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8/15/2003

 

predestination III: who was jacob arminius and what did he think?



several months ago, i began a three part series on the predestination, parts I and II of which can be found here and here respectively.

i got an email recently from a reader who kindly enquired as to whether or not i'd finished the series, and when i saw that i hadn't, i promised him i would do so at once. so, without further delay, here is jacob arminius.

born 1560, died 1609. james herman was born as the son of a tradesman into comfortable, middle-class surroundings in the dutch town of oudewater, but his early life was to be one of tragedy and upheaval. his father died while he was an infant, and a clergyman by the name of theodore amelius took him under his wing. james studied with amelius until he was fifteen, when his mentor passed away. he had by that time earned himself a reputation as a gifted student and pious young Christian, and managed to attract the attention of a scholar and native of his hometown, who took young james back with him to his university in marpurg. shortly after his arrival there, james learned that his hometown had been attacked by the spanish army, and that his family had been slaughtered.

with nothing left for him but his studies, james enrolled in the dutch university at leyden, where he quickly distinguished himself among his peers. he won a scholarship from the church at amsterdam on the condition that after his ordination, he remain in their service throughout his life. after being ordained, he began his preaching to great acclaim and was considered a rising star of reformation theology. when a dutchman by the name of coornhert began arguing against some of calvin's doctrines, james was called upon to defend the faith. instead, he began to question calvinism itself, particularly the "supralapsarian" view, a view which essentially holds that man was created out of God's desire to demonstrate his mercy and justice as opposed to the more moderate "sublapsarian" view, which holds that God willed first to create man in His own image, then, after permitting the fall, to elect some to salvation and others to damnation. the major difference between the two is that, in the first, the fall of man itself was predestined by God. not quite comfortable with his departure from what was the accepted version of calvinism for the marginal sublapsarian view, james began to re-evaluate the Scriptures and writings of the early church fathers, eventually settling on the doctrine of predestination that he is known for today.

he began making only modest remonstrations at first (his followers soon came to be known as "remonstrants") but gained confidence and was, by around 1590, the center of a national controversy--one which has yet to subside.

james took to using the latin version of his name, jacobus arminius, as was customary for scholars in his age. he is known by this name today. what, then, did arminius think?

arminius' response to calvinism

as i pointed out in predestination II, the famed TULIP acronym is a summary of the findings of the synod of dort, a dutch counsel that reaffirmed calvin's doctrine in the face of mounting criticism from arminian "remonstrants". like calvin's own writings, arminius' work is highly nuanced and defies ready summation, still, TULIP can serve once more, this time to illuminate the major differences between the two views as a means of bringing arminian theology to light. it seems to me this is the most natural way to present his theology, as it arose out of his objections to calvin (although, ironically enough, the five points of calvinism that i'll use here were first offered in response to the five points of remonstrance, which were a sketch of arminius' thought offered by his followers. i'm not using those because i want to stick with what arminius himself said.)

T: on the Total depravity of man, calvinists believe that man in his fallen state is utterly incapable of pleasing God, and can do nothing to merit his own salvation. to this day, calvinists frequently hammer home the point that we were dead in our sins until we came to Christ, and could not have saved ourselves. they use this frequently in objection to the "semi-pelagian" views of arminius, views which they feel come dangerously close to the heretical teachings of pelagius, who basically denied the fall of man, teaching that we could indeed perform good works which were meritorious towards salvation. arminius explicitly distanced himself from the pelagian view of man, and, in fact, agreed wholeheartedly with the calvinists and said in his public disputation on free will:

In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, "Without me ye can do nothing."


arminius completely denies the possibility that man is capable of good works meriting salvation in his fallen state, and even denies that we could do good works after salvation were it not for the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. where he differs from the calvinist on total depravity is that he does not believe that God has allowed man's free will towards evil to be destroyed--in other words, man is never forced to do that which is evil, but freely chooses it, and so can be held justly accountable for what he has done.

I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this — that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil.


contrast this with the supralapsarian view of calvinism in which certain men were created as sinning robots so that God could punish them, punish them not because they chose to do evil, but because he wanted to show his ability to punish and created evil-doers to that end. in the supralapsarian view, God gives no considerations to the good or evil a man may have done in deciding to elect or damn them.

U: as mentioned above, supralapsarian calvinism holds that God's decision to elect isn't conditioned by anything in man, that is, we receive Unconditional election. when He makes His decision whether to elect unto eternal life, or condemn to eternal damnation, it isn't on the basis of anything the man will ever do. arminius agrees insofar as he acknowledges that man has not done anything to deserve salvation, that is, God isn't electing someone because He owes it to them, but rather because He decreed as His immutable purpose that whoever would accept Jesus Christ as savior and Lord would be saved, regardless of anything they may have done.

in arminius' own words, God first "decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue,"

then, God "decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ,"

thirdly, He "decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means which were necessary for repentance and faith," in a fashion consistent with both His wisdom and justice,"

and finally, He "decreed to save and damn certain particular persons."

as you can see, this version of predestination is the inversion of the calvinist view, and places special emphasis on the role of man's free will, which, while completely depraved and incapable of inclining itself towards any real good, has been supernaturally preserved by God to such an extent that man may, if he chooses, accept Christ and will be given by God the faith needed to make such a choice. as arminius writes

[election] has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.


emphasis mine.

so although man is free to choose Christ, it is only because God intervenes in his depraved will making such a thing possible. God foreknows those who will exercise such a choice in his favor, and persevere in such a choice (again, being enabled to do so only by the power of God's grace to which they may freely--more on that when we get to "P"), and elects them unto eternal life.

L: "when Christ died on the cross," says the calvinist "it was to save the elect only." if, after all, predestination rests on the basis of God's desire to show mercy or wrath, Christ dying for anyone other than the elect would have been senseless, and, at least in spirit if not in effect, contrary to that purpose. this, then, is Limited atonement.

now, if you do a search for "universal atonement," you'll find several websites condemning the heresy of universalism, that is, the faith that Christ's death on the cross saved all men. you'll also find a bunch of calvinist websites claiming that this is what arminius' teaching lead to, although they do usually point out that arminian theology actually says that while Christ died for everyone, His death was only effective for those who believe. a classic attempt to dismiss this distinction is that if Christ died for all sins, and unbelief in Christ is a sin, then Christ died for that sin, too, and thus all men are saved. (but is this a valid objection? the arminian does not deny the adequacy of Christ's payment, even for unbelief, he simply questions when that payment is made effective. unbelief, too, has been paid for along with all other sins, but that payment is held in escrow, so to speak, and not applied to our account until we accept it, and until we accept it, we cannot be forgiven. there's a distinction between payment and forgiveness, the former makes the latter possible, but it needn't make it necessary. someone could buy me a ticket to hawaii, but perhaps i don't like hawaii and reject his offer, or maybe it's a plane ticket and i want a cruise instead, or maybe i'm very proud and would rather pay my own way, etc.)

what you won't find, however, is direct quote in which arminius himself explicitly teaches universal atonement, and i'm beginning to suspect that's because he never taught it. i've hunted myself, both among arminius' own writings and among calvinist websites who contrast "arminius'" view of atonement with calvin's, but so far i've come up empty. if anyone knows of an instance where jacobus arminius himself taught this, i'd appreciate it if you clued me in.

clearly this teaching is associated with the aforementioned "arminian theology," but that has to do with the systematizing of arminius' writings by his later followers. and clearly, arminius believed that God didn't want anyone to perish, but was forced to condemn some because of their stubborn refusal to accept Christ. in that sense, the notion that Christ's death was sufficient for all, but only effective for some, is perfectly consistent with his thought. but in another sense, it's, well, not inconsistent, but perhaps unnecessary.

i once attended a lecture given by the noted calvinist theologian and apologist r. c. sproul, who said that the doctrine that Christ died to make salvation "possible" for all but "necessary" for none (in essence, the "arminian" view) was, in his opinion, "pernicious." God would not have allowed Christ to die, he reasoned, for the mere possibility that some might be saved. but even in the thought of arminius himself, there was no mere possibility, but rather a certainty: whether you agree with arminus' view of predestination or not, it must be admitted that, even in his teaching, God was fully aware before the foundations of the earth had been laid exactly who would be saved and who would not be. in other words, Christ needn't have died for anyone other than the elect, even by arminius' own view of predestination. so while limited atonement exists in stark contrast to the "arminian" view, it seems that it is in accord with the thought of jacobus arminius himself.

anyway, my apologies for not being able to find you a quote. everything i say in general should be taken with a grain of salt the size of gibraltar, but here especially.

I: Irresistible grace, to the calvinist, is the only sort of grace there is. once God has decided to save someone, they will be saved, no ifs, ands, or buts. this applies both to the grace that saves, and to the grace ensures the saint will persevere in the faith once he has been saved (and, indeed, it makes little sense to have the first without the second.)

what is important to note about arminius' view of God's grace is that it is identical to the calvinist's in every respect except that it is never offered in such a way as to override man's free will.

In reference to Divine Grace, I believe,

1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, "that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life," and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation.

2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, etc.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good.

3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

...From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, "is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?" ...With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.


not much more i can add here, really. grace is grace, to a calvinist and arminian alike. this is why calvinists often use the word "sovereign" when prefacing their own grace, and "cheap" when prefacing that of the arminian. they see God's grace as being extended only to those whom He has chosen, and then regardless of their consent. to the arminian, the same grace is extended, but to all, and only with their consent.

P: finally, the perseverance of the saints. according to the calvinist, the same irresistible grace which is exercised in election seals us in our salvation. we can no more separate ourselves from God once saved than we could join ourselves to Him while we were lost. arminius struggled with the question of whether or not a true believer could leave the faith, but believed it at least a possible valid interpretation of Scripture that they may:

...it is not possible for [those who are saved], by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual. Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.


later, he wrote

The opinion which denies "that true believers and regenerate persons are either capable of falling away or actually do fall away from the faith totally and finally," was never, from the very times of the apostles down to the present day, accounted by the church as a catholic doctrine. Neither has that which affirms the contrary ever been reckoned as a heretical opinion; nay, that which affirms it possible for believers to fall away from the faith, has always had more supporters in the church of Christ, than that which denies its possibility of its actually occurring.


but what does this say for God's immutability? if someone is truly saved, that is, predestined, how could they then walk away from their faith? haven't they thwarted God's eternal purpose? surely, it is not in the power of man to do such a thing. has God then changed His mind about those He has predestined?

arminius' view of predestination seems to militate against the possibility of a true believer falling away from the faith, as he wrote, God "knew from all eternity those individuals who would...believe, and...persevere," meaning that unless God Himself changed His mind about those who He elected, one's status as a "true believer" was set in stone. yet arminius affirms God's immutability, writing that it "is a pre-eminent mode of the Essence of God, by which it is void of all change; of being transferred from place to place, because it is itself its own end and good, and because it is immense; of generation and corruption; of alteration; of increase and decrease; for the same reason as that by which it is incapable of suffering. Whence likewise, in the Scriptures, Incorruptibility is attributed to God. Nay, even motion cannot happen to Him through operation; for it appertains to God, and to Him alone, to be at rest in operation."

my hunch is that he did not think losing one's salvation was possible if one was truly saved, but since there were verses that seemed to indicate that it was, he was afraid to simply rule it out altogether. it seems clear to me that this issue was a source of frustration to him, for although his own theology was in keeping even with the calvinist understanding of perseverance, he could not disprove the alternative from Scripture. again, if anyone knows more about arminius' thought on this matter than i do, by all means feel free to comment.

anyway, i guess that about wraps it up.

locdog hopes you enjoyed this discussion




8/14/2003

 

a poll:



of the following major developments, which holds the most terrifying ramifications for human civilization, A or B?

locdog reminds you to vote early and often




8/13/2003

 

ADL: the Bible is anti-semitic



no one from the jewish watchdog Anti-Defamation League had even seen mel gibson's the passion, a film based on the final twelve hours of the life of Christ, when they'd written their reviews: the film is a masterpiece--of anti-semitic propaganda, one to rival the eternal jew.

now that they've actually seen the film they've been crucifying gibson over since they first learned of its existence oh so many months ago, have they decided to reconsider? far from it.

An ADL representative, Rabbi Eugene Korn, the head of the group's office on interfaith affairs, attended a private screening of the film — about the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ — at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts on Friday. The ADL previously had not been allowed to see it.

"This is not a disagreement between the Jews and Mr. Gibson," Korn said. "Many theologically informed Catholics and Protestants have expressed the same concerns regarding anti-Semitism and that this film may undermine Christian-Jewish dialogue and could turn back the clock on decades of positive progress in interfaith relations."

Said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director: "We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate."


the funny thing about the passion is that, anti-semitic or not, no one is questioning its accuracy--not with respect to the Bible, anyway. Christian fundamentalists have praised the film's slavish adherence to the Biblical text (and we know slavish adherence to the Biblical text, my friends). that, in fact, is the problem: the movie is too accurate. it simply shows what the Bible says, and that, according to the ADL will "undermine Christian-Jewish dialogue," and "fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate." in other words, if your church is going to be "responsible," it had better not teach the Bible.

what's particularly frustrating to me about all the criticism--as a Christian yes, but also as someone who's interested in history--is that no one really cares whether or not what gibson has put on screen is actually true. but why the sudden change of heart? in case you're not following me, let me give you an example. whenever [insert favorite rap artist] wrote songs about shooting cops or slapping around some 'ho, liberal intellectuals defended their atrocious lyrics on the grounds of accuracy: like it or not, [ibid.] was realistically portraying life in the inner-city, and truthfully expressing the feelings of its denizens. if some fourteen year old fan decided to put some of their suggestions into practice, we were told that the artists could not be held liable and given some spiel about artistic liberty and censorship and we're-performers-not-role-models yada yada yada.

times have changed, i guess.

did we're-not-role-models' leftist advocacy base really care about truth? of course not. if some klanner from podunk, mississippi had cut the exact same album in an attempt to stereotype african american males he would have been roundly denounced as a racist. truth is defended as a virtue when it is convenient, and swept under the rug when it is not.

now gibson finds himself in hot water for telling the true story of what happened two thousand years ago as a testament to that very fact. truth doesn't matter as much as "Christian-Jewish dialogue" because, as i'm sure any "responsible" relationship expert could tell you, all "positive progress" in a relationship stems from open communication built on a solid foundation of lies.

but most of you "Christians" needn't worry. you're too "theologically informed" to actually take your own faith seriously. you wouldn't want to be a jew-baiter like gibson, after all. it's only the deranged, lunatic fringe of Christendom the ADL refers to--you know, those who believe that four documents written by eye-witnesses to the actual events described (or those who interviewed said witnesses) ought to be believed over the words of modern Scriptural critics who were born two thousand years after the last living witness died, and who haven't a shred of evidence, written or otherwise, to indicate that things didn't happen exactly the way the Bible said they did. (on that, btw, i'll gladly debate any of you.) and even if the so-called higher critics are all a bunch of crackpots, who cares what's true if the truth might lead to anti-semitism? who knows, after seeing gibson's movie, throngs of adoring fans might stampede out the doors and lynch the first jew they see. pardon me for being so glib here, folks, but i can't help but sense that the ADL is hinting at that old slippery slope argument, the one that goes "Christian anti-semitism lead to the holocaust so let's not start that again." you don't see how absurd their implication is until you spell it all out, then you see that what we are really talking about here is, at worst, hurt feelings.

anyway, in the end, we're left with a clear line of demarcation between "responsible" Christian and anti-semite. if you believe the Bible, you're an anti-semite. it's just that simple.

locdog is glad someone finally warned him





8/12/2003

 

fox vs. franken: the fur flies!



reeeeooow!

there's a reason, folks, that al franken's books have the words "RUSH LIMBAUGH" or "FAIR AND BALANCED" prominently displayed on their covers. part of it has to do with franken's target audience: low-brow liberals who think michael moore is an intellectual and consider bill mahar a reasoned, moderate voice in american politics. you know, the sort who are too stupid to know their own limbaughs when they see them--not that i mean to besmirch the name of the great El Rushbo himself, mind you. limbaugh may or may not be a professional dung-flinger (he isn't) but even if he was, he'd at least be an original dung-flinger.

but a far larger part of it is that, despite the shortcomings of his fans, franken himself is actually quite clever. he is, in fact, possessed of a remarkable, almost socratic sense of self-knowledge: franken's true wisdom lies in knowing that he is nothing. think about it. he's dumb. he's ugly. he's not funny. he can't write. why on earth would anyone ever care what he had to say? given that he's aware of these faults (and what "comedian" doesn't have an inferiority complex?), you can practically hear him begging his publishers to let him run conservative icons or shibboleths on his covers--and you can practically feel the whoosh! as the publishers sigh in relief. i mean, they probably figured they'd have to battle for weeks to get al to whore himself with these most shameless of marketing tactics. if your book, magazine, church bulletin, lost dog poster, stereo instruction, or milk carton sales are in need of a boost, just stick the Maharushie on the front, kick your feet up, and rake in the profits.

toss in the paint-chip eaters who comprise franken's ready-made fan base, some lavish, wholly undeserved praise from the nyt and any other publication desperate for someone--anyone--who can carry the liberal message to the masses with something resembling humor and style, and bingo! instant bestseller. the leftwing dittohead types will sincerely believe his cover art is "satire," a concept which, for them, found its highest expression back in kindergarten when they first snickered at someone's snotty mimicry of the teacher--you know: "look at me! i'm mrs. so-and-so! drink your milk! take a nap! blah-blah-blah!" their elitist buddies are probably smart enough to know crass commercialism when they see it, but will kindly overlook it by pretending that, somehow, the prose precedes the packaging.

uh huh.

anyway, no one could say it better than fox's lawyers, whose wit and wisdom you can find at drudge's site, although by the time you read this it may be gone. so here it is for a posterior's sake, er, i mean, for posterity's sake:

"Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality," according to the complaint. "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."

Lawyers for Fox who filed the complaint also take issue with Franken's book cover because it "mimics the look and style" of two books written by Bill O'Reilly

The court papers refer to Franken, who is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, as a "parasite"

Franken is also accused of verbally attacking O'Reilly and Sean Hannity on at least two occasions, and of being "either intoxicated or deranged"...


locdog knows what you are thinking, but at least ann coulter has nice legs




8/11/2003

 

what's the difference between intelligent design and creationism?



no, i'm not going to start using caps, although i had to actually hand the following in to be graded for a philosophy of science class i was taking. i got an A! anyway, i had to tone it down a bit for the benefit of my atheist professor (who was great, in case she's reading this!) but i think it's still blogworthy. it's even got good word-rule thingy...you know...grammur or whatever they call it.

In 1997, a high school biology teacher named Roger DeHart found himself at the center of a bitter national controversy. Mr. DeHart, who had taught evolution faithfully for fourteen years, wanted to give his students an alternative viewpoint to the strict naturalism he had been teaching by introducing a concept called “Intelligent Design” (ID), a concept which posited that natural causes alone could not adequately account for the complexity of life. One of his students went to the ACLU, who promptly threatened a suit against Mr. DeHart’s school board, alleging in essence that Intelligent Design was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state—the equivalent of teaching religion in the classroom. Although Mr. DeHart did not specifically mention God, he was charged by the ACLU with “presenting the discredited and illegal theory of creationism,” in the form of pseudo-science which was, in their words, nothing more than “a smoke screen for creationists who have lost in the courts.”

Since that time, Intelligent Design has been almost universally dismissed by the broader scientific community as “stealth creationism,” a shameless attempt to squeeze God in through the gap between scientific enlightenment, and religious proselytizing. Professor Emeritus Victor Stenger from the University of Hawaii, one of ID’s most outspoken critics, summarizes the movement thusly: “The new creationists seek to undermine science because of what they see as an underlying, dogmatic assumption of purposelessness. Once again they demonstrate how little about science they know. Science is not dogmatic about purpose, or anything else. It will go wherever the data lead.”

But what is Intelligent Design? What is creationism? Where do the two ideas coincide, and where do they diverge? Are they, in fact, synonymous, or are they the very different ideas that creationists and ID proponents claim them to be? Unless we understand what a creationist or ID proponent is, the question is impossible to answer.

What is Creationism?

Simply defined, “Creationism” is the belief that the Bible describes the true history of the universe, and everything within it, including intelligent life.
In 1620, Archbishop James Ussher published The Sacred Chronologies, a treatise on the age of the Earth based on a literal reading of Biblical genealogies. Ussher concluded that the Earth was created by God in the year 4004 BC, and the concept of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) was born. Young Earth Creationism is “Creationism” in the colloquial sense. The chief characteristics of YEC are that the findings of science must always be interpreted in light of the Bible, and that the Bible, as God’s perfect revelation to humanity, must always be interpreted in a hyper-literal manner. Young Earth Creationism is inseparable from a fundamentalist interpretation the Biblical text. This means that the “days” in Genesis 1 are taken to be literal 24 hour periods. To this day, then, most Young Earth Creationists accept Ussher’s Chronologies as being essentially correct, and estimate the age of the Earth to be somewhere between six and ten thousand years.

Various methods are used to account for the frequent discrepancies between science and their Biblical interpretation. For example, many Young Earth Creationists explain away the apparent age of geological features as being the result of Noah’s catastrophic global flood. Usually, this approach is accompanied by criticism of radio-carbon and other modern dating methods. The extinction and age of the dinosaurs is similarly accounted for. Other Young Earth Creationists argue that while the Earth appears to be very old, this is in fact an illusion constructed by God to test the faith of believers. While the former school is preferable to the latter in that it at least offers a falsifiable claim, that is, the existence of a global flood and its proposed impact on geology, both are characterized by frequent ad hoc patches to account for otherwise insoluble problems, such as light from distant stars reaching Earth when the universe has only existed a fraction of the time needed for the journey.

As a rule, Young Earth Creationists are hostile to the findings of secular science. Science that does not harmonize with their understanding of the Biblical creation account is assumed false—the product of poor experimental technique, antagonism towards the Christian religion, or even satanic deceptions. Even scientific findings which would lend support to their broader premises are held at arms length. A good example would be the Big Bang, a theory embraced by some outside the Young Earth camp as evidence of an act of creation, is usually dismissed by Young Earth Creationists as Godless nonsense: ex nihilo creation without a creator.

There are other forms of Creationism besides the YEC variety. The other major Creationist school is Old Earth Creationism, whose adherents usually maintain that the “days” of creation are actually geological eras, although some take “days” in a literal 24 hour sense and posit a “gap” in the Biblical record to account for the old age of the universe. This group is generally friendlier to the findings of modern science, but like all Creationists, they rely on the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of scientific truth.

What is Intelligent Design?

In the words of one ID website, Intelligent Design is “a scientific theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life and its diversity,” and “an intellectual movement that includes a scientific research program for investigating intelligent causes and that challenges naturalistic explanations of origins which currently drive science education and research.”

Intelligent Design deals in inferences from the realm of science. Empirical investigation of the universe and of life, argue ID proponents, reveals exquisite complexities and shocking coincidences. So improbable is it that such a state arose out of pure chance that design is the only reasonable explanation. Intelligent Design has no sacred texts and is not beholden to any particular theology, and although many members are in fact Christians, no specific belief in “God”—a loaded term—is required. An inference to a higher intelligence is the lowest common denominator of ID faithful, beyond that, no religious conclusions are drawn.

ID advocates generally accept the findings of science, and frequently affirm it’s conclusions. For instance, they accept modern estimates of the age of the Earth as ranging in the billions rather than the thousands, and agree that the universe is likely on the order of 14 billion years old. Where Intelligent Design diverges from science is in its metaphysical assumptions, and all Intelligent Design proponents share a pronounced distaste for purely naturalistic explanations. Hence, neo-Darwinism, with its insistence upon blind, undirected processes giving rise to intelligent life, is a favorite, though not universal, target.

Most in the ID camp reject drawing specific conclusions about the nature of God from science. Other than the existence of some vastly superior intellect, little more can be directly inferred from the evidence, thus ID proponents would balk at proclaiming scientific evidence for the Christian God, or the God of some other faith. Personal religious experience is not generally discounted, but is left without the realm of science. The emphasis is on scientific, not theological, truth, although the supernatural conclusions ID proponents draw from scientific evidence are frequently criticized by secular scholars as unwarranted introductions of mysticism into science.

What is the relationship between Intelligent Design and Creationism?

Was Roger DeHart teaching “the discredited and illegal theory of creationism” to his high school students? If one chose to define “Creationism” as merely the theory that the universe had a supernatural originator, then yes. But in the sense implied by the ACLU, the accepted, everyday sense with its characteristic insistence on Biblical truth, he was certainly not. This is the “discredited and illegal” sense of Creationism, wording intended to conjure images of the Scopes Monkey Trial and Bible-Belt fundamentalism indoctrinating unwitting high school students. The lack of precision in the ACLU’s language was not an oversight. As far as Mr. DeHart is concerned, however, the question is largely moot: his school board caved under pressure from the ACLU and forbade the teaching of Intelligent Design.

There is a fundamental incompatibility between Creationism and Intelligent Design, a chasm which seems less broad for a crucial shared belief in a higher mind, but which is just as impassible nonetheless. Creationism is inseparable from the Bible. It is a religious statement imposing itself on science. As scientific theory, the various forms of Creationism are unanimously rejected except by those who hold a certain view of Scripture. The only reason Young Earth Creationism exists, for example, is because some believe that the Bible infallibly teaches the Earth is six thousand years old. Conversely, Intelligent Design starts with science, not the Bible. It sees religious and scientific knowledge as existing in distinct spheres, rather than the Creationist belief of the subservience of science to the teachings of Scripture. It does not belong to any particular religious faith, takes its findings from no particular religious text, and does not affirm any particular conception of God. It is thus often rejected and criticized by Creationists (especially Young Earth Creationists), sometimes as harshly as it is by secular science, because in Creationism, one starts with a very specific conception of the designing mind as a matter of religious faith, and in ID, one starts with science and infers a broad, completely nondescript version of an intelligence which may or may not be compatible with any given religious view. In brief, a designing intelligence exists as a premise for the Creationist, an inference for the proponent of ID.

Is Intelligent Design a scientific theory?

In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the Supreme Court offered the following definition of science:

the essential characteristics of science are:

(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) It is falsifiable.


As a rule, supporters of Intelligent Design argue that ID does meet the basic criteria of a scientific theory, while secular scientists reject this belief. ID’s backers maintain that aside from a metaphysical prejudice against supernatural explanations, there is no reason to reject supernatural explanations. Secular scientists counter that unless a scientific theory is subject to empirical investigation and falsification, it is useless and invalid.

Does Intelligent Design pass the Supreme Court’s test and graduate from “intellectual movement” to “scientific theory”? At the moment, it does not. Clearly it exceeds the limits of “natural law”, but that notwithstanding, there is, at present, no known scientific experiment which could detect or falsify the existence of design in the structure of the natural world. Some, like William Dembski, have pointed to the vanishingly small probabilities of life arising naturally as evidence of design. But while this does suggest that design is, at present, a superior inference than natural causes alone, Dembski’s claims could not be falsified unless some experiment could be formulated which would rule out supernatural construction, and since a supernatural agent is, presumably, at liberty to create in any fashion it chooses, this does not appear to be possible. Further, because no mechanism has been discovered which would make the natural origins of life a plausible scenario does not mean that such a mechanism does not exist. Others, like Michael Behe, have argued for the existence of “irreducibly complex” structures, complex structures composed of complex sub-systems which would have been useless or even counter-productive in the incipient stages of their development, and could not therefore have evolved without some form of direction. The existence of these structures is waved off by most of Behe’s non-ID peers, but whether they exist or not is largely beside the point. While such structures would discredit neo-Darwinism, they would not establish the existence of a designing mind. It could be that there is simply some other natural mechanism waiting to be discovered. Further, if Behe’s ideas were disproved, this would not discredit the notion of an intelligent designer, merely the theories of one of his expounders.

At present, intelligent design does not qualify as science and hence should not be taught as science in public schools. However, this does not mean that it should not be taught at all. In my opinion, a philosophy of science curriculum should be introduced to deal with the metaphysical aspects of science. The inference from design predates scientific thought, and was, in fact, the driving force behind the invention of science itself—the notion that the universe, as the product of a rational Creator, could be explored by rational men. Because ID does not satisfy the strict criteria for science does not mean that its conclusions are in any way untrue, merely that they cannot be proved scientifically. Barring a prejudice against supernatural explanations, there is no reason to suppose that the complexities of the universe, coupled with the failures of naturalism to provide satisfactory explanations for much of observed reality, should not lead a reasonable human being to conclude the presence of a designing mind. Such a prejudice is not a “scientific” one, even though scientists frequently hold it. Science can only speak to empirical truth, hence it is convenient for scientists to assume that empirical truth is all there is. Further, they argue, if divine intervention is posited whenever a gap in knowledge exists, what motive is there to further our investigations? Yet a belief in supernatural intelligence does not presuppose a belief in miraculous meddling at every juncture, indeed, a principle assumption of Intelligent Design is that the designing mind worked in a reasonable way. Failing that, mere scientific curiosity—“to know God’s thoughts,” as Einstein put it, should suffice to drive investigation on regardless of one’s belief in a designer.

and failing God's thoughts, you at least know locdog's--lucky you