Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Déjà vu

Kevin De Young recently did a post on “10 reasons to believe in a historical Adam.” It drew predictable criticism from the usual quarters.

BTW, we’re glimpsing an Alice in Wonderland sort of world when it’s controversial for a minister to defend Bible history. Shouldn’t it be controversial for a minister to deny Bible history? But somewhere along the line, certain segments of evangelicalism fell through the rabbit hole.

Anyway, I wish to make a different point. The basic objection to the historicity of the Gen 2 is that it’s not possible for a single breeding pair to account for the current size and genetic diversity of the human population.

Now, I’ve discussed this before, so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I want to make a different observation. One of the running themes of Scripture is lack of faith in what God can do.

One stock example concerns God’s promise to bless barren women with sons (e.g. Isaac, John the Baptist).

Another paradigm-case is the Exodus-generation. Even though God miraculously delivered them from Egypt and miraculously sustained them in the Sinai, the Exodus-generation could never bring itself to believe that God was able to provide for them. It’s as if they suffered amnesia every time God performed a miracle. For this reason, they were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died, as punishment for their persistent infidelity.

This is also a running theme in the Gospels. Sometimes this involves the opponents of Christ. Even in the teeth of visible, undeniable miracles, they refuse to believe in him.

But it also afflicts the disciples. They are “slow to believe.” Of “little faith.”

So when I hear professing Christians assure me that Gen 2 is impossible, I can’t help thinking that I’ve heard all that before. It has a very familiar ring to it. Isn’t that the attitude of all those unbelieving Israelites who perished in the wilderness? 

20 comments:

  1. Excellent observation.

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  2. Mike Gantt, why are you over here? Don't you realize that your universalism insults the message of the new testament? You realize that these triablogue guys regard you as a heretic, don't you?

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  3. I enjoyed reading James McGrath's post which made DeYoung's article look totally silly.

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  4. Actually, McGrath is silly. DeYoung has an internally consistent position. McGrath, by contrast, is trying to stake out an ad hoc intellectual compromise that lacks the consistency of either Biblical theism or full-blown atheism. Why does he even keep up Christian appearances? Why not make a clean break?

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  5. Steve, there are values under the Christian spectrum that McGrath embraces and practices. Yet, you don't consider him a Christian. Just what is your definition of Christian, and why doesn't he fit your definition? Is there a certain test he needs to pass?

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  6. Mike said:

    "Steve, there are values under the Christian spectrum that McGrath embraces and practices. Yet, you don't consider him a Christian. Just what is your definition of Christian, and why doesn't he fit your definition? Is there a certain test he needs to pass?"

    1. Your criteria "values under the Christian spectrum" is so vague. There are "values under the Christian spectrum" that many atheists embrace and practice (e.g. helping those in need, giving to charities). There are many heretics such as Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or Muslims who help little old ladies across the street. This could be considered to be practicing "values under the Christian spectrum."

    2. For starters, it'd be good if McGrath accepted inerrancy.

    3. He might start with the apostle Paul's test in 2 Cor 13:5.

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  7. Isn't this just an ad hoc explanation and an appeal to fear that doesn't really solve anything?

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  8. Mike,

    You said, "Mike Gantt, why are you over here? Don't you realize that your universalism insults the message of the new testament? You realize that these triablogue guys regard you as a heretic, don't you?"

    Their view of me does not keep me from applauding when they make a point about our Lord and His ways that is true, important, and helpful.

    Steve is right, and effective, when he points out that denying the historicity of Adam and Eve is but another example of unbelief in the power of God. Such unbelief is nothing new, however much modern man may think otherwise.

    In his conceit, modern man thinks naturalism and evolutionary theory give him the right - even the responsibility - to be skeptical about biblical accounts. Yet skepticism has always been around, as the biblical accounts themselves make clear, albeit fueled by the varying ideologies of their times.

    I appreciate Jim McGrath when he uses his erudition to refute the Jesus mythicists, but on the subject of evolution he sides with the Areopagites. Thus one of the occupational hazards of the academy is the constant temptation to seek the approval of peers more than the approval of God.

    Science is a worthy pursuit, but when it is used to undermine faith in biblical accounts there is something else at work besides science. It is unbelief.

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  9. Steve- as I'm sure you know, because you're (at least) a pretty intelligent guy, as soon as you start invoking miracles, then you can accept any discrepancy between the Word and the World that you desire. Why not just go whole hog and say that nothing we perceive means anything if it contradicts this particular text that you (for some reason) subscribe to?

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  10. Greg said:

    "Isn't this just an ad hoc explanation and an appeal to fear that doesn't really solve anything?"

    I don't see how it's an ad hoc explanation or an appeal to fear.

    For one thing, these are professing evangelical Christians. Christians who profess to subscribe to inerrancy. We supposedly share sola Scriptura in common. As such, we can appeal to Scripture to correct one another.

    For another, Steve Hays has mentioned in this very post how he has already dealt with the issue in the past. He has dealt with the issue from various angles including exegetical and scientific angles. For example, check out his posts labeled "Adam," "Genetics," and "Peter Enns." These include his post "Adam had 'em."

    At least that's what it seems to be to me.

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  11. zilch said:

    "Steve- as I'm sure you know, because you're (at least) a pretty intelligent guy, as soon as you start invoking miracles, then you can accept any discrepancy between the Word and the World that you desire. Why not just go whole hog and say that nothing we perceive means anything if it contradicts this particular text that you (for some reason) subscribe to?"

    Hm, I'm afraid it seems you're asking a rather loaded question.

    In any case, Steve's audience is fellow professing Christians who ostensibly subscribe to biblical miracles.

    However, you raise the interesting point that on atheism, naturalism, and evolution it would be quite difficult (to put it mildly) to veridically negotiate our sense or perception of reality with reality itself. As I'm sure you're aware, the classic condundrum is how do we know we're not just brains in a vat given your beliefs? Of course, this poses problems for anyone. But it seems particularly difficult to surmount to me from the confluence of atheism and naturalism and evolution. But that's off-topic so I'll leave it alone.

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  12. GREG SAID:

    "Isn't this just an ad hoc explanation and an appeal to fear that doesn't really solve anything?"

    i) As I said at the outset, I have addressed the objection directly elsewhere.

    ii) Since De Young's critics are professing Christians, it's not ad hoc to respond to them within a Christian framework. One leading theme in Scripture is how many people underestimate what God is able to do.

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  13. Mike said...

    "Steve, there are values under the Christian spectrum that McGrath embraces and practices."

    Many apostates and nominal Christians continue to embrace residual Christian morality or religious observances.

    "Yet, you don't consider him a Christian. Just what is your definition of Christian, and why doesn't he fit your definition? Is there a certain test he needs to pass?"

    For starters, I don't think it's asking too much that Christians believe what Christ believes.

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  14. zilch said...

    "Steve- as I'm sure you know, because you're (at least) a pretty intelligent guy, as soon as you start invoking miracles, then you can accept any discrepancy between the Word and the World that you desire."

    Since miracles are part of the Word and the World alike, there is no discrepancy.

    "Why not just go whole hog and say that nothing we perceive means anything if it contradicts this particular text that you (for some reason) subscribe to?"

    I could turn that around: from an atheistic standpoint, why assume that what we perceive matches reality? According to a scientific analysis of sensory perception, what we perceive is not the world in itself, but highly encoded information.

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  15. As I'm sure you're aware, the classic condundrum is how do we know we're not just brains in a vat given your beliefs? Of course, this poses problems for anyone. But it seems particularly difficult to surmount to me from the confluence of atheism and naturalism and evolution.

    rocking- I'm no more exercised by the brain-in-a-vat conundrum than you are by the possibility that your God, Bible and Creation and all, is just a missive from a minor demiurge to a demon, chatting about a hoedown last weekend in the Real SuperDuperverse. Can you prove this is not the case?

    Sure, I can't prove that I'm not a brain in a vat, or that you are not an agent of the Squirrel Thing. Sigh. Somehow I manage to eke out an existence despite my uncertainty on this point. I guess I'm just a sloppy thinker, not demanding a worldview that gives me Absolute Certainty.

    Since miracles are part of the Word and the World alike, there is no discrepancy.

    Are you counting all the Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, etc., miracles? Are there no fake miracles? If there are, how do you tell which ones are "real", if any? So far, I haven't seen any evidence of miracles that wasn't some combination of hoax, gullibility, and/or wishful thinking, but I'm sure you can point me to some "real" ones.

    I could turn that around: from an atheistic standpoint, why assume that what we perceive matches reality? According to a scientific analysis of sensory perception, what we perceive is not the world in itself, but highly encoded information.

    Good question, but my answer, for day to day usage, is probably pretty much the same as yours: what we perceive is, as you say, information about the world that is encoded, and modified, and distorted in various fascinating and not perfectly understood ways. But there are various ways of improving our models of the world, and I don't see any reason to think the whole thing is some sort of trick or illusion- why would it be?

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

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  16. ZILCH SAID:

    "Are you counting all the Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, etc., miracles?"

    That's an old Humean objection which Loftus revamps in the OTF. I've dealt with that on many occasions. Most recently in The End of Infidelity.

    "Are there no fake miracles?"

    Sure.

    "If there are, how do you tell which ones are 'real', if any?"

    i) Are you talking about reported miracles? If so, that involves standard criteria for testimonial evidence. Braude and Coady have discussed that in detail.

    ii) If you mean firsthand observation, then it's a question of whether the incident implies personal superhuman agency. We routinely distinguish between events due to natural forces and events due to personal agency. Personal agency has distinguishing marks.

    "So far, I haven't seen any evidence of miracles that wasn't some combination of hoax, gullibility, and/or wishful thinking, but I'm sure you can point me to some 'real' ones."

    You could begin with Keener's 2-volume monograph.

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  17. steve- if I start with your "2-volume monograph", amn't I also morally obliged to check out all sorts of other claims too, including Nessie, ufos, and chicken entrail readings? I'll settle for a single plausible account of a miracle. As I'm sure you know, the plural of "datum" is not "anecdotes".

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  18. ZILCH SAID:

    "steve- if I start with your "2-volume monograph", amn't I also morally obliged to check out all sorts of other claims too, including Nessie, ufos, and chicken entrail readings?"

    Only if that's what interests you. But if your target is Biblical miracles or Christian miracles, then that's what you'd investigate.

    "I'll settle for a single plausible account of a miracle. As I'm sure you know, the plural of 'datum' is not 'anecdotes."'

    Historical knowledge is anecdotal. Your personal knowledge of Vienna is anecdotal. Your daily observations and memories thereof. If you read history books on Vienna, that's also based on anecdotal evidence. The testimony of other observers.

    Events are unique. Therefore, evidence for events is inherently anecdotal.

    Do you think your anecdotal observations and memories of Vienna don't count as "data"?

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  19. zilch said...

    "Good question, but my answer, for day to day usage, is probably pretty much the same as yours: what we perceive is, as you say, information about the world that is encoded, and modified, and distorted in various fascinating and not perfectly understood ways. But there are various ways of improving our models of the world, and I don't see any reason to think the whole thing is some sort of trick or illusion- why would it be?"

    i) You can't really improve it. All you've got to work with are the encoded inputs inside your brain. You can't compare that to the world which produced it. You're at the receiving end of a long process. You're not in a position to step outside the process and retrace the process. You can't assume the objective viewpoint of an outside observer.

    ii) Doesn't have to be a "trick" or an "illusion."

    The point is that you can't gauge the degree of resemblance between your perception of the world and what the world is really like.

    And that's a much bigger problem given your atheism. For you can't count on a benevolent creator to make the code correspond to reality.

    Rather, a mindless, undirected process lies behind your perception of the world.

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