Wyoming Fossils: Coming to Grips with the Absurdity of the Flood Geology Model of Fossil Origins– The sheer amount of fossils we can observe and their arrangement leads to some serious difficulties with young earth creationism and its scenarios of the Flood. (The picture of fossils here is from my private collection. The pictured fossils were found in Kansas, not Wyoming.)
Why the ESV’s “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16 matters– A decision to change the translation in Genesis 3:16 has wide ramifications.
Beyond the Final Frontier: A Christ and Pop Culture Tribute to Star Trek– Yep, the title pretty much says it all. Don’t forget to check out my own tribute to Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.
The Two Guys to Blame for the Myth of Constant Warfare Between Religion and Science– Some historical perspective on the idea that science and religion are at war with each other.
Dalrymple Responds to Gibbon Concerning the Spread of Christianity– “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the best known works of history in the West. Edward Gibbon, the author, was an urbane skeptic who used the work to aim skeptical arguments at Christianity. One of his contemporaries fired back.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, early fossil hunters in England. It raises an astonishing number of worldview questions related to women, paleontology, and creationism, and we will here discuss just a few of these issues. There will be SPOILERS in what follows, but it is history!
Paleontology, Creationism, and Controversy
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Remarkable Creatures is its survey of the controversies surrounding the discovery of fossils that challenged reigning scientific and religious paradigms. One of the greatest challenges was to come to believe that extinction had occurred. Think about it: if all you ever knew was the living beings around you, what possible reason would there be for thinking that those beings could die out, such that none were left anywhere? Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot’s finds of creatures like icthyosaurus challenged even the greatest thinkers of the time to come up with new paradigms for fitting these creatures–which didn’t exist anywhere on earth at their time–into reality.
For a time, it was thought that the bones of icthyosaurus were just those of a crocodile. But then Mary Anning discovered a complete fossil that included huge eyes (eyes that even had bones in them!). This forced people to the realization that these truly were novel creatures.
It’s a fascinating thing to think about, because the problem wasn’t just that it forced them to come up with a new concept–extinction. It also led to theological crises. After all, why would God create creatures that would all die out? One pastor in the book was particularly disturbed by this notion. He argues with Elizabeth Philpot: “All that you see about you is as God set it out in the beginning. He did not create beasts and then get rid of them. That would suggest He had made a mistake, and of course God is all knowing and incapable of error…” (144, citation from large print edition [only one they had at the library]). Philpot then comes back, noting that rock formations change and that if creation is supposed to be without change, how could rock fall or change a cliff face? The pastor ultimately comes back by saying that “God placed the fossils there when He created the rocks, to test our faith…” (145). Chevalier cleverly puts an answer in Philpot’s head: “It is my faith in you [the pastor as interpreter of Scripture] that is being tested, I thought” (145). The pastor, it should be noted, was also using, as was commonplace, Bishop Ussher’s chronology of the world, which put the date of creation “on the night preceding the 23rd of October 4004 B.C.” (144). Philpot wryly remarks- “I had always wondered at his precision.”
Another idea that was prominent at the time was the notion of anatomical laws or conformity with Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being. According to these ideas, there is a kind of hierarchy of being that puts humans at the top (usually) with other creatures in stages below that. It is not evolution, for it predates that idea. Instead, it is a way of ordering those creatures which exist now according to some principles. Mary Anning’s finding of a plesiosaur challenged this chain of being by violating the ways that creatures were supposed to appear or exist.
Late in the book, Elizabeth Philpot is finally questioned on what she thinks about the fossils and God. She is pleased to finally be asked:
I am comfortable with reading the Bible figuratively rather than literally. For instance, I think the six days in Genesis are not literal days, but different periods of creation, so that it took many thousands–or hundreds of thousands of years–to create. It does not demean God; it simply gives Him more time to build this extraordinary world. (391, again note reference from large print edition)
Although this is a work of historical fiction, these debates continue into today. Some groups still use Bishop Ussher’s chronology to date the age of the earth. Although few would argue that there are no extinct creatures, new forms of the same arguments have led to the young earth creationist movement, in which people argue that the Bible requires us to believe that all the creatures that are extinct were alive at the same time as humans. I have personally had conversations with young earth creationists who say that fossils are one way God tests our faith (I know of no young earth organization who would use this argument, thankfully). Scientific findings continue to challenge entrenched religious beliefs.
One is perhaps left to wonder, like Philpot’s thoughts, on how some people get so much precision. The Bible nowhere puts a date on creation. Nor does the Bible demand that all creatures that have ever lived were allowed at the same time. Yet these beliefs persist, and many Christians insist that if one does not hold to them, they are not true Christians, or are perhaps abandoning Scripture. As in Mary Anning’s time, we still have much work to do. We cannot let our external paradigms (things like Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being, or perhaps more germane, our own assumptions about how texts ought to be read “literally” and what the word “literal” means) determine how God is allowed to act or what God may communicate to us.
The book does a good job portraying the way the contributions of women were ignored or even stolen. Mary Anning was an expert fossil hunter–self taught. Yet time and again, men used her expertise to find their fossils and then take credit for the finds. Although her contributions were acknowledged later, her life of poverty is a sad testimony to the way that unequal treatment of women can so easily be perpetuated. The book portrays this unequal treatment in many ways. First, there is the exclusion of both Philpot and Anning from societies of geologists (this was before paleontology was a separate field of study from geology). Second, social norms provide for a simple way to create inequality. When one sex is given the benefit of the doubt (men, in this case) while the other is considered permanently damaged even by gossip about impropriety (women), restraints upon the social movement and capacity of the latter follow by necessity. Third, the contributions of women were ignored.
Unfortunately, parallels to each of these scenarios continue today. Women are excluded from certain groups or positions (such as those who keep women from becoming pastors), thus creating spiritual inequality. Conventions of purity culture, for example, treat women as “impure” or “damaged goods,” putting the onus on young women to abstain while simultaneously removing blame from young men. The power of imagery–objectification of women–continues to impact both women and men in negative ways. We can learn from Remarkable Creatures that much progress has been made, but it also points us in the direction of more work to be done.
Remarkable Creatures is a fascinating read. Although it is dry at times, it provides much insight into a number of discoveries that changed the world. It highlights the careers of two women who contributed much to paleontology in its formative stages. Perhaps most importantly, it challenges us to keep improving, to keep thinking, and to keep observing God’s remarkable world.
Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures (New York: Penguin, 2010).
Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)
Mary Anning: Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs, and The Age of Reptiles– A post that highlights the contributions Mary Anning made to the paleontology. It particularly focuses on how these discoveries pre-dated Darwin.
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.
Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Hidden Science in the Bible?
John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve is full of startling insights into the topic of Adam and Eve in the Bible. One was his argument that the names “Adam and Eve” were not the names of this human couple at all:
Although I believe that Adam and Eve are historical personages–real people in a real past–these cannot be their historical names. The names are Hebrew, and there is no Hebrew at the point in time when Adam and Eve lived.
If these are not historical names, then they must be assigned names, intended by the Hebrew-speaking users to convey a particular meaning… In English, if we read that someon’s name is “Human” and his partner’s name is “Life,” we quickly develop an impression of what is being communicated… These characters, by virtue of their assigned names, are larger than the historical characters to whom they refer. (58-59)
What do you think? Is Walton right to assert these were not the historical names of this couple because Hebrew didn’t exist at that time? What might we derive from this conclusion?
Check out my review of Walton’s book, and see what other insights are offered therein.
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).
The young earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis recently wrote a blog post critiquing eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga on a number of levels. I’d like to offer a brief analysis of his comments.
Ken Ham doesn’t like Calvin College, where Plantinga once taught. About the school, he says:
Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the most ardently compromising Christian Colleges in the US that continues to lead so many young people astray in regards to the authority of Scripture beginning in Genesis.
Harsh words! Of course the reason that Calvin College is said to be a “compromising” college is because it doesn’t follow Ken Ham’s specific interpretation of Genesis as a necessity of Christian faith. By not holding to a position that the Earth is only about 6000 years old, Calvin College gets added to the blacklist of “compromisers.” This kind of name-calling is unbecoming Christians, but that unfortunately hasn’t stopped Ham and his followers.
Plantinga and Science
Ham takes issue with Plantinga’s words on whether science and Christianity may coexist. Following the link to read Plantinga’s own words, one reads:
[Those who believe in a conflict between science and faith] are thinking of evolution plus naturalism, which is the idea that there isn’t any such person as God or anything like God … evolution doesn’t say anything about whether there is such a person as God or not…It’s a metaphysical add-on they are importing into the scientific notion of evolution.
Ham believes that because of this, Plantinga is “equivocating” science and evolution. However, it can hardly be argued that evolution is not the reigning paradigm in biology. Thus, it is not so much equivocation as it is using terms as they are commonly understood. But that aside, the key point is that Plantinga surely seems to be correct. If one does not pair metaphysical naturalism with evolution, it poses no challenge to the existence of deity.
Now, the nuances of whether evolution may be reconciled with Genesis or not aside, the real question is the appropriateness of name-calling because other Christians believe in a different interpretation of Genesis. Ham wants to keep the focus on the alleged “utter contradiction” between evolution and Genesis, but he does so by elevating his specific interpretation of the Bible above any other view and even above Christian charity. For Ham, there is no need to engage with fellow Christians in a meaningful manner. Instead, he simply dismisses fellow Christians as compromisers and sees that as enough for his followers to ignore any complexities in the debate.
Of course, going back to the issue that Ham wants to frame: the alleged conflict between science and religion, I think that it is vitally important to allow charity in interpretations of Genesis. God’s word is infallible, but human interpreters are not infallible. Instead of lashing out at other Christians because they hold a different view than we do, perhaps we should work to reconcile with and learn from each other.
Ken Ham’s post is just a single example of the constant stream of vitriol spilled out by certain groups against those with whom they disagree. I myself have been called a compromiser, an unbeliever, a follower of Satan, someone who is working to undermine the faith, etc. by people who disagree with me. Why not start the discussion rather than pouring out insults? Why not seek to work together and, if necessary, debate the issues instead of using such nasty language about others?
Christian Philosopher Says Science Doesn’t Oppose Faith– Read Ken Ham’s post for his own perspective and words on the topic.
I do not own rights to the image of Alvin Plantinga. I found it with an image search and could not find any original rights attribution. I am using it under fair use.
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
I have sought out another round of really recommended posts for you, dear readers. I hope these posts bring you edification, as they did for me. Let me know what you thought in the comments here, and be sure to drop a comment on those you appreciated!
Is Christian Belief A Science-Stopper: 7 Quick Points– It is often alleged that Christianity becomes a science-stopper. People who are Christians, it is said, are somehow defective intellectually in ways which stall science; or perhaps it is instead that Christian belief leads to a kind of gullibility regarding scientific explanation. Here are seven points which argue that Christianity does not stop science.
The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer and the American Church– What might the story of Bonhoeffer have to tell us for today? Has his life as a Christian been misunderstood? Check out this interesting article on the man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Beelzebul: Poop god– Who said the Bible has no comedy in it? Check out this post which talks about Beelzebul, the poop god, among others.
Two Paths Affirming Women’s Ordination– How might one go about arguing for women’s ordination? Check out this post, which traces two ways that women’s ordination has been achieved historically and in modernity.
Christology: Deity and Eternality– An excellent resource for those of us wanting to look into how to show the deity and eternality of Christ. I highly recommend keeping a copy of this somewhere close at hand.
When Questionable Leaders Make Us Doubt– There have too often been Christian leaders in the news for poor decisions, making mistakes, or even being abusive. What do we do when these failures in Christian leadership make us doubt? My own thought is that we need to recognize that being Christian doesn’t automatically make us cease sinning, but here are some deeper insights I thought were helpful.
Co-Leadership in Marriage: Who’s in Authority?– A question which often comes up in discussions about egalitarianism–the view that men and women have equal authority in the church and home–is how one is supposed to determine who’s in charge in marriage. Here’s a solid post answering that question.
Man’s Fallible Ideas vs. God’s Infallible Word– It is often said that we should harbor some sort of distrust towards “Man’s Fallible Ideas.” Here, Luke Nix examines this claim and sees how it may be applied to issues like creationism.
The Two Most Overlooked Apologetics Verses in the Bible– There are many verses in the Bible which are commonly referenced when it comes to apologetics. Here, Tom Gilson brings up two which are not often referenced in terms of apologetics. I originally found this over at The Poached Egg, which is a site well worth you following!
All the Songs in the Bible [Infographic]– Here, there is an outline and explanation of every single song in the Bible. It’s pretty interesting to see them all written out and explained. Frankly, I find this to be one of the more interesting and helpful sites on the web related to general Bible knowledge. Be sure to follow it for some more excellent general Bible knowledge posts.
How Confucius proves Jesus– Did Jesus exist? How we approach this question should be consistent. How do we explore other historical questions? Check out this post, which explores the question.
I recently wrote a post called “A theological argument against young earth creationism.” In it, my stated claim was “YEC is morally impermissible…” Why? Because “on YEC, animals died because of Adam’s sin…” not because of anything they themselves did. This argument is intended to use the YEC assumption that animal death is an inherently bad thing against them. Let’s outline the argument:
1. If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.
2. Animals are incapable of sinning (they are not morally responsible agents)
3. Therefore, animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin.
The argument as it stands contains a few assumptions which I’ve found in YEC literature. 1) Animals did not die before the fall; 2) Death is inherently a bad thing; 3) all physical death is the result of sin. Now a denial of these assumptions can undermine my argument; I grant that. My point is that if one holds to these three assumptions, my argument shows that YEC is morally impermissible.
Now, Answers in Genesis has provided a critique of my argument, and I must say that I’m very appreciative of their interaction on this important topic. Elizabeth Mitchell wrote the entry, check out her critique, in its entirety, here (under the “And don’t miss…” section). Let me examine the criticism below. (I recommend reading my entire post prior to this one in order to have proper interaction with it.)
First, Mitchell wrote, that my post “…attempts to show young earth creationism is wrong by demonstrating death documented in the fossil record preceded human sin and was unrelated to it.”
I admit I was a bit befuddled when I read this, because nowhere in my post did I try to “demonstrate death document in the fossil record preceded human sin…” I’m not sure where this claim was made in my original post. I don’t mention the fossil record anywhere in the original post and so I’m a bit concerned by this apparent misreading of my article.
Then, she wrote, “He cites no Scripture…” Indeed, I did not cite a single Scripture passage. However, the argument is directly based upon the assertions that some YECs make. But what kind of rebuttal is it to say “He cites no Scripture…” anyway? An argument must be dealt with whether it has Bible passages in it or not.
The argument itself is based upon the logic of the YEC argument against old earth positions. The picture to the right here demonstrates pictorially the view most YECs present of old earth positions–that animal death before the fall makes God morally questionable (image credit to AiG, accessed here). For example, premise 1 is backed up by this quote from the AiG critique: “the connection between Adam’s sin and animal death…” Premise 2 is indeed mostly an assumption, but I think it is one that most Christians would grant. Animals are not on the same level as humans; they are not moral agents made in God’s image. Three is again backed up by the quote I put above; the AiG (and more generally, YEC) argument assumes that all death is the result of Adam’s sin.
Now, AiG does claim that the Bible backs up this position. They wrote, that I “[seem] oblivious toRomans 8:20–22, which explains the connection between Adam’s sin and animal death” (Mitchell, cited below). Well no, I’m not oblivious to Romans 8:20-22, which makes no mention of animal death. In fact, the word “death” is not even used in the passage. Thus, it looks like this an inference from Scripture, not an obvious connection. And an inference is subject to presuppositions. The YEC presupposition is that animals did not die before the fall, so of course their inference will lead to a reading of Romans 8 in light of that presupposition.
Mitchell argues in regard to my statement, “The post on Answers in Genesis hints that it is because animals are cursed due to the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve,” that “…we [AiG] teach no such thing” (Mitchell, cited below). That’s fair, and I appreciate the clarification. The reason was that I read the following quote on the original post I was working from: “The first recorded death and passages referring to death as a reality came with sin in Genesis 3 when the serpent, Eve, and Adam all were disobedient to God” (Hodge, cited below). The wording here does seem to at least “hint” at a connection between the serpent and the rest of animal death, but I could be mistaken here and I’m fine with that.
To sum up, my argument was based upon rather firmly established YEC assumptions. That animals did not die before the fall is argued throughout YEC literature, and both posts I cite have this idea in them. That animal death is due to the sin of Adam is demonstrated in the AiG response to my post. That animal death is somehow inherently bad is shown in the picture above as well as throughout YEC literature. For just one example, Bodie Hodge wrote, in the article I was originally linking (cited below), “God gave the command in Genesis 2:16–17 that sin would be punishable by death. This is significant when we look at the big picture of death. If death in any form was around prior to God’s declaration in Genesis 1:31 that everything was ‘very good,’ then death would be very good too—hence not a punishment at all.” But just from these three theses I can construct my argument (as above) which leads to the conclusion:
“Animal death must be the result of a morally culpable agent’s sin…” (on the YEC position).
And, as I argued in my original post, this seems to undermine the goodness of God on YEC, for “the animals didn’t do anything. One day, they were happily living potentially infinitely long lives, eating plants, and doing their animal things. The next day, Adam sinned, and so God decides to start killing them all… not because they themselves sinned” (here).
So, given the assumptions that YECs make, I have constructed an argument that shows their own position is morally impermissible. What does this entail? I suggest it entails that the reading of the texts that YECs present is incorrect and must be modified. I suggested a few ways to do this in the original post, so I won’t repeat them here. Ultimately, it seems my original post has not been refuted.
Bodie Hodge, “Biblically, Could Death Have Existed before Sin?” Answers in Genesis. 2010. Accessible here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin
Elizabeth Mitchell, “News to Note, March 17, 2012.” Answers in Genesis. Accessible here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/03/17/news-to-note-03172012.
J.W. Wartick, “Animal Death?- A Theological Argument Against Young Earth Creationism.” 2012. Accessible here: https://jwwartick.com/2012/03/12/against-yec-theology/.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.
Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion by David Ray Griffin (hereafter RWS) is a vast work. because of the nature of this book–namely, its place as, essentially, an outlining and explication of a religion–I feel it is necessary to continue discussion of this work past the present review. I’ll be doing a series on Process Philosophy.
RWS covers an incredibly broad range of topics. Summing up a work of this scope would take too much space, so I’ll give only a brief outline. The central doctrines of Process Philosophy are (quoted at length):
1) “The integration of moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with the most general doctrines of the sciences into a self-consistent worldview as one of the central tasks of philosophy in our time” (5)
2) “Hard-core commonsense notions as the ultimate test of the adequacy of a philosophical position” (5)
3) “Whitehead’s nonsensationist doctrine of perception, according to which sensory perception is a secondary mode of perception, being derivative from a more nonsensory ‘prehension'”(5)
4) “Panexperientialism with organizational duality, according to which all the true individuals… have at least some iota of experience and spontaneity (self-determination)” (6)
5) “The doctrine that all enduring individuals are serially ordered socieities of momentary ‘occasions of experience'” (6)
6) “[A]ll actual entities have internal as well as external relations” (6)
7) “[N]aturalistic theism, according to which a Divine Actuality acts variably but never supernaturally in the world” (6)
8 ) “Doubly Dipolar Theism” (7)
9) “The provision of cosmological support for the ideals needed by contemporary civilization as one of the chief purposes of philosophy in our time” (7)
10) “A distinction between verbal statements (sentences) and propositions and between both of these and propositional feelings” (7)
Whew! And that is just the introduction of a 425 page work!
These doctrines I’ll let speak for themselves, but it is immediately clear that Process Philosophy can be identified as a religion, either on its own, or in conjunction with another religion of the world. These doctrines are enough to support a robust naturalistic theism which differs in many ways from classical theism.
Process Philosophy affirms that sense experience is not primary (see esp. 55). It also rejects both physicalism and dualism, calling instead for panexperientialism, which is the idea that everything in the universe–down to the smallest entity, has experience of some sort. In other words, the basic units of “stuff” in our universe are neither ideal (as in some forms of dualism) or material (as in materialism and other forms of dualism), but experiential (94ff).
God, on Process Philosophy, is in the world. It is panentheistic as opposed to theistic or pantheistic. God is not supernatural, but is rather a necessary part of the universe (131ff). God created the world not ex nihilo, but out of chaos, which Griffin argues is the correct reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly Genesis (I disagree strongly here, for it seems like there is much evidence for the use of bara to refer to creation ex nihilo).
I can’t resist veering off the summary path here and critiquing this view specifically. The problem with affirming that God created the world out of some existent finite entities (see 216) is that that leaves both God and these finite entities with no explanation for their existence. God, argues Griffin, exists necessarily, but there is no reason I could find given for this. Furthermore, there is absolutely no explanation of how these other finite entities came into being. It seems as though they are asserted to simply exist forever, but this runs into the many problems with an infinite past. I simply don’t think Griffin has adequately defended this doctrine of Process Philosophy, and most of it hinges around this idea. I’ll get into this more as I continue my series, however.
Not only that, but Process Philosophy upholds the idea that there are two distinct “ultimate realities” in our universe; namely, a personal deity, and an impersonal, “creativity”. This is one of the more interesting affirmations of Process Philosophy: that all major religions are true in a qualified sense (247ff). In affirming that all major religions are in some sense true, Process Philosophy also argues that they must all learn from each other to work towards a religion that more adequately reflects reality (more on this later in the series).
Process Philosophy affirms the possibility of an afterlife, but doesn’t seem to take it as terribly likely (204ff). Furthermore, it asserts that morality can be done from the point of an “ideal observer”, namely, God (314-316).
Thus, Process Philosophy is a religion distinct from the others I have read about in some very important ways. The affirmation of both naturalistic (but not atheistic) science and theism is very interesting. Furthermore, Process Philosophy, according to Griffin, can be allies with the major religions of the world. He favors Christianity as walking hand-in-hand with this philosophy.
I personally don’t think this is a live option for Christian theists, however, because it involves rejection of, among other things: creation ex nihilo, omnipotence in the traditional sense, the ability of God to interfere with nature, the primacy of Christ in world religions, the life after death–which entails a rejection of the resurrection (though, as above, Griffin says this is possible)… furthermore, it means Christians must accept, among other things: the idea that Christianity is true, but only in some sense compared to to other religions, that God is only the arranger, not the creator (in the traditional sense) of the world, an entirely different ultimate reality that is similar to the impersonal, immutable Brahma as existing alongside of and coequal to God.
So what can the Christian take from RWS? That is a question that will take me some time to think about and digest. I hope the further posts in this series will help outline this more. I think there are valuable insights in what Griffin has to say, but it is more probable, in my opinion, that the Christian will find, not a “Reenchantment” so much as a chance to sharpen their philosophical blades against arguments which undermine the central tenants of the faith.
That said, RWS is a fantastic read. Griffin covers a simply massive range of topics with clarity from the perspective of Process Philosophy. The book is a page-turner. Like a fantastic novel, it exposes new ideas and forces the intellect to work in new ways. It is a work that essentially outlines the creeds of a different religion, albeit a religion which is syncretistic by nature. It touches on nearly every area of philosophy of religion, from religious language to natural theology. I highly recommend this book, if one has a good background in classical theism. The reason is because the ideas are alluring, but faulty. One can expose the faults, but only if one is grounded in truth. It’s a thought-provoking book, but I regret to find it so off the mark.
Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion. Cornell University Press. 2001.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.
This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.
Intelligent Design (hereafter ID) is a theory that suffers a lot of critique from all sides of the life dialogue within Christianity, as well as the secular world. Just a google search can bring up thousands of images ridiculing the theory, both from an evolutionist standpoint (often calling it creationism in disguise) and from a creationist standpoint (calling it evolutionism in disguise). I find that, too often, those criticizing the ID movement present a caricature of its arguments, without ever addressing the relevant issues it raises.
Creationists often attack ID for trying to sneak some kind of atheism into theology. I simply don’t find this to be true. The ID movement would have many theological implications, but atheism is definitely not one of these. Theistic Evolutionists criticize ID for being just creationism in disguise. I simply can’t see this as anything but a non sequitur of the greatest proportions.
Recently, an article in Philosophia Christi (cited below) by Warren Shrader discussed ID’s mechanisms of detecting intelligence. Shrader writes that the Explanatory Filter utilized by Dembski (discussed briefly here) can be strengthened by considering the epistemological tools of cognitive abilities in determining whether there is a specification condition (which would therefore justify a “design inference”).
The way we can utilize epistemology within the ID hypothesis is “…given an event E and a pattern D, we say that D is a specification of E if and only if the following conditions are satisfied.” These conditions are: 1) Tractability (essentially meaning it is possible for a cognitive agent to produce the pattern D), 2) The probability of E given H (“the hypothesis that the event in question was a product of chance” 383) and J (information) = the probability of E given H “for any information J generated by I“, and 3) D delimits E (392-393).
Armed with this capacity for determining design, ID avoids the objection that patterns can be replicated by computers. This is done by criterion 1), which restricts patterns to our finite cognitive abilities. This of course means that it is very possible that many “positive” results will be thrown out, but this only strengthens those positives that do result, because they are irrefutable evidence for ID. In other words, when we tighten the design criteria such that we guarantee the patterns were produced by a cognitive agent, we have guaranteed that intelligence has been detected.
Combine these tools with those mentioned in my previous posts on ID, and there is a functional system for detecting intelligence in biology, cosmology, etc. Reading about ID has me excited to read more. I cannot emphasize enough how much readers who have not explored the issue themselves should try to do so.
Shrader, Warren, “Dembski’s Specification Condition and the Role of Cognitive Abilities,” Philosophia Christi, volume 11, number 2, 2009, 377-396.
This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.
Theistic Evolution’s (hereafter TE) primary problem for the Christian is, of course, theological in nature. Perhaps the greatest challenge to TE is the doctrine of original sin. Recently, I investigated what advocates of TE had to say about this doctrine.
Robin Collins argues in his essay “Evolution and Original Sin” that the doctrine of original sin should be redefined into what he calls the “historical ideal” (HI) view (469). Regrettably, I believe Collins fails to provide an adequate theological defense of his view. Further, I believe there is actually a stronger way for TEs to defend against the “problem” of original sin. Collins’ argument has several key features:
1) Adam and Eve were not historical figures, but rather representatives of early mankind, having evolved from hominids (470). Collins does allow that perhaps Adam represents the “stem father” of humanity–that is, representing the first group of early hominids which arose as the human race (486)
2) The Garden story “represents an ideal state that was never realized… Genesis 2 falls into the category of a ‘golden age’ story” (470)
3) Original sin refers to the “sinful choices” of early hominids, the “continuing sinful choices” of their ancestors, and “the resulting bondage to sin and spiritual darkness that is inherited from our ancestors and generated by our own choices” (471)
Collins continues by interpreting Scripture in this light. First it should be noted that Collins takes science as one of the means by which we can interpret Scripture, despite his own assertions that the Bible is not a science or philosophy book (compare 475 to 482ff). He begins by interpreting Romans 1:18-32, but he believes the more important verses are in Romans 5:15-19. Paul writes in Romans 5 that:
“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
These passages seem to suggest that Adam was indeed one man, just as Jesus is one man. Collins argues, utilizing Swinburne’s argumentation in Revelation, that a speaker’s message does not necessarily include the presuppositions as part of the intentional conveyance. One immediate problem with this (though Collins seems to view it as a bonus) is that Paul is seen as either not necessarily believing what he was saying–which seems unlikely–or he was profoundly mistaken in his presuppositions. The statement is to be distinguished from the presupposition. “The statement is whatever the speaker, by public criteria, is seeking to add to the existing beliefs of the hearers” (Swinburne, Revelation, 30). The problem is that I don’t think this argument applies here, for it seems that Paul is not just presupposing that there is one man, but also utilizing that presupposition as part of what he is seeking to add to his hearers’ existing belief. For Paul is saying that it is one man through whom all mankind fell, so, too, is it one man through whom all mankind is saved.
The argument that Paul and his hearers shared the presupposition of one man, and therefore this is not part of his intended message, misses the context of Paul’s message. For Paul makes this statement in his letter to the Romans, not to fellow Jews who shared his presuppositions! Therefore, it seems to me that although the “one man” part of the statement could be taken as a Pauline presupposition, it is also part of the message conveyed. He is intending to add to his hearer’s existing belief (borrowing from Swinburne’s phrasing) that one man fell for all and one man atoned for all. This message is almost vacuous on an account which inserts possibly thousands of hominids in for the first “one man” (something Collins has no hesitation doing, see page 481 “…understand Adam… as theologically representing both everyman and the very first members of the evolving group of hominids that had gained moral self-consciousness”). I see no reason to accept such an interpretation textually.
I’ll leave out Collins’ interpretation of Genesis 1-4 for now, as I believe summing it up in the above points is sufficient. Rather, I want to turn now to an evaluation of his argument. First, I note that it seems necessary to add to the above outline of Collins argument the following clause:
4) Scripture is not inerrant–it is inspired in the sense that God “enlighten[s]” humans to “grasp new truths about the nature of reality and God” (473)
I reject 4 as incompatible with sound formulation of doctrine. I’ll not specifically address his argument point-by-point as that would fill up too much space. The main problem with Collins’ account of original sin is that it trivializes certain Bible passages (notably Psalm 51:5) and misinterprets others. But I don’t want to get into the finer details of his account. I think that Collins’ account is actually extremely weak. Only those willing to accept point 4) above will be able to take such a view on original sin as possible. Is there a way for TEs to avoid this uncomfortable assumption? I think there is.
Original sin, on TE, can be almost what it is on other views. The key feature is to point out (as Hugh Ross, an Old Earth Creationist does) that it is only human death that is explicitly seen as the consequence of sin. Thus, God can be seen as letting evolution happen until beings capable of moral reasoning evolve, then specially creating souls within humans or setting souls up in such a way that they emerge from humans (the latter view seems less plausible, but I’ll ignore that for now). God chose two specific hominids, planted souls in them, and placed them in a garden. The rest of the Genesis story can be taken fairly literally, with some modifications here and there, and original sin loses no meaning. Thus, the TE needs to acknowledge special creation of 1) The universe/matter/etc. and 2) Human souls. This doesn’t seem like an implausible “out” for the theistic evolutionist.
Finally, I want to address a few minor points in Collins’ essay. The first is that he seems to think special creation is somehow a negative thing. When critiquing other views, for example, he asserts that if God brought Adam and Eve into the garden to speak with them, He’d have to teach them a language, “which would involve a major act of special creation” (493). This is counted as a negative against a sort of Old Earth Creationist account. But I’m then curious as to what Collins thinks of the creation of the universe! Surely this “special creation” is an even more major act than teaching some animals to speak a language! I don’t see any plausible way for a Christian to use the presence of divine action as an argument against other views. Second, Collins seems to reveal some tendencies of agreeing with Intelligent Design (p. 496ff, for example, he argues for “theistically guided evolution”–how does this differ from ID?).
Thus, I think Collins’ view of original sin on TE is actually a weaker argument than that which can be made. I think the theistic evolutionist can augment his/her view with some acts of “special creation” and thus maintain a view that allows for inerrancy of Scripture without having to twist it as much as Collins does. Perhaps, however, I’m merely reflecting my own tendencies rather than accurately representing TE. If this is the case, however, and TE simply cannot coincide with the doctrine of inerrancy, for example, then I find this a strong reason for rejecting TE, particularly in light of competing models like intelligent design or Hugh Ross’s RTB Model.
Collins, Robin. “Evolution and Original Sin.” Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Edited Keith B. Miller. Wm. B. Eerdman’s. 2003.
Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007. (A later edition than that cited by Collins, I’m utilizing my own text)
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