Friday, February 25, 2005

Intelligent Design is Falsifiable

Over on the Panda's Thumb evolution site the question was posed: How would you falsify ID (Intelligent Design)?

It turns out that this question was not offered in good faith. You see, the unfalsifiability of Intelligent Design is a huge weapon in the evolutionist arsenal: ID is not science, because it is not falsifiable, and since it is not falsifiable, it is not science.

Panda's Thumb promulgates at least two ipso facto theorems:

The Meyer-Sternberg Theorem
  1. ID is not science, because science publishes in peer-reviewed journals
  2. ID cannot make it through peer review, because ID is not science
  3. If ID manages to get published in a peer reviewed journal, then one or both of the following is true:
    1. The journal is not as respectable as first thought
    2. The editor was not properly vetted

To this we add the following, so-far unnamed theorem:
  1. ID is not science, because it cannot be falsified
  2. ID cannot be falsified, because it is not science

I recently had quite a discussion on PT where I ran up against the dizzying logic of this second theorem. Here are some of the exchanges, between me and “Thumber”, who represents any of a number of evolutionists on the PT site.

Thumber: Give us an example of evidence which, if found, would disprove design. If you want design to be called a hypothesis (we can talk about being a theory later), it’ll need to be falsifiable.

Me: Well, for me, proof that either
  1. the universe had no beginning or
  2. there are an infinite number of parallel universes

would destroy ID. Both of these are active areas of research, and so ID is being subjected to possible falsification.

Thumber: David Heddle, while I might agree that in your private version of ID those might be possible falsifications (I won’t try to attack your version of ID), the general ID hypothesis could simply state that the Designer had created a universe without a beginning or that he had created multiple parallel universes. After all, it is an all powerful Designer.

Me: So I offer legitimate ways to falsify ID, but those don’t count. And no matter what I or anyone else provides, you can always say “that doesn’t count, because IDers will just say God did it that way.”

That is an over simplification. If you chip away at what IDers see as evidence, which for me is the fine tuning of the universe at large— not the diversity of life— then at least the scientific-IDers will withdraw support. Sure, people who do not know science and support ID purely for (as opposed to in conjunction with) religious reasons will never give up. But scientists who are IDers will. And I gave some examples that would falsify it for me.

I could make the same argument about evolution’s falsifiability. When that question comes up, and after you weed out the absurd (“sure, just find a 200 million year old human fossil”) you get things like the discovery of species with no common DNA would falsify evolution. Would it? Or would people just say that life originated more than once? My point is, can you come up with a non absurd finding that would falsify evolution for everybody? Or would some zealots hang on?

So when you ask for falsifiability of ID, I think you should ask: would a scientific-minded ID proponent accept something as falsifying, and forget about those who are just religiously motivated.

Thumber: proving that the universe had no beginning or there are an infinite number of parallel universes are practicable experimental proposals for disproving ID, but finding out-of-place fossils is absurd?

Me: Yes, because those are precisely hot areas of cosmology. But asking to find a 200 million year old human fossil is absurd, and using that as an example of falsifying evolution weakens the case. You need something plausible. If only a miracle can falsify evolution, then evolution is not falsifiable. The out of place fossils are absurd (as a falsifiability test) because there is no chance of it happening. I’ll use an analogy I’ve used before. It would be like saying that gravity is falsifiable: just show that something doesn’t fall if you drop it. If that were the only way you could falsify Newtonian gravity visa-vis General Relativity, then Newtonian gravity would be unfalsifiable.

Thumber: Why couldn’t the designer have created infinite universes? Why couldn’t the designer have operated in a universe without a beginning? Besides, the IDist could easily say, “The designer stepped in and made all of our observations make it appear as if the universe had no beginning or that there are parallel universes, but that’s really not the case and ID is still valid.” The whole point to the exercise is that explaining things by a supernatural cause is really no explanation at all because you can not prove nor disprove the supernatural.

Me: I’m an IDer, and I just told you what would falsify it for me, and your argument is that “no it wouldn’t falsify it for you.” But, sorry, it (parallel universes) would. Why? Because it is the fine tuning of this universe that does it for me. If there are infinite universes, then the argument that “we just happen to be in a lucky one, otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about it” becomes very plausible—i.e., I.D. is dead.

Thumber: But, why would it not be valid to say that the designer fooled us into thinking we saw parallel universes? Why would it not be valid to say that the designer made all those universes? Perhaps the designer created life on all the parallel universes, life that is different and “fine-tuned” to the laws of each universe. If you really understood the implications of ID, you would realize that it is NOT falsifiable, because the supernatural can always bend the natural to its will.

Me: I just told you what would falsify it! It’s amazing to me that (a) I am an IDer, (b) I gave plausible outcomes based on ongoing research that would falsify ID for me, only to find (c) that you are telling me that, no, it wouldn’t falsify it!

If a universe with no beginning is demonstrated (and such models are being studied) or parallel universes are demonstrated (and such models are being studied) I will pay for a front page post on PT where I renounce ID. So exactly how is it not falsifiable?

Editorial Note: there ensues some discussion that (true enough) I am not a spokesman for ID, and what may falsify ID for me will not falsify for the “true” IDers, and my private version of ID gets dubbed DHID (David Heddle ID.) It is more-or-less stated that only Dembski’s and Behe’s ID is “real” ID.

Me: This business of “my” version of ID is nonsense. First of all, why do Dembski and Behe own ID? The ID in the book The Privileged Planet is very similar to what I believe. They also list many ways that ID can be falsified. Does that not count because they (Gonzalez and Richards) are not Dembski or Behe? Or Hugh Ross? I agree with much of what he writes—but falsifying his ideas doesn’t count?

As far as I can tell, nobody will admit that ID is falsifiable because you don’t want to admit that ID is falsifiable.

But you still have this nasty problem that if certain ongoing research turns out a certain way, then certain people (not just me) will drop ID. If that isn’t textbook falsifiability, then I don’t know what is.

Thumber: This is just self-serving. What Heddle has done is specified something that will satisfy HIM that ID has been falsified (though it’s not clear whether his conditions are in principle capable of investigation. They might be), but it’s extremely doubtful that any other creationist would be satisfied. If we discover that our universe had no beginning or is one of an infinity of universes, well, that’s just the way God did it! He created an infinite number of eternal universes (there’s no requirement that it had a beginning even so since God controls time) because, well, God need not explain His motivations to us. It’s all creation.

Heddle doesn’t seem to grasp that ID is not falsifiable in principle, EVEN IF he’s willing under hell-freezes-over circumstances to change his mind. He might as well argue that the way to falsify ID is to administer a frontal lobotomy to every creationist.

Me: No, I can quote ways that Gonzalez and Richards list for falsifying (or at least weakening) ID:
  1. To find a distant environment that was hostile to life and yet a better place than earth for making scientific observations.
  2. Find complex life where they claim you won’t find it—say on a gas giant, or near a x-ray emitting star in the galactic center, or on a planet without a dark night, etc.
  3. Find complex life on a planet that does not have a large moon (that produces good solar eclipses.)
  4. Find non-Carbon based life

They are not the same as what I posted. They are all, in principle, doable. So at least according to Heddle, Gonzalez, Richards, and Ross, ID is falsifiable.
As for the hell freezing over, you are sidestepping the fact that I am not talking about research that “in principle” could be done to falsify ID, but research that IS being done.

Thumber: OK, this is kind of interesting. After all, if someone agrees that ID has been falsified, what they are necessarily agreeing is that God might not have created what ID creationists are crediting Him with. They are, in essence, specifying criteria by which design can be distinguished from non design. But as I tried to say, this means that they can (at least hypothetically) point to something and say with full confidence that God didn’t create it. And THAT I’ll believe when I see it!

Me: I don’t agree. To me, falsifying ID means that God has not left any evidence that he created something. It doesn’t mean he didn’t create it. For example, if parallel universes were demonstrated, I would lose the evidence that God created the universe. But I wouldn’t have to abandon the belief. I just couldn’t call it ID anymore. It would just be old fashioned faith.

Falsifying ID is not the equivalent of falsifying God. Falsifying ID means there is no evidence of anything other than natural means for things to be the way they are. Why is this a tough concept? Like you (I think) said, God could have made parallel universes. With one universe, I can claim the fine tuning is evidence for design—for I don’t see any other credible explanation. With parallel universes, I have to acknowledge the anthropic arguments rather than ID. But God is not falsified—only the claim that there is physical evidence of his handiwork. What’s the big deal?

Thumber: “What evidence would falsify ID” != “What evidence would make David Heddle not believe in ID”
There can be no evidence that falsifies ID because you can’t claim a restriction on an all powerful being. Perhaps there are multiple universes.

Me: With that irrefutable comeback, I claim it is then disingenuous to ask the question (what can falsify ID). And I also claim you (they) are not really asking “how can I falsify ID?” but are only pretending to ask that. You are really asking “how can I falsify God?” which more-or-less everyone has agreed, through the ages, is impossible.

Thumber: Yes it is! [Falsifying ID is the same as falsifying God] Falsifying ID means demonstrating conclusively that design did not happen and could not happen. There is a vast qualitative difference between (1) demonstrating that something is false; and (2) Not demonstrating that it’s true.

Editorial Note: At this point the discussion ended (no further comments allowed), because one of the moderators was embarrassed by the names I was being called (which, by PT standards, were actually quite mild: lying conniving troll, moronic troll, and intellectually dishonest. The day before I had been called a child abuser for raising my children as Christians.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My Book's Site

I now have a single-post blog devoted to my book, complete with a picture of a balding middle-aged physicist whose underwear I have on.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Lesson 16: Constantine

We now enter an era where the ruling, secular powers will extend patronage to the church. While this is obviously preferred over persecution, it does not come without a downside. Being “in favor” with the government would, in many instances, make Christianity very unpopular. Christian leaders would succumb to the temptation to exploit their privilege, often when it meant sacrificing the cause of justice for the “greater good” of the church. Furthermore, in order to preserve their position, church leaders were often willing to permit the secular powers to exercise too much control over the church. This was certainly the case with Constantine.

It is true that the western world’s attitude toward the conversion of Constantine and its consequences has generally been more ambivalent than the eastern. In the West there has been more consideration given to his negatives as well as his benefits to the church.

And when the church gets its taste of political authority, her leaders will be far from immune to the well-know corrupting influence of power.

We will encounter, during this era, the following:
  • The emergence of world-wide ecclesiastics

  • The emergence (as if to balance) of extreme practices of asceticism

  • Christianity-professing nationalities waging brutal war upon one another

  • Deadly intolerance toward non-Christians and Christians with different doctrine

  • Unreasonable insistence on uniformity in nonessential matters, such as the date of Easter

Recap of the state of the empire as the fourth century began

Near the end of Diocletian’s reign (284-305), persecution suddenly reappeared in 303. It was mainly due to his son Galerius, who was Diocletian’s junior colleague in the eastern province (recall the empire had been spilt, east and west, with a senior and junior ruler for each region.)

Galerius viewed the rapid growth of Christianity as ominous. He and other conservatives decided that if action wasn’t taken against Christianity, it would soon be too late. The first action in 303 was an edict ordering the destruction of church buildings and scripture. After several fires in the imperial palace were falsely blamed on Christians, a second edict was issued ordering the arrest of all clergy. In 304, an edict was issued that all Christians should sacrifice to the state gods, on pain of death. Diocletian’s Christian wife and daughter (who was Galerius’s wife) recanted. The tendency among the populace was to protect their Christian neighbors. As crowds lined up to pay tribute to the gods, officials often turned a blind eye to Christians who just walked by without taking the prescribed action.

The severity of this persecution varied with local circumstances. In Gaul, Britain, and Spain, which Constantius ruled as the western Caesar, there was hardly any. He did not go beyond destroying some churches. No one was executed. When he died on July 25, 306, the soldiers proclaimed his son Constantine as Emperor.

In Egypt and Palestine, the persecution was fierce, especially after Diocletian’s abdication in 305, when Galerius was elevated to the eastern Augustus, and his like-minded nephew Maximian became his eastern Caesar.


Constantine, like his father, worshiped the pagan sun god of the Sol Invictus (Invincible or Unconquered Sun) cult. This cult appeared in the Roman world around the middle of the second century and had been supported by the Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-275 A.D).

Constantine regarded the Unconquered Sun as his patron deity, but there was already Christian influence in his household (he had a half-sister named Anastasia, which means “resurrection”).

While Constantine’s understanding of Christian doctrine is somewhat shrouded in mystery, it is certain that he attributed his most significant military victory to the intervention of the Christian God. In A.D. 312, with an inferior force, he attacked Italy and his rival Maxentius in Rome. Inexplicably forfeiting the advantage offered by Aurelian’s walls (6 m high, 3.5 m thick), Maxentius came out to meet Constantine and was defeated at the Milvian Bridge, an outcome so surprising that it was easy for many to accept that Constantine had indeed been the recipient of divine favor. The Roman Senate erected an arch in Constantine’s honor that still stands by the Coliseum, depicting the drowning of Maxentius’ troops and with the inscription describing Constantine’s victory ‘by the prompting of the deity’. The deity to whom they referred was the Unconquered Sun. But the Christians believed the one god whom they worshipped had given Constantine victory.

Before marching into battle, Constantine, by his own testimony, and that of Eusebius: "a most incredible sign appeared to [Constantine] from heaven" had a vision of a cross in the sky. On the night before the battle at the Milvian Bridge, he was commanded to mark his soldier’s shields and his standards with the monogram of Christ, using an overlay of the two first (Greek) letters from Christ’s name, chi and rho as a talisman. The coinage under Constantine also includes the symbol. Everything about Constantine’s vision and dream has been embellished through the ages, but there is no doubt whatsoever that, from that point on, Constantine viewed himself, if not necessarily a Christian, as having receiving special favor from the God of Christianity.

So Constantine is the first to engage in battle and, in effect, claim that his army would prevail because “God is on our side.” This is a troubling line of reasoning given passages such as:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)

Nevertheless, it has continued to this day, and to present-day conflicts.

To the modern Christian, it is no doubt surprising that neither Constantine nor many others of his era thought there was any tension or mutual-exclusiveness between Christianity and the pagan worship of the Unconquered Sun. The transition from solar monotheism, the most popular form of paganism of Constantine’s time, to Christianity was not difficult. Consider the following (as enumerated by Chadwick, The Early Church, Penguin, 1967).
  • In Old Testament prophecy, Christ was not only the “son” but also the "sun" of righteousness
    But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. (Mal. 4:2)

  • Clement of Alexandria speaks of Christ driving his chariot across the sky like the sun god.

  • The mosaic in a tomb, recently found at Rome, probably made early in the fourth century, depicts Christ as the sun god mounting the heavens with his chariot.

  • Tertulian says that many pagans imagined the Christians worshiped the sun because they met on Sundays and prayed towards the east.

  • Moreover in the fourth century, there began in the West the celebration of December 25, the birthday of the sun god at the winter solstice as the date for the nativity of Christ.

Chadwick also writes:
How easy it was for Christianity and the solar religion to become entangled at the popular level is strikingly illustrated by a fifth century sermon of Pope Leo the Great rebuking his over-cautious flock for paying reverence to the sun on the steps of St. Peter’s before turning their back on it to worship inside the westward-facing basilica. Conversely under Julian (the Apostate), some found it easy to revert from Christianity to solar monotheism. The Bishop of Troy apostatized without fear for his integrity for even as a bishop he had secretly continued to pray to the sun. (Chadwick, The Early Church)

So pagan sun worshippers found it easy to become “nominal” Christians, and add pieces of Christianity to their cult. Likewise, under Julian the Apostate’s reign (361-363) when Christianity’s favor would be briefly suspended, these nominal Christians found it easy to return to full-fledged solar monotheism.

Following the victory, Constantine and Licinius , his counterpart emperor from the east, announced the settlement of Milan. This agreement promised tolerance for all religions throughout the empire, and the restoration of all property confiscated from Christians during the persecutions. The Milan settlement did not establish Christianity as the state religion (as is sometimes asserted) nor did it include a statement of Christian faith by Constantine.

For the next twelve years, Licinius remained the eastern Augustus. However, in spite of the agreement, there were numerous skirmishes between Constantine and Licinius. Constantine’s domain moved eastward. Licinius began persecuting Christians—suspecting them (for good reason) of harboring sympathies for Constantine. In 324, after victory in two major land battles and one naval battle, Constantine gained control of the entire empire.

F.F. Bruce writes (some paraphrasing):
Constantine went well beyond “tolerating” Christianity. He acknowledged his debt to the Christian God, and long before he committed himself to the Christian faith he showed in a variety of ways that Christians enjoyed his special favor. Christianity thus became fashionable, which was not really a good thing. It meant a considerable ingress of Christianized pagans into the church—pagans who had learned the rudiments of Christian doctrine and had been baptized, but who remained largely pagan in their thoughts and ways. The mob in great cities such as Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria became Christian in name, but in fact it remained an unruly mob. There was a great temptation for ambitious ecclesiastical statesmen to use the mob for their own ends.

Bruce also discusses the “good side” of the Christian ascendancy to the mainstream within the empire:
Christian humanitarianism began to have an effect on imperial legislation. The doctrine of man as the image of God let to the restriction of branding in an edict of 316; it must not be performed on the face. An attempt was made to discourage the practice of exposing (abandoning) unwanted children by making family allowances from the imperial treasury—and by the less Christian device of legalizing the sale of children by their parents. Laws were passed to safeguard the sanctity of marriage, and greater protection was extended to slaves.

Church and State

The Catholic Church and the state became entangled, to the detriment of both, at least in many instances. As one French Catholic historian J. R. Palanque put it:
It was a fatal mistake, and the two powers were destined to suffer long from its unfortunate consequences. Thus the church was scarcely freed from the oppression of its persecutors when it had to encounter a trial more terrible perhaps than that of hostility: the embarrassing and onerous protection of the state.

This problem was evident throughout the reign of Constantine. He had a noble lifelong cause: unity in the church, but he often sought this unity through councils over which he was the “bishop of bishops”, even though he had little (it appears) understanding of the theological causes of the disunity. The Church, grateful for his patronage, was not in a position to call his authority or his acumen into question. The net result is, while going after the honey, the Church mortgaged her liberty.

Interestingly, the idea of the emperor as a divinely appointed sacred personage, survived for many centuries in the east, essentially until 1917 and the fall of czarist Russia.

The Donatists

The interference that the Church granted Constantine, in deference to his generosity, is apparent in two schisms with which he felt obligated to intervene. The second and more important of these, the Arian controversy, will be discussed next time. The first, The Donatist schism, we’ll take up now.

In order to trace the origin of the schism we have to go back to the persecution under Diocletian. The first edict of that emperor against Christians, in February of 303, ordered their churches destroyed, and their Sacred Books to be delivered up and burned, while they themselves were outlawed. Severer measures followed in 304, when the fourth edict ordered all to offer incense to the idols under pain of death.

When Constantine ordered that property should be returned to the church, he ran into a problem in northern Africa, where two bodies claimed to represent the Catholic Church and therefore the rightful recipient of returned land and largesse. Constantine obliged himself to settle the dispute.

Hosius, Constantine’s spiritual advisor and the Bishop of Cordova, advised him to place his trust in Caecilian, Bishop of Carthage. On this matter, he faced opposition by the party of the Donatists.

The Donatists adopted a position which we have heard before: one that was unforgiving to those who showed weakness during the Diocletian persecution. (Some of this mindset can be traced back to Tertullian who, a hundred years earlier and in the same region, taught that flight from persecution was not permissible.) The Donatists were particular incensed at any leniency shown to those who turned over the sacred writings for destruction.

In fact, they objected to the consecration of Caecilian because the bishop who consecrated him was one of the “traitors” who had succumbed and turned over sacred writings during the terror. (Said bishop, in his own defense, argued that he had himself taken the Sacred Books of the Church to his own house, and had substituted a number of heretical writings, which the prosecutors had seized without asking for more) The Donatists appealed to Constantine, and he appointed a commission to investigate. The commission consisted of three bishops from Gaul and was chaired by the bishop of Rome (who promptly co-opted 15 more Italian bishops to serve on the commission.) This commission found in favor of Caecilian.

The Donatists appealed once more to Constantine. This time he held a council at Arles (Gaul) in August 314. One noteworthy factoid: this council included three bishops from Britain. The council acquitted Caecilian of all charges.

The Donatists withdrew from communion with Caecilian, and, in 315, consecrated their leader Donatus as anti-bishop of Carthage. He remained as schismatic bishop for forty years. They held that they were the true church, and excommunicated not only Caecilian, but anyone who was in communion with him. That would be all other Christians, everywhere, since Caecilian’s office was sanctioned by the Catholic Church. After they appealed yet again to Constantine, in 316, he formally and imperially declared Caecilian innocent and instituted sanctions against those who did not accept his decree, which only served to further enrage the Donatists.

Indeed, far from “solving” the schism, the state’s meddling prolonged it, for it fueled African nationalism against Roman imperialism. The schism lasted for over a hundred years. Amazingly, from 318 to 411 there was even a Donatist bishop in Rome to attend to a tiny group of adherents living there!

The Donatists acquired a motto Quid imperatori cum ecclesia? –what has the emperor to do with the church?—which is a bit haughty given the number of occasions on which they appealed to the emperor for their cause.

They had a paramilitary wing of armed (with clubs) militant nationalists called the circumcelliones who essential scoured the countryside terrorizing Catholics. This could not be tolerated—as so it invited more secular government intervention. (According the Donatists it led to accounts of severe persecution and massacre at the hands of state police.)

Constantine’s Legacy

Under Constantine, various economic concessions were made to the clergy. For example, in 315, their lands were declared exempt from taxation, and they were spared various municipal obligations.

At the same time, preventative measures were taken against the possibility of massive ordinations (for the purpose of exploiting the benefits.) The numbers of clergy were limited by statute and the imperial government made it clear that the clergy should be drawn from the ranks of the poor, for the rich had their duty to the state. The Church, not wanting to risk losing the underlying generous benefit, calmly accepted the “reasonable” restrictions.

Other carrots included that slaves could be emancipated in the presence of a cleric. Civil suits could be transferred to the jurisdiction of a bishop. In 321, Sunday was declared a public holiday. An inscription found near Zagreb records that Constantine changed the old custom of working for seven days and holding a market day every eighth day, directing farmers to hold their market day each Sunday. This is the earliest evidence for the process by which Sunday became not merely the day on which Christians met for worship, but also a day of rest. The courts were ordered closed on Sunday, except for the purposes of freeing slaves. It should be noted that, in this matter, it is not clear whether Constantine’s intent was to honor the sun or the Son.

The copying of scriptures and the building of churches also received imperial financial backing. Some of the most beautiful and elaborate Bibles were created at this time, at great expense.

Constantine assigned a fixed portion of provisional revenues to church charity. This amount was so large that later, when it was restored to only a third of its previous amount after suspension during Julian the Apostate’s brief resurrection of paganism, it was still considered generous.

Among the churches built at Constantine’s direction we find, of course, the Basilica of St. Peter at Rome on Vatican Hill. Also built under Constantine was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. St. Peter’s was built on the sight where Peter’s “trophy” had been located, and the side of Vatican Hill was excavated for its foundation at great effort and expense.

Constantine’s Last Visit to Rome

In 326, Constantine went to Rome for the last time. It was a visit with disturbing consequences for his family. His son Crispus was put to death due to suspicions of disloyalty. Then the empress Fausta was executed, possibly at the request of Constantine’s mother Helena, for having fueled the suspicions that led to Crispus’ death. Constantine left Rome, and gave Fausta’s palace to the bishop of Rome for an official residence. It continued in that use until 1308.

From 330 to 334 Constantine was engaged in building a new capital at Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, and now known as Istanbul. Rome was demoted, in a secular sense, to secondary importance. His mixing of sun and Son worship is still evident: He placed in the forum a statue of the sun god bearing his own likeness, and also a statue of the mother goddess Cybele, although she was represented in attitude of prayer, which caused an uproar among the pagan populace. (You just can’t win.)

Even this, the relocation of the imperial capital, had unintended ecclesiastical consequences—for the power, in some sense—never really left Rome. However, the emperor’s absence created a power vacuum. The Bishop of Rome (the pope) became regarded as the most important person of the city.

Constantine was baptized in 337. He wore the white robes of a neophyte until his death later that year. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his faith. It was common, at the time, to delay baptism until the end, so as to forestall the awesome responsibilities that it was thought to incur, including, among some (as we discussed) the belief that post-baptismal sin could not be forgiven. It was considered especially prudent to delay baptism if one’s duties, and was certainly the case for Constantine, included authorizing or participating in state torture and state executions.

Next we will examine the first great church council, the council of Nicaea, called to address the Arian heresy.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Evolutionists are Fundamentalists

Over on the Panda's Thumb blog, they are experiencing paroxysms of agony over two recent articles dealing with Intelligent Design, Behe’s op-ed in the New York Times and especially the Wall Street Journal article entitled "The Branding of a Heretic" by David Klinghoffer.

I have no real dog in this fight, for the evidence of design in cosmology, chemistry, and physics is so much more compelling than in biology that this is all "in the noise" as far as I'm concerned. I only stop by Pandas Thumb because I find it amusing when the evolutionary fundamentalists get their panties all bunched up over this or that perceived injustice.

And they are fundamentalists. At least in my opinion. To me, the most striking features of fundamentalists are
  1. The refusal to engage in meaningful debate, often by resorting to ad hominem attacks (Panda’s Thumb is a world leader in ad hominem tactics, I have never seen, since middle school, such frequent use of arguing by calling one’s opponents "stupid, crackpots, idiots, morons, etc.")

  2. Seeing their various opponents as mere manifestations of a larger, evil conspiracy. The PT crowd is more adept than Hillary at this.

  3. Elitism, in the form of "I know what is right and important for you, even if you don’t." In spite of the fact that students have reported that they just laughed at the textbook stickers (the controversial inserts stating that evolution is a theory, not fact, and should be approached with an open mind), the PTers feel a fundamentalist compulsion to protect them. They treat the students (for their own good, of course) as if they were feeble minded. I am still waiting for someone on Panda’s Thumb to admit that he is so stupid that, had the sticker been placed on his high school biology text, he would have ended up teaching Young Earth Creationism at Liberty University.

  4. The willingness to sacrifice principles for a "greater good (evolution)." I have read many comments on PT regarding the sticker controversy that could be summarized as: Although I’m all for democracy, it doesn’t matter, in this case, if the majority of the citizens in a district want ID mentioned in the classroom And a variant, along the lines of normally I wouldn't want a judge to direct a school district's curriculum or policies, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

There is even a sort of fundamentalist structure at PT. Those on top of the food chain make fairly reasoned arguments, but then step aside while their attack-jackals crank up the personal attacks. It's like the fundamentalist hierarchy I recall from the movie Mississippi Burning: The sheriff was too smart to get his hands dirty, but he had a legion of slavish minions willing to do the unsavory work for him.

Once again, while not passing judgment on the merits of the biological ID debate, when someone on PT criticizes ID for its lack of peer-reviewed ID publications, I want to laugh at the absurdity. Now, as fundamentalists, I suspect that they are absolutely certain of the "level playing field" myth they perpetuate. Once again, though, I’ll point out the obvious. What they are really saying is
  1. ID is not science because IDers do not publish in peer reviewed journals

  2. ID should not be published in peer reviewed journals because it is not science

  3. If (2) is ever violated then either the journal is not as reputable as thought or the editor was not properly vetted.

As I have said before, I tend to agree with (2) but can only marvel adding (1) into the mix (and with a straight face!)—which requires cajones the size of Brazil. Then again, fundamentalists don’t mind espousing circular arguments if it fits their world view.

Friday, February 04, 2005

More Book Self-Promotion

Book update (for those who are interested.) My book, Here Eyeball This!, a humorous-yet-poignant coming-of-age, evangelical, intelligent-design novel, is presently available via POD here. Since making the book available via this route, I have signed two contracts, one with a Canadian publisher for the dead-tree version, and one with an e-publisher. When the Canadian publisher is ready to go to print, I will remove the book from

When accepting the book for e-publication, I received this kind review from the publisher:
How much did I like Here Eyeball This!? Well, it occurred to me that if J.D. Salinger had continued to follow the experiences of dear Holden Caulfield into later adolescence and early youth, and Holden had become a physics major at CMU, Salinger could have written this book. But he didn't and you did, so congratulations. It is a beautiful book. I love it. – Jean Goldstrom, publisher, Whortleberry Press.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Lesson 15: Defining the Faith

Let us quickly review the early church heresies that we discussed last week.


This was a denial of the incarnation. There were variations, but a common view was that the Christ-Spirit came upon the man Jesus at his baptism, and departed from him at the crucifixion, leaving the man Jesus to die. Another Docetic school held that Jesus’ human form was an illusion, ghost, or phantom. As we saw last time, a form of Docetism is even found in the Koran:
And for claiming that they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of GOD. In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him - they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him. (Koran 4:157)


Gnosticism generally included Docetism, but went way beyond it. It was, and is, in many ways, the most dangerous of all heresies for its enduring ability to attract advocates. In the modern era it is represented by the New Age movement, Astrology, Eastern Religions, etc. It incorporated the idea of knowledge as being the path to salvation. The goal of acquiring the special knowledge was to awaken the divine within us—remnants of the creation of the material world by a misguided demigod. Jesus was a messenger of the supreme god, come to enlighten us as to how we could return to the intended spiritual state.

Gnostics, unlike Christians, do not believe that God created the earth, or that creation of the material world was “good.”

The identification of the physical as evil resulted in one of two extreme lifestyle choices: asceticism or, following the logic that the flesh is irrelevant, “anything goes.”


A sort of minimal Gnosticism in which there are two gods: the lesser god of the Old Testament, who did the unsavory act of creating the material world, and the loving merciful god of the New Testament, who was Jesus’ father. Recall that Marcion’s rewriting of scripture provided the incentive for the Church to make great strides in organizing the canon.


One could debate whether this is properly labeled as a heresy or just a misguided sect. While Gnosticism exaggerated the importance of the intellect, Montanism overemphasized the experiential. The Montanists believed that the age of the Son had ended and the age of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) had begun. They exalted prophets and prophetess, who spoke not as messengers, “…Thus saith the Lord,” but rather as if they were possessed by God, such as Montanus: "I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete." The greatest known Montanist was Tertullian.

Defining the Faith

The church had to respond to these early heresies. One important way was through early creeds, used for the most part, especially in the earliest days, during baptisms. The creeds were modified from time to time to arrest the spread of error. Thus the early baptismal creed had to be extended beyond the line:
I believe in God the Father.

Since, for example, Marcion could affirm such a statement, to
I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

This, neither Marcion (nor any of the Gnostics) could affirm, for it identified the God the Father—whom they would consider the New Testament god—with God the creator, or the Old Testament god. Irenaeus (115-190), Bishop of Lyon, and author of Against Heresies (Full title included Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge, i.e., this work was meant to refute Gnosticism) summarized, around A.D. 180, the church’s beliefs as:
" God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father ‘to gather all things in one,' and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess; to him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all...'" (Against Heresies X.l)

Here it is again made plain that God the Maker is also God the Father, and that the current Christian dispensation is vitally connected to the Old Testament, since through the Holy Spirit it was proclaimed through the prophets.

Here we see our threefold confession: In God the Creator and Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The orthodox understanding relationship among the three personalities, however, would not develop so easily, but more of that anon.

The Apostolic Tradition, usually credited to Hippolytus (?-236, and the first antipope) contains the following baptismal liturgy

When the elder takes hold of each of them who are to receive baptism, he shall tell each of them to renounce, saying, "I renounce you Satan, all your service, and all your works." After he has said this, he shall anoint each with the Oil of Exorcism, saying, "Let every evil spirit depart from you." Then, after these things, the bishop passes each of them on nude to the elder who stands at the water. They shall stand in the water naked. A deacon, likewise, will go down with them into the water. When each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water, the one baptizing shall lay hands on each of them, asking, "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?" And the one being baptized shall answer, "I believe." He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand upon each of their heads. Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?" When each has answered, "I believe," he shall baptize a second time. Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?" Then each being baptized shall answer, "I believe." And thus let him baptize the third time.

Note that from the earlier creedal statement, we see the expansion of the description of Christ. This is adapted into the so-called Apostle’s creed, which we present below annotated so as to clarify its response to Gnosticism.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,

Gnostics taught that the material world is evil, and that God the Father did not make it.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Gnostics (and Docetists) denied that God had taken human nature or a human body. As stated, many believed the Christ-Spirit came upon the man Jesus at his baptism, and departed from him at the crucifixion, or that Jesus’ human form was an illusion. Against this denial of the Incarnation, the Church affirmed that Jesus was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit, refuting the Gnostic claim that the Spirit had nothing to do with Jesus until His baptism, that he was born (i.e., he had a real physical body, and not just an appearance) of a virgin (which implied that he had been special from the first moment of his life, and not just from His baptism).
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Affirms that Jesus, in his deity, suffered—he was no whisked away leaving just a human shell to suffer. Recall that Docetic literature such as the Gospel of Peter denied that Jesus as God suffered.
was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hades.

The explicit reference to dead and buried, and the descent into Hades (Hell), make it clear that the death of Jesus was not just a swoon or a coma, but death in every sense of the word.
The third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic church,

Gnostics believed that the most important Christian doctrines were reserved for a select, intellectual elite. The creed affirms that the fullness of the Gospel was to be preached to the entire human race. Hence the term "catholic," or universal.
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,

Gnostics denied that men needed redemption or forgiveness, but enlightenment. Ignorance was the only unpardonable sin. Some of them, believing the body to be a snare and delusion, led lives of great asceticism. Others, believing the body to be quite independent of the soul, held that it did not matter what the body did. They accordingly led libertine lives. Either way, the notion of forgiveness was alien to them.
the resurrection of the body,

The chief goal of the Gnostics was to shed the body, which was but a prison of the spiritual. Their goal was to return spiritually to the heavenly realm. They totally rejected any idea of the resurrection of the body.
and the life everlasting. AMEN

The Nature of the Threefold Revelation

Although the baptismal and doctrinal creeds did much to combat Gnosticism, there still remained the difficult question of the exact nature of the relationship among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This complex issue resulted in additional heresy.


Monarchianism had a noble goal: addressing the criticism that Christians were tritheists, that is they worshipped three gods. (Today, many non-Christians including Jews, and even some who call themselves Christians, still view orthodox Christianity’s claim of monotheism as being patently absurd.) The various schools of thought know as Monarchianism taught that Jesus and the Spirit were but emanations from God, or that they were merely different forms in which the Father chose to manifest himself from time to time.

One Monarchian school was Dynamism. Christ, according to the Dynamists, was a faculty, feature, or emanation of God, like the rays of the sun or a stream from a fountain. The bottom line: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are but a single Person. One of the leading proponents of Dynamism was the scandalous Bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, whom we met earlier (Lesson 11). In 268, the Church condemned him as a heretic. He was accused of acquiring great wealth by illicit means, of showing haughtiness and worldliness, of having set up for himself a lofty pulpit in the church, and of insulting those who did not applaud him and wave their handkerchiefs, of admitting women to live in his house, and had permitted the same to his clergy.)

Ironically, this Paul, a heretic, is noteworthy for introducing into the theology of the trinity the Greek adjective homoousios (of the same substance) which will be important in the orthodox formulation.

Dynamism was usually coupled with Adoptionism, which taught that Jesus the man was promoted to the rank of Son of God because of his perfect obedience. This heresy makes its way into classic literature, when Milton, in Paradise Regained, puts these words into the mouth of the Father:
This perfect Man, by merit call’d your Son.

A more popular school of Monarchianism was called Sabellianism (after Sabellius, priest of Northern Africa, ~215) or Modalism. According to this school, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply three roles played by God. The Sabellianists do not deny, for example, the Apostle’s creed, for it describes the three manifestations of God while saying nothing of His inner being.

The Sabellianists were also called Patripassians, (pater –father, passio –suffering) for their doctrine implied that the Father and the Son are essentially the same person, and so the father suffered on the cross. The Sabellianists, according to Tertullian, “drove out prophecy and brought in heresy, expelled the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) and crucified the Father.”

In the same way that Marcion stimulated the church begin formalizing the canon, Monarchianism forced the church to examine the scriptures to formulate the correct view of the triune God. In particular, Sabellianism (Modalism), while not completely unattractive, was simply incompatible with scripture that spoke of the Father sending the Son, or the Father and Son sending the Holy Spirit, or the Son praying to the Father, etc.
that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. (John 5:23)

that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:21)

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" (Gal. 4:6)

16I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

The problem, then and now, is summarized succinctly by F. F. Bruce: Our conception of God must fall short of His real being, and our language about him must fall short of our conception.

In defining an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, it has proved extremely difficult to find the right terms that avoid error in the two extremes: Modalism, in which the Father, Son, and Spirit are just three ways that God alternately reveals himself, or tritheism, in which the three are so distinct as to constitute three different gods.

It must be established that, axiomatically, Christianity, and the New Testament, affirms monotheism as ardently as Judaism. Whatever else we may, as Christians, say about the nature of God, we solidly affirm that He is One. As Christians, we agree with the Jewish creed of Maimonides that states:
I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is a Unity, and that there is no unity in any manner like unto His, and that He alone is our God who was, is, and will be.

But, unlike Jews, we do not see the unity of God as a monolithic unity. As the early theologians struggled to find ways to express this, we must remember that they were not merely waxing philosophical, but trying to find expression that did justice to revelation and experience. God had revealed Himself, and had been experienced, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in His word. God did not, as the Adoptionists taught, wait around until a man of Jesus’ stellar character arrived; God took the initiative in sending the Son.

Among the church fathers, Hippolytus was forceful in his attack on the Roman bishops (popes) Zephyrinus (202-217) and Callistus (217-222) in what he regarded as their complicity in the spread of Sabellianism, although it must be added that Callistus eventually excommunicated Sabellius.

It was, however, Tertullian who provided the greatest service in developing the terms that began to express what Christians believed but couldn’t say.

It is to Tertullian to whom we owe the word “Trinity”, and also the language of one substance in three persons. And though we still use the words substance and persons in describing the trinity, they do not mean exactly what they meant for Tertullian, and so in some ways our expression of the Trinity suffers somewhat.

For Tertullian, the Latin word persona denoted one who played a part or performed a function in society. Tertullian adopted the word to theology, and spoke of three persona in the indivisible Godhead. Today, the word means more that it did to Tertullian, essentially meaning “persons”, but three persons is closer to a tritheist view that we really want to go.

Likewise, when Tertullian used the word substance (Latin substantia) we again have a problem. Tertullian did not mean it as we do today; for us the word substance is inextricably tied to materiality. We view “of once substance” as meaning “made out of the same stuff.” Tertullian would have meant something closer to the modern meaning of “essence” rather than substance. For Tertullian and other third century theologians:
God is one Being, eternally existing the threefold relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each of these three is “the one God, thinking, willing and acting, in one of His three eternal spheres of thought, volition and activity… the indivisible Godhead subsisting and operating in one of the essential relations of His Tripersonal life.” (H.B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church)

Origen of Alexandria, probably the church’s greatest thinker and scholar of the first three centuries, also struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. In Origen’s reaction to Monarchianism, he went too far. He thought that the Father, Son, and Spirit occupied a hierarchical position within the unity of the Godhead. The Son was subordinate to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son. He even taught that the Son was a creature, not in the sense that he was a created being but that the Son’s being was derived from the Father’s and is subject to His will. (He was not, however, an Arian—a heresy of the following [fourth] century that denied the divinity of Christ, which we will discuss later.)

The third century did not end (if indeed it ever has ended) the debate on the doctrine of God’s inner being. The next big advancement would come with the Arian controversy.