Thursday, July 28, 2022

Photos from the Archaeological Dig


Standing in my dig square -- we've uncovered the walls of some outbuildings adjoined to the north face of an early Christian basilica. The walls you see were built by Crusaders some five hundred years after the church's collapse in an earthquake, but they overlay both a Byzantine church/monastic site and, earlier still, a Jewish fishing village in Roman times (likely Bethsaida).

Green and yellow glazed pottery (Crusader period), now seen again for the first time in eight centuries.

A blown-glass perfume vial, Roman period

Sunrise over the north end of the Sea of Galilee, one of the main areas Jesus ministered

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

First Update from Israel

(A video clip I recorded for my church family--I'll have a couple photos to share here later this week of the area we've been excavating.)

Monday, July 18, 2022

Israel Excursion Coming Up!

Later this week, I'll be flying to Israel to join an archaeological dig on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, investigating a first-century Jewish town that might be the Bethsaida of the Gospels, and unearthing an old Byzantine church on the site. As such, I won't be putting up my regular posts this week. Check back in next week, though, as I'll try to post some updates here about the trip and the work we're doing. You can also keep an eye on, as I hope to be posting some video updates there occasionally.

Friday, July 15, 2022

A Prayer from Benedict of Nursia

Gracious and Holy Father,
give us the wisdom to discover You,
the intelligence to understand You,
the diligence to seek after You,
the patience to wait for You,
eyes to behold You,
a heart to meditate upon You,
and a life to proclaim You,
through the power of the Spirit of Jesus, our Lord. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Apologetics: The Startling Uniqueness of Humanity

Darwinian Evolution’s Failure to Explain the Manifest Reality of “the Image of God”:

Despite some of the evident similarities between humans and apes, Christianity has always insisted that the design of humans was special and intentional, and that the obvious differences between humans and all other animals are clear signs of our status as being designed “in the image of God.” Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolutionary theory along with Darwin, also recognized humanity’s unexpectedly impressive traits, and changed his mind on evolution, saying that natural selection could not explain enough on its own. He argued that “spirit” must have intervened at least three times in the story of evolution: the creation of life from nonliving chemicals, the emergence of consciousness in higher animals, and the endowment of humanity with a soul.

The Biblical View of Humanity

Genesis 1 describes humans as being made “in the image of God,” pronounced “very good,” and given authority over all other natural creation. Early Christians viewed our relationship to animal creation through the lens of our status as God’s “kingdom of priests.” Other views of the “image of God” include the facts that we are rational, creative, moral, and capable of conscious relationship with God in ways that no other creatures are. These aspects are obvious and self-evident: no other creature is anywhere close to humanity in the exercise of these faculties, and only humans, of all creatures, exercise authority in the natural world, such as by domesticating other animals and serving as caretakers and managers of creation. All of these facets of humanity are what you would expect given the Bible’s description of our intentional design; but you would not necessarily expect any of them if we were simply the result of an unguided process of random natural selection.

The “Specified Complexity” of the Human Body and Culture Points to Intelligent Design

Humans show “specified complexity,” even if looking at them from an evolutionary standpoint:

   - Human culture appears to be intentionally built into our body plan:

          - The human brain, relative to body size, is eight times larger than the average ratio for mammals (including other primates). The difference in relative size between the human brain and the chimp brain is greater than the difference between the chimp brain and the shrew brain.

         - The human life cycle is designed for passing on complex cultural systems in a way that is true of no other species. Human babies are born at a stage in development far before other species, allowing more time for communal interaction to help shape brain connections. We have a very long childhood and adolescence compared to other species, a long life cycle, and the unique trait of menopause for females, all of which tend toward more time to pass on knowledge.

         - The physical design of the human speech system is extraordinary—a complex interaction of developmental factors linking various brain areas for hearing, speech, and information processing with physical structures in the throat and mouth, like the larynx, pharynx, tongue, palate, and teeth, each of which have certain specific and unusual arrangements.

         - Human language is so complex and so rooted in abstraction that it makes some of the most prominent paleolinguists suggest that its appearance was an instance of a “human big bang.” Strangely, languages do not follow an expected evolutionary course from simpler systems to more complex; rather, the languages of the most “primitive” peoples tend to be the most complex.

   - Paleoanthropologists have also started to argue for a “human big bang” event, since the evidence in the archaeological record shows that early humans, all at once, showed remarkable signs that clearly distinguished them from natural cycles of animal development: art, music, and religion all suddenly burst onto the scene in early human sites. Ian Tattersall writes that where modern humans show up in the archaeological record, they represent “something entirely new” when compared with other primates, and their emergence is “the most baffling question in all biology.”

   - But aren’t we 98% chimpanzee according to our DNA?

          - The vast majority of such similarities comes from the structure of DNA itself. Many species show similar genetic parallels while not being closely related (such as whales and hippos). We show a 35% similarity to daffodils, yet no one suggests that we’re 35% daffodil.

          - Based on evolutionary theories, early Darwinists predicted that certain “primitive” people groups around the world would prove to be less evolved. This has been conclusively disproven—humans are exactly alike in all important respects, everywhere that you find them in the world, just as Christian doctrine would predict. In terms of our genetic diversity, all the races of humans (more than 7 billion individuals) show significantly less difference to one another in genetics (0.3% variation) than the few hundred gorillas alive today show toward each other (0.6% variation).

The Human Mind Must Be More than Just a Physical Brain

“Materialism” is the philosophy that says there cannot be such a thing as “spirit” or “soul,” and the human mind is simply “a computer made of meat,” with conscious thought as a mechanical output. However, as many philosophers have pointed out, this cannot possibly be true:

   - Materialism has not been able to scientifically explain the phenomenon of consciousness.

   - There would be no free will, and no capacity for radical epiphanies or transformations.

   - It cannot account for how people change all the physical material of their body (every seven years on average) while remaining the same person.

   - Why should we assume that the abstract thoughts of a brain defined by material interactions are trustworthy? Nothing in natural selection would make it so. As Darwin wrote: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind?”

   - The 2001 Parnia-Fenwick study appears to show that activities of the mind may continue after brain death, a conclusion which is confirmed by a huge amount of anecdotal evidence from near-death experiences. In other studies, epilepsy patients were able to distinguish their own body’s actions as being prompted by a researcher’s probe, simply because they know they didn’t cause the motion themselves. This capacity would not be possible if the brain itself was all there is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Photo of the Week

O Loveliness supreme, and Beauty infinite,
O ever flowing Stream and Ocean of delight,
O Life by which I live, my truest Life above,
To Thee alone I give my undivided love.

- from a hymn by Alfonso de Liguori

Monday, July 11, 2022

Quote of the Week

“God can't give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

- C. S. Lewis

Friday, July 08, 2022

A Prayer from Isaac the Syrian

At the door of Your compassion do I knock, Lord; send aid to my scattered impulses which are intoxicated with the multitude of the passions and the power of darkness. You can see my sores hidden within me: stir up contrition—though not corresponding to the weight of my sins, for if I receive full awareness of the extent of my sins, Lord, my soul would be consumed by the bitter pain from them. Assist my feeble stirrings on the path to true repentance, and may I find alleviation from the vehemence of sins through the contrition that comes of Your gift. Amen.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Apologetics: The Miracle of Creation

Four Main Sets of Evidence in which Scientific Naturalism Fails to Explain How Life Could Have Developed:

1) The Impossibility of Abiogenesis & Information in Living Systems

It is commonly taught that the first primitive versions of microscopic life began on Earth some four billion years ago, when the right arrangement of chemicals happened, by random chance, to come together in just the right way. However, even among the most hardened atheists in the scientific community, the odds against this happening are acknowledged to be so astronomical as to lead them to call it a ‘miracle’: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that…the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.” – Francis Crick

- Even the simplest living things require vast amounts of ordered organic data, each set of which have their own specified complexity of arrangement in order to permit life:
     - Amino acids, which for life require a selective left-handed orientation
     - Proteins/enzymes, which must be exactly ordered and folded in the right way
     - DNA and/or RNA, which is coded to a mind-boggling level of complexity. “Each nucleus…contains a digitally coded database larger, in information content, than all 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica put together.” – Richard Dawkins
     - Membranes, specified to various kinds and structures
     - No modern experiment, despite all our knowledge and our ability to rig the exact conditions, has ever come close to creating a living cell from nonliving chemicals. Even the most famous attempt, the Stanley Miller experiment of 1953, is now widely discredited
     - Noted scientist Fred Hoyle’s assessment of the likelihood of life emerging from nonliving chemicals on its own: It is about as likely as a tornado whirling through a junkyard and successfully assembling a working 747 airplane.

2) Irreducible Complexity in Biological Systems

In Darwin’s day, it was assumed that lower levels of life—such as a single cell—were not very complex, thus the natural production of one seemed like no great feat. Today, however, we know otherwise. Not only is a single living cell filled with immense amounts of complex, ordered data, but even its most basic structures are highly complex.

- “Simple” structures, like a bacterial flagellum, are apparently built from irreducible parts—their component parts would need to come into being at the same time, fully-formed and in conjunction with one another in order to perform a task necessary for survival.

- When one considers the macro-cellular level of highly-specified bodily organs, the problem of irreducible complexity only magnifies: a natural development over many generations would include a vast majority of time in which they were essentially functionless.

- Writing of cellular systems, scientist Franklin Harold writes, “We must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

3) The Challenge of Speciation

Darwinian evolution suggests that natural pressures alone can make use of random mutations that eventually compound to develop into whole new families and genera. While the routine adaptations of micro-evolution have been observed in the natural world, this kind of macro-evolution has not.

- Random mutations are almost universally harmful and have not been observed to add substantial information to an existing genome, which is precisely what would be needed.

- Natural selection allows for micro-evolutionary adaptations within a certain scope, but to aggregate those changes into producing whole new genera appears immensely difficult. Consider the failure of intense selective breeding over thousands of years to produce a single new species—a dog is still a dog, and even the most exclusive breeds, when returned to natural settings for several generations, return quickly to the normal features of their species.

- Observed patterns of natural selection tend to favor the stability of the statistical mean of a species’ traits rather than pressing change at the fringes; thus we have evidence of many current species remaining unchanged from their first appearance at the lowest fossil levels.

4) Inconsistencies in the Fossil Record

Despite more than two centuries of combing the fossil record for evidence of Darwinian evolution, that record has posed at least as many problems as confirmations. The essential difficulty is that species tend to appear all at once in the fossil record, without a clear trail of transitional forms leading to their development.

- The Cambrian Explosion—in this famous example, all the major body types of animal phyla appear together in a geological blink of the eye, without clear connections to previous forms.

- There is also a significant lack of transitional forms in models of human origins. A large and unexplained gap remains between austrolopithicenes and the Homo genus, and some scientists have made the case that the variety of early “species” of humans in the Homo genus, like Neanderthals, are essentially the same species as modern humans, with regional variations.

Supplement Materials

An Introduction to Christian Views on the Creation/Evolution Debate

In regard to Genesis 1-2, there have been multiple angles of Christian interpretation from the very beginning of church history. Similarly, there have also been different Christian views on Darwin’s evolutionary theory since it was proposed in the mid-19th century. Understanding each of these models, regardless of which one we may adhere to, is valuable in increasing our breadth of understanding and knowledge when we are in dialogue with other Christians and with the unbelieving world.

The Two Major Positions: Non-Christian and Christian

From the outset, it’s important to note that there are really only two major positions: either (1) all nature is the product of purely blind and random naturalistic chance (a position we’ll call “Darwinian evolution,” underscored by the philosophy of “scientific materialism”), or (2) God is responsible for the creation of all nature. The main thrust of our focus on creation/evolution in this apologetics series will be to take the orthodox Christian position represented by #2, and to rebut the scientific and philosophical assumptions of #1. In order to understand the shape of the debate, though, it’s important to note that the Christian position, #2, is a diverse one.

Three Main Varieties of the Christian Position

The three main categories of Christian positions—Young-Earth Creationism, Old-Earth Creationism, and Theistic Evolution (see diagram on the reverse side)—are distinguished from each other by their answers to questions regarding biblical interpretation, the age of the universe, and the possibility of evolution as a means of creation.

1.) Biblical interpretation - What is the literal meaning of the Genesis creation story? This is the starting-point for all Christian perspectives on creation. In other words, how were the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 intended to be read?
     a. As a scientific history of earth’s beginning (Young-Earth Creationism)
     b. As theological allegories (Theistic Evolution)
     c. As possibly containing elements of both (Old-Earth Creationism)

2.) Scientific questions of cosmological and geological age
     a. To what degree should Christians accept the current scientific consensus which posits very long time-frames (on the order of billions of years) for both the universe and the earth itself?
          Either (1) evidence from cosmological measurements (such as light from originating billions of light-years away nonetheless reaching us) and evidence from geology (such as decay-rates of isotopes in rocks indicating time-frames of millions or billions of years) is correct, in which case the universe really is that old, or (2) the evidence is inconclusive, possibly by errors in measurement or scientific assumptions, or by God creating the earth and the universe in a mature state; that is, with apparent old-age factors already in place (for example, the movement of light created as if already in progress)

3.) Scientific questions of the emergence of life and speciation
     a. To what degree should Christians accept the possibility of macroevolution (considered as a divinely-ordained process) as a means of creation?
          Either (1) macroevolution plays no role at all, and each individual species is the result of an act of direct and instantaneous creation by God, either within six days or over a long course of time, or (2) God actively planned, directed, and assisted in the process of evolution over the course of Earth’s history in order to create all living things by the active and participatory means of evolution.

Resources for Further Study on the Christian Positions:

1) Young-Earth Creationism

a. The most widely held evangelical position since the 1960s, popularized by the work of Henry Morris and Duane Gish, and now represented by Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum), John D. Morris (Institute for Creation Research), Walt Brown (Center for Scientific Creation), among others.

b. Historical perspective: this position has some roots in the early church, tended to be assumed in Western Christianity in the Middle Ages, and was favored by some (though not all) early fundamentalists in the 20th century.

2) Old-Earth Creationism

a. Also a popular evangelical position, it seeks to take the scientific consensus seriously while insisting on the historicity of the main elements of the Genesis account. It is represented by Hugh Ross (Reason to Believe), Stephen Meyer (Discovery Institute), and many apologetics scholars, including Douglas Groothuis (author of Christian Apologetics). It is sometimes referred to as “day-age creationism.”

b. Historical perspective: because this position requires the information of evidence from geology and cosmology, it developed as that information became available (19th century onward), but its broad methods of biblical interpretation can be seen to run very deep in the early Christian tradition.

3) Theistic Evolution

a. This position leans on a classic Christian model of interpreting Genesis 1, so it is sometimes favored among denominations with roots in the early church traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox. As scientific arguments for evolution have come out in the past 150 years, it has also gained adherents among some evangelicals, and is represented by Francis Collins (BioLogos Foundation), Kenneth Miller, and Christopher Southgate.

b. Historical perspective: it has roots in the early church and was also accepted by many Christians after evolutionary theories were proposed, including some early fundamentalists in the 20th century and noted apologists like C. S. Lewis.

See also: Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is not a position on creation in the same way that the others above are, though it is often mistaken for that. Rather, it is a scientific theory proposing an evidence-based argument for design (rather than random chance) within natural systems. Intelligent Design deals with scientific evidence, not biblical texts, so it takes no particular position on the question of how to interpret Genesis. As such, proponents of Intelligent Design theory can be found in each of the above positions. Major works representing this theory have been written by William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, and Michael Behe. Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator also deals mostly with the intelligent design argument.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Photo of the Week


Christ our Lord hath conquered death,
And love shall never lose its own.

- epitaph on the tomb of Mary Hayden Green Pike

Monday, July 04, 2022

Quote of the Week

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

- Charles Spurgeon