Monday, October 31, 2005

You can't make this stuff up

Amusing story from the Maple Leaf State. Reported in the National Post:
Teachers should forego traditional classroom Halloween celebrations because they are disrespectful of Wiccans and may cause some children to feel excluded says a Toronto District School Board memo sent to principals and teachers this week.
The newsworthy aspect of this is that it isn't really newsworthy anymore, is it?

The memo continues:
"Many recently arrived students in our schools share absolutely none of the background cultural knowledge that is necessary to view 'trick or treating,' the commercialization of death, the Christian sexist demonization of pagan religious beliefs, as 'fun.' "
I love how nonchalantly one can describe something (trick-or-treating, in this case) as the "Christian sexist demonization" of pagan religious beliefs. I think author of the memo forgot to add "homophobic." She or he (did I do that right?) must have only recently obtained a Ph.D. in education.

Covering more PC bases, the memo also advises that an alternative to eating sweets in class would be to "write health warnings for all Halloween candies."

Personally, I miss the candy from when my boys trick-or-treated. The last time they went, my younger son dressed up as an IRS auditor (an idea he got from the FoxTrot comic strip.) The other kids were clueless, but I would say at least half of the parents we encountered described it as the scariest costume they had ever seen.

Back to the memo story. The part I really loved was when the reporter interviewed an actual Wiccan, Nicole Cooper, a "first-degree priestess" of the Wiccan Church of Canada's Toronto Temple.

Ms. Cooper said: "Frankly, Wiccans are a minority -- an extreme religious minority." She added: "The Halloween celebrations of North American pop culture are not actually threatening to my religion anymore than eggs and cute little bunnies are threatening to Easter."

My favorite flavor of PC victimization is when the class of alleged victims doesn't feel victimized, but is nevertheless assured of its victim status by outsiders who know better—the lidless-eyed uber-overseers also known as educated liberal white folk. One of the better examples is, of, course, the scandalous (not to mention sexist and demonizing) use of names like "Seminoles" for sports teams, which seems to upset just about everyone except tribal Seminoles.

I think extreme political correctness is the most amusing modern phenomenon. These stories just leave me in stitches.

The Wiccan thing reminds me of a pet peeve: why do they put the voluminous "New Age" section next to the paltry "Christian" section in the McBook stores? What's up with that? Am I the only one afraid of bumping someone and getting turned into a newt?

Friday, October 28, 2005


I just found out I was, not a scientist, and not a Christian, but a Scientologist! Say it ain't so! (But does this mean I get to make movies with Nicole Kidman?)

You fit in with:

Your ideals mostly resemble those of the Scientology faith. You strive to find the truth in all matters, but you also have a lot of faith in people and things. You are very logical, smart and charismatic and you value the truth above all else.

20% scientific.
30% faith-oriented.

Take this quiz at

Not that anyone should care, but I supported Miers

I am mostly ambivalent about the Miers debacle. I did lean toward supporting her nomination while quickly realizing that it was doomed.

What did I support her? For many unoriginal reasons, including:
  • The constitution is a wonderfully simple document. I have no clue about Miers's intellect, but I believe any intelligent person can read the constitution, understand it, and then decide and rationalize whether or not a given law is in compliance. I am sure she was capable. It ain't rocket science. My guess is that there are many fields in the legal disciplines that are much more intellectually challenging than being a Supreme Court Justice. International Law or Tax Law come to mind (although, as stated, I am just guessing.)

  • The fact that the Supreme Court often splits down the middle proves that brain-power alone cannot lead one, inexorably, to the "correct" determination. If it could (assuming that the present court is composed of jurists who are intellectually qualified and who take their responsibilities seriously) then we should see many more unanimous decisions.

  • That said, it is something other that IQ and previous judicial experience that drives the opinions of a Justice: it is ideology, pure and simple. To first order, a conservative genius with a mile-long resume will render conservative decisions, and similarly equipped liberal will render liberal decisions. (Like I said, nothing original here.)

  • Given that, I suggest that "finding the most qualified" is not what I want. What I want is someone who is sufficiently qualified and who thinks like I do.

  • As (as far as I know) an anti-abortion, judicial-restraint, evangelical Christian, Miers probably thinks "more like I do" than I could reasonably expect among nominees.
And so I supported her.

Does this selfish approach make me a bad person?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

When "too good to be true" is true

I don't believe many "I used to be a Christian" or "evil Christian" stories. On the evolution sites I browse, it is not uncommon to come across anecdotes such as "I used to be a Christian until…" This is followed by an encounter with a stereotype; a "Pastor Mike" who preaches fire and brimstone and the errors of evil-lution to the kiddies on career day, or an encounter with a pastor preaching against interracial marriage or in favor of slavery.

Yessiree, I am skeptical of these "too good to be true" stories. Now, no doubt there are shameful fundamentalists out there preaching a legalism of their own construction, or bigots who employ Christian trappings with their hate-filled messages. We all know that to be the case. But an actual Christian would not be driven away from Christianity by such an encounter—they would recognize it for what it is—an example of irreparably flawed theology or the ravings of an outright charlatan. They would know that such messages are not consistent with orthodox Christianity. They would either confront such blasphemy or, if that wasn't their nature, they would walk away from it.

At least that is the normative response—so much so that, as I said, I am skeptical of stories that contradict the norm—anecdotes in which people are un-converted by these encounters. I think they are invented for no other purpose than to make a political point.

The latest I have seen is on PZ Myers blog, in his post on Exposing undergraduates to creationism." There we find this comment:

As a proud atheist professor at a university heavily populated with Christians, I make it a point to teach the "controversy" to my students, emphasizing the lies told by employees of the Discovery Institute and documented liars such as [NAME DELETED —dph]...

As Dr. Myers will tell you, teaching is hard work. But the rewards are great. I am happy to report that on numerous occasions I have students come to me and let me know that they were abandoning fundamentalist Christianity in favor of religious views that were not focused on perpetuating bigotry or destroying science. Some students have come to me to let me know they were abandoning religion entirely.

When I asked them "Why are doing that? Why are you telling me?", they responded that they had never been shown so clearly how frequently and blatantly the so-called "Christians" at the Discovery Institute and related organizations engage in the willful propogation of false information, aka lying. These students are often very embarassed at having to admit that they were so completely bamboozled by information obtained from their parents, preachers and from self-serving "Christian" media outlets which present a decidedly negative view of science.

But I am so impressed by these students who are able to overcome the fear and brainwashing and leave their fundamentalist religious beliefs. Invariably, the questions they ask in class begin to reflect a much deeper understanding of the subject matter. They are no longer afraid to approach scientific problems from the perspective of a scientist, rather than from the perspective of a willfully ignorant and paranoid fundamentalist.

At times these students come to me in tears, worried about what they are going to tell their parents. I tell them that they are adults in the world now and it's time that their parents understand that. They are their own persons and, once the chains of fundamentalism and ignorance are cast aside, they can begin the process of learning about the world by seeing it through their own eyes, unfiltered, rather than seeing only what some fundamentalist preacher tells them is there.
This comment may, in fact, be a parody. One can only hope. I know that the name used by the commenter is the backwards spelling of a (biological) ID proponent who frequently posts on evolution sites.

If we assume the comment to be real and not some form of sarcasm, then I'll say this: I do not believe it for an instant. I could possibly believe that this alleged professor has had one of these "perfect storm" encounters, but certainly not numerous. And does he really expect anyone to believe that numerous students actually blamed the Discovery Institute for misleading them? And does he really expect anyone to believe that on multiple occasions students have come to him in tears about how they will explain their abandonment of Christianity to their parents?

Sorry, but "too good to be true" stories are so named for good reason.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Intelligent Design Talks

I want to thank my hosts from last week, the Community College of Baltimore County and Christopher Newport University. I gave a cosmological ID talk at CCBC on Wednesday and at CNU on Thursday. This was a new version of the talk, and I was happy to have the chance to see what works and what doesn't.

The folks at CCBC were kind enough to hold a book signing as well. Also, I was interviewed on station WRBS in Baltimore.

I will be giving the same talk on Wednesday, November 9, at Faith Baptist Church in Hollis, NH. There are some tentative plans for two other colleges. Alas, I think the days of speaking in public high schools are over.

At CNU, a physics professor pointed out something I've have known for some time: Cosmological ID struggles to overcome an image problem because it shares the term "Intelligent Design" with the more newsworthy biological counterpart. Not much that can be done about that. One of the primary thrusts of my talk is to point out that while "God in the gaps" may be a legitimate criticism of biological ID, cosmological ID is really "God in the details."

For me, the CNU talk reinforced that physicists generally accept fine-tuning as fact. Many, of course, do not attribute the fine-tuning to a designer, but nevertheless they enjoy listening to a talk that provides documented fine-tuning examples.

It also makes me think how ignorant the Panda's Thumb crowd is. While they often (and with some justification) complain about people with no background in biology discussing evolution, they will jump right in and argue that there is no fine-tuning in physics—without concern, it would appear, for the obvious: they are making the same mistake of arguing from ignorance.

You might think they would pause for a moment and say to themselves, if physicists do not deny fine-tuning in physics, should I?

But they don't. Pause to consider it, that is.

Instead they argue, asininely, that fine-tuning does not exist—or, in a slightly more sophisticated version, that most physicists only accept the appearance of fine-tuning. This is a distinction without a difference. When a scientist who is not an IDer uses the phrase "appearance of fine-tuning," he is not arguing that the fine-tuning doesn't exist in our present models—he is displaying his belief and hope that, in the future, new models devoid of fine-tuning will be forthcoming.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lesson 31: The Council of Trent (cont.)

We have been discussing the Council of Trent, the counter-Reformation, and the Roman Catholic Church's response to the doctrines of the Reformers.

Let us review the first two lessons on this subject.

Sola Fide

First we saw how the Council cursed those who proclaimed the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide) At Trent, the conferees established the Roman doctrine of Justification by infusion as opposed to imputation. They then took aim at what they perceived as the Reformed position, attacking in three cannons.
Canon 6.11: If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.
This is a straw-man argument. As mentioned, the Reformers did not exclude infusion, but stressed that the grounds for justification rested solely in the imputed righteousness of Christ. The final clause does not apply to the Reformers at all.

Canon 9 also is imprecise:
Canon 6.9: If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
Here Rome is condemning a caricature. The Reformers never taught that man's will is not involved, what they taught was man must first be born again before his will can dispose him to respond favorably to the offers of God.

Then there is:
Canon 6.10: If anyone says that men are justified without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us, or by that justice are formally just, let him be anathema.
This is a strange canon indeed. The first clause is an attack on Pelagianism. It correctly states that one cannot be justified apart from the merit of Christ. That is, one cannot merit justification. The second is an attack on the Reformers forensic view: the view that we are declared righteous by legal declaration, not because we actually are righteous.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura means that everything necessary for our salvation is contained in scripture. There is nothing that we have to know, in terms of spiritual matters, that is not contained in the Bible. Scripture and only scripture is our authority.

Trent has this to say about Sola Scriptura:
The holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent, lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding, keeps this constantly in view, namely, that the purity of the Gospel may be preserved in the Church after the errors have been removed. This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct. It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.
After listing the canon, including the Apocrypha, Trent continues:
If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.
At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), where the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, Sola Fide was condemned, the Roman Catholic Church also confirmed for herself the sole right to interpret Scripture and tradition authoritatively.

Perseverance and Assurance

In today's lesson, the doctrines in question are the related ideas of Perseverance of the Saints (Eternal Security) and Assurance of Salvation. They are related, but not the same, and Rome conflates them.

Perseverance of the Saints is the belief that once a person is saved, he cannot lose his salvation. Simply put: eternal life means eternal life.

Assurance is the idea that we can have total confidence in our salvation.

One big difference: Perseverance of the Saints is promised by God. It is a gift of grace. Assurance is not promised. It must be earned through obedience and endeavoring to imitate Christ.

Perseverance of the Saints is implicitly required by the doctrine of Unconditional Election (predestination). After all, it would not make much sense to speak of an elect chosen from the foundation of time if they could lose their salvation.

The logic is straightforward: eternal life is, well, eternal. You cannot have eternal life for just a few years. Once you have it, as promised by God for a saving faith, you cannot lose it, otherwise it wasn't really eternal and God has been made a liar. Eternal life goes hand-in-hand with salvation; you cannot have one without the other. Ergo, salvation is once-and-for-all as well.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:26)

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2:25)
If you are a believer, you already possess eternal life; it is a promise, not a carrot used to keep you in line. That way of thinking leads to salvation by works. Eternal always means eternal, it never means temporary, and scripture never ties the promise of eternal life to your condition upon death.

Fortunately we do no have to rely on the implicit need for perseverance; scripture is quite explicit about it.

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. "I and the Father are one." (John 10: 27-30, NASB)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6, NASB)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." (Rom. 8:31-36)
Christ will have all those whom have been effectually called. None will stray and be lost forever.

And as if that weren't enough, we are also sealed by the Holy Spirit:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph 4:30, NASB)

Preservation, not Perseverance

As everyone always notes, Preservation of the Saints is a better name for this doctrine. Preservation sends the correct message that it is by God's grace and faithfulness to His promise, and not our works, that our salvation is preserved. Perseverance implies the opposite: that man through his own righteousness can hold on to something he didn't deserve in the first place.

Yeah but what about…

We all know about some guy who appeared to have been a genuine believer, then all of a sudden he quit coming to church. Later we learn that he became a transgendered devil-worshipping biker enviro-nazi NARAL-supporter and Episcopalian Bishop and was promptly elected to the California State Assembly (where he was often identified as a "conservative-leaning moderate").

What to say to say about such a creature without being arrested for a hate crime? Well, the only possibilities are the two obvious ones: Either he never really was saved or he is still saved and will, in time, cease his backsliding and return to the fold.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.(1 John 2:19, NASB)

Roman Catholic Position

Roman Catholicism absolutely denies the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. Catholics can fall from a state of grace by committing a mortal sin. They have lost their salvation, and must be restored through the sacrament of penance.

Trent has this to say about Perseverance:
Similarly with regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written: He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved, which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands, that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God's help. For God, unless men themselves fail in His grace, as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish. Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labors, in watchings, in alms, deeds, in prayer, in fastings and chastity. (boldface added)
In my opinion, this pays lip service to some of the scripture supporting perseverance while inserting caveats that sound like mild warnings but actually completely destroy the doctrine. What does it mean to place one's "firmest hope in God" while at the same time men may "fail in His grace"? In reality, there is no hope placed in God, in this view all hope is then resting not on God’s grace but man’s ability. So God, having begun a good work, will certainly complete it (Phil. 1:6), unless, according to Trent, He doesn't.

To be sure, the Trent analysis also conflates the related but distinct doctrines of Assurance and Perseverance by referring to the fear-and-trembling from Phillipians 2:12, which deals with attaining the former, not the latter.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (Phil 2:12)

Here the apostle is telling us, in effect, if you really are a Christian, and/or if you want to be assured of your salvation, then strive to live like a Christian. If you are not living like a Christian, any assurance you have is a false assurance.

Of course, as we have seen, Trent was anathema drunk, so we also read later in the Council's report:

Canon 6.16. If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema.

The Hebrews Problem

The most problematic passage for the doctrine comes from Hebrews:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Heb. 6:4-6, NASB)

I approach this utterly convinced in the doctrine of Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, so that I am not going to entertain the possibility that this is a refutation. Instead, I want to see if this can be reconciled.

Let us first deal with "those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit". Without doing extreme violence to the text, this must refer to believers, i.e., those already saved. It cannot refer, as some well-meaning apologists would have it, to non-believers attending church and playing as Christians, for they have not yet repented and so cannot "renew" what they never did.

Now what does "fallen away" mean, except to lose one's salvation? It cannot mean garden-variety sinning; otherwise the passage would be teaching a new bad-news gospel: that only perfection can maintain a person in a state of grace.

It is possible that this passage is explicable by covenantal theology—that it refers to members of the covenantal family who fall away. However, the language "renew them to repentance" does not seem appropriate. Some also suggest it is referring to the mysterious unpardonable sin of Matthew 12:32, but the lengthiness of the description here seems to go way beyond a reiteration that there is such a transgression.

No, in my opinion a simple but accurate paraphrase of the passage is: If believers lose their salvation, then it is impossible for them to repent and be restored, because that would require another crucifixion.

We need to understand the possible ways of using an if-then argument. One is straightforward: If A is true, then B is also true.

If that is what is being used here, then the message is simply what it says: if you are a believer, be careful not to lose your salvation, because you cannot get it back. This goes far beyond a refutation of Perseverance of the Saints. Catholics and some non-Reformed Protestants believe you can lose your salvation, but both believe you can be restored.

Another way to use if-then arguments is reductio ad absurdum. In this method, we accept an incorrect premise and show how it reaches an absurd conclusion, thus denying the premise.

A clear example is found in 1 Corinthians:

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17)

If the resurrection did not happen, then our faith is worthless. But the resurrection did happen. Our faith has infinite value, amen.

I believe the passage in Hebrews is used in this manner. If believer can lose his salvation, then it would require a second crucifixion. But a believer cannot lose his salvation. A second resurrection is unnecessary, amen.

If you stop and think about what it means to lose you salvation, I think this conclusion becomes obvious. To lose our salvation means that we commit sins that have not been paid for by Christ’s Atonement. That is why we would then require a second crucifixion. But Christ's sacrifice paid for all our sins, past present and future (they were all "future" sins when He paid for them).

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Rom. 6:10, NASB)

If we can lose our salvation, it means we can commit a sin that either God did not anticipate, calling into question his Sovereignty, or a sin that Christ didn't pay for, casting doubts on His Atonement, and indirectly, on Christ's deity. And all the scripture that tells of Christ's finished work is a lie.

Far from refuting the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, this passage of Hebrews, read properly, is actually one of its strongest affirmations. It teaches: How absurd to think that a saved person could lose his salvation. Christ died for all the sins of the elect, once and for all; His perfect work is finished.

Appendix: Other Interesting Anathemas

Canon 5.4. If anyone denies that infants, newly born from their mothers' wombs, are to be baptized, even though they be born of baptized parents, or says that they are indeed baptized for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration for the attainment of eternal life, whence it follows that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is to be understood not as true but as false, let him be anathema,

Canon 7.1. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven, namely, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order and matrimony, or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.3. If anyone says that these seven sacraments are so equal to each other that one is not for any reason more excellent than the other, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.4. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema.

Canon 7.10. If anyone says that all Christians have the power to administer the word and all the sacraments, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.3. If anyone says that in the Roman Church, which is the mother and mistress of all churches, there is not the true doctrine concerning the sacrament of baptism, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.4. If anyone says that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.5. If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.

Canon 8.6. If anyone says that one baptized cannot, even if he wishes, lose grace, however much he may sin, unless he is unwilling to believe, let him be anathema.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The best Fine-Tuning in all of Physics

In preparing to give two cosmological ID talks this week, one in Maryland and one in Virginia, I tried to find a way to explain the fine-tuning in the cosmological constant, denoted by the Greek letter Λ. It's not very easy: the fine tuning of the cosmological constant is not expressible in the normal manner.

The normal way to express a fine tuning is to say that if this physical constant (pick one) is varied by just a small amount, then life could not exist. While that is true for Λ, it is also true that in this case the situation is more complicated (and more dramatic.)

We have to start with a little cosmology. In particular, two amazing discoveries of the last fifteen years.

The first is that the universe is flat. Among other things, that means Euclidean geometry will be accurate, even on cosmological scales. If you think of the surface of the earth as a 2D universe, then the earth is "fairly" flat, meaning that the curvature is so small that it is hard to detect. The Little Prince, on the other hand, lives on a highly curved planet.

The second amazing discovery is that the universe is not only expanding, but the expansion is accelerating.

Both discoveries, but more transparently the second—accelerating expansion—point to the need for an anti-gravity force in the universe. If the universe were contracting or its expansion slowing, then there might be some way out of anti-gravity. But there is no way out with an accelerating, expanding universe.

An accelerating, expanding universe also crushes the hope of some that the universe is oscillating. An oscillating universe was sometimes expressed as a way to restore a kind of steady state. It never really worked, because even if the universe did oscillate between big-bang and big-crunch, it still has to pay the piper in the form of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The oscillations would die out, a fact that implies not only an end to the universe but also, once again, a beginning.

Λ Plays a Big Role

Observationally, it appears that matter accounts for 30% of the universe, and the anti-gravity component, whimsically known as "dark energy", accounts for a whopping 70%.

The cosmological constant Λ represents a vacuum energy density (the energy present in "empty space") that, if positive in sign, enters into Einstein's General Relativity as a anti-gravity force. This then provides a natural way to explain dark energy.

Here is the problem. When the best and brightest calculate Λ they get what turns out to be a very large value. For convenience, let's choose a system of units where this calculated value is 1.

Here we take a detour into physics psychology. For a long time, prior to these recent observations, it was known that the calculated value for Λ was way, way too big. However, it was believed that the actual value was probably identically zero. Now this discrepancy, a big calculated value versus an actual value of zero was, in a way, no big deal. Physicists are used to this—and expected the explanation to come in some form of super symmetry—an elegant explanation from first principles that Λ had to be exactly zero.

Now, however, we face a very different picture. Λ is now invoked to explain the dark energy. It cannot be zero. It must be a positive number (for anti-gravity) and small (otherwise space would be curved instead of flat.)

In the units where the calculated value of Λ has the value 1, the approximate experimental value of Λ is about 10-120 , or:


The precise value is not relevant, only that it is many, many orders of magnitude smaller than the theoretical value.

So now we see the fine tuning problem. In a nutshell:

How do we get from:

     Λ = 1.0


     Λ = 0.000…..000001

(120 zeroes) without stopping at the unacceptable

     Λ = 0.000…..000002

or proceeding all the way to the unacceptable

     Λ = 0.0

(The actual upper bound is considerably less than twice the experimental value, and the lower bound is not all the way to zero—but that represents a secondary "normal" type of fine tuning.)

The fine tuning of the cosmological constant stems from the fact that there is no known way to reduce the theoretical value by 120 orders of magnitude, especially when it has to end up bigger than zero.

In the words of Lawrence Krauss, one of the chief proponents of the cosmological constant:

Our current understanding of gravity and quantum mechanics says that empty space should have about 120 orders of magnitude more energy than the amount we measure it to have. That is 1 with 120 zeroes after it! How to reduce the amount it has by such a huge magnitude, without making it precisely zero, is a complete mystery. Among physicists, this is considered the worst fine-tuning problem in physics.—Lawrence Krauss, Cosmologist, Sci. Am., Aug. 2004, pp. 83-84.
Krauss, an atheist, characterizes the cosmological constant fine tuning as the "worst" in physics.

I'm inclined to the opposite view. This is the best fine tuning problem. I find it interesting on two fronts. Like any physicist, I love a good conundrum, and I support the efforts of those who search for an explanation for this extreme fine tuning. At the same time, I enjoy the theological implications of physical constant that, were it not 120 orders of magnitude smaller than expected, life could not exist.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lesson 30: Trent’s Anathema on Sola Scriptura

The primary, or formal cause of the Protestant Reformation, was Sola Scriptura-- Scripture Alone. The reformers proclaimed it; the Catholic Church refuted it. Not much has changed in this regard in the past 500 years.

What is Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)?

When the Church called for Luther to recant at Worms (1521), he famously dug in his heels and said he would not unless he "was convinced by sacred scripture."

Sola Scriptura means that everything necessary for our salvation is contained in scripture. There is nothing that we have to know, in terms of spiritual matters, that is not contained in the Bible. Scripture and only scripture is our authority.

The Westminster Confession puts it this way:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Scriptural Support

There is, of course, scriptural support for Sola Scriptura, including this well-known passage from 2 Timothy:

15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:15-17, NIV)

Verse 15 tells us that scripture is what we need to be "wise for salvation". Verse 16 tells us that Scripture is inspired (which implies inerrant). Verse 17 tells us that it renders us thoroughly (not partially) equipped.

In Jude it is written:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3, NIV)

The saints do not have to wait for further revelation. All that we need has been entrusted once and for all.

Moses wrote down the law, and then instructed that it be read to the people. In Deuteronomy we read:

9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Then Moses commanded them: "At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. (Deut 31:9-12)

he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (Deut 32, 46-47)

Here is the lesson from these passages:
  1. The words Moses spoke were written.
  2. The people can and must listen (or read) and learn.
  3. In these words, there is life.

Not Everything is in the Bible

Sola Scriptura does not mean that everything is in the Bible. The solution to your calculus homework is not in the Bible. Less trivially, not everything about God is in the Bible:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NIV)

This verse is sometimes used to argue against Sola Scriptura. It is useless in that regard. I would love to know what Jesus did that was not recorded, but I don't need to know it. And if I did need to know it, all would be lost; for no council, synod, or pope will ever be able to tell me what these unrevealed acts were.

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church.

Who was the first New Testament era proponent of Sola Scriptura? It was Jesus Himself. Let's read Christ’s dialogue with Satan during His temptation:

3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" 7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matt. 4:3-10, NIV)

When refuting Satan, Jesus didn't appeal to tradition, or to the Pharisees, or even His own deity and infallible reason. Each and every time He quoted scripture. Even when Satan also used scripture (v 6), Christ trumped him with more relevant scripture.

In the parallel passage in Luke, when responding to Satan’s challenge to leap from the temple, it reads: Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Luke 4:12, NIV). It is not significant that the word “says” is used instead of “it is written”, because indeed, it is written: Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah. (Deut 6:16, NIV).

Was Sola Scriptura was Invented by the Reformers?

Catholic apologists like to claim that Sola Scriptura was unheard of prior to the Reformation. Even if this claim were true it would at most cast suspicion on the doctrine in the form of a "newness stigma". In other words, it would simply be the argument that any doctrine that took 15 centuries to be discovered should be viewed critically. Fair enough, although that in and of itself would by no means disprove Sola Scriptura.

Anyway, it's moot. For there is ample evidence that the doctrine existed in the early church.

Augustine (On Christian Doctrine) wrote:
In those teachings which are clearly based on scripture are found all that concerns faith and the conduct of life.

For another example, we turn to Cyril of Jerusalem, a teacher in the early church, who wrote in the 4th century: (lecture 4-17)

Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.

A rather nice encapsulation of Sola Scriptura.


Catholics, like (conservative) Protestants, believe the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant word of God. However, Catholics, unlike Protestants, acknowledge an additional source of divine knowledge: sacred tradition, which the teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium may interpret and then bind the consciences of Catholic believers with its understanding.

Since the Catholic Church acknowledges this additional "delivery system" for revelation, Sola Scriptura has got to go.

Trent has this to say about Sola Scriptura:
The holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent, lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding, keeps this constantly in view, namely, that the purity of the Gospel may be preserved in the Church after the errors have been removed. This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct. It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.
After listing the canon, including the Apocrypha, Trent continues:
If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.
At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), where the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, Sola Fide was condemned, the Roman Catholic Church also confirmed for herself the sole right to interpret Scripture and tradition authoritatively.

What is Catholic Tradition?

This is a very difficult question. It is clear that sacred tradition is not always what it claims to be. If tradition meant, as the Catholic Church the oral tradition handed down in an unbroken succession from the apostles, then our division would not be as great as it is. We would still argue against such tradition binding the conscience because of the problems associated with proving a claim of a unbroken succession. Nevertheless, I believe our differences would be manageable.

In practice, however, sacred tradition is much more. It is whatever the Church says it is. How can one even claim that extra-scriptural Catholic doctrine such as purgatory, The Immaculate Conception, The Assumption, or papal infallibility (just to name a few) arrived as an oral tradition that can be traced back to the apostles?

And if not, how can there be binding revelation that was unknown to the apostles? Did they not need it for their own salvation?

Another problem is that sacred tradition is not always, well, traditional. For example, In 1559 Pius IV declared that widespread dissemination of the Scriptures is to be avoided in that it causes more harm than good. Vatican II changed this tradition, and now Rome calls for free-access to the Scriptures for all.

We should understand that the Church's position on infallibility is not as trivial as we Protestants like to poke fun at, and that they have explanations as to how sacred tradition can appear to change. Nevertheless it is undeniable that this is but one example where the Church sometimes teaches A, while at other times, not-A.

So do we. We call it a mistake.

In reality Catholic tradition actually means that the Church, after due consideration, can offer new binding revelation (not traceable to the apostles). This is stated nowhere as clearly as in the time of Vatican I (The "infallibility" council, 1870), where Pius IX boldly declared: "I am tradition".

Monday, October 10, 2005

I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist

The latest issue of Ligonier Ministries' Tabletalk is devoted to the topic What Reformed Theology is Not. I was delighted to see that Michael S. Horton contributed an article on hyper-Calvinism. I am always interested in one flavor of hyper-Calvinism of which I have been accused: the denial that the gospel is a "sincere" offer of salvation made to all persons.

The tension here, for the Calvinist, is rather obvious. Only the elect will be regenerated by grace, come to faith in Christ, and receive the gift of salvation. Only the elect hear an inward call. Therefore, how can the offer be sincere?

Doesn't an offer, if it is to be called sincere, imply that the offer not only may be accepted (or rejected) but can be accepted (or rejected)?

And if that is correct, then how is the gospel offer sincere for anyone? For the elect it is like a Don Corleone offer—it cannot be refused—and for the non-elect it like offering salvation to a man, blind from birth, if he can describe the picture you are showing him.

I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist. I want someone to demonstrate, from scripture, how the offer is sincere (in they way we use that word) for everyone. Or even for anyone.

Some background may be helpful. I first realized that I was a hyper-Calvinist (of this flavor when browsing Phil Johnson's (not that Phil Johnson) website. There, in an essay on hyper-Calvinism, Johnson wrote:
This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.
Johnson, after describing hyper-Calvinsim, went on to give the first of several examples that don't seem to fit:
The most famous example of this kind of hyper-Calvinism was when John Ryland heard William Carey talking about becoming a missionary to India, and told him, "Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, He will do it without your help."
Now I agree that there is something seriously wrong with this sentiment. But in my opinion, the flaw in Ryland's rebuke to Carey was not in the denial that there is a sincere offer for everyone, but in his blatant disregard for God's command to preach the gospel to the world, and most likely in his understanding of why we are to preach the gospel, which is to glorify God, not to make converts—although that is wonderful when it happens.

Phil Johnson goes on to give five ways one can be a Hyper-Calvinist, writing:
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
  1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
  2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
  3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
  4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
  5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

Notice that Johnson, when describing the hyper-Calvinist spirit (which I quoted above) used the adjective sincere. In giving his five ways by which one crosses the boundary into hyper-Calvinism, he omitted sincere in item three. I assume, however, that it is implied.

In my own scorecard, I am in big danger, I know, of being a Type-3 hyper-Calvinist.

Okay, I'm willing to be instructed. I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist of any type. I want someone to explain exactly how the gospel offer is sincere, in the way we would use "sincere offer" (both may and can be accepted/rejected.)

So I continued reading Johnson's essay.
Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the "gospel" they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God's decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, "The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not."
Well, no, that doesn't apply to me. I never mention election when presenting the Gospel. I tell people that if they recognize that they are sinners they should repent, and that salvation is a free gift for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. Johnson's example of someone who gives a corrupted gospel message does nothing to help me understand how the offer of salvation is "sincere" for all.

Johnson continues:
The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
No, not in my case. The way I witness—telling those that they must acknowledge their sinfulness and that God will forgive—is completely in line with 2 Corinthians 5:20. Now it is true that, in the back of my mind, I know that only the elect will be regenerated and acquire the ability to come to Christ. But of course I have no idea who is or is not elect. And it is also true that I view the purpose of witnessing more as glorifying God—by making his mercies known—than I view it as being beneficial to the hearer. However, I never alter the gospel in the way that Johnson suggests is the natural manifestation of my hyper-Calvinism.

Johnson then goes into detail on the five forms of hyper-Calvinism. So I anticipate some answers in his in-depth examination of Type 3 hyper-Calvinsism. But there is no substance in Johnson's essay at this point; he merely refers to additional sources. He says nothing other than the view is wrong, nothing to help me with my conundrum about how an offer for which the hearer has a moral inability to assent can, in any manner, be sincere. At this point I get it that Johnson views this as hyper-Calvinism—I would just like some scriptural proof that directly supports his assertion.

So on the basis of Johnson's essay, I stood accused of being a hyper-Calvinist. But his essay was ultimately unsatisfying; it merely defined hyper-Calvinism, gave examples that did not apply, and offered no scriptural proof.

With that backdrop, you can imagine how happy I was to find the aforementioned essay by Michael S. Horton in the November, 2005 edition of Tabletalk.

In a paragraph under the heading Is the Gospel for Everyone Horton begins with:
Isn't it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
Here I am a little nervous. I don't deny that God insists that, as evangelists, we must be sincere and indiscriminate in proclaiming the gospel. I want Horton to address whether God Himself makes a sincere offer of salvation to everyone. Horton diverted in midstream. Forget about us, tell me about God.

It really doesn't matter, because Horton doesn't answer his own (in my opinion ill-formed) question. He simply goes on to declare it a mystery, and then give the standard Calvinistic description of the outward and inward calls. I completely agree with his explanation of the calls, even as I lament that it offers no insight to the question at hand. It is a related but off-target point that Horton makes.

Horton then states that both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages, resolving the mystery in terms of either the free offer of the gospel or election. Like Johnson, Horton labels the pathology, describes inaccurate symptoms, and offers no substantive explanation.

I was very disappointed. I am left as always, with the feeling that nobody, from a Calvinistic perspective, can support the notion that God makes a sincere offer of salvation to all. And I am left, as always, with the impression that they simply cannot make such a statement (that God does not make a sincere offer to all), intuiting that it is insulting to the character of God. They label it as hyper-Calvinism, call it a mystery, offer anecdotal evidence that doesn't fit, or explanations for theological points not actually in dispute.

Or maybe, buried in Romans 9:
22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom. 9:22-23)
they really can see a sincere offer for all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

They just don't like us

I find it very interesting, this insistence of atheist evolutionists that an inerrant bible is incompatible with science.

For example, popular evolution blogger and anti-Christian bigot PZ Myers wrote:

A religion that declares the bible inerrant is not compatible with science, because its followers would have to be idiots.

Now, this statement is not constructed in a way that is logical. It states nothing more that Myers's belief that anyone who believes in an inerrant bible is an idiot. Even if that were true, one could not conclude, as Myers does, that the bible was incompatible with science.

Setting aside Myers's failure to construct rational, self-consistent statements, the more relevant point for today's discussion is that he is willing to call the Roman Catholic Church and all right-of-center Protestants “idiots” rather than admit that an inerrant bible is compatible with science.

It is not just Myers—go to any of the evolution sites and offer an opinion that an inerrant bible is compatible with science, and you’ll face a barrage of attacks.

The interesting part is that, at first glance, you would think they would welcome such pronouncements, even as they privately viewed them as silly. Every scientist who makes the claim of bible-science compatibility—well they could use us (albeit in their mind as useful idiots) to claim, see religion has nothing to fear from science—these scientists and devout Christians see no conflict whatsoever.

However, it is a strategy they just can’t make themselves follow. Why? I can only assume that it is because their hatred for Christianity far outweighs the possible political advantage. Someone like Myers could never say: “What are you worried about? Professor X believes in the compatibility of an inerrant bible and science. Science is not your enemy.” No, to someone like Myers religion must be the enemy. It just has to be. No alliances permitted. He loves being an enemy of religion.

Even with their most trusted Christian ally, Brown Professor Kenneth Miller, you see this tension boil to the surface. For example, you read comments like:
‘“Faith and reason are not only compatible. They are complementary,” testified Ken Miller’
See this is where Miller has always gotten lost to me. If you have evidence you don’t really need faith.

Here you see a less virulent form of the same disease. Miller, whom they use as a trophy when it suits them, is still a little bit “icky”. I’m sure they wish he would stick to the script: I’m a famous Brown University Professor, a good Catholic, and I believe in evolution. Even with Miller their visceral dislike for religion is evident, and many will not even allow Miller his mild oath of faith-reason complementarity.

Of course, in this case Miller was spot on. Blind faith is never, ever called for, and “faith” used in the bible is much closer to “live by faith” or “walk the walk” than belief. Jesus forgave a lames man’s sins (an invisible act). If he intended blind faith to be what we had to muster, he’d have stopped there. Instead, he proved himself by healing the man (Matt.9:1-8). Evidence has been provided: now live by faith.

Alas, for the PZ Myers of the world, an inerrant bible is compatible with science. The last conflict of which I am aware was when scientists (including Einstein) argued for a steady state universe, one with an infinite past. The bible clearly argues for a universe that had a beginning.

There is conflict no more. The bible is infallible; Einstein was not.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Out of the mouth...

The other night at prayer meeting our pastor was discussing David and Bathsheba. He asked the twenty-or-so of us sitting around a table to speculate as to what excuse David might have used to justify his transgression.

“She tempted me,” was one reply. “It’s just the way I am,” was another.

There were a handful of children at the meeting. They usually stay quiet. Not because they are not permitted to participate, but just from normal reluctance to speak in front of the adults. This time, however, after a short pause, a young boy, I guess he’s about nine, spoke out. He gave this possible rationalization on King David’s behalf:

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

Everyone had a great laugh at the innocence behind the comment. (Not that I think children are innocent, but he was certainly innocent of the full range of his comment’s implications.) It was especially fun to watch his parents, who are great friends, turn beet red.

But you know, he probably hit the nail on the head. Perhaps some of the most grievous sins occur because they appear as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.