The Faith of a World’s leading Evolutionary Anthropologist

Recently, evolutionary anthropologist Richard Leakey, famous for being the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, and for discovering the Turkana boy hominin fossil, had gave a revealing interview. Here is an excerpt.
“In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Richard Leakey, a 67-year-old, Kenyan-born Stony Brook University professor, paleoanthropologist, and avowed atheist, said that he believed scientific discoveries over the next 15 to 30 years will have reached the point that “even the skeptics” will be able to accept the theory put forth by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book Origin of Species.”

The Faith of Richard Leakey

Leakey here touches on a point that I find curious. He ‘believes’ future discoveries (and rather far in the future) will prove to be so convincing that people will have to accept non-design explanations. But is he saying this as a scientist? Observation is the cornerstone of the scientific method. But how can we ‘know’ what we will observe in the future? In point of fact, there is no scientific way to know what we will observe in the future. The scientific method is inherently limited to observations that can only be made in the present. So what is the basis by which Leakey makes his predictions for future observations? It is by faith pure and simple.
When Richard Leakey says this, he is not speaking as a scientist, but as a believer. This shows that everybody, secularists and atheists included, has faith in something that cannot be proven by observations made today. Leakey may be right and perhaps observations will be made in the future, but that belief cannot be proved or disproved today – it can only be believed or not believed.

University Evolution Text summarizes most compelling evidence for Evolution

But we can, using reason and logic from observations we have on hand today make judgments. So let’s continue where we started in the last post to look at similarities in architecture across the biological world. The quote below is taken from a university text entitled Evolution and from the chapter entitled ‘Evidence for Evolution’. In going to this source we drill down to the nub of the matter to look at the foundational evidence on-hand today.
Patterns of Relationship provide the Most Powerful Evidence for Evolution
Although direct observation and the fossil record each provides powerful support, the most compelling evidence for evolution comes from the patterns of similarity between present-day organisms, which reveal features that are shared across all organisms: a nested pattern of groups within groups, consistent across many different traits, and a correspondence between biological relationship, geological history, and geographical distribution
Universally Shared Features [subcaption]
The full extent of this similarity [of biological life] was revealed when the universal principles of molecular biology were discovered in the middle of the last century. Almost all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic information, which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence. … Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms. The success of molecular biology lies in the essential universality of its mechanism….  Any code that maps the 64 triplet codons onto the 20 amino acids would work and could be implemented just as easily by an appropriate set of tRNAs. Evolution 2007 by N.H. Barton, D. Briggs, J. Eisen, D. Goldstein, N. Patel.  p66-67
In other words, this textbook is saying that if we want to get directly to the most compelling hands-down evidence that we have observed in the last 100 years for evolution it would be that there is the same DNA code across all organisms, that there is a secondary (and also universal) code in the RNA to transfer the information stored in the DNA to the protein assembly, and that this code universally maps ‘triplet codons’ (i.e. 64 sets of three DNA/RNA instructions) to the 20 different amino acids (which are like the ‘letters’ used to build the long protein string out of which we are made).

Bioinformatics Text: Human Designed Information System Architecture

In my previous Post I introduced the textbook on Bioinformatics – the science of mapping and storing genetic information on computers worldwide so that this information can be analyzed by scientists. Here is how this science is described.
As mentioned primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw sequence and structure information. They support nearly all other types of biological databases … therefore in the biological community there is a frequent need for the 2ndary and specialized databases to connect to the primary databases and to keep uploading sequence information… All these create a demand for linking different databases. The main barrier to linking different biological databases is format incompatibility as current biological databases utilize all three types of database structures. Essential Bioinformatics. 2006.  Jin Xiong. p16-17
In other words, biological information scientists, in order to design a robust and efficient genetic information storage, retrieval and processing system to conduct their research with have: 1) primary databases, 2) secondary databases connected to this primary database to process specific information, and 3) a major problem is that there are different database structures that are not compatible.
Let’s make a comparison between the genetic architecture of information in living organisms and that designed by information scientists by putting these quotes side-by-side
The ‘most compelling evidence for evolution’ quoted in evolutionary text
Information science quoted in Bioinformatics
“…all organisms use DNA to encode their genetic info”…
“…primary databases are central repositories and distributors of raw information…”
“which is transcribed into RNA and then translated by a single universal genetic code into protein sequence.”
“…in the biological community there is a need for the 2ndary databases to connect to the primary databases…”
“…Indeed the basic machinery of replication, transcription and translation is conserved across all living organisms…”
“… All these create a demand for linking different databases.”
“The success of molecular biology lies in the universality of its mechanism….”
“…The main barrier to linking is format incompatibility as current databases utilize 3 types of structures…”
When placed side-by-side, we can see that the architecture of both systems are described very similarly. In both there is a primary database (the DNA in organisms) housing the raw information, secondary databases (RNA in organisms) to transfer this information to processing sites, and finally the processing sites (protein assembly in organisms). The only real difference is that the human engineered system is NOT universal and this creates problems in the implementation of the human designed system. In other words, if the human system had a universal structure, like the information system in nature, it would be better designed and more efficient.
The reason that there are different structures in the human systems is that there were different researchers that began this work in different parts of the world. If they had coordinated their efforts from the beginning they would have adopted one universal system. However, since bioinformatics is an architecture designed by intelligent agents the obvious parallel to the genetic information system in nature is that of being designed by a Mind. The fact that we observe (today!) one universal genetic system that stores, retrieves, utilizes and duplicates information at an efficiency, speed and fidelity that information scientists are still striving to achieve, speaks volumes to the inference that there is One Design Mind behind it all.
In fact, if chance and random processes has produced the one natural information system that we do observe, and this same chance and random processes have been in operation through all time why do we find no evidence in organisms today, or from those of the past, that there has ever been another information system architecture that has also arisen by these same natural processes? If there were several different systems out there we could deduce either that there were several designers out there (like the Greek Gods of old) or that indeed there is a natural process that spontaneously develops information system architectures.
This is why Leakey must appeal to the unobservable future, and base his appeal on faith, pure and simple, because the fact of the matter is that the ‘most compelling evidence’ we do observe today actually infers a Design cause much more naturally than a mindless natural cause. But though it may be more logical and reasonable from the observations we make today, it is far less popular. Therefore world-leading evolutionary scientists, like Leakey, by faith “are sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see”
Why should we form beliefs simply from world opinion shapers when theirs is simply faith anyways?  Why not investigate for ourselves?  Here is a good place to start on a biblical theme and here is a good intro on human evolution – Leakey’s specialty.

Computer super-virus shows anomaly of evolutionary thinking

News broke out in global media outlets at the end of May about the most sophisticated computer malware virus ever discovered. Dubbed Flame, it has infected hundreds of computers across the Middle East. Here is how media outlets describe it:

From Macleans

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cyber security firm, has discovered that thousands of computers in the Middle East (mostly government machines, mostly in Iran) have been infected with a malicious piece of software they are calling Flame. Flame is insidious, destructive, and very cool. And no one will ever take credit for building it.

Similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet and DuQu viruses are leading to speculation that the programs were all created by the same people. Stuxnet, which bloodlessly set back the Iranian nuclear program by as much as a decade, is widely believed to be the product of an Israel-America cyberweaponry team-up. Of course, neither country has confirmed this.

From Discovery News

The most sophisticated and powerful cyberweapon to date — a Swiss Army Knife spy tool that can evolve and change to deal with any situation — has been discovered on the loose in several Middle Eastern countries, security researchers said Tuesday.

The Worm.Win32.Flame threat, or “Flame” for short, was likely built by the same nation-state responsible for the Stuxnet virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear power plant in 2010.

Flame can grow and change, too: What makes this cyberweapon so powerful is the ability to be reconfigured with new modules that turn an infected PC or industrial control system into whatever tool a spy dreams up.

From CBN

Experts see similarities between Flame and the Stuxnet virus, which disrupted Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010. Stuxnet was widely believed to be the work of Israeli intelligence, leading to speculation that Israeli programmers may have struck again.

From Surface Earth

According to a report, The Flame virus is twenty times more complex than the Stuxnet virus , which struck Iran’ s nuclear facilities in 2007. Flame can take screenshots, and capture messages sent over an infected network, and even use the computer’s microphone to record conversations.

The experts believe that this level of complexity indicates that Flame was created by a government rather than an individual criminal or group of hacktivists. Commentators quoted in the Telegraph have suggested that Israel, China, or the United States may be responsible. Israel and United States were widely suspected of creating the Stuxnet virus, and Iran claims that it has noted significant similarities between Flame and Stuxnet, although the western cyber security firms investigating Flame disagree.

From National Post

He said there was evidence to suggest the code was commissioned by the same nation or nations that were behind Stuxnet and Duqu, which were built on a common platform.

Both Flame and Stuxnet appear to infect machines by exploiting the same flaw in the Windows operating system and employ a similar way of spreading.

That means the teams that built Stuxnet and Duqu might have had access to the same technology as the team that built Flame, he said.

From New York Times

Flame, these researchers say, shares several notable features with two other major programs that targeted Iran in recent years. The first virus, Duqu, was a reconnaissance tool that researchers say was used to copy blueprints of Iran’s nuclear program. The second, Stuxnet, was designed to attack industrial control systems and specifically calibrated to spin Iranian centrifuges out of control.

Because Stuxnet and Duqu were written on the same platform and share many of the same fingerprints in their source code, researchers believe both were developed by the same group of programmers.

From The Globe and Mail

In addition to its massive size and many modules, the software’s sophistication is evident from the way it infected machines in the first place. To get on a host computer, Flame was designed to provide a fake Microsoft security certificate. Pulling that off, experts say, would have required incredibly advanced knowledge of cryptography, indicating that math geniuses were among Flame’s authors.

Notice what these articles tell us that software security experts are deducing:

  1. A common design team developed both the Flame malvirus and the earlier discovered Stuxnet and Duqu viruses because of similarity in architecture between them.
  2. The ability of Flame to adjust and change (evolve) means that experts and resources on the level of nation states are behind this virus. This was not made by a bedroom hacker.
  3. Complexity of the malware is broadly measured by its functionality. It can do many things, more things than Stuxnet, and is thus considered more complex.

This reasoning and these deductions seem so reasonable to us that we, without much thought, follow along in their line of reasoning. And that should make us re-think another line of reasoning that is directly confronted by this logic. Notice what the following university textbooks quotes tell us about evidence for naturalistic evolution.

It became apparent that animal species that were similar in their anatomy also had similar genetic instructions. Researchers have also shown that, even though the wing of an insect and the arm of a primate look very different, the same basic instructions are used during their development. … The only explanation for these similarities and this connectedness that has withstood scientific scrutiny is evolution, and the only mechanism for evolution that has withstood scientific scrutiny is natural selectionBernard Wood. Human Evolution. 2005. p. 22

Hox gene expression provides the basis for anterior-posterior axis specification throughout the animals. This means that the enormous variation of morphological form among animals is underlain by a common set of instructions. Indeed hox genes provide one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies among all the animals of the world.  Developmental Biology 8th Ed. 2006. SF Gilbert. p. 725

These two university textbooks (and many others could be cited) are telling us that similarity in genetic code is ‘one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence for deep evolutionary homologies’.   Really?  So why does similarity in code between computer viruses indicate to computer experts a common design team behind them?  These are very analogous comparisons and yet the conclusions drawn are opposite.

So how strong is this evidence for evolution? A couple of years ago, because of my background in software development and database design I picked up a university textbook dealing directly with sequencing of genetic information and storing that information in computer databases. Note how an expert in DNA sequencing data sees similarity in genetic information.

It is important to distinguish sequence homology from the related term sequence similarity because the two terms are often confused by some researchers who use them interchangeably in scientific literature. To be clear, sequence homology is an inference or conclusion about a common ancestral relationship drawn from sequence similarity comparison when the two sequences share a high enough degree of similarity. On the other hand, similarity is a direct result of observation from the sequence alignment. Sequence similarities can be quantified using percentages… In dealing with real research problems the issue of at what similarity level can one infer homologous relationships is not always clear … Essential Bioinformatics Jin Xiong 2006 p 32

In other words, the homology (i.e. evolution) is just an inference from the data. Therefore other inferences could also explain the data. But Xiong notes that the scientific literature ‘often’ (his word) confuses the inference with the data itself. If this is the case, then these researchers will not recognize other inferences since they think that their inference is really data.   The issue is not with the data, but with the mind interpreting the data.

The inferences drawn from the experts who reported Flame should lead us all to recognize that there is another good inference that can be drawn from similarity in DNA sequences between organisms. Similarity in code naturally infers common designer. And this makes sense. The reason that the iphone, ipad and the ipod share common features has nothing to do with evolution. They share common features because they share a common design team – those working in Apple. The fact that so many textbooks do not even acknowledge this very natural inference should raise our curiosity. The design inferences from Flame, in a context outside of biology, should prompt us to also consider design inferences in the natural sciences.

We recognize a mind behind the Flame virus because the code shows plan and purpose.  No one disputes this.  We can use this same reasoning to see if biblical events also exhibit verifiable plan and purpose.  You can be the judge, but the remarkable coordination of events separated by thousands of years in the sacrifice of Abraham and the inauguration of Passover lead me to think there is a Mind behind the coordination of these events.  And since they are converging on the same point it is reasonable to deduce that it is the same Mind behind these events, in the same manner that software experts deduce the same design team behind Stuxnet and Flame because of similarities between the two.  This mind is different than a human mind since it also makes verifiable predictions deep into the future.

Interesting to me, these  leading computer software experts were curious about the virus and investigated it with an open mind.  Why should we be afraid to do likewise with this Mind?  We might discover something life-changing.



Considering the Resurrection: From the eyes of Bishop Spong – Part 4

In my series of posts (Parts 1, 2, 3) on the question of the resurrection of Jesus I have looked at its impact on Peter, the other disciples, and on James the brother of Jesus, all through the eyes of a prominent denier of the resurrection – Bishop John Shelby Spong. Because he denies the resurrection he has to develop alternative scenarios for the changes we know from history that took place in these men. Now we turn to consider Paul. What would make Saul, chief persecutor of the followers of Jesus, change into Paul, the chief apologist and evangelist of Jesus in the first century – if there had been no resurrection? Spong tells us:

“There is no sense at all in Paul of a physical resurrection of Jesus back into the life of this world. God did not, for this apostle, raise Jesus from the grave back to life on this earth. Rather, for Paul, God raised Jesus from death into God’s presence, from the grave to God’s right hand… For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearance of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul.”  (Resurrection: Myth or Reality pg 50-51)

Spong’s previous scenarios for Peter, the disciples and for James have been ludicrous at best. But in this statement concerning Paul, Spong sinks to outright error and deception. Which Paul has Spong been reading?  If anything, it is obvious that Paul himself believed and emphasized the resurrection. Why he is the very one writing about the physical resurrection appearances of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, assessing the issue as of ‘first importance’, that we looked at in Part 3. I quote it again so you can see for yourself whether Paul taught ‘no physical appearance of a Christ’ as Spong wishes us to believe:

“For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8)

Paul, as you can see, certainly believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. What many of us do not realize is that the message that the disciples, and especially Paul, preached was not ‘love’ so much as it was the resurrection of Jesus. And from their own words everything stood or fell on the resurrection of Jesus. Notice how Paul continues:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that we are found to be false witnesses about God for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead … If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men….Why do we endanger ourselves every day – I mean that brothers – …If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised – ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’…” (1 Corinthians 15:14-34)

Spong, unsurprisingly, skips over this part of Paul’s writing because it flatly contradicts him. In trying to make his case that Paul did not believe in the empty tomb, he maintains that Paul taught a spiritual resurrection of Jesus’ spirit straight to God. He believes that this is because Paul did not hold a distinction between the resurrection of Jesus from the grave to life on earth and the ascension of Jesus to God, since he never mentions the ascension separately from the resurrection. But Luke does; Luke clearly separates the two because he places the resurrection appearances in The Gospel of Luke and then places the ascension in his 2nd volume – Acts of the Apostles.  Luke and Paul were ministry and travelling companions.   In their respective writings both of them write as being with the other as part of a travelling team.  In fact, it is because of Luke’s association with Paul that his two books, Luke and Acts, were accepted as authoritative.  So it would have been impossible for Luke to have a different view of the resurrection/ascension of Jesus than Paul had. Spong just ignores this, disregards Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians, and then deceptively fabricates an imaginary Paul to fit his theory. I can only conclude that Spong is deliberately misleading his readers in what he writes about Paul.

One reason Spong feels he can do so is because he thinks that the evidence in support of the resurrection is solely in the accounts of his appearances at the end of the gospels. And since (in his mind) they are written late they do not carry much weight. I built the broad outline of the case for the resurrection in the videos in Session 7. You, I and Spong should all take note that the case there and in subsequent posts was developed without any recourse to any of the Gospel statements of Jesus’ resurrection. In Session 7 I used some of the Gospel accounts to obtain details of his death and then I used some passages in Acts to help us understand the extent of the opposition that this new movement faced in Jerusalem. That was it!  After that I used only extra-biblical sources to show that it is precisely the broad outlines of the verifiable facts outside of the Biblical testimony that argues so strongly for the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul viewed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as distinct and real events. In the same way he viewed the resurrection of Jesus as an event distinct from, but also as a prefiguring for our eventual resurrection. Here is how he puts it:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

The resurrection of Jesus is not only news pregnant with Hope, a potent simplicity, but is also news so firmly anchored in the verifiable facts of history that open-minded faith as small as a mustard seed could live and grow if but placed in the rich soil of its rationale.

Pentecost – Why did it occur when it did?

Today (May 27) is Pentecost Sunday. Unlike Christmas and Easter this day passes with such little fanfare that there is a good chance you will not think about it or be reminded of it. But it is another sign, a remarkable allusion in the unfolding of the Gospel that it does deserve our full attention. However, to see the significance we need to understand its place in the Biblical story.

Pentecost in Acts 2 of New Testament

If you are aware of Pentecost, you will probably know of it as the day when the Holy Spirit of God came down to indwell the followers of Jesus. This is the day that the church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born. This event is recorded in Acts chapter 2. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking out loud in languages from around the world. This created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening and in front of the gathering crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). And the number of gospel followers has been growing continually ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That event happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during this ‘quiet’ interval of 50 days that the convictions of Jesus’ disciples regarding his resurrection were formed and hardened. On Pentecost Sunday it all went public and history has been changed because of it. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

But this understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is incomplete. And it will keep you from seeing the allusion, the Sign. Many people yearn for a return to that Pentecost Sunday to have a similar experience of speaking in languages and dramatic signs of the Holy Spirit. And since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people figure that similarly if we ‘wait’ He will come again in a similar way. And so many people wait and implore God for a similar experience. To think this way is to assume that it was the waiting and yearning that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss the point and overlook the allusion – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

No, in fact Pentecost was a regular Old Testament festival. In the time of Moses, several annual festivals were prescribed and celebrated throughout the year. The festival of Passover was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish year. In Session Five I showed how Jesus was crucified on that very Jewish festival. And so Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the same day that all Jewish people were sacrificing their lambs in memory of their first Passover. Given that there are 365 days in a year it is striking that Jesus dies on that very day. It is like Moses, 1500 years before the event, establishes the festival of Passover as an allusion to the eventual crucifixion of Jesus.

But it does not end there. Exactly 50 days after Passover the Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. And they had been doing so yearly for 1500 years by the time the events of Acts 2 happened. In fact, the reason that there were people from all languages who were in Jerusalem that day to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.

We read in the Law how Pentecost was to be celebrated

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath [i.e. of Passover], and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks (i.e. Pentecost), hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)

In the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Jews were to offer up a grain offering along with the regular burnt offerings. The grain was to be ‘firstfruits’ of new grain harvested from the land. This was an allusion – the depth of which was unseen by the first Jews from the time of Moses – of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that more famous Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2.

Pentecost: A Sign of Firstfruits

This is significant on several counts. First of all, one of the reasons that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that not only is it about a conquering of death, but it is also about living life differently. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2. The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. Paul puts it like this:

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is a ‘firstfruits’ of the gospel, intimately tied in with the resurrection because the Spirit is a firstfruits – a deposit so to speak – of our coming personal resurrection.

Pentecost Timing: Evidence of a Mind

And it is this remarkable coinciding of the timing of the events of Acts 2 and the Feat of Pentecost with the themes of firstfruits and abundant living that point, once again, to a Mind planning this through history. Given that there are 365 days in a year why should the events of Acts 2 happen exactly on the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Jews celebrated ‘firstfruits’ of the grain and oil of the land – the things that give not just life, but an abundant life?  The timing is remarkable. Timing like this happens only by intent, and intent shows a mind behind it.

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One could argue that Luke (author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘fall’ on Feast of Pentecost. Then he would be the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But when you read Acts he makes no reference back to the Law to tell the reader that this is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost. Instead he points the reader to (another) fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel. Why would he go through the trouble of inventing something ‘big’ on that day and then not help the reader see how it fulfills the Feast of Pentecost. In fact, Luke does such a steady of job of reporting events rather than interpreting their significance that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fall on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Most people think that Pentecost has its start in Acts 2. If Luke made it up to ‘fit’ the Old Testament he was a genius in dreaming up the connection but a failure in ‘selling’ it since most people today are not aware of it.

Hence this post. Now that you are aware of it you can consider the good news of the offer and reality of a life made abundant not by possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Think about it!  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would have to be good news. And the fact that the timing of the Old and New Pentecosts are perfect is evidence that indeed it is this very God that is the mind behind these events and this offer of an abundant life.

Considering the Resurrection: From the eyes of Bishop Spong – Part 3

In my previous two posts (1 and 2) I had been looking at Bishop Shelby Spong’s view of the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. He is correct in that ‘something’ happened that demands an explanation. But he does not believe in the resurrection and so we have been following his scenario of Peter and the other disciples about-face.  Yet though he claims to be driven by reason, his scenario flies in the face of common-sense.

But the fact that you and I are sitting here contemplating this question probably comes from the influence of Paul as well as Peter. Paul was the one who first brought this message to Europe and hence the West. But Paul had originally been Saul – a violent opponent of the gospel. And while Peter and Paul were travelling the world with this message who was holding ‘the fort’ back in Jerusalem? It was James, the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the Gospel followers in Jerusalem. But when Jesus was alive and ministering publicly his brother James had little to do with him. The Gospel of John records a sarcastic exchange that his brothers gave him with this concluding comment ‘For even his own brothers did not believe in him’ (John 7:5). But we know about James’ subsequent life from many sources, including his own letter (‘James’) in the New Testament and also, outside the Bible, from the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus says about James:

“Ananus [the high priest] was rash and followed the Sadducees, who are heartless when they sit in judgment. Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have the opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish ruling council] he brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death”[1]

Josephus is explaining that Ananus had just been made high priest and there was a bit of a power vacuum. Ananus used the opportunity to sentence James to death. He must have done this quickly since he was only high priest for 3 months in 62 AD. His father (also called Ananus) had sentenced Jesus to death about 30 years previously and Ananus Jr. quickly took the opportunity to do the same with James, Jesus’ brother. So James was a target for his years of leadership with the Jewish church in Jerusalem. This is an extra-biblical fact of history. So what caused James to go from mocker to leader of the gospel? Spong is ready with an answer.

One reason Spong believes he has the freedom to come up with a ‘new’ scenario is that he puts no weight on the testimony of the gospel accounts because he feels that they are written too late. So he dismisses their eyewitness statements on the resurrection of Jesus as pious fable. For the sake of argument let’s give him the benefit of his doubt. But Spong recognizes a problem in his rejection of the testimony of these ‘late’ gospels. There are other early-dated New Testament writings concerning the resurrection. What to do with this testimony? For example there is the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. This is a letter written by Paul about 55 AD, just 25 years after the death of Jesus. In these verses, Paul goes on to list the people that the risen Jesus appeared to. Paul writes:

“For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance: That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8)

So what does Spong do with this very early resurrection testimony? It lists in detail the people that saw Jesus raised – including James.

“The same is true of Paul’s reference to James…there was no record in the Christian writing of any role of discipleship during Jesus’ earthly life for anyone identified as a brother of Jesus, nor any appearance to James of the risen Lord, save for this single reference. The fact remains that James, the brother of Jesus, was a leader of the Christian church who exercised great authority. So the authority exercised demands some kind of explanation. Paul thus listed James as one who had seen Jesus”[2]

Spong recognizes the issue: that during the life of Jesus, his brother James was not a follower but afterwards the ‘fact remains’ that he became a ‘leader’ with ‘great authority’. How to account for the change? Spong’s ‘solution’ is simply to have Paul make up an appearance of Jesus to James, thus explaining his authority in the church. But this explains nothing. It is not James’ authority in the church that needs explaining; it is the fact that James even wanted to be part of the fledgling church that needs explaining. If the appearance to James is just made up, then it never happened. And if it never happened what on earth would cause James to go from a mocking, disbeliever when Jesus was alive to a leader and martyr in the movement with only the grisly resurrection-less crucifixion of Jesus for motivation? James would have had all the same questions that Peter would have had that we went over in the previous post. History shows that something happened to change James’ mind. If not the resurrection then what could it have been? Inserting an ‘appearance’ does not solve the problem. For some reason Spong thinks he has a solution but really he has ‘solved’ the wrong problem.

And it is not just James. What about the ‘five hundred’ that Paul mentions who saw Jesus at the same time, and many of whom were still alive at the time of writing of 1 Corinthians in 55 AD? Spong argues that:

“… who were the 500 brethren… it was not picked up and described in any recognizable form in any of the later gospels… it is enough now to acknowledge that Paul’s reference to Jesus’ appearance to 500 people at once is found nowhere in the gospel tradition”[3]

Earlier he had indicated that any resurrection testimony in the gospels was not really reliable because they were written so late. We gave him the benefit of his doubt. So then you would think he would take ‘early’ testimony seriously. But now he dismisses this early testimony of resurrection appearances precisely because it is not also mentioned in any of the ‘later’ gospels. For him it is ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.

And what about Paul himself? We continue following Spong’s analysis in our next post.


[1] Josephus. 93 AD. Antiquities xx 197

[2] Resurrection: Myth or Reality? p. 52

[3] Ibid p. 52