Friday, August 6, 2010

The Moral Law

An atheist told me that in order to seriously consider Christianity, he would have to believe or assume certain things:

1. There is a non-material element of each human being, the soul, which is created at conception and continues to exist after the death of the individual.

2. There exists two places, heaven and hell, that are or will be eternal repositories for souls rejoined with their physical bodies at some point in the future.



3. There exists a single set of immutable rules governing all human activity, morals. 

4. Transgressions against these morals, sins, are punishable by eternal extreme torture in hell. 



5. Mitigation of this punishment and attainment of heaven is only available through belief in and practice of a particular religious doctrine.

In my first post, "A Skeptic's Guide to Faith," I set forth what I consider to be the best conceptual framework for deciding whether Christianity is true. Mathematical or scientific proof is not possible for reasons we have already discussed. This means that we are left with the legal standards of proof: "the preponderance of the evidence" (civil) or "beyond a reasonable doubt" (criminal), or we can see if the Bible is consistent with the evidence. According to Denis Alexander, this is the standard often used by scientists: "Scientists habitually use that little phrase 'consistent with' in the discussion sections of our scientific papers. We don't 'prove things' in biology, but we do gather data that can count for or against a theory." 

I decided to go with the latter standard. If the Bible is the true inspired word of God, it will be consistent with reality, and it will be the best explanation for reality. But if it's just the best explanation for a few aspects of reality, then it fails. The Bible, properly understood, has to be the best explanation for every aspect of reality.  

Next, I discussed what the Bible says about an "immortal soul" and eternal punishment. My approach was to put aside cultural assumptions and study everything the Bible says about the soul and hell. Although we have no way of proving whether or not this is true, we can determine whether the Bible is internally consistent, including whether its teaching about hell is consistent with its teaching that the Moral Law is written on our hearts. That is, is the Bible's teaching about hell moral? I reached the conclusion that, properly understood, it is. In a future blog post, where I will discuss God's solution to the problem of evil, I will also argue that it is necessary.   

In this post, I will address the issue of Moral Law and examine whether evolutionary or cultural factors provide a better explanation than the existence of a divine Lawgiver. Again, the question is which explanation fits best. One might argue that a sense of right and wrong is a by-product of evolution, since animals also exhibit care for members of their group. But what about altruism? Why do humans almost universally agree that it is right to risk one's life in order to save or protect someone else? And why do we feel particularly inclined to protect the vulnerable or disabled? These things are universally considered morally right—not simply wise or expedient. Altruism is by its very nature the unselfish giving of oneself for the benefit of someone else. 

When our oldest daughter Chelsea was about nine and Ingrid was seven, we took the family out to the California coast for a day trip. Rick had the boys elsewhere on the beach and Chelsea, Ingrid, and I waded into the water (but it was too cold for swimsuits, so we just rolled up our pants). Ingrid is disabled and could not walk without support at the time, so I held her hand, and Chelsea was a few feet away. When a large wave suddenly pulled the sand out from under our feet, Ingrid and Chelsea both started to lose their footing. Although I was able to quickly stabilize Ingrid, a man standing nearby grabbed her other hand as Chelsea fell into the water and got soaked.

Well, Chelsea was very indignant on the drive home because she could not see the logic behind this man's actions. "Why did he grab Ingrid's hand and not mine when you had her other hand? She wasn't going to fall anyway." We tried to explain that it was because he could see that Ingrid was disabled and he just reacted instinctively—if he had had time to think about it, he probably would have grabbed Chelsea's hand. (Chelsea only reluctantly gave me permission to use this story because it made her "seem obnoxious," so I want to make sure that everyone knows that she is a very nice girl who isn't the slightest bit obnoxious. This attitude was cold- and wetness-induced. Also, it was years ago.)

This was just a normal human reaction to seeing a vulnerable person in danger, but some will risk everything, including their lives, for other people. And even if we are not capable of that kind of altruism, we admire those who are. Is Darwinian evolution responsible for the instinct to protect a stranger even at the cost of one's own life? How could the "selfish gene" have evolved in such a way? Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project says:
One proposal is that repeated altruistic behavior of the individual is recognized as a positive attribute in mate selection. But this hypothesis is in direct conflict with observations in nonhuman primates that often reveal just the opposite--such as the practice of infanticide by a newly dominant male monkey, in order to clear the way for his own future offspring. Another argument is that there are indirect reciprocal benefits from altruism that have provided advantages to the practitioner over evolutionary time; but this explanation cannot account for human motivation to practice small acts of conscience that no one else knows about.
But maybe the Moral Law has nothing to do with evolution; perhaps it's just cultural. People almost universally agree that integrity, justice, and courage are admirable qualities. But why do people choose to act in this way? Is it for social approval? No, it goes far beyond that, because we admire those qualities even more when someone does the right thing in the face of persecution. In the movie A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More had been imprisoned awaiting execution for refusing to swear an oath supporting the divorce and remarriage of King Henry VIII. When his family came to visit in order to convince him to swear the oath, his daughter Meg accused him of playing the hero, and he said:
If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we'd live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose to be human at all . . . why then perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.
The Moral Law calls us to act with courage and integrity even when nobody approves. It means staying on the path of truth and justice when it leads to social rejection and even death. And although we can watch the movie about Sir Thomas More and admire his actions, his peers (those whose approval matters most) stripped him of his title of Lord Chancellor and executed him. 

In the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, attorney Atticus Finch defended an African American man who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman. His decision to promote justice made him a pariah in his small, racially bigoted southern town and even put his children in danger. He lost the trial due to the lies of the prosecuting witness and the corruption of the jury. When he packed up his briefcase and left the empty courtroom, all the African Americans who sat crowded together up in the balcony stood up as he passed. But the most powerful part of that scene is that he never looked up and saw it. 

The Moral Law at its purest calls for this kind of selfless dedication to doing what is right regardless of consequences. Few are willing to make the sacrifice when following it becomes hard. It doesn't promise popularity, power, or wealth. But as much as we may try to squash it, every human heart bears its imprint. Why is this? C. S. Lewis says:
If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe—no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?  

30 comments:

Rabbitpirate said...

The Bible, properly understood, has to be the best explanation for every aspect of reality.

So what is the best explanation for, lets say, the fossil record. Is it a single world wide flood or it is the explanation provided by science?

This is just once subject about which their is either no clear explanation found in the Bible or the explanation clearly does not fit the evidence.

Although we have no way of proving whether or not this is true, we can determine whether the Bible is internally consistent, including whether its teaching about hell is consistent with its teaching that the Moral Law is written on our hearts.

I never really understand this claim about internal consistency. Lets just agree for the moment that the Bible IS interally consistent. What does that prove? Does that really mean that it is the word of God? I say no as other more likely explanations, such as later writters had access to the earlier works and lived in the same culture, are available and do not require us to lean upon completely unsupported supernatural claims.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Rabbitpirate,

So what is the best explanation for, lets say, the fossil record. Is it a single world wide flood or it is the explanation provided by science?

I do not think the Bible necessarily claims that the flood was global, and there is scientific evidence of a major regional flood at that exact time.

The water came from the "fountains of the great deep" as well as "the floodgates of the sky" (Genesis 7:11). What is this "great deep"? Other Bible passages indicate that it is the ocean. For example, in Job 38:16, God asks Job, "Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?"

Wikipedia confirms this event:

"Burckle Crater is an undersea crater likely to have been formed by a very large scale and relatively recent (c. 2800-3000 BC) comet or meteorite impact event. It is estimated to be about 30 km (18 mi) in diameter [1], hence about 25 times larger than Meteor Crater."

The comet would have struck the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and Australia, causing a mega tsunami. According to the Bible, that, combined with torrents of rain, is exactly what happened.

The Bible doesn't necessarily say that it was a global flood. The Hebrew word used is eretz, which can mean the earth on which we stand, or the ground, or it can mean the whole earth. In the story of Joseph and the famine, the same word is used, and the context there tells us that it was a regional famine.

But a flood caused by a combination of a comet striking the ocean and torrents of rain would have the effect described in the Bible. And that is exactly what the Bible says happened.

I never really understand this claim about internal consistency. Lets just agree for the moment that the Bible IS interally consistent. What does that prove? Does that really mean that it is the word of God? I say no as other more likely explanations, such as later writters had access to the earlier works and lived in the same culture, are available and do not require us to lean upon completely unsupported supernatural claims.

It depends on the likelihood that it would be completely theologically consistent. It was written by at least forty authors over a period of about 1500 years, it spans two major religions, and it communicates a complex, very nuanced subject.

There was no way that NT authors could go back and change the OT to make it conform. However, the typology in the OT is completely consistent with Christian doctrine. If this only happened a few times we could reasonably conclude that it was coincidental, but the entire OT is full of this kind of symbolism. It would take me a long time just to write about everything that is found in the first few chapters of Genesis. But the entire OT is full of this kind of thing. It is like an infinitely complex word find puzzle, where the "words" are symbolic representations of the gospel.

I'm glad you commented, because I've been meaning to do a blog post on miracles, like we discussed on AC, but I haven't had a chance yet. I'm still addressing the above issues raised by clamflats. But I'm just going to do one more post to wrap that up.

QED said...

Annette -

If the Bible is the true inspired word of God, it will be consistent with reality, and it will be the best explanation for reality.

Your statement above is a conditional statement of the form:

If P, then Q

Where
P = the Bible is the true, inspired word of God.

and

Q = the Bible is consistent with reality and is the best explanation.

To make a valid argument for your position with this, you must proceed via "modus ponens". That is, your argument should take the form:

(i) If P, then Q.

(ii) P.

(iii) Therefore, Q.


However, this is not how you seem to proceed. Instead, you argue for the consistency, etc. of the Bible and try to conclude that it is therefore inspired. More formally, your argument proceeds as follows:

(i) If P, then Q.

(ii) Q.

(iii) Therefore, P.


This is fallacy known as affirming the consequent. Your argument, in this form, is therefore invalid.

To fix this you'll have to prove that the reverse implication holds. In other words, you must establish the biconditional:

P if, and only if Q

Or, in this case:

The Bible is the true, inspired word of God if, and only if it is consistent with reality and is the best explanation of reality.

You go on to say:

The Bible, properly understood, has to be the best explanation for every aspect of reality.

While true, the problem here is properly understood. How can this be judged? What objective standard do you use to ensure this? This seems rather dangerous, since it seems to create an unfalsifiable position. That is, all you need to do is claim that any and every objection rests on an improper understanding of the Bible, which makes begging the question become an easy mistake to make.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

The Bible is the true, inspired word of God if, and only if it is consistent with reality and is the best explanation of reality.

I'm fine with rephrasing it in that way and having the burden of proof that it is consistent with itself and reality and the best explanation for reality. That is how I have proceeded all along, here and on AC.

Since a lot of people left the faith after deciding that it wasn't consistent with itself and reality, I figure this is the best way to approach. But since it has to be consistent in every way, it will take me a while to demonstrate this.

While true, the problem here is properly understood. How can this be judged? What objective standard do you use to ensure this? This seems rather dangerous, since it seems to create an unfalsifiable position. That is, all you need to do is claim that any and every objection rests on an improper understanding of the Bible, which makes begging the question become an easy mistake to make.

This is an excellent point. There are correct and incorrect ways of interpreting the Bible, and a correct interpretation should be airtight. There should not be any part of the Bible that contradicts it, it should be logical, and it should be intuitively morally right. If my interpretation meets these criteria, I conclude that it is correct and I am willing to publish it for other people to read. If I am unsure of something, I don't want to risk misleading someone, because not everyone thinks critically. However, there are enough people who do think critically (and know the Bible) so I can expect to be challenged if I overlook something or my logic is faulty.

Yes, the non-believers often have a faulty understanding of the Bible, which I try to fix. However, they are perfectly capable of determining whether or not my explanation makes sense. If their interpretation makes God look evil, and I offer one that makes Him look good, then mine has to make sense logically and in light of the whole Bible. If they can refute it, then I have failed.

And I disagree that it is not falsifiable. If I were a seeker considering Islam, I would be very troubled by the fact that Mohammed married a six-year-old and consummated the marriage when she was nine. Islam teaches that Mohammed was a greater prophet than Jesus, and yet he did something that we consider morally repulsive today. Jesus, on the other hand, met a high moral standard in every way. The teaching that Mohammed was a great prophet is neither logical nor moral.

Anette Acker said...

However, I know that people often take something in the OT as evidence that God is evil and therefore falsifies the claim that He is love, but those things have a good explanation, so I would likewise ask a Muslim for an explanation. One of the atheists on AC told me that Muslims say they were happily married. If it is true that they say that, I think that rings psychologically false. I think it is extremely unlikely that she was well adjusted and happily married to a middle-aged man. I do, however, believe that she was a terrified obedient child who didn’t know what she felt. If a Muslim gave me that explanation, I would reject it as an excuse for a man who wanted many wives, including a child.

When I said that the Bible has to be consistent with all reality, I included psychological reality. As someone with a great interest in psychology, this is the area where I am most amazed at the Bible's insight. Children are not psychologically ready for sex, and the fact that Islam's greatest prophet exploited a child in this way means that Islam is neither moral nor consistent with psychological reality.

People will point to the fact that some of the biblical patriarchs had several wives and say that the Bible does not espouse an objective morality. However, I have two responses to that: First, in Matthew 19:8 Jesus explains why the Law of Moses contained things that fall short of the objective Moral Law: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." He clearly established that divorce is not God's will, but Moses permitted it because of their unredeemed heart. We can extrapolate to all the laws that made sense in their culture but not in ours.

Second, polygamy was never psychologically healthy for those involved. Sarah and Hagar appeared to get along well until Sarah convinced Abraham to marry Hagar. Rachel and Leah were always feuding. The womanizing of David and Solomon led to their downfall. So the Bible sets the Moral Law while accurately demonstrating human psychology and how the two are connected

QED said...

Annette -

I'm fine with rephrasing it in that way and having the burden of proof that it is consistent with itself and reality and the best explanation for reality. That is how I have proceeded all along, here and on AC.

Since a lot of people left the faith after deciding that it wasn't consistent with itself and reality, I figure this is the best way to approach. But since it has to be consistent in every way, it will take me a while to demonstrate this.


It seems your task is much harder than you think. Before you go about attempting to show that the Bible is consistent you must prove the implication itself. That is, you need to first prove that consistency and best explanation implies divinely inspired word of God.


There are correct and incorrect ways of interpreting the Bible, and a correct interpretation should be airtight. There should not be any part of the Bible that contradicts it, it should be logical, and it should be intuitively morally right. If my interpretation meets these criteria, I conclude that it is correct and I am willing to publish it for other people to read.

A correct interpretation should have little to do with the content of a text. By this I mean that any interpretation should not be based on the a priori assumption that the content is infallible. You therefore cannot make your standard include no contradictions. I also don't see how you can expect, at the outset, that it should be logical and morally intuitive. A proper interpretation should simply lead to the ability to assess these things.

Anette Acker said...

It seems your task is much harder than you think. Before you go about attempting to show that the Bible is consistent you must prove the implication itself. That is, you need to first prove that consistency and best explanation implies divinely inspired word of God.

You never answered my question on your blog about what standard of proof you are using. Are you using a mathematical standard of proof? If so, it is impossible to prove the Bible's veracity in that way because we don't have enough information. Mathematical proof is only possible when we have all the information we need.

This is why scientific theories are not proven. Nobody knows about future scientific discoveries. Likewise, we can say that our present understanding of cosmology is consistent with what the Bible teaches, but of course this doesn't conclusively prove that the Bible is the word of God.

As for the implications of the consistency, it depends on how likely that it would be consistent. If consistency is very likely, like in a novel written by one author, then consistency means nothing. However, if the subject matter is extremely nuanced, in that it has to explain human nature in great depth, it has to be consistent with science, has to be consistent with itself, and cannot make a fundamentally illogical statement, then it becomes very unlikely that a compilation of sixty-six books written by forty authors over a long period of time would meet this standard. If it is also the best explanation for reality, then it meets a high standard of proof as the inspired word of God. However, conclusive proof is impossible.

A correct interpretation should have little to do with the content of a text. By this I mean that any interpretation should not be based on the a priori assumption that the content is infallible. You therefore cannot make your standard include no contradictions.

Let's say that we both have a very complex puzzle. I have been told that it is impossible to solve because the pieces don't fit together. People have told me that it is just a combination of sixty-six puzzles made by forty different people over a long period of time, and most of them didn't know each other. My experience has been that it is impossible.

But you have the same puzzle, and you tell me that one person oversaw the project and made sure that all the pieces fit together, and he has helped you solve parts of it. You know this person and can vouch for his trustworthiness. You further explain that although you haven’t solved the whole puzzle, you’ve solved enough over time to believe the maker’s assertion that all the pieces fit together.

But I tell you that I don't believe that you know the person and that he has helped you. Then I say that you can't assume that it is possible to solve the puzzle because that would be begging the question. You then try to explain to me that you have to assume that in order to keep trying to solve it--otherwise you'd just give up and conclude that it's impossible.

You then offer to solve parts of it that I've struggled with so that I can see if it fits together or whether you've forced the pieces in places that they really don't belong. After you do that, I say, "Well, I still don't think the rest of the pieces fit together." Then you might say, "Okay, let's try another part of the puzzle then."

My point is that I am telling you that I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, that it is completely theologically consistent, consistent with reality, logically consistent, and consistent with the Moral Law. That is an assertion that is either true or false. The only way for me to substantiate my claim is to demonstrate it.

Anette Acker said...

I also don't see how you can expect, at the outset, that it should be logical and morally intuitive. A proper interpretation should simply lead to the ability to assess these things.

Exactly. But before I ask people to assess that, I will have determined to the best of my ability that it is theologically accurate, logical, and morally intuitive. But since I am not infallible, I appreciate it when people point out my mistakes and the holes in my logic. Also, I don’t want to tell people what to think—I want them to think for themselves, so I do want them to assess for themselves whether my interpretation is correct. Critical thinking is a good thing that should be encouraged.

QED said...

Annette -

As for the implications of the consistency, it depends on how likely that it would be consistent. If consistency is very likely, like in a novel written by one author, then consistency means nothing. However, if the subject matter is extremely nuanced, in that it has to explain human nature in great depth, it has to be consistent with science, has to be consistent with itself, and cannot make a fundamentally illogical statement, then it becomes very unlikely that a compilation of sixty-six books written by forty authors over a long period of time would meet this standard. If it is also the best explanation for reality, then it meets a high standard of proof as the inspired word of God. However, conclusive proof is impossible.

First, I don't believe that the Bible is completely consistent. Second, whatever consistency it does possess (even if "complete" given a "proper" understanding) I don't see why this is very remarkable. Even though the Bible was written over a span of approx. 1800 years by 40 authors each of these authors was steeped in the tradition and customs of Hebrew culture and religion. Furthermore, the writers of the Bible were able to "piggy back" and/or build off one another, since older works were available to later writers.

A truly remarkable feat would be a consistent message written by different authors of vastly different cultures such that each writer was completely insulated from the works of all the others.

Anette Acker said...

First, I don't believe that the Bible is completely consistent.

Well, since I'm the one who made the claim that it is completely theologically consistent, I am prepared to substantiate that claim.

Second, whatever consistency it does possess (even if "complete" given a "proper" understanding) I don't see why this is very remarkable. Even though the Bible was written over a span of approx. 1800 years by 40 authors each of these authors was steeped in the tradition and customs of Hebrew culture and religion. Furthermore, the writers of the Bible were able to "piggy back" and/or build off one another, since older works were available to later writers.

I think you are forgetting that the Hebrew religion is different from Christianity, and the Hebrews expected a political savior. They had to completely reinterpret their culture and religion when Jesus came. To them, the ceremonial law was important in and of itself, but if you look at it from the vantage point of the NT, it perfectly typifies Christian doctrine. And as I said to Rabbitpirate, the entire OT is full of this kind of imagery and foreshadowing of Christ.

This is one of the ways that the Bible authenticates itself. None of the authors of the OT knew that they were talking about Christ (Colossians 1:26). However, the OT is so densely filled with typology that if I were to explain everything in just Genesis 3, my explanation would probably be at least twenty pages. I keep discovering new imagery. And all of it fits perfectly.

Sometimes Jesus and the NT authors identify the typology, but most of the time they don't. God has left it there so that honest skeptics can authenticate the Bible as God's word without the need for outside sources, which are inherently unreliable. Bible critics often rely on the absence of historical evidence for details in the Bible, which is their version of the theist's god-of-the-gaps argument in science.

The Bible never says that honest skepticism is a character flaw. Resistance to the truth is a character flaw. "Doubting Thomas" has gotten a bum rap over the years, but he is actual the model honest skeptic.

John 20:25-28 says: "So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.' A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'"

Jesus gave Thomas the evidence he had asked for, and it was not until then that He said, "Stop doubting and believe." And Thomas replied by calling Jesus his Lord and acknowledging that He was God. In other words, he responded with intellectual and practical faith.

John 20:29 says that those who believe without seeing are "blessed"--faith comes from being close to God. But that did not stop Jesus from meeting Thomas where he was. If Thomas had then claimed that it was a mass hallucination or refused to call Jesus Lord, he would have gone beyond being a honest skeptic to being resistant to the truth.

Anette Acker said...

QED,

You said in an earlier discussion that the Bible has been severely discredited. Since you made that claim, the burden of proof technically rests on you. However, I have not and will not call on you to substantiate that claim. I can tell you most sincerely that my goal is not to "win" a debate, but instead to try to help you find the evidence you need. So I will assume the burden of proof in a series of future blog posts to establish that Jesus lived, died, and based on strong logical inferences, most likely rose from the dead.

clamflats said...

Anette, You wrote, One might argue that a sense of right and wrong is a by-product of evolution, since animals also exhibit care for members of their group. But what about altruism? Why do humans almost universally agree that it is right to risk one's life in order to save or protect someone else? And why do we feel particularly inclined to protect the vulnerable or disabled? These things are universally considered morally right—not simply wise or expedient. Altruism is by its very nature the unselfish giving of oneself for the benefit of someone else.
By the way you phrased this it seems you are arguing that only humans are capable of altruistic behaviors. There are animals that risk their lives to protect the young or disabled. See this account of blue jays (http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/5994)

clamflats said...

Anette, I find your use of fictional characters and fictional accounts of historical characters to illustrate your point to be unconvincing. In both cases, Atticus Finch and Thomas More, the authors are intent on showing the exact point you are offering as evidence. If we start down this path then Ayn Rand or Edgar Allen Poe should also be consulted!?!

Anette Acker said...

Anette, I find your use of fictional characters and fictional accounts of historical characters to illustrate your point to be unconvincing. In both cases, Atticus Finch and Thomas More, the authors are intent on showing the exact point you are offering as evidence. If we start down this path then Ayn Rand or Edgar Allen Poe should also be consulted!?!

Well, Rick, most authors of classic novels have worthwhile insights into human nature. That's one of the things that make for good fiction. :)

Is your point that there are no real-life examples of people going against popular opinion to do the right thing? What about all the examples in John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage? Or the early Christians who were willing to be tortured rather than renounce Christ? (Yes, I have found secular historical verification of that.)

The fact that I used fictional accounts (although Thomas More really did sacrifice his life for his convictions) doesn't undermine my point because there are numerous historical examples as well. I just happen to like those two movies.

By the way you phrased this it seems you are arguing that only humans are capable of altruistic behaviors. There are animals that risk their lives to protect the young or disabled. See this account of blue jays (http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/5994)

Parents protecting their young is not true altruistic behavior because that can be explained by the "selfish gene." The Moral Law, on the other hand, requires us to rescue those we don't know and even an enemy who is in danger. How can this be the result of evolution? The example Collins gave of the dominant male ape committing infanticide to make way for his offspring is the evolutionary flip side of the bluejays sacrificing their lives for their young.

QED said...

Anette -

I think you are forgetting that the Hebrew religion is different from Christianity, and the Hebrews expected a political savior. They had to completely reinterpret their culture and religion when Jesus came. To them, the ceremonial law was important in and of itself, but if you look at it from the vantage point of the NT, it perfectly typifies Christian doctrine. And as I said to Rabbitpirate, the entire OT is full of this kind of imagery and foreshadowing of Christ.

I don't think I anywhere indicated a lack of difference between Judaism and Christianity. However, "different" may not be an appropriate term, since Christianity is more like an extension of Judaism. This matter aside, it seems incorrect to think that Judaism predicted a "political savior". Instead, we are told that the Hebrews came to believe that the Messiah would be a "political savior" on account of their ongoing circumstances with the Romans.

Furthermore, I don't see why it is surprising that a sect of Jews would completely reinterpret their culture and religion. Such a thing was not exactly unheard of in that era. The Essenes, for instance, are a good example (there are many other examples as well).

I'll consider you "typology" in a little while.

clamflats said...

Is your point that there are no real-life examples of people going against popular opinion to do the right thing?

No, not at all. It's just that in a discussion about the reality of a particular concept, I find empirical evidence to be more convincing than fictional accounts, although fiction, parables, analogies and the like can be an efficient shorthand tool.

Parents protecting their young is not true altruistic behavior because that can be explained by the "selfish gene." In the blue jay story that I cited it was an entire group of jays who acted in concert to protect the fledgling. There are other examples of non-human animals putting themselves at risk for a non-family member. An obvious example is the domesticated dog. For millennia, humans have relied on dogs to protect the home and its family. Is the dog attacking an intruder acting altruistically? There must be something in the dog's genetic makeup that allows it to transfer its allegiance beyond its progeny and onto another species. I guess we could propose that a divine creator installed that trait as part of His design. The C.S. Lewis quote you included, on its own, could be just as true for dogs as it is for humans.

Anette Acker said...

I don't think I anywhere indicated a lack of difference between Judaism and Christianity.

You said that "each of these authors was steeped in the tradition and customs of Hebrew culture and religion." That indicated to me that you were not taking into account how radical Christianity was to the Jews, even though it is an extension for Judaism--at least from the perspective of Christianity.

This matter aside, it seems incorrect to think that Judaism predicted a "political savior".

I didn't say that. I said that Hebrews expected a political savior. I meant Hebrews in general, but not necessarily all. Simeon and Anna expected "the Lord's Christ." Simeon knew by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25), and he said, "My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).

Furthermore, I don't see why it is surprising that a sect of Jews would completely reinterpret their culture and religion. Such a thing was not exactly unheard of in that era. The Essenes, for instance, are a good example (there are many other examples as well).

It is most definitely surprising, because the message of the Christians was blasphemy to the Jews. When Jesus admitted to the high priest that He was the Son of God, He was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death (Matthew 26:64-66). Stephen was stoned to death by the Jewish leaders for proclaiming Christ (Acts 7).

The early Christians proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead after being crucified. Christianity was an extremely radical sect. It is easy for us to forget that because we're so used to hearing the Easter message and associating it with middle-class respectability and conservatism.

But getting back to the typology and prophecy in the OT, it is like a brainteaser where you can't see something because you're looking at it the wrong way. But when you look at it the right way, it makes perfect sense. The typology fits perfectly. But of course there is too much of it for me to spell it all out. If you want I can briefly outline all the Christian imagery in Genesis 3.

Anette Acker said...

No, not at all. It's just that in a discussion about the reality of a particular concept, I find empirical evidence to be more convincing than fictional accounts, although fiction, parables, analogies and the like can be an efficient shorthand tool.

That's true. My bad.

There must be something in the dog's genetic makeup that allows it to transfer its allegiance beyond its progeny and onto another species. I guess we could propose that a divine creator installed that trait as part of His design. The C.S. Lewis quote you included, on its own, could be just as true for dogs as it is for humans.

I think the challenge for those who rely on non-theistic evolution is to explain altruism in Darwinian terms. Even if we concede that animals have morals, the question of why still remains. (And you're right--the Lewis quote could apply to animals as well.)

Francis Collins is one of the country's leading geneticists and he accepts theistic evolution, but he says, "Agape, or selfless altruism, presents a major challenge for the evolutionist. It is quite frankly a scandal to reductionist reasoning. It cannot be accounted for by the drive of individual selfish genes to perpetuate themselves. Quite the contrary: it may lead humans to make sacrifices that lead to great personal suffering, injury, or death, without any evidence of benefit."

Darwinian evolution by itself does not explain altruism because it goes against the theory of the selfish gene. There simply is no natural explanation for altruism. As a mutation, it should have been stamped out because it doesn't perpetuate the gene. Dying for a stranger or an enemy makes no sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

QED said...

Anette -

You said that "each of these authors was steeped in the tradition and customs of Hebrew culture and religion." That indicated to me that you were not taking into account how radical Christianity was to the Jews, even though it is an extension for Judaism--at least from the perspective of Christianity.

Well, each of these authors was steeped in Hebrew culture and religion. They were very well versed in it.

You seem to overemphasize the importance of how "radical Christianity was to the Jews". It was certainly radical to some Jews, but so what? The Essenes were considered radical and the Pharisees and Sadducees had substantial theological differences. In fact, the NT has Nicodemus revealing that Messianic "cults" were not uncommon.

I didn't say that. I said that Hebrews expected a political savior. I meant Hebrews in general, but not necessarily all. Simeon and Anna expected "the Lord's Christ." Simeon knew by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:25), and he said, "My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).

Then I can only wonder what your point could be, since the fact that most Hebrews came to believe in a political savior seems irrelevant. But perhaps you mean to suggest that a sect of Jews would not probably come up with "Christianity" given their proclivity to hope for a political savior. I find no reason to think this is true however, since there were various radical Jewish sects before, during and after that time.

Furthermore, it is not hard to imagine that Jesus' followers really thought that He would be a political messiah and only later, after His death, reinterpreted His purpose upon writing their accounts.

It is most definitely surprising, because the message of the Christians was blasphemy to the Jews. When Jesus admitted to the high priest that He was the Son of God, He was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death (Matthew 26:64-66). Stephen was stoned to death by the Jewish leaders for proclaiming Christ (Acts 7).

Again, I don't see why. Maybe it is surprising to you, but as I stated above, there were a number of radical Jewish sects. Obviously not all Jews found the idea to be blasphemous, so appealing to the fact that some regarded it as such seems strange. In fact, one could make the argument that it would be more surprising if no Jews accepted the idea of a "God-in-the-flesh" type of savior, since various OT "prophecies" seem to clearly indicate that the Messiah would be divine in nature. A few examples might be:

1. The name Immanuel.

2. David's statement, "The Lord says to my Lord..."(Psalm 110:1)

3. God's declaration that this Immanuel would be "Almighty God".(Isaiah 9:6)

If you want I can briefly outline all the Christian imagery in Genesis 3.

Go for it.

clamflats said...

There simply is no natural explanation for altruism

But there is an explanation - kin selection.

Anette Acker said...

QED and clamflats,

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Although my comments on AC are often ignored, I've had an embarrassment of riches in the past few days. And since the scenery there changes a lot faster than it does here, I've had to reply quickly.

But I'll try to get back to you tomorrow.

Anette Acker said...

As promised, I did try to do this yesterday, but I failed. It was a very busy day. Here's an outline of the imagery or typology in Genesis 3. I did not have the time to fully develop these points, so let me know if it doesn't make sense:

The temptation of Eve parallels the temptation of Jesus. 1 John 2:16 says that there are three categories of temptations: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. "The woman saw that the fruit was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [the lust of the eyes], and that the tree was desirable to make one wise [the boastful pride of life], she took from the fruit and ate" (Genesis 3:6).

Likewise, Satan tempted Jesus to turn rocks into bread when He was fasting (lust of the flesh), he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world (lust of the eyes), and told Him to jump from the temple and have legions of angels come to His rescue in order to impress all the spectators (the boastful pride of life).

Eve typifies the church--that is, she foreshadows and symbolizes the church. How do I know that? Because Romans 5:14 says that Adam is a type of Him who is to come--that is, Christ. And Ephesians 5:31-32 first quotes Genesis and then ties it to Christ and the church: "'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church."



Adam is a type of Christ and Eve is a type of the church. Jesus is often described as the bridegroom and the church the bride. So it is of great significance that we get a play-by-play of how Eve fell into temptation, and not Adam. And it is also significant how Jesus "fulfilled all righteousness" on behalf of the church, so He withstood the testing by Satan.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they sewed coverings for themselves with fig leaves.

In Mark 11:13-14, Jesus curses a fig tree because it has only leaves (it was not the season for figs). There’s no explanation at all, except that the text tells us that He was hungry. Then in the next passage He turns the table over in the temple. Then He leaves, and the disciples note that the fig tree his withered.

This makes little sense so far, but in Luke 13:6, Jesus tells the following parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"



So fig leaves appear to symbolize "dead works" that we use to cover up our sinfulness. The fig tree was in a vineyard, which symbolizes Israel or the church. And “fruit” symbolizes characteristics or good works that emerge naturally when we are rightly related to Christ (John 15).

Anette Acker said...

After Adam and Eve fell, they hid from God among the trees of the garden. God went looking for them and called out to Adam. Adam responded to God. When Adam responded, God slaughtered an animal and made garments of skin to cover them.

This means that sin separates us from God, not because God is hiding from us but because we are hiding from Him. But God is the one who initiates our redemption; He was the one who called out to Adam. When Adam responded, God covered them with the skin of an animal like He will cover us with the righteousness of the sacrificial Lamb—Christ—when we respond to His call.

Genesis 3:15 says: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the head. To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth.”

The “woman” is Israel and the church (Israel typifies the church), the “seed” is Christ, and the serpent is Satan. Revelation 12 contains a lot of parallels here. “A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars [the tribes of Israel and the disciples of Christ]; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth” (Revelation 12:1-2). Micah 4:10 connects labor with “the daughter of Zion,” and Micah 5:2-5 prophesies Christ.

Revelation 12:3-9 talks about the “great red dragon,” which is Satan according to 12:9 (or the “serpent of old”). It also connects the “seed” of the laboring woman with Christ (12:5).

The mention of childbirth is significant, because the church is “in labor” because of sin. Without sin, God could have taken us straight to heaven. And the labor of the early church (which was also “the daughter of Zion”) was particularly painful.

There is a lot more I could say about that, but I don’t want to make this too ambitious, or I’ll never get it done.

Genesis 3 explains the problem of evil in a nutshell. It shows the commandment of God, an act of free will (eating the fruit), the temptation by Satan, and the suffering and death that is the consequence of sin. It shows how Satan deceives us by maligning God and telling us that our actions will not have consequences.

It also explains why we cannot eat of the tree of life and live forever. In our sinful state there has to be an end to our existence. However, Revelation 2:7 says: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

So this indicates that death and suffering is a necessary evil because of free will, but it is something that grieves God. This is illustrated in the story of Lazarus dying, where John 11:35 simply says: “Jesus wept.” (It’s interesting to see how accurately the Scriptures portray human nature in the following verses: “So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?’” The rejection of Christ doesn’t always have anything to do with intellection doubt. The same principle is illustrated in the two criminals on either side of Christ in Luke 23:39-43.)

Jesus then resurrected Lazarus from the dead, typifying the resurrection.

Anette Acker said...

The Bible often contains several layers of symbolism, and I think eating the “fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” could also symbolize theistic evolution. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God intended to create us in His image. But in Genesis 3:22, it appears as if humans caused it to happen. Theistic evolution says that both are true. That is, God planned it, but the creatures used their constrained, but somewhat free, will to fulfill the plan.

The account never explicitly tells us that Adam and Eve were sinless. All it says is that creation was “very good.” But it would be equally accurate to say that they were innocent like children or animals. So if the “fruit” here is symbolic—like it is everywhere else in the Bible, then this could be symbolic of theistic evolution.

This does not preclude Adam and Eve being historical figures. Up through Genesis 3, Adam is usually referred to as “the man” or “the adam,” and in Genesis 4, we are given proper names. And Genesis 5:1-2 (KJV) says: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”

The first verse indicates an historical person who is part of a genealogy and an ancestor of Christ. However, the following verses seem more generic because it refers to “man” rather than Adam, and it says that God called their name Adam. He didn’t call their name “Adam and Eve.” Other translations simply say that He called their name Man.

It is quite possible for Adam to both historical and for Genesis 3 to communicate a deep “mystery” about humanity. The Bible often contains several layers of interpretation and parallelism.

It is only in the past hundred years that Christians have become adamant about superficially literal interpretation of the beginning of Genesis. Augustine, who wrote in the fifth century, and therefore knew nothing of evolution, said with respect to Genesis: “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scriptures passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”

That seems somewhat prophetic, doesn’t it? Especially since science is the search for truth. Someone on AC cited a statistic that over 90% of biologists are atheists (I haven't confirmed it). If true, Augustine's warning seems to have materialized.

Anette Acker said...

"There simply is no natural explanation for altruism"

But there is an explanation - kin selection.


But that is not altruism.

In his book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis identifies four forms of love: agape, affection, friendship, and romantic love. Kin selection fits best into the category "affection." Agape, on the other hand, is selfless altruism. It is different from the other three types of love.

How does naturalistic evolution explain that?

clamflats said...

Anette, you are moving the goal posts. Why do now cite C. S. Lewis's definition of love as the definition of altruism? Altruism is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as:
1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species


There are examples of non-human animals displaying that behavior. Evolutionary biology uses the mechanism of kin selection to explain that behavior.

Agape is different from altruism because agape is a Christian concept and not a philosophical or scientific one. If you are saying that naturalism cannot explain agape then you are correct. But your statement was, There simply is no natural explanation for altruism, and that is not correct.

Anette Acker said...

I am not moving the goal post. I simply used the word agape to describe what I've been talking about all the time. I have used the example of a person dying to rescue a stranger or even an enemy, or making major sacrifices to do the right thing. Call it what you want--that's what I've been talking about all along.

How does naturalistic evolution explain that?

Anette Acker said...

Rick,

I skimmed an article about altruism and evolution (Stanford), and there doesn't seem to be a very good explanation for it. First, it talked about group selection, which they determined didn't work that well because the selfish animals would take advantage of the altruistic ones.

Then they talked about kin selection. But the problem with this in the context of what we are talking about is that all normal parents are willing to make sacrifices for their children. It is very natural to be invested in our immediate family. And this doesn't necessarily mean that parents will act with this type of unselfishness toward others. Have you ever been around competitive mothers?

I just don't think there's a very good evolutionary explanation for agape, true altruism, or whatever you want to call it. The article says this toward the end: "As Sober and Wilson (1998) note, if one insists on saying that behaviours which evolve by kin selection / donor-recipient correlation are ‘really selfish’, one ends up reserving the word ‘altruistic’ for behaviours which cannot evolve by natural selection at all."

They never arrive at a very convincing evolutionary explanation for true altruism in humans. This confirms what Collins said in the above quote (in the comments).

clamflats said...

Anette, you may be interested in an ongoing chapter by chapter critique of Francis Collins', The Language Of God, at DaylightAtheism.org.

Anette Acker said...

Of course they take apart one ridiculous statement by Collins in chapter 2, and that's about all they say about that chapter:

Collins tries to argue in favor of doubt by stating that an airtight faith would be a bad thing because "then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?" (p.34)

All they have managed to establish is that Collins, impressive as he is, is not infallible. :)