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]