Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Drink this Beer, Save the World






Have you seen the new film, Amazing Grace? It's a little bit about John Newton, the redeemed slave trader who wrote the hymn by that name (though not to the tune we know, by the way). But the movie is mostly about William Wilberforce, who, motivated by the gospel - the God of the gospel, actually - fought for decades in the British Parliament to abolish slavery in the British empire. Unfortunately, the movie somewhat minimizes the religious aspect and makes it more a story of political machinations. Nevertheless, it's a moving story (I cried 3 times), and I recommend it.


So imagine my delight to find that Wilberforce has been commemorated with his own beer - from a Christian brewery in England, no less (notice the subtle fishes in the brewery logo). It's a fair trade beer, and a portion of the profits will be donated to stop human trafficking (a.k.a. the slave trade) in today's world. Alas, it looks like we'll have to go to England to be able to drink any of this righteous beverage.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Douglas Wilson On: Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion," and Creation-Evolution

Douglas Wilson is, among other things, a pastor in Moscow, Idaho. Although I don't consider myself a "Wilsonite," I find this recent entry from his blog to be an excellent response to some statements in Richard Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion."

Not surprisingly, Richard Dawkins places the evolutionary process at the center of his argument.

"This book will advocate an alternative view: any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution" (p. 31, emphasis in the original).


This might be hard for scientific laymen to grasp, so I will try to provide a couple illustrations. This factory, for example, full of fantastically complex machinery and robots for the manufacturing of various ingenious devices of intricate design, is something that cannot itself be designed. For when confronted with a world full of designed things, it is not unscientific to allow that many of them were in fact designed, so long as you insist that the most intricate and complicated one, the one making all the others, happened all by itself. This Swiss watch exhibits design, to be sure, and we can allow that it was made, on purpose, in the factory. But the factory for making Swiss watches, far more complicated than any of the watches made in said factory, had to have been the result of a huge explosion in a nearby auto salvage yard. If you don't follow this argument, you probably didn't take enough science courses in high school.

If you need to hang some really heavy things from your sky hook, make sure to fasten the socket for that sky hook at least fifteen feet higher in the air than you otherwise would. The bolts work better a little bit higher like that.

Before I get some comments from scientists who think that I am not being sufficiently Respectful, let me defend myself by quoting Dawkins, quoting Thomas Jefferson.

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus" (p. 34).

I am glad that Dawkins taught me this principle, for I have long failed to comprehend any distinct notion of something that travels like a wave and arrives like a particle. Or maybe it is the other way around, traveling like a particle and arriving like a wave. See? A positively indistinct concept. I don't think it could be me.

The backdrop for many of Dawkins' worries is his idea that the United States has turned into this huge Theocracy. And, by European standards, maybe we have, but that is not saying much.

"The paradox has often been noted that the United States, founded in secularism, is now the most religiose country in Christendom, while England, with an established church headed by its constitutional monarch, is among the least" (p. 40).

Dawkins swallows the standard propaganda about the deism of the Founders, and laments how far our fair republic has fallen.

"The genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the Founding Fathers would have been horrified" (p. 41).

Horrified, aye. The preachers at the time of the American Founding were the kind of men who spit on their hands before they started to preach, and taking one thing with another, they made the average Religious Right evangelical today look like the Rev. Caspar Milquetoast. At Yorktown, all George Washington's colonels (with one exception) were elders in Presbyterian churches. Horace Walpole said "cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson," referring to Witherspoon. Over half the Continental Army were Presbyterians, and the rest were Congregationalists and Baptists, fellow Calvinists all. The black robed Presbyterian preachers were called "the black regiment" because of their importance to the war effort. One of the names for the war in England was "the Presbyterian Revolt." I could go on, but Richard Dawkins seriously needs to strike up a friendship with Gary Demar and try to sneevel some free books out of him.

All that may be, but luckily it doesn't matter.

"Whether Jefferson and his colleagues were theists, deists, agnostics or atheists, they were also passionate secularists who believed that the religious opinions of a President, or lack of them, were entirely his own business" (p. 43).

Here is Jefferson's famous wall of separation, the wall that separates, as every intelligent school child knows, the right side of the brain from the left side of the brain. This wall, so important in modern secular politics, prevents us from thinking straight, for, as we all know, thinking straight would lead us into Difficulties.

I am fond of the following thought experiment. A man is running for high office, and in the course of the campaign he says this, in response to a question: "You know, my faith is very precious to me -- too precious in fact to mix with the secular duties that are connected with this office. If elected, I pledge to the American people that I will not allow my private religious convictions to affect in any way how I discharge my duties." Two years later when he is found with two hundred thousand dollars in his freezer, a mistress in the Bahamas, Jack Abramoff in his closet, and dry rot in his soul, certain penetrating questions are asked at a press conference. But the best defense is a good offense, and I would love to see Sen. Snoutworst stick to his guns. "There is nothing to apologize for in this. I openly promised the American people in the campaign that my personal relgious convictions, which are very precious to Cathy and me (not to mention Kimberly), would not be allowed to intrude into how I conducted myself in office." Secularism defined this way is not just wrong, it is incoherent.

But this is a book about atheism, and so we get back to the God-issue. Dawkins brings forth Bertrand Russell's argument concerning the burden of proof. If someone were to assert that between Earth and Mars a china teapot was orbiting the sun eliptically (p. 52), and that it was too small to be detected by our most powerful telescopes, it would be impossible to prove the theory wrong. But Russell argued that the burden of proof remains on the teapot enthusiast. And okay, I can go for that. So why is this a bad example on the God question? Why are the outer space teapot and the God who created all things not comparables? The reason they don't compare is that God does things, and He says things. If the teapot were out there and sending messages, we would know how to decode those messages. Dawkins actually acknowledges this in his discussion (in this same chapter) of the search for extraterrestial intelligence. While talking about our attempts to understand messages coming toward us, he asks, "A good approach is to turn the question around. What should we intelligently do in order to advertise our presence to extraterrestial listeners?" (p. 71).

Very good. And if someone in this cosmic teapot were sending SOS messages because the cosmic tea cozy got stuck and he could not get away in the standard teapot escape pod (as the apostle Paul would put it, I am out of my mind to talk like this), we would know how to decode his distress messages because we have the ability to distinguish information from background noise. We know what information looks like. Now, what if the universe we live in has information embedded in it throughout? What if the triune God who spoke it all into existence has left notes everywhere? What if every living cell contains a library that makes the Library of Congress look like my grandkids' coloring books collection?

Dawkins gets one thing right.


"As I shall argue in a moment, a universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?" (p. 55).

"I return to the point: a universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence" (p. 61).

He is quite right. A universe spoken into existence by God is a very different place than a chaotic multiverse that has just staggered onto the cosmic stage and is looking around bewildered. "What is this?" it whispers frantically. "Waiting for Godot" the prompter hisses back.

"Like nothing else, evolution really does provide anexplanation for the existence of entities whose improbability would otherwise, for practical purposes, rule them out" (p. 61).

Right. Libraries write themselves, factories build themselves, and bridges design themselves. This doesn't usually happen, to be sure, and if it weren't for evolution, it would be reasonable for us to rule such things out. In fact, I think the only person who wouldn't rule them out would be the guy in the teapot.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Augustine On: The God of Balance and Paradox

"You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you. You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud. You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You support, you fill, and you protect all things. You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing. You love your creatures but with a gentle love. You treasure them, but without apprehension. You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts. We give abundantly to you so that we may deserve a reward; yet which of us has anything that does not come from you? You repay us what we deserve, and yet you owe nothing to any. You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? … Even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you."
(Confessions, I.4)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Is God Wild? Should We Be?

The main reason for starting my own web site (arnoldbarlow.com) was so that I could post longer articles. The inaugural posting is a review I wrote a couple years ago. It’s called, “Since When is “Wild” a Fruit of the Spirit? Reflections on John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart.” It’s a long title, and an even longer critique.

I wrote this book review because I was vexed at how many people were recommending this book. Eldredge makes a lot of people feel good, but his unbiblical theology and its potential applications will cause problems.

I was surprised at the response I got when I first distributed this. I heard from about 30 people, and only one or two even attempted to defend the book. Many, to the contrary, were as negative about it as I was. Some said, “I was uneasy when I read the book, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, until now.” One told the story of how reading the book prompted him to give up his God-given call to missions, move to the West Coast, and start building a boat. After a while, God brought him back to his senses and returned him to the mission field, where he belonged.

Jesus said that we must deny ourselves if we want to be called his disciples. John Eldredge preaches instead a message of self-indulgence, self-actualization, and narcissism. But there’s no need to rehash my critique here. Instead, please go here and download the PDF.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Noted & Quoted: Free Will?

David Hume (Scottish philosopher, 1711-1776):
  • Either our actions are determined, in which case we are not responsible for them; or they are the result of random events, in which case we are not responsible for them.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (Author, 1902-1991):

  • We must believe in free will. We've got no choice.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why "Balance and Paradox"?

I started saying years ago that if I ever wrote a book, it would be called Balance and Paradox. That's because most things in the Christian life are typified by one word or the other. For example:
  • Balance. We need to eat, exercise, and sleep; these need to be in balance. We need to read the Bible, pray, enjoy fellowship with other believers, and help those who don't know Jesus to meet Him; since you arguably can never have too much of any one of these, they need to be in balance. We need to speak the truth, and we need to do it in love; these two must be in proper balance.
  • Paradox. The Bible teaches God's absolute sovereignty, including predestination, and the Bible teaches that we are responsible for our actions. The Bible teaches that God knows our needs before we pray and is committed to providing for us, and the Bible teaches that we have not because we ask not. Jesus says the first will be last, and the last first - that everyone who humbles himself will be exalted, and everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. Why does it all have to be so paradoxical?

Well, OK, these thoughts aren't all that well thought out and certainly aren't book-ready, but the standards for a blog are pretty low, so let's give this thing a whirl.