Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Worship of the Christian Emperor Constantine

In the wake of the 'revisionist history' nonsense about Constantine being the great establisher of Christian orthodoxy and suppressor of heterodoxy (which it is a stretch to even call a half truth), it is refreshing to read the works of scholars who actually know the primary sources when it comes to Constantine.

One such person is Edwin Judge, the fine social historian, now retired from MacQuarrie University in Sydney Austrailia. I have been working through the papyri of the early Christian era with the help of "New Documents which Illustrate Early Christianity" These volumes are invaluable, and Judge was a regularly contributor to them in the early days of the serial (which now has thankfully been picked up and published by Eerdmans).

The inscription I am interested in was found not in the east (e.g. Asia Minor), where Emperors were more frequently worshipped, but in Umbria no less in Italy itself. Its date is 336 A.D. in the very midst of Constantine's reign and well after he declared his allegiance to Christianity, at least nominally, and removed the Christian faith from the list of 'superstitio' ending the Christian persecutions which had reaced new heights under Diocletian. The inscription in question reads "The council of Plestia to the deified Flavius Valerius Constantinus Augustus".

Judge (New Docs II, p. 192) commenting says that this inscription "pinpoints the fact that the establishment of Christendom had by no means done away with the Imperial cult; rather it had clarified some of its ambiguities. The Caesars had mostly insisted on their own humanity, at the same time as they accepted or encouraged the cult as an expression of gratitude and loyalty....The conversion of Constantine helped define the difference [between Emperors who made explicit claims to deity like Gaius, and Emperors like Constantine who saw it as a sort of hyperbolic loyalty statement]. He promoted his own family's temple and cult 'provided it is not polluted by the deceits of any contagious superstition.' But as one chosen by God he could both revive traditional disclaimers of divinity and anticipate his own apotheosis in the form of a personal reception into heaven at death.... Paradoxically the Christianization of the [Emperor] cult may actually have open the way for people seriously to pray to their rulers for the first time. Their divine calling and sanctity ranked them with the saints in this respect....."

Thus far Edwin Judge. I would add that when we closely examine the historical records about Constantine, we discover that he continued to be a patron of various pagan priests and cults until his death. Here is an excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia (online) on Constantine:

"In the dedication of Constantinople in 330 a ceremonial half pagan, half Christian was used. The chariot of the sun-god was set in the market-place, and over its head was placed the Cross of Christ, while the Kyrie Eleison was sung. Shortly before his death Constantine confirmed the privileges of the priests of the ancient gods. Many other actions of his have also the appearance of half-measures, as if he himself had wavered and had always held in reality to some form of syncretistic religion. Thus he commanded the heathen troops to make use of a prayer in which any monotheist could join, and which ran thus: "We acknowledge thee alone as god and king, we call upon thee as our helper. From thee have we received the victory, by thee have we overcome the foe. To thee we owe that good which we have received up to now, from thee do we hope for it in the future. To thee we offer our entreaties and implore thee that thou wilt preserve to us our emperor Constantine and his god-fearing sons for many years uninjured and victorious." The emperor went at least one step further when he withdrew his statue from the pagan temples, forbade the repair of temples that had fallen into decay, and suppressed offensive forms of worship. But these measures did not go beyond the syncretistic tendency which Constantine had shown for a long time. Yet he must have perceived more and more clearly that syncretism was impossible."

What this all makes abundantly clear is that while Constantine's conversion may have been real, nonetheless he was a shrewd politician who did not simply repudiate the practices of Rome's past, but rather operated in a pluralistic fashion. The manner in which he helped Christianity was by taking it off the list of superstitions or banned religions. He certainly did not impose orthodoxy on the Empire or draw and quarter all the Gnostics nor eliminate their texts. Sorry Dan Brown, Elaine Pagels, Karen King, Marvin Meyer. It will not do to paint Constantine as the watershed, or big bad guy who supressed your texts of interest.


Evolutionist said...

To really understand the relevance of these questions, perhaps we need to dig deeper. Continual finds like these call into question the entire Biblical story:

This all but eliminates the concept of a literal Adam and Eve and a literal "fall" of humanity where "sin" and death was first supposedly introduced. And if there was no original fall, no real Adam and Eve, then this puts your friend Jesus out of a job.

I was reading a news report the other day about a creationist theme park put on by some fundamentalist pseudo-science huckster. Some lady was quoted as saying, "If Genesis 3 is not true then neither is John 3 (the famous born again passage for Protestants)." Amen, ma'am.

I'm not at all trying to be an antagonist, but finds like this cast doubt on the entire Christian story. When we are really able to recognize our roots, and how biology and the world really works, we no longer care about the sincerity of Constantine's Christianity, and we recognize that religious superstition of whatever stripe is a true distraction to growth in real knowlege and the advancement of our species in the little time we have as living organisms.

Ben Witherington said...

Well evolutionist you certainly know how to put things clearly.

In the first place its about time you owned up to the fact that most scientists of whatever religion realize that evolution is a THEORY, not a fact. Like all good theories that endure, it seems to have some empirical evidence to support.

The truth is there is as much empirical evidence for human fallenness, which has nothing to do with evolution, as there is for the theory of evolution itself. In fact, we might need a theory of devolution when it comes to human beings because our capacity for more and more inhumane and barbaric behavior and inventions has increased exponentially in the last several hundred years.

My wife is both a biologist and a botanist and an ecologist. We are certainly not persuaded that the world is only 6,000 years old while having the appearance of age. Neither are most Christians.

We are also fully aware of the many problems and flaws in the evolutionary theory. The theory that an intelligent God made all of creation, even if he did so through the mechanism of a big bang is far more plausible from a purely scientific point of view than that all this came to be by random chance.

And as for Adam and Eve, we've got more empirical evidence for the origins of the human race in the fertile crescent valley of the Tigris and Euphrates then we do for the general theory of evolution itself, which after all is not a very old theory.

It would behoove you to get better informed about both evolution and the wide spectrum of views that support the notion of divine creation, including creationist views affirmed by those who are practicing scientists not theologians.

And if you cannot see that the world is run by fallen human beings who are selfish, self-centered, arrogant, ignorant, parochial, ethnocentric, and a host of other things, then I am wondering what news report you've been watching. If all of this is the result of the evolutionary spiral and not the historical fall, then heaven help us--- we need to be delivered from evolution not by evolutionary theory.

I would suggest you sit down a read a good book--- how about Phillip Johnson's opening salvo--- Darwin on Trial.


Ben W.

Oddbjørn Nødland said...

Are you really so ignorant that you swallow the creationists arguments about this? Do you not know that mainstream theology has never endorsed it? Just to let you know; there are plenty of Christian scientists out there who have no problems about reconciling their profession with their faith.

Anyway, even were it true what you say(i.e. that Christianity is nothing but superstition etc.), it still would be a very important historical question what Constantine did, what he believed and so on.

Oddbjørn Nødland said...

A comment to Ben:

I would advise you not to pay too much attention to Philip Johnson, Michael Behe and their ilk; Intelligent Design(ID) is both theologically and scientifically untenable in my opinion, and we should be careful about finding "proofs" for God in science.

The evidence for the evolutionary scheme is really quite strong, but that does not in any way suggest atheism. I recommend everyone to read, for example, books by Alister McGrath,Denis Alexander, Kenneth Miller ++ on this issue. Websites like these might also be of considerable interest:
(some here also support ID)

That's all for now.

David Johnson said...

I fail to see how the lack of a "literal historical fall" negates humanity's need for a savior. To me, whether or not humanity enjoyed literal companionship with God in a Garden of Eden and broke the closeness of their relationship by disobedience is immaterial; the point is that humanity has been choosing to sin ever since we became morally conscious. It's just like the argument for original sin--"If there wasn't a disease (original sin), then why did we need a cure?" Rubbish. The cure is not for the fall of our ancestors, but for our own sin.

Anyway, Constantine's syncretistic philosophy impacted the patristic church greatly--the rise of "the saints" and the veneration of Mary often were direct replacements in ideal for the pagan gods and goddesses (the "perpetual virgin" Mary being the replacement for the pagan fertility deities). One could, of course, argue that the "accommadation" of the church allowed for the rise of a character like Constantine. Constantine also is something of a line marking a changing understanding of the church's relation to the state. We shouldn't be surprised today when we see and hear Christians behaving and speaking as though the United States were the "New Israel"--Eusebius was already doing that in the 4th century.

A. C. Mattern said...

Extremely informative post Prof. Witherington.

I'm beginning to see that theologians (even amateurs such as I) need to be equal parts historian if we really want to grasp the theological doctrines explored and contributions made from each succeeding generation.

My understanding of church history is pretty slim so a post like this really starts to flesh out what was happening to Christianity at the time of Constantine and shed a little light on the arguments of biblical canonization and the various councils held at the time. Obviously Constantine wasn't the massive influence that he's typically exaggerated into being, just as the priests didn't necessarily do away with all pagan sacraments they practiced before being "converted."

Studying (ever so slowly) through your commentary on Revelation as well as Bauckham's has pretty much convinced me of the neccessity of grasping the culture and society of the times even when studying out apostolic and early church writings. It makes sense considering that Christianity was never intended to exist within a bubble; its transmission within a culture is often times a response to the needs/weaknesses of that particular society. Yes, that's probably a gross over-generalization, but it would be interesting to see how common methods/messages of evangelism respond to the issues within societies within a certain context of time/geography.

Hopefully we are doing a decent job in this era reporting both theological beliefs (orthodoxy or not) as well as the “heart” of a society (or portions of society). Your recent blog 'Just in Time'-- 'God Wants You Wealthy' is a good example of that. It also helps to show the evolution of theologies that have become exaggerated and misconstrued from truth. Humanity tends to do that, Christian or not.

Honesty when dealing with the history of the church lends more credibility to Christianity then attempting to hide warts and bruises or attempt to justify obvious character flaws.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for the websites. I see no problems with finding God's fingerprints in creation, though I would be reluctant to use the over used term 'proof'. Unfortunately the word 'creationism' has been highjacked by fundamentalists, which is certainly not where I am coming from. I do however think Johnson does a very fine job showing some of the major problems logically with Darwinism. As is always the case, it is easier to deconstruct someone else's paradigm than to adequately build one's own.

In my view, evolutionary theory is not a value neutral purely 'scientific' theory with loads of empirical evidence to support it. It has evidence for it, but there are such huge gaps in the theory, that there are clearly problems, for example at the subatomic level. I would suggest ya'll read some of the stimulating stuff by Philip Davies from downunder--- for example his "God and the New Physics" a fascinating read indeed. I also think that all truth is God's truth, and so I would expect that science and theology would find some harmonic convergences along the way.

From both a historical and a theological point of view, the origin of humankind is important. Evolutionary theory is problematic for a robust theology of humans being uniquely created in the image of God. I doubt many Christians have any problems with the 'development' of a species, adapting to its environment, or even for that matter the morphing of one sort critter into another sort in order to survive. The issue really is where do human beings come from? Maybe Cro-Magnon man et al. are examples of the immediate efffects of the fall.



Evolutionist said...

Where do you human beings come from? They come from more ancient hominids which themselves evolved from older species over millions of years. Also, you guys can't have it both ways. You admit that the evidence for the world being 6,000 years old is nonexistent, but that is basically the chronology given in the Bible. If you trace the line of Jesus, or look at the stuff given in Chronicles, that is what you get roughly, unless you want to insert gaps that didn't exist which is what all Christian apologists do when discussing this subject. The individuals who composed those documents on the other hand never intended such gaps. They are creations of men and women who are desperately trying to reconcile known evidence with biblical myth.

This most recent skull found dates back to 3,000,000 years. It is clearly a human-ape sort of hybrid, what we call in lay evolutionary-speak a "missing link" of sorts. This is evidence that humanity has biological ancestors. If the "fall" introduced "sin" and death, then how do you account for the millions of organisms that died prior to the emergence of modern man, indeed the extinction of whole species?

Also, Mr. Witherington, if your wife is a scientist, then you should know that the term "theory" in the scientific community carries great weight. It's not just some wild stab in the dark, or even an intelligent hypothesis. It's something that is backed up with a great deal of empirical evidence and is only not declared fact because theories evolve--hence the rise of punctuated equilibrianism which if true solves the problems of the "gaps" in the fossil record.

Saying Cro-magnum man or any other ancestor for that matter looked and lived the way they did because of the fall, well, that is not a theory and is in fact just a wild stab in the dark.

yuckabuck said...

So is "fundy-baiting" something atheists do when they're bored?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, both the Fundamentalist's "6-day Creationist" position, as well as the "evolutionist's" criticism of it is based on an overly literal reading of Genesis. Neither position is taking the Bible seriously, but rather is handling it lightly, in a somewhat facile way. In "The Ways of Our God," Charles Scobie puts it better than I can:

"Both these views reject the first principle of interpretation of a biblical text: correct identification of its literary genre. Much of what the Bible says about creation is in the form of poetry. In Gen 1-11 truth is conveyed in story form. The intention of these stories is to convey theological truth, not "scientific" truth.... "Creationists" are just as much at
fault as "evolutionists" in insisting that the only possible interpretation of Gen 1-11 is a literal one; both views depend on the thoroughly modernistic, rationalistic presupposition that the only kind of truth is literal, scientific truth. Because of this, both groups fail to let the texts speak on their own terms." (page 185)

The current critique of Darwinism centers on the materialistic philosophy that undergirds it. The notion that common descent occurred through random chance is a philosophical position, not a scientific one, unless "science" is defined as neccessarily entailing a thorough-going materialistic worldview. Isaac Newton used the "scientific method" but was actually a Christian and not a total materialist, so the current "scientific" position is wrong to say that this is the only way science can be done. That's the whole point of the Intelligent Design movement.

(If you don't have time to read Davies' "God and the New Physics," just read the chapter on "the anthropic principle" in Davies' "Other Worlds." It's stuff like this that encouraged many scientists to wonder if perhaps there was something more going on than what could be contained in the strict materialist view of the world. For a good introduction to properly interpreting the Bible, the popular "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth" is excellent.)

Evolutionist said...

I'm not baiting, I'm asking real questions. Even if you admit the earth is much older, you can't account for more primitive hominid species. They obviously predated modern human beings, therefore predated the Adam and Eve myth. Apparently it was not "inherited sin" that killed off primitive hominids and other life organisms. Again, this takes Jesus out of a job and totally shatters Paul's "second Adam" material.

yuckabuck said...

Who said anything about denying pre-hominid species? And who stood up for old-earth creationism versus young-earth creationism. My friend, you need to stop assuming all Christians are ignorant of science (and theology, including hermeneutics!) and perhaps find out more about the range of beliefs that exist in the Christian world. If the other books that were listed do not hit the spot, then at least check out the "Three views on Creation and Evolution" book. I think Jesus' job is pretty safe. He is, in fact, seeking employment with you.

Oddbjørn Nødland said...

I would also recommend evolutionist to have a look at some of the websites I provided, as they have many articles by Christians explaining why they do not feel their science and faith to be incompatible.

That being said, I do disagree with both sides here, as I've already commented on in my last entry. Evolution is NOT a materialistic/atheistic philosophy, although I'll gladly admit that it has been heavily USED as such. It simply describes the development of biological species; how new species arise, how they relate etc. But what evolution - or ideed any other scientific theory - does NOT say, is whether there is something behind the natural order, i.e. something metaphysical like God.

To me the ID movement seems to make many of the same mistakes as the Young-earth creationists; they do bad science, and they do bad theology. It is especially worth noting what has been dubbed "God-of-the-gaps"; that is, if there is something in nature you do not understand you say: "God did it". But, in the same vein as with the norse god Thor(thunder and lightning), when science comes up with an explanation, the role of the god(s) disappears.

This is not the Christian view of God; God is the creator of EVERYTHING, not just some entities like the Bacterial flagellum. Most Christians still speak of God acting in the world today, and the Bible itself explains that it is God who sends rain, give the lions food etc. We CAN actually explain these phenomena scientifically WITHOUT mentioning a Creator, but does that mean he doesn't exist? No!

Another problem with ID is that it makes the creator look incompetent. For example you have dozens of successive fossils of elephants, each of them a bit different from their predecessor. Do you actually believe that God somehow kept creating first one of them, but then it went extinct. So he had to do it again; whoops, it died out once more. And so he has to create new species all the time, that look exactly as they would have done had they evolved in stead of just being created in a "puff of smoke". And that in the past, things exploded into being from nothing all the time, but not now?

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but it highlights some of the very big problems I have with ID. I was myself very sceptical about evolution only a year or two ago, but I have come to the conclusion that it is not only sound science, but has indeed overwhelming evidence behind it. However, looking at it both philosophically AND historically, I believe Christians need not throw out their faith because of it. Instead it can enrichen our understanding of God's creation and what it means to be human.

Marc said...

Three cheers for yuckabuck and oddbjorn. I am with you guys, evolutionist just does not get it, and Ben's comments are just not satisfying. You guys are hitting the mark just right.

Plus, I see guys like Dawkins stirring the pot, but not even trying to engage with theistic evolutionists who see reality pretty much the same way he does, but don't see a disjuncture between evolution and faith.

Brian said...

what are your thoughts on theistic evolution? Is that different than creationism? I am kind new to this and don't know where I stand as to the age of the earth. I don't believe creation happened in an isntant, but that there were "de-nuevo"(sp?) acts of creation over time. What say you?

I also agree with yukabuck about approaching Genesis from the p.o.v. of literary criticism, it is theological not literal necessarily - it is real events communitcated "mytho-poetically" in the words of D. Bloesch.

reading on constantine is interesting.

Ben Witherington said...

What I think most of you are under-appreciating is the fact that God is extravagant. It isn't a question of failed efforts of making an elephant. God is creative in similar manner to the way a great artist is creative. He has no problem with producing many variations on a theme, nor does he have any problems with built in obsolescence here and there. The Bible says nothing about God creating all species so they will last forever.

I agree that science and faith need not be at odds. In fact, the scientific world view in general is based on a Judeo-Christian view of reality. For example, scientists operate with the faith assumption that nature is not defiled by the study or close examination of it. Why? Because nature is not God of course, its just part of God's creation. Or for example why exactly do scientists believe that human sense perception, and the use of such perception is a generally reliable way of getting at the facts and truth of empirical reality? The answer is pretty simple-- they share the same epistemology fundamentally as do theists! If one actually studies the origins of modern science you will find people like Galileo and Newton and other devout Christians laying down the foundations. They assumed a Christian worldview when they did so.

In regard to literary issues, it is simply not sufficient to read Gen. 1-2 as pure poetry, because it isn't. It is elevated prose with poetic features. It is indeed making some truth claims about where the human race came from, even if you think the description of the actual creation of man is largely figurative rather than literal. Reality can be described figuratively or literally--- look for example at the Ode of Deborah, a poem about a great battle that actually took place. So, this issue cannot be settled by literary analysis. Whatever else one says, the author of Genesis connects Gen. 1-3 with what follows by genealogies. This indicates that he thinks human beings, or at least the chosen race, go back to Adam. Both Jesus and Paul do theology based on that historical assumption.


Ben W.

jud77 said...

Evolution fits the hard evidence in many ways, however it certainly doesn't present a good story (metanarrative) in its current form. Check out this poem and its portrayal of evolution. I'm beginning to think that poetry may be the only way to probe some questions.

At the Smithville Methodist Church, by Stephen Dunn

I especially like the following line,
"Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes. You can't say to your child "Evolution loves you." The story stinks of extinction and nothing exciting happens for centuries.

Jeff Downs said...


Can we get you to come on The Narrow Mind to defend some of your views? Please Email me

yuckabuck said...

I did not say that Evolution is a materialistic/atheistic philosophy. I said that one of the current critiques of Darwinism concerned its underlying philosophy. It is actually innacurate to say evolution "simply describes the development of biological species." "Evolution" has become one of those words that now mean both everything and nothing at the same time. I am aware of the evidence for what is properly called "Common Descent," and it is pretty compelling. Just check out the (not Christian) website for a pretty good pile of evidence.

I used to be one of those Christians who said, "I have no problem with micro-evolution, but macro-evolution is just a theory." My atheist friend called me out and showed me that micro-evolution IS the evidence for macro-evolution. Comman Descent is a theory that has a lot of heft behind it, and this Christian is not afraid to acknowledge it.

BUT, "evolution" as it is understood today, and sometimes presented in schools, is more than Common Descent. It also includes philosophical positions about whether random mutations and biological progression over time were "undirected" or not. As a Christian, I believe that everything was indeed "directed." This is NOT a God-of-the-gaps. But it is PHILOSOPHY, not BIOLOGY. Biology does not contain the tools to ultimately say whether or not God created the world through Common Descent. It can (and should) only describe how the mechanism took place. Let's keep biology in biology class, and keep philosophy in philosophy class.

That is what is at the heart of the Intelligent Design movement, as well as the position known as theistic evolution. As I said, the early rumblings of the ID movement were among scientists like the quantum physicist Paul Davies, who called attention to what he called the "anthropic principle." Davies was not trying to proove anything about God. He was just raising the question, as a physicist, of why all these things that science had uncovered had happened.

But I don't talk about ID much, because lately it has been hijacked by Creationists on the one hand, and falsely described by the press. As the comments from the controversy in Pennsylvania showed, there are definitely Christians who push ID in order to introduce young-earth creationism. And this has been all the press has needed to protray ID as "creationism in disguise." I think it's a shame. ID rarely gets a fair hearing.

yuckabuck said...

Dr. Witherington,
I must here repeat my plea of several months ago for an extended treatment from you on hermeneutics. I did not think Wright's "Last Word" dealt with the REAL issues, as this current dialogue shows. (Not to mention the current controversy over Pope Benedict, who caused a ruckus by comparing how Christians think the Bible is God's word given in human words, as opposed to Islam, which holds that the Koran is only Allah's word.)
There is hardly a reference to Genesis in Fee and Stuart's How To Read the Bible For All It's Worth. Why are theologians afraid of this passage?
Playing Devil's advocate: I agree that Genesis cannot be purely poetry, as poetry does not normally contain geneologies. But the literary genre of at least Genesis 1-11 does not seem to be "history" either. (Sorry for using such a loaded term.) Was it Barth who called it "saga?" These narratives are distinct in style from, say, 1 and 2 Kings (which is also a "theological narrative"). Can we nail the genre down more precisely than "theological narrative?"

Marc said...


I am a theistic evolutionist who believes in a literal Adam & Eve. I don't see a disjuncture to accept both. Oddbjorn and Chuck, I think you guys are pretty close to my own thinking.

byron said...

Ben, really enjoyed the post on Constantine. Pity there hasn't been more discussion on this topic (not that I begrudge yet more clarifying comments all round on Genesis...).

s said...

Macquarie University.

Oddbjørn Nødland said...


I completely agree with you when you said ”let’s keep biology in biolgy class, and keep philosophy in philosophy class”. That was essentially what I said in my previous comment. However, I still think you are on a wrong track when it comes to some issues:

1. Of course, evolution is one of those words which can mean lots of different things to different people, in different contexts etc., but when I use it here I think of “the theory evolution” which simply aims to describe by what mechanisms evolution occurs (evolution: “[t]he fact the frequency of the apperance of alleles in a population of organisms changes over time”; source: ) This is not philosophy, but science.

However, as I said earlier, I am deeply aware that many people MISUSE science in order to forward their metaphysical/philosophical stances. Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous example of this, but one can mention lots of others as well.

2. I am also aware of the fact that in some textbooks there have been passages describing evolution as “undirected, unsupervised etc.” process. I agree that these terms can be misleading, and several times they have been removed after criticism.
Here is some quotes from a debate on evolution vs. ID. In the start the host mentioned that:

“Just last month, the National Association of Biology Teachers dropped two key words from its official statement on teaching evolution. The statement used to read: "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process." Those words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" are now gone”

Later when Eugenie Scott was confronted by this, she answered:

“Okay, well, I said -- there are things you said that I agree with, and things you said that I don't agree with. Let's start with the places where we agree. I agree that many scientists have been very sloppy about how they use terms like natural selection, purpose, etc -- and I for one, as Phil has kindly pointed out, have criticized this, I've criticized Dawkins. Many other scientists have at all. I am not a believer. I would agree philosophically with Richard Dawkins. But I don't think that he should be confusing his philosophical views with science. He shouldn't be passing his philosophical views about materialism off as if they're inevitably arising from evolution. So I think that, in order to encourage you, I think we are going to see more things like the NABT statement. We're going to see more recognition on the part of the science and education communities, that indeed we have to be more careful with how we use terms. And I accept that.”


However, it is important to notice that words like chance and purpose can mean quite different things in different context. From a scientific and biological perspective one cannot really detect an overall “plan” or “purpose” behind evolution, just one cannot from science in general. But again, because science cannot discover a “meaning of life”, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. God isn’t an object we put under our microscope; he works in more subtle ways. An interesting post can be found here:

I quote (from that post): “I believe there is a context in which the above terms and statements are appropriate in textbooks and definitions of evolution.

First, beginning biology students often have the mistaken notion that evolutionary change (e.g., adaptation - even on an uncontroversial microevolutionary scale) occurs because the organisms (actually, the populations) somehow plan where they want to go. It is important to correct this notion. The things that are evolving do not plan or direct where they are going evolutionarily; they have no forward-looking purpose of their own making.

Second, there is considerable evidence that mutation is random with respect to phenotype. For example, the observed rate of substitution among the four nucleotide states accords with that predicted by known physical constraints on their probability. To date, all complex distributions of genetic variation that seem puzzling on the surface have later been found to be consistent with random mutation x selection, drift, etc. At nucleotide positions that are known to have no effect on fitness, the distribution of variation within and among populations and species is random (i.e., probabilistic within known physical constraints). There is much more that could be said in support of this point, so don't think that by cursorily dismissing this one example you will refute the point as a whole.

Perhaps the terms "chance", "random", "undirected", "plan" and "purpose" are not ideal because they pave the way for confusion (and misguided assertions by atheists), but they are appropriate when confined to the domain of science.”

3. Well, as far as I have heard, Davies himself is certainly not a religious man, and he does not support the ID movement. Anyhow, the anthropic principle isn’t about any deficiencies in evolution, but rather point to the fact that so many “things” (constants, laws etc.) just “had to be right” in order for life to appear (and it has more to do with physics than biology). This is quite another thing, and I think it is quite legitimate to raise questions about God etc. here, as long as it is made clear that it is still “philosophy, not science”. An interesting apologetic from a Christian on this issue lies here:

4. ID is essentially against what you call “common descent”, although I believe Michael Behe has admitted he does not dispute it. Moreover, it DOES use god of the gaps-arguments: just take a look at the argument of “irreducible complexity” (some things in nature are so complex that they cannot have evolved; therefore an intelligent designer must have made them). IDists also dispute all the fossil evidence for common descent, and lots of other things could be mentioned as well. While I agree that in some way we should be careful to label ID as “creationism”, many factors show that they are essentially a direct product of creationism. Just watch this video if you want to know what I mean:

I think that’s all for now. Sorry for posting such a long post, but there is really a lot of ground to be covered here. Anyway, since we were really supposed to comment Ben’s article on Constantine, perhaps we should take this discussion elsewhere?

MWC said...

There are many conversations going on here that I see misunderstandings within, but I want to comment on one thing: ID.

I think too much generalization is taking place on here and elsewhere regarding ID. There is quite a diversity of theological belief, philosophical belief, area of expertise, and conclusions based on scientific evidence among proponents of ID. This includes several of them (the scientists who are curious about ID and at least disatisfied with Darwinian evolution to account for all the data) adhering to some form of common descent.

As well, the crux of the ID, in the most intellectually satisfying form, is at the point where biological information is seen in a similar fashion as other types of specified complex information in open spaces. The idea is to apply the same type of algorithms applied in fraud detection, etc., to biological information. It is not a 'god of the gaps' in the most rigorous form (see Dembski), although certain people on the fringe of the intellectual movement may say things similar to 'god of the gaps'.

Lurchling said...

I personally am a Christian Evolutionist and have faith both in the historical Christ and the progress of science. I have always thought that using science to support any worldview is subjective and just reading ones own views into the data. The Fall: humanity came to know God and became morally conscious - then willfully disobeyed and fell out of good graces with God. I personally see Adam and Eve as metaphors for the human condition and our separation from God, but will admit that it is viable for people to still think an Adam and Eve existed as historical figures. I dont hold to this, but thats just my own opinion. So I definitely believe in a fall from grace and I accept evolution as a guide to existence. Believing Jesus is out of the job is taking leaps past the actual implications of evolution. Why was this thread chosen for such an assertion anyways? Strange.