The Tower Of Babel


#21

I don’t even buy the idea that evolution is responsible for all of the animal life forms in the earth’s history as most do around here, including our host. But if by “death before the fall” you mean physical death, of the kind evolution would require, there really is another way to look at those passages. For example there is a passage in Gen. 1 which is used to support the no-death-before-the fall argument and when you look at the text closely that falls apart too…


#22

Only just seen this, @AMWolfe. Middleton’s interpretation has a lot of merit, I think. Exactly what the original setting is is hard to say, but a number of commentators point out the non-linguistic character of the vocabulary used in the Babel account. Unity of purpose more than unity of language seems to be involved.

What does seem to make the passage a judgement on Mesopotamian state power, yet somehow also tied up with redemptive history, is the is the parallel between the early chapters of Genesis, and the experience of Israel up to the Exile, which has been noted by so many recent scholars. Both accounts involve a call into relationship with God, a rebellion and deterioration of both religion and morals, and an exile that ends up in Babel/Babylon. Both involves “men of strange tongues” (Isa 28.11).

However we account for the origin of Genesis, as N T Wright points out, no Israelite in Exile could possibly have read it without seeing his own situation in Adam’s children’s.

I’ve long been suspicious of the common interpretation of Acts 2 (tongues at Pentecost) as the reversal of what happened at Babel, and the reuniting of mankind in Christ, because it’s always seemed to me that the audience were all dispora Jews, and that Pentecost is therefore better seen as a final reversal of the Exile.

Yet the insight that there is strong parallism between the story of Adam and his line, Israel and its history, and Christ recapitulating and remedying both in the gospel means that our exegetical work ought to be to link all three. My instinct is that there is an understanding that resolves them, but I don’t yet see it clearly.

Incidentally, have done a recent piece on this threefold parallelism, so it’s a fresh theme in my mind.


#23

Evolution is not “responsible” for creation. God is the one who created everything, even if He used common descent.


#24

EDIT: I apologize if my poor phraseology could be seen as ascribing to you a position you do not hold. You and I agree that evolution is not “responsible.” OK, OK, that is more than mere semantics so let me try and phrase what I believe the differences in our positions are more precisely, and if I still have it wrong you can further educate me as to the finer points of your view: I am not convinced that Natural Selection /known evolutionary mechanisms are the only tools God used in creating animal life forms. I think He personally intervened in the process in other ways, even if His hand was so light that the changes came at the quantum level and therefore are undetectable by our current level of science.

Let me give you an example. This past week I had to drive from my home in NW Arkansas to a project in Northeast Missouri. I piddled around and delayed my planned departure time by an hour. It started snowing as soon as I crossed the state line and further slowed me down. I was much further slowed down by being routed around a stretch of I-44 that for a reason unknown to me at the time was shut down. I was so delayed that I did not get in until early Monday morning and of course exhausted from fighting through terrible driving conditions.

I was aggravated at myself for my delay of departure for an hour which apparently cost me several hours of hard driving. Then I learned why I-44 had been shut down. A 50-100 car pile up had occurred. It was mayhem. And if I had left when I planed I could have been a part of it.

What caused the neurons in my head to fire in such a way that I wound up dillie-dallying around and wasting that extra hour? Was it chance? Was it because I have a genetic pre-disposition to indecisiveness (no)?

How can we know whether or not this was Divine Providence or even the Holy Spirit influencing me in such a subtle way that not even I recognize it as that? Scientifically we can’t. But I survived that night and some did not. How do we know why this gene change occurred and not some other? What I am suggesting is that His interventions could have been numerous or even constant and even more critical than “natural” selection in shaping our present world, and yet still undetectable to us by operating on a level too subtle and minute for us to easily notice.

As it says in 1 Kings 9: "And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."

So the interventions may not be the huge things that are easy to detect. Sometimes, He imparts information into creation, He intervenes, via a still, small voice.

Or as it says in Proverbs 16: "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD. "

That is, even events that seem to be chance are in fact ordered by Him. When you know everything, and have long enough, all you need to do to change everything is judiciously use the Butterfly Effect.


#25

Great post, thank you, Mark! Personally, I believe God had a very strong hand in the process of abiogenesis, if not directly creating the first cells. I do believe that God quite likely “nudged” the evolution process in ways that may be imperceptible to us, but that also profoundly impacted the outcome. I heard a talk by Jeff Schloss at the BioLogos conference last year suggesting that God designed evolution to produce individuals capable of a level of love that could finally interact with Him. I love your analogy and reminder of how God tends to operate here!


#26

To me the problem being addressed here is, at root, the historically recent idea, derived from the West’s acceptance of Aristotle’s metaphysics a few centuries ago, that there is a category of reality called “natural causes” which God may, or may not, “nudge”.

That, in my view, is far away from the metaphysics that Scripture gives, which is that nature is either “what God does”, or “the tool he uses to do what he does”. You’ll soon realise that, once one thinks along these lines, there isn’t a “Nature” at all - just God’s regular (lawlike) or else contingent (“chance”-like) actions, via the instrumental created secondary causes, if ones particular metaphysics recognises those (that of Jonathan Edwards, for example, did not, dispensing with Aristotle in this matter altogether).

The analogies one uses to describe such things are what tend to make them plausible or not: use the language of “puppetmasters”, “micro-managing” etc, and Deism sounds attractive. However, in so doing it creates a quasi-conscious" entity called “Nature” that has aspirations to be free. However, talk about a “caring Father”, or a “mother-hen”, or a “master-musician”, and the biblical model makes more sense.

Science - once stripped of its metaphysical naturalism - is indifferent to how one views things. The laws work, the unpredictable remains unpredictable, the probability functions are unchanged in both views. But the theological mindset is completely different: on the one hand one sees “chance” everywhere, autonomous “laws” running the show, and one agonises over whether God would “interfere” with all that, and why he chooses to remain hidden. The dubious and perhaps nature of “chance”, and even of “laws” is simply sidelined in this.

On the other view, God is revealed by all his works in both his faithfulness and his spontaneity … not to mention his mystery and “awe-fulness”. As I discovered recently, many of the early Church Fathers taught that the primary purpose of nature is to make the invisible God visible through his works. Compare and contrast that with “Does God ever push Nature in certain directions?” It’s like asking if Erroll Garner ever played on his records.


#27

Other than having no idea who Erroll Garner is, I connected with a lot you had to say in this thought-provoking post. I used the terms “natural” and “supernatural” but deep down I felt that the line between them was more a result of our limited ability to perceive causes rather than a fundamental difference in causes.

Still, there does seem to be an orderliness to things, which we have taken to calling “natural” and which you I think rightly point out is simply creation operating within the bounds of God’s laws. Yet “supernatural” is not the same thing as “unnatural”. What Satan does is unnatural. Supernatural is the higher nature but it is still operating within His laws- even if they are on a level we lack the power to discover and test.

How about this for an analogy: my credit cards work fine unless I travel to a new location and start making large purchases in places which I don’t normally frequent. Then a flag goes off and the card is shut down.Some algo makes this determination. I have to call and talk to a human being who determines if it is really me. If it is, the card is restored by action of the account representative.

I would suggest that the computer code’s normal operations are analogous to what we are now calling the “natural” universe. It operates by consistent rules which are discover-able and repeatable. When a card gets “sick” it is cut off from operating. But then a “prayer” goes up. I call the account representative. A decision is made by a living breathing being on whether or not to answer that prayer, if it is, the algo’s decision to cut off the card is reversed and it “is healed”. It is not reversed by the algo itself, but the human manually directs the program to re-activate that card.

In the above scenario, we would say that the automatic functions of the program are like “natural laws”. Of course the code was written by people, but it operates without any further input from those people. But on certain occasions like that described above some decision of the code is over-ridden by further human input. This however is not “unnatural” to the larger system of Discover Card’s credit accounts management. The function of over-riding the algo’s decision to cut off the card is built into the software and is a part of the large system- the “supernatural” part of it. That is, the part that requires further input from a sentient being from Discover.

So what we call the “Natural” universe is like the part of the software that runs without further direction. The “supernatural” part is simply the operators using functions already existing in the software to change the course of action of those software algos. It is all part of the same code. One just operates day by day as the “norm” and the other in response to intelligent input from the people really running the system.

Man this is some enjoyable discourse. Too bad I have to get to work now. Maybe we can write a book about it someday.


#28

Erroll Garner…

I’m greatly influenced in my thinking about “natural” by Asa Gray (reviewing Darwin’s “Origin of Species”) that the only rational definition of “natural” is “regular” (or words to that effect). So, as you say, it’s fine to call lawlike events “natural”, because it means something. What is doesn’t mean is that it happens independent of God, because we simply can’t know that except by revelation.

A regular type of event (say, something moving by the law of gravity), could happen that way because God has created the entities involved with natures that act that way. That is the equivalent to your algorithms. It’s another way of looking at things oiperating by external “laws of nature”, except that itr’s by no means clear if that actually means anything, and if so what? Where are these laws? What are the penalties for breaking them, etc?

Or the same regular event may happen because God does it directly - and we just arbitrarily term what he does in a regular, predictable way “natural”. We may have some preference for God’s acting indirectly and regularly or directly and regularly, but it really doesn’t make much difference in the end: for me to operate a machine manually, or via an automated algorithm I’ve written, is of academic interest - the machine is still doing what I plan, and no more.

A third possibility is that the gravity event has some kind of freedom of will, and is regular because it knows what God wants and chooses to obey. Though that kooky idea is remarkably common in evolutionary creation circles (“God allows nature a degree of autonomy to evolve freely, rather than acting coercively like an oriental despot by the dead hand of design…”), as far as lawlike events go it’s no different from the other two - If I have a willing assistant who always does the job perfectly, it may as well be me doing it (and so we say “I’ve fitted a new kitchen” when we mean we paid someone to do it for us.)

Where things begin to get silly is where “natural causes” are claimed to include contingent, non lawlike, events. “The origin of life may have been a fluke event, but it still must have happened through natural causes.” What does that even mean?

We then get on to the nature of chance, and the common logical mistake, as far up the academic scale as Monod, that “chance” can actually be a cause of anything, when it is never anything more than an admission of ignorance of cause.


#29

I think we have to factor in some kind of distance between God and creation. I have a lot to say about that regarding Genesis chapter one that I won’t mention here. But the bottom line is that this creation was subjected to futility, which I regard as “not God’s way”. It’s a place that, unlike heaven, does not have to do His will each moment, though it will in the end.

IOW it is a universe suitable for fallible beings like us. It does His will haltingly and imperfectly, and I believe without His further direct intervention, it can’t do it at all, anymore than we can. This is why we are instructed to pray His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven”.

I get very frustrated when I see skeptics and scoffers point out this or that about the universe and say “a perfect God would not have done it like thus…” It’s ignorant on a lot of levels, but mostly it does not even address what we should expect to be under the Christian scenario of a creation temporarily subjected to futility.


#30

Very true.