19 May 2010

Shameless promotion of Dan

by Frank Turk


I have some things I'm working on this week that are restricting my blogging, so I'm going to use Dan (in a nice way, nothing untoward) to maintain the fill here.

He's got a deceptively-simple yet brilliant post over at his blog from yesterday regarding matters which are "settled" fact -- in spite of the rude evidence that, for so many rudimentary things, "Scientists are baffled!"

Here's the only thing I have to add to that discussion:

The biggest pitfall of the entire discussion is the answer to the question "how do we know" from one epistemology to another.

See: Dan says (rightly) that there's a problem when "Materialists" say that repeatability is a validator of hypotheses -- that being the premise that the universe is consistent in all times and places and circumstances. This is a statement which cannot be validated or (pay attention) invalidated. It's an epistemological hunch.

Or is it? It seems to me that the father of "Materialism" is actually "Theism" -- particularly theistic cosmosology (and in the west where science really took off, Christian theistic cosmology) which says that you can rely on the consistency of the universe because God made it that way, and because God's not a trickster who is trying to fake your test tubes and oscilloscopes out. In that way, "Materialism" has imported a premise it can never prove and never substantiate from a radically different epistemology in order to tell us, among other things, "U R doin it wrong".

That seems all well and good for us theists, yes? We're done here we seem to think when we take off our smart glasses after proving the "Materialist" is just an ungrateful stepchild. But we have the same problem in our own house, if you will excuse me for saying so.

It seems to me that there's a rampant strain of importing materialistic epistemology into our own thinking about, for example, the Bible when such a thing is utterly uncalled for. The first place it shows up is when we start trying to establish "science" to explain how things work in the Bible -- like how you fit all the animals in creation, 2 by 2, in a wooden box. I'm sure that statement alone is enough to derail all blogospheric meta for a week, but I have something else in mind by saying that.

What I have in mind is that we do even worse damage to our faith and our ability to receive what the Bible actually says when we import the other key premise of "materialism" -- which is that all ideas and all human understanding improves over time. So when folks who hold to this premise come to the Bible, what has been believed about the text -- demonstrably believed since Paul or Matthew or Micah or Moses wrote it down -- is simply irrelevant, or worse: counterproductive. Today we have to think about these texts in a different way because we are much smarter and, um, evolved than Paul or Matthew or Micah or Moses, if indeed those were their names.

It's completely phony for scientists to purloin the gravitas of their work from the creator and sustainer God by assuming without cause that all things are created and thereafter sustained -- but it's equally phony for those of us who say we believe in the creator and sustainer to believe that somehow what He has already said is subject to the same skepticism we should hold toward the discoveries of those who, on a regular basis, are baffled by what they uncover.

UPDATED: The nearly-peerless Al Mohler tweeted a link to an ardent atheist who, I think, agrees with me -- and reaches the wrong conclusion.






35 comments:

Sir Brass said...

Bravo!

Excellent glorified-dan's-blog-meta post :)

Essentially you explained what Dr. White says when he tells an atheist, "You have to borrow from my worldview to even have a rational conversation."

mike said...

Frank,
how much confusion (and sometimes absolute lies) have come from that last point
"Today we have to think about these texts in a different way because we are much smarter..."
the influence of theistic academia has often not been a good one.

DJP said...

L, I B.

This is a "first" on so many levels.

(c:

Stefan said...

I read this post, and appreciate what you wrote. Something good and meaty to chew over from Frank.

...And yet all I can think about is "un-lol-cat" and "What about the schmerodactyls?"

But on a more serious note, I don't dispute that we have made great advances in science, technology, and even social relations.

And yet if we think that we are fundamentally more enlightened than people were 2000 or 4000 years ago, then we haven't searched our own hearts very well.

Lying, cheating, stealing, pride, greed, lust, and anger are still SOP for every member of the human race, just as much now as in more "unenlightened" times.

Stefan said...

"Schmeradactyls" were discussed here, for the benefit of Mike and anyone else who's wondering.

David said...

In the OT, the Israelites had kings who followed the Lord, but left the high places sitting there. I'm pretty sure it's because they assumed that the high places were just, well, there. And people go to worship there, and God talks about worshiping in the Bible, so it must be okay, right?

If those kings had singled out the high places and destroyed them, the people would have been angry, because their trust was really in the high places.

So don't mess with the high places.

donsands said...

"There's nothing new under the Sun."

God's word is true, it is eternally true.

Weeks said...

If I may quote C.S. Lewis in response to your next-to-last paragraph:

"Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them."

Excellent stuff, Frank. Big thank you to you Pyro guys for keeping me on my toes, thinking. You guys have challenged me weekly to stay on top of my reading and discipline myself to be an honest and competent student of the Bible. Thank you.

SandMan said...

Hi Frank,

I admit that I am swimming in the deep end of the pool with my floaties on regarding this post. I humbly ask for some clarification on this point.

But we have the same problem in our own house, if you will excuse me for saying so (empasis added).

and...

Today we have to think about these texts in a different way because we are much smarter and, um, evolved than Paul or Matthew or Micah or Moses, if indeed those were their names.

Are you speaking of Christendom at large? Or, are you saying the Reformed believers specifically? It seems that many of the Bible Teachers/Pastors that we consider "good," go to great lengths to get at the cultural background, intended specific meaning of the original writers, and how the original audience would have understood the message. Am I misunderstanding your criticism, or am I misunderstanding your intended target of the criticism? Thanks for your time.

Frank Turk said...

Sandy:

I am speaking of both. It is a principle I apply liberally to myself daily, and which I advocate for anyone reading to do the same.

Frank Turk said...

PS - mostly I posted this to place into evidence that I read Dan's blog. let the rumors cease.

:-)

Sir Brass said...

Dan said, "L, I B."

I'll continue: M R DUX

DJP said...

S, M R

B Barnes said...

Dan said, "L, I B."
Sir Brass continued, "M R DUX"

then Dan said, "S, M R"

I say, "I'm confused..."

DJP said...

S, U R

(c;

John said...

M R DUX,
C M WANGS?

Daryl said...

M R 2 DUX. I C'N M WANGS

Mesa Mike said...

M R ET BT DUX!

OSAR!

John said...

The question I have for NatGeo (that paragon of veracity) and Douglas Theobald is simply "why stop there?" Those of us with a small background in science recognize that Theobald's statistical analysis consisted of little more than multiplying the 23 proteins together. But why stop there? Not only do all living things share 23 proteins, but all everything shares 115 or so elements. Obviously, this is proof of the big bang. Or not. Correlation is not causality. Statistically speaking, life should never have evolved from these elements. Donald Paige of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Science calculates that the odds of our universe taking a shape suitable for life to evolve is 1 in 10,000,000,000^124. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe conclude that the chance of obtaining all 2,000 enzymes represented in life is 1 in 10^40,000. So, statistically speaking, the odds against naturalism are absurd.

SandMan said...

Frank,

Thank you for the response...I have read the post several times now and I think I follow the gist of what you are saying, but have a vague sense that I am missing something. Certainly, the disconnect is between my ears, but I will keep thinking on this and hopefully "get it."

May I paraphrase and you can tell me if I am getting warmer?

Are you saying that we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned by the skepticism of the the scientific process to approach God's Word with the same skepticism? And because of this we may feel compelled to offer apology, or irrefutable "proof" for what the Bible says?

Please forgive my M/V (density). Okay, bad joke. Thanks for your time.

Frank Turk said...

I think y'all are missing the point broadly. Even calculus and probability are based on a predictable universe.

Frank Turk said...

Sandman:

Yes. The Bible does not need Science half as much as Science needs the Bible.

SandMan said...

Your paraphrase was much better than mine. Again, thank you.

David said...

God did, in Christ, what cannot be done, and that is the central fact of history, indeed of the universe.

If we're answering the question of our origins in improbability factors, we might as well be happy with the answer of the universe being 42.

If we answer the question of our origin in Christ crucified, buried, risen, and ascended, who is before all things and in whom all things hold together, we might just display something more than a logical argument.

Stefan said...

SandMan:

If I may be so bold and foolish as to speak for Frank, the issue is not with the process of understanding the cultural, linguistic, etc. (and Scriptural!) contexts of the original texts.

This is actually close to the heart of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic, which is the principle interpretive method used by the vast majority of theologically conservative (including and/or especially Reformed) evangelicals.

But the temptation to think that "we" know better than Moses, Micah, or Paul is something that first crept up in the Enlightenment, and took off with the emergence of so-called "higher criticism," which by the 19th and early 20th centuries, was assuming that (for example) the Pentateuch or Isaiah were merged and revised multiple times by different authorial schools with different social agendas, or that the Gospels as we have them today were flawed products of an allegedlly unreliable oral tradition, overlaid with an allegedly ahistorical theological interpretation.

Basically, books of the Bible were assumed to be the imperfect products of flawed humans. Sometimes this was more benign—like Thomas Jefferson's liberal harmony of the Gospels—and sometimes less benign—like the work of some ultra-liberal "scholars" in the 20th century who have falsely argued that (for example) biblical Judaism was basically a belief of Temple priests imposed on everyone else.

On top of this, there was an increasingly widespread opinion by the 19th century that various elements of the Bible were taken lock, stock, and barrel from Near Eastern religions; that the Exodus never happened; and that at the heart of the Bible lies a mythology of primitive nomadic herdsmen.

This way of (mis)understanding the Bible became so prevalent that it was one of the factors undermining the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy and leading to the liberal-fundamentalist rift in Protestant churches in the early 20th century. From this came the more general idea that the Bible is in some way inspired, without actually being written under the plenary inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

(Well, that and a whole host of other factors, like a focus away from the Gospel and towards social action; the emergence of revivalist semi-Pelagianism; and the inability of many Christians to reconcile in their minds scientific discovery with the infallibility of Scripture.)

So over the course of time, the "we" who think we know better than Moses, Micah, and Paul expanded from a handful of Bible-rejecting Englightenment types in the 18th century, to some of the English Baptists that Spurgeon was railing against in the 19th century, to the liberal camps of mainline Protestantism in the early 20th century, to many voices in the neo-Evangelical movement today.

And even we as Reformed Christians may be tempted in moments of doubt or despair to wonder if we too are placing too much stock in Scripture.

But the fundamental problem with all of this is that as soon as we start picking away at bits of the Bible we don't like, then we render the whole thing null and void, and we lose all right to God's promises of covenant faithfulness those whom He calls—for after all, those very promises come to us as the written words of Scripture.

As God told Isaiah:

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." (40:8)

(Note: this comment is as much a rebuke to myself as to anyone else. My wife and I are undergoing a trial right now, and reading through Isaiah 40-53 last night totally set me right.)

Jacob said...

Frank, you completely lost me in the last couple paragraphs. Or possibly before that.

And I love the subject matter you're discussing (worldviews, apologetics, naturalism/materialism vs Biblical Christianity, etc.), so I very much want to understand what you said. Somehow you've managed to make a point on this subject that is more confusing than the any secularist attempt at rationalizing evolutionary theory LOL :)

Stefan said...

Oh, and the other factor that defies dissecting Scripture into random bits and pieces is this:

Despite the apparent superficial complexity of the Bible, there is in fact a simple, coherent narrative running through all 66 books written over 1500 years by three dozen different authors, from Genesis to Revelation, and all summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

SandMan said...

Hi Stefen:

If Frank's not offended, I'm not.
My questions was centered around what he meant by "in our own house...we think about texts differently because we think we are smarter..." etc., than the original writers.

You cite the Enlightenment, and Thomas Jefferson, 19th century opinion, liberal theologians, and Neo-Evangelicals... on all of these points I would agree with you.

You said: And even we as Reformed Christians may be tempted in moments of doubt or despair to wonder if we too are placing too much stock in Scripture.

But the fundamental problem with all of this is that as soon as we start picking away at bits of the Bible we don't like, then we render the whole thing null and void, and we lose all right to God's promises of covenant faithfulness those whom He calls—for after all, those very promises come to us as the written words of Scripture.


I admit that I have had similar temptations at times, but I did not get that message out of Frank's post.

My citing pastors who dive into "the heart of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic," was an attempt to show evidence that the good guys are not straying from holding to a high view of the Word.

So my question became, do you mean to tell me that you think our faithful teachers are missing the mark when it comes to holding the Bible as authoritative? Maybe I am living under a rock, but in my circles I am not seeing that. If you are defining the circle as something bigger to include Emergent Church et al, then I do see it.

But upon reflection of Frank's post and his later gracious synopsis, I can definitely see his point and its application to me.

I sincerely hope for God's peace and a sense of His presence for you and your wife during this time of trial.

Thanks for the interaction.

threegirldad said...

M R SNAKES.

M R NOT.

O S A R. C D B D IZ?

L, I B. M R SNAKES.

Frank Turk said...

Jacob --

In one sentence, my point is that the materialist demands for the world compete with the Theist demands for the world.

Case in point: Scripture.

In the materialist view, if Scripture is of any value at all, it is probably as an artifact and not as a timeless authority -- so as we progress in general knowledge past the place where the (human) authors of Scripture resided, we can literally say that we are smarter than they were, and can question their conclusions.

In the theistic view, we assume the God-source of the text and that somehow (ontologically) it has information we don't have, and rather than filter the text through our other methods of knowing, we should submit to the text in order to sort out what we think we know.

Does that help?

Stefan said...

SandMan:

Unless I'm missing something, I agree with you:

"My citing pastors who dive into 'the heart of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic,' was an attempt to show evidence that the good guys are not straying from holding to a high view of the Word."

And no, I don't "think our faithful teachers are missing the mark."

It could be that the way I read Frank was different from what he meant. (It wouldn't be the first time I'm wrong!)

But his last comment just now to Jacob is a much better summary of what I wrote so verbosely...he's getting at a materialistic reading of Scripture, which is beyond the pale of orthodox Christianity—and not at all the same thing as merely allowing for some degree of latitude in the interpretation of Scripture by those who affirm and proclaim its interrancy.

And thanks for your last comment.

(Seriously, if anyone's ever struggling with "Why?" and "How long?" questions, I strongly recommend rereading Isaiah 40 to 53. There is some really good, corrective stuff in there about God's promise of faithfulness to those whom He has redeemed. I almost cried [in a manly way] when I got to 43:1-2.)

Jacob said...

Frank: Yes, thanks. I think I got lost in your post trying to figure out at the end what you were arguing for and what you were arguing against. Turns out it was much more straightforward than I realized. :)

Citizen Grim said...

Mohler had a good article on a similar subject a few days ago, making the connection between Catholic veneration of relics and the evangelical obsession over things like digging up Ararat in search of Noah's Ark.

Mohler's point: We know the flood actually happened because God affirms it in his revealed word, not because it's independently confirmed by scientists, archeologists, paleontologists, etc.

This isn't anti-intellectualism (after all, we will certainly be interested if someone does dig up something meaningful), rather it's a matter of hierarchy, of priorities. We put our trust in God's truthfulness as more reliable than man's intellect.

one busy mom said...

Great point about science unknowingly relying on a Christian worldview. Science assumes: yesterday "X", therefore today "X", and furthermore tomorrow "X" will still be. But, without a Creator and Sustainer, why would it be? Without God, we should be at the mercy of endless, random, shifting paradigms. A true atheist should be a very neurotic soul - on what could he base his hope that even the electro-magnetic spectrum will exist for another moment, let alone day.

BTW, loved the "Scientists are baffled" blog....especially about Voyager II - very cool. Hmm... remember V-ger?

Robert said...

Science is just a means of getting a better look at general revelation. General revelation doesn't even exist without God, Who gives us special revelation through the Bible. I would say that special revelation has authority over general revelation and that special revelation should teach us how little it is we can even understand through general revelation. Anybody who goes the opposite direction is horribly deluded or terribly prideful.

I say this with the knowledge that my own pride and delusion have hindered my application of this in my past and can still take hold of me if I do not humbly submit to the Word of God ALL THE TIME.