Friday, July 27, 2007

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 3, 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.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

§3.2 Pelagianism Today

In Pelagius’ teaching that man is basically good we see aspects of the modern humanist movement. But has Pelagianism been eradicated from the church? Consider:

  1. The general idea that babies are innocent and man is “basically good.” (Of course babies are innocent of committing “real” sins, meaning one in which one makes a free-will choice for evil over good—but they are not free of being born in corruption, of being unable to please God.)

  2. American evangelism is rooted in the 19th century Pelagianism of Charles Finney.

  3. In arguments like the nature/nurture debate over homosexuality, the most conservative of Christians side with Pelagius over Augustine.

A recent Gallup poll of professing evangelicals showed that a majority agreed with the statement that “man is basically good.” Many Christians today are inclined to agree with Pelagius that babies are “innocent” and, if they are baptized, it is not a cleansing but a “lifting up.”

Gerstner tells a story of a small Presbyterian church he visited. Upon arrival he as asked by an elder to preside over an infant baptism. He agreed. The elder asked him to pin a white rose on the baby before commencing with the baptism. “Why?” he asked. “It signifies the baby’s innocence,” the elder told him. Gerstner looked at him for a moment and asked: “And what does the water signify?”

Please note: we do have ample reason for hope, in God’s mercy, that babies are saved—but it is the non-Pelagian salvation by grace that makes that possible. David certainly expected to see his dead son in heaven, yet David surely knew babies were not born holy. (Ps. 51:5). He knew that God will have mercy upon whom God will have mercy.

Charles Finney
Considered one of the two greatest evangelists of the 19th century (along with Dwight L. Moody) Finney is credited with for the second great awakening.
Aside: From wikipedia: The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s) was the second great religious revival in United States history and consisted of renewed personal salvation experienced in revival meetings. Major leaders included Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher, Barton Stone, Peter Cartwright and James B. Finley. In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism. In New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new denominations. In the west especially the revival strengthened the Methodists and the Baptists. The Congregationalists in Florida, Kansas, and Hawaii set up missionary societies, to evangelize the West. Members of these societies acted as apostles for the faith and as educators, exponents of Eastern urban culture. Publication and education societies promoted Christian education; most notable among them was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816. Social activism inspired by the revival gave rise to abolition groups as well as the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, and began efforts to reform prisons and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. They believed in the perfectibility of people and were highly moralistic in their endeavors.

Though he was from a Calvinist background, Finney denied the doctrine of original sin. He was Pelagian to the core. He taught that men are sinners because they sin, and that all it takes for man to be saved is a decision, of the free will of man, to repent, embrace Christ, and to change. That sounds fine, until you realize that Finney, like Pelagius, did not require grace for salvation. Like Pelagius he acknowledged that it would help, but also like Pelagius, he insisted it wasn’t necessary. And that way of thinking influenced and still influences American evangelical thinking. The idea persists that any inherited moral inability is inconsequential. Lip service might be paid to original sin, but the thrust of American evangelism is a mix of Pelagianism and “easy belief-ism.”

Lastly, we look at a more subtle form of Pelagianism in the church, a tacit agreement with the Pelagian view that God would not demand obedience of a people who are born without the ability to obey. To paraphrase the debate:

Pelagius: God would not punish people for how they were born.

Augustine: Yes He would.

Now consider the modern debate over homosexuality:

Homosexual apologist: I was born this way.

Christian: No you weren’t, you chose to be gay.

Both sides in this debate tacitly accept the Pelagian position: God would not punish someone for how they were born. Both sides effectively deny original sin. The proper Christian response, in my opinion, is:

Maybe you were born that way, but that changes nothing. We’re all born sinners.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Intelligent Design-o-metrics Part Deux

Denyse O'Leary has a bizarre attempt at something almost recognizable as sarcasm over at UD (which lately stands for Usually Down.) She is bolstering Dembski's attempt to use snarkiness as a response to mockery. In this case he was being mocked on several fronts for his ID business conference. Oh, in case you just thought it was an ID conference aimed at business that invited Bill to speak, he set the record straight. Never missing an opportunity to toot his own horn, Dembski writes:

Steve Reuland is all breathless over a conference I'm putting together on intelligent design in business

So it is a conference that Dembski is putting together, and Dembski has invited Dembski. The universe makes sense.

Bill: you already show an appalling lack of business savvy: In business writing 101 you are taught: Always use we, never use I. This is also the norm in academic writing—where in a paper with a single author you typically read statements such as: we have demonstrated… (My thesis advisor taught me that.)

Writing like a distinguished theology professor, he adds:

Get used to it: ID is going every place that Darwinism has gotten its fetid little fingers.

Now, I know of WD's need for validation firsthand, from threats on the listserv he moderates (at least as of when I was banned), threats to the effect that if the little people don't start behaving the few actually important ID people will leave and start their own, super-private listserv. Because, that's how science is done: behind closed doors and without dissent.

Anyway, back to Denyse. She continued what is now a trend on UD, started by Dembski, to bash the Christians/Scientists at the American Scientific Affiliation. (With Dembski making what, in his mind, must be the most terrifying threat of all: to resign from the ASA. In an act of pure Christian Charity, he refrained from invoking the death sentence.) Denyse writes:

The ASA division continues to underperform. In retrospect, that was not a wise acquisition. It seems that no one cares much about scientists who claim to be religious but don't think the universe shows evidence of intelligent design.

No Denyse, that's not quite right, is it? All the ASA members I know have a position that I share, in fact the historic position of believing scientists: The universe does show evidence of intelligent design, but that interpretation is subjective—science can uncover the evidence (such as cosmological fine tuning), but science cannot prove the conclusion. It can, however, comfort believers.

The real reasons for UD's opposition to the ASA are twofold: 1) The ASA does not kowtow to the emperor; it refuses to unilaterally endorse ID as science and 2) The ASA criticizes YEC science which, in the ID community, is the unpardonable sin: an attack on the "big tent." The UDers attempt to obfuscate reason one, their petty anger over some ASA members questioning the scientific validity of ID (and, by extension, the scientific contributions of Wells and Dembski,) by pretending that the only reason they're upset with the ASA (a group of Christians) is that they criticize the YECs (another group of Christians.) Apart from the lack of concern for pot-kettle-blackness of biblical proportions, and apart from the fact that believers are supposed to criticize fellow believers (when appropriate,) an explanation as to what this all has to do in an allegedly scientific debate is conspicuously absent.


The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 3, Part 1)

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.

§3.1 The Intrusion of Sin

At the turn of the fourth century, one of the most important controversies in the history of the church erupted. It was a debate between St. Augustine (354-430) and a British monk by the name of Pelagius (ca. 354 - ca. 420/440). Such a big controversy—such an innocent catalyst. The event that launched the brouhaha was a modest sounding prayer penned from Augustine:

God, Command what you desire, and grant what you command.
This prayer encapsulates what we now call the doctrine of Original Sin. We believe it to be biblical, but in human terms it is said to have been first formulated by Augustine.

Augustine’s prayer acknowledges that man does not have the power, without God’s help, to obey God’s commands. Augustine’s prayer is this: God, I recognize that you are sovereign and can command of me whatever you want. I also recognize that I am unable to do what you command, apart from divine assistance—i.e., apart from grace. Help me.

It is important to recognize what original sin means and what it doesn't mean. Original sin means, quite simply, that we are born to sin. We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)
Original sin does not mean we stand charged with Adam's sin. Lead a sinless life and God will not keep you out of heaven on a technicality: True you committed no sin, but you forgot that Adam's sin was in your debit column. Gotcha! Such a concept impugns God's justice. No, original sin means something much worse, something that Augustine recognized. It means that we are such a corrupted race that in our natural state we have no choice but to sin. That is the dire consequence of the fall. Whatever we do as natural men, no matter what its outward appearance, is but filthy rags in God's eyes. Adam, as we will see, was our representative. He sinned, and the race suffered for it.

Augustine (and Reformed theology) teaches this: you have moral responsibility but, in your natural state, you lack the moral ability. In other words, apart from grace, you cannot choose not to sin. The fall did not change the requirement of obedience, but it changed us radically. So, apart from grace, we are doomed.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise on Original Sin. At one point he argued that even if the bible never taught the doctrine of original sin, human experience common sense would demand it. Why? Because if we are born innocent, then occasionally we would expect to find someone, be it one in a thousand or one in a million, who remained pure—but we never encounter such a person.

Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin, arguing that Adam’s sin affected Adam alone. He believed that, at birth, infants are in a state identical to Adam and Eve’s before the fall. Consistent with this view, he looked at baptism of infants as not in a cleansing them from sin but in imparting a higher sanctification through union with Christ. He didn’t really have a developed theology of baptism—it was a simple matter that it did not cleanse you of original sin because original sin did not exist. Augustine, in contrast, taught that infants are baptized to purge them of the sinful nature inherited from Adam.

According to Pelagius, there was no imputation of Adam’s sin onto his descendants. But scripture makes the symmetry plain: We are made righteous through imputation: Christ, as our representative, has abounding righteousness which is credited to us through imputation. It is not a fiction, and it is not a meaningless legal technicality: we are changed as a result. Likewise Adam’s sin, as he was our representative, is imputed to us. (Only later to be imputed from us to Christ on the cross.) It is not that we are charged with Adam’s sin, but that we are deeply affected by it. The physical result of the imputation is that we incapable of seeking or desiring or obeying God. We are dead in out trespasses.

So Pelagius argued that it is unnecessary for God to “grant” what he commands of us. Instead, according to Pelagius, it is possible for man, on his own, to fulfill God’s commandments. Pelagius believed that moral responsibility implied moral ability; it would be unjust for God to demand that we obey and yet arrange it so that we are born with the inability to do so. He argued that we must be born morally neutral—or innocent.

Pelagius had a role for grace: it facilitates our quest for moral perfection, but it is not required. In principle, at least, we can make do without grace. And, in fact, Pelagius argued that some people do, in fact, live a perfect life. Augustine, on the other hand, argued that grace is not only helpful but required.

Attacking Augustine and his doctrine on original sin, Pelagius argued that human nature was created good. In fact, we stay good. Sin does not change our essential human nature—we always will be “basically good.”

At the heart of the debate between Pelagius and Augustine is the thorny issue of free-will. Pelagius argued that Adam was given a free will, and his free will was not corrupted by the fall, nor was man’s moral character affected by the fall. Everyone, according to Pelagius, is born free of a predisposition to sin. Augustine agreed than man had a free will, but that man, on his own, was unable to use his will to choose God. Augustine believed that sin is universal and that man is a “mass of sin.” Man cannot, according to Augustine, elevate himself to doing good without benefiting from God’s grace.

Harnack (German theologian, 1851-1930) summarizes Pelagian taught:
Nature, free-will, virtue and law, these strictly defined and made independent of the notion of God - were the catch-words of Pelagianism: self-acquired virtue is the supreme good which is followed by reward. Religion and morality lie in the sphere of the free spirit; they are at any moment by man's own effort.
R.C. Sproul writes:
Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace.
Pelagius was condemned at the synod of Carthage in 418. Subsequent councils affirmed the condemnation of the Pelagian heresy and reaffirmed the doctrine of original sin.
So Augustine won the battle, but Pelagius won the war. Because we are a race of beings that doesn’t like grace, but with a religion that is only grace with no way to work your way to heaven. Strangely we have a natural affinity for the idea of salvation by works, so we try to sneak it in at every opportunity. And so the church, from the time the battle was won by Augustine, has faced a constant assault of Pelagian thought.

Sproul writes:
Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism. The seminal thought of Pelagius survives today not as a trace or tangential influence but is pervasive in the modern church. Indeed, the modern church is held captive by it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The LDS Nicene Creed

I came across this provocative post on This Side of Glory. The writer modifies the venerable Nicene Creed to reflect LDS theology:

We believe in one God, the main God of a number of Gods(1), who acquired His place as Supreme Being over a long period of time by living a righteous life(2), the Father Almighty, Maker
one of the Makers (3) of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (and Who is married, by the way) (4);

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, one of the spirit children of God (Lucifer being another), (5) the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father (6) by whom all things were made: Who won God's favor by agreeing with God's plan of salvation when Lucifer disagreed,(7) and who was called Jehovah in the Old Testament(8).

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
of a physical relationship between God the Father and Mary, (9) and was made man, and was married at the wedding in Cana (10);

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;

And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father in the celestial kingdom, the highest of the three kingdoms of heaven;(11) And He and Joseph Smith (12) shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets;

And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. in the Mormon Church, which restores Christianity to the form it had in the time of the apostles.(13)

We acknowledge one Baptism – for both living and dead – (14) for the remission of sins as long as that baptism is conducted by the Mormon Church (15)

We look for the Resurrection of the dead which will be presided over by Joseph Smith,(16)

And the Life of the world to come. And Joseph Smith. (17) Amen.

The numbers are references from LDS literature that support the red text redactions. You can find them in the original post, along with additional fascinating discussion.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 2, 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.

See the sidebar for links to other lessons.

§2.2 Covenant of Works?

Another term for the Covenant of Creation (between God and Adam and Eve) is the Covenant of Works. And it is true, that what is required from Adam and Eve to enjoy eternal life are works. The problem is that all the covenants that follow are under a single umbrella known as the Covenant of Grace. Therein lies the problem: if we have a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace, it sends the message that the Covenant of Works is “graceless.” May it never be. Grace abounds in the Covenant of Works, for God was not obligated to enter into any covenant with Adam and Eve. He was within his rights to create them and tell them: “Good luck, you’re on your own.” But he graciously condescended into entering into a covenant with his creatures. Nevertheless, because of this, the term “Covenant of Creation” is preferred.

It should also be noted that:

  1. The Covenant of Creation was between God and Adam and his descendants. That means everyone. There is no Jew, no Gentile, no Greek, no man, no woman, no Christian. Just people.

  2. The covenant, though broken, was not annulled. While future covenants are with “chosen” people, such as Jews, all men are held accountable to God by this first covenant with all mankind. Some people are covenant breakers, and some are covenant keepers (because Christ kept it for us), but in any case there is no opting out.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Gee our old LaSalle ran great

Dembski is really on a rant. He is upset over some book reviews published in Nature. His response:

  1. Paranoia
  2. Engage in ad hominem
  3. Question motives
  4. Ring his own bell, with vim and vigor
  5. Bizzare, Nixonian-like refence to himself in third person
Here is the paranoia:
the scientific community has sunk in discussing ID. Bigotry, cluelessness, and misrepresentation don’t matter so long as the case against ID is made with sufficient vigor and vitriol
Yes, it's the tiresome old scientific community in their black helicopters vs. ID. You know what? I'm part of the scientific community and I can tell you this: the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (OK, the physics community) doesn't give a rat's ass about ID. There is a small minority of us who are interested and stay attuned, but that's the extent of it. This is especially true since Dover. ID has fallen off the radar.

The egregious ad hominem appears here:
Judge Jones, who headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board before assuming a federal judgeship, is now a towering intellectual worthy of multiple honorary doctorates on account of his Dover decision, which he largely cribbed from the ACLU’s and NCSE’s playbook.
The fact that Judge Jones headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is totally irrelevant. It is meant to suggest that Judge Jones is an intellectual lightweight. The fact that Judge Jones has received multiple honorary doctorates is also irrelevant. Here Dembski distorts an honor into something shameful, again to impugn Jones's intellect. Finally he refers to the fact that Jones lifted much of his decision from the plaintiff, apparently common practice, and once again irrelevant.

The whole paragraph is so irrelevant, so bad, that Dembski would get an F were he writing an essay for freshman English rather than a blog post.

Next, in another tactic devoid of substance, Dembski questions the motives of the writer:
Kevin Padian, for his yeoman’s service in the cause of defeating ID, is no doubt looking at an endowed chair at Berkeley and membership in the National Academy of Sciences. And that for a man who betrays no more sophistication in critiquing ID than Archie Bunker.
Note that we don't know exactly what Dembski dislikes about the Padian's review, and just how it is unsophisticated, because Dembski's post contains no content. Go read it and then tell me one, just one, specific problem Dembski sees in Padian's review. It might, in fact, be the worst review in the history of reviews, but all we know is that it makes Dembski really, really, mad.

Then the post turns to self-aggrandizement:
Finally, Texas A&M awarded me the Trotter Prize jointly with Stuart Kauffman in 2005 for my work on design detection. The committee that recommended the award included individuals with mathematical competence. By the way, other recipients of this award include Charlie Townes, Francis Crick, Alan Guth, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, Robert Shapiro, Freeman Dyson, Bill Phillips, and Simon Conway Morris
And then this
Would it help to derail ID to characterize Dembski as a mathematical klutz. Then characterize him as a mathematical klutz.

What Dembski forgot to mention, what he always forgets to mention, is that he has never used his magnum opus. Not once. Here is opportunity for Dembski or one of his students to demonstrate his mathematical prowess. His explanatory filter is shown for convenience. Please use it to demonstrate that anything biological is designed.

The response of the ID movement is sooooo depressing. No research, no publications (not even in their own journal) no nothin'. Just a balling of tiny fists accompanied by an incessant whine.

For crying out loud man, stop bellyaching and do something.

Don’t worry about being “chosen”

There is some discussion in the comments about "worrying if one is chosen." That's understandable, but as usual if one compares a problem in Calvinism to Arminianism, the "problem" is just as bad or worse in Arminianism.

The classic example is the fairness question. People say: it is not fair, in the Calvinist view, that God chose Jacob and not Esau. That's true of course, if fairness means treating everyone the same. If fairness means that nobody receives injustice, then it is fair: Esau received justice, Jacob mercy, and nobody was unfairly punished. Arminians argue that in their scheme, everyone has an equal chance. But they generally refuse to acknowledge that if person A, in an unregenerated state, chooses God while person B doesn't, A must have some unfair advantage: better education, better parents, or life experiences that made him more amenable to the gospel. Or He was simply born with a better ability to take advantage of prevenient grace (that little bit of grace, in the Arminian view, that is available to assist the unregenerate in choosing God—the wooing factor.) Perhaps if there were just an iota more prevenient grace, B too would accept. Oh, perhaps A was born poor and B born rich—we know what the bible says about needles and camels—if B was born rich, he was not presented with a level playing field.

No, the Arminian view does not solve the fairness problem.

What about the worrying problem? No—Calvinism wins that hands down.

First of all, unbelievers generally don't worry about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. What sets anyone, normatively speaking, on the path toward salvation?

Feeling sick and disgusted. Unless one see's oneself as a sinner, there is no good news, in anyone's view. Jesus tells us he came for a subset of all people: the sick and the unrighteous. He tells us, explicitly, that he did not come for the healthy or the [self]righteous.

So unless you feel sick and disgusted (with yourself) there is no good news. However, both Arminians and Calvinists agree on this starting point. So the worry, which is the same in both cases, is whether or not you feel this need for repentance, and your own inadequacy in light of that acceptance. Here we have, in the first round a tie.

What happens next?

Well, the bottom line in Calvinism is: anyone who feels they are a sinner, is repulsed by their own sin, accepts that they cannot save themselves, and wants to learn how it is possible that Jesus provides that salvation can immediately stop worrying about whether or not they are chosen and begin enjoying their salvation. They can be totally confident that they are—because they are at a point where, scripture tells us, no unregenerate man dwells: they are seeking God. You are, at this point regenerated. That is very good news. That is the gospel.

The Arminian approach, from the same stating position, is to use that healthy self-loathing to reach a point where you, still as unregenerate person, can will yourself to make a personal commitment to Christ, and then you are regenerated. Of course between these two steps the process can be derailed. On Monday you may acknowledge yourself as a sinner, and on Thursday, before your personal commitment, you might change your mind. That's worrisome.

But it gets worse, in the Arminian view, because the personal commitment to Christ, coming from an unregenerate person still dead in original sin, comes with a very worrisome nonnegotiable condition: it must be sincere. How sincere? Totally apparently—but without question to some high though unspecified degree. Now that's something to worry about.

I know I love God. I know I'm a sinner. I don't worry about whether or not I am chosen, though I do worry about whether I am walking by faith. However—if I believed that I had to do anything sincerely enough in order to secure my salvation—well that would keep me awake at nights with worry.

So don't worry about being chosen. Worry only if you don't feel the need for salvation. But then—you wouldn't be worrying about it, would you?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mini Post on Prayer

I'm of the opinion that one of the worst lessons routinely taught in churches is this:

God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is "no" or "wait."
Bleh. I haven't read a satisfying discourse on prayer (in regards to how or when it is answered) but I am convinced that this simple aphorism is devoid of content.

Intelligent Design-o-metrics

There may be nothing new under the sun, but occasionally the novel ways in which an old-fashioned cash cow (the business seminar) is repackaged are surprising. Case in point, the must-see event of 2007: Intelligent Design in Business Practice.

When I first heard about this, I assumed it was a garden variety business seminar that co-opted a recognized phrase, intelligent design, just for a bit of pizzazz in its title. A little excusable redundancy, because it would be hoped that any design promoted at a business seminar would be intelligent.

But no, a quick review of the schedule and the speakers reveals that it is the capitalized Intelligent Design we're dealing with here. Richards will present ID "from cosmology to capitalism." Dembski will discuss "what is ID and why is it important?" Michael Neubert will lecture the business icons on the "implications of ID for business leadership."

Is our auto industry too materialist and too Darwinian? Are we losing the fight because the Japanese use ID? Will the Explanatory Filter finally be tested, demonstrating that GM's process is not intelligently designed while Toyota's is? Perhaps the EF should be patented?

Of course a business audience is less likely to ask annoying questions such as: if this be science, what does it predict? They would be more interested in what does this do for my bottom line?

The ID movement has failed to convince many that it is not about religion. Maybe they're right. Maybe it's all about the money.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heleen finds it relevant that…

Douglas Wilson has objectionable views.

She (an assumption, sorry if that's not correct, but I am not familiar with the name Heleen) makes her points in comments here and here.

Well, that would be relevant if I were blogging glowingly about Douglas Wilson's virtues in general. In fact, I have written at various times that I disagree with Wilson's views on theonomy, Christian education, the New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision, and his love affair with a fantasized version of the Confederacy. Not to mention that way, way back in 2002, in the nascent days of this blog, before I was an ID pariah, I criticized Wilson's misuse of the 2nd Law to attack evolution. On a personal note, being one-half of a racially mixed marriage, I would also question his milquetoasty and unconvincing condemnation of prohibitions against mixed marriages.

The only book of Wilson that I own, somewhere, is his book on classical Christian education. In there, Wilson makes an incorrect statistical argument (paraphrasing): Studies show that students who take Latin do better in other languages, therefore students should take Latin. He needs a bit more classical education himself on the misuse of correlations.

In fact, my most popular post ever (based on the number of emails it generated) was an anti-Wilsonian post, though it doesn't mention him by name.

But when I report on one comment that Wilson made that is spot-on, his views on other subjects are, in fact, irrelevant.

This is, of course, garden variety ad hominem. As defined here, the ad hominem argument consists of three steps:

  1. Person A makes claim X
  2. Person B makes an attack on Person A
  3. Therefore X is incorrect

In this case, Wilson wrote that the two fundamental axioms of atheism are:

  1. There is no God
  2. I hate him

As I wrote earlier, the biblical view (atheist commenters insisting they don't hate God missed or ignored the fact that I wrote the biblical view) is in agreement. They certainly deny God's existence. And, in the same sense that all fallen men do, prior to regeneration, they hate God. This is true regardless of whether or not they "feel" as if they have a personal enmity toward the Creator.

Heleen's argument is:

1. Wilson made those statements

2. Wilson's Wiki bio states, regarding his views on women:

Woman "was created to be dependent and responsive to a man," Wilson writes. Feminists seek "to rob women of their beauty in submission." Women should only be allowed to date or "court" with their father's permission — and then, if they are Christian, only with other Christians. If a woman is raped, the rapist should pay the father a bride price and then, if the father approves, marry his victim.

3. Therefore Wilson is wrong

There are two other places where this kind of arguing often appears. When I write favorably about Martin Luther, someone will inevitably point out that he wrote horrific anti-Semitic rants, and indeed he did. Another place where you see such methods is when it comes to Darwin, where some opposed to evolution insist on pointing out that Darwin made racist comments. And indeed he did: I would say that a fair assessment of Darwin was that he was not a racist in the KKK-like sense, that is he did not advocate ill treatment of other races, but in the "Noble Savage" sense—he clearly believed that the lighter races were superior to the darker.

But when discussing Luther's views on justification and Darwin's views on evolution, their "dark sides" are of no more than historical interest.

Heleen, I would say, doesn't grasp that concept.

Heleen's other mistake is that she did not provide the context for Wilson's quote. Now, it's quite possible that the context does nothing to make Wilson look better, but I don't know. I don't have the full context—I can't find it in the wiki article, or anywhere else on-line.

Update: Heleen insists it was the comment's construction on her part that resulted in her comment appearing to be ad hominem, and I am prepared to take her at her word.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Solution to "Another Cool Physics Problem"

The problem I posted a couple weeks ago really is quite cool. What makes an elementary physics problem cool? It think when it has one of two characteristics:

1) Either a simple application of basic principles renders a clear and elegant answer to an interesting problem, or

2) The problem requires an intuition that is not taught (perhaps it can't be) in the normal methodology of elementary physics. The normal approach we teach is: find the right equation and apply it, without much thought of what is actually happening. Cool problems, however, sometimes require a model.

The yo-yo problem found here is an example of the first type. The recent problem, found here, is of the second type.

One commenter suggested that the ball will reach it's initial height because of conservation of energy. That's a common guess, but it is wrong. Energy is conserved, but there is a lot of flexibility here: the height of each ball and the velocity of each ball.

If you have ever done this, you know that if you carefully drop the balls the smaller ball will bounce higher than its original height. But just using the equations you learn in elementary physics is a tricky approach--unless you have a model of the situation.

And here is the model:

1) The balls fall, together--as if they were attached. Computing the speed at impact is straightforward--conservation of energy shows that this speed, call it vo, is the square root of 2gh.

2) Here is the gist of the solution: let's view what happens next this way: the larger ball elastically impacts the (approximately infinitely massive) ground and has its velocity instantaneously reversed--it becomes vo directed up instead of down.

3) At that point we have an elastic collision between the big ball travelling upward at vo and the small ball travelling downward at vo. From conservation of momentum and energy, we can compute the recoil speed of the little ball.

4) From conservation of energy, we can then compute how high the little ball will go.

I'll leave it as an exercise that applying the equations for 1D elastic collisions in step 3. (Hint: the easiest way is to solve it in the frame where the little ball is travelling at 2vo down, and the big ball is at rest, then transform back. That's because most text books will give you the equation for a 1D elastic collision when one object is at rest.) The answer: after the collision, the little ball will be travelling at 5vo/3 upward.

The last step is simple: the little ball is travelling at 5vo/3 upward starting at a height of 2R (the diameter of the big ball.) Simple conservation of energy shows it will reach a height of 2R + 25h/9, or 16h/9 above its initial height.

You’re not there, so leave me alone!

Over on Uncommon Descent there is a discussion about the lucrative nature of the new atheism. The pot-kettle-black aspect of IDists complaining that new atheists are making money selling books is too obvious, so let's not even bother going there.

One commenter, however, referred to a written debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens. The UD commenter points us to one point made by Wilson:
You say that you cannot believe that Christ's death on the Cross was salvation for the world because the idea is absurd. I have shown in various ways that absurdity has not been a disqualifier for any number of your current beliefs. You praise reason to the heights, yet will not give reasons for your strident and inflexible moral judgments, or why you have arbitrarily dubbed certain chemical processes "rational argument." That's absurd right now, and yet there you are, holding it. So for you to refuse to accept Christ because it is absurd is like a man at one end of the pool refusing to move to the other end because he might get wet. Given your premises, you will have to come up with a different reason for rejecting Christ as you do.

But for you to make this move would reveal the two fundamental tenets of true atheism. One: There is no God. Two: I hate Him.
Now, I’m no Doug Wilson fan. His intellectual arrogance completely turns me off. And his ability to attract a following in Reformed circles that reaches, in my opinion, unhealthy levels of fervency leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. (Plus I really dislike his views on Christian education.) Nevertheless, this comment is spot-on. The biblical view on atheists really is: they say there is no god, and they hate him.

The Bapterian Liturgy

I’ve been travelling. While visiting some friends in Virginia, members of a Presbyterian church, I mentioned that I was now a "Bapterian." I then used the same explantion that I've used on here: A Bapterian is one who enjoys a glass of wine after pot-luck.

One friend in particular liked the idea of Bapterianism so much that he decided we should flesh out more details of this new denomination. For example, he suggested the syncretic compromise of calling baptism and the Lord's supper ordinary sacraments.

As for baptism, we decided that we should have infant baptism, and a believer's dedication. That is, parents will present their child for the sign of covenantal inclusion, and then, when the child is able to make a credible profession of faith, he dedicates himself to the church. Why, it's perfect!

We didn't get into the church government question—that might be the trickiest road to navigate on the way to unification. That, and the breakdown between wine and grape juice in the trays--should it be wine in the outer circle and grape juice in the middle, or vice-versa?

On a more serious matter, we discussed the real question: when should a baptism not "stick?" That is, suppose you were baptized as an infant in a Catholic church, but are now, as an adult, a Presbyterian. Should your baptism count?

My view is that it should, the efficacy of the sacrament being separate from the spiritual state of the presiding official. After all, there are certainly unbelieving clergy from any denomination who performed baptisms, weddings, and conducted the Lord’s supper. Upon discovery of their apostasy, we would not go back and re-baptize anyone whom they had baptized over the years.

On the other hand, I think a church should permit a person to be baptized again, if that makes them feel comfortable. This discussion started because one of my friends had been baptized in a Catholic church but was not a believer until she was an adult, at which time she joined a Presbyterian church. She wanted to be baptized again, but the church (correctly, I believe) told her it wasn't necessary. On the other hand, the church should have said: but we will, if you feel it is important. There is a school of thought in the Presbyterian Church that re-baptism is in some manner insulting to God. You are asking God to, once again, demonstrate his covenant, as if you don't believe he'll deliver on the basis of the first time the promise was made. Hmm--the story of God and Gideon leads me to believe that God doesn't mind if we ask him again and again. While (obviously) one shouldn't treat baptism willy-nilly, I see no scripture that supports the view that an adult, who for whatever reason feels uncomfortable about his baptism, cannot be baptized again. It appears to me to be a man-made restriction and, as such, is ultimately incorrect.

A Bapterian church would surely allow a new member to be baptized if they desire, but would also recognize their previous baptism. We're such a clever denomination.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

There is something important here even though

I can't quite put my finger on it.

Over on evolution blog I got into a discussion about fine tuning. I made the unusual argument, because it bears repeating, that the appearance of cosmological fine tuning is real. And that it is not an argument that applies only to life "as we know it" but any life at all. But your garden-variety non-scientist layman will almost always argue as if only theists see fine-tuning—when, in fact, atheistic scientists see it just as clearly as we do. The explanation is in dispute, not the phenomenon.

Then, inevitably, the argument shifts to some variant of "well maybe there will be a theory that derives the constants." As always, I dutifully point out that if we ever do discover a fundamental theory that explains the constants, then given what we know and agree, that habitability is sensitive to their values, we have just then arrived at the most compelling cosmological design argument possible, short of God's personal appearance. Namely: habitability is built into the fabric of spacetime.

So far, no big deal. I can make this argument without even looking. I've made it so many times, I even bore myself when I feel obligated to make it again.

But this particular thread took a somewhat unusual turn.

Here is what happened. There was general acknowledgement that the alternative to design is multiple universes. Furthermore, there was agreement that other universes cannot be detected—i.e., multiverse theories, like ID, are not testable. As usual I argued that we can then conclude that multiverse theories are no more scientific than ID.

So with that in mind, we pick of the conversation. Someone by the name of Owlmirror writes, to me:

but they [multiple universes] are logically more consistent and coherent than your even more hypothetical and unfalsifiable external creator/desginer.

And (emphasis added)

So, even assuming that the physical constants can vary and there were/are no other universes, an explanation that would make better sense than an external creator is that the universe itself will eventually give rise to an evolved species that will gain the intelligence and power to affect space and time, and send power and information back in time to cause the universe to come into existence such that their own causality is preserved.

And, as to why the cosmological ID argument is inferior to the theory that the universe was created, in negative time, by its most advanced inhabitants (emphasis added)

[Comological ID] is not causally complete. The origin of the creator is open: Where did it come from? How did it come into existence? How did it get the power to create universes? How did it gain the knowledge to fine-tune universes such that life would arise? Why does it not interact with the universe in a detectable manner? What is its purpose in creating the universe?

For [Back to the future], all the questions are answerable: The creator(s) came from the universe itself. It/They evolved, as all life did, from lifeless matter over billions of years, eventually gaining intelligence equal to ours, and eventually surpassing our current understanding at the cosmological level. It/They got the power and knowledge to create universes and manipulate space-time from studying this universe (and possibly others), and since it knows that this universe's cosmological constants are what is required for itself/themselves to evolve, that's what would be used in creating the universe. The creator(s) would not interact with the universe (other than creating it) because it/they would not want to disrupt the causal chain that lead/will lead to its/their eventual existence. And finally, it/they simply want to bring about its/their own existence.

Well, alllll-righty then!

And the ubiquitous Science Avenger added, in response to my question: why are multiverse theories more scientific? (emphasis added)

So, even assuming that the physical constants can vary and there were/are no other universes, an explanation that would make better sense than an external creator is that the universe itself will eventually give rise to an evolved species that will gain the intelligence and power to affect space and time, and send power and information back in time to cause the universe to come into existence such that their own causality is preserved.

And so on, and so on, with inevitable references to abstracts that speculate (but offer no test) that the universe might be its own mother. Future creatures will eventually create the universe we're in—or the universe created itself—anything but God.

As I have argued, repeatedly, atheism is not religion. But that doesn't mean atheists cannot make overtly religious arguments. Appealing to untestable explanations for the creation of the universe is not distinguishable "in kind" from attributing creation to God. Both Owlmirror and Science Avenger, I assume, are atheistic. But their arguments, in this case are as religious as mine. Try as they might, they cannot make a compelling case that, rationally speaking, appealing to untestable (but scientific sounding) theories is any better than appealing to design.

A self-consistent atheist, it seems to me, would argue: don't talk to me about design or about multiverses or about creatures creating their own universe—if you can't test it, it's all the same, it's all equally bad.

As to why anyone would rather believe that advanced creatures creating their own universe billions of years in the past is preferable to attributing it to God—well this Calvinist is not surprised. No one seeks God, no not one.

I wonder if even more advanced creatures will decide they can do even better, and re-recreate the universe (back in time) even if it means earlier species (who had already recreated the universe) will not actually come into existence—or if there will be some sort of universal law against that sort of thing. Thou shall not re-kickstart the universe just to rid thyself of minor inconveniences like Oprah, especially if means entire galaxies along with their inhabitants will not come into existence.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

And Another Cool Physics Problem

Two balls, one of mass m and the other of mass 2m are dropped from a height h, as shown. The lighter mass is on top, and the radius of the heavier ball is R. All collisions are perfectly elastic, and air resistance can be ignored. How high above the floor will the lighter mass reach after the rebound?

UD Outrage Du Jour

In a comment on his own post at Uncommon Descent, Dembski writes

Jonathan Wells and I make the same point regarding the origin of life in our book THE DESIGN OF LIFE, which is coming out in two months:

"Proof-of-concept works only when one proves the concept. Origin-of-life researchers are a long way from establishing proof of concept. Indeed, it has completely eluded them. Their willingness to embrace just about any highly speculative scenario for life's origin suggests that in fact they are giving up on proof of concept and acting out of desperation, trying to shore up a materialistic explanation of life's origin when life is clearly telling us that its origin is not materialistic."

"they?" "willingness to embrace?" "acting out of desperation?" "shore up?" "life is clearly telling us?"


This book is intended, I'll remind you, not as a popularization—in which case virtually anything would be acceptable, but as a science text book. No science text should read, as that paragraph reads, like an editorial penned by Ken Ham (or anyone else—such as Richard Dawkins). And you should agree with me on this, even if you agree with Ken Ham's creationism, because science text books are not supposed to editorialize.

Don't tell us what is wrong with the prevailing science, show us.

Here, I'll rewrite it the way the editor should have demanded, keeping the point they wanted to make intact but with all the garbage removed:

Current research into the origins of life has made little, if any, experimental progress.

A statement that is more or less beyond dispute and conveys to the student that OoL research is still in its infancy.

Jonathan Wells is a Moonie—so none of his actions—in light of that peculiar choice—can surprise. Indeed, a member of a heretical cult would be expected to act in a manner that is damaging to the church. But Dembski is a Christian. His insistence on driving a wedge between God's church and the study of God's general revelation (science) is inexplicable.

And by that I don't mean that it is wrong for him to point out where he thinks mainstream science is wrong, or to propose alternative theories. Those are proper activities for the researcher. But the political rather than scientific manner in which he engages in his crusade—the reliance on hyperbole rather than substance—is worse than embarrassing: it is harmful. Christians are supposed to offend with the gospel—they are not supposed to come across as rubes and bumpkins (as St. Augustine so ably wrote). Instead of carrying out research Dembski finds fulfillment, it would appear, in serving as a guru and basking in the validation by his followers.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Little Debbie

A famous car with a rich history in NASCAR is the Woods brother's number 21. Presently it is sponsored, part time, by Little Debbie snack foods. An interesting bit of miscellanea:

The #21-Wood Brother's part time sponsor, Little Debbie snacks, is run by Seventh [Day] Adventists. From sundown Friday till sundown Saturday, the team has to cover all Little Debbie logos on the hauler, wear non-L. D. attire and remove all L. D. livery from the race car.

(from Jayski, who attributes it to Autoweek, 3-16-2006.)

By the way—last week's race at Loudon was somewhat boring. NASCAR's newly introduced platform, the boxy "car of tomorrow," promised a more level playing field and more passing. So far neither is turning out to be true, at least not obviously so. But it was still fun to be at the track, and the weather was nice and cool.

Interesting “God Delusion” critique

To get all the hat-tips right would be a bit of a pain, so I'll just refer you Joshua Claybourn's Post Dawkins Demolished. From there you can follow all the necessary links, and credit goes where credit is due.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fun with Fallacy

A couple months back I posted on the humorous book A Random Walk in Science. One of the better contributions contained therein is a reprint of The Uses of Fallacy by Paul V. Dunmore, New Zealand Mathematics Magazine, 7, 15 (1970). In the article Dunmore explains some of the better fallacies employed by creative teachers. Here is an excerpt:

There is a whole class of methods which can be applied when a lecturer can get from his premises P to a statement A, and from another statement B to the desired conclusion C, but he cannot bridge the gap from A to B. A number of techniques are available to the aggressive lecturer in this emergency. He can write down A, and without any hesitation put "therefore B". If the theorem is dull enough, it is unlikely that anyone will question the "therefore". This is the method of Proof by Omission, and is remarkably easy to get away with (sorry, "remarkably easy to apply with success").

Alternatively, there is the Proof by Misdirection, where some statement that looks rather like "A, therefore B" is proved. A good bet is to prove the converse "B, therefore A": this will always satisfy a first-year class. The Proof by Misdirection has a countably infinite analog, if the lecturer is not pressed for time, in the method of Proof by Convergent Irrelevancies.

Proof by Definition can sometimes be used: the lecturer defines a set S of whatever entities he is considering for which B is true, and announces that in future he will be concerned only with members of S. Even an Honours class will probably take this at face value, without enquiring whether the set S might not be empty.

Proof by Assertion is unanswerable. If some vague waffle about why B is true does not satisfy the class, the lecturer simply says, "This point should be intuitively obvious. I've explained it as clearly as I can. If you still cannot see it, you will just have to think very carefully about it yourselves, and then you will see how trivial and obvious it is."

The hallmark of a Proof by Admission of Ignorance is the statement, "None of the text-books makes this point clear. The result is certainly true, but I don't know why. We shall just have to accept it as it stands." This otherwise satisfactory method has the potential disadvantage that somebody in the class may know why the result is true (or, worse, know why it is false) and be prepared to say so.

A Proof by Non-Existent Reference will silence all but the most determined troublemaker. "You will find a proof of this given in Copson on page 445", which is in the middle of the index. An important variant of this technique can be used by lecturers in pairs. Dr. Jones assumes a result which Professor Smith will be proving later in the year--but Professor Smith, finding himself short of time, omits that theorem, since the class has already done it with Dr Jones...

The entire article is available here. Great stuff.