Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A public domain Bible map

Most Bible maps are copyright and it's hard to get permission to use them.

My wife has drawn one for me to use at the college I'm teaching at, and it's in the public domain for you to use as you please, here:

Encouraging news for creationists... I gave my students a questionnaire about what they believed so I could know more about where they're coming from. The questionnaire covered various areas of Christian belief, and revealed a variety of beliefs amongst the students. But on two questions they were totally unanimous; Noah's flood was world-wide, and the theory of evolution is false.

Some great articles on theism and science, especially mathematics

Whilst doing a little research, I've come across a web page giving an index of a number of articles by Professor John Byl, head of department of Mathematics at Trinity Western University in Canada. I reviewed his excellent book "The Divine Challenge: On matter, mind, math & meaning" last March, here.

To whet your appetite if this area interests you, I've copied-and-pasted the titles below. The page itself is here.

Does Mathematics Need a Worldview? (2008)

Models and Presuppositions in Science and Theology (2008)

A Christian Perspective on Math (2008)

A Christian Perspective on Physics (2008)

Matter, Mathematics, and God (2007)

Freewill and Responsibility (2007)

Chance, Choice, and God (2006)

Can Science Dispense with Religion? (2004)

Deriving Special Relativity from Electromagnetic Clocks (2003)

Mathematical Models and Reality (2003)

Indeterminancy, Divine action and Human Freedom (2003)

Naturalism, Theism and Objective Knowledge (2002)

On Michael Ruse and Reductionary Illusions (2001)

On Numbers in Numbers (2001)

Theism and Mathematical Realism (2001)

On Life in the Universe (2001)

On Resolving the Littlewood-Ross Paradox (2000)

Special Relativity via Electromagnetic Clocks (1999)

Preliminary Considerations: On Scientific and Theological Method (1998)

The Role of Belief in Modern Cosmology (1996)

On Craig's Defence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (1996)

On the Natural Selection of Universes (1996)

On Pascal's Wager and Infinite Utilities (1994)

Cellular Automata and the Origin of Life (1989)

General Revelation and Evangelicalism (1989)

Scripture and Geologists (1989)

Instrumentalism: A Third Option (1985)

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptised by him. 14 But John forbade him, saying, "I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?" 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, "Permit it to be so now: for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he permitted him.

Q. Why was Jesus baptised?

A. Christ came and entered into our damnation, that we might enter into his glory. He went under the waters of baptism, because he was to undergo the waters of death. He went under, that we might be brought up with him and raised to the glory from which he had come down.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

So, about those would-be pastors ...

The results of my questionnaire at the Bible college I've begun teaching a course at were ... interesting!

A small number of answers seemed to be carefully constructed to avoid saying "No" directly, but... of a class of twenty-five 4th year students mostly training to be pastors or missionaries, the number who could unambiguously say that yes, they had read the entire Bible was... ten. The number who had read it more than once was... four. The number who had read it more than twice was... one - this star pupil had managed five times. On average these students are 29 years old, have professed faith for 14 years, and have been preaching publicly for 8 years. They have all completed secondary school. If these Christians had read on average just one page of the Bible each morning and evening since being converted, they would by now each have read the Bible through 9 times.

The next thing (next week) is a Bible quiz to ascertain more accurately the level of actual Bible knowledge...

Most amusing misunderstanding of the question:
Q. Do you preach? How long have you been preaching for?
A. Yes. About 25-40 minutes.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The New President

I listened to the Kenyan coverage of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States yesterday. This event is of course of particular interest to Kenyans as President Obama's father was a Kenyan national and his paternal grandmother is still alive and well - quite close to where we are.

It's a historic and inspiring moment; the most powerful nation in the world is presided over by a man partially of African descent; indeed whose gran is still living a traditional African village life. As the president himself said, it is something remarkable that a man who only a generation or two ago would have been refused service in local restaurants, has now been chosen to the highest office in the land.

Having been thus inspired, though, here in no particular logical arrangement are a few thoughts on the speech I heard on my radio:

  • President Obama seems to be a follower of what Doug Wilson calls the "American Civic Religion", which is not a positive thing. It's that Christ-less, non-Trinitarian, salvation-less generic tipping of the hat to some generic "God" most frequently invoked in "God bless America" or being spoken of as creator or giver of rights, but who's very much otherwise kept in his place. He's not got any particular thoughts or agenda concerning the present, or long-range plans for history that are intended to interfere with the normal flow of politics... he conveniently leaves that all to present fashion and culture.

  • For all the talk of a new non-partisan politics, I couldn't help notice the many partisan digs at the "previous lot"... seemed very much "business as usual" to me. And talk of a politics not driven by ideology makes me roll my eyeballs... it might make for good soundbites but it'll get you a fail in sophomore philosophy.

  • Whilst the President may believe in a counterfeit God, he very much believes in man and in the unlimited power of his politics to bring in the millennial kingdom. I realise that we're so used to politicians promising the earth in a new era of cooperation and freedom, but it's still idolatrous folly none the less.

  • Put another way, the new President clearly didn't believe in the doctrine of original sin. Our problems are apparently caused by bad politics (that means - the guy before me) and the solution will be found in a wonderful display of self-generated will-power bringing in a new era of good politics. People must do good things, and we'll all pull together being inspired by our common values and there it'll be. We'll get back all the good old American values (though, as we now follow the American Civic Religion instead of Christianity, we delude ourselves into forgetting that it was the latter brought with divine grace and power that made such things American values in the first place, and not just a humanistic display of will-power).

The President is an inspiring orator. We hope that God will give him wisdom to translate this into being a wise governor who rules in God's fear. Amidst all the hype it's worth remembering that as yet President Obama has never ruled anything, and whether he'll be a genius or a total dud is something we as yet have no evidence of past experience to judge by. The occasion and style of his speech were electrifying. I'm sad to say, though, that this shouldn't delude anyone into ignoring the fact that it's content was vacuous and from a Christian point of view, heretical. Original sin is real and can't be successfully ignored, whether you choose to articulate the doctrine in self-consciously Christian form or not. For that reason you don't need to be a prophet to foresee that in a few years the new President will either be explaining why he wasn't able to bring in the golden age he promised (the "previous lot" will have bodged it more extensively that he can fix in a few years; or the world situation made it too hard; or the goal-posts get shifted to explain why he did fix it and we're just being too negative... the usual political excuses...). "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool". It's vain to trust in man; and the programme that the President set out was one explicitly and unambiguously based on the wisdom and self-saving efforts of man. Hasn't worked before... won't work this time either, because it can't work. Original sin exists; will-power alone won't fix it. America needs the gospel, and when sinners are brought to repentance, that's when real change will come. And in that sense indeed may "God Bless America".

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Teaching at a new Bible college

I'm starting teaching a course at a nearby Bible college next week. I've never clapped eyes on the place or the students. The below is a questionnaire I'm planning to give the students to help me get to know them. What would you ask? Other than where they get their lecturers from, that is.

Get-To-Know-You Questionnaire!

  1. What is your full name and your telephone number?

  2. Are you married, and how many children do you have?

  3. What would you like me to call you in class?

  4. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Since when?

  5. What level of education have you had before coming to Bible college?

  6. Why did you come to Bible college?

  7. What do you intend to do after finishing Bible college?

  8. What are the Christian books you have been most blessed by?

  9. Do you preach? How long have you been preaching for?

  10. Have you read the whole Bible through? How many times?

  11. What do you understand by the doctrine of “justification by faith alone”?

Friday, 16 January 2009

More on the atheist bus campaign...

I don't spend that much time thinking about whatever slogans are being slapped upon buses in a country I don't live in, honest.

But, I was just reflecting on the reasons given by the founders of the "atheist bus campaign" for the inclusion of the word "probably" in their none-too-catchy slogan, "There is probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy life".

The reason, amusingly, is that if they dropped the "probably" then they might fall foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). What's behind this is that ASA requires that claims in advertisements have to be at least reasonably believable. Seems that the claim "there is no God", in the opinion of the atheists' funding the advert themselves, doesn't meet that standard and they'd get into trouble if they tried it.

Ha, ha, ha.

Can an atheist believe in right and wrong?

I've put the notes of a talk I gave last year, on the subject of atheism's incompatible with universal human notions of morality, here:

He slew it

"But our very life came down to earth and bore our death and slew it with the very abundance of his own life" - Augustine

(Augustine's Confessions - somewhere about 1/5th of the way through (audio version!))

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Dr. Denis Alexander in the ET: final instalment!

Continuing from here...

Young earth creationism causes serious pastoral problems.

This mere assertion is not contained in Dr. Alexander's  book, or expanded on here, so we can only speculate about what these pastoral problems are. I suppose, based upon the general tenor of his book, that DA would say that creationism pits science against faith and forces believers to choose between two truths. Whatever the precise line of argument, though, it's moot. If creationism is true, then teaching it may indeed cause problems (especially with such as DA teaching so dogmatically that it's false) but it's our duty to believe and proclaim whatever God has made known. If it is false, then to say that spreading it causes problems is telling us nothing new. Either way, DA adds nothing here to his argument except polemics. As DA's never taught creationism, we can only speculate as to what experience he has that underlies this assertion.

There are atheists in the scientific community (some very high profile) who used to be practising Christians in their teenage years, but who were turned away from the faith because their church pitted science against faith.

DA states this in his book too. Who are these atheists? Where is the documentation where we can follow these assertions up? Either way, though, this statement again adds nothing to the argument. If there are atheists who were turned away by creationism and creationism is true, then they were turned away by the truth. Are we supposed to preach lies in the hope that it will persuade people to make professions of faith? If on the other hand creationism is false, then this argument is redundant - we all agree that in that case it shouldn't be preached. Again, more polemics, intended simply to intimidate creationists to pipe down on the basis of undocumented authoritative-sounding assertions, rather than on the basis of argument.

Since DA's played this card, though, let's see if he's willing to take on a wager. Suppose that we can count up the number of atheists who turned away from a profession of faith because their church taught them that they had to accept creationism as true, and who will freely confess that, after it's been explained to them that Darwinism and the Bible are fully compatible, they will gladly return to Christianity. Suppose on the other hand that we count up the number of atheists who won't accept Christianity because they find that theism actually really is incompatible with Darwinism, and therefore they judge Christianity false because they think Darwinism is true. Which category's going to have more people? DA may be able to do the mental gymnastics to persuade himself that the Bible and Darwinism don't contradict each other a hundred times. I'd be be pretty confident on the other hand, though, that he's in a slim minority. As the expression goes:  a simple man can persuade himself only of some things; but an educated man can persuade himself of anything.

Preaching the gospel is made much harder when it becomes associated with beliefs, such as a young earth, which most people find ridiculous.

Again, same empty argument. If creationism is true, then this is something DA will just have to put up with - unless he believes that we should actually trim and prune our beliefs according to what our present society deems acceptable. This argument can also be reversed. DA's the one trying his darndest to make belief in a young earth seem ridiculous - which he does throughout his book using the method of never representing or interacting with actual creationist arguments, but by setting fire to a succession of straw-men. If he's actually concerned about the effect on preaching the gospel of making creationism seem ridiculous, why is he doing it?

Do people really find the idea of a "young" earth ridiculous? The earth in fact can only be as young or old as it is. It can only be termed "young" in relationship to something else. In this case, it's supposed to be "young" in relation to the telephone-number figures circulated by such as DA. I seriously doubt that more than the tiniest fraction of people have ever looked into the arguments for or against the age of the earth, or considered how to evaluated the two competing paradigms. (DA himself never approaches the matter in terms of paradigms - it's simply infallible, objective science says so...). They simply accept it on authority because people like DA say so; just as they accepted eugenics, geocentricism and other mistaken science in previous generations. This argument is ultimately a naked appeal to authority.

I would urge Christians to hold science and faith together as the friends they have traditionally been, not force them apart for biblically unnecessary reasons.

As the letter comes to a close, DA is really piling up the vacuous polemic. Of course, no creationist actually believes that science and faith aren't friends. They simply dispute whether Darwinism and faith are friends, or whether Darwinism and science are. Whilst in his book he falsely, without providing any references, teaches us that creationists claim that Genesis is written in the genre of a modern scientific journal, the reality is that it is DA who is forcing a dichotomy where none exists by forcing us to choose either between choosing to believe in what he terms "science", or to read the book of Genesis as self-conscious, accurate history. DA's reading forces us to accept it only as "theology"; an interpretation of events, but not actually recording events in a historical way. DA forces us to choose between evangelical Bible interpretation, or having his like poor thinly-veiled contempt down on us and accuse us of all manner of sins, pastoral problems, spoiling evangelism, spoiling the relationship between science and faith, etcetera. Still, that's the way it is - and we have to choose our lot.

I also hope that readers will not accept the representation of my book that McIntosh provides, but actually read Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose? for themselves.

Editor's note: Our reviewer, Andy McIntosh, will publish a reply to Dr. Alexander's letter in February's ET.

The End!

E-Mail Freedom Day 2!

Hurrah - e-mail freedom day (a totally empty inbox) has dawned again! The 2nd time in 13 years since having an e-mail account (well, apart from the time I accidentally wiped my entire set of folders...) And only 7 months after the first... am I improving?

In other news, the "things that need doing" list (that I created to help me move stuff out of my inbox that didn't need to be there), now has 202 items on it. I kid you not.

Update: There are now 27 e-mails in my inbox needing attention...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Biblical teaching on rewards for believers at the final judgment

The Bible teaches us that Christians will be called to give an account at the final judgment, and rewarded accordingly. This teaching has long been a source of confusion and debate. This has especially been firstly in how to relate it to other Biblical principles, and secondly how to understand the idea of reward at all when all believers are promised that they will be perfectly happy in the knowledge of the triune God eternally. A third related difficulty is in our patchy knowledge of the nature of the eternal state itself in terms of its continuity and discontinuity with our present mode of existence: the Bible can describe it in terms of things that we know now, but it will not itself be those things (e.g. the discussion of our resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:35ff).

What then can we say?

  1. All believers will have to give an account of their service to Christ himself. This is taught explicitly in Romans 14:10-12, and implicitly in such places as Matthew 25:19ff (the parable of the talents).

  2. This is a separate matter to the judgment by which we are openly owned by Christ, declared to be his people and vindicated before the world, and all granted entry into his eternal kingdom. This belongs to all believers equally without distinction (e.g. Matthew 25:33-40). That judgment also takes into account believers' works in the sense (as shown in Matthew 25) that their good works as the fruit of their spiritual life proved the reality of the roots of that spiritual life in their genuine faith in Christ - whereas unbelievers' lack of loving service to Christ proves that they did not belong to him (Matthew 25:41-45). The salvation is entirely gracious - it is not on the basis of works, but works nonetheless inevitably ensue.

  3. The judgment of believers in regard of their reward is also gracious. This is a consequence of the Biblical teaching that our gifts and opportunities are given by the Lord - we are his servants who have his goods put into our hands. We do not manufacture something ourself, but only trade with what he gives us (Matthew 25:14ff, 1 Corinthians 4:7).

  4. Rewards differ. I know that many godly teachers have disagreed on this point, and denied it on the grounds that it is illogical - either because it means rewards are not gracious, or because rewards cannot differ if all believers receive all the fulness of Christ (and what more could there be to reward us with?) Nevertheless, this teaching is too clear in Scripture to be emptied on such grounds - if we cannot see how to reconcile it with other truths, yet we must continue to uphold all those truths. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 teaches this point, as does the whole principle of a separate judgment/account-giving of believers individually - because this differs from the general judgment mentioned in 2. above. Again, in Matthew 20:23 Jesus does not contradict the idea of privileged positions in the kingdom - he simply teaches that Salome had the wrong idea of how her sons could attain to them! Furthermore, it is obvious that God whilst God has given all believers absolute equality in many fundamental senses (e.g. Ephesians 4:1ff), it is equally true that he has not made believers equal in privileges in this life in others - which places the burden of proof on the person arguing that God somehow must then do differently in the life to come.

  5. God is not unfair in giving one man greater gifts and opportunities and then a greater reward, because God is completely sovereign in how he decides to apportion those things that are his own. God giving out the things that are his to distribute in now way contradicts the principle of free grace. To deal with the other objection, my only insight into that is that whilst it is difficult for us to conceptualise in our minds the idea of different stations in glory, the reason for this may simply be the lack of comprehension we are able to have of the state of glory whilst still in our present condition. I have heard used the illustration of vessels that are full, yet of different sizes - each enjoys the fullness, but the fullnesses yet differ. I doubt that there is any human analogy can be adequate for picturing glory, and I'm not sure this illustration in particular hits the mark, but at least it illustrates in some way that we can cope with the idea of fullness and inequality together.

  6. Bible teachers have debated over what the grounds of the reward are - is it greater holiness (R T Kendall teaches this) or the overall impact in the world (one man I read taught that D L Moody is still having his reward topped up by virtue of the Bible college he founded, etc.), or something else? Kendall's teaching lacks Biblical foundation; there are no passages which teach that personal avoidance of sin (whilst an immensely important matter) is itself the measure of judgment. The second idea above is simply wrong; what of all the servants of God in Scripture who are commended for their faithfulness, but had little to no impact in apostate societies (e.g. Jeremiah, Elijah - granted their lives have blessed millions since; but what of other faithful servants who vanished in obscurity and didn't have their lives recorded in Scripture or elsewhere)? This seems to be measuring a spiritual kingdom using a carnal yardstick.

    I don't think this question is actually that unclear. The answer is that what any master looks for in his servants is faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2). This is what is taught in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The servants laboured (or didn't) with what the master had delivered to them - which he had apportioned as he had pleased (25:15). There is no grounds for boasting; in fact, the lording attitude is clean contrary to the spirit of faithful service (Matthew 20:20ff). Christ doesn't require miracles from us, and doesn't require the same thing from us all. He knows what we're capable of and where he's placed us, and he assigns us work accordingly. He doesn't require us to do something that his providence has made impossible for us - he just looks for us to be faithful in what he did give to us.

    This teaching certainly rebukes worldly and complacent Christians in the modern West. We've been given such immense opportunities, and Christ then will demand very much from us.

  7. What about the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1ff? Does this not teach an absolute equality of reward? Well, if it did, then we would have an irresolvable contradiction in Scripture. I think that the purpose of the parable is more to rebuke a servile, legalistic spirit in service, and the idea that eminence or earthly privilege translates into heavenly privilege. The true servants of Christ are not going about their labourers totting up what they've earned towards their reward, nor do they pride themselves on the positions they held in this life and think God should give them something for it. Those with such a spirit will be sorely disappointed. We serve as sons, and the fact that Christ would dream of giving us anything at all ought to completely stagger us. We are unworthy servants, and at our best only complete the duties we were obligated to do (Luke 17:10).

  8. What exactly is the reward? This is hard to say; Scripture is mostly silent. It seems that there will be privileged positions in the world to come; Christianity is not communism and nowhere teaches that absolute equality is the final state of perfection. God will still be God, Christ will be Christ, and saved sinners will be saved sinners. I think it is not overly speculative to say that there will still remain ranks and distinctions amongst the redeemed in glory. This will be totally apart from the various muddles that cling to the idea of rank in a fallen world - where people are unsatisfied until they accumulate power and status for their own gain, and where the idea of being content with one's station in life is thought to be a failing. I think something corresponding to this conception of the reward is suggested in Matthew 25:21, 23 and in Matthew 20:23; I think it's possible but can't be dogmatic too that Daniel 12:3 is an advance and means more than the everlasting life mentioned in Daniel 12:2.

Our eyes, though, are not to be on the reward for the reward's sake; such an attitude will lead us away from faithfulness and then the reward itself. Privileged postions in glory mean privileged in some way in relationship to the ongoing service of the Saviour. I think what is left to say is best said in the words of the hymn:

The bride eyes not her garments,
But her dear bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze on glory,
But on my king of grace,
Not on the crown he weareth,
But on his pierced hands,
The Lamb is all the glory,
In Immanuel's Land.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Killing the innocent

Babies who are aged 23 weeks after conception can legally be killed inside their mothers' wombs in Britain; even whilst it is also known that they can survive independently at that age, as illustrated in this story. These are the most vulnerable members of society, and so those who have the right to the most protection. Yet having the right to the most protection, in fact they have the least: it's legal to chop them up into small pieces with no come-back at all. May God have mercy on modern Britain.

What religion is not about

I read that the "atheist bus campaign" has gone live in the UK:

Well, I thought that was a bit of a yawn; the slogan itself ("There's probably no God... so stop worrying and enjoy life") seems like the work of someone who had severe writer's block at the time. I mused on that too much and missed considering the rather straightforward point which the Church of England's spokesperson made very well...

... Christianity is not about worrying or failing to enjoy life.

Now that I think about it, I think it must be a reflection on the atheists who thought it up. I can see why they would associate the thought of God with worry and losing enjoyment in life, because deep down they know the truth. The constant effort to suppress it causes unease and discomfort. However hard they try to dismiss the uncomfortable thoughts of the One to whom they owe all and yet who they have continually thumbed their nose at, they can't - because he made them and he is always there. This process of failed suppression is explained in Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 18 onwards.

Ultimately it's not possible to enjoy life or to be free from worry without knowing God. In Jesus Christ we come to know him as our heavenly Father - and that is the ultimate death knell for worry. My kids don't lie awake at night worrying about where their next meal is coming from, or if the future is planned. They don't fret themselves about that, because they trust that their mummy and daddy have got it all sorted out. If they knew they daddy better, maybe they would! But God, the heavenly Father of all those who love him in Jesus, in fact has got it all planned out. So why should we lie awake worrying at night?

Not only is Jesus Christ the death knell of worry, he's also the starting-bell for true life and true joy. He is the one who made all things, and for whom all things were made. Without knowing him, we can't understand the purpose of existence. He is God the Son, and the true purpose of all things. He is the one who gives us life - bringing us back into fellowship with our God. He opens up reality to us - but without him, nothing makes sense. In him, everything falls back into place. We're no longer trying to find fulfilment in some mere created thing - work, family, sport, entertainment, etcetera. When we know God, we seek our fulfilment in him, and then enjoy all the things he has made as gifts from him to use for his glory, not as idols to serve and be enslaved by. Or in other words...

There is a God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ the Saviour of sinners. So stop worrying and enjoy life.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Dr. Denis Alexander in the ET - why Jesus had to die

McIntosh asks, 'Why did Jesus die physically if the wages of sin is not physical death?'

This is a question which also arose strongly in my own review. It is a natural consequence of Dr. Alexander's altered doctrine of the Fall – which he makes an invisible, spiritual event. He denies that it had any impact on the workings of the physical creation – a denial that he has to make because Darwinian orthodoxy will not allow that the creation suddenly came into bondage to decay only a few thousand years ago. According to Darwinism and hence according to Alexander, all those things that Christians have historically identified as being part of the deleterious results of Adam's sin (thorns, pain, suffering, death, etc.) are original parts of the cosmos, not later intruders. Hence the question arises – if the Fall was not a physical event, why is redemption (the incarnation, Jesus' sufferings, death and resurrection) so physical; has Alexander's Darwinism not made the essence of the gospel incoherent?

The answer is in Hebrews 9:11-28, and the fact that Jesus died to save us from eternal separation with God, the 'second death' (Matthew 1:28; Revelation 2:11).

Again (and as commonly done in the book as well as in this letter), Alexander simply ducks the question and answers a conveniently different one of his own devising. The question is highlighting the physical nature of Jesus' death; Alexander instead merely states why Jesus had to do something to save us. The answer may well be in Hebrews 9... but what is that answer, Dr. Alexander? How does it relate to the question you were being asked? Just how and why did Jesus experience physical death in order to liberate us from a fate that you see only in terms of the non-physical?

Paul in Romans (6:21-23 and other chapters) is speaking of spiritual death. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus in response to his question (John 3:4), rebirth is spiritual, not physical (v. 5).

Here in his letter, as in his book, Dr. Alexander introduces the strong dichotomy which he relies upon to evade the fundamental problem with his teaching – that between “physical” and “spiritual” death. He merely insists that this idea is what is being spoken of by this or that Bible passage. The point is, though, not whether you can super-impose this idea upon passages of Scripture as DA does... but whether it actually reads out of any passages themselves. Here's Romans 6:21-23:

What fruit did you have then in those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being free from sin, and having become servants unto God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Where do these verses teach Dr. Alexander's particular distinctive doctrine, namely that the Fall was a non-physical event, and that physical and spiritual death must be sharply distinguished? Of course, they don't. Dr. Alexander is guilty of reading a text through his own pre-supposed hermeneutical grid. His doctrine does not read out of the text – it has to be read in.

The idea that Jesus, in John chapter 3, was teaching or even implying to Nicodemus that the Fall was an event without physical consequences is exegetical madness. The idea is not even in the remote horizon of the exchange. Here, DA has plucked a verse wildly out of context to suit his purpose. Nicodemus thought of redemption in earthly and political terms – Israel being liberated from the Romans, and a new kingdom like David's being established. He needed to see that the true enemies of God's people were spiritual – sin, Satan and death – not military. He needed to see that he was in bondage to sin and that this was a more ultimate reality than Israel's political subjugation. He stumbled at Jesus teaching of the need for inward renewal and cleansing. I don't personally think that his question about being born again from his mother's womb was intended by him to be taken literally – it was simply a way of expressing his surprise at Jesus' teaching and pushing him to clarify what he meant. Alexander, though, rips this all out of context and makes Jesus teach not merely that we need inward and spiritual renewal by the Holy Spirit, but into a denial that man dies because Adam sinned!  The fact that his doctrine can only be supported by ripping passages out of context in this way, and not by direct appeal to any texts where the subject is being addressed directly shows us the lack of Biblical support for the idea.

DA then proceeds to state his neo-Gnostic view of the resurrection and the future state:

We have to physically die to fulfil God's purposes, for 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable' (1 Corinthians 15:50).

In this verse, Paul gives one of the subsiduary reasons why our resurrection bodies must differ in some ways (whilst still having continuity – see earlier in the chapter) with our present bodies. The state of glory is of an order which we can hardly yet imagine. To enter it, we must be changed. This change, though, does not actually necessitate death; Paul makes that explicit by saying (emphasis mine): “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed” (verse 51). Those who are still alive when the Lord returns shall not go through death, but shall be changed without it into a fitting state for glory. Hence there is no necessity for death for us to enter that state, contrary to what DA says. I label DA's view “neo-Gnostic” because his denial of a physical Fall leads him to effectively deny that Christ's physical death is related to our physical redemption which culminates in physical resurrection and transformation. He rather views this present mode of existence as being a classic Gnostic prison, and Jesus liberates us from it – he doesn't so much redeem and glorify a Fallen world as take us out of it into something else of a totally different nature.

DA's view makes no sense of the whole thrust and purpose of 1 Corinthians 15. There must, contrary to the deniers at Corinth, be a resurrection because without it Jesus' victory over sin would be incomplete. The first Adam through his sin caused us all to die (Romans 5:12-14); to reverse that, Jesus himself died and rose, and must raise us too. His physical resurrection is the great announcement, realisation and proof that the consequences of Adam's rebellion have been overcome. His physical resurrection is such a proof precisely because Adam's rebellion brought in physical death. Cut that vital link in Biblical theology, and you're left floundering around to explain all of this. DA never answers the pertinent questions raised by McIntosh's review. Why did Jesus physically die? Why did his punishment include physical sufferings if physical sufferings are not in fact in this world as a consequence of sin? Why would he endure such a penalty if it never was part of the penalty God imposed? Just why did Jesus endure physical death save us from a spiritual separation? He doesn't answer them because ultimately the truncated doctrine of redemption which his Darwinism leads him to... can't.

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...


Whilst preparing a sermon for the coming Lord's Day, I'm reminded of something - perhaps 9 years ago.

I had become concerned that the Lord perhaps wanted me to be in full time service, so I went to see someone a few years older than me who was in training to ask his advice. His advice was that perhaps the Lord did - but that I should not concern myself with working out the details now, or fretting that I was not there already. The Lord had placed me where I was now; I should serve him faithfully in my present situation, and he would lead me gradually to some greater field of usefulness or service when the time was right. I should perhaps speak to one of the ministers at church, and see if they needed help in a children's club, or see if there were any opportunities around college, etcetera.

It was good advice. It seems the Lord actually did want me to be in full time Christian service, a wonderful privilege, and in a country not my own. But just knowing the facts of the future does nothing for the kingdom - just as much, he wanted me to serve him where I was there and then. "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29).

(I don't suppose Nathan Buttery reads my blog ... though if you know him, pass it on: thanks Nathan for your good advice!).

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Dr. Alexander in the ET, part 3

Continuing from here. Quoth Dr. A:
We also differ in that I accept current mainstream science, not uncritically, but all truth is God's truth — whereas McIntosh rejects huge swathes of contemporary science, including that which establishes beyond any reasonable doubt the great age of the earth (about 4.6 billion years old) and our own common descent.
Mainstream Science

It is of course a truism that Professor McIntosh, as a creationist, is out of step with what is acceptable thinking in the mainstream scientific community as regards origins. Dr. Alexander, however, goes further than this and borrows an argument that previously I'd only seen in use by the "village atheist" crowd. That is, that the Darwinian theory and theories about the age of the earth somehow represent "huge swathes of contemporary science". This is pure rhetoric, and pure rhetorical hogwash at that. I type this on a laptop computer, with its intricate maze of transistors, liquid crystals, magnetic disks and so on, connected to a mobile phone which beams its packets to the nearest mobile mast... which beams it on, eventually via the satelites that connect Kenya to the rest of the world, along various fibre-optic pipes, and through all the chain of equipment until eventually it arrives in your room. I may not be a professional biologist, but trust me: Darwinism has nothing to do with any of this. And that's the story throughout. Even in biology, Darwinism as Darwinism has proved to be a theory of no practical use - the so-called now rejected "science" of eugenics being its main contribution to history. Descent with modification is a fact with practical implications; but Darwinian speculation about the supposed unlimited potential of that modification over periods of millions of years in the past has proved remarkably unfruitful for a theory that's alleged to be true. Neither does speculation about the age of the earth have any practical value in any of the scientific advances that we enjoy in day to day life. Medicines we take to cure illnesses, the vast reams of technology especially in communication, the blessings of modern transport, and so on... interesting stories about how the Earth supposedly cooled down over a period of billions of years have nothing to do with any of this.

That's why I've only previously heard this argument from Internet atheists before... as someone who did a Masters in a scientific discipline and spent large amounts of time with other scientists discussing our studies, I know that assertions that Darwinism or theories about the age of the cosmos are basically irrelevant to real, here-and-now operational science and rarely either come up for discussion or are assumed as implicit in any practical matter. Perhaps DA made the guess that most readers of the ET will simply take his word for it because they've never interacted in that world. I think he's over-reached himself, because if you want to stake out an influential position in the long run, you need to appeal to the knowledgeable and critical readers, and false rhetoric of this kind will turn them off.

Only Possible Explanation?

Concerning common descent, it's interesting that here in this letter DA says that it is a fact established by "huge swathes" of evidence, "beyond any reasonable doubt". In his book, he seemed to be relying ultimately upon a single argument that was ultimately theological. He argues that similar gene sequences in humans and other ape-like creatures are so similar, including in claimed genetic mistakes and unused genetic material, that unless its origin was common descent, God would in effect be deceiving us. I think that argument is rather weak when DA asserts it as the only possible explanation. For one thing, it's a genuine evolution-of-the-gaps argument; genetic material that is presently thought to be the result of copying mistakes or unused may later be discovered to have some function that our present knowledge hadn't equipped us to identify. At that point, DA's argument would vanish. The argument as a whole, though, is weak because in his book DA never compares it to any other alternative (as part of his general strategy of not representing creationist arguments, I think because he wants to give the air of them being beneath his level). There are other alternatives. Man and other creatures may have a similar genetic toolbox because... they have the same designer. Moreover, on the Biblical assumption that that Designer wishes man to investigate and harness the powers of the world that he made, it would be even less surprising. If God wants us to investigate and harmonise creation, it would be massively harder if every living entity was constructed along fundamentally different principles. The fact that they're constructed on a shared set of principles is a testimony both to his wisdom and to his desire that we should to some extent investigate, understand and harness what he has done. Moreover, the Bible teaches that the creation physically fell, because God cursed it when man sinned. That had some impact or other on actual biology, though it is not the Bible's purpose to explain things on that level. If we are looking at things on that level, though, why should it be unreasonable to believe that God should have brought about similar defects in DNA in similarly-constructed creatures? What is the theological reason why God must have, as Dr. Alexander is insisting, made such genetic changes at the Fall in arbitrary or random ways? Whether the lines on which I'm speculating here are correct or not is not important - the point is that DA's assertion that there is no possible explanation either existing or even possible for what he sees in DNA except man's common descent from other ape-like creatures is simply bluff.

There is an another aspect of DA's argument here that can be played back against him. In his book, DA attempts to argue that information theory should not be applied to biology, and even that biology should be allowed to have its own definitions of information - and that attempts to apply information theory represent misunderstandings by engineers and computer scientists. This is an exceptionally weak argument which itself represents a misunderstanding of and rejection of mainstream science. Information theory is universally applicable, and there is no justification for someone to put their hand up and say "you can't apply that here!" Information is a universal fundamental, and whether the encoding takes place on paper, on computer disk, or in DNA, it must apply everywhere or not at all. The point is that the application of information theory to biology and DNA leads to the necessary conclusion that DNA is an encoding by an intelligent agent, a conclusion which fundamentally contradicts Darwinism.

All Truth Is God's Truth?

The larger point, though, which DA never discusses in his book but simply assumes, as also in this letter, is his overall approach to Scripture, revelation and authority. You need to note here exactly what ideas are being packed into the slogan "all truth is God's truth". In itself, it's unobjectionable. But if you tease out the strands of what DA means by it, as hinted here and shown more fully in his book, it's simply not Christian.

DA's doctrine of authority, science and Scripture is basically a baptised Enlightenment-mode of thought. Scripture is theological, science is historical, and the twain shall scarcely meet. When Science speaks about matters in its own domain, it speaks with authority. It is effectively a second book of revelation, complementary (not competing) with the written one, and each has its own domain. In particular, Scripture cannot speak to correct science, because Scripture's domain is different: value-laden interpretations of the world and the physical facts that science unearths. And to Dr. Alexander, science speaks with authority when the peer-reviewers, applying the objective and unbiased process of impartial scrutiny, accept a theory into the mainstream consensus. Predictably, Dr. Alexander never addresses the obvious historical objection to this last idea - all the junk science that has at one time or another been mainstream, such as eugenics which we mentioned above. What you won't find anywhere in DA's book is an explanation that Genesis also speaks directly to historical matters, and that when it does so it speaks with unrivalled authority, such that any conclusions of contemporary scientists, no matter how numerous and how authoritative the journals they publish it in, must bow before it. That's because DA doesn't believe that idea - rather, in his book, he explains that Darwinian theory is the background that we must read Scripture against if we wish to harmonise it with contemporary science.

So, "all truth is God's truth" is in itself, one of God's truths. But on DA's lips, what it means is that the consensus of contemporary science ought to be treated by us as if it were revealed from heaven, and hence we ought to patronise fellow-believers in the manner in which Dr. Alexander does here. It is interesting, though, to note that this letter continues the theme in the book: that the truth is established mainly by science. This isn't a Biblical argument that DA's making: it's simply that mainstream science says so.

On scientific questions McIntosh cites only authors who are not published in peer-reviewed scientific literature, whose views are  rejected by the scientific community, not because the scientists are `anti-God' but because the views lack good evidence. Readers interested in the age of the earth may download a free Faraday Paper (No. 8) from, Faraday Papers Folder) by Prof. Bob White FRS, an evangelical believer who is Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge University.

Here DA repeats his point to underscore it. So there's no excuse for not identifying the lines on which his thought runs: mainstream science is itself an all-but infallible authority, and there's no need to launch any actual Biblical response to Professor McIntosh's Biblical argument - the fact that contemporary journals don't accept it as the consensus is sufficient repudiation. DA here makes a pure appeal to authority - those in the seats of power in the mainstream scientific community say so, so you'd better tow the line or I'll patronise you for being an idiot, even should you yourself be a Professor! DA has so folded this idea of science's basic infallibility into his axioms of thought that he doesn't think this should need explaining, even to readers of so conservative evangelical a newspaper as the ET... when this can happen then truly the Enlightenment is still riding strong. In this letter, as in the book, DA does nothing to hint that he's aware of the idea that scientific research is done within paradigms, and is not simply a straight-forward simple fact-based procedure. Mainstream scientific journals reject ideas that Professor McIntosh's promotes foundationally because they reject the Biblical paradigm that it is conducted within. "Evidence" is not a simple up and down matter - it must be interpreted. A presuppositional Christian, such as AM, asserts that, especially when dealing with a matter such as origins, our paradigm must be explicitly Christian. That's anathema to the secularist thinking that dominates the academy, and so hence the chasm between it and Christian orthodoxy. DA, though, here promotes pure Dawkins-style Scientism - the idea that science is simply a paradigm-free, unbiased inquiry into neutral facts and proceeds simply based upon evidence.

To save you the trouble, dear reader, I did download and digest the paper that Dr. Alexander refers us to. Its thought is the same as DA's. There is no discussion of the relationship between Scripture and other supposed authorities, or a comparison of their relative fallibilities, or a Christian view of authority, etcetera. Nope - it's asserted that science proves this and that, that therefore the earth is very old... and now let's hunt for a way to interpret God's word (which is after all a theological text, not one that deals with real-world facts of history) that agrees with this assured result of modern man's cleverness. Science first - then we'll see what we can do with the Bible. That's exactly the wrong way round, as far as evangelical religion is concerned. As with DA's own writings, there's also a few arguments and bits of rhetoric borrowed from the atheists - Christians who disagree are termed "fundamentalists", and creationism is falsely said to be a late 20th Century American import (in fact the oldest anti-evolution society (now known as the Biblical Creation Society), is British... and the two most well known creationist organisations today, Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International, both of which DA avoids any mention of in his book, originated in Australia). Oh come on, can't you do better than this?

To be continued...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

I'm baaaaack

Today I ran 10 miles in under 80 minutes... the first time since October 2007. A good feeling - this is the level at which I'm getting a bit fitter, more in control of the running so that huffing, puffing and chugging increasingly become a thing of the past (except on the really long ones!). It's high, hot and hilly here; it was hilly back in Derbyshire too, but I think the altitude of 7,000 feet here must count for something... the IAAF has an international high altitude training centre in this town! (I don't think I'm invited until I get 10 miles under 50 minutes...). Today wasn't so hot - it was overcast, even with a gentle breeze, which made it a bit easier. My best time for 10 miles is something like 73:45, so there's a way to go still!

The Bible and particularly the apostle Paul several times uses the metaphor of athletics, and in particular running, for the Christian life. This, for one thing, shows that the idea that sports are inherently sinful, too trivial or otherwise unworthy for Christians to be involved in is dead wrong. True, the treatment of modern professional sports often crosses the line between legitimacy and idolatry, but I think so did the Greek athletics of New Testament times. All created things are good (1 Timothy 4:4) and to be received with thanksgiving; the devil doesn't get to steal for his exclusive use any part of God's good world. There's an encouragement in the Scriptures for us to use such things as illustrations when they help us to get a better grip on understanding the Christian life, so here goes:
  • It's a marathon, not a sprint. I also set out to attempt 10 miles in under 80 minutes on Monday... but I did the first 2 miles at the required pace and that was suicidal, especially as the first had a big uphill. By 6 miles my legs were jelly, and I didn't finish. How you finish in the Christian race is the only thing that ultimately matters. Are you running as someone who's aiming to finish, not just to have a quick blast?

  • It requires consistency. The only thing that ultimately counts in a marathon is the overall average per mile. If you want to do a sub 4-hour marathon, you've got to go 9:09 or better per mile, not a second more. It doesn't matter if you had a blinding five mile stretch somewhere in the middle... only the final score counts. Christ is looking for a life of consistent fruitfulness, maintained over years and decades.

  • It's easier to start than to finish.... once I got to 19 miles in the marathon I started to see people stopping and walking which I hadn't seen any of until then. 3/4 of the way - but now it was all going to pot and some won't have finished at all. The righteous man stumbles seven times, but picks himself up again - there'll be many bad moments, nasty hills, stomach cramps, thirsty periods in between drinks, etcetera. You can't give up because of these if you want to get the medal at the end.

  • Discipline is the key. Turn up on the day for the race without the months of painful training, and you'll not get very far - or if you do, it'll really hurt. Well, it really hurts even with the training, so what I mean is it'll really really hurt. If your Christian life is not disciplined, don't expect to be finding much joy in the Lord from day to day.

  • Focus is another key. No sane marathon runner runs aimlessly. He's got to know how many miles have gone and how many are to come. He can't just run whatever speed feels good right now - he has to know how much he's got under his belt and how much to keep in reserve and monitor his own progress. Do you examine yourself, and know when challenges are coming, and prepare yourself to deal with them? Why should people aiming for temporal goals - sports, career, etc. - dedicate all their energies to them, and Christians think they can get to heaven whilst floundering around without an aim?

  • Fads don't work. There may be some training techniques that are better than others. But at the end of the day, a great marathon is ultimately the result of lots of hard training, not because you wore Uncle John's Miracle Running Vest on race day. So many Christians are running around after fads - the worship style in this place makes me feel great, that festival is awesome, that preacher has such wonderful charisma, this practice/visit to this place really gave me a boost up the arm! Nope... the race is won by self denial, repentance, love to Christ, and painful obedience to his commandments.

  • And... it's great to finish. Oh yes. Finishing is the whole reason why we start the race, and go through all the training beforehand. The Lord will soon be revealed from heaven with a shout, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we shall all be caught up together into the air, and so shall we be forever with the Lord. The crown of righteousness awaits for those who finish well. The words, "well done, good and faithful servant" are about to be spoken to each one who perseveres to the end. The new heavens and the new earth, and seeing our beloved face to face await. That's what you've got to keep your eyes on - and when you get there after the long, painful slog, it'll be indescribably better than you ever dreamed of.
Next goal: 79 minutes!

Friday, 2 January 2009

Denis Alexander in the ET, continued

We continue reviewing Dr. Alexander's letter in the "Evangelical Times" in favour of his recent book promoting Darwinism to evangelical Christians, in response to Professor McIntosh's recent review of the same, in the same.

Yesterday we saw DA listing a number of doctrines which he said that both AM and himself both held. These were intended to show that there was no real difference between them on the major points of creation doctrine. Having read the book, which I suppose only a minority of ET readers will have done, I was able to point out that the agreement on these doctrines extended not much further than the ambiguous labels DA has given to them. It's one thing to list labels that you could both accept as describing your doctrines - but those doctrines themselves in this case are very different things. It's in DA's strategic interest to paper over these differences and behave as if being able to keep the labels was enough, because it's DA who has departed far from the historic norms. He wants to carry those who still hold them with him into embracing Darwinism, and highlighting the other adjustments they'll need to make further down the road won't suit him. It's in AM's interests and mine to point the gaping chasm between him and them out. DA basically de-historicises the story of redemption with a sharp dualism. In the Bible, man is the climax of creation and its destiny is integrally tied up with his. In DA's reconstruction, the physical side of existence began, carried out after the fall and will to the end basically unaffected, until at last Jesus replaces it with something completely different, dying in a Gnostic-style redemption in order to release us from the prison of this painful world that the Father made into a better one that hadn't been tasted before or even anticipated until he came and told us about it. In the Scriptures, the Creation itself falls because of Adam's sin, bringing in pain, suffering and death, and Christ dies physically in part to redeem, recover and glorify this physical creation. It is not evangelical theology to paper over that yawning gap by applying the trite label "a historical fall" to them both. But we pass on.

Where we differ is that McIntosh believes in a worldwide flood, whereas I believe in a local flood (the Old Testament often refers to the 'whole earth' or to the 'whole world' as relating to the local extended area; e.g. 1 Kings 10:24; Jeremiah 51:41; Lamentations 2:15;  Ezekiel 34:6; Habakkuk 1:6).

Interestingly, DA nowhere in his book actually addresses the Biblical case for a world-wide flood; there are simply a few scientific ones scattered statements here and there. There is no systematic consideration of the question anywhere. This is part and parcel of his general refusal to engage actual creationist arguments (there being precisely zero references or footnotes to any contemporary creationist author or publication in his book), because he wishes to maintain a superior aloofness. This sentence, in this letter, is the first time I recall coming across DA making a Biblical argument against a global flood (the ones in the book I recall were based on reconstructions of history, e.g. based on what it is supposed we can deduce from chalk deposits).

It is a shame that we only have one sentence of argument from DA on this subject, but this rather trite dismissal misses the following points:
  • All the verses that he quotes above come from the Old Testament after the crucial chapters of Genesis 1-11 - the "universal" chapters. From Genesis 12 onwards, the focus switches to Abraham and God's covenant with him, and thus, as it is worked out, to the twelve tribes and ultimately even more narrowly to the line of Judah and David. God's universal dealings cease (not that he ceases to be at work elsewhere in the world in a total way, of course - neither in providence generally, or even in redemption specifically, e.g. the book of Jonah, or Ruth), and the focus switches to his special plan for Israel. The nations in general are left to darkness - darkness that is only dispelled when at long last, thousands of years later, the Christ comes and commands his gospel to be spread throughout the nations. DA quotes from these chapters, but not from Genesis 1-11, the "universal" chapters. In other words, he ignores the context. In Genesis 1-11, we learn about the origins of the whole world; the first man and woman, the first temptation and the first sin and judgment, the first murder, the development of the godly and ungodly lines, the universal judgment of the flood, the origin of the nations around the world at Babel, the beginning of languages, and so on. Here, the context is on the beginnings of the nations, and talk of "the whole earth" in such a context cannot be exegeted by arbitrary appeals to passages in another situ.

  • The account of the flood in Genesis 6-8 does not simply use an expression such as "the whole earth" once, but piles them up. There is repetition, there is emphasis, there is variation. In short, there are a range of techniques employed to make clear what the author's intention is to teach us. DA ignores all these literary clues - they don't suit his purpose.

  • The last of the citations that DA gives, from Habakkuk 1:6, is not an example of what he is looking for - "the Chaldeans... shall march through the breadth (merchab) of the land (erets)". Here in context, "erets" is clearly writely translated as "land" and is a straight reference to the promised land of Canaan and its invasion by the Babylonians, not to an indefinite extended (but localised) area. I don't know what translation DA was relying on for this one.

  • There is no reason to insist that Jeremiah 51:41 or Lamentations 2:15 are localised. It was quite literally true that Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth. It was an essential truth of the Israelite faith that their God was the universal creator, and had chosen only Israel and only Jerusalem above all the nations and cities of the entire created world. This was not a localised or relative truth. Indeed, that's one of the points of Genesis 1-11 - to remind Israel that its God was not a localised deity, but the universal Lord. I wonder what DA actually means by alleging that these statements were intended to be understood only in a localised sense as if Jerusalem was only special in a restricted eastern context... is he actually saying that somewhere else, on another contintent perhaps, there was another people and nation that God had chosen too? Perhaps Joseph Smith really was on to something? :-)

  • Ezekiel 34:6 is clearly a poetic and indefinite reference, not directly to any particular local territory at all: "My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth." The prophet does not intend to identify particular mountains and specific hills any more than he believes that God's people were literally sheep. In the historical sense, possibly this is a reference to the exiles of the northern kingdom some time before and more lately the south in Babylon. That is the ultimate referent of Ezekiel's words, but the poetic metaphor is meant to be understood through this lens, not literally read as if it were not poetic at all. This is not a proper parallel to a historical narrative such as Genesis 6-8.

  • DA doesn't anywhere consider the point that the Hebrew erets covers a wide semantic range, and can be translated world, earth or land, depending on the context. Hence it can refer to the whole globe as in Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning, God created the heaven and the erets" - we presume DA doesn't merely hold that to be teaching that God only made the Middle East...), or at another extreme simply to a specific country (e.g. Genesis 41:55, "... all the erets of Egypt was famished..." - here in fact a metonym is used to put the territory for the people). Context must decide, otherwise you fall into a semantic fallacy, using cases of one illegitimately to determine the meaning of others that appear in quite different settings. I noted in my extended review that DA relies heavily on quiet a number of semantic fallacies throughout his book. It's one thing to note that the word in the dictionary can mean one thing, but then to use that as evidence that it does mean that in a specific context is simply bogus exegesis, unworthy of a first term seminary student, let alone someone setting themselves up to write books to teach the evangelical world.

  • 1 Kings 10:24 is also a metonym. Obviously the "earth" did not seek out King Solomon; there were no clods of soil or piles of rock forming an orderly queue to come and find him. The meaning is that the inhabitants of the earth did - where they heard of him. In that sense, it is both a local and universal reference; wherever his fame went, people were sent to search him out. In what way, though, this is supposed to be parallel to the usage of the term in Genesis 6-8, is lost on me. Such things need longer to explain than in just a letter in the ET... which is why it's a shame that DA simply ducks such issues in his actual book, whilst finding multiple pages still to discuss  in depth such irrelevancies as Gosse's Omphalos.

  • Thus, it is clear that DA here has indulged in "proof-texting" - he has grabbed some similar words out of context, without regard to whether or not they are legitimate parallels, and used them to support a pre-existing doctrine. He has not derived his doctrine from these texts, but simply roped them in to support the existing construct. Proof-texting is right and necessary when done properly... this isn't it.

  • But, having said all of that, I can still concede that the Bible can, in some contexts, use the language in this kind of way, speaking of the "whole earth" when it means less than the entire totality of the globe. I would argue, as I have hinted above, that in such cases there are actual contextual clues, whether in the immediate or the wider context. For example, the wider context of the writings dealing with Paul's ministry means that we know he didn't actually preach the gospel to every living being under heaven - for one thing, Romans 15 shows that he still had plans to visit Spain. Here, the reference seems to me to be another "universal-local"; Paul preached the gospel fully and widely throughout the regions of Asia Minor, such that it was a known and public thing in every place he went. But wha is the context of Genesis 1-11, where the flood account appears? It needs a strong argument for DA's view, because the default presumption simply from that context, even before you come to details of the account, is strongly in favour of a global flood. Hence DA's neglect of this question is a major weakness in his case; I noted elsewhere in my reivew that he has quite a penchant for side-stepping hard and necessary questions in favour of his own chosen issues.

  • When we actually look at the details, we find that the Noahic flood had such features as:

    • requiring a gigantic boat to evade it that took 120 years in construction (don't you think Noah could have moved out of the east with a journey of slightly less than that amount of time if he merely needed to evade a regional downpour?)

    • it killed even the birds and other creatures which could likewise have easily migrated to avoid a local flood, and required them to be on the boat to be saved. When the flood ended, a bird was released, but could not find anywhere to land and returned - perhaps in DA's scenario the problem was the poor thing was just feeling a little weary that day?

    • The flood waters rose and prevailed for 150 days, the whole time that Noah had to remain upon the ark being a whole year, and covering even the tops of the highest mountains. We presume that DA knows that water flows downhill. How can all the mountains be covered in any particular area of the east for such a vast period of time without the flood extending globally, or at least across the entire contintent, as opposed to DA's mere regional flood? DA's theory would require some kind of enormous basin to countain the flood in a localised part of the east only - but we know that he rejects all such ideas that require any modification to orthodox mainstream scientic thinking.

    • Moreover, God promised never to send such a flood ever again. There have been many immense and catastrophic local and regional floods since. On DA's account, God broke his promise. But when we presuppose the truth of the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth, and use it to reconstruct history instead of using a foreign history reconstructed from something else to intepret the Bible, a different picture emerges. This promise means that the Noahic flood must have been immensely greater than any subsequent flood, and so DA's belief must be wrong. Again, he never addresses this argument in his book. The implication of God's post-flood promise is that the flood at least dramatically interfered with the seasons (if they are assumed to have been operating before, which I am not commenting on either way here). That is not possible though for a local flood; or if the meaning is simply that the localised flood disrupted the seasons locally, then this again leads to the unthinkable conclusion that God's promise was broken.

    • Again, DA never addresses the "table of nations" in Genesis 10 or the Babel account in Genesis 11. According to his theory, multiple languages existed long before Adam let alone Noah, and so did the nations. What significance do these chapters actually play in his scheme? It's all very well to promote a general theory that "Genesis is theological, not scientific", but if you want to sustain that argument, then in a 350-page book that concludes that creationism is dangerous and embarassing you ought to actually find some space to address these historical narratives. Genesis 1-11 records that the nations, such as Egypt (Mizraim), descended from people who came out of the ark. DA's Darwinian dating requires him to believe that Egypt was flourishing independently long before the flood, and does not permit him to believe that the nations all descend from people who were in a localised flood in the east. The bottom line is that ultimately you can't hold both Darwinian and Scriptural orthodoxy, and DA jettisons the latter in favour of the former by treating the Bible in Enlightenment style as purely "private values", "theological truths" for believers, rather than a true and historical revelation from God about the origins of our race.
DA, then, lists the "local / worldwide" difference as a minor point of disagreement, and his position as Scripturally justified. This is a point he never addresses in his book, though, and one as we've seen above of far more wide-ranging significance, if dealt with consistently, than he allows.

To be continued...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Dr. Denis Alexander in the ET

I've started so I may as well finish... January's "Evangelical Times" ( carried a letter from Dr. Alexander whose book I have reviewed at length here . (Thank you to the friend who e-mailed me this!) He was replying to the review carried in the same newspaper by Professor Andy McIntosh, a prominent creationist and scientist at Leeds University. Professor McIntosh's review, a few months earlier (you could well be able to find it on the website) had pulled no punches. He stated, correctly in my opinion, that Dr. Alexander was "seriously in error", that his book was a demonstration of "how sophisticated we evangelicals have become in justifying our unbelief" and that the spreading of the philosophy promoted by Dr. Alexander really represents "the downgrade controversy of the 21st century".

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Alexander's letter didn't totally agree. In this post, I'm going to begin going through Dr. Alexander's letter, with the hope that it'll shed some more light on the issues for my readers. Here we go.

Do we have to choose?

Dear Sir,

Given the level of angst in Andy McIntosh's article in October's ET (`The Downgrade Controversy of the 21st Century') critiquing my book "Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose? (Monarch, 2008)", the reader might be forgiven for thinking that the theological gulf between us is rather wide.

But this is not the case.

We shall see...

McIntosh and I both believe in the full plenary inspiration of the whole of Scripture as the Word of God; in a literal Adam and Eve; a historical Fall leading to separation from God of all humankind; and our deliverance from both spiritual and physical death through the death and resurrection of Christ.

This letter, then, is aiming to downplay the differences between Dr. Alexander's attempt at a Christian Darwinism, and Professor McIntosh's (in my opinion, Biblical) creation theology. Along those lines, Dr. Alexander then lists a number of doctrines which he says the two of them both agree on.

In fact as I read this, the appropriateness of Rrofessor McIntosh's invocation of the "downgrade" metaphor was impressed upon me. One of the striking features of the decline from evangelical orthodoxy in the late 19th century, and one that allowed it to escape from under the radar of many sincere evangelicals (or often those who should have known better but had no stomach for a fight) until the rot was well and truly endemic, was the use of orthodox terminology by downgraders. The liberals believed in the divinity of Christand the divine inspiration of the Word of God... it's just that by "divinity" they didn't mean "deity" as Christians had historically done, and by "inspiration" they didn't mean "plenary inspiration", that word having now to be added for clarity's sake.

By referring to this, what I mean is that Dr. Alexander is being more than a little disingenuous. By this late stage in doctrinal debate in Christendom, we surely all ought to know that the mere heaping up of phrases to identify doctrines that we can all tick the box for, does not mean much. To make his Darwinian teaching acceptable to evangelicals he needs to minimise the difference between it and the historical faith, but I don't think he's being accurate in doing so. That is:
  • Dr. Alexander and Professor McIntosh both believe in a "literal Adam and Eve"... but the Professor's Adam is the first human being, specially created from the dust on the sixth day of the world's existence, the historical father of all humanity, whose sin brought physical suffering and death into the world, and from whose rib Eve the mother of all the living was created. Dr. Alexander's is a Neolithic farmer who appeared at one second to midnight on the evolutionary clock, the descendent of thousands of years of prior humans who had lived and died with art, culture and religion, and ultimately the offspring of ape-like creatures, fish and ultimately bacteria. He did not bring in physical suffering or death, and is not the father of many people alive today (such as the Australian Aboriginals). Dr. Alexander does also explain in his book that he sees his "literal" Adam and Eve as only a possibility, and also allows that a rank liberal approach, where the whole thing is just a metaphor not referring to any particular couple or set of events is also possible within the Biblical text... but, I presume because it's his aim in this letter to say things that a more conservative evangelical readership in ET will find palatable, he doesn't mention that here. Hmmm.

  • Whereas they both believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, Dr. Alexander also brings to the Bible the prior doctrine and hard distinction (as he'll explain later in the letter), that the Bible is a "theological" and not a "scientific" one, and that therefore it simply does not speak of creation as a historical matter. That is, anything it has to say along those lines is screened out in advance by the hermeneutical grid he brings to the text. It's all inspired - but there are also presuppositions that will disallow it from giving us a deliberate history of the world's formation. Dr. Alexander believes that science is a second book, whose results in research into the past, can reach an equivalent level of truth with Scripture such that Scripture is not allowed to contradict it. Professor McIntosh, on the other hand, comes with the classical Christian presuppositional approach - that is, that Scripture is the ultimate and unrivalled source of knowledge, that must be consulted first and gets to set boundaries on all other fields, ruling out certain theories (such as Darwinism) in advance. The Bible is not an equal source of knowledge with Science, but science's lord.

  • Dr. Alexander's "historical" fall is "historical" in the sense that it corresponds to an event in space-time. But to compare this to Professor McIntosh's fall, which agrees with that of historic orthodoxy, is to compare chalk with cheese. Dr. Alexander believes that the physical world, with its thorns and sweat coming from the brows of the sons of Adam, was that way before, during and after Adam's sin. He believes that pain, suffering and death is essential to a physical world of this sort with carbon-based life - "biology is a package deal". The fall was, according to him, purely in the spiritual realm: a relationship with God was offered and rejected. Professor McIntosh, on the other hand, holds that death came into the world because Adam sinned (Romans 5), and the whole creation came into bondage (Romans 8) and now dwells under a curse, suffering, disease and pain not being part of God's original "very good" creation. It is not intellectual integrity to seek to paper over the gaping chasm between these conceptions with the word "historical".

  • Again, when Dr. Alexander says he believes in "deliverance from physical ... death" through the death of Jesus, he means something quite different to both the Professor and historic Christian thought. In his system, death is not (as we've already remarked), an unwelcome intruder, a curse placed by God upon rebels. He explains at length in his book that it was normal, part of reality, embraced by those who came before Christ with little or no realisation that something else would one day come until the apostles revealed that fact. Christ delivers us from physical death, not because that was part of the curse which he has redeemed us from by himself being cursed, but simply because the future creation and future kingdom are something of a different order, something better. Dr. Alexander's doctrine of salvation is basically Gnostic - creation is not redeemed, restored and glorified, but replaced with a different order entirely, an event which in the final analysis makes Christ's physical death theologically incomprehensible; we'll come to that later in the letter. The Professor, on the other hand, holds and teaches that physical death is an integral part of the curse (man being made body and soul, and so bearing the curse in both), and Christ had of necessity to come in the flesh and to suffer and die in it, to redeem us from that curse and eventually to purify the whole cosmos in the future re-creation.
What we have here, then, is that Dr. Alexander has piled together a few short doctrinal labels which both he and Professor McIntosh could accept, whilst giving radically different content to them. The reality is not that they are very close together in their thinking about creation, fall and redemption - the reality is that Professor McIntosh's assertion that he's read in "Creation or Evolution" a new downgrading theology is on the right lines. As with the downgrade theology, though, the purveyors of new truths aren't honest or courageous enough to come out openly and say so - instead, they cash in upon the value of the true currency, hoping to pass off their own coins and notes by trading upon its strength. Why doesn't Dr. Alexander simply come out and state clearly that historic Christian thought about the nature of the Bible, the Fall and the redemption accomplished by Christ has contained major errors which can now be corrected by bringing our thinking into line with modern science? The hunting out of convenient words which paper over these differences is an amusing parlour game for intellectuals of that bent, but not, as the 19th century downgrade controversy shows us, something that will ever yield good spiritual fruit.

To be continued...