Intelligent Design

Of Pegasus and Pangloss: Two Recurring Fallacies of Skeptics

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(This is a sequel to my previous post in response to Professor Anthony Grayling, entitled Is the notion of God logically contradictory?)

In a recent short essay, entitled God and Disaster, Professor Anthony Grayling, a leading atheist philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, lamented the loss of life from the recent earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that followed it. He then went on to voice his perplexity at television reports of people going to church after the massive earthquake which hit Christchurch, New Zealand, on February 22, killing over 200 people. Grayling concluded by wondering how such people could believe in such an “incoherent fiction” as the idea of a Deity. “This,” he wrote, “is a perennial puzzle.”

Before I address the substance of Professor Grayling’s essay, I’d like readers to keep one simple question uppermost in their minds: exactly what does Grayling want God to do, in order to prevent human suffering?

Let me begin with a short word about myself. Like Professor Grayling, I possess a Ph.D. in philosophy. Unlike him, I live and work in Japan, and I was working in Yokohama, Japan, when the earthquake struck on Friday, March 11th at 2:46 p.m. local time. After the quake hit, I spent the night with several hundred people in a shopping mall near Yokohama station, as the trains had stopped running. On the Sunday after the quake, I also attended my local church, where the congregation is almost entirely Japanese. Despite the tragic loss of life – the death toll is expected to exceed 20,000 – the earthquake did not weaken my belief in God. It did, however, reinforce my conviction that attempts to rationalize suffering – such as Leibniz’s optimistic assertion that we live in the best of all possible worlds, which Voltaire savagely satirized in his novel Candide – are fundamentally wrong-headed. Whole towns were swept away by the tsunami following the quake. The suffering that people experience in disasters is absurd and pointless; on this point, the atheists are surely right.

The views I present in this essay are mine, and I take sole responsibility for them. My aim is to show that two mistaken theological assumptions – the notion that God can do anything imaginable and the notion that God always does things for the best – lie at the heart of the contemporary “New Atheist” insistence that senseless suffering renders belief in God irrational. In passing, I also point out examples of invalid arguments for Darwinian evolution which rely on the assumption that that God can do anything imaginable. (Most readers will be aware that I have no problem with common descent; it is evolution by an unguided process requiring no input of information by an Intelligent Designer at any stage which I reject.) I conclude my essay by defending a traditional (and rather unfashionable) answer to the problem of suffering, which addresses Professor Grayling’s theological problems.

In his essay, God and Disaster, Professor Grayling writes of God:

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile.

1. Pegasus and the perils of picture thinking

What’s gone wrong here? Professor Grayling has allowed himself to misled by “picture thinking” – the idea that if anything is picturable, it’s possible. Because Grayling can mentally picture a Shangri-la where nobody ever gets hurt in earthquakes and tsunamis, he would expect a benevolent Deity to make the world of his dreams. But the problem with this line of thinking is that it conflates two distinct notions: picturability and conceivability. Only the latter can tell us what is possible. Picture thinking cannot.

To appreciate the difference between picturability (or imaginability) and conceivability, consider these two cases, discussed by philosopher Edward Feser in his theological polemic, The Last Superstition (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008, p. 105):

You can form no clear mental image of a chiliagon – a thousand-sided figure – certainly not one that’s at all distinct from your mental image of a 997-sided figure or a 1002-sided figure. Still, your intellect can easily grasp the concept of a chiliagon. You can form no mental image of a triangle that is not equilateral, isosceles or scalene. But the concept of triangularity that exists in your intellect, which abstracts away from these features of concrete triangles, applies equally to all of them. And so forth.

And that brings me to Pegasus, the winged horse. Is Pegasus possible? Certainly he’s picturable, as the image on the left at the beginning of this post clearly proves. But is he conceivable? Surely not. Just ask yourself a simple question: how does he fly? According to the laws of aerodynamics which obtain in our universe, this should be impossible. Picturability, then, is not a reliable guide to possibility. To argue that a better world is possible simply because we can picture it is to engage in childish thinking.

“Pegasus-thinking”, as I shall call it, is a besetting sin of Darwinists – by which I mean, advocates of an unguided evolutionary process whose principal mechanism is natural selection winnowing random variation. For instance, Professor Jerry Coyne argues in his book, Why Evolution is True (Viking Adult Press, 2009) that the male prostate gland is badly designed because the urethra runs through it, making men liable to enlargement and infection in later life. Aside from the fact that Coyne’s argument open to question on empirical grounds – creationist Jonathan Sarfati asserts that the risk of enlargement appears to be largely diet-related in his 2008 article, The Prostate Gland – is it ‘badly designed’? – Coyne is essentially arguing that because we can imagine a better design, therefore one is possible; and since we don’t find it in Nature, it follows that Nature is not the work of an Intelligent Creator. The question-begging underlying this argument should be readily apparent.

Professor Coyne also contends that the female reproductive tract would have been better designed if women gave birth through their abdomens. But this supposition is absurdly counterfactual: if humans did that, they wouldn’t be human. They would be some other kind of animal. In any case, Coyne’s argument overlooks the fact that for at least some human beings, at least, the size of the birth canal would not have been a problem, as the pelvis was considerably wider (see the BBC article, Human ancestors born big-brained, 14 November 2008).

Why a world without earthquakes and tsunamis would be a world without people

What has this to do with earthquakes and tsunamis? Quite a lot, actually. Consider the question: why do earthquakes happen? The answer, in a nutshell, is that earthquakes are a necessary consequence of plate tectonics, and that on a planet which is wholly or partly covered by oceans, tsunamis are a necessary consequence of earthquakes. Moreover, oceans are a pre-requisite for plate tectonics, as they lubricate and facilitate the movement of the Earth’s plates. The Earth’s crust is soaked with water, and water plays an important role in the development of shear zones. Plate tectonics requires weak surfaces in the crust along which crustal slices can move.

Now, it is easy to picture a world without earthquakes or tsunamis, but is not until we try to conceive such a world that we realize what we’re asking for: at the very least, a world without plate tectonics. However, given the laws of Nature which obtain in our cosmos, a world without plate tectonics would also be a world without life. As Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee put it in their best-selling book, Rare Earth (Copernicus, New York, 2000, p. 220): “It may be that plate tectonics is the central requirement for life on a planet.” A few years ago, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez explained the significance of plate tectonics to award-winning Christian journalist and former legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel, who is also the author of the best-seller, The Case for a Creator (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 226):

“You see, greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, absorb infrared energy and help warm the planet. So they’re absolutely crucial. The problem is that their concentration in the atmosphere needs to be regulated as the sun slowly brightens. Otherwise, the Earth would not be able to stabilize its surface temperature, which would be disastrous.

“Plate tectonics cycles fragments of the Earth’s crust – including limestone, which is made up of calcium, carbon dioxide, and oxygen atoms – down into the mantle. There, the planet’s internal heat releases the carbon dioxide, which is then continually vented to the atmosphere through volcanoes. It’s quite an elaborate process, but the end result is a kind of thermostat that keeps the greenhouse gases in balance and our surface temperature under control.

So my advice to Professor Grayling is: be careful what you wish for. If you’re demanding a world with no earthquakes or tsunamis, then given the laws of nature in our cosmos, what you’re asking for is a world with no life. Is that what you really want, Professor?

Why not a perfect world from the get-go?

However, Professor Grayling might wish for a world with different laws, in which life could flourish but earthquakes and tsunamis would never occur. Certainly, we can imagine other worlds, as we can imagine Xanadu and Narnia – but as the example of Pegasus illustrates, that doesn’t make them possible. To know if they were genuinely possible, we’d have to be able to intellectually conceive of these worlds and their laws of Nature, in their entirety – and we cannot. The reason is that all our concepts are drawn from the world as we know it, with the laws of Nature that we are familiar with.

Of course, a skeptic might employ an ad hominem argument against religious believers. He might ask why God could not have simply placed all human beings in a perfect world – say, Paradise or Heaven – from the get-go, thereby eliminating suffering at one stroke. The skeptic might urge that while we cannot presently conceive of such a world, it should be possible for God to make such a world – and in any case, religious believers look forward to living in such a world.

Let’s play along with the skeptic, and suppose God placed all of us in a perfect world, from the get-go. (For argument’s sake, I shall leave aside the question of what would happen if some people broke the rules in this perfect world, and just assume that this never happens.) The question I would then ask is: would we be the same individuals, if we had all been created in such perfect world? Surely not. For our personal identity is bound up with where we come from. Just as I wouldn’t be the person who I am if I’d had different parents, so too I wouldn’t be the same individual if I’d been originally created in Heaven instead of on Earth. I’d be someone else. A skeptic who wishes that she hadn’t been created on Earth, but in Heaven, is therefore wishing herself out of existence! I for one would never make a wish like that. Much as I hate the destruction tsunamis cause, I am intellectually compelled to acknowledge the fact that my very identity as a human individual is bound up with the fact that I was born in a world where tsunamis are likely to happen.

A skeptic might be prepared to bite the bullet and say: “All right. If God were omnibenevolent as well as omnipotent and omniscient, then He shouldn’t have created me. He should have created a different kind of world: one in which my coming into being would be an impossibility, but also one in which there would be no problem of suffering.”

I’d like to make three points in reply. First, it is irrational for the skeptic to say, “God should never have created me”; in wishing herself out of existence, she is doing something that no sane, self-respecting human being should ever do. Second, given the fact that the skeptic does actually exist, the only moral question she can meaningfully ask vis-à-vis an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient Being is how this Being (if it exists) should behave towards her, and vice versa. The question of whether the Being should have created her simply does not arise; it’s too late to ask that. Finally, I would argue that there can be no such thing as the wrongful creation of a person, in any case. Creating a person is not the sort of thing that can intelligibly be described as bad.

I conclude that it is senseless for skeptics to wish that God had made a world in which they could never have come into being. The only question they can sensibly ask is: given that we are here, is there anything that God should be doing for us that He isn’t already doing?

2. Tsunamis and Theodicy: why religious believers aren’t Panglossians

In his essay, God and Disaster, Anthony Grayling declares himself puzzled by the existence of people who continue to believe in God in the face of massive earthquakes and tsunamis. For my part, I am puzzled by the existence of philosophers who appear to be congenitally incapable of grasping what theists actually believe. For Professor Grayling should know that the traditional belief of churchgoers is not that suffering and death are terrible but necessary instruments by which God achieves some “higher purpose,” but rather that God Himself hates suffering and death, and that He originally intended to create a world in which people would never die. His plan was thwarted when the first human beings chose to make themselves the ultimate arbiters of good and evil. Ever since that fateful choice was made, humanity has suffered the consequences, including death; but God has promised us that one day, there will be a new heavens and a new earth, and death shall be no more. That is the faith of churchgoers the world over; and it is my faith too.

To be sure, the 17th century philosopher Leibniz may have believed that everything always happens for the best, but he does not speak for me, or for most religious believers. Leibniz’s hyper-optimism was brilliantly lampooned and brought into everlasting ridicule by Voltaire: in his novel Candide, Doctor Pangloss is always sprouting the sentiment that everything happens for the best, no matter what calamities befall him and his companions – a view that his pupil Candide comes to reject at the end of the novel. To this day, I have yet to meet a religious believer who is a Panglossian. And despite the more recent attempts of Professor John Hick, a leading philosopher of religion, to portray the world as a “soul-making” garden, where suffering is the only way in which souls can grow towards spiritual maturity, most religious believers know in their bones that the world was never meant to be the way it is now. They know that God did not intend a world in which innocent children die. In his recent book The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (B & H Academic, Nashville, Tennessee, 2009, page 45), Professor William Dembski forcefully rejects Hick’s view, and chooses what I, as a religious believer, would regard as a much more appropriate metaphor for the world we live in: he likens this world to an insane asylum.

Professor Grayling should have known these facts about the faith of believing churchgoers. Unless he has been on Mars for the past six years, he would surely have heard of (and read) a memorable essay on suffering by Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, entitled Tsunami and Theodicy (published in the March 2005 issue of the journal First Things, in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, and republished in the January 2010 issue of the same journal). Hart has very harsh words, with which I wholly concur, for those who would claim that there is always a reason for suffering and death, and that every instance of pain and loss is necessary in the grand scheme of things:

[Such a view] requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines. It seems a strange thing to find peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

It is true that believers often speak of God as bringing good out of tragic evils. But this does not mean that God intended or willed these evils to happen, in order to achieve some greater good in the grand scheme of things. Nor does it mean that we are better people for suffering these evils. Rather, it simply means that God can heal any hurt, no matter how great it may be, simply because He is God. God never intended tsunamis have no place in God’s plan for human beings; God hates the destruction they cause.

Hart points out that the spiritual idiom of the New Testament is that of “a cosmic struggle between good and evil, of Christ’s triumph over the principalities of this world, of the overthrow of hell.” Believers look forward to a future in which “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new'” (Revelation 21:4-5). I shall quote the second-last paragraph of Hart’s moving essay:

I do not believe we Christians are obliged – or even allowed – to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

To a skeptic, Hart’s anticipation of a future life will sound like a hollow promise: “pie in the sky when you die” as the radical Swedish immigrant laborer Joe Hill put it in his song, The Preacher and the Slave, in 1911. In his essay, Professor Grayling asks why believers bother praying to a God who seems utterly powerless:

If they were going to pray for their god to look after the souls of those who had died, why would they think he would do so since he had just caused, or allowed, their bodies to be suddenly and violently crushed or drowned?

… If he is not powerful enough to do something about the world’s periodic murderous indifference to human beings, then in what sense is he a god? Instead he seems to be a big helpless ghost, useless to pray to and unworthy of praise.

But from a religious believer’s perspective, things look very different: God seems powerful, not powerless. We see history as a battle in which God is driving back the forces of evil. Examples abound: a Jew will cite the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon, and the survival of the Jewish people down the ages as proofs that God has a plan for His chosen people, while Christians look to Jesus Christ as the first to have been raised for the dead, and hope to share in the same destiny as their Redeemer. Above all, God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); He is therefore anything but “helpless.”

3. Why I believe the Fall is the only logical explanation for human suffering

In section 1 above, I argued that earthquakes and tsunamis are an inseparable part of our world, before going on to explain in section 2 that religious believers look forward to a deliverance from suffering in the next world. But a skeptic might reasonably ask why God does not do more for people in this world. After all, a world in which earthquakes and tsunamis occur does not have to be a world in which people get killed by them. God could always warn people when they were coming, so nobody would ever get hurt by them. Professor Grayling hints at this possibility when he writes in his essay: “For if he [God] is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world” (italics mine – VJT).

Well, Professor, I have news for you: according to most Jews, Christians and Muslims, that’s precisely the kind of world God originally planned when He made the first human beings. What went wrong? The Fall. Had it not happened, human beings would never have been killed by earthquakes or tsunamis. There was a time when God spoke to our first parents as clearly as we talk to each other now. (In this essay, I shall use the term “our first parents” to denote the first creatures with a human form that were capable of knowing God, regardless of how, when and where they arose.) But it was these human beings who, in their pride, chose to cut themselves off from God’s presence. Our first parents chose to arrogate to themselves the power to decide what is good and what is evil. It was they who chose the kind of world we would live in, and they chose a world in which God hides His face, because they preferred human autonomy to serving God, even if it came at the expense of enormous human suffering. By so choosing, they banished themselves from God’s presence, and entered into lifelong exile from their Maker, with whom they had once freely conversed.

This, then, is what Christians have traditionally believed about the Fall of our first parents:
(i) it occurred because of a freely chosen act of rebellion against God by our first parents;
(ii) before the Fall, our first parents were supernaturally preserved by God from suffering and death; however, they were not yet naturally immortal;
(iii) after the Fall, our first parents were no longer specially protected by God, with the result that automatically they became liable to pain, injury and death;
(iv) had our first parents passed the test God set for them, and chosen to serve God forever, they would not have died. They would have continued to live for some time on this earth, and at some later stage, they would have gone to Heaven, a world in which people are naturally immortal.

The fateful decision of our first parents to reject God affected not only themselves, but the whole of humanity: their descendants automatically they became liable to pain, injury and death, as well. The rupture between our first parents and God necessarily affected the whole of the human race, because a world in which innocent and as-yet-unfallen human beings could continue getting tsunami warnings from God while fallen human beings did not, clearly wouldn’t work: the old problem of freeloading would surface. The upshot of all this is that now the heavens are silent for everyone; the Divine telephone connection is broken. And while Christians believe that Jesus died for sinners on the cross, they also know that our travails continue: only at the end of human history will the connection between God and humanity be fully restored in the way God originally intended.

It is fashionable nowadays to scoff at the very notion of Original Sin, but the simple fact is that it is the only logical explanation for human suffering, in all its absurdity, as well as the loneliness and spiritual desolation that covers the human race like a pall. John Henry Newman was acutely aware of this fact, and articulated the case for Original Sin with penetrating clarity in chapter five of his Apologia pro Vita Sua (1865):

I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birthplace or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world; – if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

So in response to Professor Grayling’s challenge on the question of God and human disasters, I would answer: God is the one who is responsible for the existence of earthquakes and tsunamis, but it is our first parents who are responsible for the fact that they kill us. In the broken world in which we now live, we should not look for a meaning in the harm these disasters cause, because there is none. Instead, we should fight them tooth and nail, as best we can, and try to prevent their occurrence in the future, all the while looking forward to a world in which we will one day see our Creator face to face.

29 Replies to “Of Pegasus and Pangloss: Two Recurring Fallacies of Skeptics

  1. 1
    kornbelt888 says:

    “So my advice to Professor Grayling is: be careful what you wish for. If you’re demanding a world with no earthquakes or tsunamis, then given the laws of nature in our cosmos, what you’re asking for is a world with no life.”

    What kind of world do angels live in? I’ll take that one.

    This is not the best of all possible worlds. The Bible presents this world as a *cursed* world, and unregenerate humans as cursed entities subject to Really Bad Stuff for some reason related to some kind of rebellion (that I suspect is merely presented in allegorical form in Genesis.)

  2. 2
    Frost122585 says:

    I must admit that as a person who is leaning more and more traditional Catholic (Vatican 1) I see these disasters as a message from God against the sins of the world. Anyone can go online or even on regular TV and find sexual sin so prevalent it is hard to think that large segments of our population are much better than the people in the Bible’s story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    I am sorry to have to take this position if it offends anyone- but I think it is perfectly reasonable for anyone who truly believes in the existence of the God of the Bible to consider that indeed these type of things can be a warning and or punishment for the sins of the world. In my heart this is how I read this. And while God is benevolent for sure it should also be noted that he can also be vengeful (Vengeance is mine says the Lord) when man has done terrible evil- and that his love for us is like that of our Earthly fathers who will punish us for our bad behavior or misguided behavior usually not for revenge but to correct us in our ways- and this is not for the end of obedience in itself, but because through a correction of our behavior we will be better off – we will live better and make a better world. So tough love correction and punishment is often done solely out of love for one’s children and the desire to see them do better and be healthy and live for good.

    If great numbers of people in Japan and around the world use this as a reason to turn their lives around and to Christ- that certainly might result in a good greater than the evil caused by the disaster.

    I am not claiming to know God’s thoughts, but only that I know this possibility must be considered by the beleiving Christian.

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    VJ,

    It is nice to see an IDer who actually believes in Adam and Eve and the fall. I understand why ID scientists cannot go there, but still I think this is a weakness in ID as science. My guess though is that very few ID scientists would agree with your view of a perfect creation followed by the Fall.

    I agree that this really helps to understand the existence of evil and disasters in this world. The world we live in now was cursed after Adam & Eve’s sin. It was never God’s intention to create a world like the one we live in now. And, likewise, we were not made for this world. One day, God will restore everything or recreate a new world in line with His perfect will.

    I guess I’m a bit surprised that you are still open to common descent if you believe in Adam, Eve, the Fall, and God’s original perfect creation. I’m open to descent within each of the original kinds of creation. So, for instance, I believe natural selection worked on the original wolf kind and as a result, over some years, all the various related animals(dogs, dingos, wolves, etc.) emerged. But personally, I don’t think common descent over billions of years is taught by the Bible. We’re told very clearly that God created Adam directly from the dust of the earth and that he was specially created in God’s image. I have trouble seeing how, in that passage, God is really intending to tell us that everything was created through common descent.

    If that is not the meaning of the original writer, then I don’t think we have the right to re-interpret it to accomodate Darwin and common descent.

  4. 4
    markf says:

    This, then, is what Christians have traditionally believed about the Fall of our first parents:
    (i) it occurred because of a freely chosen act of rebellion against God by our first parents;

    (ii) before the Fall, our first parents were supernaturally preserved by God from suffering and death; however, they were not yet naturally immortal;

    (iii) after the Fall, our first parents were no longer specially protected by God, with the result that automatically they became liable to pain, injury and death;

    (iv) had our first parents passed the test God set for them, and chosen to serve God forever, they would not have died. They would have continued to live for some time on this earth, and at some later stage, they would have gone to Heaven, a world in which people are naturally immortal.

    vj – thanks for a very clear (if lengthy :-)) explanation of your views on theodicy.  I would like to write an essay about different types of possibility, which I think addresses your piece on picturing, but don’t have anything like the time.  So I will just comment on the fall. 

    1) There is a moral perspective to this. It seems really hard on those descendants of the original parents that suffer.  Some of them never were told about Christianity, indeed some of them are babies or even unborn children. This is a pretty tough God that says the sins of parents you never heard of are to be visited on you.  Indeed many creatures were clearly suffering from earthquakes etc before the fall.

    2) There is also a practical perspective.  Do you literally believe there was a man and a woman that could potentially live forever without pain and suffering, from whom we are all descended?  Presumably somewhere in Africa.  This seems so obviously a fairy tale. Did they grow old? Did volcanoes and earthquakes and hard winters and hot summers and droughts and diseases and injuries just stop when they were around? When they had children was it painless? Most biologists recognise there was a woman from which we are all descended but she was not the only woman around at the time – she was just the one whose progeny made it through. There was also a man from whom we are all descended but he would not necessarily have even been alive at the same time  much less her partner.

  5. 5
    Frost122585 says:

    Markf,

    On your #2,

    I am not really sure we know exactly what happened regarding evolution. What you write is speculation and rules out special creation. That does not mean you are wrong- but in my view the evolutionary tree of life is very mysterious.

    My personal view of the Adam and Eve story is that they were created in some fashion (special creation or creation through evolution) but that they originally had no sense of sin. Once they came into contact with knowledge, confronted with temptation (of nature or the devil) they sought to be equal with God and from that point man kind began the fall.

    Remember the old testament is based on stories that have been handed down thousands of years before they were written down- which is likely why many early cultures have stories similar to those in the Old Testament- such as Noah’s Ark. The New Testament, however, was written down at about the time of the events. So what we know about Jesus’ time is more exact than what we know regarding the old Testament. Yet, that does not mean the old Testament is false or cant be trusted- as part of the word of God it is still trustworthy- but just that it requires some interpretation.

  6. 6
    Alex73 says:

    Every day mankind, as whole, votes for independence from God. (Individuals may choose to depend on him. And here I do not mean wearing a religious label, instead real obedience and dependence on God.) Mankind does not have the slightest inclination to change this situation, just get on with what they want to do.

    Then a disaster strikes. But even then the conclusion of most is not that actually, we really needed God in this world. Instead, the mocking voices come and ask “Where was God? Why did God let this happen” etc.

    Well, I do not think we can have it both ways. Either we depend on Him 100%, or accept that things will keep on falling apart without the Creator maintaining it.

    And if it takes a disaster to make us think about where God was, then we can only blame ourselves.

    On the other hand, those who get the message, and realized that they needed God more than before went to church. For me, it is a logical decision.

  7. 7
    vjtorley says:

    markf (#4)

    Thank you for your post. Regarding the exact number of first parents: I don’t have any hard-and-fast opinions. I recognize that the available evidence indicates that the human population never numbered less than 10,000 at any time in the past. On the other hand, there is a very strong tradition that there was an original couple, Adam and Eve, and Scripture seems to teach this.

    My own provisional solution is that (assuming we evolved, as I do), there were probably several thousand couples across southern and eastern Africa that received human souls at around the same time, but that there was one couple who made the decisive choice to acept or reject God. Perhaps they were the first ones to attain maturity (adulthood), and they were the designated leaders of the whole human race. Prior to that choice, these people would have been protected from drought, disease and predators. (We’re talking about an idyllic 15-year period here, so it wouldn’t show up in the fossil record.) Had Adam and Eve made the right choice, the protection would have continued until they had raised children. Then they would have left this Earth. (If you can believe in the Ascension, one for Adam and Eve should be no problem.)

    It certainly isn’t fair that children should suffer for the sins of their parents; but what I’m saying is that it couldn’t be helped in this case. Having a situation where half the human race was morally sinless, preserved from death and able to converse with God sharing the planet with the other half, which was plunged in sin, mortal and unable to talk to God, would surely be an unworkable arrangement.

  8. 8
    vjtorley says:

    markf (#4)

    Regarding animals before the Fall: this is a very large topic, and I put forward my own tentative opinions (after discussing those of Aquinas and Professor Dembski) in Part Two of my reply to Professor Michael Tkacz, at http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....omas2.html (scroll down to sections 4, 5, 6 and 7).

  9. 9
    Ted Davis says:

    A very thoughtful essay that puts forth the problem of suffering/evil in precisely the way in which I like to put it myself: why did God not make heaven now?

    My own view is that we cannot know the answer to this, on this side of the eschaton. In short, I take my theodicy mainly from Job rather than from Genesis. In this connection I strongly recommend the following article by John Schneider: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10dyn.html

    Partly for reasons related to theodicy, a number of TE advocates like to talk about “divine kenosis,” or “the theology of the cross,” or “the crucified God.” These ideas are not necessarily identical, but they all have in common the idea that the universe was created by the second person of the Trinity, and that the act of creation involved God taking on suffering personally. (This may or may not be patripassionism; I don’t care myself whether or not it is. I think it’s true, regardless.)

    C.S. Lewis opens “The Problem of Pain” with the following epigram, taken from George MacDonald: “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

    That pretty much sums it up, from where I sit.

  10. 10
    Ted Davis says:

    Many advocates of TE find ID’s formal bracketing of theodicy and other theological issues very frustrating (and yes, I know there are many sources of frustration in the other direction as well); some would give this as one of their main reasons for not identifying closely with ID (this is true in my case).

    Bill Dembski’s recent book is an exception, obviously, except that he explicitly says it’s not an ID book, since it does tackle theological issues. So, I guess it’s not an exception. My suspicion is, however, that tjguy @3 is wrong. Most of the ID leaders I’ve met (a pretty good number) probably *do* believe in an historical Adam & Eve and the fall. I don’t think that Dembski is at all an outlier here. Those ID proponents who are YECs (among leaders, this would include Paul Nelson, Dean Kenyon, John M Reynolds, and some others whom I won’t name in order to protect the confidentiality of their YEC commitments) are obviously committed to this view. So are those ID proponents who are OECs, such as Dembski, Steve Meyer, Jay Richards, and lots of others. Indeed, if I were to start listing ID proponents who probably do *not* hold to an historical Adam & Eve & fall, I think it would be a pretty short list.

    Comments, anyone?

  11. 11
    Ted Davis says:

    Finally, let me say that many TEs approach theodicy not only as described above @9, but also from an eschatological point of view that incorporates what I said above. Here is a pertinent example, taken from Robert Russell’s book, “Cosmology From Alpha to Omega,” by one of the most thoughtful (IMO) and most well informed Christian scholars working in the “religion and science” field (page 266):

    “[I]n order to move us beyond mere kenosis to genuine eschatology, I believe that both kenotic theodicy and eschatology must be structured on a trinitarian doctrine of God. The reason here is simple: it is the trinitarian God who will act to bring about the redemption of all of nature since it is this God who is revealed as God in and through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. A kenotic theology (that God suffers voluntarily with the world) in and of itself is not redemptive. Eschatology is required, in which the Father who suffers the death of the Son acts anew at Easter to raise Jesus from the dead. In turn, the involuntary suffering of all of nature–each species and each individual creature–must be taken up into the voluntary suffering of Christ on the cross (theopassionism) and through it the voluntary suffering of the Father (patripassionism).”

    That’s quite a mouthful, but IMO it’s on target. I understand why many here find little of value in TE (obviously I don’t agree), but the fact that one can’t find this type of thinking in ID per se is IMO a very serious drawback. You can’t do theodicy without a specific designer in mind. The TEs get this, and this is one of the main reasons why TE is not done in a theological straightjacket. It’s a much broader theater of discourse, in which design/origins are important but do not drive the conversation.

  12. 12
    StephenB says:

    —Ted Davis: “You can’t do theodicy without a specific designer in mind.”

    I agree.

    —“The TEs get this,”

    I gather that most ID [Christians] do as well. Any time he pleases, the ID scientist can put aside his telescope or his microscope and begin his study of theodicy from a theological perspective, knowing that scientific truth cannot contradict theological truth. Many, such as William Dembski, Robert Spitzer and others do just that. We will likely read nothing in their philosophy of suffering that alludes to “specified complexity” or the “anthropic principle,” nor should we expect to. At the same time, we know that these same men believe that the designer is God.

    —“and this is one of the main reasons why TE is not done in a theological straightjacket.”

    Typically, TE [defined here as Christian Darwinism] is done in a scientific straightjacket, assuming apriori, that Darwin’s General Theory of evolution must be true and may not be questioned. It is, therefore, closed to all countervailing evidence. ID, on the other hand, is willing to follow wherever the evidence may lead, even if that evidence might put them out of business. Christian Darwinists cannot make that claim.

  13. 13
    StephenB says:

    —Ted: “C.S. Lewis opens “The Problem of Pain” with the following epigram, taken from George MacDonald: “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”

    —“That pretty much sums it up, from where I sit.”

    Sounds good to me. What is it about ID science, which is not committed to a philosophy of nature, that you think would rule out Lewis’ account?

  14. 14
    Lamont says:

    Since there are many skeptics who think that Genesis is merely a myth and that Adam and Eve never existed, it is important to carefully consider the truth of the matter.

    In order to do that we must consider all the possibilities concerning the existence of the soul. This is because what one believes about the soul determines more than anything else, what one believes about the accuracy of the story of Adam and Eve.

    1) If one is an atheist, one believes that humans are highly evolved animals and do not have an immortal soul. This belief is consistent with philosophical materialism but it cannot be proven.

    2) If one believes that humans possess an immortal soul, this belief is based on reason (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.) and/or faith in the Bible (e.g. Matt. 10:28) and/or the teachings of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 366) or some other religious tradition.

    3) Now if the soul is immortal it cannot be produced by the body, for then it would die with the body. So an immortal soul must have an immaterial or spiritual source, (God) or be eternal itself, (Hinduism, Buddhism).

    4) For the Christian, who believes that the each individual soul is created by God, the creation of souls had to begin with soul #1 and soul #2 and continue from there. So for Christians the existence of Adam and Eve follows logically from a belief in the soul and is based on reason as well as faith in truthfulness of the Bible.

    5) Finally, for Christians who believe that faith and reason lead us to the truth, Genesis is not merely a myth but an inspired story that prepares the way for faith in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God. Belief in the incarnation and the resurrection is foolishness to those who have other metaphysical commitments, but for Christians they are essential aspects of a comprehensive understanding of life itself. The only thing foolish from the Christian perspective is to try to be half a Christian.

  15. 15
    tjguy says:

    Frost,

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here.

    “Remember the old testament is based on stories that have been handed down thousands of years before they were written down- which is likely why many early cultures have stories similar to those in the Old Testament- such as Noah’s Ark.”

    I agree with you that the whole Bible is inspired/ I would add “equally trustworthy”. All the books were inspired by God’s Spirit.

    I think you are wrong in assuming that these stories were not written down, but were only passed on orally. I understand that oral traditions were important and widely used, but have you ever noticed that the book of Genesis talks about “the book of the generations of Adam” 5:1? It would seem that the records were written down and passed on from patriarch to patriarch until these books reached Noah who put them all together into the form we now have. Then Noah finished the genealogies in Gen 5 after Adam’s death and began his own book in Gen. 6:9.

    Why would you assume they could not write back then or didn’t write anything? These were not stupid cave men like people! Adam and Eve were smarter than we are in their pre-fall existence. They were the pinacle of God’s creation from the day they were created. We don’t see any process of evolution from dumb to smart in the Bible.

    Even in Genesis 4, we have a record of Cain’s descendants and they were using metal, making musical instruments, and there was even a poet it seems.

    I’m going to split this post into sections because it is too long.

  16. 16
    tjguy says:

    For Frost continued:

    “The New Testament, however, was written down at about the time of the events. So what we know about Jesus’ time is more exact than what we know regarding the old Testament….but that does not mean the old Testament is false or cant be trusted- as part of the word of God it is still trustworthy- but just that it requires some interpretation.”

    Yes, it was more recent and the geography from Jesus’ day is relatively unchanged. The world before the flood has perished completely and cannot be studied in the same way, but like you said, it is still God’s Word and it is trustworthy. Agreed! But it doesn’t seem like you treat it that way.

    Remember, science that deals with the past is totally different than hands on science in the lab where we can see things happening and repeat them to validate them. Science that deals with the past, requires a lot of interpretation and assumptions. I would prefer to trust God’s Word and His chosen writers who lived back then, as opposed to using the assumptions and interpretations of scientists who live thousands of years after the fact as the basis for “interpreting” God’s Word.

    Since you believe in God’s Word and especially the NT, I’m assuming that you have no problem with these NT teachings:

    Jesus: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ Mt. 19:4, Mk 10:5,6.(beginning of creation)
    Science would place Adam and Eve far from the beginning of creation – more like at the very very very extreme tail end. Which is true?

    Adam was formed first, then Eve”(II Tim 2)

    Adam was the FIRST man. I Cor. 15:45

    historicity of Noah’s flood
    Jesus MT 24:38 / Peter II Pt. 3:4-6
    v.5“But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.” This is then compared to God’s future worldwide judgment.

    Frost, did you know that Genesis is the most quoted book in the whole Bible?! Our faith literally stands on and is built upon the truth of this book! If we twist our interpretation of Genesis, then we are forced to continue twisting our interpretation of the Bible all the way thru wherever Genesis is quoted, even in the NT. It seems that all the writers of the Scripture took Genesis as literally true. Even the early Church and most Christians did until the 19th century when things began to change. Why? Science began to be seen as more trustworthy than God’s Word. I appreciate your posts here. I want to disagree with you in a friendly way. I am simply trying to understand your interpretation principles. God bless!

    tj

  17. 17
    tjguy says:

    Frost, sorry, one more thing.

    “Remember the old testament is based on stories that have been handed down thousands of years before they were written down- which is likely why many early cultures have stories similar to those in the Old Testament- such as Noah’s Ark.”

    Wouldn’t you agree that another very possible reason for these similar stories is that they all experienced the flood like the Bible says? Is that what you mean here?

  18. 18
    markf says:

    Lamont #14

    For the Christian, who believes that the each individual soul is created by God, the creation of souls had to begin with soul #1 and soul #2 and continue from there. So for Christians the existence of Adam and Eve follows logically from a belief in the soul and is based on reason as well as faith in truthfulness of the Bible.

    Soul #1 and soul #2 might have been assigned to two people of the same gender at times which are widely apart. (I bet there is at least one sect somewhere that believes that only men have souls and not women). In fact it may be that only a few privileged human bodies are lucky enough to acquire souls. This would explain why us atheists are so blind to the things you find obvious such as free will. We don’t have souls!

  19. 19
    Frost122585 says:

    TJ @ posts #16 and #17,

    I don’t agree with evolutionists that a female was necessarily the first human being- there could have been a man and then later the first female. There is no way to know for sure scientifically speaking. One thing we can know for sure about evolution is that it is a VERY fuzzy picture. There are so many missing links that the idea of proclaiming exactly how the first human being began or evolved is really far fetched. There are also those who see the origin of man in the Genesis as being about man’s soul and not his biological body. I personally think there was an original man first and then a female – one way or another. When in doubt I trust my faith in scripture for sure.

    Yes like the flood and stories like that – there is some talk about ancient cultures around the world also having very similar stories- and since the Old Testament was passed down by word of mouth and by other means that have since disappeared it is perfectly reasonable to think that other cultures could have learned about these stories and incorporated them or aspects of them into their own cultures.

    But what you must understand is that the Bible is full of passages that REQUIRE interpretation. The issue is not that we cannot know but that we must use logic and reason to understand what the revelation is exactly saying. This is what Theology is for, and what it is all about.

    In your quote from Matthew 19:4 Jesus is not referring to the “beginning” of the universe or of the species on Earth- but the beginning of man kind. Once again we are just talking about the first man or first woman. And Matthew 19:4 is about divorce which Jesus says is wrong unless there is a terrible sin like adultery warranting it. In our world today lots of people (including so called priests in the modern Catholic Vatican) who call themselves Christians disobey Christs clear commandment on marriage which he says in 19:6

    “…they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

    where people today get divorced for anything like “irreconcilable differences”- which is what Christ is teaching against there.

  20. 20
    Frost122585 says:

    Although I must add concerning the passage you quoted in Matthew 19:4– that it is said that God declares the end of a matter from the beginning. So what Christ says about Adam and Eve was true also BEFORE they ever existed – or the world ever existed- but this is to be taken on faith and in no way contradicts what science might say about the origin of man kind.

    And that is an example of a dogma that requires understanding through some interpretation.

  21. 21
    Frost122585 says:

    TJ @15,

    Missed your first post @ 15. There is no need to double and triple post if you can avoid it. A long post to me is just as good or better than three medium to short ones. I am tripple posting here not by intention but by accident though- lol.

    While we are now talking more scripture and Theology then just reason and logic -as this thread was originally intended to be about- I think this is a good discussion because if the God of the Bible is to be accepted as logical then we need to have a logical understanding of his word, which is his revelation, found through the New and Old Testaments.

    On your objection — They very well could have been written down but you are talking about texts from a very long time ago. As a Christian I am more concerned with the exact and explicit authenticity of the New Testament- which fulfills and elucidates the meaning of verses in the Old Testament- the writings thereof we know are far less removed from the actual events being reported than what the old Testament’s sources might be.

    I will concede to you that I don’t know how well they were recorded down through the ancient times. It is true that I was not there- but if they were written down for thousands of years I know the originals have been lost. So all I am saying is that if there was a logical contradiction found in the old testament that possibly could be attributed to a poor translation somewhere along the way. My point is that if some claim in the Old Testament does not exactly fit with what we absolutely know about history then we can consider translation issues.

    In fact in the New Testament we have various translations- across different languages and some of these translated verses contradict in meaning. That is why it is very important to discern what the correct meaning of each passage- accross languages and copies- because the switching of just one word with a synonym can alter the entire meaning of a passage. So we have lots of poor translations of the New Testament today unforunately. And this is not even to mention that there is also the need of regular interpretation of each passage- as far as what is meant to be taken symbolically, figuratively and literally.

    That is what Theology is for- to use logic and reason to put the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out exactly what the right word and term is for each translated verse.

    That is also why the Catholic Church through the ages has Dogmas- to clearly define – like a supreme court ruling- exactly what a passage means – so a later liberal or modernist interpretation cannot be used alter the world of God- or preach personal interpretations that will later be shown to be completely wrong.

    So my position is that the Old Testament can be trusted but we need to make sure our translations and understanding of it are correct-and since we don’t have many of the original documents down through the ages we need to take that into consideration if we were to come across any problem or apparent contradiction that might need resolution from outside of what seems to be written in the copied and passed down texts throughout the ages.

    I also fully appreciate that it is a very fine line when trying to at once both trust the word of God and at the same time interpret it and make sure you are reading and understanding it correctly. You absolutely must take many things on faith as well- like miracles which may contradict some scientific notions but nonetheless make perfect sense concerning the context of the Bible. And you absolutely cannot be liberal with your interpretations- I believe the word of God must be absolute and right without error — attempted translations by human beings though have from time to time be flawed. And meanings, and translations are still being debated today.

    Concerning the specifics of the Bible, when in doubt I do believe the Holy Ghost will guide you to the truth- or at least closer to it- if you honestly pray for and pursue the truth with the fullness of your heart. Though it can indeed take time.

  22. 22
    nullasalus says:

    To this day, I have yet to meet a religious believer who is a Panglossian.

    While I won’t comment much here for now, I will say this: I’m not sure I’m a “Panglossisan”, but definitely count me as someone who thinks Leibniz wasn’t obviously wrong. It’s not as if the man himself was unaware of death and suffering on large scales. I’d disagree with the very intelligent Hart that a God willing to permit evils for the sake of greater goods (even for those the evils are committed against, keep in mind) makes a God who is morally loathsome. A God who is morally beyond us, and who we can understand only ‘through a glass darkly’? Sure.

    And while this doesn’t make him right, I will say that Leibniz was an intellectual giant for his time – in science as well as philosophy (he’s known for a lot more than the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds.)

    I’ll also throw myself in as a TE of sorts who nevertheless believes in a very real fall, complete with Original Sin and repercussions we feel from it to this day.

  23. 23
    Lamont says:

    Nullasalus,
    Leibniz was a genius and his claim that “this universe must indeed be better than every other possible universe.” is sound. Those who criticize Leibniz never address the real issue which is that it is in this universe that the incarnation of the Son of God grants to humanity a greater dignity and to the whole universe a higher nobility than could possibly obtain in any other possible universe.

    Indeed! Leibniz did not say that if there is no God or if Jesus had not become a man this would still be the best of all possible worlds. Such a claim would be indefensible foolishness. So why do his critics imply that that is what Leibniz said?

    Such ignorance/dishonesty should not go unchallenged.

  24. 24
    Lamont says:

    Markf,
    The soul is mysterious and unknowable only to those who think that you have to be take something apart and find out what it is made of before you can be sure that it exists. Science produces this type of blindness in some people.

    The other way to know that something exists is through the effects that it causes. My soul/mind enables me to control my body and all of the bodily passions, emotions, and feelings that go with it. I can eat, sleep, work, engage in sexual activity, and fight in accord with reason. I am not a biological machine. Free will is not an illusion. Intelligence is not just data processing. And yes, even atheists have souls.

  25. 25
    vjtorley says:

    nullasalus and Lamont,

    A quick comment. I understand that there were some medieval philosophers – e.g. Duns Scotus – who maintained that the Incarnation would have occurred, even if Adam had not sinned. Just a thought.

  26. 26
    Frost122585 says:

    vjt,

    The concept that the incarnation would have occurred even if Adam had not sinned is quite incoherent. Adam was in a state of grace prior to the fall, hence there was no need for Christ to come and save him if he would never fall into damnation.

    This idea debases the meaning of Christ who came as a savior that the world needed. God would not have made himself flesh and sacrificed his only son if Adam had never sinned. And the idea that Christ would have come and not been crucified is not coherent either because once again Christ came to teach the way to salvation- the way to get right with the lord. Before the fall Adam was not in danger of damnation prior to the fall because he was made for God. Christ coming would thus have no knowable purpose or meaning if original sin did not exist. To suggest otherwise, I think, demeans Christ.

    I think when God allows evil to take place it is because it has been warranted by the sins of man- who sin all the time. That is just reality. Since man is not ready for Heaven, salvation etc life’s purpose is a building process of souls and baptism by fire so to speak. It is thus not loathsome to think such a God could be of ultimate goodness. Only God knows the true state of our souls. Hence, only God knows for certain what each person can handle, needs and deserves.

  27. 27
    Ted Davis says:

    Responding briefly to StephenB @13, who asked me: “What is it about ID science, which is not committed to a philosophy of nature, that you think would rule out Lewis’ account?”

    I don’t see anything in ID that would rule out Lewis’ account, StephenB, any more than ID would rule out Buddhism or open theism or predestination. I was talking explicitly about “ID per se,” which cannot identify a specific designer. We agree that you can’t do theodicy without a specific designer. My point was that TE *is* about specific understandings of God (not a generic designer), and so discussions of theodicy often accompany discussions of evolution, design, and other aspects of the origins debate in the context of conversations about TE.

    Also, as the quotations from Macdonald and Russell suggest, if we understand the world to be the creation of the crucified God, then it’s not as hard (IMO) to understand why God used the process of evolution to create living things. Just as “our sufferings might be like His,” ditto for the rest of creation–all of which will be redeemed in the new creation.

  28. 28
    guIDe_Book says:

    A very well-thought out article, vjtorley. I will use this as a future reference for those who say that there is no good answer to the problem of evil.

    (not that I necessarily agree with every last detail, but it shows that the subject can be thoughtfully evaluated)

  29. 29
    tjguy says:

    Frost, sorry. I’ve been busy. Thanks for your answer. Sorry for the triple post. I’ll put it all in one here so this will be a bit long.

    I agree that there is no way to know for sure scientifically speaking whether the first human was male or female, but we can solve this issue with the Bible. It is very clear.

    “There are also those who see the origin of man in the Genesis as being about man’s soul and not his biological body.”

    ME: Yes, people come up with all kinds of ideas, but we need to practice good hermeneutics. Otherwise we can make the Bible say anything. Spiritualize this here, reword that there, allegorize the next verse, freely pick any one of the possible meanings of a word to make the passage closer to your own view, etc. So what was God trying to say to us through the human author? If He meant to tell us He used evolution, of course that word was not yet invented, but He certainly could have made the process very clear. I have a hard time seeing how Genesis could be any clearer in it’s meaning. The word day is used with evening and morning and concrete numbers. The early church consistently interpreted this as written. Those who allegorized it like Augustine, thought God did it all in an instant as opposed to billions of years.

    “In your quote from Matthew 19:4 Jesus is not referring to the “beginning” of the universe or of the species on Earth- but the beginning of man kind.”

    ME: Of course He is talking about divorce here, but He is basing it all on a literal Adam and Eve who He says He created them male and femal at the “beginning of creation.”(Mark) Saying He meant the beginning of mankind doesn’t make sense at all. Of course the first people were created at the beginning of mankind. How could it be otherwise? So that doesn’t seem like a possible interpretation.

    ME: Yes, it is true that we no longer have any original texts of the OT or NT for that matter. There were a few copying errors that crept into the text, but VERY few and mostly harmless as far as the overall meaning of the text goes.

    “As a Christian I am more concerned with the exact and explicit authenticity of the New Testament- which fulfills and elucidates the meaning of verses in the Old Testament- the writings thereof we know are far less removed from the actual events being reported than what the old Testament’s sources might be.”

    ME: I agree, but Genesis is the foundational book of the whole Bible and as I mentioned is quoted more than any other book of the Bible. So obviously Jesus took it as a trustworthy part of God’s Word.

    “My point is that if some claim in the Old Testament does not exactly fit with what we absolutely know about history then we can consider translation issues.”

    ME: This is a tricky area. Sometimes, Scripture has not agreed with what we “knew” about history and then later, Scripture was validated. The existence of the Hittites is one famous example of that. Scholars used to ridicule the Bible because there was no evidence of this people in the historical record at that time. Now there is and the Bible has been vindicated. There are still some disagreements that have not yet been solved. I tend to want to place my trust in the Bible as opposed to modern day man’s interpretation of historical records because our knowledge is so limited about events of that time. The source in question might also be wrong as well.

    ME: Knowing the original languages is very important for accurate translating. I agree. But the NT text we have is quite reliable. We have so many copies of old texts that by comparing them, we can have a pretty accurate idea of what the original said.(not 100% though) Yes, of course, we need to determine if a passage is using figurative language, allegorical language, or is meant to be taken literal. The vast majority of the Bible is meant to be taken literal. The Wisdom literature has poetic language in it and it is pretty clear that it is not always literal. It is not really all that difficult. We do it every day when we read books. Of course, there are some passages where we just cannot be dogmatic. I think Revelation is one of those passages.

    “That is also why the Catholic Church through the ages has Dogmas- to clearly define – like a supreme court ruling- exactly what a passage means – so a later liberal or modernist interpretation cannot be used alter the world of God- or preach personal interpretations that will later be shown to be completely wrong.”

    ME: Well, if that is true, I don’t know why they no longer support a literal interpretation of Genesis. They used to. Were they wrong back then? I wish they would follow their own example and not change their interpretation of God’s Word. If their interpretation is gospel truth, why has it been evolving since Darwin’s time to become very evolution friendly?

    “So my position is that the Old Testament can be trusted but we need to make sure our translations and understanding of it are correct-and since we don’t have many of the original documents down through the ages we need to take that into consideration if we were to come across any problem or apparent contradiction that might need resolution from outside of what seems to be written in the copied and passed down texts throughout the ages.”

    ME: This is a bit scary and dangerous to me, because we have no real standard for truth any more if we allow this. How do we know if what we are using to interpret/correct the Bible is true or not? Of course outside knowledge can be taken into account when interpreting Scripture IF something is unclear, but we can’t use outside information to reinterpret God’s Word, like it seems we are doing here in Genesis. Plus, since scientific ideas about evolution are so unclear, ever-changing, untestable, and based on improvable assumptions, I can’t see how we can use it to reinterpret God’s account of creation.

    “I also fully appreciate that it is a very fine line when trying to at once both trust the word of God and at the same time interpret it and make sure you are reading and understanding it correctly. You absolutely must take many things on faith as well- like miracles which may contradict some scientific notions but nonetheless make perfect sense concerning the context of the Bible. And you absolutely cannot be liberal with your interpretations- I believe the word of God must be absolute and right without error — attempted translations by human beings though have from time to time be flawed. And meanings, and translations are still being debated today.”

    ME: agreed.

    tjguy

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