Open Mic Thread 1


At the suggestion of ‘The Man Who Was…’, a frequent commenter in these parts, I am going to start a new series of posts. Every couple of weeks, I will publish a post like this, without a specific topic. The comments of this post will be thrown open to you, the readers of this blog, to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
  • Share interesting links
  • Ask questions
  • Put forward a position for more general discussion
  • Tell us about yourself and your interests
  • Publicize your blog, book, conference, etc.
  • Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
  • Post reviews
  • Suggest topics for future posts
  • Use as a bulletin board
  • Etc.

It is up to you to make of these posts what you want. If they catch on, they will be an ongoing fixture here. Over to you!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Open Mic, Public Service Announcement. Bookmark the permalink.

104 Responses to Open Mic Thread 1

  1. p duggie says:

    I’m starting to read Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s English Traits. Since he distinguishes the Saxon from the Celtic, i’m going in with the thesis that this will factor into discussion of ‘white trash’ in the USA.

    the video here is what interested me in the Emmerson essay

    Why have people blocked me for asking skeptical questions about their interests?

    Position to discuss: 7 day creationism has been a gift to the conservative church because it refutes polygenesis and all the awful racism of that idea. As it wanes, and as other data on what is colloquially called “human biodiversity” becomes disemeinated, the church should think of a response. So far, biologos has not.

    I’m a 45 year old husband and father. I’m interested in SF literature and figuring out how to put my kids into college, and wondering if social class relates to ‘christian vocation’. I play too much Star Wars the Old Republic. Stupid MMO. I’m interested in the topic of white privilege, and think its a useful heuristic but am bothered by how many times its used as a critical weapon.

    My blog. Sigh. I have one (its on wordpress, so should be linked below) but I used to have way more fun before everything moved to facebook and then got too busy.

    “Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events” heh.

    I have no suggestions for future posts.


    • whitefrozen says:

      Nothing Star Wars is stupid.

    • Great stuff, p duggie. Thanks for the comment!

      Join the club in the blocking experience. I’ve had that on a few occasions now. Where have you experienced it lately?

      Regarding your discussion suggestion, what do you mean by ‘polygenesis’? Who is advocating for multiple origins? Are you thinking more in terms of the way that human biodiversity is mapped onto evolutionary lineages that diverge at various moments, with the implied suggestion that some of these lineages might be less ‘advanced’?

  2. Matthew N. Petersen says:

    I have wondered for years how childbearing relates to marriage from a Christian perspective. (The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems.) Let me flesh that out a bit.

    St. Paul tells us that marriage speaks of Christ and the Church. But the marriage of Christ and the Church doesn’t happen till Revelation 19. How can childbearing speak of that marriage, a marriage that happens at the consummation of all things? Will the Church bear children to Christ, in the Eschaton? That option doesn’t seem to make sense, but if not, I have trouble seeing how childbearing fits into the typology of marriage.

    • Fascinating question. It is important to start out with a warning not to try to rationalize or harmonize all imagery in the Bible. Such imagery usually relates to a particular facet of the reality that it describes and is not a comprehensive and coherent representation of that reality in our terms. That said, however, such imagery is coherent and can be harmonized as far as it goes and it usually goes much further than we choose to explore it. Let’s lay out a few more of the puzzle pieces:

      1. God relates to his people both as Father and as Husband, a truth upon which more light is shed by the mystery of the Trinity. Further apparent contradictions should also recognize the way that the Trinity produces such things.
      2. Similarly, Israel can be described as Bride, as Daughter, and as a Mother (to be).
      3. In Scripture, there is a relationship between a sort of ‘adoptive’ familial status and marital status. Consequently, the bride or wife can be described as a ‘sister’ of her husband. Also, under certain circumstances, the bride can be spoken of as an adoptive or fictive ‘daughter’ (see the way that Boaz consistently addresses Ruth as ‘daughter’ in Ruth 3 in keeping with the generational gap between them, and Ezekiel 16, where God provides for the abandoned infant Israel until she reaches marriageable age, whereupon he marries her). Perhaps this is one reason why father-daughter relations are the one sexual relation that is not ruled out in Leviticus 18 and 20, even though we would expect it to be.
      4. There are a number of different types of birth at play here. For instance, there is the ‘birth’ of creation, in which sense we are all God’s children. There is our birth as the children of Adam. There is the virgin birth of Christ. There is the resurrection, Christ’s birth from the dead. We should expect things to look a little weird.
      5. Baptism is associated with new birth, which is founded upon the regeneration of Christ through the birth pangs of his death and his opening of the womb of the tomb in his resurrection.
      6. The general resurrection might be seen as a birth event (although it might be ‘adoption’ into Christ’s birth event), simultaneous or following after the marriage supper of the Lamb (depending upon our reading of the timing of eschatological events—some might date the marriage supper to AD70, for instance).
      7. Christ is the Bridegroom, but he is also the Son, and the one born to Israel (cf. Revelation 12). This suggests that we might be dealing with two ‘generations’ here.
      8. Despite the theme of new birth, the NT repeatedly speaks about adoption and sharing in Christ’s filial status.
      9. Galatians speaks about the singular character of the ‘seed’, relating it to Christ.
      10. The seed is the ‘Seed of the Woman’, not of the man and woman in common. Is this because the ‘husband’, Adam, is dead?
      11. It seems to me that close reflection upon the law of the Levirate is absolutely key in unlocking a number of these puzzles.

      I have my theories, but I will leave it to others to puzzle out the relationship between these things.

  3. Caned Crusader says:

    Enter your comment here…I’m about to finish Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion, probably one of the definitive philsophical defenses of the pro-life position. I have been thinking a lot about this because of my disability and ethics class, in which we have done some readings that have (badly) attempted to set up a liberal disability ethic which is consistent with abortion choice. I think this task is simply impossible and will lead inevitably to tensions within its own account of morality and personhood, so it’s nice to have a thorough (if predictable) piece of literature that handles most of the regular arguments.

    Also, Doug Wilson made a fascinating case for the sons of God as angels in Genesis 6. I’m about to read James Jordan’s counter-reply, which should be good fun.
    Finally, I’m planning on tackling either Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology or Paul and the Faithfulness of God sometime soon, if I can manage to resist the temptation to just re-read the entirety of the Dresden Files before book 15 comes out

    • I’ve read the various pieces that have been floating around on Genesis 6. I align more with Doug Wilson’s than with any of the others. I discussed this with p duggie and others on Twitter yesterday (p duggie can give you a good account of the alternative perspective).

      The Beale and Wright books are both superb. Enjoy!

  4. chadinkc says:

    I’m a 30-year-old manager of software and design teams at a company in Kansas City. Recently engaged to be married. Attendee of an ACTS29 (read: Reformed-ish Baptist) church here. I love to read, and am currently in the middle of Alister McGrath’s Introduction to Christian Theology, a collection of Chekhov’s short stories, Book 6 of Harry Potter, and The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. I’m a longtime reader of this blog, and always appreciate the clarity of thought and precision of articulation.

    A few shotgun-blast thoughts I jotted down to keep my head from spinning earlier this week:

    1. Transhumanism: To what degree does the Church embrace or reject portions of this? Vision to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, the lame walking–these things seem worthy of celebration. What about the reversal/halting of aging–effectively the suspension of natural death? Is it the place of man to deal with death, or is the place of God to deal with death on Calvary? If we oughtn’t touch this, how will the Church respond when it’s accused of monstrosity by refusing to participate in the use of technology to suspend death? What is the relationship of this sort of technology to the sort of technology we use to fight disease? What is the relationship with medical technology used to keep people alive that should be dead (hooked up to tubes and the like). Presumably death-defying technology will only be available to the elite at first, which offers some problems in itself. Who gets access? What’s the relationship to current models for the availability of health care? What if these problems are somehow erased?

    “Uploading consciousness”–what is this? Is it death (as I think, in its attempts to unlink human being from physical existence) or eternal life (as the transhumanists think)?

    What about bionic extensions to the human body: augmented reality built in to the eyes? Replacing functional extremities with technologically superior ones? Is it mutilation or evolution? Is it good if it aids (augmented reality) but wicked if it destroys (replacement of healthy limbs)? etc. I suspect the answers to all of this lie in understanding the extent to which these technologies destroy the humanity (as defined in Christ as THE human) of those who adopt them.This has all sparked an interest in checking out the writings of Jacques Ellul on Christianity and “technique”.

    2. The church (at least the evangelical church) in the US stumbles all over itself in the conversation about homosexuality and same sex marriage. I have a feeling they’re going to be beyond lost in the upcoming discussions about polyamory, open marriages, fetish as a lifestyle, trans/queer issues, etc. Much richer, thoroughly-articulated theologies of the body, of sexuality, and of marriage are going to be needed for the Church to understand itself when these shifts come.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chad! Great to have you here.

      Really good questions.

      1. David Bentley Hart has some helpful thoughts on transhumanism in a brief essay in In the Aftermath, contrasting the vision of transhumanism with that of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He sheds some light the different eschatologies, theologies, and anthropologies of the two positions. You can also read the piece here. Lots, lots more to be said there.

      2. I quite agree, although I think that there will be slightly more resistance on some of those issues.

      • chadinkc says:

        1. Thanks for the article. It’s inspired me to read JPII’s Theology of the Body.

        2. Do you mean resistance outside the church? I don’t see much about the current stances on issues of sex, family, and gender shifting around too much in either traditional or progressive evangelical circles. I could see polyamory causing some of the borderline folks currently supporting SSM to balk, but unless there’s a strong belief that it violates the whole “no harm [to the innocent], no foul” ethos, it seems like it would be a follow-on wave of the same thinking and rhetoric that’s yielded SSM.

        I think there’s more of an “ick” factor for the general public surrounding trans folks for some reason. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the deviation doesn’t deal so much in sexual attraction as it does in gender identity and expression.

        The physical aspects of sexual attraction and activity are pretty behind-closed-door deals, even for straight couples. There’s a disparity here in what’s accepted for gay/lesbian v. straight couples in public, but there’s still a line that it is considered unacceptable for either to cross. We don’t really have many expectations that one holds back on physical expressions of gender in polite society. So while X may not be sure how he feels about the same sex couple at the bar, since sexual attraction and intimacy are pretty low key in public, X doesn’t have to think too much about it, at least not at a directly physical level. When the [somewhat clearly] transgendered person pulls up a stool, there’s a physical presence that X can’t ignore or abstract away. If X generally feels “off” about deviations from sexual and gender norms, the presence of same-sex couples allows him a retreat of, “What someone does behind closed doors is their business,” but the presence of trans persons does not allow that, as one does not express gender identity primarily behind closed doors.

      • Yes, I think that there will be more resistance outside of the Church. I don’t think that such things will be so readily normalized (though some will). I think that polyamory would face more resistance just on account of its complicated character, especially given the fear that children could fall through the cracks in such a situation.

        And, yes, good point about the ‘ick factor’ associated with trans persons.

        I think that it is also important to recognize that, while it is not usually presented this way, we would be naive to think that all of those ‘in favour’ of SSM are truly vocal supporters. Many just want a ‘live and let live’ society and personally disapprove of such relationships, but don’t want to stop them. Others see it as a necessary concession to a pluralistic democracy. Others don’t have the stomach for a fight they are doomed to lose. Others see it as an allowance for an exceptional situation, but don’t normalize same-sex relations. Others see it as reparations for society’s past and present mistreatment of LGBT persons. Still others regard it as a prudent means to address the needs of LGBT for civil rights for their unions, to prevent bullying, to deal with the historical problem of stigma and persecution, to slow the spread of STDs in the gay community, or to overcome social polarization, making LGBT persons participants in society’s core institution and shared project.

        If you were to poll the number of people who would support same-sex marriage in a world where LGBT were not mistreated and where there was no drive for it, I suspect that there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much of an interest in it. Same-sex marriage is being advocated as a contingent good, rather than an absolute and universal right and good.

    • whitefrozen says:

      Every time someone mentions uploading consciousness, I think of that one Cowboy Bebop episode where a cult tried to be immortal by uploading their souls to the web. That was a good one.

    • You might also be interested in this piece on transhumanism by Michael Sacasas, one of the best writers on technology out there.

      • chadinkc says:

        I’ve been quite busy away from the keyboard…

        That linked post was pretty dead on with my thinking, Alastair: Transhumanism as a religion of technology with an “immanentized eschaton,” a deep contempt for embodiment, and an obvious opening for tacit coercion. The way Sacasas describes it, transhumanism becomes sort of the apotheosis of secular, technocratic western society.

        “Got creature comforts and political stability but still put out by the howling void of unmeaning and a crippling fear of death? There’s an app for that.”

        Of course, there have always been different options on the table for dealing with the nasty bits of life in a fallen world. At least if/when we hit major milestones with transhumanism, there will be more clarity on what we’re all hitching our wagons too–technology as an existential cure is a lot less subtle than technology as a palliative and so opens up a lot more Big Questions for the person on the street.

  5. Dominic says:

    I would like to seek your opinion about an interesting idea proposed by Alexander Pruss, a Christian philosopher, where through the use of a Just-So Story, he argues that we can both believe that Genesis 1-3 can be taken as literally as might please any fundamentalist, and still believe in evolution and the Big Bang was responsible for the creation of the world and mankind.

    The essence of his “Just-So Story” postulates that evolution and the big bang occured “postlapsarian”. To quote a segment of his original article,

    The story is simple. First, everything happens exactly as it is described in Genesis 1-3 interpreted literalistically. Everything, including a light-studded dome (“firmament”), with waters above and below, creation in six days, vegetation without any sun or moon. Eve is literally taken from Adam\’s side, and so on. (If we’re going literalistic, let’s go all out!) Then Adam and Eve sin, exactly as described in Genesis 3. All this happens in a universe–Paradise–where all of this is possible by the laws of nature.

    God then kicks them out of Paradise. In the process, he destroys their bodies (i.e., he stops sustaining their existence) and puts their souls in stasis. But in Paradise, there was a law of nature that when the forbidden fruit is eaten, a Big Bang will occur (this could also be a miracle), initiating a 14 billion year process leading to some pretty clever apes in a universe better suited to sinners like Adam and Eve. God then takes the matter of two of these clever apes (if animals have souls, he de-souls them first, or perhaps he simply miraculously ensures that these two never get souls) and instills Adam and Eve’s souls in this matter.

    And so all the science as to what has happened in the material universe since the Big Bang is right. (Of course, science doesn’t talk about souls.)”

    You can read the rest here:

    In a sense, this maybe sort of cheating, but I thought it was an intriguing possibility.

    I have made some attempts to clean up Pruss\’s account, tighten the tale a little, add more detail to it, and place it within a broader theological context here:

    • Thanks for the comment, Dominic.

      Wow, I had never heard that hypothetical argument for possibility before. I don’t find the argument persuasive on several fronts. I really don’t think that it works on its own terms, not least because Eden is described as a geographical location within our world, continuous with the post-Fall world. It seems to raise more questions than it answers: What about the sun, moon, and stars of Genesis 1? What about all of the animals of Genesis 1? etc. What about the biblical allusions to Genesis 1 as the creation of our universe?

      Furthermore, it would do considerable violence to the biblical text, effectively cutting us off from Genesis 1. In order to protect a particular hermeneutical approach to the text we would be throwing the text itself under the bus. Such an ‘explanation’ would effectively ‘explain away’ the text, sapping it of most of its force. For the 99.999% of the readers that didn’t know the theory, their reading of the text would be radically misguided. This makes Scripture into a complex and opaque riddle, rather than revelation.

      More troubling still, this would raise questions about how much we can trust God’s revelation more generally. What other hypothetical scenarios could we imagine behind the words of the text that would leave the text strictly true while evacuating it of revelatory force for the overwhelming majority of its readers? These are very important concerns.

      It is also considerably more far-fetched than many theories that would take the creation account as inspired Scripture and accept the theory of evolution and the Big Bang. Such accounts wouldn’t necessarily avoid taking the text itself ‘literally’ (in the proper sense of that term) and entirely true as such.

  6. Dominic says:

    I really don’t think that it works on its own terms, not least because Eden is described as a geographical location within our world, continuous with the post-Fall world. It seems to raise more questions than it answers: What about the sun, moon, and stars of Genesis 1? What about all of the animals of Genesis 1? etc. What about the biblical allusions to Genesis 1 as the creation of our universe?

    Actually, I’ve answered all these objections in my own “polishing” of Pruss’s account, I will post the link here again:

    First, as for “Eden described as a geographical location within our world, continuous with the post-Fall world.” I argued :

    Now no one, no matter how much of a “literalist” they maybe, truly believes that there exists in some part of this world a literal flaming sword alight with fire which literally turns back people who stumble upon the Garden of Eden physically and geographically. Thus, this illustrates the point that the meaning of the event behind God “driving” Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden as well as the placing of the flaming sword and cherubim to guard the Garden against them is not to say that there literally is such a place in this earth angels and gardens with a sword that turns people away from the Garden of Eden literally by threat of being cut to pieces by it. Rather, it is simply to illustrate the radical difference and distance which exists between the Edenic state and Fallen Adam and Eve who now may not partake of the life everlasting from the tree of life, thus in the process of being cursed, they crumble back to the dust and are forever “banished” from the Garden of Eden, unsuited to everlasting life in communion with God, and the flaming sword and angel exists precisely to mark this distinction between the Edenic state and the fallen creation and mankind. We must remember that what is recorded is God’s curse, banishment, etc, but what is not recorded is how this curse or banishment is carried out, and we must admit that somehow this radical curse and corruption was carried out and a cosmic alteration to nature and mankind happened.

    As for the sun, moon, stars and animals, etc, basically I postulated the following narrative:

    Thus, the essence of my “Just-So Story” is that the entire divine curse is carried out through the processes of the Big Bang and Evolution as God drives Adam and Eve out of Eden.

    Here is how it goes. God curses all of creation in his wrath (“cursed is the ground because of you”), in the process the entire creation collapses and melts before the divine fury, including Adam and Eve who crumbles back to the dust from which they came. God however marks a distinction between the “pure” Edenic state, and the rest of creation which falls under God’s curse by “the cherubim and the flaming sword” which protects the Garden of Eden from God’s wrath. Thus in the process of being disintegrated back to dust, Adam and Eve’s falls into the darkness of the sleep of death and are thus effectively “driven out” of the garden of Eden and punished with the rest of creation.

    Now there is an interesting scientific modification of the Big Bang theory known as the “Cyclical Model” which is that the universe follows a cycle of expansion and contraction. It would begin with a Big Bang and expand to a critical point before collapsing back to an infinitesimal point via a “Big Crunch”, when it would expand outward again through another Big Bang, etc. Thus in my story, as God curses all of creation, the universe (except the Garden of Eden protected by the angels), would collapse and shrink via a “Big Crunch”, after which the universe will explode back outward again via a Big Bang, but with a very vital difference. The Universe formed by the Big Bang would bare the marks of God’s curse. The order of the “Fallen Creation” generated by the “Big Bang” is a cursed one, a fundamentally and radically different order from the Edenic state. It would cause pain (verse 17), it would be a world indifferent and hostile to man (verse 18), growing thorns and thistles and whatever other natural disasters, and finally we must struggle to survive in this world (verse 19). Thus as the universe develops under the Big Bang, the Earth was formed and the entire process of evolution with all the gory death, decay, struggle and everything which is now part of this new world order. Finally as the first humans arise out of this natural struggle, nature red tooth and claw, God stuffs the souls of Adam and Eve back into these ape-like creatures and they awaken now with their new fallen and corrupted nature, formed not directly by God from the dust of the earth as from the beginning (Genesis 2:7), but via the horrendous natural processes which have been fundamentally corrupted by God’s curse. The new natures of Adam and Eve, formed by the processes of evolution, would bare all the marks of God’s curse, the subjection of the woman to the man and the pain of childbirth, including what the Catholic tradition calls “Original Sin”, the concupiscence and lust of the new fallen flesh of man which seeks not the things of God but rather the things of this world, etc.

    Thus as the Lutheran Confessions puts it well, because of the Fall and the Curse, we have truly “lost the image of God”, our human natures radically corrupted, nothing sound or pure or noble left, and have been lowered and punished to be literal animals formed by evolution and no different from monkeys.

    I hope that you will link my polished account of Pruss original theory because it does place the story in a theological context and it tries to frame it in a manner consistent with the Genesis witness to the events.

  7. Dominic says:

    Furthermore, it would do considerable violence to the biblical text, effectively cutting us off from Genesis 1. In order to protect a particular hermeneutical approach to the text we would be throwing the text itself under the bus. Such an ‘explanation’ would effectively ‘explain away’ the text, sapping it of most of its force. For the 99.999% of the readers that didn’t know the theory, their reading of the text would be radically misguided. This makes Scripture into a complex and opaque riddle, rather than revelation.

    My polished account does actually explicitly deal with this objection too:

    You Invented this entire story from the thin air! This most certainly did not happen!

    I didn’t say it did happen. In fact, I am quite certain it did not. Rather this is a Just-So Story. It isn’t meant to tell us what actually happened, only to illustrate the possibility of some claim, in this context, it is simply meant to illustrate how it is possible for both Genesis 1-3 be literally true, the Big Bang and Evolution to occur, and death and decay enter into the world through a literal historical Adam and Eve. My Just-So Story merely gestures vaguely at the possibility of this and suggests that maybe something analogous to this story occurred in reality.

    Just-So Stories are used all the time in scientific work and are a vital process in the creation of theories and models. Here is an example from physics by Peter Van Inwagen. If you get the point of the Just-So Story, you can simply skip this part.

    In the 19th century, Lord Kelvin (one of the pioneers of thermodynamics; we still honour his work by measuring our temperature in kelvins), scoffed at the postulates of geologists that the fossil evidence shows that there has been life for hundred of millions of years old (whom he denounced as mere “stamp-collectors). Lord Kelvin argued that the Sun has been shining for at most 20 million years and so life couldn’t be hundreds of millions year old. Lord Kelvin contended that the only conceivable mechanism for the Sun to work is for it to convert its gravitational potential energy into radial energy by the gravitational contraction of the Sun. So, if you plug in all the figures of the mass, radius and surface temperature of the Sun, the Sun could have only been shining for twenty million years.

    According to later physicists, they understood that Lord Kelvin was correct in his calculations. However, what Lord Kelvin was wrong was the mechanism. 20th century physics now knows about nuclear fusion and reactions and that the internal reaction and action of the atoms would be sufficient to generate the energy for the Sun to burn for hundreds of millions of years.

    But even in the 19th century with pre-nuclear physics, it is possible to argue against Lord Kelvin via a Just-So Story. A Just-So Story to give an alternative account of solar radiation which can account for the Sun burning a hundred million years could go like this:

    Suppose that all of the Sun’s atoms where spinning rapidly and these spinning atoms were colliding into each other with a certain velocity. Then the kinetic energy of the rotation of all the atoms lost per collision, in addition to the gravitation contraction, could together, provide the necessary radial energy needed for the Sun to burn hundreds of millions of years.

    This “Just-So Story” provides a conceptual possibility for a phenomenon, but it strictly isn’t true. But yet in some sense, it is true. There is one important truth which the “Just-So Story” reveals and shares with actual solar radiation production. The inner actions and dynamics of the atoms contributes to the production of radial energy. In the story, kinetic rotational energy, in the real world, nuclear binding energy.

    • First of all, I don’t believe that the Just-So Story you have provided holds up on its own terms.

      Second, I think that you mistake the meaning of the Garden. The Garden isn’t some magical location. Rather, it was the divine sanctuary, ordered according to the pattern of heaven, the place where God walked in the midst of men and enjoyed fellowship with them. The angels are the new guardians of the sanctuary, who drive Adam away. However, there is no reason to believe that God hung around in the Garden, or that there is some miraculous Tree of Life somewhere, any more than there is reason to believe that, if we were to find the Ark of the Covenant, it would function in the same way as it did in the Indiana Jones movie.

      Third, your quotation doesn’t answer my objection. My point is that one of the criteria of the truthfulness of the Scriptures is that it is revelatory. Your theory merely accounts for its strict factuality, but fails on this far more important count.

      Then there is the question of why such a proof of hypothetical possibility is needed in the first place. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to say that, given how far-fetched the scenario is, it would make more sense to form a hypothesis that calls into question one or more of the premises upon which this hypothesis is built. We could, for instance, challenge the assumption that Genesis is to be read as a prosaic historical account whose primary referentiality is entirely concrete and non-figurative. Alternatively, we could challenge the assumption that modern science has these questions right.

  8. Dominic says:

    However, there is no reason to believe that God hung around in the Garden, or that there is some miraculous Tree of Life somewhere, any more than there is reason to believe that, if we were to find the Ark of the Covenant, it would function in the same way as it did in the Indiana Jones movie.

    Precisely, so I don’t see why it is so important for interpretation of Genesis to account for a Garden of Eden which is “a geographical location within our world, continuous with the post-Fall world” when you precisely don’t believe that there is such a Tree of Life somewhere “within our world, continuous with the post-Fall world”.

    My point is that one of the criteria of the truthfulness of the Scriptures is that it is revelatory. Your theory merely accounts for its strict factuality, but fails on this far more important count.

    My theory “merely accounts for its strict factuality” because that’s precisely what it’s supposed to do and nothing more. It isn’t meant to tease out all the other theological implications of the Genesis narrative but merely reconcile it those theological and revelatory aspects with the factual aspect of evolution. In fact, I addressed this question here:

    …what we do know from the Bible is that God curses creation and mankind, but the Bible doesn’t tell us how God curses the universe and mankind and alters their natures, and for the purpose of divine revelation he does not need to record such detail. It is no more a flaw for the Bible to not have recorded the details of the Big Bang and Evolution as the processes by which the universe is cursed and mankind corrupted than it is a flaw for the Bible to not have recorded Maxwell’s Equations in its description of the creation of light. Besides as Peter Van Inwagen once pointed out, God recording such detail into the Bible would defeat its purpose as revelation to the pre-scientific Hebrews who haven’t even invented the concept of zero nevermind understand Maxwell’s Equations or the intricate genetics and biology of Evolution.

    Thus, the important theological aspects of the Genesis account is what you can find in any standard theological textbook, creation, Fall, alteration to human nature and the cosmos, banishment from paradise, etc, and it is these which are of relevance to the Christian faith, life and practice. My account is not meant to speak of those, since those can be read directly off from the text of the Scriptures, but is meant to preserve those aspects in the light of the scientific accounts of the big bang, evolution, etc. Basically, what is what you call “revelatory” is all those theological stuff about the Creation, Fall, etc, which can be read off directly from the text without any scientific theoreticising. Thus, there is no need to worry that “For the 99.999% of the readers that didn’t know the theory, their reading of the text would be radically misguided.” because my theory is not essential to those core theological revelatory concerns which can simply be read directly off.

    But what I am trying to do with my theory is merely to reconcile those revelatory aspects with the science of evolution and big bang and to demonstrate how we can both have those “revelatory” aspects as well as still hold to evolution and the big bang…

    • You don’t seem to be taking such verses as Genesis 2:10-14 and 4:16 into account.

      And I stand by my contention that your hypothetical scenario undermines the revelatory character of the text. The rest of the Scripture speaks of Genesis 1 as the creation of our universe, which is the natural reading of the text that is as near to universal as makes no difference. Also, Genesis 2 speaks of the creation of humanity primarily in terms of bodies, not souls. It is one thing to explain how the text could be consistent with the reality it describes; it is quite another to render the text of little revelatory significance in so doing (or to make it exceedingly misleading).

  9. Dominic says:

    And I stand by my contention that your hypothetical scenario undermines the revelatory character of the text. The rest of the Scripture speaks of Genesis 1 as the creation of our universe, which is the natural reading of the text that is as near to universal as makes no difference. Also, Genesis 2 speaks of the creation of humanity primarily in terms of bodies, not souls. It is one thing to explain how the text could be consistent with the reality it describes; it is quite another to render the text of little revelatory significance in so doing (or to make it exceedingly misleading).

    I guess this is a sort of metaphysical concern rather than strictly interpretative or scientific.

    The question seems to be then what constitutes the identity through time of a material object to count as the “same” object pre and post-fall.

    Now, I think I read somewhere among your many posts that you lean towards a sort of Aristotelian realism, however, I think my account has no actual problems upon a sort of nominalist-occasionalist account of divine providence and creation. According to divine “occasionalism”, the entire universe and every phenomena in the world is “directly” upheld by God who virtually continuously “re-creates” and wills every event and everything into existence moment by moment. Thus, to say that we continue to exist through time is simply to say that God continuously “creates” or directly wills us into existence anew at every moment of time through that period. What constitutes our “identity” through time is not the existence of some “substratum” or thing under the phenomena which persists through time but merely that our moment by moment existence resembles our past in the relevant aspects.

    Thus, what constitutes the continuity and identity between the pre and post Fall world is not some understanding substance or whatever but merely that the pre and post Fall world resemble each other in the relevant aspects, of course with the necessary modification to human nature and the cosmos which the Fall would bring.

    But you have to admit that these concerns are of a philosophical metaphysical nature and somewhat far off from the question of the question of the “revelatory” nature of the Bible…

    • Dominic says:

      Opps, that should be “Thus, what constitutes the continuity and identity between the pre and post Fall world is not some underlying substance”, not “understanding”…

    • First, I don’t admit that these concerns are of mere philosophical and metaphysical significance. Many biblical truths can be compromised by such a metaphysical position.

      Second, you speak about Adam and Eve’s souls being placed within ‘ape-like creatures’. However, Genesis 2 speaks of the creation of humanity in terms of the creation of vivified bodies, not of mere ‘souls’. The problem here should be obvious. If we were to follow your hypothesis, this wouldn’t just be a matter of continuous re-creation—the Scripture speaks in terms of holding in being, not continuous recreation—but would be a sharply discontinuous reality.

      At this point, I don’t think that we are going to get any further here, so you are welcome to have the final word. Let me once again register my extremely strong disagreement to such a hypothesis and repeat my contention that it empties several details of the text of their significance and contradicts several others. Ultimately such hypothesizing strikes me as akin to a surgeon who considers an operation a success because he removed the cancer, even though he killed the patient in the process.

  10. Paul Baxter says:

    I guess introductions are the order of the day. Alastair and a few of you have known me for some time, but I’m sure many of you don’t. I’m in my mid forties. I live in North Carolina with my wife and three boys. I’ve had a number of different careers to this point, but now am about to start nursing school to try to stabilize the whole work/financial thing. Since college I have been in presbyterian churches of varying flavors. And I read as widely and frequently as I am able. I’ll mention a couple of things I’ve read recently.

    Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is a very well written summary of his professional life’s work. Much of it deals with the persistent sorts of biases which attend human thinking. I appreciated the very scientific approach he took to the questions he was asking.

    Just this past week I’ve been reading The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. It is about the culture clash between Hmong refugee/immigrants in a California community and the American health care system. Really fascinating stuff, particularly about Hmong history and culture. The title of the book is the literal translation of the Hmong term for epilepsy. The book centers on the story of a young girl born with severe epilepsy and her parents attempts to care for her while navigating what is for them a very foreign culture. Very instructive for people in the health care field.

    My wife and I have been watching House of Cards (the American version). I’ve been fascinated by the sheer volume of lying portrayed in the show. Often dramatic shows and films will feature one big dramatic lie, but it is rare to see characters who just lie all the time, and do it in a natural and believable way.

    • Thanks for the introduction, Paul!

      I have never watched House of Cards. Perhaps I should do so at some point. Would you recommend it?

      • Paul Baxter says:

        After some thought, I’ll say that I do recommend it. I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about what makes it different from some other recent dramatic shows (Breaking Bad and Mad Men in particular). One thing that stands out is that the show is a bit heavier. There’s very little by way of comic relief. There are very few, if any, truly admirable characters. Has a very strong Macbeth theme to it. Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about what the show has to say about lying and truth telling, and about why it is unusual for modern tv or film to feature lying so prominently.

        I think one issue is that if fictional characters lie frequently, it is difficult for the viewer to establish what’s going on. While some sense of doubt can be interesting for a viewer, constant doubting is disturbing to the point of frustration. House of Cards deals with this through the unusual device of having the central character, played by Kevin Spacey, speak his true thoughts directly to the camera. This keeps the viewer fully oriented, at least as far as the thought process of the main character.

        You’ll have to take my word that despite the griminess and heaviness the show is still quite entertaining.

      • Thanks, Paul. I’ll have to check it out at some point.

  11. Caned Crusader says:

    Alastair, have you read or looked at Tom Schreiner’s The King In His Beauty? It’s a Reformed Baptist biblical theology, which is something pretty hard to find. It’s also shorter than Beale’s and might, I suspect, align ever so slightly more with my own convictions. I’m trying to decide between them.

    I think I’m going to read Alasdair McIntyre’s Dependent, Rational Animals first though. It actually looks to be a book incorporating disability studies that I won’t find hopelessly morabund and metaphysically/morally incoherent.

    • I haven’t read Schreiner. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it.

      • Caned Crusader says:

        From the cursory skimming I’ve done,it’s more of a chronological biblical theology whereas Beale’s is more thematic. Schreiner goes through the whole Bible with certain theological themes in mind; Beale has certain motifs he’s working with (the priest-king and eschatology ones come to mind) and shows how those themes unfold across the Scriptures. i see advantages to both approaches, so I’ll probably have to read both. I’ve read Schreiner’s Magnifying God in Christ, which is a nice summary of his larger New Testament Theology. It’s fairly dry and not terribly revolutionary, but still has some great stuff. His chapters on the holy Spirit and Salvation History are especially worth glancing at, from what I remember.

      • I might have to take a look at some point.

        This is top of my reading list, as soon as I can scrape together the money to buy it!

      • Caned Crusader says:

        Wow, that book looks amazing. I can’t find it in any accessible format, sadly.

      • Leithart has some comments on it here and here.

      • Oh, Leithart also mentions it here too, challenging the inconsistency of pro-choice feminists.

      • Caned Crusader says:

        One of these days I will find a way to truly appreciate continental philosophy. I am analytically inclined and find a lot of continental/poststructuralist work to be unreadable above everything else. I’m not sure that analytic philosophy is any less jargon-prone, but for some reason I can stand it more.

  12. Peter B says:

    I’m a 23-yr old university student in Music Cognition (it’s the study of music via experimental psychology, from neuroscience to purely behavioural methods — it’s really cool =]). I stumbled on this blog from an Andrew Wilson link over to an intensely long post you wrote (Rob Bell/Don Draper/Ad-Man); I soon realized that this was par for the course. And though I didn’t like their length at first, it has been a good challenge reading and thinking through some of your posts. I have no blog/anything to promote lol.

    One thing I’d love to read more of, is Protestant interaction with Roman Catholicism. I’ve seen a good friend convert (almost entirely) on the basis of Rome’s authority and historical groundedness. For my part, I think the 16th century debates that divided the Reformers from their contemporary Catholics are still relevant, and insurmountable, despite how magnificent the institution may look. But I’m looking for more resources (books/talks/and if it must be so…blog posts) on this topic. My local waters of the Church is a place where people don’t know/or acknowledge that they’re Protestants (they’re ‘Baptists’, or ‘Pentecostals’ etc…). I want to be involved in changing that, and seeing ‘Joe Church-member’ in our churches appreciate why we worship the way we do. And also, to not turn a blind eye to the centuries of rich pre-Reformation tradition that is ours. [On that note, I enjoyed the recent posts (here & on Mere-O) over Lent b/c they approximate what I’m talking about here, though incidentally].

    You seem like a guy who likes thinking through a wide range of topics, so here’s a topic that I have a hunch will be interesting for decades to come: the origin of music, and our current scientific understanding of evolution. It’s a very queer phenomenon, music is. And whether/not it’s an evolutionary adaptation is something even in-house profs don’t agree on. So the more we understand of its origin, the more it can potentially refine scientific consensus on human origins. Here’s a pretty interesting read from one of the stalwarts in the field. It’s probs entirely distal to your scholarly interests, but it’s an interesting read that’s not jargon-loaded or anything. Lemme know what you think, if you read it. (Link: No sweat if it doesn’t appeal to you, just thought I’d add my flavour.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and irenic posts, and I guess the prolixity isn’t that big a deal anymore =P. God bless!

    • Thanks for the comment, Peter! It is great to hear from and about you.

      I will confess to knowing virtually nothing whatsoever about music cognition, although it sounds like a truly fascinating subject. I really enjoyed reading Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia a few years ago, which I suspect touches on certain aspects of your field.

      Recapturing the Protestant tradition is definitely something that I am impassioned about. The work of such groups as The Calvinist International really excites me. We have a rich history that really is woefully neglected in many quarters. I haven’t done a great deal of mature engagement with Roman Catholicism (I grow up in a Roman Catholic country and attended a Christian Brothers school, but haven’t theologized much in dialogue with Catholics). However, I could direct you to some worthwhile sources, if you are interested.

      The piece that you link is definitely an interesting and stimulating read, although I don’t have that many thoughts on it. My main element of surprise was due to the fact that he didn’t really explore two things:

      1. The connection between music and memory. Music—especially rhythm—can enhance our memory of non-musical things such as language, especially important for social transmission of information, which is much easier to remember and reproduce if we have music or rhythm to accompany it.

      2. The connection between music and body coordination, both individual and social. Music can provide a template for initiating consecutive and coordinated action, bringing together disorganized parts into a whole. This isn’t just true of group work (which he mentions), but even for the individual, which is one reason why music therapy can be important for people with Parkinsons. Music is also intimately associated with ritual for this reason, it seems to me.

      • Peter B says:

        Wow, really good thoughts here! First off, Musicophilia is a sweet book. Its pretty anecdote-heavy and conveys little research knowledge, but it certainly whets the appetite for Music Cog! For the things Huron didn’t cover in that linked paper, I can only guess at his reasons. On your first point, I don’t know much research that has addressed both topics. Hazarding a guess, the memory literature is probably located in the densest parts of cognition research such that it would take sustained effort to try to unite both fields under even one research paradigm. That may’ve happened somewhere—I just don’t know about it…yet lol.

        But on the second point, yessir the connection is immense. There’s a researcher (who we [Canada] poached from you [the UK]) who has done some work showing which brain regions are critical for beat-based processing and she used Parkinson’s patients in those experiments. Beat perception (and production) we now know require the basal ganglia. (LINK: And music–or more accurately rhythm–has a privileged r/ship with those areas when it comes to entrainment. (Cool sidenote: we’re just about the only members of the animal kingdom that can entrain to an external beat. Some vocal-mimic birds can do it poorly. So there’s a hypothesis that vocal mimicry is a precondition of entrainment: enter evolutionary speculation here =P). Ultimately, I think this line of work–and thought–is going to get very nitty-gritty and specialized before it sees the light of day again as a piece of common knowledge that we can all use in reflection and appreciating the world. Entirely agree that music’s association with ritual benefits from this. Like I said, good thoughts =]

        Lastly, and most importantly, yes yes yes. Please direct me to those worthwhile sources for me to cut my teeth on. I’ll keep praying for the church militant in whatever institutional bodies they may be found. I just wanna see healthy Protestant churches thriving in this century with a sense of where we’ve come from, why we remain as we are, and of course, where we’re headed!

        Thanks for the doing this open mic thing. I’ve enjoyed it!

      • Thanks for this fascinating follow-up comment, Peter!

        I will e-mail you some sources that I would recommend, or that I have seen others recommending.

  13. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I am thinking about reading John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ. Are there any other worthy, perhaps worthier, books focused on the meaning of the cross?

    Are there any similar works that focus on the resurrection that you would recommend? There is N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, as well as his short book on Easter. Rowan Williams has a book entitled Resurrection.

    And then there is Alan E. Lewis’ Between Cross and Resurrection.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I am not interested in books that focus on the historicity of the resurrection.

    • I would recommend both Stott’s The Cross of Christ and Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God. If you haven’t yet read Jesus and the Victory of God, I would highly recommend reading that first, not least because it provides an illuminating perspective upon the cross. On the cross, I also remember enjoying Tom Smail’s Once For All and Emil Brunner’s The Mediator.

  14. I am a father of three, live in the Pacific Northwest. I am an engineer by profession. I very much appreciate this web site!

    My recent scripture wanderings have me considering a small handful of similar stories.
    They share a number of common elements and I’m struggling to connect them and articulate their function.

    Note the peculiar shared details between these Genesis 38 and Judges 14 stories:
    * Genesis 38 and Judges 14 both occur as our protagonist (Judah and Samson) goes up to a feast with pagan inhabitants of the land.
    -Judah is associating with the Adullamite Hiram at a sheep-shearing festival
    -Samson is associating with 30 philistine companions at a wedding feast
    *Both stories occur on the road to Timnah ( from the word for appointed )
    -Judah goes up to Timnah
    -Samson goes down to Timnah
    *Both Judah and Samson turn aside from the way and sully themselves.
    *The contaminating member both become pictures of Israel within the nations.
    -The dead lion carcass (the word here is cognate with gentiles) houses a congregation of bees (see reference 1 below for symbolic referents).
    -The gentile Tamar housing the seed that continues the line of Judah in the midst of the dead and unfaithful brothers Er and Onan.
    * Tamar is offered her husband’s younger son, Samson is offered his wive’s younger sister
    * Tamar is given to multiple husbands, Samson’s wife is given to another man
    * Tamar is threatened to be burned, Samson’s wife is burned
    * Each story contains a mystery related to that which contaminated,
    -Judah does not know who the zonah/whore was
    – Samson’s 30 friends do not know the answer to the riddle
    * Samson’t wife and Tamar reveal the answer to the riddle
    * the revelation of the mystery leads to an exchange of goods:
    – Samson’s wife’s confession yields the promised 30 changes of clothes for the party guest
    – Tamar’s confession yields the promised, signet, bracelet and staff to Judah

    I suspect that there are a number of further stories that share the conventions outlined above (Robert Alter’s ‘type-scene’)
    Though my argument is not developed here (or anywhere!), I suspect Jonah and Daniel 5 are two.

    I suspect that the Timnah type-scene sketched above has a function. An instantiation of this Timnah type-scene occurs when Israel is miraculously maintained as an island in the midst of the dead nations. I believe it functions just as the common details between Genesis 32, Exodus33, and the temptation narrative (Matt 4 and Luke 4). These stories are placed immediately before the people of God are to cross over and take the land. If so, is there an instantiation of this type-scene in the gospels or New Testament?


    • Thanks for the comment and introducing yourself, Scott. Great to have you here!

      Thanks also for your stimulating biblical theological comments. I posted on the Genesis 38 story some time ago, but haven’t really revisited it properly since then. I might have to go back and take another look. There are definitely a lot of things going on there that are worth exploring!

  15. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    A thought I’ve recently had: what is perhaps the most abusive institution (in the sense of where the most people are abused) in all of Western society?* I would say it is the public school system (I believe they call it the state school system in Britain). They are hives of abuse, mainly from other children, but also, on occasion, from the teachers. Yet, none of the people who are so concerned about how the patriarchal family allegedly tends toward abuse raise a peep about the appallingly abusive conditions in publicly funded schools. Apparently they seem to think that putting a bunch of teenagers in a confined space and essentially letting them run the show is a good idea. In fact, these critics are often rabidly opposed to homeschooling! The children must be indoctrinated educated, and parents need free babysitting so they can leave and go to work, so what can we really do about all this?

    This article inspired by Paul Graham’s classic article on publically funded schools.

    *Actual prison is much more abusive in terms of the severity of abuse visited on its inhabitants, but fewer people enter that system. There may be other institutions that are similar in the intensity of abuse, but again fewer people enter them.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      From Graham:

      Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens’ main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I’ve read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.

      In outline, it was the same at the schools I went to. The most important thing was to stay on the premises. While there, the authorities fed you, prevented overt violence, and made some effort to teach you something. But beyond that they didn’t want to have too much to do with the kids. Like prison wardens, the teachers mostly left us to ourselves. And, like prisoners, the culture we created was barbaric.

      • In my first year of high school, the entire year was in a block of the school that had no teachers around for ten minutes between classes, with students carefully positioned to warn of any approach. Definitely the brutal and anarchic situation of the inmates running the prison. One of my friends attempted suicide and ended up as a drug addict on the streets after his experiences of bullying in our school. A number of others were broken by it. It shaped me more than almost any other period of time in my life. If this is the ‘socialization’ that home-schooled children lack, lucky them!

        It is worth remembering that what the family is to conservatives, the school and the university is to progressives. This is the way that we create the next generation.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        This blog post from Dreher seems relevant.

      • I saw that earlier: terrible advice!

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        What the Dreher link shows is that rhetoric of love and inclusiveness is just as useful for telling people to put up, shut up, and take the abuse as the rhetoric of authority and submission.

  16. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    A very good recent article, and a reminder that just because we have rejected liberal notions of what constitutes abuse and unjust treatment, those things still do really exist:

    Now that you realize that gender roles are not inherently iniquitous, you can finally start thinking about the proper relationship between the sexes. Just because you notice that women are being treated differently than men in some context, you can no longer automatically conclude that the women are being treated unfairly, as you would have done when you were a liberal. On the other hand, it is [still] possible that the women are being treated unfairly.

    We can’t just circle the wagons.

  17. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    You might be interested in reading up on this movement:

    The original manifesto is here:

    Kingsnorth’s book Real England is here:

    I am a contributor to the just released Dark Mountain Issue 5.

  18. Some of you might be interested in the debate around these recent posts on same-sex marriage by Vicky Beeching. I’ve left lengthy comments beneath each.

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