Watchmen

Watchmen is set in an alternative America during Nixon’s third term as president in 1985. The main characters are masked-heroes struggling, each in their own unique way, with their purpose after vigilantes were outlawed in 1977. They are drawn together again when the Comedian is assassinated, and each confronts the wretched state of humanity that is pulling the threat of nuclear holocaust ever closer.
The Christological themes are not altogether absent, but they are obscured by the films more prominent concerns. They are like shadows cast by the convergence of a ubiquitous hamartia[1] and a deep existential longing for redemption. The world is steeped in sin; child prostitutes and drug-dealers line walkways, brutal gang violence and psychotic criminals overflow the streets, pollution, greed in business, distrust in politics, all driven by the inertia of the corrupt condition of the human heart combine to create an imminent “doomsday” scenario. In this world there are still heroes who have hope, and strive for peace and justice. They are by no means perfect, but each in their effort to overcome and to right the status quo demonstrate qualities that we could likewise attribute to Christ.[2]

The Comedian is part just and part unjust. Embittered by the emptiness of the American Dream and the savagery of human nature he becomes a brutal cynic. Seeing the rot and wickedness of the world clearly, he fashions his persona into a parody of it. When told of the difficulty of discerning whether he is joking or being serious, he replies with rancor, “I am the joke.” The movie begins with his death and revolves around the mystery of his murder, his back-story and the discoveries he made which he led to his repentance and demise. The Comedian’s death is initially taken to mean we live in a sad world.[3] But his death comes to mean something else – that savage human nature gets the last laugh after all, for there is no real transformation.[4]

Our main narrator is Rorschach[5], whose namesake’s patterns adorn his mask. Haunting the city streets he uncompromisingly seeks and speaks the truth. Distributing justice mercilessly, his biting social commentary is dark and as deep as his melancholy. His mask shows criminals the corruption of their soul when they gaze upon it, shortly before they receive their just punishment. Reflecting on his back-story and the evil he sees in front and behind the mask, his insight is valid.

“ . . . If God saw what any of us did that night he didn’t seem to mind. From then on I knew – God doesn’t make the world this way. We do.”

The shadow Rorschach casts is Christological. Of his last journey, seeking to right the wrongs of the world: a final plight that will lead to his death, he says, “I live my life free of compromise, and step into the shadow without complaint or regret.” And it is this, “not even in the face of Armageddon,” for which he is killed: his body the last corpse on the foundation of a newly forged peace.

Nite Owl is the Batman of Watchmen, his secret identity is Daniel Dreiberg, a geeky, middle-class version of Bruce Wayne. He spends his time reminiscing about days gone by, afraid to take up the suit he once put down.[6] Like Christ he enters into the peoples suffering, becoming one of them. In desperate times he holds on to hope, and gives that to others. He is the only person with ties of friendship to all the rest, breaking through their solitary existence. Accordingly, he is constantly taking up the role of peacemaker.

Then there is Ozy, the fastest and smartest man in the world. His response to superhero exile was to go public, receive the admiration of the masses and turn his incredible intellect and wealth to the task of saving the world, ostensibly from ecological disaster,[7] and secretly from the savagery of the human heart. Given his vision[8] to unite the world “not in conquest, but by conquest of the evils that beset [men]” he plays the part of an anti-Christ. He is without scruples in his ambition.[9] Ozy is short for Ozymandias, a name taken from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, the words of which are inscribed on a statue in his artic palace.

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look upon my works, ye mighty and despair.”

Watchmen’s acquisition of these words is as ironic as Shelley’s, for the very next lines read,

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

The message is that nothing lasts; even the mighty deeds of men will decay. The movie ends with Rorschach’s journal about to be read, and with the truth Ozy’s grand plan[10] will lay in ruins, just as Shelly’s fictional Ozymandias lies in ruins.

It would be easy to make Dr Manhattan a type of the God-man in scripture.[11] Jon Osterman, in a laboratory accident has his body pulled apart and refashioned with amazing abilities, making him Dr Manhattan.[12] He is however the image of Nietzsche’s ubermensch.[13] He is an atheist. Often compared to God, he always says he is not – “If he exists, I am nothing like him.”

However, he seems to allow that he is the closest thing to God there can be,[14] though far from perfect. Since his accident he moves from apathy to antipathy, becoming the consummate nihilist. Accused of loosing touch with humanity he struggles to find a reason to save the world.[15] Not until he is convinced by a miracle that life is indeed precious, does he make an effort to save humanity. Only he arrives too late. Ozy has detonated a nuclear bomb with radiation that points to Dr Manhattan as the cause. Like Christ, Dr Manhattan stoically takes the blame, and as a scapegoat “ascends” to another galaxy forever. In this he ensures that the peace forged in the wake of this tragedy endures. The Christological parallel goes beyond his sacrificial substitution. Night Owl says that the peace will remain as long as people believe that Dr Manhattan is watching them.[16]

The message of Watchmen hiding under the covers of nihilism seems to be if there is going to be salvation there needs to be sacrifice[17] from a god-like being. If salvation is going to be permanent and genuine there needs to be a perfection of humanness – something no hero had – not even Dr Manhattan. [18] The Silk Specter says, “Jon would say, ‘Nothing ever ends.’” This reveals the danger from the human predicament is not over: until human nature is made right there can be no utopia – things will continue as they always have. And in this we can discern a longing for redemption, a longing we know is only satisfied in the true God-man, the perfect human, Jesus Christ.


Footnotes

[1] A fatal flaw leading to a downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.

[2] They are not Christ figures, but they can be interpreted meaningfully as Christ symbols.

[3] Night Owl agrees that there aren’t many laughs around these days, because “…the comedian is dead.” The idea is now there is no one left to make us laugh at ourselves. And as long as we could laugh at ourselves, we could forget our truly miserable state.

[4] The real practical joke in the end is that man is not idealized (genuinely made better), but deformed (even more deceived, twisted).

[5] The name of the inventor of the ink-blotch picture cards used in psychotherapy

[6] He recalls that when looking through his special goggles, “no matter how dark things got, everything was as clear as day.”

[7] His solution is to discover alternative energy sources and freely provide them, thus eliminating the need for war over resources, and saving the world from the inevitable nuclear holocaust.

[8] He draws his inspiration from Alexander the Great

[9] A sinister version of the wizard behind the curtain

[10] To deceive the world so they would unite in peace.

[11] Dr. Manhattan becomes an extraordinary genius. With the power of his thoughts he is able to create and destroy, see the past and the future simultaneously, move things with his mind and telelport himself or others. When he won the Vietnamese war for America the Viet Cong wished to surrender to him personally, revering him as a god.

[12] A name “to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies.” Also a name to reflect his ability to manipulate atomic structures.

[13] A super-man, physically and mentally superior, that will arise out of the masses and create new human values. Strong values like “might is right” unlike the weak values given by Christianity such as sacrificial love, compassion and equality.

[14] The original Night Owl describes his arrival in his book as “the dawn of the superhero.” His physicist friend comments on the television;

“You see at the time I was misquoted. I never said, “The superman exists, and he is American.” What I said was, “God exists, and he is American.” Now if you begin to feel an intense and crushing feeling of religious terror at the concept, don’t be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane.”

[15] The Silk Specter II says to him “you know how everything in this world fits together except people.” and says the world for him is like walking through mist where people are just shadows in a fog. This is confirmed by his response on the talk show, revealing his radical physical reductionist view of human persons. When falsely accused of causing people cancer he says, “Even if it’s true, it’s irrelevant. A live human body and a deceased human body have the same number of particles. Structurally there’s no difference.”

[16] This seems to offer the answer the question, as the poet Juvenal put it, “Who watches the Watchmen?” tagged on a shop window in the opening sequence. To God we are all accountable. In a world without God, there is no one to prevent the gross misconduct of the powerful authorities.

[17] The incredulous words of Ozy to a distraught Nite Owl, “Dan, Come on. A world united in peace – there had to be sacrifice.”

[18] Rorschach accuses Dr Manhattan, “Suddenly you discover humanity? Convenient. If you’d cared from the start, none of this [mass destruction] would have happened.”

Dr Manhattan, as powerful as he is, is not able to change to human nature. This task was also beyond the reach of Ozy. He had to create the world’s biggest practical joke with mass murder to achieve his utopia, and even this was, as the poet Shelley writes, impermanent. It was built on a lie. If the two greatest men in the world cannot come close to righting the human predicament by changing human nature, it follows something a lot closer to perfection is needed than them.

Os Guinness on Why Truth Matters

More than 4,000 evangelical leaders have currently gathered in Cape Town, South Africa for the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. The first Lausanne Conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 and was organized by influential evangelicals such as Billy Graham and John Stott. This year’s convention continues the focus on the mission of the global church and evangelism, with speakers including John Piper, Tim Keller, Chris Wright, Ajith Fernando, Michael Ramsden, and many, many more.

One of the presentations worth considering was that given by Os Guinness on day one. His topic was the importance of truth for the church today. He offered six reasons why truth matters supremely, and why those Christians who are careless about truth are as dangerous as the open skeptics of our day:

  • First, only a high view of truth honors the God of Truth.
  • Second only a high view of truth reflects how we come to know and trust God.
  • Third only a high view of truth empowers our best human enterprises.
  • Fourth only a high view of truth can undergird our proclamation and defense of the faith.
  • Fifth, only a high view of truth is sufficient for resisting evil and hypocrisy.
  • Sixth, only a high view of truth will help our growth and transformation in Christ.

And his conclusion: 

“If our faith is not true, it would be false even if the whole world believed it. If our faith is true, it would be true even if the whole world and the entire cosmos were against it.

So let the conviction ring out from this Congress: We Evangelicals do not just believe the truth. We do not just claim to know the truth, and to defend the truth. We worship “the God of truth,” whose Spirit is “the Spirit of truth,” whose “Word is truth,” whose Gospel is “the message of truth,” and whose Son our Lord is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And we ourselves are committed, humbly but resolutely, to becoming People of Truth. Here we still stand, so help us God.”

You can watch his address on the Lausanne website or download it below. 

Divine Eternity

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
Isaiah 57:15

God’s relationship to time has become a matter of some controversy in the latter half of the twentieth Century. The Scriptures affirm that God is eternal, being without beginning or end. However the biblical material is under-determined with respect to the precise nature of divine eternity. On the one hand the scriptures speak of ever-lasting duration (Ps 90:2; Rev 4:8). God is therefore omnitemporal.[1] On the other hand there is scriptural information that indicates time itself was bought into existence by God (Gen 1:1; Prov 8:22-23; Jude 25; Titus 1:2-3; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Cor 2:7; Ps 54:20; John 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20). God is therefore somehow beyond time, or atemporal. The problem is together these are broadly logically contradictory and cannot be rationally affirmed in the absence of a model or qualifier.

As the Biblical material is under-determined, this becomes a matter for the philosophical theologian.[2] Christian thinkers, such as Augustine, Boethius, Anselm and Aquinas, conceived of God’s eternity as atemporal. This was commonly accepted from the early to the high Middle Ages, and as recently as 1975.[3] Today most philosophers disagree.[4]

The view one holds will be highly influenced by ones view of the nature of time.[5] Most philosophers think if the A-Theory[6] (the view that temporal becoming is real, and that future events do not exist[7]) is correct God must be temporal.[8] On the B-Theory[9] (the view that temporal becoming is an illusion of human consciousness, and that all events past, present and future are equally real) it is easy to see how God can be timeless.

The B-theory is challenged by everyday experience,[10] as well as powerful philosophical and theological arguments. Relevant here are the theological arguments. First, a robust doctrine of creation ex nihilo is incompatible with the B-Theory, for on it universe exists co-eternally with God who sustains it in existence but never brings it into being. Second, on the B-theory evil is never conquered in the sense that its stain is wiped away from creation.[11] Third, the spaciotemporal parts of Christ remain in a state of defeat, permanently broken on the cross and buried in the grave. Ergo, death is never swallowed up in victory (Isa 25:8; cf. 1 Cor 15:54).

One strong argument for divine timelessness is from the incompatibility of the incompleteness of temporal life with God’s life as the most perfect being.[12] For temporal beings the experience of life is ephemeral and transitory: once the past is gone it is gone forever. This argument’s premises enjoy powerful intuitive support. Objectors point out that recalling past experience for an omniscient being would not be such a melancholy affair as it would for human persons. Also, perfection is context-laden concept. Temporality for persons may be an enriching experience rather than an imperfection.[13]

God’s knowledge of tensed facts provides an argument for omnitemporality. If God is omniscient he knows tensed facts, such as “it is now 2 o’clock,” and “Charles and Camilla are married.” If God knows tensed facts, his knowledge changes sequentially. Since there are tensed facts and God is omniscient, it follows that God is in time. For B-theorists there are no tensed facts. A-theorist objectors to this argument have adopted two strategies to escape the conclusion. First, by contending that tensed facts express propositions that do not carry tensed indexicals. For instance, the sentence “I am now reading” expresses the proposition that “I am reading at time T.”[14] Second, redefining omniscience so it does not entail knowledge of tensed facts.

The second argument for omnitemporality is from God’s creative action in the temporal world. It states that since God is creatively active in the temporal world, he is really related to the temporal world. And since he is really related to the temporal world, he is temporal.[15] Aquinas denied that God’s creative action in the temporal world entails he is really related to the temporal world, on the basis of divine simplicity and immutability. Modern proponents of divine timelessness deny God’s real relation to the temporal world entails his temporality.

Various views break the logical contradiction by denying either omnitemporality or atemporality. The traditional view is of absolute timelessness, which entails that God is atemporal both with and without the universe.[16] Aquinas is this view’s most famous advocate. Unqualified divine temporality only affirms God to be temporal.[17]

Various models are available that attempt to reconcile the logical contradiction between omnitemporality and atemporality. The first speculates God is timeless with respect to physical time, and temporal in a metaphysical time. Newton is the progenitor of this view, envisioning a sort of hyper-time sans creation.[18] Strictly speaking God is not atemporal on this view, even if this metaphysical time is ontologically dependant on God.[19] For the A-theorist the finitude of the past presents a problematic antinomy for this model, for there appears to be two phases of God’s life; a temporal phase with creation, and an atemporal phase with a before than relation. In response modern proponents have suggested an amorphous time properly prior to t=0 by advocating metric conventionalism.[20]

An alternative model conceives God exists timelessly sans creation, but with creation exists temporally.[21] Here God voluntarily undergoes extrinsic change by creating the universe and choosing to act within it.


Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time, Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 2001

________. “Timelessness, Creation, and God’s Real Relation to the World,” Laval théologique et philosophique, vol. 56, n° 1, (2000): 93-112.

________. “Timelessness and Omnitemporality” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 2, No. 1, (2000): 29-33.

________. “On the Alleged Metaphysical Superiority of Timelessness.” Sophia 37 (1998): 1-9.

________. “God, Time, and Eternity.” Religious Studies 14 (1979): 497-503.

________. “Timelessness and Creation,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1996): 646-56

________. “Omniscience, Tensed Facts, and Divine Eternity.” Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 225-41

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. God & Time: four views, Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2001

Moreland, J. P. and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2004

Footnotes


[1] Everywhere in time. This term is mutual with respect to the question if time is finite or can be infinitely extended into the past.

[2] “if such a thing as a Christian doctrine of time has to be developed, the work of discussing it and developing it must belong not biblical but to philosophical theology.”

James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (London: SCM Press, 1962), 149.

[3] Nicholas Wolferstorff, “God Everlasting.” In God and the Good: Essays in Honor of Henry Stob, ed. Clifton J. Orlebeke and Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1975), reprinted in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, ed. Steven M. Cahn and David Shatz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 77-98.

[4] Gregory E. Ganssle, ed. God & Time: four views (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 13.

[5] Other issues that will influence one’s view and which model or qualifier one adopts include; the doctrine of creation ex nihlio, omniscience (especially foreknowledge), divine simplicity and immutability, if actual infinites are possible, God’s interactivity in the world and the fullness or perfection of the divine life.

[6] Using the terminology of J. M. E. McTaggart, see The Existence of Nature, vol. 2. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), chap. 33. The A-theory is also known as the process or dynamic or tensed theory of time.

[7] A-theorists are divided as to whether the present alone is real (Presentism) or if the past is real like the present. Wolferstorff and Craig are Presentists, and Garry DeWeese and Michael Tooley are A-theorists who are not.

[8] Gregory E. Ganssle, ed. God & Time: four views, 15.

[9] Also called the static or tenseless theory.

[10] B-theorists admit that prima facie the A-theory is superior. “The advocate of the dynamic view of time may plausibly contend that our experience of tense ought to be accepted as veridical, or trustworthy, unless we are given some more powerful reason for denying it.” William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 2001) 130. Despite this it remains popular among time-travel enthusiasts, physicists and some philosophers of science.

[11] Suffering persists as a reality no matter how many ‘tears are wiped away’ in the kingdom.

[12] Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, “Prophecy, Past Truth and Eternity,” Philosophical Perspectives 5 [1991]: 395; See also Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, “Eternity, Awareness and Action,” Faith and Philosophy 9 [1992]: 463. Their sole argument on which their entire case for timelessness is based can be summarized as follows;

1) God is the most perfect being.
2) The most perfect being has the most perfect mode of existence
3) Temporal existence is a less perfect mode of existence than timeless existence.
4) Therefore, God has the most perfect mode of existence. (modus ponems, 1&2)
5) Therefore, God has a timeless mode of existence. (modus ponems, 3&4)

[13] R. W. Hepburn, “Time-Transcendence and Some Related Phenomena in the Arts,” Contemporary British Philosophy, 4th Series, ed. H. D. Lewis, Muirhead Library of Philosophy (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1976), 152-73. See also William Lane Craig, God & Time: four views, 136.

[14] Kvanvig and Wierenga give the most sophisticated accounts of how God can know tensed facts and remain timeless. See Jonathan L. Kvanvig, The Possibility of an All-Knowing God (New York: St Martin’s, 1986), 150-65 and Edward R. Wierenga, The Nature of God (Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), 179-85. cf. William Lane Craig. God & Time: four views, 146-9.

[15] The argument can be summarized as follows;

1) God is creatively active in the temporal world.
2) If God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is really related to the temporal world
3) If God is related to the temporal world, God is temporal.
4) Therefore, if God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is temporal (hypothetical syllogism, 2&3)
5) Therefore, God is temporal. (modus ponems, 1&4)

[16] Paul Helm holds this view and is one of the few who recognizes it is only plausible on the B-theory of time.

[17] Nicholas Wolterstorff defends this view with biblical and philosophical arguments whilst professing ignorance to on the nature of divine eternity without creation. Those who believe in an eternal universe could also hold this view.

[18] Isaac Newton, The Principia, trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 941.

[19] William Lane Craig, God & Time: four views, 116. cf. Nicholas Wolterstorff, God & Time: four views, 122.

[20] Alan G. Padgett represents a “Relative Timelessness” view of eternity, and advocates metric conventionalism with Eleanor Stump and the “Oxford School”. See Alan G. Padgett, God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time (New York: St Martin’s, 1992), 112-146. cf. Richard Swinburne, “God and Time,” in Reasoned Faith, ed. Eleonore Stump (Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 204-222.

[21] This is regarded as coherent and the most plausible by William Lane Craig.

The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

The theme of this year’s Desiring God National Conference is one that is close to our hearts here at Thinking Matters. Much of what we do is concerned with encouraging the intellectual life of the church, and one of the inevitable and important issues that often arises is how we should view the life of the mind in relation to the worship and love of God. Over the last weekend, John Piper and Desiring God ministries gathered a group of speakers to address this question and several others related to the biblical call to think. The conference speakers included Albert Mohler, one the “reigning  intellectuals of the evangelical movement” (according to Time magazine), R. C. Sproul, founder and president of Ligonier Ministries and author of over seventy books, and Rick Warren, evangelical pastor and best-selling author of the purpose-driven series.

Conference Sessions:

Thinking Purposefully for the Glory of Christ
The Battle for Your Mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Rick Warren
Audio: Listen | Download

Thinking Deeply in the Ocean of Revelation
The Bible and the Life of the Mind (Acts 17:22-28).
R. C. Sproul
Audio: Listen | Download

Thinking for the Sake of Global Faithfulness
Confronting Islam with the Mind of Christ.
Thabiti Anyabwile
Audio: Listen | Download

The Way the World Thinks
Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace (Romans 1:18-32).
Albert Mohler
Audio: Listen | Download

Think Hard, Stay Humble:
The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).
Francis Chan
Audio: Listen | Download

Thinking for the Sake of Joy
The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.
John Piper
Audio: Listen | Download

For those interested, John Piper’s latest book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is also now available.

Penal Sanctions in the Mosaic Law Part II

In Part I I suggested that the capital sanctions found in The Torah in most cases were not intended to be carried out, that instead there operated an implicit assumption that a person who committed a serious crime had forfeited their life and hence was to pay a ransom as decided by the courts as a substitute. One area where this claim seems to make particular sense is in the laws governing adultery that occur in the book of Deuteronomy.

In the article I cited in the previous post, David Brink, addresses Deuteronomy 22: 13-21. Brink claims this teaches “that the community can and should stone to death any women whose husband finds she was not a virgin on her wedding night.”

I’ll start with two minor points. First, Brink assumes that this is addressed to “the community,” by which I assume he means contemporary communities. This is false; it is addressed to ancient Israel’s community as any reading of the opening chapters of Deuteronomy clearly show. How The Mosaic Law relates to contemporary Christians is a detailed and vexed topic of biblical hermenutics yet Brink ignores the issues and simply assumes that it addresses us directly.

Second, this text deals with adultery and not pre-marital sex. As Gordon Wenham notes pre-marital sex is addressed a few lines later in Deuteronomy 22: 28-29.[1] Wenham notes that the case Brink cites (Dt 22:13-21) deals with adultery.[2] In ANE law, betrothal was considered a binding marriage; women were betrothed young and often some time before they consummated the marriage. This case deals with betrothed women who after betrothal and prior to consummation has sex with a third party. As I note in footnote 15, this is a minor point. I am sure Brink is not allayed by the fact that she is to be executed for adultery as opposed to pre-marital sex, his problem is clearly execution related; that said, it is important that one not exaggerate what the text says.

Third, as I argued in Part I, when The Torah prescribes that a person be executed, the implict assumption is that this will not be carried out but some lesser financial penalty will be inflicted as a ransom. This seems to be borne out by an examination of this law.

Brink refers to Deuteronomy 22:13-21, in particular “if … the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found … the men of her town shall stone her to death.” What Brink does not focus on is the sentence if the charges prove to be false; if the husband is simply slandering his bride. In this instance the husband suffers three penalties, first he is subjected to some unspecified punishment which would be at the discretion of the court. It is clear that this is not execution because the text assumes that he will continue to be married to the women in the future. Second the husband shall pay “100 shekels of silver” to the father and lose his right to divorce. Wenham explains the rationale for this price:

The husband claims that by giving him a dud wife (for his 50 shekels) his father in law had in effect stolen the sum from him. Two legal principles are therefore applicable those dealing with theft and false witness. The penalty for theft of deposited property is double restitution according to Ex xii7. But according to Deut xix19 and other ancient near eastern laws false witnesses were punished with the punishment the accused would have suffered if substantiated”[3]

This explains the 100 shekels; the problem is that it raises an issue which Wenham is aware of. “[A]ccording to Deut xix19 false witnesses were punished with the punishment the accused would have suffered if substantiated.” If this law meant that substantiation of the husband’s accusation would actually result in the execution of his wife then the failure to substantiate his claim would mean that the husband would be executed, but he is not. Apart from the fine to the father, his other punishment is an unspecified punishment (which is not execution) and loss of his right to divorce. It appears then that the actual execution of the woman was not envisaged. Wenham suggests then a substitute must have been envisaged in this text if it was to be read as coherent and consistent with the other laws in Deuteronomy.

This conclusion seems to be strengthened by several other passages that deal with the same topic. Two chapters later, Deuteronomy 24:1-5, The Torah deals with a case where a man divorces his wife, “who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.” This same passage is cited by Jesus in the synoptic gospels. David Instone-Brewer has argued, convincingly, that the reference to “something indecent” is interpreted by Christ as referring to adultery.[4] This passage then deals with the same situation as Deuteronomy 24; the text tells us she is divorced and by implication loses her mohar money but is silent on any other punishment. However, the woman is clearly not executed as she marries another man in v 2. This makes sense if the capital sanctions for adultery function as admonitory devices and in practice, a ransom was made as a substitute (possibly alongside a lesser sentence) but it does not make sense if a women who was discovered to have committed adultery by her husband was required to be executed.

A similar picture emerges in a second passage Wenham cites. In the book of proverbs the author warns his son about adultery and refers to the judicial consequences that will ensue if he does not heed this warning.[5] It is clear that a ransom substitute is envisaged, moreover, it suggests that if the husband refuses to accept a ransom payment the adulterer will suffer blows and disgrace, note that execution is not envisaged. In fact, the discussions in Proverbs suggest the consequences will be financial loss and social ostracism. This all makes sense on the hypothesis mentioned in Part I but does not make sense if adultery was in fact punished by death. Wenham notes this point and draws the conclusion that in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 the law envisaged a substitute.

In conclusion, sceptics like David Brink often cite passages like Deuteronomy 22:13-21 in horror to discredit Christianity. However, they erroneously assume superficial literalistic renditions of the passages in question. In this instance, the genre of the passage, in light of the common ANE legal practices and customs suggests that capital sanctions function as a kind of hyperbole and in practice a ransom was paid and the punishment mitigated.

This practice is implicitly assumed in many of the Old Testament laws about homicide. Reading it this way renders the laws in Deuteronomy consistent with each other and with the reference to adultery in the book of Proverbs. Further, it also coheres better with our moral intuitions in the way a literalistic reading does not.

In my final post in this series I will look at Brink’s response to the kind of argument I have advanced in this series and his appeal to dialectical equilibrium.

[1] In “Bethulah: A Girl of Marriageable Age,” Vetus Testamentum 22 (1972) 326-348, Gordon Wenham points out that the same law is also spelled out in Exodus 22:15 and it is treated as a relatively minor offense; the penalty is simply that the man must pay the “mohar” to the bride’s father. A mohar was security money (50 shekels) that the groom paid to the bride’s father. It was held in trust for the woman in case the man later abandoned her or divorced her without just cause. See the discussion in David Instone Brewer Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
[2] Wenham “Bethulah: A Girl of Marriageable Age.”
[3] Ibid 332.
[4] Brewer Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible.
[5] Proverbs 6.

Cross Posted at MandM

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Professor Edgar Andrews reviews The Grand Design

The following review has been kindly provided to Thinking Matters by Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and author of the highly recommended Who Made God?: Searching for a Theory of Everything (read our review here). Professor Andrews is an international expert on the science of large molecules and has published well over 100 scientific research papers and books. For a good introduction to his work, listen to Brian Auten’s interview with him at Apologetics315.

The Grand Design?

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking sold over nine million copies of his book A Brief History of Time. Now, 22 years later, he has co-authored The Grand Design which immediately hit the No.1 spot in the New York Times best-seller list. But the sequel is so inferior to the prequel in intellectual quality that a reviewer in The Times Saturday Review (11 September 2010) writes: ‘It reads like a stretched magazine article … there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material… I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover’.

So why is the new book a runaway best-seller? Because it claims that science makes God redundant. Let’s take a closer look at the claims advanced in The Grand Design.

Philosophical skulduggery

The introduction asserts that ‘Philosophy is dead’ (p.5) and science alone can provide ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’ (the book’s hubristic sub-title). But the authors then produce their own brand of humanistic philosophy, christen it ‘science’ and base their book upon it.

They say; ‘this book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies … that there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature’. But ‘scientific determinism’ is simply the philosophical assumption that the laws control all events. I argue precisely the opposite in chapter 11 of my own book Who made God? (WMG in further references).

Again, in chapter 3, They maintain that ‘reality’ is a construct of our minds — implying that there is no such thing as objective reality (Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley had the same idea in 1710 but he wasn’t widely believed). They conclude that ‘there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality’ and propose what they call ‘model dependent realism’ as a ‘frame-work with which to interpret modern science’ (pp. 42-43). Clearly, an interpretive framework for science cannot be science but belongs in a different category altogether, namely, philosophy.

Since the mental models we construct ‘are the only reality we can know … It follows then that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own’ (p.172). The problem with this, of course, is that it undermines the very concept of reality. Hawking’s ‘reality’ excludes God while my ‘reality’ majors upon God. These two ‘realities’ are mutually exclusive but both (according to Hawking) are equally ‘real’. This is postmodernism by the back door and it is wholly inimical to science, which depends on there being a genuine reality to investigate.

Determinism

 

The authors also embrace another philosophy, namely, scientific determinism. ‘Though we feel we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets’ (pp.31-32). So we are mindless automatons and everything we do or think is predetermined.

The reality is, of course, that biological processes are overwhelmingly ‘governed’ not by physics and chemistry but by structured information, stored on DNA and expressed through the genetic code. It is information which controls the physics and chemistry of the living cell, not the other way round.

Furthermore, if our minds are simply by-products of molecular processes in the brain, then all our thoughts are meaningless including the authors’ own theories. Thinking atheists such as Bertrand Russell and J. B. S. Haldane long ago recognised and admitted this dilemma explicitly (WMG chapter 16) but Hawking and Mlodinow seem oblivious to it.

Chapter 4 is devoted to explaining the ‘many histories’ formulation of quantum theory proposed by Richard Feynman. This is well done except that by ignoring other formulations of quantum theory the authors give the false impression that Feynman’s is the only valid approach. This is tendentious because they need Feynman’s idea as a springboard for their own multiverse hypothesis. To admit that ‘many histories’ is just one of several equally valid formulations of quantum mechanics would weaken their argument considerably.

Mighty M-theory

Chapter 5 surveys the development of physics during the past 200 years, including general relativity (which describes the large-scale behaviour of the universe) and quantum mechanics (which describes its microscopic behaviour). Although containing nothing new, this is by far the best part of this book.

The chapter concludes, however, with comments on M-theory that rang alarm bells (p.118). In the book’s opening chapter, M-theory is no more than ‘a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists’, and is ‘not a theory in the usual sense’ but ‘may offer answers to the question of creation’. Physicist Lee Smolin is doubtful: ‘… we still do not know what M-theory is, or whether there is any theory deserving of the name’ (The Trouble with Physics, Allen Lane 2007, p.146). Indeed, on p.117 the authors themselves admit that ‘people are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible’.

But suddenly on p.118 this intractable mathematical model is somehow transformed into a theory so powerful that its laws are ‘more fundamental’ than the laws of nature and ‘allow’ for ‘different universes with different apparent laws’. This is a huge leap of atheistic faith.

Witches brew

The final three chapters rapidly descend into a witches brew of speculation and misinformation, confusingly blended with normal science. It certainly gave me a mental hangover — and I am no stranger to the territory. It is difficult to discern where science ends and speculation begins, but the key reasoning seem to be as follows.

1. The ‘big bang’ model predicts that the universe began life as such a tiny object that quantum theory must be applied to its origin (p.131). But hold on a moment! Quantum theory has only been validated under normal conditions of space, time, pressure, temperature and so on. We cannot know whether it applies to the supposed conditions at the origin of the universe, when space was intensely warped, time was at best fuzzy, and the pressure and temperature both approached infinity. What we do know is that massive objects do not exhibit quantum behaviour. No one can be sure that a new-born universe would obey quantum theory as we know it.

2.  ‘In the early universe all four dimension [of space-time] behave like space’ allowing us to ‘get rid of the problem of time having a beginning’ (pp.134-135). But if time and space were equivalent, and time did not begin, then space didn’t begin either! The universe was still-born. In fact the authors are appealing to the ‘no-boundary’ model described by Hawking 22 years ago in A Brief History of Time but are economical with the truth. The earlier book makes it clear that the model is valid only in imaginary time, not in real time (see WMG p.121). But here this caveat vanishes and imaginary time is misrepresented as real time.

The narrative then descends into farce. They claim that ‘the realisation that time behaves like space … means that the beginning of the universe was governed by the laws of science and doesn’t need to be set in motion by some god’ (p.135). So apparently the universe did ‘begin’ after all, but not in time. Confused? Me too.

3. Picturing the early universe as a quantum particle (something they themselves describe as ‘tricky’) the authors consider how it might evolve from point (state) A to point (state) B by applying Feynman’s sum-over-histories method thus:

‘[Since we are considering the beginning of the universe] there is no point A, so we add up all the histories that satisfy the no-boundary condition and end at the universe we observe today. In this view the universe appears spontaneously, starting off in every possible way. Most of these correspond to other universes.’

But by saying that point A does not exist they assume that the universe springs into existence somewhere between nothing (point A) and the present universe (point B). This tells us nothing about how or why the universe began; simply that it did begin. We knew that already.

4. Finally, p.180 does offer an explanation of spontaneous creation. The conservation of energy means that universes can only be created from nothing if their net energy is zero, with negative gravitational energy balancing out the positive energy of matter and radiation. This necessitates that a law of gravity must exist. Because a law of gravity exists it must and will of itself create universes out of nothing (no reasoning given).

So gravity is God. Unfortunately the authors have no time to tell us who created gravity (earlier they rule out God because no one could explain who created him). Nor can they tell us why matter and gravity should pop out of nothing, except to argue that ‘nothing’ undergoes quantum fluctuations. However, this requires that (like gravity) the laws of quantum mechanics pre-existed the universe and that ‘nothing’ possesses the properties of normal space, which is part of the created order and cannot be its antecedent.

A grand design? Only in the sense that this book is grandly designed to bamboozle the unwary and cloak atheistic philosophy in the garb of science. Fortunately, the clothes don’t fit.