Thursday, May 06, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

Jerry, the lidless-eye Grand Inquisitor, finds another scientist who is beyond the pale of orthodoxy: Biologist Steven Benner. Beware: Jerry never rests. Never. Finding faitheists and accommodationists is not a pleasant job, but Jerry and PZ (PZ is Roy Cohn to Jerry's McCarthy) will, out of their love for humanity, leave no stone unturned.

Benner's apostasy is that he wrote a article on The Dangers of Advocacy in Science. Even worse, the article was published in the den of iniquity: Francis Collins's BioLogos site, a Gomorrah that advocates the Unpardonable Sin: a dialogue between faith and science.

Now reading this and this you might be tempted to say: Richard H. Dawkins!! Jerry was too busy to get any of the facts right and Benner pwnd him! What's up with that?

That would be a huge mistake if not a sacrilege. One that I wouldn't make, if I were you. You must remember that Jerry's work is so important that the usual standards of fairness and accuracy do not apply. Those constraints, if you will, are for little people. Not for Jerry.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Internet Atheist Facts O' Fun

Here are my favorite inviolate laws of internet atheism. I'm sure I've forgotten many--so if you have any you'd like to add, leave them in the comments.

The Law of the Converts: Every atheist who claims to have been a devout Christian was. Every Christian who claims to have been an atheist, wasn't.

The Pharyngulyte Corollary to the Law of the Converts: The more the atheist's deconversion was due to encountering someone similar to a Revrun' Mike, a prototypical Baptist minister who wears a white suit, chews tebaccy, routinely preaches on evilution and miscegenation, and instructs young children (under six, when they're impressionable) with explicit images of unimaginable torture in hell (which they must color in Sunday School), the more credible and weighty is the testimony.

The Law of the Biblical Knowledge: Atheists in general know more about the bible than Christians—who in fact only read certain parts of their so-called holy book.

The Law of the Biblical Scholars: Atheist biblical scholars are credible because they have no agenda. Christian biblical scholars lack credibility because they have an agenda.

The Law of the Useful Idiots: Dime-a-dozen atheist Religious Studies professors such as Hector Avalos at Iowa State are useful. Just don't let them know that when we're in charge the first thing on the chopping block will be Religious Studies Departments. 1

The Law that Blind Faith is The Ultimate Christian Virtue: Christians are never told to think, only to accept without thinking. Using your brain, they are taught, is not sporting. Those pesky Bereans are never a model for actual Christians. And never mind that those praised for their faith in the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11) had no need for blind faith since they spoke to God, demanded proof of God, and witnessed miracles. (This is also known as the Tom Gilson is Neither Law.)

The Law of Bright Darkness: The worse the behavior of a Christian, the more honest the Christian is. For example, this comment from a reader on Ed Brayton's blog 2:
If you really want to see the most honest adapation [sic] of what the bible and Christianity really stands far if you follow the most literal interpretation of the bible, go to Phelps.
The I-Say-Therefore-I-Am Law: Questioning the sincerity of self-identified Christians such as Fred Phelps (or the Big H—-you know, that guy with the funny little mustache) is immediately dismissed as a No True Scotsman Fallacy. The definition of a Christian is: "anyone who claims they are a Christian."

Exception to the I-Say-Therefore-I-Am Law: Anyone questioning the atheism of an inconvenient self-proclaimed atheist is granted blanket immunity from the No True Scotsman Fallacy. It's only fair.

The Ipso Facto No Atheist Is That Bad Law: Stalin and Mao were not atheists. They were demigods of the religions Stalinism and Maoism. We know this because mass murder on such a scale can only be committed by religionists.

The Law of "When Ken Ham is right, he is really right!: YECs like Ken Ham are the dumbest jackasses in the world. Except when they interpret Genesis One. For that single chapter in the bible they are exegetical savants.

The Coyne Corollary to the Law of Ken Ham: Ken Ham is also correct in his claim that modern science and Christianity are incompatible.

The Law that Logical Proofs regarding God are like Diodes: All logical proofs for God are trivially wrong 3. However, the construction:

P1: God is omnipotent.
P2: God is omnibenevolent.
P3: Human suffering exists.
C1: Therefore P1 and/or P2 is wrong.
C2: Therefore God does not exist.

is bulletproof.

The Law of the Atheist Hermeneutic: The most important verse in the bible is "Judge not, lest ye be judged." This means that Christians cannot judge Fred Phelps (for example) to be apostate. How dare they! As for the verses that follow (don't give what is holy to dogs, pearls before swine,--verses that would seem to presuppose judging) as well as the verses which seem to indicate how they are to judge (by their fruit) —and also those verses that describe excommunication—which again presupposes judging--well for Christians to bring those up is disingenuous.

The Ruby Tuesday Law: The second most important passage in the bible is
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."
This means that the only reason Christians don't call for stoning of blasphemers or condone slavery is that they are cafeteria Christians. Arguments that this passage means anything other than "All Levitical Laws are still in effect" are to be dismissed as evasive. Be prepared to dismiss summarily alleged counter-arguments such as:
  • Jesus encountered blasphemers and didn't call for their stoning.
  • Jesus upgraded the law in the Sermon on the Mount. (To, effectively, not "What Would Jesus Do?" but "What Would Jesus Think?")
  • A phase transition occurred on the cross--it wasn't just an interlude after which things returned to normal.
  • Jesus violated Levitical rules on the handling of lepers and the Sabbath.
  • Jesus claimed he was Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • Peter has a vision telling him to ignore the Levitical food laws.
  • The church's first council, recorded in the Book of Acts, voided the sacrosanct law regarding circumcision.
  • In the Old Testament animal sacrifices were commanded. In the New Testament  their use for the same purpose would be an abomination.
  • Consider this passage concerning Jesus:
    For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (Eph. 2:14-15).
  • Consider this passage about Jesus the new High Priest:
    For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. (Hebrews 7:12).
All these are but red herrings. The full force of the Old Testament law—a law intended for a nation that no longer exists—is still in effect, and only honest Christians like Fred Phelps admit it. All others are cowardly hypocrites.

[UPDATE: Andy H's suggestions are spot-on, and spurred me to add my version of his law on miracles and a couple of related items:]

The Law of Small Miracles: All theists believe in the mother-of-all-miracles: that the creative force behind the universe is God. Some such theists (e.g., His Vomitousness, The Bishop John Shelby Spong) are useful tolerable because while they quietly accept this big miracle, they loudly poo-poo what are by comparison itty-bitty miracles, like Jesus walking on water.

Irrefutable Proof that Miracles can't happen: Miracles, by definition can't be explained by science. Everything can be explained by science. Therefore miracles can't happen. Because they can't be explained by science. Therefore science and religion are incompatible.

The Law of Axiomatic Incompatibility: Science is how we know what we know. Science demands experimental testing. Nothing is exempt from this requirement. Except for The Holy of Holies: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. It has no observable effect. Nobody has ever designed an experiment that demonstrates the incompatibility. But nevertheless it's true axiomatically. Like A = A.

1 In a broken-clock sort of way, on this I am in agreement.
2 To be sure, I would bet the farm that Ed would call this guy an idiot.
3 See footnote 1.

Monday, May 03, 2010

People get paid for this? (Or: Please no, not the MRI of death!!!)

I find this kind of funny. On this peculiar blog named Language Log they are debating what is wrong with the construction of a comment I made on one of my own posts. The post was this one; it concerned free will. And my comment was this:
If free will is an illusion, then deterrents are an illusion. How can a deterrent make me choose not to commit a crime, unless I have the facility of choice?
Which they misconstrued, but that is neither here nor there. What is fascinating is that educated people are arguing over exactly what is the precise diagnosis of my comment's pathology. They going after it with a vengeance, something like Dr. House and his team investigating a mysterious illness.

The author of the post, whom I assume is the Dr. House, thinks the problem is petitio principii (question begging.) That is, I sneaked the conclusion (the existence of free will) into the premise. And also reductio ad absurdum. His crack team, naturally, takes exception. One writes:
Grrr. That's ad absurdAm - ablative case, if memory serves.
That would be Dr.Forman. Another clarifies:
but [heddle's argument] doesn't really seem to involve a concealed assumption of the existence of free will, just a failure to have thought of alternative explanations.
That sounds like Taub, don't you think?

And then--well which team member thinks out of the box?
Heddle's argument doesn't seem to be a reductio. Rather, it seems to be a straight-forward modus tollens. Or, to be a bit more accurate, whether it's a reductio depends on how one wants to reconstruct it. The simplest reconstruction seems to be as a modus tollens
That's 13! I just know it!

I can't wait until Dr. House's epiphany, where it turns out I am actually suffering from a conjunction fallacy (Latin name?) complicated by a mild case of Ignoratio elenchi.

I'll take PZ Myers calling me an idiot anytime over this bunch of pseudo-intellectual losers.

Seer Reviewed, or I'll take "Bar Trivia" for $500, Alex.

Like a gigolo or philanderer looking for his next ex-wife, the ID community, with a similar regularity, is proudly launching it next failed "peer-reviewed" journal: Bio-Complexity. The editorial board is veritable who's who of ID proponents:
  • David Abel, Origin of Life; The Origin-of-Life Science Foundation, United States
  • Douglas Axe, Protein Structure–Function; Biologic Institute, United States
  • William Basener, Statistics and Population Modeling; Rochester Institute of Technology, United States
  • Michael Behe, Biochemistry and Biological Complexity; Lehigh University, United States
  • Walter Bradley, Origin of Life; Baylor University, United States
  • Stuart Burgess, Biomimetics and Biomechanics; University of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Russell Carlson, Biochemistry; University of Georgia, United States
  • William Dembski, Mathematics and Information Theory; Discovery Institute, United States
  • Marcos Eberlin, Chemistry; State University of Campinas, Brazil
  • Charles Garner, Prebiotic Chemistry; Baylor University, United States
  • Loren Haarsma, Biophysics; Calvin College, United States
  • Peter Imming, Organic Chemistry; Martin Luther University, Germany
  • James Keener, Bioengineering and Mathematics; University of Utah, United States
  • David Keller, Biophysical Chemistry and Molecular Machines; University of New Mexico, United States
  • Branko Kozulic, Biochemistry; Gentius Ltd, Croatia
  • Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Plant Genetics; Max Plank Institute for Plant Breeding Research (retired), Germany
  • Jed Macosko, Biophysics and Molecular Machines; Wake Forest University, United States
  • Robert Marks, Evolutionary Computing and Information Theory; Baylor University, United States
  • Norman Nevin, Medical Genetics; Queen's University of Belfast (emeritus), Ireland
  • Edward Peltzer, Ocean Chemistry, United States
  • Colin Reeves, Genetic Algorithms and Information Theory; Coventry University, United Kingdom
  • Siegfried Scherer, Microbial Ecology; Technische Universität München, Germany
  • Ralph Seelke, Microbiology; University of Wisconsin-Superior, United States
  • David Snoke, Physics and Modeling; University of Pittsburgh, United States
  • Richard Sternberg, Genomics, Cladistics and Theoretical Biology; Biologic Institute, United States
  • Scott Turner, Physiology, Ecology and Evolution; State University of New York-Syracuse, United States
  • Jiří Vácha, Pathological Physiology and Evolutionary Theory; Masaryk University (emeritus), Czech Republic
  • John Walton, Chemistry; University of St Andrews, United Kingdom
  • Jonathan Wells, Cell and Developmental Biology; Biologic Institute, United States

Well, fair-enough—any group can band together and publish their own papers. All it takes is a website—although with even such modest requirements previous ID "journals" are littered not with submissions but electronic tumbleweed.

But a board like this--such a board! Why, it is reminiscent of mailman Cliff Clavin (of Cheers! fame) and his "dream" board when he appeared on Jeopardy.

You really have to wonder how, with a deck stacked like this, Dembski could write, with a straight face:
"Check out this new ID-relevant ["ID-friendly" is too strong -- ID proponents will get no preferential treatment] peer-reviewed journal"
Technically he is correct. It is peer-reviewed. In their case it's a bug, not a feature. It is peer-reviewed--just like the Journal of Homeopathy is peer-reviewed.

An interesting blog...

named What did I just step in?

A guy named Joe thinking about Calvinism--and not exactly liking what he finds.

Unspoken Communication

On Saturday I took my son to a Triple-A baseball game in Norfolk. We were already seated when a man and his son came and sat next two us. In about three seconds this happened: he looked at my son, I looked at his son, and we both looked at each other and said, without words, Yes, my son is autistic.

Of course it wasn't long very long until everyone around us figured there was something different about our sons. But it was amazing the way we made the diagnosis, instantly, before either son had displayed any overt characteristic behavior.

I wonder if anyone has studied the speed and accuracy with which a parent can diagnose autism, compared to a trained psychologist.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Comparative Views of the End Times (Lesson 2-1)

Will teach this series next fall. These lessons have been posted before--way back in 2003--but I'll be updating.

Timelines and Other Parameters

It is useful to, in a purely (well, mostly) objective sense, to understand the relevant timelines and other parameters that characterize eschatology.

Before we start, let us remind ourselves of the very basic differences among the different views. We have not formally looked at any of them yet, but keeping in mind their simple definitions will help you to make more sense of the discussion. Soon enough we will be looking at them in detail.


Premillennialists anticipate Christ's return, following which He will establish on earth a literal, physical and political kingdom. This kingdom will last for a 1000 years (the millennium) during which Satan is bound. To premillennialists, Satan is not presently bound in any sense.

There are two major flavors of premillennialism, with (among other things) the following timeline difference:
  • Dispensational Premillennialism: Looks for the church to be raptured, followed by a seven year tribulation ("pre-trib" rapture), followed by the visible return of Christ to initiate the millennial kingdom.

  • Historic Premillennialism: The tribulation will include the church, followed by Christ's return to rapture the church ("post-trib" rapture) and initiate the millennial kingdom.


Amillennialists (many of whom prefer the term present or realized millennialist) do not believe in a literal earthly physical/political kingdom. They believe the kingdom is spiritual, and the millennium is now. It consists of the reign of deceased saints with Christ in heaven. To amillennialists, Satan is presently bound (restrained). They anticipate the end of this age to include a period of increased apostasy and (possibly) the appearance of the antichrist, followed by the return of Christ, resurrection and final judgment, and the onset of the eternal state. Note that amillennialists, while they differ from postmillennialists in many ways, are nevertheless postmillennial—they see the Second Coming as occurring after the millennium. Factoid: Amillennialism has been the dominant view throughout the history of Christianity.


Postmillennials view the millennium as a glorious era of increased righteousness, gospel vitality, and world-wide domination of the church. This leads to an outlook that is unique to postmillennialism: things are going to get better on earth, not worse. Postmillennials look for Christ's return after this golden age, preceded by a short period of increased apostasy. Christ's return will herald the general resurrection, the final judgment, and the onset of the eternal state. Postmillennialists are divided over many issues, such as when the millennium begins (or even if it has already begun) and whether the world gradually and almost imperceptibly enters into it, or whether its beginning is a more dramatic event, for example with a readily identifiable defeat of the antichrist and binding of Satan, and a distinct difference between before and after. In many ways an amillennialist is a sort of pessimistic postmillennialist who views the millennium as having started when Satan was defeated on the cross and ending with the Second Coming.

Parameters of the Discussion

With these mini sketches in mind, it is useful to break out some of the points over which the views differ. Some of these differences will not be addressed until we examine the views in greater detail.

The Millennium

The questions regarding the millennium of Rev. 20 include:
  1. Is it literally 1000 years?
  2. Does it refer to the present age or a future golden age?
  3. Will Christ rule from heaven or (physically and literally) from earth?
It is interesting and instructive to look once again at Rev. 20, the only passage in the bible that mentions 1000 years, and ask, stand-alone, which end-times view does it support? That is not critical—we should interpret scripture with scripture, but it is not insignificant either. In particular, what it does not say includes: 5
  • Anything whatsoever about the Second Coming

  • Anything about bodies, resurrected or otherwise (it talks about the souls of those who died)

  • Anything about an earthly kingdom or throne

  • Anything about a rebuilt temple or animal sacrifices

  • Anything about Jerusalem, or Palestine, or Israel

  • Anything about Jewish conversion

  • Anything about righteousness prevailing on the earth

  • Anything about worldwide conversion

  • Anything about Christianization of the nations
In short, this famous passage, taken by itself supports neither the premillennial or postmillennial positions, but (somewhat ironically) the amillennial view. That is because none of the missing elements, each critical for the pre or post millennial view, is relevant for the amillennialists.

The timing of the (visible) Second Coming

Perhaps the most significant question that highlights the differences among the viewpoints is: When will Christ return relative to the millennium? Of the four viewpoints we will examine two (dispensational and historic premillennialism) hold that Christ will return before the millennium. The other two (postmillennialism and amillennialism) teach that Christ will return after the millennium.

Is there one resurrection or two?

Premillennialism anticipates two resurrections, one at the rapture which occurs at the onset of the millennium (give or take seven years), and another at the end of the millennium. Amillennialism and postmillennialism looks for one general resurrection at the end of the millennium, coincident with the Second Coming. It is interesting to not that the historic creeds of the church are not premillennial in a couple of important ways. For example the Nicene Creed includes: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. It would appear to teach a single, coincident judgment of all men, with no intervening gap of 1000 years. It also mentions nothing of an earthly kingdom, and in fact the only kingdom mentioned is the eternal one. Whether the creeds favor the amillennial or postmillennial position can not really be determined.

The Nature of the Kingdom

This is an important topic and when to which we will return often. Basically there are four broad categories of views:
  1. The kingdom is physical and political (chiliasm). Christ is ruling the nations (and an Israel restored to world-wide prominence) on earth.

  2. The kingdom began with Christ’s first advent, but is incomplete. It will be consummated with a physical and political kingdom with Christ ruling on earth.

  3. The kingdom is now. It is spiritual and consists of (un-resurrected) dead saints ruling with Christ in heaven.

  4. The kingdom began at the cross. It is both spiritual and redemptive and will continue to grow as the New Testament church flourishes.

What is God's plan for the Jews?

The views differ on their view of the future role of national Israel. The different positions can be broken down into three distinct outlooks:
  1. National Israel and ethnic Jews play no further "special" role in God's redemptive plan. We hope for a massive conversion of Jews to Christianity, but all God's promises to the Jews were either (a) fulfilled, (b) void because they were conditional promises and the Jews, through apostasy, did not need meet the conditions, or (c) are fulfilled or will be fulfilled in the new Israel, the New Testament church.

  2. A second view, very similar to the first, except that it views a massive conversion of Jews to Christianity as a promise. It can be anticipated with certainty, not just hope. This view also holds that the church is the new Israel.

  3. God will fulfill all promises to the Jews with the ethnic Jews. The church is not the new Israel. God has major redemptive work left with the Jews distinct from His dealings with the Gentile church.

The Rapture

All views agree that there will be a rapture, where living believers are caught up in the air with our returning Lord. Most see it as occurring coincident with the visible Second Coming. One view (dispensational premillennialism) anticipates the rapture seven years before the visible Second Coming in what has been described (by opponents and proponents to the view) as a secret second coming that precedes the Second Coming.

Imminence of Christ's Return

Views differ on whether they believe that Christ's return is imminent, completely unpredictable, or most likely quite far off. Belief in the imminent return of Christ is nothing new. Every generation has had groups of devout Christians (including such luminaries as Martin Luther) that looked around at political and social conditions (and at contemporary antichrist candidates such as the Pope, the Papacy itself, the Turkish Empire, Hitler, etc.) and declared that the end is near. Many today believe the end is near. I don’t, but I hope they are right. 6 Still, it is a fair question to ponder for those who hold that view: Why do you suppose every generation was wrong, but this one is right?

What is to be taken literally?

No consistent view of the end-times has ever been developed that takes all relevant scripture literally. It is a question of which passages are taken literally and which are viewed as symbolic. Dispensationalism prides itself on viewing all prophetic text literally. For example, consider this snippet from the Olivet discourse: "Immediately after the distress of those days " 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' (Matt. 24:29) Dispensationalists take this passage literally, and look for the tribulation to include the astronomical calamities as described. Other views hold that such apocalyptic writing is never meant to be taken literally, and is merely symbolic of the unleashing of God’s wrath. On the other hand, the same Olivet discourse includes timeline references, such as: I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matt. 24:34). Dispensationalists (and others) view "this generation" as meaning something other that its literal interpretation, since they believe the events described have yet to occur some two thousand years after Christ made this prophetic utterance. Others take the "this generation" literally. (You’ll have to wait to see how that works out.)

Outlook for human history

In short, one view is optimistic about the future of human history (postmillennialism) while the other views vary from very to moderately pessimistic. Also under this heading is the question of the extent of human involvement in the advent of the millennium. How much will God employ human efforts? A view that expects a sudden, catastrophic rapture has a very different answer to this question from one that looks for a gradual strengthening of the Church leading to a golden age of Christian world domination. And within the latter view, there is a question of whether humans should push for political change—kind of bringing in the millennium through the ballot box (theonomy and reconstructionism) or just concentrate on evangelistic activities.

The Antichrist

Views will differ as to whether there is or will be a single person identifiable as the antichrist who has yet to appear on the scene, or whether the antichrist is an institution (the papacy has been a favorite candidate). Finally there is the view that the antichrist has already come and gone (usually, in this view, identified as Nero.) Somewhat related is the question of whether Satan is presently bound (restricted from deceiving the nations), will be bound before the Second Coming, or not bound until the Second Coming. All views agree that at the end of the millennium there will be an increased apostasy and Satan will be loosed for a while.

The Seventieth Week of Daniel

We have talked about this a little already. Views differ on the literality of the prophecy, and whether the seventieth week (c.f. Dan 9:27) is contiguous with the first 69 weeks and, more dramatically, whether it is a Messianic prophesy or a portent of the antichrist.

The Day of the Lord

Questions of the meaning of this phrase will arise. In the Old Testament, the phrase "the day of the Lord" is always associated with the terrible appearance of God’s wrath: Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. (Is. 13:6) For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near- a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. (Ezek. 30:3) The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD . (Joel 2:31) "The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (Obadiah 1:15) Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD ! Why do you long for the day of the LORD ? That day will be darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18) "The great day of the LORD is near- near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. (Zeph 1:14) "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Mal 4:5) And in the New Testament: The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. (Acts 2:20) for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Th. 5:2) not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (2 Th. 2:2) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Pet. 3:10)

The question that we face is what, especially (but not exclusively) in terms of New Testament prophecy, is the Day of the Lord? Is it the rapture? The Second Coming? The final judgment? the destruction of Jerusalem? Armageddon? Or does it refer to different events.

5 This argument is based on a self-published tract called The Millennium by Pastor John L. Bray. 6 Okay, here is a confession. Last year when I taught Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I believed I was right (after all, who doesn't believe they are right?) and I hoped I was right, for I see nothing but hopelessness and despair in the Arminian view. However, for this class while I still think I am right, I hope I am wrong, because I would welcome an immanent rapture that instantly ended our earthly struggles.