Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Letter to Theistic Evolutionists

I think that we need to be careful so as not to evaluate our testimonies and new worldview formulations by strictly short-term benefits. Some things that feel right might prove to be entirely wrong in the long-run.

As a high-school moralist, I was quickly converted to moral relativism upon entering college. I then made the logical jump to nihilism – the utter absence of any intrinsic values. It was a heady experience, at least at the beginning. I was now the captain of my own ship. The only standards were the ones I created for myself. Consequently, my feelings of guilt and shame were entirely baseless. And knowing this, I could learn to overcome them! Life stood before me for the taking.

However, I had failed to regard the small print. I subsequently found that my ship was unmanageable and every port-of-call was the same. Instead of freedom, I found that life had become an oppressive burden, but it took years in order to recognize the implications of my philosophical commitments.

There is a lot of small print inherent in the “marriage contract” you’ve transacted. There are hidden costs which you might not have anticipated. Let me point out a few:

1. LACK OF STABILITY IN THE DARWIN/CHRIST MARRIAGE: The Darwinist worldview is entirely different from the Biblical at its most fundamental points. While the Bible insists that God created everything good and that we are the problem (Gen. 3), Darwin is unequivocal that, even at the beginning, life was characterized as a bloody survival-of-the-fittest struggle. All subsequent theology hinges upon this: the Fall and origin of sin (Gen. 3), the Redemption (1 Cor. 15:21-22), the Restoration (Acts 3:21). Hence, you have opened the door to a continual struggle for authority between Darwin and Jesus, as Darwin seeks to erode what you have retained.

2. AN UNDERMINING OF ALL OBJECTIVE REASONS TO BELIEVE IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: Since theistic evolutionists teach that the Bible isn’t about this physical world (in order to make room for Darwinism) but rather the theological world, they have consequently come to disdain any of the classical theistic proofs for God and the Christian faith. Consequently, they have rendered themselves ineffectual in bringing the Gospel to unbelievers and have been relegated to the position of only being able to talk effectively to those who already have a faith in Christ. They have marginalized themselves away from the broader exchange of ideas.

3. AN UNDERMINING OF THEIR OWN CONFIDENCE IN CHRIST: In order to make room for Darwin, the theistic evolutionist (TE) must relegate much of Genesis to the place of myth. However, all of the writers of Scripture, including Jesus, regard these accounts as historical. Therefore, the TE is forced to admit that these authorities are also teaching myth. However, in order to retain some semblance of the Christian faith, they must make the unbiblical distinction between the science and history of the Bible and the theology of the Bible. But we can’t separate the history of the Cross from the theology of the Cross. This inseparable bond also pertains to other doctrines. How then can you trust in the theology of the Bible, when you are unwilling to trust in the history of the Bible?

I think that there are more fruitful ways to resolve the conflict that drove you to marry Darwin to your Jesus. Although I agree with you that the Christian faith shouldn’t be a matter of fear and the denial of opposing voices and evidences, we can still remain authentically Christian without building barriers! There is more responsible and Biblically based way of dealing with the tension between the world of scholarship and the Faith, and I think that it involves the way we prioritize authoritative sources.

The central question is this: “What source of truth or revelation is most authoritative? What source is most reliable? What lens should predominate as we construct our worldviews – a Biblical lens or the prevailing scientific consensus (2 Cor. 10:4-5)? To which “Master” will we submit ourselves (Mat. 6:23-24)? What and who should be compromised if there is a conflict?”

We are highly corruptible beings, easily molded by the overwhelming influences to which we have been subjected. I am not suggesting that holding to a thorough-going Biblical worldview is without its tension or dissonance. While it doesn’t reject looking at the counter-evidence for those who are mature in the faith, it requires exercising a certain degree of appropriate skepticism and detachment regarding it (as contrasted with an open embrace). This can be difficult, but our Lord never promised that it would be easy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oneness Theology

Below is a letter I wrote to a young man who believes that we are all one, and that any of the distinctions we see are illusions:

You argue that the Biblical concept of a thinking, yet omnipresent, transcendent and eternal God is incoherent:

“God is omnipresent, hence immutable and unchanging. Thinking is a process that is transitional, from moment to moment. As thoughts change, the state of the thinker changes: It requires an experience of time which is linear-sequential. Omnipresence is not linear-sequential, but boundless present.”

I must confess that I cannot get my mind around the fact that anything or anyone can live in a timeless, spaceless, and non-sequential existence, let alone to account for God’s thinking. But I don’t want to discount something or Someone simply because it/He transcends my own experience. So too the activity of sub-atomic particles that also transcends my reason! Consequently, when we contemplate other realms, we have to be cautious that we don’t overstep our knowledge. Mathematician-physicist Paul Davies has written:

“In the so-called quantum logic, the rule that something cannot both be and not be such-and-such is dropped”
(“The Mind of God,” 26)

This should give us some cause for hesitation when discussing transcendence. I would also think that this problem – the possibility thought in non-sequential timelessness – would also represent an equal philosophical problem for monistic consciousness – a religion/philosophy that denies that there is anything real outside of the one universal consciousness, which necessarily also must transcend the “illusions” of space-matter-time! Since this consciousness transcends time, wouldn’t thinking also be non-sequential and therefore impossible?

Nevertheless, revelation, science and logic compel me to believe that Someone does necessarily transcend space and time. Consequently, if an omnipotent, transcendent, and infinite God does exist, who am I to impose my finite distinctions and limitations upon Him?

I’m sure that you are willing to believe various “absurdities” – like light is both wave and particle -- based upon expert scientific testimony. How much more then should we be willing to accept imponderables regarding an infinite God!
Meanwhile, I continue to marvel at how a monist, who believes that the only reality is the oneness – the universal consciousness – can believe in justice and science which are necessarily part of the illusion, according to monistic thinking.

It seems that you hold to a compromised form of monism – that there is only one true reality, while the other “reality” is in a state of constant flux, and therefore indefinable and unreal. Therefore, you claim that the self is in constant flux and, consequently, unreal. There are many serious problems with this position.

1. This monism is still life, justice, self and science negating.
2. It also negates all the statements you have made, since they too are in flux and consequently unreal. Its logical conclusion is solipsism.
3. Even if everything you see about yourself is in flux (and consequently unreal), it fails to prove that there aren’t aspects of yourself that aren’t changing, parts that will endure. Science also, amidst all the change and expansion, acknowledges certain unchanging laws.

I don’t think that the monistic paradigm lines up with reality, a reality that you are understandably not ready to deny. Meanwhile, I’m convinced that there is another paradigm that does a far better job in describing reality – a Person who has given me the freedom (John 8:31-32) to endorse and thrive in this world without loosing perspective of a greater world to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

De-Christianizing Society

One newspaper writes of the latest sensation: “Ultimate fighting is incredibly popular all over the world.” It has even become popular with the women, although it is also incredibly brutal, so brutal that it remains banned in many states.

It reminds us of the Roman gladiatorial fights. However, the fans had learned how to distance themselves from the moral implications of what was transpiring in response to their howls for blood and death. In "The Romans," Anthony Kamm wrote,

“Each gladiator was seen as ‘crude, loathsome, doomed, lost…a man utterly debased by fortune, a slave, a man altogether without worth or dignity, almost without humanity.”

It isn’t surprising that those who opposed the games were regarded with contempt. In "Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization," Alvin Schmidt wrote:

“Minicius Felix cites a Roman pagan who strongly criticized Christians for their anti-gladiatorial stance: ‘You do no go to our shows; you take no part in our processions…you shrink in horror from our sacred [gladiatorial] games.’

We have shrunk back in horror for 1600 years since by the Christian emperors Theodosius 1 [378-395 AD] and his son Honorius [404] in the East outlawed them. But as our values change, so too does our sense of horror.

Our values are changing in many ways. Infanticide did not provoke a sense of horror in highly esteemed classical culture. In "What’s so Great about Christianity," Dinesh D’Souza wrote:

“In ancient Rome and Greece, human life had very little value. The Spartans left weak children to die on the hillside. Infanticide was common, as it is even today in many parts of the world. Fathers who wanted sons had few qualms about drowning their newborn daughters. Human beings were routinely bludgeoned to death or mauled by wild animals in the Roman gladiatorial arena. The greatest of the classical thinkers from Seneca to Cicero, saw nothing wrong with these practices.”

I am not a prophet, but I will predict that as Christian influence continues to be extinguished in favor of a short-sighted pragmatism favoring what’s expedient and desirable, there will be more demand to allow the “ultimate” fighters to fight to the death. (And we’ll convince ourselves that they are despicable beings who deserve what they’re getting!) Our liberal abortion practices will extend to infanticide. After all, what difference does a day make? What difference does it make if the fetus takes its trip down through the birth canal into fresh air? Same fetus, same burden.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our Unpopular Deity

An atheist has been very upset with me because I’ve argued that it’s perfectly legitimate for God to do whatever He wishes with his creation, especially if His creation has turned against Him. I used the example of my clay pot, claiming that I have the right to do whatever I wish with my pot, even to destroy it.

The atheist responded, “A clay pot is not a sentient being. No-one can do wrong to a clay pot. [Destroying a human is an entirely different matter!]”

Here’s my response:

“Evidently, you respect my right to destroy my clay pot. Would you still respect my right if my clay pot would continually spill its contents out upon my lap and even spit in my face? Would this not give me even more reason to destroy it? Do you think that I would be charmed by such a clay pot? Would I have a greater responsibility toward it because it treats me so poorly? Certainly not! Should God, therefore, tolerate our disdainful rejection of Him?

I don’t think that my answer will satisfy him. Our preferences and comforts do more to determine what we’ll believe than will reason and logic, especially if that logic points to an uncomfortable, inconvenient truth.

The idea of a God-of-Judgment is out of favor in the West. We tend to see ourselves as good people who deserve to be treated in good ways, although in actuality, we were His “enemies” (Romans 5:8-10). Therefore, the Biblical God is simply not trendy or appetizing, but I don’t think that this means that we ought to apologize for Him or to present Him as a soft and fuzzy God. He is what He is, and we have to accept that about Him.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Atheists Enjoying Good Clean Fun

Below is a letter I wrote to the Center for Inquiry, an atheist group, which had been sponsoring a “Blasphemy Contest” in conjunction with other atheist groups. This had followed a first letter in which I had challenged that if they are truly the free-thinkers, who they claim to be, let them sponsor a debate or forum instead of a “blasphemy contest.”

I deeply respect your willingness to discuss and even to debate some of the issues that divide us. This represents a vast improvement over a “blasphemy contest!” You might be pleasantly surprised to find that we share some common concerns and that the exchange of ideas will prove to be a healthy exercise for all of us.

Freedom of thought and of speech is something that Christians greatly cherish. This should be apparent, because our cherished freedom-of-religion rests upon these. Therefore, we take it very seriously when someone’s freedom of speech is circumscribed. Consequently, I think you will agree that those countries that have best protected these liberties are the countries that have emerged from a Christian heritage. Of course, you can point to many abuses and anomalies, but when you compare the Christian West with Islamic nations or even with Communist (atheistic) nations, profound differences emerge.

There are other reasons for this. The Bible is replete with instructions to love our enemies and to show respect to all people. The Bible also has a lot to say about being “light” rather than suppressing light. Consequently, we believe that the light we have is not threatened by those who oppose us. I think that this has often translated into a spirit of graciousness towards the opposition. Of course, there have also been those who have instead appropriated the model of theocratic Israel, where free speech was curtailed. However, we understand that those Biblical instructions pertained only to a particular people, time and place.

On the other hand, Peter (not the true name), you seem to justify denying us a seat at the public conversational table for various pragmatic reasons. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of your convictions, I would encourage you to consider whether this is the best posture to take. Perhaps the best way to insure your own access is to champion access for all?

Meanwhile Christians are discriminated against in many ways. TV and film only present negative portrayals of Christians. We are consistently presented as ignorant, narrow-minded bigots. Universities will not hire anyone who claims to be a creationist. IDers are disdained in the
Sciences, while the disdainers hypocritically preach pluralism and the acceptance of others.

Although I want to address all your challenges, I feel I have space only for one more. One of you charged that Christians are narrow and alienated from reality because we have placed the Bible between ourselves and the rest of the world. Let me therefore resort to the analogy of my eyeglasses. They too are positioned between me and the rest of the world, but it’s these lenses that enable me to see the world clearly. The same is true for the Bible.

Before you all jump on my analogy, I’d like you to consider the fact that we are all products of our social/cultural situation. As such, we are all wearing lenses consisting of language and other conceptual factors. None of us engage reality in an unmediated manner.

If this is the case, the question should not be whether or not we wear a lens, but rather, “Do our lenses distort reality or bring it into focus!”

Friday, October 16, 2009

How Did We Get Our New Testament Canon of Scripture?

In Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church, Stephen K. Ray wrote:

“Protestants must trust the declaration of the infallible Church to know which books make up their infallible New Testament. This is a great irony. It was the tradition and the authority of the Catholic Church that established their canon. However, while rejecting all the other decrees of the councils as nonauthoritative, Protestants arbitrarily accept without question the tradition establishing the canon of the New Testament.” (54-55)

Indeed, we are much indebted to the early church. It was the Apostles who authored Scripture and then died the deaths of martyrs to uphold the truth of what they had written, never once breaking rank to save their lives by denying the Gospel. Their willingness to die for what they had believed and written has profoundly authenticated their accounts. Liars and fabricators are not willing to die for their fabrications!

Likewise, we are grateful to our Lord for also using the early church to identify and preserve the various NT books. We are also grateful for the early church councils, which approved and institutionalized the selection of our 27 books that comprise the NT, along with faithfully promoting what the Bible teaches about Christ and the Trinity.

However, Ray’s statement is problematic in several ways. Although there is good reason to respect the historically authoritative role played by the councils, this authority cannot approach the authority of Scripture, as even the councils and the church Fathers themselves have admitted.

Besides, Jesus drew a sharp line between the teachings of traditions and the teachings of Scripture. He strongly criticized the Pharisees for teaching their traditions as if they were Scripture, declaring their worship to be in vain (Mat. 15:9). They could easily have retorted,

“We were the ones who identified and preserved the Hebrew Scriptures. You therefore rely upon this aspect of Jewish tradition, but then you reject the rest. That’s hypocrisy!”

Clearly, they had as little basis to make the case for an “infallible” Israel as Ray’s case for an “infallible church.” Furthermore, we find that the decisions of later councils didn’t regard the prior councils as infallible, and therefore sought to overthrow their decisions, and sometimes succeeded in this.

This observation calls into question Ray assertion of an “infallible Church.” While we can appreciate the critical role that the early church played, this appreciation doesn’t require that we consider it “infallible.” While God used fallible men to write infallible Scripture, He also used a very fallible church to identify the 27 inspired books.

In fact, it was really a no-brainer. The books that were God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) were very apparent to the early church, especially at the beginning. God made it apparent by miraculously attesting to the Apostolic authors:

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
(Hebrews 2:3-4)

Although we owe a great debt of gratefulness to the early church, we mustn’t minimize God’s role in this. Ultimately, the choice of our 27 books had been God’s sovereign choice. This is illustrated by the supernatural unanimity with which the thousands of churches received the NT books. For example, none of Paul’s 13 letters were ever contested by the early church. Why not? For one thing, Paul claimed that not only was he an Apostle, but he was able to prove it by performing the miraculous works of the Apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). Consequently,

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-12)

In light of this, it’s no wonder that the churches had little problem accepting all of Paul’s writings as Scripture. Indeed, there is no evidence that there had been any disagreement whatsoever about accepting any of Paul’s writings—an amazing tribute to the sovereignty of God in making His will known to the various churches.

This was also true for our four NT Gospels. Agreement about their canonicity seems to have been unanimous, even though the names of the Apostolic authors never appear within their Gospels. By virtue of this profound show of unanimity, it seems fair to assume that our Lord by His Spirit had also supernaturally attested to the Gospels. In any event, it is apparent that the status of the canonical Gospels had been so unassailable that even the 2nd century heretics chose these Gospels in favor of their own Gnostic Gospels to canonize and to write commentaries on them.

Ray suggests that without the church councils, there would have been no NT canon. This just isn’t true. The canon had begun to take shape at the advent of Apostolic writing. Paul had unequivocally claimed that what he taught was the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). He therefore, directed his writings to be copied, read in the churches (1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:11-13) and forbade anyone to teach otherwise (1 Tim. 6:3-4).

Clearly, these letters were received as authoritative by the churches. They were so esteemed that there had to be safeguards against forgeries (2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17; 1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18). Likewise, Peter regarded his own teachings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:2) as he also did the writings of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16). John also regarded his writing as Scripture (Rev. 22:18-19). While Jude quotes Peter (2 Peter 3:2) as Scripture, so too does Paul (1 Tim. 5:18) seem to quote Luke 10:7.

Lists of the canonical writings were beginning to appear in the 2nd century: the Muratorian Canon (170 AD) lists the entire NT with the exception of Hebrews, James and 1st and 2nd Peter; the Codex Barococcio (206 AD) omits only Revelation. However, these omissions do not mean that there wasn’t already a vast number of churches that were convinced of the canonicity of these omitted books.

The church councils -- Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Carthage II (419) -- had merely put their stamp-of-approval on what had already become canonical for the majority of churches. But hadn’t the councils finally settled the question about the contested books? Yes, but even here, we mustn’t exaggerate their role. After all, the contested books (possibly Third John excepted) were all cited or alluded to as authoritative by 2nd century church Fathers. Besides, we have no indication of any controversy regarding their acceptance until about 200 years after the Crucifixion. The fact that such a long time had transpired before questions were raised might suggest that these letters had previously found broad acceptance among the churches which had received with them.

How then do we account for the later controversy regarding their acceptance? The churches had been separated geographically, linguistically and by a multitude of persecutions. It seems likely that these factors had prevented certain segments of Christendom from receiving the disputed, canonical epistles in a timely manner, thereby prompting questions about their Apostolic origins.

Ray argues that Protestantism uses a double-standard when it relies upon church tradition to establish the canon and then rejects church tradition in other matters. However, there is nothing inconsistent about this stance. Fallible Peter wrote infallible Scripture. Likewise, the fallible Jewish nation authored and identified infallible Scripture, but proved themselves unfaithful in other matters. If God had used Israel infallibly in one regards, it doesn’t mean that Israel is infallible in all regards. This is what Ray is trying to prove regarding the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

Even if the early church had been infallible, Ray must then make another impossible leap to prove that this church was the RCC and that the RCC is still infallible. The Orthodox church might have something to say about this.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Necessary Foundation for Faith: Factual History

Here is my response to a theistic evolutionist (TE) who claims that Scripture doesn’t distinguish between myth and historical facts:

Here is your defense for your claim that the Hebrews (and Scripture) didn’t distinguish myth from fact and history: “We assume that the Hebrews were part of the same cognitive environment shared by the surrounding cultures unless we have evidence to believe otherwise. And all ANE peoples created myths to answer the "big questions" in life…”

Your argument goes something like this:

1. The ancients didn’t distinguish myth from historical fact.
2. Therefore, the Hebrews also didn’t distinguish myth from fact.
3. Therefore, the authors of Scripture “ .
4. Therefore, Scripture doesn’t distinguish myth from historical fact.
5. Consequently, when we take the Bible’s historical accounts as historical fact, we are imposing our modernistic interpretations on Scripture.

Although this reasoning is so highly problematic (and consequently, I was considering to not even respond), I think it reflects something terribly important---What happens to the Christian mind and faith when it embraces Darwin, and the way that the Bible must be denigrated in order to make this illegitimate marriage “work.”

1. While you might be able to demonstrate that the ancients had a pre-scientific understanding of the world (as compared with our modern science), asserting that they didn’t (or couldn’t) distinguish myth from factual history is an entirely different thing! Furthermore, just because they often resorted to myths and parables, it doesn’t mean that they lacked an appreciation for historical truth and fact. (It is like arguing that since the Samoans eat bananas, they therefore don’t eat bread.) Besides, there are many ancient histories that are highly regarded. (This doesn’t mean that they didn’t lie and distort, but I don’t think that you are insinuating that Scripture lies and distorts, are you?) Therefore, it is you who must provide evidence that the ancients didn’t distinguish fabrication from actual history.

2. (and 3) Once again, you must provide proof that the Hebrews didn’t distinguish myth from history.

4. To conclude that Scripture doesn’t distinguish myth from historical fact, you are forced to deny that all Scripture is also authored by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:9-10; 2 Peter 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Mat. 5:16-18) and that it’s exclusively the product of confused human beings who can’t (or won’t) distinguish fact from fancy. This position flies in the face of everything that Scripture says about itself, as Jesus stated: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Peter explicitly claimed that what they were writing weren’t myths: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

The list is endless. It is needless that I continue with it. In fact, there is no writer of Scripture who ever insinuated that anything that had been written prior as history was actually myth! To maintain that many of these accounts are mythological, is to contradict Scripture at every turn. I too have considered the possibility that the early chapters of Genesis might be myth until it became poignantly obvious that all the writers of Scripture regarded them as historical fact and that these facts played an integral role in the super-structure of Christian theology.

In fact, many academicians have a very high regard for the history as presented in the Bible. Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg states:

“Major studies of almost every theme…of the Synoptic tradition have advanced plausible arguments for accepting the historical reliability of substantial portions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”

Archeologist John McRay writes:

“Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradictionj to the Bible. On the contrary, as we have seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars [and TEs] that have become codified into ‘fact’ over the years, but that archeology has shown to be wrong.”

Even the militant agnostic Bart Ehrman acknowledges:

“The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus…are the four Gospels of the NT…This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the NT and in its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity.”

These statements couldn’t stand if Scripture didn’t clearly distinguish myth from historical fact.

5. Are we imposing our own modernistic assumptions about historical truth upon the Bible? As Ehrman affirmed, this is the same conclusion that “ALL serious historians of antiquity” have embraced! Instead, we conclude that it is the TEs who have imposed their Darwin-driven assumptions on Scripture and refuse to see anything outside of this destructive worldview. Consequently, whenever I present Biblical refutations for the theistic evolution (TE) position, TEs inevitably fail to engage the text of Scripture or my argumentation, preferring instead to delight in lofty abstractions far removed from the reality of Scripture.

If the Bible fails to distinguish between myth and historical fact, how can we? How can we depend upon such a Bible to illuminate our steps? Meanwhile, the TE must sit in judgment over the Bible to determine what is essential and what isn’t, instead of allowing the Bible to sit in judgment over them. Historically, no branch of Christianity which has ever divorced itself from the Text in this manner has been able to thrive. The Gnostics also believed that they possessed a superior understanding that enabled them to derive the real spiritual meat from Scripture. Where are they today? I trust that TE will also find itself on the dump-heap of history, that is, non-mythological history.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buddhism’s Mindfulness

When we don’t know the extent of our riches in Christ (Col. 2:1-4), several things happen. We fail to rejoice and make use of what we have, and we tend to pursue substitutes for what we think we lack. One example of this is our embrace of the Buddhist contemplative practice of mindfulness, through which painful, life-controlling feelings are observed without judging them. This form of contemplation enables us to distance ourselves from the grip of these feelings. Russ Harris writes in the Happiness Trap:

If you bring mindfulness to bear on negative feelings, they loose their impact. Just let them be there without struggling against them, and you’ll eventually feel less anxiety and depression.

There is some truth to this. Struggling against our feelings can be like struggling against quick-sand. The harder we fight, the quicker we sink. Our feelings can constitute such a threat that we either try to suppress them, rationalize them, or blame them on others. Each of these strategies subjects us to a painful internal struggle against our truth-revealing conscience, depriving us from any sense of peace. How much easier to simply accept the fact that we have some nasty feelings and go on with life!

However, acceptance of our feelings is more easily said than actually achieved. Feelings don’t just hurt; they preach sermons and make burning indictments. Guilt feelings tell us that we deserve judgment; while shame imposes a verdict of “unworthy” and “inadequate”—the very things we cannot accept about ourselves! Fear tells us that we are surrounded by threats.

For mindfulness to work, our feelings can’t simply be observed in a meditative state. We also must believe that their sermons carry no weight and have no reference to reality, that our guilt doesn’t indicate an actual indictment, but is no more than a pesky feeling which can be ignored and forgotten. However, this represents a flight from reality and a license to rationalize away all of our negative feelings.

In contrast to this, Christ gives us the resources to deal wisely and responsibly with our feelings. We examine ourselves in the light of our God-given feelings, and take appropriate action. We make ourselves mindful of the truths of Christ—that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive and to wash away the maiming effects of our sins and their corresponding emotional states (1 John 1:9). When we fear, we need not send the feeling away into the nether world of contemplation. We can face the reality of our fear and trust that He will protect us (Psalm 56:3). When we experience shame, we remind ourselves that it’s no longer about our unworthy selves but about Him (Luke 17:10; Gal. 2:20) and His Cross, which has put to death our very tangible debts, presenting their demanding claims through our emotions.

Shoppers are attracted to “one-stop-shopping.” If they can find everything they need in one place, they won’t have to go elsewhere. Likewise, we need to discover how His truths answer all of our needs in His timing. As we acquire this understanding, we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30) and can cease from our feverish quest for inferior products.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Evil of Proselytization

Filmmaker Michael Moore, who just came out with a new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” wrote,

“I'm also against any proselytizing; I certainly don't want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I'll leave that for another day (or movie).”

This is certainly strange coming from Moore’s pen. He seems to be doing quite a lot of proselytizing himself. In the same article, he wrote,

“I pose a simple question in the movie: "Is capitalism a sin?" I go on to ask, "Would Jesus be a capitalist?" Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined? I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over.”

I don’t think that there’s any question that Moore is one of us—a serious proselytizer! (And I’d also grant that he is raising an issue close to Jesus’ heart.)

I’m imagining what he might say if I suggested that he might be a bit hypocritical about this thing. Most likely, he would respond,

“Well, my issue is different. I’m not trying to sell a religion, but rather a moral concept about which, as human beings with a conscience, we should all be sensitive. We should all be indignant about the gross injustice of this growing disparity between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots!’”

Of course, Moore would have an issue here, but I think that we can equally appeal to our common conscience regarding evangelism. It should be patently clear to us that we are all sinners, whose best deeds are filthy rags and who are in desperate need of a Savior. It is only denial that obscures this fact, just as it also is denial that prevents us from acknowledging our responsibility for the welfare of others.

If Moore can make films about our responsibilities to our fellow-humans, we should be able to scream out about our even-more-fundamental responsibility to the One who created and redeemed us!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Brain: No Evidence for Lineal Descent

Neuroscientist and evolutionist Paul Patton made an interesting revelation, at least for me:

“One of the most common misconceptions about brain evolution is that it represents a linear process culminating in amazing cognitive powers of humans, with brains of other modern species representing previous stages…However research in comparative neuron-anatomy clearly has shown that complex brains—and sophisticated cognition—have evolved from simpler brains multiple times independently in separate lineages.” (Scientific America Mind, “One World, Many Minds,” Dec 2008/Jan 2009, 72-73)

Patton acknowledges that what had been promoted as the evolutionary pathway of the brain (from simplicity to complexity), is not so. Previously, it had been taught that our brains derived from four sequential evolutionary steps in which the fish brain was overlaid by a reptilian complex and later repackaged in over-lying paleo- and then neo-mammalian brain additions:

“A ‘neural chassis” corresponding to the brains of fish and amphibians; a reptilian complex, consisting of the basal ganglia, which were held to dominate the brains of reptiles and birds; a paleomammalian component, consisting of the brains limbic system, which supposedly emerged with the origin of mammals and which was responsible for emotional behavior; and finally a neomammalian component, consisting of the neocortex, the site of higher cognitive function.” (75)

What does this say about the common brain structures that had confidently cast fish as our ancestors?

“In recent decades scientists have cast aside a linear, sequential view of brain evolution in which the human brain incorporated components resembling the brains of modern fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds.” (79)

What then explains the similar inter-phyla brain “components” if not a “linear, sequential…brain evolution?” Not much, if they evolved “independently in separate lineages!” This would seem to be major bad news for the Darwinist. Traditionally and necessarily, they have argued their case by virtue of homology—common structures suggest common ancestry! However, common structures fail to necessarily argue for common descent.

Another example of this is flight. Darwinists admit that insects, reptiles, birds and mammals had all taken to the skies evolutionarily independent of each other. Now they are admitting the same about the brain. However, their case for common ancestry by virtue of the common brain structures had been particularly impressive. We had been led to believe that the theory of evolution was not only established by homology but also by the fact that the more recent species had gradually added additional brains structures upon the old, one on top of the preceding structure like building a house—the frame built upon the foundation; the roof on the frame, each requiring the prior structure. Not so!

Genetics has become the Darwinists’ Alamo. It’s there that they are making their last-stand. However, the reasoning is still the same: common genetics proves common descent! But this reasoning has consistently failed to demonstrate a common ancestry instead of a common Designer.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goodness without Godness

Can we be good without God? “Definitely!” according to atheist and ex-Muslim, Salmon Rushdie, who was interviewed by Bill Moyers for his series on faith and reason. Rushdie argued persuasively that, even without a belief in God, we know right from wrong. We're hot-wired for it; it's part of our DNA, as is our capacity for language.

Rushdie could have been citing the Bible, which acknowledges that we're created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and therefore have a moral conscience and know the truth (Romans 1-2). Is it then necessary to believe in God in order to act morally? In the long run, Yes! Besides having a conscience, we need an adequate rationale to live morally, something that atheism lacks.

If morality is a matter of having a conscience, which is just the by-product of DNA, evolution, or the way we were raised, then it carries no moral authority. An "is" doesn't automatically become an "ought," which is the essence of morality. Just because I have a built-in repugnance for stealing doesn't mean I ought not to steal. Similarly, if I am a shy person, it doesn't logically follow that I shouldn't learn how to become more extroverted. Just because I'm wired a certain way, it doesn't mean I must stay within the confines of my wiring.

So just say I'm wired to not steal? This doesn't constitute an adequate reason to not steal. My wiring doesn't represent a higher truth upon which I can base my life. It's mindless and moral-less and therefore has no business dictating anything to anyone. Wiring can't be anyone's reason for being. Only God is adequate for such a role.

Without God, there is no truth that is higher than my wiring. Without such a higher truth, my wiring is my God; it’s higher than everything else. If so, no one can tell me that my stealing is wrong. After all, it's just a matter of your wiring accusing mine, and my wiring is going to carry more voltage than your wiring, at least for me. In such a world, there is no foundation for any moral discussion or a higher moral truth, which can critique my wiring. Even a Hitler can simply say, "I don't care what you think, I felt I was doing right!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Universalism: We’re all Going to Meet in Heaven!

Universalism is a popular idea, much more popular than the idea of eternal consequences for rejecting God. A man that I met in the park put it very succinctly:

“I can’t see how a loving and all-powerful God would send any of his creation to hell! The Christian God is just too punitive and exclusive for me and for anyone else who has a mind and a heart!”

This reasoning is both appealing and issues a powerful indictment against the Biblical faith. After all, how can any of us relish the thought of the destruction of the wicked when we too are no more deserving than they? Consequently, many of us are embarrassed when confronted with such a challenge as this. However, even if the Biblical position is offensive, is it any less reasonable than universalism? Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. If our lives entail no eternal consequences, then life seems pointless, apart from having a good time. It’s like a teacher giving all her students an “A+” regardless of their performance and even whether or not they came to class.

2. All the major religions recognize that there will be eternal consequences for our inhumanity, suggesting that God has written this truth into all our hearts (Romans 1:32).

3. There is no adequate rationale for moral living or for seeking God without eternal consequences. It makes more sense to get whatever we can out of life if we’re all going to the same eternal home (1 Cor. 15:19).

4. If God is so benign and doesn’t want to see any suffer eternally, why doesn’t He model life on earth in accordance with His final heavenly plan? Why the discontinuity? If pain is so disagreeable to Him there, why not also here? If God has rejected the idea of eternal judgment, why has He not also ruled against the occurrence of disease, warfare, and tsunamis? Instead, continuity would suggest that we will also have to endure consequences in the next life.

5. A universalistic God has little interest in justice and victimization if He refuses to do anything about them. Such a God would be an offense to our own sense of justice.

6. Universalism communicates the wrong message—our behavior doesn’t matter and God doesn’t care. Why then should we? Life would become brutal and unlivable if we tried to model ourselves after such a God.

7. If we are created in the image of God and therefore have a powerful sense of justice and retribution, shouldn’t we also expect that God would have the same mind-set? If God lacked such punitive concerns, then our preoccupation with law and punitive sanctions would be something displeasing to God. Therefore, if we truly believe in a universalistic God, we should try to model our society after Him and rid ourselves of courts, prisons, fines, and even failing grades.

8. We need suffering and consequences to become the compassionate, humble, and understanding people God wants us to be. Evidently, consequences for sin are not alien to God’s plan.

9. Knowing that there are eternal consequences serves as a deterrent against crime and also a motivation to seek God (Acts 17:27).

10. Knowing that God will eventually right the wrongs that are done gives us the emotional freedom to love others by committing our concerns and longings for ultimate justice to God. We therefore can devote ourselves to love, knowing that God will justly punish. Without experiencing radical victimization, we Westerners have become quite comfortable and fail to appreciate the fact that the imposition of justice brings psychological closure, which enables us to move on.

11. A God concerned about eternal consequences proclaims that somehow, justice and mercy must coexist. Take a good look at universalism. It provides the affluent, self-indulgent, myopic West with the ultimate in designer gods, one who would tell us, “Live as you like. Far be it from me to interfere with your fulfillments and pleasures. It’ll all be wonderful in the end, however you live.” This fabrication dumps justice in favor of our immediate comforts. How convenient!

12. The concept of a God-of-justice guards against an entitlement mentality. “Public assistance” is granted as an entitlement—those who receive it are “entitled” to it. Consequently, it damages almost all who touch it. Instead of gratefulness, the recipients become convinced that they deserve it. Universalism conveys the wrong and damaging idea that we are entitled to God’s love. We are no more entitled to God’s love than my cat is entitled to a yearly excursion to the French Riviera. God doesn’t love us because we deserve it, but because He wants to love us.

Of course, people will object, “Well, no one deserves eternal hell. That can’t be just!” To this, I simply answer,

“The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress” (Job 37:23).

I haven’t figured it all out, but I am confident that our Lord will prove Himself to be perfectly just and merciful, so much so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:10-11) to the glory of God!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Intelligent Design

Below is my comment to an atheist's blog:

We are surrounded by examples of intelligent design in whichever direction we look. I will not torment you with the many examples of the fine-tuning of the universe, of which I’m sure you are already painfully aware and which drive you to postulate highly imaginative solutions such as an infinite number of universes in order to account for it. Nor will I tell you about the wonderful associations I find between my conscience and the salutary direction its promptings lead me to take, lest you ascribe it once again to natural selection.

Nor will I mention the informational DNA system and the inability of evolution to even whisper a theory regarding its origin. Nor will I be so cruel as to challenge you about the origin of life and the cell, when I know it will only promote feverish, ill-conceived theories. Nor will I even suggest you consider consciousness and freewill, lest this forces you to resort to the ultimate faith-answer: “Naturalism might not have an explanation now, but this doesn’t mean that we won’t have one later!”

Nor will I be so indelicate as to raise the matter of the elegance of our equations which express the operations of the physical laws. (Indeed, there isn’t a law, formula, or equation that doesn’t carry His fingerprints!) For instance, my gullible unscientific mind was so impressed by the beautiful and simple formula for gravity: Gravitational Attraction = 1/ (distance separation between two bodies)². Why must it be exactly squared? Why couldn’t it have been 1.999 or 2.0001 instead? Why soooo elegant? Can you answer this? Does natural selection have anything to say about this? Can it explain why these laws are unchanging in the midst of a changing, expanding universe? Can it explain from where our tools of reason of and logic came or how they correspond so wonderfully and unchangeably to the challenges of life? Could all of this originated from an explosion, the big bang?

And E = MC²? Again the elegance! But also the incredible coordination and harmony among energy and matter! Light, energy and mass all intimately related! And then there is the chemical periodic table which reflects so poignantly the order we find among the elements. Can you account for this elegant design? Even musical notes are related so precisely and mathematically. Not only that, but our ears and tastes also resonate to their precise relationships.

Have you considered the perfect size relationship between our moon and sun and their relative distances from the earth, enabling us to see perfect eclipses of the sun? Have you considered the fortuitous properties of water causing it to expand at 33 degrees so that ice doesn’t sink and kill our aquatic life?

However, I’m not doing justice to ID by merely pointing to particular instances of intelligent design. Rather, it seems that everything reflects harmony and beauty. The very fact that we can so meaningfully and constructively contemplate these lofty issues with a grey sponge we call “brain,” also points us to the bewildering correspondence between our minds and the world. And now we are being told that even “chaotic” arrangements evince their own fractal designs. It leads us to wonder whether everything is the product of intelligent design. Indeed, “The earth is filled with His glory!”

This brings us back to the question of natural selection, which can’t even begin to explain the phenomena of design outside of biology. If it fails to enlighten us regarding life, DNA, freewill, consciousness, fine-tuning, and the origin and the perpetuation of the laws of nature, perhaps science is best advised to look for another mechanism that can parsimoniously explain ALL, even biological diversity!