Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Happy Blasphemy Day

In case you don't know it, today is International Blasphemy Day.

What is interesting about Blasphemy Day is that those who are celebrating cannot, despite their best efforts, increase the level of their blasphemy. Their unbelief already constitutes blaspheming to the superlative degree. Whatever tiny Blasphemy Day rituals they perform (such as trading their souls for cookies) are in the noise.

God cannot be any more angry at the happy blasphemers than He already is.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18)
The word translated as 'wrath' suggests intense fury. God is furious with those who suppress the truth—i.e., unbelievers. God is not going to be "a wee bit more furious" because you mock him in a song, a painting or a board game. Your crime is already a capital offense—and you can't get sentenced to consecutive eternities, or eternity plus a few millennia.

The free-speech reasons given for Blasphemy Day are, at least in most of the world, totally bogus. You know that, I know that, and atheists know that. In the U.S. people like PZ Myers can blaspheme (or, more accurately, conduct activities that he perceives as blasphemous) 24/7 to a large audience. He doesn't get arrested. He doesn't get fired. His right to free speech is unhindered. If some nutcase harms or threatens him, it would be a crime, not state-sponsored retribution.

The actual reason, everyone knows, is to mock religion. Hopefully to piss off some of the religious—which has indeed happened. This is cage-rattling, pure and simple. In my opinion the appropriate Christian response is not to get angry over Blasphemy Day. It is either to ignore it or to treat it with a kind of detached bemusement. Remind them that what they are doing has no effect on their eternal soul. Something like:
Unbeliever : Basphemy Day Activity   ::    Hitler : Jaywalking
And who cares about mocking? Mocking is perfectly acceptable and, if clever, which it usually is not, can even be funny.

Mock away. I don't require that atheists "respect" my religion and refrain from mocking me or it. After all, fair is fair: I certainly do not respect their decision, which I see as a cosmic folly, and I am not above mocking atheism from time to time. The only truly important issue is the freedom we both share to practice our beliefs or nonbeliefs. There is no need for us to respect one another's beliefs or nonbleliefs, or to refrain from mocking. I certainly won't cease and desist mocking unintelligent arguments from the likes of Jerry Coyne or Russell Blackford, or the total nutwhackery of a (atheist award winning) Bill Maher or a Sam Harris.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God's Humorous Theodicy

The second most humorous passage in the bible, according to this critic, is Abraham's bargaining on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But there is a great lesson to be learned from this encounter.

In Genesis 18, as you recall, God is threatening to destroy Sodom. Abraham asks a rhetorical question: "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" He then spices it up with what sounds a bit impertinent: "Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!"

God responds with the statement: "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

The reader begins to chuckle here, and in doing so may, as I did, miss the point. God is not merely promising: I will spare the righteous. He is saying much more. He is saying that if the righteous are found, he will even spare the wicked on their behalf. The wicked shall, from that moment forward, owe their lives to the existence of the righteous.

The hilarious bargaining then ensues:
27Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." 29Again he spoke to him and said, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." 30Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." 31He said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." 32Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." (Gen 18:27-32)
God, like a divine Diogenes, sought these ten righteous men. Apparently he didn't find them.

Abraham was not a strong enough negotiator. No Teamster was he. He could have negotiated God down to one. For the lesson here is not that there may have been seven or nine righteous, though definitely not ten, but that none were righteous. No, not one.

I used to think of it this way: everybody in Sodom was wicked, all were lost. Unsaved. Reprobate. Unbelievers. Whatever term you like. But that is not necessarily the case. There may have been many saved people in Sodom—and they were annihilated along with the lost. But on that day no righteous man died. That, in fact, has happened only once.

Abraham's question to God was essentially the same as Rabbi Kushner's "Why do bad things happen to good people?" For Abraham asks, in effect, surely a holy God will not kill the righteous along with the unrighteous? God's answer to Abraham is: I won't. His answer to Rabbi Kushner is: They don't.

Number one goes to that rascal Gideon. When the angel of the Lord (which is a theophany, see Judges 6:23) first appears:
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him [Gideon] and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor." (Judges 6:12)
Now our complete picture of Gideon tells us that in all likelihood the last thing he considered himself, at least at that time, was a man of valor. You can easily imagine him replying: "Are you talking to me?" It is like when someone would address the Three Stooges as "gentlemen."

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Venn Diagrams are your Friend

The diagram in the previous post brings to mind the venerable Venn diagram. Few constructs have the power to display a concept as succinctly and clearly as a Venn diagram.

In Christianity a Venn diagram that often shows up is one that reflects St. Augustine's notion of a visible and invisible church. The former is the set of professed believers, the latter is the set of actual believers.

We can extend this using some modern internet terminology. "Self-Identified Christians" and True Christians™. The little trademark symbol is used in a pejorative manner—atheists will tack it on to mock the notion that only some Christians are legitimate. It is used as a tiny symbolic form of the "No True Scotsman fallacy" charge. But I kind of like it—the symbol that is—so I'll accept it with gratitude from my atheist comrades, in the spirit in which it was not intended.

For the most part the atheist Venn diagram for Christians is:

That is, they self-righteously make no distinction between those who claim to be Christians and those who have a saving faith. Whether this is out of actual ignorance or feigned ignorance for convenience I can't say—but I suspect mostly the latter. For it allows them to say: Fred Phelps claims to be a Christian, who am I to say he is not? As far as I'm concerned he just as much a Christian as anyone else. But atheists read the bible, they know that a Christian is to be judged by his fruit—so neither we nor they are at the mercy of accepting someone's word.

Not all internet atheists are so silly. Jason Rosenhouse once gave an example that I have used many times since. He argued something along the lines of this: if someone claims I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus. And I believe in Elvis. And I believe Elvis is Jesus then it would make no sense to accept his claim of legitimate Christianity. Bravo Jason.

No, the actual Venn diagram is the same as Augustine's:

The fascinating groups are those who, on either side, fall outside the intersection. The Self-Identified Christians who are not True Christians™ come in at least two groups: the charlatans and the self-delusional. Where is Benny Hinn? My guess: in the charlatan category. Where is Fred Phelps? My guess: in the self-delusional category. Based on his fruit I judge him, as commanded, this way: that unless, someday, he is truly regenerated he'll one day hear those frightful words: I never knew you. Of course my judgment doesn't count for squat--it only means that I refuse to accept Fred Phelps as a Christian. The point is: I am supposed to judge--I am am supposed to withhold the holy from dogs.

On the other side are equally fascinating people: True Christians™ who are not Self-Identified Christians. We have reason to be hopeful that this includes dead infants and the mentally handicapped. I personally believe it also includes people who have not heard the gospel but who have been evangelized by creation. And people who have been mislead. In any event, the bottom line: it can include anyone God wants it to include.

God is not omni-everything

The attributes of God are all good--on this we can agree. But there is something about God's attributes that may surprise you: they can be in tension--and this prevents some from being "omni" attributes. For example, God is just and God is merciful. But those attributes are in conflict—mercy is not a subset of justice. In fact it is orthogonal--as we'll discuss later.

When discussing God's attributes it is worth reminding ourselves what we all know: there is only one attribute of God that is described in the Hebrew superlative: God is holy, holy, holy. No other attribute is described in that manner. Nowhere is God described as just, just, just, or love, love, love.

Aside: what does holy mean? I don't know. Not really. I can catch glimpses of it—especially when Isaiah has his vision (Woe is me—I am unraveled!) Whatever it is, it is the defining attribute of God, the trump card. I am persuaded that our ability to understand God is severely limited by our inability to comprehend holiness.

So in terms of the "omnis" we can at least be certain that God is omniholy. We can further deduce that God is omnipotent—but only if we understand what that means: it means whatever is possible, God can do it. It really means the same thing as saying: God is sovereign. It does not mean that God can do the impossible. If God, as it appears, has created a universe that has no center, then God cannot put us in the center of the universe. Because, well, it has no center. God, in short, cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. Likewise we can, I believe, infer from scripture that God is omniscient and omnipresent. (Another aside: If you think hell is the total absence of God—I say you are wrong. His presence--If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there--may well be a large component of the agony of hell—but I speculate.)

Instead of the prefix omni, some like to use the qualifier infinitely. That is more nebulous—but fine—we can agree that God is infinitely holy, infinitely knowledgeable, etc.

Trouble arises when people insist that God is infinitely X, when the bible clearly indicates that God is most definitely not infinitely X.

A common tactic is to claim that God is omnibenevolent, a presupposition that more than a few Christians would mistakenly accept, and then to display, trivially, that God is in many cases not benevolent—ergo, game over man, no God. We should never fall for this cheap trick. The bible is explicit: God is not benevolent, benevolent, benevolent. Just ask the "ites" who stood in the way of the Jewish conquest of Canaan. Or ask Esau. Instead of infinitely benevolent, God is particularly benevolent. He has mercy not on all, but on those it pleases him to have mercy, such as Jacob. He works in all things for good (in that sense he is all-good, or omnigood, or infinitely good) but he does so only for the benefit of a subset of all people: those who love him (in that sense he is not infinitely benevolent.)

Benevolence is, in fact, in tension with omnipotence of sovereignty. A God that must be benevolent, in all circumstances to all creatures, is a God whose sovereignty is severely restricted, a God who is obligated to behave in a certain manner.

Back to the example of God's justice. God is not just, just, just. Which as we know is a good thing. In our own country there is a movement to make our own judges just, just, just by enforcing mandatory, uniform sentences—with predictably, at times, disastrous results. God's justice is at tension with his mercy--and thankfully he chooses not to be, or rather his nature is not, infinitely just. In a diagram it looks something like this:

God's mercy is at the expense of his justice. He sacrifices being infinitely just in order to be merciful to some. Justice implies uniform sentencing for the same crime—but God has mercy on some. The negative side of non-justice—injustice, is not found in God. Nobody receives a punishment they don't deserve.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sproul chapter three: Free Will

Sunday School Lesson Three had to do with the topic of free will, which I have covered many times on this blog.

Sproul presents the classic, libertine, Calvinistic model of free will:
We not only can do whatever we want most at a give instant, we must do whatever we want most.
(As and aside, I always have the irresistible urge to point out that two common criticisms of Calvinism are polar opposites: 1) We are just puppets and 2) We might as well do whatever we want—advice that a puppet could never follow. The second criticism is somewhat closer to the truth.)

Sproul describes this view of free will as the paradoxical sounding free but determined. But it is an antinomy, not a paradox. The will is free, because our choices are controlled internally, by our desires, not by a puppet-master god, and yet it is determined because our desires completely and irresistibly cause our choices.

This should be contrasted to garden-variety determinism, wherein our choices are determined by external forces, be they the laws of physics or a micromanager god.

When coupled with next week’s topic: Original Sin (Total Depravity), which states that fallen man has no desire for God—we see the framework of a theology. If free will operates as Sproul describes (and I believe it does, at least to first order) and if we have no desire for God in our fallen state, then we are in deep, deep kimchee. If nothing intervenes to change the desires of fallen men, then nobody would choose God with their vaunted free will, and nobody would be saved. Jesus would have died in vain.

This lack of desire for God, which precludes our wills from choosing God, is nevertheless not an abdication of free will. It is what Jonathan Edwards called a moral inability.

I always give the same example—not perfect but I think it works. A mother of sound mind sits at the kitchen table holding her baby. Though possessed with a free will, she is morally incapable of making the choice to place her baby in the microwave and turning it on. Her free will is not violated—yet she does not have the liberty to make that choice—because her morality will not permit her. Likewise, in this model, though we have a libertine free will, we lack, in our fallen state, the liberty to choose God.

In the reverse of the usual grammatical correction: It is not that we may not, but rather we can not.

Maybe you like this model of free will. Maybe you don’t. But hear this: there is no secular or humanist model of free will. At least none that I have ever heard. Now some secularists are brutally honest. Cornell biologist William Provine immediately comes to mind, with his famous consequences of pure naturalism:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.
Provine is correct—no free will is possible without God—as far as I can see. We have either strict determinism—we are merely playing out the great differential equation of the universe, or we throw in a dash of quantum indeterminacy to spice up the dish. The latter can never rescue the free will—for all it accomplishes (implausibly, but never mind) is to introduce a bit of randomness. Externally determined choices are not free—and neither are random choices.

To hear a pure naturalist discuss free will is like being in a Swedish movie. Free will is an illusion, they will tell you. And they will go on to tell you that an illusory free will implies that people are not free moral agents. Quite right. So why punish criminals? Not because they are morally responsible—after all their choices were determined for them—but simply to protect society. But of course it is not really to protect society—because that is a moral choice, a free choice, and such things, in their schema, do not exist. No, the equation of the universe has inexorably placed you in a position of entertaining thoughts—over which you have no control--of defending incarceration on the basis of protecting society. Those thoughts are nothing more than particles and atoms and molecules doing their thing. And so on, and so forth, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Flea On The Wall

From the most recent New Atheist Ecumenical Council, the Council on Fatheism, Rationalism, The Cartoonist whose name shall not be spoken--but he who doesn’t understand evolution--which is of Grave Concern, and Xenoglossy.

Cardinal Harris: I renew my suggestion that we conduct these proceedings in Reformed Egyptian.

Pontiff Clinton: Cardinal Harris, please sit down and refrain yourself from further outbursts. Cardinal Hitchens, do you have any, um, medication that will help Cardinal Harris, um, rest?

Cardinal Hitchens: Certainly (hic) Your Worshipfulness (hic).

Layperson Maher: You aren’t giving him a vaccine are you—you know they don’t work and they cause shingles and they make me so mad and…

Cardinal Jerry: No, no, no—just something to help him sleep.

Layperson Maher: It’s not an antibiotic is it? Because if he has bugs in his system then they aren’t making him sick, they took advantage of him being sick and it does no good to kill those innocent bacteria. It’s only rational, after all poisonous snakes and mosquitoes don’t make a clear blue pond into a swamp, they come into a swamp and…

Pontiff Clinton: Mr. Maher, don’t worry, everything is fine. No antibiotics, I promise. Sigh. Now can we move on? Archbishop Zachery, are you prepared to introduce a canon for Our consideration?

Archbishop Zachery: Yes m’lord. I am prepared to present for Your consideration a single canon:
CANON I.-If any syndicated cartoonist or haberdasher saith on his blog or tweeteth in his tweet that the axioms of the New Atheists be not all good and true, let him be anathema.

Pontiff Clinton: Anathema? What’s up with that? What does that mean?

Archbishop Zachery: It means that I may mock him again and again on Holy Pharyngula.

Cardinal Harris: No, torture him!

Pontiff Clinton: Archbishop Zachery, my dear, dear friend. I worry it may be counterproductive to the cause for us to be seen arguing the sacraments with—mere cartoonists and haberdashers.

Archbishop Zachery (Leaning close to the Pontiff and whispering): You owe me Dick—do you know how many books I’ve hocked for you?

Pontiff Clinton: Ahem. Very well then. The Seat accepts Archbishop Zachery’s canon. So let it be written.

Cardinal Hitchens: Is it (hic) time for the banquet?

Pontiff Clinton: Not yet. I believe Cardinal Jerry will introduce some canons?

Cardinal Jerry: Yes, your Super Excellency. I have several. If it pleases the Seat I shall introduce them all at once.

Pontiff Clinton: Yes, that certainly pleases this Seat.
CANON II: Let it be known that number of ways of knowing something is but one. It is not two, and three is simply out of the question. Nay, there is but one path to knowledge, and that path is Science.
CANON III: Let it be known that Science and religion are Incompatible.
CANON IV: If any scientist, journalist, syndicated cartoonist or haberdasher saith with his lips, or saith on his blog, or tweeteth in his tweet, that Science and religion are compatible, let him be not just anathema, but fatheist anathema.

Cardinal Harris: No, torture him!

Pontiff Clinton: Cardinal Jerry, are you saying that we know Science and religion are Incompatible?

Cardinal Jerry: Yes m’lord. Of course m’lord.

Pontiff Clinton: And given CANON II it seems inescapable, does it not, that we know of this Great Incompatibility from Science?

Cardinal Jerry: Yes, that would seem to follow naturally.

Pontiff Clinton: If I recall correctly—though it’s been a while, I’ve been writing books, appearing on the telly and in the motion picture shows, that if we know this by science that it must needs be both testable and falsifiable?

Cardinal Jerry: Yes those are the generally accepted requirements.

Pontiff Clinton: So for completeness I suggest that we enter into this historic record the means by which the knowledge of the Great Incompatibility, which must have arrived by the only possible path, Science, has met those glorious requirements of testability and falsifiability.

<<Crickets Chirping>>

Cardinal Jerry (finally): But, kind sir, it is so obvious!

Pontiff Clinton: Quite right, you are quite right. But still, I fear that some apostate, perhaps that devilish thorn in the flesh fatheist from Brown University, will ungraciously see this as an inconsistency. Methinks he is like a weasel! (Raucous laughter and hilarity ensue for 20 or 30 seconds.)

Cardinal Harris: Torture him!

Cardinal Jerry: Oh crud. Yes m’lord I see the problem. But I think we have a simple solution, If I may?

Pontiff Clinton: you may.

Cardinal Jerry: Well then:
CANON V: Let it be known that the number of things that can be known by some method other than Science is but one. It is not two, and three is simply out of the question. And this one blessed Truth, not known by Science but by Posterior Extractus, is that Science and religion are Incompatible.
Pontiff Clinton: Works for me. So let ‘em all be written. We are adjourned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nerd Alert

I got another new calculator, the HP 35s

It's not like the old HP calculators--but at least it looks like one, not like the previous monstrosity, (which I also own) the HP 33s:

which had (*gasp*) a gender-challenged teal and purple color scheme. It also had an ENTER button that was the same size as the other buttons, rather than over-sized as, I am pretty sure, is commanded somewhere in Leviticus. Madness. At that time, HP was too busy spying on its own employees to design a decent calculator.

Both use the far superior RPN rather than the Euro girly-man algebraic entry. The hideous, little-people algebraic entry requires the cumbersome and obfuscating "equal sign" button as well as the unspeakable crutch of open and close parentheses buttons. Bleh. That's for calculation-phobic biologists and other wordy wimps.

There is, I am told, a way to put these new HP calculators into algebraic mode. Blasphemy. I don't want to know how to do it.

As I have mentioned in the past, a great stupid-calculator-trick is to hand a RPN HP calculator to a student taking an exam who forget his calculator. Just watch him search in vain, with growing anxiety, for the "equals" button! Good fun!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sproul chapter two: God's Sovereignty

In our second Sunday School class, we watched Sproul discuss the Sovereignty of God.

Sproul quotes the Westminster Confession:
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; (WC III.I)
Sproul relates that when he asked his seminary students whether they agree with this statement, about 30% answered that they did not. He then asked how many of his students were atheists—and of course none of the students answered in the affirmative.

He then argued that this made no sense: if you disagree with the statement from the WCF, you are, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. Affirmation or denial of this statement on the sovereignty of God is not what separates different denominations of Christianity, or what divides the three great monotheistic religions—it is, Sproul reminds us, what distinguishes theists from atheists.

Is Sproul a nutcase, elevating the WCF to a litmus test?

No—he is, while acknowledging his rhetorical device, absolutely correct.

As he goes on to point out, the problem is with the word “ordains”. That word conjures up images of God the puppet master dictating eons ago that I am, at this instant, about to pause my typing to scratch a pesky mosquito bite—ahh that’s better.

No, what the Westminster Divines meant is perhaps made clearer by a modern paraphrase:
What ever happens either a) God decreed it (Let there be…) or b) God permitted it to happen, with no implied endorsement or divine sanction. God could have prevented it.
Sproul argues that if there is something, anything that happened outside of God’s decree and his permissive will—then God is not sovereign. If God is not sovereign—then he is not God.

In 1961 Racecar driver Tony Bettenhausen was killed when a 1¢ cotter pin failed.

In a similar manner, this hypothetical seemingly inconsequential “thing” outside of God’s sovereign control (Sproul calls it a “maverick molecule”) could ultimately run amok and thwart God’s plan, leaving his promises unfulfilled. It could be the broken cotter pin that prevents the Christ from returning.

That is why the bible teaches and we believe exactly what the confession states: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.

And if you don’t believe that then you are effectively an atheist.

He could have, of course, just as easily quoted the London Baptist Confession.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sunday School: A Theological Survey

I taught my first Sunday School of the new semester—although not much actual teaching was required. The course is a theological survey, and for the first six weeks we are watching an introduction to Calvinism: R. C. Sproul's DVD Chosen by God, video companion to his accessible, classic book of the same name. Nothing for me to do: I can't teach the subject better than Sproul, not even close. After the video series there will be more for me to do.

This set of Sproul lectures was recorded in 1987. I first saw the VHS tapes, as a newly minted Christian, in the early 90's. At that time I thought Sproul was some wise old guy. Now he looks more like a cool young dude. Sigh.

At one point Sproul lists the contemporary marquee Calvinists. If he re-recorded the lectures today, I suspect he would include John Piper. But back in 1987 the only Baptist Calvinist he mentioned was Roger Nicole. Times they are a-changin'. There are Calvinistic Baptists everywhere.

Baptists going back to their roots should mean, roughly, two things: 1) Back to Calvinism (or "Doctrines of Grace" as Baptists are wont to refer to the theology) and 2) Back to supporting separation of church and state, and to cease meddling in partisan politics. The first is clearly happening. The second—maybe a bit, but it is definitely lagging.

In the first lecture, Sproul describes how all Christian theology falls into one of three broad catageories:
  1. Pelagianism
  2. Semi-Pelagianism (AKA Armininianism)
  3. Augustianianism (AKA Calvinism, Reformed, or Doctrines of Grace)

That's not quite right, because Sproul correctly points out that Pelagianism—essentially the denial of Original Sin, and with it the view that, while unlikely, man can at least in principle live a sinless life and redeem himself, doesn't fall in the pale of Orthodoxy. It is not Christianity. It is heresy.

Semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism is, today, the majority view. In this view grace is required for salvation, but man must call upon some small but nonzero vestigial goodness to accept the gospel in his fallen state, and upon such a decision he will then be regenerated (born again).

Augustianism is the minority report. Those of us, like Sproul, who support this view, believe it is impossible for man to respond positively to the gospel in his fallen state. He must first be born again, and then he'll have the moral ability to respond.

Sproul characterizes the debate between Semi-Pelagians and Augustianians, i.e., Arminians v. Calvinists, as a debate within the family. I agree. Then again, I almost always agree with Sproul—except, darn it, I believe he is a YEC! Bummer, that.

Sproul notes that Semi-Pelagians (which would include Catholics, Lutherans, and many Baptists, just to name a few) agree that those who are saved have been predestined. They have to. Nobody can ignore passages like:
4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…

11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (Eph 1:4-5, 11)
Those passages, and others, demand that anyone who believes the bible has to accept the reality of predestination.

The debate is not over predestination—it is over the basis of God's selection prior to the foundation of the world.

The Semi-Pelagian views it as a choice based on foreknowledge—that is God peeked into the future and saw who would accept the gospel. He then "predestined" that group to salvation. (Seems a bit superfluous, no?)

The Augustianian view is that while God can look into the future that wasn't how he decided whom to save. Instead it was a purely sovereign choice, with no regard to what the person would ultimately do good or bad.

More on this anon.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

An Embarrassment of Biblical Proportions

Or: Is Steven Anderson the long lost eighth son of Sceva?


This makes me long for the days when we were one church and we could have a good old-fashioned excommunication that had some real teeth to it. Followed by a pot-luck with rigatoni and green bean casserole.

Pastor Apostate Steven Anderson: may you be anathema.

Jerry, Jerry, so much threatiness, and so little time!

Consider this Coyne post of the general topic (and Coyne's fave):

Scientists (mainly) are either

a) as repulsed by religion as I, Jerry Coyne am, or

b) scum-sucking, lily-livered, good-for-naught, traitorous, accommodationist, fatheistic, Neville Chamberlain, cheese-eating surrender-monkey apostates!

In this particular post, Jerry makes one of New Atheism's two novel arguments: Everything bad comes from religion. 1, 2 And at the end of this exercise in intellectualism, Jerry adds:
and our own country almost became a theocracy
Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. Are you engaging in hyperbole, badly, or are you really sort of a paranoid John-Bircher type? Look away from your computer and toward the wall. Slowly. Any black-helicopters outside your window?

Really now—you expect such nonsense from your garden-variety screwball commenter on Pharyngula, 3 but not from someone of Coyne's stature.

No Jerry, we did not "almost become a theocracy." And in further news:
  • Under Herbert Hoover, we did not "almost become an oligarchy"

  • Under FDR, we did not "almost become a communist state"

  • Under John Kennedy we did not "almost become a Catholic state"

  • Under Jimmy Carter we did not "almost become a technocracy"

  • Under Ronald Reagan we did not "almost become a fascist state"

  • Under Bill Clinton we did not "almost become a wantonly hedonistic state"

  • Under Bush 43 we did not "almost become a theocracy" (for completeness)

  • And under Obama we are not "almost a socialist state with an illegal president"
Making arguments about equal in veracity and substance to those made by the birthers is no way to go through life.

A civics lesson for Jerry. People championing laws that they believe are aligned with their religion (something I don't recommend—but what I think Jerry is talking about, at least in part) is not "almost a theocracy". It's playing by the rules of our constitution. You see Jerry, you'd have to abandon the constitution in order to move our nation into a theocracy. If, for example, I vote for Proposition 8—I am playing by the rule of law. 4 If our nation was "almost a theocracy" then there would "almost" not even be a vote, but rather an edict. This is not rocket science.

Say this ten times: Legal Vote ≠ Edict Issued.

The first is what we do. The second is what a theocracy does. Any questions?

Jerry, if you really want to know about theocracies, you should ask a Baptist. We suffered under a Roman theocracy and a Presbyterian theocracy. We can tell you for both practical and biblical reasons why they are a very bad thing. And we can tell you that saying we were "almost a theocracy" is like saying a fish is almost a bicycle.


In Coyne's post James Wood is quoted:
Dawkins is an essentially 19th-century figure; he sounds amazingly like Huxley, or the Russell of "Why I am not a Christian."
This is an insult to Russell—perhaps the last, great, intellectual atheist. (Yes I know there are many great intellectuals who are atheists—I'm talking about those who applied their thinking to atheism in substantive and novel ways.) Dawkins is certainly not in Russell's peer group:

Russell :  Dawkins ::  Sir Laurence Olivier : Keanu Reeves

1 The other novel argument developed and advanced the New Atheist elite is: If God designed everything, who designed God? If that doesn't make you stop and think, nothing will! Why, the extent to which Dawkins et. al. have advanced the state of intellectual atheism—it boggles the mind.

2 Except for the Iraq war—that is excluded on the basis of the Hitchen's Exception. And the occasional torture of a prisoner is okay; that we know as Harris's First Anomaly. And Eastern Mysticism is awarded a get-out-of-jail-free card, known in academic circles as Harris's Second Anomaly.

3 That means you, raven. Any death-cult sightings today?

4 For what it is worth, I'd have voted against Proposition 8. What unbelievers do is of no concern to me, as long as it doesn't harm others.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Oh, brother du jour: The ICR on Collins.

The chuckleheads at the Institute for Creation Research are once again rearing their pharisaical heads and claiming—not merely that their view of creation is correct, which would be perfectly reasonable for them, as it is for anyone, to argue—but that their view amounts to a test of orthodoxy.

No matter that many church fathers, at a time when there was no reason not to accept a hyperliteral view of Genesis, in fact did not.

No matter that the early church, when constructing its tests of orthodoxy (the historic creeds) saw fit to mention only the who and the what: (God created the universe), and not the when and the how.

I have addressed the ICR and the Family Morris before. For example in this post, concisely entitled Spiritual Arrogance, The Garden of Eden, and How I Learned Not To Worry That A Dead Mouse Could Render Jesus Inconsequential I discuss, among other things, Dr. Morris's unsupportable if not blasphemous claim:
if death preceded sin [the fall], then death is not the penalty for sin, and Christ's death on the cross—accomplished nothing.
The ICR (and AiG) follow this annoying Chicken Little template: If you disagree with us, then unsupportable, sensationalist conclusions which would result, we tell ya, trust us, in the negation of the power of the Son of God.

Now the ICR is judging the orthodoxy of Francis Collins. Lawrence Ford, writing for the ICR and singing its praises and placing it in very good company:
The Bereans were praised for their study, "in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). Notice what they examined: the Scriptures. That's our real anchor. Not "born again" Francis Collins or the pontifications of BioLogos. It all goes back to the divinely inspired and inerrant Book of God.
Is Dr. Collins skilled to lead the programs of the NIH? Absolutely. Is he qualified to teach the Bible? Not a chance. There are "more legitimate evangelical" Bible teachers who are "genuine authorities" in the Bible.

The implied likening to the Bereans and their laudable object of study (the Bible) looks rather silly when you note that the ICR website is a veritable amazon dot com of extra-biblical sources. (Ninety-Six products here, at last count.) Does the ICR think the Bereans had a cottage industry trafficking in extra-biblical commerce?

Collins's views on science and faith are similar to my own. They are not identical—for example unlike Collins I am convinced of the historicity of Adam and Eve—but similar. And, most importantly (to say the least) we are in absolute agreement on the gospel: we are saved by faith in the finished work of Christ, and faith alone.

This will fall on deaf ICR ears but:

The gospel is a gospel of faith that the blood of Christ atones for your sins and makes you acceptable before a holy God. It is not a gospel of the end times or the beginning times. Those are worthy of discussion, but don't put the cart before the horse.

And you never, ever get to say that views on creation other than your own render the creator of the universe impotent.