Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Response to CThomas (on ID)

A reader by the name of CThomas made this request in the comments of yesterday's post. The answer grew to post-size, and so I am placing it here. I advise longtime readers to skip this post, lest they bemoan in a "there he goes again" fashion.

CThomas's request:

[B]ut I was wondering if you could restate why you feel so strongly that "ID" is really about religion, and that denials of that are a sham.


I would agree with what GCT wrote.

The big-bang theory which you bring up is, in fact, a good counterexample. In the past, many scientists would quite openly use it as an example of how science supported their faith. I certainly heard professors make such statements in the classroom. There was no controversy. Why? Because it was understood that they were expressing their personal views, and there was no demand to insert their viewpoint in the curriculum and call it science. It was simply a case of expressing a metaphysical extrapolation: this scientific result is so beautiful, so powerful, so unexpected, and so inexplicable, that I see the hand of God. As I said, this view was fairly common and non controversial. Any assistant professor who made such a statement would not have had it held against him come tenure time.

Now consider fine-tuning. Who believes fine tuning is evidence for a designer? Theists, such as I, do. Although theoretically an alien from another universe might have created our universe, I don't know of a single atheist who is so swayed by fine-tuning that he agrees that the universe must have been designed by a powerful though natural being. Atheists impressed by fine tuning instead look for multiple universe explanations.

Again, in principle there is no controversy here. Before the modern ID movement, one could argue, without fear of retribution, that fine tuning was, in one's personal view, a sign of divine intent. Of course, scientists who thought so also supported cosmological research that might potentially weaken their position—because we are scientists. I, for one, never worry that science will undermine my faith anymore than I worry that archeology will. (In fact, if science or archeology could disprove God, I'd want to know it—might as well eat, drink, and be merry. After all, St. Paul wrote to the effect that, if this is all wrong, then we are the most foolish of men.)

Now if all those theists and fine-tuning proponents joined forces to express their views in text book form (after first replacing every occurrence of creation in early versions of the text with design), wrote secret strategy papers outlining how they would use their political influence to get their views into the schools so as to advance their position in the culture wars, and how they could further their cause through litigation, while at the same time they argued publically that it's all about the scientific merits of their views—even though they made no testable predictions and performed no experiments—you'd start to, I'll speculate, smell a rat.

The ID movement uses what was acceptable—that it is "our private view is that the designer is God," as smokescreen. Behind the curtain what they have done is take all the reasons that scientists/believers have always accepted as science-based support for our beliefs—packaged them in a veneer of flimsy mathematics, and stopped calling it by its real name, apologetics and insisted on calling it what it isn't: science.

Now that that's failed, their strategy is worse yet: it's to ratchet up the culture-war rhetoric. It's not possible, in their minds, to be against their movement on principle—anyone not with them is part of the "materialist conspiracy."

Well, I was a practicing scientist before I was a believer. If there were any meetings where unbelieving scientists plot their strategy to undermine theism, I wasn't invited. The only conspiracy (i.e., a secret agreement and call to action) that has been exposed to the sunshine is the DI's "Wedge Strategy."

The dishonesty of the movement has done incalculable damage. It has not only polarized what was, for the most part, a tolerant community of scientists into believers versus unbelievers—it has caused a second order fracturing as well. Unbelievers are split between militants and moderates, and believers are split between those backing the ID movement and those who are painfully embarrassed, both as scientists and more importantly as believers, by its tactics. In addition to everything else, they made the common mistake of incessant wolf-crying, thereby desensitizing virtually everyone to the merits of any legitimate case of religious discrimination in the scientific community.

By the way, I am convinced that among believing science professors the majority position is that the ID movement is a scientific and ecclesiastical embarrassment. I have no data that is not purely anecdotal. One is that the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) has certainly expressed what could be interpreted as embarrassment with the movement's rhetoric (to the point where this venerable group of scientists/believers is under attack from Dembski and O'Leary (here and here) for being pawns of the materialists. There's an orthodoxy in this movement and one of its dogmas is: no mentioning the unmentionable question of the age of the universe.) The other is that I know, personally, on the order of thirty scientists/believers, and not one is a supporter of the ID movement, although they all are sympathetic toward design (what theist isn't?). While some of the leaders of the ID movement have PhDs, their army is less educated in the sciences, as a perusal of the comment section on Uncommon Descent demonstrates. That is yet another sign that this is a cultural movement, not a scientific one.

Likewise, among unbelievers, all my personal anecdotal evidence causes me to believe that the militant position is a minority. But the militants, like the famous IDists, though a small subset, make for a better story. Bu we should take comfort that these are the extremes, not the norm. In a way they are peas in a pod. People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ken Ham, and Bill Dembski will agree that science is incompatible with theism, each because they hate one or the other. (Dembski and Ham will deny that they hate science, but what they claim is science, which they wholeheartedly support, isn't.)

Yes, if you look only at the slogan "the designer could be an alien" you can stand on the thinnest of crumbling ledges and argue that it is not about promoting theism. However, if you look under the hood it is easy to see that this movement, at this time, with these leaders, is all about promoting theism. Promoting theism is fine by me, but not if it is done via a Trojan Horse, and not if it sets up standard science, which to me has always glorified God, as an atheist, materialist conspiracy designed to obliterate religion.

The fact that all IDists are theists (there may be a few pathological counterexamples—but at least the ones I know about, such as DaveScot on Uncommon Descent, I don't find credible) would indeed be irrelevant if ID was, in fact, science. But given that ID is not science, the universal theism of the IDists emerges as the motive force behind the movement, not just an inconsequential correlation.

To summarize:

  • The Wedge Strategy demonstrates, in my opinion conclusively, that the underlying goal of the ID movement was to promote theism in the public schools.
  • Blatantly redacting Of Pandas and People to replace the word creation with the neutral term design is further (again to me, conclusive) evidence of the movement's true agenda.
  • While it might be possible to promote design theory scientifically, any scientist looking at the current state of the art would conclude that ID hasn't gotten there yet. The movement's strategy is to redefine science so that ID does fit in the new definition. Unfortunately, so does astrology.
  • ID, if it were all about science, would not propose a "big tent" inside of which the scientifically meaningful question of the age of the earth was off the table. In that sense (i.e., meaning a "no-fly zone") there are no big tents in science, and questioning anyone who claims to be a scientist on a position which he claims is supported scientifically is fair game. The Big Tent is meant to inflate the base, or to avoid fracturing the base because, once again, it's all about religion (via the culture wars) rather than science.
  • The ID leaders, if it were about the science, would be doing research instead of constantly bitching, moaning, and whining about atheist, materialist conspiracies.

All this could change in a heartbeat if the ID community made one testable, positive prediction. Do this experiment, result A confirms ID, and result B refutes it. Then all the unsavory tactics of the movement would be forgotten, at least by me, as ID became a legitimate science.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What if there was a Culture War, and nobody came?

I hate the culture wars. Despise them, as a matter of fact.

Yes, I am upset that IDist Guillermo Gonzalez did not get tenure at Iowa State. I believe, given all that I know, that he probably deserved it. Gonzalez is the best and the brightest of the IDists. I think that he was held accountable for his private beliefs in a way that others, with different beliefs, would not have been. On the other hand, I detest the ID/Christian response to the Gonzalez case even more. What did they expect? And do they really believe that the correct reaction is to moan and whine and threaten litigation? Do they not care at all that they painted themselves into this unsavory corner? Consider these three facts:

  1. The ID leadership insists that ID is not about religion.
  2. ISU stated that Gonzalez's ID was a factor.
  3. They (the ID leadership) now want to argue religious discrimination!

In virtually everything the ID leaders do, they display gross incompetence. These folks make the Keystone Kops look like those crack CSI teams on the telle. Had they been honest, something of which they seem incapable, and admitted from the start what everyone with at least a half a brain already knows, that ID is about religion—then they could now argue with a straight face that Gonzalez was punished for private religious beliefs. But here comes ISU which says: OK, as you wanted, and since you insisted, we went ahead and treated ID as science—and when we did we found it scientifically lacking based on the good and proper evaluation of Gonzalez's fellow scientists—and so we, as anyone would demand that we do, count this bad science against Gonzalez. Religion has nothing to do with it since ID is, as you keep telling us, not about religion.

Messrs Dembski and Wells: Can you say hoisted with our own petards?

On the reverse side we have a rather loathsome and in some ways pitiable creature by the name of Hector Avalos. Avalos was just promoted to full professor at the same university, Iowa State. Avalos is a cliché: an atheist professor of religion. They're a dime a dozen. I have met more than a few in my day, and they share a common trait. They believe the strange juxtaposition of their position and their beliefs proves just how amazingly clever they are. Like the others I have encountered, Avalos appears to represent the most hideous aspects of the academy: a pseudo-intellectual with nothing substantive to add either to his own field or the unrelated fields, such as astronomy, into which he injects his nose.

Avalos, a non-scientist, was, two years ago, an instrumental force behind a petition of 120 ISU professors denouncing ID. At that time, he said "We certainly don't want to give the impression to the public that intelligent design is what we do." No, authoring vindictive, mean-spirited petitions, one might conclude, is scholarly activity of choice for ISU professors.

Avalos has denied the obvious: that this petition, aimed directly at Gonzalez, was designed, in part or in full, to derail Gonzalez's tenure application. Yeah, right. Like the ID leaders claiming ID is not about theism, Avalos's denial is a bald-faced lie that displays a garden-variety pseudo-intellectual's arrogance. He assumes, like the ID leadership, that the rest of the world is too stupid to see the true agenda through an obfuscation of rationalizations and half (or less) truths.

Aghast that anyone should criticize his lofty intentions and capabilities, Avalos posted a sanctimonious slew of self-aggrandizement on PZ Myers's blog.

At least it gave us a glimpse of the quality of his scholarship. He wrote, in response to a criticism that he blames the Jews for the holocaust:

I explicitly (Fighting Words, pp, 195-96) say that Hitler's plan is an updating of Martin Luther's famous seven-point plan for the Jews

Which is both a) wrong† and b) an argument so profound and original that I first heard from a classmate in my eight grade Comparative Political Systems class. Avalos also displayed a Clintonian mastery of the half-truth, writing:

While I have never called for Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez to be fired, or even to be denied tenure,

And what was the purpose of the petition, coming as it did at a time when Gonzalez was preparing to submit his application? Oh yes—it was just to assure the public that ISU did not have a Department of Intelligent Design.

Now the Full Professor of Petty Petitions is at it again. Avalos is besotted with the prospect of rescuing the little people from a grave ill, the unspeakable crime that the ISU football coach wants to hire, with private funds, a team chaplain. With the hard-hitting analysis you'd expect from a scholar awarded the prestigious rank of full professor, and with his mighty intellect focused on this threat to the Republic, Avalos said:

Are you going to have counseling for Jewish students? Muslim students? There's no such thing as one religion or one version of Christianity

A veritable Ph.D. thesis compressed into twenty three words.

Really now, what is it with these Midwestern atheist religion professors—why do they write and speak like sixth graders? I'm thinking now of Avalos Part Deux: Kansas professor and martyr wannabe Paul Mirecki who wrote about slapping fundies in their "big fat faces" and signs himself the "evil Dr. P."

† Avalos cannot, it would appear, understand the concept of the Nazis co-opting Luther's words for political expediency. One cannot make a truly convincing case that Christianity, either via a route connecting Luther to Hitler, or any other pathway, is responsible for Nazism. For if you do, you'll have to explain why the Nazi's had a plan to persecute the Church.

Go Nuclear on Me

Once I was attending a class taught by Dirk Walecka, a fairly famous nuclear physicist, renowned also for his pedagogical skill. At one point he was describing the difference between the nuclear force, which holds protons and neutrons together in a nucleus, and the electromagnetic force, which holds electrons in their orbits about the nucleus. He argued that the most profound difference is this:

  • When nuclei get bigger, they get bigger
  • When atoms get bigger, they get smaller

His point was that as you increase in atomic number, nuclei just get bigger while atoms (until a shell is completed) will get smaller as the electrons get pulled in more by the increased positive charge coming from the additional protons in the nucleus. From this fact one can conclude two important features of the nuclear force:

  1. Since the protons in the nucleus should strongly repel each other from the electromagnetic force (like charges repel) the nuclear force must be much stronger than the electromagnetic force.
  2. Since atoms get smaller when they get bigger, the electromagnetic force extends over large distances, while the nuclear force does not.

Another amazing fact about the nuclear force is that it is just strong enough that the deuteron (a nucleus consisting of one proton and one neutron (that makes it a hydrogen isotope) is barely bound, while the diproton—a two proton nucleus (a helium isotope) is not bound.

If the strong nuclear force were just 4 percent stronger, the diproton would form, which would cause stars to so rapidly exhaust their nuclear fuel as to make complex life impossible. On the other hand, if the strong nuclear force were just 10 percent weaker, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen would be radioactive and again life would be impossible.

Pretty darn cool, the nuclear force.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thar Be Giants!

A very interesting passage of scripture occurs in Genesis, chapter the sixth:

1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."  4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4)

Who are these Nephalim (or, as some translations use, giants?)

Well, there is the sexy explanation, which is almost certainly incorrect. And that is: the Nephilim are the result of interspecies sexual congress between angels (sons of God) and human women (daughters of men). Among angels, as with humans, it would appear that the males of the species are licentious pigs. This explanation even makes a connection with the New Testament where we read, in Paul's rather enigmatic explanation of why women should wear head coverings in church:

For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (1 Cor. 11:10)

The idea being, according to this reasoning, that angels are in attendance, and to help them keep their mind on worship instead of wandering into the gutter women should hide their beauty.

I can only say that I agree with John Calvin who wrote, concerning this explanation:

That ancient figment, concerning the intercourse of angels with women, is abundantly refuted by its own absurdity; and it is surprising that learned men should formerly have been fascinated by ravings so gross and prodigious. (From his commentary on Genesis.)

What is the more plausible and less fanciful explanation? Well, for starters you need to read Genesis chapters 4 and 5 and see the genealogies of Cain and Seth, his brother who was born after the murder of Abel.

Seth's family tree includes the righteous Enoch who walked with God and apparently did not suffer physical death but instead had a sort of personal rapture. Enoch was the father of Methuselah, the longest lived man, who made it to age 969. And Methuselah 's grandson was a "righteous" man by the name of Noah.

Cain's descendents are, by comparison, a rogues gallery. They include Lamech who is credited with introducing the world to polygamy and who wrote poetry that boasted of his murderous exploits. (Genesis 4:19-24).

Add to this the realization that "son" in the bible does not always refer to a biological offspring, but rather one who is worthy to be a descendent, regardless of bloodline. For example the Pharisees were warned not to count on the fact that they were blood sons of Abraham. God, they were told by John the Baptist, could raise sons of Abraham from the stones. And Jesus likewise told them that, in spite of the blood that flowed in their veins, they were not the sons of Abraham but the sons of the devil.

So here we find the probable explanation: The sons of God were the "good" bloodline that descended from Seth. The "daughters of men" were exotic beauties in the "bad" bloodline of Cain. The progeny of the ill advised union between the two groups was worse yet, including a group of giants who it appears was something like a gang of thugs. (Brutes is perhaps a better word than giants.) Calvin blames Jerome for a faulty translation, pointing out (among other things) the Moses never actually comments on their size. And Matthew Henry writes, in his commentary on Genesis:

[We] read of a nation that was multiplied, not to the increase of their joy, (Isa. 9:3.) Numerous families need to be well-governed, lest they become wicked families. Mixed marriages (v. 2): The sons of God (that is, the professors of religion, who were called by the name of the Lord, and called upon that name), married the daughters of men, that is, those that were profane, and strangers to God and godliness. The posterity of Seth did not keep by themselves, as they ought to have done, both for the preservation of their own purity and in detestation of the apostasy. They intermingled themselves with the excommunicated race of Cain: They took them wives of all that they chose. But what was amiss in these marriages? 1.) They chose only by the eye: They saw that they were fair, which was all they looked at. 2.) They followed the choice which their own corrupt affections made: they took all that they chose, without advice and consideration. But, 3.) That which proved of such bad consequence to them was that they married strange wives, were unequally yoked with unbelievers, (2 Cor. 6:14).

What we have, in effect, is the first of many warnings in the bible against syncretism. So important is this to God that later he will later instruct Joshua to commit genocide and engage in ethnic cleansing (showing no concern that 21st century atheists will use those commands to label God a sadist and a mass murderer) to eliminate sources of religious pollution from the peoples of Canaan.

We have, in the proper way of looking these events leading up to the flood, a very familiar theme: the world is divided into two groups, call them Seth's line and Cain's line, (Old Testament) Jews and Gentiles, elect and unelect, vessels of mercy and vessels of destruction, believers and unbelievers. Whatever you call them, God will justly give the one group the punishment due to all men. To the other group he will demonstrate his mercy and glory by sparing them by grace and by the redemptive power of Christ's blood.

Just how expensive are batteries?

Here is an interesting little physics calculation. How does the cost of batteries compare to the cost of "wall" electricity?

Well, the cost you pay your electric company will be around 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. (The non-dimensionally challenged will note that you don't pay for power, which would be in kilowatts, but energy, which is in kilowatt hours.)

For a battery, let's take:

  • Voltage, V = 1.5 volts
  • Average Current, I = 2/3 amps
  • Lifetime, T = 5 hours
  • Cost, C = 1 dollar = 100 cents

These numbers are representative of a D cell battery.

Let's get the correct formula by dimensional analysis—this means if we arrange the parameters to give us the correct dimensions then, we have be close to the correct formula.(That is, there is a unique arrangement of the relevant parameters that produce the correct units.)

Our answer should be in cents per kilowatt hour, which means cents/kilowatt-hour

To get watts we need volts × amps, or V × I. To get kilowatts, we need V × I / 1000. Thus to get cents per kilowatt hour we need

(C × 1000) / ( V × I × T)

To be sure, dimensional analysis only tells us the answer is "like" this. There could be a factor of 2 or π that we missed. This, however, turns out to be the correct formula, one that we would have arrived at by more traditional reasoning.

So what do we get? Plug in the numbers:

(100 cents × 1000) / (1.5 volts × 2/3 amps × 5 hours) = 20,000 cents per kilowatt-hour! (or 200 dollars per kilowatt-hour)

Thus a battery is ~1300 times more expensive that wall electricity.

For more "back of the envelope" calculations like this one, see Back of the Envelope Physics, by Clifford Swartz.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Oh Brother...

This, I believe, is not a parody.

The unpardonable sin? Heliocentrism.

I like this blurb:
However, for both moral and theological reasons, we should always bear in mind that the Earth does not move. If it moved, we would feel it moving.
This article is so bad, it even quote-mines Answers in Genesis! That's not easy to do. It quotes (seemingly in support of geocenticism) a paragraph from an AiG document in which the AiG is actually attempting to distance itself from those embarrassing geocentrists.


Something that makes me sad—expressed mathematically

Consider the set S, where

S = {homosexuals, Jews, atheists, Moslems, African Americans, Hispanics, Wiccans, illegal immigrants, white men, conservatives, liberals, Christians…}

What do elements of the set S have in common?

Let e be an element of S. We find:

  1. e is also a set.
  2. There exists a subset m of e consisting of people who have stated: "The only group which it's still considered okay to discriminate against are members of the set e."

I'm sad the Christians are a member of the set S. We have embraced the great American pastime of proclaiming victimhood. We have become a religion of whiners, with entire publications more or less devoted to honing our whining skills.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Law

A tough question we face as Christians concerns the law. Did it end? What did Christ mean when he said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Oh, if only the lesson stopped there! We could convince ourselves that everything was accomplished on the cross (it is finished) and so the law died with Jesus. End of story. But Jesus adds:
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Now it is not easy to shoe-horn that into something that is about to end. So we trudge on—and Jesus teaches, in the rest of the chapter, that the laws are in a certain sense “harder.” It’s not just adultery that’s adultery, but simple lust is elevated to adultery.

And therein lays the seed of an explanation. Jesus is not warning us that all the laws of Israel are still in effect. He telling us, as Paul will tell us in great detail later, that grace is not a license to sin. Christ fulfills the law—so the law no longer condemns us, but the law is not abolished, it is still a rule of life that will convict us, and in fact it’s “worse than ever”—to him who much has been given, much is expected.

But Jesus’ examples are all of the “moral” variety--murder, adultery, etc. So we arrive at the common understanding of most Christians—that something has been abrogated and yet something is still in effect. We call the first something the ceremonial law and the second something the moral law. But how do we make a distinction? There seems to be a certain arbitrariness.

Yet it is an important point. For example, in the Old Testament we have all those laws concerning stoning adulterers, executing blasphemers, killing Sabbath violators, handling lepers, women having their periods, treatment of slaves (which then presupposes that Jews having slaves was permissible). We cavalierly state that “those are ceremonial laws and have been abrogated.” Our detractors, who want to show how inconsistent we are, correctly point out that Jesus never said those laws are null and void—and so Christianity does not they argue, as an example, inherently condemn slavery.

A fair point indeed.

Another fair point is that if all those laws from Leviticus are null and void, then why do we like to quote Leviticus that homosexuality is an abomination? It seems to me that the answer is: we probably shouldn’t, unless we are prepared to argue that everything in Leviticus is still applicable. (However, homosexuality is still condemned by Paul’s teaching.)

The problem is in this ceremonial law versus moral law distinction. I think that is probably the wrong way to look at it. The real distinction should be: the laws of the nation of Israel as opposed to the commandments Christ gives for Christians.

In the Old Testament, God dictated laws for day to day life in Israel. Why? Multiple reasons, I suspect. For one, they were to demonstrate the need for a savior. The Jews were the chosen people. They were given uncountable blessings and witnessed unimaginable miracles. Yet they would fail by the measure of the law. If they, in spite of God’s blessing, couldn’t save themselves by keeping the law, what chance did the gentiles have? None, is the clear answer. But another reason, it always seemed to me, was that we have a people who were enslaved for 400 years, They had no idea how to run a country, especially one that first needed martial law while it conquered many peoples. God gave them what amounted to a constitution.

So it is not that the ceremonial law that was abolished, it was the laws governing a nation. A nation, by the way, that effectively ceased to exist when Christ initiated the kingdom of heaven, and literally ceased to exist in AD 70.

How do we know that it is not sinful to violate Israel’s national law? After all, as we already mentioned, our critics are correct to point out that there is no definitive statement in the New Testament stating that we could stop observing it.

Well, the result of the lack of a definitive statement was predictable: the first century Jewish Christians were confused about it, and the gentile Christians protested that those Jewish national laws should not apply to them. Hence then need for the teaching of Paul and the Jerusalem council to make a decision: the gentiles were right.

Why didn’t Jesus make a definitive statement? I have no clue. So maybe we are mistaken? Not a chance, because what Jesus didn’t say explicitly (leaving it for Paul to state) he demonstrated by violating the national law of Israel—a nation of which neither he nor his followers were any longer citizens. If violating or disregarding the national laws of Israel is sinful, then Jesus sinned, and not only can his death not save us, he couldn’t even save himself.

So how did Jesus violate the national law of Israel? Some examples, off the top of my head:

  • He did not demand the death of the Pharisees who committed blasphemy. And they didn’t commit just your garden-variety blasphemy, but the mother of all blasphemies, the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they may be the only people in history to have committed that sin. (Mark 3:22-30)
  • He worked on the Sabbath. (Luke 6:1-2, Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:2, John 9:14–16)
  • He operated as a priest, forgiving sins, both in violation of how priests were to atone for sins, and in violation of the fact that he was not a Levite. (Mark 2:5-10)
  • He excused the woman caught in adultery. (Yes, I’m aware that that particular story might not actually belong in the bible.)
  • He mishandled lepers. (Leviticus 13)

(Do you know of any other examples?)

The law Jesus did give us is clear enough. The Ten Commandments are repeated, except for the law concerning the Sabbath. There are more commandments, including the greatest and the second greatest. (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, these two, Jesus tells us, supercede the laws of the prophets. And from these two, we can deduce truths (even if it takes a while) such as slavery is contrary to the teaching of Christ. ††

Calvin wrote of the passage in question, John 7:53-8:11: “It seems that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.” That works for me.

†† Why then didn’t Paul explicitly condemn slavery? That’s a long story, but here is a thumbnail sketch. Preaching the gospel is paramount, and proper treatment of other humans will follow from that. Paul did not put the cart before the horse. Better for Onesimus to be sent back, even if meant a return to slavery, because Onesimus was now a Christian and his walk was more important than his circumstances. Why not command his master Philemon, a Christian, to free him? Paul went very close to doing that but didn’t quite cross the line. Why? For the same reasons we are no longer commanded to tithe but rather to give joyfully. Under grace, our motivations are more important than reluctant obedience. Paul’s absolutely crystal clear hope is that Philemon will realize that it is right to grant Onesimus his freedom.

Jerry Falwell, RIP

There wasn't much we agreed upon, but I salute your love for Christ.

As for these heretics—God forgive me I do hope they rot and burn in hell.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Random Walk

Back in graduate school, someone borrowed and never returned my copy of A Random Walk in Science. May he rot and burn in hell. (Just kidding. Really.)

I just picked up a copy real cheap from eBay. Man I love that book! It a compendium of short, humorous anecdotes from mathematics and science (physics mostly—but then again, what else is there?) One interesting feature is that a fair number of them come from the Soviet Union in the height of the cold war. Many also come from the beloved Journal of Irreproducible Results.

I remember reading it in grad school and thinking that smart people are often really funny, too. Well what was true then is true now: smart people often are very funny. And since, in general, scientists are smart people, scientists are often very funny, even if just to other scientists.

What strikes me now, having reread it, is that the anecdotes it contains also depict scientists as gracious. I never considered that as a grad student. The reason, I think, is that was so obvious as to be unremarkable.

That, it seems to me, has changed. But it might be just the company I keep here on the inter-webs. A lot of the scientists you meet here are nasty and strident and anything but gracious.

Anyway, here is a flavor of A Random Walk in Science. A survey first published in Physicists continue to laugh, MIR publishing, Moscow, 1968. In appears in A Random Walk in Science on page 37.

What do Physicists Do?

In keeping with the spirits of the times the Editors of the wall newspaper 'Impulse' of the Physical Institute of the Academy of Science of the USSR have formed a Department of Sociological Investigations. Members of this department conducted a survey of the Moscow populace on the theme 'What do Physicists do?'

Population Group



They argue until hoarse in smoke-filled rooms. It is not known why they set up unintelligible dangerous experiments using huge apparatus.


They work on enormous electronic machines called electronic brains. They work mostly in the cosmos.

First year college students

They speculate a lot. They make discoveries no less than once a month.

Graduate students

They solder circuits. They ask the older ones to find the leak. They write articles.

Young scientific staff members—experimenters

They run to the equipment department. They scrub rotary vacuum pumps. They flap their ears at seminars.

Young scientific staff members—theoreticians

They converse in corridors helping to make great discoveries. They write formulae, mostly incorrect.

Older scientific staff members

They attend meetings. They help younger staff members find the leak.

Members of the personnel department

Experimenters must arrive at 8:25 so that at 8:30 they can sit silently next to apparatus that is running. Theoreticians do not work at all.

Members of the guard force

They walk back and forth. They present passes upside down.

Representatives of the Ministry of Finance

They spend money to no purpose



Monday, May 14, 2007

NASCAR and Predestination

As I mentioned in this NASCAR post, the sport's biggest name is now a free agent. There is a good chance that he'll end up at Richard Childress Racing and become a teammate of my favorite driver, Kevin Harvick. Commenting to the effect that he will not get involved in "lobbying" Dale Jr. to move to RCR, Harvick said:
"I'm here to race, man. I'm not going to get in the middle of the politics of anything like that. I'm just going to do my job and however it plays out, it was meant to be and that's the way it will be.
That's why I like him! He's a Calvinist!

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 1, Part 4)

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.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

Thr Trinity in Creation

The agreement and cooperation among the members of the Godhead should not be surprising. There are three major themes in history:
  1. Creation
  2. The Fall of Man
  3. Redemption

Cooperation among the persons of the Trinity is seen in that all three participated in the first, none participated in the second, and again all three participated in the third. Where you find one at work, you find all three.

From all eternity, God planned this drama of redemption. And the key is: he had only one plan. He did not, at halftime, switch to plan B because plan A wasn’t cutting it. There never was a plan B. Even in Dispensationalism, which teaches that the Church came as a surprise when the Jews rejected Christ, the dispensational scholars at least acknowledge that the “parenthetical” Church was not a surprise to God. It was, if you will, a surprise to the Jews and to the Jewish prophets, who did not foresee it.

Furthermore, this single plan of redemption has no chance to fail. God does not “hope” that things will somehow work out, he knows and ordains whatever happens. God’s plan, scripture tells us in wonderful phrasing, “must needs come to pass.” Nothing in his plan can be thwarted by the actions of man: All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" (Dan. 4:35)

We will talk a great deal about the cooperation in redemption among the members of the Godhead, the pact known as the Covenant of Redemption. However, it is interesting to take a moment and look at how all three participated in creation.

Unlike redemption, which we sometimes have a hard time accepting had been planned before the creation of the world, it is rather easy to accept that God intended to create a world prior to actually creating it. Creation, we readily accept, was part of God’s eternal plan. What we don’t always appreciate is that it was the work of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

God the Father’s role is the easy part. The very first verse of the bible tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But the very next very next verse tells us:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen. 1:2)

In fact, we tend to see the Spirit closely associated with life, almost as if his role in creation is the master biologist. It is the Holy Spirit who quickens us. It was of the Holy Spirit by whom the Virgin Mary conceived.

As for God the Son, we know:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
Scripture tells us, in fact, that the world was created by Christ, in Christ, and for Christ.

But the three persons of the Trinity didn’t just plan for creation. They had already planned for the redemption of that creation. We know that God (the Father) so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Scripture not only speaks of God giving the son, but also of God sending the Son. In this we see that the initial impetus for redemption lies with the father. The Father, as Sproul points out, is the super-ordinate member of the Godhead, while the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate. That speaks of roles in the drama of redemption, not of any inferiority of the Son or the Spirit, for they are equal in their deity. It simply means that the Father sent the Son into the world; the Son did not send the Father. And the Father and the Son both, scripture tells us, sent the Holy Spirit.

So it was the Father who was the initiator of the plan of redemption—but as in creation all three play active roles. It was the Son who, Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And it was from before the foundation of time, when the covenant of redemption was established, that the Son agreed that, at the appointed time, he would empty himself of his glory and, as was necessary, humble himself in the form of a man and submit himself to the law of the Father.

This is important. The decision to send the Son should not be seen as either a unilateral decision of the Father (or of the Son), but part of an eternal pact that included the Holy Spirit. Christ comes to the world voluntarily. And it is the Son who gives the oblation to the Father to satisfy his wrath and justice on our behalf. And he continues participating in redemption in the role of high priest, interceding for us.

What about the Holy Spirit? His role, too, is crucial. The Father sends the son, the son becomes incarnate, but, as we mentioned, his mother Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit who anoints Jesus at his baptism:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. (Luke 3:21-22)
And when Jesus dies and is buried it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that he is resurrected:

regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 1:3-4)
In addition, the redemption that was design by God the Father, and carried out by Christ the Son is applied by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us, who gives us a second birth, and it is the application of the Spirit that sanctifies us, convicts us of sin, who helps us to pray, and anoints us for work in the ministry.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A NASCAR Bombshell

If this were political news, the papers would print the headline in the big WAR! font.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, the team his father (who died in a last lap crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001) built.

There is nothing like Dale Jr. in any other sport. NASCAR is peculiar in that there are no home fields. While Tom Brady is revered by fans in New England, when he plays on the road the most you can say is he is regarded as a respected enemy. In NASCAR, each week there are 43 drivers on the road, each vying for fan support. Not just for the sake of egos: drivers and teams can exchange fan support for dollars.

Go to any track, and you’ll find more than half the fans will be rooting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. For the tracks in the traditional NASCAR stronghold, the south, it’s probably closer to 75%. Whoever is second in popularity, it is a very distant second. The only sound at a NASCAR race that rivals the start of the engines is the cheering when Dale Jr. passes for the lead.

Last summer I was at a race in Loudon, NH. It must have been 105 degrees in the (metal) grandstands, and we were packed in. Very early in the race, Dale Jr. was forced to retire his car. (I can't remember if it was a crash or an engine failure.) A good fraction of the Dale Jr. fans, which means a good fraction of all the fans, simply got up and left. They had paid roughly $100 per ticket, not to mention travel expenses, but a race without Jr. was, to them, a race not worth watching. (That was a wonderful thing indeed—the entire row in front of us left, and many in our row. We all spread out and stayed much cooler. )

His popularity is not based on his being the best driver, he’s not. He’s very good, but he is not the best. His career has been successful, but not spectacular. His father was much more successful, yet his father was loved and hated. Dale Sr.’s appeal did not match the magnitude Dale Jr.’s, and very few people despise Jr. No, Jr.’s popularity is rooted in several factors. Many fans watched him grow up in the sport, alongside his father. There is the emotion of his father's death, which in some crazy psycho-calculus was transferred to love for Dale Jr. Then there is the fact that he is something of a throwback; something about him reminds us of the golden era of the likes of Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. And then there is the fact that, unlike so many NASCAR drivers, he is not a whiner. When he gets taken out (wrecked) by another driver’s mistake, rather than throwing a tantrum he generally shrugs it off to “racin’”.

At the moment, it appears he will join Richard Childress Racing, the team his father raced for. (He'll finish out the year for DEI.) If so, this is something like the prodigal son returning. (RCR is the team of my favorite driver, Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the driver who had the unenviable task of replacing Dale Sr. after he was killed.) If it happens—well I simply cannot imagine the fan reaction at next year’s first race (the Daytona 500) when Dale Jr. races in a car that I am certain, while it will have Budweiser as the primary sponsor, will look as much as possible like his father’s famous black number 3.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Separation of Church and State on Uncommon Descent

This should be an interesting thread on UD: The Separation of Church and State. (I’d jump in, but as most of you know, I’ve been banned.)

Many of you also know that like all good Baptists should, since we basically invented it, I support the idea of separation of church and state.

(Here was a fairly recent post on a Baptist who got it right.)

I’m guessing that the pro-separation position will be a minority position on UD. If anyone reads both blogs, you might want to ask if the Christian detractors of separation can support their position from the teachings of Christ or any New Testament scripture.

UPDATE: Wikipedia had a great Spurgeon quote:
Which shall we wonder at most, the endurance of the faithful or the cruelty of their tormentors? Is it not proven beyond all dispute that there is no limit to the enormities which men will commit when they are once persuaded that they are keepers of other men's consciences? To spread religion by any means, and to crush heresy by all means is the practical inference from the doctrine that one man may control another's religion. Given the duty of a state to foster some one form of faith, and by the sure inductions of our nature slowly but certainly persecution will occur. To prevent for ever the possibility of Papists roasting Protestants, Anglicans hanging Romish priests, and Puritans flogging Quakers, let every form of state-churchism be utterly abolished, and the remembrance of the long curse which it has cast upon the world be blotted out for ever.

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 1, Part 3)

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.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

The purpose of this Sunday School is to develop an appreciation for the coherency of the Old Testament and the plan for redemption. Last time we discussed the Covenant of Redemption, a pact made among the persons of the Godhead before Adam fell--indeed before creation. It was an agreement that the Father would choose a people, the Son would perform the work required to redeem them, and the Holy Ghost would give them second life.

Christians tend to resist a coherent view of redemptive history that results from this first covenant. There is a tendency to think that matters were a bit out of control in Old Testament times, and order to God's plan was established only by the advent of the New Testament era.

As an example of this way of thinking in the extreme, let's take a look at the early Gnostic heretic Marcion.

Marcion: a useful heretic
Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus (Asia Minor), born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. Around the year A.D. 140 he traveled to Rome and presented his peculiar teachings to the elders. They found his ideas unacceptable. Marcion’s response was to leave the church and form his own heretical sect.

Marcion’s heresy anticipates some that followed. Marcion (1) denied the authority of the entirety of the Old Testament and (2) denied the authority of all the apostles except Paul, because only Paul (according to Marcion) did not allow his faith to be defiled by mixing it with Judaism. Only Paul had not apostatized from the teachings of Jesus.

To the issue at hand, Marcion was perhaps the first to claim that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Jesus’ many appeals to the Old Testament notwithstanding, Marcion believed that Jesus Himself placed no authority in the Old Testament and had come to liberate man from the bondage to the Old Testament God.

Marcion taught, in effect: the God of the Old Testament is not my God—and the work of Christ, far from being the ultimate stage of a coherent plan, was a radical departure from the rather insane workings of the Old Testament mean spirited god.

Jesus, according to Marcion, demonstrating his Gnostic tendencies, was not the son of the God of the Old Testament, but the son of the superior God of goodness and mercy of the New Testament whom Marcion called the Father. Jesus, according to Marcion, did not redeem us in cooperation with God as revealed in the Old Testament; he redeemed us from that nasty and capricious being.

The sacred writings (including Paul’s letters), Marcion taught, had been corrupted by Judiazers if not directly by the Jewish sympathies of the apostles (excluding Paul). All scripture was in need of a cleansing under Marcion’s direction.

So Marcion deleted the Old Testament, and, again gnostic-like, developed his own canon consisting of two parts: The Gospel, a sanitized version of Luke’s gospel, and The Apostle, a similarly sanitized version of Paul’s first ten letters. Much good came from Marcion’s heresy and corruption of scripture: his distorted canon provided the impetus for the Church to redouble her efforts to establish a proper canon of her own.

The point is: there is a little bit of Marcion in most of us. It is quite easy to slip into thinking that the God of the Old Testament is “different” and that Jesus’ work fixes a broken plan. The Covenant of Redemption says otherwise: 1) God would choose, and God would, through the Jews, demonstrate why a savior was needed: if a chosen people with unprecedented blessings cannot achieve redemption, what hope is there for the rest of us? 2) Christ would redeem, paying the price for those God has chosen, claiming them as his own and intervening on their behalf, and 3) the Spirit would give second life and help them to work their salvation.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fun With Numbers

What comes next in the following sequence?

1010, 101, 22, 20, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10

A) 11
B) 9
C) None of the above, because both A and B are wrong, although it’s true that either A or B is correct, if that makes any sense. (And, by the way, C is definitely wrong!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Don't wait to be a cosmologist


The Return of a Static Universe and the End of Cosmology
Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert J. Scherrer

We demonstrate that as we extrapolate the current ΛCDM universe forward in time, all evidence of the Hubble expansion will disappear, so that observers in our "island universe" will be fundamentally incapable of determining the true nature of the universe, including the existence of the highly dominant vacuum energy, the existence of the CMB, and the primordial origin of light elements. With these pillars of the modern Big Bang gone, this epoch will mark the end of cosmology and the return of a static universe. In this sense, the coordinate system appropriate for future observers will perhaps fittingly resemble the static coordinate system in which the de Sitter universe was first presented.
Translation: in our accelerating universe, the best time to be a cosmologist is the present. From now on, entire galaxies will blink-off as the universe's expansion outraces the ability of their light to reach our telescopes.

Krauss is an atheist who hates cosmological ID—yet he is also one of the scientists most responsible for providing us with the best fine tuning problem in physics, the inexplicable but life-enabling 120 orders of magnitude too small value of the cosmological constant. (Although he calls it the worst fine tuning problem in physics.) Now he writes a paper whose abstract, at least, reads like an addendum to The Privileged Planet.

Well, if Nebuchadnezzar could be God's servant, I suppose there’s no reason the Krauss couldn’t be one as well.

The Tree of Life

Many of you already know that as part of my Old Earth Creationist View, I not only believe there was death before the fall, I also believe that Adam and Eve would have eventually died—even had they never sinned.

I don't believe scripture proves this as much as it is more consistent with the viewpoint that, when they died on the day they sinned, as scripture tells us they surely would, it was spiritual death.

Had there been no sin, I believe Adam and Eve would have grown old and died peacefully. Or possibly by an accident, especially as the population grew.1 They would not have been murdered2 or contracted HIV, but they would have died—and been none the worse for it for they would have gone to a place even better than Eden.

Francis Schaeffer, who thought an OEC view was not incompatible with the bible, speculated that pre-fall death, if it existed, was like an old dog peacefully falling asleep, and then into death, in front of cozy fire.

There are, of course, practical problems with people living forever. One would be overpopulation. About 10% of the people who ever lived are alive today. That means if nobody died the population would be at least ten times bigger—possibly much more because a huge percentage of the dead didn't make it to child bearing age.

The other is that if Adam and Eve were to live forever, they would have to live a sinless life forever. And in a twist of what I described in footnote 2, what would happen to all living, sinless descendents of Adam if he had waited, say, a few millennia before sinning? Would they be retrofitted with a sinful nature?

Anyway, this speculation proves nothing. I simply think that (a) there is overwhelming evidence of death before the fall and (b) scripture is more consistent with their promised death being spiritual rather than physical.

In this view the promise of eternal life for Adam and Eve was the same as for us: a promise of eternal life in which the present life is just a vaporous stage one. The difference was that Adam and Eve, at first, were not spiritually dead. On their own they could make choices pleasing to God. However once they, and by inheritance we, became spiritually dead we could not, prior to a second birth, please God. At that point a savior was needed.

All this is fine and dandy. I can get all my ducks in a row. There is just one problem. That mysterious old tree of life standing in the center of the garden. For when Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, we read:
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen. 3:22)
How are we to interpret this? Superficially it sure looks like a good argument that Adam and Eve would have indeed lived forever, and so they must be denied access to the tree of life.

But I cannot see this argument as satisfactory even to those who believe Adam and Eve would have lived forever. Surely the tree isn't magic—eternal life comes from God, not from the fruit of a tree. It cannot be that the fruit was "magic" although many commentators and bible notes treat this verse as such. My bible has a footnote that argues that man was (paraphrasing) graciously preserved from the pain of living eternally in a fallen world. That doesn't smell right to me, I think the explanation is elsewhere.

Although this verse always troubled me, I have learned a simple explanation that is not inconsistent with the belief that Adam and Even would have eventually died. And even for those who believe they'd have lived forever, I think it is better than the "magic fruit" view.

We begin by pointing out that when we partake of the Lord's Supper, we use the same language as used for the tree of life. We talk of eternal life being found in the meal that we share. I believe the explanation for the tree of life in the garden is that it was a sacramental tree. It was a seal that signified eternal life—just like the bread we partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for Adam and Eve to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane. God did not prevent them from eating of the tree of life after the fall because they would have literally lived forever. He prevented it because for them, in their fallen state, to partake of the sacrament signifying eternal life would have been obscene.

1 An interesting prob/stat problem I used to assign is to estimate our life span if all disease, including old age, was cured. It turns out to be about 500 years. In other words, given our present lifestyles, in ~500 years you have a 50/50 chance to die from some sort of random event. That makes it just like a radioactive half-life—whether you are just born or a million years old, you'd expect to live about 500 more years.

2 Or could they have been? One intriguing possibility that I have never seen discussed, but is very real if Adam and Eve would live forever if they didn’t sin, is what if one of their descendents sinned? The sin nature is inherited, we are told. Adam and Eve would then be living amongst a race of fallen creatures. How would these immortals be treated by a world of mortal sinners? Sounds like a good plot.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Message from YEC HQ

The author of the YEC Headquarters site (see the previous post) was kind enough to leave a lengthy response in the comments. I'll use this post to respond.
Have you read Ross's prayer of salvation on his website? It's new age. And he changes it about every month.
I don't know why you wrote this—it's sort of apropos nothing. Hugh Ross is not my pastor, priest, or spiritual advisor. I learned, especially in the beginning, a great deal of interesting cosmology from Ross, and I enjoy his "Daily Reasons to Believe," but at the same time I have argued that his creation model really isn't testable and I have criticized his use of probability chains. On the other hand, I will forever admire Ross for his honesty—he makes it quite clear that the designer is God and his approach is that the science glorifies and points to God. Amen. This is so much better that the duplicitous approach taken by Dembski and Wells and the bio-ID movement. But I have never, ever referred or deferred to Ross on the basis of theology—in fact I don't know what his theology is beyond the fact that he is an OEC.
I'm the owner of YecHeadquarters, the site you list in your blog. The reason it makes you sad is because to dedicate yourself to God at the level that YEC is based on. Means you would have to give up all that contridicts the word. The sadness comes from you having to give up the one thing you love more than God, and will always be used to correct God.
No, I'm sad because your site is liberal, and liberal theology makes me sad.
And it is your only evidence that makes Genesis 1 untrue. So how will you answer to God when he ask you about Genesis 1 that would not be calling Him a liar? Will you give all your scientific information? And God says: I already know that, but why do you still not believe in Genesis 1? What will your answer be? What one word could you use that would not imply that God lied? Allagory, myth, etc?
Actually I do believe in Genesis 1, and in fact I more or less take it literally. What I do not affirm is that the English translators were infallible. Although to be fair, in their position, and in their time, I would have made the same translation of yom to day.

However, suppose I am wrong. I'm not worried about that. Justification is by Faith Alone. It is not via a theology test. It is not by faith in any particular doctrine—not even by faith in the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. So I fully expect that I have many interpretations and doctrines wrong, but that won't be held against me. You have a lot on your site indicating a dispensational pre-mil view of the end times. Are you absolutely sure that view is correct? Are you worried that God will ask you why you called him a liar if you are wrong? Or do you expect God to say: "Welcome my good and faithful servant" regardless of the fact that you didn't get everything exactly right? Is your faith in salvation based on your knowledge? Or is the reason you pursue knowledge not to cram for God's exam but to glorify God?

Since we're playing that game, what will you say if God says to you: I told you in Romans 1 that creation leaves all men without excuse. I gave you brains to study creation. Do you think my intent was to test your faith through deceptive data or to bring glory to myself through the beauty that the study of creation (science) reveals?
Faith is required of things not understood or seen. if the faith you have requires you to obtain your truth in only what you see, then what is your faith based on? Things seen do not require faith.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Sorry that is just wrong. Taking that verse out of context to prove that saving faith is blind faith (things unseen) is bad exegesis and it leads to bad theology. Let's look at a little more of Hebrews 11, just including the very next sentence: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11 is the faith "hall of fame" chapter. The "unseen things" for which the inductees' faith is being honored is the finished work of Christ--which would have been impossible for them to see, given that the writer is referring, throughout the chapter, to Old Testament saints. Among those being honored for their faith include Moses, Abraham, Jacob and Gideon--four of the most famous saints for whom God, upon request and without admonishment, provided direct physical evidence of himself on multiple occasions.

The message of this chapter is: Abraham (for example) was saved (as any Christian) by his faith in Christ, even though he could only look forward to a messiah rather than back. He did, however, speak directly to God, and he is one of those about whom the faith in Hebrews 11:1 is being credited, so, in context, it obviously is not referring to "blind faith in God". Unless Abraham's memory was wiped clean, "blind faith in God" was impossible for him.

That which was unseen for the Old Testament saints is not unseen for us—quite the opposite—it has now, through the work of Christ and the advent of the New Testament canon, been made crystal clear.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Does science explain the things not seen?

You cannot gain more faith if what you require to believe always requires you to "see" in order to understand.

If my total commitment to Christ makes you sad, then so be it.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
No your commitment to Christ makes me happy. As I said, it's your liberalism that makes me sad.

The Thomas passage is as close as you can come to justifying the supposed virtue of "blind faith." Even there it is very weak for two reasons. One is that Jesus did not rebuke Thomas, he provided the physical evidence Thomas requested. Secondly, I can argue that, like the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is praising those saints who, until now, believed the promise without enjoying the benefit of having lived to see Christ fulfill all.

In addition, we have the numerous cases (longtime readers, sorry, I know you've seen this list before) where God was more than happy to provide proof, and where God, though he could have, never said: I will not provide proof, blind faith is what I demand:
  1. In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. The bible doesn't add: and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.

  2. When Moses asked to see God's glory, God complied with the request. The bible doesn't add: And Moses' inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn't allowed into the Promised Land.

  3. Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God's glory. The bible doesn't add: but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.

  4. When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. The bible doesn't add: and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema, because blind faith is what I demand, but rather Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins. In other words, Jesus thought physical evidence of his deity was a good thing.

  5. When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them he was flesh and blood, and that he could even eat. The bible does not add: and their rewards in heaven were diminished because they relied on physical proof.

  6. Paul writes, in the letter to the Romans, that since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. The bible doesn't add: but pay attention to that physical evidence at your own peril. Instead, Paul adds that the reason for this (scientific data) is so that men are without excuse.

  7. Even in aforementioned case of "doubting" Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, the bible does not add: and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.

I would rather be blessed in the unseen and not imply that God lied, then not blessed because I required to see in order to believe. For how many require so much more to see, and will never believe because of this? I won't believe until I see God? If site be your only guide, then this is what is required. And is why so many will miss heaven. They take their faith in site only to the extreme. Which means total denial in God.

So you go only halfway and believe in a God you cannot see, but deny a creation you cannot explain for something more explainable? and more see-able? Where is the faith in the unseen in that? And what would you say if God asks: Why could you not believe in what you could not see?

Matthew 13:19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

Faith is easily taken away by what we would prefer to see and not have faith in.

You are all mixed up here. Nobody comes to God through science—so anyone who says they won't believe in God unless you prove it or until they see God is just a garden-variety unbeliever. For a believer, sight is never all there is, however to ignore your eyes and brain is to deny a gift, and to assume that scientific data is a trap that must be avoided is to impugn God's character. This is usually done, as you have, by declaring blind faith as the ultimate virtue, even though the bible never teaches that unless you count lifting Hebrews 11:1 completely out of context. No, the picture of the bible is quite un-Gnostic: the material realm is not all there is but it is good, not evil. Our Lord had and still has a physical body, and God has happily provided physical evidence on numerous occasions. You mention denying God—I will say to you that in my opinion stating that science and God never mix is a form of denying God. It is saying that his creation leaves men without excuse, unless they study it, in which case it condemns them. It is stating that general revelation is a trap set to lead men away from God, rather than a means to glorify God.

I should perhaps clarify the use of "liberal" which may seem inappropriate. Here I use this definition of a liberal Christian: one who modifies the bible to have it conform to his view of God. A conventional liberal tosses out things that he is sure a loving God could not possibly have intended. A fundamentalist liberal adds things and requirements that he is sure God intended but never got around to actually telling us. YEC Headquarters is liberal in that sense—in exactly the same sense that legalism is a form of liberalism—in fact the more insidious of the two forms.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


This site, the YEC headquarters, makes me sad.

As you probably know, it is not YEC per se that bothers me—it's the attitude among dogmatic YECs that only YECs are true Christians. That fairly common viewpoint is alternately infuriating and depressing. The elevation of a non-essential into an essential—the history of Christianity is so littered with that mistake that it confirms Santayana as a sage. There is a reason that there is no detailed statement on either creation or the end-times in the historic creeds—it's an area where the early church understood that it was OK to agree to disagree. Those who believe six days = 144 hours? The early church had them. Those who believe six days = six thousand years? The early church had them too. Care to believe six days were instantaneous? The early church accepts you, Bishop Augustine. (My God wouldn't need to take six long days!) I will confidently speculate that had there been any reason in those days to believe the earth was old, the early church would have accommodated that as well. As long as you affirmed:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffereddeath and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Well we've come a long way baby.

An anathema on this nasty dogmatic YEC Council-of-Trent–like anathematizing of the OECs. Last year I discussed this viewpoint at length in a post entitled: Spiritual Arrogance, The Garden of Eden, and How I Learned Not To Worry That A Dead Mouse Could Render Jesus Inconsequential.

Hunt around this YEC HQ site and you'll find, among other things, why God and Science will never mix. At least there is some gallows humor here; those who would agree with the author include Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

This is just wrong. Surely the writer knows that the bible tells us that the sheer wonderment of creation leaves all men without excuse. Why does he then want to neuter the means (science) used to study that creation? Does he not know that Adam was the first scientist, a biologist even, when he developed the first taxonomy?


Letters from Luke

Luke is my autistic son. I've written about him here, which partly (or perhaps entirely) explains my irrational disdain for Christian schools, and here in which I discuss his amazing memory.

Luke has just started using email. His first email arrived, unexpectedly, the other day whilst I was struggling at work. It cheered me up immensely, to make an understatement.

I'll privilege you with a peek at our first round of exchanges. That's all you get—the rest are mine to savor alone.

Some background: Like many people with autism, Luke is very literal. Metaphors are not something that he can grasp. However, he is also mischievous about his literality. For example, he noticed that some intersections have a "No Left Turn on Red Arrow" sign—reminding drivers that even though the light is green for vehicles going straight, you can't turn left. So every time we come to a similar intersection without that sign, Luke says to me: "Since there is no sign that says you can't turn left on red, that means you can turn left on red." To which I reply "Oh, OK" and start moving forward as if I'll make the turn—and then Luke will say "Ah, no. I'm just kidding."

That is so you might grasp the references to hats and the National Anthem. The basic story is that we were at a baseball game and the announcer said "Please remove your caps." So Luke will often say, with an impish grin, "He said remove your caps, so that means I don't have to remove my [cowboy hat, space visor, etc.]"

The other thing you'll probably figure out is Luke likes palindromes.

Luke Heddle to me (Apr 24)

Dear Dad,
I love you so much and you love me too. What are we going to do in Pittsburgh when we go there in the summer?


David Heddle to Luke (Apr 24)

Yes I do love you very much.

I hope we can see a Pirates game at the new stadium.

Luke, what is:

Do geese see God?

spelled backwards?


Luke Heddle to me (Apr 27)

At the Pirates game when I stand for "The National Anthem", I don't have to remove my Red Sox hat, my Patriots hat, or my NASCAR hat (like Kevin Harvick, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, etc.) because I'm at a Pirates game. And he said, remove your caps. He didn't say remove your cowboy hat. He didn't say remove your mask either. In "Monster House", Chowder wore a mask.

David Heddle to Luke (Apr 27)

You do have to remove ANY hat for the national anthem!

What is:

Too bad I hid a boot

spelled backwards?


Luke Heddle to me (May 1)

I don't have to remove my squishy hat when I stand for "The National Anthem" because the man didn't say remove your squishy hat.

David Heddle to Luke (May 1)
Oh yes you do, you must remove any hat, including a space visor.

Luke what is:

Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?

spelled backwards?


Stare at this for a while...

New Template

So I switched to the blogger "layout" scheme (and away from the archaic "classic template" manually edited css-based quagmire.) I'm not sure of all the ramifications yet. I will restore links and other sidebar elements as quickly as possible.

The main reason I switched is I was using the same template I started with in 2002! Except that it has been unmercifully hacked into an inpenetrable, unmaintainable morass.

The old haloscan comments seem to be there--while (this post will be the test) the new comments should be from blogger.

UPDATE: ok by some magic the comments, even on the new post, are still haloscan. So be it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hitchens's New Book

Slate has excerpts from gadfly Christopher Hitchens's new book God is Not Great. From what Slate posted, presumably meant to entice or intrigue, I know one thing: I will not read this book. Hitchens's arguments are so unoriginal and his style so churlish (and yet ostentatious) that I cannot imagine reading anything lengthier than these excerpts, and even struggling through those short samples of his annoying prose felt like mental root-canal.

Don't get me wrong—I can read critics of religion. In fact, I enjoy the exercise. I don't get emotionally distraught. (With the possible exception of the writings of Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose material is an effective emetic.) But if I take the time to read a critic then please, at least let him be original, even if just occasionally. Hitchens, (at least based on the Slate excerpts) like Dawkins in The God Delusion, commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. Contrast Sam Harris who, to his credit, at least offerd some new perspectives in his atheistic/mystical rant. Sam Harris was quite fun to read.

Hitchens, it seems to me, even anticipates that he has nothing new to say, writing:

There are four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.

I do not think it is arrogant of me to claim that I had already discovered these four objections (as well as noticed the more vulgar and obvious fact that religion is used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority) before my boyish voice had broken. I am morally certain that millions of other people came to very similar conclusions in very much the same way, and I have since met such people in hundreds of places, and in dozens of different countries.

He's right—we've all heard such objections a semi-infinite number of times. Yawn. Hitchens has plagiarized untold numbers of late night dorm room philosophers.

Let's see—can we dig out any new insight from the Slate excerpts?

We [atheists] may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

Translation: we atheists are supremely rational. Nope, heard that one before.

We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.

Translation: Though supremely rational, we atheists also appreciate the sublime. Nope, heard that one before.

We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (In fact, if a proper statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would be the other way.)

Translation: we atheists don't need no stinkin' heaven or hell to keep us in line. Nope, heard that one before.

We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.

Translation: we atheists don't need religion to define our morality. In fact, we behave better than the religious whose so-called morality often lands them in the gutter. Nope, heard that one before.

How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to "fit" with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then—after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty—to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas?

Translation: we atheists are amazed at the hoops you'll jump through to reconcile religion with science. Nope, heard that one before.

The mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made.

Hmm.. religion is an invention of men. Nope, heard that one before.

As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.

Translation: The theists are out to destroy us and establish a medieval American theocracy! Religion is the source of everything that is wrong in the world! Nope, heard that one before.

If you can refrain from buying but one book this year, I recommend God is Not Great without reservation.

Hat Tip: Evolution Blog

Hold on...

Playing with new templates, give me a moment (or a few)...

This could result in weeping and gnashing of teeth...

UPDATE: Back to old template--the haloscan wizard for installing comments in the new blogger layouts crashed and burned. I don't want to throw away all the comments, so I'll wait for a solution from haloscan.

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 1, Part 2)

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.

Lesson 1: Part 1

§1. The Eternal Drama

Sproul entitled his series The Drama of Redemption. His point is not that the story of redemption is dramatic fiction—but that it is a well directed, well crafted true-life drama—a reality show if you will. We all are actors, but some have leading roles. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Angels and men, men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the apostles. And there is unfolding action that spans history. This plan of God's is not a Rube Goldberg contraption—it is orderly, efficient and precise.

What we'll see, contrary to our view of the Old Testament as rather haphazard, is that this comprehensive story of redemption has a structure to it. And the skeletal framework of this structure is comprised of the biblical covenants. This does not mean that we must approach of God's redemptive plan through the eyes of what is called Covenant Theology. Both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism agree that there has been a series of biblical covenants referenced in scripture.

Now a covenant is an agreement or pact. It stipulates what two parties bring to the table, and what they receive. A covenant is usually of mutual benefit. Sometimes covenants are between equal partners, such as the marriage covenant. Other times they are between unequal partners, such as the agreement between an employer and the employee. In the case of covenants between God and man they are 1) between infinitely unequal partners, 2) acts of grace: God is not obligated to enter into any sort of contract with his creation, and 3) unlike human-human covenants that are negotiated, covenants between God and man are unilaterally imposed by God. Man does warrant a seat at the negotiating table,

However, none of that applies to the first covenant that we will discuss: the Covenant of Redemption which reformed theologians (most of them) state is inferred from scripture.

There are two unique features of the Covenant of Redemption:

  1. It doesn't involve man; the parties in this covenant are the members of the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  2. It was agreed upon prior to creation.

The Covenant of Redemption is an agreement among the three persons of the Trinity, established before the earth was created. It is the agreement that the Father would give a people to His son, the Son would perform the work necessary to redeem them, and the Spirit would sanctify them and give them second life.
18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Pet. 1:18-20)

Peter teaches quite explicitly that Christ's role in redemption was not devised after the fall, or after the Jews failed in their obedience, but that it was already in place even before creation. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight, Paul writes (Eph. 1:4).

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia defines the Covenant of Redemption rather well:

The Covenant of Redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem the elect from the guilt and power of sin. God appointed Christ to live a life of perfect obedience to the law and to die a penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death as the covenantal representative for all who trust in him.

This covenant is not appreciated by many Christians. Many view Christ's work not as a voluntary commitment from all eternity, but as a corrective measure. God made man, this way of thinking goes, and hoped that man would not fall. But fall man did: strike one. And after man fell, it is reasoned, God provided a way out for the Jews. But they were never able to respond with the required obedience: strike two. And so, to correct these mistakes, or perhaps to change the Father's mind, Christ had to come. A homerun off an 0-2 pitch.

This view is simply not true. As scripture clearly teaches, Christ knew he'd be coming to redeem a people before any people existed. His role was established prior to creation.