Was Humanity Inevitable?

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August 10, 2011 Tags: Human Origins

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Many scientists think that evolution is a directionless process, one in which humans are merely an accidental byproduct. In a recent episode of the award-winning radio program “To the Best of Our Knowledge” (produced by Wisconsin Public Radio, and reposted above, with permission), however, esteemed paleontologist Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University explains a different view of evolution. Conway Morris has catalogued plentiful examples of evolutionary convergence, in which different organisms arrive at the same function through different evolutionary pathways, including the trait of intelligence. He examines the ability of the octopus to gaze, learn and play, and compares it to the intelligent behaviors of dolphins and the tool making ability of certain crows. Given enough time and resources, he says, every ecological niche will be filled up by some kind of life form. One of these niches is that for highly intelligent life, a niche occupied by us, Homo sapiens. If the tape was rewound and evolution started over from scratch, Conway Morris says, the evolutionary details would be different, but the end result would be similar: a species characterized by intelligence and complex civilization.

While several esteemed scientists, including atheist Richard Dawkins, and Brown University cell biologist, Kenneth Miller, agree with Simon Conway Morris, most (according to Dawkins) do not accept that evolution can have this sort of directionality. Sean Carroll, leading evolutionary biologist and Vice-President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says that animals merely “exploit what’s available,” with no necessary end. Little, he believes, is inevitable. “With a few other rolls of the dice”, he says, evolution would have resulted in a significantly different assortment of organisms. Noted philosopher of science, Daniel Dennett, agrees with Carroll. Just as the origin and wide-spread diversity of creatures like marsupials (mammals with a pouch) was not inevitable, he says, so the evolution of intelligent human-like beings was not inevitable either. Dennett goes on to say:

The idea that this whole great universe was in some sense designed or intended for us strikes me as just bizarrely self-involved (chuckles)—one of the most stunningly narcissistic visions that I’ve ever encountered. It seems unlikely, don’t you think?

In complete contrast Conway Morris says:

The universe from a theistic viewpoint, from a Christian viewpoint, is utterly contingent. It needn’t exist at all, more particularly it could be anything which God so chose. Science is an open-ended adventure; we don’t know where it’s going to end. People who think religion is simply a set of answers to keep you comfortable are, I’m afraid, sadly mistaken—it is an open-ended adventure. We don’t know, really, what the nature of the universe is. We don’t know why we have our moral, ethical, intellectual and poetic capacities. I know they come from an evolutionary basis, I have no quarrel with that. But so far as I’m concerned, we are going on to completely new territory and my view would be that in fact the religious instincts and the religious teachings actually tell us something real about the world. They’re not simply fairy stories.

So is the near-certainty of human life front-loaded from the beginning? Was it predetermined from the Big Bang that human beings would eventually arise? Was it predetermined that God’s natural activity—that activity which upholds the universe and maintains all that is within it—would be sufficient for the eventual development of humans? Alternatively, was supernatural activity required for the creation of the human body? Does the Bible dictate one way or the other? Is it somehow less God’s creation if it took place through God’s natural activity? Is it somehow more God’s creation if supernatural activity was required? These are questions for theologians. Science is taking us up to edge as Conway Morris brilliantly shows. There, we meet the theologians, and there, we begin the journey’s next phase.

I encourage you to listen to the above recording. The deeper we explore creation, the more we see and appreciate its beauty. So also, and even more significant, the deeper we embed ourselves in God's written and Living Word, the more confident we become of “Romans 8:26-39”. We are loved. More than we can possibly imagine, we are deeply embedded in the love of God. This, truly, is "Life's Solution."


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.


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beaglelady - #64059

August 16th 2011

Of course, this view is undermined by a view that sees our emergence as a product of blind, random processes.

Nota Bene: evolution is not random.


Dunemeister - #64060

August 16th 2011

Well, that’s what I think too. However, the prevailing idea at the moment is that random mutations are an integral part of the theory. So long as these remain “random”, the theory undermines the biblical view that human beings were the specific goal of God’s creative activity. If the mutations were random, God set the whole thing in motion with the hope (a fool’s hope, really, given the odds against it) that things would turn out just so. But then, perhaps one of God’s attributes is omniluck?


beaglelady - #64062

August 17th 2011

So you think God planned the sickle cell gene?


Jon Garvey - #64063

August 17th 2011

So you think God didn’t plan the bearer of his image?


beaglelady - #64064

August 17th 2011

Yes, God planned for white male evangelicals, the bearers of His image. That’s why they don’t get sickle cell anemia.


Jon Garvey - #64065

August 17th 2011

Let me get this right - are you suggesting that only white male evangelicals believe that God planned his creation? Or is there some other relevance lost to me?

Only my black Pentecostal friend with sickle-cell trait might not have agreed with you. Or my several white male evangelical friends with Downs syndrome, come to that.

Do you not think God planned them? Or not willing to commit yourself that far?


beaglelady - #64067

August 17th 2011

Can you read what I wrote?  God planned for white male evangelicals, the bearers of His image.


Cal - #64069

August 17th 2011

Beaglelady you are quite an enigma!

Why so much tongue in cheek? I don’t quite see what you’re quite after or to what end you’re trying to draw out.

What doth your mind linger upon that you seeketh to bamboozle such a dear brother as Jon?


beaglelady - #64077

August 17th 2011

Can you see that I was answering Dunemeister? I was explaining that evolution isn’t random.  (That’s been explained many times here before.)  And then I mentioned the curious case of the sickle cell gene, providing a link that has a good article and video.  The sickle cell gene is both advantageous and deadly, depending on several factors.   I questioned whether or not God designed it that way.  And all of a sudden we’re talking about the Image of God, for crying out sideways!


Dunemeister - #64167

August 22nd 2011

Sorry I took so long to get back to this thread. Sarcasm aside, beaglelady, I can’t say for sure whether God “planned” the sickle-cell gene, and I think your question misses the point I’m making. YOU say evolution is not random. I’ve already said that if that’s so, we are not at odds, except that it’s uncertain to me how it isn’t random if a key mechanism relies entirely on randomness. As far as I understand it evolution requires that the mutations on which natural selection works are entirely random. No mutations, nothing for natural selection to “select”. All I’m saying is that if evolution is the way we came about, it’s a miracle. At least some of those mutations had to be the result of the purposeful activity of God in order for humanity to emerge. I just don’t see any other way to accommodate both biblical and scientific data. If you have another way of doing so, I’m all ears.


Ashe - #64066

August 17th 2011

Scientists exploit random processes to design proteins. 


beaglelady - #64068

August 17th 2011

Dunemeister,

Here’s some good info and a video on the sickle cell gene:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/2/l_012_02.html

It can be both advantageous and deadly.


Bilbo - #64074

August 17th 2011

Jon:  “Roger is right to question the dichotomy between “natural” and
“supernatural”, and this question exemplifies it.”

Let’s define God’s natural activity as the kind of activity that seems to underlie most of creation:  sustaining the existence of things, natural laws, and perhaps random processes.

Let’s define God’s supernatural activity as the kind that seems to go contrary to sustaining the existence of things, natural laws, and perhaps random processes. 

The question then is whether the appearance of humanity (or something like it) was inevitable, given only God’s natural activity.  And the secondary question (the one that Prof. Falk really asked) is whether it is theologically acceptable that humanity came about only by God’s natural activity. 


Jon Garvey - #64079

August 18th 2011

OK, Bilbo. Given what we think we know of “God’s natural activity” under your definition, ie laws of nature, randomness and theory of evolution, clearly humanity is not inevitable. Until someone comes up with the natural law that predicts humanity, any other view is speculation.

And that renders your second question irrelevant as a follow-on.

There is a different question, however, which is whether the arrival of humanity is possible under “natural activity”. If the answer were “yes”, then the answer to your second question, in my view, would also be “yes”.

However, the whole question bypasses, as I’ve said, the key issue of teleology. My purpose in walking across a room dictates subsequent events, and is entirely in accord with natural law - but is not explained by natural law. An account of my walk that attributed it purely to deterministic natural law, or even to a happy concurrence of my purpose with natural events, would be entirely deficient. The natural events happen solely because as a free agent I will the result.

So it also makes a world of difference whether one says nature independently produces mankind (and either makes God happy, according to Beaglelady’s unique theology, if we’re WASPs, or grieved, if we have sickle-cell disorder), or whether God’s purpose, by whatever means, determines the outcome.

Some may want it both ways, by attributing humanity to God and sickle-cell to blind evolution, but that kind of dualism is really a kind of polytheism, or at least a Platonic or Gnostic demiurgism, that has nothing to do with the Judaeo-Christian Creator described in the Bible texts.


Bilbo - #64075

August 17th 2011

Roger: “

God created the universe and the
earth in a way that is favorable to the creation of life and human life.

I doubt that the universe and the earth were able to create life without God’s supernatural activity.  Whether or not human life could have come about naturally, once life was created, is, I think, up for debate.


Bilbo - #64125

August 20th 2011

Hi Jon,

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.  Before I reply to you specifically, I want to point out to you, Prof. Falk, and anyone else who reads this, that even though I am an ID proponent, I take the time and effort to defend the positions of Evolutionary Creationists (or “Theistic Evolutionists” or “Christian Darwinists”).  In doing this, I appear to be the lone exception, since Evolutionary Creationists never take the time and effort to defend the positions of ID proponents, nor do ID proponents take the time and effor to defend the positions of Evolutionary Creationists.  For people who call themselves Christians, I find this lack of charity to be most disheartening. 

Now, to your point that randomness implies that there cannot be inevitability:  If I toss a fair coin a hundred times, is it inevitable that it come up heads at least once?  And if you choose not to use the term “inevitable,” would “extremely probable” be close enough to “inevitable” in this case, that we couldn’t tell the difference? 

If the probability of life appearing and evolving into human-like beings, somewhere in this universe, is as high as say the probability of getting heads in the above example, shouldn’t we be justified in saying that it was inevitable?

And even if we don’t want to use “inevitable,” since God is in charge of creation, He already knows whether a random process will result in human-like beings appearing somewhere in the universe.  Therefore, to God, such a random process is not just likely to produce what He wants.  It will inevitably produce what He wants.

But what if such a random process would not produce what God wants?  In that case, I think it most likely that God will intervene and produce what He wants.  I think that is what most likely happened in the case of the origin of life, and maybe in the evolution of life.  That’s why I am an ID proponents.  However, if a random process would have produced what God wanted, I can’t think of any objections to God using such a process. 


Jon Garvey - #64126

August 20th 2011

Hi Bilbo

Leaving God out of it (as you suggested in your earlier post) and restricting it to “the natural” I can’t see how the coin example shows humans to be inevitable at all. Since humans, by any measure, even at the level of their genome, are highly complex, and therefore of low probability, you’d have to have at least some stab at doing the probability maths before you could approximate “possible” to “probable” to “inevitable”.

If, as theistic evolutionists doubtless would, you excluded Dr Dembski’s filter and the assumptions that go with it, what’s the basis for the assertion of inevitability?

All I can think of is that we exist, therefore we’re possible, therefore (maybe because surely we can’t be that freaky) we must be probable, which in practice you can take as inevitable. That’s akin to saying that because there is intelligent life on earth, it must exist on every planet with similar physical conditions, using an example of one. The Drake’s Law fallacy.

Or worse - it means that everything that exists in nature is therefore inevitable, which is pretty meaningless. The odds against the hoopoe or the quagga can’t be any lower than those against us - are they inevitable too?

In Open Theism, much favoured in these parts, God doesn’t know the future since it doesn’t exist, so he can’t know whether random events will allow any particulular outcome. At most he’ll be better at doing the probabilities. After that he just has to cross his fingers as he’s not supposed to tinker or load the dice. Or at least, I’ve never seen anything less nebulous suggested.


Bilbo - #64155

August 22nd 2011

Jon: “Leaving God out of it (as you suggested in your earlier post) and
restricting it to “the natural”....”

Did I really suggest that? 

”... I can’t see how the coin example shows
humans to be inevitable at all. Since humans, by any measure, even at
the level of their genome, are highly complex, and therefore of low
probability, you’d have to have at least some stab at doing the
probability maths before you could approximate “possible” to “probable”
to “inevitable”. “

Do you notice how your objection is empirically based, not theologically or philosophically based?  I would say that this is the proper way to object to Evolutionary Creationism (or Theistic Evolution or Christian Darwinism).  I don’t see any sound theological or philosophical objections.  But I agree with you that there seem to be sound empirical objections.


Jon Garvey - #64159

August 22nd 2011

“Did I really suggest that?” Quite right - you didn’t: my poor phrase was shorthand for “God’s natural activity.”

Not sure how to respond to your other point, because it depends (a) if EC, TE, CD are actually wishing to say that mankind is inevitable and (b) if you’re taking the terms generically or in their current sociopolitical context.

“Theistic Evolution” could be according to B B Warfield (and me) - God’s providence underlying and determining natural mechanisms to produce his intended aim, in this case humanity (and maybe taking an extra creative step in making humanity a unique spiritual entity).

Or it could be God’s creation of a “free” (= chance driven) natural realm that produces innovative and unpredictable outcomes, perhaps including humanity, to which a reactive God responds appropriately (with mankind’s spirituality maybe emerging from the evolutionary process).

I’d say those extremes were as different as Neodarwinism and ID.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64174

August 23rd 2011

Bilbo wrote:

SPAN style=“FONT-FAMILY: ‘Calibri’,‘sans-serif’; mso-ansi-language: EN” lang=EN>I doubt that the universe and the earth were able to create life without God’s supernatural activity. Whether or not human life could have come about naturally, once life was created, is, I think, up for debate.

God can do whatever God chooses to do.  The question is whether God set up in advance a process that is able to produce life, or whether God needed to add a spark to produce life at a particular time.  It seems that you prefer the second, while I think the first is more likely. 

In either case God created life and thus human life, and by definition God is supernatural.  However I prefer to think that God used “natural” means to accomplish spiritual ends, as by the coming of the Logos Jesus Christ as a human being.   

In my opinion Open Theology does not preclude God having a Will or Purpose and carrying it out in God’s own way, just not in a mechanistic, predetermined manner.  Jesus is our Shepherd, our Leader and Guide, not our Boss.    


Jon Garvey - #64175

August 23rd 2011

“Jesus is our Shepherd, our Leader and Guide, not our Boss.”

Not our King or Lord, then?

Kurios, indeed. Also basileus, christos, despotes, rabbei, epistates, archon.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64202

August 23rd 2011

Jon,

Lord generally takes the place in the NT of Lord, or YHWH in the OT.  Jesus came into this world to be the Suffering Servant and in that He is the very Image of God the Father, God the Father is also.

Rabbi, which we think of as Teacher, can also be translated as Lord.  Jesus taught and led by example, not by fiat.  Jesus came to change our thinking about authority and Who YHWH is.         


Jon Garvey - #64203

August 23rd 2011

Roger, the Lord’s concept of authority is shown by the witness of the New Testament as a whole (leaving aside the prophetic witness of the Old Testament as per your Isaiah citation).

If I understand his Lordship in terms of human power politics I am challenged by his humility. If I understand it, though, in terms of western liberal democratic egalitarianism I am challenged by his absolute authority. “Lord” also translates the Hebrew “adonai”, and that must be taken into account in my theology if I am to avoid making Christ (the anointed king) in my own image.

So “mechanistic”? A buzzword, unrelated to Scripture. “Predetermined”? A word and concept employed over and over again both in Old and New Testaments. Try “horizo”, “proorizo”, “hetoimazo”, “proetoimazo”.


Bilbo - #64215

August 24th 2011

Jon:  “Or it could be God’s creation of a “free” (= chance driven) natural
realm that produces innovative and unpredictable outcomes, perhaps
including humanity, to which a reactive God responds appropriately (with
mankind’s spirituality maybe emerging from the evolutionary process).”

But not unpredictable to God, who would know those outcomes before they happen.  Again, there is no theological problem here.  Just an empirical one.  Is the universe large enough to make the appearance of human-like creatures extremely probable, without God’s supernatural activity?  You and I would say no. 


Jon Garvey - #64225

August 24th 2011

Bilbo

The theory goes that God can’t predict what (a) hasn’t happened yet and so doesn’t exist and (b) what is due to random or completely free events like mutations or human choices. So, ‘tis claimed, God knows little more about the future than us.

His “response” is problematic too, if he is restricted to “a ‘free’ (= chance driven) natural realm that produces innovative and unpredictable outcomes.” Any response by him would, by definition, be intervention, which is verboten and very unscientific.

But I agree with your conclusion, and if “supernatural activity” is ruled out of court, surely the only route to human inevitability is natural law, which has not been shown to be capable of such a feat, leaving aside contingent events like planetary collisions, vulcanism and so on. It’s hard to envisage a law that would govern both those and the process of evolution by RS and NS.


Bilbo - #64217

August 24th 2011

Roger:  “God can do whatever God chooses to do. 
The question is whether God set up in advance a process that is
able to produce life, or whether God needed to add a spark to produce
life at a particular time.  It seems that you prefer the
second, while I think the first is more likely.

I agree that God can do whatever God chooses to do.  I think the evidence indicates that God needed to add a whole lot of information to produce life.  I’m not sure whether He also needed to add a “spark,” though I suspect He did.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64221

August 24th 2011

Jon,

I fundamentally disagree with you when you seem to imply that the Suffering Servant is not central to the NT message.  You overlook the words of Jesus.  Mt 20:27  “and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; (28)  just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  You overlook the words quoted by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8.  You overlook the use of the way that the notion of the Suffering Servant forms the NT concept of Messiah beginning with Jesus and as it was understood by the writers of the NT.

I would argue that the Pharisees failed the accept Jesus as the Messiah because He was a Suffering Servant Messiah, rather than the kingly conquering hero Messiah that they expected.  I understand that most Jews today do not accept the Suffering Servant as a Messianic prophecy.

SPAN style=“mso-ansi-language: EN” lang=EN>“Lord” also translates the Hebrew “adonai”, and that must be taken into account in my theology if I am to avoid making Christ (the anointed king) in my own image.

Lord is used to translate Adonai, which the Jews used as the substitute for the Divine Name, YHWH.  I think and I hope that you will agree that the best translation for Adonai and YHWH is Sovereign, which means without boundaries or limits.  Now where we seem to disagree is that you seem to think that the sovereign “nature” of God also makes YHWH Absolute, that is without entangling and limiting relationships. 

My point of view which I see confirmed by the Bible is that YHWH’s Sovereign nature gives YHWH the freedom and the ability to care about humanity, rather than be the Absolute distant God of Deism.  Who YHWH is not determined by God’s nature, but by God’s character, which God freely chooses to be Love.

The title Christ (Messiah) means the “Anointed One.”  Anointing like the way Samuel anointed Saul and David indicted YHWH’s choice of them to be king of Israel.  Too bad Saul did not work out better.  Thus the kings of Israel and Judah were anointed and chosen by God, but apparently priests were too.  Also Jesus was chosen to be Prophet, Priest, and King.    

YHWH is Sovereign, but is not Absolute, by choice and not be nature.  YHWH through Jesus Christ calls us to repent and trust in God, but does not predetermine how we respond.  YHWH loves us and wants us to love in return.  This is God’s purpose and the purpose for which we were made, having been made in God’s Image and thus sharing God’s purpose to love.          


Jon Garvey - #64226

August 25th 2011

Roger

My straw man alarm is sounding. I have not sought to imply that the Suffering Servant motif is not central to the NT (or the OT, come to that), but that both give a more nuanced picture of it than you allow.

“Adonai” was used in later Judaism to avoid using YHWH, but is also one of the terms used in the Hebrew Bible for God - at a rough count about 165 times. It’s even used together with YHWH eg Isaiah  (10 times) “Adonai, Yahweh Almighty (shaddai)”.

I’ve already pointed out the fallacy of equating “absolute” with “non-relational”.

“Ithink and I hope that you will agree that the best translation for Adonai and YHWH is Sovereign, which means without boundaries or limits.” Sorry, but I think any Hebrew scholar would say that is utterly wrong. Young’ Concordance (admittedly not a lexicon, which I don’t have) gives “adon/adonai “as “lord, sir,master” and the OT uses it as a term of address for patriarchs, husbands, kings, angels etc as well as for God.

As for the tetragrammaton, it is well known for its roots in the verb “to be”, and there’s a whole literature on both its linguistic derivation and its deeper meaning. Classically it’s been taken as an ontological statement of God’s self-existence and independance, though I lean towards the view that in its context as a covenant name it carries the rough sense of “I am there [for you]”.

But “without boundary or limits”? Which dictionary do you get that from? Mine says “supreme, lofty, possessing supreme power, royal.” Derivation (if we must play the etymology game, which we have to because “sovereign” doesn’t really translate a Hebrew or Greek word) comes from “super” and “reign”.

So since all that stuff is carried over into the New Testament picture of Jesus, for he is identified with the God of Israel as you have rightly said, the theological task is to work out how such a supreme and kingly figure, who accepts the term “Lord” as by right, is also the one who empties himself and makes himself a servant, even though through his death he becomes Lord of All, seated at the right hand of God the Father and “ruling the nations with a rod of iron (1 OT, 3NT references, all to Jesus)

Specifically, that fine balance between Lordship and Servanthood has to be applied, with extreme tentativeness, to the creatorial role of God. But since that’s a downstream application, the first task is to deal faithfully with the language and interpretation of the text itself, in its entirety. A mistake at that level can lead to being well off the mark along the road.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64240

August 25th 2011

SPAN style=“mso-spacerun: yes”> (Psalm 2:7 NRSV)  I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. (8)  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  (9) You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

(10) Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  (11)  Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling (12)  kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

Jon.

I checked out your reference to the “rod of iron” quotes.  The Psalm 2 is clearly the most important reference, since it is a Messianic psalm.  Of course its original use was part of the installation of the kings of Judah.  Thus it claimed that YHWH had adopted the King of Judah as His Son and would give this king of a small nation reign over the whole earth, IF he asked for it. This qualification seems important because there is no indication that any of them asked for it.

Again the Jews of the time of Jesus were looking for political-military Messiah, but they got the Suffering Servant Who was just as much the Messiah as the Messiah they were looking for and more, because the problem of humanity is not political, but spiritual. 

The NT references are both found in the Book of Revelation, which for me presents problems.  The first reference, Rev. 12:5, is clearly metaphorical and might apply to Jesus, but is not clear to me how.  The last one, Rev. 19:15, concerns the Ultimate Judgment as does the book and here clearly Jesus has the power to judge harshly with all who fail to honor His law.    

Jon, you said that “absolute” meant without boundary or limit.  I accept that definition.  The only problem I had with it was that the Greeks saw relationships as boundaries and limits on God’s freedom, so in effect for them and for philosophy in general, Absolute means non-relational.  The NRSV translates Lord-Adonai as Sovereign, See Psalm 8. 

YHWH, I AM YOU I AM, refers to the fact that YHWH is free to do whatever YHWH chooses to do and to be Whoever YHWH chooses to be.  No one and no thing limits YHWH.  However YHWH has chosen, according to the Bible, to create a universe and humanity and be relationally involved with these creations.  Philosophy says that God must be Absolute, without relationships, to be free and Sovereign.  The Bible says that YHWH expresses God’s freedom and sovereignty by creating the universe and being relationally involved with it.      

Both views cannot be true.         SPAN style=“mso-spacerun: yes”>  


Jon Garvey - #64261

August 26th 2011

 Philosophy says that God must be Absolute, without relationships, to be free and Sovereign.  The Bible says that YHWH expresses God’s freedom and sovereignty by creating the universe and being relationally involved with it.  Both views cannot be true.    

Therein, at least, if one accepts the truth of the two propositions, we agree on the conclusion that both cannot be true. It would seem to be an example of where the best human minds, studying dispassionately, and armed with the best of the knowledge of the ages and of science, disagree with an ancient book with a specific metaphysical agenda (and, as many articles on this site point out, an outdated cosmology and fallible human authors).

The same book, in fact, that says mankind was inevitable because God willed it into existence to bear his image and subdue the rest of his creation.

I’m pretty happy to support the second of your propositions against the first, because God gives the book greater authority in spiritual matters than the philophers you cite. If you agree, it seems we can also present a joint positive answer to Darrel’s original question on the same basis.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64274

August 26th 2011

Jon wrote:

SPAN style=“mso-ansi-language: EN” lang=EN>The same book, in fact, that says mankind was inevitable because God willed it into existence to bear his image and subdue the rest of his creation.

The Bible says that God created humanity in God’s image, and Genesis 2 indicates God created the Man and Eve with his hands, mind, and will, (not just God’s will.)  That is important from my point of view.  I have made it clear that God did create the universe as the home for humanity, so I cannot disagree on that basis. 

I would say that God creates through history and history is not predetermined, so the exact form of humanity is not predetermined, but I would agree that theologically humanity in the image of God was inevitable.     o:p>


Jon Garvey - #64282

August 27th 2011

Roger

Theologically, since you point out the allusion to God’s hands and mind, I’d have to ask for clarification of how the gap between God’s workman’s hands and man’s exact form remains undetermined. If you illustrate the appearance of this text in terms of my fingers punching keys (which is pretty close to the truth!) then denying the text to be predetermined makes quite a big disconnect.

Historically, and scientifically, I’d ask for clarification of how a process that is not predetermined can result in even an approximation to humanity inevitably - you’re back in the realm of law, directed chance, and/or intervention.

Let’s try a historical analogy, since history is what you wish to make undetermined. In Ur c2000 BC, God chooses Abraham and promises to make his seed a blessing to the nations. We’ll assume he has in mind the birth of a worthy descendant in the region of Cannan in which he intends to settle Abraham. We’ll assume he leaves history open, but equally that he has no specific individual in mind, but will work with any such individual who arises.

How likely is it that history will allow that possibility at all? Abraham or any of his immediate descendants could decide to return to Mesopotamia. Any individual decision could completely cut off the line of descent (the whole story of most of Genesis). Abraham’s descendants could perish in Egypt, or an effective Moses-deliverer might not come forward, or the tribes might have their “fleshpots of Egypt” moment and assimilate permanently into Egyptian paganism. Unuaual drought could wipe out Israel in the desert. The Canaanites could produce a charismatic general who eradicated the invaders/infiltrators. Nebuchadnezzar could prefer genocide to exile. Cyrus could have a different resettlement policy. Etc, etc. The one predictable thing about history is that it’s utterly unpredictable. Even today’s weather could change history entirely.

Now take the case of human emergence - instead of 2000 years of middle eastern history to produce an individual with certain characteristics, you have to allow for 14.7 bn years of stochastic events in the Universe to produce, from scratch, whatever it is one considers to be whatever flexible goal God had in mind as a suitable end result.

It’s true that if you don’t set goals you can’t miss them, but waiting for stuff to happen that might be co-opted as a goal is not a life-plan I’d recommend to my kids.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64300

August 27th 2011

Jon,

God called Abr(ah)am and he answered by faith.  Was Abraham the only one God called?  I cannot say.  I would say that if God called someone and that person did not respond, there would be no record of that event. God called Saul and he did not pan out.  Neither did Eli.

God entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, God’s chosen people Israel.  God works through history, God works though people, God works through the Holy Spirit.  God has so much indirect power and influence that God does not need to directly control people. 

That would defeat God’s purpose of having people do for themselves, not having God being a nursemaid for them.  God wants us to trust in God but not to be dependent on God.  That is the purpose of a covenantal relationship which we have through Jesus Christ.

God wants people to work with each other, with God and with the universe to create God’s Kingdom for God’s People in God’s universe.  The promise of the Second Coming is that this will happen.  How and when is still a great mystery.

The choice is not being either dependent on God or being independent of God.  The choice is to be interdependent with the Father through the Son and the Spirit.


Jon Garvey - #64334

August 29th 2011

Roger - you’re hanging an argument on another undefined word: “depend”. Not a common Biblical word (though commoner than"interdependent”), and not (relevantly) in the NT at all, at least in NIV. The latter translates Hebrew batach  in a few places, meaning “lean on, trust, be confident.” I still intend to lean on, trust and be confident in the Lord, because those are actually what “faith” means. Not sure exactly  what your unacceptable “depend on” means, unless it’s some Quietist idea of letting go and letting God, which is a straw man in terms of the discussion.

Instead, let me just pick you up on some other assertions:
(a) God works through history. How? Specifically, how does he work in history apart from covenant relationship (eg in the history of pre-Columbian America, or pre-human biology)?
(b) God works through people. How? It would be quite relevant to ask  even how he works through us, who consciously relate to him: by precept, so that the willingly obedient choose what is right? Or by some other means that can produce a specific result, which is the issue at hand? And how does he cope with our lack of willingness to do what is right? But how does he work though those outside a covenant relationship, if he does at all? How does Cyrus end up as God’s servant, though he does not acknowledge him?

(c) God works through his Holy Spirit. How? The Bible says he is at work in us both to will and to do his good purpose, but that is excluded except as a metaphor if our wills must be totally independent. Does he work in the non-Christian? The Bible says the High Priest spoke prophetically (without knowing it) by saying that one man must die for the nation - how did that happen without violating the High Priest’s will? Does he work in the realm of nature? If so, in what way?

I’m not nitpicking in the context of the thread, because there is a strong tendency for people to invoke God as the prime mover and then to deny every actual means one could suggest (or the Bible actually does suggest) for his actual role. It all sounds to me like the role of a Constitutional Monarch (very familiar here) - nobody seriously suggests that Her Majesty has any significant role in what happens in UK politics.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64352

August 29th 2011

SPAN style=“mso-spacerun: yes”> Jon,

As I say the choice is not between two extremes of dependence or independence, but How do we live in relational interdependence?  For Christians interdependence is based on our covenant relationship with God.  We are God’s people and YHWH is our God. 

We see how God works through 20/20 hindsight.  God worked through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  God worked through the Babylonians, the Persians, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.  God works through nature and scientists who study nature.  “All things work for good for those who love God.”            

SPAN style=“mso-spacerun: yes”>   


Jon Garvey - #64360

August 29th 2011

Ah Roger, now we have slightly more specificity. But I’m not clear if you’re saying God works through hindsight, or that we see through hindsight that God works.

If the latter, can you explain not how we see, but how God works. Otherwise it’s too much like attributing to God anything in the past we happen to like. How, for example, did God work through the Babylonians? The Bible actually tells us, but what it says seems to cut across what you allow for God’s activity so I’d like to hear your own view.

If the former, then it’s an interesting inversion of the Bible’s view, which spends many chapters praising God’s foresight, not his hindsight. But if that’s what you mean. please explain how God works through hindsight, as I can’t imagine how one would do that - you can only use hindsight to act now.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64387

August 31st 2011

Jon,

In his letter James says that God does not tempt (or test) people (1:13-15) and yet we are tested and tempted, and God uses these tests for God’s own purposes.

I am not sure what you are referring to when you say that the Bible praises God’s foresight.  Certainly God is better at predicting the future than we are, but if you are referring to prophecy, this must understood in the framework of the covenantal relationship between YHWH and YHWH’s people, as I have indicated. 

In terms of prophecy it seems to me that there are basically two kinds, judgmental prophecy where persons or the people are penalized or rewarded for breaking or keeping the covenant or Messianic where God tells God’s people that the covenant between YHWH and the people will be restored through the Messiah.  Actually the covenant was not restored as the Jews expected, but there was a new covenant based on the Person of Jesus Christ, not the Law of Moses or Torah. 

YHWH does not predict or predetermine history, but YHWH does create possibilities and understand people and history.  Breaking or keeping the covenant has consequences. 

YHWH has a plan and a purpose for everyone, including those who do not believe.  We are judged by how well we carry out God’s plan for our lives.    

o:p> 


Jon Garvey - #64401

August 31st 2011

Roger,

God is better at predicting the future than we are

There is a pretty constant witness in the Bible that this is because he determines the future, and in this he is contrasted with the false gods. Isaiah, in particular, is full of it and is summarised in ch46.

But it’s there from Gen 14, where God unconditionally promises Abraham the land of Canaan (which is currently occupied by others), and ch 15 where he foretells the nature and length of the Babylonian captivity, commencing at least 3 generations later, both promises requiring detailed knowledge of international history for 500 years. It goes through the unconditional promise of an everlasting dynasty to David, to the last chapter of Malachi (with the northern kingdom as a “control”, where dynasties come and go and eventually disappear altogether).

Israel might not have expected the New Covenant, but it is spelled out in essential detail in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and filled out in the other prophets.

But you haven’t answered my question - how did God work through the Babylonians? Let’s be even more specific - what does Isaiah 46.11 signify?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64454

September 2nd 2011

Jon,

YHWH worked through the Babylonians to destroy the Jerusalem and Judah for not living up to their part of the covenantal relationship.  But even after Jerusalem was conquered, Jeremiah told the Jewish people that Jerusalem would not be destroyed if they made peace with Babylonian power as YHWH told them to do. 

Thus even at the last minute the king and the people had the ability to stave off the full judgment of YHWH by repentance.     


Jon Garvey - #64458

September 2nd 2011

OK Roger, so we seem to agree with the Biblical witness that in some way God induced/incited/commanded or exploited the Babylonians to take on Judah for their abandonment of the covenant, and that when push came to shove he was willing to use the Babylonian’s aggression in judgement. Presumably, had Judah repented, God would have induced/incited/commanded or prevented Babylon to withdraw or at least mitigate their fury (as he did with the Assyrians under Sennacherib a century or so earlier). In fact, we read elsewhere in the prophets that God, in turn, judged Babylon for their bloodthirsty overkill against his covenant people by inducing/inciting or otherwise raising up the Medes to overthrow Babylon. All this shows him acting as a covenant authority and moral arbiter rather than a capricious megalomaniac, but not democratically either - his human relationships are deeply assymetric. He judges, but is not judged.

All that sounds pretty active and purposeful intervention, interacting of course with the responses of the peoples involved.

Our knowledge of his active role, however, comes only from the prophetic witness of the Bible - otherwise, it could all be attributed to geopolitics, imperialist ambition and relative military strength (as indeed liberal scholars employing methodological historical naturalism deem it).

So to move forward on the biological front, how do we see God’s intervening in evolution, where no other conscious agents are involved? How does he accomplish his purposes when he cannot influence human decisions?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64483

September 5th 2011

Jon wrote:

SPAN style=“mso-ansi-language: EN” lang=EN>Presumably, had Judah repented, God would have induced/incited/commanded or prevented Babylon to withdraw or at least mitigate their fury (as he did with the Assyrians under Sennacherib a century or so earlier).

I do not think that you understand the message YHWH gave Judah through Jeremiah.  YHWH said if you trust in Me you can live with Babylonian power.  YHWH saved Judah from the Assyrians who destroyed the northern kingdom.   Generally people associate faith with political power.  God was sending the message that faith is more important than politics, which God reinforced with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  

Judaism did survive and seemed to flourish in Babylonian exile.  The Babylonians tried to corrupt young Jewish leaders, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Daniel this was thwarted.  While many, but not most exiles did return to the Holy Land Israel was never independent again until our day.      

Jon, do you not have a Christian view of history?  WW2 could have gone either way.  Did the Allies win because they were on the right side of (God’s) history or because God intervened to aid them?  Or does it make a difference? 

For me ecology points to God playing a positive role in history, because an ecological understanding of evolutionary history points to the rewarding of a cooperative, sharing “life style” as opposed to a conflict based, selfish “life style,”  and this is what Christianity is all about, centering on Jesus Christ, the Logos.  

 


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