Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bolton Weighs In

As a companion piece to yesterday's blog entry, consider these thoughts from Warren Bolton, Associate Editor of the South Carolina newspaper The State:

A FEW YEARS ago, a friend of mine and his family took a trip to the Grand Canyon.

He was awed by the cavernous wonder. A tour guide said it took a billion-plus years for the canyon to form. “My Bible tells me God formed it in six days,” my friend said to himself.

Each day his family rose early to have devotion at the edge of the canyon. They wanted to worship and praise God, whom they saw in his magnificent creation.
My Sunday school class is studying various Psalms that recognize God as creator. Psalm 8 says God’s name is “excellent in all the earth” and that he gave man a special place in creation. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”

Psalm 104 says God covers himself with light as with a garment and “stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.” He “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.” Psalm 139 says we’re “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

One Sunday, a class member raised concern about the growing debate over whether evolution and/or intelligent design should be taught in schools. We didn’t come to a conclusion, but we acknowledged that our studies provide a sound argument in support of intelligent design that easily trumps the theory of accidental creation and random evolution of man. Darwin’s theory of evolution can’t begin to fully explain the complexity of the origins of life.

As far as I can tell, the only studies he undertook, and the only argument he has offered, relate to what the Bible has to say. Does anyone believe for a second that Mr. Bolton could give a coherent description of what evolution actually says, or could summarize what origins of life researchers have discovered?

The more I read things like this the more I come to believe that sheer laziness has a lot to do with the preference for blind faith over actually following the evidence. Learning biology is hard work. Mindlessly pounding the Bible is so much easier.

Later Bolton writes:

You either believe the Genesis story is true or you don’t. I believe the story that God created man and woman for one another. I believe man fell because Adam and Eve ate of forbidden fruit, making all humans sinners and in need of salvation, available through Jesus Christ. If that story isn’t true, then the Bible — from the first to the 66th book — isn’t the literal, infallible word of God.

Attacks against creation casts doubt on scriptural authority. If we question the Bible’s account of creation, what does that say about the existence of original sin? What does it say about Jesus Christ, the risen savior, and man’s need to be saved?

I’ve got no beef with science. It serves its purpose. But God is bigger than science. Science can’t poke and prod and explain him. It can’t challenge his authority, disprove his existence, ascertain his location or calculate his spiritual density. Those who discount intelligent design say there is no scientific proof that an intelligent being spoke creation into existence. But the Bible says not only did God create the ends of the earth, “there is no searching of his understanding.” While we humans toil to put an age and date to everything, scripture tells us that, to God, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. Our thoughts don’t come close to matching his; our ways fall far short of his.

Translation: Your puny evidence is no match for my groundless delusions!


At 3:19 PM, Blogger Mark said...

But the Bible says not only did God create the ends of the earth

The Bible says the Earth is flat.

At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

but these letters in the same paper were interesting....

Some hope there.....not everyone is a lazy-butt faker.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Aaron said...

"Translation: Your puny evidence is no match for my groundless delusions!"


At 9:54 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...


Believe it or not, as a Christian myself who has written in other comment sections on your blog, I do have a degree of sympathy with your position and the extreme nature of some of the ID proponents. But I think that by arguing against that your basically shielding yourself from serious debate.

May I suggest that the Christian faith is not groundless, to paraphrase you. If you have no idea why that's so than its more of an indication of your own lack of curiosity and knowledge about Christianity.

I happen to like science, the discussion of its role in epistomology, and am a fan of the material world in which I live. As such, I too would need some evidence for Christianity to believe it as I do.

What is your hangup with it? Jesus is a historical person, the miracles were witnessed (I grant not by all which introduces the need for faith), the scriptures were not really tampered with since the apostles wrote ... I could go on and on with some basic approaches.

Christian belief is not akin to believing in, say: the perception philosophy of the Matrix movies where the material world we live in is an allusion, or that green martians came and put things in place about 1982, or whatever else our imagination can come up with.

My only conclusion can be that your grossly misinformed. Please don't accuse me of being rude because I am not. I am just stating something that's fairly obvious. I've undertaken a serious effort and put a lot of thought into understanding evolution, science, philosophy, both during and after my graduate education. Can I implore you to do the same as you continue to launch into these daily diatribes?

As a basic understanding of how to correctly read the Bible may I suggest you start with a little primer "Gospel and Kingdom" by G. Goldsworthy. May I suggest that you start with almost anything by C.S. Lewis (Men without chests), G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, or even anything by Alistair McGrath or John Polkinghorne who are very acclaimed scientists (Polkinghorne is a renowned physicist).

Even if you don't necessarily accept the claims, at least, and I mean this with all due respect, you'll be more informed about what you're arguing against.


P.S. MARK: Where does the Bible say the Earth is flat? Do you have a chapter and verse for that?

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Jason said...


Thanks for the comment. I have, indeed, put a great deal of thought into the question of whether there is any evidential basis for Christianity, and I stand by my statement that there is none.

For the record, I have read quite a bit of C.S. Lewis and John Polkinghorne. (I'll have to check out McGrath). I find their arguments unconvincing, to put it kindly.

You say that Jesus' miracles were witnessed. You know no such thing. The fact is that the New Testament describes events that in any other context you would consider absurd. If I told you that the other day I saw a guy turn water into wine or raise someone from the dead, you would scoff. You would continue to scoff even if I got a few friends together to back up my story. At best you might conclude that I really believed what I was saying, but I'm willing to bet you would remain very skeptical that my assertions were true. You certainly would not organize your life around the assumption that I was right.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Allen MacNeill said...

"...the scriptures were not really tampered with since the apostles wrote..."

Oh, really? Read "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Rewrote the Bible and Why" (, and "Lost Christianities" (, both by Bart Ehrman, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina (

The new testament is, in point of fact, mostly a work of fiction.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger DMcKeon said...


It is to your credit that you read those folks. If you feel there is no evidential basis for belief, I can respect that. I once felt similarly.


The first book is worthless. I know that Bart Ehrman is a competent scholar. The second is actually very good. I respectfully have to disagree with Ehrman's conclusions. Though I don't think I interpret them as strongly negative as you do.

Might I suggest that you read his works a bit more closely and perhaps include others? You may want to consider Stark or Fried.

I generally find that the contemporary "religous studies" type of scholars tend to over emphasize the cultural / sociological aspects in their analysis. I certainly find societal context to be important but not the whole story.

The main gist of Ehrman's "Lost Christianities" is that there were other views such as Gnostics, Manicheans, and so on... I don't know if Ehrman would suggest they're all equal. He just proposes that they were "Lost" and could have colored Christian thinking had their early proponents won out. If you understand their arguments you'd know why they didn't win. In any event, I don't think he'd suggest the NT is a work of complete fiction as you interpreted it.

The bottom line is that you have a number of older scholars such as Karen Armstrong who maintain the "Man created God" view out of his own fears psycho babble. I don't think its going to last as I see many who are questioning that entrenched view. So, yes, if you want to find people who will literally suggest its a work of fiction than I know you can find them. I wouldn't bet the ranch on them though.

What Ehrman's referring to, I believe, is that much of the Hebrew old testament is not recoverable because a great deal was sustained by oral tradition (as was most ancient literature with the exception of things like Gilgamesh, Homer...).


At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it when a Christian wants to make a point without sounding like a complete fundie, they either:

A. Quote C.S. Lewis or
B. Tell you to read C.S. Lewis

I personally don't think any of them have read C.S. Lewis...I think they following some outlined plan for arguing with acknowledgers (real word?) of Evolution.

I've heard it too many times!...ARRGGHH! The next fundie that quotes C.S. Lewis or tells me to read C.S. Lewis is going to get a copy of "Origin of the Species" shoved up his ass!

Who knows, being closer to his brain, maybe it will sink in.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Dear Anonymous,

Recommending C.S. Lewis is probably just because his books are easy to get, he's known, and pretty readable. I've read Darwin's Origin.., Dennett, Dawkins, and even John Rawls who Dennett essentially "cribs" from in his solution to the moral dilemmas of evolution as an alternative to traditional religious beliefs.

No need to blow your gasket, Charlie!

At 7:55 PM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

P.S. Allen from the previous post.

If you teach at Cornell maybe you would be interested in looking up Bob Fay. He's in the chemistry (I believe) department. He's a very nice guy. I'm sure he'd discuss his Christian beliefs with you, I know he's interested in the relationship between science and faith. All the best.


At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

OH NO! It's Dennis!

seem to remember the "Jason you don't know what you're talking about" line from the last time he was here.

Hey Dennis was the ink on the parchment of the actual Jewish texts put there by the hand of man or the diety's noodly appendage?

At 10:12 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Hi Kevin,

Good question. In Christianity, we believe the scripture to be divinely inspired. But we also allow for human personality. There are nuanced divisions among theologians though. But that's the historical view. Unlike in Islam, say, we don't hold to the "dictation" theory or other things that kind of crowd out free will.

This shouldn't imply that a bunch of guys just wrote what they felt. There were fairly meticulous processes for weeding stuff out. For example, in Judaism the priestly / Rabbinical class had a fairly stringent standard for maintaining the accuracy and traditions as stated in the Books of Moses, the wisdom literature, and the prophetic / historical writings. That continues to this day. It's one of the remarkable aspects of the Jews.

The Christian New Testament is not really a problem in that sense because we have evidence of the originals. As for what comprises the New Testament, the books that were to be included as part of the canon in early church councils were not taken lightly. The authenticity and integrity of the authors of maintaining the beliefs, which were practiced between Jesus' death and about 325 when Christians had the opportunity to formalize what was widely accepted, were all important.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which Christian New Testament isn't a problem? Different churches have different collections of books. The council in 325 was largely limited to the Roman Empire. How many letters to the Corinthians does your NT have? The Ethiopians have 3; the Catholics have 2. There are many other differences in which books are called the NT.

Once you decide on which books, though, your problem is only beginning, as you have to decide which versions. While we have evidence of the originals, we also have hundreds or more variations in every book, some of which are very large, such as the multiple endings of the Gospel of Mark.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...


The Council in 325 was actually more heavily represented by Alexandria and Antioch. Rome wasn't as big a player as you might suspect in the internal dynamics of these councils until later in the 4th century.

The Catholics do not have 2 New Testaments. They include Maccabees where protestants do not. This is because Jews in Jerusalem did not consider maccabees a part of their Holy writ so we do not. However, other Jews elsewhere did include the maccabees so the Catholics decided to include it.

As for the Ethiopians I'm on shaky ground in what I know about some of the early eastern and eastern orthodox churches. I have a few ethiopian christian friends who are experts in this if you're interested.

The bottom line is that the NT is not a problem. There aren't multiple endings in Mark. There were secret sects and a host of groups who may have done things and created alternative endings. So, I don't know which specific versions you're talking about. The councils didn't generally waste a lot of time sorting through a smorgasboard of versions. These "versions" were recognized as goofy heresies in the same way most mainline Christians would dismiss Joseph Smith's "revelation" and the book of Mormon. The early church councils actually went through and narrowed down what got in the canon extremely quickly. The main contention were things such as the book of James, 2 Peter, etc. But there are actual scrolls.

What you're doing is akin to people a thousand years from now looking back at our age and saying that because there were pentacostals, mormons, etc. and they created silly alternatives, that Christianity is not rooted. Despite the offshoots, it is.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger beervolcano said...

Can the blindness be any more apparant in this thing?

But God is bigger than science. Science can’t poke and prod and explain him. It can’t challenge his authority, disprove his existence, ascertain his location or calculate his spiritual density.

Right, so theologically speaking, we can't possibly find or detect God through science. I can agree with that. But then what is this in the very next sentence?

Those who discount intelligent design say there is no scientific proof that an intelligent being spoke creation into existence. But the Bible says not only did God create the ends of the earth, “there is no searching of his understanding.”

You just said that science can't detect God, so people should follow ID because the Bible says that you can't begin to understand God.

I see. It all makes sense now.
ID isn't science because the Bible says that it can't be. Perfect.

At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Kevin From NYC said...

Dennis Dennis denny

my question: "Hey Dennis was the ink on the parchment of the actual Jewish texts put there by the hand of man or the diety's noodly appendage? "

Your answer:
"In Christianity, we believe the scripture to be divinely inspired
This shouldn't imply that a bunch of guys just wrote what they felt.
maintaining the accuracy
we have evidence of the originals.

So what you are saying is that the texts were written by a human hand with some ink and a stick or something. Good. No poof! here's a scroll or anything like that.

So the bible was written by a bunch of goat-herders with a vision. great...they probably were eating mushrooms...

Diety my butt....The FSM can fake things alot better than this xtian god.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Ah Kevin,

I write paragraphs, you write sentences! I do now remember your insightful analysis from previous posts. "Objective" is what I want it to mean. No, that's the definition of "Subjective".

Boy, if only Christianity were that stupid, I could save myself a lot of time and energy. Honestly, I don't know where to begin countering you because you basically employ the high school level four-step techniques of persuasion.

I mean taking a sentence and building counter arguments on them is fairly weak. That's just Dennis Dennis Denny's opinion. Your kind of showing the downside of the power of the internet. Do I know you?

The only thing I can suggest to you is a (not exact) quote from one of my favorite authors Jacques Barzun: "To be cynical when everyone else is cynical indicates a lack of critical thought."

You may find Barzun's last chapter in From Dawn to Decadence, "A View from New York" very enjoyable, before you get too carried away with Camus or Sartre or whatever other ghastly crud your reading in your spare time in 'da Big City'.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everybody here should remember Ptolemy and his epicycles. Ptolemy proceeded with the idea that the earth was the center of the universe, because theologically (an idea which christians later INHERITED) that was the prevailing wisdom. In order to account for the retrograde (going backwards) motion of the planet, Ptolemy came up with a mathematical construct called epicycles which accounted for the retrograde motions. As time went on and instruments got better, the epicycles became more and more complicated. It wasn't until Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus that the idea of epicycles governing planetary motion was finally dispelled.

The point is that since we are all reasonable beings, one can you reason to reason anything. You can mathematically prove that the earth IS flat, but the mathematics are so convoluted that they prove to be of little practical value. Likewise, ID uses its own convolutions to "prove" its case, but it is of little practical value as well

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to hijack the thread ...


"In Christianity, we believe the scripture to be divinely inspired."

How would an objective observer know the difference between a text that was inspired by God (whatever that means) and a text that the author BELIEVES was inspired by God?

In what way is the text valuable as evidence of anything except as a historical document?

Why do you believe it is divinely inspired?

If it is a matter of faith, then why does it hold any status over, say, the exact opposite belief (say, that an anti-God inspired the Bible and sent Jesus as an agent to influence humans to do the exact opposite of what their creator would want them to do ... )?

"Unlike in Islam, say, we don't hold to the "dictation" theory"

I take it 'we' does not include those who believe the full text of the Bible to be the direct word of God, not symbolic, not interpreted, not oral retellings collected by later worshipers, etc.?

"So, yes, if you want to find people who will literally suggest its a work of fiction than I know you can find them. I wouldn't bet the ranch on them though."

I don't think there's any doubt that you're betting the ranch on the opposite belief.

But the work still can be non-fiction but inaccurate. The claims made in the work can be accurately recorded but false.

At 10:33 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

oh Denny

"I write paragraphs, you write sentences! "

Here try some letters...




At 8:50 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...


Those are all great questions. I've tried to tackle your questions at a little length on my blog. It's a bit of a long thread to impose on the owner of this blog. If you're interested in pursuing this, please check it out at:
I would be interested in discussing this further.


At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dennis, I responded.

-- Anonymous (Dwayne)

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