Monday, December 29, 2008

Meanwhile, at Uncommon Descent

You know someone is absolutely clueless if they write something like this:

First, stripped of its current scientific scaffolding, Darwinism is a 19th century social theory that has been turned into a ‘general unified theory of everything’, and as such belongs in the same category as Marxism and Freudianism.

Oh, brother. Independent of your respect, affirmation, or denial of “Dawinism” (pejorative for The Theory of Evolution, ToE) this is easily seen as a statement about science that could only have been made by an ignorant non-scientist.

And it was—it was made by sociologist and University of Warwick (England) professor Steve Fuller writing for Uncommon Descent.

The ToE makes testable predictions. It qualifies as science. It will continue stand or it will ultimately fall on the basis of future discoveries and predictions--confirmed or refuted. It may be supplanted by something better. But science it is, under the definition of anyone who matters. Marxism and Freudianism, it is hardly worth wasting pixels to point out, are not.

As an honest science evolution is no threat to Christianity. A study of creation is always honoring rather than disparaging of the creator.

And the ToE is not a theory of everything—even in the sarcastic manner intended by Fuller. It doesn’t explain anything in physics. It can’t compute the precession of Mercury’s perihelion. Misapplications of the ToE in the social and psychological domains are considered embarrassments by most biologists, much like a philosopher invoking the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle causes physicists to roll their eyes and shake their heads in dismay.

Fuller’s rhetoric is cheap, useless, unoriginal, tiresome, unproductive, un-illuminating and worst of all wrong.

Fuller is a personification of the Sokal hoax. When you read him you understand how postmodernist philosophers of science are as gullible as Britney Spears (and possessing comparable, we can imagine, scientific savviness—and if I underestimate Ms. Spears, I apologize.). He represents everything bad about the ID Movement. (Really, the ID Movement truly is slutty enough to sleep with any willing partner.) If it weren’t for lawyers, heretics, theonomists, postmodernists, Transpradigmatic Scientists, Noetic Scientists, failed mathematicians and other non-scientists drawn from sociology, philosophy, theology, history, as well as the odd Canadian journalist—all commenting on what is and is not science—they’d have no public face at all.

On the other hand, Fuller gets something right, albeit by convoluted reasoning:
After all, what good is a theory of ‘intelligent design’ if it has nothing to say about the nature of the designer? ID supporters are susceptible to the charge of ‘Pastafarianism’ because of their reluctance to speak openly about God – understandably, in a scientific culture that is so actively hostile to the very idea. (Also, religious scruples are probably in play.)
If you shorten that to: “IDers should admit that the designer is God and stop pretending that ID has nothing to do with religion” then you have a statement that is spot-on.

But, as I alluded, this is all accidental. Because Fuller does not suggest, reasonably, that ID should become (or rather, remain) a theistic apologetic, demonstrating to believers the wonders of God’s creative work. Instead Fuller out IDs the IDers:

But this in turn means that ID will need to be more forthright in advancing scientific theories of God – what ‘theology’ ought to mean.

No, that is not what theology ought to mean--not by a longshot. Now to grant Fuller the benefit of the doubt, he clearly doesn’t understand what a “scientific theory” is—so he probably doesn’t mean what you or I would mean by “scientific theories of God.”

But taking the statement at face value we can say this: The only thing worse than ID refusing to admit that it is all about God is for it to claim that it is a scientific theory of God.

I’m not sure what the proportions are—but such a recipe calls for the following ingredients: ignorance, chutzpah, and blasphemy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Not a review, just a comment

When people ask me what is the best movie I have ever seen, I have trouble coming up with an answer.

One thing is for sure, the new movie (in limited release) Slumdog Millionaire will be in the top five. It was utterly fantastic. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fruits and Vegtable Soup

Alert from the American Family Association!

The end-times are near; Campbell’s Soup is being marketed to gay consumers.

My response to this is: do nothing. Oh--keep buying Campbell’s Soup.

If this were a retailer and the AFA was advocating a boycott, which they have done in the past (Ford, McDonalds, Disney, …) I would go out of my way to frequent the retailer and hopefully bear good witness. That activity has biblical support. The strategy of boycotts, alerts, petitions, e-mail campaigns, and press-releases has none. Unless we imagine...

Paul's long-lost letter to fellow tent-makers Priscilla and Aquila:

My dear brother and sister,

Due to the unspeakable sin of the city of Corinth, I feel that we must stop using rich Corinthian leather in our tents. We'll hit those bastards where it hurts! If you see Apollos, tell him to make sure his belt was made with Berean leather.

Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles and President of the Asia-Minor Family Values Association

Memo to the AFA:

Gospel: yes. Politics: no. The cosmic battle: over. Winner: the good team. He who is in me: very strong. He who is in the world: not so much.

(Hat Tip: Ed Brayton)

It's probably a good idea...

to say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" to these folks.

I sort of wish I could unlearn this:

Kabbalistic toilet paper

The Knesset correspondent of the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia, Zvi Rosen, relates that celebrated Hasidic admorim (sect leaders) would cut a year's supply of toilet paper for Sabbath use (to avoid tearing toilet paper on Sabbath) on this night [Christmas Eve]. Actually, this disrespectful act has profound kabbalistic significance, because kabbalistic literature extensively discusses Christianity as waste material excreted from the body of the Jewish people. Today, precut toilet paper for Sabbath use is available on the market; thus, the custom's relevance has diminished.

and this:

Abstaining from procreation

As was the case in 2000, Christmas Eve or Nitel Night this year falls on Friday night, and this fact has several significant ramifications. Because of this, certain acts that are desecrations of the Sabbath cannot be performed, such as cutting toilet paper or straightening out paperwork. Nor can one sleep throughout the entire Christmas Eve because of the obligation of eating the Friday night meal, although it is customary not to talk about sacred matters at the table when Christmas Eve falls on Friday night.

However, the biggest paradox concerns the procreation mitzvah (commandment). It is recommended that the commandment be observed on Friday night, which is a holy time. Yet on Nitel Night [Christmas Eve], which has no holiness, it is customary to refrain from observing the commandment, because of the fear that a Jewish child conceived on Jesus' birthday could become an apostate.
But isn't the precedent that if you are born on Christmas, not conceived on Christmas (Eve), that you'll become a really big apostate?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Q: Under or Free of the Law?  A: Both

The question of the Mosaic Law—are we bound by it or not?—is usually presented as a false dilemma. Namely:gen

Pick one. Use only a Number 2 pencil:

☐ 1. We are still under the law.
☐ 2. We are not under the law.

The problem is that we neglect a third choice:

☑ 3. We are still under a moral law, but it is not the law handed down to Moses (including The Ten Commandments)—it is the fuller moral law as revealed by Christ himself, primarily via the Sermon on The Mount.

If you get stuck in the false dilemma you will, when reading Paul’s comments on the law, end up with a noggin spinning like a whirling dervish. Paul almost seems to be playing zen come-here, go-away! games with us—are you bound by the law? May it never be! So are you free of the law? May it never be!

But, but...

I have been reading along these lines in the book The Newness of the New Covenant by A. Blake White.

White points out how avoiding the false dilemma makes Paul a bit clearer. (He doesn't cast his arguments in the form of a false dilemma. I'm just paraphrasing--rather crudely.)

As an example, consider this verse:
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Cor 7:19)
It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. But keeping the commandments of God—that’s what really counts. Except…circumcision was required under Mosaic law! So is Paul telling us to keep the law or disregard it?

That’s the false dilemma. In fact he is telling us to disregard Mosaic law (circumcision) but to obey another law—and the only thing that can mean is: obey Jesus’ law.

Paul makes this more explicit a bit later:
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (1 Cor 9:20-21)
Paul is saying: To the Jews I appear as Jew, under the law, even though I am not really under the Mosaic law. To the gentiles I appear as free from the law, even though I am not really free from the law, but under Christ’s law.

That is, to the Jew, Paul emphasizes the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that it is not the law of Moses. And to the Gentile, Paul emphasizes freedom from the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that the freedom is from the law of Moses—not from the law of Christ.

Smart man, that Paul. And it is only option three, above, that allows us to make any sense out of Paul’s difficult teachings on the law.

Make sure all erasures are full and complete.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rick Warren must have...

used software to search the parametric landscape for a statement that optimizes an equal weighting of pandering, insincerity, and obsequiousness. No unassisted human brain could have accomplished it so perfectly.

The only thing missing from his “I love Muslims, gays, straights, Republicans and Democrats” mea-culpa, designed (poorly) to deflect criticism from his selection to deliver an invocation at Obama’s inauguration, is a follow-up regarding the ideologies and proclivities of “some of his best friends.”

Does anyone believe that Warren will present the gospel? Will he affirm anything along the lines of “there is no other name under heaven?” If he doesn’t, or if he can’t, he has no business representing himself as a Christian minister. None whatsoever. It would be much better for him to have turned down the invitation. Or spoke as an author and political activist, but not as any sort of Christian leader.

Enjoy the national spotlight Pastor Warren. It only lasts, at best, for a lifetime.

Warren is the next-generation Falwell, Robertson, Reed, Bauer, etc. He’s a little bit more sophisticated. A little bit. His political and self-promotional activities are perhaps slightly less annoying and embarrassing. Slightly.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Some Good News

Televangelist's $3.6 million jet not tax-exempt, Tarrant appraiser says:
A Kenneth Copeland Ministry jet worth $3.6 million has been denied tax-exempt status by the Tarrant Appraisal District, setting the stage for a battle that could require the minister to reveal his salary if he wants the jet to be tax-free.
Atheists are not our enemies. They are, in fact, impotent when it comes to harming the church. Wars on Christmas or anti-religious plaques in state capitals pose no threat. Only Christians and false Christians are harmful through their potential to rob God of glory.

Kenneth Copeland: you need to repent and claim Christ's righteousness as your own. Your prosperity-gospel crap is a total embarrassment. Richard Dawkins can only dream of harming the church as much as you have, you unspeakable charlatan.

The 85.71% Rule

Young Earth Creationists have two common "proofs" that the days of Genesis One are ordinary days. One is based on an erroneous claim: that anytime the word yôm is used with an ordinal number, it always refers to a twenty-four hour day. Excepting, of course, when it is and yet it doesn't.

The other kevlar-lacking argument is in reference to the fourth commandment. For example, in Exodus 20 we read:
9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 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. 20:9-11)
Clearly, the argument goes, given that God is telling mankind to work six ordinary days and not six "ages" or six "indeterminate periods" before entering the Sabbath rest, the "days" in the analogy—which refer to God's activity, must mean the same thing.

Well, no—of course it doesn't demand any such thing. The bible is chock full of anthropomorphisms. God is longsuffering yet we do not believe that God suffers, in the sense that humans suffer, at all. Nor do we believe that God sits around hoping that humans will pleasantly surprise him until He finally says to himself "enough is enough." God hates Esau—but do we believe he hates in the same ugly visceral way that we hate? God "changes his mind" on numerous occasions—but do we not believe that God ordains what comes to pass, and that no argument from man can "hold back his hand?" (Dan. 4:35).

The same, I submit, is on display here. God has established by creation, and by providence, a six out of seven rule, a practice that is both honoring to God and beneficial to man.

In other words:

God worked, or at least described his work, as six periods followed by a seventh period of rest. (Which, by the way, is still continuing—a fact which does not fit the literal interpretation.)

God then applies that model to human activities. What is the correct time scale for human activities? Should humans work six minutes and rest the seventh? Six years and and take a year off? No, the correct and natural time scale for humans and their labors is the ordinary twenty-four hour day. The model, applied to humans, naturally uses days. But the model is more general. This we can see in another passage in Exodus, but since it is also in Leviticus we'll quote that book, since you always feel a minimum of 23% cooler when you use a passage from Leviticus:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (Lev 25:1-4)
Here the same six-of-seven creation principle is applied to the land, but for the land the appropriate time scale is a year. Note that it is not just an independent agricultural principle—it is connected directly to the concept of the Sabbath.

Finally, we note that the anthropomorphic nature of the creation analogy used in the forth commandment is more evident in the later rendition—not Exodus 20 but Exodus 31:
16Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'"
Again, we do not believe that God has any sort of emotional or physical degradation from which he is literally refreshed. Instead, we understand that God is (through Moses) explaining his activity in human terms and instructing us to follow his model in a manner that is appropriate for our endeavors and limitations, and for our time scales.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On the Shoulders of Gnats

I no longer blog much on the strange happenings at Uncommon Descent. Like many others I've become desensitized. It's like Benny Hinn or Al Gore—the cerebral circuits that fire when pondering their antics no longer, from overuse, lead to feelings of amusement.

Except when they outdo themselves—opening up virginal neural pathways for exploration, cultivation and exploitation.

Such a case is currently on display at the New and Improved (even more advertisements!) Uncommon Descent.

This Comedy in Three Acts begins in ancient territory: Dembki’s Explanatory Filter. For those who don't know, the Explanatory Filter is inspired by the common-sense way humans perceive design.

For example, suppose that while strolling along the Plain of Nazca we encounter, right there on the ground, an autographed Bill Buckner baseball card. We would, probably subconsciously, reason: a) No natural law produces autographed Bill Buckner baseball cards, b) an autographed Bill Buckner baseball card is very unlikely to have arisen by chance, and c) though complex, an autographed Bill Buckner baseball card fits a pattern that is simple to describe: It looks a picture of Bill Buckner in a Cubs uniform with his name scrawled across the foreground.

We would then conclude, reasonably, that some intelligent agent produced the baseball card. That is, it was designed.

In truth, Dembski's Explanatory Filter (EF) is not inspired by this common sense approach—it is this common sense approach. What Dembski does is wrap horse-sense in a façade of obfuscatory mathematics and call it science—when all it is is the everyday approach that works only for objects that have a resemblance to things that we know men can make. They are either immediately recognizable—a watch or a Terracotta soldier, or they bear some resemblance to things we make—they are machined, have gears, lights, hinges, inscriptions, etc.

Making it sound all sciency, Dembski then claimed that the EF can be applied to objects that a) do not resemble anything we have ever made, b) we don't know how to make them, and c) they are alive, or parts of living creatures.

It doesn't work. When you are dealing with something alive, or a component of something alive—how do you rule out natural causes? You can't. You might not believe that evolution explains something—say the bacterial flagellum, but the present lack of a satisfactory natural explanation is not proof that there will never be such an explanation.

Even worse, the EF ultimately rests on the concept of complex, specified information (CSI). This is the, once again, common sense idea that if the object is complex and yet fits a simply described pattern, it is a strong candidate for design. And once again Dembski takes a reasonable concept and pretends he can put it on firm mathematical footing. He can't. Nobody knows how to calculate the CSI of, say, blood clotting—and so Dembski's CSI and his EF remain Mathstrology—they sound mathlike, they make bold claims regarding their calculability and applicability, but ultimately they are not even "not even wrong."

Virtually anyone with any mathematical savvy has been saying the same thing for years. But Dembski would not back down.

Until a week ago.

Then in the internet equivalent of a marginal note, with no fanfare whatsoever, Dembski announced in a comment—not even a dedicated post:
I’ve pretty much dispensed with the EF. It suggests that chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not. Straight CSI is clearer as a criterion for design detection.
Well alrighty then. It's a bit like, in the midst of a Kidney Pie throwdown with Bobby Flay, Richard Dawkins mentioning in passing that he had become a Christian, and then in his next breath explaining that the secret to a tasty entrée is to use only the freshest marjoram.

That was Act II. The final act was a Dembski post that appeared on Uncommon Descent yesterday.
In an off-hand comment in a thread on this blog I remarked that I was dispensing with the Explanatory Filter in favor of just going with straight-up specified complexity. On further reflection, I think the Explanatory Filter ranks among the most brilliant inventions of all time (right up there with sliced bread). I’m herewith reinstating it — it will appear, without reservation or hesitation, in all my future work on design detection.
You simply can't make this stuff up. You can't even tell if Debmski is serious—though personally I think he is. His, um "humor" usually takes the form of flatulence jokes, grotesque photo-shopped images, false prophesies of scientific victory, legal advice, Sir Robbining, posting home addresses and phone numbers of people he doesn't like, bragging about his influence on President Bush's science policy, developing complex legal strategies, turning people in to the Department of Homeland Security, etc. This, if it is a joke, would be a little bit high-brow for Dembski.

But you just never know.

UPDATE: Dembski gives his reason for the Deng Xiaoping-like rehabilitation of the Explanatory Filter following a one-week exile:
William Dembski


12:59 am
DaveScot: Right. I came up with the EF on observing example after example in which people were trying to sift among necessity, chance, and design to come up with the right explanation. The EF is what philosophers of science call a “rational reconstruction” — it takes pre-theoretic ordinary reasoning and attempts to give it logical precision. But what gets you to the design node in the EF is SC (specified complexity). So working with the EF or SC end up being interchangeable. In THE DESIGN OF LIFE (published 2007), I simply go with SC. In UNDERSTANDING INTELLIGENT DESIGN (published 2008), I go back to the EF. I was thinking of just sticking with SC in the future, but with critics crowing about the demise of the EF, I’ll make sure it stays in circulation.
Not a scientific reason--but because his critics are "crowing about the demise of the EF." (The EF cannot, it would seem, distinguish between crowing and mocking.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  5.2. There’s Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and finally…

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

5.2. There’s Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and finally…

So the early church fathers solved this dilemma [Oops: It seems that on that day, Adam surely did not die] in a different way, and the way they conceived is important for other reasons. It was the millennial day solution.

Justin Martyr (100-165) is on everyone's top ten list of early church fathers. Wikipedia provides this thumbnail biography:
Most of what is known about the life of Justin Martyr comes from his own writings. He was born at Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Judaea/Palaestina, now modern-day Nablus). According to church tradition Justin suffered martyrdom at Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168). He called himself a Samaritan, but his father and grandfather were probably Greek or Roman, and he was brought up a Pagan. It seems that St Justin had property, studied philosophy, converted to Christianity, and devoted the rest of his life to teaching what he considered the true philosophy, still wearing his philosopher's gown to indicate that he had attained the truth. He probably traveled widely and ultimately settled in Rome as a Christian teacher.
What did Justin write concerning the problem at hand?
"For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression 'The day of the Lord is a thousand years' [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 81 [A.D. 155]).
What Justin is saying, is that a solution to the problem is to take "day" in Gen. 2:17 to mean a thousand years, a la Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8.

Another prominent church father is Irenaeus (1?? – c200). Again we make use of Wikipedia:
Irenaeus was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyons, France. He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.

Irenaeus's best-known book, Against Heresies, (c 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of Valentinus. As the first great Catholic theologian, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority--episcopal councils. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none of them was a Gnostic.
Regarding this same problem, Irenaeus mentions the same solution as Justin:
"And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since 'a day of the Lord is a thousand years,' he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin" (Against Heresies, 5:23:2 [A.D. 189]).
Based on the wording one might argue whether Irenaeus himself accepted this solution. For our purposes it doesn't matter. What matters is that Irenaeus did not view the solution as improper for a Christian. Even if he did not affirm it, and he very well may have, he did not disparage or criticize the millennial day solution.

Later in the third century, Lactantius (c 250-325), Victronius of Pettau, and Methodius of Olympus also argued for the millennial day view.41

Other church fathers wrote concerning Genesis. Consider Clement of Alexandria (c150 – c215). He wrote:
"And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist? . . . That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: 'This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth' [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression 'when they were created' intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression 'in the day that God made them,' that is, in and by which God made 'all things,' and 'without which not even one thing was made,' points out the activity exerted by the Son" (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]).
And finally, read the words of Origen (c185-c254). He makes the argument that since the sun did not appear until day four, the concept of "day" cannot possibly have its ordinary meaning:
"For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (The Fundamental Doctrines, 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

"The text said that 'there was evening and there was morning'; it did not say 'the first day,' but said 'one day.' It is because there was not yet time before the world existed. But time begins to exist with the following days" (Homilies on Genesis [A.D. 234]).

"And since he [the pagan Celsus] makes the statements about the 'days of creation' ground of accusation—as if he understood them clearly and correctly, some of which elapsed before the creation of light and heaven, the sun and moon and stars, and some of them after the creation of these we shall only make this observation, that Moses must have forgotten that he had said a little before 'that in six days the creation of the world had been finished' and that in consequence of this act of forgetfulness he subjoins to these words the following: 'This is the book of the creation of man in the day when God made the heaven and the earth [Gen. 2:4]'" (Against Celsus 6:51 [A.D. 248]).

"And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day . . . and of the [great] lights and stars upon the fourth . . . we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world" (ibid., 6:60).

"For he [the pagan Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world's creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep the festival with God who have done all their work in their six days" (ibid., 6:61).

41Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, bk. 7, chap. 14. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed. v7.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Impenetrable Verses in the New Testament

Let's start with this one:
16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (1 John 5:16)
(mental gears grinding)

The best I can say is that we can speculate that this is similar to Matthew 7:6, "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs" That is—there is a degree of apostasy so severe that it is acceptable to view the purveyor as a lost cause. It doesn't mean he is a lost cause—it means that as people with finite time and energy, God recognizes that we have to make judgments. If we are wrong—so be it. God will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy.

I am not at all sure of that interpretation. That is one tough verse. But perhaps not quite as difficult as:
29Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1. Cor. 15:29)
Let's be clear on something: there is no satisfying answer to the question of "what does this verse mean?" As far as I can tell, nobody knows what this verse means.

You will recall that in this chapter Paul is addressing the egregious error of denying the Resurrection of Christ and, as it would then follow, denying the future bodily resurrection of the saints.

In verses 12-19, Paul makes the reductio ad absurdum argument: If Christ has not risen, we all are pinheads of biblical proportions. I verses 30-24, Paul argues "why am I enduring pain and suffering if we will not be raised with Christ?" In between, we have Mormon-sounding baptism for the dead.

We note:
  1. We don’t know what the practice is.
  2. Paul does not endorse it.
  3. More importantly, I think, Paul does not condemn it.
Since Paul does not condemn it, wan assume it is not a practice of baptizing the dead in the hopes of bringing salvation to those who missed their opportunity. Why? Because (a) that is contrary to the remaining 99.999% of the New Testament, and, similarly (b) if it were salvific to baptize the dead, the practice would be loudly encouraged. Instead we have only this obscure reference.

I can make a guess—and it is no more than a guess. And it is based on Paul being neutral on the subject.

What if there was a therapeutic practice of baptizing on behalf the dead—perhaps children or the like. It was not meant to affect their eternal state, but as a catharsis for those who lost loved ones who, for whatever reason had not been baptized. Paul may have viewed this practice as a harmless tradition—provided it made no claims beyond being an unusual memorial service. But he latched on it as another plank in his argument: if you don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, why do you bother with this practice?

Who knows? I think this verse will remain a mystery.

As always in such situations, I think of the late Jack Hamilton, who once told me "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."

Wise man, Pastor Hamilton. RIP.

Excluding the book of the Revelation, which is impenetrable in its entirety.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Book Meme: the Answers

Answers for the meme posted below.

  1. God said, “Jesus, I am about to claim you back and lift you up to me.”
    The Koran. (Applicable Hint: Of course that's fiction.)

  2. Twas no leechery he put thee to, but lechery, and laid thy maiden body forever in the bed of harlotry!
    The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth. (Applicable Hint: My favorite novel. Ever. [Ahem. Which I think is on my blogspot profile--which I now see has no link on my blog--which makes this hint worthless.])

  3. "I lost ten for passive-voice too," Maya said.
    Here, Eyeball This!, by David Heddle. (Applicable Hint: If you only buy one book this Christmas season, this is the one. Trust me.)

  4. The strength has nothing to do with how long the objects have been in each other’s presence.
    The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene.

  5. Nevertheless, these cases are only exaggerations of the common fact that the female produces offspring of two sexes which sometimes differ from each other in a wonderful manner.
    The Origin of Species, by Chas. Darwin.

  6. The Dean pointed out that not only apples but also cherries, oranges, lemons, and limes fell to earth, and while they were about it they might as well obtain a real, man-sized government contract to cover all the varieties of fruit that grow above ground.
    A Random Walk in Science, by R. L. Weber.

  7. For example, they furnish a conservation theorem for a case in which the law of action and reaction is violated, namely when electromagnetic forces are present.
    Classical Mechanics, by H. Goldstein.

  8. The Captain smiled and shook his head.
    Thank You for Smoking, by Christopher Buckley.

  9. Is it appropriate to define a tangent line to a curve C at a point P on C as a line that has just one point in common with C?
    Calculus and Analytic Geometry, by G. B. Thomas. (Applicable Hint: Best undergraduate textbook. Ever.)

  10. You keep them dumb broads quiet.
    The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O'Neill. (Applicable Hint: Baby it's cold outside)

What a Zoo

Ken Ham's (silly) creation museum and the Cincinnati Zoo had a joint Christmas promotion—buy a ticket to one, see both. Now that is an odd, strange-bedfellows sort of pairing—but so what? People who wanted to visit both attractions could save a little money, and both places get a piece of the pie, including potential visits to their respective gift shop and restaurant cash cows. A win-win.

But not when everything must be perceived as a life and death line in the sand. This harmless arrangement bothered (to put it mildly) some in the politics and science intersection. In fact, you'd have thunk the fate of science itself was at stake! Quickly organized: an email campaign of outrage, the likes of which have not been seen since WGN planned to air an interview with someone who dared to suggest it is a little premature to declare Obama the greatest president, ever! (Thank goodness the folks at WGN came to their senses.)

Some chucklehead by the name of Dr. James Leach was so outraged that his panties were bunched around his eyeballs. He declared in an email to the zoo “They seem like diametrically opposed institutions.” And “The Cincinnati Zoo is one of this city’s treasures. The Creation Museum is an international laughingstock.”

To these claims I’d say: No, I sure hope not, and that depends (they get an enormous number of visitors—I’m guessing that the community that houses the creation museum is indeed laughing—all the way to the bank.)

As to Leach’s first point: They are not “diametrically opposed institutions.” (Next, maybe the easily flustered and put-upon Dr. Leach, so emblematic of the modern sissy American who takes offense at everything, will take hyperbole for $2000, Alex.) They are both tourist attractions. They are actually, at some level, in the same business. (Yes I know zoos house scientific research programs—but does anyone really believe that the zoo’s research would be affected by the fact that little Billy, over at a display, laughing at a monkey doing to its butt what monkeys do their butts, had seen, earlier in the day, a diorama suggesting that dinos and men lived together? Get real, folks.) There was no joint mission statement. There was no mutual endorsement. It was marketing—that’s all it was.

The Cincinnati Zoo, showing they are made of the same stuff as, well, the Cincinnati Bengals, caved. Their word meant less to them than a loss of love from the likes of Dr. Leach, so they canceled the agreement, leaving folks like me in the unenviable position of saying that this time, perhaps this one time, Ken Ham was wronged. It's not Christian Persecution--he was merely the victim of an organization without a spine and a lot of self-important cowards like Dr. Leach.

The AIG response is here. The weak-kneed Cincinnati Zoo and the pusillanimous e-mailers managed to make them look like a class act.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

^&^%#$# Meme

Bob O'Hara, minion of the antichrist, tagged me with the following book meme:

Take ten books, and transcribe the fifth sentence from page fifty six.

In keeping with the 5, 56 thing, Make sure that at least five books are fiction, provide five hints, and pass the meme on to six other bloggers.

Grrr. If it wern't for my immortal soul being at stake, I'd ignore this. So here goes:

  1. God said, “Jesus, I am about to claim you back and lift you up to me.”
  2. Twas no leechery he put thee to, but lechery, and laid thy maiden body forever in the bed of harlotry!
  3. "I lost ten for passive-voice too," Maya said.
  4. The strength has nothing to do with how long the objects have been in each other’s presence.
  5. Nevertheless, these cases are only exaggerations of the common fact that the female produces offspring of two sexes which sometimes differ from each other in a wonderful manner.
  6. The Dean pointed out that not only apples but also cherries, oranges, lemons, and limes fell to earth, and while they were about it they might as well obtain a real, man-sized government contract to cover all the varieties of fruit that grow above ground.
  7. For example, they furnish a conservation theorem for a case in which the law of action and reaction is violated, namely when electromagnetic forces are present.
  8. The Captain smiled and shook his head.
  9. Is it appropriate to define a tangent line to a curve C at a point P on C as a line that has just one point in common with C?
  10. You keep them dumb broads quiet.

  1. My favorite novel. Ever. (Metahint: this hint does not refer to this.)
  2. Of course that's fiction.
  3. If you only buy one book this Christmas season, this is the one. Trust me.
  4. Best undergraduate text book. Ever.
  5. Baby it's cold outside.

And I tag:
  1. Amanda Witt
  2. Tom Gilson
  3. Rebecca
  4. Jennifer
  5. Jerry Wilson
  6. Wes Elsberry

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

That's Too Much

I have been told explicitly, and have received numerous hints, that I am a bit too salty, earthy, and irreverent. I set a bad example for Christians. That may be true. It probably is true. But I do have my limits. I can be repulsed. One way: Fetus Shaped Cookies. Not funny in a risqué manner. Not funny in an ironic or sarcastic manner. Not satirical. Not slapstick. Not even funny in a guilty, schadenfreude manner .

Just not funny.

As in: Hillary criticizes Obama in "3 AM phone call" negative ad. Kerry Endorses Obama. Kerry wants to be Secretary of State. Hillary is named Secretary of State. Now, God forgive me, that’s funny.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Reason 217 - 1 why...

Anytime we put a Christian in political office we have to pray

a) He doesn't embarrass us, and

b) He doesn't embarrass us even more.

From the "you can kill your kids until they're born, but then they are ours" department

I am ambivalent when it comes to home schooling. And I had a non-edifying personal experience with a Christian school.

But it sure does a body good to see bullying, anti-home-schooling dogmatists receive a well-deserved bitch-slapping.

Apocalypse Now

Oh noes!

Science and Faith at War?  5.1. Oops: It seems that on that day, Adam surely did not die.

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!

5. The Church Fathers

It is said that the pressure to interpret scripture in a way that is consistent with an old earth arose only when the scientific evidence pointed to an old earth. That is certainly true—when there was no real reason to seek compatibility with an old earth, not many tried to. Said differently, it is certainly true that for much of Christian history Christians believed the earth was thousands, not billions of years old.

However, that is not the same as saying that they taught that the days of Genesis One were normal days and that biblical chronologies could accurately pinpoint the year of creation. And it especially does not mean that they believed it was essential to affirm a “normal day” interpretation. The historic creeds indicate that it was the who and what of creation that was cardinal, not the when or how long.

To turn the argument on its head, if science has only served to obfuscate the obvious interpretation of Genesis, then this should be evident in the teachings of the early church. With no scientific evidence to confuse the issues, the early church fathers should be adamant that Genesis One demands a 144 hour creation time period.

They were not.

5.1 Oops: It seems that on that day, Adam surely did not die

In two well known passages from Genesis we read:
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen 2:17)

Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. (Gen 5:5)

At first glance, there is something amiss. It appears that there is a discrepancy. Worse, it seems as if the discrepancy is irreconcilable. God states that on the very day that he ate of the forbidden fruit, on that day and no other, Adam will surely die.

On that day, Adam surely did not stop breathing. On that day, his heart continued to beat without failing. Adam's death sentence was pronounced, but the execution, it would appear, was postponed for close to a millennium. How do we understand this?

I get a lot of comments and challenges regarding several alleged biblical contradictions. Usually they are the same-old same-old "the bible teaches bats are birds,"

11 “You may eat all clean birds. 12 But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 13 the kite, the falcon of any kind; 14 every raven of any kind; 15 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 16 the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl 17 and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, 18 the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. (Deuteronomy 14:11-18)
"the bible teaches pi = 3,"
Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. (1 Kings 7:23)

"the bible teaches two conflicting creation accounts," etc.

Interestingly, I never get asked the really hard questions—almost always these simple kindergarten challenges. At the root of these sort of questions is a fallacy—the fallacy that the ancients were idiots. That is, there is an assumption that the ancient Hebrews never noticed the obvious and fatal contradiction between Genesis One and Two—that only modern man has sufficient insight. The creation conflict lay undetected for over three millennia—for if it had even been noticed, surely some ancient scribe would have redacted a correction. A holy book with blatant errors is too much of an embarrassment.

It then may seem strange that nobody has ever challenged me with the seeming inconsistency between Gen. 2:17 and Gen 5:5. I think the reason is the apparent discrepancy is just too big. Even unsophisticated bible critics sense that we all must have a solution to this problem at our fingertips.

Actually, we don't. There are several quite different explanations. One, popular with dispensationalists and other biblical liberalists, is that by "surely dying" what God actually meant was that Adam would start the process of dying. Another, the one I favor, is that Adam did indeed die, but that death was far, far more horrible than physical death—it was spiritual death. It was what we have come to call the Fall. It was a radical change more serious than a quiet heart and empty lungs—it left us morally incapable of doing anything pleasing to God, including choosing to follow him. Adam's sentence wasn't commuted—on the contrary it was carried out just as God promised, and it was far worse than we could have imagined.

The doctrine of the Fall, however, was not known to the early church fathers. It took a while for it to be fully worked out, and it was St. Augustine in the fourth century who honed the doctrine through his debate with the heretic Pelagius and formalized it as we know it today.

In the next segment, we shall see the importance of all this for the question of the early church's view on the days of Genesis.