Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Army of Dumb

I do my best to avoid being demeaning toward individuals. As someone has said, we should be tolerant of people, but intolerant of bad ideas. So it is with great sincerity that I want to be clear about the purpose of this post -- it is the utter stupidity of the ideas I want to address here that is important. The fact that there are specific, well-known, and influential leaders of the U.S. Army that have been articulating these ideas, though relevant, is not the point. It is the ideas themselves that sicken me.

I also want to be clear about my obvious respect for the U.S. military and those who serve in it. This topic hits very close to home for me as a former Marine, the son of a retired Marine, and as part of a family of current and former career members of the U.S. Army. I mean no disrespect toward the men and women who currently serve our country, especially since two of my sons are included in that group. But when the leadership of that military becomes so obviously idiotic; when they begin to promote ideas that will serve to put those who serve beneath them in mortal danger, I am compelled to weigh in, no matter whose feelings might get hurt.

A little over a year ago, while talking with a well-placed source at a noted institution of higher learning, I asked him about absentee voter registration for the upcoming 2008 General Election. He answered, "Many of us don't believe we should vote ... as members of the profession of arms, we feel that it is inconsistent with our commitment to attempt to choose our Commander-in-Chief."

Where on earth had he come up with such an idea? Cal-Berkeley? Columbia University? Yale? Harvard? Wellesley? None of the above ...

This is an idea he received from individuals in positions of leadership at the number one college in America (Forbes, 2009) and one of the finest (if not the finest) leadership training institutions on the planet: The United States Military Academy at West Point.

He continued, " ... there's actually a large sized portion of the officer corps that feels the same way ... [We] can't choose whether or not to follow [the Commander-in-Chief's] orders once he's in office so it kind of defeats the idea of 'selfless service' to attempt to have any voice in that decision ... If we signed up to do whatever he said, no matter what, then trying to effect that lessens the value of what we swore to do."

Let me say that the heart of this guy's motivation is undeniably honorable. It amazes me that he would be compelled to think so selflessly about the oath he took to serve this nation. But the reasoning he has been given by the leadership at West Point is seriously flawed.

A citizen's right to vote is one of the core principles on which this nation was founded. Ironically, it is a right for which those who serve so honorably in the military, risk their lives to defend. How could any "leader" worth his salt ever be compelled to promote the idea that those who defend that right should not be able to exercise it?

These have taken an oath to defend the Constitution which grants them that right. And yes, they are sworn to follow the orders of their Commander-in-Chief. That they will always do. But it seems to me that simple logic entails that if they vote for a candidate who loses the election, the fact that they subsequently submit to the President for whom they did not vote, is an even more honorable demonstration of their loyalty.

This is especially relevant when those two aspects of the oath come in conflict. For instance, suppose one candidate for President is an avowed Marxist whose policies would, by definition, undermine the Constitution of the United States. The serviceman's oath is foremost to defend that Constitution, yet the philosophy being promoted would not allow him to vote against a candidate whose policies would undermine that Constitution and thereby violate that oath. This is lunacy.

This is nothing more than politically correctness (PC) run amok -- an idea that aims to negate the political influence of the very people who would suffer most by its imposition. At the time, what bothered me most about it was that this PC view was "prevalent" among the West Point leadership -- that some hideously high percentage of our military leadership has bought into this philosophical position and begun to pass it on to the next generation of leaders. When I heard this, I contacted a civilian leader at West Point who assured me that "it could not be true" but that she would bring it up with the Dean in an upcoming meeting she was having with him. She promised to share his response. But after repeated efforts to elicit that response, nothing has been forthcoming. The leadership simply ignores the question.

The support for this kind of PC in the military is sickening -- and frightening -- to me. And it just got worse.

After the senseless murder of 13 unarmed servicemen and women at Fort Hood last month; after it was learned that the spineless shooter screamed "Allahu akbar" ("Allah is Great") before beginning his rampage; after it was learned that this Islamist fanatic was in "contact with a man of known Islamist views, whose mosque he had once attended, whose sermons were eloquently bloodthirsty and for whom the shedding of blood was religious duty;"* after all that and more, the Army's Chief of Staff, General George Casey, weighed in on the matter.

"What happened at Fort Hood is a tragedy, and I believe it would be a greater tragedy if diversity became a casualty here."

Let those words sink in. They were spoken by the highest ranking General in the United States Army and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the most powerful nation on Earth. Make no mistake, his motivation is to divert the religious nature of this horrendous act away from its source and pretend it does not exist -- all for the sake of avoiding any hint of "intolerance" toward those who hold, and act on, equally murderous ideas. This general believes that some abstract, PC notion of "diversity" holds a higher value than the lives of the young men and women who were murdered at Fort Hood..

Talk about PC run amok. Apparently, West Point just represents the tip of the military leadership iceberg.

If the acceptance of dumb ideas were the end of it, it would simply be laughable. But it's not. These ideas have infiltrated the minds and philosophies of those who are training and leading our sons and daughters in combat. The stakes there are higher and the implications more critical than the outcome of the vacuous Washington D.C. posturing in which they are engaged. They are the blood and treasure of our nation and our families. The leaders who push these PC doctrines are more worried about the political ramifications for their own careers than they are about the lives that are wasted as a result of a misguided adherence to them.

No wonder they don't want our kids to vote.


_______
* Theodore Dalrymple, National Review, December 7, 2009, p. 18

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Clashing Worldviews

A good friend of mine posed a couple of questions that I think are worthy of careful consideration for anyone who recognizes what seems to be our descent into a post-Christian culture and society. I offer the questions and my attempt at answering them below. These are things that may become more important than any of us care to believe in the not-too-distant future ...

If your worldview does not have a self-protection mechanism, and other worldviews have belief systems and/or views of superiority and conquest, your worldview will eventually be overtaken by the other. Do you agree with that statement?

I guess it depends what you mean by a "self-protection mechanism." I think correspondence to reality (the definition of Truth) is on the side of the Christian worldview. For that reason, the Truth is a defense mechanism that supports the Christian worldview intellectually. When the Truth is on your side it has a way of eventually vanquishing all challenges. Our victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War is evidence of that. Communism is a hollow system based on an improper anthropology. Its philosophical understanding of human nature is just wrong -- and the system collapsed under the weight of this central lie.

But if you mean a pragmatic, physical mechanism, Christianity also has a "Just War Doctrine," that includes:
Just cause
Comparative justice
Legitimate authority
Right intention
Probability of success
Last resort
Proportionality
It was first defined by Augustine and has been refined since but I would consider that a means of self-protection. It is an ethically sound doctrine that, one cannot help notice, is violated almost completely by the unethical, indefensible actions of the Islamic terrorists who are the latest threat to peaceful coexistence. We just need to have some leaders with actual Christian convictions to understand it and carry it out. Lately, I'm not optimistic on either of those counts.

Does that statement apply to Christianity and Islam? Does that statement apply to Western Culture and Islam?

Yes to both. The difference (as you seem to infer by asking this as two different questions) is that Western Culture used to be almost indistinguishable from Christianity. Not so anymore. This is not to say that America is or was a God-ordained nation meant to carry out His will on Earth. But the foundations of America were based in a solid Christian ethic even if it was (and still is) sometimes corrupted by the human beings who implement it.

Christianity does provide a means of defense and the power (intellectually and physically) to turn back Islamic aggression. But Western Culture -- infected with postmodern human autonomy, consumerism and relativism -- is showing signs that it does not, in my humble opinion, have the conviction to do so. Instead of critiquing that culture from a Biblical point of view, we seem more likely to continue to accomodate the culture into the church. We are already seeing the effects of that wrong-headed practice.

If we don't change that I think we are looking at the further decline of America as an honorable and trustworthy representative of the Christian worldview. All you have to do is look across the Atlantic to see where an abandonment of Christianity in culture will eventually lead. Unfortunately, absent some serious changes, we seem to be headed in the same direction.

This trend is discouraging but not hopeless. What it should do, however, is force serious believers to fortify their intellectual positions in defense of the Christian worldview. Not only so, but force them (us) to consider that those convictions may lead beyond preaching to the choir in our Sunday School classrooms. The ramifications of our convictions may be leading us toward peaceful defiance of the expectations of a god-denying society. It is a sad state of affairs, but I believe that projects like The Manhattan Declaration are just the beginning of a call to see who really holds the convictions I'm talking about here.

More on The Manhattan Declaration to come, but the link on the left side of this page will take you to see for yourself what it is all about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas! (p.s. I Am Not A Pagan)

Many Christians these days make a scene about boycotting Christmas. That's their choice but I'd like to humbly offer a rebuttal to the notion that all the Christmas symbols (trees, mistletoe, Santa Claus, gift-giving) and, most notably, the date we use for Christmas are nothing but an acceptance of paganism with which no "real" Christian should agree. I don't accept that. Here's why ...

First, what's wrong with stealing stuff from the pagans? Before I go any further with this, please hear me out. I know that probably sounds flippant but I don't mean it that way at all. Not to mention, I don't accept it. But here's the thing -- if we co-opt some formerly pagan practices and use them to celebrate our holiday, I don't see a problem with that. The pagan connections have long since disappeared. I, and my family, have never even considered their pagan roots (if indeed they even have any). They have always, and will always, be Christian images, symbols and practices to us. We associate them with the incarnation of Christ and celebrate that fact in our home. We've never considered otherwise. So please don't accuse me of capitulating to paganism. That's not what I do.

Besides, in keeping with the often-invoked Great Commission, and with Paul's exhortation to "be all things to all men," I don't see a problem with using those pagan symbols to attract pagans, then redefining them in Christian ways. In this way, the pagans are redirected from their journey down the wrong path and onto the path to the real Truth. That is exactly the kind of thing the Apostle Paul did. I think that's a good thing.

Second -- and this applies mainly to the date we use to celebrate Christmas -- who says it has pagan roots?! Many people claim that Christianity uses December 25th as the date because we have caved to the Sun worshippers who give spiritual significance to the Winter Solstice. Not so. For starters, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st. But that's just the beginning.

Additionally, there are very distinct Christian-based reasons for selecting December 25th as the date of Christ's birth. For an excellent analysis of those reasons, please read William J. Tighe's, Calculating Christmas. It is a fascinating article that chronicles the origin of the date. I offer a brief summary here:

  • There was a common belief called the Integral Age of the great Jewish prophets that claimed they were born, or conceived, on the same day they died.
  • "Modern scholars agree that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33."
  • By the time of Tertullian the Western church had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. In keeping with the Integral Age theory, Christ's conception would be the same date -- putting his birth 9 months later -- on December 25
  • The Eastern Church, for a different set of reasons (and with a different set of calendars), concluded that Good Friday was actually April 6. Using parallel reasoning, the Eastern church began celebrating Christ's birth on January 6th -- and still do today.

As shown above, calendar differences necessitate that these dates are probably not correct. But that is not the point. The point is that the date for Christ's birth was not adopted from pagan sources. It was the early church's best effort to get it right. It was a carefully calculated, conscientious decision, based on Jewish tradition that led to the dates we use today.

So I won't accept the pagan accusations or the scorn of those who try to put them on me. My family will celebrate Christmas on December 25th like we always do. We do so because we accept the historicity of the incarnation and the reality of the salvation it brings us all. We hope you'll do the same.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Star Power

I don't know about you, but ever since I was a kid, I have always looked a little skeptically at some aspects of the Christmas story we are all familiar with. In particular, I have always wondered how it was that a star could just pop into the sky and lead the "wise men" to find the baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. It always seemed a little suspicious to me. Now, I know God can work miraculously and do anything He wants to do but come on, the star seemed to be a bit much. Surely the story of the Star had all the qualities of a man-made fairy tale.

Not anymore.

For anyone who has any interest in the interconnectedness of history, science and Biblical truth, I highly recommend you check out a booklet and DVD presentation that makes a fascinating case for the reality of the Star of Bethlehem.

The The Star of Bethlehem (produced by Frederick A. Larson) is an amazing piece of work that is built on the following premise:
" ... the Bible [makes] a surprising number of references to signs in the heavens. Both Old and New Testaments assume that what happens up there matters. If we are interested in following the counsel of the Bible, we must hold a distinction in mind. Astrology assumes that stars are causes of earthly events. The Bible assumes that they can be messages about earthly events. It may be useful to think of this as a thermometer distinction. A thermometer can tell you if it's hot or cold, but it can't make you hot or cold. There is a big difference between a sign and an active agent. This is the difference between "astrology" and what the Bible holds forth."
Larson proceeds to go into breathtaking detail about the facts of history, combined with the technological capability we have to reproduce the place of objects on any date in history, to show that the Star of Bethlehem need not be thought of as a fairy tale anymore. In fact, Larson connects astronomy, not just to the Star of Bethlehem, but to the Cross of Calvary.

I won't spoil it here but I highly recommend this as a way for your family to approach the Christmas season with an inspiring look at another reason to hold confidence not only in the words of the Bible, but in the reality and Truth of the Christian view of the world.

You can check out a synopsis of the production at the link above and you can order it here.

Enjoy ...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who's Really Afraid of Science Now?

My last post was about our supposedly "science-minded" president and the emptiness of the claim that he acts as a Spock-like, emotionless, apolitical creature when he approaches the scientific considerations of the various issues that come before him. But I don't want to pick on the president. He is far from alone.

We who believe that science is just one -- not the only -- method of discovering true things about our world, are constantly pounded for trying to connect science and faith and/or religion to our understanding of things. This is not allowed, "they" say.

I submit that it is actually impossible not to do so. And I find it hugely ironic that those who are most vehement in their denunciation of both non-scientific answers to anything, and the related transgression of honoring a link between physics and metaphysics (no matter how limited) -- that those are the most inclined to ignore the science when it does not fit their pre-conceived narrative about the way the world has to be.

Though I have absolutely no idea about his stance on faith or religion, I would love for all of us to subscribe to the view of the Nobel Laureate Physicist, Richard Feynman, one of history's most prolific scientists. Dr. Feynman gave the following description of scientific conduct when he spoke at the commencement exercises for the Caltech Class of 1974:
"There is one feature I notice that is generally missing in 'cargo cult science' ... it's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty -- a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid -- not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and thing you though of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked ... Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them ... If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it."
Isn't that a quaint idea?

I wonder if the "scientists" at the East Anglia Climate Research Unit ever considered such a thing when they were deleting the Inconvenient Data or manipulating the data they did report?

I wonder if the politicians who deny knowing when life begins would ever commit to the hour (or so) it would take to read some passages from any of many embryology textbooks about that exact subject before they vote to allow the killing of innocent human beings?

I wonder if those who hype or blatantly falsify reports on the latest version of the "missing link" ever consider the ramifications of their actions, any alternate explanation for the evidence they give, or -- GASP! -- the possibility that they might be wrong?

I wonder if those who vilify the very idea of Intelligent Design ever go to sleep at night wondering why they continue to insist that the agent-less process they demand as an explanation for complex-specified-information in biological systems is something they would never accept as an explanation anywhere else but in nature?

I wonder if the Big Bang cosmologists who prattle on about the infinite "many worlds" hypothesis or a universe that "sprang from nothing without cause," ever stop to consider that the "theory" (pick one) they promote so vociferously amounts to indefensible speculation -- just like they assign (unfairly) to theistic believers?

Unfortunately, the world we live in cares more about political victory than scientific integrity. Those scientists who don't toe the acceptable party line are ridiculed, chastised, and even fired for simply doing what Richard Feynman saw as an objective, honest approach to science. This tendency is sad to see, sometimes costly to allow, and always damaging to our common human pursuit of the Truth.

Those of us who see this universe as God's creation should have no fear of science. Science is simply the way we discover and explore our Maker's work. It is one way that He speaks to us. It is nature's book (see: Psalm 19, Romans 1). We have no reason to distort it or hide what it says because, if our worldview is correct, our study of the world will never harm it. It is the anti-theistic denier who has motive to distort or misreport the scientific evidence before him because, ultimately, that evidence is an acid that destroys his view of the world.

The irony here is thick. It is not those who subscribe to theism who "hate" science. It is those who subscribe to scientism -- the worshippers of science it self -- who fear it most.

The human proclivity to fear our God is universal.


[I owe the Feynman quote to Peter Pearson of Aptos, CA, a letter writer to the Wall Street Journal on 12/3/2009, p. A22]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Science Bluff

Fox News reports that President Obama is a bit of a science buff who "shows a fascination with science, an all-too deliberate decision-making demeanor, [and a unique] adherence to logic" in his approach to the issues of the day. Even the ultimate stone-faced logician, Mr. Spock, has weighed in on the subject:
"I guess it's somewhat unusual for a politician to be so precise, logical, in his thought process," actor Leonard Nimoy, who has portrayed Spock for more than 40 years, told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview. "The comparison to Spock is, in my opinion, a compliment to him and to the character."
This "Spock-like" trait of the President's is portrayed as setting him apart from his predecessors (most notably the mindless cowboy who immediately preceded him) even though it is causing "him political problems in real world Washington. Critics see him as too technocratic, too deliberative, too lacking in emotion." Those critics apparently do not appreciate the beauty in Mr. Obama's cerebral approach to the complicated issues he is tackling with the undeniable precision of the scientific method.

Interesting ... unless you happen to notice some other prominent news stories that meet at the intersection of politics and science. One of them was in the news on the same day as the story proclaiming our science buff President's Spock-like character -- it's been dubbed "Climate-gate."

USA Today columnist Jonah Goldberg has done an excellent job of outlining the travesty of the so-called "Climate-gate" controversy. You can read it here, but to summarize: Thousands of leaked emails reveal a deliberate attempt by scientists of the Climatic Research Unit to cover over, hide, obfuscate, and otherwise deny that there is any legitimate data that goes against the global warming crisis we have all been bludgeoned with over the last several years. In these emails, "scientists" discuss ways to deliberately manipulate data or impugn the motives and character of anyone who disagrees with them. Their goal is to present a unified front and trash the reputation of other scientists whose data analysis, by virtue of its simple failure to toe the party line, qualifies them as "deniers." The leaked emails leave no doubt about the political goals of these shameless manipulators.

So, in the wake of these "Climate-gate" revelations, and ahead of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the president has offered his "Spock-like" analysis of the situation. CNS News reports that:
"As President Barack Obama prepares to travel to a global climate summit next week in Copenhagen, the White House is dismissing the “climategate” controversy that has arisen over the leak of email communications between top climate-change scientists that some skeptics say cast doubt on the legitimacy of the science behind the theory that human activity is causing global warming ... because most people don’t dispute global warming."
In other words, the president believes that we arrive at scientific truths by achieving consensus, even if we do so by ignoring and/or lying about a perfectly legitimate interpretation of data that completely undermines the foundation of that consensus.

Very scientific.

As a side note: history shows that, prior to Copernicus, the scientific "consensus" was with Ptolemy's geocentric universe. Likewise, the consensus of small children is that Santa Claus will descend through their chimneys in 23 days.

Along those lines, I distinctly remember the president's response to a question posed him by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church during the run-up to the 2008 election. When asked, on August 16, 2008, to state when he considered that a baby gets human rights, he responded:
“Well, uh, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or, uh, a scientific perspective, uh, answering that question with specificity, uh, you know, is, is, uh, above my pay grade.”
For starters, the context of this conversation was a discussion of the president's views on abortion that directly involves the question of when life actually begins. This is not a "theological" question about ensoulment or any of the other convenient dodges used by abortion rights advocates. It is a purely scientific question and it is this: When is it that a unique, independent, whole, human being comes into existence?

The answer to this question can be found in any scientific textbook on embryology -- and the answer is: at conception. I offer several examples of this point here but there are many more where those came from. It is not that hard to answer -- at least it shouldn't be for one who thinks with "Spock-like" scientific clarity. So, the "scientific perspective" to which the scientifically-minded Mr. Obama refers is really very obvious to those who care to acknowledge it.

To be clear, Mr. Obama did not claim the mantle of scientific expertise for himself. Others have done that for him. But he has not downplayed it either. To perpetuate the notion that our president approaches every issue with the detached and unbiased demeanor of a "science buff" is absurd on its face. If anything, his approach is that of a science bluff.

When seen with respect to the importance of the issues for which he completely ignores the scientific evidence, this tendency is not just silly -- it is dangerous and destructive.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nephesh


Moses, the writer of the Genesis creation account, used the word nephesh (Hebrew: soul, self, life, creature, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion) to describe the creation of the most advanced animal life next to man. These creatures are sometimes described as the "soulish" animals; those that display a mind, will, and emotion. They differ from humanity in the ways that are most important -- they are not able to understand, relate to, or seek to communicate with the Creator Himself. But they seem to be perfectly suited to be in relationships with human beings.

They are sad when we are sad. They rejoice in our happiness. In fact, many of us have no doubt that they seem most content, and are indeed most determined, to seek to provide that happiness for us. They are designed to please and bring joy and comfort to us in ways that are completely inexplicable apart from what seems to be a deliberate creative act of God for that purpose.

How else do you explain an animal who runs to the window before you pull in the driveway; who cowers when you are angry; who fetches a ball until his tongue hangs down on his chest, covered with leaves and dirt; who licks your arm where it itches even if you cannot see or feel any physical reason for the itch.

How else can pure evolutionary biology explain why a dog wags his tail?

Today our family lost a friend that cannot be replaced. Hank was the most kind, loving, friendly family pet we could ever imagine. He was a joy to share our home with and we will miss him greatly. When we remember Hank, it will always be with a smile and the tune of the "Happy Birthday" song in our hearts.

If God had a picture in His mind when he made nephesh, it must have looked just like Hank.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How NOT To Argue: A Return To The Old Earth/Young Earth Debate

For those who may doubt the comments I made (here) about the way some Young Earth (YE) proponents demand their view as a test of orthodoxy, I offer you this example.

Interestingly, I was not even debating the Young Earth/Old Earth (OE) issue with this individual. I had only stated that the OE view was not some kind of capitulation to Evolution. I went on to explain what I meant by that statement. Here's what I said:
The problems with Evolution include (but are not limited to):

1. Inability to explain abiogenesis
2. Inability to explain diversity of species
3. Inability to explain consciousness
4. Inability to explain ethics
5. Inability to explain the Cambrian Explosion
6. Non-falsifiability
7. Used to explain everything we observe and therefore capable of explaining nothing
8. Inability to make predictions

I could go on but the point is this ... NONE of these issues go away if you just give Evolution more time. In fact, none of these issues go away if you give Evolution INFINITE time.

Therefore, the connection you demand between an old earth and evolution is invalid.
Notice that my only point was to show that Evolution cannot avoid its serious deficiencies by using a temporal escape clause. That is, the OE view, whether you accept it or not, does absolutely nothing to support the case for Evolution. That was the gist of the entire discussion. I deliberately refrained from even commenting on the YE view.

Anyway, that was what I said. And here (cut and pasted and not altered in any way) is the thoughtful reply I received to my comment ...
Bob, old earth is a pagan belief. You do not believe in the bible. I hope one day the Lord saves your soul. I pray for this day to come soon. Maybe there will be a day in which you will listen to the Word of God as opposed to humanity's humanist scientists. But that day can only come if you are to repent of your sins and believe in Christ. Christ died on the cross for the sins of His people. Through faith alone in Him alone can we be saved. I pray that God touches you in this way.
This is not to say that all YE folks are like this. That is definitely not the case. And, to be fair, there are some OE types who  are just as dismissive and arrogant about it in the other direction. I just point this out to say that, when we're talking about apparent discrepancies between science and Scripture on the topics that they mutually address, citing dogma on one side or the other is not helpful.

Instead of judging the motives and salvation of the other side -- a practice which leads to inane comments like the one above -- how about let's have an intelligent discussion about the evidence and let the facts speak for themselves. If we really believe that God speaks to us through two books, Scripture and Nature, the information we are getting is all true and should not be contradictory. If it is, the onus is on us to see which book (if not both) we are interpreting incorrectly. God's books do not have errors in them.

That kind of an approach would be much more productive.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fat Chance

One of the most promising scientific advancements of the last few years in any area of research has been the success of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS). We have talked about it (here) before but, as a reminder, IPS harvests adult skin cells from the patient who requires therapy and induces those cells to return to pluripotency -- a state from which they can be coaxed into becoming almost any other kind of cell. The therapeutic value of pluripotent cells is enormously encouraging.

The beauty of this kind of research is that it honors the concerns of everyone involved in the debate on stem cell research. Not only does IPS show therapeutic promise but, more importantly, it does so without causing the morally troubling destruction of human embryos. For that reason IPS truly is the kind of win-win solution that anyone concerned about bioethical issues should be seeking.

And the future just got brighter.

In August, Stanford University surgeon Michael Longaker and cardiologist Joseph Wu teamed up to induce pluripotent stem cells from a quart of fat they had extracted from a liposuction patient. That’s right, these two researchers found a way to turn fat into a stem-cell therapy. Not only so, but transforming the fat cells into IPS cells took just 20 days -- as compared to the 8 weeks it took to do the same from skin cells -- and the process yielded 20 times the number of IPS cells.

Here’s what bothers me about this story: I read about it in the December issue of Popular Science magazine.

With the exception of a one-paragraph blurb in U.S. News and a short news release from Reuters, I could not find any mention of this breakthrough in the mainstream news media. I certainly did not hear or see any politician from either party tout it as a new way to seek common ground on the bioethical battlefield. There have been no news conferences called to announce federal funding for a program that will seek to promote this kind of therapy. I haven't even heard funding of this research offered as an amendment to the health care bill.

It is a mystery to me how anyone who is dedicated to promoting cures for disease, who cares at all about the destruction of human embryos, or who is truly seeking any kind of "common ground" where these issues are concerned, could fail to revel in a story like this one.

Will anyone who matters become its champion?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Community & Involvement

Lesson 12: Community & Involvement

The final installment of our tour of the Christian worldview brings us to the only place where that view can begin to impact the world -- from the center of our own hearts. Dr. Tackett makes the point that in the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus deliberately avoided giving a direct answer to the lawyer who asked him who his neighbor is or how he is to be loved. His point is that we can never know who we will be asked to serve or how we will be asked to offer that service. We can only prepare ourselves by seeking a heart that reflects the heart of God. This brings us to confront the definition of "the human heart."

What exactly is it? The culture has promoted the idea that "living from the heart" is feelings-based and emotional. On this view, our efforts are successful if we receive a positive response that allows us to "feel good about ourselves." But, as has been the case with every stop on the Truth Project world tour, this notion is far removed from the Biblical definition of the heart.

In the Bible the heart is a far more complicated thing than the seat of our emotions ... it is the core of our being. It is Command Central -- the place where our thoughts, feelings, will, soul and body intersect. It is where our character resides and, cultivated correctly, it should be a worldly reflection of the Imago Deo. When it is, our actions toward the outcasts and outsiders represented by the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan are not something we have to think about. They flow from our very nature -- a nature that should reflect the character of God himself.

In light of this, Jesus' refusal to give an action "checklist" or concrete definition of our neighbor makes perfect sense. All we know for sure is that our success at recognizing, defending and promulgating the Christian view of the world rests on our own ability to reflect a proper, complete understanding of the nature of God himself, and to understand that all truth, philosophy, ethics, theology, anthropology, science, history, sociology, and our relationship to the divine and to every social sphere at work in the world -- that all of it is permeated with God himself.

If our hope is to influence a culture that seems constantly at war with Biblical Truth, the task can seem enormously overwhelming. But it is only so if we fail to properly acknowledge the sovereignty of God and or to view the "cosmic battle" in which we are engaged with an eternal perspective. Seen that way, we can be encouraged to influence our own little corner of the world, and the societal outcasts with whom we come in contact there, in the best ways that we can. Doing so honors the God we serve and may impact the future in ways we could never imagine. Charles Colson gives us a real world example of that:
Jonathan Edwards was something of a prodigy. Born in 1703 in Connecticut, by age 5 he was studying Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. He entered Yale at age 13, graduated at 17, and stayed on to continue his masters and teach. At 26, he became pastor of the most influential church outside of Boston ... Edwards was not only a pastor who played a crucial role in America’s first Great Awakening, he was also a missionary to Native Americans, an early president of Princeton, and a prolific writer. Edwards and his wife, Sarah, were the loving parents of 11 children. Of their 929 descendants, history shows there have been 13 college presidents, 86 college professors, 430 ministers, 314 war veterans, 75 authors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office. That includes three U.S. senators, seven congressman, three mayors, three governors, a vice president of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury.

Don’t tell me teaching biblical worldview to your children isn’t important!

~ Chuck Colson
10/30/09 Breakpoint
While none of us may ever become the next Jonathan Edwards, the legacy we leave can be every bit as far-reaching. And though we may never know it or see the fruits of our commitment, that commitment is not optional -- for the God we serve is El Qanna.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Labor

Lesson 11: Labor

For all the complaining we do about the fact that we have to work, it is an eye-opener to many of us to be reminded that work, and its cousin creativity, is rooted in the character of God himself. The Bible begins with a description of the creative work of God -- and the result of that work is described as being "very good." If it was OK for God Almighty to work, we might want to reconsider our collective disdain for the concept.

The truth is that, contrary to the culture's point of view, work is not a "four-letter-word". Work was not a punishment given to Adam & Eve after their fall. God had already demonstrated that work was honorable and valuable. The fall did not bring work into existence, it merely increased the nature of work to make it more burdensome. We brought that on ourselves.

With that in mind, the Biblical concept of work is that we should view our labor as another way to reflect the Imago Deo. It should be done with a grateful, humble attitude. It should be done with eagerness and excellence. It should be done with dignity and respect for our fellow workers, supervisors, and business owners. But, most importantly, it should be done to honor the God whose example we aim to follow. As J. S. Bach signed his symphonies, so we should sign our worldly labor, SDG: Soli Deo Gloria --
"For the Glory of God Alone."

In other words, the negative view we have of work is solely a human creation and yet another example of the way in which the culture serves to corrupt the divine design -- another skirmish in the "cosmic battle." Rather than a obstacle to our constant pursuit personal pleasure, Dr. Tackett exhorts us to see work as the method by which we reflect divine creativity, and the primary means by which we care for the poor.

Where the world teaches us that "he who dies with the most toys win," we should see labor as the means to manage property that ultimately belongs to God. Where the culture uses creativity to propagate false philosophies in literature, film, music and other forms of art, we should see our creativity as a way to worship and inspire others with beauty that has its source in the divine. Where the culture has twisted the connection between God and man, the task of the Christian artist is to twist it back.

If it is true, as the Christian worldview demands, that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular, our labor is the practical, physical way that we make that connection real.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The American Experiment

Lesson 10: The American Experiment

This tour of the foundations of the United States is simply meant to point out how far we have departed from the ideas and motivations of the Founding Fathers. Dr. Tackett offers reference after reference from the speeches and writings of those who were responsible for the birth of this nation that clearly show how religion, especially Christianity, informed everything they did.

It is common these days to engage in revisionist history by claiming that the Founders were all "deists and pagans" and thus attempt to de-legitimize the presence of a godly influence in the American Experiment. But what are the facts?

Though there were many others involved in the historical and military actions of the Revolution, the important characters in play here are the intellectual architects of the Constitution. These are the men who subscribed to the ideological philosophies and political realities that became the framework on which this nation was based. There were 55 men who undertook this endeavor.
  • 28 Episcopalians
  • 8 Presbyterians
  • 7 Congregationalists
  • 2 Lutherans
  • 2 Dutch Reformed
  • 2 Methodists
  • 2 Roman Catholics
  • 1 Unknown affiliation
  • 3 Deists (Williamson, Wilson & Franklin)
These numbers reveal that 93% of the Founders claimed Christianity at a time when doing so required a sworn public confession of Biblical faith. Not only so, but 70% (the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed) were Calvinists -- considered by some to be the most extreme and dogmatic kind of Christian. All deists and pagans? No quite. But what about the most notable and outspoken of those who did claim deism?

Ben Franklin was one. On June 28, 1787, it was Franklin the deist whose emotional appeal to engage in humble prayer brought the constitutional delegation out of a hopelessly stalled deadlock and led them to compromise. His words contained at least four direct references to Scripture:
... And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel ...
Then there is Thomas Jefferson. Though he was not a signer of the Constitution, he was the foremost proponent behind the Bill of Rights that followed it -- and an outspoken deist who famously cut all the accounts of miracles out of his Bible. He was sometimes openly disrespectful of organized Christianity but he was also the author of the Declaration of Independence which contains at least four direct references to God. In his Second Inaugural Address, he asked for prayers to Israel's God on his behalf.

The point is that the men who founded America may not have all been Evangelicals as we know that term today, but they were also not deists in the way we understand that term today. Regardless of the ways they differed however, what matters is what they all held in common -- and that was an understanding of the world that was heavily informed by the Christian view of things.

Their political ideals rested on a Christian foundation that permeates every word of the Declaration, the Constitution, and even the monuments and icons that bear their names. The government they instituted is modeled on the Trinity itself: God as King, Judge and Lawgiver reflected in the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches. Each of these serves to check and balance the power of the others -- a clear acknowledgment of, and guard against, the dangers of the fallen human Anthropology we discussed in Lesson 3.

The so-called "separation of church and state" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. What you do find in the First Amendment is the protection of the church from the State -- the very embodiment of the "sphere sovereignty" we discussed in the last tour -- and the very opposite of what we are asked to accept today.

Today the force and conscience of our Christian roots is far removed from what the Founders instituted. God has become a pariah and our culture is attempting to banish Him from our schools and institutions. But if the Founders were right, the virtue of a nation rests on the morality of its people, which is in-turn built on the reality of God's character. If the ultimate foundation is removed, the rest of the society descends with it. We don't have to look far to see the effects of that.

The sad fact is that we are quick to blame the culture for taking our country from us. But the reality is that it has not been "taken," we have given it away, bit by bit, for much of the last 100 years. It has happened so gradually and so insidiously, that we have hardly noticed it slipping away. One of the Founders was well aware of that possibility:
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.
~ James Madison
Part of the impetus for The Truth Project was that (as noted in Lesson One) only 9% of self-professing Evangelicals actually share the Founders' view of the world. Is it any wonder we have been duped into corrupting the American Experiment? And what we will do to restore it?

__________
[Some of the quotes and statistics about the Founders cited above are from Greg Koukl's, The Faith of Our Fathers, available on the Stand To Reason website]


Monday, October 26, 2009

The State

Lesson 9: The State

As we move past the "intimate three" social systems discussed in the last two tours (Family, Church and God/Man), the next two tours focus on the role of the State in the Biblical worldview. This week addresses The State in general, while next week looks specifically at "The American Experiment."

It is important to remember that the claim that there is a Biblically defined role for the State is not a claim to any specific form of government. In fact, the Bible records different types of governance for God's people, beginning with what should be considered the foundation of any civilization -- the Family. God's original and basic design was with Adam & Eve and his ethical observation that it was "not good" for Adam to be alone. The design of the family (Husband - Wife - Children) was itself based by the eternally existent Trinity (Father - Son - Holy Spirit) ... and so it goes with each of the social systems being discussed. The Trinitarian-type of relationship is the core idea for any such system. The State is no different.

When the nation of Israel first began, the system of governance had Moses filling the human leadership role. Acting in submission to God with the people honoring his leadership role, the system worked just fine -- for a while. Later, God instituted a system of Judges to fill the leadership role and that worked just fine too -- for a while -- until the people demanded a King so that Israel could be like the other nations that surrounded it. God warned his people what would happen, but then complied with their request. That worked just fine too -- for a while -- until the Kings became corrupt and the people went astray.

Obviously, this is a Cliff's Notes version of the actual historical events, but the point is this: God created the sphere of the state as the instrument by which evil is punished and good is condoned (Romans 13). He did not design the form of that government. Any form could work if the State leader acts in proper submission to God and the people honor both Godly ethics and their godly leader. As soon as God is removed from the picture, the system leads to tyranny and oppression.

Just look at the 2oth century ...

Vladimir Lenin called religion "the opiate of the masses" and proceeded to construct a Marxist, human-centered state apparatus that murdered people by the tens of millions. The result of this type of godless political philosophy was tried around the world by people like Mao Tse Tung, Pol-Pot, Josef Stalin, Chiang Kai-Shek and Adolph Hitler. The result was nearly 200 million people murdered by the idea that "the State is the march of God through the world" (Hegel).

These kinds of atrocities always result when "sphere sovereignty" is dishonored -- when the State proactively injects itself into social systems where it has no legitimate jurisdiction. When the State tries to replace the Family, or invade the Church, the consequences are catastrophic. History proves this over and over again. And yet, we never seem to learn our lesson. We see the influence of an invasive State at work today, not just nationally, but internationally. If the trend continues, we have no reason to expect a different result.

As an example of an issue that illustrates the proper -- and improper -- role of the State system at work, consider the protection of the poor and oppressed. There is a clear Biblical mandate for the State to protect these kind of people. But the protection of those in need is a far different thing than approval to provide the care itself. This is properly the role of the Church and Family. The State's protection should come in the form of enacting laws and policies that stop the abuse of those who are most vulnerable and punishes those who violate that protection. When the State, no matter how well-intentioned, takes to caring for people directly by providing anything more than a temporary "safety net," the fallout is always destructive:
  1. Being monetarily impotent, the State is forced to confiscate funds from some, under threat of punishment for non-compliance, in order to provide it to others -- an action Dr. Tackett rightly labels "stealing."
  2. This action deprives those with financial means the privilege of acting charitably toward those less fortunate than themselves.
  3. Those who receive unearned aid are discouraged from experiencing the satisfaction and dignity that they should derive from a proper view of Labor (see: Truth Project Tour 11)
  4. The promise of undeserved monetary reward encourages others to also feed at the public trough and removes some of the motivation to be successful when they see that they can receive something for nothing.
  5. The numbers of the needy increase, thereby causing the State to demand more from the wealthy, often by using class warfare to encourage the needy to vote those politicians who promise to continue these types of policies into office.
  6. Return to Step 1.
This process becomes a vicious cycle. The wealthy become cynical and find ways to hide or otherwise make their funds unavailable. The needy become dependent on the State and lose a proper view of work. Politicians exploit both groups to entrench their own source of power and influence. All this because of the initial improper role the State assumed in expanding its own sphere of influence by invading and violating the sovereignty of other social systems.

The State is the God-ordained institution meant to set ethical boundaries and promote justice. When it does so properly, and when the people are treated justly and honor their leaders as a result, the State social system, no matter what form it takes, works as it was designed to work.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lying High

There isn't much else to say about the sheer arrogance and stupidity of the "Balloon Boy" incident we were all witness to last week. My only comment is that the whole story legitimized an idea that a Biola University philosophy professor mentioned in a lecture I attended in 2004. J.P. Moreland later formalized his thoughts in his book: The Lost Virtue of Happiness (a book I highly recommend, by the way), and it is this ...

The Christian Worldview rests on a foundation that consists of the objective reality of truth and ethics. The idea is that things like truth and ethics are not just the "constructions" of individuals or the culture they inhabit. They are real things. We don't "make them up" or arrive at them by consensus or public opinion. We discover them. They are part of the fabric of the universe. They define the way the world actually is.

This leads us to conclude that there is something outside of us -- something to which we are inherently obligated. This is the way things are whether we choose to believe it or not. The mere existence of things like these implies that they must have their source in a personal, transcendent Cause -- something like what we might call ... God.

When you value truth and ethics, it follows that you not only believe in something bigger than yourself, but that you aspire to live your life in accordance with those values. Jesus called this "eternal life" and promised that is was something we could find only in him. Moreland describes this kind of life as "a life of virtue and character" that the ancients labeled the achievement of such a state "happiness."

To them, happiness was not an intense, giddy feeling that depended on external circumstances. Instead, it is ...
"... a life well-lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness."
Those who most consistently achieve that aspiration -- and do so in the face of hardship or even danger -- are the people we admire most. Those who are most successful at fulfilling this type of life and the ultimate representative of such a worldview is someone we might call a hero.

Conversely, those who do not acknowledge or accept transcendent reality act accordingly. They do not see themselves as being bound by objective truth or morality. They revel in their human autonomy and mock any belief system that puts restrictions on their rights and privileges. Adherents to such a worldview make their own rules, establish their own values and strive to achieve a level of success that is centered solely on themselves. They are, by definition, self-absorbed narcissists.

Sadly, this is the type of life our culture encourages us to seek. And those who are most successful at achieving it -- the epitome, if you will, of such a worldview -- is someone who has reached the status of celebrity.

Do we honor heroism or celebrity?

Our culture has made its choice. We see it at the grocery store check out line. We see it in "entertainment news." We see it in "reality" television shows. We see it in the self-infatuated celebrations of athletes in the end zone. We see it in the news every day ... and we see where it can take us -- to a quixotic quest for value that is as fleeting and directionless as the Heene's deflated, backyard balloon.

There is a lesson here and it is this: You can inhale the helium of celebrity if you choose. The reward it offers is a voice that is notable to all who hear it ... but it doesn't last very long.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unio Mystica

Lesson 8: Unio Mystica

I must admit that I have always been uncomfortable with the common Christian-speak refrain to "accept Jesus as your personal savior." There are two ideas in that short phrase that have always made me feel uneasy. First, I have felt it presumptuous to imply that there is any legitimacy to the idea that the likes of me could ever claim either the capacity or the moral standing to "accept" the omnipotent, perfect Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Rather, it seems to me that it would be more accurate to see salvation as the infinitely gracious act of a God who, only after I recognize and admit to my utter inability to deserve such a thing, makes the decision to accept me.

Second, I have never liked the "personal savior" thing. It hasn't been until recently that I could explain my discomfort with this aspect of the phrase, but it turns out that I have had good reason. For one thing, this notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Instead, I have come to believe it is more likely a result of the "it's-all-about-me, I-write-my-own-narrative" culture we have constructed for ourselves over the last 300 years or so. I simply find it unimaginable that people like Martin Luther or the Pilgrims who came to found this nation would have described Jesus as their "personal savior." Instead, it sounds awfully similar to the way we might describe our personal computers, personal digital assistants, or personal water craft.

All that said, the concept of Unio Mystica is a far richer concept than the simple acceptance of Jesus as one's personal savior. And no one can describe the concept better than the Apostle John in his first epistle:
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (3:1)

"No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit ..." (3:12-13)

"God is love. Whoever live in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us ..." (3:16b)
Though, as Dr. Tackett says repeatedly, it is beyond the ability of mortal human beings to explain or comprehend such a thing as our union with God, we get a glimpse of what it means in these passages and others. God has in some sense "drawn us into the Godhead" and thereby "resides in us and us in Him." Because God is infinite, He can be infinitely present in each of his people and we can share a relationship with Him in that way. Relationship is the key word. This is what makes our union with God "personal." It is a far different thing to say that we can in some way have access to God, and be in a relationship with him than it is to call Him our "personal savior."

This is a mystery, no doubt. But whether we completely get how such a thing works or not, what we can definitely do is draw inferences about how we should see the unio mystica playing out in our individual lives. If we "really believe that this relationship is really real," it should affect every aspect of our lives. Some thoughts about that ...

Discipleship: A disciple is an "apprentice of Jesus" -- a lifelong learner who models his/her life after Christ. In order to cultivate this relationship we have with God requires time, discipline and commitment not only to knowing about Him, but to knowing Him. The "spiritual disciplines" are a way to make our relationship real. There are many disciplines (and that is a topic for an entire study of its own), but the most common and effective ways to nurture our connection with God are through practices like: contemplative prayer, silence, solitude, fasting, meditation on Scripture, frugality, service, and study.

Worship: One who practices the disciplines and whose life is actually centered on, and anchored in, God cannot help but reflect that relationship in worship. This is a far different thing than what we usually think of -- singing songs to God on Sunday morning. Worship is a lifestyle of faith, obedience and sacrifice that reflects our character and how that character has been molded by our relationship with God.

Ministry: If this is the kind of life you live, based on the kind of relationship you have with God, it becomes inevitable that there is no such thing as a separate category of work called "the ministry." We are all ministers, all the time.

Happiness: Our modern culture has, through the exaltation of our own self-esteem and the "writing of our own narrative," convinced us that happiness is a giddy feeling, dependent on external circumstances, that everything is going our way. But this is far from the classical definition of happiness. Translated "blessed" in the Sermon on the Mount, those to whom Jesus spoke understood happiness as: a settled tone that springs from a permanent and stable internal contentment based on a self-denying apprenticeship with God that infects our entire being. In other words, to be infused with the proper relationship with God is to be happy -- regardless of our external circumstances.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sociology

Lesson 7: Sociology

One of the more astounding facts about the world we live in is that it is so incredibly ordered at every level. From the subatomic particles that make up the entire physical universe, to the anthropic fine-tuning of the world, solar system and galaxy we live in, there is order and complexity all the way up and down. With this lesson we begin to explore how a similar kind of order has even been imposed on the social systems we take for granted every day. Once we recognize that order and seek to understand its origin, it becomes blatantly obvious that the deceptions involved in the "cosmic battle" all seem to in some way deny the very order that was designed to make societies work.

As R. C. Sproul so eloquently pointed out, the order we see in the created world is not a human construction. It is not even something God "made up" or thought of as he went along. The order we see in the creation and the social systems that define our culture has been there for all eternity in the nature of God himself.

The Trinity (One Nature, Three Persons :: One What, Three Whos), though comprised of separate persons, shares the Divine Essence and is the ultimate model of relationship, union, communion, intimacy, fellowship, love, and community. In the triune Christian God we see the leadership and properly-practiced, gracious authority of the Father, the glorious and loving submission of the Son, and the helping, honoring nature of the Holy Spirit. God is unity in diversity and from God's nature every social system derives the model by which it should operate.

The family (husband, wife and children) and the church (Christ, leadership, flock) are the two most obvious models of social systems that Dr. Tackett uses to describe a properly functioning relationship. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves his bride -- the church. Children are to honor their parents as the flock is to honor the leadership of the church.

This kind of system was in place before the fall and is best described by the ancient Hebrew term: shalom. Shalom is more than just the commonly translated word for "peace." It is a rich concept that includes: completeness, contentment, soundness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, prosperity, rest harmony, tranquility, and absence of discord.

Quite simply, shalom is "the way things ought to be."

Sadly, if shalom describes how things ought to work, each of these descriptions has become the focus of nearly every societal ill. A secular, naturalistic culture that hates the authority of God will do all that it can to destroy any system that reflects His nature. We see the effects of this aspect of the "cosmic battle" that rages all around us. The family is under assault. It becomes obvious when we reflect on some the most debilitating trends we see going on: the abdication of male responsibility, radical feminism, children's "rights," pornography, child abuse, the homosexual agenda, and a redefinition of marriage itself. In each of these, we see some aspect of the godly model being undermined.

Our charge is to recognize not only how things ought to be, but how we are going astray. Our exploration of social systems begins with the church and the family, but it does not end there. In the coming weeks we will see just how pervasive this trend has become.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making N.I.C.E.


In the third installment of his space trilogySpace Trilogy series, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis' main character (Mark Studdock) was seduced with the promise of joining the inner ring of a powerful English society that used questionable tactics to establish an "efficient" state bureaucracy run by controllers who saw themselves as being a cut above the rest of the world. The name of the society Mark yearned to join was the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments -- N.I.C.E.

Lewis described N.I.C.E. as:
"the first fruits of that constructive fusion between state and laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes for a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints ... which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy ..."
This, in fictional form, was the epitome of what Lewis feared would become a socio-political reality. Some of his reviewers begged to differ. The New York Times described That Hideous Strength as "superlatively nonsensical excitement, challenging implications," while Time magazine called it a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." That was in 1946.

Fast forward to 2009.

John C. Goodman, writing in National Review (September 21, 2009), reports on the contemporary British health commission:
"which currently recommends against any treatment that costs more than $45,000 to save a year of life. Because of [the commission], British cancer patients are denied access to drugs that are routinely available in the U.S. and on the European continent, and thousands die prematurely."
The name of the commission is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but the Brits refer to it by the more commonly recognized acronym: N.I.C.E.

I wish I could make this stuff up. In fact, when I read it I assumed that Mr. Goodman had made it up. He didn't. But the creepy stuff doesn't stop there.

The reason Mr. Goodman cited this fact was because N.I.C.E., according to former Senator Tom Daschle, is the model on which we should base American health care reform. He says so in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About The Health-Care Crisis. And, barring the inconvenience of paying those pesky income taxes that only those of us who are not driven to work in a limousine should have to bear, the good Senator would have been the one overseeing our American N.I.C.E. guys. Instead, we have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who, under the plan being offered, will not only fill that role but also be the one to decide which pool of federal funding may, or may not (?), be used to fund abortions.

So, yes, Sarah Palin's hyperbolic comments about "death panels" in the health care reform bill being considered were not accurate. But that said, and given the ideology and bureaucratic impulses of our current cast of political characters, does anyone truly doubt that, as Jay and Serge pointed out in Podcast #19 (available on the Life Training Institute's website and iTunes), there will be rationing. When resources are limited and controlling costs is the reason the reform is being pushed in the first place, this will be the inevitable result. Someone will be charged with responsibility of deciding who gets what. Someone like Mark Studdock.

And that is a hideous strength to wield.

---

Monday, October 5, 2009

History

Lesson 6: History

This week's discussion centered on the the fact that many of today's cultural deceptions are really nothing but the result of a revisionist history that has removed God from the picture and convinced us that our personal "story" is all that matters -- that there is no "greater story" (metanarrative in philosopher-speak) of which we are a part. The result is a self-centered mindset that is all too obvious in the culture around us. These ideas work into all we have been discussing in The Truth Project and they have been a long time coming ...

Pre-Modernity: Ancient thinkers believed that there were three ways we could know things about the world and our place in it: 1) Reason, 2) The Five Senses (Observation), and 3) Revelation (from deity). This was the view for thousands of years ... until the church overstepped its bounds by becoming corrupt and entangled with despots and regal leaders, especially in Europe. The Reformation (16th century) of the church, combined with great changes that were being made in philosophy and scientific progress led to The Enlightenment (mid 17th - 18th centuries). Along with the distrust of the church, God and His revelation were rejected or demoted to the status of private matters that should not be permitted to influence what man could really know about the world. This brought us to what has since been called the age of Modernity.

Modernity: Once Revelation was removed as an acceptable form of knowledge about the world, only Reason and Observation remained. Without God, man became the final authority for everything. Churches in Europe came to deify reason itself and were renamed accordingly. The Scientific Revolution (16th through 18th centuries) led man to believe that his study of (science), and control of (technology) nature would cure all man's ills and solve all his problems. It was the Modern world that came to demand that man alone (humanism) and science (scientism) held all the answers and that those answers could only be found inside the box. This is the paradigm we've been discussing for the past 6 weeks.

Post-Modernity: Modernism failed to deliver. Some scientific theories (relativity and quantum mechanics in particular) suggested to some that we couldn't really know anything for sure. The great promises of humanism and the scientific applications to politics resulted in Marxist, Stalinist, Communist, and other man-centered philosophies that led to the brutal regimes that killed over 100 million people in the 20th century (the bloodiest in history) and two World Wars. Because of these things, the post-modern world has lost faith in both Reason and The 5 Senses. But when man rejected Reason, Observation and Revelation as his sources of knowledge, there was nothing left to rely on but himself.

This has led us to recognize some of the common refrains we hear today ...

"There is no way to know the truth, because there is no such thing as objective truth."

"Ethics? Who are you to say, or judge, what is right and wrong? It may be true for you, but it's not for me."

"We are not a part of any grand story -- we make up our own. He who controls what we believe about the past, controls the future. Make a "new history" and change the game."

But to change history is to engage in another form of deception. The Christian worldview rejects this notion and sees the story of our lives only in light of its place in God's Grand Story. Our purpose is bound up in His. Our hardships and suffering diminish when we recognize this. Our hope lies in the future God has promised. Our history is His history.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Missing Link -- Latest Version

A couple of friends have asked me about the recent news about "Ardi" (Ardipithecus ramidus) and this New York Times article: Fossil Skeleton From Africa Predates Lucy which claims the discovery of yet another "missing link."

I am no expert on issues like this, but I know someone who is ... Fazale "Fuz" Rana of Reasons To Believe. Fuz has already addressed this exact topic in the two articles linked below.

Before you read them, please note that Fuz covered this "newest fossil skeleton" (as described in the NY Times article 3 days ago) in 2001 and 2002, respectively. It was originally discovered in 1992.

Toumai Man Offers Evolutionists No Hope | Reasons To Believe

The Leap to Two Feet: The Sudden Appearance of Bipedalism | Reasons To Believe

(Both posted using ShareThis)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colbert -v- Dawkins: The Blind Leading the Blind Watchmaker

Dawkins completely evades the real questions (as usual) ... with his circular reasoning, assuming what he wants to prove ... same old stuff.

When asked "why there is beauty," Dawkins responds that, "we have brains that perceive beauty because we have evolved our brains to see beauty."

AAhhh, now I see. The problem is that he answered a question that he wasn't asked. Even if we agree with what he said (which I don't), he is only offering a (lame) explanation for our perceptions -- he is not even attempting to explain where the beauty we perceive came from in the first place.

Oh well, at least he seems to have a sense of humor. Enjoy ...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Dawkins
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Debate Gets Old

There is a certain topic among those involved in Christian apologetics that is very controversial to discuss -- but only within the church. For that reason it is a topic I do my best to avoid when I teach classes or discuss subjects that surround the issue. I think those who have been in classes I’ve taught that touch on this issue would vouch for the care I attempt to use in honoring both sides of the debate and purposefully trying to downplay my view. I don’t like to fight about it. I don’t think we should fight about it. But having said that, two events over the past couple of weeks have challenged me to quit being coy because I think being coy on this subject is harmful to the church, its mission, and the role of apologetics in that mission. So, I won’t be playing coy anymore.
The subject is the age of the Earth.

Christian apologists -- some more vehemently than others -- love to argue about whether the Earth is young (on the order of a few thousand years), or old (on the order of a few billion of years). Some, on both sides, who argue this point are nasty about it and will say things that are hurtful and harmful to their fellow Christian believers. They are more interested in winning an argument than in genuinely seeking the truth.

Those who take the Old Earth (OE) view will talk down to those who disagree, call them stupid, or show disdain for the fact that anyone could be so gullible and naive as to believe in such a thing as a young earth.

Those who take the Young Earth (YE) view are prone to use it as a test of orthodoxy. They seriously believe that if you don’t agree with them you are: 1) Capitulating to an atheistic/secular scientism, 2) Not honoring a high view of Scripture, and/or 3) Not taking the Bible “literally.”

I say, “A pox on both your houses!”

I will not engage in the nasty behavior or question the motives, sincerity or salvation of others. I will not argue about it. But I also will not be coy or pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It matters because the logical Law of the Excluded Middle only allows that one of these views can actually be true. And that brings me to the first “event” that brought me to write this blog post.

During our discussion of The Truth Project’s Lesson 5: Science (and as it always does when you discuss science in church), the age of the Earth issue came up. I did my usual carpet dance and tried my best to avoid taking a hard line position or revealing what I really thought. A friend of mine (who obviously has more guts than I do) raised his hand and said (paraphrased),
“Wait a second. The point of this Truth Project thing is that Christianity is actually true. So, why are we saying it doesn’t matter. It seems to me that trying to insist that the Earth is only a few thousand years old makes us look like we don’t take science seriously. Which is it? Is the Earth old or is it young?”
He was absolutely right, and he forced me to reluctantly admit to my own view. I had heard his argument before, of course, but my friend’s question, posed as it was in a class I was teaching about the reality of the Truth of Christianity, suddenly whacked me over the head like a baseball bat. It struck me that my evasiveness wasn’t doing anybody any good.

Which brings me to the second “event” ... This one occurred when I received an email from Frank Turek that included an excerpt from an “exclusive interview” (published: 09/13/2009) with author Dan Brown. While discussing Brown’s newest book, The Lost Symbol, interviewer James Kaplan asked Brown:
Question: Are you religious?
Brown’s answer: I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, "I don't get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?" Unfortunately, the response I got was, "Nice boys don't ask that question." A light went off, and I said, "The Bible doesn't make sense. Science makes much more sense to me." And I just gravitated away from religion.
Years after that encounter, Dan Brown went on to write one of the most popular books in human history, The DaVinci Code. This book sold more than 80 million copies all over the world and is one of the Top 5 best-selling fiction books of all time. Worse, it was written in such a way that many people didn't think it was fictional! Its denial of the deity and historicity of Jesus Christ was taken by many to be proven fact -- even by many in the church. In other words, you can draw a direct link from an unsupportable and untrue view of Genesis 1 to what became one of the most harmful and destructive books that orthodox Christianity has ever had to face … all because Dan Brown’s thoughtful question, answered in an intellectually cowardly way, led him to conclude that “the Bible doesn't make sense.”

We say we believe in Dual Revelation -- the idea that God has “two books” -- that He speaks to us through Scripture and through Nature. I take both those books very seriously. I have a high view of both. And this is what I see in them.

Though there is wiggle room in the amount of time that has transpired since Adam & Eve walked the Earth, there isn’t much. Even if we acknowledge that there are gaps in the genealogies we find in Scripture, there is no way to get past the fact that the Bible says Adam & Eve were the first human beings and that they showed up in the last 10,000 years or so. No disagreement there.

But as clear and unequivocal as Scripture is about that, it is equally ambiguous about how much time transpired on the Earth prior to their arrival. The word “day” (Hebrew: yom) in Genesis 1 can mean anything from a “24-hour period” to a “specified length of time, an era.” So, to take a “day” to be a billion years is just as “literal” as it is to describe yesterday as Tuesday. At the same time, the record of nature gives us absolutely no evidence to support the claim that the Earth is just a few thousand years old.

Scripture is ambiguous. Nature is not. Where the book of Scripture does not speak clearly, I will take he side of the book of Nature. This compels me to come out of the closet and be confident in saying …

The Earth is old.

We need to forget our internal church squabbles and get about engaging a culture that denies the truth and mocks our faith. I am more interested in making the case that God created the universe and why He did so. When he did it seems obvious to me. I won’t argue about it, but I also won’t hide the truth or pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. And the cost of avoiding the issue is just too high.

[Update: For a great take on this topic, check out Rick Gerhardt's "Peregrinations" blog post of December 29, 2009]