Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Totally. Cosmic. Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Christmas comes ...

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holy War?

Every Monday, the last page (The Forum) of USA Today's front (blue) section runs an opinion piece that focuses on religious issues. Here is the lead in they use to describe that column:
On Religion :: Faith. Religion. Spirituality. Meaning.
In our ever-shrinking world, the tentacles of religion touch everything from governmental policy to individual morality to our basic social constructs. It affects the lives of people of great faith — or no faith at all. This series of weekly columns — launched in 2005 — seeks to illuminate the national conversation.
Illuminate?

If you have ever considered starting a blog about religious/worldview topics, you could keep yourself very busy responding to the nonsense that appears in this weekly column. Though there are occasionally some decent, thoughtful editorials presented here, a vast majority of the time this is not the case.

I have read, and commented on, several of these columns but I do not believe I have ever seen a more arrogant, vacuous, or poorly-presented "argument" than the example that appeared recently about the supposed "war" between science and religion, "Science and Religion Aren't Friends".

There is nothing new or unique in this piece. The attitude of the author is a little worse than most -- he doesn't even pretend to try to do the topic justice or offer a thoughtful analysis. But, I guess that's what you should expect when the credentials of the one chosen to engage the unwashed masses in a "conversation" about religion and science is: "a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago (Jerry A. Coyne), whose latest book is titled: Why Evolution is True."

Sounds like he'd be evenhanded, doesn't it?

That brings me to the first point I'd like to make:

Most scientists are incapable of addressing
the relationship between science and religion.

To be fair, so are most theologians. The reason for this is that the relationship between science and religion is neither scientific, nor theological. The point of contention is the relationship between the two ... and that is a philosophical point.

Case in point: Coyne tells us that "Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth." And how does Coyne tell us this works? By the scientific method, of course. "The methods of science," he says, "help us distinguish real truth from what we only want to be true."

To Coyne, the only way to find truth is by utilizing the scientific method of inquiry. So let's apply his claim to his own statement. How would we determine whether or not his claim that -- "the methods of science ... distinguish real truth from what we only want to be true," -- is true or false? What scientific experiment could we devise to test that claim?

Answer: None.

This is not tricky or elusive. It is just a plain fact. Coyne's claim cannot be tested by the scientific method because it is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. In fact, it appears to be a claim that Coyne "only wants to be true."

If you are going to run an "illuminating conversation" about the relationship between faith and science, you need to have some kind of philosopher writing it -- someone like say, a philosopher of science. If you can't have that, the least you could do is have whoever it is writing the piece actually try to address the philosophical issues that are in debate. You certainly shouldn't have a scientist (or a theologian) pontificating about why only their discipline has the only right answers.

There is plenty more to address in this article and I plan to do so in some follow-on posts. But, before getting to those, we have to understand that the main thrust of Coyne's assertion is self-refuting. Science cannot, even in principle, be the only source of truth because, as Frank Turek often puts it, "science doesn't say anything, scientists do." Scientists, like everybody else, are biased in their own perception of what the scientific data is telling them by their own philosophical presuppositions.

Science is the child of philosophy. More on that next time ...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Craig, Wolpe & Geivett -vs- Dawkins, Shermer & Ridley

For those who may be interested, this debate took place in Mexico last week. I leave the listener/reader to decide which team offered compelling arguments and which team offered empty assertions and sarcasm. Yes, the question betrays my own opinion and, yes, I am biased.

The players ...

William Lane Craig: PhD, Philosophy (University of Birmingham, England); PhD, Theology (University of Munich, Germany). Author of Reasonable Faith (and several other books)

Douglas Geivett: PhD, Philosophy (University of Southern California). Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

Rabbi David Wolpe: Rabbi of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and considered the leader of "the conservative Jewish movement."

Richard Dawkins: PhD, (Zoology) Balliol College Oxford, England. Author of The God Delusion and, more recently, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Michael Shermer: PhD (History of Science) Claremont Graduate University. Founder and Publisher of Skeptic Magazine.

Matt Ridley: PhD (Zoology) Magdalene College Oxford, England. Science journalist.


[The introduction is in Spanish but hang in there, the debaters are speaking English!]


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Readback, Hearback

"It sounds different when you say it that way!"
In the aviation business, we have a formality that many times seems cumbersome and uncalled for ... until you remember its purpose. The practice I'm talking about is called, "Readback, Hearback" (RH) and it has saved more lethal outcomes than we would ever be able to know.

RH is simply this: When an air traffic controller gives an aircraft instructions to follow, the pilot is required to repeat back the instructions as they were given. The controller then verifies that the pilot heard the instructions correctly and clears the aircraft to maneuver. Finally, the pilot acknowledges the clearance and complies with it.

As you can see, this practice can sometimes result in four radio transmissions for, say, a simple change of altitude. Yes, it is cumbersome. But the reasoning behind it is that it verifies that both parties to the conversations are very clear about what is being said before any direct action is taken. At every point in the dialogue, the participants can clarify the instructions. It keeps airplanes from occupying the same airspace at the same time -- a result that can obviously prove to be disastrous.

So what does this have to do with my discussion here?

In the week leading in to the mid-term elections, a young blogger with whom I am acquainted posted his thoughts about all things political. The post gave all the reasons why he was fed up with both political parties. As a way of demonstrating his independent thinking, he used the abortion issue as an example of how he differed with both of them. Here (cut and pasted) is his central argument against the party that is usually considered to be pro-life.
"I do have a moral opposition to abortion. A strong one, in fact. However, I disagree that the solution is to make abortion illegal. Rather, better educational opportunities and focus on family growth will lead to less abortions and a healthier society. Like we saw with prohibition in the 1920s, making something illegal doesn't make it go away. And besides, there are some scenarios (such as a woman who became pregnant after being raped or engaging in incest, or a situation where the life of the mother is in danger) in which I could not in good conscience make abortion illegal. Do I think it is abhorrent and terrible? Yes. I am in favor of limiting late term abortions as much as possible. If a consensus can be reached in the larger community about when life begins, I believe abortion can be limited to before that moment. While I believe that life begins at conception, that is not a belief I can force on others. Legislating morality is not the answer - which means that the core of the Republican party and I do not agree."
To the untrained ear, the argument may sound reasonable and "moderate." But I thought it would be instructive to put the argument to a "Readback, Hearback Test." So, I cut-and-pasted the argument into the comment section of his blog -- with one minor exception. I replaced the word "abortion" with the word "slavery" and offered him the following hypothetical example to let him hear what he just said in a different way:
HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION: It is 1860 and President Lincoln gives a speech in which he says the following:
"I have a moral opposition to slavery. A strong one, in fact. However, I disagree that the solution is to make slavery illegal. Rather, better educational opportunities and a focus on alternative economic growth issues will lead to less slavery and a healthier society. Making something illegal doesn't make it go away. And besides, there are some scenarios (such as a slaveowner who is having a hard time making ends meet, or whose slaves were bequeathed to him by his ancestors) in which I could not in good conscience make slavery illegal. Do I think slavery is abhorrent and terrible? Yes. I am in favor of limiting slavery as much as possible ... While I believe that slavery is immoral, that is not a belief I can force on others. Legislating morality is not the answer - which means that the core of the Republican party and I do not agree."
Maybe, for good measure, Lincoln would also add: "For those who object to my reasoning, I understand. But if you think owning slaves is immoral, don't own one."
QUESTION: Do you think Lincoln's argument is reasonable and should be accepted by the abolishionists?
When you hear it put that way, an uncommitted "moderate" stance against slavery doesn't seem so reasonable. So, why is it reasonable and "moderate" to hold the exact same view about abortion?

It isn't.

The only reason it ever has been considered so is because we have been conditioned (rightly) to see slavery as being morally reprehensible for its denial of dignity, respect and protection to those who deserve each of those things simply in virtue the kind of thing they are -- distinct, whole, living human beings. At the same time, we have been conditioned (wrongly) to deny the same moral status to the unborn. In other words, we can only hold such a view by looking past a cognitive dissonance that sees the unborn as something other than a human being.

So, do some pilot stuff -- practice "Readback, Hearback" with those who make these kind of claims about the unborn. Make them acknowledge and verify exactly what they have just said by putting it in a context that makes it sound as ludicrous to them as it does to you. It makes for safer maneuvering around the battlefield of ideas.

And the life you save just might be one that is powerless to save itself.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mildred Jefferson

From National Review's The Week:
When Mildred Jefferson graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1951 -- the first black woman to do so -- she took the Hippocratic Oath. Jefferson believed in it, and believed it prohibited the taking of life, so two decades later, when the AMA declared that physicians could ethically perform abortions, she became one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee. She remained active in NRLC and other pro-life groups until her death on October 15, 2010.
A surgeon, she was renowned for her energy, her stirring oratory, and her tireless dedication to the cause. Perhaps her most concise explanation of why she felt so strongly came in a 2003 article:
"I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have a right to live."
When she testified before Congress in 1981 about a pro-life bill sponsored by Jesse Helms and Henry Hyde, Jefferson was no less blunt:
"With the obstetrician and mother becoming the worst enemy of the child and the pediatrician becoming the assassin for the family, the state must be enabled to protect the life of the child, born and unborn."
RIP ...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Off Center

The Geocentric Model
 [ ... this is the final post in a series that began here ... ]

There were two other main points my reader wanted me to consider in his appeal. Both were contained in separate booklets he included in the package he mailed to me. The most astounding one was a booklet titled, "The Exegesis of Cosmological Passages Supporting Geocentricity."

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I literally could not follow the logic of this document but, from what I gather:
  1. The earth was created first, then the heavens, but both were created "from within the initial mass of water."
  2. The noun (shamayim erets) which names "the heaven(s) and the earth" demands that there are "two physical heavens."
  3. Psalm 147:15 ("his words run swiftly") means that God placed his "spinning power" only in the heavens.
All this (and more) to say that "the earth was not rotating or moving. Indeed, the earth was in no shape to do anything. It had nothing to hold it together. If it tried to spin in this condition, water and matter would make a muddy mess all over the universe."

This was all proven true by the Sagnac Experiment ("which measured the rotation of the aether of the Sun"), and the Michelson-Morley Experiment ("which measured the Earth's annual velocity around the Sun to be zero"). The conclusions of these confirmed that "the earth just won't move."

I am no physicist but I do know this -- Michelson and Morley were the first to accurately measure the speed of light. When they did, one of the things that led to their breakthrough was the realization that the long-assumed "aether" that everyone thought made up the stuff of outer space, actually did not exist. Michelson and Morley's work determined that the speed of light was constant -- a scientific fact that led to Einstein's Special Relativity Theory, and eventually to his General Relativity Theory.

Yet, here we are 120 years later being told that an experiment surrounding "the rotation of the aether of the Sun" helps prove that the Earth does not move. I also find it ironic that a short glance at a description of the Sagnac Effect shows that it is employed in current technology like ring lasers and inertial guidance systems "that need to take the rotation of the Earth into account in the procedures of using radio signals to synchronize clocks."

I honestly feel badly for folks like my reader/critic who are constrained by their own pre-ordained commitment to a young earth that they must insist that the earth is the unmoving center of the universe --  to insist that others also accept a "fact" that is so plainly false.

If your view of the world demands that you perform these kinds of mental gymnastics to prove it, you might want to reconsider what you are thinking. I'm not sure what else I could possibly say about that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Age of the Earth (Part II)

... continued from last post (10/30/2010) ...

In addition to the Scriptural issues described last time, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the OE view and therefore also aligns perfectly with the scientific evidence from God’s natural revelation. If we truly believe that all truth is God's truth, we have no reason to distrust valid scientific data that does not conflict with a valid interpretation of Scripture. As I've said before, the two complement one another in amazing ways.

If we do not trust the scientific data, we are forced to resort to claims like the ones my critic puts forth below. The irony here is that my YE friend accepts the fact that the universe looks old and "admit[s] that it is a serious problem." The question is, how do [YE] Creationists address this serious problem?

My critic offers three suggestions that I have heard before and two that I have never heard. First, the familiar explanations:
  1. The decreasing speed of light -- Because the speed of light has been gradually decaying, objects appear farther away than they actually are. There is little scientific evidence to support this claim. The minor deviations in our measurement of the speed of light cited by some cannot begin to account for the discrepancy between the roughly 14 billion year age of the universe claimed by modern science and the less than 10,000 year claim of YE creationists. 
  2. Time dilation in outer space -- Based on Einstein's General Relativity (GR) Theory, this is similar to the speed of light assertion -- that the universe simply appears older than it actually is. Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Ironically, the concept of time dilation rests on an acceptance of GR which also happens to posit an expanding universe and therefore provides strong physical evidence for Big Bang Cosmology. This aspect of GR is what led Einstein to doubt (and modify) his own theory because he could not accept the divine implications of an expanding universe. He later described his modification as one of the worst mistakes of his life. So, I say it is ironic when YE proponents appeal to time dilation to buttress their case because by doing so they are also unwittingly accepting one aspect of the Big Bang -- a scientific theory  that YEs despise because, again, they claim it supports 'Evolution.' The materials my critic sent me do exactly this and specifically deny the expansion of the universe as being true.
  3. Starlight created in transit -- The starlight was created after the stars themselves or it was artificially made to look like the stars are older than they actually are. Once again, there is absolutely no scientific evidence for this claim. Additionally, one has to wonder why the God who we all accept as the source and standard for Truth would deliberately foist a deception like this on us -- and for what reason? In fairness, most reasonable YEs have abandoned this option.
This brings me to the unfamiliar points:
  1. "The Lord has put a shield in front of each star and each shield has a different color of the rainbow" -- The idea here is that these shields affect the brightness of the stars, thereby rendering them dimmer in appearance than they really are. This dimness makes them appear to be farther away than they actually are.
  2. The Bible tells us the approximate size of the universe directly (but only in the KJV) -- This distance is easily calculated as follows:
    • Reading Revelation 8:1 and 12:1 together tells us that, on the fourth creation day, "there was silence in heaven about the space of half and hour."
    • The speed of light is 186,000 miles/sec
    • 186,000 miles/sec x 60 sec/min x 30 mins = about 350 million miles to the "outmost parts of heaven" (re: Deuteronomy 30:4)
Because we "know" that the Earth is at the center of the universe (a later post will address this claim), the outer edges of the universe must lie just beyond this 350 million mile limit. This is offered as "proof" that the universe is orders of magnitude smaller than astronomers claim and therefore verifies that it is also orders of magnitude younger. As a point of reference, I would note that modern science -- by direct measurement -- puts the planet Jupiter at approximately 468 million miles away. Therefore, I leave it to my readers to evaluate the reasonableness of this claim.

Forget the actual numbers or the fact that these claims completely defy any of the actual findings of modern science. What I really object to here is the method involved. Because the hard core YE proponents see any acceptance of modern science or the OE view as a capitulation to 'Evolution' (as described in the previous post), and because the YE camp holds to a dogmatic insistence that its interpretation of the word yom is the only valid one, they are forced to offer these kinds of explanations to support their view.

In addition to that, the exegetical method of plucking Bible verses out of thin air and using them -- or even using phrases from them -- to make a scientific point strikes me as doing violence to Scripture. It is completely indefensible to ignore (or worse -- make up) the context just to suit your own personal, pre-ordained view of what the text "should" be saying. Using that method, one could make the Bible say anything they want it to say. The proof of that is in the pudding above.

My question is, why? Why does anyone find it more compelling, reasonable, or more in line with Biblical truth to have to concoct these kind of twisted explanations for things than to just accept the clear coherence we find between the findings of modern science and an equally valid (and, yes, "literal") translation of the Bible? I honestly don't get it.

I sincerely hope that my YE critics will weigh in on this and that we can engage in a productive and polite debate about these issues.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010

    The Age of the Earth (Part I)

    [This is the second in a 3-part series, "First Do No Harm," that began here. Part III will follow tomorrow]

    I have dealt with this before and am seriously considering making it a personal policy to never do so again. I know all the arguments for the young earth (YE). I used to hold to them myself. It is a subject that causes more diversion of apologetic resources than it deserves because the fact is that, no matter who is right on this one, the consequences are trivial and irrelevant. So, instead of arguing the same old OE/YE argument, I simply aim to show that the OE view has legitimate Scriptural support while the YE alternatives are utterly unconvincing.

    As I have pointed out before, one of the primary reasons offered by those who demand adherence to the YE view is that accepting of the old earth (OE) view somehow means one also accepts 'Evolution.' In the printed material my reader sent me, one of his papers began, "Creationist, Those who believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. We know that the evolutionist cannot use the rocks of the earth to prove how old the fossils are ..."

    It goes on from there but the point is that he equates Evolution with OE -- even though these are completely different issues! One is a scientific theory meant to explain the diversity of species of life on the Earth, while the other is a simple question about how old the universe, solar system, and planet Earth are. The former is a biological question. The latter is a cosmological, astronomical and geological question. Why does the reader (and almost every YE proponent I have ever heard) insist on equating the two?

    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
    None of these issues go away if you just give Evolution more time to work. In fact, none of these issues go away if you give Evolution an infinite amount of time to work. The dogmatic connection between OE and Evolution is therefore not only invalid, it is irrelevant.
    As for Scriptural support for the OE view, I offer the following:

    First, the Hebrew word for “day” used in Genesis 1 is yôm. This word can mean:
    1. sunrise to sunset (the daylight hours)
    2. sunset to sunset
    3. an unspecified length of time with a definite beginning and a definite end
    Second, the word is used in each of these ways throughout Scripture so it is not correct to say that it always refers to a 24-hour period of time. For example:
    1. Genesis 2:4 (RSV, KJV, ESV, NASB) uses yôm to refer to the entire creation week (this is especially interesting, considering my critic demands that we only use the KJV)
    2. Psalm 90:4 uses yôm in comparison to both a 4-hour watch period, and a period of 1000 years ... in the same verse!
    3. Both Job and Zechariah (especially Zechariah 14:6) yôm is used to refer indefinitely long periods of time.
    Each of these is admittedly unique, but then again so is the entire creation account. Within it we also find that the use of the phrase "there was evening and there was morning, the ___ day," is not standard in the Hebrew. This suggests a unique usage meant to describe a unique kind of day. Additionally, this phrase does not occur on the seventh day, suggesting that the seventh day may be ongoing.

    Professor Dan Dyke of Cincinnati Christian University has also pointed out that the words for "evening" and "morning" have their roots in the Hebrew for "chaos" and "order," respectfully. This may reasonably suggest that the days are meant to describe God’s ordering of His creation in stages from the chaotic "formless and void" (tohu wabohu) state described in Genesis 1:2.

    I bring these up to point out that YE proponents routinely insist that they are correct because they invoke the plain, literal meaning of the Scriptural text.

    Well, so do I.

    Every one of the definitions of yôm above is a literal translation that is perfectly legitimate in the context of the passages in question. Saying otherwise is just plain false. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to accept a different, but also "literal," version of the creation account that equally honors an inerrant view of Scripture.

    The scientific issues surrounding the age of the earth will follow tomorrow ...

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    First Do No Harm [Intro]

    In response to the article I recently had published in The Lookout (you can read it in my last post here), I received a small package in the mail from a reader who took exception with a couple of points I made in the piece. I will not identify the reader but I will address the points he makes because I think they are vitally important to our approach to apologetics and a commitment to being effective ambassadors for the Truth.

    Before I begin to respond, I want to point out that the tone of the cover letter he sent with the material was polite -- he even said he enjoyed my article -- so I don't want to make too much of the attitude behind his disagreement. Though it is impossible to tell if his "enjoyment" was sincere, my previous encounters with those who hold similar views have been anything but polite. For that reason, I want to commend the reader for not being "nasty." He ended his note by saying "comments are welcome" -- so I will offer some.

    The fact is that we hold completely different views on the topics I will address but I hope that he (and others) will take my comments with the same spirit of charity with which I accepted his.

    The reader sent me a small booklet, a pamphlet, and some individual essays/comments that related to each. There was quite a bit of information in the packet but I can boil it down to three main points he wanted me to consider :
    1. That the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
    2. That the King James Version (KJV) is the only "authorized" translation of the Bible. The accompanying pamphlet urging me to order a book, In Awe of Thy Word, was meant to convince me of this fact and is available at: A.V. Publications Corp.
    3. That the commonly accepted view of heliocentrism is false -- the Sun is not at the center of the universe. The Earth is actually the center of everything and the entire universe rotates around the Earth.
    I want to point out that each of these three views is closely intertwined. They stand in mutual support of one another. As such, showing that any one of them is obviously false should compel those who accept any one of them to seriously question all three. That is, if they are pursuing the truth and not just demanding a dogmatic acceptance of some self-defined test of orthodoxy, a thinking person should at least consider the fact that they may be wrong in adhering to any one of these claims.

    Tackling all of this at once would take too much space so I will devote a separate post to each. My aim is modest: Though I think each of these is demonstrably and obviously false, I only hope to show that disagreeing about any one of them does not disqualify one as a legitimate Christian.

    There is an important reason why I say this. Many who hold to these views believe that those of us who do not hold to them could only disagree because we ...
    1. Believe in Evolution (where 'Evolution' is never precisely defined)
    2. Do not hold a high view of Scriptural Authority
    3. Do not believe in Biblical Inerrancy
    4. Accept the claims of scientists above the claims of the Bible and, therefore, God Himself
    As you can see, the stakes are high. Many times, those who hold to these types of views actually believe that those of us who don't are not "real believers." We are headed to hell. Some are quite belligerent about it and some are nice about it, but the fact is that many of them believe it. Because it is so important to those who hold these views, I think we owe it to them to show that we are serious too.

    Case in point: A few weeks ago, a friend told me that he met a guy who was also interested and involved in Christian Apologetics. He asked if he could have him contact me because, living in the same area, he thought we might be able to work together on some teaching/speaking projects. A few days later, I received an email introducing the fellow apologist. I responded with a list of my affiliations -- one of which was Reasons To Believe, an organization that makes a strong case for the Old Earth view. I said that I would be glad to work with him and hoped we could do so while concentrating on the primary issues that every Christian apologist should hold in common. Here is a portion of his response:
    While Reasons to Believe does have many things in common biblically with what I believe there are some key differences that deal with the authority of Scripture such as, death before sin, the extend (sic) of the Genesis Flood, the order of created events and logic, … These I could not compromise on since they affect the foundation for the Gospel and the character of God (emphases mine).
    You see the not-so-hidden implication: because I work with an organization that promotes the old earth view of creation I have "compromised" on the authority of Scripture, the foundation of the Gospel, and the character of God.

    I never heard from him again ... apparently because, in his mind, we are not on the same team.

    I understand the concerns of these kinds of people -- and I share them. They are important questions that must be addressed. But our disagreement about interpretations is an internal debate that should never be thrown down like some kind of gauntlet that demands one view as an uncompromising test of orthodoxy.

    Believing in full-blown Darwinian 'Evolution' (a materialistic path from non-life, to life, to conscious human thinkers) denies the obvious work of the Creator as it is clearly outlined in the Bible -- which is why I reject full-blown Darwinian Evolution.

    I too hold to a high view of Scripture and a classical view of Biblical inerrancy.

    I deny that any scientist speaks with greater authority than Scripture. But the fact is that there are some scientific things Scripture simply does not talk about at all! In those cases, or in cases where Scripture's voice is ambiguous (it never talks about nuclear physics or the process of cellular reproduction for instance), the legitimate study and discoveries of science are perfectly reasonable to accept with proper discernment. Science is simply the human attempt to understand the world God has created. So, when we engage in science we are seeking to understand the truth about God's natural revelation. That is not my opinion. That is Biblical:
    "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their [the heavens] voice is not heard. Their [the heavens] voice goes out into all the earth, their [the heavens] words to the end of the world." ~ Psalm 19:1-4
    "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. ~ Romans 1:20
    Before I begin to critique the three points my reader wants me to consider, I want to make this crystal clear. I respect and trust the Bible just as highly as those who hold these views. I do not elevate science above Scripture. I believe that, properly approached, science and Scripture complement one another perfectly. So let's do away with all the pious claims to spiritual superiority. We agree on those points. Instead, let's look at the facts in question and see if they are reasonable to accept.

    Let's seek the truth and use it to compel others to do the same.

    The fact is that the dogmatic promotion of the three points my reader wants me to consider (above) does violence to the Scripture ... which diverts us from the truth ... which serves to turn people away from the Gospel altogether.

    That is a compromise I am unwilling to make.

    The next three posts I will address each of my reader's points ...

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Creation's Common Ground

    The following article appeared in the October 10, 2010 issue of The Lookout, a weekly magazine put out by Standard Publishing. It is my attempt to put first things first as a Christian community and unite to defend the idea that the Biblical view of creation is not only compatible with modern science, but superior to any naturalistic alternative. Though it is difficult to make the entire case in the 1600 words I was allotted, my hope is that we can avoid the internal debate about when God created, and unify around the parallel notions that He did, and why He did.

    ______________________

    Christian theism offers answers to life’s most profound questions, standing in stark contrast to the anti-theistic alternatives presented by competing worldviews. Unfortunately, we in the Christian community spend a lot of time challenging one another about internal issues, and not enough time talking about the simple fact that the evidence for God’s existence and involvement in the world is overwhelming. We can unify around a shared purpose to defend Christianity by understanding that Scripture and science complement one another in amazing ways regarding creation.

    Beginnings Need Beginners

    General revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scripture) reinforce one another regarding the pre-existence and transcendence of the Creator.

    Our approach to this issue improves if we begin not with Genesis 1, but with John’s Gospel. There, the apostle makes the claim that the divine logos existed "in the beginning" with God and as God, which then became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The logos concept encompasses rationality, intellect, and the attempt to comprehend God’s mind. This is consistent with the wisdom that "was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began" (Proverbs 8:23), and offers us a new way to consider God’s being "before all things" (Colossians 1:17).

    Because these Scriptural references place God before creation, it is theologically correct to say God pre-existed time and space and must therefore be separate from the creation. This is the definition of transcendence.

    Science confirms the concept of a transcendent cause for the universe by acknowledging a simple implication of the laws of thermodynamics. The First Law holds that there is only a fixed amount of energy available in the universe. The Second Law states that the universe is constantly using that energy. Like the gas tank in your car, a fixed amount of energy being continuously used means there must have been a point when the tank was filled. In other words, these two laws of nature point to an astounding conclusion—that the universe cannot have been going on forever. It must have had a beginning.

    If the universe must have had a beginning, simple logic tells the scientist that it must also have had a Beginner. Things that begin to exist cannot cause themselves to come into existence. Science is the attempt to identify and understand causes and effects. The specific case of the beginning of the universe is no different. Both scientific and theological orthodoxy imply that the cause of the universe must have been in place prior to, and separate from, the universe itself.

    From Nothing, Everything

    Genesis 1 offers the clearest statement of the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo—that God brought the universe into existence out of nothing. This doctrine stems from the first verse of Scripture, "In the beginning God created (bara) the heavens and the earth (shamayim erets)." Though other Hebrew words can be used to describe God’s making things, Moses’ use of the Hebrew bara, the first creative act, means that God created something brand new. The phrase shamayim erets, which has been translated "the heavens and the earth," was the Hebrew way to describe all that exists. Taken in tandem, this entails God creating the entire universe out of nothing.

    This concept is not unique to the Genesis creation account. In Job 38:4, Isaiah 45:7, 12, Colossians 1:16, and several other places, Scripture talks about a universe "formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Hebrews 11:3).

    Science also offers evidence that the universe we see today came into existence at a point that defies conventional understanding. Several cosmological theories, including General Relativity Theory, along with the laws of physics, have been verified back to an infinitesimally tiny moment after the creation event—a point when all matter, energy, time, and space shared a common origin.

    Because the scientific evidence for this beginning point is so strong, naturalistic scientists since Einstein have done their best to avoid it. The length to which some will go to deny the implications of their own evidence is astounding, but the theistic implications of this are perfectly consistent with Scripture’s creation ex nihilo. Christians have no reason to avoid these scientific theories. Indeed, we should embrace them as further proof of the correlation between both forms of God’s revelation to us.

    In His Image

    Closely tied to God’s transcendent creation ex nihilo is the more specific issue of the creation of life in general and of humanity in particular. Here again, the first chapter of Genesis provides the foundation of the doctrine of the creation of man in God’s image—the imago dei. The Bible wastes no time establishing the fact that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him."

    Prior to this, Genesis 1:24, 25 uses the Hebrew term "soulish" (nephesh) to describe the advanced animals—those that display traits like mind, will, and emotion. But in the creation of man, God grants a faculty that exceeds the "soulishness" of the animals—the ability to understand, seek, and relate to the Creator himself. This is the imago dei.

    Philosopher Ken Samples contends this rich concept encompasses the uniquely human capacities of moral awareness, creativity, thirst for knowledge, and appreciation of beauty. These aspects of our common humanity set us apart from all of nature by our ability to approach God in spirit and in truth.

    It would be overreaching to say that science offers direct confirmation of the imago dei, but there is scientific support for the existence of the human soul and mind. Mathematicians and physicists have shown that the physical nature of the human brain cannot account for the functions we associate with the human mind. In other words, contrary to what atheistic science claims, your mind cannot just be a "computer made of meat." Intellect has the capability to create computers, but the opposite is not true. Computers cannot create intellect.

    Our ability to engage in abstract thought and judge the truthfulness of propositions sets human intellect apart from some purely mechanical ability to process information. This is perfectly consistent with the concept of the imago dei.

    Keeping the Big Picture

    A detailed analysis of Genesis 1:1, 2 has led theologians to make the case that the entire universe originated in a "formless and empty" (tohu wabohu) state of chaos that was in place prior to the beginning of the Genesis narrative. The initial presence of darkness and sea, both of which are signs of imperfection in the Hebrew, stand in sharp contrast to the much anticipated "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 21, which contains neither sea nor night. According to this view, Genesis 1 is an account of God’s preparing the universe for the saving work he began at the creation and will complete with the abolishment of evil in the new Heaven and earth.

    The pinnacle of God’s creative work comes on day six with the introduction of man, through whom he initiates the establishment of his kingdom on earth. Thereafter, the Bible records the history of God’s actions that lead to the future defeat of evil. God’s choice to create man to be a part of his own glorification in this cause makes humanity the primary participant in the creation’s purpose and the central reason for the existence of the entire universe. But is there any scientific evidence to support such an idea?

    More than you can imagine.

    Even atheistic cosmologists recognize what has been called the Anthropic Principle—the idea that the universe seems to be designed specifically to support conscious human life. Nature displays hundreds of distinct laws, forces, and unique relationships between them that are each specifically fine-tuned to allow life to exist. If any one of these was not exactly as it is, no life—let alone human life—could be possible.

    The level of design that has prompted scientists to formulate these anthropic explanations fully supports the Scriptural idea that the makeup of the creation reflects the remarkable level of care the Creator infused into it to serve his eternal purposes.

    At times we seem to get overwhelmed in an internal debate about when God created the universe instead of focusing on the fact that he did and why. These are the issues that shape our worldview and bring it into sharp contrast with the naturalistic alternative that is having so much impact in our culture—and so much success at capturing our young people. The remarkable coherence of the biblical creation model with modern science makes Christianity a clearly superior alternative and the most viable explanation for the world as we find it.

    That is ground we can all stand on together.

    _______________

    Bob Perry is a freelance writer living in Cincinnati, OH


    --- sidebar ---

    Evidence For the Soul and Mind

    Neuroscience has shown that simply thinking contrary thoughts can reduce the physical size of the neurological connections in the brains of patients who are afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This implies that there is something non-physical about the mind that differentiates it from the brain. Researchers could hook electrodes up to your head to monitor and map every electrical impulse firing in the neurons of your brain, but they could never know what you are thinking—unless you told them.
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    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Pursuing An Accurate Sense of Our "Esteem"

    Providing our children with self-esteem does not seem to be a problem in contemporary America. They seem to have plenty of it. I would argue that they have more of it than they deserve.

    I remember a study that was done during the 1990s by a research group that was studying the state of American education. The group released a report comparing the math scores of U.S. and Japanese high school students. The results were not surprising. The Japanese students scored significantly higher than their American counterparts on an equivalent test.

    What was notable was the response to a question asked of both groups of students right after they had finished taking the test but before they had seen the results. The Japanese students overwhelmingly expressed dejection and embarrassment for what they considered to be a poor performance on the test. The American students were confident they had aced it.

    On hearing the reports of this study, one well-known critic of the public school system in America (I believe it was William Bennett) remarked, "I think its safe to say we’ve done a good job of addressing any worries we might have had about our children’s self esteem."

    Don't misunderstand -- I get it about the self-esteem thing. There are children who live in a state of continual psychological torment by parents who don't care for them, school-mates who verbally and/or physically abuse them, and a culture who tells them their sense of worth lies in all the wrong things. This is cruel and should be resisted.

    It is also true that the abusers of our childrens' self-esteem engage in their negativity largely because they suffer from low self-esteem themselves. It is a common human flaw that propels some of us to make ourselves feel better about ourselves by cutting down someone else.

    So how does this relate to the topic of Christian Apologetics?

    This past week Dr. Alex Mcfarland, the President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, weighed in on this topic in a way that surprised me a little. In his article, "Deriving Worth from the Right Sources," Dr. McFarland addressed the improper values that plague teens (especially girls) who are engulfed in a "photo-shopped world." While I agree with his main points, his corrective "Christian Response" was to ensure that our kids "understand that their worth should be grounded in the following realities" ...
    1. They are made in God's image
    2. Jesus personally cares about them
    3. The unconditional love present in their homes
    4. The accepting haven provided by their church
    5. Their status as a resident (and heir) of heaven
    6. Confidence that God truly has a plan for them
    Now, it's tough to dispute any of these and I wouldn't try. I might simplify them in the following ways, however.
    • If this should be the Christian "response," it seems that listing numbers 2 through 5 is a bit redundant in that the are each entailed by number 1. This is not a criticism -- Dr. McFarland is simply clarifying and emphasizing what follows from the recognition of being made in God's image.
    • Number 6 is true as far as it goes but for me it evokes the flawed view shared by too many Christians that it is their job to discover what this "plan" is by breaking some secret coded message that God has hidden from plain view. Greg Koukl addresses this topic forcefully and repeatedly and I completely agree with this take on it. I won't go into it here but I believe we see God's plan by looking backward, not forward. Beyond that, Dr. McFarland's inclusion of the idea here is not negative, just superfluous.
    So, as one who likes to keep things simple, I believe that all of the above are included in the first statement -- we are made in God's image. That is the aspect of our being that should give us a positive view of who we are and serve to remind us that the cultural standards we too often accept in a negative way are hollow, deceptive, and contrary to the image of God that should define our human value.

    What bothers me about the list is the conspicuous absence of another concept that serves to balance the artificially high self-esteem that is being promoted in contemporary culture. It is this -- we are all sinners who live in a state of rebellion against God. Knowing and accepting this second truth will prevent forming the warped sense of ourselves that our culture promotes in the other direction.

    My contention is that a well-grounded Christian should resist accepting the negative view of his or her self-esteem because they recognize that they are made in God's image. But they should also temper that positive view of themselves by recognizing their own natural bent toward rebellion.

    In other words, a Christian should not focus on either the positive or negative pole of their self-worth. Instead, the Christian worldview demands adherence to an accurate picture of human nature that honors both -- that seeks the golden mean of a virtuous life. By doing so, we avoid accepting a culturally-defined standard and instead see an accurate, healthy picture of who we really are when we look in the bathroom mirror. And that's the way it should be.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Stem Cell Obfuscation

    [This is the text of my article that appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Issue 33-03, available here: "Stem Cell Obfuscation" ]

    If you pay attention to the news at all, you are probably convinced that stem cell research will eventually solve every medical challenge our society faces. The blind will see. The paralyzed will walk. Cancer will be cured. All this will be possible if the anti-science zealots in the pro-life wing of conservative politics would just get out of the way. And so, on March 9, 2009, our long walk in the scientific wilderness ostensibly came to an end when President Obama issued his Executive Order (EO) removing barriers to responsible scientific research involving human stem cells. The president’s announcement on lifting the ban said, in part:
    With the Executive Order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers; doctors and innovators; patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research…in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values…Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view. But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans—from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs—have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.
    No more false choices. No more political interference in our scientific research. The ban is lifted. Change has come!

    It should be noted that the ethical concerns some claimed to have had about the issue were assuaged by an appeal to the consensus of the majority of unidentified Americans from across the political spectrum. While it may or may not be true that a majority of Americans believe this research should be pursued, it is unclear when it was determined that ethical considerations should be affirmed by a show of hands. In any case, the president clearly implied that it was George W. Bush in particular who thwarted all advancement in scientific research because he placed his anti-scientific, Neanderthal faith ahead of the more reasonable desires of those who wanted to find cures. The new administration ended that long national nightmare with a wistful gaze at a teleprompter and the swipe of a pen. There is just one minor problem with this narrative.

    It is complete nonsense.

    The legal and political meanderings surrounding this issue have become so muddled it is instructive to distill them into recognizable form. Though most of us would be vaguely aware of at least some of these events, seeing how the stem cell issue has actually played out is stunning to behold. Consider the following timeline:

    1978: In the wake of the controversial July 25th birth of the first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano appoints an Ethics Advisory Board (EAB), which concludes that “research on very early embryos within the first 15 days of development [is] acceptable to develop techniques for in vitro fertilization (IVF).”
    • This EAB was appointed because of an earlier decision by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects to prohibit experimentation on IVF embryos unless approved by an EAB.
    • The controversy surrounding this policy led President Carter to allow the EAB’s tenure to expire. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush chose not to reestablish it—effectively blocking embryo research.
    1994: The Human Embryo Research Panel appointed by the head of the National Institute of Health’s Harold Varmus, recommends allowing the development of IVF techniques and the study of embryonic stem cells.
    • Such research would only be allowed with “spare” IVF embryos obtained through informed parental consent.
    • The panel recommended further consideration of the creation of embryos for research purposes and argued for federal funding of the same. The contentious nature of that stance led to further political maneuvers during the Clinton administration.
    1996: Congress passes, and President Clinton signs, a rider to an appropriations bill, titled the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which makes it illegal for the federal government to fund research that destroys human embryos. This rider has been reapproved by Congress and signed by the president in office every year since then.

    1998: President Clinton signs an Executive Order enforcing the ban on federal funding for ESCR that destroys human embryos. He bases his decision to do so on the restrictions created by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

    2000: After six years of taking a position against taxpayer funding of the destructive research, and on his way out of office, President Clinton flip-flops and announces his support for new federal guidelines that would allow taxpayer funding of embryo-destructive research. This apparent set-up for the incoming Gore administration backfires when Gore loses the election.

    2001—August 9th: President Bush signs an EO meant to compromise on the restrictions that had previously been placed on ESCR. This order continues the restrictions put in place by the Dickey-Wicker Amendment but allows an exception for more than $200 million in federal funding for twenty-one existing stem cell “lines” that had previously been created (through IVF). Thus, President Bush becomes the first president to allow federal funding of ESCR. At this point, federal funding for ESCR is restricted to these twenty-one lines. It is not “banned.” There is not, and there has never been, a ban on privately funded research.

    2007—June 20th: President Bush issues Executive Order #13435, which requires the government to fund research into alternative methods of obtaining pluripotent stem cells—methods such as Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPSC)—that do not require the destruction of embryos but instead “induce” regular adult skin cells to act like pluripotent cells.

    2008:
    “Scientific researchers hail the development of IPSCs as the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year.”

    2009—March 9th: President Obama rescinds Bush’s August 9, 2001, EO with his own EO entitled, Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells. The revocation of Bush’s EO is heralded as “lifting the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).” This EO simultaneously revokes Bush EO #13435, which has provided federal funding of successful IPSC research. This aspect of the order is not mentioned at the press conference.

    2009—March 11th: President Obama signs and renews the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which continues the ban on federal funding for ESCR that Obama claims to have lifted two days earlier. No announcement is made and no press conference is called.

    Whatever one’s politics, it is hard to deny the purposeful deceit and tactical shenanigans that have gone on with respect to ESCR. Obama claims to want to honor both the scientific promises of stem cell research and the ethical reservations of those who hold them. But the practical outcomes of his policies have done nothing of the sort. Though he refuses to ever acknowledge a difference between stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research, his policies have led us to the point where creating cloned embryos with the purpose of letting the created human being live is illegal, while creating cloned embryos for the purpose of tearing them apart for research purposes is encouraged and federal funding for it has been increased.
    Though he claims to have “lifted the ban of the last eight years,” two days after he did so he knowingly and quietly re-signed the amendment that overrode his own Executive Order. Though he claims to approve of “promising research,” President Obama touts the very kind of research—embryonic stem cell research—that has led to exactly zero cures. At the same time, his revocation of President Bush’s Executive Order #13435 directly eliminated federal funding for adult stem cell research such as IPSC that has already led to more than seventy-three successful therapies.

    Most disingenuously, and most importantly, Obama believes that his opponents on this issue are offering us “a false choice between sound science and moral values.” Further, in his speech at Notre Dame University, he claimed to seek “common ground” with those who do have ethical reservations about ESCR. One must wonder why, if the conflict some seem to see between sound science and moral values is a false one, there would be any need for compromise at all?

    Even if we disregard the inconsistency in those two lines of thought, it is clear that research like that being done on IPSC gives us the best of both worlds. Beyond its proven technical success, it holds the principal advantage of avoiding the very aspect of ESCR that some find ethically troubling—the destruction of human embryos.

    This represents the ultimate political winner. By promoting IPSC, Obama could not only take credit for its scientific success, but also simultaneously allay the ethical concerns that many hold. It is a political dream solution, yet Obama deliberately and quietly defunded it. This can only mean that Obama’s motivations on stem cell research are not political.
    And if they are not political, one has to wonder just what his motivations are.

    Robert Perry, M.A. (Christian Apologetics) Biola University, is a speaker with the Life Training Institute and an instructor with CrossExamined.org. He blogs about Christian worldview issues at http://true-horizon.blogspot.com.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Our Korean Connection

    With Mr. Young Kil Lee at KyungMin University in Uijeongbu
    Thanks to all who left comments and offered their support in other ways about this latest adventure Mary and I took to Korea. I'm sorry I couldn't provide updates but we had no access to the internet while we were there (beyond checking email on a public computer once). What an incredible week for me personally, and for the mission of the Life Training Institute (LTI)!

    No description of this trip to Korea would be complete without acknowledging the work of Mr. Young Kil Lee, our guide, interpreter and my newest friend. Mr. Lee worked tirelessly for months planning the trip. He led us by subway, bus, car and taxi all over Seoul, Daejon (his hometown) and Cheongju. There wasn't a day that did not include at least 4 hours of travel time, but none of it was wasted.

    Mr. Lee would tell fellow train riders that I was an American -- as if they couldn't tell :-) -- who was there to talk about "knock-tae" (abortion). He had handouts he would give them that explained the mission of LTI in Korean. One lady became so excited she asked to pray for us right there on the subway.

    I was without access to the internet for the week, so I could not update from Korea. The schedule ended up changing quite a bit (mostly with additions) since I left home, but here is a summary of the impact LTI made into a country with one of the highest abortion rates in the world:

    Sunday
    Myung Sung Presbyterian Church English Service (400)
    Uijeongbu Community Christian Church (25)

    Monday
    International Christian High School - Uijeongbu (100)
    :: Seoul sightseeing in the afternoon ::

    Tuesday
    EUCON Christian High School (35 + several parents!)
    KyungMin University Students (800 in two sessions)

    Wednesday
    Young Shin Girls High School (500)
    KyungMin University Faculty (400)

    Thursday
    Daesung Boys High School for 3 back-to-back sessions (1500 total)
    Sam Nam Church Pastor's meeting in Cheongju (40 pastors and many of their wives)

    Friday
    Kwang Sung Boys High School 2 sessions (1000 total)

    Several of the presentations included Q&A time where I was asked some pretty tough questions -- the usual kinds that we are challenged with. Though it was difficult to work through the language barrier at times, I believe the questioners were satisfied -- even when they disagreed. One lady who was pretty emphatic in her disagreement with me actually bought a group of ten of us dinner afterward and thanked us repeatedly for being there.

    While this list shows us speaking to just under 5000 students, pastors and university faculty members, it does not do justice to the impact LTI had -- largely due to Mr. Lee's strategic planning. For instance, the Myung Sung Church we visited on Sunday is the largest Presbyterian church in the world (at just over 100,000 members). Though I only spoke to about 400 at the English Service, those included faculty members from several local universities and about six of Myung Sung's pastors. Each of them approached me afterward and thanked me for "delivering this message to Korea." One of them told Mr. Lee he wished I could have spoken to the main congregation.

    On Thursday, the small pastor's meeting at Sam Nam Christian Church was planned because Cheongju is a modern and fast-growing city southeast of Seoul -- an "up and coming" place. Those 40 pastors represented an estimated 8,000 congregants who will soon have the LTI message delivered to them. It also included several more college faculty members who were drinking the message in and want to offer a "Pro-Life Seminar" on the LTI material at a local university.

    Mr. Lee thinks strategically.

    The list goes on. I cannot tell you the number of people who sat in stunned disbelief when they heard and saw the truth about abortion -- or how many left in tears. It is a subject that Koreans simply have not talked about -- until now.

    I think the Korea trip was a huge success but I'll leave it to Mr. Lee (in his second language, please remember) to sum it up:
    Thank you Bob and Mary for your sweet testimony of Jesus that you showed to me and thousands Korean people everywhere your presence were. Many Koreans were blessed and trained by your sacrificial and loving ministry of your message with clear answer to the question WHAT IS THE UNBORN? I pray God will continue to work His will in many thousands lives that heard this message from you so that they will be lead by the Holy Spirit to protect many lives of the unborn. I expect to keep communicating with you and will hear of your next coming to Korea for the ministry in Korea for Korean people.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Korean Pro-Life Trip

    Abortion is illegal in Korea -- yet the country has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. For that reason, friends of the Life Training Institute have been working to provide some pro-life training to the good people of Korea for quite some time.

    This Friday, my wife and I will be leaving for Seoul for a week of speaking engagements at churches, high schools and to the students and faculty at a university campus. All will be centered on the pro-life issues of abortion and/or stem cell research.

    This is a huge undertaking for me -- "daunting" is the word that keeps coming to mind -- so I greatly appreciate the words of encouragement and support I have already received from many friends and family. And, for all those who have made it, I also appreciate the commitment to pray for a safe and effective trip -- that those who hear the information would be receptive to it, and that they would be the catalyst for change in their country.

    Though it seems to be changing by the hour, this is the latest version of the schedule that has been planned for me. I don't know what kind of internet access I will have, but I will try to report as best I can as the week goes on.

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    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    The Darwinian Assumption: Baby Talk

    As a follow up to my post about the evidence for an innate and highly developed sense of consciousness in newborn and infant babies, I was amazed, not only at the level of development the studies uncovered, but in terminology used to describe it. Here, for instance, are a few examples:
    1. "... babies are exquisitely designed ______ to change and create, to learn and explore. Those capacities, so intrinsic to what it means to be human, appear in their purest forms in the earliest years of our lives."
    2. "Children reason in complex and subtle ways that cannot be explained by simple associations or rules."
    3. "Fundamentally, babies are designed to learn."
    4. "If the brain is a computer ____________, we can ask about the _______ justification and neurological basis for the extraordinary learning abilities we see in very young children."
    These are all extraordinary statements that support the plain observation that a baby's intellect displays the appearance of design. But what I think makes each of them even more significant is that -- in the blanks left in statements 1) and 4) -- the author has inserted the words: "by evolution," "designed by evolution," and "evolutionary," respectively. This is because ...

    "The central idea of cognitive science is that the brain is a kind of computer designed by evolution and programmed by experience."

    On what basis does the author make this claim? There is no supporting evidence given -- and there never is. It is simply an assumption made by those who will not accept any other explanation. But two facts make this bold assertion highly unconvincing. The first resides earlier within the same article!

    Remember from my first post that the author, who wants us to accept this as "the central idea of cognitive science," has also just reported that:
    • Infants understand fundamental physical relations such as movement trajectories, gravity and containment
    • Infants are born knowing much of what adults know about how objects and people behave
    • Newborns already understand that people are special ..."
    All these traits are displayed by newborns that, by definition, could not have been "programmed by experience." They are infants. They don't have any "experience."

    The second fact is directly applicable to the claim, repeated over and over again by the author, that the brain is "a computer designed by evolution." Notice (in quote number 2. above) her assertion that: "Children reason in complex and subtle ways that cannot be explained by simple associations or rules."

    OK, but what else does evolution have to offer? Darwinian Evolution is, by definition, a mindless, purposeless, mechanistic system, that can bring about nothing but a product based on the "associations" between various physical particles and the "rules" of physics and chemistry that govern them.

    Yet materialists, forced by their own philosophical presuppositions to deny the existence of anything other than the physical world, routinely proclaim that our minds and the ideas contained within them are completely reducible to the matter, and the behavior of the matter, contained in our brains. This understanding was summed up well by Sir Francis Crick when he announced that we ". . . are nothing but a pack of neurons."

    On this view, the human mind is simply a computer made of meat that can be completely explained by studying the ways in which neurons function. Philosopher John Lucas and mathematician/physicist Roger Penrose have formulated a brilliant rebuttal to this naturalistic view, based on the work of Austrian logician Kurt Gödel.

    This work showed that the brain cannot be a computer made of meat for one simple reason: Assuming that it is, and that there is computer program running in our brains, means that we should be able to modify the "program" -- which infers that we would be able to outwit ourselves -- a notion that is completely incoherent. The explanation for their sophisticated thinking is beyond the scope of this blog, and beyond my ability to explain sufficiently, but you can find a detailed explanation (as I did) in Stephen Barr's, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith -- a book that was published in 2003.*

    It is not religious hocus-pocus, or wishful thinking that led to this proof. Lucas and Penrose use logic and mathematical reasoning to show that the materialistic view that the human brain cannot simply be a computer made of meat is demonstrably false. Yet, here we are reading in Scientific American at least seven years later, about how evolution designed the computer that is our brain.

    The baseless assertions and obvious contradictions made by those who demand that "evolution is a fact," never cease to amaze me. Maybe Evolution is true. Maybe all the magical capabilities attributed to it really are possible. But can someone please tell us exactly how this works ... or can they at least stop contradicting themselves when they insist on labeling things -- things that even they admit blatantly display all the traits of design -- with a forced, and unsupported, materialistic explanation? Can they do so without pretending that their claims have not already been legitimately falsified?

    Just once?
    _______________
    * Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 195.
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    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Free eBook: "Is Christianity True?"

    lBook V3 e-bookImage via Wikipedia
    Several months ago I participated in an apologetics essay project over at Apologetics 315. One of the goals of the project was the publication of an eBook that would contain a compilation of all the essays contributed. The eBook is now available (FREE!) for download here: "Is Christianity True?"

    Check it out. If any of the essays generate questions or comments, I would be happy to address them ...
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    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Stem Shell Game

    On Monday August 23, 2010, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. issued an injunction on the use of federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research. The New York Times’ (for one example) reaction to the announcement was one of stunned indignation:
    "The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law."
    What the Times failed to note in its story was that Judge Lamberth was not the first federal official to strike a legal blow against President Barack Obama's stem cell policy and thereby block federal funding of embryo destructive stem cell research. The first such move actually occurred on March 11, 2009. That move was made by ... President Barack Obama.

    The fact is that Judge Lamberth's ruling is perfectly consistent with the law. While the administration, with great public fanfare, claimed to have "lifted the ban" on ESCR with his March 9, 2009 Executive Order (EO), Mr. Obama quietly overrode his own EO just two days later when he re-signed (as has every president since 1996) the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a federal appropriations bill (as Scott noted in his post on the subject). The Dickey-Wicker Amendment bans public funding of research that destroys human embryos. Mr. Obama signed it. He didn't call a big press conference to herald the occasion because doing so would not fit the narrative he is trying to sell about his forward looking faith in science as opposed to the Luddite opponents of ESCR.

    The dirty little secret here is that the stem cell research EO Mr. Obama and those who are carrying his water have called "policy" and referred to as "settled law" is a hollow document that carries no legal force. His signing of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law is binding and the unquestionable basis on which Judge Lamberth rendered his decision.

    The reality of that fact is something pro-lifers need to soak in. Though it is becoming a fading memory, it serves to remind us of another EO Mr. Obama issued during the health care debate. In exchange for the votes of so-called "pro-life Democrats," Mr. Obama issued an EO proclaiming there would be no federal funding of abortion in the health care bill. They bought it. He signed it. And now we are left with an EO on abortion that contains the same amount of legal power we find in his EO on stem cell research.

    None.

    Judge Lamberth's ruling is also perfectly consistent with basic ethical reasoning. Where adult and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (IPSC) research have produced more than 75 successful therapies, embryonic stem cell research has produced exactly zero. Yet, Mr. Obama continues to push for the latter. And while they may be smaller and less developed, the embryos he wants to use are distinct, genetically whole, living human beings. That fact is scientific, not religious. There is no ethical justification for taking the life of a defenseless human being -- no matter his/her size or level of development -- for the benefit of another.

    The truth is that adult and IPSC research constitute the common ground that Mr. Obama claims to seek. They are more successful and they do not entail the destruction of human beings. This is a political win-win. Mr. Obama could claim the successes of these therapies while at the same time assuaging the ethical concerns of those who hold them. Yet, for some unknown reason, he never undertakes a single action that would further his claim to seek that common ground.

    Given Mr. Obama's political nature and the political power he wields as the most powerful man on earth, one has to wonder why he wouldn't take advantage of the political win-win being offered. That he doesn't do so tells us that his motivations on this issue aren't political. And if they're not political, one has to wonder just what his motivations really are.
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    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Kids Do The Darndest Things

    The July, 2010 issue of Scientific American contains an article that Peter Singer and his fellow materialists may find in curious opposition to their infanticidal belief system as it relates to the (so-called) personhood -- or lack thereof -- of those they see fit to eliminate. In direct opposition to earlier research that described children's thoughts as "irrational and illogical, egocentric, amoral and with out any concept of cause and effect," new studies and techniques instead "look at what babies do instead of what they say." The results are fascinating.

    Without going into detail here (you can access the entire article at: "How Babies Think"), I'd like to summarize a few of the discoveries that behavioral psychologists have previously "never thought possible."

    First, let's remember that Dr. Singer, in his book Practical Ethics, defends the parallel notions that newborn infants should not be considered persons until 30 days after birth and that, disabled newborns can be ethically killed on the spot by the doctor who delivers them. With that in mind, consider some of what the SciAm article reports:
    • Babies can detect statistical patterns of musical tones and visual scenes, and also more abstract grammatical patterns
    • Babies can understand the relation between a statistical sample and a population
    • Babies are not completely egocentric -- they can take the perspective of another person
    But enough about babies. There is even more that has been discovered about infants:
    • Infants understand fundamental physical relations such as movement trajectories, gravity and containment
    • Infants are born knowing much of what adults know about how objects and people behave
    And here's my favorite ... The author of the SciAm article (Alison Gopnik of Cal Berkeley) believes that "the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of other people." While I disagree with her -- the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of the truth -- I understand the point of view from which she makes the claim. In any case, Gopnik reports that Dr. Andrew N. Meltzoff of the University of Washington has shown that:

    "Newborns already understand that people are special ..."

    If only Peter Singer could re-connect with this innate knowledge that seems to have eluded him.

    I have always appreciated Peter Singer for showing us the actual ends to which his naturalistic worldview leads -- speciesism, the moral neutrality of bestiality, justification for infanticide etc. Describing his views to people shocks them into considering not only the horrific conclusions to which his worldview leads, but that it may actually be wrong. But it turns out that the main premise on which he bases his justification for infanticide -- that infants are not sentient and therefore not "persons" -- is false. Newborns actually are sentient after all. They are so sentient in fact, they understand that other people are "special" to a greater degree than Peter Singer does.

    Let me be clear. The findings reported in this Scientific American article have no bearing on the case we make at the Life Training Institute. Our claim is that human beings at all stages of development are valuable simply in virtue of the kind of thing they are -- for their intrinsic value. What these newborns can do (their instrumental value) is irrelevant. I just find it satisfying to see that, even by Peter Singer's own dubious standards, his case collapses in light of the scientific evidence.

    There is more to this report -- like what the author attributes these findings to -- but I'll save that for the next post.
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