The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

Yes, the non-capitalization of the third word in the title is deliberate.  I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized.  For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.

This god is good, but small and not very powerful.  This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful ((see I Corinthians 1:26-31).  That is why those who lead this god’s churches must attempt to change the foolish things into things wise in the ways of this world, and must change the lowly and despised things into things this world likes and respects. 

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar.  The sweeteners  of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe.  Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help.  It’s not that they want to distort this message.  It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.

This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches.  These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age.  They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming. 

This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

The pastor of [insert trendy name here] Church heads into his office Monday morning.  His first action is to check the numbers: attendance, giving, google rank.  He soon begins to think of this week’s sermon and worship (or, if well organized, those of the weeks ahead).  He has 7 hours for that this week (it used to be 15, but that was before he took on more ceo type responsibilities).  How does he spend those 7 hours?  The options are basically these: exegesis, prayer, presentation, and practice.  Since his main concern (though he would never admit it) is to impress or at least interest the hearers, so that they feel good enough about the message that they continue to come (and hopefully invite friends), he ends up spending most of the seven hours on the last two.  After all, not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right.  But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience. 

In similar way, the worship leader, taking his cue from the pastor, chooses songs based on the criteria of what the people will find enjoyable or “meaningful”.  Of course, he would never choose songs that are not scriptural.  But that leaves a lot of leeway.  He may try to coordinate the songs with the sermon and the other parts of the service.  But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend.  They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long.  The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them.  As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”

Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine? 

This is the morass into which we have sunk.

Links

 

imonk, a site run by Mike Mercer (former Pastor of FCC).  this site has a very wide reach, and a wealth of discussion about the Church, the Scriptures, and spirituality.  Dont miss the archived essays.

churchangel, a place to find churches in your area.

Danieljepsen.com, the musings of the most profound man on earth.

Logical and Factual Problems with Naturalistic Evolution

By Daniel Jepsen

Intro:  this is my attempt to show why I have not been persuaded by the scientific arguments for materialist evolution, that is, evolution within a naturalistic worldview. This type of worldview is one that states that only matter (or, only matter and energy) exists, and therefore all life, including our existence, must be accounted for by the unguided process of natural selection.  Most of these arguments will not be relevant to the various theories of theistic evolution. 

Also, there is one other problem with a materialistic account of origins which I will not develop here (because it is covered elsewhere in this journal) but which I feel is cogent: the fact that matter exists at all, that is, that there is something rather than nothing.  While this is not technically a problem with evolution, it is a problem for a worldview (naturalism) which underlies the type of evolution I am discussing here.

So, in brief summary, here are the problem areas for unguided evolution:

A. the origin of life

A theist looks to a creator to explain the origin of life. This answer will not satisfy all people, but it is an answer internally consistent with its worldview.  The materialists, however, have no answer here.  Their sole source of knowledge, empirical science, simply cannot give an explanation for this crucial phenomenon. 

 Everything we see of life around us have the following characteristic:  it arises from life.  A baby is born from its mother, a plant develops from a living seed, a cell is produced from another cell.  This is called biogenesis, and is the common fact of our experience. Materialism, however, must also choose to believe in what we have never seen: abiogenesis, that life arose from non-life.  The reason materialists must choose to believe what they have not seen is simple: we have life now, but at some point in time there was nothing but non-life.  Without recourse to a creator, materialists must explain this phenomenon. 

Of course, it does no good to say that evolutionary theory only deals with things already living.  If evolution professes to give an adequate account of the world we live in, it cannot simply skip over the most startling fact of all: that life is here.  If it cannot explain the origin of life, its answers to the modification of life will seem at best to be incomplete, and at worst to be pointless.

Some of the more un-informed will point to the Urey/Miller experiments in 1953 as proof that life, or at least the building blocks of life, can be simulated in a lab. This is false for two reasons.  First, even if the experiment were a success, it would not support evolution, but intelligent creation.  The raw materials in the experiment did not simply show up in the lab by chance.  They were chosen by intelligent beings with the design of trying to create life.  Secondly, the experiments were a failure, not a success.   I will allow microbiologist Jerry Bergman to summarize the experiment and its problem (you may skip the italicized sections if you don’t want to get technical).

The most famous origin of life experiment was completed in 1953 by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago.  At the time Miller was a 23-year-old graduate student working under Urey who was trying to recreate in his laboratory the conditions then thought to have preceded the origin of life.  The Miller/Urey experiments involved filling a sealed glass apparatus with methane, ammonia, hydrogen gases (representing what they thought composed the early atmosphere) and water vapor (to simulate the ocean).  Next, they used a spark-discharge device to strike the gases in the flask with simulated lightning while a heating coil kept the water boiling.  Within a few days, the water and gas mix produced a reddish stain on the sides of the flask.  After analyzing the substances that had been formed, they found several types of amino acids.  Eventually Miller and other scientists were able to produce 10 of the 20 amino acids required for life by techniques similar to the original Miller/ Urey experiments.

Urey and Miller assumed that the results were significant because some of the organic compounds produced were the building blocks of proteins, the basic structure of all life (Horgan, 1996, p. 130).  Although widely heralded by the press as “proving” the origin of life could have occurred on the early earth under natural conditions without intelligence, the experiment actually provided compelling evidence for exactly the opposite conclusion.  For example, equal quantities of both right- and left-handed organic molecules always were produced by the Urey/Miller procedure.  In real life, nearly all amino acids found in proteins are left handed, almost all polymers of carbohydrates are right handed, and the opposite type can be toxic to the cell.  In a summary the famous Urey/Miller origin-of-life experiment, Horgan concluded:

Miller’s results seem to provide stunning evidence that life could arise from what the British chemist J.B.S. Haldane had called the “primordial soup.” Pundits speculated that scientists, like Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, would shortly conjure up living organisms in their laboratories and thereby demonstrate in detail how genesis unfolded.  It hasn’t worked out that way.  In fact, almost 40 years after his original experiment, Miller told me that solving the riddle of the origin of life had turned out to be more difficult than he or anyone else had envisioned (1996, p. 138).

The reasons why creating life in a test tube turned out to be far more difficult than Miller or anyone else expected are numerous and include the fact that scientists now know that the complexity of life is far greater than Miller or anyone else in pre-DNA revolution 1953 ever imagined.  Actually life is far more complex and contains far more information than anyone in the 1980s believed possible

The major problem of Millers experiment is well put by Davies,

Making the building blocks of life is easy—amino acids have been found in meteorites and even in outer space.  But just as bricks alone don’t make a house, so it takes more than a random collection of amino acids to make life.  Like house bricks, the building blocks of life have to be assembled in a very specific and exceedingly elaborate way before they have the desired function (Davies, 1999, p. 28)….

Yet another difficulty is, even if the source of the amino acids and the many other compounds needed for life could be explained, it still must be explained as to how these many diverse elements became aggregated in the same area and then properly assembled themselves.  This problem is a major stumbling block to any theory of abiogenesis…

As Coppedge (1973) notes, even 1) postulating a primordial sea with every single component necessary for life, 2) speeding up the bonding rate so as to form different chemical combinations a trillion times more rapidly than hypothesized to have occurred, 3) allowing for a 4.6 billion- year-old earth and 4) using all atoms on the earth still leaves the probability of a single protein molecule being arranged by chance is 1 in 10,261.  Using the lowest estimate made before the discoveries of the past two decades raised the number several fold.  Coppedge estimates the probability of 1 in 10119,879 is necessary to obtain the minimum set of the required estimate of 239 protein molecules for the smallest theoretical life form.

At this rate he estimates it would require 10119,831 years on the average to obtain a set of these proteins by naturalistic evolution (1973, pp. 110, 114).  The number he obtained is 10119,831 greater than the current estimate for the age of the earth (4.6 billion years).  In other words, this event is outside the range of probability.  Natural selection cannot occur until an organism exists and is able to reproduce which requires that the first complex life form first exist as a functioning unit.

The situation is so bad for the naturalist that many of them are openly discussing what most people would consider a rather bizarre belief: that living organisms came from another planet.  This theory, called Panspermia, has two major variations: undirected panspermia (life accidentally hitched a ride on a meteor that landed on earth), and directed panspermia (life was purposefully sent from aliens to earth).  As strange as that last theory may seem, it was the espoused view of the late Francis Crick, an evolutionary advocate and winner of a Nobel prize. 

Of course, Panspermia has a host of problems, both logical and scientific:

•           First, it does not solve the question of how life could arise from non-life, but merely pushes it back to another planet in the hopes of increasing the timeframe.

•           Secondly, by doing so, it implicitly violates materialist methodology by postulating a whole area of human origins to a time and place we cannot examine.  A believer in panspermia seeks answers “outside the system” as surely as creationists do.

•           Thirdly, scientific problems abound.  Space is a damaging environment for life, as it would be exposed to radiation, cosmic rays and stellar winds. Studies of bacteria frozen in Antarctic glaciers have shown that DNA has a half-life of 1.1 million years under such conditions, suggesting that while life may have potentially moved around within the Solar System it is unlikely that it could have arrived from an interstellar source. Also, life as we know it requires heavy elements carbon, nitrogen and oxygen (C, N and O, respectively) to exist at sufficient densities and temperatures for the chemical reactions between them to occur. These conditions are not widespread in the Universe, so this limits the distribution of life as an ongoing process.

Some naturalists, looking at the evidence, yet clinging to a naturalistic viewpoint, then make the following argument:  Well, we know it occurred, so somehow it must have occurred.  This of course, is the very definition of circular reasoning, but has not stopped many evolutionists from making the argument.  Some will augment this argument by postulating a multitude or an infinity of universes.  In an infinity of universes, the argument goes, even the most implausible things are bound to happen in at least one or two of the universes.  The second objection to panspermia (above) applies equally well to this desperate argument.

B. The transition from one species to another 

My first  point here is that many of the arguments to support evolutionary theory, despite their impressive data, are fallaciously argued.  Some scientists either are not well-trained in logical argumentation, or their allegiance to a system of thought blinds them to problems with their thinking.

One example, quoted above, is circular reasoning.  This occurs whenever the theory of evolution is somehow snuck into arguments for analyzing the facts for evolution.  You can see this is many textbooks, but especially when you hear the author saying something like, “well, we don’t know how this evolved, but we know it did, so it must have worked somehow”.  Or you may read something like this, “while we don’t know how this could have occurred in this time frame, the fact that it did simply shows that we will figure it out someday”.

A more hidden type of circular reasoning is even more commonplace.  This occurs when a person who is thoroughly committed to a system of thought finds a new piece of evidence, and automatically (that is, without deliberation), evaluates that piece of evidence only from the viewpoint of that system of thought.  If one is already committed to the belief that birds evolved from dinosaurs, then a fossil like Archaeopteryx (which appears to be something like a dinosaur with feathers and wings) confirms this belief.  If one is not, then the fact that Archaeopteryx could apparently not raise its wings above its head, nor flap them (and so could not fly), and the fact that it occurs in the fossil record before the dinosaurs is supposedly evolved from, and the fact that we have no fossils that look anything like steady stream of transitions from dinosaurs to Archaeopteryx, all lead to a rather different conclusion.  See more examples in the next note.

Another type of faulty reasoning frequently found in evolutionary arguments (especially textbooks) is the fallacy of equivocation.  Basically, this means using a term in two different ways, or using one term to describe two different things, but confusing the meanings in your argumentation. 

The two chief examples here are the equivocation between natural selection and guided selection, and the equivocation between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. 

First, one will often see examples of guided change used to support natural selection.  Any time you hear an argument for the change of species based on the breeding of dogs or other domestic animals, this fallacy is in play.  The argument they are trying to make is that species change.  The argument they are really proving is that species change, within certain boundaries, when someone with intelligence, power, and direction facilitates that change.  But of course, no-one argues against that last point. 

Second, related to the example above, their also seems to be a huge equivocation in most evolutionary arguments between micro-evolution (that species change physically based on changes in their environment) and macro-evolution (that species change into completely different species).  Two of the very famous examples here are the variations of Finches beaks, and the peppered moth study in England.  Lets take these in reverse order.  I will allow R. Matthews to summarize the experiment of the Peppered Moths, and what is wrong with it:

The “evolution” of the peppered moth, Biston betularia, whose story is recounted in almost every textbook on evolution, now appears to be based upon spurious data. According to the standard account, only one version of Biston existed before the mid-19th century: a white variety, peppered with black spots. During the Industrial Revolution its numbers plummeted because it became easy prey for birds as it rested on the pollution-blackened trunks of trees. In its place a mutant, pitch-black form of the peppered moth began to thrive, as it could rest on tree trunks without fear of being eaten. Precisely as predicted by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, this more fit mutant moth rapidly outnumbered the white version, reaching 100 per cent levels in some industrial areas. However, during the 1950’s, naturalists discovered a resurgence of the white variety, thought to be the result of the Clean Air Acts.  Scientists soon discovered that the white variety flourished again well before the return of pollution-free trees, while the black type continued to thrive in areas unaffected by industry. In addition, experiments showed that neither variety of moth chooses resting places best suited to its camouflage. Despite 40 years of effort, scientists have seen only two moths ever resting on tree trunks – they never have landed consistently on tree trunks, but hide under branches! It looks like the evolution textbooks will have to be rewritten. Evolutionist Richard Dawkins dismissed the new data, saying that, “nothing momentous hangs on these experiments.”

Now think carefully about what would be proved even if the evolutionary proponents were correct that somehow a white moth population turned dark in response to environmental change.  What exactly does this mean in regards to evolution?  Exactly nothing.  Since both varieties existed before the industrial revolution, no change of the species was involved, simply a change in the population demographics within the species.  As an example, imagine if a virus started to infest mankind that killed every person except for those with blue eyes (or every person without dark skin, or whatever).  If this occurred, it would certainly seem that our species had changed:  Now, every human has blue eyes.  However, notice what it would not prove: it would not prove that our species could change beyond the normal variations of eye color that we already have.  It would not add any genetic information to our species.  It would prove exactly nothing about whether our species could evolve into another species.

This fallacy is so obvious that it amazes me that the peppered moth example was put into the textbooks at all.  What is even more amazing is that it is still there, even after numerous holes have been seen, both in the facts of the case and their interpretation.  Yet here is the California Department of Education 2003 Science Framework for California Public Schools:

“An example of natural selection is the effect of industrial ‘melanism,’ or darkness of pigmentation, on the peppered moths of Manchester, England. These moths come in two varieties, one darker than the other. Before the industrial revolution, the dark moth was rare; however, during the industrial revolution the light moth seldom appeared. Throughout the industrial revolution, much coal was burned in the region, emitting soot and sulfur dioxide. For reasons not completely understood, the light-colored moth had successfully adapted to the cleaner air conditions that existed in preindustrial times and that exist in the region today. However, the light-colored moth appears to have lost its survival advantage during times of heavy industrial air pollution. One early explanation is that when soot covered tree bark, light moths became highly visible to predatory birds. Once this change happened, the dark-peppered moth had an inherited survival advantage because it was harder to see against the sooty background. This explanation may not have been the cause, and an alternative one is that the white-peppered moth was more susceptible to the sulfur dioxide emissions of the industrial revolution. In any case, in the evolution of the moth, mutations of the genes produced light and dark moths. Through natural selection the light moth had an adaptive advantage until environmental conditions changed, increasing the population of the dark moths and depleting that of the light moths.”  (California 2003 Science Framework, p. 241; see Part 5)

For those who may not realize this, textbook publishers tend to take their cues from California’s guidelines, because they do not want to give up such a large market; in other words, they make their books for the whole country conform to California’s guidelines. Thus, textbooks around the country are still telling children about spotted moths as proof of evolution.

I won’t go into all the details here, but it seems to me that the same equivocation between micro-evolution and macro-evolution is also at play whenever Darwin’s example of finch-beak variations comes into the discussion.  Carl Zimmer comments on the 30-year study by Peter and Rosemary Grant:

            Look at this situation, the classic textbook illustration of natural selection that is supposed to give us giraffe necks and bat sonar and spider webs and monarch butterflies over time.  All the Grants have observed is a tiny 4% change, that reverted almost all the way back when the rains returned.  And the fact that the birds can interbreed and produce fertile offspring means that these are not really distinct species that have evolved apart, let alone evolved into something new.  Most important, there has been no gain in genetic information.  Any observed changes merely oscillated back and forth depending on climate and food availability.  Where’s the evolution?  The birds are still finches, the beaks are still beaks, and the short-term changes do not translate into any long-term trend.

My second point is that, despite common misperception, the fossil record is inconsistent with natural selection.

The fossil record is often cited as lending support to the theory of natural selection.  In fact, it is a huge embarrassment to natural selection, and theories abound as to why the fossil record does not fit in with the theory of evolution.  This has been well known to informed thinkers for decades.  Randall Niles does a good job of stating the problem:

Let’s start by looking at a few more of Darwin’s very honest statements:

Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined? 1

But, as by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth? 2

Lastly, looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of the same group, must assuredly have existed. 3

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. 4

 

Since Darwin put forth his original theory, scientists have sought fossil evidence indicating past organic transitions. Nearly 150 years later, there has been no evidence of evolutionary transition found thus far in the fossil record. In Darwin’s own words, if his theory of “macro-evolution” were true, we would see a vast number of fossils at intermediate stages of biological development. In fact, based on standard mathematical models, we would see far more transitional forms in the fossil record than complete specimens. However, we see none — not one true transitional specimen has ever been found.

Our museums now contain hundreds of millions of fossil specimens (40 million alone are contained in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum). If Darwin’s theory were true, we should see at least tens of millions of unquestionable transitional forms. We see none. Even the late Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Geology and Paleontology at Harvard University and the leading spokesman for evolutionary theory prior to his recent death, confessed “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”  He goes on:

The history of most fossil species includes two features inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Statis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear… 2. Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed’.  The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.

Author Luther Sunderland saw the problems with the fossil record, so he determined to get the definitive answer from the top museums themselves. Sunderland interviewed five respected museum officials, recognized authorities in their individual fields of study, including representatives from the American Museum, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and the British Museum of Natural History. None of the five officials were able to offer a single example of a transitional series of fossilized organisms that document the transformation of one kind of plant or animal into another.

The British Museum of Natural History boasts the largest collection of fossils in the world. Among the five respected museum officials, Sunderland interviewed Dr. Colin Patterson, Senior Paleontologist at the British Museum and editor of a prestigious scientific journal. Patterson is a well known expert having an intimate knowledge of the fossil record. He was unable to give a single example of Macro-Evolutionary transition. In fact, Patterson wrote a book for the British Museum of Natural History entitled, “Evolution”. When asked why he had not included a single photograph of a transitional fossil in his book, Patterson responded:

…I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualize such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic license, would that not mislead the reader? I wrote the text of my book four years ago. If I were to write it now, I think the book would be rather different. Gradualism is a concept I believe in, not just because of Darwin’s authority, but because my understanding of genetics seems to demand it. Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. As a paleontologist myself, I am much occupied with the philosophical problems of identifying ancestral forms in the fossil record. You say that I should at least “show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.” I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.

David B. Kitts. PhD (Zoology) is Head Curator of the Department of Geology at the Stoval Museum. In an evolutionary trade journal, he wrote:

Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of “seeing” evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of “gaps” in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them…

N. Heribert Nilsson, a famous botanist, evolutionist and professor at Lund University in Sweden, continues:

My attempts to demonstrate evolution by an experiment carried on for more than 40 years have completely failed… The fossil material is now so complete that it has been possible to construct new classes, and the lack of transitional series cannot be explained as being due to scarcity of material. The deficiencies are real, they will never be filled.

Even the popular press is catching on. This is from an article in Newsweek magazine: The missing link between man and apes, whose absence has comforted religious fundamentalists since the days of Darwin, is merely the most glamorous of a whole hierarchy of phantom creatures … The more scientists have searched for the transitional forms that lie between species, the more they have been frustrated.

This covers the main points here. 

Additional note:  One of the cardinal tenets of evolutionary theory has been that birds emerged from dinosaurs.  This is the reason that Archaeopteryx is so celebrated, even with the problems already mentioned.  However, as Science Daily (June 9, 2009) recently reported, that no longer seems tenable: 

            Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental new discovery about how birds breathe and have a lung capacity that allows for flight – and the finding means it’s unlikely that birds descended from any known theropod dinosaurs.

The conclusions add to other evolving evidence that may finally force many paleontologists to reconsider their long-held belief that modern birds are the direct descendants of ancient, meat-eating dinosaurs, OSU researchers say.

            “It’s really kind of amazing that after centuries of studying birds and flight we still didn’t understand a basic aspect of bird biology,” said John Ruben, an OSU professor of zoology. “This discovery probably means that birds evolved on a parallel path alongside dinosaurs, starting that process before most dinosaur species even existed.”

            It’s been known for decades that the femur or thigh bone in birds is largely fixed and makes birds into “knee runners,” unlike virtually all other land animals, the OSU experts say. What was just discovered, however, is that it’s this fixed position of bird bones and musculature that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales.

            Warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than cold-blooded reptiles, and have evolved a unique lung structure that allows for a high rate of gas exchange and high activity level. Their unusual thigh complex is what helps support the lung and prevent its collapse.

            “This is fundamental to bird physiology,” said Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology who completed this work as part of her doctoral studies. “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.”

            However, every other animal that has walked on land, the scientists said, has a moveable thigh bone that is involved in their motion – including humans, elephants, dogs, lizards and – in the ancient past – dinosaurs.

            The implication, the researchers said, is that birds almost certainly did not descend from theropod dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. The findings add to a growing body of evidence in the past two decades that challenge some of the most widely-held beliefs about animal evolution.

            “For one thing, birds are found earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have descended from,” Ruben said. “That’s a pretty serious problem, and there are other inconsistencies with the bird-from-dinosaur theories.

Obviously, space does not permit me to examine every proposed “transitional” fossil.  I will just say that every one I have examined has turned out to be extremely problematic. 

3. The transition from animal life to human life.

Simply put, I don’t see any way that natural selection can account for the uniqueness of homo sapiens.  Not only is the descent of man extremely problematic on the basis of the fossil record, but even if it were perfect it could not explain many of the key virtues which make us human.

First, related to above, natural selection, despite 150 years of trying, has not been able to create a clear descent for man from a non-human ancestor. 

When I was in school, the progress of man was depicted in a fairly straight line. But the old story of apes and man having descent from a common ancestor, and the modern human arising from a straight line through various intermediate types, is long a thing of the past.  In the first place, many of the examples used for decades as transitional forms between our ape-like ancestor and ourselves are now recognized as NOT being our ancestors after all.  This includes the Neanderthal, the Cro-Magnon, Homo Erectus and Homo Habilus.  The chart below represents as much consensus as there is in this field.  The following notes accompany the chart:

NOTES

• Each colored bar represents the time interval spanned by recovered fossils associated with that species. Dotted lines indicate the conjectural evolutionary lines of descent.

• Under each species name is a list of the national areas where all or most of its fossil remains have been found.

• White numbers inside the species bars indicate the approximate count of distinct individuals in each species from whom fossil remains survive. This is considerably smaller than the number of fossil specimens, because a specimen can be a single tooth, bone or bone fragment.

• The human fossil record from about 2.5 to 1.0 million years ago is especially sparse — only about 50 individuals are known, many of them represented by only a single tooth or jaw fragment — and the evolutionary connections from australopithecus to homo erectus, including the evolutionary relationships between habilis, ergaster and erectus, are in dire need of clarification.

• Time spans for modern humans, Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens (H. heidelbergensis) have been extended back beyond accepted fossil limits to accommodate recent genetic evidence that the divergence between the Neanderthal and human lines occurred around 500,000 years ago.

• As environmental or climate context, the major Ice Age epochs in recent human experience were [1] the Wisconsin, 11,000-35,000 years ago (the most extreme of recent coolings), and [2] the Illinoian, 130,000-190,000 years ago, with an intermediate ice era around 60,000-70,000 years ago.

• Four human species proposed in the literature — H. floresiensis, H. pekinensis, H. georgicus and H. rhodesiensis — have been omitted as conjectural or controversial

 

 

(see chart in it’s original site)

So, according to the current theory, man (Homo) first appeared just over two million years ago, but the relationship between modern man and any of his supposed predecessors is still uncertain.  Again, this is after 150 years of dedicated search.

Even more interesting, a new fossil has appeared which seemingly destroys any consensus at all about human origins.  In Chad, a fossil described as Toumai was discovered within the last few years.  It has caused a stir because of the combination of two facts: 1. that it is a species much more human and less ape-like than Australopithecus species, and 2. that it is dated at 7 million BC.  In other words, the descent of man charts will again have to be revised, but in this case the entire bottom of the chart is suspect.  One is left with two alternatives: either all the dating is incorrect (which means the fossils would say precious little about a descent of man) or that the process of finding a coherent pattern of hominid evolution is little more than a shell game.

Other facts about the hominid fossils you may not have learned in school:

            •           Homo erectus maintains the same appearance over its two million year history (again, the evolutionary time scale)

            •           At the bottom of Bed I in the Olduvai gorge is a circular stone structure 14 ft. in diameter made by humans, similar to those in use today by the Okombambi tribe of Southwest Africa. That means true humans were around 2 million years ago by the evolutionist’s time scale, before Homo erectus and the Australopithecines (Lubenow, 1992, 172-173).

            •           Modern Homo sapiens, Neanderthal, archaic Homo sapiens and Homo erectus all lived as contemporaries at one time or another. There is no trend for robust forms evolving into more gracile forms. In the case of Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens, the more robust forms are the more recent.

            •           Fossils only record bone structure. What about the fact that apes have 48 chromosomes and man only 46? This is a significant difference that is rarely mentioned.

            •           It should be remembered that an individual fossil can sometimes mean nothing more than a part of a skull, a piece of the femur, or a tooth.  Some scholars estimate that the entire pre-man hominoid fossils collection could fit within one coffin.

In summary, I do not have much confidence that paleontologists have proven anything conclusive regarding man’s descent.

Secondly, natural selection fails to adequately account for the uniqueness of humans

This is a long and complicated discussion, so I will only summarize what to me seem the most unique aspects of human identity, and which seem the least likely to have come about by natural selection:

1.         Humans uniquely have language skills that are beyond rudimentary.  We are the only species that seems to communicate abstract ideas by language, the only one to create an alphabet or any type of written language, the only one to show development in language, and the only one which seems to teach language.

2.         Humans have unique analytic skills, which are of a difference in kind, not just quality, from animals.

3.         Humans alone advance their culture by the transmission of knowledge through generations.

4.         Humans alone have an objective yet internal sense of morality.  Other species can be taught what is or is not desired or acceptable (by humans or other of their species), and can display aggression-avoidance techniques (like a cowering dog).  This is completely different than the morality that resides at the heart of the human.  It is not too much to say that other animals see only one dimension of reality: what is.  Humans alone see the second element: what ought to be.

5.         Humans alone display a love for beauty.  Other animals interact with their environment functionally; we do it with evaluation.  Not only do even advanced animals seem to not appreciate the beauty of the world around them (from everything we can tell about them), but beauty itself seems to not be a category of thought.

6.         Humans alone display certain emotions, and with other emotions they display them to a much more profound level than animals.  A dog whose pup dies will show a reaction of puzzlement or even sadness for a day or two (often not even that).  A woman whose infant dies will never be the same.

7.         Humans seem unique in their consciousness.  They know not only that they exist, but reflect upon their existence.  This may seem trivial, but its uniqueness in nature, and its importance for human culture, demands it be taken very seriously.

Of course, each of these issues has been tackled by materialists, who attempt to show that each could have arisen from natural selection.  I find their answers extremely unpersuasive.

Darwinists are fond of pointing out that we share 98.5 percent of our genes with chimps.  This statistic is not meaningless, but it can be very misleading.  Scientists are now sequencing the murine (mouse) genome and have come upon some rather startling data regarding a comparison of the murine and human genomes. So far, only chromosome 16 has been fully sequenced in both species. However, the results show that human and murine DNA differ from each other by only 2.5%. This is very surprising, since, according the evolutionary theory, the two species diverged 90 million years ago. The problem for the theory of evolution is that this small difference between mice and humans makes the difference between humans and chimpanzees look huge. Whereas, according to evolutionary theory, it took 90 million years of evolution to produce 2.5% difference in DNA sequence, humans and chimpanzees diverge 1.5% in less than 10 million years.

4.  the intellectual coherence of natural selection:

This last point is not about fossils or DNA.  It is a simple logical issue.

A firm believer in natural selection faces a conundrum.  Here is why: because according to his theory, all brains, including his own, did not necessarily evolve to report truth, but to increase reproductive capacity.  The same brain making the statement, “everything evolved through a process without design, which rewarded those characteristics associated with increased fertility”, is the same brain which itself evolved in this way.  But of course, there is no way to get from, “my thoughts increase my fertility”, to “my thoughts are true”.  It could be argued that only true thoughts increase fertility, but this has two problems: first, we can easily think of numerous scenarios where believing something untrue actually increases fertility.  Secondly, this statement itself seems to be under the same curse: it could be that I only think that true thoughts increase fertility because that belief increases fertility, not because it is true.

Steven Pinker is one of the most influential writers in the Darwinian Camp.  His book, “How the Mind Works” is something of a classic in its field, despite the fact that toward the end of it he acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else can explain fully things like sentience, the self, free will, meaning, knowledge, and morality (quite a substantial list).  He then goes on to make a most remarkable statement, illustrating the dilemma I have just brought up.  On page 516, he says this:

“We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.”

This is not an off-hand remark made in the spur of the moment.  It is the published writing of a leading Darwinian, and, indeed, it is hard to escape the logic of the statement if natural selection is true.  If everything else evolved, then certainly our minds did as well.  But they did not necessarily evolve to find truth.

As one reads this statement by Pinker, the inevitable question comes to mind: “But, Dr. Pinker, did you mean that as a true statement?  If yes, how is that possible if you have just destroyed the belief that the mind can know things truly and with correctness?  Is your mind an exception?  If no, then I have just wasted the time reading 515 pages of some sort of sophomoric joke”. 

Again, this is not just Pinker’s dilemma.  He simply is brave enough to put into words the natural consequence of natural selection.  A theory which undercuts itself so badly, a theory which is not even consistent with itself, is a theory impossible to believe, except on faith.

Conclusion:

•           The wealth of evidence and argumentation in this area is complex and spans biology, genetics, paleontology, geology, zoology, botany, as well as logic, philosophy, and, in particular, the philosophy of science.  Quite simply, no-one can be an expert in all these areas, (or even most), so we should all be humble in our conclusions, charitable in our words, and open in our thoughts.

•           Nevertheless, if my arguments are correct, they demonstrate that natural selection is insufficient by itself to account for the evidence around us.

Glossary of Apolologetic Terms

Agnostic – One who believes that it is not possible to know if God exists.  Either the evidence is insufficient, or our ability to analyze it objectively is impossible.  It may also be defined as one who is undecided on the question of God.

Anthropic Principle – The observation that the universe and the world seem to be designed for human life.

Anthropomorphism – The act of ascribing human characteristics to non-humans (especially to God).

Antithesis – An idea in opposition to a particular proposition or thesis.

A Priori – Latin for “from before”; that which is known independently of sense perception and thus often held to be undeniable.  Often used in the sense of one’s presuppositions, which are brought to bear on a question before any data has even been evaluated.

Apologetics – The venture of defending the truth and rationality of a position, for example, Christianity.

Atheist – Someone who asserts that there is no God.

Cosmological Argument – The philosophical argument (can also be argued from physics and astronomy) that the existence of the universe demands a theistic cause.

Deism – The idea that God is not personally involved with the material world after having created it.  The imagery is of a clock maker who winds the clock and allows it to run according to its own design.  Miracles have no place in the deistic worldview.

Determinism – The view that everything in the universe is controlled by previous conditions, and therefore could not be otherwise.  On this view, free will is an illusion since all actions (including man’s actions are ultimately driven by predetermining causes.

Empiricism – The belief that all knowledge is acquired through the experience of the five senses.  Often contrasted with Rationalism.

Epistemology – The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge, i.e., What is knowledge? How do we come to know things? What is truth? How do we derive certainty?  etc.

Eschatology –Study of last things (the future).

 

Ethics – The study of right and wrong, of what one ought to do.  

FallacyAn invalid inference; a logical error.

Fideism – The view that faith means choosing to believe totally without objective reasons. Also called volunteerism

General Revelation – God’s revelation of himself through the created universe..  Also known as “Natural Revelation.” 

Humanism – Humanism is essentially an attempt to construct a non-theistic system of beliefs and values around the central idea that mankind is supreme (there is nothing above him)

IdealismThe philosophy which holds that reality consists of minds and ideas rather than matter.

Kalam Cosmological Argument – A form of the Cosmological Argument that divides the argument down into the following logical premises, which are then independently argued for.

  1. The universe either had (a) a beginning or (b) no beginning.
  2. If it had a beginning, the beginning was either (a) caused or (b) uncaused.
  3. If it had a cause, the cause was either (a) personal or (b) non-personal.

Materialism – The philosophical perspective that nothing exists except the material, physical world.  This view is also know as “Naturalism”, (because the only thing real is the “natural”).  Modern materialist have sometimes preferred the term, “physicalism”, since this term includes both matter and energy.

Metaphysics – The branch or field of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature, structure, and characteristics of reality.  A narrow usage of the term refers to the study of that which lies beyond the physical realm (i.e., the supernatural realm).

MonismThe metaphysical view that all reality is one.

Moral Relativism – The idea that there is no objective good and evil.

Natural Theology – Doctrines concerning God which are attainable via nature and reason, as opposed to those that require special revelation (e.g., scripture).

Naturalism – See “Materialism.”

Natural Revelation – See General Revelation.

Negative Apologetics – Defending Christianity against criticisms.

NihilismThe view that there is no value or being in the universe.

Ockham’s Razor – The idea that the explanation for a problem or effect that fits the facts with the least number of assumptions is the best. 

Ontology – The study of “being,” or existence.

Ontological argument – The argument devised by Anselm for God’s existence which claims that from our idea of God’s essence we can conclude God must exist

Pantheism – The idea that god and the world are inseparable — God is all, and all is god.  The most important, and emphasized, implication of this is that we (being of the same substance) are gods as well.  This view originates in the Eastern religious traditions and plays heavily into the New Age worldview as well.

Polytheism The belief in many gods.

Positive Apologetics – Advancing Christianity via arguments or evidence.

Postmodernism – A reaction to the optimistic modernist perspectives on truth, reason, and science.  Postmodernism values subjectivity over objectivity, feeling over reasoning, creativity over conformity, defining meaning over seeking meaning, and tolerance over discernment.  It especially supports such ideas as sexual and cultural diversity, religious pluralism, moral relativism, and an individualized view of “truth.”

Pragmatism – The philosophy that makes practical consequences the criterion for truth.

Rationalism – Broadly speaking, the epistemological view that stresses reason as the test of truth.  In a strict sense, the belief that at least some knowledge is acquired independent of sense experience.  Contrasted with Empiricism.

Religious Pluralism – The idea that all religious traditions should be given equal value in society.  Behind this is the postmodern idea that none have a monopoly on truth, if “truth” even exists.  Consequently, all religions should be valued and afforded equal status.

SkepticismThe belief that one should doubt or suspend judgment on philosophical or theological questions.

Special Revelation – Knowledge of God supplied directly to humanity.  For modern Christians this generally refers to scripture.

Syncretism – The blending of different beliefs or practices.

Theistic Evolution – The idea that evolution is true, but that it proceeded under the direct guidance or subtle prodding of God.  There are many forms of this.

TheismThe world view that affirms the existence of a personal, infinitely powerful and all-perfect Creator of the world, who is both transcendent over the world and immanent in it.

Teleological Argument – An argument for God from the design/purpose (telos) seen in nature.

UtilitarianismIn ethics, the view that one should act to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

 

Why Isn’t God More Obvious?

 

By Daniel Jepsen

In his book, Contact, Carl Sagan satirically asks why God doesn’t place a glowing cross in the sky at night to serve as irrefutable proof of Jesus’ resurrection. One could just as well ask why God doesn’t set up a website, or place billboards around.  Why must we read and understand an ancient book to know God?  Bertland Russell, the famous British atheist, once was asked what he would say, if, after his death, he came face to face with the God he had denied in life.  Russell’s response: “Not enough evidence”.

This is not just a question for non-believers.  As Christians, surely we all wonder why the evidence for God can be denied.  Doesn’t God want us to all know Him?  Then why doesn’t He make himself more obvious?  Why doesn’t he shout from heaven?  We certainly agree with Moses’ statement, “You are a God who hides himself”, but we usually have no clue why.

I think the answer to that is in understanding the difference between faith and knowledge, and why God desires faith.

Briefly, knowledge is the intellectual knowledge of what is (yes, I am aware of the different debates about knowledge, but am not going to get into them here, as they do not affect my main point).  Faith is a little more difficult to define.  I define it this way: Faith is choosing, for good but not unassailable reasons, to believe something is true, and then acting on that belief.  This seems to me the definition most inline with the New Testament word (pistis in Greek) which is translated faith, belief, or trust.

Notice a couple things about this definition:

  • First, it is a belief that has consequences.  It is not a trivial thing, for this type of faith affects our choices (unlike, say, the belief that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that the sun is around a million times the size of the earth). 
  • Secondly, it is based on reason and evidence, but it is not compelled by them.  That is, it is not against reason or evidence, but may sometimes go beyond them.  I believe my spouse is faithful to me, not because I can prove it by evidence (I don’t have her video-taped 24/7) but because it is consistent with what I do know of her and our life together.
  • Third, to some degree, it is a choice.  I have no real choice in believing that snow is cold, or that the chair I am sitting in is black.  Unless I want to deny my sense experience, the belief is forced upon me.  Nor can my belief that two  plus two equals four be a faith decision; it is self-evident and irrefutable.  But faith is a flower that can only be cultivated in the ground between reason and certainty. 

 

Now, if this is so, then we may begin to see why God makes faith our only acceptable response to Him: Since faith is a choice, it involves moral, and not just intellectual, implications.  That is, to some degree, I will choose not just whether there is a God or not, but if I want there to be a God or not.  This is not to imply faith has no intellectual content, but to affirm that is also has moral content.  Reason can lead me to the water, but it can’t make me drink.  I still must choose.

This is then consistent with that, as C. S. Lewis said, hell is locked from the inside.  The believer says to God, “I want you”, the unbeliever says, “I don’t want you”, and God says to them both, “Your will be done”.

Finally, we should also stop to ponder the question of what effect it would have on our faith if God was more obvious, and his ways shown with certainty to be true.  For example, why doesn’t God automatically and visibly reward each act of faith and obedience?  Every time I refuse some tempting sin, or every time I obey Him, why doesn’t He boom from Heaven, “Good job!”, and send down a twenty dollar bill (or solve whatever problem is bothering me)?

When put in terms like these, it is easy to see how this would distort our relationship with God.  We would be treating Him as an object, something we manipulate for our own gain.  Faith here would not only be stunted, but warped.

The example of Israel may be instructive here.  If God was ever obvious, it was in His dealings with the Israelites, especially in the early years under the leadership of Moses.  Just think: they saw the plagues on Egypt.  They experienced the crossing of the Red Sea.  They heard God thunder from the top of Mt. Sinai.  In fact, the last verses of Exodus tell us that the visible sign of God’s presence was always with them:

            In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud (representing God’s presence) lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if it did not life, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. (Exodus 40: 36-38).

God certainly could not have been much clearer than that.  Yet, the faith and obedience of the Israelites in the desert was anything but exemplary.  Philip Yancey notes:

I also noticed a telling pattern in the Old Testament accounts: the very clarity of God’s will had a stunting effect on the Israelite’s faith.  Why pursue God when He had already revealed Himself so clearly?  Why step out in faith when God had already guaranteed the results? …In short, why should the Israelites act like adults when they could act like children?  And act like children they did, grumbling against their leaders, cheating on the strict rules governing manna, whining about every food or water shortage. (Disappointment with God)

On the contrary, when God wanted to raise up David as His ideal King (thus representing His people) He did so by often seeming silent and even unfair (just check out the Psalms).  In short, God knows what He is doing with us, and His silence and hiddeness have purpose.

Holiness in the Old Testament, part 1

As we saw last time, the concept of holiness is quite different than is normally thought of.  Moral righteousness or purity is one aspect of holiness, not its definition.  It is the surface of the ocean, the part that “touches” us, but not the essence of its depth.

 Holiness, we said, is at it essence the idea of being separate, or cut off, from something, and that something is the universe itself, physical creation as a whole.  To say that God is “holy” is to say that He transcends, stands over and apart from, the physical universe.  He is not an object in it, but He, and He alone, has a quite different relationship to the universe than we do.  The universe can be said to exist to us as cause to effect, or as the arena where we live and move.  But the universe exists before God as effect to cause; he is not in the arena, but stands over it and outside of it. 

Holiness, then, is primarily a relationship word.  God is holy in relation to the universe.  This is not to say it is not fundamental.  In many ways it is the most fundamental thing we can say about God.  But it is not His essence (see the chapter on holiness and love).  We call a geographic point in the artic the North Pole because it exists as unique place in relation to all other places on the globe.  In the same way, holiness expresses the state of relationship primarily, and describes a state of being only in light of that relationship. 

The first two occurrences of the word holy in the Old Testament establish are quite interesting in this regard.  The first refers to a holy time, the second to a holy place.  How can these things be holy?

Let’s look first at the holy time.  We are told in Genesis 2:3 that God, “blessed the seventh day and made it holy”.  The next phrase, “because he rested (or ceased) from all his work that he had done in creation”, could modify either the fact that God blessed the seventh day, or that he called it holy, or, most likely, both.  So if we began reading our Bible in Genesis, and had no pre-conceived ideas of what is meant by holiness, we would understand it as some sort of “special quality” which attached to certain times. 

How is this related to the idea of Holiness as separateness?  In this way: all other days were “ordinary” days, but the seventh day was a day “set apart” from those other days.  In this day, activities would change.  Things done on the other days would not be done on this day, and things done on this day would not be done on the “ordinary” days.  We will look later at what this means for modern day Christians, but for now it is enough to understand that at holy day meant a day set apart from the rest, which is so marked by a change in human activities. (By the way, this idea of the specialness of a day being marked by special activities is carried over in our culture in the notion of holidays, that is, “holy days”).

The next time we see the word holiness in the Scriptures is in Exodus 3, in the encounter between Moses and God at the burning bush.  As Moses approaches the bush, he is warned to do two things: first “do not come near”.  Second, to “take off your sandals”.  Why? “For the place you are standing is holy ground”.  

How can a spot of dirt and stone be holy?  It is clear from the context and the rest of the Pentateuch: A place is holy ground, not because of any intrinsic qualities it has, but because God’s presence and activity is there in a special way.  It is no longer ordinary ground; it is used redemptively by the Holy One, and so becomes holy, even as it remains physically unchanged. 

In both passages, holiness here is understood as a quality that God gives, or declares, about something in the physical universe because the one who stands outside that universe is using it.  It is this instrumental sense of holiness that tends to dominate the meaning of holiness in the Pentateuch, especially in Leviticus.  Not only the Sabbath but special feasts times before God are declared to be holy days.  Not only does the ground become holy, but the whole mountain, and then, the “Holy Land”.  Inanimate objects used for God’s purposes, especially in relation to the redemptive plan of God, are called holy.  This includes such things as the vestments worn by the priests, the various parts of the tabernacle, and the sacrifices brought to God.

Two key passages in Leviticus illumine what God is trying to teach regarding holiness.  The first of these is in chapter 10, which begins with the death of two of Aaron’s sons for bringing “unauthorized fire” (literally, “strange fire”) mixed with incense before the Lord.  God’s words after this in verse 8 (“Drink no wine or strong drink…when you go into the tent of meeting”), indicate that the sin of Nabad and Abihu was two-fold: they came into God’s presence drunk, and with incense offering God had not authorized.  In other words they approached God in moral laxity and in worship of their own making. 

Fire came out “from the Lord” (from the Ark of the Covenant?), and destroyed both men.  After the corpses were removed from the camp, God gives this instruction to Aaron (and through him, to the whole priesthood): “You are to distinguish between the holy and the unholy, between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people or Israel all the statues that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses”. 

So one of the purposes of the priesthood, and the Mosaic law, was to make distinctions between what is holy and what is unholy.  This phrase is qualified by the next, “between the unclean and the clean”.  The concept of clean and unclean occurs in Leviticus nearly as often as the word holiness, and often the meanings overlap.  For an offering to be clean meant it was acceptable to God for an offering.  It that sense it was eligible to be a holy offering.  For an animal to be clean meant that Israel, as God’s holy people, could use that animal for food.  For a person to be clean meant they were not defiled by certain things (leprosy, menstrual blood, touching a dead body) and were therefore acceptable to come before God in the assembly before the Tabernacle. 

Notice that in all these things the idea of moral purity is simply not in play.  These were all physical characteristics, not moral.  A heifer is not more righteous than a lobster, but it, unlike the lobster, is clean, and can therefore be used as food by a holy people or offered as a sacrifice to a holy God.  A woman is not less righteous when she is menstruating than a week later when she is not. 

“Cleanness” then, in the Pentateuch, exists as a physical expression of the root idea of holiness: separating.  Some animals and conditions are simply set apart for God’s purposes, and some are not.

The other key passage in Leviticus is in chapter 11, verses 44: “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy.” This verse is repeated (in Greek) in I Peter 1:16, and seems to be behind the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48 (“Therefore you must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect”).

The idea that we should imitate God’s holiness is a sobering, but understandable thought.  What is surprising, then, is the way this is conveyed in Leviticus 11.  It is defined in terms of clean and unclean animals and insects, that is, which the Israelites could eat and which they were forbidden to eat.  The entire chapter is devoted to making dietary distinctions.  What is fascinating is that there appears to be no system or criteria for why some foods are allowed and others forbidden.  Even the distinctions between animals that chew the cud and those that do not, and those which have cloven hoof and those that do not seem rather arbitrary to us.  Why these distinctions?  Why are beef and bass okay, but not pork and shrimp?  We are given no reason.  Presumably it is not important for us to know.

The point I am trying to get across is that God defines holiness for his people in verse 44 in two senses.  First, the motive for holiness is because He is holy.  But the practice of holiness involves obeying his dietary commands about clean and unclean animals.  These two don’t seem to go together.  God has no body, thus no diet.  How then does making dietary distinctions somehow imitate His holiness?

In this way: by making continual distinctions in something as everyday and pervasive as food, Israel was practicing and learning that God’s holiness was about separation.  Their greatest need spiritually was always to remember the kind of God they served.  He was separate, different, of another realm.  This is partly why making an image of God was so offensive: it reduced Yahweh to an item in the universe.  It erased the most fundamental thing about God: his absolute separateness from, and transcendence of, this universe.

Eymology of the Word, “Holy”

Hebrew:  qodesh קֹדֶש 

 Most scholars view the etymology of qodesh to be based on either the idea of separateness or the related idea of cutting.

Greek: hagios  (ἅγιος)    hier     (hagiazo: to make holy, or to set apart as holy)

 The  word has the idea of being set apart for God’s use; secondarily, it also implies moral goodness. Examples of English based on the Greek:

Hagiography: Writings about the lives of saints.

Hagiolatry: The worship of saints

Hierarch: One who has rule or authority in holy things

Hierarchy 1. Rule or dominion in holy things; 2. A body of persons or things ranked in grades, orders, or classes, one above another.

Latin:  sanctus, sacr, sacer

The latin usage reflected the biblical usage, with the idea of someone or something being set apart for God’s use dominating. Examples of English words based on the Latin:

Sacred

Sanctuary

Sanctify

Consecrate

Desecrate

Sanction

Sanctimonious

Sanctity

Sacerdotal

Sacrament

Sacrifice

Sacrilege

 

English:

The English word holy dates back to at least the 11th Century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning whole and used to mean ‘uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete’. The Scottish ‘hale’ (health, happiness and wholeness.) is the most complete modern form of this Old English root. The modern word ‘health’ is also derived from the Old English hal. As “wholeness”, holiness may be taken to indicate a state of religious completeness or perfection.

In English, then, the word “holiness” is used to primarily describe a moral quality (sinless, pure, whole).  This is the secondary, not primary, use of the concept of holiness in the Bible.

The Purpose of the Church

In one sense, determining the purpose of the local church is not easy.  This is because the Church exists on several different levels, and quoting a passage alone without discussion of what level of the church the passage refers to is an exercise in confusion. 

 First or all, the Church exists as the future cosmic co-heirs with Christ over all creation.  The last part of Ephesians chapter one has this future-cosmic viewpoint (see the end of verse 21).  Verses 22-23 then conclude, “And God placed all things under his feet, and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”.   This is indeed one of the key concepts in Ephesians, that God’s plan is, in the fullness of time, to bring all creation under the headship of Jesus Christ (1:10), or to put it another way, to “fill” creation with Jesus (“fill” is one of the key words in Ephesians and Colossians).  The passage quoted here shows that the way He fills creation with Jesus is to create the church, which, because it is like Jesus and reflects Jesus, is able to manifest Jesus throughout all the realms of creation.  This, it seems to me, is also the context which best makes sense of the beautiful words in Ephesians 5, that Christ “loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  See also the wonderful passage of I Peter 2:4-10 in this regard.

Secondly, the church also exists right now in its corporate state.  In this state, the church exists not as the bride, but the espoused one.  At this level, it also makes sense to speak of the church not just as a local congregation, but also the collection of such bodies in a particular country, society, or even globally.  But our main concern (since normally it is all we can influence) is for the individual congregation.  The local church can only find its goals and marching orders in light of the larger purpose (as stated above), and as spelled out in scriptures that address the local congregation (mainly in the teaching of the Epistles and the examples of Acts, with the latter being interpreted by the former).  Paul is given the gift of most fully explaining the role and purpose of the local church, and his most extended discussions are in I Corinthians and Ephesians (especially I Corinthians 11-14, and Ephesians 4:1-16).  Of the two passages, the one in Ephesians is more helpful in understanding the purpose of the local body, since it deals with the issue directly (whereas most of the passage in I Corinthians is more oblique, as it addresses problems of the local church in Corinth).  This much-discussed passage tells us that God gives to the present Church different foundational gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers) for the purpose, “to prepare God’s people for works of service”.  And why are God’s people to do works of service? “So that the body of Christ may be built up”.

 Since verses 11-17 are one sentence in Greek, and critical to the purpose of the local church, we should see how the four best English translations render this whole passage.

The New International Version New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update English Standard Version The New Revised Standard Version
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

 I would suggest the following thought diagram (based on the ESV):

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 

     to equip the saints for the work of ministry,

          for building up the body of Christ,

               until we all attain

                         to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,

                         to mature manhood,

                         to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

        so that we may no longer be children, 

              tossed to and fro by the waves

              and carried about

                        by every wind of doctrine,

                        by human cunning,

                         by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

          Rather, speaking the truth in love,

                        we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

                        from whom the whole body,

                                          joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,

                                          when each part is working properly,

                                    makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Let me summarize this passage by saying that Paul says here that God gives gifted individuals to equip the members to do service work, with the goal being to build each other up into Christlike maturity, resulting in unity, knowledge of God, biblical discernment, and love.

 Now here it would be tempting to limit the purpose of the local church to that of edification, that is, building the members of the church into Christlikeness.  I would suggest that while this is central to the local church’s mission, and certainly fits in well with the future/cosmic purpose of the church related above, that the New Testament as a whole expands upon this purpose in two ways.

 First, the New Testament repeatedly uses priestly imagery to talk about the Church.  This imagery, of course, is based primarily on the Old Testament (disabuse your mind of the priest at your local mainline church). We see hints of that in the passage we just looked at (“ministry” translating the word which the Greek translation of the Old Testament used primarily of the temple ministry of the priests).  But, of course, we are given more explicit links between the church and the priesthood I such passages as I Peter 1:9, Romans 12:1-2, and Hebrews 10:20-22.  The priests were closely associated with the temple of course, which is why Paul, in the last part of Ephesians 4:16 (see above) switches from a body metaphor to an architecture metaphor (“builds itself up”).  This is based upon his earlier use of the temple to describe the church (Ephesians 2:19-22):

 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit

So the imagery of the priesthood and temple remind us that the local church also has some responsibility to minister to God, not just each other. In the Old Testament, this was done primarily by offering prayer and sacrifice.  In the New Testament, this will also be true, though the form of the sacrifice will be different.

 The second reason the purpose of the local church should not be limited to edification (central as that purpose is) is that edification itself will necessarily mean that the church will help its members fulfill their individual purpose as individual members of the Church of God, and this will mean it will involve itself in providing corporate worship/prayer, as well as facilitating evangelism and mercy to those outside the church.

 This, of course, brings us to the third level of the church, that of individual members of the body of Christ, who have a calling which will interact with the local assembly, but is sometimes distinct from it.   The overlap between the corporate and individual levels is real and profound (see, for example, how Paul calls the corporate body the temple of God in I Corinthians 3:16, while a few chapters in 6:19  later he calls individual believers by the same term). Yet a failure to distinguish the calling and present purpose of the individual believer from the calling and present purpose of the local assembly will only result in confusion or distortion. 

 For example, some churches have sought to base a purpose statement around the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 16-20:

 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, All authority iin heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 I hope none will be so obtuse as to think I am minimizing this command by pointing out the following:

  • This statement was given to the eleven disciples, and seems to be the heart of Jesus for His kingdom.
  • It is thus the responsibility of anyone who follows Jesus to take this command seriously.
  • The church as a local body should seek to help its members obey this, both locally and internationally.
  • Nevertheless, the New Testament never uses this statement to formulate the purpose of the corporate church in its worship or services.

 Another passage which is sometimes used to describe the purpose of the church is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40):

 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  Again, this command is given to an individual in response to a question.  It is entirely illegitimate to take this verse out of its context and apply it to the corporate purpose of the church. 

 The problem with this approach, obviously, is that it allows anyone to take any statement directed to the disciples, or to believers in the church, and absolutize it into the purpose of the corporate church.  Thus, some will say that the purpose of the church is primarily worship, or upholding right doctrine, or evangelism, or social justice, or (you fill in the blank). 

The challenge, then, is to understand how to maintain the distinct purpose of the corporate body, while formulating that purpose to help the individual believer fulfill his purpose as an individual part of the body of Christ. This is especially important in the area of evangelism and witness for the following two reasons.

 First, because part of what is implied in the temple imagery mentioned above is that the beauty of the temple shows the beauty and glory of God.  Since this imagery is applied at both a personal and corporate level, the corporate church has a calling to show God’s beauty and glory as its members work together and display the brotherly love which is the ultimate sign of the gospel to unbelievers (see John 13:35).  In other words, our acts of service show the beauty and love of God, but our fraternal love shows the reality of God within us, and this only occurs when the world sees us work and serve and interact together.

 Secondly, evangelism needs a corporate dimension because it is simply more effective that way.  As the different members, with different gifts, use their gifts and skills together, their work is multiplied. 

So the corporate church has a unique responsibility to facilitate group outreach and service (whether at the congregational level or the small group level).

To sum up, the Church seems to have callings in three different spheres.  First of all, it has a calling to God.  This calling is to honor Him who bought us, by becoming like Christ, and by serving as priests, as part of His temple.  Secondly, the church has a calling to itself, that is, to the individuals within the church.  That calling is to sacrificially help each other, both with our spiritual gifts as well as our common service, to become like Jesus Christ.  Related to that, we have a calling to simply love each other and uphold the unity of the body.  Thirdly, we have a calling to the world. I see nowhere in scripture that speaks of us designing the worship and ministry of the corporate church to appeal to and attract non-believers (though I Corinthians 14:23-25 remind us to be aware that some non-believer might be in our services, and we should avoid confusing them). I do see, however, Christians working together to effectively model and witness to God’s love. 

To this end, I identify our purpose or mission in its most simple form as this: We exist to please God.  He, not each other and not the world,  is our audience.  The ultimate criteria for everything we do is this: Based on what God has revealed about Himself and His desire for the church, would this be pleasing to Him?

 Based on the verses above, it seems to me that we can flesh out this statement by saying that God is pleased when we honor Him as God, when we help each other become like Him, and when we share His love to the world. 

How do we honor God as God, our Father and Redeemer? 

  • By becoming like Christ (moral obedience)
  • By prayer
  • By worship

How do we help each other become like Him?

  • By teaching His Word and helping each other apply it
  • By serving each other in areas of need
  • By praying for each other 

How do we share His love to the world?

  • By modeling his compassion to the needy
  • By proclaiming His love to the lost