Belief, Trust, and Truth

Aside

I recently found a great new blog – Every Thought Captive, authored by Professor Rich Davis and Professor Paul Franks of the Tyndale Philosophy Department.

Here is a mash-up of three great posts they recently published that deal with truth and beliefs. I recommend you hit their blog (links are provided), read them in their entirety, and then start following their blog.

People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive – Blaise Pascal

Peter Enns, noted for his rejection of a literal Adam, recently wrote a provocative post stating that he doesn’t believe in God but he trusts Him. For Enns belief is equated with “ideas about God”, “articles of faith”, or “an intellectual construction” that is “in our heads”, while trust is “doing it, risking it” and “is much harder”. If Enns is saying saving faith is much more than head knowledge and getting some facts right about God than I agree.

But Enns seems to be saying more than this. Prof Franks tackles the problem made by Enns implicit assertion – that one can trust God without worrying about what one believes about Him:

First, to “trust God” you must at least “believe that God exists.” If you say to someone, “I trust God at this particular moment” and he responds by saying, “Why are you bothering with trusting in something that doesn’t even exist?” how could you respond without advancing your beliefs about God? It’s not clear that you can. … That is, you’re going to have to respond by not only noting that you believe God exists, but also that you believe certain things about God—namely that he is trustworthy.

Rob Bell, author of Love Wins and a new book exploring God, also seems to expressing the same idea as Enns in a recent HarperOne broadcast. Prof Davis quotes the relevant portion of the broadcast and then captures the problem with Bell’s “a good view of God is one that makes me a better person”:

The strange thing about Bell’s process for dispelling doubt is that it doesn’t appear to be truth-oriented at all. There is no attempt, so far as I can tell, to acquire or assess any reasons for belief. His method for theological belief revision, by his own account, is entirely subjective, pragmatic, and non-truth-conducive …

The “measure of a good view of God” isn’t that there are reasons for thinking there is a God corresponding to that concept. It’s whether it works for you. … In the end, it seems very likely that Bell is operating with a dogma of his own: we should adopt those understandings of God we find most empowering to us personally.

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes – Judges

Which brings us to their post which pulls it all together by tackling the questions – what is objective truth? and does Jesus require us to believe objective truth claims about Himself?

To say that a proposition is objectively true is only to say that its truth obtains apart from what any of us thinks, feels, or believes; it obtains by virtue of the way the world is. …

You can’t rightly believe in (i.e., trust, put your faith in) someone unless you believe that they exist. You have to believe certain objective truths about Jesus; otherwise you can’t be his disciple. …  Indeed, it isn’t rational to give your life to someone who either isn’t really there (i.e., lacks objective existence) or is the product of your imagination (i.e., has subjective existence alone). Belief that (i.e., assent to objective truth) is a precondition for belief in.

Enns on Experts, Evolution, and Evangelicals (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a series. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2.

I have been doing some reading regarding Peter Enns view of Adam. In the first two parts we examined three starting point for Enns.

  • If evolution is correct, than the Biblical narrative regarding creation and Adam/Eve is not.
  • Evangelicals wrongly assume that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins”
  • People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In this post we look at his approach to Adam, which goes something like this:

  • Paul understood Adam and Eve to be the first humans and the parents of all humans.
  • The theories (like evolution) that are offered based on the scientific and archaeological evidence contradict Paul’s view of Adam and human origins.
  • Scientific theories like evolution are right.
  • Therefore Paul’s view is wrong and/or we are reading him incorrectly.

This is a logical argument and it is not too hard to understand how Enns, who is not a trained scientist, arrives at his conclusion. One of his starting points is the inability of a non-scientist to “contest” scientific theories. Therefore he must accept them and figure out how to handle Paul’s view of Adam in light of evolution.

Adam: man or myth?

Over at BioLogos Enns  has a 6 part series on Paul’s Adam.  In the series he lists 9 factors that are important in considering how to interpret Paul’s treatment of Adam. Without getting into all the factors here, Enns acknowledges that the Bible and Paul treat Adam as a real historical person:

The biblical depiction of human origins, if taken literally, presents Adam as the very first human being ever created. He was not the product of an evolutionary process, but a special creation of God a few thousand years before Jesus—roughly speaking, about 6000 years ago. Every single human being that has ever lived can trace his/her genetic history to that one person.

There is really little doubt that Paul understood Adam to be a real person, the first created human from whom all humans descended. And for many Christians, this settles the issue of whether there was a historical Adam.

Enns then agrees that Paul’s theology is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) of Scripture

This is breath-taking theology. In a few short verses, Paul is doing nothing less than bringing together the grand narrative of Scripture. The crucified and risen Messiah brings closure to the entire biblical drama. The Christ is the second, obedient, Adam (Romans 5), the firstfruits of the new humanity (1 Corinthians 15). In Christ, all of creation starts over.

and concludes:

This is the problem in a nutshell: Paul says something of vital and abiding theological importance that is anchored in an ancient view of human origins.

The cognitive dissonance is created when one accepts the theory of evolution. So Enns suggests that Paul’s view is wrong. How can this be? Paul, despite being an apostle with the gift of prophecy, was a first century Jew. He wrote from a scientific understanding that was accepted at the time in which he lived but is now known to be incorrect based on modern science.

Paul was an ancient man, not a modern one. Should we expect him, therefore, to share views of the world, of humanity, the cosmos, etc., common to his time? Or, does Paul’s inspired status mean that his view of physical reality transcends his time and place?

What we are really asking here is “What does ‘inspiration’ mean?” That is a huge question, but let’s remain focused on the Adam issue. The question is this: Does Paul’s status as an inspired author of Scripture mean that his views of human origins and the world as a whole are scientifically accurate (since, as the argument goes, a text inspired by God could not give false information)? Does his inspired status mean Paul cannot share the view of the “ancient science” of his first-century world?

These are some serious questions that invite discussion, beyond what can be done in this post. Paul certainly wrote to people using the language and culture in which he lived. The letters that he wrote were written primarily to address problems in various churches, encourage the faithful, and communicate theological truths. Paul was not writing a science or history textbook, but God (and therefore theology) interacts with both. Therefore it is possible to write a scientifically accurate view of human origins that was written primarily as a historical account of how God interacted with His creation.

I am not sure what Enns argues for in the book Evolution of Adam, but in the series he concludes (actually precludes since it was the first post) that Adam is a literary device that helps explain Israel’s origins.

… the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins. … The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

After Enns lays out his general argument for a non-historical Adam, he reminds us that we all must weigh the two options 1) accept Paul’s view or 2) reject Paul’s view. That should open up the discussion for all who wish to engage. Right?

Any version of #1 above is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong.

In Enns view there is not room to discuss option #1. If you accept Paul’s view that Adam is a historical person you are wrong and the discussion appears closed. It is only open (for Enns) if you are working through some scenario in option #2.

[rejecting Paul’s view of Adam and origins ] is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left “Paul’s Adam.” We are all “creating Adam,” as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.

Enns raises many points on Genesis and Paul in the series. He seems to open a door to discussion but then slams it closed by rejecting out of hand the acceptance Paul’s view of Adam and origins. Why? The evidence can’t be ignored.

I speak as a biblical scholar, not a scientist. But ignoring evidence is not a reasonable option. And reconfiguring the evidence to support Paul’s assumptions of a 6000 year-old earth and two humans as parents of the entire human race is, quite simply, impossible.

are you a man or a mouse?

Francis Collins in his book Language of God explains some of the evidence for a common mammalian ancestor

The study of genomes leads inexorably to the conclusion that we humans share a common ancestor with other living things. …

Even more compelling evidence for a common ancestor comes from the study of what are known as ancient repetitive elements (AREs). There arise from “jumping genes,” which are capable of coping and inserting themselves in various other locations in the genome, usually without any functional consequences. Mammalian genomes are littered with such AREs, with roughly 45 percent of the human genome made up of such genetic flotsam and jetsam.

When one aligns sections of the human and mouse genomes, anchored by the appearance of gene counterparts that occur in the same order, one can usually also identify AREs in approximately the same location in these two genomes.

Some of these may have been lost in one species or the other, but many of them remain in a position that is most consistent with their having arrived in the genome of a common mammalian ancestor, and having been carried along ever since. Of course some might argue that these are actually functional elements placed there by the Creator for a good reason, and our discounting them as “junk DNA” just betrays our current level of ignorance. And indeed, some small fraction of them may play important regulatory roles. But certain examples severly strain the credulity of that explanation. The process of transposition often damages the jumping gene. There are AREs throughout the human and mouse genomes that were truncated when they landed, removing any possibility of their functioning. In many instances, one can identify a decapitated and utterly defunct ARE in parallel positions in the human and the mouse genome. (The Language of God., 133-37)

He concludes:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated AREs in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us, the conclusion of a common ancestor for humans and mice is virtually inescapable. This kind of recent genome data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that all species were created ex nihilo”.

Interesting. The argument that the presence of “junk DNA” all but proves a common ancestor because God is not the author of confusing and misleading information. However I see incredible parallels to the argument Enns is making. According to Enns, Paul clearly wrote and taught that Adam is the first human and parent to all other humans but that interpretation must be rejected. Why? Because “junk DNA” proves Paul was wrong.

With apologies to Collins, I rewrote the last paragraph as a response to Enns argument:

Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed the poetic/mythical Adam in the Scriptures in such precise positions as genealogies and  major theological treatises to confuse and mislead us (as well as his apostles and prophets), the conclusion of a historical Adam is virtually inescapable. This kind of Biblical data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that Adam is a literal device used to explain Israel’s origins.

one man’s junk is another man’s functioning genome

Enns wrote that for those willing to move to option #2

you have left Paul’s Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion.

Considering the fact that “junk DNA” is still undergoing research and revision among scientists and that our understanding of genetics is still in its relative infancy – the human genome was only mapped in 2003 – I think that Enns may be overstating the case regarding evolution. Jonathan Wells, who has a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, was interviewed in Salvo magazine (Aug 2011) about his latest book The Myth of Junk DNA. He suggested:

Actually, Collins no longer relies on “junk DNA.” In 2007 he announced in an interview for Wired magazine that he had “stopped using the term.” In 2010 he wrote that “discoveries of the past decade, little known to most of the public, have completely overturned much of what used to be taught in high school biology. If you thought the DNA molecule comprised thousands of genes but far more ‘junk DNA,’ think again” (The Language of Life, pp. 5–6).

Christians should not be afraid of science, however they should also not be afraid to challenge and explore the theories proposed by science. We should be good Bereans of both the theology and the science we are taught. Science is great for explaining how the world works now but we should be wary of accepting the latest scientific explanation for what happened in the past.  As for me, on this day I will settle for Paul’s Adam over the one I would create and shape based on my own understanding or the theories of “junk DNA”.

Enns on Experts, Evolution, and Evangelicals (Part 2)

Peter Enns  has released a new book called The Evolution of Adam. Peter Enns kicked off the Evolution of Adam Blog tour this week, where he states the problem and reason for writing the book:

But I feel the most pressing issue Christians face is the hermeneutical one: if evolution is true, what do I do about what the Bible says about Adam and Eve?

In this series of posts we are examining three themes from an article  written by Enns for the Huffington Post entitled Once More, with Feeling: Adam, Evolution, and Evangelicals along with recent posts on his blog related to the topic of evolution, Christianity, and Adam/Eve. These are:

  • If evolution is correct, than the Biblical narrative regarding creation and Adam/Eve is not.
  • Evangelicals wrongly assume that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins”
  • People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In Part 1 the first two were addressed. Here we address the third theme. Part 3 is also available.

People who are not trained as scientists are not able to evaluate scientific arguments.

In the HuffPo article, Enns tells us that we must accept the explanations given to us by the experts:

Then you have the mapping of the human genome. It’s a done deal: humans and primates are 90-something percent related genetically. The best explanation for it, geneticists tell us, is that humans evolved from primates. Since my greatest scientific achievement is doing puppet shows with dissected feral cats in high school biology, I feel I have no right to contest — and I likely speak for many other evangelicals in that regard (emphasis added)

This is fully developed in Part 4 of a series by Enns on recurring mistakes made in the Adam/Evolution discussion.

Since evolutionary theory is the product of scientific investigation, it follows that those best suited to evaluate the scientific data and arguments are those at the very least trained in the relevant sciences—or better those who are practicing scientists and therefore are keeping up with developments.

…  As much as biblical studies requires some training and expertise, it is much more the case in the sciences. The years of training and experience required of those who work in fields that touch on evolution rules out of bounds the views of those who lack such training. (emphasis added)

In case we missed this point, Enns reiterates it:

My point is that serious scientific questions require serious scientific training—which only a fraction of the earth’s population can claim to have.

My point is that most of us do not have a place at the table where the assessment of evidence is the topic of discussion.

However we do this all the time. Making decisions requires us to make assessments of information even when we lack some training or expertise. Consider this event in the life of our family recently. My daughter was complaining about headaches for some time. After a series of tests including eye exams, allergy tests, monitoring water intake, x-rays, and sleep studies, the doctors concluded that her tonsils and adenoids were swollen. Of the two, the adenoids were the worse and judged to be causing the most problems. In addition, tonsils are debated as to whether they are part of the immune system so our family had to weigh the medical advice we received and do some research in order to evaluate whether to have both removed or only the adenoids. And we had to do this despite the fact that none of us have any medical training.

While the answers involved in answering scientific questions may be complex and most of us may lack the training required to understand all the details, I don’t think Enns intends to say that understanding the sciences is closed to the majority of the earth’s population. While I may not be able to design and build a rocket that can get into orbit or solve the tension between general relativity and quantum mechanics nor will I likely ever be asked to splice genes in a lab, I think I can grapple with and assess a logical argument even if I cannot fully understand all of the scientific evidence presented as part that logical argument to support a hypothesis.

We can do this because some logical arguments are definitively provable through deductive reasoning and experimentation. Concepts like geometric proofs, genetic mapping, and Galileo’s theory that objects fall at the same rate regardless of their mass in a vaccum.

However some conclusions cannot be proven they can only be shown as probable and are based on inductive logic rather than deductive logic. Generally speaking in inductive logic, we are starting with data listed out as premises. Then we draw a conclusion or devise a theory that may explain the data. However that theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid with a degree of probability. Readers of Holmes adventures will recognize this method.

It is an old maxim of mine that whenever you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. – Sherlock Holmes

The inductive method comes into play when science is not experimenting or predicting things based on observation and mathematical calculations that are happening now but rather is trying to draw conclusions about what happened in the past. In this realm science is more about being a good historian trying to piece together an event from extant artifacts or a detective trying to solve a crime.  Because we can’t go back in time we have to base our  conclusions on assumptions and the information we have or are able to gather now. And that makes us equivalent to a jury trying to evaluate the cases presented to them during a trial.

If you think about we also do this whenever we read a theological text or commentary where various interpretations are given. In the post Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion Part 1, Enns explains how readers come to different conclusions about the genre of the Genesis accounts based on different pieces of evidence that are given:

So, when someone says, “I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as historical events, and here are the reasons why,” that person is not “denying biblical authority.” That person may be wrong, but that would have to be judged on some basis other than the ultimate literalist conversation-stopper, “You’re denying biblical authority.”

The Bible is not just “there.” It has to be interpreted. The issue is which interpretations are more defensible than others.

Here he concludes that some interpretations of Genesis are more defensible – that is more probable – than others. The argument for a particular interpretation is evaluated using inductive reasoning and we all do it regardless of whether we are Biblical scholars or not. Now, if people can do that with Biblical interpretations, despite varying degrees of training and education, without denying the authority of the Bible then it should be assumed that people can interpret the conclusions that science provides without denying science or being scholars. The one thing to keep in mind is that as evaluators of logical arguments we have to be willing to read and learn about the premises used as evidence to support various ideas, critically think and evaluate them, and then determine which conclusions are more defensible than others.

Enns mentions in the HuffPo article the theory that man and apes have a common ancestor from which they have evolved. A simplified form of the argument in logical form goes something like this:

premise 1:man and chimps have between 95 and 99% (depending on how the comparison is done) similarity in their gene sequences.

premise 2: man and chimps have pseudogenes in the same location and sequence.

premise 3: man has 23 chromosomes and a chimp has 24 chromosomes but the gene sequence and location of chromosome #2 in man matches 2 chromosomes in the chimp.

conclusion: therefore man and chimps have a common ancestor and chromosome #2 in man is the result of 2 chromosomes in their common ancestor being fusing together .

The first three premises are written as statements that can be either true or false. They can also be experimentally proven as either true or false by geneticists who can compare the genome mappings from a man and a chimp and do comparisons with the data as it exists today. Here Enns does have a point. Most of us are not geneticists and would not likely have a great understanding of how to map genomes nor would we understand the complexity involved with comparing genomes between different species. We would have a tough time assessing this information.

However we are all able to understand the argument as laid out above and reason through it.  As presented this is a logical argument that presents a possible outcome. But does the conclusion necessarily follow from the premises? Can it be proven that this is the only conclusion possible? This theory may explain the data (premises) in this logical argument but is based on inductive logic. The theory or conclusion can only be claimed as valid only with a degree of probability. It can’t be proven. And it is this conclusion that we all are able to evaluate.

[check out part 3]