(Repost) What is a “Dispensationalist” Theology?

The pieces I was working on are not quite finished so I thought I would give this one another spin. 

A Dispensationalist is a Christian who sees in Scripture certain clear divisions in the progress of revelation in which God governs history.  At its best this is done on the basis of the covenants revealed in the Bible.A “dispensation” (Gk. “oikonomia”) is an administration or economy, wherein, within a certain period of time (known to God, but afterwards revealed to man), God pursues His plan through the lives of men.The term oikonomia is made up of two other words: “oikos”, meaning house, and “nemo”, meaning to administer, manage, or dispense.Literally, an “oikonomia” is a house-management or household administration.In its theological usage it is well suited to describe what we might call a “Divine economy.”This is much the way the word is used in Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25-26, and 1 Timothy 1:4.These passages also show that Paul held to the reality of certain dispensations in the broad sense given above.

Not unsurprisingly therefore, even Covenant theologians often speak of dispensations. (more…)

The Transmission of the Soul (Pt. 3)

This is the belated third installment of a series I started last year on the topic.  I do apologize for dropping the ball on this one.  The material is taken from a lecture from the course, “The Doctrine of Man & Sin” at Telos Biblical Institute.

Part Two

The Traducianist Position: Traducianism (from a word meaning ‘to sprout’), holds that both the material-bodily substance of a person, and the soulish part of a person is passed on from parent to child through all generations, and because of this, the sin nature is passed on through all generations. This involves what is called a realistic view of the impartation of sin, within the transmission of the soulWhy “realistic?”  Because it actually happens; it is not something whereby guilt is just decreed, but because we participate in sin by sinning according to the fallen nature which we inherit from Adam.

As W.G.T. Shedd writes,

Sin cannot be transmitted along absolute nonentity; neither can it be transmitted by merely physical substance. If each individual soul never had any other than an individual existence and were created ex nihilo in every instance, nothing mental could pass from Adam to his posterity; there could be the transmission of only bodily and physical traits. There would be a chasm of 6000 years between an individual soul of this generation and the individual soul of Adam, across which original sin or moral corruption could not go by natural generation. -  W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology,446

I myself am drawn to the Traducianist view for the following reasons:

     1.   It appears to be everywhere assumed by Scripture that through conception via our human parents, we inherit sin natures, and not just physical bodies.  So the psalmist says, “…in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5b). 

     When Charles Hodge, himself a staunch creationist, to avoid the conclusion that God creates sinful souls, declares ‘We do not know how the agency of God is connected with the operation of second causes, how far the agency is mediate and how far it is immediate’, and then admits in his later discussion of Original Sin that, “it is, moreover, a historical fact universally admitted, that character within certain limits is transmissible from parents to children; every nation and every tribe and every extended family of man has its physical, mental, social, and moral peculiarities which are propagated from generation to generation”, he has effectively abandoned his Creationism, for if God does immediately create souls at conception or at birth, the mental and moral characteristics of parents cannot be propagated.

2.      Creationism allows for only the physical or corporeal connection between Adam and his offspring, and has to explain how human souls, immediately created by God, with no soulish connection to their parents, become evil.  Whereas Traducianism has a ready answer for why the individual is guilty in Adam and is thus corrupt (see e.g. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 424-425).

 Lewis and Demarest add,

Neither do we find adequate evidence to support the view that spirits are individually created at conception or birth. The passages teaching that spirits come from God can be interpreted providentially and ultimately, rather than miraculously and approximately. Creationists raise the problem of how Christ could be without sin if souls are derived from parents along with bodies. The point is irrelevant to normal conceptions however, because the conception of Jesus was miraculous! The conception of Jesus by a virgin, involved both a biological miracle and a moral miracle, so that Mary’s sinful nature was not transmitted to Jesus and he was holy…(Lk 1:35). The major problem with a Creationist hypothesis is that for all normally born persons, the Holy One allegedly directly creates their souls with sinful dispositions. Scriptural teaching traces sinfulness not to the body but to the inner soul or spirit…(Jer.17:9). The “flesh” refers in moral contexts only secondarily to the body as the instrument of the fallen spirit; primarily the flesh is the sinful nature conceived at conception. Since throughout Scripture God is the source of good and not of moral rebellion against Himself, it seems unthinkable that He, the Holy One, should specifically create each human soul with a bent toward disbelieving and disobeying him.” – Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrated Theology, Vol. 2. 170

To this I add the comment of Robert Culver:

It seems to this writer that it takes some shading of evidence from sincere convictions drawn from another quarter of doctrine to suppose that adam and anthropos whence ‘anthropology’, ever means just man’s body to the exclusion of his soul. – Robert Culver, Systematic Theology, 279

But that is what Creationists must teach.  So, how do Creationists say that we are sinners and we are guilty of Adam’s transgression if we didn’t participate in it, and really we had nothing to do with it? They say that it is because God imputes his sin to us in the same way as God imputes righteousness in Christ to us. Well, we understand why God has to impute the righteousness of Christ to us: because we’re not in ourselves connected to the righteousness of God in Christ. But we also understand that we are connected to Adam!

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – I Corinthians 15:22

Why Do We Die?

Why do we die? Because we are “in Adam.”  We need to get into Christ to be made alive. But how do we get into Christ? By a new birth.  We have to be joined to Christ, and we are joined to Him through adoption and the new birth by the Holy Spirit.  That is when His righteousness is imputed to us. But why do we need Adam’s sin and guilt heaped on us?  

As Shedd says, “to make the eternal damnation of a human soul depend upon vicarious [i.e. "in our place"] sin, contradicts the profound convictions of the human conscience.”

To say that because Adam sinned we’re damned, just because that’s the way God decides it, and not because of any relationship we bear to Adam, would be unjust.  Calling on God’s freedom to do as He wants to validate such a thing amounts to redefining God’s desires along voluntarist and nominalist lines.  This is a card played all too often by some theologians. 

Arguing against Traducianism and for Creationism, Herman Bavinck introduced covenant theology to bolster his doctrine.  He wrote:  

The so-called realism, say of Shedd, is inadequate both as an explanation of Adam’s sin, and as an explanation of righteousness by faith in Christ.  Needed among human beings is another kind of unity, one that causes them to act unitedly as a moral body, organically-connected as well as ethically-united, and that is a federal unity, that is a covenant unity. Now on the basis of a physical unity an ethical unity has to be constructed; Adam as our ancestor is not enough, he must also be the covenant head of the human race just as Christ, although he is not our common ancestor in a physical sense, is still able as covenant head to bestow righteousness and blessedness upon his church. Now this moral unity of the human race can only be maintained on the basis of Creationism, for it has a character of its own, is distinct from that of animals, as well as that of the angels, and therefore also comes into being in its own way; both by physical descendent [Adam] and by a created act of God [Creationism], the two of them in conjunction with each other. – Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2.586

Of course, Traducianism is not inadequate for an explanation of Adam’s sin, because we are connected to him spiritually.  As the Bible clearly declares, God created the whole person:

The Creation of Eve - So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.Genesis 2:21-22

Did God just bring a body to the man, or did he bring a person, body and a soul?  There is nothing here to say that God breathed a soul into Eve like he did with Adam in verse 7.  Here, God just takes the material as it were – the substance, the essence of the man – from the man and creates a woman, body and soul.  In the Old Testament the words for  ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ (especially the former), designates more often than not the whole person.

More to come…

Antitheism Presupposes Theism (6)

PART FIVE

I want to close off this series of apologetics posts by considering some more quasi-intellectualism from the critic of presuppositional apologetics whom my debater FF relied upon for most of his reasoning.  I have named him “Flaw” since he claims to have found the “fundamental flaw” within presuppositional apologetics.  In his eight minute video rebuttal of the transcendental argument for God (TAG), he sounded clever, but sounded was the operative word.  Consider that in setting presuppositionalists straight Flaw’s starting point is:

“The necessity of reality itself.”

One might think that this is a natural enough place to begin.  But look again at what is being asserted.  “Reality” (without God mind you) is “necessary.”  Now a necessary thing is something which does not depend on anything else for what it is, but which other things need for their existence.  To give a formal definition.  “Necessary” is,

“[The] quality of a being that has the cause of its existence within itself; not ontologically dependent.” – William H. Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, (4th edition), 483.

Right from the get-go our critic of presuppositional apologetics is in the mud.  Does he really intend to stand on the assertion that “reality” is “necessary”?  If so, which part or parts of “reality” are necessary (i.e. non-contingent?).  He doesn’t say.

What, we may inquire, is “reality” in this point of view?  Perhaps it’s the natural world?  But is this planet’s eco-system necessary, in the sense above?  Of course it isn’t.  The rest of the Cosmos could go on doing its thing without Earth being there.

Very well, is he saying “reality” as the Cosmos? is necessary?  He can’t mean the Cosmos is necessary surely?  Which astro-physicist or astronomer will agree with him on that one?  Not even those who tout the Anthropic principle will go so far as to say the universe is necessary.  In fact, not even any Christian theologian will say such a thing, since the universe is created by God.

Flaw pushes God out of the equation.  God isn’t part of “reality” for him and his fellow atheists.  But again, just what does the guy mean by the word “reality”?  Does he mean “matter”?  If he means matter is necessary then he must believe it is eternal, which contradicts the law of entropy.  Now it is true that you must have matter if you are to have material objects, but then Flaw must be willing to come down off his philosophical perch and admit to using “necessary” in a non-technical manner, signifying something like “constituent.”  In that case all he would be stating is the rather bland fact that material objects are made out of matter!  A silly statement.

Note also that Flaw is speaking of “reality” as if he knows it is external to himself.  Fine, but how does he know that this “reality” is actually what his senses report to his brain that it  is?  How does he know his brain is not constructing the outside world?  And how does he know it is necessary?  He philosophizes:

“There cannot be no reality at all.  There are always facts.  And since facts are about something, something necessarily has to exist.”

Okay, so “reality” is made up of “facts.”  What “facts” are these?  Are they “facts” about the world beyond his brain?  Just what “facts” are those and how does he arrive at them?  How does he know there is more than one fact?  Eastern monists, for example, would object to any assertion of factual duality.

But Flaw is certain that “facts” (plural) exist.  Moreover, he refers to “the relationships between those entities.”

Wow!  So not only does this guy know that reality is “necessary” because “there are always facts”, but he knows “the relationships between those entities.”  Take that David Hume!  Flaw appears to have solved Hume’s critique of cause and effect.

  Further, he opines, “the law of identity is a description of the fact of identity.”

Still tracking?  He has claimed a great deal about what he “knows”, and yet has said nothing to back any of it up.  We are just supposed to shut up and agree with him since he knows there are “facts” which are “necessary” (i.e. not reliant upon other things), and he can point us to “the relationships between those entities” (since he can identify whether they are the same or not by trusting his senses).  From this fake ‘solid platform’ he is in a position to tell us that the law of logic we call the law of identity describes identity between things.

I realize readers will think this is all obvious.  But the TAG approach asks for what lies behind and supports these obvious things.  Flaw, FF, and atheists generally simply take it all for granted.  When asked to provide the preconditions for our knowledge of the external world, or the relationships between facts, or the laws of logic, they retreat into the sort of pseudo-philosophy I have been critiquing.

Back on Planet Earth, you will recall that the transcendental argument for the existence of the biblical God is that unless He is presupposed you cannot make sense out of anything.  So we have asked (many times), “how does the atheist account for the laws of logic?”  The unpacking of that question entails the answers to questions about how we know what the extended world is like (which the laws of logic describe), and how we explain the relationship between concepts, classes, sets, numbers, etc, which are in our minds, and the entities out there (let alone their cause and effect relationships)?

Sound like a tall order?  That’s because it is – unless you presuppose the God of the Bible and the teaching of the Bible about “reality.”

Rising Above The Level of Opinion

After we have been graced with a sensible answer to the question of rationality and the laws of thought we can move on to justice or truth, or history, or knowledge.  But we will not hold our breath, for we have discovered that, behind the facade of cultured superiority, there nearly always lurks the decrepit supporting columns of arbitrariness and personal pontification.

 Flaw is just taking a whole raft of things for granted.  These are the very things which TAG wants him to account for!  His starting premises are presented as foundational truths, but are really only his opinions.

For instance, in claiming that “there cannot be no reality at all” he is precluding nothingness.  But why, from his standpoint, would one preclude nothingness?  In answer to the fundamental question, “why is there anything instead of nothing?” the usual reply is something like, “well, there is something so why inquire?” – which is not an answer!  But at least we don’t hear that “reality” is necessary.

 “Nothingness” is not something.  It contains no facts.  There are no “facts” which can be identified and pondered.  “Nothing” has no properties.  It is the total absence of any fact.  The only “fact” we can say about nothingness is that the absence of all properties is called “nothingness.”  But the name is not the “nothingness” itself.  In fact, the only way one can talk about nothing is if there is something.

As Flaw and FF surely see (since they make so much of it in their critique of the transcendental argument), the description is not the thing itself.  To paraphrase his own words back to him, “the fundamental flaw is that this argument fails to make a distinction between the concept of nothingness and what it refers to.”

So why is there something rather than nothing?  It would not stretch a novice to see that because there is something does not mean that that something is necessary.

To return to my point, Flaw’s statements about knowing “reality” and necessary facts and their relationships is on a par with FF’s views about morality or neutrality or God.  They fail to rise above the level of opinion.   (more…)

A Review of ‘Covenantal Apologetics’ by Scott Oliphint

Review of Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practices in Defense of Our Faith, by K. Scott Oliphint, Wheaton: Crossway, 2013, 277 pages, pbk.

K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  He has written several good books of apologetics and philosophical theology; most notably his Reasons for Faith and God with Us.  He is, as far as my opinion counts, the main successor to Van Til and Bahnsen and their apologetic approach.  This new book, Covenantal Apologetics, is his introductory textbook on how to defend the Christian Faith.  But it is something else too.  It launches the author’s project of re-conceiving Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics as distinctively “covenantal” – meaning grounded within Reformed covenant theology.

I shall not say much about the success of this venture in this review, but it seems to me that even though Van Til would likely not protest, his particular apologetic stands on its own because it is clearly biblical; whereas covenant theology has slightly less going for it in that department.

Looked at simply as a book about presuppositional apologetics this is a welcome addition.  Between the customary Introduction and Conclusion there are seven informative chapters.  Although the methodological stuff is contained, as usual, in the opening chapters, the author has thought through how best to present the logic of the approach, and he brings in some useful refinements in this area; refinements which readers will appreciate.

Broadly defined, the first four chapters draw out the biblical and theological basis for this apologetic, as well as the reasoning behind the preferred title.  The fifth chapter tackles the problem of evil, in part by clarifying what it is and how ones perspective on it affects the “problem.”  Chapters six and seven address evolutionary naturalism and Islam respectively.  Each of these later chapters contains a mock interchange with an unbeliever which draw the reader more into the apologetic situation.  The brief Conclusion reminds us about the need for humble dependence on God as we give unbelievers a reason for our hope.  The volume is completed by a Bibliography and General and Scripture indices.

Oliphint defines apologetics as “the application of biblical truth to unbelief.” (29).  The first chapter deals with the pertinent details of covenant theology, which Oliphint believes undergirds his approach.  Whether that it so or not the chapter is worth reading.  I gravitated to this reminder about how we see the world:

We are to think about and live in the world according to what it really is, not according to how it might at times appear to us. (35. Cf. 96) 

That is worth writing out and placing over the shaving mirror, and it shows why Van Tillian apologetics also helped spawn the biblical counseling movement.

This first chapter also includes the author’s ‘Ten [crucial] Tenets for a Covenantal Apologetic’ (47-54, and summarized on 55).  Although the word “covenantal” crops up in each tenet, I see no necessity for its inclusion.  These ten tenets are extremely helpful and are called upon throughout the test of the book.  Along the way Oliphint is careful to deal with the notion of antithesis (33), self-deception (36, 76-77), irrationality in non-Christian worldviews (45), the peril of relying on classical formulations of God’s attributes rather than listening to the Bible (80f.),  and the matter of “burden of proof”; which is covered well (109-110).  Oliphint (contra Bahnsen) even recommends assuming it as a ploy to set out what Christianity teaches.

While writing about “God’s Unabated Revelation” he introduces Calvin’s teaching on the sensus divinitatis or “implanted” knowledge of God, which everyone has because being made in God’s image (97-104).  Because of this truth the Bible may be used as a “faith-weapon” (cf. 37) in witnessing to unbelievers and should not be left out of the apologetic encounter.

The fourth chapter rolls out Oliphint’s helpful “Trivium of Persuasion” set out in terms of Christian character (ethos), audiencial context (pathos), and biblically rooted argumentation (logos).  This part of the book exhibits well the inner workings of a biblical apologetic.

The dialogues in the book are well done.  They increase in complexity toward the end of the book.  The first of these is found in chapter three, where the construed discussion is with a humanist over the irrationality inherent in belief in blind determinism.  One of the ways these discussions work is to show how to “encourage our opponents to make plain where they rest their own case.”  This is crucial as “The issue of authority is always primary.” (163).

The ten page dialogue with an Atheist Objector on the problem of evil does contain a heavier dose of theology than might be expected, but it illustrates how to make the objector self-aware, and also how to turn an objection to that end.

The imaginary discussion with Daniel Dennett in chapter six is used to good effect to demonstrate the way unbelievers often naively set up the Christian apologist for a fall by prescribing the rules of the game beforehand.  Oliphint has his apologist respond,

The net you that propose to use for our verbal volley is not one that I myself am able to use…what you think is rational argument is, in fact, a judgment that precludes my position…You are anxious to have the net up, as long as the net contains only those principles that you claim to be rational.  But if that is the case, then surely the game is fixed from the beginning…” (211).

As anyone knows who has engaged unbelievers (particularly atheists), they can be relied upon to assume that they are neutral and dispassionate, all evidence to the contrary.  At the end of chapter six is a cautionary word about “plausibility” which often is defined against larger considerations of worldview. (more…)

Antitheism Presupposes Theism (5)

PART FOUR

This is the penultimate installment of this series on presuppositional apologetics. In this post I shall be dealing a little more with the erstwhile atheist “expert” appealed to by FF and company and demonstrating his ignorance. I shall also engage more comments by FF etc., and show how presuppositionalism overturns them.

The Facts of External Existence

What shall I call the individual whose video snippet attacking Jason Lisle and presuppositional apologetics was relied upon by FF?  As he poses as someone who has put his finger on “the fundamental flaw” of presuppositional apologetics, I shall dub him “Flaw.”

You will recall that Flaw presented presuppositionalists as mistaking the “distinction between the laws of logic and what these laws refer to.”  He then went on to misrepresent Lisle by showing an abbreviated clip of a longer presentation, which it seems he had not watched.  On the basis of the abbreviated clip he branded Lisle a liar, as well as slinging some other choice epithets his way, none of which I shall reproduce here.  One should note in passing that Flaw assumes a moral ground upon which to stand in order to malign Lisle.

Now, as I showed last time, Lisle in fact does make the very distinction he was supposed not to make.  As a matter of fact, this distinction between logic and the objects it describes is so basic that one has to wonder at the effrontery of Flaw in thinking we had missed it (ditto FF and his buddies).  But then again, arrogance is blind.

Within his short critique, Flaw quips about “the facts of existence” and “the relationship between those entities.”  He speaks about “the fact of identity, [which] depends on the existence of anything at all.”

Now, any reader of Cornelius Van Til will instantly note that the notion of “fact” in unbelieving worldviews is the very thing he trains his guns on.  The fundamental difference between the Christian philosophy of fact from the non-Christian view, is that for the Christian the facts are all preinterpreted by God, and are thus part of an integrated whole.  When our interpretation of any fact corresponds to God’s interpretation (though not exhaustively), we can claim true knowledge, and that knowledge is connectible to other knowledge.

But in the non-Christian approach to facts, it is not the mind of the infinite God who makes the facts what they are, and connects them up, but rather the minds of finite men.  So when the unsaved person comes across a fact, he or she must have another system in which to place it.  It will not be God’s system (though it will often of necessity overlap with it), so it must be one of their own making.  It is this new system; this alternative worldview, which the presuppositional apologist will go after.  Atheism in its guises is one of these systems.  Others are represented by the non-Christian religions and cults.

Turning to Flaw’s statements one can easily see that he assumes “the facts of existence” and their necessary connections without giving any basis for his assumption.  Remember that the transcendental argument for God’s existence (or TAG) asks the unbeliever to quit using the worldview he says he rejects (the biblical one), and contrive another worldview in which his assertions make any sense.  Flaw has to tell us how he knows “the facts of external existence” lie outside of his mind, that is, are actually external, and how he knows they are what he says they are.  This is no small feat.  In fact, it has eluded the greatest philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell.  Plato couldn’t prove that his realm of static forms existed, nor could he say how they related to a world of constant change.  Russell tried to tie the “facts” to a language of logic and ended up dismissing every vestige of knowledge into the empty void of Hume’s skepticism.  Readers who followed my correspondence with “Dormant Dragon” a few years back, or who read my interactions with FF will know that they were both presented with this problem.  Dormant Dragon, to her credit, at least admitted she did not possess the philosophical nous to respond.  FF simply ignored the point like it was never put to him.

Without the biblical God to assure him that his mind is not inventing reality, and the connections he is assuming, on what basis can the atheist talk about “the facts of [external] existence.”?  Can he do it empirically?  He runs smack into Hume’s critique of induction and causation.  That is, Hume (and Russell) said that we cannot empirically prove cause and effect.  Can he do it via logical deduction?  Then he must tell us how he knows the objects and class concepts he wishes to make inferences about actually exist beyond his brain.  Berkeley, along with many Hindus, say they didn’t exist.  Kant said they didn’t exist as we perceive them.

“Of course they exist” is not an answer.  We know they do – on the Christian worldview, but FF rejects that worldview!  If he cannot prove that anything exists beyond himself, how is he to use the laws of identity or non-contradiction?  The world out there may only exist like dreams “exist.”

A Deistic God

FF declaims,

“a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics; after all, that’s what you are doing with Yahweh.”

Then he defines a deistic god this way:

“A deistic god is any god which while responsible for one or more aspects of the natural world, does not directly interact with its creation.  That’s it.”

Ooookay.  If any more validation needs to be given for my terminating the discussion with FF, this is it.  According to FF’s own definition, a deistic god does not have any interaction with its creation.  Now aside from the begged question of how one could possibly know whether this god created anything, let’s just focus for a moment on this position.  This definition rules out any revelation; verbal or natural; any miracle, any incarnation, any providence, any communicated attributes like love, mercy, justice, wisdom, truth, and logic.  But nevermind these incidentals, FF has told us, “a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics.”!!!

This is the same person who couldn’t get the Trinity right; who thinks Mark’s Gospel says Jesus wasn’t called Jesus till after the crucifixion; thinks Jesus never existed anyway; and who thinks his ridiculous version of presuppositional apologetics correctly represents the real one – even when he is given samples proving his straw man fallacies.  All this from a supposedly unbiased position!

I shall not spend long over this one.  The God of the Bible, whether you trust Him or not, IS the God of the Bible!  If you are going to try to refute Him, you cannot do it by disproving a god who is NOT of the Bible!  A god of this variety is, by the way, often aimed at by proponents of evidential apologetics, which assumes neutral common ground with the unbeliever.  These are the very things presuppositionalism is dead against, which is why it rejects evidentialism (though not evidences).

The Autodidact

Being a “grad student in biology”, and a self-styled “autodidact” in debating theists has nothing to do with whether he is talking nonsense or not.  This is the fallacy of appeal to authority.  In this case his own.  It is a great help in these cases when the autodidact (i.e. he’s self-taught) gets to debate both sides.  If he decides the theist needs a well deserved clobbering, he can dish it out with alacrity.

Now please don’t think I am picking on an isolated instance.  This is an exemplar of the sort of thing one encounters from atheists.  Some of them will not be so ignorant of Christian Theology (though most will), and some will at least have enough about them to try to listen to the argument you present rather the invent one for you, but well nigh all will simply assume they are looking at the arguments neutrally – even the professional ones like Richard Carrier or Michael Martin.  One of these recent antagonists on FB tried to attack Stephen Meyer’s latest book without having read it or its predecessor.  When I wouldn’t give his “scientific” arguments the time of day he said it was I was avoiding the evidence!  What counts as evidence for an atheist is not always evidence for a Christian.  This is because, as I have already said, facts must be interpreted.  Under certain interpretations they become evidence, but under other interpretations they are not.   (more…)

A Review of “Darwin’s Doubt” by Stephen Meyer

Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer, New York: Harper Collins, 2013, xii + 498 pages, hdbk.

Stephen Meyer has been a thorn in the side of dogmatic evolutionists for a good while now. He has worked as a geophysicist and has a PhD in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge. His previous book of nearly 600 pages, Signature in the Cell, dealt with the criteria for determining information, especially in the formation and function of cells. It went into some detail about so-called ‘Shannon Information,’ which is most often the kind pointed out by evolutionists. Shannon calculated the mathematical relationship between information and probability, showing that the amount of information conveyed by an event is inversely related to its probability. The trouble with Shannon’s theory was that it could not distinguish meaningful information from gibberish. The solution to that problem forms another part of the book. Meyer demonstrates that complex specified information has both very high mathematical improbability, while also being goal-centered.

Then Signature included Meyer’s long interactions with the computer simulations of Kuppers, Dawkins, Schneider, Kauffman, Avida, showing that they all presuppose what they are claimed to disprove: the need for an intelligent agent. Additionally, none of them fulfill their promises. The DNA molecule came under investigation throughout Signature, and the vaunted “scientific method” was examined, and it was shown that along with it being a fluid concept, many scientists devoted to it actually utilize intelligent design in their work.

Now comes Darwin’s Doubt. Weighing in at almost 500 pages, it continues the discussion, this time focusing on the so-called Cambrian Explosion, where “representatives of about twenty of the roughly twenty-six total phyla present in the fossil record made their first appearance on earth.” (31).

Like its predecessor, the book makes it a point to interact with contemporary evolutionary thought. Meyer has been careful to be as cutting edge as possible. Here we get his patient explanations of Darwin’s Tree of Life and its modern counterparts. He examines the Burgess Shale Bestiary, where huge deposits of Cambrian fauna are present, and the even more impressive Chengjiang Explosion in China. If Darwin were right about what we ought to find, “diversity would precede disparity, the phyla-level differences in the body plan would emerge after the species-, genus-, family-, order-, and class level differences appeared…The actual pattern in the fossil record, however, contradicts this expectation.” (41).

Meyer’s personal acquaintance with two of the main experts working at Chengjiang, J. Y. Chen and Paul Chien, helps him relate their results compellingly. The dramatic finds of wonderfully preserved Cambrian fossil body-plans have only intensified the “problem” of the Cambrian Explosion. They have no ancestors in the underlying rock! He asks,

“Could there have been an animal form simple enough to serve as a viable ancestor common to all the animal phyla? Perhaps. But positing such a form only deepens the required depth of the divergence point and intensifies the already significant problem of Precambrian – Cambrian discontinuity.” (113).

To put it more simply, the best deposits the fossil record has to offer display a vastly diversified array of animal body plans, which just appear out of nowhere. Speculating about their ancestry drives the evolutionary dating further into the murky past, and forces the matter of the absence of ancestors in the Cambrian rock into sharper focus.

Chapter 6, on “The Animal Tree of Life” exposes the many disagreements among prominent evolutionists about what the phylogenetic “Tree” ought to look like, before examining the actual data of the fossil, the anatomical, and molecular evidence. Meyer concludes, “These three classes of evidence either provide no compelling evidence for Precambrian animal ancestors (in the case of the fossils), or they provide question-begging and conflicting evidence (in the case of genes and anatomy).” (135).

The matter of stasis, which is crystal clear in the fossil record, is also becoming more and more clearly a problem for evolution in the hoped-for field of phylogeny.

After a chapter on punctuated equilibrium, Meyer introduces the matter of the “information explosion” in the Cambrian fossil fauna. Here, just as in his previous book, he again distinguishes Shannon information from complex specified (or targeted) information. This is followed by an important chapter on “Combinatorial Inflation.” To put in layman’s terms, the amount of characters for arrangement increases exponentially the number of possible combinations available. As evolution’s big draw is that it can supposedly blindly ferret out and retain the right combinations to produce a properly functioning gene, minus any goal, the time it would take for that to happen randomly is obviously a key matter. Relying on the most recent work done in the field, Meyer shows that four plus billion years posited by neo-Darwinism, is way too brief for this to even begin to occur.

A chapter on the need for mutations to generate new protein folds relies on the work of Douglas Axe, who tested the probability involved in producing new protein folds after reading Richard Dawkins. The author tells us, “Axe realized that the ability to produce new protein folds represents a sine qua non of macroevolutionary innovation.” (191). After surveying Axe’s experiments, the author observes that Dawkins’ fancy of “Scaling Mount Improbable” incrementally is a non-starter. This is because “there is effectively no gradually sloping back side, since the smallest increment of structural innovation in the history of life – a new protein fold – itself presents a formidable Mount Improbable.” (207).

The ensuing chapter reviews the disingenuous and unsatisfactory responses of evolutionists (e.g. from M. Long, exon shuffling) to these results by Axe. Meyer is nothing if not thorough in describing these positions, and it took some effort from this reviewer not to skip this section.

A chapter on the Neo-Darwinian math highlights the fact that,

“In sum, calculations performed by both critics [Behe] and defenders [Durrett & Schmidt] of neo-Darwinian evolution now reinforce the same conclusion: if coordinated mutations are necessary to generate new genes and proteins, then the …math itself, as expressed in the principles of population genetics, establishes the implausibility of the neo-Darwinian mechanism.” (249, italics his).

Meyer then discusses “co-option” before focusing on the work of C. Nusslein-Volhard and E. Wieschaus on the origin of body plans, and Eric Davidson on gene regulatory networks or dGRN’s (ch.13). This chapter effectively sinks the standard evolutionary dogma. Davidson is cited as describing dGRN’s in “informational terms.” (268). Meyer adds,

“Engineers have long understood that the more functionally integrated a system is, the more difficult it is to change any part of it without damaging or destroying the system as a whole. Davidson’s work confirms that this principle applies to developing organisms in spades.” (269). (more…)

The Struggle of Prayer (8)

Part Seven

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matt. 6:13

I am going to comment on these two petitions as one, since they form a sort of couplet.  The fact of evil is what makes necessary both of these petitions.  Temptation is never to do good!  This life is a life filled with various temptations.  But why would we have to petition a holy God not to lead us into temptation?  Surely He would not do such a thing?

I think the proper way to answer that question is to first try to understand that God does indeed lead us.  He knows the path that we take.  Psalm 139:3 says,

You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Another passage urges us to pray,

“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.” – Psa 119:35

We may ask on the basis of these verses, “why shouldn’t that prayer be enough?” 

My answer is that God wants us to ask with a whole heart.  An upward look to God in heaven: a heavenly or eternal perspective on this life, gives us the right eyes to see temptation often before it approaches.  We cannot avoid temptation down here.  But we can fix our eyes on Jesus and plead for God to lead us away from temptation.  This highlights the responsibility of the individual to avoid temptation while relying on God to guide us through the minefield of life.  “Lead us not into temptation” is the language of reliance. 

Daniel Doriani rightly notes that “this petition partially explains why some prayers go unanswered.  If a request leads to temptation, God will not grant it.” – Matthew, REC, Vol. 1, 229. 

Now we have said this, I hope it becomes clearer how “deliver us from evil” also shows reliance, and that this request assumes what was said about the previous one.  We must pray for the Lord to deliver us from evils, even from those that may be yet future.  I see no difficulty in “covering” ourselves by faith in God’s providential leading in this manner.  This is not to say we can dodge every evil aimed at us in life, but I think we may be confident in asserting that many evils can be avoided by such an exercise of faith in God’s dispensations with us.  Faith understands the kind of world it really is.  It is the realm of “the Evil One”, as the last clause may be translated.  In view of this fact, it is surely wise to seek God’s protection in what the Apostle Paul describes as “this present evil age” in Galatians 1:4. 

Thus, when we ask God not to lead us into temptation, we do not do it because, like the pagans of old, we serve a capricious god who might well do just that.  It is rather because in praying this prayer, we are declaring that we know what the world is like, and that we sorely need our heavenly Father to guide us and help us every step of the way until we reach His realm of glory.