Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A pitfall of experimental religion

One man impacted significantly in the 1990s by Leonard's [Ravenhill] ministry was Mike Bickle, a pastor in Kansas City, Missouri, though the initial influence came years earlier. ...Bickle was present at one of Leonard's last significant times of ministry at the national Vineyard Fellowship conference at the Anaheim City Arena February 6-9, 1989. ... [Mack Tomlinson, In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill (Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2010), 489]

At that time I asked him [Leonard] why he was so favorable to the Third Wave movement. His answer delighted me when he said, "I am so sick and tired of death in the church that I am delighted to go anywhere where there is some life." [Richard Owen Robers, in Tomlinson, 523]

Christianity is a religion of faith and life, doctrine and practice. While doctrine without life (often called "dead orthodoxy") is wrong, life without doctrine is just as errant. When one over-emphasizes on certain aspects of practice, compromise normally follows.

Leonard Ravenhill it seems is revered in certain especially Charismatic circles, although he doesn't claim to be either a Charismatic or a Pentecostal. His roots are in the Methodist Holiness tradition, although he does not embrace Perfectionism. His message is one of holiness, prayer and revival. By "revival," the term is not meant in the revivalist sense of the term, but rather in the sense of old-school revival, the revival mentality of George Whitefield and John Wesley. In other words, Ravenhill can be considered an Experimentalist of the First Great Awakening ("New Side") variety.

Towards the end of his life, Ravenhill helped out at Vineyard Anaheim, and thus helped in the beginning period of the Third Wave. As we know by now, the Third Wave has become a monstrous, heretical movement. Mike Bickle was involved in the Kansas City Prophets movement, which was disgraced by the open sins of Paul Cain, and now heads the mystical International House of Prayer. Now, from reading the biography of Ravenhil, one does not get the impression that he will approve of what has happened in the Third Wave. Thus, while keeping Ravenhill neutral with regards to the Third Wave proper, we see here how Ravenhill's emphasis on revival has blinded him to the problems in the Third Wave. Much like Lyman Beecher in the Second Great Awakening, an emphasis of practice over doctrine will ultimately result in compromise from the faith.

Without taking a position on the old side/new side division in the 18th century American Presbyterian Church, we must insist that there is a pitfall in experimental religion of any kind — that of elevating spirituality over doctrine. Regardless of what one thinks about the idea of old-school revival, surely one should perceive that it is so very easy to emphasize piety over the foundation for piety. Sin is pervasive, even present in the godliest of us, so, if one were to esteem Ravenhill, it should not surprised us that even he were to fail in this regard. No matter how pious one may be, how any hours in prayer, how many years of service, one is always susceptible to sin. And helping out with the Third Wave IS sin.

One may admire the godly example of others, in fact, one should. But piety does not determine truth, and pious people can be wrong. The sole authority for the believer remains the Scriptures, not even pious believers like Ravenhill.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Union with Christ and justification

A decisive break with the ordo salutis thinking that has vitiated Reformed thought since the early seventeenth century is clearly implied here [in T.F. Torrance's thought -DHC]. This historical record shows that as long as justification is viewed as taking place at a specific point in time (either in eternity or upon the exercise of faith) it is nearly impossible to find a meaningful relationship between justification and the economy of faith (the ongoing life of faith and obedience). Only when the traditional ordo salutis is eschewed can a truly forensic and synthetic doctrine of justification that is at the same time relational and dynamic be articulated.

...No longer is justification viewed as an abstract punctiliar decree in eternity or when a person believes. Rather, justification inheres once for all in the person of Christ, the resurrected and justified one. The believer's justification, then, is viewed as a continual and ongoing participation in the one divine forensic decree of justification—the resurrection justification of Christ. ... As to the time of justification, to speak theologically, the Christian's justification is intended in the eternal purposes of God; it is objectively declared at the resurrection of Christ; it is subjectively realized in the ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit; and it is conclusively ratified at the eschaton. [William B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 265]

...according to them [the Sophists - DHC], man is justified by faith as well as by works, provided these are not his own works, but gifts of Christ and fruits of regeneration; Paul's only object in so expressing himself being to convince the Jews, that in trusting to their own strength they foolishly arrogated righteousness to themselves, whereas it is bestowed upon us by the Spirit of Christ alone, and not by studied efforts of our nature. But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded (Gal. iii. 11, 12). For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again (Rom. x. 5-9). Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification [read "regeneration" -DHC] and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.14)

The modern idea of "union with Christ" it seems partakes of the "Calvin versus the Calvinists" paradigm, and follows the revisionist historiography of the Barthians in this regard. According to William Evans, who followed Barthian T.F. Torrance's revisionist interpretation of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, we need to reject all talk about the Ordo Salutis as being a distortion of Calvin's thought of a vital and sustantial union with Christ. Justification in this scheme is a continuous process it seems, although it must be pointed out that the continuation is not the doing of good works but of the spiritual work of faithfulness.

As I have mentioned, I do not see how John Calvin can be interpreted to have this idea of a union with Christ in nobis. This whole idea of union with Christ as being John Calvin's focus really stinks of the whole discredited central dogma theory, as if Calvin interprets all of Scripture (eisegesis) through a theological hermeneutical lens. Also, the entire "Calvin versus the Calvinists" nonsense treats Calvin as THE definition of what Reformed means, something which Calvin would be much appalled about. John Calvin, while an influential Reformed, was not the only Reformer neither did he see himself as in any way superior to the other Reformers. Disagreeing with Calvin is thus not falling away from the Reformed faith!

But let us suppose for the sake of argument that Calvin is the paradigm of Reformed thought. When we look at Calvin's view on justification, what do we see but that justification is purely through faith alone, a faith that is passive and without works of any sort. We note that Calvin even excludes evangelical or spiritual works from consideration of justification. How different is that from Evans' idea of justification requiring "ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit" or perseverance in union with Christ, which must be considered an evangelical or spiritual good work. Evans might say it is still all of grace without good works, but the question is: Can a person lost his justification if he does not continue in the "ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit"? If justification can be lost, then we are back with Rome and her false gospel of salvation by faith and works. But if justification cannot be lost, then justification is not really continual is it? One just has to "begin" the process and all who "begin" the "continual" process will most certainly complete it.

The entire accusation against the Ordo Salutis is bad revisionist history. While we agree that a full-orbed Ordo was still forming during the time of the Reformers like John Calvin, yet it is simply ludicrous to think that there is no sort of order between the various works of God since they are all subsumed under "union with Christ." From 3.11.14 of Calvin's Institutes, Calvin clearly saw regeneration and justification as being prior to the "blessings" that flow from them, thus showing that having some version of an Ordo is inevitable within the Reformed tradition, despite Evans' distorted historiography

In order for salvation to be by faith alone, it must have a "punctiliar" nature, in the sense that a person that has faith does not create and nurture this faith unto justification by evangelical works. That is the problem Evans does not see: that erasing the punctiliar nature of justification means that one's evangelical works contribute to one's "final" justification, and thus justification by faith alone is compromised.

In conclusion, I am not impressed with the type of irrationality behind this project of denying the Ordo. The Reformers, Calvin included, all believed in justification by faith alone apart from any type of good works, and smuggling works in the back door is not something any of them would countenance.

Friday, February 13, 2015

John Calvin, extra nos, in nobis, pro nobis

At this point a dialectic of in nobis and extra nos thinking is evident. On the one hand, the sacrificial work of Christ is accomplished outside the believer. In addition, the believer, although fully justified, is not made fully righteous in this life. In both these senses, the justification of the believer is to be found only extra nos. On the other hand, as Calvin so pointedly remarks at the beginning of Book III of the Institutio, "as long as Christ remains outside of us... all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us." Whatever questions have been raised subsequently, it should be apparent that Calvin himself detected no contradiction here. Subjective incorporation and objective substitution are not mutually exclusive categories for Calvin. [William B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 36]

John Calvin taught, in a dialectical manner, both justification by faith alone, and salvation by union with Christ, at least according to the claims of William Evans. Or to synthesize the statements, according to Evans' interpretation of Calvin, "the believer is justified through union with Christ and is united with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit" (Ibid., 36). But when one actually checks the source material in Calvin's Institutes, what Evans claims to be there does not appear to be present. What are we to make of Calvin's understanding of salvation?

When Calvin claims that God has purchased salvation through Christ, he is speaking of redemption accomplished. Christ through His death on the Cross has purchased the redemption of His people. Subsequently, this redemption must be applied to those who believe. It is in this context that Calvin remarks why it is insufficient for Christ to be "outside of us." Evans interprets that as speaking of salvation by union with Christ in nobis (in us) as it were, but is that the right manner of interpretation?

Christ in accomplishing redemption purchased the double grace (duplex gratiam) of justification and sanctification (historically called "regeneration"). Christ is then given to us for our salvation. We note here that the focus is Christ given to us. Or from a third party point of view, it is for us. The phrase that best describes this giving of Christ is pro nobis (for us). In other words, Christ remains separate from the elect, but He is given for our benefit.

Evans' promotion of his theory of a substantial union with Christ therefore does not seem to be supported by the evidence. It is one thing to claim union with Christ in the sense of communion with Christ, which Calvin held to. But Christ given to His people pro nobis is indeed one type of communion, and substantial union in nobis is another type of communion. The question is why we must take Calvin as teaching the second type of communion, as what Evans is arguing for, as opposed to the first type, which seems to be the plain reading of Calvin's work. Proving Calvin held to a type of union with Christ is therefore insufficient for Evans' case, and thus so far I see no reason why I should believe Evans' version of union with Christ.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Scientific realism and anti-realism

[J.P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 172]

The debate over scientific realism and anti-realism deals with the nature of scientific statements and entities. The question is NOT: Are things described using scientific theories true (which is Vern Poythress' misunderstanding of scientific realism)? Rather, are the theories objectively true, and do entities such as "[electrical] current," "light waves" and other such entities ontologically exist, or rather that such [theoretical] entities are short-hand for a complex relationship between actual physical entities (for example, density describes the relation between the mass of an object and its volume, and is not a distinct ontologically entity by itself).

When the question is correctly phrased, the whole idea of the reality of this world and its general law-like structure has little if anything to do with the question of scientific realism/ anti-realism. The alternate rational nonrealist view, Instrumentalism, claims merely that science "works." In other words, we do not claim that scientific theories/ laws and entities actually exist, but rather that they work, in that "they are successful in accomplishing the purpose for which they were formulated" (Ibid., 172). I would regard myself as a Pragmatist, and thus science is successful in solving puzzles. Scientific theories are "true" in the sense that they adequately solve the puzzles we want to solve, and so help us in conjuring up an adequate (for our purposes) understanding of how things work. "Truth" in science is thus a function of usefulness of description, not a function of true truth.

It may be objected that something which works must have some relation with the way the world does in fact operate. And I do not see why we should dispute that. But the question is not whether there is some relationship with the way the world actually works, but whether we can know what that relation actually is. Scientific theories and entities are functional analogues, and that is the most we can say. The history of science is filled with competing and rejected scientific paradigms, and some of these worked very well for its time (e.g. Ptolemaic cosmology), so therefore we cannot claim ours is the final perfect truth of the world. We see in the law-like structure of science an analogy of God's law in General Revelation, not THE law(s) of General Revelation.

Philosophizing about science is second-order thinking. Or rather, since General Revelation is primary, science is the study of General Revelation, which makes it second order, philosophizing about science is third-order thinking. Christianity does not therefore mandate we take either the realist or anti-realist position, contra Poythress. Rather, through common philosophizing about the nature of science, it seems that the anti-realist, instrumentalist and pragmatist view of science is the best option for understanding science.

The definition and limitations of science

[Statement for discussion: -DHC] Something is scientific if and only if it focuses on the natural world, is guided by natural law, and/or explains by reference to natural law ...

What about the phrase explains by reference to natural law? Is this a necessary or sufficient condition for something to count as science? No. Mathematics often explain things by referring to natural (non-supernatural) laws of mathematics or logic. ...

... the third part of the essential characteristic of science we are considering — something is scientific if and only if it focuses on the natural world. There are two different ways we could take the term natural. First, it may be a contrast term that means nonsupernatural. Here, "natural" means everything that is real apart from God and his direct, primary causal interventions into the world. Naturalism would be the view that God does not exist and everything that does exist is a natural entity. Or a theist could adopt an attitude of naturalism by simple focusing on items insofar as they exist in the world, even though she believes that God created them, that is, she could focus on them from a natural point of view. ...

If that is how we should take natural, then science is not the only discipline that "focuses on the natural world." The entities listed are studied by philosophers, logicians, mathematicians, and linguists, to name a few. Even theologians study and make claims about natural entities, for example, by saying that God reated various forms of life, endowed them with certain abilities, and so forth. So if natural is understood in this way, it is clear that science cannot be defined as the discipline that "focuses on the natural world." [J.P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 23-6]

Does this mean that we can never recognize a case of science or nonscience when we see it? No it doesn't. But one does not need a definition of science to do this. ... suffice it is to say that, in a general way, science is a discipline that in some sense and usually appeals to natural explanation, empirical tests, and so forth. (Ibid., 42)

Philosopher J.P. Moreland, in this foray into the philosophy of science, attempts a definition of science, and concludes that there is no one definition of science, or for that matter, of the scientific method. As a scientific anti-realist, I most certainly agree. There are certain principles that proscribe the parameters of science and the scientific method, but to define science is rather impossible, as Moreland has demonstrated. I would not go as far as Paul Feyerabend who basically threw in the towel and erase all distinction between science and nonscience, but the fact that we cannot actually find anything that defines science and the scientific method, in contrast to nonscience (besides the useless tautology "what scientists do") should give us pause in being dogmatic about what is or isn't science.

Moreland's analysis of this one criteria of naturalism is interesting, yet if we were to separate the hard ("natural") sciences from the soft ("social") sciences, it seems that some form of naturalism is definitive of the natural sciences. In other words, while there may not be a definition of "science," there might be a definition of the various sciences. With regards to the "hard" sciences, it seems true that it "focuses on the natural world, is guided by natural law, and/or explains by reference to natural law." But what it does prove is that the natural sciences focuses on natural laws in the natural world, but we have already limit it to the natural sciences so of course that naturally follows. But if we so limit the field of study, then surely the questions and answers should be likewise limited to the domain being studied.

If the field of inquiry relates only to the natural, then conclusions are limited to the natural as well. It is therefore somewhat ridiculous to claim that "science" disproves miracles, for miracles or the supernatural is not within the field of study of the natural sciences. Likewise, in the adoption of methodological naturalism, all supernatural events lie outside the purview of science. If anyone was to try to investigate such events "scientifically" (i.e. naturalistically), then they will always be in error as to their conclusions since they assume natural processes are the only ones at work here.

From a definitional inquiry, we can see that miraculous events are excluded from scientific considerations from the start. Unless one assumes scientism (which is self-refuting), science can never disprove the supernatural and the miraculous.

Liberal anti-intellectuals and the Crusades (Ammended)

US President Obama has taken flak for his National Prayer Breakfast address equivocating the actions of ISIS with the Medieval Crusades. The main issue is that Medieval scholars, that is, those who actually do the hard historical work of shifting through the primary sources and attempting an objective interpretation of historical data, have rejected the idea of the Crusades being a war of aggression. Rodney Stark's book God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades and the more recent book The Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden are recent scholarly works on the Crusades, and as such the Liberal equivalence of ISIS and the Crusades is just plain wrong.

The Liberals however prove that truth does not actually matter to them. This hack job at New Republic asserts what the author thinks is true, without interacting with the scholarly arguments medieval scholars have put out. The author evidently thinks she knows much more than medieval scholars about what actually happened in the Crusades. Forget about the primary sources, forget about actually thinking historically; one does not actually have to do the work of a medieval scholar to know he/she is wrong! If that is not anti-intellectualism, nothing is!

Yes, the Crusades were not pretty and crimes were committed by all sides. But the kind of sloppy thinking liberals have just show that truth to them is totally unimportant. When truth gets in the way of a "good story," then lies should be believed. The academic work of medieval scholars can be ignored, as they have done to the work of all who do not share their beliefs. How much lower can Liberals stoop? Or do they remain so deluded that nothing can ever show them how intellectually dishonest they have become?

If Liberals actually want to speak intelligently about the Crusades, they should actually deal with what the Medieval Scholars have actually said. But I guess I'm asking too much from them to do that.

Erratum: It is not the SOTU, but the National Prayer Breakfast, in which Obama said those comments

Sunday, February 08, 2015

My licensure sermon

Yesterday February 6th 2015, I preached my licensure sermon during the meeting of the OPC Presbytery of Southern California. It can be heard here.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Creation and the focus on clocks

We should also consider different cultural approaches to time. Cultures differ in striking ways in their attitudes toward time. Among these differences are differences concerning punctuality and "keeping to the clock." First, people can focus on the "objective" passing of time as shown by a clock. We may call this clock orientation. Second, they can focus on the more subjective, interactive time that they experience in the rhythms of human events. Human beings interact with one another in social groups or interact with created things, such as when they celebrate a wedding or harvest a field. .. We may call this focus interactive orientation. ... [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 138]

How does all this apply to Genesis 1? If one goes to Genesis 1 with a clock orientation, one focuses primarily on how long it took, as measured by a clock. But if one goes to Genesis 1 with an interactive orientation, one asks what important events took place, and what was their human social meaning. ... (Ibid., 139)

The argument made by Poythress, in his promotion of the analogical day position, is that the very notion of 24-hour days of creation is a very modern and Western phenomenon. Ancient societies like ancient Israel do not have a "clock orientation" but an "interactive orientation" and therefore the fixation on the length of days is unbiblical.

It is granted that modern Western societies have a "clock orientation." Yet, this objection to the 6-24 view is rather strange. If the objection merely wants to claim that it may not exactly 24 hours, then of course YECs are not tied to exactly 24 hours 00 minutes 00.000 seconds! The "24" in the 24 hours of the day is not meant to insist on a particular scientific measurement of the duration of one day, but rather to indicate that the creation days are not qualitatively different from subsequent earth days. From a phenomenological perspective, an observer placed on the surface of the earth during the 6 days would have seen a cycle of one period of light and one period of darkness just like how he would have expected it to be seen in the subsequent earth days.

There are indeed differences between those with a "clock orientation" and those with an "interactive orientation." Yet, the differences are exaggerated if one thinks that those with an "interactive orientation" have no recognition of time. They do! The difference is how they perceive time should be utilized. Furthermore, all societies most certainly have a basic "clock orientation" in the recognition of the passing of days and nights, if only for the fact that one has to sleep at night and wake up in the morning! So while there are indeed difference in time perception and utilization, it is simply wrong to think that such differences would allow for the stretching of a day to any duration even to millions of years. Sure, one can plus/minus a few hours per day, but that would not have really helped any other position besides the literal 6-24 view.

Poythress attempts to make the duration of a day more indeterminate by appeal to the fact that there was no sun or moon in the first three days, so those three days should not be taken as normal calendar days (Ibid., 141). But that is erroneous, for just because the sun and moon and astral bodies are to function as normal time keepers does not imply that time before the fourth day can be of any length. When God created the light on Day 1, and separated the light from the darkness, time could function already if one sees the light as shining from one direction onto a rotating earth. Moreover, there is no indication in the text that the first 3 days were meant to be in any sense qualitatively different from the next 3 days, so this argument is invalid.

So in conclusion, yes, there are indeed difference in the perception of time between different societies. Yet, those difference are overblown if one thinks that it would allow for the duration of a creation day to be stretched indefinitely. So while Poythress' point about perceptions of time might be helpful to those who are dogmatic about it being scientifically 24 hours, it is little relevance for those who are more interested in the day being a normal calendar day, who use "24" as a short-hand to indicate their view.

The problems with the mature creation view (ADD)

I suggest, then, that the mature creation view offers an attractive supplement to the 24-hour view. It retains all the main advantages of the 24-hour-day view, by maintaining that God created the universe within six 24-hour days. It supplements this view with a clear and simple explanation for the conclusions of modern astronomy. The universe appears to be 14 billion years old because God created it mature. Moreover, the universe is coherently mature, in the sense that estimates of age deriving from different methods arrive at similar results. [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 116]

... But the idea of mature creation threatens to produce doubts in their mind. If God would do something like this, which appears to be deceptive, how can we trust him in other areas? ... If Adam sensed that the animals were new, he would have had a doctrine of mature creation with respects to the animals. He saw adult animals, but understood that they were freshly created. (Ibid., 117)

But now a more nuanced objection arises: mature structures are not a problem, but records or traces of earlier apparent events from an unreal (ideal) past are a problem. ... (Ibid., 118)

It sounds as if the objector by contrast, cannot really accept mature creation, but rather only creation of a complex structure. And this structure would then have no record within it of a past history. According to this model, God created Adam or a tree but without coherent apparent age. Coherent age would point both to earlier structures and to earlier events &mash; and the latter the objector cannot accept. (Ibid., 119)

When Jesus turned water into wine at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11), the wine would have tasted like the product from grapes. Presumably, it would be a complex structure. But could it have contained any grape plant cells or yeast cells or fragments from cells? Such cells would contain DNA, and the DNA would by its distinctive signature enable a scientist to infer from what grapevine stock the wine derived. He would then infer past events like the picking of the grapes, the pressing in a wine press, the operation of yeast in aging, and so on.

The objector now seems to be on the horns of a dilemma. He might claim that the drink at Cana in Galilee only tasted like wine, but did not have the complex inner structure that would include the remains of yeast cells. But that would mean a denial that God could have freshly created complex structures in a moment. ... So suppose that he allows that the wine might actually yeast cell DNA. In that case, he seems to allow both mature structures (yeast cells) and apparent past events that one can infer from them (cell growth and division). I conclude, then, that a hard-and-fast distinction between complex structures and mature structures with an ideal past is implausible. (Ibid., 119-20)

On the days of creation, Poythress tends towards the analogical day view, but he has sympathy for the mature creation view. Poythress claims that the "indisputable" findings of astronomy makes the 24-hour view untenable, and thus a belief in a "mature creation" as a supplement would rescue it as a viable theory. Poythress then attempts to answer objections to the mature creation view, attempting to show that it does not result in God being deceptive at all.

First of all, Poythress is wrong in his certainty concerning the findings of astronomy. As I have shown, Poythress misrepresented Russell Humphreys' white hole cosmology. Alternate cosmologies such as his might just be able to explain astronomical data without the need for billions of years. There is thus no need to supplement a 6-24 view with a belief in mature creation.

With regards to Poythress' argument, Poythress is right in pointing out that Adam and Eve and the animals are created mature. Thus, the presence of mature structures do not suggest that they get to be that way because of the duration of long periods of time. The "more nuanced" objection that Poythress mentioned is however the crux of the objection against the mature creation view. The issue is not so much an appearance of age in complex structures, but there is the presence of "coherent ages" indicating apparent events in "an unreal past." But Poythress does not frame the objection in its best form. The problem with the mature creation view is that the phenomena that indicate "coherent age" contains information about the past which would not be otherwise present if the past was unreal. Take the example of distant starlight. Holding the mature creation view would indicate that the light from any stellar body beyond about 10,000 light-years away consist of photons created in transit. Therefore, such light is not truly indicative of what is happening in the stellar bodies. But when the light portrays for example a supernova, taking the mature creation view must say that the supernova did not actually happen since the light containing the information about the supernova was created in transit. How is this not deceptive, to indicate an astronomical event which did not actually happen?

Poythress attempts to use the miracle of Jesus' turning water into wine at Cana as an example of why this "nuanced" objection is invalid. Poythress asked us whether the wine is actually wine with remnants of yeast cell and yeast DNA. In response, it is to be asked whether these are essential for wine to be wine, and the answer is no. We can take any wine that is naturally produced, remove all yeast cells and, if it were possible, all yeast cell DNA and grape DNA and any other cell remnants, and the resulting beverage would still be wine. The elements of wine are the various organic and trace inorganic chemicals that together in certain proportions give us wine. Yeast's function in wine production is to convert sugars to alcohol, not to be part of the essence of wine. Poythress' example thus does not show that such a distinction is not possible. In fact, it would have been better for Poythress to actually address how the mature creation view can answer the issue of "coherent age" with respects to distant starlight. As I have point out, should those who hold on to the mature creation view hold to the creation of light in transit and thus the creation of false information about astronomical phenomena?

It might be tempting to take the mature creation view as a cop-out against wrestling with the scientific data, as it might be tempting to take the Framework view as a cop-out against resolving the tension between science and the Genesis account. But such is not the right way, for we hold that God does not contradict Himself. What is revealed in General Revelation (astronomical data, NOT theories) cannot be discarded as illusionary but must be properly addressed. Yes, science is not the same as General Revelation, which is why we do not have to explain the "concordance" between the Big Bang Theory and the Genesis account but rather the astronomical data with the Genesis account. The problem with the mature creation theory is the problem of information, not the presence of phenomena, and this Poythress did not adequately address.

P.S.: When I mention that one must take into account the data of astronomy, I am well aware that there are no such things as brute data. Rather, what I am saying is that one must account for the data, either through explaining how it makes sense in one's system, or by questioning how it is collected and offering an viable alternative explanation of the collection and results of data.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Poythress' misrepresentation of Humphreys' cosmology

Third, D. Russell Humphreys employs the general theory of relativity in order to try to "rescale" the time back to the Big Band. But he misapplies the mathematics of general relativity, and does not realize that in any case general relativity would not significantly affect the time estimates to nearby galaxies like the Andromeda galaxy.15 [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 103]

15 Because the relative velocities of our solar system and of the Andromeda galaxy are small compared with the velocity of light, and because there are no gargantuan gravitational fields in the line of sight to Andromeda, neither special relativity nor general relativity significantly affects time estimates for light coming from the Andromeda galaxy. ... [Footnote 15, in ibid., 103]

Humphreys, D. Russell, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe. Colorado Springs, Master, 1994. Argues that general relativity plus certain reasonable assumptions about the beginnings provides a suitable model in which, because of relativistic time dilation, distant parts of the universe may appear to be old when the earth is young. This and forthcoming works based on it may come to play a role in the arguments of six-24-hour-day creationists. A flaw in the physical reasoning invalidates the argument. (In bibliography, in ibid., 358)

A major part of Vern Poythress' book deals with science and the question of origins, especially dealing with the text of Genesis 1-2. In his description of the young earth creationist, 6-24 position, Poythress list some attempts to deal with what he thinks to be the obvious evidence of long ages, distant starlight. Russell Humphreys' attempt is noticed by Poythress and listed as one attempt to deal with the problem of distant starlight. That is good. The problem however is that Poythress misrepresented Humphreys' cosmology.

Humphreys is his book Starlight and Time postulates a white hole cosmology. First, Humphreys denies the Copernican cosmological principle — that there is no center of the universe. The beginning is therefore an explosion of matter from a white hole into 3-dimensional space. Whereas in the standard Lambda-CDM Big Band Model, the initial explosion is 3-D space itself on the surface of a 4-D hypersphere. In Humphreys' white hole cosmology, because matter is expanding into 3-D space, there is gravitational differential between the surface of the expanding sphere of matter and its center, something which is not present in the Lambda-CDM Big Band Model since in that model, it is space itself that is expanding and there is no center of mass when 3-D space itself loops back onto itself as it is stretched upon the 4-D hypersphere (i.e. if you move in one direction across the universe, you will eventually arrive at your starting point no matter which direction you choose).

It is this gravitational differential that Humphreys focuses on with regard to gravitational and time dilation. According to white hole cosmology, the earth passed through the white hole's event horizon on day 4, during which time billions of years of stellar time eclipsed such that distant starlight could make their way to earth. Billions of stellar evolution could occur, while there is the passage of only one day on earth.

We can easily see that Poythress misrepresented Humphreys' cosmology. Humphreys is not saying that light coming from the Andromeda Galaxy is currently undergoing relativistic effects before reaching earth. Rather, the relativistic effects happened because of the near stopping of time on earth on day 4. Therefore, the light that we currently see in the sky today, according to Humphreys' white hole cosmology, is light that had traveled from distant stars for billions of years in stellar time. All the photons we see were photons that were a couple of thousand light-years away from earth when day 4 ended, having traveled a long distance by then.

Now Humphreys' white hole cosmology is not foolproof. The latest YEC cosmology after all is the one developed by John Harnett. But one should represent his white hole cosmology accurately even in disagreement, and unfortunately Poythress did not do so.

Poythress and the philosophy of science (Part 2)

The appreciation of multidimensional reality can also account for cases where later science has overturned earlier scientific theories. Copernicus's sun-centered solar system displaced Ptolemy's earth-centered system. But both systems recognized a general patten of cyclical motion in the planets. .... The system [Ptolemy's -DHC] was not wrong to notice the correlations; but it was oversimple, and to that extent wrong, in postulating a direct correlation between mathematics of epicycles and position in three dimensions. ... [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 205]

The acknowledge of multiple perspectives enable us to make some sense of the diversity of "levels" with which we may analyze the perception of a red apple. We may affirm the value both of ordinary human experience and of special modes of analysis that science introduces. ... (Ibid., 213)

Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of science came about through his study of the history of science. Thus, in Kuhn's most famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn made some observations regarding the history of how science had worked in past eras, and from his historical observations, he postulated the idea of scientific revolutions or paradigm shifts.

Vern Poythress has decided to deal with the history of science in some fashion also. Using a multi-perspectival method, Poythress claims that the differences between the various eras did not come about because of differences in paradigms but merely because they looked at the scientific questions they were answering from different perspectives. He then claimed that, in the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican cosmologies, the differences came about because both parties have different perspectives.

In response, we first note that paradigms do include the perspectives of men. But paradigms go beyond that to include the societal and ideological backdrop of the times, so paradigms is a larger category than mere perspectives.

Secondly, and more importantly, whereas for Poythress, the various perspectives are legitimate, that is not historically how the differences between the various scientific models are seen. Those holding to the Copernican model like Kepler and Galileo did not think their model was merely a different "perspective" just as legitimate as the Ptolemaic model. Rather, they thought that the Ptolemaic model was in error. Likewise, with regards to the phlogiston theory, those rejecting phlogiston actually think that those holding to the phlogiston theory were in error, not that they merely "had" an alternative perspective. To claim that they are merely different "perspectives" cheapen the revolutionary shifts that mark the development of science. It is also rather disingenuous, I might add, to re-interpret the views and motives of especially dead people according to one's preconceived notions of how science develops.

Multiperspectivalism will not save Poythress' interpretation of the history of science, and will not save his critical realism either. The question remains how one can actually know what is true, not whether one can have an actual relation with the real world. Yes, if we "see the redness of an apple," we do see "exactly what God's word specifies that we should see" (Ibid., 204). But how do I know that I actually see the redness of an apple? This is the question Poythress has not even begin to address, and his realism will result in his overestimation of what science actually states, to the detriment of this supposed Christian project of "redeeming" science.

Poythress and the philosophy of science (Part 1)

The realist says that science describes real properties of the world "out there." Scientific knowledge objectively matches realities in the character of an objective world. The "critical" realist, in distinction from the naive realist, acknowledges that appearances can be deceptive, and in practice science is always tentative and subject to revision. But science aims at true description and explanation. Though we cannot have perfect certainty about its description in any particular case, we are traveling toward truth, and some of the descriptions are true to facts out there. ...

By contrast, the idealist says that science describes the appearance of things according to the way in which the human mind naturally organizes them. We never grasp "the thing in itself," what is out there, but only the thing as already organized by our perception and our ways of thinking. ... A description in science may be true as a description of this already-organized perception. ...

The empiricist says that science studies the events and phenomena of immediate perception, and that the theoretical constructions of science do not directly describe real entities but are a convenient way of summarizing the patterns in empirical date.


The pragmatist says that science does no offer direct knowledge of the world as it is, but only a practical tool or means for achieving technical mastery of the world. The value of science lies wholly in its practical success.

The postmodern relativist says that science is a social product of groups with a certain social unity of purpose and knowledge-base. "Knowledge" is relative to one's group, and groups based on different kinds of assumptions would come up with different "knowledge." There is no way to adjudicate between incommensurable groups. [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 197-8]

At first glance, critical realism might seem to offer the most compatibility with a Christian worldview. We believe that God created a world, not just human beings. The world is real. And God has so constructed us that we can know him and known about his world (creation in the image of God). This reality of the world and of God excludes the other positions. ... Idealism and empiricism and pragmatism would seem to be unduly restrictive in not allowing us to say that we know the real world out there. ...(Ibid., 198-9)

Before dealing with scientific issues, one should think about the philosophy and nature of science. Poythress in his book however places discussion of theories of science near the middle of his book, as if the topic is just not that important for scientific issues. In fact, the title of the chapter in which the discussion on the philosophy of science takes place is "Debates About What is Real." Poythress thus see the various theories of science as being a reflection of one's perception of the world, of General Revelation. Taking the critical realist position in Poythress' opinion is the only way to preserve the reality and perspicuity of General Revelation, while all others deny the reality and perspicuity of General Revelation.

It must be re-stated that Poythress is in error concerning the relationship of science to General Revelation. Thus, while there are (hopefully) no informed orthodox Christians that will dispute the reality of the external world or the perspicuity of General Revelation, it is not the same as predicating that of scientific laws and the scientific enterprise. The issue I have concerning the nature and philosophy of science is not about the ontological statuses of the objects and subjects investigated by science, but rather it concerns the human capacity concerning science and the contributions we make in the very scientific enterprise itself, which influence the way we understand science. In other words, it is epistemic rather than ontological.

Thomas S. Kuhn's theory of science asserts that science is done within various paradigms throughout human history. The paradigm informs scientists the manner to ask questions and what the goal of such questioning is. Far from science being this impersonal enterprise, scientists contribute to the scientific endeavor. First, in framing the questions in a particular manner, certain answers are ruled out of order immediately. Second, the manner of inquiry will predispose one towards certain type of answers and not others. Thirdly, expecting a certain kind of regularity that makes sense in the paradigm, there is a tendency to rule data sets that do not conform to the expected variation as "outliers" and thus the tendency is towards maintenance of the reigning paradigm. Unless there are too many "outliers" and that consistently, the tendency is to reject them as due to experimental errors. Such scientific paradigms enable "normal science" to flourish within it, until a crisis point arrive where there are too many anomalies, or when a superior alternate theory emerges that works better than the current one. Paradigm shifts then occur as the scientific community shifts from one paradigm to the other, during which the terms of discussion and manners of discussion will shift, either slightly or greatly.

We note here that Kuhn's philosophy of science does not necessarily lead one to relativism, as some might think. The most one can say is that Kuhn is an epistemic anti-realist, which is not the same as being a relativist.

Scientific epistemic anti-realism just state that one does not actually know truth in science. Rather, because of the paradigmatic dependence of science, science is always seeking but never coming to actual truth, merely at best getting a working approximation of the truth. As Gordon Clark has shown in the book The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, science because of its inductive reasoning can never attain truth. That is why pragmatism in some form is the better option when it comes to having a philosophy of science.

Contrary to Poythress therefore, the issue is not ontological but epistemological. We agree that one actually deals with the real world, the "things in themselves" as it were. But can we actually know, actually formulate laws that are absolutely and transcendentally true? I suggest not. Our paradigmatic dependence means all scientific laws and understanding is partial, is an approximation of what is actually true, and covers only what the paradigm includes in its parameters of subject matter. So yes, we believe that God created a real world that can be known, but we dispute that science is that sole vehicle that can know the world, and also the type of knowledge God intends us to have about the world.

Science and General Revelation

Scientific law is a form of the word of God [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 25]

It suffices to observe that, in reality, what people call "scientific law" is divine. ... In thinking about law, scientists are thinking God's thoughts after him. (Ibid., 27)

[On Psalms 19 -DHC] Verses 1-6 show God's revelation through creation and providence. Verses 7-11 focus on his revelation through his law given to Israel. The first of these, general revelation, clearly has a relation to science and its study of the external world. The second, special revelation, has a close relation to the Bible and to the study of the Bible in theology. So the theology of revelation found in the Bible gives us a way of seeing the relation between science and the Bible (Ibid., 35).

In this respect, the formulations by a human scientist are more like a commentary on the Bible than they are like the Bible itself. (Ibid., 45)

Vern Poythress' reading of science is that it is like a commentary on infallible General Revelation. While science might err, it errs in the same way as commentaries on the Bible err, in that both when done right are infallible revelations of God's wisdom and might. Thus, Poythress can claim that scientific law is "a form of the word of God," and that scientists are "thinking God's thoughts after him." But is this the way we ought to regard the relationship of science and General Revelation?

Poythress would be right if he only claims General Revelation to be infallible, but he extends the reliability of General Revelation to science, which is a study of the world, and thus in some sense it is a study of General Revelation. Yet science is not THE study of General Revelation, but a particular manner of studying General Revelation. For example, a major axiom of the modern scientific enterprise is methodological naturalism, that one does not posit the divine as a factor in scientific experiments. This is not necessarily bad or "godless," for if one were to reject it, then how can one know if the results from any experiment were tampered with by God, or demons? Science would be impossible if methodological naturalism was rejected, and therefore the modern scientific enterprise requires the axiom of methodological naturalism.

Yet, by utilizing this axiom, science automatically is disqualified from investigating miracles of any sort. Miracles are not "contrary" to science as much as they are incommensurate with science; they lie outside the purview of science. Likewise, the assumption of uniformitarianism is required for the scientific enterprise, but that implies that history lie outside the purview of science. In other words, because of how science is done, science is a very restricted study of General Revelation. Science therefore is not analogous to a biblical commentary, for a biblical commentary actually deals with the text. Rather, the correct analogy for science (and math also) is that of lexicons and concordances, and word studies based upon these. Just as lexicons and concordances are tools which do not in themselves indicate the content of special revelation, so likewise science provides technical knowledge which do not in themselves indicate the content of General Revelation.

Science therefore is not General Revelation, neither is it a study of General Revelation per se. Rather, it is a restricted study of the phenomena of General Revelation which can be used as tools to understand General Revelation itself. What then are scientists? Scientists are not "thinking God's thoughts after him," but rather they are creating analogues of some aspects of God's thoughts after him. Science as such is pragmatic, not realistic, something which we will discuss later.

Law, rationality and God

Scientists in practice believe passionately in the rationality of scientific law. We are not dealing with an irrational, totally unaccountable and unanalyzable surd, but with lawfulness that in some sense is accessible to human understanding. Rationality is a sine qua non for scientific law. But, as we know, rationality belongs to persons, not to rocks, trees, and subpersonal creatures. If the law is rational, which scientists assume it is, then it is also personal.


Scientific law is clearly like a human utterance in its ability to be grammatically articulated, paraphrased, translated, and illustrated. Law is utterance-like, language-like. ... Language, like rationality, belongs to persons. It follows that scientific law is in essence personal. [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 20]

Vern Poythress in his book Redeeming Science attempts to deal with science and scientific issues from a "God-centered" perspective. At the beginning, Poythress attempts to show that science presupposes the existence of God through focusing on scientific law. Now I for one do believe that science requires God to have a foundation for its operation, but does Poythress' argument actually holds?

According to Poythress, science must be personal, or rather, scientific laws must be personal, because it is rational and rationality involves people. I am singularly unimpressed by such argumentation. What is presupposed here is that of a transcendent basis for law, whereas that has not yet been proven. In an emergentist and descriptive view of law and rationality, law and rationality originate "from below." In other words, the reason why the laws are what they are could be because (1) laws must take on one of the many possible forms, and (2) we discover these forms "from below," through our experimentation. Therefore, in this view of law and rationality, scientific laws are not subjectively (i.e. as the subject) rational but rather they are rationally perceived by rational actors. In other words, rationality is not to be predicated of law but of persons, the people doing the discovering. Therefore, law is not personal.

Now, one could conceivably claim a higher view of law, such that certain scientific laws could not be otherwise (i.e. not contingent). Of course, such is rather impossible to prove. But even if one is to concede this for the sake of argument, an absolute principle is still not subjectively rational but rationally perceived. And this is the problem with Poythress' argument here: Law is objectively rational, but it is not subjectively rational. One can claim that an objective law requires a law-giver, but that cannot be merely assumed, or the argument short-circuited by jumping from objective law to the law-giver as the subject.

So how should the argument be framed? It should be framed based upon the constancy of law, and that there should be no reason why law should be constant apart from an unchanging principle supporting it, which is the workings of God. That law is held by scientists to be constant is besides the point, since there is no reason why a scientific law that "holds true" for the last millennium even should the next day operate in the same manner (which is the fallacy of induction). In other words, it is not rationality that points towards God, but constancy.

In conclusion, while I agree with Poythress' conclusion that science requires God to function, I disagree with his sloppy reasoning. This sloppiness will come up again in dealing with other aspects of science, which we will look at very soon.