This is a long piece but I hope you are able to get a few minutes to read it. I do. But don’t begin it until you are free to do it. God bless us all in such matters.
In his extended poem Saul. Robert Browning has David called to play his music for the wayward king Saul who is in the dark abyss of depression and feelings of abandonment. David’s music, we’re told, had soothed Saul in times past (1 Samuel 16:23) and if ever Saul needed help he needed it now.
The love of David for Jonathan, son of Saul, is well known to Bible readers, but David’s deep feeling for Saul is not given the notice it calls for and merits (see 1 Samuel 24 and 2 Samuel 1 as parts of the story). Browning uses the biblical text and his own depth of imaginative insight and gives us a lesson we need to hear again and again. I hope you can read what follows with patience. In a world as mad and bad as this one is and can be, the existence, depth and selflessness of human love at its best says something the whole creation needs to hear.
David’s met by Abner who tells him the king is in a dreadful state and that he and the men haven’t eaten a bite since he went into his tent. Nor would they eat or drink until David came back out to say the king was alive and well because he has been three days in the black tent in the middle of the camp—in complete silence. The troops know a struggle is going on between Saul and the Spirit of God.
David first prays and then enters, creeping in on his knees, praying as he goes, into the great darkness. He speaks into that darkness, “I’m David, your servant.” Not a word or a sound, only deep darkness. Then his eyes make out something even darker, an upright—the center beam of the tent and then, blackest of all, he makes out the huge figure of Saul. A beam of sunlight suddenly gives some light and David sees him there, propped up against the central beam with his arms draped over the cross beam—like one crucified, covered in sweat, head drooping, like a king-serpent, cut off from his own kind while he’s waiting to shed his skin.
David begins to play the kind of music he plays for His sheep—the kind that calms them; then music that charms the birds and other animals, even crickets. Then he played happy music, the kind they play at harvest when friends enjoy one another and expand each others’ hearts and then came the kind of music they play as they bear a man to his grave. The kind that goes along with the praise they proclaim as they walk saying, “The land has none left such as he on the bier.” Then there was wedding music and music that men do hard work by when they have to get their shoulders under huge stones when building. And more, there was the praise music as when men go to worship, led by the Levitical singers,
up to the altar in glory enthroned. But I stopped:
for here in the darkness Saul groaned.
For a moment David’s silent, listening, then the tent shakes “for mighty Saul shuddered”, but after that only his head moved. David begins to play again, speaking of the joys of human life, the rock-climbing, swimming, bear-hunting. He sings of love of family and the joys of it, the love of boyhood friends and then of the king’s coming to glory and being monarch of the nation. And at that point, carried away by the beauty and truth of it all, and anxious for Saul to drink it in and end his night, he calls out the king’s name—Saul!
The whole tent’s brighter with the singing but the figure in the center is like a dark mountain that’s the last thing in the valley to be hit by the rising sun’s light. But not so dark that David can’t make out the scars the king bears, scars he received in the nation’s defense. Saul gives a long shudder, then silence again, but now he’s aware of who and where he is. He has heard all the words and in great sadness:
He said, “It is good;” still he drinks not:
He lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.
David understands that the king knows something he doesn’t know. That all David has sung, while it’s true, and lovely and joyous—it’s not enough. There’s got to be more. Life’s joys aren’t enough to take the awful sting out of living much less out of dying.
David imagines himself lying in a little rock fissure while he’s out tending his sheep. The rocks on each side hem in his view of the sky and narrow it down to only a sliver while high above him flies an eagle. What can he see? From that height, what can he see? Much more than David! David as a shepherd boy knows so little of life, and there’s so much more. Now convinced of that, he takes up his harp and begins to sing again.
He tells the king he’s right not to put too much stock in life as it is on the physical level, “it’s good” but it’s not enough, and people grow tired of it and feel empty. But this life and the praise the king will get in future years from a grateful nation is God-given! God gave it!
And as he sings, Saul moves, fixes his hair , adjusts his turban, wipes off the sweat with his robe, fixes his tunic and stands erect; looking now like the old Saul “before error had bent” Then, weak, with his back against the central post he slides down to sit on the ground right close to David, his huge knees hemming the boy in. And then, without a word, slowly, he lifts a hand and puts it on the boy’s head with “kind power” and pushes it back so he can look long in his face. David’s heart is bursting with love for the man. He hears himself say he would give anything, anything if he could make the king well, if he could give him not just longer life—but new life! If love could do it, love would. His mind leaped to God and the thought startled him and he could play no more nor sing.
Can David out-love God and so what?
Shocked into silence by the new and daring thought, he reflects on creation, admitting it’s more than he can fathom, it far outreaches all his wisdom, it exposes all his limitations. And what of God’s love—did it not surpass his? He thinks of his own love for Saul, Saul the bent king. He thinks how gladly he’d do whatever it took to make him right. And in this, does the creature do better than the Creator? Does he compare himself with God and out-shine God? It’s true he doesn’t have God’s power to execute, but does he think he has out-willed God? Does he will Saul good more than God? Does God have more power but less good will toward sinners than David? No, God out-wills him as well as out-powers him.
Should David then in all the lesser matters trust God and when it comes to what matters most “distrust” him? Is it too good to be true? Should he, now having seen so much go “thus far and no farther?” Would God make Saul and not love him? And if He loved him, would He not redeem him? David would! Could God be less than David in loving? Perish the thought! When the truth sinks in, he begins to weep. His own weakness doesn’t prevent him from willing Saul’s redemption though his weakness depresses and frustrates him. Still, it suddenly dawns on him, “tis not what man does which exalts him, but what man would do!” So David’s service is perfect; weakness doesn’t change his purpose.
Could I wrestle to raise Him from sorrow,
grow poor to enrich,
To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would….
Oh, speak through me now!
Would I suffer for him that I love? So
wouldst thou—so wilt thou!
Knowing then that God felt as he felt, Browning has David long for the incarnation of that character, purpose and power (compare Psalm 27:8).
O Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee; a
Man like to me,
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever;
a hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee!
See the Christ stand!
All this came to David with stunning power and since it was so profound a revelation, involving the Creator of all things in a “covenant” based on His very own character, David feels that the whole of creation must have been affected.
He stumbles His way home in the night and feels there’s a host of creatures as well as a universe watching Him, like a nation famished for news on how the war went.
As He walks home it’s getting close to dawn and creatures stand, awe-stricken at the revelation, flowers stare in awed astonishment, winds whisper and brooks quietly murmur in hushed voice—all, joining together in responding to the “new law” (which was really an old law) given to David, “Even so, it is so!”
All of this comes to us in stunning power too for we now know that what Browning has David long for has actually taken place in Jesus of Nazareth: God’s character, purpose and power has shown itself in a face like our faces; the face of one who is not only able but has the will to bring new life to all of us no matter how far we’ve gone astray.
(Holy Father, this moves us and makes us want to be more like you but it seems to call us too high though we constantly long for such heights. At least, Holy One, enable us we pray, to love in such a Christlike way our beloved ones whom you have given to us to protect and love and who are within our reach. And perhaps in so loving them we will grow to feel more and do more for those who are not our special ones with whom you have blessed us. Hear our prayer because we ask it in the Lord Jesus and in His Spirit.)
The Heart of the New Testament
- In Matthew He is the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).
- In Mark He is the servant of God (Mark 10:44-45).
- In Luke He is the perfect Son of Man (Luke 9:56).
- In John He is the exalted Son of God (John 20:30-31).
- In Acts He is the ascended Lord (Acts 1:9-11).
- In Romans He our righteousness (Romans 3:21-25).
- In 1 Corinthians He is the firstfruits from the dead (1 Corinthians15:20).
- In 2 Corinthians He is the One made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- In Galatians He is the One who set us free (Galatians 2:20-21).
- In Ephesians He is the One who blesses (Ephesians 1:3).
- In Philippians He is the joy bringer (Philippians 3:1, 3; 4:4).
- In Colossians He is the pre-eminent One (Colossians 1:18).
- In 1 Thessalonians He is the returning Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
- In 2 Thessalonians He is the world's judge (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
- In 1 Timothy He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
- In 2 Timothy He is the bestower of crowns (2 Timothy 4:8).
- In Titus He is our great God and Savior (Titus 1:3-4).
- In Philemon He is the Equalizer (Philemon 16).
- In Hebrews He is the rest of faith (Hebrews 4:8-11).
- In James He is the Lord of Sabaoth [hosts] (James 5:4).
- In 1 Peter He is the theme of Old Testament prophecy (1 Peter 1:19-21).
- In 2 Peter He is the longsuffering Savior (2 Peter 2:21).
- In 1 John He is the Word of life (1 John 1:1).
- In 2 John He is the target of the anti-Christ (2 John 7).
- In 3 John He is the personification of truth (3 John 1-4).
- In Jude He is the believer's hope (Jude 24).
- In Revelation He is the victorious Lamb (Revelation 5:6).
"THE BOOK OF ACTS" Lessons From Antioch (11:19-30) INTRODUCTION 1. A wonderful example in New Testament times was the church in Antioch of Syria... b. Begun by disciples who had been in Jerusalem - Ac 11:19-21 c. Where disciples of Christ were first called "Christians" - Ac 11:26 2. The church in Antioch of Syria would later... a. Serve as Paul's starting point for his three missionary journeys - Ac 13:1-3 b. Send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to resolve the issue of circumcision - Ac 15:1-2 [In our text for this lesson (Ac 11:19-30), we can glean from the church in Antioch of Syria several things that are worthy of emulation. Let's start with...] I. HOW TO START A CHURCH A. CHURCHES CAN BEGIN IN VARIOUS WAYS... 1. Paul started many churches through his missionary journeys -e.g., Ac 14:21 2. Others start when a person or family moves to an area where there is no church 3. Sadly, today many churches begin as a result of division B. CHURCHES START BEST WHEN CHRISTIANS "SWARM"... 1. Like bees swarming from one hive to begin another 2. The church in Antioch began when disciples came from Jerusalem - Ac 11:19-20 3. Today, "church plantings" most often succeed when several families begin a new work [What is often needed to for more churches are not just more preachers, but more families willing to be the nucleus of a new work, whether locally or abroad. From the church at Antioch, we can also learn...] II. HOW TO BE A STRONG CHURCH A. MANY CHURCHES HAVE MEMBERS WHO PROFESS FAITH... 1. They may love to assemble and express their faith in praise 2. They may even confess their faith to friends and neighbors 3. But sometimes their faith is not accompanied with true repentance B. ANTIOCH WAS COMPOSED OF PENITENT BELIEVERS... 1. They "believed and turned to the Lord" - Ac 11:21 2. They turned from sin, and turned to the Lord (an indication of true repentance) 3. More than mere confessors, they were true converts - e.g., 2Co 7:10-11 [A church made up of penitent believers who became such through "godly sorrow" will be a strong, vibrant church. From the church at Antioch, we can learn...] III. HOW TO BE A GROWING CHURCH A. BY PREACHING THE LORD JESUS... 1. They were "preaching the Lord Jesus" - Ac 11:20 2. Today, some preach the "church", almost to the exclusion of preaching "Christ"! a. Consider much of the evangelistic tools we sometimes use: 1) Which stress "undenominational Christianity" 2) Or focus on the "NT pattern for the church" b. What can be the result of such preaching? 1) People may be converted to the idea of the church, rather than to the Lord Jesus! 2) Extent of faithfulness may be limited to church related activities (e.g., attendance) 3. We need to be sure that we preach the Lord Jesus! a. In other words, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord
- cf. Mt 28:18; Ac 2:36; 10:36 b. The result of preaching Jesus as Lord? 1) They will be faithful disciples in all things that Jesus taught - Mt 28:19-20 2) People will then be converted to Christ, as well as to His church! B. WITH THE HAND OF THE LORD... 1. At Antioch, "the hand of the Lord was with them" - Ac 11:21 2. Without Divine help, we can never have the right kind of growth a. It is God who opens doors of opportunity - Col 4:3 b. It is God who gives the increase - 1Co 3:5-7 3. With God's help, we should expect growth a. That is the nature of the kingdom - Mt 13:31-33 b. Where there is little or no growth, something is amiss! C. WITH THE AID OF TEACHERS... 1. Like Barnabas, who encouraged them by word and example - Ac 11:22-24 2. Like Saul, who together with Barnabas taught a great many people - Ac 11:25-26 [Preach Jesus as Lord, pray for God's helping hand, utilize those able to teach, and a church will grow! Finally, we learn from the church at Antioch, when faced with an impending crisis...] IV. HOW TO BE A GENEROUS CHURCH A. ACCORDING TO ABILITY... 1. The prophet Agabus foretold of a famine to come upon the world- Ac 11:27-28 2. The disciples gave according to their ability - Ac 11:29 3. Which is all that God asks of any congregation - 1Co 16:2; 2Co 8:12-14 B. WITH DETERMINATION... 1. To send relief to the brethren in Judea - Ac 11:29 2. To send via trusted messengers (Barnabas and Saul) - Ac 11:30; cf. 1Co 16:3 CONCLUSION 1. The church at Antioch was where disciples of Christ were first called Christians - Ac 11:26; cf. Ac 26:28; 1Pe 4:16 2. For reasons we have considered, they are certainly worthy of our imitation! - cf. Php 3:17
"THE BOOK OF ACTS" The Church In Antioch Of Syria (11:19-30) INTRODUCTION 1. A major church in New Testament times was the church in Antioch of Syria... b. Begun by disciples who had been in Jerusalem - Ac 11:19-21 c. Where disciples of Christ were first called "Christians" - Ac 11:26 2. The church in Antioch of Syria would later... a. Serve as Paul's starting point for his three missionary journeys Ac 13:1-3 b. Send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to resolve the issue of circumcision - Ac 15:1-2 [In our text for this lesson (Ac 11:19-30), we read the beginning of the church in Antioch of Syria. But first, let's review some background material concerning the city of Antioch itself...] I. THE CITY OF ANTIOCH A. BEGINNING... 1. Founded in 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals 2. Named after his father Antiochus 3. Located on the river Orontes, 15 miles upstream from the port city Seleucia (named after Seleucus himself) B. FAME... 1. Became known as "Antioch the Beautiful" 2. Famous for its fine buildings, and a long, paved boulevard flanked by a double colonnade with trees and fountains 3. Absorbed by the Roman empire in 64 B.C., it became the capital of the imperial province of Syria (and later Cilicia) 4. Josephus called it the third city of the empire, after Rome and Alexandria C. POPULATION... 1. Estimated at 300,000, extremely cosmopolitan (multicultural) 2. A Greek city by foundation, inhabitants included Latins as well 3. With a large colony of Jews, attracted by Seleucus' offer of equal citizenship 4. There were also people from Persia, India, and even China, earning it another name: "the Queen of the East" [Much of the above information about the city of Antioch is from Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Now let's consider the church itself...] II. THE CHURCH IN ANTIOCH A. ESTABLISHED BY EVANGELISTS... 1. Of those scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem, who first spoke only to the Jews - Ac 11:19; cf. Ac 8:1-4 2. Some of them from Cyprus and Cyrene, began speaking to Hellenists (Greeks) - Ac 11:20 3. Preaching the Lord Jesus, with the aid of the Lord, a great number believed and turned to the Lord - Ac 11:21 B. ENCOURAGED BY BARNABAS... 1. News of this new church reached Jerusalem, so they sent Barnabas- Ac 11:22 a. Introduced earlier as also being from Cyprus - Ac 4:36-37 b. Who helped Saul to be accepted by the church in Jerusalem - Ac 9:26-27 2. Upon his arrival, Barnabas (whose name means "son of encouragement"): a. Saw the grace of God and was glad - Ac 11:23 b. Encouraged them to continue with the Lord with purpose of heart - ibid. 3. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith - Ac 11:24; cf. Ac 4:37; 6:5 4. Result: "And a great many people were added to the Lord"
- Ac 11:24; cf. Ac 2:41,47 C. EDUCATED WITH SAUL... 1. Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul - Ac 11:25; cf. Ac 9:30 2. Together at Antioch, Barnabas and Saul assembled with the church for a year and taught a great many people - Ac 11:26 3. It was at Antioch disciples were first called Christians
- Ac 11:26; cf. Ac 26:28; 1Pe 4:16 D. EXEMPLIFIED GOOD WORKS... 1. Some prophets arrived from Jerusalem - Ac 11:27; cf. 1Co 12:28; Ep 4:11 2. One of them, Agabus, by the Spirit foretold of a famine
- Ac 11:28; cf. Ac 21:10,11 3. The disciples at Antioch determined to send relief - Ac 11:29 a. Each according to his ability - cf. 1Co 16:1-2; 2Co 8:2-4, 12-14 b. Sent by the hands of Barnabas and Saul to the elders 4. Thus the church demonstrated one "zealous for good works"
- cf. Tit 2:14; 3:1,8,14 CONCLUSION 1. So began a great church in a great city... a. Established by evangelists b. Endorsed by Barnabas c. Educated with Saul d. Exemplified good works -- Perhaps the second most influential church after Jerusalem in the first century A.D. 2. We will read more of this church in the book of Acts... a. As an important factor in Paul's missionary journeys b. Contributing to the successful resolution of a problem involving Gentiles Indeed, there are good lessons we might glean from "The Church In Antioch Of Syria", a few of which we shall look at in our next study...
The Quran and Forgiveness
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
The Quran forthrightly rejects the crucial role occupied by the death and resurrection of Jesus (Surah 4:157-158; 3:55). Consequently, the Quran of necessity must leave the impression that God can simply forgive people if they will repent and submit (i.e., become Muslims). To “believe” means to accept Allah as the one and only God, and to accept Muhammad as Allah’s ultimate and final messenger. Resignation and submission of one’s will to this foundational principle (the shahadas), accompanied by good deeds in life, is the means of forgiveness in the Quran. Consider the following passages (from the celebrated translation by Muslim scholar Mohammed Pickthall):
And as for those who believe and do good works, He will pay them their wages in full (Surah 3:57, emp. added).These verses spotlight the Quran’s formula for salvation. Turning from unbelief to Allah is the specific grounds upon which Allah can forgive past sin and extend continuing forgiveness to the believer (cf. Surah 11:3; 26:51; 45:30; 46:31). Not only does the Quran nowhere offer a deeper explanation by which forgiveness may be divinely bestowed (i.e., blood atonement), it states explicitly that it is genuine (i.e., non-hypocritical) belief and good deeds that rectify sin:
Then, as for those who believed and did good works, unto them will He pay their wages in full, adding unto them of His bounty; and as for those who were scornful and proud, them will He punish with a painful doom (Surah 4:173, emp. added).
O ye who believe! If ye keep your duty to Allah, He will give you discrimination (between right and wrong) and will rid you of your evil thoughts and deeds, and will forgive you. Allah is of infinite bounty (Surah 8:29, emp. added).
And those who believed and did good works are made to enter the Gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein abiding by permission of their Lord, their greeting therein: Peace! (Surah 14:23, emp. added).
Say: O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own hurt! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. Turn unto Him repentant, and surrender unto Him, before there come unto you the doom, when ye cannot be helped (Surah 39:53-54, emp. added).
And those who believe and do good works and believe in that which is revealed unto Muhammad—and it is the truth from their Lord—He riddeth them of their ill-deeds and improveth their state (Surah 47:2, emp. added).Compare Ali’s translation of these same verses:
And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures. And as for those who believe and do good works, We shall remit from them their evil deeds and shall repay them the best that they did.... And as for those who believe and do good works, We verily shall make them enter in among the righteous (Surah 29:6-7,9, emp. added).
And if any strive (with might and main), they do so for their own souls: for Allah is free of all needs from all creation. Those who believe and work righteous deeds, from them We shall blot out all evil (that may be) in them, and We shall reward them according to the best of their deeds.... And those who believe and work righteous deeds, them We shall admit to the company of the Righteous (emp. added).Another example is seen in the following Quranic utterance:
Thou seest the wrong-doers fearful of that which they have earned, and it will surely befall them; while those who believe and do good works (will be) in flowering meadows of the Gardens, having what they wish from their Lord. This is the great preferment. This it is which Allah announceth unto His bondmen who believe and do good works. Say (O Muhammad, unto mankind): I ask of you no fee therefore, save lovingkindness among kinsfolk. And whoso scoreth a good deed We add unto its good for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Responsive. Or say they: He hath invented a lie concerning Allah? If Allah willed, He could have sealed thy heart (against them). And Allah will wipe out the lie and will vindicate the truth by His words. Lo! He is aware of what is hidden in the breasts (of men). And He it is Who accepteth repentance from his bondmen, and pardoneth the evil deeds, and knoweth what ye do. And accepteth those who do good works, and giveth increase unto them of His bounty. And as for disbelievers, theirs will be an awful doom (Surah 42:22-26, emp. added).Where Pickthall has “whoso scoreth a good deed,” Ali renders it: “if any one earns any good We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof” (vs. 23). The Quran explains that when Allah’s warnings and signs eventually come to pass, “no good will it do to a soul to believe in them then, if it believed not before nor earned righteousness through its faith....He that does good shall have ten times as much to his credit” (Ali’s translation of Surah 6:159,161, emp. added). Such verses underscore the fact that the means by which Allah can forgive sins is the Muslim’s commission of good deeds (cf. Surah 25:70; 39:35; 64:9).
In fact, the good deeds must outweigh the bad deeds on the Day of Judgment: “Then, he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) heavy, will be in a Life of good pleasure and satisfaction. But he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) light, will have his home in a (bottomless) Pit. And what will explain to you what this is? (It is) a Fire blazing fiercely!” (Surah 101:6-11, Ali’s translation). The Quran even states explicitly that good deeds drive away evil deeds:
And lo! unto each thy Lord will verily repay his works in full. Lo! He is informed of what they do. So tread thou the straight path as thou art commanded, and those who turn (unto Allah) with thee, and transgress not. Lo! He is Seer of what ye do.... Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill deeds. This is a reminder for the mindful. And have patience, (O Muhammad), for lo! Allah loseth not the wages of the good (Surah 11:111-112,114-115, emp. added).Allah will, in fact, simply overlook the evil deeds of those who become Muslims: “Those are they from whom We accept the best of what they do, and overlook their evil deeds. (They are) among the owners of the Garden. This is the true promise which they were promised (in the world)” (Surah 46:16, emp. added). Ali renders “overlook” as “pass by.” So according to the Quran, forgiveness from Allah is grounded in and dependent upon the act of becoming a Muslim and maintaining that status with good deeds. No wonder the September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorists could visit a strip bar just prior to their suicidal mission (Farrington, 2001). They understood the Quran’s teaching that good deeds enable God to overlook the bad.
In contrast, the Bible certainly teaches that good deeds are necessary to salvation (Acts 10:35; Romans 2:6). In fact, faith itself is a “work”—a deed that the individual must do (John 6:29). Repentance, confession of the deity of Jesus with the mouth, and water baptism are likewise all necessary prerequisites to the reception of forgiveness from God (Acts 2:38; 17:30; Romans 10:9-10). However, the New Testament teaches that obedience to divinely specified deeds does not make those deeds meritorious, i.e., they do not earn salvation for the individual. They are conditions of salvation—but not the grounds of salvation. They do not erase or rectify past sin. Atonement must still be made for all sins previously committed (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Much of Christendom has gone awry on this point. Especially since the Protestant Reformation, the pendulum shifted to the extreme, unbiblical contention that all one need do is “believe,” what Martin Luther labeled “sola fide” (faith alone) (cf. Lewis, 1991, pp. 353-358; Butt, 2004). The Quran advocates the equally incorrect opposite extreme of earning forgiveness by human works of merit. The New Testament actually steers a middle course between these two extremes by insisting that no sin can be forgiven without the shed blood of Jesus. Here is the grace of Christianity—God doing for humanity what humanity is powerless to do for itself, i.e., atone for its own sin. This gracious act of God is unmerited, undeserved, and unearned (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nothing humans do can repay God for this indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). Nevertheless, in order for the alien sinner to access the rich blessing of forgiveness based on the blood of Christ, he or she must render obedience to the Gospel of Christ (Romans 6:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 5:9) through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 13:3; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Peter 3:21). This obedient response to Christ does not earn forgiveness for the sinner, or counteract past misdeeds. Rather, it represents compliance with the divinely (not humanly) mandated prerequisites by which one receives and accepts the gift of salvation that God offers to those who will respond appropriately. [NOTE: The New Testament term that is translated “Gospel,” meaning “good news” (Bruce, 1977, pp. 1ff.), refers specifically to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the sole means by which sin may be forgiven. Incredibly, the Quran is silent on the need for atonement and Christ’s death on the cross, and yet it speaks approvingly of “Injil” (or “Injeel”), i.e., the Gospel, apparently referring to the revelation that Muhammad thought was revealed to Jesus.]
Bruce, F.F. (1977), The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Butt, Kyle (2004), “Martin Luther Speaks on ‘Faith Only’ and Baptism,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=958.
Farrington, Brendan (2001), “FBI Investigates Possible Fla. Links,” [On-line]: URL: http://newsmine.org/archive/9-11/questions/stripbar.htm.
Lewis, Jack (1991), Questions You’ve Asked About Bible Translations (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications).
Pickthall, Mohammed M. (n.d.), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor).
Was Job a Real Person?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
In a single day, the patriarch Job lost all ten of his children, all of his livestock, and many of his servants. In chapter 1 of the book of Job, we learn that as one of Job’s servants was telling him about a group of raiders (the Sabeans) that had stolen all of his oxen and donkeys and killed all the servants tending to the animals (save him), another servant arrived even as the first “was still speaking.” This second servant told Job that a fire fell down from heaven and consumed his sheep and servants. Again, while this servant was talking, a third servant came and related to Job that another group of invaders (the Chaldeans) had stolen all of his camels and had killed all of the servants except him. Finally, while this third servant was talking, a fourth servant came and bore even worse news—Job’s ten children had all perished when a great wind struck the house and caused it to crush them. His seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, very large household, and ten children were all gone “in the blink of an eye.” And as if being stripped of his worldly possessions and children were not enough, Job’s body then became diseased from head to toe, his wife urged him to “curse God and die,” and the comforting counsel of his “friends” quickly gave way to judgmental accusations.
Based upon the extent of the physical destruction and mental suffering mentioned above, and upon the limited time frame in which it all occurred, some critics tend to doubt that Job was a real person. Rather, they think he simply was fabricated to teach a lesson about human suffering. Perhaps, they say, he is to be valued like such parabolic figures as the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), or the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), but not like those who actually lived and died upon the Earth.
If Job were not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible apart from for the book that bears his name, those who claim he was not a real person might be able to argue their position more confidently. But the fact is, Job is mentioned in three different verses in Scripture (outside the book of Job), and in all three passages he is considered a real, historical figure.
The first two places his name is found (aside from the book of Job) is in Ezekiel 14, verses 14 and 20. In verse 14, the prophet stated: “Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness, says the Lord God.” Verse 20 is worded nearly the same way: “[E]ven though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” Ezekiel’s point in both verses was that the ungodly conditions in the land were such that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job lived in that city, no one else would be saved. Ezekiel spoke of all three of these men as being real, historical people, not legendary characters. If one recognizes Noah and Daniel as being real people of history, then there is no reason to think otherwise about Job.
The last place the suffering patriarch is mentioned in Scripture (and the only time he is mentioned in the New Testament) is found in the latter part of the book of James. In 5:10-11 we read: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” Obviously, James was not writing through inspiration about an imaginary person. Rather, he considered Job as real as Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and as genuine as the Lord Himself.
Finally, that Job was a real person is stated explicitly by God within the book of Job itself. In his second “speech” to Job, God declared that the mighty behemoth was “made along with you” (40:15, emp. added). If Job were just a fairy tale-like character, God certainly would not have spoken as having “made” him.
Although admittedly much about Job remains a mystery (his race, exactly when he lived, who wrote the book that bears his name, where the Land of Uz was located, etc.), we can know that he was a real person who suffered in every way like you and me, and yet remained faithful to his God. Knowing that Job persevered through all his trials and tribulations gives us hope that we can do the same when similar trials come our way (James 1:2-4; 5:10-11).
The Intelligent Design Movement [Part II]
|by||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.|
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the October issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
“Intelligent Design”William A. Dembski, one of the leading figures in the intelligent design movement, uses the term “design” to denote (1999, p. 127):
- the scientific theory that distinguishes intelligent agency from natural causes;
- what it is about intelligently produced objects that enables us to tell that they are intelligently produced and not simply the result of natural causes; and
- intelligent agency itself.
Where we see evidence of design, we look for an agent. The blob of clay that little Johnny fashioned in art class is an artifact, but so is a jet airplane or a beaver’s dam. Each of these objects reflects different levels of skill, but that is not the issue. Each of these objects was made from natural things, but that is not the issue either. Even something like, say, polyester—that wonder of manmade materials—ultimately must come from something in this world. The real question is this: Is there anything about Johnny’s masterpiece that would distinguish it from any other object that has not received the purposeful attentions of an intelligent agent?
What if we cannot detect signs of intelligent design, even when we know that Johnny made his piece of art in school today? This false negative is not as much of a concern as a false positive (see Dembski, 1999, pp. 139-144). In Johnny’s case, we have background knowledge of his artistic endeavors. We might find a similar blob of clay on another occasion and wonder if Johnny has been busy again, but we might not know one way or the other. When we are actually on the lookout for design, and dump an artifact in the box marked “naturally caused,” we then have reached a false, negative conclusion about that object. In fact, for all we know Johnny is at the vanguard of a new movement in ceramics that seeks, on purpose, to create objects indistinguishable from nature. An intelligent, designing mind can do that, if it wants to.
However, if we find an object that appears to show signs of intelligence and we put it in the box marked “designed,” then we might have reached a false positive. The concern on the part of epistemic naturalists is that theists are partial to such false positives—viz., they have an almost uncontrollable urge to credit God with the design of undesigned things. As I noted earlier, this view is based on bad theology. And besides, God is not the automatic conclusion. All we have to do is determine whether the cause is intelligent. Nonetheless, epistemic naturalists have raised the avoidance of false positives to a virtue. This is why Richard Dawkins can admit that living things have the appearance of being designed, while expressing confidence—given his decision to eliminate intelligent causes a priori—that none of these things will end up in the wrong box.
Inferring DesignDembski’s contribution is to address this fear of false positives by proposing a three-stage explanatory filter. He provides a rigorous proof in his technical monograph, The Design Inference (1998). A more accessible treatment of the subject can be found in his book, Intelligent Design (1999), to which I have referred previously.
Basically (and I emphasize that word so as not to underestimate the very precise formulation that Dembski has offered in his writings), there are three questions to ask of anything before we can say it is the product of necessity, chance, or design (Dembski, 1999, pp. 127-133). First, is it contingent? In other words, is it the case that the event had to happen, or that the object had to appear? If so, then it is necessary, not contingent. For example, when sodium and chloride ions are dissolved in water, and the water evaporates, salt crystals remain behind. This process follows a regular, law-like behavior. No matter how many times we repeat this experiment, the ingredients assemble themselves into tiny, cubic structures. An understanding of the underlying physics establishes the fact that they must form these crystals, which means they meet the criteria for necessity, not design. Something that is designed—that is the result of an agent making a decision—is contingent.
Second, is the object or event complex? The idea here is to trap any object that appears to be contingent, but, in fact, could be produced by chance. Basically (there’s that word again), a simple object or a short series of events has a high probability of producing something that might appear to be the product of design. For instance, if we were to paint the letters of the alphabet on the backs of house flies, we might observe that sometimes, when they alighted on the wall next to each other, the sequence of letters formed recognizable English words. On one occasion, for instance, we might observe the sequence “NO.” However, there is a high probability that two letters, when set next to each other, will form a word. So while there is nothing necessary about this arrangement, it is not sufficiently complex to pass any further through the explanatory filter.
Which brings us to the third and final question: Is the object or event specified? For instance, the guides who lead cave tours frequently draw visitors’ attention to stalagmites, stalactites, and other natural formations that appear to represent faces, coastlines, animals, or other recognizable objects. True, this often involves a healthy imagination, and we entertain few doubts that these shapes are the product of purely natural causes—namely, the random accumulation of calcite deposits. But we cannot afford to be too hasty. What if we were to wander into a cave and find consecutive shapes showing a reasonable likeness of the first forty American presidents arranged in chronological order? It is difficult indeed to imagine what law-like behavior could result in such a phenomenon. Additionally, forty shapes might seem sufficiently complex because there are many different ways to arrange a sequence of this length. But is it “specified”? By this, Dembski means that the sequence exhibits a suitable pattern, which, in this particular example, would be the presidents arranged in chronological order. If the images were somewhat vague, and the Washington-looking rock came after the Reagan-looking rock, we might have reason to believe that our enthusiastic tour guide could have made this sequence of shapes fit practically any pattern. If so, we would have a case of ad hoc fabrication, not a pattern showing proper specification.
In addition, the fact that no one predicted that this pattern was going to appear before the sequence was discovered does not matter. What does matter is that the historical order of presidents is independent of, or detachable from, the pattern we can see on the cave wall. For instance, we might discover (in regard to the cave wall pattern) that the seemingly random dripping of mineral-rich waters actually is being controlled by something above ground, which just happens to be the city of Washington, D.C. If so, then there might be no detachability, and thus no inference to design.
A couple of comments are in order. Note that the nature of the designer is not a concern. Whether the presidential display is the work of a high-school art class, or some reclusive, strange history buff with a penchant for sculpting limestone caves, does not matter. The explanatory filter works only to determine whether a designer is the most likely cause. Further, if design is suspected in nature, there is no appeal to miracles, but only to what the evidence may or may not suggest about an intelligent agency.
Note, also, that the explanatory filter can produce false negatives by failing to recognize objects, such as Johnny’s clay figurine, that were the product of intelligent agency. At the same time, it is unlikely, although not impossible, to arrive at a false positive—i.e., to allow something through the sieve that was, in fact, produced by wholly natural causes. Even so, there is nothing to stop the test being run again when new evidence comes to light. Something that once was thought to be designed might, on further examination, turn out to be the product of natural causes.
Intuitively, we know that design cannot be a concept that is foreign to science because there are disciplines of a scientific nature that seek to tease apart natural causes from intelligent agency. Dembski is not proposing a change in the way that these scientists work. All he has done is to formalize the process that they (and many of us) already use, and to show that the process can detect design in a reliable fashion.
One such discipline is forensic science. A typical task of forensic investigators is to determine the cause of death: Was it natural or suspicious? Should they be looking for a person—an agent—who caused this death? Another science is archaeology, which on a regular basis must distinguish genuine artifacts from stones, sticks, and other items that so often clutter excavation sites. One of the best-known examples of design detection is SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The late Carl Sagan promoted this ongoing research program and featured it in his novel, Contact. This fictional work, which became a major motion picture starring actress Jodie Foster, provides a great angle on Dembski’s explanatory filter. The goal of the SETI program is to detect the activity of intelligent beings among the avalanche of radio noise arriving from outer space. The very existence of SETI proves that even self-confessed materialists (like Sagan) have well-honed intuitions when it comes to the detection of intelligent agency. All of these disciplines—forensic science, archaeology, and SETI—dispel the notion that science, by definition, cannot look for intelligent causes.
Updating PaleyStill, the objection is going to be this: We know there are people, but the existence of God is controversial. As Ernest Nagel has argued, “We have never run across a watch which has not been deliberately made by someone” (1992, p. 213). In other words, we know that there is a watchmaker; we do not know that there is a World Maker. But this begs the question, “Is there a World Maker?” There is no obvious way to get from “We don’t know” to “It cannot be.”
The skeptics likely will respond, “Yes, but there are plenty of reasons to deny that nature is the product of an intelligent cause.” Their favorite approach, at least going as far back as David Hume (and progressing forward to Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, et al.), is to point out the imperfections of nature. But this objection misses the mark entirely. If a watch does not keep time, then is it any less the product of an intelligent designer? The only way around this response is to say that, if there were a Creator-God, He must be pretty inept. Of course, this concedes that a Creator is at least a possibility. As for His being inept, that is another matter. How can we know that the less-than-perfect or “suboptimal” organ, system, or structure has not become so through time? My watch may be losing time now, but it might have run perfectly well before I dunked it in the ocean. And second, suboptimality is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, Gould is famous for talking about what he perceives to be the panda’s “clumsy” pseudothumb but, in fact, this particular appendage is an efficient tool for holding bamboo shoots and stripping off leaves (see Thompson, 1991).
How does talk about intelligent design differ from William Paley’s famous watchmaker argument? In its essential features, very little. As you may remember, Paley told the story of a man who found a stone and concluded rightly that it was a product of nature. Then this man found a watch and concluded (also rightly) that it was the product of a designer—a watchmaker. To hear the skeptics tell it, Paley’s arguments were crushed historically between Hume’s refutation in principle and Darwin’s refutation in fact.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ironically, Paley’s argument relied on Hume’s principle of “uniform experience” to argue that wherever we see the “marks of contrivance, we are led for its cause to an intelligent author” (1802, p. 232, emp. in orig.). As for both Hume and Darwin, Paley argued that we do not need perfection, nor a clear understanding of function, to see evidence of design.
If we are going to de-emphasize Paley, it is on three grounds (Behe, 1996, pp. 211-216). The first is a matter of strategy. People have heard Paley put down so much that it is hard to get past centuries of prejudice. Second, although Paley used the best science available, some of his examples have not withstood the test of time (and on occasion he did tend toward overstatement of his case). Paley’s arguments need to be recast in the light of contemporary science and more judicious examples.
Third, when Paley used a watch as an analogy, he would describe a system of interacting components. Take away one wheel, one cog, or one gear, and the whole system would cease to function. Yet the best biological examples used by Paley, and the popular examples we tend to use today, are at the level of gross anatomy. In a way, these arguments can sound very compelling. The vertebrate eye, for example, has a number of discrete components: the lens, retina, muscles, pupil, and optic nerve. If any one of these parts is missing or damaged, vision is not possible.
The standard response since Darwin is to suppose that the eye could have been built component by component. It is easier for nature to take small steps, creating each part individually, than to take a giant leap creating an integrated whole. Richard Dawkins argued along these lines in his book, Climbing Mount Improbable (1996). All we need, according to this argument, is for the right components to come together at the right place and at the right time. The evolutionist presses his point with an analogy that goes something like this: begin with an English word, replace some of the letters and, just by chance, another English word can be reached after a number of steps. The following is a simple example:
There are several problems with this analogy. First, there is a kind of “cheating” going on. The Dawkins fan who created the word puzzle above had a target, or goal, in mind. But, as Dawkins himself insists, evolution is blind; it is completely nonpurposive and undesigned. Nature has no “mind” in which it can visualize and formulate goals. Evolution’s equivalent to the Dawkins-like game would have Nature peeking through a tear in its blindfold. This is the same mistake Darwin made in his analogy from artificial selection. By definition, the farmer or agricultural researcher has a goal in mind, whether it be drought-resistant wheat or higher milk fat production.
Incidentally, evolutionists draw attention to the use of this technique in fields such as chemical engineering, software programs, and origin-of-life experiments. In each case, the idea is to generate a huge number of variations and then, along the way, test to see which one best meets the goals laid out at the beginning of the experiment. Often, such techniques are called “Darwinian” or “evolutionary.” That they work in the “real world” of business and technology is supposed to legitimize evolution as a useful endeavor and a pervasive feature of our world. But in all of these examples, there is a clear goal in mind. As long as there is a goal, we are not dealing with long-term, large-scale evolution as Darwin envisioned it. This is merely another version of the shell game that I mentioned in Part I of this series.
Second, and more significantly, you will notice that none of the intermediate words in this game has any meaning. The words “believe” and “evolve” are known to play a role in our language. But the intervening words are nonsense; they serve no purpose whatsoever in our language. Imagine, then, that the word “believe” corresponds to a biological system of some kind, and that the life of an organism depends on possessing one of these BELIEVEs. If it lost the B part, and was left with an ELIEVE, the system would break down, and the organism would die. Death, to put it bluntly, is not a good survival mechanism.
Behe’s counter-response to the evolutionists is to apply Paley’s watch analogy to more suitable biological examples. The components should not be discrete, nor self-contained, but should be essential to the functioning of the system. In this way, there are no “steps” to the functionality we see here and now; the system must appear—suddenly—in its entirety.
Black BoxesTo make the analogy stronger, Behe urges that creationists no longer employ arguments using gross anatomy. Although he believes it is unlikely that nature assembled the components of vertebrate vision, for instance, he thinks that evolutionist still could make a plausible, step-wise argument. Or, consider the panda’s pseudothumb. Ideally, we want to suggest that this appendage certainly is well designed. But, Behe argues, we cannot make a case for design unless we show that the parts could not have come together by, say, fortuitous mutations.
At first glance, such an argument might seem to concede too much. However, Behe is not suggesting that the panda’s pseudothumb came about accidentally; rather, he is arguing only that it remains to be shown that it did, or did not, come together accidentally. So Darwinists and design theorists are in the same boat until all the evidence is in. In Behe-speak, the various parts that compose the panda’s “thumb” might turn out to be a collection of discrete systems—what he refers to as “black boxes” (a term borrowed from engineers). For instance, I can install a hard drive in my computer without having to coat any disks, solder any wires, or write any programs. As far as I am concerned, my hard drive is just one black box that can be hooked up to a number of other black boxes that make up my computer.
What we are looking for instead, Behe argues, is not just complex arrangement of parts, but irreducible complexity. We want to dig down deep enough until we find no more black boxes. With sufficient knowledge, for instance, I could analyze my hard drive and see, perhaps, that there were no further subsystems. I might learn that it could not work without the platters, the heads, or the on-board controller. It does not matter whether the case is made of aluminum or gold, or whether there are six platters or only one. Just like with Paley’s watch, all of the interacting parts must be present for the system to function properly.
When you stop to think about it, creationists need that “out.” We need to be able to say that, on the gross anatomical level, certain modified or novel structures can be the result of random mutations, and that natural selection could preserve those mutations that are not harmful to the organism. For instance, the Bactrian camel has two humps, while the Arabian camel has only one. Clearly, a structure (a second hump) appears on the one camel that does not appear on the other. But why? Perhaps God created each species separately, or perhaps nature has produced a variation on a theme. To deny the second option outright is to say, in effect, that species are fixed (a concept that is difficult, if not impossible, to defend; see Major, 1993). What we want to allow is that variation is possible, and that new species can arise, but that the amount of variation (i.e., microevolution) is limited unless we can add new information. Perhaps the second hump of the Bactrian camel, considered structurally, is no different from its first hump, and thus adds no more information. So, yes, God could have created these two camel species, but it also is possible that the second hump is nothing more than a cobbling together of existing structures by mutation (or, conversely, is the end result of a mutation that reduced the original number of humps).
However, to suggest that camels’ humps and pandas’ “thumbs” have resulted from the cobbling together of black boxes does not prove macroevolution. To suggest that it does is to make the same mistake as Darwin, Dawkins, and others who would “explain” the eye by putting together a number of discrete components. But this sidesteps the question of how the components came together to make all those black boxes in the first place.
For Behe, the crucial arguments about irreducible complexity will take place at the level of biochemistry—an area of science that was not available to either Paley or Darwin. In the opening pages of his book, Dr. Behe talks about the biochemistry of vision within the retina. We now know, he says, that the retina is at the level of a black box, which means the biochemistry of vision is irreducibly complex. Take out one step at the biochemical level, and vision is not possible. You cannot cobble these parts together; all the components have to be present and interacting at once in order for the system to work. That is something that neo-Darwinian evolution is ill-equipped to explain.
Behe’s search for irreducible complexity is the equivalent of Dembski’s specification-complexity criterion described earlier. His efforts to rule out random mutations, for instance, parallel Dembski’s discussion of chance and complexity. This work is an example of putting intelligent design into practice as a research program (Dembski, 1999, p. 228). Similar efforts within the ID movement seek to move beyond the conceptual issues addressed by Johnson, Dembski, and others (see Johnson, 2000, pp. 14-15).
Allow me to relate a personal experience with the ID movement. When I first heard Phillip Johnson make his pitch for intelligent design at the International Conference on Creationism in 1994, I came away with severe misgivings. At different times during his speech (e.g., when he was attacking naturalism), I found myself in hearty agreement. At other times, I wondered what on Earth he was doing there. Here he was, at the premier meeting of young-Earth creationists, telling his listeners that they were wasting their time on the age-of-the-Earth issue. It led to splintering and factionalism within the religious community, he said, and is not relevant to the dominant culture. He explained his personal decision to remove the debate from the Bible-science context or, more specifically, any defense of the Genesis account. Here is my own transcript of this point from the speech he gave that night:
And so I thought it was tremendously important to focus on the scientific and philosophical issues, and so I declared at the beginning that I would not discuss the biblical account at all, or have anything to say about it, and to completely put behind any question about matters such as the age of the earth....my approach will be just simply to take for granted as an assumption of whatever the authorities wanted to say on that point.Johnson altered his view slightly when a young-Earth creationist friend reminded him that those same authorities were the ones who dogmatically asserted that materialistic evolution is a “fact.” Since then, he has softened his stance toward young-Earth creationists to the point that he resists attempts to marginalize this group within the ID camp. Anyone who has challenged the suggestion of the alleged factuality of evolution has been shunned by the gatekeepers of scientific orthodoxy. It would be ironic, to say the least, if the same kind of treatment then were extended by some within the ID movement to those (i.e., young-Earth creationists) who definitely are allies of that movement. Indeed, Johnson now envisions a Big Tent approach in which all the opponents of epistemic naturalism can gather, regardless of whether they are young-Earth or old-Earth creationists. And as strange as it may sound at first, Johnson even would welcome nontheists, as long as they admitted to being skeptical of epistemic naturalism.
Our task is to separate the wheat from the chaff—to use the best that the ID movement has to offer, while at the same time retaining an innate respect for the Bible’s specific teachings regarding the age of the Earth and related matters. There is much to be gained by tapping into arguments that are able to refine the concept of inherent design—a concept that, after all, is a core belief of young-Earth creationism.
There also is a place for framing the debate in terms of Intelligent Design vs. Naturalism. It represents a way to deal with evolution in various contexts, such as public schools, where any mention of God or the Bible closes the door to any further discussion. Most important, perhaps, it is a way to diagnose and teach our brethren who have adopted epistemic naturalism, and yet do not comprehend or understand the tensions they have created within their own faith.
Dawkins, Richard (1996), Climbing Mount Improbable (New York: W.W. Norton).
Dembski, William A. (1998), The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Dembski, William A. (1999), Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Johnson, Phillip E. (2000), The Wedge of Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Major, Trevor (1993), “Variation Within Limits,” Reason & Revelation, 13:25-30, March.
Nagel, Ernest (1992), “Philosophical Concepts of Atheism,” To Believe or Not to Believe, ed. E.D. Klemke (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, reprinted from Basic Beliefs, 1959), pp. 209-222.
Paley, William (1802), Natural Theology (Boston, MA: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1850 edition).
Thompson, Bert (1991), “Evolution’s ‘New’ Argument—Suboptimality,” Reason & Revelation, 11:41-44, November.
The Intelligent Design Movement [Part I]
|by||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.|
Over the last decade or so, a new way of framing the origins debate has emerged. This approach puts the issue in terms of “Intelligent Design versus Naturalism” rather than “Creation versus Evolution.” Scientists, lawyers, philosophers, theologians, teachers, and other supporters of this approach have banded together in a loose confederation known as the “intelligent design movement.” Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson acts as a fatherly leader to the movement. Other key figures include Michael Behe, David Berlinski, William Dembski, David K. DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, Paul Nelson, Nancy Pearcey, Jay Wesley Richards, and Jonathan Wells.
On first hearing, regular readers of Reason & Revelation might become suspicious of the intelligent design (ID) approach. Why would anyone want to stop talking about creation? After all, “creation” usually implies the existence of a Creator-God Who, typically, is associated with the God of the Bible. Furthermore, why would anyone want to take “evolution” out of the debate? Are these people trying to sneak evolutionary theory past conservative Bible believers?
These suspicions are not without merit. Ever since Darwin, Christians have struggled with issues of science and faith. Some among them have felt somewhat embarrassed by the Scopes Trial of the 1920s, the failed litigation of the 1970s and ’80s, and the recent political controversies in places like Kansas. An all-too-frequent response, even by believers who express a commitment to the inspired biblical text, has been to cede victory to Darwinian evolution. To uphold design without insisting on the Creator-God of the Bible has the appearance of making still more concessions.
However, the ID movement makes a critical departure by not getting into the biblical interpretation business, nor taking any theological stance whatsoever. In attempting to make their case, ID advocates have focused on two critical questions: (1) Is science, in principle, able to detect evidence of design in nature?; and (2) Is there, in fact, any such evidence of genuine design in nature (and in the biological world in particular)? Someone who is intent on pressing these questions does not wish to be distracted by arguments on radiometric dating, or how many animals could fit into the ark. So, for the sake of argument, those in the ID movement want to set aside (temporarily) questions about, say, Genesis and the age of the Earth. It is not that such questions are deemed as being either irrelevant or unimportant; it is just that they are being saved for another place and time.
At the same time, leaders of the ID movement do not attempt to hide their religious commitments. They see evidence of design in nature, and believe that this is consistent with their belief in a Creator-God. They would insist, however, that the evidence in any particular case be weighed on its scientific merits. If the evidence favors design over chance and natural law, then this conclusion should be accepted, regardless of any religious implications. Experience has shown, however, that doctrinaire evolutionists are loath to play this game. They are more than willing to offer instances of alleged “poor design” as evidence against the God of theism, but refuse to entertain the possibility of genuine design on the grounds that it might open the door to divine intervention in the natural world. That is to say, they cannot seem to make up their minds as to whether God is the wrong choice, or no choice at all.
Exposing such inconsistencies and creating a level playing field are critical first steps in the current ID strategy. The same approach stiffens ID resolve against couching the debate in terms of “creation vs. evolution” because, as we will see, these words are shrouded in a fog of equivocations that hides the real issues. There is an emotional component, too. For instance, when a science teacher presumes to speak sympathetically about “creation,” the mainstream media ask us to associate that concept with a view held by supposedly anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, unthinking, bigoted, narrow-minded, uneducated fundamentalists who still believe the world is flat and the Earth is at the center of the Universe. Yet, when a science professor from the local state university comes to the defense of “evolution,” we are encouraged to think of a view endorsed by “all reputable scientists” and “thinking people everywhere.” Indeed, newspaper stories frequently talk about “creationism” versus “evolution” as if belief in a creation were exactly that—an “ism”—whereas evolution is an established fact. The ID movement can do nothing to prevent such abusive tactics. Indeed, critics have come up with the term “intelligent design creationism” (e.g., Pennock, 1999, pp. 28ff.), hoping that the media will portray ID as nothing more than biblical literalism in disguise. Once again, ID advocates wish to expose such a rhetorical ploy and force the issue by insisting on definitions. This marks a good starting point for us, as we seek to understand some of the chief concerns of the intelligent design movement.
“Evolution”One of the problems in talking about the origins issue is that evolutionists of both religious and nonreligious stripes play a shell game with the word “evolution.” For those of you who never have seen a magic show, a shell game is an ancient trick in which a conjurer lays out three containers on a table. Traditionally, the containers have been shells (hence the name of the game). Under one of the shells the conjurer places a small object like a pea, and then shuffles the shells around. Your job is to pick the shell with the pea underneath. This seems simple enough, and therein lies the trap, for the conjurer can use sleight of hand to make the pea appear under any shell, or no shell at all.
I am not trying to suggest that most evolutionists practice this sort of deception deliberately, but the result is confusion nonetheless. In their version of the game, “evolution” starts under one of the following shells: a shell for change of any kind; a shell for small-scale change in living organisms (microevolution); or a shell for a naturalistic origin of anything that ever lived (macroevolution). No matter where it starts, it always ends up under the third shell. Here are some ways in which the game might be played:
Game #1. “ ‘Evolution’ simply means ‘change.’ And we know that things do change. After all, haven’t you changed since you were a baby? Isn’t an eight-week-old fetus different from an eight-week-old baby? So, there you go, evolution is a fact.”
Game #2. “Don’t you know that mosquitoes have evolved resistance to DDT, and that bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics? And look at sickle cell anemia: nature has selected a mutation that helps people in malaria-ridden regions of the world to survive. So, of course, evolution is a fact.”
Game #3. “How else do you explain the morphological and genetic similarities of life on Earth? Clearly, similarity implies common descent. Besides, saying ‘God just did it’ is not very helpful, scientifically speaking.”
Of the three games, the last variant is the only one that pulls no punches—at least, not with the term “evolution.” We watched the pea carefully, and it stayed under the shell for macroevolution the whole time. Here we all know what we are dealing with, but you will not see this game very often. The pros consider it a little bold and brassy for school textbooks and the mainstream media. An evolutionist often does not want to come right out and say, “Look, evolution is a fact. There is no God or, if there is, we don’t need Him. Deal with it!”
What about the other variants? In the first game, “evolution” was put under the shell for simple change, but by the end of the game it appeared under the shell for macroevolution. It might seem incredible that evolutionists would try to pull such a crude stunt, but it really happens. Indeed, a guidebook published in 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) makes the argument that kids need to learn evolution because they need to appreciate change (1998, p. 6). Do kids really need to learn that sparrows evolved from dinosaurs, or that humans evolved from ape-like creatures, in order to appreciate the fact that things change? The NAS thinks so.
The second game is a favorite because it is so hard for the average observer to diagnose. The pea goes under the shell for microevolution but, once again, ends up under the shell for macroevolution. Here we are asked to believe something quite well understood and credible—that a population, or even a whole species, can undergo change on a small scale. We have become accustomed to hearing about kids with ear infections that no longer respond to standard antibiotics, or insects that have become resistant to common insecticides. By extrapolation, then, we are asked to believe that small changes could become big changes over time.
This was a move pioneered by Charles Darwin, although he started with changes wrought by selective breeding of domesticated plants and animals. He wrote in the Origin: “Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change...which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection” (1859, p. 109). Thus, Darwin draws us in with the concept of tried-and-true, goal-directed selective breeding, but then turns and asks us to accept a controversial theory that credits unlimited change to the blind forces of natural selection.
The tactic has not changed much in the last century and a half. In the NAS teacher’s guidebook mentioned earlier, the authors list the following as examples of evolution in action (1998, pp. 17-18):
- resistance of sexually transmitted diseases to antibiotics
- resistance of rats to the pesticide warfarin
- resistance of insects to insecticides and genetically engineered plant defenses
- tolerance of plants to toxic metals
- the recent split between two “genetically and morphologically very similar” species of lacewings
- changes in the beak size of Darwin’s finches as a result of drought conditions (p. 19, sidebar)
“Naturalism”In the words of the NAS guidebook, “The statements of science must invoke only natural things and processes” (p. 42). The authors go on to quote the following from distinguished zoologist, Ernst Mayr: “The demarcation between science and theology is perhaps easiest, because scientists do not invoke the supernatural to explain how the natural world works, and they do not rely on divine revelation to understand it” (p. 43).
What, exactly, is meant by the term “natural?” Most writers find it easier to say what the word does not mean. It excludes the artificial. It is set against the nonnatural. It is everything but the supernatural. In a broader sense, the term is synonymous with “material,” and thus precludes spirits, minds, and intelligences (see Aune, 1995, p. 350).
Still, these common definitions leave open the possibility that God could intervene in the natural course of events. The effects of these miracles might be open to scientific study, but the Cause, being supernatural, would lie beyond the immediate grasp of empirical science—the sort of workaday activity that scientists take themselves to be doing whenever they enter their laboratories and don their white coats. Take, for example, the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 7:38-44). The loaves and fish could undergo a battery of scientific tests, but the process by which they appeared would resist scrutiny. So to invoke the supernatural on this occasion is to admit that an effect involving entirely natural things (i.e., loaves and fish) defies understanding in terms of natural causes. It is only by detecting regularities between natural causes and their effects that scientists can formulate natural laws. Yet if God is able to intervene at will, then ripened apples can float from a tree, and steam engines can run forever without refueling. In effect, scientists imagine the collapse of their entire enterprise.
Worse still, some scientists fear a pervasive God-of-the-gaps mentality—a disposition to call forth the supernatural whenever we fail to understand something in nature. If an aspiring researcher is willing to invoke God at the drop of a hat, they feel, then he should look for a career as a shaman or witch doctor, not a practitioner of modern science. Invoking the supernatural is plain “bad form.”
Making the RulesThe outcome of all these concerns is to insist that questions posed of nature must return natural answers. It cannot matter that some natural thing has the appearance of a nonnatural origin; the explanation for that natural thing must be, well...natural. With this condition in place, the term “natural” takes on the meaning of that which is “recognized” or “accessible to investigation” by the natural sciences (Schmitt, 1995, p. 343; Lacey, 1995, p. 603). God, being nonnatural, is ruled out of bounds a priori (i.e., prior to any consideration of the facts).
In the ID literature and elsewhere, this view is known as methodological naturalism. The point in using this jaw-breaker is to highlight the constraints that most scientists have placed on their methodology. It also serves to distinguish between a way of doing science and a belief that nature is all there is, which is metaphysical naturalism (“metaphysics” being a study of what exists). Conceivably, a theist could subscribe to the first view, but not the second. On Sunday she believes that God exists and raised a Man from the dead; on Monday she returns to work, confident that, over the weekend, God has not messed with the bacterial colonies growing in her petri dishes.
However, there is room to quibble with this terminology. It could be argued that, for all practical purposes, methodological naturalism is the way that scientists do their work on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not they are willing to admit that nature shows evidence of intelligent design. Testing new alloys, for instance, might not provide the most obvious place to look for design in nature, even if the scientist praises God for the ultimate origins of his subject matter. Also, the idea of excluding intelligent causes, and divine agency in particular, has worked its way well beyond science into numerous other disciplines. For instance, modern theologians might seek to explain the resurrection of Jesus as something other than a direct intervention of God. For these reasons, Phillip Johnson recently has switched to another jaw-breaker: epistemological naturalism (“epistemology” being the study of knowledge). The shift in terminology acknowledges the extent to which naturalistic thinking has strayed beyond the methods of science to become the only acceptable way of knowing in many fields of study. An alternative, more manageable version of the term is epistemic naturalism, which is the form I will employ from here on.
Defending the RulesThe important point to keep in mind is that epistemic naturalism is not a result of natural science, but an assumption imported into science. Now, on the face of it, there is nothing wrong with scientists making assumptions. For instance, scientists assume that the world is comprehensible—that we, as intelligent beings, are able to make sense of the world around us. Scientists assume that the laws of nature are uniform—that the laws of gravity work just as well here on Earth as they do on the Moon, or that they work just as well today as they did in the time of Aristotle.
The real question is this: Do we need to have epistemic naturalism for science to work properly? Is the assumption justified? As we have seen, defenders of scientific orthodoxy fear intrusion from God, either directly into nature itself via miracles, or into the equations and research journals of frustrated scientists who decide to invoke God when nature is less than forthcoming. So, with not a little irony, it turns out that the prime objections leveled against God as a possible explanation actually have theological roots—but roots in bad theology.
First, theists do not hold that God is a capricious meddler in the affairs of man. As C.S. Lewis has noted in his usual eloquent way, “God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster” (1947, p. 174). For theists, miracles constitute signs from God, and as such they have meaning only in context. Stated more formally: An extraordinary event qualifies as a miracle only when it has a clear, divine purpose that is consistent with God’s character, and when it is set in a proper theological context. These specific conditions will have to be met before a nonnatural answer, like “God did it,” is warranted. Theistic scientists through the ages have had no problem figuring out where to draw the line. They may have believed that Moses parted the Red Sea, yet had no problem doggedly pursuing a problem in chemistry or physics because, in effect, they could recognize a miracle when they saw one.
And second, God is not a God of the gaps in our knowledge, but a God of the gaps in purely natural explanations. It is not that all natural explanations in a given case have been tried and found wanting, but that all explanations of that kind appear inadequate. Divine activity in nature does not become the de facto answer to ignorance, but rather an answer demanded by the evidence at hand (see Reynolds, 1998). If the evidence points toward intelligent design, say, then that is a conclusion that a scientist should be willing to accept (and to reject at a later time, were the evidence to demand it).
In addition to theological justifications, the defenders of epistemic naturalism offer a pragmatic justification: science works best with this assumption in place. So, in one sense, it might be true that epistemic naturalism is assumed a priori. But, in another sense, they believe epistemic naturalism is justified a posteriori (after the facts). The “facts” in this case are drawn from 300-400 years of the history of science, or more accurately (as we will see), a certain reading of that history.
Two common arguments emerge. First, there is the claim that science has outmaneuvered the old world view, and who can argue with success? We see this kind of thinking in the NAS guide where the authors rehearse the Galileo controversy and the paradigm shift from geocentrism to heliocentrism (1998, pp. 27-30). We are supposed to praise “science,” with its assumption of epistemic naturalism, for our correct belief that the Earth orbits the Sun, not the other way around. We reached this truth, the authors would argue along with Mayr, only when we removed our dependence on superstition, divine revelation, and theology. Reason triumphed over religion; science won over faith.
The problem here is that, as usual, the victors get to write the history books. Characters at the end of the Victorian age, such as Andrew Dickson White, recast the story of Galileo to show science’s “rightful” place as the sole arbiter of truth. A hundred years later, White’s telling of the story still dominates the popular imagination, just as the Inherit the Wind movie dominates our impression of the Scopes Trial. Fortunately, professional historians of science have peeled back some of the accumulated dust and dirt and, not surprisingly, have uncovered a more complicated picture. For a start, there was more to this seventeenth-century controversy than merely “science versus the church” (the Roman Catholic Church, in this case). No one can say, examining the facts, that Galileo had an overwhelming scientific case (or that he presented it in the best way possible). As it happens, the most workable solution at the time came from Ptolemy, an Alexandrian astronomer of the second century A.D. who was operating within a cosmology laid out by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century B.C. Neither of these men was a theist. Certainly, geocentrism was consistent with one way of reading selected biblical passages (the same understanding could be applied to modern almanacs with their references to “sunrise” and “sunset”), but Scripture alone did not provide the basis for rejecting Galileo’s claims. To overturn the entire package of Greek philosophy, ancient astronomy, medieval theology, and Vatican politics in favor of the Copernican view required a compelling case—a case that Galileo could not, and did not, make. The Church’s treatment of Galileo is a different matter. Even then, he was not exiled because of his search for “the Truth,” but rather for his offenses against papal power of his day.
Another way to express the naturalistic read on history is to say that science has not produced any successful explanations that appeal to the supernatural. Every nonnatural answer has been trumped by a natural answer. A classic example would be the replacement of special creation with Darwin’s theory of evolution as the dominant way of explaining the history of life. However, Darwin chose at the outset to operate under the rules of epistemic naturalism, and sought an answer that excluded supernatural intervention. Under these rules, “success” amounts to giving a purely naturalistic answer, which begs the question entirely. Once creation is eliminated a priori, the subsequent history of science will not, and cannot, produce a “successful” solution that appeals to the nonnatural.
A closely related claim is that nonnaturalistic views, such as creation, obviously are not successful because they fail to appear in refereed science journals. However, if epistemic naturalism is the key, then opponents cannot get past the editors and reviewers who stand watch at the gates of orthodoxy. ID theorists, such as biochemist Michael Behe, face this challenge every day. Not only is it difficult for them to publish original contributions in science journals, but the same journals frequently will not allow a response to criticisms of ID proposals. In frustration, Dr. Behe has resorted to publishing on the Internet some of the correspondence he has received. Here is an excerpt from one letter:
This reviewer is no authority on the blood clotting cascade, but if a plausible model for its evolutionary development, compatible with all known facts, has indeed not been generated so far, the remaining question marks are not a threat to science—on the contrary, they are a challenge added to thousands of other challenges that science met and meets. In this instance, too, science will be successful (Behe, 2000).By now the reader should recognize that here, “science” is being defined as “that which produces a naturalistic answer.” Not only did the reviewer beg off any scientific analysis of Behe’s argument (admitting that he was “no authority”), but he also mistook Behe to be making an old-fashioned God-of-the-gaps argument. In fact, Behe was arguing for much more—i.e., that naturalistic arguments, as a species of argument, fail to meet the sort of challenge presented by the blood clotting cascade (cf. Behe, 1996, pp. 77-97).
A second appeal to history charges that the greatest advances in modern science have come, not from theists, but from unbelievers. The willingness of theists to invoke the supernatural, and subsume science to revelation, takes them out of mainstream science.
This allegation merely echoes the gross theological naïveté discussed earlier. Armed with a misunderstanding of why God works, and how God works, epistemic naturalists wrongly take faith to be a liability in science. Moreover, the historical facts are not on their side. Before Darwin, most of the leading naturalists, mathematicians, and experimenters were theists. It was only later on, with the efforts of people like Thomas H. Huxley (who referred to himself as “Darwin’s bulldog”) that science was wrested from the control of religious institutions and self-taught, financially independent naturalists.
What we face today is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The climate of academia, since the time of Huxley, has become increasingly hostile to theism. It has nothing to do with the tools or the actual techniques employed. Given the prevailing orthodoxy, it should come as no surprise that theists have avoided science or, perhaps, have had their careers stymied by the disapproval of senior scientists and academics. According to a survey of the National Academy of Sciences—yes, the very same institution that published the guidebook I mentioned earlier—only 7% of its members professed a “personal belief ” in God; 20.8% were doubtful or agnostic, and nearly 72.2% expressed a “personal disbelief ” in God (Larson and Witham, 1998). When broken down by discipline, the survey showed that biologists—those who work in the branch of science that arguably is vested most heavily in evolutionary theory—had the lowest rate of belief in God (5.5%). This put lie to the claim of NAS president Bruce Alberts, quoted in this same report, that “there are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.” By comparison, Gallup polls show consistently that nine out of every ten Americans express an affiliation with one religious group or another.
Ideas Have ConsequencesOne final point of emphasis: many theists believe epistemic naturalism presents no problems for their faith. But such a commitment cannot be made without consequences. In particular, if a believing scientist must assume that God is absent from the causal history of nature, then his God becomes the God of deism, not the God of revealed theism.
The God of deism is an Absentee Landlord Who created the Universe and left it running. Such a God has had no interaction with mankind. He has not revealed Himself to us in signs or wonders, nor in the Incarnation of Christ. He did not reveal His will on Mount Sinai, nor through prophecies, visions, dreams, and direct communication with inspired men. Still, the Enlightenment deists made an exception: we could detect, they admitted, the signs of a Creator in the purpose and order of His creation.
Even this much is too much for dyed-in-the-wool Darwinists. No one has expressed this view with more clarity than Richard Dawkins. He will agree that living things exhibit the tell-tale signs of design and planning, but he then will insist that this is nothing more than an illusion (Dawkins, 1986, pp. 1,21). Being the true disciple of Darwin that he is, Dawkins credits all the work of creation to a blind, purposeless process called natural selection. It will do no good to say that God nudged the process along, creating an organ here, a mutation there, because that makes natural selection appear inadequate. As long as God is involved, there is some form of divine creation, which is what Darwin was (and Dawkins is) trying to avoid.
It likewise will do no good to push God farther back and allow Him to set the initial starting conditions—with natural selection bringing about His ends—because natural selection has no goal or purpose. In such a scenario, it would be impossible to know whether God was responsible—which is the whole point of epistemic naturalism.
If a scientist claims to be a theist, and clings to the orthodoxy promoted by Mayr and the NAS, then he cannot find a place for God in the historical events of this world. Not only has God failed to reveal Himself directly, but He also has left no indirect signs of His work that can be distinguished from the operations of nature. Without such signs, we can know nothing of His benevolence, His knowledge, or His power (cf. Romans 1:20). We are left with something even less than deism which, on the spectrum of beliefs, basically amounts to outright atheism. Princeton theologian Charles Hodge recognized this fact over a hundred years ago:
The conclusion of the whole matter is that the denial of design in nature is virtually the denial of God. Mr. Darwin’s theory does deny all design in nature; therefore, his theory is virtually atheistical—his theory, not himself. He believes in a Creator. But when that Creator, millions on millions of years ago, did something—called matter and a living germ into existence—and then abandoned the universe to itself to be controlled by chance and necessity, without any purpose on his part as to the result, or any intervention or guidance, then He is virtually consigned, so far as we are concerned, to nonexistence (1874, p. 155).Logically, epistemic naturalism implies the absence of God from this world. For all practical purposes, it implies the absence of God from all reality. The step from epistemic naturalism to metaphysical naturalism is a very short one indeed. Now let us look at the other half of the debate.
“Creation”To believe in creation is to believe that the entire cosmos owes its existence to a purposeful, intelligent Creator. You can see how difficult it is to fit naturalistic evolution into this definition. Of course, just like “evolution,” the word is used in other ways.
In its broadest sense, “creation” refers to something’s coming into being. Sometimes you will hear about scientists’ “creation” of life in the laboratory, or even evolution’s “creating” new species. It is important that we consider the context, and not think that the materialist is “giving away the store” every time he uses the word creation.
In a narrower sense, the term “creation” is used by theists to mean divine creation or, as it is known in theological circles, creatio ex nihilo (“creation from nothing”). Typically it is linked to the doctrine of creation that is derived from the first verse of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Opinions diverge, unfortunately, on how to understand the subsequent verses (see, for example, Thompson, 2000). Liberal scholarship tends to dismiss the Creation account as allegorical or mythological. However, the same scholars quite often are committed to epistemic naturalism, and would not insist on a supernatural origin for the Universe and life in any case.
Many believers accept the reality of a divine creation, but are of the opinion that the timing and method must be accommodated to the claims of orthodox science. In other words, the classic amoeba-to-man story of evolution is correct in its overall picture, but God intervened at one or more points. Someone who holds this view may wish to take Genesis seriously (albeit not at face value), yet propose some sort of concordance theory to bring the biblical text in line with the evolutionary picture just mentioned. They might suggest, for instance, that God really did create light on the first day, but the word “day” means something other than a 24-hour period. Another popular view imagines an initial creation represented by verse 1, followed by an undocumented period of geological time, and a divinely wrought make-over in the remainder of the chapter.
Despite these concessions, none satisfies the requirement of evolutionary naturalism, namely, that all natural things should have naturalistic explanations. This would apply to any supernatural intervention, whether it came in one grand, creative moment, or was spread over time.
By far the most common use of “creation” ties the word to the modern creation science movement. Other labels include young-Earth creation and, as it normally is tagged by the media and other opponents, creationism. This position takes the traditional, historical view of the Genesis text as detailing the creation of all the Universe in six literal days.
Given that “creation” encompasses a diversity of views within theism, it might seem to present a broad-based resistance to materialistic evolution. In reality, because many theists believe they can keep their cake and eat it too (by appearing to affirm a Creator-God while adhering to the principle of epistemic naturalism), young-Earth creationists typically are singled out for opposition. This is not so much because they have rejected naturalism, but because they have rejected the overall evolutionary picture while maintaining that Holy Scripture provides an interpretive check on answers coming out of science. Darwinists have been willing to allow theists on their side only so long as they were willing to acknowledge that evolution, broadly speaking, was a correct description of the history of life on Earth. Confessions of faith or discussions of biblical texts might be accepted in this context, but only to assure naturalists that theistic religion could accommodate any theory they had to offer.
“Creation versus evolution,” therefore, does not divide along the lines that the two key words, taken at face value, might seem to imply. In the public arena, young-Earth creationists must take on the whole gamut of naturalists, from outright atheists to anyone who would carve out a space for God in an otherwise unbroken series of natural causes and events. On one front, young-Earth creationists must weather attacks from fellow theists on the issue of biblical interpretation. On another front, their strong commitment to the biblical text raises fears of state/church conflicts, to say nothing of the perceived conflict between reason and revelation expressed by Mayr. Unfortunately, epistemic naturalism (a core concern of young-Earth creationists, and something that should concern all theists) gets lost in the fray—hence the reason for reframing the public debate in terms of intelligent design.
Behe, Michael J. (1996), Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press).
Behe, Michael J. (2000), “Correspondence with Science Journals: Response to Critics Concerning Peer-review,” [On-line], URL: http://www. discovery.org/.
Darwin, Charles (1859), On the Origin of Species (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; a facsimile of the first edition).
Dawkins, Richard (1986), The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton).
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Lacey, Alan R. (1995), “Naturalism,” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 603-606.
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Pennock, Robert T. (1999), Tower of Babel (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
Reynolds, John Mark (1998), “God of the Gaps: Intelligent Design and Bad Apologetic Advice,” Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), pp. 313-331.
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Thompson, Bert (2000), Creation Compromises (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), second edition.