God’s Laws for Creation and for People

Dear Reader,

[This is part of my continuing series in the book of Jeremiah. You can find all the posts from it here.]

Though I said last time I would cover three chapters of Jeremiah all in one post, the truth is I have a bit more to say on Jeremiah 5-8.

In my most recent post, I hope that you picked up that Jeremiah 6, 7 and 8 hang together pretty well. Chapters 6 and 8 both contain verses in which the leaders are reprimanded for saying “peace, peace, peace” when there is no peace for Judah (Jer. 6:14 and 8:11). Chapter 7 also has a threefold repetition in “the temple, the temple, the temple” (Jer. 7:4). Both of these phrases give the people false assurance of their safety because of their supposed special status before God.

But there is another idea that I see beginning even a bit earlier in chapter 5 and being picked up again here in chapters 7 and 8. The people’s obedience to the law (or lack thereof) is contrasted with creation. This may seem like a funny thing to us. We joke about disobeying the law of gravity but really we do not see such things as being the same as moral laws, whether they come from our nation or our God. Even when we are just looking at the Old Testament, we like to distinguish between moral, ceremonial and civil laws. These are not distinctions which the Bible itself makes. The prophet Jeremiah here goes beyond just putting all laws for humans on one plane, he actually equates what we would call natural laws with God’s moral law.

In chapter 7, the people are once again chastised for their many sins. When we read them catalogued, it is hard not to think of the Ten Commandments:

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer. 7:8-10; ESV)

It almost sounds like they have gone through the commandments trying to break each one.

As I trued to show in my post on Jeremiah 5, God contrasts the obedience of the sea which, though it always crashes against the bounds He has set, never breaks them with the disobedience of His people. We find this idea again in Jeremiah 8 when the prophet says:

“‘Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not the rules of the Lord.” (Jer. 8:5-7; ESV)

The comparison here is between the people who are like a horse given its head, plunging forward according to its will and the birds who know their place and obey the rules their Creator has set for them.

What is the significance of all this for us? God tells us in Romans that we can know His character through His creation:

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

In this section of Jeremiah, we get a taste of what that means, at least in part. The laws of nature, things like gravity and th seasons changing in their time, show us that our God is one of laws and regularity and they even give us an example of how to obey Him. So too the birds mentioned in Jeremiah 8 are examples to us, perhaps in their regular migratory patterns, of what it means to adhere to the law. In our very modern mindset we like to separate things out; we don’t like to mix religion with science or politics or much else. But God’s creation is a unity and He made it so that it not only functions as it should but also so that it teaches us if we would only perceive it rightly.

Nebby

Creation and Evolution (Part 4): Is God Deceptive?

Dear Reader,

This will, I think, be my fourth and final post on E.O. Wilson’s book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. You can read the previous ones here, here, and here.

Throughout the book, though his goal is to convince Christians to work with him in preserving the environment, Wilson comes off as quite dismissive of Christian beliefs and even a bit obnoxious and offensive when he discusses things like the end times (why this even comes up in such a book, I am not sure). Towards the end of the book, he very briefly mentions and dismisses the theory of creation known as Intelligent Design. This is again one of those passages that had a very mocking tone and I don’t know how he thinks he will convince anyone with the tack he takes. Nevertheless, in the course of it all, he asks a very good question of the young earth creationists (YECs). He says:

“Life was self-assembled by random mutation and natural selection of the codifying molecules. As radical as such an explanation may seem, it is supported by an overwhelming body of interlocking evidence. It might yet prove wrong, but year by year that seems less probable. And it raises this theological question: Would God have been so deceptive as to salt the earth with so much misleading evidence?” (p. 166)

Now I suspect that YECs would reply that Wilson and his fellow evolutionists are misinterpreting the evidence and that it does not say what they think it says. But the fact is that there are an awful lot of people who would see things the way Wilson does, that the fossil record and the layers of the earth and all that show an old earth with a long history of life. So I think Wilson’s question is a valid one: Are the YECs really the only ones interpreting this evidence rightly? If they are correct and everyone else is misreading the evidence, why? Why would God allow so many people to be led astray on this issue? Is He deceiving them on purpose?

Now obviously there are quite a lot of humans, both now and in the past, who have not been Christians. I would say that these people are deceived about a lot of things. Depending on the person, these might include whether there is a God, what He is like, what their stance before Him is, and how they can be saved. The Bible tells us that when it comes to salvation issues that the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to some people and not others. What YECs seem to be implying is that God also reveals the truth about other issues, those not so directly related to salvation like how creation happened and the age of the earth, to His people as well and withholds it from most other people. This is not an argument I can accept. I think God’s truth on matters of science and the like has come through many quite ungodly people. Such truths are not the province of Christians alone. Look, for instance, at how Islam preserved learning through the Dark Ages in Europe or at the wisdom on the ancient Greeks.

So if God’s truths on matters not directly related to salvation are not available exclusively to His people, why are so many people(in the YEC view) wrong about the age of the earth? It sure makes it sound like God is deceiving them on purpose. And if so, we must with Wilson ask why. This does not sound like the God I know. He is not the sort of God who would plant bones or strata or rocks in the earth that look old just to fool those silly scientists. He is a God whose creation makes sense and He does allow humans to find out about Him and His creation by studying what He has made.

So whatever the faults of Wilson’s book, I think we need to take this question seriously. How about it, YECs? How do you respond to this question?

Nebby

Low-Carb and Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles

Dear Reader,

While on vacation this summer, my older daughter got a real bakery snickerdoodle, as big and sugary as can be (bought by her aunt). My younger daughter, who is off gluten, soy and most dairy, got a leftover brownie. Now the brownies were good, but she still had to watch that snickerdoodle being eaten. So I promised her I would figure out how to make gluten-free snickerdoodles when we got hoe. Here they are. These ones can also be made dairy-free and they are low carb.THMers, these are an S. I am indebted for this recipe to both Betty Crocker, whose recipe they are based off of, and Maria Mind Body Health, whose biscuit recipe I used as the base.

Low-Carb and Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

1/2 protein powder (use egg white if dairy-free)

3 1/2 c blanched almond meal (must be blanched; it has a different consistency)

1 tbsp xantham gum

3 tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs

1/2 c butter (if dairy-free, omit and increase coconut oil to 1 cup)

1/2 c coconut oil

2 c xylitol

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/2 c xylitol

1/3 c cinnamon

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon liners.

2. In a medium bowl, combine protein powder, almond meal, xantham, powder, and salt. Stir until uniform.

3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, butter, oil, 2 c xylitol, and vinegar. Stir.

4. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix well.

5. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 c xylitol and cinnamon.

6. Roll dough into 1″ balls and then roll each in cinnamon sugar. Place on cookie sheets.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. The cookies may just begin to get brown and should crack at the tops. These cookies spread out a little when baked but still remain a fairly thick cookie.

Makes 30 good-sized cookies.

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Fresh out of the oven. They have spread just a little and have a few cracks across their tops.

Fresh out of the oven. They have spread just a little and have a few cracks across their tops.

The finished product

The finished product

My 9yo can't wait to start eating.

My 9yo can’t wait to start eating.

Enjoy!

Nebby

Christians and the Environment, Part 3: Wilderness?

Dear Reader,

This is the third post I am writing in response to E.O. Wilson’s book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. In the first one, I discussed the problems I had with the book. In the second, I looked at what Wilson has to say to Christians. Now I would like to look more closely at one statement Wilson makes.

In the third chapter, Wilson asks “what is nature?” In the course of answering this question he does a good job of describing just how vast and invasive the effect of humanity of the earth has been. The gist of the chapter if that, for Wilson, nature is at its best when it is wilderness, that is, when it is as unaffected as possible by human beings. His call to preserve the earth seems largely to be a call to keep as much of it a wilderness as possible, or even to return it to that state if we are able.

While I do think Christians should be concerned about the state of the environment, I am not sure that I agree with Wilson’s goal. In Genesis we were told to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28; ESV). There is no denying that a lot of what humanity has done has had a negative affect on the earth, but the fact is that we are commanded to affect it. Wilderness is not the biblical ideal.  

I think we Christians could use a lot more discussion on what our impact on the earth should be. Should we be making everything farm land? That doesn’t seem right, but where are the lines? How do we cultivate without inadvertently destroying as we have so often? I know Wilson would like to see Christians and non-Christians on the same page at least in terms of preserving our environment but I am skeptical of how possible that will be when we come from such different philosophical foundations. Can we even agree on what it means to preserve and how much influence it is okay to have on the earth?

Nebby

Christians and the Environment (Part 2)

Dear Reader,

In my previous post, I had a fair number of negative things to say about the book The Creation: An Appeal to Save LIfe on Earth by E.O. Wilson. The short version of that post is that I find Wilson’s own position so contradictory and illogical that his book was very aggravating for me to read. Nonetheless, in the midst of all that, Wilson does have some very useful things to say to Christians.

The object of Wilson’s book is to convince Christians, particularly  literal 7-day creationist ones, to join him in the fight to save our environment as we know it. Wilson himself is a professor of biology at Harvard University and a secular humanist. While I can’t see his book being very convincing to his target audience, Wilson does have some good points that I would now like to pull out.

Wilson speaks of stewardship which was actually a word that I had not heard outside of Christian circles very much. But this is exactly how we Christians should be thinking of our relationship to the environment. Genesis 1 and 2 give a picture of man (and woman) as the caretaker of the earth. It is our job to tend it and to cultivate it and I think Wilson is right that we need to be careful to not in the process abuse it or waste its resources.

Why this is not already a big deal in Christian circles in somewhat of a mystery to Wilson. Early on in the book, he says:

“I am puzzled that so many religious leaders . . . have hesitated to make protection of the Creation an important part of their magisterium.” (p. 5)

Wilson does not say it so straightforwardly, but I think we Christians do deserve to be asked: If you believe God created all this and you want to please Him, why do you not care more about preserving it? It is a fair criticism of us I think. While preserving the environment is not by any means the heart of the Christian message, it is part of God’s command to us to care for His world.

One point I think Wilson fails to get is that while we may mourn the destruction of so much of our environment and may seek to work to preserve what there is, for Christians there is never a loss of hope nor need there be a sense of panic about the state of the world. We are called to tend the earth but we do not do so alone. As in all things, God is ultimately in charge and the world will not go down the tubes unless He wills it. I realize this argument can be used to trash our terrestrial home; if God is ultimately taking care of it all, why should we bother? No doubt there are some Christians who think this way but I would venture to say that most are not so irresponsible. While I believe in a sovereign God, He can and does choose to work through us and He has commanded us to care for creation so we must do so, but at the same time we need not fear about its future in the way that Wilson seems to.

Wilson is at his best when his love for nature shines through as it does a number of times in this book. He does a wonderful job of showing how our environment serves us and even how obscure fungi benefit us. In fact, as I read through such passages, I was inspired to greater awe at how God has interwoven the parts of creation so that they work together and also work for the good of His people. How Wilson can see and describe such things without then seeing the Creator who made it all, I cannot understand, but I suppose that is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes in.

Christianity should have a lot to say about the environment. One of the issues that I struggled with in Wilson’s own outlook was how we humans can be a part of the ongoing process of evolution and yet rise above it and have such an impact on the environment. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I find Wilson’s arguments on such issues confusing (whether he himself is confused I have no idea; but I find the way he talks about such things contradictory). He says we are but a part of a purely naturalistic process and yet at the same time speaks of our ability to and responsibility to affect what is happening. Christianity has the power to reconcile these contradictory strands. It says that while we are created, we are also imbued with unique qualities which Scripture calls “the image of God.” It also calls us to affect but also to care for the Creation. We are a part of it and yet above it. This, I think, is not so far from what Wilson believes, but he is unable to account for the above-ness of humanity, or for the spiritual element he alludes to so frequently, in his purely naturalistic philosophy.

There are two more issues arising from this book that I woudl like to address but I think I will save them for future posts.

Nebby

 

Follow Me on Pinterest

Dear Reader,

I know I post on a lot of different things, from theology to homeschooling to recipes. I haven’t really figured out how to use Pinterest to help the theology side of things here, but if you are into recipes, parenting or crafts, please consider following me in Pinterest. I have a few boards and am working on some more.

Nebby

The Creation and Environmentalism: A Book Review (Part 1)

Dear Reader,

In my search for good, living books on biology for my high schooler to read this year, I was pointed to The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life ion Earth by E. O. Wilson. This is not a book I am going to have him read this year, but I myself have just finished reading it and it is has given me a lot to think about and  a lot to be aggravated about.

Wilson’s book was recommended by someone I really like and though I knew that we differed on some points theologically, I was optimistic when I picked the book up. After reading the first pages, I nearly put it down never to touch it again. I didn’t think I would be able to bring myself to get through it. Of course, if I never read things I disagreed with, I wouldn’t have much to blog no would I?

Wilson is a professor of biology at Harvard University (a name which doesn’t impress me overly much; I spent 10 years there as a grad student myself, though in a different field). He styles his book as an open letter to a Southern Baptist pastor on the topic of environmentalism, particularly of saving the earth and its creatures from their immanent destruction. This is not a letter to one particular person whom he knows, but rather a straw figure who seems to be drawn from his own religious past. Wilson makes his own views clear in the first few paragraphs:

“I am a secular humanist. I think existence is what we make of it as individuals.  There is no guarantee of life after death, and heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves, on this planet. There is no other home. Humanity originated here by evolution from lower forms over millions of years. And yes, I will speak plain, our ancestors were apelike animals.” (pp. 3-4)

Now while I don’t personally agree with most of what Wilson himself believes (see this long series of posts on creation/evolution for more on that), the biggest problem I have with his book really comes from the next few sentences. They read:

“Ethics is a code of behavior we share on the basis of reason, law, honor, and an inborn sense of decency, even as some ascribe it to God’s will.” (p. 4)

In a nutshell, the biggest problem I have with this book is that Wilson’s own position seems so contradictory. He does not believe in God, he sees all earth’s life as the product of merely scientific processes, and yet he speaks of morality and even of the spiritual throughout the book. What is the spiritual if we are only the result biological and chemical processes? Where does morality come from if there is nothing higher? And with regard to the particular argument of this book, why should we work to preserve one particular environment and set of creatures on earth when Wilson himself admits that they have been constantly changing throughout earth’s history?

I will come back to these questions in a minute, but I do want to acknowledge up front that not everything in this book is worthless. While I find Wilson’s own position frustrating and contradictory, he actually raises some really good points when it comes to his opponent’s position and I think he can give us Christians much to consider when it comes to our own approach to the environment. He at times caricaturizes his opponent and even seems to mock Christian positions, which I don’t think helps his argument at all since his stated goal is to win Christians over in the first against environmental change, but if we can see through all this, he has a  few good points that are worth considering.

I suspect that all that I have to say will take multiple posts. I would like to begin in this one with the parts that irritated me the most, namely Wilson’s own position.

As I said above, Wilson appeals to morality a lot. I just cannot see where this morality comes from if there is no higher power.  In the quote above, he spoke of “reason” and “an inborn sense of decency.” Later on the same page he says, “You and I and every other human being strive for the same imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is larger than ourselves” (p. 4). There is a lot here to unpack and I hardly know where to begin. To begin with, I dispute the argument that all of humanity shares these same values. These seem like very western values to me. If recent history has shown us anything, it should be that not all people’s strive for and claim freedom like we Americans do. Many of our international troubles seem to stem from our mistaken belief that other people groups want the same kind of freedom we have. When given the opportunity to vote, they often surprise us by picking what we would call repressive regimes. Similarly, I am not sure that personal dignity is a world-wide value. The US more than anywhere else perhaps is about the individual, but other cultures are much more focused on the community and care much less about the individual person.

With regard to the cause larger than ourselves, we may ask if it matters at all what this cause is? Or is it enough to have a cause and yours is equally as valid as mine? Wilson makes it clear that his cause is preservation of the environment as it now stands and this book is his impassioned appeal on its behalf. But where do these causes come from? If we are the product of only impersonal processes, how do we develop the traits Wilson ascribes to us, the need for freedom, dignity, and something to believe in, among others? If I start from purely evolutionary presuppositions, I can see how some “values” might develop. The need for security, for instance, seems obvious. To pass on his or her genes, an individual must have some sense of self-preservation. And I could see that values which benefit the community might also be selected for. But where do we get “freedom of choice” and that larger cause bit? In the earlier quote, Wilson had mentioned reason, but how and why should we trust our reason if it too is only the product of numerous chemical reactions over the course of millenia? If I am a perfectly normal, reasonable person but you are  a raving lunatic, why is my logic and better than yours? Who’s to say the future will not be owned by the raving lunatics? They are more likely to kill the rest of us off after all.

There is one value for which Wilson attempts to provide a scientific reason. That is what he calls “biophilia,” that is, our innate love of other species (p. 63). Wilson shows that people of all cultures, when given a choice. prefer to live on a height, near water, looking down on a lightly treed landscape. It is easy to see how evolution might have favored such people. He makes a decent case that a natural setting is a healthy habitation for human beings and that we still respond positively to natural surroundings. I feel like he drops the ball a little on connecting this back to biophilia and why we should also prefer other living creatures, but I can at least see where he is going with it all. If Wilson had left it at that, and argued that we have an inborn drive to prefer other species, that they, in their very abundance, benefit us as a species, he might have made a decent point. When he tries to refer to other “values” that he presumes we share, like honor and freedom, I think he takes the point too far and he ends up with not much to stand on since he can’t say where all these values come from or what makes one better than another.

I think Wilson also hurts his own argument when he speaks, as he does a number of times, of the spiritual. Whatever he personally believes, he writes as one who is a pure scientist, who sees no role for the divine, whatever form it may take, in the development of the earth and its creatures. And yet he seems unable to make his argument without appealing to something higher. He says that:

“The spiritual roots of Homo sapiens extend deep into the natural world through still mostly hidden channels of mental development. We will not reach our full potential without understanding the origin and hence meaning of the aesthetic and religious qualities that make us ineffably human.” (p. 12)

He goes on to speak of “our souls” (p. 13) and the “wonder that shaped the human psyche at its birth” (p. 12). What on earth do these terms, soul especially, mean when we are not more than biological organisms? Still later he speaks of “the mystery of the world” and certain creatures which he considers “jewels in the crown of Creation. Just to know they are out there alive and well is important to the spirit, to the wholeness of our lives” (p. 58).

Wilson speaks rapturously of science, seeing it as the pinnacle humanity has reached after “the long, torturous path dominated by tribalism and animated by religion” (p. 105). He says that it “makes no claims beyond what can be sensed in the real world. It generates knowledge in the most productive ad unifying manner contrived in history, and it serves humanity with obeisance to any particular tribal deity” (p. 106). Despite these grand claims, the fact is that Wilson himself cannot seem to help referencing terms of a spiritual nature, things that he and his science cannot define or prove the existence of.

Wilson is clearly passionate about his discipline. This shows when he talks of the ants (his area of specialty) he has studied and when he talks of how we should introduce children to nature. I also think his goal, the stewardship of the earth (yes, he uses the word stewardship; I thought only Christians threw that term around these days), is a noble one. Where he fails is in showing me why someone coming from his point of view, someone who relies only on science and who does not (openly) acknowledge the divine in any form, should care.

Wilson makes a good case that humans have had a big impact of nature. I think it would be hard to deny this. Animals may affect their environments but they have not done so and cannot do so in anything like the way people do. We shape, mold, transform, and yes, often destroy our environments. Though we may have adapted to live in certain conditions, we also adapt the world to suit us, living in places that would otherwise be uninhabitable to us. What Wilson fails to account for is how this is even possible. Why do humans rise above the rest of the creatures? What makes us different? Wilson clearly has a sense that there is something that sets us apart. That is why he speaks as he so often does of the soul and the spirit. But without any religion, he is left foundering and contradicting himself.

If evolution is all there is, then humanity is only part of the process and we have no reason even to think that we are the culmination of it all. The fact is there have been mass extinctions in the history of the earth (Wilson addresses this on p. 73). Why is it bad if there is another? I know it takes a long time for the earth to come back after each of these but if that is the process, if it is impersonal, why should we care? I can’t help picturing in my head some sort of cartoon with dinosaurs telling each other they need to eat fewer plants (or fewer of each other) so that they will not die out — after all, we are the climax of evolution. Setting aside for a moment the catastrophic scenario, if the earth is changing, getting warmer they say, whether it is human-caused or not, won’t the animals and plants adapt? Isn’t that what they have always done? Why is today’s monkey more to be valued than tomorrow’s? To return to the problem of morality, if there is no one in charge, if creation is just impersonal forces, just physical laws and chemical reactions by the ba-zillions, why should one environment or one set of species be preferred over another? We have no basis on which to judge that this scenario is good and that one is bad. Oh, we could argue that this or that is better for the human species’ survival. Wilson comes close to that when he discusses getting rid of head lice and mosquitos (two species even he could do without; p. 35), but for the most part his argument is not that we should be so self-serving. Honestly, I would have respected that argument more. Instead he tries to appeal to our common values, as he defines them, and his argument falls flat.

I realize this has been a pretty negative post. I can’t say this is a book I would recommend because I feel it has so many weaknesses and I don’t think it achieves its stated goal which is to convince Christians to help preserve the environment. If anything, I as a Christian am frustrated by what I see as the inconsistencies in Wilson’s own position and turned off by the way he talks to Christians and at times inaccurately and mockingly portrays their positions. If one can see through all this, there are some good points Wilson makes and I do think that for Christians there are some very good reasons to take care of the earth. These I will touch on next time.

Nebby

journey-and-destination

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Harmony Fine Arts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

The Common Room

....Blogging about cabbages and kings since 2005.

Sage Parnassus

Blogging about education, theology, and more

A peaceful day

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Living Charlotte Mason in California

Blogging about education, theology, and more

weeklywalrus

Weekly Walrus Whatevers

Crafty Creations by Maris

homemade crafts and more

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Afterthoughts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Leah's Bookshelf

Book Reviews You Can Trust

Duxbury Art Boosters

Supporting the visual arts in Duxbury Public Schools

Just Right Porridge

... you'll lick your bowl clean...

livinglikelinds

Seizing life three L's at a time!

Homeschooling Middle East

A Homeschooling/Unschooling Adventure from Bahrain to Dubai that's a story for anyone, anywhere who's interested in offering their kids an educational alternative. Please have fun visiting and have even more fun commenting! We have now moved to Granada, Spain and I will write again once we've settled down!!

Exclusive Psalmody

For the Encouragement and Preservation of Biblical Worship

Charlotte Mason Institute

Supporting an international conversation toward an authentic Charlotte Mason education - awakening to delightful living

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers