Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dawkins postmortem

“Steve,_Thanks for the review of Dawkins's book. I'm not an atheist myself, and I agree that Dawkins could have discussed various theistic arguments by citing some of the authors whom you mentioned. We all have favorite authors. And now we know yours, which is good to know. I've read some of them myself.”

These aren’t necessarily my favorite authors. They are simply authors who, in my estimation, are the most able representatives of the particular positions which Dawkins is opposing.

“However, please keep in mind that someone could also string together a list of scholarly authors who have engaged the ones on your list in debate on a host of questions from biblical scholarship to geological science to evolutionary science to philosophy and ethics.”

That’s not the point. This isn’t an issue of name-dropping, but opposing the arguments of the other side.

I’m not mounting an argument from authority. This isn't a bare appeal to the big names on our side of the ledger.

My point, rather, is that Dawkins should first have consulted these writers to acquaint himself with the best arguments of the opposing side, and then mounted suitable counterarguments.

I wasn’t attempting to make a positive case for everything I espouse in the course of my review. I’ve done that sort of thing elsewhere. And that would go well beyond the confines of a book review.

“So the fact that Dawkins has not mentioned your authors does not mean that someone has not engaged their arguments. “

That’s irrelevant. I’m reviewing Dawkins. This is how he chose to make his case for atheism. What he thought was important. He is marshalling his best arguments. And I answer him in kind.

“By the way, the most prolific "debunkers" of each other's views are Christians, who have been debunking other's interpretations of the Bible for ages. In the end few become converts of each others' positions.”

Cute, but, once again, this is not simply a question of name-dropping, but evaluating the quality of the argumentation.

“Philosophers also debunk each other's views, and Blackwell has produced a series in fact of philosphers debating each other's views, including a book in which Christian philosphers debunk each other's arguments concerning questions of great merit to theists. Some of the philosophers in that book were also simply generalized theists, not Christians, and they engaged in debates with some of the Christians. In the end few became converts of each others' positions.”

Which, again, misses the point. You, Ed Babinski, don’t believe that all arguments are equally good. You don’t believe that all competing positions are equally valid.

“As for Dawkins's choice of citing Robin Lane Fox, perhaps Fox is a fellow atheist friend of his? But Fox is unfortunately not a specialist in Biblical scholarship, but an historian of the classical world in general.”

1.Okay, so you’re criticizing his use of Fox?

2.If you think Fox is unreliable on those occasions when he defends the historicity of the Bible, do you also think he’s unreliable on those occasions when he opposes the historicity of the Bible?

3.I didn’t merely quote Fox’s bare opinion. I also quoted some of his arguments for the historicity of John and Acts.

To say he’s a historian rather than a Bible scholar fails to address his actual argumentation.

“It might have made more sense if Dawkins had cited Howard Clark Kee, the editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Bible. (Kee began his scholarly career by attending Dallas Theological Seminary, but apparently Kee eventually became an agnostic). A lot of Biblical scholars agree that stories about Jesus underwent alterations over time. Kee is among them. He has written the following:__"Justin Martyr (100-165 CE) relying on the testimony of Papias refers to the gospel of Mark as the 'memoir' of Peter... [I]t must be acknowledged that the gospels [as we have them today] do not match the description that Justin Martyr offered for them in the middle of the second century A.D. The gospel of Mark is not a 'memoir' of Peter, either in the sense that it recounts in a special way the associations of Peter with Jesus or in the sense that Mark reports first-hand recollections about Jesus. The material on which Mark drew passed through a long process of retelling and modification and interpretation, and it reflects less special interest in Peter than does Matthew's gospel." [Howard Clark Kee, Jesus in History, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1970) p. 120.]”

All you’ve done here is to give us Kee’s opinion with virtually no supporting evidence. Where’s the argument?

And what about the counterargument by conservative scholars?

“And on the traditional Christian identification of the fourth Gospel's author (who is only referred to in that Gospel as the 'beloved disciple') with 'John the son of Zebedee,' Howard Clark Kee remarks that "there is no evidence that this [identification] is accurate." [See Howard Clark Kee, The Cambridge Annotated Study Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 81; and Lüdemann 1994, p. 139.]”

Once more, all you’re giving the reader is a liberal conclusion minus the supporting argument, if any.

“Mark Goodacre denies that "Q" exists and argues that Matthew used extra sources and Luke simply redacted Matthew. So redaction took place from Mark to Matthew to Luke in a straight line, none of the previous Gospel authors treating the previous authors work as so sacrosanct they couldn't rewrite it.”

1.And where is the actual argument for the claim that Luke made direct use of Matthew?

2.Assuming Markan priority, we can see exactly how Matthew and Luke “rewrote” Mark. And their redaction is exceedingly conservative. So comparative Synoptic study shows us how extremely faithful Matthew and Luke were in transmitting primitive tradition.

”Another Biblical scholar whom Dawkins might have cited is James D. G. Dunn whose views lay approximately somewhere between moderate and liberal Christian. In his latest work, Jesus Remembered, Dunn argues that The Gospel of John's narrative is not reliable, nor the claims it makes for Jesus' quasi-divine status. (In his earlier work, Evidence for Jesus, Dunn didn't imagine that Jesus spoke even one word reported in John.) Dunn admits there is little to support the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, and little evidence that Jesus supported a mission to the gentiles, and no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah. (The term does not even appear in Q.) Nor is there much left of the ‘Son of Man,’ except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions. Dunn argues that Jesus did not claim any title for himself. Jesus may have believed that he was going to die, but he did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world. ‘If Jesus hoped for resurrection it was presumably to share in the general and final resurrection of the dead.’ There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus' last words were. Dunn admits that Jesus believed in an imminent eschatological climax that, of course, did not happen. ‘Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events.’"

As usual, all you’ve done is to give us a string of fact-free assertions. What you don’t do is to reproduce the supporting evidence. And how well does Dunn address the counterarguments by moderate to conservative scholars?

“William Dever the ancient near eastern archeologist is another whom Dawkins might have cited. (Dever was raised fundamentalist, even attended a conservative Christian college, but today he is apparently an agnostic.) Dever's conclusions about what archaeology tells us about the Bible are not very pleasing to fundamentalists or conservative Evangelicals, and I gather that Dever and his colleagues of high standing likewise dismiss fundamentalists and hard-core conservative Evangelicals who want to consider themselves scholars without accepting that which good scholars must do: engage in extensive critical analysis.”

Are you saying that moderate to conservative scholars like Hess, Hoffmeier, Kitchen, Currid, Millard, Yamauchi, Provan, &c. don’t engage in critical analysis?

How do you define critical analysis? Cartesian scepticism? A priori commitment to methodological naturalism?

“Those testifying for Dever's book (on the back cover) are: Paul D. Hanson, Professor of Divinity and Old Testament at Harvard University; David Noel Freedman, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan; Philip M. King, Professor at Boston College and author of Jeremiah; William W. Hallo, Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University; and Bernhard W. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament, Boston University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Like Dever, these are not a bunch of radical revisionists, but moderates in the field of Christian archeology. Dever's latest book is, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Conservative and fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally will gain no encouragement after reading it.”

You’re alluding to the debate between the minimalists and the maximalists. This debate turns less on evidence than rules of evidence, the burden of proof, the argument from silence, and methodological naturalism.

“Lastly, I noted that Triablogue links to young-earth creationist, and I.D. websites. Do you have any links to old-earth creationists, or theistic evolutionist Christians?”

Since ID websites include OECs as well as YECs, this is a false dichotomy.

A theistic evolutionist like Michael Denton or Rupert Sheldrake can frequently offer a useful critique of naturalistic evolution.

I don’t link to an OEC like Hugh Ross because I don’t find much of either scientific value or exegetical value in his writings.

A partial exception is his version of the fine-tuning/anthropic argument. But one can get that from a lot of Christian writers.

“Correct me if I'm wrong but you're either a young-earth creationist, or you espouse the "agnostic-about-the-age-of-the-earth" view of the Discovery Institute (and J. P. Holding and others), a popular view among Christians since the advent of I.D.”

My own position is more complicated than that. It also depends in part on how we define YEC. Here are some typical elements:

1.The universe is the effect of creation ex nihilo.

2.The universe is between 6000-10,000 years old, give or take.

3.The universe is “apparently” older than it looks.

4.On the one hand, there is scientific evidence for a YEC dating scheme. One the other hand, conventional dating schemes are methodologically flawed.

5.All of the natural kinds of fauna and flora are the result of special creation, although natural kinds enjoy a built-in potential for adaptive variation—within certain limits.

6.Both the animate and inanimate order was fully functional from the time it was made.

7.Because the antelapsarian world was “very good,” disease, aging, parasitism, and predation, and suboptimal adaptations are all due to the Fall.

8.The flood was global in extent.

9.The flood is largely responsible for the fossil record.

10.The Ice age (only one) was postdiluvial.

As a general observation, the average creationist is a scientist rather than an exegete by training. And the creationist paradigm established by Henry Morris was colored by dispensational hermeneutics, where their interpretation of Genesis was a carryover from their literalistic interpretation of Ezekiel, Revelation, &c.

As a result of these two factors, creationist writers often make exegetical judgment calls that I don’t agree with.

Going back through the list:

1.I agree.

2.Once again, I agree, but with certain qualifications:

i) The Bible doesn’t give us a continuous chronology from day one to our day and age. Rather, what the Bible gives us are certain discrete intervals. From T1 to T2.

To work these into a relative or absolute chronology of the ancient world requires a historical reconstruction from extrabiblical evidence as well as the witness of Scripture. So this is by no means a strictly exegetical question. Rather, we have to fit the Biblical intervals into a timeline which is pieced together from a lot of disparate, extrabiblical information. And such a reconstruction will pivot on a number of probabilistic variables.

ii) Beyond the historical question is the metahistorical question of whether time has an intrinsic metric. This is a more specialized question than Scripture was designed to address.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that metric conventionalism is correct, then the historical sequence of Scripture would remain objectively accurate as well as true to the phenomenological experience of time, but any dating scheme will still be an artifact of our extrinsic, chronometric system, which is ultimately conventional.

And that would hold with equal force for light-years and radiometric decay rates.

3.I agree with the basic idea, but it’s poorly expressed. Natural objects have no inherent, temporal appearance. That’s a contingent relation.

If you’d never seen a certain type of object before, you couldn’t guess it’s age by looking at it.

4.I’m noncommittal on this question:

a) I will leave the scientific technicalities to the experts on either side of this debate.

b) The standard dating techniques are reasonable.

At the same time (pardon the pun), they are also rather anthropomorphic—as if we could simply equate a periodic process with a clock. But that, of course, is not its natural function.

Moreover, they rely on circular, unverifiable assumptions regarding the initial conditions and the uniformity of nature.

So while these extrapolations are reasonable, they are also unprovable—and more than a little naïve.

5.I’m in basic agreement with this—although we must, once again, guard against overinterpreting Scripture by drawing very specialized and anachronistic distinctions on which the text is silent.

Gen 1-2 is mainly concerned with the origin of life. It doesn’t address the theoretical range of adaptive variation. But, at a practical level, it does take for granted the basic identity between the natural kinds as they were made, and the natural kinds as they existed in the time of Moses—for the narrative assumes that plants and animals mentioned in the creation account would be recognizable to the original reader.

6.I agree.

7.I generally disagree.

i) It’s applicable to life inside the Garden. It’s inapplicable to conditions outside the garden.

ii) There’s no such thing as an optimal design or adaptation, for every design has its tradeoffs, and specialization can be advantageous in some situations, but disadvantageous in others.

iii) Their definition of what constitutes the “good” is sentimental rather than Scriptural.

8.The extent of the flood is not as easy to determine as many Christians or their critics seem to think:

i) It’s important not to overinterpret (really, to reinterpret) the geographical descriptions with modern geography in mind. Instead, we need to ask ourselves what were the limits of the known world at the time of writing (e.g. Gen 10). What would these descriptions mean to the original reader? What would he envision?

Once we make that adjustment, according to the grammatico-historical method, then what we probably have in Gen 6-9 is a global description according to the narrative viewpoint, but the narrative viewpoint would amount to a local description according to a modern viewpoint.

In other words, the landmarks are global given the ancient Near Eastern perspective of the ancient narrator, but local given the Apollo 11 perspective of the modern-day reader.

So, if we make allowance for original intent, the flood is local rather than global.

ii) Needless to say, what is relevant to geography is equally relevant to biogeography and biodiversity. What animals did the narrator have in mind? All the land animals of the known world, or all the land animals of the New World?

Is the known world the Old World or the New World as well?

A contemporary reader must make a conscientious effort to keep his modern assumptions from leaking into the text. It isn’t easy to separate our often unconscious assumptions from the narrative assumptions, and prevent our modern assumptions from spilling over into the text.

iii) But that’s a question of exegesis. Original intent. The exegetical referent.

Since, however, the text refers to realities outside itself, there’s a difference between the intentional scope of the text and the implicit scope of the event.

Although the depiction is local from our standpoint, it may still be on a scale which would result in a global flood, even if the natural barriers depicted in the narrative fell well short of globalism.

For, even if the boundaries of the known world were limited to the ANE, yet, if the floodwaters overflowed the mountain pass of a major mountain chain in the area, then that could well have global repercussions.

What hills or mountains does the narrator have in mind? What counts as a “mountain” or “high hill” depends entirely on where you live. What were his landmarks? What was his mental geography?

iv) Another reference point is ground level. According to John Walton, Gen 7:20 denotes 15 cubits (cubit=16 inches) above ground level.

v) Yet another imponderable is the degree of continuity or discontinuity between prediluvian and postdiluvian geography.

What was the flood mechanism? If it represents a reversal of the process described in Gen 1:9, then it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct the mean sea level since the natural barriers underwent change—both as a flood mechanism and a subsequent drainage mechanism.

vi) There are other considerations to factor in, such as the size of the ark and the duration of the flood.

vii) All things considered, I incline to a global flood, but this turns on certain imponderables.

9.I have no firm opinion on this question because a number of alternative scenarios may well be possible depending on which variables or hypotheticals we plug into our model.

Since I don’t attribute animal death to the fall, I have no reason to attribute all fossilization to the flood.

10.I can’t speak to an ice age, although I will say that ice caps are inevitable at a certain latitude or altitude, and I have no reason to believe that such conditions were absent before the flood or the fall.

“I suppose one can be or believe anything these days, even young-earth creationism, since there's a website for everybody where you can find at least a few Ph.D.s with the same view as yourself, though I once did a search at all the major young-earth creationist websites and only counted 20 or so Ph.D.s who were young-earth creationists working at those organizations.”

Once again, I’m not making an argument from authority. Darwinians (theistic or atheistic), OECs, and YECs all give reasons for what they believe. I evaluate their respective positions according to their stated reasons.

“And young-earth creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis and ICR have backpedaled concerning a host of claims that they expected to topple evolution, from the Lewis Mountain Overthurst (the largest overthrust in the world that they tried to deny there was any evidence of), to the Paluxy footprints. Answers in Genesis even produced a webpage devoted to Arguments Creationist Should Not Use. The view today among young-earth creationists is not to rely on ‘out of place fossils,’ which have been debunked God knows how often (like the ‘human skull in coal’ that CRSQ folks went over to Germany to see for themselves and found out it was a crude hoax molded out of bits of soft brown coal and had no true skull features). No. Today the young-earthers are seeking ingenious ways to somehow accommodate the wealth of geological evidence and wealth of worldwide radiometric evidence, rather than refute the order of the geological column or the multitude of relative radiometric dates of fossils and rock formations as they currently read.”

This may all be true, although you’re going out of your way to characterize these developments in the most invidious terms possible.

But just consider all of the revisions or reversals in evolutionary theory since the time of Darwin.

It’s not surprising that a younger generation of better-educated YECs would continually tweak the YEC model, just as modern-day Darwinians and contemporary cosmologists are constantly tweaking their own theories.


  1. Steve,

    I know you believe the Bible is inerrant.

    Do you also believe your interpretations of the Bible and science are inerrant as well?

    If they are not, then your beliefs involve some uncertainty.

    We both disagree on which arguments are the most convincing and disagree where the preponderance of the evidence lay. I have read inerrantist opinions and Preteristic opinions and disagree with them for as great a host of reasons as you find them to be infallibly true. And as I said, Christians are the leading debunkers of other Christian's interpretations of the Bible.

    On YECism, I have composed articles on my website dealing with flood geology, they are listed in the "Creation Science" section, or use the search box at my website to enter the words "flood geology" (keep the quotation marks).

    I've known two former young-earth creationists like myself, one of whom was the ghost writer of young-earth arguments for a Josh McDowell book, and had his articles published in CRSQ before he obtained his masters in geology and began working as a professional geology and slowly grew to become an old-earth theistic evolutionist Christian, who also has created a website with articles dealing with YEC arguments, and who continues to debate YECs at Theology Web. This person also mentions the testimonies of YECs who grew increasingly disillusioned with flood geology. The former YEC of whom I am speaking is Glenn Morton. (For the record, Glenn and I were friends for years, but had a falling out years later over matters unrelated to the age of the earth.)

    Another former YEC whom I've known for over 20 years is Kevin Henke who now has a Ph.D. in geology and is a college professor, and whose extensive rebuttals to Sarfati, Woodmorappe, and others can be found at both the OEC webstie, Answers in Creation, and the No Answers in Genesis website. Henke's detailed rebuttals are just as worth reading as Glenn's. (Unfortunately, creationist website like Answers in Genesis do not in general provide links to the sites that rebut their arguments, though Glenn and Kevin provide links to the YEC arguments they are rebutting.) Back in the 80s, Henke's first excursion into debating YECs was when he wrote John Ankerberg a long letter with scientific references that rebutted YEC arguments that Ankerberg's host Dr. Kennedy had used. (Since then Ankerberg has produced two programs in which YEC and OEC Christians debate their views with one another, the latter more recent program involved two YECs and two OCEs, and was titled, The Great Debate on Science and the Bible.)

    A third former YEC whom I've known is Robert Moore who wrote a booklet whom the YEC Woodmorappe is apparently still responding to. (Morton and Henke have composed recent counters to Woodomorappe's critiques of Moore's arguments.) Moore's booklet is now online at the NCSE website and still worth reading for its succinctness and plethora of questions raised, and use of YEC sources prominent when his booklet was first written, Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark.

    Happy Reading,

  2. Babinsk always "misses" the point of any argument only to type in more off-topic babble. He's truly a bizzare character.

  3. frankie always "gets" every argument, and that's why he "links" to "responses" on his "blog" that no one reads, instead of "writing" a "response" in the "comments" section

  4. Wow, Frank. With the many personal attacks on John Loftus I've seen from Christians I'm waking up to the realities of what is in store for those that disagree with Christainity and express that disagreement. Your recent attacks on Babinski are stunning. Insinuations of child molestation? Everything else devoted to pure mockery? This is a little frightening to me. I'm starting to regret using my real name around here. Will you be posting all the dirt you can find on anyone that disagrees with you, whether substantiated or not? Do you approve of these actions in the Clinton administration as they slimed all of their enemies?

    All we want is a debate. If you want to engage with us, that's all we're looking for. Why can't you limit the discussion to the arguments instead of engaging in all of the insult? Are there any Christians here that can do so? Perhaps triablogue is not the place for me.

  5. Notlaw knarf10/23/2006 2:53 PM


    Walton doesn't represent Christians, I find his tactics schoolyard at best, and offensive. Be that as it may, I really don't think you guys want debate either. You have been oft refuted to no avail....