Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh Brother! du jour

Readers know I don’t like the Religious-Right. And now we have a Secular-Right. If the early posting is any indication, it looks no more intelligent and exhibits no better writing skill than its fundamentalist counterpart.

Perhaps they need even more hyphens. Kantian-Secular-Right. Or Post-Humein-People-With-Large-Buttocks-Secular-Right.

Religious-Right. Secular-Right. Gay-Right. Far-Right. Crunchy-Con-Right, Catholic-Right,…

A pox on all these Rights!

We don't need no stinkin' Copernican Principle

I have often written that there are four ways to explain the fact that our universe is (at least apparently) fine-tuned.
  1. It really was fine tuned. That is, Goddidit.
  2. There are multiple universes, most of them sterile, but obviously ours is not. (A solution by large numbers.)
  3. The fine tuning is an illusion.
  4. Unimaginable luck.
It is interesting to see that some scientists are presenting a fifth possibility: the Copernican Principle is wrong.

The Copernican Principle is the cherished belief that we are not in any special place in the cosmos. It is essentially the same thing as the idea that the universe is homogenous--it looks the same, on a large scale, from any location. The article linked above discusses the non-homogeneous possibility that we are in fact in a very special low density bubble within the larger universe. Even more un-Copernican-like, we would have to be in the center of this bubble to explain the high degree of isotropy seen in the microwave background.

From the article:
This startling possibility [accelerated expansion] can be accommodated by the standard cosmological equations, but only at a price. That price is introducing dark energy - an unseen energy pervading space that overwhelms gravity and drives an accelerating expansion. Dark energy is problematic. No one really knows what it is. We can make an educated guess, and use quantum theory to estimate how much of it there might be, but then we overshoot by an astounding factor of 10120 [The so-called "worst" fine tuning problem in all of physics].

That is grounds enough, says George Ellis, a leading cosmology theorist based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, to take a hard look at our assumptions about the universe and our place in it. "If we analyse the supernova data by assuming the Copernican principle is correct and get out something unphysical, I think we should start questioning the Copernican principle."

A cool, for some, Sophie's Choice: Which do you hate less, a fine tuned universe or the death of the Copernican Principle?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blood Temperature at 373.15K

19 Go therefore and make patsies disciples of all politicians nations, lobbying baptizing them in the name of the Christian Coalition Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20coercing teaching them to enact legislation requiring all citizens to observe all that I have commanded you, (And some that I didn’t command, but you know I would have if I had thought about it. Use your judgment.). And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the Republic. age. (Epistle of Pat and Ralph Matthew 28:19-20 [DRAFT])
I really hate seeing crap like this.

Here is a novel idea for a "Christian Coalition" (whatever the hell that is):

Spread. The. Gospel.

UPDATE: The Christian Coalition link may be broken. If so, and you were wondering what was on the page I linked, it was an "American Values Survey":

2008 American Values Survey

Given the changes in Washington, it is urgent that political leaders understand that America's Christian voters expect strong moral leadership in government. Leadership that respects and reflects our values - not attacks them at every opportunity.

That's why we're conducting a massive survey of America's politically active Christians - so we can show the politicians and the media exactly where we stand.

We're surveying hundreds of thousands of conservative Christians nationwide, and we will announce the results in Washington, DC in January when the new Congress is seated.

This is your chance to send a strong message to America's political leaders as well as members of the media. Urge them not to ignore the issues and concerns of America's Christians. Don't let them claim that they never heard from you.

Fill out the American Values Survey below and have your voice heard!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4.5. YECs as Useful Idiots

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

4.5. YECs as useful Idiots

One thing I would advise my YEC friends of is to be careful that they are not used as "useful idiots." This is usually done in the form of a cheap "Heads I Win Tails You Lose argument." And I hate cheap arguments, I Just hate 'em. Regardless of whose side they are on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Course Evaluations

I'm sitting here, instead of standing in front of my Astronomy class, because this is the time for the semi-annual beauty contest known as "Student Evaluations." This is where the students rate their instructor. They are filling out forms (with number-2 pencils) while I make myself scarce for twenty minutes. Before I leave the classroom I always tell them, just to break the ice, that "now is when you get to determine how much food my kids will have to eat next year."

And when I go back, after the forms are on their way to our IT center, I'll say: "now that that's done, I can give you a pop quiz." Heh.

The War on the War on Christmas

The title is not a mistake. I hereby declare war (limited to a war of words) on my fellow Christians who insist on ranting and raving about a so-called “war on Christmas.”

The bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate or commemorate Jesus’ birth. It tells us to celebrate and commemorate his death and resurrection. As far as I’m concerned, Christmas remains a secular, pagan holiday. Of course as Christians we are free to ignore the secular aspects of the holiday and instead use it as special time of worship honoring God (just because the bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate the birth of Christ, that doesn’t mean we can’t—unless you buy into that silly Calvinistic (alas) Regulative Principle.) But a religious observation should be viewed as a completely independent activity that happens, for historic reasons, to coincide with a pagan holiday bearing the unfortunate name Christmas. Religious observation or economy make-or-break lusty materialistic spend-fest? It’s one, or the other, or, if you can manage it, both simultaneously—but it’s not either-or.

And why the hell would you want some unbelieving WalMart greeter with a plastered-on smile to say “Merry Christmas?” How does that glorify God? By showing that his people can use political influence essentially to force people to say something we want to hear? Does that even begin to make sense?

Then again, I’d like to see the national prevarication “In God We Trust” removed from the coinage. And “Under-God” from the pledge. Saying it doesn’t make it so, and if it’s so, we don’t have to say it.

False, mandated, imposed, or peer-pressure induced false-piety is, in my opinion, more of an abomination than honest disbelief. That is why I welcome the so-called new atheists. Silly and anti-intellectual as they are, they are providing a public service. The more they help other atheists come out of the closet, the healthier we all are. Are you an atheist? The stop pretending you aren’t. It’s a lose-lose scenario when you pretend to be a believer. You are free, free!

Even if it becomes, say, a war on Easter, who cares? The important war is over. The final battle was 2000 years ago. The good side won. We are not in a war with atheists. That would be the epitome of asymmetric warfare. He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. We are not to fight to defend God, as if He were a damsel in distress. We are to glorify God. Far better to react to increasing secularism with dignity, grace, and God-glorifying witness than by acting like a two year old whose toy has been whisked away.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4.4. How long was/is the seventh day?

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

4.4. How long was/is the seventh day?

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex. 20:11)
This verse is often cited as proof that the days in Genesis are 24-hour days. But in truth things are not so simple. As a counter example, the eight day “Feast of the Tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:33-43) is meant to parallel and commemorate the Jews wandering in the wilderness—which lasted much far more than eight days. Likewise, God’s providential wisdom in instituting a 6+1 work week might be analogous to the creation “week” rather than a duplicate.

For those of an old-earth perspective, a common view of the seventh day is that it has not ended. That is, both scientifically and theologically what ended after the sixth yôm is God’s act of supernatural creative work. The cosmos was complete. The biodiversity of the earth was complete. No more species—in fact the number of species would now decline by the process of extinction. There are differences of opinion as to when this seventh day ends—in traditional Old Earth Creationism, the seventh day ends when history ends. That is,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"(Rev. 21:1-5.)
implies that at the end of the present age and the onset of the eternal age, God will stop resting and again resume creating. However it does not imply that God has had his feet up ever since He ceased supernatural creation—indeed God is actively involved in His creation—it only means that God ceased creating.

But let’s look at a more concrete argument.
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." (John 5:15-17)
At first this would appear to support the idea that the seventh day was indeed an ordinary day, and that God rested for 24 hours and then resumed working.

But take a deeper look. Jesus is being criticized for working on the Sabbath. His appeal to his Father’s working only makes sense if it is still the Father's Sabbath (seventh day.) We note also that the Jews did not “counter” Jesus’ argument by saying: "So what, the Father rested for 24 hours after which he resumed working."

Perhaps more compelling is a passage from Hebrews:
For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest." Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)
This passage implies that God’s day of rest is ongoing, and salvation permits us to enter into God’s perpetual Sabbath, into his seventh day, which is manifestly longer than 24 hours.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I voted. For Sarah Palin. The McCain part of the ticket was an inseparable, minor annoyance.

It's clear what the outcome will be.

I'll try, with the election behind us, to return to blog posts theological.

It was weird what happened--I had no interest at all in the election until McCain chose Palin. Then I cared a great deal. It's clear, however, that energizing the evangelicals with Palin was not nearly enough.

This is one of those times when it is especially good to be a Calvinist. Regarding the election of Barack Obama:

I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (WCF V.I,II)
So I am surprisingly--undisturbed.

Now here is something to fret about: only two more NASCAR races and the season is over--I'll have to wait until February for the Daytona 500! That's like, forever.