Thursday, December 20, 2007

Totally. Cosmic. Man.

There is an assumption in our modern (postmodern) society that all of us have tacitly accepted whether we are openly "religious" or not. It is an assumption born in the Enlightenment and nurtured through three or four hundred years of modern philosophy, medical breakthroughs, and technological innovation. The assumption is this: That the physical world is all that really exists. The logical follow-on to that assumption is that science will eventually provide us answers to our most profound questions. This, as I have discussed many times, is the foundation of Naturalistic/Materialistic worldview. Though many of us claim not to accept this view, and though we may even vehemently argue against it, this is a difficult assumption to overcome because it is built into the fabric of our culture.

When we hear of an inexplicable healing, or an answered prayer, or an eerie "coincidence," our initial reaction is to seek a scientific explanation. Though we study and do our best to honor and defend a high view of Scripture, we secretly wonder if the walls of Jericho really just fell down; if the Red Sea really parted or (though we would be loathe to admit it) if Jesus really rose from the dead. We are hard-wired to be skeptical of claims like those.

"Test everything," Paul told us, and we take him up on it. That's OK. But in our knee-jerk reaction to do so we sometimes forget that the Christian view of the world is not limited to materialistic causes for things. Ultimate reality is not physical -- it is spiritual. Ours is a worldview that encompasses both the physical and the non-physical. Neither the physical nor the non-physical is, by itself, adequate to describe us as persons. Likewise, neither can explain the makeup of all we know and experience.

The modern, rational, naturalistic culture we have been steeped in disdains such a view and does its best to belittle and destroy it. The result is an ongoing battle of ideas in which we are perpetually engaged. The philosopher Francis Schaeffer addressed this conflict as being rooted in a post-Enlightenment split in the way we think. Though Schaeffer didn't originate this notion, he did popularized it in a form we all recognize when we talk about someone taking a "leap of faith."

Faith, Schaeffer said, is relegated by the secular to an "Upper Story" class of thought consisting of: values, spirituality, religion, faith and the like. The "Lower Story" ideas consist of the converse of the upper. In the lower story are facts, physical reality, science, and knowledge.

UPPER STORY: Values - Spiritual - Religion - Faith -- Private

LOWER STORY: Facts - Physical - Science - Knowledge -- Public

And here's the key: To the naturalistic, secular way of thinking, the lower story is the only place we can know true things. For that reason it is public and verifiable. It describes the only philosophically acceptable areas of our lives. Upper story ideas are private and subjective, having no business seeping into the "real world." To take a "leap of faith" is to ignore rational thought and the scientific method by leaping upstairs and believing on faith alone. While no one is permitted to question the thoughts or ideas of your "private world," neither are you free to allow those ideas to influence how you understand the lower story.

Unfortunately, most of us accept these notions without even realizing it. We tacitly accept the idea that our personal faith or religion should be disallowed from addressing public issues because private values have little relevance to a fact-based world. But this is a bifurcated understanding of what we know and experience in our lives. It is a corruption of the Christian view of the world which sees: facts and values, the spiritual and physical, religion and science, faith and knowledge; as all comprising a total, integrated view of reality.Though in our hearts we know this is true, the culture continues to denounce it. We know we should fight the battle but sometimes we don't know how. Sometimes we get no help. Some of our thinking assimilates. Some of our leaders and scientists accommodate. Some of our churches capitulate. And with each baby step in the naturalistic direction, the idea of the miraculous diminishes into a faintly held belief we have little hope of defending.

And then Christmas comes ...

Though it took me a bit to get here, I believe the ultimate message of Christmas is the cosmic-sized revelation that human-centered ways of thinking are inadequate to address the human condition. It is humanistic thinking that created our earthly problems from the beginning. It is humanistic philosophy that has exacerbated those problems by manufacturing a "two-story" view of the world -- a view that denies ultimate reality by dividing that which was made to be indivisible.

At Christmas we are reminded that it all can be fixed in only one way. We are shown an ultimate example on a cosmic scale of how the world was meant to work. At Christmastime, the floor joists are shattered and a thundering shock wave pierces the night. The ceiling above our human-centered world collapses and the ghosts who have been rattling around in our attics come crashing into our living rooms.

The divine is united with the human in one person -- a person who offers us the perfect example of how we were made in the divine image and meant to function as an integrated whole. That person offers us a way out of our self-made morass of idiotic ideas and worldly wisdom. The infinitely perfect man bridges an infinite gap between divine perfection and human failing.

Only He can do such a thing. And when He does, the world all makes sense again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

We Need More Of These Guys!

Yes, we (Navy) won the Army-Navy game handsomely. That requires no comment. With a son at West Point I think it would be piling on to point out that Navy has won the last 6 in a row and currently leads the series between the two rivals by 3 games (52-49-7). It would also be rude to point out that Navy will be participating in its 5th Bowl game in as many years. So I won't even mention any of those things. It just wouldn't be right.

What I really want to point out is a quote I just uncovered by Naval Academy senior Adam Ballard in National Review. It is reported in the December 3, 2007 issue that Ballard, a big, bruiser of a power fullback, has been asked if he will attempt to forgo his military service obligation and pursue the interest that has been shown in him by the NFL. Here's what he said ...

"Being a Marine fits my mentality," he said, explaining why he's seeking a commission that would deny him a shot at a professional [football] career. "I don't see myself as someone who sits back. I like to be down in the dirt with a gun in my hand ... When I'm older, I want to be able to look at my kids and tell them why they can go to any church and why your mom doesn't have to wear a burqa."

Oo- rah

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thinking Allowed

Because I try my best to adhere to the principle of being "tolerant of people, but intolerant of (bad) ideas," I will not identify the author of the following. I only quote said author to make a point about the self-defeating consequences of anti-intellectualism in the church. Check out this excerpt (sorry it is so long) from a book which contains a chapter entitled, "Confused Mind":

Reasoning Leads to Confusion

...O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves? ... Matthew 16:8 (KJV)

A large percentage of God's people are admittedly confused. Why? As we have seen, one reason is wondering. Another is reasoning. The dictionary partially defines the word reason in the noun form as an "underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence" and in the verb form as "to use the faculty of reason: think logically."

A simple way to say it is, reasoning occurs when a person tries to figure out the "why" behind something. Reasoning causes the mind to revolve around and around a situation, issue or event attempting to understand all its intricate component parts. We are reasoning when we dissect a statement or teaching to see if it is logical, and disregard it if it is not.

Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning ... What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and his mind may reject it ...

Don't Reason in the Mind, Just Obey the Spirit

... the realization of how easily we can be led by our heads and allow reasoning to keep us out of God's will provoked in me a "reverential" fear of reasoning.

Let me point out that this author "has been teaching the Word of God since 1976 and in ministry since 1980." This author is the prolific writer of "more than 70 inspirational books" and has "released thousands of audio teachings as well as a complete video library." This author can be heard on national radio broadcasts, seen on national TV programs almost every day, and travels nationwide speaking and doing teaching conferences. This author has influenced a whole lot of people. I don't want to disparage the writer. I'm sure the writer has helped many people and is motivated to do so for all the right reasons. But, in this specific case, this person is just plain off-base. The teaching offered here is deeply flawed and destructive to any Christ-follower who adheres to it. Unfortunately, many new and vulnerable minds do just that.

Where do I even begin with this one?

First, the Bible verse quoted in the section heading (shown above: Matthew 16:8) is taken completely out of context. In keeping with the precept that you should be leery of anyone using a single Bible verse to prove their point (for a great discussion of this precaution go here: "Never Read a Bible Verse"), I would challenge you to look up the actual passage from which this quote was lifted. When you do, you will find it in the middle of a chapter devoted to the story of Jesus' continuing confrontations with the religious leaders who felt his ministry threatened them and their base of power.

Having just performed a miraculous feeding of four thousand seekers from a few scraps of fish and bread, Jesus tells his disciples to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." The disciples, who having once again forgotten to bring bread with them (they are obviously slow learners -- like me), attribute Jesus' warning as being in reference to their failure in that regard. Exasperated when he overhears their discussion, Jesus utters the lifted quote. But let's look at the entire passage:
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Does this passage in any way attribute confusion to the use of reason? Absolutely not! In fact, it does just the opposite. Jesus is admonishing his disciples to remember what has actually occurred, then think through what he said. Three times he challenges their understanding of his words. Finally, after thinking it through, they realize what he meant them to guard against -- the fallacious teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The entire story is an exhortation to examine the evidence, think carefully about his words, and from that deduce that actual meaning of what Jesus said.

In the words of the Christian philosopher Augustine, and completely contrary to the so-called insight of the author I quote above, this is a textbook example of "faith seeking understanding."

Second, the writer implies that wondering and reasoning are anti-Biblical. This has absolutely no basis in Scripture. Would Cornelius, a "God-fearer," ever have been compelled to ask for Peter's intervention had he not been inquisitive about the vision he reported in Acts 10:3-4? Would Peter ever have recognized his commission to reach the Gentiles without his own vision (Acts 10:9-21)? This passage reports that Peter "was wondering about the meaning of the vision" as Cornelius' couriers approached his home. Why would God encourage Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) to "let us reason together"? Why would Paul challenge those (1 Thessalonians 5:21) who questioned his teachings to "test everything. Hold on to what is good"? These are not tangential comments. They are at the heart of the Biblical worldview. Try to think of a character in either testament who is not given evidence and reasons for believing in and trusting God. I can't think of any. I do, however, know that we are called to engage the world in a certain way ...
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We are engaged in a battle of ideas. The Christian worldview is the most robustly evidenced-based, intellectually defensible, reality-coherent worldview that exists. Our call is to know, live, and defend that worldview. We do so because, in our humanity, we recognize that without a God who created and sustains the world, we are doomed to a meaningless existence. Though we may not know immediately why that is, we know that something is wrong. We wonder why that is. We seek answers. We pursue God with the mind he gave us. And though we will never know Him exhaustively in this life, we can reason our way to His truths and trust His answers because they are always aligned with the way the world He created really is.

Third, the writer implies that logic and clear thinking are destructive and contrary to "the will of God." To say this is to say that the Apostle Paul's entire life mission was contrary to the will of God. Take a look at Paul's missionary journeys. In nearly every town he visited, the first thing he did was approach the cultural and/or religious leaders (in most cases the Jewish leadership) and "reason with them from the Scriptures." In Romans 12, we are told to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." This, Paul tells us, is our "spiritual act of worship." The word "spiritual" here is the Greek logikos which is (quite ironically) translated: "agreeable to reason, following reason, reasonable, logical."

The only way to defend the notion that clear, logical thinking is contrary to the will of God is to be caught up in the contemporary notion that faith and spiritual issues have been relegated to solitary confinement as "matters of the heart." Banished there, faith is left to flounder as a feelings-based inclination that is personal, private and beyond the reach of intellectual discernment. But the "heart" in a Biblical sense is much more than that. It is the core of our being; the place where our will resides and our choices are made. For that reason, the fashionable trend of separating the heart from the mind is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. It leads to vacuous pronouncements like these (from the same writer, in the same book) ...
I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, "Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused." I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.

... There is a big difference in head knowledge and revelation knowledge ... I don't know about you, but I want God to reveal things to me in such a way that I know in my spirit that what has been revealed to my mind is correct. I don't want to reason, to figure and to be logical, rotating my mind around and around and issue until I am worn out and confused. I want to experience the peace of mind and heart that come from trusting in God, not in my own human insight and understanding.
Here you notice a couple of things. The author claims direct, personal communication with God. Claiming this personal, two-way chat line serves to not only further entrench the idea that faith is a private matter, it also becomes a convenient asset in making the claim irrefutable. Who would dare question such a thing?! Any skepticism automatically renders the questioner a bad guy while simultaneously absolving the claimant of any requirement to defend themselves.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say the author is being absolutely truthful -- God has spoken audibly. Why then, would the hearer need to resort to "knowing things in the spirit" or "experiencing peace of mind and heart"? Neither of these is required if one actually hears the voice of God audibly. This leads to a follow-on objection ...

Fourth, the author's use of the slogan "Just Obey in the Spirit," is one of many similar (and all-too-familiar in Christian circles) exhortations that contains no actual meaning. Like others I could name, this phrase has become part of a kind of Christian-speak that is thrown around but that no one outside the church (or inside it, for that matter) can define. It is an empty slogan.

Humor me for a second and think about it ... how does one "obey in the Spirit" without engaging the mind? I welcome comments from those who can explain to me just how that is done.

This is not just a trivial objection to the author's view. It is a dangerous precedent to set. If "obeying in the Spirit" requires nothing but an inner, peaceful feeling, it can be used to justify any belief, thought, or action. There is no way to critique such a thing ... unless one uses reason and logic to do so. But that, we are told, is not allowed. Do you see how adhering to such a view is not only self-serving, but can be disastrous for those who hold to these ideas?

Being that I have listed the problems I find with this kind of teaching in logical order, and made a reasoned case why I believe it to be not only wrong but destructive, I'm sure that some would point out that my thinking is exactly the kind of thing the author is talking about. I am a living, breathing incarnation of the flaws the author is addressing. But in doing so critics, like the author they defend, help me make the fifth and final point I would like to address.

Fifth, the author has written a book meant to make a logically persuasive case for the point of view being defended. It always amazes me when folks write books meant to convince us all that there is no such thing as truth (so is their book true or not?); or that there is no such thing as an unbiased point of view (except theirs, of course); or that no one's "story" is any more authoritative than anyone else's (this is the strong-postmodern case for relativism); or, as in this case, that we shouldn't be using logic and reason. The idea that reason and logic are bad is dashed on the rocks of the very premise for which the author wrote -- or, for that matter, the reason anyone writes any book in the first place -- they want to convince you that what they are saying is true by logically and persuasively arguing their case!

I do not critique the author quoted here lightly. I used to subscribe to some of the ideas myself. But once one sees the fallacies and dangers in this type of thinking, it is hard to ignore it and look the other way. This type of mindset is destructive to the church. It makes us look foolish to the world and it needs to be stopped. Not because we are capitulating to the ways of the world, but because we are defying the faculty of reason God gave us when He created us in His image.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More Pesky Evidence For The Naturalists

While the Naturalists go on making cartoons like this one, science just keeps marching along gathering data. Just a quick post to highlight a few news tidbits I've run across lately that serve to undermine the tenets of Naturalism -- and to show that the headings in the cartoon above should be reversed.

As has always been the case, and no matter how much they deny it, the actual evidence serves only to support the case for Theism in general, and the God of the Bible in particular. Just a couple of recent examples ...

"Junk" DNA has a purpose -- The Boston Globe reports that a kind of revolution is taking place in the scientific community as more information is gathered about the human genome.
... genes were assigned an almost divine role in biological "dogma," thought to govern not only such physical characteristics as eye color or hair texture, but even much more complicated characteristics, such as behavior or psychology. Genes were assigned blame for illness. Genes were credited for robust health. Genes were said to be the source of the mutations that underlay evolution.

But the picture now emerging is more complicated, one in which illness, health, and evolutionary change appear to be the work of almost fantastical coordination between genes and swaths of DNA previously written off as junk.
Scientists, and Philosophers of Science, like: Michael Behe, Fuz Rana, Stephen Meyer and William Dembski; have been predicting this exact idea for at least a decade, while Darwinists wrote off "Junk" DNA as the necessary but useless byproduct of evolutionary genetic mutations.
The Floral "Big Bang" -- Two papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences address the fact that flowering plant life appeared almost instantaneously in the Earth's history.
these bloomers went through an evolutionary "Big Bang" of sorts some 130 million years ago, a brief era of explosive floral diversification at a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

The origin of flowering plants called angiosperms has long baffled scientists, with Charles Darwin famously referring to the plant puzzler as an "abominable mystery."

"One of the reasons why it's been hard to understand evolutionary relationships among the major groups of flowering plants is because they diversified over such a short time frame," said researcher Robert Jansen, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

To calculate these things, the teams looked at "known rates of genetic change, [then] estimated that three lineages went through a major diversification in an evolutionary 'blink of an eye.'"

This is yet another example of Naturalistic presuppositions demanding only certain types of conclusions -- the exact practice for which they accuse and demean "Creationists" of being ridiculously mindless. Darwinists calculate "known rates of genetic change" by assuming gradualistic Evolution is true, and are then confounded when the data doesn't fit with the theory. Meanwhile, the actual evidence fits perfectly well with the phrase "... Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so ..." (Genesis 1:11).

This is not to say we should accept a "God of the Gaps" explanation by saying "God did it" and calling it a day. We should, as always, examine the evidence and do our best to understand how, where, and when the Creator involved Himself in the creation. What it does show -- for the umpteenth time -- is that the actual scientific evidence does nothing to undermine or eliminate the Theistic Hypothesis from consideration. It only supports it.

It always has.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Great Resource

For those who want some quick, concise answers to some common apologetic questions, may I recommend a new resource. These are short (it looks like most are 1-4 minutes) video clips of Greg Koukl offering answers during a series of interviews. Click below to go to the Stand To Reason YouTube site:

Stand To Reason on YouTube

For those who don't know him, Greg is the President and founder of Stand To Reason. He has a local radio show in Southern California and travels the world doing debates, lectures and apologetic training of all kinds ... the kind of thing I'd love to do when I grow up.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don't Ask Your Brain, Ask Your Mind

This November 15, 2007 Scientific American news story, "Are You A Liar? Ask Your Brain," prompted me to re-address a related article from over a year ago in the journal Discover, which reported on the work of:
"researchers [who] wanted to see whether brain scans can even pick up a significant difference between brain activity during lying versus when telling the truth."
The new research claims that ...
The act of lying or suppressing the truth triggers activities in the brain that send blood to the prefrontal cortex (located just above the eye sockets), which controls several psychological processes, including the one that takes place when a person crafts a new rather than a known response to something. "Lying is an example of this type of executive response, because it involves withholding a truthful response," says Sean Spence, a professor of general adult psychiatry at the University of Sheffield in England. "When you know the answer to a question, the answer is automatic; but to avoid telling me the true answer requires something more."
My contention is that that connection can only be explained by the actual existence of a non-physical entity called your mind. That there is also activity registered in the physical brain does not entail a physical cause. Those activities may be correlated but, as we have discussed before, correlation does not equal causation. Though the claims all sound very technical, a cursory analysis of the facts brings up some fairly obvious questions (that haven't changed since the last time this subject came up) regarding the connection between abstract ideas like truth and the purely physical neuron activity in your brain.

First, one is compelled to ask the materialist scientist on what premise this research is based. After all, if the human mind is nothing but a complicated mass of meat which has come to be what it is through an irrational, physical process, why would they expect to detect any physical reaction to such an abstract idea as truth?There seems to be no reason why unguided evolutionary mutation would in any way connect physical reactions with abstract notions. Yet …
"the brain scans revealed unique areas that only lit up during lying. However, the researchers point out that there isn't one telltale spot in the brain that can automatically indicate a lie. "There really is no one lying center," Faro says. "There are multiple areas in the brain that activate because there are a lot of processes that have to take place."
Second, if evolutionary processes could explain a physical reaction to a moral standard of behavior, it would seem logical to assume that that reaction would be centralized to the specific area in which evolution had brought about the divergent speech pattern. There seems to be no reason that this would involve multiple areas of the brain – unless those areas were holistically connected in some way. This, however, is exactly what one would expect to find on the Christian worldview – that moral awareness resides in the soul so that breaching a moral boundary would effect the entire being of the person who did so.

Third, why would researchers care about such a thing? What would cause a scientist to have any notion of what lying is, unless that researcher was aware of an objective standard by which one determines right or wrong – a standard that cannot exist on the naturalistic worldview. The very fact that these scientists are compelled to study such a thing is evidence that objective morality is real and that its effects are inescapable.

Finally, and a little humorously, the research showed that …
"'In the group that lied there were two times the number of areas throughout the brain that showed activation compared with the group that was telling the truth,' Faro says. '‘That's because to lie, you have to actively suppress memories that are triggered by the question, which takes more effort than simply asserting the truth,' he says."

And that …
"One of the most important of these is that the brain has to work much harder to lie than to tell the truth."
On the naturalistic worldview, there is absolutely no explanation for these findings. The state of the human brain is just the way it is because of a chain of deterministic evolutionary events that brought it to its current form. On this view there is no right or wrong so there should be no impetus for the brain to have to "work harder" to achieve any one outcome rather than another. After all, no one outcome is in any way superior to another.

The only way to make sense of this research, or to understand why the research was even done in the first place, is to accept the fact that the human mind is more than just a clump of gray matter.

I am currently reading Beauregard and O'Leary's, The Spiritual Brain. When I finish I hope to be able to post some more insights from their research about the actual existence of the human mind and soul.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Take Me To Your Seeder

NASA made headlines yesterday, when it was reported that the space agency may have uncovered evidence that life on Earth actually originated on Mars. Here's an excerpt from the story:
"It may not be likely," NASA researcher David Morrison told National Geographic News, "but we cannot exclude the possibility that we are, in effect, all Martians."

Panspermia, or the idea that Earth was "seeded" by life from outer space, is centuries old but until lately has not had much scientific evidence to support it.
I have mentioned the concept of panspermia before, but let me offer a quick review. First of all, this idea is anything but "new," as even the author notes. What is new, is the reason that Naturalistic scientists promote it. And that reason is stunning.

Michael Behe points out, in his book, Darwin's Black Box, that peer-reviewed articles and research in the area of the origin of life is almost non-existent.
More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.
The subject is so lacking any naturalistic explanation, the scientific community has punted it by splitting off origin of life studies from the rest of the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian Evolutionary models.

There are two basic forms of the panspermia in play. The first is labeled Directed Panspermia and basically sees life on Earth as an ongoing zoo experiment in which life was planted here by advanced aliens whose technological abilities go well beyond our ability to imagine or reproduce. Though it sounds goofy on the surface, that one is eerily similar to the Theistic Hypothesis. After all, we theists have no problem with the idea that a super-intellect not only planted us here but -- in the infamous words of atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle (he of Big Bang naming fame) -- that He has also "monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology."

The second form, and the one being championed here by NASA, is labeled Non-directed Panspermia. This is the notion that some primitive life form (bacteria etc.) evolved elsewhere but was transported to Earth by piggy-backing aboard a comet or meteor. This could be explained by the collision of such an entity with a life-inhabited planet, the force of which would expel debris that escaped the planet's gravitational field. Having escaped, the rock on which the bacteria was riding collides with Earth and serves to "seed" it for further evolution.

There are big problems with this theory. Not the least of which is the ability of the life form to survive such a journey. In the study cited we find that:
A team led by John Parnell from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland embedded fossilized microbes into a fake meteorite strapped to the exterior of the Russian Foton M3 scientific-research probe, which went into orbit on Sept. 26 and came back to Earth 12 days later.

"In the bit of rock we got back, some biological compounds have survived," Parnell told National Geographic News.
Please note: The embedded microbes returned 12 days later, while only some survived. Though this data doesn't preclude the possibility of non-directed panspermia, it does highlight the utter improbability that any form of life could survive the thousands, if not millions, of years it would take for such a cosmic hitchhiker to reach the Earth -- even from our closest neighbors outside the solar system.

Though directed panspermia poses an even more unlikely scenario (because the highly intelligent zookeepers would also have to survive for so long), even the undirected variety has to find a way to overcome the intense ultraviolet (and other forms of radiation) that permeates outer space, as well as the lack of a life-sustaining environment aboard its transporter through the interstellar vacuum. There are other reasons to doubt that such a thing could occur, but here's the clincher ...

Saying life "evolved" elsewhere and was then transported here does nothing to solve the origin of life problem! It only pushes the question back another level. One still has to overcome all the barriers that a naturalistic explanation for evolution has not been able to overcome here on Earth. Always remember, the smoke screen of panspermia is a tacit admission that Naturalistic scientists cannot answer the real question of the origin of life. Hiding behind this theory does nothing to remove them from that failure.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remembering ...

Today, at my kids' school, they honored veteran's with a patriotic mix of music, reading and a skit meant to thank the invited attendees for their service to the nation. It was a moving event and good to see that in some circles the service of those who sacrifice to keep us free is greatly appreciated. There were parents and grandparents who were recognized and applauded individually. But for me, one of the most touching moments was when an elderly gentleman, who looked to be in his late eighties, asked to take the microphone from the school principal. "Thank you," he said, "for taking the time to remember us."

Is that the epitome of the citizen soldier, the servant leader, the veteran to which we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude -- is that not the picture of why we hold these veterans so dear? He fought the war ... and he's thanking me for simply remembering.

The implication was obvious. With the possible exception of November 11, most people don't really remember. We go to the mall, or watch Monday Night Football, or start our Christmas shopping, or whatever it is we do ... without ever giving our ability to do those things a second thought. We take it all for granted. It made me think ...

I thought of the rag-tag gang of idealists who, without uniforms, banded together at Bunker Hill to begin a process that won a newly-birthed nation its independence.

I thought of the descendants of those idealists who, at Gettysburg, charged downhill at Little Round Top, out of ammunition but with bayonets fixed, and held the left flank of the Union Army. One of them, Colonel Strong Vincent, was my wife's great-great-great uncle. Just a mile or so to his north, General Lewis Armistead, mortally wounded at the infamous stone wall during Pickett's Charge, sent apologies to his best friend, General Winfield Scott Hancock, for his decision to fight against him on the Confederate side.

How are men compelled to perform such courageous acts?

I thought of the horrors of the "War To End All Wars" and the optimism the world shared when it ended on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the commemoration of which eventually became Veteran's Day in 1954.

I thought of another group whose missing or ragged uniforms left them a frozen, suffering gaggle of men who, somehow, still continued to fight during The Battle of the Bulge. And of the teenagers who left the landing craft at Omaha Beach, only to be mowed down by German machine gun fire. It was on that beach 50 years later, that Bill Clinton posed for a photo op as he placed a group of staff-planted stones into the shape of a cross.

How dare he even set foot on that beach for that purpose.

I thought of Frozen Chosin, and Pusan, and MacArthur, and Truman and the "Forgotten War" that my uncle, Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Francis Adams, never forgot because he suffered in the cold there. It haunted him until his end.

I thought of the two men I admire most who were sitting on either side of me during the ceremony today. My dad, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bob Perry, and my wife's dad, Army Colonel Joe Vincent, who fought, and watched friends die, in the most unpopular war in America's history -- Viet Nam.

I thought of all those things in an instant. The remembering brought pride and admiration for those who have gone before me. But more than anything, the thought that haunts me today is for the future.

In a time when our enemy wears no uniform but vows to obliterate the American way of life and all who hold it dear; in a time when they have attacked us on our own soil and vowed to do worse; in a time when rogue nuclear weapons lurk in places unknown with persons who would use them without a hint of conscious regret; in a time when too many of our leaders seem reluctant to defend our national moral purpose against those who defile it; in a time like that my son has willingly volunteered to defend the cause of freedom. At the same time, each of his younger brothers have either taken intentional action, or showed every inclination, to do the same.

How are such young men compelled to perform such courageous acts?

Yes, I served 8 years in the Marine Corps. But only for the selfish purpose to fulfill a childhood dream of flying jets. My dream came true without ever having to endure a day in combat. Without ever having to know the fear that someone nearby was doing their level best to kill me. I served in a time of comfort. The same cannot be said for the sons who follow me.

So today I simply thank all those who are so inclined for remembering in a different way than we practiced today at school. Don't just remember the past. Remember the future.

Remember to pray.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This Is NOT What I Meant

Beside his penchant for blaming natural disasters, both past and future (like an America-directed-tsunami or what residents of Dover, PA should expect after the defeat of ID there) on the immorality and misdeeds of humanity, Pat Robertson has also made some pretty outrageous public gaffs -- like musing about the assassination of Hugo Chavez -- that, even when "clarified," have succeeded in rendering him irrelevant in the mainstream political debate.

Today however, I can only say that I hope he is as irrelevant to most of America's "values voters" as he is to me. That's because today Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president.

Over at the LTI blog we have engaged in legitimate (and cordial) debate about our differences concerning a Giuliani presidency and what it would mean for the pro-life agenda. Our "disagreements" have always been about long-term strategy. But, as one who believes a vote for Giuliani in the general election is better than any alternative from the other party, I have tried to make it clear that I would in no way support Giuliani during the nomination process. For that reason, I see Robertson's endorsement as being detestable.

For all his bluster about immorality invoking the wrath of God, it is beyond me how Robertson can look past Giuliani's positions on abortion and homosexual rights to only see his fiscal conservatism and stance on the War on Terror. This is a move that flies in the face of the morality Robertson claims to hold in such high regard. He should be ashamed. I just hope that Robertson's past actions have rendered his endorsement a whispered call to a crowd that isn't listening.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Taking Naturalism To The Woodshed

When it comes to apologetic resources or cultural critiques, Christian thinkers have plenty of options from which they can choose. But when it comes to a clear thinking, surgical strike on the presuppositions and inevitably tragic consequences of naturalism and the secular worldview, no one does it better than my friend, James Abernathy.

This is Abernathy's first book, but if it is indicative of his intellectual mission in life, his opponents have been issued a stern warning of things to come. Abernathy is not your typical Christian apologist. And his opponents are not just secularists. Liberal Christians better take note also. They, Abernathy points out, want "... a God who accepts everyone and the sin in their lives. God certainly does the former, but for him to do the latter would go against his very nature ... What many liberal Christians don't realize is that without a holy and wrathful God, Christ's death accomplished nothing -- nor was it necessary. A God who only loves need not punish sin."

Abernathy had an epiphany on the similarities between liberal Christians and atheist secularists when he found that many of his Christian professors in grad school (Fuller Theological Seminary) shared the same political views as the atheist professors he had as an undergrad (Miami of Ohio). Trying to unravel the illogic in that conundrum led Abernathy to realize that though they each claim to hold to a different view of the world, the results of their thinking are the same because liberal Christians hold to the same presuppositions as their atheist counterparts. "Ideas," he writes, "are not 'respecters of men, ... their real-world consequences will be the same."

Using a mix of wit, political incorrectness, and precise thinking, Abernathy not only argues for the superiority of the conservative Christian worldview, but exposes the deception, metaphysical theft, incoherence, and self-contradiction inherent in the secular project. Abernathy has no intention of making nice with his secular opponents. The consequences of their thinking are too dangerous for that. Instead, Abernathy carefully unravels the critical flaws in their thinking, the eerie similarities between the secular worldview and ancient Gnosticism, and the chaos that the postmodern self-constructionists (both personal and community types) invoke with their so-called "progressive" ideas.

After setting the stage, and with no holds barred, Abernathy proceeds to illuminate the corrosive outcomes of this way of thinking in politics, the judiciary and, most alarmingly, the American public education bureaucracy. His "Random Ideas" are an entertaining culmination to a book that will keep you thinking but make you chuckle -- unless, of course, you hold to the ideas he takes to the woodshed. In that case, an honest self-assessment and thoughtful reconsideration of your worldview is in order. And James Abernathy is just the person to offer you some assistance in the endeavor.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Saints Alert: Reform Your Halloween Ideas!

Personally, I don't see any harm in dressing up like a cartoon hero or a fairy princess and getting people to give you candy for no apparent reason. Seems rather industrious to me.

However, I do understand the reluctance of some to promote and participate in Halloween festivities -- if only because doing so seems to trivialize and inoculate us against the actual existence of real evil incarnated in the world. So, for those who dislike the "celebration" of Halloween by church people, I have a couple of idea that (in my very humble opinion) beat the "Harvest Celebrations" or "Howl-elluiah" euphemisms for Halloween that many churches try to offer as alternatives.

The first is has historical significance in that it is the commemoration of an event that took place on the very day that Halloween has come to be celebrated. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, an act that set the Reformation in motion.

If that's not enough (or if you're Catholic and don't appreciate Luther as much as I do), consider this: In the early Christian church it was a practice to solemnize the anniversary of a the death of a martyr. In the fourth century, neighboring church districts began to interchange these memorial feasts and join together in doing so. As the church grew larger it became common for groups of martyrs to be massacred en masse (and especially under the more systematic persecution of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian), this led to joint commemorations. Soon however, the number of martyrs needing to be memorialized became so great that the church decided to establish a common day for all. As early as 411 A.D. there was a "Commemoratio Confessorum" insitutued on the calendar in use at that time for the Friday after Easter. Finally, Pope Gregory III (731-741 A.D.) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints, fixed the anniversary for November 1, and named it All Saints Day. (source: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

So there you have it. Two reasons (other than ghosts, witches and the like) to celebrate a real Christian holiday on October 31st ... even if neither will land you any candy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

You Will Enjoy This Book

Though I only half-heartedly pursued my faith for many years during, and after, my college days; and though I was fond of self-righteously avoiding any active participation in what I condescendingly referred to as "organized religion," my attitude changed one Sunday in December of 1989. That was the day my wife and I nonchalantly walked into a school cafeteria to check out a newly formed church in our area. After about 20 minutes of listening to Tony Thomas, I knew that my attitude toward church had forever been changed. Eighteen years later, we still attend that church.

Though Tony Thomas left many years ago, we will always fondly remember the humor, style and heart with which he delivered the Gospel message. I owe Tony Thomas a tremendous debt of gratitude for showing me that the only alternative to "organized religion" is "disorganized religion" and that organization and real world faith are in no way mutually exclusive. The path that led me back to an honest and committed pursuit of my faith began in a metal folding chair that Tony Thomas probably set up himself.

So it is with great pleasure that I want to announce that my dear friend Tony Thomas is now a published author! Tony is the Senior Preaching Minister at Woodland Heights Christian Church in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He writes a weekly column for The Paper of Montgomery County, and has used the wealth of experience gained there to churn out his first book, A Smidgeon of Religion.

I just ordered the book myself and I can't wait to read it. From what I can tell, the book will reflect the style, wit and outlook toward life that only Tony could convey. He writes like he preaches, which mean you won't be able to put the book down.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Practical Pro-Life Politics

Yesterday, in USA Today, Michael Medved made the case ("Abortion's Shades of Gray") that today's abortion beliefs "are much more nuanced ... [and that] it's no longer a black-and-white debate." While I may agree with him about today's beliefs and arguments, that does nothing to change the black and white facts about abortion. As Jay pointed out yesterday, there are clear distinctions between all the nuanced arguments, justifications and beliefs that people put forth and the simple issue of the moral status of an unborn, innocent human being. But that is not what I want to address.

Before I make my point, I want to make it crystal clear that, as a pro-life advocate and voter, I will do everything in my power to defeat Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary process. I will do this for many reasons, not the least of which is his stance on abortion. But, when it comes to electing someone like Giuliani to the presidency (if it does come to that), all the talk of abandoning the Republican party to demonstrate our disgust for his views, or of launching a third-party in protest, are not only inane, but genuinely destructive to the pro-life cause. Let me explain.

Medved points out the key differences between Giuliani's platform and those of the leading Democratic candidates. Here's the list:
  • Giuliani has committed to preserve the Hyde Ammendment, banning taxpayer money for abortions ... the top Democrats urge repeal and favor federal funding.
  • Giuliani applauded the recent SCOTUS decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion ... all leading Democrats condemned it in harsh terms.
  • Giuliani supports tougher rules on parental notification for underage girls seeking abortion ... Clinton and Obama oppose such legislation.
  • Giuliani has specifically cited strict-constructionists like Scalia, Alito and Roberts as his models for future appointees to SCOTUS ... top Democrats regularly express conempt for the conservative jurists Giuliani admires and worked against all three of these.

In other words, when it comes to the abortion issue, a Giuliani presidency would look no different from that of George W. Bush. In fact, given the likelihood that the next president will appoint one or more justices to SCOTUS, positive (though incremental) steps toward the possibility of overturning Roe would move noticeably in the right direction. The alternative would be an utter disaster.

Along those lines, some have expressed dismay toward the seemingly opportunistic late change in Romney's abortion views. Point granted. But my sources tell me that Romney convened a meeting of several pro-life advocates and asked them to make their case. After that meeting(s), his view was changed. Given that organizations like the Life Training Institute exist to "persuasively communicate the pro-life message," does it make sense to chastise those for whom our message may actually have been persuasive? Can we not consider the fact that our arguments may be working? I have no way of knowing Mitt Romney's motivation for seeing the pro-life light. But motivations are irrelevant if his policy stance agrees with ours. Romney has never given any indication (that I know of) to doubt that point.

So, at risk of re-igniting the wrath of the purists out there, I simply propose that we keep our collective eyes on the mission at hand and take every practical and effective step we can to achieve it. As a former Marine, I hate the idea of losing tactical skirmishes. But, more importantly, I refuse to submit to strategies that have no hope of winning the war.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Balanced Flight

It is easy -- too easy -- for someone like me to get engrossed in all the arguments for God, the scientific evidence for God, promoting our intellectual assent to God, and pointing out the deficiencies that result in our removal of God from the culture. All these are the kinds of things that "float my boat." They are where I focus a lot of my energy, reading, teaching, and time. They are all fine and dandy -- except that they can also be distracting detours from what should be my primary purpose in this life -- The Pursuit of God.

I have been reminded of that recently as I've been reading a book that has been sitting in my bookcase, untouched, for several years. Greg Koukl mentioned the classic, Desiring God, by John Piper, in a recent radio broadcast and motivated me to dust it off and dig in. What a treat.

Some may have a negative reaction to Piper's call to "Christian Hedonism." I did. If so, I would encourage you to listen to his entire argument and the Biblical justification proposes for making it. Some of it is still sinking in. Some of it sounds disagreeable to me. I have to consider it more. Some of it though, is just eye-openingly on target. Though I have no intention of analyzing it point-by-point, the message that came through loud and clear to me was the recognition that there is an affective element to the Christian faith that people like me sometimes minimize to our own detriment.

To be honest, I have become jaded (even antagonistic?) toward this notion -- turned off by the feelings-based, thoughtlessness of the American church in general. History shows that many of the denominations that exist today in America were born in the Great Awakenings that occurred early in our nation's history. The emotional appeal of those "Awakenings" were relevant and proper, they also helped to produce an anti-intellectualism in the American church that is alive, well, and amplified in the contemporary "Oprahfied" culture. I believe and defend the claim that this trend is not only dangerous but unbiblical. Christianity has never been based on the mindless acceptance of a blind leap of faith. It has always been anchored in intellectual assent to objective truth, embodied in Christ himself -- a thoughtful, willful decision. But Piper makes a beautiful point in that regard (p. 247):
It is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation to achieve. They are evidence of no true work of grace in the heart. People can make "decisions" about the truth of God while their hearts are far from him. (emphasis mine)

This is something we know but that is easy (at least for someone like me) to forget. A wooden, solely mind-centered faith is not only equally invalid, and equally dangerous -- it is also practically handicapped and unbiblical as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's Not Emulate The Opponents Of Free Thought

To follow up from my last post (and to demonstrate that I had no intention of "picking on" doctors, per se), I would like to point out that the proclivity for attaching ideology to a personal I-am-going-to-save-the world agenda is not limited to the "Cutthroats in White Coats" whom I addressed there. Rather, it is a trait that exists in abundance among the self-described intelligentsia who see themselves as superior in intellect to the rest of us and therefore not only immune to criticism from outside their little fiefdoms, but also from within them.

Peter Berkowitz, in his column "Ethics 101," in the October 8, 2007 Wall Street Journal, points out that while ...
Academics have a lot to say about how other professionals conduct business. They seem strangely incurious about themselves.
Berkowitz points out that, beside "a few defenses of affirmative action and multiculturalism ... 20 years of generously funding research in practical or applied ethics [at Harvard, Yale and others] has made no discernible contribution to illuminating the challenges of university governance." They don't need to consider such banalities you see, because ...
... ethics faculty may have convinced themselves that professors and administrators, because of their peculiar virtue, already confront and wisely dispose of all moral dilemmas and professional conflicts of interest that come before them.
Safely ensconced inside their self-constructed cocoons of self-righteousness, people like this have no use for debate concerning subjects about which they have already made up their minds. Their way of seeing things is morally superior and therefore unimpeachable. This kind of thinking is, as Roger Kimball points out in a National Review piece published the same day, the kind of thinking that leads to situations like the ongoing one at Hamilton College (New York) where the establishment of a center on its campus meant to promote "excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy, and capitalism" was denied. But the same school was fine with:
  • Inviting "post-porn feminist" Annie Sprinkle to demonstrate sex toys on campus

  • Allowing the radical, and former Weather Underground member, Susan Rosenberg to be an "artist and activist in-residence"

  • Permitting Ward Churchill (who labeled those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns") to "enlighten the school about 9/11 and American culture"
It is from atop (within?) such an ivory tower that the Dean of an institute of higher learning such as Columbia University can extend a welcome to a dictator like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who: denies the Holocaust as a "myth," unabashedly calls for the annihilation of the state of Israel, allows the execution of homosexuals, supports international terrorism, imprisons critical scholars and journalists, suppresses the rights of women by force, and actively seeks nuclear weapons in pursuit of all of the above. This, we are told is OK because Columbia, in its pursuit of a liberal education, is a proud defender of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Really? Apparently the university does not extend that right to Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, who was violently attacked on stage there while trying to speak about his organization's mission to protect the sovereignty of our national borders. Apparently, the university does also not extend that right to the very people who sacrifice their time (and sometimes their lives) in defense of the right Columbia claims to hold so dear:
Columbia welcomes Ahmadinejad to campus [but] Columbia students who want to serve their country cannot enroll in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Columbia. Columbia students who want to enroll in ROTC must travel to other universities to fulfill their obligations. ROTC has been banned from the Columbia campus since 1969. In 2003, a majority of polled Columbia students supported reinstating ROTC on campus. But in 2005, when the Columbia faculty senate debated the issue, President Bollinger joined the opponents in defeating the effort to invite ROTC back on campus.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

First Do No Harm

Just under a year ago, Dr. Esam Omeish, President of the Muslim American Society, could be heard here defending the stance that moderate Muslims are the majority in this country, while denying the claim that extremists are making it their mission to recruit for the cause of jihad in American prisons. Fair enough. Because of his moderate stance, and because he is "a respected physician and community leader," Omeish was appointed by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to the Virginia General Assembly's Commission on Immigration. Great ... until last week when he was forced to resign.

Here and here are a couple of speeches Dr. Omeish has given, one as recently as two weeks ago. Quite the "moderate," eh? Forget the political question concerning how it is possible that this guy could be on a panel that advises anyone on official U.S. immigration policy. That is not the point I want to address. What blows me away is this "respected physician's" call for "the jihad way."

Consider this. In July, the world watched as Scottish police unraveled a failed bomb plot by eight doctors in Glasgow. The leader of the radical Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, who was recently killed in an Israeli raid, was a trained pediatrician. Theodore Dalrymple, in his National Review piece, "Cutthroats In White Coats," reports on a few other infamous cases:
Dr. Petiot is suspected to have killed 60 people in Paris under the occupation, promising to arrange their escape to South America in return for 25,000 francs, which he pocketed while killing and incinerating them;

Dr. Shipman of Cheshire, England, is thought to have poisoned upwards of 200 patients during his career as a general practitioner, for motives that remain, and will probably forever remain, unclear.

Vera Figner, one of the assassins of Czar Alexander II, and a founder of the terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), was a doctor.

The role of doctors in Nazi Germany and Japan during the Second World War was not such as to give the profession much cause for pride.

Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara took an excessive pleasure not only in revolution itself, but in post-revolutionary executions.

Osama bin Laden’s deputy, after all, is a surgeon.

George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and a man of unstintingly violent opinions and inclinations, trained as a pediatrician.
Admittedly, these are an infinitesimally small number of the actual doctors who have served humanity well. And Dr. Omeish has not committed any violent act. But recent events show us that the jihad he has been promoting has, shall we say, led to a little violence here and there. What strikes me as a little weird though, is that so many of those trained to "first do no harm" have also been some of the most violent criminals in history. Why would that be? In the same article, Dalrymple (a retired doctor, I might add) has some ideas.

First, he points out, "doctors must train themselves to be dispassionate in the face of suffering, and be prepared to do things that might cause their patients discomfort and even pain, for the purpose of the good of the patients." One need look no further than the infamous abortionist Dr. George Tiller of Kansas, to see this tendency incarnated. Tiller is the doctor who has (perversely) perfected the late term abortion procedures with which we have all become so familiar. Tiller's motivation?
"Specialists in 2nd Semester elective and 2nd/3rd trimester therapeutic abortion care" ... We have a national and international reputation for providing the highest quality abortion services in a safe and caring environment. Kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect are the cornerstones of our patient-provider relationships.
... He's doing it for the women. Tiller, blinded by the "tree" of protecting a woman's "right to choose" what she does with her own body, fails to see the "forest" of a complete lack of regard for demonstrating "kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect" to the pre-born human beings he destroys every day.

Second, Dalrymple says, this numbness to pain and suffering must be attached to some kind of ideological cause that can lead to a terrorist mindset. History has proven that such an ideological call is, almost without exception, appealing to the highly educated among us. Though the uneducated masses may carry the banner of some such cause, it is the highly educated who lead it. Add these two traits together and ...
Solzhenitsyn pointed out in a different context, it is ideology that allows people to commit the most terrible acts in the belief that they are bringing about a better world.
This is not to pick on doctors (after all, some of my best friends are doctors). The tendencies at play here exist in every human heart. But because they have demonstrated a unique, and highly public, proclivity for perpetuating evil acts, doctors offer us a unique example of the promise and danger inherent in the apologetic project.

Our ability to argue for the superiority of the Christian worldview lies in how successful we are at appealing to the ideological passion of society's leaders. Paul knew this. Though many of us have a picture of Paul wandering the desert preaching the Good News to John and Jane Doe, the Bible tells a different story. Paul went into the synagogues, sought out the cultural leaders, argued toe-to-toe with the elite philosophers on Mars Hill, and won each of them to the cause of Christ. Only then did the crowds get with the program.

Paul's success teaches us that ideas have consequences and that those who combine intellectual acumen with passionately held beliefs can be the most successful -- or the most dangerous -- people on earth. Paul spent some time in each of those camps.

It follows that we who claim to be apologists for the Christian worldview are morally and eternally obliged to determine the truth in the ideas we espouse and their ability to cohere with the way the world was designed to work. A failure to do so creates people, like the doctors listed above, who are dangerous to all that is good, and beautiful, and true. Success in the endeavor creates movements that are dangerous to the self-centered notion that man is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. That is a sickness for which no human doctor could ever offer a cure.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Get A Loan ... Get A Life!

When we refinanced our house in early 2003, the mortgage broker who conducted our preliminary phone interview inquired about our total household income. I gave him the number. "OK," he said, "What about debt?"

"Just the mortgage," I said.

"That's it? No other debt?"


"Wow," came his reply, "You need to get a life."

And there you have it. In contemporary America, it is no longer fashionable to be financially conservative. It's not even acceptable. Now you are considered a freakish loser unless you have bought into the have-it-all-and-have-it-now mentality that is so culturally pervasive.

Now don't get me wrong. I am well aware of the fact that my family has been materially blessed. I also know how many folks struggle to make their financial ends meet. But that's not what I want to address here. My beef is with the entitlement mindset which promotes the notion that, no matter what your financial position is, you deserve more. Society owes it to you. It comes with your right to be "happy."

I am contending that the financial crisis du jour -- the sub-prime lending crisis -- is not a problem with the market, it is a problem with our mindset. I am arguing that the market is always "right" in that it reflects the trajectory of societal values. Seen that way, the sub-prime lending crisis with which the financial markets are currently contending is nothing but a mirror into the collective American soul. And if you look closely enough in that mirror you will see the ugly reflection of an ancient and continuing idolatry.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Inappropriate Question -- Masterful Answer

That Wolf Blitzer would ask this question of those who are running for President of the United States is enlightening. How is it, one must wonder, that this has any bearing on their ability to govern or lead? Make no mistake, Blitzer (and his cohorts) ask this question only to make the candidates look like silly, mindless, neanderthals. The question is, "Do you believe in evolution?"

Though there are many points I would have loved to have added to it, Mike Huckaby's answer, when put on the spot (and on the clock) speaks for itself ...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Cries That Bind

On August 31, 1997 Princess Diana died in a tragic crash in Paris in a car with her boyfriend while her husband and two children waited for her in London. Five days later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta died due to complications that apparently developed after a decades-long battle with heart disease that worsened with her contracting malaria the year prior. Over the next 3 months Princess Diana graced the covers of the major news magazines (Life, Time, Newsweek and others) at least 9 times. The world grieved. Her story led the evening news every night and her funeral was broadcast live to millions. Elton John even re-wrote a song for her.

Meanwhile, Mother Teresa barely warranted mention in the news tsunami that left her swamped behind the flash and glitz of the princess. This said more about our cultural values than Mother Teresa ever could have said herself.

But this week that changed. Suddenly, Mother Teresa is newsworthy ... the lead story no less ... cover material. This week Mother Teresa has even supplanted the backwash tsunami of the ten-year remembrance of Diana's death. But it is not the ten-year remembrance of Mother Teresa that the press has found so marketable. It is not even a belated appreciation for her 60 years of work with the poor and dying in India.

No, what is so tantalizingly important about her now is that she had a "crisis of faith" that has recently been revealed in letters which she had specifically requested not be made public, but rather destroyed. (Funny how the press's commitment to its sources' privacy changes from time to time -- especially when they can scoop a story like this one). The hook, you see, is that Mother Teresa, a world-renown icon of religious commitment, sometimes questioned her faith. Time magazine reports that ...
... one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.
That, to a secular press hell-bent on de-legitimizing faith or anyone who claims to have it, is too juicy to not be shouted from the rooftops. Mother Teresa has become a target for their secular wrath. And that is the only reason they have any interest in her now. In her crying out to God, militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens see nothing but an opportunity to exploit. Hitchens despises a:
... Church [that] should have had the elementary decency to let the earth lie lightly on this troubled and miserable lady, and not to invoke her long anguish to recruit the credulous to a blind faith in which she herself had long ceased to believe.
But just what was Mother Teresa's "crisis"? At various points in her life, she questioned the existence of God because He seemed hidden and unreachable amid the squalor and misery of life that engulfed her. God's hiddenness was painful to her, her longing for Him palpable:
For me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear—the tongue moves but does not speak ... Such deep longing for God—and … repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—[The saving of] Souls holds no attraction—Heaven means nothing ... What do I labor for? If there be no God—there can be no soul—if there is no Soul then Jesus—You also are not true.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making Mud Pies

Yesterday's news contained one story that threatens to rock the world … at least that’s what “they” say. Before I address specifics I'd just like to say that this story is an object lesson in man's desire to "play god." That proclivity is the force behind Enlightenment Humanism and the Fall of Man. In each case, it is the ultimate idolatry. But in any case, it unveils the idea that we humans have insatiable desires that only God can fill. Keep that idea in mind as you consider the announcement and the implication it offers that if these scientists can "create life" in a lab, it surely cannot be a big deal that life showed up here on planet earth. That's a pretty bold statement to make. But when you break it down, it turns out that both the scientists and their announcement suffer from mega-sized delusions of grandeur. You don’t have to read deep into the story to see that. The lead-in goes like this:
Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch, and they're getting closer … Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."
Create life from scratch, eh? We can put that notion to bed pretty quickly. What these scientists are really starting with are the chemical compounds adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine, (C) and thymine (T). These are the "base" chemicals that make up DNA. Here are just a few points an untrained knucklehead like me can come up with when considering whether these scientists are really "starting from scratch."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Crack In The Edifice?

Confronting the big questions

For thousands of years, people have gazed in wonder at the world about them and asked the big questions: How did the universe come to exist? What is it made of? Where do human beings fit into the great cosmic scheme? Is there a meaning to it all?

Such questions have mostly been restricted to religion and philosophy. Now, scientists are addressing them too.
On every front, science is transforming our world view and challenging age-old assumptions about the nature of the physical universe and our place within it.

Though the the above may sound like some kind of public relations announcement for a Christian Apologetics seminar. Though it may even sound like something I wrote to promote the view I've touted here concerning what I believe to be the proper relationship between faith and science -- it is neither. But in my opinion it is better than either. Read on ...

BEYOND is a pioneering international center at Arizona State University specifically dedicated to confronting the big questions of existence raised by these stunning scientific advances, and facilitating new research initiatives that transcend traditional subject categories.

Did you catch that?! This is actually the home page for BEYOND: The Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, a new think tank that has proudly published the following:

Our Vision for BEYOND

  • To create new and exciting ideas that push the boundaries of research a bit "beyond"

  • To conduct research that transcends traditional subject categories

  • To answer foundational questions in science, and explore their philosophical ramifications - what might be called "the big questions"

  • To present science to the public as a key component of our culture and of significance to all humanity
As the BEYOND introduction puts it, these are the kinds of questions that "are a key component of our culture and of significance to all humanity." The answers we find to those kinds of questions transcend the science and point us toward its ultimate cause -- toward the teleological destination that most scientific endeavors deny even exists.

Now I don't want to sound like too much of a Pollyanna here. This is by no means an announcement that will declare the end of the reign of the assumed Naturalistic paradigm that dominates the scientific community. It is not the death knell of the methodological naturalism that rules the scientific enterprise. For instance, in BEYOND's listed of stated "research themes" we find that, with regard to the origin of life issue:

We are pursuing an approach based on the hypothesis that life originated with quantum replication of nanostructures.

In this case the same old presumptions seem to be in place. That's fine. But if the monolithic acceptance of certain presuppositions represents the wall that naturalistic scientists demand separate science and faith, maybe BEYOND represents the first tiny crack in that wall.

Time will tell. But though the existence of BEYOND may represent only a microscopic crack, it is nonetheless a crack. And for that we theists should at least be sporting a smile.

{I want to give credit to Tim Boyle of Tsukuba, Japan for making me, and other Reasons To Believe volunteer apologists, aware of this story. Tim is an alumnus of ASU where he majored in Physics}

Friday, August 10, 2007

Correlation Does Not Equal Cause

John R. Lott Jr., of National Review offers an interesting report (August 13, 2007, p. 18) on the common claim among abortion supporters that abortion serves to lower crime rates. The data invoked to buttress this claim is the unexpected and rapid drop in violent crime that occurred between 1991 and 2000. Their argument goes like this:
  1. Aborted children are, by definition, "unwanted"
  2. Raised in an unwanted environment, children who could have been aborted will likely become criminals
  3. The 1973 Roe-v-Wade decision legalized abortion
  4. Children born subsequent to Roe reached adulthood in the early 1990s
  5. Because those children were "wanted" children, they were less likely to be criminals
  6. Therefore, violent crime dropped upon their reaching adulthood
This argument elicits three immediate responses.

First, so what? Even if it can be shown that more abortions lead to less violent crime, that fact would do nothing to answer the moral question around which the pro-life argument centers. The possibility of lowering crime rates sometime in the future does nothing to justify the taking of innocent human life now.

Second, it is amazing to see the height of the arrogance displayed by the deterministic assumption that the dismal, criminal future awaiting the "unwanted" rationalizes snuffing them out before birth. This makes Tom Cruise's "Pre-Crime" unit in Minority Report look tame by comparison. At least those pre-criminals were arrested and tried by those who claimed to know the criminal's future intentions. The aborted human fetus gets no such chance.

Third, there is no indication that the "violent crime" statistics include the millions of fetuses that were also victimized by premeditated homicide. Purely an oversight, I'm sure.

Those observations aside, Lott shows that the entire abortion-reduces-crime argument is a myth anyway. While there are plenty of alternative explanations ...

higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, "broken windows" police strategies, the death penalty ... right-to-carry laws, a strong economy, or the waning of the crack-cocaine epidemic
... the real answer lies in the way abortion proponents choose to manipulate the data itself. The idea that abortion reduces crime stems from a 1966 Swedish study that compared the plight of the "unwanted" children of women who were denied abortions, with "wanted" children born at the same time. While there is no doubt that environment influences behavioral outcomes, Lott notes that the authors of the original report "never investigated whether the children's 'unwantedness' caused their problems, or were simply correlated with them."

This is a common deficiency in data interpretation. While two events may seem to be correlated, the appearance of connectedness does not necessarily imply causation. It is easy to correlate data, it is quite another thing to do the hard work of determining causation.

An example of this error that comes to my mind is an infamous one in which a Navy F-14 Tomcat crashed into the Pacific Ocean on approach to an aircraft carrier, killing its (equally infamous) pilot. The press (most notably Peter Jennings) droned on about the bad fortune of the deceased pilot whose plane had crashed "because of engine failure." Yes, the F-14's engine had failed. That fact was correlated with the crash of the airplane and the death of its pilot. But what the press (and the Navy) failed to mention was what the rest of us Naval Aviators knew -- the F-14 is a two-seat airplane. The backseater of that fateful event not only survived, but was eyewitness to, and knew exactly how, the airplane's engine had failed. As it turned out, the cause of the engine failure was a pilot-induced error. The pilot had stalled the engine herself and failed at the basic aviation procedures meant to correct for such an engine failure. While the engine failure could be correlated with the crash, the actual cause was the pilot herself.

Back to the issue at hand. The aforementioned study took on a life of its own and became the cornerstone of the "abortion decreases crime" theory which later studies assumed to be true in interpreting their own data. But a closer look at the demographics in the data shows that abortion could not have been the cause of the drop in crime rates in the early 1990s. As Lott points out:
... murder rates began falling first among an older generation -- those over 26 -- born before Roe. It was only later that criminality among those born after Roe began to decline. (emphasis mine)
Likewise, data from Canada shows that:
... while crime rates in both the United States and Canada began declining at the same time, the Canadian Supreme Court [did not strike] down limits on abortion nationwide until 1988.
Note to data "correlators": The "unwanted" criminals were 3 years-old when violent crime started its decline north of the border.

In fact, Lott shows that rates of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families soared after Roe for many reasons that have been documented elsewhere. Both of these have been shown to be causal factors in the likelihood of later criminal behavior. So, a closer look at the data indicates not only that the "abortion-decreases crime" theory is false, but that its exact opposite has been shown to be true. Increases in abortion actually increase crime.

Serge and Jay have been masterful in demonstrating the devious advertising, data manipulation and outright falsehoods that have been perpetrated by pro-abortion advocates. Here we have yet another example of the data collectors, interpreters and reporters making the data say whatever they want it to say.

Not A Good Week For The Naturalists

Possible Martian bacteria fossils in a meteorite found in Antarctica. The rock, by keeping its cool, could have sustained life during its travels.

When it comes to comparing the Naturalistic and Theistic worldviews, each has its problems. The theist's biggest one, or at least the one that is most commonly thrown at him, is the problem of evil. "How could it be," it is asked, "that an omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would allow pain and suffering in the world He created." Certainly, this is the most emotionally charged issue facing the Theistic Hypothesis. It is a problem that Christian apologists have been defending themselves against for centuries. But here's the deal. Theistic apologists do two things:

1) They admit there are difficulties posed by the problem of evil and acknowledge it as a legitimate challenge to their worldview that must be addressed.

2) They offer a coherent answer that fits within their worldview and that, even if not accepted, stands as a rational, reasoned answer to the objection.

Not so with the naturalist. It is hard to decide which naturalistic deficiency is the most troubling for them to overcome but for my money I would pick the origin of life. How is it that a purely mechanistic view of the universe can account for the origination (not to mention all the diversity and non-material aspects) of life itself?

Naturalism, though it might acknowledge that the origin of life is a "difficult" issue, fails to admit the extent of the "difficulty" to its view of the world. We are always told that the explanation is forthcoming -- that we just have to wait a little longer to get it. But what we are never given is an admission that the entire subject undermines the very core of naturalism itself. We are most definitely never given a rational, coherent answer to the origin of life problem. The most we get is speculation and then only about theories that are either unverifiable (by definition), serve only to push the argument back indefinitely, or that strangely (and closely) resemble the theistic alternatives we offer ourselves.

Right off the bat, Darwinism doesn't cut it. By definition, Darwinism is a process that picks "winners" from among the variant forms of life. But, before there is any life, there can be no winner and thus nothing from which the much-touted power of Natural Selection can pick. Darwin's ideas about how to overcome this major obstacle have been proven wildly lacking in explanatory power. And in the 150 years since he published Origin of Species, things haven't gotten any better. In fact, origin of life studies have been separated from general evolution because the problems it poses are so overwhelming.

I have addressed this issue briefly in the past so I won't belabor the point here. But one of the favorite naturalistic explanations for the origin of life is panspermia. The "directed" type (aliens put life here as some sort of experimental zoo project) is one of my favorite. For starters, the idea that a transcendent intelligent agent placed life her sounds an awful lot like the Biblical creation account. But if the naturalists insist that the alien they appeal to isn't "god," their theory does nothing but push the origin of life question backward one step. Where and how did the alien life originate?

The "non-directed" variety of panspermia has thus become a favorite among naturalistic scientists. As recently as 2000, some insisted that this version was a legitimate:
One study, reported in the October 27, 2000 issue of the journal Science, shows that a space rock could successfully transport life between planets ... Another group of researchers, reporting in the October 19, 2000 issue of Nature, claims to have found and revived bacteria on Earth that were dormant, in the form of spores, hiding in New Mexican salt crystals for 250 million years. Scientists called the implications of this second discovery profound, suggesting that if further study bears out the findings, it could mean bacterial spores are nearly immortal.
Sounds great. The problem with it popped up this past week in a Rutgers study that blows the whole idea out of the water:

For the first time, there are solid data to refute a popular theory that life came to the Earth aboard a comet, Rutgers researchers said Monday.

Deteriorated DNA from microbes, frozen for millions of years in the Antarctic ice, shows that organisms could not have survived the bombardment of cosmic radiation during deep space travel from outside the solar system, said Paul Falkowski, a Rutgers biologist and oceanographer.

The fact that theistic astronomers and biologists have been making this point for years has gone unnoticed. Remember, their opinion doesn't count because they don't toe the party line by adhering to the "proper" set of presuppositions. That their science is solid and, in this case, reached the same conclusion is irrelevant and goes unreported.

Unfortunately, that's the way the system is set up. But for those of us who follow these issues, this past week was unusually notable. Early on it brought us news from Nature that the commonly accepted notion of human evolution doesn't hold water. Then, later in the week, we find that the optimistic promises of panspermia have been dashed on the rocks of the actual scientific evidence.

No gloating (of course) but let's just say it hasn't been a good week for the Naturalists.