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 wired.com 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

 

 

Considering the Resurrection: From the eyes of Bishop Spong – Part 2

In my previous post I had started us thinking about the resurrection from the point-of-view of one of its prominent deniers – Bishop John Shelby Spong.  In his book Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, he had given a vivid description of how Jesus would have impacted his disciples during his lifetime. He then painted a thorough picture of how the disciples would have interpreted the meaning of a non-resurrected, dead, Jesus. Spong focused on the turmoil that would have gone on in Simon Peter’s mind and Spong portrays Peter’s conclusion as:

…Jesus had to have been guilty of blasphemy. He was dead, and they had to begin to accept the fact that they had been misled, duped, and therefore they also were guilty (p.251)

Bishop Spong on the turn-around of Simon Peter

Spong has perfectly captured the implications that would indeed have haunted the minds of the disciples with a non-resurrected Jesus. But what was the catalyst that would have turned these peasant fishermen around to take on the world? Spong continues by surmising how it would have turned around for Simon Peter after a night of fishing and now warming himself by the fire.

Suddenly it all came together for Simon. The crucifixion was not punitive, it was intentional. The cross was Jesus’ ultimate parable, acted out on the stage of history to open the eyes of those whose eyes could be opened in no other way to the meaning of Jesus as the sign of God’s love. God’s love was unconditional, a love not earned by the rigorous keeping of the law… Jesus’ death was the final episode in the story of his life. It demonstrated as nothing else could or would that it is in giving life away that we find life, it is in giving love away that we find love… It was a love that allowed us to stop pretending and simply to be. Simon saw the meaning of the crucifixion that morning as he had never before seen it … this was the dawn of Easter in human history … the clouds of his grief, confusion, and depression vanished from his mind, and in that moment he know that Jesus was part of the very essence of God, and at that moment Simon saw Jesus alive. (p.255)

So what caused this ‘coming together’ for Simon? Well after the night of fishing, by the fire, he ‘broke bread’ and said grace and in doing so remembered Jesus. That’s it! That changed the defeated and confused Simon into valiant Peter that no one could silence. Read Spong’s explanation again in detail, and you will see it just raises far more questions than it answers. How could the crucifixion not be ‘punitive’? It is the worst form of humiliation and torture that man has invented. In what way is Jesus being ‘intentional’ and ‘acting’ out a ‘parable’ that leads to his grisly end? How can a man tortured on a cross, without a resurrection, be a “sign of God’s love”? And is not anyone’s ‘death the final episode of their life’? That is true for everyone. That is just a circular statement to mean nothing. How does Jesus giving his life ‘away’ in crucifixion ‘demonstrate as nothing else could’ that ‘we find life’ (assuming no resurrection)? That is bogus; it just demonstrates the reverse. How does Simon in that moment ‘know’ that Jesus was part of the ‘very essence of God’ when as we saw in the first quote that the non-resurrected death of Jesus would very logically been understand as proof of his ‘blasphemy’? What could be going on in Simon’s mind to get this sudden ‘realization’? Spong tells us.

It was as if scales fell from his eyes and Simon saw a realm that is around us at every moment … a realm of God from within which Jesus appeared to Simon. Was it real? Yes, I am convinced it was real. Was it objective? No, I do not think it was objective. Can it be real if not objective? Yes I think it can. (p.256)

We have a word for this kind of thing, where something appears ‘real’ to the beholder, but is nonetheless not objective (i.e. it is not true). We call it delusion. There would be no other way to describe what would have happened to Peter at this moment if Spong’s scenario is true. In a real sense, Spong has Peter becoming a lunatic regarding the person of Jesus.

Spong on the turn-around of the other apostles

But perhaps we should cut Spong some slack. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and concede that it is conceivable that in the stress Peter went through that he snapped and had this delusional ‘realization’. But that still does not explain anything. Peter needs to get a movement going (which we know from history did indeed take off). He needs to get all the other ‘apostles’ on board. And he has to do so in a way that will sustain them for a long, long time in a difficult, difficult task. Consider, given the opposition that the disciples would face in the coming years, what kind of pressure they would be under. Dr Simon Greenleaf, a professor of Law at Harvard whose specialty it was to train students how to cross-examine witnesses had this to say of the disciples coming career:

The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unflinching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted [1]

French Philosopher Blaise Pascal had this to say about the disciples.

The hypothesis that the disciples were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. [2]

So how is delusional Peter going to develop men of adequate calibre to face this task? Spong tells us:

The gospel of Easter and Jesus as the exalted one, living with God, dawned, I believe in Galilee with Peter at its heart. Peter then opened the eyes of the other Galilean disciples to see what he saw. They took this faith to Jerusalem during the feast of Tabernacles some six months after the crucifixion. That was the real triumphal journey. That was the original Palm Sunday. In Jerusalem they made known their faith in the risen, living Christ; and in time the Jerusalem setting for the resurrection became the primary one…The Jerusalem Easter legends are not to be dismissed as untrue. They are meant to be probed for clues, as I trust I have done adequately. (p.282)

So Peter just ‘opened the eyes’ of the other disciples to see his delusion!!? Then they marched down to Jerusalem, and in a public display, in the teeth of the authorities of the day they proclaimed the ‘risen’, ‘living’ Christ! So now Lunatic Peter has made Liars of the rest of the disciples since what they were saying would have been a lie.  Jesus was not risen; he was not living (in Spong’s unfolding scenario).

In attempting to avoid a supernatural explanation for the events of history that we know, Spong has made his natural explanation supremely bizarre and infinitely less rational. His scenario takes a naive faith to believe because it flies in the face of facts that we know. But somehow he thinks he has ‘adequately’ explained things.   There is nothing ‘adequate’ about his explanation – but it is naturalistic, and this provides a glimpse into a foundational assumption in our society.  Spong, like so many of us, equates naturalism with ‘rational’ and ‘adequate’.  Like an iceberg submerged just below the water surface, invisible but certainly there, this unwritten doctrine squeezes so much of our thinking that, without realizing it, we confuse ‘adequate rationality’ with ‘naturalistic folly’.  That is why Spong thinks his scenario is reasonable.  But he is not even close to accounting for all the facts of history as we know them. How does he explain the turnaround of Jesus’ brothers and Saul of Tarsus? We will see how he does this in our next post.

[1] Greenleaf, An examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of
Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice
. 1874 p. 29

[2] Blaise Pascal Pensees 322,310

Considering the Resurrection: From the Eyes of its Denier – Bishop Spong

During the Easter week I put up a posts I and II on Easter Examined giving an overview for the resurrection of Jesus and I also uploaded the videos of Session 7 which considers this question in greater depth. Since we are now a few weeks after Easter and thus in the time of year corresponding to the period just after the death of Jesus I thought it could be interesting to re-visit this time period more critically than we typically do. After all, most of us generally do not think past Easter Sunday and whether one believes it or not, it was not the resurrection of Jesus that changed human history, but it was the eyewitness followers of Jesus that changed history with their proclamation of this event.  And it is in precisely this post-death period that we are in now in which their convictions were formed one way or another. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing at the close of the 1st Century, reminds us of the impact of the diciples on his world when he writes of them that:

‘At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous… Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive…. And the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.’ Antiquities xviii 63

Spong: Prolific author and Church Bishop stands up to refute the Resurrection

Something happened in this period just after Jesus’ death that changed the disciples, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. So what was it? Great question – and there is no better person to help us walk through it than Bishop Shelby Spong. Spong has gained wide-spread notoriety and a following because as a bishop in the Episcopalian church, and as a prolific author, he made a career out of being an outspoken critic of almost every aspect of the gospel. So when it comes to the resurrection he flatly denies it. But Spong recognizes that this alleged event has changed human history so therefore just denying it is not reasonable – an alternate explanation of what ‘really’ happened needs to articulated by the honest skeptic and he does just that. In fact he wrote a whole book on the topic entitled Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A high-ranking church leader denying the resurrection whilst advancing a better explanation based on reason – what better context could we ever find to better consider the question of the resurrection. So let’s dive in.

Spong asserts (from the sources like Josephus and Tacitus) that Jesus did indeed die.

The fact remains that Jesus of Nazareth was executed, and when he was dying it was clear that his movement was crushed. Resurrection: Myth or Reality? p. 241

He then argues that the body was ‘placed in a common grave’ and was basically lost and the body decayed. But what then changed the disciples into the men with the courage, tenacity and conviction to change a hostile world? Spong knows that this is the fundamental question that must be resolved to give a satisfactory account of the events surrounding the alleged (in his mind) resurrection – because this fact is historically irrefutable and it demands an explanation. So he continues his scenario by first backtracking a bit to help us understand what kind of impact Jesus would have had on Simon Peter from the months they would have been together with Simon the disciple and Jesus his rabbi:

The impact of Jesus on Simon had to have been enormous…. Simon had heard Jesus’ teaching; he had watched his impact on others. Simon had seen the quality of Jesus’ life, and perhaps above all else, he had the privilege to live inside Jesus’ relationship with God… Jesus had loved him into being loving. Jesus had called him across the barriers that prejudice had erected against Samaritans, against women, and even against  Gentiles … Jesus had talked about the kingdom of God breaking into History, about the final judgment, and about the end of time. Simon had sensed from his words that that Jesus’ very life was in some way related to that kingdom and its coming… Simon had seen in Jesus a rare personal integrity that was displayed in the courage to be himself in all circumstances… Jesus seemed to be free of the need to be defined by the responses of others.” ibid pg 244

Simon also saw in Jesus a man who had a mission. I suspect that Simon was not certain what that mission was, but its reality was never in doubt… When people came to write their understanding of Jesus, they portrayed him as one who had a rendez-vous with destiny.  ibid pg 246

Spong Examines the Impact of a Non-Resurrected Jesus on his Followers

As Spong explains to us, in life Jesus would have made quite an impact on Simon Peter. Spong then details for us the kind of internal struggle and anguish that Simon Peter  would have been living with in the weeks after the non-resurrected death of Jesus. Here is how Spong explains it:

The death of Jesus was also incontrovertible. The meaning that death brought in that instance was not pleasant. Jesus had been executed upon a cross of wood. The Torah, so sacred to every Jewish man and woman, called one accursed who was hung upon a tree. What arrogance it would take for unlearned fisherfolk to suggest another alternative. Jesus was accused of blasphemy. No power intervened to save him. Death became God’s ‘no’. That ‘no’ had been engineered by the highest religious authorities of the land. The chief priests spoke for God. Jesus had been condemned by God’s earthly representatives. How could those who were not educated in either the Torah or the traditions of God’s people stand with credibility in opposition to that?… On one side there was the experience that they had had with Jesus that called them out of the old and into the new in their understanding of God. On the other side, Jesus was dead, and this new understanding had not prevailed. It was the old and not the new that had proven victorious… the religious hierarchy were the survivors, the victors. Jesus was the deceased, the vanquished. The minds of those like Simon had to begin to wrap themselves around the inevitability of those conclusions. Jesus must not have been of God. Jesus must have been wrong. Jesus had to have been guilty of blasphemy. He was dead, and they had to begin to accept the fact that they had been misled, duped, and therefore they also were guilty. ibid pg 251

Exactly!  Spong precisely frames the kind of interpretation and defeat that the non-resurrected death of Jesus would have etched itself on the minds of the Jewish people of that day – and particularly on his peasant fishermen disciples.  Spong vividly and accurately plays out for us the mental and emotional confusion and anguish that:

“Simon wrestled [with], day after day, week after week. He fished and he shared bread and fish by the lake with his friends as … the weeks added up to months and still there was no resolution.” ibid pg 252

One would think that Spong would end the story there, which is where, by all rights, it should have ended if there had been no resurrection. But it cannot end there because the facts of history speak incontrovertibly of an explosive movement, starting in Jerusalem, led by these peasant fishermen that took on all authorities, experts and powers of the world in that day, and without money, military power, education, status, or connections –  they won! It did not start decades later, did not start somewhere else, was not led by some anonymous shadowy group.  This is the fact of history that any theory of what happened to Jesus must explain.  Simply denying the resurrection without explaining this is simply not facing up to facts.  So how does Spong reason that this situation turned itself around so dramatically? We continue Spong’s analysis in our next post.

 

 

BBC Reports Startling Genetic Tests – Neanderthal in Your Bloodline

I had been planning to put up a few posts dealing with theories of Jesus after his death since we are in the Post-Easter weeks, but I came across a fascinating article at BBC on Neanderthals, and given that I have also just put up the FAQ presentation on human evolution I thought this article deserved some attention.  In this FAQ I showed that recent research demonstrates that we modern humans have Neanderthal blood coursing through our veins (in the 3rd video of the FAQ: What about Human Evolution?).  The BBC article, entitled “How I traced my ancestry back to the Stone Age”, is the story of how a journalist had some of her DNA sequenced by sending a vial of her saliva to a DNA testing center from which they traced her genealogy.   Apart from her European Jewish ancestry she learned something else from her test results.

Another exciting thing I’ve learned goes all the way back to the Stone Age. The test I used has added a feature that lets you see what percentage – if any – of your DNA comes from Neanderthals, and 2.7% of mine is Neanderthal.

While that’s not unexpected – almost everyone of non-African descent does have a little bit of Neanderthal DNA in them [1 – 4%] – I find it fascinating to think that somewhere up the line, I was a twinkle in a Neanderthal’s eye.

What was Neanderthal man (and woman)?

Apart from being fascinating at a personal level, this has direct implications on human evolutionary theory.  Neanderthals have probably been the showcase ‘ape cave-man’ popularized across our culture for the last 150 years as scientific ‘evidence’ bolstering the story of human evolution.  Neanderthals did indeed have skull morphology different than the typical morphology we see in people today.  But there are variations in skull morphology across all sorts of human and animal populations.  A species can exhibit great variability in traits, and it comes from having many alleles within the population.  As alleles are lost the variability is decreased and the population loses the ability to adapt to new environments.  I noted this kind of process in the ‘evolution’ of the soapberry bug and saw that this was simply a loss of some alleles – not an evolutionary gain of new information.

In any case, the question had always been an open one as to whether the difference in skull morphologies of Neanderthal and Homo erectus from that of people today was due to evolution, or just due to the inherent range of skull shapes built into Homo sapiens.  If that were the case it would just prove that Homo sapiens come in various skull shapes just like we also come in, for example, different skin colors.  But that reasoning – sound though it was – would have done little to bolster the evolutionary story in popular imagination so instead Neanderthals were portrayed and illustrated as brutish, savage and ape-ish – they were the last rung on the evolutionary ladder until Homo sapiens evolved.

The Neanderthal Narrative & Image in our Culture

Neanderthal skeletons were first discovered in the mid-19th century, around the time of the publication of The Origin of Species, and thus became compelling in the mind of the public at that time ‘proving’ evolution.  The Neanderthal ‘story’ was largely framed by Boule, a prominent paleontologist of that time. The following quote from an anthropology text shows how Boule went about developing the Neanderthal story.

Unfortunately his (Boule’s) model was riddled with errors. Most of the mistakes stemmed from Boule’s preconception that Neanderthals did not fit into the human evolutionary mainstream. Having already decided that they were very primitive, he exaggerated their differences … barely upright with their heads so far forward they could hardly stand, shoulders hunched, and knees bent. He even gave them an opposable big toe similar to that of the apes… After Boule, even reconstructions of facial characteristics emphasized the primitive; in most, Neanderthal was given a vacuous and rather stupid expression – an open mouth and dazed look … When examining the evolution of Neanderthals, we cannot help but consider the evolution of thinking about them…[1]

Boule's image of Neanderthal
Boule's Neanderthal

We can see here that ‘preconceptions’ were the driving force producing a story.  The data (Neanderthal skeletons) were interpreted, and this from the context of a pre-existing belief system.  Thus, even in a secular context, a ‘myth’ was produced by a ‘priest’ (Boule), replete with objects of veneration (the reconstructions) that told a story (vacuous and stupid Neanderthal gives rise to sophisticated modern man) that was ‘believed’ by the educated masses in the same way that primitives believed their religious myths.  And contrary to the claim of ‘critical suspension of disbelief’ that naturalism is supposed to engender, the facts had nothing to do with it.  Religion is certainly no prerequisite for the development of mythology.

And as with Neanderthals, I show in the FAQ presentation that all other popular ‘ape-men’ stories are really just that – stories driven primarily by imagination and preconceptions rather than by hard data.

But Neanderthals Really are … Us

But with Neanderthal we now come full circle from Boule.  Just as the author of the BBC article discovered, both you and I have Neanderthals in our genealogy.  Neanderthals, as well as Homo erectus are Homo sapiens pure and simple.  As the textbook I used in my FAQ class presentation summarized it:

In this scenario for the evolution of modern humans it would be difficult to draw a line between say, Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe and between Homo erectus and early modern humans in Asia… these gradations, together with the melding effect of the gene flow that has occurred between geographical regions, justify including Homo erectus and all the regional hominin variants that came after it in a single species … Homo sapiens.[2]

We can be sure that interpretations of all sorts will be developed around this new information of Neanderthal’s blood coursing through our veins.   But given our understanding that variance in skull morphology is best understood as gradations within Homo sapiens we should treat with skepticism those stories that rely simply on these differences to project an evolutionary ‘just-so’ narrative.  Otherwise we risk repeating the gullibility of the educated that believed Boule’s stories of his day, now known to be so wrong, simply because their imaginations were tickled.

Neanderthal as per BBC article
Neanderthal as per BBC article
An image of Neanderthal using DNA data
An image of Neanderthal using DNA data

[1] Kenneth L. Feder & Michael A Park, 1997. Human Antiquity: An introduction to Physical Anthropology and Archaeology 3rd ED. p. 278-279

[2] Bernard Wood.  Human Evolution. 2005 p. 136

What about Human Evolution?

[See my related post on whether there was a real Adam or not here and a Noah or not here (and that controversial flood here)]

Recently I had the opportunity to present a scientific critique of human evolution in a university human evolution anthropology class. I recorded the presentation and Q&A which followed and then spliced it into the three videos below. My overall conclusion, referencing in part the textbook and scientific journals, is that the human evolution story is just that – a story – which says more about our society and culture than anything derived from hominin fossil data.

In the first video I discuss how it is our worldview which moves us to interpret data in a certain way, rather than the data forming our worldview. I cite from the textbook used in the course to provide some examples of this. I then look at how the fossil hominin data is to all practical extent removed from investigators. I introduce the Catalogue of Fossil Hominids – a catalogue of discovered fossil hominids up to mid-1970’s – and contend that the fossil data is actually much better than we are usually led to believe – it just does not follow the standard evolutionary story so we do not know about it.

 

 

In the second video (a continuation of the same presentation in class). I systematically go through the most ancient hominin candidates that are typically proposed as the first human ancestors that diverged from apes 5-8 million years ago. I analyze Ardipithecus, tchadensis, Tuang skull (an australopithecine), australopithecus afarensis (ie Lucy), australopithecus africanus, Laetoli footprints and homo habilis and argue that all of these do not readily fit within the standard evolutionary story. I look at fossil hominid KP271 which we usually do not hear about since it does not follow the standard story.

 

 

In the third video I examine the standard homo specimens: homo erectus, archaic homo sapiens (ie Heidelbergensis) and Neanderthals. I look at 2010 Neanderthal nuclear DNA sequencing data results which show Neanderthals interbred with modern homo sapiens and that therefore all these homo species can be seen as varieties of homo sapiens – this is one conclusion supported in the textbook. Funny thing, the BBC reported the same thing just after.  The video then follows the Q&A time where the class interacted on the material I presented.

 

Easter Examined (Part 2)

In my previous post I showed why – based on secular historical evidence – there are overwhelming reasons supporting the claim that the tomb of Jesus was empty that first Easter Sunday.  Of course this does not prove the resurrection – there are other good explanations for an empty tomb apart from a resurrection.

However, any explanation for the absence of the body must also account for the situation on-hand: the Roman seal over the tomb, the Roman patrol guarding the tomb, the large (1-2 ton) stone covering the tomb entrance, the 40 kg of embalming agent on the body.  The list goes on.  Space does not allow us to look at all factors and scenarios to explain the missing body.  In the videos of Session 7.  News Pregnant with Hope: Considering the Death & Resurrection of Jesus I look more thoroughly at several options but in this post I want to briefly consider the most contemplated explanation – that the disciples themselves stole the body from the tomb, hid it somewhere and were then able to mislead others.

Did the disciples steal the body of Jesus?

Let us assume this scenario, avoiding for the sake of argument some of the difficulties in explaining how the discouraged band of disciples who fled for their lives at his arrest, could re-group and come up with a plan to steal the body that totally outwitted the Roman guard.  They then broke the seal, moved the massive rock, and made off with the embalmed body – all without leaving any trace.   Let us assume that they successfully managed to do this and then entered onto the world stage to start a religious faith based on their deception.  Let’s analyze it from here.

Motivation of the Disciples

Many of us today assume that what motivated the first disciples was the need to proclaim brotherhood and love among men – and Christ’s death and (spiritual or metaphorical) resurrection was the catalyst for this message.  But in the book of Acts, recounting events that occurred just weeks after the death of Jesus you can notice that the contentious issue was “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2).  This theme is paramount in their writings.  Notice how important Paul rates the issue of Christ’s resurrection:

For … I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died …buried, that he wasraised on the third day…  he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.. If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless … your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…. 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’…  (I Corinthians 15: 3-32)

Clearly (in their minds at least) the disciples placed the importance and their witness of the resurrection of Jesus at the utmost center of their message.   Now, let us assume that this was really false – that these disciples had indeed stolen the body so the counter-evidence against their new message would not put a stop to them.  They may have perhaps been successful in fooling the world, but they themselves would have known that what they were preaching, writing and creating great social upheaval for was basically false.  Yet they gave their lives (literally) for this mission.  Why would they do it – IF they knew that the basis of it was false?  People give their lives to causes (worthwhile and otherwise) because they believe in the cause for which they fight or because they expect some gain from the cause.

Consider the suicide bombers in the Middle East as an example.  This is surely the greatest modern-day example of extreme devotion to a cause – and a dangerous one at that.  Now we disagree with their cause – but they themselves surely believe in the cause for which they are sacrificing themselves and killing others.  They go to the extremes that they do precisely because they believe they will go to paradise after death as a reward for their sacrifice.  Now this belief may be false – but at least they themselves believe it – or they would not give their own lives (and take those of others) on such a drastic wager.  The difference between suicide bombers and the early disciples are that they are not in a position to factually verify their belief, whereas the disciples were.

Consider from their own words what price the disciples paid for the spreading of their message – and ask yourself if you would pay such a personal price for something that you knew to be untrue:

We are hard pressed on every side… perplexed… persecuted, struck down… outwardly we are wasting away…in great endurance, in troubles, hardships, distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger… beaten … sorrowful … poor … having nothing… Five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, … , I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, in the sea.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst… I have been cold and naked… Who is weak and I do not feel weak. (II Corinthians 4: 8– 6:10; 11:24-29)

They believed in their cause – and therefore could not have fabricated a hoax

The more I ponder the unshrinking heroism of all their lives (not one cracked at the bitter end and ‘confessed’), the more I find it impossible that they did not sincerely believe the message they were proclaiming.  But if they believed it – they certainly could not themselves have stolen and disposed of the body of Jesus.  One of the greatest criminal lawyers, who taught law students at Harvard how to probe for weaknesses in witnesses, had this remark to say about this issue:

“The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unflinching courage.  They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted” (Greenleaf. 1874.  An examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. p. 29)

Silence of the Authorities

Related to this is the silence of the enemies of the disciples – Jewish or Roman.  These hostile witnesses never seriously attempted to tell the ‘real’ story, or show how the disciples were wrong.  As Dr. Montgomery states,

“This underscores the reliability of testimony to Christ’s resurrection which was presented contemporaneously in the synagogues – in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case … had the facts been otherwise” (Montgomery. 1975. Legal reasoning and Christian Apologetics.  p. 88-89)

In this brief study we have not had the space to consider every facet of this question.  However, the unwavering boldness of the disciples and the silence of the coexistent hostile witnesses speak volumes that Christ may indeed have risen and that it is worth taking a serious and thoughtful examination.  One way to do so is to view the public presentation I gave on this topic at the University of Wyoming which covers these themes in greater detail.  It is also informative to understand that the extraordinary timing of Jesus’ crucifixion – happening on the Jewish Passover, and its location – being in Jerusalem – had great prophetic meaning in the Old Testament.  It is like the whole sequence of improbable events was the plan of a Mind that could span millennia.