Dr. Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College

Wheaton College has initiated termination proceedings against tenured professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who has been a faculty member since 2007, and who received tenure in 2013, for her statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Apparently, this idea is counter to the Wheaton statement of faith. I note, for the record, that there is no explicit sentence in their statement of faith regarding which groups worship which God. Furthermore, in a FAQ published by Wheaton, question 7 asks "Is it true that Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" Wheaton lists doctrines which are distinctive to Christianity and are denied by Islam. But, note carefully, that Wheaton doesn't specifically answer the question with a simple "yes" or "no." For if they did, a bright undergraduate would then ask, "given this criteria, do Christians and Jews worship the same God?" I suspect Wheaton doesn't want that question to be asked.

But I digress. On December 17, 2015, Dr. Hawkins
wrote to Wheaton in which she explained the reasons for her position as well as her personal statement of faith.

Opinion is of course, split, concerning the question of whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Dr. Edward Feser addressed the issue in the affirmative here. Vox Day, and many of his readers, answered in the negative, here. Last night at dinner, my wife initially said, "no"; this morning at breakfast, my reform seminary graduate friend Steve immediately said "yes."

I think Wheaton College is about to fall into a pit that they just don't yet see.

Let us consider two cases, one from literature and one from science. For literature, consider the two authors C. S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia Chronicles, and Gene Roddenberry, who wrote Star Trek. Now suppose that there are two groups of people. One group asserts that humans owe their existence to having entered our world through a gate from Narnia. This is, of course, backwards from the way Lewis told the story in "
The Magicians Nephew" — but bear with me. The other group asserts that humans originally came from the planet Vulcan. And again, in the original lore, it was the Romulans who were the offshoots of the Vulcans — just let me run with this. The only thing these two groups have in common is the idea that we came from somewhere else. Everything else is completely different and they are completely different because they are solely products of human imagination. Fans may argue the differences between Narnia and Star Trek, or Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5. No one takes them seriously (except themselves) because we know it's "just fiction." It doesn't make sense to argue about which imaginary world is right.

Now consider the realm of science which attempts to discern how Nature works. We believe that this Nature exists independently of us. It is not a product of our imagination. At one time, science advanced the theory of the
aether which was thought to be necessary for the propagation of light. But the Michelson-Morley experiments showed that this theory was wrong. Improvements to experiments to test Bell's inequality have shown that local realism isn't a viable theory of quantum mechanics. No discussion of misguided and incorrect scientific theories would be complete without mention of the famous phrase, attributed to Wolfgang Pauli, "That is not only not right, it is not even wrong." And let us not forget to mention String Theory, where some scientists say that not only is it not good science, it isn't science at all; while other scientists claim that it's really the only theory which can unite relativity and quantum mechanics. (As always, Lubos Motl is entertaining and instructive to read when it comes to String Theory).

In this case, we do not say, "you aren't studying the same nature we are." We say, "your understanding of nature is flawed."

If Wheaton continues down this path with Dr. Hawkins, whether they know it or not, they will be giving aid and comfort to those who claim that God is purely imaginary. And if they do that, then they are the ones who have betrayed their statement of faith.
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What Would Jesus Do?

Every once in a while, a simple question comes along which shows the stark differences between what people believe Christianity teaches. This morning at Starbucks, I asked one of my friends one of these types of questions:

To set the stage, suppose we're in Arkansas, since the mascot of the University of Arkansas is the razorback. Some good old southern boys have prepared a pig and barbecued it in a pit. They invite the post-resurrection Jesus to eat with them.

Does He eat the pork or does He keep kosher?

My answer was "yes, of course, He eats barbecue pork." My friend's answer was "Absolutely not! He is a Jew and Jews are obliged to follow their dietary laws."

I don't know how it could be any more obvious, since Romans 7 teaches that death ends the jurisdiction of the Law:

Do you not know, brothers and sisters--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The one caveat is that we are not to use our freedom to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble in their faith (cf. Romans 14, Acts 15). But one would hope that in the presence of the Risen Savior, that weakness wouldn't last. Too, it's one thing to desire to keep a cultural or national identity, which can be perfectly fine. But one mustn't forget the Jesus is King over all nations and cultures. He is free to move among them as He will. As are those who have died and risen with Him.
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Grudem's Systematic Theology, #2

The following practice question in chapter 10 of Grudem ties together my major complaints, so far, of his text: namely that there is weak, to non-existent, development of the doctrines of epistemology and ethics. To be sure, Grudem has said correct things about each, but he is inconsistent in his application of those things. I've already mentioned one problem with his exposition of ethics in a previous post; this post looks at a problem with both epistemology and ethics.

How can we be sure that when we reach heaven God will not tell us that most of what we had learned about him was wrong, and that we would have to forget what we had learned and begin to learn different things about him?

     — page 152, question #2

The answer that I think Grudem expects, based on the contents of the chapter, would be something like: we can be sure that what God has revealed to us about Himself is true, because He understands that our knowledge of Him requires the revelation of Himself [Mt 11:7], He desires His people to "know him, the only true God", [Jer 31:34], He reveals Himself truly [Num 23:19], and that He would not deceive us, because He is Truth [John 3:33] and the ultimate good. [1 John 1:5].

But the correct answer is, "we cannot be sure."

Part of the problem is semantics. Grudem doesn't define the difference between "sure" knowledge and "uncertain" knowledge. I recently had a conversation at Starbucks about epistemology with an Emory graduate student concerning the question, "do you know that you are at Starbucks right now?" He ended up asking me this several times as we went back and forth trying to clarify various issues. While he always responded in the affirmative, my only answer was "I believe that I am." He based his answer on the assumptions that, first, there really is a reality that is external to us and, second, that our senses give us a (mostly) accurate indication of the nature of that reality. I have no problem with either of those two premises but, as anyone who has read Descartes or watched the movie
The Matrix knows, that might not be an accurate view of reality at all.

What are the differences between sure and uncertain knowledge? I claim that I know that two plus two equals four. I also know that if a plane is flat that the angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees, but that if a plane is curved, the sum of the angles will be more than 180 degrees if the plane is positively curved, and less than 180 degrees if the plane is negatively curved. I claim I know these things, because the results are self-contained. No connections to external things are needed for these statements to be true.

But the moment we consider objects external to ourselves, things become more complicated. If I physically measure the angles of a triangle, I get 180 degrees as the answer (within the margins of measurement error). This means that, locally, space is flat. But what result would we get if the sides of the triangle were thousands of light-years apart? That depends on the overall curvature of space which, in turn, depends on the total amount of mass. We think the mass is such that, overall, space is flat. This knowledge is less certain because it depends on a correspondence between a model and a measurement between the model and the thing being modeled. Here, the uncertainty is whether or not the mental model is in a one-to-one correspondence with the external object.

Then, if there is uncertainty whether or not a mental model corresponds to an external object, there is also uncertainty whether or not the right mental model is being used, since there is usually an abundance of mental models, but (supposedly) only one reality. Our hope is that we can find a mismatch between one of the models and the external thing, so that the number of models can be reduced, but even if that's possible, it's usually a painstaking, time consuming effort. But what happens if there is no known way to distinguish which of two explanations are correct? Is whatever I am in a place physically external me that serves coffee, or is this all just a simulation? I just don't really know, and while I am not a solipsist by choice, I cannot logically defend that choice against the alternatives.

In one sense, scientists, theologians, and philosophers face the same problem: a multiplicity of explanatory models. The scientist can test the model against Nature and hopefully converge on the correct model. If Christianity is right, then the theologian has no such recourse. While we can experience God, and we believe that God reveals certain aspects of Himself to us, we cannot experiment on Him. In fact, we are forbidden to do so: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" [Mt 4:7]. Philosophers don't have either recourse.

At best, theologians can test what they think God has revealed for consistency, under the assumption that God is consistent. But then the problem of ethics arises. Grudem writes:

God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.

     — page 204

In particular, this means that God does not have to conform to our expectations of goodness. If, at the end of all things, God were to say "just kidding", He would be righteous in doing so.

This is actually an important thought experiment, because we learn that we cannot judge God according to our expectations, nor can we judge God by any external moral standard. All we can do is trust Him and if things don't happen the way we want them to, we have no other recourse than to say, "You, alone, are God."
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Grudem's Systematic Theology, #1

Based on the recommendation of my Sunday School teacher, I picked up Grudem's Systematic Theology. I've gone through the first eleven chapters. While there are a few gems here and there, they are overshadowed by the egregious parts, such at this philosophical argument for the unchangeableness of God. Here, Grudem attempts to supplement the Biblical statements on God's unchangeableness with an argumentum ad absurdum:

At first it might not seem very important for us to affirm God's unchangeableness. The idea is so abstract that we may not immediately realize its significance. But if we stop for a moment to imagine what it would be like if God could change, the importance of this doctrine becomes more clear. For example, if God could change (in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises), then any change would be either for the better or for the worse. But if God changed for the better, then he was not the best possible being when we first trusted him. And how could we be sure that he is the best possible being now? But if God could change for the worse (in his very being), then what kind of God might he become?

     — page 168

The fundamental flaw with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that there is a fixed standard against which one or more of God's attributes can be compared. Furthermore, if God changes, and this standard does not, then this means that the measure is external to God. But this cannot be so, since God is not answerable to any external thing. So if God were to change, the standard itself would change — since God is His own standard of good and evil. The statement, "then any change would be for the better or for the worse" is wrong. Were God to change, both the initial, intermediate, and final states would all be perfect.

This lack of understanding of measures of good and evil permeates Reform theology. But that's a post for another time.

Update 10/5:

Grudem is woefully inconsistent. Later in the book, he writes:

He is therefore the final standard of good.

     — page 198

This is exactly what I said ("God is His own standard of good and evil"), but Grudem didn't integrate this with his argument on page 168.
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Man Is The Animal...

Four years ago, I suppose when I was reading something by Heinlein, he piqued my interest with a "man is the animal…" statement. I made a small collection of these saying gathered from the web. Fast forward to now. Over on John Wright's blog, I made this comment in the "Notorious Meat Robot" thread:

Robots are deterministic finite state machines.
Dogs are non-deterministic finite state machines.
Humans are also non-deterministic finite state machines that have greater complexity than dogs (our ability to extend our memory through writing makes us, effectively, Turing machines, which are finite state machines that have infinite memory).

I will condense this to:

Man is the animal that uses external storage.

As of this posting, Google finds no matches for this sentence, nor does it match if "that" is replaced with "who". So I lay claim to originality of phrase.

Other examples of "man is the animal" below the fold.
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A Rereading of Romans, Part 1

At the recommendation of a friend, I started reading A Rereading of Romans, by Stanley K. Stowers, after it arrived in the mail today. After fifty-four pages, out of a total of 329 (not including notes and index), I'm not sure what to make of it.

The prefatory material on what it means to read a document in context is very well done. As an example, Romans was written in Koine Greek with no punctuation or chapter and verse divisions. It was one long block of text written on a scroll. When we read Romans in our Bibles, we have the added interpretation of the editors who parsed the text into chunks to supposedly make it easier for us to understand the text.

On the other hand, Stowers claims:

A thorough rereading of Romans is timely and vital because the traditional model for understanding Paul's letter has begun to disintegrate under the weight of its own contradictions. —pg. 5

It remains to be seen what these contradictions might be. Stowers cites Sanders, who wrote:

Paul's case for universal sinfulness, as it is stated in Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 is not convincing: It is internally inconsistent and rests on the gross exaggeration. —pg. 5

Whether or not something convinces a reader isn't always due to the text. Sometimes it is dependent on the receptiveness of the reader to accept the thesis of the writer. I find Romans 1:18-2:29, consistent, convincing, and congruent with man's nature. But even if, for the sake of argument, Sanders is correct, one still has to deal with the inescapable observation that everyone dies.

Moving on, in the first chapter, Stowers seems to very much want to make the case that the letter was intended for a purely gentile audience. Why he wants to disassociate Jews as being part of the intended readers is not yet clear. On page 30 he writes:

If Christianity is by definition a universal answer to a single universal predicament manifest in every individual, and the church constitutes all those who have been saved from this predicament, the church must consist of all, both Jews and gentiles. Dogmatic rather than historical assumption still dominate the reading of the letter.

I'm puzzled by this passage, because Christianity is a universal answer to single universal predicament. Romans 5:12 -18 is summarized by 1 Cor 15:22: "for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." There is no conflict between dogma and historical assumption.

So even if Jewish readers are not explicitly a part of Paul's target audience, they would still be implicitly included. Certainly, Romans is just as profitable to a Jewish reader as it is to a Gentile reader. After all, the author was Jewish, and in Romans 1:16 he specifically says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

The historical background to this epistle is fascinating; all the more so since the tendency in modern American churches is to read the Bible in isolation from all other texts, be they historic, political, or scientific. The opening chapters of Genesis, for example, take a completely different turn when one realizes that the cosmology therein is Egyptian.

Chapter 2 begins with the theme of self-mastery in Romans. This was an immediate turn off. First, Stowers doesn't define what "self" is in Christian theology. Paul certainly doesn't help matters when, in Galatians, he writes: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." Perhaps that doesn't fit into the prevailing notions of self-mastery in the Greco-Roman world, but one has to give Paul the room to say something totally new to his readers. Second, I find an implied ordering in "self-mastery" that suggests that it is the individual that masters the self when, in actual fact, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who masters the individual. Perhaps if he had used "mastery of self" I wouldn't find this portion so exasperating. It will be interesting to see how, or even if, he ties this portion of this thesis in with Romans 9.

Nevertheless, on pages 36-41, Stowers gives an overview of what he thinks Romans says. I find no fault with it. But, as it is said, the devil is in the details.

The first fifty-four pages have been both maddening and delightful. This looks to be an interesting journey.

Next part…
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Dialog With An Atheist

I suppose I was aimlessly looking at sites I have bookmarked when I visited dangerous idea and read Putting words into a person's mouth. The first comment was by John Loftus, who I had come across over at Vox Popoli, although I don't remember which particular articles. As his comment was spectacularly wrong, I decided to rebut. As always, verbal blows were traded, with neither side giving an inch. The final response to Loftus is after the fold. I've made minor changes to improve links and to fix a couple of typos. Read More...
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The Regulative Principle

Yesterday, we went to see the house that son and daughter-in-law are buying. It's about 1.5 hours away with rush hour traffic. We drove past a small "Primitive Baptist" church. In this day and age, "primitive" is usually taken to mean "primitive with respect to technology," such as with the Amish and their simple lifestyles, or Jehovah's Witnesses and their refusal of blood transfusions. But the "primitive" in "Primitive Baptist" refers to theology with the claim that their doctrines are those held by the early church. Their worship practices are influenced by the idea that if something isn't commanded in Scripture then it should not be done. For example, as there is no positive command to use musical instruments in worship, most Primitive Baptist churches do not use them. They also reject the idea of "Sunday school" as well as seminaries.
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The Physical Nature of Thought


Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said, "The flag is moving." The other said, "The wind is moving." The sixth patriarch, Zeno, happened to be passing by. He told them, "Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

        -- "Gödel, Escher, Bach", Douglas Hofstadter, pg. 30


Is thought material or immaterial? By "material" I mean an observable part of the universe such as matter, energy, space, charge, motion, time, etc... By "immaterial" would be meant something other than these things.

Russell wrote:

The problem with which we are now concerned is a very old one, since it was brought into philosophy by Plato. Plato's 'theory of ideas' is an attempt to solve this very problem, and in my opinion it is one of the most successful attempts hitherto made. … Thus Plato is led to a supra-sensible world, more real than the common world of sense, the unchangeable world of ideas, which alone gives to the world of sense whatever pale reflection of reality may belong to it. The truly real world, for Plato, is the world of ideas; for whatever we may attempt to say about things in the world of sense, we can only succeed in saying that they participate in such and such ideas, which, therefore, constitute all their character. Hence it is easy to pass on into a mysticism. We may hope, in a mystic illumination, to see the ideas as we see objects of sense; and we may imagine that the ideas exist in heaven. These mystical developments are very natural, but the basis of the theory is in logic, and it is as based in logic that we have to consider it. [It] is neither in space nor in time, neither material nor mental; yet it is something. [Chapter 9]

I claim that Russell and Plato are wrong. Not necessarily that ideas exist independently from the material. They might.
1 Rather, I claim that if ideas do exist apart from the physical universe, then we can't prove that this is the case. The following is a bare minimum outline of why.

Logic

Logic deals with the combination of separate objects. Consider the case of boolean logic. There are sixteen way to combine apples and oranges, such that two input objects result in one output object. These sixteen possible combinations are enumerated here. The table uses 1's and 0's instead of apples and oranges, but that doesn't matter. It could just as well be bees and bears. For now, the form of the matter doesn't matter. What's important is the outputs associated with the inputs2.

Composition

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we have 16 devices that combine things according to each of the 16 possible ways to combine two things into one. We can compose a sequence of those devices where the output of one device becomes the input to another device. We first observe that we don't really need 16 different devices. If we can somehow change an "orange" into an "apple" (or 1 into 0, or a bee into a bear) and vice versa, then we only need 8 devices. Half of them are the same as the other half, with the additional step of "flipping" the output. With a bit more work, we can show that two of the sixteen devices when chained can produce the same output as any of the sixteen devices. These two devices, known as "NOT OR" (or NOR) and "NOT AND" (or NAND) are called "universal" logic devices because of this property. So if we have one device, say a NAND gate, we can do all of the operations associated with Boolean logic.3

Calculation

NAND devices (henceforth called gates) are a basis for modern computers. The composition of NAND gates can perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and so on. As an example, the previously referenced page concluded by using NAND gates to build a circuit that added binary numbers. This circuit was further simplified here and then here.

Memory

We further observe that by connecting two NAND gates a certain way that we can implement memory.

Computation

Memory and calculation, all of which are implemented by arrangements of NAND gates, are sufficient to compute anything which can be computed (cf. Turing machines and the Church-Turing thesis).

Meaning

Electrons flowing through NAND gates don't mean anything. It's just the combination and recombination of high and low voltages. How can it mean anything? Meaning arises out of the way the circuits are wired together. Consider a simple circuit that takes two inputs, A and/or B. If both inputs are A it outputs A, if both inputs are B then it outputs A, and if one input is A and the other is B, it outputs B. By making the arbitrary choice that "A" represents "yes" or "true" or "equal", more complex circuits can be built that determine the equivalence of two things. This is the simplified version of Hofstadter's claim:


When a system of "meaningless" symbols has patterns in it that accurately track, or mirror, various phenomena in the world, then that tracking or mirroring imbues the symbols with some degree of meaning -- indeed, such tracking or mirroring is no less and no more than what meaning is.

      -- Gödel, Escher, Bach; pg P-3



Neurons and NAND gates

The brain is a collection of neurons and axons through which electrons flow. A computer is a collection of NAND gates and wires through which electrons flow. The differences are the number of neurons compared to the number of NAND gates, the number and arrangement of wires, and the underlying substrate. One is based on carbon, the other on silicon. But the substrate doesn't matter.

That neurons and NAND gates are functionally equivalent isn't hard to demonstrate. Neurons can be arranged so that they perform the same logical operation as a NAND gate. A neuron acts by summing weighted inputs, comparing to a threshold, and "firing" if the weighted sum is greater than the threshold. It's a calculation that can be done by a circuit of NAND gates.

Logic, Matter, and Waves

It's possible to create logic gates using particles. See, for example, the Billiard-ball computer, or fluid-based gates where particles (whether billiard balls or streams of water) bounce off each other such that the way they bounce can implement a universal gate.

It's also possible to create logic gates using waves. See, for example,
here [PDF] and here [paid access] for gates using acoustics and optics.

I suspect, but need to research further, that waves are the proper way to model logic, since it seems more natural to me that the combination of bees and bears is a subset of wave interference rather than particle deflection.

Self-Reference


Escher_Hands4 So why are Russell and Plato wrong? It is because it is the logic gates in our brains that recognize logic, i.e. the way physical things combine. Just as a sequence of NAND gates can output "A" if the inputs are both A or both B; a sequence of NAND gates can recognize itself. Change a wire and the ability to recognize the self goes away. That's why dogs don't discuss Plato. Their brains aren't wired for it. Change the wiring in our brains and we wouldn't, either. Hence, while we can separate ideas from matter in our heads, it is only because of a particular arrangement of matter in our heads. There's no way for us to break this "vicious" circle.

Footnotes

[1] "In the beginning was the Word..." As a Christian, I take it on faith that the immaterial, transcendent, uncreated God created the physical universe.

[2] Note that the "laws of logic" follow from the world of oranges and apples, bees and bears, 1s and 0s. Something is either an orange or an apple, a bee or a bear. Thus the "law" of contradiction. An apple is an apple, a zero is a zero. Thus the "law" of identity. Since there are only two things in the system, the law of the excluded middle follows.

[3] This
previous post shows how NAND gates can be composed to calculate all sixteen possible ways to combine two things.

[4] "
Drawing Hands", M. C. Escher
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Quantum Mechanics and Reformation Theology

We're studying the foundations of Reformation theology in Sunday school. I find myself having to bite my tongue and not always succeeding. However, on the following two points, I've managed to stay quiet.

Several weeks ago, the teacher stated (paraphrasing) that "we believe 2+2=4 because of the axioms of mathematics." However, in "
Quantum Computing Since Democritus", on page 10, Aaronson writes:

How can we state axioms that will put the integers on a more secure foundation, when the very symbols and so on that we're using to write down the axioms presuppose that we already know what the integers are?

Well, precisely because of this point, I
don't think that axioms and formal logic can be used to place arithmetic on a more secure foundation. If you don't already agree that 1+1=2, then a lifetime of studying mathematical logic won't make it any clearer!

Today, in passing, it was said that responsibility necessitates the free will of man. Nothing could be further from the truth. I continued my reading of Aaronson during lunch today and came across this gem on pages 290-291:

Before we start, there are two common misconceptions that we have to get out of the way. The first one is committed by the free will camp, and the second by the anti-free-will camp.

The misconception committed by the free will camp is the one I alluded to before: if there's no free will, then none of us are responsible for our actions, and hence (for example) the legal system would collapse….

Actually, I've since found a couplet by Ambrose Bierce that makes the point very eloquently:

    "There's no free will," says the philosopher;
    "To hang is most unjust."
    "There is no free will," assent the officers.
    "We hang because we must."


Looking ahead to the end of the chapter, Aaronson brings Conway's "Free-Will Theorem" into play. What he doesn't apparently discuss (I've just scanned here and there), is that this randomness is not under our control.
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Crime and Vocabulary

I was surfing the web on Thursday and a link let me to a post on 27bslash6 that I hadn't yet read. There I came across the word apophenia which I wasn't familiar with. Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns in random data. I'm familiar with the concept as it is discussed in the very excellent book The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives although the word apophenia isn't used. At least it isn't in the index. Our brains are constantly looking for patterns, whether a tree, an amplifier, or a friend's face. But we also see things that aren't there, as anyone who has looked at a Rorschach ink blot or an optical illusion can attest. On Saturday, SlashDot reported that Google had analyzed their data concerning the effectiveness of their interview process and came to the sobering conclusion that there was no relationship between their interview techniques and employee performance. Business practices based on apophenia.

Friday comes between Thursday and Saturday and therein lies a tale...
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Thoughts on Joshua

The book of Joshua has been the topic of study for the last several weeks in Sunday School. God parts the waters of the Jordan river allowing dry passage into the land. God miraculously delivers Jericho to the Israelites and all of the inhabitants of that city are slain, except for Rahab and her household. After a bit of a stumble, the people of the city of Ai are put to the sword except for the king of the city, who is hung from a tree. The population of Gibeon are made slaves. The armies of the cities of Jerusalem, Jarmuth, Lacish, Hebron, and Eglon are devastated by a hail of rocks from heaven; then the sun and the moon stand still while the Israelites destroy those who remain.

Marauders believing in a manifest destiny enter a land that is not theirs, have a bit of a go at genocide, and the point of this story is the power and faithfulness of God? Somebody hasn't read their St. Paul.

Except for Rahab, there was no message of peace, no message of reconciliation, no message of the transforming power of God to enable us to live together in love; just a lot of screaming, pain, loss, destruction, waste, and ruin.

Joshua is about what happens when tablets of stone are brought into a land. It is not a celebratory tale; it is a cautionary one.
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Christianity and Computer Science

Sometimes, when I'm asked what I'd most like to be doing, I reply that I'd like to go back to school. When I visit my son's or daughter's campuses, I get this longing to be back at university. Not that I did all that great when I was in college. I managed to cram four years into five. But, still, I'm older and hopefully wiser and I hope that I would do much better the second time around.

But what to study? My standard response these days is either theology or computer science. Then I add that I'm not sure that I really see a difference between the two. While driving in to work this morning, my subconscious found that my flippancy isn't so far off the mark. If thought is matter in motion in certain patterns (which it is), then writing software is the act of putting thought in physical form. A moment's reflection shows that this must be so: the computer is all hardware. The software is just ones and zeros but, again, this is just a collection of physical states arranged in specific ways. If the criticism is that "computers don't think!", the answer is that this is because computers don't have the huge number of connections that are in the human brain. But in time they will.

Putting thought in physical form is what God did with His Son. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Jesus is God's thoughts in physical form.

So Christianity and computer science are both incarnational.
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Modeling the Brain

At least two, possibly three, future posts will make reference to this model of the brain:

2012-07-15 20:24ZCanvas 1Layer 1AutonomousIntrospectionGoalFormationGoalAttainment

The "autonomous" section is concerned with the functions of the brain that operate apart from conscious awareness or control. It will receive no more mention.

The "introspection" division monitors the goal processing portion. It is able to monitor and describe what the goal processing section is doing. The ability to introspect the goal processing unit is what gives us our "knowledge of good and evil."
See What Really Happened In Eden, which builds on The Mechanism of Morality. I find it interesting that recent studies in neuroscience show:


But here is where things get interesting. The subjects were not necessarily consciously aware of their decision until they were about to move, but the cortex showing they were planning to move became activated a full 7 seconds prior to the movement. This supports prior research that suggests there is an unconscious phase of decision-making. In fact many decisions may be made subconsciously and then presented to the conscious bits of our brains. To us it seems as if we made the decision, but the decision was really made for us subconsciously.


The goal processing division is divided into two opposing parts. In order to survive, our biology demands that we reproduce, and reproduction requires food and shelter, among other things. We generally make choices that allow our biology to function. So part of our brain is concerned with selecting and achieving goals. But the other part of our brain is based on McCarthy's insight that one of the requirements for a human-level artificial intelligence is that "All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable." I suspect McCarthy was thinking along the lines of Getting Computers to Learn. However, I think it goes far beyond this and explains much about the human mind. In particular, introspection of the drive to improve leads to the idea that nothing is what it ought to be and gives rise to the is-ought problem. If one part of the goal processing unit is focused on achieving goals, this part is concerned with focused on creating new goals. As the arrows in the diagram show, if one unit focuses toward specific goals, the other unit focuses away from specific goals. Note that no two brains are the same -- individuals have different wiring. In some, the goal fixation process will be stronger; in other, the goal creation process will be stronger. One leads to the dreamer, the other leads to the drudge. Our minds are in dynamic tension.

Note that the goal formation portion of our brains, the unit that wants to "jump outside the system" is a
necessary component of our intelligence.

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Easter 2012

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

    —John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter,” 1964
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The No Free Will Theorem

In one sense, I'm not ready to write this post; my subconscious mental machinery is still working to sort out all of the ideas in my head. But after not having done any reading for the past few weeks, before bed I picked up where I left off reading Pierce's An Introduction to Information Theory. But I had stopped in the middle of a paragraph, decided I needed to go back to the beginning of the chapter, tried to make progress, and gave up. So I switched to where I had set aside The Best of Gene Wolfe and resumed with the story The Death of Dr. Island. A passage that I will quote later caused a cascade of, if not pieces falling into place, a clarity of what questions to think about.

Earlier this week, over at
Vox Popoli, Vox took issue with a particular scientific study that concluded on the basis of experimental data that free will does not exist. While I think I agree that this study does not show what it claims to show, I nevertheless took the approach the free will doesn't exist. The outline of a proof goes like this.

Either thought follows the laws of physics, or it does not. X or ~X. I hold the law of non-contradiction to be true. Now, someone might quibble about percentages: most of the time our thoughts follow the laws of physics, but sometimes they do not. But that misses the point.

Why would anyone suppose that our thoughts don't follow the laws of physics? Perhaps because of an idea that thought is "mystical" stuff; that there is a bit of "god stuff" in our heads that gives us the capabilities that we have. If this were so, since the Christian God transcends nature, our thoughts would transcend nature. It's how we would avoid non-existence upon physical death: the "soul" which is made of "god stuff" returns to God. Perhaps it's due to not knowing how thinking is accomplished in the brain. What I'm about to say certainly isn't taught in any sunday school I've ever attended, or been discussed in any theological book I've ever read. While that may be because I don't get out enough, I suspect my experience isn't atypical. Another, more general reason, is because that's the way our brains perceive how they operate. It's the "default setting," as it were. Most people, regardless of upbringing, think they have free will. I think I can explain why it's that way, but that's for another post.

How does one prove that thoughts follow the laws of physics? The ultimate test would be to build a human level artificial intelligence. I can't do that. The technology isn't there. Yet. The best I can do is offer a proof of concept. I maintain that this is better than what the proponent of mystical thought can do. I know of no way to build something that doesn't obey the laws of physics. By definition, we can't do it. So any proof would have to come form some source from outside nature held to be authoritative. In my world, that's typically the Bible. There is no end of Bible scholars who hold that Scripture teaches that man has free will. It doesn't, but my intent here is to make may case, not refute their arguments. Although I acknowledge that it certainly wouldn't hurt to do so elsewhere.

What is thought? Thought is matter in motion in certain patterns. This is a key insight which must be grasped. The matter could be photons, it could be water; in our brain it is electrons. The pattern of the flow of electrons is controlled by the neurons in our brain, just like the pattern of the flow of electrons is controlled by NAND gates in a computer. While neurons and NAND gates are different in practice, they are not different in principle. NAND gates can simulate neurons (there are, after all, computer programs that do this) and neurons can simulate NAND gates (cf.
here). Another way to view this is that every time a programmer writes computer software, they are embedding thought into matter. I've been programming professionally for almost 40 years and it wasn't until recently that I understood this obvious truth. But if this is so, why aren't there intelligent computers? As I understand it, there are some 100 billion neurons in the brain with some 5 trillion connections. Computers have not yet achieved that level of complexity. Can they? How many NAND gates will it take to achieve the equivalent functionality of 5 trillion neuron connections? I don't know. But the principle is sound, even if the engineering escapes us.

Humans are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, just as computers are. Having just re-watched all four seasons of
Battlestar Galactica on Netflix, it was fascinating to watch the denial of some humans that machines could be their equal, and the denial of some machines that they could be human. In the season 4 episode No Exit, the machine's complaint to his creator "why did you make me like this," is straight out of Romans 9. Art, great art, imitating life.

However one cares to define the concept of "free will," that definition must apply to computers as equally as it does to man. The same principles govern both. As long as it meets that criteria, I can live with silly notions of what "free" means. "You are free to wander around inside this fenced area, but you can't go outside" is usually how the definitions end up. I think limited freedom is an oxymoron, but people want to cling to their illusions.

There is so much more to cover. If our thoughts are the movement of electrons in certain patterns, then how is that motion influenced? What are the feedback loops in the brain? What is the effect of internal stimuli and external stimuli? Is one greater than the other? The Bible exhorts the Christian to place themselves where external stimuli promotes the faith. The dances of their electrons can influence the dance of our electrons. Can we make Christians (or Democrats, or Atheists, or…) through internal modification of brain structures through drugs or surgery? How does God change the path of electrons in those who believe versus those who don't? Would God save an intelligent machine? Could they be "born again"? Does God hide behind quantum indeterminacy? So many questions.

In April 2009, I wrote the post
Ecclesiastes and the Sovereignty of God, which gave excepts from the book A Time to Be Born - A Time to Die, by Robert L. Short. Using the Bible, in particular the book of Ecclesiastes, Short reaches the same conclusion I do arguing from basic physics.

The universe controls us. We do not control the universe.

This brings me to the Gene Wolfe quote mentioned at the beginning of this post:

This is what mankind has always wanted. … That the environment should respond to human thought. That is the core of magic and the oldest dream of mankind…. when humankind has dreamed of magic, the wish behind the dream has been the omnipotence of thought.

[to be continued]
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Theism vs. Atheism Debate Update

It has been almost eight weeks since I last posted on the Theism vs. Atheism debate. The delay is partly due to the busyness of life interfering with blogging. But mainly, the delay is due to my wanting to finish the Yale course on game theory, since this is critical to developing the argument for a biological basis for morality. I also need to finish taking notes on Lewis' Mere Christianity, since one of Lewis' arguments for the existence of God is a nearly universal morality which, broadly speaking, equates to one of the variants of the Golden Rule. See here, for example, for the Golden Rule in ancient Egypt 2,000 years before Christ.

I'm also finding interesting articles which have to be worked into the biological theory of morality, such as ParaPundit's "
Non-conformists Better At Working Toward Common Good", which I highly commend to your attention. Since this mentions the positive role of the nonconformist in society, with the recent passing of Steve Jobs, it is fitting to mention this except from the Newsweek article, "Exit the King" from the Sept. 5 issue:

After becoming rich and famous in his early 20s, he realized that he needed colleagues who weren't awed by his myth and could assert themselves forcefully against him – especially since he was at once strong-willed but under educated and inexperienced and still insecure about his judgment. He found that by delivering brutal putdowns of his co-workers he could test the strength of their conviction in their own ideas. If he said "this sucks" or "this is sh!t" and they fought back fiercely, he would trust their passion, especially since he often lacked the necessary technical acumen or aesthetic confidence. (Even though he instinctively grasped the importance of design from early on – he had wanted to enclose the Apple I in a case of beautiful blond koa wood – he remained uncertain about his taste for many years before he settled on the safety of austere minimalism). He found that many of the most brilliant engineers and creative types actually responded well to cruel criticism, since it reinforced their own secret belief that they weren't living up to their vaunted potential. Jobs's relentlessly high standards inspired their own maniacal work.

Continuing with the theme of the need for the non-conformists, Here's To The Crazy Ones, narrated by Steve Jobs:



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Theism vs. Atheism, Part 2

This is a continuation of the "debate" started here. Since this isn't a true debate (Vox doesn't want to debate a Christian), I will simply continue by dealing with the previously listed four evidences for theism. I will attempt to stay within the 2,000 word limit imposed by Vox's conditions for the debate.

Here, I want to address the problem of thought. Some Christians assert that human thought does not follow the laws of physics and that it cannot do so. Man is a body and a soul, or body, soul, and spirit, where at least one of soul or spirit is supernatural and is what makes us human. Atheists, of course, assert that thought is just matter in motion in certain patterns.

An in depth treatise on this won't fit in 2,000 words, so I will just sketch the outline of the materialist case. We know that the logical operations of
and, or, and not are capable of expressing all statements of boolean logic. We also know that the nand (not and) and nor (not or) operators can do the same thing: (nand x x) = (not x), (nand (nand x y) (nand x y)) = (and x y), (nand (nand x x) (nand y y)) = (or x y). This means that we can string together any number of nand (or nor) gates together to implement boolean statements. In addition, nand gates can be used to implement memory, multiplexers, demultiplexers and in, general, the elements of a computer. A set of nand gates in one configuration results in an adder; a different set of nand gates results in something that can recognize whether or not a particular circuit is an adder or not. Both represent electrons flowing in a certain pattern.

We are used to thinking of software and hardware as two different things: but they both reduce to a particular arrangement of
nand gates. Software is just electrons moving in a certain pattern.

Now, software is, at least, a subset of thought, so we have established that human thought, insofar as it is software, is "just" electrons in motion. And, certainly, our brains consist of axons which use chemical reactions to shuffle electrons around. Furthermore, we know that the brain can be damaged with a resultant change in the ability to think. Alcohol, for example, is one way to temporarily disrupt the flow of electrons from their usual patterns.

Is thought more than just complex software? Opinion on this is, of course, mixed. Ashwin Ram of Georgia Tech gives a concise readable look at some of the issues
here. Hofstatder took 832 pages to explore the issue in his landmark Gödel, Escher, Bach. Obviously, the only way to show that our minds are complex software is to build a human-level artificial intelligence, and our ability to do this isn't quite there, yet. But this doesn't mean we can't explore how it would be done. To do this, I have to deal with (at least) two theistic objections: absolute truth and morality.

What is truth?

Christians sometimes argue that materialism does not give a sufficient basis for reason. For example, C. S. Lewis wrote, "One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears... unless Reason is an absolute[,] all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based."
1 Similarly, J. B. S. Haldane wrote, “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”2

Earlier I wrote that I'm not aware of a catalog of basic beliefs. Let me start one by citing A. J. Hoover:
3

Probably the most basic law of human thought is the principle of contradiction. Some call it the “Law of Contradiction,” others call it the “Law of Noncontradiction.” Both terms refer to the same thing. Whatever you call it, this principle is the basis of all rational thought and rational communication.

What is a contradiction? It is not so much a thing as it is an
event. A contradiction occurs when two statements can’t possibly be true at the same time and in the same relationship. If I say, “It is raining here right now,” that contradicts the assertion, “It is not raining here right now.” Both of these statements cannot be true at the same time.

Logicians usually identify three laws that all seem to stem from the basic principle of contradiction:
The
law of contradiction asserts that A can’t both be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship.
The
law of identity asserts that A is A; that every event and every judgement is identical with itself.
The
law of excluded middle asserts that everything must be A or non-A.

These three laws, taken together, make it possible for us to communicate rationally.


Now, there are multi-valued and fuzzy logics but, leaving those aside, we believe these three laws because we have to. We couldn't communicate without them. They work. Similarly, we hold Euclid's axioms to be true because they work, even though the universe may ultimately be shown to be non-Euclidean. Inference is valid for the same reason -- it usually works (cf. Russell's
On Induction). Lewis' argument fails because "Reason" doesn't have to be absolute. It just has to be good enough to allow us to grow food, build bridges that stay up, land men on the moon, raise children, and argue with one another. Haldane's argument fails because, while there may not be "a reason to suppose my beliefs are true" there likewise isn't a reason to suppose they are false. We are constantly analyzing our body to knowledge to see if it is internally consistent and coherent with external reality (whatever that may end up being). We have to live with uncertainty.

An Algorithmic Basis for Morality

Morality is an area where theists think they have a strong argument. Certainly, Sam Harris' attempt to provide a science of morality in The Moral Landscape was a dismal failure. However, both sides are remiss in that neither side has produced a definition of morality that isn't circular (cf. a very, very early post of mine, "Good and Evil, Part I").

Recall fact D (our brains are goal-seeking engines with variable goals). We understand how to model goal seeking behavior as finding a path in a graph from some initial state to some goal state.
3 A path that leads from an initial state to a goal state is good; a shorter path between the two points might be better (depending on other goals); the shortest path might be best (again, depending on any additional constraints). Likewise, paths leading away from a goal state are deemed bad. Fact A stated that we are partially self-aware. This self-awareness extends to our ability to partially introspect our goal seeking behavior and this is what gives us a knowledge of good and evil.

Note that Harris hypothesized that the brain would show differences when making a moral decision as opposed to other types of decisions. He didn't need to do his neuroimaging experiments to show that this was not the case; after all, a computer uses the same circuitry to compute an integral as it does to evaluate a game tree. They aren't fundamentally different kinds of operations.

Since morality is essentially a search operation through a state space, it is an algorithm that can be encoded in
nand gates or axons, and, therefore, is electrons in motion in a certain pattern. This idea is bolstered by the experiments at MIT where the moral judgements of test subjects could be swayed by the application of a magnetic field to the scalp.4

McCarthy's third design requirement from fact D, "all aspects of behavior except the most routine must be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable" has some remarkable consequences. If everything can be improvable, then nothing is what it ought to be. This gives rise to Hume's is-ought distinction.
5 It also gives a basis for the problem of theodicy: if everything can be improved, nothing is what it ought to be. In particular, god is not what he ought to be. This is why the problem of evil is not a valid argument against theism. It also explains the Christian notion of "sin" (Greek amartia - "to miss the mark") since we are not what we ought to be. It's interesting to note that some brains focus on the former, while some brains focus on the latter. Our brains are in dynamic tension between wanting to settle on a goal and wanting to change the goal and keep searching.6 It would be an interesting experiment to classify where atheists and theists fall in this range. Perhaps theists are those whose bias is to reach a goal, while atheists are those who have a bias toward continuing the search. This might also explain why theists tend to think teleologically and why atheists tend to suppress it.

There is likely a correlation between morality and intelligence. In GEB, Hofstadter wrote:

It is an inherent property of intelligence that it can jump out of the task which it is performing, and survey what it is done; it is always looking for, and often finding, patterns. (pg. 37)

Over 400 pages later, he repeats this idea:

This drive to jump out of the system is a pervasive one, and lies behind all progress and art, music, and other human endeavors. It also lies behind such trivial undertakings as the making of radio and television commercials. (pg. 478).

It seems to me that McCarthy's third requirement is behind this drive to "jump out" of the system. If a system is to be improved, it must be analyzed and compared with other systems, and this requires looking at a system from the outside.

Earlier, Vox was quoted as saying, "…I believe in evil. I believe in objective, material, tangible evil that insensibly envelops every single one of us sooner or later. I believe in the fallen nature of Man…" The algorithmic pressure to seek new goals is behind Vox's statement. He "knows" that he can be improved -- that he is not what he ought to be. That man is "fallen" is a teleological interpretation of the inner working of the human mind coupled with the notion that god is the ultimate goal. It is this notion that everything is improvable that is behind morality and intelligence and, coupled with self-awareness, is what makes us human.

Given that morality arises from introspection of our goal seeking behavior, what goals should we seek? That will be the subject of the next post.

[1]
Is Theology Poetry, see Argument from reason.
[2] "When I am Dead" in
Possible Worlds (1927)
[3]
The Mechanism of Morality
[4]
Moral judgments can be altered ... by magnets
[5]
The Is-Ought Problem Considered As A Question Of Artificial Intelligence
[6] “Our moral judgments are not the result of a single process, even though they feel like one uniform thing,” she says. “It’s actually a hodgepodge of competing and conflicting judgments, all of which get jumbled into what we call moral judgment.”
4
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Theism vs. Atheism: A Debate?

Vox Day has challenged the atheist community to a debate concerning "the assertion that there is not only substantial evidence for the existence of gods, but that the logic and the evidence in support of the existence of gods is superior to the logic and the evidence for the nonexistence of them." While only a paltry three days has passed, no David has yet stepped forth to challenge Goliath.1 I expressed interest in arguing for the atheist position, but Vox would prefer to debate an actual atheist. Certainly, a cloud of suspicion would remain were I to lose the debate. However, I think I can battle Vox to a standstill. And I have the harder task.

It is common wisdom that "you can't prove a negative." Strictly speaking, this isn't true. Some negatives can be proven, just like some positives can be proven. Circa 300 B.C.E. Euclid showed that there is no largest prime number. In 1995 Andrew Wiles proved Fermat's Last Theorem, which says that there are no integers, x, y, and z > 0 such that x
n + yn = zn, where n > 2. But showing that there is no god (or gods) is a more formidable problem. Such a proof would be like showing that no pink unicorns exist -- the only way to do this is by an exhaustive search and, by definition, god supposedly exists outside of nature where man cannot look. In theory, god can only be found if he/she/it actively broke the natural/supernatural barrier and left one or more clues to his existence.

Since I've already mentioned an attribute of god (supernaturalness), Vox has declined to define "god or gods" and has referred to dictionary definitions. I have no interest in arguing for or against beings that are worshipped (which says more about the worshipper than the worshipped), or beings greater than man that have power over nature (cf. Star Trek's
Who Mourns for Adonis? where Kirk and crew run into Apollo). I will limit my arguments to a supernatural being who created nature. This could be the god of the three main monotheistic religions; it could also be a deistic god or alien scientists who are running our universe as a simulation in one of their computers (many implies one).

How then, to make the case for atheism? Bertrand Russell, in "The Problems of Philosophy", states that all knowledge is based on instinctive beliefs (pg. 25). Aside from
cogito, ergo sum I'm not aware of a catalog of basic beliefs (I'm a software engineer, not a philosopher). Is "there is/is not a god" a basic belief, or is it a derived position? I will argue that both positions are basic beliefs, accepted without proof. Given two axiomatic systems, which one is right? The problem is like that of geometry. Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry have the same number of axioms -- five -- but the fifth axiom is different in each. Each geometry is consistent. Which geometry corresponds to the universe we live in? On a very small scale, the universe is Euclidean (i.e. space is flat). But for the entire universe, we don't know, because we don't know the mass of the universe. To make the case for atheism, then, it must be shown that atheism is consistent and that it corresponds to the universe we live in.

Informally, both atheism and theism are consistent, in that neither axiom results in a statement that asserts a contradiction. There are claimed contradictions, for example, the problem of evil supposedly contradicts the existence of a loving god. Likewise, the problem of good has been used to argue against the non-existence of God. But neither hold up to scrutiny. Both systems result in explanations for all natural phenomena, even though those explanations may be wildly different. Does atheism correspond to the universe? That's a difficult question since we have incomplete knowledge. For example, if it could be shown that life could not arise by natural processes, then atheism would fail the correspondence test. This is, I think, one of two weakness of atheism and is what caused the formerly leading atheist thinker Antony Flew to convert to deism in 2004 before his death in 2010. However, this is a position adopted from ignorance informed by incredulity. There is no shame in saying, "we don't know," since incomplete knowledge is a problem in both systems, and the argument from incredulity is a logical fallacy recognized by both sides.

The arguments for theism typically fall into one of four categories:
  1. The problem of origins - God is needed to get things going.
  2. The problem of thought - materialism cannot account for human thought.
  3. The problem of morality - Vox wrote in "Letter to Common Sense Atheism I", "Why am I a Christian? Because I believe in evil. I believe in objective, material, tangible evil that insensibly envelops every single one of us sooner or later. I believe in the fallen nature of Man…"
  4. The problem of personal testimony/transformation - God did such and such in someone's life. For a powerful example of such testimony, see John C. Wright's "A Question I Never Tire of Answering". Vox said much the same thing, himself. I, too, have been on the road to Damascus. This would include the category of miracles including, but not limited to, the Resurrection of Jesus and fulfilled prophecy.
To make the case for atheism, compelling non-supernatural explanations must be given for each. To deal with the above, particularly the last three, these facts will be used:
  1. We are partially self-aware. Our self-awareness is partial because it doesn't fully extend to how our brains work. For example, we make decisions, but we can't see the mechanism by which those decisions actually come about. This study, for example, shows how analysis of brain wave patterns enable prediction of decisions before the test subjects were aware of what they were going to do.
  2. Our brains are wired to look for patterns.
  3. Most brains are wired to think teleologically, that is to ascribe meaning to external events. As shown by this study, theists think teleologically, atheists think teleologically but then suppress it, and people with Asperberger's do not think teleologically. Their wiring prevents it. See also the work of Catherine Caldwell-Harris of Boston University. Note that this describes typical behavior; individuals may vary.
  4. Our brains are goal-seeking engines with variable goals. Animals are wired for reproduction and, to support reproduction, have the sub-goals of feeding, fighting, and fleeing. Man, however, is a general purpose problem solver and, according to John McCarthy in Programs with Common Sense, one feature to enable this behavior is that "All aspects of behavior except the most routine must be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable."
  5. We are "selfish" organisms, that is, our default behavior is to maximize our long-term benefit.
Once these facts are granted, it will become very difficult for the theist to make a strong case. Furthermore, the theist must grant these facts. Only D isn't currently backed by experiment, since we haven't yet created a human level artificial intelligence; but it is partially observable through introspection and, furthermore, to deny this is to deny the Biblical account of the Fall in Eden. This would put the Christian theist in an awkward position. I note that D can be used to explain C, but it's easier to assert C on the basis of experiment than derive it formally.

Earlier, I said that both theism and atheism were basic beliefs. C and D show why theism is, for most, a basic belief. It's how most brains are wired. C by itself explains the belief that many gods exist (many things need explanation), D explains monotheism (a goal seeking engine without a fixed goal will imagine an ultimate goal). God belief is also comforting because it can always be used for explanations where our knowledge is incomplete (there is ultimate meaning, ultimate morality, ultimate cause). Atheism is, likewise, a basic belief since it cannot be shown to be true. The atheist claim that there is no evidence for god is misguided, since belief guides the evaluation of evidence. This also applies to the theist.

If this is so, then why the debate? Partly because of the challenge. Partly because I detest bad arguments -- from either side. Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another." Christians have become dull over time and need a wakeup call. Partly because I think I may have some new insights to offer, particularly since computer science is still in its infancy and I think it has important things to say with respect to theology. And partly because I think the result will be surprising. My position actually contains the seed of its own destruction (earlier, I said that atheism has two weaknesses) but I'm not going to give it away.

[1] Dominic Saltarelli eventually volunteered.
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Atheism and Evidence, Redux

In May I wrote "Atheism: It isn't about evidence". The gist was that the evidence for/against theism in general, and Christianity in particular, is the same for both theist and atheist. The difference is how brains process that evidence. I cited this article that said that people with Asperger's typically don't think teleologically. It also said that atheists think teleologically, but then suppress those thoughts.

Today, I came across the article "
Does Secularism Make People More Ethical?" The main thesis of the article is nonsense, but it does reference work by Catherine Caldwell-Harris of Boston University. Der Spiegel (The Mirror) said:

Boston University's Catherine Caldwell-Harris is researching the differences between the secular and religious minds. "Humans have two cognitive styles," the psychologist says. "One type finds deeper meaning in everything; even bad weather can be framed as fate. The other type is neurologically predisposed to be skeptical, and they don't put much weight in beliefs and agency detection."

Caldwell-Harris is currently testing her hypothesis through simple experiments. Test subjects watch a film in which triangles move about. One group experiences the film as a humanized drama, in which the larger triangles are attacking the smaller ones. The other group describes the scene mechanically, simply stating the manner in which the geometric shapes are moving. Those who do not anthropomorphize the triangles, she suspects, are unlikely to ascribe much importance to beliefs. "There have always been two cognitive comfort zones," she says, "but skeptics used to keep quiet in order to stay out of trouble."

This broadly agrees with the Scientific American article, although it isn't clear if the non-anthropomorphizing group is thinking teleologically, but then suppressing it (which is characteristic of atheists) or not seeing meaning at all (characteristic of those with Asperger's).

Caldwell-Harris' work buttresses the thesis of
Atheism: It isn't about evidence.

Too, her work is interesting from a perspective in artificial intelligence. One purpose of the Turing Test is to determine whether or not an artificial intelligence has achieved human-level capability. Her "triangle film" isn't dissimilar from a form of Turing Test since agency detection is a component of recognizing intelligence. If the movement of the triangles was truly random, then the non-anthropomorphizing group was correct in giving a mechanical interpretation to the scene. But if the filmmaker imbued the triangle film with meaning, then the anthropomorphizing group picked up a sign of intelligent agency which was missed by the other group.

I wrote her and asked about this. She has absolutely no reason to respond to my query, but I hope she will.

Finally, I have to mention that the Der Spiegel article cites researchers that claim that secularism will become the majority view in the west, which contradicts the sources in my blog post. On the one hand, it's a critical component of my argument. On the other hand, I just don't have time for more research into this right now.
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C. S. Lewis: Evolutionary Hymn

C. S. Lewis wrote the following hymn to evolution on March, 4, 1954 in a letter to Dorothy Sayers. It can be sung to the tune "Angels from the Realms of Glory":

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Aside from being heretofore unaware of this poem, my reason for blogging is to note two of Lewis' observations about evolution which I will later use in another post. First, is Lewis' poetic description of evolution as an open-ended search. Second, is the linking of evolution and morality with the supposition that an open-ended search for reproductive success leads to an open-ended morality.
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Response to James

James commented on my post Bad Arguments Against Materialism a month ago and it deserves a response. I appreciate every reader and, while I may not respond to every comment, I do want to engage in dialog. "Many eyes make short work of bugs" can be as true here as it can be with software (but don't get me started on "code reviews" that miss even the simplest mistakes!)

My only comment - and I'll leave it at this - is that, despite a very well worded argument, you seem to forget the very basis on which your argument stands. That being, using your own abstract allusion, though information (of any type, not just software of course) can be coded in zeros and ones, does not record itself. There needs be a CODER.

Under materialism, the coder is the universe itself. That is, the motion of the particles, operating under physical law, gave rise to the motion of electrons in certain patterns that make up our thoughts. Whether or not this is the true explanation is hotly contested. One side will argue that this is such an improbable occurrence that it couldn't be the right explanation. The other side will argue that improbable things happen. Both sides tailor their argument according to their preconceived notions about the nature of reality. Synchronously, John C. Wright has a droll take on it
here.

It may be transmitted one way or another, either zeros and ones, or brain waves, or goal-seeking algorithms, but itself is something rather more transcendent. If you doubt that, then why would more than one person get upset over the same wrong? (Say invasion of a country you don't even live in) or be offended when you step on the foot of an elderly woman whom you don't even know?

This is a topic that I hope to get to this year. There is an explanation for this, see Axelrod's "
The Evolution of Cooperation." For an idea of how the argument will go, see Cybertheology.

And if we "call steps leading toward a goal good" then that simply means any goal is good. Including, say, a despot's systematic murder of an entire people. There are few goals as effective as that for survival of a people, state or regime.

First, whether or not a goal is good depends on its relationship to other goals, and those goals exist in relationship to other goals, and so on. That's one reason why morality is such a difficult subject -- the size of the goal space is so large. It's much, much bigger than the complex games of Chess and Go.

Second, there may be times when it's necessary for one group to die so that another may live. We don't like that notion, because we may think that the reasoning that leads to the deaths of others could one day be used against us; on the other hand, listen to the reasons given for the necessity of using nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II. That there is no universal agreement on this shows how difficult a problem it is.

You also note that Axelrod's game theory shows how the golden rule can arise in biological systems. Well, if that happens so "naturally," why hasn't it happened in any of the (numerous beyond count) organisms that have, on an evolutionary scale, been here longer than Man? Say, for instance, the shark? Or the ant, which has a complicated social system?

It has happened, and Axelrod (with William D. Hamilton) gives examples of this in chapter 5:
The Evolution of Cooperation in Biological Systems.

We are not necessarily walking conundrums, BTW. …

Then you're a better man that St. Paul, who wrote:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? [Rom 7:15-24]

Which leads me to the last point: No, the Bible doesn't teach that Jesus died because of man's inability to follow any external code.

Actually, it does. Again, St. Paul wrote, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." (Gal 2:21) and "For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law." (Gal 3:21).

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McCarthy, Hofstadter, Hume, AI, Zen, Christianity

A number of posts have noted the importance of John McCarthy's third design requirement for a human level artificial intelligence: "All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable." I claim here, here, and here that this gives rise to our knowledge of good and evil. I claim here that this explains the nature of the "is-ought" divide. I believe that McCarthy's insight has the potential to provide a framework that allows science to understand and inform morality and may wed key insights in religion with computer science. Or, I may be a complete nutter finding patterns where there are none. If so, I may be in good company.

For example, in
Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter writes:

It is an inherent property of intelligence that it can jump out of the task which it is performing, and survey what it is done; it is always looking for, and often finding, patterns. (pg. 37)

Over 400 pages later, he repeats this idea:

This drive to jump out of the system is a pervasive one, and lies behind all progress and art, music, and other human endeavors. It also lies behind such trivial undertakings as the making of radio and television commercials. (pg. 478).

It seems to me that McCarthy's third requirement is behind this drive to "jump out" of the system. If a system is to be improved, it must be analyzed and compared with other systems, and this requires looking at a system from the outside.

Hofstadter then ties this in with Zen:

In Zen, too, we can see this preoccupation with the concept of transcending the system. For instance, the kōan in which Tōzan tells his monks that "the higher Buddhism is not Buddha". Perhaps, self transcendence is even the central theme of Zen. A Zen person is always trying to understand more deeply what he is, by stepping more and more out of what he sees himself to be, by breaking every rule and convention which he perceives himself to be chained by – needless to say, including those of Zen itself. Somewhere along this elusive path may come enlightenment. In any case (as I see it), the hope is that by gradually deepening one's self-awareness, by gradually widening the scope of "the system", one will in the end come to a feeling of being at one with the entire universe. (pg. 479)

Note the parallels to, and differences with, Christianity. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." (John 3:3) The Greek includes the idea of being born "from above" and "from above" is how the NRSV translates it, even though Nicodemus responds as if he heard "again". In either case, you must transcend the system. The Zen practice of "breaking every rule and convention" is no different from St. Paul's charge that we are all lawbreakers (Rom 3:9-10,23). The reason we are lawbreakers is because the law is not what it ought to be. And it is not what it ought to be because of our inherent knowledge of good and evil which, if McCarthy is right, is how our brains are wired. Where Zen and Christianity disagree is that Zen holds that man can transcend the system by his own effort while Christianity says that man's effort is futile: God must affect that change. In Zen, you can break outside the system; in Christianity, you must be lifted out.

Note, too, that both have the same end goal, where finally man is at "rest". The desire to "step out" of the system, to continue to "improve", is finally at an end. The "is-ought" gap is forever closed. The Zen master is "at one with the entire universe" while for the Christian, the New Jerusalem has descended to Earth, the "sea of glass" that separates heaven and earth is no more (Rev 4:6, 21:1) so that "God may be all in all." (1 Cor 15:28). Our restless goal-seeking brain is finally at rest; the search is over.

All of this as a consequence of one simple design requirement: that everything must be improvable.


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On Trusting God

What is God really like? How do we know?

One view of God is that "He" is omniscient, omnipotent, and immutable. An
Open Theist would disagree, claiming that God does not necessarily know the future and would cite Jeremiah 32:35 as one example where it "did not enter" God's mind that man would do certain things. Furthermore, if God did infallibly know the future, He could not change it, therefore the argument is that He is not omnipotent. God is mutable, as shown by passages such as Exodus 32:14: "And the LORD changed His mind about the disaster he had planned to bring upon His people." This can be contrasted with Malachi 3:6, "For I the LORD do not change..." and James 1:17 "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

The purpose here is not to decide which view of God is correct but rather to think about thinking about God.

A certain open theist
was asked, "How are we supposed to trust a God who doesn’t know the future?" His answer was, "Presumably the same way we trust people who don't know the future. Is a Creator who doesn't know the future any less worthy of worship than one who does? It's still His Game, His Rules, regardless of whether He knows the outcome and/or every last twist and turn of the game or not."

First, note the change from "trust" to "worship." Whether or not God is trustworthy depends on God's nature. Whether or not God is worthy of worship depends on our value system. That is, what we value should conform to whatever God is. If God isn't trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, but perhaps we shouldn't value trust. If God is trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, and we perhaps should value trust. God should be worshipped due to His position as unique creator, but this doesn't inform us of His actual nature.

Second, trusting God in the same way that we trust people is problematic. We know people who aren't generally trustworthy who have a change of heart at the end and earn our trust. There are likewise people who are generally trustworthy who end up betraying us. This open theist likes to use the analogy of God as Game Designer where our reality is His simulation. Now, I can appreciate this analogy, since it is in some ways similar to the "God as Author" analogy that I've used. But this little, hopefully fictional, exchange illustrates one problem with trusting God in the way we trust people.

   "Jehovah? Jehovah! I told you to get to bed an hour ago. You have a big day tomorrow. It's your 'eight day' ceremony and you have to be rested for it."
   "Aw, Mom. Just a few more minutes? My simulation is about to finish. I want to see if the initial conditions I programmed into it turn out like I expect. The anti-Christ fellow is about to make his appearance!"
   "Jehovah, I find it inconsistent that you told your creatures to 'Honor your father and your mother' but me you ignore."
   "But you know that those rules only apply to them. They don't apply to me."
1
   "Well, in my house, you have to obey my rules. Turn your computer off and get to bed. Now. You can always start another one when you have more time."
   "Yes, Mom."

   *Click*

   Fade to black.

This story isn't consistent with Scripture. But how do we know that Scripture reveals what really is? God says that there is no one like Him, much less greater than Him. How do we know? Because He said so. How do we know His knowledge is complete in this area? Because He said so. How do we know God will not lie to us? Because He said so. But what if He was lying to us?

So we have a bootstrap problem. As the source of all creation, God exists in a different relation to us than other people. We find that in order to trust God we first have to trust God. If we must start with trusting God, when would there be a warrant to stop trusting Him? Would it be if God did something we didn't expect? That would require that we know the fullness of God's purpose. But "His ways are not our ways" (Isa. 55:8-9) and "time and chance happen to all men" (Eccl. 9:11). I believe that this shows that we must unconditionally trust God, regardless of whether or not His revealed nature is His true nature.

I wonder if there is a symmetry between the necessity for unconditional trust and unconditional election?


[1] See
Modeling Morality and Modeling Morality: The End of Time.

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Atheism: It isn't about evidence

[Updated 5/7/2011, 10:49:05 PM; then 5/13/2011, 8:03:53PM]

On the first of the year I wrote "
Cybertheology" to begin the long process of using science, particularly computer science, evolutionary biology, and game theory to give evidence for and provide understanding of God. After all, I believe that the God who reveals Himself in the spoken and written Word also speaks through nature -- and that the message must be the same in both. In 2009 I wrote "Evidence for God" which gave my reaction to one atheist's claim of the lack of evidence for God. Over at John Wright's blog, another atheist commenter recently claimed again that there is no convincing evidence for God.

I have now come to the conclusion that a consistent rational atheist cannot claim that evidence, or the lack thereof, is the issue at all. The proof is really very simple and builds upon ideas in the earlier post "
Bad Arguments Against Materialism."

Every argument should have well-defined terms. Defining "God" is surprisingly hard. Traditionally, Christianity has said that God is immutable and omniscient; however, an
Open Theist would disagree with these characteristics. Some argue that God is inherently good; otherwise would say that the existence of evil disproves this notion (and this latter group is wrong, but that's not the topic of this post). The notion of "creator" is sufficient for now. Materialism has to conclude that matter in motion is the source of the idea of God -- "god" is an emergent property -- just like the number i is an emergent property (to the best of my limited knowledge of physics, one can't point to the square root of -1 apples or protons). Theism holds that matter is an emergent property of God and, therefore, God must be immaterial. One side holds that God is the product of man's imagination; the other says that man's imagination is the product of God.

Tangentially related to this is the question of how to recognize the existence of and the reason for singular events, such as Creation or the Resurrection. As will be shown, this reduces to differences in brain wiring.

If a creator God does not exist, then nature must consist solely of matter in motion. In particular, our thoughts arise from the movement of matter in certain patterns and our thoughts must obey the laws of physics. The laws of physics themselves are simply descriptions of how matter moves in relation to other matter. A description is just matter in a different dynamic relationship to other matter. Some theists may reject this idea and state that there is a supernatural aspect to thought, but the atheist has no such recourse. Computers, goldfish, and human minds work via electrons in a silicon, or carbon, matrix. The complexity of thought depends on the arrangement of atoms in the brain (or CPU).
1

The key insight is that evidence is simply atoms that are external to the brain; different brains process the same data differently. There is a reason why we don't discuss theology with goldfish, golden retrievers, or computers: their brains don't have enough particles in the right configuration. The same principle applies to the atheist and the agnostic. When they say, "the evidence isn't convincing," what they really mean is "the atoms in my brain don't process the external data the way yours does."

The observation that brain states can be changed due to external factors (memory is "simply" state changes in the brain) doesn't help. Either the brain actively causes brain states to change based on how the brain processes the data, or there is some effect where the brain is passively changed. In the first case, the brain's wiring affects the brain's wiring, so the data is irrelevant, because different brains process the same data differently. The external data just shows how the brain is wired. In the second case, the external data changes the brain. The brain isn't evaluating evidence in the sense of the claim that the "evidence isn't convincing." Instead, the correct view is "my brain is/is not capable of being changed by the external world in the same way as other brains."

Since the external evidence is the same for both theist and atheist, the difference is in the way brains process that data. Given the way most human brains work (cf.
The Mechanism of Morality), we ask "which arrangement of atoms is better?"

The rational atheist must answer, "that which results in reproductive advantage." The problem for the atheist at this point is that theists have more children than atheists. Even though atheism appears to be on the rise, population in general is on the rise. In relative numbers, the atheists are losing ground. Writing in "
The Source of Evangelism" (atheist evangelism), Vox Day said, "... their own children are converting to religion faster than religious children are converting out of it."

We have evolved to think in teleological terms. As
this study showed, people with Asperger's typically don't ascribe intention or purpose behind the events in their lives. Atheists, on the other hand, can reason teleologically, but they reject those explanations. It isn't evidence -- it's wiring. The atheist can't come out and say that their brains are wired better than the theists, for at least two reasons. First, it isn't supported by the demographics. Again quoting Vox Day, "But the demographic disadvantage means that the atheist community has to keep all of their children within the godless fold and de-convert one out of every three religious children just to keep pace with the growth of the religious community." Second, it isn't supported by reason. After all, materialism is a strict subset of theism. The theist can think everything the atheist can -- and more. The theist has a bigger "universe" in which to think.

One explanation for this demographic disparity may be found in the difference between brains wired to recognize the existence of a creator God and those that are not. In the Abrahamic religions, the creator God is strongly identified with life. For example, the Jews were told by God, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live..." [De 30:19]; Jesus said, "... have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Christianity asserts that death is an "enemy" -- the last enemy to be overcome [1 Cor 15:26]. Certainly, one doesn't have to reject the idea of a Creator God to reject life; but in my limited experience it sure seems that social battles of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, are drawn with a line generally between secular and religious. The side that places a premium on reproduction will outproduce those that do not.

If the atheist can't say that their brains are wired better than theists, they also won't say that their wiring is worse. That would totally defeat their arguments. Therefore, they adapt a form of protective coloration wherein they deflect the issue to be external to themselves -- the evidence -- when it clearly isn't. Adopting protective coloration against one's own species may be another reason for the reproductive disadvantage of atheists. After all, this is a form of defection against the larger group and, as Axelrod has shown, an evolutionary strategy to maximize reproductive success is to defect in turn.

It appears that the atheist cannot win. If God does exist, they are wrong. If God exists only in man's imagination, evolution has wired man so that the idea of God gives a direction toward reproductive success. The attempt to remove God from society will result in demographic weakness.
Shiny secular utopias simply don't exist.2



[1] After posting this in the morning, in the evening I started re-reading
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. Via seemingly different paths we have come to similar conclusions. On P-4 he writes:
  As I see it, the only way of overcoming this magical view of what "I" and consciousness are is to keep reminding oneself, unpleasant though it may seem, that the "teetering bulb of dread and dream" that nestles safely inside one's own cranium is a purely physical object made up of completely sterile and an inanimate components, all of which obey exactly the same laws as those that govern all the rest of the universe, such as pieces of text, or CD-ROMs, or computers. Only if one keeps on bashing up against this disturbing fact can one slowly begin to develop a feel for the way out of the mystery of consciousness: that the key is not the stuff out of which brains are made, but the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of a brain.
  This is a liberating shift, because it allows one to move to a different level of considering what brains are: as
media that support complex patterns that mirror, albeit far from perfectly, the world...
[2] On 5/12, CNN.com posted the article "Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims". In this article, Oxford University professor Roger Trigg, is quoted as saying "The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless."
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Easter 2011

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

You are witnesses of these things. -- Luke 24:33-48 Read More...
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Bad Arguments Against Materialism

Lately I have read, or participated in, several arguments against materialism: John C. Wright in Dialog With An Adding Machine and Taking Ideas Seriously, Job's Goat and Babelfish, and Rusty Lopez and Morality: a stowaway, onboard for the entire journey. In Taking Ideas Seriously I found myself arguing against Wright's objections to materialism, and arguing against another reader's arguments for materialism. That is, I find the typical theistic arguments against materialism to be flawed yet I find the typical atheistic arguments for materialism equally flawed.

I want to examine and expose bad theistic arguments against materialism, which generally reduce to the idea that materialism cannot explain abstract thought in general and morality in particular.

As a software engineer, I know that software -- which is abstract thought -- can be encoded in material: zero's and ones flowing through NAND gates arranged in certain ways. Wire up NAND gates one way and you have a circuit that adds (e.g.
here). Wire them up another way and you have a circuit that can subtract. Wire them up yet another way and you have memory. A more complicated arrangement could recognize whether or not a given circuit is an adder (i.e. one implements "this adds," the other implements "that is an adder"). If something can be expressed as software, it can be expressed as hardware. The relationships between the basic parts, whether they are NAND gates, NOR gates, or something else, and the movement of electrons (or photons), between them encode the abstract thought. Yet Lopez wrote:

For example, while electrical impulses may occur when a person has particluar [sic] thoughts or feelings (or propositional qualities, per Greg Koukl), the impulses themselves are not the thoughts or feelings.

For this to be true, those thoughts have to exist independently of the hardware which is our minds. They have to exist in the mind of God. But he hasn't shown that this is the case nor do I know how to prove it, even though I think it true ["in Him we live and move and have our being." -- Acts 17:28]. Just as the materialist cannot prove his position that the thoughts cease when the electrons stop moving (see my post Materialism, Theism, and Information where I have this argument with a materialist), the theist also hasn't made their case. It's one thing to cite Scripture, it's quite another to show why it must be so independently of special revelation.

That thought can be encoded in hardware should be familiar to Christians. After all, the Word became Flesh. Where the theist and materialist differ is in the initial conditions. The materialist will say that matter is made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons; and protons and neutrons are made of up quarks. One overview of the "particle zoo" is
here. String theory offers the idea that below the currently known elementary particles lie even smaller one dimensional oscillating lines. Do strings really exist? We don't know. What we do know is that simple things combine to make more complex things, more complex things combine to make even more complex things. The greater the number of connections between things, the greater the complexity. Perhaps this is why the human mind tries to reduce things to their most simple components and this is what drives the search for strings in one discipline and God in another. Whether it is clearly revealed in Scripture or not, there has certainly been the idea that God is immaterial, irreducible, and simple. The materialist will say that at the bottom lies matter and the ways they combine. This combining, recombining, and recombining again eventually resulted in self-aware humans. Genetic algorithms, after all, do work. The theist says that at the bottom lies an immaterial self-aware Person who created matter and, eventually, self-aware people. In one camp, self-awareness is emergent; in another it is fundamental. After all, when Moses asked God to reveal His name, He said, "I am who I am."

If the existence of self-aware thought is one way theists argue against materialism, likewise is the existence of morality which theists claim cannot be explained by science. Lopez also wrote:

Indeed, if our entire essence - the totality of who we are, was reducible solely to particles in motion, then what justification would there be for any concept of an objective morality? What grounding** would there be for any application - or imposition - of morality from one human being to another? Survival of the fittest? Perpetuation of our species? The selfish gene?

The materialist answer is fairly simple. Morality is what we call the goal-seeking algorithm(s) in our brain (see my article The Mechanism of Morality). Basically, we call steps leading toward a goal good, and steps leading away bad. Robert Axelrod, in his ground-breaking book The Evolution of Cooperation, showed how strategies such as cooperation, forgiveness, and non-covetousness could arise between competing selfish agents. Morality is then objective the way language is objective. If language is the means whereby a community uses arbitrary symbols to share meaning, morality is the means whereby a community shares goals. The grounding for the imposition of one moral system over another would then be whether or not it leads to greater reproductive success, in exactly the same way that English is currently the lingua franca of science, technology, and business.

If morality is a property of the goal-seeking behavior of self-aware beings, and the goal is reproductive success, then certain strategies will be more effective than others. Axelrod used game theory to show how something like the golden rule can arise in biological systems. There is one sense in which the "game" of life is like the game of chess -- both have state spaces so large that it is impossible to fully analyze all strategies. Life, like chess, requires us to develop heuristics for winning the game. It's a field that's wide open for research via computer simulation. But even if we can say with confidence which choices ought to be made, this leads to the next issue.

I am puzzled the theist's insistence on the existence of and necessity for an objective morality: something written in stone which solves the "is-ought" problem, to which all mankind (and extraterrestrial life, if it exists) must agree "this ought to be," i.e. "these are the goals toward which all must strive, whether freely or not."
The materialist isn't bothered by moral relativism any more than he is bothered by the fact that there are different languages. It's the way our brains work. The goal-seeking algorithm in our brain tends to reject fixed goals. We are walking conundrums that want to choose yet aren't satisfied by the choices we make. John McCarthy recognized this in Programs with Common Sense, Axelrod found it via computer simulation in The Evolution of Cooperation, Hume exposed the problem, but not the cause; St. Paul made it the basis of his exposition of the Gospel in the book of Romans and drove the point home in his letter to the Galatians, and it's central to the story of the creation of man in Genesis (see What Really Happened in Eden). After all, the central claim of Christianity is that Jesus died and rose from the dead because of man's inability to follow any external moral code. To say that the need for an objective external standard is an argument against materialism completely misses the point of Christianity. We know that our brains are wired for teleological thinking; people with Asperger's have been shown to be deficient in this area (People with Asperger's less likely to see purpose behind the events in their lives). The theist says that God represents the ultimate goal, the ultimate purpose, the solution to the is-ought problem; the materialist will say that this is just something that minds with our properties wished they had. It's how scientists say we're wired, its how Christianity says we're wired. Arguing that materialism can't support an objective moral standard won't change that wiring.

In summary, then, neither abstract thought nor morality are a problem for a materialist, as currently argued by theists.
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Modeling Morality: The End of Time

Modeling Morality presented six views of how morality is typically imagined to work. For the most part, I wanted the diagrams to speak for themselves. The intent was not to argue for or against any particular model, but to provide a framework for future explorations. However, I did provide reasons for why model #6 should be preferred to model #4, because in my experience most Christians tend to think model #4 accurately represents the Biblical view. I noted that model #4 “is not suitable for this phase of history.”

Since I hinted at a change of models, I need to present what I think the model will be when God’s kingdom is fully come:

moral8
Model #7


The dashed line in model #6 disappears, reminiscent of Revelation 21:1, where St. John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The sea, of course, does not refer to a literal body of water, but the “sea of glass, like crystal” that separates the throne of God in heaven from earth [Rev 4:6].

The thick black line in model #7 represents the “great chasm” of Luke 16:26. Below the line are those who have clung to their will. As C. S. Lewis wrote in
The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”


I think Lewis, and model #7, both accurately reflect the Biblical view of the eternal state.
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Modeling Morality

Previous posts (1, 2, and 3) presented several visual models of morality from atheistic and theistic perspectives. These posts used a definition of morality as being an ill-defined “distance” measurement between “is” and “ought.” Based on the subsequent article The Mechanism of Morality, I’ve revised the definition. Morality is how self-aware agents describe searches through goal space to a goal state. Something that leads to a goal state is considered good, while something that leads away from a goal state is considered bad. Whether or not a goal state is good depends on its relation to other goal states. If there are ultimate goal states (whatever they might be), then there are ultimate goods.

Here, six different models are presented. Three are from an atheistic worldview and three are from a theistic worldview. An arrow represents the direction and location of a “moral compass,” which represents goal states that are deemed to be “good.” The arrows, being static, may suggest a fixed moral compass. At least for humans, we don’t have fixed goals (cf.
here and here), so that a moving arrow might be a better representation. However, I’m not going to use animation with these pictures.

These models will be used in later posts when examining various arguments that have a moral basis, since in many cases, the model is assumed and an incorrect model will lead to an incorrect argument. Of course, this begs the question of which model corresponds to reality.

The first three models assume an atheistic worldview.

moral1
Model #1

The first model is simple: morality is internal to self-aware goal seeking agents. There is no external standard of morality, since there is no purpose to the universe.


moral2
Model #2

This model just adds an external moral standard. What that standard might be isn’t specified here and is the subject of much speculation elsewhere. In the model, no agent’s moral compass aligns with the external standard, reflective of the human condition that we don’t always choose goals that we know we should.

If morality is related to goal seeking behavior, then what might be the goal(s) of nature? Why should any other moral agent conform to the external standard?


moral7
Model #3

Here, a common moral standard is not found in “nature,” but is internal to each agent. It reflects the idea that man is basically born “good,” but, over time, drifts from a moral ideal. As before, it reflects the common experience that we don’t choose what we ought to choose.

The next three models reflect various theistic views.

moral3
Model #4

This model reflects that God, and only God, defines what is good and that such goodness is internal to God. Moral agents are expected to align their compasses with God’s. Either God reveals His moral compass to man, or man can somehow discern God’s moral compass through the construction of nature. I will argue that this model is not suitable for this phase of history when model #6 is presented.


moral4
Model #5

This model adds an external standard to which both God and moral agents should conform. This view of the model shows a “good” god, i.e. one who always conforms to the external standard. This model is frequently assumed in arguments that try to show that God is morally wrong, by attempting to show that God’s moral compass is not aligned with some external standard.

This model, regardless of the orientation of the external compass, is a flawed model (at least in Christian theology) since God is not subject to any external standard. This should be obvious since everything “external” to God was created by God and is therefore subject to Him.


moral6
Model #6

In this model, God exists apart from all other moral agents and is the source of His moral compass. Within creation, however, He has decreed a moral standard to which moral agents should conform. In terms of goal space, His goals are not always our goals.
I think that the Bible makes it clear that:
  1. God is not only “good,” but He defines “goodness.”
  2. There are “goods,” as shown by His behavior, that man is not permitted to pursue. That is, what is good for God isn’t necessarily good for man, which would be the case if there were a common moral compass.
In support of this second point, Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will help you.” and this is repeated in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil...” and 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.” Yet in Jeremiah, for example, God says, “Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.” [Jer 18:11] and “For I have set my face against this city for evil and not for good, says the LORD: it shall be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” [Jer 21:10]

Similarly, Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” God reserves vengeance for Himself: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” [Heb 10:30].

That this model is correct from a Bible perspective should be more obvious than it is; after all, we “see through a glass darkly.” He is God and we are not. The Creator sets the goals/rules for His creation; yet He has His own goals/rules.

These models provide a framework for how various answers to questions about morality arise. Consider the question, “Is the difference between good and bad whatever God says it is? Or is God good because he conforms to a standard of goodness?” Note that this question is really asking “what is correct model of theistic morality?”

With model #4, the answer would be “God is good because He Himself is the standard for goodness.”
With model #5, the answer is “He conforms to a standard of goodness.”
With model #6, the answer is “both.” For us, the difference between good and evil is whatever God says it is. For God, He is His own standard of goodness. He determines the goals we are to pursue and, in this life, those goals aren’t necessarily the goals He pursues for Himself.
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For I Am Not Ashamed...

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

One of my pet peeves is when Christians, well meaning though they may be, make a connection between the lifestyle of the one who proclaims the gospel and whether or not the hearer will receive the message. The argument can take many forms: “we have to walk the walk so that we can talk the talk,” “our actions speak louder than words,” “our lifestyle must be consistent with our message,” and so on.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Should our lifestyle be consistent with the message? Of course. As St. Paul wrote, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be!” But to say that our actions help or hurt the reception of the gospel is to deny both the grace and the power of God. We readily give lip service to God’s grace toward the hearer; we rightly say that without it no one would ever believe the message. But we forget that God’s grace is likewise bestowed on the speaker. God’s grace overcomes the sin of both the receiver and the sender. In addition, God’s power overcomes our weakness. It is not my place to speak of the sins of others, but the person who was instrumental in presenting the gospel to me wasn’t living what is typically considered to be “the Christian life.” When God took a 2x4 to me, the behavior of someone else didn’t even enter my mind. He demolished all of my objections in an instant.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” We forget that “not of your own doing” also applies to those whom God uses to proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
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Everything is a remix

Earlier this morning I uploaded “Christian Doctrine, Ancient Egypt, Game Theory”. Also today Daring Fireball posted a link to the very interesting site, Everything Is A Remix. Of course, “everything is a remix” is a remix of “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) But, as I noted in Christian Doctrine, Ancient Egypt, Game Theory, Christianity’s golden rule and the admonition to not return evil for good are found in Egyptian culture long before Christ.

Do take a few minutes to watch the two (of four) videos at
Everything Is A Remix.
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Christian Doctrine, Ancient Egypt, Game Theory

I am slowly making my way through the book Old Testament Parallels by Matthews and Benjamin.

The story “The Farmer and the Courts of Egypt” tells the story of a farmer who is unfairly accused by an official who tries to steal the farmer’s goods. The farmer pleads his case and demands justice. Somewhat reminiscent of the much longer book of Job, it was written around 2134-2040 BCE.

Two passages stand out. The first reads:

Good example is remembered forever. Follow this teaching: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

This is the golden rule, over two thousand years before Christ.

The second passage says:

Do not return evil for good...

Proverbs 17:13 says, “Evil will not depart from the house of one who returns evil for good.” Proverbs was likely written after 400 BCE. I find this link to Egyptian thought to be extremely interesting and wonder why I haven’t seen more recognition of this in “mainstream” Christianity. A subsequent post, which has been a very long time in coming, will explore the influence of Egyptian thought on Genesis, the story of Noah, and the Exodus.


In terms of game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, “do not return evil for good” translates to “don’t defect after cooperation.”

Both St. Paul and St. Peter write, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil...” [Rom 12:17, 1 Peter 3:19], which becomes “don’t defect at all.”

A future blog post will have to examine the implications of the Christian response to the Prisoner’s Dilemma versus the evolutionarily robust “tit-for-tat” strategy in
Axelrod.

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Materialism, Theism, and Information

Over on John C. Wright's blog, there is yet another discussion in the continuing series on Materialism vs. Theism, this one titled Return of the Robot Zombie Slaves.

In one corner, is John Wright, a theist, who holds that there is more to man than just a collection of atoms in a certain pattern. In another corner is Dr. Rolf Andreassen, who is a strict materialist. I'm in the third corner.

Andreassen is trying to argue that one could, in theory, make an exact atomic copy of a man, and that this copy would act identically to the original. Wright is arguing that this isn't the case, because he holds that symbols cannot be reduced to atoms. I think that both of them are wrong. Wright is wrong because symbols can be reduced to atoms (all software can be expressed as NAND gates, for example). Andreassen is wrong, because even though symbols can be encoded as atoms this doesn’t mean that atoms are required for symbols (“in the beginning was the λογος”).

One of the interesting things is Andreassen's attempt to support his position. He wrote:
... I was saying that this proposition (more accurately, the underlying proposition that meaning arises from matter) I believe simply on the grounds that it seems reasonable to me, that my intuition, wisdom, or experience tells me it is so. There is some supporting evidence, such as the disruption of meaning caused by a bullet or a concentration of alcohol to the brain; but how one interprets this is a question of wisdom, as you put it, or intuition, as I prefer.

I observed that his evidence didn't necessarily support his position:
You filtered this evidence through the lens of your worldview. That is, you couldn’t come to any other conclusion without abandoning your materialism. For example, I can put a bullet though a computer and disrupt the working of its software. But that doesn’t say anything about the existence of me, the programmer, who put the software there in the first place. As a materialist, you will automatically exclude the idea of a Programmer for this universe.

Andreassen then went on to say:
You are your body, neither more or less. If I damage your body I damage you; if I destroy your body you cease to exist; I cannot make you cease to exist except by damaging your body.

To which I replied,
Nonsense. You’re letting your materialism control your evaluation of evidence. We exist first and foremost in the mind of God. This body is just a vessel, as it were, for our software.

Andreassen proposed an experiment:
This at least offers itself up to experimental test. I suggest you volunteer to be shot, and we will see whether you still exist after the bullet has passed through your brain. If you wake up in Heaven (or even Hell – the dispute is not about anyone’s virtue), I will admit I was wrong. If your consciousness is snuffed out like a candle, you still won’t admit you were wrong, because you won’t exist. So, clearly, it’s a win-win scenario for you.
Or to put it another way: Your god does not exist, therefore we do not exist in its mind, either primarily, secondarily, or otherwise.

Note what he did. He proposed an experiment where he could not observe the results! The scientist was reduced to bogus science! And so, this becomes the blog entry to receive the “Bad Arguments” tag. There will be more to come.
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Cybertheology

I had wanted to title this post “A New Word for a New Year”, but cybertheology is already being used. A very superficial survey shows that it is typically used to describe how people use the internet in relation to theology. I want to use the term to describe a scientific discipline with the focus of discovering and understanding God. As a Christian, I hold that God has spoken to us through His prophets and, ultimately, His Son (Heb 1:1-2). But the God who reveals Himself through the written and spoken Word, has also revealed Himself in nature (Rom 1:20). I contend that there will be no conflict between Nature and Theology, but that the scientific study of Nature can be used to inform theology, and theology can be used to inform science. I propose that cybertheology be where these two disciplines meet.

I use the “cyber” prefix because of its relation to computer science. Theology and computer science are related because both deal, in part, with intelligence. Christianity asserts that, whatever else God is, God is intelligence/λογος. The study of artificial intelligence is concerned with detecting and duplicating intelligence. Evidence for God would then deal with evidence for intelligence in nature. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice” [John 10:27] and the Turing test is the primary test for human level AI.

Beyond this, the Turing test seems to say that the representation of intelligence is itself intelligent. This may have implications with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that “what God says” is, in some manner, “what God is.”

I also think that science can inform morality. At a minimum, as I’ve tried to show
here, morality can be explained as goal-seeking behavior, which is also a familiar topic in artificial intelligence. Furthermore, using this notion of morality as being goal seeking behavior, combined with John McCarthy’s five design requirements for a human level AI, explains the Genesis account of the Fall in Eden. This also gives clues to the Christian doctrine of “original sin,” a post I hope to write one of these days.

If morality is goal-seeking behavior, then the behavior prescribed by God would be consistent with any goal, or goals, that can be found in nature. Biology tells us that the goal of life is to survive and reproduce. God said “be fruitful and multiply.” [Gen 1:22, 28; 8:17, 9:1...] This is a point of intersection that I think will provide surprising results, especially if Axelrod’s “Evolution of Cooperation” turns out like I think it will.

I also think that game theory can be used to analyze Christianity. Game theory is based on analyzing how selfish entities can maximize their own payoffs when interacting with other selfish agents. I think that Christianity tells us to act selflessly -- that we are to maximize the payoffs of those we interact with. This should be an interesting area to explore. One topic will be bridging the gap between the selfish agents of game theory to the selfless agents of Christianity. I believe that this, too, can be solved.

This may be wishful thinking on the part of a lunatic (or maybe I’m just a simpleton), but I also think that we can go from what we see in nature to the doctrine of justification by faith.

Finally, we look to nature to incorporate its designs into our own technology. If a scientific case can be made for the truth of Christianity, especially as an evolutionary survival strategy, what implications ought that have on public policy?
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Notes from The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

Along with taking the Yale course on Game Theory on iTunes, I’m reading The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona. It’s over 700 pages. Licona asks the question, “If professional historians who work outside of the community of biblical scholars were to embark on an investigation of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, what would such an investigation look like?” [pg. 19]. I’ve made it to page 180 and the book hasn’t yet dealt with the historical evidence for the Resurrection. The book starts by exploring what it means to do historical research and the role of worldview on the evaluation of evidence. This last part is very important. We may think that “seeing is believing” and there is some truth to that. But it’s also true that “believing is seeing,” that is, that our worldview effects how we evaluate data. The resurrection is one of those events that challenges worldviews. If one is a priori a naturalist, the resurrection account simply could not be what the early disciples of Christ claimed it was. If one is a priori a theist, then the resurrection may, or may not, have happened. For example, Christians say it did; Muslims say it didn’t. If one is uncertain of one’s worldview, it may likely lead to an inability to say that the evidence leads to anything conclusive.

Several statements in the book have resonated with me, because they touch directly on topics of several recent internet “discussions” and because they cohere with positions I’ve taken. Several of these deserve further elaboration and may become topics of future posts. Until then, I’ll just present each along with a brief observation.

The first pertains to how worldview influences the evaluation of evidence:

When historians seek to describe the past, they place facts within the framework of a narrative. Numerous interpretations and theories can be quite imaginative. Moreover, many times specific narratives can neither be proved nor disapproved, and historians from every camp often fail to place a sort of disclaimer informing readers of the tentativeness of their narrative, which is stated as fact. [pg. 57]

The second deals with the question of just how literal an interpretation of a text ought to be (see, for example,
Operation Chaos). Are ancient descriptions to be understood as if they were video recordings?

However, no one would charge a portrait as being errant because they portrayed something in the background that was not there during the sitting but was created in order to communicate character or personality. Literary devices such as invented speeches and encomium are common traits of ancient bioi. Thus, in some instances, those who complain of contradictions and inventions in the Gospels are guilty of judging them in terms of photographic accuracy, when this may not have been the intent of the author. Still, this earmark of ancient bioi makes hermeneutical considerations of the Gospels all the more challenging. [pg. 76]

The third ties in with the second when dealing with “young earth creationism,” which I should note that I don’t think does justice to the Biblical text. Are there any good reasons to suppose “
Tuesdayism” is or is not true, other than philosophical ones or a very literal reading of Genesis?

Neither historians nor philosophers can prove that the world is older than 10 minutes at which time everything was created with the appearance of age and that we were created with memories of events that never took place and with food in our stomachs from meals we never ate. [pg. 82]

The fourth is based on the principle of non-contradiction:

Another theory of truth is coherence theory, which states that a proposition is true when all of its components cohere with other propositions believed to be true. This theory of truth may be especially attractive to those historians who excel in forming creative narrative. Their narrative is true because it coheres better with other widely held propositions. [pg. 91]

The fifth echoes Russell’s statement from “
The Problems of Philosophy” that, “All knowledge, we find, must be built up upon our instinctive beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left.” What Licona says about historians is true for everyone:

Historians are required to make numerous philosophical assumptions before entering every historical investigation. For example, they assume the external world is real. They assume our senses provide a fairly accurate perception of the external world. They assume logic facilitates our quest for truth rather than merely functioning as a pragmatic tool that aims at our survival and quality of life. They assume natural laws in effect today were in effect in antiquity and that they operated in a similar manner. More importantly, the majority of historians assume that history is at least partially knowable. [pg. 156]

These last two quotes touch on logic, science, and the nature of truth and deserve a post of their own.
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Wives, Submit!

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. -- Col 3:18, NRSV


There is a great deal of controversy over, criticism of, and animosity toward this Bible verse.

I don’t think this passage would have received the same response if St. Paul had written, “Privates, be subject to your Sergeants” or “Journalists, be subject to your editors.” We understand that in organizations some form of hierarchy is needed in order to advance the goals of the organization. Someone has to set direction and deploy resources among groups that might not always be in agreement. And, certainly, marriage is an organization, even if just an organization of two.

If hierarchy isn’t the problem, then perhaps it’s gender specific roles. Someone shouldn’t be assigned a role simply because of their sex. Surely the rule ought to be “the best person for the job.” Of course, this begs the question, “what is the job and what constitutes best”? As just one example, women are typically concerned with security, while men are often risk takers. What is the optimum balance of the two in a marriage? I won’t pretend to know the answer. I will, however, opine that it’s my experience that if fathers want happy, well-adjusted sons that they will have to loosen the wife’s apron strings on the boys.

Yet when St. Paul dictated this letter to his amanuensis, I don’t think he was giving consideration to these or similar factors. Instead, I think he based his admonition based on Genesis 3:16 [NRSV]:

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

That mankind fell in Eden is one of the central doctrines of Christianity. And while Jesus came to redeem not just man, but all of creation from the Fall, that redemption is not yet complete. I think Paul is saying, in part, to not run ahead of God’s redemptive timing.

I also find it interesting that the other consequence of the Fall for women was pain in childbirth. Today we use a number of techniques such as breathing exercises or modern medicine to lessen labor pain. In a similar vein, I think that Paul realized that love would ease the pain of the marriage hierarchy because he immediately commands husbands to love their wives.

We all know of hierarchies run by selfish individuals. The CEO’s who line their pockets at the expense of their workers; the workers who negotiate their benefits at the expense of future workers; the managers who expand their empires solely for the sake of status or supposed job security; the husbands who are tyrants to their wives. The litany of the evils of selfishness is endless.

In the end, perhaps that’s one reason why this passage is so disliked. Selfish people do not do well in hierarchies unless they are at the top, or can force the top to do their bidding. But that is not how relationships based on love are supposed to be.
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What Really Happened In Eden?

This entry builds on three previous entries. The first advances the notion, suggested by computer science pioneer John McCarthy, that a human level intelligence must meet the requirement that “All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.” The second builds on this idea to show that good and evil arise out of goal-seeking behavior and that McCarthy’s requirement means that our “wetware” has no fixed goal. The third asked the question, “how did Eve know that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was good before she ate that which would give her the knowledge of goodness?”

Excerpting passages from Genesis 2 and 3 we read:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ... The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” ... So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. [Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17, 3:6-7, NRSV]

One answer to the question “how did Eve know the fruit was good for food” is that this just means that Eve understood that the fruit was edible; that is, good in the physical sense, but not in the moral sense.

This answer betrays a misunderstanding of how our minds work. As
previously noted, “good” and “evil” arise from goal-seeking behavior of self-aware beings. “Good” is our evaluation of that which leads to a goal; “evil” is that which leads away from a goal. Eve exhibited goal-seeking behavior when she observed that the fruit would satisfy her physical needs. Now, animals also exhibit this same goal-seeking behavior, yet we typically believe that they are not moral creatures. Sometimes the reason given for this is because they are not self-aware. In particular, they neither reflect on their choices, nor are they aware of the consequences of their actions. Yet from the Genesis account, it seems obvious that not only was Eve self-aware, but that she had been informed of the consequences of her actions. She at least knew the consequences, even if perhaps the serpent was able to put doubt in her mind. Since Eve was a self-aware goal-seeking individual who knew, if not fully understood, the consequences of her actions, I don’t agree with the supposition that she wasn’t morally awake.

What, then, is this story trying to tell us? I think the answer is found in the repetition of the phrase, “and God saw that it was good.” I believe this means is that every creature that exhibited goal-seeking behavior used the
external standard set by God as their goals. That is, animals, Adam, and Eve exhibited fixed goal-seeking behavior with the goals set by God. Zoologists say that animal behavior is driven by the four “f’s”: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproducing. When Adam and Eve ate of the “fruit” (not that this needs to be taken literally, mind you), they no longer had fixed external goals. Their behavior was thereafter driven by goal-seeking behavior based upon variable internal goals. When Scripture says that they would become “like God, knowing good and evil”, this meant that they became capable of setting their own goals, apart from God. As animals are driven by the four “f’s”, we became driven by five: feed, fight, flee, reproduce, and fix. This additional attribute is shown in the Genesis account by the pair clothing their nakedness with fig leaves. It is what enables us to build machines and create works of art.

Am I mistaken in this interpretation? Am I reading McCarthy’s design requirements for human capable intelligence back into Genesis? Could it be just the case that McCarthy and the author of Genesis were shrewd observers of the human condition and came to the same conclusion about human nature? Is it coincidence that an atheist luminary in computer science and an ancient writer described the same thing in different ways? Could it be that science and Scripture aren’t at odds, at least when it comes to the software run by our brains?



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Operation Chaos

Operation Chaos, by Poul Anderson, is a novelization of his stories: “Operation Afreet”, “Operation Salamander”, “Operation Incubus”, and “Operation Changeling”. The artwork is from the serialization of “Operation Changeling” in the May-June 1969 issues of F&SF. The redhead is Virginia Matuchek, witch wife of the werewolf and former Army captain Steve Matuchek. The cat is Svartalf; Virginia’s familiar. In “Operation Changeling”, the three invade hell to recover their kidnapped daughter. While re-reading the novel this weekend, I came across this line which I found highly appropriate as it will fit in with a future blog post on reading Scripture:

...Heaven is not as narrowly literal-minded as hell.

Whatever else one might say about Anderson’s theological musings, this observation is profoundly true.
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The Mechanism of Morality

Several posts in the Morality series have dealt with the derivation of, and support for, the definition of good and evil as some kind of “distance” measurement between “is” and “ought.” Other posts in the series considered the necessity of the imagination as the “engine” of morality (e.g., “God, The Universe, Dice, and Man”). Here, I want to use principles from artificial intelligence to propose a mechanism for morality that results in the given definition for good and evil and has great explanatory power for describing human behavior.

Suppose we want to teach a computer to play the game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Tic-Tac-Toe is a game between two players that takes place on a 3x3 grid. Each player has a marker, typically X and O, and the object is for a player to get three markers in a row: horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

One possible game might go like this:


Player X wins on the fourth move. Player O lost the game on the first move since every subsequent move was an attempt to block a winning play by X. X set an inescapable trap on the third move by creating two simultaneous winning positions.

In general, game play starts with an initial state, moves through intermediate states, and ends at a goal state. For a computer to play a game, it has to be able to represent the game states and determine which of those states advance it toward a goal state that results in a win for the machine.

Tic-Tac-Toe has a game space that is easily analyzed by “brute force.” For example, beginning with an empty board, there are three moves of interest for the first player:



The other possible starting moves can be modeled by rotation of the board. The computer can then expand the game space by making all of the possible moves for player O. Only a portion of this will be shown:


The game space can be expanded until all goal states (X wins, O wins, or draw game) are reached. Including the initial empty board, there are 4,163 possible board configurations.

Assuming we want X to play a perfect game, we can “prune” the tree and remove those states that inevitably lead to a win by O. Then X can use the pruned game state and chose those moves that lead to the greatest probability of a win. Furthermore, if we assume that O, like X, plays a perfect game, we can prune the tree again and remove the states that inevitably lead to a win by X. When we do this, we find that Tic-Tac-Toe always results in a draw when played perfectly.

While a human could conceivably evaluate the entire game space of 4,163 boards, most don’t play this way. Instead, the human player develops a set of “heuristics” to try to determine how close a particular board is to a goal state. Such heuristics might include “if there is a row with two X’s and an empty square, place an X in the empty square for the win.” “If there is a row with two O’s and an empty square, place an X in the empty square for the block.” More skilled players will include, “If there are two intersecting rows where the square at the intersection is empty and there is one X in each row, place an X in the intersecting square to set up a forced win.” Similarly is the heuristic that would block a forced win by O. This is not a complete set of heuristics for Tic-Tac-Toe. For example, what should X’s opening move be?

Games like Chess, Checkers, and Go have much larger game spaces than Tic-Tac-Toe. So large, in fact, that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to generate the entire game tree. Just as the human needs heuristics for evaluating board positions to play Tic-Tac-Toe, the computer requires heuristics for Chess, Checkers, and Go. Humans expand a great deal of effort developing board evaluation strategies for these games in order to teach the computer how to play well.

In any case, game play of this type is the same for all of these games. The player, whether human or computer, starts with an initial state, generates intermediate states according to the rules of the game, evaluates those states, and selects those that lead to a predetermined goal.

What does this have to do with morality? Simply this. If the computer were self aware and was able to describe what it was doing, it might say, “I’m here, I ought to be there, here are the possible paths I could take, and these paths are better (or worse) than those paths.” But “better” is simply English shorthand for “more good” and “worse” is “less good.” For a computer, “good” and “evil” are expressions of the value of states in goal-directed searches.

I contend that it is no different for humans. “Good” and “evil” are the words we use to describe the relationship of things to “oughts,” where “oughts” are goals in the “game” of life. Just as the computer creates possible board configurations in its memory in order to advance toward a goal, the human creates “life states” in its imagination.

If the human and the computer have the same “moral mechanism” -- searches through a state space toward a goal -- then why aren’t computers as smart as we are? Part of the reason is because computers have fixed goals. While the algorithm for playing Tic-Tac-Toe is exactly the same for playing Chess, the heuristics are different and so game playing programs are specialized. We have not yet learned how to create universal game-playing software. As Philip Jackson wrote in “
Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”:

However, an important point should be noted: All these skillful programs are highly specific to their particular problems. At the moment, there are no general problem solvers, general game players, etc., which can solve really difficult problems ... or play really difficult games ... with a skill approaching human intelligence.

In Programs with Common Sense, John McCarthy gave five requirements for a system capable of exhibiting human order intelligence:
  1. All behaviors must be representable in the system. Therefore, the system should either be able to construct arbitrary automata or to program in some general-purpose programming language.
  2. Interesting changes in behavior must be expressible in a simple way.
  3. All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.
  4. The machine must have or evolve concepts of partial success because on difficult problems decisive successes or failures come too infrequently.
  5. The system must be able to create subroutines which can be included in procedures in units...
If these requirements correctly describe aspects of human behavior, then number three means that humans are goal-seeking creatures with no fixed goal. Not only do we not have a fixed goal, but the requirement that everything be improvable means that we have a built-in tendency to be dissatisfied with existing goal states!

That this seems to be a correct description of our mental machinery will be explored in future posts by showing how this models how we actually behave. As a teaser, this explains why the search for a universal morality will fail. No matter what set of “oughts” (goal states) are presented to us, our mental machinery automatically tries to improve it. But for something to be improvable, we have to deem it as being “not good,” i.e. away from a “better” goal state.
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First Bible Test

My daughter received a 100% on her first Bible quiz at school this week. I persuaded to let me take the test. I didn’t do as well. My excuse is that I couldn’t read what she scanned in -- the resolution was too low. In any case, she said the hardest question was #5:

The first sin was the eating of the forbidden fruit. Which of the following best describes the fundamental motive for Adam and Eve’s disobedience? Mark one.

  1. It was sort of an accident.
  2. The devil made them do it.
  3. They were both deceived by the devil.
  4. They weren’t exactly sure what God wanted.
  5. It looked like a good idea to them.

The right answer is “e”. Rachel said, “This question was the one most people in class missed (majority put C). He even told us before the quiz that the devil didn't make Eve do it.” Now, 2 Cor 11:3 says, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning...”. So Eve was deceived. But 1 Tim 2:14 says, “...Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived...” This rules out “c”. The professors admonition ruled out “b”.

Genesis 3:6 says, in part, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food...”. The interesting question is, “How did Eve know something was good before eating of the fruit which would give that knowledge?” A typical answer is that Eve determined that the fruit was edible, i.e., “good for food” and that this is somehow different from “morally good.” But this betrays a misunderstanding of the mental machinery by which we determine value.

I’ve asked Rachel to inquire of her teacher to see what he says about this.
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Empathy for a Serial Killer

Dexter is the eponymous character of the Showtime television series. He is a father, husband, and forensic analyst for the Miami-Metro Police Department. He is also a serial killer. Dexter is a dark and violent show that nevertheless has important things to say about human nature. In many ways, it is a "proto-Christian" work.

This will be illustrated after the break with quotations taken from the fourth season of the show. Warning: graphic language and spoilers follow.
Read More...
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Artifical Intelligence, Quantum Mechanics, and Logos

In discussing reasoning programs (RP), Philip C. Jackson in Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, writes:

    A language is essentially a way of representing facts. An important question, then, is what kinds of facts are to be encountered by the RP and how they are best represented. It should be emphasized that the formalization presented in Chapter 2 for the description of phenomena is
not adequate to the needs of the RP. The formalization in Chapter 2 can be said to be metaphysically adequate, insofar as the real word could conceivably be described by some statement within it; however, it is not epistemologically adequate, since the problems encountered by an RP in the real world cannot be described very easily within it. Two other examples of ways describing the world, which could be metaphysically but not epistemologically adequate, are as follows:
  1. The world as a quantum mechanical wave function.
  2. The world as a cellular automaton. (See chapter 8.)
    One cannot easily represent within either of these frameworks such facts as "Today is my programmer's birthday," or "I don't know what you mean," or "San Francisco is in California," or "Ned's phone-number is 854-3662."

Language can describe the world, but the world has difficulty describing language. Did reality give rise to language ("in the beginning were the particles", as Phillip Johnson has framed the issue) or did language give rise to reality ("in the beginning was the Word")?
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God, The Universe, Dice, and Man

In the realm of the very small, the universe is non-deterministic. Atomic decay, for example, is random. Given two identical atoms, one might decay after a minute, another might take hours. Elementary particles have a property called "spin", which is an intrinsic angular momentum. Electrons, for example, have spin "up" or spin "down", but it is impossible to predict which orientation an individual election will have when it is measured.

John G. Cramer, in
The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, writes:

[Quantum Mechanics] asserts that there is an intrinsic randomness in the microcosm which precludes the kind of predictivity we have come to expect in classical physics, and that the QM formalism provides the only predictivity which is possible, the prediction of average behavior and of probabilities as obtained from Born's probability law....

While this element of the [Copenhagen Interpretation] may not satisfy the desires of some physicists for a completely predictive and deterministic theory, it must be considered as at least an adequate solution to the problem unless a better alternative can be found. Perhaps the greatest weakness of [this statistical interpretation] in this context is not that it asserts an intrinsic randomness but that it supplies no insight into the nature or origin of this randomness. If "God plays dice", as Einstein (1932) has declined to believe, one would at least like a glimpse of the gaming apparatus which is in use.


As a software engineer, were I to try to construct software that mimics human intelligence, I would want to construct a module that emulated human imagination. This "imagination" module would be connected as an input to a "morality" module. I explained the reason for this architecture in this article:

When we think about what ought to be, we are invoking the creative power of our brain to imagine different possibilities. These possibilities are not limited to what exists in the external world, which is simply a subset of what we can imagine.

From the definition that morality derives from a comparison between "is" and "ought", and the understanding that "ought" exists in the unbounded realm of the imagination, we conclude that morality is subjective: it exists only in minds capable of creative power.


I would use a random number generator, coupled with an appropriate heuristic, to power the imagination.

On page 184 in
Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, Donald Knuth writes:

Indeed, computer scientists have proved that certain important computational tasks can be done much more efficiently with random numbers than they could possibly ever be done by deterministic procedure. Many of today's best computational algorithms, like methods for searching the internet, are based on randomization. If Einstein's assertion were true, God would be prohibited from using the most powerful methods.


Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but perhaps the reason why God plays dice with the universe is to drive the software that makes us what we are. Without randomness, there would be no imagination. Without imagination, there would be no morality. And without imagination and morality, what would we be?
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A Moldy Easter Atheist

Previously, I wrote about dealing with mold at church on Easter. But that wasn't the only place I encountered fungus. Easter was being celebrated over at Vox Popoli when "DT" dropped in and asked us if we were "sure we've got our story straight?" DT then proceeded to list a number of supposed contradictions in the New Testament account of the Resurrection. The first alleged problem is that Mark 15:25 says that Jesus was crucified "at the third hour" (KJV), while John 19:14-15 states that Jesus was led away to be crucified "at about the sixth hour" (KJV). Obviously, the times don't agree, the authors didn't have their story straight, and so the Resurrection is but a fabrication.

Read More...
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Another Short Conversation...

In Who Needs Christianity, I wrote, "Man is the biological machine that doesn't do what it ought to do." Someone named "Cabal" responded, "Excuse me but exactly what should Man be doing and and [sic] according to who...and please no vacuous, meaningless answers along the lines of 'obey God and according to God.'"

The answer, of course, is evident via a little self-reflection. We don't do what we ourselves think we ought to do.

Cabal wasn't heard from again.
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Easter 2010

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." -- Luke 24:1-5, NRSV



Earlier this year I rotated off the deacon board, having served for seven some years. However, one of the current deacons was not able to come to church today and he asked me to fill in for him. On the first Sunday of the month, we serve communion. I arrived early to prepare the elements. This is what I found... Read More...
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Good and Evil: External Moral Standards? Part 2

In part 1, I ended with:

One might therefore conclude that no external moral standards exist, since morality is solely the product of imaginative minds. Since imagination is unbounded and unique to each individual, there is no fixed external standard. The next part will deal with a possible objection to this.

Upon further reflection, there are at least two possible objections to this, but both have the same resolution.

The first objection is to consider another product of mind about which objective statements can be made, namely, language. There is no a priori reason why a
Canis lupus familiaris should be called a "dog." In German, it is a "Hund." In Russian, "собака" (sobaka) and in Greek, κυον (kuon).

I heard somewhere that the word for "mother" typically begins with an "m" sound, since that it the easiest sound for the human mouth to pronounce. This is true for French, German, Hindi, English, Italian, Portugese and other languges. But it isn't universal.

So language is like morality; both solely a product of minds that have creative power. Morality is a subset of language, being the language of value.

So the first objection is that we certainly make objective statements about languages. There are dictionaries, grammars, etc... that describe what a language is. So why isn't morality likewise objective? In this sense, it is. We can describe the properties of hedonism, eudaemonism, enlightened self-interest, utilitarianism, deontology, altruism, etc. What we can't do is point to something external to mind and say "therefore this is better than that."

The second objection comes from the theist, who might say, "God's morality is the objective standard by which all other moral systems may be judged." God's morality can be considered to be objective, since He can communicate it to man, just like I can learn another language. But this begs the question, "Why is God right?" Certainly,
Dr. Flew claimed that the Christian God is not what He ought to be. On the other hand, this earlier post noted that Christianity makes the claim that only God is what He ought to be.

Both objections are resolved in the same way: the objectiveness of morality must refer to its description -- not to its value.

So now we are ready to answer the question if an external moral standard exists and what might be.
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Three Atheists Down...

There is a saying, "Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern."

On 3/15,
I had a conversation with an atheist in which he wasn't able to handle a question about intelligence.

On 3/23, I had almost the exact same converstation in
this thread on Fark. It's 576 comments long; look for the exchange between "poundgrayly" and "Epicedion".

Today, the same thing happened on
this thread on Vox Popoli with "Nicholas_Gascoine".

Because the Fark thread is so extensive, I'm working on diagramming it for presentation and further analysis. But the short form is that those who claim that science is the only means for obtaining "true knowledge" have trouble with these questions:
  • What is the scientific definition of intelligence?
  • What is the scientific test for intelligence?
If they respond, "I don't know", then ask:
  • Are you intelligent?
  • How do you know?
They balk. They hem and haw. They stop responding.

As a certain pointy-eared green-blooded epitome of rationality would say, "Fascinating!"
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Dialog with an Atheist

[Updated 3/15/10 @ 20:30 PM]

Back in December, I wrote some
preparatory remarks toward a formal article on evidence for God. I haven't had time to work on it, but this discussion at Vox Popoli gives the sketch of one approach. One commenter remarked on the atheist's demand for scientific proof of God's existence. I wrote that science is self-limited on what it can know:

The scientific method is only applicable to a subset of things we know about. For example, it can tell us about what is, but it cannot say anything about what ought to be. It also cannot prove itself. So, their epistemological foundation can't support them.

To this, I should add that I suspect that Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem can be applied to the scientific method. What this means is that there are things which can be known to be true, but which cannot be proven true by science.

I then wrote:


Having said that, the scientific method can still be useful. How can one test for God? What science isn't good at, right now, is testing for intelligence. At best, the Turing test can be used. But intelligent beings are not things that respond in predictable ways. How does one test an intelligent computer that doesn't want to talk to you, but will talk to someone else? When scientists have an answer to that, they can then try to apply the scientific method to God.

The discussion picks up where "Victorian dad" uses Occam's Razor in an attempt to exclude God on philosophical grounds. "Victorian dad's" words are in green, mine are in blue.
Read More...
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Wondering About Acts 1:3

Acts 1:3 says:

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

I wonder what He spoke about? Especially with some of the controversies in the early church. Given the topic of tomorrow's Sunday School lesson that will be an appropriate question to ask the class.

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A Life Transformed

This is Chuck. Chuck is wearing a hat knitted by Maria, one of the women in our church's knitting group. The picture does justice to neither Chuck nor the hat. I wish that Chuck would write his autobiography. An appropriate title would be "A Life Transformed".

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The Gospel of Matthew

I am going through the "Introduction to New Testament History and Literature" video series, available on iTunes, by Dr. Dale Martin of Yale University.

I am somewhat disappointed by his treatment of Matthew. He approaches the text through the question, "What did this author want to do?" He concludes, "Matthew teaches a Torah observant form of discipleship to Jesus." He goes on to say that, "Matthew has a very different view of what Christians should do with the Jewish Law than does Paul..." Yes, Matthew portrayed Jesus as a second Moses. Yes, Matthew emphasized the Jewish Law. Yes, Matthew emphasized Torah observance. But so did Paul.

I think that his presentation is incomplete, for several reasons. First, as Martin said, Matthew deepened the application of the Law. It isn't enough to not commit physical adultery -- one must also abstain from lust. It isn't enough to not murder -- one must not even hate one's brother. It isn't enough to be as good as the scribes and Pharisees -- one must exceed their observance (and the "common" Jew generally thought the Pharisees the most observant of all), even to the extreme of being as perfect as God Himself. If this is the picture that Matthew presents (and I agree that it is), then one has to ask the question, "how does one do this? Is it even possible to do this?" Martin doesn't deal with this.

Second, Matthew, like Mark, Luke and Paul, present the offering of the cup at the Last Supper, as Jesus' blood of the [new] covenant. What does it mean to be a Jew living under the new covenant? What form does the Torah take when, as Jeremiah wrote, one's "sins and iniquities are remembered no more?" Again, this isn't addressed.

Maybe Matthew didn't have a fully formed view of how to deal with these issues. All of us stare up and the night sky and marvel at the beauty and wonder of the universe. Some men try to figure out how it works. Some, like Ptolemy, get it wrong. Others, like Newton, come close. But fewer still are like Einstein who see the world in a revolutionary new way. Certainly, Paul was the "Einstein" of the early Church; the systematic theologian who showed how the New Covenant works for Jew and Gentile. Perhaps Matthew was simply stating what Jesus taught: a presentation of the facts instead of a prescription for living. Perhaps Matthew didn't quite understand the underlying theory; heaven knows that most Christians don't, even after almost 2,000 years of having Paul's work.

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Christmas 2009

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” -- John 1:1-4, 14.
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Evidence for God

One of these days, I want to start a series on evidence for God. Until then, an exchange over at Vox Popoli gives a brief glimpse into the approach I will take.

John Loftus, the author of
Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, wrote:

I think because of this [cultural indoctrination] we ought to all be agnostics. Are you willing to join me in this? I argue that agnosticism is the default position. Anyone who leaves the default position has the burden of proof. I'm willing to accept this. Are you?


My response:

Of course not, because you make the fallacy that there is one default position.

Philosophy/theology is like geometry -- both start with "self-evident" truths which admit no proof. From there, a framework is constructed using reason. If that framework is self-consistent, then the task is to see which one corresponds best to "reality" (but even the nature of reality is different under each framework).

Furthermore, one's framework controls the types of evidence that can be seen. But, typically, the atheist/agnostic doesn't realize this, and so has a faulty hermeneutic for evaluating evidence.

Without knowing the details of these positions, it's impossible to correctly evaluate evidence.


Loftus also said,

I too protest the lack of evidence and care of God in our world. I do so by declaring myself an atheist. ... It’s an intellectual protest. Such a God is either impotent or uncaring. A distant God is not much different than none at all.


Typical atheist claptrap. “I don’t see any evidence for God. Yet, I don’t know what evidence God might provide, or even the type of evidence I might accept, or whether or not God will provide the evidence I deem acceptable. Furthermore, I haven’t even shown that I’m capable of even noticing that evidence, much less evaluating it correctly.”

God is distant? The irony of writing this at this time of year must escape him.

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. -- Hebrews 1:1-3a, NRSV.



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You Prepare A Table...

Verse 5 of the 23rd Psalm says:

    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies...

In that culture, the table is the place of reconciliation and forgiveness. Dr. James W. Fleming says,

The way you forgive is to have a meal together. The Arabic word for reconciliation is "table." Psalm 23 ... means the Lord helps me forgive and be reconciled and have a reconciliation meal with my former enemies. -- Understanding the Revelation, pg 43.

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Knuth on Art and Science

I am rapidly devouring Knuth's Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About. Perhaps too rapidly. But I digress. In Lecture 6: God and Computer Science, he says:

Years ago, I was pondering the difference between science and art. People had been asking me why my books were called The Art of Computer Programming instead of The Science of Computer Programming, and I realized there's a simple explanation: Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer; art is everything else. Every time science advances, part of an art becomes a science, so art loses a little bit. Yet, mysteriously, art always seems to register a net gain, because as we understand more we invent more new things that we can't explain to computers. -- pg. 168.


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Only in church...

... can I get in trouble for reading the Bible.

I was asked to help serve communion this morning. As we were standing by the elements in front of the congregation,
Mike asked everyone to join in reading Revelation 7:9-10. I pulled out my iPhone, went to my Bible application, and brought up the passage.

After the service, two people chided me for "playing with my iPhone" in front of the congregation during communion.

But they're not going to prosecute. At least I don't think so...
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Ecclesiastes and the Sovereignty of God

Several months ago, a co-worker loaned me the book A Time to Be Born - A Time to Die, by Robert L. Short. I was so enamored with its insight into Ecclesiastes that I purchased my own copy.

Recently I have been involved with a debate concerning Calvinism over at Vox Popoli. Short’s commentary on Ecclesiastes makes such a strong case for Calvinism that I want to share it, here.

Herewith, pages 84-90. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you ought to purchase your own copy. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but it is available from various resellers on Amazon.



    Man's most subtle idol--and therefore the idol most destructive to man and difficult to root out of his heart--is himself. Even when all of the “things” of the world which men can worship and serve as gods--fame, wisdom, wealth, love, health, power, possessions, sensual pleasure and the rest--even when all of these fail to provide the satisfaction men seek from them, and in this way prove themselves to be “false gods,” men can still feel they have their own strength, or “inner resources,” to fall back on:

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate;
    I am the captain of my soul.

These lines from the nineteenth-century poem “lnvictus” express perfectly man’s basic sin of “pride”' (or “self-deification”), the basis for
all of man’s disobedience to God.
    Ecclesiastes, and the New Testament with him, are quite sure that, as Jesus could say, “No one can serve
two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24). This means that if finallyI am the master of my fate and captain of my soul,” then--logically enough--God cannot at the same time be my master and my captain. Or, to extend this logic one step further, if I should still insist that both God and “I” are my masters, then--because no man can serve two masters--God and I would have to be one. In other words, I would have to be God! But this is just what I’ve always wanted!
    Man has always wanted to be his own god or “master”' because after all, if he is confident of anything it is that
he has his own best interest at heart. Of whom or what else can he say this? But as far as the Bible is concerned, man’s self-deification or “pride” or desire to be his own master is man's basic--or “origin-al”--sin in two ways: First, it is the sin with which all men origin-ate or come into life; men do not begin their lives with a basic trust in God but always begin by trusting primarily in themselves. And, second, it is precisely on the basis of this sin that all of men’s sins have their origin. The poetic story of how this sin came about was fashioned and placed “in the beginning” of the Bible in order to tell us that self-deification is indeed our basic sin:

Now the serpent . . . more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made . . . said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:1, 4-5).

Bonhoeffer explicates this crucial passage of Scripture in this way:

Instead of accepting the choice and election of God, man himself desires to choose, to be the origin of the election. . . . Instead of knowing himself solely in the reality of being chosen and loved by God, he must now know himself in the possibility of choosing and of being the origin of good and evil. He has become like God, but against God. Herein lies the serpent's deceit. . . . the good and evil that [man] knows are not the good and evil of God but good and evil against God. They are good and evil of man’s own choosing, in opposition to the eternal election of God. In becoming like God man has become a god against God.

To put it another way, man’s own choosing, his “free will,” is really only a euphemism for man’s most subtle form of idolatry--self-deification. If I can
freely choose good or evil for myself, then I am finally “the master of my own fate.” And since one’s final “master” is by definition one’s god, and a man can have only one master or god, then I must therefore be my own god. In insisting on my own autonomy or “free will” I have actually “become a god against God.” Thus it is man’s own idolatrous desire to “be like God” that forces him to claim God’s free will as his own, to deny his own total finitude and hence to deny that only God is God.
    There is no biblical author who lays heavier stress on the fact that man is in no way God, but that only God in heaven is God, than Ecclesiastes. This is why Luther could say, “This book ought really to have the title, ‘Against the Free Will.’” “No other writer,'' says biblical theologian Bernhard Anderson, “puts more emphasis on the sovereignty of God.” The term “sovereignty of God” points to the biblical belief that it is God alone who is in charge and in control, who is “sovereign,” over absolutely everything that happens--past, present or future. This means that in this view it is also God who causes what men call “evil” and it is God who is behind all of man’s feeble little choices or “decisions,” including the choices arrogant man arrogates to his own “free will.”
    That this is Ecclesiastes’ view is so apparent that it cannot be obscured by even the worst or most archaic translations available of his book. The famous poem of “the times and seasons” (3:1-9) is a case in point. From the more traditional renderings that there is “a time to kill,” “a time to hate,” a “time for war,” etc., a reader can easily receive the impression that there are indeed times when it is proper for men, in their “freedom,” to hate, to kill, to go to war, etc. But it is Ecclesiastes’ meaning that the various times and seasons of all life are never dependent upon the “free will” man thinks he has, but are totally dependent upon the truly free will of God. We have therefore said in our translation that there is “a time
of . . . ,” rather than using the traditional “a time to. . . .” For there can be no doubt that this brings us closer to what Ecclesiastes is actually telling us. As R. B. Y. Scott points out:

The various actions named are carried out apparently at man's volition--all but the first. The times of his birth and death are not his to decide, and this gives us the clue to Qoheleth’s meaning. Just as surely as birth and death, so all other events and human actions take place when and as God deems them fitting. . . . What happens to man is predetermined by God, and man is in no position to argue with omnipotence.”

    The very fact that man’s smug self-righteousness or “self-deification” or “pride” or “free will” is man’s deepest and
final stronghold against God, accounts for the completely merciless and unrelenting No! Ecclesiastes hurls at this deadliest of all of man’s idols--man himself . His book is largely a remorseless polemic against the pride of man in general, but also against the way in which this pride had become a virtual doctrine of lsrael’s “wisdom schools” in particular. This school of thought is best represented in the Old Testament by the friends of Job, who were quite sure that Job had “freely” brought all of his troubles on himself and that all he needed to do to correct things was “freely” to pull himself up by his own spiritual bootstraps. But Job--and especially Ecclesiastes--know this is not the way life operates. Ecclesiastes was at odds with the wisdom of the schools because he saw them as being supremely overoptimistic about man’s own abilities and this at God’s expense. The “wise man” at whom Ecclesiastes is sniping not only claims to be able to “unscrew the inscrutable” and fathom the unfathomable mysteries of God; this unwise “wise man” also claims to have control over God. Such is the case with all men of “free will.” They themselves become the “prime mover,” God being only the helpless re-actor to the action men themselves initiate. Theologian Walther Zimmerli puts it this way:

Ecclesiastes is the frontier-guard, who forbids Wisdom to cross the frontier towards a comprehensive art of life. He secures the right interpretation of the sentence: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. . . . He who fears God knows that God is the Lord, and that, if it is God’s will, even the highest human Wisdom can break down and become deep foolishness. The fear of God never allows man in his “art of directing” to hold the helm in his own hands. Wisdom . . . is possible when it is willing to seize only the portion and not the whole--when it is willing to enjoy the gift that God gives today and will not try to make God’s promise an item in the calculation of man's life. The fear of God remains open to God Himself--the free and living God. Hence Ecclesiastes reminds Wisdom of its place before the creator.

Ecclesiastes was a “wise man” himself, but a “chastened” wise man. That is, his conclusions abut man’s inability to save himself through either his own wisdom or his own actions were learned the hard way--by going all the way down these dead-end streets himself, the same way he learned of the”vanity” behind all of the vanities he tested. In Ecclesiastes’ “attempt to master the world ‘by wisdom,’ which means ‘by knowledge and active life,’ he encounters the reality of the creator more clearly than any other Israelite wise man before him. Everywhere he meets with a reality that is determined and cannot be apprehended. Behind all this determination and all this ability not to be apprehended it is God, who cannot be scrutinized, who is free, who never reacts, but always acts in freedom” (Zimmerli).
    In this struggle of one man, Ecclesiastes, against the proud self-idolization of the men of the wisdom schools, it is possible to see a rehearsal of remarkable likeness to the struggles that took place later when Jesus opposed the Pharisees, when St. Paul opposed the “Judaizing” elements in the early church, and when Luther opposed the medieval church. Common to all of these conflicts was the one question: Who
finally is man’s master? Man himself or God? But what is even more remarkable is the way in which this same struggle takes shape today. As we have seen, it was belief in God’s deity that first freed man from the enslaving “powers” of the world and thus enabled man to put nature to work for him. But once this process of “secularization” has been set in motion by faith, it can continue without faith. When this happens, man becomes completely alone in the universe--no gods, no God, only himself lost in the utter darkness of the surrounding void. Modern scientific man knows that he is completely a pawn of nature; he knows that even in his “own” controlling, all of his smallest actions are themselves finally controlled by blind, impersonal “laws of nature.” In this thoroughgoing “determinism” modern man and Ecclesiastes are very much in agreement. Both can actually see, with their own eyes, that they are not in control of their own destinies, but rather that they themselves are controlled by forces other than themselves. But whereas Ecclesiastes, on the basis of his heart, believes that God is that “Other” behind the “predestination” of the world, modern man--totally dependent on his eyes and thus having lost all heart--sees nothing but the indifferent clockwork of nature. Hence modern man is thrown completely back on himself to find any meaning in life. If man’s existence is to have any meaning at all, man himself must now create this meaning. And thus modern man is trapped in a paradoxical situation: while he correctly sees that he is only a tiny, finite part of nature, at the same time he is forced to believe the lie that he himself is “the Creator.” For as Camus could clearly see, “To kill God is to become God oneself.”
    But modern man can live only on one side of this paradox or the other, although he truly believes both sides to be true. Naturally his first inclination is to think the best of himself, and so he sees himself as his own meaning-giver. On the basis of one alien ideology (or “wisdom”) after another, modern man himself becomes the world’s savior in his “autonomous” attempts to perfect the world by giving it unity and coherence. The result is not man’s liberation as was hoped, but only the increase of his servitude. For man, who is imperfect, is made the slave of an alien system of perfection.
    The “dethroning of all autonomous wisdom is also the concern of Koheleth, when he indeed acknowledges wisdom within its limits as a high good, but at the same time throws a fierce light on its ‘vanity’ so far as ultimate questions are concerned, by his profound meditations on the power of God in creation” (Eichrodt). Because of its purity and remoteness from faith, it is
science which today best personifies man’s “autonomous” or self-proud wisdom. And therefore just as Ecclesiastes could act as a stubborn, “frontier-guard” against the presumptuous wisdom of his own time, as Zimmerli pointed out, so the “wise men” of today are still pointedly confronted by Koheleth's sharp and unyielding No! For it is indeed true that Ecclesiastes is out to dethrone all autonomous wisdom, and that means

to draw the boundary between the areas where scientific method is appropriate and where it is not, that is, to pronounce the “vanity of vanities” on human endeavor. This is possibly the most useful function that Koheleth's words could discharge in our times. Amid the confusions of what is now universally called a “scientific age,” the astringent “vanity of vanities” is urgently required that men may know where and where not the application of scientific technique and judgment is appropriate. Koheleth sets the limits. No science may provide a man with that which is ultimately profitable and worth-while, or with that which provides final satisfaction and meaning. Science may press out to the boundaries, but beyond there is a larger value, a fuller worth, and a dimension of experience, which are just not amenable to scientific investigation. . . . Scientific inquiry is concerned with matter of fact and not the determination of value, or profit, as Ecclesiastes would have said. Civilization will be eclipsed if technical capacity is pursued for its own sake, as an end in itself. . . . Still more will civilization be eclipsed, should the methods of science, because of the prestige which their success in their proper fields has brought them, ever come to be applied in areas of life where they are inappropriate. (Johnstone)

This “eclipse of civilization,” which even now is in the process of occurring, is the result of the constant meaninglessness to which modern man is exposed in his attempt to “go it alone”--the attempt to rely finally on his own wisdom for providing the world with ultimate meaning. And hence the collapse of this side of the paradox that modern man holds to be true, the side that insists that he must be his own meaning-giver, forces him to live on the paradox’s other side, the side that says that there is no God and that man is only an animal. And when man thinks of himself as “only an animal,” he will begin acting like an animal. This is the deterioration of modern man’s presumptuous wisdom into the chaos and despair of
nihilism, and is the very same deterioration St. Paul was describing when he wrote:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools. . . . Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. . . . Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. (Rom. 1:21-22, 25, 28)

Ecclesiastes never uses the word “nihilism,” but he has a word of his own for it--”bestiality.” Indeed Ecclesiastes has himself often been accused of being a nihilist precisely because he sees
man in and of himself as being a totally finite animal:

For man is controlled by fate exactly as animals are controlled by fate; and one final fate awaits them both--death! They both draw the same breath of life; and man’s advantage over other beasts is nothing, for all is a breath that vanishes. (3:19)

But “Ecclesiastes is anything but a nihilistic agnostic” (von Rad). For he knows that man is that creature of God with whom God has created a special relationship: man can “acknowledge God,” to use St. Paul’s phrase. And thus for Ecclesiastes as well as for Paul it is only this very acknowledgment that can save men not only from the enslaving myth that their own “infinite” wisdom can supply them with meaning, but also from the “bestial behavior” caused by this proud belief’s inevitable fall into nihilism:

In this wicked behavior of men, I reflected, God is limiting them in order to show them their own finitude and their bestial behavior to each other. (3:18)

According to Bonhoeffer, “nihilism” is the underlying characteristic of modern man. No doubt this is true. There is also no doubt that Ecclesiastes, being so intimately acquainted with the “ins and outs” of nihilism, can give us great insight not only into how modern man got in this situation, but also how he can find a way out.
    But modern man is also
religious, is he not? Indeed he can be. But the fact is that the more basic cultural religion of “Man the Self-Sufficient” so permeates the life of modern man that even his so-called “worship of God”--as well as his “theology”!--is deeply infected with it. Modern man’s “religiosity” is largely just that--a thin religious veneer behind which he still trusts primarily in himself as “the master of his own fate, the captain of his own soul.” Ecclesiastes reserves his strongest terms for those who mask an ultimate trust in themselves, their own ability to win God’s favor, behind an outward show of piety. He calls them “fools” (5:1). The poster in the picture I have used to illustrate this verse is a perfect contemporary expression of the “religious” self-righteousness so abhorrent to Ecclesiastes. Like St. Paul, Ecclesiastes is unrelenting in his attack at this point because he sees clearly that the “religious” man is fundamentally different from no one else: The very last thing anyone wants to relinquish before God is the idol of one’s own “free will,” one’s own righteousness, one’s own control of one’s own destiny. The “religious” man is just a bit shrewder in his attempts to remain his own master: “What I am may be God’s gift to me . . . but what I make of myself is my free and big-hearted gift to God. Therefore God is in debt to me.” Naturally this point of view, which gives men control over God, will always be more popular than the biblical attitude on the subject, namely: “Who could ever give God anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him” (Rom 11:35,36 The Jerusalem Bible).
    And yet, even though Ecclesiastes would thoroughly agree with Jesus that “No one is good but God alone” (Mk. 10:18; cf. Eccles. 7:20), like Jesus, Ecclesiastes can then turn right around and tell us in the strongest terms to “shape up,” just as though we were all freely capable of “doing good” ourselves. For it is obvious that Ecclesiastes was an advocate “
of a positive involvement and participation in life. We find in this book a resolute opposition to any suggestion of quietism” (Edgar Jones). How then can we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory demands, the demands to live as though it all depends on you, but believe that it all depends on God?
    Ecclesiastes himself shows us the way. His answer is given to us in a single demand that is constantly repeated throughout the Bible, the demand that we “fear God.” For Ecclesiastes, as well as for the rest of the Bible, “the fear of God” is a single power cell with both positive and negative poles. Positively, it means to
obey only God. For Ecclesiastes “the conclusion of the whole matter” is to “Fear God and obey his commandments! For this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). Negatively, to “fear God” means to expect “trouble” if we do not so obey. “He who obeys the command will avoid trouble; for the wise man knows there will be a time of judgment” (8:5). (“Trouble” and “judgment” are to be understood here as occurring within a man’s lifetime. Ecclesiastes, remember, is not at all sure what--if anything--lies on the other side of death.)
    On the basis of this understanding of what it means to “fear God,” we can now see that the biblical ax is laid to the root of all human pride or boasting or self-righteousness adhering to men’s obedience to God. This happens in three ways: First, the
heart’s way: the fear of God alone. Obedience to God is brought about not by our own free wills, but in a way that “leaves us no choice” (2 Cor. 5:14 NEB). We must obey God if our hearts are to “avoid trouble”; and if we must, there is no place for pride in our own wills. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). For God meets us not as a harmless beggar, but rather in the same way that men are confronted by “the Godfather”: he makes us an offer we cannot refuse! This is exactly why St. Paul, an incorrigible old rebel exactly like the rest of us, could finally say, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). “Even if I preach the Gospel,” he says, “I can claim no credit for it; I cannot help myself; it would be misery for me not to preach. . . . I do it apart from my own choice . . .” (1 Cor. 9:16, 17 NEB). When President John F. Kennedy was asked how he became a hero in the Second World War, he replied, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” This is also the precise way in which one always becomes a man of faith. For it is not without first going through the harrowing, involuntary experience of having the original, false foundation of one’s life unceremoniously demolished, that one can then cling to God alone as one’s foundation. This is why Norman Snaith can say:

The less a man knows in his own experience of the saving work of God, the more he emphasizes the human element; the more he knows of the grace of God, the more he speaks of it as being decisive in his own life.

    Second, the way of the
head: the fear of God alone. For if we are to obey only God, which means also to trust only in him, then we can understand quite logically that in trusting finally in our own righteousness, or even in our own abilities to be righteous, we have thereby failed to trust only in God, to “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). Third, the way of the eyes: the fear of God alone. Our eyes tell us that the modern scientist is correct--that whatever “power” or “powers” are finally in charge of the universe, they are in charge of all of it and not just a limited part of it. These forces work with a visible constancy and orderliness and universality that for these reasons we can trace and use and depend on every day of our lives. Ecclesiastes believed this final “universal Power” was the living God, who just because he was God was completely in control of all things. But in this faith he found confirmation from his own eyes. And thus obedience only to God meant obedience to the sovereign Power behind the universe, rather than obedience to some helpless, second-rate mini-god, who was simply forced to do the best he could in view of a mysterious phantom called man’s “free will.” “This I saw and clearly understood,” says Ecclesiastes, “that the righteous and the wise and all that they do are controlled by God’s hand. . . . All things come to all men from a source beyond their control, just as the same fate can come to any two men . . .” (9:1-2).
    For these reasons, then, we can understand how another old rebel, Ecclesiastes, was able to avoid the “obedience” which is undermined by pride in itself, and instead hold fast to the pleasure principle of truly
humble obedience: “Live as though it all depends on you, but believe that it all depends on God.”

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A Plea to the Poor

One of my jobs as deacon at church is to handle benevolence requests. As funds permit, we provide help for needs within our congregation, monthly support to a local food co-op, and help for those who appear on our doorstep. We’ve paid for car repairs, gas cards, utility bills, rent, and food (note that we do not hand out cash). I’ve even acted as a bondsman.

Today I had to spend an extra $150 due to a late request for help. And this is not the first time. Past due utility, rent, and other bills are an unnecessary drain on resources.

Asking for help can be humiliating. It can be depressing, especially after being turned down multiple times. I hate turning people away, I detest contributing to the erosion of hope; but I can’t spend what I don’t have.

Nevertheless, if you think you’re going to need help, please don’t wait until the last minute... or later. Late fees are not a good use of my King’s money.
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Worldview Project: Genesis of an Idea

I just finished reading Naming the Elephant: Wordview as Concept by James W. Sire. His book The Universe Next Door dealt with cataloging different worldviews; Naming the Elephant explores the definition of worldview itself. I’ve started reading Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. Take the spread of Christianity, combine with a worldview catalog, and season with visualization technology and you have the beginnings of “the Worldview Project”.

Start by watching
the growth of Walmart across America. Instead of stores, show the rise of Christianity. Instead of just Christianity, show the major worldviews. Have people self-identify, keep the data truly anonymous, and track the ebb and flow of worldviews over centuries.
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Good and Evil, Part 1b

In my article, Good and Evil, Part I, I set forth reasons for defining good and evil as the “distance” between what is and what ought to be. In Naming the Elephant: Worldview As A Concept, Sire writes:

The close connection between ontology and epistemology is easy to see: one can know only what is. But there is an equally close connection between ontology and ethics. Ethics deals with the good. But the good must exist in order to be dealt with. So what is the good? Is it what one or more people say it is? Is it an inherent characteristic of external reality? Is it what God is? Is it what he says it is? Whatever it is, it is something.

I suggest that in worldview terms the concept of good is a universal pretheoretical given, that it is a part of everyone’s innate, initial constitution as a human being. As social philosopher James Q. Wilson says, everyone has a moral sense: “Virtually everyone, beginning at a very young age, makes moral judgements that, though they may vary greatly in complexity, sophistication, and wisdom, distinguish between actions on the grounds that some are right and others wrong.”

Two questions then arise. First, what accounts for this universal sense of right and wrong? Second, why do people’s notions of right and wrong vary so widely? Wilson attempts to account for the universality of the moral sense by showing how it could have arisen through the long and totally natural evolutionary process of the survival of the fittest. But even if this could account for the development of this sense, it cannot account for the reality behind the sense. The moral sense demands that there really be a difference between right and wrong, not just that one senses a difference.

For there to be a difference in reality, there must be a difference between what is and what ought to be. With naturalism--the notion that everything that exists is only matter in motion--there is only what is. Matter in motion is not a moral category. One cannot derive the moral (ought) from the from the non-moral (the totally natural is). The fact that the moral sense is universal is what Peter Berger would call a “signal of transcendence,” a sign that there is something more to the world than matter in motion. --pg 132.

On the one hand, I’m delighted to have found independent confirmation that ethics relates to ought and is, and the acknowledgement of Hume’s guillotine. On the other hand, I’m worried because of the association between this definition and the potentially erroneous step from “there is something more to the world than matter in motion” to a “signal of transcendence.” Has the possible leaven of this conclusion leavened even the definition of good?

We know that there is something more than just “matter in motion.” As Russell wrote:

Having now seen that there must be such entities as universals, the next point to be proved is that their being is not merely mental. By this is meant that whatever being belongs to them is independent their being thought of or in any way apprehended by minds. --The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 97.

Russell has to say this, since he denies the existence of Mind, that is, God. The theist can argue that universals exist first and foremost in the mind of God; the naturalist cannot. So what did Berger mean by transcendence? If there is no god, then our thoughts are solely the product of complex biochemical processes: ”matter in motion” gives rise to intelligence. Intelligence gives rise to morality and imagination. No one should argue that the Starship Enterprise is a sign of transcendence. It is simply a mental state which is the result of matter in motion. If imagination is not a “sign of transcendence” then neither is ethics. Berger is assuming that mental states require something more than biochemical reactions which is an assumption that a naturalist need not grant.
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Thinking about reform

Several weeks ago a young man of my acquaintance asked for my opinion on gay marriage. My overall response was, “I’m not really sure.” On the one hand, I tend toward a libertarian streak. As a Christian, I expect every kingdom of man, no matter how ordered, to fail. As a (weak) slave of Christ, I prefer having the latitude to follow Him with minimal external encumbrance. So I want to maximize the potential for individual freedom. On the other hand, as an engineer, I am cognizant of the “law of unintended consequences.” And one of the trends I think I’m seeing is that the more vocal the gay community becomes the more attacks there are on freedom of speech, with the attempt to classify the Biblical position on homosexuality as “hate speech”. The Christian position is that human beings are designed for a purpose, contra the naturalistic explanation that we are the product of chance, and that homosexuality is a misuse of design. (It is, however, only one of many -- not one of us is what we ought to be.) Libertarian that I am, I want both positions to have free access to the idea agora, but I’m not sure how best to ensure that.

Along these lines, I came across these two posts today. The first, deals with the
increasing global loss of freedom of speech. The blog author, Tomasso Dorigo, is an experimental particle physicist who is hostile to religion. I wonder if he understands that by undercutting Christianity he is helping to erode one of the bases for the freedom whose loss he laments? A sword may compel someone to submit, but the sword cannot compel someone to believe.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? -- Romans 10:11-14 [NRSV]

So Christianity has a built-in motivation for freedom of speech.

The other post, linked by
Irate Nate, concerned gay marriage and the law of unintended consequences. And while it deals with this particular social issue, it is more about issues surrounding cultural revolution.
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Elves

I have just finished reading two books concerning elves. The first is Summa Elvetica (.pdf download) by Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day. This is an adult fantasy set in a world where humans coexist with elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins and other creatures. The protagonist must not only decide whether or not his future lies with the Church or elsewhere, but whether or not elves have souls. The answer to the latter question will help shape a future filled with peace -- or war. I am not generally a fan of the fantasy genre, Lewis and Tolkien excepted, yet my one complaint about this story was that it ended all too soon.

The second is a children’s book, the
Adventures of Piffles the Elf, written by David Babulski. David’s wife attends our church so I had the opportunity to talk with him about the book before it was published. A young elf ventures into the world of humans. Was this the rash action of an idealistic youth or the fulfillment of ancient prophecy? Will the consequences wreck destruction upon the elves or will there be a new era of peace between the two races? This is the first book in a planned series of three; the second should be out in 2009 or 2010. While Summa Elvetica is set within a Christian worldview, Piffles has more of a new age flavor. I found it interesting to see how these different worldviews influenced the motivations of the characters.
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Election

A lesson by Mike Baer, as part of his “Foundations of the Faith” series, delivered on 1/25/08. A worthwhile 45 minutes.

01.25.08-Foundations of the Faith

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Baptism, Part Two

I had planned to follow up my previous post, which dealt with the definition of “baptism”, with a post on the practice of baptism in the early church. But as I was collecting my notes, I found that David Heddle, author of the “He Lives” blog, had already done it, and much better than I could have. So, head on over to “Church History Lesson 12 (Worship in the Early Church)”. The article covers charity, baptism, and communion.
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Baptism

The word baptism comes into English straight from the Greek word baptizo (baptizo). It appears 65 times in the New Testament. In only two cases is it translated into English as “wash” (Mark 7:4) and “washed” (Luke 11:38). All other times the Greek word is used.

It is commonly held that baptism means immersion in water. One passage that supports this view is Mark 1:9-10a (NRSV):

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water...

However, this is a simple view that does not take other passages into account. For example, in Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says this about Jesus:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

So, perhaps baptism means “immersion into some medium”, since we now have examples of water, fire, and the Spirit. But even this definition doesn’t fit all of the New Testament usage.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul wrote:

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea...

Certainly the Israelites were not “immersed” into Moses. They passed under the cloud, not through it, and when the Israelites went through the sea it was the Egyptians who got wet.

In Luke 12:50, Jesus says:

I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

This refers to His coming crucifixion in which He takes on the sin of the world.

So baptism has an even wider meaning than just “immersion”. The circumstances are lost in the fog of almost thirty years of time past, but I remember either my Greek professor, or a teacher who was an expert in ancient semitic languages, telling me that the Greeks would make pickles by “baptizing” cucumbers. The cucumbers were immersed in vinegar until they took on the quality of the vinegar.

Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my memory. My concordance has this note concerning the definition of baptizo:

The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g.Mark 16:16. 'He that believes and is baptised shall be saved'. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!
    -- Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.

Whether or not you agree with his conclusion concerning the meaning of Mark 16:16, the examples from secular and NT usage show that the primary idea behind baptism is “identification/union”. A piece of cloth dipped into a dye can be said to have been baptized, since the cloth takes on the color of the dye. A piece of plastic dipped into the same dye has not been baptized, since no color change occurred.
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He Is Risen!

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. -- 1 Cor 15:3-8

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Church Merger?

Tonight my wife and I went to dinner at Fusion Asian Cafe which we always enjoy. Afterwards, we stopped in Books For Less to just browse around. I picked up “Church History in Plain Language” by Bruce L. Shelly, opened to a “random” page, and read:

Finally, the Zurich council lost all patience. On 7 March 1526, it decided that anyone found rebaptizing would be put to death by drowning. Apparently their thought was, “If the heretics want water, let them have it.” Within a year, on 5 January 1527, Felix Manz became the first Anabaptist martyr. The Zurich authorities drowned him in the Limmat, which flows through the city. Within four years the radical movement in and around Zurich were practically eradicated.

This was interesting because the church we attend, a small non-denominational community church, is considering merging with another community church, which is Baptist in everything but name. The cultures are not identical and it will be interesting to see how things progress.

We are an elder run church - the congregation does not vote on matters pertaining to the body. They are generally elder run, but their congregation votes on five aspects of body life. In order to be eligible to vote, a person must be a member, and baptism by immersion is required for membership.

On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the Anabaptists: if a person wishes to be baptized by immersion after coming to faith in Christ, then they should be free to do so. On the other hand, baptism by immersion does not make a person “more Christian” -- a point of agreement between both parties.

I therefore have a real problem with giving the franchise to a subset of Christians. In effect, those who do not agree with this particular practice are second class citizens. This has nothing to do with the argument between infant baptism or believers baptism; or whether baptism should be via sprinkling or immersion. They can take communion but cannot vote.

When I became a believer at 23 years of age the first churches I attended were Baptist. I didn’t know any better. But for the last 17 years I have moved away from typical Baptist understanding and practice, generally becoming more Reform.

This is likely going to be one of several “deal breakers” which, if the merger is consummated as I expect it to be, will engender our exit from the church. Hier stehen wir. Wir können nicht anders.

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Ontology Precedes Epistemology?

In his book Naming the Elephant, James Sire argues that “Ontology must precede epistemology in worldview formulation.” He writes:

What counts against putting meaning first is the commonsense notion that something has to be before there can be meaning. A worldview certainly can be “expressed as a semiotic system of narrative signs.” But it has to be something else first; it is not created by the signs by which it is understood. The pretheoretical categories themselves seem to be universal: being and not-being (is and isn’t) are fundamental and carry truth value; that is, they label something that is not just linguistic. ... So while Christians recognize the symbolic nature of reality, we also realize the substantiality of that which is symbolized. A postmodern can answer, “It’s language all the way down.” A Christian ought not. [pgs. 71-72]

But is this really so? I would answer that it is language all the way down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The “something” that “has to be” is, in the Christian worldview, “language”, “meaning”, Logos. Our worldview must be grounded in the Trinitarian nature of God, where being, meaning, and interpretation are co-eternal and cannot be separated.

Or am I missing something?

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Amazing Video

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Love & Po-Mos

In 2006, SlashDot ran an article Love Under a Microscope which asked the question “what is love”? I posted the following:

The Greeks had four words for love: agape, phileo, eros, and storge. We English speakers seem to conflate everything around eros and thereby miss the point. Love is the act of the will whereby another individual is placed ahead of yourself. That's why Christians are commanded to "love their enemies" and why the Apostle Paul wrote that the greatest act of love was when God gave His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

No naturalistic scientist could ever write:

    Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
    or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
    it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
    It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    Love never ends.

What I found interesting was this comment by a reader:

Wonderful post. I love the idea that "love is an act of the will." We mostly think that love is ultimately fulfilled only by the acts we undertake between the sheets. That love can be a deliberate act of the will is shocking to most of us "post moderns."

If the post moderns don’t know this, perhaps it’s because the Church has forgotten Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
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Shiny Secular Utopias

I am a fan of the Vox Day blog. Several recent topics have discussed the fantasy of secularism producing a “shiny sexy utopia” (notably here, but also here, here, here and here).

I have almost finished the book
Etidorhpa, or The End of the Earth by John Uri Lloyd, first published in 1895. While I am reading it because of a possible tie-in to my grandmother, it also sounds the same alarm as Vox Day. This excerpt is taken from chapter 51, “Beware of Biology, The Science of the Life of Man”:

“Bah,” he said; “does not another searcher in that same science field tell the mother that there is no personal hereafter, that she will never see her babe again? One man of science steals the body, another man of science takes away the soul, the third annihilates heaven; they go like pestilence and famine, hand in hand, subsisting on all that craving humanity considers sacred, and offering no tangible return beyond a materialistic present. This same science that seems to be doing so much for humanity will continue to elevate so-called material civilization until, as the yeast ferment is smothered in its own excretion, so will science-thought create conditions to blot itself from existence, and destroy the civilization it creates. Science is heartless, notwithstanding the personal purity of the majority of her helpless votaries. She is a thief, not of ordinary riches, but of treasures that cannot be replaced. Before science provings the love of a mother perishes, the hope of immortality is annihilated. Beware of materialism, the end of the science of man. Beware of the beginning of biological inquiry, for he who commences, cannot foresee the termination. I say to you in candor, no man ever engaged in the part of science lore that questions the life essence, realizing the possible end of his investigations. The insidious servant becomes a tyrannical master; the housebreaker is innocent, the horse thief guiltless in comparison. Science thought begins in the brain of man; science provings end all things with the end of the material brain of man. Beware of your own brain.”

Over 100 years between Lloyd and Vox Day sounding the same warning. Not being a historian, I am not quickly able to state who, how long, or how often this warning is given. But Vox is more of a polymath than I am:

Everyone, of every creed or lack thereof, needs to get this basic fact through their college-thickened skulls. The shiny, sexy, secular science-fiction society of progressive fantasies is not going to happen. The demographic realities have already killed that dream, the corpse just hasn't finished twitching yet. The material choice is not Christian tradition vs post-Christian utopia, it is Christian tradition vs PRE-Christian dystopia. And if you don't understand what that entails, then I suggest you get caught up on your ancient history, starting with Caesar and Tacitus.


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Videos

A hilarious Christmas medley:
Straight No Chaser - 12 Days of Christmas


A touching story of one man’s attempt to evangelize. Penn Jillette is a famous magician (cf. the team of “Penn and Teller”) and an avowed atheist.


An interesting take on the relationship between oil and several wars. I wasn’t able to find much counterpoint after a few minutes with Google. Run time: 47:13.




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Bethlehem

So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. [Genesis 35:19-20]

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. ... So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. [Ruth 1:1-2, 22]

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. [1 Sam 17:12]

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. [Micah 5:2]

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” [Mt 2:1-2]


In Hebrew, Bethlehem (Beit Lehem) means “House of Bread”. A fitting birthplace for the Bread of Life. In Arabic, Bethlehem (Bayt Lahm) means “House of Lamb”. Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

For a discussion of where Jesus was born, see Interpreting Luke 2:6-7.
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Christmas Quiz

I became a Christian in November 1978 (it was Saturday, probably the 25th). I got married in August of 1980 and by June of ‘81 my wife and I had moved to Georgia. Sometime during this interval in the College and Career group at Cherrydale Baptist Church I had the opportunity to take the following quiz. I mention this timeframe because I find it interesting that instances of this quiz on the web don’t appear to be copyrighted earlier than circa 1995. This one is (c) 2004; this is (c) 2003; this has no copyright notice; this was printed in 2000, and this appeared in 1995. Enough sleuthing.

When you press the “Check Answers...” button, your score will be computed and any wrong answers will be highlighted in red. I note that there is disagreement between these quizzes on some of the answers. I’ll research these later. For now, this is a chance for me to play with JavaScript. Question 19 is tricky. A question mark can be used if you don’t know the answer.



1. As long as Christmas has been celebrated, it has been on December 25?
True
False

2. Joseph was from:
Bethlehem
Jerusalem
Nazareth
Egypt
Minnesota

3. How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem?
Camel
Donkey
Walked
Joseph walked, Mary rode a donkey.
Who knows?

4. Mary and Joseph were married when Jesus was born:
True
False

5. Mary was a virgin when she delivered Jesus:
True
False

6. What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
    (check all that apply)

"There is no room in the inn."
"I have a stable you can use."
"Come back after the Christmas rush and I should have some vacancies."
None of the above

7. Jesus was delivered in a
Stable
Manger
Cave
Barn
Unknown

8. A "manger" is a:
Stable for domestic animals
Wooden hay storage bin
Feeding trough
Barn

9. Which animals does the Bible say were present at Jesus' birth?
Cows, sheep, goats
Cows, donkeys, sheep
Sheep and goats only
Miscellaneous barnyard animals
Lions, tigers, elephants
None of the above

10. Who saw the "star in the East"?
     (check all that apply)

Shepherds
Mary and Joseph
Three Kings
None of the above

11. How many angels spoke to the shepherds?
One
Three
A Multitude
None of the above

12. What "sign" did the angels tell the shepherds to look for?
"This way to baby Jesus"
A star over Bethlehem
A baby that doesn't cry
A house with a Christmas tree
A baby in a stable
None of the above

13. What did the angels sing?
"Joy to the World"
"Alleluia"
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given"
"Glory to God in the highest, etc..."
None of the above

14. What is a "Heavenly Host"?
The angel at the gate of heaven
The angel who invites people to heaven
The angel who serves drinks in heaven
An angel choir
An angel army
None of the above

15. There was snow that first Christmas:
Only in Bethlehem
All over Israel
Nowhere in Israel
Somewhere in Israel
Mary and Joseph only "dreamed" of a white Christmas

16. The baby Jesus cried:
When the doctor slapped him on his behind
When the little drummer boy started banging on his drum
Just like other babies
He never cried

17. What is frankincense?
An precious metal
A precious fabric
A precious perfume
An eastern monster story
None of the above

18. What is myrrh?
An easily shaped metal
A spice used for burying people
A drink
After-shave lotion
None of the above

19. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
     (write in the correct number):


20. What does "wise men" refer to?
Men of the educated class
They were eastern Kings
They were astrologers
They were smart enough to follow the star
They were "sages"

21. The wise men found Jesus in a:
Manger
Stable
House
Holiday Inn
Good mood

22. The wise men stopped in Jerusalem:
To inform Herod about Jesus
To find out where Jesus was
To ask about the star they saw
For gas
To buy presents for Jesus

23. Where do we find the Christmas story in order to check up on all these ridiculous questions?
     (check all that apply)

Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Aesop's Fables

24. When Joseph and Mark found out that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, what happened?
     (check all that apply)

They got married
Joseph wanted to break the engagement
Mary left town for three months
An angel told them to go to Bethlehem

25. Who told Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?
The angel
Mary's mother
Herod
Caesar Augustus
Alexander the Great

26. Joseph took the baby Jesus to Egypt:
To show him the pyramids
To teach him the wisdom of the pharaohs
To put him in a basket in the reeds by the river
Because he dreamed about it
To be taxed

Your score: --



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This Is Christianity?

This was on a church sign as I drove to disc golf today:



Those of the Reform persuasion might want to argue the correctness of the first two statements; certainly, those who hold to Limited Atonement would disagree with the universality of the second line.

But the egregious egotism of the last line is simply shameful. Jesus said to His disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” [Mt 16:24].

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God to Dog

This weekend, my wife sent me via e-mail a delightful letter written by a dog to God. Being a lay theologian and a passionate dog lover, in an act of hubris I would like to send a reply. However, I don’t know who to attribute the original and so don’t have a return address.

Dear God: Is it on purpose our names are the same, only reversed?

Dear Dog: no, this isn’t on purpose. It’s just an accident of language. In German, for example, you would be “Hund” while I would be “Gott”. In Russian, you are “sabaka”, while I am “Bog”.

Dear God: Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?

It seems odd, doesn’t it? But I am a Master Artist and my creations display great variety.

Dear God: When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?

Of course you can sit on my couch. In heaven, unlike on earth, your claws cannot damage My furniture.

Dear God: Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a Dog? How often do you see a cougar riding around? We do love a nice ride! Would it be so hard to rename the 'Chrysler Eagle' the 'Chrysler Beagle'?

It does seem unfair, doesn’t it? But consider yourself. You are loyal, courageous, intelligent, and dependable -- everything cars aren’t. Do you really want to have your good name and reputation associated with them? Do not be like my creatures which aspire to roles that I never intended them to have; who leave a higher calling in pursuit of outward appearances of power and responsibility.

Dear God: If a Dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad Dog?

Of course not. There are no bad dogs. It just that, for a while, good dogs have to live with fallen humans.

Dear God: We Dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beepers, scent ID's, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths. What do humans understand?

You sell yourself short. You understand the most important thing: that you live to please your master. That lesson has not been learned by many of My children.

Dear God: More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.

Have you considered killing your owners in their sleep and eating them? (And people think I don’t have a sense of humor).

Dear God: Are there mailmen in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?

Yes, there will be mailmen in Heaven. But they will have forgiven you.

Dear God: Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good Dog.
1. I will not eat the cats' food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
2. I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.
3. The Litter Box is not a cookie jar.
4. The sofa is not a 'face towel'.
5. The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
6. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad's underwear when he's on the toilet.
7. Sticking my nose into someone's crotch is an unacceptable way of saying 'hello'.
8. I don't need to suddenly stand straight up when I'm under the coffee table
9. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house - not after.
10. I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
11. I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch.
12. The cat is not a 'squeaky toy' so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it's usually not a good thing.

Dear companion, men have told you something that isn’t so. These are not rules that you need to follow to be good. These are rules whereby the strong (you) live with the weak (them). The rule for all living things is: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. ... We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself...” [Romans 14:19; 15:1-3 NRSV]. You know this, but living with them sometimes makes it hard for you to remember. In any case, you have my full permission to ignore rule #6. Knock yourself out.

P.S. Dear God: When I get to Heaven may I have my testicles back?

Of course.

In memorial
Kenya
12/10/96 - 7/13/07.

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C. S. Lewis, for Mike

In Sunday School this morning, Mike M. remarked on the evanescence of earthly government, which reminded me of these words of C. S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.


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Hell

Hell is the lonely kingdom where the self is king yet only subject.
Hell is the dark universe, for only the self is seen and there is no light in self.
Hell is the land of eternal doubt, acknowledging only the presence of self: “I am!”, yet ever jostled by the other unseeing denizens, wailing "Aren't I?"
Hell is the hungry banquet: gnashing teeth, ever gnawing, never nourishing for there is no substance to self.
Hell is the firey land, burning passion desiring more but nothing more to give.
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How Can He Be Saved?

The chorus of the song “Christmas” from the rock opera Tommy by The Who asks the perceptive question:

    And Tommy doesn’t know what day it is.
    He doesn’t know who Jesus was or what praying is.
    How can he be saved,
    From the eternal grave?

Tommy is a boy who became deaf, dumb, and blind through an early childhood psychological trauma. This question is also asked about infants and those who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel.

This is certainly a dilemma if man must do something to obtain eternal life. Fortunately, that’s not the case:

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.
                                                        -- Romans 9:15-18 (NRSV)

Of course, the meaning of this passage is as hotly contested as the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some see this passage as referring to service and not salvation; some nevertheless hold that God’s sovereign choices in election are based upon His foreknowledge of some intrinsic quality of man. Yet neither of these fit the context of this passage nor the entire chapter.

It’s time to rehost the studies in Romans and Ephesians written by my friend, Mike Baer.
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Good and Evil, Part 1a

In Good and Evil, Part 1 I proposed the definition that good is the distance between "is" and "ought", for some ill-defined, yet intuitive, distance metric.

This has an interesting property from the Christian viewpoint about which I only recently became aware. In Luke 18:19, Jesus said, "No one is good but God alone." With this definition of "good" this statement is equivalent to: "No one is what they ought to be but God alone" or, more succinctly, "Only God is what He ought to be."

This certainly agrees with St. Paul in Romans where he writes, "there is no one who is righteous, not even one" [3:10] and "... for the creation was subjected to futility..." [8:20]. "We are not what we ought to be" is part of the Reform doctrine of "Total Depravity", the other part being, "not only are we not what we ought to be, we cannot get ourselves to where we ought to be." It may also tie into the doctrine of "Unconditional Election". Since we are not what we ought to be there is no basis within us for God to choose one over another. It also shows why union with Christ is the means by which we are made whole and this can be linked to the "Perseverance of the Saints."
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He Is Risen

He is risen, indeed!
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