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]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Science (2 of 2)

Lesson 5b: Science

This week's continuation of the science topic leads us to keep the "big picture" ideas of the Truth Project in mind. What is true ... and what is the man-centered philosophy that constitutes the lies we see in the culture? Our study of science allows us to examine the "stuff in the box" to see if the Christian worldview holds up to these questions under scrutiny. What we find is a level of design in the creation that points clearly to the work of a Creator who fashioned this world and the life that inhabits it with and incomprehensible degree of complexity and order. Though these design inferences we make do not "prove" that the God of the Bible is the Creator (see last week's notes), they do show that life, and the design in the world that is needed to sustain that life, infers that the degree of care the Creator put into this creation is perfectly consistent with what the Bible teaches.

It is important to note that Intelligent Design is not a retreat to ignorance as its critics claim. It is not a way to throw our arms up in the face of all this incredible evidence and just say, "It's too overwhelming. We can't figure it out, therefore God must have done it!" Nothing could be further from the truth. Intelligent Design is an "inference to the best explanation." It is a recognition that, in our collective experience, the only kind of source for things like the information and design we see in living systems has been that such things originate from an intelligent mind. Studying the stuff in the box has done nothing but confirm that idea and undermine the naturalistic alternative.

Origin of Life The are several issues about how life originated on this planet that defy a naturalistic explanation. If you are interested in a little more detailed discussion of some of these you can go here: No Engines, or here: Origins of Life, but in a nutshell here they are: Darwinian Evolution Theory says that:

  • Life began in a "primordial soup," but modern science has shown that no such soup existed.
  • Natural Selection decides which forms of life are best suited for survival, but the origin of life scenario was a first event. By definition, natural selection had nothing from which it could select.
  • Life must have evolved gradually, but the actual evidence shows that life appeared instantaneously in the planet's geologic history.
  • First life must have been simple, but evidence shows that even the simplest forms of life are mind-bogglingly complex.
  • The presence of oxygen in the early atmosphere would have inhibited the formation of life, but without oxygen, life can also not sustain itself -- a classic "chicken-and-egg" scenario.
  • First life must have been able to self-replicate and metabolize, but doing so requires proteins and you cannot produce proteins unless you first have DNA -- another classic "chicken-and-egg" scenario.

The Fossil Record By Darwin's own account, the Earth should be littered with billions upon billions of "intermediates" or "missing links" that would show the gradual development of every form of life. Yet 150 years after Darwin's pronouncement about that, the "latest discoveries" are few and far between. When we look into the claims of the latest "missing links" they always prove questionable at best, faked at worst, or are later found to be undermined by newer discoveries.

In other words, a look at the evidence from the actual stuff in the box shows that Evolution does not pass the truth test. It does not correspond to the way the world actually is. Still, the mythology of Darwinism is perpetuated in our schools, in our books, and by a news media that is quick to jump on the naturalistic bandwagon. Intelligent Design is mocked and ridiculed as "not being science" simply because those who control the science cannot accept the implications and accountability that goes along with admitting that there may be something to the stuff outside the box.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Science (1 of 2)

Lesson 5a: Science

This week's discussion was more about philosophy of science than of science itself. There is a reason for that. The best science can hope to do is give us the what and how about the observations we make of the "stuff in the box." What it can never hope to offer us is the why -- the purpose or meaning behind the observations we make. As an illustration of this just ask yourself this question: "Can you measure your height with a speedometer?"

If you don't think the question is a stupid one, you have to at least admit it's weird. What you cannot do is answer the question in any way that makes sense. You need a tape measure to determine your height; a speedometer just won't do. A speedometer is not designed to measure weight. It is not the proper instrument to use for the task at hand.

The same thing goes with science as it relates to making declarations about God. It is the wrong tool. We need philosophy and theology to do that.

Science is the study of nature -- the stuff in the box == and God is not confined to the box. This fact goes both ways. We cannot "prove" the existence of God by simply measuring the stuff in the box. Likewise, the naturalist cannot "disprove" God by demanding that we are only allowed to discuss the stuff in the box. Unfortunately, both sides do this all the time. Both sides tend to attribute unwarranted delusions of grandeur to the power of science alone.

That said, the science of cosmology (astronomy, physics, astrophysics) gives us some awe-inspiring evidence for the reality of a transcendent, enormously powerful being who exists outside the box. This doesn't prove that that being is the God of the Bible. We need other information to do that. But what it does do is show that what we know about cosmology is perfectly consistent with the Bible.

Naturalistic scientists know this. They call it the Anthropic Principle: the idea that the universe seems to be designed with man in mind. They insist that this is a coincidence. "It may look designed," they say, "but you must always keep in mind that it is not." They go to great lengths to get around what seems to be a blatantly obvious inference. But the degree of "fine-tuning" of the universe that allows for life to exist anywhere at all is so incredibly complex and overwhelming, they have to explain it somehow. The latest version is called the Multiverse Theory (a.k.a. "Multiple Universes" or "Many Worlds").

This theory is a perfect example of how philosophy is cleverly disguised as science. There are many versions of the multiverse theory but they all have two essential things in common: 1) That there are an infinite number of alternate universes, and 2) That they are all different.

From this it follows that the universe looks designed to us because we just happen to live in the one universe (among an infinite number of alternate universes) that got everything "just right." But notice something about this "scientific" theory. First, the reason they make this claim is not because they have scientific evidence for these other universes. They have zero evidence for them. Instead they make the claim because they cannot accept the implications of the evidence they do have about this universe. This is a philosophical position, not a scientific one. Second, we could never "find" an alternate universe. Any other universe, if it exists at all, is by definition undetectable. So, for these scientists to promote such a theory is pure speculation about something beyond our realm of existence that can never, in principle, be confirmed. This is not science! It is wishful thinking. It certainly isn't provable using the scientific method.

That said, I actually love the multiverse theory, and here's why: By putting forth such a theory, these scientists are making a tacit admission that the level of design in our universe is so incredible, so overwhelming, so mind-boggling, that it requires an infinite explanation.

Exactly.

"The heavens declare the glory of God," even to scientists who cover their ears and close their eyes to it. No one is as blind as those who will not see.

Next week: More scientific discussion about Darwinism, biology, DNA and the origin and diversity of life.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Parkour ! !

If you don't watch "The Office," this may be all you need to consider beginning to do so ...

[WARNING: I do NOT vouch for some of the rest of the content of the show ... but this is priceless]. Enjoy ...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kenneth Miller's Empty Assertions

Kenneth Miller's case against ID takes an entirely different turn when he attacks the "movement" on the grounds of bias, politics, and its embrace of a relativism. Up until this point, Mr. Miller's case was well-structured and, I must admit, very convincing to someone who might be unaware of its philosophical foundation. But here he wanders out into left field and apparently gets lost.

Time and space preclude an in-depth critique of Miller's claims that the "revelations" of the Wedge Document prove that the ID movement is biased and has an agenda. So what? This charge constantly amuses me. Does Mr. Miller claim he has no bias or agenda in this debate? Of course there is bias, an agenda, and a strategy to pursue. But none of that is the question. The question is whether or not the claims of either side are actually true.

Miller also goes on to assert that ID has a an evil, debilitating political agenda. This agenda is apparently to stop all scientific progress so that we can establish a Theocratic People's Republic that will be overseen by the Grand Designer. Forget the conspiratorial nonsense inherent in such a claim, the really comical line that goes along with this thread in his argument is that "science is profoundly non-political" (p. 197). Really?

Has Mr. Miller ever heard of the scientific support for the eugenics movement that is clearly espoused in embryonic form in Darwin's Descent of Man? Has Mr. Miller ever noticed the direct connection between the political left and the way it uses the boogey man of "Global Warming," to promote all sorts of leftist economic schemes despite clear evidence that the reality of the "crisis" is at least debatable, at worst manufactured? Science is non-political? Please.

These assertions are simply silly. But what is more substantive is Mr. Miller's claim that ID is relativistic. The fact that he uses such an argument at all is amazing to consider -- especially when the truth about it undermines the entire thesis of his book.

Miller begins this part of his argument by citing Allan Bloom's classic, The Closing of the American Mind. This book is no easy read (especially for the likes of me), but its theme is simple: That the social/political crises that we saw emerging in the latter half of the 20th century are intellectually spawned, and that a great impetus for the growth of this problem is, as Saul Bellow points out in the Forward of my copy:
"The heart of Professor Bloom's argument is that the university, in a society ruled by public opinion, was to have been an island of intellectual freedom where all views were investigated without restriction."
This, Bloom argues, is no longer the case. The university has come to tolerate every kind of diversity except the kind it was created to champion -- diversity of thought. So it is ironic, not only that Miller uses Bloom's thesis as a reason to stifle intellectual freedom in the sciences, but that the University of Cincinnati is using Miller's book to continue the indoctrination of students in exactly this way. You couldn't write a script to prove Bloom's point more clearly.

Science, Miller says, was supposed to be "immune to the sort of relativistic attacks that [Bloom showed] undermine the humanities ... but Bloom was wrong" (p. 173). In other words, Miller is accusing ID of being "relativistic." He accuses ID of promoting a kind of "anything-goes, if-we-want-to-say-God-did-it-who-are-you-to-tell-us-we-are-wrong" point of view. He bemoans the popularity of ID in public opinion polls as proof that ID's relativistic approach is working. Science, he says, should be immune to such tactics.

But here's the rub. Science -- the systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena -- is immune to relativistic impulses. What is not immune is the philosophy under which the science operates! Here is yet another example of Miller's philosophical blind spot.

ID proponents have never said that their version of "truth" about design is just as good as the Darwinist's version of "truth" about the powers of natural selection, or that no one has a right to say differently. What ID has said is that, once the naturalistic (and philosophically biased) definition of science is corrected, the ID hypothesis allows us to pursue a more complete and credible attainment of the objective truth about the origin and diversity of life and to understand the way the world actually is.

This is the definition of truth itself and it is a completely exclusive, objective claim. The last thing ID could be described as is being "relativistic."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kenneth Miller's Scientific Dodges

I am not a scientist so I would never claim to even approach the level of professional scientific expertise that Kenneth Miller has attained. But the beauty of critiquing a scientific argument based on a faulty philosophical foundation is that you don't have to be an expert.

You just have to pay attention.

The misrepresentations and slippery reasoning Mr. Miller offers in his book, Only A Theory, are amazing to behold. The fact that he works them into such a compelling narrative is a testament to his skill as a writer and propagandist -- but when the philosophical flaws are exposed, the science he's selling gets too expensive to buy. Just a couple of examples ...

The Mousetrap Fallacy

Arguing against Michael Behe's analogy of the irreducible complexity of a mousetrap, Miller insists that the mousetrap is not irreducibly complex because parts of the contraption can be used perfectly well for other purposes. In order demonstrate this, Miller (or someone he knows) apparently walks around with the catch of the mousetrap acting as a tie clasp. He also tells the story of using the spring and lever of the mousetrap as a spitball launcher when he was a kid in grade school. Mockery is apparently his shtick.

Miller's humor is intended to promote the idea of co-option, the Darwinian notion that parts of some biochemical systems that are functional for some other reason can be co-opted into forming more complex systems and thus increase the survivability of the organism. As he puts it, "Function may change but in nature a changed function can still be favored by natural selection" (p. 57).

He also attempts to refute Behe's famous flagellar motor example by showing that the Type Two Secretory System (TTSS), a poison pump that bacteria use to kill other cells, is amazingly similar to a subset of the flagellar motor. The TTSS has "about 10 of the 30 or so proteins in the flagellum and functions perfectly well" (p. 59).

Both of these examples fail in three ways. First, they fail to explain where Miller's tie clasp -- or the TTSS -- came from in the first place. Just because these systems can be combined with other components to create a more complex system, it does not follow that they were not designed in the first place. A tie clasp, a spitball launcher and a TTSS are still systems that were designed for a purpose.

Second, Miller assumes the parts that make up the less complex components of the system are not themselves complex. The TTSS (which at best accounts for less than one-third of the proteins in the flagellar motor) and every other part of the flagellar motor are made up of, well, proteins! Proteins are complex components themselves -- components that are manufactured using a DNA blueprint that contains an incomprehensible amount of complex-specified information. Miller can't get his spitball launcher without the parts that make it up, yet he conveniently ignores this fact and pretends that the TTSS, or his spitball launcher, were always there, just hanging around waiting to be co-opted.

Miller evades the obvious fact that he must first explain the emergence of DNA and the information-rich language that wrote the blueprints and assembled the proteins in the first place ... yet that is the question ID asks. Where did an incomprehensible amount of information like this originate?

And please note: This is not an argument from ignorance, i.e. "We can't figure it out so we'll just say the designer did it." No, this is an argument by inference to the best explanation. The only way we see information-rich systems like this originate is by the work of intelligent agent causation. Miller sees the same thing and marvels at the ingenuity of natural selection because, as discussed in the last post, his naturalistic presuppositions force him to do so. He has no other choice. Once again, his presuppositions determine his answers. ID has no such limitation.

Third, Miller gives absolutely no explanation for how the co-opted parts combine to form more complex systems. He wants us to believe that random events combine the parts and natural selection keeps the ones it likes. This is akin to suggesting that if we separate all the parts of a mousetrap, throw them in the dryer in your laundry room and turn it on, eventually we will end up with a mousetrap. Is this a reasonable expectation?

You decide.

Attacking A Straw Man -- and Still Losing

Miller uses evidence of horse evolution to characterize the views of his ID opponents as being ridiculously naive. He offers fossil evidence of different horse species that have existed throughout time and shows that they are obviously related, then goes on to accuse ID proponents of saying that:
" ... the ancestor-descendant relationships so apparent to paleontologists are just an illusion. In fact, the evolutionary tree leading to modern horses isn't a tree at all, but just a collection of individual species directly created by the designer, each without any relationship to the other."
Now, I would not deny that there may be some creationists out there who say such a thing. But if there are, they are on the extreme fringe of those who claim to take science seriously. It is never a good idea to use the extreme views of some minority sect of your opponent's camp as a straw man to argue against his case. Good debaters always take on their opponents strongest argument. Those who have no case are forced to resort to tactics like Miller uses here. Whatever the case, I have never heard any mainstream ID proponent say such a thing.

There is a double irony in Miller's accusation. First, the relationship between members of the same species and their ability to adapt to their environment can just as easily be explained by the work of an insightful designer. Adaptability is the hallmark of a designed system. If a human-designed system broke or stopped working any time it was impeded or faced adversity we certainly wouldn't consider its designer competent. Good designers design systems that are adaptable.

Second, Miller's example consists of different kinds of horses -- but they are all still classified as being in the horse family. There is no paleontological evidence that horses evolved into something else. And this is one of the claims of ID -- that so-called micro-evolution is perfectly compatible with designed systems. Indeed we should expect it.

I'm not sure what Miller hoped to gain with the horse example. I do know that co-option is a favorite hypothesis of the Darwinists. I just happen to think that for a scientist like Miller to use arguments like these to prove his case can only mean that he doesn't have much of a scientific case at all.

And when you don't have a scientific case, you have to resort to challenging the motives of your opponent. Predictably, that's where Miller goes next ... so we will go with him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kenneth Miller's Faulty Philosophy

A friend from church recently approached me to ask what I thought about the fact that his son, who will soon start his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, was given Kenneth R. Miller's book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul as required reading for his freshman orientation. My friend's son is enrolled in one of the colleges of science in pursuit of an eventual medical degree. His concern about his son having to read the book is that the point of it is clearly spelled out right on the front cover: "in a few concise chapters, Mr. Miller pretty much dismantles all the claims, such as they are, for the intelligent design movement."

In other words, a university -- which by definition exists to promote free inquiry toward a unified view of truth -- somehow finds it acceptable to indoctrinate its newest students with a dogmatic view of science that has nothing to do with science education. Why is that?

The answer has little to do with the practice of science. It is not even about the definition of science as folks like Kenneth Miller insist. Instead, it is about the philosophy of science and the kind of implications that science is "allowed" to draw.

Let me first say that no one from the Intelligent Design (ID) community that I have ever read would disagree Miller's view of what science is or how it should be practiced. Science is a systematic human endeavor meant to understand the way the world works. It is practiced by implementation of the scientific method that we all know and understand. No argument there.

But Miller wants us to think that ID proponents are trying to change the definition of science for religious purposes (he says exactly that on page 187). This is the core idea of his book and he offers as proof a change that was made by the Kansas school board regarding the definition of science as it appeared in the state's educational standards. The original definition was ...
"Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."
The proposed change was this ...
"Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."
Miller rejects the new definition because he believes it will bring science as we know it to a standstill (p. 197) and lead to the murder of the ingenuity and rationality of America's "soul." How so?

Notice that the proposed change in the definition of science above does only two things. First, it simply spells out in more detail our understanding of the scientific method. This is not controversial by anyone's standards -- even Miller's.

Second, it changes the goal of science from seeking "natural explanations" to "more adequate explanations." This is what Miller cannot accept. But notice that, for all his bloviating about the preeminence of science, the difference that sets him off is not scientific -- it is philosophical.

Miller will only accept naturalistic explanations for all observable phenomena. Think about that for a minute. If we were to apply Miller's way of thinking to forensic science, an investigator analyzing a recently-deceased body would only be allowed to declare natural causes for the victim's death. Any attempt to imply that the death may have been due to murder -- the action of an intelligent agent -- would not be acceptable.

Miller rules out implications based on an arbitrary presupposition -- that natural explanations are the only ones that are reasonable and allowable.

That would be fine ... except that he wants to impose that arbitrary bias on everyone else. Apparently the University of Cincinnati (among most other institutions of higher learning) agrees with him and is happy to impose the same kind of intellectual prejudice on its students by means of a forced propaganda program aimed at incoming freshmen.

Free inquiry indeed.

Once you are aware of it, Miller's self-proclaimed defense of real science is exposed for the thinly-veiled philosophical objection it really is:
"We live in a material world ... modern biology arises out of a conviction of the material nature of life ..." (p. 118)
"[natural history] tells us that the specific details of today's living organisms were not the direct product of a flash of design in the dim and distant past. If they had been, life wouldn't be about change; it would be about stasis. The work of a designer would have been manifest in the perfect balances of nature, in the enduring constancy of his creations." (p. 123-4)
How does Miller know these things? More importantly, how can he prove them under his own definition of science? The answer is that he can't.

Rocks and waterfalls are also material in nature but surely don't constitute living things. Why are they not also "alive"? Apparently the material composition of a thing is not enough to fully determine whether or not it constitutes life.

Things like conceptualization and imagination (just to name two) are products of the human mind but they can certainly not be explained by the physical interaction of chemicals in the brain for the simple reason that they are not physical themselves. We could hook detectors up to someone experiencing such a thing, monitor every electrical pulse going on inside their brain, and never know what they were "conceptualizing" unless they told us themselves.

Miller claims to know not only how a designer "would" do things, but what constitutes a "perfect balance" in nature. If this isn't the height of arrogance, I'm not sure what is. Maybe Miller, knowing what an intelligent agent such as himself "would" do, ought to go about constructing a perfectly balanced nature for all of us -- or at least for himself.

Here an ironic fact rears its head -- Miller would certainly consider the previous paragraph nonsensical and dismiss it as laughable because he knows he could do no such thing. Miller is a brilliant man; brilliant enough to know that such a goal would be impossible to achieve. The irony lies in the fact that he expects us to accept that the purposeless, unintelligent, "blind watchmaker" of natural selection is perfectly capable of doing such a thing.

The fallacy in the arguments of Miller et al is that they operate under a philosophical paradigm that disallows intelligent causation in the natural world, and are therefore forced to interpret data with that presupposition in place. This is just basic circular reasoning -- assuming what you are trying to prove. The fact that a university would demand that its newest students adhere to this type of fallacious reasoning before they even show up at school should be troubling to those who think that the purpose of higher education is promote free inquiry.

No one is questioning the way we do science. What the ID community is questioning are the conclusions we are allowed to draw from the data we evaluate in that endeavor. The implications of our study of nature are the most fascinating aspects of the pursuit of science. Some would say they are the only reason we do it at all. How such a thing could damage our collective soul or undermine the systematic approach we use to pursue the truth is beyond me, as is the reason Mr. Miller finds it so troubling.

My disagreement with Dr. Miller hinges on his faulty philosophy. But his philosophy is not all that is wrong. The problem magnifies itself when his philosophical deficiency serves to undermine his whole case when it leads to an improper evaluation of the scientific case he makes against ID.

More on that next time ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Theology

Lesson 4: Theology

Who is God and how can we know anything about Him? The study of theology [Greek: theos (God) + logia (study)] is our human attempt to answer those kinds of questions. Dr. Tackett shows how utterly overwhelming such a task can be by reflecting on the enormity and incomprehensibility of the concept of infinity. Because our God is infinite, our understanding of him will never be complete. But acknowledging that reality does not prevent us from seeking and finding answers about him. The primary way we do that is through the Scripture and our reasonable acceptance of the idea that it is the primary way by which God has chosen to reveal himself to us.

Dr. Tackett focuses mainly on the inerrancy and reliability of Scripture so I will not reiterate what he said about that except to be clear about what inerrancy actually means. A simple way to look at inerrancy is to see it as reflecting the proper ideas that God meant the original writers to reveal. Inerrancy means that the Bible is true in the meaning that God superintended through the original authors. If you are interested in delving into this topic more deeply, this link is to an excellent essay by apologist Greg Koukl that will help you think through the issues of the inspiration and reliability of Scripture: Does God Try?

So, if we accept the notion of Scriptural inerrancy, what have the great theologians agreed upon about the nature and attributes of God? Obviously, that is a discussion that goes well beyond the scope of this lesson. For simplicity I will list the most commonly-accepted attributes with a short description of each. If you want more than that I would suggest a "systematic theology" like this one by Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.

The attributes of God are ...

Transcendence: existence beyond the physical universe. Though God exists beyond the universe, he also operates within it at his leisure.

Omnipresence
: present in all places. God does not have size of spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

Omnipotence
: all-powerful. Anything that power can do, He can do. He has access to all power that is available. But power cannot do illogical things (like making a square circle or a rock so big he can't move it) so the challenge of those kinds of objections are irrelevant and not as decimating to the idea of God as some critics try to make them.

Omniscience: all-knowing. He fully knows himself and all actual and possible things (i.e. everything there is to know) in one simple eternal act. There is nothing for Him to learn as far as future contingencies are concerned.

Eternity: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.

Unity: simplicity. God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.

Independence/Aseity: self existence. God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.

Immutability: unchanging. God does not change in his being (essence), perfections, purposes and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions and acts and feels differently in different situations. Though the Bible does record instances of God "changing his mind" in response to the prayers of his people, doing so does not change his nature.

Spirituality: God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence.

Invisibility: God's total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us, yet God still shows himself through visible, created things.

Wisdom: God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals.

Truthfulness: He is the True God and all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.

Goodness: God is the final standard of good and all that God is and does is worthy of approval. This attribute includes the attributes of mercy, grace and patience.

Love: God eternally gives of himself to others.

Holiness: God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.

Peace/Order: In his being and in his actions, God is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerably well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions.

Righteousness/Justice: God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.

Jealousy: God continually seeks to protect his own honor.

Wrath: God intensely hates all sin.

It is probably true that most of us have never considered all these formal definitions of the attributes of God even though each probably sounds reasonable and familiar. Yet it is important to understand each of them because, in the "cosmic battle" we have been discussing, many of the wrong ideas and cultural deceptions about God rest on an improper understanding of what we understand God to be. Alternatively, some misperceptions result from an incomplete picture where one or more attributes are magnified to eclipse others. You have to know and be able to recognize the false ideas that are often used, not only by those who are in opposition to the truth of Christianity, but misunderstandings that have grown within the church itself.

The latter may be the most difficult and harmful ideas of them all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Anthropology

Lesson 3: Anthropology

In order to understand how any comprehensive worldview fits together and operates in the real world, you must have some notion of what being "human" entails. If the Christian view of the world is to be believed, it must serve to explain human nature and how that nature works in the world as it really is.

To follow on the implications of the "cosmic cube," our understanding of human nature must make sense of both the physical and non-physical aspects of reality. On the Christian view, man is not just a lump of "stuff" controlled by a deterministic computer made of meat (the physical brain). There is more to him than that. Philosopher Dallas Willard (in his book, Renovation of the Heart) defines "human life" as consisting of the following:
  • Thought (images, concepts, judgments, inferences)
  • Feeling (sensation, emotion)
  • Choice (will, decision, character)
  • Body (action, interaction with the physical world)
  • Social Context (personal and structural relations to others)
  • Soul (serves to integrate all of the above)
Even if we couldn't categorize these as a philosopher does, we instantly recognize the reality of each of these in our own lives. Notice that the body -- the only aspect of man that the "cosmic cube" can account for -- is a very small part of what makes us human. In fact, when considering the meaning and purpose of life, the body is the least significant aspect of them all.

Though Willard goes into great detail about each of these facets of humanity, a way to think of these in Biblical terms is:

Body:
The physical part of us that expresses our real inner nature within the world

Soul: The non-physical aspect of our human nature. It consists of the heart ("decision central," the connection between mind and body), and mind (where our thoughts and feelings originate). This is what animates us and contains our character.

Spirit: Though the Bible seems to use the terms soul and spirit interchangeably at times, the spirit is what sets us apart from the rest of nature. This is the part of our non-physical make-up that gives us the ability to contemplate, seek and relate to our Creator.

Dr. Tackett points out that man was created innocent and in the image of God (imago dei), made the free-will decision to rebel against God and was therefore relegated to a fallen state from which only Christ can offer redemption that leads to eternal life.

The world's view is quite different. On that view man emerged and evolved from the cosmic 'stuff,' exhibits a basically good nature, and his highest aspiration is to attain fulfillment through self-actualization.

So which of these views makes the most sense of the world as we find it?
  • If man is only the product of the physical stuff in the box, how did he come to display things like consciousness that are not physical?

  • If man is basically good, how do we explain all the evil we see perpetrated in the world?

  • If self-actualization is the ultimate goal, why have so few found comfort, peace and fulfillment in its worldly promises?