Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Source of Authority #3: The Fallacy of Neutrality

Old Testament scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, Bruce Waltke, is recorded as saying in the June, 2011, issue of Christianity Today “if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.” “We have to go with the scientific evidence. I don’t think we can ignore it. I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.” The problem with this statement is that Waltke treats the “book of nature,” science, as though it was dropped, printed and bound, straight out of heaven complete with authoritative conclusions.

The data of science is not self-interpreting. The observer comes to the data with a whole host of assumptions and a theory resting on those assumptions, and seeks to organize and interpret the data in a manner consistent with the theory. If the data and the theory can not be correlated, the theory is revisited in an attempt to make it accommodate the data. Sometimes the assumptions themselves must be re-examined.

A great deal of science, therefore, has to do with not only the collection of data, but the interpretation of data. The enterprise is difficult enough, but made doubly so by the fact that the scientist is not a “neutral observer.” He is predisposed in a particular direction. I am amazed that none of the theologians cited in the article even gave lip-service to this fundamental reality that powerfully affects the interpretation of the data.

Paul says this in Romans 1:18-23 (NASB):
(18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (21) For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Paul is talking about a quality of basic human nature: to put it bluntly, we are not neutral observers of the natural world when it comes to data that touches on the existence and activity of God: in fact we are truth-suppressors (v 18). In verse 19, that truth which the book of nature can teach us about God is said to be “evident,” because God makes it evident. In verse 20, we see some aspects of His nature “clearly.” In verse 21, because of our rejection of the Author of truth, our speculations have become futile, and our minds darkened. Claiming wisdom, we are in fact foolish, verse 22. And we have exchanged the glory of the Creator for that of the created thing, verse 23. Paul says in verse 25, that we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”

Now there may be many different ways to apply what has been said by Paul in Romans 1, but one inescapable implication is that when men observe the natural world, they do so in a way that eliminates or diminishes the reality and the activity of the Creator God, in favor of a self-created cosmos.

We are not neutral observers of the data. Just as believers (who have been delivered from the power of sin) still struggle to overcome besetting sin, believers also have a hard time overcoming this anti-God bias in their interpretation of nature. It’s part of the deep corruption brought on by, yes, Adam, and it won’t be fully eliminated until we are with Christ.

The net effect is that scientists are susceptible to insisting on interpreting the data in a way that minimizes or eliminates the truth of God. They aren’t neutral about such things, and are not even aware (unless they believe the Bible) of their bias. It’s a frame of reference thing, like sitting in a kayak in the ocean. Unless you can see the shore (a fixed point of reference), you have no idea whether you are actually being moved by an ocean current.

The overwhelming reigning paradigm in science today (the ocean current, if you get my drift) is naturalism: science, by definition, does not do the supernatural thing. And we want scientists to tell us how to interpret the Bible?

We all agree on one thing: Genesis is not about science. It really isn’t. It’s about how God created the world in six days, complete with Adam and Eve, who fell into sin and dragged their progeny, the whole human race, with them. That’s not science, and let no one pretend that it is. The admission that the account of origins, as given in Genesis, is not science does not mean that it is not a precisely accurate record of how God created all things in six days. The Genesis account is true: it’s what really happened. And as a supernatural event, science simply isn’t competent to comment on it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blah, blah, blah - personal stuff

When you see "blah, blah" in the title of one of my posts, there's not much point in reading it. I'm just going to be rambling, probably for the purpose of complaining, or blowing the dust off my own mental shelves. So if you've a busy day today, move along, nothing to see here, these droids are not the ones you're looking for.

Got a bad case of writer's block. Decided I better post just so you'll know I haven't fallen off the edge of the world.

Next up is supposed to be a post in the Source of Authority series on the fallacy of neutrality. Perhaps later today, maybe this evening. Or, perhaps not, but soon. I've been resisting spending the time required to write coherently on it. I'm a slow-poke to begin with, but even slower with this little series. Folks who throw a literal Adam and Eve overboard in the name of "science" are generally unaware of how many blunders they are committing in multiple areas of interpretation and theology. That's why I've already sketched out about twelve posts on the topic. But now I've got to put up or shut up, and I'm a little slow getting to the "put-up" part.

I'm blocked on my Outlander re-write, too. I'm working on chapter 26. The original version has 35 chapters; the re-written edition will have about 33, the remaining chapters will become the opening of the sequel. I want to keep Outlander in the general market (as opposed to the "Christian" market), and I am wrestling over whether or not to add a sequence where Hakim explains the origins of the Christmas tradition. Obviously it would center around not only the birth of Christ but the gospel itself. Outlander already has the gospel in a different part of the story, but chapter 26 is set near the end of December, and I can't let Hakim simply remain silent.

So I'm faced with the question of how much seed do I sow, and how much is too much? I'm not convinced that one should go for the homerun every time he comes to the plate. When it comes to a witness for Christ, the analogy I would draw is that of hooking an eight-pound bass on four-pound-test line. You play the fish gently, or he breaks the line and gets away. I'm a firm believer in God's sovereignty in salvation: I don't need to try to horse the fish to the net. To put it a different way,  if I shake the tree, the fruit that's ready will fall out of it. As Paul said, "God gives the increase." So my witness in Outlander resembles something more of a rapier than a meat cleaver, I hope.

Monday gets too busy. It's the day for mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, catching up with finances, and doing innumerable other household chores, as well as my main day for bike-riding with Doris and writing. Oh, and Monday Night Football (I can usually stay awake for the first quarter)! Can't forget that! It's also my day for spending on restful and relaxing, but otherwise worthless, pursuits.

Okay, enough already. It's Monday, and it's time for chores. . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Source of Authority: Is All Truth God’s Truth?

The real issue in the controversy over Adam and Eve is not really a question of science, per se. Rather, it deals with this question: what is your source of authority? What is the court of highest appeal when it comes to questions concerning what is true, and what is not?

Scientists such as Francis Collins are committed to the notion, “all truth is God’s truth.” In an interview with Jon Sweeny on explorefaith.org, Collins expressly says, “All truth is God’s truth, and therefore God can hardly be threatened by scientific discoveries.”

Similar statements are made by others connected with BioLogos. Unfortunately the statement is also claimed by those who are completely orthodox in the faith, and who would be horrified if they took its implications as seriously and as consistently as do those who now deny (on the basis of “all truth is God’s truth”) the historicity of Adam and Eve.

On the face of it, “all truth is God’s” is simultaneously both a reasonable and a profound assertion. From one aspect, it seems self-evident: of course all truth is God’s! Who would possibly say otherwise, except perhaps an non-believer?

And yet that pithy saying is laden with far more difficulty than initially meets the eye. First, let’s understand the good and admirable commitments that lay behind it.

The Bible tells us that there are two sources of information about God: general revelation, composed of nature itself, and special revelation, which comprises the sixty-six books of the Bible. You can see these two modes of revelation referred to in Scripture. The Bible authenticates itself as special revelation in numerous places. The orthodox position over the centuries holds that the Bible is God’s own Word, and is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. It was certainly considered by Christ to be so.

When it comes to general revelation, the Bible asserts that nature testifies of its Creator. Texts such as Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-20 (and others) speak of this. Believing philosophers over the centuries have come to speak of the “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Scripture,” both of which are authored by the Creator. Because they are both authored by the same Creator, they are both going to yield true truth. The former will offer up truths about the creatures and the creation, so it is claimed, while the latter will offer up truths about God, and about the spiritual relation that the creation bears to the Creator. Hence the expression, “all truth is God’s truth.”

Here's the rub: first, the book of nature, general revelation, does not speak of nature, but of nature’s Creator. According to Romans 1:19, it is God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature that are clearly seen through creation. The Book of Nature does not testify about the human genome, or the acceleration of gravity, or the nature of light; rather, its express testimony is about the existence of God, His glory and power, and our moral accountability to Him. That’s a big problem, regarding the way in which Biologos and others in their mold seek to understand the Book of Nature.

What they mean by the Book of Nature is not what the Scripture means. Their understanding is that, because the world has been created by a God who loves order, it will possess discoverable, predictable, repeatable characteristics (“laws” and constants and mathematical relationships and such) that the scientist may uncover through careful observation and experimentation. These discoveries, which testify of creation directly, and the Creator indirectly (in the sense of bringing glory to Him) are reliable and true truths. All this is indeed true, but these are not the matters to which general revelation testifies.

In other words, the Book of Nature to which BioLogos scientists allude has a good many more chapters in it than does the “canonical book of nature” to which the Scripture testifies.

The second major difficulty is equally problematic: if you think it is difficult for a Spirit-filled believer to interpret Scripture, it is far more difficult to interpret the data of nature. There are a number of reasons for this, including incomplete data, errors in the recording of data, errors in instrumentation, confusing correlation with causation, the fact that nature is not self-interpreting, the fact that the observer of nature is not neutral in the way he handles his data or his theories or his conclusions (the next post will deal with this). The history of science shows that results of science are almost always, at least at first, provisional and subject to revision.

So at what point do we call the results of science, “truth?” Who gets to baptize those results with sufficient divine authority and divine faithfulness such that they place boundaries around how we interpret Scripture? Who are the “apostles” of science today? Hugh Ross? Richard Dawkins? Francis Collins?

What limits are there on the various sciences shoe-horning themselves under this wonderful idiom? Is there room for psychology, for instance? Are the received truths of, say, the self-esteem movement in psychology (something which has impacted parenting, education, criminology, religion, and the therapeutic vocations for over fifty years), God’s truth? Or, as we are now seeing through the works of men like Roy Baumeister, are the “assured results” of behavioral studies and statistics regarding the usefulness of the self-esteem doctrines now falling before a more careful study? Does this mean that God’s truth changes with the changing results of science? Was it God's truth in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, but no longer? Those who have not received the memo of the latest studies still insist on the usefulness of the self-esteem studies in understanding human behavior. So is it God's truth for them, but not for Baumeister?

Who gets to decide when the results of science countermand centuries of understanding Scripture? Or, to put it another way, what is the ultimate source of authority? Does the “book of nature” get to correct the “book of Scripture”?

One of the supporters of BioLogos and this reinterpretation of Scripture is Pete Enns. The CT article says this: “Enns has little doubt that Paul indeed thought Adam was ‘a real person.’ But Enns suggests that the apostle was reflecting beliefs about human origins that were common among the ancients.” At what point does the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture cease to have meaning? If Paul thought Adam was real, wrote of Adam’s headship as a real headship, wrote of Adam’s transgression as something that really happened, etc, when Adam was not in fact real, what does that do to Paul's argument?

CT tells us what Pete Enns' ultimate source of authority is: To Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is "at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains." Apparently the book of nature trumps the book of Scripture.

Think about CT’s citation of Waltke: “. . . Waltke is open to the new thinking. In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'" Think about that: if Waltke is willing to undo centuries of orthodox belief regarding the Bible, on the basis of scientific findings, he must be ascribing inerrancy of interpretation to the scientists and their data. Unbelievable.

It’s time to wrap this up. Science is wonderful: it is a gift of God, and as Kepler said, it is indeed "thinking God's thoughts after Him." But it simply is not competent to ever judge Scripture. Here are several reasons why you should completely reject the statement, “All truth is God’s truth.”

  1. Never, never, put anything else on the same level of authority as Scripture. At the very least, all 'truth' is not equal!
  2. The Bible limits what the book of nature is saying to us: it testifies of God, His glory, power, His act of creation, and of judgment to come.
  3. Once the power of pronouncing truth rests in the hand of men as they interpret the book of nature, it will always swallow up the book of Scripture. Every time.
  4. While the Scripture may not be broken (John 10:35), identifying “truth” in the natural realm has been, in the history of science, a doggedly difficult task, filled with error and missteps.
  5. God never lies. Men do. The history of science includes those who falsify results for various reasons. I do not believe this to be the case of the Genome project; my guess is that their science is very well-done
  6. Just like Waltke helpfully reminded us that there is no infallible interpretation of Scripture (which is true), neither is there infallible intepretation of the results of science. Yesterday's global cooling (the late 1970's) is today's global warming; but hey, it's just a weather forecast, right?
So, what is your source of authority? Why do you believe what you believe? By faith? Or by evidence? Is Scripture your source of authority? Or do you subject your understanding of spiritual truth to what science says is, or is not, possible?

Oh, I almost forgot. Resurrection is impossible, according to science. Um, why does not the book of nature correct the book of Scripture on that score?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Islamification of Europe

[This post is not part of the Source of Authority series. I will post the next in that series tonight]

On today's National Review Online website, Clifford May writes an article entitled "The European Caliphate." He is citing Bat Ye’or's new non-fiction book, Europe, Globalization, and the Coming Universal Caliphate. In her book, she predicts that Europe will not remain multi-cultural for long, but will become 'Eurabia'. [Full disclosure: I have not read her book, only Clifford May's article about it. I just became aware of her book this morning.]

This is of particular interest to me, because it is precisely what I predicted when I began writing my novel, Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix, several years ago. One of the major back-stories of the tale is the Islamification of Europe. In fact, according to the Outlander timeline I created before writing the novel, the European Union becomes the IEU, the Islamic European Union in 2028.

According to the timeline, it is, for the most part, a peaceful takeover. After being beset by riots in all major cities, on June 27, 2022, Britain enacts Sharia law that has been tailored to British needs by a council of Muslim clerics meeting in Westminster Abbey [irony, anyone?].

France and Germany follow suit in 2025. In early 2028, non-Muslims are purged from the ranks of the military forces of the three nations. In July of 2028, all EU countries that have continued to resist Sharia are invaded by the combined forces of Britain, France, and Germany. At this point, the Islamic takeover of the EU is complete.

Let's hope that this, and the rest of my timeline, remains fiction.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Secret of Running unveiled!!

I’ve just discovered the secret of running! Just read articles about controversial theological issues before you run. I became so angry that I knocked 45 seconds off my best 5K time, even though my recent faithfulness to my exercise program isn’t much better than the biblical faithfulness of the theologians I was reading.

Huh. Gonna have to read these guys before the next race.

Okay, let me tell you what I am babbling about. I think I have settled down sufficiently to communicate coherently. My sweet daughter-in-law emailed to ask my opinion of a recent Christianity Today article on Dr. Francis Collin’s work with the Human Genome Project. The article dealt with Collin’s theological conclusions that he felt were demanded by the results of science.

Among his conclusions was that Adam and Eve never really existed (or if they did, they were rulers of the humanity that existed at the time) and are used allegorically in Scripture. Collins believes (on the basis of his genome research) that there was a population in the neighborhood of 10,000 in the far-distant past (approximately 100,000 years ago), who constituted the earliest humans. Based on a claim of a 95-99% match between the human and chimp genomes (total gene sequences), he believes that humans indeed descended from chimps. By the hand of God, of course.

Collins is a theistic evolutionist, one who believes that the God of the Bible “got things rolling” billions of years ago, and carefully guided the mechanisms of evolution to produce the present biodiversity of the cosmos, including humans. In 2007, Collins founded BioLogos, an organization whose aim is to show that there are no fundamental incompatibilities between evolutionary science and the Bible. Collins professes faith in Christ.

As I read the CT article, I ran across names that I am quite familiar with: Pete Enns, from whom I took Old Testament Intro at Westminster Theological Seminary; Tremper Longman, from whom I took a class on Old Testament Poets at WTS. Both of these men are supportive of the Biologos work. I might add that Pete and WTS have parted ways, due to Pete's heterodox positions. Tremper now teaches elsewhere.

Richard Phillips, a classmate and good friend while I was at WTS, was quoted as warning against Collins conclusions (yay, Rick!).

What angers me is that Biologos and its supporters are jettisoning a vitally important part of Scripture, and doing it in two equally dangerous ways: they are exalting the authority of science under the fallacious moniker “all truth is God’s truth,” and they are employing an irresponsible and illegitimate hermeneutical principle that could be as readily applied against the blood atonement of Christ as it has been against a literal Adam and Eve. Both of these fallacies will be dealt with in later posts here.

This post is first in a series of about twelve on the topic, “What’s your source of authority?” Science really is not the issue here; source of authority is. I'll explain that in future posts. I am adding this series as a sidebar on the Thoughtspot to make it easier to locate the posts.

Pete Enns once explained in OTI the motives of German liberal theologians, who were employing destructive higher criticism against the Bible: they were trying to “protect the Bible from itself.” Pete, you’ve fallen into precisely the same trap; I am so sorry.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Throwing red meat to a doctrinal dog[matist]

Look, folks, I am absolutely convinced of the power of the truth of the Bible. There has long been this utterly misplaced debate in American Christiandom that poses some sort of antithesis between knowing truth and doing truth, as though somehow the two militate against one another, or are even mutually exclusive.

That's a crock. It ain't so. In fact, there is nothing more dangerous to Christianity than zeal that is not tempered by the confines of truth, i.e., solid doctrine (see Romans 10:1-3). Many of the cults had their genesis in zeal without knowledge.

In today's modern church, zeal without knowledge produces a man-centered therapeutic Christianity that has as much foundation in secular psychobabble about self-esteem, and diverse theories of personality, as it does the Scripture. The unfortunate thing is that many of the good, godly people who support such nonsense are wholly unaware of how man-centered and idolatrous their mix of secularism and Bible actually are. Under the fallacious moniker of "all truth is God's truth" they baptize the results of psychology with same authority they acknowledge in the Scripture, and like Old Testament Israel, wind up with a messy mix of syncretism that worships Jehovah and Baal (and ultimately, self).

Okay, I feel better now. Got that off my chest. Let's get to the red meat part for doctrinal dogmatists.

E. F. Harrison in the introduction to his commentary on Romans, considers some possible purposes in Paul's letter to the Roman church. One that he makes a case for is the idea that Paul is intending to make Rome a home-base for his intended mission to Spain, much the way Antioch functioned for the first three missionary journeys. In order to do this, he needs to get the Roman church up to speed on doctrine, hence, the epistle to the Romans.

Did you catch that incredible connection? In order to make the Roman church an adequate base for missionary expansion to Spain, HE HAS TO GET THEM SOLIDLY SETTLED IN DOCTRINAL TRUTH. Let's run this past you one more time: IN ORDER THAT THEY MIGHT DO MISSIONS, HE MUST TEACH THEM TRUTH!

Wow. Incredible. I love it.

And oh, by the way: for those of us who do not like "complicated, deep sermons;" please re-read the book of Romans, and remember that this complex, in-depth message was sent to a young church that did not have near the background we do in either the Old or the New Testaments.

Maybe the problem of depth is not in the message presented, but in us as listeners. Perhaps Hebrews 5:11-14 applies to us.

Sic' 'em, Paul!