Short Essays by Mark Pendleton (

A Rant on Naturalism

Nature - n. 5. the universe, with all its phenomena. 8. the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person, animal, thing, or class by birth, origin, or constitution...

Natural - adj. 2. based on the state of things in nature; constituted by nature. 3. of or pertaining to nature or the universe. 16. in conformity with the ordinary course of nature; not unusual or exceptional. 17. happening in the ordinary or usual course of things, without the intervention of accident, violence, etc.

Naturalism - n. 4a. the view that all phenomena are covered by laws of science and that all teleological explanations are therefore without value. 5a. the doctrine that all religious truth is derived from a study of natural processes and not from revelation.

Supernatural - adj. 1. of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law; abnormal 4. of, pertaining to ghosts or other unearthly beings; eerie; occult 5. a being, place, object, occurrence, etc. considered as supernatural or of supernatural origin; that which is outside the natural order. --Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

David Hume, famous Scottish skeptic, in his dismissal of miracles, asserted that miracles are, by definition, the breaking of natural laws. He further asserted, again by definition, that natural laws cannot be broken and that, therefore, miracles cannot happen. When asked to explain certain events that seemed to be without explanation (and possibly miraculous), Hume simply asserted that the causes were unknown to us, but that they were not other than naturally based.*

One of the best known recent naturalists, Carl Sagan, often asserted that the cosmos (world) is all there is, was or ever will be.

I begin with the above selections because in the Levitical laws of unclean and clean things, we are again faced with a dilemma. Either God is simply trying to help us live more healthful practical lives, much as a doctor or natural foods advocate would, or he is calling our attention to the fact that we are more than physical beings and that there is a reality beyond our natural senses that needs to be reckoned with. Or both. In fact, if we accept that at least an important part of "holy" is "whole", then it will be impossible to be the former unless we accept the spiritual reality that we exist at once in two realms. We have our feet in two worlds. And that one has priority.

Often, the word "supernatural" calls to mind visions from sci-fi or horror films. Zombies, ghosts, demons, vampires and the like. Or disembodied, vaporous, insubstantial beings of malevolent intent that come to dwell in unsuspecting people. We see the "dark side of the force", the occult. While there is, for some, a definite temptation to delve deeper into this area, we know that as believers in the one true God, we should avoid it like the plagues.

Yet, the New Testament confronts us, especially in the gospels, with an expanded view of reality. We moderns, even Christians, have often tried to explain the phenomena of instant healing, raising from the dead, exorcism and the like by suggesting that Jesus was, in effect, pandering to the superstitions of an unsophisticated and ignorant people. I mean, everyone now knows that diseases aren't caused by evil spirits that have oppressed individuals because they are fallen. Right? And the dead had merely "swooned" (as a once popular theory to explain Jesus' resurrection held). Everything, from diseases to our feelings to the very reasons we choose as we do, is reducible to organic causes whether genetic or pathogenic. Suggesting in polite society that there are higher causes than these may be sufficient to gain you an honorary membership in the Flat Earth Society, but little else.

At best, all these apparent invasions of our naturalistic privacy were confined to Jesus and a few of His closest followers, the apostles, and were also limited to a narrow band of time until the New Testament canon could be completed. Attempts by Pentecostal or Charismatic believers to reintroduce us to an expanded view of our spirituality are frequently met with a Hume-like skepticism. After all, first hand evidence of suspect, emotionally based spiritual weirdness is only as far away as the television. But Leviticus may be calling us to examine the cast out bathwater of our minds for babies.

At times, our insistence that we obey the "Word" takes on a desperate tone. It is as though we are so anxious for a natural, normal, something physical to hold onto that we pick a book to grasp. The problem is that words are themselves symbols. They stand for ideas, truths, yes, but ideas still. Words simply depict realities, some of which are invisible. Jesus, in telling us that he is the living word, was saying what Paul would later phrase, "He is the image of the invisible God..." (Colossians 1:15a). Hebrews 1:3 puts the same thing this way, "And he is the radiance of His glory, the exact representation of His nature..."). The Greek words used here are the words from which we derive the English "icon", "character" and "mimic". Jesus is at once both perfectly at home with us and the ultimate intruder into our naturalism.

In explaining the symbolism of the Old Covenant worship that looked forward to the Priest/sacrifice that had now come making the symbols obsolete, Hebrews 9:8 makes an interesting statement: "The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle (lit. first tabernacle) is still standing." There is a sense that our bodies are also a tabernacle. We, too, are indwelt by a larger reality as was the tabernacle in the desert. And while the that tabernacle, or temple still stood, it was clear that what they symbolized had not yet appeared. Likewise, while our tabernacle, our first tent, still stands, we cannot see the reality of the inner holy place. In other words the reality of the whole life that God intends for us isn't yet visible. It exists rather like the seed inside a peach, new life intended to spring forth, but not until the perishable exterior, so subject to decay, is gone. Yet the reality into which we cannot see with our earthly eyes exists, the eternal matrix in which time and space are but a bubble. We, for whom time and space loom so large, are surrounded by a yet larger reality. In a simple reading of either testament it will become apparent that we are being drawn inexorably to the Day when, as it were, our bubble bursts and an interface once largely lost will be re-established. A marriage will occur and be consummated. Until that day, we are left, not to see, but rather to understand from what has been written that there is a functional connection.

An overemphasis on the apparent practical health value of the laws of clean and unclean things runs the risk of blurring the connection between the physical and the spiritual especially in the light of our culture's philosophical bias toward naturalism. Indeed our apparent desire to find the health value of the these laws turns God into a sort of moral pragmatist and shifts our emphasis from the eternal to the temporal (naturalism in practice). If we maintain the intense spiritual truth symbolized by the sacrificial laws, how can we not err by becoming so pragmatic with regard to the laws of clean and unclean things?

*Note: The are two logical errors that attend this view. First is the formal error of the circular argument. Nowhere is it proven that natural laws cannot be broken, it is simply assumed, the bias of the naturalist. Second, is the informal error of trying to prove something through lack of evidence. Again the presumption of the naturalist is evident.

Apologetics In Real Time;
Have You Read Your Coffee Cup Lately?

We know that chimpanzees possess language, culture, and self-awareness, so why don't we afford them rights? The most common argument is that if we give chimps rights, then the next thing you know we'll be giving rights to squirrels. It seems to me, however, a pretty poor decision to deny rights to those who deserve them lest we accidentally afford them to those who don't. - David Liss, Author of A Spectacle of Corruption and The Coffee Trader

The above, entitled The Way I See It #42, was taken from a Starbuck's coffee cup. I found it on the opposite side from the statement cautioning care when handling the beverage in the cup because it is hot and presumably, therefore dangerous. Philosophies, however, appear to come with no such warnings. In fact, unlike tea leaves, which must be interpreted by an adept of some kind, these words are apparently to be swallowed rather like the coffee in the cup.

Not wanting to stir up a tempest in a coffee cup, I still think that there some ideas here that need consideration. First, Liss uses the word "rights". Of what rights does he speak? Presumably, he is not speaking of wild chimpanzees, as they seem to need no one to grant them anything. Except, perhaps, security from capture or wanton slaughter. If he speaks of captive chimps, what rights does he think they deserve? Is he suggesting that they not be kept as pets, or trained to do tricks and look rather like foolish humans in sideshows and circuses? Perhaps he favors a Chimpanzee Emancipation Act which will free the chimps to find gainful employment on their own after receiving government sponsored job retraining. Returning once captive chimps to the wild could, in fact, endanger them to a greater extent than remaining in captivity. The human jungle is hardly a kinder place than the chimps' ancestral home.

Perhaps Liss is speaking of chimpanzees which are used for medical testing purposes, animals which are sacrificed for the presumed greater good of the human population. It would certainly appear a noble thing to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. But if it is so, then a greater tragedy exists as we sacrifice millions of babies through abortion for no good at all. Perhaps it could be argued that if we weren't so good at destroying our own, we would be more able to save others as well.

Next, Liss uses the word "afford". Who are we that we can afford to grant rights to anything or anyone? If we are superior beings, then what makes it incumbent on us to grant rights at all? If we are not superior beings, how is it that we have any rights to grant? If we are the highest authority, what makes the granting of rights necessary? Who will sit in judgment of us if we do not?

For that matter, upon what basis do we grant rights to ourselves? If it merely a matter of sentiment, then our rights are as transitory as our sentiments and amount to suggestions rather than mandates.
At this point, it would also be fair to ask who the "we" is that Liss refers to. To what rights-granting body is he appealing? Is it the Great Moral Conscience of a nation that finds itself unable to decide when a fetus is human? Is it to the Government? Does he wish to introduce yet another political football onto the field? Would he have sentiment with the force of law?

Apparently in Liss' economy, language, culture and self-awareness, imply deserving. But where is the line to be drawn? Ants communicate and have a social structure. Is two out of three insufficient for recognition? How are we to determine which animals have self-awareness? Liss seems to argue that if we err, we should err on the side of ignorance. Unfortunately, ignorance does not prove anything (except perhaps its own existence).

Once again we can see the murk and muddle that surrounds a morality of sentiment in a matrix of relativism. Such a morality has no real fixed ground or basis for being.

However, as believing people we cannot simply dismiss the matter because we have revealed it's insubstantial foundation. Liss has pointed out a fly in the ointment of our ethics. As Francis Schaffer once asked 'How Should We Then Live'? As Christian theists, we cannot merely debunk the icons of the day, we must also have better answers.

In this case, a better answer could be the term "respect" rather than rights. Respect, as I am using the term is the appreciation and indeed proper reverence for all things as parts of a created order. I have appreciation and respect for things because I see them as having been created by one whom I ultimately have respect for. God. As the old hymn suggests, 'This Is My Father's World'. Things God has made deserve respect because, in fact, He made them. There is an ontology for respect. While I agree that all this has been provided for our use and enjoyment, I must also see to it that my use is not abuse.

My possession involves a stewardship. The way I live out that stewardship is to a greater or lesser extent, my business. But the stewardship exists. First it is an inward recognition, then an outward action. I live it out principally before an audience of One. Such a stewardship, such a respect overlooks nothing. I need not be concerned that I have overlooked the chimpanzee because of the squirrel. I have a proper respect for both. No law prohibits me from eliminating an overpopulation of squirrels if, for example, they have invaded my house. But as a steward I would not go out to the woods to shoot squirrels for fun.

To suggest a rather absurd example, does this mean that I respect rocks? Yes. I may use rocks as they benefit myself and others, for building materials, etc. But I refrain from painting slogans on the boulders that sit along the highway. No more. No less.

With a stewardship of respect as an inner guideline, no external law is required. If, for example, your sentiment for your dog is different than mine, your life is the measure. Should differences arise that bring us into conflict with each other, we have a different obligation, this one with the force of law. We are to love one another.

But as Rudyard Kipling has said, "That is another story."

A Hard Lesson From Leviticus

The deaths of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 catch us by surprise. In an age that both rightly and wrongly exalts individual expression, we find ourselves in a quandary. God, who has apparently gone to lengths to draw us into relationship with Himself, suddenly appears unsafe, even perilous. It was one thing for C.S. Lewis to say that Asian was not a "tame" lion, but it's quite another to find that we have come into a relationship with what seems to be such a dangerously capricious being.

Apparently, the young priests, sons of Aaron, in their enthusiasm for Yahweh, simply offered a creative form of worship. Just a different recipe for the incense, nothing more. But scripture calls it "strange". It was other than what God had commanded. The consequences were immediate and severe.

Those among us with legalistic tendencies are inclined to congratulate themselves for championing a scrupulous obedience to "the word" while others of a more gentle nature confront an apparent paradox in the very nature of the God they desire to serve and communicate to the world.

Is there a way to solve the paradox and still be true to the nature of God as presented in the text? I believe that the answer is yes.

First, it is important to remember that the priesthood itself was symbolic. That is, although they were but men, flawed and fallible in themselves, God was using them to portray one who was coming who would not be so marred. One who was both a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice. Jesus. The "strange fire" offered by Nadab and Abihu, while perhaps not out of place on this side of the cross as an expression of individual worship, nevertheless did not represent the perfect obedience of the priest/sacrifice who would come. It was not, therefore, holy. It had to be expunged from the "database" immediately. The priest who would come was not improvising a holy life.

In fact, it is the very severity of God at this point that preserves the New Covenant grace in which we now stand before Him. It is not our obedience in every last detail that commends us to God, but rather the obedience of Jesus Christ in whom we are now included, part of his body. It is the fact that he obeyed perfectly that allows us to be "in the process" of becoming. Our primary obedience is to believe in Him.

As we grimly note, there was no margin for error in the typology, yet we are constantly stumbling as James points out (James 3:2). What allows our "margin for error", what gives us room to grow in obedience is the perfection of our high priest and sacrifice for sin and trespass.

Does this mean that God is no longer interested in holy lives? Or, rather, in lives that are whole? Of course not. His desire hasn't changed. The "consequence engine" still runs, albeit it often attended by great mercy. But as the author of Hebrews put it, "but He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness." (Hebrews 12:10). Furthermore as Hebrews states, "he learned obedience from the things he suffered..." (Hebrews 5:8) which I take to mean that the inward inclination Jesus had to obey the Father was made complete ("perfect") by the fact that he put that inclination to obey into practice in the midst of what he experienced. Because he did, the same is possible for us in whom his spirit lives.

If the question that now concerns you is whether or not Aaron's sons "went to heaven", we can only speculate. However, when Moses broke the typology by striking the rock when God had commanded that he only speak to it (Numbers 20:11). [Paul, tells us that the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and Hebrews says he died once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28).] Moses' disobedience did not cost him his life, however, it was the reason given for barring him from leading the people into the Promised Land. (In fact the very words used by God in His condemnation of the action are the words Moses used to explain the deaths of Nadab and Abihu.) Grievous as that was, he did not lose his relationship with his God. Thus, though it is speculation, I would tend to believe that both Aaron's sons were immediately with God*, although they had "fouled out of the game".

It is important to remember that what a man, woman, community or nation represents in type may be different from what they are or occasionally act like. God often uses imperfect persons to relate to us aspects of his person and perfection.

*It is interesting to note that in Leviticus 10:2 we read, "...and fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them...", yet in vss 4 and 5 "they" were carried outside the camp still in their tunics. What did the Lord consume that left "them" to be carried out? Also, of note is the fact that they were carried outside the camp as was the body of the sin offering for the anointed priest (Leviticus 4:212), or the whole assembly (4:13-21).

The Heart of the Problem

A Response to an Editorial 'Irrational Faculties'

I grew up hoping there was no God. In fact, from an early age the trajectory of my life appeared to have as its sure target the natural sciences. My favorite teachers were science teachers and evolutionists. The working philosophy of my life, my world view, was naturalism. I was trained (informally, and somewhat experientially of course) to suspect all authority. Parents, most other teachers, cops and politicians et al were not to be trusted. The God of the churches, whether he existed or not, was simply the chief authority, the source of the evil influence. Poets, singers and actors, on the other hand were the truth tellers of my world. Somehow I knew that if there was a God my world was at best a fantasy. At worst, I was in total rebellion and, as the church was wont to say, lost.

I attended church with my family until my early teens when I talked us out of going. Felt-board stories of a kindly historical Israeli man named Jesus just seemed irrelevant to my life.

I had an intrinsic ability to see relationships between things, similarities that existed between, for example kinds of beetles, or shells, or flowers. I slipped very easily into evolution as a reasonable explanation for the likenesses. It was no great leap to accept the then current model of the naturalistic origin of life from non-living sources. There was never an argument, never an either or choice. I simply and naturally adopted an evolutionary mindset toward all of life. It fit not only my experience to that point, but more importantly, my disposition. Any more formal or sophisticated scientific methodology later learned functioned above and apart from this.

To the person I once was, Intelligent Design is quite literally anathema. It is against everything I believed. ID reintroduces a rightful authority other than myself. With rightful authority comes accountability. With accountability come sin, guilt and judgment (among other better things). At the time, I would have lifted my voice with those who shouted that it was these very things that were making the pursuit of happiness and peaceful coexistence on earth impossible.

As I believe Henry Morris has ably pointed out, the Creation account of Genesis was judged to be the strategic point of attack by those wishing to rid society of the authority of the God of biblical Christianity. After all God is not confined to the Creation account, yet that account serves as the most obvious and evident rationale for His authority in all other areas of life. Likewise, if evolutionary theory attempts to replace God in our minds, then it too, must speak authoritatively to all other areas of life. To anyone able to see, it does not. It is one thing to discover that your roof leaks and quite another to find that the foundation of your house has irreparable and dangerous faults.

Scientists and teachers are, after all human beings. The naturalistic foundation of their lives cannot be challenged without setting off alarms which may even result in irrational fears and ridiculous arguments. It merely demonstrates how foundational their naturalism is. It is not just a philosophy, but rather like a human retro-virus it has become a real and functional part of their identity. In the battlefield of world views, Intelligent Design is no friendly spectator, it is like David in the Valley of Elah stooping for stones.

Posted 10/17/05

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