Friday, February 27, 2009


I have resurrected my once marginally popular NASCAR comics blog. If you do not know NASCAR and its current rumors and news, there is no chance you'll enjoy it. If you do, there is a small chance.

Yes we have no publications

On Uncommon Descent (remember them?) they are slowly producing a FAQ. The latest, the third installment, is particularly weak.

The question (though not posed in the form of a question) is: Intelligent Design does not carry out or publish scientific research.

Presumably we are going to be presented with evidence that this is not true. We aren’t. The answer, in its entirety, contains no list of peer-reviewed papers. Not one.

What we get instead is a sermon. There could be a lot of ID research, there really could be, but the mean old scientific establishment is stymieing the efforts.

The evidence for this accusation is that a small research grant of Baylor Professor Robert Marks was terminated by the university and the money returned. The grant was not from NSF or NIH but from a charity organization named the LifeWorks Foundation and operated by a husband and wife team. It would be safe to assume that the proposal was not scrutinized by a panel of scientific experts.

This grant provided Dembski with stealth access back to Baylor where his many shenanigans, including embarrassing his very benefactor, have rendered him persona non grata. Regardless of what you think about it, returning the grant, after Dembski's involvement came to light, hardly constitutes any sort of systematic attack on ID scientific research.

The truth is quite different. While it is arguable that the playing field is not level in regards to speculation that an author might include in a peer-reviewed paper, it is not true that a legitimate scientific ID paper or proposal would be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, I suspect that a proposal of a potentially falsifying ID experiment, which should in principle be possible if ID is science as its proponents claim, would receive immediate funding. All they have to do is propose: If you fund us this much so we can buy this equipment and perform this experiment, we’ll get result A if ID is correct, and B if it is wrong.

I reckon even Richard H. Dawkins himself would kick in a few euros.

There is an easy way for the ID community to prove that their research is blocked. Publish a compendium of rejected research grants, along with the reviewer's comments. Let's see all those examples where Doctors of ID have submitted proposals to NSF only for it to come back summarily rejected for being forbidden research. The proposals can be sanitized—names and institutions can be disappeared like an inconvenient UD comment, but the contents of the proposal and the reasons for the rejections should paint a clear picture of persecution.

I have yet to see any such evidence.

Church History Lesson 5 (The New Community)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)
Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The New Community

In the early days, just following Jesus' resurrection, the new community of His followers was viewed as a new party within Judaism. The party was known as the Nazarenes, which is still the ordinary name for "Christians" in Hebrew. The name "Nazarenes" is probably due to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, in Galilee, but that is not completely certain. The root of the word means to observe, and some believe the early community may have been know as the "observers".

The Nazarenes were not a mainstream party, like the Sadducees who dominated the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), or the Pharisees, who were also politically powerful. No, they were an outside, fringe party. In some ways they were like the Zealots, who also sought the kingdom of God, although the means to that end were radically different: The Zealots looked for a violent overthrow of Rome, while the Nazarenes believed that the return of Christ would inaugurate the kingdom. In other ways they resembled the Essenes in that they placed great value on personal purity (the Essenes , extreme separatists, a subgroup of which is probably responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, eschewed temple sacrifice for fear of being defiled) and both practiced, in the early days, a form of communism.1

There were some path-crossings between the Nazarenes and the Zealots. One of the apostles was a Zealot. And Barabbas, whom the mob before Pilate chose for release over Jesus, was probably a Zealot, part of a failed insurrection at the time of the crucifixion.
A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. (Mark 15:7)
Although Nazarenes was the party name, the early believers called their movement "the Way", and referred to themselves as saints, brothers, and the poor. When Paul writes:
They only asked us to remember the poor-- the very thing I also was eager to do. (Gal. 2:10)
"The poor" is (probably) referring to the entire nascent community of believers, not (literally) the financially strapped, although no doubt the early community was heavily biased toward the destitute.

The Nazarenes grew quickly, having a tremendous appeal to the common man. The Sadducees and the great priestly families were politely disliked. The Pharisees set up standards of behavior that common men could never achieve, and at least some of the Pharisaic schools equated ignorance with accursedness, a sentiment that we find in John’s gospel when they complain:
No! But this mob [followers of Jesus] that knows nothing of the law--there is a curse on them. (John 7:49)
The Nazarenes, on the other hand, taught that the overarching work of their salvation was already accomplished by Jesus and His redeeming death, to be claimed by those who accept Him as the Son of God and acknowledge the resurrection. As the apostles began preaching their good news, they soon numbered more than five thousand:
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
The Sadducees tried, in vain, to suppress the Nazarenes.
17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. (Acts 5:17-18)
Yet among some the Pharisees, even some in the Sanhedrin, there developed a tolerance toward the Nazarenes, and some of their number (e.g., Paul) were even destined to join the movement. After all, the Nazarenes, like the Pharisees, tried to obey the law as best they could, and like the Pharisees, but unlike the Sadducees, they believed in bodily resurrection2. True, from the point of view of the Pharisees, they were misguided in their insistence that Jesus had fulfilled the prophesies of the sages and had been himself resurrected, but the Nazarenes were mostly harmless—quite unlike the Zealots would could bring the wrath of Rome upon the entire citizenry.

In particular, one revered Pharisee, Gamaliel pushed for restraint in oppressing the Nazarenes, arguing with inescapable logic that if the movement is not of God it would die in spite of their tolerance, and if it is from God it would thrive in spite of their suppression. (see Acts 5:33-38).

Gamaliel is quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (the Talmud is not scripture, but a collection of rabbinical writings) as discussing an impudent student. The student is not named, but some have speculated that the unfavorably-viewed student is Saul of Tarsus. It is easy to imagine: Saul (Paul) must never have been a very rewarding student, for contrary to Gamaliel’s teaching Saul oppressed the Nazarenes far more effectively than the Sadducees, only to then, as Paul, cross over in an instant to become their greatest teacher and evangelist. On one day Gamaliel may have been upset at Paul's severe tactics, and on the next day appalled by his total conversion.

The Nazarenes met in their homes, and on those occasions they remembered the death of Jesus through a simple meal of bread and wine. Those who had been with Jesus taught the others what they had learned first-hand. New members were baptized in the name of Jesus. Considering themselves Jews, they kept the Sabbath and still kept to appointed hours of prayer at the temple. The new meal of bread and wine was partaken on the day after the Sabbath, i.e., the first day of the week, Sunday.

The importance of the Nazarenes living as good Jews cannot be overemphasized. It marked them as relatively harmless by the Pharisees, saving them from swift and sure persecution had they had no friends in the Sanhedrin. This early group of Nazarenes, in Jerusalem, is what we often call the Jerusalem church.

The Hellenists

Although there were no Gentiles at first, there was more than just Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews. In particular, there were the “Hellenists”. Hellenists were Jews whose roots were outside Palestine as a result of the diaspora (the dispersion of Jews from Palestine all over the Mediterranean region, beginning with the Babylonian captivity. So vast was this scattering that in the first century there were a dozen synagogues in Rome.). Hellenists adopted Greek language and culture, which put them at odds with the Palestinian Jews.

Often overlooked is the critical role played by the Hellenists in spreading the gospel beyond the confines of Jerusalem. We will see that the very one who persecutes them, and whom they then seek to kill, takes up their cause as his life’s work.

The first need for administration and the first internal problem in the Jerusalem church is traceable to the tension between “Hebrews” and Hellinists.

One early logistical problem was the distribution of food to the poor. Problems arose:
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (Acts 6:1)
The twelve apostles (Judas having been replaced by Matthias) appointed seven deacons to attend to these lower-level duties. Probably all were Hellenists (all had Greek names, see Acts 6:5), and at least one, Nicolas of Antioch was not even a Jew. (He was, however, a proselyte, meaning he had previously converted to Judaism, and was circumcised, and then became a Nazarene—as contrasted with the as yet nonexistent Gentile converts, who did not convert to Judaism but straight away to Christianity.) No doubt the selection of the seven was made in part to placate the Hellenists.

Two of the seven, Stephen and Philip, surpassed expectations and became great teachers. In his amazing speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), prior to being martyred, Stephen said:
47But it was Solomon who built the house for him. 48"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. (Acts 7:47-48)
This bold (but true) swipe at the temple, which enraged the Sanhedrin, may have been difficult for any of the Hebrews to make, and leads one to believe that at least part of the accusation made against Stephen,
13They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." (Acts 6:13-14)
although brought by false witnesses, may have accurately reflected his teachings.

Stephen's martyrdom hints at Jewish bigotry toward the Hellenists: the Hebrews of the council had Stephen executed, while Peter and John, native Hebrews, were treated more leniently (Acts 5:40).

Naming of seven Hellenists to positions of authority did not result in their complete assimilation into the Jerusalem church (again, there was entrenched anti-Hellenist bigotry). When the Sanhedrin initiated the first persecution of Christians, it seems to have been directed at the Hellenists:
2On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. 4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said (Acts 8:2-6)
This does not mean that every Christian except the twelve was flushed out of Jerusalem, but that with certainty the majority of the Hellenists were forced out. Philip, for example, escaped to Samaria. So in the persecution one can perhaps glimpse the will of God: Hellenists, who would have been more familiar to the Gentiles than Hebrews, began spreading the gospel. (Later, in Acts 12, we see the persecution turn toward the Hebrew Christians. resulting in the martyrdom of James, the brother of John3. That persecution arose from King Herod Agrippa.) Further evidence regarding bigotry toward the Hellenists is that the great persecutor Saul of Tarsus left Jerusalem to go after the fleeing Hellenists, while not lifting a hand against the apostles, who remained in the city.

Saul of Tarsus

In the late twenties of the first century, Gamaliel the Elder, revered Pharisee, accepted a young student from Tarsus, in modern day Turkey, named Saul. He came from a distinguished Jewish family, and Saul's father was a Roman citizen, an honor which he inherited and valued.

Interestingly, Saul’s family did not consider themselves to be Hellenists, as you might expect, Tarsus being a great Greek city at that time, but Hebrews, which is why He went by the Hebrew name Saul. Paul affirms this in his own writing, when speaking of himself he writes "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5).

He also shows great civic pride in his hometown, writing:
Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people." (Acts 21:39)
Saul comes into his own around A.D. 30-33, as the Nazarene movement is flourishing. In the debate over the danger of the Christians, Saul crosses party lines, agreeing with the Sadducees, rather than his Pharisaical mentor, Gamaliel. It was precisely because the Pharisees were somewhat taken by the Nazarenes that concerned Saul. Indeed, not just uneducated Galileans (the learned held little respect of the Galileans, see John 7:52) were being duped, quite a few of his own party had joined the movement. Saul did not see the Nazarenes as an amusing yet harmless fringe group, but as a blasphemous cult who claimed the Messiah had died a death designated for the accursed, not the favored by God. He (correctly) worried that this movement would ultimate split Judaism, and so with passion he sought to destroy it.

This is very interesting indeed: Saul would have used because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse (Deut. 21:23) to point out the blasphemy of the Nazarenes. It wasn’t until he himself joined the movement that Paul saw the incredible redemptive significance of the passage, later using it like this:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13)
Saul believed the two religions were not compatible. An opportunity to take action presented itself when he encountered a stout member of the Nazarenes who, ironically, agreed him. Not one the apostles; they surely viewed “the Way” as the next stage of Judaism, and continued with their temple worship. No, it was the Hellenist Stephen, who saw Jesus “not only” as the risen savior, but also as the terminus for the existing age. The temple and its system would be replaced—Judaism wasn’t being upgraded, it was being supplanted. Stephen epitomized what concerned Saul: a radical, and, far from an uneducated Galilean bumpkin, he was an eloquent and persuasive Hellenist.
Saul presided at Stephen’s execution, showing his approval by guarding the clothes of the witnesses as they stoned the saint (Acts 7:57).
The stoning of Stephen emboldened both Saul and the Sanhedrin, who began systematic persecution, especially of the Hellenistic Christians. The Hellenists fled, and Saul, with official backing of the Sanhedrin (letters from the High Priest Caiaphas, whose authority was respected by the Roman overseers), set out for the outlying synagogues to capture the Nazarenes and return them to the Sanhedrin for trial. Note the bigotry at work here: the Hebrew Nazarenes, especially the apostles, were in Jerusalem, but Paul did not raise a hand toward them. He went after the Hellenists.

Saul left for Damascus, and as he neared the city he saw a blinding light, and the risen Lord stood before him. In a conversion that Calvinists can only view as the archetype of all conversions, we read:
4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. 6"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:4-6)
Paul, blinded, was assisted by his companions into Damascus. Meanwhile, instructed through visions, a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, who had been at risk from Saul’s aborted mission, served as the Lord’s messenger. On Paul's third day in Damascus, Ananias found him, Paul’s sight was restored, and he was baptized.

Then Paul’s amazing journey began. Using his reputation and official letters of travel and access, he toured the very synagogues he had intended to purge. Those in attendance would not have heard what they expected. Instead, Paul boldly proclaimed what just a short time before he had held as dangerous blasphemy: Jesus, the very one who died on a tree, was the Messiah.

Those who had seen the resurrected Lord had been proven correct. Paul himself had seen him. He had been so very wrong about the tree. It is not clear how quickly he arrived at a true understanding, but he did: The Messiah was accursed, Deut. 21:23, was not contradicted. The radical insight was that the Messiah had to become a curse in order to redeem those who couldn’t keep the law from suffering their just curse (Gal 3:13).

Paul’s preaching of Christ in Damascus and the surrounding area eventually incurred the wrath of the local Jewish authorities, who conspired to kill him. Paul escaped by being lowered to safety in a basket, through a window in the city wall.

In the third year since he left for Damascus, Paul returned to Jerusalem, trying to contact the disciples. But they avoided him, afraid that his conversion was in reality a trick. Eventually Barnabas interceded on his behalf, testifying to the truthfulness of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord, and finally Paul came face-to-face with the apostles.

Paul's first assignment was to visit those believers in Jerusalem whom he had most severely persecuted: the Hellenists. No doubt recalling the fate of Stephen, their reaction was perhaps predictable: they sought to kill him.
28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)
The Lord had other, bigger plans for Paul, and in a vision he told Paul to leave Jerusalem. No doubt this was in part for his safety, but in the larger scheme of God’s sovereignty we see that Paul’s real mission is about to commence. In Paul’s own words, recounting the episode:
17"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 19" 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' 21"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' " (Acts 22:17-21)
Paul’s friends spirited him away, first to Caesarea and ultimately to his hometown of Tarsus. The several years he spent in Tarsus are a bit of a mystery. Some scholars believe that Paul’s statement:
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8)
indicates that he was disinherited. And the timelines would suggest that some of his “forty stripes save one” lashings (see 2 Cor., 11:24) occurred at the hands of the Jews in Tarsus. Toward the end of this obscure period of his life, he has perhaps his most mysterious experience:
2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. 3And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. (2 Cor. 12:2-4)
This experience left him with an undisclosed lifelong physical ailment, a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7) , which was apparently for his spiritual benefit.

Whether Paul thought he was wasting in obscurity is unknown. It is clear in hindsight that the Lord was strengthening him for his life’s work. And it commenced sometime in A.D. 45, when his friend Barnabas, who had commended him to the apostles, arrived like a bolt out of the blue. It seemed that the Lord had work to be done in Antioch, and Paul was the man for the job.
1 There were, however, substantive differences. The Essenes were extremely diligent about the Sabbath and ceremonial adherence. The also rose daily to practice what appears to some to be borderline idolatrous worship of the sun, rather than the Son. They also practiced soothsaying and magic.

2 This does not mean that the Sadducees did not believe is an after-life, but rather they did not anticipate bodily resurrection, arguing that the first mention of it comes in the book of Daniel which, not having been penned by Moses, was non-authoritative. In a classic move, Paul later uses the stark differences in their views to save himself in a touchy situation when on trial in the Sanhedrin:
6Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." 7When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (Acts 23:6-7)
3 Not to be confused with James, the brother of Jesus, who was not one of the apostles, and was not a follower of his brother while Jesus lived (John 7:5). But James did have a Damascus road experience himself, for Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:7 that the risen Christ appeared to his brother James. James then rose to lead the Jerusalem church and was martyred later, in A.D. 62.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Going to the Chapel

I was told, recently, that no public university in the U.S. has built a chapel in the last 50 years. I can't verify that--but I know for sure that one public university is about to do exactly that. From WTKR:

NEWPORT NEWS - A portion of paved parking lot on the Christopher Newport University campus will undergo a transformation this summer when it will be removed to make way for a new chapel surrounded by grass and trees.

The 13,763-square-foot brick building, designed by Nelson Rancorn of Newport News-based Rancorn Wildman Architects, features white Georgian columns and arched windows and has been in the planning stages for more than three years, said CNU President Paul Trible.

With a price tag of about $6 million, the chapel will be built with private funds, a mix of donations, gifts and proceeds from a recent benefit concert that netted more than $1 million.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the General Assembly approved plans to add a chapel to the campus last year, and college officials and alumni have raised all but $1 million of the total cost. Trible said officials hope to begin construction in late summer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


click for larger image

Relativistic Invariants are Your Friend

The threshold of reactions provides a great example of the use of relativistic invariants. Consider this problem, from Griffiths’s Introduction to Elementary Particles:

Particle A (Energy E) hits particle B (at rest), producing particles C1, C2, …:

A + B → C1, C2,… Cn

Calculate the threshold energy (i.e., minimum E) for this reaction in terms of the various particle masses.

Now one could try to use conservation of four-momentum: pμi = pμf. In that case the four-momenta would have to be calculated in the same frame. The problem is that the lab frame is convenient for the left hand (initial) side of the reaction, while the center of momentum frame is convenient for the right hand side. That is because in the center of momentum frame, the threshold occurs when the particles C1, C2,… Cn are created with no kinetic energy. All their energy, in that case, is in their mass.

Here comes the utility of invariants. The four-momentum squared is also conserved, i.e., the same before and after, but has the added bonus that it is the same in all frames. Therefore we can calculate it in the lab frame for the left hand side, and in the center of momentum frame for the right hand side, and those two must be equal.

For the left hand side (where particle B is at rest)—and taking the speed of light to be unity,

pμpμ = (E + MB)2 - PA2, where PA is the square of the three-momentum for the incoming particle A.

expanding that out, and using PA2 = E2 - MA2 gives

pμpμ = 2 E MB + MA2 + MB2     (1)

Now we need to calculate the same invariant for the right hand side, which is trivial in the threshold case in the center of momentum where all the final particles are at rest.:

pμpμ = M2     (2)

where M is just the total mass of the final particles, M = M1, M2,… Mn

Even though (1) and (2) were worked out in different frames, invariance means we can equate their answers, leading to the result:

E = (M2 - MA2 - MB2) / 2 MB

Friday, February 20, 2009

Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)

Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)
Church History Lesson 3 (The Start of The Church)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

The Life of Jesus

How much do we know about the life of Jesus? In terms of biographical data, we know almost nothing. Apart from birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and a description, in Luke, of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at age twelve, we know nothing of His first thirty-odd years. It is only that last two to three years that we have a substantive picture, and even then the sum total of the written accounts covers no more than forty days, and only the last week receives intense coverage.Some information can be reasonably inferred from scripture. He had four brothers and some sisters.1 He probably was the breadwinner of the family after the death of Joseph (Mark 6.3). And he lived as a pious Jew (Luke 4:16).
"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. (Luke 4:16)

The Hometown

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. It was not idyllic as it is often portrayed. It lay on the main highway connecting Egypt and Syria, a road often used by the armies of Rome.

The Romans appointed Herod "The Great" King of Judea in 40 B.C. Herod attempted to Hellenize Judea, building temples to Roma and Augustus in Caesarea and Samaria. Ultimately he went to far when he placed a Roman eagle at the entrance to the temple. A rebellion ensued, and it was crushed by Rome.

Herod died in 4 BC, and the political turmoil continued. That year, the governor of Syria, Quintilius Varus, put down a revolt in Judea by crucifying two thousand men, as described by Josephus:
Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand. After which he disbanded his army, which he found no way useful to him in the affairs he came about; for they behaved themselves very disorderly, and disobeyed his orders, and what Varus desired them to do, and this out of regard to that gain which they made by the mischief they did. (Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, 10.10).
In particular nine years later, when Jesus was about twelve years old, there was a major insurrection lead by one Judas of Galilee. This too is described by Josephus
… Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of death put into his hands by Caesar. Under his administration it was that a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt, and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own, and was not at all like the rest of those their leaders. (Josephus, War of the Jews, II 8.1)
It is also described in the book of Acts
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. (Acts 7:33-37)
The Sanhedrin was the Jewish Supreme court. The men being discussed were the apostles, in particular Peter and John. And the Pharisee preaching restraint, Gamaliel, has a very famous (and less tolerant) student, Saul of Tarsus, but more of him anon.

The No-Tax Party

It is significant that the rebellion of Judas of Galilee was about refusal to pay a tribute to Caesar. For one thing, the party founded by Judas of Galilee and his followers was called the Zealots, known for their passion in opposing Roman rule. Understanding that the Galilean’s rebellion was still on the minds of the people, and that the Zealots were still spreading insurrection, and that one of Jesus' apostles was a Zealot2, gives you a better appreciation of Jesus' exchange on this same matter:
15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" 18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" 21"Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matt. 22:15-21)

All these rebellions were leading inevitably to the Jewish War of AD 66-70, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the razing of the temple, and death of over a million Jews.

Jesus the Rabbi

In opposition to the Zealots were the chief priests who sought to maintain a semblance of order through cooperation with the Romans. One of the most successful chief priests was Caiaphas, who was chief priest for eighteen years, during the last ten of which Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea.

The Sanhedrin, or the Supreme Court, was dominated by one party: the Sadducees. However, another important party were the Pharisees, which included a group called the "scribes", who were the master apologists of the divine law.

The Pharisees were of two major schools, the Shammai and the Hillel. The Shammai were more conservative and legalistic, while the house of Hillel were liberal. To which school did the teaching of Jesus the rabbi fall? Neither.

There is an anecdote from that period which goes like this. A would-be proselyte went to a Pharisee of each school, and requested that the entire law be summarized while he stood on one leg. The Shammai scolded him severely and sent him away, while the Hillel said: What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your neighbor.

Sounds like the Golden rule as taught by Jesus (Matt 7:12). Perhaps Jesus was of the house of Hillel. But no, consider divorce. Hillel made divorce easy. Shammai made it difficult. Jesus made it nearly impossible.

So Jesus' teachings did not fit neatly into either school, But what was worse (from their perspective) is that Jesus, implicitly and explicitly, taught that he was the Messiah.

Did Jesus, from a child, know that he was the Messiah? We can only speculate, but the answer would seem to be yes. Our only account of his youth comes from Luke. During Jesus' Passover trip to Jerusalem at age twelve, he became separated from his parents. After a frantic search, they find him in the temple courts. Jesus says to them:
49Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)
His public life began with Baptism, and when He came up out of the water, the voice of God announced: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Matt. 1:11). After baptism, he was tempted by Satan, who repeatedly challenges his Messiahship by prefacing his temptations with "If you are the Son of God".

The next few months were spent in southern Palestine, in contact with John the Baptist (c.f. John 3:22 ff). After John was imprisoned in the fall of A.D. 28, Jesus went north to Galilee and commenced his public ministry. He recruited some young Galileans2 whom he met as disciples of John on the shores of the Jordan. Among his twelve closest followers were, as already mentioned, a member of the party of the Zealots and also a tax collector. The inclusion of these two also distinguishes Jesus from the Pharisees, be they Shammai or Hillel, as would his subsequent association with other sinners.3

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus went about the countryside preaching and performing miracles. The miracles (in the canonical gospels) were never miracles for their own sake, but served as points of departure for his teaching., and provided mounting evidence that He was the Messiah. Today, many liberal Christians want to strip Jesus of his supernatural deeds and preserve only His ethical teachings. (In response, some have quipped, “who would even bother to crucify the Jesus of liberal Christianity.) It is interesting to note, however, that in the earliest days even the enemies of Christ did not deny his miracles, they attributed them to evil:
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." (Matt. 12:24)
As late as A.D. 133, the Christian theologian Quandratus, in arguing with the Emperor Hadrian, could point to the miracles without having to defend them per se, for their validity was accepted by his opponents.

Jesus' message began to make His claim as Messiah more explicit. In Mark, we read:
They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:22).
What was meant by this is that Jesus felt free to teach new meaning to old words, beginning many teachings with "You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you…". Jesus tossed out the accumulated teachings of centuries, in no place more apparent than in his teachings on the Sabbath.

He healed on the Sabbath. His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath. He argued with the Pharisees about the significance of the Sabbath, that the Sabbath was made for man and not vice versa, and making one of his most explicit claims of divinity, that "The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath." (Matt. 12:8)

Jesus tossed out huge portions of the ceremonial law, causing the rift between his teachings and those of the Pharisees (of both main houses) to widen further:
For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") (Mark 7:19)
If Jesus' radical teaching on the Sabbath and his reinterpreting of the old texts weren’t bad enough, then there is more. He began to go beyond radical. He began to assert for Himself the power to forgive sins:

Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." (Matt. 9:2)

The rift between Jesus and the scribes was complete. So much so that Jesus no longer had access to the synagogue, and retreated to the countryside and the shore to teach to the crowds. At this time he sends His apostles throughout the country, two by two, to spread the gospel. When they returned, Jesus led them to a remote spot on the shore of Lake Galilee, but still the masses converged upon Him.

At this time His teaching changed somewhat, to the so-called "hard" teachings. So hard, in fact, that John tells us that many of his disciples abandoned Him:
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:60, 66)
It is now about April of A.D. 29, and about six months of His Galilean ministry has passed. A period of more intense, more private instruction for his disciples followed. They left Palestine and headed north to Phoenicia, returning via Caesarea Philippi. It was in Caesarea Philippi that Peter affirmed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, bringing great joy to Jesus, in what may have been a personal zenith of His ministry (see Matt. 6:13-19).

The End is Near

Early in A.D. 30, Jesus raised His friend Lazarus (of Bethany) from the dead. The commotion caused by this miracle spread throughout Judea. The Sanhedrin decided that it was finally time to act, fearing that Jesus’ followers would ultimately attempt a rebellion that would bring severe Roman retribution upon the land.

About a week before Passover, Jesus and His disciples, who had been resting, headed to Jerusalem. Near Jericho they merged with a large group of pilgrims also heading to Jerusalem, and the crowed hailed Jesus as they neared and entered the city.

Two or three days before Passover, Jesus was attended by Mary the sister of Lazarus. Mary broke an expensive ointment and poured it over his head. Judas was particularly incensed by the extravagance. In fact there were many views of this act: some saw it as the anointing of a king. Judas, as we mentioned, saw it as a waste. Mary may have been simply displaying love and gratitude for the miracle of her brother’s life. But Jesus, alone, saw it as a burial anointment.

On Thursday evening, Jesus celebrated the Passover feast at the house of a friend in Jerusalem. Later, they left the house in the cool of the night to the Garden of Gethsemane. After prayer, the police, led to the spot by Judas, arrested Him. After an ineffectual resistance, his disciples fled, and Jesus was taken to the high priest’s palace. There He was tried by the Sanhedrin, which was called into emergency session. Some argue that the court was illegal, but it is likely that it was perfectly legal for the court to be summoned to an emergency session. (Although the fact that the trial had a predetermined outcome was certainly illegal.)

The trial, from the Sanhedrin's perspective, did not go well. The witnesses, who testified to Jesus' "terroristic" threat about the destruction of the temple, were so awful that their testimony had to be tossed out. With no credible eyewitnesses to a crime, only one thing could save the day for the Sanhedrin: a confession to blasphemy. Jesus obliged. Caiaphas asked of Him, "Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.", to which Jesus replied "Yes, it is as you say"(Matt. 26:57-65). Nothing more was needed. Jesus was taken to Pilate, who, after a certain amount of resistance, acceded to the will of the Sanhedrin and the mob and ordered that Jesus be crucified. (Note: it is often taught that the same people who hailed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem screamed for His death less than a week later. It is probably not the case. The former were pilgrims who accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem, the latter were local Jews, a city)

The Resurrection

In the Passover season of A.D. 30, Jesus was crucified. Not of his followers shared his death, for they all fled at the time of His arrest. His closest disciple, the one most demonstrative in his promise of steadfastness, joined the crowed temple courtyard, only to deny Jesus when he was identified as a follower by his appearance and his Galilean accent.

At first appearances, if Christianity depended on Jesus' apostles, the Christianity would be expected to have withered and died with the arrest of Jesus.

A scant seven weeks later, at Pentecost, there was, as always, a great Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In what can be calculated as Sunday, May 28, A.D. 30, a group of native and foreigners gathered around a group of intense, confident preachers. Miraculously, The preaching of these men was heard by the foreigners in their own native languages (Acts 2.4). One of those speaking explained that they spoke in tongues not through drunkenness but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Some believed, some didn’t, but nobody disputed the passion of the speaker, the same Peter who had denied Christ at His arrest.

A group of men who abandoned their leader at the first sign of trouble, a leader who died in humiliation displaying no power to save himself, should have scattered with the four winds, back to Galilee and hoping to forget their foolishness in following such an impotent master.

Instead, they were boldly preaching in His name.

What happened? What snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? To the crowd, Peter explains the amazing event that restored their faith and their nerve:
23This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:23-24).
Without the resurrection, and without multiple eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus, Christianity would have died. The most compelling evidence for the truth of the resurrection is that the apostles, in the midst of total defeat, began to proclaim boldly that Jesus was the Son of God, and that His death accomplished salvation for believers. If his body lay rotting in a tomb, it would have been unthinkable for Peter to proclaim a putrefying Lord and savior.

The earliest teaching of the church centered on the fact that Christ was bodily raised from the dead, and that many, including his closest friends, had seen him. More than 500 saw him.

There have been many attempted explanations, but the one that is dismissed by any thoughtful critic of Christianity is deception, for our common human nature screams to us that, no matter what, the behavior of the apostles demonstrates that they believed Christ had been resurrected. It might be argued that the belief is erroneous, but its sincerity is not questioned.

Some have argued for hallucinations as an explanation. But if those who claim to have seen him were hallucinating, you would expect that they would see Him where He wasn't. Instead, they didn’t see him where He was, for example with those disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 22:13ff).

The period of forty days between His resurrection and Ascension is sometimes fraught with confusion. During those forty days, Christ makes various appearances, but after the Ascension He is not seen again (except by Paul.) This leads many to believe that He was resurrected and lived on earth for forty days, and then went to heaven. This is not the case. He was not popping in now and then, and the rest of the time holed in a motel. He was already exalted and was visiting at times during those forty days, and the Ascension marks the terminus of those visits.
1 ASIDE: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was not only a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception, but remained a virgin throughout her life—essentially a faithful wife wed to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, according to Rome, when the Gospels speak of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, they do not mean other children of Mary. The Hebrew words were very broad, according to Catholics, and they could cover any sort of relationship. In addition, those who defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity point out that Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, lacked a specific word for "cousin", so brother and sister were often used in lieu of cousin. Even modern English, they point out, uses “brother” and “sister” more broadly. Proponents also claim there is implicit evidence of Jesus being without living brothers or sisters at the time of his crucifixion in that Jesus entrusts his mother to John instead of a sibling.

In addition, it is sometimes argued that if "brothers and sisters" really means brothers and sisters, it refers to Joesph’s children from a previous marriage. In this view, Joseph was much older and died much earlier than Mary.

This doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is very old. This doctrine underwent a period of discussion until the late 4th century when general consensus emerged. The earliest witness to the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to appear in the apocryphal Protogospel of James (ca 150). Tertullian (ca 220) denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. Origen (d 254) appears to have affirmed it. In the East, St Athanasius strongly defended Mary's virginity after the birth of Jesus. Shortly after, St Basil the Great (d ca 380) accepted Mary's perpetual virginity and claimed that it reflected the general sense of believers; though he did not consider it to be a dogma. Around the same time, in the West, Jovinian and Helvidius denied the perpetual virginity while Ambrose (d. 397), Jerome (d. 420) and Augustine (d. 430) defended it.

The official acts of the Fifth Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in 553 refer to Mary as aeiparthenos (ever-virgin). For example, an anathema against the 'three chapters' condemns those who deny:
that nativity of these latter days when the Word of God came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her ...
These statements were not made in reference to a direct discussion of Mary's virginity. Hence, some argue that this statement was not a dogmatic definition. For Catholics, such definitions may be made by the Episcopal college, in communion with its President, the Bishop of Rome, or by the Pope in virtue of his Presidency over the entire Episcopal college. Such definitions must be derived, at least implicitly, from the revelation closed at the death of the Apostles.

Though not an Ecumenical Council, the Lateran Council of 649 convened by Pope Martin I also issued an important statement affirming Mary's lifelong virginity:
If anyone does not, according to the Holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, who before the ages was born of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without corruption, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned.
After Constantinople II the title was universally accepted by the Church. Finally, it should be pointed out that Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the three main reformers, all demonstrated support for the doctrine.

Objections to the Doctrine

A first objection arises from the reference to Jesus as Mary's firstborn:

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
It should be remembered that Luke wrote long after both Mary and Joseph were dead. If Jesus was Mary's only child, with hindsight, he would likely not, it is argued, have used the word firstborn.

A second objection comes from the fact that all the gospels refer to Jesus' brothers and sisters, for example:

Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Matt. 13:55)

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." (Mark 3:31-32)
Again, the Catholic explanation of these (and other) passages is that either (a) brothers and sisters was used for other relatives such as cousins, or (b) they refer to Joseph's children from a previous marriage. It should be pointed out that Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, is not referred to as her sister but rather her relative. (Luke 1:36)

Those opposed to the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity argue that Jesus entrusted John with his mother because, at the time of his death, it appeared that none of his siblings were believers (John 7:5). Of course, most Protestants believe that references such as:

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Gal. 1:19)
Clearly indicate that James, author of the Gospel of James, was Jesus’ brother. How did he come to believe? Apparent by an unrecorded visitation of the risen Christ, perhaps similar to Paul’s, for Paul writes:
6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:6-8)
It is interesting to read what Calvin has to say about Gal. 1:19:
Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was "Oblias" and "The Just," and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother's side: but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars. It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus [The husband of Mary’s sister]. (Calvin’s Commentaries)
A final objection to the doctrine comes from the passage:
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:24-25)
To most Protestants, this passage clearly implies that Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. To Catholics, who argue, in part, based on the subtleties of the Greek word hoes, (translated as until) this passage states nothing more than what happened during the time period under discussion—from the conception of Jesus until His birth, with no implication for what occurred afterward even though in modern English we infer that the "until" means that the situation later changed. And not just Catholics teach this—Calvin writes:
This passage (Matt. 1:25) afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterward she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary's perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.
Calvin’s position, as I read it, is that he affirms the Catholic viewpoint that this passage says nothing about what happened after the birth of Christ, and furthermore he laments that it is the fodder of excessive argument.

2 Simon the Zealot. was believed to have preached the Gospel throughout North Africa, from Egypt to Mauritania, and even into Britain. There is a church tradition which says that he was crucified by the Romans in Caistor, Lincolnshire, Britain and subsequently buried there on May 10, circa 61 A.D. This cannot be confirmed, however, as there is also a strong tradition which says, that having left Britain, Simon, at some point , went to Persia and was martyred there by being sawn into two.

3 Of the twelve, it appears that only one, Judas Iscariot, was a southerner, or a Judean.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

From the "I hate when that happens" department

Fox news has an interesting story about a rare bird, thought to be extinct. It was sighted. It was captured. It was eaten.

Philippines: A bird suspected to be extinct was reportedly photographed for the first time in the Philippines, and then sold to a poultry market as food.

Worcester's buttonquail was known only through illustrations based on decades-old museum specimens until a television crew documented the live bird in the market before it was sold in January, reported.

Scientists had suspected the bird, found only on the island of Luzon, to be extinct, according to

Wild Bird Club of the Philippines President Michael Lu, told the Agence France-Press news agency that it’s unfortunate that the locals aren't more conscious of the threatened wildlife around them.

"What if this was the last of its species?" he said.

Mr Lu asked: "What if it was the last of its species?" The obvious answer: then it doesn’t really matter much, does it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mmmm that's good

If I didn't believe in a Supreme Being, I would be converted after experiencing the delightful Hostess Ho Ho. This food of the gods deserves to be immortalized in art. And so it has been done.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When you can't sleep

A bad head cold resulting in spasmodic coughing has forced me into the guest bedroom. This is turn has led to more late-night reading. Last night I picked up my favorite novel of all time, John Barth's The Sotweed Factor. Never has a book, not even Don Quixote, had such an appealing protagonist: Ebenezer Cooke, the hapless Poet Laureate of colonial Maryland.

Early in the novel, back in England, before being more or less exiled to the New World, Cooke begins his studies at Cambridge. Unable to focus he diverts himself from the academic topic at hand by writing related poems. After attending a lecture on philosophical materialism, Cooke finds that the only entry in his notebook is:

Old Plato saw both Mind and Matter;
Thomas Hobbes, naught but the latter.
Now poor Tom’s Soul doth fry in hell:
Shrugs GOD, "'Tis immaterial."

One aspect of Barth's genius was making Cooke's poetry "almost" good. This little ditty was the first verse that Barth places at the pen of Cooke.

When I read The Sotweed Factor years ago I wasn't involved in faith/science intersections. Perhaps that is why I don't recall this little poem as leaving me incapacitated, as it did late last night, suffering from convulsions of laughter intermixed with eyeball popping coughing. Or maybe it was the Tylenol-Cold.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Church History Lesson 3 (The start of the church)

Note: I taught a Sunday School on Church History in 2004 in New Hampshire. Starting in February I'll be teaching the same course here in Virginia. So any posts, including the one below, and especially for the first half of the series, are more or less repeats.

Church History Lesson 1 (Introduction)

Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 1)
Church History Lesson 2 (Time is Ripe: Part 2)

(Note: generously adopting and lifting from F. F. Bruce's fantastic book: The Spreading Flame.)

When did the church begin?

Was it with John the Baptist? Christ's earthly ministry? The Crucifixion? Pentecost?

Well, if the answer was any of the above options, we would probably conclude that it doesn’t matter, that it is rather arbitrary. But none of these is the correct answer, so that makes the question more interesting.

I agree with many who say that church history begins long before any of the options I provided. It starts with Abraham, for is to him that the gospel was first preached:
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." (Gal 3:8)
The church is not "the New Testament Israel." Israel is the Old Testament church. And so we must begin with Abraham.


Abram (born ~2000 B.C.) was a native of Ur, located in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). His father Terah moved the family from Ur to Haran, which would today be on the Syrian border with Turkey. This is described in Genesis:

Terah took his son Abram [Abraham], his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Gen 11:31)

There are several interesting things to note.
  1. I am sure you all know that eventually God changed the patriarch’s name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many) (Gen 17:5).

  2. You might be tempted to conclude that they named their new city Haran after Abraham’s dead brother (and Lot’s father), who died before the move, but they didn’t. It’s a different word.

  3. At first this initial migration, from Ur to Haran, appears to be “routine” in some sense. If this were all that scripture had to say about the move from Ur to Haran, you might conclude it was at the impetus of Terah, Abraham’s father. But nearly two thousand years later Stephen, when speaking to the Sanhedrin, tells them:
    2To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 3'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.'4"So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. (Acts 7:2-4)
    So even this first leg of the journey, from Ur (in Mesopotamia, the land of the Chaldeans) was at God's direct instruction to Abraham.

Abraham's father Terah died in Haran. You know what happens next:
1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." 4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Gen 12:1-5)
Abraham and his immediate descendants lived in the Promised Land, but they did so as aliens. Before his descendants could conquer and claim the land that God had set aside for them, they had to grow in number, witness God’s grace for His special people, and harden themselves for battle.

The third generation of Abraham’s descendants, in a time of famine, traveled to Egypt, around 1750 B.C. There they thrived, living a pastoral life in the vicinity of where the Suez Canal would be built.

During a frenzy of building under Ramses II, the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, now large in number, were enslaved. After a few decades they were freed under miraculous circumstances and led out of Egypt by Moses. It was time to conquer and occupy Palestine.

The conquest was not an easy one, with many setbacks due to their lack of faith in God and their disobedience.

Finally, around 1000 B.C., King David was able to win an Empire for Israel.

This time of victory was short-lived. David's empire didn’t even last through the reign of his son, Solomon. It divided into two small kingdoms, each nominally worshiping the God of their fathers. Israel was the kingdom in the north and Judah, which included Jerusalem, in the south. These two kingdoms had ignominious fates: the north was conquered (and utterly annihilated) by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the south by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (and were carried off into captivity).

There are some interesting facts about the kings of the northern and southern kingdoms. While the southern kingdom lasted about 136 years longer, they both had the same number of kings (20). However, in the north there were nine dynasties, meaning nine different families ruled, even some foreigners. In the southern kingdom there was only one dynasty: the house of David.

In the time of the two kingdoms, a series of prophets arose. These prophets assured that some of the Jews remembered the covenant that God had made with their race. The whole earth was to be blessed through the descendants of Abraham. But the Jews had been disobedient servants, so the task of bringing the message to the world is entrusted to another servant. Isaiah the prophet wrote, around 740 B.C.:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Isa. 49:6)
In this coming servant is the hope of promise of the covenant. He will be despised and murdered, but the result 0f his coming will be liberation for many.

Thus at this point in church history, we have one national hope: A servant of Yahweh will raise up the tribes and restore Israel, making her a light to all nations. It is easy to see how this would be thought of politically, as some grander version of David's empire.

During the captivity in Babylon, the hope of the nation is kept alive in visions of the prophet Daniel, who tells the people that the pagan rulers are empowered by God and their reign will not last forever:
"In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. (Dan. 2:44)

"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers
And the decision is a command of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind,
And bestows it on whom He wishes
And sets over it the lowliest of men." (Dan. 4:17)
The idea of this coming servant of Yahweh and his kingdom drew during the closing centuries B.C., strengthened by the nation suffering the rule of a sequence of empires. After domination by the Babylonians came Persian domination, and then Greco-Macedonian. One mad Macedonian king, Antiochus IV, attempted, about 175 B.C., to abolish the Jewish religion, replacing temple worship with worship of Zeus. We can read about this in the non-canonical (but useful) 1 Maccabees:
43 And king Antiochus wrote to all his kingdom, that all the people should be one: and every one should leave his own law.
44 And all nations consented, according to the word of king Antiochus.
45 And many of Israel consented to his service, and they sacrificed to idols, and profaned the sabbath.
46 And the king sent letters by the hands of messengers to Jerusalem, and to all the cities of Juda; that they should follow the law of the nations of the earth.
47 And should forbid holocausts and sacrifices, and atonements to be made in the temple of God.
48 And should prohibit the sabbath, and the festival days to be celebrated.
49 And he commanded the holy places to be profaned, and the holy people of Israel.
50 And he commanded altars to be built, and temples, and idols, and swine's flesh to be immolated, and unclean beasts,
51 And that they should leave their children uncircumcised, and let their souls be defiled with all uncleanliness, and abominations, to the end that they should forget the law, and should change all the justifications of God.
52 And that whosoever would not do according to the word of king Antiochus, should be put to death. (1 Macabees 43:54)
Josephus, the Jewish historian of the 1st century A.D., writes about this terrible time:
And when the king had built an idol altar upon God's altar, he [Antiochus] slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country. He also compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God, and to adore those whom he took to be gods; and made them build temples, and raise idol altars in every city and village, and offer swine upon them every day. He [Antiochus] also commanded them not to circumcise their sons, and threatened to punish any that should be found to have transgressed his injunction. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XII.5.4)
The Maccabean revolt, led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, members of the priestly Hasmonean [haz-muh-nee-uhn] family, led the nation against Antiochus. For eighty years the Jews maintained their national independence. Many Jews mistook this brief respite as the dawn of a long-awaited golden age.

Then the Romans took control of Palestine in 63 B.C.

In a way it was a relief, because the ruling Hasmoneans turned out to be just about as bad as the pagan rulers before them.

The time is very ripe. The arrival of the servant of Yahweh is at hand.
Virtually everyone agrees that the Roman Empire was a logistical necessity:
This great empire prepared the physical scene for the spread of the gospel. It gave peace in place of constant tribal warfare; it built a great network of roads and bridges that made travel possible all over the then known world; it cleared the sea of pirates so that trade by sea and travel by ship became common practice; it protected its citizens from robbers and rioting. All of these conditions favored the easy movement of the messengers of Christ so that along the many roads which Rome had set up for her military purposes, the gospel of peace went out to the world. (B. K. Kuniper, The Church in History, p. 4.)

Rome could even demand a census, when that was necessary for prophesy to be fulfilled (c.f. Luke 2).

Although Rome dominated politically, Greece dominated culturally, and her language and culture were adopted by the admiring Roman conquerors.
The Greek language had become the world language, one that would enable Paul to communicate with all his hearers in the part of the Roman Empire where he did most of his work. When Paul quoted the Old Testament to the Jews whom he met on his journeys, his quotations were from the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament made as early as two hundred years before Christ. (B. K. Kuniper, The Church in History, p. 5.)

However, there is more that was ripe, something beyond the infrastructure provided by Rome and the culture and language provide by Greece.

The constant subjugation of the Jews for over five centuries, and especially under the domination of the maniacal Antiochus, had led the pious minority of Jews to attach more importance to the concept of resurrection. After all, obedience to God’s word no longer (it seemed) led to a lengthening of one's days. Quite the contrary, it often meant a short life terminating in a painful death.

The idea of resurrection was not unknown before the last century B.C, it just wasn't emphasized. Jesus pointed out where it was there for the Jews all along, plain as day in the Old Testament. Addressing the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, He said
26Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" (Mark 12:26-27)
Once again we can look at the inter-testament literature to find a clue. In the book of second Macabees, we read about the martyrdom of a pious family, seven brothers and their mother. As one brother is about to die, he says to the king:
And when he was at the last gasp, he said thus: Thou indeed, O most wicked man, destroyest us out of this present life: but the King of the world will raise us up, who die for his laws, in the resurrection of eternal life. (2 Macabees 7:9)
The writer of Hebrews refers to the martyrdom of the period of the Maccabean revolt, also associating the idea of resurrection:
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. (Heb 11:35)
In addition to the idea of resurrection, the notion of coming Messiah king was still strong among Jews during the last century before Christ, though it begins to change somewhat in the details of the expectation. For example, in the curious Book of Enoch (the grandfather of Noah), written about 100 B.C. and quoted in several places in the New Testament (e.g., Jude 14-15, James 5:1) we read:
4 And this Son of Man whom thou hast seen
Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,
[And the strong from their thrones]
And shall loosen the reins of the strong,
And break the teeth of the sinners.
5 [And he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms]
Because they do not extol and praise Him,
Nor humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them.
6 And he shall put down the countenance of the strong,
And shall fill them with shame. (Book of Enoch 46:4-6)
And this amazing text:
3 Yea, before the sun and the signs were created,
Before the stars of the heaven were made,
His name was named before the Lord of Spirits.
4 He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall,
And he shall be the light of the Gentiles,
And the hope of those who are troubled of heart. (Book of Enoch, 48:3-4)
As last century B.C. closed, many complex and odd ideas were percolating among the Jews. For example, some believed that if all Israel kept the law perfectly for one entire day, the Messiah would come (imagine the frustration). Others essentially started the monastic lifestyle, including the sectaries of the Qumran, whose caves held the Dead Sea scrolls. Others formed fellowship communities where the members encouraged one another, much like modern churches.

Yes the time was ripe. The infrastructure was in place. The language and culture were in place. The Jewish mindset was anticipatory; it expected the onset of the kingdom of God like never before.

But there was just one more thing, one final preparation.

John the Baptist

About A.D. 28, in the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of the Jordan Valley.

The prophets had been silent for four hundred years; finally a new prophet had arisen. But this prophet had a message like no other. His message was not of hope of things to come at some unspecified future date; his message had unprecedented urgency. He preached a message of repentance, but no so to quicken the arrival of the kingdom of God, too late for that, for John the Baptist spoke of the kingdom as being at hand (Matt 3:1).

There was no ambiguity in John’s words. He spoke with conviction—absolute certainty that the Messiah was already among them. He told them to prepare through an initiation rite, a baptism by water that he performed in the Jordan river. This itself was a fulfillment of prophecy:
"On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. (Zech 13:1)
This was not only a completely new message, it was an unthinkable requirement. Gentiles had to be baptized if they wanted to convert to the Jewish faith, but for Jews to be baptized was, to many Jews, scandalous. John explains by being the first to point out that the seed of Abraham is no longer a genetic but a spiritual lineage.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Matt. 3:9)

John's ministry was powerful, vital, but short lived. He made an enemy of king Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) who feared John because of his following, yet dared not move against him lest his martyrdom spark a rebellion. Eventually he imprisoned and killed John after John criticized his marriage to his own sister-in-law, Herodias.

A few years later Antipas was defeated in battle by his father-in-law. They both agreed that this was a divine judgment for the execution of John. We know this in part from the writings of Josephus:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him. (Josephus, Antiquities, XVII.5.2)
As we know, Jesus himself, after thirty or so years of relative obscurity, was baptized by this very some John. The completion of Jesus' baptism, though, came with a few extra bells and whistles:
And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:11-12)
So spoke God, audibly, upon the completion of Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan. In doing so God made a connection between two very different Messianic prophecies:
I will tell of the decree:The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Ps 2:7)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa 42:1)
At the time, Ps. 2 was interpreted by the Jews as a Messianic prophesy--the Messiah would be of the line of David; his relationship with the Father would be familial.

It is not clear whether the passage from Isaiah was viewed as Messianic prophecy. But we see the clear connection--the soul delights and the Spirit upon him fits Jesus' baptism perfectly. It was as if God was reminding those with ears to hear: yes the Messiah is my son, but he is also the Messiah described by my prophet Isaiah--the suffering servant, rescuer of both Jews and Gentiles.

The Isaiah passage continues:
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isa 42:2-3)

The image is of a public ministry marked by humility, modest in apparent size and scope, and eschewing confrontation.

In any case, it is clear that very few Jews believed that the Messiah would suffer or be as low-key as is prophesied, so clearly to us, throughout Isaiah. This blindness toward the character of the Messiah's public life as detailed by Isaiah meant that Jesus was unrecognizable to most as the one foretold.
Here we pause, for indeed the stage is set.

Daytona 500 bay-bee!

Oh yeah. The Steelers won the Daytona 500 of football and that was sweet. But now the Daytona 500 of racing--the um, Daytona 500, is upon us. This Sunday, on Fox. To whet your appetite, here was the finish two years ago:

On that day, the good guy prevailed and justice was served.

If God didn't love NASCAR, he wouldn't have created the Green White Checker finish. So watch the race, hope for a late caution (hey, you don't have to pay for all those wrecked cars) and prepare to be disappointed if the car you want to win is leading halfway through the last lap.

Jesus' Baptism

And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:11-12)

So spoke God, audibly, upon the completion of Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan. In doing so God made a connection between two very different Messianic prophecies:
I will tell of the decree:The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Ps 2:7)

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa 42:1)

At the time, Ps. 2 was interpreted by the Jews as a Messianic prophesy--the Messiah would be of the line of David; his relationship with the Father would be familial.

It is not clear whether the passage from Isaiah was viewed as Messianic prophecy. But we see the clear connection--the soul delights and the Spirit upon him fits Jesus' baptism perfectly. It was as if God was reminding those with ears to hear: yes the Messiah is my son, but he is also the Messiah described by my prophet Isaiah--the suffering servant, rescuer of both Jews and Gentiles.

The Isaiah passage continues:
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isa 42:2-3)

The image is of a public ministry marked by humility, modest in apparent size and scope, and eschewing confrontation.

In any case, it is clear that very few Jews believed that the Messiah would suffer or be as low-key as is prophesied, so clearly to us, throughout Isaiah. This blindness toward the character of the Messiah's public life as detailed by Isaiah meant that Jesus was unrecognizable to most as the one foretold.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sam Harris: On the Incompatibility of Science and Faith

The incompatibility of science and religion (or science and theism, or science and faith) has been a recent popular topic of discussion in the intersections blogosphere. The catalyst was an article arguing for incompatibility written by scientist Jerry Coyne, which elicited a series of responses by people on both sides of the fence. You can read all about it here.

One of the responses generating the most excitement was from well-known "new" atheist author Sam Harris. That's the response I will discuss. Eventually. I promise.

First I'll tell you my position.

Incompatible is a strong word. According to, the first five definitions are:
  1. not compatible; unable to exist together in harmony.
  2. contrary or opposed in character.
  3. that cannot coexist or be conjoined.
  4. Logic. a. (of two or more propositions) unable to be true simultaneously.b. (of two or more attributes of an object) unable to belong to the object simultaneously; inconsistent.
  5. (of positions, functions, ranks, etc.) unable to be held simultaneously by one person.
In order to argue that science and religion are incompatible, you must exclude the stronger definitions: 1, possibly 3, 4b, and 5. The existence of highly esteemed believing scientists with international reputations manifestly disproves incompatibility in those cases. Obviously religion and science coexist harmoniously in the likes of Francis Collins.

So the argument, for it not to be over before it begins, must be based on the weaker definitions: 2 or 4a. (Weaker only in the sense that the meaning they give of incompatibility is toned down--not that it is "worse".)

So we recognize from the start that those arguing for incompatibility must, although I don't think they ever say it explicitly, exclude the stronger definitions. But they do admit it indirectly. When faced with nearly inexhaustible examples of productive believing scientists they will say: Well of course we are not denying that believers can do good science. That is a tacit admission of this: Well of course we are not using the stronger definitions of incompatibility.

So the argument boils down to: how do you demonstrate that science and religion are incompatible in the weaker sense?

My position is different from most. My position is that even the weaker definition of incompatibility should, if it means anything, have a measurable effect. I approach this quantitatively and scientifically. The stronger definition leads to a prediction: You can't be a believing scientist. This has been tested, and the theory has been falsified. The weaker definition should still make a prediction, albeit a weaker one. The one I propose is: You can detect the adverse effects of a person's religion on their science. Given that theory, I proposed a falsification experiment: I'll provide the experimenter with ten peer-reviewed papers from first rate science journals. Five from from believers, five from atheists. The experiment is try to determine, based on content alone, which papers came from believers. To date, no one has signed on for that experiment. I'm open to other suggestions.

This is not the way incompatibility is argued by Sam Harris and others. They don't argue it scientifically, but social-scientifically. That is, they are writing editorials. Like all editorials, including the one you are reading, the direction of your head motion will largely depend on whether or not you were already predisposed to agree or disagree before you started reading.

To summarize to this point, the arguments on the incompatibility of science and faith:
  1. Use the weaker definitions for incompatibility.
  2. Are based on fuzzy, opinion-laden, unfalsifiable social-science, not on science.
In arguing incompatibility I see the same bad arguments made over and over, viz.,

BA1: Sloganizing. Believers can be good scientists, but they must compartmentalize.

BA2: Begging the Question. Religion argues for the supernatural, for example Jesus walking on water. Science has demonstrated that a person cannot walk on water. Therefore science and religion are incompatible.

BA3: Biased Sample. This believer (pick a random YEC creation-scientist or well-known ID proponent) abuses science in pursuit of religion. Therefore science and religion are incompatible.

BA4: Red Herring. Whose religion is right?

BA5: Slippery Slope. Once you accept that Jesus walked on water--well then, the supernatural can explain anything, so why do science?

BA6: Correlation is not causation. Only 7% of the members of the elite National Academy of Sciences (NAS) profess faith. That is much lower than the national average.

BA7: Appeal to Ridicule. This is the argument that science and faith are incompatible, because it makes God look bad.

Let me discuss these, briefly, in turn.

BA1: Sloganizing

As for BA1, compartmentalization, alas, is ill defined. It can mean virtually anything from: believers can't be scientists 24/7 (maybe yes, maybe no, but who would want to be?) to they use different parts of their brains for each activity, an argument which makes art and music incompatible with science. Compartmentalization explains nothing and everything.

UPDATE: Another form of sloganizing is to unleash the term cognitive dissonance, as in: "theistic scientists suffer from cognitive dissonance." This, like compartmentalization, explains nothing. In some sense it is worse, because the term is actually misused. Cognitive dissonance describes a person affirming beliefs that he acknowledges are in conflict, not beliefs that someone else finds conflicting. It almost has to be confessed--since you can't read other peoples minds, you cannot say whether they find their own views to be in conflict.

BA2: Begging the Question

BA2 is used often. And if BA2 is correct, then it hardly is worth writing thousands of words. I stated it above in less than thirty. Unless, of course, the thousands of words are just meant to obfuscate the fact that you are begging the question. However, it is worthwhile to say how my side argues that the belief in the supernatural is not incompatible with science.

Without taking pages, I would summarize it this way:

Believing scientists affirm the supernatural which, by its very definition, cannot be explained by science. Thus we say: there is no guarantee that science can explain everything.

That said, as scientists we explicitly and implicitly agree to do science just like our atheist colleagues. In particular, we never, ever, ever invoke the supernatural to explain experimental data. In the unlikely even we encountered the supernatural in the lab, we would simply die trying to find a scientific explanation, as would our atheist colleagues.

The age of the earth is the paradigm. It demonstrates this perfectly.

The YEC view of the creation of the earth can be broken down into two points:
  1. God spoke the cosmos into existence supernaturally.
  2. He did it six thousand years ago.
All theists accept 1, otherwise what is theistic about them? If the incompatibility comes in at step 1, then we are back to BA2. Religion affirms the supernatural, therefore religion is incompatible with science. Point number 1 is not scientific--it cannot be proved or disproved. However, point 1, when combined with the YEC exegesis, creates point 2. That is a scientific statement. That can be put to the test. It has, and it has failed the test miserably.

This is the model for dealing with the supernatural, not that it will ever come up, but just for completeness. The way in which the magisteria of science and religion do overlap is that supernatural incursions can in principle create natural effects. The effects are subject to test (if you can devise one, as for the age of the earth) but the underlying supernatural event is not.

That is sort of a take-it-or-leave-it stance. If arguing incompatibility and you reject this position: fine. But do not use thousands of words to hide the fact that you are really just making argument BA2.

BA3: Biased Sample

When BA3 is used there is no subtlety involved. It is the some theists behave badly, some even murderously, therefore religion and science are incompatible argument. It is very easy to use sarcastically.

There is no acknowledgment by the incompatibility proponents that BA3 is a horribly blunt instrument, and one that can be ripped from the assailants hands and used against him: Bill Maher is an atheist. Bill Maher is an anti-science nut who doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease and is anti-vaccine. It Bill Maher had his way, diseases like polio (just to name one) would return with a vengeance. People would die. Lots of them. Therefore atheism and science are incompatible.

BA4: Red Herring

BA4 Is a really, really bad argument. Sometimes is comes like this: If we have to accept Jesus walked on water, why not Mohammed's flying horse? The answer of course is that you don't have to accept Jesus walked on water, and as far as science is concerned there is no difference between the two examples. They only prove incompatibility by BA2. Their inconsistency with each other is the red herring.

BA5: Slippery Slope

BA5 presupposes that believing scientist are ready to abandon the scientific method at any moment in favor of the supernatural. No explanation for the peak in the data? What's to stop us from invoking the name of Jesus! A fine argument apart from being absurd. Nobody does that.

BA6: Correlation is not causation

This is perhaps my personal favorite, because it is one of those cases where the person making the argument typically has enough savvy to launch a preemptive strike. He makes an admission that the argument that follows is fallacious in the hope that you'll accept it anyway. He makes a but argument: Yes correlation is not causation but: (then goes on to use it as such.)

The correlation is always the NAS survey where only 7% of NAS members self-identify as believers. We could argue what might be causing such a skew, but let's assume the most advantageous interpretation for our opponents. Suppose believers are, statistically speaking, less intelligent than unbelievers. Does that prove an incompatibility? No, it would suggest, on average, an incapability, but that's a different matter. What about those 7%? These are elite scientists. What is the effect of the incompatibility on their work? To this question the same answer is always given: BA1. Those 7% can compartmentalize, the be-all and end-all explanation.

BA7: Appeal to Ridicule

It is hard not to smile when faced with BA7, given that it comes from atheists. More sophisticated forms are of this variety: theistic evolution is not viable, because it exacerbates the theodicy problem. Less sophisticated versions are: Yeah sure, a loving God made Malaria. Now the theodicy problem is very real and exceedingly difficult, but it has nothing at all to do with the compatibility question. In that sense this is also a red herring.

Now for a little ad hominem.

When you read Harris’s thoughts on the compatibility of religion and science be sure to turn off all irony meters within a ten block radius. This is a man into Eastern Mysticism who in his best seller The End of Faith wrote:

Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reason for what he believes, and these reasons are empirical.

This is also a man who looks favorably on xenoglossy. Clearly a more accurate title for his book is: The End of Other People’s Faiths.

Harris's essay is well-done sarcasm. Again you can find it in the collection
here. Below I am just going to extract some of Harris's points and argue that they are examples of the bad arguments enumerated above.

From Harris:

SH: Specifically, is there a conflict between believing that epilepsy is a result of abnormal neural activity and believing that it is a sign of demonic possession?

Here we have an admixture of BA3 and BA5. Tribal witch doctors are not representative of theists in the sciences. And theists in the sciences do not invoke demonic possession. As mentioned earlier there are plenty of atheist pseudo-science nuts hawking eastern mysticism (that would be you, Sam), anti-vaccine, crystal-power, homeopathy, etc.

SH: Can a biologist harbor any educated doubts about the Virgin birth of Jesus? No—because human parthenogenesis has nothing whatsoever to do with biology. Can a physicist form an educated opinion about the likelihood of the Ascension? How could he? Bodily trans location into the sky does not require any interaction with the forces of nature.

This is textbook BA2, the question begging argument stopper. Religion is simply defined as incompatible with science.

SH: it is now becoming a common practice in Afghanistan and Pakistan to blind and disfigure little girls with acid for the crime of going to school.

This is BA3 at its very best. Some theists are monsters, therefore, ipso facto, theism and religion are incompatible.

SH: Let us say a cardiac surgeon believes that automobile accidents are caused, not by human inattention, brake failure, and the like, but by the Evil Eye.

SH: What may appear like a contradiction at one level of physics or biology is always resolved at higher vibrational energies—or perhaps, as Miller points out, by "miracles."

Here are two fine examples of unbridled BA5 (the first with some BA3 tossed in for spice.) Because theists believe in the supernatural, believing scientists are always on the lookout for a chance to unleash it as an explanation. The fact that they don't is overlooked. They might. That's enough. It might even slip pass peer review. Then where would we be? See Sammy slide the slippery slope.

SH: For instance, given that viruses outnumber animals by ten to one, and given that a single virus like smallpox killed 500 million human beings in the 20th century (many of them children), people like Coyne ask whether these data are best explained by the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God who views humanity as His most cherished creation.
Here is classic BA7 of the unsophisticated variety. This is Harris the concern-troll, pointing out that God who makes smallpox would not be a very nice God, doesn't that give us cause for concern? Maybe it does, but it has nothing to do with the question at hand.

Truly, I don't think Harris makes any argument that doesn't fit one of these Bad Argument types. But as mentioned, he is a fan of xenoglossy. Maybe his essay read better in the original Reformed Egyptian.