Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Transcendant Naturalism...

Does it make sense, rationally, to posit that evolution has the capacity to produce a moral code? Consider that a sense of right and wrong, if valid, must transcend pure opinion. In other words, if it's wrong for John to murder Mark, then it probably follows that it's also wrong for Mark to murder John. Yet, the real issue in that case is not who is murdering whom, but whether or not murder itself is wrong. However, the issue is unpacked even further by addressing the question of whether or not the abstract concepts of moral right and wrong even exist. Proponents of naturalistic evolution fail miserably when attempting to give account for the existence of morality. If naturalism rules, and all our actions are merely determined by the laws of physics in conjunction with random variations, then exactly how does naturalistic evolution account for a transcendant rule of law - a moral code - an abstract reality that we all recognize? Furthermore, by what authority are we compelled to recognize a naturalistically derived moral code? Another, more sovreign naturalistically derived moral code? And why should we recognize that one? C. S. Lewis wrote,
When men say "I ought" they certainly think they are saying something, and something true, about the nature of the proposed action, and not merely about their own feelings. But if Naturalism is true, "I ought" is the same sort of statement as "I itch" or "I'm going to be sick."
Update: Tom comments, We're driven towards eating apples over dirt clods. It's transcendant. It's abstract. Yeah, there might be a weird dirt eating cult in Houston, say. But they'll be in the minority. Can you see why evolution might give us THAT drive? (And if you can get that far, is a mother nurturing her child that far away? I would argue that we eat apples based on data collected by our senses, not on some abstract notion that drives us to eat them. However, the color of the apple you eat is based on the notion of redness (if you’re eating a Red Delicious). The quality of redness is abstract and would still exist whether or not your senses properly interpreted the photons reflected by the apple. Or consider, for instance, that you see a single, red apple on the table. Your senses tell you that there is one apple there. But where do you get this concept of “oneness”? Where does the number “one” exist? You believe in the existence of numbers yet you have no empirical data to prove that they exist. It is an abstract concept, which comes from a mind. Note: Simply because you may believe that numbers exist or that a mother nurtures her child, does not, in and of itself, show us how evolution could have provided you with that belief. As for Lewis’ logic, perhaps another rendering of the passage you refer to will help alleviate your confusion: Jesus made certain truth claims about himself. They either were not true or they were true. If they were not true, then he either knew they were not or he didn’t know they were not. If he knew they were not true, then he is a liar. If he didn’t know they were not true, then he was crazy (or… just very stupid). If they were true, then he is who he claimed to be. Also, I didn’t present that argument in my Lewis’ quote, so while it is possible he could have been wrong in the passage you refer to, that does not mandate that he was wrong in the passage I referred to as well. Paul said, I'm getting a pretty clear sense of your desire for an unequivocal foundation for morality. But as strong as your wish may be, it doesn't make it so. … It [naturalistic evolution] does account for a morality that humans tend to subscribe to, which is easily explained by evolution with only one assumption: that a sense of morality is a competitive advantage. If that assumption is true, then beings that exhibit such a sense will tend to do better than those that do not. Actually, I wish I could do whatever I wanted, for my pleasure alone. I certainly don’t wish for an unequivocal foundation for morality… I simply see that that’s how it must be if morality truly exists. Otherwise, if there were no reason to follow one morality over another, then they all become valid (or invalid, depending on how you want to look at it). Either way, the very concept of morality becomes meaningless. Acknowledging that morality exists and then backing it into the goal-less process of evolution (goal-less except for, I guess, the one assumption presented) is hardly a convincing argument that evolution actually produced morality. By what authority are you appealing to by claiming that we use only one assumption? That we tend to do better? How do we know what better is? By how many organisms are left alive at the end of the day? Says who? How about by insuring that only the healthiest organisms are left alive at the end of the day (providing we know what healthy means)? So instead of waiting for natural selection to do its handiwork, we’ll circumvent the process and eliminate the unhealthy members of the species on our own. But we still have too many living members of our species breathing at the end of the day. So let’s not only kill the unhealthy ones, but let’s grind them up and cook them for the next day’s meal as well. After all, our one assumption is that we have a competitive advantage that allows us to do better – and what could be better than insuring that the healthiest members of the species survive? Is that right, or is it wrong? It matters on what the majority says? Says who? Pragmatism? And by what authority are you appealing to for that? Etc., etc., etc. What opponents to this idea of moral truth need to understand is that in presenting your argument, i.e., that naturalistic evolution can produce a moral code, you can appeal to nothing - save determinism and chance. No competitive advantages, no warm cuddly feelings, no emergent (read: magical) properties, nothing. Just electrical impulses and chemical reactions interacting amongst the myriad of pathways found within that extraordinarily complex entity known as homo sapiens sapiens.
I’ll be out of pocket this weekend which, for me, now starts on Fridays. We’re finally getting away on another trip to visit some more California Missions and scope out any remaining wildflowers (the third try must be a charm). Hopefully LotharBot or Bonnie will join in the discussion on this post.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Rusty Nails, 4/22/05...

Koukl on why Naturalism asks why: Greg Koukl asks, in Earth Day for Evolutionists?,
Has anyone else but me noticed an inherent contradiction in the underlying convictions that drive annual “Earth Day” celebrations? The vast majority of those who attend such fetes are Darwinists who believe humans have a moral obligation to protect the environment. But why?
Indeed, a very good question. No Greg, you aren't the only one noticing. I've posted on this essential topic many times in the past. Reference:
What should we have done? Additional thoughts on human obligation and natural law Do the practical thing: Contrasting worldviews against current events Do the right thing, or should we? Was Darwin wrong? Pragmatic Nihilism: How a naturalistic worldview renders our existence supreme Naturalism, flu vaccines, and the survival of the fittest
Mandatory Preschool, for the good of society: World Magazine's blog has a post titled, The Meathead's back, in which we revisit the liberal agenda of universal preschool (for the good of society) which, if left unchecked, could quickly degenerate into mandatory preschool. I've written at least two posts on this topic. Check Johnny is 3 years old, goes to preschool, and..., as well as Mandatory Preschool in California. Also check a report by the California Family Council which addresses the question of whether or not preschool is as beneficial as some people claim. You might also want to simply sit back and think, think long and hard, about whether or not a preschool-age child - your child - is better off being cared for by someone paid to do so, in an institution filled with other people's children, funded by bureaucracy; or whether or not your preschool-age child's entire psyche is better off being shaped and formed by the person(s) he or she should be most closely bonded to?
Fun with Dowd: From Mere Comments,
Maureen Dowd from her column in today’s editions of The New York Times on the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI: "For American Catholics— - especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols— - the cafeteria is officially closed."
Are these the women Dowd is referring to?
Dembski's Blog: After the recent start-up of the Intelligent Design blog ID the Future, contributor Bill Dembski has finally started his own blog (c'mon Bill, I've been at it for 18 months now). You can find his posts at Uncommon Descent and, for all you Panda-maniacs out there, he allows comments to be posted (so be prepared to see accusations that he's dishonest, disingenuous, a liar, uses double-speak, is incompetent, blah, blah, blah).

Turning kids into adults...

I wrote a post recently in which I essentially stated that whether or not one has well-behaved children is not dependent on whether one has compliant children or strong-willed children. The comments on the post quickly ran down the path of whether or not spanking was a valid form of discipline - something that, while a valid topic for discussion, was completely tangential to the subject of my post. What is the objective of discipline? Order? Stability? Strict adherence to rules? Well, at least for our household, the objective of discipline is to teach our children how to eventually become responsible adults. Their bodies are physically transforming from that of a child to an adult automatically; but what of the mental and spiritual aspects of their transformation? Is that automatic? In our Narcissistically Pragmatic, self-sufficiently prosperous culture, we seem to thrive on the pleasure and gratification of the self. Responsibility goes out the door to make room for personal rights. How can this help me, now? becomes our main concern. Is it any wonder, then, that kids have trouble transitioning from the carefree realm of childhood into the responsibility laden mire of adulthood? Is it any wonder that some adults reject the responsibility they must / should carry and return to a life of self-indulgence? Will we all eventually become Twixters? Perpetually adolescent? (HT: True Grit) Or will we, as parents and adults, put forth the effort to discipline? To instruct, teach, guide, mentor, and... love? Hugh Hewitt's book, In, But Not Of, is written primarily to those between the ages of 18 and 30, those most likely to influence the world in the near future. The chapters of the book are, in reality, pithy expressions of advice - advice on how young Christian men and women can effect cultural change in society. Discipline and responsibility. Indeed, consider some of the chapter titles (with my comments in parentheses): Assemble the Right Credentials (your choice of university and major), Learn How You Got Here (respect for history), Tattoos: Don't (ouch)*, A Message About Visa/MasterCard: Don't (ouch again), Know What You Don't Know, Choose a Church and Join It - Genuinely, and Avoid Thrill Seeking (seeking instant gratification). Hugh's advice is timely, but is mainly for those either currently in or recently graduated from university. What about those preparing for adulthood? Is it really practical to expect 18 - 22 year-olds to act, well... responsible? In an encouraging post over at Mere Comments, we read about a private college in Virginia by the name of Patrick Henry College (PHC). Kenneth Tanner writes, in The Remarkable Patrick Henry College, of a letter from Anthony Esolena, contributing editor to Touchstone Magazine (parent to Mere Comments) regarding a speaking engagement he had at PHC. Esolena writes,
The first time I spoke there, two years ago, I was stunned to meet young men and women who—who were young men and women. I am not stretching the truth; go to Purcellville and see it for yourselves if you doubt it;... The young men stand tall and look you in the eye—they don’t skulk, they don’t scowl and squirm uncomfortably in the back chairs as they listen to yet another analysis of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or one of the healthier poems of Sylvia Plath. They’re frank and generous and respectful, but they hold their own in an argument, and they are eager to engage you in those. They are comfortable in their skins; they wear their manhood easily. And the young ladies are beautiful. They don’t wither away in class, far from it; but they wear skirts, they are modest in their voices and their smiles, they clearly admire the young men and are esteemed in turn; they are like creatures from a faraway planet, one sweeter and saner than ours. Two years ago I spoke to them about medieval Catholic drama. They are evangelicals, half of them majors in Government, the rest, majors in Liberal Arts. They kept me and my wife in that room for nearly three hours after the talk was over. “Doctor Esolen, what you say about the habits of everyday life—to what extent is it like what Jean Pierre de Coussade calls ‘the sacrament of the present moment’?” “Doctor Esolen, do you see any connections between the bodiliness of this drama and the theology of Aleksandr Schmemann?” “Doctor Esolen, you have spoken a great deal about our recovery of a sense of beauty, but don’t you think that artists can also use the grotesque as a means of bringing people to the truth?” “You’ve suggested to us that Christians need to reclaim the Renaissance as our heritage, yet we are told that that was an age of the worship of man for his own sake. To what extent is the art of that period ours to reclaim?” And on and on, until nearly midnight.
Does the fact that ninety percent of the students at PHC were homeschooled have anything to do with their demeanor? Possibly. Yet I think that the foundation of the maturity displayed by these students lies in the fact that they were properly disciplined prior to their arrival at PHC, regardless of whether or not that discipline came about through home schooling. Should we be viewing the teenage years, therefore, as a time of playful frivolity, expecting aberrant behavior from adolescent human beings who, by their very nature, are unwilling and incapable of expressing maturity? Or should we view the teenage years as a time of transition - from that of a child into that of an adult? A time that, despite its inherent playfulness, is filled with lessons of responsibility? Can we truly expect our children to accomplish such a task? Yes, we can.
Additional reading: From Boy to Man--The Marks of Manhood, Part One - Al Mohler From Boy to Man--The Marks of Manhood, Part Two - Al Mohler Perpetual Adolescence - Melinda Penner Wimps and Barbarians: the Sons of Murphy Brown - Terrence O. Moore Heather's Compromise: How Young Women Make Their Way in a World of Wimps and Barbarians - Terrence O. Moore * Interestingly enough, according to Hugh Hewitt, the two page chapter on Tattoos received the most criticism of any in the book, primarily from student-age readers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Christian Carnival...

Check out the LXVI edition of the Christian Carnival, over at PseudoPolyMath.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Rusty Nails, 4/19/05...

Laura, over at Words Behind Me, comments on one pastor's statement regarding how he'd like his church to be viewed in Wanting the Church to Look Like the Mall. Needless to say, Dude, check it out. ################### The church referenced above, Radiant Church, is located in Surprise, Arizona. In checking their website, under the What to Expect? section, we read,
We're Relevant Our goal is for each service to be fun, creative, and relevant to your life. Our services begin with rockin', upbeat music from the band, are followed by a humorous and relevant message by Pastor Lee, and only last an hour. We'll even give you a handy outline with the Bible passages, so you will go home encouraged and equipped each week! (emphasis added)
Heaven forbid we should expect anyone to approach God and worship Him simply because of who He is. ################ Melinda Penner continues to clear the air with regards to the non-ambiguity of the ambiguous meta-narrative through which we get a slight glimpse of when reading the EmChurch's non-exclusivistic teachings as expounded by its purported guru Brian McLaren. (oh yeah, you can find Melinda's post at STR's blog)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Never Read a Bible Verse...

Update: in response to LotharBot, and to more fully explain my position, please refer back to some posts I wrote in January, 2004 - The Plain Reading of the Text 1, 2, and 3. ********************** Greg Koukl, over at Stand to Reason, has a nice article titled Never Read a Bible Verse. He states,
If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I've ever learned as a Christian? Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. That's right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph–at least.
Once we understand that meaning, within a text, comes from the top - down, or from the larger unit to the smaller unit, then we'll more readily see how easy it is to take a smaller unit of thought (e.g., a verse of Scripture) out of context. The Never Read a Bible Verse advice is probably violated more often than not when we venture into the book of Jeremiah. For it is in chapter 29 that we find a veritable El Dorado for the 21st century Christian,
For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. - Jeremiah 29:11 (NET)
Wow! What a verse! What could be clearer than a direct declaration from the Lord that He has plans to make us prosper?! Indeed, this verse was the cornerstone of this morning's sermon at our church. While the point of the message was not one of financial prosperity, it was an irresponsible use of Scripture, nonetheless. Would that we instead hear a message which informs the church that Jeremiah 29:11 is one sentence in a paragraph, which begins at verse 10, and concludes at verse 14. A paragraph. A unit of thought that is larger than the unit of thought contained within in a sentence. Here are verses 10 - 14 of Jeremiah 29,
“For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will reverse your fortunes and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’
Doesn't a reading of the entire paragraph now put verse 11 into proper perspective? Is verse 11 really about the Lord having plans to bring us prosperity? If so, then can we also infer that we'll have to wait seventy years for this prosperity to arrive (after, of course, the Lord gathers us back from our exile). Would it be too difficult to reference back to Jeremiah 29:1 and find out that the discourse in Jeremiah 29 is from a letter that Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon? Perhaps, in our self-centeredness, we've come to think that virtually every passage in the Bible must have some significant meaning for us - the How does this apply to me? syndrome. While it may tickle our ears to hear that the Lord has specific plans to make us prosper, I think we would be better off understanding the history from which we came: that of the nation of Israel, how they were chosen by God, how they related to God through the Old Covenant, and how we should relate to God through the New Covenant.

The Heavens Declare...

Check Richard Hammar's See the Glory website for some beautiful astronomical photography. One of his photographs was featured on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day a few months ago.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Imago Articulus updates...

I've posted several new pics over at Imago Articulus.

It irks me when...

LaShawn Barber has a post titled, Blogging Pet Peeves, in which she gives us a rundown of things she doesn't like about blogs and blogging. Now, my pet peeve is that bloggers feel the need to post on their pet peeves. ;^)

Upcoming events in southern California...

Biola University, in La Mirada, is hosting a one day conference on May 13th titled, Conversations With an Emerging Church. Cost is $20. Biola will also host a free lecture by William Dembski on April 18th, and a lecture by Michael Behe (cost is $10) on April 28th. Lastly, Capistrano Valley Church will host a Case for a Creator conference on May 6 & 7. Guest speakers will be Lee Strobel, Jay Richards, J. P. Moreland, and Jonathan Wells. HT: Stand to Reason

Koukl on McLaren...

In How to do Postmodern Theology, Greg Koukl gives us his views on Brian McLaren's latest book, The Last Word and the Word after That. Greg also provides us with a brief analysis of the dangers inherent in the Postmodern mindset embraced by the Emerging Church. He writes,
McLaren is instructing us on how to do theology the postmodern way. "Clear" answers are pejoratively "pat;" vagueness (McLaren's stock in trade) is "astute." Theological determinations that are formulaic (Chalcedon's "one person, two natures"?), and categorical ("Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father" 1 John 2:23?), are dismissed as "simple." However, it may be that some religious issues-particularly the most important ones-are made clear by God for a reason: They are vitally important. The more I read McLaren (e.g., below from "A Generous Orthodoxy"), the more I think he is simply in a different universe from Jesus, Paul, John, Peter, et al. Very little McLaren says bears any resemblance to the claims of these men. He meanders about ambiguously and semi-coherently--"I believe he [Jesus] came to open something beyond religion -- a new possibility, a realm, a domain, a territory of the spirit that welcomes everyone but requires everyone (now including members of the Christian religion) to think again and become like little children" (p. 266 AGO)--on issues that are deadly serious, issues on which the biblical writers were painstakingly clear.
Think about this for a moment. If, according to the gurus of the Emergent Church movement, "clear" answers are pejoratively "pat" and vagueness is "astute," then how are we to take the instruction (so-called) they provide us with? Not very seriously, I'm afraid.

Friday, April 15, 2005

On being "blessed with compliant children"...

In conversation, recently, someone remarked that my wife and I were "blessed with compliant children." The remark was probably motivated by the fact that our children are a slightly better behaved (to put it mildly)than the child of the person who made the remark. Apparently this person believes that a child's behavior is directly tied to whether or not the child is "compliant," which must be, if we were simply lucky enough to be "blessed" with them, purely a matter of their genetics. My response to her was that if she thinks our kids are compliant, then she needs to spend some time at our house to see how they act throughout an entire day. Now, most of the time, our kids are reasonably well behaved. But there are certainly times when their human self-centeredness shines through and they prove to be difficult (to say the least). Our four year-old, for instance, has recently been putting us through a loop with regards to her direct defiance of direction from either me or my wife. It is taking a lot of effort for us to consistently address such defiance. But therein is where we find the actual heart of the matter. It's not at all a matter of parents being "blessed with compliant children." It's a matter of parents applying consistent effort with regards to the discipline of their children. Child psychologists, such as James Dobson, have described how we all have unique, in-built, personality traits. While anyone's personality is certainly a complex matter, the two general categories that Dobson describes (for children) are known as the "strong-willed" child and the "compliant" child. Yet, I think the whole idea of the "strong-willed" child has been misinterpreted by a great many parents. While Dobson has given us the two categories in the hopes of helping us understand how to discipline each personality style, many parents simply see the "strong-willed" category as the reason (or excuse?) for their child's ill behavior. After all, so they rationalize, they obviously weren't "blessed with a compliant child." But such thinking misses the point entirely. If it were merely a matter of chance - that is, whether or not a couple was blessed with a child possessing a certain personality style - then I should consider my wife and me pretty "lucky." After all, it was a 50/50 shot with each kid, and we came out ahead on two shots in a row! That's nothing, however, for there seems to be an endless supply of luck for other couples. Indeed, we have a family in our homeschool group that has nine children (that's right! The number 9. 5 plus 4, 108 divided by 12... NINE). Despite the fact that each one of their nine kids is an individual, they can still be identified as generally fitting within either one of the two broad categories referenced above. Some are compliant and some are strong-willed. But, and here's the kicker, they are all well behaved. Wow! Consider that for a moment - the sheer luck involved in the cards they happened to be dealt. But is it really probable that these parents defied the odds and were simply "blessed" with nine compliant children? Let me state what should not have to be stated:
Disciplining your kids takes time and effort, regardless of their various personality styles. While their individual personality style may explain their behavior, it does not excuse it (nor does it relieve you of the responsibility to address it). Understanding the complexity of their personality styles will help you determine the best approaches to take in effectively raising them.
Don't lose hope, though, for your efforts won't have to go on forever - only for about the first 18 years of your child's life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Responding to comments on Modern English…

Sorry for not posting over last weekend. We had relatives in town and the bulk of our week was spent in fellowship with our family. Also, we’ve been visiting many of the Missions in California (as you may have noticed over at Imago Articulus) for our 4th grader’s California History schooling, and last Friday was spent at both Mission San Luis Rey and Mission San Juan Capistrano. My two posts (here and here)on Modern English (and how it relates to Bible translation) have drawn some very good comments and questions. Keep in mind that this is a complex subject in that there are many aspects to the subject that can be addressed. Entire books have been written on or closely related to this subject, so a few measly blog posts can hardly be expected to comprehensively address the topic (ref. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth – Fee & Stuart, The Word of God in English – Ryken, and Playing With Fire – Russell). Tom asked, In your opinion would a bad translation or bad simplification block a spiritual encounter with God for a Christian? …In your opinion could that rebirth or even a daily connection with Jesus Christ be blocked or distorted for a Christian with text that's inappropriately translated? LotharBot gave a good answer, to which I’d like to add. While Christian apologists work towards a rational understanding of our faith, we understand that acceptance of the Christian faith is not merely a matter of being presented a set of arguments that prove a particular truth. If it were so then one would simply need to be shown that Christianity is true in the same sense that 2 + 2 = 4 is true. Now while I certainly think that there are sound and compelling arguments for the Christian faith, from rational grounds, such rational grounds do not cover the entire landscape of our psyche (e.g., I believe that it is futile to attempt to categorize a father’s love for his child in purely rational terms). That said, the Christian also understands that all who become Christians are initially drawn to God by the Holy Spirit through whatever methods or means He desires. So, while a bad translation may hinder an effective understanding of the text, it is not necessarily viewed as a hindrance to the Holy Spirit’s action. On the other hand, I do believe that a bad translation can be a hindrance for a proper daily connection with Jesus Christ in that such a translation could deprive an individual of the intended meaning of the text. Paul asked, But isn't all of this something of a contradiction, given that the King James and any other English bibles are translations. If you really want to know what the original meant, shouldn't you be reading the original, making the quality of a particular translation a secondary issue? I don’t view it as being a contradiction; rather, I see it as a “poor to best” arrangement. For example, using a street language paraphrase of the Bible is a poor method of study. Learning the original languages (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and reading from original manuscripts is the best method. Actually Paul, you echo the sentiment of many seminary presidents in stressing the use of original language(s). Some advocate that a pastor can best serve his flock only if he best understands God’s Word, and he can best understand God’s Word by studying it in its original language. For those of us who haven’t the time to do just that, we do have access to translator’s notes (as referenced by LotharBot) as well as resources such as: The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Greek dictionaries, exhaustive concordances, commentaries, etc. Using such study guides, though, takes time and effort. As Bonnie relates, our society typically avoids activities which require dedicated hard work and, rather, is more interested in being spoon-fed as they are entertained. It is truly amazing that, in a society in which we have access to some of the most comprehensive reference material on the Holy Scriptures ever published, we whine for translations that are easy to understand. Tom asked, So how can a Christian be sure that he or she is getting at a deeper level of the original text if our own contemporary poetry is puzzling? What is the Christian missing, since he or she has no idea what original sense the words played off each other in the sentence? And like Derrida might say, not all interpretations are equal, but what's the best one for bunches of cultures in 2005? Are you positing that we enter the world of deconstructionism? I haven’t read Derrida, but if I did, and if I held to the concept of deconstructionism, then I guess I would have to say that my interpretation of what he has written is that he completely agrees with me! Seriously, the first point we need to address and clarify here is that authors have intentions. If you’ve read something someone has written and don’t understand what his intentions were, you can ask him. Providing he doesn’t lie to you, you’ll get a clearer understanding of the meaning he intended to convey (kind of like what has been happening with this series of posts and comments). Note, however: the intended meaning of the text written by the author does not become dynamic simply because the author has died or because the culture he wrote it in is foreign to ours. If one or both of those events occur, then it is quite possible that we might never be able to determine what the author’s intended meaning was. We are hardly free, though, to then invent our own meaning for the text (an idea that many judges don’t seem to be able to grasp). It is not a crime to admit that we don’t know the intended meaning of a particular text. As you delve deeper into this topic you will find that there are various means by which we can analyze text with regards to intended meaning. I mentioned the fact that literature can be presented in many genres. The particular genre used generally tells us how easy or difficult it may be to interpret the text it contains. Consider the genre of Letters. Letters, by their very nature, are personal passages of text that extensively deal with personal events between the writer and the intended recipient. Do you know what was happening, culturally, philosophically, economically, and historically, on the island of Crete during the first century? Do you know any of the biographical facts regarding the life of St. Paul? Do you have knowledge of how the early Christian Church spread from Jews to Gentiles? If you did, then you’d have a better understanding of the meaning of the contents of a letter Paul wrote called Titus. In other words, the best understanding of a text written in the genre of a Letter comes only from increased knowledge of the author, recipient, and events surrounding the contents of the letter. There is a method of Bible study known as the Inductive Method. This method forces the reader to address the text and, using inductive study methods, ascertain what it is the text is telling us. I recently had the privilege of attending a Bible study, on the Old Testament book of Hosea, led by an Old Testament scholar (who was also one of the translators for the NIV translation of the Bible). As part of his syllabus he outlined the class objectives as:
1. Become familiar with the Biblical TEXT of Hosea. This is the primary emphasis for this course. We cannot intelligently DISCUSS or EVALUATE what we do not KNOW. 2. Explore the theological problems of the book that present themselves in the course of doing an exegesis of the text, with a special emphasis on God’s Love, Redemption and Judgment. 3. Become aware of the social, political, economic, religious, and historical backgrounds for the book of Hosea. 4. Become acquainted with the phenomenon of Hebraic prophecy, stressing the practical application of non-predictive prophecy and the role of the prophet as a preacher of theological righteousness and social justice rather than as a soothsayer.
Further into the syllabus he listed the basic procedure for such an inductive study (I’ve paraphrased or generalized many of the questions):
The purpose of inductive study is to see RELATIONSHIPS within a given passage before attempting to secure any meaning in depth. To interpret a passage without regard for contexts, both literary and historical, is irresponsible and prejudicial to its meaning. Inductive study will help us avoid such errors. 1. Survey the pericope. …Determine the message that is conveyed there. a. Structure: Determine the subject matter of the pericope, its main divisions, and select titles for these divisions that describe their contents. Show how they relate to one another, if possible. b. The Hearer: Who? When? Why? c. The Reader: Who? When? Why? d. Major impressions: Key areas, themes, or ideas? Locate and define important words. List contrasts and comparisons. 2. Analysis: Who speaks to whom about whom? Who is character 1? Who is character 2? What imagery do we have? What does phrase 1 mean? What does phrase 2 mean? Provide textual warrant for your answer. Do a word study on the idea of phrase 1 using a good, exhaustive concordance. What historical event 1 is spoken of here? What symbolism is being portrayed, then? What was the geographical location 1? What does it mean here? 3. Key Word Study: Using a good, exhaustive concordance and Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, determine the meaning of key words and phrases in the text. What do the words mean in this text? In other OT text? How do the words differ? How have they been rendered in other translations?
Thus, the inductive method of study stresses that it is from the text, and not our culture, with which we can gather the meaning of an ancient text.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Hewitt & Koukl Show...

Update: Greg Koukl posted on the Thursday night event at Stand to Reason's blog (also, Melinda "The Enforcer" Penner wrote a bit regarding the term Emergent and differentiated between its use by both progressive Evangelical and PoMo churches). STR has an MP3 of the event, including both talks by Hugh and Greg. I've added a link to a short (14 second) MP3 clip of Hugh referencing me in his talk. ********************** Just returned from a Stand to Reason event at Calvary Church in Santa Ana, California. Hugh Hewitt was the guest speaker, with Greg Koukl closing the evening with a short talk and a status report on Stand to Reason. In his talk, Hugh emphasized the need for Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews to come together as a force to oppose the threat to moral values that our culture now faces (e.g., religious liberty, judicial power-grabbing, the sanctity of human life). He even included Mormons as our allies, noting that while our theological differences are very real, we still share a common enemy (likening the fight to that of allying with the Soviet Union in order to defeat the Nazis). While he pointed out that Christians do not need to drop their concerns of theological (and creedal) differences, we do need to understand that forming a coalition based on shared values will better enable us to protect religious liberty. Three core issues he stressed were: 1) God exists, 2) He demands obedience and, 3) He punishes disobedience. He also gave four, "must-read," book recommendations: 1) That Hideous Strength - C. S. Lewis, 2) The Abolition of Man - C. S. Lewis, 3) Lost in the Cosmos - Walker Percy and, 4) The Thanatos Syndrome - Walker Percy. I've read Lewis' books but have yet to delve into Percy's. Before the talk I had the chance to speak with Hugh and was mildly chastized for scaling back my posting frequency (see my original post on that topic here and an addendum here). Hugh basically said that, in the medium of blogs, having many short posts outweighs having but a few, extensive posts. Well, I'll see what I can do. In our short conversation I related the time committment I have towards my family, especially with regards to the home schooling of our two children, and was pleasantly stunned when Hugh mentioned me by name, as a homeschooler, towards the end of his talk. Thanks Hugh! Greg Koukl rounded off the night by bringing an especially lucid talk on the threat of relativism to the church. He highlighted the dangers the church faces when it embraces such notions as moral relativism as well as post modernism. In particular, he addressed the teachings of the Emergent Church. For a refresher on how I view the dangers inherent in some of the teachings of the Emergent Church, please refer back to my post What is PoMo? and Those PoFolks at PoMo. It was a very enjoyable evening. Here I am networking with Hugh Hewitt.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II...

God's servant is called home.
According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. - Phillipians 1:20-23 (KJV)

More on Modern English...

In my earlier post, on the elegance of Modern English (or lack thereof), I was attempting to highlight the potential absurdity of making a translation (e.g., of the Bible) fit the common vernacular - the lowest common denominator - for the misguided purpose, albeit noble, of making it easier to understand. In doing so I related examples of how I thought that street language - that which happens to be in vogue - has begun to make its way into conversations heard in the "serious" world of business. That such a phenomenon is occurring, I conclude, is merely symptomatic of how we have tended towards "dumbing" ourselves down. Now this is an inherently complex topic with many distinct aspects, several of which those leaving comments have touched upon. Let me clarify, though, what I was stating by first explaining what I was not stating. I was not claiming that common vernacular has no place in literature or society in general. I was not claiming that we should all be speaking the King's English. I was not claiming that language does not evolve. I was not claiming that we should necessarily eliminate the use of valid words (e.g., "awesome"). I was claiming, perhaps in too stealthy a manner, that the genre and form of an ancient text should be considered when translating that text into English. In doing so, we must understand that the genre and form of the text were chosen by the author. The author had at least one reason, and quite possibly, many reasons for choosing the genre and form of the text. For example: The form of ancient poetry, very dissimilar to our modern forms, adds significance to the intentions of the author and the meaning of the poem. The choice of specific words used in the original language may have been made to emphasize additional meanings or to drive home an intended point (e.g., by the use of puns). The cadence of the words used may have been used to enhance the ability to memorize the text (especially in cultures where the majority of the populace was illiterate). The process of translating the text of one language into that of another is a tedious process, to be sure, yet the literary principles mentioned above should be a part of that process. The text, and the author's intentions, should drive how we determine what form our translation takes. The "end user" applications, which we may desire for the text, should not be driving the end product. Was the intent of the author to have the text easy to understand or to be in common, street language? It certainly may have been, as Tom has commented on by leaving excerpts from Catcher in the Rye. But do you see where the extra step has been made if one assumes that a translation, such as that of the Bible, should necessarily be easy to understand and / or published in street vernacular? Doing so, when the text does not justify it, and when the author did not intend it, robs the original of its intended impact.* Consider the following:
How well God must like you- you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College. - Psalm 1:1 (The Message)
When speaking to children, such a translation would probably be easier for them to understand (note: despite the fact that The Message is a paraphrase, and not a translation, the point of my post remains valid). But The Message was not written for children (necessarily). It is supposed to be for adults. Are we, as a culture, so deeply entrenched in the common vernacular of modern English that we are unable to understand Psalm 1:1 translated as such?:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scournful. - (KJV)
Or, perhaps,
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. - (NRSV) Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. - (NIV)
While one who reads the easier version may think they've understood the meaning, have they not missed the "walk, stand, sit" progression apparent in the more complex versions? Or consider, on a secular level, my paraphrase of an original English text:
Dude, the river is, like, mega-awesome. Y'know what I'm sayin'? When I check out the shore I'm all - like - yeah Dude!, let's give it up for this place. It's so tight.
The paraphrase is of a letter written by Meriwether Lewis, in 1804, pertaining to his upcoming voyage with William Clark to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. He wrote (spelling from the original),
This immence river so far as we have yet ascended, waters one of the farest portions of the globe, nor do I believe that there is in the universe a similar extent of country,
Doesn't a version in common vernacular due a disservice to the original text? Were I introducing the text to a group of people either incapable of, or unwilling to, understand the more complex version, then perhaps I would be justified in using a simpler, easier to understand, version. However, I believe that such a version is not a valid translation of the original, but merely a simplified paraphrase, which is better suited for either the education of children (or adults), not yet capable of grasping complex issues, or as a commentary on the original text. *As a sidenote, I am well aware of the difficulties involved when one attempts to translate a text, such as the Bible, for various cultures around the world. I understand that such translations must cater to the idiosyncrasies of these various cultures. I'm reminded of hearing one Bible translator, a missionary to the south Pacific, tell how he had to translate "the Lamb of God" as "the Pig of God" in order for it to be understood by a certain culture he encountered. One would hope, though, that if such a culture becomes more educated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, they would come to a point where our expecting them to understand "the Lamb of God" would be justified. However, I do not consider sub-culture groups in the West to be equivalent to various cultures throughout the world. In other words, the Goth, or the Surfers, or the Hip-hop group, or whatever Western cliques we may have are merely groups within the overall Western culture of 21st century America. As such I have somewhat of a deaf ear to concerns that we need to make our Bible translations easier to understand (for such sub-culture groups). Although someone may use the phrase, "I'm so not planning that," they should still have the capability to understand more complex sentences. That such an understanding requires time and effort may be a better indicator of what is truly occurring here.