CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Those of Christian Conscience Should Vote NO on California's Prop. 71

I would give all the reasons, but Mel Gibson says it better than I ever could. Check out this ad.

"Creating life simply to destroy it is wrong....

Especially when there are effective alterantives."

He actually packs quite a few punches in the spot.

Doherty and the Passion Narrative

It is widely accepted by New Testament scholars that the passion narratives found in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John had a forerunner upon which all of them drew--what we will call the Passion Narrative (or "PN" for short). Not so, says Earl Doherty. Mark invented it by creative exploitation of the Old Testament: "There is no evidence in the early record itself that the passion as a separate account with an identifiable sequence and set of events existed before Mark. As we have seen, neither its details nor its overall picture can be found in the epistles and other documents of early Christianity, even in those containing a death and resurrection kerygma." The Jesus Puzzle, page 183. (As for the notion that early Christians simply invented entire narratives out of whole clothe, see my article here and my blog here).

That the PN is not written out in a narrative prior to the Gospel of Mark is not compelling stuff given that Mark is the earliest narrative of the life of Jesus that has survived. It would not be surprising, for example, if Q -- largely a collection of sayings rather than a narrative -- did not include a PN. Of course, nobody knows what Q looked like. All they know is that it likely included material common to Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. It is impossible to know what Q did not include because it is impossible to know what material in it that Matthew and Luke did not use. Of course, it is possible that there existed in the Q community a collection of sayings and a PN. Remember that the Dead Sea Scrolls community had many writings about their beliefs from many genres. If only one such document from their community had been discovered -- rather than the treasure trove that we actually have -- Doherty and others would likely have given us a completely distorted picture of the DSS based on what was not "in" the documents that survived.

But is it true that all other early Christian writings -- which means, I suppose, the letters of Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews -- lack any detail or overall picture of the Passion Narrative?

Not at all.

Paul has more references to details of the Passion Narrative than any other part of Jesus' life. He notes that Jesus instituted the Last Supper, using the same elements as the Gospels, and in words similar to Mark and Matthew (and even closer to Luke). 1 Cor. 11:23-25. He knows that this was the "Last" Supper because it was that night that Jesus was betrayed. 1 Cor. 11:23. He writes that Jesus' death was at the hands of earthly rulers. 1 Cor. 2:8. He also knows that some of those earthly rulers were Jewish leaders. 1 Thess. 2:14-16. He also knows the manner by which Jesus was put to death -- crucifixion -- which suggests that Paul also knew that Roman rulers were involved. 1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 3:1. He also knows that Jesus was buried after his crucifixion (not a sure thing with criminals). 1 Cor. 15:4; Rom. 6:4. Paul writes about Jesus' resurrection. Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-7. Paul even gives the same time period that the gospels do, noting it occurred on the third day. 1 Cor. 15:4. Then, Paul notes the appearances of Jesus to Peter, to the Twelve, and to the Disciples. 1 Cor. 15:4-11. In short, although Paul does not write out a PN himself, his letters reveal plenty of details about it.

To this I would add additional details provided by the Epistle to the Hebrews. As I have shown here, this early Christian document also demonstrates knowledge about Jesus' suffering in anticipation of his coming ordeal, his crying out to God, and obediently facing the path ahead of him. Hebrews 5:7-8. All of this sounds very much like the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul too suggests that he knows of this scene, as I have shown here regarding his writing that we can cry out "Abba Father" during times of trouble as Jesus did in the Garden suggests familiarity with this narrative. Gal. 4:6; Romans 8:15-16. Because the author of Hebrews was apparently connected to the Pauline circle and wrote his epistle sometime in the 60s, the two sets of references taken together make a strong case that the Garden of Gethsemane story was well known in early Christianity. Finally, Hebrews knows that Jesus was executed by crucifixion outside of the city gates. Hebrews 13:11-14.

Yes, I know that Doherty tries to explain away all of the above references as not actually having happened (in this plane of existence at least). But even extreme skeptics like G.A. Wells has rejected his case as unreasonable. Such farfetched interpretations as Doherty offers have been pounded here, here, and here. At the very least, that Paul and the author of Hebrews say so many things that sound so much like the Passion Narrative should at least raise our suspicions about his statement about there being no knowledge of any details about the PN prior to Mark--it's akin to saying that once we ignore all the evidence that exists there is no evidence. In other words, if someone is unconvinced or sitting on the fence about the reasonableness of Doherty's radical approach to the early Christian epistles, the fact that so much of the PN is found in those epistles would indicate that indeed there was a preexisting PN that Mark took and incorporated into his own Gospel.

Notably, there are additional literary reasons for concluding that the PN preexisted the Gospels: 1) the unique emphasis on chronological sequence; and, 2) the relative similarity in which the Gospel report it. Much of the Gospels, and especially the synoptics, are not meant to provide the exact time and location of particular teachings or miracles of Christ. Rather, they are meant to transmit the actual teachings of Christ, but do not necessarily give us an exact chronology of his ministry. Where and when Jesus proclaimed the “Sermon on the Mount” (or, perhaps more likely, how many times) was much less important to the gospel author than the teaching of the Sermon itself. Therefore, throughout most of the Gospels the emphasis is not on providing a chronological sequence of events.

The peculiar and significant exception to this occurrence is the Passion Narrative. “Instead of being composed of individual unrelated units, without careful reference to time and place, the narratives of Jesus’ suffering and death present a connected chronological sequence.” William R. Wilson, The Execution of Jesus, page 29. This is one of the few places in the Gospels were the authors provide us with an extended step-by-step sequence of events in chronological order. As noted by Professor Dibelius, the Passion Narrative is “the only piece of Gospel tradition which in early times gave events in their larger connection.” Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, page 176. This bears all the marks of being due to the early development of the PN in the young Christian movement, as well as its centrality to its beliefs.

Additionally, the peculiarity of the Passion Narrative’s place in early Christian history is reflected by the unusual harmony of the Gospels when relating this story. Matthew uses 233 lines to describe it. Mark uses 201, Luke 199, and John 224. The average is 214 lines, and none of the Four Gospels varies more than 10% from that average. Though not without redaction, some differences, and reliance on additional sources, no other sequence or scene of the canonical Gospels reflects this unity of transmission. Why? Because the PN preexisted them all and had a strong place in early Christian belief. The early Church believed the PN to be so central to its faith, that it was apparently the only series of events in Jesus’ life which were precisely recorded and transmitted (whether orally or written) in chronological sequence.

It was the Passion Narrative, with its focus on the last supper, the arrest and trial, the crucifixion and resurrection, which was viewed as the foundation of Christianity, not just the teachings of Jesus. “From its beginnings, Christianity was founded not on Jesus’ teachings, nor on his miracles; it was founded on his death and resurrection. Whatever else Christians might tell about Jesus, the heart of their proclamation was the good news of salvation which had come through Jesus’ death on the cross and his rising from the dead.” Wilson, op. cit., page 29.

To summarize, the many recitations of details of the PN by Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews, the unusual emphasis on chronological sequence in the PN in the canonical gospels, and the general similarity of the PN in the canonical gospels all indicate that the PN not only preexisted the canonical gospels, but was preserved and transmitted as a central part of the young Christian movement.

Ellen Goodman, Proposition 71 and Abortion
Shockingly, we agree, but not really.

If there were one person in the world who I would say is my polar opposite, it is Ellen Goodman, the Washington Post's far, far left political columnist. I know when I read her column I would be willing to bet the family dog that she and I will not agree. Her opinions are mostly ridiculous in that they are deserving of ridicule.

So, I guess you can imagine that I almost fell out of my chair the other morning when I saw that she had written a column slamming California's Proposition 71 entitled "Putting Stem Cells on the Ballot". We were in agreement! Unbelievable!

Now I don't want to kick too much at an ally in opposition to this poorly written law, but her column makes it clear that her opposition isn't to the important parts of the Proposition, but rather to the procedure by which it is carried forth. The details behind why she disagrees with the Proposition bears no resemblance to why I oppose the Proposition. She describes the situation as follows:

Prop 71 is, as one editorial writer said, a Bronx cheer directed at the White House. It's the way a blue state can thumb its nose at a red president. As Robert Klein, a leader of the effort, says, "We can run a substitute national program." This week, even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave his blessing to the initiative.

But even someone in favor of stem cells has to ask: Is this any way to run a science program?

This is the cost of thumbing that nose at the White House. The 30-page proposition would give $3 billion of public money to researchers -- $6 billion if you include interest -- over 10 years in a state that is cutting back on everything else. It would provide a constitutional right to stem cell research in a state without a constitutional right to health care.

As ethicist Lori Andrews says, "It's offering the worst of both worlds. It's asking the public to pay the check but leaving an unregulated biotech sector." And it would fund biotech research without promising any return to the public that paid for it. Not even for treatments that are bound to be extremely expensive.

This is the price tag of a Bronx cheer. The research in California is not about using spare embryos from in vitro clinics, but about cloned embryos. More troubling, says Andrews, is the researchers' attempt to "exempt themselves from laws on human subjects, including informed consent." There is no deference to the risks to the women who would be egg donors.

Now, I certainly agree with what she is saying in terms of the problems with the proposition, but these problems are not the main reason that people in California should oppose this proposition. The problems she cites are political problems in the bill that can be written around if the initiative fails. We can work out how the money is allocated in a rewritten proposition. We can work out whether women are given informed consent in the next attempt to have a follow-up, similar initiative approved if Proposition 71 goes down to defeat. What cannot be legislated around is that this proposition targets embryonic stem cells that have two major problems: (1) they do not appear to provide much hope for the cures that are claimed, and (2) they require the taking of a human life (an embryonic life). These problems are the core of the proposition, and cannot be modified without destroying the entire Proposition.

I am certain that, given Ms. Goodman's longstanding opposition to anything that hints at the curtailing of abortion, that she would not agree that the two problems I have noted above would be cause to jettison the proposition. She suggests as much in her column when she says:

It's rare that science ever gets on the political agenda, but stem cells came into this election laden with all the baggage of the abortion argument. The cells harvested from 5-day-old fertilized eggs are widely believed to offer hope for curing diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's. But the pro-life opponents have declared that the eggs are human and harvesting them is murder.

Note that it is "widely believed" that these eggs offer hope for curing diseases. What is widely believed, however, does not necessarily comport with the reality. Everything that I have read suggests that those who are most interested in finding cures for the diseases mentioned don't see embryonic stem cells as offering much hope. Adult stem cells are available and seem to do the job. My question for Ms. Goodman is very simple: why do you say that it is "widely believed"? Is it widely believed because you want it to be so? Or is it that it is widely believed because you and other members of the left have told us, contrary to the evidence, that embryonic stem cells offer such hope and so the public has come to believe that it is true?

Moreover, I long ago came to the conclusion that Ms. Goodman has no respect for people who are pro-life. By referring to the embryos (which are, by definition, living human beings) as having the "baggage of the abortion argument," Ms. Goodman makes it clear that the arguments that these cells are, in fact, living human beings entitled to protection of life are not worth considering. She has no problem with ending the life of these embryos in the same way that she has no problem ending the life of the human being in the womb at the convenience of the mother. I cannot fathom actually believing such a thing.

One last thing that I found interesting about her column was her criticism of President Bush's policy of allowing embryonic stem cell research to proceed in the private sector but his refusal to fund it with federal money. She said:

The Bush administration's policy created a strange two-track ethical code. The president froze federal funding on the grounds that embryos were human beings. But in the private sector, venture capitalists were left virtually unregulated. In its own ethical terms, says Boston University's George Annas, it was as if the government had declared that murder was illegal but a privately funded mafia was OK.

What is most interesting about this quote is that this is really the same type of policy that is in place regarding abortions. Under our system, the private sector is free to provide abortion procedures virtually without regulation (thanks to Supreme Court rulings), but the federal government refuses to fund the procedure. Isn't this a similar system to how embryonic stem cell research is proceeding? Isn't this a case of "the government" (through the executive branch) declaring "that murder was illegal" but (through the Supreme Court) declaring that "a privately funded mafia was OK"? If she has a problem with this system, shouldn't she start opposing privately funded abortions because the executive branch believes it to be murder and we don't want a governmental schizophrenia in this area?

So What Exactly Did I say that was Idiocy?
I would really like to know

In an earlier post, I discussed the question of evolution and noted that I don't know any Christian who disbelieves in micro-evolution--it is macro-evolution, aka Darwinism, that causes problems. In doing so, I responded to the question that was raised by anonymous (apparently Steven Carr) about viruses that are malignant or not helpful. Anonymous seemed to think that God must have purposed the genome of various diseases to be malignant and therefore God was not good. I pointed out that in some circles of Christian theology (including mine), the fall did not have an effect only on humanity, but on nature as well. Thus, it was my position, that the viruses that are harmful in nature were the result of the fall.

Well, apparently this didn't sit very well with Anonymous who linked it to the Talk.Origins website saying "This really is bizarre, but standard Christian idiocy." Well, not wanting to be an idiot, I looked over the discussion about it to see exactly where I come across being an idiot. Not surprisingly, no one said what was idiotic about it--it was just understood by all parties involved that my position was idiotic. Look at what was said:

EjP went on a side tangent about incest (which is not what I was talking about).

John Vreeland questioned whether Adam wrote Genesis (he didn't, but again that is not what I was talking about).

EjP then leaped to the conclusion that nothing was a sin until it was written down in the Bible (a completely wrong conclusion, but again, not what I was talking about).

Uncle Davey talked about incest, too.

Ernest Major talked about the evolution of bacterial sex.

ErikW made the most interesting points which were closest to addressing what I wrote, but never really addressed whether the micro-evolution could have caused the malignant viruses to appear.

Uncle Davey then reappears and makes the most on-point statement which was "The Bible doesn't mention sin on the part of animals and plants." But, as I pointed out in my original post:

Adam's sin had a tremendous effect on the entire world. We can see this clearly stated in Genesis 3:17,18 and Romans 8:19-21. The Genesis passage states that all creation was cursed by God for man's sake. * * * The passage in Romans 8:19-21 confirms the thought of Genesis. In fact, these verses are Paul's commentary on Genesis 3:17, 18. Here Paul tells us that the whole of creation has been subjected to 'vanity' by God because of man's sin."

So, I respectfully disagree with Uncle Davey.

My favorite comments are from "Skitter the Cat" who says:
Obviously, the writer of the article/blog (whatever it is supposed to be referred to as) wrote, in part, a number of things that are goofy, wrong and nonsensical. I personally wouldn't go so far as to classify the writer as an idiot, but I also concluded after about 30 seconds that the thing wasn't really worth reading and so stopped, so I'm not going to try to counter the claim that it was idiotic.

But the majority of Christians aren't idiots-in fact, the only group I can think of that has as a majority of its members classifiable as idiots is, well, idiots (and synonymous classes).

All well and good, but exactly what did I say that you would classify me as an idiot? Near as I can tell, this whole line of discussion is simply argumentum ad baculum. Seriously, if you think that what I said is idiocy, then tell me why. As it is, I think the entire discussion can be marked down to anti-Christian bigotry.

Proposition 71
California's Bizarre Cloning Initiative

From the God and Science Newsletter:

Biotech and venture capitalists have placed an initiative on the ballot for the November 2, 2004 election that will cost the state of California $6 billion to fund the cloning and destruction of human embryos. The initiative has provisions for closed backroom meetings with venture capitalists to discuss patents and royalties and even allows the institute to award 100% of those monies to the venture capitalists while the state pays 100% of the cost of research. There are also provisions to amend patient informed consent provisions to exempt researchers from federal informed consent regulations. I spoke before a class at Pepperdine University this week, which was nearly all in favor of the initiative before class and completely opposed by the end. For more information about Prop 71, see Arguments Against Proposition 71: The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.

There is a lot of talk in the news that suggests that if the federal government had not refused to fund research into human embryo stem cell research, Christopher Reeve would have been walking before he died (at least that is what John Edwards suggested). What are the facts? According to Scientists Against Proposition 71:

Proponents of Proposition 71 claim that the research funded will cure a host of diseases. However, on their website, they fail to distinguish adult stem cell research successes (which are NOT funded by Prop 71) from the failures of embryonic stem cell research (which Prop 71 specifically funds). A recent scientific review admitted that "So far, there are few examples of ES [embryonic stem] cell-based therapy using animal models of diseases that have provided encouraging and promising results.". Several diseases for which stem cell research will never provide treatment have been included on the proponent's list to artificially inflate the numbers of people affected by possibly treatable diseases to garner support from unsuspecting voters. (Footnote omitted).

A truly remarkable chart showing the types of diseases for which stem cell treatment may or may not be affected is included here. What's interesting is that very few of the diseases reference show any promise of being effectively treated by embryonic stem cell research. These are spinal cord injuries and ischemic heart disease, and in both cases adult stem cells have been shown to provide promise, too. Interestingly, Alzheimer's Disease is specifically excluded from the list of medical conditions for which stem cell research may be helpful.

Alzheimer's disease was thrown into the stem cell pot because it adds to the number of people who have affected family members. However, according to Michael Shelanski, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain (Columbia University Medical Center), "I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small." Regarding stem cell therapy for Alzheimer's, Ronald D.G. McKay, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says, "To start with, people need a fairy tale." (footnote omitted.)

Given the big hoopla that surrounds the use of stem cells for research into Alzheimer's since the last days of Ronald Reagan, I found these statements to be especially fascinating.

Proposition 71 is apparently flawed not only medically but politically as well. Here is the "Fact Sheet" put out by the Scientists Against Proposition 71 which should be reviewed by anyone considering voting for this measure.

Costs
Prop 71 will take 6 billion dollars from the State's general fund money that would have gone to fund vital state services like schools and roads.

Limited research funding
Prop 71 funds research only for human cloning and embryo destruction. If this measure were really about finding cures, it would fund adult and cord stem cell research, which is currently used to treat over 70 different diseases.

Who gets the royalties?
Prop 71 does not require that one single penny of patent and royalty revenues from future research be returned to California taxpayers. The "Institute" established by Proposition 71 may, at its discretion, have taxpayers pay 100% of the costs, and award venture capitalists with 100% of the profits.

Healthcare cost savings?
Supporters of Prop 71 claim that the measure will reduce healthcare costs. However, the costs to obtain the human eggs to clone one cell line are greater than $200,000! Factoring in the other medical costs would result in a cost of $500,000 to treat just one patient! This will promote healthcare for the rich and famous, but not those of us on limited healthcare plans.

Backroom meetings
Prop 71 provisions allow for closed-door meetings to discuss patents deals.

Exploitation of women
The need to obtain hundreds of thousands of human eggs for research will jeopardize the lives of thousands of women, who will be given powerful and dangerous drugs to obtain their eggs. Dozens have died already and hundreds have been hospitalized through the use of these drugs.

Patient rights modifications
Prop 71 changes standards for patient informed consent and rights (required for all medical research studies and procedures). There is no reason to compromise patient safeguards and rights.

Hiding the purpose of Prop 71
Proposition 71 funds research to clone human embryos. Curiously, if you examine the text, you won't find any mention of human embryos. All the words are coded in scientific or vague terms to keep this information away from the California voter:
Code Word: pluripotent stem cells; Real Meaning: stem cells grown by destroying human embryos
Code Word: products of in vitro fertilization treatments; Real Meaning: human embryos
Code Word: somatic cell nuclear transfer; Real Meaning: cloning human embryos

From the Vote No on Proposition 71 Fact Sheet.

All in all, I think that California voters (of which I was formerly one) should resoundingly reject this proposition. Of course, California voters are expected to overwhelmingly approve it. No wonder the California sun is setting.

Time Magazine and Pagan Spirituality

Time Magizine for the week of October 25 has, as its cover story, THE GOD GENE, but the part that caught my attention was a sub-heading on a quiz to help the reader judge how spiritual he or she happens to be. My wife and I took the test, but I have to say, by the second question both of us were laughing. It was difficult to take it seriously, largely because the focus of the "spirituality" the quiz sought to gage was so obviously pagan in its purpose. This leaves Christians like us grouped with the most hard core of sceptics. In the end, both of us answered two of the twenty questions with a true (though even these were somewhat qualified by both of us).

Here are the questions, each is to be answered with a simple TRUE or FALSE:

  1. I often feel so connected to people around me that it is like there is no separation between us.
  2. I often do things to help protect animals and plants from extinction.
  3. I am fascinated by many things in life that cannot be scientifically explained.
  4. Often I have unexpected flashes of insight or understanding while relaxing.
  5. I sometimes feel so connected to nature that everything seems to be part of one living organism.
  6. I seem to have a "sixth sense" that sometimes allows me to know what is going to happen.
  7. Sometimes I have felt like I was part of something with no limits or boundaries in time and space.
  8. I am often called "absent-minded" because I get so wrapped up in what I am doing that I lose track of everything else.
  9. I often feel a strong sense of unity with all the things around me.
  10. Even after thinking about something a long time, I have learned to trust my feelings more than my logical reasons.
  11. I often feel a strong spiritual or emotional connection with all people around me.
  12. Often when I am concentrating on something, I lose awareness of the passage of time.
  13. I have made real personal sacrifices in order to make the world a better place, like trying to prevent war, poverty and injustice.
  14. I have had experiences that made my role in life so clear to me that I felt very happy and excited.
  15. I believe that I have experienced extrasensory perception.
  16. I have had moments of great joy in which I suddently had a clear deep feeling of oneness with all that exists.
  17. Often when I look at an ordinary thing, something wonderful happens. I get the feeling that I am seeing it fresh for the first time.
  18. I love the blooming of flowers in the spring as much as seeing an old friend again.
  19. It often seems to other people like I am in another world because I am so completely unaware of things going on around me.
  20. I believe that miracles happen.

(Time Magazine, Oct. 25, 2004, pg. 51. Devised by Washington University psychiatrist Robert Clonginger, author of Feeling Good: The Science of Well Being)

In my view this test is so obviously weighted for a New Age, or paganistic spirituality, that it will completely miss the most common forms of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic spirituality. To say that I was disappointed is a great understatement (though I admit that I still get a chuckle as I read several of these questions...)

Nomad

What Has Happened to American Atheism
Some thoughts from Dr. John Mark Reynolds

In his blog, Eidos, for October 24, 2004, Dr. Reynolds makes an interesting observation:

If internet content is any clue, then this is a movement in serious decline. With an aging set of arguments, it seems to survive mostly on a sense of superiority it gained in the fifties. This is sad, since atheism has had a long and interesting philosophical tradition. On the other hand, on-line content is not well suited (at present) for long arguments. For example, this blog is certainly not a set of arguments, but a running commentary. So perhaps American atheism is more robust in the academy than it seems on-line.

In philosophy, atheism long ago lost the "cutting edge" with journals like Philosophia Christi and groups such as the Society of Christian Philosophers enjoying sustained growth. Lately, I have noticed that younger defenders of atheism often are less well educated and have less background than their predecessors. A movement is in peril that moves from Flew to Dan Barker. Most top philosophy programs now have a solid number of evangelical Christians in them. Catholic philosophy continues as a strong force in the field.

Origin of Life Questions
Where did the first cell come from?

One of the biggest conundrums for those who assert that the diversity of life that we see arose strictly by naturalistic processes is the question of how the first living cell came into existence. The effort to find a naturalistic process has been complicated by the fact that the intricacies of the most simple of cells has made a naturalistic explanation virtually unthinkable. Take, for example, the following:

While many outside origin–of–life biology may still invoke "chance" as a causal explanation for the origin of biological information, few serious researchers still do. Since molecular biologists began to appreciate the sequence specificity of proteins and nucleic acids in the 1950s and 1960s, many calculations have been made to determine the probability of formulating functional proteins and nucleic acids at random. Even assuming extremely favorable prebiotic conditions and theoretically maximal reaction rates, such calculations have invariably shown that the probability of obtaining functionally sequenced biomacromolecules at random is, in Ilya Prigogine’s words, "vanishingly small . . . even on the scale of . . . billions of years." (Emphasis added.) Id., First Things Magazine, April 2000.

The latest and greatest hope for the evolution of life on Earth comes from heated underwater vents where it is theorized that the necessary chemicals may have come (miraculously) together to form a living cell.

The most detailed step-by-step blueprint for how Earth's oldest raw materials could have given rise to the stuff of life came out of the imagination of Gunter Wachtershauser, an organic chemist at the University of Regensberg in Germany. Ten years ago, Wachtershauser conceived of an assembly-line process at the ocean floor that transforms basic inorganic chemicals into organic chains, the biological molecules that are the building blocks of life.

Wachtershauser's factory enlists the elements of modern industry--all readily available at vents. The conveyor belt is the flat surface of metal sulfide minerals, such as iron pyrite, abundant in seafloor rocks. The raw materials are carbon- and hydrogen-rich gases from volcanic belches dissolved in the seawater. The workers that drive the assembly line--the keys to the whole process--are metallic ions in the sulfides.

In living cells, complex proteins called enzymes play the role of factory laborers, bringing certain molecules together and splitting others apart. Before enzymes appeared on the planet, Wachtershauser says that metallic ions filled that catalytic role. Without these mediators, reactions might take months or years, or never happen at all, he adds. New components would never get added to the molecules passing by on the conveyor.

In Wachtershauser's theory, the first organic molecule put together on the conveyor belt was acetic acid, a simple combination of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that is best known for giving vinegar its pungent odor. Formation of acetic acid is a primary step in metabolism, the series of chemical reactions that provides the energy that cells use to manufacture all the biological ingredients an organism needs.

According to the theory, metabolism came before all else. Once a primitive metabolism evolved, it began to run on its own, and only later were cells' other basic elements, such as a genetic code, invented.

Wachtershauser focuses on the heart of modern metabolism, the citric acid cycle. All living cells use this series of reactions to extract energy from food. The cycle makes changes in several chemical compounds, but it always begins with acetic acid. Inside a cell, the two carbon atoms in each acetic acid molecule are eventually expelled as carbon dioxide in a reaction that gives off a packet of energy.

Because the citric acid cycle is intrinsic to all modern life, Wachtershauser guesses that its basic reactions are close to the chemistry with which life began--with one significant variation. In the oxygen-deficient world at hydrothermal vents, heat-loving bacteria operate the cycle backward (SN: 3/29/97, p. 192). Instead of giving off carbon dioxide to make energy, they incorporate carbon atoms to build a succession of more complex organic molecules. Wachtershauser says life's first chemicals were built the same way.

Around the vents, he theorizes, catalytic metallic ions first enabled the materials around them to fashion acetic acid. In the next step, the ions catalyzed the addition of a carbon molecule to the acetic acid to get three-carbon pyruvic acid, which is another key chemical in the citric acid cycle and also reacts with ammonia to form amino acids, which themselves link up to form proteins.

From "Life's First Scalding Steps - hydrothermal vents may have been locus of origins of life - Abstract", Science News, Jan 9, 1999 by Sarah Simpson.

Well, there may be some problems with this theory that the subsurface vents could have been the breeding ground for the first cell. According to a new study catalogued by the National Academy of Science, the process would require the infusion of additional, specialized features for the cell to survive. As reported by Reasons to Believe:

In an attempt to give naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios as much time as possible, some scientists propose that life arose during the high temperature conditions of the Earth’s Hadean era, prior to 3.9 billion years ago. This scenario requires the first organisms to be heat-loving, thermophilic microbes. Results of a recent study make this scheme unlikely. Researchers demonstrate that in order to achieve chemical stability and functionality at high temperatures, specialized molecular features must be incorporated into the enzymes of thermophiles. This restriction reduces the probability that random processes can generate functional biomolecules at high temperatures. In other words, evolutionary scenarios for life’s origin are more difficult at high temperatures than at moderate temperatures in which this chemical restriction does not apply. The bottom line: origin-of-life researchers cannot look to the Hadean era for the time needed to make naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios plausible.
Develeena Mazumder et al., "Molecular Dynamic Studies of Ground State and Intermediate of the Hyperthermophilic Indole-3-Glycerol Phosphate Synthase," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 (2004): 14379-84.

Not having had the opportunity to see the study, I can't vouch for Reasons to Believe's characterization of the results. But if it is true, the latest (and possibly last) hope for a purely naturalistic process for the creation of the first single cell may have vanished.

For those of you who think that there is an obvious or known process by which the first single cells may have been formed, I have good news: you can become a millionaire! All you have to do is submit your solution to the "Origin of Life Prize." According to their website:

"The Origin-of-Life Prize" ® (hereafter called "the Prize") will be awarded for proposing a highly plausible mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life. To win, the explanation must be consistent with empirical biochemical, kinetic, and thermodynamic concepts as further delineated herein, and be published in a well-respected, peer-reviewed science journal(s).

Applicants must provide

A. a well-conceived, detailed hypothetical mechanism explaining how the rise of genetic instructions sufficient to give rise to life as defined in "Definitions" below might have occurred in Nature by natural processes, and an

B. empirical correlation to the real world of biochemistry and molecular biology - not just mathematical or computer models - of how the prescriptive information characteristic of all known living organisms might have arisen.

The mechanism must address four topics:

The simplest known genome's apparent anticipation and directing of future events toward biological ends, both metabolic and structural;

The ability of the genome to convey instructions, deliver orders, and actually produce the needed biological end-products;

The indirectness of recipe-like biological "linguistic" message code - the gap between genotypic prescriptive information (instruction) and phenotypic expression. How did the first genetic instruction arise in its coded format prior to phenotypic realization of progeny from which the environment could select? If a protobiont's genetic code and phenotype were one and the same, how did such a simple system self-organize to meet the nine minimum conditions of "life" enumerated below under "Definitions"? How did stellar energy, the four known forces of physics (strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetic force, and gravity), and natural processes produce initial prescriptive information (instruction/recipe) using direct or indirect code?

The bizarre concentration of singlehanded optical isomers (homochirality of enantiomers) in living things - how did a relatively pure population of left-handed amino acids or right-handed sugars arise out of a chemical environment wherein reactions ordinarily give rise to roughly equal numbers of both right- and left-handed optical isomers?

There you go. All it takes is the ability to research the answer to this perplexing problem and forward it to the Origin of Life Prize to recieve 20 years of payments of $50,000 each. Looking forward to that naturalistic explanation which I'm sure is forthcoming any day now . . . .

Moral Incoherence and Human Rights

When we speak of human rights, we must first identify what rights belong intrinsically to all human beings, and how human beings (persons) are defined. Among those rights, obviously, is the right to life, since without the right to live, one cannot possibly exercise any other rights. And attached to this right is the accepted responsibility that no human being has the right to murder any other innocent human being. Even in the case where the death of one person would serve to benefit another person (or persons), that person cannot be murdered to advance such a benefit. Consider the following examples:

  1. It is clear that the organs of newborn infants, as well as of the (even terminally) ill, the elderly, or of convicts condemned to death, could be successfully transplanted into needy adults or children, thus making it possible that the recipient of the transplant would become healthier. In each of these cases the person who “owns” these organs has the right to determine if they are to be taken from them, and no one argues that they should be forcibly removed, even after death, and transported into another without such consent, either by the individual herself, or from a legally appointed guardian. Likewise, no one would ever argue that the owner of the organs could be killed in order simply to obtain their organs. Even if the legally appointed guardian (such as a parent, for example) agreed to sacrifice the person under their guardianship to produce such transplantable organs, the practice would rightly be condemned and forbidden by the state, serving the protect the rights of the defenceless against those that would exploit them for the benefit of others. As stated in my opening paragraph, the life of one person cannot be terminated simply to benefit another. This is not just a religious position, but it is also a moral one, and it is one that is universally accepted in modern civilizations such as Canada and the United States.
  2. A new mother decides, immediately after giving birth, that she does not want the child, and elects to kill it. This is illegal, of course, and even if there are mitigating circumstances (such as the mental state of the mother), the act of killing the child is accepted as a moral and legal wrong that is to be avoided. Society rightly condemns and forbids infanticide.
  3. Excepting Oregon, every province and state in Canada and the United States accepts that the terminally ill, and others deemed to be a “burden” to their families remain legal persons, and cannot be killed, even with the expressed permission of their families. The formers’ right to life trumps the latter’s right to be free of whatever burden their continued living imposes upon them.
All three of these examples involve fundamental human rights that transcend any sectarian religious beliefs. One is not imposing one’s religious beliefs in order to protect the rights of individuals over their own bodies, organs, and lives, even when it can be demonstrated that the sacrifice of those lives would benefit others, even to the point of actually saving the lives of those others. It is not morally acceptable to do this.

This, then, brings us to the question of when, exactly, human life begins, and when does it end. In other words, when does a fetus become a “person”, and when, if ever, does a person cease to be a human being intrinsically worthy of protection. If one accepts that human life begins at birth, or at some point during pregnancy, then under that definition what is done to the fetus prior to that specifically defined moment in time is not a violation of anyone’s human rights. The pre-human fetus is, by definition, not a human being (person), and therefore is not entitled to any protection of its rights as it has no rights to protect, any more than do other non-human life forms. This was the reasoning of Roe v. Wade, which ruled that the foetus is not a person, and therefore has no intrinsic human rights. If one accepts the reasoning of Roe V. Wade, one must also accept its definition of who is a person, entitled to legal protection.

If, on the other hand, one accepts that the foetus is a human being from the moment of conception, then one must (in order to remain morally coherent) also accept that all human rights must be extended to that person from the moment of their conception. Further, one has a moral obligation to defend the rights of all of those whom one considers to be a person, including, if necessary, the imposition of one’s beliefs on others who do not share those same beliefs in order to protect those rights. As rational moral beings, we are obligated to remain morally coherent, and to the best of our abilities always defend that which is good and true. The right to life, to freedom, and to protection of the innocent from deliberate harm is central to our social and moral order. We are not allowed to advance the rights of one group at the expense of other groups. In the first example I cited above, we cannot kill one person in order prolong the life, or improve the health, of another person. And in the second, we do not accept that a parent (or even the parents acting together), have the right to kill their newly born child. Finally, in the third example, a family cannot agree to deliberately kill an elderly, terminally ill, or otherwise burdensome relative. As persons, the terminally ill, and those who have become a “burden” to their families, possess an intrinsic right to live that cannot be overridden even by their own families or guardians. One can argue otherwise only if one accepts that an individual possesses the right to suicide, or by arguing that the terminally ill cease to be persons.

So, can one remain morally coherent by accepting a wider definition of who is a person, and therefore entitled to legal protection of their rights, while at the same time refusing to defend those persons’ rights? The answer, very simply, is no.

I would like to use one additional analogy taken from American history to illustrate this point. Up until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans were denied the right to vote in many states. The debate that preceded the passage of this law involved two opposing camps. On one side stood those that argued that African-Americans were human beings (persons), just as were whites, Orientals, and all other races, and as such they were entitled to the right to vote. Opposing this position were those that argued that whether or not one personally believed African-Americans were persons did not matter. They argued that the Constitution of the United States granted to the individual states the right to determine who could, and who could not, vote. This right could not be restricted by the Federal government. For many years the courts, including the Supreme Court supported this position. But the argument that States rights trumped human rights was morally defensible only if one could argue successfully that African-Americans were, in some way, less human (in other words, not persons) than were people of other races. The argument that one personally believed African-Americans to be equal to all other Americans, but one could not impose this belief on those who rejected this view was morally incoherent. All human beings are essentially equal in their rights. If the law permitted a white person to vote at the age of 21, then a black person must also be given that same right.

Very simply, if one accepts that an unborn child is as much a person as is a child that has been born, then one must grant that both are entitled to the same rights. Likewise, if one accepts that terminal illness does not strip one of one’s personhood, it is not morally defensible to argue in favour or allowing them to be killed, even at the request of their family/guardian. If one opposes the killing of one, then one must oppose the killing of the other.

Nomad

Is The Acts of the Apostles Dependent on Josephus?

It seems that no New Testament book is the subject of more attacks on historicity or victimized by more speculative theories than the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps this is because Luke and Acts are the two books in the New Testament that most come across as historical writings. This is apparent not only from the preface, but the subject matter. The author of Luke-Acts engages the wider Jewish and Roman world more than any other New Testament writer. This is true especially of Acts, where the author refers to broader Jewish history, wide travels throughout the Roman world, and refers again and again to Roman/Jewish rulers, customs, locations, legal process, and political facts. And it does so with enough accuracy to prompt figures such as the eminent classical historian A.N. Sherwin-White to state that "[a]ny attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted." Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, page 189.

Obviously, secuvangelist skeptics cannot let this attitude towards Acts stand--too damaging to theories like the Jesus Myth and too confirming of traditional Christianity. So one theory many have latched onto is the notion that much of Acts' apparent knowledge of Jewish history in particular is explained by the notion that Acts copied Josephus' writings, including Antiquities. A Jewish historian, Josephus completed Antiquities around 92 CE (though writing began much earlier). It is an extensive history of the Jewish people, up to an including the Jewish Revolt and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. He also wrote Jewish Wars, a history of Jewish wars, about 20 years earlier.

In and of itself there is nothing troubling about one ancient historian using the work of another. Using good sources is the mark of a good historian, not a bad one. But the secuvangelists do not think Acts used Josephus to write good history. They believe he used him to create a largely fictitious narrative colored with historical tidbits gleaned from Josephus. They also argue that Acts must have been written later than most scholars accept (62-85 AD) because he relied on Antiquities.

It should be noted how lonely are these claimants. There is a broad scholarly consensus against Acts' dependence on Josephus. Even a leading liberal scholar has pronounced that "[t]he dependence of Acts upon Josephus has rightly been given up." F.B. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, page 132. See also E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, page 55 ("The argument that Luke used the historian, Josephus (AD 93), was never fully convincing.... Today it is seldom pressed."). The only modern scholar of note who still advances this argument is Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament.

Online, however, the story is different. Secuvangelist Richard Carrier has concluded that Luke did use Antiquities and takes the implications of that conclusion far beyond Mason. In his conclusion, Carrier claims that "almost" every noteworthy person or event in Acts is explained by dependence on Antiquities and therefore the author "simply cut and paste" his own narrative onto this overlay "in order to give his story an air of authenticity and realism." (Ironically, as I hope to explain more at a later date, the more forecfully Carrier presses his sweeping conclusion, the more he undercuts Mason's argument). However, Carrier goes much too far even if his basic premise is granted. Acts demonstrates accurate knowledge about many details not found in Antiquities but confirmed by other ancient writers and archeology. Nor is historical fiction a proper genre classification of Acts. Acts was written largely according to the conventions of ancient historiography (i.e., writing history according to the standards of his day). It is not ancient fiction. In any event, J.P. Holding of the Tektonics apologist site has recently penned a rebuttal to Carrier, which is worth a look.

Peter Kirby has commented on this exchange over at his blog, but seems uncommitted due to a lack of sufficient evidence. You can catch a preview of my response to Carrier and Mason there by reading my response to Kirby's post. For now, though, I want to begin the discussion on this blog by noting the initial reasons that the rest of contemporary scholarship has rejected the notion that Acts relied on Josephus. (A fuller response to Mason and Carrier is in the works and will either appear in an article over at christianorigins.com or piecemeal here--or both).

First, "[t]here is no evidence for direct literary relationship between them." F.B. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, page 132. Discussing the usual passages used to support dependence, Polhill notes that "[n]one of these passages [] shows the least literary dependence on Josephus; and at most they reflect commonly known Jewish events." John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary, Acts, page 30. Although it is true that the author of Luke-Acts refines his sources and smooths out the Greek in his own style, it is also true that his dependence on Mark and Q (or Matthew) are easily and indisputably apparent. The lack of any direct literary relationship is a heavy blow to the argument for dependence.

Second, given the lack of literary dependence there is no need to presume that Josephus was the only source of information from which Acts could have obtained his information. The subject matter that the two have in common was not unique. As admitted by one of the few proponents of Lucan dependence, although few other accounts of Jewish history have survived to this day, there were many others that survived to as late as the ninth century. Mason, op. cit., page 13. Further, most of the subject matter the two share is about notable events that would have been widely known by Jews of the time. That Acts had available other sources of information is confirmed. Acts demonstrates a vast amount of accurate knowledge about Jewish and Gentile history, politics, geography, and religion that is independent of Josephus.

Third, the points of contact that are typically used to argue dependence are actually so different that they defeat the argument. "They are surely independent, and follow independent, indeed conflicting, sources." Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, pages 372-73. For example, Acts and Josephus appear to disagree over when the rebel figure of Theudas was active, though it is by no means obvious that Josephus is right and the author of Acts wrong. In another disagreement about another rebel figure -- the "Egyptian" -- Josephus puts the number of rebels at 30,000, whereas the author of Acts uses the much more likely number of 4,000. So it appears not only that the author of Acts had information independent of Josephus, but better information. This too counts against dependence.

Thus, the absence of literary evidence of dependence, the divergent nature of the points of contact, and the general availability of the information recounted by both authors (and Acts' awareness of other historical information gained from other sources) have convinced almost all scholars that Acts did not use Antiquities as a source.

Al Gore Makes my Case
Bush and religious belief.

A short while ago, I noted that questions are raised about the genuineness of John Kerry's appeals to his faith. At the end of the essay, I asked for anyone to show me a mainstream story where Bush's faith is questioned. While no one commented with any such story, I saw one myself where former Democratic presidential contender, Al Gore, questioned the genuineness of President Bush's faith.

In an article in the New York Times entitled "Gore Accuses Bush of Masking Agenda", the New York Times reports that Mr. Gore accused President Bush of playing up religion as a political ploy.

Former Vice President Al Gore accused President Bush on Monday of using "the symbolism and body language of religion" to mask policies intended to satisfy the ideology of the right wing and the financial needs of wealthy campaign donors.

"The essential cruelty of Bush's game is that he takes an astonishingly selfish and greedy collection of economic and political proposals, then cloaks them with a phony moral authority, thus misleading many Americans who have a deep and genuine desire to do good in the world," Mr. Gore said in a speech at Georgetown University.

He added, "President Bush has stolen the symbolism and body language of religion and used it to disguise the most radical effort in American history to take what rightfully belongs to the American people and give as much as possible to the already wealthy and privileged."

Mr. Gore's speech was sponsored by the advocacy group MoveOn.org, which has spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat Mr. Bush.

"I'm convinced that most of the president's frequent departures from fact-based analysis have much more to do with right-wing political and economic ideology than with the Bible," Mr. Gore said.

Of course, I did say at the end of my post that I didn't want any non-mainstream articles such as articles from Mother Jones Magazine, and I think it is clear that Gore has put himself into that category. Consider the following from Al Gore rendered irrelevant by his bitter attacks:

Al Gore can't seem to discuss politics these days without letting loose with bitter, mean-spirited, ad hominem attacks on President Bush, as if that were somehow a substitute for rational discussion.

Gore is so unbelievably bitter about his loss to Bush in 2000 (a vote that he did, in fact, really lose according to the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and the accounting firm of BDO Seidman in a Study on behalf of USA Today and the Miami Herald). He has come out and said so many ignorant things that it is hard to take anything he says seriously. He is almost a parody of the most outrageous accusations made about the President, and the fact that this talk was sponsored by MoveOn.org does makes his statements even less credible in my eyes.

But at least Gore is still somewhat in touch with reality. Consider that the New York Times article I quoted above seems to suggest that Gore does not believe that Bush's belief in God is genuine. The Washington Post puts a different spin on what Gore said in its report about Gore's statements:

"While I have no doubt that his religious belief is genuine . . . ," Gore said, "most of the president's frequent departures from fact-based analysis have much more to do with right-wing political and economic ideology than with the Bible." Gore said Bush "takes an astonishingly selfish and greedy collection of economic and political proposals, and then cloaks them with a phony moral authority."

Ah, now that seems to put a different spin on it. Even Gore is admitting that Bush's faith is genuine, despite the fact that he is lying to the public (according to Mr. Gore). But is it credible? If Bush is really genuine in his religious belief, and that belief counsels against lying (in the Ten Commandments, no less) then on what basis am I to believe that Bush is "deliberately suppressing information about Iraq that would have undermined his case for war" as the Post reports? It seems that Gore believes that either (1) Bush lied contrary to his genuinely held beliefs, (2) Bush does not genuinely hold his beliefs, or (3) Bush genuinely believes that lying to the American public is acceptable within his religion. I wonder which it is.

Regardless, I will accept for the time being at face value Mr. Gore's acknowledgement that Bush's beliefs are genuinely held. So, even Mr. Gore, in his twisted vision of the Bush administration, acknowledges that President Bush's faith is genuine. I guess it's unanimous.

Select Quotes from Scientists Regarding the Appearance of Design in the Universe

Though origins apologetics is not really my speciality, I wrote a piece a while back about the appearance of design in the origins of the universe. Not ready to revise the whole thing, but as I was reviewing it I was once again impressed by the number of top scientists who either suspect their is design in the universe or at least have to admit that it sure looks that way (even if they try to explain it away). So here's that list:

Fred Hoyle: "A superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology" The Universe, at 16.

Paul Davies: "The laws [of physics] seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design." There "is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all.... It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the Universe.... The impression of design is overwhelming." The Cosmic Blueprint, at 203.
George Greenstein: "As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or, rather, Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme God? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?" The Symbiotic Universe, at 27.

Tony Rothman--theoretical physicist: "The medieval theologian who gazed at the night sky through the eyes of Aristotle and saw angels moving the spheres in harmony has become the modern cosmologist who gazes at the same sky through the eyes of Einstein and sees the hand of God not in angels but in the constants of nature.... When confronted with the order and beauty, it's very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it." A What You see Is What You Beget Theory, Discover, May 1987, at 99.

Cosmologists Bernard Carr and Martin Rees: "Nature does exhibit remarkable coincidences and these do warrant some explanation." "The anthropic principle and the structure of the world," Carr and Rees, at 612.

B. Carr: "One would have to conclude either that the features of the universe invoked in support of the Anthropic Principle are only coincidences or that the universe was indeed tailor-made for life. I will leave it to the theologians to ascertain the identity of the tailor." Carr, at 153.

Physicist Freeman Dyson: "The problem here is to try to formulate some statement of the ultimate purpose of the universe. In other words, the problem is to read the mind of God." Infinite in All Directions, at 298.

MIT physicist Vera Kistiakowsy: "The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine." Henry Margenau and Roy Abraham, eds., Cosmos, Bios, and Theo, at 52.

Nobel Price winning physicist Arno Penzias: "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan." Id. at 52.

Theoretician Alexander Polyakov: "We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because God created it. So there is a chance that the best of all possible mathematics will be created out of physicists' attempts to describe nature." Stuart Gannes, Fortune, 12 October 1986, at 57.

Mathematician and Stephen Hawking colleague Roger Penrose: "I would say that the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance." A Brief History of Time, Movie.

Cosmologists George Ellis: "Amazing fine-tuning occurs in the laws that make this possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word 'miraculous' without taking a stand as to the ontological status of that world." The Anthropic Principle: Laws and Environments, at 30.

Cosmologist Edward Harrison: "Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God--the design argument of Paley--updated and refurbished. The fine-tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one.... Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument." Masks of the Universe, at 252, 263.

Astronomer Allan Sandage: "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing." John Noble Wilford, "Sizing Up the Cosmos," New York Times, 12 March 1991, at B9.

Mathematical physicist Robert Griffiths: "If we need an atheist for a debate, I got to the philosophy department. The physics department isn't much use." Tim Stafford, "Cease-fire in the Laboratory," Christianity Today, 3 April 1987, at 18.

Even Stephen Hawking admits that "it would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us." A Brief History of Time, at 127.

Can I just say that we have a classy First Lady?

All politics aside, I was impressed with First Lady Laura Bush's response to some innane comments by John Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz-Kerry. Heinz-Kerry had said that she did not think that Mrs. Bush had ever held a "real job." When reminded that Mrs. Bush was a school teacher for several years, then received a Masters in Library Science and was a librarian for several more years, Ms. Heinz-Kerry apologized for forgetting about her "real" job as a teacher and librarian. Of course, the insult was not to teachers and librarians, but to homemakers (apparenlty not a "real job" to Heinz-Kerry).

When asked about Ms. Heinz-Kerry's remarks, Mrs. Bush said that there was no need for Heinz-Kerry to apologize because she knows how hard it is to handle the press:


"She apologized but she didn't even really need to apologize," Mrs. Bush told reporters at a coffee shop before attending a rally for President Bush. "I know how tough it is and actually I know those trick questions."

What grace.

A Win for Science
Intelligent Design to be Taught in Dover Pennsylvania

The obstructionist . . . er, I mean, the supporters of Darwinian evolution failed in their effort to keep criticism of Darwinism from being taught in the schools in Dover Pennsylvania. According to the York Daily Record, in an article entitled "'Intelligent Design' Voted In":

The Dover Area School Board voted to add "Intelligent Design Theory" to the district's biology curriculum Monday evening just two weeks after Supt. Richard Nilsen assured former board member Lonnie Langione that wouldn't happen. The change passed by a six-to-three margin after a heated discussion by the board and a dozen members of the community.

During the Oct. 4 board meeting, Langione asked Nilsen if teachers would be required to teach "intelligent design," after he allowed 50 copies of the book "Of Pandas and People," published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, to be used in science classrooms as reference books.

"No," replied Nilsen at the time. "A teacher can, but is not required."

But during Monday's meeting, district biology teacher Jen Miller said the new curriculum wording implies that she will be required to teach "intelligent design."

The new wording in the curriculum states: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught."

Personally, I think that this is a good thing. I don't agree with those who argue for an evolution-only curriculum because it prejudges that the only possible, viable, scientific theory it the theory of evolution. Certainly, the problems with evolution have been made known, and while supporters of evolution-only curriculums have tried to counter these arguments, they certainly appear to be losing ground in winning the hearts and minds of the public on this issue. The biggest problem for the evolution-only crowd is that they misjudge the reasons that people are rejecting evolution.

You see, they believe that the reason that the American public is rejecting evolution is because the American public is a bunch of dumb, uneducated schmucks. They think that if the American public just had a firmer grasp of science, they would see how incontrovertible evolution is. One problem with this view is that it doesn't explain why many educated scientists aren't buying the evolutionary model. I'm sorry, but I don't find it credible that all of the scientists who doubt Darwinism (and I certainly acknowledge that they are in the minority) do so because they are trying to sell books by telling the uneducated public what they want to hear. No, there are legitimate questions that have been raised to Darwinian evolution, and it is my opinion that most Americans believe that these questions should be aired and debated in the marketplace of ideas. And this is where the evolutionists shoot themselves.

The average American looks at the school system and believes (rightly) that it ought to be about education. It ought to be about teaching truth to the kids. If we start by teaching our kids something as fact when we know that it isn't fact (or know that there exist alternative theories which equally explain the fact) then we are not educating but indoctrinating. The argument made by those who support the evolution-only curriculum smells like indoctrination because it tries to exclude from the public education system a scientific theory (and yes, it is a scientific theory) that competes with the generally accepted scientific theory. This strikes people as wrong in light of our nation's commitment to the "marketplace of ideas."

But, of course, this puts the evolution-only crowd into a box. If they continue to argue that only evolution should be taught in public schools, they will continue to look like obstructionists and indoctrinators. If they cave in (as they should) and stop insisting that evolution is the only thing that should be taught, then they don't get what they want, i.e., a classroom free of ideas that compete with the generally accepted model of evolution. It appears to be a Hobson's Choice for them. Good luck.

By the way, I personally don't agree with the Dover School Board's wording in the curriculum. Recall that the language reads: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught." Since at least 1982, I have been arguing not that theories other than evolution be taught because my personal experience is that biology teachers may have serious difficulties teaching theories that they don't accept without belittling them. (In my own college level biology course, the teacher taught the idea of "scientific creationism" in such a negative and belittling manner that I came away with a belief that I had not been given a fair presentation of the theory.) Instead, it is my belief that the teachers should simply be required to stress the idea of evolution as a theory or model, and teach some of the problems with evolution in addition to the evidence supporting it. If that were how schools proceeded, I certainly would have no problem (but I suspect that many others would disagree with me that such an answer does not go far enough--que sera sera).

New Resources About the Jesus Myth -- And Its Many Flaws

Bede's Library, with some input from yours truly, has added another feature to its "Did Jesus Exist" section: Links to Jesus Myth and Historical Jesus sites.

Therein is a list of websites related to the Jesus Myth, descriptions and comments about each site, and a 1 - 10 ranking. If you want to know who is saying what about the Jesus Myth on the internet -- pro and con -- this is the place to start.

Check it out. If you have any suggestions about what we should add, email Bede or myself. Or post a Comment here. And, if you find yourself disagreeing with the comments or the ranking, let us know.

And do not forget to visit Bede's Journal, Bede's own blog.

Was Amenhotep II the Biblical Pharoah of the Exodus?
The dream of Thutmosis IV preserved on a stone slab strengthens the case.

Dr. David Livingston makes a rather interesting argument that Amenhotep II was the Pharoah of Egypt referenced by the Biblical accounts of the Exodus as the result of the inscription on a stone slab relating the dream of Thutmosis IV his son. In his on-line article "Between the Paws of the Sphinx", Dr. Livingston tells how the stone slab reports that "Thutmosis had been strenuously driving his chariot over the desert. After awhile, he lay down in the shadow of the Sphinx' head, all that was visible above the sand. While sleeping, the Sphinx came to him in a dream and assured the future Pharaoh that if he cleared the sands away, the Sphinx would, in turn, make Thutmosis the next ruler. Thutmosis did so and, sure enough, he became next Pharaoh!"

The existence of the story of this dream on the stone slab reveals a couple of interesting things. First, it shows that Thutmosis' right to the throne was apparently shaky. According to Dr. Livingston's article:

Thutmosis' right to the throne apparently was shaky. Why? For one thing, the study of ancient records shows that his mother was not the "Great Queen" of Amenhotep II. Rather, she was a lesser wife. Inscriptions written during Thutmosis' reign are few. From them scholars believe his short reign of 9 years was tenuous the whole time. Thus, he may have enlisted the priestly order of the Sphinx-cult to back him.

Second, and equally importantly, it shows that Thutmosis came to the throne not by the usual right of succession as the eldest son of the Pharoah. "William C Hayes, eminent Egyptologist says, 'This fanciful tale . . . suggests that Thutmosis IV was not his father's heir apparent, but had obtained the throne through an unforeseen turn of fate, such as the premature death of an elder brother' (italics omitted)(Cambridge Ancient History, fasc. 10; 1962: II.)."

Dr. Livingston goes on to make the case that the story on the stone slab strengthens the evidence that Amenhotep II, a strong builder king whose reign ended abruptly and without much explanation as to why, is a strong candidate for the Pharoah of the Exodus. It really is an interesting read if you are interested in this sort of history.

Evolution and Darwinism
The three meanings of evolution.

Awhile ago, I blogged on a short article that I had received from Reasons to Believe, the organization of Dr. Hugh Ross where it was pointed out that yet another study had shown that “junk DNA,” i.e., DNA which for years some scientist and many skeptics believed had no purpose and which was regularly pointed to as evidence for evolution, must have more of a purpose than biologists originally thought. The study was another in a series of recent studies that have been slowly pointing out that even though we don’t always understand the purpose of portions of the DNA, it seems to serve some purpose.

As is not uncommon, an “anonymous” poster (*sigh*) apparently did not dispute the study and its profound implications. Rather, the poster tried to trap me into saying that if God created all things, he must have also created things which we consider harmful, such as the HIV virus. His exact words were: “Which [sic] intelligent designer shaped the genome of the HIV virus? And why does he change it so often to make it so resistant to drugs?” I responded by making an analogy to a car that breaks down by saying: “My car broke down when I failed to give it oil. Which of the car's designers should I blame for that?” The point of my response (as “anonymous” apparently understood) was that I believe that the Bible teaches that much of the problems in this world are the result of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. I will elaborate on this in a moment.

The response I received was not unexpected. “Anonymous” said: “You mean HIV evolved, and God had nothing to do with it? Proof that evolution can happen please.” Checkmate? Hardly. “Anonymous” either does not understand or is rejecting the fact that a belief in evolution does not require a belief in Darwinism. Allow me to explain.

There are three types of evolution, and I don’t know any Christians who have any difficulty accepting either of the first two. The first type of evolution is “change over time.” We often use this type of evolution to speak of someone’s ideas changing, e.g., “His view of abortion evolved over time.” We also use it to talk about how a town “evolved” in a particular way. Certainly, we see the earth as evolving in this sense, including the life on the planet. This type of understanding of evolution is widely accepted even in conservative Christian circles.

The second type of evolution is micro-evolution. This is the type of evolution where changes are made within species. As in the on-line article “What is the Theory of Evolution?” no one disputes this type of evolution.

“Micro-evolution or speciation refers to populational and species change through time. There are many published examples of speciation, if by the development of a new 'species' we mean the development of a new population of individuals which will not breed with the original population to produce fertile offspring. Micro-evolution is a scientific fact which no one, including creationists, dispute.”

The third type of evolution is “macro-evolution,” i.e., the “the progression to more complex forms of life.” Macro-evolution takes the known facts of micro-evolution and expands them to fill a greater need: how did the full diversity of species that presently exist on the Earth arise? As noted in the on-line article “Macro v. Micro Evolution”:

"Evolutionists, however, have expanded the model [of macro-evolution] to suggest the origin of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, the origin of amphibians from fishes, the origin of birds from reptiles, and so on. Scientists have many theories of the mechanisms behind macro-evolution, but none of them have any direct evidence. The theories are merely extrapolations from what can be seen on the smaller scale.”

The belief that all the diversity of life on the planet resulted from minute changes to prior species is what is known as Darwinism. It assumes that because we can see evolution on a micro level, it must follow that all life that we have on the planet evolved from earlier lesser complex life. I think that assumption is unjustified.

In my view, micro-evolution (or, at least, the capacity for micro-evolution) was part of God's original design and continues following the fall of mankind. God created the earth and all that is in it so that it was “good” (Genesis 1)—-not perfect, but good. When humanity fell to sin (Genesis 3), the earth fell with them. As stated in James S. Stambaugh in his essay “Death Before Sin?” (available on-line) originally published in Impact, No. 191, May 1989:

”Adam's sin had a tremendous effect on the entire world. We can see this clearly stated in Genesis 3:17,18 and Romans 8:19-21. The Genesis passage states that all creation was cursed by God for man's sake. It seems that God wanted to give the human race an object lesson. The lesson, it would appear, is to make the outer world of man like the inner world of man. Man is now a fallen sinner, and so God shows him what his spiritual state is like when he looks at nature. So when man looks at nature, he can see the glory of God, although it is veiled by the curse of sin. Such a demonstration of the results of sin should drive men back to God for His solution to sin and death.

“The passage in Romans 8:19-21 confirms the thought of Genesis. In fact, these verses are Paul's commentary on Genesis 3:17, 18. Here Paul tells us that the whole of creation has been subjected to 'vanity' by God because of man's sin. The word 'vanity' refers to that which fails to attain its basic goal. This means 'that the non-human creation has been subjected to the frustration of not being able to properly fulfill the purpose of its existence.' The entire creation experienced the same fate that man did when he fell.” (Footnote omitted.)

In other words, because of the sin of Adam and Eve which led to the fall of humanity, nature was also cursed. The order of nature that would have continued had humanity not sinned would not have resulted in the creation of new and deadly viruses. It is probable that but for the fall there would not have been changes to the genome of various viruses that would result in harmful changes to the world and humanity. In other words, if there had been no fall, it seems probable that micro-evolution would have still occurred, but because of the fall not all micro-evolution is positive—it is random. This can result in positive evolution or negative "de-evolution."

Thus, my point to “Anonymous” was that the viruses that harm us have ultimately resulted from our own fall. I would not blame the car manufacturer for my failure to use and preserve the car properly which results in damage to the car (and possibly to me). Likewise, I don’t blame God for the fact that we have caused the fall of nature through our sin which results in the micro-evolutionary changes to sometimes result in negative consequences to us and our environment. Certainly, I don't think God designed the genome of the HIV virus or that God may shape "the genome of the flu virus so that it produces another pandemic like in 1918." Those happened by the process of micro-evolution--a process that has been contaminated by our sin.

Have I admitted that evolution occurs? Yes, but only micro-evolution. Does it follow that because evolution can occur on the micro scale that it best explains the changes that we see on a macro scale? No, not at all, and that is what the continuing debate about Darwinism is all about.

Two Reviews of Leading Scholarly Treatments of the Resurrection Narratives

I have been slaving away at work and spending most of my off time working on my article on the Acts of the Apostles. Needed to come up for air and had recently completed a book on the resurrection by Norman Perrin. So I'm going to post two book reviews I wrote and added to Amazon: one by Reginald H. Fuller and the other by Norman Perrin. Both are seminal works, cited by all sides to the debate--from liberal scholars such as Marcos Borg and Burton Mack to conservative defenders of the historicity of the resurrection, William L. Craig (The Son Rises), Stephen T. Davis (Risen Indeed), and Gary Habermas (In Defense of Miracles).

Neither Fuller or Perrin are conservative. They are probably best described as moderately liberal scholars. Perrin perhaps more liberal than Fuller (at least in their treatment of the resurrection narratives). They are by no means, however, out of the mainstream of their fields.

As you will see, I am critical of both books. Because these scholars are widely respected, I can only hope I have explained adequately my reasons. One by product of my reviewing these books has been to look more closely into the use of redaction criticism in New Testament studies. Both authors make substantial use of this tool. Perrin has even written a book about redaction criticism.

The formation of the Resurrection narratives
by Reginald Horace Fuller

The strength of this work is that it covers all of the New Testament sources of the resurrection narratives, meaning Paul's letters as well as the canonical Gospels. There is also an appendix that discusses the resurrection appearances in some of the apocryphal gospels. Fuller is obviously competent and familiar with the material. He finds redactions, exaggerations, conflations, and invention at every turn. In fairness, though, he also reaches conclusions more traditional, such that Luke had an independent source beyond Mark, that the Emmaus Road Story is based on earlier tradition, and that at least the report of the empty tomb by a women or women is historical.

The greatest weakness of this book is the leaps that Fuller takes to reach conclusions that will appear to the reader as speculative, at best. The book has less than 200 pages of text. There are sentences that should be paragraphs and paragraphs that should be chapters and chapters that could easily be books. As a point of comparison, Raymond Brown takes 1500 pages and two volumes to cover the death and burial of Jesus. This does not mean that Fuller is always wrong, just that he often provides insufficient information and discussion for us to form an opinion one way or the other.

One example is Fuller's conclusion that the "third day" reference in 1 Corinthians 15 "is not a chronological datam, but a dogmatic assertion." Why the disciples would have found "on the third day" to be dogmatically necessary is gleaned from much later apocalyptic writings in the Talmud. But not only are these sources much later than the resurrection narratives, they are not discussed or even cited (Fuller provides a secondary reference). Nevertheless, Fuller assumes that these apocalyptic beliefs about the significance of the "third day" must have been powerfully active during the time of Jesus. So powerful that the early Christians had to invent a reference to "on the third day" to meet that expectation. But apparently not powerful enough to have left any contemporary evidence of its existence. This seems unlikely and needs much more evidence than is cited.

I do not mean to impugn Fuller. After sweeping away the possibility that there was a historical event that prompted the tradition, he had little choice but to come up with an alternative--no matter how unsupported. Of course, his discussion of why there could not have been a historical prompting for the tradition rests on his assumption that early Christians would not have seen the discovery of the empty tomb and the beginning of the resurrection appearances as indicating the day Jesus was resurrected. I disagree and think at the very least the point merits much further attention. Certainly it would be reasonable for the apostles to conclude that Jesus' resurrection occurred within the same time frame as the empty tomb being discovered AND the beginning of the resurrection appearances. Fuller also ignores the reports that Jesus referred to the destruction of the temple and its being rebuilt in three days. This tradition is attested by two traditions (Jn. 2:19 and Mark 14:58; 15:29) so it is not so easily dismissed.

In addition to a simple lack of sufficient discussion, part of the problem seems to be Fuller's apparent assumption that any tension between the accounts can only be explained by authorial redaction. He also sometimes views the literary evidence as a closed universe. For example, because Paul only lists resurrection appearances without supplying narratives, Fuller appears to conclude that the narratives later grew out of the lists. I find this rather unlikely. Some of the appearances in Paul never found there way into a narrative and other narratives, though preexisting the gospels, have no detectable source in the list. Additionally, Paul is expressing a creedal statement, useful in preaching and in letter writing. But it seems more likely that the list was distilled from known stories about the resurrection appearances. After all, the leaders of the church had actually experienced these appearances themselves (Peter, James, Paul, the Twelve, and the Apostles). Not nearly enough attention is given to the dynamic of how these witnesses would have shaped the development of the narrative traditions. Paul lived at least as late as 62 CE. James too lived into the 60s. Though we have less information about Peter, he too seems to have lived into the 60s. (Not to mention the Twelve and the other apostles). All of them were continuously active in the church as leaders of the young movement. Would they have really left such little imprint on gospels written only 5-15 years later? I am skeptical. But again, the issue deserves much more attention than it gets.

Overall, an informative read with some insights and good discussion. But ultimately more useful for pointing out the issues than resolving them.


The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke by Norman Perrin


After reading The Resurrection by Norman Perrin, I can definitely say that he knows a lot. A lot about Greek literature and a lot about these gospels. He especially knows a lot about how the synoptic gospels differ from each other. And that is the focus of his book. Perrin attempts to understand how each views the resurrection of Jesus by focusing on how they differ from each other. Unfortunately, due to the substantive and methodological problems in his analysis, Perrin usually ends up engaging in undue speculation (however well informed) or stating the obvious.

First, by building his case on how much the synoptic gospels differ instead of how each presents the resurrection as a whole, Perrin skews his analysis to highlight the different emphasis. This problem is highlighted by the length of the book--which weighs in at 84 pages of text and only refers to six sources (2 of which are other works by Perrin).

Second, Perrin does not include any discussion of the Gospel of John. To his credit, Perrin is frank about this and explains that it is because he lacks the requisite expertise. Even so, if the focus is on how different Christian authors, and presumably communities, viewed and retold the story of the resurrection, any analysis that simply ignores the Gospel of John is denying itself an important part of the picture.

Third, Perrin does not give much time to discussing the earliest presentation of the resurrection in the letters of Paul, except for a few pages in his conclusion. Even then he does not really work them into the picture of understanding the gospels in light of how the earliest Christian writings and formula understood the resurrection. Again, this seems to be denying the analysis much needed data.

Fourth, because Perrin starts with the Gospel of Mark and focuses on how Matthew and Luke differ from Mark, his analysis can only be as good as his conclusions regarding Mark. And here it appears there are significant flaws. Though Perrin concedes much of the argument that the original version of Mark did not end at 16:8 is strong, he nevertheless concludes that it did indeed end there. Additionally, Perrin argues that Mark envisions no resurrection appearances at all! Even though Perrin concedes that Mark's readers were aware of stories of such appearances. What about Mark's statement that Jesus will meet his followers in Galilee? Perrin does not think this refers to Jesus appearing to the disciples there (as Matthew reports). Rather, to Perrin "Galilee" is code word for the mission to the gentile nations. This all seems rather unlikely, especially if we give any place to Paul's letters in the analysis. These, in my opinion, foundational errors set the entire program off on the wrong foot--no matter how intelligent or informed the rest of Perrin's discussion.

All in all, Perrin's book does a good job of pointing out differences between the synoptic gospels and their treatment of the resurrection. The analysis of the significance of those differences rests on some assumptions/conclusions that prove to be unpersuasive. And much data -- such as Paul's letters and the Gospel of John -- are sacrificed to the further detriment of the enterprise. Still, the price is right and informed speculation can be helpful in trying to sort out the gospels and the resurrection. Just recognize the limitations of this particular analysis.

Is Kerry being disingenuous in citing his faith?
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article that thinks so.

From America Votes | Kerry invokes God to appeal to the faithful, by Dick Polman, Inquirer Staff Writer


As Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry said the other day, "Most Americans are deeply religious people." Indeed, the latest polls indicate that roughly 70 percent of Americans want their president to be a person of strong religious beliefs. And that fact merely reminds Democrats about the 2000 race, when George W. Bush clobbered Al Gore by a double-digit margin among those voters - 42 percent of the electorate - who attend religious services at least once a week. In that sense, Democrats were foiled by what some call "the God gap."

So they want to close that gap - by wooing the large pool of moderate Christians who see religiosity as a fine presidential trait, who view their faith as socially compassionate, yet who reject the conservative belief that church doctrine should be imposed on policy.

Jeff Bell, a conservative Roman Catholic activist who favors government bans on gay marriage and stem-cell research, says: "The Democrats finally realize that the secularist mentality was a mistake, and they shouldn't try to leave God out of everything they say. And the social consciousness thing that many Christians have - that could be a plus for Kerry. It's in his interest to hype it up."

John Green, an Ohio expert on religion and politics, says that, for Kerry, the persuadable voters fall into two categories: "centrist Catholics" and "centrist evangelicals." Together, he says, they constitute roughly 19 percent of the electorate, "and that's really where Kerry's battle with Bush is being waged."

Kerry badly needs to sway these centrists, because he'll get scant help from conservative Catholics, whose leaders have been systematically wooed by the Bush team since the 2000 campaign, complete with weekly White House meetings. In fact, a number of Catholic bishops contend that Kerry doesn't deserve to receive communion because of his stance in favor of abortion rights; and they're telling Catholics it's a sin to vote for any presidential candidate who doesn't fully condemn abortion, gay marriage, and stem-cell research.

So, following from this, it seems reasonable to conclude that Kerry is talking about his faith not so much because it really matters to him, but because it may bring him some crucial swing voters. Hmmmmmm. I wonder if that is true.

By the by, I may not be looking in the right places, but I don't see anyone in the mainstream press doubting Bush's faith. Do you? If so, please give me a link since I would be very interested in reading it. (Please note: I did say "the mainstream press"--I don't need to be reading articles out of Mother Jones magazine.)

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