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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are You Guilty of Creation Conflation?

"You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." -Rev. 4:11

One of the primary aspects of God revealing Himself to man is so that man can properly worship Him and begin to understand the glory that is due God. He accomplishes this through two primary means: general revelation in His creation and specific revelation in scripture. Scripture, though, continually points back to God's creation as evidence for why He is worthy of worship, so creation plays a unique role in our understanding of theology.

The fact that creation is key to our understanding of God has become increasingly evident in the escalating attacks against the doctrine by skeptics and secularists. Simply put, if God exists, then we are obligated to obey Him. Creation argues for the existence of God (see here); therefore those seeking to be under no obligation to God will seek to undermine the fact of His creation. This should be the point where Christians need to focus their dialogue, since it is the claim most easily demonstrated as false.

Because the stakes are high, the discussion of these topics can quickly switch from a reasoned attempt to understand the positions to one of pigeon-holing, name-calling and general ill-will. Unfortunately, this even happens between Christian brothers. As James said, we shouldn't seek to quarrel in such a way with our brothers (James 4:1 ff), but we should seek God's wisdom; a wisdom which is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18).

On the Doctrine of Creation, Distinctions Matter

There are many different ways Christians understand the creation story, but there seems to be a lot of confusion in this area on all sides. People begin to conflate (that is mix up or assume the same meaning) between very distinct aspects of creation. They will assume that if you hold to intelligent design you must believe in a young earth, or if you think that there was a Big Bang you reject the biblical creation account.  It is vital in the study of the doctrine of creation to keep this in mind – we need to distinguish between the cause of creation, the method of creation and the timeline of creation. In other words, creation ex nihilo, the Big Bang, the age of the universe and evolution are all different things and believing in one doesn't mean you believe in another.

The Cause of Creation

The cause of creation deals with the ultimate starting point of what we see in the universe. Causes answer the questions of "why does this exists rather than not?"  Some examples are:
  • "Why did the Big Bang bang?"
  • "Why are humans fundamentally different from animals?"
  • "Why is it that the laws of the universe just happen to be so delicately balanced for life?"
  • "Where would the information necessary for DNA to work come from?"

The Method of Creation

The method of creation deals with the development of the world and us as we see it today. It may be that God creates something (such as the nation of Israel), but He chooses a certain method in developing that creation, like the leading of Moses, Aaron, the wandering in the wilderness, etc. Methods answer the questions of "how did this get to be the way it is?" Some examples are:
  •  The diversity of languages may be traced back to just a few common tongues.
  • "When God spoke, did the world just pop into place fully formed or did it coalesce?"
  • "Did God create man uniquely or did He use some natural processes?"

The Timeline of Creation

The timeline of creation deals with the duration of the creation event or events. Was it instantaneous or was there a becoming over a period of time?  Obviously both Adam and Eve were not created instantaneously. Adam was created first and Eve at some later point in time. Duration answers the questions of "How long would method X take to be accomplished according to God's working?" Some examples are:
  • How long was Genesis 1:3?
  • "Did God take one hour, ten hours, or many millennia to create all the fish and the fowl?"
  • "What is meant by the word 'day' in Genesis 1?"
It is unfortunate that too many times I see Christians make fundamental mistakes in swapping these categories, as though they are the same things. Belief in a Big Bang is not the same thing as a belief in evolution. It is not even the same thing as a belief in an old universe. There may be implications that one belief has upon another, but we need to be more careful in our understanding of each of these categories when we begin to discuss these issues with both fellow believers and with skeptics.  It is only the first issue—the cause of creation—that becomes the essential component in the discussion. When discussing God with non-believers, we need to focus our attention on that first. The other two points are important, but they are more "within the family" discussions that can take place in a different setting.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Israel, O Israel

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16-17

I returned last week from a 10 day trip to Israel and it was amazing. I joined Dr. William Lane Craig for his Reasonable Faith tour of the Holy land, which was guided by Sar-El Tours, whom I recommend.  The days were jam-packed and we went everywhere – from Megiddo to Mount Carmel, from Galilee to the Dead Sea, from Joppa to Jerusalem. Each day was crammed full of sites, history and biblical insights.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1.    Cesarea Maritima

This was one of our first stops on the tour.  The seaside palace was built by Herod the Great as one of his living quarters.  He created an artificial port where ships could dock and take on cargo for Rome and western destinations, and built up an entertainment infrastructure to make it enticing (it isn’t only in modern times that government supports the local sports complex). The thing that moved me first, though, is seeing that it was here where the Pilate inscription was found.  Until 1961, there had been no archaeological evidence that a Roman procurator named Pilate ever existed.  We had the Biblical account and a few second-hand mentions. But, that all changed when this stone slab, which was inscribed with his name, was found here.

2.    Sea of Galilee

Staying at Tiberius, we awoke on day 2 and jumped on a boat to head out to the Sea of Galilee.  This was the first place where we could know that Jesus had been here. On the quiet lake, even with a bunch of other people, it was deeply moving.  We went on to Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations and even saw what is most likely Peter’s house, where he stayed. A great time of reflection.

3.    Spring of Gideon

In our trek from the northern region to Jerusalem, we made a pit stop at the spring of Gideon.  Talked about in Judges 7, this is the spring where Gideon pared down his fighting force to a mere 300 men.  The passage reads "'Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.' And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water." I had always pictured the spring as having space around all sides, but it actually comes from a northern-facing cliff in the hill.  Judges 7:1 says the Midianite’s army was to the north, so if you knelt all the way down and put your mouth to the water, you would basically have your back to the enemy, but if you scooped up the water with your hand, you could keep an eye on the northern hillside and the enemy camp.

This incident – one that would have occurred in about the 12th century BC- makes much more sense once you see the actual spring. You get it.  You can see that the descriptions in the Bible do not read like the accounts of the gods on Olympus or some such mythology.  These are real places and we have real evidence.  The inconsequential details, like how people drank, are reinforced by the topography. Even history from over two and a half millennia ago rings true. It is truly an amazing land and was a remarkable trip.
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