Sunday, December 18, 2005

Darwinian Faith According to Tom Bethell

The Darwinian macro-evolutionary claim is that life came from non-life. I like the way Patrick Buchanan comments on this, using Tom Bethell’s book Politically Correct Guide to Science. He writes:
“If believing that Christ raised people from the dead is a matter of faith -- and it is -- is not the Darwinist claim that nature created life out of non-life a matter of faith? If it is science, why can't scientists replicate it in microcosm in a laboratory? If scientists know life came from matter and matter from non-matter, why don't they show us how this was done, instead of asserting it was done, and calling us names for not taking their claims on faith?”

Multiverse Theory & an Argument from Ignorance

Leonard Susskind, the inventor of string theory, is interviewed in New Scientist on the question "Is String Theory In Trouble." In the following interchange re. the anthropic principle Susskind uses an argument from ignorance.
The question is put to him: "Is it premature to invoke anthropic arguments - which assume that the conditions for life are extremely improbable - when we don't know how to define life?"
Susskind replies: "The logic of the anthropic principle requires the strong assumption that our kind of life is the only kind possible. Why should we presume that all life is like us - carbon-based, needs water, and so forth? How do we know that life cannot exist in radically different environments? If life could exist without galaxies, the argument that the cosmological constant seems improbably fine-tuned for life would lose all of its force. And we don't know that life of all kinds can't exist in a wide variety of circumstances, maybe in all circumstances. It a valid objection. But in my heart of hearts, I just don't believe that life could exist in the interior of a star, for instance, or in a black hole."
I have highlighted in bold his argument from ignorance. There is no evidence that non-carbon-based life does exist. Such non-existence threatens Susskind's multiverse theory and causes him to speculate. And notice how his final quote about his "heart of hearts" indicates his real doubt that non-carbon-based life does exist.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Henri Nouwen on Heaven and Hell: Part 2

I just received the new Nouwen e-letter. It's called "The Good News of Hell." Nouwen writes: "Is there a hell? The concepts of heaven and hell are as intimately connected as those of good and evil. When we are free to do good, we are also free to do evil; when we can say yes to God's love, the possibility of saying no also exists. Consequently, when there is heaven there also must be hell. All of these distinctions are made to safeguard the mystery that God wants to be loved by us in freedom. In this sense, strange as it may sound, the idea of hell is good news. Human beings are not robots or automatons who have no choices and who, whatever they do in life, end up in God's Kingdom. No, God loves us so much that God wants to be loved by us in return. And love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given. Hell is the bitter fruit of a final no to God."
I agree with Nouwen. The reasoning goes like this:
1) God is love. This means that God is, in his essence, love. God cannot not-love.
2) Love necessarily implies relationship.
3) To say that God loves us is to say that God wants us to love him back.
4) But love is not really "love" if not freely chosen. So, God gives us free will.
5) Free will is not really "free" if we cannot choose to not love God.
6) Because God is in his essence love, God cannot refuse us if we choose against him. To do this would be coercive, and love is not coercive.
7) Therefore persons who choose to not love God will receive the outcome of their choices, which is eternal separation from God. (Defined biblically as "hell.")

Heaven, Hell, & Free Will

I receive a daily thought from Henri Nouwen's writings. Today's thought is about heaven, hell, and the freedom to choose.
Nouwen writes: "Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours."
I agree with Nouwen's point. God honors our choices. If we choose to move away from God then God will not force us to be in relationship with him. God's love is not coercive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Merton & Post-Christianity

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who never watched television and spent much of his time in the presence of God praying and listening. Because of his rigorous spiritual discipline, and his great cognitive and creative giftedness, God spoke many things to him, and people came to him from around the world seeking a word from God.
Consider this Merton quote, written many years ago, that is prophetic and was truly ahead of its time:
"We on the contrary live in an irreligious post-Christian world in which the Christian message has been repeated over and over until it has come to seem empty of all intelligible content to those whose ears close to the word of God even before it is uttered.  In their minds Christian is no longer identified with newness and change, but only with the static preservation of outworn structures.” - Merton - From Peace in the Post-Christian Era, by Thomas Merton.  Orbis Books; Maryknoll, New York. 2004. p.127-28.
What a sad and true indictment of many churches today.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chinese Christians are being persecuted today

President Bush is on his Asia trip, and this morning he visited a Christian church. The Scripture reading in this church was about loving others, including those who are hard to love. Chinese Christians are praying that we in America, to include our government and churches, will understand that followers of Jesus are being persecuted, to include torture. Here is a very moving letter from South China Church in China. It is quite explicit, and we should stand in awe over these true followers of Jesus who are our brothers and sisters, who follow Him in the face of great personal danger.

Addiction & Generation Rx

I am constantly involved in the lives of people who are addicts. Some of them are in denial as regards their addiction, and I try to enter into their lives, gain trust, and help them see they are an addict and hope one day they utter the words, “I am an addict and I need help.” Others acknowledge they are an addict, but feel they can get themselves out of their addiction by themselves, as if they are skilled in addiction treatment. This never works. Then there is the addict who escapes the prison cell of denial, gets help, to include a support system of accountability, and begins to break free. And finally there is, as Gerald May says in his brilliant and helpful book Addiction and Grace, the addict who breaks free all of a sudden and for no good medical reason. That, says May, is grace. (Note: I read May's book years ago and it helped me very much. Also, I was pleased to see that John Eldridge recommends it in The Sacred Romance.)
May’s book says that all of us are, in some way, addicts. Put in another way, we all have spiritual strongholds that imprison a part of us. We each have at least one “besetting sin.” Not one of us operates, I believe, with a “full deck.”
I think serious addictions are on the increase. For example, the availability of pornography is helping create a nation of porno addicts. And, the ease with which doctors hand out prescriptions for addictive medications without seeming concern for underlying systemic issues and their deep treatment is on the rise. From my own small world in my cultural context I have seen this happening, and it greatly concerns me.
Greg Critser’s new book Generation Rx confirms my fears. The book is reviewed in today’s New York Times Book Review. Here are a few quotes from the review, which can be read in full here.
""Generation Rx" contends that large drug companies have co-opted the federal government, seduced the medical establishment and mesmerized a temperamentally supine public into taking far more drugs than is strictly necessary, much less healthy. Worse, Americans have fallen victim to "polypharmacy": using so many drugs for so many ailments that they have no idea how the various medications are interacting.
Nevertheless, this is not the work of a conspiracy theorist. The public, particularly "the Tribe of High-Performance Aging," genuinely adores Viagra, Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac, believing that they vastly improve one's quality of life. As in his previous book, "Fat Land," Critser says the public has been complicitous in its own seduction. Gleefully voting with their tongues, Americans use drugs to combat depression (Paxil, Prozac), reduce the ruckus from the kids (Ritalin), make bedtime more like a night in the seraglio (Viagra) and turn the workplace into a hearty party (Vicodin)."
From a Christian viewpoint, prescription drugs are the New Healers. Instead of dependency on God, we have prescription drug dependency. Of course we can thank God for a variety of such drugs. The issue is not their existence but addiction. And addiction, if you have never seen it, is a Destroyer of the inner life, marriage and family, and whatever else stands in its way. Critser's point of view, as well as mine, is that something very undermining of human freedom is rapidly growing in our midst.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Dilbert on Evolution & Intelligent Design

I really like the post today at Scott Adams's Dilbert blog about Intelligent Design and evolution. Here's a sample (to read the whole thing, click here):

"To me, the most fascinating aspect of the debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design is that neither side understands the other side’s argument. Better yet, no one seems to understand their own side’s argument. But that doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.
I’ve been doing lots of reading on the subject, trying to gather comic fodder. I fully expected to validate my preconceived notion that the Darwinists had a mountain of credible evidence and the Intelligent Design folks were creationist kooks disguising themselves as scientists. That’s the way the media paints it. I had no reason to believe otherwise. The truth is a lot more interesting. Allow me to set you straight. (Note: I’m not a believer in Intelligent Design, Creationism, Darwinism, free will, non-monetary compensation, or anything else I can’t eat if I try hard enough.)
First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a useful debate about Darwinism and Intelligent Design, of the sort that you could use to form your own opinion. I can’t find one, and I’ve looked. What you have instead is each side misrepresenting the other’s position and then making a good argument for why the misrepresentation is wrong. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the comments I get to this post.)"

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Archaeologists Find Goliath?

Imagine being the archaeologist who was digging in southern Israel and pulled up a piece of ancient pottery, upon which was written the word "Goliath." See the article below.
THU NOV 10, 8:36 PM
JERUSALEM - Archaeologists digging at the purported biblical home of Goliath have unearthed a shard of pottery bearing an inscription of the Philistine's name, a find they claimed lends historical credence to the Bible's tale of David's battle with the giant.
While the discovery is not definitive evidence of Goliath's existence, it does support the Bible's depiction of life at the time the battle was supposed to have occurred, said Dr. Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the excavation.
"What this means is that at the time there were people there named Goliath," he said. "It shows us that David and Goliath's story reflects the cultural reality of the time." In the story, David slew Goliath with a slingshot.
Some scholars assert the story of David slaying the giant Goliath is a myth written down hundreds of years later. Maeir said finding the scraps lends historical credence to the biblical story.
The shard dates back to around 950 B.C., within 70 years of when biblical chronology asserts David squared off against Goliath, making it the oldest Philistine inscription ever found, the archaeologists said.
Scientists made the discovery at Tel es-Safi, a dig site in southern Israel thought to be to be the location of the Philistine city of Gath.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ancient Hebrew Alphabet Discovered

See the article in today’s New York Times about the archaeological discovery of a 10th-century BC stone upon which are written letters of ancient Hebrew. Note what one scholar says:

“The inscription was found in the context of a substantial network of buildings at the site, which led Dr. Tappy to propose that Tel Zayit was probably an important border town established by an expanding Israelite kingdom based in Jerusalem.
A border town of such size and culture, Dr. Tappy said, suggested a centralized bureaucracy, political leadership and literacy levels that seemed to support the biblical image of the unified kingdom of David and Solomon in the 10th century B.C.
"That puts us right in the middle of the squabble over whether anything important happened in Israel in that century," Dr. Stager said.”

Evaluating the Emerging Church

D. A. Carson (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) has written an evaluation of the Emerging Church movement called: Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications.

For a good evaluation of Carson.s book see:

Brian McLaren

Ryan Bolger

Ben Witherington on Eternal Security

There is a very good interview in Christianity Today with NT scholar Ben Witherington III. He argues that Calvinism, Arminianism, dispensationalism, and Pentecostalism, are all “exegetically weak” precisely at the point of their distinctiveness.

For example, here’s a Q&A:

In what ways do you find the Calvinist teaching on the perseverance of the saints—that a person cannot lose their salvation—to be exegetically weak?
“You have in the Homily to the Hebrews (usually called the Letter to the Hebrews) a long discourse warning Jewish Christians in Rome about falling away, defecting, backsliding, renouncing the grace they've received. There's this huge warning in Hebrews 6:1-6 that says, in effect: Look, you've tasted of the Holy Spirit, you've heard the gospel, you've come to the altar 15 times; if you've done all of these things and you turn back, then you've committed apostasy, and what you're facing is final judgment. He is warning all of the Jewish Christians in Rome, not a select group. That's perfectly clear from the trajectory and flow of the argument if you pursue it right through Hebrews. Christians who are eternally secure in this lifetime don't need those kinds of warnings. But the author of Hebrews doesn't think there are such people. He doesn't think you're eternally secure until you're securely in eternity.
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul talks about people who make shipwreck of the faith. As John Wesley once said, you can't make shipwreck of something you're not sailing on.”
For the full interview click here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Agnosticism's Strong Claim to Metaphysical Knowledge

Philosophical agnosticism in regard to the existence of God makes a strong claim to knowledge. The person who states “We cannot know whether or not there is a God” claims to know what we can know and what we cannot know. Such a claim is universal in that it infers that no one, in principle, can know whether or not there is a God. Thus the claim marginalizes, by fiat, persons who claim that one can know whether or not God exists. Atheists and theists alike come under the epistemological condemnation of the agnostic.

This position has been called “strong agnosticism (SA),” as differentiated from weak agnosticism. A weak agnostic states that they do not know whether or not there is a God or gods. A strong agnostic states: such things cannot be known by anyone, anywhere. Strong agnosticism makes strong claims about the nature of knowledge and reality. Weak agnosticism is about a personal belief. My interest is in strong agnosticism precisely because of its dogmatic marginalizing.

I find SA hard to believe. Why? First of all, the claim that knowledge of God is impossible assumes that something is known about “God,” otherwise the claim is nonsensical. Secondly, the strong agnostic makes a very strong, almost supernatural (but surely metaphysical) claim about the nature of reality. Thirdly, I believe that much contemporary SA is rooted in methodological naturalism. Here one’s ultimate faith is placed in a certain non-scientific definition of “science.” This includes "science" as the key to "knowledge" and "truth." See Plantinga for more here.

I think inductive arguments for atheism and theism are more reasonable approaches than SA.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Miracle of Design In the Cell

Check out this 37-minute video (free) on the complexity of the cell system. It features, e.g., Michael Denton.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why Katrina?

Why Katrina? How do we understand something like this in light of our faith and belief in an all-loving, all-powerful God?

I believe that before responding to this question we must first seek God as to what we can do to help the victims in addition to praying for them. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and reaching out to the “least of these.” What Jesus says in Matthew 25 is radical and shocking in its expectations. We must apply His words as an ongoing lifestyle and not only (though there is good in this) in short-term immediate responses to crisis situations.

Only after that can we authentically ask the theological meta-question: why would God allow such a thing to happen? From a Christian theological standpoint here are my thoughts.

*The Bible presents us with a fallen world, a world in bondage to decay, a world that itself cries out for redemption. In such a fallen world natural disasters happen. They always have – both small scale and large scale. We are not promised that we will always be protected from them in this life. Romans 8:18-23 states:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

Romans 8:18 was probably the first verse in the Bible that I ever memorized. Again, it states: "I consider that the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Why this verse, I now wonder? I am thinking that it spoke to me because, like everyone, I had experienced suffering. Unfortunately, for me in particular, a good deal of my suffering was brought on by my own bad choices. But it was clear to me that this life will contain suffering, struggle, hardship, and pain. And this clarity in no way caused me to doubt that there was a God who is loving, just, merciful, and powerful. All the sufferings I have personally seen and not seen have not changed my mind about this. I have no doubt that God is with me. I also have no doubt that there will be suffering in life.

*I have never believed, on the basis of biblical teaching, that the ultimate purpose of this life is to live “a long, healthy life.” From my Christian standpoint the most important value is, while I am in this life, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. This does not mean that, e.g., when we lose a loved one that we will not deeply grieve. Or that, when a loved one or even our own self is greatly suffering, we will not feel pain. But biblically we are not presented with a pain-free life. I believe that how we live and die is far more significant than the fact that people die. As a pastor I have been with many suffering persons and have seen God greatly glorified even in the midst of great suffering.

*Everyone dies. The specifics of how persons should die are not given. Some die peacefully. Others die violently. But we do not have, in the Bible, any idea of a “good death.” There are a lot of not-so-good deaths in Scripture. Take Jesus’ death on the cross for starters. Think of the suffering and dying Jesus as portrayed in "The Passion of the Christ."

*I believe that from a Christian paradigm it is not only possible but probable that God did save lives in the midst of all of this. There are indeed persons testifying that this is indeed the case. Such persons see and experience the saving activity of God in what happened to them. It would be presumptuous to devalue the testimonies of God's redemptive activity that are and will be coming forth out of this tragedy.

*But of what value, then, are our prayers? Do our prayers move the heart and hand of God? I will be posting my response to this question soon.

*A FINAL NOTE: I have in my personal library many books that respond to the questions that arise in the midst of suffering and pain. One such book is Greg Boyd's Is God to Blame? We're selling his book now at our church because Greg is coming to be with us October 2-3-4 of 2005.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Lost Childhood of Jimi Hendrix

Charles R. Cross's new biography of Jimi Hendrix, Room Full of Mirrors, is reviewed in today's New York Times. It's yet another story about a lost childhood and the subsequent quest to find the stability and love Hendrix never got as a child. The result was a life filled with an endless supply of drugs and sex. The NYT review states, "more than one woman tells of coming into his room to find him with five or more lovers already in his bed. Exhaustion became his regular state, and in his last days he desperately went from woman to woman."

Listen to this sad moment of a man trying to find the love he never had as a boy: "As he did with Cobain, Cross ties Hendrix's emotional malnutrition as a child to his inability to cope with fame as an adult, leading to constant longing and disappointment. A few months before he died, Hendrix the superstar came through Seattle on tour... Driving past the hospital where his mother had died, he searched in vain for her grave. Then he came to a run-down, vacant house where he had lived as a boy and spent countless hours playing the broomstick. Going up to the window, ''he put his hands around his eyes,'' Cross writes, ''pressed his face against the glass, and peered into the shadows, as if he were searching for something he had lost.'' "

Friday, August 26, 2005

Darwin's Finches Only Evolve Back and Forth

Peter and Rosemary Grant are professors of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. In this month's edition of the journal Current Biology they co-author the article "Darwin's Finches." The famus finch beaks oscillate, over time, back and forth. We can thus raise the question: if they diverge only then to converge back to what they were before, is that really evolution? The Grant's article leaves that question unasked and unanswered. Arn.org responds that we know the answer to the question is "yes," but it is only microevolution.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jesus Research #1

I recently began a year of knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The way I am doing this is:

- I am going to read and re-read and re-read etc. the 4 gospels for a year. Just reading Matthew-Mark-Luke-John over and over and over.

- I began a new journal in which I will record my thoughts, insights, and questions about Jesus and the things of Jesus.

- I will also be doing ongoing Jesus research, using texts I already have on Jesus and probably some new texts. I have a decent, scholarly personal library in the area of Christology that I'll be going back to. One of my areas of doctoral study was in this area.

- My personal goals in all of this are: to get the Jesus story into me. To know about the Real Jesus and to know the Real Jesus.

- For my church - I will begin preaching through the 4 gospels on Sept. 18. A goal: that my congregation becomes "Jesus literate."

- I believe it is extremely important for Christians today to read the real thing - not just books about Jesus, but the actual gospels.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Scientific Irrelevance of Darwinian Theory

When I was a pastor at Michigan State University we had many scientists in our church. I had dialogue with a number of them regarding evolutionary theory. What I discovered was that, even though most of them were brilliant in their various areas of science, they were not especially familiar with Darwin’s theory of evolution. They could have been familiar with it had they wanted to. They certainly had the ability to comprehend it. But they had not really especially studied it. They did not need to study Darwin and Neo-Darwinian theories of evolution to do the effective science that they were engaged in. In Kuhnian terms, they were mostly engaged in “normal science,” and doing it quite well.
Which raises the question: What good is Darwinian theory to the actual doing of science? Here is a quote from Ohio State University scientist Robert Disilvestro that speaks to this point.
“There's a popular statement that nothing in biology makes sense in light of evolution. I challenge anyone to tell me any single area of biomedical research that one couldn't do if they didn't accept Darwin's current ideas. I'm waiting to hear it. I can't think of a single one. And that question has been asked to some people and they can't give me an answer, either.

So in my work, what I work on could be interpreted in light of some evolutionary theories, but it's not required that I hold a particular theory in order to do my work. I could believe in Darwin, I could believe in punctuated equilibrium, I could believe in spacemen, I could believe in intelligent design. And I pretty much do the work in more or less the same way...

I've read hundreds of biomedical research papers, I've been to hundreds of talks, and evolution is only brought up once in a great, great while. For the most part, it's never even brought up, which is something I wanted to comment on and it's in my written statement, which hopefully some of you got...

In reality, there are a handful of people that have really gone through the Darwinian ideas, have come to the conclusion that they make compelling sense. There are a few, like myself, who questioned those ideas and have come to the conclusion that they make compelling nonsense. But the overwhelming majority of scientists have never even thought about the question...

I think most scientists have just never critically considered the issue.”

Over 400 Scientists Doubt Darwinism

Here's an entire article re. the growing number of scientists who question natural selection as the means by which speciation occurs.

SEATTLE — More than 400 scientists have signed onto a growing list from all disciplines who are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” “Darwin’s theory of evolution is the great white elephant of contemporary thought,” said Dr. David Berlinski, a mathematician and philosopher of science with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC). “It is large, almost completely useless, and the object of superstitious awe.”Discovery Institute first published its Statement of Dissent from Darwin in 2001 and a direct challenge to statements made in PBS’ “Evolution” series that no scientists disagreed with Darwinian evolution. “The fact is that a significant number of scientists are extremely skeptical that Darwinian evolution can explain the origins of life,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the CSC. “We expect that as scientists engage in the wider debate over materialist evolutionary theories, this list will continue to grow, and grow at an even more rapid pace than we’ve seen this past year.”In the last 90 days, 29 scientists, including eight biologists, have signed the “Scientific Dissent From Darwinism.” The list includes over 70 biologists.The most recent signatories are Lev V. Beloussov and Vladimir L. Voeikov, two prominent Russian biologists from Moscow State University. Dr. Voeikov is a professor of bioorganic chemistry and Dr. Beloussov is a professor of embryology an Honorary Professor at Moscow State University and a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.“The ideology and philosophy of neo-Darwinism, which is sold by its adepts as a scientific theoretical foundation of biology, seriously hampers the development of science and hides from students the field’s real problems,” said Professor Voeikov.“Lately in the media there’s been a lot of talk about science versus religion,” said West. “But such talk is misleading. This list is a witness to the growing group of scientists who challenge Darwinian theory on scientific grounds.” Other prominent biologists who have signed the list include evolutionary biologist and textbook author Dr. Stanley Salthe, Dr. Richard von Sternberg, an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, and Giuseppe Sermonti, Editor of Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum. The list also includes scientists from Princeton, Cornell, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Ohio State University, Purdue and University of Washington among others.

Monday, August 22, 2005

ID, The New York Times, and Darwin's Finches Again

Today's nytimes.com has yet another article on Intelligent Design Theory.

Amazingly this article uses Darwin's finches as evidence of macroevolution. "The finches that Darwin observed in the Galápagos Islands provide the most famous example of this process. The species of finch that originally found its way to the Galápagos from South America had a beak shaped in a way that was ideal for eating seeds. But once arrived on the islands, that finch eventually diversified into 13 species. The various Galápagos finches have differently shaped beaks, each fine-tuned to take advantage of a particular food, like fruit, grubs, buds or seeds.
Such small adaptations can arise within a few generations. Darwin surmised that over millions of years, these small changes would accumulate, giving rise to the myriad of species seen today."

It is likely true that Darwin's finches, for evolutionists, "provide the most famous example" of natural selection. But this "most famous example" demonstrates only microevolution. To get macroevolution out of the finch example is to extrapolate from the data. Again, Darwin's finches provide evidence for micro-, not macro- evolution. The criticism regarding Darwin's finches has especially come from Jonathan Wells and others.

Friday, August 19, 2005

My Brief Life On The Panda's Thumb

I made a comment a few weeks ago on The Panda’s Thumb. I was quickly attacked by a litany of ad hominem abusives, ad hominem circumstantials, encountered one of the very best examples of begging the question I have seen (I’ll probably use it as an example in the logic classes I teach in college), was sworn at, and so on. I found it very difficult simply to make one logical point and have it responded to (which was that a conclusion made by Nick Matzke did not logically follow from his premise).

So off we went chasing red herrings, swinging at straw men, and sliding down a great many slippery slopes. Now, in the untamed wild west of angry Darwinists where gunslingers take the laws of logic into their own hands, came macho threats, outright mockery, drooling guffawing, and whispered snickering. Everything but my mother was assaulted.

All of which began to produce a fog of sorts through which, I confess, it became hard to see the forest for the trees. Such is the net outcome when a fair portion of Patrick Hurley's 25 informal fallacies belch forth from The Saloon of Darwin.

Yet my brief life at The Panda’s Thumb gave me many wonderful new examples of informal logical fallacies to use in my teaching. As well as a number of clear non sequiturs and just plain poor logic. Yes, I do understand that il-logic is not the domain of Darwinists especially. All of us can and do miss the point, equivocate, and get vague. But illogic-with-a-vengeance seemed to predominate in the “discussion” I had. Which tells me that vitriolic fundamentalists are to be found wherever there are humans.

Looking for the Real Jesus

Bill McKibben has what is to me a stunning article on the Real Jesus in this month's Harper's Magazine. It's called "The Christian Paradox: How A Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong."

Increasingly I find that I desire to know about and know the Real Jesus. One way I am currently doing this is taking a year or more to read and re-read the 4 gospels, over and over and over.

I would suggest doing this. Read the 4 gospels rather than read books about Jesus. Read them as if for the very first time. Attend to them. Listen. Be both broken and encouraged. Convicted and blessed.

And obey.

Never forget this: Jesus is radical. Jesus is the revolutionary One. He is the world-changer and life-transformer. And He didn't get to be that by giving us some soft fuzzy words about how to maintain our self-image.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Spiritual Warfare Notes (especially for the men of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois)

Dear Men of Judson Baptist Church in Joliet:

Hello! I very much enjoyed being with you this past weekend. And... I am praying for you. I'm carrying my prayer list around and interceding before God on your behalf.I am very excited about what God is doing in you. I am praying for you as you pray for one another and invite others in your church this coming Sunday to join you in praying for each other.Here are some notes from last weekend on spiritual warfare.

Blessings,

John Piippo

*****
We are in a spiritual war.

Why there is a spiritual war going on:God is love. That means, in His essence, God is love.God wants His created agents (persons and angels and spiritual beings) to love Him.For this to happen created agents must have free will.Love is not possible without free will.But giving created agents free will has a risk.Because created agents can choose to not love God.Wherever there is free will there will be war.

The battlefield is: the souls of men and women.

Satan, our adversary, is:“a roaring lion” who “prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
He is “the tempter” who influences people to sin (1 Thess. 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; Acts 5:3)and the deceiver who blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4).
Satan is behind all types of false teaching (Gal. 4:8–10; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 4:1–5, 1 John 4:1–2; 2 John 7),
And can appear as an “angel of light” (Gal. 1:8),
and even perform “lying wonders and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing” (2 Thess. 2:9–10).

How do we wage war against the spiritual forces of evil?
Ephesians 6:10-20 tells us to “put on the full armor of God.”
This means:
Be truthful (as opposed to Satan, who is the “father of lies” and operates in lies)
Be straight (“righteous”).
Be a peacemaker (this is far different from being a “peace lover”).
Step out in faith. Faith is: risk. Faith is not essentially a feeling. It is action. Faith is a verb.
Know that God loves you and has saved you and you are his child.
Know God’s Word and use God’s Word in spiritual warfare.
Pray! Prayer, says Greg Boyd, is an act of war. Prayer pushes back the darkness.

AND… Take authority.

Matthew 28:18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Mark 1:27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him."
Look at “authority prayers “ in Mark 1.
Luke 4:36All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!"
Luke 9:1 - When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.
Luke 10:19I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
Matthew 10:1; 7-8 - 1He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil[a] spirits and to heal every disease and sickness… 7As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b]drive out demons.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says that the weapons demolish arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

Following Francis Frangipane (The Three Battlegrounds), I am defining a spiritual stronghold as a “house made of thoughts.” We are called to “take every thought captive.”

Here are some examples of spiritual strongholds – “houses” made of thoughts – that need to be torn down:

Cares of the world
Anxiety
Unforgiveness
Bitterness
Grief (lasting)
Instability (emotions rule; the emotional rollercoaster)
Accusations (the “accuser of the brethren”)
Condemnation
Sin and patterns of sin

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Romans 15:17-19 at Redeemer

Hello Redeemer Family:

If you were at the 8/7/05 morning service you heard me say that some persons do not think miracles can happen. This may be because they have been influenced by a view called Philosophical Naturalism (PN).
I have found, in my conversations with persons and in my reading, that often a person who does not believe in miracles holds to the view that there is nothing outside of “nature.” PN is the belief that everything in our experience can be accounted for by pure natural forces, and that there are no things or events outside of nature. Atheist Paul Draper puts it this way: Naturalism is “the hypothesis that the physical universe is a ‘closed system’ in the sense that nothing that is neither a part nor a product of it can affect it. So naturalism entails the nonexistence of all supernatural beings, including the theistic God.”
Now note this: PN is not itself a truth that can be discovered by studying nature. As Darwinist Eugenie Scott states, science only studies nature, and nature is “matter, energy, and their interaction.” PN cannot be found in nature, thus the idea that "there are no things or events outside of nature," that the universe is a "closed system," is not itself a scientific truth. It is rather an assumption, or a definition. Therefore, for someone who buys into PN (whether consciously or unconsciously, but quite often the latter), of course miracles don’t happen because “there is nothing outside of nature.”
Let me put this another way. If someone like Draper just states that the universe is a closed system, then of course, for people like Draper, miracles will not happen. As philosopher Richard Purtill states, “a position that describes natural laws as simply a summary of what happens cannot even make the contrast between miracles and nonmiraculous events” (“Defining Miracles,” in A Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, eds. Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas, 70).
Obviously, then, a person who holds to PN cannot believe in miracles (defined as events that cannot be explained by pure natural forces). The non-existence of miracles is assumed by definition. Just as it would be impossible to believe in a “married bachelor,” it is impossible – logically – for a PN-er to believe in miracles.
Philosopher Winfried Corduan writes, "By virtue of their assumptions about the nature of science the naturalists [adherents of PN] will never be convinced that a miracle has actually occurred... We can now see that the naturalists have laid out the rules of the game in such a way that they cannot possibly lose" ('Recognizing a Miracle," in Ib., 101).
I feel quite certain that PN long ago infiltrated the Christian church. In spite of the fact that God worked miracles through Jesus and Paul, there are Christians who doubt that miracles really happen today. In this sense they are people who walk in unbelief. They are philosophical naturalists.
Here then is a reason why we do not see miracles in Westernized churches but see them in non-Westernized churches. This explains Matthew 13:58, where we read that Jesus refused to do miracles because of the people’s lack of faith. Where there is lack of faith or unbelief we should expect the relative absence of the supernatural.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Philosophical Naturalism dialogue on The Panda's Thumb

Someone at the Darwinist website The Panda's Thumb responded to me:

John Piippo wrote:
Having been a professor of logic for many years I must say that Philip Johnson’s quote does not serve as a premise leading to the conclusion that “ID is just creationism in a postmodern, relativist tuxedo.” Johnson’s quote addresses his concern (and Plantinga’s, et. al.) that Neo-Darwinism is inextricably rooted in methodological naturalism.

Can Piippo name a currently accepted scientific theory, in any discipline from physics to biology, that is not “rooted in methodological naturalism”? That is, does Piippo know of a currently accepted theory that invokes causal/explanatory variables not normally deemed to be ‘naturalistic’, or whose support does not in the end depend on systematic observations of the natural world? Though I’ve worked in science and technology for over 40 years, in both industry and academics, I have not to my knowledge encountered even one such.

Here is my response:

The very fact that nearly all (if not entirely all) current scientific theories are grounded in Philosophical Naturalism (PN) supports what I (and Plantinga et. al.) are saying. PN holds that there is nothing outside of nature. Everything in our experience can be accounted for by pure natural forces.
But PN is not itself a scientific truth. Rather, PN defines the parameters of scientific inquiry. As such, PN functions as a definition. But it itself is not a scientific truth.
PN is something like a philosophical position. PN is often also referred to as Metaphysical Naturalism. That is, PN is a metaphysical claim. As a metaphysical claim the truth or non-truth of PN needs to be established philosophically, not scientifically.
Plantinga explains this: The idea that “human beings and other living creatures have come about by chance, rather than by God’s design, is… not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance? That’s not empirical science. That’s metaphysics, or maybe theology. It’s a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn’t, of course, be taught in public schools.” (http://newsinfo.nd.edu/content.cfm?topicid=12242)
If, therefore, most current scientific theories are grounded in PN this does not imply that ID is to be dismissed as “science.” It only means that much contemporary science is grounded in a certain non-scientific metaphysical claim. Some, like Plantinga and Johnson, wish to question the validity of that claim.

Atheism as a Crutch

Thomas Nagel, in his book The Last Word, offered a revealing insight into his personal motivations for his atheistic beliefs: "I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope that there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

Jay Budziszewski responded to Nagel's comments in the journal First Things. There he said that if Nagel's motivations are true of most atheists, then "those who say that theism is a crutch have got it backwards…; it is atheism that serves as a crutch."

A Darwinist Begs the Question

I am currently in a dialogue/debate on line at nytimes.com over the issue of Intelligent Design theory.

Consider this recent post by a Darwinist, who writes: “It's true that arguments by ID proponents that organisms are too complex to have evolved step by step are clearly wrong, since one step at a time is just how complexity develops.”

This is a pefect, textbook example of the informal logical fallacy of "begging the question."

This argument states: Premise 1. One step at a time is just how complexity develops. Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong that organisms are too complex to have evolved step by step.

But of course! Because it's just circular reasoning.

Frightened By Intelligent Design Theory

In today's New York Times Paul Krugman states his fears re. Intelligent Design Theory. I just e-mailed him this response:

Dear Mr. Krugman:

· To hint that ID is using “fake research” is dishonest. The truth is that a growing number of actual scientists show interest in ID. This includes ID-ers problems with Darwinian macroevolution.
· “Fake research” has been used by Darwinists. See, e.g., Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution.
· “Science” and “scientific truth” and “peer review” and “the self-policing nature of science” present actual scientists in universities as pure Cartesian intellects devoid of “politics.” Politics has long been involved in Neo-Darwinist promotion. Not all Neo-Darwinians have engaged in it. Just as not all ID-ers engage in it. But it seems to be a quite human thing.
· If it is true that some politicians hate Darwinism, so what? One commits the ad populum fallacy by inferring that this somehow undermines ID theory.
· It is an empirical fact that a small-but-growing number of actual scientists have doubts about macro-evolution. It is true that more scientists today accept macro-evolution than not. But, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this is always the way a potential revolution happens in science. So, when it comes to revolutionary science, numbers do not matter. Yet in the history of science, theories can come and go (see Kuhn again, e.g.). A prevailing scientific paradigm gets questioned, sometimes by only one scientist. It takes many years for the then-prevailing paradigm (called “normal science” by Kuhn) to gain acceptability.
· The political and emotional resistance to a candidate for a paradigm shift is understandable. I personally see this in a lot of the anti-ID literature. Yet there are serious discussions going on. See, e.g., Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, edited by non-ID-er Michael Ruse and ID-er William Dembski. Don’t you think that the dialogue that takes place in a text like this is more fruitful than pointing out the political hatred on both sides?

Sincerely,

John Piippo, Ph.D

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Philosophical Naturalism and Miracles

Philosophical Naturalism (PN) holds that there is nothing outside of nature. Everything in our experience can be accounted for by pure natural forces.

Obviously then, a person who holds to PN cannot believe in miracles (defined as events that cannot be explained by pure natural forces). The non-existence of miracles is assumed by definition. Just as it would be impossible to believe in a married bachelor it is impossible – logically – to believe in miracles.

Now note this: PN cannot be itself established by science since, by definition, science only studies natural (not supernatural) events. PN defines the parameters of science; viz., everything in nature. This definition of “science” does not nor cannot prove PN. As philosopher Richard Purtill states, “a position that describes natural laws as simply a summary of what happens cannot even make the contrast between miracles and nonmiraculous events” (“Defining Miracles,” in A Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, eds. Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas, 70).

Philosopher Winfried Corduan adds, "By virtue of their assumptions about the nature of science the naturalists [adherents of PN] will never be convinced that a miracle has actually occurred... We can now see that the naturalists have laid out the rules of the game in such a way that they cannot possibly lose" ('Recognizing a Miracle," in Ib., 101).

Any attempt to argue from this notion of science that miracles do not happen is to beg the question.

Blatant Falsehoods in The Da Vinci Code

Page 1 of DVC states: "Fact": "all descriptions of ...documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
But this is false. Here are but some examples which Margaret Mitchell of The University of Chicago cites.
  • There were "more than eighty gospels" (p.231; the number 80 is factual-sounding, but has no basis)
  • "The earliest Christian records" were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (including gospels) and Nag Hammadi texts (pp.234, 245)
  • The Nag Hammadi texts "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (p.234)
  • The marriage of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is "a matter of historical record" (p.244)
  • Constantine invented the divinity of Jesus and excluded all gospels but the four canonical ones
  • Constantine made Christianity "the official religion" of the Roman Empire (p.232)
  • Constantine coined the term "heretic" (p.234)
  • "Rome's official religion was sun worship" (p.232)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Selling of The Da Vinci Code

I was in Borders today and saw some "Da Vinci Code" games/etc. for sale. Here comes the spinoff marketing of the movie.
Today's New York Times has an article stating that Christian groups are putting pressure on director Ron Howard and Sony Pictures to revise the plot so as to "soften" it and hopefully not upset so many Christians. But the basic plot, horrifically false though it may be, will surely remain since it is the core of the fictional work; viz., that "Jesus married Mary Magdalene and the Catholic Church has done everything in its power, including murdering millions of people, to cover it up."
I'll be doing a seminar on DVC at our church when the time is right to help our people see the story's false claims.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Philosophy Links

For some excellent Christian links re. philosophy see The Evangelical Philosophical Society's web page.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Dave Matthews' Incoherent God-Talk

A recent quote from Dave Matthews on God is an example of confusion, incoherency, and maybe "mosaic" thining (as opposed to linear thinking). Matthews says:
"The idea of a God that's preoccupied with our well-being is totally foreign to me. I'm more inclined to think that a very miraculous indifference is responsible for most things. I have faith, but I think there's a difference between faith and absolute belief. Faith requires a certain amount of suspended belief, whereas absolute belief doesn't really require any faith. If you think God is absolutely there watching you, then why do you need any faith? But I do like the idea of a force that made all the miracles. All the stuff we don't understand that we arrogantly pretend to be in control of, that stuff is where I think my faith is."--Dave Matthews in Rolling Stone (cited at thunderstruck.org)
Now this is incoherent.
Assuming Matthews' quote is in context, we can state the following.
1. "A very miraculous indifference is responsible for most things."
a. What is: "a very miraculous indifference?" I think it is no more than a poetic oxymoron with no identifiable cognitive content.
b. "Miraculous" implies God. "Indifference" implies no God or, at most, deism.
c. "Responsible" implies personal agency (Again, God).
d. "Indifferent responsibility" is probably a logical contradiction, akin to "round square."
e. "Responsible for most things" is vague and thus unhelpful.
2. "There is a difference between faith and absolute belief."
a. "Absolute belief" means...??? Dogmatism? Certainty?
b. Matthews commits the logical fallacy of false dichotomy. There are other possibilities rather than just "faith" and "absolute belief" (whatever that is). Such as, e.g., reasonable faith. Or: reasons to believe.
3. Faith does not require "a certain amount of suspended belief." And even if it did, how much? How little? But to act in faith does not require that one suspend belief. Actually, it is because of belief and out of belief that persons act in faith.
4. "If you think God is absolutely there watching you..."
a. What does this mean? Does it mean: if you really, really believe God is watching you?
b. Why would such a fact remove the need for faith? The answer is: God's watching you does not mean one can do away with faith anymore than a coach watching their student means the student does not need faith to follow what the coach wants.
5. "A force that made all the miracles..."
a. Does Matthews mean a "force" that acts miraculously?
b. And, of course, "force" is vague and, anyway, it's from Star Wars.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Scientology

Scientology is getting a lot of publicity recently because of one of its advocates, actor Tom Cruise. To find out some good information on scientology see this information located at christianitytoday.com. Click here for the Matt Lauer interview with Cruise plus more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Transitional Fossils?

One of the arguments Intelligent Design theorists such as Philip Johnson and William Dembski put forward as against macroevolution is this. Darwinian evolutionary theory predicts innumerable transitional fossils that connect species to species. ID theorists and others argue that the fossil evidence goes against transitional fossils. For a very good, scientific, position in support of the overwhelming lack of transitional fossils, see here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

William Dembski's Weblog, Richard Dawkins, and ID

Check out William Dembski's weblog for his ongoing thoughts about Intelligent Design theory and much more.
Here, for example, are two letters Dembski posts, written by UK scientists who are reacting negatively to Richard Dawkins.

*****
Two Gifts for Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins’s recent piece titled Creationism: God’s Gift to the Ignorant has not met with full acceptance among UK scientists. Here are two letters by UK scientists who aren’t buying his latest attack on ID:

From Professor Andy McIntosh
Sir, By building a straw man of creationists (supposedly) misquoting Darwin and Lewontin, Professor Dawkins labels the lot as “ignorant” and skirts the big issue — there is no hard evidence for molecules-to-man evolution.
Dawkins has long touted stories on how the eye and other organs came into being by supposed slow evolutionary processes, but there is no experimental evidence, even if one did accept the fossils as a record of such changes. Any serious thinker knows that the fossils of the “Cambrian Explosion” period, near the base of the geological column, include some of the most sophisticated eyes ever known to have existed — the compound eyes of trilobites have double calcite lenses, which defeat any slow evolutionary explanation, and, what is more, they have no precursor in the rocks.
The non-evolutionist side of the argument is growing not because of ignorance, but because of the rise of knowledge about the real facts of science without the fairytale additions of evolutionism. A growing number of academics on both sides of the Atlantic are attracted to the straightforward logic of scientific reasoning.
The logical, coded machinery of DNA and the information system it carries shout design to an unprejudiced mind. Dawkins’s defence is based not on scientific facts, but on ideology. Evolutionary thinking is teetering as a way of looking at the evidence, not because of some isolated problems here and there, but because the whole structure is scientifically wrong.
Yours faithfully,
ANDY C. McINTOSH,
(Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory),
Energy and Resources Research Institute,
Houldsworth Building,
University of Leeds,
Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9JT.
May 23.

*****
Evolving theory of intelligent designFrom Dr Milton Wainwright

Sir, Like many biologists, Richard Dawkins (Weekend Review, May 21) views the theory of intelligent design merely as an attack on evolution when, being essentially identical to the anthropic principle, it has far wider implications.
Such ideas should not be dismissed simply because they have been hijacked by creationists. Despite Dawkins’s relentless propaganda, rational criticism of evolution and a distaste for biological reductionism do not equate to religious fundamentalism; bigotry should be resisted from whichever direction it comes.
Yours faithfully,
MILTON WAINWRIGHT,
Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology,
University of Sheffield,Sheffield S10 2TN.
May 21.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Islam, the Koran, and American Ignorance

The recent Islamic outrage over perceived desecration of the Koran reveals the basic ignorance of the American media and Americans in general when it comes to understanding Islam and the religious instinct. What the American media cannot fathom is that Muslims who have not been westernized still believe in absolute truth. The democratization of human experience and the ideology of cultural relativism found in western American culture cannot grasp what is going on inside a non-westernized Muslim’s mind and heart. For non-westernized Muslims the Koran really is from God. For them the Koran really is holy. From their perspective it logically follows that to treat the Koran as just another book is scandalous.
For a non-westernized Muslim to question anything in the Koran is blasphemous. Remember what happened to Salman Rushdie? That a fatwa should be put out against Rushdie was unintelligible to the western mind. But Rushdie knew it was real because he understood the Islamic paradigm. There really were Muslims who would want to kill him because, in their eyes, he defamed Mohammed. Thus he went into hiding to save his life.
This past week Muslims were reported to have been chanting “We will cut off the legs of those who defile the Koran!” In logic, this is called an “appeal to force.” It is an informal logical fallacy, adding nothing to support the claim that the Koran is not to be physically mishandled. But it is a deep, ingrained religious conviction that characterizes many serious Muslims. Such Muslims really would cut off the legs of someone who abused the Koran.
Islam is a growing force in international relations. Muslims are moving into American neighborhoods. If they become indoctrinated into American culture they will grow relativistic and become secularized. As nominal Muslims they will affect no one. Muslim scholars and clerics know this. That is why the really great threat to Islam is not Christianity, but Western American culture. That is why effigies of President Bush were being burned this past week. And that explains why Muslim scholars so easily reduce Christianity to a hidden agenda, which is to indoctrinate Muslim peoples with capitalistic values. (See, e.g., Ali Bulac, "Whose Side Was Jesus On?")

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Will We Have Free Will in Heaven?

Will we have free will in heaven? I believe the answer must be: Yes. This is because, in heaven, our essential activity will be loving and worshiping God. Without free will love is not possible. Therefore we will have free will in heaven.
But there will be no evil in heaven. We will have free will but will never exercise that will to choose evil. This raises a question. It is: If we have free will in heaven, but always choose the good, why could not, why did not, God make a world where we always choose the good? (J.L. Mackie claims that, if God is omnipotent, then God could have made a world where persons had free will yet always chose the good. Alvin Plantinga argues that Mackie is wrong about this, and that God could not have made such a world since free will implies the possibility of choosing evil, and that it is possible that every person has transworld depravity; viz., that every person makes at least one evil choice in every possible world.)
One answer is this. Heaven is a place where we will receive our heart's greatest longing. In this world we can make a choice either for or against God. If we choose for God then in heaven we receive the object of our choice: eternity spent in the unmediated presence of God. In this world "we see through a glass darkly." In heaven, we "see face to face." "Face to face" knowing is what I will call being in the unmediated presence of God. In this world "seeing through a glass darkly" means that our "seeing" of God is mediated through things such as, e.g., the creation.
Why? Why does God reveal Himself, in this world, in mediated ways? It is reasonable to think that God does so in order to enable people freely to love, trust and obey Him; otherwise, we would be coerced in a manner incompatible with love. The result of our having freely chosen to love, trust, and obey God is entrance into the unmediated presence of God. This experience is so fully existentially "persuasive" that one will always choose God and the values of God.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Can a Christian Lose Their Salvation?

Can a Christian lose their salvation?
This is a very much-debated issue among Christian scholars. Some say – No, because a Christian, once saved, is always saved. Why? Because of the New Testament teaching about grace. A person is saved by grace, not by their good works or good deeds.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. The reasoning goes like this: if our deeds contribute nothing to our salvation, how could our deeds contribute to our losing our salvation?
Others say: yes, a once-saved person can lose their salvation. Why? What biblical support can be given for this? Support for this is found in Hebrews 6:4-6, which reads: It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Look closely at this passage. The person being described sure sounds like a Christian. For how could a non-Christian...
...Be enlightened
...Taste the heavenly gift
...Share in the Holy Spirit
...Taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age

If the person described here is a Christian, if they fall away from Christ “it is impossible” to bring them back to repentance. Does that mean they have lost their salvation? Could be. Minimally, they are in a very dangerous spiritual position.
And, note here what “falling away” is and is not. Falling away is NOT sinning occasionally, or even sinning over a period of time. Falling away IS “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” Thus the “falling away” talked about here in Hebrews 6 is a really radical, public, lasting, intentional anti-Christ stance. Personally I would feel very worried if a strong follower of Jesus turned against Him for the rest of the days of their life.
My own belief is that, not only is this a very dangerous spiritual condition, but that such a person may be said to have lost their salvation.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Joy Transcends Happiness

A few years before my father died he gave his tools to my brother Mike and I. My dad was someone who could fix nearly anything. And, when something needed fixing, he had a lot of patience as he slowly analyzed the situation. Now I have half his tools with less than half of his ability. I do not inwardly experience what dad did when faced with a mechanical problem. I do not feel the inner workings of his mind. I do not have his patience and confidence. Thus, in this area, I do not personally relate to much of what my father experienced. If only he could have given me not only his tools but also his heart and mind!
There are things God wants to give us that are nothing less than His own heart and mind. One such thing is His joy. What do you think God experiences when He has joy? What goes on in His heart and mind? Surely, whatever it is, it transcends earthly pleasure and happiness. If only God could give us His joy! The truth is that He can. And He does. Jesus said, in John 15:11, ”I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” You and I can have the joy of Jesus. This means we can experience what He experiences in His spirit when He rejoices. Something of God’s inner workings are imparted, given, to us. (See also John 17:13) Nothing less than the same joy Jesus knows is known by us. What is such joy like?
C.S. Lewis’s autobiography was called Surprised By Joy. What Lewis experienced as joy could not be expressed in common words, so he found an uncommon word to attempt to describe it. Lewis used a German word, sehnsucht, to convey the meaning of joy. Sehnsucht means “longing.” What does this mean? Let me explain it this way.
Christian joy is a fruit that is produced from the tree of hope. Christian hope comes from the promises of God. Hope is the eager expectation of better things to come (Hebrews 6:9-11). As a child there were times when my parents gave me a promise of a future event, like a vacation, that filled me with joy. There was, for me, more joy in the longing for the promised thing than there was in things I already possessed. Joy is a recurring stab of longing that nothing in this world will satisfy. It is a desire for God and heaven that God himself has built into the human race, though many of us in our fallenness fail to grasp its message. Lewis called it 'joy' because in the longing, itself, there is greater delight than in any of this world's pleasures.
The joy of Jesus is not of this world. Nothing in this world will give us this joy. Only Jesus can. That this joy is truly other-worldly is evidenced by the fact that it not only endures in the midst of suffering, it even flourishes. Paul, in Romans 5:3, writes what seems like an oxymoron: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” Paul again, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, writes: “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” And in 2 Corinthians 8:2 Paul commends the Macedonian Christians who, in the middle of “a severe test of affliction,” overflowed with joy. Happiness comes and goes with life’s circumstances. Christian joy grows in all circumstances. How is this possible?
It is possible if Jesus gives us His joy. Hebrews 12:2 reads, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here are two things you can do to enter into the joy of the Lord: 1) meditate on the eternal, unchanging promises of God that grow the tree of hope; and 2) cry out to God to produce the fruit of His joy in your heart.
Blessings,Pastor John Piippo

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pray for Brian Welch

At mtv.com we read that "Guitarist Brian "Head" Welch, a founding member of Korn, has left the band and has rededicated his life to Christianity, according to the group's management."Korn has parted ways with guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch, who has chosen Jesus Christ as his savior, and will be dedicating his musical pursuits to that end," a statement from the band reads. "Korn respects Brian's wishes, and hopes he finds the happiness he's searching for."" (2/22/05)
Now all those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior need to pray for Brian Welch, because the spiritual battle is on. Satan has lost his soul forever, but will work mightily to halt the spiritual progress in his life so that Brian might be rendered useless for the kingdom of God.
To gain extrabiblical perspective about such things as spiritual battle read, for starters, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, or Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness. As Christians we believe that this world is really about rescuing the souls of men and women. Satan, our adversary, could care less whether or not you and I succeed in life or fail in life, whether we are filthy rich or dirt poor, or whether we get an extreme makeover or not. Satan cares not one thing about us, except that we not get really interested in God and Jesus. It is precisely at that point that our enemy stands up and asserts "Thou shalt not pass."
The great satanic attempt to marginalize Brian Welch has begun. The American media will not hope for Brian's "happiness" as much as his former bandmates are. He will not be portrayed as some heroic figure but as a wacko.
Brian - welcome to Christianity in America. I am so very glad God has brought you to us. I will pray for you, that as you take your substantial talents and lead many others into the fresh light of Christ, Satan's marginalizing efforts toward you will fail. I now pray that God will so encounter you with the reality of his empowering presence that you will grow strong in the experiential knowledge of him. And I pray that you will be protected from the media feeding frenzy and quickly discover that quiet place in your soul that is created in God's image and finds its rest and deep satisfaction in him.
You don't know me. You will never read this. But prayer cuts through such things to the heart of the same God we now share. So get prophetic. Because there is a world of angry teens and disillusioned young adults who are now open to "finding their way out and seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Tsunamis, Paradigms, and Natural Evils

It all begins with a paradigm. With a worldview.

Things and events get interpreted as "facts" within paradigms. All "facts" are paradigm-laden. Which means there is no such thing as Cartesian objectivity (facts that are "clear and distinct").

A main reason for disagreement between an atheist and a Christian theist is: they have differing paradigms or worldviews. The basic issue then becomes: adjudication between competing worldviews. Why choose one worldview over the other worldview? Which worldview gives a truer understanding of experience and reality? Or, put another way, which worldview gives a more correct interpretation of things?

From a Christian paradigm (or any paradigm), natural disasters are interpreted in certain ways. The Christian paradigm begins with God. It is, according to a certain Christian worldview, rational to believe God exists, and that the attributes of God include "all-powerful," "all-loving," and "all-knowing."

Also - and this is very important - Christian theism holds that God has purposes for his creation that primarily have to do with him. God wants persons to love him and worship him. God wants persons to know him and be known by him. For all eternity. This present existence is seen as fleeting and hyper-miniscule in comparison to eternity with God. Because of the certain purposes of God, earthly suffering is viewed in certain ways. The purposes of any person's life do not necessarily include things such as "long life," "perfect physical and emotional health," and "personal wealth." (If you doubt that this represents Christianity, then I ask you to look at the physical sufferings of Jesus, the length of Jesus' life, Jesus' emotional agony in the garden, as well as the sufferings and distress of Paul and the apostles.)

Once a person accepts any worldview, then events and experiences get interpreted through the lens of that worldview. What, then, of the tsunami? To me, Christian theism says things like:

- Our entire world is subject to bondage and decay. We do not live in some naturally perfect world. The whole creation is fallen, and cries out for future redemption. So, we are not surprised by things like the tsunami.

- A life lived for 1 day is just as ephemeral as a life lived for 100 years when the denominator is eternity. How a life is lived is vastly more important than how long one lives on earth.

- The death of one person is as theologically significant as the death of 300,000 persons. Jesus wept at the death of one man Lazarus, and suffered and died on a cross so that all persons might live for eternity. How one person dies is theologically less significant than that persons die. Thus, we are saddened by the loss of any human life, and remain concerned about how each person lived their life while alive on earth.

- The loss of any human life is cause for weeping precisely because, on Christian theism, persons have been made in the image of God and have souls. Human life is thus especially precious and, literally, sacred. Thus we Christian theists are distinguished from philosophical materialists who hold that persons have no souls and are only animals. Grieving over the loss of any human life seems especially relevant on Christian theism. This is precisely because of the eternal worth of every human soul.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Exclusion, Embrace, and Our “Hotel Rwanda” World

Miroslav Wolf’s Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, provides a brilliant and much-needed message today. Sadly, it’s a “Hotel Rwanda” world out there. Ethnic and cultural differences divide even Christians from living out Jesus’ John 17 prayer “that we would be one, even as I and the Father are one.”
Volf shows how when religion is de-ethnicized, ethnicity can be de-sacralized (49). Put more simply, Christians must get out of their narrow little theological boxes and enter into a vast spiritual home where God’s grace has assembled a lot of really “different” people. Here is a place, a world, where differences can be acknowledged and our common identity in Christ allows us to embrace one another. If we, as followers of Jesus, lived this out not only would there be fewer global ethnic wars (in the name of religion), there would also be fewer marital divorces because so-called “irreconcilable differences” would be able to coinhabit within the household of God.
As Volf says, “When God comes, God brings a whole new world. The Spirit of God breaks through the self-enclosed worlds we inhabit; the Spirit re-creates us and sets us on the road toward become what I like to call a “catholic personality,” a personal microcosm of the eschatological new creation. A catholic personality is a personality enriched by otherness, a personality which is what it is only because multiple others have been reflected in it in a particular way. The distance from my own culture that results from being born by the Spirit creates a fissure in me through which others can come in. The Spirit unlatches the doors of my heart, saying: “You are not only you; others belong to you too.”” (51)