Monday, April 30, 2007

Bad ASA, Bad! (Not)

While I was on hiatus I see that there was a tempest in a teapot over on Uncommon Descent regarding the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of scientists/Christians up in my neck of the woods (though way down south in Massachusetts).

Dembski is upset because the ASA has apparently (based on what Dembski wrote, I am not a member of the ASA) shifted its emphasis from a battle against "scientific materialism" to a fight against Young Earth Creationism.

Well, I'm guessing this is a case of reaping what you sow. If the ASA is less friendly to ID than it was, it is because of the direction ID took under the guidance of Dembski, Wells, and company. An organization of Christians and scientists would, in my opinion, be performing its fiduciary duty (to both camps) by distancing itself from a movement that employs deceptive tactics and a fondness for litigation. In Christianity, the ends never justify the means. Never. While Paul could be "all things to all people," he always did so honestly. Timothy was circumcised, after the Jerusalem Council (I wonder if his first response to Paul's instruction was: "but, but, but, the Council ruled..I saw the letter..), to be more acceptable to the Jews, but it was not a deception to get his foot in the door. He didn't say: "See, I'm a Jew like you, let me in your schools" just so that, once inside, he could reveal that, in spite of his previous protest to the contrary, it really was all about Christianity. There is no "wedge document" approach anywhere in scripture. May it never be.

If the ID leadership does not like the ASA's tepid support: heal thyself.

What about scientific materialism? Well, it has many definitions. I'll just use the one from Wikipedia, which redirects you to a page on Naturalism:
Definition of Methodological Naturalism

Methodological naturalism contrasted with metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism, which is often called "philosophical naturalism" or "ontological naturalism", takes an ontological approach to naturalism. Ontology is a matter of whether something exists, and so this is the view that the supernatural does not exist, thus entailing strong atheism.

In contrast, methodological naturalism is "the adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it … science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications), but methodological naturalism must be adopted as a strategy or working hypothesis for science to succeed. We may therefore be agnostic about the ultimate truth of naturalism, but must nevertheless adopt it and investigate nature as if nature is all that there is."

Relationship to the supernatural

This definition rules out recourse to the supernatural. Pennock contends that as supernatural agents and powers "are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers" and "are not constrained by natural laws", only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do, and "If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural". As the supernatural is necessarily a mystery to us, it can provide no grounds on which to judge scientific models. "Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables … But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces." Allowing science to appeal to untestable supernatural powers would make the scientist's task just too easy, undermining the discipline that allows science to make progress, and "would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament."

Naturalism of this sort says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural which by this definition is beyond natural testing. Other philosophers of science hold that some supernatural explanations might be testable in principle, but are so unlikely, given past results, that resources should not be wasted exploring them. Either way, their rejection is only a practical matter, so it is possible to be a methodological naturalist and an ontological supernaturalist at the same time. For example, while natural scientists follow methodological naturalism in their scientific work, they may also believe in God (ontological supernaturalism), or they may be metaphysical naturalists and therefore atheists. This position does not preclude knowledge that derives from the study of what is hitherto considered supernatural, but considers that if such a phenomenon can be scientifically examined and explained naturally, it then ceases to be supernatural.
(In heaven, we might ask Luke the physician if he practiced medicine in a manner consistent with this definition.)

Folks, this is not a threat to Christianity. In fact, it is a profound misunderstanding of Christianity to claim that this is a threat. A similar yet perhaps more understandable mistake would be to claim atheism as a threat to Christianity, which is utter nonsense. For one thing, the bible tells us that such people will exist, and it does not characterize them as a threat. They are fools, but not a threat.

Indeed, in a universal sense there can be no threat at all to Christianity. He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. His word will not return void. Christianity is not dualistic: it is not a religion that pits good versus evil. God is an infinitely powerful good. Evil, by comparison, is infinitesimal. Not only is scientific materialism not a threat, and not only is atheism not a threat, but even if the United States declared itself a secular atheistic republic that would not be a threat to Christianity. To think so is to acknowledge that the Sam Harris’s of the world can thwart the will of a sovereign God. If you fight the culture wars, do so for the glory of God, not because you are worried that God could somehow lose. If you think God might lose, go back and study the Sovereignty of God.

Any warfare in the spiritual realm is not between God and Satan (which is silly even to contemplate) but on a personal level between a Christian and demonic powers. It is not a battle to gain control of the country, it is a battle to get you, in some form or another, to deny God. Satan battled Peter (and, in that instance, won) getting him to deny Christ--Satan did not battle God or Israel. The bible doesn't ask us to fight the culture wars; it asks us to keep our personal walk in line regardless of the circumstances.

In other words, and on a more practical level, the only "threat" to Christianity comes from within. Because the only "damage" (not the right word, but you know what I mean) that one can inflict upon God is to rob him of his glory. And it is Christians, not unbelievers, who rob God of glory, by (1) cursing Him (which is what Satan tried to get Job to do—he was not after Job's soul—what would he do with it?) or (2) by not giving the gospel or by (3) behaving badly, as it were.

Denyse O'Leary asks, in a follow-up UD post: Did the premier organization of Christians in science really choose to target fellow Christians instead of materialism in science?

She then goes on to write that the answer, alas, appears to be yes. She is shocked that the ASA (Again, I am assuming they are reporting the ASA position accurately) has "turned its fire on fellow Christians."

But the right response is: In principal there is nothing wrong with that, depending on the manner in which one "targets" his brother. It is far more important for Christians to engage other Christians in a common search for God's truth (iron sharpening iron) that to engage in apologetics with atheists who, apart from divine intervention from the Holy Spirit, are predisposed to deem our arguments as foolishness. Why fight what you can't win—you cannot possibly, by force of reason, convert Richard Dawkins. (Of course, I am not saying don't give the gospel--I am saying that, to first order, only give the gospel.) But you might persuade a fellow Christian that a stance, particularly a dogmatic stand, as is often the case with Young Earth Creationists, is unbiblical.

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 1, Part 1)

It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two. (Zech. 6:13)

This is a new Sunday School series which will be largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.


Many of us tend to view the Old Testament and the New Testament quite differently. Even though we know better, or we should know better, we see the Old Testament as mostly about God the Father. And our view of the Old Testament God, in spite of ourselves, leans toward the impression that he is, as often as not, reactive rather than proactive. We sometimes get the sense that God tries something with the Jews and when that fails he shifts gears and tries something else. Yes, in our heart of hearts we know and acknowledge that God is sovereign, and that he has an eternal plan that cannot be thwarted. But we act as if God’s desires for the human race are easily derailed.

A few years ago a young man, who was in our church at the time, gave a presentation about missionary activities of the Campus Crusade for Christ. He related the following story, variants of which are common. In fact, I’m not sure this is how he told it or how others told it or simply an amalgamation of similar stories. Anyway, it goes something like this:
There was a young missionary, a college student. He and his buddy were in Africa, heading to this remote village in Kenya. Before they set out, he was supposed to check the spare tire in the Jeep, but he forgot. Sure enough they got a flat in the middle of nowhere, and when they went to change the tire they discovered the spare was also flat. They ended up getting to the village a day late. Once there, they had a lot of success witnessing, and a lot of the natives came to Christ.

About a year later, the young man gets a letter from a young woman of the village, thanking him for his ministry and telling him how the faithful were doing. At the end, she told him that the only sad thing was that her grandfather died the morning the missionaries rode in. She wished he had lived another day to hear the gospel.

Now of course, this young man remembered that they lost a day due to his mistake of not checking the spare tire. It shook him up just thinking about it. That lost day, in his mind, might have cost someone his soul. To anyone who will listen he now warns: Be careful, don’t get lost, don’t get lazy, every day is crucial—once I was lazy and an old man may have paid a terrible price.

What’s wrong with this story? Everything is wrong. It paints a picture of a God who is not in control, a god who is little more than a cheerleader, a God that is shaking his head in heaven and saying “Man, I wanted to save that old guy, but those American college kids really screwed up. What a bummer.”

Now if the young missionary would state that his lesson learned was that we should behave as if a lack of zeal or as if a lack of preparedness could cost a soul, we’d not argue the point. But as stated we are compelled to object: No, that is simply wrong. God is sovereign. God’s plan for salvation cannot be derailed by human shortcomings—indeed God’s plan is designed with those shortcomings in mind.

Other than scripture, nothing states it quite as well as the Westminster Confession (Chapter 3):
  1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
  2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
  3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
  4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
  5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.
  6. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

That’s how we must approach the study of redemption in the Old Testament. It was not trial and error with God finally giving up and sending Christ. It was all in God’s control, all ordained by God, all the time. Which gets us to the point of this class: a look at the unfolding of a perfectly executed and never deviating plan of redemption. It’s not a plan developed after man’s fall and later fine tuned in response to repeated Jewish national failures—it’s a plan that was conceived before man fell, even before creation itself.

The bible, Old and New Testaments, is the history of God’s plan of redemption. There are about 1189 chapters in the bible. Two deal with creation. One deals with the fall of man. The other 1186 deal, more or less, with redemption. Our goal is to come away with an appreciation of the continuity and integrity of this plan, to combat the view that after trying this and that and giving the Jews chance after chance God finally threw in the towel and sent his son as a last resort.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Johnny Hart, RIP

As you no doubt know, cartoonist Johnny Hart died on April 7th. His strip BC was an enduring favorite of mine. I especially enjoyed his baseball jokes, the unseen people across the sea who sent cynical and sarcastic messages in a bottle, and Wiley's Dictionary.

Hart was famous, or infamous, for his occasional Christian related storylines, most of which I thought were well done. He never took a Mallard Fillmore like approach, that is he never (as far as I recall) exploited a cheap Christians-as-victims-of-the-secular-culture theme. Now and then he simply inked something good about our faith. But none of that would have worked if it weren't for the fact that his strips were clever and funny. Not every day, but most days, and more often than most comic strips.

His comics sometimes begat controversy, but they shouldn't have. I believe the strip below caused one of the bigger uproars, if not the biggest. If you don't see why (not that it's subtle) put yourself in a crescent state of mind.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Ain't Dead Yet

I just ran into a blogging triple witching hour:

  1. Nothing to write about.
  2. A pressing work deadline with constant Draconian oversight by a cruel taskmaster from Mississippi, a former grad student of mine, no less!
  3. An unusually busy schedule on the home front.
  4. Lot's O' travel
  5. Lot's O' snow!
But I'll be back in the next day or so.

Meanwhile, some gratuitous self-promotion: I got a new review of my book on Amazon. I don't know if the reviewer, Mr. David L. VanBoven is a reader of this blog, but if so: thanks! He wrote:
My first reaction to Heddle's book was that it was in-house grad student and physics department stuff that would bore me. Turned out to be wrong. It's human in the best sense. Deals with real human struggles and the variety of ways people deal with it. I found the life-style issues and the faith vs. reason struggles to be real-world with no pat answers and no literary lectures. The angst about contributing to life, about whether one is measuring up, about struggles with relationships, etc. is genuine and important inner struggle. For a scientist, Heddle is articulate and my only criticism is the editing--especially the articles and prepositions missing here and there. This book is short on plot but long on character development. Maybe David Heddle has discovered a new career. He obviously understands people.
I can't argue with that.

And missing articles, prepositions. Feature, not bug. Tried to write like detective novelist. Adverbs: who needs 'em? Adjectives? Occasionally.