Blood From Stone … But Unfortunately, He Got Everything Wrong

Mary Schweitzer is a paleontologist who specializes in molecular paleontology, that is in the detection and interpretation of original molecular fragments in well-preserved fossil specimens. She is best known for discovering what appears to be biomolecules, remnants of soft tissue, blood cells, vessels and such, in ancient fossils including a 68 million year old Tyrannosaurus Rex (One nicknamed Big Mike, not Stan the one pictured here which is in the Natural History Museum at Oxford).

Her discovery of soft tissue remnants is controversial as the standard mechanism for fossilization would not permit these biomolecules remnants to persist in a specimen so old. The conditions would have to be rather special – rapid burial to protect the corpse from scavengers, increasingly deep burial in an appropriate formation, followed by careful excavation and prompt analysis when the fossil is found. Even then skepticism remains. This is an example of good science with criticism and response. A series of results with increasing reliability is challenged and tested. Prof. Schweitzer has described her results in the scientific literature, but also in a number of popular venues. Her 2010 article Blood From Stone in Scientific American is fascinating if you can manage to get a hold of it.

Creationists have jumped on this discovery as evidence for the failure of the old earth, deep time model of origins. This strikes me as a predictable, but rather ridiculous response. Schweitzer’s discovery, assuming it holds up as now appears likely, tells us a great deal about these ancient creatures and about the conditions of fossilization. Soft tissue remnants in samples many hundreds of thousands of years old is uncontroversial however. In fact Schweitzer and colleagues used comparisons between such specimens and their dinosaur specimens to validate their methods and results on the T Rex. Contra Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis … There is nothing here that supports a view in any fashion consistent with the young earth interpretation of Genesis.

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Posted in Creation, Evangelicalism, The Fossil Record

The Author of Life

IMG_1140I had the privilege of being in Oxford last week (UK! not OH or MS). The picture to the right was taken from the top of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. You can click on the image for a larger version. I’d never been to Oxford before and the town and University are impressive. The highlight of the week, though, was not the place but the people. I was in Oxford for a workshop with grantees from the Evolution and Christian Faith program administered by BioLogos. It was nice to see Scot and Kris as well as a number of other people I had met at the first workshop last year.

My job (or one of my jobs) at the workshop both this year and last was to moderate a group where grantees discussed their projects and the progress made to date. The creative effort involved in the broad range of projects underway is impressive. In one project The Author of Life now nearing completion Diane Sweeney (a high school biology teacher) and Joshua Hayashi (a school chaplain) are producing a multimedia curricula with seven short videos (about 6-7 minutes) to encourage high school students (and others) to think deeply about God’s role as Creator. Their collective experience as chaplain and teacher shapes the approach they take to reach students, either Christian or non-Christian who have questions and concerns about the relationship between science and faith.

The questions are provocative – The first episode challenges students to think about the tendency to compartmentalize things like school, biology and faith. And it isn’t just students – adults do the same thing all the time, looking at the world through different glasses at church and at school, at church and at work. This isn’t the way it should be. As Christians we should be able to integrate all areas of our life together and see things differently. “Jesus himself was fully God and fully man. He was theology and biology integrated. He is the Author of Life. Studying his creation can only bring us closer to him.”

These are shot in Hawaii and the scenery is stunning. Josh talks about the way living with two sets of glasses can make doubts, fears, and questions seem immense and unanswerable. The Sermon on the Mount turned things around for him. Two sets of glasses are unnecessary. God sent his son as a human, material of this world, biological mechanisms and all. Quoting C.S. Lewis he concludes:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Have you ever felt the need to where two sets of glasses? One for church and one for the rest of life?

What impact does this have?

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Posted in Creation, Resources for Discussion

Responses to the Traditional View of Adam

creation of Adam dsIn the final major essay in Four Views on the Historical Adam William Barrick argued for a traditional young earth view of Adam as the unique, supernaturally created, seminal father of all humankind. His view was outlined in the previous post on the book: The Historicity of Adam is a Gospel Issue. In this post we will look at the responses offered by Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, and Jack Collins as well as William Barrick’s rejoinder to their comments.

Denis Lamoureux agrees with Barrick’s summary of the reality and meaning of sin but not with his conclusion that this depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He feels that Barrick’s strategy of connecting the historicity of Adam with the historicity of Christ and the resurrection, thereby making it a gospel issue is unwarranted. A serious regard for scripture does not require this.

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not about how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically for Adam’s sin. And it is because of the gospel that we are called “Christ-ians” and not “Adam-ites.” (p. 229)

At many places in his essay Barrick responds to statements made by Peter Enns in The Evolution of Adam – in fact this seems to be in his sights more than any of the immediate views presented in this book. Denis is correct however that a criticism of Pete’s view is often a criticism of his as well. He disagrees with Barrick that accommodation to a human perspective, allowing ancient cosmology into the text for example, denigrates ancient Israel or the Bible and it certainly does not impugn God’s moral integrity (all claims Barrick makes). Rather, we have to take the text we have before us (which does include ancient cosmology) whether we like it or not.

Lucas_Cranach_God_as_Creator_Luthers_BibleLamoureux also points out that Christian tradition is not inerrant – and the traditional view is not necessarily the correct view. Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible features a diagram of the universe¬† using the ancient cosmology and Luther’s lectures on creation in Genesis indicate that he believed this cosmology was accurate – including the firmament and waters above. We need to be open to revisions in tradition as we study scripture in each new generation.

John Walton believes that Barrick consistently misunderstood or misrepresented what he means by archetype. He equates archetypal with allegorical and this is not what Walton means by archetypal. Rather he (Walton) argues that the authors in scripture were using Adam in an archetypal manner and that this is the role that Adam plays in their arguments. An archtype can be historical, but need not be historical.

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Posted in Adam | Tagged , ,

The Historicity of Adam is a Gospel Issue

michelangelo's Adam 2The final major essay in Four Views on the Historical Adam is by William D. Barrick. In his chapter Barrick argues for a traditional young earth view of Adam as the unique, supernaturally created, seminal father of all humankind. He argues that this is central to the biblical story and the Christian worldview. If Adam is not historical we must wonder why there is a need for Jesus. According to Barrick “[t]hat makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue.” (p. 222 – emphasis in the original). Barrick’s stress on the importance of a young earth and a historical Adam exactly as described in Genesis 1-3 is rooted in his approach to scripture (what we might call his theology of scripture) and his understanding of the gospel story conveyed in scripture.

In Barrick’s view, which he calls the traditional view, a historical Adam at the original man from whom all human beings descend is foundational to a biblical understanding of God’s creative activity, the history of the human race, the nature of mankind, the origin and nature of sin, the existence and nature of death, and the reality of salvation from sin; it is foundational to the progressive account of the historical events recorded in Genesis, … “and perhaps most importantly, foundational to a biblical understanding of Scripture’s authority, inspiration, and inerrancy.” (list and quote p. 199, emphasis mine)

This is important – everything in Barrick’s view rests on his approach to scripture as inspired and incapable of error of any sort. In his view the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of scripture and protected it from all error. This leads to very strict readings of the intended meaning and prevents serious consideration of the idea that mistaken understandings may have been included. His theology and, to be fair, the theology of many other Christians rests on this approach to scripture.

First, the traditional view commonly affirms that God gave the Genesis account of creation to Moses by special revelation. Thus the narrator is both omniscient and reliable, because the ultimate author is God himself. After all, if Adam was truly the first human being, there were no human eyewitnesses to his creation. Additionally, Adam could not have described the making of the woman, because he was in a deep sleep throughout the divine procedure. The only eyewitnesses are God and the angels. The only alternative to divine revelation would be an unlikely angelic report. …

Second, traditionalists take the position that the declarations of Genesis bear the stamp of divine truth, historical fact, and historiographical accuracy. (p. 199-200)

He believes that the suggestion that the account contains mistaken ancient Near Eastern conceptions of cosmology “impugns God’s moral integrity.”

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Posted in Adam, Creation | Tagged

Let Creation Rejoice

100_0119 dsA couple of months ago I received a copy of the new book Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan Moo and Robert White courtesy of the publisher, IVP Academic. With other books in progress, this is the first chance I’ve had to dig into it. I’ve been looking for a book that would help us make a foray into the area of environmental crisis and global warming. Here we have a start. Let Creation Rejoice looks at the scientific evidence for threats to the environment arising from the actions of mankind and at the hope and mission that Christians have and the difference this can make. From the preface:

Yet what is inescapably different about today is that never in the history of human life have so many people been threatened by the changes our planet is undergoing; never have some of the planetary changes we are witnessing occurred so quickly, with so little time for adaptation; and never before has one species (us) been identified as the primary cause of such rapid, large-scale changes. It is this recognition of our vulnerability and our culpability, along with the fear that things are on the verge of getting much, much worse and there is little we can do about it, that lies behind much of the despair so prevalent in this age. …

This book, though, is about hope …

As we say in the first chapter, it is our desire that readers come away from this book with a renewed appreciation of the wonderful world that God has created, as well as a firm understanding of its present condition and the potential that we have to affect it. But most of all we aim to encourage profound trust in the Creator and Redeemer God whose faithfulness is the only and ultimate ground of our hope. (pp. 8-9)

Moo and White are well qualified to address this issue and their book is worth a careful look. Jonathan Moo is an assistant professor of biblical studies at Whitworth University in Spokane Washington. According to his biography at the Faraday Institute he holds undergraduate degrees in Biology and English (Lake Forest College), and graduate degrees in Wildlife Ecology (MS, Utah State University), and Theology (MA Old Testament, MA New Testament, both from Gordon-Conwell, PhD, Cambridge). Robert White is professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge UK, PhD Cambridge.

Over the next several weeks I intend to work through this book, probably about a chapter a week – whatever works best, starting in a couple of weeks. This is an important issue – with far greater consequence that debates about, oh, say, the historicity of Adam. I hope it generates serious thought and a good discussion.

The first full chapter of the book is short, and sets the stage for what is to come in the later chapters. This should give a taste for the book and the shape our discussions will take.

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Posted in Creation, Environmentalism, Eschatology | Tagged ,

Responses to Adam and Eve as Special Creation

CranachIn the last post on Four Views on the Historical Adam we looked at the view of Adam put forth by C. John Collins. He takes an old earth special creation view, but is willing to consider a wide range of scenarios that fit within certain limits. For example, an old earth and an evolutionary description of the diversity of animal life poses no theological problems if this is where the scientific evidence leads. However, he does not think humans can be fit neatly into an evolutionary picture, scientifically or theologically. Scientifically he feels that “it is simply unreasonable to suppose that one can arrive at human capacities without some “help” from outside” and theologically that it fails to account for human distinctiveness as the image of God.

Denis Lamoureux has a great deal of respect for Jack Collins as a fellow Christian but disagrees with his position on four major points. First, he agrees with Collins on the big story of scripture, but doesn’t feel that this requires a historical Adam. Collins has asserted this as a foundation, but doesn’t really make the case in a convincing manner.

Second, Lamoureux thinks that Collins falls into the trap of scientific concordism. Although Collins is willing to consider figurative and imaginative elements in the text, he feels that the text must relate an account of human origins that is in agreement with the historical events. In Lamoureux’s view this amounts to scientific concordism.

Third, Collins wanders into God-of-the-gaps thinking when he asserts that the complexity of human uniqueness must require divine intervention. Such features as language, art, and a craving for community are not as discontinuous with the other animals as Collins supposes. There is good evidence for roots of some of these in the evolution of mammals and especially primates, and the absence of a complete picture does not mean that there is no “natural” explanation – of God, but not requiring special supernatural intervention.

Finally Lamoureux feels that Collins is somewhat arbitrary in the passages of Genesis 1-11 that he sees as historical and those he sees as figurative or imaginative.

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Posted in Adam, Genesis | Tagged , , ,

Fairness Tastes Like Ice Cream

Vanilla_Cone_with_ChocolateChapter four of Matthew Lieberman’s book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect bears the interesting title Fairness Tastes Like Chocolate. Personally I like chocolate, on occasions, in small amounts. But it is nothing to write home about. Now homemade ice cream, with real vanilla, and blueberries (preferably picked in the wild, but farmed will do); that is something to write home about. And quite appropriate for the Fourth of July holiday weekend (well, holiday for those of us in the USA anyway). And you can add chocolate if you’d like.

But whether it is chocolate or homemade ice cream, the theme of this chapter makes interesting connections with the recent series on the imago Dei and with Jack Collins’s view of the special creation of humanity and the importance of Adam and Eve at the headwaters of the human race. In this chapter Matthew Lieberman argues that fairness trumps selfishness in humans. We as humans are set apart from other animals in our social nature, we all have a need to belong and feel pain – physical pain – when connections are severed. One consequence of this is that the axiom of self-interest does not really hold. Humans quite often do not act to maximize selfish self-interest.

Being treated fairly activates the brain’s reward mechanisms. This can be tested in a number of ways using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other experimental methods in psychology. The results are quite interesting.

Fairness is one of the many cues we have that we are socially connected. Fair treatment implies that others value us and that when there are resources to be shared in the future, we are likely to get our fair share. Fairness is clearly a more abstract sign of social connection than many others we could imagine, and its important enough that our brain’s reward system is sensitive to it. The same brain regions that are associated with loving the taste of chocolate or any other physical pleasures respond to be treated fairly as well. In a sense then, fairness tastes like chocolate.

This chapter isn’t about fairness per se, but rather about the various social signs, events, and behaviors that reinforce our connection to an individual or the group. Because these tend to activate the brain’s rewards systems, they are referred to as social rewards. Just as social and physical pain share common neurocognitive processes, so to do physical and social rewards share common neurocognitive processes. (p. 74-75)

There are two kinds of social rewards, and both of them are important. There is the social reward that comes when others care for or respect us and the social reward that comes when we care for or treat others well. Both of these activate the areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward.

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Posted in Humanness, Image of God