship would help solve the question of whether Junia/Junias was an apostle. Apologies in advance for possible lack of care with terms like “factor,” “probability,” and “odds”; I tried to be careful but I’m tired.

The Argument

The preliminaries are explanations of Bayes’ Theorem and the meaning of the “base rate fallacy,” both of which are easily searched online, but I provided the links here (with all the caveats that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Wikipedia articles don’t make anyone an expert). With that information in mind, we approach Pruss’s argument.

Pruss does fudge the numbers some, admitting he hasn’t explored the question on the actual numbers for some of these probabilities. So, for example, he begins by giving a 9:1 factor for Junia:Junias names in the early church. With that, and with the note that to avoid the base rate fallacy, we ought to assign a probability (he gives .9) to the question of whether this person was “among” the apostles, it yields a .19 rate of false positives for people who are not woman apostles to be assigned the notion of being a woman apostle. Moreover, if we say that there are 12 male apostles (the disciples) for every one female apostle (Junia), the probability of an apostle being a woman is now 1/13. Finally, because “not everyone Paul praises is an apostle” we have to assign a probability to whether Paul is praising an apostle here (Pruss gives it .3). This means that “the chance that a randomly chosen person that Paul praises is a female apostle even given the existence of female apostles is only about (1/13)×(1/3) or about three percent.”

Plugging in the .19 we got above for false positives and doing more math (read his post), we now discover that “even assuming that some apostles are female, the probability that Junia/s is a female apostle is at most about 14%, once one takes into account the low base rate of women among apostles and apostles among those mentioned by Paul.”

Pruss immediately notes the numbers are made up and could change the overall results.

Analysis

There are some significant problems with Pruss’s argument here. First, the fact is that there is no extant name “Junias/Junianias” found anywhere in lexical evidence whatsoever. Thus, instead of .9 for Junia being a woman, it should be 1. One comment pointed this out and Pruss pressed the argument that even in this case, the math would still be “significantly less than 50%” for Junia to be a female apostle. Doing the math is too hard for my tired brain, but let’s just say he’s right. The question still remains of why the chances for Junia to be a female apostle would be so low.

Looking at his other percentages, it seems a large part of the argument, once we’ve established Junia is female, turns on whether it is the case that she may not be “among” the apostles. Pruss’s position here falls into the goalpost moving arguments that complementarians have engaged in since the lexical evidence turning her into a man came up dry. Typically, this is how it goes:

Junia was not a man => Okay, Junia was not an apostle => Okay, Junia was not the type of apostle that was authoritative

The third stage above is one that is essentially a theological fiction supported almost entirely by punting to the fallacious importation of the semantic range of a word into a foreign context. When Paul wrote to say that Junia was an apostle, according to this argument, but she was one only in the semantic meaning of the word apostle as witness/sent one/messenger. Never mind that the word is used for an office in the New Testament, including in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 12:28). No, because it does not serve the purpose of continuing to prevent women from holding pastoral office, the entire semantic range of meaning for the word “apostle” must be imported in order to reduce Junia in status once again. This fallacious importation of meaning is a demonstration of an ad hoc explanation. (Unfortunately, Pruss himself succumbs to this goalpost moving argument in the comments on this post when he questions whether Junia as an apostle would be an authoritative apostle or not.)

But it is the second stage that is at question initially, and here, once again, it seems that the importation of complementarian assumptions into the text has occurred, for this reading goes against the earlier known readings from church fathers (see here, for example) which saw Junia as an apostle and did not import the lexical range of the word into “among” either. So, again, the factor needs to be moved from .9 to 1.

The proportion of male:female apostles is made up, as Pruss acknowledges. It’s possible that the reality is 1:1 or 100:1. So it would be possible to move numbers around to make it either extraordinarily likely Junia was a woman apostle or unlikely. It also seems to me the 1/3 possibility that Paul is praising an apostle seems high. So again, this would potentially lower the probability for Junia as a woman apostle. It could raise it, though that seems unlikely given the biblical text. Nevertheless, significant gains were made with “Junia” being established as the name and being among the apostles. And, the question of just how likely something ought to be in order to be epistemically justified in believing it is itself a matter of very hot debate. If, say, the likelihood for Junia being a woman apostle were 33%, would someone be justified in holding that belief? The answer to that question is very messy indeed.

But the most relevant evidence, the most clear counter-point to Pruss wasn’t even considered. That is this: using prior probability to determine the likelihood of an event does not matter if the event has already occurred. That is, if it is the case that Paul does name a woman apostle, then whether or not this was likely or unlikely given any number of other prior probability considerations does not change what Paul does in Romans 16:7. And while Pruss tries to say that his use of Bayesian theorem ought to somehow guide biblical scholars in their reading of this text, what he doesn’t consider is that highly improbable events do occur and that if they do, whether or not the event is improbable does not impact the event’s actually having occurred. Indeed, it is unclear as to why a biblical scholar should take such prior probability into account to begin with (apart from, potentially, taking caution with offering interpretations that are particularly unlikely). Suppose that the name were not Junia but Rebecca and the Greek text were so clear as to make it impossible to take it as anything but “among the authoritative apostles” (despite their being no use of this term in the NT and it being a demand for evidence by complementarians that they cannot meet for people they themselves admit to being apostles). What then? Would a scholar be justified in dismissing the sentence written by Paul that “Rebecca was an authoritative office-holding apostle” simply because of prior probabilities? It seems obvious the answer is no. So then the question is why should the biblical scholar be beholden to prior probabilities in a supposedly less clear case (and again, I by no means grant that it is unclear)? Again, the answer seems to be that the scholar ought not to worry about that, given the relevant data is directly in front of them.

Conclusion

Bayesian reasoning is interesting. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and learning about it from time to time. Whether or not it is helpful to theological questions is a concern for a different time, though it is a fascinating question to ponder (related questions such as how can we fill in sometimes arbitrary probabilities for certain events/people/etc. and still think the theological reasoning is sound would be interesting to explore in depth). In this specific case, though, it seems clear that Pruss’s argument fails for several reasons. All of these center around the actual meaning of the text (the name Junia and the meaning of “among the apostles”) which no amount of external probabilities can alter. Pruss’s argument is a fun mental exercise that need not undermine confidence in the data of the text itself: Junia was a female apostle. Pruss’s claim that biblical theologians ought to use Bayesian reasoning in their exegesis does not seem to be sustained by this example.

Links

A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

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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“The Great Hunt” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re-)Reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Great Hunt is book two in  Robert Jordan’s epic “The Wheel of Time,” a series that has sold more than 400 million copies. There will be SPOILERS, though I will try to limit those for later in the series. Fair warning, though, I may not.

Evil is Deceptive

I know this may seem obvious, but it bears thinking on more closely: evil is deceptive. The Dark One is a deceiver, just as Christian theology teaches about Satan. In The Great Hunt, this most clearly strikes home in the prologue, as a man who calls himself Bors is entertaining himself at a party, seeking out the deceptions within deceptions all around him. Ultimately, the Dark One–or perhaps a Forsaken?–makes an appearance, leading all to cower in fear, but also to wonder at the possibility of lies and plots even here. Evil, you see, is deceptive: it is dangerous even to itself, tricking other evildoers into great plots and twisted ends.

The deception of evil isn’t limited to the prologue, though. Perhaps the most clear example of evil being deceptive is one not revealed in this book. In fact, there are several threads that dangled in The Great Hunt without being fully revealed. Readers, get ready for some upcoming revelations! Some of them will take many books until we get to them.

Hatred and Justice

Some of the most poignant scenes in this book center around the Seanchan. I think that the scene in which Egwene is captured by the Seanchan and the subsequent scenes following her imprisonment are some of the most emotionally jarring in a book that I have ever read. I felt true loathing for the Seanchan and even though I knew the outcome of these events, having read the series before, I felt a true sense of dread throughout these scenes. The characters involved are no less emotional. Nynaeve says that the Seanchan deserve hatred, but also justice. I was struck by this. It is an almost offhand remark, made by Nynaeve in her efforts to get everyone moving out of a dangerous situation, but it is a statement offered unchallenged. Perhaps it is a commentary from Jordan on morality and justice as well.

For Jordan, there seems to be less room–if any–for mercy or forgiveness. Enemies are hated, justifiably, because they are evil. It’s almost as though he has painted a truly black-and-white world, one in which evil is evil and good is good and that’s all there is. The magical elements related to the evil powers help enforce this feel. I can’t remember if forgiveness becomes a theme later in the books, but I’m curious to read more. According to a few bios I’ve seen of Jordan, including one on Tor, the publisher’s page, he was an Episcopalian, so I’m wondering how much of his faith comes out in his books. On the other hand, it is clear he was drawing from many religious beliefs and myths to build his world, telling a story in the best way he knew.

Reincarnation

Time works differently in The Wheel of Time. From what we can tell so far, it seems to be a wheel, constantly repeating in a circle. Many scenes with Rand show us this theme, as he is attacked by the Dark One who constantly tells him he will fail “again” and “again.” Rand sees many possible (former?) lives in several different scenes. More and more, what this means becomes more clear. It is with this theme–reincarnation–that we see a more significant divergence from Christian belief. What does it mean for Rand to be Lews Therin reborn? What kind of ideas are involved in such rebirth and renewal? The future books will have to answer those questions.

The cyclical view of time seems to be quite different from a view of time from a Christian perspective. Though some Christian theologians through history can be found to hold to things like a B or Static theory of time, including an eternal universe, these are in the minority. Such musings about time take us far afield from what is clearly taught in the Bible, though. But reincarnation seems to be rather more clearly rejected. Though proof-texting out of context is a practice I tend to avoid, something like Hebrews 9:27-28 appears to go against reincarnation: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Though again, here, we see the thrust of the text is not on the point of dying once, but rather on Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice to take away sin. Other verses could be mustered, and the overall teaching within the Bible about humanity seems to be: life (not from eternity but born into time), death, judgment, and then final ends, whether eternal life or eternal death. 

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 9

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 9

Fisher’s argument in chapter 9 centers on the credibility of the apostles. In Chapter 8, he argued for the credibility of the Gospels, so he builds on the notion that the Gospels may be trusted to report the words of the Apostles to the question of why we ought to trust them.

First, he notes that we ought to generally trust people unless we have reason to distrust them, whether through intent to deceive or some independent reason to doubt their testimony (71). Other reasons to distrust them may be that they were “enthusiasts” or “simpletons.” A primary reason Fisher cites to trust the apostles is that they give testimony that shows them in a poor light. One example is Paul’s own writings in which he states that he persecuted the church (72-73). They also admit their own contentions about who should be first–the inner fights they had, and the rebukes against some of them by Jesus. Their willingness to show themselves as foolish or mistaken in various forms lends credence to their reports as truth.

Regarding the miracles they report, Fisher touches on the mythic theory put forward by David Friedrich Strauss–that the miracles found in the Gospels were imagined by followers of Jesus who were so caught up in him that they (intentionally or not) invented tales about his power. Fisher counters this by noting that this gets the story backwards, for the reason so many were interested in Jesus was because of the very miracles those selfsame people are alleged to have invented. How could they have become followers of Christ on account of miracles if they themselves invented them (74-75)?

One objection to the authenticity of the Gospels is found in alleged discrepancies between their accounts. Fisher approaches this argument from a few different ways. First, he notes that many of these alleged contradictions are not actually contradictions at all. He does not exhaustively look at such contradictions (for such a look, it is interesting to look at J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences). Second, Fisher argues that minor discrepancies are to be expected in any human testimony. Should we demand 100% agreement in all testimony everywhere, courts would have to be “shut up, for the most veracious witnesses seldom agree in all the minutiae which enter into their testimony” (76).  One example I use personally is that of someone’s height. I’m short for an adult man, so on the witness stand I may call someone “tall” who someone of average of height might call “average.” Such a discrepancy in testimony doesn’t suggest we’d both be wrong, but that human perspective changes based on who the witness is. Fisher’s comments here would likely make some uncomfortable regarding specific doctrines of inspiration, particularly a stringent view of inerrancy. It seems Fisher is willing to allow for their to be even some factual discrepancies between the Gospels due to their human authorship. Third, Fisher notes that the Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive historical accounts but rather the remembrances of eyewitnesses, and so frequently the apparent contradictions or discrepancies could be resolved by simply having more detail. These details are often provided by other Gospel accounts, so it is important to compare them.

Regarding the miracles in the apostles’ accounts, Fisher notes a few lines of evidence. First, they verify revelations. Second, the miracles go against prevailing belief, such that they went against expectations. Third, several of the miracles were in circumstances people felt they were highly unlikely to occur. Fourth, the apostles were subject to persecution regarding their belief in many of these miracles. Thus, if they were inventing them, it was likely they would have given up the invention rather than try to maintain their false pretense. Fifth, the manner of reporting of miracles the apostles had was such that it lends credence to “sobriety of mind” rather than invented myths. Regarding the appearances of Christ, one of the points Fisher makes is that they were limited in time and scope. If they were invented, why would the appearances have stopped?

I think regarding Fisher’s last point, we could note that some do still allege appearances of Christ here and there. There are the infamous “Jesus toast” type of instances, which are dismissed by virtually all, including believers. So again, this seems to go against the idea that Christ-followers were or continue to be particularly prone to the invention and perpetuation of the miraculous. This doesn’t go into issues of charismata and the like, but questions and responses could be asked here as we continue to look at the nature of the miraculous.

Fisher’s succinct chapter here is filled with lines of thought. Again, he merely touches on most issues, but his arguments seem powerful. What takeaways did you have from this chapter?

Study Questions

  1. Fisher’s response to Strauss is quite brief. How might you expand it? What other interactions with Strauss have you run into?
  2. What do you think of Fisher’s comments regarding discrepancies in the apostles’ accounts? How might his answer impact one’s view of the Bible?
  3. What apparent contradictions have you seen in the Bible that you have been able to resolve?

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: “Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women” by Elaine Storkey

Warning: Some statistics related to domestic violence and sexual violence are discussed in this post.

[T]he… acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe produce more death, disability and mutilation than cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined (2).

Every three seconds a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere across the world-usually without her consent and sometimes to a much older man (49).

Nearly 200 million women and girls worldwide are living with the traumatic consequences of female genital mutilation (30).

It is an alarming picture of mass termination: prenatal offspring, aborted for no other reason than they happen to be female (19).

 

There are some nonfiction books that have made me sit back upon finishing reading them, wondering about the world we live in, because the book has given me new eyes to see. Scars Across Humanity has become one of those books. Though I was aware of, broadly, some of the statistics of violence against women, I had no idea how completely pervasive it is at all stages of life. Nor did I fully comprehend or appreciate how totally violence against women has penetrated every level of nearly every society on Earth. Though the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have highlighted some of these issues, Storkey gets to the meat of the issue, giving enormous amounts of statistics and serious analysis of the totality of this horrific situation.

The bulk of Scars Across Humanity focuses on statistics and specifics. First, Storkey shows that violence against women is a “global pandemic.” There is no part of the world that is untouched by this blight upon humanity. Then, several chapters go over specific instances of violence against women. Abortion is the first level of violence against women. Sex-selective abortions are almost entirely chosen to kill unborn girls. This, in turn, fuels human trafficking as women are moved into those parts of the world where a serious imbalance of adult men and women exists, largely due to sex-selective abortions. Female genital mutilation is opposed by leaders of all major faiths, yet it continues across the world and cases of it in places like England and the United States are on the rise. Early and forced marriage is another global problem. Indeed, in the United States, very few restrictions exist on girls being married off to men–indeed, 20 states have no minimum age of marriage.

The misnomer of “honor” killings continue in some parts of the world and, where it is outlawed, enforcement is incredibly lax. Women are murdered or disfigured for the sake of male notions of “honor.” Domestic violence exists in the home and a stigma surrounds it such that it is underreported. Women are at the highest risk when they attempt to leave an abuser, and as many, many instances have shown, they are often not believed when accusations of abuse are made. To help stop the wave of violence in the home, we must work to end stigmas surrounding those who have been harmed by domestic partners, work with law enforcement agencies, and change laws as needed to provide for the greatest possible protection of those towards whom violence is directed. Human trafficking and prostitution are closely tied together and even in those areas where prostitution is made into “just another job,” evidence suggests that massive increases in trafficking occur. Rape is a worldwide epidemic and Storkey shows clear instances of how “rape culture” is a real thing that women must deal with when they report this sexual violence. A huge part of ending rape is to educate men and punish them where they perpetrate these vicious acts. War almost inevitably leads to sexual violence, as can be seen in the historical record as well as into today. Rape is sometimes even used as a weapon of genocide in cultural warfare. Women, time and again, are seen as pawns in conflicts and power dynamics of men.

By the end of Storkey’s analysis, I was left wondering whether there was any room for hope. Storkey does offer a few points, sometimes highlighting how laws have changed to help fight violence against women (though often noting alongside this the serious lack of enforcement of those same laws). However, it is in the last few chapters that Storkey offers her broader vision of overcoming violence against women. Largely, this includes working both internationally and locally (with specific guidelines and stories of how this has worked) to create and enforce laws and to spread and teach the Christian theology of the equality of all humanity.

From before women are born to their all-too-often violent deaths, women across the planet are attacked in often brutal ways. Scars Across Humanity shines a light upon this darkness and issues a serious, empowering call to end this horror of violence against women. If we are truly serious about men and women being made in the image of God, we must fight this gender-based violence on a global level. Storkey’s book is highly recommended.

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.

“The New Testament and the Ordination of Women” by Henry P. Hamann, part 2 in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

See Part 1 of this chapter here.

The New Testament and the Ordination of Women by Henry P. Hamann Part 2

Section III

Hamann notes that “One might get the impression that the prohibition of female leadership in the church is something of an arbitrary opinion of the apostle…” (21). He argues that, instead, “Paul’s views on this matter [women in the church] are embedded in his theology of creation, the fall of man, and the redemption through Jesus Christ” (ibid).

First, I would note that I believe Hamann is deeply mistaken here in adding the issue of gender roles into the basics of the Gospel. By placing gender roles on the same level as creation, the fall, and redemption, Hamann is dangerously close to adding to the Gospel and taking away from the Lutheran doctrine of Christ alone. He is confounding the Gospel by making it equivalent to the demand that women stay silent (however qualified) in the church.

Second, how does Hamann justify this claim? He does so by arguing that 1 Corinthians has a whole theology of “the place of woman,” borrowing heavily from Peter Brunner. Effectively, by weaving together 1 Corinthians 11, Genesis 2, and Ephesians 5 with Paul’s thought, he argues that “head” must mean some kind of structure of authority (21, 22). Interestingly, Hamann’s own reading seems to undercut this interpretation because he goes on to say that “woman is ‘from’ man” (21), an interpretation that fits better with the typical egalitarian reading of “head” as “source.” Genesis 3 is taken to show that woman is to submit to man because the fall of humanity didn’t occur until “it also became the sin of Adam.” Yet in Genesis 3, we see that each of the players is held accountable, despite trying to shift responsibility. Hamann’s analysis here does little to support the notion that head = authority, and a clearer reading of the account would be source. After all, in Genesis 2, which Hamann seems to take to support his position, woman is taken from man, as Hamann himself states. But that would make man a source of woman, would it not? Moreover, multiple studies of the Greek seem to suggest that “source” is a more natural reading of the text. See here, here, or here for example. Thus, Hamann’s exegesis is critically mistaken on the meaning of the term kephale.

Section IV

Hamann provides responses to two objections in this section. First, the objection that “the church is inconsistent in prohibiting the ordination of women while allowing women a whole host of other activities which are just as contrary to the apostolic directive as the pastorate” (24). His counter-argument is to say that the things like singing or speaking “would not fall under Paul’s rule” (ibid). But of course this is to simply make an assertion. He nowhere provides any reason for narrowing the prohibitions to ordination, and as noted in part 1 of this review, he himself admits his definition of “ordination” is nowhere found in the New Testament. Thus, Hamann has simply made an invented definition that he then asserts is Paul’s true meaning, without providing any exegetical reason for limiting the scope of his reading of the Pauline prohibitions. I believe this objection carries for a number of reasons, most simply because Hamann fails to provide any reason to narrow the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and thus makes it a verse he cannot consistently read literally. And, as noted, Hamann simply asserts the contrary without argument.

The second objection Hamann notes is that some would argue complementarians ought to expand the scope of their prohibitions by “protest[ing] against women taking up positions of authority in non-ecclesiastical spheres, in society and in politics” (24). Remarkably, Hamann’s response to this argument is to say that “if anywhere, then at least in the church Christians should insist on the role of women which fits the created order. Not every development in the world can be changed or even challenged by the church, but a witness to the proper state of affairs can be given by what goes on in the church. And the complaint of the prophet may not be so far off the mark: ‘My people–children are their oppressors and women rule over them’ (Isaiah 3:12)” (24-25). That’s right, Hamann simply states that the church can’t stop everything, and his clear implication is that women ought not hold such positions of authority. This certainly allows for a more consistent position, but it is one that means, apparently, no woman can hold authority over men. It is the enshrinement of patriarchy in the church and the world at large. That is what Hamann explicitly affirms.

Hamann then notes various roles women may have in the church. Interestingly, one of these includes the “baptizing those who have been approved by the pastor… and the dispensing of the cup at the Lord’s Supper” (25), despite Hamann explicitly having “the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” as part of his invented definition of ordination (14). Inconsistency looms time and again, and Hamann is not the only one guilty of it in this volume, as we shall see in posts to come.

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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: “Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview” 2nd Edition by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig

A work of the size and scope as J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s massive Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview is daunting, so readers will want to know if it is work going through. The short answer to that question is that yes, it is, so long as one reads the work–like any other–with a critical eye.

The book is broken up into six parts: Introduction, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science, Ethics, and the Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. Each section is full of definitions and lengthy philosophical outlines arguing for the positions Craig and Moreland hold. They attempt to stick to a largely “mere” Christianity, though at times they stray from a vision that is as broad as possible. For example, regarding the debate over the soul, Moreland and Craig fall staunchly into the dualist camp, to the extent that a physicalist theory of mind from a Christian perspective isn’t even considered. Regarding the science-faith question, the authors argue lengthily against any perspective which would hold to methodological naturalism and seem to align most closely with ID theory. For a theory of time, the authors push for an A-theory of time, which later impacts their doctrine of God by making God temporal post-creation and undermines the notion of divine simplicity.

Yet even those who take issue with the positions the authors hold will continue to benefit from interacting with their views. For example, interacting with their arguments about God and time would be a great exercise whether one believes God is temporal or atemporal.

I did, however, find the choices of subjects related to philosophical theology to be particularly interesting. The first two sections make arguments related to the Trinity and the Incarnation, which are both definitional to the notion of a “Christian.” The third, however, is about the Atonement, and quickly (613) states that “an essential, and indeed central, element of any biblically adequate atonement theory is penal substitution” and then go on to say “More than that, penal substitution, if true, could not be a merely subsidiary facet of an adequate atonement theory, for it is foundational to many other aspects of the atonement, such as redemption from sin, satisfaction of divine justice, and the moral influence of Christ’s example” (613-614). I was quite surprised by this–especially the latter statement–because there are entire theories of atonement based around these aspects. Thus, for example, the Example Theory of the atonement is entirely based upon the notion that Christ is an example and would therefore give us all kinds of moral influence. Interestingly, the fourth doctrine addressed is that of Christian particularism–the notion that salvation is in Christ alone. I tend to agree that no orthodox Christian would deny this, but it is interesting to see that Craig and Moreland seem to equate belief in, say, universalism with a denial of particularism, though to my knowledge most of the 19th century Christian universalists affirmed particularlism but held to universal salvation through Christ. Craig and Moreland go on to state that views like annihilationism “are rather difficult to square with the biblical data” (632) even though, in my experience, annihilationists almost always go straight to the biblical text to support their views (see, eg. numerous passages that equate hell with death or destruction). Again, it seems odd in a book that tends to go towards “mere” Christianity to pick views that are at issue and then exclude all others.

Many readers will want to go straight to the book for arguments about the existence of God, and Moreland and Craig do not disappoint. In the two chapters on the topic, the authors summarize huge swathes of philosophical arguments for the existence of God, along with answering many objections. Like the rest of the book, this is done in summaries of longer arguments, but readers will still get much of use out of this section.

Though I’ve skimmed through many portions of the book, I’d like to focus a little bit on Christology and the discussion of what Craig elsewhere calls Neo-Apollinarianism.  I was curious to see if the 2nd edition of the book would modify this position in critical ways to avoid the pitfalls of his previous position, but it seems it does not. The argument is made that “Apollinarianism achieved a genuine incarnation that… is no more implausible than the soul’s union with the body” (597). The problem was that it failed to unify body with mind in Christ. Thus, the authors propose making the divine Logos the mind of Christ, among other things (603ff). This seems to me–and many others–to punt the problem by still making it such that the Incarnated Christ does not have the totality of human nature, for the mind is from the divine nature. Simply calling it the “Logos” does not smooth over the problem of making the human nature effectively mindless without the divine. Because this Christology does not give Christ a human mind, as Gregory of Nazianzus said, “That which was not assumed was not saved” (glossing a bit). This seems an incomplete Christ.

Moreover, the discussion on the Lutheran view of Christology (a view that I as a Lutheran ascribe to) rather strangely condemns Lutherans for confusing the natures of Christ by teaching the communication of the attributes. Such a blithe dismissal seems wrongheaded, unless Moreland and Craig wish to further deny that the Incarnate Christ was incapable of divine activity. Alas, such misunderstanding of Lutheran positions are not uncommon.

With Philosophical Foundations for a Christian WorldviewMoreland and Craig have provided a truly impressive contribution to Christian philosophy of religion that will serve as a starting point for many an engagement with a huge number of topics. At some points, the authors take contentious positions, and it is unfortunate that they endorse a non-standard Christology. Thus, readers should read the work with a critical eye, treating it as a practice of interaction on a high level with a number of philosophical ideas related to Christianity.

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.

Racism and Ignorance in American Christianity

A Map of Redlining of Chicago, credit: University of Chicago Library – https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/collections/maps/chigov/

I have had an incredibly formative last couple of years, and one of the things that I have been researching and learning about is the issue of race in the United States. I have to admit my own extreme ignorance of the topic going in, and I definitely do not claim to have become an expert in the topic. I still feel I am only beginning to learn about the many interconnected ways race impacts the way we think and act in the United States, as well as the deep history of racial tensions in our country.

I admit, to my shame, that I had kind of rolled my eyes at some of the discussions of race and its impact today. After all, slavery ended in 1865 with the 13th Amendment, right? Why are people still complaining about it? Why do people complain about things that happened before people today were even alive? I ignorantly–foolishly–assumed that we had gotten over it. That I could say that because something happened more than a hundred years ago, we could safely say it was relegated to our past as something that no longer impacted us. I was deeply, badly mistaken and I apologize for my ignorance.

As I read many of the books that have become formative for me, I shared things that I learned and was alarmed to see many people reacting the way I used to. I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I had done the same, but I was and am nevertheless. I’d see people scoff at the term “systemic racism” and dismiss it as a myth. I’d witness bald incredulity when I mentioned how some of the reasoning used regarding people of color to defend slavery parallels arguments today about refugees and immigrants. People would ask for facts, but when provided with them, would filter them through their existing biases–as we all must–and find that the facts did not, in fact, provide evidence for broad, systemic racism. And, as I write this, I know many of these examples will be dismissed as merely trying to appeal to emotions or pandering to liberalism.

Yet I cannot be silent. I cannot continue to learn about the deep, abiding ways our country has managed to continue to recast issues of race in ways that negatively impact people of color. Over some indefinite period, I would like to share with you parts of my journey. My hope is that you will find it informative and interesting, and perhaps we can talk about the issues we need to work to change. I hope we can work together to bring healing and understanding where there has been very little of either. I hope we can change so that American Christianity is not silent in the face of these systemic wrongs, but rather seen as a powerful group of people working together to crush inequity.

I want to issue a true challenge to those who read this. Do not remain in ignorance. It’s not enough to simply rush to search for an article online to “refute” every fact you are uncomfortable with. And yes, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But time and again in discussions of issues related to inequality–whether race or gender–I find that when I present historical facts based upon digging through many books on the topic, the response is frequently a link to an article that demonstrates little-to-no understanding of those facts and distorts their context. Such historical ignorance is unfortunately common–again, I admit it in myself as something I am seeking to amend–but it is something we must seek to remedy. I want you to join me in this resolution:

When discussing issues of race and faced with a fact or statistic that makes me uncomfortable, I will not rush to find a way to make the fact more comfortable for me as a first reaction.

We need to be uncomfortable. We need to find out things about the past of our country–and perhaps even our ancestors or, even more importantly, ourselves–that make us uncomfortable and make us realize change is needed.

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.

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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 3: Philosophical Critique

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the philosophical critique offered in the book.

Philosophical

As I read through the chapters on the philosophical critique of Theistic Evolution, I found that although each chapter was thoughtful and interesting, there was little by way of actual refutation of TE in the chapters.

Stephen C. Meyer and Paul A. Nelson, in a chapter entitled “Should Theistic Evolution Depend on Methodological Naturalism?,” state that TEs “accept a philosophical rule known as methodological naturalism… [which] asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain by strictly physical or material–that is, non-intelligent or non-purposive–causes” (561) and then argue that “…no sound justification exists for holding methodological naturalism… Christians should not use [methodological naturalism] as a reason for adopting theistic evolution, or excluding other theories” (561-562). The chapter is extremely long and filled with a number of analogies and parallels, but the thrust of it is of course centered around these theses at the beginning. But suppose that Christians don’t use methodological naturalism as a reason for adopting theistic evolution or excluding other theories? Indeed, that is the case for myself. I am still not entirely convinced of methodological naturalism as the only way to do science; but I am leaning that direction. However, the reason I began to lean towards TE was because I found time and again that evolutionary theory seemed the best explanation for the observations we have. So I suppose it is possible that methodological naturalism is a poor reason for adopting TE; but that doesn’t mean TE is false, nor does it mean methodological naturalism is false. Indeed, in my reading, this methodological naturalism is an operating assumption. Indeed, I doubt that many TEs would say it is impossible for some natural feature of life to be designed; rather, the argument would be that we have yet to see evidence thereof, and time and again natural explanations are better. This latter point allows scientists to feel justified in looking for natural causes for the features of life rather than going through something like Dembski’s explanatory filter and positing design when current research comes to a dead end.

The very next chapter of the book, by Stephen Dilley, simply argues that “Theistic evolutionists should reject methodological naturalism” (593). Again; suppose this is true. If true, does it show theistic evolution is false? No. Maximally, it just means that methodological naturalism is not the best way to go about things as a TE.

J.P. Moreland’s chapter’s lofty title caught my attention: “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity Out of the Plausibility Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge.” Certainly, Moreland’s chapter appears to be a broadside against TE. In his “summary” of the chapter, Moreland puts his argument thus: “…given the widespread scientism–the view that the hard sciences are the only or the vastly superior way to know things…–in our culture, theistic evolutionists reinforce this view by constantly revising biblical teachings and interpretations because science says so. Thus, by adopting this unbiblical epistemological outlook, theistic evolutionists weaken the rational authority of biblical teaching among Christians and non-Christians” (633). Moreland’s concern, then, is not that TE actually inherently destroys Christianity, but rather that because TEs allegedly continually change what they think the Bible says [which part? where? why?], it undermines confidence in the Bible.

Moreland argues, for example, that TEs have changed their position on the soul because of science, turning towards physicalism as opposed to dualism regarding the mind-body problem due to advances in neuroscience. Alongside blithely noting that “Jesus believed in a soul” (655) (what did Jesus mean by “soul”? Does physicalism truly deny the possibility of a soul or does it say that the soul is emergent or part of the physical self? Are our ideas about the “soul” so advanced or perfect that we can easily claim Jesus is certainly in agreement with us?), Moreland’s broader claim is that TEs willingness to change what the Bible says about the soul (which, as I’ve read on this issue, is not very much and rather vague–this, coming from someone who would consider himself a Thomist regarding the mind-body problem) demonstrates that TEs are willing to undercut dualism in behalf of science.

Though Moreland does briefly acknowledges that theology may change, he quickly goes on to state that “we should be very careful and reluctant to revise what the church has held for centuries…” (657). He goes on, “…it seems hardly a coincidence that just when the naturalistically informed culture puts pressure on us to believe a certain thing, even though the history of biblical interpretation supports the exact opposite, we conveniently discover that we have misunderstood the Scriptures all along!” (658). Indeed, that would be convenient if that were what is happening, but before there was cultural pressure from the “naturalistically informed culture,” Christians like George Frederick Wright were noting that God’s special divine interaction with the world is not appealed to for the movement of planets and need not be for things like the diversification of life. Wright wrote at a time when evolution was still a theory very much debated, so he can hardly be accused of caving to cultural pressure. The TEs we see today are in that same line of tradition that stretches back more than 100 years, seeking to understand the teachings of Scripture and what God has revealed to us by nature. Moreover, as Alister McGrath notes, “Christian theology undergoes periodic revision, often in response to particular situations within the culture at large, even if it could be argued that it nevertheless keeps certain core ideas at the centre of its vision” (Alister McGrath, The Science of God, 27-28). Whether it was the development of Nicene orthodoxy, the condemnation of the Donatists, or the rejection of the prosperity gospel, Christianity has often changed or clarified issues in response to cultural pressures. That’s because we don’t have the full picture. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), so we must constantly seek for truth and revise our ideas as we run into more evidence, no matter where it comes from.

Moreland also turns his sights against non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) and claims that TEs largely hold to this view and that it undercuts Christian doctrines and ethics. How? Because if we say that science can only test some claims, apparently that means that we would automatically assume that other doctrines or ethical positions are merely subjective. This unfortunate non-sequitor is the kind of argumentation I’d expect to be beneath Moreland, a scholar I respect. In no way does NOMA entail that there can be no objectivity outside of science, unless one then pairs it entirely with scientism. But very few TEs would embrace full-on scientism, because, after all, they remain theists and so affirm that God exists and is the ground of reality. Thus, this fanciful tale in which scores of TEs are out there undermining Christian doctrines and ethics and calling them subjective seems fear-mongering. Indeed, some TEs are among the most steadfast and brilliant theologians of our time and certainly do affirm objectivity in theology and ethics (for example, John Walton and Alister E. McGrath).

C. John Collins’ chapter on God’s action in the world largely seeks to say that we should allow for miracles in the workings of the natural world, something that I doubt many TEs would deny. The difference is that many TEs (though certainly not all) would see things like the emergence of life or the way nature is set up to allow for evolution and lead to humans as miraculous, while leaving the individual workings to “natural” processes. Again, very few people today would demand Christians affirm that the movement of the planets is an act of special divine intervention, even though historically many Christians did affirm that and the Bible explicitly states that the “heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Yet we don’t have books arguing against Christians who don’t believe that the movement of the stars or weather patterns are the direct acts of God? Why not? Because we have accepted that God may use natural processes, and that this, too, is glorious.

Other chapters argue about the origin of conscience, the problem of natural evil on evolution, and the interaction of science and scripture. These are interesting, but again seem to do little to undercut the position of TE.

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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the scientific critique offered in the book.

Science

I admit I am by no means an expert in science and so do not feel adequate to fully interact with the scientific chapters in this book. Chapter topics include “Three Good Reasons… to reject Darwin’s Explanation of Life” by Douglas Axe, the problem of information for evolution, the problem(s) of mechanism(s) for evolution, the question of first life and its arising on earth, the problem of having front-end loaded design for evolution, DNA mutations being inadequate to explain evolution, embryology as a challenge to evolution, multiple chapters against universal common descent, arguments for unique human origin, and the way bias can lead investigations in science.

Again, it would not be possible to even give an overview of all of these chapters without several thousand more words, so I’ll just go over a few of the notes I took throughout the chapters.

Douglas Axe’s chapter includes a rather strange claim that is pretty central to his whole proposal. He has argued before about the plainness of design and our ability to detect it. He continues this argument in his chapter arguing for rejecting Darwinism. Yet one of his points is that things like clouds do not point clearly to design. Specifically, he states:

To the theist… nothing happens apart from God. But then, no theist came to that view by looking at clouds or craters [on the moon]. Such things are not at all inconsistent with God’s presence, but neither do they confront us with his presence. (90)

Such a statement is quite strange, because historically it seems pretty clear that such things do, in fact, point to God’s presence for many theists. Most notably, the Bible itself states rather clearly: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It seems obvious from this passage that David, at least, felt that such things as clouds and the skies and the heavens—yes, perhaps even moon craters–declared the glory of God and the works of God’s hands. They are used as paradigms for showing the exact thing that Axe says they are not. But of course to admit that would be to undercut Axe’s whole point. After all, if the mundane things may actually point us to God and indeed confront us with God’s presence, then the whole objection to Darwinism based on it reducing life to “natural” causes itself falls apart.[3] 

Stephen C. Meyer’s chapter that argues having “Front-End Loaded” design makes no difference for theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists has its own problems with grand claims. Meyer states:

Some theistic evolutionists affirm that God actively directs the evolutionary process by… directing seemingly random mutations toward particular biological endpoints… this view contradicts the (scientifically) orthodox neo-Darwinian view of the evoltionary process as a purely purposeless, unguided, and undirected mechanism… (218).

It is odd, though, for Meyer to insist that theistic evolutionists must have their directions of speculation or insight governed by atheistic perspectives (he specifically cites Richard Dawkins in favor of his assertion). Of course, the whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is that God exists and so saying God may be involved in the process is simply an outworking of that theism. To artificially limit theistic evolutionists to the thought process of Richard Dawkins is a bit absurd, and again hints that the way these authors are looking at TE may itself be problematic.

In the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Does it Work?” by Stephen C. Meyer, Ann K. Gauger, and Paul A. Nelson, the authors ask “Why insist on synthesizing Christian theology, or a biblical understanding of creation, with a scientifically failing theory of origins [read : evolution]?” (257). I can’t help but wonder at this total confidence. I continually try to learn more and read magazines like Smithsonian and Scientific American. I read manuscript-length science book when possible. Time and again, I find that there are new and continued confirmations of evolutionary theory in these magazines. Yes, the theory continues to change, but it also continues to find affirmation in discovery after discovery. Yet authors like those of this book continue to rely on the same quotes time and again to support their own assertions.[4] If it is true that evolution is truly a failing theory of origins, why is it that we don’t see the majority of scientists turning away from it? Sure, it is possible there is some massive conspiracy, but is that what we are being asked to believe?

Finally, in a chapter arguing against human evolution by Casey Luskin entitled “Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” I found a number of problems. The first is that Luskin’s chapter often focused on works focused towards lay people in the reporting on fossils, apparently trying to show how sensationalized new discoveries are. But having excitement over new fossil discoveries–and having sometimes inaccurate reporting–does not somehow discredit those same fossil finds. Another difficulty is one I have seen time and again in creationist and ID literature, namely that they argue that because there is not an exact, agreed upon sequence of A-B-C…Z, there must be no sequence. But of course, that doesn’t follow whatsoever. It may be that the sequences is not A-B-C…. but rather A-C-B….Z, but that hardly means there is no sequence with start and endpoints. This is a problem I have observed time and again, and an argument I found pretty compelling for many years until I began to research more and more of the literature. Simply having disagreement about the order of transitional forms does not entail that there are no transitional forms. Yet Luskin makes exactly this kind of argument on pages 444ff. Indeed, he makes it explicit in his conclusion, after quoting a pair of paleontologists to the tune of saying that the sequence of human ancestors is unknown, Luskin confidently asserts “With the fossil evidence for human evolution so weak, why should our theistic evolutionist brothers and sisters insist that the church must adopt their viewpoint?” (473). That is a major non sequitor. Imagine a defense attorney on a murder case arguing that because the prosecution could not precisely put a serial killer’s victims in order of when they were killed, it followed that there were no murders or that there was no sequence. Of course, anyone paying attention would be shocked at this seeming confusion. But that is what Luskin and others are expecting readers to accept as evidence against TE, saying simply that because there is disagreement of sequence, there can be no sequence.

[3] Indeed, the earliest days of theistic evolutionists had advocates making this exact point. George Frederick Wright, for example, argued that just as it is not problematic to acknowledge the movements of the planet are due to natural causes, it would not be problematic to see life’s development as the same. See my post on Wright’s theology.

[4] Multiple sources cited are older than 20 years. Time and again, people familiar with Intelligent Design will find themselves reading the same quotes from the same authors. Of course, if someone is right, the age of what they wrote or the fact that it gets quoted multiple times is hardly a problem. But I am left wondering why we can’t hear about more recent publications showing how disastrous evolution is or more dissenters from evolution. Instead, disagreement about details is often taken to be the same as showing evolution is wrong or that evolution is in crisis.

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: “The Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

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.

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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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