Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reply to Dave Mullenix

Reader Dave Mullenix commentened on my Avalos post. I want to elevate my response to page one.

Dave Mullenix,

Maybe I'm wrong, but I seem to recall your past comments on this blog as being intelligent, but I haven't checked to confirm that impression. This comment, however, is unambiguous. This comment was asinine. You wrote:
By the time Avalos started that petition, Gonzalez was almost six years into a seven year tenure process. During that time, he started NO independent research, attracted NO funding and graduated NO grad students. Additionally, he had flunked at least five yearly reviews in a row.
Irrelevant. If Gonzalez's tenure was already doomed, then it just demonstrates that in addition to being a sneaky and cowardly bastard, Avalos was willing to kick someone when they were already down and out. Most likely the purpose was to advance his own career. Avalos' anti-ID petition, though it took no more brains than that of a gnat to launch, was good fodder, no doubt, for his own review--perhaps he even trumpeted it in his application for promotion to full professor.

As for your comments, I would disagree that based on what is publicly available on various web sites that Gonzalez did no independent research. Whether it was substantive and voluminous enough for someone seeking tenure I could not say. It does appear (based on what I have gleaned) that he attracted no major grants--which indeed would be enough to derail his candidacy.

The "no-graduate" student criticism is, in my opinion, bogus. I went to a better graduate school than ISU, and at some point I asked an assistant professor to be my thesis advisor. He came back to me the next day and said he was flattered, but after speaking to his supervisor (a full professor), his supervisor told him that their group's policy was that only tenured professors could supervise Ph.D. students (I became the supervisor's graduate student, and the assistant prof was eventually tenured.) So it is not unheard of for groups to have such a policy, as a protection for the students. In short, not having supervised any graduate students may or may not be a negative for a given candidate, based on the practices of that particular group. But you don't care about such level of detail, I suspect.

I seriously doubt that Gonzalez failed the review process at least five years in a row. Are you on a faculty? A new assistant professor does not get a six year guaranteed contract so that regardless of how bad his performance is he gets a chance to apply for tenure. You generally get a series of one year contracts. While people have bad reviews from time to time, Gonzalez would not have survived long enough to apply for tenure if he had flunked "at least five yearly reviews in a row." That's pure BS.
How's it feel to be on the same side of an argument as Salvadore?
Almost too dumb to comment on. Pick any person, and I (and you) will agree with that person on some issues. It is even dumber given that I suspect that on an important aspect of this this issue I am probably not in agreement with Sal. Sal (I am guessing) would be adamant that Gonzalez deserved tenure but was cheated by the secular humanist academy. If you look at previous posts from me on this topic I have stated that, based on the public information, the lack of grant money would doom a candidate at a research university. The question here was not did Gonzalez deserve tenure, but the fact that some despicable creature named Avalos engaged in a witch hunt. I sense you are the type of person who enjoys a good witch hunt, as long as you agree that those on the pointy end of the spear deserve their fate.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hector, Hector, Hector

If one were to rank the people connected, even remotely, to the ID wars, in the order of how closely they resemble clich├ęs, Iowa State’s little professor Hector Avalos would come out on top. Call central casting and request a pseudo-intellectual anti-religious Religious Studies professor, and the smarmy Hector would get the call every single time. He is truly detestable, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t like him even if I were on the nu-atheist team. Some people, even if you happen to agree with them, still leave you feeling dirty. Such a man is Hector Avalos.

He was, you may recall, an enemy of Guillermo Gonzalez, the ID Astronomer who was denied tenure at Iowa State. Gonzalez’s tenure review, regardless of whether or not it reached the correct decision, will forever have an asterisk associated with it, thanks to Avalos. Instead of allowing the review process to play itself out behind closed doors, as is customary, Avalos launched a pre-emptive strike, a public relations campaign that only the true zealots with their heads in the sand would dare deny was nothing less than directed squarely at derailing Gonzalez’s candidacy.

The “true intellect” of this, um, scholar can be measured by examining his writing. For example, on ISU’s website we read how, after studying a number of cases, a insightful new theory emerged through the mind of Avalos, a theory regarding conflict:
In the book, I [Avalos] explain why religion causes violence. After studying a number of cases from the ancient world, a theory emerged related to scarce resources. Violent conflict usually results from a real or perceived scarcity of something valued," said Avalos.

We simply must call this Avalos’ Theory: the idea that conflict is related to the scarcity of a desired resource. I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before?

Now our Hector, writing for Talk Reason, has focused his keen mind on the connection between Creationism and Genocide.

I must say, rarely is an entire article of this length, from a full professor, all bad, and consist exclusively of poor scholarship. But this one achieves the distinction. For example, let’s look at the section entitled From Luther to Hitler. Before you even read it, can you guess what it will say? I did, so I bet you can too.

Exactly as expected, exactly as it appears daily in the comment sections of countless blogs around the world, Avalos, the noted scholar, makes the argument: Oh, so you think Darwin lead to Hitler? Well let me tell you, it was actually Luther! Do you not know that Luther penned some horrible anti-Semitic rants? (No Hector, we didn’t take any European history. And we hadn’t noticed that Luther’s anti-Semitism is one of the most frequently visited topics in blogdom.)

I don’t have to paraphrase: the actual writing is as awful as any caricature I could present:
In particular, Weikart [whom Avalos is critcizing] never mentions that Martin Luther (1483-1546), the father of Protestantism, espoused a seven-point plan for the Jews in 1543, hundreds of years before Darwin came on the scene. For this reason, Luther's plan bears repeating at length:
First, to set fire to their synagogues…
Yes, it really is the age old asinine comment war: Darwin led to Hitler! No Luther led to Hitler! No, it was Darwin! No Luther! placed inside a very thin veneer of scholarship. (Avalos uses references! He must therefore possess gravitas!)

In the section on abortion, Avalos once again seems to believe that any idea he has must be a fantastic new insight. He writes
That would mean that abortion should result in a 100% salvation rate for fetuses who are aborted. Abortion would also eliminate completely the risk of sending aborted fetuses to an eternal torture in hell. So, by this logic, creationists should be for abortion, not against it.
The italics are his, indicating that he believes that he has said something smart. But what he has “discovered” has been said many times, for many years, including on this blog, where I have written that the logical conclusion of the “all dead infants go to heaven” theory is that abortion is a mercy killing. Avalos, however, attempts (and fails) to extend this obvious point beyond what it really is (a provocative point demonstrating the perhaps unforseen complications with an all-babies-go-to-heaven doctrine) to what it is not—indicative of some inferior view on the value of life held by creationists.

Avalos explains, by the way, the superior view on life held by the secular humanists:
Valuing genetic diversity can lead to valuing the preservation of life.
Yes. I hear that argument all the time. It is very compelling—so much more than the argument about man being made in the image of God.

Avalos’s article is too awful to counter, point by point. I invite you to look at it. I didn’t pull out particularly weak sections: they all are that childishly argued.

I will, however, look at one more. Avalos wrote a section called Child Sacrifice is Biblically Approved. Now this intrigued me. Knowing the bible fairly well, I would think that I would have recalled when it called for children to be sacrificed to Yahweh. This must be juicy—because surely a man of Avalos’s intellect must have uncovered something new. Surely he would have something more than Exodus 22:29-30.

Alas, no. He has Exodus 22:29-30.
29 "Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. "You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Ex. 22:29-30)
Here we have a case that, even if you pull the verses out of context, as Avalos did, they still don’t say what you want them to say. This passage is not an advocacy of child sacrifice. As if in the middle of his instruction on the minutia of social rules for the Jews, God would cavalierly institute child sacrifice—with no details, and no instructions for such an important rite.

If you do not see that this passage refers to the sanctification of the first born, and to circumcision, then it is only because, like Avalos, you don’t want to see the obvious. So you sprinkle your argument with references such as: As the brilliant Dr. So and So pointed out,” (translated: I found someone who agrees with me) and hope, or probably actually believe, that it renders your argument sound.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mixing religion and politics...

almost always makes us look bad.
Today, [Baptist pastor] Drake told us by telephone that he has called for prayers aimed at smiting the AU and its leadership not because they oppose him personally, but because "they are attacking God's people."
Sigh. And the rest of us have to endure the ridicule of our detractors. I wouldn't mind the mocking in the least if was for the sake of the gospel. But when it is the result of some jackass who wants to call down a curse from heaven upon his political enemies, that is hard to swallow.

Thank you sir, may I please have another?

HT: Ed Brayton

For Moore, The Church is Less

I missed this article by Baptist pastor James Evans, Discounting God's role in church, state when it first appeared. It is worth a read. An excerpt, aimed squarely at Judge Moore's grandstanding:
But if we blame all of our country's current problems on the failure of the state to acknowledge God, what does that say about the church? After all, isn't the church a "public acknowledgment of God?" When congregations pray, aren't they engaged in public prayer? When the Bible is read, doesn't that count as Bible reading?

To put the matter more pointedly, is the church such an inadequate institution that if God is not acknowledged in the courthouse and schoolhouse God is removed from the public sphere?
Amen, brother!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More Christian Victimhood

This is the video of Christians disrupting a Hindu prayer in the senate.

And here is an article in World Net Daily by Judge Roy Moore, canonizing said Christians.

You can judge for yourself whether or not the Christians committed a righteous act of civil disobedience. But one thing, it seems to me, is beyond dispute: Judge Moore, with blatant dishonesty, tries to couch this as Christian persecution. After likening the Christians to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, he writes:
For whatever reason, it was left to Ante, Katherine, and Christan to stand for our country and our faith in God and face the raging fire of criticism, intimidation, and persecution which has followed.

Sorry, no, this is not persecution. They were arrested for disrupting the Senate Chambers, plain and simple. Had they been arrested without committing a crime, that would be persecution.

Judge Moore panders to a niche market he helped create: American Christian Victimhood. All he will succeed in accomplishing is an unproductive desensitization.

Three men meet at a martyr's convention in heaven. Agreeing to explain their qualifications, the first man said, "My name is Stephen. I was, after Jesus, the first Christian martyr. I refused to back down from preaching the gospel." A second man said: "I lived in the Sudan. I was hunted down like a dog by Islamic militants and given an option to covert or die. I refused to deny my faith." The third man said, "I screamed my lungs off in the Senate Chambers and got arrested and made it on CNN!"

Christians need lots of evolution, or…

An alternative title might be: Why Jonathan Wells deserves some credit.

Recently, talking with someone who considered me safe, I heard, for the first time in a while, the dreaded and supposed evolution showstopper: what good is half and eye? This person was not scientific, but the question, as it always does, came with the tone of voice and facial expression that indicated that no response was required (it is, in a sense, a legitimate though trivial rhetorical question: what good is half an eye?) and that nothing but a knowing nod was expected from me.

Later, that somehow got me thinking about Jonathan Wells's career.

Most of you know Jonathan Wells as one of ID's fab four.

Wells describes finding his life's mission this way:

"One of the things that Father advised us to do at UTS was to pray to seek God's plan for our lives."

That part sounds most excellent, unless you know that Father means Sun Myung Moon and UTS means the Unification Theological Seminary.

Now, Wells's religion is irrelevant in terms of the correctness of ID. If I said: "ID is wrong because Wells is a Moonie," that would be an ad homimen attack. But that doesn't mean it is ad hominem to comment, stand-alone, about Wells's church—that's not ad hominem. At worst it can be viewed as garden-variety insult.

Sun Myung Moon is a heretic, a tax-evader, a false prophet and, even worse, a false Christ. Barring a last minute conversion, he'll rot for all eternity, and one can make a scriptural case that a special punishment is reserved for false prophets—and if not the mother of false prophets he is certainly near the top of the family tree.

So Wells prays to God for a plan, at the behest of a heretic. Strange world.

Okay, I got that off my chest.

What was that revealed plan, according to Wells? He put it this way:

"To defend and articulate Unification theology especially in relation to Darwinian evolution."

Well, okay. I have, in principle, no problem with that. If he is big into the Moonie thingy, then at least he is demonstrating the power of his convictions. If his beloved Unification theology is at odds with evolution, then who can argue with him dedicating his life to defending it?

So we have his plan in theory—but what about the implementation? Well, Sun Myung Moon paid for Wells to get a Ph.D. at Berkeley in Molecular and Cell Biology. Wells explains:

"Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle."

To me, this seems a vomitous attitude for one to hold when starting Ph.D. program in the sciences. For me, it would have ruined all the fun of graduate school. Yet underneath the ugliness there is the germ of a good idea. Wells charging off to "destroy" and "engage in battle" as a soldier in the army of a criminal and an apostate lunatic is certainly hideous enough—but the method has some merit.

That is, if you really want to defeat evolution there is only one way: learn more about it than anyone else. All the Christians who (a) think evolution is very bad and (b) as a consequence something that should be avoided lest it pollutes young minds, well they are taking the wrong approach. They should follow Jonathan Wells's unwitting example and encourage their scientifically minded youth to obtain Ph.D.s.

But that is as far as they should follow the example of Jonathan Wells. Because a Ph.D. combined with an odious attitude and purely confrontational motives leads, it would appear, not to fighting the fight the honorable way—in the lab—but in the dishonorable way—in the arena of public opinion and public policy. Wells took a good approach and promptly bastardized it.

So while we should send our kids to the university to study biology—we should not fill their heads with warfare metaphors. We should say: go study, and then go into the lab, not the courtroom. Write papers, not popularizations (at least, not only popularizations.) God is not a God of confusion. If your research helps to overturn evolution, so be it. If it helps to confirm evolution, so be it. Studying creation can never be bad. Science can never present a sustainable challenge to our faith—but our methods and attitudes, if they are as ugly and as mean-spirited as those of Jonathan Wells, can damage our reputation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em

Man, I'm good lucky!

Now, theologically speaking, I'm of the mind that what is not explicitly prohibited is permissible with all the attendant caveats about idols, covetousness, making your brother stumble, and especially the lesson that all things should be done in moderation. So I am not opposed to gambling when it is a form of fellowship.

For example: if I am at an event that has a 50-50 raffle, I would not, as a matter of principle, take the position "I'm a Christian and I don't gamble." The bigger lesson I would see here, absent an explicit prohibition, is to be all things to all people.

So with that introduction, I'll describe the results of the last three times I gambled.

I entered a "survivor" football poll. This is where, to advance to the next week, you can pick any team to win—but the catch is you can only pick any given team once during the contest. On the last regular season weekend there were three of us left. Alas, being somewhat foolish, I had no teams left to pick from the set of teams that were headed to the playoffs, so even if I advanced I would be out the following week by forfeiture. But wait! On that last regular season Sunday my pick won while the other two players picked losers! Game over man! I won $400.

A couple months ago I was on a business trip to Palm Springs California. I had never been in a casino—but after dinner that is what my colleagues wanted to do so I went along. I decided I would play the slots one time only, for $5, and bada-bing, I won $40.

A couple weeks ago I was in San Diego on business. This time my colleagues invited me to play Texas Hold 'em, which I roughly understood from ESPN—although I hadn't watched enough to appreciate the finer points of small and big "blinds" and the like.

Well—I wiped 'em out! I won everything! ($120).

Any risk here? Well the football polls, to me, are just to join in the fun. And to show that Christians aren't all dour legalists. And the Casino—well I can now say: been there done that—it was something of a curiosity thing. I would go back if I was with a group of friends, but any desire to try a slot machine has been quenched.

But the Texas Hold 'em—man that is some game. It involves an intoxicating combination of luck, memory, mathematics, and psychology. That game is dangerous—that game is one that could suck me in. That is "capital T" Temptation.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Civilian Entanglements

The glare of famous verses in a book, especially a small book, can blind you to some underpublicized nuggets. Such is the case of Paul's second epistle to Timothy. Think of 2nd Timothy and, if you're like me, the statistically anomalous 3:16 (all scripture is inspired) comes to mind.

But yesterday, in Sunday School, we read a passage from chapter two, and I was struck by:

3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (2 Tim 2:3-4)

I like the part about not getting entangled in civilian pursuits. Both John Calvin and Matthew Henry view this along the lines that pastors should give up everything, including their previous occupation—something which isn't always possible. I think that is part, but not the entire meaning.

(Aside: we make it way too hard for men to become pastors, some denominations (Presbyterians) ridiculously so. If PCA elders had encountered Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26) they would have been beside themselves—probably writhing on the ground in paroxysms of righteous indignation. But what happened in Acts? Priscilla—a (gasp) woman and Aquila simply corrected his teaching, without four years of cash-cow seminary study, and sent him on his way. Imagine that!)

Back to the passage above. It seems to me that politics are just about the most entangling of all civilian activities. I think it is not a stretch to argue that Paul's teaching can be applied as an admonition regarding Christians getting involved in politics. To wit: don't do it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More Repulsive Christian Victimhood

As you are probably aware, there is a brouhaha over military officers appearing in evangelical fundraising videos, in uniform, in the Pentagon.

In doing so the officers, according to the Inspector General, committed violations under the umbrella of ethics breaches. I have no expertise in such matters, but I will for the moment assume the officers were in violation, but that's not really the point of this post.

The military has always been accommodating to the beliefs of the troops, as it should be. As a country, we should expend public funds to help men and women facing death and killing seek out, should they desire, spiritual comfort and counsel. But that's not a blank check. Imagine if you will the response to a video of a General Officer, in uniform, in the Pentagon, raising money for Islam, and stating Allah is Great, There is no God but Allah.

What I find repulsive is that the officers in question are being treated like civil rights victims. Hogwash.

Sigh. If only they would state publicly that they accept and even anticipated their punishment, but nevertheless they proceeded, knowingly at risk, because of their devotion to a higher cause. Then I, for one, would find them admirable. A certain level of civil disobedience for the cause of evangelism is a good thing—but civil disobedience presupposes that you acknowledge you are bending the rules and are willing to suffer the consequences. In the bible, you do see examples of such civil disobedience—Peter and John in Acts 4 come to mind.

My impression of civil disobedience in the bible is that it is minimal—it is of the well, we have no choice variety. It was not for the purpose of demonstrating strength or to make a political point just for the hell of it. Peter and John, in spite of orders to cease and desist, continued to speak the name of Christ, because—what else could they do? If it comes to the point where you have to break the law in order to preach the gospel, then break the law. If you don't have to break the law, don't. That's the degree of civil disobedience I see practiced in scripture. That's the model we should follow, as Christians.

In the case of this fund raising evangelical video, there was no compelling need to break the rules. And there is no respectful I know this is in violation, but I'm going to do it anyway attitude. Instead we are treated with more Christian-victimhood whining, more complaining about how the mean-old secular U.S. government is persecuting Christianity—a charge that must make the Christians in the Sudan or Indonesia want to cough up their skulls. Oh, if only the Sudanese Christians were forced to endure such persecution as we face in America!

Case in point: former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt writing hideously in the often hideous World Net Daily (and conveniently forgetting to mention the minor detail that the officers appeared in the video in the Pentagon):

So, if left-wing activist Mikey Weinstein wants congressional hearings, count me in, too. Let them haul us Christians before the tribunals to give an account for our public faith-speech. Only let us wear our uniforms to testify before Congress like Lt. Col. Ollie North did bravely, to their embarrassment. Let us testify about Jesus Christ before Congress and the entire world. We may surrender our wrists to their nails, right there on C-SPAN, but we'll never be ashamed to speak publicly of our Lord and Savior.

No sir, I don't think so. You dare speak of tribunals. I suspect you couldn't handle a tribunal. You dare use the sacred image of nails and wrists to fulfill a narcissistic need for victimhood status, and by doing so abominably imply a similarity between Jesus' martyrdom and your appearing before Congress. You dare think that a motivation of embarrassing "them" can ever be associated with a righteous cause.

Don't go testify to congress in your uniform to embarrass them; you'll only succeed in embarrassing Christianity. Go preach the gospel to a lost neighbor. Without your uniform. Without being on C-SPAN. Without writing about it in World Net Daily. And without whining if the neighbor shoos you away.

But first change your attitude. And read the bible for models of evangelism.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Heads I win, tails you lose

I hate cheap arguments, I Just hate 'em. Regardless of whose side they are on.

Let me start with a cheap argument from "our side." I have often read analysis along the lines of: If you accept evolution, then it logically follows that you must endorse Eugenics.

The purpose of this type of approach is clear: you can then attack the person for either (a) being a hypocrite if they don't endorse Eugenics, as you claim they must, or (b) argue against the horrors of Eugenics in the unlikely event that they do.

The person making this argument is looking to frame the debate in a cheap heads I win, tails you lose format.

To make matters worse, this type of argument sacrifices a legitimate question: Does accepting evolution lead to an endorsement of Eugenics? –sacrifices it on the altar of declaring victory without debate. The question—which is one that might be asked in good faith—remains unspoken.

There are a couple of these arguments, from atheists, that I come across with some regularity.

One is: If you actually believe the bible is inerrant, you must adopt a YEC position; it's the only logical conclusion. If not, you're a hypocrite.

Another is: If you actually believe the bible is inerrant, you must endorse the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery, and homosexuality. And, of course, you must also endorse slavery. It's the only logical conclusion. If not, you're a hypocrite.

In the first case, the person making the argument doesn't want to bother dealing with the Framework Hypothesis, or the Day-Age Theory—views of Genesis that have support among conservative Christians who affirm inerrancy. That would be too much work. In the seedy e-ghetto that I traverse, the person making this argument always has a goal: they want to show that science and the bible are incompatible. So, in their laziness, they demand that you accept a vulnerable position or be declared a hypocrite. Anything else requires too much homework.

Sadly, YECs often play the useful idiot in this game. They will delight in trumpeting the fact that anyone with any credentials of note claims that their interpretation of Genesis is the only legitimate one, even if the person making the argument only wants, ultimately, to demonstrate what fools they are.

The best example of this is James Barr, Oxford Professor of History, who once wrote:

Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience;

YECs, including luminaries such as John Morris, who don't give a rat's ass what astronomers at world class universities believe, quote Barr as a sage. They neglect, however, two inconvenient facts: (1) Later in the same letter that is the source of the quote, Barr danced, writing that, in effect, he is not really sure what scholars believe, since the matter doesn't come up for discussion much and (2) at the time he made the statement he was promoting his book, Escaping from Fundamentalism, which, among other things, was to show the foolishness of the inerrancy position—therefore how convenient that inerrancy demands the YEC interpretation. (Aside: I was recently kicked off a YEC forum for pointing out how John Morris quote-mined Barr.)

Again, there is a legitimate question lurking in the background: Does biblical inerrancy demand a Young Earth View? Too bad: the question is jettisoned for expediency.

More recently I was presented, for the nth time, with conundrum number two: Modern Christians must endorse death penalties for all sorts of crimes, and they must endorse slavery, or they are hypocrites. Heads they win, tails we lose. The legitimate questions, such as: why don't Christians endorse the death penalty for blasphemy? are tossed overboard—because arguing along the lines of have you stopped beating your wife? is so much easier.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Live Here. We are Holy. We are Worthy.

Here is the story of a Midwestern town that has placed at its gateway a sign that reads:

Welcome to the Village of Alorton ... Where Jesus is Lord. Mayor Randy McCallum

While I obviously appreciate the sentiment, I disagree with this sort of thing. A legal fight can't be far off, and as Ed Brayton points out, if you replace Jesus is Lord with Allah rules you would draw completely different battle lines.

My disagreement is based on the fact that it (the sign) is a cheap and meaningless gesture. Along the lines of In God We Trust on the coinage and One nation, under God in the pledge. Including these nice-sounding phrases means nothing. The first rule of leading a Christian life should be similar to the golden rule of writing: show, don't tell. I'm not impressed with a town that tells me it is a place where Jesus is Lord, but I'd be mighty taken by a town that demonstrated it with its deeds. Similarly, I'm sick of politicians telling me they are Christians just to get my vote when their behavior is indistinguishable from that of a scoundrel. To first order, I no longer believe any politician who claims to take his or her faith seriously.

Here's what I want: I want to walk into an Alorton without the sign, blissfully unaware of its boasting, and come away from Alorton thinking: man, there is something different about the people of Alorton, and I like it, and I want what they have.

I would expect the ACLU to get involved, and to be more or less savaged for its efforts by many of my fellow Christians.

Just to remind everyone—though I'm a conservative Christian, I have no real problem with the ACLU, at least not at the moment, although there are early-warning signs that they are becoming what they despise. The ACLU is valuable only so long as it remains quaintly idealistic—with the prospect of anyone finding himself on the pointy end of its spear, and anyone potentially benefiting from its defense—otherwise, should it become selective, it'd be no more than a vulgar weapon of intimidation.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I haven't blogged about PZ for a long time. But I must mention that he is back, once again in rare form, arguing with a cartoonist. Next week he'll debate Paris Hilton on the timely topic of the unspeakable dearth of symbolism in the modern American novel, and how it relates to the proper use of the phrase "my bad."

If you check your brain at the door and actually try to make sense of a biologist arguing with a cartoonist over theology, and risk your sanity by taking them both seriously, and keep repeating to yourself: No, I have not woken up inside an Ingmar Bergman flick, you might glean that the debate is over the soundness of Pascal's wager.

And that is a silly thing indeed. Because Pascal's Wager in all its forms is nonsense. Nobody can believe in God just because it has a better expected value. Nobody can, in fact, believe in anything in which they don't believe—which is precisely why men need to be regenerated. And even if you could, by the force of your own will, convince yourself to believe in God—that wouldn't be enough, because the bible is quite clear that mere intellectual assent is not sufficient.

Slate, Unthinking, on Scientology

I found this Slate article on Scientology (with the requisite Tom Cruise picture) via Jason Rosenhouse, who viewed it favorably. Actually, he (Jason) didn't review the article beyond providing a couple excerpts and stating that they "sound about right." So I'll take a gander at the same excerpts. As it turns out, I have a different perspective.

Mark Oppenheimer, the author of the Slate article writes, (boldface added):

Some Americans may consider Scientology perhaps a cult, maybe a violent sect, and certainly very weird. And, like many, I find the Church of Scientology odd, to say the least. But Scientology is no more bizarre than other religions. And it's the similarities between Scientology and, say, Christianity and Judaism that make us so uncomfortable. We need to hate Scientology, lest we hate ourselves.

Oppenheimer congratulates himself on having reached such an insightful conclusion.

But what exactly are these similarities between Scientology and Christianity and Judaism? Oppenheimer doesn't say. Well, I'll bet him a bottle of blended scotch that I can overwhelm his unlisted, vaporous similarities with factual, substantive differences. I will speculate, without much risk, that the alleged "similarities" amount to little more than "they are all religions." Like stating baseball is similar to golf. After all, they are both games that employ a ball. True at some level, but not very meaningful. The claim: And it's the similarities between Scientology and, say, Christianity and Judaism that make us so uncomfortable. We need to hate Scientology, lest we hate ourselves. is just unsubstantiated psycho-babble. (Aside: Scientology doesn't make me uncomfortable at all—I find it amusing.)

Jason, in his post, provided another excerpt from Oppenheimer's Slate article:

Does Scientology embrace pseudoscience? Absolutely—but its "engrams" and "E-meter" are no worse than what's propagated by your average Intelligent Design enthusiast. In fact, its very silliness makes it less pernicious.

Here we assume that Oppenheimer refers to ID in its full blown Dembskian-Wellsian-Beheian glory. But even that, which comes under regular criticism on this blog, does not rise to the same quality of error as "engrams" and "E-meter". ID's blunder is that it takes a reasonable conjecture: life, even at its simplest levels, is too complex to have arisen from purely natural processes and applies it beyond its domain, calling it science when it isn't, and then compounds the error by dishonestly claiming that the "science" of ID has nothing to do with religion—in an unconscionable end-justifies-the-means approach. But, at its heart, its life-is-too-complex conjecture, though it may be wrong, and though it is not science, is not an inherently unreasonable speculation.

To argue that a superficial similarity makes one mistake no worse than another is intellectual laziness. At most, the common thread linking ID to Scientology is that these are examples of beliefs that claim to be scientific but, in fact, are not. But that goes without saying—and such a simpleminded conclusion (Scientology is no worse than ID) is only meant to add a faux-gravitas to what is already understood. And why stop there? Like ID, String Theory is something that claims to be science yet makes no contact with experiment. Is believing in engrams and trusting the E-meter "no worse" than String Theory? Of course, that would be an absurd conclusion. But that is what you get if you rely on simpleminded arguments.

This all reminds me of the oft-repeated, virtually mantra-like insistence among the e-atheist crowd that belief in God is no different than belief in Santa Claus. It's a stupid remark that, from an atheist perspective, is at best superficially true. An intelligent atheist would recognize that the presence of billions of adults, many highly educated and including many scientists, who believe in God and organize their lives around that belief, is substantively different from the simple Santa Claus myth that we knowingly, with a wink and a nod, foist upon our children. A smart atheist would sense that, even though both are beliefs that are not based on scientific evidence (the superficial similarity), there is obviously something quite different going on in the one case as opposed to the other.

Alas, there doesn't seem to be many intelligent and prominent atheists these days—nobody in the league of the intellectual God-haters of the past. Dawkins's arguments, for example, boiled down to their essence, and it takes very little heat, amount to "Religion is bad" and "If God made everything, then who made God?" The so-called "New Atheism" is a movement badly in need of sound intellectual footing. At the moment, it is being led by bumpkins.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A sensible post on evolution text-books

Here is a post, on the use of secular biology texts for homeschooling, that is spot-on.

Very refreshing. No flatulence-laden flash video Christmas presents. No unproductive, confrontational, and unfounded predictions. (Less than nine years to go; tick-tock, tick-tock.) (Which, by the way, arrived on the tail of another unproductive, confrontational, and unfounded prediction, one that failed miserably. Glenmorangie, si'l vous plait.) No unintentionally funny advice for trial lawyers. No top-secret orders of battle for a culture war. No endorsement for advocates of "Pleasureism" from the Institute of Noetic Sciences. No rallying to the defense of a holocaust denier. No lamenting the lack of acclaim for all I've done to advance science and enrich our understanding of the world.

Just a Christian, writing intelligently, on a small aspect of that fascinating intersection between Christianity and science.

The Drama of Redemption (Lesson 4, 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.

§4.1 Adam's Sin and Ours

Redemption is necessary as a result of the Fall. Everyone who agrees that Adam's sin led to the fall, meaning that all men except the incarnated Christ are born in corruption, acknowledge that in some sense we are held accountable for Adam's sin. Exactly how we are held accountable is tricky. We'll look at three views held by Christians.

View 1: The Myth View
This view is that the story of the fall is a myth or an allegory. Instead, it is argued, that we all have our own "personal fall." There is another name for this view: it’s our old friend Pelagianism from the previous class. It is nothing more than Pelagius' claim that men are born in a state of neutrality. As we discussed last time, Pelagianism wields great influence in the modern church, from liberals to fundamentalists. So it is not so surprising that this view is not rare. It has the appeal that men have some innate good that is good enough to please God, and it sidesteps the nasty business of our being held accountable because of Adam's sin. However, it is simply not consistent with the bible:

  • The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". (Gen. 6:5)
  • Our "righteous" deeds like filthy garments to God. (Isa. 64.6)
  • We are like a leopard who cannot change his spots. (Jer. 13:23).
  • Nothing clean can come from an unclean birth. (Job 14)
  • We are born in sin. (Ps. 51:5)
  • Nobody is good. (Luke 18:19)
  • We cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
  • We cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
  • We must be compelled to come to Christ. (John 6:44)
  • We are not righteous. (Rom. 3:10)
  • We do not understand; we do not seek God. (Rom. 3:11)
  • We have turned aside; we are useless. (Rom. 3:12)
  • None of us does good. (Rom. 3:12)
  • We do not fear God. (Rom. 3:18)
  • We are hostile to God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We cannot please God. (Rom 8:8)
  • We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins. (Eph 2:1)
  • We walked according to Satan. (Eph 2:2)
  • We lived in the lusts of our flesh. (Eph 2:3)
  • We were children of wrath. (Eph 2:3)
View 2: Realism
(Note: for the next two views, Sproul essentially lectures from his book Chosen By God. Below I have used slightly modified versions of his essays from that wonderful book. )

None of us is old enough to carry memory images of the fall of Adam. Or are we? The realist view of the Fall contends that we should be able to remember the Fall, because we were really there.

Don't laugh. Realism is a serious attempt by serious people (Jonathan Edwards was a kind of realist) to answer the problem of the Fall. The idea is certainly appealing: We cannot morally be held accountable for a sin committed by someone else. To be accountable we must have been actively involved somehow in the sin itself. Somehow we must have actually been present at the Fall. We really were there.

The realist view of the Fall demands some kind of concept of the preexistence of the human soul. That is, before we were born, our souls must have already existed. They were present with Adam at the Fall. They fell along with Adam. Adam’s sin was not merely an act for us; it was an act with us. We were there.

Realism is not (at all) like the myth view—which is really the Pelagian heresy. Realism is an honest attempt to address the question: how is it fair that are we charged with Adam's sin? It's answer: we aren't, we were there too. This view does not deny that man is born in a state of corruption predisposed to evil. Furthermore, its criticism of the imputation explanation (that will see in the next view) is legitimate: the analogy that likens Adam's guilt imputed to us to our guilt imputed to Christ is imperfect: Christ volunteered to receive our imputed guilt; we did not agree to accepts Adam's.

Realists point to several passages to support their view.
"What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: " 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:2-4)

"Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezekiel 18:19, 20).
Here the realist argues that God clearly declares that the son is not held guilty for the sins of his father. This precludes, they argue, whole idea of people falling “in Adam.” More pivotal text for realism is found in the book of Hebrews: (Heb 7:9,10)
One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
This text is part of the treatise given in Hebrews regarding the role of Christ as our High Priest. Scripture declares that Jesus is both our king and our priest. At first glance this is a bit of a problem, because the promise to the Jews is that their king will be of the tribe of Judah, while all priests are of the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the line of Judah, so the kingship part is fine—but he was not a Levite. SO how could he be a priest?

This problem was a big deal to early Jewish Christians. Hebrews argues that there was another priesthood mentioned in the Old Testament, the priesthood of the mysterious Melchizedek. Jesus is said to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews then goes way beyond merely noting that there was another priesthood besides the Levitical priesthood. Instead the author labors to point out that the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the priesthood of Levi. He reminds us that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, not Melchizedek to Abraham. Melchizedek blessed Abraham; Abraham did not bless Melchizedek. The point is this: In the relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek it was Melchizedek who served as the priest, not Abraham.

The key thought to the Jew is cited in verse 7: And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. The author of Hebrews argues that, in effect, the father is superior to the son. That means that Abraham is ahead of Isaac in the patriarchal pecking order. In turn, Isaac is ahead of Jacob, and Jacob ahead of his sons, including his son Levi. If we carry this out, it means that Abraham is greater than his great-grandson Levi.

Now if Abraham is greater than Levi and Abraham subordinated himself to Melchizedek, then it means that the priest Melchizedek is greater than Levi and the entire line of Levi. The conclusion is clear. The priesthood of Melchizedek is a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical priesthood. This gives supreme dignity to the priestly office of Christ.

It was not the chief concern of the author of Hebrews to explain the mystery of the fall of Adam with all this. Yet he says something along the way that the realists use to support their theory. He writes that "Levi paid tithes through Abraham." Levi did this while he was "still in the body of his father."

The realists see this reference to Levi doing something before he was even born as biblical proof for the concept of the preexistence of the human soul. If Levi could pay tithes while he was still in the body of his father, that must mean that Levi in some sense already existed. He was "really" there.

That seems a bit of a stretch. The passage does not explicitly teach that Levi really preexisted in the body of his father. The text itself uses the qualifier "One might even say" or "in a manner of speaking." The text does not demand that we leap to the conclusion that Levi actually preexisted. The realists come to this text armed with a theory they did not find from the text and then read the theory into the text.

And the text from Ezekiel also seems to be misapplied by the realists. Ezekiel was not teaching on the fall, he is addressing the common excuse that men use for their sins. They try to blame someone else for their own misdeeds. In Eden, Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed both God and Eve. He said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Gen. 3:12). Ever since, men have tried to pass the buck of their own guilt. Still, the realists argue, a principle is set forth in Ezekiel 18 that has bearing on the matter. The principle is that men are not held accountable for other people’s sins.

To be sure, that general principle is set forth in Ezekiel. Yet we cannot make it an absolute principle. If we do, then the text of Ezekiel would prove too much. It would undo the atonement of Christ. If it is never possible for one person to be punished for the sins of another, then we have no Savior. Jesus was punished for our sins. That is the very essence of the gospel. Not only was Jesus punished for our sins, but his righteousness is the basis for our justification. We are justified by an alien righteousness, a righteousness that is not our own. If we press Ezekiel's statement to the absolute limit when we read, "The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him" then we all are doomed.

Next: View 3, The Federalism: Adam as our representative