Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Welcome to the human family - defining human

In the same article I just blogged about from New Scientist May 2010, the editorial refers to the comment by the anthropologist Louis Leakey who wrote the following having been told about chimps used sticks to scoop up termites
Now we must redefine tool, redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human.

What is going on here? Do we now define 'human' as using sticks to scoop up termites? Ha! But is this editorial serious that we define humans by their being able to use things such as tools? Isn't it better to say, humans have the ability to create tools, and not merely use a stick, perhaps that is closer to the point? Otherwise we get into conundrums associated with anthropomorphic language.

This editorial goes on to point out that all this raises the question of what a species is. And they point out that this in itself has been vexing question which has flummoxed [ that is, baffled and confused! ] even Linnaeus and Darwin. And yet with authority they declare a truism!
fertile offspring is a hallmark of a species

Wow - of course that's a truism, for if there were no fertile offspring there'd be no species to even consider! And then, without providing the evidence they declare that "there is plenty more evidence to support giving them the status of Homo sapiens Neanderthals."

We read "We cannot know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but it may not have been so different from our own."
And this is based presumably on the fact that the Neanderthal genome differs little from ours, encoding fewer than 100 changes that would affect the shape of proteins.

It is then the writer speaks of the concept of being human that involves traits of thinking and talking and love and belief and art and language.

I just would like a bit more on those who hold to a materialist worldview being able to account for these latter concepts of humanness. Even for Leakey it's a long way from using a stick to concepts such as love, belief, art and language.


Welcome to the human family - you're a Neanderthal

In the May 2010 edition of New Scientist ( Australia ) the editorial has a piece about "Welcome to the human family. It speaks to the question of whether there is any reason not to allow Neanderthals into the fold of homo sapiens?

After talking about how Neanderthals have a common ancestor with modern humans and how the descendants went their own ways only to 'reconnect' about 50,000 years ago in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their point? "This pattern wouldn't necessarily merit separate species for most animals, so why for us and Neanderthals?

Fair enough in their line of thinking, however it is interesting what they bring into the discussion regarding the concept of being human.
It is more than "ecology and genetics: we are human because we think, talk, love and believe" and later the editor states that this includes "language and art" It is then we read a startling admission - "if that's not human, then what is?

As Christians we would agree to much of this, adding that humanness is being created in the image of God, able to have self-reflection, rationality, ability to reason and love and care, to have and be aware ones own of self conscious.
Still, how do you account for all that on a materialist worldview? that's the humdinger.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jesus and Israel: One covenant or two

Here is what Vern Poythress not a theological lightweight by any means says about the book by David Holwerda 'Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or two?'

David Holwerda argues that God's promises to Old Testament Israel cannot be understood apart from Jesus Christ. Based on careful exposition of key New Testament texts-including a significant in-depth study of Romans 9-11-in dialogue with a wide variety of interpreters and theologians, Holwerda maintains that the Old Testament promises of God find their complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the church.

"Here is a first-rate presentation of a Reformed, covenantal understanding of promise and fulfillment, with special reference to the relation of Israel to the church. The book focuses largely on the New Testament's use of the Old Testament themes of Israel (holy people), temple, land, and law. It relates all of these themes to fulfillment in Christ, in agreement with the idea of inaugurated eschatology. Through exegetical reflection the book provides an attractive, persuasive overview of covenantal thinking and indicates the major points of contact and disagreement with dispensationalism and with current discussions of Jewishness among Jews and among Christian theologians of liberal and neoorthodox bent. I recommend this book heartily."
--Vern S. Poythress, Westminster Theological Seminary

These are strong words. God's promises "in the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from Jesus Christ", well yes, we do understand God's promises centre on Israel's Messiah. From Genesis 3:15 the Messiah is central since He deals with sin and death and judgement. But one assumes Vern is not arguing for a Christological hermeneutic which says everything in the Old Testament has to be read in the light of the new. That you must know the NT's take on something before you will get the meaning of some Old Testament promise right.

The real problem between amillennialist and dispensationalist is a consistent hermeneutic that doesn't spiritualise a passage because of ones theoligical presuppositions. It is over the replacement theology of Israel with the church that has been subtly introduced in Vern's statement above "the Old Testament promises of God find their complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the church" that difficulties arise.
We dispensationalists and premillennialist want to be a bit more exacting than the blurb on a back cover of a book. Jesus Christ will fulfill all the Old Testament promises. He has done so with many already and yet a great number await their lireral fulfillment. Furthermore to sneak in the chuch in that statement is exactly where amillennialist and premillenialist / dispensationalist differ.
Perhaps Holwerda will be a bit more precise in his statements.