The Asparagus And The Ape – Part 1

“It was nothing to brag about, just a sort of squishy blob…”

The mysterious squishy blob described above is a character in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The blob lives “half a billion years ago”. Ishmael, a story telling gorilla, relates the details of the blob’s environment.

Nothing at all stirred on the land, except the wind and the dust. Not a single
blade of grass waved in the wind, not a single cricket chirped, not a
single bird soared in the sky…Even the seas were eerily still and silent, for
the vertebrates too were tens of millions of years away in the future.

However, there is an anthropologist on the scene who questions the blob about its creation myth, to which the blob replies, “I want you to understand that…we are a strictly rational people, who accept nothing that is not based on observation, logic, and the scientific method”. The anthropologist is fine with this and desires the talking blob to proceed by telling him about its story of origins. The blob continues with something quite similar to the account we are told concerning evolution, though it is not specified where life began. The anthropologist thus stops the blob to ask whether life began on land or in the sea, to which the blob responds, “I can’t imagine what you’re gibbering about. The dirt and rocks over there are simply the lip of the vast bowl that holds the sea”, obviously revealing the blob’s mindset that the world consists not of land and sea, but rather of sea alone, at least in terms of importance. The anthropologist apologizes and prods the blob to continue.

“Very well,” the other said. “For many millions of centuries the life of the
world was merely microorganisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But
little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes,
algae, polyps, and so on.

But finally,” the creature said, turning
quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, “but finally
jellyfish appeared!”

Obviously the story told by the blob parallels the current story of an evolutionary history. As I read this I thought, “Brilliant!”. Human pride is far too ambitious when it comes to defining itself as significant in the context provided by our alleged beginnings. Indeed, there is more than pride involved here, for the assignment of any value at all to living things, much less human beings, raises some serious questions as to the justification of such value assignments. Daniel Quinn has pinpointed a serious problem with the evolutionary scheme of things; the non-Christian account of origins which currently permeates our world. Essentially this problem is that we are not what we think we are. Ultimately one must accept that there is no way to account for human dignity if one has accepted the view of the world that has become so popular as of late.

The argument Quinn might make, as well as philosophers like Peter Singer (whom I will not be specifically addressing here, but perhaps another time) and religious practitioners like the Jain; is that life itself has value and should be respected. An emphasis on human dignity to the exclusion of other living things is thus really a sort of inconsistency which needs to be addressed. Some recent news articles provide examples of such a step actually being taken.

Spanish parliament recently voted as a majority to “extend” rights to apes. Under new laws, apes will be considered alongside humans as having such rights as life and freedom. It will be illegal to have apes to use in circuses and films. This strikes many as odd, yet there really seems to be nothing to separate humans out from animals as inherently possessing more value. There may be such a thing as human dignity, but this needs to be extended to cover animals as well. While it may be intuitively repulsive, the idea that apes and other animals possess the same value, dignity, and rights as humans is a pretty consistent step within the non-Christian’s view of the world.

We need not stop with apes though. As eastern religions have observed, life itself, regardless of what kind of life it is, need be understood as possessing the same value as human life. In other words, plants are just as dignified as people. Asparagus is on par with apes. As already mentioned more people seem to be taking note of this and attempting to institute change.

A team of Swiss ethicists have decided that plants are entitled to the same respect given any other entity possessing dignity.

A “clear majority” of the panel adopted what it called a “biocentric” moral
view, meaning that “living organisms should be considered morally for their own
sake because they are alive.” Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim
“absolute ownership” over plants and, moreover, that “individual plants have an
inherent worth.” This means that “we may not use them just as we please, even if
the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the
species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily.”

Notice that plants, such as asparagus (mentioned in the title of the article this is from), are deemed to have an inherent worth just like human beings are. Further, this entails that plants are actually, in some sense, worthy of our moral obligation and possess rights. This appears to be nothing short of crazy, but it also appears to be rather consistent with the worldview we are looking at here.

One of the most important assumptions we as human beings make is that there is such a thing as human dignity. A plethora of crucial elements of human experience are contingent upon the reality of human dignity. For example, the time to elect a new President in the USA is fast approaching yet again, and the media will not talk about much else. Those who choose to think deeper in their political philosophy than what the media and cultural climate will allow will inevitably, whether knowing it or not, think in terms of human dignity when it comes to contemporary political issues. While much of the activity surrounding the process of getting a new President into office will inevitably consist of shallow, oft repeated sound bytes, there are those still who think a bit deeper about what it is they are actually taking a part in. This inevitably involves thinking about rights. Every discussion of “rights” in the current political discourse is reducible to a position on human dignity. In other words, human dignity is not something only philosophers squabble about in ivory towers; it is of tremendous practical bearing.

Society is necessarily permeated with the assumption of human dignity. Human life has value and hence is to be respected, which entails that there is an ethical dimension to human dignity as well. Human dignity is appealed to in matters of law, justice, politics, morality, funerals and many other important features of society. Surely there is good reason to adhere to this almost universally held belief in human dignity, but what is it?

The assumption of human dignity has led honest inquirers to search for a way to account for it. This leads one to realize that, given the non-Christian’s view of the world and the actuality of the dignity of humans, there is little reason to suppose that other living things do not likewise possess such dignity. To reject this is speciesism. We have observed several examples of attempts to avoid speciesism, but the deeper and more pressing question under all of this is how human dignity is accounted for at all in a non-Christian view of the world. Humans are not the end

goal or purpose of evolution. We are foolish to think there is much special about us. Indeed we are foolish to think that we possess a shred of dignity or value. If the world is as non-Christians would have us believe it is then we are nothing more than deluded, egocentric blobs.

The assumption of human dignity is unaccounted for and unintelligible given the wider context of unbelieving, non-Christian thought. In Part II we will examine what Scripture has to tell us with regard to human dignity and value.

_ _ _
Daniel Quinn. Ishamael. Bantam. May 1, 1995. Pgs. 54-56.

Martin Roberts. Spanish parliament to extent rights to apes.

Wesley Smith. The Silent Scream of the Asparagus.

A Study In The Nature Of God’s Word (Authority) – Part 1

God is good and is worthy of our praise.

You know, this seemed to me like an appropriate place to start, even though this is a phrase that is considered somewhat of a cliché by many these days. However, if we don’t begin with a confession of who God is, then we will be tempted to look for some other starting point in our study of his word. We might be tempted to look for some greater authority than God himself as seen through his written revelation to us, and so that is why I say once again that God is good and is worthy of our praise. I also begin with this confession because it is very applicable to what we are going to consider.

The subject at hand is something I am very passionate about – the study of the nature of God’s word. Now what do I mean when I speak of the nature of the Bible? Well, when the Bible speaks about itself it makes some rather impressive claims. It claims to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of our creator. These are remarkable claims, and if they are true, then we have a very remarkable masterpiece from God right here in our hands – wouldn’t you agree?

You may have heard it said in your church that the Bible should be the ultimate authority in our lives. I agree with this completely, and feel it is something we should all try to understand and embrace. At the same time, however, I have found no topic which I have studied for to be a greater challenge than that of the nature of the Bible. After all there are many more learned and scholarly individuals than I who have devoted much of their lives to studying this very thing, and yet can’t seem to come to consensus on this subject.

Two basic views on the inerrancy of scripture

There are those who feel, as I do, that the Bible is an amazing masterpiece that God himself has inspired. We feel that the Bible is inerrant in the original autographs, that is, the original documents which were penned by those who God inspired. We believe, furthermore, that God himself has providentially maintained his written word since its inception, despite the fact that he has seen fit to use fallible human beings as the means to translate, organize, and duplicate it. We furthermore believe that the meaning and intent found in those original documents still persists today in the various translations we call “the Bible”, despite the existence of minor errors that may have been introduced along the way.

On the other hand, there are those Christians who believe that the Bible, although practical for guidance in many areas, is merely a collection of the writings of ancient men who (at the time) were simply sharing their own ideas as to what God meant to them. From their perspective, there was no divine inspiration, neither has there been divine guidance as it has been duplicated. Because of this, it contains historical, geographical, and scientific errors, meaning that it is “errant” rather than “inerrant”. According to these individuals, this does not mean the Bible is entirely worthless; rather it means that the scripture needs to be interpreted in light of what modern scholarship has determined to be real and true. Rather than being the ultimate authority in the lives of these men and women, it becomes simply another document which ultimately bows its head to the greater authority of man’s collective wisdom.

There are no doubt other perspectives of the Bible that fall somewhere in between.

Given this diversity of opinion, it should be no surprise that answering the question of the true nature of scripture is a challenging undertaking. It is, however, a topic of extreme importance to us if what the Bible says about itself is true.

Why do I believe the Bible to be such a remarkable masterpiece? Simply because I believe that the Bible is just what it claims to be; the inerrant, inspired, authoritative word of our Creator. You may have a different opinion than this, and it is for this reason that I am writing this. Your view of the Bible will have a great bearing on your understanding and acceptance of what you hear in your church, if your church preaches from it. Your view of the Bible will in fact determine how you view yourself, how you view the world you live in, and how you view God himself.

So I will stress this once again. If the Bible is true, it is crucial for each of us to come to terms with what it is saying. If the Bible is really the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God, then we had better be confident in how we feel about those claims.

So why should we believe the Bible is inspired? Why should we believe it is authoritative? Why should we believe it is inerrant? We can actually answer all three of the questions by answering the last; the question of inerrancy. After all, since the Bible itself claims to be inspired, and since the Bible itself claims to be authoritative, if it turns out to be inerrant then those claims of inspiration and authority that are found within it are obviously true.

So that’s the question before us – why believe that God’s word is the masterpiece it claims to be? Why believe that the Bible is inerrant?

How to answer the question?

Let’s consider first how we might go about answering this question. To put this in context, let me share with you what I was taught as a young Christian. Perhaps some of you heard this very statement when you were growing up:

“We believe the Bible is inerrant because God tells us this in the Bible”

Now, we should hardly be surprised when such reasoning as this doesn’t convince many that the Bible is what it claims to be. After all, a mere claim to divine revelation isn’t reason to believe the text in question is of divine origin. Consider just how many books have been written that make this claim! They can’t all be inerrant, as they contradict each other.

For that matter, consider how many people there are wandering around the streets of most major cities who claim to be Jesus Christ himself! Do we simply accept their claims? No, a mere claim to divine revelation cannot establish a text as divine in origin, anymore than a mere claim to being divine can establish one as being God.

So it almost sounds as if we need to look outside of scripture for reasons to believe that the Bible is what it claims to be. As a matter of fact, many Christian apologists do just that. Over the years, many have presented arguments based on historical evidence, arguments based on evidence about the universe around us, geological and archeological arguments, and even arguments based on “pure reason” in an effort to establish God’s word as divine in origin and therefore inerrant. They have appealed to something outside of the Bible in order to prove the Bible is God’s own revelation.

I believe this is entirely the wrong approach.

You recall earlier we stated that the Bible claims to be our ultimate authority. Because of this, there is a fundamental problem with looking outside the Bible for reasons to believe the Bible is inerrant.

The problem resides in looking at something other than the Bible as a way to establish the ultimate authority of scripture. How could one ever hope to succeed at this? Presenting an argument for the ultimate authority of the Bible based on something outside the Bible is a contradictory notion.

Why? Because whatever that standard is outside of the Bible which establishes the Bible as our “ultimate” authority would end up being more ultimate and more authoritative that the Bible itself! Appealing to something outside of scripture would demonstrate that the claims of scripture itself need to be verified against whatever that standard is in order to be believed. That means this standard that is appealed to in order to validate scripture, whether historical, archeological, or whatever then becomes more ultimate than the Bible. That standard is what is ult


ately used to weigh the claims of the Bible in order to see whether they are true. Thus the Bible is no longer ultimate, as it is subordinate to this other standard.

Only one way to validate scripture

So what are our options as Christians when confronted with the question of Biblical inerrancy? As we have already seen we can’t simply appeal to a mere claim of authority found in the Bible, as any book can make that sort of claim. We also can’t appeal to anything outside the Bible either, as that would disprove the very thing we are trying to establish, that the Bible is the ultimate standard.

In order to demonstrate that the Bible is what it claims to be, there is only one thing we can do – appeal to the Bible itself as a whole. We must look beyond the mere claims of authority in the Bible, while nonetheless still looking in the Bible. There must be something else found in the Bible, beyond a mere claim of authority, that can prove to us that the Bible is authoritative.

Now I am painfully aware that what I am suggesting here is not going to be acceptable to those who don’t already claim to be believers in the Bible to at least some degree. It will still be seen as assuming the truth of that which I am trying to demonstrate – something known in logic as “circular reasoning”.

But here’s what I ask of you – bear with me over the next few days and weeks as we work through this. Allow me to assume that the Bible is true just for the sake of argument (after all, unless you can objectively demonstrate it is false, then you have to admit it might possibly be true), in order to demonstrate to you why it must be true. And when we get to the end, I promise I will have an answer for those who don’t want to assume, even for the sake of argument, that the Bible is true.

Stay tuned!

— BK