This is a response to an article by a friend of mine - Steve Preston. The article criticises Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity and dismisses the central role of the Bible for faith.

15 October, 2009.

Fire Prior:

Your description of church life and belief is not so much parody as caricature. For effect is my guess. I have not attended any sort of fellowship for nearly a decade now so I do not feel under pressure to conform to a denominational norm. But, I would say that I have continued to look to God and his Word and have become more convinced than ever that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.

I too followed the same road as you, except that I was exposed to Bible college as well as  Cardiff University. I have two degrees in theology and a diploma in Religious studies from Cambridge. I have read the arguments against a conservative view of the Bible, Jesus etc. I have spent the best part of thirty years reading the Bible and biblical theology. I have read many liberal ideas and yet, I have found no reason to take the view that you outline. Yes, I am a 'fundie' but one convinced by the evidence not the assumptions of philosophical or scientific belief systems. You say that a conservative belief in the Bible is scientifically unsustainable. When did you study science to a level which permits such a statement? One reason I did my science degree was so that I could be exposed to the evidence. And guess what, the evidence is open to much interpretation. I am a creationist. I didn't always hold that view. I've kind of shifted from evolution to theistic evolution to creation (not even intelligent design!) 



17 October 2009

Fire Prior:

I find your piece intriguing. There is a warmth towards those (such as my parents) who attended Elim and yet a maliciousness towards the Bible and biblical faith. You say that you and your family 'bought into' the church package and yet I thought the biblical idea was that we were ‘bought out’ of sin and the world.
Your creedal list is a misrepresentation of beliefs and rather misleading. All that stuff about stinking to God and being eternally tortured and God torturing Jesus on the cross, raising Jesus... to prove his point...

In the churches I attended (including Elim) I never heard the speaker say that new life involves accepting Jesus and 1, 2, 3 etc. Living your life according to (local) church standards is an individual issue. If you don't like the standards move on. It's not the standards that save you. Turning away from the 'old life', to use a cliche, is not a bad thing is it? My understanding is that this is a continual process, a daily attempt to turn from that which is spiritually detrimental. Sometimes we fail and at other times we succeed.
An interesting dilemma Steve. You sense the numinous and yet you battle with what you see as rational. Although, you are not saying it outwardly your problem is two-fold: the legitimacy of the Bible as God's revelation and the acceptance of evolutionary theory as dogma.
Like you, I confronted the full spectrum of theology, both at Mattersey and Cardiff and I also found it traumatic, and I also placed my beliefs and theological understanding on the scales and sometimes they would tip one way and then the other. This taking and testing continues today but my liberation came not in a paradigm shift but a deeper appreciation of the Bible as God's revelation to us.
It seems to me that your theological reconstruction and changed world view resulted from choice not necessity because I was exposed to the same varieties of theology, the same critical studies, the same methodologies but I did not abandon the Word but embraced it more. And please don't say that I have put my brain in a jar or something like you say about 'intelligent fundamentalists'. I have and do continue to test my 'fundamentalist' faith (I prefer to call it biblical) and I have read the texts critically and daily in the original languages for years now (mind you, my Syriac is getting a bit rusty. I'll have to read a bit more Aphrahat).

As for the science bit, instead of accepting a particular science world view (Darwinism) I decided to expose myself to those disciplines and do a science honours degree (Biology with a small amount of physics and chemistry). And guess what? Science isn't the problem, it's the world views underpinning it - uniformitarianism and Darwinism. It's not the evidence that's the problem, its the interpretation of the evidence. A geologist with a uniformitarian world view looks at a cliff face and says, 'look at those epochs and eras, those millions of years'. I look at the same cliff face and say, 'look at those sedimentary rocks laid down by water - a universal flood'. Is my interpretation any less valid? No. You say that you reconstructed your world view based on science, historical research and logic. Well I continue my world view based upon those things, and, of course, I sense the presence of God, the one revealed in the Bible, not just the Presence out there but the one who made himself known in and as a human - Jesus.
You speak of your minister as free-thinking. Most atheists I speak to on the web say they are free thinkers. Nobody is free. We are all shackled by our genes, our intellectual and physical limitations, our upbringing, financial and economic situation and... world view. Maybe he's not as free as you might think. Remember what Jesus said to the religious leaders, 'you are slaves to sin... if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.'

After what I have read I am not surprised by the world according to Steve. No Bible anymore just the universe. You criticise Dawkins but he is right. Without the Bible you haven't got a leg to stand on. Acceptance of cosmic and biological evolution precludes God. If evolution were true why bother with God - he becomes redundant. Hey, don't go on about meaning. Without the Biblical eschatological view there is no real meaning. The Eastern religions teach that life is a cyclical curse which results in non-existence if you get off the wheel and Islam is a skewed replica of Judaism which turns life into a lottery of good and bad works.

Talk about can't  see the wood for the trees, 'God hasn't gone out of God's way to tell us anything concrete about what God is like.' Back to basics Steve, the Bible.

Analysis of God? Can't be done. I keep getting that challenge from my atheist acquaintances. Prove God! God would not be God by definition (Supreme Being, ultimate reality etc) if he could be tested (I am using the masculine in the generic grammatical sense not in the sexual sense). But, God has unveiled what he wants us to know about himself through the Bible and Jesus.

You talk of values Steve, and I suppose we can construct values for ourselves but without absolute meaning values are valueless, and without absolute values anarchy ensues. We cannot work out a way of living together without Christ. Only in him can those issues of compassion, fairness and justice be worked out.

History can help us with moral and ethical issues but science doesn't, rather, it's the reverse. The problem is, that without a firm moral and ethical foundation the issues of science become subjective and in some situations, dangerous.

So you want the Jesus of reductionism and guess what you end up with? The Queen of England - a facade with no power for change, a puppet to the latest ideas. A two dimensional figurehead. Your description of Jesus is alien to the Bible - Old and New. You offer us, as Paul says, 'another Jesus and another Gospel'. The message is not to follow the path (hodos) of Jesus but to look to him who is the Path (Way). You place others on a level footing with the Lord and yet some of these would say that they did what they did because they looked up to and served Jesus as Lord and Saviour not as some mere example.

This abandonment of truth and denial of your spiritual heritage has at its heart, not an intellectual issue but an emotional and spiritual one. You ‘bailed out’ of the church you were in . You were ‘appalled at some of the things that were done and said ‘in the name of God”. People were pressured to conform. Been there mate. But we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. As Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Maybe, just maybe, you’re pointing the finger in the wrong direction."

27 October 2009

Stephen J Preston

Thanks for your response Huw. It’s nice to know that someone’s interested! OK, I’ll try to formulate my reply in an orderly way, but I want to tackle what you said from where I sense the crux of your argument is: the Bible.

First I want to say that the Think page is intended as a discussion starter primarily for those with no Christian or religious attachments. I’m not primarily interested in arguing with my Fundamentalist/Conservative Evangelical friends, (although because you’ve taken the time to write such a thoughtful response it would be poor of me not to here!) because, in my experience the arguments are futile. I know of no conservative Christians who have changed their views about their faith through arguing with ‘liberals’, but I know many who have changed their views through a process of  discovery/backsliding (depending on your point of view!) for themselves.

Anyway, as the Think pages weren’t really intended for Christian Fundamentalists, I did not present my theological point of view with any detail, or real depth. I think at the heart of our differences is our view of the bible. You see it as the Word of God, I see it (despite what you might think) as a collection of writings which contain insights into the theological understanding of many people, over many years. The Word of God for me is Jesus himself, a person with whom we must engage, and not a collection of words which some seek to interpret in particular ways.

With that in mind then, my problem with your view of the Bible is that, it seems to me, it has no foundation. Upon what basis do you make the claim that the Bible is the Word of God? (That is to say nothing of what you think ‘The Word of God’ actually means.) As I understand it, the Bible, unlike the Qur’an, does not claim the status as an infallible written document which comes straight from the mouth of God. The bible is a collection of documents and sources, and undeniably contains a variety of views of God, as well as diverging theological claims about Jesus, morality and ethics. I therefore have serious problems with the idea that this rich and diverse collection of texts can somehow be reduced to a single work which has some overarching theme or thread running through it. Further, to accept the Bible in a literalist sense; to say that everything the Bible has to say about God is forever true, means that we have to accept the idea that, amongst other things genocide can be justified in certain  ircumstances, because ‘God’ orders it in the Old Testament.

Frankly, I find that view repugnant and dangerous, as there are those who justify things like the assassination of abortion clinic doctors on that basis. Please understand, I’m not for one minute suggesting that all Fundamentalist Christians are, by definition violent killers! (Although I’ve met a few who are pretty nasty!) I’m simply saying that the view of the Bible promoted by Fundamentalists has, as a logical conclusion, the capacity for violence in the name of God. As I have studied the Gospels, I see the absolute opposite of this idea in Jesus.  Jesus resisted and spoke against violent uprising against the Roman empire, and taught that we should love our enemies, not slaughter them. Further, Jesus, and the early church reinterpreted the Hebrew scriptures of the day in a way which Fundamentalists would not countenance. In Acts, where Peter has the vision of the blanket coming down from Heaven, he even sees a direct contradiction of Scripture as being the command of God. The Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Jesus (depending who you’re reading) is the new  enchmark for living. It is obvious, from even a cursory reading of the New Testament, that the early Christians did not treat the Hebrew scriptures (at least the ones they had) in the way that Fundamentalists treat the Bible as a whole. The Fundamentalist view of the Bible is actually very late in Christian history (the last couple of hundred years), and would have been seen as unacceptable by Christian thinkers from Justin Martyr to Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther and so on.

So, have I abandoned the Bible? Not at all. I believe that I simply approach it in the tradition of the Christian Fathers, as well as Jesus himself, and look for what is contained within the Bible that can speak to us today. Where things reflect a mindset of the time, as in issues such as the various primitive views of God which include ‘His’ penchant for genocide, the role of women, issues of sexual ethics etc, and are therefore not relevant to today, then other factors, such as Church Tradition, philosophy, and dare I say it, the leading of the Spirit need to play a role. The Bible doesn’t have direct answers to questions like global warming, market economics, the Internet, genetics etc. It can play a role in informing us, but we need much more than the Bible to make decisions on such issues.

And so to science. I am happy to accept that I am not a scientist, but I have read a bit on the subject, and hold that it is not contradictory to have an evolutionary understanding of the world, and also believe that God created the universe. I simply have no problem with the idea that God used the process of the Big Bang and evolution to bring it about. I realise that these are theories, and there is much debate about them, however, they are reasonable working models, and have precisely zero effect on the proposition that God exists!

As a non-scientist, I obviously don’t claim to have come to these conclusions on my own. I’m reliant on people like Keith Ward; formally Regious Professor of Divinity at Oxford; Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., American physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project, described as "one of the most accomplished scientists of our time"; John Polkenhorne, was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, as well as being an Anglican priest, Alister MacGrath etc, (all of whom I’m sure you have read) who are all committed Christians an also Big Bang/evolution-accepting scientists. I’ve read a lot of what they have to say, and as well as making sense to me as a scientific layman, it also leads me to the pragmatic position of accepting that ‘if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!’

My problem then, as I see it, is not in ‘being biblical’; it is the nature of being biblical as defined by Fundamentalism. The problem with Fundamentalism is that it is one of many ways of interpreting the Bible, however, it sees itself as being the definitive one. What it boils down to in the end, is ‘accept the theological interpretation of scripture as taught by Fundamentalist theologians/teachers, or you are wrong, in error, and in danger of the wrath of God.’ I haven’t bailed out on Church, on God, on Jesus, on Faith, or even the premise that we are saved by grace through Jesus. I have simply bailed out on the narrow (and in my view irrational) interpretation of those things by Fundamentalists. 

If I want to know what God is like, yes I look to science, but I also look to Jesus. If I am looking at ethical dilemmas, I look to the Bible, but also to philosophy, science, as well as other religious voices past and present for perspective. To make the Bible central to the Christian faith seems to me, not only unworkable, but contradictory to Christianity itself. After all, the first Christians did not have the New Testament. The thief on the cross had no Bible, wasn’t baptised, made no confession of faith, wasn’t quizzed on his views about the Virgin Birth etc. He simply asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus simply said yes. For me then, at the core of the Christian faith is an encounter with Jesus. It is a journey; a mystery; something which cannot be boiled down to theological dogma, or confined to a book. It’s a flimsy, wishy-washy position if you believe the Bible is the be-all-and-end-all, I know. But I cannot live any other way and still look myself in the mirror. (That’s hard enough at the best of times!)

So, there’s enough there to be getting on with. I’m sure you’ll have a few criticisms of what I’ve said, so fire away if you want to." Anyway, when I get a chance I'll put our discussion up there, and anything you come back to me with. Thanks again for adding your voice to the discussion.


9 December 2009

Fire Prior:

I will come back to you again  on the science and reason issue but I would like to address some of your points concerning the Bible.  Firstly, you say that my view of the Bible as inspired has no foundation...  but I assert that my foundational view comes from the Bible itself. Now this may be a problem for you because you view the Bible merely as a collection of religious writings and if I quote from various books you may dispute authorship and date etc and quote various scholars who deny this or that. But just indulge me for a moment and allow the assumption that the Bible is a unified whole. After all, if you take a copy down from the shelf you have in your hands one book. Calvin said, “I freely admit the differences in Scripture... but in such a way as not to detract from its established unity...” So stay with my position while I outline the Bible’s claim for divine inspiration.
Firstly, let’s get some definitions out of the way so that we can clear up any misconceptions. As I see it, the Biblical authors claim that although the Scriptures were written by people, using their own styles and the language of the day, what they wrote was what God wanted written. So the Bible at root originates from God who used people to record his words and that those words which include the whole canon of Scripture in the original autographs are inspired and therefore true and reliable.
The Bible gives us a direct connection with God’s authority and without it we cannot really know what God is like or expects of us. Martin Luther said, “All men have the general knowledge, namely, that God is... But what God thinks of us, what he wants to give and to do to deliver us from sin and death and to save us - which is the particular and true knowledge of God - this men do not know.” The Bible reveals God’s intention for us and , in a sense, as the elements of the mind of a writer can be expressed in a diary so God reveals his purposes through Scripture.
The New Testament writers claim a continuity with the revelations of the Hebrew Scriptures.  ‘After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets...’ (Hebrews 1:1)
This is consummated in Jesus - God expounded in the flesh and the only means of salvation. God’s ultimate act of revelation, the incarnation of the Word. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) You are right to say that we must engage with Jesus as the Word of God. But how is that achieved and validated except by Scripture. The Bible is itself Christocentric and Jesus himself said to the religious leaders. ‘You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me...’ (John 5:39)
The Bible is quite clear that God is true, genuine, reliable: ‘‘Since, I, the Lord, am consistent and reliable (do not change)...’  (Malachi 3:6. Also: Romans 3:4, Jeremiah 10:10; John 1:14; 14:6; 17:3; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Titus 1:2). And 2 Timothy 3:16 states, ‘Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...’ The conclusion is that, because it is ‘breathed out’ by God the Bible must also be true and reliable.
Peter tells us how Scripture originated: ‘Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination,  for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.’ (2 Peter 1:20-21). Compare Acts 27:15-17 where the ship is carried along and controlled by the wind. The written product is of divine authorship.

You say that you approach the Bible in the tradition of Jesus and yet if we look at how Jesus viewed the Hebrew Scriptures it is clear that you are not approaching the Bible as Jesus did. Referring as he often did, to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Torah (law) Jesus claimed that the very minutiae of the written word is important. ‘For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.’ (Matthew 5:18) ‘Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Notice in Matthew 22:32 that Jesus’ argument depends upon the tense of the words used in the Hebrew Scriptures:’ ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16 is based upon the grammatical number used: ‘Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.’ It is interesting to note that when the New Testament writers quote some Scriptures which are the authors’ words, those words are attributed to God.  Matthew 19:4-6. The words of Genesis 2:24 are said to have been spoken by God. Hebrews 1:7-8. The words of Psalm 104 and Psalm 45 are attributed to God. Compare Acts 13:35 with Psalm 16:10.
Acts 4:24-25 ‘And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things?’
Paul is clear in asserting that Israel was intrusted with the words (logia) of God (Romans 3:2). So the very words of the Hebrew Scriptures are defined as inspired (in the original autographs). Compare also, Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16; Acts 28:25; Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-16 where the words of the human authors in the Hebrew Scriptures are attributed to the Holy Spirit.
The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures believed that God spoke through them: ‘2 Samuel 23:2 “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.
Notice that just as with the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures Jesus promises his disciples that the Holy Spirit will work through them too. John 14:26 ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.’
Paul calls Luke’s gospel ‘scripture’: 1 Timothy 5:18 ‘ For the Scripture says.... “The labourer is worthy of his wages.”’ (Cf Luke 10:7   ‘..... for the labourer is worthy of his wages.....’) Paul’s writings are referred to as scripture by Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16 ‘.... just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you....speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.’)
So, to serve God fully and truly we must commit wholly to his Word because God has without reserve, identified himself to his word. ‘...You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.’ (Psalm 138:2 ) Commitment to God involves unreserved acceptance of his Word. As the name of God carries the authority of God so does his Word.  Scripture is the expression of his mind.
The Psalmist states, ‘The sum (totality) of Your word is truth.’ (Psalm 119:160). And Jesus endorsed the reliability of God’s Word: ‘Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.’ (John 17:17).

13 December 2009

Stephen J Preston

Thanks for your response. I think we've reached a predictable end-game with this. In truth, it's why I don't tend to get into debates on the issue with people who hold your viewpoint on the Bible. As eloquent and well-argued as your email is, the details are moot. We simply don't agree on the premise; and for you that's non-negotiable. For the record though, I don't see the bible as "merely a collection of religious writings". I have no problem with the idea that God inspired the biblical writers, but that is a long way from your statement that 'therefore the bible is true and accurate.' I think that  to try to outline the nuances of my view would ultimately be fruitless however, in that the argument will just go round and round.

I respect your viewpoint, and I can see how a life lived within its context can be good and fruitful. I simply can't take it on board for myself with any integrity. I have to live my life 'in the light I have'. I'm attempting to follow Jesus as I find him in the scriptures, and in that sense I think we're both on the same metaphorical page. Other than that, I think it best to agree to disagree.

I'm very interested to read your thoughts on science however. It's an issue which fascinates me, and I would value your input on how you view science and the bible as a scientist.



13 December 2010

Fire Prior:

Thanks for the reply. I will write to you in due course with my views on science and the Bible.
I have pursued the issue of Biblical inspiration with you because that seems to be key on Think. I can understand in one sense why you wouldn't get into debate but you threw down the gauntlet both with your criticisms of biblical faith and your overt challenge in the conclusion. You say we've reached the end-game but I was unaware that it had even begun.
Naughty, naughty Steve. You attempt to paint me as a monolith ('... premise... for you that's non-negotiable.'). I am always open to change if the facts demand it and I continually evaluate and re-evaluate my beliefs and modify them as necessary. But if what I learn confirms my beliefs then obviously, I hold on to those views.
You say, ' For the record though, I don't see the bible as "merely a collection of religious writings". ' I am puzzled. I wouldn't have mentioned that if you hadn't said it. You said in your email, quote, 'You see it [the Bible] as the Word of God, I see it (despite what you might  think) as a collection of writings which contain insights into the theological understanding of many people, over many years.'
Anyway, we seem to agree that the Biblical authors were divinely inspired, yet incongruously, you seem to doubt the veracity of the Bible. I am interested to know what you do think. You won't be throwing your proverbial pearls before swine with me and as for continuous arguments that would be fruitless.  I only respond to points that need a response. If you say something valid then I will accept it, as you would. 

21 February 2010

Fire Prior:

You asked me about my views on science and the Bible. Well, I think it goes without saying that Biblically I am a fundamentalist and as a consequence my science world view is  creationist.
In previous emails I have argued that the Bible is God's revelation to us and as such is the Word of God. If that is so then I have to take seriously the teachings of the whole of Scripture, including the early chapters of Genesis. For many years I studied and struggled, struggled and studied over the whole evolution/creation issue, sometimes holding to a theistic evolution view and at others reverting to a more creationist viewpoint.
Like you, I spent a lot of time looking at the documentary background to the Pentateuch and came to the conclusion that the hypothesis that the writings of several authors contributed to its eventual composition does not stand up to scrutiny. Recently, I have been extensively studying the rise and acceptance of the theory of evolution in the 18th and 19th Centuries and I was surprised to find that evolution was accepted with great enthusiasm in Germany and liberals there immediately applied the philosophy to Biblical criticism, and it was from Germany, as you know, that much of the documentary hypothesis nonsense was disseminated.
Another German, a scientist, Dr Werner Gitt said that theistic evolution is dangerous because you take evolution - matter, chance, necessity, mutation, selection, isolation, death, long time periods and.... Oh, you add on God at the end. Instead of evolution being a divine vehicle it comes very close to being equated with God himself, who is then dragged along, impotently moved in whatever capricious direction evolution pulls.
This taking evolution for granted as God's means of making renders the Bible not only irrelevant but useless for answering the questions of life - it becomes the evolved religious ideas of an ancient group of people, as your points exemplify. This downgrading of the Bible means that evolutionary statements are treated as more authoritative. Why? Because when it
comes to biblical teaching, the oldest question of all is asked, 'Has God really said?' and the expected answer is going to be negative. Human reason is deified and so the only thing to do is reinterpret the Bible in the 'light' of evolution. And the corollary? Since a perusal of ancient near eastern myths shows similarities with Genesis it is concluded that Genesis is a monotheistic rewriting of these myths, probably  redacted during the Babylonian captivity. However, Genesis can be understood as the bringing together of ancient patriarchal stories showing the ancestry of the Israelites and the origin of humanity ('and these are the generations of....'). With this angle the ANE myths are corrupted versions of the truth encapsulated in Genesis.
As Gitt points out, theistic evolution misrepresents God's nature and makes him the 'God of the gaps'. Evolutionary philosophy doesn't have an answer for this so let's put God there. Dawkins highlights the problem with this - evolutionary ideas are quickly filling the gaps, leaving no room for God! Also, an evolutionary world view renders sin meaningless and so undermines the incarnation. The end result is the mythologising of Jesus and his mission. 

It is interesting that theistic evolution is the official line of the RC church now and many evangelicals have embraced the philosophy. It is true to say that we are hard-wired  for a world view. There is a deep seated need for answers to life. The bleak world view presented by materialists is evolution and yet the Bible presents us with something which is optimistic. It gives hope to a hopeless world by presenting us with a reason - we have lost a world created good and fallen into evil and death. But the solution is that God is going to redeem us and not just restore but change (dare I say - evolve) us into something so much better through Jesus. To syncretise Biblical faith with evolution is a bit like trying to mix oil and water - they may sit together but they will always be separate and different. As Dr Henry Morris states, theistic evolution is an inconsistent and contradictory position. Why? It contradicts Genesis and the endorsement of Jesus and the New Testament writers. Theistic evolution makes God the direct author of evil and death which is inconsistent with the Bible.
There is one thing that needs to be asked. Why theistic evolution? Only if evolution is ever proved to be true should the question of harmonising the two be discussed. Evolution is still a theory and when you work through the rhetoric a rather tenuous one. So why should Christians be so eager to marry the two? If ever 'unequally yoked' be applied it should be to this.
Evolutionists are quick to state that the theory is a fact and beyond question but as  Proverbs 18:17 says:  ‘The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward to question him’. The evidence, the evidence I hear you say but the evidence is not the issue, it is the interpretation of the evidence that's important. For example, fossils are a record of death. But when? Evolution suggests many eons but the Bible states that it was the result of one act of worldwide judgement - the Flood. Which is right? Faith and interpretation dictates.
Ostensibly, there is no divine purpose in the theory of theistic evolution. It is unreasonable, not only to think that God would wait so long to 'breath into' some hominid in recent prehistory after cocking it up for millions and millions of years, causing death and mayhem but one gets the impression that, according to this view God was some sort of backyard scientist, hoping to get it right one day.
I think I prefer the statement, 'And God said... and it was so.... and God saw that it was very good.' It was, it isn't any more, it will be again.


14 March 2010

Stephen J Preston

I’m struggling to know how to approach what you have written, in that I have not been able to find anything at all that I agree with in what you said. I see little point in taking your response point by point, as for one thing, it would be incredibly tedious for anyone reading this. So, I’ll just make a few basic points and allow those who have taken the plunge into reading our little debate to make their own minds up.

Obviously, the basis of our disagreement begins with our respective views of the Bible. As you will be aware from your own studies, the Fundamentalist view of the Bible as The Word of God has never been widely held throughout the history of the church in the literalist way
Fundamentalists interpret it. I am firmly of the more widely held view that it contains, or points to the Word of God, i.e. Jesus and his message of The Kingdom of God. The literalist view, in my opinion, robs the Bible of its depth, complexity, message and meaning. However, on this point, we will have to agree to disagree. However, as an aside, I must say that I find your argument that because evolutionary theory was popular in Germany, and that the Documentary Hypothesis came out of German scholarship, that there is a link between the two, utterly without foundation. Certainly the philosophy of religion has been influenced by evolutionary theory; but to suggest that textual analysis, historical research and archaeology took on evolutionary theory and applied it to those unrelated disciplines is to say the least tenuous, if not utterly implausible and without actual evidence to the link.

Regarding Dr Gitt’s assertion that Theistic Evolutionary thought somehow tacks God on to the end of the evolutionary process, I think this is total nonsense. I can only assume that Dr Gitt hasn’t read much of the modern scholarship on the subject, because if he had, he simply could not make that kind of statement. I think it is illuminating to note that Gitt’s field is ‘information science, mathematics, and control engineering’ and not cosmology, biology, astrophysics, geology or any of the scientific fields which provide scientific expertise in the origins of the universe not to mention theology! The scientists that I have quoted to you previously, like Polkinhorne and Francis Collins are or have been leaders in their field, and can speak authoritatively not only of their faith in God, but of the science involved in the Big Bang, genetics etc.

I think the flaw in Fundamentalist thinking on science is that it fundamentally (excuse the pun) misrepresents or misunderstands the nature of science itself. There is a vested interest amongst scientists of all descriptions to move science on from previously held paradigms. Proving someone else wrong is the Holy Grail for scientists. Far from having a vested interest in propping up the status quo, for example by blindly accepting evolutionary thought without question, scientists are actually always looking for flaws in the argument; new insights, faults in another scientists theories etc. Occasionally a Newton, Einstein etc comes along and the whole thing gets thrown up in the air, and a re-appraisal of the evidence and thinking takes place. If creationists had anything valuable to say in the field of science; if there was a shred of real evidence that they could disprove evolutionary theory, (actually theories!) or issues relating to the origin of the universe, there would be scientists both believing and not who would gladly take on board the new evidence. The problem is that creationist ‘scientists’ have nothing to say in terms of the science that is truly credible, other than ‘the bible says X, therefore your scientific theory must be wrong.’

The only alternative to this is to hold that there is some kind of Grand Conspiracy amongst scientists to keep God out of the equation (which there patently is not, given the number of believing, even Evangelical scientists that are arguing that science provides evidence for God’s existence), or that scientists who are not creationists are just stupid or lazy, or ‘blinded by the Devil.’ I simply cannot live with that kind of paranoid mindset. In my opinion it is the stuff The X Files are made of.

Science fills me with wonder and amazement at the spectacularly complex, beautiful and intricate creation that has been gifted to us by God. Paul argues in Romans that there are major aspects of God’s character etc that can be ‘clearly seen from what has been made.’ Scientific observation of the universe is a biblically justifiable way of coming to an understanding of God. The universe itself speaks of God, and therefore we have a means of understanding God which stands alongside the Bible, not ‘beneath’ it. Honest scientific exploration is a legitimate part of coming to a deeper knowledge of God.

To suggest that this makes the Bible irrelevant is completely false. The Bible never claims to be a science text book, and speaks to us on a different level to science. It speaks to us in a way that science cannot;
about ultimate meaning, the purpose of life, and the necessity for humanity to come into relationship with God. Theistic evolutionary thought only downgrades Fundamentalist theology; it does not downgrade the Bible itself. To suggest that there is no ‘divine purpose’ in theistic evolution is again completely false. The  divine purpose is exactly the same; i.e. to bring about human life that can freely choose to embrace God. The necessity for repentance etc is unchanged, and the concept of the Kingdom of God fits perfectly. Gitt misrepresents theistic evolutionary thought to the point where his views are preposterous, and I reject them completely.

As far as I can see, science and the Bible are not at odds with one another. I find this whole area of study absolutely fascinating, and also inspiring, awe-provoking and a source of wonder at the immense
intelligence and power of the Creator of the universe. I cannot take on board the Fundamentalist view because I believe it impoverishes the richness of both the bible, and science. It robs the universe of its power in any credible way to point to a God who actually exists, and robs the Bible of its ability to speak to rational, thoughtful individuals who would otherwise be open to the reality of a Creator.

I think I should probably finish there, in that anyone who has spent the time reading our debate must by now have got the picture from us both, so ‘nuff said’.

14 March 2010

Fire Prior:

Now I can understand why others might not want a point by point response but I would find it helpful and you could summarise for your site readers. In the meantime I'll look at your basic points and come back to you later. For now, I'll just give you a few thoughts.
You bring up the biblical position again and yet I am still waiting for a response to my earlier email. There is no depth to your comments, they are merely statements. I know what you think about the Bible but you give no reasons for your view or responses to my earlier points (I understand that you are busy though).
My thoughts on the link between evolutionary thought and biblical criticism are taken from historians of science. Hegel developed evolutionary ideas of religion and these were adopted by his students Graf and Wellhausen (who were also influenced by Astruc). The Catholic Encyclopaedia states, "The Hegelian principle of evolution has undoubtedly influenced German criticism, and indirectly Biblical criticism in general."  When Darwin's ideas reached Germany evolution deeply affected all areas of study.
Steve, Steve, who's been feeding you this stuff. I never thought that your forte was stating the obvious. Testing the null hypothesis is something I have learned about (and creation scientists use - after all, they are working scientists) and set up experiments on, from the start of my science training.  You accuse Gitt of speaking nonsense and then deride his understanding of modern scholarship. What is illuminating is not Gitt's field of expertise but your limited perspective on these issues. Gitt's main arguments using information science (his field)  are about the need for intelligence before information. DNA contains information and he claims that intelligence had to have created DNA (information) and without using naturalistic causes which theistic evolution requires.
I think you will find that I have never said (nor any other creationist) that there is a dichotomy between science and the Bible. You say that a 'Fundamentalist' view (in many respects a broad church) impoverishes science and the Bible and robs the universe of its power. Nice statements but lacking in substance. I thought it was a bit rude of you to infer that I am neither rational nor thoughtful. My view is that the Bible speaks and is not robbed at all by my ideas.
You keep saying that we have to agree to disagree but I have yet to read any real substance in your arguments. You say that point by point argument or in depth response would be tedious to readers of your site. At this juncture, it is not about readers of your site it is about my view and your view. I will not be bored by a protracted response but it would be nice to taste the stew rather than lick the froth (sorry about the metaphor).


14 March 2010

Stephen J Preston:

Thanks for the email. I first of all want to apologise if I gave the
impression that I was inferring that you aren't rational or thoughtful.
Far from it! Reading my email again I can see how that's how it might have come across. What I meant was that there are a lot of thoughtful and rational people who are sincerely searching, or who are sincere Christian believers who simply don't subscribe to the Fundamentalist view. For them, (myself included) Fundamentalism is simply intellectually untenable, and therefore the only way to believe with integrity is to work within another intellectual paradigm, so to speak.

Anyway, re our discussions, I really have no interest in trying to
persuade you to accept my point of view. As I've said previously, I have
found in the past that arguing through these issues with people who take the Fundamentalist view is almost always a complete waste of time for both parties. The reason I was happy to discuss these issues with you, is that I wanted to give the Fundamentalist position a fair airing on my website, and you argue your case very clearly and articulately. My interest is not with conservative Christians, but with people who are thinking through issues of meaning etc, or who are searching for spiritual reality. Also I'm interested in dialogue with those believers who have dropped out of church due to following a similar path out of Fundamentalism that I have, but who have rejected belief in God altogether.

I tend to find that people in those categories tend to assume that I'm of
the Evangelical/Fundamentalist view when I first broach the subject of
belief in God. These discussions have allowed me to differentiate my views with Fundamentalism, and therefore help to open areas of discussion with those people who I am seeking to share with. Obviously, there may be those who, upon reading your arguments, come to accept your views and convert to a conservative Christian faith. That's up to them of course. I simply need an honest way of laying out my theological position in a (hopefully) interesting way.

So, on that basis I'm not prepared to keep this up for ever. I'll get back
to you on some of the points you made in your email, and on the link you sent me, but after that I'll just post up what we've been discussing and people plough through it if they're interested enough. Having said that, I'm very grateful that you've taken the time to do this, and it's always good to have your views challenged. Please bear with me in terms of the length of time that it will take to lay out my views more fully, in that to do the topic justice I want to give some clear references to various books, and that's going to take a little time, given my schedule at the moment. 

15 March 2010

Fire Prior:

I understand and respect your position and I am, of course with you on the wider apologetics. My thinking has taken me in a more conservative direction than you but as I said in my last email, fundamentalism is a rather wide umbrella and I would not subscribe to all views expressed within it. Though I believe in a recent universe my understanding of Genesis includes more than a mere literal reading of the text and I am aware of the theological implications within the milieu of ancient near eastern thinking. But for me, as I have stated, the Bible does not just contain the Word of God, it is the Word of God and as such is true.
It was never my intention to perpetuate the debate only to address points of interest and issue. I look forward to hearing from you.