CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The Fall 2005 issue of the Journal of Early Christian Studies contains an article written by James A. Kelhoffer reviewing Alan J. P. Garrow's The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache. As I read about Garrow's theory of the relationship between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, it struck me that his theory could be used to bolster the belief of some conservative scholars that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew.

For those unfamiliar with the Didache, aka The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, it is a document that was first discovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, which dates from 1056. The Codex Hierosolymitanus was itself discovered in the library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople. The Codex Hierosolymitanus contained the full text of the Didache and several other writings.

According to the Early Christian Writings, "the Didache may be divided into four clearly distinct parts: a moral catechesis (i-vi), a liturgical instruction (vii-x); a disciplinary instruction (xi-xv), and a conclusion of an eschatological nature (xvi)." The Didache contains sayings of Jesus that are not found in the four Gospels, and thus its historicity is of great interest to scholars.

No one knows exactly when the Didache was first written or by whom. Early Christian Writings, supra, notes that the Didache was not entirely unknown when the complete text was first discovered. The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (estimated date 96-131 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (died 215 A.D.), Origen (185-253(?) A.D.), the author of the Apostolic Constitutions (4th Century A.D.), and others had quoted it or embodied fragments of it in their works. St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.) expressly mentioned the Didache by its title, the "Doctrine of the Apostles." The New Advent Encyclopedia notes that Eusebius also expressly mentioned the Didache in his writings after the books of Scripture (H. E., III, xxv, 4):

"Let there be placed among the spuria the writing of the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle known as that of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also . . . the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought fit . . ."

As a result of the early references coupled with many internal clues, the dating of the Didache is often placed at a very early time. The New Advent Encyclopedia, supra, expresses the range of dates that have been proposed by various scholar.:

Harnack gives 131-160, holding that Barnabas and the Didache independently employ a Christianized form of the Jewish "Two Ways", while Did., xvi, is citing Barnabas — a somewhat roundabout hypothesis. He places Barnabas in 131, and the Didache later than this. Those who date Barnabas under Vespasian mostly make the Didache the borrower in cc. i-v and xvi. Many, with Funk, place Barnabas under Nerva. The commoner view is that which puts the Didache before 100. Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70.

Garrow himself states that it may be that the Didache predates 1 Thessalonians, and that it is possible "that it is somehow related to the so-called Apostolic Decree of c. AD 49, the first Christian document." See The Date of the Didache's Earliest Layer on Garrow's website.

According to the Kelhoffer article, it is common for scholars to assume one of two relationships between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache: either the Didache is dependent upon the Gospel of Matthew, of the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache were developed independently. Garrow's book, however, suggests that a third alternative may be the true alternative, i.e., the Gospel of Matthew was influenced by the Didache.

In making this claim, Kelhoffer notes that Garrow relies upon two well-substantiated claims in Biblical studies, but Kelhoffer notes his own doubt about the inference that Garrow draws.

Garrow's thesis stems from two separate observations, both of which, he claims, are widely supported by past scholarship. The first maintains that the Didache is the product of at least two different authors/editors. The second seeks to demonstrate that the Didache and Matthew's gospel share substantial, widely dispersed, and largely unique parallel material. Garrrow infers from these two observations that the numerous parallels are most readily explained by Matthew's use of the Didache since it would be most unusual for the latter's various authors and editor(s) to have used Matthew in the same ways. Either or both of the first two observations can be appreciated without giving credence to Garrow's third point.

For anyone interested in reading the conclusion of Garrow's work, he has been kind enough to post his sixteenth and final chapter on his website, here. What he appears to propose is the existence of an early document (which I will call the "proto-Didache") which would be revised to become the Didache which was discovered in 1873. This proto-Didache precedes the Gospel of Matthew in time. Once Matthew was written, some redactors revised the proto-Didache to correspond with what the author of the Gospel of Matthew had written. The author of the Gospel of Matthew, it is argued, used the Didache in writing his Gospel, and the proto-Didache was then amended to read more consistently with the Gospel of Matthew.

The example pointed out in Chapter 16 is a comparison of Didache 8.2b and Matthew's recital of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Garrow says:

What must be wrestled with here is that Did. 8.2b instructs its readers to pray 'as the Lord commanded in his gospel', but the immediately ensuing prayer is unlikely to have appeared in any manuscript of Matthew's work.[11] Those who propose the Didache's dependence on Matthew at this point must provide some explanation for the absence of Matthew's version of the prayer. A related problem is posed for those who see the Didache as compiled by someone who sometimes reveals a direct knowledge of Matthew's Gospel, but who prefers to quote that gospel's sources, rather than the gospel itself.[12] These scholars must explain why Jesus's direct instructions, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, are set up as a standard in 8.2b and then set aside in 8.2c.

Since the combination of an appeal to the gospel in 8.2b and its non-quotation in 8.2c presents a puzzle for any theory that sees these two lines as composed by the same author, it may be preferable to see them as belonging to two different redactional layers. Under these circumstances the disjunction between 8.2b and 8.2c need not be due to editorial incompetence, but may be explained in terms of a later contributor's respect for the basic text. Thus, a later interpolator may have wished to point readers to Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer, while at the same time being unwilling to make direct alterations to the established document. The insertion of 8.2b achieves this goal, even though the resulting text is somewhat awkward. A similar effect is created when the modifying teacher avoids direct revision of the host, but nonetheless manages to alter its force by inserting new material. Here again the reading that results is sometimes awkward and self-contradictory.

It is an interesting theory, and without reading his full argument, I feel unqualified to analyze it. However, as I intially noted, if Garrow is correct, his theory may implicitly aid the view held by the more conservative scholars that the Apostle Matthew -- the man explicity mentioned as a disciple in the Bible and the traditionally identified author of the Gospel of Matthew -- was really the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Consider that the Didache is also known as the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles. Assuming that the redactors who revised the proto-Didache following the writing of the Gospel of Matthew were honest men, would they have redacted the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" based on a writing that they were not reasonably certain was actually written by one of the twelve apostles? I don't believe that honest men would have done so. Thus, with that assumption, it seems likely that if Garrow is correct, his argument can be used to support the idea of Matthew's authorship of the Gospel that bears his name -- or at least, it supports the idea that the redactors thought it was really written by the Apostle Matthew. If the early dating of the Didache is accurate, then that would seem to constitute further evidence of the Apostle Matthew's authorship of the Gospel of Matthew.

Ben Witherington has profitably written on more areas of the New Testament than most other scholars could hope to accomplish. He has also garnered a deserved reputation as a leading scholar on Acts as well as Paul, which obviously is of much interest to me (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

But I have not had the time to explore another area were Prof. Witherington has established his expertise and that is the role of women in the early Christian movement. Which is why I was pleased to see his latest blog entry, which succinctly summarizes his conclusion on the views of Paul and Jesus on marriage. Prof. Witherington concludes that Paul and Jesus were influenced by their views on eschatology and generally favored more strict rules about marriage than was articulated in the Old Testament. Despite the increased strictness, Paul and Jesus did not maintain the emphasis of the Old Testament that marriage was a requirement. Rather, Prof. Witherington believes that Paul and Jesus viewed both singleness and marriage as callings of God, and he advises the modern church to acknowledge both as such.

Interesting stuff in and of itself but also in that we have here a leading New Testament scholar reaching interested readers directly rather than through the mediation of a publishing company.

I just stumbled across a preview for a new movie being released in less than two weeks by Sony Pictures entitled The Gospel, starring Clifton Powell, Yolanda Adams, Dwayne Boyd, and Idris Elba, among others. Here is the review from Movie-Source:

"The Gospel" explores the inner-workings of a church. Told from the perspective of the pews, the film gives a realistic portrayal of people dealing with true life struggles and issues. Maestro Kirk Franklin helped set the tone by writing music for the film's performance sequences.

In fusing some of the biggest names in gospel music today, with several of the most talented thespians in Hollywood, the film offers a helping of inspirationally uplifting entertainment for the entire family. While based on the biblical parable of The Prodigal Son, the picture provides a universal theme that can be enjoyed by all.

The songs available for listening on the official movie site by Gospel artists Yolanda Adams, Fred Adams and Martha Munizzi, are uplifting songs of praise to God. If nothing else, go to the movie for the the music --it's fantastic!

For those complaining about the string of bad, unchristian movies coming out of Hollywood -- and those complaints appear to be justified -- here is a movie that, if it lives up to the previews and the description found in the Movie-Source review should be a real winner. The movie will be rated PG for thematic elements including suggestive material and mild language and will be released on October 7, 2005.

I have revamped the Existence of God page at the Christian Cadre site, reformatting it, adding new categories (such as the "Hiddenness of God" and "Debates on the Existence of God"), and adding many new links to powerful arguments for God's existence. Please check it and out and let me know if you have any other ideas for the page.

I also added a short article I wrote about the relationship between morality and God, Is It Possible to be Good Without God? The gist of the article is that it is of course possible to do good acts without a belief on God but that it is much more difficult to maintain that there is anything such as "good" and "evil" without a transcendent source, such as God, for moral belief.

This isn't really apologetics related, but when I read the following in a story entitled A hurricane strips off Bush's teflon by Marvin Kalb for the International Herald Tribune dated Wednesday, September 28, 2005, I was astounded.

Suddenly, as if the flood waters had smashed not only the levees in New Orleans but the teflon-protected presidency of George W. Bush, networks and newspapers have again found their voice. An embarrassing four-year period of media deference to the president and his policies has ended.

For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when an understandable feeling of patriotism induced timid coverage of White House policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, journalists have now returned to their traditional role as fearless chroniclers of the passing parade, blasting the administration for its tardy, ineffective response to the hurricane. Indeed, they have even gone beyond their traditional role.

Instead of acting like deferential, yet objective stenographers of administration briefings, they have adopted a new, angry, emotional style that has surprised and stunned the usually masterful spin merchants at the White House.

Deferential press? Timid coverage of the Bush White House? Good grief. If Mr. Kalb thinks that the press has been deferential to Bush, he needs to read some more newspapers and news magazines. He certainly hasn't been reading the papers I read.

In the trial of the Pennsylvania case where the idea of Intelligent Design being merely exposed to the students is being challenged, Robert Pennock testified that Intelligent Design fails to set forth a method. According to the AP Story:

The concept of "intelligent design" is a form of creationism and is not based on scientific method, a professor testified Wednesday in a trial over whether the idea should be exposed to public school students in science class.

Robert T. Pennock, a professor of science and philosophy at Michigan State University, testified on behalf of families who sued the Dover Area School District. He said supporters of intelligent design don't offer evidence to support their idea.

"As scientists go about their business, they follow a method," Pennock said. "Intelligent design wants to reject that and so it doesn't really fall within the purview of science."

Pennock, for those who have never heard of him, isn't a neutral player in this debate. The article fails to note that Pennock is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, and the editor of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. He has already posted his Expert report in the case on the Internet. Consider his opening paragraph of his General Opinion:

In my considered opinion, allowing so-called intelligent design (ID) to be included as part of a science class would have the effect of introducing material that is not only unscientific, but is essentially religious in nature. Like other kinds of creationism, the ID movement rejects the scientific findings of evolution and posits instead creation by a supernatural entity. This is a truly radical proposition. To teach such a view, under whatever name, is not only to dismiss well-established scientific findings that are a fundamental part of biology in favor of an unsupported religious belief, but also to reject the very nature of science.

Rejects the very nature of science!?! Wow, I suppose Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Copernicus and George Mendel would be somewhat surprised that they were rejecting the very nature of science given that they all believed in a designed universe. But thn, it comes as no surprise to anyone that he should make this claim -- it is part of his overall philosophy that ID is merely creationism. As shown in a review of his Tower of Babel book by Dennis White, "nothing that he wrote in Tower of Babel will have the ID folks 'shaking in their boots.'"

The fact that Pennock, an anti-ID mouthpiece, should testify in this way is not surprising or shocking in the least. It doesn't establish anything, but it is part of the case against the teaching of ID. If left unchallenged, it will be damaging, but I trust that the attorneys representing the state (assuming that they have done their job) will have their own experts lined up who will counter Pennock's assertions when it is their opportunity to present their case. We shall see.

Today's MSN Lifestyle section has an article entitled Faith in Marriage: Is a common spiritual bond critical to marital health and happiness? By Carol Mithers. In the article, Ms. Mithers notes:

Faith -- belief in the judgment and authority of a higher power -- can have a powerful positive influence on the marital bond, research has shown. David Popenoe, PhD, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and codirector of the National Marriage Project, sees being "answerable to a higher authority" as "vital" for a strong marriage. In part, faith has this power because belief in God often also means a belief that marriage itself is sacred. The conviction that, as Liz Hammer puts it, "this is a commitment we made before God, so divorce isn't an option" can give couples both emotional security and an incentive to keep their relationship strong.

Back in 1972, there was (according to the news) a collective sigh of shock and disbelief when CBS aired a program entitled "Bridget Loves Bernie" about "a rich Irish Catholic girl, Bridget Fitzgerald (Meredith Baxter-Birney) who falls in love with a working-class Jewish cabbie, Bernie Steinberg (David Birney). They marry despite their families' unease about a 'mixed marriage'." According to my recollection of the news accounts (how much of it was publicity generated, I don't know), people objected to the idea that a Roman Catholic girl could have a strong marriage if she married a Jewish boy. While I was a young kid at the time, I know that my family wasn't particularly upset about the show since I remember watching it -- especially an episode where they tried to decide how to deal with the celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas in a "mixed marriage."

Ultimately, if people objected by saying that people of different religions shouldn't be permitted to marry, they were thankfully overruled by a general acceptance of mixed religion marriages. I certainly have no problem with a man and woman of differing faiths marrying if they love each other and promise to respect each other. But saying that someone shouldn't be allowed to marry another person is different from saying that a person probably shouldn't marry another person if they want to maximize happiness.

Unlike skin color or ethnicity, where the differences between people run only skin deep, a person's religion is a vital part of his or her life. A religious belief that is truly embraced shapes the person's world view, and compromising that world view can be a compromise of the faith that he or she holds. Thus, it comes as no surprise that people who share the same strong devotion to the same strong religious belief appear to have the best chance of succeeding. It is much like that dating service that matches up the 20+ most important factors to a happy marriage -- if you are both religious in the same way, probably 10+ of those factors are already compatible.

Does that mean that people of differing religions ought not marry? Well, yes and no. The answer appears to be that if you want the best chance of staying married, you should marry someone who shares your worldview, which means that you want to marry someone who shares your religious views. That doesn't mean that you cannot have a successful marriage by marrying outside of your worldview; it simply means that it will be more difficult to do so. As stated in the article:

Religious beliefs not only influence our most basic convictions -- what happens after we die, what it means to live a virtuous life -- they also govern a host of daily choices, such as what to eat, how to raise children, even whether or not to use birth control. And "every layer of difference that exists between partners adds complexity to a marriage," says Joel Crohn, PhD, the San Rafael, California-based author of Mixed Matches (Ballantine, 1995).

Of course people can overcome these differences. They have done so and will continue to do so in the future. But such marriages can involve compromise.

Growing numbers of interfaith couples, with the help of support organizations, networks, therapists, and even clergy, are successfully fashioning marriages that incorporate faith, whether that means one partner converting, each remaining with his or her religion of origin, or both embracing a new, blended belief.

For people considering marrying outside of your faith, this article doesn't tell you that you shouldn't marry that way, but it does say that you should work out with your future spouse how you intend to deal with your religious differences. If your future spouse is expecting you to convert or you are expecting your future spouse to convert, you should both agree on that at the outset or it could make for a difficult time in your marriage. Given that marriage is already a difficult relationship, I simply counsel that if your faith is important to you, your decisions in this area should be one of the most important factors that work into your decision as to whether to get married.

Bridget loves Bernie? Yeah, but while they certainly have the right to get married, it may not be the wisest idea.

I have heard it asked more than once why God would want to be worshipped by His creatures. Why does it matter to Him if we love Him or ignore Him? While it is true that God is self sufficient, and therefore not in need of anything from His creatures, I do not think it all that surprising that He would wish to have a personal relationship with us, and that this relationship be based on mutual love, as well as our trust and devotion to Him.

Perhaps the most common analogy used to describe God's relationship to humankind is that of a parent to his or her children. This analogy has taken on a new meaning for me since my own children have been born, and I would like to speak to it from this angle from personal experience.

When my each of my sons turned about 2 or 3, I noticed a very distinct shift in the way he demonstrated his love for me. He now definitely knew who I was, that I was Dad, and that I existed not just to do things for him and meet his needs, but also that his greatest joys and pleasures came from him loving me, and letting me love him.

This unconditioned love he gave to me was, and remains, the single most elevating, and humbling experience of my life. It really can be described as worship. It is not a grovelling, fearful worship (although the most devastating thing that could happen to him at this time was to know he had made me or Mommy angry with him). His displays of love towards us was as close to pure and perfect adoration that I think a human being is capable of giving. At the same time, it is humbling, because I know (even when he does not yet) that I am not perfect.

The oldest is 11 now, and his brother is 5. The hero worship has diminished in the elder brother, but remains very strong with the younger. He still sees me as his hero, and wants to be like me, and still thinks I know everything there is to know. Both are growing up, and if the youngest has not realized it yet, he will very soon (as his older brother certainly has!) come to know that his father is not perfect. I make mistakes, and sometimes they are big ones. My duty now, is to help ease them through this transition, so that he will realize that having a human for a Dad, instead of a kind of godlike being, is not all bad. My mistakes will teach him that it is alright to make them, and that we can learn from them. Already I have shown him that when I err, towards him, his mother, or someone that he knows, I need, and ask for forgiveness. This makes it easier for him to ask forgiveness when he makes a mistake too. He is learning, and that will not stop (God willing) until the day he dies.

Someday he will be smarter than me. He will know things that I will not. It is my hope and prayer, that when that happens, the respect he has built up for me (and I for him) will carry us through that time, and we will continue to love and honour one another.

And this is where my analogy ends. Unlike me, I see my heavenly Father as perfect, and infinitely greater than I am. Unlike my sons' relationship to me, I will never be God's equal, or anything even close. The love and adoration that I hold for him is no more forced than the love my sons have for me is coerced or forced. I do fear displeasing him, but I am comforted by the fact that He will always forgive me when I ask, and He will always take me back, and love me.

As the father of my children, I think it is quite natural that I would like to be loved by them. I do not see this as being egotistical, or demanding, I think that so long as I love them, they should love me as well. By this love, I mean that they will respect me, and my authority as a parent that will seek to do what is best for them. Also, that they will obey me, and accept that my decisions that I make for them are in their own best interest, even if those same decisions do not look right to them at the time. In return, I recognize that my burden is heavier than theirs in that I must show my love for them first, and that their love, respect, and trust in me will grow out of these demonstrations of my love for them.

God does no less, and expects no less, as is His right, demonstrating His love for all of His people, loving them to the point of dying for each and every one of them. As Jesus taught us: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Amen. That He should call us not only His children, but also His friends is the greatest, and most humbling, honour one could ever imagine, and this is yet another thing for which we can be grateful.


"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." -- Galileo Galilei


"When most people say 'scientist', they mean 'technician'. A technician is a highly trained person whose job is to apply known techniques and principles. He deals with the known. A scientist is a person who seeks to know the true nature of physical reality. He deals with the unknown.

* * *

"The fact is that most 'scientists' are technicians. They are not interested in the essentially new. Their field of vision is relatively narrow; their energies are directed towards applying what is already known. Because their noses often are buried in the bark of a particular tree, it is difficult to speak meaningfully to them of forests." Zukav, Gary The Dancing Wu Li Masters(1979) p.36.

Now compare:

"But mainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science.

'One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed,' said Douglas Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. 'That's a fundamental presumption of what we do.'

* * *

But mainstream scientists, design proponents say, are unwilling to look beyond the material world when it comes to explaining things like the construction of an eye or the spinning motors that propel bacteria. Design proponents question why scientists, who are presumably seeking answers, would exclude one explanation.

'If we've defined science such that it cannot get to the true answer, we've got a pretty lame definition of science,' said Douglas Axe, a molecular biologist and the director of research at the Biologic Institute, a research center in Seattle that looks at the organization of biological systems including intelligent design issues." 'The evolving clash of Darwinists and doubters' By Kenneth Chang of The New York Times, dated Tuesday, August 23, 2005.

So, the question is: are the scientists who refuse to look beyond the materialist realm the people who Gary Zukav describes as those who have "their noses . . . buried in the bark of a particular tree" such that they cannot see the forest? Are these Darwinists being technicians instead of scientists?

In an earlier post, I posted eight reasons that I believe show that the Bible teaches that God has exhaustive future knowledge. Andrew, a friend and the author of the blog Theo Geek, stated that my reasoning was completely unsound. While Andrew is a friend and a Christian, we don't always see eye to eye on matters of theology (which, of course, disproves the common contention of skeptics that Christians don't think for themselves), and I wanted to take up the issues more singularly in depth. Since responding to all of his arguments in a single post would be a monumental task (going well beyond the length of the typical blog), I will start with this first issue and see where it goes.

My first argument: God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). If God doesn't know something, then he can learn something. If he is a learning God then he becomes different as the result of having learned something and He is not the same yesterday, today and forever.

Andrew's response:

The eight arguments given are completely unsound

1. Hebrews 13:8 says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." In context, it is talking how we ought to continue following the Christian teaching that teaches us to imitate Christ's way of life, and not be swayed by new and strange teachings that tell us to live some other way. The point is that the way Jesus Christ lived, and they way we should live in imitation of him cannot suddenly change.

So, it is not talking about knowledge like was claimed.

Furthermore, it is not advocating immutability in any strict sense - if Jesus Christ was truly immutable then he could have never become man, could never have grown up, could never have died, for all these things require change. I can imagine saying, using the same logic, "if Jesus Christ is the same everyday, he cannot [be] alive one day and dead the next, or incarnate one day and not incarnate the nextÂ… etc." (some of the Greek philosophers actually used this to object to Christianity, because they believed in a totally immutable God who could truly never change, and thus who could not become incarnate) such logic is clearly flawed and not at all what the verse is talking about, and so the idea that this implies immutable and unchangeable foreknowledge is clearly laughable.

Personally, I think that Andrew needs to be a bit more careful in how he addresses friends in a public arena. It may be that I am wrong, but is it "laughable"? Let's see:

First, the Hebrews 13 passage is not as constricted as Andrew contends. I agree that the passage argues that "we ought to continue following the Christian teaching that teaches us to imitate Christ's way of life, and not be swayed by new and strange teachings," but then it says that we should do these things because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." (v. 8) In other words, Jesus doesn't change, i.e., he is immutable. Is this a unique view of this passage? Hardly.

Several commentators acknowledge that this verse shows God's immutability or his non-changing nature, such as Matthew Henry, John Gill, John Nelson Darby, John Wesley, and the editors of the editors of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible which is sitting on my desk. Thus, it appears that most commentators would agree that this verse speaks of the immutability of Jesus Christ, aka, God. But what does it mean to be immutable? Clearly, it does not mean that God is perfectly static because we can see that there was some change in Jesus. For example, Jesus became man and then He returned to the Father with a glorified body. Obviously, the verse is not intended to mean that God is absolutely static in his changelessness.

This verse is speaking of His divine nature; as John Gill notes: "[Jesus] is unchangeable in his person, perfections, and essence, as God; and in his love to his people; and in the fullness of his grace, and in the efficacy of his blood, and in the virtue of his sacrifice and righteousness." This is not some stilted "any change whatsoever disproves this verse." Obviously, Andrew doesn't believe that this is the understanding since he is arguing that this verse is much more limited in scope than I am claiming. So, since we are both in agreement that the verse is not to be read in a stilted fashion, the question is: what does it mean for Jesus to be unchangeable.

It is my contention that one of the things that is unchangeable must be his knowledge. My argument is stated in the original post: if God does not know the future exhaustively, then he is learning the future as well. As anyone who has gone off to college and actually taken the time to learn the material can tell you learning changes a person. Learning and change are inseparable, learning changes you; change requires learning, they are two aspects of the same continuum. To put my argument in a syllogistic form:

Premise One: If God does not have complete knowledge of the future, then he learns.
Premise Two: If a person learns, then that person is changed by what he has learned.
Conclusion: If God does not have complete knowledge of the future, then He is changed by what He has learned.

The argument is logically valid, so any argument must be with the premises. Since the premises seem fairly obvious, the argument appears sound and supports the inference.

But the response should be: no one disputes that God is not changed by His learning, the objection is that this type of change (learning) is not one of the characteristics that need to be immutable for Jesus to be "the same yesterday, today and forever." After all, I have just acknowledged that this verse is not to be a stilted reading of the text where any possible change (e.g., when God created He became a creator but wasn't a creator before that time) represents a violation of the verse. So why is this one of the characteristics that must be immutable?

The reason is that if God learns, then God is subject to change in his essential characteristics. Here's how: have you ever looked at the drawing of the old woman or young girl? When you first look at the drawing, you only see the young girl or the old woman (I saw the young girl, myself), but once you see the other, it is impossible to undo that change. You now see both sides and you can never go back to the single viewpoint again. You are changed as a result. Was the change significant? Not in this case, but learning can result in very significant changes. Changes can be as large as paradigm shifts wherein your entire worldview can change as the result of something you learn. A person who first learns about and accepts Jesus and His Gospel has a paradigm shift that can result in a whole new world view and cause a tremendous change in every aspect of that person's life.

Let's suppose that God is a learning God. Is it possible that He could learn something? If the people who espouse the idea that God is a learning God are correct, then God learned that man would sin only when Adam and Eve actually sinned. Until that time, He didn't know that they would sin although He could have calculated that the odds that they would sin would be extremely high. Would the actual occurrence of the fall becoming a reality instead of a mere probability have been a paradigm shift for God? It could have been such a shift because until it actually happened, God didn't know it would happen. Perhaps he thought it might, but He didn't (and couldn't) know. It could have been a revelation for Him, and He could have changed His entire approach to humanity because the contingency that He hadn't fully expected would happen had, in fact, happened causing Him to see humanity in a new light. He might have no longer seen humanity as the young woman but the old hag, and He could never go back to seeing the young woman only. God could have changed in His viewpoint and how he would have approached humanity.

Now, if God could change how He would approach humanity by this event, then other events could also change how He approached humanity. But if that were the case, then what becomes of the promise of Hebrews 13? Hebrews 13 argues that we should act in a certain way because God's approach to us is unchanging! Hebrews 13:5 says: "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,'" -- in other words, we should continue to obey His law because God has said He will not change His approach to you. Yet, if God can change his approach to humanity by entering into new paradigms of understanding as the result of having learned new things, then we can have no faith in His promises. But we need not fear Him forsaking or deserting us because we know that He is the same yesterday, today and forever -- His approach to us and His essential attributes will endure forever.

Could I be wrong? Of course, I could be wrong. My argument necessarily speculates about what God "may have" or "could have" thought or how He could have been changed as the result of events on earth -- and since I do not see where God has given us any clear reason to believe that He would have, in fact, changed because of these events, there is nothing in the Bible that will necessarily support my assertions. But is my argument "laughable?" Are my arguments "completely unsound" as Andrew contends? Only if you want to score points by rhetoric rather than substance.

Today, I added all of the following to the Audio page.

Bethinking -- Bethinking is a new apologetics initiative of uccf:thechristianunions.

Biblical Training --Biblical Training provides the finest in Christian evangelical teaching to the world, for free, forever. "This is teaching you can trust."

Discovery Institute TV & Radio Interviews with CSC Fellows -- A frequently updated page containing the most recent interviews and television or radio appearances for members of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Trinity Foundation Lectures -- A selection of MP3 lecture series gathered by webpage editor John Robbins ranging from lectures on economics, to theology, to apologetics, to logic, to philosophy.

Unchained Radio -- Most of the day, Unchained Radio carries some of the finest Christian alternative rock around, but it also has a large assortment of radio programs archived on a large variety of topics, several debates, and hosts the Atheist Hour on Sunday evenings at 6:00 p.m., Pacific Time.

Veritas Forum -- Veritas Forum invites people with differing worldviews, religions, and ideas to participate, ask questions, and join discussions in order to explore true life together, and encourages participants to bring friends who are engaged in the exploration of life’s hardest questions.

Special thanks to Apologia Christi and Gilbert for their suggestions.

Popular lore has it that in the 1400s, the world was convinced by the teachings of the Christian church (which teachings were based on the Bible) that the earth was flat. Christopher Columbus, a man of vision, sought to establish that the world was round by sailing West to arrive in the Far East. The nations of the world, it is said, laughed at him because they knew that the world was flat and that one could not sail west without falling off the edge of the world!

This lore is portrayed in such places as the Carnaval website, where it says:

When Columbus set sail the common belief was that the earth was like platter floating in an Ocean of the Universe and that venturing to far would mean falling off the edge into darkness and perhaps boiling water or unknown monsters who would easily consume you.

It can also be found in the following from the Daily Pricetonian:

Christopher Columbus was a courageous visionary. In a time when most people thought the world was flat, he staked his reputation and his life on the proposition that the world was round. His determination carried him through storms, mutiny, and, above all, the stark fear of the unknown, and made one world out of two. To put it simply, Columbus was the greatest explorer who ever lived. Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong at least had some idea of what to expect in outer space. Columbus' contemporaries thought he risked falling off the edge of the Earth into the gaping maw of a sea serpent. If our society honors courage, vision, and a spirit of enterprising inquiry, Columbus is a better example than most.

Of course, my personal favorite (because of the source) is in a piece by a humanist named Joseph Sommer for the American Humanist Society entitled "Some Reasons Why Humanists Reject The Bible" which reads:

Even in the fifteenth century, when Christopher Columbus proposed to sail west from Spain to reach the East Indies, the biblical notion of a flat earth was a major source of opposition to him.[35]

His footnote references a work by Andrew Dickson White, the former President of Cornell University, entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. I.

The only problem with the viewpoint expressed in these three examples is that it is dead wrong. Columbus wasn't some visionary fighting a church that believed that the earth was flat as the result of the Bible. Columbus was fighting for funding because he was wrong about how large the earth actually was, and if it hadn't been for the fortuitous fact that there was a couple of continents in the middle of the ocean Columbus intended to sail across, we wouldn't be talking about Columbus at all since he would have died in his efforts to reach the West Indies.

Start with the idea that the church taught that the earth was flat. While there were a couple of early church writers who argued for the flat earth based on a rather stilted reading of the Bible, most historians acknowledge that the idea that the earth was spherical was well accepted by virtually all educated people and by all sailors. As noted by Rodney Stark in "Catholicism and Science":

All educated persons of Columbus’ day, very much including the Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) taught that the world was round, as did Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg (c. 720-784), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-74). All four ended up saints. Sphere was the title of the most popular medieval textbook on astronomy, written by the English scholastic John of Sacrobosco (c. 1200-1256). It informed that not only the earth but all heavenly bodies are spherical.

Don't like a Catholic source? Try this essay entitled "The Myth of the Flat Earth" by Jeffrey Burton Russell for the American Scientific Affiliation Conference:

A round earth appears at least as early as the sixth century BC with Pythagoras, who was followed by Aristotle, Euclid, and Aristarchus, among others in observing that the earth was a sphere. Although there were a few dissenters--Leukippos and Demokritos for example--by the time of Eratosthenes (3 c. BC), followed by Crates(2 c. BC), Strabo (3 c. BC), and Ptolemy (first c. AD), the sphericity of the earth was accepted by all educated Greeks and Romans.

Nor did this situation change with the advent of Christianity. A few--at least two and at most five--early Christian fathers denied the sphericity of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise.

If you really doubt this, look around the Internet. You will find that virtually everyone acknowledges that most people of Columbus's time, especially educated people and other sailors and navigators, knew that the earth was a sphere. So why did Columbus have difficulty getting funding? Because he thought the earth was actually much smaller than most people (and, in fact, smaller than it turned out to be). As noted in the article on Columbus in

The problem was that the experts did not agree with his estimates of the distance to the Indies. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy 's claim that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, leaving 180 degrees of water. In fact, it occupies about 120 degrees, leaving 240 degrees unaccounted for at that time.

Columbus accepted the calculations of Pierre d'Ailly , that the land-mass occupied 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. Moreover, Columbus believed that one degree actually covered less space on the earth's surface than commonly believed. Finally, Columbus read maps as if the distances were calculated in Roman miles (1524 meters or 5,000 feet) rather than nautical miles (1853.99 meters or 6,082.66 feet at the equator). The true circumference of the earth is about 40,000km (24,900 statute miles of 5,280 feet each), whereas the circumference of Columbus's earth was the equivalent of at most 19,000 modern statue miles (or 30,600km). Columbus calculated that the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was 2,400 nautical miles (about 4,444km).

In fact, the distance is about 10,600 nautical miles (19,600km), and most European sailors and navigators concluded that the Indies were too far away to make his plan worth considering.

Again, the number of websites supporting this statement are too numerous to bother linking here. But then, why did Dr. White, former President of Cornell, make his assertion? Perhaps, the Eagle Forum has the answer:

The myth that people of the 15th century believed that the earth was flat was popularized by 19th century atheists in order to use science in their war against religion. What better way to discredit religion than to attribute an obviously false idea to religious people! This myth can be traced directly to two very influential 19th century books: History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper (a physician) published in 1874 and History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White (the first president of Cornell University) published in 1896. Both men used the flat-earth myth to help spread their arguments against religion. These books started the false and dangerous ideology that there is a war between science and religion, and that science is the only source of truth. The flat-earth myth did not appear in schoolbooks before 1870, but nearly all textbooks included it after 1880.

This idea is echoed by Mr. Russell, supra, who also believes that the myth is being advanced so that a mythical conflict is created between science and religion:

. . . the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library.

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?"

But that is not the truth.

"Organized religion" often gets a bad rap. I have even heard many Christians complain about how "organized religion" is not what Jesus intended and turns people off to God rather than into disciples. My usual, admittedly glib, response is that I will take organized religion over disorganized religion anyday.

In the wake of Katrina, Anne Kim at her new blog Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength shows how having "organized religion" allows the Church to fulfill its mission and show God's love to the world. Anne is, like me, a Houstonian. But she has the benefit of still residing in Houston. Anne has stepped forward like many thousands of other church goers, to volunteer in providing relief to the refugees from New Orleans. Most recently, Anne has volunteered at the Astrodome, where she made the following observation about the advantages of organized religion:

After the initial scramble to get everyone situated here in Houston, things have settled into a bit of a routine. The various religious groups within the first few days coordinated the massive volunteer efforts, with each group having a designated day or set of days to staff the volunteer posts. (Mental note: next time someone goes on about how they don't like "organized" religion, tell them how nice it was to have this organized.)

Churches and church members all over the country have poured their money, their facilities, and their time into helping those whose lives have been affected by Katrina. It is organized religion, with the emphasis on organized, that has helped carry the bulk of the volunteer burden.

Yesterday's National Post contained an article from professor Alan Dershowitz criticizing "[T]he hard left's compulsive need to single out Israel for what is often undeserved condemnation (which is) damaging to the anti-war movement, and wounding other progressive causes such as feminism." To make his point Dershowitz cites the recent Amnesty International report Israel and the Occupied Territories Conflict, occupation and Patriarchy: Women carry the burden. In it he makes a damning case against AI, exposing inexcusable accusations and conclusions.

For example, in Section 6: Occupation, conflict and patriarchy: Increased pressures and violence against women we are told:

"Palestinian women and human rights organizations, community and social workers, counsellors, physicians and other professionals, are concerned that violence against women in the family has increased in the past four and a half years, as the deterioration of the security and economic situation has exacerbated existing problems of gender inequality and control of women in Palestinian society. Women’s rights advocates note that during the first intifada (1987 to 1993), the increased level of violence which Palestinians were subjected to by the Israeli army was accompanied by an increase in violence and threats of violence against women within Palestinian society and in the home, and that the same trend has developed since the outbreak of the current intifada in 2000.

The increased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in the past four and a half years has raised the threshold of violence to an unprecedented level..."

Dershowitz decided to investigate this claim. From the article:

“On August 23, 2005, I spoke with Donatella Rovera, who is AI's researcher on Israel and the Occupied Territories and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an "unprecedented level" during the occupation, and especially during its most militarized phase. I also asked her whether AI had compared violence against women in th eoccupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan. Rovera acknowledge that AI could provide no such comparative data and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian NGO's (non-governmental organizations)."

This, in itself, is indefensible methodology on AI's part. Without a basis of comparison how in the world can anyone determine if the level of violence against women is "unprecedented?" How can we even know that is is worse than before the occupation? But more importantly, since we do not have comparisons with the levels of abuse of Arab women by Arab men from comparable countries like Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, AI is engaging, at best, in nothing more than guess work, and at worst, in actual propoganda.

Dershowitz correctly cites a counter report from NGO Monitor: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL EXPLOITS "WOMEN'S RIGHTS" in which we are told:

"Rather than a significant examination of the status of women, the document (Women carry the burden), which relies on biased sources and lacks credibility, exploits this issue in the political campaign against Israel. The authors patronizingly deny Palestinian society the maturity to act responsibly, instead blaming Israeli policies for these failures."

Dershowitz goes on to cite a few more examples of hard leftists who are willing to connect almost any tragedy to Israel. Again from his article:

"Even Crawford, Tex., vigil-keeper Cindy Sheehan could not resist the temptation to blame terrorism on Israel: "You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism." The fact that 9/11 preceded Iraq and Palestinian terrorism began years before there was any occupation does not seem to matter to those determined to blame the Jewish state for the world's ills. Nor could London's Mayor Ken Livingstone resist the temptation to compare the terrorists who attacked the London transportation system with Israeli soldiers who seek to prevent terrorism."

I looked up this quote and found it in this article in the Scotsman. Livingston is quoted in telling Channel 4 News:

"Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves."

So Livingston, like Amnesty International, at least understands why the Palestinian men are so violent, and have good reason to be.

In his final example Dershowitzh cites what must be one of the most outrageous statements on this subject by a member of the hard-left:

"And then there's Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation (side note, I checked the web site, and Cockburn is still a contributing columnist for this magazine), who claims that he lacks sufficient "exterior evidence to determine" whether the claims that Israel perptrated both Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed "are true or not."

Wanting to know the context of Dershowitz's claim I did a check to see if Cockburn has recanted of this view, and what I found was not encouraging. At this web site Cockburn tells us under the heading That Israeli Spy Ring:

"Insinuating laxity in recycling anti-Semitic myth, a letter by David Sobel in last week’s edition of the paper takes exception to my citation of various stories disobliging to Israel that are sloshing around on the Internet. The letter says I should have stigmatized the story of an Israeli spy ring as having been discredited.

Alas for the letter writer, these allegations are soundly based. I sent Sobel’s note to Justin Raimondo, who has been running useful material on the issue on his site. Justin tells me the story has been considerably updated by John Sugg ( has posted the entire 60-page DEA task force report on more than 180 incidents involving Israeli "art students" sneaking around government offices and photographing defense facilities ( ). And Raimondo’s latest column on the subject, "The Truth, At Last," pretty much sums up all the new info ( )."

I then went to the referenced site and found this:

"In the gray, matter-of-fact bureaucratese so typical of a government document, the leaked "Israeli Art Student Papers" – posted on yesterday – confirm what we have been saying in this space all along: that an underground apparatus of Israeli covert agents, centered in the southwestern US but extending nationwide, carried out extensive operations in the months prior to 9/11. Their targets were US government offices, including not only the Drug Enforcement Administration (as previously reported), but the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Protective Service, the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a host of state and federal courthouses and other buildings, as well as military bases. There is no longer any doubt about whether the spy ring existed. Now we are left with the nagging question: what was its purpose?

"...It is, in short, about complicity: some degree of Israeli complicity with Atta and his fellow monsters. At the very least, the mechanics of what is obviously a covert operation directed by Israel imply a certain degree of foreknowledge. At worst, the details of this complex and by-no-means completely uncovered spy ring may wind up pointing to active (albeit one-sided) Israeli collusion with the mass murderers of 9/11. While the first conclusion is a virtual certainty, the second is, admittedly, speculation. What’s scary is that such theorizing is not without a certain basis in fact."

Such paranoid ravings would be laughable if they were not so dangerous. I must admit, until Dershowitz's article I had not thought too much about the attacks of many in the liberal media against Israel. At most I considered it to be biased reporting typical of the media siding with what it perceives to be "the little guy." But this is something much worse.

Dershowitz concludes:

These are but the tips of a very large and ugly iceberg of bigory. International conferences on feminsism, apartheid, slavery and environmentalism have been unable to agree on anything other than condemnation of Israel. If real peace is to be achieved-and if human rights movements are to retain credibility-this obsessive focus by the hard left on Israel must end. There is no indication that, even as the Jewish state takes painful steps toward peace, these unjustified attacks are diminishing."

Dershowitz is right of course. But what really troubles me in all of this is how did this happen, and how did it get so bad so quickly? During the course of the last century or so of progressivism, Jews have served as leaders and thinkers that have helped to guide the movement for civil rights, women's rights, and many other liberal causes. How could the Palestinian movement have created such a rift between today's modern leftists and a democratic Jewish nation? We are only beginning to notice the rift now, and I do not see much evidence of it even 20 years ago.

What happened?


I have done some revising to Wikipedia's entry on the Acts of the Apostles. In addition to adding a few external links, I revised the section on the Speeches in Acts. Though some may conclude that Christians naively believe these are exhaustive transcripts of the entire speech, it is just as naive to simply dismiss them as the author's free creation. Different ancient writers had different practices when it came to "recording" speeches, but the ideal was likely for the writer to use sources if he had them and to impart the sense of what was actually said. Some ancient writers even criticized others for taking too much liberty in writing speeches.

In an article hosted at the Christian CADRE site I provide additional reasons for believing that the author of Acts followed the more conservative route in recording speeches. That is, although he probably did not provide exhaustive transcripts he did use sources to tell us the sense of what was said.

This past weekend, a dear friend and I got into a discussion about the extent of God's omniscience. We explored whether the church's traditional idea that God knows the future can be squared with Scripture.

Now, if you are not philosophically minded, there is one major problem that arises from God "knowing the future", i.e., the future hasn't happened yet. How is it that God can "know" something if it hasn't happened? The view that I adopted through the discussion is that we don't need to have an answer to that question for two reasons: first, we don't know enough about how God views things to do more than give arguments as to whether God is outside of time therefore having a non-time bound view of history, or whether God is in time and has perfect and exhaustive knowledge of all possible contingencies making his knowledge identical with knowing the future, or some other yet unnamed alternatives. Second, the Bible, which is God's revelation to us, suggests that God "knows" the future. I have eight arguments as to why God knows the future fully and exhaustively from the Bible.

1. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). If God doesn't know something, then he can learn something. If he is a learning God then he becomes different as the result of having learned something and He is not the same yesterday, today and forever.

2. If God does not know the future perfectly and exhaustively, then He is capable of learning something. If he learns something then He could change His mind based on the new knowledge. If God changes His mind, then it means that His first decision was wrong, and God is not wrong -- never, ever.

3. The idea that God doesn't know what will happen completely necessarily means that God could be wrong about those things that He has prophesied will happen. If that is true, then we can have no confidence in Him or His promises.

4. Following on argument 2, if God doesn't know for certain the future, then His word -- including His prophesies -- are not (as Jesus says) "the truth." (John 17:17)

5 If God is not completely omniscient, then God is like Bill Clinton: "He feels our pain", but the pain no longer serves the divine purpose of making us more Christ-like. Rather, we experience pain only because (to quote a bumper sticker that I always thought to be in bad taste as well as theologically erroneous) "s___ happens." "When sitting across that table from a suffering Christian, it is our duty and privilege to help them lift up their eyes to our Sovereign God, who ordains every circumstance, in whose sovereign care is the only source of true comfort. What a blessing to serve and worship Someone who never makes mistakes, who will right all wrongs, who knows the future perfectly, and who declares with certainty that one day all tears will be wiped away." (SOME PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES OF OPENNESS THEOLOGY, Eric S. Lasch)

6. Ephesians 1:4 says that God has chosen us before the beginning of the world. If God allows freedom of choice and doesn't know how these freedoms will be exercised, how could He know with any certainty that we would even come into existence, let alone have chosen us before the beginning of the world?

7. If God learns, then it follows that God should change his plans if circumstances require based upon new knowledge. Yet, the Bible says that God is not like a man and does not change His mind. (1 Samuel 15:29)

8. Psalm 139 describes God as knowing everything about me, including this tidbit "before a word is on my tongue you know it completlely." (Psalm 139:4) It seems to me that this suggests a "complete" knowledge of what I will say in the future.

Anyone know any other strong Biblical arguments for the existence of God's exhaustive and complete foreknowledge of what will happen?

The August 22&29 edition of The New Republic has an article entitled "The Faith that Dare Not Speak Its Name" by Jerry Coyne. This article contains vertually every fallacy, false assumption, and error made against the Intelligent Design argument, making it a good case study for reviewing these objections.

The opening of the article highlights the first two fallaciesy Coyne uses are called Poisoning the Well ("[T]his sort of "reasoning" involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person."), and Guilt by association In this case Coyne connects the defenders of ID with Christian "creationists". It is obvious from the article that Christians are not Coyne's "type of folks", but the "Creationist" kind are certainly the worst. Here is what Coyne wrote in his opening paragraph:

Exactly eighty years after the Scopes "monkey trial" in Datyon, Tennessee, history is about to repeat itself. In a courtroom in Harrisburg Pennsylvaia in September, scientists and creationists will square off about whether and how high school students in Dover, Pennsylvania will learn about biological evolution. One would have assumed that these battles were over, but that is to underestimate the fury (and the ingenuity) of creationists scorned.

The above also contains a not so subtle ad hominem (those crazy creationists lost the first round, but now they are back with a more clever, but no less dangerous attack on science!). From this point forward Coyne uses the terms "creationist," "Christian creationist," and "defender of Intelligent Design" interchangeably. Thus the connection is made. All IDer's are creationist, therefore what they have to say is wrong, dangerous, and opposed to science. Now, under normal circumstances, this would be merely fallacious reasoning, but it has the added difficulty in simply being wrong. While it is true that many IDer's are Christians, and even creationists, it is also true that some proponents of ID theory consider the designer to be some alien race who planted life on this planet eons ago. Still others are Jews, or other non-Christian theists, including Deists. Given that these people believe in a God of some sort, and that belief in a creator God necessitates belief in some form of intelligent design to the universe, this should not come as all that much of a surprise. In fact, elsewhere in his article Coyne notes that there are theists (even Christian theists!) that believe in some form of evolution, including something close to neo-Darwinian evoltution. Were he to have asked those individuals how they reconcile belief in evolution with their belief in a creator God, he might also have avoided his next, and greatest fallacy: Straw Man construction ("The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.")

Very simply the great body of his article is devoted to knocking down a version of Intelligent Design that most proponents do not hold or defend. For example, Coyne fails to distuish Young Earth Creationists (YEC) (those that believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, and argue that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old, and that all of life was created as is by God, in six days) from the Old Earth Creationists (OEC) (those who accept that the earth is billions of years old, and has gone through many developemental stages, pretty much like those described by the vast majority of scientists from all disciplines). This is not a small distinction, especially since the criticisms Coyne levels against ID are almost entirely directed against the YEC arguments. A couple of examples will hopefully suffice. After a lengthy discussion on the evidence for the evolution of the jaw bone from reptile to mammal, Coyne argues against the position presented in Of Pandas and People thus:

Like earlier creationist tracts, Pandas simply denies this evolution of the jaw hing occured. It asserts that "there is no fossil record of such an amazing process," and notes that such a migration would be "extraordinary." This echoes the old creationist argument that an adaptive transition from one type of hinge to another by means of natural selection would be impossible... (the implication is that the intelligent instantaneously and miraculously.) designer must have done this job

So, the actual truncated quote of Pandas has the authors telling us that the change in the design of the jaw hinge is not found in the fossil record, and that this change is extraordinary. The first point is simply a fact. There is no fossil record, and Coyne admits this earlier in the same article, and explains why there isn't (the animals in question did not die in an area that would leave us many fossils). The second part tells us that the transition, if it occured, would be extraordinary. This is merely a truism. Even if the evolution were demonstrated to have happened (and we have no reason to doubt that it did), it would still be "extraordinary." But unfortunately, what Pandas does not say is that the transition was done "instantaneously and miraculously." And so the staw man. Coyne has made the "implication" that this is what the authors of the book meant (through the added fallacious reasoning of "guilt by association" with (young earth) creationists.

Contra young earth creationists, ID scientists do not deny that a transition can, and does, take place by way of gradual evolutionary changes over the course of even millions of years. What they deny is that this change occurred in a completely random manner through a series of blind chances. Were one to make the latter argument, one would be making a philosophical assumption, not a scientific argument. Coyne's second example of straw man building is no less blatant:

Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial, which appeared in 1993, particularly emphasizes these gaps (in the fossil record) which, IDers believe, reflect the designer's creation of major forms ex nihilo (from nothing).

Once again Coyne fails to produce anything like a quote from Johnson (or even a reasonable paraphrase), nor from any other ID scientist, that suggests that anything was created ex nihilo, excepting, of course, the universe itself. Given that cosmologists are also pretty much in agreement that the universe does appear to have appeared out of nothing in the Big Bang, this latter position seems pretty reasonable. And as for the argument at entire species were created as is, from nothing, well, IDer's do not defend such a position, excepting those that also defend Young Earth Creationism.

Alright, enough with Coyne's straw men. Coyne does present two actual, and significant objections to Intelligent Design, both of which are pretty common. The first is that life does not look anything like what a designer would create, and the second is that Intelligent Design is not falsifiable, so it is not a true scientific theory.

First, after listing off a long line of evidence for traces of evolution within existing organisms, including humans, Coyne concludes:
There are only two answers to these questions: either life resulted not from intelligent design, but from evolution; or the intelligent designer is a cosmic prankster who designed everything to look as though it had evolved.

This is known as the fallacy of the False Dilemma ("This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because if both claims could be false, then it cannot be inferred that one is true because the other is false.") While it is entirely possible that the intelligent designer is, or is not a "cosmic prankster" (after all, true ID theory does not make any claims about the actual nature or purposes of the designer), it need not be false in order for the first proposition to be true. Moreover, both of the propositions could be false, both could be true, or a third possibility exists that Coyne refuses to consider: namely, the designer could be using the process of evolution in order to produce the variety of life as we know it.

Interestingly, Coyne recognizes that we know of actual cases of such "guided evolution," though he fails to connect the dots when it comes to the arguments about ID. Consider the cases of how humans have modified various species to suit their own purposes. The classic example Coyne uses is dogs, but we could also use cats, horses, cows, chickens, and a host of other domesticated animals. Dogs will suffice for this discussion however.

It is a well known fact that every breed of dog alive today originated from wolves that were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago. The process of this evolutionary change in dog types is documented, and new breeds are being created even today. Were a scientist to examine the purely scientific "fossil" and other natural occurring evidence, and at the same time, remained unaware of the human guidance of this process, he might be forgiven for concluding that this process was purely done through natural selection without the benefit of intelligent design. He might even point to the fact that female bulldogs, for example, cannot have puppies except by C-section because bulldog puppies have heads that are too large fit through the birth canal is evidence that there either is no designer, or that such a designer was a "cosmic prankster." But we would all know that this unfortunate scientist was wrong. His error stems from his inability, or refusal, to consider non-natural evidence provided by the record of human history showing that human beings created these breeds through guided selection. It would be interesting to see if we could determine, from the natural evidence alone, if it were more reasonable to accept the activity of a designer(s) in the creation of the assortment of dog breeds or not, but I will set that aside for now, as this article is plenty long enough as it is.

Coyne’s seemingly more serious challenge to intelligent design is based upon the fallacy known as Begging the Question (Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true.)

Insofar as Intelligent Design theory can be tested scientifically, it has been falsified. Organisms simply do not look as if they had been intelligently designed. Would an intelligent designer create millions of species and then make them go extinct, only to replace them with other species, repeating this process over and over again? Would an intelligent designer produce animals having a mixture of mammalian and reptilian traits, at exactly the time when reptiles are thought to have been evolving into mammals? Why did the designer give tiny, non-functional wings to kiwi birds?

The above list goes on in a similar vein, but hopefully the point is understood. If all these animals were “designed”, then why does the design contain useless, or even harmful characteristics?

The problem with this line of reasoning (which again demonstrates a form of the false dilemma fallacy) can be demonstrated using the dog breed example again. Why do bulldog puppies have heads so large that they cannot pass through their mother’s birth canal? In fact, this is almost an identical problem faced by hyenas, many of whom die in giving birth to pups with over sized heads. The bulldog is obviously a product of intelligent design. What about the hyena? We know that the purposes of the designers of the bulldog included over sized heads for the breed. They actually willed it that way. Could the same be said of the designer of the hyena? How can we know? It is true, as Coyne notes, that Intelligent Design makes no claims as to the nature and purposes of the designer(s) of life on earth. But to impose such a demand on the theory misunderstands its purpose, and simply begs the question.

Intelligent Design intends only to argue that there is more evidence of some kind of guided, intelligent, process behind the fact of the existence and diversity of life, than there is against it. The alternative is to argue that the existence and variety of life is all the result of chance alone. Neither is a testable, verifiable hypothesis in the same sense as is “if I heat water to a specific temperature, it will boil.” But both can be a part of the scientific evaluation of the evidence. As I argued in my post Is ID Compatible with Scientific Methodology?, one of the purposes of some scientific inquires (ie. coroners, archaeologists, arson investigators), is to establish if a natural event can be explained entirely by chance, or if it is more reasonable to believe that an intelligent mind stands behind it. Intelligent Design seeks to remove the philosophical presupposition behind most teaching of the Theory of Evolution that evolution itself proves that life on earth is the product only of blind and random chance, and that it is impossible to believe or demonstrate that any kind of mind could be behind the process itself.

That, in a nutshell, is all that Intelligent Design can, or should, do. Those that would try to take it further, and use it to prove the existence of the Christian (or any other type of) God overstep its bounds, and should be criticized. Had Coyne confined his critique to that point, then he would have been justified, though his resorts to fallacious reasoning, and even mean spiritedness and condescension would have been appreciated. As with the great majority of critics of ID and IDers, Coyne misses the mark, demonstrating that his suspicion of the motives of the proponents of ID has clouded his ability to actually evaluate what they have to say, and what they are trying to do.

Hopefully the debate will improve over time, as those same critics are compelled to address the actual arguments, and come to terms with their implications and reasoning. Only then will the ideological battles end. There was a time when some scientists opposed the Big Bang theory on the grounds that accepting it would mean that science was advancing theology (that the universe had a beginning, and therefore could be said to be created). My guess is that with time, the opponents of ID will come to realize that this debate, like that of the Big Bang before it, is not about theology, but about scientific methodology, and especially scientific philosophy.


We have just had one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history when Hurricane Katrina slammed on the shore hitting the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. All three suffered extensive damages with more than 800 people killed and more than 480,000 homes destroyed. Truly, all people are (or should be) saddened over this type of devastation and loss of life.

In the great tradition of our founding fathers and the great presidents throughout our nation's history, President Bush has called on the country to observe a national day of prayer in this troubled time.

"Throughout our history in times of testing, Americans have come together in prayer to heal and ask for strength for the tasks ahead. So I've declared Friday, September the 16th, as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. I ask that we pray -- as Americans have always prayed in times of trial -- with confidence in His purpose, with hope for a brighter future, and with the humility to ask God to keep us strong so that we can better serve our brothers and sisters in need."

Asking people to address the true sovereign in times of trouble or times of thanksgiving is a large part of our national and cultural heritage. I, for one, will be praying as I do my days work and I ask for all of you to join me.

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.

The recent Federal courts decision by Judge Lawrence Karlton declaring the words "Under God" unconstitutional for "establishing a religion" both appauls me because of the reasoning behind the law and doesn't surprise me at all considering the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the most liberal court in the "United" States of America. I'm dismayed because if the words referencing God were seriously unconstitutional, then all American currency that says "In God We Trust" are immoral by definition and ought to be destroyed and replaced. But this debate is NOT just about the two words "Under God" in our nations pledge. It is about a minute group of atheists who forsee, at a foundational level, contrary to classical and historical American thought on how religious freedom ought to be implemented on governmental grounds, educational system, and in civilian life. Can you imagine what would happen if this took place in a Muslim country?

Unfortunately, Michael Newdow, the atheist who led this case, and most other anti-American athiests decided to reside in a nation that, from it's beginning, grounded it's freedom and rights "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...". America is the land of the free, home of the brave, and "One nation under God." Isn't it odd how these people claim their Right to remove the words "Under God", under the “inalienable Rights” which according to our Constitution, are “endowed by our Creator”. The problem now is that we are no longer "One Nation", but rather a large piece of land marked by individualism, "love myself", and "I'll help you if and ONLY if it benefits ME" mentality.

Writer JB Williams best describes the trends our nation has adopted over the last 200 years. He writes:

"Simply stated, Tyranny breeds discontent, discontent breeds outrage, outrage breeds action, action brings freedom, freedom breeds opportunity, opportunity breeds success, success breeds content, content breeds laziness, and laziness allows tyranny back in once again. It only took a little over 200 years to complete the cycle."

Folks, activist atheists do not simply want a pledge with the words "Under God" omitted; they are after a country that denies the existence of a God. Why would they want such a nation? Being made in the image of the Creator, they know without Him they are unaccountable for their short-comings. Without their Maker all laws are of matters political power. All "rights" become temporary pleasures until the next consensus pole assures us a little while longer. Atheists are unaware that it is our Christian principles that stonewall even the Rights of the non-believers in this country, not the men and women they worship.

If Christians won’t protect our nations Christian heritage who will, the atheists? Church we, as lovers of the God-given rights "endowed by our Creator", need to remember the 200 years our forefathers shed their blood to protect that which makes our nation great, namely our freedom to believe in a higher power and the blessings we have received because of it. We will not win this war of ideas if there lacks a frontline to impact those who seek to deny us our freedoms and liberties. Prayer is effective, but not enough. God has gifted us and expects us to actively engage the marketplace of ideas. Will you join me in defending this great nations history that has been given to us from our Founder?

Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

Back in early July I offered a post citing the wit and wisdom of atheist Douglas Adams in his book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts. There I discussed the bleak and pessimistic view of the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything found in materialistic naturalism, because, of course, if materialism is true, then there is none.

In this post I want to cite Adams again, this time with regards to the argument over Intelligent Design. Considering the Hitch Hiker's Guide was largely written back in the 50's and 60's as a radio program, long before ID debates became all the rage, his insights are rather interesting, and shed, I believe, some light on the difficulty the advocates face in trying to convince people that evidence of intelligent design points to an intelligent designer of some sort. Adams takes some time to discuss the existence of an amazing creature known as the Babel fish, and why its existence disproves the existence of God. The argument goes like this:

'The Babel fish,' said The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, 'is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combing the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

'Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

'The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

'"But, says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't."

'"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.

'"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing."
D. Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Three Parts, pg. 52

When one reads the above it is, of course, pretty hard to not to laugh. Adams uses his humour to demonstrate that for some it will not matter if anyone ever demonstrates that something is so incredibly unlikely to have evolved by chance. In fact, it is more likely that the sceptic will turn the argument on its head, and seeking to prove that black is white, attempt to demonstrate that the evidence proves that God could not possibly exist. One wonders where Adams got his prophet like abilities.

Later on, Adams returns to the theme in the section titled _Life, the Universe, and Everything_ where he explains:

Very few things get manufactured these days, because in an infinitely large Universe such as, for instance, the one in which we live, most things one could possibly imagine, and a lot of things one would rather not, grow somewhere. A forest was discovered recently in which most of the trees grew ratchet screwdrivers as fruit.
Ibid. pg. 345

I can only imagine the ID advocate gnashing his teeth, saying to himself "if only we found trees like that! THEN we would PROVE that Intelligent Design was true."

Somehow I think that this unfortunate soul would be disappointed even in the face of a discovery such as ratchet screwdriver producing trees. As I watch the debate unfold, I am left to wonder if anything will actually serve as the magic bullet that demonstrates once and for all, to everyone, and beyond all question (if not all possible reasonable doubt), that there is a purpose and design to our universe that betrays the hand of a designer. As I argued earlier in the week in my post Is ID Compatible with Scientific Methodology?, a person who has already reasoned that something can never happen by anything except random chance or naturalistic causes will be compelled to rationalize away any evidence to the contrary. If the Universe is all that there is, and all that there will ever be, then even Babel fish and screwdriver trees would not shake such a faith.


Anyone interested in whether the founding fathers would have agreed with the court striking down the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance should peruse the following page written by History Professor Clayton Cramer (author of Clayton Cramer's Blog) entitled "One Nation, Under God". In the paper, Professor Cramer gives a number of examples from the earliest days of American history where the founders specifically approved the acknowledgement of God by the government.

Of course, if you are an advocate for the "living constitution" where the meaning of the words changes from generation to generation, you probably don't care what the Constitution was intended to mean. Pity.

From What Jesus' Birth May Have Looked Like by Anita Gates:

Even some conservative Christians are willing to allow that the Nativity scene presented in church pageants and Christmas decorations may not be absolutely accurate. That means the shepherds, three wise men bearing gifts, Mary and Joseph, their baby son (lying in a manger), a couple of angels and maybe a star overhead.

"The Birth," the first episode of the National Geographic Channel's "Science of the Bible," which has its premiere tonight, sets out to determine what Jesus' birth really looked like. It takes the job seriously, with responsible interpretations of ancient history and intriguing historical possibilities.

"Much of the nativity story we know comes from later writings, folk tales that never even made it into the Bible," the narrator says. The only mention of Mary's riding a donkey, for instance, is from the Infancy Gospel of James, a second- or third-century text read by early Christians.


Here are some of the program's conclusions.

Mary and Joseph may have indeed been going to Bethlehem for a census, as the biblical book of Luke says. If so, Jesus was born in A.D. 6. Or the couple may have lived in Bethlehem, as Matthew says. Matthew mentions the reign of Herod, which would put Jesus' birth date at 4 B.C. or earlier.

If Mary and Joseph were travelers, they were probably not looking for an inn in the modern sense. People may have rented out rooms in their house to pilgrims passing through. Either way, Mary, who may have been only 14 or 15, probably gave birth in the lower level of a private house where the animals were kept. It was a very modest, small stone house with tiny windows or no windows at all. (You want light? Go outdoors.)


The Star of Bethlehem that the wise men, or magi, saw in the east was probably not a nova or even Halley's Comet. John Mosley, an astronomer at the Griffith Observatory, says it was most likely a rare convergence of Jupiter and Venus.

Mr. Mosley describes the result, on the evening of June 17 of 2 B.C.: "The two planets had merged into one single gleaming object, one giant star in the sky, in the direction of Jerusalem, as seen from Persia." (Unfortunately this date means that both Matthew and Luke were wrong about the year.)

Roman history probably influenced the gospel writers. Jonathan L. Reed, a professor of religion at the University of La Verne in Southern California, points out that after seeing a comet, Augustus, the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, took it as an omen and declared his dead father God. Logically enough, he declared himself the son of God.

So when Matthew wrote the story, using the Star of Bethlehem as an omen, he was trying to make a parallel. Similarly, King Herod behaves a lot like an Old Testament pharaoh. Daniel Smith-Christopher, a professor of biblical studies at Loyola Marymount University, suggests, "Matthew wants the reader to make the connection between Moses and Jesus." And Luke may have put shepherds into his description because he wanted to suggest a connection with David, the shepherd king.


Science of the Bible

National Geographic tonight at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

Produced by Peter Karp; James Younger, series producer; Kris Denton, director of photography; Kris Lindquist and Paul Marengo, editors; Erik Nelson, executive producer; Dave Harding, co-executive producer; narration by J. V. Martin and Tony Jay; original music by Mark Leggett. For National Geographic Channel: Colette Beaudry, supervising producer; Michael Cascio, senior vice president of production; John B. Ford, executive in charge of production. Produced by Creative Differences Productions.

As a proud advocate for the traditional understanding of the Biblical account as historically accurate, I find some of what is said here simply grasping at straws, while other portions sound like reasonable expectations based on the Biblical accounts and the evidence exterior to the Bible. I will be interested in seeing how it is presented.

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