Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Courtier's Reply: Brilliant Response, or Brilliant Copout?

The new atheists, and Dawkins in particular, have been criticized for not bothering to understand that which they attack.

Nowadays, if you make such a Dawkins-is-uniformed argument, at least on the internet, you are likely to be told that something called "The Courtier's Reply" says all there is to say regarding your concerns. The brilliance of The Courtier's Reply has reached mythical proportions.

Of course if you haven't read it, don't make Dawkins's mistake of proudly arguing from ignorance. Pause your reading of this post and proceed forthwith to PZ Myers's classic essay The Courtier's Reply.

Got that? OK now I can tell you the I never understood the so-called brilliance of The Courtier's Reply. In effect it claims nothing more than this: there is no need to study the nuances or depths of something that is so obviously stupid (as theology). That's how the new atheists saw it. I always saw it as "don't bother doing any homework, just go ahead and make simplistic dumbass arguments, and we'll cheer you on as if you are a genius."

And, Richard H. Dawkins, isn't that precisely what happened? Dawkins repeated primitive and worn out platitudes such as "if God made everything who made God?" and The Courtier's Reply gave all Dawkinsdom license to declare that such unsophisticated, uniformed arguments were sufficient.

In the Church of Latter Day Atheists, the catechism, as justified by The Courtier's Reply, consists of just one question:
Q: What is the chief purpose of man?

A: The chief purpose of man is to agree with us. If he doesn't, he is stupid, stupid, stupid.

In the past era of the first-rate intellectual atheist, say Camus or Russell, Dawkins's arguments would have stood out for their inanity. Even the bizarre Ayn Rand made much more substantive arguments against religion. There is, for example, just a bit more anti-religion thoughtfulness in The Fountainhead during the telling of Rand's atheist-superman-protagonist's architectural commission to build a temple that in Dawkins's declaration of religion as child abuse. Intellectual atheists of the past paid no heed to the reasoning behind The Courtier's Reply. They would have recognized it for what it is: a declaration of anti-intellectualism. Instead, as intellectuals rather than anti-intellectuals, they studied, looked for weakness, sometimes subtle, and they tried to exploit those weaknesses. When debating, I suspect they often knew more about theology than their opponents. With Dawkins that would never happen.

The Courtier's Reply is license to wallow in ignorance--in fact it justifies, rationalizes, condones, encourages, celebrates, and rewards ignorance, simply by declaring the subject at hand (theology) is not worthy of study. I see that as laziness, not brilliance.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Take me out to the Simpson's Paradox

What a great example from wikipedia.

In case the "paradox" isn't clear--for three years David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter. If the Yankess GM was going to base their next contract on their hitting over these three years, he might say to himself: Justice hit better three years in a row. He gets more money. Jeter might even concede the reasonableness of the decision.

It would be the wrong decision. Even though Jeter lost the competition every year--his cumulative average is higher. He deserves the bigger contract.

God, the Physical Evidence

This was going top be a comment on a thread on another blog, but I decided to make it a post.

In the science-faith bloghetto, there are often demands for proof of God. Now theologically we know such a thing is impossible, for John tells us in his gospel that we cannot see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. If you are not born again, you are blind, and if you are blind, you can't see the proof—which puts you in one helluva predicament. But hey, that's what grace and divine initiative are all about, and that predicament perfectly explains why we need a savior.

But is there really no physical evidence? Well, there certainly is not scientific evidence in the sense that "if you do this experiment and get a result A, that will be proof of God."

But there is prima facie for the existence of God. And the strongest such evidence is the success of godless materialism, or methodological naturalism if you prefer, or better yet let's use its common name: science.

Now the argument is quite simple. The bible tells us things like the heavens declare God's glory and that the study of creation (that would be science) leaves men without excuse. As I read it, if science leaves men without excuse, then science must be possible. That is, a prediction of the bible is that science, if is to leave us without excuse, will work.

But science could easily be a fool's errand. If the simplest physical laws were not linear differential equations, science would be dead in the water. The very fact that man's intellect can comprehend science, is capable of developing theories, and most amazingly the theories are amenable to mathematical analysis is taken more or less for granted, but it shouldn't be. When a scientist tells you that science requires no faith or presupposition, he either isn't being honest or hasn't thought it through. All of us who are scientists work under the presupposition that we at least have a good chance to be successful—that all of a sudden nature will not decide that enough of her secrets have been revealed.

A purely naturalistic view (tell me if I'm wrong) has no reason to expect that science is not as fool's errand. The mathematics could have been so hard as to have forced Newton to give up. But from the bible we get a simple prediction that science will be doable. The success of science, my friends, is prima facie physical evidence that God exist, because the only other explanation is luck.

Science should be embraced, not feared. Every advancement of science is a feather in the cap of the faith community. Don't view it as a nail in our coffin.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Expelled, the Review

That's two and a half of five Calvins, in my ranking system.

I watched the movie last night. Here are my thoughts and opinions. As usual, I'll probably manage to piss off both sides of the aisle.

Ben Stein

Ben Stein was the best thing about Expelled. I found his dry, laconic, self-effacing style to be quite appealing. In his interview with Dawkins, he was the very antithesis of "in your face," yet his non-confrontational style was probably the reason that Dawkins selected a rope, measured out its length, tied the knot, and proceeded to hang himself with his own words. I have to believe that criticism directed toward Ben Stein is criticism directed toward his message, not his style. His performance, if you will, was masterful.

The Atheists

The atheists in the movie were, of course, not shown in a favorable light, to say the least. I'll postpone, for the moment, the question of whether they were treated fairly and honestly. For now I'll take their interviews at face value.

Dawkins has some moments where his wit, charm, and intelligence come through—but he looks very bad in the final interview with Stein, clearly the film's apex. There he states that there might conceivably be evidence for design hidden deep in the complex biochemistry of the cell. But then he immediately argues, with no supporting scientific evidence, that even if that were the case, the designer must have been an advanced creature who was the result of evolution. Thus he admits that design might be a scientific question, but then dogmatically asserts that the implication of such a stupendous discovery must be confined within boundaries of his choosing. It was both a concession and a display of atheist fundamentalism combined in one fell swoop. Those familiar with Dawkins's theological reasoning will recognize this as his primary case against a creator God—it's nothing more substantive than the third grader's argument of "If God made everything, who made God?" in a cheap tuxedo.

PZ Myers "live" is soft spoken, but the effect of his calm uber-rational ice-water-in-the-veins demeanor is more chilling that his militant on-line persona. When he says "we won’t take away their religion" (or something close to that) there is an unspoken, intended or not, but we could, and we might change our minds. The feedback loop he describes, of more science leading to less religion leading to more science, will cause people to extrapolate to a society that is all science all the time, and the images so conjured will likely be more frightening than appealing.

Cornell biologist William Provine is probably, from the atheist perspective, the most damaging. You can almost imagine that the atheists would suspect he is a sock puppet. He repeated his usual claims—that evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly, namely: 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent. And indeed, one person I spoke to who watched the movie admitted that he thought, at first, that Provine was a theist explaining the evil effects of atheistic evolution, not a proponent bragging about the inevitable consequences of his viewpoint.

However, the (assumed atheist) who came off the worst, the one who looked like an incompetent bumbling liar, was Iowa State's John Hauptman. He first tells us how much he liked the "expelled" Guillermo Gonzalez, only to be confronted with the email he sent to Hector Avalos lumping Gonzalez with "idiots" and "religious nutcases." He then, utterly transparently, tried to weasel out of his predicament, claiming that he didn't really mean Gonzalez but those generic punching bags, the Young Earth Creationists. It was painful to watch. He actually made me wish for the straightforward honesty of PZ, who would, I suspect, have the intestinal fortitude to say yes, he thought those things about Gonzalez.

The Expelled

Michael Egnor stood out as a extremely weak example of being "expelled." He wrote that evolution is irrelevant to the field of medicine. To a limited extent he is correct—I doubt my family practitioner, when diagnosing my strained ligament, needs to consult evolutionary theory. Clearly, however, a great deal of the medical field does use evolutionary theory. But what was Egnor's persecution? He was ridiculed. That may be unpleasant, but it is not persecution.

Robert Marks was, for me, the most disappointing. He is the distinguished Baylor professor who got a small grant (in addition to his large, traditional research grants) to do some ID research. This resulted in a website on a Baylor server, and the hiring of Dembski, persona non grata at Baylor, as his postdoc. His persecution was that Baylor forced him to move the website to a private server. This has been hyped from the ID community as "Baylor shut down Marks's lab!" with intended (and utterly false) associated imagery of equipment being confiscated, papers shredded, and doors padlocked. I held out hope that Marks was somehow embarrassed and perhaps felt a little used by ID Inc., but no, he embraced his martyrdom completely, arguing that he had never seen such gross violations of academic freedom in his thirty years of academia. Well, cold fusion is more science than ID, it actually makes testable predictions. And if I want to do cold fusion research, the university cannot stop me. But they aren't required, by academic freedom, to provide me with a web server to discuss my research.

Caroline Crocker was either an adjunct or a part time instructor—but definitely not tenure track, at George Mason. Her contract was not renewed, quite possibly because she brought up ID in her biology class. That, however, is not persecution. Adjuncts agree to teach what the department wants them to teach, and have little flexibility to adjust content. I would admire Crocker if she said "I knew they didn't approve of my teaching about ID, but I felt a duty to do so, and I accept the consequences." Civil disobedience when you accept the consequences is commendable. Civil disobedience when you label the easily anticipated response as persecution is not.

To me, Richard Sternberg has always been the most sympathetic of the "expelled." Even if you accept that he circumvented procedure in accepting an ID paper for publication, the response was quite unsavory. The correct response, anytime a paper that, in your opinion, slips through, is to write and publish a refutation of the paper. In Sternberg's case we have the National Center for Science Education feeding the Smithsonian with personal information about Sternberg's religious associations. That I view as repulsive—hence the sympathy I have for Sternberg.

Expelleds Faults

First a relatively minor nitpick: the frequent (and I mean frequent) breakaways to stock footage were neither funny nor useful. They were distracting.

A serious flaw in the movie is they never defined Intelligent Design. This was no doubt on purpose. They simply implied that it was a bona fide scientific theory. I don't think anyone who didn't know what ID was could figure it out from the movie—they could only deduce that it was good because it was opposed to evolution. Not defining ID, and just presenting is as a legitimate scientific theory, allowed them to avoid the difficulty of defending ID as science. That of course would have been impossible: a theory than cannot offer an experiment that can test its predictions is not a scientific theory. Rather than go there, ID was just this nebulous background noise that was somehow the oppressed opposite of evolution.

The movie also failed miserably in an area in which it was predestined to fail miserably: in making the case that ID is not about religion. I don't think a reasonable person could watch that movie, with all the God talk, and not conclude that ID, whatever it is, is inextricably associated with religion.

The biggest failure of the movie is exactly what I feared—it pits science versus faith. My own ministry on this blog, such as it is, is to demonstrate that science, like archeology or history, is not something faith should fear. Expelled undermines that message. It is not hard to imagine a Christian, not knowledgeable about science, leaving Expelled with an invigorated sense that science is our enemy. Worse, I think Expelled engaged in this ungloryfying mission with malice aforethought, because they could have easily blunted the effect by interviewing people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins.

Ethical Questions

Several ethical questions have arisen about Expelled. One is concerning the animation. I have nothing to say about that, other than the cell animation in Expelled was virtually worthless. With no overlayed explanation of the wonders of cell machinery and relating it to what we were watching, to the layman (that would be me, in this case) it was just weird cartoon blobs moving about. It was totally ineffective.

Another ethical question has been the use of extras to pack the lecture hall for scenes of Stein lecturing. As I expected, I found this to be a non-issue. It was quite clear that it was a hand-picked audience, and I would certainly allow the filmmakers the latitude to stage a framework for Stein's lecture. The movie didn't say or imply that this was an actual audience of random students. That complaint is much ado about nothing.

The serious issue concerns the interviews. The atheists interviewed were told that it was for a movie name Crossroads that was to deal with the faith/science intersection. Yet at the time of the interviews the domain name "" was already registered, but no such registration existed for "crossroads." Clearly if PZ Myers and others knew the actual name of the movie, they might have decided not to participate, or would have guarded their words. This deception, we are told, is standard practice in documentary film making. But deceiving atheists does not a victory make, even if it follows standard practice. This is a movie by the faith community, and our standards should be higher.


I enjoyed Ben Stein's performance. I didn't like either the message of Expelled or the likely consequence, which is increased distrust of science on the part of mainstream Christians. There was no effort to explain that Dawkins and company are not typical scientists, but a radical attention-seeking minority. There is no way for a layman to avoid reaching the conclusion that they are mainstream—and this false conclusion, encouraged by the makers of Expelled, is harmful to the faith.

Hector Avalos is a rather despicable creature who is a modern cliché—an atheist professor of religion. Regardless of the merits of Gonzalez's tenure denial, the scientifically illiterate Avalos engaged in the most cowardly possible form of "scholarship"—engineering a risk-nothing petition aimed, in spite of flimsy denials, at discrediting Gonzalez. Now if Avalos had a real pair, and said "we the undersigned will quit ISU and walk away from tenure if Gonzalez is promoted," well then I'd have to doff my cap to him. He didn't, the little fraud.

UPDATE: Fixed a few typos. And changed my ranking scale to be out of five Calvins instead of four, lest I sent the wrong message on Limited Atonement. Tip o' the hat to wrf3.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tonight is the night...

I will go see Expelled. I'll be going with another Ph.D. physicist/professor/devout-Christian/active scientific researcher. We're all over the place. Get used to it! That person sitting next to you at the ballgame might be a scientist and a Christian.

My expectations for Expelled are extremely low, so I'm guessing the movie will not be as bad as I fear. We'll see. My fear, by the way, is that it pits science against faith.

However, I will comment that the screen-hopping advocated by some is a form of outright theft. Don't bother telling me all the things that the Expelled producers may have done that strain the concept of Christian ethics. That may indeed be the case. Regardless, buying a ticket to a different movie and then slipping into Expelled is theft of intellectual property, pure and simple. As is downloading pirated copies.

Here is one Pharyngulan wrestling with the ethical question. I'm pulling for the right choice.

Derec, however, has opted to be a garden variety low-class thief.

Kudos to Panda's Thumb charter member Wes Elsberry. He took the ethical line on screen hopping.

Here you can find many people who advocate stealing.

It is wrong, absolutely wrong, regardless of what unsavory tactics were adopted by the Expelled gang.

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Son per Family

I am teaching a bit of probability in my mathematical methods class. One of my favorite intro problems is this:

China has a "one child" policy. This policy is problematic (and, at times, downright murderous) in a society that values sons over daughters. It has been suggested that a more popular and humane policy would be a "one son" rule. With this policy, every married couple could keep having children until they had their first son, then they could have no more.

Assuming that for any pregnancy a son or a daughter is equally probable, what would be the long term effect of this policy on the distribution of boys and girls in China?

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Students from our department built a "fishputer." That is, they took all the components from a Dell computer and immersed them (I guess it's a Baptist fishputer) in a tank of mineral oil. A debate rages as to whether or not the fan--which is operating, does anything of value. Also being pondered is whether or not you could load the computer with a CPU intensive code--perhaps, for example, calculating the Complex Specified Information of, oh, I don't know--say a kumquat, until the processor heats up to the flash point of mineral oil and the fishputer explodes.

It is inevitable that plastic fish will soon appear in the tank. A little CNU student in cement overshoes would be a nice touch.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Dick Wolf taught me about Expelled.

I have written many times that I don’t believe evolution led to Nazism. Nor do I believe that Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism led to Nazism. Hitler led to Nazism, and he was willing to use any language and co-opt any ideology to further his aims. Talking to a group of religious Germans? Invoke Luther. A group of German academics? Invoke evolution.

But what would be the ramification if either of these connections were actually true?

What if (and, based on what I have heard, this is the secondary tenet of Expelled) Hitler and his supporters were true believers in evolution, and they sincerely believed that the holocaust was thereby justified. Would that actually impugn evolution?

No it would not. If evolution is true, then is a morally neutral fact. Actually I take that back—if it is true then it is, I’d say, as part of creation, necessarily good.

It would be a similar situation to those who sincerely believed the bible justified southern slavery. Did such people actually exist? Perhaps—or perhaps they simply co-opted passages to justify their ideology. But for the sake of argument, suppose they sincerely thought they were interpreting scripture correctly. Does that impugn Christianity? No, it impugns only an erroneous exegesis.

Asked differently, suppose you arrive at the conclusion that (a) evolution is correct and (b) it really did lead to Nazism. What would you do? Outlaw a correct scientific theory as being a dangerous idea?

That doesn’t sound like a plan to me.

The evolution-Nazi connection that I have heard is rehashed in Expelled is, according to my superb University of Law and Order legal education, simply prejudicial and meant to inflame the jury of public opinion. It is totally irrelevant, even if true, to the question of whether ID academics face discrimination—which is what the movie is supposed to be about.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Those Wacky Presbyterians

I love the doctrine of the Presbyterian Church (well, not so much the PC-USA). But only Presbyterians can mange get themselves tied up, time and time again, in such Gordian knots.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is, in my opinion, the greatest confession devised by men. However, as a general rule, the louder a Presbyterian says “Now, of course I understand that the WC is not to be taken as infallible scripture” the more I suspect that he is about to do exactly that.

I don’t really have an opinion on the in-house debate. I will say that I sometimes wonder if the bleeding edge scholars of Presbyterian (or, in general, Reformed) theology ever pauses to remember that the Perspicuity of Scripture was a time-honored Reformed doctrine.

HT: Sacra Doctrina

ID leaders fail--again?

The producers of Ben Stein's Expelled, the Nazi-stock-footage-laden documentary and alleged exposé of systematic and pervasive discrimination against ID proponents scheduled to be released next week, are now being threatened with legal action for copyright infringement.

(That link is to an atheist site. The gloating in the comments may be a bit much for the tenderhearted. You are forewarned.)

The complaint is that an animation of the inner workings of the cell shown in the movie is way too similar to one produced and copyrighted by a company with the peculiar name XVIVO. As I understand it, the similarities include the proverbial "copying a fake street" cartographer's trap. That is, recognized errors on the copyrighted animation also appear, I am told, in the Expelled version.

Sigh. I hope the case has no merit. Not because I have any grand expectations for the movie, but because it would be another black eye on the Christian community courtesy of the leaders of the ID movement. That is, to the ever growing list (from memory, I probably forgot one or two or ten):

  1. Deception (The Wedge Strategy.)

  2. Evangelism by deception (Even worse, also the Wedge Strategy and document.)

  3. Unsupported claims of imminent victory, also known as false prophecy.

  4. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, by ungracious press release.

  5. Collaboration in the "culture wars" with heretics.††

  6. Bizarre and silly pretenses of legal expertise, shown to be so much hot air by subsequent...

  7. Sir-Robinining.

  8. Juvenile, flatulence-laden (and then deskunked) animations mocking a federal judge.

  9. Publishing, in a tizzy fit, the names, addresses and home phone numbers of the Baylor Board of Regents. (Due to the Potemkin character of the Uncommon Descent web site, the link no longer exists.)

  10. Resource wasting, mean-spirited, childish, unseemly referrals to Homeland Security.

  11. Fostering an unbiblical science vs. faith false dichotomy.

  12. Fostering an atmosphere of whining, Christian victimhood.

We would have to add, should the charges prove to have merit, plagiarism.

Let's hope not.

Anecdotally, I tell anyone who cares to ask either at the national lab I work at or at my university where I teach physics that I think the universe was intelligently designed by God. In fact, I have had many such discussions. I have never endured any adverse consequence. Of course, I don’t ever state that ID is science, because it isn’t. And I don’t ever state that my ID related writings should be part of my professional evaluation—because they aren’t science. The last thing I would want is for my scientific evaluation to be partly based on things I have written about ID. Or my theological writings in general, of which the ID writings are a proper subset. And I don’t state that I should be allowed to put my ID views in the physics curriculum. Which would be dumb, because they are not science. And I don't believe that the university should be required, in some misuse of the concept of academic freedom, to host my writings on its server.

†† OK, that one is a bit personal. I'm not a culture warrior. But if I were, if I wanted to influence the culture directly because I though it glorified God, then I'd consider it ministry work and would not collaborate with someone who affirms that Sun Myung Moon is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I understand that other Christians may feel differently. Some feel that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

When NASCAR didn't make the news

This is an old story but I came across it again, and as a NASCAR fan it made me smile.

NBC certainly sets new standards in investigative journalism. For example, you’ll recall the Dateline story where they demonstrated that GMC trucks explode on impact by rigging a GMC truck to explode on impact.

In this grand tradition, a couple years ago they decided to make news investigate NASCAR racism. So they sent two "Muslim looking men" to a NASCAR race in Martinsville, Virginia. The idea was to film NASCAR bigotry in situ.

The problem for NBC: the NASCAR fans stubbornly refused to oblige. Maybe NBC should have planted "red neck looking men" to taunt the "Muslim looking men."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I really, really do not like Theonomy

At various times on this blog I have written against theonomy. I have read the Christian Reconstructionists, and remain unconvinced by their exegesis. I do not think they understand the law—and they especially do not understand those aspects of the law that were, in effect, the civil code of ancient Israel—a nation that logically ceased to exist with Christ’s public ministry and literally ceased to exist on AD 70.

They provide no compelling explanation as to why Christ ignored the Law on many occasions. Christ encountered blasphemers galore, even mother-of-all “blasphemers of the Holy Spirit,” and not once did he call for them to be put to death as the Law demanded. Why? I think the only explanation is that Christ was, like us, a pilgrim on earth and a citizen of the kingdom of God, not of the effectively nonexistent nation of Israel. As a non-citizen of Israel, he was not under the "death-to-blasphemers" law.

Would a Christian nation be great? Well, not one achieved at the ballot box or in the courts. If the entire country converted to Christianity that would be fantastic—it would then, however obviate any perceived need to have “Christian Nation” codified into the law of the land. We would be a Christian nation because we would, as a nation, trust in God—and what was stated on our coinage would be rendered sweetly superfluous.

As I said, I am against theonomy on biblical grounds. This in spite of the fact that I am a Reformed Postmillennialist. While theonomists (which are not all that common) come from various theological perspectives, the intellectual footing for theonomy comes mostly from Presbyterian post-mills. Indeed, I count among my friends and acquaintances a handful of staunch theonomists, and to a person they are Reformed post-mills.

But today I want to point out that even if I wasn’t sure that you cannot support theonomy from the bible, for practical reasons it would scare me half to death.

Consider comments on this recent post from John Lofton of this transparently Christian Reconstructionist site. Commenter and fellow devout Christian Bill Nettles and I both disagreed with John, and for our unforgivable impropriety Bill was called dyslexic and I was given credit for the moral decline of the United States.

Now he is just one person, and there are those of all ideologies who cannot handle disagreement graciously—but it demonstrates why I would not like to live in a theocracy. (And why I am especially glad that the bible does not condone theonomy—if it did I would have to support it in spite of it being quite scary.) What would be the punishment for even mild theological dissent in such a nation? Would it be just name calling, or something worse?

As always I am reminded that I am a Baptist, and that we didn’t fare to well under (take your pick—Roman, Presbyterian, …) theocracies. Indeed, because of the treatment we received we invented the glorious and biblically sound idea of separation of church and state. Clever people, the Baptists.

Monday, April 07, 2008

We all know John, chapter three

In the New Testament, proof texts for Calvinism are often taken from John's gospel. For example:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
However, John chapter 3, especially the most famous verse of all, John 3:16, is often seen as neutral or even slightly anti-Calvinistic.

In fact, however, John 3 is one of the strongest Calvinistic passages in the New Testament.

In John 3, we have the fascinating dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus. Here, in verse 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

This is a universal negative. If you have not been reborn, then under no circumstances can you see the kingdom of God. So you cannot be reborn as a consequence of seeing the kingdom of God—that's backwards, plain and simple.

Jesus then adds a clear explanation that you, as person, have nothing to do with this rebirth:
"I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-8)
This birth is of the Spirit, and it occurs not where it has been earned, but wherever the Spirit pleases. The metaphor of the wind is meant to show that you don't see it coming, and don't know where it is going. No weather forcasting is possible. You can't look at someone and say: "He is about to be reborn, I can tell." Uh-uh. In that circumstance, you should probably say: "I think he has been reborn."

We then have the famous John 3:16, that tells us that believers have eternal life.

But you cannot believe what you cannot see, Jesus tells Nicodemus in verses 12 and 13: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man”.

There is, it seems to me, only one way to wrap your arms around all these verses. Only one logical progression.

If we are not reborn, we cannot see the kingdom of God. If we cannot even see the kingdom of God, we cannot believe. If we cannot believe, we cannot possess eternal life. To me this clearly precludes the logical chain as seen by Arminians: Believe and you will be born again and have eternal life. That can't work—because you can't believe what you can't see, and the once-born are blind.

But John 3 doesn't ever say believe and you will be born again. It teaches believe and you will have eternal life. And it teaches that you must be born again to see the kingdom of God, and seeing the kingdom of God is necessary for you to believe, and when you believe, you have eternal life. The start of the chain—before you have done your part (believe)—is to be born again.

That's textbook Calvinism, and that is what John 3 teaches.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Give me that Old Testament Calvinism

Calvinism is synonymous with a strong view of the sovereignty of God. In a nutshell, Calvinism teaches that the bible teaches that God does all the enabling, and man is then responsible to live by faith. Often the Calvinistic apologist will use the New Testament to make their case, but there is plenty in the Old Testament that supports this uncompromising view of God's sovereignty.

For example, we have in Ezekiel:
22"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. 24 " 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ez 36:22-32)

Let’s enumerate the action items, separated by the person responsible:

God will:
  1. Takes us from all nations.
  2. Sprinkle clean water upon us.
  3. Cleanse us from impurities and idols.
  4. Give us a heart of flesh, replacing a heart of stone.
  5. Put his spirit within us.
  6. Cause us to follow his decrees.
  7. Adopt us.
  8. Save us from our sins.
  9. Provide for us.

Man will:
  1. Remember his sins (repent.)

That's a pretty good deal. Especially when the sense of the passage is that God will do what He promises, and then man is expected to respond. Arminianism turns it around, and makes it: man will do his part, and then God will respond.
Interesting also is verse 32, where God says: I am doing this not for you, but for me.