Just not working

First off, let me say that this post will feel much like the ones I’ve offered in the past. It will once again address so-called theistic evolution. I hesitated in offering any public commentary in response to Denis Lamoureux’s review of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. I’ve come to the belief that many of our academic debates distract us from the cross, and act to divide believers in unhealthy ways. I think many (perhaps myself included) have hinged their faith on the outcome of a particular view or theory, rather than focusing always on the empty tomb (which to me is the most important thing in Christianity). Still, I am reminded of just how close the theistic evolutionist’s bombs land to the cross and the empty tomb. Close enough to jeopardize belief in these central claims (whether they know it or not). So, I decided I would offer some concerns.

Let me say that there are some areas in which I agree with Dr. Lamoureux. I have my reservations about the massive tome (1007 pages) offered by Moreland et al. First, at its size and cost, it really becomes an expensive door stop. Most aren’t likely to read it, nor are they willing to drop $60 to get it. Second, it does clearly demonstrate just how theologically invested ID is. It doesn’t have to be that way. ID could exist as a scientific view, apart from theological claims. But it seems obvious that ID is functioning as a form of creationism. I don’t have a problem with that, but the ID community has denied such underpinnings for decades. That is where my agreement with Lamoureux ends.

His first criticism is a tired old complaint that ID is God of the Gaps. Every time I see such criticisms, I have to wonder if the one lodging the complaint has read our responses to it. As Lamoureux describes it,

“according to a God-of-the-gaps approach to divine action, there are ‘gaps’ in the continuum of natural processes, and these ‘discontinuities’ in nature indicate places where God has miraculously intervened in the world.”

His concern is that these gaps get filled by scientific (read, naturalistic) explanations. He simply doesn’t see any real gaps in descriptions of nature or history (though he does feel God works miraculously with our species. How that is not a God-of-the-gaps claim on his side, I do not know).

So in general, he simply doesn’t see God’s direct intervention in any aspect of creation. Here, he would find great support among the vast population of scientists who are non-believers.

Lamoureux, like most of the TEists I’ve read, raise the God-of-the-gaps for a second reason. They see direct divine intervention as some odd form of deism. Later in his review (page 125) he states,

“Being old earth creationists, they believe that God initiated the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago and that he used the natural process of cosmological evolution to create suns, planets, moons, and so forth. But, for 10 billion years after the Big Bang, he did no intervene in the universe until 4.1 billion years ago when he miraculously made living cells. Since the Creator formed the inanimate world through a natural process and did no use God-of-the-gaps interventions as stated in Genesis 1, does it mean that proponents of ID Theory are liberal theists? Or worse, for the first 10 billion years after the Big Bang, are they in effect deists?”

This is a silly argument, but worse than that, it actually kills theistic evolution (if the argument were valid). If the use of natural processes by God to create the inanimate universe is a form of deism, then Lamoureux is effectively a deist clear up to the point that God directly acts with the human race! He doesn’t see God intervening directly at any prior point!

But, the argument is not valid. Theistic evolutionists like Lamoureux believe that,

“The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process.”

(More on the specifics of this claim later). The “sustained” part is often described as God’s immanence. So, while the unfolding of that history does not require any divine intervention (i.e., a fully secular scientific account is sufficient), God is really there for every single event (Lamoureux tells us “God is behind each and every natural process in the world, including the mechanism of evolution). Of course, the Christian ID theorist really argues the same thing. God sustains all creation. But, the ID theorist also believes that God directly intervenes, not that He only intervenes. For these reasons, I wish theistic evolutionists would just stop making this bad argument. It is demonstrably a mischaracterization of the ID/creationist view.

Now there could be an additional point of agreement here, if Lamoureux could be more clear about his views. He rightly points out that ID has mostly been anti-Darwinian. Their obsession is with the undermining of a blind evolutionary process like Darwinian evolution. As I’ve written, you cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. You cannot use an honest (chance) lottery to give your uncle money. And, you cannot have chance (“random”) mutations as a means to achieve specified outcomes. There is much more nuance we could add here, but that is the main thrust of the ID argument. (There is a significant debate regarding whether or not chance events can be used to search adaptive space and arrive at pre-specified outcomes.)

But, Lamoureux seems to agree. He writes,

“Evolution is teleological and features a plan, a purpose, and a final goal. Evolutionary creationists firmly reject dysteleological evolution and the belief that the evolutionary process is the result of irrational necessity and blind chance… Evolutionary creationists are also adamantly opposed to secular interpretations of evolution such as deistic evolution, Darwinian evolution, Neo-Darwinism, atheistic evolution, and dysteleological evolution… Moreover, this evangelical Christian view of evolution asserts that God planned men and women to be the pinnacle of creation…”

If Lamoureux now speaks for all TE, then we seem to have hit a point of agreement. And yet, Lamoureux doesn’t really seem to be able to put his full weight on the statement he just made. He immediately follows up this comment with the qualifier,

“Now it must be noted that natural selection and random mutations are important mechanisms in biological evolution.”

This of course is the Neo-Darwinian model! So, he seems to ascribe to this “secular interpretation” after all. Like most, Lamoureux tries to bridge this gap by suggesting that,

“natural processes [like random mutations] operate within the boundaries of an overarching set of physical laws that are ordained and sustained by the Lord.”

Thus, his view maintains that these larger laws of necessity are able to direct random mutations so as to achieve pre-determined outcomes (e.g. the argument from convergent evolution). I have my doubts about just how precise such outcomes can be, but you don’t need my arguments against his view; Lamoureux seems to discredit himself. A few pages later in his review (page 121), Lamoureux points out that,

“bursts of new plants and animals often occur after mass extinctions in which 50 to 90 percent of species disappear in the ‘blink of an eye’…the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago also eliminated about 75 percent of species on Earth.”

It seems to me that these events are also part of the “overarching set of physical laws,” and yet they could easily snuff out life on the planet over and over again. It’s a good thing that humans weren’t on the scene during such an event. Otherwise, the “pinnacle of creation” would have been utterly annihilated. Does that sound like a guaranteed plan for creating something in God’s image? As one last aside, I would point out that, if Lamoureux does in fact reject all of those other dysteleological views of evolution, then he sits squarely outside of the mainstream literature in evolutionary biology. Perhaps he should spend more time correcting the secular scientists and their errant models, as opposed to criticizing his fellow Christians.

Lamoureux also points out all of the pseudogenes (genes that no longer function or serve a purpose) in the genomes of organisms. This seems like profligate waste created by an unintelligent process (though I’m also skeptical about whether or not these ‘pseudogenes’ in fact serve no function. e.g. studies like this). He then offers the observation that baleen whales grow useless teeth that are often lost even before birth. I don’t know much about the developmental biology of marine mammals, but let’s assume he’s right. As a Christian who believes God “created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process,” the outcomes he discusses seem like pretty shoddy and unpredictable work. [As an aside, I do think some of these issues apply to all old earth views, not just TE].

There are many other issues I have with his review (particularly his rather blithe conflation of speciation patterns and the origins of novel features and body plans), but I want to end on one honest query I have for Dr. Lamoureux. There’s an old saying that, if you’re good at something, you don’t have to tell others. They’ll tell you. Now, I’ve never mentioned at any point (anywhere) that I’m an evangelical Christian. I don’t have to. It’s known. Yet, Lamoureux reminds readers that his view is evangelical eight times in a single article. It’s clear that he’s self-conscious about the opinion that TE is not seen as evangelical (he never defines what “evangelical” means to him).

If he is worried about this perception, I think it’s for good reason. For several pages, Lamoureux deals with Wayne Grudem’s hermeneutics. He even outlines Grudem’s charge that there are twelve “historical and scientific facts” about origins that contradict TE. We don’t need to list them all, but the main items are that human beings were created de novo, that Adam & Eve are historical real people, that human death begins with the fall of Adam & Eve, etc. Now, Grudem is but one contributor to the Theistic Evolution book, and I won’t say that I completely agree with his arguments (I haven’t read him enough to say that). But the issue of human origins and Adam & Eve are critical.

One of the things I’ve never been able to wrangle out of TEists is a coherent account of humanity. Nearly all TEists (Lamoureux included) flatly reject that God directly created Adam & Eve. Instead, humanity emerges from within a breeding population of primate ancestors. This presents many difficulties. First, essentially all Christians hold that primates (ancestors or otherwise) are not made in the image of God. They are not morally culpable, and are not spiritual beings capable of damnation or salvation. So, the TEist must navigate that moment in which some “human” was born to a primate mother. God looks upon the human and says “Adam” and yet “Adam” must breed with non-human animals.  This Adam can attain immortality (either in salvation or damnation) while the rest of his kin simply perish. It’s just a real mess to deal with. Lamoureux doesn’t touch this at all.

The second major problem is what to do with evil, the fall and the entire enterprise of Christ’s sacrifice. On Lamoureux’s view, death, disease and suffering are part of God’s good creation. He intended them. They are part of those “overarching” physical processes that guide creation. Yet, the Bible (front to back) teaches that death, disease and suffering were not part of God’s original plan, and that they are things that must be conquered. Jesus does not look upon a crippled man, or a man suffering from leprosy, and say ‘behold, God’s good work.’ He heals them of their afflictions, and we are repeatedly told that they are an aspect of this fallen world, and must be conquered. (more on this in a moment). The connection between the death initiated by the “first Adam” and the life restored by the “second Adam” are just too clear. Lamoureux also doesn’t touch this.

The third major problem is it is so clear that the authors of the New Testament (including Jesus) affirmed a historical Adam & Eve (as well as oddities like Noah and Jonah). Lamoureux does not deny this. He affirms it. He gladly admits that these ancient authors believed God directly created things and that Adam & Eve were historically real. But, Lamoureux himself, rejects these things. He writes,

“In the same way that the Holy Spirit accommodated and allowed the biblical writes to employ an ancient understanding of astronomy in the creation of the heavens, the Lord also permitted an ancient biology in conceptualizing the origin of men and women. the de novo creation of humans in Genesis 1 and 2 is an incidental ancient vessel that delivers the inerrant spiritual truths that the Lord created us and that we bear the image of God…should anyone be surprised that the biblical writers accepted the de novo creation of the universe and life, including humans? No. This was the origins science-of-the-day in the ancient world. And, of course, the apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam as stated in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. However, does this apostle’s belief that Adam was a real person mean that Adam actually existed? No.”

I always wonder which Old Testament figures and events the TEist does affirm. Was Abraham real? Moses? Of course, two gospels draw a line from these early characters to Jesus (Luke goes to Adam, while Matthew stops at Abraham). It was important.

So, we are supposed to dismiss Adam & Eve (and all creation accounts in which God directly intervenes), because these beliefs are just archaic “science of the day.” But, I wonder (I honestly wonder), would Lamoureux be consistent in applying this principle? These were ancient peasants who were superstitious, living in a world filled with fables and tales and talk of spirits. Today, we know what causes a man to have leprosy, to be crippled, or to be mute. Yet, there are nine times in the New Testament where such afflictions are directly linked to demonic activity. What does Lamoureux do with those? Did Jesus really draw an evil spirit from a boy who suffered seizures (Luke 9:37)? What nonsense, given modern science. And why stop there? Discussions of such miracles and messianic leaders were prominent superstitions of the day. On what grounds does Lamoureux keep Jesus, but scrap the rest? These are the bombs I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Lamoureux wants desperately not to be labeled a “liberal” Christian (even as he flatly declares that “intelligent design is unbiblical”). But, how can this label be avoided, given his positions? I ask these honestly, and I invite Lamoureux (and other TEists) to respond in honest conversation.

 

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I’m not kooky, I’m Christian

The next few blogs are going to take a different tone and angle, diverting from issues of science and theology, and instead discussing Christian living.

For the past few months, the Lord has been working on me. I say this not as a boast. By His mercy and grace, He gave me correction, when I was unworthy of it. I believe He did so because there is work He has in mind for me. I have been convicted of many sins, some of which were blind to me in the past. At any rate, enough about me, and more about Christian living.

Here’s the first big idea I’ve been wrestling with: We are God’s property (1 John 4:4). I have several things to say in this regard, but I’ll break them up over a series of blogs. Let’s begin with what it means to be God’s property. There is a spiritual aspect to this. For us to acknowledge that our lives are His is the greatest earthly achievement we are capable of. As Justin the martyr succinctly put it, “all that is necessary is that [a person] believe, and be baptized.” Ah, but this is not as easy as it seems (more on the belief part later). Justin is also clear about what baptism symbolizes. In being submerged in baptism, we are saying that our sins have been buried with Christ, as He accepts our sins on himself. Emerging from the water, we are reborn in Christ’s resurrection, into new life as part of His kingdom (Luke 17: 20-21). As such, Justin tells us to keep the seal pure, by abandoning sin. Paul says similarly, saying, “To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Now, the truth is, we will sin even after baptism. Paul has a lot to say about that too (Romans 7: 15-22). While is may seem impossible for God to rescue a sinner who has been baptized, all things are possible through God (Matt. 19: 26). Anyway, we are sealed as one of God’s servants when we accept redemption through Christ. We belong to God. This gets to my major point today; we must behave as if that is true. Suppose a wealthy family member let you use his home. The home belongs to him, and yet, it is yours to dwell in. When it comes to God, our lives–and our bodies–are like this. Jesus compares our lives to fruit trees, which are known by the fruit the bear.

We are not promised any number of days in this world (Luke 13: 1-5). However, we are living vessels of God’s Holy Spirit. As such, we must take care of ourselves, understanding that we are God’s property. What if I told you that, on average, you could live ten years longer? You can do this by simply taking good care of God’s property. Avoid obesity, exercise regularly, eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables, stay away from alcohol, cigarettes and processed meats. In other words, live the way were intended to. There are even dramatic benefits for those who begin practicing this life-style between the ages of 34-84, so it’s never too late to get right. In taking care of ourselves, we glorify the Lord, and show reverence for Him as our owner. We must be careful not to let sins seem into our lives and habits.

My final request for you all today is to rejoice in Him, and give thanks. And, as a final aside, I believe that there is also the evil one spoke of in the Bible, and it’s a good idea to announce and proclaim that you are sealed by God.

To God Be the Glory

To God be the glory, great things he hath done;
so loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer, and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Long hiatus

Hi all. I’ve been gone a while. Frankly, for all the wrong reasons. My silence has been an attempt to not further blacklist myself in the scientific/academic community. I’ve felt convicted of this in recent days. “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33). I am guilty of denial by omission. I publicly confess that, and promise to never act in this way again.

I also had some private conversation with Joshua Swamidass. Very encouraging stuff. I think I was too hard on him in previous posts. He and I probably won’t agree on everything, but I want to say that I think he is an authentic seeker of the kingdom of God, believing in His miraculous power and salvation through Jesus Christ. More on these, and other convictions of sin, to come. Take care out there. God bless.

-Wayne

Dr. Who?

[photo from here]

It’s been said that half the critics always hate you. It’s always disappointing when an internet troll is able to harm, say, your Amazon.com book reviews. But alas, this is the day and age we live in. I hope that most people are able to recognize such drive-by attacks. The attacker usually offers the “one star out of five”, and says things like “this is the worst book I’ve ever read,” and “the author is ignorant,” etcetera. But, if they have a pulpit, then so do we. So, I have decided to reply to a recent reviewer. I have no idea who Dr. Rau is…and I suspect none of us ever will (unless the individual steps up to offer their own book for us to review!). Anyway, here goes.

In Dr. Rau’s review, he claims the following:

“By the second chapter it became clear that Rossiter consistently conflates all three models of theistic evolution (Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything). When discussing their scientific position it is fair to lump them together, but not regarding how they address theological issues. Directed evolution (DE) is consistent with conservative Christian doctrine. Planned evolution (PE) also affirms all the basic creeds hammered out by the church councils in the early centuries after Christ. Non-teleological evolution (NTE) denies many of these basic Christian beliefs. At one point he mentions the ‘three types of theistic evolution outlined in previous chapters’ (p. 63), but I searched in vain to find any mention of three types, which apparently means the book was poorly edited as well as poorly written.”

This is a peculiar claim, given that on page 9 of my book I wrote:

“I will present that theistic evolutionists take one of three forms: 1) Some massively compromise Christian theology, so that it might fit snugly around evolution, 2) Others create artificial firewalls between their scientific and theological beliefs, so they cannot harm one another, 3) Still others hide God in the distant and undetectable cosmic background, and claim that he is somehow pulling the puppet strings on every subatomic particle in the universe (and that things only look random).”

The first form I offer is a TE that sacrifices theological claims in light of science. I think all TEists do this to greater or lesser degrees. The second would be the type of TE offered by Polkinghorne, Collins, modern Thomism and most forms of Reformed Theology. Essentially, God is immanent through all, and thus is there, but not detectable. This is Dr. Rau’s Planned Evolution, though we can subdivide it to include the more radical open theist claims (Rau’s Non-teleological Evolution). My third form of TE is Rau’s Directed Evolution.

Rau states, “At one point he mentions the ‘three types of theistic evolution outlined in previous chapters’ (p. 63), but I searched in vain to find any mention of three types, which apparently means the book was poorly edited as well as poorly written. (p. 63)”

Given that those three were offered on page 9 of my book, it would seem that, rather than this being a case of poor writing or editing, that this is sloppy and careless reading. Sorry.

But, let’s leave Rau alone, and address the common claim that I (and others) “conflate” and “lump” TE into one group. This is false. I clearly delineate several different forms of TE. The problem (which I will discuss below) is that they all suffer from the same deadly flaws. Repeatedly, people have told me, “Well yes, that’s [insert TE leading figure]’s view, but there are other views, and you didn’t deal with those.” I extensively quote and discuss the views of John Haught, John Polkinghorne, Kenneth Miller, Francisco Ayala, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Joan Roughgarden, Pierre Teilhard, Howard Van Till, Stephen Barr, Denis Lamoureux, Richard Wright, and many others.

From BioLogos, I extensively quote and discuss Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Jeffrey Schloss, Peter Enns, as well as the webpage content on the BioLogos site. Deborah Haarsma had only recently taken over as president of BioLogos at the time my book was written, and there isn’t much to assess her on (but all should see her debate Stephen Meyer here). It is really impossible to suggest that I am somehow ignorant of the views being expressed, or that I didn’t offer a diversity of views. But, the point of the book was 1) to let TEists speak for themselves (using their own words), and 2) to offer a broad sketch of the TE landscape, ranging from complete determinism (e.g. Stephen Barr) to open theism (e.g. Kenneth Miller). It is a red herring to claim that I don’t deal with every possible form of TE. My point was to delineate the space in which TE views exist, based on their own descriptions.

Now then, what are these fatal flaws? The biggest is stated in my book as follows:

“…something cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. If it can be shown that the source of variation upon which natural selection acts is a chance-based process, it necessarily follows that it cannot produce particular intended outcomes. Thus, if the theistic evolutionist fully ascribes to the Darwinian process as a sufficient and complete explanation for our origins, we—humans in specific—could not have been intended by God. There are important details and nuances to the argument, but this is the basic point of conflict.” (pg 28)

Mutations are understood to be chance, and we mean something that is actually (physically) a quantum event that is indeterminate.

I also wrote:

“Because they are chance or probabilistic events, it would also be very difficult (if not simply wishful thinking) to suggest that such a process could lead to particular intended outcomes. This gets increasingly tenuous when one argues that a God would create this mechanism some 3.5 billion years ago, knowing that something like Homo sapiens would eventually emerge. If God did use such a process to achieve an intended end, then our understanding of evolution is clearly flawed (i.e., it is immediately rendered a non-random process). Saying that God used evolution to create humankind (or anything in particular) is like saying that Suzie used the lottery to give her uncle a million dollars. If she did, then the lottery was clearly not random.”

This is dangerous for the TEist, because, unless they’re open theists who think we were not intended, their theology conflicts with their science. On the side of theology, God made us intentionally. But, in their science, all evidence suggests that no life had to exist on this planet, and no evolutionary outcomes could be intended ahead of time.

Again, as I wrote,

“The idea that Darwinian evolution is as much God’s plan as the wind is precisely what Darwin himself was saying when he wrote, ‘There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.’

Which is to say, whatever processes TEists are dreaming up, they will have to directly contradict Darwin’s view. Their theology is impinging on their science.

To do this, they must claim that God acts in ways wholly undetectable by us, and thus not in conflict with our science:

“As Jay Richards has described it (specifically with respect to Van Till’s rendering of theistic evolution), ‘It allows theists to adhere to methodological naturalism,’ in such a way that, ‘there is unlikely to be any conflict, between theological and scientific beliefs (at least in the natural sciences) . . . [it] protects the Christian scientist from having to object to methodological naturalism in some or another scientific discipline.’ Collins is transparent about this, announcing that theistic evolution, ‘will not go out of style or be disproven by future scientific discoveries.’ For anybody keeping score, this is somewhat akin to guaranteeing that you’ll never miss a shot in a game of basketball, so long as you never shoot. Theistic evolution cannot be disproved, because it makes no testable claims.”

Theistic evolution asks the scientist to assume God’s activity, even though there is no evidence of God acting. From my reading of TEists, their description of the unfolding of cosmological, geological and biological history is identical to the atheist’s.  They agree on how all of this happened in terms of mechanisms. But, as I detail in many places in my book, this means that the addition of God offers no explanatory power. Sprinkling in a God whose actions are wholly indistinguishable from pure naturalism doesn’t add anything to our understanding of reality. It’s unnecessary and unevidenced.

Other problems follow, and I’ve talked about them at length elsewhere.

If God is driving mutations, we have God as the direct cause of ghastly malformation, suffering and innocent death. Further, His action produces more of these deleterious outcomes than beneficial ones.

If we are organic creatures, when (and who) evolved to be morally culpable free-willed persons? How did that work? If we’re purely material, how could we have free-will and how do we have souls? [If God acted directly to produce such things, the TEist is again at war with their own science].

If creation is theologically understood as coming from chaos and moving towards perfection (from the big bang to the evolution of moral beings made in God’s image), how does that square with biblical claims of a creation in ruin, needing restoration? Again, there are many other problems. And they apply to ALL forms of TE.

To just correct Dr. Rau on a few other items:

He claims that I am “unfamiliar with the philosophy of science, not clearly distinguishing law from theory and approving Popper’s discredited idea of falsifiability.”

He will have to show me where Popper’s criteria of falsifiability has been discredited. We use it every day in analytic logic and in science.

He also takes a swing at evolutionary biology, claiming “we find mistakes I would not expect from a professor of biology, like, ‘Natural selection exists (presumably) whether or not there are variants to select for.’ (p. 142) By definition, natural selection acts only in the presence of heritable variation.”

First, this is taken out of context, because I was making the point that natural selection is a gear (one half of Darwin’s equation) that turns whether or not you feed it variation. Nothing wrong with my science there. And yes, there would be natural selection even among a population of genetic clones. The null hypothesis would be that natural selection (i.e., selective pressures like predation, competition, resource limitation, etc.) would act identically on identical individuals. We do these experiments every day.

With that, I’ll return to work. Have a nice day.

 

What do you experience between death and the resurrection? The biblical answer seems to be, nothing.

 

Let’s dispense with the contextual aspects of my review of The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says About the Afterlife. Yes, the author (Brian Rossiter) is my brother, and we’ve coauthored a book together in the past. So, you might anticipate some overt bias in my review. However, I think Brian would agree with me when I say that we’re harder on each other than any editor or critic. With respect to this topic (what does the Bible say about the state of the dead), I once held the view his book critiques. In fact, early on in my post-conversion thinking, he and I really bumped heads on this topic. However, over the past three years or so, I have come to largely agree with the ideas Brian promotes in this new book. It took a lot of reading, thinking, and discussion to get there.

It is also important to realize that most Christians are going to initially recoil at what this book argues. It’s going to feel heterodoxical, if not heretical. But it’s not. In fact, I think Brian (hereafter Rossiter) does a very good job of illustrating why the view he promotes (sleep death) is more likely the “traditional” and biblical view, over and above the accepted and widespread alternative (temporary disembodiment position). More on what these look like below.

Rossiter doesn’t come at this as a half-cocked layman. He has advanced degrees in Theological Studies, and has been an educator in biblical studies at both the high school and college levels. His command of the topic is evident early on in Chapter 1. Rossiter begins by drawing attention to the theology at play in the most common and mainstream (practical) Christian functions: Sunday worship services and funerals (after all, the book is about what happens when we die). He points out that songs like “I’ll Fly Away” convey a view that is actually at odds with the Bible, and the early church. He questions the idea that the dead are now up in heaven, looking down upon us today. Moreover, he questions the teaching that we transition from bodily death into an intermediate state (pre-resurrection) as conscious disembodied souls. Okay, everybody take a deep breath, and give him a chance to unpack the argument. And remember, he’s advancing a view held by Justin the Martyr, Tertullian, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. That alone should ease concerns about heterodoxy.

So what is the major thesis? Rossiter really drives at two goals: 1) To make the case that the “traditional” view (i.e., what’s held by most today) of death can be attributed to the infusion of Platonic idealism into Christian theology. Said more plainly, early theologians were eager to incorporate Greek philosophy into their metaphysics, and were also eager to create a clear dichotomy between the fallen and decaying matter of this world (our bodies) and the immortal and perfect spiritual world (our souls). This culminated in the view that we (as in, our conscious self or mind) are our souls, and we therefore live consciously as souls apart from the body. What Rossiter shows (both theologically and philosophically) is that this view is broadly incoherent, manufactured, and wholly inconsistent with the overall description of the afterlife provided in scripture. Again, take a deep breath, and let the evidence lead you.

I don’t want to re-write the entire book in this review, but the next major task Rossiter takes on is dealing with the various scriptural passages used in defense of the temporary disembodiment position (the “we are souls” view). While I think he very capably deals with items like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the thief on the cross, John’s Revelation, and many other commonly-sited passages, he’s also shrewd in pointing out that, if taken to be even remotely literal, these various examples actually contradict one another. For example, if “Abraham’s bosom” or “paradise” is a temporary holding place for souls, then John’s revelation that the souls of the dead sit at the altar of God in heaven before the final judgment cannot be true. If Jesus joined the thief in such a place, then he didn’t return to the Father either.

Rossiter also points out several other uncomfortable issues. If we are souls, what kind of conscious awareness persists apart from the body of the unborn child who passes on? This individual is yet to have a single experience or conscious thought. What could possible emerge, and with what knowledge or mental attributes? If we can survive as conscious persons without a body, why do we need a body to begin with? What is the point of a final judgement, if we are all judged at the point of death?

If we go to heaven (and not some holding place), doesn’t that make the ascension of Elijah and Enoch much less special (they went to join all the others who have passed). [Further, if these men were not taken to heaven, but rather to a holding place, the argument is the same]. And, if there is consciousness in the afterlife, why do we get no indication of that from those who have been resurrected (the little girl in Mark 5, or Lazarus)? Jesus gives us no indication that he went anywhere after the crucifixion, but rather that he laid in the ground for three days, and even warned his followers not to hold onto him because he had not yet ascended.

The Apostle Paul directly addresses the state of the dead in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. It would’ve been the ideal place to tell everyone that they will exist consciously after death, awaiting the resurrection.  Instead, he repeatedly compares death to sleep (the actual word used directly implies a deep unconscious sleep), and puts all discussions of life beyond the grave in the context of the resurrection and Jesus’ return. Again, these concerns and many many more are discussed. As an aside, Rossiter also deals with extra-biblical evidences, namely, near death experiences (NDEs). He also deals with the issue of praying to or through the dead (why does the Bible forbid contacting dead spirits, if we in fact are just such beings, capable of prayer beyond the grave?).

So, what is the alternative? The view has classically been referred to as “sleep death.” That is, when you die, you are unconscious and experience nothing until the resurrection, at which point your soul (Rossiter calls this “identity information”) is reunited with a resurrection body, and you exist as a conscious being. That is, you are not your soul, and you are not your body. You are both, wholly and completely. Luther put it this way:

“As soon as thy eyes have closed shalt thou be woken, a thousand years shall be as if thou hadst slept but a little half hour. Just as at night we hear the clock strike and know not how long we have slept, so too, and how much more, are in death a thousand years soon past. Before a man should turn round, he is already a fair angel.”

While Rossiter concedes that no view on the afterlife is without criticisms, sleep death makes better sense of the facts in hand, contains fewer contradictions, and requires less theological acrobatics. It is for the reader to decide for themselves whether or not his arguments are sufficiently convincing.

Misrepresenting the arguments

I haven’t blogged in a while, and this one will be brief. I noticed that Robin Parry offered a blog over at BioLogos today. This is kind of funny, given that Robin was my editor for Shadow of Oz (the awkwardness of having a theistic evolutionist edit a book critiquing theistic evolution!). Anyway, I just can’t help but think we should be well beyond the simplistic casting of the argument that guys like Parry seem to be offering. He either doesn’t understand the argument, or is intentionally misrepresenting it.

His understanding of the ID enterprise is:

“The problem with Intelligent Design (ID) is its tendency to look for God (or simply a ‘designer’) in the gaps of scientific explanations. So-called irreducible complexity, for instance, is seen as evidence of this ‘designer’ because science cannot (in principle, we are told) explain it in terms of natural processes. But if future science did actually explain any alleged instances of irreducible complexity, then such instances would cease to be evidence of the ‘designer.’”

But this tired argument has been knocked down over and over again. For example, I directly addressed it in my second book,

“As an older man, [my] grandfather worked at a gas station, taking out the trash, cleaning toilets, and sweeping the parking lot. His friends became worried that he had fallen on hard times, and finally one of them approached him about it. ‘Why are you working as a janitor at a gas station?’ asked the friend, to whom [my] grandfather replied, ‘Because I own the place.’ [The argument that ID renders God one cause among many] is common (particularly among theistic evolutionists), but lacks any merit whatsoever. There is no logical reason why the activity of God in His creation would in any way limit His power as the ultimate Creator. In fact, this is precisely what the Christian faith holds in its claim that the Son of God became a human being (and a servant, at that).”

Within Christianity, we might ask what the theistic evolutionist (like Parry) would have to say about any instance where God did intervene in creation (pick any Old Testament or New Testament miracle or supernatural happening). These should be impossible on Parry’s view, because God then becomes evident as one cause among many.

Parry argues,

“The problem here is that the ‘designer’… is pictured as one being among others (albeit a more intelligent and powerful one) acting as a cause in the world in the same manner as other causes act in the world. The reason that this is a problem, at least for Christians, is that classical theology does not picture God in this manner—as one cause or being among and alongside others. Rather, divine Being is of a fundamentally different kind from creaturely being, and divine causation acts at a different level altogether. God is the one who imparts be-ing to the whole of created reality and who enables all of the powers of causation within creation.”

I’m not aware of any ID theorist or Christian who rejects the idea that God is immanent throughout His creation and exists as a fundamentally different kind of cause. But, what Christian could possibly deny that the God of the Bible does reveal Himself by directly intervening in the creation as a detectable cause? You would have to toss the Bible away entirely. I take it Parry doesn’t apply such restrictions in God’s action to Christ Jesus, who is both part of the eternal trinity and acted as a cause among causes  on earth. To put it bluntly, Parry’s argument is incoherent. Unfortunately, it’s not his argument. He’s simply re-iterating what many theistic evolutionists have already said, and it didn’t work as an argument for them either. It fails entirely.

Instead, what is really at play here is the incoherence of the theistic evolution view. As JP Moreland recently put it, theistic evolution either ascribes to a form of deism (God kick-starts the process and no longer intervenes), or to a situation where “God was involved in the process of evolution, as long as there can be no way to tell He was involved.”

The Bible teaches a God who was (and is) detectably involved in His creation.

How to ignore the elephant in the room

(Photo from https://www.rogerbainmusic.com/blog/blog/screens)

As is often the case, I really debated over whether or not to even take up a response to Ted Davis’s recent blog, “Did Darwin Promote Genocide.” In the end, I thought it warranted some consideration.

Now, Davis is absolutely right in arguing that Phil Moore is a bit off on his assessment. Moore writes, “Whatever your views on origins and evolution, we can hopefully all agree that, at present, we give far too much honour to the British thinker who justified genocide.” This is not true, and Davis does his usual excellent job in chasing down the historical facts on the matter. However, it would’ve been correct for Moore to say, “Whatever your views on origins and evolution, we can hopefully all agree that, at present, we give far too much honour to the British thinker who’s theory scientifically justified genocide.” And that is really what needs to be dealt with.

For example, Darwin’s grand idea was little more than an extension of the works of Thomas Malthus, combined with the concept of heritable variation among individuals in a population. In 1838 Darwin “happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population” and immediately declared, “I had at last got a theory with which to work.” Malthus’s “dismal theorem” was predicated upon zero-sum scenarios in which man competes with his neighbor for one or more limited resources. He warned of overpopulation, scarcity and death. In An Essay on the Principles of Population, Malthus argued that, “All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.” This fed into Darwin’s model of creation. As Darwin put it, “from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, the production of the higher animals.” To see things from a Darwinian view is to see the silver lining of life made visible against a backdrop of death, suffering and the war to survive.

But, I’m ahead of myself. In fact, all do seem to agree with Moore, given my slight modification of his statement. Davis writes,

“Unquestionably, some of Darwin’s observations about conflict between various groups of humans have been used—all too often—to support racism and even genocide. In his article, Moore offers several examples, and it wouldn’t be hard to find more. By today’s standards Darwin was a racist himself (as I’ve said before), but then so was Abraham Lincoln and undoubtedly most other white people born in the nineteenth century.”

Okay. This is not a major point of contention. He adds, “Numerous German intellectuals at the turn of the nineteenth century used evolution to justify racism and militarism, and Hitler later used their ideas to disastrous effect. In America, eugenics was probably the most virulent form of using Darwin to justify immoral practices…”

So if we agree to all of these things, why has Davis decided to take up arms (or pen) against Moore? Why bother? In my opinion, it is because there is a more subtle hand at work in this. Because Davis is a defender of evolutionary creationism (a view that seeks compatibility between Darwin’s theory and the Christian faith), he seems to feel the need to soften the impacts of Darwin’s theory. And, if possible, to distance Darwin from any negative impacts resulting from his theory. So what is Davis really doing here? First, he’s muddying the waters by diverting the discussion towards the person Charles Darwin and his personal holdings. This is to stare at the tree and miss the forest. As I’ve already noted, Davis is right in pointing out that Moore is misguided at best, and perhaps even a bit dishonest in his cut-pasting of quotes. But, the grand issue we must all grapple with is not whether Darwin was a racist (he was) or a proponent of genocide or eugenics (on balance, he seems not to have been. He certainly did not support slavery). The issue is what sorts of ideas his theory offered to society.

Davis continues,

“According to Moore, it is fair to blame Darwin for all of that. In his view, Darwin was wrong—not only about biological evolution (which is not the main subject of his essay), but especially about morality. Instead of lifting up Darwin, Moore wants his countrymen to emulate “the Christian reformers of the early 19th century… who argued from belief in divine creation that slaves should be freed and that children shouldn’t be forced to work themselves to death in factories …”

Here we begin to get a feel for the real undercurrent in Davis’s blog. Don’t harm Darwin. Moreover, don’t make his theory seem unpalatable. So, given the litany of evidence in favor of Moore’s general concern (that Darwin’s theory scientifically justifies eugenics and genocide), what can Davis really do? Commit the bait and switch fallacy. He writes,

“Moore apparently believes that opposition to slavery necessarily depended on ‘belief in divine creation,’… some important British opponents of slavery were neither creationists nor Trinitarian Christians. In the United States many supporters of slavery were Bible-believing Christians.”

More muddying of the waters. That non-Christians opposed slavery, or conversely, that some Christians supported it, is entirely irrelevant to the topic at hand. Just as one cannot find justification for eugenics, slavery or genocide in the words of Jesus (quite the opposite), we can find justification for those things in Darwin’s words (as they relate to his theory). Davis then goes on to attack Moore’s usage of passages from Darwin’s writings:

“Unfortunately, it gets worse when we consider whether Darwin promoted genocide… [referencing passages Moore uses] Those words are all Darwin’s, but they are taken from two separate passages more than twenty pages apart, and in context they don’t mean what Moore thinks they mean. They don’t mean that Darwin wished for, let alone actively sought, the extermination of ‘the savage races.’”

Again, what Darwin wished for is irrelevant. If science told astronomers that an asteroid was going to kill us all, it’s of little importance that the astronomers didn’t wish us to perish. If science told us that some fraction of the human population was highly susceptible to a virus, and very likely to die, it is of little importance whether or not virologists desired it. What Davis is trying to do is separate the man Darwin from the things his theory proposed. Let’s quickly look at a couple of examples of what Darwin inferred from his theory.

Darwin tells us, “The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies—between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”

Take home messages: 1) some races are more developed than others. 2) by the struggle to survive and the war of nature, those more primitive races will be destroyed (outcompeted) by the superior ones. Of course, Darwin doesn’t come out and say that we should actively seek the destruction of the inferior races. He was a smart guy. Even if he did feel that way (which I don’t believe he did), he wouldn’t have said so to the English public. But, if you’re a decision-maker in society, what do you do with the apparent facts proposed by Darwin? How should they guide your actions?

Darwin would go further, writing,

“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

These are the ‘facts’ of the matter, being offered by a scientist. What should we do with them?  Eugenicist Charles Davenport (director of the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor as well as the Eugenics Record Office, and member of the National Academy of Sciences during the early 20th century) would conclude, “Man is an organism—an animal, and the laws of improvement of corn and of race horses hold true for him also.”

Lena Sadler would offer to the Third International Congress of Eugenics (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins Co., 1934), “Natural selection’s death rate of the jungle helped to purify the primitive race by destroying the weak and permitting only the strong to live and reproduce. Eugenicists hope to arrive at the same result by the selective birth rate.”

Many believe that the Scopes Monkey trial (1925) was just about teaching creationism or evolution in the classroom. Few seem to know that the textbook being used in the classroom promoted eugenics, and sounded eerily similar to Darwin’s own words:

“When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring…epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. . . . Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. . . . Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals these families have become parasitic on society. . . . If such people were lower animals we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.”

I could go on demonstrating the clear and direct connection between Darwin’s own rendering of evolutionary theory and the applications to society. Others have (here, here, here and here for example). This is the dirty big secret evolutionary creationists must divert attention from, and Davis has done a splendid job in this particular blog. It’s a shame.