Friday, 9 January 2009

Dr. Denis Alexander in the ET, part 4

McIntosh claims that I maintain certain positions in my book which in reality I definitely reject, which also make me wonder whether he has actually read the book!

I remarked a few times during my extended review that DA often seems as interested in giving off an air of intellectual superiority, that creationism is beneath his level, as much as he is interested in actually interacting with brethren who honestly disagree with him. This was evidenced mainly in the fact that in 353 pages he references precisely one creationist... who's now dead. Current creationists, their books, journals or other writings: zilch.

Given that Professor McIntosh's contains statements that only make sense if the whole book has been read ("The author makes no reference to those who have written on the biblical arguments concerning this matter, such as Douglas Kelly in his book Creation and Change" and specific references such as " his bald statement on p.242" or "contrary to Alexander’s assertions on pp. 138-139" or "He even suggests (p.275)"), this sentence from Dr. Alexander comes across as being empty polemic - and a cheap shot at that. More basically, the review begins with the words "I have just finished reading Denis Alexander’s new book" which makes the purveyor of such cheap shots look rather silly... or perhaps the Doctor didn't actually read the review? :-) But passing on... what actually are these positions?

For example, he suggests that I 'read' evolution into Scripture, whereas I spend a whole chapter explaining why biblical texts need to be understood according to the literary style they represent, not as if they were scientific texts. Scientific literature as we know it today, with its highly specialised language, did not exist when the Bible was written, so to seek to press the language into that literary genre is an abuse of Scripture. Of course evolution is not taught in the Bible, any more than relativity, thermodynamics or quantum mechanics.

Here, Dr. Alexander simply talks past his reviewer. Nowhere does Professor McIntosh's review state the idea that Dr. Alexander refutes here: i.e. that he "reads evolution into Scripture" in the sense that he says that Scripture actually explicitly teaches evolution as if it were scientific literature, using specialised language like textbooks on thermodynamics. That's a straw man; there's not a word in AM's review that approaches suggesting that the Bible teaches matters like relativity or quantum mechanics. The false dichotomy that Dr. Alexander makes in reading Genesis between "science" and "theology" or between science and history, is the one that the Professor actually took him to task for - to simply repeat it in the answer will only give more ammunition should the Professor wish to charge him with not having properly read his review. It smacks of a "canned response". That Dr. Alexander actually does read evolution into Scripture, in the sense that AM meant, is stated baldly on page 232, where after reviewing the present mainstream scientific (Darwinian) thinking on the history of man, he then goes on to begin considering the Scriptural data by stating:

"It is against this cultural and historical background that one needs to consider the early chapters of Genesis."

The idea that one should - indeed, must - begin with fallen man's fallible speculations about history, and then read God's inspired account against that background, is precisely what "reading evolution into Scripture" means. Methinks that DA knows he's guilty here, and simply answers a different point instead because he suspects that the ET's readers are too conservative to follow him if he spells out his full position candidly here.

McIntosh also claims that my book suggests that some humans may still languish outside the God-called community of humanity, whereas I make precisely the opposite point (p.238) — that God graciously bestowed  his image upon the whole of humankind with Adam as the federal head

On this point I think there are faults on all sides. Having read through Dr. Alexander's book more than once myself, and having read other reviewers, I think Dr. Alexander himself is responsible for a lack of clarity - or rather, a confused concept that inevitably has generated confusion in the reviewers as they try to piece the bits together. It seems that, pulling everything together, Dr. Alexander teaches that: a) As required by contemporary scientific orthodoxy, human beings had existed in basically their present form for many tens of thousands of years. b) But Adam and Eve were most likely Neolithic farmers in the east, around 6-8,000 years ago. These two points have logical implications which Dr. Alexander unflinchingly follows: i) Adam and Eve were not the first humans, but were descended from a long line. ii) Likewise, not all humans are descended from Adam and Eve; in particular, Australian Aboriginals were in Australia for long before they were around and there's no reason to think any interbreeding could have occurred given the histories, timescales and distances involved. Thus iii) God's image is some kind of super-addition to essential humanity - i.e. something that humanity had existed for a long time without before it was conferred first on Adam. This leads on to the next teaching point, c) that God, at the time that he bestowed his image on Adam, also "graciously" (Dr. Alexander IIRC uses this word, though not in a proper sense, as Biblically grace implies the existence of demerit, i.e. sin) conferred it upon the rest of humanity around the world too.

What is this image? DA doesn't give a full answer, but says that there are two important aspects for his purposes (p192-3) - the delegation of authority and the potential for relationship with God. So, when God made Adam (or rather, when he was born to his parents or had grown to an appropriate age afterwards), God extended a benefit to the whole of humanity as well as to him. Dr. Alexander then goes on to ask what the Fall would have meant for those, such as the Aboriginals (p275) who were part of Adam and Eve's family - and concludes that we can have no real idea. It is this that Professor McIntosh understands as suggesting "that some Australian Aborigines may still languish outside the God-called community of humanity because they are not descendents of Adam and Eve". I presume that the logic here is that as they were perhaps (DA's suggestion) not affected in any practical way by the Fall, by logical consequence, neither are they subjects of the redemption from that Fall achieved by Christ - AM doesn't make it explicit. If they are not part of the fallen creation, then presumably not part of the redeemed. I'm not sure I'd have imputed this line of thinking to DA though; elsewhere his teaching implies that he doesn't really see Christ's work in terms of leading to a redeeming of creation so much as in terms of replacing of it (here AM's imputed more orthodoxy to DA than he should have done!). What exactly DA does mean by this speculation and how it is systematised in his thinking is not clear, because he doesn't really clarify it - he does, as he states in this rebuttal, teach that the divine image, whatever its exact content, was extended to Aboriginals; thus, by implication, giving them the capacity for relationship with God. Hence on the precise point itself, I agree with him that AM has missed an element of his thought and drawn a conclusion that he doesn't hold.

To be continued...

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