The Case for Original Monotheism — What I’ve Been Reading (11)

The dominant evolutionary theories concerning the origin of religion go something like this: early “primitive” humans held to animistic beliefs. Animism is the belief that everything in nature—animals, trees, creeks, mountains, literally everything—possesses a soul or spirit. These basic beliefs evolved into fetishes—the idea that certain items and places were focal points of spiritual power. These fetishes led to idolatry. Such idolatrous worship became the gateway to polytheism—the belief that many of these spirits were deities. Polytheism morphed into henotheism—the belief that one particular deity ruled supremely over all other gods. Eventually henotheism evolved into monotheism. Thus anthropologists understand monotheism to have evolved from lower forms of religions, and that all religions are simply more or less complicated versions of animism. In his book In the Beginning: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, Win Corduan argues that this paradigm is wrong—egregiously, spectacularly wrong. What is worse, he contends, anthropologists hold to the evolutionary paradigm knowing that the historical evidence is against it. This book is the story of the debates and disagreements that surrounded the historical search for the origin of human religion.

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Many of the 19th century anthropologists and ethnologists were motivated by hostility to Christianity, an attitude they openly owned. They also viewed “primitive” people groups with a contempt that colored their assessment of these tribes or perhaps even blinded them of the true level of sophistication they exhibited concerning religion and morality. Early anthropological Darwinists were more dogmatic than scientific. “Primitive” groups were considered intellectually inferior, thus capable of holding only to childish beliefs in magic. The primary underlying dogma was that early humans were not capable of monotheism.

However, there were others who disagreed. Wilhelm Schmidt (and Andrew Lang) argued that the historical evidence presented a very different picture. Their findings revealed that “primitive” tribes consistently exhibited three qualities: monotheism, morality, and monogamy. However, the presuppositions and methodologies of the evolutionary anthropologists seemed to have blinded them to the evidence. Corduan concludes, “There is no question in my mind that one of the obvious reasons for the rejection of Schmidt is that what he found at the origin of human culture (as close as one can come to it) was marital faithfulness in monogamy, straightforward honesty, altruistic sharing while respecting another person’s property, and a general aversion to shedding human blood unnecessarily” (228). Corduan acknowledges the limitations of Schmidt’s research, but he also demonstrates that Schmidt’s conclusions have stood the test of time.

If there was a universal original monotheism, then what happened? By the time of enscripurated religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and the mythologies of the ancient Greeks and Romans—polytheism was the norm. Lang and Schmidt answered with the theory of degeneration. Monotheism deteriorated into polytheism and animism. The story of human religion is not one of evolution but erosion.

If you care about missiology, apologetics, anthropology, or theology of religions, then you are going to want to read this book.

This blog is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Teleological Amnesia–What I’ve Been Reading (10)

In God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, Jonathan Wilson argues that the Church has neglected the biblical doctrine of Creation–he calls it a case of “teleological amnesia”–and all of Western culture is the worse for it. Rather than responding to the onslaught of naturalism, materialism, and Darwinism, theologians of the last 250 years turned inward. Instead of developing a robust theology of Creation, they focused on salvation history. This abdication had consequences–nearly all of them bad. Theology as an intellectual discipline was banished from the academy, the Church embraced a nearly-Gnostic view of salvation (salvation came to be understood as deliverance from Creation rather than the redemption of Creation), and society came to view technology in messianic terms.gods-good-world

One of the worst effects of abandoning Creation as a worldview is that, in the modern mind, Creation has been transformed into Nature. This left the modern world with four miserable options:

  • We can conclude that there is no meaning, purpose, or teleology to the universe.
  • We can try to manufacture meaning for ourselves.
  • We can try to believe that the universe creates its own purpose or telos. However, if death is the final outcome for all then it is difficult to avoid fatalism.
  • Or we can attempt to construe meaning in the light of another god besides the Triune God of the Bible.

Wilson contends that the only proper telos is Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-21). Failure to recognize this leads to despair, and much of modern society’s frenetic activities are attempts to deny, manage, or ameliorate this despair. Only a recovered theology of Creation–a theology that always views Creation in the context of redemption–can heal the pathologies of society.

Wilson presents his case in three parts. First, he surveys the damage caused by ignoring the doctrine of creation. Second, he presents an approach for developing a robust theology of creation. Last, Wilson devotes the remainder of the book to applying the motifs developed in part two. This book identifies an important issue. It’s not the final word on the subject; Wilson doesn’t claim that it is. But he makes a good case for where the discussion should go from here.

This posted is also available at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Michael Denton’s Awe-Inspiring Description of A Living Cell –What I’ve Been Reading (9)

In 1986, Michael Denton published Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Many attribute this book with starting the Intelligent Design movement. Denton provides an elegant description of the living cell that I want simply to quote at length:

“To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell, some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units….A huge range of products and raw materials would shuttle along all the manifold conduits in a highly ordered fashion to and from all the various assembly plants in the outer regions of the cell.

“We would wonder at the level of control implicit in the movement of so many objects down so many seemingly endless conduits, all in perfect unison. We would see all around us, in every direction we looked, all sorts of robot-like machines….

“We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction….

“What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equaled in any of our own most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours. To witness such an act at a magnification of one thousand million times would be an awe-inspring spectacle.” (pp. 328-29).

Awe-inspiring indeed. “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” (Psalms 139:14)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com