Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Sandy Creek Baptist Association In History

The new Founders Journal is hot off the presses. You can get a copy here: Founders Journal.

In this issue, Dr. Tom Nettles has reproduced his excellent article on Shubal Stearns, which has previously been published in Volume 2 of his series on Baptist history, The Baptists. In the second article, I examine the Sandy Creek tradition from a different perspective than others have in the past, namely their sociological context.

Here is the introduction to my article; my desire is not so much to commit to a particular, unrevisable thesis; rather my goal in this article is to encourage students and teachers/professors of Baptist history to widen the scope of their considerations of the Separate Baptist tradition in some as yet uncharted directions. Hopefully, somebody will "run with it."

On November 7, 2005, Sandy Creek Baptist Church celebrated its 250th Anniversary. The church was founded in 1755 by Shubal Stearns and his brother-in-law Daniel Marshall. In 1758, the established an association. Within seventeen years, the church grew to a membership of over six hundred. It spawned forty-two other churches. Many Southern Baptist historians look to Sandy Creek Church as one of two tributaries that eventually formed the Southern Baptist Convention in the 19th century, and they often perpetuate a popularized theory from Walter Shurden and Fisher Humphreys[i] to allege that the “high church” Charlestonians were confessional Calvinists, while those in the Sandy Creek Association were either opposed to Calvinism or believed in a “softer” or “moderate,” or “kinder, gentler” Calvinism. Moreover, they imply that the Charlestonians were less evangelistic than the Sandy Creek Association.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson himself, who would never recognize Humphreys and Shurden as friends of the conservative wing of the Convention, has perpetuated this thesis. He preached at the church during its anniversary celebration, and stated “Of all the honors and kindnesses extended to me over the years, none is so great as being asked by your pastor to come here on this anniversary of Sandy Creek Baptist Church.” He said Baptists usually describe the “Southern Baptist river as flowing from two tributaries, one having its beginning in Charleston, South Carolina., the more Reformed tradition of Baptist life, and the other at Sandy Creek...I am a Sandy Creeker. If I could manage to have honorary church membership in any church in the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be Sandy Creek,” adding that he fully appreciated what the church has carried on throughout the years. “We Sandy Creekers still believe we are in the era of evangelism, missions and great revival.”[ii] With all due respect, Dr. Patterson is many things, but, given his rejection of the doctrines of grace, he is no true “Sandy Creeker.”

Baptist historians of the past differed with this thesis, but to some extent this should not come as a surprise given that some even then were sometimes unsure how to treat the North Carolina Separates. On the one hand, R.B.C. Howell blunderingly called them “Arminians, “ for, in his work, The Early Baptists of Virginia, Howell notes that the early Baptist immigrants from Virginia came from both General and Particular Baptist stock, but labels the Regulars as Particulars and Separates as General Baptists.[iii] Among those differing with Howell, we find William Whitsitt.

These Separate Baptists were all of them Calvinists by persuasion. They were not Calvinists of the stern old type that formerly had prevailed but rather Calvinists of the school of Jonathan Edwards and adherents of the New Divinity. On that account they were often described as New Lights. For the main part their sympathies and cooperation were given to the Calvinistic brethren in New England and against the Arminian Baptists.. Thus by the agency of Mr. Whitefield a change was produced almost in the twinkling of an eye by means of which the Calvinistic Baptists gained ascendancy in the New England colonies. Nothing could have been more extraordinary or unexpected than such a transformation. Arminianism had been steadily growing in New England for several decades; making progress not only in the Baptist community as has been shown but likewise in the established order. Jonathan Edwards rose up to stem the tide and to stay the progress of defection, and by the aid of Whitefield accomplished a revolution. This revolution, however, was more apparent among the Baptists than in the ranks of the Established Church. It altered the whole aspect of affairs[iv].

M.A. Huggins went so far as to say that Stearns was an Arminian,[v] and George Paschal went so far as to deny that the soteriological section of the Sandy Creek Confession itself was from Stearns hand.[vi] Lumpkin classifies most Separates as “modified Calvinists” who had little to say about predestination, particular atonement, and unconditional election.[vii]

The Founders Journal itself has revisited this thesis a number of times.[viii] Tom Nettles has devoted an entire chapter of his most recently published work to the legacy of Shubal Stearns himself.[ix] Indeed, this all leaves the clear impression that folks have never been entirely sure how to treat the North Carolina Separates, and there is a need to revisit the historical data to rehabilitate their history in light of what many believe to have been the hand of historians generally hostile to Calvinism. Clearly, however, the Separates and the Regulars differed, and they differed enough that historians have been unsure what to do with them, leading to some varied, if not contradictory evaluations of them. Some historians may have been biased against Calvinism; others, however, may have been biased toward it, so simply chalking the assortment of competing theses up to bias appears to be little more than an exercise in the genetic fallacy. No doubt, however, this element does enter into any evaluation of the Separates that endeavors to categorize them theologically. How then can this tension be resolved?

There are no easy answers, particularly when looking for interpretive historical connections. In this article, we shall first review the confessional data, as Baptist historians have tended to concentrate their evaluations here. In the second section, we shall introduce some data not often considered that may help shed light onto the North Carolina Separate (Sandy Creek) tradition and suggest that perhaps the answer lies not in perpetually rehashing their confessional tradition, but in evaluating the actual nature of the differences between the Separates and Regulars in North Carolina in light of the cultural character of North Carolina and its people during the time in question. In short, what is the actual nature of the differences between the Regulars and Separates; and what was North Carolina like, and how might this have affected the Separate tradition as a whole?

[i] See Fisher Humphreys, The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology Has Changed and What it Means to Us All (New York: McCracken Press, 1994), 85. Humphreys follows the view of Walter Shurden as set forth in "The 1980-81 Carver-Barnes Lectures" (Wake Forest: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980).

[ii] Gregory Tomlin, “Sandy Creek: Tributary of Baptist life celebrates 250 Years,” Baptist Press, November 7, 2005. See Baptist Press Online at

[iii] R.B.C. Howell, The Early Baptists of Virginia (Philadelphia: The Bible and Publication Society), 89.

[iv] William Heth Whitsitt, “Baptists in America”, handwritten ms, in Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Volume 2 (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus/Mentor, 2006), 171.

[v] M.A. Huggins, A History of North Carolina Baptists 1727-1932 (Raleigh, NC: General Board of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, 1967), 66.

[vi] Nettles, The Baptists Vol.2, 167.

[vii] Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations In the South, 62 in Nettles, The Baptists: Vol.2, 170.

[viii] See Josh Powell, “Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Tradition,” Founders Journal, Spring 2001, 16-31.

[ix] Nettles, The Baptists: Volume 2, 153-173.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven


“I’m a bit confused by your references to ‘metrical conventionalism’. How precisely do they impugn naturalism but not the exegetical methods that scholars employ to, say, date the book of Mark? More specifically, since time is amorphous by your own account, time would be just as much a problem for the bible scholar’s dating techniques as well, no?”

Hi Andrew,

Several issues here:

i) I haven’t committed myself to the position that metrical conventionalism is true. It may be, as Le Poidevin indicates, that the debate between objectivism and conventionalism is undecidable. See p11 of his discussion:

Indeed, you might want to read the whole chapter for basic background info.

But even if the question is undecidable, that’s sufficient to render equally undecidable the implicated question of what would follow if one or the other (objectivism or conventionalism) were true.

Certain consequences would follow if either position were true. But even if, say, objectivism is true, if the truth of objectivism is undecidable, then the consequences are undecidable.

If something is true, but you can’t know it’s true, then it might as well be false. At that point the only rational course of action is to suspend judgment.

ii) Metrical conventionalism is concerned with the question of whether it’s meaningful to ask if to successive intervals (or distances, depending on who you read) are objectively isochronic.

It doesn’t disallow a temporal sequence, involving relations of temporal priority, simultaneity, or posteriority.

iii) There’s more to the dating of the Gospels than the question of relative duration. There’s also the question of relative sequence.

What happened when? Were they written before or after the fall of Jerusalem? Were the Apostles still alive?

Metrical conventionalism doesn’t obviate those internal relations.

iv) If metrical conventionalism is true, it would mean that the chronological descriptions in Scripture are true in relation to the temporal metric employed by Bible writers. They would record an accurate sequence. And the overall chronology would be accurate measurement of the time lapse *according to* the metric in use.

But the measurement would not implicate an absolute or relative chronology in objectivist terms.

The conventionalist/objectivist question is a more specialized question than Scripture was designed to answer.

v) There’s an asymmetry between YEC and evolution. The age of the world is not intrinsically important to Christian theology.

It’s only important in relation to other issues, such as inerrancy, hermeneutics, and special creation.

By contrast, it is intrinsically important to Darwinism, for Darwinism needs huge time scales to even get off the ground. Therefore, Darwinism has a direct investment in chronology in a way that Christian theology does not.

vi) I’m less concerned with defending YEC chronology per se than I am with rebutting bad objections to YEC chronology—objections that are philosophically inept and theologically pernicious.

“Additionally, I’m aware of no time keeping device that does not index itself to some observed phenomenon (spring rates in wind-up clocks, atomic clocks, sundials). Natural phenomena is *all* we have to guide us, so why does the use of ‘natural’ phenomena (to establish the age of the earth, for instance) constitute a weakness of some sort? The notion of time that we *all* use can’t be separated from the periodicities we perceive in the natural world (including crowing roosters, or the rising and setting sun). What else is there?”

i) As I’ve said on several occasions, I have no a priori objection to the use of natural processes to tell us the time. What I object to is critics of YEC who toss around terms like “deception” or “illusion.”

This betrays a fundamental lack of objectivity on their part, in which they conflate the natural function of a natural process with the artificial function we assign to it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the artificial assignment, as long as we recognize the artificiality of the exercise.

But to *expect* that a natural periodic process ought to yield accurate chronological information, and if it doesn’t, then God is deceiving us or nature is illusory, is guilty of an anthropomorphic projection onto nature. That’s philosophically naïve.

ii) In addition, physical dating involves a backward linear extrapolation from the present into the past.

Once again, I don’t object to that type of retrojection up to a point. But this procedure makes certain assumptions about the initial conditions and uniformity of nature.

Yet, from a theological perspective, that is guilty of an overgeneralization. For the physical universe is not a uniform, open-ended continuum.

Rather, the universe had a point of origin in a timeless act of fiat creation. It is not the result of a purely incremental, bottom-up process. Rather, it was front-loaded and instantaneous.

Therefore, the backward extrapolation breaks down. For the extrapolation is an extrapolation from natural cycles. It takes for granted the existence of natural cycles.

But running the cycle back in time is internal to the cycle. It doesn’t take you outside the cycle to the external origin of the cycle.

“More to the point, according to my understanding, a rooster and a cuckoo clock are essentially the same: both are time keeping devices identified by humans to keep time quite reliably (though neither perfectly) and both are based on processes that are thoroughly naturalistic.”

No, a cuckoo clock was designed to tell the time. That’s its only or primary function. And since we designed it for that very purpose, we’re in a good position to say so.

But a rooster was not designed to tell us the time. Now, we can still use the rooster *as if* it were an alarm clock.

But if a rooster fails to crow at the right time, it’s not as if God would be deceiving us or periodic processes are illusory.

It would simply mean that since a rooster wasn’t designed to be a reliable time-keeper, then if a rooster turns out to be an unreliable alarm clock, it’s chronological utility is limited.

We wouldn’t expect a rooster to be completely reliable as an alarm clock. It is simply convenient for us to co-opt its natural tendency to crow at sunrise to tell us the time.


“Also, teleology is enthusiastically accepted by science (methodological naturalism). Remember those spears we were talking about from 375,000 years ago that got dug up. Those spears were identified as the target of teleology -- a goal-oriented effort on the part of the makers to fashion raw materials into spears. Arson investigators and homicide detectives work at determining whether teleology (human planning and execution) was at work in starting the fire or causing the victim's death. Oh, and of course SETI looks for teleology in communications or modulated phenomena. You get the idea -- teleology is not forbidden as a factor in science.”

In context, the discussion was over inanimate, naturally occurring events like radiation and ice sheets, not the intervention of rational agents. As usual, you can’t follow an argument.

“But if scientific estimates *do* have some correspondance to reality -- something we can rely on, then, how does a YEC dispose of all the estimates that come in at hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of years?”

Metrical conventionalism is one consideration, while creation ex nihilo is another.

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

The Big Bad Wolf, Theism, and the Foundations of Intelligent Design by Peter S. Williams.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Caponizing physics


“This suggest you have some special knowledge of the purposes for these
‘Certain natural processes’.”

1.Does this also suggest that I require some special knowledge to deny that a rooster was designed to function as an alarm clock?

2.I’d add that since you subscribe to methodological naturalism, you cannot allow design concepts into the natural sciences; so, from your “agnostic” standpoint, natural processes weren’t designed to perform any function in particular or any function at all—in which case you’re debarred from saying that any natural process was designed to be using in dating.

Methodological naturalism banishes teleology from the realm of scientific explanation.

“What specifically are the processes you are referring to here.”

Processes which are used for relative and especially absolute dating purposes.

“And what is you basis for establish their purpose?”

Are you trying to be obtuse? Do you think the natural purpose of ice sheets (to take once example) is to tell us how old things are? You think that’s why it snows? Timex on ice?

“Mountains don't appear smaller at a distance.”

Go ahead. Deny the obvious.

“Only the most naive sensory reading would suggest that.”

To describe an appearance as “naive” is a category mistake. An appearance is simply the way an object appears or looks (or sounds or feels or tastes or smells) to the observer. It’s the direct, raw impression made by the object on the percipient.

“Naïve” has nothing to do with it. Naïveté would only be relevant if one equated the appearance with reality.

“A small movement of the head will provide parallax cues that place the far away mountain... far away, perceptually.”

Are you trying to be obtuse? Nodding your head doesn’t change the fact that mountains appear smaller at a distance.

Nodding your head may expose a discrepancy between appearance and reality. It may make the observer aware that appearances can be deceiving.

But it doesn’t change the fact that mountains still seem to be smaller at a distance.

Sorry you’re unable to grasp the meaning of the most elementary verbal and conceptual distinctions.

“While a far off mountain may only occupy a small number of degrees in the field of view, parallax informs the viewer that the mountains are very far off indeed.”

Which is irrelevant to whether mountains *appear* to be smaller at a distance.

“Or simply put, far off mountains appear ‘far off’, because they are far off.”

Now you’re substituting a different proposition as if that’s equivalent to the original proposition. To say that mountains appear to be smaller at a distance is not convertible with the statement that mountains appear to be far away.

Have you always been this mentally confused? Or to you become disoriented when debating a YEC?

“The physics we hold to predict exactly that phenomenon.”

Which is irrelevant to the gap between appearance and reality. Physics doesn’t make the phenomenon go away. It just attempts to explain it.

“If that's the case, then what do we do with rocks that appear to be quite ancient, according to the physics applied?”

There is no “we.” Just you and me.

Speaking for myself, I guard against anthropomorphic projections. I don’t equate a rooster with a cuckoo clock.

“Are you embracing the naive view here?”

You’re the one who’s acting dense, not me. Or maybe your not acting—which is even worse.

If you want a textbook example of someone who embraces the naïve view, a splendid example would be a caponizing physicist like yourself, according to whom, if a natural process or natural object like an ice sheet or rooster can be put to human use as a chronometer, then it would be unscientific or mystical to deny that a rooster really is a feathery clock, such that God would be deceiving you if you overslept because the rooster didn’t wake you up in time to catch the school bus.

“There's an implied ‘scientific’ in the use of ‘appear’ in these contexts, such that when I say the rocks in your garden appear old, I don't mean ‘naively appear’, like you're eyeballing it with a confused look. Rather, I mean ‘scientifically appear’ old -- old based on measurements of physical processes built into the rock itself. I have a hard time believing this distinction is lost on you.”

No, you don’t get to arbitrarily redefine basic words, concepts, and distinctions to weasel out of your duplicity. You try to play both sides of the appearance/reality fence, rejecting YCE because it’s supposedly counterintuitive while, at the same time, you fee free to embrace the counterintuitive theories of modern science.

There is no such thing as a scientific appearance. An appearance is inherently pretheoretical.

You are attempting to qualify an appearance in a way that collapses the appearance into reality.

“Naivete again, Steve. When we say ‘appear’, we don't mean some kind of ‘naive appearance’, like answers you might get from a three year old.”

Naïveté again, T-stone. There’s no difference in the way a mountain *appears* to a three year old, and the way it appears to Ed Witten.

There may well be a difference in the way they interpret the mountainous appearance, but the mountain itself doesn’t appear one way to a three year old, and another way to Witten. At a phenomenal or sensory perceptual level, which is the level at which appearances operate, the mountain looks just the same regardless of whether Witten is three years old or thirty.

*Appearances* aren’t *answers*. Is there some reason you’re so persistently dim on this elementary and irreducible distinction?

“Rather, the intent is to suggest "scientifically appear", which is more clunky in terms of the prose, but apparently necessary here.”

You’re trying to smuggle the corrective of reality into the definition of appearance. That violates the concept of an appearance.

“So, no, I don't see that the stars "scientifically appear" to be younger than they really are. Although that presumes my own estimates of their ages, I guess.”

Your estimate of their ages has nothing to do with how old they look in a telescope.

To the contrary, you are reinforcing the gap between appearance and reality when you contrast the way they look to an observer with their actual age (as you take it to be), after you correct for the time-lag. But that adjustment presupposes and intensifies the gap between appearance and reality.

“You've not been willing to stick your neck out far enough to venture a guess as to how old *any* star really is, from what I've seen.”

Because, according to metrical conventionalism, they don’t have a real or actual age. Are you trying to be obtuse?

“It's too scientific, perhaps?”

No, it’s too unscientific.

“You keep bringing this up.”

That’s because you keep acting as if, by shutting your eyes and clicking your heels, the problem will go away.

“Can you lay out how this applies here?”

Been there, done that.

You can’t recognize the answer because you keep asking the wrong question.

“In any case, maybe you could boldly venture out from behind that term and explain how it attaches here?”

I’ve explained both the term and its application on multiple occasions.


“He's not just throwing that out there because some guy thought it up to harmonize the wackiness of Gen 1 and 2...he throws it out there because its clearly and OBVIOUSLY stated in the book.”

Actually, the difference in the narrative viewpoint is pretty obvious if you bother to compare Gen 1 and 2.

But even if it weren’t “obvious,” it doesn’t have to be “obvious” to be true. Exegesis can uncover subtle differences as well as obvious differences.

And the perspectival distinction I’ve drawn can be found in the standard literature. Try reading a few major commentaries on Genesis.

"A carefully crafted illusion"


"These are the same concerns I had to wrestle with as I moved through the progression from YEC to OEC/ID to TE."

A good example of the domino theory in action.

"In terms of science, evolution is no different than medicine or meteorology."

No different? Medical science deals with presently observable and reproducible processes, while meteorology is a predictive science.

That's quite different from a science of origins which attempts to reconstruct the distant past by extrapolation from trace evidence in the present.

"If you want to move the creation event up to 4004 BC, then you either have to reject science, or you have to ignore all prior appearances of natural history as a carefully crafted illusion."

1. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that mountains appear smaller at a distance?

2. Is it a carefully crafted illusion that stars look younger to an earth-bounded observer than they really are?

3. Does your book address metrical conventionalism?

4. Here's an interesting story:

"ATLANTA -- Scientists announced Thursday that a new cloning technique appears to rewind the aging clock in cow cells, and they have produced six calves through the process that show signs of being younger than their actual chronological ages. 'What we have shown for the very first time is the cloning procedure is actually reversing the aging process. In fact, it turns out that these cells are actually younger than their chronological age,' said study leader Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, Inc."

I, of course, assume that you would reject this report as a hoax since this would involve a carefully crafted illusion, right?

"Certainly the world could have created with the appearence of age, and that is the only logical version of YEC that I can find."

You beg the question by assuming that the world has any particular appearance of age. The world has no "appearance" of age, one way or the other.

That's an *inference*, not an *appearance.*

An inference from certain natural processes which were never designed to tell us the age of anything.

I don't object to the attempt to draw such inferences, but we're dealing with incidental side-effects of a natural process (or processes) which has a very different natural function. To confound the natural purpose of a periodic or cyclical process with the artificial purpose to which you put it is blatantly anthropomorphic.

If a farmer uses a rooster as an alarm clock, and the rooster turns out to be unreliable, is that a carefully crafted illusion?

Should we expect the rooster to tell a farmer the right time to get up in the morning? If the rooster gives the incorrect time, does this mean we either have to reject science, or we have to ignore all prior appearances of natural history as a carefully crafted illusion"?

I suppose you also believe that noses exist as a platform to support a pair of glasses, and if the glasses constantly slide down the nose, that represents a design flaw in nasal engineering.

"But if only the Bible can tell me which observations are real and which are illusions, what right do I have to assume that trees do not actually grow hands and clap when nobody is looking (Isaiah 55)? In fact, how would I ever know what things in the Bible are to be taken literally and what things are not to be taken literally if I don’t look to nature to help me put the Bible in context of the world we live in?"

i) This objection has already been addressed.

ii) It's also deeply disingenuous of you to appeal to appearances in defense of modern science. It's modern science which treats many of our common sense perceptions as illusory. A table appears to be a solid, colored object.

But, according to atomic theory, the table isn't *really* a solid, colored object.

"I will not spend any time arguing with you that Moses meant a literal 'day' when he says 'day.' Just like I will not argue that he meant to describe the firmament as a solid structure supporting the 'waters above the heavens', under which the sun, moon and stars were fastened (read it carefully)."

This is an off-cited cliche. Obviously you're too lazy and dishonest to engage the counterarguments, viz.,

Sometimes it is said that the language in the Bible arises against the background of ancient “cosmology” that postulated underlying waters, then solid earth, then a solid “firmament” dome for the sky, then the sea above the firmament (Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia‘ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991]: 227-240; Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part II: The Meaning of ‘The Water Above the Firmament’ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 54/1 [1992]: 31-46; Seely, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59 [1997]: 231-255; Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 [2004]: 291-311).

For one thing, the ancient Near East did not have one unified “ancient cosmology” but several accounts—Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hittite—contradicting one another at points but nevertheless with some similarities. Genesis 1, as we have observed, does show some similarities to these accounts, but it repudiates the pagan accounts in favor of a monotheistic alternative.

Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that from these mixed pagan accounts we can distill a core of assumptions that were also shared by ancient Hebrews. The Bible nevertheless describes things that Hebrews (and eventually other readers) could see for themselves. To suppose that the text teaches detailed technical cosmological views is to confuse the text with the totality of what its readers may have believed.

Moreover, a modern cosmological interpretation of the ancient accounts may sometimes impose on the texts a preoccupation with physicalism that does not belong to this kind of literature within the ancient cultural milieu. For example, the idea that the firmament is literally solid is disconfirmed by the statement in Genesis 1:17 that God set the lights “in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens.” If the lights in heaven were literally embedded in a solid, they could not move in the way that they obviously do. Perhaps some ancient people could see the obvious, as well as be skeptical about alleged physicalistic implications of pagan cosmogonic stories. (p96n8).

"For centuries, Christians had nowhere else to direct these types of questions and so they naturally directed them at the Bible. As a result, the church fathers accepted the model of the Hebrew universe, which was physically identical to the Ancient Near-Eastern cosmos, without question."

This is a sloppy, contend-free comparison.

"They simply had no reason (evidence) to doubt it. After the influence of Greek astronomy, the medieval church eventually adopted the Ptolemaic system and built an elaborate Scriptural defense in support of it. If you read Martin Luther’s commentary on Genesis, you will clearly see that he believed the earth to be at the center of the universe, fixed and immovable, just as it is described throughout the Bible."

1. Where does the Bible say the earth lies at the center of the universe?

2. When the Bible talks about the immobility of the earth, that has reference to earthquakes, not the position of the earth in relation to other celestial bodies.

You're guilty of an anachronistic interpretation in which you retroject later debates back onto Scripture.

Put another way, it isn't talking about the *earth*, but the *land*.

3. What we actually have in Gen 1-2 are certain allusive, architectural metaphhors foreshadowing the ark and the tabernacle.

"TE chooses to accept the latter option. In fact, if you study the pagan creation mythologies of the ancient Near East, it becomes clear that God is co-opting these various stories (the foolishness of the world) to convey timeless theological truth to His chosen people, leaving the physical details of the ancient Near Eastern cosmos in tact so that the original audience might understand it and assimilate it into their worldview."

Once again, you're hiding behind content-free generalities. What's your specific evidence?

There are works that address the issue of comparative Semitics at a scholarly and discriminating level, viz.

J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001).

K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003).

J. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker 2006).

These are places to begin, and not with loose, unbridled comparisons.

"Given the numerous material contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2, it becomes clear that God was not writing an article for Scientific American."

This is yet another oft-refuted cliche which ignores the fact that Gen 1-2 are not both creation accounts. They are dealing with different events. Gen 1 is global and cosmological while Gen 2 is local and anthropological.

"An interesting academic question perhaps, but to state that the truth of these doctrines completely hinges on the specific details of their historicity is to step out of the ancient mindset and into the mindset of a modern, western, post-enlightenment materialist; an approach that ironically has more incommon with folks like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan than it does with a Christian worldview based on the Bible."

I see. So when Jesus appeals to specific details of Gen 1-2 to reaffirm the doctrine of marriage (Mt 19), he is captive to a modern, materialistic, post-enlightenment mentality that has more in common with Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan than it does with a Christian worldview based on the Bible.

What you're doing here is a transparently rhetorical, preemptive strike.

Picking up the pieces

I continue to pick up the pieces in Touchstone's latest response to my original post on theistic evolution.

To follow the thread, first go here. Then here, here, here, and here for Touchstone's four part piece. And lastly here for my first follow-up to Touchstone's four parter.

In the materials I’ve read (which is a good bit on this question), the border is not identified by literary form between chapters 11 and 12, but by the contemporary nature of the story from Chapter 12 onward. Chapters 1-11 are considered the “primeval period”, the story of man’s development up until the were reified as a functioning tribe of Hebrews.

But on what basis does Touchstone draw the line between chapters 11 and 12? He says the divide is "not identified by literary form between chapters 11 and 12, but by the contemporary nature of the story from Chapter 12 onward." Okay, so what does Touchstone mean by "the contemporary nature of the story"? On what grounds does he categorize Gen. 1-11 as "the primeval period" while the rest of Genesis is not? Again, where is his argument?

That is, the story of the Hebrew people as Hebrews begins in Chapter 12.

1. Good to know Touchstone is familiar with the story of Abraham. But all this proves is that the story now shifts its focus to Abraham and his family. It doesn't prove that everything before Abraham is therefore to be considered part of some "primeval" past.

2. In fact, Abraham's story actually begins at the close of chapter 11 with his father Terah. And, as chapter 11 relates, Terah is part of a chain that stretches back to Shem (who arguably could've been alive in Abraham's own day, and whom orthodox Jews argue, although I don't necessarily agree, is Melchizedek). Which one of Shem's descendants from Arpachshad to Terah would Touchstone consider non-historical, but part of his nebulous, undefined "primeval period"?

Clearly, the genealogy in Chapter 5 is a stark contrast with the form of Chapter 1, for example.

Well, perhaps because Gen. 1 is primarily an ancient Israelite cosmogony while Gen. 5 is primarily an ancient Israelite genealogy. How is this saying anything of consequence to the issue at hand?

Which, BTW, Touchstone would do well to keep in his sights:

5. Furthermore, notice the TE might argue that only the first few chapters of Genesis (usually Gen. 1-3 or 1-11) are to be read as allegorical myth or mythical allegory. That is, Moses wrote Gen. 1-3 or 1-11 as allegorical myth, but the rest of the book as historical narrative. But how does the TE account for the non-apparent shift in genres? What reason(s) does he give for the shift?

Moving on:

Rather, the border is placed there as a divider between “historic” narratives about the Hebrews and “primeval”, or “prehistoric” narratives.

Granted, Touchstone is not talking about literary style, but he is talking about a significant shift in the narrative from "primeval" or "prehistoric" to "historic." He is still talking about reading Gen. 1-11 differently than the rest of Genesis.

But what's his definition of primeval or prehistoric? And what's his definition of historic? Why can't people and events in Touchstone's alleged "primeval" or "prehistoric" category be considered historic? Where's his argument?

Again, the question is, how does the TE account for the shift? Whether he wants to claim it's a literary shift or not is at present besides the point. Touchstone claims there should be a marked divide between Gen. 1-11 and the rest of Genesis. That Gen. 1-11 should be considered "primeval" or "prehistoric" while Gen. 12-50 should be considered "historic." Why?

So here, in 2:7, we have a picture of God with nostrils, breathing life into man. Unless we are to suppose that God has a corporeal existence here, then the 'breath' and the 'nostrils' would be figurative device pointing to whatever the process God used to effect the end result — man as nephesh, a living, independent soul. If that’s the case — and it is the case in any Orthodox understanding of God (God is spirit) — then I see absolutely no trouble in understanding the 'formed...of dust' part ofthis to be similarly figurative. It’s a pointer to whatever process a sovereign Creator, who is spirit, used to effect the formation of man as a biological creature. A literal reading — a 'face value' interpretation — of either 'formed' or 'breathed' is a problem, as it anthropomorphizes God; it atriutes a physical body to Him, using His hands to form Adam, and his nostrils to animate him.

1. The first problem is that Touchstone is adding details to the creation account in Gen. 2 which are not actually in the creation account in Gen. 2. Touchstone says, "we have a picture of God with nostrils." Um, excuse me, but where does it say that God has nostrils -- even figuratively -- here in Gen. 2:7? It says man has nostrils. But it doesn't say that about God.

2. What's more, after adding his own details to the creation account, Touchstone then uses his added details to establish anthropomorphism.

3. Touchstone also disregards the role theophanic angelophanies where God does simulate human form.

For my part, I read the “Adam’s rib” to mean that God did not simply pick a nice female proto-human to be elevated as Eve, but took whatever genetic and physiological changes He deployed in the elevation of Adam, and used Adam’s “improvements” as the basis for the upgrade of Eve. This makes Eve biologically/genetically derivative of Eve in a
way that simple selection of some random female would not be. That’s all purely speculative, of course. The details are hidden behind the figurative language, just as they are for “breathed” and “formed” in 2:7. The bottom line here would be that God used Adam’s biology/genetics in the process of elevating Eve...somehow. That’s what the “rib” points to.

1. Yes, it's speculative. Which is not necesssarily a problem, since speculation in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. The problem is that Touchstone is not merely speculating. He's smuggling modern scientific concepts (biology, genetics) into the text in order to harmonize Gen. 2 with evolutionary theory.

2. But is that how an ancient Israelite would've understood the passage? No, as one scholar puts it, an ancient Israelite would've understood that the woman was taken out of the man's side in order to be by his side. To complement one another and serve God together. That's the main point.

3. Actually, why should "breathed" and "formed" be considered figuratively? Especially since Touchstone's above argument for a figurative reading of Gen. 2:7 was an argument based on details which were not in the text.

Once again, an allegorical reading does not deny the underlying historicity or factual basis for the allegory. The serpent in the garden may be an allegorical representation, for example, but that does not imply that no temptation and transgression actually took place. And here, while Gen 1-3 does read best as highly allegorical, particularly with respect to the story of the Fall, I have no trouble affirming a dual role for Adam and Eve, as both historical, real individuals and as symbols and types. There’s nothing complicated about being both historical and allegorical at the same time. Paul points to just such a case in his “two covenants” allegory in Galatians 4.

1. In my original post, I was not speaking solely to Touchstone. There are other TE who would allegorize without historicizing Adam and Eve and the events of Gen. 1-11. Such as liberal Christian scholars like John Dominic Crossan.

2. Of course, it doesn't seem Touchstone actually understands what an allegory is. In the past, Touchstone has floundered around with terms such as "allegory," "symbolism," "myth," Biblical typology, etc. I've had to correct him on these.

3. Otherwise, if all he is claiming is that Adam and Eve are real, historic individuals as well as Biblical symbols or types, then we'd have no beef.

4. Regarding Paul's "two covenants" allegory in Gal. 4, it's true "there's nothing complicated about being both historical and allegorical [by which I suppose Touchstone means symbolism] at the same time." But that's because I've corrected Touchstone on the point in a previous exchange:

[Touchstone:] With Paul speaking on this very subject in Gal. 4:

22For, it is written that Abraham had two sons, one from his handmaid and one from his freewoman. 23But whereas the one from the handmaid was born according to the flesh, the one from the freewoman through a promise; 24these things are said allegorically. For these women are two covenants...

So now you have a problem: either a) Paul is wrong in identifying a story allegory cannot be simultaneously literally true and also allegorical, or b) Paul is trying to tell us that the Sarah/Isaac-Hagar/Ishmael story in Genesis isn't literally true.

So Patrick, which is it?

To which I responded:

a. I've never denied the Bible could be allegorical or symbolic in certain parts.

b. When you talk about allegory and symbolism, you're equivocating. You're treating symbolism as allegory and allegory as symbolism. But the two are not the same. As I've noted in my above post and comment.

c. What's more, you've not merely been arguing for understanding certain elements of Scripture as allegory (or symbols), but you're taking it one step further and arguing for understanding the entire text itself (e.g. Gen. 1-3) as allegory.

d. For the sake of elucidation, let me contrast the term "allegoroumena" (often translated "allegory") in Gal. 4:24 with another Greek word in the NT: "pornia." Literally, "pornia" might be translated "porn" or "pornography." When we think of pornography today, however, we mean something very specific. But the actual meaning of the Greek word itself is not so restricted as our modern definition. The Greek word "Pornia" could refer to any illicit sexual intercourse (e.g. adultery, homosexuality, bestiality). Or it could be a metaphor for idolatry. Similarly with the term "allegoroumena." As we would understand it today, the term "allegoroumena" could mean to speak allegorically or symbolically (figuratively, typologically; cf. the NIV translation).

e. Finally, here is scholar Moises Silva on the topic: Much discussion has surrounded the meaning of v 24, "These things may be taken figuratively." Paul uses the Greek term "allegoroumena," and so a more literal translation might be, "These things are written allegorically," or "These things may be interpreted allegorically." Paul certainly is not making use of the allegorical method made famous by Philo of Alexandria, which strongly downplayed (or even denied) the historical character of the OT narrative and which served as the vehicle for formulating complex philosophical systems. In view of the somewhat specialized meaning that the term allegory has today in the minds of many (the corresponding Greek term could be used in several, more general, ways), it is probably misleading to use it in describing what Paul is doing in the passage. ... Some scholars prefer to use the term typology (rather than allegory) to describe Paul's method here.


Figurative language isn’t any less true by its nature than literal descriptions — in fact in some ways it can be more true than factual accounts.

Although it's true figurative language and literal descriptions can both be true, that's not the argument, is it? The argument is why Touchstone thinks Genesis should be read primarily as allegory rather than primarily as historical narrative which features symoblism or typology?

An allegory is a story which consistently uses symbolism throughout and which itself is symbolic. Such as The Pilgrim's Progress or Animal Farm. It doesn't mean there aren't true people and events behind the symbolism in, say, Animal Farm (e.g. Napoleon = Stalin and/or Stalin-like tyrants). But Animal Farm is fictitious. That was George Orwell's intention. Is Touchstone arguing that Genesis is fictitious but that real people and events lie behind its fiction? If so, where's his argument?

Jesus expressed profound truths as parables — fictional accounts. They are just as “true” as any of the factual events that surround them.

So is Touchstone arguing that the Genesis creation account is akin to a parable?

Moving onto part 3:

I think that Augustine is giving sage advice here. It’s interesting that Patrick would invoke St. Augustine here, as Augustine felt quite comfortable dismissing the days of creation as solar days, and favored a reading of Genesis that viewed it as a logical framework rather than a chronological, historical account. Moreover, St. Augustine underscores and affirms the basic challenges and complexities in reading Genesis, and famously cautioned Christians that they should be willing to adapt their interpretations of Genesis as new facts and knowledge became available. Here’s a quote that is commonly invoked from St. Augustine in these discussions, and another bit of wisdom that Patrick and the rest of us are well advised to take heed of...

If I cite a quotation from someone, does this then mean that I agree with everything else he believes?

As for Jesus’s genealogy, apart from possible chronological conflicts with other genealogies, I don’t see any reason — literary or otherwise — for Joseph being allegorical, or even symbolic.

1. Sadly, Touchstone appears to have difficulty keeping track of arguments. I wasn't originally arguing for whether Joseph was allegorical. Here's what I originally asked:

9. Moreover, what would it mean for Luke’s account of Christ’s genealogy, "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli...the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:23, 38)? Are we to take certain parts of this allegorically such as the bit that says Adam, and maybe the bit that says Seth, too, at the same time that we take the part that says Joseph literally? Is Christ descended from an allegorical or mythical character rather than a literal person? As an early church father once said, "If you believe in what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

My point was that some TE read Adam and Seth as purely symbolic, but then believe Joseph was a real, historical person. And so I asked, why?

As far as Touchstone is concerned on this point, and as I've noted above, he simply doesn't understand what an allegory is. He doesn't understand why an allegory isn't, for instance, an historical account of peoples and events. He doesn't understand what symbolism entails. Rather he equivocates by using the terms "allegory" and "symbolism" interchangeably. And so on.

2. BTW, in the unlikelihood that it's not already been in evidence throughout his four part response, I should note at this point that Touchstone has a bad habit of making assertions without arguments. Note that I made an argument against TE. But rather than responding with a counter-argument against my argument, he just asserts that he doesn't "see any reason - literary or otherwise - for Joseph being allegorical, or even symbolic."

Not only is this not a counter-argument, but an assertion, but stating that he does not regard Joseph as an allegory is not even relevant to the original point I brought up! It just recapitulates what I've already stated.

But I suppose this is the sort of poor argumentation we've sadly come to expect from Touchstone -- against our best hopes to the contrary. Sigh.

Man and apes share a common ancestor, but there’s no such thing as an “ape-man”. That’s a term that I only see as a matter of ignorance — not knowing any better about what the scientific understanding is — or some kind of polemical hostility. Sort of a riff on the “monkey’s uncle” line from the Scopes trial days.

1. Odd that this is the first time Touchstone has raised the objection given that we've been using this term for at least a month if not longer now in our back-and-forth exchanges with Touchstone.

2. Would Touchstone prefer the term "man-ape" instead? Since that's what he himself originally employed in his debates with us:

...In fact, common ancestors would put man and gorilla together. He clearly believes Gorillas have the minimum resources for survival -- they are offered as the example of what man is not. If we superimpose common ancestry on the picture, then Steve's point becomes hopelessly confused: you have a man-ape creature to assess for survivability. Was the man-ape ancestor a viable species? How do we know? Steve is keeping his magic formula to himself, so we can't say on our own.

3. So why would Touchstone introduce the term "man-ape" to our discussions if he doesn't sanction the term in the first place? After all, as far as I can find, the term doesn't turn up in our discussions until he himself introduces it. We're just using his term.

4. And even if he didn't introduce the term, Touchstone himself nevertheless appears to be using the term here as a matter of fact. Not as "a matter of ignorance" or as "some kind of polemical hostility." Why can't others do the same?

But I don’t identify any problems with shorter arms or much taller frames, or whatever other changes might take place. A soul is a soul, and temptation and sin are still temptation and sin.

Yes, but theoretically speaking, it's possible for man to evolve into something far different than he is today, isn't it? I'm not talking merely about short or long arms or short or tall bodies. But what if future humans were no longer sexually attracted to those of the opposite gender (even though it would seem to go against our survival as a species, it's theoretically plausible, isn't it)? Or what if future humans manage to eliminate or submerge the gene for alcoholism? Or the gene for covetousness or greed such that future humans were no longer tempted by wealth or power? What if the gene for adultery was discovered and future humans were genetically altered such that they would be incapable of adultery? Or of lying? Or what if future humans discovered the gene which controls aging, or developed bodies which never wore down at the cellular level, but which would be constantly renewed, such that death by aging was no longer possible? Isn't the premise of a movie like Gattaca or perhaps even 2001: A Space Odyssey possible according to evolutionary theory?

But the point is that Christ Himself could not relate to future humans in His incarnation as a human being. Not fully, anyway.

Evolutionary changes don’t affect the sinful nature of man — sin is not a trait coded for genetically, so far as I’m aware.

How does Touchstone know that evolutionary changes "don't affect the sinful nature of man"? According to evolution, it's theoretically possible, isn't it? After all, some scientists claim to have discovered a gene governing sexual behavior. What if it's possible to recode that gene, so to speak, to turn off sexual attraction for whatever reason (e.g. overpopulation threatening our species)? Or to make adulterous men faithful to their wives (e.g. Bill Clinton, who claimed he had a sexual addiction)? Or what if the gene for anger (and violence) was discovered and recoded among humans to never rise above a certain level?

In any case, it’s a moot point, as evolution has effectively stopped for humans, at least as so far as it is theorized for biological life as a whole.

Is this Touchstone's assertion or is this the majority consensus of evolutionists?

The selection process has ceased to be a natural according to Darwin's description and is now straddling the gap between natural and artificial selection; a human need not compete on the inherent strength of its allele anymore. Individuals and populations can be conserved and propagated technologically, without respect for the allele-performance relationship. Evolution will continue as long as there is reproduction based on heritable traits, but for humans, it's increasingly divorced from the kind of evolution we've generally been considering. At the rate of technological development right now, it's a non-starter to worry about "fitness" in the classic sense. Way before enough time could elapse to effect significant morphological changes in humans via "classic evolution", man's technological prowess will have introduced a completely new and governing dynamic for man's propagation. A woman doesn't need a mate to conceive a child any more, for example.

And how does this negate my point? Actually, doesn't it serve to lend further support to my argument -- and at the genetic level to boot? After all, it's theoretically possible to recode our genes, isn't it, as I've noted above? Thus, it's still possible to "evolve," whether by natural selection or by human and technological tampering.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another Catholic epologist bites the dust

scott carson said...

Don't worry--I read that blog for amusement only. If some kid came up to me and suggested that I had failed to prove that Aristotle's physics is mistaken, I wouldn't bother to answer him, either.

Imposing upon the text

Looks like Touchstone has responded to my post in four parts. I've only time for the first at the moment.

...and even at this level, I’d argue that Genesis is delivered in the form of a “creation hymn”, at least in its first chapters...

Touchstone argues that Genesis is delivered in the form of a "creation hymn." So where's the argument?

...and that a scientific/historical chronicle is quite an anachronistic expectation to place on the ancient Hebrew reader...

Touchstone often trades on equivocations. Here, he's using "scientific" and "historical" as if they were synonymous. Although it's true a scientific chronicle would be anachronistic, it's false that a historical one would be anachronistic. It's important to note this particular equivocation between science and history because Touchstone later uses it as part of his argument (more below).

As for presuppositions and external knowledge, it’s getting to be a bit repetitive, but again, external knowledge is necessary for any understanding of the text.

What's getting repetitive is that Touchstone often imputes to others positions they don't hold. Perhaps he's doing so to cloud the other side's position. Or to recast his own argument in a more positive light. Or perhaps he just doesn't know any better despite being corrected time and time again. Duplicity or stupidity. Such poor choices. Sigh.

Isaiah’s clapping trees can’t be understood without knowledge from outside the Bible — knowledge of nature and language reflecting that. If the trees in our yard give us clues as to what Isaiah means — they don’t have hands to our knowledge, so Isaiah must be deploying a bit of personification there — the rocks in the garden provide an atomic “clock” telling us the earth is very old.

It's true one needs external knowledge to interpret passages of Scripture. But the original author and his target audience also lived in the real world. They had access to external knowledge. For them, this external knowledge would be the knowledge of Ancient Near East (ANE) societies and cultures. Nothing less, nothing more. Emphasis on "nothing more." In other words, it's not a blank check to interpret the passage through the lens of the theory of evolution. Or through the lens of modern radiocarbon or atomic dating. And so on. In fact, doing so would be anachronistic (not to mention anthropomorphic), wouldn't it?

All of which is a recapitulation of a truth that is manifestly true for interpreting any text: a semantic context, and external knowledge base is necessary to enable interpretation. If this is in doubt, think of your favorite chapter of the Bible and see how far you get without external knowledge — language, culture, geography, biology.

Again, the "external knowledge" which Touchstone appeals to here does not mean one can go beyond the external knowledge of the ANE. Touchstone wants to use external knowledge in such a way as to allow him to import modern evolutionary theory and/or modern dating methods and their results into the text. The point is that external knowledge does not here refer to "the body of modern knowledge," but rather to something more like "the body of ANE knowledge."

The knowledge we begin with in reading the text shapes and defines what the text means. That’s a major principle in the grammatical-historical method as well; what we know about the historical context, the customs of the times, the language idioms, the cultural nuances, help us determine what the text is saying. The big split happens from the animus many Christians have toward science. The same heuristics deployed by proponents of GHM — application of historical knowledge from outside the Bible — are rejected when the knowledge is scientific. Why? Well, the apparent reason (to me) is that many Christians simply are uncomfortable with the answers they get if scientific knowledge is applied the way, say, extra-Biblical historical knowledge is applied via GHM.

The same "heurestics" are not "rejected when the knowledge is scientific," but when the knowledge is not in line with the original author's intended meaning. Of course, by no means do we reject modern science outright. But the real question is, what did the original author mean and how would the text be understood by someone in the ANE? We can then extrapolate from this, if it's possible, if the text warrants it, to see how it might apply to the modern reader. But the point of reference must be from the original author's intended meaning and perspective. But Touchstone wants to start from the modern reader's perspective and then read his perspective into the text.

The whole point of the Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is to avoid anachronistic readings of a text. The whole point of GHM is to understand the text from the original author's intended meaning and perspective. Not to understand it from our perspective. If our perspective happens to mesh with the original author's, that's fine and good. But, again, we need to keep in mind that the point of reference is the original author and his target audience. Not our own. Sorry to belabor the point, but it's an important one.

As Steve has pointed out before, imagine if we tried to interpret Dante's Divine Comedy in light of string theory. Or imagine if we tried to read modern genetics into Homer's Iliad in an attempt to explain Achilles' mortal heel. So why should we read modern biological evolutionary theory into Genesis? Or foist upon Gen. 1 modern dating schemes?

(Of course, one obvious difference is Christians affirm the historical veracity of Genesis. Moses was not writing a fictional story. But Homer and Dante knew and intended their works to be fictional even if they were based on historical events and people.)

It’s not at all clear from context in Genesis 1 that yom=solar day is implicated. There’s no earth for the sunrise or sunset even in existence on the first day — that’s a problem, suggesting that this is contextual evidence for a solar day when the sun and earth aren’t even created yet.

It's only a problem if we insist the text address our issues. That is, if we insist Gen. 1 addresses modern cosmology rather than ANE or Mosaic era Israelite cosmogony.

As Prof. John Walton explains in his commentary on Genesis:

In the Israelite view the sun was seen as a source of heat and as a source of light, but not as the source of light. The world was light before the sun came up, after the sun went down, and while the sun was hidden by clouds. The moon was also understood to give off light. "Light" could be better understood in Israelite structural terms by translating it as "daylight." One need not be troubled about whether the Israelite concept was that daylight was created before the sun. We must instead understand that the sequence of events in the chapter is according to functions, not according to material objects.


And, as always, we have available an overwhelming base of evidence for an ancient earth in view that provides an epistemic trump over conjectures from the text. Gen 2:4 uses yom as something different than solar days. Should we interpret Gen 2:4 to mean a solar day because solar days are implicated “nearly always”.

Here's what I originally said:

3. The Hebrew term yom (="day") nearly always means "day" in the Bible. And when it does not, it is clear from the context that it does not.

How does Gen. 2:4 contradict what I originally said? How does a different meaning for yom in Gen. 2:4 negate the meaning of yom in Gen. 1? The question at issue is, what does yom mean in the context of Gen. 1? Specifically, what did Moses mean by yom and what does yom mean for his target audience in Gen. 1?

Plus, if yom in Gen. 1 = an indefinite period of time, then would that likewise apply to Gen. 2:1-3? Because the Jews base their Sabbath rest on interpreting Gen. 2:1-3 as a day which begins on Friday evening and concludes on Saturday evening (the seventh day). As Ex. 20:11 teaches: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

Again, Touchstone is attempting to understand Genesis according to modern scientific categories. But Genesis should be understood on its own terms. And let the chips fall where they may.

As physicist Richard Feynman once said:

People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?" No, I'm not. If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it. That would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers, then that's the way it is.

The point is that the universe must be understood and explained on its own terms. It is what it is. We shouldn't attempt to read into it our own preconceived ideas or theories, or look for things which don't exist in the first place. We shouldn't come to it expecting to find something -- especially something which we already have in mind.

Likewise with the Bible.

Here’s a summary of some of the similarities from Dr. Alexander Heidel’s The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation.

Touchstone cites Heidel's work in order to show similarities between the first few chapters of Genesis and the Enuma Elish. But, actually, Touchstone's summary of Heidel's book doesn't do that at all. Instead, Touchstone's summary underscores how dissimilar the two are.

Nevertheless, if he wants to make an argument for similarities between the two, Touchstone needs to do more than merely summarize the Enuma Elish. He needs to place the actual verses side by side with one another. He needs to take the Genesis verses and the Enuma Elish verses, place them alongside one another, and then draw whatever parallels he apparently sees between them. Since it's his argument that the two are similar, he needs to pull up his sleeves and do the hard work to demonstrate his argument for us. In other words, let's see what happens when Touchstone works with the actual texts in question.

Zimmern went so far as to state that the early appearance of the watery chaos in Genesis 1 'is unintelligible in the mouth of an early Israelite,' for he supposed that the concept of a watery chaos was derived from the annual flooding of the Mesopotamian river.12 Of course, his argument is no longer tenable because, as Wakeman has demonstrated,13 the concept of primeval water is found across a broad spectrum of ancient myths and not confined to any one geographical area.

Primeval water is not synonymous with chaotic water. In fact, chaotic water is not even mentioned in Gen. 1, is it? This is an outside imposition on the text.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Docetic historiography


"[Quoting Prejean] My point is that I don't consider NT (historical) exegesis as a field all that significant to the question of dogmatic authority of revelation."

Which is precisely why the charge of Docetism sticks on you. This goes hand in hand with your docetic view of the apostles. You don’t count them as authoritative because, in your view, they’re not “real” people. And it also goes hand in hand with your docetic view of Christ (for which, see below).

Coincidentally, I [Steve Hays] just happened to read the following statement yesterday, which immediately made me think of Prejean and Robinson alike. Although they like to talk a lot about church history and historical theology, they have no genuine historical consciousness or groundedness. Rather, they're like the Jesus Seminar:

"There is one rule of historical work that can never be ignored, however. Historical work—to really be historical—can never leave 'time and place,' a phrase that Martin Hengel, professor of NT at the University of Tübingen, used often with me in our discussions about historical method. His complaint about of the recent works is that the debate has become a discussion of ideas detached from the sources and ancient context. The result of this detachment is the spinning of theories that are historical fantasies, no matter how brilliantly creative or rhetorically powerful the argument for them is," D. Bock, The Missing Gospels (Nelson Book 2006), 36.

The New Progressive Bible

And now, a word from our sponsor:


The New Progressive Bible
By Propaganda Department

Our latest strategy to lure the religious rubes into the progressive fold of the Democratic Party has resulted in a decisive victory at the polls this November. To solidify this victory and make it irreversible we must reconcile the defunct old Founding Fathers' Bible with the progressive ideas of wealth redistribution and equality of outcome for all. But how can this be achieved if nobody in the progressive community can read the old Bible without dismissing it as an odious collection of outdated tales filled with unpleasant people, unhygienic brawlers, monarchism, and lunatic notions about the existence of God.

The New Modern Library's Progressive Bible is written within a scope of only 200 words to make it accessible to everyone. It is produced in various versions, each of which targets a wide range of demographics, from God-free to God-lite (less than 3% opiate for the masses) to the Rick James "Superfreak" Version, and is suitable for any occasion - pick one that best fits your current moral needs. In the Egalitarian Bible, for instance, God is equal to everybody else in the story. He votes, drives a hybrid, is in debt, uses recreational drugs, hates Bush, participates in peace marches, complains about the minimum wage, and feels lousy about nothing like everybody else.

Exactly half of the characters are women (50% of the kings are now queens). Solomon is Shirley. Very few of the characters are Jews. Some of them are mentally retarded; the rest are progressive minorities, with the ever growing Hispanic representation and a vocal Muslim voting bloc, as well as a gay, lesbian, and transgender alliance, mirroring life itself.

Every progressive Christian worth his/her/its "pillar of salt" is sure to enjoy the revised story of Moses, whose crusading band of Zionist aggressors ambushed the disenfranchised Egyptian freedom fighters in what became known as the "Red Sea Massacre."

Other revised inspirational stories of moral relativism include:

• The Organic Garden of Eden
• Pharaoh Has Two Mummies
• What Happens in Sodom and Gomorrah Stays in Sodom and Gomorrah
• Noah Builds Ark to Survive Global Warming
• Jonah Saves the Whale
• David Appeases Goliath
• The Bilingual Writing on the Wall
• The Tower of Babel & The Controlled Demolition Theory
• Uncle Samson & The NY Times Reporter Delilah
• Judas The ACLU Lawyer
• Joseph & Mary Celebrate Holiday Season By Donating Fetus To Federal Embryonic Stem Cell Bank
• Government Program Feeds The Multitudes with Five "Whole Grain" Loaves And Two Non-Endangered Fishes

Since the collapse of the Tower of Babel, a number of groups and individuals have challenged the mainstream account of the event as an "act of God." Although God may indeed have had a motive to destroy it in the legal sense, a Babel conspiracy theory generally refers to a belief in a broad cabal, in which the attacks were executed by powerful groups often including government agencies or an alleged secret global network. A claim that Jews didn't show up for work that day has been widely reported. Many progressive Christians challenging the official account identify as part of the Babel Truth Movement.

All versions of our Progressive Bible are wisdom-free. Everybody has some point of view, nobody knows anymore than anybody else, and everybody is right. We leave out any opinion that might smack of narrow-minded and provincial ethical piety.

The New and Revised Ten Progressive Commandments are a Pentecost for our time. We tell everybody to do the opposite of those silly old Jurassic edicts. We honor all kinds of equality, moral relativism, and hate of bigotry that make our enlightened age, if still a nightmare, better than the past.

The New Modern Library has already quietly replaced the old, fossilized books in many progressive churches and motel chains with our zippy new versions.

Up the Tiber without a paddle

I see that T-blog has come to the attention of a Catholic blogger and epologist by the name of Scott Carson. Here’s some of what he has to say for himself.

“I am an associate professor of philosophy at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I earned my PhD in philosophy from Duke University and a PhD in classics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My research interests include the history and philosophy of science, especially the metaphysics and epistemology of ancient and medieval science.”

With such an impressive resume, he should be able to make an equally impressive case for Catholicism. So let’s see how well he does.

“To recapitulate briefly: I see doctrinal development beginning from "theological axioms", that is, theological propositions that are known to be necessarily (and, thus, irreformably) true on the grounds of the Church's own indefectibility as guaranteed by Our Lord.”

i) I suppose it’s hardly surprising that a philosophy prof. would take such an aprioristic approach—although classical foundationalism has fallen on hard times.

But a basic problem with this approach is that Christianity is a revealed religion, founded on the twin pillars of historic revelation and historic redemption.

Therefore, it is not an axiomatic system. Rather, our theological method ought to be a posteriori. What has God actually said and done?

ii) Then there’s the question of how Carson identifies the true church. Where did our Lord guarantee the indefectibility of the Roman Catholic Church?


“From these beginnings, theological speculation, over time, can give rise to further propositions which, if they are found to be logically consistent with the axioms, can safely be added to the body of doctrine that is to be believed de fide, since the deductive process guarantees the truth of these propositions.”

i) I’m puzzled by why a philosophy prof. would make such a statement. You can’t *deduce* anything from mere logical *consistency*. You can only deduce something by strict *implication*. Mere consistency entails nothing in particular.

ii) And if deduction is his theological method, then how does that set Catholicism apart from Evangelicalism?

What Evangelical would deny that we are bound to believe whatever is *deducible* from Scripture?

“On my account, much of the ‘theological speculation’ that gets absorbed in this process is clarificatory in character, though it may contain some speculation that goes beyond mere clarification. Ultimately, however, anything that is accepted as de fide will have some deductive proof following from other irreformable doctrines and the theorems that can be derived from them.”

But *speculation* isn’t the same thing as *deduction*, now is it? Why is a philosophy prof. with two earned doctorates from major universities unable to draw such elementary distinctions?

“That there must be such a body of doctrine seems indisputably clear to me, since it is both logically and temporally prior to the Christian scriptures themselves (I have more to say on this topic in my post on the idea of sola scriptura; for a very strange and ultimately unsuccessful defense of sola scriptura and an attempt to show the Catholic idea [along with just about every other Catholic idea] to be circular, I invite you to peruse the bizarre world of this blog [Triablogue]).”

Another couple of problems:

i) Why begin with the “Christian” Scriptures? What about the OT canon?

And what about the covenant community in OT times? Did the covenant community from, say, Abraham to the time of Jesus, have a Magisterium to keep it in check?

If not, how could the OT covenant community get along without a Magisterium, but not the NT covenant community?

This is one of the problems with theological apriorism. It’s fine for theistic proofs involving a God who subsists outside of space and time.

But when dealing with a historical institution like the covenant community, apriorism is out of place.

You have to listen rather than dictate. Listen to what God has actually said.

The people of God didn’t spring into being, ex nihilo, at Pentecost. They existed in Second Temple Judaism. In the Intertestamental period. In the postexilic period. In the Babylonian Exile. In the preexilic period. In the Monarchy. In the age of the Judges. In the wilderness. In Egypt. In the Patriarchal age. And the antediluvian era (Gen 4:26).

Where was the papacy or episcopacy during all that time? How did they manage without a Magisterium?

“What is ultimately at stake here? If you reject the idea that at least one of the Church's teachings is irreformable, then ultimately you cannot defend any Christian teaching at all. Jesus may or may not be the son of God or the Second Person of the Trinity; indeed, God may or may not be Trinitarian; God may or may not exist. Without the authority to teach these things authoritatively--including the authority to enshrine some of these teachings in the form of scriptures that are themselves to be regarded as definitive and authoritative--then nothing is authoritative and anything may be believed.”

Several more problems:

i) How is an authoritative church sufficient while an authoritative Bible is insufficient? How does adding another layer of teaching—indeed, multiple layers—solve the problem (assuming it is a problem)?

You have the teaching of Scripture, and then you have the teaching of the church about the teaching of Scripture. But if the teaching of Scripture cannot be irreformable apart from some extrascriptural mechanism (the church), then how can the church’s teaching be irreformable apart from some extraecclesiastical mechanism? How does Carson avoid an infinite regress?

ii) Why should I feel responsible for hypothetical consequences?

Like a lot of converts to Rome, Carson is on a quest for certainty. But, frankly, I’ve never felt that I’m responsible for contingencies beyond my control. Why should I?

I don’t have any warrant to be more or less certain than God as given me reason to be.

What is ultimately at stake? Well, if all we’re talking about is hypothetical variables, then what’s at stake is a hypothetical high-stakes game.

But being purely hypothetical, nothing is really at stake. All I have to lose is a pile of hypothetical chips. I can afford to lose a pile of hypothetical chips. It doesn’t make a dent in my actual bank account.

These worst-case scenarios are empty abstractions precisely because they’re too hypothetical to evaluate. I don’t live in fear of imaginary conjectures.

iii) A Protestant could just as easily float a hypothetical defeater for Rome. Does Carson lose any sleep over that spectral threat to his faith?

iv) One of Carson’s problems is his lopsidedness. He acts as if the only danger to be avoided is religious uncertainty.

There is, however, an equally perilous danger to be avoided, and that’s the hazard of false certainty—of being certain about the wrong thing.

What about the danger of a frozen error? The danger of being locked into a primitive misjudgment on the part of the early church?

Once a primitive error is made, it’s frozen in time and place, and lays the foundation for an escalating chain of errors.

iv) Carson considers sola Scriptura in a vacuum. But where Calvinism is concerned, sola Scriptura doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

Calvinism is not the same thing is Deism. It’s not as if God dropped the Bible out of the sky, and left us to fend for ourselves.

The God of the Bible is also the God of providence. A God with a providential concern for the covenant community. That, after all, is what the Bible happens to be: a covenantal document.

Catholics act as if a communal consciousness is distinctive to Catholicism. They need to acquaint themselves with covenant theology.

“Either the Church has that authority, or she does not. If she does not have that authority, as we have seen, then nothing about Christianity ever need be believed by anybody.”

A couple more problems:

i) What difference would it make to the structure of his argument from authority if we substituted the “Bible” for the “Church”?

“Either the Bible has that authority, or it does not. If it does not have that authority, as we have seen, then nothing about Christianity ever need be believed by anybody.”

Why is the churchly version of the argument from authority supposed to be sound while the biblical version of the argument from authority is supposed to be unsound?

ii) Why is the Church more believable than the Bible?

Moving over to his post on sola scriptura:

“This is a Scriptural text [James 2.14, 17, 21-26] that has occasioned much debate in this regard--so much so that some Reformers of the 16th century sought to exclude the letter of St. James from the Canon of the New Testament.”

“Whatever the source of this suspicion of the ‘Romish doctrine’ of ‘salvation through good works’, it is interesting to note the fervor of those who wished to purge even the Scriptures themselves of any such doctrine, to the point of wanting to exclude entirely those passages deemed, well, too ‘Catholic’.”

“It [Rev 22:18-19] would prove to be rather embarrassing for the likes of Luther and others who wanted to remove parts of the book of Revelation from the Canon of the New Testament.”

Several problems:

i) Why does Carson keep using the plural when referring to “those” who wanted to remove Revelation or the Letter of James from the canon? Other than Luther, which of the 16C Reformers wanted to remove Revelation or the Letter of James from the canon?

And that would be an overstatement even in Luther’s case.

ii) Since I’m a Calvinist rather than a Lutheran, it’s not incumbent on me to go to bat for Lutheranism. But, even so, this gets to be a tiresome cliché.

The Lutheran tradition did not, in fact, expel the Letter of James from the canon—much less Revelation. Indeed, several Lutheran luminaries have written commentaries on James, such as Bengel, Schlatter, Lenski, and David Scaer.

Schlatter also has a section on the theology of James in his two-volume magnum opus: The Theology of the Apostles (Baker 1998), 82-103.

iii) Why is James a problem for Protestants, but Paul is not a problem for Catholics? Why the asymmetry in Carson’s critique?

iv) It’s true that the Reformation reopened old debates over the canon. Why does Carson have a problem with that? Is there something inherently wrong with revisiting historical questions? Periodically reexamining the evidence? Reviewing the original arguments?

Does Carson think the church fathers had bad arguments for the canon? Does he think that sifting through their arguments would cause us to reconsider their selection criteria?

Well, if their arguments don’t hold up under rational scrutiny, then why should we be honor-bound by poorly-reasoned arguments?

Or if, conversely, he thinks their conclusions were well-founded, then what to we have to fear in going back over the evidence for ourselves?

There’s a fideistic streak in Carson’s theology. For him, the Magisterium is a makeweight.


“It is in this connection that we run up against that other great rallying cry of Reformed Protestantism, sola Scriptura, "Scripture alone", that is, the idea that the only legitimate teaching authority is the text of the Scriptures itself. This is a curious principle if for no other reason than its self-refuting nature. Now we are told that the sole source of teaching authority is to be Scripture alone. Call this assertion principle S. On what authority are we to accept the truth of principle S? According to principle S, the only source of authority for the truth of any teaching is Scripture, but nowhere do the Scriptures advocate anything like principle S.”

i) Other issues aside, how is sola Scriptura self-refuting, but sola ecclesia is not self-refuting? If the church authorizes the canon of Scripture, who or what authorizes the church? Once again, how does Carson avoid an infinite regress?

Why can’t a philosophy prof. anticipate really obvious counterexamples to his own position?

Ironically, Pope Leo XIII understood the primacy of Scripture: “Since the divine and infallible Magisterium of the Church rests also on the authority of Holy Scripture, the first thing to be done is to vindicate the trustworthiness of the sacred records at least as human documents, from which can be clearly proved, as from primitive and authentic testimony, the Divinity and the mission of Christ our Lord, the institution of a hierarchical Church and the primacy of Peter and his successors," The Papal Encyclicals (Perian 1990), 2:333b.

ii) Furthermore, for someone who operates with an axiomatic system, why couldn’t he treat Biblical authority as axiomatic? A self-evident first principle?

iii) To answer his question directly, Sola scripture derives from the identity of the Christian faith as a revealed religion. We believe in sola Scriptura because we believe in the primacy of revelation. Revealed theology is the basis of doctrine. And Scripture is the only record of revealed theology.

iv) We are dealing, moreover, with historic revelation. Datable revelation. Addressable revelation. Revelation that occurred in time and space, in a particular place and period.

The idea of a “living,” evolving, free-floating, and ultimately ahistorical tradition is antithetical to the identity of the Christian faith as a revealed religion.


“In point of fact, none of the texts of the New Testament existed in any written form until well into the second generation of Christian history. While the Apostles yet lived their teaching was transmitted orally, and it probably remained oral for some time.”

So the only apostolic teaching was oral teaching? What about the Gospels of Matthew and John? What about the letters of Peter, Paul, and John?

Weren’t these examples of written apostolic teaching? Written while they yet lived, because they were written by the Apostles?

Of course, a liberal would deny this, but Carson doesn’t strike me as being a liberal.

And if he has a liberal view of Biblical authority, then what’s to prevent him from having a liberal view of ecclesiastical authority?

“The earliest New Testament text is the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, dating to about 50 or 51. Now, he is obviously teaching things in that letter, things that are not written in any Scriptural text because the only Scriptural texts available to him were the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures, neither of which contained any direct Christian teachings. The only way to get Christian teachings out of those texts is through ampliative interpretation, precisely the thing that is condemned by the principle of Sola Scriptura.”

So Carson doesn’t believe in Messianic prophecy or typology? To preach that Jesus was the fulfillment of OT expectation and promise was “ampliative”?


“It is extraordinarily ad hoc in its approach, and it presupposes that the New Testament Canon that we have today is something that somehow settled itself, independently of the Church's teaching authority. In point of fact, the documents of the New Testament derive their teaching authority not from their being part of the Canon, but rather they derive their being in the Canon by virtue of the teaching authority of the Church, which both produced them and put them into the Canon.”

i) So the canonical books of the NT have no intrinsic authority? They’re an arbitrary complilation of documents on which the church confers authority by sheer fiat? Is that Carson’s position?

The church could just as well have canonized the Gnostic gospels? Is that Carson’s position?

ii) Did the church produce the books of the NT? Wasn’t it individuals who produced them?

iii) Did the church put them into the canon? Wasn’t it a case of individuals who wrote books and letters both *to* and *for* members of *local* churches, viz. the Letter to the Romans, the Letter to the Corinthians, the Letter to the Philippians, &c.? Or individuals who wrote the books to and for other individuals to read, viz. Luke and Acts (for Theophilus)?

Once again, this is the problem with theological apriorism. It lacks any historical awareness of the concrete circumstances under which divine revelation was actually given.

The church didn’t preexist the apostolate, and orality didn’t preexist textuality.

It’s true that the church had a role in the dissemination of the Scriptures. Likewise, I get my mail from the mailman. That doesn’t make the mailman my Magisterium.

“If you can show that Rome usurped her authority to teach from the only authority ever intended by God, namely, Holy Writ, then you are well on your way to becoming your own magisterium. Once you've gotten rid of Rome as an interpretive guide, as Luther and the other Reformers did, you need to fill the vacuum by providing a new, Reformed guide to interpretation. Scripture all by itself will always stand in need of interpretation, otherwise there would never be any need to listen to any preacher ever again, be he Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Free Will Baptist or what have you.”

Other issues aside, Carson also says that “like many converts from Anglicanism, Newman has served as a kind of model for me.”

But how did he convert to Rome in the first place? As an Anglican, Rome was not his interpretive guide. If Rome had been his interpretive guide from the outset, there would have been no process of conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. No actual transition.

So he must have had an interpretive guide apart from Rome to use as his roadmap on the way to Rome. But if he can get to Rome without a Roman roadmap, who needs it?