Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (8)

“Darwinism was once a well-fortified castle, with elaborate towers, moats, and battlements,” says author Tom Bethell. “Today, however, it more closely resembles a house of cards, built out of flimsy icons rather than hard evidence, and liable to blow away in the slightest breeze.” So begins Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates.

What isn’t initially obvious is that the “debates” in view are almost all in-house, which to me is a big selling point. Rather than rehash the arguments of creationists, Bethell has instead elected to draw his citations primarily from a murderer’s row of big names on the other side of the table who stray here and there from Darwinian orthodoxy.

As you might anticipate, where weaknesses in their case have come to light through disagreements in the evolutionist camp, these have not always been well-publicized.

Like any good journalist, Bethell is not content to mine the extant literature, though he certainly does that. Some of his better moments come from personal conversations with biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, paleontologist Colin Patterson and even philosopher Karl Popper.

Bethell’s chapter on the Darwin centenary celebration held at the University of Chicago is particularly illuminating. His research into the 1959 evolutionist love-in unearths some rarely-reported verbal gems which demonstrate that for many present, the main attraction of Darwin’s theory was that it could be made to serve as a means of promoting tolerance (Adlai Stevenson), reconciling religious differences (Julian Huxley) and bringing in a single world government (Sir Charles Darwin, grandson to the original), along with a side-helping of population control and eugenics. In short, among the Darwinian bigwigs of the day, questions of science and truth took a backseat to the progressivist agenda and power politics.

That I didn’t know, but I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

I don’t generally do a lot of book reviews here, but House of Cards is a well-researched, thoroughly comprehensive treatment of the problems with evolutionary theory. Anyone interested in the ongoing debate would be well-served to catch up with the current year’s state of play.

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The phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” probably shows up in your Bible about eight times, give or take, and causes no little confusion for readers who stop reading before they reach the end of whichever parable the Lord happens to be telling them at the time.

For example, Nadia Bolz Weber’s take on Matthew 13:

“[Jesus] says Heaven’s kingdom is like shrubs, and nets and yeast.”

Well no, not exactly. I don’t think it’s the kingdom that is compared to yeast at all. Another, this time from Bruce Colbert:

“To illustrate the nature of His movement, he compared it to:

  • a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31)
  • leaven (Matthew 13:33)
  • planting seed (Matthew 13:24)
  • a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44)
  • a fishing net (Matthew 13:47)”

In both instances here, the chosen explanations of the kingdom are inadequate because the interpreter failed to continue reading.

When the Lord Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like”, I don’t believe we should simply stop at the first noun in the first sentence and say “that’s it”. When our Lord interpreted his own parables, he didn’t do that. For instance, Matthew 13:24 reads like this:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field …”

If we stop at the word “man”, or even at the end of the phrase “man who sowed good seed in his field” and say, “That’s what the kingdom is like,” we have missed the boat. The Lord later interprets his own parable, and tells his disciples, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” Thus the kingdom of heaven (or, more properly, a particular aspect of the kingdom of heaven) is not being compared to the man at all, but rather to the entire scenario the Lord is unfolding.

Likewise, the kingdom of heaven is not being compared to a mustard seed. It’s being compared to a mustard seed that grew into a tree full of birds. The difference is significant. If the mustard seed does not mature, it does not provide any adequate illustration of the kingdom. The whole, fully developed image — the entire parable — is required to fully grasp the Lord’s intended meaning.

Again, it is not correct to say the kingdom of heaven is compared to leaven. Rather, it is compared to three measures of flour ‘all leavened’. Leaven is the agent that contaminates the kingdom, not the kingdom itself. Technically, the kingdom is the flour.

Nor is it fair to limit the kingdom to the image of a “fishing net”. Rather, it is a fishing net full of fish of all sorts. A net with nothing in it does not depict the kingdom at all. It’s the net full of fish lying on the beach being picked over by those able to distinguish between good and bad that provides the necessary spiritual lesson.

Nitpicking, you say? Perhaps. But William Bradshaw’s take on Matthew 22 is evidence that grabbing the first noun you encounter and using it to describe the kingdom is a recipe for epic confusion:

“The kingdom of heaven is like ‘a king’ — a single, identifiable being. He does not picture heaven as a place with pearly gates, golden streets, and crystal seas, with harp-playing angels, but like a ‘king’ — not like a ‘place,’ but like a ‘state of existence.’ Jesus was reared a Jew, and in much Jewish literature ‘king’ is used to mean God.”

This is muddled in so many ways one hardly knows where to start, but one obvious corrective would be for Mr. Bradshaw to continue reading rather than fixating on the first image in the parable and assigning “king” as the intended meaning of “kingdom of heaven”. We need the wedding feast, the invitation and all the guests, appropriately and inappropriately attired, to provide the real message.


  1. I appreciate your comments about the parables, and particularly the ones that touch the Lord’s teaching about “the Kingdom”. Those are my thoughts exactly. In fact, I like the expression you used: “... entire scenario the Lord is unfolding” because it is an expression I hadn’t thought of using; but fits perfectly.