Saturday, November 25, 2006

Down in front, please!

Sometimes I get a rather eye-opening reminder that, if heaven can be likened to a stadium, I'll be in the nosebleed section. Of course, the usual cause for this self evaluation is encountering someone who will have courtside seats, just behind the bench.

So it is with a young couple from our church, Josh and Abby. Josh is a seminary student and a budding theologian. Abby is a doctor (a real doctor, not a Ph.D.) Their ultimate goal, after all their training is completed, is to live in the mission field of Africa, providing much needed medical and teaching services.

Last week they left New England for Liberia. They are adopting a little girl named Gracie. You can read about it on Abby's blog. I am sure they would appreciate your prayers.

Friday, November 24, 2006

That energy is dark. And old too.

I just read a brief article entitled Dark Fingerprints in the November 18th, 2006 issue of Science News about new Hubble telescope results for "dark energy." These results (although the brief report didn’t go into the details) support the notion that the anti-gravity dark energy, which accounts for 70% of the universe's energy and matter, (a) was present in the universe at least nine billion years ago (extending the limit by four billion years) and (b) stems from the vacuum, pervades all space, and has a constant energy density.

These findings would then tend to strengthen the hypothesis that the dark energy comes from the cosmological constant. This constant, with precisely the characteristics hinted at by recent findings, was first proposed by Einstein then quickly abandoned. (That would be when Einstein disagreed with the biblical predication that our universe had a beginning.) The idea has been resurrected in this era of high precision cosmology to account for the unexpected result that the universe’s expansion is accelerating.

The Science News article did not bother to mention that the cosmological constant explanation of dark energy represents the greatest fine tuning in scientific history. For our universe to support life, the cosmological constant must be 120 orders of magnitude smaller than its expected value (but no more—i.e., it can't be zero, because something that is nothing cannot account for 70% of the universe.)

For those who believe that science is the enemy—we see another example that points to the opposite. The cosmologists performing these experiments may be believers or atheists—it's impossible to say because presumably (and rightly so) their irrelevant personal motivations were omitted from their proposals and their reports. However their findings, while not shedding light on its ultimate explanation—God or the multiverse—unambiguously support the fine-tuning conclusion.

Science rocks.

Post Removed

I removed a post about email exchanges I had with a fellow IDer. This was upon request from that individual.

For those who didn't see the post, the emails were completely sanitized--there was no way to identify the person with whom I corresponded. There was no legal issue here, but as a courtesy I will honor his request.

As far as I know, only one comment came into that short-lived post-- which I'll reproduce here since the comment is now homeless:
David, you wrote:
However, I am not claiming to test ID as a theory, because I don't believe it is possible, given that I don’t believe ID is science.

Why do you consider yourself an IDer? An IDer is not simply one who believes in creation by God. Kenneth Miller claims to believe this too. An IDer believes there are testable claims. BTW, the truth of the last sentence is not determined by the extent of actual testing. That is a separate issue and clearly important. But I thought you understood that IDers make empirical claims that are inconsistent with your belief that ID is not science. I do not understand why you ever thought you were an IDer.

William Bradford Homepage

William: I guess I don't care whether or not I am entitled to wear the label "IDer." I must say, I was not aware that to be an official IDer one had to, as you stated, believe there are testable claims. Is that definition written down somewhere, or is it just a gentlemen’s agreement?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ignore my rambling, but check out the posts

Professor Larry Moran cannot leave well-enough alone. He now claims that his threat to reject incoming students who deny evolution was a joke. Yeah, right. Anyway, see his response to Ed Brayton, or rather Ed's fisking of that response. Keep in mind, if you don't know Ed, he is squarely on the evolution side of the debate. He also has libertarian principles and an uncanny ability to stick by them even if it means opposing his colleagues.

Ed's writing will often remind you that there was a time when atheists did science, and believers did science, and atheistic scientists and believing scientists had pleasurable philosophical discussions in the cafeteria without demanding that their view be given a free-pass. After lunch they did experiments and wrote papers together. And then someone came up with the idea of stickers in textbooks and lawsuits and wedge strategies and “Vice” strategies and guidebooks for getting nonscience into the science curriculum and that religion was child abuse and now Moran's contrubution that students should pass an evolution litmus test or be expelled. But I digress. The again, maybe it was all a joke. Actually it is all a joke, just not intentionally so.

As for bizarre posts, if you haven't already, checkout DaveScot's (for those who don’t know, DaveScot is one word, like Fabian) UD post on the scientific possibility of a virgin birth. Now whether or not a virgin birth is a scientific possibility is an interesting question. However, it is irrelevant in terms of Mary’s virgin birth, in which she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. A virgin (or any woman) conceiving by the Holy Spirit is a miracle and hence inexplicable via science. It can be denied, but its lack of a scientific explanation is a feature, not a bug.

Bleg for Theonomy book recommendations

I am interested in a personal study on theonomy/dominionism/reconstructionism.

I have studied it some, and my position is best described as a radical anti-reconstructionist.

What I'd like is some recommendations on books. Especially newer books, either pro or con, and from a Reformed perspective. (I ask a lot.)

And are their any other Reformed, postmillennial, non-theonomists out there, or am I a minority of one? I sometimes get the impression that my soteriology, eschatology, and biblical law position must have some obvious self-inconsistency that I am missing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I need a fix...

Arrghh! The 2006 NASCAR season is over and it's 90 long days until the 2007 Daytona 500. What am I going to do on Sunday afternoons? I'll have to watch that girly sport: football.

And then there were none...

I am down to one (or maybe zero, I'm not sure) ID friendly lists. This time I was unceremoniously booted after I criticized a Jonathan Wells post. The thread was related to the recent brouhaha over peer review. Wells expressed boilerplate ID-leadership whining, and then bizarrely claimed that ID is relying on peer review, by which he meant the proofreading of one's writings by other competent IDers. That's actually called rubber-stamping.

I responded with my own boilerplate, that if ID is science then it's high-time time that IDers you-know-what or get off the pot.

Jonathan Wells is an enigma. To be blunt, I see no redeeming quality in Jonathan Wells. Everything he has touched has backfired. He does no science. And of course I don't even see him as a Christian brother, since the Unification Church to which he belongs is an apostate cult. (Contrary to popular misconception, the bible teaches that Christians are most definitely supposed to judge.)

If ID were science, then I could work side-by-side with Jonathan Wells on ID in spite of his false religion. And if ID were science, Jonathan Wells and his colleagues would not consider scientific questions regarding the age of the earth to be off the table.

Based on some discussions I had over the weekend, I have come to realize something that I have missed, something rather obvious. That is, I never really appreciated the importance of the culture-war aspect of the ID-movement. I viewed ID-proper in simplistic terms: it is creationism that is being disguised as science and through deception and political maneuvering the attempt is being made (while simultaneously being denied) to get it into the classroom. (Where, ironically, it could once be found before pressure arose to make it an official part of the curriculum.) However, I didn't realize the extent to which this is viewed internally as a culture war.

That makes me even less of an orthodox IDer, because I don't support the culture wars. That's a broad statement that I'll have to blog about later, but for the most part I disavow Christian political activity. Oh, I'll vote along the usual Christian lines, but I simply don't see how (a) a Christian can avoid compromise and still hope to be [re]elected and, more importantly (b) I see no biblical mandate.

John F. Kennedy is a perfect example. Assuming he was a truly a devout Roman Catholic, he professed the ultimate compromise: when asked whether he would choose between the good of the country and the authority of Rome, he chose the former. Utter and total capitulation. A solid Catholic should have said—sorry, if it comes down to that choice, and I hope it doesn't, I’d have to side with the Church. Of course he wouldn't have gotten elected, which is precisely my point.

Christian (and ID) culture wars (and those pesky theonomists) get the biblical message bass-ackwards. The bible teaches that we should preach the gospel (in words and deeds) and, as the church gains purchase, the culture will follow along. The culture war proponents argue, in effect, that if we force the culture (through legislation) to reflect our world view then, then—I don't know what—then converts will follow? The Second Coming? In any case the strategy is found nowhere in the teachings of Christ or the apostles.

But whether ID is a culture war (I don't see it that way) or about theism (I do see it that way) I have no more interest in standing side by side with Jonathan Wells than I would, for example, seek to align forces with Bishop Spong or Ralph Reed.

Put differently, if ID were science, then my criticism of Well's faith would be an unforgivable ad hominem. Since ID is actually apologetic in nature, it is not. His religion is relevant. For me, ID is powerful because it shows how creation speaks of God's glory. The Unification Church teaches of Sun Myung Moon’s glory. There can be no compromise.

I should clarify my position on peer review. I have no doubt that the playing field is not level—as I have written about many times. In cosmology, one is free to speculate about any manner of untestable theory, but one is not (generally) free to speculate about a divine explanation for fine-tuning. However, that is not the central issue here. And personally I would rather avoid an argument based on pointing out an equally bad counter example. The real point, as I have belabored to establish, is that an actual proposal to perform an experiment that would test an ID theory would, in my opinion, be reviewed favorably even while the reviewers fully expected it to fail. Reviewers would be delighted to set ID up for an anticpated spectacular fall.

I asked my ID colleagues for an example of a proposal that was submitted to a funding agency, one that asked for money and equipment to do an ID-testing experiment. In spite of the claim of vast forces arrayed against them that have systematically derailed such proposals, no examples were provided. (Some argued that there is no point in submitting research proposals because they would surely be rejected.)

Note that I am talking about science and scientific research, not science education. In science education, I think there is a strong claim to be made that IDers are treated unfairly, and I'm thinking specifically of the Ohio State case. But we should not conflate the separate questions of fairness in science and science education.

As far as I can tell, the real complaint, boiled down to its essence, is that ID speculation and ruminations of ID motivations should be permitted in journal articles. Nonsense. If you can test ID, then by all means you would have to spell out the ID theory in question. You could belabor the details to your heart's desire. If you just want to elaborate (in a peer reviewed science journal) on how ID motivated your experiment, even though it doesn't test ID, then you have no basis for a complaint—even though some other speculation (multiple universes) is permitted when it shouldn't be. It's the old two-wrongs thing.

I can truthfully say that, at some level, ID motivated everything I ever did in science after becoming a believer. I never felt, however, that I should be entitled to a paragraph in Physical Review C explaining how this result affirms my belief in God. There are other places for such discussions including, until the ID movement did its little Keystone Kops number, the occasional rabbit-trail classroom discussion.

Larry Moran: Stupid is as stupid writes

Anyone engaged in online debating knows of people on their side that they wish would just stay quiet, those whose writing is an embarrassment to the cause. And of course this is subjective: I know for a fact (because they've told me) that some of my fellow IDers wish I would stop expressing my maverick views on ID. I am the embarrassment for some.

Broadly speaking, there are two types writers who do more harm than good. First, there are those who embarrass based on the content of their writing. And then there are those whose style and/or lack of writing skill cause their colleagues to cringe.

Take P.Z. Myers, for example. Is he an embarrassment of either type? Well, in the case of the content of his writing, it's not for me to say. Anecdotally I sense that there are some (on his side) who are embarrassed by his radicalism. On the other hand, there appear to be others turned off by the moderation and tolerance expressed by less fundamentalist evolutionists. As for the quality of his writing, I suspect nobody is embarrassed. Though often repulsed by his views, I have to admit that P.Z. can write. When you read his posts you may conclude (correctly) that he is a radical, but you don't question his writing ability, his intellect, or the obvious fact that he received a first-rate education. I would have to count myself as a fan of P.Z.'s writing--I never have to struggle to understand his point and he doesn't obscure his position with academic verbiage.

On the ID side, people like Jonathan Witt and the gang at Telic Thoughts deserve the same sort of respect. They represent their views well, and are a pleasure to read.

With that preface, I want to zoom in on the second type of embarrassment. The person whom (if they are on you side) you wish would refrain from putting pen to paper because they come across as extreme lightweights. In particular, there is one group for whom juvenile writing is simply unforgivable: professors. Not all professors are expected to be good writers, but none should write like a third grader. When a professor can't write, but then tries to, it really pushes my buttons.

A very good example of this is that blast-from-the-past, University of Kansas professor Paul Mirecki. You may recall his fifteen minutes of ignominy: the self-inflicted fall from grace over his ID course about which he could not remain circumspect, boasting in writing:
The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category ‘mythology,’
A note that he signed: "Doing my part (to upset) the religious right, Evil Dr. P."

Here I have no intent to reignite a discussion of professor Mirecki, who is too easy of a target to be anything other than a one-time amusement. He's just the perfect example. If I were the UK president, even if I agreed with Mirecki's position, I'd have told him: I wish I could fire you for humiliating the academy with your use of phrases like "big fat face" and "Evil Dr. P."

Today I'd point out a new example, with a hat tip to Post-Darwinist. It is professor (biochemistry) Larry Moran of the University of Toronto. If there were an annual Paul Mirecki award for achievement in writing in the category of "belying your own education," he'd be this year's front-runner. On his blog he has a post entitled Flunk the IDiots where he wrote:
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it's hopeless to expect that a single lecture—even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock—will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
(Background: the topic being discussed is whether incoming freshmen should be given a remedial evolution class. My own thought: if they don't know evolution, then yes they should. All college students should learn the rudiments of evolution. It is the leading model of biological diversity, and it is a topic of great controversy. Whether you accept it or not, you should have an informed position, not one based on a caricature.)

Back to Professor Moran. If his writing displays any more intelligence that Mirecki's, it would require a plot with zero-suppressed axes to observe the distinction.

First of all, his use of the word IDiots. Puh-lease. To the person who coined IDiot, you'd have to concede a certain cleverness. After it caught on, you knew that you'd have to endure it until, as these things do, it ran its course. In terms of cliché time, that was probably six half-lives ago. At this point, I assumed that only teenage commenters on Panda's Thumb still used IDiot and thought that they were being clever. High-school flunky who should be studying rather than spending time commenting on blogs: meet your peer, professor Larry Moran.

You could almost make the same comment regarding his use of sycophants, a word that has been neutered by overuse. I'm slightly disappointed with professor Moran. If he had managed to get in the word ilk as in "IDiots and their ilk" he'd have taken the trifecta, which comes with and a three year supply of Strident medicated pads to help the winner get through the trials of puberty.

Going from bad to worse, his first response to a critical comment to his post reads:
Until you IDiots learn something about science you don't deserve to take up space at a decent university. However, there's still hope for you. There's nothing in your comment to suggest that you've even reached the age of adulthood. Maybe you'll get educated before you graduate from kindergarten.
This man, I assume, has a Ph.D.

Apart from the abysmal quality of his writing, there is also the question of its content. In other words Moran is an across-the-board embarrassment. He should be criticized for publicly calling on students to be flunked for (what amounts to) their religious beliefs. (I'm assuming that Professor Moran believes that ID is a form of creationism.) That is a no-no.

If I were his boss, I'd certainly tell him that unless his desire is to continue looking like a jackass and a disgrace to the university, he ought to give up the blogging.

Update: pro-evolutionist and anti-IDer Ed Brayton agrees, I think it's fair to say, that Moran is harmful to his cause. That should, I suppose, make me happy. But any satisifaction is overwhelmed by the dismay that someone who writes and thinks like Larry Moran is a professor.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What's in the Bible   Lesson 1.4  Joseph (cont.)

This is part of my current Sunday School, which is a basic tour through the whole bible. The primary text is What's in the Bible by R. C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Most of the maps are from the Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts and Maps

The approach here is big picture, less detail. The goal is to make you comfortable with the entire bible, so that when you look in detail at any one part you don't feel as though you're picking up a tome youv'e never read and starting in chapter 47.

I will maintain a list of links to the lessons in the left sidebar.

Joseph to Moses (cont.)

It is fascinating how when God has big plans for someone, they first go through a maturation process. This pattern is repeated many times, and Joseph is no exception. In Egypt Joseph was sold to Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh's guard. Though he prospered, he was again the victim of deceit when Potiphar's wife falsely accused him of attempted rape:
11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. 20 Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. (Gen. 39:11-20)
A coat got him in trouble again! Joseph spent almost ten years in prison where he received the Lord's blessing. Once again he prospered, found favor in the eyes of his masters, and was given great responsibilities.

While in prison, Joseph encountered two of Pharaoh's officials (his cup bearer and baker) who had somehow managed to offend the Pharaoh and get sent to prison. When Joseph meets these men, he interprets their dreams:
7 So he asked Pharaoh's officials who were in custody with him in his master's house, "Why are your faces so sad today?" 8 "We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." 9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, "In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand." 12 "This is what it means," Joseph said to him. "The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." 16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, "I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head." 18 "This is what it means," Joseph said. "The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh." (Genesis 40:7-19)
Does something ring familiar here? Joseph being unjustly punished alongside two prisoners, one of who is saved and the other isn't? We think of Christ and the two thieves with whom he was crucified. Joseph is indeed a "type" of Christ, with many parallels.

While in prison, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream and gained his release. His guidance in getting Egypt through a famine catapulted him to a prince of the land. Once again, Joseph prospered. His position eventually lead to Joseph's reuniting with his brothers (including Benjamin, a younger brother he had never met) and his father Jacob. Because of Joseph's high standing in Egypt, Jacob and other Jews were treated as guests in the land. That would of course change very quickly.

Near the end of Jacob's life, something very interesting happens. He places the covenantal blessing not upon Rueben, the firstborn, but upon Judah, his fourth son:
"Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you. (Gen 49:8)
This certainly came to pass, as both David and Jesus are descendants of Judah. Other sons (tribes) with notable descendents: Joseph's descendants include Joshua, Gideon, and Samuel. Benjamin's include Saul, Ester and Paul. Samson was a descendant of Dan, Barak and possibly Elijah were of the tribe of Naphtali. The Levites claim Aaron, Moses, Eli, and John the Baptist.

Later, when Joseph gathers his brothers and teaches them a lesson still important to us today when we struggle with the question of why evil befalls the people of God:
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50: 18-21)
And as he lay dying, Joseph told his family:
22 Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father's family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim's children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph's knees. 24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." 25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place." (Gen 50: 22-25)
Joseph might have been surprised to learn that it would be four hundred years until his descendents would leave Egypt. In fact, the timing of this is a bit mysterious. Earlier in Genesis, when God is making his covenant with Abraham, we read:
13 Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." (Gen 15:13-16)
And in Christ's genealogy in Matthew we read:
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David. (Matt 1:6)
Hezron, Ram and Amminadab are the three generations of captivity in Egypt—but how this spans four hundred years is not clear.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Missouri State of Despair

Generally, I don't believe the academy is as bad as many of my fellow Christians contend. Yes it's bad, but I don't think it's the new Babylon. That said, if these allegations are true, Professor Kauffman should be fired, regardless of his tenure status. And the faculty member[s] on the ethics review panel who asked the student questions such as "Do you think I’m a sinner" should also be punished.

Unspeakable arrogance.

It does reinforce what my experience in academia taught: the department least antagonistic toward believers is the physics department. And if you want rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-theists, the best place to look is in the humanities.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Today's Cosmological ID Talk

I have no idea how well this will work, I never tried creating an MHT presentation. But--since some of you asked:

Here is the presentation I'll be giving today.

UPDATE: pdf version now available.