Friday, December 29, 2006

Please, I'd rather not watch

This point has no doubt been made ad nauseum, but I'm always a bit behind pop-culture-wise (he said, pretentiously.)

Anyhow, the other night while flipping channels I had the misfortune of landing on a NBC Dateline "predator" segment. This is where Dateline staffers pose as early teens in internet chat rooms. As sure as night follows day, stupid (very stupid) old dudes initiate contact and make arrangements to meet the kids for sexual encounters.

You are treated, courtesy of NBC, to the pathetic sight of these (typically married) men, some of them already in a state of undress, being ambushed by the Dateline reporter and a cameraman. What follows is hard to watch: the men either deny the obvious, break down and cry, or try to flee. Regardless, the outcome is the same: they are immediately arrested.

I have no sympathy for these men. But the show is so repulsive, so wrong, that I almost felt sorry for some of them. That, in and of itself, ensures that they next time I channel surf to one of these segments, I'll avert my eyes from this train wreck. Although I have no problem with the police arranging stings to catch pedophiles, I have a yecch attitude toward people who consider the process a form of entertainment.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More science, please

I would like to make a effort to improve this blog's science reporting. Naturally a good place to start would be to head over to this year's "science blog of the year."

On the front page of the "science blog of the year," we have, at the time of this writing, the following posts:

  1. The creationist billboards of Minnesota make the news again
  2. The creationists will breathe a little easier
  3. Bad Santas
  4. A Christmas blogswarm
  5. Christmas morning
  6. A merry god-free Christmas to you all!
  7. Good-timing (the carnival of the godless)
  8. Objectively anti-Christmas
  9. The courtier's reply
So much hardcore science—so little time!

Let's just look at the most recent post, about creationist billboards. The post's scientific thrust is the alarming news that creationists are purchasing billboard space in Minnesota. (What gives them the right?) And its deductive conclusion is that certain commercial enterprises should be boycotted. I love it. This is just the kind of awe-inspiring writing you expect to find on the "science blog of the year!"

But wait, there's more. No science post should be just about science. We should also examine the comments, to see what the insightful fans of the "science blog of the year" have to say. Surely this will be the equivalent of, say, the letters to the editor in Physics Today.

Well we start of with a brazen comment from Astronomy professor Rob Knop, who wrote:
Make no mistake, there is assuredly a cultural conflict going on here. However, except for you and for the creationists, this is not a conflict between "science" and "religion." This is a conflict between "science" and "antiscience."
Unspeakable, blasphemous appeasement! You call that an appropriate sentiment for the "science blog of the year?"

Not to worry, the scientists who frequent the "science blog of the year" will set this apostate straight.

Steve_C writes:
Atheists and scientists are not buying billboard space saying "don't believe in god, it's antiscience".
How true—they aren't. Instead some atheists (who do little, if any science anymore) are publishing popular books (of which you are not permitted to write a bad review—unless you too are to be charged with appeasement) and petitioning to make teaching one's religion to one's children a crime.

Then the science blogger of the year himself makes a scientific statement of the kind that, truly, only he can make. Commenting on Rob Knop:
Oy, another apologist speaks up.

I do not target religion because it includes an odious group. I target it because it is all nonsense. This game of "well, that subset is stupid, but really, my religion doesn't deserve to be rejected" is annoying -- it's pretending that your favorite myths ought to be accepted by default, and no, they don't deserve that much respect.
JamesR, who no doubt operates the "rhetoric blog of the year," adds:
Rob, by allowing them to lie about this proven factual science you too have to accept that they are lying in your name. And when you fail to speak up you become another of those that we lump into the stupid dishonest liars who have been ruining our country for far too long.
Well said!

Of course, there's more. But science this good can get diluted the more it is rewritten and paraphrased, so you may want to track the post for further scientific developments.

The apostate Rob Knop has not responded yet. Sometimes those silly appeasers, when properly scolded by the scientific elite, slink back to their labs and offices and do research, the heathens! They simply do not understand what science is! Not like PZ Myers or, say, Jonathan Wells! They understand that real science is talking about the evils of religion and real theology is talking about the evils of science. Actually doing research—yechh—that's for little people.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Textbook Stickers: pathetic bookends


News that Cobb County case had been settled, and that the textbook stickers are a thing of the past, made me think of a closing parenthesis. In my mind, and admittedly not in strict concurrence with the actual timeline, the placement of the stickers was the shot across the bow from the Political-Activist Intelligent Design (PAID) movement, and the settlement of the case is the tippy-top of the PAID movement mast disappearing beneath the surface. (Those aren't mixed metaphors, are they? I can't tell.)

I don't have much new to say about the PAID movement. But I thought I would try to restate some old criticisms in graphical form. I'm not sure if the plot succeeds at making my three recurring PAID movement themes: 1) it backfired, big-time 2) it created a cottage industry complete with a cult-like following and a leader with delusions, it would seem, of becoming the White House Science Advisor 3) it was deceptive—it really is about religion—which makes its ends-justify-the-means methods all the more inexcusable.



In no particular order, here are the explantions for each curve:

The general level of antagonism of every-day working atheist scientists toward every-day working believing scientists. Polarization and suspicion are on the rise, while interesting and friendly lunchroom faith/science discussions among collaborators are becoming an anachronism.

A cumulative plot of the sum C + A + I where C is the number of unbelievers converted upon reading a textbook sticker, A is the number of believers who apostatized because their textbook lacked a sticker, and I is the number of students in high school who didn't know, prior to reading the sticker, that there was some sort of controversy.

The monthly rate of peer-reviewed papers that were at least partially inspired by the idea that there is an intelligent designer. This is basically a) substantial and b) constant because there are many believing scientists who see God's fingerprint in the no-reason-to-expect comprehensibility and obvious beauty found in science—although they don't think it's proper or important to demand the right to say so in peer-reviewed science journals.

A cumulative plot of the sum P + E + D, where P is the number of published theoretical predictions of the form: consider the measurable quantity M. ID predicts it will be this, while standard theory predicts that. E is the number of conducted/proposed laboratory experiments to test those predictions. And D is the number of biological systems that have been, through the application of advanced information theory, shown to be designed. This sum excludes predictions of the form: I double dare-you to explain [fill in the blank] or I bet a bottle of single malt scotch that you can't show this happening in your lab.

ID in the science classroom and public schools. Before the PAID movement attempted to have teaching the controversy essentially mandated, many classes actually did, in fact, teach the controversy, in the form of rabbit-trail discussions. Of course, the PAID movement had more ambitious goals of placing ID in the science curriculum. Having lost that fight, they now seem to have settled on, well, teaching the controversy. Which is where we were, in an unofficial sense, before the advent of the PAID movement. Alas, the well is now poisoned, and what's gone is gone.

The gravitas and audience size afforded to militant atheists. Example: We are now in a situation where a blog that a) is about science only 20% of the time (based on a recent survey) b) never about the author's original science (how could it be?) c) commits unthinkable faux pas such as getting into protracted scientific debates with a cartoonist and misidentifying a Christian parody article as real (think of the Chinese government whining about an article from the Onion—and then realize that their mistake is, by comparison, understandable) d) denigrates accomplished scientists with orders-of-magnitude more scientific output solely because they aren't militant atheists—can be named the science blog of the year! This never would have happened prior to the PAID movement, even if blogs then existed.

This curve represents the enumeration of embarrassing and revealing documents and statements from the PAID movement. It includes the Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook which, you would think, would make it difficult to argue that it is not their intention to get ID into the science curriculum. And then there is the Wedge Document, which was supposed to be kept as secret as Freemason rites, rarely a seemly method for Christians to employ. It describes a comprehensive political agenda and has, as its governing goals a) To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies and b) To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God. Now whether these goals are admirable is not the point—the point is that at the same time the PAID movement was stating publicly that it's about science, not religion, and that the designer could be, well, any sufficiently advanced being—it really doesn’t matter. Then we have the Vice Strategy, which while at least having the virtue of being unintentionally funny, also belies the "it's science" mantra. Oh, toss in a PAID movement leader bragging about taking a stroll down the road to have a chat with the President. Finally (but not exhaustively) we have, on one of the premier PAID movement websites (and a companion site), a flash animation of Judge Jones as a puppet complete with flatulence sound effects and a chipmunk voice provided by the web site's proprietor (If the sound effects are absent, don't worry, the self-same PAID movement leader has given assurances that they'll be back in the next version, better than ever, and that flatulence is a sophisticated, post-modern rhetorical device. It's all about the science.) The accompanying edifying comments included assertions that Jones was bought and paid for by the ACLU and a limerick suggesting he was involved in unnatural acts with lawyers from the ACLU. Come to think of it, this curve, to be accurately represented, requires a semi-log plot.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

There is a lot of blog chatter over the unpardonable sin. This is being generated by the blasphemy challenge: blaspheme the Holy Spirit, record it, upload it to YouTube, and get a free DVD. Only, according to the site, it's not free, it has cost you your soul.

Nice stuff.

What these kids are doing is foolish (and it is blasphemy) but it is not the unpardonable sin.

Mention of the unpardonable sin occurs in all the synoptic gospels. Let us, as the blasphemy challenge site does, look at the account in the gospel of Mark. However, let's look at the passage in context:

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." 23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" -- 30for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

I used to believe that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was simply the sin of unbelief. That fit in a nice box—those who don't believe are lost, those who do are not, ergo…

I don't think that anymore. Go to all three accounts (Mark 3, Luke 12, Matthew 12) of Jesus' warning of the unpardonable sin and substitute "don't believe" for "blaspheme the Holy Spirit" and you'll see what I mean—you get a bizarre, out of context injection of the obvious.

I believe there is a sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit that is distinct from the sin of unbelief—it is a denial so heinous that scripture uses hyperbole and a suggestion of even greater punishment in eternity.

In the actual accounts, we see that Jesus is responding to a specific incident. Something the teachers of the law did--not just their unbelief (they may actually have believed, in a certain sense) but a real, concrete act that they committed.

The sin, at least as committed by the Pharisees, is not "just" to deny a direct revelation of God's power but to attribute it to the devil. And not out of ignorance, but willfully. The teachers knew (and Jesus reminded them of the logic) that Satan does not cast out demons. They witnessed Jesus casting out demons. They did not deny that Jesus performed a supernatural act, they acknowledged it. Yet, in spite of their training, they attributed this supernatural act of righteousness to Satan.

In response, Jesus emphasizes the magnitude of their sin. They saw with their own eyes. They knew better. And yet they called good, evil.

The kids making blasphemy videos are missing not one but two of the ingredients needed to commit the unpardonable sin: 1) a direct revelation from God and 2) the knowledge from which they could willfully commit the blasphemy. Instead what they are doing is just garden-variety blasphemy—presumably they have been denying God for years. Putting it on a video doesn't elevate to the level of unpardonable. What they are doing is what Paul describes, speaking of himself to Timothy:
though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, (1 Tim 1:13)
While I doubt anyone alive today even has the opportunity to commit the unpardonable sin, Paul certainly did. Had he attributed his Damascus road experience to Satan, that would, I believe, have been an example.

The premise of the blasphemy challenge is that, contrary to all of scripture, there is a magic sentence or errant thought that can render one unredeemable. There is no such thing. In Matthew's account, for example, before Jesus gives the warning of the unpardonable sin, we read this prelude: Knowing their thoughts, he said to them...(Matt. 12:25a) It was their thoughts, their hearts that condemned them, not a magic sentence.

This should be obvious. When someone comes to Christ they usually say words to the effect. But the words aren't magic. The words don't bring salvation. They simply reflect the heart. Here we have the same concept.

It is no surprise that, on other sites, I have atheists arguing with me—claiming that the blasphemy challenge is legitimate. They charge that these kids are in fact committing the unpardonable sin as defined by scripture. The explanation for their insistence is quite simple. It ruins all the fun if, in fact, Christians understand that what these kids are doing is not the unpardonable sin. Those enjoying the blasphemy challenge are getting their pleasure from the overreaction of Christians. If we give the serious but measured response it deserves—well that's rather boring, isn't it?

UPDATE: Paul (probably - maybe Liz) has a post on the same topic. With the same title!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Priorities!

Important countdown timer, to the left, above the "Verse of the Day."

Oh yeah? So's your old man!

Dawkins and Dembski are having a schoolyard e-fight—landing blows of potential humiliation by publishing each other's email. It's all rather surreal—like waking up in an Ingmar Bergman flick. (Yes, perhaps four of you will know I used that line before.)

Dembski posts Dawkins's response to his request to condemn the disturbing blasphemy challenge. Dawkins wrote:


I had not given the Blasphemy Challenge any thought until you called it to my attention. Now that you have done so, I do not seem to feel strongly one way or the other. As that admirable bumper sticker has it, Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime. So, am I going to send in my own film clip denying the Holy Ghost? No, that is not what Oxford professors do, they write books instead. Do I find it offensive that so many young people are sending in their film clips? No. I hadn’t listened to any of them before you raised the matter. I have now done so, and I must say I find them more charming than offensive. They mostly seem rather nice young people, and they are doing their bit, in their own lively and entertaining way, to raise consciousness and set an example to their peers. I am especially pleased to note how young they are, for organized atheists have, until recently, been noticeably and discouragingly grey-headed. I think we may be witnessing the beginnings of a shift in the tectonic plates of our Zeitgeist. I am delighted to see so many young Americans taking part, in a way that suits their age group better than mine or yours.

Richard Dawkins


Meanwhile, over at Dawkins's site, he publishes one of Dembski's emails (from 2004):


Dear Prof. Dawkins,

I enjoyed this bit of fun in last week's Guardian. It might interest you to know that Senator Rick Santorum, who is close to President Bush, endorsed my forthcoming book The Design Revolution. It might also interest you to know that President Bush lives in the same Texas county that I do (McLennan County -- his home is about 35 miles from my home). It might futher interest you to know that my university, Baylor, today made a bid on the George W. Bush Presidential Library (for the news conference, go to www.baylortv.com).

Why might all this interest you? With the recommendations by Senator Santorum and others close to President Bush, I plan to pay him a visit at his home early next year and have a frank discussion with him about the future of science in the United States and the possibilities for public funding of intelligent design research. I expect your remarks below will help me make my case.

Thanks for all you continue to do to advance the work of intelligent design. You are an instrument in the hands of Providence however much you rail against it.

With all good wishes,
Bill Dembski


The old cliché about watching a train wreck comes to mind.

Also on UD, "agnostic" DaveScot (who likens me to Dana's Carvey's church lady) asks for prayers for those who have taken the blasphemy challenge. That is certainly a commendable request. I wanted to mention one comment to that post, from Matteo, speaking of the young atheists who accepted the challenge:
The thing I give credit to the militant atheists for is that it matters to them greatly whether God exists or not. I look at every person like Dawkins as a potential St. Paul, setting himself up for a Damascus moment. In the Book of Revelations, the Lord says ” I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” I’d say that indifference puts you at far greater risk than open enmity.
This is, most likely, an incorrect interpretation. Jesus (via John) is not stating (in Rev. 3:14-16) that it is better to be a PZ Myers than a less-than-zealous Christian. (May it never be!)

The proper explanation is related, surprisingly, to the supply of water. Laodicea [the church at which was receiving the warning about being lukewarm] was near Heirapolis and Colosse (of the letter to the Colossians fame). The three cities were “sister” cities, of sorts. Heirapolis was known for the medicinal benefits of its hot water, which emanated from hot springs. Colosse was famous for its refreshing cold water from mountain runoff. Laodicea, alas, had nothing but good-for-nothing lukewarm water with no redeeming qualities. So the explanation is that the Laodiceans should take a lesson from the water of their neighbors and be hot (healing) or cold (refreshing) in terms of their ministry and works, but not lukewarm—which provides neither benefit. To make it really kind of interesting, the first letters of the cities Laodicea, Heirapolis , and Colosse match the first letters of their temperatures. Why, that's as miraculous as the fact that Martin Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress in German but it rhymes in English!

[Aside: the Laodiceans must have taken notice to the warnings in John's vision. Laodicea thrived as a Christian center. Long after the church at Colosse faded, Laodicea was important enough (in spite of its tepid water) to host a major church council, The synod of Laodicea, in 364 A.D.]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saul and the Spirit

An interesting question arises with connection to Saul, Israel's first king. Namely, what to make of passages that describe Saul being in the Spirit? Consider the following:
Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you [Saul], and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (1 Sam 10:6)

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1 Sam 16:13)

But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. (Judges 6:34)

Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. (Judges 11:29)

Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him [Samson], and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. (Judges 14:6)

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him [Samson], and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. (Judges 15:14)
Remarkably similar language is used to describe the Spirit coming upon Saul, David, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Yet only four, we believe, were saved. Presbyterian pastor Steve Wilkins (in a vastly different context, but apropos nonetheless) comments on this in terms of covenant theology. What he is addressing is quite important—the idea of whether or not those non-elect members of the visible church receive some blessings from God, but not the blessing of salvation:

God certainly knows (and has decreed) the difference between the elect and the non-elect, but from our creaturely, covenantal point of view there is often no perceptible difference (e.g., Saul and David were indistinguishable from one another to all outward appearances in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like the other disciples for a time). It is only as history goes forward, as God’s plan unfolds, that we come to know who will persevere and who won’t. In the meanwhile, we are to view and treat all faithful members of the covenant community in the way we see them treated throughout the New Testament epistles — i.e., all covenant members are viewed and treated as elect, but also warned of the dangers of apostasy.

The language of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here. For example, the same terminology that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul in 1 Sam. 10:6 is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). But in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly regenerated and saved by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). This means that at the outset of Saul’s career, the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would obtain final salvation. Saul appears to receive the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other saved men received, even though God did not enable him to persevere in that grace. While God no doubt predestined Saul’s apostasy (since he foreordains all that comes to pass), God was not the Author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). His failure to persevere was due to his own rebellion. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF 3.1, 8).


What do see as the implications for the New Testament church? It seems to me that it serves as a reminder that while in eternity there are only the saved and the reprobate, on earth there are three groups: the utterly lost and rebellious, the saved or elect, and a third group: those in the visible but not the invisible church. While the latter group receives not the blessing of salvation, they do receive some blessings. Saul represents the Old Testament version of this third group.

The New Testament does mention this "third group" in the subtext of a number of passages, none of them very pleasant to contemplate. Here are two that are straightforward reminders that all who are part of the visible church are not adopted:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Matt 7:23)
A couple more that are more subtle, and speak to the ideas behind covenant theology, are:
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Cor 7:14)

4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Heb 6:4-6)
In these two passages we see distinctions made that point to this third group. We know from the teaching of all scripture that children of believers are not automatically saved. However, 1 Cor 7:14 clearly indicates that there is something different between the children of believers and the children of unbelievers—one being described as unclean and the other as holy.

And in the case of the passage from Hebrews, again in light of the bulk of scripture, it is not unreasonable to take "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit" to refer to people like King Saul.

The question that immediately arises is why? Why are there those in the church, those who receive blessings not given to the garden-variety atheist who scorns the things of God, but are not of the elect? Those who will not persevere?

I'm sure I don't know. Obviously part of it is to demonstrate the inevitability of apostasy apart from the saving power of the Holy Spirit. And the visible church surely provides comfort and security to the invisible church--so there may be a practical aspect to consider. But it's always a subject that brings with it a certain uneasiness.


On the other hand, there is no indication that the elect are chosen randomly—and so there is every reason to expect strong family correlations.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse

With all due respect and apologies to Art: I really did want to drop this topic. But, well, you just can't make this stuff up.

Professor Dembski, I thought, had taken a long overdue baby-step toward the high ground by removing the flatulence sound effects from his Judge Jones flash animation. I was wrong. It appears he was merely biding time until the release of his coup de grâce. To console his minions he has announced:


Calm yourselves everybody. An enhanced flatulent version is being worked on at this very moment. I will make it available. I do want to say this for the record, however. Many people regard the flatulent version as unsophisticated and even infantile. I want to suggest that in this postmodern age the flatulence in this animation actually serves as a sophisticated rhetorical device that mirrors the subtext of flatulence that runs throughout Judge Jones’s decision. --Professor William Dembski of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


In fighting the good fight at places like Panda's Thumb, I was never at a loss for words. But Dembski leaves me virtually speechless. His blog now entertains serious discussions about whether or not Jesus would use posterior gaseous expulsions to express righteous indignation and to mock the Pharisees. Oh, and at least one limerick that portrays Judge Jones as a Sodomite.

I wonder if Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will include mention of his, um, work in their new brochure. I also wonder if the listserv that Dembski moderates, while not permitting age of the earth discussions, now offers workshops into "rhetorical methods utilizing gas in the alimentary canal."

Ctrl-Alt-Del


Are you struggling with the last-minute shopping for that pre-trib pre-mill dispensational teenage boy in your home? Don't worry, wholesome Christian entertainiment is but a mouse click away! You can still purchase the Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game!

Your child will enjoy the basic strategy of the game. To wit: players must try to convert unbelievers. If they won't convert, players must kill them.

Dereck Wong, VP of Sales explains:


The premise of the post-rapture game–classified as "real time strategy" because players direct multiple characters' actions from a bird's-eye view of the New York City streets–is that "you are on the Antichrist's shoot-to-kill list, and you must defend your own life and the lives of those around you–with violence if necessary,"


Don't worry—this game is not really violent! We have this reassuring explantion from Left Behind Games' president, Jeffrey Frichner:


the game actually is pacifist because players lose "spirit points" every time they gun down nonbelievers rather than convert them. They can earn spirit points again by having their character pray.


Well, alrighty then!

Now, prior to release, we are happy to report that Left Behind Games took a hard but principled stance, that (virtual) dead bodies littering the streets after fierce gun battles would, as a public service, be left in place. Why? Well because sanitizing the game by removing them might desensitize kids to violence. Company CEO Troy Lyndon explained:


What's more damaging are games that show killing and then let the bodies disappear, desensitizing gamers to what's going on," explains Lyndon. "Although seeing hundreds of dead bodies in Left Behind: Eternal Forces at the end of a horrific battle wasn't our original intent, we can't help but stay away from desensitizing gamers. It's our hope that we don't end up with a Mature-rated game...but we might. Ultimately, our argument is that it's more humane to show the reality of death than to desensitize in the name of a lighter rating."


Unfortunately but not surprisingly (knowing programmers—they always screw up) when the game was released it turned out that due to a software glitch those corpses do, in fact, simply and cleanly disappear. But that was surely a bug, not a marketing decision, given Lyndon's previous statement.

I would suggest, in the spirit of fairness, that the company offer video games for all eschatological views. For example:
  • Whoa, I didn't see that coming! In this amillennial game, players just go about their everyday business. Believers preach the gospel but are mostly unsuccessful. The world slowly drifts toward universal apostasy, and suddenly: bam! history ends, as Christ returns to rescue a dwindling, isolated, frightened church.

  • Church Victorious! In this postmillennial adventure, players must work hard to make the Great Commission a success. As the players advance through level after level, the world becomes more converted until, at some point in the distant future, the earth enters a golden era and awaits the Parousia. History ends as Christ returns to a church victorious through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the last level, the people sing Joy to the world, the Lord is come! as the song was originally intended—as a celebration not of the first advent but of the second.

  • AD 70! In this action-packed game, set in historic first-century Palestine, the prophesies of Christ's Olivet Discourse and John's apocalyptic vision are fulfilled in the ill-fated Jewish rebellion against Roman rule and the subsequent siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Players can take the role of Josephus, Titus, Vespasian, or Christians who followed Jesus' instructions and fled the city.
Hmm… I won't hold my breath.

Meanwhile, back to the Left Behind Game. How do Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, who on a scale of one to Benny Hinn made a great deal of money from the book series, feel about the game? In this USA Today article, LaHaye suggests a reason for the irrational concern over the game's violence:


These groups don't attack other violent video games. Their real attack is on our theology.


Meanwhile at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver (International Christian Retail Show?) where the game was demonstrated, Jerry Jenkins offered this rationalization:


(The controversy) makes you examine your motives, success (and) what you're doing. I looked at the violence for the game to be in the (Christian retail) market. It's not more violent than the Old Testament


More fun facts about the game:
  • Buy It! buttons direct players to iTunes where Christian music used with the game can be purchased (sold separately—offer prohibited where void.)

  • Left Behind Games will offer a Christian-market exclusive by bundling the game with Tyndale House Publishers' New Living Translation Metal Bible.

  • The game, according to this report, installs undeletable tracking software—known better by its other name: spyware. (Isn't that something the other side would do?)


I never heard if Tim LaHaye and/or his lawyers made even more money as a result of his lawsuit.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Something new for the CV

It turns out that Judge Jones's voice in the flatulence-laden flash-animated flick is none other than that of Bill Dembski.

Sigh.

This is damn embarrassing.

It is not on the basis of its offense to Christian living that I find Dembski's active role in such a project embarrassing. I'm neither a prude nor a fundamentalist—I don't offend easily. (Although I was in sixth grade the last time I found the sound effects used in the animation funny.) No, I'm embarrassed that someone in his position—a professor, author, and leader of an allegedly scientific movement/revolution—could behave so unintelligently. And be so proud of it!

And I think that if I were still in good standing with the ID community, that even if I were a contributor to Uncommon Descent, that I would still be embarrassed.

In his latest post on the subject, Dembski admits to being the voice of Judge Jones. He ends his post with the childish comment:
A disgruntled former UD commenter KeithS slowed it down and lowered the pitch. Well, it’s true, it actually is me. But that's only temporary. We are inviting Judge Jones to do himself. Stay tuned.
This post was on the adult blog, Uncommon Descent, not on that lasting tribute to misjudging both the intelligence (where it is underestimated) and the sense of humor (like missing the side of a barn let alone a bull's-eye at the edge of the universe—let the reader understand) site for teens: Overwhelming Evidence.

I'll never know, but I have to wonder if others in the ID community look at Uncommon Descent and think: Oh, brother.

UPDATE: Sadly, it gets worse. To the point of causing me to give a He Lives first-time-ever favorable link to Panda's Thumb. As reported here, Dembski sent a letter to those whose images were depicted in the animation:


There’s a Christmas present for you at www.overwhelmingevidence.com

– a flash animation that features each of you prominently (some of you are probably aware of it already). We’re still planning a few enhancements, including getting Eric Rothschild in there and having Judge Jones do the actual voiceovers himself (right now it’s me speeded up though it’s his actual words). In return for the judge doing himself, we’ll drop some of the less flattering sound effects. We would have included Prof. Padian, but the images of him on the internet weren’t of sufficient quality (I’m copying Prof. Padian – if you send me a hi res jpg of yourself, I’m sure we can work you in – you were after all the expert witness at the trial).

Best wishes,
Bill Dembski


The PT spin from Nick Matzke sounds about right. Rather than admitting that his involvement in the flash animation was ill-conceived, Dembski tries invoking a nervous-bravado cover. I'm just one of the guys, all in good fun, I really do believe that Jones will say "man, that's hilarious, sure I'll do the voice over. And thanks Bill for taking the time from your scientific research to fill-in for me."

UPDATE 2: Dembski defends his animation this way:


I see the JJSchLaw [the flash animation] as an instrument of grace to bring Dawkins and others to their senses

I have no response to that.

UPDATE 3: The sound effects have been removed.


I was once offered the job as a UD contributor. I still have the email containing the offer. I declined because—even though this was long before I fell from grace—I pointed out that I didn't think ID was science and I always acknowledge the designer as God—so I would not fit in.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sex......

is not the topic of this post. Tithing is. But nobody wants to read about tithing.

On a post below, the reader "If All Else Fails, Read" asks me about tithing.

I don't have any sage advice. But I'll take a modest stab at the topic.

First of all, I think the legalistic tithing requirement went the way of the ceremonial law. Those few cases where it is mentioned in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 23:23, Luke 18:12, Heb. 7:5) refer to people living under the law. For Christians, it has been replaced by a New Testament requirement, that our heart is our judge and we are to give cheerfully:
Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2Cor. 9:7)
As in all things, we can abuse our liberty and drift toward antinomianism. Anyone using this passage as an excuse to avoid giving is in need of some self-examination.

The guidelines really are "your heart." So what does your heart tell you to do?

I absolutely despise how some churches make giving legalistic again. (Do they just ignore the "under compulsion" part of 2Cor. 9:7?) I am not kidding; I was once presented with these guidelines:
  • You must tithe.
  • It must be on your pre-tax dollars (no special instructions for those living in Sweden at the height of Scandinavian socialism, when tax rates could go above 90%—d'oh!)
  • The church will be donating monies to missionaries—so any extra you want to give to missions/charities not directly supported by the church cannot count toward tithing.
Sorry, I don't think so. I'll pass on accepting that yoke, even if the giving that my heart dictates exceeds all your requirements.

I guess if I had to suggest a guideline it would be this:
  • Although tithing, as strict requirement, has been done away with—it was an amount chosen for a reason—so I would take it as a baseline goal. (And, in my opinion, use after tax dollars—the question here is clearly what are you, as a Christian, prepared to give-up (with a cheerful heart) in a material sense, in order to help fund the church and evangelistic activities. The example of Sweden demonstrates how the "before tax" requirement is nonsensical.)
  • As with being freed from the law in other areas, while on the surface it sounds like a windfall, it actually is a tougher standard. Under the law, adultery was adultery and murder was murder. Freed from the law, lust becomes adultery (yikes) and anger becomes murder (yikes2.) No doubt that applies to giving: If ten percent is very easy, then you probably should give more.
  • On the other hand, if ten percent means you can't feed your family, then feed your family.
  • Remember the cheerful giver requirement, and if you can’t meet it, work on it.
  • In terms of distributing your giving, I am sympathetic toward the view that it is the sum of your giving that matters. However, I would suggest that it is wise to stay informed as to the financial health of your church. If you can't pay your pastor, then I would suggest directing more to the local church. First things first. (On the other other hand, if the church is generally sound, but wants to buy a $100K pipe organ—well that’s a different matter.)
  • Also, if you have missionaries/charities that you support, you might get involved in the missions committee, and lobby for church support. That way the thorny question of dividing your money might become less problematic. And there may be enlightening reasons as to why the church declines to support a given missionary group or charity.
That's the full extent of my thoughts on the issue of tithing. Feel free to share your views.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Stop what you're doing!

There is a need more compelling and more important than any second-rate charity or missionary you support.

You must go here, and contribute vast sums, at least a factor of ten over your current tithing (which you may suspend for purposes of this campaign.)

Benny should not be forced to suffer the indignity of being on a plane where there are little people flying coach. Why, the mind reels.

Gee, thanks for sharing that

An early Christmas Gift from a respected professor at a Baptist seminary. Warning: it uses flatulence to poke fun at a sitting judge. A judge who ruled against the defendants whom the Kerry-esque professor sided with before he sided against.

I'm glad Spurgeon's not around to see this.

Blogspot Bleg

Since switching to the new version of blogspot, I've lost my archives. Nothing I do (such as editing the template) ever results in the old "republish your entire blog" option. If you change settings on the archive tab it remembers your changes, but you never get a "publish archives" button.

Have they abandoned the idea of archives?

Questions submitted to blogspot are, at least effectively, routed into a black hole.

Any help is appreciated.

Update: Paul Fernandez sent a fix. Thanks!

Kudos for the ACLU

All in all, I like the ACLU. Like any organization, it's imperfect. But it has a commendable record of consistency in its libertarian mission: which is to protect individual rights. Of course, there are times when the individual whose liberty is being defended doesn't seem worthy of the effort—at these times we just might despise the ACLU. When it comes to defending the right of free assembly for Nazis in Skokie, part of me wants to say: let the bastards rot. But part of me understands that, in defending such beasties, the ACLU is doing a good and admirable thing. We all want our own liberty. We are not as zealous about the liberties of others, especially when it involves something we find repulsive or comes at the expense of something we rather enjoy.

What I do not understand is the almost foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of the ACLU among conservative Christians. They don't seem to know that, time and time again, the ACLU comes to the support of Christians who are denied their right of assembly or expression.

Suppose your child wants to have an extracurricular bible study on public-school grounds, or wants to hand out fliers for a church youth group, or wants to hand out announcements for a cosmological ID talk (I speak from personal experience.) Suppose he is told by a teacher or administrator that he cannot (again, personal experience.) If you need legal advice and help, the ACLU is a good place to look.

Case in point:

A second grader in public school in New Jersey was prevented by school officials from singing "Awesome God" at a talent show. The reason given was the religious content of the song. You can read about it here, in a report from the conservative/Christian WorldNetDaily.

This is such an obvious and egregious violation of the 1st Amendment that, after settling with the student and apologizing, the school board should fire the responsible officials for being so stupid. Their ignorance cost the system time, money, and credibility.

The problem is the prevalent misconception among administrators, faculty, parents and students that anything religious must be banned from the schools. The truth is that religious speech is as protected as any other--at the same levels of "invasiveness". In other words, students can be banned from overt proselytizing (which they can still do with their behavior and actions, which will be more effective) but they cannot be prevented from engaging in whatever speech, literature distribution, and after-hours facility access that is granted to other groups.

What the WorldNetDaily report doesn't mention is the brief filed by the ACLU on behalf of the student. It certainly gives the appearance that WorldNetDaily would prefer that no credit be given to the ACLU.

The ACLU brief is available here. Here is an excerpt:
Plaintiffs sued defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating the federal civil rights of O.T., a second grade student, when defendants prohibited her from singing "Awesome God" at a voluntary after-school talent show (hereinafter the "Talent Show") that the Frenchtown Elementary School, a public school, operates to showcase the talents of individual students within the school. Students who participate in the Talent Show were permitted to select their own song or skit to perform with the only restriction being that the act be "G-rated." Defendants' rationale for prohibiting the song was because of its religious content — specifically, the Defendants believed permitting a student to sing a song with religious content would create an Establishment Clause violation. However, as explained below, since the student's choice of song could not be viewed as the school's own speech, any Establishment Clause concerns were unfounded. The result, therefore, was that the Defendants engaged in ad hoc, content based discrimination without valid justification, and thereby violated O.T.'s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Any errors are due to my transcription.)
Amen.

So when you are furious with the ACLU for defending someone you don't like, at least try to recall that at times they defend the saints. Even if WorldNetDaily doesn't like to admit it.

(Another hat tip to Ed Brayton.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Now that's one cool Baptist

Excerpts from the writings of John Leland (1754-1841), Baptist minister from Massachusetts and Virginia:
  • The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever...Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

  • Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense — it will stand upon its own merits.

  • Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

  • Resolved, that slavery is a violent deprivation of rights of nature and inconsistent with a republican government, and therefore, recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land; and pray Almighty God that our honorable legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the great jubilee, consistent with the principles of good policy.
I wish he were around today to smack some sense into Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson. (And Bill Dembski, who teaches at a Baptist Seminary while authoring "Vice Strategies.")

My how times have changed. I like the second quote the best. The "Vice Strategy" is sort of the opposite. Something like: "We must embrace the law to defend the truth, which is weak and in constant need of judicial support."

My fellow Baptists: separation of church and state is a good thing. We used to proclaim it until relatively recently. We can even lay claim to having invented it.

(Hat Tip: Ed Brayton)

Memo to Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport: Leave the trees down

Perhaps you followed the saga of the Christmas trees at Seattle's Sea-Tac airport. If not, you can catch up here.

In a nutshell:
  • First there were Christmas Trees at Sea-Tac
  • Then a rabbi threatened to sue, unless a Hanukkah menorah was added
  • So Sea-Tac caved and removed the trees
  • An uproar ensued, including the inevitable threats directed at the rabbi
  • The rabbi rescinded his threat to sue
  • Now the trees are going back up
It's a full house: jackasses over jokers.

As a Christian, I'll say this to Sea-Tac: don't put the trees back up on my account. I don't need them to celebrate the savior's birth. While you're at it, feel free to remove "under God" from the pledge, and "in God we trust" from the currency. The former is trivially true and the second is more or less a lie. At any rate, while I am required to proclaim my faith, the bible doesn't instruct me to insist that token pledges be imposed upon those who disagree. I wish we were a nation that trusted in God—but we're not. And even if it were so, our actions would speak louder than slogans printed on our coins.

There are no heroes in this story—only buffoons. The rabbi should not have been offended. There is nothing overtly Christian about a Christmas tree, especially the sanitized versions that I suspect Sea-Tac displayed, which I doubt included angels and a cross. Ok, perhaps one could argue that the heritage of Christmas in this country imposes a strong suggestion of Christianity as symbolized by a Christmas tree, even if in this day and age nobody actually looks at one and thinks of Christ. Well tough. Get over it. If I went through an airport that was decorated with menorahs I would find it a bit peculiar, but I wouldn't be offended and I wouldn't sue. I'd either admire them if they were beautiful or completely ignore them.

So Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky and his lawyers deserve a figurative kick in the shins. And they earned the right to be mocked and ridiculed. However, they don't deserve to be threatened with actual violence, and I hope the police arrest and the prosecutors prosecute anyone who does so.

And Sea-Tac, you don't look brave or honorable in putting the trees back up now that this threat of litigation has evaporated. You caved to the rabbi, and now you are caving to the overwhelming criticism you justly received. What will you do, after you put them back up, if some imam threatens to sue?

Here's a suggestion: forget the trees and apply the labor to getting the baggage from the planes to the carousels in a timely fashion.

Monday, December 11, 2006

God’s sovereignty in those glossed-over passages

For some time I have neglected the Old Testament. I didn’t actually know that I was neglecting it—and I was always prepared to admonish those Christians who mistakenly think that it can be set aside. But I never looked at it with the same critical eye that I look at the New Testament. The Old Testament was full of really cool stories of battles and kings and prophets, but the New Testament, so I imagined, was where God’s sovereignty in salvation was fully revealed.

Now, in truth I knew that there were famous passages in the Old Testament that unambiguously teach of God’s sovereign election. In fact, probably no single verse summarizes the doctrine better than Exodus 33:19 when God proclaims that He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom he will have compassion. Nevertheless, such passages, I always believed, were isolated nuggets compared to the unceasing proclamation of God’s sovereignty in election found in the gospels (especially John’s) and the Pauline corpus (especially his letter to the Romans.)

What I thought was simply not true.

In systematically going through the Old Testament for my Sunday School, I am finding the strong, Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty appearing all over the place, typically in verses that, in the past, I tended to gloss over because they were inconvenient for a superficial explanation of the complete passage.

For example, yesterday we discussed the boy Samuel and his first encounter with the voice of God, after his mother Hannah placed him in the service of the priest Eli at the temple. We pick up they action as Samuel (just a boy) is preparing for bed.
6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Sam 3:6-9)
The usual explanation of this passage is this: Samuel heard God speaking, but he thought it was his surrogate father, the priest Eli. After Eli told him that it was God calling, then Samuel was prepared to accept that the voice was God’s.

Like in most cases when the causal role of God’s sovereignty is neglected, we end of interpreting everything backwards.

The key to this passage is the glossed-over verse seven: Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. This verse explains why Samuel did not recognize God’s voice: not because he hadn’t prepared himself, and not because Eli hadn’t yet advised him, but because God hadn’t yet opened Samuel’s eyes.

God ordains the ends and the means. Just like, although we know better, we often talk about someone or some event that led us to Christ, Samuel might well have believed that it was Eli’s instruction that opened his eyes. It wasn’t. Sometime after God’s third call to Samuel, maybe at the instant Eli instructed him, God opened Samuels eyes—at that moment the LORD was revealed.

Why not just open Samuel’s eyes without employing Eli? Well, part of the reason is that it surely pleases God to use men (in their free will) to carry out pieces of His plan. That is why, even as fiercely Calvinistic Christians, we are to evangelize with the zeal of the Arminians. But a wise lady in our church pointed out another (though not entirely unrelated) reason: it was for Eli’s benefit. Eli was much more inclined to accept Samuel’s prophecy given the chain of events, as opposed to the boy Samuel coming to him out of the blue with the news that God had spoken to him. (That’s especially true given that Samuel’s first prophecy was devastating to Eli and his house.)

In the New Testament we find a very similar passage when the risen Jesus encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:13-16)
Once we start looking for it, God’s sovereignty is apparent just about everywhere in scripture. We don’t really (and truly) hear God’s call unless He first enables our eyes and ears. Just to finish the story of the two disciples and how our knowing God requires not dedication from us from us, but a divine act, we read later in the same chapter of Luke
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they [the two disciples] urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31)
The story of Samuel and the story of the two disciples are sort of microcosms of the gospel. We cannot convince ourselves that we need to repent and accept Christ, and only then receive the gift of a new heart and eternal life—no we must receive the gift first—without which we are as clueless as the boy Samuel and the two disciples.

In terms of internet evangelizing, especially in the scientific community, one often encounters the view (from the atheist):

I have studied the bible, and it is utter nonsense. Only the weak-minded could accept such a load of crap.

Now of course the real explanation is:

God has not revealed Himself to you, therefore you will continue and perhaps even prosper in your arrogance and ignorance.

In truth, we must agree that both explanations (the atheist’s and the Calvinist’s) fit the data. A third (Arminian Christian) explanation is the one that is somewhat muddled:

You (not God) have not yet done “something” to yourself. Exactly what is not entirely clear, but it involves the impossibilities of accepting something you don’t believe, and repenting from things for which you have no desire to repent. You must do these impossible things, on your own, at least to a certain imprecisely defined degree, and then God will act upon you.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back from SD, Ca

I was in San Diego all last week (Monday to Monday), doing my part to keep the world safe for democracy. Blogging will resume after I put out all the fires that are always waiting for me when I get back.

Oddly enough, for most of the week it was warmer here at home (New Hampshire) than in San Diego.