Friday, April 28, 2006

Watch for the Big One

About as month ago, I suggested that if you are not a NASCAR fan, you should still try watching the race at Bristol.

This week NASCAR is at another very special venue, the 2.66 mile super-speedway at Talladega. This is another track with special features that make for racing that’s not merely exciting, it’s nail-biting.

Normally, super-speedway tracks (tracks longer than one mile) can lead to the kind of racing that only true fans can appreciate: cars get spread-out and there are long green-flag runs with no spectacular crashes. You need to know something about the strategies being employed and the personalities of the drivers or else you end-up asking “what’s up with watching these cars go round and round?”

Talladega is not like that. You do not need to have an appreciation for the cerebral subtleties of NASCAR to enjoy this race. Talladega is a time bomb. Talladega gives the drivers the heebie-jeebies. They all worry about being caught-up in the “big one”, a Talladega-signature crash of Old Testament proportions involving fifteen or twenty cars.

Why does the racing at Talladega almost always result in at least one spectacular multi-car pileup?

It’s a safety feature.

With the long straight-aways and high banking, the drivers would simply floor it. They would never need to ease off the gas let alone actually break. The 800 HP racecars would reach speeds of about 215 mph. This is too dangerous. Crashing at these speeds, drivers would be more likely to sustain severe injuries or death. Even worse: car parts are more likely to end-up in the grandstands, putting those annoying spectators at risk.

The solution: at two tracks, Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR requires the cars to have a restrictor plate, a low tech thin aluminum plate that fits between carburetor and the intake manifold. This limits the amount of air that can enter the engine, and less air produces less horsepower and lower speeds. (NASCAR cars are a cool blend of high and low tech—they still have carburetors!)

So the cars get slowed down to top speeds in the 185 mph range. The cars are easier to drive, and the safety equipment, including containment for fan-protection, is reliable at these speeds.

However, something like the law-of-unintended consequences rears its ugly head. The first effect of the restrictor plates is that it lessens the speed variances among the cars. This tends to cause closer racing, and hence more crashes, but it is not the big effect. Even with restrictor plates, the routinely fast cars will still be faster than the routinely slow cars.

The big effect is this: at these “reduced” speeds drivers trust their skill to draft the car in front. They get really close—even slightly bumping the car in front. Because of the aerodynamics, groups of packed-cars will run faster than any single car.

So what happens?

You get these massive packs of cars, sometimes all the cars in the race, running around the track, sometimes three-wide (meaning they are not just packed back-to-back, but side-to-side-to-side). Three wide racing at any track is exciting, but Talladega takes it to a new level.

See the problem? Suppose you have thirty cars closely packed moving around the track at 185 mph. Now suppose someone in the third row spins out. The twenty or so cars behind him have no place to go resulting in the massive pile-up known affectionately as the “big one.”

The only reason there aren’t multiple big-ones is that the first one usually takes out a good fraction of the field.

The only sure-fire way to avoid the big one is to be up front. Sometimes cars will try to stay back—but that is risky for other reasons. Even if you have the fastest car, if you end up alone, the pack will race around and catch you. For this reason, nobody ever pits alone at Talladega—or else you’ll find yourself with no drafting partner when you reenter the track.

Another dynamic of the drafting is that there are two classes of drivers—those the elite drivers trust as drafting partners, and those they don’t—which usually includes rookies. You see this effect this way: a car pulls out of line to go three wide. If he is a trusted driver, another car will pull out of line and get behind him. In this way they can pass cars and head to the front. If it is an untrusted driver who pulls out first, it’s possible that nobody will follow, and he’ll be hung high and dry without a drafting partner. It is easy to lose ten, even twenty positions this way.

The other cool effect is near the end of the race. By this time, a lot of cars will be out. Now people have to make deals, often with bitter enemies. Teams will get on the radio to other teams looking for drafting partners. Of course, one of the partners will be behind the other, and so you are essentially agreeing to push the car in front on to victory, relegating yourself to second place at best. These deals are as good as the paper they are written on. One car will make a promise, start pushing his partner as promised, only to pull out at any moment he senses it’s to his advantage.

Last year, the big-one was especially delightful. About ten or fifteen of the crashed cars came to a stop in a massive heap at the top of one of the curves. They only stopped for and instant, then gravity took over and the whole multi-million dollar junkyard slid down the banking. Very cool!

So watch. And then, if you still don’t like NASCAR, you truly are unsalvageable. (Although you still may want to give the race at Dover a try.) If God hadn't intended NASCAR to be fun, he wouldn't have given us pit road fights!

Last week's winner: the 29 car driven by Kevin Harvick.

Fact apropos nothing: racecar, a Toyota racecar is a palindrome

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Book Signing

   Sunday, April 30, from 1:00 - 4:00 pm

   Barnes and Noble,
   235 Daniel Webster Hwy,
   Nashua, NH


A comment from Sylvia on my post about transubstantiation:
I hope you don't mean that Christ is only spiritually present in the communion elements, but that his body is up in heaven. That would be Nestorianism.
This is an old charge against the reformers, that they--through denying transubstantiation--were Nestorian.

(Nestorius, for whom Nestorianism is named, became bishop of Constantinople in AD 428. He stressed Christ's manhood to the extent that there were two distinct personalities--one divine and one human--within the same living consciousness. The litmus test of Nestorianism was an interesting one: whether or not you were willing to grant Mary the title theotokos, or "she who gave birth to the child who is God," or more informally, "Mary, Mother of God." Nestorius and his followers were unwilling to grant Mary that title, arguing that she bore only the human half of the duality.)

Regardless of the truth of the belief that Christ is present spiritually (only) in the elements, it is not Nestorianism. It says nothing whatsoever about the incarnation. One can affirm that Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God while also affirming that Christ can be and is present among us today, spiritually (Matt. 8:28). And that spiritual presence is real and substantive. It is not anything like when one person says to another, "I'll be with you in spirit" which really means "I won't be with you at all."

This is not the way to argue for transubstantiation--by asserting that its denial is Nestorianism. For it implies a perverted view of the incarnation and of Christ in heaven. It presupposes that Jesus' omnipresence has been lost--that his deity was and continues to be a prisoner of his physical body.

Such a view would mean that Christ cannot intervene in our lives, unless he does so bodily.

Jesus forever was and forever will be fully God. He was and is omnipresent. As with God the Father, this does not mean that he is uniformly diluted so that He is in a rock the same way he is in heaven. It means that (a) that he is fully aware of everything that is happening, everywhere and anytime, and (b) he can intervene with anything that is happening--which means that He is not in all places "equally". His presence is manifested more deeply (and typically, spiritually) when and where He is pleased to do so, either in dispensing grace or in dispensing wrath. Although he is always present, he can be more present, by being involved, at certain times. One of these times should be when we come to His table. It might mean transubstantiation, or it might mean a far keener spiritual presence.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Creationists Against ID

There is a downright amazing article in Christianity Today about creationist opposition to ID.

(Note: In this post, anytime I use the word “creationism” or “creationists” I am referring to classic young earth creationism: i.e., the affirmation that the earth is ~10,000 years old, and the creation account in Genesis spanned 144 normal hours.)

I’ll give more details in a bit, but the gist of the story is that creationists, represented by AiG’s Ken Ham, are worried about ID using its scientific façade to draw believers away from a hyper-literal (young earth) interpretation of Genesis. They view ID as a serious attack on the faith of believers.

Interestingly, evolutionists are constantly saying that ID is creationism—so how do they explain the fact that creationist superstars such as Ham attack ID? I don’t know—some of them are so paranoid that they probably view Ham’s broadside as a clever ploy, just more scheming from the theocracy-seeking conspiracy.

Ham argues first that ID is the son of creationism:
"I don't think the ID movement would be where it is even now if it was not for the general creation movement," says Ken Ham, president of AiG. "They're riding on the coattails of the creation movement."
Alas, it’s a wayward son, one that is too wise in the ways of the world:
"So you've got this group that's not about the Bible," says Ham. "You've got the secular press saying this is just a way to get the Bible back in the schools, because many of the Christians who think ID is great think it is a way to get the Bible back into schools. [At the same time] the ID movement's trying to divorce themselves from that saying it's not [about the Bible]. The secular press is saying yes it is. And many of the Christians who are behind them are really doing it because they are Christians.”
And according to Terry Mortenson, an AiG lecturer and researcher:
”Most if not all of the ID books are published by evangelical Christian publishers, which are marketing to an evangelical audience. And our concern is that [although] in those books there are good design arguments, there are statements sprinkled in them implying or stating openly that Genesis isn't important… We're concerned about the influence it's having on the church…causing Christians to not be concerned about what Genesis says "
When I parse these quotes (it’s not always easy) this is what I read: Ham and Mortenson are (a) agreeing with the secular ID critics that ID is a Trojan Horse for creationism but (b) so much of the bible (actually, Genesis hyper-literalism) has been discarded to make ID palatable, and so many concessions have been made to package ID as scientific, that ID itself is now a challenge to Christianity.

Ken Ham has this intriguing comment:
This can weaken Christians' faith, says Ham. "Those of us who believe in a literal Genesis have a history, a history concerning the Fall, a history concerning the Flood. So when we look at this world, we're looking at a fallen world. It's not God's fault there are tsunamis. … Death is not God's fault." However, by only discussing an unnamed designer, Ham says, flaws in creation must be attributed to that designer.
It's an interesting point, and one that I've never pondered, that ID presents a serious theological challenge to the doctrine of Original Sin.

I have to mention one final quote from Ham:
"What good is it if people believe in intelligence?" says Ham. "That's no different than atheism in that if it's not the God of the Bible, it's not Jesus Christ, its not salvation."
I will say this: other than agreeing that the bible is the inerrant word of God and that Christ is our Lord and Savior, I’m not sure whether I have ever been aligned with Ken Ham on anything. For example, his advice to elementary school students to challenge their teachers with “excuse me, were you there?” when they (teachers) advocate the Big-Bang is asinine. (Not to mention that it teaches Christian children to behave in an impertinent manner.) However, on that last quote, I break precedent and offer a hearty amen.

Let me summarize what I see as the three major players in this debate:
  • The IDers argue that the scientific evidence points to design, but says nothing about the identity of the designer. Therefore ID is not creationism and deserves serious treatment as a scientific theory.

  • The humanists argue that ID is just creationism covered by a veneer of scientific language in an attempt to make it acceptable.

  • The creationists argue that ID has forgotten its first love, a hyper-literal interpretation of Genesis, and has become, because of its meteoric rise, too full of itself. As such, it is doing more harm than good.
Of course, there is a fourth point of view, admittedly not too popular, which goes like this:

Ken Ham is correct on one point. ID has its roots, if not in creationism, then at least in theism. However, he is wrong about almost everything else. In particular, naturalism (science) is not a threat to biblical Christianity. The very thought is absurd—that science could somehow be a challenge to scriptural truth. Science is how we study God’s creation: it cannot possibly divert anyone away from God—it can only lead them to God or leave them without excuse. Science, like history and archeology, should be embraced by Christians—not feared or treated as minions of the antichrist.

IDers are correct: science is a good (and holy) pursuit.

Creationists are correct: design that does not proclaim God as the designer is pointless.

The answer: Christians who are scientists should do science the same way as their atheistic colleagues. They should then turn to the churches, and to the youth groups, and to seminars, and to debates, and to the high-school and college clubs, and to unbelievers—and discuss how the amazing discoveries of science point to a creator God whose name is Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 8)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


The key to understanding Rome’s teaching on the Mass, a topic we began in the previous lesson, is to appreciate the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Recall Trent proclaimed: [If anyone] denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

This is what they mean:

The bread completely changes into the whole body of Christ. There is no “breadness” left. It is not bread that symbolizes the body of Christ, it is even real bread conjoined mysteriously co-joined with the body of Christ, it is wholly and only the actual body of Christ. Yes it still looks like bread—the appearances of the elements are unchanged—but the appearances (and the taste) are “ac cidentals” that have nothing to do with the substance of the element.

Again, from Trent:
The most Holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the other sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in it this excellent and peculiar characteristic, that the other sacraments then first have the power of sanctifying when one uses them, while in the Eucharist there is the Author Himself of sanctity before it is used. For the Apostles had not yet received the Eucharist from the hands of the Lord, when He Himself told them that what He was giving them is His own body. This has always been the belief of the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body and the true blood of our Lord, together with His soul and divinity exist under the form of bread and wine, the body under the form of bread and the blood under the form of wine ex vi verborum; but the same body also under the form of wine and the same blood under the form of bread and the soul under both, in virtue of that natural connection and concomitance whereby the parts of Christ the Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are mutually united; also the divinity on account of its admirable hypostatic union with His body and soul. Wherefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either form as under both For Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread and under any part of that form; likewise the whole Christ is present under the form of wine and under all its parts.
Here we find a detailed expression of Transubstantiation, including the key to its meaning. Three important claims from Catholic dogma:
  1. The transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus goes all the way back to the Final Supper. When Jesus broke and consecrated the bread it was transformed into His body—even though He was standing there.

  2. This has always been the belief of the Church. While we won’t bother, as we did for the case of the papacy, to demonstrate that this most certainly was not the belief of the early church, we can rest assured of that fact. Elsewhere it is claimed that this will always be the teaching of the Church—and so in effect it is an unfixable doctrinal error.

  3. Trent went out of its way to emphasize that all of Christ is present in each element. That, in spite of the way scripture clearly identifying the bread with the body and the wine with the blood—both elements become the body and blood of Christ. The reason for this was to justify the practice of withholding the cup from laity—for they spilled it they were spilling the very blood of Christ and cleansing rituals needed to be performed. On the other hand, the laity did not want to miss out on the blood—hence the neat solution.
Point 1, that Christ offered up His own body and blood is emphasized later by Trent:
But since Christ our Redeemer declared that to be truly His own body which He offered under the form of bread, it has, therefore, always been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy council now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.
Scriptural Basis

As you may have anticipated, the scriptural support claimed by Rome for the doctrine of Transubstantiation comes, in large part from John’s gospel:
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:52-58)
Everyone has their favorite passages that simply must be taken hyper-literally. This is one that Rome places in that category. The Catholic Church claims that the plain teaching here is that we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ in order to inherit eternal life. Evangelicals, according to Rome, have no basis for spiritualizing this passage and seeing the bread as a metaphor for Christ and the “eating” as a metaphor for believing.

It is helpful, in trying to decide of the passage in question should be taken literally or spiritually, to look through John 6 and see the variety of ways the Apostle teaches us that we may have eternal life. We find:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:47)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54)
In these four passages, John describes three ways to obtain eternal life:
  1. Believe in Him
  2. Drawn by the Father
  3. Eats His Flesh and Drinks His Blood
Now there are several possibilities, such as:
  1. These are three different ways to obtain eternal life, any one of them is sufficient
  2. All three are jointly required
  3. There is only one way to obtain eternal life, and these are three different ways of describing the same thing
Most Christians, Catholics included, would agree that there is one and only one way to obtain eternal life. That one way is by a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Viewed this way, we see that John 6:54 cannot be talking literally about feeding on the actual transubstantiated flesh and blood—those terms are being used metaphorically. Consequently, John 6:54 is of no use in supporting the doctrine of transubstantiation.

The Last Supper

If John 6 is of no use for the doctrine of transubstantiation, what about the Last Supper? Let us read the familiar passage:
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:26-28)
We are reminded that according to Trent even here, at the initiation of the sacrament, the bread and wine were transubstantiated. Rome also teaches that Paul’s words supports their view:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1. Cor 11:23-31)
Keeping in mind that we have already demonstrated that Christ’s references to partaking of His flesh and blood in John 6 cannot be taking literally, to prove the Catholic position we must examine these passages on their own without calling on John 6:53 for backup.

We shall ask two questions. Does the blood Jesus (and Paul) speak of refer to the liquid in the cup, or the blood Christ shed on the Cross? And do Jesus and Paul seem to consistently—beyond a the single reference (in each case) that Rome takes literally—refer to the bread and wine as actual flesh and blood?

As for the first question, we argue that the blood Jesus speaks of is properly understood as the blood of the new covenant—which is specifically tied to the blood Jesus shed on the cross, and never to the wine he transformed at the Last Supper. If the Apostles didn’t get it then, they surely would have remembered and understood Jesus’ words after his bloody crucifixion.

The book of the bible that is most damaging to the Catholic teaching of the mass is the book of Hebrews.
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:12)

25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:25-28)
Hebrews is quite clear that Christ’s single sacrifice on the cross was sufficient once for all, and that the blood of which we must partake is the blood shed on Calvary.

What of the second question—how do Jesus and Paul refer to the elements after consecration? We see that in Jesus’ initiation of the sacrament (ordinance) and after he allegedly has changed the wine into His own blood, He goes on to say:
I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29)
He does not refer to the liquid in the cup as blood but wine—promising to never drink of again until he drinks with us in His Father’s kingdom.

And what of Paul? After He has consecrated the bread, supposedly transforming it into flesh, he instructs us that for as often as we eat this bread we proclaim the Lord’s coming.

Rome changes both the meaning of the object and the action in Paul’s statement. “As often as we eat this bread we proclaim the Lord’s coming” becomes “As often as we eat this flesh we are sacrificing Christ again for the forgiveness of our sins.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Oldie but Goodie: the answer

The answer is A--the yoyo will wind itself up.

The easiest way to see the answer is to take moments about the point of contact. The weight, the normal, and the friction force all act through the point of contact, so none of them produces a moment--just like pushing on the wrong side of a door won't work. (It doesn't matter if the friction is to the left or right, it still operates through the point C).

The only force producing a moment about C is the tension in the string. In the original drawing, as in Fig. 1, that force clearly creates a moment that causes a clockwise rotation about C. Hence the yoyo rotates clockwise, and winds itself up.

At the critical angle shown in Fig. 2, there are no forces causing moments about C. At the point, the yoyo won't want to to rotate at all--it will tend to lift off the ground or tip over. At angles steeper than the critical angle, the moment from the string will cause a counter-clockwise rotation, and the yoyo will unwind.

You can try this, it works. Just pull gently.

Exercise: show that the critical angle is θC = cos-1 r/R. For the picture I drew, r = 0.5R, so θC = 60°.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Oldie but Goodie

I always loved this physics problem. I first saw it in the University of Chicago's book of problems for the graduate-school comprehensive "qualifying" exam. The reason I like it is that it can be solved with freshman physics.

Here we go. We have a yoyo resting on a horizontal surface. Assume the picture is accurate. Someone pulls gently on the string, as indicated by the arrow. Will the yoyo:

a) Roll right, in the direction of the pull (wind itself up)
b) Roll left (unwind further)
c) Cannot say without the ratio of the inner and outer radii
d) Cannot say without the value for the mass and the coefficient of friction

No credit without an explanation.

MacNeill's Wisdom for the Ages

Give me PZ Myers any day.

With PZ, you get overdoses of vitriol, you get someone who cannot grant another his premise and then argue self-consistency (PZ will argue against the premise itself, which leads to rampant emotionality rather than thoughtful discourse) and someone who quashes dissent while basking in the adoration of his admirers. You get all that, but you also get entertainment, which (in small quantities) makes it all worthwhile.

Take away all PZ’s warts and, it pains me to say, his brains, and what evolutionist are you left with?

I think it might be biologist Allen MacNeill of Cornell, who will teach a course entitled Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature? . The syllabus speaks volumes about MacNeill’s objectivity—notice that he always embeds intelligent design in sneer quotes.

I never heard of MacNeill until I read his comments on a recent Panda’s Thumb thread. MacNeill wrote:

I can’t resist: when my students ask me if I believe in “God”, or (even better) if I believe that “God exists” (or doesn’t), I ask them “Does the United States exist?” Almost always someone takes the bait and says “yes”, and then I ask “Where?” Sometimes they describe the geographical boundaries of the USA, but usually at least one realizes what I’m driving at and says “Yes, it exists as an idea in our heads.” And I commend them, and point out that the United States, like God (or, more properly, the “idea” of God) exists exactly where all ideas exist: in (and only in) the human mind.

By this criterion, therefore, God not only exists (in the same way that the United States and the Democratic Party and the state of Minnesota exist), there are quite literally billions of gods living in the minds of the human inhabitants of this planet right now. Indeed, as many people are quite capable of holding more than one idea (even contradictory ones) about the same subject, the number of possible gods is certainly larger than the number of people who have had, have now, and ever will have such ideas. This is “polytheism” with a vengeance…

Notice that, as Richard Weaver once wrote, “ideas have consequences”, and so the “idea of God=God” identity has consequences for people’s behavior, in the same way that other supernatural ideas (such as the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) have real-world consequences, up to and including killing people in huge, costly, violent, and stupid ways.

So, it is possible to completely disbelieve in the kind of “god” that creationists, most ID theorists, and many mainstream theists believe in (and believe me, I don’t believe in the kinds of “gods” most of them believe in), yet still believe that other people believe in an idea they attach the name of “God” to, and then let that idea actively control their behavior (and let the people who either genuinely or cynically believe in the same idea control their lives for them).

Cornell parents: how much do you pay for such drivel? I have a mental image of MacNeill, writing this, with an immutable smirk stemming from his self-acknowledged cleverness —but in fact undergrad late-night bull-sessions, with which virtually all of us are familiar, produce a better quality of nonsense. Even those not assisted by hallucinogenic fungi. And they’re free.

The scenario that MacNeill paints, at least as I read it , is that through nothing more than the intoxicating proximity of his intellect and his humility (He simply, as he tells us, can’t resist!) he enlightens a few of the peasants.

Bleh. I don’t believe any student interaction ever happened the way MacNeill describes. I categorize this as another “too good to be true” story.

Oh, but lucky for us the erudite MacNeill has deigned to share more insight with the little people:

For a purely naturalistic and anthropological explanation of why people believe in gods, demons, and so forth, check out Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: the Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought”. I served on a panel at a conference with Boyer and found both his arguments and the evidence supporting them quite convincing.

You might also be interested in my own foray into this morass in which I elaborate on Boyer’s explanation, grounding it in what I believe is the most likely candidate for the EEA in which the capacity for religious belief and experience evolved: chronic, low-level intergroup warfare (which archaeological evidence now indicates has been a feature of human existance since the mid-Pleistocene).

Given a choice between PZ saying that believers believe because they are stupid and MacNeill arguing that religion is an evolutionary adaptation to warfare (and warfare an adaptation to religion), I think PZ at least displays the admirable trait of cutting to the chase, while the pedantic MacNeill sets off BS detectors in the next state.

But wait, there’s more—and please appreciate that Cornell students have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for this, and you get it here for free!

Sorry if I gave the impression that most believers equate the “idea of god” with “god”. I do, but most of them don’t. However, I don’t think that most believers in the “traditional” God have thought through just exactly what it is they believe in. Most have a vague idea of some “all powerful force” or “entity” (although if you take the Judeo-Christian bible literally, He’s a big guy with a long white beard who goes out for the occasional spaziergang in the cool of the evening).

That said, ideas are clearly “supernatural” are they not? After all, you can’t cut somebody’s brain open and find “ideas” in there. If ideas have any physical (i.e. natural) reality at all they are simply patterns of action potentials in the central nervous system. Therefore, since ideas are “supernatural”, then the equation

God = the idea of God

is perfectly reasonable as far as I can tell.

As to whether or not ideas can have physical consequences, of course they can. Try crossing the border between the United States and Canada without identification (at an official border crossing, not some creek in northern Vermont) and see if the “imaginary” US and Canadian border officials buy your story about how the two countries only exist in their minds.

After holding court on the PT thread with some of the younger crowd, Mark Perakh enters the scene. Now Perakh, with whom I have disagreed with on a number of occasions (he is anti-ID), is a true scientist—and as such I perceive that MacNeill caused his crapola meter to pin. Perakh writes:
Dr MacNeill, would you please answer the following question: Say, a few years ago a guy named John went to a remote area in Australia and came across a fancy stone half-buried in the ground. Having seen it, he believed that it existed, and, if I understand your thesis, this means the stone in question indeed existed to the extent it existed in his mind. Yesterday John died. There is nobody any longer who ever believed in the existence of that stone, so, according to your thesis, it does not exist as it does not anymore exist in anybody’s mind. I am confused - does that stone exist or not? Say, it does not. If tomorrow some girl by the name of Mary travels to the remote area in question and discovers the stone still in the same place, it will suddenly come into existence, right? So, it existed between the time John saw it and the time of his death, then it did not exist for a while, and then it again came into existence when Mary saw it? Do I misrepresent your thesis? Thanks for clarification and apology if I distorted your thesis.
There is much, much more on the thread although, at least for the moment, Perakh seems (with a follow-up question) to have scared MacNeill away. It’s not as fun when the big boys get out of school.

In MacNeill's last post, at the time of this writing, MacNeill goes Socratic:

Perhaps it would help to ask the following questions:

1) Since, as most of us agree, there is no empirical evidence for the existence of the kind of “god” described in the JCMM Bible/Q’uran/Book of Mormon, why do so many people believe there is? Are people really that gullible, or is there perhaps an innate predispostion to believe in such things? For example, I can suggest to you that you are “hollow” in the back (i.e. only your ventral surface exists; you are built like a Hallowe’en mask), yet this idea is unlikely to catch on with most people. However, a huge majority of the Earth’s human population believes fervently that an invisible human-like entity with super powers controls their lives, and that they will continue to live on after they are dead. Are these two ideas really that different? What makes so many people not believe the first, but believe the second to the point that they will forego reproduction or even kill people and/or commit suicide in support of that belief? Could it perhaps be an innate predisposition to believe in such things as gods?

2) If there is an innate predisposition to believe in such things as gods, what would be the most likely candidate as to the EEA in which such an adaptation evolved? That is, what human activity, pursued assiduously over the past 100,000 years or so, would have caused the greatest assymetry in reproductive success, thereby resulting in the evolution of such a capacity? I believe, based on the work of Atran, Boyer, Betzig, Keely, Kelly, LeBlanc, and others that the answer is warfare. If you don’t think so, then what other human activity would be more likely to provide the evolutionary context within which such a capacity would have evolved?

I stand in awe of his willingness to help.

PZ would say he doesn’t believe in God because he is too smart for such nonsense. MacNeill does not believe in God –or the idea of God—because he has a genetic irregularity—that is he lacks the normal human genetic predisposition for god-belief that he postulates and ascribes to the masses. This genetic superiority no doubt makes him a true god in his own eyes.

Neither PZ nor MacNeill would be receptive to the truth: they don’t believe in God because God (I am speculating based on the evidence) has not regenerated either—and so they lack the moral ability to believe.

That’s the plain truth Dr. MacNeill. It is not that superior breeding has permitted your line to jettison the gullibility gene, it is that you are in a fallen state in which you will never accept God, not because of genetics or cleverness, but because you can’t. And from this state you cannot extricate yourself—though you delude yourself into thinking that there is a materialistic reason for your atheism. It is not religion that, through evolution, has become man’s natural state: atheism or idol worship is man’s natural state, which he will often (like PZ) misinterpret as his own clever choice—but there is no choice. (More precisely: you have an infinity of bad choices to satisfy the appetite of your free will.) Only a supernatural act can resurrect you, allow you to choose God, and then bear witness to the fact that you previous state requires no explanation beyond depravity.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Call for maverick ID bloggers

I have many friends in the ID community. What follows places me at risk of annoying some of them.

I share with the ID community the goal of promoting ID.

However, I completely disagree with what I see as the primary strategies of the ID community.

•  The first strategy I disagree with is proclaiming ID as science. Philosophical discussions aside, I will accept ID as science when I read something like this:
A scientist at (some respected research university) has been awarded a grant to do experiment X. ID predicts the result of the experiment will be Y. Non-ID predicts the result will be Z.
And don't tell me this cannot happen because the secular scientific community would never allow it. I was a practicing scientist before I was a believer, and we never had any secret meetings where we discussed our true agenda of destroying Christianity in the guise of science.

Predictions such as We will never discover an evolutionary pathway for (whatever) or We will never detect a parallel universe are interesting and important, but they are not examples of predictability arising from a full-fledged scientific theory.

•  The second strategy I disagree with is attempting to get ID placed in the science curriculum. Obviously this is related to the fact that ID is not science. And this strategy, flawed even in principle, has backfired. Not only is ID not in the curriculum, the well has been poisoned. I used to be able to go to public schools and talk about fine-tuning, but not anymore. (Yes, I know it is not illegal to discuss ID, even after Dover, but that doesn’t mean that principals have to invite me, or that they have to accept my offer. They used to, at least on occasion, but not anymore.)

•  The third strategy I disagree with, and this is the most germane to this post, is to deny that ID is religiously motivated. I don't personally know any ID advocate who is not religiously motivated—and I don't know one (personally) who is a strong ID proponent based solely on the physical evidence, although I am told such people exist.

The correlation I see, while not a proof, is highly suggestive: I am quite sure that the percentage of ID advocates who are also staunch theists is significantly higher than the percentage of theists in the general population.

Also, anecdotally, when I look at fine tuning I see design because I believe God designed the universe, while someone else sees multiverses because they don't share that belief. To deny that ID is religiously motivated is, in my opinion, both foolhardy and naïve.

What then is ID?

It is a scientifically-based apologetic. It is part of God’s general revelation. That’s what I think ID is, and that is where I think it is most effective: bringing glory to God, and showing men how they are without excuse. It can be an effective form of witnessing—it worked for me, and I have seen it work for others. Not because it proves God, but because it suggests God.

When I give ID talks, I proceed unapologetically on this basis. If someone asks or comments about ID not being science, I tell them I agree, it’s not. (I also point out that, for the very same reasons, multiverse theories are not science.) When they ask about ID in the curriculum, I say it should not be part of the science curriculum. (I also point out that some of the most ineffective and boring science classes are “science-only” classes, and ID should be an acceptable rabbit-trail discussion because it makes the class more interesting.) With these controversial topics swept aside, I have the necessary time to concentrate on the astounding array of fine-tuning examples.

This leads me to the real topic of this post—a call to like-minded bloggers (of which there may not be any.)

I would like to explore starting a ScienceAndGodBlog team blog, similar in format to the team blog ScienceBlogs.

Do you write on science and faith, and do you share the view that ID is an apologetic, not a science? If so, I invite you to join (or, more accurately, join the planning, or just let me know you’d be interested when everything is ready.)

Techno-wizard and Christian blogging patriarch Dean Peters of Heal Your Church Website and blogs4God has offered to help.

If you are not interested in blogging, but would like to support this effort in other ways (perhaps with server space and bandwidth--or contributions--offers only at this point-- to help purchase hosting, and perhaps some design) please let me know.

Just like on ScienceBlogs, the posts can span the spectrum of topics—science, politics, theology, humor, commentary. The only gentleman’s agreement is the shared view of ID as part of general revelation.

UPDATE: It should be noted that I do not equate the Discovery Institute’s policies with what I have been describing, generically, as ID strategies. For example, as spelled-out in this document on the DI website. (see question 3), the DI does not advocate placing ID in the science curriculum or textbooks. So insofar as my second point of disagreement with the ID community is concerned, I have no conflict with the DI. I probably am in conflict with the DI over the other two points. As for the ID community at large, parts of it still argue for including ID in the curriculum—I think evidence to that point is seen in the debate advertised on this site.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Faith in America

Interesting Chart (source: the New York Times)

(Note: I deleted the chart because it was too wide and created scrolling problems for the rest of my posts. It is still available through the links above.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

N. T. Wright: Christ's Bodily Resurrection Not Essential

If there is one living theologian synonymous with controversy among evangelicals, it is the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright. The erudite Wright is the intellectual point-man behind the so-called “New Perspective on Paul.” A thumbnail sketch of the New Perspective is this:
Martin Luther had an incorrect understanding of first century Judaism. He mistakenly viewed it as a works-based religion. As such, the stalwart reformation doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone” (Sola Fide) is flawed because it is a conclusion based on Luther’s incorrect interpretation the Apostle Paul’s criticisms. If Paul was actually criticizing something else (a sort-of salvation by being Jewish) as the new-perspectivers believe, then the scriptural support for Sola Fide is severely weakened, perhaps fatally so.
Without going into details, it is both obvious and fair to say that for proponents of the New Perspective, the chasm between Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism is reduced—perhaps even to the point where one could comfortably step across.

Personally I am not a fan of the New Perspective, although I know and admire quite a few people who are. I am not opposed because the New Perspective brings Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism closer together—that, in principle, is a very good thing—but it must happen on the basis of scriptural truth, and I see no scriptural truth behind the New Perspective.

At any rate, this is just a lead-in to an absolutely incredible statement made by N. T. Wright. In a recent interview with the Australian, Wright said:
"I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection," he says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.

"But the view I take of them - and they know this - is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment.

"Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection.
This is absurd. Without the resurrection, as Paul tells us, we Christians are pitiful fools. It is not possible to be a Christian and deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. In spite of the so-called “True Scotsman” fallacy, the majority of a group—in this case the church, does get to set some inviolate bylaws, and affirming the resurrection (as scripture tells us we must do) has always been one.

Marcus Borg loves, it would appear, a putrefying corpse. It would be interesting to know what other truths from scripture he finds culturally inconvenient to accept, and for which of those does Wright give him a get-out-of-jail free card.

To be fair, read the entire article. After making this incredible gaffe, Wright returns to cogency as he discusses such things as the Gnostic heresy behind The Da Vinci Code.

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 7)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Mass

Here we look at the Catholic Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist—or the Mass. It has been called the sacrament of sacraments, and understanding it is vital for anyone who wants to witness to Roman Catholics. As always, we want to present what Rome officially teaches. Let us once again refer to the Council of Trent, and some of the canons of the thirteenth session:

Canon 1. If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.

Canon 2. If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

Canon 8. If anyone says that Christ received in the Eucharist is received spiritually only and not also sacramentally and really, let him be anathema.
These teachings are reiterated in the modern Catholic Catechism—in no manner have they been modified since Trent. Indeed, this is one case where I suspect most Catholics are well versed on the teachings of their own church. Unlike, say, in the case of the Roman view on Justification which is not well understood by the laity, your everyday Catholic will give a fairly accurate accounting of the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. This is perhaps related to an interesting fact that James White points out: The new Catechism of the Catholic Church has nine paragraphs on the topic of justification but eighty-four on the Eucharist and fourteen summary paragraphs as well.

In the twenty-second session of Trent (eleven years later!) the conferees again return to the subject of the Eucharist. In Chapter 2 of that session we read:
And inasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy council teaches that this is truly propitiatory and has this effect, that if we, contrite and penitent, with sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence, draw nigh to God, we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid. For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence and pardons even the gravest crimes and sins. For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits of that bloody sacrifice, it is well understood, are received most abundantly through this unbloody one, so far is the latter from derogating in any way from the former. Where, according to the tradition of the Apostles, it is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified. (emphasis added)
Which is followed by the usual anathemas:

Canon 1. If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God; or that to be offered is nothing else than that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema.

Canon 2. If anyone says that by those words, Do this for a commemoration of me, Christ did not institute the Apostles priests; or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His body and blood, let him be anathema.

Canon 3. If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one; or that it profits him only who receives, and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema.

Canon 4. If anyone says that by the sacrifice of the mass a blasphemy is cast upon the most holy sacrifice of Christ consummated on the cross; or that the former derogates from the latter, let him be anathema.

Canon 5. If anyone says that it is a deception to celebrate masses in honor of the saints and in order to obtain their intercession with God, as the Church intends, let him be anathema.

Canon 6. If anyone says that the canon of the mass contains errors and is therefore to be abrogated, let him be anathema.
Well known Catholic writer Father John O’Brien puts this into everyday language in his book, The Faith of Millions:

When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed, it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the blessed virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man—not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.

Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vicegerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ; he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially found of applying to the priest is that of 'alter Christus.' For the priest is and should be another Christ. (emphasis added)
The Catholic priest is said to have the power to call God down from heaven to continue to do what the Lord Jesus said was finished. By the power of the priest’s voice, Christ bows His head in humble obedience! On uncountable times each day, all around the world, priests believe they re-present Jesus as a sacrificial victim for sins.

White, fairly in my opinion, summarizes the official Catholic teaching on the Mass:
  1. Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the sacrament of the Eucharist following the words of consecration.

  2. Transubstantiation involves the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ, and the change of the whole substance of the wine into the blood of Christ.

  3. Since Christ is said to be really present in the Eucharist, the elements themselves, following consecration, are worthy of worship.

  4. The sacrifice of the mass is properly called “propitiatory” in that it brings about pardon of sin.

  5. In the institution of the Mass at the Lord’s Supper, Christ offered His own body and blood to the Father in the signs of the bread and wine, and in doing so ordained the Apostles as priests of the New Testament.

  6. The Sacrifice of the Mass is properly offered for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, not only for the living but for the dead.

  7. Finally, anyone who denies the truthfulness of any of these proclamations is under the anathema of God.
Following White’s development, we will look at two major themes of the Catholic doctrine of the Mass.

The first is transubstantiation, which refers to the belief that following consecration the bread (wafer) and wine are turned into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. We won’t deny that God could do this. We will argue that scripture never teaches it.

The second theme is Rome’s claim that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus, differing only one way from the Cross: it is bloodless rather than bloody. Other than that, they are the same. Christ is offered as a substitute for the sins of man every time an Catholic priest performs the Mass. There is a self-consistency here: Rome acknowledges that the efficacy of the Mass is not guaranteed. You can, in theory, attend Mass a thousand times during your lifetime, which gives you a thousand and one (the cross) times that Jesus was sacrificed on your behalf—only to commit a mortal sin at the last hour and lose your salvation. The Mass is needed because the Cross is not a guarantee to believers—and so the Mass has to be just as incomplete.
The sacrifice of the Mass effects the remission of the temporal punishments for sin which still remain after the forgiveness of the guilt of sins and of the eternal punishment, not merely mediately by the conferring of the grace of penance, but also immediately, because the atonement of Jesus Christ is offered as a substitute for our works of atonement and for the sufferings of the poor souls. The measurement of the punishments of sins remitted is proportional, in the case of the living, to the degree of perfection of their disposition. In the case of suffering souls, the Satisfactory operation of the Mass is applied by way of intercession.

As a propitiatory and impetratory Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the Mass possesses a finite external value, since the operation of propitiatory and impetration refer to human beings who, as creature can receive a finite act only. This explains the practice of the Church offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass frequently for the same intention. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, p.414, 1974.)

Next: A more careful look at transubstantiation.

Friday, April 14, 2006

PZ on Barrow

Now I didn't set out to write consecutive posts about PZ Myers, but here it is. It's true that his blog provides ample fodder, but as of late I've been ignoring it. Nevertheless here I go again…

I present for your consideration the Pharyngula post entitled Bilthering spititualists in which Professor Myers ridicules renowned physicist John Barrow, winner of the Templeton Prize, given for work in that most obvious of cross-disciplinary areas: science and religion. Myers begins with this recent and well-publicized exchange between Barrow and Myers's idol, Richard Dawkins:
When Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins challenged physicist John Barrow on his formulation of the constants of nature at last summer's Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship lectures, Barrow laughed and said, "You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you're not really a scientist. You're a biologist."
I'm not going to say much about this because I wasn't there. But here is what I guess: It was a joke! One of those quips commonly offered in a seminar or colloquium. Was Dawkins upset, or did he chuckle? I don't know, but dollars to doughnuts it's the latter, otherwise there would have been widespread reporting of Dawkins's heated response. It would appear that Myers has adopted Dawkins's ethics, but not his sense of humor. After all, you might recall that Myers went into paroxysms of indignation over what cartoonist Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) wrote about ID on his personal blog (See here for a reminder).

Myers claims that Barrow's shtick is the dreaded fine-tuning argument. He then dismisses Barrow's fine-tuning (anthropic principle) assertions with a refutation from novelist Douglas Adams:
…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!'
(Myers goes ballistic over cartoonist Scott Adams's personal views, and then uses proofs from comic novelist Douglas Adams…there is something beautiful about the symmetry.)

Barrow, according to Myers, is little more than a glorified numerologist.

Let us follow PZ into never-never land and regard the scientific merit of Douglas Adams's retort. We note that it does not apply to the fine-tuning arguments of the universe, because those go well beyond stating that conditions are right for one type of life. Anthropic arguments and fine-tuing deal with the possibility for any life at all, of any type. We are not talking about the "minor" miracle that our planet supports large surface reservoirs of liquid water, but rather the insanely unexpected circumstance that there are any galaxies, stars, and elements heavier than Helium. You might be able to make a reasonable attempt to apply Douglas Adams's comment to arguments about the mediocrity of earth, or to human life, but definitely not to the universe as a whole.

That sets the stage for comments from the Myers faithful. Let's take a peek.

Also taking Barrow's comment about biologists oh-so-seriously, a Paul W comments:
Physics is unique among the sciences in that it studies the absolutely simplest, dumbest, most numerous and redundant things that exist. That is why it is "successful" in showing that things conform to very simple equations, to within many digits of precision---if they don't, you don't call it physics.

The defining characteristic of physics is that if you can't describe it that way, it isn't physics---it's chemistry, or meteorology, or geology, or or biology or something.

If it isn't incredibly simple, its not physics.
No other science can take this approach; only physics can. It's staked out the high ground. Or the low ground, with the lowest-hanging fruit.
And later he concludes:
When Darwin was in college, his friends advised him to give up on biology, which would never be much more than the "stamp collecting" of curiosities, without the kind of satisfying "deep" theory you get in physics. Physics was where the action was, they said.

But Darwin proved them wrong, and gave the best example of a scientific theory ever. Better than Newton's, even, because he wasn't gerrymandering away the incredible complexity of the natural world and focusing on the easiest problems. *(Deeper, too.)
Not only did Paul W take Barrow’s comments about biology at face value, which is silly enough, he responded with a variant of "my dad can beat up your dad."

Commenter JBL then makes the classic blunder:
We are fine-tuned to the universe, not the other way around. It's true that human life couldn't exist if the universe were built differently, but that is not at all the same as saying that life and conciousness couldn't exist at all. If protons and electrons all held together differently, everything would (of necessity) look so vastly different we probably can't imagine it. But that doesn't mean that the creation of concious life under such circumstances would be impossible -- merely that life which looks like us would be.
No JBL, that is wrong. Were it not for the fine tuning, the universe could easily have been only diffuse Hydrogen and Helium gas. As it stands, most of the universe does look like what it all could have been, and we see no signs of life in the near-vacuum of intergalactic space.

Someone named "poke" provided another inevitable and incorrect argument:
The constants of nature aren't "fine tuned" they're unexplained. This is just the usual "God of the gaps" argument.
Poke's premise that the constants are unexplained is correct. His conclusion, which I'm inferring, that if they were to be explained it would end the fine-tuning ID talking point, could not be more wrong.

Let us, for a moment, contrast cosmological ID to Susskind's String Landscape, which purports to explain the illusion of ID.

Susskind agrees that our constants are fine-tuned, in fact he provides some of the most persuasive presentations of fine-tuning. He says, however, that it is an illusion. There are 10500 universes, so we got the lucky draw. Notice the real implication: there is no possibility of explaining the constants in Susskind's theory—they are what they are.

Cosmological ID is compatible with "they are what they are" but does not demand it. Susskind's view implies that physics is hideous and anyone searching for an explanation for the constants is on a fool's errand—their research time would be better spent investigating cold fusion.

ID, while not requiring it, would be strengthened by the elegance of a fundamental theory explaining the constants—after all elegance is what we expect from God. We would then say: "God picked the theory" rather than the less pleasing "God picked the constants."

Poke's mistake is a common one, but the bottom line is that fine-tuning doesn't rest on the ignorance of the origin of the constants, it rests on the sensitivity of the universe to their values. It is not God of the gaps, but God of the details.

PaulC wrote:
I mean, fine tuning is a joke, right, everyone understands that the fine tuning "argument" is even sillier than "God planted the dinosaur bones" don't they?
Everybody except, it would seem, the large number of famous physicists, many of whom are atheists or agnostics (Krauss, Weinberg, Susskind, Hawkins,…), who are trying to explain it. To them, fine-tuning is not silly. To them it is a fascinating problem.

Torbjörn Larsson wrote, in what was probably the most cogent comment:
Finetuning means that parameters of a model must be adjusted precisely in order to agree with observations. It can often be explained by physical theories - inflation, endless inflation and supersymmetry for example.

The anthropic principle is ambigious.

There is the observational bias one - often people uses the fact that we exist here to make faulty hypotheses about the universe.
There is the tautological one - theories and parameter values must be consistent with our existence. That has somtimes been used to figure out parameter values, but they have later been replaced by calculations from theory.

String theory is currently a lot of mathematics and some theoretical physics. It has not been directly tested against experiments but makes contact with physics through its theoretical physics elements. This makes it more than prototheory IMO, contrary to what some says above it's a theory in its own right.

For example, in an endless inflation cosmology the landscape will be populated and the parameter values that maximise universe production in the endless inflation multiverse will be most common. This combined with the weak anthropic principle explains much and is compatible with the current value of the cosmological constant. If it's true it's the most parsimonious explanation in a sense, so we may not need to look further.
What fine-tuning parameters are explained by the theories he listed? Inflationary theories predict a flat universe, but they do not predict the value of the cosmological constant, nor do they say anything about the sensitivity of the universe to the values of the constants.

He also states that the anthropic principle sometimes predicts a parameter (true) that is later replaced by theory (false, as far as I know.) Weinberg predicted the value of the cosmological constant from an anthropic argument—but nobody has provided a theoretical basis for the value, and according to Susskind nobody ever will.

He also argues that string theory, even though it predicts nothing and has passed no test, gets a get-out-of-jail-free card. Although as unfalsifiable as ID it still gets to be called science because, well, it smells like science.

His comment about cosmic evolution, and "If it's true it's the most parsimonious explanation in a sense, so we may not need to look further." omits the detail that the theory is untestable.

No more PZ posts. Unless he writes something really unscientific and outrageous.

So I guess you better stay tuned.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From the Pharyngula Archives: PZ on Abortion

In the form answering a survey, the highly unpublished Professor Myers provides his insight on the value of human life. This is from a year ago, so perhaps many of you have seen it.

Q: Where do you fall under the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights continuum?

PZ: Way, way, way to the pro side. I'm in favor of voluntary late term abortions (where premature birth would impose severe economic hardship, for instance), and can even consider situations where infanticide is ethically tenable.

Q. Why do you support abortion rights? Be honest, please.

PZ: Because I value human life. There is more to being human than having the right number of chromosomes or arrangement of tissues; things like autonomy, cognitive development, and personality are more important metrics. Fetuses lack all three.

Q: Are there instances in which abortion should be legal/not legal? Why?

PZ: There are no instances in which it should be illegal. The onus is on anyone who argues otherwise, that women should not be given complete control of their reproductive process, to explain why not.

Q: How did you come to these conclusions?

PZ: That's the hardest one to answer. Short and inadequate explanation: my training is in developmental biology and neuroscience. I have no patience with the gushy mystical and emotional fol-de-rol that anti-abortionists attach to either development or the mind.

Lifted verbaitm from from here (boldface emphasis added.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Look 'n Feel

You may have noticed slight alterations to the appearance of He Lives. Hopefully the changes improve readability, which was the intent.

I still cannot figure out how to put a gap (with the dark blue-grayish background showing through) between the posts.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Been Thinking about Genesis

My Christian brothers who are Young Earth Creationists (YEC) generally argue that there was no death before the fall. Interesting yet hypothetical questions about the result of an elephant stepping on an ant are often considered impertinent. Still we wonder: would the ant be impervious to any injury, or would it sustain catastrophic damage and yet survive? Or would God intervene to divert the ant before the pachydermial stomp?

Musings aside, we examine one of the more famous passages in scripture:
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen 2:16:17)
This is, in part, the basis for assuming that there was no death prior to the fall. But of course if it does refer to physical death, it would really argue, by its narrow focus, that animals already died, unless you think animal death was introduced after human death, which seems absurd.

YEC problem 1: The pain of death threat in Gen. 2:17 appears to apply only to humans.

Another problem is that the carrying out of the death sentence appears to be scheduled for the very day of the infraction. If this is physical death, how many ways can we explain the fact that Adam did not drop dead on the day he sinned? I can think of some:
  1. God changed his mind.
  2. Adam did not die, but the process of death began.
  3. A day is a thousand years (1 Pet. 3:8) and Adam did die within 1000 years.
  4. The death being referred to is not physical but spiritual death.
Solution one is unthinkable. Although various passages, for example those describing Moses' pleading with God to spare the Jews, seem to depict God as changing his mind, scholars have generally accepted that these are anthropomorphisms. God, being immutable, didn't actually change his mind, but his dialog with finite humans requires certain accommodations.

Solution two is common among YECs, but in my opinion it does great violence to the text. God did not say that Adam would surely start dying, but rather he would surely die.

Solution three was one offered by some early church fathers. The problem here, for YECs, is that if a day does not mean a literal day in Genesis 2, perhaps it doesn't mean a literal day in Genesis 1. Indeed, some early Christians using this reasoning to explain Genesis 2:17 arrived at the conclusion that that the creation account of Genesis 1 spans six thousand years, not six literal days. (They also decided it was not an essential issue. The elevation of six day creation to, in the eyes of some, a test for orthodoxy is a modern development.)

Personally I believe in solution four. Adam died spiritually, the death spoken of in Eph. 2:1, the moment he sinned--on the very day. Adam was at that instant dead to sin and in need of a savior.

YEC problem 2: The day in Gen. 2:17 appears to be something other than a day, or else God changed his mind, or else we must, in spite of the plain text, interpret it to mean "the process of death" began.

That leads to an interesting question. Had they not sinned, would Adam and Eve have lived forever? Most Christians say yes. Personally I do not think so. If Gen. 2:17 applies to spiritual death, then there is no passage (with one exception, which I'll get to) that can be said to demonstrate that man would never die physically. (In this view, Romans 5 is also speaking of spiritual death entering the world through Adam.)

As a purely practical aside, we all know that God instructed Adam and Eve to be fruitful. About 10% of everyone who ever lived is alive today. All things being equal, if nobody ever died, then the population of earth would be, today, at least 60 billion. But that must be a serious underestimate, for many of the dead never lived long enough to reproduce. The world would be unfallen, but it would also be crowded.

Let us consider what the serpent says to Eve:
4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:4-5)
It is often said that the serpent lied. But did he? Certainly if day means day and death means physical death, then Adam in Eve surely did not die, and the sepent, at least superficially, told the truth. What about the second part of the serpent's discourse, about knowing good and evil? Jumping ahead to God's response to Adam's sin, we read:
22Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—"23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Gen 3:22-23)

In fact, God says exactly what the serpent promised! That man became like God, knowing good and evil. The serpent did not lie! He did, however, impugn God's motives. God withheld something for man's good—the serpent implied it was because of God's selfishness.

However, Gen. 3:22-23 is one of the most puzzling passages in all of scripture. It states there is a tree of life in the garden, and that God exiled Adam and Eve so that they would not eat of it and live forever. So that is a reasonable (fatal, perhaps)argument against my contention that unfallen Adam and Eve would have grown old and (peacefully and painlessly) died, only to move on to an even better paradise. However, it raises more questions than it answers. What are these trees, and why does it appear they (especially the tree of life) have magic properties? As for the forbidden tree, we can rationalize that it wasn't really magic, that the disobedience resulted in death and not anything innate to the fruit itself. But the tree of life? It appears, on a plain reading, that God wants Adam and Eve out of the Garden because he has sentenced them to death and he is concerned that if they eat of the tree of life the sentence would be avoided. How do we explain that? If the tree were imbued with special properties, could God not simply change it? Or remove it?

Very puzzling.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Billions of Errors

Recent astronomical data have again demonstrated that few scientists have simultaneously achieved such widespread acclaim while consistently being wrong as the late Carl Sagan.

In the area of popular science, I don’t know much that he wrote or said that was correct.

I wonder if the same is true for Dawkins? Unlike Sagan’s work, I am not competent to judge Dawkins. I do know that on matters of culture, Dakwins is as much a fool as Sagan—perhaps more so—but I simply couldn’t say how good or bad his biology is. Sagan is a different story. What Sagan had to say concerning Astronomy is largely nonsensical.

Dawkins, like Sagan before him, uses his outrageousness as a cash cow. One ramification of their chosen cottage industry is constant pressure to prepare even more outlandish statements for the next cycle of talk shows and interviews. In that sense their behavior is easily understood: they are selling themselves, and as such they must unceasingly upgrade their product.

One of the more erroneous teachings of the late Cornell showman was that the earth was in a particularly unimpressive location in the galaxy—a galactic backwater if you will. Another related Sagan error: look for signals of life coming from (or broadcast signals of our existence toward) regions with a high density of stars, which in fact is exactly the wrong place to look—given the hostile environment they represent: life-extinguishing radiation and catastrophic gravitational perturbations.

Sagan was wrong, wrong, wrong. The earth is in a privileged location (not just for life as we know it, but for any kind of complex life imaginable), as discussed quite convincingly by Gonzalez and Richards in the Privileged Planet.

A recent result published in the journal Science demonstrates that Sagan was even more wrong. Among other findings, the research reveals that the density of stars in the Milky Way’s good address, the spiral arms, is much higher compared to with the Galaxy’s ghetto (the region between the arms, where we live) than previously thought. (Y. Xu et al., Science 311 (2006): 54-57.)

This means two things: The probability of a random star being in a habitable region of the Milky Way is less than we thought, and the inhabitability of the region containing the majority of the stars is even more severe than we imagined.

Which only emphasizes the obvious: There's no place I'd rather be than Sagan's backwater.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 6)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Papacy

Consequently we declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. --Pope Boniface, AD 1302.
The office of the Pope has enormous power. We can gain an appreciation of the power of the Papacy by examining official Catholic teaching. For example:
The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him. (1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 100)
The Papacy, through the Magisterium, reserves for itself the exclusive right to interpret scripture.

From the first Vatican Council, 1870, we read:
We, therefore, for the preservation, safekeeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the Sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church…

If anyone, therefore, shall say that the Blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction; let him be anathema.

If, then, anyone shall say that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that Blessed Peter has a perpetual line of successors in the primacy over the universal Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in this primacy; let him be anathema.
We note an important point of this pronouncement, namely that it (the papacy) is said to be in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church.

The Apostolic primacy of Peter is further elaborated in Vatican I:
“And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus, after His resurrection, bestowed the jurisdiction of Chief Pastor and Ruler over all His fold in the words, “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.” At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture, as it has ever been understood by the Catholic Church, are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church, deny that Peter in his simple person preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon Blessed Peter himself but upon the Church, and the Church on Peter as her minister.”
Once again note that the papacy is declared to be the “clear” doctrine of scripture, as ever understood by the Catholic Church, and those who disagree have perverse opinions. These opinions are reiterated by Vatican II in 1965:
In order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He [Christ] placed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and fellowship (Cf. Vatican Council I, Session 4, the dogmatic constitution ‘Pastor aeternus’). And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the force and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible teaching authority, this sacred Synod again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.
Catholic writer Cardinal Gibbons wrote:
"The Catholic Church teaches that our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of his whole church, and that same spiritual authority has always resided in the popes, or bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter. Consequently, to be true followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy and laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor."
To summarize, official Catholic teaching is that the office of the Papacy was clearly inaugurated by Christ, and that Peter was given a position of primacy and installed into this office, and that the Church has always taught this. This teaching is part of the infallible teaching of the Magisterium, and so if any of these points falls, the entire structure of the present Catholic Church, in terms of the authority she claims for herself as the sole interpreter of scripture and the office of pope—it all falls with it.

We will begin our investigation of these claims. We will start with Rome’s strongest scripture based argument.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matt 16:13-20)
The Catholic Church claims, infallibly, that this passage clearly teaches that Jesus elevated Peter to a position of supremacy among all apostles, effectively installing Peter as the first pope. Furthermore, the Catholic Church makes another infallible claim, namely that this interpretation has always been the teaching of the Church.

The standard Protestant teaching is as follows: the on this rock in verse 18 refers to the confession of Christ that Peter made in verse 16. In other words, that confessing Christ, not Peter, is the rock upon which the church will be built. Furthermore, the standard Protestant view includes the idea that Peter was a spokesman who made his confession on behalf of all the disciples—that is, there is no reason to believe that the other disciples stood in amazement and shock at Peter’s confession.

Thus we have:

Protestant: And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, (the confession you just made, that I am the Christ) I will build my church.

Catholic: And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, (you, Peter) I will build my church.

Actually this is too simplistic. It presents a false dichotomy—that it either the standard Protestant view or the Roman claim of Christ’s establishment of the papacy is legitimate. In truth, there are many other possibilities that have been held by various theologians, including that ”this rock” is Christ referring to Himself and, interestingly, some have taught that “this rock” does indeed refer to Peter but the passage—even granting the Catholic claim that “this rock” is Peter, does not institute anything remotely resembling the papacy.

Notice that the Catholic view is that Christ, in verse 19, has given the keys of the kingdom specifically to Peter, saying to Peter I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Notice that this is a promise—Christ will give the keys. We can ask, when was this promise fulfilled, and was it fulfilled for Peter only? It would appear not. Later in Matthew we find the same phrase:
18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matt. 18:18-19)
Clearly here it applies to all the apostles.

So at this point (back to Matthew 16), according to Catholic teaching, Jesus has made Peter the chief of the apostles. We would expect, from that point on to see (a) the other apostles acknowledge Peter’s primacy and (b) Peter himself to acknowledge it. Let’s see what the scripture have to say.

On there way into the Garden of Gethsemane, we read:
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24)
Instead of acknowledging Peter’s privileged position, they are debating who, in fact, is the greatest among them. If Jesus had indeed elevated Peter, it seems that the other apostle’s missed the point, Peter did not invoke it, and Christ didn’t reiterate it.

Nor is there, anywhere else in the New Testament, any indication that any of the apostles (including Peter himself) refer to Peter’s alleged supremacy.

Beginning with Peter himself, we read, in his epistle:
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 21shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (1 Pet. 5:1-2)
Far from referring to himself as anything resembling a pope, Peter describes himself as a “fellow elder.” In addition, we see that Peter instructs the elders to shepherd the flock. This is important because of another passage used by Rome in its case fore the papacy, Peter’s restoration after betraying Christ, described in John 21, which ends with:
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)
Rome teaches that Peter was uniquely charged with tending the sheep, but Peter, in his epistle teaches that the other elders (as he is) should tend the sheep.

Similarly Peter’s second letter offers no evidence that he viewed himself as pope or even as bishop of Rome.

Peter and Paul

Paul wrote to the Roman Church in AD 55-57. It is clear that Peter was not in Rome at the time. What about when Paul was in Rome. Was Peter there? We should hope not, because if he were, then he abandoned Paul in prison, because Paul wrote that at his first trial everyone abandoned him. It is inconceivable that Peter was in Rome at the time and Paul never mentioned him while writing from Rome—or that Peter abandoned Paul during his trial.

The apostle Paul, in all his inspired writings, never acknowledged Peter’s supremacy. In fact, anything he wrote that is relevant to that question would seem to deny the proposition. For example, Paul writes:
I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. (2 Cor 12:11)
Paul asserts that he is not inferior to any of other apostles. Paul also wrote:
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. ( 1 Cor 12:28)
In mentioning the offices of the church, here and elsewhere (where he mentions elders and deacons), Paul makes no mention of the office of the papacy.

Another clear expression of equality rather than subservience is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Here we read:
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (Gal. 2:7)
This passage clearly expresses a delineation of their respective ministries—not at all a description of Paul on assignment from Peter.

Of course, the final nail in the coffin of any claim that Peter was the supreme leader among the apostles occurs a verses later:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Gal. 2:11-12)
One can hardly fathom a pope being publicly rebuked by one of his cardinals or bishops. It makes the mind reel.

The claim of Peter’s supremacy fares no better in Acts. When it’s reported that the gospel was being preached in Samaria, the church at Jerusalem responds:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. (Acts 8:14)
Notice that there is no indication whatsoever that Peter is in charge—indeed he was sent. Later in the book of Acts we read of Peter being summoned to explain his controversial preaching to the Gentiles:
2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2-3)
Once again, we read an account that sounds nothing like we would expect if Peter were in a position of authority over the church. Rather Peter, while behaving correctly and in the right, was nevertheless called in on the carpet.

In Acts 15 we read of the first church council, in Jerusalem. If Peter is in charge of the church, then surely he will be in charge of the proceedings. We read:
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. (Acts 15: 6-7)
Here we see that, even in the most favorable light, we see nothing more that Peter reporting to the council. However, even if you find support in this part of the account for Petrine supremacy, you have to deal with the closing statement:
13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:13-14, 19-20).
It was not Peter who lead the Jerusalem council, it was James, as is seen by the imperative mode of his speech. The letter that is written does not carry the imprimatur of Peter, but of all the apostles.

It should also be noted that these are last recorded words of Peter. There is no account of his time in Rome, and no letter to the Church at Rome for which the Catholic Church teaches was his episcopate.

Now, it should be obvious that not one word written in this lesson is intended to denigrate St. Peter, who, during Christ’s ministry, clearly was the unofficial leader among the apostles, and also just as clearly was on of Jesus’ favorites. He is and was the apostle Peter—a man worthy the highest esteem and respect. We are not in any manner bashing Peter—we are only questioning the Roman doctrine establishing Peter as the first pope.

The early post-apostolic church

The Catholic Church’s claim that scripture clearly teaches that Peter was promoted, by Jesus, as the first pope, was shown to be weak. The passage can be understood to teach that Peter’s confession rather than Peter himself is the “rock” upon which the church will be built. Furthermore, it is beyond refute that nowhere in scripture is there any indication that Peter was in command of the first century church.

However, the Catholic Church, as part of her infallible teaching, claims both of these to be true. Suppose, in terms of the issue of the early church, we don’t go all the way back to the apostles, but back to the post apostolic church fathers. Did they, as Rome claims, teach that Matthew 16 established Peter as the first pope?

To find out what the early church fathers thought about Matthew 16, we turn to the research of a Roman Catholic Scholar, Launoy. He obtained these results:
  • Viewed “the rock” as Peter: 17
  • Viewed “the rock” as Christ: 16
  • Viewed “the rock” as all the apostles: 8
  • Viewed “the rock” as the confession: 44
This means, contrary to Rome’s assertion, and as tabulated by a Catholic, that only 20% of the church fathers believed what Rome teaches was always the teaching of the church. Actually it is worse—because of the 17 who viewed the rock as Peter, they generally did not equate that to anything resembling the papacy.

Other Catholics concur. The Jesuit Maldonatus wrote:
"There are among ancient authors some who interpret ‘on this rock,’ that is, ‘on this faith,’ or ‘on this confession of faith in which thou hast called me the Son of the living God,’ as Hilary, and Gregory Nyssen, and Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria. St. Augustine going still further away from the true sense interprets ‘on this rock,’ that is, ‘on myself Christ,’ because Christ was the rock. But Origen ‘on this rock,’ on all men who have the same faith."
There are some big names in that list of dissenters from Roman dogma, including Agustine, Origen, and Cyril of Alexandria.

Maldonatus mentions Hilary, who was a forth century bishop of Poitiers, a French city and early Christian center. Hilary wrote:
This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven.
Hilary unambiguously identifies the faith, not Peter, as the foundation of the church. And what of the great Augustine? He seems to have changed his mind, retracting what he at first believed - the interpretation of the Roman Church that Peter was the Rock. He says.
"I have said somewhere of St. Peter that the Church is built on him as the ‘Rock’; but I have since said that the Word of the Lord. ‘Thou are Peter, and upon this Petra I will build my church,’ must be understood of Him [Jesus] whom Peter confesses to be ‘the Son of the Living God.’ Peter so named after this ‘Rock’ represents the person of the Church, and has received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was not said of him, ‘thou art Petra,’ but ‘thou art Petros,’ and the Rock was Christ; through confession of whom Simon received the name Peter. Yet the reader may decide which of the two interpretations is the more probable.
So Augustine at first agreed with Rome’s interpretation although, once again, that does not mean he saw anything resembling the papacy. However, he changed his mind, and later decided that Christ was the rock, and that Peter received his name, the rock, by his confession. Just as bad for Rome, Augustine goes on to say that which interpretation you accept is a matter of freedom!

In conclusion, none of Rome’s claims regarding the scriptural support or the evidence for the doctrine of Peter’s supremacy in the early church withstand scrutiny. Nowhere in the epistles of Paul, John, James. Jude, or Peter himself do we have any hint that Peter holds the highest office in the church, or even that such an office exists. Nor is there any mention of anything remotely like the papacy in the book of Acts. Especially damaging to Rome is that these teaching are part of the infallible dogma of the Church.