February 2010


Some skeptics of Christianity claim the doctrine of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead was a later development, not something believed and proclaimed from the inception of Christianity.  Others will admit that the doctrine was part of Christianity from its inception, but both groups claim the resurrection appearance pericopes that overtly stress the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection body were later inventions of the church.  As evidence for this claim, they assert that our earliest gospels—Matthew and Mark—lack overt references to the physical nature of Christ’s resurrection.  It is not until we come to the gospels of Luke and John that we find such pericopes.  They hypothesize that in the latter half of the first century some Christians began proclaiming a non-physical resurrection of Christ, so Luke and John invented material to counter this teaching.

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Here is part 2 of my summary of Stephen Meyer’s response to key objections raised against ID (read part 1).  This post will conclude my review/summary of Meyer’s book.  Links to the entire series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7a.

“ID is an argument from ignorance”

Not at all.  Arguments from ignorance take the following form: X cannot explain Y, therefore Z does.  That is not the form of ID arguments.  ID does not reason that if all naturalistic proposals fail, ID must be true by default.  There are positive evidences provided for inferring design in the universe/biology.  We are not ignorant of how information arises.  We also know from experience that only intelligent designers are capable of producing information (functional, complex specificity).  So postulating an intelligent designer to explain the biological information we observe in the cell is based on what we know, not what we don’t.  If chance and necessity are not adequate to explain the origin of biological information, whereas intelligent agency is, then it is reasonable to view intelligence is the best explanation.[1]

“Doesn’t this presuppose a naturalistic explanation won’t be found in the future?” 

No, it doesn’t.  It merely recognizes that our conclusions should be based on the evidence available to us in the present, not hypothetical evidence that might possibly be discovered in the future.  We must reason to the best explanation given our current data, and our current data gives us no reason to believe life originated by purely naturalistic means, but good reason to believe its origin is due to the activity of a designing intelligence. 

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Stephen Meyer addressed key objections to the design hypothesis that I will share.  Each objection could be answered in much greater detail, but I’ll stick to offering short summaries of key points.  Because of the abundance of objections, I’ll break part 7 into 2 posts. 

“Intelligent Design is not science” 

This is a red herring in that it shifts the focus away from the merits of ID arguments to the classification of those arguments; from the truth of ID to the definition of science.  As Thomas Nagel has written, “A purely semantic classification of a hypothesis or its denial as belonging or not to science is of limited interest to someone who wants to know whether the hypothesis is true or false.”[1]  Arguably, ID is science and should be classified as such.  But even if all parties agreed that it should not be considered science, that does not mean it is false.  It could be that ID is true, but not a scientific truth.  

This objection also presumes that there is a standard definition of science.  There isn’t.  This is called the “demarcation problem.”  Philosophers of science do not agree that there is a single, standard definition of science.  According to Larry Laudan, “There is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudoscience, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers.”[2]  Similarly, philosopher Martin Eger wrote, “Demarcation arguments have collapsed.  Philosophers of science don’t hold them anymore.  They may still enjoy acceptance in the popular world, but that’s a different world.”[3] 

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Wesley Smith alerted me to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) by Dr. Joel B. Zivot, an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Manitoba in Canada.  Dr. Zivot writes about “Baby Isaiah,” a child born with brain damage due to the lack of oxygen during a long birthing process.  Unable to breathe regularly on his own, the baby is hooked up to a ventilator.  A legal battle has ensued when the parents were told last month by Alberta Health Services that all treatment would be withdrawn for baby Isaiah, and that such an action was “medically reasonable, ethically responsible and appropriate.”  Dr. Zivot’s words get to the heart of the debate over human value, showing just why we need to avoid making subjective “quality of life” assessments to determine who should live and who should die:

As a physician, I specialize in the management of the weak and disabled. My task is clear: restore an individual’s health if I am able, and protect my patient’s rights as a human being. … Although the issue before the court is the degree of brain injury incurred by Isaiah, I realize that it is Isaiah’s status as a human being that is on trial. In contemporary thought, once born, humanity is considered automatic and should not be revoked by disability. The yardstick of being a human being is set too high for Isaiah. Discussion on the prediction of degree of disability, including mental capacity, is not relevant as are counter-arguments based on the physical appearance of normalcy. All that really matters, to be blunt, is if Isaiah is dead or alive. … If Isaiah is alive, which includes everything but brain dead, he is entitled to the full rights and privileges of any living Canadian citizen.

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To spank, or not to spank, that is the question—not “to beat, or not to beat,” which is not the question.  Well, it’s not a question I am asking, but it is a question many parents debate—and all too often, those who aren’t parents.  Many on the anti-spanking side disavow spanking on the grounds that “violence begets violence.”  After all, how can you teach a child not to hit when you are hitting him/her?  Doesn’t that send mixed messages?  Dennis Prager has some wise words to respond to this objection:

“Violence breeds violence.”  Some cliches are true; I find this one meaningless. The truth is the opposite: Immoral violence breeds violence; moral violence (such as just wars, police work and appropriate parental discipline) reduces violence.

I couldn’t agree more.  This doesn’t mean one has to use corporal punishment on their children, but it does mean doing so will not breed immoral violence.  Physical force often stops or prevents further immoral violence.

“Every change for good must be constantly renewed, but changes for the worse are often permanent.”—Dennis Prager (speaking about government)

Updated 2/19/10: I have changed my assessment of the possibility that Luke recorded the appearance to the 500.  Originally I had argued that it was unlikely on the grounds that Jesus’ final appearance began indoors, and only then proceeded outdoors (thus the gathering had to be small).  But it occurred to me that this conclusion fails to take into account the fact that Luke is obviously telescoping his account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances into a single appearance.  The appearance recorded in Luke 24:50-51 cannot be a continuation of the appearance recorded in Luke 24:36-49, and thus there is no reason to believe the latter appearance began indoors (as the former appearance obviously did).

How do I know Luke must be speaking of at least two different appearances, but telescoped them into one for his narrative?  In Acts 1 Luke recounts Jesus’ final appearance and ascension from Bethany/Mount Olivet, providing much more detail than he did at the end of his Gospel.  Luke declared that Jesus appeared to the apostles many times over a period of 40 days, after which He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:3-12).  It is clear that the appearance in Luke 24:36-49 occurred the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  If Jesus did not ascend until 40 days later, then the appearance and ascension recorded by Luke in 24:50-51 must have been separated from the appearance in 24:36-49 by 40 days.  That means the appearance in 24:50-51 may have been instantiated outdoors, and thus it is possible that a group of more than 500 people could have been present.  The text below has been updated to reflect my change of mind.

______________

Matthew records a very peculiar event in connection with Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  He writes, “The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Mt 28:16-17).  It is highly unlikely that Matthew would have invented a story in which individuals who see the resurrected Christ for themselves still do not believe in Jesus.  This comment, then, lends credibility to the historicity of Matthew’s report.

But the question remains: Who doubted?  Was it some of the 11 apostles, or members of another unidentified group?  It’s unlikely that some of the apostles doubted.  The “they” in verse 17 most naturally refers to all 11 disciples mentioned in verse 16, and thus it stands to reason that all 11 worshipped Jesus: when “they” (the Eleven) saw Him “they” (the Eleven) worshipped Him.  The real clincher, however, is that we know this was not Jesus’ first appearance to the Eleven.  His first appearance to them was in Jerusalem on the eve of His resurrection (Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36-42; Jn 20:19-23).  Since that appearance convinced the Eleven that Jesus had risen, they cannot be numbered with those who doubted at Jesus’ Galilean appearance.

Who were those that doubted, then, if it was not some of the Eleven?  Most likely, they were members of a larger, unidentified group of witnesses that accompanied the Eleven to the mountain, all of whom were disciples of Jesus during His ministry.  In fact, there is good reason to speculate that this was the epiphany Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:6 wherein Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once.[1]

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William Lane Craig has written a “fairly” condensed article (30 pages) consisting of five arguments for God’s existence, and examines how the new atheists such as Richard Dawkins have responded to these arguments.  This is probably the most lay-accessible, condensed written treatment I have seen from Craig on this topic.  Highly recommended.  

You can read it in HTML, PDF, or at Scribd.

HT: Justin Taylor

A Matter of Days is a book on the young-earth vs. old-earth creationism debate written by astronomer and Christian apologist, Hugh Ross.  Ross is an old-earth creationist, meaning he rejects both Darwinism and theistic evolution.  He argues that both the scientific and Biblical data support an ancient universe.  Not only does he provide evidence for his view, but he interacts with and critiques the arguments and objections raised by young-earth creationists.

If you are interested in the old-earth vs. young-earth debate, this is a must-read book.

I’ve read a good number of books since my last “What I’ve Been Reading” post, but have failed to write about them.  I hope to write about these books in the coming days or months, but for now I’ll just write about my most recent reading escapades.

I recently finished reading Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism (thank you Michael for purchasing this for me from my Ministry Resource List!).  Historian Thomas Fudge has written a well-researched history on the history of the doctrine of salvation in the United Pentecostal Church.[1] Fudge documents the evidence that those involved in the merger of the Pentecostal Church International (PCI) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ (PAJC) into the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) in 1945 held two different views of salvation.  The majority believed that one is born again only after they have repented, been baptized in Jesus’ name, and baptized in the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.  A sizable minority (mainly from the PCI), however, believed one was born again at the point of faith/repentance.  While they believed in baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, they understood such to be the result of salvation, not the cause of salvation.  The two groups agreed to fellowship their soteriological differences, not contending for their own views to the disunity of the new fellowship.

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It’s been a month, but I haven’t forgotten!  For new readers, this is part 6 in my series of posts summarizing Stephen Meyer’s argument for design from his new book, Signature in the Cell.  Past posts can be found here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

In the last two installments we demonstrated that the OOL cannot be explained by either chance or necessity.  Now we’ll turn our attention to the possibility that the OOL can be explained by a combination of both chance and necessity.  While many models could be examined—and were examined by Meyer—I will only examine the RNA-first, a.k.a. the RNA World hypothesis, since this is the prevailing OOL model today.

The cell presents OOL researchers with a chicken-and-the-egg paradox of which came first: the DNA that makes proteins, or the proteins necessary for replicating DNA?  The paradox was insoluble, so another solution was required.  If neither DNA nor proteins could arise first, what did?

Carl Woese, Francis Crick, and Leslie Orgel proposed an RNA-first model in the late 1960s, followed by Walter Gilbert (Harvard biophysicists) who developed it in the 1980s and gave it its common name.[1]  This model proposes that the first cell consisted of a much simpler self-replicating, self-catalyzing RNA (RNA is similar to DNA, but it is a single strand rather than a double helix, and the nucleotide, thymine, is replaced by uracil).[2]  This model was largely fueled by the discovery of Thomas Cech and Sidney Altman in the early 1980s that sometimes RNA can catalyze chemical reactions like an enzyme does, and thus RNA could serve the dual purpose of information storage (like DNA) and enzymatic functions (like proteins).  “The paradox of the chicken and the egg was thus resolved by the hypothesis that the chicken was the egg.”[3]

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Something I was thinking about today.  While we think with language, thought is not dependent on language.  Thought precedes the development of language.  If that were not so, language would never develop.  Learning a language is the process of learning established signs and symbols that correspond to, and help us express our pre-existing thoughts.  If we had no thoughts, there could be no correspondence, and we would be incapable of using the signs and symbols of language to convey meaning.

So what would it be like to think without the use of language?  I don’t know.  Infants must do it, but none of us remember what it was like to be an infant, so I imagine this is an unanswerable question.  It’s interesting nonetheless.

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