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Monday, October 6, 2014

"Time To Move Along"

Joseph F. Vincent
West Point Class of 1955
The first concrete memory I have of Joseph Fraser Vincent, Sr. was on the day after the night I brought his daughter home from a date an hour and a half after her curfew. In my "defense," both he and his wife, Fran, were out of town until Sunday night -- this was on Friday. Who comes home from an out-of-town trip three days early, anyway? Beside that, Mary assured me that if we had called and asked permission to stay for the second movie of the double feature, her parents would have been fine with it. I mean, it wasn't our fault they wouldn't invent cell phones for another 20 years. It seemed like a perfectly legitimate rationalization to me.

I slowed to a rolling stop and dropped Mary off at the curb behind her house. The next day is when I first remember being introduced to the giant of a man whose physical stature was rather slight. He told me how he had trusted me with his daughter and that I had disappointed him. He told me that he expected more of me than that. As he talked to me, I shrank ever more deeply into the shag carpet at my feet. He never raised his voice above a calm, conversational tone that day or any day over the next 38 years that I knew him.

He didn't have to.

Almost 8 years later, I was back in his living room again, asking for that same girl's hand in marriage. He had sent her upstairs to her bedroom while he and Fran asked me lots of questions about my plans and how I meant to care for their daughter. I don't remember many of the specifics but I do remember how the conversation came to a close. He looked at his wife and asked, "What do you think about all this?" She responded positively.

Outer Banks, 2002.
He turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Well, I suppose we'll have to call Mary down here to break the tie." The pause between that comment and when he started laughing was a little too long for my taste; but I guess I deserved it.

Several months later, I thought I had one-upped him by making this proud Army man, and member of West Point's Long Gray Line, walk his daughter down the very long center aisle of the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis to give her away. I should have known better.

At practice the night before, when the Chaplain asked the proverbial, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man" line, he had responded exactly as expected: "Her mother and I do."

During the actual ceremony however, he changed things up. As he gave me his daughter's hands, he looked me in the eye once again. "With pride," he said, "her mother and I do."

It was a simple addition to the script; but those eyes. That voice. There was power and trust in them both. The kind of power you can't escape. The kind of trust you would never dream of betraying.

This was a man who served as a U.S. Army artillery officer, a Viet Nam veteran, a math professor at West Point, a War College graduate, and commander of men. But, if you knew any of those facts about him, you probably didn't learn them from him. This was a man who, at 72 years of age, ran the 6-mile second leg of the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with me and two of his sons ... at an 8:40 minute/mile pace. This was a man who, at age 74, completed the 12-mile March Back from Beast Barracks to West Point with the new plebes in the Class of 2010 -- one of whom was his oldest grandson. During that march, my father-in-law couldn't sit down to rest because he was having stability issues in this knees and was afraid that if he sat down, he wouldn't be able to get back up. It wasn't until years later that we learned his balance problems that day were the first sign that ALS had begun its relentless, eight-year attack on his nervous system.

Yesterday it took him from us.

When you are in the presence of a great man, you just know it. He doesn't try to tell you. He doesn't have to prove it. His life simply exudes it, and you respond accordingly. My own sons marveled at how, when Grandad Joe would begin to tell a story (and he told a lot of wonderful stories), everyone in the room would stop talking and focus on his measured, soothing voice -- not because he demanded it, but because their inner sense of respect required it.

He was a leader. He was a patriarch in every good sense of the word. He was a gentleman. He was a godly man in the way God meant men to be godly -- in humble subservience to Him but without all the faux spirituality or cheesy Christian-speak we like to use.  There was no prideful preening disguised as humility. No pretension. There was none of that. Just a down-to-earth, genuine man of God who didn't need to talk because his actions did his talking for him. This was a man who lived his life with a quiet strength and love that empowered everyone around him in ways no human author could ever explain.

I've read words like that about other people. All of us have. And I suppose they could sound cliche. But any sense of reducing the way Joseph F. Vincent, Sr. lived his life to a cliche were obliterated for anyone who was witness to the way he died.

He had made all his decisions months, if not years, before; back when he could do so unemotionally and without leaving them to torture us. He had written out instructions and left us with a computer file to open and read upon his departure.

He was alert and his eyes were clear and bright by the time all his children made it to his bedside. He couldn't talk but he could still squeeze your hand. We used a grid of letters to help him spell out questions and wishes. It had to be a tedious and aggravating process for him to do that but, as he had demonstrated over the previous 82 years of his life, there was never a hint of impatience in his expression. Just slow, resolute determination to get his points across. It went on for hours. He wanted to know why the plastic tube was in his mouth. When we told him he had stopped breathing and that he had been intubated in hopes that all of his kids could make it there to say good-bye, he spelled, "Good decision."

And then he matter-of-factly laid out his desire to have us "sing and tell jokes."

We sang hymns. We prayed prayers. We recited Scripture -- two passages in particular: the 23rd Psalm and a verse that seemed to come from out of nowhere into my wife's head: "Now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

We told jokes. Bad ones. But somehow, with facial muscles that had no strength and that tube stuck in his mouth, he still managed to laugh. The biggest laugh of the day came from a joke that he told us. It took him 20 minutes to spell it out.

Then we each took turns saying good-bye. There were 13 of us in his room. Those who could not physically make it to his bedside gave him their love and thoughts through a cell phone held to his ear. He smiled at times and took it all in. He was peaceful and steady. Much more steady than us. I don't know that I've ever heard of anyone else who was willing, and able, to officiate his own funeral.

Finally, he had two more messages to spell out. The first was, "I love all ...," and then this:


Some may suggest it is mere coincidence that all my sons just happened to be home on this particular weekend for the first time in almost 3 years. Maybe so. But, then one would also have to believe that the computer file we opened today -- the one that contained the following written by him years ago and that we had never seen before -- was also just a product of coincidence:
"I am not ready to leave this world… BUT, if I have no choice …I AM READY. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 
I have no fear, in fact, I look upon this departure as My Greatest Adventure. I see it as a transition from one life (on earth) to everlasting life. I will look forward to seeing all of my family…in due time. 
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Accept the comfort and turn MOURNING into MORNING. It’s a new day. . Arise, shine … Let your light shine that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. 
If anyone feels a Joe/Dad glitch…it is real…it is me saying 'I love you.'"
No, I don't think any of it is a coincidence. I think the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being, gives special gifts to his favorite servants. I think He gives power, and strength, and wisdom to those who can use it best. I think He makes giants out of men of small stature -- men who, even if they are ravaged by the evils of this world, come through looking bigger still.



___________

Seeking A Good Death, John Stonestreet

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"We're All Somewhere In The Middle"

If you've been hiding under a rock for the last ten years or so, you might have missed out on the realization that homosexuality has become the "thing which shall not be questioned." In a world that eschews thinking through a reasoned argument about anything, the new way to "win" others to your side is to make it fun, "catchy," and accessible to everyone! It doesn't hurt to frame your opponents' view as one that could only be shared with a Neanderthal -- make it a view so ridiculously archaic that those who hold that view are ashamed to admit it because they don't want to be the ones to wreck the party.

That's how a rather popular band can produce this and market it without allowing for any hint that what they are saying is so absurd it defies any attempt to defend a rational explanation:



But, that's where we are today. In an age when social media sites can offer 58 "gender options" for their subscribers, who's to say everyone isn't gay? "We're all somewhere in the middle," and if you disagree you're just a party pooper. I mean, seriously, who could be against having so many options among every fish in the sea?

Human autonomy trumps reality. Fun is the new moral truth.

As ridiculous as it sounds, those of us who aren't anywhere near the middle need to wake up. This attitude is not just prevalent among the pop bands who aim to make money off the trend, or the hipsters who buy their music. It is alive and well in our church pews, where broaching the subject of homosexuality raises the specter of a dissension, reduced offerings, or (God forbid) the grandaddy of all anvils hanging over our congregational heads -- the church "split."

That's why the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA -- not to be confused with the more orthodox PCA) voted to redefine marriage by majority vote. That's what allows certain synods of the Lutheran Church to decide whether or not to affirm that the Bible is "silent" on the issue of homosexuality.

Silent? Really? No matter your view, how could anyone claim it's silent?

It is rampant in our church youth groups where having fun beats a boring exegesis of a biblical passage any day, and where this has become "the topic which shall not be questioned" for fear of the wrath of disenfranchised students or parents who rue the fact that "the church shouldn't be so political."

Make no mistake; this phenomenon is having a devastating effect on young people who are dabbling on the event horizon with songs like this and then, before they know it, being sucked by the gravity of the culture into the black hole from which it emanates.

The culture at large has obviously failed this test of its substance. Only we can decide if the church will follow suit. Pick a side and live there. But, please, realize that anyone who takes this topic seriously cannot land "somewhere in the middle," no matter how catchy the tune that tries to lure you there.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Throwing Cold Water On The ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge"

I really don't mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest "Ice Bucket Challenge" to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease). I've seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this "Ice Bucket Challenge" phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I've been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association's search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn't be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don't have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on "What's Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?" It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association's Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don't want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future." Seeing that there are no "very strict guidelines" that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn't seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let's end ALS, but let's end it the right way.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Fantasy of Ungrounded Physics

As a follow-up to my last post about Darwinism's bad week, I also ran across this story ... an interview with South African Physicist George Ellis about the philosophical inanity that is regularly spouted by the New Atheist priesthood. Keep in mind that Ellis is not some easily dismissed Christian minister or Intelligent Design proponent (though I obviously have no problem with either of those). The article is from Scientific American and Ellis has co-authored books with the likes of Stephen Hawking.

From the piece:
Horgan (SA Interviewer): Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree? 
Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. 
... 
Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree? 
Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’s good science.
If this kind of common sense reasoning about the origin and nature of all reality interests you, I would also suggest an excellent book I read earlier this summer by the atheist, materialist philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has insulted the Priests of Scientism by having the unmitigated gall to question their religious devotion to Darwinism. It's a fascinating read with a great subtitle ...

Mind & Cosmos: Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception Of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

Enjoy!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

An Embarrassing Week For The Priests of Darwinian Scientism

It's been a bad few days for the Priests of the Church of Darwin.

First, consider the pivotal example of resistance to malaria that Michael Behe used in his book, The Edge of Evolution, to show that genetic cell mutations could not account for significant, species-protecting evolutionary improvements in a species and therefore undermined the supposed power of natural selection to create more "fit" variations in an organism's genome. At the time, the likes of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Kenneth Miller, Sean Carroll, and PZ Meyers -- the high priest's of scientism and Darwinian evolution -- mocked Behe's stupidity, his ignorance of how evolution works and the statistics they claimed he was misunderstanding.

Well, this week a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, confirm that Behe was, in fact, correct. Who wants to hold their breath waiting for an apology from these priests? My guess is that they will either pretend the study doesn't matter, or create alternate "just-so stories" for how they were right all along and the neo-Darwinian myth still stands on solid ground.

Second, Fuz Rana reports that the hominid species, australopithecus sediba, which has been sold as a "key transitional species" in the evolution of modern humans, has been found (by actual fossil evidence) to be a fiction. Considering the historical precedent of the priests of Evolution to create and perpetuate mythology, this comes as just the latest in a list of "surprises" that actually only surprise the priesthood -- who then go on to explain them away or pretend they're still true and publish pictures of them in the text books our children use in school.

Finally, the journal Nature reports that research using well-preserved Cambrian fossils of sea creatures show that their neural architecture is no substantially different from the ancestors that exist today (velvet worms). They haven't changed after more than a billion years of "evolution." In other words, when comparing the Darwinian model of gradual, new-species-producing change with the theistic model of the sudden appearance of species, followed by stasis (no change), and extinction ... guess which one matches the actual evidence?  (Thanks to Wintery Knight for this one)

If you're interested in keeping up with stories like this, check out Reasons To Believe's DAILY update: Today's New Reason To Believe (TNRTB). But, in the meantime, please notice that in each of these stories, the actual evidence undermines the pronouncements of the priests of Darwinian scientism and supports the model proposed by intelligent design proponents. The priests of Darwin make up stories that prove to be false, then taunt theists for operating on "blind faith."

Ironic don't you think?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Faith of the "Faithless"

To see how this whole misapplication of what faith means plays out, I offer the assertions of the new atheist, Sam Harris, as an example.

Sam Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter To A Christian Nation a few years later. He is adamant about the fact that religious views, because they are not based in "evidence" (remember that the new atheists define "evidence" as "scientific data" and scientific data alone), are irrationally held. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a "rigid" religious view. According to Harris, rigid thinkers are dangerous in this world because they become too extreme.

Keep that idea in mind as you consider some points of agreement that Harris claims to share the hard-core "Christian right." In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) ...
  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.
For all the relativists out there I would like to point out that Harris, like me, appears to believe in the existence of objective truth. That being the case, we each must admit that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. It has to be so. We cannot hold completely contradictory views and both be right.

In other words, in taking the opposite view of the nutty Christians, Sam Harris is actually admitting to hold some "hard-core" beliefs himself -- beliefs that are exactly contradictory, and just as rigidly held, as those of his Christian opponents. He demands that Christians are wrong, that the Bible is not the word of God, that Jesus in not the one true path to salvation etc. He writes books meant to convince you that he is right and you are wrong if you disagree with him..

In short, Sam Harris has described himself as a rigid thinker who, according to his own allegations, must also be dangerous.

My only beef with Harris is that he holds Christians in contempt for having the audacity to think they are right about the way they see the world, while he is doing the exact same thing.

Bottom line -- Christianity may be true or false. We can debate the evidence (and we will). But whether it is true or not, the fact that Christians actually believe it to be true is not the problem. It is not a badge of honor to be wishy-washy. And it is not a prelude to oppression and violence to hold to concrete beliefs. It all depends on what those beliefs are, whether there is evidence to support them, and whether or not they comport with the way the world actually is. Harris cannot condemn religious belief until he first compares the nature of the religion, the worldview it creates, and the actions that result from its adherents.

Belief is not the problem. What matters is what one believes. That is what makes one dangerous. Those who actually practice Biblical Christianity should pose no threat to anyone. Conversely, following atheist ideas can be brutally dangerous to those with whom the atheist comes in contact. It goes both ways. But the simple act of actually believing something says nothing about whether or not it is true, or whether or not it is "dangerous."

Monday, June 2, 2014

The "Faith" Thing

Many of us have understood atheism to be defined as a claim that God does not exist. This, in fact, is the primary definition of atheism we find in the dictionary, and is based on the simple fact that a (Greek: not), attached to theos (Greek: God) forms a compound word meaning "not God."
noun
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
The new atheists, however, have become fond of insisting that their stance regarding deities is that they "really just believe in one less God than you do." Another way of putting it is that atheism is not really a belief at all; it's just a "lack of belief in any god." This video is supposed to explain this point of view for those of us who just don't seem to get it.




From The Video
"Belief and Faith are not the same thing ... Faith can be thought of as confidence in that claim in the absence of evidence ... The more faith they have, the further away from evidence they travel."
On the first point ("belief and faith are not the same thing") I would have to agree. I have often illustrated the differences between some of these concepts like this:
Belief = mental assent: There may be several reasons for my holding some belief but that belief is nothing but intellectual acceptance of a proposition. I believe that airplanes can fly.
Faith = active trust based on evidence: I not only believe that airplanes can fly, I demonstrate my confidence in that belief by taking active steps beyond mere mental assent. I get on an airplane
Knowledge = justified, true belief: This is the philosophical definition of knowledge. I have a belief that is justified by its correspondence to reality (truth). I have measured my belief against the real world and found that it is actually legitimate. I get off the airplane in Chicago.
Notice that (1:14 in the video), faith and evidence are said to be inversely related -- that "religious" faith is actually confidence in the absence of evidence -- that faith is blind. Where I claim that faith is "active trust based on evidence," the video says that exact opposite. Further, the video claims that:
"if you ask a non-religious person if anything could make them believe in a god, the answer would almost certainly be, yes. Conversely, if you ask a religious person if anything would cause them to disbelieve, the answer is always, no."
Think about that one for a second. This would mean that if God showed up in my living room tonight and introduced Himself, I would therefore cease to have any faith in His existence. Do you see how ludicrous that is?

What's going on here?

Spoiler Alert: Words Mean Things

The first thing to note is that when atheists try to advance this argument, they are using different definitions of words and demanding that we accept them. For instance, at the point where the video claims that faith is confidence in the absence of evidence (again, at about the 1:14 mark), notice what is being shown on the right side of the frame. The inverse relationship being contrasted is not between faith and evidence -- it is between faith and "scientific data."

Big difference.

The atheist is demanding that the only way we can consider "evidence" is if it comes to us in the form of scientific observation. Most honest atheists are materialists -- they believe that the physical, material world constitutes all reality -- and that demands that our study of the physical world (science) provides us the only means to gather evidence. So, when an atheist demands evidence, he is demanding that physical evidence is the only thing that counts.

Problem: God is not physical. No thinking theist has ever claimed otherwise. For that reason, studying the physical world will never prove -- nor disprove -- the existence of God.

Notice what happens when you understand this subtle point ...

First, the atheist claims that, if asked if anything could make them believe in a god, their answer would be, "Yes." Saying this makes the atheist sound very open-minded, and rational, and unafraid of free inquiry. But what it doesn't take into account is that the only evidence they would accept is physical, material evidence ... for an entity (God) that is not physical.

In other words, they have defined "evidence" in terms that almost certainly can never be attained short of the second coming of Christ into their living rooms. At the same time, the historical evidence we do have for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is unacceptable to them because it infers some kind of supernatural reality, and they have already ruled out that possibility by a simple, atheistic presupposition that such an explanation is not allowed.

Very convenient wouldn't you say?

Second, the video ends with the pronouncement that:
"atheism is not a belief and requires no faith since it's based in evidence"
From the prior discussion, it should be obvious that the faith/evidence claim is a convoluted mess that equivocates on both the definitions of faith and evidence. But here's another thing -- If the atheist really claims to have "no belief" regarding deities, all we need to do to show this to be false is to ask for a response to the following proposition: "God exists. True or false?"

There are only three answers:
  1. "I don't know" makes you an agnostic.
  2. "Yes" makes you a theist.
  3. "No" makes you an atheist.
All three are beliefs -- an assent or rejection of a given proposition. Everyone holds a belief about the matter.

Third, note that the video's claim that when religious people are asked if there is anything that would make them disbelieve in God, they answer, "No."

This is simply false. I can give a list of things that would make me quit believing in God in general, or Christianity in particular, tomorrow:
  • A reason to exempt the most profound effect (the entire universe itself) from the cause-effect relationship we accept in every other case. Atheist materialists try to do this all the time -- asserting either that the universe popped into existence without a cause, or that we are one of an infinite number of other universes that cannot, by definition, ever be detected.
  • A naturalistic explanation for consciousness (which cannot be demonstrated to be physical).
  • A naturalistic grounding for ethics.
  • A naturalistic explanation for the origin and content of information in DNA.
  • Evidence that refutes the resurrection of Christ -- this is not my idea, it is a tenet of Christianity itself and the demand of Paul in 1Corinthians 15.
Fourth, my conviction that Christianity is true is an active trust based on the Cosmological, Teleological, Axiological, Philosophical, Historical, Archeological and Experiential evidence I have before me. It is not blind and it is not a leap in the dark.

My position is that belief is belief is belief. We all hold beliefs. Religious ideas should not be held in some kind of separate category that atheists are allowed to define away. I believe religious ideas that they reject. That’s fine. But the fact that they reject them does not invalidate them. They hold beliefs that I reject but that doesn’t mean their beliefs are invalid. It means we disagree.

My religious belief is not “overwhelming” in the sense that I cannot be shaken from it. There are aspects of my beliefs that I question and doubt all the time. Any thinking human being who claims they don’t have religious doubts is a liar. But that doesn’t mean my beliefs are improperly held. Some of these ideas I believe in the same way atheists believe what they do about the makeup of the core of the Earth or the existence of a quark. They've never seen them but they accept them because they believe the evidence for them is more compelling than some other alternative. They take some of these beliefs on the expertise and authority of those they respect or whose credentials they hold in high regard.

The bottom line is that I don’t hold my beliefs in a vacuum. I don’t need to hold that with unquestioning certainty. I only need a 51% assurance that my view is true and that some alternative is not true. I have made an inference to the best explanation from the evidence I have in front of me. Both the atheist and I are operating on an active trust in the evidence we see.

The irony in all this is that the view I hold is actually the open-minded view that welcomes any kind of evidence and weighs it accordingly. I don't discount any kind of evidence or put limits on what is allowed into the discussion. The fact that many theistic believers may demonstrate otherwise does not constitute sufficient grounds to reject the evidence-based convictions of those of us who do.

Atheism is a belief that is not really open to serious inquiry. A simple discussion about these topics with mosts atheists makes that clear very quickly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ham Fisted Sophistry

The other day I saw a Facebook post which had been "liked" by a friend of mine about how Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis fame) was lamenting the fact that Bill Nye, the fraudulent "science guy," has been smack talking him in the media since their infamous recent debate. At first I thought, "Well, there's a shocker," and moved on. But then, in a moment of admitted weakness, I returned to leave a comment (which has since been deleted ... explanation to follow).

My comment, as best as I can recall, was: "The problem here is that people are left with the impression that the only options they have on this issue are to choose Bill Nye's vacuous scientism or a Young Earth creationism devoid of supporting evidence. Since both are false, the debate has become polarizing."

By the way, my claim that "Young Earth creationism is devoid of supporting evidence," is not just my opinion. It is the admitted position of many of the leading Young Earth scientists themselves, but I digress.

Within a few minutes, Ken Ham himself responded to my comment as follows: "just like choosing to believe in a bodily resurrection [of Jesus] ... polarizing"

Do you see what he did there?

In one snide, snarky line, Ken Ham managed to: 1) illegitimately equate a young universe (for which there is no evidence) with the resurrection of Christ (for which there is plenty of good evidence), 2) construct a false non-sequitur that belief in an old universe is equivalent to denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus, 3) attach that belief to me unjustly, and 4) thereby create a straw man argument against a view that neither I, nor any other believer in an old universe that I know of, holds. 

That's how Ken Ham rolls.

Not one to let such a comment go unexposed for its lack of class and sound reasoning, I responded to point out the unjust and unjustified thinking in Ken Ham's snide remark by relating the same four observations I just noted and asking: "Either you don't know this and are therefore guilty of intellectual laziness and a failure to acknowledge and respond to your opponent's actual position, OR you do know this and are therefore guilty of intellectual dishonesty and bearing false witness against a Christian brother. Which is it?"

Ken Ham's response was to delete my comments and his own responses to my comments and block me from ever commenting again. Ain't that special? This, in the midst of what resulted in more than 440 entries of back and forth debate between atheists who mocked his position and allies who praised it.

In other words, you can kiss Ken Ham's ring, or you can be violently anti-theistic in your opposition, but don't you dare challenge his views or presuppositions from within a Christian view of the world. That makes you a heretic worthy of expulsion. 

That's how Ken Ham rolls ... and that's how little confidence Ken Ham has in his own ability to defend his position. He'd rather cover it up by making it (or you) just go away.

On the heels of my personal experience, I learned that this type of behavior has apparently come to be a little too common for Mr. Ham. It seems that he is taken with declaring those who disagree with him to be "compromisers of God's Word" and that he does so with a special sort of nastiness. The upshot of some of this behavior is that Mr. Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis (AIG), have been disinvited and banned from future participation in the Great Homeschool Conventions that had welcomed them over the last several years.

From the Great Homeschool Conventions conference organizer Brennan Dean in the email he circulated announcing his dismissal of Ham from their events:
"The Board believes that Ken's public criticism of the convention itself and other speakers at our convention require him to surrender the spiritual privilege of addressing our homeschool audience."
"Our expression of sacrifice and extraordinary kindness towards Ken and AIG has been returned to us and our attendees with Ken publicly attacking our conventions and other speakers," Dean wrote. "Our Board believes Ken's comments to be unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst."
Well, at least it's not just me ...

Listen, if you want to believe in a young universe and defend all that goes along with that view, God Bless You. That's your right and, who knows, you may be right. But please, do so with intellectual integrity, a smidgen of class, and respect for the well-thought out and biblically orthodox views of other Christian believers.

In other words, don't do it like Ken Ham ... or at least find someone besides him to do it for you.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Scientism or Intelligent Design?: What's Really Stupid

I had been looking forward to the remake of the Cosmos series this year because I knew the update would include all kinds of wild scientific discoveries that have widened our knowledge in the 30 years since Carl Sagan brought the wonders of the universe into our living rooms. Talk about being disappointed.

Part of the problem with the show is the absolute disdain its host has for considering anything beyond his narrow scientistic view of reality. That, and he's not a very compelling speaker or relayer of information. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has become quite famous recently because of the show, but to demonstrate what I mean, check out this video that was suggested to me by the atheist tildeb a while back to show me how stupid Intelligent Design is and how brilliant Dr. Tyson is. Let's just say that when you watch the video, it becomes very apparent that both of those claims are patently and obviously false:



Dr. Tyson wants to make a big deal about the fact that there are an overwhelming number of factors "out there" that seem to be trying to kill us.

Exactly!

I guess I'm not sure how someone so brilliant (and I mean that sincerely) would miss the fact that in spite of all that, here we are.

He says, "That's not what I would call the Garden of Eden." No, Dr. Tyson, it's not what anyone would call the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is a unique place in an already unique world. You have to be able to explain both of those. That's kind of the point of the Anthropic Principle -- that it is highly unlikely that a place could exist anywhere in the universe that should be able to allow for and sustain life. Proponents of Dr. Tyson's view have gone to great lengths to explain that fact away -- such great lengths that their leading proposal is that there are an infinite number of other universes and we just happen to be in the one that allows for us. Never mind that, when it comes to their reliance on scientific observation, all these hypothetical universes are, by definition, unobservable. This small point renders their view unfalsifiable and therefore ... wait for it ... unscientific!

From there he descends into the usual childish mockery we have come to expect from those who have no good argument to offer for how things that they admit look to be designed came to be designed. Instead, he challenges us to "stop looking at all the things that confound [the] revelation" that there is no design and accept the fact that there is no purpose for anything. One example he gives of something that no designer would come up with is "an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system" -- his description of the human reproductive and waste elimination systems.

I think this is telling.

Not only does a grade school level statement like that dodge the fact that every system that makes up the human body is exquisitely designed; not only does such a childish statement demand a transcendent, omnipotent point of view that Dr. Tyson most certainly does not have -- the sad fact is that a scientist of Dr. Tyson's stature seems to be so blissfully ignorant of the purpose for what he calls "an entertainment system."

Human sexuality and reproduction have a purpose in this life and that purpose is most assuredly not for "entertainment." Even a diehard, atheistic Darwinist should know that. The human reproductive system is meant for ... reproduction. This is not rocket science, but Dr. Tyson's view of it betrays the fact that his disgust with, and denial of, all things for which one could deduce a purpose stands not on scientific grounds but on a volitional and/or moral view that will not countenance the existence of any Designer who claims to place limits on the extent to which he seeks to entertain himself.




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See also: "The Folly of Scientism"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Abraham And Easter

Those of us who share the conviction that Christianity is actually true believe that a reset button got pushed on the first Easter Sunday when the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. No argument about that here.

But, as a result of that mindset, many Christians seem to take that view to mean that the Old Testament was therefore rendered invalid, overridden, or somehow not applicable to how we understand our faith. Beyond citing the creation story or the 10 Commandments once in a while, we seem to have disconnected the Old Testament from the New. But doing so strips the overarching story of the relationship between God and man of much of its meaning. The history we see in the Bible has always been leading somewhere. It's all about the same God. It's all one story -- and it's a rich story that gets even richer when you take the time to see the unmistakeable connection between Old and New.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the life and mission of Abraham and the covenants God made with him that foreshadowed everything that would happen thousands of years later. In the story of Abraham we see all there is to understand about The Plan God put in place from the very beginning to save humanity. In Genesis 12:3 we get the biggy -- "... all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

All the peoples.

The nation of Israel was a "chosen people" only insofar as from that nation, and from the House of David within that nation, would come the Messiah for all the peoples. Israel was never meant to be the only nation God would save. It was simply the nation through which He would make a way to save Israel and everyone else.

The way He would do it was through a covenant relationship like nothing anyone had ever imagined before. It would be a covenant of law and love that was both conditional and unconditional simultaneously. If that sounds weird, it is. It is "weird" because the God who fashioned it is like no other God and the way in which He offered to save mankind was unlike what any other god could offer. He demonstrated it to Abraham in Genesis 15 when God showed Abraham the meaning of Easter.*

In covenant agreements between kings and peons of those days, it was customary for the great king to demand an animal offering from his peons. This was done by killing and cutting up the animals, then laying the pieces out on the ground. The king would promise to protect the peons if the peons would abide by the terms of their agreement with him. In such a case, the agreement was conditional on the part of the king. To "sign" the covenant, the servant who was promising to be loyal to the king would walk between the pieces while swearing an oath that in essence said, "If I do not live up to this agreement, may I be cut up in pieces like these animals." (OK, that's weird too. I'm not defending the practice, just relaying what it was).

And then came Abraham.

At first the ceremony commemorating his covenant relationship with God looked the same as it always had. He was instructed to prepare a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon. Abraham did as he was told, spread the pieces on the ground, and waited for further instruction; but no instruction ever came. What came instead was the "thick and dreadful darkness" of judgement. Abraham was overwhelmed and fell into a deep sleep. But when he awoke the most astonishing turn of events up to that point in human history occurred right before his eyes.

A pillar of smoke and fire just like the one that would later lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt appeared. It was the manifest presence of God himself. As Abraham watched, the pillar of fire and smoke moved between the pieces to guarantee the agreement. The God who created the universe -- the King himself -- passed through the pieces with a promise to bless the peon Abraham. This was exactly backwards from the way things were supposed to be, but it didn't end there. Just as startlingly, Abraham was never asked to walk through the pieces himself. He was never called to make an oath of loyalty.

God was promising to take the curse that would result from a broken covenant on himself and making the pledge to honor the covenant relationship for both parties. As Timothy Keller puts it, God was promising, "Not only will I be torn to pieces if I don't fulfill the covenant, but I will be torn to pieces if you don't fulfill the covenant."

And we didn't. And He was.

The Gospels record three hours when the darkness of judgement smothered the world from above a wooden torture post at Golgotha as Jesus, the promised Messiah ("Anointed One"), suffered for us because we had broken the covenant. An immortal King submitted himself to the same kind of physical mortality that his peons had brought on themselves. The King of the universe fulfilled His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. Judgement for the sins of the peons had come and the Judge stepped down from the bench to take the peons' sentence for them. A New Covenant -- one that had been promised in Jeremiah 31 -- was put in place. But the new covenant cannot be seen in isolation from the older ones. The overarching story of salvation is one story. The whole story leads to Easter. Looking backward, it all makes sense.

To see the foreshadowing of Genesis 15 is to understand the story of Easter. It is the story of an infinite gap between an infinitely perfect God and His rebellious peons that could only be filled by the infinite sacrifice only God himself could provide. It is the story of the unconditional love of a God who abides by the conditions of a covenant He didn't break. If someone were to ask whether our covenant relationship with God is an unconditional or conditional covenant the answer is, "Yes."

Easter is the culmination of The Grand Story of the relationship between God and man being brought to its unanticipated, majestic conclusion. God fulfills all the terms of both sides of a covenant agreement by suffering the punishment we deserve, then overcomes a death He didn't deserve three days later to verify to us that He is God ... and that we are not.

The King walked through pieces with Abraham in anticipation of our being at peace with Him on Calvary.


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* For an excellent treatment of this idea, listen to Timothy Keller's podcast, "A Covenant Relationship," of October 9, 2013. That sermon brought this all together for me in a way that nothing I had ever heard previously had done. I credit it with the central idea of this post.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jerry Coyne: Censorship Czar

Jerry Coyne represents a Darwinist Priesthood that is apparently not only afraid of open debate, but believes it is within their rights to demand that those who disagree with them just Shut Up.

At least they are consistent with the "Might Makes Right" Darwinian model to which their worldview leads -- In every case where arguing for opposing viewpoints becomes an issue, those on Coyne's side want to shut debate down, while Intelligent Design proponents want to open it up.

Hmm ... I wonder why that might be?


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Reality of Subjective Morality

Ravi Zacharias is a master communicator and apologist. So, after the knock down, drag out debates about the differences between objective and subjective morality that can go on-and-on for pages on a blog and its comments, leave it to him to demonstrate the point with crystal clear ease in under three minutes.

I am thankful for Ravi and those like him. Enjoy ...


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is The Creation Model Viable? -- A Debate Between Ken Ham and Bill Nye


Tonight the Creation Museum and debatelive.org hosted a debate between Ken Ham, founder of Answers In Genesis, and  Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Those who know me also know that I don't have much patience with either one of these men for reasons I have detailed in the past here (on Ken Ham) and here (on Bill Nye).

The topic of the debate was, "Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in Today's Modern Scientific Era?"

Because of my experience in observing both of them, I honestly had no interest in watching what I considered to be a waste of time. But, since many people I know and respect were interested in the event, I decided to force myself to sit through it. There was nothing surprising in the case either of them made but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of their interaction. Good for them.

For what it's worth, here is my take on a summary of the debate:

Ken Ham is very good when talking Evolution -vs- Creationism, which is what the debate is supposed to be about. I think he did a great presentation of the differences in the views and the presuppositions on which they rest. Contra Nye, he showed some powerful evidence of brilliant scientists (including the inventor of the MRI) who are Biblical creationists. He made a great point about the fact that Creationists are perfectly willing to admit their assumptions while simultaneously accepting the actual evidence in question, while the Naturalists who defend Evolution also accept a religious belief system that they are not willing to admit is just that. In his first rebuttal, Ham did get into the "obvious meaning of the words of the Bible" (as long as you agree with him), death before the fall, and a "perfect" creation (I have addressed those topics here), and the fact that salvation depends on belief in Jesus Christ and not on the age of the Earth. Amen to that. I just wish he was that generous with the Christians he has debated on that topic in the past. Overall, he was more polite than I expected him to be and I think he did an admirable job.

Bill Nye keeps wanting to prove the age of the earth. Now, I happen to agree with him on that point ... but that was not the topic of the debate! Nye seemed so determined to show that a young earth model is preposterous, he forgot that wasn't the point of the debate. He never once -- in the entire two and a half hour event -- addressed the philosophical assumptions that underly his view of the world. He seems incapable of even comprehending what that means. Either that, or he is a master at avoiding the question. He resorted to "the-Bible-translations-rely-on-playing-the-telephone-game" nonsense that anyone who has any clue about the realities of textual criticism knows is nothing like how the Biblical text was transmitted. He repeated his previous empty assertion that Creationism stifles scientific progress and technological innovation -- a claim that is not only logically incoherent, but demonstrably false. The defenders of Naturalism need to find a better spokesman than the engineer-comedian turned "Science Expert," Bill Nye -- he couldn't even explain the simple concept of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. It's unreal to me that he has kept this label of "science guy" when he is really more of an embarrassment to their cause.

Both debaters fell flat when asked what I believe was the best question of the night, "What would change your mind?" Ken Ham demonstrated that his presuppositional approach to apologetics is indestructible. While I admire his reliance on Scripture, he seems unwilling to accept two things that are made perfectly clear in that Scripture: 1) That it is perfectly acceptable, biblically, to seek and accept revelation from outside the Bible, and 2) that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul challenges us with the idea that if the resurrection did not happen, our faith is in vain and we are all fools. I think he would have been more credible if he had admitted that. For his part, Bill Nye fell back on different naturalistic explanations than the ones his naturalistic presuppositions already demand are true, once again demonstrating his complete lack of understanding of his own blindness on the issue.

In summary, it is very frustrating to me that there seems to so little realization in the general public that there is a view out there that accepts the truth in both their points of view, and rejects their falsehoods. A view that accepts the obvious evidence about the age of the universe, is completely comfortable with the philosophical limitations and realities of human reasoning, and does both with a healthy and respectful view of the authority of Scripture. There are plenty of spokesmen out there for that point of view -- "Old Earth" Creationism -- but neither side in this debate seems interested in addressing it with some intellectual honesty.
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