Monday, August 30, 2004


Because of some recent events in my community, the question of suicide has come up.

I find Catholicism fascinating. There is much about it I admire. I try to defend the Catholic Church against anti-Catholic sloganism and misrepresentations, while pointing out where she is in error.

Generally, I am dispassionate about it. But I get really annoyed when it comes to the question of suicide.

Believers sometimes commit suicide, and it does not cost them their salvation. Ever. End of story.

Of course, the whole idea of mortal sin and falling out of grace makes a liar out of God. You need look no further than John 3:16, where we find but one requirement for eternal life: belief. And the reward is eternal life, not a conditional promise of eternal life. John 3:16 does not promise eternal life if and only if you die in a state of grace, but eternal life itself. Period. Apart from being required to believe, the promise is unconditional.

Eternal life is eternal. If you had it, and God takes it away because of a mortal sin, then you never really had it. Eternal life cannot be temporary. If you believe that God would do this, then you believe in a God who lies. Not just in John 3:16, but in many passages that teach perseverance (or rather, preservation).

The reason it so bothers me when it comes to suicide is the incredible (and unbiblical) emotional stress it places on a family. And the laughable-if-it-weren’t-tragic efforts to have an obvious suicide declared otherwise, as if one’s eternal fate depends on the forensic ability of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I am engaged in a small debate in the comment section of this post. Somehow I am not making my point.

What I am trying to argue, independent of everything else, and regardless of it's validity, is that evolution can not make a strong claim at being science.

I am not claiming that it is wrong, but only that it is not science.

The reason, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t pass the test for the honorific "science". It is far too malleable and has little or no predictive power. And there is no reasonable test that might prove it false.

For example, in Newton vs. Einstein, there are many tests that can be done that demonstrate that relativity is a better theory that Newtonian mechanics and gravitation.

Evolution, by contrast, is framework built upon natural selection, with the plausible (and irrefutably true) axiom that a trait providing an advantage will "take over" as it were. On this unassailable fact, an enormous amount of speculation is built. Regardless of whether or not it's true, it's still speculation, not science. It may be the beginning of science, but if it doesn’t allow for testing, it’s not science.

Fitting the data is part of science, but only part. Intelligent Design (ID) can fit the data, but that doesn’t make it science either.

I wasn't trying to argue that ID is "just as scientific" and "just as much a theory" as evolution. No, I tried to argue that evolution is as unscientific as ID. Both are frameworks that can accommodate virtually any new data. An organism’s trait can always be attributed to natural selection (and, if need be, an environmental stress can be postulated that forced the adaptation) of it can claimed to be a result of design. Or even both.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Invalid Communion

This story is about a young Catholic girl whose Communion was declared invalid because the wafer she took contained no wheat. The girl has a rare digestive disorder and cannot eat wheat. I have no comment, but would be interested in hearing from Catholics or being pointed to Catholic blogs discussing the matter.

Link Cleaning

I have done some link cleaning. In general, my policy of linking is one of gentle reciprocation. Those I have delinked are either inactive, unreachable, or have delinked me. If anyone I delinked does not fall into one of these categories, please let me know and I’ll reinstate the link.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Unscientific American

Two posts below, I wrote about a “level playing field”. The gist of the argument was that, when it comes to scientific literature, there isn’t one. You can speculate about scientific-sounding unfalsifiable theories and get published, but not intelligent design.

As if to make my point, I present the latest issue (September) of Scientific American. Now SciAm long ago passed into the “rag” category, going beyond properly (for a scientific journal) ignoring religion to being outright hostile. Similarly, according to SciAm, no proposed weapon system (especially if it is related to missile defense) could ever possibly work, and no questioning of global warming is tolerated.

In the September issue, devoted to Einstein, we find an article entitled The String Theory Landscape by Drs. Raphael Bousso and Joseph Polchinski. At one point in their article they discuss infinite universes, and proceed to wax anthropic. They sweep our good fortune (for having just the right vacuum energy to make our universe livable) under the rug. It’s no wonder we live here, they argue, just like on a smaller scale we live in temperate climates on earth rather than in Antarctica, the Marianas Trench, or the moon. But this is a flawed analogy. It’s not because of luck that we don’t live in Antarctica, it’s by design. There was intelligence behind the gross features of human migration, not random chance. These local inhospitable regions are observable. Other universes are not. It has long been accepted that something that cannot, even in principle, be observed is outside the realm of science. No so parallel universe theories, they are exempted from this requirement.

Multiverse theories are in general unfalsifiable quantum religions, and are therefore no more worthy of being called science than the intelligent design arguments. Bousso and Polchinski are free to discuss untestable multiverse speculations, but had their paper used even a single sentence suggesting another possibility, that our universe was designed for life, the useful idiots at SciAm would have rejected it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

You bet I might

So it looks like my upcoming Sunday School will not be on the Reformation after all. My elders have decided the topic should be church history. In doing so, I will naturally be discussing early church heresies. I hope to rabbit-trail to show how they rear their ugly heads to this day. I am not sure how far I will get—maybe this will set me up for covering the Reformation next time—or maybe I’ll do more of a survey than an in-depth study, and get to the Reformation at the end of this class.

My favorite book on the early church is F. F. Bruce’s The Spreading Flame. There were several good suggestions for books on the Reformation, now I seek your suggestions on books covering the early church.

We are a small church, but we are going to try, for the first time, to have two adult Sunday Schools. The one I teach and another on basic theology—a sort of new believer’s class. There have been some complaints that my classes are too difficult.

Speaking of books, I am finally satisfied with my novel. It’s in its (at least) third rewrite. These were the basic incarnations:
  1. Get the story on paper without much regard to style. Pay attention to word count.
  2. Try to add some coherency. Make the dialog more believable. Strip out huge chunks of boring exposition
  3. Under the mantra of (a) show, don’t tell (b) one point of view per scene and (c) resist the urge to explain, try to produce something that will actually be considered for publication.
Apologies to those who read it in one of the first two incarnations (of fellow bloggers, I am thinking specifically of Rachel.)

It is, at the moment, being considered by a small press. I am also engaged in a new round of seeking a literary agent. I actually am fairly optimistic, but who knows?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Level Playing Field?

Dr. Wesley Elsberry, on the pro-evolution The Panda’s Thumb, argues (paraphrasing here) that, regarding publication in peer-reviewed journals, there is a level playing field for proponents of Intelligent Design (ID), but they simply don’t pass scientific muster. Dr. Elsberry writes:
There does exist a level playing field. The scientific community communicates via the peer-reviewed literature, establishing an iterative process of inter-subjective criticism and review that finds what works in scientific ideas. This playing field, though, has been shunned by ID advocates.

It is arguable that the quality of ID research is not up to the standards of the respected peer-reviewed journals. However, the assertion that the playing field is level is a bunch of crap. Other ideas that are not up to those same standards have no problem getting published. You just have to have the acceptable quasi-science.

ID (as applied to cosmology) receives a frosty reception from the cosmology/physics community -- not so its main competition, parallel quantum universe theories of various flavors. Yet both are proposed to explain the same problem, the fine tuning of physical constants, and both are arguably outside science since BOTH are unfalsifiable, and so BOTH are substandard. Yet parallel universe theories, and references to them, abound in the mainstream journals, ID does not. So why is the former a scientific theory and the latter a "wild ass guess"? I await Dr. Wesley Elsberry’s comment.

Even if evolution is correct, evolutionists publish “wild ass guesses” all the time. How many times have we read statements such as "X evolved feature Y to adapt to environmental pressure Z". If this is not a guess, then it must be demonstrable. How so?

If one starts a sentence (in a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed mainstream journal) with

"There is no natural explanation as to how the expansion rate of the universe is found at the precise value it needs to be in order for galaxies to form,"

then finishes it with

"giving credibility to [untestable] theories that postulate infinite parallel universes."

The chance for publication has not been affected. If all the other content in the paper remains the same, but you end the same sentence with

"giving credibility to [untestable] theory that there is intelligent design evident in the universe."

Then the chance of publication is zero.

Level playing field my ass. To assert that there is a level playing field is scientific elitism, and it makes me want to puke.

Anyone who has published (talking non-controversial, mainstream science here) has probably had the experience of running up against a biased reviewer or editor. To assume that such bias does not exist (in the extreme) against ID, regardless of the quality of the work is fatuous. One only has to look at the milder example of trying to publish a refutation of global warming--the conclusion alone will make it nearly impossible to obtain favorable peer-review regardless of the content.

Give me a break, Dr. Elsberry.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Calvin's Defintion of Sacrament

John Calvin gives a wonderful defininition of sacrament:
First, we must attend to what a sacrament is. It seems to me, then, a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men. We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine grace toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him. You may make your choice of these definitions, which, in meaning, differ not from that of Augustine, which defines a sacrament to be a visible sign of a sacred thing, or a visible form of an invisible grace, but does not contain a better or surer explanation. As its brevity makes it somewhat obscure, and thereby misleads the more illiterate, I wished to remove all doubt, and make the definition fuller by stating it at greater length. (Institutes, 4.14.1)
Notice how he walks through the debate unscathed.

A sacrament isn’t purely supernatural, and definitely not something facilitated by the power of a priest. Yet the more important (call it the first) definition is supernatural, for it has to do with what God does do us. The Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us. The Lord is active in the sacraments; He is the subject of the sentence above. God, through the inward working of His Spirit, uses sacraments to give us confidence in His promise of redemption. A simpler way to put it is that God increases our faith through the sacraments. It is exactly the same function as His Word. Indeed, Calvin goes on to stress the inseparable connection between the Word and the sacraments.

Notice however the secondary definition: we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men.

Calvin does not deny that the believer also brings something of value: his testimony.

Of course, modern evangelical Protestantism has all but forgotten the first part of Calvin’s definition and accepts (implicitly in spirit, if not explicitly in their doctrinal statement) only the second part. I mention this because many might agree in principal that God is active in baptism or communion, but they trivialize what is meant by a “seal”. The primary actor in the sacrament is always the believer. Baptism is a person’s public testimony. And oh yes, I almost forgot, God seals us.

You see clearly how Calvin walked between Luther and Zwingly—staying closer to Luther.

We do come to the sacraments/ordinances to exhibit our faith. But we also come to have our faith renewed and increased through the outward signs of God’s promise.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Reformation

It looks as though my fall Sunday School topic will be the Reformation. If you have any recommendations on books dealing with the Reformation please pass them along.

This should be a fascinating topic. For one thing, it will allow for a discussion of why there was a Reformation. Interestingly enough, many modern Protestants, including if not especially the most virulent anti-Catholics, often do not know why we reformed in the first place. Usually (and incorrectly) indulgences are cited as the primary reason. And if asked about the problems with the Catholic Church, they will almost always mention one or both of the two hot-button topics: papal infallibility and Marian doctrine. While these are indeed examples of serious error, the real reason for the schism, namely that the Reformers and the Catholic Church taught two different gospels, is either not mentioned or trivialized into a poorly understood slogan.

What I really want to discuss the anti-Reformation. Most conservative Protestant churches, while denouncing the Catholic Church over this or that doctrine, have actually drifted back toward the Catholic Church on the question of the gospel.

Covering the Council of Trent will emphasize the real differences, while at the same time providing a more realistic picture of Catholic doctrine to supplant the common caricature.

It will also be interesting, I hope, to look at the subsequent Protestant schism between Luther and Zwingli. Many of the issues that I have been studying recently on baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be relevant.

So starting in September, look for many posts on this subject, as I try out my thoughts on all of you.