What’s in a Polity?

A Review of Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity. ed. C.O. Brand and R. S. Norman (Broadman and Holman, Nashville TN: 2004)

This book is about five different views of church polity written from proponents of each view who give an apologia for their views. In addition, which I really liked, each proponent critiques the other’s views in a section after each chapter. The five different polities are:

(1) The Single-Elder-Led Church (Congregational) – Daniel Akin

(2) The Presbyterian Church Government – Robert L. Reymond

(3) The Congregational-Led Church – James Leo Garret, Jr.

(4) The Bishop-Led Church (Episcopal or Anglican) – The Very Rev. Dr. Theol. Paul F. M. Zahl

(5) The Plural-Elder-Led Church (Congregational) – James R. White

 

The book is obviously heavily weighted with congregational models, where the congregation decides on some level what should be done in the church either by voting on everything or at least in selecting leaders. I suppose these different polities make up the bulk of protestant churches in America, but I don’t really know.

 

So, in reading through the book I was wondering how important is polity, how and why do some churches do things one way and others another, and what does the Bible emphasize in comparison?

 

How important is polity? I had just read Viola’s Reimaging Church prior to the Perspectives book and from Viola one gets the feeling that polity really isn’t that important at all, it’s about Christ working in and through the body in a relatively unstructured, organic way. In the Perspectives book, the importance of polity varies between the authors with some arguing that there really is no set polity doctrine in the Bible, just principles to follow (1, 3, and 4), and therefore is flexible and may be highly influenced by tradition (as in the case of the Bishop-Led model) and others argue it is much more clearly defined in Scripture (2 and 5) and therefore should be followed accordingly, if not rigidly. All the authors also seem to agree that Biblically “epsikopos” and “presbyteros” (terms for overseer or bishop and deacon in the Bible, respectively) are essentially referring to the same position, the former referring to the ministry (overseer or shepherd) and the latter referring to the position/character of the individual. Even Zahl (Bishop-Led) states that there are essentially two orders of ministry: deacons and presbyters, with the third level (episkopos) sounding more like an advanced presbyter rather than a Biblically based position.

 

Perhaps the best way to go about this report is to critique the views in what I believe to be their degree of being off-the-mark.

 

The view which I think is most off-the-mark is the Bishop-Led view of Zahl. His was probably the most readable and entertaining chapter of the whole book and I do appreciate is own critique of the foibles of Anglicanism and Episcopalians throughout history and even their bulky, stuffy, if not stuck form of polity. He argues that the BL view is good for the well-being (benne esse) of the church but does not define its essence (esse). I guess this is the case because it upholds tradition and enables people to have some form of humility because the service is “vertical” and not “horizontal”. Even if the teaching sucks you can get something out of the rest of the service. I was surprised that he didn’t make a greater appeal to apostolic authority (which the Catholics do). He did state that “In the bishops unique ordaining power lies the validity of the church: its “apostolic succession” going back in one unbroken line to the apostles…” (p. 228). Also, in the same section that the church’s catholicity is safeguarded in the three-fold order (Bishops – Prebyters – Deacons) through preaching the Word of God and administering the two Biblical sacraments (Baptism and Communion). However, it wasn’t a very big plea. It seems to me that this is the only argument for this position, albeit a bad one. Perhaps that is why he didn’t make much of it and focused on how the Bishop-Led is good for the well-being of the church and does not constitute its essence. But that doesn’t leave me with much. How is the church going to impact the world if this is all there is (Matt 16:18)? It seems like the BL church is just going to fade away. I thought it fascinating that Zahl, apparently worried about this too, ends his chapter by praying for a “new John Wesley” to emerge again and shake things up.

 

The next most off-the-mark approach in my view was the Presbyterian model. Reymond was the most authoritative and forceful in his arguments of all the authors. He absolutely feels like Scripture has laid out a definite pattern for church government in the form of different levels of presbyters (or courts of presbyters) from the local to the universal church. He claims this is clearly the Biblical position. He did make a big deal about the need for connection between different local churches based on the interconnectedness seen in the NT (e.g., visits and oversight exerted by Paul and others in Acts and epistles). His main argument for ruler ship by a court of presbyters only comes from Acts 15 and Gal 2, a single Biblical event. He spends over a quarter of his chapter on this event and its nuances as the prototype for all intra-church interaction. The Antioch presbytery sent Paul and Barnabas to the Jerusalem presbytery to sort out the Gentile/circumcision thing, the different presbyteries debated the issue, they came to consensus and drafted a letter to be sent to all the churches of which Paul capitulated in his 2nd Missionary Journey:

 

“In sum, Presbyterians believe that the New Testament teaches in a schematic way ecclesiastical “connectionalism” between local churches, presbyteries, and a general assembly because they see it being lived out by the church in Acts 15!” (p. 109)

 

Now, there is much to take issue with on this interpretation including what appears to be a formal importation of modern day Presbyterian-speak and polity into the early church as well as how much Paul capitulated to all that was laid out by the Jersualem church (at least the meat sacrificed to idols part). But I’m not going to get sidetracked. It seems to me that the most difficult aspect of this argument is that one is basing an entire doctrine on this one passage. He does argue that there needs to be a visible and universal unity in the church (Jn 17:20-21; 1 Cor 12; Eph 2:14-16; 4:3-6; Phil 2:2; Col 3:12-14 etc…); however, most of those passages are addressed to local churches and the basis for unity is not a formal polity structure but the fellowship of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Phil 2:1,2) and the unity within the Godhead itself (Eph 4). Yes it would be nice to have a more together and unified universal church, but is that the mandate from Scripture? Clearly not (at least I don’t see it anywhere)!  Also important and profound is the idea that human institutions could really bring about the unity expressed in the passages above. I guess one could argue that God could do it if He wanted to, but He certainly didn’t make it a big deal in the NT. From the NT, the reason connectionalism was maintained was because of how God orchestrated things through the apostles. They had the authority from Christ. How can we export that beyond the apostles? I don’t read that there were really bodies of presbyters holding court, it was the apostles who seemed to be the ones orchestrating what little formal order there was (e.g., Paul with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17ff). In this sense, I think the BL church has more elegant (but wrong) basis to argue for a universal paradigm by appealing to apostolic authority. The Presbyterian model doesn’t even do that but instead appeals to a structure that is void of both fictitious apostolic authority and Biblical grounding and was missing for 1500 years until the Reformers picked it up. 

 

The congregational models appear to be the closest to what the Bible speaks to polity; however, each view is not without its own issues. For all the congregational chapters there is the understanding that the Lordship of the church is from Christ alone and not from some higher human organization, i.e., a greater independence and self-sustaining character than the other two views.

  • The emphasis of Garret (Democratic Congregationalism = DC) was on the passages that demonstrated where the church decided things, e.g., church discipline (Matt 18:20, 1 Cor 5/2Cor 2), the selection of the first deacons in Acts 6, the sending of Paul and Barnabas by the Antioch church in 1 Cor 13 and Acts 15:22 where the “entire church” chose Judas and Silas to go with Paul and Barnabas. However, that is about as far as Garret goes. What of leaders? Is everything to be decided democratically? The NT certainly affirms the need for elders/overseers (1 Tim 3 and Titus 1). Aiken points out in his critique that Garret has “no mention, much less interaction, with the crucial text on pastoral leadership such as 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17”, which I concur was severely lacking in this chapter.
  • White advocated for plural eldership which is the polity I would most agree with. He makes a case for the sufficiency of the local church and also a disclaimer that this does not mean that local churches should interact, seek council, etc… with other local churches. He argues that Acts 15 (contra Reymond) was a unique event. Plurality of elders is pretty clear in Scripture (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5; Acts 20:17ff, Phil 1:1). Interestingly, he seems to ignore all the congregational passages brought out by Garret.
  • Akin argued for the Single Elder Congregational model. I appreciated his broad use of Scripture to argue for Congregationalism[1] and for the concept of Elder/Overseer[2]. His point that “… congregationalism undergirds the New Testament pattern of church government prevents churches past or present from being locked into some type of ecclesiastical strait-jacket.”(p. 40) was very insightful. Actually, his argument for the Single Elder position was based more on the idea that the Bible is flexible on this and that there are circumstances that warrant it… not that it is the way it should be all the time. He argues that it was probably necessary in some house church situations. That the “Pastor-teacher” role of Eph 4:11 is geared toward the local church, whereas apostle, prophet, and evangelists were not? The pastor-teacher being what many refer to as “senior pastor” today. This seems to be a case of importing today’s polity into the first century. He then goes on to discuss how a senior elder (pastor) among elders is similar or at least a variation of the single elder position and uses Moses (not in NT though), Peter (first among the three), and James (Jerusalem church) as examples of senior elder/pastor types in the Bible. Certainly there are probably cases where a one leader is all there is (e.g., a small body) and in plural leadership one or two leaders are more strategically gifted, knowledgeable, or mature and are more influential than others. So, I could agree with his flexibility point to some extent, but the clear example of Scriptures is for there to be plurality – which should be the norm and strived for in a church.

 

So in sum, I thought the book to be rather stuffy. I read through Acts recently noting anything that seemed to relate to polity. What struck me were the informal nature of the church and the rather spontaneous nature of church growth. Decisions and direction seemed to come from God’s leading through visions, open doors, closed doors and persecution. How else could God lead?

 

Human structure seems to get in the way of God’s leadership. When we establish many levels of organization or set in stone “this is the absolute way”, it’s probably the death of that church. At least that’s what seems to be the case especially for the Bishop Led and Presbyterian models. Even the congregational models can get pretty uptight about protocol. Have we replaced visions and revelations from God with structure?

 

It is also evident that churches did interact with one another in Acts. It is probably a very dangerous precedent to claim complete autonomy, but at the same time the interaction is hardly structured and formal (like Presbyterianism advocates for). Unity comes from Jesus (we are the BOC through the Holy Spirit) and His mission for us, not structure.  

 


[1] Evidence for Congregationalism: Mat 18:15-17, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 11:22, Acts 14:27, Acts 15, 1 Cor 5, 1 Cor 6, 1 Cor 7-12, 1 Cor 16, 2 Cor 2

[2] An Analysis of the Concept of Elder Elders in NT and OT, the equivalence of Elders and Overseers in the NT (e.g., Acts 20:28), Acts 20:17-38, 1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Pet 5:1-4, 1 Cor 16:15-16, Gal 6:6, Eph 4:11, 1 Thess 5:12-13, 1 Tim 5:17-25, In addition: Heb 13:17; James 3:1

 

XSI 2009 Revisited: Ajith Fernando – Simple, Spiritual, and Substantial

The Sri Lankan was the keynote speaker at this year’s Xenos Summer Institute … and what a treat. Ajith has been serving as the head of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976, a country plagued by civil war for decades and the great tsunami only a few years ago. So I figured here was a guy who could convey what it really means to suffer, much to the shame of my cozy American existence. The man has had his share of suffering and pain, but what I heard, saw, and received from him was joy!  The guy was full of life – what seemed to be a very simple life where the Holy Spirit has worked through him in ways he never would have expected.

 

Ajith taught on the prevalence of Joy in the Bible in the face of pain Wednesday night. Our culture really doesn’t know what joy is:

 

“Today people have lost their joy … especially in Christianity … people don’t want joy, they would rather have their desires fulfilled rather than joy … they give up joy in order to have success in career, or sexual conquest … material prosperity, revenge …The icons of young people seem to be so unhappy and yet our people want to be like them … Why?”

 

That’s a good question. I can easily look at things that way.

 

The truths of what God has done for us and will do form the basis of a love relationship with the Lord and the basis of our joy. But how do we, who live in such a cynical and joyless culture experience the joy of the Lord? Ajith gave three principles to follow:

 

  1. LAMENT over your pain (Rom 8:20) – It is important to groan and face the pain we experience in this world. When we do this we open ourselves to God’s comfort (2 Cor 1:3). The fact is, God is greater than the wickedness of this world.
  2. We must BELIEVE in God – James 1:2, “Count it all joy…” that God will turn or use this situation for good. Rom 8:38-39 states there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  Do you believe that? Ajith quoted Martin Loyd-Jones “most of your depression is because you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself”. God is a “pity-party-pooper”, when we start counting on the love and promises of God (i.e., “talking to our self” – mind set on the Spirit); the pity-party is over.
  3. We need to SURRENDER to God. This was an interesting twist. His point was, that if we cling to anything, even a good thing, it will take our joy away. We must “die daily” (1 Cor 15:31) … be a living sacrifice. My favorite quote from Ajith was “most of my plans did not work, but most of my dreams have been fulfilled – just not my way”. We need to surrender that notion that “I have been wronged”. In fact, if we are following Christ, suffering will come our way – it is a sure sign that God has looked upon you with favor (Acts 5:41).

 

Thursday morning Ajith taught on the cross and the problem of pain. Unlike other religious or atheistic beliefs, the God of the Bible is joins us in our suffering and pain. He intercedes for us, was tempted, was distraught over the way of His people, and suffered the ultimate for us. Christians are to have that impact too, like their Lord. We have a great opportunity in this culture to shine because we are the minority and the postmodern world doesn’t know what to do with itself. What is needed is radical servanthood. Ajith quoted Jim Elliot who said “he is no fool who gives up what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose”.

 

Ajith’s final teaching was Friday evening, and I thought it the best. The title was “How Must a Pastor Die”… but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. Sure there was much about laying your life down… but the death you die is for and because of the Body of Christ, just as Jesus died for us (Jn 10:11).  Ajith said his deepest pain has come from relationships within the Body, not from the civil war raging about him or even the tsunami that was so devastating. “Working with people is where the deepest pain is.” Maybe he and I are not so different after all. I know that is where my greatest pains and failures have come: my inability to love people. It’s also the greatest source of blessing, the Lord working in my life to share His love through other people and to give me the power to love other people.

 

The bottom line is that Christianity is a covenant faith – relationships are based on commitment.  Our mobile culture makes this very difficult: we don’t have time for deep commitment, churches don’t push for long term commitment, we come to church as consumers, people can’t linger long enough to solve problems…

 

What can we do? Ajith then went through five truths that help us to endure the pain of commitment:

  1. We are the Body – 1 Cor 12 and Paul’s example in Acts 15 – there is no such thing as a “lone-ranger” Christian
  2. The Word commands us to strive for Unity – Eph 4:3; Heb 12:14; Phil 2:1-4 and Matt 5:23,24
  3. God is Greater than the problem – Rom 8:28
  4. God’s Love is Greater than the hurt we feel right now – Rom 5:3-5

 

These are revolutionary concepts, unheard of in our world. Take those passages before the Lord and apply them in your relationships and you may die a little only to receive joy that is out of this world!

 

All in all, I found Ajith a delight to listen to, very insightful, and a man who has been humbled by God. All of his teachings are now available (as well as the other speakers at XSI 2009) on the Xenos web site (http://www.xenos.org/teachings/index/index.php?source=XSI). Go have a listen.

Additional Thoughts on Reaching the Campus Tribes

Joel turned us on the the e-book by Benson Hines entitled: Reaching the Campus Tribes (www.reachingthecampustribes.com) and has been blogging about it (http://jhughes.neoblogs.org/2009/07/reaching-the-campus-tribes-review-part-2/). I just finished reading the book and thought it very worthwhile. Thanks Joel for searching this stuff out!

As Benson went through his argument for the need to invest more in the college scene I was most struck with a sense of “that’s right”. It was more resonance, we’ve felt that for years and it’s so cool to hear someone else voice it as well. Here are a few…

  • “The practice of college ministry is far more like Missions than like Christian Education.” (p. 8 ) – Though not fully cross-cultural, it does have that missions feel and needs to be approached in that way since the church has so little presence in the college scene. This could be said of our post-Christian culture as well, but it is probably no where as desperate as in the universities (Joel has commented extensively on this: http://jhughes.neoblogs.org/).
  • College age is a “hinge moment” in a person’s life. “If American Christians ministered to college students really well for the next five years and then completely stopped, we would still change the world for the next fifty years. (p. 61) — I really like this point and I don’t understand at all why the Christian church ignores this. If we cannot reach students in college, what is the likelihood that they will come back to the church let alone develop a strong vital and impactful walk with the Lord? On the other hand, what is the percentage of older strong Christian workers who had a meaningful time of spiritual growth during college-aged years (either being saved in college or prior to college) — I would think very high. That certainly is the case in Xenos.
  • “Better college ministry, better youth ministry” (p. 71) — Isn’t that the truth. I feel that we are so blessed as a fellowship to have older students ministering in vital roles to younger-aged students. I feel personally blessed because some of those kids are my kids. But even more it is a beautiful testimony of the Body of Christ when you have older adults working together with high schoolers or college students to minister to junior high or younger students. In addition, the vision that the older groups give to the younger groups is awesome. The imagery of the parts of the body from 1 Cor 12 really come to life. 

After reading this and thinking about it, it really impresses upon me what an important opportunity we have to help build God’s Kingdom — do you appreciate what we are involved in? I know I don’t and easily get distracted by the day-to-day mundane. Like Paul says, we need to make “the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 4:16). The time is now and we don’t want to waste it. We are entering the college scene this year with the strongest group in our history. About seven or eight years ago we entered with three guys and out of that we now have two home churches.  This year we have over twenty students in college ministry… talk about potential! Not only that, but we still have great waves in high school and junior high on their heals.

We need to be “devoted” in prayer over this (Col 4:2)! We need the Lord because we are in way over our heads and no doubt the devil will mount even greater persecution than we have experienced in the past as well as other forms of attack. But God has privileged us with this ministry and I trust He knows what He’s doing. 

All Day I Dream About Sex

Do you?

Well do you at least remember that song by Korn?

I just stumbled upon this website called “I am Second” which seems to be a bunch of testimonials of famous people who have come to the Lord. He was there and his is pretty powerful. You watch that and you realize that Jesus can reach anybody! He had all the pursuits the kosmos can throw at you … and it wasn’t enough. Now he has “it” because he knows the Lord and it sounds like his is really turned around and he’s become quite a person who loves and a doer of good things (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_%22Head%22_Welch). Check it out:

http://www.iamsecond.com/#/seconds/Brian_Welch/

A Complaint about Grumbling

 

We were just at the Servant Team Retreat and were really blessed by some great teachings and fellowship centered on the joy that is found in the Lord. I for one was humbled by it all. What an awesome God we have! After I got home from the ST Retreat I watched the end of the Cavs game… and it was cool to see them win. But, then Katie and I caught the last 1/3 of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. What a contrast: the glory of the Cavs on their magnificent dominance of Detroit vs the glory that can only come from Aslan (the Christ figure) choosing to lay his life down for Edward, unbeknownst to all … the secret magic (ala John 10:18) that no one understood, but now has been revealed. Now, I love the Cavs and am rooting for them… but it falls way short of that which Christ has done for us.

 

Now back to joy, sort of. One of the passages discussed was Phil 2 and perhaps the greatest joy-killers of them all: grumbling and disputing (vs 14). Mostly Dennis talked about grumbling… which was just as well for me because though I put on an air of contentment, the fact is there is much restlessness in me below the surface. Things need to change or move quicker or be a certain way – or else I’m not happy! (For example, I wish people would just change and make the right decisions or be different, I want this Akron professor thing to be done yesterday …). One of the points Dennis made in reference to one who despairs over life was that he is very insulting to God… “all these complaints are saying what God has done is not good enough”. I may not be that depressed, but I’m certainly often not content with myself and my life. The way I am, what I have been given, the people around me are not good enough – how insulting that is! God doesn’t know what He’s doing? That’s silly, and yet it’s easy to start viewing things that way disguised by niceness.

 

So, tonight that got me to thinking … my complaint about grumbling is that if our grumblings and disputes which are directly or indirectly aimed at God are insulting to Him, and we actually come to grips with that (admit it) – what are we to do with the guilt?

 

Perhaps that is why we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (vs 12). There needs to be a healthy realization and admission of my sinful rebellion which should result in some humility before God who is working in you to give “you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (vs 13 – NLT). There’s no real guilt, or rather guilt trip, in that – that’s just the way it is. God’s cool with that, so should I. Let Him do His work. “Fear and trembling” enables me to get out of His way by not being so discontent with my petty or even not so petty complaints because the fact is I’d be in way worse shape without Him. And then I can be thankful and joyful for who He is and what He’s done. The result then is that we are “lights in the world” to a “crooked and perverse generation” (vs 15) – which is pretty cool, because then others can see Christ’s light shine through me/us.

 

Has Science Buried God… because if monkeys could type…?

In chapter 10, Lennox critiques Dawkins view that unguided natural processes can account for the origin of biological information. The idea put forward by Dawkins (a variant allegedly dating back to T.H. Huxley) is that a bunch of monkeys typing on type writers, if given enough time, paper, and energy, would eventually come up with a poem or even a whole book of Shakespeare’s. Now the odds of this happening randomly are astounding which is admitted by Dawkins as well. The solution for Dawkins is then to break the problem down into small manageable parts. The origin of life was not from purely chance processes, it must have started from something simple enough to arise by chance, but then there was a “cumulative sieving or selection process in which the results of one sieving process are fed into the next.” In other words, it is a combination of chance and necessity. In Dawkins example, there is a target phrase the monkeys are shooting for (“Methinks it is like a weasel” – from Hamlet), 28 monkeys in a row typing away, and one letter that each monkey has to get in the right sequence. When the monkey gets the required letter he’s done. Now if this were completely random (monkeys not knowing what letter they were shooting for) the odds of this happening are about 1 in 10 to the 31 power (1 followed by 31 zeros), i.e., extremely small. But with the qualifications that the monkeys know their target and stop, it would take about 43 tries to get the right answer.

 

Now remember that Dawkins is trying to prove that natural selection (a blind, mindless, unguided process) has the power to produce biological information. But what Dawkins introduces is a target phrase, a precise goal, and profoundly un-Darwinian as Dawkins admits. How could blind evolution see the target and compare what is generated with it? How could mindless evolution require inputs which bear all the marks of an intelligent mind? And Lennox concludes, “And ironically, the very information that the mechanisms are supposed to produce is apparently already contained somewhere within the organism, whose genesis he claims to be simulating by his process. The argument is entirely circular.”

 

Lennox astutely points out what is going on with Dawkins argument. Dawkins (and others) intelligently program their scenario “to remove the real problem they set out to solve”. There is no new information generated. All the information used to set up the problem dictates the outcome in a very simple and expected way. To increase the probability of getting the right answer (Methinks it is a weasel), Dawkins had to reduce the complexity of the problem. But evolution is supposed to be able to create greater complexity out of something less complex? Lennox is right, “Dawkins’ whole proposal thus turns out to be nothing but a further example of assuming what you claim to be proving”. Actually, the whole scenario put forward by Dawkins, as well as the others highlighted by Lennox, if anything, increases the “plausibility for intelligent design”.

 

 

Has Science Buried God… because it figured out the origin of the genetic code?

 

DNA, how important is it?

 

It dictates what we and every living thing become – but it is not life.

 

It is key to the formation of life out of non-life – but how did it become?

 

It holds perhaps the most foundational concept yet of our universe that has been discovered – information (knowledge) itself.

 

Lennox now moves into the genetic code and its origin in Chapter 8. I will not get into what DNA is, but at the heart of DNA are four chemicals that essentially form a code or a language (A, G, C, and T for Adenin, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine, respectively). Pairs of these chemicals (letters if you will – 3.5 billion for the human genome) form the rungs of a ladder (the double-helix structure) in a specific sequence that holds the information needed to form a living organism. The mechanism for how the information in DNA is communicated within in a living cell is so complicated that Lennox quotes evolutionary biologists John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary:

 

“The existing translational machinery is at the same time so complex, so universal, and so essential that it is hard to see how it could have come into existence, or how life could have existed without it.”

 

And Lennox goes into some detail on what is known of the interworking of DNA. However, what I’m fascinated with is how did DNA ever come about in the first place? The indication from what is known is that DNA is dependent on life more so than the other way around which implies an “irreducible symbiosis” not capable of being explained by simplistic models of origins.  The code is viewed as ancient and has not appeared to change for over 2 billion years. All living things use the same 64 word code. In addition, there does not appear to be a chemical cause for the ordering of the code (if so the information that was able to be communicated would be severely restricted).

 

Lennox then goes on in Chapter 9 to discuss different kinds of information, the complexity of information, and methods (e.g., algorithms) of simplifying information. You’ll have to read this if interested, but the bottom line is that “a DNA sequence… exhibits the specified complexity necessary for it to code that protein and is consequently algorithmically incompressible, and thus random from the mathematical point of view”. The significance of this is that “No law of nature could achieve this” (Paul Davies). We just have no category for how the information encoded in DNA is produced. Lennox goes on to say, “if chance and necessity, either separately or together, are not capable of biogenesis, then we must consider the possibility that a third factor was involved. That third factor is the input of information.”

 

Lennox admits this assertion raises many protests. It is an appeal to a ‘God of the gaps’-type solution. And admittedly this could be construed as lazy thinking … “we don’t know how it happened, therefore God did it”. However, as Lennox points out, “It is also very easy to say ‘evolution did it’ when one has not got the faintest idea how, or has simply cobbled up a speculative just-so story with no evidential basis… a materialist has to say that natural processes were solely responsible… As a result it is just as easy to end up with an ‘evolution of the gaps’ as with a ‘God of the gaps’… it is easier to end up with an ‘evolution of the gaps’… since the former solution is likely to attract far less criticism…”

 

 At the heart of this discussion is the question, “whether molecular machines (of whatever kind) can generate novel information”. Brillouin, an information theorist, says “A machine does not create any new information, but it performs a very valuable transformation of known information.” In other words, whatever produces the information has to be more complex than the information produced.

 

Has Science Buried God… because it can explain how life originated?

Lennox now moves from biological evolution to the origin of life itself, i.e., molecular evolution. The neo-Darwinists of course adhere to the idea that life evolved from ‘blind, mindless, unguided’ processes (Dawkins). Now, before I get into it, one thing that has puzzled me is how “Darwinian Evolution” is extended (backwards) to, involved in, or spoken of in the same breath as the origin of life? Darwin wrote the “Origin of the Species” right. He provided a mechanism for the formation of more complex life forms via mutation and natural selection – which absolutely necessitates life to begin with. As discussed in the first half of the book, though this mechanism is evident in microevolution, speciation (macroevolution) is really not substantiated with any verifiable scientific evidence. It is even more of a stretch to extend it backwards to how life “evolved”.

 

In Chapter 7, Lennox discusses the origin of life. He quotes Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod who states that ‘the simplest cells available to us for study have nothing “primitive” about them… no vestiges of truly primitive structures are discernible’. One example of this would be the concept of ‘irreducible complexity’ (Behe) – that there exist parts (a drive shaft) of a single system (like a motor) that are integral to its function and which cannot evolve in a progressive fashion. Darwin himself admitted that ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down’. Behe argues that there are many irreducibly complex machines in nature and that ‘molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority’ since there is not one publication in prestigious scientific journals or books that describes how molecular evolution of any real complex biochemical system either did occur or might have occurred. Behe’s taken quite a bit of heat for this, but it is true.

 

Lennox goes on to discuss the inadequacy (or perhaps futility) of the famous Stanley Miller experiment which was once heralded as a way that amino acids may have formed (the building blocks of the proteins that are the building blocks of DNA) to produce life. The biggest problem is the way in which proteins are built out of amino acids. The odds of this happening are staggering. The scientists answer is that there is some self-organizing principle at work to assemble the amino acids. What is hard to fathom is the complexity involved to assemble amino acids, not just in any order, but organizing them into a language-type of structure. As Paul Davies puts it, ‘Life is actually not an example of self-organization. Life is in fact specified, i.e. genetically directed, organization’. Something external has to act on it to get it to organize. What needs explaining according to Stephen Meyer is ‘the origin of information’.  

 

Perhaps Francis Crick said it best, ‘The origin of life seems almost to be a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going’.

 

Next time, we get into the genetic code itself.

 

Is Evolution God’s Undertaker?

That is the question that John Lennox addresses in his most recent book God’s Undertaker, Has Science Buried God? (Lion, Oxford: 2007). I’ve read about two-thirds of the book which is filled with so much excellent content I thought I better write some of it down before it goes in one end and out the other.

The beginning of the book discusses the question of whether naturalism (atheism – nature is all there is and explaining nature is all we can know) is demanded by science or was naturalism brought to science. Is naturalism itself a statement of faith? Or is naturalism something that will not hinder science compared to religion? Lennox does a good job of showing how modern science actually came into being because of practicing Christians (Whitehead’s thesis) such as Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell (p. 20). His point that theists do not hinder the scientific process at all.  However, the real conflict that exists is not between science and religion, it is between naturalism and theism; two diametrically opposed worldviews or philosophies (p. 27). He goes on to discuss the limits of science and really the faith that is inherent in the reductionistic thinking that science is all about ((The idea that we can understand things down at their smallest parts and then explain more complicated things (bottom up thinking) – for example one limitation is akin to the analogy that I may know all of the materials that are contained in my house, but with that knowledge alone, could I really predict how they would be put together to form my house? In fact, you really would have to start with the raw materials used to make the building materials, or the molecules used to make those raw materials, or the atoms… From just that knowledge could you predict how the building materials (the higher up process) would be fabricated? — It’s not that reducing things to their smallest parts is wrong. It is essential to science. But it does have it limitations in being able to explain higher level processes just from what is known of the smallest parts.)) as well as some arguments from design and the fine-tuning of the universe.

Evolution Confusion

What I found most useful so far was his chapter on “The nature and scope of evolution” (p. 98ff.). What actually is meant by evolution? Lennox gives five different variations:

  1. Change, Development, Variation – this just implies change without any implication as to mechanism or intelligent input. This is a very innocuous and uncontroversial use of the word. After all, things change.
  2. Microevolution – this is what Darwin observed himself on Galapagos which we see and measure everyday as bacteria become resistant to antibiotic drugs. One example used in many textbooks is that of the color of moths (light moths were more easily seen by predators, so darker moths were more fit survivors). This has been proven to be “wrong, innacurate, or at least incomplete”; however, it still is used in most modern textbooks. Microevolution though is a fact and can be demonstrated on many counts.
  3. Macroevolution – refers to large scale innovation (e.g., new organs, structures, body-plans, new genetic material) characterized by a marked increase in complexity. This is one of the areas where most of the controversy surrounding evolution exists. The gradualists (e.g., Dawkins and Dennet) would say that macroevolution is merely the extrapolation of microevolution.
  4. Artificial selection, for example, in plant and animal breeding – We of course see this in all our different doggies. There is considerable intelligent input here. Darwin would argue that what takes man a relatively short time would take nature a very long time. However, this provides no real evidence in and of itself for evolution by unguided processes.
  5. Molecular evolution – In reality, evolution presupposes the existence of self-replicating genetic material. Natural selection requires things to be living, prebiological natural selection is a contradiction. Molecular evolution is the term used to describe the living from the non-living. The fact that it uses the word evolution does obscure the fact that it is not Darwin’s evolution.

So the confusion comes in with what one actually means by evolution. If one says “I don’t believe in evolution”, then they would be taken as a fool, because 1, 2, and 4 clearly do occur and can be measured and verified. However, what typically happens is that people state that macroevolution occurs by natural selection, but the only real examples given are those of microevolution. What is interesting in all this is that for all of the examples of natural selection, nothing new was ever formed. What was selected was already there. There is nothing creative or innovative from what is known of natural selection. This flies in the face of the assertions made by Dawkins and other neo-Darwinists.

So really the question becomes,  how far can microevolution go? Lennox has many quotes from many scientists who admit that there is no evidence for large evolutionary innovations — none have been observed, we don’t know if any are in process now, there are no good fossil records of any, we can’t really effectively exrapolate from what is known (microevolution). One emenent scientist, Pierre Grasse from France, notes that “fruit flies remain fruit flies in spite of the thousands of generations that have been bred and all the mutations that have been induced in them”.  More recent work on E. coli bacteria has yielded no real innovative changes after 25,000 generations.

Clearly there are two clear reasons that negate the proposition by neo-Darwinists such as Dawkins, Lewontin, and Dennet that attribute macroevolution as fact similar to the fact that the earth orbits the sun:

  1. The earth is observed to orbit the sun – where birds or any other species actually came from has NEVER been observed
  2. The earth is observed REPEATEDLY to orbit the sun – as Lennox puts it, “to put an unobservable and unrepeatable phenomenon in the same category as an observable and  repeatable one would seem to be such an elementary blunder… one cannot help wondering if … materialistic prejudice is overriding common (scientific) sense” (p. 108)

The evidence of the fossil record is so against gradual evolution it isn’t even contested by paleontologists. All that is observed in the fossil records is stasis (no real change in a species during their existence on earth) and a sudden appearance — not by steady or gradual transformation from it’s ancestors, they appear “fully formed”. That is why Gould and Elderedge came up with the theory of “punctuated equilibrium” – the existence of sudden large macroevolutionary jumps (whatever that is).

The final discussion of this chapter was on “common descent”. This is actually a more powerful technique for determining common ancestry which is the structure of the DNA sequences in a collection of organisms. The similarities in the DNA sequences can be used as well an evidence for design. Stephen Meyer (quoted by Lennox) makes a good point, “postulating an unobserved designer is no more unscientific than postulating unobserved macroevolutionary steps.”

That is all for now. But knowing these different aspects of evolution and what is really known is essential in dialoguing with folks on this issue.

A Blast from the Past

Yesterday I got a call from Ed Stefinides. Ed goes way back in Xenos-Cleveland, there’s probably a few of us who still remember Ed. He was a friend of Scott, who I was living with in Cleveland Hts, and Ed loved to play basketball, so we hit it off right from the start. Ed’s one of the funnest guys you’ll ever meet. He ended up coming to the Lord after a number of discussions and HC meetings back in 1987 or 1988. Unfortunately, some painful issues came up and there was a parting of the ways. Ed and I would still keep in contact every few years.

It probably had been about 5 or 6 years since I heard from Ed and then there he was, yesterday giving me a call. It ends up that Ed is getting baptized next week. He now lives in Youngstown (after living in Indiana for a while), has a new wife and a bunch of boys. He’s involved in the Old North Church in Youngstown and has been getting it on with the Lord the last few years and has decided to get baptized. It warms my heart that he invited me to baptize him and to see the way that the Lord has rekindled his and Ed’s relationship.

It just goes to show you how “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9), that whenever we turn back to the Lord to trust and relate with Him, He is there with open arms, just like the Father of the Prodigal Son.