You Don’t Need to Be Able to Define a Word Before You Know What It Means

Jan 30, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Winfried Corduan:

The possible objection that I cannot know what a term means unless I can provide an exhaustive definition for it rests on a thorough misunderstanding of the nature of language. We do not know what words mean because we know their definitions. Such a requirement would mean that all nonreflective language users (e.g. children) do not know the meaning of their talk—an absurd proposal. Surely definitions are quite helpful, e.g. when looking up the meaning of unknown words in dictionaries. But dictionaries also only report meaning; they do not legislate it.

—Winfried Corduan, Mysticism: An Evangelical Option? (1991; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 22 n. 2.

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The Foremost: A New Documentary on the Beauty and Power of Grace and Forgiveness

Jan 29, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Moving Works—a film company that makes films that live up to its name—has produced a new film

An astonishing story of God’s love and grace, The Foremost chronicles the journey of Christopher LaPel, a Cambodian pastor who escaped the clutches of the Khmer Rouge regime only to return and cross paths with one of the most feared men in the country’s dark history. It’s an honest and hope-filled film that will challenge your views on forgiveness and grace no matter what you believe.

Here is a preview:

You can watch the whole film (45 minutes long) below for free:

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Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods

Jan 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.22.36 PMR. C. Sproul, who drafted the original Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, once said, “When people ask me how old the earth is, I tell them I don’t know—because I don’t.”

Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.

Rather, it is a deduction from a combination of beliefs, such as (1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

These five points may all be true, but I think it’s helpful to understand that the question “how old is the earth?” is not something directly answered in Scripture but rather deduced from these and other points.

It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors. The claim is often made that no one doubted this reading until after Darwin. (This just isn’t true—from ancient rabbis to Augustine to B. B. Warfield—but that’s another post for another time.)

So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation.

  • Augustine, writing in the early fifth century, noted, ”What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine” (City of God 11.7).
  • J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), author of the 20th century’s best critique of theological liberalism, wrote, “It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in that first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty four hours each.”
  • Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young (1907-1968), an eloquent defender of inerrancy, said that regarding  the length of the creation days, “That is a question which is difficult to answer. Indications are not lacking that they may have been longer than the days we now know, but the Scripture itself does not speak as clearly as one might like.”
  • Theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), one of the most important theologians in the second half of the twentieth century and a defender of Scriptural clarity and authority, argued that “Faith in an inerrant Bible does not rest on the recency or antiquity of the earth. . . . The Bible does not require belief in six literal 24-hour creation days on the basis of Genesis 1-2. . . . it is gratuitous to insist that twenty-four hour days are involved or intended.”
  • Old Testament scholar and Hebrew linguist Gleason Archer (1916-2004), a strong advocate for inerrancy, wrote ”On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer’s conviction that yôm in Genesis could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal twenty-four hour day.”

I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism. The defenders of inerrancy above show that this is not the case. And a passion for sola Scriptura provides us with the humility and willingness to go back to the text again to see if these things are so.

What follows are brief sketches of biblical reasons to doubt young-earth exegesis.

1. Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary

Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is not a title or a summary of the narrative that follows. Rather, it is a background statement that describes how the universe came to be.

In Genesis 1:1, “created” is in the perfect tense, and when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline (see Gen. 16:1, 22:1, 24:1 for comparison).

Furthermore, the Hebrew conjunction at the beginning of Genesis 1:2 supports this reading.

If Genesis 1:1 is merely a title or a summary, then Genesis does not teach creation out of nothing. But I think Genesis 1:1 is describing the actual act of God creating “heaven and earth” (a merism for the universe, indicating totality—like “high and low,” “east and west,” “near and far,” “rising up and sitting down,” “seen and unseen”). Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of everything “visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16), with Genesis 1:2ff. focusing upon the “visible.”

After the act of creation in Genesis 1:1, the main point of the narrative (in Gen. 1:3-2:3) seems to be the making and preparation of the earth for its inhabitants, with a highly patterned structure of forming and filling.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 8.37.11 AM

2. The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day”

In Genesis 1:1, God creates the “heavens and the earth.” (In Joel 3:15-16 we see that “heavens” encompasses the sun, the moon, and the stars.) Then in Genesis 1:2 we are told that this earth that was created is without form and void, that darkness covers the waters, and that the Spirit is hovering over it.

If Genesis 1:1 is not the act of creation, then where do the earth, the darkness, and the waters come from that are referred to in Genesis 1:2 before God’s first fiat? Further, if the sun is created in day four (Gen. 1:16), why do we have light already appearing in Genesis 1:3?

It helps to remember that in Hebrew there are distinct words for create and make. When the Hebrew construction let there be is used in the phrase “Let your steadfast love . . . be upon us” (Ps. 33:22; cf. Ps. 90:17; Ps. 119:76), this obviously isn’t a request for God’s love to begin to exist, but rather to function in a certain way. Similarly, if the sun, moon, stars, and lights were created in Genesis 1:1, then they were made or appointed for a particular function in Genesis 1:13, 14, 16—namely, to mark the set time for worship on man’s calendar.

3. The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long

In Genesis 2:2-3 where we are told that “on the seventh day [yom] God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day [yom] from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day [yom] and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The question we have to ask here is: was God’s creation “rest” limited to a 24-hour period? On the contrary, Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 teach that God’s Sabbath rest “remains” and that we can enter into it or be prevented from entering it. 

Miles Van Pelt observes:

In Exod 20:11, the command for the people of God to remember the Sabbath day is grounded in God’s pattern of work and rest during the creation week. The people of God are to work for six solar days (Exod 20:9) and then rest on the seventh solar day (Exod 20:10). If, therefore, it can be maintained that God’s seventh day rest in Gen 2 extends beyond the scope of a single solar day, then the correspondence between the “day” of God’s rest and our “day” of observance would be analogical, not identical. In other words, if day seven is an unending day, still in progress, then our weekly recognition of that day is not temporally identical. As such, there is no reason to maintain that the same could not be true for the previous six days, especially if the internal, exegetical evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 supports this reality.

4. The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long

After using “the seventh day” in an analogical way (i.e., similar to but not identical with a 24-hour day), we read in the very next verse, Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”

The precise meaning of this is debated. But what seems clear, if we believe the Bible does not contradict itself, is that this (singular) “day”—in which the creation events (plural “generations”) occur—cannot refer to a single 24-hour period. In fact, it does not seem to correspond to any one of the creation week days, but is either a reference to the act of creation itself (Gen. 1:1) or an umbrella reference to the lengthier process of forming and fitting the inhabitable earth (Gen. 2:2ff). In either case, this use of yom presents a puzzle for those who insist that “young-earth” exegesis is the only interpretation that takes the opening chapters of Genesis “literally.”

Defenders of the 24-hour view acknowledge that yom can mean more than a single calendar day but often insist that “[numbered] yom (e.g., “first day”) always, without exception, refers to a 24-hour day in the Hebrew Bible. This is not true, however. Not only does the rest of the canon tell us that the ”seventh day” is not 24 hours, but Hosea 6:2 (“third day”) seems to be used in an analogical way that does not refer to a precise 24-hour time period.

5. The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day

In his article “Because It Had Rained” (part 1 and part 2), Mark Futato of Reformed Theological Seminary explains the logic of Genesis 2:5-7 and shows its role in OT covenantal theology.

Futato sees in this passage a twofold problem, a twofold reason, and a twofold solution.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.40.28 AM

The twofold problem?

  1. No wild vegetation had appeared in the land.
  2. No cultivated grains had yet sprung up.

The twofold reason for this problem?

  1. The Lord God had not sent rain on the land.
  2. There was no man to cultivate the ground.

The twofold solution to this problem?

  1. God caused rain clouds to rise up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
  2. The Lord God formed the man.

Note the reason why there were no shrubs or small plants in the Garden: because “it had not yet rained.” The explanation for this lack of vegetation which is attributed to ordinary providence. But if the sixth day is a 24-hour period, this explanation would make little sense. The very wording of the text presupposes seasons and rain cycles and a lengthier passage of time during this “day [yom]” that God formed man. This doesn’t mean that it refers to thousands of years, or hundreds of years. It just means that it’s very doubtful it means a 24-hour period.

So What Does God Mean by “Days” in Genesis 1?

Let’s go back to the “seventh day.” On the seventh day, according to Exodus 31:17, God “rested and was refreshed.” Why would an omnipotent and inexhaustible God need to be “refreshed”? It’s the same Hebrew word used for getting your breath back after running a long race (Ex. 23:2; 2 Sam. 16:14). The reason it is not improper to say that God was refreshed is the same reason it’s not improper to say that God breathes, hovers, is like a potter, gardens, searches, asks questions, comes down, etc.—all images of God used in Genesis. God’s revelation to us is analogical (neither entirely identical nor entirely dissimilar) and anthropomorphic (accommodated and communicated from our perspective in terms we can understand).

So when God refers to “days,” does he want us to mentally substitute the word “eons” or “ages”? No.

Does he want us to think of precise units of time, marked by 24 exact hours as the earth makes a rotation on its axis? No.

Does he want us to think of the Hebrew workday? Yes, in an analogical and anthropomorphic sense. Just as the “seventh day” makes us think of an ordinary calendar day (even though it isn’t technically a 24-hour period), so the other “six days” are meant to be read in the same way.

This is what the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) believed: “The creation days are the workdays of God. By a labor, resumed and renewed six times, he prepared the whole earth.”

This is also what the Presbyterian theologian W.G.T. Shedd (1820-1894) advocated:

The seven days of the human week are copies of the seven days of the divine week. The “sun-divided days” are images of the “God-divided days.”

This agrees with the biblical representation generally. The human is the copy of the divine, not the divine of the human. Human fatherhood and sonship are finite copies of the Trinitarian fatherhood and sonship. Human justice, benevolence, holiness, mercy, etc., are imitations of corresponding divine qualities.

The reason given for man’s rest upon the seventh solar day is that God rested upon the seventh creative day (Ex. 20:11). But this does not prove that the divine rest was only twenty-four hours in duration any more than the fact that human sonship is a copy of the divine proves that the latter is sexual.

Augustine (the most influential theologian in the Western Church) believed something similar, as did Franz Delitzsch (perhaps the great Christian Hebraist). It was the most common view among the late 19th century and early 20th century conservative Dutch theologians.

God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.

How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.

For more on this interpretation, see C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R) and Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Crossway).

For short and helpful resources on this, see Vern Poythress’s booklets, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 and Did Adam Exist? Also, it looks like the new book by Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker may now be the best introduction to the issues of creation and evolution in a concise and accessible yet thorough manner: 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, 2014).

Update: For a couple of good models of Reformed believers discussing these issues charity and care (instead of with rancor), I’d recommend Keith Matthison’s free ebook, A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture (originally a blog series) and the PCA’s Report of the Creation Study Committee.

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The Drop Box: A Heart-breaking and Hope-giving Documentary on Orphan Care

Jan 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In December 2009, Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak built a wooden “drop box” on the outer wall of his home. It wasn’t designed to collect clothes or food or toys—but unwanted babies. Several children—many with deformities or disabilities—were placed the the “drop box” each week. Now a new documentary profiles the work of this man with little education and no public notoriety, trying his best to care for the voiceless and defenseless.

Here’s a brief scene from the documentary The Drop Box, which will be released in over 700 theaters across the U.S. for three nights only (March 3, 4, and 5). To buy tickets and view the theater map, go to

You can see the full trailer below:

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Is “Let Us” in Genesis 1:26 a Reference to the Trinity? Tom Schreiner on Authorial Intent and Canonical Reading

Jan 27, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Here is an interesting answer to the question of whether the “Let us” of Genesis 1:26 is referring to the Trinity. In The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker, 2013), New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner (Southern Seminary) argues that (1) it is doubtful that the author of Genesis was specifically thinking about the Trinity when he used this expression, (2) it is doubtful that the earliest Israelites read it this way, but (3) it should still be understood as a reference to the Trinity when it is read as part of the whole canon of Scripture.

Here is his explanation:

Recent developments in hermeneutics, however, have rightly corrected an overemphasis on authorial intent. Interpreters of sacred Scripture must also consider the canonical shape of the Scriptures as whole, which is to say that we must also take into account the divine author of Scripture. Nor does appeal to a divine author open the door to arbitrariness or subjectivity, for the meaning of the divine author is communicated through the words and canon of Scripture. It is not the product of human creativity but is textually located and circumscribed.

A canonical approach supports a trinitarian reading, which is suggested by the actual words of the text and confirmed by the entire canon. The Spirit’s role in creation is signified by his “hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). Psalm 33:6 . . . probably alludes to the work of the Spirit, for the word “breath” is the word used for “Spirit” (rûaḥ), and hence here the writer attributes the creation of the world to the Spirit.

In light of the NT revelation on the divinity of the Spirit, it is warranted to see the Spirit as creator. The Son’s role as creator is even clearer from a canonical perspective. John’s Gospel commences, “In the beginning” (John 1:1), an unmistakable allusion to Gen. 1:1. Another allusion to Genesis immediately surfaces, for John 1:3 speaks of the role of the “Word” in the beginning, claiming that “all things were made” by the one who is the “Word.” Hence, the “Word” that spoke creation into existence (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26) is identified as the Son of God—Jesus the Christ (John 1:14).

Hence, from a canonical perspective, the “let us” in Gen. 1:26 should be understood as a reference to the Trinity.

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Conversations with Christian Leaders: 3 New Podcasts

Jan 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Am I Called

Dave Harvey interviews key Christian leaders on pastoral calling in particular and pastoral leadership in general. You can listen to all the episodes on iTunes, or you can listen to them here.

In the Room

Pastor Ryan Huguley talks with Christian leaders a couple of times a month about life and pastoral ministry. Listen to it or subscribe on iTunes.

The Way Home

Dan Darling interviews key Christian leaders on church, community,  and culture. Podcast is available in iTunes, Stitcher, and Tune-in and via RSS.

Other podcasts in a similar vein worth knowing about include:

Any you would add to this list as particularly informative and edifying?


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3 Types of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals After 1956

Jan 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Yesterday I linked to an address by David Dockery on the state of evangelicalism in the 21st century.

On Twitter, I highlighted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek definitions from Dr. Dockery:

In its most simple terms,

an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham;
a liberal is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a fundamentalist; and
a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is apostate.

This is a riff on the statements by George Marsden that “A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something,” and that during the 1950s and 1960s, “the simplest, although very loose definition of an evangelical in the broad sense was ‘anyone who likes Billy Graham.'” (Fundamentalists had their own clever definitions. Bob Jones Sr. once defined an evangelical as someone who says to a liberal, “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar.”)

These are basically aphorisms, of course, and can’t be used as airtight definitions. Marsden’s first one is not entirely fair (though it points to something all-too-often true), but his second one gets at an important factor: how conservative Protestants viewed Billy Graham was usually a pretty good indicator of how they saw themselves and interpreted the virtues and vices of others in the church, especially after Graham’s 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden, in which fundamentalists were dismayed at his partnership with modernists.

In my opinion, the two best introductions to fundamentalism—indispensable treatments, really—are George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (though I disagree with some of his analysis on the Princetonians and inerrancy) and Joel Carpenter’s Revive Us Again: the Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. Marsden focuses upon 1870-1925 and Carpenter focuses upon 1925-1950.

For an excellent analysis of mid-century fundamentalism up until the rise of the Religious Right (with special attention on the Baptist South), see Nathan Finn’s currently unpublished doctoral dissertation, “The Development of Baptist Fundamentalism in the South, 1940-1980.”

Finn shows that one common mistake in analyzing fundamentalism and evangelicalism is the assumption that they are simple, monolithic categories. In reality, there are subcultures within both, containing different visions and suspicions, even if united in some significant ways.

Using Finn’s analysis, we can map the three varieties of conservative Protestants after 1956 in the following way:

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 4.44.11 PM

Fundamentalism is a fascinating subject of study, still under-explored when it comes to its relationship to evangelicalism. But hopefully the introductory analysis above helps us begin to avoid the reflex to assume we are only talking about one unitary thing when we employ these labels.

Update: For those who want a helpful overview article before reading a whole book on this subject, see John Fea’s “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,” TrinJ 15:2 (Fall 1994): 181-99, who identifies four phases:

  1. irenic (1893-1919), which had more continuity with 19th century evangelicalism than 20th century militant fundamentalism
  2. militant (1920-1936), including the fundamentalist-modernist controversies
  3. divisive (1941-1960), which saw the intramural fragmentation into evangelical and separatist factions
  4. separatist (1960-present).

Fea’s concluding three points of application are spot on and should be taken to heart:

First, such a methodological treatment of fundamentalism should have some effect on how American religious historians understand the movement. Very few historians of American fundamentalism are aware of the subtle changes that fundamentalism has undergone through this century. Many historians tend to define a fundamentalist by certain doctrinal distinctives such as a belief in biblical inerrancy or dispensational eschatology. To interpret American fundamentalism solely through a doctrinal grid is to miss some of the social and ecclesiastical issues (separation, social concern, etc.) that have shaped the movement. While most fundamentalists and evangelicals have been united on certain creedal convictions, disagreements over minor doctrinal issues and the social and ecclesiastical implications of the Christian faith have historically created a great deal of diversity.

Second, such an interpretation of American fundamentalism has implications for religious pundits and observers, whether in the media or the academy, who tend to clump all religious conservatives under the banner of fundamentalism. It is clear that historically not all conservative Protestants desired the fundamentalist label. If religious observers were to examine the history of this popular and often pejorative label, they would find that many of the groups they label as fundamentalist have long traditions of opposing this descriptive religious term. Many such pundits may be surprised to find that only a small percentage of American Protestants use this label to describe themselves because of both the past and present implications surrounding the term.

Third, such an interpretation of fundamentalism should have implications for church leaders in American evangelicalism. Pastors, missionaries, educators, and religious leaders of all kinds should be aware that fundamentalists of the separatist variety do exist and have made up an important part of the “born-again” heritage in American culture. Most of their religious convictions stem from historical evangelical concerns such as personal holiness, revivalism, and the authority of Scripture. While there is a tendency to treat fundamentalists as extremists or ecclesiastical outcasts, for the most part they make up a unique part of the American evangelical tradition and should be understood in that light.

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David Dockery on the State of Evangelicalism and Its Future

Jan 22, 2015 | Justin Taylor

David Dockery (president of Trinity International University) delivered the following lecture on January 14, 2015, at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

After his lecture, Jason Allen (president of Midwestern) hosted a panel discussion with David Dockery, Jason Duesing, and John Mark Yeats on issues related to evangelicalism:

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: 9 Months in 4 Minutes

Jan 22, 2015 | Justin Taylor

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.1
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

—Psalm 139:16-19

In January of 1973 the Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade (taken in conjunction with its companion decision, Doe v Bolton) effectively permitted the legal destruction of the life you see above at any point in the pregnancy, from conception until birth.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

—Proverbs 24:11

Richard John Neuhaus:

We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

If you need help or someone to talk to, call 1-800-712-HELP.

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5 Scientific Problems with Current Theories of Biological and Chemical Evolution

Jan 21, 2015 | Justin Taylor

The Discovery Institute identifies five areas of science that pose serious problems for neo-Darwinianism:

1. Genetics

MutationMutations cause harm and do not build complexity.

Darwinian evolution relies on random mutations that are selected by a blind, unguided process of natural selection that has no goals.  Such a random and undirected process tends to harm organisms and does not improve them or build complexity.  As National Academy of Sciences biologist Lynn Margulis has said, “new mutations don’t create new species; they create offspring that are impaired.” Similarly, past president of the French Academy of Sciences, Pierre-Paul Grasse, contended that “[m]utations have a very limited ‘constructive capacity'” because “[n]o matter how numerous they may be, mutations do not produce any kind of evolution.”

2. Biochemistry

behe-cellUnguided and random processes cannot produce cellular complexity.

Our cells contain incredible complexity, like miniature factories using machine technology but dwarfing the complexity and efficiency of anything produced by humans. Cells use miniature circuits, motors, feedback loops, encoded language, and even error-checking machinery to decode and repair our DNA.  Darwinian evolution struggles to build this type of integrated complexity.  As biochemist Franklin Harold admits: “there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

 3. Paleontology

cambrianThe fossil record lacks intermediate fossils. 

The fossil record’s overall pattern is one of abrupt explosions of new biological forms, and possible candidates for evolutionary transitions are the exception, not the rule.  This has been recognized by many paleontologists such as Ernst Mayr who explained in 2000 that “[n]ew species usually appear in the fossil record suddenly, not connected with their ancestors by a series of intermediates.” Similarly, a zoology textbook observed that “Many species remain virtually unchanged for millions of years, then suddenly disappear to be replaced by a quite different, but related, form. Moreover, most major groups of animals appear abruptly in the fossil record, fully formed, and with no fossils yet discovered that form a transition from their parent group.”

4. Taxonomy

darwin_evolution_treeBiologists have failed to construct Darwin’s “Tree of Life.”

Biologists hoped that DNA evidence would reveal a grand tree of life where all organisms are clearly related. It hasn’t. Trees describing the alleged ancestral relationships between organisms based upon one gene or biological characteristic very commonly conflict with trees based upon a different gene or characteristic.  As the journal New Scientist put it, “different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories.” The eminent microbiologist Carl Woese explained that such “[p]hylogenetic” conflicts “can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, form its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves.” This implies a breakdown in common descent, the hypothesis that all organisms share a common ancestor.

5. Chemistry

primoThe chemical origin of life remains an unsolved mystery.

The mystery of the origin of life is unsolved and all existing theories of chemical evolution face major problems. Basic deficiencies in chemical evolution include a lack of explanation for how a primordial soup could arise on the early earth’s hostile environment, or how the information required for life could be generated by blind chemical reactions. As evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci has admitted, “we really don’t have a clue how life originated on Earth by natural means.”

For competent books making the case for design and showing scientific problems with neo-Darwinianism, see Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (2009) and Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (2013).

For an introduction, Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker’s 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (2014) now looks like the best entryway into this debate as it relates to biblical authority and interpretation.

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How Should We Respond to Reports that a Fragment of Mark Dates to the First Century?

Jan 20, 2015 | Justin Taylor

An Egyptian mask made from papyri and linen. Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, Creative Commons.

An Egyptian mask made from papyri and linen. Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, Creative Commons.

It was reported yesterday that a three-dozen member team of scientists and scholars—apparently including the well-respected New Testament historian Craig Evans—is working on a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark, discovered as part of an ancient Egyptian funeral mask.

Due to the expense of securing clean papyri sheets in the ancient world, the papier-mâché of these masks was made from recycled papyri that already contained writing. Evans explains, “We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters.”

It is not entirely clear from the report whether Evans himself is part of the research team (although it leaves that impression). It could be, however, that he is speaking with more of an editorial use of “we.” Evans explained the discovery ten months ago at the 2014 Apologetics Canada Conference (Northview Church in Abbotsford, BC and Willingdon Church in Vancouver, BC Canada) on March 7-8. In the video below, he dates the fragment to the AD 80s, though the report from yesterday refers to it as being from the AD 90s:

The Gospel of Mark fragment under discussion here seems to be the same one that Daniel B. Wallace surprisingly referenced in his February 2012 debate with Bart Ehrman.

If the dating of this is accurate, this would be the oldest New Testament manuscript fragment discovered and a substantial discovery, since no one has yet found a first-century fragment. (The oldest fragment we know of is from the Gospel of John, called P52 [Papyrus 52—pictured to the right], discovered in 1934 and dated to the first half of the second century.)

John Rylands Library Papyrus P52, recto [Gospel of John, c. AD 100-150]

John Rylands Library Papyrus P52, recto [Gospel of John, c. AD 100-150]

Some caution is in order, however.

There are at least four methods for determining the dates of ancient manuscripts:

  1. radiocarbon (carbon-14) testing of the manuscript
  2. palaeography (handwriting analysis) of the manuscript
  3. analysis of the archaeological context surrounding the manuscript
  4. comparison of the manuscript with associated writings

As Peter Williams points out, 1-2 will not help researchers reach a date as precise as AD 80 or 90. That leaves 3-4.

But even this makes it difficult to reach a certain conclusion. Williams explains a best-case scenario:

If for convenience we suppose that [1] other manuscripts in the mask are ones with dates that survive (remembering that for a majority of texts no date survives) and [2] that the mask luckily enough contains four texts with firm date formulae (which would be really nice, but quite unlikely) and that these date formulae show manuscripts from the years 50, 60, 70 and 80, [then] that would still not mean that they could not be put together with a manuscript from considerably later than the year 90 to make a mummy mask.

The double negative in the last clause is a little confusing. Williams means that even if conditions were ideal, it still wouldn’t preclude the fragment itself from being later than the other fragments surrounding it. The other possibility, of course, is that somehow the archaeological context itself would date the mummy mask to a specific decade, though this would be unusual.

How should we respond to something like this? I think it’s appropriate to be hopeful. As an evangelical, I believe the best historical evidence points to the New Testament gospels composed in the first century: Mark (mid- to late 50s), Matthew (50s or 60s), Luke (c.  58-60), John (mid- or late 80s or early 90s). If this discovery doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t affect our dating of the gospels because the dating of the autographs (the originals) is not dependent upon the dating of manuscripts (the copies). If it does pan out—especially if it can be dated with confidence to the 80s—it would be a major discovery, because the oldest of anything is always noteworthy.

As Christians, we should take a “wait and see” approach. It’s tempting to be either naïve (of course this is true!) or cynical (of course this isn’t true!). One of the unfortunate things about announcing a discovery apart from a published peer-reviewed process is that the church and the culture simply have to take the scholars’ word for it. Amateur sensationalistic archaeology (which this does not appear to be) follows a predictable script that almost never involves peer-review publication first. So I think the cause of truth—whatever that may be in these cases—is best served when there is rigorous scholar vetting before popular announcements and debates.

Let’s think critically and wait to see the published results. Until then, debating the details won’t get us very far.

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Matt Chandler on Abortion

Jan 19, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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An Interview with David Dockery

Jan 16, 2015 | Justin Taylor

There are few people I respect and admire more than Dr. David S. Dockery, the 15th president of Trinity International University. He is the subject of a recent Festschrift, Convictional Civility: Engaging the Culture in the 21st Century, Essays in Honor of David S. Dockery (B&H, 2015)

We recently sat down for a conversation about the state of Christian higher education, the series he edits for Crossway, and his advice for future leaders.

Here are the books in the RCIT series published so far:

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4 Differences Between the Telephone Game and the Transmission of the New Testament Manuscripts

Jan 15, 2015 | Justin Taylor


Dan Wallace—New Testament scholar, textual critic, and founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (which seeks to digitize all known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament)—identifies four differences between the Telephone Game and the ancient transmission of New Testament manuscripts.

I’ve turned Wallace’s summary into a little chart, which may make it easier to process at a glance and to pass along to others:

 The Telephone GameNew Testament Manuscripts
Goal of transmissionto see how badly the story can get misrepresentedmainly to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original
Lines of transmissiononly onemultiple
Means of transmissionoral (recited once in another person's ear)written (copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it)
Checking the transmissiononly the wording of the last person in the line can be checkedNew Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts; even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor
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Why and How to Be Self-Critical When You Write

Jan 15, 2015 | Justin Taylor

John Frame identifies a key to mature writing. It may not turn as many heads (or garner as many clicks), but the result will be work that is more honoring to the Lord and should last longer:

Before and during your writing, anticipate objections. If you are criticizing Barth, imagine Barth looking over your shoulder, reading your manuscript, giving his reactions. This point is crucial.

A truly self-critical attitude can save you from unclarity and unsound arguments.

It will also keep you from arrogance and unwarranted dogmatism—faults common to all theology (liberal as well as conservative). Don’t hesitate to say “probably” or even “I don’t know” when the circumstances warrant.

Self-criticism will also make you more “profound.” For often—perhaps usually—it is objections that force us to rethink our positions, to get beyond our superficial ideas, to wrestle with the really deep theological issues. As you anticipate objections to your replies to objections to your replies, and so forth, you will find yourself being pushed irresistibly into the realm of the “difficult questions,” the theological profundities.

In self-criticism the creative use of the theological imagination is tremendously important.

Keep asking such questions as these.

(a) Can I take my source’s idea in a more favorable sense? A less favorable one?

(b) Does my idea provide the only escape from the difficulty, or are there others?

(c) In trying to escape from one bad extreme, am I in danger of falling into a different evil on the other side?

(d) Can I think of some counter-examples to my generalizations?

(e) Must I clarify my concepts, lest they be misunderstood?

(f) Will my conclusion be controversial and thus require more argument than I had planned?

You can read Frame’s whole piece on good theological writing.

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