Monday, 20 August 2007

Henry Orombi on Anglicanism

Here is a fascinating article by the Archbishop of Uganda on the history of Anglican Christianity and the power of the gospel in his country, and his view of the current crisis as we approach Lambeth 2008. For those keen to skip to the controversial bit, here it is:

With this knowledge of the centrality of the authority of Scripture in Anglicanism, therefore, we understand ourselves to be in the mainstream of Anglicanism—from Thomas Cranmer to John Stott. The evangelical tradition in the Church of England produced William Wilberforce, whose lifelong mission to eradicate slavery and the slave trade liberated our people. It produced Charles Simeon, who inspired the beginning of mission societies that shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with us and many others. It produced Bishop Tucker and other missionaries, who risked their lives to come to Uganda. These and many more Anglican evangelicals brought us the legacy of the Protestant Reformation in England. Their commitment to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture has continued among us to this day.

Such a commitment—to the authority of Scripture as a defining mark of Anglican identity—was why the vast majority of bishops from the Global South and I insisted that Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the 1998 decision on human sexuality, include the words “incompatible with Holy Scripture” when describing homosexual practice. This standard of Holy Scripture is why we continue to uphold Lambeth 1.10 each time we meet.

In the current Anglican crisis, we are at risk of losing our biblical foundation. As bishops, we are constrained, in the words of the 1662 Ordinal, “to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word,” and we are determined “out of the same Holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to [our] charge and to teach or maintain nothing, as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which [we] shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same.”

From Thomas Cranmer to Richard Hooker, from the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Ordinal to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the authority of Holy Scripture has always held a central and foundational role in Anglican identity. This is true for the Anglican church in Uganda; and, if it is not true for the entire Anglican Communion, then that communion will cease to be an authentic expression of the Church of Jesus Christ.

He then goes on to explain why, this being the case, the Ugandan bishops "will definitely not attend any Lambeth Conference to which the violators of the Lambeth Resolution [1.10] are also invited as participants or observers".

I entirely agree with him. If, as now seems inevitable, the conference comes to a schism between those who take the Bible seriously and those who don't, the experience will undoubtedly be painful (isn't it already?), and yet we may be witnessing some pruning for the greater good. That being the case, evangelicals in the west would do well to take a lead from Orombi and other African church leaders:
The Bible cannot appear to us a cadaver, merely to be dissected, analyzed, and critiqued, as has been the practice of much modern higher biblical criticism. Certainly we engage in biblical scholarship and criticism, but what is important to us is the power of the Word of God precisely as the Word of God—written to bring transformation in our lives, our families, our communities, and our culture. For us, the Bible is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirits, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).


Thursday, 16 August 2007

Book review: The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe

Behe, Michael J., The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (New York: Free Press, 2007)

Let's be clear on some issues. If neo-Darwinian evolution (henceforth NDE) is true, that doesn't prove atheism. Francis Collins and Ken Miller are Christians. If NDE is untrue, that doesn't prove theism. David Stove was "of no religion" and David Berlinski is an agnostic. And yet it would be disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that the issues aren't related. Hence the huge quantities of mud flung in both directions on the question of origins, much of which has been copped by Prof. Behe. These controversies matter deeply.

I may link to a lot of ID sites, but, as I've said previously, I'm not committed to it very strongly if at all. I came to this book genuinely curious about what the arguments out there are. I already knew that the author supported common descent with modification, but denied that random variation + natural selection can account for that modification (the conjunction of which makes NDE). That doesn't mean he denies that RV+NS goes on, only that there's an "edge" to what it can do. He also complains by way of introduction that evidence of common descent is often paraded as evidence of the power of RV+NS, which of course it isn't. Jerry Coyne makes this exact move in his review.

The argument runs basically thus: given the rate of beneficial mutations observed in all the generations of malaria vs medicine over the last 50 years, we are not statistically entitled to expect any beneficial modifications necessitating more than 2 new protein-protein binding sites to ever occur randomly. That's because resistance to chloroquine, which requires 2 coherent point mutations, occurred only once in 10^20 parasites (I've forgotten how the link from point mutations to binding sites is made, but I don't think that's the controversial part of the book). In the vast majority of cases, the mutations that help the bloodstream resist malaria or malaria resist drugs do so by breaking rather than making cellular machinery. The same results are shown in studies involving E coli and HIV. The evidence that highly complex cellular machinery could have developed at a rate of at most two mutations at a time is nonexistent, hence it is not "biologically reasonable" to attribute said machinery to the mechanism of random variation + natural selection.

This obviously isn't a watertight proof. Maybe someday someone will be able to sketch out a pathway from zero to flagellum (say) proceeding exclusively by single or double mutations, each of which results in a survival advantage compared to that which preceeded it. Maybe they'll even be able to show that the organism could take this path without getting stuck on some intermediate fitness peak from which there's no going up without going down first. Or even if they don't, that doesn't prove such a pathway couldn't exist. Maybe, like good naturalist presuppositionalists, we should just sit tight, reassured that "science is working on it". The thing is, given that so many reviews from Darwinists seem to utterly and (surely) wilfully miss the point - Dawkins, bizarrely, goes on and on about dogs - I begin to suspect that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The last couple of chapters are dedicating to answering objections and attempting to explain and defend what ID is all about, making reference to fine-tuning arguments from Physics and Chemistry too. I especially enjoyed this part of the book, particularly the section dedicated to scientists caught listing all the biological discoveries they had never expected on the basis of Darwinism. So much for the complaint that ID doesn't make predictions. Behe continues to respond to objections even now on his Amazon blog.

Let's face it: a book this controversial can't fail to be worth reading, and it doesn't. Just watch out for the Great Danes.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Archaeology confirms OT historical record

As reported here (HT: Be Thinking)

This is how Jerusalem was taken: In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah [587 BC], in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it. And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah's eleventh year, the city wall was broken through. Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief eunuch, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon. When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled; they left the city at night by way of the king's garden, through the gate between the two walls, and headed toward the Arabah.
- Jeremiah 39:1-4
1.5 minas of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 Nebuchadnezzar [595 BC], king of Babylon.
- Cuneform tablet just translated in the British Museum
Apparently, 'Nebo-Sarsekim' and 'Nabu-sharrussu-ukin' are one and the same person. It's not a huge deal, but, given the über-scepticism with which the Old Testament is treated in some quarters, it must count for something.