Monday, September 29, 2008

Romans 5:12

(3rd post in a series)

We're discussing the very modern view held by many Christians that animal death is a bad thing and that therefore predation could not have been a part of God's original creation. Two of the Scripture passages used to defend this view are Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. According to Ken Ham,
Physical death and bloodshed of man and animals came into existence after Adam sinned (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15).
These two passages say much the same thing, so we'll concentrate our analysis on Romans 5:12. I think it will be easy for my readers to come to a more accurate conclusion--than does Ham--of what this verse is and is not saying. Here's the verse (in part)...
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin...
Let's stop there for a moment. The apostle Paul writes a good deal about death (Greek, thanatos), and often further identifies the death in view. Sometimes, it's "death to sin" or "death to the law." Many other times, he has in mind the spiritual death of humans; occasionally he mentions his own physical death or that of other men. If the "death" here and in Romans 15 is meant to include animal death, these would be the only places in all of his writings where he concerns himself with such. For the moment, let's provisionally accept that this is a possibility, and wait to see if further investigation sheds any light on the issue.

What about the word translated "world?" The Greek word kosmon must--in Ham's view--refer to the entire planet Earth. While this is, in fact, one of the definitions of kosmon in the Greek of New Testament times, it is difficult to find any New Testament passages where this is the most likely meaning. More frequently, the Greek word translated "world" refers to the entire universe, to all humanity, or to a subset of humanity. An example of the latter usage can be found in this very same letter of Paul's. In the greeting, Paul writes (1:8),
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
Theologians and New Testament scholars are unanimous in understanding this "all over the world" to reference a subset of humanity, the people inhabitating the region of the world known at that time to Paul and his readers.

So, before reading the rest of the Romans 5 passage, let's recap what sort of clarifying information we're seeking. The death referred to here could be a number of different things, and we're most interested in whether it explicitly or implicitly includes the physical death of non-human animals. As for "world," we want to discover whether it is best understood as referring to 1) the entire universe, 2) the entire planet Earth (as seemingly required by the view I'm critiquing), 3) all humanity, or 4) a subset of humanity. Now we can read verse 12 in its entirety.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned.
It seems to me that Paul (or the Holy Spirit through Paul) could not have made it much clearer than He did. The definition of kosmon in view here is #3 above--all humanity. Moreover, the death in view is that which comes to all men, and the death which comes as the result of sin (which further identifies it as human death).

Far from supporting the interpretation that there was no animal death before Adam sinned, this passage (like the one in 1 Cor. 15) very carefully and specifically addresses only human death, a death in which all humans share--apart, that is, from the life made available by the Second Adam (of Rom. 5:15 and following), Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Genesis 1:31

By way of review, many modern Christians insist that because (in Genesis 1:31) God called what He had created "very good," that must mean that there was no predation or animal death associated with that creation. As Henry Morris has it,
There was, therefore, nothing bad in that created world, no hunger, no struggle for existence, no suffering, and certainly no death of animal or human life anywhere in God's perfect creation.
Such insistence warrants several responses.

First of all, it is worth noting that this view that animal death is bad is a very modern and urban problem. Our great-grandparents, who, if they wanted to eat meat, had to do the butchering themselves, had a much more accurate and biblical understanding of the vast differences between animals and humans (as do those who still live much closer to the land today). (In this regard, those modern Christians decrying animal death as bad have seemingly adopted some of the misunderstandings of the very evolutionists against whom they argue.) To be sure, animals (especially birds and mammals) experience pain. But they do not in dying worry about their children left behind or expect to stand before their Maker in judgment for their sins. Simply put, this view of animal death as a bad thing is a culturally-derived concept and not one that comes from Scripture.

Second (and to piggy-back directly off that last statement), where Scripture speaks of animal death and predation, God unapologetically takes responsibility for it and seems to view it as good. God tells Job that it is He who provides animal prey for the lion and the raven (38:39-41), and for the hawk and the eagle (39:28-30). In speaking of the created animals, the psalmist praises God, saying
...when You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust, When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:29-30)
So the Bible itself praises God and gives Him glory for the creation and sustenance of predatory animals; it would seem presumptuous (at best) for us to stand in judgment over Scripture in this regard.

Third, the Hebrew words translated (in Gen. 1:31) "very good" do not mean "perfect." This can be seen by the fact that the very same words are used to refer to Rebekah (in Genesis 24:16), where they are generally translated "very beautiful." Again, the phrase is used (by Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14:7) of the land of Canaan, where it is translated "exceedingly good." Thus, the creation prior to the fall of Adam should likewise be understood as having been exceedingly good or very beautiful.

Fourth, even if we were to read into these words of Genesis 1:31 some sense of perfection, we would have to understand that perfection as applying to God's purposes for the created order. What Morris, Ham, and others do is to judge the creation (and its ecology) by their own standards. Logically, this entails the corollary view that ever since the fall we are living in a sort of cosmic Plan B. But the whole of Scripture makes clear that the central event of all human and cosmic history--the atoning death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection of Jesus--was planned from before the foundation of the Earth. (For a wonderful contrast of these two quite different understandings, I highly recommend Mark Whorton's Peril in Paradise, from which I have derived much of my understanding of these issues.) The original creation was perfect for God's purposes for it, not perfect according to the arbitrary sensibilities of modern Americans (or Australians).

Fifth, the claim being made by these well-intentioned but misguided Christians is eerily similar to one for which Jesus strongly rebuked Peter. In Matthew 16, Jesus had just commended Peter for rightly understanding that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But then Jesus began to share that He would go to Jerusalem to suffer and be put to death. Peter said,
Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.
In effect, what Peter was saying was, "My view of God has no place in it for this sort of suffering!" Though we read of Jesus' rebuke of him, modern Christians are guilty of the same sort of thing: "My view of God does not include His having a purpose for millions of years of animal suffering!"

Sixth (and lastly for now), the view that animal death is bad betrays an utter ignorance of ecology and a naivete about life itself. I'll be glad to discuss this one at great length at another time, but for now let a teaser statement suffice. While it is easy to blithely talk about life without death, such life (at least given the physics of this universe) would of necessity entail no reproduction, no eating, no movement, and no metabolism.

We who are Christians have every reason to affirm with Scripture that the world God created and the life with which He filled it were--and are--"very good." But when we go on to read into Scripture our own ideas about what is and is not good, we run the risk of blaspheming the very Creator we should be praising.

(Next up... Romans 5:12.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Animal Death and Theodicy

A "theodicy" is a defense of God. It generally involves a defense of God's justice in view of some circumstance, argument, or condition that is seen as calling that justice into question. In our day, one condition (of the world in which we live) that is commonly understood as requiring some sort of theodicy is predatory behavior in the animal kingdom and animal death generally.

At some point (at the end of what I hope will be a brief series of posts on this subject), I'll argue (as an ecologist) that predation is a beautiful, necessary, exquisitely-designed part of life on earth, and thus something that needs no apologetic. But before I make that case, I want to deal with some of the other misunderstandings that have led to the modern confusion (among Christians and skeptics) about this issue.

But the goal of this first post is even less ambitious; it is merely to convince you that there is in fact widespread belief that predation and animal death are bad, and therefore cannot have been intended by an all-powerful, benevolent God. To do so, I'll appeal to three diverse views held by Christians today, each of which is at its foundation an attempt to absolve God of the blame for the ecology of our world, containing as it does animals eating other animals.

The first view is the theistic evolution (TE) view held by biologist Kenneth Miller. Miller, a Catholic, is outspoken in his disdain for proponents of Intelligent Design, insisting that not only is neo-Darwinian macroevolution true but that God only set the process going and then never intervened. (Over against the very different form of TE endorsed by, for example, Francis Collins, retired head of the Human Genome Project, Miller's view might better be called "deistic evolution.") But here's the point that is pertinent to our discussion... By insisting that God did not intervene, but allowed evolution to run its course unhindered, Miller believes he is absolving God of things (predation, parasitism, and suboptimal designs) that he (Miller) considers bad or for which he sees no purpose.

The second view is the Young-Earth position of Henry Morris or Ken Ham. In the face of overwhelming contrary evidence from the universe around us, and despite significant flaws in their interpretation of Scripture, Morris and Ham (and many others like them) insist that their view must be true primarily because they cannot reconcile long ages of animal death (prior to the fall of Adam) as being deemed by God "very good." Writes Morris,
The completed creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31), with nothing bad or unfair or hurtful--certainly no "struggle for existence" or "survival of the fittest," or any lack of anything needed by any of God's created beings or systems.
Likewise, according to Ham,
The main point is that death, bloodshed, and suffering of living creatures were not possible before the fall. It was a perfect world...
Similarly, Ralph Winter offers what I can only consider a bizarre view (of how to reconcile God's Word with God's world) in a speculation I only recently came across.* Winter accepts the evidence for an ancient universe and earth. But he, too, gets hung up on seeing predation as irreconcilable with God's "very good" creation. His speculation is that (though Scripture nowhere implies such a role for them) it was the job of angels to assist God in the creation of living things. He goes on to suggest that the Cambrian explosion (during which all the animal phyla or body forms suddenly appeared without precursors) coincided with the fall of Satan and thus that predatory creatures (then and ever since) cannot be blamed on God but on Satan and the demons that rebelled with him.

I'm not making this up, and, believe me, I don't post it here in order that even more scorn might be heaped upon Christians for some of the silly things they believe. But if my brothers and sisters are going to be free to write such stuff, someone (like I) needs to be able to demonstrate what's wrong with it--and by that I mean where they misunderstand nature, where they misunderstand Scripture, and where they are guilty of poor reasoning. I'll begin (in the next post) by addressing some of the Scriptures these folks use to argue that animal death and predation are bad.

The bottom line is that Scripture and the record of nature--both rightly interpreted--are in perfect agreement and that animal death and predation provide no reason for questioning God's justice and perfection.

* Note to grammar geeks (others please ignore): Relative to most people, I'm kinda nutty with regard to doing my best to avoid dangling participles. But here's one of those cases where I give up the struggle. I simply can't quite bring myself to write, "...speculation, across which I only recently came."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hypsiglena torquata

The last couple of years, my son, Nathan, has set a goal of finding (and handling) eight different species of snakes in Oregon in one summer. This is a tough thing to do, as Oregon is not a state with a lot of reptilian variety. This summer, he accomplished that goal. The final species of the season was a Night Snake (Hypsiglena torquata), a rarely seen and completely nocturnal species. Night Snakes are rear-fanged, and prey primarily upon lizards (and their venom is not a problem for humans).

Nate and his brother Jasper found this individual while cruising the roads of Jefferson County near midnight on a hot late-summer evening (which seems to be the best way to find them). Nate took the top photo, and Willow took the other two photos I've shared here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Genovia Pear

It is my pleasure at this time and place to debut a brand new poem by my youngest daughter, Willow, age 10. It's called "Genovia Pear."
I sit on a bench in the cool morning air
Next to a tree called Genovia Pear.
I reach for a pear so high in the tree,
I fall to the ground and hurt my right knee.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Broadwing

Today at the hawk migration monitoring station at which I assist each fall, my son, Nathan, and I had a new life experience. We captured and banded a Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus). In fifteen years of fall migration trapping at Bonney Butte (just southeast of Mt. Hood), this is only the second individual of this species ever captured.

In the eastern United States, broad-wings are a common enough bird. In fact, they tend to form large flocks in which to carry out their long southbound migration, and single-day counts at eastern hawk-watching sites (like Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania or Hawk Ridge near Duluth, Minnesota) can reach the tens of rhousands of them.

But where we trap is in the Cascades Range of western Oregon, and so sightings (much less captures) are extremely rare. It seems, though, that individuals of the species are extending its breeding range westward slightly or, at the very least, are willing to take a more westerly migration route to the wintering grounds.

The young bird we caught looked like a very small version of a young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). I'd show you a picture, but (in one of the corollary's of Murphy's law, no doubt) the reason we caught the bird in the first place was that today was the first day we neglected to pack the camera for the hike to the ridge.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Evidence of Demons

I promised to share some scientific evidence for the existence of demons in the universe in which we live. But first, a word about science.

In our day, materialist scientists have promoted a simplistic interpretation of scientific reasoning. There has been motivation for this, since it has helped them to defend their own metaphysical (religious) view, that of materialism. That simplistic view says that science observes physical phenomena and seeks to inductively incorporate all specific facts into a few general principles. The claim is that science is primarily an inductive enterprise and that its raw materials (that which it studies) and its explanations are necessarily limited to physical/material things. (Most at this point also make the illogical leap to the supposition that all things real are also physical, but more on that another time.)

Whereas much of science does, in fact, involve inductive reasoning, a good deal of scientific reasoning is instead abductive. This is especially true of the historical sciences, those that seek explanations for past, unrepeatable events. Abductive reasoning essentially seeks to argue to the best explanation. The scientist evaluates all of the available and relevant facts and phenomena, discards those theories that do not accomodate those facts, and concentrates on refining the theory that best fits them.

Some evidence for the existence in our world of demons comes from research into UFOs. By far the majority of reports of unidentified flying objects are eventually explained (they become IFOs, identifiable flying objects); they involve some well-understood natural phenomenon, some man-made craft, or, in some cases, hoaxes.

At the end of the day, however, there remains a set of UFO sightings that cannot be so explained. These are generally referred to as residual UFOs (RUFOs) and are estimated to represent up to about 23% of all UFO reports. (Other researchers estimate them as a much lower percentage, but no astronomers studying them believes that percentage to be zero.)

In general, RUFOs are capable of producing physical effects but are not themselves physical. That is, they leave behind physical trauma, to plants, animals, people, and/or machines. These include burns and compression (as of plants), agitated behavior (of animals and humans), and other symptoms (injuries, burns, nausea, bleeding, and even death).

But the causes of all of these physical effects are not physical themselves. They do not obey the laws of physics. (For a list of supporting evidence for this claim, see chapter 6 of Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men by Ross, Samples, and Clark.) In the mid-70's, President Carter asked NASA to undertake UFO research. NASA, citing its mandate to focus on exploring physical phenomena subject to physical laws--and aware that the evidence leads to the conclusion that RUFOs are not physical--declined the President's request.

According to Astronomer Hugh Ross,
Residual UFOs are both real and non-physical, and as such they manifest specific characteristics. Examining these characteristics leaves the distinct impression that they have an intelligence and a strategic purpose behind them.
Ross goes on to list and discuss these characteristics: RUFOs favor certain times and locales, they keep pace with human technology and science fiction, they seem to have always been around, they match the scientific literacy of their witnesses, they make repeat visits to certain witnesses and sites, they visit a select few, they appear to be alive, they arouse disturbing emotions, they cause bodily and psychological harm, and they deceive their human contacts. The conclusion of many scholars and scientists is that demons--malevolent beings from another dimension--are behind residual UFOs. According to RUFO researcher Jacques Vallee (quoted in Ross et al.),
The UFO phenomenon represents evidence for other dimensions beyond spacetime... The UFOs are physical manifestations that simply cannot be understood apart from their psychic and symbolic reality. What we see here is not an alien invasion. It is a spiritual system that acts on humans and uses humans.
What strengthens this conclusion is the further research that demonstrates that those to whom RUFOs appear (and those abducted by UFOs) have either associated themselves with the occult or have in some manner opened themselves up to demonic contact.

Reasoning abductively, the best explanation for the RUFO phenomenon is demonic manifestation. Ross again...
The truth about UFOs can be known. Indeed, the UFO mystery is a mystery solved. Earth is not being visited by aliens from another planet, but some people are being visited by spirit beings who want everyone to think they are aliens from another planet. By trusting the revelation given by the greatest transdimensional Being of them all, people need never wonder about UFOs again. When people put their lives in the hands of this Cause of human existence, this God who loves every person, the fear of UFO demons and what they can do evaporates.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

1 Peter 5:8-11

I had the opportunity to preach last Sunday at Antioch. Aaron Wells and I delivered a "nunchuck sermon," the two of us separated by a worship song; it was the wrap-up of the summer preaching series in 1st Peter. You can listen to or watch the sermon here.

My portion was apologetic, and I sought to show the reasonableness both of believing the promise contained in 1 Peter 5:10 and of accepting the existence of the devil (verse 8). Regarding the latter, I argued that the question of the existence of demons is part and parcel of the larger question of whether materialism (the metaphysical view of many modern scientists) or biblical dualism is the correct understanding of the world in which we live.

I promised during the sermon, though, to blog about scientific evidence specifically for the existence of demons. So look for that in the next post (or two).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Advanced Apologetics

Beginning next week, I'll be teaching a Wednesday evening class on Advanced Apologetics at Kilns College. I've had folks asking just how advanced it's going to be.
Are there prerequisites? What if I haven't taken Intro to Apologetics? Do I need to understand quantum mechanics?
As I see it, this course will cover the basics. So, no, there are no prerequisites (like Intro Apologetics) and no, you don't need to worry about your grasp of physics. Where the "advanced" comes in is that we will go in-depth on the apologetics issues we tackle. Rather than spread ourselves a mile wide and a centimeter deep (how's that for mixing measurement systems?), we'll plan to thoroughly thrash out the arguments we take on.

I'm really looking forward to it; I hope you'll consider joining us (for credit or audit).