Unseen Realities: forget Bultmann and the 19th century

Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and DemonsJoel has been sent a review copy of R.C. Sproul’s recent book Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons, and he has commented on it without yet reading very much of it. Scott apparently hasn’t even seen the book, but that hasn’t stopped him not only commenting on its title and product description but also setting up Sproul for a battle with Bultmann. All this reminds me of another recent book which was widely condemned by people who hadn’t read it.

I haven’t read Sproul’s book either, so I will make no comment on it. But I would like to comment on the half-baked philosophical objections to what they think Sproul is saying which Joel hints at and Scott makes explicit. Of course it may well be that Sproul has answered these points in his book, and if so probably far better than I can.

Scott gives a long quote from Rudolf Bultmann’s 1941 lecture New Testament and Mythology. The quote starts and ends as follows:

Man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world …

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of daemons and spirits.

How 19th century! This sounds like the understanding of science which the young Bultmann would have learned in around 1900 at his Gymnasium in Oldenburg, Germany, when electric light and “wireless” were the latest cutting edge technology. This was the era when physicists were confident that within a few years they would be able to explain everything in the universe in a purely materialistic way, according to rigid and deterministic laws of nature. This is what is now known as classical physics.

Within the next five years that scientific optimism had been swept away by new discoveries. It became clear that radioactivity, discovered in 1896, could not be explained by classical physics. Planck’s 1901 paper on black body radiation laid the foundations of quantum physics. Einstein’s four “Annus Mirabilis” papers of 1905 clarified the reality of quanta and introduced special relativity, destroying the Newtonian framework of classical physics and showing that matter and energy are equivalent. And Russell’s paradox, discovered in 1901, demonstrated the weakness of the mathematical foundation of classical physics.

Rudolf BultmannBut Bultmann would have followed little of this, or of the revolution in physics which it led to, because by now he was studying theology. So, as his 1941 lecture demonstrates, his understanding of science remained stuck in the 19th century. Sadly many theologians of the later 20th century also ignored contemporary science and preferred to accept Bultmann and his contemporaries as authorities on these matters.

But this gives no excuse for us who live in the 21st century, who have now had more than a century to reflect on the scientific revolution of 1901 to 1905. It has long been known that quantum physics implies that the universe is not deterministic in the way assumed in the 19th century. The Free Will Theorem, which I wrote about yesterday, suggests that randomness is not the best way to describe even the behaviour of sub-atomic particles. Eric McLellan, whose post I linked to, shows how this leaves room for God and for the human mind to work within the laws of nature. By the same argument, there is room for angels and demons to work in our universe.

It is also worth noting how far Bultmann’s position depends on a perspective from the intellectual elite in the West. In other cultures, and even within popular western culture, there has always been room for the “supernatural”. It is no longer possible, as it was in Bultmann’s time, to reject non-western beliefs as primitive and so not worthy of serious attention.

Now Scott is correct to write that

we may not be able to materially test metaphysical or supernatural entities such as demons, but if they have any tangible effect in the real world then those could be subjected to real world examinations. In other words, while hypothetically the testing of the cause is impossible, the testing of the proposed effect of any supernatural being in the real world is entirely possible.

The problem with applying tests of this kind is that we are (at least as the hypothesis) dealing with sentient beings who are under no obligation to cooperate with us. Just as experiments on the behaviour of individual humans cannot succeed without their consent, so we cannot hope to experiment on the behaviour of individual demons or angels who are unlikely to consent. The best we can do is observe their typical behaviour using the kinds of techniques used in anthropology. And that is likely to be unpredictable, especially when they are being observed, just as with humans. In quantum physics, even sub-atomic particles behave differently when they are being observed!

Nevertheless there is a significant body of reports of the activities of angels and demons in our world. But scholars refuse to take these reports seriously because they cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. If they applied the same standards to astronomical observations, often of unique occurrences, then we would be allowed to know a lot less about our universe than we are supposed to know.

Now I am certainly not claiming to agree with Sproul in everything in his book, not least because I haven’t read it. But, on the basis of what I have argued here, I can fully endorse what Scott has quoted from Sproul’s publicity material:

There is an uncompromised supernaturalism at the heart of the Christian worldview, and we must not let the world’s skepticism with regard to these things affect our belief systems. We must trust and affirm that there is much more to reality than meets the eye.

The Free Will Theorem: room for God to work in nature

Eric McLellan asks, in a guest post at Kurt Willems’ Pangea Blog, What does science tell us about our soul? He writes:

the study of quantum mechanics has … led John Conway and Simon Kochen to develop what they call the Free Will Theorem. Assuming three axioms … The Free Will Theorem is a proof that states, in simple terms, that if human individuals have free will, then individual subatomic particles also have free will. Particles donʼt make conscious decisions, but they exhibit a quantum measure of choice. … The nature of the choice made by these particles is not a masked randomness but is actually the result of a subatomic free will.

This has some profound implications, according to McLellan.

Soul and BodyThe first set of implications, for “theological anthropology”, is that the soul, the part of the person which exercises free will, cannot be separated from the material body:

the aspects of the mind often attributed to the soul is actually an extension of the material body. Mind and body become one while the soul must represent a higher faculty which relates to God and is brought to life in conversion.

A second set of implications is for God’s work in nature. The Free Will Theorem undermines the presupposition that

in order for God to actively will a change in the universe, He must then break the laws of nature.

The theorem implies that

the uncertainty of quantum mechanics leaves room for Godʼs work in natural processes. … The choice made by individual particles could just as easily be Godʼs choice. God has the freedom to sovereignly rule over the universe without ever breaking the laws of nature.

This ties up well with what I was hinting at at the end of my previous post today, Can “creation science” prove evolution?, when I suggested that evolution “was designed by God to carry out his purposes”. According to “intelligent design”, which I reject, God has intervened repeatedly over billions of years, breaking the laws of nature, to create new species. But according to the better versions of “theistic evolution”, which I accept, God has caused new species to come into being while “sovereignly rul[ing] over the universe without ever breaking the laws of nature”.

Now I would have serious reservations about allowing a scientific result like the Free Will Theorem to control my theology. There are also some debatable axioms or presuppositions behind the theorem. But I find the theological implications here to be attractive. This is certainly a refreshing change from the arguments of atheists and materialists claiming that science has proved that nothing is real but the material world – arguments which have largely been invalidated by the last century of physical science. The Free Will Theorem deserves serious further consideration by Christian scholars.

Can "creation science" prove evolution?

Matt Walker of BBC Nature has written an interesting article on his Wonder Monkey blog Can religious teachings prove evolution to be true? He reports on how a mainstream scientist has used a technique from “creation science” to show that different types of dinosaurs evolved from one another, rather than being created separately.

Much of so-called “creation science” is bad science. This is not only because of the ways its advocates have often selected evidence and given improbable explanations of it, while ignoring good alternative explanations from reputable scientists. The fundamental philosophy of “creation science” is also unscientific, because its intention is to support a pre-existent theory rather than to determine the truth in a theory-neutral way. Now it is not just “creation science” which is guilty here, but others being guilty does not make one innocent.

Walker, however, reports on how one particular “creation science” technique, called “baraminology”, does seem to be a valid method, and has been used by biologist Phil Senter to examine variations among dinosaurs.

Walker explains (otherwise I know little about this subject) that creationists have used baraminology to conclude that all cats, including lions, tigers and domestic cats, have a common ancestor and so form one “kind” in the biblical sense (Genesis 1:11-12,21,24-25, 6:20 etc). However, this technique shows that there is insufficient evidence, in the form of “missing link” type fossils, of a common ancestor of dogs and cats, suggesting that dogs form a separate “kind”.

Bird-hipped dinosaurs Dr Senter has applied this technique to fossil dinosaurs and concluded that, even by the strict standards accepted by “creation scientists”, there is sufficient evidence that several apparently very different groups of dinosaurs have a common ancestor and form one “kind”.

The problem for creationists is the great diversity of dinosaurs within this “kind”. Their own technique has been used to provide evidence not just of the kind of micro-evolution or selective breeding which could have caused the observed diversity among cats, but also of large scale evolutionary changes from one species of dinosaur to another. A further difficulty for young earth creationists is that they would have to conclude that

in just a few thousand years, each “kind” of dinosaur begat the huge variation in fossils we see today.

It is reminiscent of evolution, just even faster paced.

Dr Senter points out that creationists’ room for manoeuvre, when citing the evidence, continues to diminish.

Walker concludes:

[Dr Senter’s] work, and my reporting of it, will hopefully take the discussion forward about what evidence is gathered and how, and what that evidence tells us.

So let the discussion evolve.

Will any creationists consider the idea that even some of their own evidence-gathering techniques may point to the veracity of evolution?

Indeed. Let the discussion evolve, or be created, here.

But it is sad that Walker also presents the issue, at the start of his article, as

Did God or evolution drive the emergence of life in all its resplendent variety?

That is the wrong question. Biologists may be able to prove that different species have evolved from common ancestors. But they cannot hope to decide by scientific arguments whether this evolutionary process was a product of blind chance or was designed by God to carry out his purposes.

Doctor Who Meets Jesus

TARDISI know I am showing my age by saying so, but I remember when police boxes like this were really to be seen on the streets of England. I remember where I was, in the town of Leatherhead, Surrey, when I heard that President Kennedy had been shot. And I also remember where I was the very next day, at home nearby, when I watched the first ever episode of Doctor Who, now

the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, and … the “most successful” science fiction series of all time.

I didn’t watch any more of that first series, probably because my parents thought it too scary for their eight-year-old boy. Over the 48 years since then I have seen quite a few of the nearly 800 episodes, but I have never been a regular fan.

But I know that several of my blogging buddies are fans, although the Americans among them cannot have been watching for anything like as long as I have. Among them are James McGrath, who has posted on Harmonizing Judas With Doctor Who. As part of that he has started a meme

to come up with the most creative, outlandish, entertaining or humorous way of harmonizing the [biblical] accounts that you can.

His own offering harmonises the different gospel accounts of Judas by bringing in Doctor Who, and his TARDIS time machine in the form of a police box. My offering towards his meme (first seen as a comment on his blog, slightly edited here) is a continuation of his own story. This isn’t so much harmonising the gospel accounts as reconciling their harmonised accounts with the science fiction world view:

When the Doctor had finished with Judas, he took the TARDIS to Gethsemane, while Jesus was praying and the disciples were sleeping.

“Jesus,”, he said, “you don’t have to die. Just come with me in the TARDIS.”

“No, Doctor. Get behind me, Satan! God’s will has to be done.”

“OK, but come with me for a short trip first, and I’ll bring you back here, before your friends even wake up.”

First they travel ahead three days and appear outside a guarded tomb. The Doctor makes himself look like an angel, puts the guards to sleep, opens up the tomb, and takes the body. Then he sends Jesus out to comfort a woman in mourning.

They move on and in the evening materialise the TARDIS inside a locked upper room, and Jesus takes another trip outside.

Then a few more appearances, including one by the Sea of Galilee, and another at the Mount of Olives, where the TARDIS hovers in a cloud and draws Jesus up with a tractor beam (oops, wrong sci-fi series there I think).

Finally they fast forward a few years and appear in a blinding flash on the Damascus road.

Only then does the Doctor take Jesus back to Gethsemane. “Now at least they won’t forget you after you die”, he says in parting.

Or maybe the biblical accounts of the Resurrection are more believable taken at face value …

By the way, in case anyone from the BBC reads this (Tom, that includes you!), I claim copyright on this storyline, but I am prepared to licence it to the producers for a reasonable fee.

Noah's flood came from Canada – British scientists

Was Noah’s flood caused by the sudden emptying of a huge glacial lake in Canada, which led to a catastrophic rise in sea level? This was suggested in a 2007 press release from the University of Exeter here in England, quoting one of the university’s professors, with the title ‘Noah’s flood’ kick-started European farming. The same material was also published by ScienceDaily, but with a question mark added to the title.

This press release is about a proper scientific paper published in a respected journal. It must be rare for such papers to mention biblical stories. No creationist pseudo-science is in sight.

I came across this paper while researching for a discussion on Facebook about my recent post Instone-Brewer: Did Noah’s Ark actually happen? One of my friends in that discussion suggested that a flood caused by rivers would not last as long as the biblical flood is said to have lasted. In response I looked into the possibility that the flood could have been caused by a sudden rise in sea level – and found that the Exeter scientists had got there before me.

Lake AgassizThe culprit, apparently, was Lake Agassiz, a huge prehistoric body of fresh water which covered a large part of what is now Canada and a smaller part of the northern USA, centred in what is now Manitoba. This lake, according to Wikipedia, “held more water than contained by all lakes in the world today”. Its waters were dammed up by the Arctic ice sheet.

As that ice sheet gradually melted at the end of the last major ice age, on at least two occasions the water from Lake Agassiz escaped rather suddenly into the oceans. The first event, around 11,000 BC, is thought to have triggered off a thousand year mini-ice age called the Younger Dryas. Presumably this freeze caused the lake to form again. But renewed warming caused the water from Lake Agassiz and from the linked Lake Ojibway to the east to escape again around 6,400 BC. Again this led to a cold period, but not as long or severe as the Younger Dryas. Since then, it seems, the large glacial lakes have never formed again, although some remnants remain as modern lakes.

The important point concerning Noah’s flood is the rather obvious one that the release of all that water into the oceans caused a significant rise in sea levels worldwide – and one which has never been reversed. Estimates of what Wikipedia calls a “near-instantaneous rise” range up to 4 metres, although the Exeter paper gives a more conservative figure of 1.4 metres.

This rise in sea level would not of course have covered “all the high mountains under the entire heavens”, as recorded in Genesis 7:19 taken literally. But it may have caused especially catastrophic flooding in the Black Sea region. The Exeter paper links this with Noah’s flood. But I would look elsewhere, as David Instone-Brewer does, to low-lying Mesopotamia. What would the effect of the sea level rise have been there?

Now “near-instantaneous rise” should not be taken as implying something like a tsunami. Probably the sea did not spill on to the land in the way seen in recent videos from Japan. But once Lake Agassiz started to break through the ice it could quickly have carved out a very wide channel, and so need not have taken many years to drain. Scientific papers mentioning a period of 200 years are probably only giving a maximum time. There is no reason to doubt the biblical account that the waters rose for forty days (Genesis 7:17), although this is probably to be understood as a round number rather than a precise figure.

The account in Genesis also mentions both that “all the springs of the great deep burst forth” (7:11), a good poetic fit for the bursting of a glacial lake, and that there were forty days of rain (7:12), perhaps caused by the initial disturbance of weather patterns by the rush of fresh water into the oceans – although the following cold spell was generally also dry.

Thus floodwaters flowing down the rivers into Mesopotamia would have met sea water flowing up them. No doubt channels would have become blocked with sand and silt, and a huge low-lying area would have been flooded with nowhere for the water to drain away. The recent Mississippi floods give an idea of how this event might have looked, but there would have been no artificial levees to contain the flooding and no floodways to channel it into the sea. Indeed probably quite a lot of land was permanently lost to the Persian Gulf. But further upstream the floods eventually retreated, but only after 150 days (7:24).

So, I would continue to argue as I did in my previous post, the biblical account if understood as intended, and not as a detailed record of events, tells a realistic story of a huge regional flood which could have happened, which indeed scientists also tell us actually did happen. There is no scientific record of the actual ark, but then one would not expect that. But science agrees with the Bible story in saying that a flood did happen – and adds some interesting details such as that it had its origin in Canada.

Instone-Brewer: Did Noah’s Ark actually happen?

Dr David Instone-BrewerAs part of a series “Embarrassing Bible Texts?” in Christianity magazine, David Instone-Brewer, of Tyndale House, Cambridge, asks, Did Noah’s Ark actually happen? Were six million land species really rescued in one boat? He concludes that there was a real flood, and a real ark in which “the precious animal stock – specially bred by generations of farmers” was rescued, but that this flood was not worldwide. Neither is he is quite saying that it was a local flood. Rather he links this with a flood attested by proper scientific observation:

Archaeologists in the 1930s found evidence of an amazingly widespread flood (or floods) which covered the whole plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – an area of 140,000 square miles – before 3000 BC. This wasn’t just a shallow flood; even the silt they found deposited by this water was eight feet deep! The whole country is flat, with just a few small hills, so this flood would have been utterly devastating; there is simply no high ground to run to for hundreds of miles. The area was the homeland of the ancient Middle Eastern world and the whole population living there must have been wiped out by this flood. It was a disaster on a scale never seen anywhere in the modern world.

So how can we reconcile this with the Bible passages which appear to teach a worldwide flood:

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.

Genesis 7:18-20 (NIV 2011)

Instone-Brewer is certainly correct to point out that the Hebrew word eretz, here translated “earth”, can also mean “land”, as in eretz Yisrael which is the normal Hebrew for “the land of Israel”.

More problematic is the phrase “all the high mountains under the entire heavens”. Yes, the Hebrew for “mountain”, har, can also refer to quite a small hill, as in 1 Samuel 26:13. And perhaps “under heaven” can mean within the visible horizon, as Instone-Brewer suggests from Deuteronomy 2:25. But it seems unlikely that “all the high mountains” and “the entire heavens” can be understood in this way.

So how should we understand passages like this? Instone-Brewer seems to treat the Genesis story as a literal account of historical events, and then tries to argue that those historical events did not happen as commonly understood. I don’t think that quite works. It seems to me that if the account is literal, it is about a worldwide flood – one which scientists tell us could never have happened.

However, we need to consider what the authors’ intentions were in writing the accounts in the early part of Genesis, about the creation and the fall as well as the flood. They were not writing scientific papers but stories. And these stories are intended not so much to tell the past as to teach God’s ways – in the case of the flood story, as Instone-Brewer writes,

the message that God hates evil and is willing to take drastic steps to deal with it.

Didactic stories the world over use figures of speech such as hyperbole for dramatic effect. So it would hardly be surprising to find hyperbole in an account like that of the flood. A clear candidate for this kind of hyperbole is Genesis 7:19 quoted above, which turns a flood covering small hills in a local area into a worldwide one reaching above Himalayan peaks.

One might ask, how can one tell which statements in the Bible are hyperbolic, and so can be ignored as unhistorical? But that is the wrong question. If the story is not intended to teach history, one cannot expect to get any reliable historical information from it. That may be frustrating for modern scholars, but it is true. If one wants to know what happened in the past, didactic stories from the Bible or elsewhere may give useful indications, but they can never give the kind of reliable details one might obtain from inscriptions or archives intended as records of events.

In my recent post Harold Camping: once Reformed, now a heretic I suggested that that infamous preacher of the Rapture might have been led astray by his engineering background into

taking Bible verses out of context and reading into them a meaning that their authors and God never intended.

I also suggested that this approach might be typical of creationists. This is seen also in the reading of the Noah’s Ark story as an engineer’s literal report of the height of the water. I suggested in a Facebook comment on the Camping post that

engineers, and physical scientists like myself, tend to be rather literal minded and so to prefer a more fundamentalist approach to the Bible, whereas those trained in the humanities tend to be more liberal theologically.

Well, in this case “those trained in the humanities” (and I am also that) are likely to be better qualified than engineers to understand the implications of the literary genre of the text. If their conclusions seem liberal rather fundamentalist, that doesn’t make them less valid.

English earthquakes caused by "fracking"?

Blackpool TowerOn 1st April I reported here that Blackpool, not far from me in north west England, had been shaken by an earthquake. I made rather more of it than was warranted because of the date, and my suggestion that it might be a fulfilment of Mark Stibbe’s prophecy was intended as an April Fool.

Slightly to my surprise this rather small earthquake is back in the news again today, with a suggestion that it was an act not of God but of human beings. The BBC reports that another small earthquake in almost the same place has led to the suspension of test drilling for shale gas in the area. It turns out that the quakes were happening in the same place as the drilling.

This drilling was a pilot project for what is known as “fracking”:

Shale gas drilling, known as “fracking” involves creating tiny explosions to shatter hard shale rocks and release gas underground.

It has proved a controversial process in the US with environmentalists alleging that shale gas leaking into their drinking supply causes tap water to ignite.

I guess it is hardly surprising that setting off small explosions underground can trigger the larger releases of energy known as earthquakes. Presumably they can also set off unpredictable releases of natural gas, like the ones that are said to have contaminated water supplies in the USA. It would certainly be unfortunate if methane were released and ignited on Blackpool beach. And in the town the results could be disastrous.

Clearly the drilling company didn’t really know what they were doing here. It is good that they have stopped drilling until they get proper geological advice.

Natural selection not the only means: scientific paper

Some proteins have remained largely unchanged since they first appearedAccording to a new study,

natural selection may not be the only means by which higher organisms came into being.

No, this is not the latest anti-scientific rant from a creationist group, but a serious study published in Nature and reported by the BBC, under the title Protein flaws responsible for complex life, study says. The point is apparently that, at least as one group of scientists concludes, higher animals did not emerge from simple single-celled ones by Darwinian natural selection based on the survival of the fittest:

The authors stress that they are not arguing against natural selection as a process; they say rather that it can be aided by “non-adaptive” mechanisms.

“There’s been this general feeling that complexity is a good thing and evolves for complexity’s sake – that it’s adaptive,” Professor Lynch told BBC News.

“We’ve opened up the idea that the roots of complexity don’t have to reside in purely adaptational arguments.

“It’s opening up a new evolutionary pathway that didn’t exist before.”

Now this is certainly not rejection of evolution as a process. But it does suggest that the classical Darwinist explanations of it, as taught in schools and ridiculed by creationists, are not the whole story. As another professor told the BBC,

“We tend to marvel at the Darwinian perfection of organisms now, saying ‘this must have been highly selected for, it’s a tuned and sophisticated machine’.

“In fact, it’s a mess – there’s so much unnecessary complexity.”

Left-brainers don't understand right-brained Rob Bell

There have been some interesting comments on my post Gandhi and Rob Bell, newfrontiers and Hell, which led me to link the frosty response from some quarters to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins (which I still haven’t read) with the different ways in which people’s brains work.

Whole Brain ThinkingMy friend Heather France runs a company Whole Brain Thinking offering brain profiling, which “can help in any aspect of life and work”. An adult profile can be done online for £35. Heather has posted on the company blog my story of how having my profile done helped me to find my wife:

Lorenza and I were just friends when we both went to a brain profiling workshop run by Heather France. But it turned out that we had rather similar brain profiles. This meant that we were put in the same small group for a fun exercise. We enjoyed working together on this and started to realise how much we had in common. Soon after this I asked her out. …

I write this here largely to demonstrate that I know what I am talking about concerning left and right brain thinking. For the record, I am a left-brainer but not very strongly so. There is more to the profile than this: for example, in my brain the L1 quadrant, “Analytical and factual”, is dominant – as my readers could probably guess.

To get back to Rob Bell, the issue came up in comments by Robert Slowley. I discern that Robert is left-brained from his detailed analysis of the NIV 2011 update, which I used in my post on that version. In fact this probably means that his dominant quadrant is L2, “Organised and detailed”. Robert wrote:

That’s what I find frustrating about Bell, he’s not clear at all about what he really thinks.

Later he wrote:

I think Bell has far more defined answers than he’s clearly indicating publicly on these issues, and as such I wish he’d just plainly reveal them.

Despite my attempts, I could not convince Robert that Rob Bell may simply not have any firm and fixed position on the matter in question. Bell may simply be unsure whether Gandhi or indeed anyone at all is going to hell. After all, the matter is left somewhat ambiguous in the Bible. Yet Robert cannot accept that Bell’s answer, if pushed, might genuinely be “I don’t know”.

Now I don’t want to pick on Robert Slowley here. His is simply one example of the thinking commonly found among more conservative evangelicals, especially those in the Reformed camp but also among fundamentalists and dispensationalists. Many of these people show by their words and actions that they are left-brainers.

The following is adapted from my comments in response to Robert Slowley’s:

I can understand the frustration of some, especially those from a more Reformed background, at being unable to pin Bell down to a specific position. But surely this is the right attitude to take about a matter which God has not made completely clear in his revealed word. While liberal Christians may go too far with this doubting and questioning approach, evangelicals are often obsessed with finding and defending to the death definite answers to questions which God has not clearly answered. Rob Bell has rejected this obsession, but that doesn’t make him a theological liberal. And didn’t Jesus often teach by asking searching questions rather than giving definite answers?

I’m not saying that this kind of reluctance to be pinned down depends on one’s theological position. It probably depends more on personality type. Left-brainers want definite answers and so tend towards Reformed or fundamentalist teaching which offers these definite answers. Right-brainers prefer to leave things more open and so are more attracted by liberal Christianity. Thus the correlation between theological preference and frustration with Rob Bell does not imply a causal link.

I suspect Rob Bell is a right-brainer. My suspicion is confirmed by what I read in Adrian Warnock’s post about meeting him. Very likely his R1 quadrant, “Strategic and unorthodox”, is dominant. That makes Bell reluctant to commit himself to any one position, especially on a matter which is not left unambiguous in the Bible. He is not being dishonest, just non-committal. But that doesn’t make him a liberal.

Yes, Bell tends towards one side of the argument rather than another. But he does not, I suspect, have a settled and definite position on it – and he doesn’t feel the lack of it. It’s a bit like me on the Rapture: from my past posts on the subject it should be clear that I don’t think it’s going to happen, at least not in the classic (but actually modern) Hal Lindsey and Left Behind way. But I am not going to come out straight and say that it won’t happen, because Scripture is not completely clear on this, and so we won’t know until it happens, or its time is past. Rob Bell is wisely saying something similar about hell: he may not think anyone will go there, but he won’t say this as a definite position because only God knows. If someone pushes him to say what he thinks, he’ll probably say “I don’t know”.

In fact Adrian Warnock, a psychiatrist who surely understands different personality types and how to work with them, has pushed Bell for answers, and reports that

on at least a couple of questions I got some straight answers out of him!

It will be interesting to hear what those answers are, though sadly I will probably not be able to do that live on Saturday when Adrian’s interview is broadcast (on air and on the Internet) on Premier Christian Radio.

Gay mutation effects reversed by drug – in mice!

According to a BBC report, male mice can be bred to have homosexual tendencies by introducing a mutation, a genetic modification, which disables production of a chemical, serotonin, in their brains. And the effect of this mutation can be reversed by injecting that same chemical into their brains.

Now the BBC report is careful to avoid words like “gay” and “mutation”. It also highlights in the sidebar these words of a neuroscientist:

Any potential links between serotonin and human sexual preferences must be considered somewhat tenuous.

No doubt the BBC doesn’t want to create a storm by suggesting that homosexuals might be mutants who can be cured by drug treatment. Nevertheless, there is a real possibility that future research might show that a link between homosexual orientation in humans and specific genetic characteristics – I will now avoid value-laden words like “abnormalities” and “mutations”. This research might well also show a chemical means by which this orientation can be changed – again I avoid “treated” and “cured”.

What would the consequences of this be?

On the one hand, it would justify the gay lobby’s insistence that sexual orientation is a real organic characteristic of some people, and not just a psychological condition or a lifestyle choice. It could in principle be possible to test the expected orientation of children and, more controversially, of adults not openly gay.

On the other hand, this would allow people with homosexual tendencies the option of becoming “straight” by chemical means. Conservative groups such as churches might well encourage gay people to undergo this treatment. I would see that as a good thing if presented properly. The danger would come if people were effectively obliged or manipulated into changing their sexuality.

Of course all of this is speculation. For the moment all that is known is that this applies to mice. Also the mutation that was induced is just one of potentially many factors which could cause homosexual behaviour. More probably, in humans, homosexual orientation is linked to a complex combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors. This would mean that there might be some partial “treatments” but no foolproof way of changing one’s orientation. But the controversy about such matters is unlikely to go away.