Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Exegetical Eschatology: Four Views of the Future

The word eschatology is defined as "any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc." In Christian theology, it is the study of the "end times." It includes discussion of such topics as the return of Christ, the antichrist, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. Relevant passages include Jesus' Olivet Discourse, the book of Revelation and much of Daniel's prophecies.

The word exegesis is "critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text." It comes from the Greek exegeisthai which means "to interpret," and is comprised of the root words ex, meaning "out," and hegeisthai, meaning "to lead, guide." Thus, exegesis is the extraction of meaning out from, in the case of Judeo-Christianity, the Bible. In contrast, eisegesis means "an interpretation...that expresses the interpreter's own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text." In other words, it is the reading into the Bible one's own beliefs.

In this new series, "Exegetical Eschatology," as the name suggests, this subject of the "end times" will be discussed with an emphasis on the extraction of meaning from Scripture. Throughout the history of the Church this topic has been the subject not only of intense debate, but also of speculation as to its relevance to contemporary world events. Particularly in modern times, there are large numbers of Christians speculating as to whether some modern figure is the antichrist, or if microchips implanted into body parts are the "mark of the beast," or if perceived increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters like hurricanes indicate the end is at hand. Eschatology has also in modern times been the subject of popular entertainment, in the form of horror movies and pseudo-fictional literary works such as Time LaHaye's Left Behind series.

With so much in-house debate amongst Christians as to the nature of biblical prophecies concerning the "end times," with such frequent and, often, fanatical speculation as to the relevance of modern persons and events to prophetic passages in the Bible, and with so many varied eschatolological positions infusing modern entertainment, one may wonder why we should concern ourselves with what Scripture has to say about the subject at all. Is there any hope of coming to properly--that is, biblically--understand anything about the "end times?" I happen to think there is, and even if I did not, I'm not inclined to believe that wholesale portions of Scripture were given to us by God knowing full well that we stood no chance of grasping even the smallest iota of His words.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Not a God of Confusion

Previously in this series we saw that some of the passages the Watch Tower points to in order to cast doubt on the belief that Jesus is God do not support their case. In Jesus, the Firstborn of All Creation we found that the word "firstborn" communicates preeminence, rather than birth order. In Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son we discovered that the word rendered "only-begotten" is used of children born second to parents whose firstborn is still alive, and means "unique" rather than "only one born to." And in "The Father is Greater than I" we saw that the Father is greater than the Son in terms of authority, not nature.


Jehovah's Witnesses argue their case from other passages as well, and we'll look at those later in this series. At this point, however, the Witness at the Christian's door may try to cast doubt on the historic understanding of God's nature by claiming that it is confusing, pointing to 1 Corinthians 14:33 which reads, "God is not a God of confusion." In their brochure, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?", in an article entitled How Is the Trinity Explained?, the Watch Tower writes:

Thus, the Trinity is considered to be "one God in three Persons." Each is said to be without beginning, having existed for eternity. Each is said to be almighty, with each neither greater nor lesser than the others.

Is such reasoning hard to follow? Many sincere believers have found it to be confusing, contrary to normal reason, unlike anything in their experience. How, they ask, could the Father be God, Jesus be God, and the holy spirit be God, yet there be not three Gods but only one God?

Monday, December 28, 2009

To the Jew First: The Shema and the Trinity

As part of their prescribed daily prayers, observant Jews recite Deuteronomy 6:4, which as it appears in Hebrew text reads, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד. Transliterated into English it is pronounced, "Shema Yisra'el YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad" (though out of reverence for God's name, YHWH or "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" is typically replaced with adonai, meaning "Lord"). English translations render it something like, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" This verse is often called the Shema, named after its first word Shema meaning, "to hear."

Christians and Jews alike point to this verse as summarizing the Bible's teaching of monotheism, "the doctrine or belief that there is only one God." Christians, however, believe that the Bible teaches that the one and only true God exists nonetheless as a plurality, that within the one being God there exist distinct interpersonal relationships between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it is often summarized, "three persons" but "one being." Christians are unwavering in their affirmation of monotheism, but because the doctrine of the Trinity transcends human understanding, as well as human ability to communicate it effectively, Jews and non-Christians often confuse Christians as teaching some form of polytheism.

Therefore, Jews often object to Christianity based on either the misunderstanding that it teaches polytheism, or on the belief that the Bible does not allow for a plural understanding of the one God. Does the Shema really militate against any idea of a plural, or Triune, God?


The Hebrew word rendered "one" in the Shema is the word echad. Now, at this point, Jews familiar with Christian evangelistic efforts are likely thinking, "Oh no, not this again." This is because some Christians have argued that the word echad intrinsically refers to a compound oneness or unity, such as "one" cluster of grapes. In fact, there are several places in Scripture where it is used in this fashion.

For example, in Genesis 1:5 we read, "God called the light day, and the darkness He called night And there was evening and there was morning, one day." This "one day" is explicitly described as being comprised of multiple parts, evening and morning. Agan in Genesis 2:24 we are told, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." This "flesh", despite being "one", is nonetheless composed of a man and a woman. And in Ezra 2:64, "the whole assembly" is called "one" but is comprised of many people.

However, skeptical Jews are right to point out that this is not the only way in which this word is used. In Genesis 2:11, "one" river is called "the Pishon", and probably is not used with the knowledge that a river is a collective of numerous water molecules. In Genesis 2:21, God takes "one" of Adam's ribs, referring to a singe rib, not a collection of bones. And in Nehemiah 5:18, an ox is not likely called "one" because it is comprised of millions of replicating cells.

Thus, it does not appear as though the word echad intrinsically carries the meaning of "one in unity," but rather may just as often, if not more often, mean "one in number." However, it is nonetheless relevant that the word can refer to a oneness in unity, a compound unity. If the word has several meanings, we must look to the context to see which of those meanings are valid, and which are not.


In context, the Shema does not appear to be emphasizing the "oneness" of God. Instead, the text is emphasizing the unique nature of God, that He and He alone is God, and that there is no other. Moses is conveying God's commandments to Israel, the first of which was reiterated in the previous chapter:

[God] said, "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..." (Deuteronomy 5:5-9)

It is interesting that the first of the "Ten Commandments," which sets the stage for the Shema, is to have no gods before the Lord. The reason, in fact, that we are to obey the rest of God's commandments is precisely because He alone is God. He is above all, His authority supercedes all, His nature transcends all. He deserves our obedience because He is God and there is no other. So whenever Moses is communicating God's laws to His people, it is based on the foundation laid with the very first commandment: God is justified in demanding obedience because He is God alone.

This sets the stage for the next chapter containing the Shema. Starting from the beginning of chapter 6,

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:1-6)

We see, then, a similar pattern as when the commandments were first given, and then reiterated in the previous chapter. The first command in the list emphasizes God's authority, which comes from His uniqueness, and the following commands are authoritative because God, by virtue of being God alone, deserves obedience. Hence, several translations render the verse slightly differently:

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord [the only Lord]. (Amplified Bible)

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. (New Living Translation)

Listen, Israel! The LORD our God is the only true God! (Contemporary English Version)

Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. (New Century Version)

Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is the one and only God. (New International Reader's Version)

These translations recognize the emphasis on God's uniqueness, and render the verse accordingly. And, sure enough, the definition of echad includes "only". So the Shema does not cast doubt on the doctrine of a Triune (plural) God. It merely militates against polytheism, and as already pointed out, Christians throughout history who've affirmed belief in the Trinity are unwaveringly monotheistic.

Does the Shema, however, hint at all to God's nature? Is there anything in the text of the Shema that can point us in one direction or another?


The phrase "our God" in the Shema is the translation of a peculiar word, elohim. In Hebrew, words are either masculine or feminine, and singular nouns are conjugated to make them plural. The word behema, for example, is a feminine noun meaning "beast", and is conjugated as behemoth to make a plural, feminine noun. Similarly, kohen is a singular masculine noun meaning "priest", and is conjugated kohannim to make a plural, masculine noun. Thus, generally speaking (like any language, Hebrew is more complicated than this simplification), a singular, masculine noun is made plural by modifying the ending syllable and adding "im".

In the same way, elohim is the plural conjugation of the singular word, eloha. In the Shema, the literal rendering of the word would be, "our Gods." This is not to suggest that the verse teaches polytheism; as explained above, the emphasis in this verse is God's uniqueness, that He is God and there is no other. And polytheism is militated against throughout the entirety of Scripture. However, the fact that one of the nouns most often used to refer to God is plural in its very nature may hint at something.


Verbs in Hebrew are modified based on the subject of the sentence. They, like nouns, have singular and plural forms, and when a verb appears in its singular form then the noun, too, is singular. In many places throughout the Bible, elohim appears with the singular form of a verb, and thus the plural nature of the noun emphasizes God's superiority and transcendence.

However, in other places elohim appears with the plural form of verbs. In Genesis 20:13, the text is rendered "when God caused me to wander from my father's house," but the plural noun elohim is used with the plural verb "they caused me to wander." Again in 2 Samuel 7:23 we're told "God went", and again elohim is used with the plural verb "they went." And in Psalm 58:11 the psalmist sings that "there is a God who judges" combining elohim with the plural verb "they judge."

So the plural nature of the word elohim that appears in the Shema intrinsically suggests a plural nature to God since it often appears with plural verbs. But it doesn't end there. In the same way that the plural noun elohim appears often with plural verbs, it also sometimes appears with plural pronouns. In Genesis 1:26 we're told, "Then God [elohim] said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.'" Again in Genesis 3:22 "the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of Us." The text is rendered "let Us" and "in Our" and "one of Us" because plural pronouns are being used, rather than the singular pronouns that would be expected of a wholly singular God.


Thus, though the text of the Shema is not in and of itself proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, it nonetheless does not cast doubt on it, either. Quite to the contrary, the plural noun elohim used there, often appearing in conjunction with plural verbs and plural pronouns, hints at the plural nature of God. Indeed, evidence of God's triune nature appears throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, as we will see in future posts in this series.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

To the Jew First: An Introduction

Many Christians anticipate the opportunity to witness to their family, friends and others coming from a variety of backgrounds. They study competing world views--atheism, Islam, Buddhism--and Christian counterfeits--Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarianism--in an effort to be better prepared to "exhort in sound doctrine, and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). It sometimes seems, however, that few Christians make a comparable effort to be similarly prepared to evangelize to Jewish unbelievers (myself included).

My hope in starting this series is primarily to be better prepared myself to witness to, and defend Christianity from, unbelieving Jews. Secondarily, however, I hope to make it possible for other Christians to do the same, and to encourage us all to reach out to Jewish people, families and communities with the truth that Jesus is their Messiah. He is their hope, the fulfillment of their history.

But first, in introducing this series I wish to explain its name:


Paul, near the beginning of his letter to the Romans, repeats a peculiar phrase:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 2:9-10)

What does Paul mean when he writes that salvation and tribulation are "to the Jew first?" Some have viewed this phrase as being rather innocuous, as being merely a list in which "the Jew" happens to be mentioned first. According to this view, Paul is merely saying that salvation is to everyone, both Jews and Gentiles, and nothing more should be read into the text. This, however, seems unlikely since the Greek word Paul used, here rendered "first", is prōton and does not mean merely "first in a list in no particular order." Instead, it refers to chronological order, or to preeminence in rank or in honor. Paul's use of the word suggests something more.

Recognizing this, others view this as teaching simply that salvation was offered first to Israel, and upon being rejected was offered next to Gentiles (though without rescinding the offer to Jews). In his commentaries, Matthew Henry wrote in the early 18th century, "The lost sheep of the house of Israel had the first offer made them, both by Christ and his apostles.You first (Acts 3:26), but upon their refusal the apostles turned to the Gentiles, Acts 13:46." The implication is that the apostles began their ministry witnessing to Jews, but at a definite point in history, after continuous rejection from the Jewish people, the apostles moved on, shifting their focus to the Gentiles. David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College, Germany, puts it this way in his Study Guide for Romans 1:

The message of the gospel came for the Jew first and also for the Greek (the non-Jew). This was demonstrated both by the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 15:24) and the initial ministry of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-6)...This means that the gospel was meant to go first to the ethnic and cultural Jew, and then to the cultural Greek.

That Jesus came to reach out to the lost sheep of Israel, rather than to Gentiles, is true. Also true is that the ministry of the apostles was at first virtually exclusively directed toward Jews, whereas later God revealed to Peter that he and the Church was to reach out to Gentiles, too. However, once this point was reached, once the Lord revealed to the Church that they were to evangelize to the Gentiles, what was the pattern of their evangelism?


Matthew Henry, as quoted above, pointed to the following passage in Acts as evidence that there came a point in time at which the apostles shifted focus, no longer witnessing to Jews with special emphasis:

But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles...When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. (Acts 13:45-51)

This passage is often used as evidence that the apostles "moved on" from the Jews, that they had been given a host of opportunities to accept their message, but finally the apostles "shook off the dust of their feet" and turned to the Gentiles. But is this really what happened? Were Paul and Barnabas finally shifting their focus to the Gentiles?

We find our answer a mere two verses later: "In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together" (Acts 14:1). Yes, in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas first witnessed to the Jews (Acts 13:14), and upon being rejected turned to the Gentiles. But then, upon traveling to Iconium, they again first witnessed to the Jews. Later, "they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:1-2). Next, "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews" (Acts 17:10). While waiting for his escorts in Athens, Paul "was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles" (Acts 17:17). Then, upon arriving at Corinth, "he found a Jew" and "stayed with them" and "was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath" (Acts 18:1-4). Next he "came to Ephesus, and...he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews" (Acts 18:19).

Thus, after turning to the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, he arrives in Iconium and goes to the Jews first. He repeats this pattern in Thessalonica, and again in Berea, later in Athens, and in Corinth, and in Ephesus. Shaking the dust off his feet and "turning to the Gentiles," therefore, was not a distinct event in time, but rather was his pattern everywhere he went. "To the Jew first" appears to have been, not just a claim that salvation was intended for the Jews first but then was expanded to include the Gentiles, but was Paul's very mode of evangelism.

Does this have any relevance to Gentile Christians today? Should we, like Paul apparently did, make a special effort to evangelize to Jewish unbelievers, regardless of which other groups of people we feel called to reach?


One might object at this point, quoting Paul himself who said, "God is not one to show partiality" (Acts 10:34). In fact, he said this in the very passage where he wrote "to the Jew first", saying, "glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:10-11). Peter said God "made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], cleansing their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). If God does not show partiality, and if there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, wouldn't an emphasis on Jewish evangelism be a showing of partiality where God shows none? The making of a distinction where no such distinction exists?

Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Here Paul says that in the same way "there is neither Jew nor Greek...there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," teaching this same concept of there being no distinctions between people when it comes to salvation. Yet, Paul also wrote to the Corinthians saying, "the man is the head of a woman" (1 Corinthians 11:3). He wrote the same to the Ephesians saying, "the husband is the head of the wife" (Ephesians 5:23). Stranger still, perhaps, are these words from Paul:

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

If Paul's having said "there is neither male nor female" means that there is no distinction whatsoever between men and women, then why does he say "the husband is the head of the wife," and "let [women] ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church?" Paul himself is making a distinction between men and women. What does this mean?

The passages that speak of there being no distinction between peoples teach that there is no difference in salvation, no excluding one group in favor of the other. Both men and women find salvation in Christ. Both slave and free. And yes, both Jew and Gentile. However, that does not mean that they are completely without distinction. As men and women serve different roles in the household and in the Church, so, too, might Jews and Gentiles serve different roles in the Church as well.

What distinction might there be, then, between Jews and Gentiles? Why is it that Paul's pattern appears to have been to witness "to the Jew first" in every town to which he traveled? Why might we have a similar calling to place special emphasis on Jewish evangelism?


Paul, the very apostle who repeatedly wrote that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, wrote this in his epistle to the Romans: "What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous" (Romans 11:7,11). Certainly there are several noteworthy reasons God expanded the recipients of the gospel to include Gentiles, but here we see that at least one specific reason Gentiles were granted salvation is "to make [Jews] jealous."

However, it is not without purpose that God intends to use Gentiles to move Jews to jealousy. Paul also wrote, "I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them" (Romans 11:13-14). Christians, arguably Gentile Christians in particular, have a purpose, one major one (among several, perhaps) being moving Jews to return to their God. If we have a role to fill, one of moving Jews to repentance, to embracing their Messiah, then it stands to reason that preparedness to witness to Jewish unbelievers ought to be a priority. And this purpose would also explain Paul's pattern of evangelism.

It is for this reason that I begin this series. My analysis may be flawed, but it certainly seems to me that when Christians reach out with passion to atheists, to Muslims, to Buddhists, and to Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and to Unitarians, if we're not making a comparable effort to witess to Jews, we're neglecting part of the very reason we Gentiles were saved to begin with. "Salvation is from the Jews," (John 4:22) Jesus said. As Gentiles, we've been "cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree," (Romans 11:24) which is Israel. And if we put forth the effort, we can have a huge impact, because "how much more will [Jews] who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?"

How great it is when Jewish people turn from their disbelief and embrace the Jewish Savior, "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Conclusion

Evolutionary theory, and its existentialist nature, are refuted by the fossil record and by new insights into the development of growing organisms, which demonstrate that "essence precedes existence." Critics of intelligent design theory charge that it is "bad science," and demand that any attempt to explain the origins of life and its diversity be testable through laboratory experimentation. Yet scientists in their own fields, and in "historical" sciences like geology, archaeology and paleontology, have posited legitimate scientific hypotheses that are not testable in the same way as in experimental sciences like chemistry and physics. Their theories are tested by comparing their explanatory power to that of competing theories attempting to explain what we see today by theorizing past events or conditions.

How can this legimiately scientific approach and its test of the explanatory power of competing theories be used to determine the cause of the diversity of biological life we see today?


In 1991, philosopher of science Peter Lipton wrote Inference to the Best Explanation, in which he systematically explained and defended this way of reasoning. He wrote that, "beginning with the evidence available to us," we "infer what would, if true, best explain that evidence." Recognizing a known problem with this sort of abductive reasoning (affirming the consequent), he noted that when more than one cause can explain present evidence, scientists use a process of elimination to evaluate competing theories, rejecting those which don't adequately explain the evidence.

Thus, there are legitimately scientific theories which are not testable in the way intelligent design critics demand. As Stephen Meyer wrote in Signature in the Cell:

Clearly, this method of testing scientific ideas is different from that used by experimental scientists, who test their theories by making predictions about what will happen under controlled laboratory conditions. Even so, historical scientists are not the only scientists to use it. Arguably, Watson and Crick used this method to test their ideas about the structure of DNA against competing models. And many scientists--theoretical physicists, biochemists, psychologists, astronomers, pathologists, medical diagnosticians--as well historians, detectives, and thinking people everywhere use this method of reasoning every day to make sense of their experiences. (p. 170)

What, then, is the alternative scientific theory to modern evolutionary theory? In the future, I will blog about this topic at a greater depth as part of this series, but for now a simple summary serves to demonstrate how intelligent design serves as a legitimate scientific theory.


The DNA molecule is an amazing source of information, not just informational capacity, but of specified information, complex digital code specifying proteins necessary to build life. Outside of DNA exists another source of specified information that directs the cell to properly assemble the parts defined by DNA. We know from experience that information and information-processing systems come from only one source: intelligence.

Consider the faces of U.S. Presidents of Mount Rushmore. These sculptures are no more complex or unlikely than the random configurations of rock in the surrounding hills. Yet nobody, unaware of the history of Mount Rushmore, would look at their faces and suspect that wind and erosion caused them. We naturally infer to the best explanation and conclude--instantaneously--that an intelligent agent created them. Why? Because unlike the equally complex and equally improbable configurations of atoms and molecules surrounding them, the faces we see specify something, they conform to a pattern recognizable to us: human faces, specifically those of former U.S. Presidents.

But it's not just information itself that we know intuitively comes from intelligent agents. We also know that information-processing systems are the products of intelligence. Consider CAD-CAM processes for designing and manufacturing parts. A human with an intelligent mind uses software to design parts, and this information is processed (translated) into information of another sort understood by machines, which interpret that information and assemble parts based on those instructions. Or consider software engineering. A human with an intelligent mind writes code in a programming language similar in certain ways to our human languages, and this information is processed (translated) by compilers into information of another sort understood by computers, which interpret that information and perform functions based on those instructions.

Thus we know that intelligence is "causally adequate" for producing information and information-processing systems--that is intelligence can create these things--and we know that it is "causally existent"--that is intelligent agents are in operation today. In order, however, to determine if intelligence is the best explanation, a third factory must be considered: the adequacy of competing theories.


The theory of life's origins that competes with intelligent design is, of course, evolutionary theory. Evolutionary biologists posit that mutations occur during the transcription and translation of DNA during reproduction, and that these mutations occur at random times and in random locations and in random ways within the DNA molecule. Yes, once produced, the process of natural selection preserves some mutations. But the origin and nature of the mutations to begin with are the products of chance. What is the chance that "chance" could produce the information in DNA?

Consider that a protein defined by a gene in DNA is comprised of a chain of amino acids. There are some 20 amino acids that form proteins, and on average a working protein is made up of some 150 amino acids. Further consider that only certain arrangements of amino acids will link and fold into a working protein. This means we can determine the odds of random processes producing such a working protein, by calculating the ratio of the number of working proteins to the number of possible sequences. The chance of such a protein occuring at random is 1 out of 10 to the 74th power.

What does that number mean? Ten to the seventy-fourth power is a 1 followed by 74 zeroes. So for every working protein 150 amino acids long, there are 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (I had to insert a space just so the number would fit in the blog) other possible amino acid sequences. That's one hundred trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion possible combinations. The odds are staggering.

To help illustrate the gravity of this number, it helps to consider that astronomers estimate that there are only 10 to the 65th total atoms in our galaxy. This is an exponentially smaller number than the number of possible combinations of 150 amino acids. What this means is, you would have an exponentially better chance of selecting a desired atom out of the entire Milky Way, than you would have at producing an average protein by random. And proponents of evolutionary theory would have us believed this lottery has been won over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.


Thus, intelligent design theory meets the qualifications of scientific explanation. It is testable in that it offers an inference to the best explanation, and indeed intelligence is "best". It is causally adequate, meaning we know intelligent agents can produce information. It is causally existent, meaning we see intelligence in operation. And its competing theory, unguided (supernaturally) evolution, doesn't adequately explain the evidence we see.

This is consistent with the Bible which teaches us that an intelligent creator designed the universe, the earth and its life, and then implemented that design by creating that which He conceived beforehand. As it is written:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).

Scripture teaches that God decided to create man, and naturally the creation of man reflects God's conception of what man is. God conceived of man as being a creature similar to Him in certain ways, and so, the essence of mankind thus having been conceived by God, He created man. Contrary to the claims of existentialism, "essence precedes existence."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 5

As we've seen in this series, evolutionary theory and its existential nature is refuted by the fossil record and by our newfound insight into the development of an organism. Whereas evolutionary biologists illustrate the history of life using a "tree of life", the fossil record--if viewed in the way evolutionary biologists view it--illustrates the history of life instead as a "forest of life", a great many kinds of animals leaping into existence all at once with no common ancestry. Whereas random mutations during the copying of DNA are proposed as the mechanism by which genetic information increases over time, we now know that a second, mutually dependent source of information exists containing the instructions for assembling the protein parts defined by DNA, and this information is not in the DNA itself. These discoveries demonstrate that, unlike existentialism's "existence precedes essence," when it comes to life, "essence precedes existence."

How, then, do we "put the pieces together?" Can legitimate science point us to an alternative explanation? Is any appeal to a supernatural cause by definition unscientific?


Critics of intelligent design often accuse its advocates as "not doing science." In Stephen Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell, he recounts that "reporters kept repeating the same criticism, namely, 'ID advocates aren't really scientists, because they don't do any experiments of their own'" (p. 138). In a recent debate between intelligent design advocates (including Meyer) and its critics (listen here), one of the design opponents said he was not aware of any intelligent design scientists who have labs and do experiments, implying that laboratory experimentation is the only way to properly "do science."

In the debate, evolutionary proponent Michael Shermer argued, "There's only two answer the question of what's the origins of life or the diversity of life: one, science; two, everything else." He continued:

The problem is that by invoking something that is by definition not testable, there's no experiment we can run. You're now off the page of science. So, by invoking some kind of extranatural, supernatural, supranatural, paranatural--something beyond the natural, there's nothing we can do with that.

His partner, Donald Prothero, continued:

As Michael just said, we're talking about testable hypotheses...We cannot resort to supernatural explanations. It's not because we're antireligious...It's because religious ideas are simply not testable. There's no way to say, "God did it," and then find a test that works.

So, evolutionary scientists demand that the only way to address the question of the origins of life in a scientific manner is through a) laboratory experimentation, and b) testable hypotheses. Because, they claim, appeals to supernatural causes are by definition untestable, they are not scientific.


In April of 1953, J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick revolutionized biology when their article, "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," appeared in the journal Nature. In their article, the pair revealed the molecular structure of DNA, winning a scientific race that had been going on for years. Yet, their work was not primarily the result of their own laboratory experiments. As Meyer put it in Signature, "While others approached the problem methodically, steadily gathering data in their labs, Watson and Crick behaved more like gumshoe detectives, heading from one place to another looking for clues to help them weigh the merits of competing hypotheses" (p. 72).

This approach is not unique among scientists throughout history. As Meyer notes in Signature:

Many of the great discoveries in science were achieved not just by experimentalists who produced new factual knowledge, but by theoreticians who taught us to think differently about what we already know. Examples of this kind of scientific work leaped to mind: Copernicus's De Revolutionibus orbium coelestrium, Newton's Principia, and the papers Einstein produced in his annus mirabilis...Charles Darwin also did little experimental science...his masterpiece, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, contains neither a single mathematical equation nor any report of original experimental research. Yet he formulated a great scientific theory. He did this by drawing together disparate lines of observational evidence and presenting an argument for a novel interpretation of that evidence. (p. 139)

Proper science does not by necessity include one's own, personal laboratory experimentation. Instead, legitimate science often involves reasoning like a detective, considering multiple suspects, weighing clues and excluding suspects that could not have committed the crime, eventually narrowing in on the one suspect whose involvement is pointed to by the weight of the evidence.


One can see a distinction between these two scientific approaches when one looks at what might be called "historical sciences" versus what might be called "experimental sciences." Experimental scientists, such as chemists and physicists, hypothesize about how things work now, and then test those hypotheses through laboratory experimentation. Historical scientists, on the other hand, such as geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, cosmologists, and yes, evolutionary biologists, look at multiple competing attempts to explain the past, weighing the merits of each, excluding those explanations which do not fit the evidence, and narrowing in those explanations that do fit the evidence.

In History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) and The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), scientist and philosopher William Whewell explained the distinctions between these two kinds of sciences. Instead of trying to establish universal laws by which nature operates, the objective of historical scientists is to determine ancient conditions or past causes. Rather than studying "forces that are permanent causes of motion, such as gravitation attraction," historical scientists study "causes that have worked their effects in temporal succession." And in attempting to reconstruct those "ancient conditions," historical scientists "calculate backwards" and determine what has occurred in the past based on known cause-and-effect relationships in operation in the present.

No chemist, physicist or biologist claims that historical scientists are "not doing science." The dictionary defines geology as "the science that deals with the dynamics and physical history of the earth;" archaeology as "the scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures;" and paleontology as "the science of the forms of life existing in former geologic periods" (emphasis mine in each case). But scientists in these fields do not make hypotheses that can be tested through laboratory experimentation. Instead, they look at the present effects of past causes; they weigh competing attempts to explain what happened in the past based on what we see today.

The hypotheses of geologists, archaeologists and paleontologists, despite being untestable through laboratory experimentation, are not untestable altogether. They're merely tested in a different manner. Historical scientists look for the best attempt at explaining what occurred in the past resulting in what we see today. Given the effects of some event or condition in the past, they look at what causes, known to produce similar effects, could have occurred in the past, and exclude causes that cannot account for those effects.


So while experimental scientists test their theories by predicting what will happen and validating or invalidating their hypotheses in the lab, historical scientists test their theories by comparing the explanatory power of competing theories. The claim made by critics of intelligent design theory, that it is untestable and thus not science, is refuted by some of the very heroes of evolutionary science like Watson, Crick, and Darwin himself, as well as by historical scientists like geologists, archaeologists and paleontologists.

How, then, can this legimiately scientific approach and its test of the explanatory power of competing theories be used to determine the cause of the diversity of biological life we see today? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 4

So we've seen that the fossil record, as it is understood by evolutionary scientists, appears to give us an illustration of life's increasing diversity that contradicts the "tree of life" of evolutionary theory. Instead, it's a "forest of life" with distinct kinds of creatures coming into existence all at once, contradicting existentialism's "existence precedes essence."

Evolutionary theory also posits that complex biological structures comprised of many parts are the results of the happenstance assembling of the parts which appeared individually over long periods of time, without respect to one another. Bacteria have a moving "tail" called a flagellum, for example, which is comprised of dozens of individual proteins. According to evolutionary theory, there was once an ancestor organism that had none of these proteins. At some point, the first of these proteins appeared as the result of random mutations in DNA. Then, at some point in the distant future, another appeared, and so on and so forth until the bacterial flagellum was what we see today. There is no foresight involved, in this view, no idea of a flagellum that led to its existence. Instead, the random formation of its parts over long periods of time--existence--became the flagellum we see today--essence.

Is this a feasible explanation for the complex structures we see today? When we look at developing organisms closely, does what we see confirm or contradict evolutionary theory and the existential nature of the biological processes it proposes?


Evolutionary theory points toward random mutations during the copying of DNA as the mechanism by which a change in an organism is passed on to its descendants. But what biologists have discovered is that while an organism's genetic code defines the parts necessary for the organism to function, it does not contain the instructions for putting those pieces together.

Imagine opening a lego set, and finding the pieces that comprise the creation, as well as an instruction booklet that explains how to put those pieces together. The two are mutually depedent: without the instructions, you don't know how to put the pieces together; and without the pieces, the instructions serve no purpose. But the two are nonetheless separate and distinct from one another.

As it turns out, an organism's DNA is sort of like the lego pieces, in that the processes of gene transcription and translation in the cell create protein parts based on their definitions in the DNA. But the DNA isn't also the lego set's instruction booklet. The information necessary to put the pieces together appears somewhere else. This means that even if random mutations could produce a new part, the assembly instructions would be "unaware" of this part, and would not put it anywhere.


For years, intelligent design advocates have been pointing out that DNA contains an enormous amount of information. We know that information comes only from intelligent sources. We know when we see a heart carved into a tree that a human did it, because it is unlikely, but also because it specifies something. The same is true of the faces of Mount Rushmore, or heiroglyphics carved into pyramid walls. In the same way, any organism's DNA is as unlikely a configuration of the genetic base pairs adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, and only a very select few of their possible combinations actually specify the chains of amino acids that can be formed into viable proteins.

But now we see that there are two separate sources of biological information within every organism. In a computer, an individual file is actually stored in small chunks scattered throughout the disk. The computer's operating system seeks out and locates those file chunks and assembles them into the file it is asked to work with. DNA is an organism's hard drive, each gene the chunk of a file. But the operating system of life, that seeks out and locates the genes it needs to build a structure, is somewhere else.

So even if random mutations in a creature's DNA during reproduction could account for new parts, it cannot account for the instructions necessary to assemble the parts into a complex structure. Even if we were to believe the impossible--that random processes can produce information--it would seem infinitely more absurd to believe that random processes acting upon two separate processes--the DNA that defines the parts and the instructions for assembling them--could produce new, mutually dependent information. No, the reason that the assembly instructions and the parts list line up so perfectly is because something conceived of the structure--essence--and then put into place the information necessary for the structure to be formed--existence.


The study of biology actually contradicts evolutionary theory's "tree of life" and "structure by serendipity". Contrary to its existentialist nature, we can see that the "forest of life" illustrated by the fossil record, and the "structure by instruction" seen in an organism's assembly instructions correctly putting together the parts defined by DNA, demonstrate that in life, "essence precedes existence."

So, like the operating system of life, how do we "put the pieces together"? What does all this mean? To what does it point? If, as is obvious, random processes operating upon two separate sources of information cannot produce new, mutually dependent information at exactly the same rate, what could account for complex structures in an organism? Stay tuned.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 3

As we've seen, existential philosophy, as summarized by the phrase, "existence precedes essence," is woven into the very fabric of the biological processes evolutionary biologists claim are responsible for the diversity of life we see to this day. All life, having descended from a first, common ancestor, is illustrated using a great "tree of life," the first living organism being the trunk, from which branches extend representing very slightly different offspring, from which branches further extend representing very slightly different offspring still, and so on. There is no preexisting essence or conception of what it is to be an arthropod, there is merely a recognized similarity between a variety of organism we classify together in a category we call arthropoda.

Is this illustration an accurate representation of what we see in the fossil record, the very basis of this "tree of life?" Does the study of fossils confirm or contradict evolutionary theory and the existential nature of the biological processes it proposes?


In its December 4th, 1995 edition, the cover of Time Magazine called to the reader's attention a cover story reporting on "Evolution's Big Bang," saying, "New discoveries show that life as we know it began in an amazing biological frenzy that changed the planet almost overnight." The "big bang" referred to is otherwise known as a biological event called the "Cambrian Explosion."

In a period of earth's alleged history called the Cambrian period, some 570 million years ago or so, the majority of the "body plans" we see today appear to have leapt into existence in a geologic blink of an eye. So short was this period of time that if life's assumed history on this planet were condensed into a 24-hour period of time, it would be equivalent to a couple of minutes. These organisms, whose presumed ancestors appear nowhere in the fossil record, appeared suddenly, fully-formed, as complex as their apparent ancestors today.

Whereas evolutionary theory illustrates the history of life using a tree, a more accurate analogy would be that of a forest. Each tree in the great "forest of life" has at its base a single kind of creature, such as arthropods with their segmented body, jointed limbs and exoskeleton, or echinoderms, marine animals "radiating arrangement of parts and a body wall stiffened by calcareous pieces that may protrude as spines." As these early creatures with their separate and distinct body plans diversified further and further over time, more and more branches are added to each tree of life, such that we see in each group a variety of similar but different creatures: the insects, spiders and crustaceans of arthropoda, and the starfish and urchins of echinodermata.

Scientists who believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, including Darwin himself, recognize the difficulty the Cambrian explosion presents for evolutionary theory. Speaking of the Cambrian fossils, infamous atheist Richard Dawkins wrote, "It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history" (The Blind Watchmaker, New York: W. W. Norton & Co. , 1996). Of course, proponents of evolution have posited possible solutions to the problem.

Darwin, recognizing the problem of "Evolution's Big Bang", believed that the Cambrian and Precambrian periods were not yet fully represented in what we'd discovered from the fossil record. Given time, he wrote, we would discover the ancestors of these creatures earlier in the geologic strata. However, scientists have spent years and years evaluating the data, finding more and more fossils of organisms from the Cambrian and Precambrian periods. Still, the ancestors have not been found. Every time a new discovery is made, it is not a new kind of creature, but is instead a variation on the same theme: another arthropod, another echinoderm, and so forth, as fully formed and as complex as the ones found before. Again, without evidence in the record of an ancestor. Our picture of these periods of time appear to be virtually complete.

Some have argued that the ancestors to the Cambrian organisms were soft-bodied, too fragile to be preserved in the Precambrian strata. This seemed like a reasonable argument, until scientists in China discovered in the Precambrian rock tiny fossilized embryos of soft-bodied creatures! In other words, the sediment comprising the Precambrian period was able to preserve incredibly fragile, soft-bodied organisms as fossils. While the ancestors of the Cambrian creatures may have been soft-bodied, they certainly were more preservable than tiny sponge embryos.

So according to evolutionary biologists' own interpretation of the geologic record and its fossilized contents (I qualify it this way because I believe their interpretation is incorrect, a topic I will write about in the future), the majority of the kinds of organisms we have today appeared virtually overnight, fully-formed, with no apparent ancestors. No conceivable natural mechanism can account for the sudden existence of highly complex organisms--as complex, if not more so, than many we see today--representing dozens upon dozens of separate and distinct body plans. Something conceived of these disparate kinds of creatures--essence--and then assembled them in-place--existence. The philosophy of existentialism cannot account for this.


It's no wonder that some scientists believe these forms of life were "seeded" here by some extraterrestrial life. Called panspermia or exogenesis, exponents of this theory acknowledge the problem posed by the Cambrian explosion. They would argue, however, that this demonstrates that these early kinds of organisms were deposited on earth, as fully-formed as we find them, having originated elsewhere in the universe, and began to reproduce and diversify from there. This would seem to allow for the undirected nature of theorized evolutionary diversification, and thus its existential underpinning.

But as we'll see when we look at other recent discoveries in biology, and how they impact the theory that complex structures are formed serendipitously from parts which evolved separately, over time, the "seeds of life" theory falls flat. Stay tuned.

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 2

Historically philosophers viewed things as having a transcendant, more fundamental "essence" shared by all like things. Chairs have chairness. People have humanity. And the existence of these things depends upon their preexistent essences, or ideals, which truly exist in the metaphysical realm. Existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre reversed this, saying instead, "existence precedes essence." To them, there is no real thing called an "essence"; there are merely things that exist, and what philosophers had previously called essences are merely categories imposed upon things by humans able to recognize similarity.

What does this have to do with biology? How are the theory of evolution and the philosophy of existentialism related? One might expect a Christian like myself would equate evolution with the philosophies often associated with it--such as materialism or atheism--and find the connection there, but one would be wrong. In fact, the philosophy of existentialism as summarized by the phrase, "existence precedes essence," is manifested in the very biological processes predicted in evolutionary theory.


Evolutionary biologists envision all species as having descended from a common ancestor, the first living organism. This first living organism reproduced, and eventually its offspring experienced a change in the hereditary information inherited from its parent. This change, the result of a mutation occurring during the copying of the parent's DNA, provided the organism some benefit, allowing it to survive better than its siblings and parents. And so on and so forth, life becoming increasingly diverse, resulting in the great diversity of life we see today.

This process of change over time, of all species sharing a common ancestor, is illustrated using a "tree of life." At the base the tree has a trunk, representative of the first living organism. Branches emerge from the trunk, representing those offspring which were ever so slightly different from their parent. Branches emerge from those branches, and so on and so forth.

Like existentialism's "existence precedes essence," according to this model there are no such things--not really--as kinds of organisms. There is no real kingdom, or phylum, or class, or order, or family, or genus, or species. These are merely categories humans impose upon creatures which are similar enough to be classified together. There is no "essence" of "what it is to be" an arthropod; there are simply creatures like lobsters and crabs which, by virtue of having soft insides and hard exoskeletons, are classified together using the name arthropoda in order to distinguish them from creatures which don't share these same properties.

So we see that the diversification of existing animals--existence--leads to the imposition of classifications--essence--upon them. "Existence precedes essence." But existentialism is not only apparent in evolutionary theory's conception of the "tree of life."


According to the theory of evolution, complex structures do not come about suddenly, fully formed, comprised of all their constituent parts. A creature was not suddenly born with eyeballs from a creature that had none. Instead, the parts that make up complex structures appeared gradually, over very long periods of time, bit-by-bit, over generations upon generations.

A random mutation in the copying of a parent organism's DNA might result in the offspring having one of a future complex structure's many parts. That individual part, by itself, provides the offspring with some benefit, making it better capable of surviving its environment. Thus, natural selection preserves that trait and it gets passed on to future generations. Some time later, this organism's DNA is further mutated during reproduction and its offspring manifests a second part. That part, in and of itself or in conjunction with the first part, again provides the offspring some benefit and both traits get preserved through future generations. This process continues, over millions of years and millions of generations, each part of a future complex structure coming into being by chance, piece-by-piece.

Again we see existentialism's "existence precedes essence" in action. Natural processes don't conceive of something called an eyeball, or an ear, or a brain, or a tail, or a stomach, and then put the pieces together. Instead, the pieces come about individually, without respect to one another, over long periods of time, and happen to form eventually into structures we give names to today. We call an eyeball an eyeball, but the concept of an eyeball--essence--came after the happenchance assembling of its randomly-produced parts--existence.


The Bible militates against this existential nature of the theory of evolution. Before God created anything, He conceived of it. He thought about it. He planned it. And upon deciding to bring into existence physically the creation He conceived of in His mind, He spoke it into existence:

Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so. (Genesis 1:11)

Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so. (Genesis 1:24)

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image... (Genesis 1:26-27)

God conceived of kinds of plants, and then brought them into existence according to those plans. He imagined kinds of animals, and then brought them into existence according to those plans. He devised a creature in His own image, and then brought man into existence according to that plan.

But what does the study of biology suggest? Does it confirm the theory of evolution and the existentialism woven into the very fabric of biological process responsible for the diversity of life? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Part 1

Biology is defined as, "the science of life". It is the study of "living matter in all its forms and phenomena, especially with reference to origin" (among other things). The theory of evolution in the area of biology is an attempt to explain the origin of diversity in life through descent from a common ancestor, gradually changing over long periods of time.

Philosophy is "investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct." Contributors to Wikipedia define it as "an attitude to life or way or principle of living whose focus is on resolving the most basic existential questions about the human condition." One school of philosophical thought is known as existentialism, one of whose proponents coined the phrase, "existence precedes essence."

Where do biology and philosophy intersect? What is the correlation between the theory of evolution and the philosophy of existentialism? This connection will be explained in part two of this series. But first, let's look at the philosophy of existentialism.


The dictionary defines the word "essence", philosophically speaking, as "the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc." As is said at Wikipedia, essence is "the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity." The Catholic Encyclopedia calls it "that whereby a thing is what it is...the radical or ground from which the various properties of a thing emanate and to which they are necessarily referred." Aristotle called it the to ti en einai, a Greek phrase meaning, "the what it was to be."

Yeah, okay, I know. What the heck does all that mean? In programming terms, essence is like a class defined in an assembly, and existence is an instance of that class created at runtime. For those of you who have no programming experience, here's a simple illustration.

There are a variety of different kinds of chairs: dentist's chairs, rocking chairs, dining chairs, reclining chairs, and so on and so forth. Yet, all of these chairs, with all of their differences in nature and in design and in purpose, nonetheless share one common property: that of chairness. They all share "the what it was to be" a chair, which is why we identify them all as chairs. So something's essence is that which it fundamentally is, as distinct from what it happens to be in the here and now, and which all other like objects fundamentally are.

Prior to existentialism, something's essence was viewed as a real thing, that actually exists--albeit metaphysically rather than physically. Also called the ideal, it was believed that a thing's essence was a higher, more fundamental form of existence than that which we experience with our senses. And, it was thought, concrete objects are dependent upon the preexistence of their abstract ideals, without which they could not exist.


Existential thought turned this relationship between essence and existence on its head. In existential thought, for those things which occur naturally, there exists no predetermined, metaphysical ideal or essence; there is merely that which exists. A hammer or chair, by virtue of being created by someone who conceived of it before bringing about its existence, does have a preexisting ideal or essence. But such is not the case for natural things--including mankind itself.

When it comes to natural things, what philosophers had previously called an ideal or essence is, in the existentialist's mind, merely a category imposed upon them by men. There is no essence of birdness; there are simply creatures which are similar enough that people classify them as birds. Thus, existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre coined the phrase, "existence precedes essence."

Existentialism as a philosophy addresses primarily the meaning of what it is to be human. According to existential thought, there is no ultimate meaning to being human. Instead, each individual human person determines his or her own meaning or purpose. There is no actual essence to mankind, no ideal human; there is merely the existence of each individual human person, and the meaning or essence he or she chooses to attribute to him- or herself.


The philosophy of existentialism thus contradicts the Bible which teaches that mankind exists because God conceived of man before creating Him. As it is written:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).

Scripture teaches that God decided to create man, and naturally the creation of man reflects God's conception of what man is. God conceived of man as being a creature similar to Him in certain ways, and so, the essence of mankind thus having been conceived by God, He created man. Contrary to the claims of existentialism, "essence precedes existence."

Whereas existentialism views people as defining their own essence, the mitzvot (commandments) of the Old Testament are imposed upon man because man's essence is a reflection of God's. As Peter wrote, "like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY'" (1 Peter 1:15-16).


That existentalism contradicts scripture is not all that surprising. But what is the link between it and evolution? This will be explained in part two. Stay tuned.

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--An Introduction

I caught the tail end of a video tonight and discovered some interesting correlations between evolutionary theory and the philosophy of existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre summarized a central tenet of existentialism using the phrase, "existence precedes essence," which, as will be explained in part one of this series, contradicts the teachings of the Bible. What I discovered in watching this video, however, was that this concept central to the philosophy of existentialism appears also in evolutionary theory.

I'll illustrate this correlation in part two of this series, but what excited me was that the fossil record, as understood by evolutionists, actually refutes evolutionary theory in the very ways in which it manifests this tenet of existentialism. As the Bible teaches, the fossil record also illustrates that, contrary to the claims of existential philosophers, "essence precedes existence."

Stay tuned to see how both the theory of evolution and the philosophy of existentialism are refuted by the fossil record.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ministering to Mormons: A Pattern of Prophets

What might the Christian expect from the Mormon missionary at his door? What message will the Latter Day Saint have? Among other things, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches that God's modus operandi, so to speak, has always been, and therefore must continue to be, revelation through prophets. Without a living prophet, the LDS missionary might argue, the Church lacks proper direction.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: "The Father is Greater than I"

Upon being shown that his "proof-texts" do not teach Jesus was created (here and here), the Witness at the Christian's door may try to go a different route in proving Jesus is not God. The Watch Tower publication "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" continues the argument saying, "The only-begotten Son never even considered trying to be equal to his Father, " citing John 14:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 as proof that "the Bible clearly teaches that the Father is greater than the Son" (

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Hanukkah, Jesus!

During this time of year, many Christians celebrate what for them is the most important holiday of the year, remembering the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, Jewish families celebrate an eight-day festival of lights recalling the rededication of Solomon's temple over a hundred years before Jesus' birth. To many, an unbridgeable chasm exists between these holidays and the religions from which they originate. To those who practice Judaism, Jesus is "for them", and to those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah is "for them".

The reality, however, is that Jesus was and is Jewish ("Jesus" is the transliteration of His given name, "Yeshua"), and Christianity is thoroughly Hebraic ("messiah" is the transliteration of the Hebrew, "Mashiach"). Jewish Christians around the world, sometimes known as "Messianic Jews", recognize and illustrate this fact well, saved by their Jewish Savior without abandoning their Jewish roots. Gentile Christians are sometimes shocked to find out that these Jewish Christians often celebrate Hanukkah rather than (or in addition to) Christmas.

It might surprise them to know, however, that the Savior whose birth they celebrate at Christmas Himself celebrated Hanukkah! As John recorded in his gospel,

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

It's difficult to imagine Jesus, born a Jew, raised by Jews, in Jewish communities, standing in the corner with His arms folded, blank expression on His face, while His brothers and sisters sing and dance in celebrating Hanukkah. More likely, He was at the Temple because it was Hanukkah, and was celebrating with His people.

So while Christians around me at this time of year wish Jesus a happy birthday, I would like to say to Him instead, "HAPPY HANUKKAH, YESHUA HAMASHIACH!"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ministering to Mormons: The Burning Bosom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its missionaries instruct potential converts to rely heavily upon feelings in order to come to belief in its teachings, and they apply pressure to those who don't experience those feelings. Upon praying to God, they claim, the Holy Spirit will confirm that their message is true through a warm feeling. If after some time the one being witnessed to does not receive the warm feeling indicating that LDS doctrine is true, he is told perhaps he is unstable, doubting or lacking in genuineness of intent.


After explaining the basics of Latter Day Saint doctrine, before leaving the Christian's home the mormon missionary will encourage him to pray and ask that God would reveal the truth of what the missionary has communicated. Latter Day Saint doctrine teaches that this is the principal and proper way to test that what they teach is true. At their public online presence, visitors asking "How can I know this is true?" read the following:

Your Heavenly Father is the source of all truth. He loves you and wants to answer your questions. Therefore, He will help you recognize the truth as you sincerely seek it and ask Him for guidance. You can know if the things you are learning are true if you ask your Heavenly Father in prayer. He desires for you to know the truth, and you can receive an answer from Him through the Holy Ghost.

How does the Father confirm the truth of LDS doctrine in response to the seeker's prayer? In what manner will God communicate this answer? The article continues:

As taught in the Bible, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). These feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true...Feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that confirm the truth of the Book of Mormon and the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Latter Day Saints find this doctrine not primarily in the Bible, but in two other works they consider authoritative scripture. First, as explained at the end of the article, the Book of Mormon teaches this method of testing the LDS truth claims:

The last prophet of the Book of Mormon, a man named Moroni, gave this remarkable promise to anyone who wants to know whether the Book of Mormon is true: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” ( Moroni 10:4).

Second, one of Joseph Smith's revelations from God as recorded in his Doctrine & Covenants instructed a man to use this test for confirming that what he was writing for Smith was correct:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8)


The emphasis on a feeling in response to prayer as the primary test of Mormonism's truth is palpable, but at this point the surface has only just been scratched. Not only ought the potential convert to pray to receive this burning of the bosom, but this feeling should be considered to the exclusion of all else. Logic, research, science, archaeology, even the Bible--all of these alternative ways of testing truth claims are to be ignored; only this feeling in response to prayer truly matters.

In one of the videos linked to in the article above, a woman describes how she came to believe in the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

It was not a decision I made with my head. It wasn't... That was what was so odd about it, was that I was raised in Academia. Everything made sense. I studied. I was a math brain, a science brain... Everything had to make sense, and this was the first time in my life that I was making the biggest decision I have ever made based on something that I didn't feel that I could or had to prove on paper. I knew that God told me this was true. I knew that I had read the Book of Mormon and that I had prayed, and that I had done everything the missionaries told me to do...I couldn't prove it, I didn't... I didn't have any proof and so it wasn't, it wasn't anything that was logical. To ask me what I was thinking, I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. And I hadn't ever really been in touch with my emotions before, and didn't realize how much more powerful that would be. (

The woman's testimony, and its presentation by the LDS Church as being the kind of conversion the seeker should expect--nay, even desire--illustrates LDS doctrine well. Mormonism emphasizes emotions, experiences and feelings, and urges the ignoring of anything else that might contradict its claims. As she put it, "I wasn't thinking. I was feeling."


If the Latter Day Saints' emphasis on feelings, to the exclusion of all else, weren't enough, it goes still further. If after some time of praying to be shown whether LDS teachings are true one does not receive this "burning of the bosom," it will not be because Mormonism is to be doubted. Instead, blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the one doing the praying. Consider the passage from the Book of Mormon pointed to by the article above:

I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)

Note that one must not only pray, but one must do so "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ." If one does not receive the promised warm feelings, it becomes all too easy to simply claim that the prayer was made with a lack of sincerity, without genuine intent, or without faith in Christ. It is this subtle pressure that is perhaps the most disturbing aspect to this LDS teaching. If conversion doesn't come about as a result of answered prayer, it can still be coerced through convincing the potential convert that his prayer was somehow deficient, lacking. It's his fault, not the fault of the god of Mormonism.

So what is the Christian to make of this doctrine?


As quoted above, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints points to Paul's letter to the Galatians in support of this "feeling not thinking" teaching. Paul's words read, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." The Saints' leaders claim, "these feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true." In so doing, they demonstrate that they are false teachers and prophets, unable to rightly interpret and teach scripture. For here is the verse in its context:

The whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:14-25)

Paul is writing to the Galatians contrasting deeds, not feelings. The "fruit of the Spirit" is contrasted with "the deeds of the flesh", and thus "fruit" is analogy to works, to actions. And lest the mormon claim that to "walk by the Spirit" means to rely upon feelings and emotion in an effort to walk with God, the context of this passage makes it clear that to "walk by the Spirit" means to behave in accordance with the Spirit, rather than the flesh.


The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, claimed that as a seeking teenager in the midst of religious confusion he stumbled upon a passage in scripture that practically leapt from the pages of the Bible and spoke to him personally:

I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (Joseph Smith--History 1:10-12,

This realization led Joseph Smith, he claims, to pray for the first time in his life, and mormons will point Christians to this passage as evidence that above all else they should pray to be shown that what the LDS Church teaches is true. However, in doing so they demonstrate yet another case in which the prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints misinterpret scripture.

In context, James' words have nothing to do whatsoever with asking God to show the Christian truth or meaning. James is writing to Christians encouraging them to find joy in the testing of their faith through temptations:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5)

The sort of wisdom for which James instructs Christians to pray is that which provides strength and courage in the midst of trials. "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12). This wisdom reminds he who is facing temptation that "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:13-14). It urges those being tested to "prove [themselves] doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).


So if the mormons are wrong, and if these passages don't instruct us to pray to ask God to show us the truth of their claims, what should we do? How should we verify that what they tell us is true? A look at the travels of Paul and Silas give us the answer:

The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:10-12)

Why did the Bereans come to believe what Paul and Silas were telling them? Did they pray to receive a burning in their bosom confirming the reality of Paul's and Silas' teachings? No. Instead, though they "received the word with great eagerness," they tested what they were told by "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
Were the Bereans spoken of negatively for using this approach? Is it implied that the test they applied is somehow inferior to praying and responding to emotions? No. Instead, the Bereans are said to have been "more noble-mnded than those in Thessalonica." They are lauded for their approach, applauded.


Why does God demand that we look to His word to test teachings presented to us? Why shouldn't we pray and respond to the burning we feel in our bosom? Because, "the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). From birth we are all "by nature children of wrath," "indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3). And upon being born again as a result of faith, we do not lose this body of sin but will instead struggle with it for the rest of our lives:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:21-23)

Our hearts, our flesh, whether born again or not, love sin. It is for this very reason that we must not trust our emotions, but must instead test them and what we're told by something else, by some objective, unwavering standard. This standard is the Bible, for while "The grass withers, the flower fades, ...the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8). As Jesus said, "until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). God doesn't change, and neither does His word, and we must test the words of others with those of God to make sure they're true, rejecting what contradicts.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that "all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Greek word translated "inspired by God" is theopneustos which comes from the root word theos, meaning God, and pneō, meaning to breathe. Literally, then, "inspired by God" means "God-breathed".
The Bible is not just the words of men, nor were men merely "inspired" to write its contents. Instead, the original words of scripture were breathed out by God through the pens of men. They are perfect, trustworthy and unchanging. We mustn't trust a warm feeling in our chest in testing truth because our hearts wish to deceive us. Fortunately we can turn to the original words of scripture and what we know are faithful translations of them, and in so doing we see that the prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are false ones and we mustn't trust our faith to them.