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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Impossibility of Creation

A chapter from:

The Ascent of Science by Brian Silver
Solomon Press (OUP) 1998

I've posted it as it provides a not unique view of the materialist view and the dilemma it poses for existential questions. Worth noting, I think, that this type of atheistic natural atheology is not uncommon, and in the popular mind is often the unexpressed view of life and the world.

It suggests to me, consistently with the Bible, that natural apologetics is a valuable part of our proclamation of the gospel . . . as Paul teaches!

“ “As a ten-year old child I lay in bed and sweated out my nightly terror of death. It was not hell that worried me, but oblivion. I didn’t believe in life after death. My reason refused to be humiliated by a cowardly compromise with my fears. But in the Slough of Despond I found hope: the complete inexplicability of the Creation. I asked John Donne’s question: How can something appear out of nothing? For if that was possible, which it appeared to be, then anything was possible—even life after death. The fear of death faded, but I remain, as most of us do, mystified by the fact of the Creation. The Bible didn’t help me. In my search for a more convincing story I discarded the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hindus, although in my wanderings I was attracted to the Gnostics, an early Christian sect whose origins actually predate Christ and who recognized a secondary God, the Demiurge, who was responsible for the creation of evil. The Demiurge answers some every awkward questions. But not how being emerged from nonbeing.

What preceded the Creation, or has that statement no meaning? Like “How high is green?” Was time born at the Creation? And space: Aristotle said that time was created with the cosmos, and so there was no “before.” Modern theories of the Creation tend to agree with him, but no one has provided a readily comprehensible solution to Donne’s question: What was nothing and how does something emerge from it? To which Locke replied: “But you will say, it is now impossible to admit of the making of any thing out of nothing, since we cannot possibly conceive it? I answer, No: Because it is not reasonable to deny the power of an Infinite Being, because we cannot comprehend its operations.”

And once we have a universe, can we understand its physical limits? Not in everyday three-dimensional imagery. General relativity allows us to create forms of space-time that resemble the surface of an orange, thus ensuring a space-time that has no boundaries but is finite. There is no edge to this surface, no end or beginning. With a little goodwill you can feel yourself walking on the surface. It is a picture that anyone can construct, but which in the end doesn’t really squash our childish(?) question: What’s outside the orange, Dad?

The easiest way out is to accept our limitations. The explanations of the cosmologists—and there is a choice—may be convincing mathematically, but we will never be comfortable with them because they are not constructed within the kind of (separate) space and time that we experience. Our, quite unjustified, gut feelings that space and time are absolute Newtonian playing fields does not encourage friendly feelings toward professors with incomprehensible equations assuring us that we live in a warped space-time that started from a fluctuation in a vacuum.

None of the present theories pretends to give a commonsense answer to the problem of nothing and its emergence into something. The concept of fluctuations in a vacuum is, to most people, totally unacceptable as an explanation of the Creation. I am also aware of the stories that begin, “A wedding ring has no beginning. There are objects which exist which have not beginning so why not the universe?” Once again, the mind can swallow it, but not the instincts. It has been suggested that a model for the appearance of matter is to make a video of a black hole swallowing and destroying matter, and then run the cassette in reverse. This is the so-called white hole, an entity predicted by Einstein’s general relativity. It makes a good subject for an animated cartoon, but do you believe it? Where did the white hole come from?

Sir Arthur Eddington wrote, “The beginning seems to represent insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural. We may have to let it go at that.” Not very satisfactory, but I defy any cosmologist to explain the moment of Creation in the language of HMS [this reference escapes me].

Those scientists concerned with the origins of the physical universe begin their investigations just after the Creation, not just before. The story that they have to tell will unquestionably be modified as we learn more and think deeper, but in its essentials it seems at present to give a good rough explanation of the way that this universe developed. As we saw, there may be others. Let’s see what our tribe’s creation myth says [then follows an explanation of a conventional materialist ‘big bang’]

[Author then discusses the ‘anthropic’ principle.]

My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that the anthropic principle is fascinating, unprovable, and unlikely. The principle always seems to me to be a substitute for the religious belief in the special creation of man. It is a theory that allows the hard-bitten materialist with the soft centre to lead God back on the stage, and to use the value of physical constants to hint that our advent had been predicted in handwritten (Hebrew, of course) holy script, slightly before the Big Bang.

...I am not suggesting that there was a guiding hand…we have no answer to these questions, and finding a solution will tell us something about the structure of the cosmos. It must be admitted, even by all those with whom I share disbelief, that at present by far and away the most likely hypothesis is that Zeus rules." "

[Then follows an interesting chapter entitled “the Tree of Death”, but I’ll leave that for you to read...]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Creation: it just 'pops' up.

In a discussion with a work mate, I wanted to illustrate a point in a discussion about one of our projects, and referred to a TV program that discussed how ancient people's mistaken interpretations of fossils lead to the 'invention' of what we now understand as mythical monsters. For example, the unicorn, cyclops, etc. could have been misinterpretations of fossil skulls, explained with reference to known creatures (such as the horse).

My colleague replied something like: "yeah, just like in the Bible, where ancient people who didn't know as much as we do tried to make sense of the world".

We went on to discusss that comment: he thought that the Bible as a whole was an ancient text that simply, but mistakenly, reflected a cultural survival mechanism for the Jews and that the creation story was nothing more than representative of the ignorance of the period.

Then we went on to questions as to how we now know things: evolution, of course, was the basis of his belief, and the Bible has nothing to say to us now, in his view.

A typical example of (1) how any conversation touching on the 'natural' world can lead to the Bible. Then its an easy route to discuss 'beliefs' and who we are before God (taken in appropriate steps, of course); (2) that a belief in 'evolution' as having happened, was not a 'side issue' as many SADists (Sydney Anglican Diocese mainliners) insist, but is fundamental in this fellow's world view; and (3) belief in evolution ruled out the Bible's message in toto.

Now, this fellow is not an unusually perceptive or widely read individual: he's an ordinary educated professional. But he makes the logical connection that SADists can't! He's in line with Paul in Romans (1:20ff) and sees a single line of reality running from what he takes to be the 'real world' and the world of belief.

Where does the world lead?

For some 60 years Antony Flew has been one of the most prominent atheists in the world. In 2004, to the surprise and horror of his colleagues and many admirers, Flew announced that he was no longer an atheist. He said the biochemical design of DNA and the incredible complexity of living cells convinced him of a supreme intelligence.

Design in the world, of course, has always pointed to the reality of God. Romans 1:20 says: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made … ’.

But who is the designer? And why are there so many bad things in this world? Science cannot answer these questions. But the Creator himself has spoken to us through his prophets (Hebrews 1:1–2) and given us answers in the Bible.

Jesus himself connected the action and love of God with events in the 'natural' world (within the creation: the idea of 'natural' itself, I think contains a pagan isolation of space-time from God). Jesus thus adopted an approach to preaching that is akin to any who harness events or processes in the world to refer to God.

I don't think that modern biblical creationism does what the early modern natural theologians did: that is take an aristotelean view of nature up to the Scriptures. They do the inverse, I think and look at the manifest complexity in the real world and find nothing in that world that could give rise to the complexity: quite rational, really. It is materialism that sustains an irrational position: it blathers on about the material world explaining itself, with no evidence, and not even a good story, only question begging circularity!

The counterpoint to this contra-positive apologetic is what we find in Romans, where Paul clearly teaches that the real world points to God. It is our job to explicate this connection. Not to deny it and succumb to godlessness by joining its vain and finally empty view of the world with the God who speaks, loves and rescues.

Luke 12:
22And He said to His disciples, "For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.

23"For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

24"Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!

25"And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span?

26"If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?

27"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.

28"But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!

29"And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying.

30"For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things.

31"But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Star Gone Wrong

In the quote of the day I flicked to on the net today, this came up:

"We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong"
- Sir Arthur Eddington

Sometimes I wonder if the SAD (Sydney Anglican Diocese) worthies realise that under most people's beliefs, this foundation lies. I even wonder if there is an implicit materialism under the surface of most evangelicals! I recall a recent survey that showed most evangelicals did not have a biblical 'world view'; this would explain the ease with which evangelicals, even of the SAD variety, slip into a set of beliefs that is identical with that set which takes the cosmos as a given and makes the supernatural subservient to the 'natural'.

For this lot, I don't think the radical confrontation with materialism and its allied paganisms that the creation as revealed in Genesis constitutes is acknolwedged, or perhaps even can be!

The startling point of confrontation is that the cosmos is not a given, but the result of the word of God (Heb 11:3)!

I think that the notion that the cosmos is not a 'given' fails to sink in when Genesian creation is melded with materialist dogma (read 'evolution'), or when an attempt is made at such a combination (usually to the discrediting of the revelation, never materialism or naturalism). The reason I think this is that the Bible starts with creation as not a 'given' at all, but as something supernatural and of particular significance: it is not something to be pushed aside in idealist frenzy, but to be embraced and understood as lying at the heart of God's relationship with his people; and not only in covenental terms, but in in the broadest possible meaning. This is clearly important: it is at the start of it all; and is not a side show or somehow inconsequential, or mere doctrine (pace von Rad, and I suspect the SADs)

Poetry in the OT

Critias1 mentioned in a comment on Neil Moore's latest post an article by FF Bruce. It may have been this one that I’ve summarised. Let me know C1 if it is so, would you.

Summary of “Introduction to the Poetical Literature” by FF Bruce

Much of the wisdom literature of the OT is presented in poetical form. The Psalter is poetic throughout.
Poems also occur from time to time in the narrative books. The threefold curse in the fall story of Genesis 3:13-19 takes poetical form. The other books of the Pentateuch contain the song of the Sea in Ex 15:1-18, the oracles of Balaam ion Num 23 and 24...

Syllabic Rhythm
OT poetry is characterised by recognizable rhythmical patterns which can be reproduced to a considerable degree in translation. Rhythm of sound and of sense combine to produce the poetic effect. This relies mainly on recurring patterns of stressed syllables.

The rhythm of sense takes the form of ‘parallelism’. This is a stylistic form in which essentially the same idea is expressed twice over (or even more often) in parallel clauses or groups of clauses: the thought is the same but the words are different.
The parallelism may be synonymous, as in Genesis 4:23; antithetic, where the second clause (or pair) states the converse to the preceding one, as in Ps 20:8 or Is 1:3a, 3b, as a more complex example; emblematic, in which one of the two parallel clauses presents a simile or metaphor, e.g. Ps. 103:13; incomplete, where the second clause of a couplet does not exhibit a term of equivalent sense corresponding to each of the terms in the preceding clause, e.g. Ps. 1:5; formal: when the diminution of sense parallels is compensated for with an increase in of metrical compensation, to the extent where the parallelism is purely metrical, e.g. Ps. 27:6.

Step-parallelism occurs where part of one line is repeated in the next, and made the starting point for a fresh step, e.g. Ps. 29:1.

Strophic Arrangement
One well-known instance of step-parallelism is integrated into a strophic structure: this is the repeated invocation of Ps. 24:7,9.
A common sign of strophic arrangement is the recurrence of a refrain. The threefold refrain in Pss. 42 and 43 marks the end of three successive strophes.

[Eric's comment: It is probably strophic arrangement that is in mind when Genesis 1 is thought to be poetic, in some degree. However, if you compare the refrain in Ps 42:5 or 11; which is near word identical, and stands apart from the flow of sense in the strophes, with the pattern of days in Genesis 1, a difference is evident. Firstly, the days are incremented and serve to advance the narrative flow, unlike a refrain, and the sentences are not word identical; although close. Secondly, the sentence containing them is directly consistent with the sense of the ‘strophe’ if read as a list of events (and there is no reason not to read it this way, as Blocher indicates and contra John Dickson, e.g.).Moreover, the 'day count' doesn’t stand apart reflectively, as a refrain usually does.

Additionally, the grammar of Genesis 1, using consecutive structures, is consistent with narrative sequence. Dickson, in a talk at ISCAST (as I recall) wanted to claim that the existence of chiastic structure undermines the narrative status of the passage, or at least the direct correspondence of the text with events in real time-space; but, to the contrary! This is probably the very indicator of the narrative status of the passage. The chiasm existing as an organising device, as it is commonly used throughout both testaments, to preserve the sequence and avoid the sort of jumble we get in ANE mythic reconstructions of the events underlying the Genesis account (at least, that’s my general view of ANE myths).

Importantly, the most prominent characteristics of Hebrew poetry are absent from the Genesis passage. That is, there is a complete absence of syllabic rhythm and parallelism. Any attempt to see parallelism in the list of days is strained to say the least.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Learning From Poetry

I agree with the sentiments of Eric's earlier blog and Warwick's comments about poetry. Genesis 1 is not poetry but even if it was there is no case to reject it as expressing the detail of the author's belief in the order and structure of Creation Week.

Charles Darwin was not the first evolutionist. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, preceded him in this belief. In fact, Charles derived much of his foundational beliefs from the writings of his grandfather.

Erasmus Darwin is testament to the point I am making about poetry. In his 1792 publication The Economy of Vegetation he wrote of his belief in the formation of the earth from a cosmological explosion. He said:

"When high in ether, with explosion directions
From the deep craters of his realms of life,
The Whirling Sun this ponderous planet hurl'd,
And gave the astonish'd void another world."

In another of his publications, The Botanic Garden, he revealed his evolutionary belief. He said:

"Organic Life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in Oceans pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And, breathing realms of fin, and feet and wing."

(see: King-Hele, D., Erasmus Darwin, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1963)

Clearly, a person can express the detail of an historical event by use of poetry.
Only if you want to love the world and its view of origins (at the snubbing of God) would you say Genesis 1 is poetry and ought not therefore be accepted as describing actual events.

No, for these idolaters, who we oppose, it's acceptable for Erasmus Darwin to write his account of an historical event in poetic form but not acceptable for God. They are a stench in the nostrils!

Neil Moore

Blog News

I've just come across a 'blidget' on widgetbox that reflects this blog. Thanks to the maker. This means that this blog can be fed easily to other web pages! Dig in, get on with it!! I've also seen the Creation Ministries RSS blidget on widgetbox, which I've added, FYI.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Legal Poet

I came across this clip the other day. I thought I'd post it as, in a minor way, it is a modern example of poetry in law! The judge's poem contains factual material, and is part of his judgement, and so is part of the law.

Not that Genesis 1 (part of Torah, or the law for Israel) is poetry (see post on von Rad and Weeks' article), but even if it was, that would not prevent it from being factually accurate: poetry is used as part of the law to convey factual information today!!

The clip is from the Sydney Morning Herald, p. 15, 28 November, 2004.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Genesis: the text

From Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 1," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 59 (Spring 1971).

"...2. Content and formation of Genesis
While the narrative and genealogical matter of the whole book is of one piece, it is also possible on content (and in the light of later biblical tradition deriving Israel from Abraham-Isaac-Jacob) to look at Genesis in two major parts: the 'primeval traditions' of 1: 1-11: 26 (sections 1-6 above), and the patriarchal traditions of 11: 27: -50: 26.

a. The 'primeval' traditions.

Everything within 1:1-11:26 precedes Abraham in point of time. 2. Insofar as he came from Mesopotamia (Ur to Harran, then westward), the originals of this body of tradition could have come with him, and find appropriate background in Mesopotamia rather than elsewhere. This in some measure is clearly so, on the comparative Near Eastern data now available. To this background or 'context', there are two aspects: individual features and episodes in Genesis 1-11, and the 'primeval' tradition as a unit. A third aspect concerns not content but style and composition.
i. Individual features.
First, creation. The theme of creation, especially as the result of divine initiative, is so widespread that only the delimitation of very special common features would justify linking Genesis 1-2 with any other account. On this ground, the attempts made in the past to establish a definite relationship between Genesis and Babylonian epics such as Enuma Elish have now had to be abandoned; in content, aim, theology, and philology, there is divergence and no proven link."

I know this is old, and scholarship moves on as a continuing conversation, but Kitchen's views remain of interest.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Old Question

Some of the ground trod by comments on Genesis here and on other blogs is old ground, with uninformed comments 'discovering' what has been actually put to bed. While it is quite a task to remain abreast of publication in this field, I would have hoped that there would be more than a passing familiarity with major contributions of the recent past. It appears to be, so often, not the case.

For instance, an article by Noel Weeks in Themelios looks at the hermeneutical approach we might make to the text. It was written about 30 years ago, but still raises questions that have not been adequately considered by some. Weeks joins Kitchen on ANE religions, Green on the unity of Genesis and studies by EJ Young in being skirted. It appears that if you can't deal with a position that opposes the compromise of Genesis and materialism, you just ignore it, and pretend it will go away!

Friday, January 18, 2008

The side show

The doctrine of creation is underplayed in the Sydney Diocese to the extent that you'd wonder if God created at all . . .so I liked this quote from a review of History and Hermeneutics by Murray Rae:

Rae roots his account of theological history in the doctrine of creation (chapter 3). Attention to the doctrine of creation he argues allows us to recognise that creation has its own being and integrity distinct from God, that creation has a goal and so a history and is the work of the triune God who 'does not abandon the world to its own devices, nor withdraws his promise, but involves himself in bring creation to its goal' (54). History cannot be explained without reference to God, because God involves himself in creation, in the life of Israel and supremely in the incarnation. What history is rethought of the basis of theology.

The book seems to have a bit of a Pannenbergian feel to it: could be worth a look (now if we used little advert on this blog we could make money when people buy from Amazon!! But we don't).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When is a Frame a Work?

In the framework theory of interpretation of Genesis 1, Kline, amongst others, thinks that there is a systematic correspondence bewteen days 1-3 and days 4-6 as a pair of triads. Not so, as the diagram below shows.

Answer: when it is made up!

Baddeley Award Trophy

Every award must have a trophy, so the awardee knows that it's happened. Not to be left behind, we've decided to present this trophy to the 2007 Baddeley Award winner.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Discovery of Evolution

From a book I've just finished reading:

While sounding a warning about extracting philosphy from biology, the author goes on to say (p234)

"A common approach among biologists has been to take it for granted that the contingency of evolutionary process provides a simple and direct clue to the ultimate meaning of the universe. This contingency theory shows that organisms are not designed, nor is the course of evolution planned, in any ordinary sense. Hence we must accept that the universe is purposeless and our existence meaningless, so the argument runs...[quoting Simpson in "The Meaning of Evolution"] "Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind . . . the universe apart from man or before his coming lacks and lacked any purpose."

Now, David Young (Discovery of Evolution: 1992 CUP) goes on to attempt to diffuse such conclusions, and regrets the "cavalier jump from science to philosophy" . . . but not so fast!

In one way, I think I can understand Young's position: the machinery of biology and metaphysics might be miles apart; but I also think that it is inadequately considered. It falls foul of the categorisation error that I think is part of the Sydney Heresy; I mentioned this in the Baddeley Award Citation part 1: reality is not thusly separable, but is of a whole. I think people like Simpson and those who take the 'common approach' have hit on something along these lines; and the common culture has adopted it: if Evolution provides a truthful explanation, then it provides a thorough one; one that does not admit God as a personal creator. Indeed, it is an explanation that denies the personal in a deep sense.

Aside from its tendentious mischief with the Bible, the Sydney Heresy pretends that the personal can be grafted on ex post facto to a machinery doctrine (which, contra Young is not mere machinery, but uncovers a metaphysical assertion) that it is at odds with. The intellectual failure of the Sydney Heresy is to not address this divergence, and subject it to scrutiny, but to buckle under it as it shares, what I think, is Young's latent philosophical idealism: that somehow reality is not metaphysically contiguous, but can be compartmentalised like a university divides into faculties.

But let's come back to the common culture. It has gone the way of Simpson! At the 'gut level' (I refer to the film "Get to Know Your Rabbit" with John Astin) it broadly is not to affirm the creator and turn to him; but quite the opposite, to reject him. The complicated story that attempts to meld materialism and personalism (Christian theisim) of course falls flat with most people: its complicatedness just doesn't ring true, is not easy to communicate, and fails the 'this makes sense' test.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Time and Genesis

In the Interpreter's Bible on Genesis (v. 1 1952 ed.) page 1:5

"There can be no question but that by Day the author meant just what we mean--the time required for one revolution of the earth on its axis. Had he meant an aeon he would certainly, in view of his fondness for great numbers, have stated the number of millenniums each period embraced. While this might have made his account of creation less irreconcilable with modern science, it would have have involved a lessening of God's greatness, one sign of which was his power to do so much in one day."

I thought of this quote when I read John's post on 'time' and its implications for our understanding of God and his acts.

Gerhard von Rad on Genesis

Snippets from von Rad on Genesis (SCM’s Old Testament Library, 1961).

Even given his theological position and commitment to the documentary hypothesis, von Rad is an ever-stimulating theologian. Thinking through his commentary on Genesis would repay one, irrespective of theological persuasion, in my view.

These snippets are from the first few pages that catch my mind in the context of this blog. Page numbers are in brackets.

First off, he regards Genesis as narrative [13]

[22] the primeval history, which the Yahwist constructed from elements of very different kinds, proclaims first of all with impressive one-sidedness that all corruption, all confusion in the world, comes from sin . .

[31] whatever saga we examine, we find with respect to its simplest and most original purpose that it narrates an actual event that occurred once for all in the realm of history. It is therefore to be taken quite seriously … it is to be “believed.” In all that follows, therefore, let us hold fast to this: by no means is saga merely the product of poetic fantasy … It is mirrored in fact and truth the history of a people.

[33] The Biblical traditions are characterized by a thorough-going economy of expression on the emotional side. What men thought or felt, what moved them, is subordinate to the objective events.

[45] Whoever expounds Gen., ch.1, must understand one thing: this chapter is Priestly doctrine—indeed, it contains the essence of Priestly knowledge in a most concentrated form. It was not “written” once upon a time; … Nothing is here by chance; everything must be considered carefully, deliberately, and precisely. It is false, therefore, to reckon here even occasionally with archaic and half-mythological rudiments, which one considers venerable, to be sure, but theologically and conceptually less binding. What is said here is intended to hold true entirely and exactly as it stands. Nowhere at all is the text only allusive, “symbolic,” or figuratively poetic.

[46] The sequence of particular declarations in vs. 1-3 comprises a theological wealth of reference whose fullness is scarcely to be comprehended. We do not follow the old conjecture that v.1 is not to be understood as an independent sentence but as the introductory clause to v. 2 or even v. 3. . . Syntactically perhaps both translations are possible, but not theologically. . . . To be sure, the notion of a created chaos is itself a contradiction; nevertheless, one must remember that the text touches on things which in any case lie beyond human imagination. . . . God, in the freedom of his will, creatively established for “heaven and earth,” i.e., for absolutely everything, a beginning of its subsequent existence.

[47] It is correct to say that the verb bara, “create,” contains the idea both of complete effortlessness and ‘creatio ex nihilo’, since it is never connected with any statement of the material.

[48] Therefore, we must reject even the assumption that the Priestly document necessarily had to fall back on strange and half mythological ideas to make clear the chaotic primeval state. The terms used in v. 2 are freed from every mythological context; in Israel they had long since become cosmological catchwords, which belonged to the inalienable requisite of Priestly learning. … A comparison with the Ras Shamra mythology leads to essentially the same result. The poets and prophets, it is true, are less troubled about following common Oriental ideas. When one considers the other subjects of Old Testament religious faith, the contents of this verse [vs. 1-2] are unusually daring, for they reach almost speculatively behind creation, i.e., behind what lies palpably before man’s eyes, and they make that peculiar intermediate state between nothingness and creation, i.e., the chaos, the subject of a theological declaration.

[49] Verse 2 teaches one to understand the marvel of creation, therefore, from the viewpoint of its negation; thus it speaks first of the formless and the abysmal out of which God’s will lifted creation and above which it holds it unceasingly.

[49] Immediately and without resistance light fills the world, which was flooded by chaos. In contrast to a few freer poetic declarations, here the creatureliness even of light is emphasized unmistakably . . . . The idea of creation by the word preserves first of all the most radical essential distinction between Creator and creature … The only continuity between God and his work is the Word (Bonhoeffer). Yet it is too much to assert that creation is not a product of the word but is, rather the Word of God itself. One must remember that this method of creation gives the world a susceptibility to God’s word, which will have eschatological consequences. The creative word, in distinction from every human word, is powerful and of the highest creative potency. In the second place, therefore, the idea of creation by the word expresses the knowledge that the whole world belongs to God.

[51] A conspicuous fact about the process of creation is that along with the creative word there is also talk of God’s immediate “making.” This decisive terminological unevenness, which persists clearly throughout the chapter, is the trace of two different conceptions in the report of creation. The first, doubtless the older, moves within the simple framework of the immediate, imaginative creating (“then God made…”); the other speaks of the creation by means of the commanding word.

[52] The Priestly impassive language should not be allowed to gloss over the burning interest of this creative act either. Poets and prophets speak differently of the same things. [list of poetic and prophetic quotes] Here again [referring to Genesis 9-10] the naming! In distinguishing things according to their nature, God therewith also distinguishes terms and names.

[53] 14-19 Fourth day: creation of the stars. The entire passage has a strongly antimythical feeling.

[54] Perhaps the remarkable distinction between the creation of light and the creation of the stars has something to do with this emphasis on their creatureliness. The stars are in no way creators of light, but only mediating bearers of a light that was there without them and before them [which, if we understand light as a synecdoche for the complete energy spectrum, is unsurprising–Eric]
20-23 Now the world is ready as a dwelling place for living creature. All the conditions for life have been given: therefore on the fifth day begins the creation of living creatures. The report first names . . .

[59] 29-30 For nourishment, man is given every kind of vegetable food; the animals are given only the herb of the field. That is the only suggestion of the paradisaical peace in the creation as it came God-willed from God’s hand. Thus, on the other hand, our report of creation places man in striking proximity to the animal. Just as he was created with them on the same day, so he is referred with them to the same table for his bodily needs (K. Barth). Killing and slaughtering did not come into the world, therefore, by God’s design and command. Here too the text speaks not only of prehistoric things, but of declarations of faith, without which the testimony of faith in creation would not be complete. No shedding of blood within the animal kingdom, and no murderous actions by man! This word of God, therefore, means a significant limitation in the human right of domination. The age of Noah knows other orders of life (Gen. 9.2).

[59] This statement, expressed and written in a world full of innumerable troubles, preserves an inalienable concern of faith: no evil was laid upon the world by God’s hand; neither was his omnipotence limited by any kind of opposing power whatever. When faith speaks of creation, and in so doing directs its eye toward God, then it can only say that God created the world perfect.

[60] The Babylonian creation epic also contains a concluding act following the work of creation; it is the public glorification of the god Marduk, in the assembly of the gods, as the chief gods name his fifty names and extol him. How different, how much more profound, is the impressive rest of Israel’s God! This rest is in every respect a new thing along with the process of creation, not simply the negative sign of its end; it is anything but an appendix. Furthermore, it is significant that God “completed” his work on the seventh day (and not, as seems more logical, on the sixth—so the LXX!). This “completion” and this rest must be considered as a matter for itself. One should be careful about speaking of the “institution of the Sabbath,” as is often done. Of that noting at all is said here.

[On the ‘framework’ hypothesis—excursus by Eric:

Von Rad’s analysis of Genesis 1 seems to me to eliminate the credibility of the framework hypothesis. He sees the seven days as an integral unit building climactically to day seven, with the making of the firmament spreading (pun intended), interestingly, over two days. It is worth noting that Von Rad wrote in the mid 1050s, after the hypothesis had been introduced by Noordzij (not Gerrit Noordzij the type face designer, just in case you were wondering) of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands in the early 1950’s. It was later popularised by Ridderbos and has had a more recent airing by Kline with sycophantic adulation by some Sydney Anglicans (John Dickson springs to mind).]

[61] [the report] In essence is not myth and not saga, but Priestly doctrine, i.e., ancient, sacred knowledge, preserved and handed on by many generations of priests...

[62] This account of creation is an amazing theological accomplishment. This account of creation is unique in this respect among the cosmogonies of other religions. This process of inner purification is also evident in the language. Language and expression are concentrated to the utmost on the purely theological; not a word is poetic flourish, there is “no attempt of fantasy to describe the process more closely.” Psalm 104 and other texts show us that Israel also knew how to speak in a different, more lively, way about God’s creation. But the atmosphere of Gen., ch. 1, is not primarily one of reference, awe, or gratitude, but one of theological reflection. The sober monotony of the account, precisely because of this radical renunciation, emphasizes what faith is capable of declaring objectively. But his renunciation also mediates aesthetically the impression of restrained power and lapidary greatness.

[63] The events that are recorded happened once for all and their results are irrevocably permanent. The seven days are unquestionably to be understood as actual days and as a unique, unrepeatable lapse of time in this world. “Creation as God’s work inaugurates time and thus the temporality and finiteness of the world.” Genesis, ch. 1, begins as the work of history, which continues to the revelation at Sinai and the tribal conquest. The author does not speculatively develop a cosmogonic drama, which he can follow with interest as though from a detached point of observation. Rather, his point of reference is wholly within time and within creation … Likewise P resists the temptation of an actual description of the acts of creation. One can speak, therefore, only in a very limited sense of a dependence of this account of creation on extra-Israelite myths. Doubtless there are some terms which obviously were common to ancient Oriental, cosmological thought; but even they are so theologically filtered in P that scarcely more than the word itself is left in common. Considering P’s superior spiritual maturity, we may be certain that terms which did not correspond to his ideas of faith could be effortlessly avoided or recoined. What does the term “tehom” (the “deep”) in v. 2 have in common with the mythically objective world dragon, Tiamat, in the Babylonian creation epic? Genesis, ch. 1, does not know the struggle of two personified cosmic primordial principles; not even a trace of one hostile God can be detected! The tehom has no power of its own; one cannot speak of it at all as though it existed for itself alone …

[64] Israel already found these ideas when she moved into Canaan, where they were common since the second millennium. She brought other ideas, likewise ancient, from her pre-Palestinian dwelling places.

One further note must be made to the inner construction of the whole: the statement in v. 1 embraces the content of the entire chapter. All subsequent statements, which in a certain sense are only unfoldings of this programmatic statement, move basically along the line that is given in the first verse of the chapter: everything was created by God, and there is no creative power apart from him.

[64] One should not deny that P makes his great declarations of faith in the form of, and in closest connection with, the sacred “natural science” of his time. But one may ask, nevertheless, whether there is not more truth in this ancient view than one usually likes to admit. For at stake here are perceptions practiced for centuries and received by a sensory apparatus which perhaps was superior in essential points to our own thoroughly rationalized intellectuality. Nevertheless, great concessions in this respect would have to be thoroughly distinguished from the question of the theological credibility of this witness to God’s creation of the world. Man’s knowledge of natural science, acquired by research of the human spirit, is subject to continual change, nor is the Biblical world view excepted from this law. But in, with, and under the views of their time, our Priestly document has directed its witness to the world creation of the living God. It speaks, therefore, with highest concentration about God … and the way it speaks of God … those are statements which do not originate from, nor agree with, the world view of the ancients.

Matthew Poole

Excerpts from Matthew Poole’s commentary on Genesis.

Matthew Poole was Born at York, England, in 1624, and educated at Emmanuel College, in Cambridge. He became minister of St. Michael-le-Quernes, London, in 1648, and devoted himself to the Presbyterian cause. However, he was ejected from his charge because he was considered a nonconformist, after publishing a treatise on the value of preaching by non-ordained individuals.

From ‘the argument’ of his commentary

“This book is called Genesis, i.e. generation, or birth, giving an account of passages during 2300 years and upwards, viz. from the creation of all things, to the death of Joseph. In which history Moses, by Divine inspiration, treats of the creation of the world, with all the parts and uses in it, and of it, but chiefly of man, who alone was made after God’s image; where he lays down God’s concessions and prohibitions to him; and man’s transgression, together with the woeful effects., and the remedy of them in the promise of a Saviour …”

On verse 5

“It is acknowledged by all, that the evening and the morning are not here to be understood according to our common usage, but are put by a synecdoche each of them for one whole part of the natural day. But because it may be doubted which part each of them signifies, some understand by evening, the foregoing day; and by the morning, the foregoing night; and so the natural day begins with the morning of the light, as it did with the ancient Chaldeans. Others by evening understand the first night or darkness which was upon the face of the earth, ver.2, which probably continued for the space of about twelve hours, the beginning whereof might fitly be called evening; and by morning the succeeding light or day, which may reasonably be supposed to continue the other twelve hours, or thereabouts. And this seems the truer opinions 1. Because the darkness was before the light, as the evening is put before the morning, ver. 5 and 8, and afterwards. 2. Because this best agrees both with the vulgar and with the Scripture use of the terms of evening and morning. 3. Because the Jews, who had the best opportunity of knowing the mind of God in this matter by Moses and begun both their common and sacred days as is confessed, and may be gathered from Lev 23:32.
‘Were the first day’; did constitute or make up the first day; ‘day’ being taken largely for the natural day, consisting of 24 hours: these were the parts of the first day: and the like is to be understood of the succeeding days. Moreover, God, who could have made all things at once, was pleased to divide his work into six days, partly to give us occasion more distinctly and seriously to consider Gods’ works, and principally to lay the foundation for the weekly Sabbath, as is clearly intimated, Gen 2:2, 3, Exod 20:9-11 [also Augustine's view--Eric]."

On Gen 2:17
“With a threefold death. 1. Spiritual, by the guilt and power of sin; at that instant thou shalt be dead in trespasses and sins, Eph 2:1. 2. Temporal, or the death of the body, which shall then begin in thee, by decays, infirmities, terrors, dangers, and other harbingers of death. 3. Eternal, which shall immediately succeed the other".

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Songs of Praise

The BBC's great program of traditional hymn signing and gentle witness.

On today's broadcast a man was telling of the death of his young adult daughter from an accident in Africa, while on short term mission. She was eaten by a croc.

As an indication of the state of Christian theology, all he could do was say that it was an accident; he didn't seem able to attribute it to the result of a broken creation: which I think the Bible would indicate; and therefore link to the new creation heralded by Christ!

I am also reminded of the very sad report on Craig's blog about a couple loosing their child to miscarriage. My parents had a similar experience, so I can share some of the impact; the report of this troubled me. The grieving father put it down to 'God's will'. But I don't think that God is a killer! I would put it down to the, once again, broken creation against which stands God's glorious and astonishing salvation in Christ; not only of us, but of the whole creation to be remade. Like the creed says: it it to a bodily resurrection we look forward.

Drinking From The Wells Of Our Fathers

Further to my previous blog, I now add the concluding comments of Terry Mortenson in his book "The Great Turning Point".

"It is intriguing to see history repeat itself. By the time of the publication of Darwin's book in 1859, the scriptural geologists had almost become an 'extinct species' of the human race. Lyell's uniformitarianism had conquered geology. No one would have predicted that by the 1970s Lyell's dogma would be significantly challenge [sic] by 'neocatastrophism.' (see Derek Ager's The New Catastrophism, 1993, which lists other books). Still more shocking (and distressing for evolutionists) has been the development of 'young-earth creationism' in the last half of the 20th century. It will be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the literature of this contemporary movement that their interpretations of the geological and and biblical records regarding creation, the Flood, and the age of the earth are essentially identical on the main points (though much expanded in detail) with those of the scriptural geologists. This might seem surprising, since there is no historical, literary link between the modern creationists and the scriptural geologists. In fact, based on the writings of the young-earth creationists that I have read, the scriptural geologists were generally unknown before my research began to be published. But given their identical commitments to the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture, and their common view of Genesis as literal history, it is understandable that their interpretations of the fossils and the rocks would be in such close agreement.

Unlike the scriptural geologists, the young-earth creationist movement is growing stronger with the passage of time. It is now worldwide in extent with literally thousands of Ph.D. scientists involved [see Unnatural Selection' Debora Mackenzie, New Scientist no 2235 (April 22, 2000) and 'History of Modern Creationism' Henry Morris (Santee, CA, ICR, 1993).] The movement has published technical research journals and a popular magazine (with global distribution) for decades, as well as hundreds of books, tapes and videos [and DVDs] in many languages. With the growth of this movement, the 'intelligent design' movement, and the debate about evolution in many countries, it seems likely that the controversy that began at the time of the scriptural geologists will intensify in the years ahead."

Terry Mortenson provides a helpful insight into the state of things. God's hand is in this. To Sydney Anglicans I say your options are simple - either lead, follow or get out of the way!

Neil Moore

Discussion on Days

The interpretation of Days in Genesis 1 attracts a lot of 'hot ink'.

I'll collect a few internet sources here.

Here's one treating the framework hypothesis: "Difficult Passages in Genesis" series on Green Bagginses

A Biblical Theology of Creation

The Days of Creation: Literal or Figurative
? by Gerhard Hasel

Chronogenealogies, also by Hasel

The Genesis Creation Story by Doukhan

Evangelical Evolution

While I'm surfing around: thought I'd give a link to this interesting blog: An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution.

Genesis: True Myth?

Readers might like to hop over to the Open Source Theology thread on Genesis as 'true myth'.

Not saying I agree, not saying I disagree, but one of the questions in there is the place of contemporary scientific discourse in our understanding of this ancient text.

I think there is at least an implicit suggestion that "science" is having a bit of a leg pull if 'it' thinks that it can talk credibly about events a putative multiple billions of years ago. That's as weird as trying to build wealth on the stock exchange using 'technical analysis'. (Now, I'll bet someone who has used this has been 'radomized' to fabulous wealth and they'll come on and pretend to demolish my comparison).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Stories from the Nerve Bible

I mentioned some work by Laurie Anderson in my previous post. The 'lyrics' (I'm never sure what to call the words LA uses) I was thinking of are set out below:

"The first really strange stories I heard were Bible stories and these stories were completely amazing: about parting oceans and talking snakes and people seemed to really believe these stories, and I'm talking about adults who mainly did the most mundane things imaginable, mowing their lawns, throwing pot luck parties; they all believed in these wild stories and they would sit around and discuss them in the most matter of fact way. So in a way I was introduced to a special local form of surrealism at an early age; so there was always a question in my mind about what is actually true and what is just an artform.

And so as an artist I always thought that my main job was to be a spy and use my eyes and ears and find some of the answers. . ."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Baddeley Award Citation part the first

This is the first in a multipart citation for the 2007 Baddeley award. It is long, unfortunately, Mr Baddeley is prolix, to say the least, but I've tried to make it fun as well.

The citation is in double brackets, usually in a new paragraph, bold if 'in line'. The other stuff is MB's work taken from his blog at the time of original posting.

Problems With Creation Science I: Absence of a Theology of Creation

My encounter with this anti-Sydney Diocese blog [[a mistake here: the blog is not anti-Sydney Anglican Diocese, but anti the heresies promulgated, perhaps unwittingly, but sometimes very wittingly, by the Diocese care of its educational arm and prominent ministers (we eschew the worldy titles the diocese uses)]] has strengthened my concerns about Creation Science [[which, oddly, the blog is not about]]. As I’ve indicated, I don’t have a problem with the idea of a literal six day creation in the abstract [[the Bible is not 'in the abstract' but the 'historical']]. What does concern me is that, almost without exception in my experience, people who are into creation science seem to be disinterested in theology [[I think he means 'uninterested']], and in understanding the world theologically.

I have lost count of the number of videos, magazine articles, internet articles, and teaching sessions I’ve been part of that have gone over Genesis 1, the Flood, and Behemoth from Job 40. And it is always the same. These passages are mined [[is this an intentional perjorative?]] to show:
1. That the world is 8 000 years old [[where did this number come from? Ussher's date puts it at about 6000 years old.]]
2. That if we had been there, we would have seen that Genesis 1 gives us a journalistic [[wrong word, noting the nonsense that some journalists write! I think we'd prefer to say that Genesis 1 gives us a report of the events of creation]] account of how creation came about [[I think that's in there; the method appears to be "God said . . it happened", refer also to Hebrews 11:3]]. That is, it is pretty much what we would have seen with our own eyes [[I don't know that this is either implied by the account or possible. On some 'creationist' views, the period of rapid time-space inflation that may have occured would not be amenable to observation, and we certainly could not see (with our post-fall limitations) the making of stars, etc. I think this remark by MB is just silly.]]
3. That there was a flood that covered the world with water, and so contemporary geological theories are fatally flawed. [[actually, no; it is contemporary geological time-scales that are!, conflation doesn't help your case MB, 'creationists' have no problem with most of contemporary geology, only its timing.]]
4. That there were dinosaurs still in existence at the time of Job. [[I wonder where *did* all those dragon stories come from?]]

These might be true or not, but none of them really touch on the core concerns of the Bible [[no, these are precisely the concerns of the Bible: that we have true knowledge about our world, and our relationship with God, our 'reality-standing' if you like; if they are not true, the Bible does not give us information to allow us to understand our selves, our position, and our origin and therefore, connection with God; it is also hubristic to state the core concern of the Bible if it becomes less that the full spectrum of the Bible: it is all its core concern; I refer to Jesus' 'jot and tittle' quote; otherwise, you are taking away from scripture!]]. These are the kind of questions that are of interest primarily to post-enlightenment empiricism. They are scientific questions about the world. [[Unfortunately, some of an academic turn of mind see reality only in terms of a mosaic of disciplines; but the real world is not so; it is a continuous reality, 'ontologically isotropic', if you like. The questions are not 'scientific' questions: that conceptualisation is itself one that can only be made with a post-enlightenment mindset; rather, the world of the Bible is that all matters of God's revelation and action are germane. It is a mistake to apply a modern category to parts of scripture and suppose that this limits the application of the scripture in some way: Paul tells us that all scripture is there for teaching, it is not the 'story artform' that Laurie Anderson, for instance, claims it is (her CD "The Ugly One with the Jewels") etc.]]

What is always passed over (and so one presumes [[ah, no, what is important is that Christian theology is about what really happened, not mere talk]] that it is considered uninteresting or unimportant) is the theological interpretation of the world. Some examples include:

The way in which creation comes about in the first three days by creating order through making divisions—light versus day, heaven versus earth, land versus sea. And then the second set of three days seems to return to these basic structures and fill them: sun, moon on day four; birds and sea creatures on day five, land creatures and humanity on day six. This suggests a basic understanding of creation as being structured through binary opposition and then filled. Thus, in Genesis 1 we get a move from the original state: formless (no structure) and void (empty) and finish with a structured universe in which entities exist. When one sees that making a separation between two things is fundamental to creation, then, for example, the holiness laws, with their separation into holy and profane, clean and unclean, make far more sense.

[[Now, the odd thing here is this. Firstly, it is a little like the tail wagging the dog: creation is set out so that the holiness laws work? Too much reading Augustine, IMO. Does this mean that the creation account is a mere artifice, a piece of fiction to pave the way for the holiness laws that won't stand on their own account? Secondly, and I think I'll keep coming back to this; none of these observations apply if creation did not occur as stated.

I think MB has fallen here into a pagan way of thinking (not trying to play the man here, btw) and doesn't follow the way of the Bible. That is, no words are empty, or without real reference; creation is not a side show, but is the very start of, and circumscribes the parameters of, our relationship with God. To think that creation could have really occured in fashion 'a', but is revealled as happening in fashion 'b' makes nonsense of the concept of revelation, and questions the validity of any interpretational approach: indeed, it seems more like the Eastern approach to matters of religion, perhaps its the Zen of Biblical Interpretation!

But, that aside, I note MB's nice slide over to the framework hypothesis, flawed as it is.

Some links on this, without necessarily endorsing all of the material:

Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3
Reference 4
Reference 5

There is also a lenghty article by Dr. Pipa which is no longer on the net, but a chapter in the book (I think): “Reading Genesis 1:1–2:3 as an Act of Communication: Discourse Analysis and Literal Interpretation,” in Did God Create in Six Days? ed. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and David W. Hall [Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1999]

I think Mr B misses the point, though, of the 'creation science' movement, as he puts it. I must also clarifiy here, that this blog is not a 'creation science' blog, but a biblical one. We want to unpick the heresy, not open a lab.

The 'concern' with the CS movement as expressed, is like quibbling that the dentist isn't interested in your tinea: refer to the mission of the CS movement.

The core of it is twofold. 1. to expose the presumptive materialism that underpins and constrains dogmatic evolutionism, and 2. to show that theology has realist underpinnings, not idealist.

If we surrender to pagan idealism, othodox theology will collapse and MB's brief recital below will become mere vain postulating, without content. The point of the movement, and the talks he has attended (clearly he's not found any theological ones; more his limitation than that of the movement, IMO) is to challenge materialist orthodoxy that says the Bible is fictional, that it touches on the real world history erroneously and it is necessary (practically) rather than contingent, and being necessary is 'natural' and not supernatural in origin.

It also, in doing this, must attack the approach to the study of the creation that starts with the assumption that there is no God, or if there is, there is no practical consequence to his existence. All this is necessary before there is a theology of creation that is worth our attention, because Christian theology is the study of God in what he has done (as reported) and said, not the study of stories about God or what God has not done. If the Bible's contact with the real world is false at every turn, particularly on the question of origins, then no theology is possible; which I suppose is why there is scant regard for a theology of creation in the Sydney Diocese that (table thus turned)!]]

What is also passed over is the way in which creation exists to serve humanity [[again, but only if the account is factual, and only if the real fall can play a part in our real history and 'destiny'; otherwise, we have, among other things, the evolutionary picture, where 'creation' does not serve humanity, but is troublesome]]: Genesis 1:14-18 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

Here the existence of the sun and the moon are explained simply as to give light to the world and to regulate day and night. They, along with the stars exist simply to regulate seasons, days and years. They are the celestial equivalent of a wrist watch.

That’s hardly a scientific answer. What about stars we never see on earth without the aid of, very, very powerful telescopes? What about the sun’s role in keeping the solar system stuck together, and providing energy for the other planets? What about the other planets in the solar system, or asteroids? What about the fact that the stars are actually other suns?

But it is a powerful theological answer. Humanity regularly falls into worshipping the sun, the moon, and the stars or awarding them immense power over our lives, as astrology indicates. Here Genesis 1 shows us that they are not lords over the earth. They are mere servants. Night lights for human beings. They exist for our sake.

[[Partly an exercise in missing the point, partly an exhibition of the shell game (which shell is the die under?). The mistake a lot of neo-orthodox critics of the bibilical creation movement make is to assume that Genesis 1, etc. is taken as a 'scientific' treatise. This could not be further from the truth. It is an historical record: it tells us what happened in terms that are of significance and sensible to us; it also provides the intellectual context for the mandate given in Gen 1:28a; to the extent that it gives information about the creation, it is arguably, and I suggest obviously, from an 'earth gravitational frame of reference' position.
To the extent that it touches on events, it relates them truthfully, if not exhaustively. It's like looking at historical records to establish that the dioxin at the Rhodes redevelopment site in Sydney comes from a now demolished chemical plant. The formulae for dioxin is not given, but the fact of its presence is explained.
MB again in this complaint makes the academic mistake of thinking that the Bible can have theological content independently of 'reality' content. This is the 'story-art' mistake; and a common one.]]

And this is the clear teaching of the NT:
1 Timothy 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

1 Timothy 4:3-5 …men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

Everything made by God is good, and so nothing is inherently off limits. The fact that this world has been filled with good things (as Genesis 1 painstakingly shows with it’s enunciation of the six day process of setting the universe up) tells us something about God, that God ‘richly supplies us with all things’. That is, that God is superabundantly generous to the human race.

It also tells us the stance we are to have towards the world. God has given us all things for us ‘to enjoy’. Christianity is pro-aesthetic. Things in the world are good and so should be enjoyed for their own sake. Christianity is anti-ascetic: advocating the abstaining from foods and forbidding marriage (and I would suggest that these are indicative examples, not intended to exhaust the kinds of things people who teach demonic doctrines (from 1 Tim 4:1-2) might say) is criticised in some of the harshest language Paul ever uses.

The purpose God had for creating things was so that those of us who believe and know the truth (i.e. are Christians) would gratefully share in them, sanctifying them by our reception of the word of God (believing the gospel) and prayer. That is, we are to enjoy things, and to enjoy things in a non-secular way. We are to enjoy the world as a gift from God, and so be grateful to God for it, and pray to use things for the purposes God gave them for. What we don’t do is find our security, or place our hope in the abundance of good things we have. We recognise God alone as the giver of life, and the giver of all good things.

Hence, the call on Christians to deny themselves, to pursue Christ wholeheartedly, to live a life of sacrificial love for others, needs to be understood against this backdrop. Christians are to forego enjoying the things of this world. But that is because of the demands of faith and love in the last days—the days when the ascended Christ rules over this rebellious world and all his enemies are being put under his feet. It is forgoing the good out of love, it is not asceticism for asceticism’s sake. Because everything is given for our good, we are free to use or not use them, depending on the demands of the circumstances in the context of love.

For me, this has transformed the way I relate to creation and tackle issues from alcohol, to culture and art, to work, and love of money. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the strong NT teaching about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and creation!

And here’s the problem. It was only after I stopped reading Creation Science stuff on the topic and started reading material that they consider to have fatally compromised on the doctrine of creation, that my eyes were opened to begin to grasp this much bigger vista of a theological approach to the world.

Even if Genesis 1 is intended to be taken literally, I am very grateful that God has allowed me to grasp this way of seeing the world as existing as his good gift to his people, to be enjoyed with gratitude. I consider myself to have gained by losing the one to gain the other. Grasping this world as God’s good gift changes everything. It gives purpose and meaning, not just to human beings, but to all things.

[[All well and good, but he's got the corner if it. Augustine thought that the creation account was to let the Sabbath law make sense; Baddeley things its to tell us that the creation is there for our pleasure. It is, of course, but that's hardly the point of the Creation account. Jesus did not use it in that way.

Furthermore, as I know the creation is from God's loving hand and that reality is finally personal, not material, I am confident that God's relationship to it and us is concrete and open, not occult and mysterious, and certainly not through the 'demiurge' of time and 'chance'.]]

Here ends the first part of the award citation.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


One of the more common reptiles on the east coast of Australia is the blue-tongue lizard. Despite its ubiquity, this rather beautiful and familiar animal has an identity crisis. A central component of this problem is that the blue-tongue frequently thinks he’s a snake. Growing up to 30 cm in length, if disturbed it will hiss, and if this defensive act occurs in long grass where its body and legs are obscured, a surprised and inexperienced person may mistake its thick, triangular head for that of the deadly death adder’s. Sadly, this confluence of circumstances has on the odd occasion contributed to its meeting a premature death by a solid whack from a man’s spade or axe.

It’s the opposite with Mark Baddeley and his incoherent “theology” drawn from his expurgated, postmodern Bible. Mark, unlike our venerated reptile, is a snake who thinks he’s a lizard. I suppose I shouldn’t be too harsh with Mark because, give him his dues, he’s done some of the requisite homework that makes him close to an expert on the creationism case for a young earth (he was one after all…or so he says). You can see the evidence for his comprehensive grasp of the subject in his first statement. Mark believes that creationists hold to an 8,000 year old earth. That’s a mere 33 per cent out - not too far off the money!

Though it is often quite difficult to extract from his sermons what he actually believes – I sometimes think he holds to very little – it would be fair to say Mark supports the following four propositions about the earth and its biological and geological history:

(i) The earth is extremely ancient

(ii) What happened over this long age bears no relationship to the putative chronological sequence of Genesis 1

(iii) There was no universal flood and in any case the geological record cannot be reconciled with such a catastrophe

(iv) God’s biological creative efforts were spread out over millions, if not billions, of years

Despite the Bible’s making clear and lengthy statements to the contrary, Mark’s primary justification for his position is that final knowledge about these issues can only come from science. I don’t necessarily object to his reliance on science per se (and by ‘science’ I mean knowledge in its broadest sense), but Mark’s use of science here is limited to the circularly utilized and defined data which appear to only support the long-age view. Mark’s a priori commitment to an old age earth means he will not acknowledge the myriad of evidence that can only be explained by a young earth. There are enormous numbers of young earth scientists throughout the world who have multiple postgraduate degrees in science and who work in their specialized areas, routinely publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals. Mark’s silence says more about his unchristian lack of respect for his Christian brothers than the correctness of his case.

But perhaps the most disquieting aspect to Mark’s poor scholarship is his belief that theology (i.e. the Bible) is not the relevant analytical tool to decide whether or not the above 4 propositions have any historical truth value. Mark not only draws a line and says “God, you must remain on that side of the line, for now we humans in our scientific enterprise must drive the quest for truth”, he also is claiming, rather perplexingly, that the Bible does not clearly address their historicity.

Before I address my concerns I want to quote Oxford’s Oriel Professor of Hebrew, James Barr: ‘Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the "days" of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.’

Barr’s words sound like those of a typical creationist fundy, though one who is both articulate and educated. Interestingly, the theologically liberal Barr has written a book attacking the fundamentalist approach to the Bible; yet he can recognize on language grounds alone that the Genesis chapters cannot be manipulated to return Mark’s liberal de-historicised version. Ironically, Barr accepts that Genesis is pushing the historical line but rejects it on “scientific” grounds, and so in this respect the very liberal Barr is less liberal than Mark!

The one common thread of all 4 of Mark’s propositions is ‘Time’ (note the capitalization of this word, something I’ll return to shortly), and certainly ‘time’ is something the Bible considers an extremely important commodity. In fact, one would be hard pressed to indicate another culture that was more concerned with ‘time’ than the Jewish one. One can identify a subtle hint to its importance in the following Gospel incident.

Toward the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus and the disciples are walking in the countryside and feeling hungry. Matthew writes that,

‘[S]eeing a fig tree by the road, he came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” And the fig tree withered away.’

“What’s your point?” asks the atheist, to which the Christian responds, “Can’t you see that that’s a miracle?”
“Not really,” replies the atheist. “It could have died 6 weeks or 6 months later. The text tells you nothing about how long it took and so there really is nothing saliently miraculous about this incident. All trees eventually die.”

The atheist has a point. Not mentioning how much time passed between Christ’s words and the tree dying raises immediate doubt that the event was miraculous. If the disciples had passed by the same tree, say, 5 years later, would the writer have been justified following up with, ‘And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”?

Thus, it seems quite sensible that increasing the amount of time cannot serve as the conduit for the miraculous to reveal itself. Quite the opposite: slashing time is the agency by which miracles are discerned. A person slowly regaining their eyesight over a ten-year period hardly warrants an exclamation of “It’s a miracle!” However, it would be clear that a miracle had occurred when, for example, a person was diagnosed blind one moment and the very next he was able to see.

I would suggest that brief moments of time, particularly as they approach instantaneity, are the most visible means by which the hand of God is recognised working in nature, extraordinarily. Natural laws, as they are metaphysical, can’t be seen and thus it could never be apodictically demonstrated whether Jesus in any one particular case actually held the apposite natural law(s) in abeyance. However, these laws can be accelerated, either forwardly or in reverse, and this conspicuously reveals itself when time is reduced. Then we can discern when a miracle has occurred. Without this compression of time a phenomenon can be explained away merely as the natural outworking of regular, chemico-physical laws.

So now I have a confession to make as I’ve purposely misled. I omitted one word from Matthew’s record. The final line should have read, ‘And immediately the fig tree withered away.’ The addition of this one adverb now sends an unequivocal statement that a miraculous intervention had just occurred. Big things come in small packages, and a lone adverb is certainly a modest box - yet what significance!

Quite naturally I would assume that Mark has no quarrel with Jesus’ instantaneous, and hence miraculous, killing of the tree; so this makes Mark’s attitude all the more peculiar when it comes to understanding Genesis 1. According to Mark’s cataracted hermeneutic, the inclusion of tens of temporal limiting words and phrases (i.e. ‘an evening and a morning’, ‘day 1’, ‘2nd day’ etc) merely signifies atemporal beauty. Mark, the aesthete, ignores the information that points to God’s immediate and miraculous involvement. Ideas have consequences, and Mark’s belief in long ages, when they are plainly not in the text, brings with it some rather unpleasant religious ramifications.

Once Hesiod’s and Homer’s gods were sent packing, the Greeks recognized time as a key explanatory constituent for change within their various cosmogonic accounts. The Stoics, Platonists, Aristotelians and Epicureans incorporated vast ages into their systems and through these eons it was supposed that the one and the many could be manifested. Though differing slightly, ‘Time’ in each of these pagan philosophies was a co-equal to, or surrogate for, God. ‘Time’, as Mark’s religious outlook has it, purposes exactly the same by setting up another “god” or power to perform the work of God. Inserting this demiurge-like principle between God and the creation, after all, must contribute something. By partially buying into the evolutionary myth, Mark’s theology, somehow, has long ages allowing the extraordinary to take place. Just how this miracle of life actually occurs in Mark’s philosophy, and how God’s majesty or presence is specifically demonstrated by these purported excessive eons of time, are never quite explained. As Socrates might have said, an unexamined philosophy is not worth espousing.

Blog Management

For all contributors: I've put the labels list on the blog: might make things easier for readers. Please remember to apply a label to your posts. Just type the label in the box at the bottom of the 'create' window. Try not to introduce new labels, but use existing ones. Go to the dashboard if you need to.

Psalm 104

There was a reference on Craig's blog to the ConfessingEvangelical blog on Psalm 104. An interesting discussion then ensued. As it was in September last year (an eon ago in Internet time) I thought I'd take it up here, rather than attempt to join an old discussion.

As a matter of interest, I googled over to Spurgeon's Treasury of David on the psalm.

From the introduction:

"Here we have one of the loftiest and longest sustained flights of the inspired muse. The psalm gives an interpretation to the many voices of nature, and sings sweetly both of creation and providence. The poem contains a complete cosmos sea and land, cloud and sunlight, plant and animal, light and darkness, life and death, are all proved to be expressive of the presence of the Lord. Traces of the six days of creation are very evident, and though the creation of man, which was the crowning work of the sixth day, is not mentioned, this is accounted for from the fact that man is himself the singer: some have ever, discerned marks of the divine rest upon the seventh day in Ps 104:31. It is a poet's version of Genesis. Nor is it alone the present condition of the earth which is here the subject of song; but a hint is given of those holier times when we shall see "a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, "out of which the sinner shall be consumed, Ps 104:35. The spirit of ardent praise to God runs through the whole, and with it a distinct realization of the divine Being as a personal existence, loved and trusted as well as adored."

The original blog on this was a question about the use of this psalm in our reflections on creation, and that it had not figured in much of the debate. Interesting thought. While my reading is slowed down by the demands of my work (paid work, that is; I've got a pile of articles, theses and books to get through before I retire), I hope to get to recent theological reflection on the creation. I must say, I agree with Mr Baddeley that there is a dearth of theological work done in this area and because, as Baddeley says, we are of puny mind, we daren't even think of undertaking it. The dearth results, perhaps, from the widespread acceptance of the assertions of materialism as being conclusive and factual, and so eliminating the need to consider Genesis 1-3 theologically; also, of course, if this passage is not the account of creation, then theological work is sort of pointless, because it makes no contact with our real world, it becomes a sort of story telling: comforting, perhaps, but of no concrete relevance to us here and now.

Nevertheless, there is grist for the mill in Psalm 104.

I think that Spurgeon gives a lead in that the Psalm makes assumptive reference to the creation, and is more concerned with straddling from normal providence (that is, post creation) and the new creation. However, it underscores the biblical signficance of the creation account and encourages us to deal with that account seriously; not dismissing it as some sort of side show, which Jensenism tends to do; making its content subservient to current materialist conceptualisations.

One of the comments on the original blog related to animal carnivory mentioned in the psalm (v. 21) as somehow undermining the contention that a 'very good' creation excluded animal carnivory (on the basis of Genesis 1:30). It was a long bow, I think, as the psalm clearly refers to the world as it stands, while harking back to the orginal creation of it. As it stands now, the world bears the marks of that great cataclysm, the fall; the rejection of relationship with God. The psalm is a 'post fall' document and so recognises the world post fall, wherein, by the operation of common providence, animals must 'look' to the creator for sustenence: see Spurgeon on this, for example.

Some of the comments on confessingevangelical suggested that Psalm 104 shows that God's sustaining work (in common providence) is behind the normal flow of 'cause and effect'/'purpose and result' in our everyday experience, non-miraculously; so simultaneously, as if in two parallel realities, there is God over there, and there is nature over here. Therefore, it seems some might hold that God's statements about creation in Genesis 1 can take the same form: God's action and its results as stated in the account coexist with but are separate from the normal flow of cause and effect described by Evolution as we would see it. So yipee (as my young son says) we can both be right!

The trouble is, for practical evangelism, both being right just leaves the average materialist with his/her materialism and no compelling reason to question or reject it. After all, it simply means that some story has been crafted to 'stand behind' the real world but the real world is what it is, independently of the story. The dependence of the world on God, at least at its creation, is therefore, in real terms, obscured. And so, our connection with God, is similarly obscured and the whole salvation project is thrown into the dark.

I think it is the notion of independence which is critical for Christian reflection. If the real world can be conceived of as independent of God, and practical denail of the concreteness of the creation account results in such a conception, then we are truly cut adrift, theologically and evangelistically. Paul the apostle certainly thinks that we are, in fact, not cut adrift (Acts 14 & 17 as examples of his reliance on the creation account, by implication, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, for his reliance on the fall in his theology); nor does the author of Hebrews (4:3, 11:3). Wright has an essay (chapter from his book on Paul) that touches on this in some ways.

Moreover, the 'stand behind' theory of interpretation gets us nowhere if it cannot make the case that the genesian text gives due reason for that theory. I don't think it does. The grammar of Genesis 1, as I read, is not consistent with metaphor, but with historical account. Taking a more theological perspective, as the Genesis 1 account is the only point for an ontological link between us and God, it must make the link in terms that are congruent with our current time-space world and not need to transmogrify that world into some spiritualised thing that we would find in neoplatonic thought.

Just as an aside:
Found on Jordon Cooper's site:

" 'Jews see water, sea as dark and evil. Look at Noah, Jonah, Moses and the sea as the dark chaos of creation. '
My apologies, but you misunderstand Wright.
Jews thought of the material world as good. They did not believe God had created an evil thing.
It was Gnostics who thought of the material world as evil, created by a Demiurge."
a comment on his blog.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Heroes of Faith (or "On this Rock I Will Build My Church")

Sam Drucker recently drew attention to the decline in belief in the chronology of the Bible. Earlier, I had cited extracts from "The Great Turning Point" written by Terry Mortenson and published by Master Books in 2004. Sam cites other sources for his case but Terry Mortenson has more to say and I would like to bring it to readers' attention here.

In concluding his book, Terry Mortenson attempts to offer explanation for the sudden emergence and demise in the 19th Century of the Scriptural Geologists (those with geological training, experience or interest and compulsion to defend the Word of God). Various helpful insights are provided but for my exercise I take up part of what Mortenson says from page 235.

"Finally, in the period 1820 to 1845, the scriptural geologists were writing toward the end of a debate among geologists about the physical effects of Noah's flood. Some, such as Hutton and Lyell,were saying that it was geologically irrelevant. Other such as Cuvier, Buckland, Sedgwick, and Jameson, were insisting for a time that the Flood was responsible for at least some of the geological phenomena. The scriptural geologists' most intense reaction came in the wake of recantation (of belief in the Flood) of Buckland, Sedgwick, and others, and the publication of Lyell's "Principles of Geology".

In this context the scriptural geologists felt compelled to write. They believed that the old earth theories and the resulting reinterpretations of Scripture would have long-term catastrophic effects on the theological and spiritual health of the Church and her evangelistic mission and subsequently on the social and political life of the nation. But this was precisely because they believed these issues were related to a person's response to the inspired and infallible Word of God. As [Henry] Cole put it:

'Many reverend geologists, however, would evince their reverence for the divine Revelation by making a distinction between its historical and its moral portions; and maintaining, that the latter only is inspired and absolute Truth; but the former is not so; and therefore is open to any latitude of philosophic and scientific interpretation, modification and denial! ... According to these impious and infidel modifiers and separators, there is not one-third of the Word of God that is inspired; for not more, nor perhaps so much, of that Word, is occupied in abstract moral revelation, instruction and precept. The other two-thirds, therefore, are open to any scientific modification and interpretation; or (if scientifically required) to a total denial! It may, however, be safely asserted, that whoever professedly, before men, disbelieves the inspiration of any part of Revelation, disbelieves, in the sight of God, its inspiration altogether. If such principles were permitted of the most High to proceed to their ultimate drifts and tendencies, how long would they be sweeping all faith in revealed and inspired veracity from the face of the earth? ... What the consequences of such things must be to a revelation-possessing land, time will rapidly and awfully unfold in its opening pages of national skepticism, infidelity, and apostacy [sic], and of God's righteous vengeance on same!' (Popular Geology Subversive of Divine Revelation, London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1834)

It would appear that subsequent developments in the church and society in Britain (and other so-called Christian lands of Europe and North America) over the last 170 years has confirmed the scriptural geologists worst fears.

So it was the undermining of Scriptures, far more than the undermining of the political and social status quo or their own personal positions in society, that was their shared concern. Also, as scientific knowledge was rapidly expanding and leading geologists and other scientists were claiming massive evidence in favour of an old earth, the scriptural geologists felt compelled to defend the traditional interpretation of Genesis, in part by attempting to show that much of what was being claimed as "evidences" of an old earth were really theory-laden inferences from the geological facts, with the theory being rooted in anti-biblical philosophical assumptions.

Finally, the scriptural geologists and their opponents also collided in their views on the very nature of geology. It was not an experimental science, such as chemistry or physics, seeking to discover how the present creation operates, but a science concerned with the historical question of origins. All of the scriptural geologists recognized, and some of their opponents attempted to articulate, this special characteristic of geological science. But the ambiguous definition of this historical nature of geology at its early stage of development added to the confusion and hindered the serious consideration of the best arguments of the scriptural geologists by the geological opponents. As the 19th century progressed, the question of origins (astronomical, geological, and biological) was moving rapidly away from assumptions rooted in Christianity to a semi-deistic, agnostic or atheistic framework. The rear-guard action of the scriptural geologists was too little and too late to stop this cultural shift in the world view."

With these men we stand. They did not fight in vain. More later.

Neil Moore

Creation & Corporations

A mention of Genesian belief in Ackoff, R. L. The Democratic Corporation, OUP NY 1994:

"Most people in the West also believed the claim made in Genesis that people had been created in the im age of God. (This claim was not surprising, considering its source.)" p. 6.

He refers here to the pre-nineteenth century modern period.

In a number of pieces written by Ackoff, I've come across his references to Genesis. He makes other biblical and/or religious references too. One of the best in this book is on page 10:

"Nineteen hundred years earlier, a Western God disappeared and became an abstract spirit with whom ordinary men could not communicate directly. An institution and a profession -- the church and the clergy -- were created to bridge the gap. Similarly as the 19th century drew to a close, management (the church) and managers (the clergy) were created to control enterprises in the alleged interest of their owners and to discern and communicate their will to the employees. Managers came to know the shareholders' will in the same way the clergy claimed to know the will of God, by revelation."

While Ackoff has some things wrong, in my view, as an outsider (I surmise) of the church his observations are interesting. He touches on one of the predominant heresies in the Anglican church which we've not discussed here, but perhaps that's for another day.

I think his reference to Genesis, while brief, suggests that he observes that its direct meaning is taken by its believers and not as meaning something completely else because he implies evolutionary ideas further on in this chapter. He uses these to illustrate a particular conceptual model of organisations that differs from the model he attributes to a mechanical view of the cosmos deriving from Newton. All a bit 'potted' but as an indicator of what 'outsiders' understand in Christian history and thought, just a tad fascinating.

Unsurprisingly, people like Ackoff never jump from Genesian creation to purposeless evolution as being compatible bedfellows: only (some) Sydney Anglicans (Jensenites) seem to manage that trick.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Blue Poles and other things.

A few snippets from the media over the Christmas break and comments thereon:

1. 'Watch the Skies' by Richard Schickel 2005

This was a doco on 1950s sci-fi films with interviews of Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott . . .

'our religion is impotent against the invaders' (just a line from one of the films quoted)

Clearly an evolutionary view of religion with 'god' within the cosmos, not its creator.

I was taken by Spielberg's discussing his War of the Worlds (2005):

"...because I was sort of stepping out of character to do War of the Worlds, these were not malevolent aliens which I identified with, I identified with ET and Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind; as a director this was my first departure to looking up in the sky and not seeing hope and peace but seeing hate and war raining down on upon us that was a big departure for me to step out of character to go against my real beliefs that there is only hope and peace from above..."

I wonder what his 'hope and peace from above' is? Is it alien visitors: is earth the only place where there is evil and suffering . . .why would aliens not bring just more evil and suffering . . .does he think that 'advanced' races would have gotten past the evil and suffering we know? Whatever it is, his saviour is readable within an evolutionary conception as being part of the random material dance, and so without finality or any reference. Is God just an add on, as the materialists conceive, or is he the Creator, as he reveals in his 'Big History' (see below) that connects us and him.

2. From Ghost Dog, a film by Jim Jarmusch (I saw this years ago on the big screen, but SBS re-screened it recently)

Text from 'The Way of the Samurai' as presented on screen"

"Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase 'form is emptiness'. That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase 'emptiness is form'. One should not think that thse are two separate things"

The film is about a paid killer working for a petty mafia family and his final demise. The text is the conclusion of the movie, that the deaths either done by or done to are equal and empty. But in true Zen fashion, the emptiness is meaningful (means nothing, of course, also in the fashion of most Zen nonsense). Consistent with there being no creator, not consistent with there being an objective, loving creator. Now those who bring materialism together with biblical creation might answer along the lines of 'god used evolution', but the logic of materialism clearly doesn't drive Jarmusch to theism, the very opposite, in fact.

3. From Sydney Morning Herald 'Spectrum' section (5-6 Jan 08), a mini review of "Big History"

"Did you know that the term "Big History", which is now widely used to describe any study of history which moves from the beginning of the universe to the present day, was invented by Prof. David Christian at Macquarie University?

In 1989 Christian launched a course called Big History, "as a way to show colleagues what he thought an introductory course in history ought to look like" [presumably it was also for students to have an introductory course in history!]. This book is the latest interpretation of Chistian's idea. It is a history that bridges the gulf between scientific knowledge and human history by starting with the Big Bang and the expanding universe, moves on to the formation of planet Earth, continues through the emergence of human beings and then focuses on the past 10,000 years.

This sounds like an impossible task but Brown has read widely, has an elegant writing style and her central thesis is built around the impact of humanity on the natural world. It is very much a book for our global warming and environmental times."

Big History hits the nail on the head. These writers (Christian, Brown, and the reviewer) see it very clearly. Running history back to the origin defines our collective 'life-world': it tells us who we are and puts us in a moral and ontological setting; and of course, as a setting, it gives us clues as to how our story might play out. If the clues, if the 'big history', do not start with the personal in a loving God (and for materialism, why would it), then they will result in a final denial of the personal, or at least the inconveniently moral, replacing it with the amoral pragmatism of the powerful, and a type of nihilism in the everyday: converting upon application to practical epicurianism (if it feels good, do it).

Pauls starts his gospel proclamation to pagans with 'big history'; the true big history, revealed by the creator (see Acts 17, but refer to the broad contours of Paul's theology, such as sketched by NT Wright -- ducks for rain of hail); so to deny the importance of who we are, defined by our origin is simply silly and passess up many evangelical points of contact for want of a little biblical knowledge and critical participation in current debates: all passed by in Jensenism.

I think most Jensenites (my term for anglican theistic evolutionists/the Genesis creation account doesn't matter-ists) follow the reviewer and fail to distinguish scientific knowledge and the materialism in which it is so often embedded: of course, strip away the originating theism from modern science, and the seeds of its destruction are possibly sown, because the starting point of all enquiry is belief.

The uncriticality of accepting a materialist cosmology and scientific conclusions is astonishing: it is where theologians let materialists into the driving seat of the popular mind: without a struggle, let alone a fight, and so frustrate many opportunities to proclaim, discuss and debate the gospel, and its implications for us all. It says "oh yes, your 'big history' is right, and our's is wrong (that is the one with a recent and rapid creation); which of course, means that our theology is within their big history, and fails to stand against and overturn it for God's glory and the salvation of his people.

4. From a Sydney Morning Herald letter (December 27, 2007)

The writer raised the question of moral epistemology (rather a complex question for a letters page), ending with the following paragraphs:

"If there is no judgment, no consequences beyond this life, no eternity and no God to set us straight, then we don't have much more than "survival of the fittest".

To suggest that you can have Christian values without God is philosophically unsound and ultimately futile, because it is obvious that we don't and can't live up to those values anyway. Not only do we need God's laws, we also need his mercy and forgiveness."

Now, I wouldn't have quite put it as in the final paragraph, but the idea is heading in the right direcction (God's 'laws' . . .where does that fit in??).

The letter attracted the usual misunderstood half-baked responses, typically along the lines of 'I'm an atheist and a good guy", or "if God is so good, why are Christians so rotten?", only providing further evidence that questions of moral philosophy are poorly placed in a letters column, but the original author made a very salient observation: moral questions can be seen to fall down to (Christian) theism or 'survival of the fittest', as he puts it. Or the outworking of philosophical materialism, as I might put it.

But what catches my attention is that the letter makes its appeal by the separation between materialism and theism. The point the writer makes cannot be sensibly made, I think, if the theism is melded with the materialism: neither in its own terms, nor in any more rigorous moral epistemic fashion (how could it?). Yet, the Jensenist school would have us think that the two disparate origin frameworks co-exist, as in 'God used evolution'. Which is just like saying that we use atom bombs for infrastructure re-construction projects (I was going to say, "do paintings by splattering paint", but some wit would attempt a counter by referring to Blue Poles, which some consider to be splattered paint, but is in fact an astonishing work of art of great intellectual depth: go see in the National Gallery).

[Aside: It is an historical anomoly that people equate 'survival of the fittest' with (neo-Darwinian) evolution, when the concept was invented by a Christian 'creationist', Edward Blyth (see here for instance). In the popular mind 'survival of the fittest' drives evolution, but it doesn't, imagined mutational novelties drive evolution, survival simply weeds out what doesn't work, but itself is not a creative force.]