Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday quote

There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.

GK Chesterton, Generally Speaking.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wanting to defend the YEC position

HS writes that she is concerned about the potential effect evolutionary teaching could have on her grandchildren as they grow up. She is also surprised at the considerable buy-in to evolution by fellow Christians, and is is aware of her own shortcomings about this topic in the scientific arena.
I would like them to be better equipped to deal with it than I was. I am frustrated that I don’t think quickly on my feet, so when challenged in discussion, I am chaotic in marshalling the facts and make a real hash of defending the YEC [Young Earth Creationist/ Creationism] position. One thing I have concluded in my studies so far, is that I actually want to defend the YEC position because of what it says about God.  To me, the theology seems crucial. Yet in my studies, I have to admit there are huge obstacles to overcome.
There are several issues to cover here including
  1. Understanding creationism from a biblical perspective
  2. Understanding creationism from a scientific perspective
  3. Appreciating how one's worldview affects one's interpretive framework
  4. Dealing with theistic evolutionists
  5. Teaching children and grandchildren in an antagonistic world
Firstly, it is important to understand that while you can always increase knowledge, there will always be someone who understands more in a specific area. When you encounter a person more conversant in a specific domain is it usually inadequate for him to declare victory based on education. In esoteric topics it may be that you really lack the basics to hold a useful conversation; but the skilful person knows how to talk in mutually understood terms, clarify issues, and use appropriate analogies. Remember the knowledgeable person may hold several false assumptions. To win an argument solely on a claim of expanded information storage capacity is a hollow victory.

Next, in discussing creationism with individual theistic evolutionists there needs to be willingness by both parties to acknowledge and defend their assumptions.
Understanding creationism from a biblical perspective
Expanding knowledge here is a useful thing. As a Christian the command to grow in understanding of things spiritual means that reading material on the importance of creationism in the Christian worldview is a worthwhile effort, and for the creationist a mandatory one. If you think that creationism is a true description of reality then reading and viewing material on the biblical perspective of creationism is a sensible use of time.

It is this aspect of creationism that I am increasingly drawn to. Despite the fact I became a creationist based on scientific considerations, I now think that the biblical considerations are of greater importance. The effects of the Fall, the nature of man before the Fall, the appeal to Jesus as the second Adam, the association of sin with death; these all considerably affect how one interprets Scripture. They also argue strongly for the YEC interpretation of Genesis. Hermaneutics that attempt to marry Darwin to Genesis (either while maintaining inerrancy, or denying it) have led to major interpretative errors that are highly detrimental to Christianity. A greater understanding of these issues and how your ideas on Genesis affect exegesis is imperative to the creationist, and indeed all Christians; even if your knowledge of the science is a little lacking.
Understanding creationism from a scientific perspective
While useful, this depends on: the importance of the issue to you; the time you have to study; and, to a degree, your ability with science.

Several broad issues are useful for you to gain a thorough grasp on
  • The distinction between operational and historical science
  • Distinguishing between data and interpretation
  • Awareness of incomplete scientific knowledge
  • The importance of differential weighting of facts and beliefs
  • Awareness that the same data can be interpreted by different paradigms
  • Understanding the nature of information, and how it differs from matter
Having a good understanding of what is meant by all these statements will make an enormous difference to your approach to understanding scientific creationism.
Appreciating how one's worldview affects one's interpretive framework
It is immensely helpful when you can see the how and why people view an issue the way they do. This includes having a clear perspective on your own presuppositions. It allows you to know what is primary. It allows you to see at what points your opponent disagrees with you.

More importantly it shapes how you interpret new data, especially data that is interwoven with theory that you dispute. You can sieve out the observations and interpret them in light or your own framework. Such observations can challenge your framework, but they do so by the nature of what was observed, not because neutral observations were bundled in an anti-biblical package.
Dealing with theistic evolutionists
I think you need to consider what approach should be taken with each person. There is little doubt of my position by many in the church who know me well, even if I have not talked about creationism with them. Though I have had some conversations with a variety of people when it comes up.

Try to establish how important the issue is for them. The person who is uncertain about the topic, who could be described as a theistic evolutionist, may have little interest in the topic.

Those who are evangelistic about theistic evolution may be antagonistic. See if they will engage with creationism. Have they read creationist material directly, or just refutations of it? If you are well read in various creationist materials you may well have an idea what specifically may challenge them and lend them that book. Pray that they will be gracious with others and that God will help them understand the Bible according to God's perspective (not yours, even if you happen to think correctly).

Many may not be strongly committed to a view. Discuss various issues from scientific perspectives and scriptural ones. Show how the views of: all men are descended from Adam, curse on the world after Adam, and no death prior to the Fall; all seriously impinge on the logical conclusions of theistic evolution.
Teaching children and grandchildren in an antagonistic world
One needs to consider how best to teach you children. Parents are responsible to God for what and how they teach. This does not mean that some teaching cannot be delegated, rather that parents remain responsible for how the children are educated. It seems that in same circumstances directly teaching children and opting out of schools may be the best option. Nevertheless, teachers work for the parents whether or not they think they do. It is good for children to know this.

My children are publicly educated. I do not know if this is the best choice. We have had a relatively positive experience thus far, though there are some negative social implications of public education. What I do teach my children, when they get contradicting information from adults in authority, is that many people do not know Jesus and this can affect what they think is true. I do not diss their teachers, but explain why people can think differently. They are to respect their teachers while knowing that their teachers are incorrect in some things they teach. This is not too hard for kids to grasp. Introduce them to the idea that not all people think the same therefore some (all) people have some incorrect beliefs. If 2 teachers teach their classes mutually contradictory things then logically at least one of the teachers must be wrong. If kids realise that their teachers will be mistaken from time to time it is not difficult to challenge kids about what they are taught when the need arises. Encouraging children to pray for their teachers in this context is beneficial.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Monday quote

I try not to break the rules but merely to test their elasticity.

Bill Veeck

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Jordan to search for objects at the bottom of the Dead Sea

Objects identified from NASA images of the bottom of the Dead Sea are being investigated by Jordan.
A Russian company has agreed to conduct the search in cooperation with Jordanian authorities, picking up all costs—in exchange for exclusive rights to film a documentary of the search.
The search is being made for Sodom and Gomorrah. The locations of Sodom and Gomorrah are not clear, though it is likely near the Dead Sea. The sea itself postdates the destruction of the cites. Shortly before their destruction they fought the northern kings in the location of the Dead Sea.
In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. (Genesis 14:1-4 ESV)
The Salt Sea being a reference to the Dead Sea. This indicates that a sea was a later state of the geography, but was actually a valley at the time.

The Siddim Valley was full of tar
Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. (Genesis 14:10 ESV)
Chedorlaomer defeated the southern kingdoms and carried off Lot who was then dwelling in Sodom. Subsequently Abraham attacked the northern confederation and rescued Lot.

I am unfamiliar with the geography of the region, but we know that Sodom and the associated cities were located in the region of the Jordan Valley.
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. (Genesis 13:10-12 ESV)
What is to be found by the explorers should be of interest.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Fall: Woman

The curse on the woman is the shortest of the 3 curses containing 4 lines. God says to the woman,
I will greatly multiply your pain in conception;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you. (Genesis 3)
The words for "pain" here are not identical, though they derive from the same root. Pain (`itstsabown) in conception; pain (`etseb) in bearing. I am not certain anything can be made of this difference, rather they are synonyms used in a poetic parallelism. Conception is not generally painful so we have a synecdoche for pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. Translators frequently replace conception with childbirth, though it may be preferable to consider the more expansive inclusion suggested here.

There is much debate over the meaning of the second half of this curse. Much of the meaning is dependant on the semantics of the word "for." Does it mean "toward" or "against"? The meanings are quite different in themselves and the implication of the last line of the curse is dependant on which meaning is chosen.
  • Your desire shall be toward your husband
  • Your desire shall be against your husband
Both meanings are apparently linguistically possible. Because of this it is best to leave the translation with the ambiguity, ie. use the word "for". The only slight problem with this is that in English "for" tends to favour the positive interpretation, ie. toward. A footnote is therefore helpful with the mention of both interpretations.

Advocates for the first interpretation note that "desire" in Song of Solomon is a positive noun.
I am my beloved's,
and his desire is for me. (Song of Solomon 7)
Thus it is viewed that the woman has a positive, probably sexual, desire toward her husband.

There are a couple of difficulties with this view.

Firstly, how is positive desire or sexual desire a curse?

Prior to the Fall the woman would have had both a positive desire toward her husband as well as a sexual desire. So these are neither new phenomena nor curses.

Secondly, the comment that the man will rule over her does not seem to fit this reading.

To maintain this interpretation one must regard the 3rd line as merely descriptive in order to introduce the curse of the last line: the man ruling over the woman.
You will still desire your husband [status quo] but he will now rule over you [curse].
Advocates of the alternative interpretation—that "for" means "against"—point to the other use of "desire" in Genesis 4. In its favour is the fact that the 2 phrases share a similar construction. Cain is angry that God doesn't accept his offering. God says to Cain,
Why are you angry,/
and why has your face fallen?/
If you do well, will you not be accepted?/
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door./
Its desire is for you,/
but you must rule over it.
Here the word "for" clearly has a negative connotation. Sin's desire is not positively toward Cain, rather it is negatively against Cain; sin desires to have or dominate Cain. The command to Cain is that he must rule over sin. This is not a negative command to Cain, it is stating the right response to the problem.

Thus some commentators would see the curse on the woman as a desire to control her husband. The comment that the man will rule over her is not necessarily part of the curse; rather paralleling Genesis 4 it would be the appropriate corrective.
Your desire is against your husband [curse] but he is to lead you [right action].
One may suggest that because the word for "rule" can mean "dominate", there may be a tendency for men to dominate as part of this curse.
Your desire will be against your husband [curse] and he will dominate you [curse]
A minor quibble with this last interpretation is that the curse is directed at the woman not the man. However one could argue that the curse on the man at the end (death) also applies to the woman, though this is perhaps indirectly thru his federal headship.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

One reason to learn mathematics

At least their deficient maths mainly affects their own pocket.
Had occasion today to drop by the supermarket to replenish the beer frig. I drink Carlsberg and they were offering 12 packs at $18.99. Stacked right beside them were 24 packs of the same brand at $58.

Asked one of the staff standing close by how this could be so. He confirmed the $58 price tag was correct. Said to him that I didn't think they would be selling too many of these. His response ... "I wouldn't want you to bet on that because you would lose".

Monday, 14 March 2011

Monday quote

'No one is useless in this world,' retorted the Secretary, 'who lightens the burden of it for any one else.'

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Ravenhill on prayer

I found this sermon by Leonard Ravenhill on prayer quite encouraging.

Hat tip: Arminian Today.


©1994 Leonard Ravenhill

The Gospel Of Prayer

There's nothing more transfiguring than prayer. People often ask, "Why do you insist on prayer so much?" The answer is very simple—because Jesus did. You could change the title of the Gospel according to St. Luke to the Gospel of Prayer. It's the prayer life of Jesus. The other evangelists say that Jesus was in the Jordan and the Spirit descended on Him as a dove—Luke says it was while He was praying that the Spirit descended on Him. The other evangelists say that Jesus chose 12 disciples—Luke says it was after He spent a night in prayer that He chose 12 disciples. The other evangelists say that Jesus died on a cross—Luke says that even when He was dying Jesus was praying for those who persecuted Him. The other evangelists say Jesus went on a mount and He was transfigured—Luke says it was while He was praying that He was transfigured. There's nothing more transfiguring than prayer.

Friday, 11 March 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1. Part 4

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Even if the meaning of raqiya` does not intrinsically tell us the expanse is solid, did the Hebrews think the expanse of the sky was solid? Paul Seely argues this is so in his article "The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia` in Gen 1:6-8", from The Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-40 (pdf). Much of the article gives examples of many cultures around the world including ancient Babylon and Egypt. He mentions that these cultures viewed the sky as being a solid dome high above the earth.
[S]cientifically naive peoples employed their concept of a solid sky in their mythology, but that they nevertheless thought of the solid sky as an integral part of their physical universe. And it is precisely because ancient peoples were scientifically naive that they did not distinguish between the appearance of the sky and their scientific concept of the sky. They had no reason to doubt what their eyes told them was true, namely, that the stars above them were fixed in a solid dome and that the sky literally touched the earth at the horizon. So, they equated appearance with reality and concluded that the sky must be a solid physical part of the universe just as much as the earth itself.
He then argues that the Hebrews would have held the same view as all these other cultures.  He argues this from several trajectories. Firstly, the Hebrews were at least as scientifically naive as the surrounding cultures.
Since, from a cultural standpoint, the Hebrews' pre-Solomonic architecture and pottery were "vastly inferior" to that of their neighbors, one might gather that the early Hebrews were possibly more scientifically naive than their neighbors, but certainly not less so. Similarly, the fact that it was not the Hebrews but their neighbors who led the technological advance from the use of bronze to the use of iron (cf. Josh 17:18; Judg 1:19) suggests, if anything, that the Hebrews were more scientifically naive than their neighbors. It certainly does not suggest that they were less so. Nor do we know of any evidence from biblical times that suggests the Hebrews were ever more scientifically sophisticated than their neighbors. Accordingly, it seems most probable that so far as the physical nature of the sky is concerned, the Hebrews, as a typical scientifically naive people, believed the raqia` was solid.
There are several errors in this paragraph. It is not at all evident that the Hebrews culture was inferior. This evidence likely comes from secular dating which is mistaken. It frequently places contemporary events hundreds of years earlier for Canaan and Egypt than for Israel, thus making Israel look undeveloped. The Bronze Age/ Iron Age schema is incorrect. Both materials were used during the same periods depending on what was being made. We know that Tubal-Cain forged iron and bronze in antediluvian times. Bezalel from the time of Moses was well skilled in the use of bronze. Frequent reference to iron and iron smelting in Deuteronomy suggests that these were familiar to the Israelites.

But the biggest error in this paragraph is conflating technology with scientific naivety. It is readily apparent that skill and knowledge can be disparate. Knowledge of the workings of a piston engine does not make one a skilled driver. Understanding macro- and micro-nutrients does not make one the best chef. Further, Seely crosses not just the knowledge/ skill divide, but also fields! Studying mechanical engineering does not make one a deft cook. The comparison of astronomical knowledge and metallurgical skill is a little tenuous.

Secondly Seely claims that Hebrew perspectives came from Abraham who in turn got his from the Babylonians
For the Hebrews the voice of the past was the voice of the patriarchs and Abraham in particular, men who most likely held the Babylonian view of the sky as solid. The Babylonian background of Genesis 1-11 can scarcely be missed, and if one were to date that background it appears to come from the time of the patriarchs.
It is true that Abraham came from the land of the Chaldeans which has a connection with Babylon. But it is also true that Abraham was a descendant of Noah. Thus Abraham's knowledge may have been as influenced as much by his ancestors as it was his peers. If Abraham was the bearer of several texts later compiled into Genesis it matters more what these texts contained than the musings of Abraham's contemporaries. In other words, the existence of a proto-Genesis antedating the Babylonians would make Babylonian cosmogony is irrelevant.

There is reason to suspect this was the case. Seely's proposal of a Babylonian background for Genesis 1–11 is almost certainly false. There are similarities but structured narrative of Genesis is more likely to be primary than the stylised Babylonian myths. All our Babylonian material is postdiluvian. Much source material for Genesis is antediluvian.

Thirdly, Seely argues for the influence of Egyptian education on Moses.
Not only did the Hebrews spend several centuries in Egypt, but Moses, through whom much of the higher theology came (and who wrote Genesis 1 according to conservative thought), was schooled in the thinking of the Egyptians. That schooling would certainly have included the assumption that the sky was solid, a belief that forty years of living with a primitive tribe (according to Exod 2:15) would only have strengthened.
There is some truth to this, Moses was educated in Egypt, though what this education covered is uncertain. Certainly, when Moses returned to Egypt he had little regard for the Egyptian pantheon as can be seen in the plagues. Given Moses' close relationship with God (Numbers 12) it is likely that his theology was far more influenced by God than Egyptian speculations. Also of importance to our view of Genesis is that Moses likely compiled and edited Genesis rather than writing it, as mentioned above. If Moses was compiling extant material then the influence of Egypt would have been less influential than Moses' respect for the writings of the patriarchs.

This does not disprove Seely's thesis, but it removes all his evidence for it. To his comment
I believe we have every reason to think that both the writer and original readers of Genesis 1 believed the raqia` was solid. The historical meaning of raqia` in Gen 1:6-8 is, accordingly, "a solid sky."

Only by taking Genesis l out of its historical context could one say that raqia` means merely "an atmospheric expanse" or, as the more sophisticated conservatives say, "just phenomenal language."
one can respond that the historical context of Genesis is far earlier than the accounts Seely has documented; and in as much as one is derived from another, the Genesis account is primary. Because the documents from Babylon and Egypt postdate Genesis, similarity tells us how these pagan cultures interpreted (proto-)Genesis and informs us of their speculations on the nature of the universe. Only the first of these is relevant to our argument as they were closer to the Ancient Near East in culture and time.

Further to my comments about Moses compiling Genesis, we need to ask who authored his sources. One can only speculate, but it seems reasonable that the person identified in the prologue or a contemporary, probably a relative, wrote them. The authors needed access to the oral history. Adam could have written Genesis 2 through 4, or perhaps Seth. It is possible the author talked to Adam, or had access to earlier written material. Of course oral history is also possible but the toledoth structure suggests several documents, thus the accounts were possibly compiled and written down shortly after the events were completed.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Monday quote

What do people mean when they say `I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?

C. S. Lewis

Friday, 4 March 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1. Part 3

Part 1. Part 2.

We gain further information of the nature of the expanse thru what it was named. In Genesis we learn that God separated the waters below from the waters above by the expanse. He called this expanse heaven.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. (Genesis 1)
Heaven (shamayim) appears far more frequently in the Bible than expanse, over 400 times. Granted, several of these uses are metaphorical. Heaven after all is the dwelling place of God, yet we know that God does not live within the sky; God existed prior to the cosmos; God is transcendent to the universe.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you (1 Kings 8:27)
Despite several metaphorical passages, many uses of "heaven" correspond to the sky or to outer space. Let's consider some of these uses.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,/
and by his power he led out the south wind; (Psalm 78:26)
So wind blows in the heaven.
They asked, and he brought quail,/
and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. (Psalm 105:40)
Manna came down from the heaven to the ground.

Multiple times in the Old Testament we read about the "birds of the heavens." They belong to the heavens, their abode is within them. This concept is reinforced by this passage which tells us that birds fly within the heavens
...beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, (Deuteronomy 4:16–17)
Consider some anthropomorphic uses.
There is none like God, O Jeshurun,/
who rides through the heavens to your help,/
through the clouds in his majesty. (Deut 33:26)
God does not literally ride a chariot thru the heavens (though he could), but it seems the author thinks objects can pass thru the heavens, or thru clouds.

What about metaphors that imply solidity. One needs to be careful to understand what component of the metaphor carries across. A drunken lamppost doesn't mean the lamppost is liquid like alcohol, it means it is leaning over like a drunken man. Consider these examples:
I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. (Leviticus 26:19)
The simile has to do with the impenetrableness and barrenness of the ground and the sky;
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;/
let the sea roar, and all that fills it; (Psalm 96:11)
Heavens (and earth) may be a metonymy for those who dwell in them, else an anthropomorphism;
I made the earth/
and created man on it;/
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,/
and I commanded all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)
Stretching out the heavens is used several times. See also Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2 ; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Zechariah 12:1. God is likened to stretching heavens the same way that one stretches material for a curtain (Isaiah 40) or a tent (Psalm 104). This alludes to God making the expanse in Genesis 1 where he separates the water above from the water below. The word "expanse" (raqiya`) comes from the concept "to spread out".

Perhaps one could argue that some other passages are better interpreted as solid. Yet the verses mentioned above are consistent with a gaseous heaven. I would argue that the verses above implying a non-solid heaven combined with the expanse examples in my previous post, a non-solid expanse seems preferable to a solid one. And as I have previously stated, the only direct experience the ancients had with the expanse was the immediate atmosphere which they knew was not solid. Given this evidence, the argument for a solid expanse needs to be very convincing, not just suggestive.


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