Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World" by Miroslav Volf

"To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one." So states Miroslav Volf in his book that I have been reading "The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World." I have covered the first two chapters over the past two Fridays. I am only reading one chapter per Friday not because of its difficulty but because of its depth. This is a work that needs to be read slow so that one can fully understand what Volf is attempting to convey.

"To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one." (Volf, The End of Memory, p.9). Evil's first victory is the perpetration of the evil act. The second, according to Volf, is when evil is returned for evil. After the first victory, Volf tells us, the real evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life. Here Volf is specifically referring to the role our memory plays in how we respond to what has been done to us. How we choose to remember after suffering at the hands of others will determine our soul's destiny. In "The End of Memory", Volf is concerned with how we respond to evil in our memory in a way that brings reconciliation between God and Man and between victim and abuser.

In 1984, Volf was living in Communist controlled Yugoslavia when he was summoned for a compulsory year of military service. Two aspects of his life caused him to be viewed with suspicion by the Communist authorities. First, he was married to an American. Second, he had studied theology in the West. Both of these factors led the Communists to suspect him of being a potential political dissident or a spy.

Throughout his year of military service, Volf was subject to unrelenting interrogations by army officials. He was not tortured. His interrogators were always different, except for one, who Volf refers to as "Captain G." The memory of Captain G. and his treatment of Volf is the focal point of Volf's struggle to forgive.

True, Volf suffered no torture, but the year of interrogations left its mark on him. At the time he knew he was at their mercy and knew torture could be employed if his tormentors so wished. As Volf's every word and action were twisted by the Communists, Volf was made to feel that as a person, he was nothing. This led Volf to view the world with a mistrust of everyone. His mind was made a slave by the memory of Captain G. "It was as though Captain G. had moved into the very household of my mind, ensconced himself right in the middle of its living room, and I had to live with him." (Volf, p. 7)

The memory of captain G. forced the issue on Volf that is the very purpose for writing the book: how do the followers of Jesus Christ who do not want to hate but who have no desire to disregard past abuse remember those who have abused them? How do those called by God to love remember the wrong and the one who committed the wrong? Those who have been wronged are not called upon to suppress their memories, but to love those who wronged us with a love that does not exclude a concern for justice yet goes beyond justice. How do we remember wrong doing rightly?

According to Volf, memories of abuse are not just a private matter since others are always implicated. According to Volf, there are three relationships in which the one who has been wronged stands. First, their relationship to the wrong doer. Second, the relationship of the abuse to the social context out of which it arose. Third, how do we remember our wrongdoer rightly? What were their motives? Also, how do we remember in the context of our own status as sinners before God? Finally, what effect does Christ's death have on an abuser's sin, sin that has has been atoned for by Christ? As Christ died for all, we are to seek the salvation of all, including our abusers. How will we relate to those who have abused us if we meet again at Christ's banquet table? These are the questions asked by Volf in the first chapter, "Memory of Interrogations."

In chapter two, entitled "Memory: Sword and Shield", Volf explores memory along the philosophical lines of Elie Weisel, the noted Holocaust survivor. Volf, along with Weisel, seeks to find a way to redeem memories of wrongs suffered by individuals. This task is not just a mental exercise engaged in just for the sake of it by philosophers; the negative use of memory by those who are victimized can perpetuate the evil that is done by the original wrong doers. To prevent an endless cycle of repaying evil for evil, we must seek a way to redeem the memories of what we have suffered at the hands of others. To this end, Volf asks three questions: What does it take to remember for positive rather than destructive effects? How can memory become a bridge that unites wrong doer and victim? "How can former enemies remember together so as to reconcile, and how can they reconcile so as to remember together?" It is these three questions Volf in "The End of Memory" seeks to answer.

Volf points out that we are not at the mercy of our memories. We are stronger than them in that we play a part in shaping them. Volf likens the totality of our memories to a quilt. What is sewn in and discarded, what is prominently featured on the quilt, and what material constitutes background depends on how we sew our memories together. Others as well play a role in how our memory is shaped. Memory is not all powerful in forming who we are; we ourselves shape our memories. (Volf, p.25)

How can memory play a part in our salvation? Volf deals with several aspects of memory to seek an answer. He examines memory's relationship to healing, how memory can lead us to seek solidarity with current victims of injustice and how it protects us from further victimization in the future. Yet Volf recognizes that memory alone is not sufficient for salvation. It is our use of memory that determines who we are and what we are to become. It is that use of memory, how it shapes us and how we shape it, that the rest of the book deals with.

"The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World" is published by Eerdmans.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Hand Is Now Two Years Old

It is now two years ago that this blog was launched. It is my hope that those who read it, or those who stumble on it, receive some edification from it. This blog exists for dialogue. Dialogue on spiritual matters, theology, trends in the Wesleyan world and the Church at large. It features a few regular continuing series's such as "Monday Morning Devotions" (short impressionistic studies on Biblical passages that will be later developed into sermons), occasional sermons, "Close Encounters of the Theological Kind", "Clouds of Witnesses" (celebrations of past saints and the present struggles of the Global Church), and what I call "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual." (This last title has cause some comment. It refers to how I try to spend my Friday evenings, reading Christian and secular works on important subjects current in the Church or in the news. No, I am not the intellectual referred to in the title: the author I am engaging is the intellectual. In many of these posts I share what I ate, which sometimes is of dubious nutritional value, where I read and what I listened to. This is about as personal as I get on this blog. Those who know my phone number are welcome to call and discuss what I am reading or bring up another subject on Friday evenings. If you haven't figured this out by now, anyone who spends his Friday evenings in this way must be single.) The Hand is not limited to Christian topics; a good many posts on secular matters, such as history, politics and literature, are covered. Some may counsel me to narrow my focus to gain a specific audience, yet if Christians fail to join the debate and discussion with the secular world, that would widen the perceived divide between the spiritual realm and the secular one. Anyway, it is my hope that readers find plenty of material to express their opinions on in the Comments Section. Those that disagree are welcome to register their disagreements. One series in particular caused some to do just that.

As I look back over the past year, The Hand would like to mention the most important works examined on this blog this year. "The New Faces Of Global Christianity: Believing the Bible In The Global South" by Philip Jenkins is a look at what the Church looks like in Asia, Africa and Central and South America. Jenkins points out that the center of gravity for the Church in the 21st Century will shift to these regions. Jenkins's portrait of the Church in these regions causes hope for the future while at the same time scaring the Northern Christian as to the what shape the Church will take in the future. There was simply too much material for one review. This next year I will examine each chapter in detail plus the end notes. I will examine the implications for how the Bible may be viewed by the future Church. How will this effect the Church's Scriptural Witness? Will the intrusion of secular mindsets and morals into the Church be halted? Will the Church as a whole emphasize healing and spiritual warfare? What will be the effect of some of the more questionable doctrinal positions held by many in the third world? The other book was "The Way To Pentecost" by Samuel Chadwick. With the exception of John Wesley's "A Short Account Of Christian Perfection", this work by Chadwick is simply the best work on why we need the experience of sanctification, how to become sanctified and what sanctification should look like in the believer. The book is free of theological jargon that has confused many Christians seeking a deeper spiritual life. I will return to this work as well next year.

Next year I hope to begin audio blogging. I'll begin experimenting this month with it. Audio blogging would allow me to post sermons and short devotions. Also, when I return to my hometown, where free wifi is scarce, it will make the posting of articles easier. I might possibly create a third blog exclusively for posting sermons.

Of the articles published this year, which ones are worth the most in mentioning? First would be the series chronicling my experiences in prison ministry. These were prompted by Tim Sheets at . Tim stumbled on my other blog and read my profile. Reading that I had three years of prison ministry experience, he asked me what I meant by the term "prison ministry" and what my experiences were. In response, I published a three part account of my experiences. The main purpose was to show how the Holy Spirit works in our witnessing and the sufficiency of the Word in bringing people to Christ. However, the only person to respond was an individual who accused me of being heretical and twisted everything I said. I tried to get her to engage in constructive dialogue, but she refused. Most her comments did not even have to do with what was written. This experience led me to start using the "Comment Moderation" option offered by Blogger, which allows me to reject comments before they have a chance to be published in the Comments section. One can read these three short posts by clicking the link to March's articles in the archive section of this blog. I will probably republish them next year.

The most memorable experience in blogging this year concerned the October series Exposing ExpelledExposed. This series grew out of a positive review of Ben Stein's documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that I posted in May after seeing the film in the theater. Within ninety minutes after posting the article, a blogger calling himself Ben Franklin disagreed in the Comments section. He recommended a site that he confidently asserted would disprove every claim made by Expelled. That site is put out an organization called The National Center For Science Education, which works to prevent alternatives to Darwinian Evolution being taught in American Public Education. I had a spirited debate with Ben Franklin concerning the veracity of the website. That debate led me to do a series on expelledexposed and its claims. The time and effort put into the series rivals the efforts undertaken on certain class projects in seminary. After five weeks of research and writing (nearly 50 handwritten pages) and typing, I thought the work was completed. However, never did I realize that before publication, each of the eight articles required hours of continual rewriting. This series prompted more comments than any other series. It is interesting that while those who disagreed with me would only discuss the issue of Evolution and Creationism in general terms, they avoided the real arguments in the articles as well as the evidence backing them up. Even though the subject matter was not the usual content that appears here, I had a great time with it. A link to all eight articles in the series can be located in the blog roll to the right side of the page on this blog.

I hope that next year you might find something in the content of this blog that helps you spiritually and stimulates thinking. Before I close I must thank my friend and fellow seminarian, Jason Kranzusch at for convincing me to start blogging.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" by Antony Flew. Part III

On Friday, 11/21/08, I ate at home while doing laundry. My supper consisted of cold turkey and gravy, a stuffed pepper, and two sugar-free oreos. With supper and laundry done, I headed out to a local Starbucks. There I drank coffee, listened to the typical mix of Starbucks music (let's save the planet now, James Taylor and Willie Nelson) and reread the Introduction to "There is A God" plus it's appendices. The Introduction and first appendix was written by philosopher and writer Roy Abraham Varghese. They concern the intellectual merits of the "New Atheism" as espoused by Richard Dawkins and others.. The second appendix is an interview of N.T. Wright by Antony Flew. I will not include my views on this interview; either in December or January, I will discuss what Wright had to say in a continuing series on this blog, "Close Encounters of the Theological Kind."

Varghese has been involved in the philosophical debate between theists and atheists for some time. Where does the New Atheism fit in in the debates over the past few decades? Varghese's answer: it fits in no where. Why? Among other reasons, Dawkins and company refuse to engage in the real issues surrounding the issue of God's existence such as the evident rationality at work in the universe, life understood as autonomous agency, consciousness, conceptual thought and the concept of self. (Flew, There Is A God, Introduction, p. xvii) In fact Varghese demonstrates that Dawkins atheism is a faith claim, a rival to the faith claims of monotheistic religions. Varghese quotes Dawkins to demonstrate that Dawkins views are based on belief and not evidence:

"I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe." (Flew, p. xix)

In the Introduction, Varghese demonstrates the rather nasty rhetoric the New Atheists aim at their opponents. Dawkins did not exempt Flew from such attacks when Flew embraced theism. Those wanting specifics can read the Introduction, or click the above link to Dawkins above.

The first appendix, also written by Varghese, is called "The 'New Atheism': A Critical Appraisal of Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger." According to Varghese, the New atheism's foundation is the stated belief that a supernatural God does not exist and that all their arguments hinge on proving this point. Varghese states that Dawkins and company fail to establish this foundation because they ignore five phenomena which are relevant to whether or not God exists. These phenomena, Varghese points out, are present in our immediate experiences and can only be explained by God's existence. These five are:

1. The rationality implicit in the totality of our interaction with the physical universe.

2. Our capacity to act autonomously.

3. The existence of consciousness; the ability to be aware.

4. "Conceptual thought, the power of articulating and understanding meaningful symbols such as are embedded in language."

5. "The human self, the 'center' of consciousness, thought, and action." (Flew, Appendix I, p. 161-162)

Most of the appendix is concerned with dealing with these five phenomena in greater detail.

Varghese points out that these five are not proofs for God's existence; they are in fact five factors that cannot be rationally denied, factors which presuppose God's existence. (Flew, Appendix I, p. 162)

This is how Varghese briefly summarizes the atheists' view of the origin of life:

"But the atheist position is that, at some point in the history of the universe,the impossible and inconceivable took place. Undifferentiated matter (here we include energy), at some point became 'alive,' then conscious, then conceptually proficient, then an 'I' " (Flew, Appendix I, p. 163)

Varghese uses the example of a table to illustrate the absurdity of the atheists' position. No matter how long the table remains, it will never evolve into a conscious being. And what is true for the table is true for all nonliving subatomic particles. (Flew, Appendix I, p. 163-164)

I particularly like Varghese's retort to the atheists' contention that all thought, no matter how noble, is nothing but neural transactions. Varghese refutes this notion with this illustration:

"But to say that a given thought is one specific neural transaction set is as inane as suggesting that the idea of justice is nothing but certain marks of ink on paper. It is incoherent, then, to suggest that consciousness and thought are simply and solely physical transactions." (Flew, p.164

Even before Flew himself abandoned atheism for theism, he was critical of Dawkin's atheistic writings. Dawkins believes that all human actions and thoughts are the product of our genetic makeup. We are programmed to survive, to look out for number one. There is no room for human freedom of choice; we are all slaves of the genetic machine. Dawkin refers to the genes responsible for such programming as "the selfish gene." (Flew, p. 79-80) Flew disagrees:

"Genes, of course, can be neither selfish or unselfish anymore than they or any other nonconscious entities can engage in competition or make selections." (Flew, p. 80)

I have only skimmed the surface of this book. As I wrote earlier, this book is written so the average reader who is not a professional scientist or philosopher can understand. Flew has not embraced the Christian faith, yet what he has written has great value in the Christian witness to those whose scientific views prevent them form acknowledging a creator. Flew states that Christianity is the one religion that he would embrace. Let us hope that the eighty-five year old's journey from atheism to theism ends with his repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

This concludes this brief examination of "There Is A God.'' The next work featured on "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will be Miroslav Volf's "The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" by Antony Flew. Part II

Last Friday my brother and I went ate at a Mexican restaurant and engaged in a political discussion. After that, I went to a coffee house and ordered coffee and two small dark chocolate squares. I am not supposed to consume sugar, but dark chocolate is good for the blood pressure. Since they were only 50 cents each and very small, I felt neither fear nor guilt. After all, after any discussion of politics with my brother, I need something good for the blood pressure. As I consumed my coffee and medicinal chocolate, and listened to who knows what on the loud speaker, I read Part II of Antony Flew's "There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind". I will give a brief summary of most of the chapters.

Pilgrimage Of Reason: Here Flew outlines what he believes concerning creation by an Intelligence. Flew believes that a Divine Intelligence created the universe based on three reasons. One, nature obeys laws. Two, the dimension of life, the rise of intellectually organized and purpose driven beings from matter. Three, the very existence of nature. Flew does not attribute his shift in thinking to any new phenomenon or argument. He switched from atheism to theism because of his constant assessment of already existing evidence. (Flew, There Is A God, p. 89) Science was not his only guide; as a philosopher, philosophy played a significant role in the formation of his views on life's origins. How does Flew justify bringing philosophy into the quest for the origin of life? Flew's answer is that when one is researching something such as the chemical interaction of two particles, one is engaged in science. But when one speculates as to why these two particles, or anything physical exists, then one is engaging in philosophy. "When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking as a philosopher." (Flew, p. 89) Remember that Flew has not embraced the Triune God, but his God is the God of Aristotle, and according to Flew, his journey to theism has been one of reason and not faith. (Flew, p. 92-93)

Who Wrote The Laws Of Nature?: Flew examines what modern scientists have believed about the study of the universe and its origins. Einstein believed in a God apart from nature; Einstein stated that "he who knows nature knows God, but not because nature is God, but because the pursuit of science in studying nature leads to religion." (Flew, p. 101) Flew spends most of the chapter demonstrating that many of the 20th century's most important scientists have believed in God, though not necessarily claimed to be Christians. He also tackles briefly the atheist belief that the laws of nature exist unreasonably therefore making the universe absurd. This is an argument that collides head-on with the assumption of order in the universe that made modern science possible. Flew concludes this chapter by claiming that "Those scientists who point to the Mind of God...propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable." (Flew, p. 112)

Did The Universe Know We Were Coming?: This is my favorite chapter in the book because it asks a question I have never heard asked before: If there was no divine intelligence responsible for the creation of the earth and the universe, then why does it seem that the laws of nature seem to have been crafted so as to render the universe capable of the creation and reproduction of life? Why was this the case before the emergence of living creatures? (Flew, p. 114) Flew also challenges proponents of the "multi-verse." Those who propound this theory believe that not just one universe was created, but several were created and ours just happens to contain the conditions that support life. Flew quotes Richard Swinburne in debunking this theory: "It is crazy to postulate a trillion (causally unconnected) universes to explain the features of one universe, when postulating one entity (God) will do the job." (Flew, p. 119)

How Did Life Go Live?: Flew points out this problem: most scientists seeking to explain the origin of life rarely explore the philosophical implications of their work, philosophers on the other hand rarely address issues concerning the nature and origin of life. Flew quotes philosopher Richard Cameron as stating that Aristotle did not consider the existence of life and teleology (the philosophical study of purpose and ends) to exist together by chance. "Aristotle", Cameron says, "...defined life in teleological terms, holding that teleology is essential to the life of living things." (Flew, p. 124-125) Flew quotes another philosopher, David Conway, challenging the contention of some such as David Hume that life was not originated by any form of intelligence. To prove Hume's contention, according to Cameron, two things must be explained: how did living matter with teleological organizations emerge from non-teleological, non-living matter, and how did life forms that can reproduce themselves come into being without the guidance of an intelligence? (Flew, p. 125-126) And what about the existence of DNA? Where did an environment that can interpret the meaning in the genetic code in living creatures originate? (Flew, p. 129)

Open To Omnipotence: Science alone cannot furnish evidence for God's existence, according to Flew. But three items of evidence can only be explained in terms of the work of a Divine Intelligence: the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existense of the universe. "Such a discovery of the Divine does not come through experiments and equations, but through an understanding of the structures they unveil and unmap." (Flew, p. 155) When Flew was growing up, the question of why evil was allowed to exist by a loving God led him to become an atheist. Now Flew believes that the existence of evil is not evidence for there being no God at all. "Certainly the existence of evil and suffering must be faced. However, philosophically speaking, that is a separate issue from the question of God's existence. Nature may have its imperfections, but this says nothing as to whether it had an ultimate Source. Thus, the existence of God does not depend on the existence of warranted or unwarranted evil." (Flew,p. 156)

Tonight I finish reading "There Is A God." I will reread the introduction and the appendices plus some of Flew's statements on Richard Dawkins and his atheistic views. The second appendix is a conversation between Flew and N.T. Wright, whom Flew states gives the best apologetic for the Christian faith. As for Flews views on Christianity versus the world's other religions, Flew states that ' other religion enjoys anything like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. If you're wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!" (Flew, p.157)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Matters Of Life In The U.S. And U.K.

The Stand To Reason Blog ran a post in October on when does life begin. It seems from the evidence it cites that there is less controversy concerning this matter in the scientific community than the public has been led to believe. The blog links to a White Paper which outlines the scientific evidence that life begins at the moment of conception. I may feature this White Paper soon on this blog. After reading this, no one should be able to claim that the question as to when life begins is above any one's pay grade.

The next stories are from the BBC. These two concern matters I thought we would be likely to deal with in the future. But I was wrong. The issues have been made present concerns. The first article features claims by scientists that frozen embryos are more likely to be born healthy that non-frozen ones. Particularly, they are less likely to be born prematurely. Would a nation that forces National Health Care upon its citizens create incentives for women to freeze embryos to relieve the state of the burden of caring for those born prematurely? Could there be a choice given by the state to women that the state either pay for this "service" or pay for an abortion? The other story is even more surprising. Did you know that a procedure exists to surgically determine the sex of a child? It does exist but is not legal in all countries. You would think that it would be legal in the U.K. and Europe, but it is not. But it is legal here in the USA. Often times the procedure produces more than one child in the womb and so abortion is provided for if the couple does not wish to have more than one child from the procedure. A British Doctor is quoted as being worried about the burden of multiple births, not just on the mother, but on the National Health Service. Amazing. If some children should be born, their lives would cost the government!

Obama would appreciate this, in fact, he voted for something very much like it in the Illinois Legislature. It seems that the British Government would like to begin sex education classes in their schools starting at age five. The government says it will work with religious schools to make sure those school's values are not ignored. But what of those religious groups that oppose all sex education classes in schools? Will sanctions be brought against them to bring them into line?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Current Happenings In Afghanistan

It is very likely that the United States and its allies will be sending more troops to Afghanistan. There are already 33,000+ soldiers already operating there against al-qaeda and the Taliban. When troops currently serving in Iraq are redeployed to Afghanistan, the news will shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. (Provided that the current stability in Iraq is maintained.) While some hope that the same tactics that were implemented in the Surge in Iraq will produce identical results in Afghanistan, some experts believe an entirely different approach is what is needed in Afghanistan: see this article from Reuters. The Taliban vows that it will eventually win the conflict, yet they fear a peace deal between the current Afghan government and al-qaeda would leave the Taliban out in the cold. There are rumors that such a deal is in the making,but al-qaeda might be correct that the rumors are a tactic to split al-qaeda and the Taliban. If that is the case, we can only pray for the success of such tactics as we pray for the Afghan people who are suffering from decades-long warfare.

Since more American troops may be sent into harms way into Afghanistan, I though it would be helpful to link to a few recent news stories coming out of that country. First, the negative:

1. The killing of a Christian aid worker by the Taliban.

2. A recent suicide bomber murders civilians.

3. An attack on young school girls with acid.

4. Treatment of Afghan women prisoners.

And now the positive, how Afghan civilians are responding against militant Islam and working to create a better life for themselves:

1. Afghans protest publicly against the murder of their fellow citizens.

2. Literacy used as a weapon against the recruitment efforts of militant Islam.

3. The milk trade promises to raise many Afghans out of poverty.

One of the reasons why that the tide turned for the Coalition Forces in Iraq was the civilians disgust with the barbaric cruelty that al-qaeda inflicted upon them. The same may happen in Afghanistan as civilians see what militant Islam has in store for them. This phenomenon may be repeated where ever militant Islam seeks to expand, as this article concerning Somalia demonstrates.

Dr. Andrew Jackson at is opposed to increasing the military commitment in Afghanistan. Read his post concerning this here.

Dr. Matt Friedeman at has a good article on five reasons Muslims convert to Christ.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Clouds of Witnesses: Modern Day Persecution

Two Sundays ago my pastor mentioned that that Sunday was a day set aside to pray for the persecuted Church. This reminded me that I have been remiss in following through on one of the purposes for this blog: to highlight the struggles of the saints around the world, saints from both the past and the present. I have saved these links for the past few weeks so that you could know some concrete examples of brothers and sisters suffering for their faith.

These first links concern the recent outbreak of violence against Christians in the state of Orissa in India: this is from Ben Witherington's blog concerning the violence in general (click here and then scroll down to 10/16/80 to "Blessed are the Martyrs who Die in the Lord Henceforth), this is from Christianity Today concerning an attack on a nun, and this on the conversion of a 19 year old from Hinduism to Christ.

These are stories from the BBC and Christianity Today. The first concerns violence against Christians in Mosul, Iraq; the second concerns the murder of a Christian Aid worker in Afghanistan who represented an agency called Serve Afghanistan.

The violence that has engulfed the Congo is not religious in origin, yet there are many Christians and Christian agencies in the region. We need to pray for their situation as well as all those who are suffering because of the fighting. These four stories give the background to the current fighting: from Christianity Today, from the Christian Science Monitor, and these two stories from the BBC. The BBC has recently published two sets of pictures of the conflict, here and here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "There Is A God:How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" by Antony Flew. Part I

Last Friday evening, I had a chicken burrito at Taco Bell and then went to a coffee house to consume coffee while alternative music on XM radio filled the air. In those hours, I read the first part of Antony Flew's account of his journey from Atheism to Deism, a belief in God. This account is entitled "There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind."

Flew, an only child, grew up in a Christian household. His father was a prominent Methodist minister and teacher. Despite Antony's later atheism, his fathers scholarly methods had a life long impact on Antony's method of intellectual inquiry. When searching for the meaning of an Old Testament concept, instead of just thinking the concept through on their own, Flew's father and his students investigated all the contemporary examples concerning the use of the relevant Hebrew word. The example of his father encouraged Flew to gather and consider in context all the relevant data on a subject. Flew commented on this example from his father:

"It is ironic, perhaps, that the household in which I grew up very likely instilled in me the enthusiasm for critical investigation that would lead me to reject my father's faith." (Flew, p. 12)

Flew grew up in 1930's England. His father spoke German, so the family took vacations and attended Church conferences in Germany as the Nazi threat was developing. It was during this time that Flew came face to face with the twin evils of anti-Semitism and totalitarianism. He began to question why an all loving God would allow such evils to exist. By the time he turned fifteen, without informing his parents, he had become a convinced atheist.

At Oxford, Flew became a member of the Socratic Club which was chaired at that time by C.S. Lewis. It was at a Socratic Club meeting in 1950 that Flew presented an essay entitled "Theology and Falsification", which was the most widely printed philosophical essay in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Flew explains the purpose of the essay in "There Is A God":

"My primary purpose in 'Theology and Falsification' was to spice up the bland dialogue between logical positivism and the Christian religion and to set discussion between belief and unbelief upon different and more fruitful lines. I was not offering any comprehensive doctrine about all religious belief or all religious language. I was not saying that statements of religious belief were meaningless. I simply challenged religious believers to explain how their statements are to be understood, especially in the light of conflicting data." (Flew, p. 44-45)

According to Flew, the most radical response came from an Oxford professor, R.M. Hare. Hare believed that religious utterances were not statements but what Hare called "blik." A blik is an interpretation of an experience that cannot be verified or proven false. This includes all experiences, including religious ones. In other words, religious experiences lack any rational basis to belief. (Flew, p. 45) This view has its roots in Descarte's belief, shared by Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant that "that a person was an incorporeal subject who had only private experience." However, Flew had immersed himself in what was called "The New Philosophy" which had a great following at Oxford while he was there. The "New Philosophy" rejected Descartes view of man and experience. Flew sided with the "New" approach:

"This belief (Descartes) was inconsistent with the assumption in our regular speech that we know by acquaintance both the physical world and other people." (Flew, p.39)

So while an Atheist, Flew was not willing to attribute all religious experience to private experience.

Later in Flew's career, Flew wrote "The Presumption of Atheism." In this work Flew argued that in the debate concerning the existence of God, the burden of proof rests with those who try argue for God's existence. If no legitimate grounds for God's existence can be provided, according to Flew, then one had no real choice than to consider one's self an atheist. Flew stated that he was not acting out of hostility to religion; he was simply introducing a procedural principle identifying which party has the burden of proof. (Flew, 53-54) He explains this position further:

"I contended that in any properly systematic apologetic the propounder of a God hypothesis must begin, as would the propounder of any existential hypothesis, by first explaining the particular concept of God to be employed and then indicating how the corresponding object is to be identified. Only when and if these two essential preliminary tasks have been satisfactorily completed can it become sensible to begin deploying evidence intended to show that the concept does apply." (Flew, p. 54)

Before Flew changed his mind concerning the existence of God, he underwent two philosophical shifts. The one concerned the validity of human experience discussed above. The other shift concerned his view of human freedom; Flew rejected determinism in favor of human free will. Flew maintains that in philosophy the concepts of entities and agents have been confused. Entities are unconscious agents that have no choice but to be subject to physical laws, while agents (such as human beings) have the capacity to determine their own reaction. The designation by Flew of humans as agents instead of entities was an important one for Flew; according to Flew the question of human free will is connected with all human religions. This is explained further in the chapter entitled "Where The Evidence Leads." Flew's siding with the notion of human freedom put him at odds with Christians who follow Calvin's theology of predestination. Once Flew realized while debating Christians that Calvin's theology of predestination was not the default position of the Bible or the Church, Flew's view of the truth of God's existence began to shift. The fact that John Wesley, whom Flew has a high opinion of, challenged Calvin on predestination helped to shift Flews thinking. (Flew, p. 73)

In 2004, Flew announced that he now accepted the existence of God, though he has not become a believer in Jesus Christ. Flew pointed to discoveries concerning DNA as a factor in his shift in thinking that the origin of life was the work of a creative Intelligence:

"Yes, I now think it does...almost entirely because of the DNA investigations. What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting those extraordinary diverse elements to work together. It's the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence." (Flew, p. 74-75)

"There Is A God", published by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, is written for the general audience; anyone can follow Flew's chain of thought. The second half of the book is called "My Discovery of the Divine." My review will cover this next section and will probably appear next week.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Obama May Be More Dangerous Than The Clintons

When George Bush the elder was on the threshold of losing re-election, a political commentator compared him to Ronald Reagan: the difference between Reagan and Bush illustrated the difference between the "big boys" and "the little boys" in Presidential politics. The "big boys", like Reagan, were driven to seek the Presidency to accomplish a specific set of goals. The "little boys", like Bush, were just interested in being President for their own private, egotistical self-fulfillment. I believe that the same comparison can be applied to Obama and Clinton. Yes, Clinton's record leaves little to be desired. Yet many of the doomsday predictions of a transcendent liberal state that were made when Clinton was elected did not come to pass. The reason is not that those fears were not well grounded. The reason was that while Clinton was a leftist, he was most interested in the trappings of the office than policy. He was so interested in maintaining his popularity that he often did not rock the boat; he just let things go without any interference from himself, fearful that any action by him might jeopardize his standing in the polls. In the realm of economics, that is the reason the prosperity that began under Reagan continued throughout the 1990's. Clinton enjoyed the White House helicopters and the opportunities to rub shoulders with fawning Hollywood celebrities, yet in his first six months in office, he only met with his Secretary of State twice. Clinton was smart enough a politician to realize that while he governed as a Liberal, he had to appear as a moderate, and so, in the eyes of some of his most leftist supporters, he failed to implement the plans to gain power over the private lives of ordinary people. Obama, on the other hand, is all business. He is not the kind of politician that likes to schmooze, when he makes contact with potential allies, he is either interested in discussing policies or ways in which to implement them. Obama is all discipline, unlike Clinton. He is what we would have experienced if Dukakis had won; a committed ideologue whose sole desire is to regulate public behavior and one who disciplines his life and actions around that goal. Hillary would have been like that, yet her personality was against her. She projected a persona of one who wanted to run every one else's lives. Obama appears non-threatening to the public. Early in the primaries, many Conservatives, even if they had no plans to vote for Obama, were rooting for him to beat Hillary. They feared Hillary not only because she was Liberal and more committed to implementing a Socialist agenda than her husband, she was feared because it was believed that if she ever gained power, she would use it to totally annihilate the opposition. No one thought that Obama had any desire to totally destroy his Conservative opponents. With Hillary, you could see the enemy approaching; with Obama, the enemy may have surrounded us in the night, taking us completely by surprise. With a Congress with a nearly filibuster proof Democratic majority in collusion with the White House, many of our economic and political freedoms may be in peril. Many commentators surmised that the reason Obama did not crack a smile during his victory speech Tuesday night was because of the enormity of the challenges facing him. I disagree. I think what we saw was the ascension of a disciplined man driven to achieve a specific set of goals, committed to gaining for government the power over the everyday lives of Americans. And as he reached the pinnacle of power, he was contemplating just what he intends to do to anyone who dares to challenge him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No Tears For McCain

While I deplored the election results of 1992, I had no regrets about Bush the elder leaving the White House. He had betrayed his "No New Taxes" pledge and ran a cynical, inept campaign. The prospect of four more years of Bill and Hillary in 1996 was demoralizing, yet I had no sympathy for Dole. He was one of the phoniest politicians of my life time and the worse Republican candidate for President I have ever seen. And while I look upon the next Presidency with dred, I shed no tears for John McCain. Yes, he is to be honored for his service to our country in war time. And yes, he was right and Bush was wrong about the need for the Surge. Yet for his actions after his defeat by Bush in 2000, he has a prominent place in The Hand's (that's me!) personal role of dishonor. He opposed tax cuts that helped jump start the economy out of a recession Bush inherited from Clinton. His campaign finance reform bill, McCain-Feingold, made it harder for groups such as The National Right to Life to publicize candidates records while assisting non-U.S. citizens like George Soros to influence elections for liberals with his private fortune. McCain made his constituency the media, which turned on him once he actually ran against a Democrat. Yet the one thing above all that angered me was his role in the "Gang of Fourteen." Republicans in the Senate were about to end the Democrat's unconstitutional filibuster of Bush's nominees for Judicial appointment. But then, McCain and six other liberal Republicans joined with seven Democrats to block that action. This is going to have a negative impact on the Judiciary for a long time to come; Bush was stymied by McCain from putting a Conservative stamp on the lower Courts. Now Obama will fill the vacancies. For good press, McCain stabbed Bush and the Country in the back. For this, I have no remorse personally that McCain failed to fulfill the ambition that caused him to become untrustworthy.

The Bush Effect And The Conservative Dilemma

There is no question that Bush was part of the problem for the Republicans this year. Even after two terms for a popular President, there is a fatigue factor that works against his party in retaining the White House and Congress. The problem is multiplied exponentially when the President's popularity rating is in the tank. And why had Bush dropped so much in public esteem? First he lost the party base by letting spending go through the roof. Compassionate Conservatism may have helped Bush politically in the short run, but it was a time bomb waiting to go off in his and our faces. It is now recognized that his handling of Iraq after the invasion was inept, until the Surge. He lost more support by teaming with McCain and the Democrats to force amnesty for illegal aliens down our throat. True, he did try to reform some of the institutions whose collapse triggered the current economic crises, but his teaming with Democrats on the bailout caused further unrest among his former supporters.

This being acknowledged, do I regret my two votes for him for President? No. (I am not going to go into a detailed analysis of what he did right, that is for a post to appear after he leaves office.) In 2000, who was there to vote for? McCain? He would never had beaten Al Gore. Keyes? Oh Please! Yes, many Republicans voted for Bush because he was seen as a "winner." Of course that should not be the sole reason to vote for any candidate. But Bush was the only viable alternative. I need not go into the necessity of voting for Bush over Kerry with my fellow Conservatives.

Now the fact that Bush was the party's only viable candidate in 2000 points out the Conservative Dilemma regarding its rivalry with Liberalism/Socialism.

First, who is it that generally gets elected President? Those whom the public knows little about or those who have been out of the national spotlight for years. FDR was a Governor, not a Washington politician. Eisenhower was not a political figure. JFK was a Senator, yet he was an unknown quantity. Nixon had been out of office for eight years. Carter was totally obscure. Reagan was a former Governor. Clinton was a Governor. Bush II ditto. Obama is certainly the most obscure in his origins of any recent President. Ever since the election of James Polk in 1844, most of those elected President were what we call "Dark Horses." Our greatest President, Lincoln, was one of the most unknown quantities ever to reach the White House.

If we look at the roster of Republican candidates from the 1990's, almost all of them were well known Washington insiders: Dole, Kemp, Quayle, Graham. While we have two potential leaders in state office now, Palin and Jindal, why is there such a dearth of quality Conservative Republican political figures outside of Washington that can rise to national leadership?

The first element of the Conservative Dilemma is that there is a natural antipathy among Conservatives to make government a career. Conservatives distrust government and have no desire to control peoples' lives. They may consider it an honor to represent the people for a while, but they have no desire to make public service a lifetime calling. Liberals, on the other hand have an overwhelming desire to achieve control over every aspect of our private lives and are willing to spend their lives regulating you and me, patiently waiting for the day when we will have finally surrendered all our liberties to the governing class.

The second element is that Liberalism/Socialism lends itself to lofty rhetoric. Political stars are made of those who can roil the passions of the ignorant with high sounding but empty oratory. The promise to take care of everyone from the cradle to the grave is more capable of aligning itself with this oratory than a message of helping ourselves without the assistance of government. While Conservatism has a few giants of political discourse, such as Reagan, it is harder for a Conservative to join great oratory to the Conservative message.

This dilemma is the reason why there are fewer viable national Conservative candidates. This dilemma is the reason why Conservatives are the underdog in the struggle against Liberalism. This dilemma is the reason why Bush was the only viable alternative in 2000. For Conservatives to prevail in the future, they are going to have to develop candidates who are genuine outsiders to the Washington establishment who can articulate true Conservative ideals. True Conservatives, unlike Romney, Huckabee, or Paul. Reagan was elected because some wealthy California businessmen recognized his potential and gave their lives and money to getting him elected. We need the same dedication among monied Conservatives today to elevate viable Conservatives from state politics to national prominence. If this was realized sooner, perhaps Conservatives will have more than one candidate to choose from instead of being stuck with a viable but quasi Conservative.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Losing Is The Best Thing That Could Happen To Palin

I have no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin wanted John McCain to win the election. Yet it was not to be. The first time I realized that Obama might be the next President was after McCain became the presumptive Republican nominee. The only time I had any hope of Obama losing was after his performance at the Saddleback Forum. On the heels of that, I thought that if McCain would pick a solid conservative, the party base may turn out to give him a slim victory. After a lackluster Democratic convention and the naming of Palin, my hopes intensified. I was sure a victory against Obama was possible. Even after the economic crises hit, I felt that if McCain made a proactive case for capitalistic solutions, he would maintain his momentum. But after McCain's disastrous performance in the first debate, reality reappeared in my perspective. John McCain would never win, even without the economic crises. In picking Sarah Palin, he brought out more of the base to the polls than would have otherwise shown up. Her presence on the ticket prevented McCain from losing in astronomical proportions.

With McCain's defeat, it is clear to me that this is the best thing that could happen if Palin has ambitions to run for President. If McCain had won, Palin would undoubtedly face "Republican Fatigue" after twelve or sixteen years of Republican occupancy of the White House. Even serving a popular President can be hazardous to a Vice President's chances to be elected President; only four sitting Vice Presidents have been elected President. Serving a President McCain would have put Palin at odds with the Conservative base. There would have most certainly been issues that McCain would buck the party base on and as Vice President, Sarah Palin would not only have to tow the line, she would have to publicly threaten Conservative Congressmen and Senators not to defy the White House. Even if the base knew where her heart was, if she had to promote a McCain folly such as amnesty for illegals, her ability to gain the nomination might have been damaged beyond repair.

Now that she is free from answering to McCain, she can articulate her beliefs as she feels fit. I would not be surprised if she moves to the right on some issues she appeared to agree with McCain on. And there will be less talk about reaching across the aisle. Right now, she needs to concentrate on winning a second term as governor. (The money from liberal special interest groups trying to defeat her will be unprecedented.) She needs to campaign for Conservative candidates and when possible, campaign against incumbent liberal Republicans in future primaries. That will cement the loyalty of the base.

I will be watching her closely. I am enthusiastic about her possible future, but this is not an endorsement. I am also observing Bobby Jindal with interest as well. I do not know which would make a better candidate.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Advent Seasons Begins Today

Advent is a season in which Christ's disciples prepare spiritually for the celebration of His Incarnation. When I was pastoring in North Carolina, I realized the necessity to begin my own Advent season early so that I could lead the Church into its collective celebrations for four Sundays preceding Christmas. While not pastoring at present, beginning to privately meditate upon the the love of God demonstrated by becoming a man is something I could not do without. Advent is seen by many Christians to be a church rite with origins in pagan religious ritual. Before Seminary, if I was aware of Advent at all, I considered it very little, if at all. One of my debts to Wesley Biblical Seminary was to broaden my horizons concerning Church worship. The two Christmas's that I pastored we had short Advent celebrations during the services. Those that participated in them had never celebrated Advent before and to them this new practice had deep meaning for them. This year's observance begins a two or three years project of meditating on all sixty some verses put into musical form by Handel in "The Messiah." Not only do I hope to to be enriched by this exercise, I also intend to produce new Christmas sermons that will appear here on this blog so you can celebrate along with me. Also to be shared with you will be observations on a book of sermons on Advent I read a few years ago.

Three Things That I Know

My friend and fellow WBS alumni Jason at has a short post entitled "Three Things That I Know." He is asking his friends and fellow bloggers to post a similiar list on their blogs. Here is mine.

1. We are partly the products, for better or worse, of those who have gone on before us.

2. We will have a hand in the destiny of those who follow us, especially those who are members of our families. Generations from now will still be dealing with what we have sown into the lives of those we have influence over.

3. Therefore, the best thing we can do to influence the following generations is to establish in them a habit of worshipping God in all circumstances.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Exposing ExpelledExposed: Part VII, Conclusion. Following Jesus and Following Darwin? Is This Possible?

My fellow Christians, we can say "thank you" to the National Center for Science Education. If it wasn't for the NCSE's website, expelledexposed, we would never have known that we can be committed evolutionists and people of faith at the same time. Expelledexposed's section entitled "Science and Religion" tell us so. Some do claim to be disciples of Christ and evolutionists at the same time: "Evolution shows us how God works." As the website points out, the Catholic Church, mainstream Protestantism and Jewish theology accommodated Evolution a long time ago. Some of these accomodationists resent Ben Stein challenging Darwinian orthodoxy in Expelled. In fact, some of these accomodationists think of anyone who challenges Evolution as "noisy creationists."

But wait. Expelledexposed also instructs us that not all beliefs are compatible with Evolution. What are the implications of this statement?

According to the NCSE and its allies, Evolution is not theory but fact; it is the true scientific explanation for the origin of life on this planet, including the human race. Any rival explanation is false, a myth, certainly not scientific. Therefore, the NCSE and its allies anoint themselves as the arbiters of truth. They decide what religious beliefs may be expressed in the laboratory and the classroom. Those who consider themselves religious do not have to decide for themselves what role their beliefs play in scientific research and instruction. All they have to do is agree that Evolution is the only true explanation for life's origins and never publicly deviate from that position. Any religious belief that questions Evolution is deemed a false truth claim, therefore, according to the NCSE, certain religious beliefs are false, a superstition, a lie. Those religious groups that hold beliefs that are incompatible with Evolution and so viewed by the NCSE as being false, are left off of expelledexposed's list of acceptable religious expression. What groups? Certainly those Christians who claim that the Bible is God's inerrant Word, Creationists, Evangelicals. Like me.

But if the NCSE has the authority to proclaim which views are compatible with the truth, then no one should have any problem with me stating that Christian belief and acceptance of Evolution are incompatible.

Evolution presupposes a universe devoid of a creator. This is a fact recognized by H. James Bix in his Introduction to Darwin's "Descent of Man":

"Darwin's dangerous fact of evolution has changed forever how we view our own species within natural history...The myth of creation as espoused by religious creationists and biblical fundamentalists has been replaced by the fact of evolution." (Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man", Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1998, Introduction,p. xix)

Ernst Mayr is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, Harvard University. He has received numerous prizes for his work in Evolution and the philosophy of Science. This quote is from his book "One Long Argument:Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought":

"Darwin was unable to build on this foundation but rather started from the fundamental question that Lyell bequeathed to him, namely, how do new species originate? Although Lyell appealed to "intermediate" causes as the source of the new species, THE PROCESS WAS NEVERTHELESS A FORM OF SPECIAL CREATION. [Capitalization mine] 'Species may have been created in succession at such times and at such places as to enable them to multiply and endure for an appointed period and occupy an appointed space on the globe' (Lyell 1835, 3:99-100). For Lyell, each creation was a carefully planned event. The reason why Lyell, like Henslow, Sedgwick, and all the others of Darwin's scientific friends and correspondents in the middle of the 1830s, accepted the unalterable constancy of species was ultimately a philosophical one. The constancy of species--that is the inability of a species, once created, to change--was the one piece of the old dogma of a created world that remained inviolate after the concepts of the recency and constancy of the physical world had been abandoned.

"No genuine and testable theory of evolution could develop until the possibility was recognized that species have the capacity to change, to become transformed into new species, and multiply into several species. FOR DARWIN TO ACCEPT THIS POSSIBILITY REQUIRED A FUNDAMENTAL BREAK WITH LYELL'S THINKING..." [Capitalization mine] (Mayr, One Long Arguement, Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 17-18)

In other words, for Darwin to formulate his theories, he had to reject the belief in the work of a creator in the creation of species. Can any one who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ explain to me how the truth of man's origins could not be discovered without the rejection of an Intelligent Designer and how then one could reconcile these theories to the belief that the Bible is God's word to man?

Bix quotes Darwin himself on Darwin's own rejection of Christianity:

"Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman...I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. This belief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete...The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career..." (Darwin, p. xxii)

Lets finish the above quote by Bix:

Furthermore, anthropology teaches us that religious beliefs and practices themselves have evolved since the dawn of Homo sapiens sapiens (sic). Even ethics, morals and values are now seen within the scientific framework of human evolution." (Darwin, Introduction, p. xix)

Darwin himself maintained that man's intellectual and moral qualities had to evolve, to advance to a certain stage before he could even believe in God:

"No being could experience so complex an emotion until advanced in his intellect and moral faculties to at least a moderately high level. Nevertheless, we see some distant approach to this state of mind in the deep love of a dog for his master, associated with complete submission, some fear, and perhaps other feelings...Professor Braubach goes so far to maintain that a dog looks on his master as a god." (Darwin, p.99)

Can one believe in the God of the Old and New Testaments and believe that it took many generations of Evolution to even come to a belief in a supernatural deity? Genesis clearly shows Man as capable of fellowship with God from the very beginning. Even after the Fall, when sin is introduced into Man's makeup, God and Man still engaged in mutual communication. How can one reconcile Evolutions view of Man with the Genesis account of Abel knowing what worship is acceptable before God? According to Darwin, Man can't even conceive of a God until many generations of Evolution had occurred. Genesis tells us that Enoch walked in such close fellowship with God that God took him before death. Noah's walk with God was just as close.

If one tries to reconcile belief in Christ and belief in Evolution's truth claims, what is to be done with Paul's statements in Romans that sin and death entered the world through Adam. Evolution teaches that death has always been present through the survival of the fittest. Death reigned overall even before man could conceive of sin. If both Evolution and Christianity are true, then just when exactly was sin introduced? What about Paul's statement that Jesus is the new Adam? If Adam never existed, if the Genesis account of Creation is a myth, what are we to do with these statements? Is what Paul wrote to be discarded? If Evolution is true, why believe a symbolic truth if it contradicts the historical record? If ancient philosophy could have accommodated evolution of some type, then why did God wait till 1859 to reveal the real origin of Man? Why would His followers need to believe a myth, a symbolic truth for so long?

Why would Jesus teach that marriage binds one man and one woman and cite as His authority the Creation account in Genesis? Why would the Messiah who came to free us from religious legalism bind us with this command if the example of Adam and Eve is just a myth? Why would Jesus speak of the days of Noah as if they were a true account of history if the days of Noah never were?

And what of Christ's message itself? Is Christ's message a unique revelation from the Triune God? Charles Darwin didn't think so:

"The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals; but I need say nothing on this head, as I have so lately endeavored to show that the social instincts---the prime principle of man's moral constitution---with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, 'As ye would that man should do to you, do ye then likewise'; and this lies at the foundation of morality." (Darwin, p. 131)

Is Christ's message the result of many generations of Evolution? How can we reconcile the Biblical message that sin can only be overcome through the death of Christ on the Cross with Darwin's assertion that morality is evolving overtime? Will Man evolve to the point that he no longer sins? If so, why did God sacrifice His only Son?

(For a more detailed treatment of these issues, please read the 3 part review of Francis Collins' "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief." It appeared on 9/26/08, on this blog, immediately preceding this series.)

Expelledexposed would have us believe that modern science began with the divorce of the Christian world view from science. God as creator is not a provable hypothesis, it tells us, so a scientist can only explain the universe in terms of what is observable to the human senses. Yet it was the Christian worldview that birthed the modern Scientific Revolution. Francis Schaeffer in "How Shall We Then Live: The Rise And Decline Of Western Thought And Culture" puts it this way:

"The rise of modern science did not conflict with what the Bible teaches; indeed, at a crucial point the Scientific Revolution rested upon what the Bible teaches. Both Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view. Whitehead was a widely respected mathematician and philosopher, and Oppenheimer, after he became director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1947, wrote on a wide range of subjects related to science, in addition to writing on his own field on the structure of the atom and atomic energy. As far as I know, neither of the two men were Christians or claimed to be Christians, yet both were straightforward in acknowledging that modern science was born out of the Christian world view.

"...Whitehead said that Christianity is the mother of science because of 'the medieval insistence on the rationality of God.' Whitehead also spoke of confidence 'in the intelligible rationality of a personal being.' He also says...that because of the rationality of God, the early scientists had an 'inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief, the incredible labors of scientists would be without hope.' In other words, because the early scientists believed that the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that the people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason." (Schaeffer, p. 132-133)

"Living within the concept of that the world was created by a reasonable God, scientists could move with confidence, expecting to be able to find out about the world by observation and experimentation. That was their epistemological base--the philosophical foundation with which they were sure they could know." (Schaeffer, p. 134)

"The Greeks, the Muslims, and the Chinese eventually lost interest in science. As we said before, the Chinese had an early and profound knowledge of the world. Joseph his book The Grand Titration (1969), explains why this never developed into a full-fledged science: 'There was no confidence that the code of Nature's laws could ever be unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read.'...

"What was the view of these modern scientists on a Christian base? They held to the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in an open system, or, as it may be expressed, the uniformity of natural causes in a limited time span. God has made a cause-and-effect universe; therefore we can find out something about the causes from the effects. But (and the but is very important) it is an open universe because God and man are outside the uniformity of natural causes. In other words, all that exists is not one big cosmic machine which includes everything. Of course, if a person steps in front of a moving auto, the cause-and effect-universe functions upon him; but God and people are not a part of a total cosmic machine. Things go on in a cause-and-effect sequence, but at a point in time the direction may be changed by God or by people. Consequently, there is a place for God, but there is also a place for man.

"This carries with it something profound--that the machine, whether the cosmic machine or the machines which people make, is neither a master nor a threat--because the machine does not include everything. There is something which is 'outside' of the cosmic machine, and there is a place for man to be man." (Schaeffer, p. 142-143)

Evolution places man, including his highest thoughts, inside the "cosmic machine." Soon we will be told by scientists that we are NOTHING but the product of genetic activity, including our very beings, including what we believe about God.

Expelledexposed, and its parent, the NCSE, has no problem with anyone expressing their belief in God, just so long as they do not ask questions concerning the validity of Evolution's assumptions and conclusions. The very rational for the existence of the NCSE is to limit religious expression that questions evolution in the classroom, laboratory, or in the movie theaters, as Expelled has done. The Executive Director of the NCSE, Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, stated the hope in a podcast that so many evolutionist bloggers would link to expelledexposed that when someone typed in Expelled in a url., they would see many entries for expelledexposed. This is just another tactic to keep people from being exposed to objections to Darwinian orthodoxy. Other tactics, as we have seen throughout this series, includes the slandering of those who question evolutionary assumptions, as the NCSE has done to Richard Sternberg, Guillermo Gonzalez, and Pamela Winnick. Another tactic has been to lie about evolution's influence on some of the philosophies and political regiemes that made the twentieth century the bloodiest century in history. A third tactic has been to scare people into remaining silent about their objections to Evolution, making people fear that to voice these objections would cause them to be ridiculed as members of fringe groups. This tactic can be seen in the comment by bob xxxx that my rejection of evolution would cause me to be laughed at by educated people.

In fact, I notice that those who have chosen to comment on articles in this series never challenge the actual arguements contained in these articles or the evidence backing them up. They want to debate the merits of ID, but they don't want to debate the issues surrounding the dishonesty displayed on expelledexposed. Perhaps they can't. Perhaps the evidence contained in these articles, available to the public so that someone like me can access it, cannot be challenged in an honest debate.

It is my hope that this series can be seen when one types expelledexposed in a url. Not just so it can be seen, but so expelledexposed's message may not drown out what the NCSE doesn't want you to know. If those who work at the NCSE were so confident about their own message, then they would feel no need to engage in the character assassination and intellectual dishonesty concerning objections to evolution that is on full display on their webpage, expelledexposed. The stakes are higher than the reputation of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein, or those he interviewed. The real issue is whether or not a self anointed group will go unchallenged in its attempt to dictate what is the truth concerning the origin of life and which religious views are valid and which religious views are untrue.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is now available in DVD. By it at your local bookstore or order it online here.

For the Discovery Institute's webpage on ID , click here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Exposing Expelledexposed: Part VI. Ben Stein Quotes Darwin

In Expelled, Ben Stein reads a quote from Charles Darwin's "The Descent of Man." Expelledexposed claims that the quote was read with the intent to portray Darwin as an advocate of Eugenics. The website also accuses Stein of reading the quote out of context.

In examining this claim, we begin with the passage from "The Descent of Man" that we read in Part V, for these are the beginning sentences of the entire disputed passage:

"I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilized nations may be worth adding. The subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W.R. Greg, and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton. Most of my remarks are from these three authors." (Charles Darwin, "The Descent of Man", Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1998, p. 138)

Remember that Mr. (Sir Francis) Galton, Darwin's 1/2 cousin, was the father of Eugenics. Both men acknowledged that their research fed off of each other's work. We can see this on Darwin's part in the quote above; Galton testified of his debt to Darwin: "I was encouraged by the new views to pursue many inquiries that interested me, and which clustered around the central topic of Heredity."

Now we come to the next sentences from Darwin's book which Stein quotes in Expelled. The quote can be seen on expelledexposed. (I have only seen Expelled once, last May. Therefore, I must rely on the veracity of expelledexposed in reproducing the quote used in the film. In relying on this website, with its track record on presenting the truth, you might say to me, "Oh, Mr. Guthrie, you are so very brave!") Portions from the original quote left out by expelledexposed are included by me in brackets:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; [and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.] We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; [we institute poor-laws; and our medical men excert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.] Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. [It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself,] hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed." (Darwin, p.138-139)

Expelledexposed claims that the next paragraph exonerates Darwin from the charge of advocating Eugenics. Before we explore that assertion, lets examine what we just read. Darwin listed categories of persons whose reproduction is in his mind highly injurious to the human race. The physically and mentally weak. Those with diseases such as small-pox. The poor. THE POOR. (Repetition intentional) The maimed. (Injured in childhood? On the job? Defending one's country?) Those who formerly enjoyed good health, but became ill, whom physicians treat up to the last minute of life. As anyone is foolish enough to "allow his worst animals to breed", he brings about "the degeneration of a domestic race." Only man is so "ignorant" to allow his own race to degenerate by preserving the lives of the weak.

What is Darwin's explanation for why man tries to "check the process of elimination"? The answer is in the next sentence from the disputed passage:

"The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. (Darwin, p.139)

Immediately following this sentence is the evidence that expelledexposed asserts proves Darwin was not an advocate of Eugenics:

Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without the deterioration in the noblest part of our nature." (Darwin, p.139)

Does this passage exonerate Darwin from the charge of advocating Eugenics? You could say yes. But that is not the specific charge made by Expelled. The charge made by the film is that Darwin's theories led to a drastic change in how man views himself; no longer does man see himself as the pinnacle of God's creation, but as just another animal. No matter how much Darwin would have protested, he could not stop others from applying his views to the elimination of the weak and helpless. As I argued in Part V, no scientist or philosopher has a veto power over what implications others derive from his own work. Darwin was not a Nazi; he was a typical 19th century British racist. And these racist tendencies colored his assumptions and conclusions. Modern day evolutionists argue that racism has been purged from modern day Evolutionary theory. Yet Darwin's racism was present in his original work and played a role in those who applied his theories of natural selection to the human race. No, Darwin did not advocate Nazi ideology. But his theories were an integral element in its formation.

Lets read the rest of the paragraph from Darwin:

The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this more to be hoped for than expected." (Darwin, p.139)

So , the sound in mind and body must bear the effects of the weak reproducing themselves. But it bears these effects with the hope that "the weak in body or mind" refrain from marriage. How are they to refrain? Who is to teach them? The sound in mind and body. Yet this Darwin considered this just a hope.

People such as Galton found implications in such passages from Darwin's works. To preserve the weak and the helpless brings degeneration to the human race. The solution is to "assist" the weak in refraining from marriage, or in rendering the weak unable to bear children. (Sterilization) Eugenics was simply a plan of action to bring about the "hope" expressed by Darwin. A couple of generations later, the Nazi's formulated their own ideology, heavily influenced by Eugenics, and carried out their own plan of action, the Holocaust. (See Ian Kershaw's 2 volume biography of Hitler to understand the influence of Eugenics on the Nazi ideology of race.)

Ideas have consequences. From Darwin's theory that man is just an animal, he came to the conclusion that to preserve the weak led to the degeneration of the human race. But not to preserve the weak violated man's "evolved" consciousness; man can only hope that the weak would not reproduce. To others, this implied that a plan of action was needed to make this hope a reality. Enter the Eugenics movement. This movement influenced figures such as Margaret Sanger to form Planned Parenthood, an organization that still helps the weak refrain from reproducing. Just go to Google Video and enter in "Planned Parenthood Racism"; you might be surprised at how the organization encourages the termination of pregnancy for racial minorities. More on Margaret Sanger here and here.

Darwin may have expressed his doubts with Galton's application of Darwin's theories of natural selection to humans. But it appears to me that on this point Darwin wanted it both ways. By applying "the action of natural selection on civilized nations", as he did in "The Descent of Man", Darwin was in fact taking his theories of natural selection and applying them to Man. And others, such as Galton, saw the implications of Darwin's views, and tried to purge the human race of the weak and helpless.

Part VII will appear tomorrow.