Monday, 14 April 2014

Monday quote

It is only because [they] do not consider theological beliefs as belonging to a knowledge-tradition that they can dismiss, a priori, theologically informed policy proposals as de facto epistemologically inferior to so-called secular ones, even when secular ones answer precisely the same questions as do the so-called “articles of faith.”

Francis J. Beckwith, “Taking Theology Seriously,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy, 20:1 (2006): 459-461.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Monday quote

Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God.

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). Summa Theologica. Question 25. Article 3.


Alternatively

Whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence.

Source

Monday, 31 March 2014

Monday quote

Decadence: To be so addicted to novelty, comfort and prosperity that one cannot lift a finger to sustain them.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The laws of nature

This article puts together several ideas that I have been pondering over the years but have not written much about or with such clarity. Doyle covers important issues such as:
  • The limited relationship between physical laws and judicial law
  • The moral nature of judicial law
  • The descriptive but non-prescriptive nature of physical law
  • How physical law represents God's general upholding of the universe
  • How miracles represent God's special activity in the universe
  • That miracles are impossible is a specious argument
  • That the term "methodological naturalism" is polemical, and unhelpful
Concerning methodological naturalism and science, Doyle not only notes that the term "methodological naturalism" invokes philosophical naturalism ("naturalism" being the shortened form) because they sound similar, methodological naturalism is not even accurate because naturalism does not imply regularity—why should we expect an ordered universe? I think a more useful term for science is empirical induction. Such a term would make scientific fields much narrower though increase clarity. Much of cosmology, palaeontology, archaeology and many other disciplines would come under the umbrella of inferred history.

I would like to add a thought on law. It is not clear than the physical laws are informational rather than just geometrical. The descriptions of such laws are informational, but the laws themselves may not be. I think that they are but that they have low information content. High information content occurs in designed objects such as flowers and people. And morality, while containing information, is more than information. That is, we have matter (and related qualities such as space and time) and the physical laws that describe how they behave; we have message which represents complex objects; and we have morals which specify how conscious objects are to behave.

An excellent article that I wish I had written.

Defining arguments away—the distorted language of secularism

by Shaun Doyle

Abstract

One of the means that secularists have used to achieve dominance in the culture over the last 250 years has been the manipulation of language. Key terms have been modified, and new terms coined, which slant the ‘rules of engagement’ between Christianity and secularism against Christianity. Three terms in particular: ‘natural law’, ‘miracle’, and ‘methodological naturalism’ have been affected. If we do not expose and correct this sophistry, an honest debate is not possible. At root, these issues reflect the clash between worldviews that must ultimately be accepted for reasons outside of science.

‘The laws of nature’—confusion and caution

One of the most common ways to talk about well-established scientific ideas is to refer to them as ‘the laws of nature’, ‘natural law/s’, or ‘scientific law/s’. These phrases conjure up notions of an orderly universe, and convey the idea that science can teach us much about the universe. The notion of ‘law’ can be a helpful metaphor for understanding the regularity we see in how the universe works, but it is just a metaphor.

One thing true of all metaphors is that they are only helpful to a point before they break down. They do so because, from the point of view of formal logic, all metaphors break the law of non-contradiction. When they are pushed too far, different things end up equated in ways that amount to false statements. For example, saying “Mark is a teddy bear” with reference to Mark’s gentleness equates the physical softness of the teddy bear with the gentle character of Mark, which amounts to saying that Mark has a gentle character. However, saying that “Mark is a teddy bear” with reference to Mark’s physical makeup does not work because Mark, a human, is clearly not made of stuffing! Not all the attributes of teddy bears can be attributed to Mark, and vice versa. This doesn’t invalidate the use of metaphors because everyone intuitively knows this, and we don’t use a metaphor to say that two different things are logically identical—only that they are identical in some significant and relevant property in a particular sense.
‘Natural law’ is itself a metaphor for the regularities of the physical world drawn from the concept of human law. Moreover, it’s a natural metaphor to draw, given a sovereign moral Lawgiver who also upholds His creation in an orderly way (figure 1). The regularities of nature are so regular that they seem to reflect some principle that the matter itself cannot transgress, like how people cannot transgress a human law. However, the notions of obedience and transgression are themselves concepts that most properly apply to the behaviour of moral agents—a concept which does not apply to inanimate matter and energy. That is one of many ways that human laws are not identical to ‘natural laws’, and presents an area where the metaphor breaks down.
Are ‘natural laws’ prescriptive?

However, as people jettisoned the Bible and its doctrine of providence and came to accept a ‘fuzzy positivism’ in its place from the 19th century onwards, many people seemed to forget that the notion of ‘natural law’ is just a metaphor. Because of this, and that the metaphor is so fitting, we have forgotten to pay attention to those areas where the regularities of nature do not correspond to human laws. Failure to recognize the metaphorical nature of ‘natural law’ has brought undue confusion over how the world actually works. The problem is that people often conceive of ‘the laws of nature’ as materially equivalent to human laws. If someone does what human law forbids, it is described as ‘breaking’ or ‘violating’ the law. People then apply this same notion of law to ‘the laws of nature’, and consider a miracle in the same way they consider an illegal act—as if some precept has been ‘broken’ or ‘violated’. The biggest mistake people make when they equate ‘natural law’ and human law is that they make natural law prescriptive. However, there are two major errors with understanding the concept of ‘natural law’ like this.

First, when people think of ‘natural laws’ as prescriptive, there is in fact a subtle but significant difference in what ‘prescriptive’ connotes in comparison to human laws. Human laws are prescriptive messages—they are coded information. Human laws are not inextricably bound to any given physical form—one can communicate the law “you shall not murder” in any human language, and in numerous different physical formats (e.g. writing on a piece of paper, Morse code, speech, etc.). Moreover, a human law cannot render the act of murder physically impossible. Herein lies the difference—when ‘natural law’ is seen as prescriptive, it is not conceived of as merely coded information, but is something materially able to make certain states of affairs physically impossible. However, ascribing ‘natural law’ a tangible existence like this commits the fallacy of reification, which treats abstract concepts as concrete objects. ‘Natural law’ is an abstract concept—it is coded information, like human laws, which formally describes regular patterns observed in nature. As such, ‘natural laws’ have no more power to cause the regularities of nature than a redraw of a map of New Zealand can change the physical coastline.

Second, although human laws and ‘natural laws’ are both coded information, they are different types of messages. Human laws prescribe what people should and should not do, e.g. the law forbidding murder. The law itself says nothing about how people actually act—it is a command, not a statement of fact. ‘The laws of nature’ are different: they are formal descriptions of regular patterns observed in nature—i.e. they are statements of fact. They either correspond with reality or they do not. However, it is meaningless to apply the notion of correspondence with reality to a human law such as forbidding murder, because it is an imperative command, not a statement of fact. Conversely, the statement: “murder is ethically wrong” is a statement of (ethical) fact, and is generally implied to form the basis for the law forbidding murder. This means ‘the laws of nature’ are not formally prescriptive, and are more accurately seen as descriptive concepts.

Read the rest here

Monday, 24 March 2014

Monday quote

And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving.

Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Some preliminary thoughts on abortion

I suspect this debate has as much emotion and commitment to a preferred outcome as it does to reason. Still, some remarks are in order. The pro-abortionists argue for liberty and the anti-abortionists for life. Where is the debate to begin. I think both can be addressed and no preferential order needs to be chosen ahead of time. We can discuss both choice and life issues and see how they relate to each other.

Liberty is a reasonable good. All things being equal freedom seems a desirable state. So the pro-abortion argument goes: a woman has right over her own body and the choice to keep any fetus she conceives, or not, should be hers to make as it affects her life currently and in the future if she chooses to keep her child. More so, a fetus cannot make moral demands on the mother to keep it alive.

There are a couple of difficulties with this view. A fetus is not making demands, it is in a situation not of its own making, and requires such nourishment as part of normal development. It is not in a state of illness, nor is it asking for others to bear the cost for negative decisions it made previously.

Continuing with the liberty argument, it seems reasonable to allow adults to make many choices that affect their life. Food they eat, clothes they wear, where they live, how they entertain themselves. But liberties are not absolute. One should not have the freedom to spend other people's money, use their goods without permission, threaten their lives and property in the course of seeking one's own welfare and pleasure. So the question is whether, after conception, the mother should have unrestrained liberty and treat the fetus like a food preference or an item of clothing—to be kept or removed; or have her liberty constrained because the fetus is (or is similar to) the property or life of another.

If the fetus can be considered property, the question is whose property? If we consider it is owned by the mother then it would seem that it is also owned by the father. The physical cost of the child during gestation is not as costly on the father as it is on the mother, but if the fetus is joint owned by the father it can hardly be disposed of without his permission.

The above may read harshly to anti-abortionists but I have tried to assess the possible arguments that may arise. I make no defence that a fetus is in fact property, but for those who deny that the issue is one of life, the property consideration still needs to be faced. And I use the word fetus rather than child so that the argument is no pre-empted by disputed language. Of course it is usual for an expectant mother to refer to her "child" or "baby" even still in the womb.

This brings us to the anti-abortion contention that the issue is one of life: the fetus is in fact a person. This indeed is the crux of the issue. If the anti-abortionists are correct about this then the liberty arguments are null. One does not have the freedom to kill an innocent person to maximise his own freedom, inside or outside the womb.

In this argument over life there are several terms to define. We are not arguing whether the fetus is human: a human in contrast to a non-human such as a chicken or a flower. The fetus is clearly human. It is produced by humans and has a full complement of the human genome. Nor are we arguing whether the fetus is living. If it weren't living it would be dead, or an inanimate object like a pebble. What we are arguing is whether the fetus is a person. Cadavers are human, but not living. They are not persons (in this sense). Elephants are living but not human. They are not persons. Children and adults are humans and living. They are also considered persons. The question that needs to be answered is, What makes personhood? Is being human and living equivalent to personhood? If so then personhood starts at conception. If there is more to personhood than humanness and life we must identify it. When does a conceptus become a person? This is a question even liberty proponents must answer. One cannot be pro-choice for murder.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Monday quote

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.

Robertson Davies

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Christians beheaded in Somalia

Remember fellow Christians who live and die in Somalia.
In the port town of Barawa in the Lower Shebelle Region, the extremists on March 4 called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said.

Before killing them, an Al Shabaab militant announced, “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya – we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area,” according to an area resident whose name is undisclosed for security reasons.

Omar’s daughters, ages 8 and 15, were witness to the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area.

“We are afraid that the Al Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother,” the area resident said.

The militants from Al Shabaab – which has vowed to rid the country of the Christian fellowships, which meet secretly as leaving Islam in Somalia is punishable by death – became suspicious of Omar and Moge due to their irregular attendance at Friday mosque prayers, sources said.

“The two people who were killed on many occasions did not take Friday prayers seriously, especially Omar, who claimed that she was praying in her house,” another area resident said.

Another source noted of Al Shabaab, “They have some spy everywhere in Somalia.”

Somalis who have lived in Christian-majority Kenya are especially suspect. The sources said Omar lived in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh for seven years; her husband became ill in 2011 and returned to Somalia, where he died. Omar and her cousin Moge, who helped take care of her daughters, left Kenya for Somalia in January 2013.
And may the Lord greatly use the Kenyan Christians to impact Somalia for the kingdom. He has promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail!

Hat tip: Classical Arminian.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

A fading glory

In 2 Corinthians Paul contrasts the new and old covenants. The old covenant is on stone (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:1, 4), the new on hearts (Ezekiel 11:19); a ministry of death compared to the ministry of the Spirit. He points out the symbolism of the veil of Moses (Exodus 34:33). As a veil obscured Moses' face, so a figurative veil obscures the truth about the new covenant from the observers of the old covenant.

What I had not noticed previously is how Paul relates the fading of the glory of Moses face. Moses face radiated because he had been in the presence of God. Moses covered his face in the presence of the people, but removed his veil in the presence of God.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34)
Over time Moses' face began to fade. The glory that was the Law represented by Moses' face shining was in fact a glory that was never intended to last.
The Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end. (2 Corinthians 3:7)
The glory that is the New Covenant, brought about by the Spirit, is a glory that never fades. Moses' face faded as it represented a glory that was not intended to last. At the time the Law was enacted it was temporary.
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:9-11)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bible reading time

Desiring God Ministries has created a graph of reading times for each book of the Bible. It is useful in that it takes account of varying length of the chapters. I am uncertain of their method. I suspect it takes genre into account as well, Jeremiah has about the same number of words as the Psalms, though poetry is read slower than prose.


Monday, 10 March 2014

Monday quote

When we have an eye-opening moment from a [Bible] teacher, we should be able to go back to the text and see that it's there. It's different with the esoteric knowledge that gets passed off as biblical insight. You look back at the text, and it's not there any more. You have to buy the DVD to recapture the feeling.

Keith Edwin Schooley

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Dinosaur bones dated with carbon-14

This escaped my notice at the time (2012 August). We should definitely carbon date more fossils and ignore calls that this is a waste of time because we already know that fossils cannot contain carbon-14 except as a contaminant.



Coal and diamonds both contain radioactive carbon despite supposedly being too old. The half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. So after 5700 years there is half the original amount of carbon-14 left. After 11500 years a quarter of the original amount. If we assume all the carbon in an object is carbon-14 (it is however only a fraction) we can get an extreme upper bound on how old it can be (carbon-14 decays into nitrogen so the known presence of carbon-12 lowers this upper bound considerably). If we measure any carbon-14 we know it must be younger than the extreme upper bound age, though it could be much younger.

So carbon-14 has been found in
  1. Coal
  2. Diamonds
  3. Dinosaurs
All of which are claimed to be older than what they possibly can be. This refutes the argument for an ancient earth. The only response possible is contamination.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Monday quote

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Business and conscience

Among the many news sources and blog posts concerning rights of businesses and rights of homosexuals I came across Kristen Powers' column.
Similar bills have cropped up in a half-dozen states in an effort to protect anti-gay religious believers against lawsuits. A florist in Washington state, a Colorado baker and a New Mexico photographer have been sued for refusing to serve gay couples getting married. They say to do so would be to "celebrate" nuptials at odds with their Christian faith.
It has a mildly mocking tone. She coauthors another article here. There have been several considered responses to this issue around the web.

The best solution to this issue is to allow any business owner to do business with any person, or not, as he sees fit.

In my own country when legalising marriage was being debated such conscience clauses were requested so a celebrant would not be forced to participate in ceremonies. It was argued exception clauses would not be required as no one would be forced to.

What many fail to see is that the issue is not just about the morality of a specific issue, it is whether it affects our conscience even if we are incorrect. So the arguments are often over whether sodomy is eumoral, or whether what we are required to do is reasonable, rather than freedom of conscience. Powers argues the second case, that baking a cake specifically for a gay wedding is a reasonable requirement for a Christian,
Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.
Yet Christ's call to servanthood is for us to yield our desire to live for ourselves and instead submit to him, in doing so we live for others. But this is not a call for others to demand of us what they desire.

Powers gives the false comparison to prison ministry which ironically argues against her point,
Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can't they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?
Christians do prison ministry of their own volition and serve prisoners how they perceive what is best and not the prisoners. A Christian who owns a gun shop should be perfectly within his right to refuse to sell a gun to a murderer after he has served his time. To do business with a sinner is not in itself sinful. To engage in business with someone as he is sinning in order to aid him in his sin, can be participating in his sin. The distinction is quite clear: a doctor can treat a homosexual with HIV infection and at the same time refuse to help a lesbian with assisted reproduction.

But Christians need to recognise the bigger issue here, the issue of conscience. If a person thinks a behaviour offends God he should be free to refrain, even if he is wrong about God's opinion. For example, I see no need to force a Jehovah's witness to receive a blood transfusion even though I think he is completely misguided about the interpretation of Leviticus 17. If someone believes that baking a cake or photographing homosexual celebrations is to affirm a behaviour he thinks is sinful then to him it is sinful and he should not be forced to act in such a matter. To make a man act against his conscience is to force him to sin against God (from his perspective). It is an attempt to make him blaspheme. As I have written before, such political policies are draconian.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday quote

If realism is the recognition of things as they actually are, the Christian is of all persons the most realistic. He of all intelligent thinkers is the one most concerned with reality. He insists that his beliefs correspond with facts.

A.W. Tozer (1897–1963), Of God and Men.

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