Thursday, July 31, 2008

Salon Hack Job

Karl Giberson has written an article for Salon entitled What's wrong with science as religion.

The intent of Giberson's article is to take PZ Myers to the woodshed for his allegedly inquisitor role in the establishment of science as our state religion. He doesn't like Myers's appeal to unbridled rationality. The simple idea that a Jack Webb "Just the facts, Ma'am" approach will lead to a Glorious Society. The idea that supremely intelligent people of learning, such as Harris, Hitchins, Dawkins, PZ, and PZ's commenters, men and women freed from the yoke of irrational religious preconceptions—scholars such as these will use pure reason to arrive at irrefutable rational consensus on such important topics as the justness of the Iraq war, the utility of torture as a device for extracting intelligence, the legitimacy of eastern mysticism, gun control, and the ethics of animal testing.

Or not. What-ever.

As for the article itself, what a hack job Giberson presented! Let me show you. He wrote:
Myers' confident condemnations put me in mind of that great American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who waxed eloquent in his famous 1741 speech, "Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God," about the miserable delusions that lead humans to reject the truth and spend eternity in hell. We still have preachers like Edwards today, of course; they can be found on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Unspeakable blasphemy! Slander so vile, thy name is Giberson! Jonathan Edwards was arguably America's greatest theologian. Jonathan Edwards was once named by Encyclopedia Britannica as a America’s greatest scholar. Jonathan Edwards was one of America's greatest preachers and evangelists. To use him as a form of insult is unthinkable. In one paragraph, two sentences long, likening Jonathan Edwards to PZ and to the TBN chuckleheads is just plain wrong!

Pardon me while I go take a shower.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Ten Commandments are History

I have been reading more about “New Covenant Theology” (NCT) and find much to be admired. I have not read enough to say whether I buy it hook, line, and sinker, and no doubt the answer will be that I don’t, but I am sure I will continue to find much with which I can agree.

My own theological journey started, as for many, with dispensationalism. As I wrote elsewhere, two books I read early in my walk (which began as an adult and already a practicing scientist) changed my theological position forever. Both are easy reads. One was RC Sproul’s Chosen By God. The other was Philip Mauro’s 1927 work The Gospel of the Kingdom which is available online. The former makes the case for the doctrine of Predestination, and the latter utterly dismantles dispensationalism. I mean, it thoroughly and completely dispenses with dispensationalism.

Where does one turn if fleeing from dispensationalism? Typically one seeks theological comfort in Covenant Theology. For the most part I am comfortable there—except for how Covenant Theology is forced to deal with the Law. They are essentially painted into a corner—for if there is, as Covenant Theology teaches, just one Covenant (the Covenant of Grace) that has been in place since the time of Adam, then the laws established in that one and only never ending covenant are still binding. I often get asked: if you really believe the bible why don’t you advocate stoning gays or adulterers or blasphemers? For a hardcore Covenant Theologian this is a fair question—and in fact some of them do advocate enforcing Mosaic Law.

Most, however, will dance around the question and break the Law into three groups—moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral, which is essentially synonymous with the Ten Commandments, is kept. The civil and ceremonial are jettisoned.

This is in spite of the fact that scripture makes no mention of this division, and certainly does not say which law belongs in which group—nor does it teach, in the New Testament, “Keepest thou my Moral Law, ignorest thou those other defuncteth types, two being their number, and their number being two, the Civil and the Ceremonial.”

I have always felt uneasy about this, and on my own I simply drifted away from Covenant Theology and its teachings on the Law. I carved out a position for myself that was far from perfect, but one I could live with. It turns out that position is quite close to but not nearly as refined as what I have read on New Covenant Theology.

New Covenant Theology starts from an almost irrefutably superior position, regarding covenants, than classic Covenant Theology. It states, almost with an implied “duh”, that there are two covenants, not one. The Old Covenant and, you guessed it, The New Covenant.
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:31)

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15)
Covenant Theologians must spin these and similar passages into old and new administrations of one covenant, not two covenants. NCT takes them as is.

As far as the law is concerned, to first order it is this: the laws of the Old Covenant, all of them, including the Ten Commandments, became null and void when the Old Covenant ended. The New Covenant contains its own laws. Those are the laws binding to Christians.

This is so much cleaner—no artificial grouping of ceremonial, civil, and moral. They are all gone. None of them apply to us. None. The Ten Commandments are history. They were part of the administration of an Old Covenant. They are of interest in that they are an important part of God’s redemptive, and in that as with all things Old Testament they foreshadowed something better, but in fact they are no longer binding.

Does that make us antinomian? May it never be! We do have laws, and there is no reason whatsoever why they cannot include much of the so-called moral law from the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments forbade murder. The Ten Commandments are null and void. Does that mean murder is permitted? Of course not. The new law also forbids murder. Is this then just semantics? It is not. For example, the Fourth Commandment has not been maintained. The day of rest foreshadowed something better—that we are completely at rest in Christ, all the time, 24/7, always in his Sabbath, of which He is Lord over, and which was made for men.

This is how Christ fulfilled the law, and yet not a jot nor tittle is lost. The law reflects what has been revealed about God to us. A great deal more about God has been revealed to us than to the Jews of Moses’ time—and the new law of the New Covenant reflects that increased revelation.

Our Law is what Christ set down. In the Sermon on the Mount, we see it includes upgraded versions of most of the Ten Commandments. It also includes the two great Commandments.

The little WWJD bracelets were much maligned by the Covenant Theologians. But in fact they are probably a more accurate representation of the law which applies to us in this time and in this place than are the Ten Commandments. Now, WWJD does not go far enough; we should also ask “What Would Jesus Think? It is not easy to do what Jesus would do. But that is almost trivial when compared with the perfection of the new law, which asks us to think what Jesus would think. For the new law is very much about the heart. Under the new law you could obey the Ten Commandments and still be a great sinner—just a little lust would convict you of a crime not unlike adultery.

I will continue to report on NCT as I did deeper.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Really Awful Street Theater

Myers rewards his faithful.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The Teapot Gnome Scandal

This post is the result of a discussion I got into on Pharyngula. I'm not going to link to it; it is but a minor sidebar in the ongoing Pharyngula descent into madness of which I wrote earlier. (Case in point: a new post, where Myers chums the waters by announcing that he has made good on his promise of desecrating a consecrated host, a Koran, and a "surprise" entry—which his followers are hoping is something from the Mormon Unmentionables Department. How did Myers perform his desecration? Well, we'll have to tune in next time to learn the details. At the time I wrote this, the post had 1406 mostly Kafkaesque comments—a surreal exchange between rhetoric-challenged Myers supporters and Pollyannaish Catholics praying the Rosary.)

The sidebar was related to an essay by Catherine Devent entitled "Red hot enlightenment led me to believe in one fewer god." Devent's essay is not very good, more about that anon. Its purpose is to trash the Roman Catholic World Youth Day, an event about which I personally have no opinion.

Devent's essay starts with a false premise, in bold text face because it is so important. She writes:
Believe what you will, but don't expect me to stop prodding you about why you're religious.
We don’t expect you to stop. We don’t care if you stop or continue. In short, we don’t think about you at all.

Devent concludes her article with an old witticism:
We are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
I'm not sure what historian Stephen Roberts, its alleged creator, intended for this quote, so I won't attack his judgment. But the way it is used here, just like the way neo-Rosicrucian Sam Harris uses it when he occasionally feels like slumming about on Terra Firma, is nonsense. You can simply turn it about and say: "Richard Dawkins only believes in one less god than I do" to see the silliness. As an amusing quip the Roberts quote stands. As a statement with real substance it fails.

It is earlier in Devent's essay that the point of this post, if there is one, is found. She writes:
Telling me I'm going to hell won't bother me because I have the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn and Bertrand Russell's Teapot in my heart. Google them if you are in the market for some red hot enlightenment.
I don't know anything about the Invisible Pink Unicorn. But the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for those who don't know, is a humorous mocking of theism—fair enough in its own right. The Flying Spaghetti Monster also perfectly, absolutely perfectly, captures the intellectual gravitas of the so-called New Atheism. It never advances beyond "your god is so dumb and you have no proof he is any better than a flying spaghetti monster."

As I said, fair enough, and good for a few laughs.

What I objected to was including Russell's teapot in same set as the FSM. That won't do. For two reasons. One is that Russell's teapot was not meant either to disprove or mock theism—that is, it is not in the same category as the FSM. They should not be grouped together. The other is that Russell was smart, really really smart, and when he wanted to criticize theism he gave it a good, solid, proper drubbing. It is an insult to Russell to include him as a sort of a precursor to the New Atheist. In actuality, the New Atheist is a devolution from the likes of Russell.

In one of those old SAT analogies, we would have something like:
Richard Dawkins:Bertrand Russell :: John Hagee:Francis Schaeffer
Russell's teapot was not meant to mock theism. It was meant to point out a common logical fallacy used by theists. Russell rightly pointed out that it was foolish for theists to demand that he prove there is no god. He is correct—if atheism vs. theism came down to offering a logical proof, the burden would be on us to prove God exists, not on atheists to prove the negative.

Russell's teapot appears in his essay Is there a God? The teapot section reads:
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
I fail to see how anyone could read this and not understand that the teapot is not one of Russell's arguments against theism, it is a argument against the illogic used by some theists. The distinction, I trust, is clear.

Now one commenter on Pharyngula insisted that the title of the essay proves that Russell intended the teapot as an argument against theism. Nonsense. If had been the only or the most important point of the essay, yes. But it was a tangential argument about the rhetorical skills of armchair apologists.

If the teapot was an important arrow in Russell's anti-theism quill, he would have used it in his famous work Why I am not a Christian. He would have written "I am not a Christian, because, well because why should I believe in your stinky god? I might as well worship an orbiting teapot!"

If that had been Russell’s argument, then he would indeed be the intellectual equal of today's New Atheist headliners.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jokers over Jokers

Anatomy of a Shakespearian comedy:

  1. PZ Myers, in a juvenile delinquent theatrical fit of "I'll do it not because it is right but just because I can" threatens to desecrate a consecrated host.

  2. Catholic League chucklehead Bill Donahue, forgetting the lesson of Jesus when his actual actual body was desecrated ("Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do") gets all frothing at the mouth and succumbs to paroxysms of righteous indignation. Instead of availing himself of a golden opportunity to take the high road, he takes to the gutter, calls for Myers to be fired and for every Catholic yahoo on the intertubes to send Myers email. Mix in a good healthy dose of Christian victimhood and persecution complex.

  3. A crude death threat arrives, Myers posts it, the owner of the email account gets fired. Then it is revealed, isn't that special, that it wasn’t she but her pinheaded husband who sent the email. Oy Vey!

  4. Editor: Bill, let's spice this up just a bit. Let's have a delegate to the Republican National Convention request additional security because of Myers's antics!
    Shakespeare: Are you nuts, nobody's that stupid! This monstrosity already taxes credulity!

  5. Egged on, Myers, unbelievably, caves to their (Catholic double-daring critics) challenge of his manhood by agreeing, oh what the hell, in for anathema, in for a fatwah, to desecrate a Koran as well. His mouth-breathing followers and commenters, who face no threat of their own, are heartened that he will put to the test their rather ludicrous theory that Donohue and his followers are worse than Islamic jihadists. Well, it is an easy speculation for them to make, since if they're wrong it’s no skin off their backs.

  6. Donahue, ever the short-sighted jackass, invites his followers to notify Muslim Muckety-Mucks of Myers's threat.

I have been blogging six years. I have never seen such a ridiculous drama unfold in blogsylvania.

Who are known to consider themselves joint authors of “the most consistently intelligent commentary” on any blog, a self-view that, by its mere existence, is darn close to self-refuting.


On so many levels: who cares?

There is not much in this universe about which I care less about than who James Dobson endorses for president. Or Al Sharpton. Or John Hagee. Or Jesse Jackson. Or Ralph Reed. Or Pat Robertson. Or Jeremiah Wright.

Self-indulgent birds of a feather, peas in a pod.

Show me, Mr. Dobson, where your high-profile politicking has a New Testament precedent or endorsement, and maybe then I'll pay attention. Until then...just go away.

Atheism, like smoking, is a habit worth breaking

See this testimony from yet another physicist-cum-theist.

"If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use." (Heinemann prize (Mathematical Physics) winner Robert Griffiths, Carnegie-Mellon University.)

Macroevolution in the Church

The Septuagint is the common (Koine) Greek version of the Old Testament. It was translated from the Hebrew during the inter-testament period. It was revered, to say the least, with many Jews believing that the translators were inspired by God. Let us call this species of zealots Septuagint-Only-ites.

Jump ahead a half a millennium. In the early fifth century, Jerome and others, using Hebrew texts rather than the Septuagint, translate the Old Testament into Latin as part of the overall Latin translation known as the Vulgate.

Septuagint-Only-ites included in their ranks the usually level-headed Augustine. The Bishop of Hippo saw the riots in Tripoli that erupted following the introduction of the Vulgate as a sign that Jerome’s translation was attempting to usurp the True Word of God, i.e., the Septuagint.

So in the fifth century we have Septuagint-Only fundamentalists decrying the ultra-modern, heretical, commie-pinko, gender-challenged Vulgate.

Eventually the Vulgate took over. Over the next millennium, a new species of only-ites evolved, for they surely were not intelligently designed, and those were, of course, the Vulgate-Only-ites. The Vulgate-Only-ites were just as certain that their translation was inspired and inerrant as their least universal common ancestor, the Septuagint-Only-ites. In fact, with evolutionary novelty, they one-upped them: Vulgate-Only-ites argued that the Vulgate’s Latin New Testament was inspired and inerrant, and superior to the Greek from which it was translated! The preface to the Roman Catholic Rheims New Testament argues the Latin Vulgate "is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree." (Preface to the Rheims New Testament, 1582).

The Council of Trent (1545-1563), called in response to the Reformation, declared, regarding the Vulgate:
Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,--considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,--ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.
Now around this time, just a bit before, we have the almost-Reformer Erasmus, influenced by the Renaissance, thinking that it would be a good idea to go back to the oldest sources and, with modern standards of scholarship, do a new Greek translation. Erasmus’ translation went through several editions, ultimately to be known as part and parcel of the “received text,” or the Textus Receptus.

So at the time of the Reformation, we have Vulgate-Only-ites. And we have the new modern interloper, the destroyer of tradition, the Textus Receptus.

The Textus Receptus is the basis of the Authorized Version, or the King James Bible.

Of course we now have a new speciation event: there now litters the landscape a peculiar hominid knows as the KJV-Only-ite. Like the Vulgate-Only-ites, many KJV-Only-ites also believe that their One True translation is superior to the documents from which it was translated.

To review this sad tree:
  1. The Septuagint-Only-ites believed that their beloved translation was inspired and inerrant. The fiercely fought the heretical newcomers…

  2. The Vulgate-Only-ites, who believed that their beloved translation was inspired and inerrant. The fiercely fought the heretical newcomers…

  3. The Renaissance translators who are responsible for the Textus Receptus which forms the basis of the King James Version which, obeying the law of Unforeseen Consequences or “no good deed goes unpunished” resulted in…

  4. The KJV-Only-ites, who we see as merely the latest in the phylum Fundamentalicus Textular Extremicus.
What will come next? With evolution such as this, who can predict?

Friday, July 18, 2008

But I say unto you...

But Jesus said unto us (cf. Matt. 5)
  • You don’t have to murder—just hating your brother or calling him a fool carries a death sentence.

  • You don’t have to commit adultery—simple garden-variety lust renders you guilty of gross sexual immorality.

  • Moses said you could divorce. Well you can’t.
There are those who say that Jesus is merely explaining that the Pharisees were misrepresenting the law. Nonsense. Over and over Jesus repeats a clear teaching from the Mosaic law, and then explains why it is null and void—because the true law is more severe. The Mosaic law was dumbed down. The Mosaic law was sugarcoated. The purpose of the Mosaic law was, in part, to demonstrate this: you people can’t even obey the law when I make it simple—just no overt actions such as murder or adultery. Just keep your emotions in check and keep it zipped. And if you can’t even obey that law, how will you obey the real law, which examines the heart rather than the deeds?

This is good news. Yes, there are people I hate. Therefore I am no better than a murderer. Lust—is that ever a problem? Well, I haven’t had a lobotomy, yet, so ‘nuff said. I am so busted under Jesus’ law, while under Moses’ law I can say: well at least I haven’t murdered anyone. That’s dangerous thinking. The more realistically we see the impossibility of a Pelagian style salvation, the more ready we are to concede that it is either all by grace or we all are utterly lost.

Some people rather nonsensically call themselves four-point Calvinists. And some people just as nonsensically call themselves five point Calvinists.

I’m a one point Calvinist. You only need the first letter from the TULIP acrostic. From Total Depravity either the remaining four points follow or we all are lost. That's what makes Total Depravity the most wonderful of Reformed/Augustinian Doctrines. If we actually could save ourselves--how awful that would be. How much pressure, anxiety, and fear that would entail.

With the exception of v. 43 where Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. '” Which he then upgrades to “love your enemies.” The teaching “love your neighbor and hate you enemy” is not found, in an explicit sense, in the Old Testament. One could argue it is there implicitly, since David, in the Psalms, certainly wrote about hating his enemies and hating God’s enemies.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jack Hamilton, RIP

Jack Hamilton 1921-2008

Today I went to the funeral of a good man, Pastor Jack Hamilton. He lived to the age of 86, and was blessed with good health for the first 84.

I believe that atheists can be happy at a funeral of a loved one, especially one who had a long life. But their happiness is simply the half-smile of a fond memory. They cannot possibly feel the joy that the Christian feels at the death of a fellow saint. (Nor can their sorrow match that which accompanies the death of a loved one who is presumed lost.)

Pastor Hamilton forsook a lucrative career in professional golf to serve God in the pulpit. He was personal friends with the likes of Sam Snead. Over the years I am sure he touched thousands of lives.

I met Pastor Hamilton in about 1999. He taught me a great deal in the short amount of time that he was my pastor. We moved to New Hampshire in 2002 and then back to Virginia last October. He was no longer the pastor of Grace Baptist Chapel, but he was attending and occasionally gave a sermon. He was razor sharp to the end, and the last sermon he gave was very memorable: it involved ripping the fraud John Hagee a new one.

Pastor Hamilton was a man of kindness, humility and intellect. I could fill post after post with the things he taught me. But the one that always percolates to the top of my memory was on an exceedingly rare occasion when he couldn’t explain a passage. He told me: “I don’t know what it means. But it’s not the things I don’t understand in the bible that keep me up at night, it’s the things I do understand.”

There is no person I have had the pleasure of knowing that I am more certain was welcomed by his Lord as a good and faithful Servant than Jack Hamilton.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesus calms the tempest

Last night at church we listened to an R. C. Sproul lecture on the Holiness of God. (Gee, a Presbyterian teaching Baptists—just like in Calvin's Geneva, where We'll teach them Baptists a thing or two! was often heard.)

I had heard this before and read the book from which the lecture drew. But this time Sproul, who is just a fantastic teacher, really struck me. (And he's from Pittsburgh, too!)

Aside: when I first starting blogging, I had an interaction with a Reformed blogger and theology professor (no, not that theology professor) considered by many, with good cause, to be one of the more erudite Christian bloggers. In support of our different positions he quoted a sixteenth century Reformed theologian and I quoted R. C. Sproul. He responded that personally he didn't "think much" of R. C. Sproul. To me that encapsulated what is wrong about academic theology. It's of little use to people in the pews, and it flies in the face of the cherished doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture. If Sproul can teach this old dog some theology with clarity and straightforwardness, I'll take him over a hundred N. T. Wrights whose writing can be as impenetrable as quantum field theory. Just my personal opinion.

Anyway, in the tape we viewed last night, old enough that (a) it was VHF and (b) on the intro where they described Ligonier Ministries there were no web addresses, Sproul described a few biblical passages.

One was this familiar account of Jesus calming the seas, from Mark's gospel:
35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:25-39)
Now these days, as in past days, (there is nothing new under the sun—not even "new" atheism) there is much speculation among atheists about why people are religious. A common speculation from atheologians is that we have a fear of our mortality, and especially a deep seated fear of the uncontrollable, unpredictable, undiscriminating and potentially lethal natural disaster. Floods, hurricanes, droughts—these things terrify us, so we invent religion to give us a sense of security. As long as we behave, our gods can control these things. Therefore we control them with our behavior, and if they still come it's our fault, not random bad luck.

The passage above fits perfectly. A storm arise from nowhere. Even seasoned professional fishermen are terrified, fearing a capsizing wave that meant a cruel death. Jesus sleeps. They wake the master, and he calms the wind and the seas.

This is good. We are afraid of death by capricious nature, and this man, this God can save us. Their response fits this theory perfectly: they got on their knees in gratitude of the one who saved them, deliriously happy that in Jesus they never again had to fear the elements.

If fits—except for the fact that I lied. That should have been the response if the atheist's theory of why we seek religion is correct. The actual response doesn't fit the theory at all:
40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:40-41)
The disciples were not happy at all. They were terrified. They were more afraid after they had been saved than before. As with other encounters in both the Old Testament and New Testament, they had comes across something that was different. Something that was set apart. Something that was alien. Something that was unnatural, Something, because it is so unlike us, so starkly other, we actually despise it and fear it in our xenophobia. It was God's holiness.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

And he shall ride an orange car...

Tony Stewart is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and moving to CNC/Haas. This is big. This is huge. John Hagee will no doubt proclaim this, as he should, a sign of the impending apocalypse. Ray Comfort will do doubt proclaim this, as he should, a sign of God’s wrath being unleashed upon California and/or Atlantic City.

This is like Tom Seaver leaving the Mets. This is like Michael Jordan leaving the Bulls. This is like…

What's that?… I'm sensing that none of you care…


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Now that's just ugly by design

Every day, except when I am in blog-detox (it never works) two of the handful of religion/science ID/evolution sites on my must-see list are Telic Thoughts (TT) and After The Bar Closes (ATBC).

These are, nominally speaking, white-hat black-hat sites. TT is pro-ID (but, at least from Mike Gene, and a couple other contributors, not slavishly so) and Christian friendly. ATBC is anti-ID and populated mostly but not exclusively with atheists.

I like both sites. As a sort of man-without-a-country I get in debates on both, and am (mostly) treated respectfully on both.

I like ATBC in spite of the fact that they have a thread dedicated to my stupidity (Called the Dave Heddle Stat Chat ) that is almost as old if not older than their raison d’ĂȘtre, the thread devoted to the Golden Gate Bridge Painting Task of documenting Uncommon Descent shenanigans. And certainly much older than the one devoted to TT. (And much shorter than either, which is either an insult or a compliment.) I like ATBC because when I post there on theology or fine tuning, and as long as I am on-topic and make actual arguments, they will engage them. Who can ask for more? (On-topic at Uncommon Descent and various ID listserves controlled by WAD or minions thereof simply got me banned.) They are, in fact, much more engaging than Panda's Thumb, from which they were calved. Yes, they are quite irreverent, and definitely not for the faint of heart, but I take guilty pleasure in clever irreverence. Perhaps it is my background—growing up a non-Christian in an inner city environment— I feel quite comfortable in a "Your momma is so ugly…" environment. (And I could be self-righteous and note that being friends of sinners has some precedent, but I wouldn't do that.)

As for TT, I have good relationships with a couple members of the board, am personal friends with someone behind the scenes at TT, and have long considered it the best ID blog. Although I have blogged so long I don't give a rat's butt about links anymore, I appreciate that in spite of my pariah status in the official ID community, TT has maintained its front page link to He Lives.

Lately TT and ATBC have been at war. Actually the war is antisymmetric, comprised of one person named Guts from the TT board of contributors taking on, in a manner of speaking, everyone who cares to join in from the ATBC regulars. The entire inglorious campaign is archived here.

The Sinking of the Maine in this war appears to be something I missed during one of my detox sessions—a banning or barring of an ATBCer named Frostman on TT—with his posts being deleted. That is one of the issues: TT (just like ATBC) has, as I understand, a policy of sending posts that are either off topic or in some other manner "over the top" to a Black Hole of Calcutta thread, the "memory hole" on TT and the "Bathroom Wall" on ATBC. I have personal experience with both. Apparently Frostman's posts were deleted rather than memory-holed.

Not having seen the exchange in question, I have nothing to say about that except this: in the early part of Guts v. ATBC thread, Guts stated he would restore posting privileges if Frostman (the shunned) would apologize to Bradford (another TT contributor) for Frostman's claim (on TT, but, as I understand, deleted) that Bradford took a quote from popular science writer Paul Davies out of context. Guts wrote to Frostman, with emphasis added:
For future reference, perhaps understanding that telling someone that they have taken a quote out of context is extremely offensive, and in fact, is not commonplace. It actaully takes a lot of work to selectively choose sentences that would clearly alter the meaning of the paragraph. The Nazis used to do it with various phrases from the Talmud.
Letting the Goodwin's Law demonstration slide, Guts is wrong. Telling someone they have taken a quote out of context is not offensive, let alone extremely so, and it is oh-so commonplace as to be darn near ubiquitous. I don't know if Bradford agrees with this, that he was extremely offended, but I hope not. Anyone who finds the accusation of "taking a quote out of context" in the bloghetto that is our ID-evolution online community is much too thin skinned for life in the hood. It is virtually impossible to quote anyone in support of your position (especially anyone nominally assumed to be aligned with the opposition) without a detractor, rightly or wrongly, claiming that you took the quote out of context. I was once, I think it was on Panda's Thumb but I might be wrong, accused of quoting myself out of context.

Guts (from the white-hat team, mind you) seems to undergo a rather sudden personality transplant. Civility and reasonableness are cast aside, and he lobs on the order of a hundred small posts at ATBC, hurling insults replete with terms like "asshole, moron, idiot, stupid, dumbass, faggotry, retard" etc. Of these, per se, I have no objection. As I said, I enjoy ATBC in part because of its irreverent style, and I can be as ribald as, say Martin Luther. But when Luther waxed scatological about Rome, he was making a point.

Irreverence without substance is just crass, and that is how Guts behaved. He took a tough stance about how he was willing to debate, and displayed Demsbkian prophetic vision about how he'd repudiate the ATBCers "in the coming weeks," but he posted nothing substantive at all. One ATBCer suggested that Guts was trying to commit suicide by cop. He wanted to be banned from ATBC to deflect criticism that he was a banninator. And the longer he wasn't banned, the more it snowballed. I can't speak to Guts's motives, but the charge smells plausible.

Guts, I'm afraid, and quite sorry to say, made TT look very bad. But here again is the link. Judge for yourself.

Monday, July 07, 2008

We must be flexible!

A good post about the latest Jesus archaeological blockbuster.


All higher biblical critics

From: The School of Religious Irrelevancy, Hector Avalos, Chairman, Paul Mirecki Secretary, Department of Tenured Cliches, AKA Atheistic Religious Studies Professors.

To those who served our cause well by creating petitions, having funny internet nom de plumes, and writing academic papers that claim that the gospel writers and other redactors added the story of Christ's sufferings, you are hereby asked to cease and desist!

In light of this discovery, the new talking point is-- oh no, they weren't added (our bad.) What happened was the writers merely plagiarized a 1st century BC myth! Of course, we knew that all along! Really we did. We can get the Jesus Seminar into emergency session and have them vote on it with colored cards to prove it!

However, be prepared to revert back to previous arguments should this discovery be discredited.

Yours insincerely,

HA (don't make me start a petition!) and PM (The Evil Dr. P!)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A table to ponder...

1 Cosmological fine tuning is the virtually undisputed scientific observation that the ability of the universe to produce galaxies, stars, heavy elements, and rocky planets rests on something of a razor’s edge.

2 This is the often misapplied analogy from Douglas Adams that, in effect, any sentient creature would, through chauvinism, declare his environment to be “just right.” It’s applicability rests on a large number argument. If there are many places where life could arise, then those places where is does will consider themselves privileged and fortunate when in fact they are mundane. However, if there is but one universe then it is foolishness to apply the puddle analogy to the existence of life. That doesn't stop people from trying, and with misplaced smugness to boot. The puddle analogy may be applicable to the existence of earth-like planets, but that relies not just on the fact that there are many planets, but also that the probability of a habitable planet does not compensate via its minuteness. In fact, nobody knows.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  3 3. Blind Faith—Does the Bible present it as a virtue?

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

An index of all posts is on the right frame.

A blog with only the Sunday School Posts is here.

Location: Grace Baptist Chapel
805 Todd's Lane
Hampton, VA 23666
Time: 10:00-10:45 am

3. Blind Faith—Does the Bible present it as a virtue?

There are two quite vocal groups who do not seek reconciliation between science and faith. On the contrary, their agenda is to foil any such rapprochement. One group is a more-militant subset of atheistic scientists and their supporters. The other group is a certain type of Christian fundamentalist. Strange bedfellows, these two communities make. Their reasons are oddly similar—an intense dislike of the other group. They are not unlike two groups of racists of different ethnicity, both of whom agree that interracial marriage is bad.

The argument they make is this: any desire to see God in science, or to claim physical evidence for God, is bad theology. Why? Because they argue (identically and from convenience) science is the opposite of faith. Faith is a virtue which, they will say, science undermines. According to this line of reasoning, any search for the glory of God in science is a lose-lose scenario. If successful, it renders faith obsolete, and if unsuccessful, it creates an unnecessary and unpleasant challenge to faith.

For example, in an article for the San Antonio Express-News, Susan Ives wrote:32

Intelligent design disrespects faith, discounts faith, destroys faith.

Faith is belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. Faith falls into the realm of metaphysics — literally, "beyond physics," the branch of philosophy that seeks to explain the nature of reality and the origin and structure of the world.

When we try to prove and promote the metaphysical through the physical — when we muddle faith and science — we are, in effect, saying that faith is not enough, that faith, like science, requires proof. Faith that requires proof is no faith at all.

In my Protestant tradition we recite a creed that declares our faith: "I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth."

There are no footnotes in this creed that refer to William Dembski's "The Design Inference" or references to "The Black Box" by Michael Behe, two of the seminal books in the intelligent design movement.
But is Ms. Ives presenting a false dichotomy? Are our choices limited to “faith only” and “demanding scientific proof of God”? Of course they are not. Any Christian who has gazed at a sunset or marveled at the birth of their child knows that the observable world can glorify God and bolster faith while still falling far short of proving God. For a believer, science is the same “creation gazing” writ large. We see God’s amazing handiwork not just in the easily accessible everyday phenomena, but most microscopic and most distant events that require great effort to observe and understand.

Now in fact, it is blind faith that, according to both these groups, is the ultimate Christian virtue. Blind faith truly is the opposite of science, and if blind faith is what the bible calls for then these groups have a point. That is why we take time to look at the question of faith. Superficially it is opposed to science—but only if we permit these two groups to define the essence of biblical faith.

From fundamentalists, the canonization of blind faith stems from an anti-science position: Science is evil, it promotes evil ideas (e.g., an old earth) therefore the senses are not to be trusted--just believe in the interpretation of scripture we promote.

I have often written something that I know people tend to dispute: fundamentalism is a form of liberalism. That's right: Bob Jones University is liberal--because liberal, in terms of theology, means man-centered as opposed to Sola Scriptura. Liberalism means taking liberties with the Bible. Fundamentalism both adds to scripture (in the form of legalism) and takes away from scripture (mostly resulting from its overly-simplistic hyper-literal hermeneutic.) Well here is something else that may surprise you about fundamentalism: it leans toward the Gnostic. Like Gnosticism it demonizes the physical realm and emphasizes "special knowledge." The special knowledge of fundamentalism goes by the name: blind faith.

So this is what we seek to explore. Is blind faith the hallmark of the Christian walk? We shall examine this question by taking a look at the eleventh chapter of the magnificent book of Hebrews. That is the so-called faith Hall of Fame. It should prove particularly relevant.

3.1. Hebrews 11 seems to say yes, until, oddly enough…

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)
This passage is one of two (the other being the "Doubting Thomas" passage) that are used to support the idea that "blind faith" is not just your garden-variety virtue, it's the ultimate virtue that a Christian can and should posses. In fact, many would agree that what defines a Christian is (1) blind faith and (2) the appropriate target of that blind faith.

There is no question that the writer of Hebrews is praising faith. And the faith he is praising is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The relevant questions would seem to be:

  1. Who is the target of this praise? Is it all believers, or some particular group?

  2. Is the faith being praised specific? To put it another way, what are the things hoped for and what are the things not seen? Is this broadly referring to “God”?

The key is in the verses that follow:

2For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. (Heb 11:2-4)
These subsequent verses are omitted when someone wants to uses the first verse as bludgeon. When they want verse one to mean that saving faith derives only from things not seen—lest it somehow be tainted. When they want it to mean that any sign of God in the physical realm can only weaken rather than strengthen faith.

Verse two tells us who the writer is talking about: the people of old, the Old Testament saints. If verse one were a blanket statement, it would apply to all believers. But here we have an indication that the faith being praised is for the BC generations. (Verse three is a quasi-scientific verse. We just note that Old Earth Creations have no problem here. We believe God created the universe via the Big Bang, and it is indeed the case that it was made of things that are not visible. In fact, nothing was visible until 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when light was no longer trapped.)

In verse four we see another important clue. The faiths of Cain and Abel are contrasted. Is Abel’s faith more acceptable because it is blind? No—both Cain and Abel had, we can be sure, personal exposure to God. No, Abel’s faith is praiseworthy not because he believed in God without seeing him—both Abel and Cain “saw” God—but because Abel trusted in God while Cain did not. In particular Abel, it seems reasonable to assume, trusted in God’s promises.

This is important, does faith mean “believe without seeing” or is it something closer to trust? In fact if you use a Greek Lexicon, you'll find that faith (pistis) is indeed related to trust and is never described as "believing in things for which there is no evidence."

Now is an opportune time to present a glorious list: the Cooperstown of faith. The Hall of Famers—all the believers who receive praise, by name, in Hebrews 11, for their great faith. A biblical who’s who. They are:

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel.

(Barak but not Deborah??—now that’s a hot potato.)

The writer could have mentioned the faith of some of the early Christians. He could have mentioned the apostles. He could have mentioned the woman at the well. Or the various people who desperately reached out to Christ and were healed. He could have, but he didn’t. As implied by verse two, Hebrews 11 is a testimony to the believers of old.

We need to make another point about this list. If you wanted to draw up a list of people who were poster children for blind faith the way it is usually meant (believing in God in spite of no evidence) this would not be it. Everyone on this list either saw and spoke with God, or witnessed some great deed of God’s. None of these people had any need for “blind faith.”

So what are they being praised for? What was unseen? The writer tells us. In fact he tells us twice:
13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

39And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Heb 11: 13,39-40)
These verses further confirm it is the faith of the Old Testament saints, because we, in the New Testament era, are contrasted as having something better.

What do we have that they didn’t? It’s fairly obvious. We have seen the promise of the Messiah fulfilled. They could only hope in the promise. The blindness of their faith was not a lack of evidence in creation for God—many of them talked to God. Their blindness, as it were, is that they lived and died without seeing the completed work of Christ, but they kept their faith in the promise.

Let us end this section by recalling the two questions asked earlier:

  1. Who is the target of this praise? Is it all believers, or some particular group?

  2. Is the faith being praised specific? To put it another way, what are the things hoped for and what are the things not seen? Is this broadly referring to “God”?

The answers we have found are:

  1. The target of this praise is the saints of the Old Testament.

  2. The things hoped for and not seen are the finished works of Jesus Christ.

We emphasize, again, that none of the saints singled out by name had any need of “blind faith” as that term is traditionally used.

3.2. Hebrews 11 seems to prove otherwise.

As stated in the previous section, if you use a Greek Lexicon, you'll find that faith (pistis) is in fact related to trust and is never described as "believing in things for which there is no evidence."

In the bible, faith goes way beyond believing (even the demons believe.) Faith means: I don't just try to obey God because I know I should, but I obey because I believe His plan is good.

When a Christian is told to live by faith, it is not intended that he should abandon his intellect and distrust his senses, but rather that, given God's law has been written on his heart, he should live as if he trusts that obeying that law is not just the correct but also the wise thing to do. That is what biblical "faith" is.

To get a little more academic, it is generally accepted that there are three major components of a saving faith.

1. Notitia refers to the fact that we have the correct knowledge or content. When we say we have faith, we obviously have faith in something. Notitia is the knowledge of that something. Today people often claim that sincerity in one’s faith is the most important aspect. Sincerity may be important, but it is not all important. What you believe has to be right. You may sincerely believe in reincarnation, but that is not part of a saving faith, but rather part of a damning faith. Being sincerely wrong is no virtue.

It does not mean you need a comprehensive knowledge (if so, we all would be lost), but there is some (undefined) minimum set of correct beliefs you must hold, such as the fact the God exists.

When the apostles proclaimed Christ, they provided content: Christ’s biography. They taught of Jesus’ life and his works, and how He fulfilled prophesy with His crucifixion and resurrection. They taught that men are sinners. This teaching is vital: before I can reach out for a savior I need to know that I need to be saved. With notitia I have the “theory” of Christianity; I have the content.

2. Assensus means that you not only have the notitia (content) but you also give intellectual assent to the content. This is a non-volitional agreement; you cannot will yourself or make a decision to believe. There may be a process by which you can ultimately reach a point where you can honestly affirm a proposition, either through education or divine intervention, but you cannot simply tell yourself: I will believe.

If I tell you that George Washington was the first president, that is notitia. It’s data. You may believe it, you may not. If you believe it, it is then assensus.

Many mistake assensus as the level of faith that produces salvation. This is not so; salvation comes at the third level. Assensus is belief, and belief is not enough for salvation. James teaches this when he famously refers to demons in his epistle:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)
The demons have both notitia (correct content) and assensus (intellectual assent), but their faith was/is not a saving faith. It lacks the third component: fiducia. (Although even if they had it, it is not clear they would be saved. Nowhere is it mentioned that there exists a redemptive plan for fallen angels.)

As for real people, we have the example of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.
Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (Acts 8:13)
Yet Simon was cast away by Peter for not having a heart that was right with God (Acts 8:21), and went on (legend says) to launch a heresy that still exists in the form of new-age mysticism. Simon the Sorcerer believed; he had both notitia and assensus, but he did not have a saving faith. Christ’s explanation of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13) also teaches of those who believe but fall away.

We must not conflate belief and faith.

3. Fiducia is the complex “of the heart” faith, as opposed to the cerebral notitia and assensus. This relates to our conviction and passion. This is our conscience, our personal trust and reliance. This is the part of faith that goes beyond knowing that the bible teaches us not to steal, and acknowledging that stealing is a sin, to being convicted by the Holy Spirit that stealing is wrong.

With fiducia, we not only know the content of the gospel and believe it to be true, we also believe it to be good. This is clearly, in its entirety, a gift of God. Before regeneration, we are dead in sin and cannot seek or please God. After the gift of faith, we are radically violated; our heart is transplanted. We now (imperfectly) seek God. Our biblical knowledge is buttressed by conviction that God is good, and the things of God are greatly to be desired. This is in stark contrast to atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who argue that God is evil.

Apologetics, it can be said, is in the business of spreading notitia and fighting for assensus. Fiducia is out of the purview of apologetics; Fiducia is a gift from God.

When the Jews of the Exodus got in trouble for their failure of faith, it was not because they stopped believing in God. It was because they stopped believing that God's plan was good for them. When Peter's faith failed (on two well-known occasions) he didn't stop believing in Christ, he stopped trusting him.

What was the points of all this, and what does it have to do with science? The point is this: the faith contrasted with science is blind faith. But blind faith is not what the bible calls for. The bible calls for faith as described above, a much richer concept than “believing in the invisible.” This faith has no conflict with science, and if the beauty and wonder of creation can enhance faith in the promises of God, then all the better.

Let’s emphasize this a bit more, looking again at Hebrews 11. We’ll start with one of the more interesting characters in the Hall Of Fame: Gideon.

We can never discuss Gideon without bringing up two of the more humorous passages in scripture. One is when the angel of the Lord (which is a theophany, see v.23) first appears:
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him [Gideon] and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor." (Judges 6:12)
Now our complete picture of Gideon tells us that in all likelihood the last thing he considered himself, at least at that time, was a man of valor. You can easily imagine him replying: "Are you talking to me?"

But an even funnier exchange occurs just a bit later:
And he [Gideon] said to him [the Lord], "If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you." And he [the Lord] said, "I will stay till you return." (Judges 6:17-18)
Here Gideon asks God to stick around while he runs inside to get something, God answers. "Go on, take your time. I'll wait." You just have to love it.

Gideon returns and God displays his pleasure with Gideon’s gift by, um, burning it to ashes.

Later Gideon famously puts God to some additional testing:

Then Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said." And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, "Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew." And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew. (Judges 6:36-40)
This is what gets Gideon in trouble—not with God or with the writer of Hebrews, but with Sunday School teachers teachers who say: "don’t be like Gideon." Well, to them I say: I'd very much love to be like Gideon. You will note that God does not rebuke Gideon for asking for proof. Our premium on blind faith and the view that proof somehow is demeaning to God is darn near 180 degrees off. Blind faith is never called for, and in fact the elevation of blind faith to a virtue is, in my opinion, demeaning to God. Made in his image, we are rational beings, and every indication in scripture tells me that God is quite pleased when we seek evidence (even through science), and when he is visibly present among us, he readily provides it.

So if God, or an angel of God, appears to me and says that he will send me to defeat the army of Iran with nothing more than a Ronco VegoMatic, I am going to behave just like Gideon.

Let’s look at some more examples that demonstrate that God is not demanding blind faith:

  • In the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple physical proofs that God was God. The proofs were given. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “and Gideon, after serving his military purpose, was cursed for demanding proof.”

  • When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God complied with the request. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “And Moses’ inability to rely solely on blind faith is the real reason he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land.”

  • Psalm 19 teaches that the heavens declares God’s glory. My bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “but only as a crutch for the weak-minded.”

  • When Jesus forgave the sins of a lame man, he then healed the man. Instead of containing a footnote that reads: “and for those who required the latter, let them be anathema,” my bible reads that Jesus said it was so we may know the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

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

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

  • Even in the case of “doubting” Thomas, where Jesus allows Thomas to examine His wounds, and even though Jesus blesses those who believe without seeing, my bible does not contain a footnote that reads: “and Thomas was cast out for his reliance on proof.”
We conclude that saving faith is more complex than blind faith, and in fact blind faith is not called for. It is blind faith that us incompatible with science. Biblical faith is not.

32See here for the complete article.