Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lennox and the Literal

John Lennox is an articulate spokesman for the interface of science and religion. He is  a mathematician and scientist and represents the evangelical intelligentsia. As a brilliant apologist for the Christian faith, he has achieved notoriety for his public debates with atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In 2007, one of his live debates with Dawkins occurred at UAB. My commentary follows:

Recently, Lennox was guest on Janet Parshall’s In the Market radio interview program. Lennox highlighted many of his views including those in his volume “Seven Days That Divide the World.” One area of misunderstanding in integrating the message of Genesis with the message of science is the understanding of literality. Misunderstandings concerning literality of the days of creation in Genesis 1 unfairly generates accusations of unfaithfulness to scripture. Which meaning of Genesis 1 days must we adhere to? Lennox claims any Bible text should be interpreted according to its intended use. In Genesis 1:1 to 2:4 there are four intended uses of the term day. Terms should not be consigned to only one level of literality. Rather, we must interpret text according to the intentions of the writer.

The examples of a car “flying down the street” or Jesus Christ as “The Door” serve to highlight metaphors. The authority of scripture or the truth of such statements is not diminished in the least. Their meanings are clear. Questionable passages may be taken literally, but we don’t have to in order to ascertain their intended meaning. The question becomes how we relate scriptures to something real in spite of their obvious metaphorical or poetic flavor.

Lennox cited other beliefs resulting from errant application of literality. To illustrate, we cite passages like I Sam. 2:8, “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the earth” (ESV) or Psalm 104:5, “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” Before Copernicus and Galileo in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nearly all Christian theologians accepted a literal interpretation of foundations and pillars on which the immovable earth supposedly rested. Copernicus and Galileo were Christian believers in the avant guard of scientific discovery. Their observations propelled them to belief in heliocentricity—the belief that the Sun instead of Earth was at the center of the Solar System. For many years their ideas were scorned. A modern parallel is the disdain with which young earth creationists denigrate old earth creationists, sometimes even pronouncing them doctrinally deficient.

Earth’s age is not addressed in the Genesis Hebrew text. Our belief is that modern science supplies answers to such questions. The text, however, points out that the verses in Genesis 1:1-2 occurred before the recitation of events of sequential “day” events beginning in verse 3. Therefore, many billions of years transpired in the formation of the solar system and occurred long before the initial creation of primitive life. The appearance of light on Earth’s surface was no doubt related to the slow clearing of a cloud-shrouded planet, not the initial creation of the sun (Job 38:9). Herein is evidence of another interpretational flaw. The Bible does not express detail of the Solar System’s geologic history in two short chapters. The time sequence of events accords with modern scientists’ discoveries even though scripture is not a detailed science text.

Lennox’s highlighting of “And God said” is stated for all of God’s creative acts, but is significant in terms of the creation of life, the transition of inorganic to organic matter (non-life to life), and especially the creation of humanity. Man was created after advanced animals on the sixth day. New life, including man, appears as an outcome of God speaking. Microevolution—minor adaptations—Lennox explains, occurs all the time. It is not the same as macroevolution which, if it occurs, would produce new levels of life. We do not proceed from the production of inorganic to organic matter (the transition from non-life to life) or the production of new levels of life (macroevolution) without the caveat “And God said.” Lennox seems to disdain evolution, because it does not result from the action of “And God said.”

Finally, Lennox posits that man appears on Earth from “a direct supernatural intervention.” The creation of life and the creation of humanity is a supernatural miracle, he asserts. As a scientist, Lennox believes in miracles which are manifestations of the supernatural. He believes “the universe is a miracle.”

We are grateful to Janet Parshall for bringing many of the finest minds in Christian leadership to the attention of the public.    



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Evolution's Requirements

The recent papal pronouncements on evolution have elicited responses from hundreds of commentators. It is well known that approximately one third of the US population belongs to church groups endorsing evolution. Most of these believe evolution is a God-ordained means of bringing into existence Earth’s millions of species, including humanity. Another one fifth of the population believes in evolution but do not believe God had anything to do with it. Adding the two groups together, we find at least half the population believes in evolution. The two groups are in agreement concerning general evolutionary theory, but not in agreement on evolutionary processes. Most church members who believe in evolution believe God “created all things” in the beginning, a reiteration of “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (all that  exists). From the first appearance on earth of LUCA, a one-celled common ancestor about 3.8 billion years ago, evolutionists say God has been watching evolution proceed without any further acts of creation in the traditional sense. Those who believe in both God and evolution are forced to this conclusion.

Many commentators in the past month reported that the Pope reinforced the position that evolutionary theory is consistent with the Christian belief system. By extension, mainline Protestants and evangelical Protestants who believe in evolution would also find evolution compatible with their Christian belief system. Creationism, thereby, assumes a different definition: Theistic evolutionists have lately characterized themselves using the moniker “evolutionary creationist.” The term creationist, therefore, has now acquired diverse meanings. The challenge of theologians continues to be finding the truth, not merely reciting a spectrum of possible meanings of create, creationist, and creationism. Evolutionist evangelical Christian Denis O. Lamoureux, Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph’s College, writing on the website of BioLogos, writes that, “Evolutionary creation…contends that the Creator established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of a teleological evolution. In other words, evolution is a planned and purpose driven natural process.” (emphasis mine)

Pope Francis’ statements conflated the Big Bang and evolution: (1) The Big Bang doesn't contradict the notion of a divine creator, but demands it; (2) “Evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve. The term demands with respect to the creation event seems unrelated to the occurrence of the Big Bang; the term requires seems unrelated to the creation of beings which evolve.

Our blog has expressed the position that the Big Bang was God’s initial creative act in this cosmos. According to many independent discoveries of sound science, the Big Bang occurred. About ten billion years later, life appeared suddenly on this planet. Life’s appearance was also a creation event or events according to Genesis 1. We have stated that the progressive sequence of life forms has consisted of changes occurring in step-like fashion. According to our knowledge of paleontology, the record affirms no significant sequences of transitions of species as evolutionary theory would predict. Thus, evolution is not confirmed; rather, it is denied. Instead, sudden creation acts are affirmed.

Some of the heartiest doubts concerning evolution are voiced by evolutionists themselves. For example, Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), popular evolutionary theorist, wrote earth’s species exhibit “no directional change” nor do they evidence the “steady transformation of its ancestors.” Nevertheless, the concept of biological evolution is enormously appealing to our modern world. Rationale for this phenomenon relates to the fact that traditional supernatural creation events seem more difficult to accept than naturalistic explanations.

God is the author of miracles. He is also the author of natural laws and processes by which the world operates on a daily basis. To attribute a transcendent miracle to a natural process is as mistaken as to attribute operation of a natural process to a transcendent miracle. We search for the wisdom of God in discerning the difference between transcendent miracles and the operation of natural laws and processes. God is the author of both. 

We affirm, along with the Pope, that the Big Bang occurred. We do not affirm that macro-evolution occurred. Scientific evidence for creation events in the geologic record overwhelm scientific evidence for molecules to man evolution. Micro-evolutionary events occurred, but the evidence for macro-evolutionary events are virtually absent. If we acknowledge creation events, we acknowledge the divine works of God the Creator.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Autumn Appeal

Choosing a favorite season of the year is like picking your best loved hymn or most preferred food. We report best loved or preferred hymns or foods out of true conviction or possibly to spark a conversation. Either way we recognize God gifts us with abilities to discriminate among alternatives—to appreciate diverse physical and environmental characteristics and express preferences according to our personal priorities.

My personal favorite season is autumn, but only by a slight margin. Having grown up near Syracuse, NY, I have fond memories of recreational opportunities supplied by harsh central New York winters—frozen ponds, lakes, and rivers and trillions of swirling, wind-driven snowflakes. Winter loosened its grip in early March even before spring arrived, heralded by the beginning of maple sap flow when my grandfather noted daytime temperatures starting to rise above freezing. A multitude of other reawakening phenomena such as leaf-out became apparent as the countryside warmed. Summer followed, the period of rapid agricultural plant growth followed by rides on the tractor to observe operations of hay balers and corn stalk binders (1930s and 1940s vintage) completing their late summer work.

Fast forward to recent autumns of the 21st century.  A few short weeks ago in our midwest area some grain crops needed additional days of warmth to complete their maturity after a late planting season and a cool summer. Now it is clear that 2014 will produce an all-time US record corn and soybean harvest, 14.41 billion bushels and 3.98 billion bushels respectively. Autumn is a time to contemplate the blessings of God in providing man with ability to supply the nutritional needs of seven billion souls. The harvest phenomenon is but one example of “filling the earth and subduing it” (Genesis 1:28). In autumn humanity reaps life sustaining harvests.

In many parts of the world plants transition to colorful autumn splendor—a sign that the leaves of trees and grain crops have completed their task of manufacturing food from water, chlorophyll, minerals, and CO2 in the presence of light. Plants annually manufacture food for humans and other living things. In Genesis 1:29 scripture informs us: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” All beasts and birds and everything that has life in it were also given every green plant for food (Genesis 1:30). The first mention that humans were invited by God to consume meat occurs in Genesis 9:3. Meat producing animals are ultimately dependent on food supplied by plants.

Colorful autumn resplendence is a sign that green chlorophyll has degraded, mainly triggered by diminishing daylight. This permits different color pigments to appear which had previously been masked by the chlorophyll.  A layer of cells growing at the attachment of the leaf stem blocks further transport of nutrients from the plant’s roots. Food making is finished for the season. Deciduous leaves drop away to become mulch and release nutrients back to the soil, increasing fertility for future benefit of the plants.

Autumn daylight diminishes and darkness increases as the daily east to west arc of the sun falls closer to the horizon. This is a consequence of the tilt of earth’s axis constantly pointing in the same direction in space—away from the sun in cooler seasons; toward the sun in warmer seasons. This astronomical phenomenon provides wondrous variety in terms of earth’s weather conditions. Lack of seasons due to a lack of axial tilt would preclude many agricultural benefits we now enjoy. For example, wheat production in quantities needed by the current world population would not be possible without a warm/cold seasonal cycle.

In autumn all living things rejoice in harvest, preparing and adapting for the coming winter and the approach of another warm season in prospect for the next spring. Psalm 96:12 affirms the devotional reality inspired by the beauties of our harvest seasons: “Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy…”     




Sunday, November 9, 2014

God as a Magician?

Pope Francis created headlines recently when he cautioned against “…imagining God as a magician with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” Less quoted is a much better translation of the Pope’s statement: “God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives birth to all entities.” A demiurge is a demigod, a platonic notion of a sub-deity. It relates to the pagan concept of formation of the world from chaos. Pope Francis was misunderstood on this point. He was not announcing his atheistic denial of God’s deity. Rather, he was voicing support for the concept of evolution.

The Catholic Church has long endorsed the concept of evolution beginning with Pope Pius XII in 1950 and continuing with Pope John Paul II in 1996 and Pope Francis in 2014. This endorsement amounts to agreement with the secular science community that natural processes are responsible for the sequential development of life from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, to the historic development of millions of distinct species, and finally to full-fledged humanity. We characterize these papal endorsements as “molecules to man” evolution. The evolutionary LUCA hypothesis proposes that a simple organism about 3.8 billion years ago was the forerunner of every life form on earth existing at the present moment. Primarily, the foundation of belief in LUCA springs from the commonality of the genetic code: DNA and RNA are found in every living thing in various manifestations. From this commonality, bio-scientists infer evolution has occurred.

Our blog position stands against the theory of evolution. We have held that evolution is a weak theory notwithstanding the consensus of the bio-science community. Creation scriptures are interpreted to signal miraculous interventions of God to account for the sudden arrival of biochemically complex life on this planet, the dramatic appearance of new life forms exemplified by the Cambrian Explosion, and the “cultural big bang” marking startling changes in hominid ability and behavior within the last few tens of thousands of years. The theorized pace and operation of evolution acting under natural law conflicts with significant paleontological and archeological evidence and denies miraculous interventions of the monotheistic deity described in Genesis.   

Substantial segments of church attendees endorse evolution. As noted above, the leaders of the Catholic Church have long accepted evolution as part of their belief structure. Almost all of their members accept evolution and believe, along with their leadership, that Christian faith and evolution are fully compatible. We highlight two other church groups whose origins beliefs are similar. Mainline Protestants largely accept evolution as do some evangelical Protestants. The three groups mentioned would almost unanimously acknowledge that “God is the Creator of all things.” A May 2014 Gallup Poll would doubtlessly place these three groups among 31% of the US population who accept evolution in their survey. Another 19% of the US population endorses evolution but they do not believe God had any part in the process. All told, about half of the US population accepts evolution. They would agree with Pope Francis that “God is not a demiurge or a magician” responsible for creating life forms at any moment of past time.

The Gallup organization reports that a separate 42% of Americans believe the Earth and its life forms originated in divine miracles of creation less than 10,000 years ago. We suspect Pope Francis refers primarily to this group with his cautionary advice not to imagine that God is a magician able to wave a magic wand. The Pope may also refer to old universe creationists who perceive periodic divine interventions initiating life and new life forms. The imagery of waving of a magic wand does not equate with divine, miraculous acts of creation. Evolutionists believe the naturalistic process of evolution occurs neither miraculously or suddenly. The process of creation, however, cannot be explained in naturalistic terms.

Pope Francis’ statements have many ramifications. The media reported his message primarily as affirmation that evolutionary science and biblical faith need not be in conflict. This is a chic and popular proposal in our culture. The Pope’s statements went even further. For example, he conflated evolution and the Big Bang. It is difficult to draw a parallel between these theories. In a future post we will return to these challenging issues.