Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Is my blog an ID blog?

My blog has taken on a decidedly Intelligent Design slant.

I don't know how long it will last. When I started this blog I was somewhat adamant about staying away from science. The first two years of posts are almost exclusively theological. To be honest, I find theology more interesting than Intelligent Design. At the moment, however, I think championing cosmological ID is my most effective ministry.

(I will, however, finish posting my Sunday School lectures on Church History. And there will still be a sprinkling of theological posts.)

My adversaries, if that is the correct term, are both the scientist/atheists and Christian fundamentalists. Both make the same, erroneous assumption: Christianity and science are incompatible. While this is an understandable error for an atheist, it is completely illogical for a believer, because the scientific laws come from God—Christianity and science must be compatible.

Sadly, the most insidious approach, in my opinion, comes from fundamentalists who actually believe science is at war with the bible, but pretend otherwise. How do they accomplish this misdirection? By using "bad" science instead of real science. I am referring to the so-called creation scientists who try to use "science" to disprove science. They accomplish this with bizarre Rube Goldberg theories including (but by no means limited to) postulating that independent radiometric dating methods are not just wrong, but they somehow conspire to give the same wrong answer.

The bottom line is that they postulate a God who is tricking us. He has created a universe that not only has apparent age but also false memories of its birth. Remnant heat (at just the right temperature) from a big bang that never occurred; arriving light which details exploding supernovae that never actually existed.

There is not a single iota of evidence in the bible that God decreed the scientific method and planted fake evidence to test the faith of believers.

I have posted this (in a slightly different form) before, but I think it bears repeating:
  1. When the bible and science disagree, the bible is always right.

  2. When Christians and science disagree, science is usually right.

The first point is really just to create a contrast with the second. The bible and nature, the study of the latter being the chief concern of science, are both from God. The bible and correct science will never disagree. A good example is the steady-state theory of the universe, which posited (in various forms) that the universe always has been and always will be. This is clearly at odds with the bible's clear teaching (interpretation independent) that God created the universe ex nihilo. Something had to give—and what gave was science. The steady-state theory was jettisoned in the face of compelling and biblically compatible evidence that there was a creation event: the big bang.

The second point is where the problem lies as far as fundamentalists are concerned. Christians are not infallible in their biblical exegesis. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old, not six thousand. If all the science that gives us that answer is wrong, then nothing that we have built that uses that science should function. It always amazes me that someone would use a computer, with semiconductor components designed using quantum mechanics, to write an essay claiming that the same quantum mechanics fails in radiometric dating.

If you think the bible teaches that the earth is six thousand years old I have news for you. Science is not wrong. The bible is not wrong. You are wrong. You have (correctly) assumed biblical inerrancy, but have overlaid an incorrect literalist hermeneutic on Genesis 1.

How do I know this? Why am I so confident that I am right and you are wrong? Because our intellect, our curiosity, and our planet's superior observability are gifts from God, not snares to test our faith. The simplest explanation for the supposed incompatibility places the blame squarely on you: you are interpreting God's inerrant bible incorrectly.

As for the other group of adversaries, the atheist/scientists, I had my eyes opened in the last year or so. Having spent all my adult life among physicists, I never, not once, encountered one who was antagonistic toward Christianity. But as I started to read the evolution blogs I discovered that biologists, at least those who blog, are a particularly nasty breed who write, quite often, with irrelevant invective.

The evolutionist bloggers reflect rather poorly, I suspect, on actual scientists in the life science disciplines. They write like arrogant bullies, using locker-room language to dismiss anyone who doesn't agree. They claim to be scientists but they don't publish any science. In short they are, in fact, our best friends and their own worst enemies—their strident fundamentalism is a boon to our cause. No reasonable person would want to be associated with them.

Here are some of the common ways in which the evolution blogs are duplicitous:
  • They love to state that the Catholic Church, from the pope on down, is OK with evolution. They omit the fact Rome places a big caveat on her approval: evolution is acceptable, as long as it does not exclude divine causality and does not oppose Genesis. While no atheist evolutionist is willing to accept the restriction of divine causality, they are happy to trot out, when it suits them, the Catholic Church, as a paragon of progressive thinking in matters of science, especially when compared to conservative Protestant mouth-breathing rubes. But they never, ever mention the conditions Rome places on her flock. And of course, they are not so kind to Rome if the subject of abortion or gay marriage or female clergy arises. And sometimes, displaying their true colors, they are just downright repulsive.

  • They love to point out that IDers are, universally, theists (except for a few token ID atheists). At the same time they deny that evolutionists are biased toward atheism. So at least in the (reasonable) model that you are either an evolutionist or an IDer, they are willing to proclaim a mathematically impossible position. The truth is, if IDers are biased toward theism, then evolutionists are biased toward atheism. And in fact, it is not easily discerned whether the cause is theists drifting toward ID, or atheists toward evolution.

  • They like to argue, when it suits them, that there are many examples of speciation (macro-evolution.) And they like to argue, when it suits them, that the concept of species is ill-defined and possibly an anachronism.

  • They like to argue that it is unfair for IDers to talk of design while setting aside, as irrelevant, the attributes of the designer. Yet it is more than fair, they claim, to talk about evolution while setting aside the troublesome question of how life began in the first place.

  • They like to argue that ID is not science because it doesn't publish in peer-reviewed journals. (And when it does, it doesn't count; and ironically some of the greatest criticisms on this front comes from bloggers who claim to be scientists but have no continuous record of peer-reviewed publications of their own.) At the same time, they argue ID should not be published in peer reviewed journals because it is not science. And they proclaim a myth of a "level playing field."

  • They formed a grandly named National Center for Science Education, which is nothing of the sort. Go there and look for something on new methods of teaching physics or chemistry. It should be there unless the organization is engaging in false advertising.

  • They use the term creationist in inconsistent ways. By the usual reckoning, I am not a creationist, but I often get called that. Fair enough; if creationist implies a belief that God created the universe, then I am proud to bear the title. However, they never use the term when they put pro-evolution Christians on display. They never say you can be a creationist and evolutionist, only that you can be a Christian (usually a Catholic) and an evolutionist. They never call their biggest prize, Brown Professor Ken Miller, a creationist. But in the sense they call me a creationist, all Christians, including Ken Miller, are creationists. In the broad way they want to use creationist, it applies to their trophy adherents just as well.

  • They tend to be very libertarian: The government should not interfere with reproductive rights. The government should not prevent gays from getting married. However when it comes to education, they are totalitarian. The Federal government must use all power at its disposal to intervene in school districts and ensure that local communities do not create their own curricula. And they are willing to label parents who raise their children as Christians as child abusers and Christians (IDers) as Taliban.

  • With no scientific achievements of their own, they characterize Nobel Laurates as babblers and scientific frauds if they happen to question evolutionist dogma.

Strangely enough, in spite of what I've just written, I never engage in the evolution debate. I even believe that evolution, as the currently best theory, should be what is taught in the classroom. And I do not think that biological ID should be part of the science curriculum.

I do, however, think that a biology teacher should be allowed (but not required) to mention ID. One result of all the legal battles the evolutionists are waging against ID is a severe restriction on the ability of teachers to follow rabbit trails. Teachers going outside the curriculum, in any course, even when it is clear that it is just their opinion they're spouting, is incredibly valuable. I argued with teachers all the time and was better off for the experience. It won't be long (if it is not already here) until a teacher who mentions ID gets fired. School should not be like this. Students have discernment, and it is beneficial that they learn to evaluate the teacher's beliefs. What the evolutionists are creating is a sterile, unexciting, formulaic classroom where the teacher had better consult and attorney before deviating a micron from state-imposed lesson plan.

Of course I have always harbored a bias when it comes to the sciences: physics rules the day. Compared to physics, biology is kind of wimpy, if you ask me. Physics makes grand predictions: There should be anti-matter, look here to find it. Mercury's orbit should precess, look here to find it. Carbon must have an unknown energy level, go look and you'll find it.

Evolution makes no such gutsy predictions. Is there life on Mars? No prediction. If there is life on Mars, will it be microbes or something more complex? No prediction—there is just the sense that whatever is found will be accommodated into the framework.

Evolution is exceedingly weak in the falsification front. When that subject is brought up, there are two particularly annoying responses: (1) evolution is so well established that it has progressed beyond the falsification stage or (2) sure you can falsify evolution, just find evidence of a miracle such as pre-Cambrian human remains. (The latter is akin to claiming gravity is falsifiable, just wait to see if the Reverend Al Sharpton floats off into space in mid diatribe.)

The bottom line is that evolution is just not that important and not that big of a deal. YECs like to use the analogy that evolution is like a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747. That analogy misses the boat: the amazing fact would not be that the 747 was assembled, the real miracle would be that all the components of a 747 just happened to be there. Likewise, evolution is not the big deal, the fact that we have galaxies and stars and planets and at least one of them is habitable is far more astounding. I wish the battle were being fought on the cosmological front rather than on the tiny battlefield known as evolution.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fine tuning: a new result

Cosmological ID is based on two facts:
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe
  2. The uniqueness of the universe
I have argued many times that cosmological ID is falsifiable, by disproving either of these points.

How does one disprove fine tuning? It is not in the way that is commonly believed. Take a simple example of fine-tuning: the strength of the strong nuclear force. If it were about two percent weaker, life-essential heavy elements would be unstable. If it were about two percent stronger, then quarks would not form into protons, so there'd be no ordinary matter at all. Two percent either way, and there would be no life.

Does this fine tuning rely on the fact that we do not have a fundamental theory regarding the strength of the nuclear force? No, not at all. If it did, then it would be legitimately subject to a God-of-the-gaps criticism. A more fundamental theory that calculated from first principles the strength of the force would not save the day for those who seek to discredit fine tuning. 1 A theory that predicts the strength of the nuclear force says nothing about the sensitivity of a habitable universe to the calculated value. We would still have the same fine tuning "problem." If anything, the appearance of design would be strengthened, for no longer would the "just right" value seem to be the result of a lucky accident, but rather the inevitable result of a highly designed first-principle law.

No, to disprove fine-tuning you have to show that the sensitivity to small changes in physical constants is an illusion. This will be exceedingly difficult. The disastrous effects of varying the strengths of the fundamental forces, the expansion rate of the universe, Planck's constant, etc. are straightforward and non-controversial.

And today, via Hugh Ross's daily reason, we have another example of fine-tuning, and example of a type which would still survive an unlikely dismantling of the sensitivity of life to the values of the physical constants.

A little background:

The moon is essential for life for a variety of reasons including the cleansing effects of the tides and the stability of the earths tilt and rotation.

The moon is big enough to provide these benefits, but if it were slightly bigger it would be unstable. 2

The moon probably formed as a result of a collision of a Mars-sized object with the earth, when our planet was about 250 million years old. This collision blasted away a poisonous atmosphere and left the earth with a "just right" mass such that its gravity can retain water vapor but not the slightly lighter (and toxic) ammonia and methane.

But where did this planetoid come from, and why didn't it obliterate the earth? Here is the abstract of a recent paper that tackles this question:
The current standard theory of the origin of the Moon is that Earth was hit by a giant impactor the size of Mars, causing ejection of iron-poor impactor mantle debris that coalesced to form the Moon. But where did this Mars-sized impactor come from? Isotopic evidence suggests that it came from 1 AU radius in the solar nebula, and computer simulations are consistent with its approaching Earth on a zero-energy parabolic trajectory. But how could such a large object form in the disk of planetesimals at 1 AU without colliding with Earth early on, before having a chance to grow large or before its or Earth's iron core had formed? We propose that the giant impactor could have formed in a stable orbit among debris at Earth's L4 (or L5) Lagrange point. We show that such a configuration is stable, even for a Mars-sized impactor. It could grow gradually by accretion at L4 (or L5), but eventually gravitational interactions with other growing planetesimals could kick it out into a chaotic creeping orbit, which we show would likely cause it to hit Earth on a zero-energy parabolic trajectory. We argue that this scenario is possible and should be further studied. (Belbruno and Gott, The Astronomical Journal, 129, 1724-1745, 2005)


Now, I have no clue whether this hypothesis will stand the test of time. But what is impressive about it is how "finely tuned" their hypothesis is—that a planetoid of just the right size could have struck the earth (at just the right time) with just the right type of glancing blow—it requires that the planetoid formed at one of the earth's Lagrange points. (Lagrange discovered five special points where a third, smaller mass can orbit at a fixed distance from the sun and earth. These are the only positions where the gravitational pull of the earth and sun precisely equals the centripetal force required for the smaller mass to rotate with them.)

If this result stands, it is a big "W" for team Cosmological ID.


1 More fundamental theories would effect the (in my opinion ill-advised) calculations of the probability of the universe, such as those made by Hugh Ross. That is why I do not include those calculations as a "plank" of cosmological ID. A hypothetical theory of everything would, in some sense, leave us with a probability of unity for a habitable universe. It would however, have no effect on the validity of the fine-tuning argument.
2 Dave Waltham, Astrobiology 4, No. 4: 460-468 (2004)

Monday, June 20, 2005

What's in it for me?

I'm usually the last person to hear a joke. By the time I repeat it, I get the "heard that one" look or comment. But since I can neither see nor hear any of you, I'm going to take a chance with this one.
A ship was sailing near a small, remote island when the crew noticed three huts near the shore, with smoke coming from the hut on the left. Since the island was supposed to be uninhabited, they sent a team ashore to investigate.

They a found a man in the hut that was spewing smoke.

"Man am I glad to see you guys," he said. "I've been stranded alone on this island for ten years."

"What's the middle hut for?" One of the crew asked.

"That is my church," the man replied.

"And the last hut, the one on the right?"

"Oh, that's my previous church."

People switch churches all the time. Often for the wrong reason—because they aren't "getting something" out of their current church. Not long ago we had someone leave our church because he and his family were not being "fed", but neither the parents nor the children came to Sunday School. A young man left with the same complaint, along with the concern that he was the only twentyish guy in the congregation. (On a related note, a bible study aimed at a specific adult age group is a pet peeve of mine. Once you're an adult, you're an adult. Any programs aimed at the "special needs twenty-somethings in the church" should be eradicated.)

While church shopping, the ennui crowd is treated like royalty. That convinces them that their current church is not user friendly. The idea that church is for glorifying God gets lost in all the excitement of a fresh start at a place where they just know they'll experience greater spirituality.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Book Availability Update

Preview
Here, Eyeball This! is available


Preview
The Anthology CyberTales (in which I have a short story) is available

Something about Luke (my son)

My older son Luke is autistic. In perhaps my most popular post ever, I wrote about him here. (Sadly I lost all the comments when I changed providers.)

Luke plays the piano and violin. (He made all-state on the violin this year--and he is better on piano.)

We were at church Wednesday, and Luke was sitting at the piano ready to play some hymns before prayer. First I asked Luke to choose one, which he did. Then I asked if anyone had a request.

A lady began flipping through her hymnal. "Is Like a River Glorious in here?" she asked. Almost before she finished her question, Luke calmly announced, "Number 498."

I've seen him do it before, but it always amazes me. In fact, he can do it for two different hymnals, the one we used at our previous church and the one at our current church. He can do it both ways: name→number and number→name. And he can tell you the key, which often is different for the many hymns that appear (at different places) in both hymnals.

I am sure Luke has a photographic memory. The first time I realized this, we were sitting in the café at a Barnes and Noble in Virginia Beach. Luke was about seven. He wasn't in a great mood, so I wanted to do something that I knew he liked. There is an old, beautiful, brick road from Yorktown to Jamestown called the Colonial Parkway. Luke loved driving on that road, but we hadn't done it for at least a year, probably closer to two. I asked him if he wanted to go, and he giggled and said yes.

The parkway has quite a few tunnels. By tunnels, I include underpasses, because over the years highways and roads have gone over the parkway so that it could be preserved. Anyway, Luke did not distinguish, at that time, between a tunnel and an underpass.

I don't know why, but I decided to ask Luke how many tunnels were on the parkway. He looked out the window and began counting.

"One, two, three," (pause) "four, five, six," (longer pause) "seven" (short pause) "eight, nine, ten", (long pause), "eleven", (very long pause) "twelve."

I knew he was driving the route in his mind, counting tunnels, and the length of the pause was proportional to the distance between one tunnel and the next.

I had to see this.

We drove to Yorktown and got on the Parkway. In no time we went under three adjacent underpasses and, after just a bit, three more.

Just like he said.

And so it went, with everything matching his count and pauses. We came upon the eleventh tunnel just past Williamsburg, not far beyond the halfway point of the road, which has a total length of twenty-three miles.

On and on we drove. I remembered that final, really long pause. Still it seemed to take forever.

Just as we were running out of road (it ends at a ferry station where you can cross the James River), where we had to turn off into Jamestown, we finally came upon number twelve.

Luke is so cool.

I’m working from my highly flawed memory, so if you live in Yorktown don’t put me to the test. I could ask Luke, but he is practicing piano. The most dramatic part, the long distance until the last tunnel, on that detail I am certain.

Lesson 23 Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany, a century after the death of John Wycliffe. His father was a miner, and his parents provided Martin with a first class humanist education, with the hope that he would become a lawyer. God had different plans.

In 1505, Luther received his Master’s degree and proceeded to study Law. He wouldn’t be a law student for long. One day Luther was returning home from a visit to Mansfeld. As he neared the village of Storterheim, he found himself in the rages of a severe thunderstorm. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck the ground next to him, throwing him off his horse (and killing his friend and traveling companion). Terrified, Luther cried out, "St. Anne, help me! I will become a monk!" He kept his word. On July 17, 1505, Luther entered the most rigorous of the seven major monasteries at Erfurt, the Augustinian priory. Luther's father was outraged at the decision, and remained alienated from his son for some considerable time.

In 1507, Luther was ordained as a priest. He was sent from Erfurt to Wittenberg to become a tutor at the university. There he obtained his first degree, a Bachelor’s degree in the bible. After one year he was transferred back to Erfurt. There, at age twenty-six, he obtained his second degree in theology.

While teaching in Efurt, Luther was sent to Rome on monastery business. While there he was shocked by the city’s decadence. He also visited many shrines, including Scala Santa. The twenty-eight marble stairs carefully preserved in this handsome building are said in Catholic tradition to be the steps walked up by Christ on his way to trial before Pilate. St. Helena, mother of the Constantine, was a collector of relics, and the staircase is supposedly among her finds, brought to Rome in c.326 AD.

According to Luther’s son Paul (there is no other confirmation of the episode), when Luther was crawling up these stairs, about halfway up, he heard a voice saying “The just shall live by faith.” It is said the realization of what he was doing and its inconsistency with the words he heard caused him to get up, turn about, and walk down the stairs. Nevertheless, at this time Luther returned to Efurt as a loyal Catholic.

Shortly thereafter Luther returned to Wittenberg and earned a Doctor of Theology degree. For the rest of his life he would lecture on the bible at the university.

In the monastery, Luther lived a life of severe asceticism. He prayed, fasted, and chastised himself well beyond the strictest standards of the monastery. From fasting, he wasted away until he was skeletal, and even in the dead of winter his cell remained unheated. He would, at times, beat himself bloody with a whip. It is said that other priests dreaded taking Luther’s confessions, for each daily confession, covering only the sins since the previous day, could take up to six hours. Luther, in spite of the (perhaps apocryphal) insight on the steps of the Scala Santa, was trying to obtain salvation through his works. But no matter how hard he tried, he could never convince himself that he had done enough.

Some light shone in the darkness. He found comfort in the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, who stressed the free grace Christ of salvation. He was greatly influenced by the writings of Augustine, so much so that although it occurred over a millennium after his death, some have said that Augustine, not Luther was the father of the Reformation. But most of all, he studied the bible.

Sometime toward the end of 1512, Luther was in his cell, having launched into a study of the book of Romans. There he read:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (Rom. 1:17)
He would later say an unspeakable joy flooded his heart and his oppressive burden to prove himself worthy was lifted away. For Luther, Romans 1:17 was “a gate to Paradise”.

Indulgences Revisited

Indulgences grew out of the system of penance developed by the Catholic Church. In an indulgence, the Catholic Church allowed the penitent to substitute a cash payment for other forms of satisfaction. The Church would even issue an official statement saying that one had been released from other penalties. It was this official document that was called an indulgence. In a sense, the indulgence amounted to e receipt for payment of a fine.

Additionally, one could purchase indulgences for those who were dead, to reduce their time in purgatory. This was based on the Catholic doctrine of supererogatory merit.

Catholicism and Merit

Catholics speak of three types of merit, each of which plays a role in salvation:

  • Condign Merit. This is merit attributed to our works for which God is obligated to give reward. This is like paying a laborer his due wages.

  • Congruous Merit. This is merit that is “reasonable”, but not obligated. In secular terms, it is something like a waitress’ tip. It is attained through works and penance.

  • Supererogatory Merit. This is the stuff of saints. It is their “excess” merit and it is deposited in a treasury of supererogatory merits. It can then be drawn upon to free people from purgatory. Attaining supererogatory merit is also possible for a priest living a life of celibacy in devotion to Christ. A layman can accrue supererogatory merit through regular church attendance and constant attention to the sacraments. Mary is thought to have contributed enormous excess merit into the treasury.

The Catholic doctrine of supererogatory merit is based on an interpretation of the story of the rich young ruler.
17And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
According to Catholic teaching, the ruler was saved. The fact that he could do more means that there would have been further reward. That reward would have come in the form of supererogatory merit.

At Luther's time, the sale of indulgences had reached scandalous proportions. (Luther was not predisposed against indulgences, in fact at one time, lamenting over the spiritual health of his parents, he offered that, if they died, then at least through his purchase of indulgences there would be a way in which he could help them.) The most notorious of the salesmen employed by the Church to sell indulgences (and fund the construction of St. Peter’s) was a Dominican friar by the name of Johan Tetzel. Tetzel's territory included the area of Wittenberg. His sales pitch included the infamous: "The moment you hear your money drop in the box, your mother will jump out of purgatory."

The Ninety-five Theses

With his newfound peace—many would say as a result of his recent conversion while reading Romans 1:17—Luther could no longer tolerate the crass abuses of the church, personified by the indulgence salesman Tetzel. He went to his cell and put down his views in the form of ninety-five theses. Around noon on October 31, 1517, he nailed the theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It should be noted that this was a common practice among academics of the time. Scholars would post theses (propositions) on any number of topics and challenge one another to public debates.

This was not the Reformation: Luther did not advocate a schism. But it was the first shot across the bow. Here are a few examples:

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

86. Again: -- "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?"

At this time, Luther was thirty-four years old.

The most striking thing about the theses is that they were far from central. They were concerned with relatively minor issues—questions of related to the sacraments, purgatory, and to indulgences and some criticisms of the pope. Nowhere in the ninety-five theses did Luther rise to defend the individual priesthood of believers or the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Although Luther, from his reading of Romans, was already stewing in Reformation juices, his theses were not very juicy at all. That is the reason why nobody was more surprised that Luther that his theses seemed to awaken all of Germany. The theses included a challenge, for any doctor of theology, to debate him. The challenge was not accepted for two years.

The news of the theses spread throughout Germany. Here we see God’s providence at work. The ruler of Saxony (the area that includes Wittenberg) was one Frederick the Wise. Frederick was a very pious Catholic. He had collected thousands of relics from all over Christendom. The Castle Church, whose door Luther utilized, had been built by Frederick to house the relics. He would put them on display for the public on All Saint’s Day, November 1st. Thus when Luther posted on All Saint’s Eve, the area was bursting with pilgrims who read his theses, copied them, and returned home to cities throughout Germany, spreading the word. Furthermore, printing had been invented, and soon the theses were translated from Latin into a number of languages, printed, and sent to cities throughout Europe.

The effect was tremendous, and almost stopped the sale of indulgences. The archbishop of Mainz, who was to receive a cut of all the proceeds from indulgences sold by Tetzel, was not thrilled. He sent a copy of the theses to Pope Leo X in Rome. At first, Leo did not regard it as a serious matter. He simply advised Luther’s superiors to tell Luther to keep quiet.

Tetzel published a set of theses of his own, defending the sale of indulgences. Mazzolini, a Dominican monk (and inquisitor) wrote a book highly critical of Luther’s position. A theology professor by the name of John Eck rebutted Luther in a pamphlet. Luther countered with a pamphlet of his own.

In April, 1518, the monasteries of the Augustinian Order held their annual meeting in Heidelberg. Luther encountered strong but mostly congenial opposition. Upon return, Luther wrote a book entitles Resolutions, addressed to the pope, in which he carefully defended his theses, point by point.

It has been said that from this time on, Luther lived in a glass house. Every word he spoke, and every word he wrote was carefully analyzed. He was on a cart, racing downhill, and he had no brakes.

Luther Summoned to Rome

The popularization of Luther and his theses hit the pope in two places: it challenged his power and it reduced his purse. When the pope was told that the meeting of the Augustinians had not silenced Luther, he summoned Luther to Rome, in July 1518. If Luther had responded to this summons, it probably would have meant death.

Fortunately Luther had a friend in the Elector Frederick (the Wise). He also had some history on his side: for years the German people had grievances against the Italian popes. A bit of German nationalism was Luther’s friend. Frederick had actually forbidden Tetzel to sell indulgences in Saxony—he did not want his country’s money ending up in Roman coffers. Furthermore, the university in Wittenberg was Frederick's pride and joy, and Luther was now its most famous professor. Frederick used all his influence to have the summons to Rome revoked. The reason the pope listened to Frederick was likely political. The emperor at the time, Maximilian, was dying. Frederick was one of three likely successors, and the one favored by the pope—who believed that Frederick would be easy to control. The pope granted Frederick’s request, both to signal favor toward him and a false signal that he had great respect for Frederick’s authority.

Cardinal Cajetan

At this time, the pope's legate, Cardinal Cajetan, was in Germany to attend a diet in Augsburg. The pope sent Cajetan a letter empowering him to summon Luther for an appearance. Cajetan was to speak to Luther in Augsburg and persuade him to recant. If Luther did not recant, Cajetan was to have him bound and sent to Rome. Having previously declared that Luther was "suspected" of heresy, the pope now dropped all pretenses and openly described Luther as a notorious heretic. Luther was once again in grave danger.

And once again, his patron Frederick came to his assistance. This time Frederick used his influence to obtain from the sickly Maximilian a promise of safe passage for Luther.

In October, 1518, Luther had three meetings with Cajetan, who by all accounts was imperious and arrogant. The discussions were hot and furious. In the end, Luther refused to recant. He stole away from Augsburg secretly in the night.

Cajetan, having failed, appealed to the pope to make an official pronouncement. The pope took an interesting approach. Without mentioning Luther by name, he issued a bull in which he declared that certain statements made by certain monks regarding indulgences were heretical. From then on, Luther could no longer make his claims while contending that the Church had not officially ruled on the matter,

A slight calm thanks to Von Miltitz

The pope's next strategy was to try to blunt the protection of Frederick. For this task he chose Charles Von Miltitz, who was a close friend of Frederick's private secretary.

Upon arriving, and before presenting his credentials, Von Miltitz went to see Luther. (He tried to see Tetzel as well, but was unsuccessful. (Tetzel was holed up in a convent, and expressed fear for his life.) Amazingly, Von Miltitz got Luther to promise not to speak about indulgences any more. The quid pro quo being that his opponents would also stop discussing indulgences. Luther also promised to send a submissive letter to the pope. (Luther did not completely trust Von Miltitz, and speculated to friends whether the kiss from Von Miltitz, signaling their agreement and the end of their meeting, was a Judas kiss.) The pope was so delighted upon receiving Luther's letter that he sent a very friendly response in which called Luther his dear son and invited him to Rome to make his confession. The pope even offered to pay the expenses of the journey.

After the reconciliation, the pope became preoccupied with another matter. In January 1519, the emperor Maximilian died. The pope busied himself in his effort to get Frederick the Wise selected. While the pope was distracted, two foes in Germany did not remain silent.

The Debate with Eck

One of Luther's university colleagues, Andreas Carlstadt, came out with a set of theses against Eck, professor of theology at the university in Ingolstadt. Eck was that man who had written a pamphlet attacking Luther’s ninety-five theses. Eck responded to Carlstadt with his own theses in which he expounded an extreme view of papal supremacy. Luther responded with counter theses of his own. In the twelfth of Luther’s theses, he argued that the claim of Roman supremacy over all other churches rested on only weak papal bulls of the previous four hundred years, and for the eleven hundred years before that, no such supremacy had existed.

The indulgences battle had a call for "internal reform." The challenge to Roman authority had the earmarks of schism. The reconciliation was history—the matter was even more serious than before.

An attack such as this on the papacy, from a man of Luther’s stature, was unprecedented. Eck (who may have been out to trap Luther) challenged Luther to a debate on papal supremacy. This debate was schedule for nine months later! During that time, Luther studied intensely, looking for arguments useful for refuting a doctrine that he had cherished most of his life. He engaged himself in a study of church history and canon law, and was dismayed to discover that many decretals of the church were forgeries.

The debate (disputation) took place in the city of Leipzig. Guards surrounded the duke's palace where the debate was held. More guards were stationed in the inns to keep the Leipzig and Wittenberg students from fighting.

As the debate began, it was obvious that both Luther and Eck were worthy opponents, matched in their verbal and intellectual abilities to defend their positions. However, not being able to argue his own position based on its merits, Eck cleverly got Luther to concede that he agreed with some of the teachings of Jan Huss, who had been condemned by the Council of Constance and sent to the stakes. Luther said Huss had been condemned in an unrighteous manner. As soon as Luther was perceived as siding with an officially condemned heretic, the psychological advantage went to Eck. A wave of astonishment swept over the listening audience. Duke George of Saxony was heard to exclaim, "God help us; this is the pestilence."

Despite the psychological advantage going to Eck, Luther did win the strategic advantage, in that he based his arguments on fact, using the historical process. Luther pointed out that the Eastern Greek Church had never acknowledged the supremacy of the bishops of Rome. Yet, it was admitted by all, that the Eastern Church was Christian. The papacy faced a dilemma. How could the pope claim supremacy over all the churches, and yet a large part of the Church, recognized as Christian, not honor that claim? In addition, Luther noted that the great ecumenical councils of the early centuries did not teach the supremacy of the papacy.

Though the immediate impression might have been that the debate at Leipzig was won by Eck, important results went with Luther. He was far from being defeated. Following the Leipzig debate, the supporters of Luther grew. Among those who joined in Luther's cause was Martin Bucer (1491-1551). In time, Bucer would become a leading Reformer in Strassburg and a colleague of John Calvin.

Besides gaining more converts, a second result of the debate at Leipzig was that Luther's own thinking was solidified. His motive all along was to reform the Catholic Church, not to leave it. But now Luther had publicly rejected the supremacy of the pope and the infallibility of the Church councils. The Leipzig debate main it painfully clear that irreconcilable differences existed between Luther and Rome.

At this point, everything was in place. Luther was in a position where reconciliation was impossible. He also had a large following. Schism was just ahead. Soon after the debate, Eck went to Rome to recommend Luther's excommunication. The pope complied.

Schism was in the air.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Academic "Freedom" at Ohio State

Ohio State University Graduate student (and high school teacher) Bryan Leonard, who apparently argues in his thesis that the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution should be taught in high school, is under attack by unscrupulous professors.

At this moment, it looks as if they have succeeded in preventing him from defending his thesis.

For more background on this story, see this post by Rob Crowther.

A massive spin is underway, insisting that the sole reason behind the uproar is the fact that Leonard tried to "game" his committee, the makeup of which did not follow university guidelines.

It's no wonder. Leonard was between a rock and a hard place. Follow the rules and face certain failure (regardless of the quality of his work) or break the rules in an attempt to achieve a fair reading of his dissertation.

The spin is that Leonard was stacking the deck. The reality is that this was his only chance to receive a scholarly evaluation.

No matter. This is not really about the composition of a committee. That's just a red herring.

The three yahoos at the heart of this story are OSU Professors Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis.

Spinmeisters like The Panda's Thumb would have you believe that Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis (who by all accounts have not read Leonard’s thesis) are valiant guardians of academic integrity, who undoubtedly investigate all Ph.D. committees for bureaucratic violations, and when found, respond just as quickly and forcefully regardless of the thesis topic.

Actually, this trio of cowards is not bright enough to hide their real motivation. If they had stuck to their fabrication that it was "all about the composition of the committee" then it would be difficult to discredit them. But like Panda Thumb's P.Z. Myers, who criticized (comment #8) Leonard's thesis as "substandard" (without having read it), they couldn't resist sermonizing. In a letter to the OSU graduate dean they reveal their true concerns. From this Inside Higher Ed article we read what's really bugging these academic titans:

…the letter [from the three professors] noted that two of the committee members were the only two Ohio State faculty members who have spoken publicly in defense of Leonard’s views on evolution. "The only qualification that these gentlemen bring to Mr. Leonard’s dissertation committee is an assurance of a non-critical hearing."

In other words, the integrity of a professor who agrees with Leonard is automatically suspect. Leonard must obey the rules even if it means populating his committee with faculty who, like Myers, have prejudged his work, sight unseen, as substandard.

Commenting on my criticism of the premature designation of substandard, another commenter on Myers's blog rose to his defense, writing (comment #15):

Proposing a program of science education based on non-scientific concepts IS prima facie evidence of doing "substandard work". He was obviously ignoring actual DATA that invalidated his thesis.

Which I think rather nicely sums up what is going on here. Leonard has the audacity to write a thesis that questions evolution's claim of unassailability on all fronts. He must not be allowed to pass, under any circumstances, no need to bother with the incovenience of reading his thesis.

A further, insightful OSU faculty complaint from the Inside Higher Ed article

…objected both to the idea that Ohio State appeared to be on the verge of awarding a Ph.D. for work questioning evolution.

No, we can't have any questioning of evolution. Slash. Burn. Fail. Then shout, over and over, this has nothing to do with academic freedom.

If OSU valued academic freedom, Leonard would not have had to break the rules. In a bygone era when professors possessed more integrity than Myers, Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis, a committee member radically opposed to your position was acceptable, even a badge of honor, because while he might give you a hard time, he could be trusted to judge your work on its merits.

In the same way, those two objectionable professors who allegedly agree with Leonard concerning evolution would, without a second's thought, be trusted to evaluate the thesis critically rather than being slandered as rubber-stamping minions.

Not at OSU. Not anymore. At OSU, your thesis is subject to failure based on the abstract placed on the announcement of your defense.

The three fundamentalist professors also wrote:

There are no valid scientific data challenging macroevolution. Mr. Leonard has been misinforming his students if he teaches them otherwise. His dissertation presents evidence that he has succeeded in persuading high school students to reject this fundamental principle of biology. As such, it involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical.

The ethics of these professors is so twisted that to be regarded by them as unethical is undoubtedly a good thing.

Questions are also being raised as to whether Leonard's high-school teaching violates university rules dealing human subjects in experiments.

This story, if nothing else, demonstrates two things:
  1. The old aphorism that truth is stranger than fiction.
  2. That the tenure system should be scrapped.

Good luck, Mr. Leonard.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

All Hail the Conquering Hero

Over on Panda's Thumb, facts and science are often sacrificed for political expediency. This was evident in a recent post heralding a new anti-ID recruit, Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy Blog.

There is some urgency in the welcoming of this new warrior for truth. It appears that ID (Intelligent Design) is about to expand its propaganda machine into new domains. It has set its sights on physics and astronomy, opening new fronts in the war with its traditional enemy, evolution.

This revelation comes as a surprise to many of us. I first heard ID arguments relating to the special properties of water, the inverse square law of gravitation, the big-bang, and the relative strengths of the fundamental forces back in the early eighties, well before Behe introduced his idea of irreducible complexity (and before I was a Christian). The folks at Panda's Thumb must have missed all that. P.Z. Myers wrote:

The Privileged Planet debacle is a sign that the anti-evolutionists are eager to pollute national science institutions and all scientific disciplines with their garbage, and more and more scientists are going to be speaking out harshly against them.

Perhaps these scientists will be among those who will be shocked to learn that there is a nascent push to extend ID to physics and astronomy.

Not to worry, The Bad Astronomer will save the day. According to Myers, Phil Plait

[is] alerted to the bad physics, astronomy, and cosmology of the Discovery Institute, and plans to spend more effort fighting the distortions of the creationists.

Commenters on Panda's Thumb agreed that the threat is imminent. Expectations for a swift and decisive victory are running high. One wrote:

I’ve always wondered why the IDiotists and creationists did not go after other scientific fields. Took them long enough.

Another wrote:

I think it’s great that more scientists in disciplines other than biology are waking up to ID’s far-reaching anti-scientific goals, but they should be aware that these guys are not all YEC’s, and those who are not last generation’s Bible-waving YEC’s.

That last comment displays good but incomplete insight. Indeed, not only are cosmological IDers not YECs (Young Earth Creationists), but cosmological ID is routinely attacked by YECs.

Another commenter, arguing from convenient anecdote (a favorite method over at PT) wrote of his concurrence that there exists a clear and present danger:

only about twenty minutes ago, on my way home from work, I pulled up behind a B(ig)A(ss)P(ickup)T(ruck)ist with the gun rack in the back window and the ‘coon dogs sitting in the bed, their tongues hangin’ in the breeze. On the back window was a big yellow bumper sticker that said, simply, EVOLUTION-THE BIG LIE.

If you want "true-life" stories about white-suited (double breasted) parsons preaching against "evilution" at school board meetings, or warning about mixing of the races, or justifying slavery via scripture, why it seems that quite a few visitors to PT have had an encounter with such an entity from central casting, and it drove them away from Christianity at an early age. They'll be happy to tell you about it.

Another warns, ominously,

No it’s not. It’s a struggle over political power and who gets to weild it. It’s a fight, literally, between democracy and theocracy.

And the sooner scientists realize that, the sooner we can beat the fundies. If we continue to view this as a scholarly science debate, the the fundies will kick our collective asses.

The piped piper of sorts for this bunch, P.Z. Myers, added, in response to a misguided pacifist:

Please don’t try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

Encouraging their new recruit, we read (on Pharyngula):

Kickass. BA Phil is one of the few folks out there with the knowledge to wipe out stupid claims,

to which our hero Phil responded

Heehee. Thanks!

Let us take a gander at The Bad Astronomers first wartime post, entitled The Fort Sumter of Creationist Astronomy?.

Phil beings by praising his own prescience:

I have been saying for years that creationists would soon be turning their attention to sciences other than biology

Now that was not very hard to do, since for years creationists have paid attention to the other sciences.

What has precipitated this call to arms, this summoning of the Rambo of science? It was this statement from the Discovery Institute:

Although much of the public controversy over intelligent design has focused on the application of design to biology, it’s important to remember that design theory itself reaches well beyond biology, and that some of the strongest evidence for design comes from such fields as physics, astronomy, and cosmology.

Now that's incendiary.

Puh-leez. People like Hugh Ross (just to mention one) have been saying for years that the strongest evidence for design comes from cosmology. How can this be, as Phil called it, a shot across the bow?

Phil goes on to explain that if you take the bible literally, it contradicts everything we know about cosmology. There is some truth in that, but he needs to be precise. It is true that if you take the Genesis account literally, i.e., six twenty-four hour days, then you can not be reconciled with modern cosmology.

However, literality is not the acid test of evangelical Christianity. The important issue is inerrancy. Once inerrancy is accepted, one must still deal with the issue of a hermeneutic. One possible answer is to be as literal as possible—however no matter how literal of a hermeneutic one chooses, one can always be presented with passages that cannot be taken literally.

Another hermeneutic, equally respectful of biblical inerrancy but not literalist, leads to the day-age view, which Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer, in The Genesis Debate, describe. An overview of that view (which is that the Genesis account is chronologically correct but the days represent ages), mapped onto the creation account, gives
  1. Big-bang, creation of the universe (ten space-time dimensions, matter, energy, galaxies, stars, planets, etc.) by God’s Holy fiat.

  2. Singling out the earth for a series of creation miracles. At its beginning it is empty of life and unfit for life; the earth’s primordial atmosphere and the solar system’s interplanetary debris prevent the light from the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the surface. (End of day 1)

  3. Clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial clearing of the earth’s atmosphere so that light now penetrates to the surface of the ocean.

  4. Formation of tropospheric water vapor and a stable water cycle. (End of day 2)

  5. Formation of the continental land masses and the ocean basins.

  6. Creation of plants on the land masses. (End of day 3)

  7. Transformation of the atmosphere for perpetually translucent to occasionally transparent. For the first time, the sun moon and stars are visible on the surface as distinct objects. (End of day 4)

  8. Creation of swarms of small sea animals.

  9. Creation of sea mammals and birds. (End of day 5)

  10. Creation of three kinds of land mammals (1) short-legged land mammals (2) long legged mammals that are easy to tame and (3) long legged mammals that are difficult to tame (wild).

  11. Creation of man. (End of day 6)

This is not the only alternative to literality—one can imagine another day-age view that, for example, incorporates theistic evolution.

PT types want the choice to be between strict literalists, i.e., the YECs, and "enlightened" Christians who give up biblical inerrancy. They create a false dichotomy, zeroing out those who affirm inerrancy but not literality.

Phil goes on to rant about YECs. I have to admit about being confused. On the one hand, the Panda's Thumb and Phil are working themselves into a militaristic frenzy in preparation for waging war, in response to the so-called "shot across the bow" from the Discovery Institute, and then Phil goes off on YECs?

YECs have been battling evolution and cosmology since the nineteenth century. This is hardly a new war. Are rehashes of "tired light" refutations what we'll find on Phil's site? Hardly seems worth all the advance billing of a coming blood bath.

I am hoping that Phil will ignore the YECs and correct the bad science of the cosmological IDers like Hugh Ross (and myself.) Now that would be interesting.

Phil closes with

They may have fired the first shot, but we have plenty of ammo on our side as well. And we also have many, many scientists willing to accept this call to arms.

I’m one of them. Over the course of time, you’ll be seeing more rebuttals — no, debunking — of creationist claims here. I’ve had enough, and this threat is real. They want to turn our classrooms in a theocratically-controlled anti-science breeding ground, and I’m not going to sit by and watch it happen.

Dude! Let's get to it.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Meeting of the Minds

The next Meeting of Minds is coming up. Look here for the details.

Friday, June 10, 2005

100K

Well it took a really long time--three years and one month, but I just went over the 100,000 visitor mark.

Oh, and I wanted to tell you about a fantasy that came true. A few weeks ago I was on a flight from Boston to LA, heading to a company meeting in Palm Springs. I was sitting next to a beautiful woman who, get this, WAS READING MY BOOK!! We talked about the book and about life, and then, to make a long story short, that night we shared a hotel room. 1

1And on December 21, we'll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. (Because we were married on December 21, I always remind her that it was the longest night of my life.)

Two New Blogs

Autumn Sky Smiling, from a young woman in our church who has been a blessing to many, and

Broken Materpieces, from a Christian medic in Iraq.

UPDATE: Make that three: Real Physics

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Self Promotion

If you have trundled in looking for a review of a review of The Privileged Planet, that is in the post below. Here you'll find something more personal, another review of my book, Here, Eyeball This!
David Heddle's first novel, Here, Eyeball This! is disarmingly complex. At first blush, it is a “coming of age” story involving the struggles of a group of graduate students trying to make it into the physics doctoral program. The writing is fast paced, the characters are engaging and Heddle obviously knows the graduate school grind. If there were nothing more to this novel, it would be an entertaining and interesting read.

The entertaining story line is not all there is, however. There are several interesting themes that prove to be profound. The first of these is the struggle of faith. The protagonist, Aaron, enters the graduate program as the typical atheistic scientist. He assumes that science has superseded belief in God, especially a God that created the universe. As Aaron encounters fellow scientists, both students and a professor, who have faith, he has to grapple with the credibility of faith in a creating God and the questions that are not answered by the theory of evolution.

The second theme, and the one that affected me profoundly, is that “everything matters”. The novel traces the seemingly unrelated actions of several people that culminate in a tragedy that will affect every reader deeply. Months after reading it, I am still moved by it. It brought home to me how true, and how important, it is that we realize everything we do, everyday, matters even if we do not see it today.

This is a good book that will entertain you, move you, and stay with you for some time.—Larry Thompson

The Privileged Planet: A review of a review

I have seen many rants against ID (Intelligent Design), but I cannot recall one as comprehensively bad and unthinking as William H Jefferys's review of The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, posted on the misleadingly named National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The NCSE is not broad, as its name would suggest, but narrow: keep any discussion of Biological Intelligent Design outside the science classroom. You would think that on the "National Center for Science Education" you could find, for example, discussions on new techniques for teaching high school physics. You can't. This site and this organization have little to do with science education beyond the evolution v. biological ID debate.

If look at the NCSE's about page, you will find something like a mission statement (if there is an actual Mission Statement page, I couldn't find it.) There you would be excused for concluding, if the NCSE were aptly named, that the only science known to man is evolution. There is no mention of physics or chemistry.

So the NCSE is an organization which, in spite of its name, is devoted to just one issue. It is a Potemkin "Center for Science Education."

I find it odd, then, that they even posted a review of The Privileged Planet, which says nothing at all of substance regarding evolution. In their book Gonzalez and Richards start with the empirical (and undisputed) fact that, at least insofar as mainstream cosmology, astrophysics, and nuclear chemistry are concerned, we exist in a fine-tuned universe. One can take this as real fine-tuning and become a cosmological IDer, or one can take it as "apparent" fine-tuning and look for scientific explanations, but unless you want to stick your head in the sand you cannot deny that it is there.

Here is another way to put it. Let's break up the fact that we are here into five scientific questions:
  1. How is it that there is something rather than nothing?
  2. Given that there is something, how is it that the something includes galaxies, stars and planets?
  3. Given that there are planets, how is it that one or more of them can support complex life?
  4. Given that a planet can support complex life, how is it that life actually began?
  5. Given that life actually began, how is it that it evolved into complex, self-aware creatures?

Now if you debate with evolutionists, they demand that the argument stays on point 5. If you try to move it back one step to point 4, abiogenesis, they will cry foul. That's not evolution's problem, they will say, our domain strictly begins after the onset of life, and however it happened is not relevant and fine with us (although we won't allow it was by divine fiat.)

Fair enough. By why then do they care about The Privileged Planet, which is operating in the domain of points 2-3?

Could it be that the NCSE's agenda goes beyond what it claims? That they are threatened not just by criticism of evolution but by any hypotheses that shines favorably on the notion of a Creator? I see no other explanation. Note that this radical notion is quite new: it is a trivial exercise to find the most prominent scientists waxing philosophical on the obvious connection between the beauty and elegance of science and a divinely rational Creator. The NCSE, it appears, would censure Newton, Copernicus, Maxwell, Einstein, etc.

Let me try to get back on track.

Gonzalez and Richards extend the fine-tuning argument in a fascinating way: they argue a connection between habitability and observability—not only is the earth extremely lucky in its ability to support life, it is also a privileged laboratory from which to do science, especially cosmology and related fields.

Just as an example:
  • Habitability: for a planet to be habitable, it needs to be in a low (but not too low) stellar-density neighborhood so that (among other things) the radiation is not too intense.
  • Observability: That is also the kind of environment that permits us to see outside our own galaxy and back in time to the early universe.

On the one hand, this is a profoundly significant religious question. Has the Creator both prepared the earth for life and also prepared it so that we could do science? The implication is that religion and science should be friends, not enemies.

However, the conjecture of The Privileged Planet is not a religious one but a scientific one. In fact, in a subtle way, it is not at all helpful to ID. Cosmological ID diehards (like myself) would like to argue this: God made the universe and, as an added blessing, He made it so we could study the universe too. The Privileged Planet argues, in effect, that the blessing of observability is not independent. Habitability and observability are highly and scientifically correlated. My religious side would be happier if Gonzalez and Richards are wrong, and habitability and observability counted as two miracles instead of just one.

Sorry for more rabbit trails. This time I'm serious. Let's get to the review.

Jefferys opens his review this way:
The Privileged Planet is based upon the odd notion that the more unsuitable our universe is for producing intelligent life, the more likely it is that our universe was "designed" to produce intelligent life by a "designer" of indeterminate nature; put another way, supposedly the less likely it is that there could be a planet in our universe that supports intelligent life, then the more likely it is that the universe was "designed" to produce a particular intelligent life form -- us -- that can and will investigate the nature of the universe.
From the get-go we see that Jefferys's review will be anti-intellectual. He will not refute The Privileged Planet, he will simply declare that it is odd and wrong.

Examine what he declares as odd: "the more unsuitable our universe is for producing intelligent life, the more likely it is that our universe was 'designed' to produce intelligent life by a 'designer' of indeterminate nature."

The statement, far from odd, is self-evident. In fact, it is just Sagan's argument in reverse. Sagan argued that the universe surely produced billions of earths, and this is then taken as evidence that there is no designer. One doubts that Jefferys finds that argument odd. The Cosmological ID argument is just stating that Sagan and his followers cannot have both ways. Granted, if earth-like planets are common, then there is no evidence for a designer. Therefore if earthlike planets are exceedingly rare, then it is fair game to suggest that such evidence does support design.

Not to beat a dead horse, but The Privileged Planet does not argue fine-tuning per se. It argues than habitability also leads to observability.

Jefferys continues his anti-intellectual rant with a common anti-intellectual tactic: an accusation (reach in the bag, pull one out) of a logical fallacy. He claims that Gonzalez and Richards create a false dichotomy. He doesn't bother with the inconvenience of referencing where this error is committed; he just makes an unsubstantiated assertion. I have read The Privileged Planet and I have watched the video, as far as I recall design is presented as a potential, even the best explanation, but never as the only possible alternative to existing theories. It seems that Jefferys is befuddled; he confuses a true dichotomy, that the universe was either designed or it wasn't designed, with a false one.

Jefferys goes on to make more bizarre and scientifically inaccurate statements. For example, in criticizing ID, he writes:
This is because a basic rule of inference is that one has to compare the likelihood of observing evidence E under all relevant hypotheses H1, H2, ..., Hn. Then the hypothesis that has the greatest likelihood is the one best supported by the evidence
This is nonsense. Does he hold mainstream cosmology to this standard? Does he know of a calculation that computes the likelihood of an earthlike planet given the big bang? I'll remind him that Sagan would have loved such an argument, for all he had at his disposal was an argument from vast numbers.

Then we have this gem from Jefferys:
What if we had observed that the universe was actually quite conducive to the existence of intelligent, inquisitive life? Would Gonzalez and Richards then conclude that the probability of observing such a universe, given that it was designed by an "intelligent designer", was small? I hardly think so.
This is too sloppy of a statement to respond to in a precise way. Is his hypothetical premise that the universe is not fine-tuned and life friendly? Or is it still fine tuned, but not vastly hostile to life? Without stating what he means, all he can do is theorize how Gonzalez and Richards would respond to his ill-defined toy universe.

Not content with merely putting words in their mouths, Jefferys goes on to argue as if they actually said (what he speculated they would say) and then demonstrates how their imagined response to his pretend universe damns their argument:
But there's the rub. They [Gonzalez and Richards] can't have it both ways. An elementary rule of inference is that if evidence E supports hypothesis H, then observing that E is false would undermine H. In other words, if observing that the universe is fecund were to support the hypothesis that the universe is "designed", then observing that it is not fecund would necessarily support the hypothesis that it was not "designed" and would undermine the design argument.
He cannot wait for them to slip-up and fall into his clever trap, he teleports them into its clutches and then slaps himself on the back. Logical fallacy Mr. Jefferys? Pot-kettle-black.

Actually, it is from evolutionists, not IDers, that I most often encounter "anything-goes" imprecision. If there is water on Mars will there be life? If there is life, will it be complex? Will there be life on Titan? Will it be simple? Complex? Evolution makes no predictions—all permutations of yes, no, and maybe to such questions are accommodated within its framework.

Jefferys criticizes The Privileged Planet's handling of many worlds (MWH) and parallel universes, writing:
[they] claim that "we have no evidence to think that other universes exist," a claim that happens to be false, for several reasons. One reason is that it is a prediction of the best-supported theory in cosmology, one that is strongly supported by evidence. And the second is that under that model, our own existence evidentially supports the MWH (since under that hypothesis a selection effect is involved: we can only exist in one of the very small proportion of worlds in which "the constants are right," so our own existence implies the existence of these other worlds).

Jefferys is engaged in some Clinton-speak here. It is true that we have evidence to think (i.e., speculate) that other universes exist. However, we have no actual evidence that they do. No parallel universe has ever been detected, period. The fact that some current theories are consistent with parallel universe does allow one to think about them, but it is not to be confused with evidence that they exist. Theories are famous for incorrect predictions upon extension. Maybe Jefferys believes that highly successful classical electricity and magnetism is evidence for the fact that electrons will radiate and spiral into the nucleus (which is what it predicts.) He then goes on to argue that assuming the multiverse hypothesis is correct, once again disingenuously implying that actual evidence exists (this "evidence", permit me to repeat, being that multiple universes is a prediction—and he conveniently neglects to mention that it is an untestable prediction) then, surprise surprise, Gonzalez and Richards are wrong. Woulda-coulda argument, Mr. Jefferys.

Jefferys goes on to discuss how he has "proved" that fine tuning argues against intelligent design. He argues, in a paper coauthored by Michael Ikeda that, as far as I know, is only available online and not in a peer reviewed journal:
It has recently been claimed, most prominently by Dr. Hugh Ross on his web site that the so-called "fine-tuning" of the constants of physics supports a supernatural origin of the universe. Specifically, it is claimed that many of the constants of physics must be within a very small range of their actual values, or else life could not exist in our universe. Since it is alleged that this range is very small, and since our very existence shows that our universe has values of these constants that would allow life to exist, it is argued that the probability that our universe arose by chance is so small that we must seek a supernatural origin of the universe.

In this article we will show that this argument is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but in fact we will show that the observation that the universe is "fine-tuned" in this sense can only count against a supernatural origin of the universe. And we shall furthermore show that with certain theologies suggested by deities that are both inscrutable and very powerful, the more "finely-tuned" the universe is, the more a supernatural origin of the universe is undermined.
That's right: the more fine-tuned the universe is, the less likely that it was designed. Imagine an infinitely fine-tuned universe: no a priori theory for the values of the physical constants, yet this pretend universe would not exist if the values of the electron charge, the relative strengths of the other fundamental forces, the expansion rate of the universe, the cosmological constant, Planck's constant, etc., differed, not just by one part in 10999 from their known values, but if they differed at all. This hyper-tuned universe, according to Jefferys, would be a slam-dunk proof of a naturalistic explanation and the perfect refutation of ID.

If his argument had any validity, we should expect to find evolutionists arguing that the universe is fine-tuned and IDers arguing that it isn't.

The paper that Ikeda and Jefferys wrote is a fine example of this approach: If I use Bayes's Theorem, my analysis is both clever and correct. If you are into that sort of thing, here is a refutation of Ikeda and Jefferys.

Finally (in his conclusion) Jefferys addresses what Gonzalez and Richards actually wrote about in The Privileged Planet, instead of what he thinks they think. He does no better here. He writes, concerning the connection between habitability and observability:
For suppose it were not so [that we lived on a planet like earth, with a transparent atmosphere and a large moon]; if we existed on another world very different from the earth, then we would surely be doing something. We would be doing whatever was possible for us to do under the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
The thinking that had to take place to construct such a refutation—why it makes the mind reel. First of all, to refute The Privileged Planet, Jefferys should make a case that such a planet is habitable. Venus would be a good place to start (although that would bias the argument in his favor, for Venus already enjoys a special location within a special galaxy.) Jefferys seems to be arguing: if intelligent life exists on Venus, they would be very happy with their own level of observability. His entire argument: they would surely be doing something. Well, what they wouldn't be doing is cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science, space-weather, etc.

In summary, Jefferys presents no actual arguments against the hypothesis presented in The Privileged Planet. In particular, Gonzalez and Richards present ways to falsify their theory, viz.
  1. To find a distant environment that was hostile to life and yet a better place than earth for making scientific observations.
  2. Find complex life where they claim you won't find it—say on a gas giant, or near a x-ray emitting star in the galactic center, or on a planet without a dark night, etc.
  3. Find complex life on a planet that does not have a large moon (that produces good solar eclipses.)
  4. Find non-Carbon based life

Jefferys should address these points and make evolution's or cosmology's prediction for each of them. Does evolution, for example, predict that we will find non-Carbon based life, or is it silent on the matter? My guess: doesn't matter, all potentialities are welcomed there.

All Jefferys offered was bad logic and distortions. In particular, he implied that there is evidence for multiple universes when, in fact, there is none. And furthermore, while it is difficult to falsify the hypothesis of The Privileged Planet, Gonzalez and Richards offer some suggestions that are, in principle, achievable. The parallel universe theories are not, even in principle, falsifiable.

UPDATE: In the comment section, some questions arose regarding the first example of falsification:

To find a distant environment that was hostile to life and yet a better place than earth for making scientific observations.

Guillermo Gonzalez has provided this clarification:

It is important to keep in mind what we mean when we say that a planet is better or worse for scientific discovery than Earth. It is always in the context of "constrained optimization." We give the examples of the Moon or Mercury providing better views of the universe due to the lack of an atmosphere, but that also prevents them from producing rainbows, producing information rich sedimentary or ice layer deposits, concentrating ores via interaction of the geological and hydrological cycles (important for technology), and providing oxygen to allow for fires and other industrial activities.

One always needs to keep in mind the diverse and competing ways Earth is optimized for scientific discovery and all the preconditions needed for doing science.


Update 2: More critique of the unpublished proof of Jefferys and Ikeda.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Repulsive

Even if P. Z. Myers were doing more than just pretending to be a scientist, it would still be unfair to use his writings to slander the intellect of all biologists.

Lesson 22: Forerunners of the Reformation

John Wycliffe 1

John Wycliffe (ca 1330-1384), born near Richmond (Yorkshire), was an Oxford professor who attacked some Roman Catholic doctrine, especially the doctrine of Transubstantiation. He also advocated a saving, personal faith and an independent church. He never, so it seems, advanced to the point where he proclaimed Justification by Faith Alone, but it is clear that his view of salvation was much closer to that which Luther and the other Reformers would formalize.

Wycliffe also had a strong view of scripture and proclaimed its inerrancy and authority both explicitly (whatever scripture says) and implicitly (whatever scripture, through sound exegetic deduction, can be said to imply.) Thus, while the bible never states that God is three persons of one substance, the fact that the Trinity is derived from the bible renders that doctrine binding to the conscience of every Christian.

Wycliffe gained prominence in 1374 during a prolonged dispute between the papacy and Edward III, king of England. The dispute was over the payment of a certain papal tribute. Both king and Parliament were reluctant to pay the papal levies. Wycliffe wrote several pamphlets refuting the pope's claims and upholding the right of Parliament to limit church power.

After the Great Papal Schism began, Wycliffe's views became more radical. In various writings such as De Ecclesia, De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae, and De Potestate Papae he rejected the biblical basis of papal authority, insisted on the primacy of Scripture, and advocated extensive theological reform. That same year Wycliffe and some Oxford associates defied church tradition by undertaking an English translation of the Vulgate.

In De Eucharistia Wycliffe repudiated the doctrine of transubstantiation. After he died on December 31, 1384, his teachings were spread far and wide. His Bible was widely distributed by his followers, called Lollards. Ultimately Wycliffe's writings strongly influenced the Bohemian religious reformer John Huss (Jan Hus) in his revolt against the church. Martin Luther also acknowledged his great debt to Wycliffe. In May 1415 the Council of Constance reviewed Wycliffe's heresies and ordered his body disinterred and burned. This decree was carried out in 1428.

In its most developed form, Wycliffe's philosophy represented a complete break with the church. He believed in a direct relationship between humanity and God, without the need of mediation through human priests. By close adherence to the Scriptures, Christians would, Wycliffe believed, govern themselves without the aid of popes and prelates. Wycliffe denounced as unscriptural many beliefs and practices of the established church. He held that the Christian clergy should strive to imitate evangelical poverty, the poverty of Christ and his disciples.

Jan (John) Huss (1373-1415)

Huss 2 was born in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) into a wealthy farming family. He attended the University of Prague, where he received his master's degree in 1396. Two years later he began lecturing at the university.

After English king Richard II's marriage to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, Wycliffe's ideas were introduced to Bohemian circles by Bohemian students who, as a result of the marriage, were given the opportunity to study at Oxford.

In 1400 Huss was ordained to the priesthood. In 1401 he became dean of the philosophy faculty. His reputation spread while he was a preacher. He became even better known upon receiving the prestigious position of Bethlehem Chapel's rector. There he upheld the Czech tradition of preaching in the vernacular.

His preaching responsibilities forced him to study the Bible more seriously. He continued reading Wycliffe's works, although he did not abandon the Catholic Church. Huss still acted as Archbishop Sbynjek’s agent in examining claims of miracles. Those investigations resulted in his first book Concerning the Glorification of All the Blood of Christ (1404). Huss attacked forged miracles and urged the faithful not to seek Christ in miraculous signs but in Scripture.

Huss caught fire from Wycliffe, and Luther from Huss, calling himself a Hussite.

The stance Huss took on Wycliffe soon brought reactions from his university colleagues who had condemned Wycliffe's teachings (1403). At the same time, Huss's demands for clerical reforms incited complaints from fellow Catholic clergy. Huss was also attacked for his criticism of the papacy. As a result, he was forbidden by the archbishop to perform any priestly functions (1408).

Huss denounced various church abuses in his sermons. His disputes with authority did not concern basic doctrine, but rather matters of church discipline and practice. One of his most important assaults was upon the relatively new custom that, at celebration of the Lord's Supper, the bread was distributed to the laity, but not the cup. This arose because, after 1215 and the Fourth Lateran Council, the doctrine of Transubstantiation was declared as Catholic dogma, and now the liquid in the cup was viewed as the actual blood of Christ. The risk of the laity spilling Christ's blood was deemed substantial, in spite of the fact that scripture clearly indicates that all Christians should drink in remembrance of our Lord.

Rome, in this instance, decided that she would administer the Lord's Supper as she saw fit, not as scripture dictated. They argued, including Thomas Aquinas, that in reality they did not withhold anything from the laity, because the wafer was the body of Christ, and the body included the blood.

Huss also taught that the Catholic church consists of the number of the predestined, a view that would be adopted by the Reformers.

This was at the time of the Great Schism. The two popes at the time were Gregory XII in Rome and John XXIII in Avignon. The French pope, John, was pressured by the King of Naples, who supported his rival, Gregory. John XXIII offered indulgences for all who would come to his aid against the King of Naples. Before being influenced by Wycliff, Huss had been a supporter of indulgences, he even, on one occasion, spent his last dime to purchase one. Now he viewed them as abominations. Pope John XXIII excommunicated Huss. Huss, in turn, viewed his excommunication with contempt.

From 1414 to 1418, church leaders met at Constance (in present-day Germany) to resolve the Great Schism. Huss was summoned to appear, and was promised safe-conduct by Bohemian emperor Sigismund. Soon after his arrival, he was jailed. During his eight-month trial, he received little opportunity to respond to the accusations. Throughout the proceedings Huss defended his teachings with Scripture. His connection with Wycliffism, however, harmed his position. Consequently, the testimonies and arguments of powerful church leaders secured his condemnation for heresy. Sigismund refused to implement his safe-conduct. On July 6, Huss was humiliated and then handed over to the secular authorities with an empty recommendation "for mercy." He was immediately led outside the city where he was defrocked and burned at the stake.

The Renaissance

Renaissance means "rebirth." It began in the 14th century in Italy, and involved a return to classic Greek and Roman culture that was lost as a result of the Germanic barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire.

When the Renaissance moved north, it also moved from secular to theological emphasis. The new ways of thinking, including scientific methods, found new application in biblical exegesis. That is, theologians began to study scripture in a systematic and analytic manner, and much of what they "discovered" was in conflict with the teachings of Rome. The Reformation could not have happened without the Renaissance—or more accurately God providentially allowed the Renaissance to prepare man for the Reformation.

Non-Reformers who helped to pave the way

The Renaissance led to resurgence in scholarly activity. This was a time for scholars—and many of those scholars had a great influence on Luther—even though they never broke with the Catholic Church. It was this new (actually recovered) way of thinking—an analytic approach to theology, wherein reason and intellect were applied to the scriptures, that was so vital for Luther and the Reformation.

1) Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1340)

He took the Franciscan habit at Verneuil 3, studied theology, received a doctorate in Paris and was appointed professor at the Sorbonne. In the famous controversy on the Beatific Vision he took sides with the professors against John XXII. (John taught that the dead would not see God until the final judgment and bodily resurrection.) He labored very successfully, both in preaching and writing, for the conversion of the Jews. Luther owes much to Nicholas of Lyra, but how widely the principles of Nicholas differed essentially from Luther's views is best seen from Nicholas's own words. "I protest that I do not intend to assert or determine anything that has not been manifestly determined by Sacred Scripture or by the authority of the Church . . . . Wherefore I submit all I have said or shall say to the correction of Holy Mother Church and of all learned men . . . " It was not what Nicholas of Lyra taught but how he studied that so influenced Luther.

2) Lorenzo Valla (1405-1457)

Valla knew Greek and Latin 4 well and was chosen by Pope Nicholas V to translate Herodotus and Thucydides into Latin. From his earliest works, he was an ardent spokesman for the new humanist learning of the Renaissance that sought to reform language and education. From the late 14th through the 16th centuries, the humanists researched the texts of classical antiquity, believing that the spirit of Greco-Roman times that had been lost during the Middle Ages could be revived. By concentrating on the humanistic disciplines of poetry, rhetoric, ethics, history, and politics, they claimed a special dignity for human life and conduct. In a pioneering work of criticism, Valla proved that the Donation of Constantine (A document that puported to be a grant by Constantine of great temporal power in Italy and the West to the papacy. Its purpose was to enhance papal territorial claims in Italy by giving them greater antiquity.) was a forgery. At 26 he wrote De Voluptate which condemned monastic asceticism. De libero arbitrio demonstrated that theological disputes over divine prescience and human free will could never be resolved. His masterwork, the six books of the Elegantiae linguae latinae (1444), was a defense of classical Latin in which he contrasted the elegance of the ancient Romans' works with the clumsiness of medieval and Church Latin. This enormously influential work ran to 60 editions before 1536. Valla's investigations into the textual errors in the Vulgate spurred Erasmus to undertake the study of the Greek New Testament. Luther was influenced by Valla’s scholarship and especially his emphasis on studying documents in their original language.

3) Erasmus (1466-1536)

It is sometimes said that Erasmus laid the egg that his contemporary, Luther hatched. Erasmus was an ordained Catholic priest and studied at the University of Paris. He was the greatest scholar of his day and he was acquainted with most of the scholars of Europe. His circle of friends was especially large in England; it included Thomas More, John Colet, and Henry VIII. His editions of Greek and Latin classics and of the Fathers of the Church are classics. His Latin edition of the New Testament was based on the original Greek text. Erasmus combined vast learning with a fine style, a keen and sometimes sharp humor, moderation, and tolerance. His position on the Reformation was widely denounced, especially by Martin Luther, who had first looked on Erasmus as an ally because of Erasmus' attacks on clerical abuse and lay ignorance. Though eager for church reform, Erasmus remained all his life within the Catholic Church. Erasmus was finally brought into open conflict with Luther and attacked his position on predestination in On the Freedom of the Will.

In is interesting to note that, on the topic of predestination, there was (and is) a spectrum of views in the Roman Catholic Church. The views were not "random", but tended along the order to which one belonged—it is very much a true statement that the different Catholic orders are like different Protestant denominations. The Augustinian order, to which Luther belonged, are the most "Calvinistic" of the orders, while at the other end of the predestination spectrum were the Franciscans, who were generally staunch opponents to predestination.

4) William of Ockham (1280-1349)

At an early age 5, Ockham entered the Order of St. Francis. Towards 1310 he went to Paris. About 1320 he became a teacher (magister) at the University of Paris. During this portion of his career he composed his works on Aristotelean physics and on logic. In 1323 he resigned his chair at the university in order to devote himself to ecclesiastical politics. In the controversies which were waged at that time between the advocates of the papacy and those who supported the claims of the civil power, he threw his lot with the imperial party, and contributed to the polemical literature of the day a number of pamphlets and treatises. He was cited before the pontifical Court at Avignon in 1328, but managed to escape.

In his controversial writings William of Ockham advocates secular absolutism. He denies the right of the popes to exercise temporal power, or to interfere in any way whatever in the affairs of state. He even went so far as to advocate the validity of the adulterous marriage of Louis's son, on the grounds of political expediency, and the absolute power of the state in such matters. Luther, too, fell victim to this mistake, sometimes knows as "Necessary Lies", when he sanctioned the bigamous relationship of one of the Reformations political allies, Prince Philip of Hesse.

In science, Ockham is known for "Ockham’s Razor", a principle which states that given two competing theories or explanations that both explain a phenomenon, such as the orbits of the planets, the simpler explanation will be the correct one.

Ockham's attitude towards the established order in the Church and towards the recognized system of philosophy in the academic world of his day was one of protest. He has, indeed, been called "the first Protestant". Nevertheless, he recognized in his polemical writings the authority of the Church in spiritual matters, and did not diminish that authority in any respect.

Luther's error on "Necessary Lies" has a foundation in Ockham, and so does another of Luther’s errors, the error of consubstantiation. Consubstantiation, which Ockham taught and Luther adopted, was as far away from transubstantiation that Luther was would allow himself to go, which is to say not very far. Whereas in transubstantiation the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, in consubstantiation the body and blood of Christ coexist with the bread and wine. Consubstantiation has been compared with Christ himself, analogous to the way in which His divine and human selves coexisted within the same body. Thus, both transubstantiation and consubstantiation proclaim the "real presence" of Christ during the Eucharist. Consubstantiation is considered a heresy by the Catholic Church.

5) Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498)

He joined the Dominican order and in 1481 he went to San Marco, the Dominican (next closest to Calvinism after the Augustinians) house at Florence, where he became popular for his eloquent sermons, in which he attacked the vice and worldliness (and humanism) of the city, as well as for his predictions (one being that God told him that the King of France would be used for divine judgment on the city of Florence.)

He was unwavering in his condemnation of the paganism of the times and called for a regeneration of spiritual and moral values and a devotion to asceticism. When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 (as Savonarola had predicted), Savonarola supported him, hoping that Charles would lead the way to the establishment of a democratic government in Florence and to the reform of the corrupt court of Pope Alexander VI. Alexander, understandably infuriated, ordered Savonarola to refrain from preaching; however, he continued to preach, and the pope excommunicated him for disobedience in 1497.

Savonarola now declared Alexander a false pope, elected by simony. The people of Florence withdrew their support for Savonarola, having tired of his rigid demands, and also feeling threatened by Alexander. In March 1498, the government, threatened by a papal interdict, asked him to stop preaching. Savonarola and two disciples were arrested. Under torture he confessed to being a false prophet, or so it was announced. The three were martyred for schism and heresy.

When his priestly executioners brought Savonarola to the stake, they cried: We excommunicate you from the Church militant here upon earth!" to which Savonarola replied "But not from the Church triumphant in heaven!"

6) The Brethren of the Common Life

Around 1350 in the Netherlands and Germany, before the Reformation, the movement that came closest to actual Reformation, was called The Brethren (and later "Brothers and Sisters") of the Common Life. It was founded by a German by the name of Gerhard Groote and was a true grass roots movement. Groote's preaching was well received, and lead to a revival of sorts. This was a lay movement for the lay people. These were Christians living as Christians, and they seemed "alive" in Christ and did much charity and good for the common people.

The Brethren of the Common Life were strong proponents of Christian education, believing that reform would be a result of improved education. Luther himself attended one of their schools, as did Erasmus.

Another student of the Brethren school was John of Wessel. From 1445 to 1456 he was a professor of Erfurt in Germany, from which, a half a century later, would receive a Master’s degree. John of Wessel attacked indulgences and taught (although this point is disputed by the Catholic Church) the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. It is, however, hard to redact his quote: "He who thinks to be justified through his own works does not know what it is to be saved." He also taught that the elect were saved by grace alone, and wrote "Whom God wishes to save He would save by giving him grace, if all the priests should wish to damn and excommunicate him." He also taught against transubstantiation and priestly celibacy. Luther said of Wessel: If I had read the works of Wessel beforehand, it might well have seemed that I derived all my ideas from him. John of Wessel was tried for heresy by the archbishop of Mainz and recanted. Nevertheless he was put in prison, where he died in 1489.

The most influential member of the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life may have been Thomas à Kempis, author of one of the greatest selling books of all time, The Imitation of Christ. This gentle masterpiece on meditation and prayer was written in a simple language, as opposed to the scholarly theological works of great thinkers like Aquinas. As such, and much like Pilgrim's Progress, its appeal was broad and deep.

Here is a quote that provides a glimpse of the style and substance of The Imitation of Christ:

Now, that which seems to be charity is oftentimes really sensuality, for man's own inclination, his own will, his hope of reward, and his self-interest, are motives seldom absent. On the contrary, he who has true and perfect charity seeks self in nothing, but searches all things for the glory of God. Moreover, he envies no man, because he desires no personal pleasure nor does he wish to rejoice in himself; rather he desires the greater glory of God above all things. He ascribes to man nothing that is good but attributes it wholly to God from Whom all things proceed as from a fountain, and in Whom all the blessed shall rest as their last end and fruition.


1 John Wycliffe frpm Island of Freedom.
2 Jan Huss from Theology through Technology
3 Nicholas of Lyra from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
4 Lorenzo Valla from the encyclopedia.com.
5 William of Ockham from the Catholic Encyclopedia.