Friday, June 29, 2007

Instant apostate: just add water

T-stone is straight out of central casting. Type cast to play the part of the apostate.

99 times out of 100, apostates fit the FBI's psychological profile of your all-American, apostate next door.

Boy comes out of fundy background. Boy turns back on fundy upbringing.

Like a social climber who is oh-so ashamed of his working class family, boy repudiates anything at even 6 degrees of separation from fundamentalism.

Boy grovels to ingratiate himself with the smart set. Goes through ritual hazing rituals to renounce his former affiliations. Never misses a chance to badmouth the backwoodsy, trailer-trashy science he was brung up on.

Boy disses them snake handlin', po' white trashy youngin-earth creationists who wuz his kinfolk and neighbors to impress his newfound frat brothers.

If boy is college dropout who could make the cut, his inferiority complex motivates him redouble his efforts to disown them dirt-po’ fundies he done growed up with.

Boy works hard to drop his lowbred, fundy drawl and learns to talk proper and respectable—in the crisp, Oxbridge accents of Richard Dawkins.

The story has many variants, but the basic plot remains the same. The names of the actors change from sequel to the next, but the character is always the same.

Behe adversus Carroll et al.

Michael Behe responds to his critics.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Truth By Stipulation

Posted on behalf of Steve Hays...

In his knee-jerk reaction to my review of Kitcher’s new book, T-stone, as a good little foot soldier, recites by rote the procedural objections to YEC and IDT that his atheistic handlers have drilled into him.

But what’s so ironic about this is that Kitcher himself, in the very book I reviewed, to which T-stone takes such predictable exception, rejects these facile objections.

It’s easy to understand why many scientists (and the journalists to whom they give interviews) find the “not science” strategy attractive. After all, it is a quick way of dismissing the opposition, one of the shortcuts the tedious work of analyzing the proliferating texts the opponents produced. But I think it can only succeed when the central issues are blurred.

If the substance of the charge is that intelligent design is not science because it is religion, then the acquitting response should be, first, that the position can be formulated without making any religions claim (intelligent design is the two-part thesis just distinguished).

Second, for much of the history of inquiry great scientists have advanced specifically religious hypotheses and theories. On the other hand, if we suppose that the two-part thesis doesn’t have the characteristics required of “genuine science,” then it is appropriate to ask just what these characteristics are.

True, the architects of intelligent design don’t spend a great deal of time performing experiments—but then neither do many astronomers, theoretical physicists, oceanographers, or students of animal behavior. Science has room for field observers, mathematical modelers, as well as experimentalists.

Social criteria for genuine science, such as publishing articles in “peer-reviewed journals,” are easy to mimic. Any group that aspires to the title can institute the pertinent procedures. Hence those procedures no longer function to distinguish science from everything else. So, what is left?

Many scientists believe that there is a magic formula, an incantation they can utter to dispel the claims of intelligent design. Indeed, intoning the mantra “science is testable,” in the public press or even in the courtroom can produce striking effects. This, however, is only because of an overly simple understanding of testability.

When the proponent of intelligent design points to some collection of natural phenomena, declaring that these could not be products of Darwinian natural selection but must instead be the effects of a rival causal agent, Intelligence, it isn’t directly obvious how to test the hypothesis advanced.

Unfortunately, that is the nature of the core hypotheses of many important scientific theories. The same could have been said for the hypothesis that chemical reactions involve the breaking and forming of bonds between molecules, or for the hypothesis that the genetic material is DNA (or, in the case of some viruses, RNA), or any number of sweeping assertions about things remote from everyday observation, when those hypotheses were first introduced.

Invocation of the magic formula thus faces a dilemma. If core hypotheses, taken in isolation, must be subjected to a requirement of testability to be taken seriously, then the greatest ideas in contemporary science will crumble along with intelligent design. If, on the other hand, all that is required is to supplement a core hypothesis with some auxiliary principles that allow for testing, then the spell fails to exorcise anything…Any right to dismissal cannot be assumed at the outset—instead, it must be earned.[1]

[1] P. Kitcher, Living with Darwin (Oxford 2007), 8-11.

Teleological Explanation

Posted on behalf of Steve Hays...

Human curiosity leads people to ask what things are for. Teleological explanations answer “What for?” questions by appealing to forward-looking reasons.

Children learn that certain things—a snapped twig, a pattern of pebbles washed up by the tide—are not thought to be explainable in this way. But there is a vast range of phenomena which adults do try to explain teleologically. Children accept these explanations and learn rules for constructing them. Folk acceptability is no guarantee of scientific acceptability, however. Many thinkers have held that the study of purposes is no business of science.

Goal explanations are widely employed in psychology, ethology, and Artificial Intelligence; natural function explanations figure in biology; social function explanations occur in anthropology, sociology, and sociobiology.

Yet there are some whose idealized conception of good science challenges the legitimacy of goal talk, and others who believe that natural function attributions are not wholly objective.

Typically, a functional explanation in biology says that an organ x is present in an animal because x has a function F. What does this mean?

Some philosophers maintain that an activity of an organ counts as a function only if the ancestors of the organ’s owner were naturally selected partly because they had similar organs that performed the same activity.

However, this construal is not satisfying intuitively. To say that x is present because it has a function is normally taken to mean, roughly, that x is present because it is supposed to do something useful. This looks like the right sort of answer to a “What for?” question. Unfortunately, this normal interpretation immediately makes the explanation scientifically problematic, because the claim that x is supposed to do something useful appears to be normative and non-objective.

One possible ground for such a claim is that a designer meant x to do F…If the designer is held to be Nature, the claim involves a metaphorical personification. Dennett (1987) argued that discerning natural functions always involves tacitly conceiving Nature as a designer.[1]

[1] “Teleological Explanation,” W. H. Newton-Smith, ed. A Companion to the Philosophy of Science (Blackwell 2001), 492-93.

Pessimistic Induction and Two Fallacies

For those interested in certain philosophy of science issues (e.g. whether the success of a scientific theory necessarily indicates it's true, as one might argue regarding the theory of evolution), the article "Pessimistic Induction and Two Fallacies" (PDF) by Prof. Juha Saatsi might be worth reading.

The Pessimistic Induction from falsity of past theories forms a perennial argument against scientific realism. This paper considers and rebuts two recent arguments -- due to Lewis (2001) and Lange (2002) -- to the conclusion that the argument from Pessimistic Induction (in its best known form) is actually fallacious. With this I want to re-establish the dignity of the Pessimistic Induction by calling to mind the basic objective of the argument, and hence restore the propriety of the realist program of responding to PMI by undermining one or another of its premises.

Pining for Darwin

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Philip Kitcher has just published a book defending naturalistic evolution while attacking creationism and intelligent design theory.1

Since Kitcher is a seasoned philosopher of science and veteran critic of creationism, this represents the state-of-the-art in Darwinian apologetics. If you wish to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case for naturalistic evolution, as over against its theistic rivals, this is a logical point of departure. So let’s review his major arguments:
Like several other texts from the ancient Near East, the Bible recalls a great flood, in which virtually all of the living creatures of the earth were destroyed (25).
This is incorrect. The focus of the Genesis flood is on the destruction of land animals. The account is silent on the fate of aquatic life or flora.
When the summit of Mount Ararat was uncovered, the ark finally came to rest upon it (25).
This is overly-precise. The account doesn’t single out Mt. Ararat. Rather, it simply indicates that the ark came to rest somewhere in that general mountain range.
Where did all the water go? How exactly was “the pond drained”? (26).
i) The answer depends, in part, on the scope of the flood. Kitcher compares the Genesis flood with cognate ANE literature. But if that’s his frame of reference, then that would argue for a local flood since the ancients had a different sense of scale than their modern counterparts. So if that’s his frame of reference, then we would gauge the geographical descriptions by ANE cartography, not satellite cartography.2

In that event, one doesn’t need to posit an extraordinary drainage mechanism to account for the recession of local floodwaters.

ii) If we assume a global flood, then the drainage mechanism might be related to the flood mechanism. And it’s possible to postulate different flood mechanism. So the answer would vary according to the respective model of flood geology.
Scripture does not explicitly declare an age for our planet. Two claims that flow more directly from the early chapters of Genesis are more difficult to evade. First, Genesis states that all major kinds of plants and animals, as well as human beings, were created at the beginning, and that all have lived on the earth continuously throughout its entire history (28).
This is a half-truth. While Genesis does indeed state that all major kinds of plants and animals, as well as human beings, were created at the beginning, it does not state that all of them have survived.

i) At the very least, Genesis is silent on the question of how many natural kinds have survived since the time of their origin.

ii) At most, if one construes the flood account in global terms, then the flood might well have led to mass extinctions of various species or subspecies, either as a direct result of the deluge or else its aftermath.
Second, the Bible says that there was once a great flood in which almost all living things were destroyed, and that all the organisms that have lived since are descendants of the small company that survived the flood (28).
Once again, he keeps reiterating the same overstatements. Can’t he read?
Sedimentation rates suggest that the age of the earth is much greater than hitherto supposed, for those rates would require vast stretches of time (at least hundreds of thousands of years) to lay down rocks to the depth observed (29).
But creationists point to catastrophic events which precipitate rapid sedimentation (e.g. Mt. St. Helens). Kitcher needs to interact with these counterexamples.
These strata were deposited sequentially, and the oldest almost always lie at the bottom. Most of the organisms they contain belong to species that have now vanished from the earth. The deepest rocks (more exactly, the deepest fossil-bearing rocks then known) contain residues of marine invertebrates, some of which, like mollusks, are very familiar, others of which, like the trilobites, are very different. Above them lie layers in which there are both marine invertebrates and some fish, with an increasing diversity of fish as you climb the rock column. Higher still are strata with marine invertebrates, fish, and amphibians. Ascending further, these kinds of organisms are joined by reptiles, including huge reptiles of kinds that no longer exist—some of the dinosaurs—and later, after the vanishing of the dinosaurs, by birds and mammals, both of which become increasingly diverse as you approach the top. Near the surface, in the shallows of the rocks, there are finally traces of apes, and eventually, of human beings (29-30).

The problem is obvious. How do you explain this consistent ordering of fossil remains if not as what it seems to be, namely a sequence of episodes in the history of life showing very different organisms at different stages? How do you account for the fact that the remains of the kinds of organisms that now exist, the birds and trees and flowers and mammals we know—not to mention human beings—are found only in the most recent deposits? (31).

Instead, we need to understand why the birds are always found at the top and the fish appear originally near the bottom (32).

Specimens of the class that includes most contemporary fish are found in the fossil record from rocks whose age is estimated to be about 200 million years and upward into the present. Much deeper deposits contain the remains of types of fish that no longer exist, as well as fossils of sharks. By contrast, fossil whales, dolphins, seals, and porpoises are found only year the top of the rock column (32).
Several issues:

i) Kitcher doesn’t show us any site on earth where we can see this layout. So is there such a site, or is this a hypothetical reconstruction of faunal succession, correlating the finds from many different geographical sites?

ii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this reconstruction is accurate, what it looks like is a spatial rather than temporal distribution pattern. Trees and land animals occupy an ecological zone that is literally above the semiaquatic animals. In turn, semiaquatic animals are above aquatic mammals that must surface for air, while aquatic animals are above fish, and fish are above bottom-dwellers.3

iii) So there’s nothing evolutionary in the actual appearance of the fossil record. It’s only when you interpolate vast stretches of time into the fossil record that it seems to yield an evolutionary sequence. If, on the other hand, you deny huge intervals between one fossil and another, then it resembles a cross-section of the present ecosystem, except for some extinct species.

So it’s not the fossil sequence, as he describes it, that’s apparently evolutionary, but the imposition of a geochronological framework on the fossil sequence. Remove that extraneous scaffolding, and what’s left?
The plant record displays a similar, uniform, pattern. The earliest strata that bear plant remains contain residues of ferns, and, at higher levels, they are joined first by conifers, and later by deciduous trees and flowering plants. The picture, in both instances, is of a sequential history of life, one that belies the idea that all the major kinds of plants and animals have lived on the earth since the very beginning (30).
i) This is a rather odd statement since there’s a fairly obvious correlation between the regional environment, on the one hand, and botanical diversity or distribution, on the other. And this is complicated by other factors, such as climate change or the introduction of foreign flora into indigenous habitats. So his evolutionary explanation is surely simplistic.

ii) And, once again, Genesis never says “that all the major kinds of plants and animals have lived on the earth since the very beginning.” If some of the natural kinds didn’t survive, that would not be at variance with the creation account.
Very different environments would have to be provided [on the ark] for polar bears and camels (34).
i) He is imposing an extratextual assumption onto the text. Genesis is silent on the prediluvian environment. It says nothing one way or the other about camels and polar bears, deserts and icecaps.

ii) Moreover, it’s one thing to say that some animals prefer a particular habitat, quite another to say they can’t survive outside of a particular habitat. If you visit your local zoo, it’s not as if the thermostat is set at 130 degrees for camels and 40 below for polar bears.

iii) Furthermore, he’s assuming a global flood. But there are OT scholars who construe the text in local terms.4 If so, then the cargo would consist of species from the same general vicinity. If he’s going to present an intellectually responsible critique of Noah’s flood, then he needs to address local as well as global interpretations of the text.
For a penetrating study in the household economy of the ark, see Robert A. Moore, “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark” (171n23).
The problem with this reference is that Moore’s article has not gone unchallenged.5 So why does Kitcher only give one side of the argument? Is he ignorant of the other side? If so, then he didn’t do his homework before writing this book.
You forget that at least some plants and fungi would have to be carried along, too, that cacti and orchids, willows and mushrooms, would have to have appropriate environments and proper care (34).
i) Since these are not included in the ship's manifest, why does Kitcher saddle the text with an extratextual imposition?

ii) Perhaps his unstated assumption is that these could not survive outside the ark. If so,

a) This assumes the global interpretation. It’s irrelevant to the local interpretation.

b) Even assuming the global interpretation, is he saying that seeds could not survive outside the ark? If so, where’s the argument?

c) Is he referring to extant botanical species and modern varieties thereof? But the Biblical account makes no such assumption.
Once they arrive on Mount Ararat, can they finally rest? Not really, for if they are to produce living creatures that will repopulate the earth, then they must be extremely careful to maintain the separation of predator from prey. It won’t do for the intended grandmother of the future gazelles to disappear into the mouth of one of the ancestral cheetahs. (35).
i) There was more than one pair of animals per kind. There were seven pairs of clean animals apiece (Gen 7:2).

Let’s also keep in mind that the recurrence of the septunarian motif suggests a degree of numerological symbolism. So we shouldn’t assume that all of these septunarian figures are literal. The actual figure may be more or less.

ii) Finally, the objection would only be relevant, if at all, on a global interpretation. I’m not saying that this objection is cogent against the global interpretation. Only that it’s not even relevant to the local interpretation.
The animals will have to be led carefully to points from which they can reach their intended destinations—so that the marsupials can make their way to Australia in the next five thousand years or so (probably a forced march for the more sedentary ones like Koalas and wombats), the polar bears to the Arctic, the llamas to South America. The plants will have to be treated carefully to ensure that they reach regions in which they can grow and thrive (35).
i) Once again, objections like this obviously go beyond the narrative viewpoint of an ANE document, which Kitcher originally told us was his frame of reference. Genesis doesn’t talk about wombats and Koalas, polar bears and llamas. Kitcher is superimposing his own biogeographical outlook on to the text, in violation of document’s historical horizon.

ii) Even assuming a global interpretation, Kitcher is supposing that all the fauna and flora had to make it back to their point of origin on their own steam. But why should we credit that supposition?

a) The ark itself would teach the survivors about the art of shipbuilding. And even Gould, seconding Darwin, has pointed to “the frequent displacement of endemic island biotas by continental species introduced by human transport.”6

b) Likewise, birds can disseminate an area by alimentation, and thereby introduce foreign fauna into an indigenous habitat.7
There is an obvious way to decrease the workload for this overburdened band, to cleave more closely to the inventory provided in Genesis...To the extent that this idea cuts down on the necessary labor, it faces an obvious objection. Genesis creationism supposes that about five thousand years elapsed between Noah and the present. The process of diversification must thus be extremely rapid (35).
i) This assumes the global interpretation of the flood. A responsible critic of Noah’s flood needs to treat each interpretation as a live option, and address himself to their respective implications.

ii) Even assuming the global interpretation, this objection has been addressed by writers like Kurt Wise in the form of AGE theory.8 Where is Kitcher’s counterargument?
Consider the horses. As breeders know well, foals sometimes display coat patterns, bars or stripes, that resemble those found in zebras. Darwin reviews a range of examples, explaining them in terms of descent of horses, asses, zebras, and other equine species from a common ancestor (47).
It isn’t clear what this example is supposed to prove. No creationist denies that domesticated animals descend from wild animals. You don’t have to invoke an evolutionary throwback to acknowledge the interplay between dominant and recessive genes in diploid species.
The modification can easily be attributed to natural selection. Since eyes no longer have a function inside the caves, selection will favor those variants that reassign the resources previously committed to the development of the visual system (171-72n30).
Kitcher is now resorting to teleological explanations: "function...reassign...previously committed to the development of." But teleology is forbidden in naturalistic evolution. The evolutionary process, if there were such a thing, isn’t going anywhere in particular. Natural selection is inherently witless and pointless. Is Kitcher unable to keep track of his own theory?9
Why are there birds with webbed feet that live on dry land? Woodpeckers where no tree grows? (47).
How is that a salient objection to creationism? Kitcher has no grasp of the position he’s opposing.

On the one hand, habitat changes over time. On the other hand, endemic species emigrate to new habitat.
Why are the fossils of extinct mammal species in Australia similar to the marsupials that inhabit the contingent today? Why are the extinct armored mammals of South America akin to the currently living Armadillos? Why are the birds of South America so like one another and so different from the birds of the Old World? Why does the same apply in the case of reptiles and mammals? Why do the floras and faunas of islands regularly resemble those of the neighboring continents? (47-48)?
Wouldn’t all these be instances of microevolution rather than macroevolution? Creationism doesn’t deny microevolution. Is Kitcher ignorant of that fact? What position does he think he’s opposing, anyway?
If you were designing a porpoise paddle, a horse leg, a human hand, a mole forelimb, and a bat’s wing, without any prior constraints, you could do a lot better by deviating from the common plan (48).
i) This is an assertion, not an argument. Where’s the argument?

ii) We’re waiting for Kitcher to come up with a working model of a better design.

iii) What’s wrong with a human hand or a horse leg? There’s no such thing as optimal design, for there’s bound to be a tradeoff between specialization and general utility.

Hooves are good for running, but not so good for swimming. Webbed feet are good for swimming, but not so good for running. Wings are good for flying, but not so good for running or swimming.

Retractable claws are great for clinging, climbing, and self-defense, but not so good for using a keyboard, performing brain surgery, shuffling a deck of cards, playing a violin, or making a Swiss watch. Is Kitcher so simple-minded that he can’t draw these elementary distinctions for himself?
The most powerful subsequent development of Darwin’s central argument comes, however, from biologists’ increasing ability to investigate the relationships among organisms at an even finer grain…Many of the modifications occur when there are copying errors in the process (52).
i) Once again, he’s resorting to teleological categories. But this personifies nature. An unreasoning process cannot make mistakes. It cannot mistranscribe a code.

At most, only a personal agent can make mistakes. In order to fail, there must be a conscious intent to perform a certain task in order to achieve a certain objective. But natural selection is irrational. Can’t Kitcher remember his own theory?

ii) In addition, creationism doesn’t deny the possible presence of genetic defects in a fallen world. This isn’t a design flaw, but a consequence of original sin, with its attendant natural evils.

iii) There also seems to be the unspoken assumption, running through much of his book, that if God made the world, then the world should be as perfect as God. Hence, any natural imperfections disprove the existence of God.

But this inference is clearly invalid. The creature can never be a perfect as the Creator. The creature is inherently contingent. Many of these limitations are not imperfections, but merely features intrinsic to a finite mode of subsistence.
Genetic similarity provides a more fundamental criterion for assessing relationships of ancestry and descent than do the similarities in anatomy and physiology on which Darwin and his immediate successors drew. The overwhelming majority of older attributions of relationship endure, even though there are occasional instances in which genetic analysis reveals that one organism is a closer relative of another than of a third that has traditionally been taken to be its closest kin (172n35).
Is that a fact?
If you want to know how all living things are related, don't bother looking in any textbook that's more than a few years old. Chances are that the tree of life you find there will be wrong. Since they began delving into DNA, biologists have been finding that organisms with features that look alike are often not as closely related as they had thought. These are turbulent times in the world of phylogeny, yet there has been one rule that evolutionary biologists felt they could cling to: the amount of complexity in the living world has always been on the increase. Now even that is in doubt.

While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity - humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas - recent findings suggest that some of our very early ancestors were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. If so, then much of that precocious complexity has been lost by subsequent generations as they evolved into new species. "The whole concept of a gradualist tree, with one thing branching off after another and the last to branch off, the vertebrates, being the most complex, is wrong," says Detlev Arendt, an evolutionary and developmental biologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

The idea of loss in evolution is not new. We know that snakes lost their legs, as did whales, and that our own ancestors lost body hair. However, the latest evidence suggests that the extent of loss might have been seriously underestimated. Some evolutionary biologists now suggest that loss - at every level, from genes and types of cells to whole anatomical features and life stages - is the key to understanding evolution and the relatedness of living things. Proponents of this idea argue that classical phylogeny has been built on rotten foundations, and tinkering with it will not put it right. Instead, they say, we need to rethink the process of evolution itself.10
One particularly interesting comparison, achieve in the second half of the twentieth century, looked at chromosomes from human beings and from chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans…the obvious Darwinian explanation for the similarity is that the four species descend from a common ancestor…If human beings were a completely separate creation, why did the creative force find it apt to form our species in the chromosomal image of the great apes? (54).
Yet in a footnote, Kitcher concedes that:
Moreover, even brute genetic similarity can prove misleading, in that pieces of genetic material can sometimes be acquired without deriving from ancestors—viruses and bacteria can spread DNA into organisms they infect (172n35).
i) I take this to mean that if some contagious diseases result in genetic defects, and some contagious diseases are also communicable at an interspecies level, then it would it be possible for these genetic defects to be contracted by a contagious disease, and thereby transmitted from one species to another (chimp to human or vice versa).

And if, by his own admission, that is possible, then how is this chromosomal commonality evidence of common descent?

ii) In addition, the genetic argument for common ancestry has come in for some detailed criticism. As usual, Kitcher ignores the counterarguments.11
The Darwinian explanation is that these genes originally evolved to direct some basic tasks within the cell—they are “housekeeping” genes—and multicellular organisms have taken over this machinery, sometimes modifying it, sometimes retaining parts of it that no longer serve their original purpose (57).

Because of potential errors in copying DNA, multicellular organisms need DNA repair enzymes (173n39).

Hence there has to be another repair device, an enzyme (telomerase) that restores telomeres in germ-line cells…Telomerase has to be confined to germ-cell lineages, but there are occasional mistakes in which it becomes accessible in somatic tissues and allows for uncontrolled growth (173-74n39).
Notice that he can’t resist the temptation of teleological explanations. But the mechanisms posited by naturalistic evolution are mindless mechanisms. If naturalistic evolution is true, then genes never evolved to direct a particular task, and they were never diverted from their original purpose.

Genes cannot make mistakes. Only people can make mistakes. A capacity for error presupposes goal-oriented behavior. Dysteleology is parasitic on teleology.

He commits the same fallacy when he describes a “repair device.” This only makes sense if you subscribe to a doctrine of proper function. It would be licit for young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, or theistic evolution to invoke teleological categories. It is illicit for naturalistic evolution to speak in the same terms.
Why should organisms so diverse share related DNA sequences if large groups of them have been separately created (57)?
Well, if God wanted to design a biological organism that was largely similar to another biological organism, wouldn't the logical procedure be to write a similar code?
If you were a talented engineer designing a whale from scratch, you probably wouldn’t think of equipping it with a rudimentary pelvis (57).
i) But the appeal to vestigial organs is an argument from ignorance. Indeed, it’s the evolutionary equivalent of the God-of-the-gaps—only the evolutionary biologist is invoking the Darwin-of-the-gaps. If he’s going to take refuge in that expedient, then he can hardly object to Intelligent design theory.

ii) In addition, creationism doesn’t deny that some organs may degenerate under certain conditions, viz. blind, cave-dwelling species. That’s a natural adaptation to the organism’s new environment. Another instance of microevolution.
If you were designing a mammalian body, you might try to set things up so that development doesn’t lead to a tangling of reproductive and urinary tubes so that one sex…is burdened with hernias waiting to happen (57).
Actually, dual use technology strikes me as a very impressive example of compact design. A paradigm case of bioengineering efficiency.
If you were designing a human body, you could surely improve on the knee (57).
i) How, exactly, could you improve on the knee? Why doesn’t he propose a working model? I notice a lot of evolutionary writers who like to make smart-ass comments about “design defects” without bothering to model a working alternative.

ii) What’s the problem with the human knee, anyway? It’s true that athletes frequently suffer from knee injuries, but that’s due to placing unnatural stress on the knee.

Likewise, old folks suffer from arthritic knees, but this is due to the aging process, and not to the design of the knee itself.
And if you were designing the genomes of organisms, you would certainly not fill them up with junk. The most striking feature of the genomic analyses we now have is how much apparently nonfunctional DNA there is (57-58).
i) Like the facile appeal to vestigial organs, his facile appeal to junk DNA is another argument from ignorance, a la Darwin-of-the gaps.

ii) Apropos (i), is so-called junk DNA in fact nonfunctional? Isn’t there mounting evidence to the contrary?12
Apparently, Intelligence also directed toward doing this by producing organisms that eat other organisms—and this, in itself, is a puzzling, even disturbing thought, since it would seem possible to equip all organisms with a device like photosynthesis that would avoid the messiness of predation (63).
i) It would “seem” possible? Once more, where is his working model? Why does a seasoned philosopher of science think it’s intellectually acceptable to make one pseudoscientific claim after another? If it’s possible, then why doesn’t he point us to a working model? If he can’t, then he’s substituting science fiction for science.

ii) Would photosynthesis generate enough energy to power energetic animals? Last time I checked, plants were stationary. They don’t expend a lot of energy. How does that compare with highly mobile organisms? Or organisms with a high metabolism?
Turn now to the complaints about the absence of “intermediates” in the fossil record. Paleontologists have reconstructed all sorts of sequences of fossils to show various transitions in the history of life (66-67).
Yes, I’m sure they have. Of course, reconstructing sequences by connecting widely separated dots with evolutionary interpolations is a convenient way of assuming what you need to prove. There are even some leading Darwinians who are highly critical of the standard methodology.13
Yet paleontologists are sometimes lucky, as in the case of Archaeopteryx and as in another example of a major transition, the reptile-mammal transition. Here there are many specimens of therapsides (mammal-like reptiles) and of early mammals (68).

As I was preparing the final version of this essay, a second jewel may be added to the crown, with the discovery of the fossil remains of Tiktaalik an intermediate between fish and land-dwelling animals (174n48).
i) These examples have come under scrutiny.14 So why doesn’t he address the counterarguments? Is he ignorant of the opposing literature?

ii) How is a mammal-like reptile an example of an evolutionary intermediate rather than an ecological intermediate? For example, semiaquatic animals share some features in common with terrestrial animals as well as aquatic animals due to their ecological zone. They are designed to survive in that environment.
The known exceptions, most famously the Burgess Shale, are extremely rare—so rare that we can take the probability to be effectively zero (175n51).
Is that a fact? What about the scientists who don’t regard the Burgess Shale as all that anomalous. Why doesn’t Kitcher deal with their arguments?15
Peter and Rosemary Grant have led a research team that has thoroughly studied the finches on several islands in the Galapagos archipelago, showing through detailed observation of the birds in successive generations, how natural selection ahs modified them, most notably in the size and shape of the beak (78).

The Grants’ work provides slightly more grounds for an optimistic assessment, in that, under swings of harsh drought and seasons of heavy rain, they were able to trace significant changes in the forms of finch beaks (176n60).
But seasonal variations in beak size would be a textbook example of microevolution rather than macroevolution, would it not? So how does this ephemeral variation count against creationism? I have to keep asking myself if Kitcher has the slightest grasp of what the other side believes.
Another famous study, one that will be relevant later, concerns the persistence of sickle-cell anemia…the mixed combination, AS, not only yields the benefits associated with normal hemoglobin, but also provides protection against malaria (78-79).
Once more, wouldn’t this be a case of microevolution rather than macroevolution? And how is the adaptability of organisms an argument against divine design? Why wouldn’t that flexibility be a mark of superior design?

Kitcher references the work of Dawkins and Dan-Erik Nilsson to establish the natural evolution of the eye (176n60). But, as usual, he disregards the arguments to the contrary.16
One possible interpretation of Darwin’s work is to view him as transferring ideas from British political economy to the natural world (177-78n73).
So he’s admitting that Darwinism may really be a political allegory dressed up as a scientific theory?
Through millions of years, billions of animals experience vast amounts of pain, supposedly so that, after an enormous number of extinctions of entire species, on the tip of one twig of the evolutionary tree, there may emerge a species with the special properties that make us able to worship the Creator (123).
i) This may be a valid objection to theistic evolution, but it has no traction with young-earth creationism or old earth-creationism. Does Kitcher lack the elementary discernment to distinguish between their respective positions?

ii) In fairness, Kitcher already attacked young-earth creationism by summarizing conventional dating methods. However, he doesn’t interact with literature which challenges conventional dating methods.17
It is plain to anyone who has ever seen an animal ensnared or a fish writhe on a hook, that we are not the only organisms who suffer. Moreover, animal suffering isn’t incidental to the unfolding of life, but integral to it. Natural selection is founded on strenuous competition…Our conception of a providential Creator must suppose that He has constructed a shaggy-dog story, a history of life that consists of a three-billion-year curtain-raiser to the main event, in which millions of sentient beings suffer, often acutely, and that the suffering is not a by-product but constitutive of the script that the Creator has chosen to write (123-24).
Several issues here:

i) Once again, this assumes the macroevolutionary process. As such, if it’s a valid objection at all, it’s only valid against theistic evolution.

ii) Why does Kitcher assume that animals suffer? Doesn’t eliminative materialism—which is the most consistent form of naturalized epistemology and evolutionary psychology—deny the existence of pain and suffering?18

iii) Even if he rejects eliminative materialism, shouldn’t he at least be able to distinguish between higher animals and lower animals on the pain scale? Does a frog or caterpillar or earthworm or oyster or guppy suffer in the same sense (if at all) as a dog?

Why does a seasoned philosopher of science fail to draw such obvious distinctions? In what sense does a guppy suffer? Is Kitcher attributing consciousness to a guppy?19

Isn’t this quite clearly an anthropomorphic projection of human experience onto the animal world. Shouldn’t a philosopher of science be a wee bit more sophisticated than that? Why does Kitcher fall headlong into the arms of the pathetic fallacy?

iv) How much do animals actually suffer? Haven’t we all seen veterinarians inject pets and other domestic animals with a syringe? Observe that they don’t even flinch when the needle goes in. Animals seem to have a higher tolerance for pain than human beings.
Mutations arise without any direction towards the needs of organisms—and the vast majority of them turn out to be highly damaging (124).
Doesn’t that undermine the explanatory power of evolutionary mechanisms like genetic drift?
There is nothing kindly or providential about any of this, and it seems breathtakingly wasteful and inefficient (124).
i) This is a very ignorant statement. Even a passing acquaintance with Christian theology would inform him that providence encompasses natural evils.

ii) Kitcher frequently uses the worse “wasteful” without defining his terms. What, exactly, does he mean by “wasteful”? A redundant backup system is a mark of good design. It makes an organism more adaptable. There's more margin for error.
The last example is well chosen, for the behavior of the ichneumonidae—parasitic wasps—is particularly unpleasant. The wasps lay their eggs in a living caterpillar, paralyzing the motor nerves (but not the sensory serves) so that the caterpillar cannot move or reject its new lodgers. As the eggs hatch, and the larvae grown, they eat their way out of their host (125).
Notice how he identifies with the caterpillar, as if the caterpillar were a human being in a caterpillar suit. How can a seasoned philosopher of science have such a childish reaction to the animal kingdom? Did he form his scientific worldview from reading James and the Giant Peach?
The mess, the inefficiency, the waste and the suffering are the effects of natural processes, so that they shouldn’t be seen as directly planned or introduced…the general inefficiency, the extreme length of time, the haphazard sequence of environments, the undirected variations, the cruel competition through which selection frequently works, is all foreseen (125).
Once again, to speak of the natural world as “cruel” is a blatantly anthropomorphic projection onto an essentially amoral order of existence. Why is a hardnosed atheist turning the natural world into a morality play?
The second point is that the providentialist’s doctrine that humans and nonhuman animals suffer in the interests of achieving some greater good must be reconcilable with the assumption of divine justice. You cannot defend torturing a few individuals who are known to be innocent on the grounds that setting some examples will contribute to a safer society. By the same token, a just Creator cannot consign vast numbers of its creatures to pain and suffering because this will promote some broader good. Divine justice requires that the animals who suffer are compensated, that their suffering isn’t simply instrumental to he wonders of creation but redeemed for them (127).
A couple of fundamental omissions here:

i) He hasn’t even begun to make a case for secular ethics. What is his basis for moral realism? How does he avoid the naturalistic fallacy?20

ii) Even assuming that he could make any headway on the first point, he hasn’t begun to make a case for animal rights in particular.

iii) And even assuming that he could make any headway on the second point, wouldn’t he need to draw some distinction between higher and lower animals? At what point along the continuum does an animal acquire rights? Does a lobster have rights? What about a cockroach? Or a rat?

Do some rats have more rights than others? What about rats that carry typhus, salmonella, and bubonic plague?

Is it hate speech to say that rats are vermin? Is that defamation of character?

Can rats be exterminated? Or would that be a hate crime?

Are they subject to due process? Judicial appeal? A court-appointed lawyer?

Is it immoral to use rat poison or rat traps? Should they only be executed, if at all, by lethal injection? Or is that cruel and unusual punishment?

When is Kitcher going to make a gesture towards discharging his own burden of proof?

Kitcher also devotes a few pages to his amateurish grasp of Gospel criticism and canonics (135-40). As usual, there’s no evident awareness of, much less interaction with, Evangelical scholarship to the contrary.21

Throughout the course of his book, Kitcher never ventures outside the safe bubble of his self-reinforcing ignorance.

1 Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Oxford 2007).

2 Cf. W. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns 1998).

3 For another explanation, from a YEC perspective, of why human remains are found above ape remains, cf. K. Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (B&H 2002), 233.

4 Cf. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); J. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Zondervan 2001) R. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2nd ed., 2000).


6 S. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Belknap 2002), 109.

7 Cf. W. L. McAtee, “Distribution of Seeds by Birds,” American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 38/1 (July, 1947), 214-223

8 Ibid. 216ff.

9 For a thoroughgoing exposé of the way in which Darwinians surreptitiously smuggle teleological explanations back into naturalistic evolution, cf. J. Greene, Debating Darwin (Regina Books 1999).




13 E.g. H. Gee, In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (Cornell 2001).




17 Cf. John Byl, God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe (Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), chapter 8; Richard Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Park Street Press, 1997); Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (Broadman & Holman, 2002), chapters 4-5.




21 E.g. C. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP, 1987; 2nd ed. forthcoming); D. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nelson Books, 2006); E. E. Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (Brill Academic, 2002); D. A. Carson, & D. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, c2005); C. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (IVP, 2006); M. Green, The Books the Church Suppressed: Fiction and Truth in The Da Vinci Code (Monarch Books, 2005); J. Ed. Komoszewski et al. Reinventing Jesus (Kregel, 2006); Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford 1997); D. Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford, 2000); N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus (Baker 2006).

Technology and the SBC

My dear sister, Dorcas Hawker and our brother, Wade Burleson are working to get the SBC to employ virtual meeting technology to increase the voting base of SBC messengers. I think this is a wonderful idea! My dear brother, Ben Cole is quite concerned, and rightly so, about the level of serious theological education in the SBC seminaries. Some are better than others.

It has come to my attention, thanks to the fine reporters at, that our six seminaries are shortly to implement the latest technology that will, I believe, soon answer the concerns of these fine individuals above. I hereby dedicate this post to them. I do fear, however, that with technology like this, Ben may come to believe there are now no limits for Dr. Patterson to turn SWBTS students to the Dark Side of the Force. (evil grin). On the other hand, the Founders folks will now find that instructing seminary students about the doctrines of grace from the larger and better theologies will be much easier. I expect that they may consider investing in these for their churches. The anti-Calvinist crowd, I'm sure will see this as a tool to brainwash Sunday School teachers and deacons to turn churches Calvinist. I'd encourage all parties to consider that technology itself is neutral, unless if falls into the wrong hands, and nothing can truly replace personal education and instruction.

HT: Seth

Southern Baptist Seminaries Use VELCRO To Teach Students Cooperative Program

Southern Baptists have surprised the world today by taking a step into the realm of super sophisticated technology. The multi-million dollar project VELCRO (Virtual Educational Learning for the Cooperative Relief Organization) will provide virtual headsets to be used in the seminaries of the SBC. The virtual headsets, valued at $20,000 each, will accelerate the learning process of seminary students about the SBC’s Cooperative Program.

The software running the headset was developed by one of the world’s leading software engineers, Will Bates, who explained to INN News the way the headsets work, “These headsets are fantastic. When the user engages the headset, sensors immediately map to specific regions of the brain for probing, allowing for the software to monitor and influence the flow of thought. When the program begins to run, the user watches a series of visual information, which stimulates the pre-frontal cortex of the brain using video and color association memory techniques. Through the accuracy and quickness of the program, the user is able to learn about the subject matter, in this case the SBC’s Cooperative Program, exponentially faster than through traditional methods.”

“We’re really excited about these headsets,” stated seminary trustee Ben Matlock. “We’ve got to keep the legacy and urgency of the Cooperative Program alive, and our seminary students are our biggest hope. Unless they understand the necessity of perpetuating funding through the Cooperative Program, then the SBC may suffer great financial loss. This means missions and other ministries will suffer. I think VELCRO might help the SBC avoid such troubles.”

INN reporter Joseph Knoll adds, “Sources have informed us that the previous method for indoctrinating students about the Cooperative Program was through a required course for one semester. However, when the class met with poor reviews, the seminaries decided to look for a quicker yet effective way to educate students about the Cooperative Program. The virtual headset method takes only one hour to complete, and the students are able to watch their favorite program or play their favorite video game while the indoctrination take place, because of the software’s ability to penetrate the synapses of the brain through subconscious transfer.”


Pictured above: Seminary Student Sachiko Suzuki playing the popular game World of Warcraft while being indoctrinated through the VELCRO headgear.

Other Southern Baptists are very disturbed about the new headsets. Some of those polled stated that they are concerned that the VELCRO program is not hitting at the heart of the issue. One anonymous Southern Baptist stated, “I’m not so sure that indoctrinating students is the most effective and lasting way to perpetuate Cooperative Program funding. To be sure, students must be aware of the current needs, but piping information into the mind sounds a little like brainwashing to me. Seems to me that if the SBC would invest time and money into its poor spiritual condition, the money for the Cooperative Program would flow like water. This virtual education thing is sort of like turning someone upside down and shaking them in hopes that money will fall out of their pockets. You might get some loose change and even some bills, but you may not get all that you need.”

Still, the SBC seems assured that it is going in the right direction. When asked to respond to concerned Southern Baptists, Matlock answered, “I can certainly reverberate with the concerns about the SBC’s spiritual state. However, we have to make the tough decision about what will work best, and based on past experiences, the new VELCRO program seems to be in a agreement with what has worked.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Religious, But Not Christian

This is reminiscent of the absurd memorial services that occurred after September 11, 2001. This sort of thing is now commonplace in our culture and many others, and it occurs in spite of the fact that so many of our political leaders and others in our society claim to be Christian. What are all of the parents, pastors, and other authority figures who influence these politicians doing? What are they teaching them? What are they not teaching them?

"The events of September 11 last year unleashed in the Christian community a tidal wave of compassion and cowardice. The compassion at ground zero and beyond has been beautiful, and is owing to the life that remains in the tree of conviction concerning Jesus Christ. The cowardice is owing to the fact that for many the root of the tree of conviction has been severed. A long time before September 11, the ax of unbelief had been laid to the root of conviction and the withering of courage was predicable. The cowardice I have in mind, of course, is not the daring of Todd Beamer on United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania (class of '91). The cowardice I have in mind is the fear in the hearts of Christian clergy to make the supremacy of Jesus Christ central in the public, religious events that followed the calamity, especially when Muslims were present. When Jesus Christ himself, the crucified God-man and the Lord of glory, is made subordinate to the cultivation of amicable, patriotic, religious feeling, he is crucified afresh on the altar of clerical cowardice. It was a sad spectacle." (John Piper)

Dialogue On Baptist Polity and the NT

I've been having a really good conversation with Les Puryear, Bart Barber, and several others over at Les' blog. To get the background, go here before continuing with your reading here:

Does a Church Need to Have "Members?"

He says:


You are always a delight and I enjoy your comments. You make me think and I appreciate that.

Having said that, I will disagree with you about the nature (pardon the pun) of this post. I think that the nature of church membership is an inherent element of this discussion.

I also find your argument for Tim's membership roll support less than convincing. We had a man who has been faithfully attending our church for 46 years and he just joined the church last month and was baptized. Were the pastors for the past 46 years not accountable for this man?

I also have several regular attendees who have not joined the church as members. However, I think of them just as much as part of my "flock" as any card carrying church member.

I don't mean to denigrate anyone's thoughts but I think this preoccupation with a membership roll is silly.


Excellent thoughts. Let me ask you this. Do you think that house churches in the first century had the names of church members written down for the purpose of keeping up with who was in and who was not in?

Do you think Lydia had a list of "members" of the church in her house? How about Philemon? Priscilla and Aquila?

If the names of the elect are written down in the Lamb's Book of Life, why do they need to be duplicated in a book on earth? I know the Book of Life is not to be taken literally, but I'm talking about something so far out-of-the-box, it hasn't been conceived yet in the hearts of traditional SBC thinking.

I'm talking about preaching to all whom God brings us at each opportunity to preach.

I'm talking about discipling those whom God brings to us when we offer discipleship opportunites.

I'm talking about ministering with and to those whom God brings each Sunday, Wednesday, Friday night, and every other time and venue that Christ followers gather together.

I'm talking about inviting people to Christ and not to "join" a church. I know it sounds radical but could it be that it is biblical?

Maybe I'm talking to the wrong crowd. Maybe we're all too jaded by Southern Baptist Conventionism that we cannot see any other way as biblically valid. Or maybe I'm way off base.

Dr, Barber can speak for himself. I'll confine my words to Les' comments to me, as I think these are blog worthy issues for here too. Brother Les, please keep in mind I'm writing to you and to the readers here, so forgive me if I repeat myself a bit to get them up to speed in case they are naughty and don't read the link above first and the comments already.

For background, I'll give my first comment there:

It seems to me the modern Baptist concept of membership (and by "modern" I mean the one going back about 400 to 500 years now), is generated by tradition, albeit a good tradition. Let us not forget that Sola Scriptura does not exclude the usefulness of tradition.

1. It's not clear if the early churches kept rolls. It appears they may have done so. That way they knew who was part of the church and who wasn't.

2. But this could vary depending on the situation. A primarily illiterate group would have had a bad roll. In times of persecution, you might not want to write down the names of the people "just in case." On the other hand, its not like they would have kept vital statistics on the people the way we do.

3. However, 500 odd years ago, Baptists sprang forth from the grounds of Anglicanism, Congregationalism, and some from Presbyterianism, all of which, in Britain in that age, would have kept more detailed records.

4. And we were very concerned back then with regenerate church membership. Since the others were mixed, and we disputed that notion, it makes sense to keep a list of "members," that were known, as best as possible, to be regenerate and baptized into our churches.

5. Our forefathers came to distinguish between the "membership" (the core of regenerate and baptized persons) of the local churches and the "congregation" (people from other groups that would, for example, visit, but were not baptized.) Baptism then was a clearer marker of regeneracy, ergo the need.

6. Also persecution in this generation of Christians would have generated some need as well, but this time to keep a good list. If the churches had a list, they knew whom they could trust in the days when they would have to hide the preacher from the authorities or walk in round robin style around the houses of a town on Sundays in order to get bits of the sermon and partake of the Lord's Table.

Les made the comments above after I replied:

Brother Bart and I agree yet again. Church is a family, but it's more of a "tough love" situation. The need for a "roll" is generated primarily by tradition, but I think it's a good one to keep. I also think that we have to be careful that we don't react to some abused traditions or, for that matter circumvented ones, by reacting in the opposite manner, in this case opting to go without an official roll. When the elder role is taken seriously, when the deacon role is taken seriously, the member roll will likely be self-correcting.

Now, that's not necessarily an argument for a roll or against one, but consider for a moment the Baptist idea of a local church, not a session, as in Presbyterianism. If there is no roll then, in a society like ours, with a "church on every corner" then what is the range of discipline for the church and its elders & deacons? This question can be answered by a roll.

In other words, when Member X needs care or on the other end discipline, who does it? Does, for example, Lewisville BC or Calvary BC or Beck's BC? All three? If all three, then that gets us into a session, not a local church and an association.

On the other hand, if Member Y is visiting other churches to find a new church home, what should happen if they go into the hospital? They'd likely get pastoral visits from both churches and nobody would object.

So, the issue it seems arises, today, mostly in questions of discipline, not pastoral care and counseling. On the one hand you don't want to contradict the elders of another church in discipline, but on the other, you don't need to be the one who exercises it if they have, except to reinforce their prior actions. Reinforcing it would not be incompatible with the proper role of local churches in an association or fraternal relationship. However, if you got into a contradictory relationship, then you might have problems, one of which is the functional "session" model, which is Presbyterian.

As to the institutional/organic question, that is a dichotomy foreign to the Bible. What reason do we have to believe that the church ceases to be organic if the elder knows precisely who is and who is not a part of the flock?

Exactly. I taught church history to a group of men in my church last year. One of the first lessons I taught them as "prolegomena" was to think of the church as an organism not an institution, even as its organization developed into the monarchial episcopate in the early centuries. That organization did not cause the church to cease being "organic" any more than knowing all the muscles and bones in body makes the body itself "inorganic." It may make for a fairly clinical view of the body on the part of the physician or nurse, but the body itself is not made "inorganic."
So, let me reiterate here, if the argument is that a roll leads to an "inorganic" view of the church as a "body," I think that's a nonsequitur. Sure, it can mean that we view the body in clinical terms, but that doesn't mean the body itself becomes "inorganic."

I'll also go on record here as saying that I agree that our modern view of membership is hard to justify from Scripture only. It's an argument that depends on tradition as well, if not moreso. I don't think it is possible for any one group to precisely duplicate the New Testament model. Why? Because the NT church spread on a tabula rasa. Unless we're talking about a missions situation, none of us in that sort of situation - period.

That said, I think there is something to be said for certain arguments for Presbyterianism. That is, Presbyterians have argued that when the Bible speaks of "the church at ," it spoke about a group of house churches in a single city. Each had its own elders, and therefore, the elders of the church are a session. In Presbyterianism, a session is composed of all the elders (teaching and ruling) of the local churches in a particular geographical area, like a city. Then we have a presbytery, which collects several sessions together. Then they have a General Assembly.

As a Baptist, I find some mixed truth here. I agree that the NT views the church in Philippi, for example, as one church in one city. However, it does not follow that each "house church" had its own eldershp and that these formed a session. What could equally be true is that there was a group of elders that presided over a single church in that city that was divided into "cells."

Baptist history is littered with the same idea. In Baptist history, during the time of the Clarendon Code in Britain, we have records of local churches spoken of as if they are a single church in one town. Due to the laws limiting the numbers who could assemble on Sunday, the members of the church would walk between homes that had been set aside for assembly. The elders or deacons (if the pastor-elders were in prison), would set themselves into those homes, each one to a home. The members would rotate in groups of four or five, walking between the homes and getting bits of the sermon, songs, and partaking of the Lord's Table.

Thus, what we have in Scripture, due to the limited information, is a situation that does not select for a Presbyterian session. On the other hand, it does not select for a Baptist plural elder model either. Does one look at the house assemblies the same as we look at individual local churches in a town, city, or parish today? Does one look at them as a single church in the geographical area divided into "cells?" I think the argument for the latter is more persuasive, but that's because, layered onto the Presbyterian argument from Scripture is a parallel of the Jerusalem Council to the gathering of a G.A. or presbytery. I find that more question-begging than not. What's complicating our views here is not, in my opinion, our SBCishness, but (a) the scanty information in Scripture and history both and (b) our own historical situation. In other words, they did not live in cities with "a church on every corner" like we do in America. We do, and most of us are in churches of over 100 members. Thus what's complicating matters is this question: Do we view the local churches today as "cells" of a single church per geographical area, or do we view them as individual local churches? Ironically, the Baptist and the Presbyterian tend to opt for the latter, not the former. The Presbyterian then takes this and reads a session into Scripture. The Baptist and Congregationalist read the former view into Scripture.

So, the issue arises, did they keep lists of members? As I said before, it isn't clear. For one thing, Scripture isn't clear. For another archaeological information for the period from about 65 to 100 or shortly after is so scant that we just don't know.

What we do know is that their polity did mature. We also know from Scripture that they did have a knowledge of who was "in" and who was "out" (moved on, a missionary, a visitor, or under discipline). I think the churches were small enough that they knew just about everybody. That is, the elders by way of the deacons knew who their "members" were; that is to say, if you were a resident of the city, then you were a "member" of that church.

It might surprise folks to know that those churches using a monarchical episcopate, in my opinion, are probably closer to the biblical model in terms of defining the "roll" of a church, in that, as I understand it, if you move from one city to another, you are expected to register in your new church/parish. I think that's probably the type of "roll" they kept as time went on, if only by necessity.

Picking up on your Book of Life analogy, I'd say that this image is very like a Roman register. So, what we have in Scripture is a metaphor for the list of the elect that is predicated by analogy on a Roman register. If we wanted to view the church in the same manner and duplicate NT polity, then, yes, I think this would translate into a "roll," but it would not be done at the local church level. Strictly speaking, it would include every church. I'd add that this analogy is also a strong one for a regenerate church membership. If we're going to say that one argument for a roll in a local church is the analogy with the Lamb's Book of Life, then it should only include those who are regenerate, as best as we know.

I'd add that I think an argument can be made for some sort of roll by way of the OT. They did know who was in a city and who was not; who lived in the covenant community and who did not. Now, on the one hand, God let David call a census in order to bring judgment. The judgment was for his vanity and conceit. I don't think God has a problem with a "census" per se, I think we could apply that text, in our current discussion, to the constant triumphant intonation of numbers in the SBC as if "bigger is better." When "the Good Ol' Boys" pat themselves on the back for a job well done while they lose members the more they baptize or take in by letter and statement, and they can't get them to church on Sundays and/or don't know where the truants are, I think the Lord views that the way He viewed David's census.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Live Blogging the Founders Conference

Quick PSA:

Johnny on the Spot Timmy Brister is live blog ging the National Founders Conference this week. On the Pyromaniacs channel, Dan Phillips is doing the same. Good for them! I also suspect, given some recent comments about Isaac McCoy, Wade Burleson is in attendance. Frank Turk and Tad Thompon are also among them.

Read friends would come to Ridgecrest in November (Love ya, Brothers!)

This news beats the daylights out of the latest on Paris Hilton this week, dunnit?

We know return you to your regular Triablogue.

Sisters Gone Wild!

Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate go wild for the host! Pictures included!

Look, if you can justify prayers to the saints based on raising the dead, or Mary's role based on the alleged role of "Queen Mother" or allegorically exegeting Scripture to conclude that there is a relationship between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, then why not this? After all, didn't David dance in his skivvies in the streets of Jerusalem as the Ark of the Covenant entered?

HT: Cent

Monday, June 25, 2007


I picked up Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the title seemed to suggest that this book would be a detailed look at, come to think of it, what evolution is. And secondly, the back of the book boldly proclaimed: “With rare clarity and accessibility, Mayr poses the questions at the heart of evolution—What is the evidence for evolution on earth? What is the origin and role of organic diversity?”

It was the first question that I wanted answers to: What is the evidence for evolution on earth? The back of the book promised that “Mayr poses” this question. I assumed that meant he would actually answer this question, not merely pose it. But apparently I thought wrong.

For you see, Mayr, in his introduction, wrote: “That evolution has taken place is so well established that…a detailed presentation of the evidence is no longer needed” (What Evolution Is. 2001. New York: Basic Books, p. xv).

This reminds me a bit of what Dawkins said: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)” (Dawkins, Richard. 1989. “Book Review” (of Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s Blueprint), The New York Times, section 7, April 9, p. 3).

Darwinists keep reminding us that evolution has been proven beyond all doubt, and that only stupid, ignorant, or insane people would not agree to it. Yet when offered the chance to demonstrate this overwhelming evidence, do they do so? No. We just get statements of authority: “Don’t worry about asking for the evidence. Just accept that it’s been proven.”

Is this science? In any case, I have to wonder. If Mayr is not going to provide us with the “well established” evidence for evolution, then couldn’t he at least point to where that evidence is located so that everyone can look at it and judge the evidence for himself? Would that be too much to ask for, rather than requiring us to accept the existence of this phantom evidence that is “out there” in the “well established”, but never referenced, scholarly universe?

I've Been Tagged

I've been
by Les Puryear!


1. Those Tagged will share 5 things they dig about Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.

Here you go:

1. He's the great high priest, in the order of Melchizedek, tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin, therefore we are can hold fast our confession and draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. By the way, I always include that last bit, because Arminians like to use Hebrews to rebut the security of the believer, but what's the point of a high priest like Jesus if he can't keep his people from apostasy?

2. He's the Mediator of a New and better covenant, making intercession for His people, whom He has drawn together from every tribe tongue and nation.

3. He's the Word of God in creation and judgment. By the way, ask yourself exactly who it was that walked with Adam in the Garden and who came looking Adam after he sinned.

4. He is the mirror of election. (Okay, so I got that from Calvin, but I like it because it reminds folks that the 3 Persons of the Trinity impenetrate.)

5. He is the Prophet like unto Moses, confirming the covenant with signs and wonders in the gospels and bringing a covenant lawsuit in the Temple courts at the end of Matthew.

(If you'll notice, I've touched on His 3 offices here, as that's one of my favorite topics about Christ).

And now, I shall tag:

Steve Hays
Jason Engwer
Timmy Brister
Nathan White
Chadwick Ivester

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Matthew 25 And Sola Fide

In an article posted at his blog today, Steve Jones wrote:

"I've been having a shootout with the Reformish Christians over at Triablogue over the subject of hell. I find the idea of God tormenting the nonchristian world for all eternity to be morally unsustainable. The people at Triablogue defend the doctrine because they can highlight some Bible verses that uphold it."

We've done more than "highlight some Bible verses that uphold it". See here, here, and here.

Steve goes on to cite Matthew 25 as "the strongest of these texts" used to support the traditional view of Hell. He doesn't explain why it supposedly is "the strongest", and he doesn't do much to argue for a different interpretation of the passage. He spends two sentences mentioning a different interpretation of Matthew 25, but then comments that "there are inherent problems with that interpretation". Then he goes on to use the remainder of his article to argue that Matthew 25 contradicts justification through faith alone, a doctrine held by Evangelicals such as the ones here at Triablogue who have been arguing for the view of Hell that he opposes. He writes:

"Still, there is a massive difficulty in this text that should pose a world of trouble to the Reformed and Calvinistic stalwart. Jesus doesn't say that 'faith alone' or 'regeneration' is the variable that dispatches one group to eternal life and the other to eternal punishment. No, it's GOOD WORKS and the lack thereof. This notion, of course, is poison to zealous Protestants. If a Reformed preacher got up and said the same thing that Jesus says here, there would be howls against his 'Pelagianism,' if not calls for his permanent removal from the pulpit."

Unlike Steve Jones, we accept the entire testimony of scripture, not just some of it. Thus, we harmonize Matthew 25 with the rest of scripture. If he would consult some Evangelical commentaries on the gospel of Matthew, Steve would know that there's a reasonable explanation of the passage that's consistent with justification through faith alone, an explanation that his article doesn't address.

Some of the same problems we saw in Steve's interpretation of passages related to Hell are repeated in his interpretation of Matthew 25. He doesn't give sufficient consideration to other plausible interpretations. He doesn't make much of an effort to take the larger context into account. While Jesus could mention works in Matthew 25 because they're a means to attaining justification, He also could mention works because they're a result of justification and thus a defining characteristic of the regenerate. Steve's interpretation makes sense of the text and immediate context, but is highly inconsistent with many aspects of the larger context. The interpretation of Matthew 25 that I've just suggested, on the other hand, is consistent with all of the text and context. The same Matthean Jesus who speaks the words recorded in Matthew 25 also forgave people at the time of their faith, prior to any good works (Matthew 9:2), and taught the concept of substitutionary redemption (Matthew 20:28), for example.

Matthew's gospel is a Greco-Roman biography that focuses on Jesus' life on earth. It doesn't address the doctrine of justification in the sort of depth we find in a document like Romans or Galatians. Passages like Matthew 25 should be read along with passages like Matthew 9:2 and 20:28, and there are other indications of Matthew's soteriology elsewhere in scripture. To single out Matthew 25 in the manner Steve Jones does is misleading.

If the apostle Matthew had held a view of justification like what Steve suggests, it not only would be inconsistent with other passages in Matthew's gospel, but also would be inconsistent with what Paul suggests about apostolic unity concerning the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 and Galatians and what Luke writes on the subject in Acts 15. Paul speaks of his unity with the Twelve, including Matthew, rather than treating them as he treats the Judaizers. He was willing to rebuke Peter publicly when Peter acted inconsistently with the gospel (Galatians 2:11-14), but there doesn't seem to have been any other such incident among the apostles. Even that one incident involving Peter was about inconsistent behavior, not the teaching of a different gospel. The earliest post-apostolic sources (Ignatius, Polycarp, etc.) speak of the apostles as if they were in unity and taught the same doctrines, just as Paul repeatedly affirms in his own writings. As we see reflected in the writings of Ignatius, Matthew's gospel seems to have been highly popular in Pauline churches at a time when contemporaries of Paul were still alive and, thus, Paul's soteriology probably was still highly regarded among them. Matthew's soteriology was considered consistent with Paul's. While Matthew 25 could be read as supportive of justification through works if the passage is singled out, that interpretation doesn't make much sense in the larger context of the rest of Matthew's gospel and the other evidence we have pertaining to Matthew's view of justification.

Something else about Matthew 25 is noteworthy in this context. Steve tells us:

"But despite the prevailing orthodoxy, the message here seems clear: If you want to avoid eternal punishment, feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned."

Keep in mind that Jesus refers to His "brethren" (verse 40). That term is used elsewhere in Matthew to refer to Jesus' disciples, not humanity in general (Matthew 12:48-50). Though we should do good to unbelievers, it's more important to do good to believers (Galatians 6:10), and the latter seems to be what Jesus is addressing. The regenerate and the unregenerate are distinguished by their treatment of Jesus' followers, the people who carry the gospel out into the world (Matthew 10:40-42), the gospel of justification through faith alone (Matthew 9:2). The fact that our treatment of Christians is one way of identifying our regenerate status doesn't mean that it's the only way. Matthew 25 doesn't require justification through works. What it requires is that the treatment of Christians is something that generally distinguishes the regenerate from the unregenerate.

Why 9/11?

Here are two different explanations for 9/11. We report, you decide.


Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East. I think Reagan was right: we don't understand the irrationality of Middle-Eastern politics. So right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican, we're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.

I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes, there was blowback. The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages. And that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if other foreign countries were doing that to us?

I was ten years old when my home exploded around me, burying me under the rubble and leaving me to drink my blood to survive, as the perpetrators shouted “Allah Akbar!” My only crime was that I was a Christian living in a Christian town. At 10 years old, I learned the meaning of the word "infidel."

I had a crash course in survival. Not in the Girl Scouts, but in a bomb shelter where I lived for seven years in pitch darkness, freezing cold, drinking stale water and eating grass to live. At the age of 13 I dressed in my burial clothes going to bed at night, waiting to be slaughtered. By the age of 20, I had buried most of my friends--killed by Muslims. We were not Americans living in New York, or Britons in London. We were Arab Christians living in Lebanon.

As a victim of Islamic terror, I was amazed when I saw Americans waking up on September 12, 2001, and asking themselves "Why do they hate us?" The psychoanalyst experts were coming up with all sort of excuses as to what did we do to offend the Muslim World. But if America and the West were paying attention to the Middle East they would not have had to ask the question. Simply put, they hate us because we are defined in their eyes by one simple word: "infidels."

Under the banner of Islam "la, ilaha illa allah, muhammad rasoulu allah," (None is god except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah) they murdered Jewish children in Israel, massacred Christians in Lebanon, killed Copts in Egypt, Assyrians in Syria, Hindus in India, and expelled almost 900,000 Jews from Muslim lands. We Middle Eastern infidels paid the price then. Now infidels worldwide are paying the price for indifference and shortsightedness.