Re: [asa] Olasky on Collins

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Wed Aug 26 2009 - 12:40:37 EDT

  I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. You clearly have the expertise in philosophy and apologetics and have thought about this very carefully. I may be deceiving myself, but I think I, at least partially, understand what you are saying and even agree with it. Thank you for the admonition and correction.

 I would appreciate hearing more about your sentence "While I will grant to another the prerogative of holding whatever views he wishes, what I resist is the notion that one can hold such views and still consider himself theologically an evangelical Christian." I do consider myself and claim to be "theologically an evangelical Christian" but I wonder if I have any views that you might consider in opposition to that claim.

  ----- Original Message -----
  To: 'Randy Isaac'
  Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 10:47 AM
  Subject: RE: [asa] Olasky on Collins


  Thanks for your thoughtful comments and irenic tone. I apologize for not giving a response to earlier emails. It was for a number of reasons that I had not yet responded. First, there were so many people who immediately weighed in on the topic that it was difficult to sort through all the comments. I was not dismayed by this. Indeed, I was asking for this since I clicked "reply all." I've yet to read all the emails that poured into my inbox. I had to create a special folder so that they wouldn't get lost among my normal load that comes in. I'm hoping to read through them and try to catch up. Second, I had travelled out of town on a short trip and wasn't able to get to my email. Third, I'm beginning a semester at the seminary and was making sure that I was ready to go (which I'm still trying to do!). Fourth, I have to admit (as I told John Walley) that I don't have the stamina to maintain much of a sustained argument via email. I'd much rather have such discussions face to face. I frankly don't understand how others are seemingly able to have the time and energy that it takes to write as much as they do in these email/blog exchanges. My hat is off to them (and you too, if you count yourself among such a talented group).


  Let me see if I can convey to you very briefly what prompted my initial battery of questions. As a philosopher, I maintain that it is unacceptable to believe that one can have a template such as "God's intentions" and use this template to interpret the text of Scripture. I don't say this because I think it is "arrogant to claim to have a full knowledge of what God is thinking." Rather, it is because either such a template is superfluous and unnecessary or it is circular. When someone says something to the effect that there is no reason to take a text like the creation narrative in a certain way because we know (or believe) that such was not God's intention for that text, this is using the template of what we think God's intentions are (or are not) as an interpretive device to understand (or reject a certain understanding of) that text. But the problem is how one is to justify a particular interpretive template. If one says that he gets the template from the text of Scripture, he is either using the template to discover the template (which make it a circular argument) or he is not using the template to discover the template (which means that he can understand the Scriptures without the template thus rendering the template unnecessary for interpretation of Scripture). Since he either is or is not using the template to discover the template, then it is either circular or unnecessary. I think this whole idea of "God's intentions" or "God's purpose" is irrelevant in trying to understand Scripture. In addition to these philosophical (logical) problems, there is the added difficulty of showing where else one might get the notion of what God's intentions are. The above proves that one cannot get from the Bible what God's intentions are for interpreting the Bible. Instead, one might claim that he gets them from a direct communication with God. Besides the theological problem that I would personally have with such a claim (which could in effect stifle any further rational discourse since I could never gainsay God), the same philosophical (logical) problem would come into play since I could ask the same questions about how he understood (interpreted) God's direct communication. Would he use what he believes are God's intentions to interpret God's direct communication with him about what God's intentions are? One can see the infinite regress looming. One may then ask how Scripture should be approached. Surely we approach the Scriptures differently than we approach a science textbook, don't we?


  This issue was vividly illustrated to me when I heard an exchange between a radio talk show host, his guest (who happened to be my brother Tom, a professor of biblical languages, Old Testament, and hermeneutics) and a caller on the issue of objectivity in hermeneutics. After hearing enough of what Tom had to say, the caller called in worried that if we didn't get our principles of interpretation from God's inerrant and infallible Word (i.e., the Bible) then we would be lost in a sea of relativism. (Notice the parallel to the common argument that Christians make about morality.) His concern/question seemed like such a softball that the host had to chime in before giving the mic to Tom for a response. The host asked the caller, "Let's suppose you're right and that we have to get our principles of interpretation from the Bible. How are you going to get those principles from the text?" The host was, of course, trying to get the caller to see the bankruptcy of maintaining that one could sufficiently understand the Bible to get the principles for understanding the Bible. The host was trying to get him to see that such a position was untenable and that he clearly had to have a way of understanding the Bible before he could get anything out of it, including any principles of interpretation. But doing so showed that the Bible was understandable prior to the utilization of such principles.


  So you see, my questions were intended (here I am telling you my intentions!) to ferret out the issue of the problem (which most often comes up in discussions of the Bible's intersection with "science") with claiming things like "God gave us the Bible to show us His plan of redemption, not the technicalities of science!" or related claims. My problem with such claims is not that I am insisting on the opposite view that God did intend for the Bible to be interpreted scientifically. (This was Jon Tandy's first response to my comments. He asked me if I thought "that God intended the Bible to be that sort of information source" and if so how I would "substantiate such a position from a theological point of view." I have yet to respond to Jon (for the reasons I cited above) but hope to sooner rather than later.)) I think the whole category of what God's intentions are is useless in trying to discover what the meaning of a given text of the Bible is. But worse than the category being useless, I believe it is actually counter-productive or dangerous (hermeneutically speaking) to employ such a category. One side tries to defeat the other side's arguments by an appeal to what it says God's intentions are. Such intentions supposedly prove that the other side's take on (for example) the creation narrative is clearly wrong. But I insist that such a move is unacceptable.


  With all of this, I admittedly still haven't said what my take is on how to interpret certain claims in the Bible and how such claims can be reconciled with modern science. So much ink (or toner, if you will) has been spilled on these topics that I doubt that much of what I have to say would contribute anything. But I will offer this for your consideration: when the church seemingly was so intransigent in its views of the Earth being the center of the Solar System vis--vis Galileo's view, the church was holding on to its position not only because of what they (wrongly) thought the Bible taught, but more so because geocentricism was the reigning "scientific" view of the university astronomers of the day. The view was grounded in the cosmology of Aristotle. Galileo was not accepted until several centuries later when his findings were confirmed by the mathematics. Thus, such a resistance on the part of the church then is not parallel to the current debate between the creationists and the evolutionists. The creationist's intransigence is the opposite of the churches opposition to Galileo since creationism is not the reigning view of the universities of our day. I bring this up because it usually isn't long in the discussion before this hackneyed point about the church's resistance to Galileo is raised (not by you necessarily). If anything, it is the Christians today who are evolutionists that seem to parallel the Christians who were geocentricists in Galileo's day. I say this, not to parallel geocentricism with evolution, but to parallel which side of a given debate the church (Christians) was on. The church then sided with the reigning "scientific" view of the universities (geocentricism) and the church today (read evangelicals) are siding against the reigning "scientific" view of the universities (evolution). This in itself does not adjudicate the debate, but it is an important antidote to the view that somehow the creationist should take a lesson from history. I'll grant that the Christians have held views about the physical universe that are wrong to the degree that others will grant that science has held views about the physical universe that are wrong.


  I must now bring my musings to a close. Before I do, however, (and at the risk of being misunderstood due to my brevity) I would suggest that our principles of interpretation must come from reality. Now someone might jump on this and say "That's what we're trying to get those creationists to understand!" But by this I don't mean something so simple and perhaps, at times, nave as "science." I concur with your sentiment that "bearing the image of God and his commission of stewardship of his creation, we have been given the power to observe God's works in nature." Whether this tracks what scientists are saying regarding evolution is part of the debate. I suggest that much of what goes on in the name of scientific discourse has a tremendous philosophical foundation to it (or at times a tremendous philosophical bankruptcy to it). Again, by this I don't merely mean something as simple as the presuppositions of naturalism (though I do include this). Instead, I am talking about broader issues in metaphysics and epistemology. These issues, coupled with the resultant theology from these philosophical commitments (and other considerations), have led me to embrace a number of doctrines that I believe are incompatible with certain evolutionary positions. While I will grant to another the prerogative of holding whatever views he wishes, what I resist is the notion that one can hold such views and still consider himself theologically an evangelical Christian. I am not surprised or startled by what liberal or neo-orthodox (or, for that matter, postmodern) Christians believe. But no liberal or neo-orthodox would consider himself an evangelical. I believe that with certain moves toward a more Darwinian view of the history of the Earth, such a move requires a move away from a certain view of the nature of the Bible as God's special revelation (and, I might add, from certain sound principles of hermeneutics). One side or the other might be wrong. But they both can't be right.






  Richard G. Howe, Ph.D.

  Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics and Director of the Ph.D. Program, Southern Evangelical Seminary

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  "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory


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Received on Wed Aug 26 12:41:36 2009

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