Monday, December 03, 2018

Scientists 64%, Regular Folk 6%

The data, from Religion vs. Science, What Religious People Really Think, by Elaine Howard Ecklund:

The striking result: 64% of scientists are atheist or agnostic, as compared to 6% of the general population of the US (let's call them regular folk).

Effect 1:  Scientists are smarter than regular folk and trained to think critically, and therefore much more likely to see through all the superstitious nonsense.

Effect 2:  God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).  This produces the same trend as Effect 1, but intentionally and supernaturally. It's a feature, not a bug.

Effect 3:  The percentages for regular folk who are believers is greatly exaggerated by cultural, peer, and familial pressure to affirm Christianity. Scientists, (at least in part because of their egos) are much more immune to these pressures. If everyone were honest regarding their faith, the results for scientists and regular folk would be much, much closer.

I have nothing other than a gut feeling to go by, but I think the answer is an admixture of Effect 2 and Effect 3, with Effect 3 being non-negligible if not dominant.

Peter can dish it out, too!

Most of us are fascinated, perhaps even in a puerile manner, at Paul's rebuke of Peter at Antioch as recorded in Gal. 2:11-21.

But let us not forget that Peter could dish it out as well. In fact, Peter gives perhaps the strongest rebuke recorded in the New Testament.  It comes in his second sermon as recorded in Acts 3:11-25 (his first being the Pentecost sermon.)

The segue into the sermon is the healing of the man who was lame from birth (
 “He went walking and leaping and praising God” ). Later the man came and clung to Peter and John. This was a normal human response, not a theological statement. The man’s theology was solid: He praised God, not the apostles.

The people who converged on the scene, and who were aware that a man who was lame from birth was now ready for So you think you can Horah? were understandably amazed and ready to lavish Peter and John with praise. Here Peter begins the crescendo of his sharp rebuke. “Why are you amazed?” Peter asks, which he means rhetorically, otherwise the correct response would have been “well, duh!”

Peter then tells them why they should not have been amazed, and he does so with Holy Spirit inspired genius.  He begins by compactifying (as opposed to scripture quoting) the Old Testament in a way that would have been far more striking to his audience than it is to us. (Well, to me anyway.) Peter begins with:
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus,
Peter identifies Jesus first by his association with Yahweh, but the specific description he attaches is not Son or King or Prophet but servant. This is a clear reference to Isaiah 53, and would have been the same as simply saying the Messiah, but the teacher in me appreciates that Peter's approach was pedagogically superior.  Perhaps for those too dense to connect the obvious dots, Peter throws in more Old Testament messianic titles: the Holy One and the Righteous One.

Then comes the culmination of the rebuke. Peter informs them that it was not he and, but rather this Jesus, the very Messiah, whose power, manifested through faith, healed the lame man.  But Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on: And you know what? You killed him. Pilate wanted to free him and yet you chose a murderer over the Messiah.

Ouch. That would deflate anyone’s balloon.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Apostate and Racist was No Way for a Christian to Go Through Life

I would prefer the lead-in “Long time readers of this blog know…” but even though this is one of the original Christian blogs -1 the only long time reader is me.

So I’ll start differently: You may not know this about me, but I have a rational (I think) dislike for a certain school of theology and yet, mostly to my shame, that dislike manifests itself irrationally in the form of bug-eyed anger complete with uncontrolled spittle spray. I’m speaking of theonomy in all its virulent forms: reconstructionism, dominionism, etc. 1 It pains me all the more because the purveyors of this monstrous viewpoint (I am very tempted to use the label heresy), at least the intellectual firepower, tend to be of the reformed camp. While (thankfully) the leaders were/are mainly Presbyterian and not Reformed Baptists 2, the “useful idiots” of the movement are a ragtag ecumenical group of the religious right 3 who think God is waiting for us to create the perfect Christian nation suitable for the Parousia.

If you know anything about Christian Reconstructionism, you’ll know the father of modern movement is R. J. Rushdoony, and it lives on (although, as far as I can tell dwindling) in the likes Kenneth Gentry and the neo-confederate (and disgrace to Reformed Theology) Douglas Wilson. (And ditto for his bosom pal and southern-slavery champion Steve Wilkins.)  4

So that is the background.

Today I followed the retweet of a friend who has a biblical name that starts with the letter P5 and that led me to a fascinating article by Bradley Mason that examines the response to articles published in 1964 (the apex of the civil rights movement in the U.S.) in a conservative, reformed Presbyterian journal by Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, a black Presbyterian minister. Rev. Oliver makes an reasoned, impassioned, theological argument against segregation. The responses in the form of letters to the editor were, for the most part, quite ugly. Including one from R. J. Rushdoony:
The Presbyterian Guardian this year shows signs of outdoing the UPUSA Presbyterian Life in its social gospel preaching. The racist articles of C. Herbert Oliver are examples of this. There are two kinds of racism. First, there is the exaltation of one race above others as inherently virtuous, divine, great, or the like. Second, there is the exaltation of humanity as a race and a demand that we identify ourselves with all men as one people. Oliver is of this second type. He asks us so to exalt humanity, and states, “The truly secure personality has identified with all creation and with God through Christ.”
Rushdoony's nonsensical argument (pardon the redundancy) is quite repulsive. He conflates actual racism (what he calls the first kind) with non-racism. He actually had the gall to call the idea "that we identify ourselves with all men as one people" racist, in a transparent and crude attempt to take the moral high ground while simultaneously wallowing in the mire.

Why am I not surprised? Shame on anyone who is sympathetic to the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony.

-1 The first He Lives post was from May 8, 2002, when the intertubes were newly laid and a mere few months after Tom Brady won his first super bowl.

1 The set of non-virulent forms of theonomy (in the New Testament era) is the null set.

2 This is due partly (I think) to nuanced differences in the covenant theology of Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists, and primarily (I think) due to the glorious (though sometimes forgotten) Baptist history of supporting the separation of church and state, if not an outright claim to have invented the idea, at least in the western world. (See, for example, One Cool Baptist.)

3 By religious right I mean that group led by people like Ralph Reed and the late Jerry Falwell. They made/make American politics into an idol. They are a degenerate subgroup of politically conservative Christians, most of whom know that their Christianity trumps their politics, not vice-versa. If you are willing to ignore Christian principles and values just to have a conservative elected, even one who dubiously claims the title "Christian"--then you might be in that subgroup. Get some help.

4 See (if you have a strong stomach) Southern Slavery, As It Was, by Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins. Of the book, we are told: It explains Scripture's defense of a form of slavery against evangelicals who are embarrassed by it. Charming. One excerpt, speaking glowingly of the Confederacy: “There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world” (p. 24). 

5 If you guessed Peter or Paul I won't call you a misogynist, I'll just assume you were rationally playing the odds. However the secular world would will call you a misogynist for playing the obvious odds--so be careful out there!

The Old Testament, Evangelism, and Sovereignty (Remix)

There are times (less frequent) when I have neglect the Old Testament. I usually don't know that I am neglecting it—and I am always prepared, with an air of righteous superiority, to admonish those Marcion-esque Christians who mistakenly think that it can be set aside. But I usually don't look at it with the same critical eye that I look at the New Testament. The Old Testament is full of really cool stories of prophets and battles and fatso kings receiving a razor sharp "message from God" in their ample gut, but the New Testament, so I imagined, was where God’s sovereignty in salvation was fully revealed.

Now, in truth I knew that there were famous passages in the Old Testament that unambiguously teach of God’s sovereign election. In fact, probably no single verse summarizes the doctrine better than Exodus 33:19 when God proclaims that He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom he will have compassion. (Them's the rules, take it or leave it.) Nevertheless, such passages, I always believed, were isolated nuggets compared to the unceasing proclamation of God’s sovereignty in election found in the gospels (especially John’s) and the Pauline corpus (especially the theological tome known as the epistle to the Romans.)

Of course this is simply not true.

In systematically going through the Old Testament one finds the strong, Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty appearing all over the place, typically in verses that, in the past, I tended to gloss over because they were inconvenient for a superficial explanation of the complete passage.

For example, consider the boy Samuel and his first encounter with the voice of God, after his mother Hannah placed him in the service of the priest Eli at the temple. We pick up the action as Samuel (just a boy) is preparing for bed.
6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. (1 Sam 3:6-9)
The usual explanation of this passage is this: Samuel heard God speaking, but he thought it was his surrogate father, the priest Eli. After Eli told him that it was God calling, then Samuel was prepared to accept that the voice was God’s.

Like in most cases when the causal role of God’s sovereignty is neglected, we end of interpreting everything backwards.

The key to this passage is the glossed-over verse seven: Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. This verse explains why Samuel did not recognize God’s voice: not because he hadn’t prepared himself, and not because Eli hadn’t yet advised him, but because God hadn’t yet opened Samuel’s eyes.

This is the perfect model/paradigm for evangelism. Eli instructed/evangelized (as he should). God used Eli's evangelism to give Samuel context for what He (God) was about to do with or without Eli. Samuel's testimony would likely credit Eli (in human terms) and God (in theological terms.)

God ordains the ends and the means. Just like, although we know better, we often talk about someone or some event that led us to Christ, Samuel (especially as a boy) might well have believed that it was Eli’s instruction that opened his eyes. It wasn’t. Sometime after God’s third call to Samuel, maybe even at the instant Eli instructed him, God opened Samuels eyes—at that moment the LORD was revealed.

Why not just open Samuel’s eyes without employing Eli? Well, part of the reason is that it surely pleases God to use men (in their free will) to carry out pieces of His plan. That is why, even as fiercely Calvinistic Christians, we are to evangelize with the zeal of the Arminians. But a wise lady in our church once pointed out another (though not entirely unrelated) reason: it was for Eli’s benefit. Eli was much more inclined to accept Samuel’s subsequent prophecy given the chain of events, as opposed to the boy Samuel coming to him out of the blue with the news that God had been chatting with him at bedtime. (That’s especially true given that Samuel’s first prophecy was devastating to Eli and his house.)

This symmetric-benefit also applies to everyday evangelism. If we evangelize someone who accepts Christ, how much greater is the bond, how much better, I ask rhetorically, the chance for carrying out the great commission and discipling the convert? (The Great Commission calls on us to be pediatricians, not obstetricians.)

In the New Testament we find a very similar passage when the risen Jesus encounters two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:13-16)
Once we start looking for it, God’s sovereignty is apparent just about everywhere in scripture. We don’t really (and truly) hear God’s call unless He first enables our eyes and ears. Just to finish the story of the two disciples and how our knowing God requires not dedication from us but a divine act, we read later in the same chapter of Luke
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they [the two disciples] urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31)
The story of Samuel and the story of the two disciples are microcosms of the gospel. We cannot convince ourselves that we need to repent and accept Christ, and only then receive the gift of a new heart and eternal life—no we must receive the gift first—without which we are as clueless as the boy Samuel and the two disciples.

In terms of internet evangelizing, especially in the scientific community, one often encounters the view (from the atheist):

I have studied the bible, and it is utter nonsense. Only the weak-minded could accept such a load of crap.

Now of course the real explanation is:

God has not revealed Himself to you, therefore you will continue and perhaps even prosper in your arrogance and ignorance.

In truth, we must agree that both explanations (the atheist’s and the Calvinist’s) fit the data. A third (Arminian Christian) explanation is the one that is somewhat muddled:

You (not God) have not yet done “something” to yourself. Exactly what is not entirely clear, but it involves the impossibilities of accepting something you don’t believe, and repenting from things for which you have no desire to repent. You must do these impossible things, on your own, at least to a certain imprecisely defined degree, and then God will act upon you.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Christians: Don't. Do. This.

Sigh. Today every physics faculty member in our university received the same correspondence from an M.D (it’s almost always an M.D. or an engineer) attempting to convince us that all of modern science is bunk and the universe is young.1 Some of his arguments were rehashed (and thoroughly refuted) arguments from Henry Morris, Ken Ham, and Ken Hovind. And some are so bad that they are even (no kidding) in Answers in Genesis’ list of arguments its followers should not make—because even AIG recognizes them as “not even wrong.” 2

Here is one example of Dr. [REDACTED]’s argumentation:
P1: Modern science, in this case the Big Bang Model, claims the universe is 14byo.
P2: The Hubble Space Telescope  (HST) can see 14bly away.
P3: You can turn the HST around and see 14bly in the opposite direction.
P4: That is 14+14=28bly, or twice the age of the universe according to the Big Bang!
C: The Big Bang is wrong!
How could we not have foreseen that obvious problem!

It is not bad to wonder about such things, or to ask a “dumb question” if you are not familiar with the Big Bang. (Although one should ask such questions, as we all should when asking out of our own expertise, humbly.)  His question (notice how P4 mixes up distance and age) would be relevant if the model of the Big Bang was what many incorrectly envision: a traditional explosion in empty space, often with the earth at or near the center of this explosion, and the other galaxies riding the shock wave of this explosion away from us at high speed, perhaps even at the speed of light.

But anyone who spends three minutes on Google (or fifteen minutes on Bing) can learn the answer to this “conundrum” including the overwhelming observational evidence in support of the accepted explanation. The Big Bang was not a conventional explosion in otherwise empty space, for there was no empty space, it was the explosion of space itself. The galaxies are not moving away from us at high speed in the classic definition of moving i.e., through space. The galaxies, in fact, are relatively stationary, but space is expanding (at an accelerating rate!) between us and the other galaxies giving them the illusion of moving at high speed in the traditional sense. Space has expanded so much that the visible universe surrounding us has a radius of about 46.5bly. We can see things that are more than three times numerically bigger  (in light years) that the universe is old (in years.)

This would all be amusing if it wasn’t clear that the Doc was a Christian with a misguided Christian agenda. I would have no problems with atheistic colleagues criticizing Christians for what they perceive as superstitious foolishness. That is to be expected. But when we hand them fodder to criticize us for being scientifically ignorant—and even worse we present as arrogant and smug in our incompetence—then we give them a juicy target against which I can offer no defense.

Atheists can't hurt Christianity. Only Christians can hurt Christianity.

1 This post is not a rant against YECism. It is a rant against the anti-science ignorance found in some YECs. I have no problem (just an in-the-family disagreement) with YECs who hold to a young earth because they believe that is what the bible unambiguously teaches, and they don't give a rat's derriere what science has to say in the matter. Fair enough. But I do have a problem with those YECs who try to distort science to make it support their theology.

2 One such argument (and the Dr. makes it) is that evolution violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Even AIG recognizes this old canard as unsupportable. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Imago Dei

We are made in the image of God. Actually in the image and likeness. (Everyone always forgets the likeness part.)
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen 1:26) 
Even before discussing what the image of God might mean (and there is no universal agreement) we see that this passage implies a three-tiered ordering.

We are made in the image and likeness of God. As wonderful as that is (we must assume, even without knowing precisely what we're dealing with) it certainly implies we are creatures, not God. The image is not the real thing. In the Greek, we are said to be icons of God. I like that.

Nevertheless we are imago dei and the animal kingdom is not. So there is a definite hierarchy, and while it would take the mother of all semi-log plots to represent it, the ordering is 1) God 2) Humanity and 3) The Animal Kingdom.

I am always struck by a routine inconsistency in certain corners of the secular world—those who say than man is just another unexceptional species in the animal kingdom while simultaneously demanding that man should behave in a profoundly exceptional way and avoid killing other animals for food.

The Christian viewpoint is that man is exceptional among the creatures and has dominion over them—while simultaneously acknowledging that the animals (and indeed the earth itself) is a sort of trust fund set up by God in our name, and some will answer for polluting and abusing it,  but not for simply using it. That's what it's there for. This view, unlike the secular view mentioned earlier, is at the very least non-contradictory.

So in Genesis 1 we are made in the image (and likeness) of God. Does that survive the fall? It does. In the fallen world of Genesis 9 we read of the establishment of the principle that murder is a capital offense:
Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed for in the image of God has God made mankind. (Gen 9:6) 
This gives the allegedly contradictory (but in reality, not) instruction that human life is so precious that anyone who takes a life (through murder) is to forfeit his own. And why is that so? Because man—even fallen man—still bears the image of God. It wasn’t lost in the fall. There was much that was lost in the fall, but imago dei survived.

So what does it mean to be in the image of God? I don’t know. I think I know what it doesn’t mean. I don’t think it’s a syllogistic fallacy to say the imago dei exceptionalism of man means that traits we share with higher animals are probably not “image of God” traits. And in higher animals I believe we see volition, love, devotion, compassion, language, tool making, and grief. In my opinion imago dei must be something else. Something related to holiness.

Meh. That just shifts the question to “what is holiness?” I don’t know that, either. I actually don't know much about anything.

Back to where we started.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Say it in Holy Tones: "It is NOT about our salvation!

I hear this often: It’s not about you or us. It’s not about our salvation. (Generally spoken with a real or imagined air of moral superiority.) It is about glorifying God.

Sorry, that is incorrect.

Now I get it, I do. But it is semantically incorrect. That is, if the “It’s” refers to the meaning of the whole shebang. Because you see, although the catechism is correct when it teaches that our chief aim is glorifying God—it is speaking narrowly and locally of our aim, not of God’s aim. And really, it is stating the obvious, because the only arrow in our quiver is to try (and generally fail)  to glorify God. We have nothing to do with or contribute to our salvation, so yes, in that sense it is not about our salvation. In that sense it can’t be.

But in the bigger sense, in the global sense, it is about our salvation. The Nicene Creed nails it when it states:

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.

Bingo. If you, like I do, believe the Nicene Creed is supportable through scripture—well then there you have it. It is about our salvation.