Monday, December 31, 2007

Four More Years

So getting the NIH to tell you whether they're giving you a grant or not is a very drawn-out process. I have a three-year renewal (which may be stretched to four if you can do it) pending for them right now. I turned it in back in June, heard my scores in October, got my written evaluation in November, and waited through December for Congress to authorize the NIH fiscal year 2008 budget. Then, finally, at last, right around Christmas, my grant status changed to "To Be Paid." I'm trying to figure out how this can't be really good news ... but I can't, so I think it means the grant will be funded, and I'll be able to do research for four more years. I'll probably put off any sabbatical until after it's over ... so I think the NIH gave my lab a Christmas present!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Body vs. Flesh, Spirit vs. Soul: 1 Corinthians 15 Questions

Ok, I'd like to bring this discussion out to the front page, because it's important. The question stems from a general discussion of Bauckham and Wright's work, and it focuses on 1 Corinthians 15 in particular. Just what was Paul saying in that chapter?

I'm going from memory, but my sources include intense study of the epistle a year ago starting from Thiselton, Hayes, and Wright's commentaries, as well as the central points from Wright's 3rd book in Christian Origins and the Question of God and a tip of the hat to Bauckham as well, since evaluating his arguments is what got us here in the first place (although I only just read his book, and his book does not deal with Paul much at all, but rather the gospels and the early church fathers).

So the disclaimer is that I have studied all this on my own in some detail, but of course this isn't my day job. But I want to talk about what I think from reading the epistle and why, and this blog is the place to do it. I also can't vouch for any real organization, because I just want to rattle off my answers to various questions posed in particular by Stephen Carr in the previous comment section. (By the way, Stephen, hello, I've noticed your comments on some other blogs, including Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway blog if I'm not mistaken?)

OK, let me start with my bottom line. I don't know much Greek beyond the alphabet but I have studied this intently, and I've also been reading the Bible all my life (well, since I was 5 ...). So what I have here is a layman's perspective but a layman who practices the sciences and is trying to be the same person in the lab and in the pew. I'm obviously predisposed to trust the Biblical source because of my background. That's just where I'm coming from.

Coming from this perspective, growing up, reading 1 Corinthians and Romans always fascinated me but it seemed like there were passages and points that Paul spent time on, but didn't fit into my nice little evangelical Roman Road tract. Reading NT Wright's big book series made those odds and ends passages make sense and cohere, and also fit with my intuitive understanding of the passages from my personal reading. So that's a major influence, but it always comes down to a test of, what does the text mean? And that's the issue here: what is Paul saying in 1 Corinthians about the resurrection?

I think he's saying it's physical but different/transformed. Here's some motley points as to why:

1.) Let's start with the big negative statement: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" -- yes, and sarx (flesh) is not soma (body). Paul obviously has a negative attitude toward flesh as something to be gotten rid of. But Romans (written in Corinth soon after this letter) shows that flesh is one thing, a physical body is another. The whole point of the passage is that the body can be transformed, the flesh can be shedded. Paul's using "soma" so much he's wearing out his little sigma: "body" is the best way to describe his subject. That is unabashedly physical, although he seems to be struggling to describe its difference from our ordinary stuff, our "flesh and blood." If he's just talking spiritual, he'd be a lot better off just talking about spirit all the time. What's his body fixation if he's really thinking spirit?

2.) Paul does call some (it's important to keep in mind that the church was so fractured no one statement can describe them all) Corinthians fools for succumbing to the pressures of the culture around them, for believing that "there is no resurrection of the dead." But rather after death "God gives it a body as he pleases" with the metaphor of a seed. The seed produces something physical and continuous with itself. If Paul's trying to say God takes the spirit to heaven for eternal life he picked a terrible metaphor for it. Rather he picked a metaphor of something physical that disappears in the ground and dies (indeed, decaying a little) but reappears transformed. It's a much better metaphor for a physical transformation than for a spiritual translation of some sort.

By the way, this "foolishness" motif fits very well with the first 4 chapters of the letter. Also, in Chapter 5, Paul objects to their lawsuits because they bring church matters before the Romans, so their economic/legal habits are conforming to the Greco-Roman world. Chapter 6 = Paul objects to their sexual habits conforming to the Greco-Roman world. Chapter 8-10 = Paul deals with their tendency to go to dinner feasts in Roman temples (a nuanced treatment, but obviously caused by the tendency of the Greco-Roman world to influence them). Practically every problem Corinth has is caused by their going along with the Greco-Roman way of looking at things. Chapter 15 is no different, they're adopting the Greco-Roman attitude toward resurrection and God's ultimate justice. I can see how new believers would be pulled to be "more reasonable" with their crazy beliefs about the resurrection: Can't the resurrection just be spiritual in nature? The pressures from the surrounding world are evident throughout this letter, and the Roman pressure would be to spiritualize (Platonize) the resurrection, to remove the embarrassing Jewish Ezekiel/Isaiah-type physical dry-bones elements. Paul's basic point with Corinthians is to show how crucifixion and resurrection matter to all these areas. Chapter 6, especially, makes no sense whatsoever if physical resurrection is removed from the argument: "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also." How can this mean anything else? The body matters intensely, and resurrection involves this body, the logic of the argument demands it. How could it be "for the Lord" if it'll just die and decompose? I don't think Paul's talking about donating your body to the great Carbon Cycle of Life when he says it's for the Lord -- he means something about it will persist through resurrection, and that is God's body now -- this physical arrangement of cells will be raised. To paraphrase an early church father, I don't know how he'll do it, but if he created it, he can re-create it.

3.) Back to Chapter 15, The next metaphor of different bodies first goes through species, then moves to the heavenly bodies. (A nice reference to the end of Daniel and the concrete resurrection prophecy there.) The point is a different kind of splendor from one thing to another, explicitly stating that heavenly and earthly things are different but also that earthly differs from earthly and heavenly differs from heavenly. If the point is physical vs. non-physical, again, Paul's making his point in kind of a strange way. Why does "star differ from star in splendor" just like men from animals? If the central point is the heaven-earth contrast, why explicitly include all of creation differing from each other? Now, if the point is that the creator can re-create, that makes sense. It doesn't make sense as simply distinguishing earthly from heavenly bodies. The point is God's power to create and create something as glorious as the moon. Sure, the bodies are different and glorious, but they're still bodies!

4.) "Natural" vs. "spiritual": I'm always reminded reading this how back in Chapters 8-10 Paul says that the Israelites wandering in the desert are "spiritual" food and drank "spiritual" drink. Spiritual food can be physical -- there's nothing more physical than the wandering in the desert. So the "spritual body" must be like the manna and water from the rock: provided from heaven, but real, tangible, and here.

5.) Back to the creed that is "of first importance": if it was a spiritual experience, why is it always "after three days"? Why is it emphasized that Christ was "buried" then raised (by the way, that would make an empty tomb -- and what's interesting is our two earliest sources on the resurrection are complementary: Paul talks about the appearance of the risen Jesus and Mark talks about the empty tomb. Both don't mention the other element, but together they are undoubtedly as early as we have -- so there's no evidence that one of these two elements preceded the other)? And of the "five hundred at once", if Paul's talking about a vision, that's some vision first off, and his statement "of whom the greater part remain to the present", why bother telling people to check a vision like that? I don't know of any other "multiple party" visions in ancient literature, and even if there are, I doubt that any of them include the "and they're still around" statement that is proof -- I don't doubt that people have visions, I doubt that they see something physical.

6.) Why is Christ the firstfruits if others have fallen asleep? If all we're talking about is life after death, the others would have joined him. If all we're talking about is Christ's exaltation, then he wouldn't be the firstfruits, he'd be the only fruit! This phrase is telling: what happened to Jesus will happen to the rest.

7.) Baptism for the dead: I don't think anyone really knows what to make of this. I think Thiselton had listed more than 30-40 theories on the practice. I'm not willing to draw any conclusions from it, since it's probably a bizarre local practice that justifiably withered away.

8.) Why must the corruptible "put on" incorruption if there is no physical continuity? That's a strange choice of words (why the concept of a corruptible core?) unless there's significant continuity.

9.) Destroying death doesn't make sense if the body's still decaying. The reversal, death's defeat, must be as real as the enemy for the enemy to be destroyed. For Paul's little victory dance to make sense, this is not an evasive maneuver: it is a destruction.

(And speaking of destruction: for stomach and food, Ch. 6 "God will destroy them both" is a statement of judgment, not of categorical abolition. God's judgment will destroy the glutton; that doesn't mean all stomachs and all food will be destroyed. It's a witty way of passing judgment on the Corinthians by reversing their own statements, and says nothing about the nature of the resurrection body. Judgment on the one hand, resurrection on the other.)

Either Paul's such a bad writer that he can't choose a metaphor to save his life, or he actually communicated his intention through these words.

For these reasons and more that I'm just not thinking of now (this is off the top of my head), I have always read 1 Corinthians 15 as being about the actual reversal of death, something strange and offensive and hard to describe, but something real and reported in great detail in about 50 AD, as something "handed down" in a polished, creedal form. How can that happen, that fast, among a group of fishermen following a dead rabbi? If you start from the point that there must be a normal explanation, I guess you'll be able to find one. I just don't find it plausible, myself.

Hayes, Wright, and the others have helped me see how the parts fit in to what has always been my basic reading of the text. So, for all the words back and forth, I can't see how I can change my mind from this position. It ties the chapter together, it ties the chapter to the rest of the letter, to the other Pauline letters, to the gospel, and to the Jewish prophets. I have studied and read this for myself more than most other parts of the Bible, and this is how I read it. This is a well-founded opinion based on evidence and a lifetime reading this passage, and the more I look into it, the more it fits with everything else.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why Did It Have to be Testimony?

Now I've finished Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Some of the last few chapters on his theory that John the Elder and not John Son of Zebedee wrote the fourth gospel got a little long, although it's an interesting idea more proved in the negative than in the positive. The last chapter was more philosophical, about the process of history and the nature of truth. I got a new perspective on one of the questions that's been nagging me for a while: namely, if Jesus rising from the dead is the central event of history, why can't we know about it more directly?

I mean, even the Muslims claim to have the footprint of Muhammed's horse on the rock in the Dome of the Rock on the night he climbed on a steed and ascended to heaven (needless to say, that claim has not been subjected to rigorous chemical analysis and it might be just a chip in the rock ...). For Christians, our evidence is literary: four gospels, Paul's letters, and the social phenomenon of the spread of the Way. Why not something physical, some "this is the empty tomb" claim or ... well, the Shroud of Turin isn't and shouldn't be the cornerstone of anyone's faith. Why, in the end, do we just have testimony?

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life ... That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you. (1 John 1:1,3)

Personally, I'd like some camera evidence, a post-resurrection interview or two. I'm sure Oprah would book Jesus. But he rose before cameras existed. You know, as soon as there was photography, there was altered photography. So even photographic or camera evidence would be debated, I'm sure. I'm reminded how in the fantasy series I read, The Wheel of Time, the central Messiah-like figure the Dragon Reborn is declared at the end of book 4 or 5 and we're on book 11 and lots of people don't "believe in" him even with direct evidence. Even if Moses came back from the dead, some wouldn't listen to him ...

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have reached their fulfilment among us, as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received. (Luke 1:1-4)

What we do have in the case of the gospels are claims to eyewitness accounts, claims to history. We have the physical account of the empty tomb paired with the spiritual account of interactions with the risen Jesus. The physical evidence we have is a negation (apaphatic?), an empty space. Like in John 20, two angels at each end of the empty slab form a new Ark of the Covenant, a new holy of holies, and we're left with the words of people who say "Trust me," and the lack of evidence to the contrary. Also, the changed, dynamic nature of the people asking to be trusted. But why does it have to be trust?

The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; and later to the Twelve; and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared to me too, as though I was a child born abnormally. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

As much as I'd like to biopsy the resurrection body and find out how it runs (reversed entropy?), I'm not given that chance. As much as I'd have liked Jesus to have, I don't know, carved YHWH into the moon rock as some universal, untouchable sign, I have not been given that evidence either. What I do have depends on a community and writings that claim this is true, and people's lives that have been changed, as well as the occasional obvious miracle and the constant miracle of a rational, good, and fertile universe. It must be necessary to know about Jesus through words and not experiments. It must be important to trust others, and not be able to run out and touch the wounds yourself. Blessed are they who do without. Blessed is the empty space.

Now we are witnesses to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet on the third day God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses that God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses-we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead- and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to bear witness that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. (Acts 10:39-42)

My academic education has been into a culture of suspicion. Peer reviewers slam a work if all the controls aren't run. Even so, some scientists fake their advances and net temporary gain, which hopefully gets found out in a few years. Science is dealing with the problems of fraud, and the fact that, no matter how suspicious you become, you have to trust somebody sometime. At some point, you have to say I trust that you actually ran that experiment or that control. I trust that you checked that it's the right protein. You can't be all positivist all the time. And the choice comes down to, not whether you trust, but who you choose to trust. And then, whatever you choose, you're let down in some way. Is the proper response more suspicion, or a tempered trust? How?

This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true. There was much else that Jesus did; if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose the world itself would hold all the books that would be written. (John 21)

Bauckham's claim is that everything comes down to testimony, maybe testimony about an experiment, or maybe the testimony of a peer-reviewed paper, but testimony nonetheless, believing in second-hand experience. You can't do everything yourself. So maybe all we have of the risen Jesus is testimony, because all we have of anything is testimony. Testimony that can be tested, in a legal mode, but it can't always be repeated, and therefore it can't be experimented upon.

I think this is at the root of what people believe to be the science-religion conflict. Not a question of practice, but epistemology, how you know about the universe. Scientists trust the repeatable, the faithful trust the testimony of the unrepeatable. Both have flaws because humans are finite and incomplete, and so is any knowledge about the world. But they can co-exist: trusting the gospels and understanding/trusting experiments are actually not as different as they seem. Both must be corroborated with other information and put into a single framework.

So I'm left trusting that the things I read about in Isaiah, the prophecies Jesus himself trusted in (and was vindicated for on Easter Sunday), that these things both are coming true and will be brought about by YHWH someday, that God moved on Easter Sunday and he will move again, with Jesus as Judge and Redeemer. That as all the quotes before are in the past tense, the following is still future, but is begun by the resurrection and the church:

In this mountain will Yahweh of Hosts make to all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. He will destroy in this mountain the surface of the covering that covers all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He has swallowed up death forever; and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Yahweh has spoken it. It shall be said in that day, Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Yahweh; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

One raised from the dead so far, many more to come, some day. It will happen, by His hand. We trust and wait. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mariners in the Crosswords

Today's New York Times crossword is usually pretty hard, but I was able to get started fast on this one thanks to the following clue in the upper right hand corner:

"6'5" All-Star relief ace with two identical first initials" (6 letters)

Yes, it's JJPUTZ, Seattle Mariners closer. Finally, he's getting some New York press!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In Which the Author Argues that the Cross is More Like Nobel-Prize-Winning Bacteriology and Less Like Child Abuse

(Let's just see how long we can make these post headings, shall we?)

One of the most oft-repeated "rationalist" critiques of Christianity centers around the concept of the Atonement. If Jesus is God's Son, the argument goes, and if Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for our sins to appease God's wrath, then didn't God force his own son to die? Isn't that the very definition of child abuse? (The last term has been used specifically by that old bete noire, Richard Dawkins.)

No, I don't think so. I think it's more like what happened in an Australia lab in 1982, an event that was anointed into the scientific canon with the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Let me explain. When I was growing up I learned that stomach ulcers are caused by stress. This was the common, unargued orthodoxy. But in Australia two researchers, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, noticed that ulcers showed several physical signs of infection and immune response in the area. Marshall was able to collect and grow unique bacteria from ulcers called H. pylori.

To prove that this bacerium caused ulcers, Marshall took an unusual step. He drank a vial of the bacterium, infecting himself with the bacteria and causing an ulcer. Then he drank an antibiotic that killed the bacterium -- and the ulcer went away.

My point is that Marshall was able to infect himself because he made the choice, and it's OK to perform an experiment on yourself. It's most definitely not OK to try the same experiment on your neighbor or colleague without her knowledge, and even if she says it's OK you have to sign a lot of forms proving that she knows exactly what she's getting into (a related problem with informed consent caused all sorts of legal trouble for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the turn of the century). Marshall didn't have to sign any forms for infecting, and then curing himself.

Dawkins' critique of the cross as a case of an angry father God demanding an innocent sacrifice for appeasement falls short on several levels. The only reason he's able to make this argument at all is that we are so far removed from the age of animal sacrifice that we only have a caricature of what it meant to the people who did it (oh, and people still do it, it just takes a different form, much like modern idolatry). But one fundamental element missing from his argument is the theology of the Trinity: God and his son are one, of one essence. The death of God's son on the cross is the death of God on the cross, the creator entering creation and meeting the worst of it, then defeating it on Easter Sunday. Jesus chose the cross (from provoking it with his demonstrations in the Temple to actively saying Your will be done in Gethsemane), and as fully God as well as fully man, he took the sickness upon himself of his own accord, like Marshall chose to drink the vial. There's no issue of consent or force for voluntarily sacrificing yourself, just like there's no problem with experimenting on your own stomach with ulcerating bacteria. What's really astonishing is that this self-sacrifice can be spread to all of us, because he is creator of the universe, and therefore self-sacrifice runs "with the grain of the universe" (Stanley Hauerwas). The cross shows us the way to the cure, and becomes the cure itself, justified on Easter morning with the ultimate justice of God.

Saying the cross is like child abuse is like saying that turning the other cheek is a passive shrinking back. It's not -- it's standing up, chest out, hands down, and putting your other cheek out there to be hit again. That takes courage.

I agree that the cross and sacrifice is an alien concept to my modern urban mentality, although I think if I lived on a farm, more in touch with nature, it may make more sense to me. But I definitely think it's important to distinguish what you inflict on yourself from what you inflict on others. The cross is one of the former.

There are two real stories in the world: those of aggression and those of sacrifice. I'm reading the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to Sam right now, and for all its shortcomings I'm glad to read it because it is a story of sacrifice.

Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy and the Golden Compass movie have moved up on my viewing/reading list because he sets himself up as an existential, humanistic alternative to Narnia (don't think this is anything new -- L. Frank Baum's Oz books are just as humanistic and suspicious as any Pullman can come up with, I'm sure!). I do know in the movie there's not much of Pullman's philosophy (yet), but there is a big polar bear fight (and long ago I promised myself I'd see any movie that had a polar bear fight), where the strongest bear wins the battle. That's survival of the fittest, and yeah, it happens, but it's not the story I choose to build my life around.

Some may have wondered why I'm such a defender of Harry Potter books when the author goes around trying to change the books after the fact and all ... the reason is book 7 shows that the ultimate story of Harry Potter is one of sacrifice, and so I believe it is a True Story (with some unfortunate side notes thrown in). It is True because it reflects Good Friday and Easter Sunday, through a glass darkly, but unmistakably.

So which story is yours? Choose you this day ... you'll have to choose again tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Does Bauckham = Behe?

In the midst of reading Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham right now. It's a 2006 book that marshals evidence to argue that the Gospels (including you, John) were written by those who had witnessed the events, not by anonymous communities many years later. I find it interesting (and the only time I've skimmed was when he spent a chapter talking about the psychology of memory -- the irony is, that's the scientific chapter!).

Part of my difficulty in approaching this literature is a lack of current context. I poke around a little when I find a new author, to tell the NT Wrights from the Ben Witherington IIIs from the Lee Strobels (reporters, that is) from the Bible Code aficianados. So when I heard about Richard Bauckham, I assumed he was somewhere in the middle of that list (between Witherington and Strobel). Turns out he's actually more in the league of Wright, perhaps beyond, in terms of scholarly respectability. So I'm excited to read his book -- some of which is fascinating, some of which is based on scanty evidence and I don't quite buy. But he's no hack.

Last night I stumbled across a message board of scholars who had participated in the recent Society for Biblical Literature meeting, and under discussion was a panel in which Richard Bauckham discussed his work with three critics (wish I could get a transcript of that). The thread was instigated by one of the academic critics complaining about the evangelical "cheering section" for Bauckham and being worried about the fact that after the section people came up to him (the critic) and tried to persuade him to believe in miracles. He worried that the SBL is losing its objectivity and critical thinking, which set off a great back-and-forth. I mean, is believing that the resurrection happened automatically excluded from academic research? Are these "cheering sections" partisan and uncritical? (Never mind that Bauckham just deals with the subject of the writing of the Gospels in his book, not at all with the miraculous nature of what is written there!)

To me the question has extra resonance because I admire and am intrigued by the arguments of Bauckham and NT Wright, but I explicitly reject the intelligent design arguments of Michael Behe (in my opinion, the only ID arguments that are even addressable scientifically). When NT Wright talks about the the historicity of the miracle of resurrection, is that like Michael Behe talking about the (possible, although I don't buy it) historicity of the miracle of special creation of protein flagella? How is it that I buy NT Wright's arguments for the miraculous but not Michael Behe's? Am I being inconsistent?

Now, I've only had a bus ride to think about this, so I have more questions than conclusions right now (although I did also think about this topic when reading NT Wright's first volume of Christian Origins and the Question of God, where he talks about epistemology). However, here is my draft argument for why I think God physically raised Jesus from the dead, but also why I think the earth is very old and animals were created through a long, bloody development process of descent with modification:

In a sentence, the type of evidence and the mechanism of development, given the time frame, make all the difference in the world.

Biological evidence: Every animal uses the same amino acids, the same type of DNA molecules, the same DNA code, and has similar genes in similar orders. Every animal. I can't say there aren't acts of special creation out there but I can say it would be very easy to provide evidence for such acts, and we have no evidence. Also, there are old broken-down genes and old broken-down viruses all over our DNA, fitting in precisely with the long development over time. This is an ecosystem-wide conclusion based on the biochemistry, publically accessible in genomic databases across the web.

On the other hand, the evidence we have for Jesus (the Gospels + Josephus + Paul's letters + physical evidence of names on tombstones and archaelogical details) at least claims to be history written by people who saw what happened in many cases, and to argue against that you have to start from some form-critical assumptions that people very early on made very big mistakes, and then you lose that evidence because you assume it's lying. So you end up with less evidence because of your a priori assumption that, for example, 500 people couldn't have seen a physically resurrected Jesus (or been available for inquiry like Paul implies), so Paul or someone else must have developed that story within 20 years after Jesus' death, and added false evidence deliberately!

My point is you have to have a mechanism for the falling away from the truth and yet presenting yourself as the truth. It has to be a very fast mechanism to work over decades and be in place in 40-60 years or so, or 20 years in the case of Paul's strong check-it-out-if-you-doubt-it statements (for timescale comparison, think of The War by Ken Burns. Those vets are telling stories that are 60+ years old now, so Ken Burns is sitting down now and capturing their stories before they die. This seems similar in tone to the end of John's Gospel). For evolution there's time and a molecular mechanism that would work over millions of years, and Behe takes the most extreme case and says you have to prove it to convince him. That's not a good argument: millions of years is a lot of time, and the evidence of broken-down genes gives genetic drift a physical credibility. Not much evidence of broken-down non-canonical gospel stories: all the good ones are 200-400 years later, with the possible exception of the Gospel of Thomas, which regardless of its age is 1 witness against 4. It's nothing like the fact that there's more broken-down viruses than functional genes in your genome.

For the development of the Gospels I don't see how there is time for the drastic changes to the story that the form critics propose (this is part of Bauckham's argument so GOOOOO BAUCKHAM!! -- sorry, my evangelical cheering section just miraculously appeared out of nowehere). I simply don't see a mechanism, and the mechanism proposed by Wright and Bauckham actually makes sense within the timeframe, just with this itty-bitty catch: you have to think that Jesus walked out of the tomb and did some very strange things with a select number of people that he then left to tell everyone about it. The "experiment" is hidden by time, but we do have what claims to be the resulting written evidence. I buy that mechanism just like I buy the mechanism of genetic changes over time. It's the difference between the years in a lifetime and millions of years, and it's based on evidence.

So I don't see a miracle, or at least an abrupt now-you-see-it-now-you-don't miracle, in the development of life on this planet (I do see one in the creation of the universe, as my entry on Day 1 makes clear!). I do see a miracle in the sudden appearance of strong resurrection stories that people told as eyewitness truth and that some of these people died for. I also see a miracle in the exponential spread of an anti-imperial theology at the height of the Roman Empire's powers, without coercion or war, just by the spread of the news itself. Does that make me an a priori credulous investigator? Does it make me a "cheering section" because I hesitantly accept Bauckham's idea that the reason the gospels claim to be eyewitness accounts is because, you know, they are? That the reason Luke talks about the resurrected Jesus eating fish is because he did? (Just a side question: was it Friday or not, and was the Pope notified?)

In any case, I want to be consistent with my beliefs. I follow a God who took a step into history, necessarily kicking up dust at the time and leaving footprints. I believe his primary mode of evidence is the life of Jesus, and I want to be able to critically evaluate the possible mechanisms of who saw what, how they reacted, and what it means. Even though I have never seen a resurrection, I believe that one happened because of what history tells me (and also because of the present work of the spirit in the church and the lives around me, and I understand that such evidence is not technically peer-reviewable).

So I'm not going to go to Richard Bauckham's next talk and Do the Wave with the other evangelicals, but I will continue look at historical evidence with my best attempt at an open mind, and then commit to a conclusion as a result. It just leads me to different conclusions for the second part of Genesis 1 than it does for the first part of Genesis 1, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. Isn't that what different evidence in different cases is supposed to do?