Our Modern Quest For Truth

Science continues to create theological problems that we have never been presented with before. This isn’t going to go away. We live in a scientific age where science is the dominant method for attaining truth.

Science is no conspiracy. While there is a degree of error, every scientific theory is under constant scrutiny and peer review. If someone were to find an alternative to, say, germ theory, they would instantly be famous. So how do Christians and other religious believers deal with our faith in light of such a science-dominated culture?

The Authority of Scripture

 

I recently had a dispute with a friend on Facebook. This individual (falsely) accused me of not accepting the authority of Scripture because of my views on Genesis 1-3. I have not doubt that this friend was well intentioned and was genuinely looking out for me as a fellow believer, but I think he missed the point. As Christians, our faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens those truths can rightly be seen as diminishing to the authority of Scripture. I do not see how one can say Genesis 1-3 affects that truth. This is not an issue of authority. It is an issue of interpretation. While an alternative to the literalism of Genesis 1-3 does present significant theological problems (death before the fall, historical Adam, etc.), none of them affect the authority of Scripture.

The History of Young Earth Creationism

While it is important to note that 7-day creationism was a view that some theologians had before the 20th century, it has not been, by any stretch, the dominant view. Ellen White, a Seventh Day Adventist in the 19th century, has been considered by many to have developed modern Young Earth Creationism. Later, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood as a way to explain the fossil record. In 1925, we had the Scopes trial. Combine these three events together, and you have modern day Young Earth Creationism. Origen, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others saw the Genesis account of creation as having a very poetic nature to it and did not see the creation of the world as being bound by seven literal 24-hour days.

The problem is that Ken Ham and many others today have made a literal interpretation of Scripture as being the only way to properly understand the Bible as the authority of God. This is not true. In fact, in some ways, this it is the opposite. True authority comes from God, who inspired certain men to write the biblical texts, which are communicated through a specific cultural context. If we are to take the authority of Scripture seriously, we have to understand what exactly the author of any given text is saying. To just assume post-Enlightenment literalism does a disservice to Scripture. Literalism is a hermeneutic, just like any other, and it has to be defended on the same grounds.

Galileo Galilei

 

Not only did Galileo provide sufficient evidence for a heliocentric solar system, but he also set a precedent for a particular kind of hermeneutic. It was widely accepted, without question, that the heavenly bodies did revolve around the earth, and the earth was fixed and could not be moved (Psalm 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). It would not be seen as very sophisticated in this day and age to make a claim that these verses are literal, scientific texts that ought to overpower our basic understanding of astronomy. Galileo was vehemently accused of heresy in the Catholic church, but he stuck to what he believed is right, and now we have a proper understanding of the astronomy of our own solar system. “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” We should listen to Scripture on the basis of how we are to be reconciled with Christ, not what the material world has to teach us.

Charles Darwin

 

Darwin was no Christian, but he did not see his theory and Christianity as being in conflict. He had many friends who were Christians, and none of them saw evolutionary theory as a threat to their faith. Darwin developed his theory based off of his own observations. It had nothing to do with his lack of belief in God. Asa Gray, a friend of Darwin’s who was a Christian, wrote him after he developed his theory and said that it actually helped him make better sense of his theology. Charles Kingsley, another theologian who was acquainted with Darwin, wrote “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular pastors of the 19th century, said in a sermon once that the notion of millions of years should not be a threat to biblical theology. YEC pastors and theologians were not widely known in the 19th century, and Darwin was seen as giving a rational method that God used to create.

Interpretation

The Bible is a very old book. It is easy to take it literally, and when any given literal statement contradicts objective reality to just assume it is literary or some sort of metaphor. People in the Ancient Near East really did think that the heart, intestines, and other body parts controlled intellect. People really did think hell was actually underneath the earth. People really did think there was a dome above the sky and the stars and other heavenly bodies were carved into it. This is ancient science, and nobody actually accepts it. Just because Ancient Near East writers had a false conception of what the cosmos actually looked like does not diminish the inspired theological truth of the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book to the universal truths of every field of study; it has a very specific message just like any other piece of literature.

The Quest For Truth

Literalism is easy. After all, if God wanted to convey truth to us through His Word, wouldn’t He make it easy to understand? Sadly, it is not that simple. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes the whole bible literally (at least in the post-Enlightenment sense). Many only take the Bible literally when it doesn’t conflict with common sense or their prior convictions. This is not a consistent hermeneutic, however. Culture plays a huge part in how the Bible was written, and it plays a big part for us when we go about interpreting it. God speaks to cultures. There is not one objective way to speak to a human being, it is done differently depending on the understanding that person has about the nature of reality. In an age of science, where much of the data we acquire in the fields of biology, geology, physics, anthropology, etc. contradicts a literal reading of Scripture, we must be careful to take the Bible for what it is. The Bible is the Word of God, but it does not define every aspect of truth that can be discovered. God created the natural world, so it will not contradict His Word. Science and religion are not in conflict; they both point us toward truth.

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Rethinking Modern Apologetics

I recently read Eric Metaxas’s article “Science Increasingly Makes the Case For God.” If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage it. Metaxas always has an interesting way of writing in a simplistic manner that the common layperson can understand. As it turns out, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns was not so thrilled with the conclusions Metaxas came to. I enjoy Enns’s writings (if you have not read The Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it), but I do have my fair share of disagreements with him. I found Enns’s response compelling, but I feel there is a greater issue at hand that is often unaddressed.

My Analysis of the Discussion

Metaxas simply reinstates the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. This is a more modern rendition of the teleological argument (argument from design). The physical constants of the universe have to be incredibly precise in order to bring about life on any given planet. To sum it up, the universe looks designed. Not only that, but the universe looks so incredibly designed that it could have ONLY come about by a designer, and there is no way that sheer chance could have formed the universe the way it is. Our existence is evidence of this. Metaxas is not an expert in this field, but he is certainly not the only one making such a claim. Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, and Christian philosopher Robin Collins have elaborated on such ideas. The teleological argument is a strong driving force in philosophy of religion, but Enns is not so fond of it.

In his response, Enns accuses Metaxas of possibly committing a God-of-the-gaps fallacy. This fallacy is committed when one assumes that just because modern science does not address a “gap” of knowledge of the physical world, we should assume God is the source of it. The problem with this fallacy is people who commit it set themselves up for failure when modern science does fill this gap (Galileo kicked God out of His home, Darwin put God out of a job, etc.). This is definitely a fallacy Christians should do their best to avoid. Enns asserts that we should recognize that God is the ground of being, that God is what makes existence itself possible. This is the Paul Tillich theory, that God is the philosophical Absolute, apart from which nothing can exist.

These discussions are healthy and Christians ought to be having them. I find most of natural theology compelling, and it is a topic of interest. Personally, I do not feel inclined to pick a side and decide whether Enns is right or Metaxas is right. It just doesn’t matter to me that much. Metaxas makes some good points, and he sites findings in modern theoretical physics that do present a big problem for the naturalist. At the same time, Enns makes a solid point that we should be careful to avoid God-of-the-gaps arguments, and there have been many times when properties in the physical world were assumed to be the result of divine intervention and later a natural cause was discovered. Both of them make good points. I think both of them are right in certain ways. They may both be wrong. Who knows? Who cares? The truth of the Christian faith runs much deeper.

 

Never Apologize For Good Apologetics

 

My purpose for analyzing the Metaxas/Enns discussion is it is a fairly recent example of modern apologetic discussion. Again, it is not a bad discussion to have. It becomes bad when we focus too much energy on it. I feel I have good reason to believe God exists and He knew humanity would encounter the scientific discoveries we have thus far and those we will continue to encounter. I also believe He knows that human inquiry about the natural world will change, continue to change, and cause certain arguments for God’s existence to not hold the same amount of weight they do at other time periods. My final “this I believe” statement is I believe God expects myself as well as all other Christians to adhere to Scripture as one of our primary methods of understanding who God is.

“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”

Psalm 62:6 (NRSV)

Faith built on philosophical arguments and natural theology is shaky. It directly contradicts the verse above. One day it is clear that God exists, the next His tracks are covered by science. This tends to be the goal of many Christians, that intellects on “the other side” can be reached if we can just reason with them. This is bad apologetics. The arguments themselves are not bad, but the motivation behind them is harmful. Give up, Christian. It is not going to work in our reason-driven culture. Christians who are not philosophically driven like others do not possess an inferior faith than those who are. In order to live out a proper Christian life, one must do exactly that: live it out! This is ultimately the most useful Christian apologetic, your life. Use it unapologetically.

Salvation and Communion With God

 

I understand this line of thought may not seem very promising for some.   It is easy to want reason to be on your side when it comes to religious topics. Once again, apologetics and forming arguments are not bad things (they are useful methods under many circumstances). 1 Peter 3:15 does make it clear that we are to give reason for the faith we have. The whole purpose of this post comes down to two points:

  1. Apologetics are only a problem when we expect them to win someone over to Christ. God doesn’t save someone because they realize the universe is designed. He saves them when they recognize He is God. It doesn’t matter how they get there, as long as they do. I didn’t accept Christ because of an apologetic argument (I was only six), I did because I acknowledged who He is as the Son of God. Pure reason will not bring someone to recognize who exactly God is. He has to reveal that Himself. The Christian’s job is to recognize that God is powerful enough and, more importantly, WILLING enough to do this. Be ready to give a defense, but do not bet on that being the driving factor behind one’s salvation. Pray for them, do what you can, and ask for God’s ultimate revelation in their lives.
  2. If you are a Christian, be careful where you ground your faith. If you ground it in apologetics that are susceptible to change, you are standing on shaky ground. This is not to say that you will not have doubts. Plenty of those will present themselves. Be ready to resort to the knowledge that you have of who Christ is and what He has done in your life already, and be careful about using pure philosophy to ease those doubts.

The crucial job for Christians right now is for us to recognize our tendencies to fall into the trap that a reason-driven culture is pulling us into. God is not a puzzle to be solved. If He were, Christ would not have put such a high value on faith. Our primary calling is to recognize the one task Christ has given us: spread the Gospel. Whether that is through door-to-door evangelism or even some philosophical discussions, we are to do it. The ultimate turning point for one’s salvation is God’s intervention and revelation in their life.

Separating My Philosophy From My God

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/why-phds-in-theology-commit-adultery

The above link is to a video of John Piper describing how knowing God on the PhD level in theology can be harmful to our faith in Him.  I found the video to be incredibly humbling and informative.  Is there something that a student of philosophy like myself is missing if I only know God on the academic level?

This has been a genuine struggle for me.  I have a difficult time separating my personal relationship with God from my studies about Him and who He is.  It is something that I am constantly working on in my personal life.  But I feel as though I’m not alone in this boat.  Don’t get me wrong, I love studying philosophy, religion, and biblical hermeneutics.  In fact, I plan to devote my career to it someday.  But the importance of discovering who God is on a relational level has to trump my knowledge of who God is on an academic level.  There are a few steps that I, and many others, have to continually work at in order to properly distinguish my relational faith in God from my academic knowledge of who he is.

Apologetics Can Be Harmful

I am NOT saying Christian apologetics is a bad field of study.  Again, I am devoting my life to studying a part of this.  The problem is that anybody who studies apologetics, philosophy, religion, etc. can easily fall into the trap of devoting every bit their identity in God to strict academic knowledge.  Our faith in God was meant to be much more than that.   As Piper said, “who cares about knowing God the way the Devil does?”  Anybody can study up and gain information about someone they’ve never met.  But knowing someone in this way does not give you any relational status with that person.  There is much more beauty and comfort that you have with an actual relationship with another person than if you just know details about them.

Apologetics can also be harmful when we claim to know indefinitely who God is.  This often occurs through philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  Philosophical arguments can be useful, but they are in no way the defining factor of who God is.  Placing your absolute faith in arguments that are constructed by human thinking can make God out to be something that He is not, and it can give you a false assumption that you know all about God.  The real danger in this is that it can be easy to make God out to be a high probability as opposed to the personal Savior of your soul.  The most humble thing that students of philosophy and theology can do is to recognize that the defining features of God are unknowable, and that mysterious side is the beauty that we ought to be chasing.

Coming to Faith

Most Christians do not come to faith in Christ because of a philosophical argument.  I know I certainly didn’t.  I accepted Christ at the age of six without having any knowledge of systematic theology or philosophical inquiry whatsoever.  Let’s face it, we all believe in certain things without having sufficient reason to do so; or we at least accept things without having enough knowledge to establish that belief.  An atheist may say that they find enough comfort in not knowing all of the mysteries of the universe without invoking a god.  I, on the other hand, find more comfort in invoking God in my worldview and not knowing all of the mysteries about Him.  Philosophical knowledge is useful, but it does not produce spiritual growth or relational comfort with God.

Allowance For Christ’s Intervention

Regardless of whether you are doing a devotional, studying theology, or just living out your everyday life, Jesus Christ must be a part of it.  Do not confine Christ to ten minutes of your morning, or just what you are studying in your Bible class.  Allowing Christ to be the center of everything you do throughout your day is key to being at peace with who God is.  Finding comfort in the fact that God wants to be a part of everything that is going on in your life is what allows you to pursue the mysterious aspects of God and come to terms with the plans that He has for your life.

Atheists Can Be Pseudoscientists, Too

A few years ago, Ben Stein released a documentary called Expelled. In this documentary, Stein advocates Intelligent Design as an alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory. At one point in the documentary, Stein interviews popular atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, being sort of a poster-child for modern day atheism, made the point that he believes a rational explanation to the origin of life on earth was that it was planted by aliens. “Aliens? Really? And this is coming from a guy who is supposed to advocate reason?”

That’s what most theists would say if a comment like this were made. I, however, don’t find anything inherently irrational about what Dawkins said. He may be right. Personally, I don’t think he is, but he did propose an explanation of some kind in order to solve the ongoing problem of abiogenesis. My beef with Dawkins doesn’t lie in exactly what he said but the entirety of Dawkins’ argument as a whole. You see, Richard Dawkins is one of those guys who advocates an atheistic worldview because he believes that theists are making radical pseudoscientific God-of-the-Gaps assumptions and taking away from the good work of science. To Dawkins, science is the key. To a degree, I think he’s right. I don’t advocate young earth creationism or Intelligent Design, as I see evolutionary theory to hold a lot of weight to it. But, it seems that Dawkins is committing the same crime that he is accusing theists of doing. He’s advocating pseudoscience. There’s nothing scientific at all about assuming that aliens planted life on earth around 3.9 billion years ago. Even if he’s right, there’s no testable hypothesis to assume this. And even if there was, there’s still the problem of abiogenesis occurring on another planet. And even if this could occur on another planet, you still have to weigh the mathematical probabilities of evolution successfully taking place on another planet as it has done on ours. (I am no expert on this stuff, so I’m trying not to go into it much. My point is that Dawkins has simply raised more questions that he seems to be answering with the same pseudoscientific principles that he is accusing theists of using.)

A recent study has indicated that more people in Britain believe in ghosts and aliens than in God. But so what? Does this matter? Only if you take into consideration that most atheists accuse Christians/theists/etc. of holding pseudoscientific beliefs. But creationists and ID proponents are not the only Christians/theists accused of pseudoscience. In an article he wrote on Karl Giberson, Jerry Coyne says:

“I gave the answer above to why the middle ground is losing: accommodationism doesn’t work, nor does converting naturalists into theistic evolutionists. So there’s no reason that middle ground should increase. The reason it’s decreasing is palpably obvious: America is becoming less religious as young people either lose their faith or fail to embrace any. Further, as they become less religious, they become more pro-science (being religious is a barrier to accepting science). And if you’re pro-science and a “none,” theistic evolution simply isn’t credible.”

It’s not that he blatantly says anything against the theistic evolutionist camp as being a group of pseudoscientists, but he does make his point very clear that embracing modern science will diminish one’s faith in a deity. This is demonstrably false. Coyne doesn’t seem to take into account that there are MANY scientists who do believe in God, and, while many young people do lose their faith, many young people also grow in their faith by embracing a love and understanding of science.

Another pressing issue in the whole “Science and Religion” discussion is the multiverse theory. Does the existence of multiple universes exclude the need for a creator? Possibly, but let’s think about what we’re dealing with here. The principle of uniformity states that all natural laws that operate in the universe now have always operated in the same way, and they also operate in the same way all the way across the whole of the universe. This is a totally reasonable principle, and there are scientific reasons to accept it (pretty much everyone accepts this principle). The problem is that when you start throwing multiple universes into the mix, you lose the uniformity principle. Why? Because there is no reason, especially no scientific reason, to assume that the same uniformity that exists in our own universe (the only realm of existence that we can actually study, I might add) exists in other universes. The multiverse may not, in fact probably doesn’t, have the same natural laws that exist in our own universe. If they don’t, then the laws of the multiverse may not be natural. They may be supernatural. My point: there is no way to make scientific claims about the multiverse. It is unobservable, it cannot be experimented on, and it may not even behave under natural law. It’s all pseudoscience.

(Just for the record, I personally do not believe in the multiverse. There are Christians who do, however.)

The bottom line is this: embracing science is not a one-way street to atheism. There are many Christians, most notably Francis Collins and Alister McGrath, who converted to Christianity from an atheistic perspective and now believe that God gives much more beauty to their scientific endeavors.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize the fact that not all atheists believe in pseudoscience. At the same time, neither do all theists. There are rational theist perspectives and there are rational atheist perspectives as well. My point of writing this post is to simply show that atheism should not be conflated with science.

The Dangers of Joel Osteen’s Message

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When we hear the term “prosperity gospel” what do we typically think of? Almost everybody would say Joel and Victoria Osteen. This attractive and wealthy couple has gained an incredible amount of popularity among many contemporary evangelicals. And it’s no surprise. You see, as a Christian, I am willing to admit that the life of one who follows Christ is not an easy, or comfortable one. It can often be one of suffering. But it is also one full of joy and satisfaction. So here’s the problem with this prosperity gospel that the Osteens and many others buy into:

 

IT IS COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE THAT IS PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE.

 

I would argue that Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest protestant church in North America, Lakewood Church, has presented a perverted version of God’s Word. To put it simply, it’s not God’s Word at all. It’s a false message. So, why does he gain so much popularity? It’s simple. Let’s take a look at this man, Joel Osteen.

 

Osteen was born in Houston, Texas. His father, John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist minister who eventually founded Lakewood Church. Upon John’s death in 1999, Joel took over as Senior pastor of Lakewood. Since then, Lakewood Church’s attendance has grown from 5,000 to 43,000. Incredible. So what is he doing that all other churches aren’t doing? Now, I am going to commend Osteen on one thing. He is not obsessed with hell. For some reason, many modern day evangelists scare people into accepting Christ so that they do not burn for eternity. This is weird because Jesus never taught this way. But that’s beside the overall point. Osteen cares nothing about repentance or sanctification. Like, not at all. What Osteen cares about is making people happy. In an interesting video I saw the other day, his wife, Victoria, was preaching and she said to not worship God for the sake of God, but for us. Her reasoning is that God is happiest when we are happy. I don’t know where she gets this from, but it sure isn’t God’s Word. The logic of the prosperity gospel goes something like this:

 

If you worship God, not really caring about Him but caring about yourself, then God will give you a happy life (your best life now) and you can essentially take pride in the fact that God loves you enough to give you stuff.

 

The Osteens are obsessed with God, but they care nothing about sanctification through Christ. They care about material possessions. They care about getting whatever they can out of God. You can just hear it in Joel’s voice as he preaches. At best, the man is a motivational speaker speaking on a basis of false motivation. Why does Joel Osteen look like he’s got it all together? Because he has turned his church into a multi-million dollar industry by telling people what they want to hear, and not the uncomfortable truth of Christianity.

 

So, can we get anything out of what Osteen teaches? Sure. He is right in that God does want us to be happy and full of joy. He is wrong in the way that he presents it. This is the most important part about what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is presented in a way that God can be glorified by means of satisfying our sinful desires. That’s the kicker with Osteen’s message. He loves people and he cares about them, but he does not understand the basic message of Jesus Christ. We live in a messed up world that doesn’t need to be destroyed, but restored. God created this world for us to thrive in and worship him in. We are supposed to get pleasure and joy out of worshipping God, but because of our fallen nature, we automatically turn to the one thing that Christ warns us against: Getting satisfaction from the world without having the peace of Christ in your life. That’s when true pain and suffering comes. Ever hear that C.S. Lewis quote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”? The prosperity gospel aims directly at earth. We are called to be a people of repentance, a people who sit in and can be satisfied in God’s loving embrace. We are NOT a people who are designed to get satisfaction out of riches and then claim we got them because God loves us. Yes, all good things do come from God, but if our focus is on getting riches and a happy life from God, then we will never gain the full and joyful life that God ultimately has for us. If you want to hear the real gospel, not one of material possessions but one that is centered around Christ, look at the famous words of Keith Green:

 

“The Gospel is simply this: Jesus will forgive all your sins if come to him humbly, lay down at his feet and say, ‘You are the LORD! And I will follow you for the rest of my life on earth, so that I can spend eternity with you, and have the glory of your Father!’”

The Cosmological Hell

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I’m taking a small break from my Genesis series to discuss a few other topics (Genesis series should resume in the late summer). As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of Christian fundamentalism. However, I am also very opposed to mainline liberalism as well. This is mainly due to the fact that I am very careful about what traditional beliefs we, as a Christian body, should hold on to, but I am also not a big fan of progressing into something new at every corner. There is a healthy balance to be found in there somewhere. Today, I am going to try and find a healthy balance in a big area. Possibly one of the biggest controversies within the Christian faith is the topic of hell. What is hell exactly? Most people have a pretty good idea as to what they think hell is.

 

First of all, I want to start out by saying I know this is a touchy subject. Many of us have lost loved ones who have not known Christ, and we wonder what awaits them after they pass from this life. Also, many of us have wondered why a loving God would send people to hell for all of eternity for not making one simple decision during their life on this earth. These are good things to ponder! There are a few simple things you should know about my personal beliefs on this subject before I dive into the deep stuff. First, I do not believe that God sends people to an eternal hell in order to be tortured for all of eternity. This would reside far from the reach of God’s character, one that is loving and full of grace and mercy. However, I am also in no way, shape, or form a Universalist. This would also be completely contradictory to God’s character. Now that I have that on the table, I just want to discuss.

 

I recently came across a post on Patheos describing by one of their writers, Tony Jones, entitled Christian Universalism: Cosmology. Now, Jones brought up a really good point that I would like to address. Jesus held incorrect cosmology. I don’t want to put the focus on Jesus, however, because everyone held incorrect cosmology. This isn’t really anything profound, seeing as if you pay attention to the text, it’s pretty easy to notice. Now, the cosmology back then was very different. Jesus probably believed that he lived in a geocentric universe, on a flat earth, with a literal hell existing underneath our feet. Now, Jones was right when it comes to the ancient cosmology being inaccurate as it relates to hell. What he didn’t address was what exactly the ancient cosmological concepts symbolize. Let’s look at the cosmology as it relates to hell:

 

  1. Isaiah 14:15, “But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.”

-This verse is talking about Lucifer falling from Heaven. If you notice, this shows how ancient writers thought that hell was an actual physical place in the ground. The term that is often used is “Sheol”, which literally means “dirt.”

   2. Matthew 5:22, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[a][b] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[c] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

      -Now, what is this verse saying exactly? The term “fire of hell” is translated into Gehenna. There is much debate as to what this is exactly, but the Matthew would have understood it as a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. What does this mean? It means that hell is a really bad place. Simple as that. Matthew isn’t describing hell, he is comparing hell to something else.

3. 2 Peter 2:4,  “For if God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment;”

-In this context, hell is translated from the Greek Word Tartarus, meaning an abyss, one that is in the ground. What do we know now? There is no abyss in the ground.

 

So, overall, what are we to make of hell in light of this incorrect cosmology? This is a really good question. Many would assume that these verses simply mean that there is no hell. The problem with this assertion, however, is it makes the verses completely meaningless. This is not the case. Most of what the Bible says about hell is a representation of something else. So, if someone were to ask me what hell is, I would say that it is a place of eternal conscious torment, not because of any physical lake of fire, or an endless abyss, but a place where God, the only source of goodness, simply is nonexistent. Does God send people to hell? No. He casts people away from Him, and that is the ultimate punishment. Hell is not a place as much as it is a state of being; a place that is so terrible and horrible that no living human can even comprehend it.

Genesis 2-3: Adam and Original Sin

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I wrote a post a while back on Adam and the significance of his character in biblical history. In this post, I want to go a little bit deeper into who Adam is. I was reading a book a while back entitled Four Views on the Historical Adam. To some, a book like this may be crazy. Many may see Adam as a necessary being for the Bible to function properly as a whole. However, I would make the claim otherwise. One of the contributors to this book, Denis Lamoureux, argued for a non-historical Adam. In the book, he makes a very profound statement:

 

“Adam [and Eve] never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, I am unwilling to make this much of a profound statement. Why? Because I am unsure if I agree with the first part of it. Now, let me phrase it how I would:

 

“Adam [and Eve] may have never existed, but regardless of whether they did or not, this has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, do I think Adam existed? I would argue that the question is completely irrelevant. It’s not a question I’m even willing to answer. The reason why is because the truth of Adam’s function does not hinge on his historicity.

 

In my last post on Genesis 1, I wrote about the purpose of the creation story was not to give an account of material origins, but rather an account of functional origins. Carry that over into Genesis 2. Now, the focus in this chapter is on humanity. God creates man for the purpose of giving him a function. The Hebrew word, “man”, literally means “Adam.” (This just happens to be a strange coincidence that the Hebrew word for “man” is also an english name.) I would propose that Adam is simply a representation of mankind as a whole. The function of Genesis 2 is to give man a purpose on this earth. God created us to thrive on this earth in perfect harmony with his creation, but, as Genesis 3 points out, we messed up and sinned against God. The focus is not a woman eating from a tree because a snake told her to. The focus is on the fact that humankind is sinful and we disobeyed God.

 

Now, I’m often asked how we can reconcile original sin and the human soul with evolutionary history. Again, I don’t feel it’s worth answering. The reason why is because adding evolutionary history into the mix literally does nothing to our understanding of the emergence of the human soul or original sin. Evolution is telling a story. It’s telling a material story of how we arrived here. The narrative in Genesis 2-3 is simply telling us that man is created in the image of God, and that we fell. The difference here is that one is a scientific truth, while the other remains a theological one. Evolutionary history cannot answer questions about God’s image being in human beings. Nor can it tell us about how human beings fell away from God. That is left up to a whole different set of issues.

 

So, in a nutshell, what is Genesis 2-3 trying to tell us? God created man in His image. He gave mankind a set of commands to follow and, as long as man stayed within those commands, they could live in His creation free from the effects of sin. Man sinned against God by breaking these commands and turning our back on Him, we fell away from His grace, and now we are forced to live in a world infected with sin. The purpose of Genesis 2-3 is actually very simple. It is just overcomplicated if you take a scientific approach to it.

Genesis 1

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If I were to ask you what a computer is, what would you say?  For most people, a computer is a machine that you can use to surf the internet, type papers, play games, etc.  Suppose the computer was just a machine, with no purpose at all.  It didn’t work or anything, it was just a useless machine.  Would you call that a computer?  The reason why we call it a computer is because it has a certain function, one that gives a purpose to the machine.  This analogy ties in to the Genesis account of creation.  After the Enlightenment era, a much different way of viewing the world began to rise.  This view consisted of a much more materialistic worldview, and it definitely had an impact on how Scripture was being interpreted.  Biblical literalism started to become a major part of hermeneutics and the original meaning of certain biblical texts was ignored.  In this post, I will not try to answer the question of whether the creation account is “literal”, “metaphorical”, “mythical”, etc.  To do so would be a major oversimplification.  In this post, I will attempt to be answer the question “what does Genesis 1 mean?”

 

First of all, I will emphasize why it is very important to interpret this text properly.  We live in an age of science, and one may find it difficult to reconcile current mainstream scientific ideas with the biblical creation account.  Geology is a major field that has wrecked post-Enlightenment literalism.  There are two ideas that are withheld in the field of biology:  Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism.  Catastrophism is the idea that Noah’s flood created the geologic layers and even the fossil record that we see today.  It wasn’t until about 200 years ago that this was found to be very problematic.  Uniformitarianism quickly replaced catastrophism in the current scientific paradigm.  This is the idea that slow, gradual processes brought about the fossil record and the geologic layers over millions of years.  The main reason why this view has succeeded is because it’s testable.  Catastrophism is based off of radical assumptions that cannot be tested and have no scientific basis to them.  Uniformitarianism, on the other hand, can be tested and the evidence shows very little geomorphological change in the earth around the time of the flood.  This is a huge problem for the catastrophist, and on top of that, Darwinian evolution has dominated the field of biology.  These two factors go directly against post-Enlightenment literalism.  So, how do we interpret the creation account?  The truth is that the language of Genesis 1-11 is unapologetically folklore in its face-value reading.  However, I won’t focus on that too much.  I’ll start by discussing Genesis 1.

 

Verse 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I have often been accused of claiming that this verse is true, but the other parts of the Genesis account are mythical.  At best, that is a perversion of the text and in no way do I advocate it.  Context is everything and, like I said before, Genesis is an account of functional ontology rather than material.  That being said, the word “beginning” is translated in Hebrew as bara.  This is giving the creation account a function from the very beginning.  It is used in the context simply to give a functional beginning for the rest of the creation account.

 

Verse 2

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

 

In Hebrew, “formless” means tohu and “empty” means bohu.  Again, both of these words mean simply something that is “unproductive.”  This is giving function to the text.  What’s interesting is Genesis 1 is the only text in the Bible where the words “formless” and “empty” are used in the context of not being material properties.  It is important to note that in this context, these words do not mean something that lacks material, rather it simply means that nothing was happening.

 

Day 1:  Verses 3-5

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

The ancients didn’t really have a clear concept of what “light” was.  This is important because it helps us to understand what the ancient function of light was.  Now, look at verse 5.  Notice how God calls the light “day.”  This is interesting, because the Hebrews had two distinct words for “day” and “light.”  So why not use them?  What the writer of Genesis was doing was using a rhetorical device called “metonymy.”  The Hebrews would have understood the text as a “period of light” as opposed to just “light.”  Essentially, it would make more sense for the text to say “God called the period of light “day,” and the period of darkness He called “night.”  This makes more sense because it takes care of the “light being day” issue and it gives a condition to “light,” which is how the Hebrews would have better understood it.  Not only that, but many people wonder why God would have created light before the sun.  If “light” is established as a period of time, as opposed to a material object, there is no contradiction between God creating light before the sun.  It just makes more sense.

 

Day 2:  Verses 6-8

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.  God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

Many people thought that the modern science of evolutionary theory and the age of the earth contradicted the literal reading of Genesis 1.  This is true, but so should this.  The ancient hebrews thought there was a vault, or firmament (a solid dome) in the sky that held up the waters above the earth.  This is drastically problematic for the biblical literalist, because nobody believes this.  Man has traveled to the moon and our technology has gone even further.  To put it simply; the firmament does not exist.  However, the ancients thought it did.  This was part of their model of the universe, one that is 3-tier.

 

Day 3:  Verses 9-13

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”  And it was so.  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”  And God saw that it was good.  Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

What’s interesting about day 3 is that it does not describe God actually creating anything.  He gives the land responsibility to produce vegetation.  This clearly shows function over anything else, because God is establishing a creative order for how plants and vegetation are supposed to work.  It is not a material creation, it is a functional description.

 

Day 4:  Verses 14-19

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,  and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,  to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Again, more problems with the firmament.  The ancients thought that the stars and other celestial bodies were in the firmament, but, as we now know, the firmament does not exist.  The function focuses on the terminology of the “greater light” and the “lesser light” established times.  This is not God “creating,” but “establishing.”

 

Day 5:  Verses 20-23

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

Fairly simple.  The function here is to establish the roles of living creatures, and one of their primary functions is to reproduce.

 

Day 6:  Verses 24-31

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Again, establishing more function for creatures.  God then proceeds to instill His Image within mankind.  This is the most important functional aspect of the creation account because it establishes man’s role, which is the most important thing God has created.

 

This was just a simple overview of Genesis 1.  For the next post in this series, be watching Ryan Ellington’s blog = ryanwaitforitellington.wordpress.com

Theism and Atheism: Where the Burden of Proof Really Lies

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Do we really need much of a reason to believe in God at all? Reformed epistemology is the idea that God is a “properly basic belief.” God does not need to be inferred from other truths to be reasonable. The most notable advocate for this field is Alvin Plantinga. This particularly has to do with the burden of proof. Where does it lie? Many people will assert that theists have the burden of proof because they have to prove the existence of something, not the other way around. This, of course, is under the assumption that God is a physical being that can produce empirical evidence for Himself, and if He can’t, there is no good reason to believe in Him at all.

 

I will first bring up the old watchmaker analogy. I know, it’s old and overused, but I think it definitely applies to this situation in many ways. Firstly, if you were to find a watch, it would be proper to assume that someone created the watch. This is a properly basic belief. There is no physical evidence that a watchmaker exists. The watchmaker cannot be be sensed by any of the five senses and there is no empirical data. However, it would be absolutely absurd to assume that the watch did not have a creator. This is a good example of how the burden of proof is not on the one who assumes that a watchmaker exists, but on the person who assumes that there is no watchmaker.

 

Plantinga first proposed his version of the idea in his 1967 book God and Other Minds. In this book, he gives the idea that believing in other minds is completely unsupported by argument, yet we still see reason to believe in them; likewise believing in God is unsupported by argument, yet it may still be rational to do so. The argument against this claim goes like this:

 

1.  It is irrational or unacceptable to accept theistic belief without sufficient or appropriate evidence or reason.

2.  There is not sufficient/appropriate evidence or reason for theistic belief.

3.  Belief in God is irrational.

 

Many Christian apologists deny the second premise. I agree, I don’t think the second premise holds any weight at all. However, reformed epistemologists will deny the first premise. What we have to figure out is if anything can exist at all without the existence of a supreme being. There are a few things we know that we do not have evidence for:

1.  The external world exists.

2.  The past exists.

3.  Other minds exist.

 

These are all properly basic beliefs. Essentially there becomes a point where we have to trust our own cognitive faculties to create a basis for belief; otherwise it would not be reasonable on any level to believe that the external world exists. We all have to realize that reasoning starts somewhere. So, the question is: Does God fall into this category?

 

Here’s the kind of knowledge that I’m getting at. Belief in God is a lot like belief in other persons, and not belief in scientific properties. Scientific method and properties, which seems to be the only source of knowledge for the naturalist, is incredibly deficient when it comes to personal relations with other people. In this sense, it is absurd to assume that the scientific method is essential for ALL parts of human behavior and knowledge. If this were the case, we’d all be sitting in labs doing experiments, cut off from society and unable to have proper relationships. This is the sense that we know God. Not in an empirical sense, but in a relational one. Can this be counted as “knowledge.” It certainly does with other people. Why not something greater? This is why God counts as a properly basic belief, and the burden of proof is not on the theist.

Does God Really Know What He’s Doing?

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I find that the more I study atheistic philosophy, the more I am convinced that it is unable to answer some of the big questions in modern philosophy. However, I will admit that the one single greatest objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil. This post will relate to this philosophical problem, even though I gave my resolution to it in “Benevolence in a Damaged Existence.” I write this post for the Christian or non-Christian who struggles to reconcile evil with the Christian God. The title of this post is “Does God Really Know What He’s Doing?” because, while we grant ourselves the notion that a good God can exist even in light of evil on a logical basis, when it comes to actually experiencing that evil, we seem to stumble and fall, and even question God’s existence. When I ask the question of does God really know what He’s doing, I am not referring to God’s intelligence, I’m referring to His regulation of evil. As I described in my last post on evil, the reason God allows evil is because of free will. Take the element of free will out and we are basically creatures not worth creating or loving. So, in this light it makes sense for God to allow evil to consume the world. Now, the big question is “Why does God allow Christians to suffer?” If, as a Christian, one dedicates his or her life to Christ and attempts to live a life for him, then why would he allow them to still suffer? This is a tough question to answer. To the Christian I would say that you are still fighting through a sinful nature. So long as you are in this nature, you will experience pain. Has God understood this? Does He really know what He’s doing to us when He allows us to go through pain? You better believe it. Jesus lived an absolutely perfect life and subjected himself to our sinful nature. Not only that, but he took all of the weight of our sin and brought it upon himself. You may experience suffering, but you will never experience suffering the way Jesus did. I have mentioned before that we are desensitized to sin and unable to see the true detrimental effects of it. I stand hard on this reasoning because it really helps bring a solution to the problem of evil. In fact, I would argue that the problem of evil can, in a way, help us to experience God’s love in an even greater manner. If we could fully conceive of evil then we could see that, even if God chose to leave and have nothing to do with us, He would still be a good and loving God. We don’t deserve His grace in any way. The fact that He does do anything at all is evidence of an even greater love than anything we can comprehend. We often question God’s motives on issues of suffering, and that’s FINE. We often forget about Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” The one and only Son of God questioned God! Why would we not be allowed to do the same thing? While this world should be consumed in nothing but evil, we were given a chance to live for eternity, and that is a much bigger gift than I could ever expect for a world as messed up as ours.