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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Al Mohler's argument for a young earth

Some Christians say that most, or all, ancient theologians believed in a young earth. He Lives pokes some serious holes in that argument, this time as given by Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler.

I'll repeat the arguments in my own words.

Mohler: Ancient theologians believed in a young earth, and so should we.

He Lives: So what? They had no reason to believe anything else. And, not only did ancient theologians believe in a young earth, but they believed that the earth was the center of the universe. By Mohler's logic, we should also believe in geocentrism, which Mohler presumably does not believe.

Read He Lives. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunspots 368

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: National Public Radio reports that scientists at MIT have developed a computer algorithm that can tell when a smile is fake or genuine, and do so better than humans. Did you know that we smile when we are frustrated?

Wired reports on a chemical crime investigation -- in 1850.

Politics:  I was amazed to read (on PolitiFact, which is generally unbiased) that the rate of increase in US federal spending under President Obama was among the lowest of any president since Eisenhower. Some of the credit goes to Republicans in Congress.

Computing: Wired reports on efforts by orthodox Jews to keep the Internet morally safe. (There are allegations that the hierarchy may be unduly controlling access to information.)

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Prayer, Praise and Thanksgiving, by E. M. Bounds, part three

Gratitude and thanksgiving always looks back at the past though it may also take in the present. But prayer always looks to the future. Thanksgiving deals with things already received. Prayer deals with things desired, asked for and expected. Prayer turns to gratitude and praise when the things asked for have been granted by God.
As prayer brings things to us which beget gratitude and thanksgiving, so praise and gratitude promote prayer, and induce more praying and better praying.
Gratitude and thanksgiving forever stand opposed to all murmurings at God’s dealings with us, and all complainings at our lot. Gratitude and murmuring never abide in the same heart at the same time. An unappreciative spirit has no standing beside gratitude and praise. And true prayer corrects complaining and promotes gratitude and thanksgiving. Dissatisfaction at one’s lot, and a disposition to be discontented with things which come to us in the providence of God, are foes to gratitude and enemies to thanksgiving.
The murmurers are ungrateful people. Appreciative men and women have neither the time nor disposition to stop and complain. The bane of the wilderness-journey of the Israelites on their way to Canaan was their proneness to murmur and complain against God and Moses. For this, God was several times greatly grieved, and it took the strong praying of Moses to avert God’s wrath because of these murmurings. The absence of gratitude left no room nor disposition for praise and thanksgiving, just as it is so always. But when these same Israelites were brought through the Red Sea dry shod, while their enemies were destroyed, there was a song of praise led by Miriam, the sister of Moses. One of the leading sins of these Israelites was forgetfulness of God and His mercies, and ingratitude of soul. This brought forth murmurings and lack of praise, as it always does. - From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sunspots 367

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: (or something) Internet information about a very large crocodile, recently killed in Africa, has most likely been exaggerated. However, there was a very large crocodile killed there. This link includes a photo.

National Geographic reports on the successful launch of a commercial spaceflight, which apparently contained cremated remains of James Doohan (Montgomery Scott, aka "Scotty" of the original Star Trek) and Astronaut Gordon Cooper.

National Geographic also reports on recovery of ink from the ink sacs of a fossil squid-like creature, said to be 160 million years old. The ink is similar to that of the modern cuttlefish.

The Arts: (or manufacturing) Wired reports (including a video of just over 2 minutes) on a machine designed to bend wire in most any way, resulting in 2 or 3 dimensional objects.

E. Stephen Burnett tells us what stories should be all about.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to love God, continued

I recently mused about the matter of how we can, and should, love God.

I later brought up the subject in a small group. The group had several good ideas about how to love God, such as:

Obey His commandments (See John 14:15-24.)
Imitate Christ.
Worship God.
Put God first.
Take care of other people.
Love other people.
Love the Bible.
Spend time with God.
Be thankful for what God has done.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How to love God - musings

Mark 12:28 One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together. Knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
So the most important commandment is to love God. 

Lest there be any doubt of the correctness of the answer, in Luke's description of what was probably the same event, Jesus explicitly affirmed that answer:
Luke 10:25 Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; [Deuteronomy 6:5] and your neighbor as yourself. [Leviticus 19:18]” 28 He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

So how do we love God?

One way, Jesus said, is to follow His teachings, or commandments. See John 14:15-24. I take it that much of those teachings are in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.

I did an on-line search, and found these articles (there are many others):

This one says that being thankful is the key. (That includes being thankful for things we don't like.) This one gives several pointers, and discusses what to do when we don't feel like loving God. Here is an essay on loving God with all your mind. Here is a page that gives six good ideas on how to love God. The six are: 1) obeying the commandments 2) trusting 3) put God first 4) be committed 5) be humble 6) spend time in prayer.

George Croly expressed love for God in a great poem.

Let me add a couple of ideas. If I really love someone, I will pay attention to what they say, even if I don't like it, or it's repetitive. If I really love someone, I want to be in their company. If I really love someone, I want the best for them -- I want them to be thought well of.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The fifth Messianic prophecy

Some time ago, I posted on the first four prophecies mentioned as being fulfilled in the gospel of Matthew. I was amazed to find that it would have been difficult to understand those prophecies, as given originally, mostly because of the context.

I recently looked at the fifth such prophecy, which is this:

Matthew 2:19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”
21 He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (World English Bible, public domain)

OK. The prophecy seems clear enough. Some one or more prophets said that someone would be called a Nazarene. The prophecy means that Jesus would live in Nazareth. But there's a problem. I discovered that there is no record of Nazareth or Nazarene, in the entire Old Testament. Here's what the public domain commentary from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown had to say about this:

The best explanation of the origin of this name appears to be that which traces it to the word netzer in Isa 11:1 --the small twig, sprout, or sucker, which the prophet there says, "shall come forth from the stem (or rather, 'stump') of Jesse, the branch which should fructify from his roots." The little town of Nazareth, mentioned neither in the Old Testament nor in JOSEPHUS, was probably so called from its insignificance: a weak twig in contrast to a stately tree; and a special contempt seemed to rest upon it--"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Joh 1:46) --over and above the general contempt in which all Galilee was held, from the number of Gentiles that settled in the upper territories of it, and, in the estimation of the Jews, debased it. Thus, in the providential arrangement by which our Lord was brought up at the insignificant and opprobrious town called Nazareth, there was involved, first, a local humiliation; next, an allusion to Isaiah's prediction of His lowly, twig-like upspringing from the branchless, dried-up stump of Jesse; and yet further, a standing memorial of that humiliation which "the prophets," in a number of the most striking predictions, had attached to the Messiah.

So, this commentator believes that the prophets meant either that Jesus would be the fulfillment of the prophecy about the Branch (which seems to be correct) or that he would be "despised and rejected by men," or both. Matthew Henry adds another possible meaning:

In this is said to be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Which may be looked upon, (1.) As a man of honour and dignity, though primarily it signifies no more than a man of Nazareth; there is an allusion or mystery in speaking it, speaking Christ to be, [1.] The Man, the Branch, spoken of, Isa. xi. 1. The word there is Netzar, which signifies either a branch, or the city of Nazareth; in being denominated from that city, he is declared to be that Branch. [2.] It speaks him to be the great Nazarite; of whom the legal Nazarites were a type and figure (especially Samson, Judg. xiii. 5), and Joseph, who is called a Nazarite among his brethren (Gen. xlix. 26), and to whom that which was prescribed concerning the Nazarites, has reference, Num. vi. 2, &c. Not that Christ was, strictly, a Nazarite, for he drank wine, and touched dead bodies; but he was eminently so, both as he was singularly holy, and as he was by a solemn designation and dedication set apart to the honour of God in the work of our redemption, as Samson was to save Israel. And it is a name we have all reason to rejoice in, and to know him by. Or, (2.) As a name of reproach and contempt. To be called a Nazarene, was to be called a despicable man, a man from whom no good was to be expected, and to whom no respect was to be paid. The devil first fastened this name upon Christ, to render him mean, and prejudice people against him, and it stuck as a nickname to him and his followers. Now this was not particularly foretold by any one prophet, but, in general, it was spoken by the prophets, that he should be despised and rejected of men (Isa. liii. 2, 3), a Worm, and no man (Ps. xxii. 6, 7), that he should be an Alien to his brethren Ps. lxix. 7, 8. Let no name of reproach for religion's sake seem hard to us, when our Master was himself called a Nazarene.

Note that Henry does not point out that we can't find the prophecy Matthew refers to in the Old Testament.

John Calvin also concludes that the prophecy is that Jesus would be a Nazarite. He argues that the prophets were whoever wrote the book of Judges.

So, a seemingly simple prophecy, that Jesus would live in Nazareth, seems to be something else entirely. Amazing. If this prophecy, already fulfilled, is so obscure, then we need to be most careful in thinking we understand prophecies which haven't been fulfilled yet.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Falk on Dembski's response, continued

I have posted on a dialogue between William Dembski, a mathematician who is a prominent member of the Intelligent Design movement (ID) and Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos, an evolutionary creationist. The most recent post is here.

The dialog is continuing, and here's a post from Falk, which refers to a previous post by Dembski. I don't think this breaks any new ground, but thought I should post, to be more complete on this subject.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sunspots 366

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: PC World reports that the state of Nevada has regulations which grant licenses to cars with no active human driver. Google has such cars on the road in Nevada now.

Politics:  NPR reports on how thinking about some good experience we have had might make us more willing to accept facts that are contrary to our political biases.

Rachel Held Evans says that political campaigns against homosexual marriage are alienating a generation from Christianity.
Christianity: (or Politics) Weekend Fisher has done a thorough study of the question of slavery in the Bible.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dembski and Falk: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral, the critical issue

I have been posting on an exchange between William Dembski, one of the intellectual pillars of the Intelligent Design movement (ID) and Darrel Falk, President of the BioLogos Foundation, which may be characterized as an Evolutionary Creationist organization. Here is the latest previous post.

In the conclusion of his response to Dembski, Falk indicates that he agrees with Dembski about a great many things, and that Darwinism, as usually understood, is not theologically neutral. Falk and Dembski believe that humans are not here by accident, but because of a supernatural purpose.

But Falk does not agree with Dembski on all points.

Dembski wrote:
Given that science is widely regarded as our most reliable universal form of knowledge, the failure of science to provide evidence of God, and in particular Darwin’s exclusion of design from biological origins, undercuts (C2).

Dembski previously stated C2 thus, as one of his non-negotiables of Christianity: "The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity." (Falk agrees with that, by the way.)

Falk disagrees:
Given the way that God has worked through his regular natural activity, why should we expect to be able to develop a test for the activity of God?  God is always active, but scientific testing of God’s activity would require a “control” where God is not active.  How can we conduct an experiment which studies the “presence vs. absence of God” when God is always present as sustainer as well as creator?

There is more explanation of the disagreement than that, but that's the heart of it. I agree with Falk. Further, I believe that there is scriptural evidence to support his position. Hebrews 11:3 says "By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible." (World English Bible, public domain) Not by experimental evidence, but by faith.

Thanks for reading. Read Falk and Dembski.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Prayer, Praise and Thanksgiving, by E. M. Bounds, Part two

Gratitude is born of meditation on God’s grace and mercy. “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” [Psalm 126:3] Herein we see the value of serious meditation. “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” [Psalm 104:34] Praise is begotten by gratitude and a conscious obligation to God for mercies given. As we think of mercies past, the heart is inwardly moved to gratitude.

Love is the child of gratitude. Love grows as gratitude is felt, and then breaks out into praise and thanksgiving to God: “I love the Lord because he hath heard my voice and my supplication.” [Psalm  116:1] Answered prayers cause gratitude, and gratitude brings forth a love that declares it will not cease praying: “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” [Psalm 116:2] Gratitude and love move to larger and increased praying.
Paul appeals to the Romans to dedicate themselves wholly to God, a living sacrifice, and the constraining motive is the mercies of God:
“I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [Romans 12:1]
Consideration of God’s mercies not only begets gratitude, but induces a large consecration to God of all we have and are. So that prayer, thanksgiving and consecration are all linked together inseparably. - From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dembski, Falk and Wood: Wood criticizes Intelligent Design

I have recently posted on an exchange between Darrel Falk, of the BioLogos Foundation, and William Dembski, one of the pillars of the Intelligent Design movement (ID) on the question of whether Darwinism is theologically neutral. This is the latest post in my series.

I also posted about what Todd Wood, a Young-Earth Creationist, had to say about the exchange. He has written more about the exchange, and he claims, in this latest post, that ID is pretty much without important content.

Thanks for reading. Read Wood.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dembski and Falk: Is Darwin Theologically Neutral? Falk's position

There has recently been an exchange of views between some Southern Baptist theologians, and members of the BioLogos Foundation, on the question posed by the title. I have posted on the views of William Dembski, a Southern Baptist theologian, and a prominent member of the Intelligent Design movement (ID), expressed in two posts, which was published on the BioLogos blog, and on responses to those views, from Todd C. Wood, a young-earth creationist whose views I admire and respect, which were published independently on his own blog. The last post in this series was here. It has links to the previous posts, and related matters.

I now turn to the response of Darrel Falk, president of the BioLogos Foundation, whose views on origins are often called evolutionary creationism. Like Dembski, Falk first puts forth his own position. There is a second part to Falk's response, in which he sets forth some disagreement with Dembski, and I hope to muse about that at a later date.

Falk shares considerable common ground with Dembski. But he parts ways with him on the matter of God's activity. ID advocates argue that God's activity, in the development of living things, including humans, must have involved a number of supernatural, miraculous acts, and that, furthermore, in principle, it is possible for scientific analysis to show that such miraculous acts were necessary. Falk disagrees, in at least two important ways.

First, Falk does believe in the miraculous, events which are not explicable by science, not ordinary natural activity. (Christ's incarnation and resurrection are two such.) But he claims that God's activity is not usually what we would call miraculous, and, furthermore, that God's ordinary activity is necessary for the maintenance of the universe. He writes:

The Law of Gravity, for example, is not something that God set up in the beginning, thereafter recusing himself from further involvement and exiting from the scene. Instead, the Law of Gravity works as it does because of the ongoing activity of God’s Spirit in the universe. So consistent is that activity that it can be described mathematically through scientific analysis. If God ceased to be active, however, then not only would the matter of this universe no longer function in a way which enables a mathematical description of gravity, matter itself would cease to exist.

Falk goes on to say this:

Put another way, the activity of God is not restricted to that which we call the supernatural; it is all God’s activity. It is just that some aspects of God’s activity are so consistently repeatable that we can develop laws which describe the regularity of the divine activity which “holds” and “sustains” the universe. This latter type of activity is no less magnificent just because God does it continuously.

He cites Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 in support of his position. (Unfortunately, he gives the reference as Colossians 1:16, not 1:17, but he quotes 1:17)

Second, Falk says that we are too prone to think miracles were necessary, when perhaps they weren't:

Given the many examples of supernatural activity in Scripture, we human beings tend to expect that for something as special as creation of stars or new species, supernatural activity would have been required. But we cannot derive this from the scriptural account and, therefore, it is wise not to second-guess how God might have worked based on the Scriptures. . . . When the Psalmist describes the heavens as being the work of his fingers (Psalm 8:3), this does not negate astronomy’s description of the regular and ongoing processes that give rise to stars in God’s universe. Those processes are natural, but they are every bit as much God’s activity as if he were to take huge balls of matter and miraculously fashion sparkling stars with his hands.

I believe that Falk is correct on these two points, and that I have been guilty of confusing miracles with ordinary activity at times. I wish that Dembski had responded to this post, but, as far as I know, he has not.

Thanks for reading. Read Falk.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dembski, Falk and Wood: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral, part 2

In a previous post, I referred to a debate on origins through posts to the BioLogos Forum's blog. William Dembski, a mathematician, philosopher and theologian, and a proponent of Intelligent Design, wrote a position paper, at the request of the BioLogos Forum. In it, he argued that Darwinism is not theologically neutral. Darrel Falk, an official of that Forum, and probably best classified as an evolutionary creationist, responded. Todd Wood, a young-earth creationist, also reacted, in his own blog. I consider Wood's response in this post.

I suppose that I ought to say that one can believe that God is intelligent, and a designer, or creator, without agreeing with all of the positions of the Intelligent Design movement. The ID movement argues that it should be possible to find scientific evidence that God not only created life, but there is what Michael Behe has called irreducible complexity -- there are processes, or structures, that are so complex that they could not have arisen by natural selection, but that God must have intervened during their development, if they arose over a long period of time. (Some ID advocates also believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, but some are not convinced of that. See here for information on ID, and here for some contrasts between ID and young-earth creationism.) ID scientists have actually not really come close to proving scientific evidence of God's intervention. They have, instead, tried to show that natural selection couldn't have produced some structures, or processes. Behe and Dembski are tow of the most important scientists who have attempted this. Their work has been seriously criticized by other scientists, Christian and not.

Dembski's paper is in two parts, here and here. Falk's response is also in two parts, here and here. Wood's reaction is here and here.

I first repeat the heart of Dembski's presentation, what he says are four non-negotiables of Christianity, and four of Darwinism:

Non-Negotiables of Christianity:

  • (C1) Divine Creation: God by wisdom created the world out of nothing.
  • (C2) Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.
  • (C3) Human Exceptionalism: Humans alone among the creatures on earth are made in the image of God.
  • (C4) Christ’s Resurrection: God, in contravention of nature’s ordinary powers, raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

Non-Negotiables of Darwinism:

  • (D1) Common Descent: All organisms are related by descent with modification from a common ancestor.
  • (D2) Natural Selection: Natural selection operating on random variations is the principal mechanism responsible for biological adaptations.
  • (D3) Human Continuity: Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree.
  • (D4) Methodological Naturalism: The physical world, for purposes of scientific inquiry, may be assumed to operate by unbroken natural law. 
Wood has trouble with both sets of non-negotiables.Wood says that there is no mention of man's fallen, sinful nature, and that C2 and C3 are "weird." He thinks C3 is negotiable -- it is possible to believe we are in the image of God, and arose by evolutionary mechanisms. He also points out that there are differences among Christians as to what the image of God means, or is. On C2, he believes that it would be possible to believe that some aspects of creation were so ruined by the Fall that they don't reflect God's glory. Wood has even more trouble with the other four non-negotiables. He points out that Darwin, himself, was not convinced of D1 -- he thought there was more than one common ancestor. (Not thousands or milllions, by the way.) He goes on to say that D1, D2 and D3 are not so much presuppositions, as they are derived from evidence.

Wood also believes that Dembski has misunderstood methodological naturalism, D4, and confused it with philosophical naturalism:
Methodological naturalism is an epistemological position that recognizes reasonable limitations to human abilities to sense the supernatural. In other words, methodological naturalism is a limitation on what I think I can know. How can that possibly "tie God's hands?" A consistent methodological naturalist when confronted with Christ's resurrection (or any miracle) could only say that science is extremely limited in such cases to understand what happened or how. There is no way that methodological naturalism could rule out the miraculous. That's what philosophical naturalism does.
See here for the Wikipedia article on Naturalism, which includes a discussion of methodological naturalism.

Perhaps most importantly, Wood is familiar with the writings of Darwin, and although he doesn't claim that Darwin was a Christian believer, he believes, and presents evidence to back it up, that Darwin was, like Einstein, sympathetic to the view that there was a Creator. Wood quotes from a letter Darwin wrote:

I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.

I hope to deal with Falk's reaction to Dembski in a later post. Thanks for reading.

Sunspots 365

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: Fox News reports on a study that indicates that wind farms are causing the surface temperature in their vicinity to increase, which may have some bad effects.

NPR reports on zombie ants -- ants with a fungus growing out of their bodies, which actually controls the movement of the ants. There's more to the story . . .
Politics:  (And Religion) A Canadian student faces expulsion from his public school for wearing a tee-shirt that says "Life is wasted without Jesus."

Christianity: Ken Schenck, Bible scholar, posts about who wrote the first five books of the Bible.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Dembski and Falk: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?

The BioLogos forum has posted a position paper from William Dembski, on the subject of whether or not Darwinism is theologically neutral (he claims that it is not) as well as a response to Dembski from Darrel Falk. Dembski's paper is in two parts, here and here. Falk's is likewise in two parts, here and here. The BioLogos forum sets forth a list of 13 beliefs here. It is hard to imagine most Christians having any problem with those beliefs. However, quite a few have a problem with part of the opening statement, as follows: "committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith, guided by the truth that 'all things hold together in Christ.' [Colossians 1:17]" Perhaps it's too simple, but the BioLogos forum team are often called evolutionary creationists. Dembski is one of the leading spokesmen of the Intelligent Design Movement, which rejects evolutionary creationism*. He has earned doctorates in mathematics and philosophy, and also advanced training in theology. Falk, who is President of BioLogos, is a biologist by training.

I found Dembski's writing to be respectful of Christians who disagree with him, and he seems to understand at least some of the thinking of such people.

In Dembski's part 1, he sets forth these non-negotiables:

Non-Negotiables of Christianity:

  • (C1) Divine Creation: God by wisdom created the world out of nothing.
  • (C2) Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.
  • (C3) Human Exceptionalism: Humans alone among the creatures on earth are made in the image of God.
  • (C4) Christ’s Resurrection: God, in contravention of nature’s ordinary powers, raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

Non-Negotiables of Darwinism:

  • (D1) Common Descent: All organisms are related by descent with modification from a common ancestor.
  • (D2) Natural Selection: Natural selection operating on random variations is the principal mechanism responsible for biological adaptations.
  • (D3) Human Continuity: Humans are continuous with other animals, exhibiting no fundamental difference in kind but only differences in degree.
  • (D4) Methodological Naturalism: The physical world, for purposes of scientific inquiry, may be assumed to operate by unbroken natural law. 
At least some of these non-negotiables can be questioned. One question that occurred to me is in relation to C3. I would say that all creatures (and, for that matter, all rocks) are made in the image of God to some extent. They bear unmistakable marks of their creator. I would agree that humans are more in the image of God than any animals, or other organisms, or than any non-animate entities. It is possible that we may have computers or robots that are also more in the image of God than any animals, but we aren't there yet, and may never be. (See here and here for more about the idea of the image of God.)

His strategy is to explain how the two sets are in tension. He specifically avoids using "conflict," because he says that the languages of religion and science are different enough that it is difficult to know if you have found a real conflict.

Then, in part 2 of his essay, Dembski explains why he thinks that there are tensions, and which tensions are most important.

One tension, in Dembski's mind, at least, is that "it seems odd, given (C1), that God would create by Darwinian processes, which suggest that unguided forces can do all the work necessary for biological evolution." These unguided forces, if they are so important, are not evidence of God's wisdom, he says, nor do they reflect God's glory. (C2)

On the contrary, it seems to me that if there were a God who was able to create a universe, with properties such that unguided forces could bring about living things, in all their diversity, that would be strong evidence of His wisdom, and add to His glory. 

Dembski sees another problem. He says that "Francis Collins . . . denies that our moral capacities represent the natural development of the same essential capacities in other primates. Yet to say that our moral or cognitive or linguistic capacities are unprecedented in the rest of the animal world flies in the face of Darwinian evolution, certainly as Darwin conceived it." (Collins is a Christian, an author, and one of the most important scientists of our time. He is the founder of the BioLogos forum.)

I see what Dembski is talking about, but it seems to me that it could have been that God took some sort of pre-human, and, by miracle, installed those moral capacities. Also, it could be that the appearance of language, spoken and as thought, changed moral capacity by itself.

But Dembski also makes another important point. He claims that there is not sufficient evidence that natural selection can produce the complex structures we see in living things, and, thus, wonders why Darwinianism is important enough to examine. He writes ". . . the evidence for the creative power of natural selection to build complex biological forms is nil."This claim has been disputed at considerable depth, and some of the disputation is by Christian scientists who are convinced that natural selection can, and has, produced complex structures. In fact, there is a series, published by BioLogos, entitled  "Evolution and the Origin of Biological Information," which is reasonably accessible to the intelligent non-scientist, and refutes this claim of Dembski, and the ID movement, with examples. Here's a link to the final installment of that series. There are links to the other parts in that post.

As I write this, I have not read Falk's response to Dembski. I have read an important response to Dembski, by a Young-Earth Creationist, Todd Wood. I hope to post on what Falk and Wood have to say about Dembski soon.

Thanks for reading!

*There are several positions on origins among Bible-believing Christians. They include Intelligent Design, Young-Earth Creationism, and Evolutionary Creationism. See here for a summary, giving the weaknesses and strengths of these and other such beliefs.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Prayer, Praise and Thanksgiving, by E. M. Bounds, Part one

Prayer, praise and thanksgiving all go in company. A close relationship exists between them. Praise and thanksgiving are so near alike that it is not easy to distinguish between them or define them separately. The Scriptures join these three things together. Many are the causes for thanksgiving and praise. The Psalms are filled with many songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving, all pointing back to the results of prayer. Thanksgiving includes gratitude. In fact thanksgiving is but the expression of an inward conscious gratitude to God for mercies received. Gratitude is an inward emotion of the soul, involuntarily arising therein, while thanksgiving is the voluntary expression of gratitude.
Thanksgiving is oral, positive, active. It is the giving out of something to God. Thanksgiving comes out into the open. Gratitude is secret, silent, negative, passive, not showing its being till expressed in praise and thanksgiving. Gratitude is felt in the heart. Thanksgiving is the expression of that inward feeling.
Thanksgiving is just what the word itself signifies—the giving of thanks to God. It is giving something to God in words which we feel at heart for blessings received. Gratitude arises from a contemplation of the goodness of God. It is bred by serious meditation on what God has done for us. Both gratitude and thanksgiving point to, and have to do with God and His mercies. The heart is consciously grateful to God. The soul gives expression to that heartfelt gratitude to God in words or acts. - From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Christianity and the Presidency, part two

In a previous post, I argued that the New Testament teaches, unambiguously, that President Obama and other leaders deserve our respect and should be honored for their service. I wish to consider some other issues.

1) Does respect and honor mean that you, or I, can't vote against a sitting President or other elected official? I don't think so. There may be important issues where we disagree with an elected official, and that would be a legitimate reason to vote against that person. This is especially true if the official takes some unbiblical position, such as persecution of Christians. Paul stood up to various authorities occasionally, including a high priest and Peter.

2) Does the Bible require that we honor candidates for office in the same way as a current official? I don't think so. I think we should respect, and have a certain degree of admiration, for anyone putting themselves on the line to run for President, City Council, or any other office. Without such candidates, our system wouldn't work. But respect and admiration don't need to go so far for a candidate as for someone who holds office. There are candidates who run for frivolous reasons, including two professional comedians who have, sort of, run for President within my lifetime. There are some candidates for local office who seem to run out of spite, or even so that they can financially advantage themselves through the office sought. There are candidates who are not well qualified. In the 2010 election in South Carolina, the Democratic candidate for U. S. Senate was not well qualified for the office, and even some officials of his party admitted that he wasn't. For the more important offices, at least, in the early stages, candidates may not have had their past life examined thoroughly. This seems to have been true of Herman Cain, who was for a time a candidate for President this year. I can admire Mr. Cain for his willingness to run, but I don't have to admire him about everything, if the allegations of sexual harassment, or worse, that were placed against him, are true.

3) Now, a different sort of side issue. The previous post referred to some disrespect of President Obama, relating to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Some people aren't giving the President any credit. I personally believe that he deserves some of the credit, if credit is the right word for assassinating someone on the territory of another country*. He at least allowed this to take place, however else he may have been involved, and he appointed Leon Panetta as CIA director. It is true that the President didn't gather the intelligence, plan the mission, run communications, transport the assassins, or pull the trigger. However, if he gets no credit for this, by the same logic, it would seem that he shouldn't be blamed for some of our problems with the economy. He wasn't a greedy banker, he didn't take on mortgages that he couldn't pay for, etc.

4) On the other side, it is also possible for the administration to claim too much credit, or to inflate the importance of the death of Bin Laden, and, no doubt, there has been and will be some of that. That shouldn't be done, either.

*Some Christians are pacifists, and believe that no war is justified, and, I suppose, don't believe that killing someone in cold blood in a sovereign nation that we aren't at war with is justified, either. Other Christians believe that some wars are justified, and some are not. At least some of them believe that the killing of Bin Laden was justified. See here for a discussion of this subject.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Christianity and the Presidency

Who gets credit for the Osama Bin Laden's death? Some recent chatter about this has been contrary to the Bible. It has gone beyond saying President Obama was not responsible. I have seen -- more than once -- a comparison of the President to a fast food company's clown. I'm afraid that that is going too far. Disagreeing with a political leader is one thing. Mocking and disrespecting is different. It's unbiblical:

Romans 13:Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.

1 Timothy 2:I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence.

1 Peter 2:13 Therefore subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; 14 or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well. 15 For this is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Remember that the head of the government referred to here was the Roman emperor. Rome had conquered many nations, including the Jewish homeland, and was no special friend to Christianity. It was Roman soldiers who put Christ to death. Roman emperors persecuted Christianity, having Christians killed in various unpleasant ways. (Nero was most likely the emperor during the time when Romans, 1 Timothy and 2 Peter were written.) Nonetheless, Peter and Paul expected that Christians would honor their emperor, and Peter that we would be subject to the authorities, whether Emperor, or lesser officials.

President Obama didn't personally gather the intelligence, plan the mission, or go into Pakistan, and it is possible to say that this objective was achieved in spite of President Obama, not because of him. But even such a claim should still be done with respect for the office, and the person who holds it, as I understand the Bible. I hope to post tomorrow on some related side issues, but my main concern in this post is that I won't violate the Bible's teachings about honoring rulers.

In a subsequent post, I considered some side issues related to this.

Thanks for reading. For more on the subject of Christianity and government, see this previous post. For musings about some apparent failings of the Obama administration, including the attack on the embassy at Benghazi, see here.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Counted worthy

The phrase, or idea, of being counted worthy of being a follower of Christ occurs a few times in the New Testament. Some of these times are related to suffering for Christ's sake. All of them are related to being faithful. Here they are (all quoted from the public domain World English Bible):

Matthew 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. 38 He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me.

Acts 5:40b Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name

Ephesians 4:I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

Philippians 1:27 Only let your way of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News; 28 and in nothing frightened by the adversaries, which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear is in me

Colossians 1:For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy;

1 Thessalonians 2:11 As you know, we exhorted, comforted, and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory

2 Thessalonians 1:We are bound to always give thanks to God for you, brothers, even as it is appropriate, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of each and every one of you towards one another abounds; so that we ourselves boast about you in the assemblies of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you endure. This is an obvious sign of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that you may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.
11 To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith, with power; 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Sunspots 364

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Humor:  (and other grave subjects) Project Gutenberg has recently republished Curious Epitaphs, which was originally published in 1899. Here's a sample: 

Here lies, 
in a horizontal position, 
the outside case of
Thomas Hinde,
Clock and Watch-maker,
Who departed this life, wound up in hope of
being taken in hand by his Maker, and being
thoroughly cleaned, repaired, and set a-going
in the world to come,
On the 15th of August, 1836,
In the 19th year of his age.

We don't put nearly that much on a gravestone now.

Science: (and management, business, and dating) NPR reports on analysis of the use of the word "I," which reveals which person in an exchange of e-mails is of higher status. Analysis of pronoun use also predicts which speed daters will stick together.

(and politics, sort of) NPR also reports on the importance of Mangrove trees, and how Indonesian people are being persuaded to help conserve them.

Wired reports on the discovery of some amazing lava patterns on Mars.
The Arts: A young woman created a prom dress from corrugated cardboard and paper bags. (Warning -- for some reason, I could not see the picture, using the Windows Firefox browser. Internet Explorer and Google Chrome worked fine, though.)

Image source (public domain)

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December 8, 2012: I'm getting so many spam comments on this post that I'm turning off the comments on it. If you have a relevant comment, please put it on another of my posts. Thanks.