Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Does the Enns justify the memes?

I'm reposting some comments I left at Jim Hamilton's blog.


steve hays November 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

According to Paul Seely:

“And it is precisely because ancient peoples were scientifically naive that they did not distinguish between the appearance of the sky and their scientific concept of the sky. They had no reason to doubt what their eyes told them was true, namely, that the stars above them were fixed in a solid dome and that the sky literally touched the earth at the horizon. So, they equated appearance with reality and concluded that the sky must be a solid physical part of the universe just as much as the earth itself.”

Let’s put that to the test. To take a few examples:

i) According to the diagram supplied by Peter Enns, ancient Near Easterners supposedly thought a divine palace was floating above the firmament.

Question: Did any ancient Near Easterners ever observe a divine palace floating above the firmament? Is that what the world looked like?

ii) An implication of this diagram is that heavenly beings (e.g. angels) came down through windows in the firmament. But does Peter Enns or Paul Seely think ancient Near Easterners ever observed heavenly beings coming down through windows the firmament (or going back up the same way)?

iii) According to Babylonian mythology, Marduk split Tiamat (the sea goddess) in two, using one half to roof the sky, while her breasts formed the mountains, the Tigris and Euphrates were her tears, and clouds were her spittle.

Is this because that’s what their eyes told them?

iv) Mesopotamian art contains depictions of griffins, centaurs, lion-centaurs, lion-dragons, snake-dragons, humanoid scorpions, mermen, a seven-headed snake monster, and so on. Is that because ancient Near Easterners were used to observing these creatures in real life? Was that a part of their empirical experience?

Same thing with Mayan or Egyptian iconography. Is that a reflection of how the world appeared to them?

v) According to the diagram, the netherworld is a subterranean cave or cavern. Did ancient Near Easterners depict the world that way because they saw the shades of the dead wandering around the underworld? Is that what their eyes told them?

vi) According to the diagram, the earth is supported by submarine pylons. Did ancient Near Easterners depict the world that way because ancient skin-divers swam under the earth and saw the earth supported by pylons? Is that what their eyes told them?

But Seely and Enns don’t believe it was possible for ancient Near Easterners to experience the world in that way, since they don’t believe that’s how the world is configured.

steve hays November 8, 2011 at 7:51 am #
Chris Skinner

“Nevertheless, isn’t it possible that two well-intentioned, well-educated, intelligent, devoted Christian scholars can look at the same evidence and disagree on what’s there?”

Actually, these are fundamentally asymmetrical positions. As Peter Enns himself recently conceded:

“If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.”

So by his own admission, Enns is making a clean break with the viewpoint of Scripture. Hence, that’s not a difference of opinion regarding the meaning of Scripture, but whether or not we accept the meaning of Scripture.

steve hays November 8, 2011 at 8:45 am #

“Contextual data is relevant for establishing ranges of cultural codes, sensitivities, ways different kinds of discourse are used, etc., to help calibrate out interpretive questions for reading Genesis 1 (to stick with that example).”

Which doesn’t yield belief in a solid dome.

i) For instance, John Currid has argued that OT cosmography employs architectural metaphors. Cf. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, 43.

ii) Beale has extended this approach in terms of cosmic temple imagery.

So citing intertextual considerations doesn’t select for your position rather than Currid’s or Beale’s.

steve hays November 8, 2011 at 11:20 am #

“Just for fun, Beale’s so-called approach works primarily from Jon Levenson’s and other ANE scholars’ work on ancient mythic cosmography and cosmology. Beale simply removes the word ‘myth’ from his account and also doesn’t mention that the scholars whose work he draws upon also consider Genesis to be participating in the various kinds of cosmological ideas that Beale rejects.”

Just for fun, you might trying drawing some rudimentary distinctions:

i) For starters, distinguishing the significance of something in the primary source from the significance of something in the secondary source. For instance, Solomon’s temple incorporates various ANE architectural motifs. But that doesn’t mean they retain the same symbolic import. There’s a process of transvaluation.

ii) Likewise, you also beg the question regarding how “mythic” cosmography was understood by Egyptians, Mesopotamians, et al.

To take a comparison, when we study Mayan hieroglyphs, it would be silly to assume the artist thought that was a literal description of the world. It’s clearly stylized. It didn’t resemble the world he saw.

steve hays November 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm #
One thing I’d point out is that Enns is drawing a false dichotomy. It’s not just Mohler who distinguishes between appearance and reality. Astronomers tell us that when we look at stars, we’re not seeing the star as it is, but as it was, many millions or even billions of years ago. The star is actually far older than it looks, if you factor in the amount of time it took for that image to reach us.

Although we see the star now, we’re not seeing the star as it is right now. There’s a vast time lag. So, according to modern astronomy, appearances are deceptive.

Enns, no less than Mohler, must distinguish between appearance and reality: apparent age and real age.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm #
Enns says apparent age makes the facts fit the theory. I’d simply point out that when both naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution employ methodological naturalism, that methodology also makes the facts fit the theory. The only facts that are allowed to count as evidence for a scientific theory are naturalistic facts.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

So on your philosophy of science, the aim of the scientific method is not to discover the true cause of some effect, but to stipulate in advance of the evidence what the world can or can’t be like.

On your view, even if a miracle was the true explanation for the crime, your methodology commits you to excluding the true explanation.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

So you’re telling us that cosmology and paleontology are unscientific inasmuch as they reconstruct the past, which is unrepeatable.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

How does your criterion of repeatability square with your hypothetical regarding the crime scene? Say a murder occurred. Is the murder repeatable?

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm #
Don Johnson

“This is because a miracle by its very nature cannot be reliably repeated. What science will do in that case is be silent.”

How can science know ahead of time what is or isn’t repeatable? You’re assuming the future resembles the past, but, of course, that’s not something you can inductively establish.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

That’s not an intellectually responsible answer. Try to present a serious reply.

“No, the preferred way to do science is to do repeatable experiments, but sometimes that is not possible. But there are other ways to do science. I think you know this.”

If there are other ways to do science, then your repeatability criterion was not a scientific criterion in the first place.

You keep making armchair claims about science, then introducing ad hoc caveats when challenged. You’re making up the definition as you go along.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

Here is how it works. You raise an objection, I answer you on your own terms.

For instance, the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Science has an entry on “induction and the uniformity of nature” in which the contributor admits that the problem of induction remains an insoluble conundrum in the philosophy of science.

So your dismissive statement about my “skepticism” indicates that you’re the one who’s not up on the issues.

Yes, I’m asking you leading questions to expose your inadequate philosophy of science. Yes, I know how to answer my own questions because the answers make a hash of your position. It’s called the Socratic method.

Finally, you’re the one who’s reducing science to a game with arbitrary, made-up rules that don’t correspond to reality. Science is supposed to be a descriptive discipline. Based on observation. Methodological naturalism is prescriptive. It’s fundamentally unscientific.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 10:37 pm #
Don Johnson

“If you really believe what you are saying, then you should live it and decline to use the advances of science.”

That reflects a terribly naive philosophy of science on your part. I’d suggest you read somebody like Bas van Fraassen.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 11:19 am #
Or, like the Atheist Missionary, you can hide behind intellectual rhetoric, but never back up your claims with suitable arguments.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm #
The Atheist Missionary

“Steve, where is the rhetoric? If you disagree with the observation I made in my first comment, please explain why.”

What’s the topic of this post, TAM? Whether or not Scripture teaches a flat earth. How did you respond? By making this a choice between scientific evidence and the veracity of Scripture.

But that would only be relevant if Hamilton was defending the thesis Scripture teaches a flat earth. Since the point of his post was to oppose that thesis, how is it unscientific for Hamilton to deny the flatness of the earth?

For a rationalist, reasoning isn’t your strong suit.

“I rely on the authority of those who are specialists in their fields of endeavour to support my beliefs (as do you in most other facets of your life).”

So you rely on the authority of scientifically trained writers like Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise, Marcus Ross, John Byl, and Jonathan Sarfati to support young-earth creationism.

steve hays November 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm #
Regarding Hamilton’s allegedly condescending, dismissive tone, or questioning the motives of Enns, it’s revealing that Hamilton’s critics don’t apply the same yardstick to the tone adopted by Peter Enns, which epitomizes the very faults they impute to Hamilton:

But, of course, they share the outlook of Enns, so they give him a pass.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. *Yawn* Haven't we already been over this kind of stuff?

    In summary, there are literal appearances mixed in with primitive logical deductions and theological concepts mushed together. When dealing with the first category all you do is focus on the others regardless of the evidence and explanatory power for the first category. That's hardly a case worth taking seriously.

    Now, compare this with your "theory" where you spend over 30 posts pathetically trying to explain away your nagging problem of a "divine" book drenched from head to toe in primitive cosmology that never betrays divine knowledge of the real stuff.

    Nice blog post title though. Next time focus on clever content. ;)


    "Steve, There's lots of amazing stories in the OT that you never saw, yet you believe they happened."

    Ed, try not to be a dunce. I'm not the one who's arguing from appearances–Seely is. I'm responding to him on his own grounds by citing counterexamples. It's called a tu quoque argument.