Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Theism's burden of proof?...

In The Harbinger of “Neism”?: Anthony Flew and the Flight From Atheism, Joe Carter describes how philosopher Anthony Flew may be having doubts about his atheism. Joe states,
So why does it matter that a retired philosopher is abandoning atheism for a Spinozian deism? The main reason is that few philosophers have thought longer or harder about atheism than Flew. When someone of his stature gives up the “faith” then it appears that we truly have entered what Alister McGrath refers to as “the twilight of atheism.”
Although an interesting post in its own right, my interest was piqued by the comments that followed. Within the comments section, Joe asked the question, Where are all these philosophical defenses of atheism?. One response given was,
The burden of proof is on the theist. Atheists don't make extraordinary claims. Nonetheless, there are innumerable defenses of atheism on the web. Do your homework; don't shift your burden to others.
This is a common mistake that is made by the purveyors of atheistic naturalism - that of their point of view somehow being the benchmark by which all other views must measure against. Ron Nash tells the story of how Alvin Plantinga once debated an atheist who commenced the debate, along the same lines as our friend above, by claiming that Plantinga bore the burden of proof of theism. Plantinga simply responded with, "No I don't." The atheist responded, "Yes you do," to which Plantinga again responded, "No I don't." After a while it became apparent that Plantinga's point was that atheism has no way of justifying its claim that theism bear the burden of proof - at least, it has no way of justifying it while staying within its philosophical framework. That an atheist considers the claims of a theist to be extraordinary is irrelevant. They are assuming a benchmark which they have no way of proving as valid. Another way of illustrating this is to ask the atheist to please provide the empirical evidence that proves the proposition that our senses give us an accurate description of the physical world. If we can only judge the empirical evidence by using our senses, then our only course of action is to proceed, with the assumption, that our senses do indeed give us an accurate description of the physical world. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that you bear the burden of proof in making a case for God.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Attn: Rough Woodsmen; this post's for you...

"Detail - #487" ©2004 RL "#489 Overhaul" ©2004 RL "Double Engines for Cumbres Pass" ©1998 RL "Trainyard" ©2004 RL "Coming Home" ©2004 RL "Detail - Maintenance Building" ©2004 RL "Stack" ©1998 RL All photos taken in Chama, New Mexico.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Patti Davis and 1984...

In The Price of an Opinion, by Patti Davis, we see her whining about one of her speaking engagements being cancelled due to her support for stem-cell research. She states,
I lost a job the other day. The people who had hired me figured out that I support stem-cell research (I don’t know what took them so long) and pulled the plug on a lecture engagement for which they had vigorously pursued me.
Although she does not specify whether it is embryonic stem-cell or adult stem-cell research she supports, or both, it is clear to her that she's being unfairly censored. She goes on to say,
Getting the news that I was canceled was one of those moments when one realizes that the personal really is political. I certainly support anyone’s prerogative to hire or not hire whomever they choose, and I definitely don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t want me. But when people aren't permitted to speak because their opinions are considered inappropriate, it's a sign that something is amiss beneath the surface. Particularly, as in this case, when those opinions have nothing to do with the job itself.
I suppose by her way of thinking, the fact that her speaking engagement was not specifically about stem-cell research (it was supposed to be regarding losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s), then her dismissal for secondary reasons was unwarranted. Never mind, for the moment, that she is probably raking in a hefty sum of money for her speaking engagements, what is one to make of this blather? While she admits that organizations have the right to hire or not hire whomever they choose, she seems to take offense that one such organization chose to not hire her. Consider how she attempts to tie her experience with some recent events,
Performers like Linda Ronstandt are fired from gigs because of an opinion expressed on the stage; people who are angry at Bruce Springsteen’s political views want to boycott his music. We all know what happened to the Dixie Chicks. What became of calm, civilized disagreements, acceptance of the fact that we don’t always agree with each other? ...All of this skids across a thin ice surface, of course, because it brings us to the subject of free speech. If you look around, the cherished idea of free speech is starting to look a bit endangered—it's practically become a punishable offense.
I would argue that the issue irritating Davis has nothing to do with free speech. Afterall, anyone in the world who has internet access can click on the link at the beginning of this post and freely read what she has written. The real irritant for her is the same one that Don Henley, Ronstandt, Dixie Chicks, et. al., have run into - they are under the delusion that freedom of speech means that they can speak their mind, on their turf, at their advantage, and with no consequences. If you want to publicly announce shame at our President while in a foreign country, then expect those who disagree with you to express their disagreement. If you want to support stem-cell research, then expect those who disagree with you to withold paying you money for your services. It's a pretty simple formula. Davis closes with,
I had one moment of hope recently. When I went to Barnes & Noble to replace my worn copy of "1984," the book was sold out. It’s required reading for students, and there had been a run on Orwell’s novel. Maybe a new generation of readers will be so frightened by the book that they'll work harder to make sure it doesn't become a reality.
Why don't you help them out Patti? How about you call up the group that cancelled your speaking engagement and offer to make a hefty donation to their organization in exchange for a chance to speak your mind?

Some kind words...

Many thanks to Joe Carter over at the Evangelical Outpost for placing me in his recent post Staying Ahead of the Curve: Searching for the Next Great Bloggers. Also, much appreciation goes out to Adrian Warnock for his recent post, Bloggers with a future, in which he states:
Rusty Lopez , Jeremy Pierce, and David Wayne are three most excellent openly Evangelical Bloggers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Can Religion tell us anything important? (part 1)...

Greg Koukl, from Stand to Reason, has an article titled Science Can’t Tell Us Anything Important. In it he explains himself to mean that, while science has the ability to describe the physical world around us, it is of no use in explaining the realities in our lives that have the most meaning – i. e., the most important things in our lives. For example, although science could analyze the various physical manifestations of the love a father has for his daughter, it remains completely mute with regards to determining what that love is, where it comes from, and whether or not it really exists. Koukl states,
…You can't smell knowledge. You can't weigh friendship. Love doesn't have a shape. It doesn't have a physical texture. Happiness cannot be heard. Do you know what is interesting about this observation? It's this. Nothing that is ultimately valuable to you can be classified, studied, probed or analyzed empirically by the five senses using science. That is a remarkable observation. When you think of the things that are the most important to you, or to any human being, really, the whole list of things that are of the deepest significance, that have the most substance to them, the highest degree of importance, these are all things that are not physical at all. If they are not physical, the senses cannot apprehend them. And if the senses cannot apprehend them, then science can't say anything about them. In other words, science can't say anything about any of those things that are ultimately important.
To be sure, various theories are thrown about which attempt to explain a father’s love in terms of deterministic models, but all such theories eventually run into a roadblock of the abstract - in this case, transcendent morality. In other words, if a father’s love for his daughter is ultimately just the result of electrical impulses within the brain, then there can be no transcendent justification for punishing a father whose electrical impulses cause him to decide to express his love for his daughter by killing and eating her. If what we classify as morality was simply based on the laws of physics (i.e., empirical phenomenon), then there would be no non-physical transcendent meaning attached to it, and the concept of right and wrong would be meaningless. We arrive, thus, at a fork in the road. The naturalistic scientist must choose the path on which he will proceed: 1) that of a world which has no meaning or, 2) that of a world which does have meaning. True, he may decide that, while the world really doesn’t have meaning, the best way to live is as if it does. Such a course of action, though, must ignore the conundrum that if the world doesn’t have meaning, then how could any way of living be considered good, better, or best? Also, while there may be some wicked individuals who live out their belief that the world has no meaning, I am focusing my comments here to those who, despite their commitment to methodological / philosophical naturalism (M/PN), hold to the belief that the world does have some degree of meaning. For the record, this would include everyone who agrees with the statement: Mother Theresa was a good person and Adolf Hitler was an evil person. The argument I am proposing is this: If the process of M/PN ventures into the non-physical realm of meaning, yet is incapable of producing a logically coherent response, then it is reasonable to expect another discipline to address the issue. It is at this point that I submit Religion as the discipline which is capable of answering questions pertaining to the meaning of our existence. Yet religion is not limited to addressing just the non-physical. Notice how our awareness of the non-physical realities in our lives, combined with certain implications of M/PN, forces M/PN to address the realm of the non-physical. Indeed, the very fabric of M/PN depends on the assumption, by faith, that humans possess the ability to reason. It is by this very act of non-physical reasoning that M/PN has attempted, in vain, to address the non-physical concept of meaning. Consider this excerpt from Carson Holloway's, I Believe Not, article from the July/August 2004 issue of Touchstone.
Skepticism is a kind of religion... in the sense that its adherents accept certain fundamental premises on faith. This faith-based element of Skepticism is visible, first of all, in its moral commitments. The aforementioned Paul Kurtz [Chairman of the Center for Inquiry-International] recognizes the concern of some that skeptical empirical inquiry might debunk not only traditional religion but also all values on which a decent society depends. Not to worry, he contends, for "many ethical questions may be resolved by scientific inquiry." As a result, Skepticism need not lead to "moral collapse or nihilism, for there are alternative systems of ethics that we may find both reasonable and viable, independent of appeals to faith or authority." While it might be true that some kind of ethics is possible on the basis of some understanding of reason (consider, for example, Aristotle or Kant), the Skeptical understanding of reason purports to be strictly empirical, and therefore seems powerless to issue in any value judgments whatsoever. Kurtz is confident in empirical science's ability to justify some ethical principles, yet he favors us with not a single example of an ethical truth justifiable in terms of empirical evidence. This is blind faith, as is made even more clear in his concluding remarks on this issue. After asserting that skeptical inquiry can lead to ethical principles, he suggests that "how and to what extent this is possible is a topic" that "the skeptical community needs to address." That is, we are not sure how Skepticism can provide a moral teaching, but we are sure that it can do it. Skepticism works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.
While the tenets of MN state that only empirical evidence can be submitted as a valid explanation for the workings of the physical world, there is no empirical evidence which shows that this must be the case. The tenet must be accepted on faith, for no empirical evidence could ever be submitted – since it’s the very use of empirical evidence that is posited as being the only acceptable means of describing the natural world. In other words, where is the empirical evidence that proves that using empirical evidence is a valid methodology? Scientists base their entire livelihood on a non-physical assumption. Now, notice what is happening here. Specific areas of one type of knowledge address aspects of other types of knowledge. For a specific type of knowledge to be consistent with the worldview which encompasses it, it should at least not contradict the workings of the real world. By real world I am not simply referring to the physical world, but to the entirety of our existence – that which would include the physical and the abstract. MN does not have the capability to address the abstract concept of ultimate meaning but, as any nitpicker of MN will tell you, MN does not claim to have that capability. Yet PN does and, as I have argued before, I believe that MN cannot be properly understood or logically consistent unless it is attached to PN, hence – M/PN. When Carl Sagan declared that the Cosmos was all there is, was, and ever will be, it was not a statement based solely on empirical evidence. Carl had no way of empirically showing that our Cosmos is all that ever was and, while couched as a scientific statement, it was also a statement with religious implications. Conversely, when the Bible states that God created the universe (and Time) a finite time ago, it is a religious statement that ventures into the realm of scientific knowledge. ...to be continued

Monday, August 23, 2004

Box Cars...

"Box Cars" - Chama, NM ©2004 RL

The Godless Party...

With the upcoming presidential election drawing near, take the time to review the April 2003 issue of Touchstone magazine, which has, The Godless Party, as its headline article.

Privileged Planet DVD...

A recently released documentary based on Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez' book, The Privileged Planet. From the teaser,
In this 60-minute video documentary we will explore a striking feature of the natural world. A feature as widely grounded in the evidence of nature as it is wide-ranging in its implications: the conditions that allow for intelligent life on Earth also make it strangely well suited for viewing and analyzing the universe. The fact that our atmosphere is clear; that our moon is just the right size and distance from Earth, and that its gravity stabilizes the Earth’s rotation; that our position in our galaxy is just so; that our sun is its precise mass and composition: all of these factors (and many more), are not only necessary for Earth’s habitability; they also have been surprisingly crucial for scientists to measure and make discoveries about the universe.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


"Amaryllis" - ©1995 RL

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Do scientists really seek out "the truth"?...

In debating the merits of Intelligent Design the discussion will inevitably traverse into the mechanics of science and how, for the adherent to methodological naturalism (MN), said mechanics do not address any potential supernatural causes. Per the WordIQ.com link, the definition of MN is given as:
…the philosophical tenet that, within scientific enquiry, one can only use naturalistic explanation - i.e. one's explanations must not make reference to the existence of supernatural forces and entities. Note that methodological naturalism does not hold that such entities or forces do not exist, but merely that one cannot use them within a scientific explanation. Methodological naturalism is often considered to be an implied working rule of all scientific research and logically entails neither philosophical naturalism nor atheism, though some would argue that it implies such a connection.
A sinister Catch-22 situation is seemingly produced when, after defining the process of MN as that of explaining phenomenon only within the boundaries of natural processes, the request is made that proponents of ID produce empirical evidence, as well as testable predictions, by which the claims of supernatural intervention could be scientifically tested. Should such evidence be presented, though, it typically ends up being a no-win situation for the proponent of ID. The reason for this is that the adherent to MN can always claim that since the evidence presented is empirical and entirely within the boundaries of MN, the phenomenon in question must have a natural explanation. Indeed, since the supernatural is, by definition, outside the bounds of MN then, also by definition, such "explanations" must be excluded from the equation. So it would appear that MN wins – or, rather, it can’t lose. There’s at least one little problem with MN’s Kobiyashi Maru maneuver though… it willfully ignores logical possibility. If the process of MN, by definition, excludes the effects of the supernatural, then it is logically possible for science to ignore the truth. Consider again that the goal of science is to address only the questions that pertain to physical reality, through the use of measurable empirical experience. Even the most ardent purveyor of MN would admit that science cannot prove anything with 100% accuracy. Given that, there must at least be the logical possibility that the supernatural is responsible for any given set of phenomenon. Yet, if the methodology in practice disallows such an explanation from being submitted, then the methodology could potentially be disallowing the correct explanation. Surely a methodology which cannot, in principle, point to the correct explanation – i.e., the truth – is faulty. Hat tip: J. P. Moreland’s book Scaling the Secular City. Update: Letters from Babylon has a post titled, What is the Goal of Science?, in which John Zimmer states,
Serge at Imago Dei asks in a recent post, “Is the goal of science to discover the truth, or merely come up with the best naturalistic explanation for complex phenomena?” Serge, as well as the Dawn Treader and Macht in comments to Serge’s post, suggests that the goal of science is to discover the truth. Though I greatly respect these Christian thinkers, I must disagree. Instead, I argue that the goal of science is to describe the natural world naturalistically and provide an increasingly useful model of physical principles. (emphasis added)
If that was, in fact, a proper description of the goal of science, then the answer to the question of this post is: No, scientists do not seek out the truth. They simply seek an explanation which must fit within the boundaries of their discipline. Regardless of whether the explanation is correct. Hat tip: Imago Dei

Oil / Prices, Bush / Conspiracy...

Check Prof. Bainbridge's comments in Bad Business Journalism: Oil Prices.

Let's just throw in the towel...

Clicking over to The Sub Standard, via recommendation of the Big Ka-Hugh-na, you'll find a post which begins with:
The Bush twins may be attending a gay wedding. I've long suspected that opposing gay marriage is a losing fight. Forget the rights or wrongs of it--the train is moving down the track and it's not clear to me that there's any way of stopping it.
The author, Jonathan Last, thinks that the arguments against same-sex marriage are weak (presumably because, as he thinks, they're religiously based) and that the emerging Gen-Y populace just don't see things the way we old folk do. He states:
If I were a conservative committed to defending traditional marriage, I wouldn't be caught up in the fight against gay marriage--I'd be quitely setting up a defensive perimeter so that down the line religious groups won't be compelled to buy into gay marraige by a broader secular society which will almost certainly see it as the norm.
I fail to see why, if the fight against gay marriage is hopeless, we should bother attempting to set up any perimeter whatsoever. Shucks. Why bother? If we genuflect to Pragmatism then what's the point of opposing same-sex marriage at all. For that matter, what possible reason could we have for opposing, say, the killing of thousands of unborn children every day? I know! Let's set up a defensive perimeter so that in the future specific families won't be compelled to have abortions - yeah - that's the ticket. Whew. I feel better already. P.S. please check Same-Sex Marriage: Challenges and Responses (PDF) by Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Way They Learn...

I recently finished reading The Way They Learn, by Cynthia Tobias. It's a book which discusses how people have various styles of learning and how understanding the characteristics of these styles helps one to become a better student and teacher. I found it to be particularly helpful with regards to homeschooling. One of the major advantages of homeschooling is that each of the children in the family can be given individualized attention at a level not found in the more traditional modes of schooling. Tobias relies on a learning style model developed by Dr. Anthony Gregorc. Troy, a reader of this blog, e-mailed me with the link to Gregorc's website. Essentially, Gregorc looks at how the mind perceives and understands information. He categorizes two points of view: Perception and Ordering. Within Perception (i.e., how we take in information) there are two styles: Concrete and Abstract. A Concrete style means that we take in information strictly through our five senses. There are no hidden meanings with this style. An Abstract style, on the other hand, allows us to visualize what we see and use our intuition or our imagination. While everyone uses both of these styles, we typically gravitate towards one or the other. Within Ordering (how we use or process the information) there are two styles: Sequential and Random. The Sequential style orders information in a step-by-step, linear manner. For this style, process is important. The Random style lets our minds order the information in pieces, with no particular adherence to sequence. For this style, just getting the job done is important. So we have four possible combinations between Perception and Ordering: Concrete Sequential, Abstract Sequential, Concrete Random, and Abstract Random. Understanding not only which style(s) you fall into but which style(s) your children fall into is essential if you intend on being able to instruct them properly. For instance, a CS child may tend to be a perfectionist who follows the letter of the law. Being aware of this will help you understand how such a child can become frustrated, and how you can teach the child how to approach and overcome such frustrations. An AR child, on the other hand, is not concerned with the sequence as much as the feeling involved. Such a child would tend to become frustrated at the same structured order that the CS child adores. Helping the AR child to find the meaning behind the order helps to alleviate the frustration they may be having. Of course, the caveat is that we are far too complex to categorize into just a few styles. Yet while the process of seeing where we and our children come from is difficult, it is worth the effort. Tobias also discusses the various methods which we use to concentrate. For example, some people need to have something to munch on while concentrating, while others would find it a distraction. She also touches on the various methods we use to remember, such as Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. Knowing that your child may remember best through the use of movement (i.e., kinesthetic) vs. how you learn best (e.g., auditory) could help you avoid a lot of frustration. Finishing up the book Tobias writes about the various types of knowledge we possess such as, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. She notes that while the traditional school environment emphasizes the Logical-Mathematical type of knowledge in a Concrete-Sequential style, we need to understand that other forms of knowledge and learning styles exist and are just as important. All in all, a very good, if not quick, explanation of how better to accomplish the noble task of teaching your children.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

To be holy...

In the April 2004 issue of Touchstone, David W. Fagerberg has an article titled, Between Heaven & Earth: C. S. Lewis on Asceticism & Holiness. How we, as Christians, reach the secular culture depends, by and large, on how holy we are. Our holiness would seem to be a by-product of our committment to discipleship. While the only perfect Christian is a dead Christian, can we deny that we are not able to grow as disciples of Christ? Fagerberg writes:
Lewis thought this transfiguration made the person complete, and that already these completed people were dotted here and there, all over the earth. “Every now and then one meets them.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis offered an intriguing description of these ascetics. “Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off.” The ascetic who is being conformed to holiness is recognizable, but Lewis thought you must know what to look for, because they will not be like your general idea of religious people.
They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do but they need you less. They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

Monday, August 16, 2004

How Christians have contributed to the current state of marriage...

The April issue of Touchstone featured an article by Louis R. Tarsitano titled, Credible Marriages: on the Christian Destruction of Marriage. Tarsitano writes:
One need not be addicted to the 24-hour news channels to recognize that a great many Christians of late have been anything but credible in regard to chastity. Divorce and remarriage are so common among people calling themselves Christians that the pastor who resists the torrent of divorces at all is considered “odd” or “mean” (I know). This wholesale abandonment of marital seriousness and discipline is then employed by those with various special interests as a justification for the breaking of other vows and other divine commandments. “Everybody’s doing it” may seem an empty argument to a mature Christian mind, but it is quite powerful for those swayed by the dramatics of plausible persons. Worse still, the watering down of marriage, after so many centuries as both a divine and a human institution, calls for some sort of an explanation, and that explanation takes the form of a claim to a universal human “right” to sexual pleasure and self-fulfillment. It was essentially on the basis of this “right to sex” that the United States Supreme Court voided the Texas anti-sodomy laws, just as on the basis of the same “right” a majority of the nice middle-class people of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention found it impossible to reject a potential bishop simply because he had left his wife and children to find love in the arms of another man. Various churches are already, formally or informally, blessing same-sex “unions,” and more and more people are beginning to nod their heads at the assertion that heterosexual and homosexual pairings are interchangeable and ought to be equally recognized by the civil authorities... Let me be clear: There is absolutely no justification for treating homosexual relations as anything but forbidden by God and a sin. The problem is, the same can be said for most of the divorces and remarriages that take place in the context of our churches. It is not credible to oppose the one without also opposing the other... If Christians truly desire to make a stand for biblical marriage, they will be able to make that stand in only one way: by providing credible examples of Christian marriages, of Christian families, and of Christian self-discipline according to God’s Word. Marriage discipline in the Church is the instrument that God has given Christians to influence the world outside the Church. Salving our own guilty consciences by berating other sinners is worse than a waste of time since it only serves to make the smiling advocates of anything but Christian marriage more plausible in this confused and stumbling world.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Narrow Gauge...

"# 487" - Chama, NM ©2004, RL

West Texas in July...

"Gas Stop" - Van Horn, Tx ©2004, RL

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Talkin' Persecution Blues...

Joe Carter, at Evangelical Outpost, had a post a week or so ago titled, Buying a Ticket: How Evangelicals Can Tranform Our Culture, in which he states, regarding the impact of Christians on today’s culture,
So why are we so ineffectual? Why have we not transformed the world in the same way that Christians in early times have done? The reason why is simple. Unlike those who have come before us, we are not disciples, we are not saints. _____ Christ has set us free and removed the shackles of our sinful nature. So what is it that's stopping us? Nothing less than a complete lack of desire. We simply don’t want to stop sinning. We don't want to stop doing evil much less actively work toward becoming more like Christ. _____ …If twelve Jewish men from a backwater Roman province can change the course of history, what could we do with 14-16 million disciples? If evangelical Christians truly want to change our culture we need to do more than argue, protest, and pray. We need to become disciples of Christ. Once we commit to becoming disciples, there is no limit to how God can use us. If we would just buy the ticket, the whole world would reap the windfall.
Dave, over at Welcome to the Planet, had a recent post titled, Competing for Time, in which he says,
Time. It is an interesting concept. No matter how we slice it, we only have 24 hours in a day. I often use to think that if only there were more time in a day, then I could be more productive. …I think one of the most difficult choices to make is the choice for God and the choice to be in worship and community with other believers and seekers. Let's be honest for a minute, it is easy to find time for everything else in our lives other than God. God often takes the backseat. In our community, you won't see some people in church all summer. After all these are prime months for sailing, camping, hiking, vacationing in Hawaii, golfing, swimming, going to the cabin, softball...
Despite the continued cultural attacks on the Judeo-Christian worldview it is simply too easy to be a Christian in the 21st century Western world. There is very little need for us to depend on God. In the May 2004 issue of Touchstone magazine, Mike Aquilina has an article titled, Salt of the Empire: The Role of the Christian Family in Evangelization (not available on-line). In it, Aquilina relies on a book by agnostic sociologist Rodney Stark. Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, details how the early Church maintained a growth rate of 40% per decade from its inception up to the time of Constantine. What is interesting to note is that Constantine gets no credit for this, since most of the growth occurred before his conversion. Aquilina writes:
To be a Christian was not easy in the year 300. It cost something. Whether or not you were martyred, you had to pay with your life. Christians were laying their lives on the line every time they attended the liturgy, and they continued to do so through the course of every day.
According to Stark, most converts were women, and came not only from the poor but from the mid and upper classes. Consider the typical living conditions of the time, per Aquilina:
…All but the rich lived in cramped, smoky tenements – one family to a small room, with no ventilation or plumbing – which frequently collapsed or burned. The cities were horribly crowded, a city like Antioch having perhaps 200 people per acre, plus livestock (modern Calcutta has only 122 people per acre). Constant immigration meant that the cities were peopled by strangers, with the resulting crime and disorder, so that the streets were not safe at night and families were not even safe in their homes.
Add to this the resulting epidemics due to filthy living conditions, pagan marriage practices where the woman was usually married off at 11 or 12, perverted marriage relationships, and female infanticide. Yet the Church not only survived, but it flourished in this culture. Per Aquilina,
But Christian marriage and childrearing immediately set Christians apart. According to Stark, Christian husbands and wives genuinely tried to love one another, as their religion required. Their mutual affection and their openness to fertility led to a higher birthrate, and thus to a still higher growth rate for the early Church. They did not abort their children, nor did husbands endanger their wives’ lives by doing so.
The impact that Christianity had on families did not stop at the front door. Christian charity flourished and was noted by non-Christians.
The pagans tended only to take care of those in their group. While pagans would only help their brothers, Christians treated all men as their brothers. And the pagans took notice. The wicked emperor Julian, who despised all Christians… had to grudgingly admit their charity: “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our poor lack aid from us.”

Aguilina provides at least six lessons that our modern Church could learn from the early Church:

1) Come to see your home as a domestic church. 2) Make your domestic church a haven of charity. 3) Make your domestic church a place of prayer. 4) Know that, as a domestic church, you are “on mission.” 5) Cultivate the virtue of hope. 6) Live by the teachings of the Church.

In our culture, to consciously make an effort to become a better disciple, to focus our primary concerns on the ways of God, to truly understand who we are by acknowledging who He is, can be exceedingly difficult. How much easier it would be if the decision was, if you will, made for us. In praying that our Western world Christians make a significant and vital impact on our culture, we may be inadvertently bringing future persecution into our midst. If so, then the jig will be up, and we will find out just what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ*, and whether or not we will choose to rejoice. * 1 Peter 4:13

Got MN?...

If you haven't yet become tired of the MN / PN / AN / ID / Fine Tuning / Chance / Design discussion over the last week and a half, then you might want to check out some excellent posts at Imago Dei. Serge is a rising star in the blogosphere... deservedly so, as you will see in these posts: "We Have a Prior Commitment, a Commitment to Materialism" The Aliens Did It! The Perils of "Bad Design" A Priori Commitment = No Level Playing Field What is Science?

Friday, August 13, 2004

In-n-Out tonight...

Friday night almost always means it's In-n-Out night. Tonight it was a double-meat with fries. And now... the Olympics.

Boxer's babbles...

For those in California, Senator Barbara Boxer is being challenged by Bill Jones. In a recent L.A. Times (free registration) article which covered a debate between Boxer and Jones, it was stated:
Jones' relatively anonymity has been exacerbated by Boxer's advantage in raising money. As of the end of June, when the candidates filed their last fundraising reports, she had raised $14.1 million and had $7.1 million in cash. Jones had raised about $4 million, but had less than $1 million in cash.
The article finished off with:
Boxer has used her image as a standard-bearer for women's rights to raise money from a large number of supporters in other states.
Does Boxer hold the standard with regards to the rights of human beings as well as women? Per J. Budziszewski's book, What We Can't Not Know, we find a reference to a debate between Senator Boxer and Senator Santorum on October 20, 1999, with regards to Partial Birth Abortion. The congressional record can be found here (PDF). Read for yourself what the good Senator from California thinks: ------------- Mr. SANTORUM: ...So I look forward to this debate over the next couple of days. I know the Senator from California feels very passionately about this, but I think the issue of where we draw the line constitutionally is very important. I am sure the Senator from California agrees with me. I think the Senator from California would say that she and I, the Senator from Illinois, the Senators from Arkansas and Kansas, we are all protected by the Constitution with the right to life. Would you agree with that, Senator from California? Do you answer that question? Mrs. BOXER. I support the Roe v. Wade decision. Mr. SANTORUM. Do you agree any child who is born has the right to life, is protected by the Constitution once that child is born? Mrs. BOXER. I agree with the Roe v. Wade decision, and what you are doing goes against it and will harm the women of this country. And I will address that when I get the floor. Mr. SANTORUM. But I would like to ask you this question. You agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that? Mrs. BOXER. I would make this statement. That this Constitution as it currently is—some want to amend it to say life begins at conception. I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born—and there is no such thing as partial-birth—the baby belongs to your family and has the rights. But I am not willing to amend the Constitution to say that a fetus is a person, which I know you would. But we will get to that later. I know my colleague is engaging me in a colloquy on his time. I appreciate it. I will answer these questions. I think what my friend is doing, by asking me these questions, is off point. My friend wants to tell the doctors in this country what to do. My friend from Pennsylvania says they are rogue doctors. The AMA will tell you they no longer support the bill. The American Nurses don’t support the bill. The obstetricians and gynecologists don’t support the bill. So my friend can ask me my philosophy all day; on my own time I will talk about it. Mr. SANTORUM. If I may reclaim my time, first of all, the AMA still believes this is bad medicine. They do not support the criminal penalties provisions in this bill, but they still believe— I think you know that to be the case—this procedure is not medically necessary, and they stand by that statement. I ask the Senator from California, again, you believe—you said ‘‘once the baby comes home.’’ Obviously, you don’t mean they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree—completely separated from the mother—you would agree that baby is entitled to constitutional protection? Mrs. BOXER. I will tell you why I don’t want to engage in this. You had the same conversation with a colleague of mine, and I never saw such a twisting of his remarks. Mr. SANTORUM. Let me be clear, then. Let’s try to be clear. Mrs. BOXER. I am going to be clear when I get the floor. What you are trying to do is take away the rights of women and their families and their doctors to have a procedure. And now you are trying to turn the question into, When does life begin? I will talk about that on my own time. Mr. SANTORUM. If I may reclaim the time? The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. BUNNING). The Senator from Pennsylvania has the floor. Mr. SANTORUM. What I am trying to do is get an answer from the Senator from California as to where you would draw the line because that really is the important part of this debate. Mrs. BOXER. I will repeat. I will repeat, the Senator has asked me a question—— The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Pennsylvania has the floor. Mrs. BOXER. I am answering the question I have been posed by the Senator, and the answer to the question is, I stand by Roe v. Wade. I stand by it. I hope we have a chance to vote on it. It is very clear, Roe v. Wade. That is what I stand by; my friend doesn’t. Mr. SANTORUM. Are you suggesting Roe v. Wade covered the issue of a baby in the process of being born? Mrs. BOXER. I am saying what Roe v. Wade says is, in the early stages of a pregnancy, a woman has the right to choose; in the later stages, the States have the right—yes—to come in and restrict. I support those restrictions, as long as two things happen: They respect the life of the mother and the health of the mother. Mr. SANTORUM. I understand that. Mrs. BOXER. That is where I stand. No matter how you try to twist it, that is where I stand. Mr. SANTORUM. I say to the Senator from California, I am not twisting anything. I am simply asking a very straightforward question. There is no hidden question here. The question is—— Mrs. BOXER. I will answer it again. Mr. SANTORUM. Once the baby is born, is completely separated from the mother, you will support that that baby has, in fact, the right to life and cannot be killed? You accept that; right? Mrs. BOXER. I don’t believe in killing any human being. That is absolutely correct. Nor do you, I am sure. Mr. SANTORUM. So you would accept the fact that once the baby is separated from the mother, that baby cannot be killed? Mrs. BOXER. I support the right— and I will repeat this, again, because I saw you ask the same question to another Senator. Mr. SANTORUM. All the Senator has to do is give me a straight answer. Mrs. BOXER. Define ‘‘separation.’’ You answer that question. Mr. SANTORUM. Let’s define that. Let’s say the baby is completely separated; in other words, no part of the baby is inside the mother. Mrs. BOXER. You mean the baby has been birthed and is now in the mother’s arms? It is a human being? It takes a second, it takes a minute—— Mr. SANTORUM. Say it is in the obstetrician’s hands. Mrs. BOXER. I had two babies, and within seconds of them being born—— Mr. SANTORUM. We had six. Mrs. BOXER. You didn’t have any. Mr. SANTORUM. My wife and I did. We do things together in my family. Mrs. BOXER. Your wife gave birth. I gave birth. I can tell you, I know when the baby was born. Mr. SANTORUM. Good. All I am asking you is, once the baby leaves the mother’s birth canal and is through the vaginal orifice and is in the hands of the obstetrician, you would agree you cannot then abort the baby? Mrs. BOXER. I would say when the baby is born, the baby is born and would then have every right of every other human being living in this country, and I don’t know why this would even be a question. Mr. SANTORUM. Because we are talking about a situation here where the baby is almost born. So I ask the question of the Senator from California, if the baby was born except for the baby’s foot, if the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside, could that baby be killed? Mrs. BOXER. The baby is born when the baby is born. Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator yield? Mrs. BOXER. That is the answer to the question. Mr. SANTORUM. I am asking for you to define for me what that is. Mrs. BOXER. I can’t believe the Senator from Pennsylvania has a question with it. I have never been troubled by this question. You give birth to a baby. The baby is there, and it is born, and that is my answer to the question. Mr. SANTORUM. What we are talking about here with partial birth, as the Senator from California knows, is the baby is in the process of being born—— Mrs. BOXER. In the process of being born. This is why this conversation makes no sense, because to me it is obvious when a baby is born; to you it isn’t obvious. Mr. SANTORUM. Maybe you can make it obvious to me. What you are suggesting is if the baby’s foot is still inside of the mother, that baby can then still be killed. Mrs. BOXER. I am not suggesting that. Mr. SANTORUM. I am asking. Mrs. BOXER. I am absolutely not suggesting that. You asked me a question, in essence, when the baby is born. Mr. SANTORUM. I am asking you again. Can you answer that? Mrs. BOXER. I will answer the question when the baby is born. The baby is born when the baby is outside the mother’s body. The baby is born. Mr. SANTORUM. I am not going to put words in your mouth—— Mrs. BOXER. I hope not. Mr. SANTORUM. But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby’s toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby. Mrs. BOXER. Absolutely not. Mr. SANTORUM. OK. So if the baby’s toe is in, you can’t kill the baby. How about if the baby’s foot is in? Mrs. BOXER. You are the one who is making these statements. Mr. SANTORUM. We are trying to draw a line here. Mrs. BOXER. I am not answering these questions. Mr. SANTORUM. If the head is inside the mother, you can kill the baby. Mrs. BOXER. My friend is losing his temper. Let me say to my friend once again—and he is laughing—— Mr. SANTORUM. I am not laughing. Mrs. BOXER. Let me say, this woman is not laughing right now because if this bill was the law of the land, she might either be dead or infertile. So if the Senator wants to laugh about this, he can laugh all he wants. Mr. SANTORUM. Reclaiming my time, Mr. President. All I suggest is I was not laughing about the discussions. It is a very serious discussion. Mrs. BOXER. Well, you were. Mr. SANTORUM. I was smiling at your characterization of my demeanor. I have not lost my temper. I think I am, frankly, very composed at this point. What I will say—and the Senator is walking away—is the Senator said, again, the baby is born when the baby is born. I said: If the foot is still inside the mother? She said: Well, no, you can’t kill the baby. If the foot is inside, you can’t, but if the head is the only thing inside, you can. Here is the line. See this is where it gets a little funny. Mrs. BOXER. Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President. Let the RECORD show that I did not say what the Senator from Pennsylvania said that I did. Thank you. Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I hate to do this, but could we have the clerk read back what the Senator from California said with respect to that question? I understand it will take some time for us to do that. I will be happy— Mrs. BOXER. I say to my friend, I know what I said. I am saying your characterization of what I said is incorrect. I didn’t talk about the head or the foot. That was what my colleague talked about. And I don’t appreciate it being misquoted on the floor over a subject that involves the health and life of the women of this country and the children of this country and the families of this country. Mr. SANTORUM. It also involves— and that is the point I think the Senator from California is missing—it also involves when in the process—that is why people on both sides of the abortion issue support this bill, because it also involves what is infanticide and what is not. A lot of people who agree with you on the issue of abortion say this is too close to infanticide. This is a baby who is outside the mother. Again, I will not put words in the Senator’s mouth, but what I heard— and again I am willing to have that corrected by the RECORD and the Senator can correct me right now—what I heard her say is if the foot is inside the mother, no, you cannot kill the baby, but when the head is, you can. That is a pretty slippery slope. Mrs. BOXER. I say to my friend, what I said was I wasn’t answering those questions. What the Senator was trying to do was to bait me on his terms of how he sees this issue. We have a situation where this procedure is outlawed. It will hurt the women and the families of this country. My friend can disagree with that, but I never got into the issue of when is someone born. I said to you I am very clear on that, and I understand that completely, but it was my friend who kept on asking these questions, which to me do not make any sense because the issue here is an emergency procedure that my friend from Pennsylvania wants to make illegal, and it will hurt the women and it will hurt the families of this country. Mr. SANTORUM. If I can reclaim my time, first off, the Senator from California said this was an emergency procedure. Name me an emergency procedure that takes 3 days. That is what the procedure takes. That is one of the things that was put forward early in the debate, now risen again, that this is somehow an emergency procedure. It is not an emergency procedure. It is a 3-day procedure. No emergency do you present yourself in an emergency condition and get sent home with pills for 3 days to present yourself back. Again, I want to finalize, and then the Senator from Arkansas has been waiting for quite sometime, and I want to allow him to speak. This is not a clean issue. This is not a removal of a tumor. We are talking about drawing the line between what is infanticide and what is abortion, and that is why many of us are disturbed about this. No one is trying to reach in and outlaw abortions. The Senator from Illinois and I were very clear about the limited scope of this bill. What we are saying is, this is too close to infanticide. This is barbaric. This fuzzies the line that is dangerous for the future of this country. And what you saw, as the Senator from California was hesitant to get involved in that because she realizes how slippery this slope is, that you can say the foot does, the head doesn’t, maybe the ankle—folks, we don’t want to go there. It is not necessary for the health of the mother, it is not necessary for the life of the mother, and if you don’t believe me, believe the person who developed it because they said so. I think we need to have a full debate, not just on narrow issues, but on the broader issue of what this means to the rights of every one of us born and unborn, sick and well, wanted and unwanted. I think the line needs to be a bright one. I yield the floor.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Who should we pray to? (part 2)...

Wendy, and anyone else who's interested, the spot in Koukl's radio broadcast where he addresses this topic is approximately 1 hour and 19 minutes into the show. He takes a call from a caller named Larry. The spot lasts about 4 or 5 minutes. Greg didn't address Stephen calling out to Jesus, which is another topic we should discuss sometime - the fact that Stephen models the same words that Jesus used on the cross, nor does he address Paul speaking about his thorn in the flesh. The scripture regarding Stephen is:
When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent. When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died. - Acts 7:54-60 (NET)
What he does address is that when we "pray in the name of Jesus," we are going to the Father by the authority Jesus has given us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Koukl references Hebrews 10 with regards to the interworkings of the Trinity. Here is an excerpt:
By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again—sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” - Hebrews 10:10-17 (NET)
I think that, regardless of any debate on this topic, the important point to note is that Christians should become more aware of their theology and just how it affects their Christian walk. One of Wendy's comments sums it up nicely:
I believe that Christians should pray with purpose and intent, and knowing each Person in the Trinity is unique is what leads me to address a certain Person within the Trinity depending on what I am praying for.
Update: I was scanning the Heidelberg Catechism and found that questions 119 and 120 related to this topic.
119. Q. What is the Lord's prayer? A. Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.[1] [1] Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4. 120. Q. Why has Christ commanded us to address God as Our Father? A. To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer: God has become our Father through Christ and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our fathers would refuse us earthly things.[1] [1] Matt. 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Light & shadow...

"Self-portrait" - Mono Lake, Ca ©1992, RL

Who should we pray to?...

Greg Koukl, over at Stand to Reason, had some things to say recently on a topic which I had never really thought about:
Does it matter who, in the Trinity, we pray to?
In his June 20th radio broadcast (free registration) he explained that, while he is not legalistic with regards to this issue, he thinks that, based on the models we see in the Bible, as well as Trinitarian theology, that we should direct our prayers to God the Father. Coincidentally, Ken Samples over at Reasons to Believe also touched on this topic recently. The prayers by Jesus were, obviously, directed to the Father. Prior to the Lord's Prayer, Jesus states:
But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:6 (NET)
Within Evangelical circles we seem to be bombarded with a version of Christianity that is overly concerned with the personal ascpect. While we constantly hear, Jesus loves you, and wants to have a personal relationship with you!, we rarely, if ever, hear, Mankind has sinned and is in need of redemtpion!. The book of Acts describes the explosion of the church after Jesus' Ascension, yet that explosion took place under the message that mankind was fallen. Have we personalized the identity of Jesus to the point that we are missing the Biblical model for our prayer life?

Monday, August 09, 2004

On Absolute Materialism...

In the comments section of my Are we special?... post I used a partial quote from an evolutionary genetecist by the name of Richard Lewontin. One commenter felt the quote was taken out of context, especially since the link from which I got the quote had a "disclaimer" of sorts which said:

It is also important to note that this quotation from Lewontin, which makes its way time and time again into creationist propaganda, is - ambiguous - deliberately inflammatory—since Lewontin was taking issue primarily with what he regarded as Sagan's triumphalism about science taken from the New York Review of Books, - not a scientific journal; it is therefore unfair to take it, as it is often taken, as some kind of revelation about scientific methodology.

Meaningless tap-dancing. The disclaimer is saying, "Lewontin is not specific and he's trying to start a fight; besides, what he wrote isn't part of a research project so... don't listen to him." (?) Regardless, the intent of my using Lewontin's quote was demonstrate that a solid committment to Methodological Naturalism precludes one from admitting the supernatural into the equation. Basically, the Methodological Naturalist is caught in a loop - a loop which they don't particulary mind being in, by the way - in which they declare that MN can only describe the events of the natural, materialistic world. So, one reasons, if MN can only describe the materialistic world, we are forced to adhere to only materialistic explanations no matter how extraordinary an event may seem. This is the portion of his quote that I used:
...that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
You've got to be careful with the use of ellipses because people will tend to think you're leaving out the juiciest parts. That may be true, of course, but if you're using a free comment provider like Haloscan, then you may just be trying to stay within the 1,000 character limit! Anyway, thanks to Imago Dei, I've found the link to the entire article in which Lewontin reviewed Carl Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World" in the NY Review of Books, January 9, 1997. Please take the time to read the entire article. For the time being, here is the paragraph in which the quote I used is found:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
Interestingly enough, earlier in the review, Lewontin states:
[warning: ellipses ahead!] ...to put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out. People believe a lot of nonsense about the world of phenomena, nonsense that is a consequence of a wrong way of thinking. The primary problem is not to provide the public with the knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of, for that vast project is, in its entirety, hopeless. Rather, the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth. (emphasis added)
A Methodological Naturalist will not allow a Divine Foot in the door because of their prior adherence to a methodology which confines itself to a materialistic view of the world. Sometimes they may request evidence for the hocus pocus magic acts that some fairies in the sky perform - but it's just a bait and switch, for they know full well that their worldview does not permit any evidence to be labeled supernatural, and any evidence that is natural is, by definition, simply that. No matter how absurd.

Friday, August 06, 2004

No time left for you...

From the March issue of Touchstone:
Only 28% of American families with children eat together seven days a week, and only 75% manage four nights a week. The percentages of families eating together seven nights a week in Canada and England are 40% and 38%.
I got a haircut the other night and the lady who does my hair told me that the local Pop Warner football league has football practice five nights a week for two hours a night. Of course, she said, that's only for the month of August... in September, when school starts, the practices drop down to three nights a week (for two hours a night). I wonder if the above referenced survey considered a family eating burgers from McDonalds, while rushing to football practice, as equivalent to a family eating together? Meanwhile, in a conversation at work I let a co-worker know that our 8 year old has never been to a movie theater. After the shock wore off, he proceeded to warn me not to shelter my kids too much - you know - they won't be ready for the real world. Okay let's ignore, for the moment, the fact that virtually everyone shelters their kids to some degree, and that this guy has no clue as to the reasons why our daughter has not been to a movie theater. What exactly constitutes getting a child ready for the real world? By the ripe old age of 8 I'd say she should have been made aware of the existence and love of God, the inherent danger of trusting a stranger (without needing to know the precise details of why), the self-sacrificing love that her mother and father have for her (and how that love is part of a family structure), the existence of evil acts perpetrated by humans (again, without needing to know the precise details), the interactions within small social groups (such as those found in ballet class or the girl scouts), and so forth. In other words, the process of preparing a child for the real world involves intimate interaction between that child and her parents. It seems to me that a trip to the movie theater doesn't rank too high on the list.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Kerry on Iraq...

For a 12 minute video regarding John Kerry's flip-flopping on Iraq, just click on Flipper.

Are we special?...

Solar system may be one of a kind, per CNN.com.
Our solar system may be unique after all, despite the discovery of at least 120 other systems with planets, astronomers said on Wednesday. All the other solar systems that have been found have big, gassy planets circling too close to their stars to allow them to be anything like Earth or its fellow planets, the British and U.S.-based researchers said. ...it is time to start thinking about the possibility that our system is unique or at least unusual, Livio said. What has been seen up to now does not bode well for the main purpose of seeking other planets -- finding life outside our solar system. "If the orbit is very elliptical then the planet may come very close to its sun at some point and that doesn't appear to be very healthy for life," Livio said.
The article also mentions how the new findings have prompted changes in planetary formation theories. One of the predictions from the likes of Reasons to Believe is that research will continue to demonstrate the uniquely fine tuned characteristics Earth has necessary for advanced life to even be possible. You don't have to be a rocket-scientist or an evolutionary biologist to understand the implications. Update - Several of the comments left on this post deserve attention: Were the implications that the earth/solar/system/universe were designed by an intelligent entity for life, as evidenced by the parameters in the respective biomes being compatable with life? No, those are not the implications. The implications of fine tuning come from observing that the laws of physics do not favor a solar system capable of harboring advanced life. Note that this has nothing to do with just blind dumb luck. Low probability must be connected with viable function. For example, the mere fact that you are dealt a hand in poker despite the low probability of getting that exact hand is meaningless unless it is attached to whether or not you can win with that hand. Note also that the processes being analyzed are not of the same random quality as some wolf-like creature deciding to hang-out by the water's edge - and then eventually evolving into a whale. Type III stars (and I'm writing from memory here, so if anyone finds an error, please let me know) happened at a certain time in the Universe's history because of specific physical qualities. The makeup of our Sun was dependent on the prior existence of two different types of supernova eruptions, within precise time and distance ranges. If there had been different physical conditions, the results would have been demonstrably different. In order to enjoy the life essential benefits of our Earth / Moon system, the planetary body that supposedly hit the Earth around 4 1/2 billion years ago had to be the right size, consist of the right material, hit at the right angle, speed, and time. It is analyses like these which are much more difficult to dance around. So, if we continue to discover that independent events are necessary for advanced life to even be possible on Earth, and that the norm for those events, as seen outside our system, is that of chaotic systems (as compared to ours), what conclusions can we infer? Either we sure are impossibly lucky, or the cards were stacked from the beginning. ...I understand the implications, and they have nothing to do with Divine Creation or Intelligent Design. The fact that we, and every other Earthly lifeform that has ever existed, existed here, is proof positive that we could, and did, and nothing more. We are the product of an environment which may or not be unique. Postulate a different environment, and all bets are off. Postulate any change in the specific sequence of potentially mundane events occuring on earth over the past 4.5 billion years and all bets are off. The data is showing us that we are, in fact, in a unique environment. The data is also showing us that the range of environments in which advanced life is possible is narrow (as in, what we find here). Reference Rare Earth - Brownlee & Ward, Nature's Destiny - Denton, Origins - Shapiro. One of the sticky little features of cosmology, as well as continued research into Earth's entire history, is that very few of the "mundane" events are that. Consider, from Rare Earth, the phenomenon in which the Sun's increasing brightness is coincidentally matched by a reduction in greenhouse gases through plate tectonics (thanks to the planetary body that slammed into us early on). Interestingly enough, to claim that all bets are off is a type of myth in and of itself - for how does one show that all bets are, indeed, off? Well you know, there is one way, at least with regards to planetary formation... look at other systems and see what happens when the events causing them are shifted from our own. Ed - I think this is rather disingenuous. The method we're using only detects large, close-in planets, so that's what we find. We have a model for how they form, and that precludes earth-like planets. But that doesn't mean that such a model is the universal one, because we lack the technology to find anything to contradict it. So earth-like planets could be extremely common, or very rare - we haven't found anything to demonstrate that either way. Here are the candidate planets around main sequence stars. Confirming what Paul has stated, the overwhelming majority of planets are large planets orbiting close to their stars. This diagram comparing the mass of the planets with their orbital range may help. Note, however, that there are large planets out beyond 3 AU. Jupiter is about 5 AU from the Sun. The point I am driving is not that we haven't found Earth-sized planets (yet) but that the planets that have been found are not only a-typical to our system but that if our system were like those found so far, advanced life would not be possible. Jupiter sized planets orbiting closer than Mercury would have spelled doom for any Earth-like planet that may have formed in the system. Consider the following diagram which compares the orbital eccentricity (how much the orbit differs from a circle) and distance (the x-axis scale is logarithmic). Earth is shown as point of reference. What should also be stated is that Jupiter has an eccentricity of about 0.05. Highly circular orbits are needed to keep a system stable. Finally, note what is written about Orbital Eccentricities at Exoplanets.org:
The occurrence of circular orbits may require special initial conditions. More common initial conditions may lead to gravitational perturbations of planes by other planets or by the protoplanetary disk, leading to orbital ellipticities or ejection. Perhaps our Solar System, with its coplanar, nearly circular orbits, represents a fortuitous unperturbed, low-entropy state for a planetary system. The circular orbit of Jupiter in our Solar System promotes the stability of circular orbits among the other 8 planets. If our Jupiter were in an eccentric orbit, the Earth and Mars would likely be gravitationally scattered, perhaps out of the Solar System. Thus an anthropic argument can be made for Jupiter's circular orbit, if it affects the onset or the evolution of biology on Earth. It remains a question of molecular and evolutionary biology regarding the necessity of circular orbits and the resulting nearly uniform temperatures for life. Eccentric orbits may occur relatively commonly in extrasolar planetary systems. The second law of thermodynamics suggests that orbits, once scrambled, will remain so. While an eccentric giant planet would certainly induce dynamical dominoes for terrestrial planets, the supposed demise of life may be a circular argument.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Objective scientists...

In my Why should creationists bother with science?... I intentionally used the word possibly in my answer to the question: Is it a pipe dream to expect secular scientists to accept a well prepared creation model for testing? The reason for my caution is that while many scientists paint a picture of being open-minded to new ideas, if properly presented, they continue to get their feet tangled up in those mucky areas of bias and subjectivity. Now this is certainly not a problem unique to scientists - it pretty much affects the entire human race. It's just that when you read what these guys write you get the distinct impression that they consider themselves to be completely objective. Yet their own words paint a different picture. Consider that Joe Carter has a post titled, Darwin’s Silver Bullet: Connecting-the-Dots on “Common Descent”, which has elicited over 45 responses (so far). Yet a quick perusal of the comments from Evolutionists yields:
Someone above quote Phillip Johnson, who is a raving lunatic and knows diddly about evolutionary biology. _____ Sure. Whatever. You are entitled to your religious beliefs, Joe. It's the creationists who imply (or just come right out and say) that scientists are a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking fact-ignoring morons with a "materialist agenda" that are the problem. That makes about as much sense as flying airplanes into skyscapers because "that's what God wants." _____ Even on the many lines of evidence I can't personally verify and don't fully appreciate, guys like Steve Reuland, Ed Brayton, PZ Myers and many others involved in the issue and in the respective fields of science, have never, ever, lied to me-not once Joe-in any field of science I've checked up on. Every single creationist and IDCist I've ever checked up on has lied or distorted science in a major and unmistakable way. _____ And your last question is just another ID creationist joke, right puzzled? Seriously, puzzled, since you "predicted" the functions of so-called "junk" DNA, why don't YOU tell scientists how to determine whether a previously unknown DNA sequence was "designed" by an "intelligent" entity or not. I'm sure Phillip Johnson would be very proud of you if you could accomplish that because thus far his lackeys Behe and Dembski haven't been able to explain donkey doodoo.
Or click over to the comments at Pharyngula and the post, Creationist e-mail: Gary Luce thinks biology promotes Haeckel, where we read:
Joe: I read your article, and Rusty's. There's no there there. You're just whining that you can't comprehend the scientific literature, while Rusty is claiming that that clown Hugh Ross is a "scholar", building good scientific models. I'm happy to review any attempts to take a scientific approach to origins, as in Nelson's case, and I'm also willing to dismiss them when they fall so far short of their declared aspirations.
Do you see the need for the word possibly in my original post? P.S. scholar: 1) a learned person. Hugh Ross B.Sc. (1967) in Physics, University of British Columbia M.Sc. (1968) in Astronomy, University of Toronto Ph.D. (1973) in Astronomy, University of Toronto Yeah Paul, I can see why, in reference to Ross, you placed the word scholar in quotes... objective: 3) uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices

Hey! That's my kid!...

Per the L. A. Times (free registration required) - Woman Awarded $1 Million Over Embryo Mix-Up: The doctor hid his error, her lawyer says. Couple want custody of her son.
SAN FRANCISCO — A Bay Area woman has been awarded $1 million in damages to settle a malpractice lawsuit against a fertility specialist who accidentally implanted her with the wrong embryos and then hid the mistake until the baby she delivered was 10 months old, according to her lawyer. The embryos Susan Buchweitz received at a San Francisco clinic were actually intended for a married couple who had in vitro fertilization the same day using the husband's sperm and a different egg donor. The couple are seeking custody of the 3-year-old boy whom Buchweitz has raised since birth.
Oh, the conundrums we enter into when we do things simply because we can. From the Touchstone article, The Unchosen Frozen, (see here), we read:
...When IVF became available, the American public not only embraced the practice, but also began, I believe, to lose respect for human life. IVF taught Americans (however unconsciously) to view children as products—and disposable products in fact...
From the L. A. Times article,
Court papers allege that both Steven L. Katz, the fertility doctor, and Imam El-Danasouri, the scientist who incubated the embryos and allegedly provided the wrong ones, knew of the mix-up within minutes of Buchweitz's in vitro procedure June 15, 2000, at the Fertility Associates of the Bay Area clinic. But they concluded that it would be better to let nature take its course rather than provide their patient with the truth — and the choice of whether to terminate the pregnancy, Hersh said.
Now... shouldn't the good scientist and doctor have notified the couple to whom the embryo belonged, in order to give them the choice of whether to tell Buchweitz to terminate the life of their child (that she just happened to be carrying)?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Why should creationists bother with science?...

Reasons to Believe is a Christian apologetic organization dedicated to,
show that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies. Our mission is to bring that life-changing truth to as many people as possible, both believers and unbelievers.
In their dealings with scientists they have realized that in order to be taken seriously, as scientists, they must present their theories in scientific form. That is, they must develop scientific models that are testable, regardless of whether the models have a foundation in the Christian worldview. Is it a pipe dream to expect secular scientists to accept a well prepared creation model for testing? Possibly not. Consider the following comments from P. Z. Myers evolution-based blog Pharyngula with regards to a post P. Z. made regarding his meeting with the Discovery Institute's Paul Nelson:
Professional conferences are exactly the place for IDers or creation scientists or other "opponents of the status quo" to propose papers and posters. Conferences are where new ideas get brought up, shot down, re-propped up, retooled, run up flagpoles, and in general, placed before colleagues with the intent to persuade them to join you in building new theories. I say good for Paul for coming to the conference and doing so. Other IDers should do the same thing, though obviously more effort is spent organizing their own conferences aimed at the general public than doing research aimed at convincing the scholarly public. But after presenting the paper or poster, what needs to be done -- if this were REALLY theory-building -- is to take the criticisms of peers back to the lab or library and rework the ideas, do some more tests, think about it some more, and then put forth the revised version of your idea, and see if you gain any more converts. Eventually, if your ideas are any good, others will pick them up and begin applying them, and a group of scholars will begin to form around you. THAT is how new ideas enter the body of science. The IDers seem to take the first step, but avoid the follow-through. And that is why they aren't taken seriously as scholars. - Dr. Eugenie Scott As Genie mentions, poster presentations are opportunities to toss up new ideas and work in progress and let the attendees do the peer-reviewing. I agree that it was commendable for Nelson to make the effort. I am concerned that the DI hasn't taken the necessary steps to do real science, but they are going to pretend that they have in their press releases...but that isn't grounds to change policy at scientific meetings, and we should still encourage these guys to continue to try and show us the substance behind their claims. - Dr. P. Z. Myers
To that end, the scholars at RTB have been working on developing such models. Granted, their work is in its infancy, and it is a formidable task, but they do intend on meeting the justifiably reasonable requests from the likes of Scott and Myers.

Embryonic matter...

Take the time to read The Unchosen Frozen: Second Thoughts on Biotechnology & In Vitro Fertilization, by William L. Saunders (March 2004 issue of Touchstone). Some excerpts:
The development of the embryo confirms its uniqueness as well as its humanity. Each human cell contains 46 chromosomes. Upon fertilization, the 23 chromosomes from the sperm are joined with 23 from the oocyte to produce the 46. The fertilized egg is now genetically complete and genetically distinct from its parents. With its unique set of 46 chromosomes, the fertilized egg is more than a simple cell like the sperm or the oocyte—it is a living human being. Beginning as a zygote (single cell), it develops into a morula (three days) and then into a blastocyst (five to seven days). In week two, it becomes a two-layer embryo, and in week three, a three-layer embryo. It continues to grow, through the eight-week embryo period and the subsequent fetal period, into a baby that a mother will one day hold in her arms. The human zygote produces specifically human proteins and enzymes. It genetically directs its own development. That growth is continuous, and, though the embryo undergoes significant change, it does not undergo what philosophers call substantial change—it does not change in nature from one kind of being into another. It possesses, from the first, the active capacity for full development... The desire of married couples for children is natural. Children are a fulfillment of the marital union. But no one has an absolute right to have a child. All life is a gift from God. He is not obligated to give it; we have no right to demand it. Thus, the natural desire of a married couple to have a child does not justify the use of any and all means that will produce a child... Perhaps because Americans were largely unwilling to face the realities of IVF and to wrestle with its moral implications when it first became possible, the country today stands on the brink of becoming a society in which moral reflection is reduced to a question of technical feasibility.

Frank words - on Kerry / Edwards misleading us...

Check Frank Beckwith's post, If Bush Misled Us, Then So Did Edwards (and Kerry, By Implication) - The Argument, at Moteworthy.com. Frank comments on how Kerry has not claimed that Bush has lied but, rather, that he has misled the American public. Yet, given that Edwards is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Kerry / Edwards camp has access to all the information available prior to the invasion of Iraq.
This is why Edwards (and Kerry) supported our going to war in Iraq. But if Bush misled us, then so did Edwards... The only way one can get out of this conundrum is if Bush withheld information, but neither Kerry nor Edwards is claiming that. If, of course, Kerry's running mate does have this information, then Kerry (or Edwards) had a perfect chance to inflict a fatal blow to Bush and provide that information at the Democratic National Convention before the biggest television audience either had ever had in this campaign. But they gave us nothing. So, unless they can provide this information, Kerry has no advantage over Bush on this issue, for Kerry picked as his running mate a Senator who apparently knew just as much as the President and still supported the war.
On a related note: check the Moorelies link, as well as this MSNBC article.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Matt Powell on Biblical Slavery...

Matt Powell, over at Wheat & Chaff, has some thoughtful comments regarding God's attitude towards slavery, closing off a thread I started with regards to whether humans can evolve a better morality. For a quick review, check my post On a fiendish God.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Dave, over at Welcome to the Planet, links us to Desert Pastor, who has written a couple of thoughtful posts on what the Emerging Church needs. A few months ago I jotted down my concerns with how the Emergent Church not only seems to embrace post-modern thougt, but how they seem overly concerned with having their senses satisfied. In What the Emerging Church Needs, pt. 1, Desert Pastor says:
The desire to “do church differently”, or better yet to “be church” in a different way has led to far too much emphasis on ecclesiology (i.e. how we “are” the church) instead of theology... And so, I offer the following (general) observations concerning the Emerging Church, along with what I hope will be some helpful suggestions: A preoccupation with image over substance. People are getting sick and tired of hearing about “candles, coffee, and conversation.” If that’s the best the EC can muster, it’s doomed. Now, I know that there are many EC communities that claim to be about much, much more than candles and stuff – yet for all the time and energy that goes into the “ambiance”, the “alt.worship”, and the “multi-sensory” layering – why aren’t we seeing scores of people being transformed into fully-devoted-followers-of-Christ?... An assumption that “different” = “better.” The EC runs the risk of repeating the same error the Enlightenment-influenced Modern Church made of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It has taken us the better part of 500 years to admit that Protestantism (and then even more, Evangelicalism) divorced itself from some of our more ancient and valuable expressions of faith, probably due to a Roman-Catholic phobia. Many EC’ers today are divorcing themselves from anything that smacks of institutionalized Christianity. And it’s the “anything” part that most concerns me. Sure, there have been abuses and problems within the modern Church (I speak here as an Evangelical). The need for reform is undeniable. But is seems as if many EC’ers are willing to embrace change at any cost, convinced that anything that is believed or practiced “differently” than the Institutionalized Church (IC) must be better...
It is very refreshing to see voices from within the EC movement exhorting those within their ranks to the very real, and very mature issues that they will ultimately have to address. I can only hope that the average Emergent Church-goer will listen. I've critiqued PoMo on at least two occasions (check here, and then here) and, in addition to my concern that the movement latches on to the philosophy of post-modernism, I expressed doubts that said average attendee cares for nothing more than the experience to be had. In my post How 'bout some Em-pathy?, I conclude with:
I predict Emergent churches will never become mainstream. And I predict this for the same reason that you find people now wanting to get their tatoos removed. They grow up.
Are we seeing the Emergent Church beginning to experience growing pains?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

No peaceful easy feeling here...

It seems that Don Henley ran into a bit of the same trouble that Linda Ronstadt recently did. At a concert at the Pacific Ampitheater, in Orange County, California, Henley apparently decided to reference her in the intro to a Randy Newman song titled, Political Science. He got as far as:
Given what my good friend Linda Ronstadt...
And that's when a chorus of boos drowned out the few cheers that he roused. Okay. Let's ignore that he attempted to make a liberal political statement in one of the most Republican counties in the country. Let's also ignore that Henley is no stranger to political activism. We can even ignore the lyrics from Newman's song - well... no, we can't - here they are:
No one likes us-I don't know why We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try But all around, even our old friends put us down Let's drop the big one and see what happens We give them money-but are they grateful? No, they're spiteful and they're hateful They don't respect us-so let's surprise them We'll drop the big one and pulverize them Asia's crowded and Europe's too old Africa is far too hot And Canada's too cold And South America stole our name Let's drop the big one There'll be no one left to blame us We'll save Australia Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo We'll build an All American amusement park there They got surfin', too Boom goes London and boom Paree More room for you and more room for me And every city the whole world round Will just be another American town Oh, how peaceful it will be We'll set everybody free You'll wear a Japanese kimono And there'll be Italian shoes for me They all hate us anyhow So let's drop the big one now Let's drop the big one now
Ben Werner, from the Orange County Register, took the booing patrons to task in a review titled, Boom goes Orange County (free registration required). From his article:
What few cheers went up were quickly drowned out in waves of boos that grew larger and louder. Unflappable Henley initially backed off: "Whoops Orange County." Once the ensuing hometown hooray waned, however, he made his point. "We used to be able to agree to disagree. We used to be able to have civil debate in this country. "Not anymore," he concluded. Then came the song: "Political Science," a wickedly satirical yet increasingly relevant statement on American imperialism that dates back to the Vietnam era. Henley: "I've imagined it as a duet between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney." ...The old-hat argument that "I paid to be entertained, not to listen to political speeches" holds little weight with me, but I concede that an evening of Ronstadt singing standards is an unusual forum for social commentary. But Don Henley? People, you've got to be kidding. If you were there, were you really paying attention to his other songs? "Dirty Laundry," about sleazy TV news coverage. "The End of the Innocence," about disillusionment amid the Reagan era ("this tired old man that we elected king"). Even "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," a deceptively playful tune about willful ignorance in the face of political wrongdoing. Thus, applying the just-entertain-me complaint to Henley is misguided; his longstanding criticism of American policy has always been intrinsic to his form of entertainment.
Werner has a point... sort of. Anyone attending a Henley concert had better well expect politics thrown in (free of charge). Yet my concern is not with whether Henley has the right to speak his mind (which he does), nor whether the patrons have the right to boo him (which they do) but, rather, with Henley's statement, "We used to be able to have civil debate in this country." Get over it Don. Being in front of a microphone, in front of thousands of people who'd like to hear a concert, does not constitute a civil debate. It's obvious what you want. You want the advantage that thousands of watts of amplification gives you. That's fine. You're in a position that gives you the opportunity to deliver your message in such venues. But don't for a minute think that it's a civil debate.

The NEA and Homeschooling...

Check Political activism takes center stage for NEA, by Phyllis Schlafly. She writes:
The most controversial vote at the NEA convention turned out to concern one word in the anti-home-school resolution. B-69 as introduced read: "The Association also believes that unfunded home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools." The word "unfunded" precipitated a lively debate. Some schools provide funding for home-schoolers to participate in after-school activities such as sports. The amendment to remove the word "unfunded" was designed to put the NEA on record as opposed to letting home-schoolers darken the door of public schools regardless of whether there is money to finance their participation. In the end, the majority of delegates voted to delete "unfunded." Whether or not the participation of home-choolers is funded, the NEA wants to prohibit them them from competing in any way with public-school students who are "with us all day." The NEA thus made its animosity against home-schoolers loud and clear. The only thing this powerful and wealthy union fears is home-schooling.
In the children's best interests, no doubt...