Saturday, 18 October 2008

Creation or evolution - chapter 2 - The Biblical doctrine of creation (continued)

Continued from here; beginning of series here.

DA's section on God's immanence in creation is almost 5 pages, whereas his transcendence gets only just over 1. It's all fine as far as it goes. In the context of the book as a whole, though, this bit is a softening-up exercise, and the one-sided emphasis is not a mistake. Where we're going is that God's immanence in creation is going to be DA's answer to the objection that Darwinism is essentially an atheistic doctrine. As God is immanent everywhere, that includes him being immanent in the Darwinian process or any other theoretical or actual process, so therefore it can't be atheistic. Working this out, though, is postponed to a later chapter. What we're really interested in now, are the two sections "Creation and miracles", and (next time) the longest of them all, "Does the Bible teach science?"

Creation and miracles

Here's DA's argument in this section, summarised. It's good to put it in short form (which DA doesn't), because then it's sheer fallaciousness is much more quickly apparent:
  • The Bible uses certain words to refer to miraculous events.
  • These words are not used to refer specifically to the original creation.
  • Therefore the original creation is not a miraculous event.
The section starts with a feature that becomes increasingly frequent as the book goes on - the anonymous bogeyman. Some Christians, we are told, view God's creative actions as being equivalent to miracles. Fair enough; everything came out of nothing, and that's pretty miraculous I think; that's not really negotiable amongst Christians. Then, this: "Other Christians invoke miracles to explain the existence of those aspects of the created order which they believe can never be understood or explained by science." Well, that's fair enough in one sense - understood one way, it's pretty much the standard definition of a miracle, if by "science" we mean those things we study which are the regularly and orderly actions of God, and by "miracles" we mean those things which are extraordinary acts of God. That would basically be a tautology. But who exactly are the "some Christians" and "other Christians"? Because I don't think DA wants us to interpret him in this way. He's suggesting that there are some group of dullards out there who are indulging in the "God of the gaps" fallacy - I don't understand this, therefore it's a miracle; "God did it", or if you're one of those very high-brow atheists we come across on el Internet, "goddidit". This kind of "some Christians believe..." line keeps cropping up in the book when DA wants to distance himself from the creationist position, but it seems that he knows that the thing he's suggesting isn't actually the position of any mainstream or representative creationist. Hence, he hides behind the "some Christians believe..." trick, which gets him out of having to document what he says, or show that reputable creationists actually believe it, but still allows the suggestion to linger in the air for the undiscerning.

Putting that aside, though, we need to actually look at the argument itself. It's another word fallacy, after that embodied by the chapter as a whole (see last time). DA picks out various words which are used in the context of miracles, signs, wonders, and so on. Then he observes that these words aren't used in the creation account; then he concludes that therefore, creation is not a supernatural event. This, of course, then leaves the door open for us to accept that creation is through the Darwinian mechanism, which involves the outworking of predictable processes over a very long period of time.

This kind of abuse of word studies is what gives study of the original languages a bad name. The root error in this case, is that DA makes the arbitrary restriction that only a certain group of key words is allowed to signal the world of miracles; if those words don't appear then it doesn't matter what words are used - we don't have a miracle. So even if the Bible were to say, "this was a supernatural event, you dummy!", it still wouldn't be a supernatural event, because the word "sign", "wonder" or whatnot doesn't appear in the sentence and "supernatural" wasn't on the list we drew up. The words which DA chooses are those which are used especially in connection with the miracles performed at the time of the Exodus, and those performed by Christ in his fulfilment - the greater Exodus he achieved through his death. They are the words to do with signs of redemption. Creation, of course, is not an act of redemption, and hence it's not a shock to find that the vocabulary to do with the highlighting of acts of redemption through wonders and signs isn't used in connection with it. Creation and redemption are theologically distinct; to insist that the vocabulary of the supernatural in one category must be the same in the other is an assertion without any necessity behind it. DA, though, makes the ultimate argument from silence by asserting that this very absence is, rather than being because creation isn't redemption, instead definite teaching for us that the creation event was through predictable processes instead of an immediate act of God.

Surely we have here one of those places where a truth is clear to every child who picks up a Bible, but obscure to the man who's buried himself in technical arguments, word studies, and the desire to rule our special creation a priori. A small child would know that if you want to establish whether or not creation was a supernatural event, you should read the language of Genesis 1, and what the rest of the Bible says in reference to those early chapters. Alexander, though, manages to establish that Genesis 1 doesn't describe a supernatural event merely by noticing that the word group to do with signs of redemption isn't used in that chapter, and without any examination of what words are actually used and more importantly, how they are connected to each other in sentences (as if the mere presence of this or that word decides what doctrine is or isn't taught). I grieve at this chapter, because many naive readers will surely be wowed and impressed - "look, the man mentions words in Greek and Hebrew; he must be right!" But the fundamental structure of the argument is entirely bogus.

To be continued...

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