Re: Lack of Apologetical predictions

George Murphy (
Fri, 06 Nov 1998 12:36:22 -0500

Glenn R. Morton wrote:
> Hi George,
> Well, here it goes. Now I am really going to get people mad at me.

Probably not as mad as you think!
Excuse the relative brevity of my reply. Among other things, my daughter is
getting married tomorrow & I've just been down at church trying to see that the light
fixture over the altar which was broken this morning gets fixed. So it goes.

> At 09:02 AM 11/5/98 -0500, George Murphy wrote:
> >But YEC theories contribute nothing at all to the matter because they make
> no prediction
> >about the amount of moon dust to be found. If we _had_ found lots of
> dust, YECs could
> >have simply said "It was created that way 6000 years ago."
> I can't resist this one (the devil makes me do it).

Or Ymir - see below.

>The problem with all
> modern apologetics is precisely that they make no predictions. In fact
> they go out of their way to avoid making predictions. And what this does is
> make the Bible irrelevant to the real world we live in. And expecting YECs
> to make predictions when other apologetical systems don't either, seems
> inconsistent to me.

You confuse several types of activity here.
1) My criticism of YECs applies to their claim to be natural science, a
competitor of evolutionary theories. The lack of predictive capacity is crucial there,
& is why I said that position is _scientifically_ vacuous.
2) Apologetics is at best a preliminary activity whose purpose should be to
remove unnecessary obstacles to the gospel getting a fair hearing. It should not be
(though it often has been) seen as an activity of "proving" Christianity.
There are various ways to do apologetics. One approach is to argue for the
historical accuracy of the Bible with a view to convincing people that the biblical
claims about Christ are worth considering. That is not the only approach, & I think it
is a risky one. It tends to assume the validity of independent natural theology &
making the gospel dependent upon alien standards of truth, "reasonableness" &c. I think
a much better way to address unbelievers, especially intellectuals, is to
a. Point out the need for unprovable fundamental presuppositions in
any activity, &
b. Invite them to look at the world and their experience from the
standpoint of the cross & resurrection of Christ as the basic
revelation of God, & suggest that that provides broader and deeper
explanatory power than alternatives.
3) Apologetics can be merely a preliminary to proper Christian theology, which
is the effort to understand and explicate the faith _from the standpoint of faith_. As
to its predictive capacity, see below.

> On Mon, 02 Nov 1998 10:26:58 -0500 George Murphy wrote:
> > Scripture uses allegory (e.g., Gal.4:21-31) & it can be legitimate as a
> >secondary interpretation in some cases. It is NOT, however, what I would
> encourage
> >with Genesis 1-11. It is most important to understand the accounts of
> creation &c _in
> >the context of all of scripture_ THEOLOGICALLY. I.e., they are
> authoritative statements
> >about God's relationship with the real world and humanity. Thus Gen.1 & 2
> say (in
> >varying ways):
> > The existence of the world depends on God alone.
> > Creation is through God's word.
> > The material world is fundamentally good.
> > Human beings have a special place - i.e., privilege AND responsibility - in
> > creation.
> > The creation of living things is mediated.
> > Human sexuality & marriage are part of God's intention for creation.
> >(The list isn't exhaustive.) None of these statements depends on
> "allegory" in
> >the strict sense.
> > 2) Does this lead to a "research program"? It depends on what kind of
> research
> >program you're interested in. It certainly can be part of a theological
> research
> >program in the sense in which Nancey Murphy develops the idea in _Theology
> in the Age
> >ofd Scientific Reasoning_. But it will not lead to the type of
> >geological-paleontological-archaeological research program in which Glenn
> is interested
> >- which is not to say that theology has no interest in geology &c.
> It is not fair to criticize the YEC for failure to make predictions, from
> their apologetical perspective about the reality of the world, when you
> have said, above, that your own apologetical view leads to no observable
> predictions! You have said that it will not lead to any research in
> geology, paleontology, archaeology etc. This can only be true if your views
> make no predictions. If they made predictions you would have something to
> go look for out there in the observable world. Why should you require of
> the YECs that (observable predictions) which is not to be required of you
> or me?

First, I wasn't talking about an apologetic use of Genesis. & 2d, I didn't
quite say that theological statements I based on Genesis had no predictive capacity at
all. The distinction between God and the world (which I didn't list above but should
have) means that it isn't sacrilege to investigate the world. Together, these ideas
lead to the idea that we can understand and have some control of the world - i.e., that
science & science-based technology are possible. & in fact, as many authors have
argued, these activities arose only within a culture informed by the Judaeo-Christian
tradition. So there seem to be some observable consequences of this view of creation.
"The material world is fundamentally good." Well, that's first of all a
statement about the way we are to regard the world. But it has consequences. E.g., it
suggests that the world is not chaotic (Is.45:18), & thus that there is some order in
the world.
But it's certainly true that many theological statements do not lead to
predictions in the same way that Schroedinger's equation does. E.g., doctrines of
providence speak about God's activity in the world (for my proposal see my article in
this past summer's _Zygon_), but they don't predict what will happen in the way that
Newton's laws tell you how a body will move under given forces.
For that matter, what about the predictions of your own approach? You think,
e.g., that the apparent connections between present-day languages verifies Genesis (to
put it briefly). I agree that this is a very interesting line of research & is
_consistent_ with the type of unitary origin of the human race which I believe Genesis
points to. BUT - the combination of Genesis 2 & 11 in fact yields no unique prediction.
Granted, Gen.2 implies an original common language. But Gen.11 doesn't tell us how
badly human languages were "confused". From the text itself the confusion could have
been as minor as the differences between English and Dutch (which would have been enough
to foul up Project Babel) or a radical disruption which would leave no traces of
connection between many languages. Thus _whatever_ modern linguists find could be
consistent with a relatively straightforward reading of Genesis.

> I would also say that it seems to me that if theology has an interest in
> geology etc, as you say, that it must say something true about the
> observable world. If theology can't say anything true about the observable
> world (i.e. make a prediction) then theology HAS NO INTEREST IN GEOLOGY.
> They become two separate realms, disjoint in a fundamental sense, like the
> interior and exterior regions of a black hole. If theology says nothing
> true about geology, then it and geology are like ships passing in the night.

Theology provides the context in which geology and all of the other sciences
are able to provide any information about the world. Among other things, a theology
that takes seriously the goodness of the material world (see above) says that geological
evidence is real evidence, and therefore the apparent age arguments have to be rejected.
I think that geological, archaeological &c evidence are germane to theology.
The fact that we know with a fair degree of certainty where Jesus was crucified (the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, NOT "Gordon's Calvary") is significant. But horrible as
it would be, the utter destruction of Jerusalem by nuclear weapons would not destroy the
basis of faith in cross & resurrection.

> You also wrote tonight:
> > This is the way it often works out. E.g., YECs sometimes say "Evolution
> >predicts a continuous range of organisms between taxa & special creation
> doesn't, so the
> >lack of fossil transitional forms favors special creation." But it does
> no such thing
> >because species _could_ have been created 6000 years ago with gradations
> as close to
> >continuity as you wish. The YEC view in itself requires no unique
> prediction.
> > I.e., if the YEC view isn't scientifically vacuous, it's pretty close to it.
> Why is a YEC interpretation vacuous when they make no unique predictions
> but the nonhistorical scheme is not vacuous when it TOO makes no
> predictions?????????? Is the allegorical/non-historical view of genesis
> equally vacuous? If not why not? And the reasons should flow from your
> theological beliefs, not from your scientific beliefs. You can say that the
> YEC science is wrong because you have a better science, but you can't
> claim that your theological view avoids vacuousness if it also makes no
> predictions--just like the YEC view.

As I noted above, my criticism of YEC views was as science - though I think
that bad theology leads to that bad science.

In response to the rest, let me ask you a question. I assume you believe that
in some way God was involved in providing what you had for breakfast this a.m. - i.e.,
you have some theology of providence. The atheist says that food is entirely the result
of solar energy, weather, soil chemistry, etc. He/she can predict things about what
grains will grow &c. What predictions about breakfast does your doctrine of providence

>And if you want to avoid the charge of
> vacuousness, what prediction does your theological position make? You have
> said "it will not lead to the type of
> geological-paleontological-archaeological research program in which Glenn
> is interested ". I presume from this that your view too makes no
> predictions and must therefore be vacuous just like the YEC view.

See above.

> The lack of prediction in the above (non-historical) interpretive scheme
> can be shown from a thought experiment. Suppose another holy book told a
> story of how God called into existence two salamanders which in mating,
> produced the entire observable universe. After mating the salamanders
> died and maggots ate the body. Two of the maggots fell off the carcass,
> and died from starvation. God took the two maggots, converted them into
> humans, male and female, made he them, and produced our primal parents.
> They were placed on the earth. One man and one woman. And God said it was
> all good.
> Because the reality of the above account is of no nevermind to its
> theological message, one can look at my creation story and draw the
> following conclusions about this 'mythical, creative, salamander-using God
> and his relationship to the world':

> > The existence of the world depends on God alone.
> > Creation is through God's word.
> > The material world is fundamentally good.
> > Human beings have a special place - i.e., privilege AND responsibility - in
> > creation.
> > The creation of living things is mediated.
> > Human sexuality & marriage are part of God's intention for creation.
> Because the theological intepretation of the Scripture can't produce a
> prediction that can be verified in observable reality, one must wonder if
> the theology really has any import to the observable world. The content (or
> plot) of the creation myth is of no consequence. God might have well used
> the salamander story rather than the Adam, Eve and talking snake scenario.
> The non-historical approach to Genesis leads to a system in which NO story
> (not even my salamader story) can possibly be wrong. This is the height of
> vacuousness. If all stories can be true, then there is no limit upon what
> can be believed. This is what I meant when I said above that modern
> theologies go out of their way to avoid predictions. Avoiding predictions
> makes it such that no story could be wrong. There simply are no predictions
> which can be contradicted by any story.

Well, no. The creation of humans from maggots produces an entirely different
image from the creation from the earth. Since you've said before that you're not
interested in poetic imagery &c I expect that you'll say "Why?" & I'll be in the
position of trying to explain music to a deaf person. I don't mean that to sound like a
put down, but I'm trying to take seriously what you've said earlier about attitudes to
Helmut Thielicke, in a sermon on Genesis 2, contrasts the biblical picture with
the Norse myth in which the world & human beings are made by Odin & his brothers from
the body of the giant Ymir whom they have killed. That gives a very different view of
human nature. (See "The devil made me do it" above. The Ymir story makes this
literally true - the devil doesn't just corrupt or tempt but is the _de facto_ creator
of unregenerate humanity.)
> This of course raises the question of why one should consider Genesis
> rather than the Bhagadvadgita as the divinely inspired account. One
> certainly can't state that Genesis is divinely inspired because my
> parents/seminary/pastor/friend says it is. One must have a more substantive
> reason for believing something which is that important; something more than
> 'Someone told me so'. And subjective feelings do not seem entirely
> trustworthy. I thought I was right (subjectively) when I was a YEC and I
> know Mormons who tell me that the spirit bears witness to their spirit that
> they are right. And I doubt that Koresh's followers thought they were
> wrong. On the contrary, they felt that the spirit was telling them to give
> their lives for their cause. Subjectivism does not lead to truth!

Because Genesis is part of the witness to Christ.

> Without predictions which can be verified, you have no basis upon which to
> judge the YEC as being wrong for not making predictions about the moon!
> What prediction does your theology give you about the moon? None according
> to what you said. It is your science rather than your theology that you are
> using to condemn the YEC.

Well, yeah. I'm judging science scientifically. & while one certainly need not
be a Christian to do science, I think the Christian view of creation gives a
comprehensive rationale for the success & validity & meaning of science than other
approaches do.

> Because of this, you can't objectively claim to
> have a better system of interpretation than theirs, because both systems
> make no predictions. You can't objectively claim to have a better theology
> than theirs because yours is just as subjective as theirs.
> Both systems
> remove the objective relationship between the universe and God.
> All that is
> left is subjectivism. You can't really claim to have a better match with
> observable reality because you specifically eschew research programs aimed
> at matching a theological interpretation with observable data. Only if one
> interpetation has a better set of predictions can one claim to better fit
> the facts. Both the YEC and nonhistorical systems leave the observable
> world and theology fundamentally disconnected.
> Theology simply can not become a set of subjective beliefs that one
> believes to be true simply because one believes those beliefs are true.
> Like Escher's drawing entitled "Waterfall", that is pure fideism--an
> illusion devoid of any visible support or raison d'etre.
Your basic problem here is that you want to ground Christian faith in something
more fundamental than Christ. _Logically_ your program can't work because you must make
some presuppositions. _Theologically_ it's bad because the presuppositions you in fact
make are ones external to revelation. Theology is faith in search of understanding, not
the other way around.

George L. Murphy