(Apologies for the lateness of this post, but I work Fridays and Saturdays till 6pm and 7pm respectively, which makes it difficult to do this kind of work on those days.)
Ratio, ratio – non argumentum sine rationes. Da mi rationes!
NML’s posts have been wonderfully written and very honest, for which I commend him. But, like Theophiletus (whom I consider a better apologist and analyst than myself) I found some of the language ambiguous, perhaps because the audience context and rhetorical/logical purpose were not explicitly defined.
For example, let us take the use of the word “fact” in his first piece. I used the context to infer that by “fact” he meant a scientific use of the term. I would call this “fact by consensus and nihil obstat.” In other words, fact as used in the scientific community represents doctrines agreed upon by a majority of scholars and which (through peer review and other processes) are deemed fit for publication in teaching materials. But, as far as I could tell, because of the AATW publication and audience context of these pieces by NML, their genre should be defined as “Apologetics”, and not as “in-house scientific essays”. The consumers here are varied, but it seems to me that at least some of us are sceptics regarding TOE.
If this is accepted, then the word “fact” is inappropriate for describing certain articles mentioned by NML, because they are not within their section proved as such and are not universally accepted by the audience. They represent examples of asserting what needs to be proven, and therefore do not constitute facts in an apologetics sense.
Nevertheless, the description is not as important as the veracity of the claims made, and I salute the generally cautious and open-minded tone and style adopted by NML, along with his efforts to make the material as accessible to the layman as possible. While I, like many here, have come through the rigours of post-graduate research, I am aware that many haven’t and therefore we must all seek to avoid jargon as much as is reasonably possible.
It has been interesting to read the back and forth between NML and Bosco, and I have found that the comments generally exemplify the difficulties of real-life apologetics: no matter how smart you are, there will always be a typo or emotional response to trip up the flow of argument. We aren’t robots.
It was unfortunate, and I’m sure a merely heat-of-the moment thing, that Bosco’s dating-system objection was marginalised on the grounds that he wasn’t a professional geologist. Given the proper relationship between science and philosophy (vide http://bnonn.com/on-science-part-1-belief-versus-knowledge/ and the rest of that series for a Reformed discussion of this material), I do not feel that this is a proper response to Bosco. I can understand a desire to avoid stupid questions and misleading statements, but it prejudices the case to assert that he is unqualified to pose methodological objections because he is a layman as far as that discipline is concerned. It would be far more convincing to receive his objections and shoot them down than to dismiss him out of hand without a fair hearing.
This whole debate is specially nuanced, however. We are used to debates on this topic between Christians and non-Christians, not as an in-house affair. The combination of TOE with the providence and benevolence of God presents a hybrid to us of guided adaptation, contra blind adaptation and mutation as presented by the materialist. Therefore, as a professing Christian, it is legitimate for us, the audience, to call on our author to defend his theology, hermeneutics, and exegesis. We ask not only if the TOE is scientifically and philosophically defensible, but whether it is Biblically compliant. We ask not only if NML is orthodox on this matter, but if his view offers no internal contradiction, since self-contradiction would be logical grounds for refutation and non-acceptance.
As far as self-contradiction is concerned, if NML does not believe in Original Sin, then he is not obligated to defend it, and we may not use it as an objection to his presentation unless two points be satisfied first:
- That Original Sin is a true Biblical doctrine (and what that means).
- That Original Sin and TOE are mutually exclusive (and TOE must be carefully defined, following NML’s own practice)
In connection with Original Sin, the Fathers have been mentioned. This is somewhat problematic given the denominational variety of the contributors and readers of AATW. The Fathers are witnesses of Sacred Tradition and transmitters of it – but they are not identical to it. Not every word of their writings comes under the protection of dogma, and we know that they were not in agreement on all matters. For example, while Hippolytus was Pre-Millennial in his eschatology, Jerome was A-Millennial (or post-, but either way, you get the point).
What is the genre of Genesis? How is it unified? What is the central message? Orthodox Christians who are proponents of the myth/allegory interpretation generally wish to preserve the historical nature of the later narratives: for example, they believe Joseph was a real man who acted as second-in-command to Pharaoh, probably during the Hyksos dynasty. But we must ask what their justification is for changing genre within the same book. If the beginning of Genesis is a “myth”, why isn’t the Joseph story? And if the Joseph story, why not the Exodus?
Accusations of being “overly literal” are unhelpful because they misrepresent the position of so-called “literalists”, as if they believed trees really will clap their branches together or that a beast will come out of the Mediterranean and stomp on Christians living in ha’aretz Yisra’el. So-called literalists construe a literal meaning where the genre and other indicators give them license to do so, and construe a metaphorical/symbolic/allegorical meaning where the markers give them cause to do so. I can switch back and forth between symbolic and literal in the Book of Daniel because the book itself tells me when I’m dealing with visions and when I’m dealing with events of the Babylonian Exile.
And so we come to Genesis. Do we have textual warrant for switching between genres within the book? To my knowledge, no. And I challenge an advocate of TOE to give me literary grounds for switching between allegory and history as I pass from whatever their cut-off point may be to the next section. Furthermore, the location of the cut-off point is not universally agreed upon, which rather undermines their side of the argument. Some believe Noah is the beginning of history proper, others Abraham, others somewhere earlier. If NML is to defend his position, he must produce the turning-point properly documented with relevant inter-disciplinary arguments (and as a convert to Orthodoxy, it would be helpful to have the relevant citations from the Fathers if any exist for such a cut-off point or modern Orthodox scholarship on the matter.)
To be continued.