Was God an Incrementalist?

President Obama has built a reputation as an incrementalist. Before he was elected in 2008, liberals had high hopes that he would turn the ship of state 180 degrees and sail in their direction. But as Howard Kurtz put it in the Washington Post as early as 2009, “Anyone who’s spent two weeks in Washington would know that Obama’s yes-we-can idealism would run smack into the capital’s no-we-won’t culture.”

As we reach the end of president Obama’s second term, he has become more assertive with the liberal aspects of his agenda, using the powers of the executive branch to bypass congress and get things done.

Did the God of the Bible follow a similar course as he brought his people from ignorance to salvation? Did he start by meeting them where they were — in the moral harshness of the Bronze Age — and bring them along incrementally until, finally, he made a full revelation in Jesus Christ?

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Is the Bible Perfect?

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul:
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

CHORUS: More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart:
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.

(CHORUS)

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever:
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

(CHORUS)

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

(CHORUS)

From my college days through my final years in the church, that song was one of my favorites. Its lyrics are taken from Psalm 19 and, to me, expressed the perfection and utility of God’s Word, the Bible.

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Is God a Moral Monster? (Book by Paul Copan)

Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, is the best apologia I have read for the disturbing actions and characteristics of the God of the Bible. I had read a lot on this subject and did not expect to find anything new, but I was surprised to find exactly that.

For example, he defends the Canaanite genocide by arguing that passages such as Deuteronomy 7 and Deuteronomy 20, which command the Hebrews to “completely destroy” the occupants of the Promised Land and not to “leave alive anything that breathes” don’t literally mean that. Rather, they are indulging in the same sort of hyperbole we use about sporting events: “our team totally annihilated them.” I’m not sure if I buy this, but it’s an argument I had not heard during 40 years in the evangelical church.

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Are Evolution and Creationism Equally Matters of Faith?

Faced with evidence for an old universe such as starlight that has clearly taken billions of years to reach us, young-Earth creationists say, “God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, but in a mature state. Your conclusion that it is old is a matter of faith in naturalistic, uniformitarian assumptions. How do you know the speed of light or the passage of time have always been the same as they are now?”

Faced with evidence for evolution such as what we saw in the last post, creationists often reply, “You see evidence for evolution, but this could equally be the work of a Designer. Your conclusion of ‘evolution’ is a matter of faith just as much as my conclusion of ‘creation’.”

Is this true? Is the choice between mainstream science and creationism just a matter of choosing one faith or another?

At one level, yes. But let’s keep going.

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Molecular Evidence for Evolution

If you’re just joining my story, here’s a quick catch-up. Once upon a time, I was an evangelical Christian. Although I was not a die-hard creationist, I considered creationists to be “my team” and evolutionists to be the godless “other team.” I trusted creationists because they were fellow Christians, and conservative ones at that. A decision my wife and I had to make forced me to investigate the creation/evolution issue more closely.

I hope the last few posts have given you a window into why I was appalled at how dishonest the creationist arguments turned out to have been. Now I’d like to give just a glimpse into the sort of arguments that I discovered on the side of evolution.

Most remarkable was the way completely independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion.  This graph is an example. It’s from the book that opened my eyes to the power of the evolutionary explanation for life, Scientists Confront Creationism.

Protein Evolution

I’ll walk you through it, and then I’ll say why I found it so compelling.

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More from Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”

Here’s more from Harry Frankfurt’s essay, On Bullshit.

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.

The young-Earth creationist does believe in objective reality. In that sense, he is not an “anti-realist.” However, he most certainly does not support “disinterested efforts to determine what is true and false.”

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“On Bullshit” and Creationism

This is a post I did not want to write. First of all, it requires me to speculate on what’s in other people’s heads, which I don’t like to do. Second, it requires me to use a mild cuss word, which makes me uncomfortable even in print. I’m posting anyway because on the first count there comes a time where you just have to say that a waddling, quacking, duck-like animal is, in fact, a duck; and on the second count the word “bullshit” happens to have no adequate synonym.

What is bullshit, and how does it differ from an ordinary lie? Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt gave a good answer in his famous essay, On Bullshit.

The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

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