Apologetics: April 2006 Archives

In response to the claim that ID is just creationism (a slippery enough term as it is that can range from mere theism all the way to those who think Genesis 1 is a science textbook), I've been saying that ID is perfectly consistent with a closed universe of evolution, as long as the natural causes involved are not merely natural causes but are purposive, intelligent causes, and as long as those causes are detectable as intelligent causes. Most theistic evolutionists do not say that and therefore do not accept ID arguments. But someone who does should be welcome under the ID umbrella.

I looked at William Dembski's statements on this in my last post on the subject. I now turn to Phillip Johnson. Since this interview is one common place anti-ID folk have pointed to in order to argue that Johnson holds the opposite view, I've decided to use that as my source. Here is the first major quote relevant to this issue:

Theistic evolution is the same thing as atheistic evolution with a certain amount of God-talk. They don’t see any merit whatsoever in alleging that God left us some fingerprints on the evidence.

I think what's often going on is that ID opponents see him distancing himself from theistic evolution, and they then wrongly conclude that he's ruling out the sort of view with theistic evolution and signs of intelligent design together. But look closely about what he says about theistic evolution. He's not complaining about the view that everything was designed in such a way that evolution would happen but would reveal the signs of intelligent design. He's talking about the view that everything happened the way atheistic evolutionists say it did, i.e. God's fingerprints aren't on creation in order to have something to base an ID argument on. So he's not disagreeing with theistic evolution per se. He's disagreeing with theistic evolution as it's normally held. The usual theistic evolutionist does have a view that contradicts ID. The theistic evolutionist who insists that God left fingerprints that we can detect and then use as a basis for an ID argument is, of course, not inconsistent with ID, because it's the presence of those footprints that's all that the ID argument insists on.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars has been claiming that intelligent design is incompatible with the following sort of view:

God created the universe, having designed it from the outset to produce the kind of particular results God wanted, and there are signs of that creation, but it didn't involve intervention at a later time. Instead, it resulted from the natural laws God set up at the beginning that directed the universe toward the sort of thing that ID arguments are now concluding to be signs of God's design.

This was in response to my claim that ID arguments are consistent with this sort of view. The main thrust of his argument has been to affirm my claim that design arguments can result in such a view but to deny that the people who came up with the term 'intelligent design' wouldn't tolerate this. He says they consistently and repeatedly disallow this sort of view, saying that it wouldn't allow the kind of intelligent design arguments that they are giving. He says Howard Van Till holds exactly the view I was sketching, and they don't count Van Till among the ID people because of his holding this view. I think their statements about him are easily explained in terms of other things they disagree with him about, and Macht has done a good job explaining why in the comments on the post. But I think a positive case can be made that they deliberately do include the sort of view that Ed says Van Till holds. I decided to get out Mere Creation to see what William Dembski, one of the founders of the ID movement, had to say in his introduction to intelligent design arguments. What follows is an adaptation of a comment in the aforementioned discussion.

One of the most common arguments against intelligent design seems to me to confuse motivation with theoretical basis. In defense of the charge that ID is religious creationism, many opponents of ID point out that most people who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons. This happens to be true. Actually, they usually say that all who support ID believe in a creator God for religious reasons, and that's false. Antony Flew supports cosmological ID, and he isn't religious at all. There's a whole blog of ID proponents who are not advocating theism (I believe it's Telic Thoughts, but I couldn't find their statement on this if so). But it is true that most ID supporters are religious theists of some sort.

Here is the important distinction that those who give this argument cannot, or in some cases simply refuse to, see. Members of the Discovery Institute offer arguments for the existence of God. These are classic philosophical arguments that go back at least as far as Plato, who had no contact with Christian (Christianity didn't exist) or Jewish (no Jews were anywhere near him) monotheism. These arguments conclude that it seems likely that there must have been some designer for whatever particular phenomenon the argument is concerned with, e.g. the origin of the cell, the origin of some particular organ, the cosmological constants of the universe, etc. The Discovery Institute also happens to believe the designer that the argument's conclusion speaks of is the Christian God. They even admit that they have religious motives for wanting people to accept the argument. But the fallacy anti-ID people regularly engage in is to take that motivation to be the basis of the argument. It's simply not, and that kind of confusion would lead an introductory philosophy student to fail a critical thinking assignment.

Ben Witherington now has two more Judas posts. He discusses yesterday's NPR discussion of the Gospel of Judas, which I missed and now will have to try to listen to from their website when I get the chance. Several issues come up in the post. I think the two most notable points are his further discussion of whether this Coptic text had a Greek antecedent and his claim about the moral content of this work. He particularly frowns on its portrayal of Jews. I left a comment wondering what he meant. Is the Gospel of Judas is anti-semitic in a way that the canonical gospels are not? I doubt he accepts the claims of many scholars that the internal criticism of Jesus and his followers of their fellow Jews counts as anti-semitism. Is just a further development in the direction that isn't really anti-semitism but that scholars have pretended is anti-semitism, or is it really anti-semitic in a way that the canonical gospels aren't? I'd be reluctant to consider it anti-semitic simply because it says some things that Jews didn't agree with, but that's all he mentions. If it can be established that the motivation was hatred of Jews, then I could see it, but simply having a different cosmology from the Hebrew one doesn't seem to me in itself to be anti-semitic. I'm still awaiting his response on this.

Witherington also has a discussion of what the canonical gospels say about Judas. I'm a little more confident that Judas never repented than he is (I think the suicide is a pretty good sign that he didn't), but he doesn't think we have any reason to think Judas did repent. What he does think is clear is that Judas did wrong in betraying Jesus and that this was really just a continuation of his character all along.


Andreas Kostenberger also posts on this
. I don't think he's saying much that wasn't in any of the other various things I've linked to except one point that I partially disagree with. The Gospel of Judas is bad for several reasons, one of which is that viewpoint it expresses. Gnosticism treats the body as unimportant and thus devalues one aspect of how God created us. It's not really a gospel, because it's message isn't good news but in fact bad news. I agree. But he adds one further thing that makes me hesitate. He says the Gospel of Judas is morally dangerous because it promotes betrayal as good. I don't think it's exactly fair to say that the Gospel of Judas portrays betrayal as virtuous. What it does is say that Judas didn't betray Jesus but was carrying out his instructions. In effect, it exonerates someone who in reality was a traitor by saying something false about what he did. But it doesn't take the moral stance that betrayal is virtuous. I think the author would have agreed that Judas would have been doing wrong if he had betrayed Jesus. But the book doesn't portray Judas as having done that.

I've been watching National Geographic's special on the Gospel of Judas (see here for my first post with links to all sorts of information on this work). I'm trying to catalogue all the unscholarly things they've been saying. I think I missed at least one, but there's plenty here to criticize.

First of all, they selected mostly scholars known for Gnostic sympathies or more radical reconstructions of the history of the development of Christianity. Many of these were not mainstream scholars but fringe elements like Bart Ehrman (see the links here for evaluation of his latest popular work) or Elaine Pagels (best known for minority views about Gnosticism that most scholars reject). Craig Evans was the one voice of reason in the whole production, and it felt to me as if they were excerpting him most of the time to fit with what they wanted to get across, putting his rejection of any historical value in this work regarding the actual Judas immediately before a fallacious argument of Elaine Pagels that ignores much historical information about the differences between what we know about the gospels and what we know about this work (see 6 below). My conclusion is that the people who put this together absolutely failed in terms of their journalistic integrity. But what else is new? That usually happens in these specials. There was much that I found enjoyable and interesting in this special, but I'm disgusted enough with the negatives that I'll have to refer you to Mark Goodacre for the positive elements.

On to the specific criticisms:

The Gospel of Judas

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I wish I had the time to comment on the media failure about the Gospel of Judas, but enough people have already done so that I can just link to them.

David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy has The Judas Gospel, which mainly refutes the ridiculous sorts of claims being made by most of the major media outlets who have been suggesting that anything in the Gospel of Judas has some bearing on scholarship on the historical Judas and will force everyone to reevaluate this man.

Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping has Judas Gospel a Yawner at Winds of Change (he also has it at his personal blog, but he's got comments and trackbacks at Winds of Change), which fills in more details on the apostolic origins of the NT canon and the rejection of non-apostolic works like the Gospel of Judas.

Ben Witherington has The Gospel of Judas et. al. -- Part One, which has some inside information about the process that has led to the publication of this new English translation of the Coptic translation that scholars we have had for years but has been unreadable by most NT scholars who know no Coptic (and the original Greek, if there ever was one, has not been found). He says he intends to follow up on this more.

Mark Roberts focuses more on the actual content of the Gospel of Judas in Excursus: The Gospel of Judas -- A Special Report, in an extended aside in the midst of a series evaluating the claims made by characters in The Da Vinci Code. It's not wholly off-topic, since both works raise issues related to Gnosticism, but this post is a stand-alone treatment of the Judas "gospel".

God of the Gaps

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Joe Carter delineates several interpretations of "God of the gaps" and sorts through which one are legitimate interpretations of ID claims, which ones are theologically tolerable for Christian theists, and which ones are scientifically acceptable. It turns out to be more complicated than people usually take it to be. I have nothing to add. This is the kind of post I like to write myself.

Lying Under Duress

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I've been thinking through the ethics of deceit with respect to April Fools jokes and other kinds of false statements that may or may not be considered lying. The Jill Carroll case has raised an important further sort of case that I hadn't been thinking about. What about when someone says something they don't believe to be true under duress? For background on the details of her case and her deliberate statements (under threat) of things she didn't agree with, see the Moderate Voice's excellent roundup. There seem to me to be at least three issues that may have a moral bearing on how we should evaluate such false statements, and I think the end result is much more messy than we would generally like moral issues to be.

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