Worldview

Three Videos on Science & Christianity

I have been putting my introductory lectures for Telos on Apologetics & Worldview up on YouTube.  There are several more to come, but I thought it would be useful to place the three classes dealing with Science together in a post.  Throughout the classes I quote from quite a number of authorities.  I hope this is more helpful than it is distracting.

The first, “Science and Personal Knowledge” includes a study of Michael Polanyi’s theory of knowledge, which is important for dispelling the false notion of dispassionate objectivity in science.

The second lesson, “The Myth of Naturalistic Science” tries to demonstrate how belief in scientific materialism or naturalism is unsustainable:

The last video is entitled “Scientism and Circularity” and attempts to show that the facts are stacking up to overwhelm the classic rhetoric of naturalistic evolutionary ‘science’, although adherence to scientism and its circular reasoning (based on the dogma that ‘naturalism must be true’) still makes it impervious to the facts:

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Creation, Fall, Redemption: A Motif of Scripture (revised)

The Theological-Historical Motif of the Bible

The God of the Bible is a God who is intimately connected with what He has made.  This world is personal in a very genuine way.  This personal dimension to reality is what makes the cross of Christ comprehensible.  This is because the “Sin Problem” – what is wrong with this world – must be resolved by a personal God from above, on behalf of sinful persons.  The cross is also interpretative of history, since it is God’s “marker”  testifying to His ongoing concern for what He has made and intends to put right.  The resurrection is another historical “marker” that guarantees the way it will be put right.

Reality

A Biblical picture of God as personally active for us, therefore, will lead us to see reality in the following outline:

1. The Universe is an ex nihilo creation not a product of chance (Gen.1:1ff.; Heb. 1:12; 11:3). 

This excellent definition is given by Torrance:

The creation of the universe out of nothing does not mean the creation of the universe out of something that is nothing, but out of nothing at all.  It is not created out of anything – it came into being by the absolute fiat of God’s Word in such a way that whereas previously there was nothing, the whole universe came into being.[1]

This is a statement at once about the creation of the universe by God’s power and will, but it is also a statement about  the personal underpinnings of our reality.  The clarification on the meaning of the word “nothing” is necessary because many atheists (most recently Lawrence Krauss) define “nothing” as having properties – even if they are of quantum mechanics.

2. The creation is under a curse (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:20-22).

Creation is subject to vanity, futility and frustration because of mankind’s fall and its consequences due to the natural world’s connection with us.  The world’s continual cycle of birth, growth, death and decay demonstrates this subjection.  The universe is in a process of deterioration…and it appears to be running down.  Nature, like mankind, is in a state of decay, deterioration, pain and futility.[2]

3. This reveals a linear view of history.[3] History is going somewhere (Acts 17:26-27; 15:18).

The telos of creation is bound to its being personal rather than impersonal.

In this great metanarrative, the chaos of violence, injustice, ignorance, natural disasters, and corruption are dissonant screeches that will be resolved in a coming Age of Peace and Unity.  Hendrikus Berkhof noted,

Although the Reformers were afraid of sectarian interpretations, they, like the Middle Ages, were convinced that history moves between the Fall and completion, that Christ is the centre of this, that we are involved in the struggle between him and evil, and that he will gain the victory in that struggle.  This view of history has for centuries been typical for Europe; indeed, it made Europe, and gave seriousness and direction to the actions of Europeans.[4]

4.  Men will be judged by God at an appointed day in the future (Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 3:19). 

As a theological theme final judgment needs to be more visible than it currently is.  We need to get back to the realism of the Puritans and the first evangelicals, who made “Judgment Day” a driving force in their preaching and teaching.  Any theology worth its salt must face the practical necessity of proclaiming God’s judgment.  True Christians are mainly distinguished from non-Christians by their acceptance of God’s judgment against their sins in the willing Substitute.  Here, for example,  is John Brown of Haddington with advice to students of Divinity:

See that ye be real Christians yourselves.  I now more and more see, that nothing less than real, real Christianity, is fit to die with, and make an appearance before God.[5]

5.  God has provided salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died as a man, and who will return to Earth to rule as unchallenged Lord (Acts 2:36; 3:13-21; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). 

The crucifixion and resurrection, seen as one event (Jn. 10:17), thus becomes the lens through which all existence must be viewed if it is to correspond to reality as it will turn out to be.

The horizon of creation is at the same time the horizon of sin and of salvation.  This world is not what it is supposed to be.  A reclamation and reconciliation are ahead of us; achieved but not yet consummated in Christ.  This hope is covenantally predicted and fixed, especially through the New Covenant made and mediated by Christ.  To conceive of either the fall, or of Christ’s deliverance as encompassing less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption.[6]

Ethics

It is no surprise to find that what is found above as a basic description of reality is also the Gospel blueprint.  However, the Christian worldview also covers the realm of Ethics.

a. The Bible teaches that there are moral absolutes of right and wrong, good and evil (Isa. 5:20; Jn. 14:6).  This is a corollary of the personal nature of God and creation as a gift.

b. Because God has made man a moral agent he is required to choose to do the good and avoid the evil (Rom. 2:4-16).

c. Because we are created in God’s image God requires us to “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”  Human government is expected to punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent (Matt.7:12; Gen.9:6).

d. There exist standards of conduct and propriety which men ought to follow (though these are not to be confused with Victorian prudery).  These standards are supposed to bind all human institutions.

e. Life does not consist of stuff to make us feel either cozy or superior.  “It is better to give than to receive.” (Lk.12:15; Acts 20:35).

f. Nevertheless, Christianity is not a religion of constraint (as Islam).  It allows people to demur, though it warns of the dread consequences, both temporal and eternal, of rejecting the personal Creator’s declared intentions (Matt. 7:21-27).


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons, (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1996), 207.

[2] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1, (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2003), 135-136.

[3] For a good discussion of historiography see John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past, (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1975), especially pages 6-182.

[4] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christ the Meaning of History, (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1966), 23-24.

[5] The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington, Introduced by Joel R. Beeke & Randall J. Pederson, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, [1782] 2002), iv.

[6] Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained, 86.

Review – Darwin’s House of Cards

A review of Tom Bethell, Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through The Creation Debates, Seattle: Discovery Press International, 2017, 293 pages, pbk.

The widespread public acceptance of biological evolution in Darwin’s day was probably a product of the simultaneous faith in Progress.  Darwin’s theory was accepted as readily as it was because it shared in the general belief that things were getting better.  It’s not that the organisms themselves were being swept along, but that European and then American intellectuals believed that everything was improving. – 256

This is the way Tom Bethell ends his entertaining book attacking the reigning scientistic consensus of evolution.  Darwin’s House of Cards is a fully up-to-date survey of the mechanics and effects of evolutionary theory; a theory which Karl Popper concluded was “not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (14).

As to the general optimism which provided the conditions for the enthusiastic acceptance of Darwinism in the middle of the nineteenth century, Bethell writes,

[A]s I hope to show in the following chapters, the science of neo-Darwinism was poor all along, and supported by very few facts.  I have become ever more convinced that, although Darwinism has been promoted as science, its unstated role has been to prop up a philosophy – the philosophy of materialism – and atheism along with it. (20).

In the nineteen chapters which follow the author reports on and dismantles numerous evolutionary claims and “evidences”, showing among other things that common descent, natural selection, and random mutations are either pure fiction, tautological, or terribly over-plugged.  He challenges the dogma of the tree of life, noticing along the way biochemist Craig Venter’s denial of it (53-54), and paleontologist Colin Patterson’s frank admission that the nodes in the tree of life diagrams are always empty (55-56).  Why?  Because there is no real evidence for it.

Speaking of Patterson, who was chief paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London until his death in 1998, Bethell interviewed him several times, and chapter 12 reviews those conversations.  Although Patterson remained a thoroughgoing evolutionist, he came to the opinion that it conveyed no scientific information at all.  As Bethell reports it, he said that scientists could do very well without it (149).

In the same chapter we are told about two world-renowned experts in their fields who admit that the funding for their respective fields is minimal compared with digging up fossils.  Nevertheless, both said that “you don’t find out much from fossils”, and that they could find out much more by studying living things (146-148).

This book’s short chapters are so well written that the author is able to cover a great deal of territory in a relatively short space.  This means that along with the usual problematical areas for evolution; natural selection (chapters 5 & 6), the fossil record (chapter 11), homology (chapter 9), DNA and Epigenetics (chapter 15), etc., he also tackles less well documented issues like extinction (chapter 7), and convergence (chapter 10).  There is also a useful chapter about Richard Lenski’s long-term experiments with E-coli (chapter 16).

As to homology, for example, he notes, the propensity of naturalists to invoke design while supposedly trying to explain it away.  Homologists, or those who rely on them, often write of the relative similarities in structures from different organisms without being forthright enough to declare that these similar features often are derived from different sets of genes! (109-112).

To take a few more examples, despite the recent demonizing of humanity and our deleterious influence on nature by many progressives on the left, no one knows why extinctions happen (86-92).  As for “convergence”, the belief that differing species evolve similar traits due to their experiencing the same kinds of environmental and ecological pressures, evolutionists again beg the question.  Evolutionists have tended to substitute their imaginations for proof, and nearly always simplify extremely difficult matters in the process.  So on page 119 Stephen Jay Gould is quoted as saying that in certain flying creatures, “highly adaptive forms that are easy to evolve arise again and again.”  Bethell responds that if flight is so easy to evolve, “Someone should tell Boeing engineers how that was achieved.”

As we’re on the subject of engineering, chapter 13 is given over to “Intelligent Design and Information Theory.”  At the start of the chapter Bethell mentions the work of Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Douglas Axe (155-161).  He deftly dispatches theistic evolutionist Kenneth Brown’s attempt to oppose Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” findings (155-156), and then states the obvious truth that, contrary to creationism, “Intelligent design theory… does not identify a designer, any more than we can identify the designer of Stonehenge.” (157).  Why then the resistance to ID?  For instance, citing Wikipedia’s slanted presentation:

Numerous attempts have been made to change…derogatory comments, but all such changes are promptly reversed on Wikipedia – sometimes within minutes. (161)

The thought-police are very active.  But of course the reason has already been given.  The reigning view of the intellectuals is naturalistic atheism.  Therefore, the facts will always be made to comport with the theory, however vicious the contortions have to be.  Chapter 14 describes the link between “Darwinism and the Philosophy of Naturalism.”  This chapter includes a good discussion of freewill, or the denial thereof by many of these “Freethinkers”, although the irony of their calling themselves by this term seems to be totally lost on most of them!  Bethell’s responses to this are effectively structured around the work of Michael Egnor and Thomas Nagel.

(more…)

Lectures on Apologetics & Worldview

I am going to release a series of introductory video lectures on Apologetics and Worldview.  The lectures were given earlier this year to people whose ages ranged from about 15 to 70.  I tried to be quite low-key and to strike a balance between a full-on presuppositional apologetics presentation and Christian worldview course.  That means that I was not focused so much on just one or the other, but a blend of the two.  I think it worked well sometimes and other times it just worked.

I shall post (DV) one video per week at my TELOS channel.

Anyway, I hope these lectures will be used to edify saints and perhaps even evangelize non-believers.  May God be glorified through them.

The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.8)

Part Seven

A Thematic Account

The second chapter of Genesis is clearly somewhat different than the first.  But it was not intended to be another variant account of it.  It follows up on the second half of Day Six and the creation of humanity, and throws theological light on it.  It is not as concerned with chronology as the previous chapter.  So Genesis 2 is not, as the more liberal scholars think, another creation story.  It is a thematic zeroing in on the creation of Adam and Eve.

It is possible that the making of trees in the Garden occurred separately from Day Three, and was witnessed by Adam.  But such speculation need not detain us.  I am happy to follow Sailhamer, who comments,

It is important to read chapter 2 as an integral part of the first chapter…It seems apparent that the author intends the second chapter to be read closely with the first and that each chapter be identified as part of the same event…we may expect to find in chapter 2 a continuation of the theme of the ‘likeness’ between humankind and the Creator.[1]          

The chapter introduces the theme of the completion of God’s creative work.  The zenith is reached in the second half of the sixth day with the creation of God’s image-bearers (Gen.1:26f.).  The focus in chapter 2 is switched to the seventh day, the cessation (shabbat) of the creative work and the hallowing of that day.  Discussions about whether the seventh day (which does not include the evening and morning formula of the other days), is twenty-four hours long, or is open-ended is not likely to be resolved since it is often theologically tethered.  If the seventh day is ongoing then we are still living within it.  But it is difficult to view the history of the world as “hallowed” and separated to God as the open-ended view requires.  Paul talks about the world as “this present evil age” in Galatians 1.  This abounding evil epitomizes what some would want to label “the seventh day.”  This seems to me at least to run counter to every meaningful conception of “sanctified.”  If, however, the Sabbath observance in the Mosaic Law is viewed as a reminder of Creation in correspondence to the literal seventh day, as well as a sign for Israel (Exod.31:16-17), the question of the contamination of the day does not arise.

Too, the stoppage of creative activity was not the end of God’s activity.  God’s activity changed from that of Creator-at-work to Provider and Governor over Creation.  So the completion of God’s handiwork in the first six days forms the prelude to the whole Creation Project itself, which includes humanity as vice-regent within a world held in providential care by the Lord of history: teleology and eschatology get underway in the atmosphere of providence.  Hence, as Exodus 20:11 appears to indicate, the seventh day was the day when God looked with pleasure upon His works before shifting into His role as Upholder of the world.[2]

Man in Eden

The fourth verse of the second chapter introduces the reader to  the special scene of man’s creation and placement in the garden of delight (“Eden” means “delight”).  Please note the enclosed garden is “in Eden”, and since Eden means delight it would be a strange interpretation to teach that things outside the garden were not delightful!

The phrase “when they were created” is perhaps further evidence for thinking that the seventh day is over and we are now entering into providentialist history.  Verse 5 tells us that “there was no man to till the ground.”  This indicates two things: that there is an intimate connection between humanity and the ground from which he is made.  God in Creation had man in view: man and his relation to his environment.  The “tilling” of the ground, then, is not a dark adumbration of what was to come in 3:23.[3]  In the second place, this knocks out any special pleading for the evolution of man.  Man was created to work the ground, even in his innocent state.  The connection is intentional and is original.

The creation of man in verse 7 is described as a twofold affair.  First God constructed Adam’s body from the soil.  Then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  One should not read more into these words than is there, but it does appear that these actions; especially the note about the impartation of “life” (chayyim) through breath (nephesh), is intended to set us off from the animals.[4]  Still, human beings are interesting creatures:

What a combination he is of grandeur and dignity (made in God’s image) and lowliness (formed of common dirt).[5] 

This “life” which was breathed into man denotes the “inward man” or “soul”.[6]  Mind/body dualism (of a particular kind) is a fundamental Bible teaching.  There are plainly two actions in the verse which correspond to this doctrine. (more…)

The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.7)

Part Six

God’s Transcendence versus Continuity

It is very important to notice the links between the creation accounts and ethical accounts.  In one way or another all non-biblical systems of belief paint a metaphysical picture of reality that is at once unified and diverse.  The unity is found in the indissoluble connection between heaven and earth, between man and the “higher powers”, or between the human animal and the Cosmos.  The diversity is seen in the various ways this connection is explained.  It may be explained by saying that we are merely the consequence of blind, purposeless matter coming together and developing in a certain way.  This is the secular evolutionary explanation in which man is no more significant than a slug (to cite atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer) because men, slugs and stars are composed of the same stuff arranged in different combinations.  The same feature is found in ancient pagan depictions of reality.  There is a real connection between the gods and the earth.  There are no exceptions, everything is connected; nothing is truly transcendent.

Old Testament scholar John W. Oswalt, defines “continuity” in this way:

Continuity is a philosophical principle that asserts that things are continuous with each other.  Thus I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually.  The tree is me; I am the tree.  The same is true of every other entity in the universe, including deity.  This means that the divine is materially as well as spiritually identical with the psycho-socio-physical universe we know.[1]

The ancient myths reflected an outlook on the world, and they memorialized that outlook.  Thus, “myth depends for its whole rationale on the idea that all things in the cosmos are continuous with each other.  Furthermore, myth exists to actualize that continuity.”[2]

Oswalt demonstrates that this “continuity” or connection between gods and humans and rocks is the key difference between the biblical worldview and its rivals, ancient and modern.  Rituals, however debasing they became, were thought to affect the god for whose benefit they were performed.  Just as the rumbling of thunder was construed as something happening among the pantheon above, so a festival or dance or sacrifice was believed to be noticed by those same gods.  This is the ancient idea of “the Great Chain of Being” which unfortunately got introduced into Christian thought through a misunderstanding of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics.

This “hierarchy of beings” is well described by David Bentley Hart:

God was understood as that supreme reality from which all lesser realities came, but also as in a sense contained within the hierarchy, as the most exalted of its entities.  Such was his magnificence and purity, moreover, high up atop the pyramid of essences, that he literally could not come into direct contact with the imperfect and changeable order here below.  He was in a sense limited by his own transcendence, fixed up “there” in his proper place within the economy of being.[3]

When Hart refers to God being “limited by his own transcendence” he is highlighting the incongruity of putting Him atop any chain of being.  In biblical terms, what we call God’s transcendence is His Lordship over everything He has made and upholds, together with His immanent working in providence.

Although there are things in common that the biblical creation narrative with ancient creation myths, these similarities shouldn’t surprise us once it is understood that these creation myths are partly derived from the original truths passed down from Adam and his descendents, twisted of course and corrupted as man rebelled against God and became polytheistic and superstitious, and lost the framework for true transcendence.

How different all this is from the creation accounts of surrounding nations!  Those all assume the eternity of matter in some guise.  This is why things like transcendental meditation, non-Christian prayer, voodoo, magic, sorcery, etc., are practiced in the belief that one can directly affect the world or the god in some way.  Even many atheists have a mystical side to them which reflects this idea.  Only within biblical spirituality does this continuity of being evaporate.[4]   God is the transcendent Lord over all He creates and He cannot be maneuvered or coerced to do anything which is contrary to His will.

So the doctrine of Creation as found in Genesis 1 and 2 sets up a theological and philosophical platform which ought to produce a way of looking at things which has radical divergences from those which are conceived of by the world.

In verses 28-30 we see that God the Creator makes everything, and then made the creature who was like Him.  Man had a vital role to play and a response to give in the project.  We see, then, an ethical dimension introduced at the start; the role and response were to be worshipful.

—————————————————————————–

[1] John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 43

[2] Ibid, 45

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 203-204.

[4] Of course, where certain Christian formulations may be overly reliant on Greek thought (e.g. some Thomistic reliance upon Aristotle).  This is still a problem in some quarters.

Part Eight

The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.6)

Part Five

Image and Function in Genesis 1:26-28

Another significant fact related by these verses is our creation in the image and likeness of God.  We cannot here enter into all the debates about the imago Dei, but some few things should be said.

Firstly, God does not say ‘according to My likeness.’  He says ‘Our likeness’.  The “Let us” statement is no plural of majesty, since it appears to be ideational, and is to be understood (I believe) as a statement of plurality in the Speaker.  The question arises then, in what way is God a plurality?  This question is not fully answered until the NT era.  Or, on the other hand, and as much OT scholarship insists, is the plurality meant to convey some sort of heavenly council scene, such as one finds in ANE accounts of the assemblies of gods?

If the latter is the case then one will have to go outside of the Bible for added data to interpret the passage.  This indeed is what many scholars in the evangelical community do.  But if we pause for a moment and read the context we quickly see that such an interpretation must be wrong; for the Speaker goes on to say, ‘Let us make man in our own image, according to our own likeness.’  And, in line with the words/actions pattern which we have already noted, it says, ‘So God created man in his own image’, and underscores it right after with, ‘in the image of God he created him.’  That ought to clear up the interpretation.

“Man” (adam) here is plural: ‘male and female’.[1]  Both are made in God’s image.  There is no hint of a conversation between God and the angels (which would not mirror an ANE council of divinities anyway).  Angels are nowhere said to be made in God’s image and likeness.  Plus, creation is a grand prerogative of God.  Why would the Creator discuss His creative proposals with creatures?  Angels have no part in the work of creation (See Isa. 48:11).

The passage also states that man was to be given dominion over ‘all the earth’ not just Eden. This must be kept in mind when we reach chapter 2.  The dominion applies to the function of man and woman as God’s image-bearers.

In the third place, just what constitutes the image of God?  Again, many today would claim that the image includes the function as well as the constitution of man.[2]  Unsurprisingly, resort to ANE records features largely in their arguments.  But the text appears to make the function contingent upon the image.  In other words, man and woman cannot fulfill their function until they are made in God’s image.  This would restrict the image to at least our material and immaterial natures.

But then we must enquire whether the image assumes the material part of human beings along with our immaterial natures.  Here I think we are on safer ground if we define the image and likeness classically along non-physical lines.  If we make the image merely physical we run into the problem of what God looks like.  Our difference from the rest of the created realm is not just physical.  Fish and birds and cattle and creeping things differ physically one from another as much as we do from them, so it is doubtful that we image God merely physically.[3]

On the other hand, can we dismiss the possibility that both the soulish and the physical aspects of man image God?  Authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum point out that,

“the traditional view is inadequate… because it does not come to grips with the fact that “image” normally refers to a physical statue and cannot be exegetically validated as the author’s intended meaning or the first audience’s natural understanding of the text in terms of the ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic setting.”[4]

But this begs a rather crucial question.  Did Moses report the words God actually spoke in Genesis 1:26-27?  Nobody else was around, and certainly God meant what He said in the rest of Genesis 1, as we have seen.  That being so, the matter of whether people of the ANE living in or after Moses’ time (ca. the fifteenth century B.C.) thought “image” meant a physical statue is by the bye, and may even be anachronistic.  The context will have to tell us.  Gentry and Wellum opt for “rulership and sonship” as the image.[5]  But this leaves us with the problem of the spread of little rulers and sons of God upon the earth.  If everyone is a ruler then surely nobody is.  (and if “image” equates to sons, what about daughters?  In OT times – if we’re insisting on “cultural setting” – daughters did not enjoy the same rights as sons).  The biblical text leans toward thinking of the image primarily as non-physical and the body as the vehicle for the expression of the image in the extended world.

Anticipating the Human Form?

Reading the progression in Genesis 1, we follow a logical as well as a chronological order.  Dry ground comes before plants and trees.  The plant kingdom is readied before creatures are made to live off them.  The apex of the creation week is the fashioning of man from the dust of the ground.[6]  Man is God’s image-bearer: a stupendous privilege and responsibility, and he is given dominion over what God has just created.

(more…)

The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.3)

The Spirit and Plurality in the Godhead

What is clear from the second verse of the Bible is that the Spirit of God was superintending the process of creation. The word for “was hovering” or “brooded” (merakhepet, 1:2) implies a determination to act.  It strains credulity to think that the Spirit brooded over a glob of matter for billions of years before deciding to do something with it.  There is no logic to starting the work of creation by bringing forth matter and then leaving it all in idle suspension.  The making of the unformed earth was with the intention of forming it!

As we are but two verses into the Genesis account it would be premature to think that the “Spirit (ruah) of God” can be distinguished from “God” in the first verse.  But already the verb “brooded” discloses personality.  The ‘S’ should therefore be capitalized.  This is no inanimate breath.  The same Holy Spirit who would come in to a person and regenerate them, making them “new creatures in Christ”(2 Cor. 5:17), is the power behind the formation of the Cosmos.

Nevertheless, the writer is not here teaching about the Trinity.  That will be done when the Apostle John takes up this passage in his grand prologue.  Yet before this first chapter ends it will start to become a distinct possibility that the reader is being told there is a plurality within the one God.

No evangelical Christian has any problem with a “canonical reading”, which sees the Trinity in the act of creating.  But the text of Genesis does not include the doctrine.  It is revealed progressively.  Going to John or another author for more light on these verses is not wrong, just so long as we understand what it is we are doing.  We are bringing John’s added information into our comprehension of the creation narrative (the only actual creation narrative in Scripture.  Other passages refer to creation but do not describe it), but we are not altering anything in the creation account by so doing.  One later direct statement is throwing complementary light on an earlier one.  Unfortunately, there are common uses of “canonical” interpretation which allow a later passage to effectively overpower and change what seems to be deliberately and carefully declared in an earlier passage.  This is misguided, creating tension where none exists, and promoting eisegesis.

When we arrive at Day six and the making of the man and the woman we are confronted again with the plural pronouns “us” and “our” in verse 26.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”

But this is qualified with the singular pronoun in the next verse:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The most natural way to understand these verses is to see a plurality in God’s unity.  It is not wise to guess at some angelic council which God is addressing.  For one thing angels are never said to be made in God’s image.  That privilege seems to be reserved for those created to have dominion over the earth. The pantheons of ancient civilizations cannot provide a backdrop for the words because the Bible is strictly monotheistic.  If Genesis set forth a teaching about Councils of gods deciding matters in creation week it would be natural to think of the “Let us…our image” language in such terms.  But there are no gods to speak to in Scripture, and angels are servants of God.  They do not comprise some sort of celestial committee to decide weighty matters like the making of man. (more…)

The Creation Narrative – Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.2)

Part One

The Bible’s Opening Verse

As has often been observed, the opening verse of the Bible does not give an argument for the existence of God.  In line with its claim to be the Word of God it assumes a position of Divine authority immediately.  Scripture has the right to tell us!  It does not pander to our fallen desire for proof.  The proof is in the address.  God will eventually reveal Himself as the “I Am” – the self-existent and self-contained One.  He does not argue His creatures into admitting that designation.  It is assumed at once.  When we open the Bible we are straight away presented with a choice.  The choice is between the claims of God as Creator or the claims of our own autonomy.  This claim to higher authority never desists in the narrative, and in every place where autonomy is portrayed the consequences of getting our authorities mixed up is dire.

“God created.”(Gen. 1:1).  This is a creation ex nihilo (from nothing), not a creation ex materia (from preexisting materials).  The verb bara (“created”) always refers to God as Creator; never to other makers of things.  He is “before all things.”[1]  There is no dualistic character to the universe: God and matter.  Matter is the stuff of the material world, but it is itself brought into being by the living God, who alone is eternal.  This is in distinct opposition to all other creation stories, ancient and modern.

Even the myth of stellar evolution and the Big Bang[2], which can only be fitted into the Creation story with violence, must itself give to dead matter what it needs to construct itself into stars and galaxies, planets and fauna.  Seen this way the Word of God begins as a straight-ahead challenge to the word of man.  Gerald Bray has observed,

almost all of the major church fathers wrote commentaries on the creation narrative in Genesis, because they understood that the Christian doctrine of creation was antithetical to what most ancient philosophers taught about the origin and nature of matter.” [3]       

The “heavens and the earth” form an independent clause, which indicates the likelihood that the first verse is a summary statement of what comes next.[4]  There is more than a hint of a kind of inclusio with 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.”[5]  What was begun in 1:1 is “completed” in 2:1.  But, as we shall shortly see, this completion was not consummation.

A popular teaching in some circles is to see a time gap intervening between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2.  Exegetically speaking there is no warrant for such a thing.[6]  We ought never to allow pressure from the world to force upon us any rash employment of our imaginations, all for the sake of interposing our accommodations to naturalistic science.  The Word of God will often disagree with those who look at things independently.[7]  Any attempt to separate the first two verses by millions and billions of years is based on misunderstandings of a few passages in the Prophets and cannot be countenanced from Scripture.  Moreover, as with any intrusion of unscriptural reason, these overtures to contemporary science end up creating problems down the road.  The same must be said for “analogical” and framework interpretations.  The Bible as it stands supports nothing but a recent creation of the universe.[8]

Disorder but not Distortion

From the second verse onwards the perspective is that of an observer from planet earth, the place of the writer, although it is not the place of the true Author.  Moses[9] is writing here about things no human being witnessed.  His Source is the Creator. (more…)

Science Versus Religion: A New Angle

The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, 320 pages.

The battle between Science and Religion has been presented to the wider public as a struggle between reason and superstition.  In the present intellectual climate, where the ghosts of logical positivism have been far from exorcised from the corridors of scientific thinking, any countering of the reigning attitude is most welcome.  The volume under review is an absorbing historical account of the way the words scientia and religio have been used through time, and how they have changed their meanings since about the middle of the 19th century.  The book under review is scholarly yet readable, comprising six chapters, an epilogue, fifty plus pages of notes, and indices.

It may seem that a book-length study on two archaic words would scarcely qualify as a riveting read, still less that it would be of any relevance.  But Peter Harrison, who is a distinguished historian of science at the University of Queensland in Australia, has managed to produce a study which does both things.  The resultant work is a real contribution to the Science versus Religion debate; a debate that has been impacted to a large degree by its wrong understandings of the terminology.

In six well documented chapters the author ranges from ancient and medieval beliefs about the world and about a life well-lived to the changes in point of view ushered in during the 16th century and especially during the Enlightenment and its aftermath.  When we think of “religion”, or even “faith” today, we think about a certain tied-down set of beliefs.  This impression becomes stronger when it is contrasted with “Science” – the ideal of which (often portrayed by scientists themselves) is the dispassionate search for facts via detached experimentation and cool analysis.  But neither view, whether or not it is the correct definition of the words at the present time, should be thought to capture the mindset of most people, scientists included, prior to about 1850.  Harrison shows that before that time, and certainly before the Reformation had caught hold, the Western mind saw both scientia and religio in terms of development in the attainment of inner virtue (e.g. 47-48).  As he puts the matter later on, “Modern religion had its birth in the seventeenth century; modern science in the nineteenth.  Properly speaking, then, this belated appearance of “science” provides the first occasion for a relationship between science and religion.” (147).

From this point of view it becomes obvious that a critical delving into the past is essential to help in clearing away the rhetoric and the false assumptions which have accumulated over the past century or so.  The basic theme of the book is that there has been no “warfare” between science and religion; at least not until relatively recently.  The author’s object is to prove that, contrary to what is usually supposed, the two terms, “Science” and “Religion” have not traditionally described two distinct activities whose definitions have remain unchanged over time (6).  Rather, the two words share a mutuality historically; a shared trajectory which needs to be understood so as to bring balance to the present arena of conflict.

Briefly then, the word “Religio” was seen as part of the improvement of the individual, particularly in the cultivation of the interior live; of piety in other words (7).  The concern of the ancients as well as the Medievalists, was “for moral and spiritual formation” (40), more than to objectify doctrine.  Thus, “early discussions about true and false religion were typically concerned not with belief, but rather with worship…” (8).  Meanwhile “Scientia” was about the accrual of intellectual virtue through the use of good mental habits (11, 13, 15, 69).  This is part of the reason why modern appeals to Greek ideas of science to support the contemporary naturalistic consensus are totally misguided (25f.).  In fact, Harrison claims that these forbears saw theology as being an important part of science (31-33, 52).  The Stoics, for instance, held up theology as “the most elevated branch of physics.” (31).  This also means that attempting to read the Greeks as if they were on the same page as scientific naturalists simply ignores their understanding of natural philosophy (211 n.12 & n.14), and the different ideas of pagans and Christians as to the best means of pursuing spiritual growth (37f.).

Seeing Christianity as a way, even if it is the best way, of improving mind and soul, goes to explain the easy appropriation of pagan philosophers by the likes of Justin, Clement, and Origen (41).  Tertullians’s opposing Jerusalem and Athens might be thought of as a reference more to a “mode of life” than to doctrinal standards – a contention which, it must be said,  appears to be at odds with Tertullian’s argument in the Prescription where he insists that Christian truth “is our palmary [i.e. admirable] faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”  Here I think Harrison overplays his hand, but he makes enough sense to contribute value to topic. (more…)