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Not So Good, This Zondervan Commentator

Posted in: Bible & Science,Culture Wars by admin on January 30, 2011

  A few days ago, Thursday morning to be exact, I read:

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very large trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up…” (Exodus 19:16 – 20, NIV)

 A few minutes later I took a brief detour to read a commentary that Zondervan (the publisher of the bible I was using, the NIV Archeological Study Bible) sandwiched there inside Exodus 19. Its just one of a series of brief articles (each bearing the label, “The Reliability of the Bible”) which Zondervan scattered throughout the edition. I usually read them as I go along. In this one, titled, “The Location of Mount Sinai”, the author starts out telling us that “Scholars continue to debate the location of Mount Sinai…” He then summarizes some of the various arguments in that debate, and then gives us his thinking and approach to determining exactly what and where “Mount Sinai” is:

“According to Exodus 19 … Mount Sinai blazed with fire, was enveloped by a huge plume of cloud or smoke and shook violently as in an earthquake. Flashes of lightning and sounds like trumpet blasts also occurred. The description fits a a volcanic eruption. The emission of hot gases from fissures can produce trumpet-like sounds, and observers have reported seeing massive electrical displays emanating from volcanic clouds. No volcanoes are known to have erupted during that period in the Sinai Peninsula, but Arabia has many volcanoes. One volcanic mountain in the western Arabian Peninsula, Hala al Bedr (Mount Bedr), is according to this theory a particularly promising candidate for ancient Mount Sinai.” (NIV Archeological Study Bible, p. 123)

  I wasn’t all that impressed and continued my reading, pretty much forgetting about it. Until a few hours later. That same afternoon, watching a TV newscast, I saw this photograph:


 The photo is so stunning, I could hardly not flash back to that commentary! Nor fail to see the commentator’s point. And my first reaction – to think he had a really good point. A good theory. So I went back and read it again. And then thought about it again. And with my second thoughts, decided it was something I had to write about here.

  I myself use science and observations of the creation all the time to help me in my own understanding of God and the Bible, and to build my own particular kind of apologetics for Christianity and “The Reliability of the Bible” – an apologia I think both believers and skeptics are in dire need of. At first glance this writer is doing something of the same sort. But on deeper inspection, one can see that he is not. If anything, I think the predictable outcome of his “finding Sinai” rationale is exactly the opposite, is one that serves to undermine belief in God and the Bible.

 When I use science, observations and theories, I start from the premise that the Scripture is true, and if we can’t see it so, then we are misinterpreting or misunderstanding Scripture or something in the natural world or our experiences in it. I go to science to retest or reanalyze our beliefs about the creation, or to retest and reanalyze what we think the Scriptures say. Either way, Scripture rules, and it is our thinking or beliefs that need adjustment. The author of “finding Sinai” has not done that.

 To begin with, he’s looking to finger a “Mount Sinai” by finding a mountain that would have a natural volcanic column, and by implication suggesting there was no “God” there, but a natural phenomenon the Israelites mistakenly interpreted as a god just as many peoples in this world have done before. He’s denying the reality of God’s appearing there, thus implying the Scripture a mere story based on a mistaken interpreting of natural phenomena. Rather than demonstrating the “Reliability of the Bible”, he’s showing it only as possibly a good history of the world but not of God.

 Further evidence of this is the fact he completely ignores the rest of Scriptures that speak of the column of smoke and fire that signaled (or concealed from vulnerable human eyes) God’s presence. There is the column of smoke and fire that led them (and even shielded them) out of Egypt, and on all their wandering about the “deserts”. There is the column that signaled (or concealed…) His presence at the Tent of Meeting, and in all His meetings with Aaron and Moses, and at the Tabernacle the carried with them, etc. None could have been some wandering light-footed volcanic plume, and there’s no reason that plume we are looking at in the photo above, or reading about in Exodus 19, or any other time, such as in:

 “Remember the day you stood before the LORD … You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you … You heard the sound of words but saw no form…” (Deuteronomy 4:10 – 12, NIV)

 As for his other, more secular, ambition: to discover “The Location of Mount Sinai”, he has nothing to go on. From his point of view, there’s no reason to believe more in the fiery column Exodus 19 describes than any other, and so no reason to believe the real Mount Sinai was a volcanic peak!

 I think Zondervan would be well advised to remove that particular commentary from its next printing of that edition of the Bible!

Why Darwin Matters … or Not

Posted in: Bible & Science,Culture Wars by admin on October 16, 2009

Michael Shermer publishes and edits Skeptic magazine, runs the Skeptic Society, or something like that, and is sure to be found wherever two or three skeptics gather together. He’s critical. He likes to debunk things. Things like “junk science”, questionable theories and political ideas. And, religion. Especially Christianity. Like ex smokers, ex Christians are usually the worst. Oh yes, he really despises any and all things “creationist”. So, to him, “Darwin Matters” because he thinks Darwin erased chapters 1 & 2 of Genesis. He even wrote the book, Why Darwin Matters, to tell us all about it.

To tell you the truth, looking at Shermer I have think “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” He and I could have had the same mother. Once upon a time. But I’ve learned something over the years that he and a lot of other people should learn. I’ll get to that later.

I’ve learned that Darwin doesn’t matter that much anymore. He does to science and scientists, but not to us, not in the way Shermer thinks he should. Shermer thinks evolution should persuade Christians and creationists and Intelligent Designers, and pretty much anyone who has believed the Bible – well, in Genesis, chapters 1 & 2, at least – to abandon their beliefs. So the book, Why Darwin Matters. Well, since I once shared his ideas, and his special antipathy to Genesis, I wanted to see how he argues his case and how well he does it.

I was not impressed. In fact, a bit disappointed. There was really nothing there to challenge me, or stimulate any new ideas. The book is little more than a compilation and distillation of stuff that’s been done many a time before.

He argues that the facts and findings of an ever-increasing variety of sciences build and converge to establish “The Facts of Evolution” (Chapter 1). That’s probably his best chapter. After that he tells us “Why People Do Not Accept Evolution” (Chapter 2). He explains, mostly citing the Scopes Trial, its because they/we fear it leads to atheism and amorality, if not wholesale immorality. Then he’s onto debunking Intelligent Design as bad theology and simplemindedness (“In Search of the Designer”, Chapter 3) and as bad science in a pretty weak and fatuous “Debating Intelligent Design” (Chapter 4). Chapter 5, “Science Under Attack”, strikes me as something of an exercise in paranoia, reminding me of those who still can’t get over the Galileo affair. Like, when’s the last time we Christians won anything significant since in the schools or courts – well, before the Scopes Trial at least (which he celebrates, of course)! The red meat of Chapter 5 is the recounting of Kitzmiller v Dover, where the Christians failed even to get a one minute statement read to students declaring merely the obvious, the facts that the Theory of Evolution is still but a theory, and many Christians have another theory, about life and creation. That he, and so many others, seemed to see science fundamentally threatened by even this minute, there in Dover, is quite a stretch … of paranoia … or intolerance.

The rest of the book is Shermer waging culture war. Chapter 6, “The Real Agenda” disparages the hopes and politics of I.D. proponents. Chapter 7 disingenuously argues “Why Science Cannot Contradict Religion”. He might be right, it can’t. But he obviously (the book attests) believes that it does! So in Chapter 8, he tries to tell us “Why Christians and Conservatives Should Accept Evolution.” And so on.

When I finished the book, the biggest question for me was “Why?”. Why did he bother to write the thing? Looking at Amazon’s records you can see it didn’t make much money for him. Most reviewers recognized it didn’t break any new ground. Most who liked it were fellow travelers and Shermer fans. Few were scientists. Though I read a review that gave it credit for helping scientists who were still confused or insecure about evolution, I know enough science and scientists to know none of them will be persuaded by Shermer, and none need his defense or encouragement about evolutionary theory. No, its pretty obvious that because Shermer thinks Darwin’s theory negates Genesis, he’s hoping to undermine some Christian’s beliefs and win them over to his religion, atheism. I understand that, having been there once. And truthfully I believed and preached it for the same reasons, with very good success.

But its NOT true! There is NO contradiction between Darwin and evolution and what science has shown to be the history of creation, and Genesis 1 & 2! None! Genesis gives a history, an outline of the history of creation, and nothing science has learned in two hundred years contradicts it! In fact, every year the story science is telling matches the story Genesis tells even better! Better! But Genesis actually says nothing about “how”, about the processes or forces or mechanisms by which creation is effected! Evolution is no contradiction. For all we know (and most scientists insist we do) evolution may well have been God’s method. Genesis only tells us, for the most part, when things happened, relative to each other. It reads more like a book of the prophets than anything else, when once we accurately translate the Hebrew texts written 3500 years ago. That is the truth that totally revolutionized my own understanding and beliefs.

God tells us, in Romans 1, that we can have no ignorance about Him and His nature if we would only study His creation. Science is our best effort at that. Romans 1 pretty well ruled the day in Galileo’s time, but then politics, and dogma, overruled the truth Galileo, and others, were revealing. We are there again. Science, every day, fulfills the prophecy of Romans 1, and confirms the prophetic account of Genesis 1 & 2, at least the account we can discover when we set aside the translation of 1611 for a retranslation into the language and science of 2010!

Shermer was wasting his time with Why Darwin Matters, but didn’t know it. One wonders what he would believe if he did know what Genesis really says. And all too many Christians waste their time fearing and fighting for something that isn’t there. And nearly everyone is wasting their time fighting a culture war that is based in nothing but a 400 year-old interpretation.

God intended His word stay alive, and be reapplied to each generation’s times. You need to read what Genesis really says. Its available here, free. As for the Bereans among you, read my book. It takes you through a detailed forensic reinterpretation, using modern science and language, that brings Genesis into this day, this age, word by word, detail by detail. And see for yourself why Darwin really doesn’t matter!