Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We have moved!

We now have new blog called Tribulation Saint located at Tribulation Saint.  This became necessary because I can no longer publish directly to this blog from Microsoft Word.  I hope you enjoy the new blog!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Velikovsky's Case for Catastrophism

Immanuel Velikovsky

     Earth in Upheaval
     Immanuel Velikovsky
     Abacus, 1973 (1st Ed., 1955)
     263 pp., pb.

     Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979) was one of the most controversial figures in modern geology.  A Russian Jew by birth, a psychiatrist by profession, and an ardent Zionist, he set out to rebut Sigmund Freud's book Moses and Monotheism, in which Freud argued that the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton was the source for Jewish monotheism.  Velikovsky set out to prove that the Exodus was a real historical event.  In order to do so, however, he had to challenge widely accepted notions about archaeology, geology and astronomy.
      Earth in Upheaval, first published in 1955, was Velikovsky's effort to deal with the geological evidence.  In it he challenged the uniformitarian assumptions of the day, and argued the case for a form of catastrophism.  Unlike Henry M. Morris, however, who tried to tie all of the evidence to a single catastrophe, the Genesis Flood, Velikovsky argued for multiple catastrophes, including one  that he said took place at the time of the Exodus, which he placed at ca. 1400-1300 B.C.
     Velikovsky's argument throughout the book is that there is ample evidence for multiple catastrophes throughout the earth's history for which uniformitarianism has no adequate explanation.  He cites the example of several caves in northern England and Wales which are now hundreds of feet above sea level and contain the bones of numerous species of animals including, interestingly, hippopotami, which are normally found in tropical climates.  How, one might ask, did hippos make their way to England?
     Sir Charles Lyell, the father of uniformitarianism, speculated that during the summertime hippopotami would swim northward along the Mediterranean coast, with others making their way up rivers in Spain and France.  They would then, presumably, make the return trip to Africa before the winter set in.
     Velikovsky could barely contain his laughter.  "Hippopotami not only travelled during the summer nights to England and Wales, but also climbed the hills to die peacefully among other animals in the caves, and the ice, approaching softly, tenderly spread little pebbles over the travelers resting in peace, and the land with its hills and caverns in a slow lullaby movement covered them with rosy sand" (p.27).
     The existence of fossils themselves makes any uniformitarian explanation unlikely.  "The explanation of the origin of fossils by the theory of uniformity and evolution contradicts the fundamental principle of these theories: Nothing took place in the past that does not take place in the present.  Today no fossils are formed" (p. 194).
     Velikovsky, however, did not reject evolution.  He argued, in fact, that only catastrophism can adequately explain evolution.  If evolution proceeds along a path of slow, gradual progress the formation of new species would be practically impossible.  Most randomly occurring mutations would prove useless and be eliminated by natural selection.  In order for a new species to come into existence, a large number of beneficial mutations would have to occur all at once, or at least within a very short time span.  This, Velikovsky contended, could only happen during a geological catastrophe, when groups of organisms are exposed simultaneously to significant amounts of radiation.
     Nevertheless, Velikovsky's theory of multiple catastrophes faces daunting challenges.  While the physical evidence for catastrophes is abundant and obvious, how does one sort out the evidence chronologically in a multiple event scenario?  Velikovsly wanted to prove that the Exodus was a real historical event.  But much of the evidence he discusses can be placed in the Ice Ages, long before the Exodus, and can probably be connected with what is now generally knows as "the Quaternary Extinction Event," which saw the extinction of a number of species of large mammals.  Might this not rather be connected with the Flood?
     And then there is the problem of causality.  A catastrophist must argue that some cause must have operated in the past that is not normally present today.  But how can one identify the cause of a given catastrophe?
     It is at this point that we come up against the problem that faces anyone who engages in historical geology or historical biology.  While we can see the physical effects of past events, we cannot observe directly the events themselves, much less what caused them.  All we can do is to speculate about what might have happened.  What caused the Ice Ages?  What caused the numerous mammoths to freeze with fresh food still in their mouths?  In some cases we can point to a likely cause, such as the asteroid that crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula and cause the Cretaceous - Paleogene Extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.  In other cases we can rule out a hypothesis as being physically impossible.  Velikovsky himself fell prey to this problem.  He tried to explain various catastrophes in terms of changes in the orbits of several planets, which would violate the laws of physics!  But in many cases the geologist is working with fragmentary evidence, and can only speculate about the cause of a given event.  There is no way to test the hypothesis.
     The challenge for the Christian believer is that even critics of uniformitarianism agree that there were successive geological ages before the appearance of human beings upon the earth.  How long did these ages last?  How old is the earth?  Does it really matter from a theological point of view?  As Velikovsky put it:
     "I do not see why to a truly religious mind a small and short-lived universe is better proof of
      its having been devised by an absolute intelligence.  Neither do I see how by removing many
      unresolved problems in geology to very remote ages we contribute to their solution or elucidate
      their enigmatic nature" (p. 183).
Let it suffice that there is ample evidence in nature for both design and catastrophe.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Henry Morris and the Lewis Overthrust

Most mainstream geologists today probably equate Young Earth Creationism (YEC) with “junk science,” as opposed to real science, which is supposed to be based on hard evidence.  But the fact of the matter is that most of Henry M. Morris’ seminal book The Genesis Flood, which he coauthored with biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb, is devoted to a discussion of the evidence.  His work should not be simply dismissed by critics; they should refute it, if they can.
            Morris was primarily concerned with attacking geological Uniformitarianism and building the case for Catastrophism as an alternative.  More specifically, he advocated “Young Earth” Creationism, contending that most fossiliferous rock strata can be tied to a single geological event, the world-side deluge  recorded in the Book of Genesis in the Bible.  Morris’ argument is that Uniformitarianism cannot explain much of the evidence, which actually points in the direction of some form of Catastrophism.
            How well did Morris establish his case?  Let us look at one particular piece of evidence, the Lewis Overthrust in Montana, USA and Alberta, Canada.  The Lewis Overthrust in an example of a formation in which the supposedly older rocks are on the top and the younger ones on the bottom.  Morris cites this as evidence that the rock strata are out of chronological sequence, thus disturbing the argument for evolution from the fossil record.
Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park
            The standard explanation for this formation is that it is an example of an “overthrust,” a case in which a large wedge of rock was forced up and over an adjacent layer of rock.  In this case the rock wedge is several miles thick and several hundred miles long, and apparently moved nearly 50 miles eastward.  Morris wondered how such a thing could be possible on this scale.
            “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks
             really behaving in such a fashion, unless we are ready to accept catastrophism
             of an intensity that makes the Noachian Deluge seem quiescent by comparison!
             Certainly the principle of uniformity is inadequate to account for them.
             Nothing we know of present earth movements – of rock compressive and
             shearing strengths, of the plastic low of rock materials, or other modern
             physical processes – gives any observational basis for believing that such
             things are happening now or ever could have happened, except under extremely
             unusual conditions”  (The Genesis Flood, pp. 180-181).
Morris denied that the characteristic evidence of a fault thrust were present, and maintained that the “overthrust” consists of normal bedding layers, laid down in the order in which they are now found, and thus upsetting the evolutionary timeline.
            The anti-Creationist website TalkOrigins has an article entitled “Thrust faults” in which John G. Solum examines Morris’ argument in detail.  In some ways Solum is unfair in his treatment of Morris, sometimes misrepresenting Morris’ arguments and missing the point Morris was trying to make.  But to his credit he does interact with the evidence and makes some telling criticisms.  In particular he cites evidence to show that the Lewis Overthrust does indeed show evidence of being a genuine fault thrust.   He also criticizes Morris for quoting some of his sources out of context, and notes that Morris misidentified a lock layer in a photograph in Morris’ book (Figure 17 on page 190).  There seems to be little reason to doubt that it is a genuine overthrust.
            Ironically, when Morris how such a massive overthrust could have occurred, he could have answered his own question.   He himself notes at one point that “It is quite true that the entire area . . . gives much evidence of faulting, folding, and general tectonic activity . . . Such activity is to be expected in connection with mountain-uplift processes, whatever the nature or cause of these processes may be” (p. 185).  And that is, indeed, exactly how most geologists now believe is the case. The Lewis Overthrust was formed at the same time as the Rocky Mountains, and this, in turn, was the result of colliding tectonic plates on the west coast of North America.
            But in refuting some of Morris’ evidence, Solum ironically reinforced Morris’ central thesis.  The overthrust is just a part of a much larger system – the entire Rocky Mountains.  If it is true, as Morris said of the overthrust itself, that “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks  really behaving in such a fashion,” how much more true is it of the entire Rock Mountains?  And if the principle of Uniformity states that “The present is the key to the past,” and that “Rocks formed long ago at the earth’s surface may be understood and explained in accordance with physical processes now operating” (Gilluly, Walter & Woodford, Principles of Geology, p. 18), then how can we account for something on so large a scale?  As Morris put it, “Nothing we know of present earth movements . . . gives any observational basis for believing that such things are happening now.”  “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks really behaving in such a fashion unless we are ready to accept catastrophism” -- a catastrophism that exceeds even Henry Morris’ imagination!
See also:
Morris and Whitcomb Fifty Years Later 

Here's the link to Solum's TalkOrigins article : http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/lewis/

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The End of American Democracy?

We were startled recently to see an editorial in one of our local newspapers, the Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, entitled "Obama must take emergency control now." We have long suspected that it would eventually come to this. Nevertheless it came as a jolt to see someone actually make the case in print.
    The author of the piece, a Mr. Sherman Moreland, is a graduate of Cornell University and a former student of the well-known political science professor there, Clinton Rossiter. Mr. Moreland contends that the Founding Fathers anticipated the need for the exercise of emergency powers by the executive branch, and cited Federalist Paper No. 70, by Alexander Hamilton, in support of his contention.
    Mr. Moreland then lists a number of contemporary crises that he says call for the exercise of emergency power by the president. He mentions the government shutdown, the near default on the national debt, a gridlocked Congress, the influence of PAC money on government, the maldistribution of wealth, and global warming.
Alexander Hamilton
We begin by noting that Alexander Hamilton most emphatically did not advocate letting the president rule by emergency decree. The whole purpose of The Federalist Papers was to urge ratification of the Constitution – as written. Most of the opposition to the Constitution came from people who were afraid that it gave the central government too much power. What Hamilton was arguing for in Federalist Paper No. 70 was a strong executive branch headed by a single individual. Had he openly advocated given the president the right to declare an emergency and rule by decree that Constitution would never have been ratified.

    Although Mr. Moreland's list of crises sounds like a litany of liberal complaints, the fact of the matter is that many of the things he lists really are serious problems, and we could mention several others besides. One cannot escape the impression that we are living under a dysfunctional government with a gridlocked Congress chronically unable to address the governments long-term fiscal crisis. We also note with alarm the growing tendency of successive presidents to legislate by means of signing statements and executive orders. And then there is the growing surveillance by the government of our citizens.
    And that is just what is going on in Washington. When we look at the international scene we see an increasing integrated global economy which will require regulation at the supranational level. And then there is the threat of international terrorism which will call for joint security measures by the world's nations.
    And closer to home we see alarming social and cultural disintegration. There is a growing underclass of the "working poor." The breakdown in public morality has resulted in large numbers of children being born out of wedlock and living in single parent households. We have a dysfunctional public education that defies repeated attempts at reform, a coarsening popular culture, and the receding influence of religion. In short, what we are seeing is a recipe for revolution.
    Ironically, the Tea Party movement, which prides itself on its patriotism, has taken us one step closer to dictatorship. While we sympathize with many of the Tea Party's goals and aims, we deplore its tactics. A democratic government is supposed to reflect the will of the people. But this requires negotiation and compromise on the part of our legislators. It requires respect for the opinions of all of our fellow citizens. Our elected officials must lead by peaceful persuasion. But when we sign "no new tax" pledges and threaten default on the national debt in order to get our way we are undermining the very basis for democracy. It is nothing less than fascism.

    And then there is the massive defense establishment, or as President Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. The Founding Fathers viewed with alarm a large standing army in times of peace as a threat to liberty and democracy. Part of the reason that gun rights are protected by the Second Amendment is to enable the people to defend themselves from a potentially tyrannical government. The memory of England under Cromwell was still fresh in mend. But when we harbor imperial ambitions, and maintain a large military establishment to project our might around the globe, we have let the gorilla out of his cage, and he may return to haunt us.
    It does not take too much imagination to see a sharp financial crisis leading to riots in the street leading to the imposition of martial law. And in all likelihood it will be a Republican president that will sign the declaration of emergency; it is unlikely that a Democrat could get the necessary support from the Pentagon. Like Caesar of old and Hitler in more recent times, the pretense of constitutional government will be maintained. But the proverbial man on the white horse is just around the corner.
    And now Mr. Moreland has actually made the suggestion.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Fruit of the Spirit

The Descent of the Holy Ghost

We have seen how that the Bible states, quite unambiguously, that people who practice certain things (the “works of the flesh”) will not inherit the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17; NKJV), and therefore there can be no room for the works of the flesh.  The works of the flesh are the opposite of what God requires of us in the way of Christian character.
            The marks of a godly character are described in Galatians 5:22,23 as “the fruit of the Spirit.”  They are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
            First and foremost among these is love, for in a sense love encompasses the rest.  By Christian love we do not mean simply liking other people.  We are sometimes called to demonstrate love toward those whom we distinctly do not like.  Or model in this is God’s own love for us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Here we see that love involves an element of self-sacrifice (“Christ died”), and is directed toward the undeserving (“while we were yet sinners”).
            Negatively, love does no harm to others.  “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).  Positively, love responds to human need.  “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17).
            It can be seen, then, how many of the other of “the fruit of the Spirit” follow from this cardinal virtue of love.  On the one hand we are required to exercise “self-control,” which means holding in our selfish desires and impulses.  It requires “longsuffering,” the willingness to endure the bad conduct of others without becoming angry or taking revenge.  It also requires “gentleness” in dealing with others.  “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (II Tim. 2:24,25).
            On the positive side love manifests itself in “kindness” and “goodness.”  Greek scholars debate whether there is a real difference between these two terms.  Some see “kindness” as a conciliatory attitude toward others, while “goodness” is a readiness to do good.  But in either case Paul draws the contrast between this aspect of good and evil this way: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31,32).
            There are several other aspects to the fruit of the Spirit as well.  One of these is “joy.”  The Christian can rejoice, even in the worst of external circumstances, because he knows God and he knows that everything will eventually turn out for the better.  We have a “living hope” and “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled . . . reserved in heaven for you.”  “ In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials . . .”  And though we today have not seen Christ physically, “yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:3-9).
            And then there is “peace.”  Peace is that sense of inner calm and wellbeing that comes from knowing that we are secure in God’s love, and that He is actively caring for us.  We are invited to bring all of our cares and concerns to the Lord in prayer, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).
            And then there is “faithfulness,” the essential trait of trustworthiness.  It manifests itself in the willingness to honor commitments and fulfill obligations.  This was illustrated in Christ’s parable of the talents in Matt. 25:14-30, in which a certain man gave different amounts of money to various ones of his servants.  (A “talent” was an ancient unit of measurement which, when applied to precious metals, represented a very large some of money.  Our English word “talent” is derived from this parable.)  Some of the servants invested their assigned amounts wisely; one did not.  To the wise servants the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord” (vv. 21,23).  So too we need to be the kind of people who can shoulder responsibility.
            It will be noted that these character traits are inner dispositions of the heart.  They should flow from us naturally, and not simply be things we do merely to please others.  God is not impressed with hypocrisy.
            It will also be noted that these traits are called “the fruit of the Spirit,” i.e., they are the result of the spiritual life  produced in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of him.  And yet, at the same time, the individual believer has a definite responsibility in all of this.  First of all, if indeed he is a genuine believer, he has put his past, sinful life behind him.  “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the passions and desires” (Gal. 5:25).  But once he has become a Christian he bears the responsibility of following the leading of the Holy Spirit within him.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (v. 25).  “If we live in the Spirit.”  Here Paul points to a basic about the Christian – he is spiritual alive (he lives) because of the Holy Spirit living within him.  That being the case, “let us also walk in the Spirit.”  The word translated “walk” might better be rendered “march in step with.”  It is almost as though we are soldiers marching in formation and the Holy Spirit is calling the cadence.  This, moreover, is the key to sanctification.  Paul began the passage by saying, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (v. 16).  If we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as He seeks to produce His fruit in us, will not fulfill the desires of our sinful, fallen nature.
            This, then, is how we enter the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Works of the Flesh

Pieter Claesz, A Vanitas Still Life, 1645
As we have noted recently, Scripture condemns homosexual behavior as sin.  To put this in its broader context we may want to look at one of the other passages of Scripture that mentions several classes of people who will not “inherit the kingdom of God,” Galatians 5:16-24.
            This passage does not mention homosexuals specifically.  But it does mention a wide variety of sins, some of which are sexual in nature.  What makes the passage especially interesting is that it probes the inner psychology of sin.
            In this passage the apostle Paul is primarily addressing Christian believers, urging them to live the Christian life.  At the heart of his discussion is a contrast between “the works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21) and “the fruit of the Spirit” (vv. 22,23).
            When Paul uses the word “flesh” here it is apparent that he is not talking about just physical appetites.  Some of the things he describes do involve a craving for sex or alcohol, but others do not.  Contentions, jealousies, dissensions and heresies are also on the list.  Rather, Paul is using the term “flesh” in a specialized sense to refer to man’s sinful , fallen nature – our inner propensity to do evil.  The New International Version translates the phrase “the acts of the sinful nature.”  Paul explains that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another; so that you do not do the things that you wish” (v. 17; NKJV).  In other words, there exist in the heart of a believer two opposing principles.  One is the “flesh,” the human nature with which we are born, and the other is the Holy Spirit, Who takes up His residence in the heart of the believer at the point of conversion.  The two opposing forces are constantly at work in the heart of the believer, pulling him into opposite directions.
            Paul then goes on to enumerate these “works of the flesh.”  The first four, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness (v. 19) clearly involve sex.  (The word translated “lewdness” might better be rendered “licentiousness,” “wantonness,” or “excess.”)  What this suggests is that there is a difference between love and lust, and that lust is morally wrong.  The difference is that with love we genuinely care about the other person and want to please him/her, whereas in lust we are primarily thinking of our own physical pleasure.  When we exploit others for our own selfish desires, or are unfaithful to our spouses, or make our bodies available for commercial gain, we are desecrating something that God created for a pure and noble purpose.  It is not that sex itself is bad; it is the underlying motive that is evil.  Sex should be an expression of genuine love and devotion to a member of the opposite sex, a most intimate of all relationships not to be shared with anyone else.  And if the love and devotion are genuine, they will express themselves in a lifetime  commitment in the bond of matrimony.  And make no mistake about it, marriage really is a “bond” – a binding obligation that requires that requires self-sacrifice for the sake of the other.  If we are not willing to make the commitment, we are simply being self-centered louts.
            Idolatry and sorcery (v. 20) mainly involve pagan practices more common in the ancient world than in modern Western society, although we are seeing a revival of it in Wicca.  Why does magic have a fascination for people?  Isn’t it because it is a way of controlling others for our own advantage?  And it involves misplacing our loyalty on something other than the God Who created us.
            Then we come to “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions,” and “heresies” (v. 20).  These, sadly, reflect problems that often occur in churches.  We trust that most respectable Christians will not be found in either the brothel or the saloon.  But unfortunately all too many of them are involved in church fights.  Why?   Because the same fallen human nature that leads the lecher to his porn and the drunkard to his bottle is also at work in the Christian as well.  It is simply that the professing Christian has more refined tastes.  He professes to be fighting for a worthy cause, a worthy purpose.  He is doing it for the benefit of others.  Or is he?  What is often at work is a determination to have his own way, to win the esteem of others, even if it means disrupting the peace and unity of the fellowship.  At the bottom of it is pure self-centeredness.
            These behaviors, these “works,” are bad enough in themselves.  But what makes them especially pernicious is that they spring from a heart bent on evil and unwilling to submit to God’s law.  It is the rotten fruit of a diseased tree.
            These things are so contrary to the character of God that He frankly cannot tolerate them.  This is why the text states, “I tell you beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).  Or as Paul put it in Ephesians 5, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
            It is not just homosexuals who are under God’s judgment.  All of human society is essentially corrupt because we all have the same principle of evil working within us.  The world is filled with violence, exploitation and fraud.  And it will all come to an end when Christ returns to judge the earth.  The message Jesus proclaimed was not, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  It was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).